Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Art criticism

I'm pretty busy with the last preparations for the performance I've been writing about recently.

In the meantime, if anyone is into more theoretical and art-critical issues, I've been following an interesting (though very expert sounding) discussion about the role (and lack of importance) of art criticism, at the Modern Kicks art blog here and here.
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Monday, May 30, 2005

Reading about contemporary art history

Max Ernst, Woman/She-Bird (1921)
One of Cologne Dada's exhibitions was held in a space that could only be entered through a men's lavatory. It was promptly closed as an outrage against public morality on the grounds that one of the works--a 1920 Ernst collage titled The Word/She Bird--was pornographic. Ironically, the offending nude was the figure of Eve lifted directly from a 1504 print by Albrecht Dürer.
I've recently come across two very different texts about contemporary art history. The first one is about Max Ernst, the second, about the development of works that question(ed) the limit between art and life. The second topic is much closer to my interests, but surprizingly the
text itself, entitled Hybrid processes between art and life, (by Rudolf Frieling, a curator and lecturer specializing in media art) made me... bored. It is quite an exhaustive and exhausting survey of performance (and media) art works that played with the notion of reality. I am sure many people can find it informative, although it doesn't really seem to discover any new grounds. It is intelligent, very scholarly, extremely well researched. But it is also inhuman in the way it spits out names, events, movements and ideas. Roselee Goldberg also condensates in her books, but she has pity on the readers. Perhaps because of the final rehearsal rush, all this is too much for my limited brainpower. I simply float away into other realms. And as I was floating, I flew across an excellent review of a new Max Ernst exhibition in New York, by Arthur C. Danto. Danto is a known and respected art critic and philosopher, author of such publications as the highly recommendable (though debatable) After the End of Art (there are some amazing reviewsof it on Amazon). Here, he manages to combine well-written criticism with great insight and sense of humor. Somehow, now I feel much closer to Ernst than to the whole gang of "disappearing ink draughtsmen".
The work was not meant to be visually ingratiating, so it is sheer historical misjudgment to dismiss Ernst as "the worst leading painter in the twentieth century's most visually miserable major artistic movement," as one of my fellow critics recently put it.
And another bit:
New York has been spared the all-too-familiar scenario of pious poster bearers, outraged politicians, defenders of artistic freedom citing the First Amendment, and the learned presence of art historians, theologians and perhaps psychologists explaining to viewers of The Charlie Rose Show that the Holy Boy, in the nature of His humanity, must more than once have tried his Mom's patience. But I doubt Ernst would have been pleased by the somber spirit of cultural duty and aesthetic appraisal with which his art is being approached at the Met. No one loved a good public dust-up more than Ernst and his Dadaist comrades, who used art to assail a society they held responsible for the pointless slaughter of millions in World War I.

Max Ernst, The Blessed Virgin Chastises the Infant Jesus Before Three Witnesses: A.B., P.E. and the Artist, (1926)

(via and via)

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Work-in-progress in the movie business

At John August's excellent blog about screenwriting, you'll find some great advice for becoming a successful screenwriter (Hollywood style). One of the tips is - try and show your work-in-progress to as many people as possible. I find it fascinating how different the pragmatic, scarily down-to-earth approach is from the artsy oh-so-inspired talk I'm used to.
Try this one:
a screenplay has a short window of opportunity once it goes out, and that if it doesn’t sell, writers need to learn to let go and move on. They can’t live off the hope of that one script forever. Instead, they need to keep producing new material. Keep writing — don’t sit around and wait for the sale or the next assignment.
"Assignment". That is so amusing. I sincerely adore this attitude. Is there ever going to be some harmony, some cohesion between the film industry approach and the fine arts/theater one? (Is it all about the money?)

