the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.
Look what is happening in the world - we are being conditioned by society, by the culture we live in, and that culture is the product of man. There is nothing holy, or divine, or eternal about culture. (Jiddu Krishnamurti)
I chose culture as a word to explore because it is what I as an artist am exploring. The bike culture of America, however small or insignificant you may think it is, it exists and is continuing to grow by the day. Culture is such a massive word, with so many people it can encompass, it may be broad, but i feel that it suits what I am trying to convey.
Flags of Democracy. 2004-2007. Fabric. Dimensions variable.
Flags of Democracy. 2004-2007. Fabric. Dimensions variable.
I chose Grzegorz Klaman and his Flags of Democracy work because of his social comments on Poland's current politics. Much of his work deals with existing objects, rather than creating news forms. He remakes the Polish flag to create a redefinition of the symbol of his homeland.
Sculptor, born January 7, 1959, in Nowy Targ; lives and works in Gdansk.
In 1980 Klaman graduated from the State High School of Visual Art Techniques (the so-called "Kenar School") in Zakopane. He became a student of the Sculpture Department of the State Higher School of the Visual Arts (today the Academy of Fine Arts) in Gdansk, which he completed in 1985. Klaman created his thesis project under the direction of Professor Franciszek Duszenka. Upon completing his studies, he began to teach at his alma mater. He proceeded through all of the levels of an academic career and is currently a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk.
The artist's early attitudes and perceptions were shaped by his close-up view of the rise and, shortly thereafter, the fall of the "Solidarity" movement. He shared in the general enthusiasm that accompanied the movement's birth and in the protests that came with its suppression during Martial Law. He participated in demonstrations, co-edited underground publications and painted protest murals.
At this time, he was a proponent of "land art." Between 1984 and 1986 he worked with Kazimierz Kowalczyk in creating colossal and simultaneously ephemeral works at various sites in the city of Gdansk, an activity that formed a part of the so-called "rotating gallery." Klaman also created installations made of "impoverished," perishable materials. These included UNDERGROUND (1986), NAPROMIENIOWANY / RADIATED (1986), CZLOWIEK / HUMAN (1986) - the latter being joint projects with Kazimierz Kowalczyk. In his sculptures of the 1980s, Klaman favored figurative art that was dramatic in its expression in the spirit of "new expressionism." He sculpted raw, monumental figures that he extracted from tree trunks using strokes of the axe and chisel. These were poly-chromed carelessly and usually combined with elements made of sheet metal, wire mesh, fabrics, plastic, and the like (PATRZACY / GAZING FIGURE, 1986, BIG MAN 1986, GOLEM, 1987, CZERWONY PLASZCZ / RED COAT, 1987, BURZYCIEL / DESTROYER, 1987). In 1987 he began situating his sculptures on plinths or near other monumental structures (POSTAC TRZYMAJACA LOS / FIGURE HOLDING FATE, 1987 and a variation on this work titled NOWY BUDDA / NEW BUDDHA, dating from 1988 and purchased for the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seoul, South Korea). In the years 1989-1991, he created monumental projects of bent, irregular sheets of metal. These took the form of OBELISKI / OBELISKS (exhibition titled NA OBRAZ I PODOBIENSTWO / IN IMAGE AND AFTER LIKENESS, Warszawa 1989), LABIRYNT / LABYRINTH (exhibition titled LABIRYNT - PRZESTRZEN PODZIEMNA / LABYRINTH - AN UNDERGROUND SPACE, Warsaw, 1989), ROTUNDA / ROTUNDA, TUNEL / TUNNEL, RAMPA / RAMP, BRAMA / GATE (exhibition titled RAJ UTRACONY / PARADISE LOST, Warsaw, 1990), and GORA / MOUNTAINS (exhibition titled EPITAFIUM I SIEDEM PRZESTRZENI / EPITAPH AND SEVEN SPACES, Warsaw, 1991).
