Thursday, March 29, 2007

The object-driven touch: Robert Wechsler

What can we control?
What is the part of reality that is actually controllable?
Say, when we take things in our hands.
Applied Geometry (2004)
There is a point where reality simply will not be tampered with. It says only so much.
And the beautiful thing is when someone manages to feel this point and use it, changing the vectors, but keeping the power, the energy, the impulse that the world drives through us.
Does that sound esoteric?
Sanctuary (2005)
What is the fish doing in the church? What is the Holy water doing around the fish? Within the fish? It is all here, and the transgression is only a small part of the game. The name Sanctuary, to me, is not ironic. It is playful, yet strong.

Where do we go from here?
Zebra Print (2006) (H .75"x L 1.25")


Good work, Robert Wechsler.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Using walls (p.2): the Splasher controversy

There are several excellent Polish sites about art. They focus mainly on Polish art and the Polish contemporary art milieu, and have a certain tendency toward a specialized and a high-brow discourse, but they have lots of good discoveries and insights and are a great reference point. And they're in Polish, which makes me one lucky bastard. Lucky for most of you, they also have lots of images of new Polish works. I recommend two: and strasznasztuka ('terrible art')
From time to time, they also put on things happening outside of Poland. Below is a translation of one of the articles:

"Splasher" is now the hottest street-art name in New-York. Not because of what he makes, but because of what he destroys. Stencils, stickers and posters on the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan have been for over a month the objects of the attack of the anonymous 'vandal'. Street art created by people as famous as Banksy or Swoon are destroyed in the same way - by a cruel splash of color paint.


The street art works, once considered only as acts of vandalism, are now themselves victims of a vandal. But is Splasher really just a street hooligan? It seems not. He chooses his goals very carefully - they are always the works of known artists, who have also often entered into the regular gallery circuit, and their works are sold at auctions for big money.


The mysterious Splasher is being looked for on the internet. Bloggers are looking for the motive of his actions. Many believe Splasher simply protests against the commercialization of street-art and against putting it in the same pot with classic works of art.


But what are Splasher's actual motives? Next to many of the works there were manifestos glued to the wall (one of them is reproduced below). They have references to dadaism and expressions like 'True creativity is the joyful destruction of this [existing] hierarchy'. Is Splasher the conscience of contemporary street art? Or a conceptual artist, who as part of an adopted theory of 'destruction' creates a new work of art?


New Yorkers don't appreciate Splasher's "art". The destruction of the works of known artists, such as Banksy, results in disapproval, and even anger. Splasher is not seen as the "savior and renewer", but as a simple vandal. Vandal among vandals? Or could Splasher be the last real street artist, who sacrifices famous murals and stencils in the name of a fight for the purity of the art form? Because what is the difference between street art and gallery art, if we can't destroy someone else's work at will in either place? After all, street art is based on an idea of destroying and lawlessly occupying space. Always at the cost of someone else. After all, the street is not a museum - every street artist, even Banksy, is subject to the same rules and accept that his work can be removed at any moment.


The question remains - do Splaher's desperate gestures make sense? Is it better to fight for a pure street-art, or to cherish its highest achievements?

(text by strembol)

more on Splasher here
And here is the idea that Splasher is a marketing ploy by the very people who promote street art as a commercial art form - this way they get free publicity (with a street-art war twist to it, apparently?).
The very idea shows us something new: that these are real people, existing in a real society, and obeying its laws. Whether they are perpetrators or victims, they participate in a social context. And its a relief to see how clearly they are integrated in it through the Splasher affair.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Using walls (p.1)

Can emotions shape our morality? Not only they can, but according to the great Portuguese neuro-scientist António Damasio, they do. Damasio has recently published an article in Nature which further develops the idea that our moral choices are very closely related to our emotions - also on a neurological level.

Face2Face is a simple idea: make both sides of a conflict see each other in the most human way possible. Show faces. Show them up close. Show them together. Show them as similar and - make them look funny.
So, if emotions can shape our moral decisions, the laughter could make it just a little harder to see the other as barbaric - unknown, distant, too-different.

Can this work? Can it be that simple? And I don't mean to suggest peace will happen because of a few posters. But can anything change? And why would we not believe in it, other than out of bitter and failing experience?

