Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ursula Sokolowska - the self as projection

Indeed, it looked suspicious.
You see, the combination of a mouth and a flower is usually considered sensual.
But in Ursula Sokolowska's art? This may be erotic. Actually, it may be considered sexual. But there is something too disturbing about it to make us think of a feminine, sensual image. The way the mouth is open, somewhat like at a medical exam - and then there's the projected image, which highlights some of the traces while completely eliminating, flattening out others. Thus, the mouth is both deep and shallow. The image spreads, but is strangely attached to the body that supports it.
See another example, my favorite:
Here, the limits are out-of-focus, only the lips remain crystal clear. And the void inside. This is one of the most purely baroque images I know, combining an apparent decorativeness with a powerful tension between the still and the life. As if beneath the surface of artistic illusion we received a sudden gust of reality.

And now, the proportions change. Sokolowska seems to focus more. Focus more on herself, and just focus more. The images can be seen as absolutely terrifying. Like some nightmare, some horrific vision.
And this is a vision, a vision of the artist's past, images of her childhood as the child of Polish immigrants. What we see are all the scary things one might associate with emigration: poverty, tough family relations, a feeling of loss and despair. A small child in hostile surroundings, be they a forest or a kitchen. And from time to time, the mother figure.

The child's face is taken from old pictures. And projected on faceless dolls. It actually looks like this face does not belong here. Which is possibly the most frightening.

But then, we should not forget the distance that is played out when using projection. Once again, the depth and the shallowness/surface play a subtle game. What we see is not a memory. It is a highly formalized game with memory. What captivates in these images is the uncertainty as to whether the form has made the ground safe enough for us to look. After all, a girl is staring at us from the picture. Funny thing, to use the technique of projection. As in a Freudian projection. Or in an image that is sent away from us, just to appear again. Paradoxically closer than the original.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Szpilman Award: carpe diem, one ephemeral step at a time

An absolutely delightful organization called the Szpilman Foundation (whose motto is "Organizing Moments for People") (and who unfortunately has a lot of their site in German) is for the 5th time organizing an absolutely delightful event:

The SZPILMAN AWARD is awarded to works
that exist only for a moment or a short period of time.

The purpose of the award is to promote such works whose

forms consist of ephemeral situations.
The project is brilliant. I still haven't been able to figure out why one of the elements of the prize (besides a 'dynamic amount of money') is a residency in the Polish village of Cimochowizna. But hey, they pay for transport and all!
As for the winners. Well, so far I am not convinced... Which might mean there is room for one of us! The projects I seem to like the most are the ones made by the very people from the Szpilman Foundation (outside of the contest context), such as creating a performance with a lot of strangers and extremely little time.

Of all the finalists and winners of the Szpilman Award from previous years, my favorite one, I think, is this one:

Shannon Bool, Partially Renovated Floor

Shannon Bool purges the floor in her studio at the academy of arts
of the paints and muck of the last 15 years in order to bring back the
original oak parquet.

I am ready to admit that it's very simple, and that similar works have been around for a couple of years. And I like it.
What I like about Bool's work is the sense of transparency. In her later works she insists even more on the relation between what is found (and so, present, previous, old) and what is introduced (see her portfolio on the link on this page). There is an element of vandalism that is always intriguing. Still, I find that this earlier work is so special precisely because it plays the vandalism card like a double-edged sword. For once, we can say that the original, wooden floor is the vandal! This is something to think about, in many contexts. Art history, architecture, urbanism, but also more general: the offense of going back.

Another question is if this should qualify for the Szpilman Award. Generally speaking, many of the selected works do not seem to be as ephemeral as one might want them to be. They are too well documented, too gallery-conscious, too stable, and that, to me, makes them problematic. Not that I insist on total formal rigor, only the time factor seems to me like the very essence of the Award. Beyond the fact that it makes the works often difficult to "sell", or at least to consider on par with other types of art, it simply is about something slightly different. Lighter, maybe.