Two factors prompted the change that occurred in his art around 1990. The first was the experience Klaman had gained as an organizer. Beginning in his student years, he had been creating galleries as well as outdoor sites of artistic activity for himself and a group of his peers. These were, in sequence, the "rotating gallery," located at various sites around the city of Gdansk (1984-1986), the "Baraki" / "Barracks" at Chmielna Street (turn of 1986/87), the Galeria Wyspa / Island Gallery on the peninsula known as Granary Island (1987-1994), the Island Gallery at the art school dormitory on Chlebnicka Street (1990-2002), and the Open Atelier in the former Municipal Bathhouse (1992, known as the Laznia / Bathhouse Contemporary Art Center since 1998). All of these forms, which were institutionalized to a greater or lesser degree, chose the public space as the terrain of their activity. The group of young artists who created works therein, which apart from Klaman included Kazimierz Kowalczyk, Jacek Staniszewski, Eugeniusz Szczudlo, Jaroslaw Filicinski and Robert Rumas, posited themselves as partners of the ruling authority (under both political systems that reigned throughout these years) thereby eliciting a usually unfavorable reaction from authorities. The chasm that existed between the two sides became apparent with the failed attempt at defending Granary Island, threatened with commercial development, for the arts. This was the purpose behind the international symposiums titled "Project Island" organized in 1992 and 1994 by Klaman and Agnieszka Wolodzko. Klaman's criticism and sensitivity to manifestations stereotypical thinking, stagnation, or simply the corruption of authorities found expression in art forms that were monumental, dominating, cold, and quasi-architectural (see the series MONUMENTY / MONUMENTS, 1991-1993, KONSTRUKCJE / STRUCTURES, 1991-1993, BUDOWLE / BUILDINGS, 1993, ETER / ETHER, 1993, and the installation PNEUMA at Main Town Hall in Gdansk, 1996). At the same time, the essential message of these works is not contained in their shape or the expression of their smooth, metal surfaces, but in added details like human hair, natural sounds, photographs, slide and video projections, and the like. The ideological current in these works, designed to "retaliate" against authorities, was best expressed in a leaflet campaign titled ANATOMIA POLITYCZNA CIALA / POLITICAL ANATOMY OF THE BODY, 1995, carried out in Berlin and involving the handing out of leaflets bearing messages drawn from the work of Michel Foucault. Klaman referred to the Polish situation strictly in a design for the national flag, in which the white and red fields were supplemented with a band of black, symbolizing the influence of the Catholic Church on the State.
A second factor eliciting change were the artist's theoretical interests in contemporary times and the future, and in particular in the problems of power, technology and medicine on one hand, and the body as a subject of study and manipulation on the other. The artist explored these issues in a manner deprived of all symbolism, reference to tradition or conventional ways of thinking, which often caused them to be rejected by critics and even censored at times. This was especially true of works in the series EMBLEMATY / EMBLEMS, 1993 and KATABASIS / CATHABASIS, 1993, for which he used preserved human organs, including intestines, a brain and a liver, as well as an eye, ear and tongue (communication organs). Transferring the preserved items from the context of the laboratory to a gallery space gave rise to objections that were variously motivated through aesthetic and religious criteria. In the artist's opinion, however, in our age of transplants, cloning and genetic manipulation, these objects are merely indicators of a not too distant everyday reality, in which the type and scope of "life" decisions will be altogether different. This line of thinking was reconfirmed in Klaman's newest series of objects titled BIBLIOTEKI / LIBRARIES, 1999, and ANATROPHY, 2000.
In recent years the artist has shown that he is far from abandoning his public activity. For the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of "Solidarity" in the year 2000, Klaman constructed a monumental form that stood at the entrance to an exhibition titled DROGA DO WOLNOSCI / ROAD TO FREEDOM held within the Gdansk Shipyard. The shipyard - which is perhaps on the way to being changed in the same manner as Granary Island was - is also the subject of his project titled CITY TRANSFORMERS, 2002.
Sleepers. 2006. C-Print. 125cm x 125cm
Sleepers. 2006. C-Print. 125cm x 125cm
I chose Moroccan artist Yto Barrada because of her project "Sleepers" where she photographs people sleeping in public parks of her home town of Tangiers, where they wait to go north, through the Straight of Gibraltar. Her work comments on the emigration and the word "Straight" itself revealing a tension that are amid the streets of Tangiers. It refers to the tension between the European and Muslim world as well.
In Andre Téchiné’s film Changing Times (2004) a Frenchman visiting Tangier is with a former girlfriend when her car breaks down in an isolated waterfront area. As they walk along a cliff they are startled to encounter refugees camped in the trees, waiting for an opportunity to cross the Strait of Gibraltar – a shining, deceptively benign-looking ribbon dividing Morocco from the shores of Spain. When the man says, ‘This is the last stop before Paradise’, his remark reflects the magnitude of the strait’s promise of salvation, but he is surely aware of the danger in store for the ‘burnt ones’ who try to traverse it. Téchiné addresses barriers, real and imagined, between North and South with quicksilver camerawork that echoes emotions at stake in his narratives. But in photographer Yto Barrada’s mournfully claustrophobic ‘The Strait Project: A Life Full of Holes’ (1998–2004) it is the absence of such fluid movement that is most acutely felt. Stillness and stagnation pervade the series, which attempts to evoke Tangier as a city consumed and hollowed out by the desire to escape.
Just as the Sonoran Desert has been a deadly lure for countless Mexican ‘illegal’ immigrants looking for greater economic opportunity in North America, so the Strait of Gibraltar, closed since 1991 to passage by Africans without visas, has a larger-than-life presence for those suffering globalization’s fall-out. Noting that in both French and Arabic the word for ‘strait’ connotes constriction or distress, Barrada has written, ‘I try to expose the metonymic character of the strait through a series of images that reveal the tension – which restlessly animates the streets of my home town – between its allegorical nature and immediate, harsh reality’. Barrada herself was born in France, to Moroccan parents, and can travel freely. Like other photographers who navigate both European and non-European cultures, she favours ‘inventories and typologies’ in an effort to avoid the picturesque, but her approach is decidedly dark and emotionally and politically engaged. Although they may seem at first glance intentionally banal, her unspectacular images of subjects such as abandoned construction sites or objects at a flea market are more metaphorical than distanced.
