The other night I had some friends over and we were playing the game "Pick a Tune." (For anyone unfamiliar with the rules of "Pick a Tune" you have to pick a tune based on a theme you’re given, so kind of like rocket science, but with music) I was given the clue "Musical Firsts." And I had nothing.
Then a flash of inspiration: I remembered a while ago, while washing up, I had realized The Beatles had invented the remix (you know, besides all those variations composers were banging out on their pianos back in the 14th century). I had realized this incredible thing, and then internalized it (forgotten about it) for over a year.
Now, having finally released this information and witnessing its effect on its audience–one of pleasure admiration and gratitude–IT WAS A BIG MOMENT–it got me thinking, what other cultural firsts have passed by without being picked up?
The Beatles Remix–Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
This only needs a listen by way of explanation:
Evolution and Hieronymus Bosch
Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of earthly delights, 1480–1505
Did Hieronymus Bosch understand evolution 500 years before Darwin? Well according to this picture he certainly imagined the evolution scene in Fantasia well before Disney.
And as far as evolution is concerned, he is certainly on the right lines. In fact, for a man in 15th century he is remarkably on the right lines.*
I also believe Bosch to have been the first surrealist—but that’s a whole other article.
* Please note I am aware the Blue Cone-head Puffball Mouse is not necessary biologically correct.
Breaking Bad—the First Shakespearian tragedy since, Shakespeare
Breaking Bad Pilot
Like Shakespeare, BB tells a truth, like Shakespeare it highlights what is wrong with society; like Shakespeare it knows never to be too dark for too long with out a glimmer of humor; like a every great Shakepsearian tragedy (almost) everyone has died by the end. And, reportedly like Shakespeare, it was a combined human effort of dozens of writers. The work is more than genius, it is true; it is an honest portrayal of human emotions and egos, whether right, wrong, or unflattering, it is true, and maybe that is what genius is: finding truth.
Cubism and Braque
Georges Braque, Maisons et Arbre, 1908. Courtesy Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art
Cubism: when we think of Cubism we all think of Picasso, but there was a man just before him: Georges Braque. He's the man who was a whisker in front of Picasso. In 1908 his oil painting Houses L’Estaque was the first cubist landscape (Picasso may have just nudged in front but in portraiture, a year earlier). But it was this painting in 1908 that prompted Louis Vauxcelles to ridicule it as being “composed of cubes”—which led to the name of the movement.
The Queen of selfies before us all, but this one’s got soul
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #3, 1977
Cindy Sherman has been taking self portraits for the last 40 years. Difference being, she was using her "selfies" to say something about everyone, while we use them to say something about ourselves—which is probably why we’re not really getting anywhere at the moment. Bring more Shermans!
Before long, ideas and inspiration become a movement, then movements become the zeitgeist and then it's sucked up by the masses and it becomes a fashion and its essence is squeezed, its origin forgotten. When you see something you think you’ve never seen before, try and remember that moment. Maybe you’ll be one of few appreciating the beginning of a movement—before the person who’s done it even knows what it is.
We wanted to write about some of the tattoo artists we like who also happen to be vaginally endowed. Why? Just for aesthetic inspiration on a default Monday. And also because it was bugging us that the rise in recent years of female tattoo artists has been put down to Miami Ink or Rihanna. Here is a non-exhaustive list of the people whose art has caught our eye lately as we've been traveling in the real and virtual worlds...
All images, Slower Black via Slower Black Tumblr
It's hard to put a finger on what it is about Slower Black's work: it's somewhere in that sweet spot between bare minimalism and detail, not indie melancholy or twee fun, but classic and fresh at the same time. Originating from Alberta, Canada, but based out of nowhere and everywhere, the "stick and poke" artist uses traditional techniques to apply her designs; no electricity, just pressure to break the skin—which also adds something hardcore. For good art and some sharp quips in response to some of those embarrassing questions people ask on the internet, check her great tumblr. Style.
Top Image: Rat Flash by Lesley Chan, Bottom images: Silk Scarves, Lore of Shangri La, All Courtesy Lesley Chan
Lesley Chan is somewhat of a London tat legend, and is owner of the Shangri La in East London. Her studio still keeps the intimidating fuck you vibe a real tat place should have—especially hard to get in Dalston—courtesy the in-house artists Liam, Caleb, Ryan, and Rafael. Lesley learned her trade over two decades in London, and she's still tattooing, but she's also been putting her designs on silk for Lore of Shangri-La (a collaboration with Ann O'Toole). Gangster.
All images, Melissa Peritore
Holy fuck I wish this woman was my third Grandma. 95-year-old Whang Od is the last surviving tattoo artist of the Kalinga tribe, in Buscalan village, the Philippines. Since she was part of a National Geographic report, a lot of people have made the long journey from Manila to travel to her remote mountain village—where customers often stay at her home—where she uses traditional methods (a thorn as a needle, joined to a bamboo stick) to put her art into their skin. Photographer Melissa Peritore was one such customer and described it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. True icon.
Yuta began practicing her chosen trade tattooing at Jerusalem's Bizzart. Last year she opened up her own studio in Haifa. Old botanical illustrations are one of the inspirations for her lines, which are meticulously fine and immaculate. She's also friendly, which is reassuring when someone's making you bleed. We also appreciate her working mantra: "surround yourself with good people and cats."
All images courtesy Nicole Lourinho
It's really cool to see people working hard at what they love to do and getting somewhere. 25-year-old Nicole started out as a very young apprentice at Lisbon's most respected studio, the Queen of Hearts, where she is now a tattooist with a growing following worldwide. She's got her own take on the American traditional style that tat superstars like Angelique Houtkamp have popularized. Probably because she also looks around a lot "to my co-workers and the tattooers whose work I admire... the vintage and ethnical universe, books, postcards or different kind of objects, artistic, or not." Follow her Insta for new stuff and appointments. Young blood.
I was naively unprepared for the wave of vitriol I woke up to on Twitter from Caitlin Stasey, the 24-year-old former Neighbours actress and founder of herself.com, following my article last week which attempted to discuss several interesting new art exhibitions and platforms that deal with female self-image online: "Can Selfies Be Feminist?"
@onaartist@ArtSlant this article declares tht self expressions of nudity r countr productive 2 feminist agenda w no real explanation as 2 y
The fundamental thing is we (both women and men) all want freedom in terms of our own bodies. We don't want to be persecuted for expressing ourselves (in images, or in words). And, given the values of the western world, these are freedoms we are in many ways lucky to be able to discuss. Some, like Stasey, would argue that the confident dissemination of body positive images on the web is revolutionary enough for these representations to overcome sexist readings online: the only way to desexualize an image is to propogate the signifiers of sexuality in a non-sexual context. But is the only way to challenge the view of female bodies as sexual objects to normalize a non-sexualized view of them?
There's no one way to consider this complicated issue.
@ArtSlant BODY POSITIVITY IMAGES ARE NOT SEXUALIZED BY ANYONE BUT THE VIEWER. man it must hurt to be so wrong. Bye.
I accept Stasey and her cohorts’ ideas as part of the same idealism for a better world that I share: to forward the agenda of body positivity, to create a safe space for women online and in the real world, to stamp out rape culture. Confident photographs of one's body can be inspiring and empowering, both for the creator and for the viewer. Selfies can indeed be a tool for artists to create, and to use their own likenesses as a way to open dialogue on the way we project ourselves online. Sharable selfies in the digital domain may be an empowering paradigm.
But it's undeniable that the internet has produced a new range of challenges for artists, female and male—not only for feminists—and primary among these challenges is the issue of context and audience. Our actions and conversations don't take place in a vaccum—indeed, the horror vacui of the internet is effectively the opposite of a vacuum.
Sharability, likeability, and virality can place creator's images out of their control. When you share an image—just as if I write a text that can be misunderstood—you have to accept that it can be misused. And the issue is not only about how the artist or subject of an image feels about their artwork being apprehended and used improperly. It's also about the effect produced in viewers, and how it educates other prosumers. As an example of the way art work can be appropriated into the very context they are critiquing, artist Ivonne Thein, told ArtSlant in an interview last year, of her reaction when her anti-anorexia images appeared on "pro-ana" websites for girls looking for anorexia inspiration:
I have struggled to find my work on pro-ana websites. If I do, than I contact VG Bildkunst, which is a German union who covers my copyright, to have them deleted. I don’t want them promoting anorexia but seeing them on the sites shows me the big impact that images have in Western society. We have a responsibility when we create images and bring them to the internet. Of course I don’t feel guilty about my images being appropriated because I explain how this work is an unambiguous statement and it was never my aim to change society. I see this work more as a visual and critical statement on social currents.
This doesn’t mean censorship of body/image is the answer. But the more these issues are discussed—as is being done by the many artists I covered in my previous article, as well as below—the closer we might be to finding some progressive strategies for self-production online. Or at the very least, ways of circumnavigating the difficulties artists face in using bodies and images of themselves.
In one of the many Twitter conversations spurred from my original article, Jennifer Chan, co-curator of the online exhibition Body Anxiety, wrote:
There are many platforms online that promote a critical engagment with images of female bodies—and there are young female artists out there who are also pushing towards this new language: among them, Amalia Ulman, Dafy Hagai, and projects such as Girls Get Busy and Girl Gang Illuminati. While most of these address women, they invite a united and proactive discussion of the problems we have to face as humans. In terms of the arts, it seems an entirely new visual language is being produced—one that uses humor, like Nadia Lee Cohen's 100 Naked Women(above), for example—that might sever the historical link of the aesthetic to sexism.
Faith Holland. Screengrab via Body Anxiety
One artist who suggests new, subversive ways of creating art and using the body online is cyberfeminist Faith Holland, whose work is included in Body Anxiety. Holland's work plays with the visual language of porn—without nudity—as well as her own image. She explains her method—and the unwanted contradictions sometimes revealed by audience reactions to her work:
I’ve worked with pornography and sexuality for the last few years, but I had been (purposefully) avoiding bodies altogether and worked solely in abstraction and metaphor. Porn Interventions is a divergence from this, in which I try to throw a wrench (and some humor), into the free flow of porn on RedTube. Despite the fact that there’s a proliferation of porn on the internet, a vast majority of it looks exactly the same—same flow, conventions, poses, camera angles, etc. (I can attest to this as I am currently gathering cum shots for another project and it’s quite monotonous.) I wanted to inject something different into that flow, something that would function asymptotically to pornography. So the videos try to invoke porn codes (BBW, solo play, licking, sucking, whip cream), but without actually being porn itself. Importantly, there is no “real” nudity in the videos. Despite those intentions, I have received a “fan video” from a man jerking off to my work, which is also included in Body Anxiety.
