Thursday, May 28, 2009

Looking up

Master, placid are
All the hours
We lose,
If, in losing them,
Like in a vase,
We put flowers.

(fragment of a poem by Ricardo Reis, aka Fernando Pessoa)

Tommi Toija, the author of the above sculptures, has an exhibition at the Institut Finlandais in Paris until the end of June.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Falling? Flying?

No fall is ever great.
The distance from the tip of the nose
to the dirt is always measured in the smallest units.
It is always ridiculous, always too human, the
concrete body against the concrete soil,
the sight losing focus, and the hands,
the hands.

Richard Beacham's drawing, at the Boxbird gallery in London.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Of the daemon

I am not a person particularly given to metaphysical beliefs.
I tend to be cautious in the way I describe the world, and the parts where I allow myself to travel further are, in my perspective, mere mental experiments, or even tricks of the (artistic) trade.
Yet I wish I could simply apply Elizabeth Gilbert's advice and speak out to whatever is out there, negociating with me what comes to my mind.
It's not an easy task. The skepticism rushes in, and I am reminded by myself that, after all, it all remains a metaphor, and although I might be producing things I myself do not expect (that seems to be the rule), I do not know how my heart functions, either, or why I start to sweat or how I fall asleep. The more carefuly I look at myself, the less of what I do can be divided into conscious and unconscious activity. Ergo, I can assume creativity is also somewhere within that quasi-conscious reign that to me should appear no more familiar, or "mine", than yawning.
But, deep down inside, I am also a dreamer. I love to think I'm lucky. I like pretty formulas, and feel very precisely how sometimes things go right. There you have it: here is an opening for metaphysics. If I am so easily tempted to create all these invisible structures, strings and forces, why can't I accept the simple idea that there is someone, something, a daemon, that negociates with me everything I do? Why, for heaven's sake, not accept something that makes your life easier? For the sake of truth? In art?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Abstraction Game: Myra Mimlitsch-Gray

The problem with abstraction is that a subjective voyage into the unknown is precisely this: subjective. And, since the exceptional quality of my experience as the creator is something distinct from the experience of the spectator, the abstraction game becomes a hide-and-seek of subjectivities, a challenge which at any moment can be called a bluff, a mere ego trip. Thus, whenever the artist moves into abstraction, whenever we receive less (of the visible image of the visible), we find ourselves in a position of risk - the risk of losing track, of losing sight of anything that rings a bell.
It is a risk we have learned to enjoy. It is a risk justified by the way our historically-bound senses receive the world, and well-defended by an astonishing number of passionate theories.
Still, I look with envy at the art lovers who find abstraction as natural as air.
Most of the time, I find it easier to discover new worlds in a stone than in an abstract sculpture.
Yet there are artists who manage to create paths that lead from the world of re-cognition, of everyday objects and images and tastes, of the mimetic pleasures of re-production, to the very limits of abstract forms.
One such artist is Myra Mimlitsch-Gray.

Take a simple object:

The effect of melting does not seem to challenge the object as such. It asks for fruit as loudly as any classic salver does. Nonetheless, it moves us towards a world where the concrete is, well, not so concrete after all:
Here we have a candelabrum, which is hardly a candelabrum any more. It has melted like a candle, apparently contradicting its main function: to withstand melting. Welcome back to the magnificent world of semiotic undoing, and sensual games with the intellect.
Too entropic for you? Why don't you try something more positive, then? Sugar and cream, anyone?

The sugar bowl is the negative of its own shape, as is the creamer... or is it that none of them actually has the shape? What are they, after all, these shapes that are to be useful, that are to serve, as if their being objects were not good enough? What is left of the representation, of the concrete, once we put it to challenge in its very heart?

Let's move back to the first picture now. The title of the work is Trunk Sections, and it is made in cast iron. A tree made of iron. Or is it a mold of a tree? (What a strange idea: a mold of a tree!) Or just a part of their trunk? And why do they seem so... wooden? What, then is the matter with them? They are like ghosts, representing something we presume might have been here, but made of another stuff, another material, another essence, defying the way we see the objectness of the object.
We can, of course, go back to seeing them as just a few pieces of iron cast and assembled to create an abstract sculpture, like so many others.
The question is: with this delicious introduction, why would we refuse the voyage?