Many of the photographs are square, a format that encourages a sense of stasis even in images that capture motion, as in Ceuta Border – Illegally Crossing the Border into the Spanish Enclave of Ceuta (1999). Movement is more palpable in Le Détroit – Avenue d’Espagne (The Strait – Spanish Avenue, 2000), an overhead shot of pedestrians trying to cross a wide street. The centre of the image is taken up by blank asphalt, while the people – at the top of the frame a group of women, at the bottom a young man holding a large model ship that obscures his face – seem pulled toward the edges by centrifugal force. A figure for the strait’s psychological and metaphysical power, the street, whose very name evokes Europe, is mesmerizing in its emptiness and resembles a rushing river. Several photographs depict walls; one simply shows wallpaper with an alpine scene. Less resonant is a shot of the sky seen from inside a rusty container.
Whether sitting, playing, embracing or eating, many of the people depicted seem to sink into the images as if into quicksand, dead weight in Barrada’s careful compositions. A few, on the other hand, seem weightless. Faces are often hidden, suggesting numbness, loss of agency or a will to depart or disappear: a plastic bag blocks the face of a factory worker lunching in a sterile, fluorescent-lit canteen; a girl playing jacks faces a tiled wall, her back to the photographer; two girls form shadowy, gesticulating silhouettes in front of an illuminated advert for a cruise ship. The show included a pair of videos; in the more poignant of the two, The Magician (2003), a man styling himself ‘Sinbad of the Strait’ performs with slapdash flair, half-heartedly hiding the artifice behind his tricks.
Photographs from Barrada’s ‘Bus’ series (2003) depict details of brightly coloured logos on buses that travel between Morocco and Europe. A commentary by two local boys accompanies the images. One vehicle ‘goes directly to Portugal, non-stop. Nazarenes, old and young. Parks in front of the shrimp factory. One guard, but since he’s in charge of the whole area, he can’t see everything all the time. Climb in the middle under the floorboards. Those who have papers go inside the bus.’ In their words the suffering that is never directly represented in the photographs is hard to miss.
Kristin M. Jones
New Barbarians. Web Based Photograph.
Piedad Post-Colonial. Web Based Photograph.
Guillermo Gomez-Pena's work revolves around the group which he associates with the "La Poncha Nostra." It addresses many post colonial issues that the in particular, the Latin American cultures deal with. Many of the images show blatant stereotypes in which the these groups have to combat. Much of his work is as much a photograph as it is a performance, they show an act of citizen diplomacy and negotiate their cultural belongings and traits in an open forum.
Guillermo Gómez-Peña's latest project, El Mexterminator (in collaboration with Roberto Sifuentes) is not a single text, event, or performance. In its New York incarnation, it consisted of a month-long series of actions, appearances, performances, and interventions that ranged across the geographical and virtual spaces of the city. Adopting "ethno-cyborg" personas, collaborators Gómez-Peña and Sifuentes participated in a live Internet chat and a radio call-in show. Potential audiences were also invited to visit and contribute to the El Mexterminator "Temple of Confessions," an interactive web site. Together with Sara Shelton Mann, they roved the city's public spaces on several occasions in their roles as "El Mexterminator" (Gómez-Peña), "Cyber-Vato" (Sifuentes) and "La Cultural Transvestite" (Shelton Mann). Finally, anchoring these various events was the installation at El Museo del Barrio titled "Techno-Museo de Etnografía Interactiva," featuring the performers as "live Mexicans on display."
The images, characters, narratives and actions that make up El Mexterminator animate and recirculate myths, cultural beliefs, and stereotypes about Chicano and Latino culture, the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration, and the relation of art to politics. For over two decades, Gómez-Peña has been working both alone and in collaboration with various artists to produce performance pieces that share many elements with the current one. For example, the complex and hybridized personas of El Mexterminator recall the 1989 performance piece Border Brujo, described by Gómez-Peña as "a ritual, linguistic, and performative journey across the United States/México border." In 1992, Gómez-Peña appeared with Coco Fusco at the Whitney Museum and other major museums around the country as "Two Undiscovered Amerindians," "primitives" from the fictional island of Guatinaui. As in El Mexterminator, the audience was positioned as the source of the anthropological gaze: audiences visiting the "Amerindians" were invited to ask for an "authentic dance," a "story in Guatinaui," or a souvenir photo. In recognition of the significance of this body of work, Gómez-Peña has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship as [End Page 46] well as a National Book Award for The New World Border (City Lights, 1996), a collection of performance texts, essays, and poetry.