Rehearsal pics

(more pics and commentary here)
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Drawing poetry in the digital age

Pencil in the obvious by Amanda Auchter is a simple, charming work (in Flash) based on the idea of book illustrations/drawings. It is image-ined poetry, drawn-out and drawn-away, an enchanting little tale of seduction, in a graphically appealing setting. My only problem is that the seduction is not quite what it seems: the text invites to draw things, but it is the artist that actually draws (the drawings appear by themselves). Maybe I'm just too spoiled by all the interactive game-like works that have been so popular recently?


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Open rehearsals

Today we're having a rehearsal open to the public. I'm quite nervous. I don't like the idea at all, although I was the one who suggested it. But I do have a problem with showing a work-in-progress, I guess I'm extremely old-fashioned in that sense. Works-in-progress are popular these days, with many art venues organizing them regularly (here in Lisbon the most popular one is CEM) which is understandable: I also love seeing an unfinished, somewhat rough work and being able to fill the blanks.
But as a director, the whole thing looks very different. Having all these people watch a show is one thing. In an open rehearsal, though, they feel justified to comment, and more than that, they feel almost obliged to criticize. I know pretty well what we need to work on - the show is still not quite ready. The last thing the performers need is having people tell them everything they thought went wrong. Of course, you can just ignore the comments, or use them to your profit. But for that you need a lot of experience and distance, which my performers do not have. On the other hand, they obviously need the practice in front of a public.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm so old-fashioned, I still believe in a work's aura. The term, first defined in modern context by Walter Benjamin's text Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, was also considered (by the author and most those who followed) a thing of the past. The idea is fairly simple: if the unique quality of an object of appreciation is taken away, its aura, the thing that turns an aesthetic experience into a quasi-sacred one, disappears. Well, in this case, I consider the "aura" to be the thing that makes us want to forget the rest of the world and stay with the work of "art" (in this sense, it is still quite present). Creating a "working" context changes the type of experience. Everything becomes close and reacheable, manoeuvrable. This can work in many cases, as in dance, or some forms of theater, or, obviously, in the case of sketches and drawings. But imagine a work-in-progress of Vanessa Beecroft's, or Robert Wilson's work. Maybe there are some things that shouldn't be seen before they're ready?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Font Love

Here's a project for all font lovers: Genotyp. It is about combining fonts to create new, hybrid forms. It is funny, intelligent and original. It's only a pity the selection of the primary fonts is so small. But still, one can really pro-create some great fonts.


Don't waste stuff

A few days ago I've written about the art*o*matic, an automatic cheap art vendor. Well, what if this experience went further? What if, instead of selling and buying, we would be exchanging?
Swap-o-matic is all about that: exchanging, trading, instead of buying. Giving away objects to acquire new ones, and discovering the possibilities of such a "mini-market". The system of exchange credits is 1-for-1, (you get one credit for every given item and each item "costs" one credit), so frequent participation is encouraged. There is also a rating system that prevents donating bad or unuseable items.
The designer, Lina Fenequito, seems very enthusiastic about this project, which is her thesis project in Design and Technology graduate studies:
The Swap-O-Matic is intended to be both a solution and critical response to the gluttonous culture that we live in today. Its core function to support the reuse and recycling of consumer products through swapping among participants.
So far, there are about 70 participants ("swappers"). They have a web page where they can see what items are currently in the machine, what were the most quickly swapped items, and the "top swappers". The items range from necklesses and shirts to a Chinese gas mask or a glue gun.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Doubt in contemporary art

It is not the first time this happens. The doubts are serious. They do not concern the reception, but the creation of art. There comes a time when the sacrifice the creation requires is such that the work itself seems ridiculous. Why the suffering? For the final satisfaction? At this particular time it seems more like the satisfaction will barely be relief. The disappearance of a burden.
Burden art. (Chris Burden. What a strange name to have for someone who shoots himself for art. For someone who locks himself in a locker for many days, for art.)
Per aspera ad astra: through suffering to the stars. This is the price you rarely hear about, or at least rarely acknowledge. At a certain point there is really hardly any pleasure left of this pleasurable ride called art, and in this case, once again, it seems the crucial point. The point where things are decided. And, of course, if you hear about the artist again, it is probably because he survived, he made it through. At what cost, though? What are we left with?
Maybe being an artist is surviving and still remembering the freshness of the draft. And then, still having the strength, and guts, to share it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

(Almost) Against Video Art

Like so much Art Tech of recent years, video environments resemble world's fair "futurama" displays with their familiar nineteenth-century push-button optimism and didactism.
- Allan Kaprow, "Video Art: Old Wine, New Bottle" (1974)

Monday, May 23, 2005

New tendencies in performing arts

The above is the topic of a "debate" (conference? panel discussion?) I have been invited to participate in. Any thoughts?