Artist's Development Toolkit: introduction to a review

This is extremely difficult. Trying to analyze yourself as an artist is a hell of a job. There seems to be never enough distance, and especially in contemporary art the frontiers are blurred, not only between genres, but also between types of activity. Some ideas are half-realized, some become realized too quickly, or in a direction I don't necessarily find ideal. The core I am left with is a very unstable one. Of course, this is probably saying more about myself than about the general state (!) of being a "contemporary artist".
The Artist's Development Toolkit is perfect for someone who already knows fairly well what he is doing and where he is heading. It helps in organizing ideas, in realizing the roads that still remain under-explored, and above all, in looking at the (mainly production-based, not artistic) obstacles in your career in a cool, distant way. All this through a self-help methodology. You answer questions, than you read your questions and get some suggestions on how to analyze them. (Don't forget to click on the little "+" signs, they give you extra info that is often much better than all the rest).
To someone really confused, it might bring only despair. It doesn't give answers, doesn't guide you. And we're not talking artistic guidance, but production, career guidance.
It is also an extremely long process. For the patient ones.

So if you're patient, not too lost, not too desperate, if you have a specialized field you're working in, a public, if you pretty well know where you are heading, this may help you. If you really, really need help, then maybe it's better you go and get some - and maybe use this as additional support.
Let me know how it worked out for you!

Oh, and if you want more artist resources, see here.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The match made of wood: David Lefkowitz

Some of the most brilliant work being done these days is tautological. (And when that is not bad, it is good). It brings about the best of what is absolutely unspectacular - while managing to keep it at an incredibly low-profile level. It brings about thrilling experiences of the nearly-left-over or nearly-forgotten. At the same time it gets eerily close to both the esoteric and the trivial. And that is a fascinating tension.
If the depth of art cannot be imposed, doesn't that signify there is room for fetching the trivial and bringing it all the way to the esoteric? Isn't this a road we make constantly, constantly redefining what we mean by trivial, and what is too far out?

See more of Lefkowitz here and here. Buy his work here.

PS: Have you noticed how this trunk (named Stump 2 by it's author) is elephant-like?


Friday, May 11, 2007


Cathryn Jiggens, Ducky

What is this flight that doesn't take off, what are those hands that do not belong to the body, what are those wings that need rescuing, and this all too closed eye, and this all too open beak? What are the fingers whose tips have drowned?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Notes on the show «Where Does The Light Go When It's Gone?» by João Fiadeiro.

Notes on «Para onde vai a luz quando se apaga?». Premiere May 4, 2007, Culturgest.

1. The performance does not concern the disappearance of light. Rather, it is about the disappearance of shadow. The shadow of causality, of logic, of story-ness, the shadow of the human realm as we know it. Here, what we have are states. Functions. The performers don't act, they remain in action. The very first scene, where the musician walks along all the walls of the stage scratching them with a small microphone, says it all: this is going to take time, and you better deal with it. If you're not happy with it, you might just as well leave now. I will remain as long as it takes. And when it's over, it's simply gone. This doesn't need to lead anywhere but here, to the sound table. It doesn't need to tell a story other than my trip from there to here. Unsatisfied? Yes, I can understand. But can't you just appreciate it, for what it is - somebody's notion of honesty?

2. What is your function? Are you being the person that listens? Or the one that speaks? Are you the guy that draws lines? Are you the dancer girl? And what does that mean? Do you fit in when you do your thing? Do you ever not fit in? What comes out of your standing here?

3. The dancer girl - Márcia - never actually dances. She sort of warms up, tries a jump or two, prepares her body. She gets comfortable. And leaves. While she does that, a snail race is being prepared. During the general rehearsal, when Lenaic put the snails, she didn't align them to make them advance in the same direction, and they just dispersed all over. I asked her after if it was on purpose. She said no, and at the premiere they are quite carefully aligned. And I miss the havoc. I regret having asked the question.