In these projects and performances, the Mexico-United States border is the specific and explicit site of criticism and interrogation. At the same time, the conflicts, contradictions, and complexities of the geographical border zone become metaphoric materials through which to explore cultural, political, sexual, artistic, and intellectual borders as well. For Gómez-Peña, who is not only a performer and artist but also a poet and theorist of cultural borderlands and multicultures, the artist must be redefined: "not just an imagemaker or a marginal genius, but a social thinker/ educator/ counterjournalist/ civilian diplomat/ human-rights observer." Gómez-Peña views himself as a "border artist" for whom experimental techniques and performance-derived practices become a means to intervene in, and impact on, the emergence of new cultural formations. The aim, as Gómez-Peña puts it, is "a project of redefinition, which conceives of the border not only as the limits of the two countries, but as a cardinal intersection of many realities. In this sense, the border is not an abyss that will have to save us from threatening otherness, but a place where the so-called otherness yields, becomes us, and therefore becomes comprehensible."
Like all of Gómez-Peña's work, El Mexterminator probes the politicized spaces of difference and desire. In this sense, it might be viewed as another salvo in the ongoing "culture wars." Indeed, what is most immediately evident in El Mexterminator is the way in which its thematic or theoretical concerns--ideas of hybridity and the border zone, of the cultural construction of the "other," of the body of the other as a site of projection for both desires and fears--echo and amplify issues that have been reflected in a range of "multicultural" and "postcolonial" thought and practice over the past decade. But while the theoretical familiarity of El Mexterminator's conceptual framework suggests repetition, the innovative form of El Mexterminator--its multiple incarnations on radio, Internet, museum, and street--introduces an element that has more recently drawn attention in a variety of cultural locations: interactivity...
The Undesirables. 2007. Etchings, animated sequences DV PAL. Dimensions Variable.
The Undesirables. 2007. Etchings, animated sequences DV PAL. Dimensions Variable.
Melanie Jackson's work Undesirable's work is about the shipwreck of the MSC Napoli off the coast of Devon. She uses and accumulates materials that re-present parts of the narrative and shows them in a large scale diorama assembled from many etchings based from media images of the wreck. Her work shows the largely invisible import/export movement of goods through international waters, commenting on the cultural state of our capitalist society.
The installation Some Things You Are Not Allowed to Send Around the World (Matt’s Gallery, London, 11 June - 3 August 2003) was my first encounter with the work of artist Melanie Jackson, and something of a revelation - not just in terms of the implausible yet genuine lists of banned items detailed on the show’s poster (Germany forbids postage of playing cards “except in complete decks properly wrapped”; Croatia, whistles; Peru, shoe cream; Italy, typewriter ribbon; Somalia and Sri Lanka, illustrated postcards- to name just a few items) but because of the absorbing and reflexive quality of Jackson’s project. The result of two years’ work, the piece formed an urgent and intriguing meditation on labour- specifically, on immigrant labour, maybe the most heavily policed of all things that (legally or illegally) get sent around the world.
Following a pattern established in Jackson’s previous projects, Some Things was oriented around a central “myth”: a maybe true, maybe fabricated tale of a Filipina maid working in Hong Kong whose “bedroom” is a kitchen cupboard. At night she removes its contents and climbs inside to sleep; in the morning on rising, she refills it and starts her work. Jackson re-told the woman’s story via a brief, simply-drawn, looped video animation screened on a partition at the installation’s entrance: a hand stacking plates; a person disappearing into a tiny cupboard; a window darkening and growing light again.
Behind the partition lurked a stunning surprise- a sprawling, fantastically labour-intensive cluster of microcosmic environments crafted by the artist from a polyglot assortment of newspaper scraps, and laid out on miniature plateaux formed from thin, ragged plywood sheeting. Amongst the structures teased painstakingly from newsprint were a minuscule circus, a refugee camp, a listening station, a mountain cable-car, a temple, a football stadium, a shipping container port, roadside billboards, telecoms installations, and a fairground bedecked with tiny streams of bunting. Precisely observed, the models were striking not least for their mimetic impact; the newspaper medium had a kind of festive charm but many of the landscapes represented (industrial wastelands, shanty towns- sites of human deprivation and environmental destruction) triggered a creeping anxiety.
At the installation’s centre, monitors screened videos documenting a curious social phenomenon that takes place on Sundays in Hong Kong. The city’s female Filipino servant community assemble in the financial district for a kind of party, chatting, singing, and endeavouring to raise each others’ spirits. (Maybe somewhere amongst the crowd was the very woman of the cupboard legend.) Another monitor, located elsewhere, screened footage documenting the giant agribusinesses of El Ejido, Spain, with their vast plastic-covered acreages of cultivated fruits and vegetables, and their migrant North African workforce, whose labour underpins the industry. On the one hand, installation viewers contemplated the “invisible”, underpaid labour of immigrant workers, and on the other, the supposedly “non-alienated” labour of the Western artist, working in a medium (newspaper) whose acid-laden nature guarantees the objects produced an extremely short life-span. The installation offered no tidy formula to explain the complex relation between these phenomena, but rather left the labour of interpretation to the viewer.