Humor is important to me and my work because it opens up avenues to talk about issues that could otherwise be didactic. It also creates the possibility of capturing the attention of “the fapping public,” who are not getting the T&A they’re looking for when they click on my video. The selfie, however, is not something I think of much in relation to my work. Using my own image/body in this work is partially a matter of convenience for a lo-fi zero dollar practice, partially gets rid of the issue of casting and the responsibility of putting someone else’s likeness on a porn site (particularly since I circulate those images inside AND outside the porn context), and finally functions as a challenge to use my chubby, not "porn-ready" body. There is a rich history of artists who use their own bodies and are influential to my practice like Carolee Schneemann, VALIE EXPORT, Eleanor Antin, etc. (all pre-“selfie”).
Women everywhere are actively grappling with this issue. Another witness to its complexities—and the explosive reactions that can exacerbate them—is BBC Radio One presenter Jameela Jamil, who spoke to the Guardian last year about the criticism she received after voicing her opinions on Miley Cyrus' recent behavior:
When I spoke to Jennifer Chanin an interview last week, she highlighted what are for me some of the key struggles of online feminism:
I know my feminism might be different from other womens' feminisms, and not all women who have feminist beliefs may identify as feminist and that's fine... we can still do feminist things, and have feminist conversations without mentioning the F word. It is definitely anti-feminist to shit on feminism and other women's attempts to help women. I think growing up with the internet, we're indirectly influenced or aware of raunchy behaviour in porn that is mostly targeted at men, hopefully people become aware of that. I'm weary and sad about women treating each other as sexual competition when they use the terms "bitch" or "slut" on each other. I also wonder if I'm antifeminist for critiquing women who participate in mainstream representation that appeases straight men (Beyonce). The pornstar Stoya has said she is a feminist, but she doesn't think it can be considered a feminist thing to be having sex on camera where some episodes show her being slapped/degraded, but she enjoys exploring her sexuality on camera so that's her thing.
I just think popular representations are problematic for all other women who face lived realities of sexual harassment/assault/sexist comments, but maybe at the end of the day it's because I believe there is a way—whether one is considered conventionally attractive or not—to actively push back against those types of objectifying representations, it even comes down to how you pose. And artists might have a responsibility to analyze that... or we're just perpetuating what the entertainment industry delivers. So, artists aren't required to use their body, but to be aware and critical of these regimes of representation whether by remix (Hannah Black), transformation of body types and parts (Andrea Crespo) or poetic response (Aurorae Parker) is just as powerful... sometimes just being present as different is.
Interesting to think about all the fuss over Lynda Benglis' Artforum ad http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/25/arts/design/25benglis.html?_r=0 ...and I see that the bodies of artists like Cathy Opie, Laura Aguilar, Jo Spence...I also thought about Martha Rosler's video "Vital Statistics of a Citizen."
Comment by: nancy buchanan on Tuesday 02/10/15 at 7:33 PM
Bustling Mexico City has embraced the international art scene while continuing to develop its own independent arts agenda through multiple platforms and outreach. This week Zona MACO, Central America's most important art fair, brings it all together, garnering major works of art from around the world to its 13th edition. The overall vibe of this year's fair—which opened Wednesday and continues throughout this weekend—was very laid-back, with an evident rise of painting and sculpture works at galleries.
I had the chance to hit up the fair and present to you here my top 10 works showcased at Zona MACO 2015:
Theresa Ganz's methodology is like making paper out of paper: she builds rocks from rocks.Heart of a Cave, her current exhibition at Peterborough's Evans Contemporary, comprises works executed in black and white digital photography, with one colorful exception. Her images represent caves, slabs of stone, and landforms—all assembled from photographs of geological formations taken by the artist. Generating in the viewer a curiosity to look deeper, to work out how it was assembled, Ganz’s postmodern practice makes meaning through the imperfections of mimesis and combination.
The body of work in Heart of a Cave demands a close encounter with landscape, and careful reading. Panorama and Cave of the Heart are the exhibition's two largest artworks, but they operate differently within the gallery space. Where Cave of the Heart (at top) invites the viewer to peer into it, Panorama presumes a punk posturing with its shocks of electric orange and pink. It is playfully in dialogue with the dynamics of the space; it’s mounted directly to the wall it occupies and seems to be crawling up it or asserting itself onto it—alive, perhaps—and in progress.
Theresa Ganz, Panorama (installation view), 2014. Photo: Paolo Fortin
Images often dissolve upon a closer look; gestural paintings reveal brush strokes, billboards pixelate. In Panorama and several other works in the exhibition, rather than breaking down upon closer scrutiny, the image shifts, and one encounters the materiality of the photograph. Jagged edges where “stitching” software has lost its thread define the boundary between the wall and the work. The details of rock surfaces are all there, but reorganized. These marks—like those jagged edges, juxtaposing clarity with blur—are signature traces of the images’ digital pedigree.
Theresa Ganz, Serpentine III and Serpentine IV, 2014. Courtesy of the Artist
Landscapes assembled from photographs of landscapes—rocks from rocks—become animated, shifting the gaze constantly. Their irregular form somehow warps the picture plane just enough to disrupt its pictorial characteristics. Is that a waterfall? Is that a positive form or a negative space? Ganz negotiates her images’ edges either by cutting them with a scalpel before assembling or leaving visible the digital rifts generated by software interface slippages. Through this push-pull, there is an ongoing making of the subject via one’s own looking. Throughout, there is the deployment of “hide and seek”: Ganz inverts the images (positives and negatives) and separates them. The same forms reappear in different works, becoming archetypes within the logic of Heart of the Cave. What is a shadow here may be a white figure there, again tugging at the material reality of a digital practice.
Theresa Ganz, Slab III, 2015. Courtesy of the artist
Peering closely at the layers of hand-cut photographs reveals tiers of texture. There are the pieces of physical photographic prints cut out, assembled, inverted, and layered. In the darkest parts of the Cave of the Heart, the texture of the rock formations read like elephant hide. The work itself is analogous to Dürer’s rhinoceros; there is a separation between experiencing the actual thing and the trying to reconstruct it in one’s studio. All of the correct elements are here, but there is something in the execution that is overly symmetrical; it becomes decorative. For Ganz, unlike Dürer,this invocation stirs up some necessary ghosts. Baroque forms and demeanor successfully undercut narratives of landscape as an ideological receptacle for an imperialist gaze.
Theresa Ganz, Serpentine V, 2014. Courtesy of the artist
In his 1954 forward to A History of Infamy, Jorge Luis Borges wrote: “I would define the baroque as that style that deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its own possibilities, and that borders on self- caricature.” Ganz addresses landscape through a performative baroque, as she thoroughly works materials into new forms via physical and digital cutting and assembling. The materials are specific: photographs, yes, digitally manipulated and material, yes.
If these rocks could talk. These rock formations are particular. Ganz took her photographs of rocks in proximity to sites generations of people have worshipped; they are charged with cathexis. Ganz’s meticulous assembly and inclusion of detail (decorative nature, even) demands a close look—a very close look, at times bordering on claustrophobic. The outcome is a re-orienting relationship with landscape where the viewer no longer dominates, but is overcome, absorbed. It abides the excess described by Borges, and flattens the divide between nature and culture.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s roof weighs the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower—its dome references the Islamic architectural cornerstone of the mosque. According to French architect Jean Nouvel’s poetic vision of a “rain of light,” an intricate layer of geometric incisions in the dome will optimize sunlight to create a constantly changing installation inside the museum. Set to open its doors to the public by the close of 2015, the 260,000-square-foot Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first museum to be constructed in Saadiyat Cultural District, which will also feature the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Zayed National Museum, other museums, academic institutions, as well as Abu Dhabi Art—all in close proximity to luxury villas, hotels, and beaches.
Aerial View of Saadiyat Cultural District, Copyright Tourism and Development Investment Company
Museums are one of the requisite status symbols of a developed country, and Abu Dhabi—whose culture has expanded with nothing short of unveiled audacity—is eager to be viewed in line with Paris, London, Hong Kong, and other global cultural power players. With the Louvre name having been secured by the Abu Dhabi government for a purported $525 million US dollars as part of a larger diplomatic agreement signed by the governments of Abu Dhabi and France, the institution will retain the Louvre name for 30 years, and the support of experts from the 13 Agence France-Museums for 15 years, with around 300 masterpieces on temporary loan for a decade.
The museum’s development has been controversial from the start, causing sceptics to wonder if culture can be franchised. Allegations that Abu Dhabi is effectively “bankrolling” the restoration of a wing in the Louvre Paris in exchange for using the Louvre brand, is one of many examples of bad press. However, it’s important to be clear that the Louvre Abu Dhabi is not analogous to yet one more Louis Vuitton store imported “cut and paste” from Paris to a luxurious UAE mall.
In a phone conversation, Jean-Francois Charnier, Curatorial Director of Agence France-Museums, clarified: “there is not only the name of the Louvre but there are also the expertise of 100 curators and their research and library involved in this project. It is not just an empty shell of a name.” He described the Louvre Abu Dhabi as an inventive departure from the French Louvre, emphasizing its unique ambition to become the first universal museum in the Arab world which will tell the story of art history by focusing on how cultures and civilizations have grown through common linkages, rather than isolating each school of art in an airtight wing and keeping in line with a tired (and at times inaccurate) narrative. “We are aiming to show an alternative to the Western point of view when it comes to museums…we can see that Europe is not always in the center of things.” Abu Dhabi, which historically served as the crossroads for global trade and today is home to residents from 140 nationalities, is a fitting testing ground for this new typology.