4. The risk is huge. About half of the show is improvised. The structure remains, but the way of filling in, of respecting the tough rules of Real-Time Composition, is up to the performers, and depends on every show. It can always go wrong. It would really make more sense to see two show in a row, every time.

5. The general rehearsal goes very bad. They are aggressive, tired, unimaginative. They choose either the simplest and flat solutions, or they jump off into something completely nonsensical and unrelated. Things seem chaotic. The show ends with a quote from Deleuze, about how happiness/joy empowers. It sounds ironic.

6. The premiere goes incredibly well. Everything is right. The improvised parts all come together. The performers are strong, at first still somewhat too heavy and inexplicably over-present (too dramatic, too «significant», as if they were constantly in the middle of to be or not to be), but the performance quickly gains a good pace.

7. At a certain point, Lenaic leaves the stage with a microphone, and we hear her describing everything she sees. At the same time, Gustavo remains on stage alone, creating an abstract and quite beautiful installation. She walks up to a security guard and starts asking her questions. When asked about what was important to her in working here, the guard answers that the people she meets: «So many good experiences and good encounters. Different people. Artists, normal people...» The audience bursts with laughter. Gustavo keeps on with his paper line.

8. These beautiful visual images, all created in front of our eyes. Imagine witnessing the creation of an installation. One that includes spoken text, and maybe an actor or two, from time to time. But really, it's just like watching a construction sight. Exciting, boring, curious.

9. I talk to the performers after the show. They all seem very happy. Only at a certain point Cláudia, João's long-time collaborator, looks at me and says: «Oh my god, what is it going to be like tomorrow? I don't know why it goes well when it goes well. I still don't know.»

10. For the neophytes: don't expect a fridge.

To see a video of a fragment cut from the final version of the show, go to, then click on Artistas - João Fiadeiro - Para Onde Vai A Luz Quando... - Filmes - 1.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

How dare we make art?

After World War 2, Karl Jaspers wrote a by now classic text about guilt, The Question of German Guilt. In his taxonomy, one of the categories of guilt is the "metaphysical guilt", which could be explained as the guilt for not sacrificing ourselves to help others. That is, living our lives and not doing everything we can to make a difference.
The question is, how far can we go? Shouldn't we abandon all forms of art (and entertainment), then, if we are to concentrate all efforts on saving the world? Is there an actual possibility that it would change something?
Of course, that sounds rather extreme. (And that's why Jaspers considers this a metaphysical guilt, shared by everyone and beyond the possibility of making it disappear in any way but through self-sacrifice). But somewhere here lie very difficult issues: why should one spend my time making quite self-centered installations when one could be working in an effective, world-changing organization? Should art be justifiable, like any other product, service, activity?
It isn't about art giving the possibility to do more. Because quite frankly the above video is an exception, and works exactly because it is one. Maybe, it is about the possibility of assuming uselessness?
Beauty is a great motivator. Indeed. (In João Fiadeiro's most recent performance (soon more about that), a sentence from Deleuze (roughly remembered by me): «I started reading Leibniz's Ethics. I am discovering that joy brings more power to act»)
But can we honestly say we make art, and see art, to motivate us? Isn't it a goal in itself? And if so, can't we spend our energy in a better way? How dare we make art?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Here's a brilliant step in the long and often difficult challenge of playing the market's rules as an artist. More precisely, the idea is to use the same mechanism that keeps ads away from our web browsing - and turn it into art.
Adblockers are pieces of software that help filter out the commercials that appear on most web pages. Addart goes a step further - and replaces the empty left-over space with, you guessed it, art. So what you get is actually a sort of a virtual art gallery in all the places where you had publicity. Wouldn't it be nice to apply that in real life?
The work is still in prototype mode, but looks promising.
In the example below, the publicity is replaced by Mario Bros. clouds.



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