Jackson, who graduated from London’s Royal College of Art in , represents yet another counter (if more were needed) to the caricature of the brash, anti-theoretical, commercially obsessed, publicity-seeking 1990s “YBA” persona. ”I work very, very slowly, with ideas coming before any idea of exhibition venue, and I’m really only interested in projects that allow that slow developmental process” she states. “I like to pursue a line of enquiry in depth and to have time for ideas to mature. And as I’ve got older, I’ve found the early anxieties about visibility subsiding- it feels OK to risk being silent for a while, to wait until something of real importance emerges in one’s work.” Eager to know more about her practice, I met up with the artist at Matt’s Gallery.
Sweetness. 2006. Sugar. 906 x 548 cm
Sweetness. 2006. Sugar. 906 x 548 cm.
I chose Meschac Gaba because much of his work revolves around the economic and cultural exchange of "codes" between Africa and the West. He explores power dynamics of Western countries over their old colonies and the people that inhabit them. In Sweetness, which is adapted when it travels to different cities, is made out of sugar completely and represents a global port city and includes many different landmarks from various "World" cities from many different countries.
Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street
Through March 27
When she came to the Studio Museum in Harlem as curator, Thelma Golden, now its director, promised to put contemporary African art on the exhibition schedule, and she has done so. Yinka Shonibare had a solo; Chris Ofili will have one this spring. And the first solo show in the United States of new work by Meschac Gaba, born in Benin in 1961 and now living in the Netherlands, is on view now, organized by the museum's associate curator, Christine Y. Kim.
Mr. Gaba contributed installations to Documenta XI and to the 2003 Venice Biennale, and has one in the exhibition ''Africa Remix'' in London now. The slippery power of globalism is his theme, this time embodied in a series of modest-size sculptures resembling architectural models. Most depict New York City landmarks of general or local renown, from the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan and the Guggenheim Museum to the Harlem branch of the Y.M.C.A., along with some buildings in Benin.
From a distance the work looks like soft sculpture, which in a sense it is. Apart from an invisible metal armature, each is made entirely from braided artificial hair extensions of a kind popular in African-American coiffures. Braiding of this kind originated in West Africa -- some of the busiest 125th Street stylists are Senegalese -- and thanks to the near-universal impact of African-American pop stars on fashion, it has renewed cachet in Africa itself. Mr. Gaba commissioned a professional hair braider in Benin, Delphine Bonou, to make the Studio Museum sculptures, working from his photographs.
The results are delightful: not quite architectural portraits, but also not caricatures. The World Financial Center is recognizable for what it is, but also looks absurd as a bastion of economic might. The Guggenheim has gone from all white to all black, a transformation to ponder. By far the most distinctive forms, though, are the ones of official buildings in Benin. At once Modernist and African, they also look futuristic, like a set of spacecraft, no two alike.
So, many strands of ''global'' -- West African, American, African-American -- weave together in this show. And what a good idea to turn monuments to masculine ambition into gravity-defying female 'dos: wigs, actually, which you can put on and take off as suits your mood.
Saphir. 2006. C-Prints. Variable Dimensions
Saphir. 2006. C-Prints. Variable Dimensions
Zineb Sedira's work is strongly influenced by her mixed ancestry of being Algerian and French. This work, "Saphir" is a series of photographs and also an 18 min two-screen video projection as well. The work examines cultural identity, memory, language, and both French and Algerian culture. In French, Saphir means Sapphire, while in Arabic i means Ambassador. While exploring the docks of Algiers, the work seems to make a Portrait of the city in a transitional time. While many people arrive from France to Algiers each day, many Algerian's wish that they could go to France, creating a juxtaposition in the presentation of the work.
I’ve just been to view Currents of Time: a new work by Zineb Sedira consisting of 3 instillations, distinct in style but thematically linked. The first of the 3 instillations I saw was ‘Maritime Nonsense and Other Aquatic Tales, 2009’. 3 large photographs on display in Rivington Place's shop front (see photo) used to draw people in. They do their job well, the rusting structures penetrating the dark oceans waters asking more questions than giving answers.
Once inside the gallery I was drawn to the disjointed noise’s coming from the darkened room immediately to my left. ‘Floating Coffins, 2009’ is a 14 screen video instillation with 10 round speakers suspended at various heights from the ceiling. The flat screen TV’s are mounted on 3 sides of the room surrounding the viewer, cables hanging freely, looping from TV to TV. Each screen showing different views of a rusting metal graveyard in the sea and sands of Mauritania, a country on Northwest African’s coastline. A place the world shipping industry uses as a scrap yard.
The rusting hulls are broken and fragmented physically by the frames of the TV’s, and the clever editing of the video footage. We see the ships, and the primitive methods being used to break them down as well as local wildlife and workers, forcing you to question the environmental and human impact this surreal ship cemetery has in this part of Africa.
To stay static whilst viewing the work is to do the ambient sound track a disservice. Zineb Sedira worked with sound artist Mikhail Karikis on producing this sound track and By walking underneath the many orb like speakers hanging above you, your oral senses are thrown off balance, the sounds of wind on sand, crashing waves and hammer on metal envelop you, at times clamouring for attention from all directions. All of this aids, and compliments the visually immersive elements of the work.