The 2014 Birth of a Museum exhibition and accompanying catalogue provided the public with a first peek into these curatorial principles. It presented visitors to Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al Saadiyat space with an appetizer of 130 artworks including a Picasso, a Bactrian princess statuette, and nine canvases by the American painter Cy Twombly, all organized around six unifying themes that examined universal questions.
Under Dome, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Design by Jean Nouvel, Copyright Tourism and Development Investment Company
Given the immense cost of constructing the Louvre Abu Dhabi, acquiring a permanent collection, and retaining a team of highly educated experts to consult, it is a given that visitors will be expected to pay entrance fees, though there is as yet no word on the specific amount that will be assessed for admission or precise opening hours. Saadiyat Island is a long ride from the heart of Abu Dhabi and for many, a prohibitively pricey cab or bus ride from Dubai and the other emirates. Although Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority has conducted focus groups and feasibility studies, one wonders if the museum will truly be accessible to those residents and tourists who do not have cash to burn in their pockets. Many UAE residents are expats who work long weeks and may only have evenings or Friday afternoons off. Will the general population be able to justify the time and cost of admission?
It is not unusual to view a world-class exhibition at one of Sharjah’s 17 museums or Dubai’s more established galleries and find oneself completely alone with the work. Although this is thrilling for the art-obsessed visitor, these same shows would be packed shoulder to shoulder in Europe or the US—probably with a security guard clearing his throat to move crowds along through the displays. It seems that beyond compulsory school trips, the notion of visiting a museum during one’s leisure time rather than circling a mall or slumping in a darkened, air-conditioned cinema, has not yet resonated with the general public in the region. However, the Louvre Abu Dhabi's Talking Art Series, which provides a platform for the public to learn about the museum and its collection through lectures by experts has been standing room only—an indication that at least a modest base of participatory museum enthusiasts exists locally.
It may be a further challenge to convince tourists coming to the UAE for shopping, beach time, and nightlife to consider a sophisticated detour to the Saadiyat Cultural District. In order to really build a universal museum, the folks at the Louvre Abu Dhabi and TCA have their work cut out for them if they want to bring in the crowds that this kind of institution and its expenditure truly merit. However, considering that in under half a century the UAE has devised a cosmopolitan and peaceful country from a humble trade center dependent upon pearl diving, Abu Dhabi’s potential to emerge as a cultural capital almost overnight shouldn't be doubted.
ON THE LOUVRE ABU DHABI: PRESTIGE PROJECT OR PARADIGM SHIFT?
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Lourve Abu Dhabi & The Community
I like all the points Danna Lorch wrote about. As an expat in Dubai and a museum educator in Los Angeles I am very interested in the Lourve Abu Dhabi. A museum does not have to have the best collection. It is what the institution does with the collection that is important. An alternative to the Western point of view will be very interesting however I do hope that there will be a community component that will allow everyone to have access to the museum, including those laborers who are building it. Art needs to have a reason and substance. My hope is that this museum will be more than pretty. That the art chosen will foster the art patrons of tomorrow with programs that make individuals question, like, dislike, discuss and return. That is something I have yet to see in the UAE. In the last three to four years the growth in the art scene has been amazing but there are still strides to be made. There is so much chatter about this museum I am tired of the talk and ready for the collection! In the case of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art they have really catered to the patrons of the future by giving free memberships to children under 18, providing bilingual materials, free days and festive family days. It encourages returning to see a new exhibit or visit a favorite gallery or piece of art. Will the Lourve Abu Dhabi be a place where everyone is welcome? Will people want to return for the pure enjoyment of viewing art? Will there be community programs of substance? I surely hope so! There is so much chatter about this museum I am tired of the talk and ready for the collection!
Independent filmmaker Sean Baker’s latest film, Tangerine, premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The comedy-drama, which explores the lives of transgender sex workers in Hollywood, is filmed entirely with the iPhone 5s. It received positive critical reception at Sundance and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures. I chatted via Skype with the Los Angeles-based filmmaker about the process of making this bleeding-edge film, his collaborative approach to telling a story about transgender lives, and his reluctant decision not to cast his dog—this time around.
Production still featuring Mya Taylor, Tangerine, Magnolia Pictures
Cassie Packard: So Tangerine got rave reviews at its Sundance premiere...
Sean Baker: Yes, it premiered at Sundance in the Next section, which is for innovative and groundbreaking films; we were happy to be part of that crowd. It seems like the critics have taken nicely to it, and so have audiences. I thought that people were either going to love or hate the film but right now there’s just a lot of love around it.
CP: Can you talk a little bit about the plot, and the way you shot the film?
SB: The film looks at two tales of infidelity that converge one night on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland, a notorious Los Angeles intersection located in a red light district frequented by transgender sex workers. [Protagonist] Sin-Dee, after spending 28 days in jail, meets with her friend and finds that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. It’s her mission to find the “fish,” or biological woman that he’s been sleeping with, and bring her to him for a confrontation.
CP: And the film was shot entirely on iPhone?
SB: Yes we shot entirely on the iPhone 5s. While I shot my first film on 35mm and would like my next film to be shot on film, there were a lot of benefits to using an iPhone. I’m talking about its size, the fact that almost everybody and their grandmother has a smart phone so no one is intimidated by it, and its inconspicuous nature that allowed us to shoot clandestinely. With a low budget and a small crew we wanted to keep our footprint small, and we didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves in some of the hairier areas we were shooting in.
The iPhone ended up being an aesthetic asset as well. We could do impromptu crane shots 25 feet in the air by putting the iPhone on the end of a painting pole; I was able to get on my 10-speed and do 360s around my actors for a shot that was really fluid and mobile. Critics have also been pointing out that the digital image complemented the world we’re shooting in because it makes Los Angeles look radioactive, giving it a pop verité feel. So our method of shooting ended up working on several levels, generating responses in the cinema world and the tech world.
CP: What additional technology did you use to make shooting with an iPhone viable?
SB: We had this wonderful little anamorphic adapter that fits onto the end of the iPhone. It allowed us to shoot with a widescreen aspect ratio, which gave the film a very cinematic scope. We also used an inexpensive app called Filmic Pro; it locks exposure and focus, and most importantly it shoots at 24 frames a second. The adaptor and the app are what made me believe we could make an iPhone movie that looked like a film. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the film has a Super 16 feel on the big screen. [In post-production] we added grain and pumped up the colors, which added to the cinematic look and achieved something unique.
Production still featuring Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine, Magnolia Pictures
CP: It’s not just your shooting methods that were unconventional; you also collaborated with your actresses on the script.
SB: Yes, we collaborated extensively. If you’re a screenwriter who wants to tell a story about a world you’re not in, you need to do so with as much collaboration and research as possible. Because if you don’t do that, you’re literally being irresponsible, and you’re also being disrespectful.
We met [the first-time actress who plays Alexandra] Mya Taylor one summer morning at the LGBT Center, just around the corner from that notorious intersection. We approached her because of her look, her appeal... There was something about her even from 50 feet away. When I told her about the project, she had instant enthusiasm. The next thing you know we’re meeting on a regular basis to discuss the film.
She shared her stories and anecdotes, as well as stories she had heard from friends who were working the block. About two weeks in, she introduced us to [the first-time actress who plays Sin-Dee] Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. If Mya Taylor is Naomi Campbell, well, Kitana is Beyoncé on fire. So they’re very different but complement one another, and I knew they would be a perfect onscreen duo. The film would focus on the two of them, and center around that intersection and a confrontation at Donut Time [the doughnut shop at the intersection]. We just had to figure out a story. We asked them to help us out.
Kiki brought up this woman-scorned story, which we saw as providing a dramatic and dynamic plot line that would take our characters through LA. [Co-writer] Chris Bergoch and I came back to Mya and Kiki with a treatment. They had one or two notes but overall they loved it. When we wrote the script, we told them if the dialogue wasn’t good or real to just throw it out the window.
Production still featuring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Tangerine, Magnolia Pictures
CP: I love the idea of collaboration as a function of social responsibility.
SB: It’s so important, these days when the lives of transgender people are represented on-screen, to represent them correctly. If they didn’t have their voices involved in the making of this film, then I just feel as if it shouldn’t have been made at all.
CP: Yeah, then it can become exploitative.
CP: The theme of sex workers is one you’ve explored before. How did you come to it originally, back with your 2012 film Starlet?
SB: I was working on a show called Greg the Bunny, a comedy show on MTV geared at 15 to 25-year-old guys. We were casting porn stars at the time as walk-on roles, and as we were getting to know them I was taken aback by how damn normal their lives were outside of the days they spent working. We were all walking our dogs and doing our laundry and cleaning our apartments and that’s what I wanted to show. I wanted to stay away from delving into the plight of sex workers, even though that type of movie is important, because that approach doesn’t humanize the characters as much as giving a simple narrative does.
CP: I’m wondering if you have a favorite shot or sequence from Tangerine.
SB: That’s a hard one. Well, there is this scene where Sin-Dee eventually finds [the other woman] Dinah at the makeshift brothel, this shady little motel. I was particularly happy with that scene because it’s almost a miniature action scene in the middle of a small indie film. Tangerine is such a colorful, chaotic movie, so there are a lot of scenes I’m happy with...I’ll have to sleep on it!
[Two small dogs enter the frame. He gestures at one.]
That’s my dog Boonee from Starlet, by the way.
CP: Oh my god, canine celebrity!
SB: He’s a good boy because he’s tolerating this one, my sister’s dog. You can see how he’s just looking at me like “Get this girl out of my face.”
CP: He’s definitely so over it.
SB: We almost put him in Tangerine, but we thought it might have seemed forced.
Hawaii's annual Pow! Wow! jam officially kicked off on February 7, and artists will be busy painting into the weekend. The arts festival brings together curators, artists, photographers, and musicians for a week of painting, parties, and IG-friendly beaches.
Curated by Japser Wong, Pow! Wow! is only in its fifth year, but with its sheen of street-styled glamor and exotic vibes it has managed to attract some of the best artists on the mural festival circuit.