Myra Mimlitsch-Gray
has an exhibition on until June 27 at the Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia, and you can read an insightful text about her work by
by David Revere McFadden here.

Saturday, May 09, 2009


My last posts brought about several inspiring reactions, among them two great suggestions.
The animation made several people think of William Kentridge, whose characteristic style is a mix of playfulness and profound reflection, exploring what it means to draw, to create a world, to translate, to travel...
In this video, though, he is less focused on the means of drawing itself, and concentrates on an attempt of putting things back together – or is it, trying to find what was it about them that made them/me this and not that?

The simple, classic time reversal and the retro music combined with the “choreography” make it seem like an old magician’s trick. Indeed, undertaking the attempt of constructing myself seems like an impossible task, one that requires, among others, defying the basic entropy of time. Putting it all together is nothing short of getting the papers to fly right in your hand, dancing in the air as if you had trained them all your life.

Another great discovery is Dibujando un espacio (Drawing a Space), a series of 3 videos by two artists working together, Teresa Solar Abbout and Carlos Fernández-Pello.

At first glance, this is a work about distance and communication, and I must admit that given my personal history, it took me a while to go beyond this reading.
But then, once we get past the metaphor of a long-distance relationship, new layers appear: after all, every relationship is, on some levels, a long-distance relationship. Trying to construct something together is a mad project. Words only get us that far, and the only way of building it together is trying to construct primitive (always primitive) structures that can handle the heterogeneous spaces we bring with us.
Suffice it to say that contemporary analytic philosophy started with the idea that some things are simple enough to constitute a solid basis for communication, and by now, analytic philosophers focus on discussing what they mean by "communication", "constitute", "solid", "basis" and "for".

Both works have a desperation I appreciate and fear. They seem at once hopeless and surprizingly effective. Also thanks to the formal discipline, they become clear pictures of a very unclear, impossible structure, entering right at the point where philosophy struggles.
They share a powerful combination of obsession and self-irony which is both scary and enchanting. Also in art.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Love, Art and Coimbra

Coimbra, a city in central Portugal, has one of the most beautiful - and creepy - love stories ever to be heard. It is the story of Pedro and Inês, a Portuguese heir to the throne and a Spanish aristocrat's maid. It has a tragic ending, much more gruesome than Romeo and Juliet (Pedro's own father, king Afonso IV, fears a political scandal and has Inês assissined), and contains what is one of the most extraordinary episodes in royal history: Pedro, besides declaring war on his father, declares he had wed his lover in secret shortly before her death, has her body exhumed and placed on a throne, and has the entire court kiss the dead girl's hand as a sign of loyalty to their sovereign.
Inês spent her last years in a Monastery in Coimbra, and the city is to this day associated with romance.
Now, what is particularly enjoyable in the story you are about to read, is that it happened in the same town, and yet, none of it ever meant to deal with the legend. It is but a simple story of two people. One of them happens to be the architect and artist Juan de la Mora.

"These hearts were painted by my girlfriend and I in Coimbra, Portugal a couple of years back. She is from Coimbra and I am from Chicago and we've been able to maintain a long distance relationship for the past 2.5 years. Since then, we continue to paint some of these hearts every time we are together in Coimbra. What is interesting about Portugal's Calçada (sidewalk), is that you can take a combination of a minimum of three stones and find the shape of an abstract heart form. The heart can grow by adding more stones to the original three."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Simpler than Blu

Firekites - AUTUMN STORY - chalk animation from Lucinda Schreiber and Yanni Kronenberg.
My favorite part is the chalk accumulating on the board. And the simple, obvious, yet powerful ending.
How different is this from Blu? Maybe not too different. I would call it a tribute. The style, the dynamics. Yet the addition of the canvas, the frame, turns it into a slightly different game, a play with pictures, and with types of spaces. I only wish this latter element were slightly more present in the film, and we got more often to travel outside of the canvas.


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