The third instillation is upstairs in the gallery’s project space 2. By contrast ‘Scattered Carcasses, 2008’ is set up in a lit room. Made up of 10 photographs mounted on large light boxes ‘scattered’ around the room. Power cables and extension plugs strew the ground, and hang from the wall mounted light boxes. I was the only person viewing the work at this time and the gentle sound of wind and lite tinny metal against metal caused unintentionally by a lose part in the air conditioning unit provided an atmospheric soundtrack. I couldn’t help but think it would have been a nice touch (although maybe not for the gallery supervisor) if the air con had been turned off and the heating turned up enough to dry your throat while viewing the backlit images of rusting ships being slowly buried by the African sands and sea.
I found this exhibition to be involving and challenging with the work enhanced by the well thought out and inspirational space within which it was displayed. Topping it off nicely is a complimentary exhibition guide providing you with some fairly in-depth background on the artist and her previous works. I highly recommend catching ‘Currents of Time’ in Londons East End before it ends on July 25th.
The exhibition will be running from 21st May - 25th July 09 at:
Austria. Dissected paper map, 6 x 9 inches, 1997, and c-print, 30 x 40 inches, 2006
World Map. Cut paper map fragments on watercolored paper, presstype, 50 x 40 inches, 1989
Nina's work focuses on mass production of consumer goods, the ready-made, and cultural icons such as maps. In the work, Austria, it is described as the heart of Europe, so creating this readymade heart out of the map of Austria and using its highways (which act as a artery and vein system) is a great use of material and comment on mass culture. In World Map, the world is dissected into differing places and counties, juxtaposing many countries to others creating a tension that like putting Western Europe in West Africa, or just by formal qualities of the map and cutting process.
Close your eyes and imagine the sounds of a perfect late summer’s day in the country, and you may conjure in your mind’s ear the breeze swirling through a meadow of tall grass, the rustling of leaves high on a great oak bough or the drone of crickets in the undergrowth. You are less likely to imagine yourself accosted from the trees by avian cries of ‘Cheeseburger ... cheeseburger … cheeseburger’, ‘Old Sam Pea-body – Pea-body, Pea-body’, ‘Oolong tea, Oolong tea!’ Who would have guessed that nature could be so emphatically, maddeningly chatty? But as any amateur ornithologist or weekend naturalist can tell you, the seminal field guides to the North American songbird are full of such quaint, dated and at times grating linguistic approximations of birdsong. It is these phonetic equivalents, transliterations and occasionally comical mnemonic devices that form the basis of artist Nina Katchadourian’s recent, clever and lyrical multi-part sound work Please, Please, Pleased to Meet’cha (2006), discreetly installed in six different spots in the trees and woodlands of the bucolic Wave Hill gardens, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Overlooking the sloping banks of the Hudson River, Wave Hill is an oddly unnatural natural place, a leftover bit of pastoral 18th-century New York preserved within the city limits of a teeming metropolis. As such, it is also an important layover spot for migrating songbirds and an oasis for year-round locals.
With Please, Please, Pleased to Meet’cha, Katchadourian similarly spotlights the ways in which humans, in their drive to acculturate the animal kingdom, to discern meaning and order in the natural world, concoct one interpretive artifice after another. Drawing on the unique phonetic texts and diagrams of Aretas A. Saunders and his Guide to Bird Songs (1935) and the many mnemonic phrases and ditties devised by scientists from the early 19th century onwards, found in such popular works as the Peterson Guide to North American Birds or the Audubon Society Field Guide, Katchadourian enlisted professional translators and interpreters from the United Nations headquarters downtown (none of whom knew a thing about birds) to record unrehearsed vocalized interpretations of these texts. None of the participants had ever heard the actual songs or sounds of the Black-Capped Chickadees or Common Grackles in question. Instead, the experiment was akin to asking an English-speaker to read a text in Swahili based solely on phonetic field notations or a quasi-scientific system of linguistic diagrams. The resulting recordings, unsurprisingly, sounded little like birdsong. Strolling from tree to tree, one was greeted by a sort of arboreal Dada performance, as though Kurt Schwitters were stuck up in the canopy of an elm doing his best to sound like a Grey Catbird – ‘eetay … taytitee … tata tay … toolotay … eetayoteee … totoo … tileetilee’ – while Raoul Hausmann hid in the brush reading his latest Red-Winged Blackbird poem: ‘konkler-eeeee … kuklakler-eeee … tup …’ Elsewhere, one could compare the repetitive mnemonic pleasantries exchanged by the Chestnut-sided Warbler (who is either eternally ‘very … very … very … very pleased to MEET-CHA!’ or expressing the fervent desire to ‘see, see, see, see Miss Beecher!’ depending on the field guide one is consulting) and the White-Throated Sparrow, who, when not excitedly complaining about how Old Sam Peabody is ‘all day a-whit-tl-in’, all day a-whit-tl-in’’, seems preoccupied with migrating nationalistic odes: ‘Sweet, sweet, sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada!’