The predeliction is still for old school graf heros: this year it’s Saber and Miss Van on the international roster. They’ve also got a eye for the current in-demands: Maya Hayuk, Alexis Diaz, David Flores, Tristan Eaton, Maser, and Ganzeer are all painting on the island this week. Mural painting across Honolulu's Kaka'ako retail district began on the 10th and you can see first pictures of the new walls as they happen via @powwowhawaii on Instagram and Twitter.
Meanwhile, for a flavor of what to expect, here are our favorite murals that have come out of previous years' editions of Pow! Wow! Hawaii.
Mural by Reach. Located on Pohukaina and Cooke Street.
Mural by Push. Located on Coral Street.
Classic Aaron De La Cruz pattern work graces the interior wall of Bevy in Kaka’ako.
Honoring the life and achievements of King Kalakaua, Madsteez and Roid paint an impressive mural that utilizes portraiture and typography. Located at the opening of Lana Lane.
The last wall painted during the 2012 edition of POW! WOW! Hawaii. Located on the old Fisherman’s Wharf building on Ala Moana Boulevard, 123Klan wanted to leave a lasting thank you to everyone on the islands.
Hannah Stouffer and Kamea Hadar collaborated on a mural at the Ink Nation on Ahui street. Hannah brings her iconic geometrical designs coupled with Kamea’s famous lip image.
Bringing a bit of South Africa to Hawaii, Faith47 painted the silent musings of a female figure coupled with swans in flight. The mural is located on Queen street.
Gif-iti wall by Roids and Insa. Located on Ala Moana Boulevard.
Mural by Know Hope hidden away in the stairways of Salt.
DAL painted his recognizable wire-made animal forms on Queen street. For POW! WOW! Hawaii 2013 he masterfully composed an eagle in flight.
You can check out Pow! Wow! Hawaii's mural map here for more info on murals and locations.
Art bars are legendary. They’re the place where ideas are born, scenes are formed and historical photos are taken and fondly remembered. Paris Bar in Berlin was the hotspot of Martin Kippenberger and friends, while NYC's Cedar Tavern frequented guests like Willem de Kooning. Some art bars have closed; other have become historical landmarks in upscale neighborhoods. Today there are new art bars that draws artists either for their location, concept, cheap drinks, or their warm vibes. The "world’s best" is a big statement to make, but here’s some of the latest art bars I’ve come across that are definitely worth stopping into for a drink or some inspiration.
The daughter of a slot machine tycoon, Rebecca Brodsky is the owner of this gritty bar in the heart of Mitte. At this retro anti-cocktail bar with an eclectic drink menu, try the "Instant Margarita," a drink without a glass: the bartender pours the bottles of tequila and Cointreau triple sec simultaneously into your mouth. This is where Berlin art scenesters gather. Monopol art magazine has hosted their afterparties here, as has famed Berlin gallery Eigen + Art. One frequent DJ is Nic Sleazy (a.k.a gallerist Henryk Gericke) who runs the Staatsgalerie Prenzlauer Berg. Don’t miss their dance floor on Saturday nights or their Bobby Orr 1977 pinball machine in the back room—no coins necessary.
Co-founded by Daniel Vila and Jon McCurley (where the name hails from a play he made), as well as several arty friends, this second-story “adult children” playground is a must-see in Toronto. If you want to check out dada performance work by star artists like Zeesy Powers or Amy Lam, screenings by local Ontario College of Art and Design students, or local indie bands like Tradition, or even Corpusse, this is your stop in the heart of the hippie Kensington Market area. They just celebrated their five-year anniversary; let’s hope for another ten years.
Named after the tidal strait between Brooklyn and Staten Island, Bushwick is home to this chill cocktail and craft beer bar with a back patio open in the summer (warning, it can get busy). They have a famed $6 beer and tequila shot special and a cash-only policy, but it’s a good place to kick off your night and then bar hop around the neighborhood.
The Pigalle red light district has an art bar called L’Isolé (The Isolated) which has a no-social-media rule (except for Instagram). Co-founders Guillaume Le Donche and Antoine Galabert want to bring back the human touch with vis-à-vis networking rather than being “lost in the maze of the internet.” The glass bar is inspired by 1980s Italian designers, the Memphis Group, while the visual art director Inès Longevial hangs a fresh batch of paintings on a rotating basis. Expect to hear old school R&B, hip hop, and soul karaoke.
A colorful, unpretentious event space, this multi-purpose bar is in the heart of Berlin’s thriving arty district of Neukölln. Co-founded by the artists from the K:ITA collective, this space is home to performances by electronic artists like LAL Forest from Toronto and White Wigwam from Prague. Don’t miss their annual film festival, the Boddinale, which runs until Feb. 15. Set in a former brothel, they’ve been open since 2009 and have been a hub for artists in the neighborhood, showing installations, film, and sound art.
Open only in the summer, this anti-pub Peckham hotspot is where you might find Jeremy Deller hanging out with Goldsmiths students—while sipping on Campari on ice. Set on the roof of a multi-story car park, the space was co-founded by Frank Boxer and Hannah Barry from the Bold Tendencies art project. Just look up and you’ll find the space. Don’t miss the concerts in the summer.
The Old Hairdressers is an indie arts center with a cafe and bar that's also used for exhibitions, installation art, and interventions. Draught beer and cider are behind the bar, while they host regular supper nights paired with artist hosts for entertainment for a mere £5. They also show exhibitions by artists like Jessica Susan Higgins who studies at the Glasgow School of Art, and film nights hosted by the Matchbox Cineclub. Local artists like Oliver Braid can be found perusing the bar.
It is so difficult to find a fun, cheap bar in Williamsburg, but this honky tonk, kitschy country bar might be the answer. Named after Skinny Dennis Sanchez, a country musician from L.A. who was mentioned in a Guy Clark song, the place has a Nashville vibe and a framed portrait of Willie Nelson. It reeks of unpretentiousness and is worth stopping by, even if Dolly Parton isn’t on your playlist. They have 18 beers and a wide selection of whiskeys behind the bar. Hit the old school jukebox to change the tune.
When the Philadelphia Museum of Art announced Represent: 200 Years of African American Art last November, my reactions were mixed. The timely press release reporting that the museum would showcase a retrospective of African American art felt almost like a needed institutional response in a year notable for the increased visibility of racial injustice and police brutality in the US. Given Philadelphia’s large black and activist communities, expectations for the PMA to accurately and sensitively trace two centuries of art in one exhibition seemed impossibly high. Not only did the curation have to grapple with the historical obfuscations of racism and elitism, but it also had to account for artistic differences across geographic, gender, and ethnic lines—not to mention across centuries—without sterilizing the subject matter.
Now that it has opened, it's clear that Represent cites but—as criticshavenoted—fails to "represent" adequately its titular 200 years. Indeed, given the scope, and the fact that the museum only included work from its own collection, reductive measures were not just probable, but expected.Represent is peppered with odd oversights, but the quality of treasures unveiled in the attempt provides hope for similar major retrospectives of African American art to come.
Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898, Oil on canvas. Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the W.P. Wilstach Fund, 1899
In terms of range and quality of work, the show is outstanding; it includes well-knowns such as Henry Ossawa Taylor—the first black artist collected by the PMA in 1899—outsider artist Bill Traylor, Lorna Simpson, and Kara Walker. The subject matter defies tidy inventory, so the exhibition smartly chose to allocate works into familiar chronological and stylistic eras spanning from before the Civil War, through Reconstruction and the Civil Rights era, and into the present day. Dodging overt political or philosophical discussions, the divisions aid visitors in digesting the material while implicitly contextualizing the works within the wider art historical canon. On one wall of the small temporary gallery that houses the exhibition is an assemblage of portraits, and seats where the viewer can contemplate the different faces and facets of self-represented Black American identity.
Sarah Mary Taylor, "Hands" Quilt, 1980, Pieced and appliquéd cotton and synthetic solid and printed plain weave, twill, flannel, knit, dotted swiss, and damask. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Ella King Torrey Collection of African American Quilts, 2006
While the PMA owns more than 750 works by African American artist in storage, it only brought out 75 for Represent. This extreme edit is one of several curatorial fumbles despite curator John Vick's collaboration with consulting curator Dr. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw from the University of Pennsylvania. Seventy-five is respectable but hardly a ripple in two centuries. African American art is usually associated with craft, folk, and political art, mostly due to a lack of access and support from art institutions for artists of color. The array of styles—those born by necessity outside of the rarified art world, and those solidly within it—are spectacular and rich with technique and sensitivity, from the quilted "Hands" (1980) by Sarah Mary Taylor to Barbara Chase-Riboud’s political monument Malcolm X #3 (1969). The PMA at least touches upon the scope and complexity of African American art, if not manifesting its full wealth.
However, one oversight is almost unforgivable. The exhibition is located in the Honickman and Berman Galleries on the ground floor and is roughly the size of the gift shop directly opposite. While the PMA regularly holds special exhibitions in the space, typically reserved for prints, drawings, and photographs, the choice of location—modest, away from traffic and the general eye—felt insensitive considering the history of black suppression and marginalization in the context of the purported scale of the exhibition.
The first piece the visitor sees on the way in is John Woodrow Wilson’s 1981 portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. The drawing itself is movingly rendered and well-examined. However, given the display, its art is diminished; King’s legacy feels appropriated into a sympathetic disclaimer.
The previous day, I had attended Vox Populi’s reading by Metropolarity. There, Metropolarity member and AfroFuturist Affair founder Rasheedah Phillips noted that non-Occidental cultures conceptualize time as a shifting cycle rather than an uncompromising line. With her words in mind, I cite Glenn Ligon’s outstanding Untitled (I'm Turning Into a Specter before Your Very Eyes and I'm Going to Haunt You) (1992), a painting often exhibited in the PMA's Modern and Contemporary galleries, included now in Represent. A vertical canvas is stenciled repeatedly with the parenthetical title, a quote from Jean Genet’s Les Négres. Much as speech becomes babble with repetition, the text becomes murkier and messier with the force of every reprint, and the base of the painting is almost illegible. However, while the text effaces itself, the dire gravity of the message connects through the saturation of the ink.
Is Represent just another lip-service to minority audiences during the one month out of the year when Black culture is celebrated as a part of America's heritage, or should we take its oversights as symptomatic of struggling yet sincere reform in our art institutions? Perhaps the most imporant question is: what needs to be done differently?