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Into uncertainty

Katherine Bradford's art at first might seem more like a comic strip.
Wait. Give it some time. Observe the man without a face, the translucid water, the feet almost hilariously sticking out, as if everything were all right.

Swimmer, Man (2001)

He is going to drown. He cannot possibly stay floating. There is just something about him. About the blue surface, about his hopeless little figurine body.
Or maybe I'm just influenced by the other paintings. The ones that seem like relics, remnants of body art...

Shaver, Man (2002)

...and the ones that seem transparent, light, happily bidimensional...

trapeze painting (slip) (1998)

...in their portrait of a fall.
I look back at the floating man. He is faceless.

Good Ideas, Bad Art

Jeff Koons, Puppy (1998)

Good art is rare. But if I were to judge by the descriptions, it nearly always appears as great. Artists learned how to write about what they do. They learned how to express themselves in the PR world. The strange thing is, they learned this much quicker than they learned to create great art. So I'm surrounded by amazing artist's statements, brilliant introductions, intriguing self-analyses... and then comes the work. Recently, it happens to be mainly abstract forms and combinations of colors, materials, impulses. Very abstract, very... pure. And difficult to judge, to say the least. The artist's statement is like a key, or rather, evidence that this is serious, that the guy knows what he's doing. So I go back to the work, bedazzled, not really sure if I should accept whatever I am being told and start off from there. Or maybe I have the right to stick to my impressions and repeat that this simply doesn't appeal to me? Would it be silly stubbornness to refuse the artist's perspective? I mean, these people really do have interesting things to say, and their opinions about art more often than not make a lot of sense.
I look at the theater world, which I am most accustomed to. Its history is full of absolutely outstanding theories. You wouldn't believe how smart, how witty, how ingenuous the thinking of the stage can be. But in this case, there is no way I can be convinced: I don't like most theater. More than that: it bores the hell out of me. And no theory can bring my interest back. I know, I tried.
Theater is living (and dying...) proof that the world is full of great art theory - and crappy art.
Maybe that's why I find making art so incredibly challenging. Nobody really knows how it works.
But sometimes it does.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


One of my tasks as the director of Goat Island when making a performance is to foreground the not seen and background the seen. To do this requires:
1. the formation of attention
2. slowing the traffic of the mind
3. an enclosed encounter area
4. spaces between
5. not dance, not theatre, not visual art, not performance, not literature, not music, not anthropology, not ritual, not playgrounds, not teeth, not bats, not moons.
- Lin Hixson (yes, director of the British group Goat Island), from More Permanent Than Snow, in: Live: Art and Performance

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Raw Contemporary Art

A museum in southwest France is exhibiting "raw" but often powerful art by the self-taught which was never intended for a public showing.
The museum is so relaxed that visiting pupils sometimes take a picture back to their school to study it at leisure.
"Here, visitors are totally free -- there's no dictatorship of conformism, no security guard beside each painting -- here you can touch the art," said organiser Pascal Rigeade.

(Yahoo news, via Art2day)

A quick visit to the museum's site convinced me that a) it's worth discovering and b) many represented artists are not quite self-taught (many Fine Arts graduates!). Which brings an interesting question: whyever do we need to know where the artist earned his skills? Unless the education/cv is part of the work (as is often the case with "autobiographical work"), this sort of thinking seems a naive transposition of business thinking: "where does he come from and what can we expect from him in the future if he works for us". Well, in this case, he doesn't work for us. Especially, since at the Musee de la Creation Franche the works were meant not to be shown to others. So we better take it or leave it.