What a bird sounds like, indeed what an animal is ‘saying’ (if anything), depends entirely on the ear of the listener. And not all ears are alike, each being subjectively attuned to a different social, economic or cultural milieu and to conflicting or historically determined understandings of the use of language. From these recordings we discover little about birds and a lot about what Katchadourian calls the ‘very human sense of listening’, which is infused ‘with a well-intentioned but clumsy good will’ towards other creatures. The fact that many birdsongs sound suspiciously like sea shanty lyrics, rhyming limericks about rural life or the conversational manners of late 19th-century New Englanders is not an accident. We would prefer, it seems, to discover in their rhythmic whistles and warblings purer, more lyrical versions of ourselves. The almost instinctive impulse to anthropomorphize and find familiar reassurance in the behaviour of other animals may explain the clear sense of empathy saturating every page of F. Schuyler Mathews’ Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music (1904), which Katchadourian cites as another curious influence on her investigations. In his attempt to convey the ‘discouragement’ expressed in the vocalizings of the White-Throated Sparrow, the author opines that there is ‘a sort of “Heigh-ho, fiddle-de-de!” character to the music which makes one think the little bird looks upon life and its cares as a tough problem.’ One wonders where the melancholy of the sparrow ends and that of the empathetic ornithologist begins.
D.P.W. Platters. Dimensions Variable. Recycled Signs with Rivets. 1995-present
Man in Stereo: Muybridge Platter. 2007. Recycled Signs with Rivets.
Boris Bally's recycled signs that are turned into platters are something that i have found very intriguing. It's comments on environmental, social, and cultural issues through its mockery of American made materials that are symbolic for America's strive for wealth and production. The added element of anarchism (to an extent) as well, with the removal of the signs brings light to the subjects at hand. I also enjoy the reference to Muybridge with the two walking men in stereo. It is the re-assembling and fragmenting both physically and contextually, that make this work thrive.
Sometimes what you see is reminiscent of something that's already a part of the fine-art vocabulary. Jason Rogenes' wall sculpture of cut cardboard boxes and packing foam looks a little like a cross between a Frank Stella and a conceptual model for a new Frank Gehry building. A California pop art sensibility infuses Boris Bally's recycled traffic signs -- the "walk" figure scratched and scrawled and attached to other bright metal spheres.
A few artists are concerned with transformation and aesthetics, and they tend to stand out, if quietly. Regis Mayot splits the difference, with one tower built of carefully cut out plastic bottles - Clorox, 409 and the like - that seems clearly an environmental statement and another, more traditionally sculptural piece, also made of industrial plastic, but cut and shaped and lighted from within, losing any sense of its raw material's previous life.
Perhaps the most compelling work is by the Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardottir, whose medium is hair -- human, horse and artificial. She weaves and braids it into wigs, sculptures and wall installations. Her manipulations are up-to-the-moment yet carry forward something ancient and lovely.
By far the exhibit's most provocative work is by Laura Splan, who begins with traditional embroidery patterns and gives them a clinical, sometimes macabre twist. She stitches doilies in the biological patterns of lethal viruses -- an important exploration of pathologies. She also creates a filigreed negligee by applying facial peel to her body and then stripping it off -- "it" being her skin -- to create a fragile fabric. And she uses her own blood to create the brownish color for the pattern on what otherwise seems pretty much like your grandmother's dining room wallpaper. It's hard to know what to make of this, besides pointing out the artist's extreme body fetishism.
If that's your cup of tea, fine. But I'd get a lab test on the liquid before I drank it.
D.K. Row, The Oregonian
Camille Terry as Marilyn Monroe, Palisades Park, NJ
Cereal City, Battle Creek, Michigan.
David Graham's work is personal, yet universal in our culture. It reveals a certain amount of intamacy, but still allows a sense of mystery about the subject in question. Many of his portraits are in costume, of either someone the emulated or just in a uniform. The culture that he reveals is an American culture that is rarely seen. Though, i feel that some of the photographs are relatively, lackluster, they still portray the American people. Primarily as some sort of culture that loves celebrity lifestyles, suburbia, country life, and vacation life.
From September 19th through November 8th 2008, Gallery 339 is pleased to present an exhibition by nationally renowned photographer David Graham. The exhibition features a selection of photographs from Graham’s newest book, Almost Paradise.
For over thirty years, David Graham has traveled the United States, creating what amounts to a vast photo album of who we are as Americans. It’s not always pretty, but it’s endlessly interesting. In his vivid color pictures, Graham finds the absurdities that we have created, in our landscape and of ourselves. Yet rather than social criticism, the pictures reveal and revel in those things that make us distinctly American: our independence, our bravado, our desire for the next new thing. With some of the swagger and surrealism of a drive across America, Graham’s pictures capture this dichotomy of American culture, offering moments that are simultaneously ridiculous and inspiring. The images in Almost Paradise continue this pursuit of cultural identity, however, a certain uneasiness has crept into Graham’s photographs as he documents the effects of Hurricane Katrina and other signs of decay in a once robust American landscape. In these new pictures, we see that a seemingly boundless American optimism is both literally and figuratively running out of gas.