Savvy Lebanese talk show host Zaven Kouyoumdjian broke a story on February 10 announcing that Beirut Municipality may remove all street art murals and graffiti from the city as part of a new overarching national policy to ban political slogans, posters, banners, and flags from public spaces.
While technically street art has always required a permit from the municipality, that rule was seldom enforced in the past, and writers from all over the world have visited Beirut to beautify the already vivacious city’s walls. Street art in Beirut has become so mainstream in recent years that, as Alexandra Talty noted in a 2013 article for Forbes, enterprising filmmakers, liquor companies, and even clothing brands regularly commission stencils or murals in trendy neighborhoods like Hamra.
Earlier this month, a mural in the Tabari neighborhood attributed to identical twin writers ASHEKMAN (aka Mohamed and Omar Kabbani) in collaboration with anti-censorship NGO March, was taken down, despite loud public outcry. It did not seem to have any bearing that the city’s governor, Ziad Chebib, had originally approved the mural, which read in Arabic, "To be Free or not to Be." Following a grassroots social media campaign under the hashtag #SaveBeirutGraffitti, Chebib conceded that the mural’s removal had been a mistake and tweeted to invite the duo to apply for a permit to repaint the wall.
Yazan, Arabic Calligraphy Cement Sculpture, beside stairs by Paint Up, Beirut, via Facebook
On the list of potential hits were graffiti icon Yazan Halwani’s murals, several of which have long reached canonical status among students, 20-somethings, and are even highlighted must-sees in some tourist guidebooks. Yazan wrote on his public Facebook page “I respect the objective of the municipality to want to improve the streets of Beirut and apply laws, and I think we both have the same object (smile emoticon). But I also think there should be a distinction between artistic murals that look good and are loved by citizens and the political slogans scribbled everywhere.”
Yazan’s works at risk included a much-photographed mural of songstress Fayrouz(i.e., the Whitney Houston of the Arab world) on Gemmayzeh Street and a wall on Bliss Street titled, "The King of Hamra," which remembers a homeless man named Ali Abdallah who froze to death during a winter storm on the buzzing avenue near the American University of Beirut. Good thing Abdallah’s story and Yazan’s practice have been documented to last in both volumes of Nino Azzi’s Beirut Street Art.
While street art is inherently impermanent, it seems misplaced that these works of public art could possibly be removed as collateral damage for a recent diplomatic deal between Hezbollah and The Future Movement. Beirut Municipality should be wise enough to realize the demoralizing effect this move will have on the city’s emerging art scene as well as the larger implications of censorship.
Hopefully the approval of repainting the ASHKEMAN mural is a sign of a positive resolution for all. As a result of continued public outcry and public dialogue with Yazan, Beirut Municipality announced most recently that graffiti resembling vandalism or containing political references will be removed, while the fate of all other street art will fall to owners of the individual walls and the public. It looks like Beirut’s color is safe for now, but not its residents’ freedom of expression.
Curators are stealing the spotlight in the art world—mostly, for a good reason. This year brings an international showcase from a growing cohort of curators who, from Miami to Tel Aviv, have organized exhibitions we can look forward to—including public art and analogue photography.
Ask a curator how they feel about curating and you might get mundane answers about the day-to-day tediums of mothering artists and battles with the internet, but the big picture is ever more exciting. The following curators (or curatorial duos) shared with us thoughts on their craft, demonstrating their passion and vision for what they do. Without further ado, here is the latest crop of curator stars of this year.
Anna Ceeh and Iv Toshain Artists and curators, co-founders of FUCKi̶s̶m̶TC art label Vienna
Upcoming: Anna Ceeh is curating Red. My colour is red, a performance tour on the cutting edge of video art, public interventions, performance, and hip hop from March to April at the NCCA, Moscow, as well as the Skwee Club at the UH Festival in Budapest showing video art, performance, and a Skwee Club mix from September 27 to October 4. Iv Toshain is showing in Vienna for Art's Sake!, 13 site-specific art interventions at the Winterpalais Prinz Eugen, Belvedere, as well as Galerie GALERIST, curated by Kendel Geers, Istanbul, Turkey and Galerie Charim, Vienna.
A quote on curating: “Art and curatorship canno longer separate, shock, or polarize but is regaining its subversive power to undermine, destroy, and revolutionize from within.”
Upcoming: Rare Earth at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary until May 31, 2015
A quote on curating: “A curator plays the role of a double agent, representing both material exigencies—including the patron or commissioning institution's needs and desires—and the artist's will. In addition to this, he smuggles in a few of his own interests. He is both an accomplice and an agent provocateur. Curators don't always write, but they should. Having said this, the best justification for making an exhibition is that what is being communicated could not be put across better in another format.”
Photo: Trevor Good
Carson Chan Princeton
Upcoming: Chan is co-curator with Tim Goossens, Julia Kaganskiy, and Aja Martin, ofAurora Dallas, a public new media art exhibition in downtown Dallas in October 2015. “Since curating the Marrakech Biennale (2012),” says Chan, “which was part outdoor, and the Biennial of the Americas in Denver (2013), which was entirely outdoor, I’ve been very keen on making exhibitions in public places. I like that you don’t even need to know you’re attending an exhibition to see and engage with artwork. I’m hoping that these exhibitions could help form a practice of thoughtful, critical engagement with the urban world."
A quote on curating: “Make sure your exhibition requires your audience’s physical presence; for everything else there’s the Internet.”
Kathy Grayson Owner and director of the Hole NYC New York City
Upcoming: Post Analogue Painting at the Hole this April.
A quote on curating: “Filling a hole in the downtown community” is our goal.
A quote on curating: “Although I'm not billed as a 'curator' for Auto Body, I would be considered Founder and Producer. Auto Body, a video and performance project that debuted during Miami Art Week, presents performativity as a powerful vehicle for transcendence, movement and transformation. By examining the political and economic inequalities of the art world, Auto Body serves as a platform for a variety of female voices. Focusing on time based practices as an alternative to an object driven market, the exhibition presents the body as language. Selected artists were nominated by a curatorial platform consisting of 26 international female curators. Auto Body is traveling to Faena Art Center in Buenos Aires Argentina this year taking place during ArteBa art fair and Argentina's first performance Biennale. As the show travels, the non-commercial project will continue to add local artists and local curators allowing new conversations to take shape.”
Upcoming: Tamir has two upcoming solo shows at the CCA of Oliver Laric and Toony Navok, May 21 to July 18, plus the CCA's summer exhibition from July 30 to September 26. She will also be speaking at the Armory Show in New York about regionalism in the Middle East on March 8.
A quote on curating: “When I applied to Bard, I had to write a personal statement about why I wanted to be a curator. It was titled 'God is a Curator' and was a riff on DJing. I can't believe they let me in, but I'm so happy they did. Those two years taught me stuff about curating I didn't even know I didn't know.”
Olli Piippo Berlin
Upcoming: The Black Market exhibition series, co-curated with Marcus Eek, will be announced soon with shows in Berlin, Helsinki and Leipzig. More info on the forthcoming exhibitions will be online soon (site is currently down, sorry).
A quote on curating: “I aim to curate with a similar feeling as I paint.”
Upcoming: Ekroth is working on upcoming solo shows of Klas Eriksson at Prosjektrom Normanns in Stavanger, Norway, from April 17 to May 31, and John Bock at Kulturhuset in Stockholm from May 30 to Sept 20. She also has a group show (currently untitled) at Darb 1718 in Cairo in November, public art projects in Oslo, and is working for KORO, Public Art Fund, Norway, as well as a board member of the Röda Sten Konsthall in Göteborg, Sweden.
A quote on curating: “Being a curator is like being the artists' best friend, critic, mother, therapist and mistress in one. One has to be a little perverse to enjoy it. Naturally, I love it!”
Sorcha Carey Director Edinburgh Art Festival Edinburgh
Upcoming: Edinburgh Art Festival: July 30–August 30, 2015
A quote on curating: “I’ve worked almost exclusively commissioning and curating artists’ projects outside formal gallery contexts and I love the multitude of conversations that requires (from artist through to road sweeper), the way in which it allows you to continually renew your relationship to a city and its spaces, and the whole process of helping an idea take form and come to life. ‘Curator’ has its roots in the Latin curare meaning ‘to care for’—and for me that word is a wonderful shorthand for the many roles a curator needs to adopt. It communicates that deep sense of emotional investment as well as a sense of responsibility and respect for someone else’s ideas, the pragmatic ‘taking care of things’ combined with a much more pastoral and relational ‘taking care of’ artists and audiences.”
Current and Upcoming:Reciprocity by Akira Yoshikawa with contemporary cellist Alex Waterman until February 21 and Meryl McMaster running from September 10 to October 17, which opens simultaneously with a mirror solo show in Santa Fe Museum of Contemporary Native Arts. “She’s a young woman but a real shooting star,” says Katzman. “I took her on right from school.” From October 22 to November 20 the gallery will feature Susan Schelle and Mark Gomes, a husband and wife art duo that do a ton of public art but have never shown together.
A quote on curating: “I’m bored with all the exhibitions that are the same. I aim to curate artists by connecting ideas and suggesting relationships, specifically outside my gallery and roster. Work does not exist in a vacuum. My gallery is a living organism that breathes the work; it's transformed by each exhibition.”
Silvia Gaetti Curator at the Ethnological Museum Berlin and freelance curator Berlin
A quote on curating: “Curating is translating the artists’ visual or conceptual languages into a language, which is comprehensible for the public. In the last years, the artistic media and languages became more and more multifaceted and so should the translations. We are entering a Tower of Babel's era!”
Cornelia Bästlein and Irja Krätke Berlin
Current:Cornelia Bästlein, a graphic designer and Irja Krätke, a writer and multimedia artist, have been friends for years. Their first curatorial venture is Lore Krüger's A Suitcase Full of Pictures until April 10, 2015 at C/O Berlin Photography Foundation. In 2007, they went to a political conference in Berlin, where they saw a German-Jewish translator and Nazi resistance fighter, Lore Krüger, speak. They developed a friendship with Krüger and visited her home, where she showed them her portfolio of previously unseen black-and-whitephotos she had taken from 1933 to the late 1940s, first influenced by the Bauhaus, then portraits of politicos and intellectuals in America, where Krüger fled in exile during WWII. They worked in cooperation with her to show her photographs, but Krüger died before they could realize an exhibition together. For their inagural exhibition, they brought to life the works of a forgotten photographer and hope to tour the exhibition around museums this and next year.