Two small details. One: the use of a 28 mm macro lens. It is very hard not to look funny and cute seen from that angle. Two: the faces we see are combined in pairs of people with the same jobs (e.g. barbers, doctors, etc.).
See the video:

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Figuratively speaking

Finding the human form is easy. If you know where you're coming from. In some of Meinbert Gozewijn van Soest's recent work the head becomes just an apparently chaotic mash-up of lines and stains. One is tempted to think this is a head. One is tempted to empathize. But if we don't know anything else, what have we really got here? What is apparent? What remains?
The beauty of lineage is that it tells you more than you should know. The figures entangled in their own lines, buried in a mass of accidents, undefined by the very form that describes them, tell us the story. The narrative, the line, the hermeneutic* identity of what would-have-been, all this appears to us if we go beyond the simple drawing of havoc. But can we actually defend this as a principle? Maybe not, but in pragmatic terms, if even the site invites us to a general, overall lecture, to a combining of various phases of Research, then I say, hey, go for it, beyond the Pandorra's box of a depressing painting, into the line that completes it, giving it an entire universe to refer to.

*I can't believe I'm actually using this creepy word...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Artsing human-scale design

The Tea Bag garden is a landscape made of stacked bags of garden soil. The bags, padded like a bench, are essentially soft plant containers. There were holes in it for planting herbs. Bey had planted mint at Z33 and left a boiler and tea set so that visitors can sit and make their own tea. Whenever a bag is empty, it is easily removed and replaced by another bag/plant pot. The bag garden can thus be peeled off, layer by layer.

The Vacuum Bag Furniture gives a real and surprising value to dust. The chair-shaped refuse bags can be connected to vacuum cleaners. Once filled with dust, they provide comfortable seating.

Different seats are packed in an elastic synthetic fibre to shape Family Cocoon.
Regina over at WMMNA recently wrote about an exhibition by Jurgen Bey where these wonderful objects appeared (all descriptions are by her).
My favorite is the Family Cocoon, because it doesn't pretend to be practical. The Tea Garden could be considered as practical (although there seems to be something very not-real about it)(then again, I didn't drink the tea, did I), so it comes in a close second.

Jason Young's Curling Stones

The thing that fascinates me about the Geostationary Banana Project, beyond the craziness and the scale, is the fact that it is a constant work-in-progress and is already functioning in the art world as a model of a work-to-be. This way of working is very inspiring.
There is something about taking away the edge of the Art Work that makes it, well, easier on the digestive system. When the experience of the work can be dissolved, so we don't just get it in one big lump, it can sometimes give a much-needed space of habituation. By that, I don't necessarily mean a context, an explanation, but more like a creative play between various aspects, levels, possibilities of something that otherwise risks being seen as, well, just a thing.
For instance, showcasing works on New Art is, for me, a way of seeing them in that space. Of seeing their possible links, connections (and readings as well...).
But in some artworks the dialog between various areas is what gives them a very rare power.

I probably wouldn't have noticed Jason Young's work.
This type of work is something I would probably like to make - playing with resin has been a
personal fixation for a while. But I rarely actually stop to appreciate abstract plastic work, if it doesn't have a twist to it - some sort of a hidden agenda, so to speak. Of course, you might say if it's a good piece of work it only takes time and some effort to discover all the hidden agendas. Well, let's just consider that this can be ineffective.
On the other hand, I probably would have missed out on the fresh and creative video director Pascal Franchot. There is something about both of them that seems too slick, too cool...
Now, join them.

The above are stills from a film called The Curling Stones (or here in Quicktime). A film about creating a work of art. A film that is a documentary, because it documents the process of creating a work. But it is not a documentary (compare it to this), in that it clearly stages the whole thing. And doesn't even aspire to seem objective. It is a quasi-fiction. More: it looks, feels, moves like a commercial. The difference being - the result is a work of art. And maybe because the play stopped being about the pure material, the resin, the touch, or, on the other hand, the issue, the goal, the punchline, there is an artistic dialog here that gives value both to film and installation/performance. Brilliant.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Texas Space Banana