Of course, it's another story if we curious were someone's ideas/style derives from. It might be better to ask the artist directly though (if s/he knows!). Here is a nice example of what you could here at the museum:

Joaquim Baptista Antunes (alias Baptistantunes) was born on in Sertã, a poor Portuguese province. He was the son of peasants and became a shepherd and then, at the age of 15, a waiter.He rebels against religious conformism and popular superstitions, which makes him the black sheep in the fmaily. He starts drawing in the eighties (b.1953). During a travel to New York, he discovers Chagall and Picasso. His talent is discovered by the Portuguese surrealist Mario Cesariny, who convinces him to start painting. He receives a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation, moves to Paris in 1987 and quickly enters the "L'Oeuil de Boeuf" gallery.

Generally speaking, the works at the Museum have clear common characteristics: they are strong, colorful, with often simplified, accentuated forms.

They make me think of tribal art, children's art (no wonder Dubuffet is one of the local heroes), and on the other hand, of "deconstructive games" where the more often than not figurative subject loses its autonomy and appears as partially desintegrated, or literally integrated into the surroundings.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Cheap, good art. Yes, it's real.

How much would a work of fine art have to cost for you to buy it? Less than a CD? Less than a meal at a restaurant? Ok. The Art*o*Mat is what you need. With works of genuine art (size: 54mm x 82mm x 21mm) priced at $4-5, it's pretty affordable. And, if you have good taste, you might even make a great investment!
Art*o*mats are retired cigarette vending machines that have been converted to vend art. There are 76 active machines in various locations throughout the country.

The sad part is that "the country" means the U.S. I'm waiting for a similar initiative somewhere nearby...
The purpose is simple:
Our mission is to encourage art consumption by expanding access to artists' work. Art*o*mat® has created an opportunity to purchase original artwork while providing exposure and promotional support for artists. Art*o*mat® combines the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form.
If anyone considers this form as too commercial or silly, I would recommend trying to make a living (and a name) as an artist for some time.
Here are some examples of works you can discover in the Art*o*mat:

Want to have your art in an Art*o*Mat?


Of Politics and Art

What is the universal? Can we have universal values? Any society that aims at maintiaining justice is based on values it believes to be the best. What happens when cultures meet? How do we deal with the otherness of others? Is it possible to be simply "tolerant", and consider this "tolerance" to be the one universal value?
Among a number of artists addressing these questions in the last years, Jota Castro is a special case. This is maybe not as much because of what he is doing or saying, as it is because of where he comes from. Jota Castro is a Peruvian-born artist living in Belgium. But above all, Jota Castro comes straight from the world of international politics:
In the late 1990s Jota Castro brought his career as a diplomat at the United Nations and the European Union to a close and decided to devote himself totally to the field of art. Through his different professional activities, Castro gained in-depth knowledge of the world of politics; moreover, he considers his studies in law and political science as his real training in art. Conjuring up trivial humor, politically incorrect sarcasm, and a wide range of references, Castro's sculptures, installations, and performances point up certain mechanisms at work in society, whose imbalances and weaknesses are skillfully highlighted by the artist.
Castro is indecent and politically incorrect, but always in the right way. He knows how to provoke and how to create simple, strong messages. (Sometimes too simple?)

BBB, oil shame (2004)