A quote on curating: “Curating is like a journey into uncharted land."
Upcoming: “I will be developing two separate large-scale initiatives supporting curatorial and artistic practices. I am collaborating with a couple of partners to launch an international program for curatorial research as well as to initiate a new international art prize celebrating cultural sustainability of artistic practices. Both of these initiatives have got a lot to do with my PhD research, out of which I will be publishing sections scientifically also later this year.
Upcoming: Group exhibition by 15 artists called New Narrative and Reader opening June 5 until August 29 at the Bury Art Museum and Sculpture Center in Manchester. It continues from October 17 to January 17, 2016 at the Salo Art Museum, Finland.
A quote on curating: “Confusion, it’s healthy—it’s a sign of something new.”
Leah Stuhltrager Director at The Wye, advisory board at TEDxBerlin and freelance curator Berlin
Upcoming: Co-curator with Cris Dam of Dam Stuhltrager of Williamsburg on Warren exhibition this May at One Art Space in New York City and project managing for CYLAND'sOn My Way, parallel with the 54th Venice Biennale this Spring at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice. Stuhlrager is part of the CYLAND/CYBERFEST curatorial team, which tours cities through the fall and winter in Berlin, NYC, and St. Petersburg in collaboration with the PRATT Digital Media Department and Made in NY Media Center by IFP.
A quote on curating: “Give me a ladder—I’ll do it myself.”
About eight years ago, before J.Crew arrived in Toronto, I was having a conversation with a colleague at the University of Toronto. He was an Art History PhD from Ohio, who specialized in medieval Italian church frescoes and dressed like the quintessential preppy yuppie: buttoned-down gingham cotton shirts, khaki pants, Clarks. He complained about how he couldn’t shop in Toronto, because it hadn’t yet caught up with “civilization” by having a J.Crew.
Recently, I found myself wandering one of Toronto’s J.Crew locations for the first time. I harbored great expectations, remembering his words. The clothes weren't really my taste, nor was the cacophony of eager shoppers descended after the Christmas holidays to find a bargain among the otherwise pricey attire. What caught my attention instead was their particular choice of visual merchandising: hundreds of art books, for sale, displayed amongst the neatly arranged piles of folded denim and t-shirts, or placed as pedestals for this season’s suede leopard print heels. I look at the books’ subjects, most of them artist monographs, including Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Louise Bourgeois, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Abstract America, Robert Smithson, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Dan Flavin, etc.
The impulse for referencing art (especially modern and contemporary) in public locations that ostensibly have very little to do with art seems to go way back. The predilection, of course, seems most commonly to be for Modern Abstraction—you will find modern abstract paintings and their derivatives adorning the walls of neighborhood banks, dentists’ waiting rooms, the home décor sections in department stores, and restaurant restrooms. The preponderance of abstract paintings on hotel walls places the art movement in a strange place, hovering between the giant gap of cheap commercial kitsch and high brow—abstraction is, after all, the art of the modern genius, though the modern genius today is, arguably, dead.
Looming figures like Pollock and de Kooning dominate the western art historical cannon; they have been written about, referenced, bought, sold, and reproduced on mugs and t-shirts for decades. Now, they stand as consumable idols immortalizing a past, with images of a man smoking a cigarette in his studio surrounded by his good paintings created in a perfect moment, with his perfect gesture. Because these artists and their work stand for something romantic, respected, and bygone, it is almost inevitable that they have entered the commercial sector to help sell a certain image or lifestyle. The average consumer (in stores of the socio-economic calibre of J.Crew) does not need to have an art history degree to recognize that abstraction has a complex history, that it’s reputable and often expensive, and maybe that that guy Pollock was an alcoholic.
Looking at the selection of books displayed at J.Crew, I wondered: is there any type of art out there that cannot be commercialized? Is there art that can resist? Perhaps not. This may be proven by the presence of several artists in the store’s selection that do not fit with the brands that Kandinsky and Pollock now represent—namely, Gerhard Richter and Anselm Kiefer. There are several different editions for the two contemporary German painters carefully displayed on small wooden easels throughout the store, including one Kiefer book found between the"Tilly Cardigan" and J. Crew’s custom iPhone cases. The issue with using a book on Kiefer as retail décor is simple: the painter and sculptor's output embodies the horrors of a recent history, in particular, the Holocaust. Common themes that he addresses are concentration camps, World War II Nazi rule and its inhumane sadistic behavior towards Holocaust prisoners, human suffering, death and decay. Kiefer’s oeuvre is well respected by critics and academics for its representation of the ugliness of twentieth century history and controversial, taboo issues that few brave to approach today.
Nor does Richter’s presence at J.Crew fall short in its problematic nature. Like Kiefer, a number of his paintings concern a dark German past. A book on his portraiture, displayed as a centerpiece above a rack with the 2015 Spring Collection, entails paintings showing the deceased captured criminals from the Red Army Faction (RAF) which took place in the 1970s. The RAF was a criminal socialist group that sprung in opposition to Germany’s fascist past, instigating palpably familiar and unwanted radical attitudes within a recovering post-World War II German society. The RAF became a controversial topic, largely kept out of sight, and was later critically addressed by Richter in his haunting 1988 paintings with titles such as Man Shot Down and Dead. The titles are a stark and unforgiving reflection of the canvas' portayals.
Thus, the issue with having such artists present at J.Crew for decorative purposes is far more sinister than meets the eye. A painful history inadvertently becomes the target of consumerism, carried in the vessel of another casualty: art. Kiefer and Richter command millions of dollars in the art world—just last week Richter became the most expensive living artist in Europe. Their works are inherently commercialized. But there's nevertheless something cynical about seeing their artwork—and what their artwork represents—displayed as a prop to sell an image of luxury, intellect, or Culture. Could these topics, works, and artists become clichéd like Pollock and Kandinsky, and also enter what seems to be the inevitable cycle of popular consumption? Will Kiefer and Richter begin representing a certain label and become celebrities?
I tried to find why J.Crew decided to display art books as eye-catching decoration and merchandise. The answers I received from a representative in visual merchandising were that the editions compliment the store’s aesthetic and current product.Their vision is to make creative cross-references between designers and artists, and also promote education. The books do bring pops of color. And the white tees look just fantastic next to a Kiefer.
Las Vegas-based photographer Marshall Scheuttle explores the American landscape, documenting archetypes of American youth and the narratives which develop around them—exploring our place and identity within the world. Borderland, his first body of work, focused on the individual and their surroundings; his latest project, Morning Star, turns its attention to the specific dynamic of Las Vegas, in response to the stories he uncovered in his earlier series. Scheuttle shoots analogue using a large-format 8 x 10 view camera. His passion and drive for photographing contemporary America allow him to experience his journeys cerebrally, further opening his lens to the people he meets and the stories he watches unfold. The photographer shared his thoughts and images from his latest work, Morning Star, with ArtSlant.
I consider photography to be a beautiful double-edged sword of a medium. There are no absolute victories or triumphs; it is a craft that dwells in fleeting absolutes. My love for it stems from its inherent ability to speak to moments of dying certainty, that an image can posses everything and nothing but rest solely on the notion that it can never exist again as it was. Slowing down a poem into arm's reach without truly defining the terms of its existence.
My latest body of work, Morning Star, focuses very specifically on a set geographic area. I moved to the Las Vegas valley as a transient exile to explore and photograph a city that I always found to be a last stop refuge for the disenfranchised. In retrospect, I view Borderland as a series that is very heavily attempting to resolve the notion of birth and identity into modern America, whereas Morning Star is the second entry in an ongoing story. Perhaps I view Las Vegas as the somewhat natural progression into a darkness and solitude that was born out of my explorations in my previous work.
I continue to photograph in the style I employ, albeit archaic and problematic, because I believe in the stories I'm after. That is not to say I seek to gain recognition through their exposition—rather I feel like they are songs floating through the noise I inhabit. It is simply a natural reaction to actively participating in the worlds I inhabit. I'm not to say whether these narratives or concepts would remain as they are without my interaction. More so, it's my nature to respond to them photographically as it's how I process the visual chaos. A dream within a dream.
Fun City Motel, 2014Wonder Motel, 2013Zion, 2013Bondage Dungeon, 2014Street, 2014Nevada Border, 2013Brothel, Lida Junction, 2014Rain, 2014As Above, 2013
Ry Ry, 2014
10 of Swords, 2014Self Portrait, 2014Tomb, 2014Wedding Veil, 2014Thomas, 2014
So you walk into El Floridita, one of many Havana bars that prides itself on being a former haunt of barfly Ernest Hemmingway, and there is Guillaume Bijl, the Belgian artist known for absurd installations in which he brings a driving school or travel agency into a museum context. On your way out, you try to hail a taxi, but it is already occupied by Joëlle Tuerlinckx. In a nearby eatery, video artist Johan Grimonprez is having lunch. It feels like Havana is having a Belgian moment—and in a way, it is.
For the exhibition The Importance of Being…in Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Cuban curator Sara Alonso Gómez selected 40 top-notch artists born or living in Belgium, including stars like Marcel Broodthaers, Wim Delvoye, Berlinde De Bruyckere,and Francis Alÿs, to showcase Belgian art—with all the complications and multiple identities that term implies—across Latin America. Through July 2016 the show will travel to three other museums in South America: Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil.
From top: Wim Delvoye, Guillaume Bijl, Kendall Geers
A number of artists were busy during their Cuban sojourn making new artwork commissioned specially for the exhibition. I caught up with three artists—two of whom are also participating in the upcoming 2015 Havana Biennial—whose work responds directly to context and environment of the host nation.