At this stage, the blue-prints for the construction of the bamboo structure were finalized. The whole structure was developed with 3D software. As a result of this development, we know the amount of bamboo poles needed, we can zoom in to conflicting joints and see the details, we know the weight of the structure, the volume of gas needed, and so on. Also at this stage, we built and tested the gasbags that will be sandwiched between the bamboo rings that compose the structure. Finally, as a structural test, we built the smallest ring of the final banana - 16 meters in diameter.
Getting a 300-meter banana to float over 30 km up in the air, somewhere in the stratosphere. To be seen from all around Texas for a month.
The work, Geostationary Banana Over Texas, is by a known Canadian artist, Cesar Saetz. Its budget is about 1 million dollars. So far, they have a little more than 1/8, but the work keeps developing.
Comparable to... what? Cattelan's Hollywood? Christo and Jeanne-Claude? Smits' Cloud? Art-in-space programs? Surrealist games? Dada?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Light the pong

Marlene Dumas: taking sex seriously

Marlene Dumas, whose watercolor painting was featured here a few days ago, is worth going back to.
Not because she is the most expensive living female artist. And not because she "embraces the totality of the human experience" (wow, people still actually write this sort of stuff...).

Oh, bloody hell.
Oh, bloody hell.
I am as filthy as I am pure.
I think things, imagine things, crave for them or despise them.
This explicitness, this seeing more, or need to see more, is what brings me here.
To this site, to this artist. To this constant search for a name, a form, a way of channeling thirst.
Is it about sex? Is it about the blatancy of exposition?
Is it about humanity? About the loss of innocence? The search for meaning?
Is it about who we are? About our place in the order?
It certainly is about where the technique takes us. Yes, the technique. The way of putting things, of joining the clay.

One thing that irritates me is the often-repeated idea that Dumas is an artist "who knows no taboos". This is not only silly and sensationalist - it takes away the pleasure of discovering the exact lines of her taboo, her notions of decency, quite present and rich. Look at the above pictures as at a map of impossibilities, of what is not said. The form as subtraction.

See more Marlene Dumas here, here and here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Two African portraits

found on Artthribe:

Mustafa Maluka, I've decided my fate (2007, oil and acrylic on canvas)

Marlene Dumas, Portrait of Kendell Geers (2004, watercolour)

Is it just me, or is the skin a haunting issue? This transparency, this impossibility of getting there, of touching, of having it as a given. This need for nuance, and nuance, and indefinition, redefinition, something other than definition. The color. The need of color. And the need, especially in the case of Maluka (which, by the way, in colloquial Portuguese means 'crazy'), to give skin a depth that surprizes in the flat world around it... And the calm, but not happy, look.
What is color? What is left of color? Isn't it impressive it can still cream, after all this history, after all this art?

Flexible sofa


Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Art for all - and vice versa

If you bring it in, we'll hang it, said the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, which is about to move to another space. The reaction to the initiative, called aptly Free For All, was overwhelming: dozens of people cueing up in the cold weather with their works. The only criterium of selection was having actually brought the work oneself. One may have doubts whether it was really a sign of 'support for the gallery' on the part of the people waiting in line, as one of the gallery workers suggests. After all - the fine arts are a finely guarded institution that isn't easy to break in. But it is a great and courageous initiative indeed. Chaos? Oh, please, let's not treat every single initiative so dead serious, as if it were the Great Finale of Art. I wonder how the catalogue looked. Nearly 3000 works by about 1300 artists.
Now that's what I call a great social art installation.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Challenging the world, one billboard at a time

He's been around for a while. In 2002, for instance, he made the world a better place by putting flags on high-tension electricity lines.
Or another delicious installation, called The Real Thing, where he distilled Coca-Cola to get drinkable water:
Helmut Smits is a fighter. He does not allow the idea that one cannot be heard in the contemporary world. He seems to think there is plenty of space, and plenty of ways of speaking up. If The Real Thing looks too symbolic and gallery-restricted for you, and the flags are nice, but you're afraid other might just not get it, then try Pamphlet, a simple device that allows you to share whatever thoughts or ideas you have with the world - just type it on the computer, click on 'Send', and the pamphlet will be dropped from the 10th story of a building.

Also recently, Smits decided it was time to react against the constant pollution of publicity in the city. So he dressed as a town hall worker and went out there, in front of a billboard, and planted a tree.

The idea is this:

He's had some problems before, like with this balloon-based cloud that was prohibited because of air space regulations...

I suppose this won't get him into trouble, because by the time the tree gets serious, the billboard is long gone. Which begs the question: should guerrilla art be effective? Does their effectiveness lie in the word-to-post strategy?
Okay, it's a bluff. But isn't this a great goal for activist art-making: to create a bluff that becomes reality?

(via 1 & 2)

Disposable dressing gown


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