For the opening of "Exposition Universelle 1" at the Palais de Tokyo, Castro gave
a performance called "Discrimination Day" that is meant to present the recurrent excesses of what the French call the délit de faciès, literally "facial crime," i.e., being stopped by the police because of the color of one's skin.
Becoming an artist for Castro means using the political skills to their fullest extent. That's why he sometimes chooses to curate other artists' work, as in the case of the Emergency Biennale about Chechnya he co-organized in 2005 (here is a blog that accompanies it). Jota Castro once more doesn't choose an easy subject, and decides to explore it (by inviting other artists, such as Francis Alys, to work on it) in a straight-forward, cut-the-slack kind of way (see pics some of some examples). Does it make a difference? Hard to tell. I haven't found any testimonies yet that would say how life-changing witnessing Castro's events/works was. Maybe that's not what it's supposed to be about. Or maybe we still haven't achieved a sufficient level of artistic communication. Or maybe we're just cold people with no empathy. No, let's say we're not. For the argument's sake.
My role as an artist became clear to me when I understood that the artist is a man as any other, that he decides he has things to say and things to do, and that he doesn't have time to lose. He feels that his times need interprets and he recognizes himself [se reconnait] in the world that surrounds him.
- Jota Castro

Jota Castro, Autoportrait (2003)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Hacking to be a museum guide

A new, creative way of using podcasting. The Art Mobs "movement" (actually an ongoing student project at Marymount Manhattan College) developed a way of remixing/integrating high, low, marginal and off-the-record art. Here is how hacking goes MOMA:
Students make their own MOMA audio-guides
Students at Marymount Manhattan College's Department of Communication Arts are recording their own audio commentary on the Museum of Modern Art's exhibits. They're also inviting others to make their own homemade audio guides to MOMA, which they'll collect and post online.
This is an attempt at decentralization which I am particularly fond of. There is something quite intimate, delicate and powerful missing in the way contemporary art is being communicated. Things are starting to change, though very slowly. Funny, how technology can give a helping hand. Another proof that art is lazy? I mean, couldn't anyone make cassette audio-guides before? Of course, the distrubution was worse, the quality not so good, but still, it was available. Does that mean we had to have it all right in front of us, on a dish, to start actually using technology? Or am I too young (and ignorant) to remember that there were such initiatives, only they faded away? What would be the lessons to learn here?

(via boing boing and art.blogging.la)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

HuMan Ray

Man Ray, (1943)

Man Ray Statement

"I am an old man now
In sixty years you can do a lot of work.
I did a lot of things in sixty years,
my paintings, my photography, my objects.
I change all the time.
I have periods were I do one thing
then for a few years
I do something else.
I am a free man.
I do not work for a padrone, or a boss.
I am indifferent to things
that do not interest me.
But never would I attack them.
Especially in the creative arts.
Because I say anybody who does creative art
is a sacred person.
I do not care what he does.
Whether he paints academic pictures
or he is modern
or different
from anything else.
He cannot do any harm.
Whereas a bad politician
or a bad doctor
or a bad cook

can kill you!"

(Thank you, Man Ray.)

(pic via)

Preparing a performance

I have been working on a ("site-specific") durational performance.

It's about intimacy in times of distance, political, social, personal distance. It's about the possibility (?) of revealing and getting closer. The images you see are the "prototype" of the main structure.

Two things have surfaced during the preparation:
1) For a while we flirted with the idea of using fragments of (Sophocles' or Anouilh's) Antigone. It all seemed to fit: the tension between the private and the public, the drama of wanting to respect your private world/values, the overwhelming role of (social/state) structures in personal life, and even the isolation of a "cave" where the intimacy is "consumed" (burns out). But then, it didn't fit at all. The tragedies bring an incredible burden: they have a story to tell, which is an ancient story, not quite corresponding to the things happening around us. Of course, we can say, as is usually said (also about e.g. Shakespeare) that the whole world is there already. But this is exactly the problem! I don't want the whole world, not that world. I would have to choose and either a) destroy the tragedy by "manipulating" it to my needs, taking away everything that makes it the tragedy I admire, or b) listen to the tragedy and lose my play. I tried for some time to find the right balance. Then I let go - and feel relieved. "This tail does not belong to this cat", my Dad used to say. How does it ever?
2) I'm discovering to my surprize I have been developing more and more work in "non-traditional" theatre spaces. Now, this wouldn't be worrying, if it were the road I had opted to take. The problem is, I have never really liked this sort of work as a spectator. I never gave it much credit. And here, suddenly, I find myself digging in the same site-specific dirt I found so unthrilling.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