Koen van den Broek is making a new painting for every country where the The Importance of Being... will take place. Van den Broek is known for paintings in which he renders generous details of the urban landscape, like curb stones, in a style between figuration and abstraction. “My work is often on location,” he says, “as the grey and clouded Belgian landscape does not work for me. First I wanted to render the run-down beauty of Havana, but since I was here last time, I noticed they have been restoring a lot. And that was a bit too complex. I found a location in the street opposite Hotel Presidente, one of the oldest high-rise buildings in Havana. In this painting, there is a strong contrast between the architecture and the vegetation. This is only the second time I’ve used this kind of green. It is a green that you see everywhere, and which has a kind of Miami atmosphere.”
Koen van den Broek
Making the work on the spot was easier said than done. “We are here in a tropical climate with a high humidity. Because of that, the paint took a much longer time to dry. At 2 x 3 meters, it is also a big format. The work could not even enter the apartment where I was supposed to work. Then they proposed a garage, but there was not enough light and too much dust. In the end, after some bureaucracy, I was allowed to make it in the museum, as I had hoped from the beginning.” The artist also took precautions to ensure he had all the material he needed. “We sent over a crate of 300 kilograms with all kinds of paint, even staples and a screw driver. Finding material is not always easy here… Later, the crate will also travel to Buenos Aires and Rio. It almost becomes like a kind of mini-atelier.”
Peter de Cupere, who typically works with smell, is one of the three Belgian artists—together with Koen van Mechelen and Michel François—who will be participating in the upcoming Havana Biennial. De Cupere visited Cuba some time ago to do some advance research, and for The Importance of Being… he wanted to realize a work that captured the smell of Havana, including the powerful scent of gasoline that the old Chevys and Buicks spit out. “The pollution is strong here,” he says. “Initially I almost got sick from it. I took some samples from the various smells and sent it to a special laboratory in Paris. You only have three such laboratories in the world. I asked them to make a perfume from it. But I also added a smell that recalls smoked meat. As a reference to the pollution we inhale with our lungs.” The resulting artwork is created in a kind of cloud, in which the visitor can put his head in order to smell it.
Peter de Cupere with his Smoke Cloud, which reproduces the scent of Havana
For the Havana Biennial, which opens in late May, he will present The Smell of a Stranger. In the Botanical Garden, he will give one plant the smell of another one, by manipulating some of its components.
For over a decade Koen van Mechelen has been working on his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, which crossbreeds domestic chickens from around the world to create a truly global specimen. He’s presented various steps of his research across the globe, including in the most remote areas in the world, and now the CCP comes to Cuba. For The Importance of Being… he shows a 3D rendering of a chromosome of all the cross-breedings. “It is a visual rendering of immunity. It would show more resistance. The image is a chromosome of the Mechelse koekoek [a Flemish breed of chicken]. It is a very realistic image, which I call Evolution of a Hybrid, combined with a more poetic image. It is a kind of breeding center that consists of glass bowls with glass eggs that are under water. It is one installation, but consists of a meeting between two universes.”
Koen van Mechelen
Van Mechelen will also participate in the Havana Biennial. “I was here in 2007 basically looking for the Cubalaya, a chicken species from Cuba that I could not find anywhere—until I was invited by a collector in the countryside, one hour from New York. In the fields, I saw a Cubalaya and asked the owner for some of the eggs. The [collector] has died now, so apparently, I am one of the few people in the world who has all the varieties of the Cubalaya! When I was invited to the Biennial, I immediately decided to bring the Cubalaya back where it belongs: in Cuba! We have sent some of the breed installations and eggs over, which was not easy at all. But we got support from the highest level, so it was possible. We have already bred some of the animals, but will continue to do so in Havana. In a library, we will also show all the documentation material of our research, and we are organizing a symposium on fertility, inviting professors from all over the world.”
Looks like Cuba hasn’t seen the end of Belgium quite yet. In a perfect metaphor for the complexities of global and national identities, a trace of Belgium—in the form of a native Cuban chicken—will remain in Havana even after the artists have left.
The Importance of Being... is on view at Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba until April 26, 2015. It will then travel to Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina (July 4–September 12, 2015), Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (December 2, 2015–February 14, 2016) and Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil (April 11–July 14, 2016).
(Image at top: The Importance of Being... Installation view with works by Angel Vergara Santiago and Pascale Marthine Tayou)
In its 34th edition, ARCOmadrid has invited Colombia to participate as guest of honor under the moniker #ArcoColombia. Since 1996, the organization has presented a special focus on a different country each year (last year we covered ARCO's #FocusFinland, also furnished with a readymade hashtag). This year the special program encompasses a selection of 10 galleries curated by Juan A. Gaitán for the main fair alongside a broad repertoire of exhibitions and events that will parallel ARCOmadrid during the months of February and March across the city.
The suite of tandem events are organized under two main branches. Focus Colombia is an initiative of the Colombian Government that brings together twelve exhibitions curated by the Colombian cultural producers María Wills Londoño, curator of Museos del Banco de la República in Colombia, and Jaime Cerón, curator, art critic and visual arts advisor for the Ministry of Culture in Bogotá. The Colombia in Madrid program serves as a complement to Focus, injecting renowned names of Colombian contemporary art into the Madrid art scene and institutions. These periphery expos, like the main fair, aim to present a historic panorama of Colombian art of the last 40 years, while diving deeply into the impact of Colombian art domestically and abroad in the last decade.
Do check out the 10 Colombian galleries at the main fair, but be sure to complete your tour with these five off-site highlights that speak to some of Arco Colombia's most prominent curatorial themes.
Oscar Murillo is a key name in the Latin American art world and a leader of the artistic vanguard, both in Colombia and abroad. Currently based in London and represented by David Zwirner, Murillo’s work deals extensively with contextualizing globalization and exploring notions of migration, multiculturalism, identity, and sociocultural differences that are rooted in concept and the artist’s own life experiences.
An initiative of the Embassy of Colombia, De marcha ¿una rumba? grapples with the artist’s own cultural ties in a multimedia exhibition that seeks to chart a meeting point between different geopolitical and cultural situations, including #ArcoColombia itself. The artist’s birthplace of La Paila, Colombia, the fair’s host city of Madrid, and even the site of the actual exhibition are all incorporated in a personally driven effort to find an intersection between European urban space and the Colombian countryside.
According to curator Santiago Rueda, Photoconceptualism—or Conceptual Photography as it’s more commonly known—was short lived in Colombia and comprised mostly of a small group of artists. Now, drawing from the private collection of respected Colombian art collector José Darío Guitiérrez, Rueda attempts for the first time to map the photographic movement’s main practitioners in a meditative and critical exploration of 1970s Colombian photography.
The exhibition spans themes of popular architecture, landscape, sexual politics, and abstraction and comprises works by 11 artists: Camilo Lleras, Jaime Ardila, Jorge Ortiz, Eduardo Hernández, Óscar Monsalve, Álvaro Barrios, Miguel Ángel Rojas, Fernell Franco, Antonio Inginio Caro, Manolo Vellojín y Bernardo Salcedo.
Cecilia Arango, Canasto tejido por la communidad Guacamaya (Basket woven by Macaw Community), 2014. Courtesy: Arco Colombia 2015
Though the conflicts of Colombians today are increasingly defined by political upheaval, social struggles, and rapid migration into the nation’s major—and distinctly mountainous—cities, Tejedores de Agua investigates the force of culture inherent in the multitude of Colombia’s rivers. The exhibition takes as its subject a total of seven rivers, ranging geographically from the first streams of the Amazon to the expansive floodplains of the Magdalena that empty into the Caribbean.
The collective effort of 18 artists identifies the growing rift between Colombia’s heavily populated urban centers and its largely isolated villages and tribes, linked only by the rivers, which have remained fraught with violence for decades from black market activity and clashes between guerilla militias. Employing materials and craft both traditional and contemporary, fiber arts, video installation, and objet trouvés weave together to form a wholly immersive exhibition that’s dredged the historically and socially rich sediments of the rivers and assembled them as a distressed delta.
Time—the passing and the loss of it—is difficult to see, measure, concretize. While fleeting, rarely does it leave a physical trace of its construction. On the occasion of her performance at Caiza Forum Madrid for ARCO2015, Maria Jose Arjona—perhaps one of the most recognized Colombian performance artists who has, notably, worked with Marina Abramovic—will perform Construction of a Time, a variation of Act of Fable, which showed for the first time under the Proyecto Pentágono in 2001.
Arjona’s performance evokes the creation of Tibetan sand mandalas. A meditative, repetitive action performance that consists of the artist scooping up, transferring and depositing sand with her hands, moving the material from one filled place to an empty place. In the process of relocating the sand, grains are inevitably lost between her fingers to form a film on the ground, forcing not only the protagonist, but also the spectators, to confront the materialization of time lost.
Presented in tandem with the exhibition Naturaleza Nominal (Nominal Nature)curated by Jaime Cerón, the lecture-performance ¿Pero esto es arte? by Milena Bonilla and Luisa Ungar, proposes what they refer to as “a visual exploration of archival materials pertaining to the development of European colonial fairs.” The conference attempts to review notions of development linked to colonial exploitation as a means to uncover the process by which cultural representation and visual vocabulary is subverted by instances of power and the construction of historic, social, and political realities in Colombia.
At the intersections of multimedia artist Milena Bonilla’s artistic practice are discursive questions that link economy, territories, and politics with daily life. Similarly, Luisa Ungar investigates through her work the construction and institutionalization of social and cultural norms and seeks to reconnect archival or academic material back to their everyday popular use.
A handful of the UK’s young artists have nervousness on the brain—or so it seems, judging by a recent crop of artistic endeavors discussing 21st century anxiety.
Among current examples are Helen Carmel Benigson’s solo show Anxious, Stressful, Insomnia Fat at Carroll/Fletcher, London; Rosamund Lakin’s cyberchrondriac film First Opinion at Modern Art Oxford and "This is not a Symptom," a South London Gallery lecture series on the micropolitics of nervousness, facilitated by artist Sidsel Meineche Hansen. Each of these projects grapples with the ways in which digital-age anxiety is at once widespread/structural/networked and personal/intimate/embodied. They probe at anxiety’s origins and its current manifestations and permutations.