Graham’s photographs have been exhibited in galleries and museums across the U.S., including the International Center for Photography in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, the Delaware Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Graham has produced several books, including Alone Together, Declaring Independence, Ay! Cuba, Taking Liberties, American Beauty, and Land of the Free. Additionally, Graham regularly shoots for The New York Times, The New Yorker, TIME, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others. His work has been collected by The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and The Art Institute of Chicago. Graham currently resides in Newtown, Pennsylvania, though as evidenced by his work, he remains in constant motion, traveling throughout the country and developing his complex portrait of the American experience.
Sharon Wild. 2001. C-print
Backyard, Filmset. 2002. C-Print
Larry Sultan's photographs of behind the scenes actions and happening of America's Adult Film Industry raise many questions of American culture, and how the porn industry is so prolific in our culture. His work reveals an intimate moment of clarity within the porn industry, where nothing of the action is happening, but the in between moments that aren't supposed to be noticed. The fabricated scenes and people who are supposed to be basically an object to view, are seen as human and real.
In a 1998 photograph titled Tasha’s Third Film a young blonde woman, hair in curlers and face made up, perches on a corduroy sofa and looks towards the camera. She is flanked by two men whose mouths hang open as they nap. This must be Tasha, and the shooting of her third porn flick has either just wrapped or is about to begin. In either case the moment depicted by photographer Larry Sultan is outside the frame of the movie camera. In fact, beyond the sliding glass doors behind Tasha another scene is being filmed. In it a pile of naked figures, body parts, really – a thigh here, an indecipherable limb there – engage in some obscure sex act while the cameraman and crew gaze on. But for us, viewers of Sultan’s photograph, attempting to make out this more titillating scene requires that we look over Tasha’s shoulder and, by virtue of the photograph’s composition, be watched by her. Notably, her look is neither that of desperation nor of victimization (as pornography’s critics might claim). Nor is it hopeful and fresh, the face of someone new to the job. Tasha’s gaze is distant, perhaps even bored. It is a perfect foil to the frenzied, full-frontal immediacy that porn was designed to promise – a promise that Sultan’s photographs repeatedly withhold: extreme vacancy in lieu of extreme sex.
Tasha’s Third Film is one of more than 60 large-scale colour photographs in Sultan’s recently completed series ‘The Valley’. Begun in 1998, the series takes its name from Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, a 260-square-mile expanse of middle-class suburban sprawl universally mocked for its big malls, bad hair and ‘like, totally’ overused gum-snapping expressions. In the past ten years the Valley has also become the economic capital of the adult film industry, which rents out local residences for film shoots. In this way the Valley’s peculiar brand of social and class aspiration, as revealed by its domestic décor, finds its way into the cultural landscape of porn. As Sultan notes, details such as ‘dark wood panelling, overbearing stonework, marble counters’ are intended to ‘give the appearance of “the good life”, of wealth and taste’. The Valley is, after all, a wannabe Hollywood, stigmatized as ‘the other’ to the Westside of Los Angeles, where more highly esteemed filmmakers make ‘real’ movies.While Sultan’s photos take the adult film industry as their point of departure, his eye is not that of the pornographer.
Sex and raunch are pushed to the margins, where blowjobs and bare buns must compete with the finer details of these interiors. Sultan’s camera detours through these spaces, picking up on minutiae that would seem to have nothing to do with sexual fantasy at all: a Polystyrene cup, a family portrait, a brass menorah, a tuft of fur left behind by the family pet. Sultan refers to these aspects as the ‘evidence’ of people who remain present although they have temporarily vacated their homes. Many of his photos reveal the complexity of such objects, whose symbolic value shuttles between the deeply personal, the socially performative and the profoundly alienated. Any number of fantasies, erotic or otherwise, erupt from the most banal objects or places. Take, for example, the roll of paper towels captured in Satsuma Studio (2003), an image with no figures at all.
‘Home’ is a familiar trope for Sultan, one that he examined in his acclaimed book Pictures from Home (1992). In The Valley home (both one’s real-life domicile and as a porn setting) is always both fictional and factual, decorated with aspirations for a better life and at the same time bogged down by the realities of day-to-day existence. Consider the photo Reseda (2000), in which a woman, fully clad in red and black latex, sits meditatively, sunken too deeply within her chair. Behind her a print from Charlotte Salomon’s monumental autobiographical artwork Leben? oder Theater? (Life? or Theatre?, 1940–42) makes the point clear: home is always a place of both life and theatre, and drawing a line between the two is an impossible task – perhaps all the more so in the Valley, where Sultan grew up (any one of these homes could have been his own). The Valley is made of the kind of sentimental dreams embodied by the embracing Parisian couple in Robert Doisneau’s mass-produced photo Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville (1950). What, then, could be better than the sweaty stomach of a rising porn star caught between takes in Encino to give the lie to that fantasy? Doisneau’s scene, too, must have been staged.