(Off Topic) What makes a blog popular

As Wajcman (p.11) notes, “qualities associated with manliness are almost everywhere more highly regarded than those thought of as womanly.” In this case, discourse practices that construct weblogs as externally-focused, substantive, intellectual, authoritative, and potent (in the sense of both “influential” and “socially transformative”) map readily on to Western cultural notions of white collar masculinity (Connell, 1995), in contrast to the personal, trivial, emotional, and ultimately less important communicative activities associated with women (cf. “gossip”). Such practices work to relegate the participation of women and other groups to a lower status in the technologically-mediated communication environment that is the blogosphere, and more generally, to reinforce the societal status quo.
- Susan C. Herring, Inna Kouper, Lois Ann Scheidt, and Elijah L. Wright, Women and Children Last: the Discursive Construction of Weblogs


I have just discovered a musical piece called Vvoi, by someone (person? group?) called meta. I'm happy about the coincidence (I had nothing to do with it), since I like the piece. I might even use it in a (durational) performance I'm preparing (providing the author permits it).

Sculpting your way out of sculpture?

"It is clear that I often craved to bring sculpture into a more direct involvement with the common experience of living.

At such times I felt there must be a more direct way of contact than the rather remote one of art.

Initially this may have been no more than an attempt to move beyond the narrowing horizons of artistic sensibility.

It bothered me that art so soon became a style with little creation added to its production.

Why should the artistic imagination be so contained, or be unequal to the broadening scope of our world awareness?"
- Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988), A Sculptor's World (1968)

All the pictures are of works by Isamu Noguchi. In order of appearance:
Lunar Infant (1944)
Artist's studio, New York City(1945)
Detail of Playscapes, Atlanta, Georgia (1975-76)
Energy Void (1971)
Large Walking Box (1952)
The Garden of Peace, UNESCO, Paris

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Friday, May 06, 2005


"The skin is what is deepest" - Paul Valéry

(From what I understood, Paul Valéry's idea was that, paradoxically, our surface is what makes us seem so human. Under the skin, there is only flesh - animal flesh. Maybe our secret is hidden within the skin? Or maybe humanity is skin-deep?)
(Do I need to explain why this picture appears on the New Art blog?)


I just read my last post. It made me think about the nature of the two works. Is interactivity in art really a value?

Touch Me

We-make-money-not-art published a post a few days ago about Touchme, an interactive installation by the Dutch group Blendid:

Simply press a part of your body or objects against the frosted glass surface, and you'll leave a kind of imprint for you and others to see, as the results remain a part of the piece and are displayed when no interactions occurs for a given time.
This is...nice. It's nice, it's fun.
Now, thanks to The Man With The Red Glasses (blog in French), I recalled a piece from another world, of a different order, but also playing with afterimages and images hidden behind screens. I mean the work of the brilliant Portuguese artist Helena Almeida, called Tela Habitada, roughly translated as "The Inhabited Canvas" ("tela" also means "web" or "net").

Obviously, any direct comparison between these two works might seem superficial. But I love Paul Valéry's statement that "the skin is what is deepest" (yes, I know it's out of context), so why not confront these two ways of looking at things? at objects, at art? I'm afraid my thoughts here would be very similar to a recent post I wrote, so let me just add this: I do not mean to say that art should remain serious. That if it's not black-and-white and heavy with triple meanings and long, profound silences, it is probably worthless. On the contrary, I am always incredibly happy if I can be moved (shaken, shocked, bewildered, hit, tickled, blown-out-of-this-world: impressed) by some work that beams out of a thousand electronic screens which react to the average rate of blinking of the gallery visitors. Only this sort of effect seems to me as something incredibly difficult to obtain out of a mechanism that is so difficult to control. If it is so hard with a "simple" black-and-white photo, imagine the difficulty with all these wonderful new toys. That's why I still usually prefer Almeida. And that's why I appreciate new media artists: they dare to try the impossible.


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