Installation view from Rosamund Lakin’s First Opinion, 2014. Rear projection screen attached to desk, 10 min. Courtesy Rosamund Lakin
These artists have more than their subject matter in common: they also belong to the Millenial Generation. Rosamund Lakin recently graduated from The Ruskin; Sidsel Meineche Hansen received her Masters from Goldsmiths a few years ago; and Helen Carmel Benigson was awarded a scholarship in 2014 to pursue a DPhil at Oxford. Is the type of networked nervousness being explored at the moment the result of being raised on and in the Internet—or are preexisting anxieties simply finding new nodes to inhabit?
Rosamund’s degree show, First Opinion, was selected by Modern Art Oxford to be exhibited in its experimental space, Platform. Her fragmented piece knits together videoed screen captures of anxious and often health-related Google searches paired with an unnerving soundtrack.
Rosamund Lakin, First Opinion, 2014. 10 min. Courtesy Rosamund Lakin
The viewer self-consciously stands by as the hypochondriacal searches unfold and quickly avalanche. “Do microbes really live on your skin?” leads to a video of squirming microbes which morphs into a search for “How does your body know to stop breathing?” which shifts to an image search for “normal tongue.” Who hasn’t, upon googling the symptoms of their common cold, been convinced that they have a terminal illness? First Opinion captures an escalating, self-reinforcing cyberchrondria that feels very real in the age of WebMD reliance. For many, the troves of readily available information that you’d expect to assuage health-related anxieties just make them worse.
While Lakin’s video may seem critical of the web, she told me that she views the Internet as a mixed bag: a domain in which one can at once find support and empathy and indulge in anxiety and dysfunctional behavior. “Like most of the ‘worried well’ I google all of my ailments, often in a premeditative way. Google largely acts as a conduit for our self-involvement and our neuroses.”
Lakin’s contemporary, Sidsel Meineche Hansen—whose work explores the normalization of nervousness—has come to see the organization of her seminar series as an integral part of her artistic practice. In 2010 she facilitated the lecture series "Towards a Physiological Novel". Now she organizes "This is not a Symptom" at South London Gallery. While art constitutes one flexible space in which questions about anxiety can be posed, the conversation is clearly interdisciplinary—something Hansen takes into account in inviting speakers. Those who have participated at "This is not a Symptom" include Erika Biddle, who researches the desires produced by the feedback mechanisms of social networks; Robert McRuer, whose focus is “crip theory”; and Chris Millard, who considers the politics of self-harming will speak in upcoming events. The talks are contextualized by reading material and film screenings.
Still from Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s Seroquel®, 2014. HD video and CGI animation, 8 min. Commissioned by Cubitt Gallery. Courtesy Sidsel Meineche Hansen
Still from Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s Seroquel®, 2014. HD video and CGI animation, 8 min. Commissioned by Cubitt Gallery. Courtesy Sidsel Meineche Hansen
While First Opinion lets a scene of anxiety at the nexus of the body and technology unfold and allows resultant questions to emerge, "This is not a Symptom" actively asks about wresting back power with an anarchic ambience. There is a certain level of suspicion of big pharma, concern about the disenfranchising potential of psychopharmacology, mistrust of the rhetoric of productivity, and a declared need to reclaim our biological subjectivity. “We’re examining how nervousness is produced, how it is both pathologized and falls into production,” Sidsel said. “I think of the production of nervousness as something that is connected to technology in the sense that we’re often working on a computer.”
Through all of this artistic probing, the question remains: to what extent is the nature of anxiety actually changing? In the latter half of the 19th century, there was a widespread belief that modern life (think steam power and the telegraph) had exhausted the nerves. In any case, rest assured: with these artists, nervousness is normal.
Danny Volk talks to artists in their studios about life and art—while they do his make-up. This concept was a new one for us, and, unsurprisingly, it produces some unique moments: see artists like Theaster Gates, Pope.L, and Jessica Stockholder working in their studios as you've never seen them before.
Revisit Season 1 as we anticipate the all-new Made-Up Season 2, to be released this Spring on ArtSlant.
This week: Danny is at the studio of photographer Paul Mpagi Sepuya.
More About Made-Up With Danny Volk
Made-Up is created and hosted by Danny Volk. Volk was born in 1979 in Akron, OH and currently lives and works in Chicago, IL. Volk got his MFA in Visual Art from the University of Chicago in 2014, and his BA in Theater Studies at Kent State University in 2006.
Produced by | Danny Volk and Stephanie Anne Harris Trevor
Colombian artists have shown a fascination with nature over the last two decades. Many of these artists apply pseudo-scientific methods and tools to address issues of the relationship between humanity and nature. This interest is so prevalent in Colombian art that José Roca, one of Colombia’s most respected curators, opened up FLORA ars+natura, a space dedicated to the relationship between art and nature in Bogotá in 2012. These artists exercise a vast array of approaches: from drawing, video, and photography to more specific strategies and disciplines like sociology, taxonomy, ethnography and botany.
There are various ways in which Colombian artists have engaged with nature in their art, but botany in particular is employed as a means to explore and critique the political history of their country. Roca, who held the temporary post of Adjunct Curator of Latin American Art at Tate Modern, has been a curator since the 90s and was among the first to write about Colombian artists' use of botany to address political and historical concerns. In “Flora Necrologica” (2001), Roca wrote: [Colombian artists] have established connections between the classification of natural resources in the colonies, in itself paving the way for the capitalist exploitation of the land, and the “scientific” establishment of social inequalities as one of the roots of the country's current situation.”
As Roca suggests, this strategy was a way of getting to the root of the country’s more recent conflict. Botany becomes a means for artists to deal with the legacy of colonial expeditions, sometimes directly reappropriating the pseudo-scientific methods of the 18th and 19th century explorers, in order to deal with or critically engage the legacy of the colonization of the “New World.”
Alberto Baraya, (left) Orquidea Vanda y 4 antropometrías artificiales, 2013, Found object, photograph and drawing on cardboard 60 x 45 x 5 cm (right) Expedición Nueva Zelandia, Plate 02, 2009, Found objects “made in China”, photograph and drawing on cardboard 60 x 45 x 8 cm, Via Ocula
These artists see the history of colonial expeditions, often sponsored by the Spanish Royal Crown, as a way to rationalize and comprehend the violence in second half of the 20th century in Colombia, even though they do not approach these as “rational” or “scientific.” Instead these artworks point to the irrational, arbitrary essence of the colonization of the Americas, which in turn they see as having produced, either directly or indirectly, the irrational, absurd, and incoherent political situation in the present.
This approach is exemplified by Alberto Baraya’s ongoing project, Herbario de Plantas Artificiales (Herbarium of Artificial Plants) (above). Since 2001 Baraya has been collecting a vast array of found and artificial flora made out of different materials—plastic, glass, wood, wire, and fabrics—during “expeditions” in cities such as New York, Mexico City and Venice. The herbarium takes different forms: photographs or framed assemblages with notations and ink stamps not unlike those found in natural history museums or antique scientific illustration books.
Alberto Baraya, Greenhouse of Artificial Plants, 2007. Courtesy Arco Colombia
Alberto Baraya, Planta pluma - Antropometría argentina, 2013, Found object, photograph and drawing on cardboard 80 x 60 x 8 cm. Via Ocula
Baraya’s entire project is widely understood as a parody of 18th and 19th century travelers’ own attempts to research, catalogue, and categorize flora and fauna in America. By dissecting countless artificial flowers and categorizing them, he parodies the pseudo-scientific methodology, stressing the arbitrary and problematic role botany had with colonialism. In short, the expeditions were, either directly or indirectly, used to exploit and dominate these lands and the indigenous people living in them. The “science” was not objective but motivated. In short, a critique of instrumental reason. But, putting aside that reason has always been instrumental, Baraya is not archiving rare plants that face the risk of extinction in the age of the anthropocene; he has focused on objects that are either machine or hand made. Although they are often considered tacky, cheap or tasteless, these flowers carry within them the symbolic values given to nature (even if in a degraded form). These artificial objects have a use-value, not only an exchange value, and they can embody nature without being from the natural world. Baraya’s near-compulsive aesthetic project is more interesting as deconstruction of the everyday, or the construction of a universe of artifice, than it is for its critique of colonialists' use of botany.
What makes this project even more interesting, however, is the ambivalence it has towards itself. In the artist’s compulsion to collect these flowers and reproduce the naturalists’ methodology, he highlights the double-sided character of these expeditions. He shares the non-objective fascination, the curiosity, and the intense desire to know and learn about obscure, foreign, and unfamiliar things. The work embodies the problematic nature of the approach, without being an absolute negation of the enlightenment impulse.
Another project addressing the relationship of botany with colonialism is Felipe Arturo’s The Migration of Plants. Arturo focuses on the history of the human-lead migration of plants like sugarcane or coffee that travelled from Africa along the shores of the Mediterranean to the Iberian Peninsula and eventually to places like Colombia in America.
Susana Mejía, Color Amazonia, 2006–2013, Courtesy arteflora
Then there are the artists who demonstrate a fascination with nature—its exoticism, its beauty, its majesty, its still to be explored elements, its still untold stories—without the immense historical baggage of colonialism. Susana Mejía’s Color Amazonia (2006–13), for example, is the result of a seven-year enthobotanical research project about natural pigments in the Colombian Amazon jungle. In a floor-to-ceiling installation, color tinted fibers simulating the way indigenous people hang these fibers to dry, showcase rare bright pigments she identified as being the among the most used by the region's indigenous people. The project was conducted with scientific scrutiny and with the collaboration of the indigenous people of the Colombian Amazon.
Color Amazonia is currently included in Waterweavers: The River in Contemporary Colombian Visual and Material Culture, a group show curated by José Roca that has traveled from the Bard Graduate Center galleries to Centro Cultural Conde Duque in Madrid. It is on view through April 12th. Felipe Arturo’s The Migration of Plants is on view at Centro Centro in Madrid until May 31st. Alberto Baraya’s work is also included in Waterweavers as well as in the exhibition Naturaleza Nominal, or Nominal Nature, at Centro de Arte 2 de mayo (CA2M), curated by Jaime Céron. The exhibition opens on February 28th and runs through April 26th.