April 29, 2016
In my previous article I discussed what I think are some of the most interesting pioneer feminist artists. But how do feminist premises fit in contemporary artistic practices? Below you can find a selection of ten artists from all around the globe that reflect on the struggles that women still face today in their fight for equality. Whether they consider feminism as central to their discourse or not, their work explores different aspects of what being a woman entails in each of their own realities.
Brazilian artist Beth Moysés is best known for organising parade-like performances with local battered women, many of whom live in shelters, in South America and Spain. In Lecho rojo [Red Bed], however, it is a group of beautiful young women who enact a mysterious ritual. They form a circle around a 30-kilo pile of red lipstick, and mould this sensual matter into hearts while their bodies and the white sheets that cover them get more and more stained with the red substance. Domestic violence, pain, death, and regeneration are at the centre of Moysés poetic oeuvre, in which wedding dresses and blood form an intimate bond.
Joana Vasconcelos was born in Paris but lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal. As she states in her website, her creative process is “based on the appropriation, decontextualisation and subversion of pre-existent objects and everyday realities”. In Lavanda [Lavender] she reinterprets Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain by covering this object, which only men use, with colourful handmade crochet patterns. This material, traditionally associated with the domestic environment (and, therefore, with “women’s work”) is often used by Vasconcelos as a means to explore the relationship between popular and erudite culture, and between tradition and modernity. Check out how her works invaded the Versailles palace in this 2012 unique exhibition.
Cabello/Carceller is a Madrid-based artistic team formed by Helena Cabello (Paris, 1963) and Ana Carceller (Madrid, 1964), who started working together in the early 90s. Their work is influenced by feminist and queer theorists such as Judith Butler, and often revolves around the contradictions of gender stereotypes from a conceptual, politically engaged approach. In one of their most recent projects, which could be seen at the Spanish Pavillion in the 2015 Venice Biennale, they explored the idea of a multiple and undefined identity in relation to the figure of Salvador Dalí. Installation, performance and video are their preferred mediums, and in Suite Rivolta they examine the need to take action in the streets in order to keep public space as a place of dissent. The title derives from the radical feminist movement of the 1970’s known as Rivolta Femminile (led by the art critic and theorist Carla Lonzi), and presents a structure loosely based on the musical form known as ‘suite’.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Wangechi Mutu is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. From her extensive oeuvre, I am particularly taken by her collages, where she explores gender and racial identities through the female body. In her work Mutu continuously questions the way women are represented in western culture, and disrupts common stereotypes by introducing animal and machine parts in her images. Uniting art and activism, she has recently launched Africa’s Out!, a platform that supports and celebrates the rights, lives and creative freedom of African LGBT+ individuals.
Li Xinmo is one of the most controversial Chinese feminist artists. In 2012 she participated in the group exhibition Bald Girls, which has become a platform for the promotion and development of cutting-edge feminist art and theory whose goal is to fight against the social reality of sexual discrimination in China. Xinmo’s work is based on her own personal experience and usually takes the form of body performance, where the artist’s body becomes the centre of different ritualistic actions. This is the case of Memory, in which she deals with the painful experience of abortion by tearing off her dress into pieces and turning these strips into dolls.
Born in Sweden, Anna Jonsson has lived and worked in Seville, Spain, for more than thirty years. Sculpture and female social roles are the basis of all her work, although in the past decade she has also produced several performances in collaboration with professional dancers. One of my favourites is Perdón [I’m Sorry], in which a woman spends 20 minutes asking for forgiveness. According to the artist, “it is based on the feeling I have that I always have to apologize when I say I’m a feminist”. In her colourful clay sculptures she approaches issues such as maternity, relationships, sex, mental health and fashion, always with a great sense of humour.
Regina José Galindo
Regina José Galindo is one of Guatemala’s most internationally renowned artists. She specialises in very shocking and often violent performances in which her body is the protagonist. Her work explores the ethical implications of social injustices, and aims to firmly criticise gender and racial discrimination. Her extreme performances have led her to carve the word ‘perra’ (‘bitch’) on her own thigh, to record the surgical reconstruction of her hymen, and to shave her body completely and walk naked through the streets of Venice. In Piedra, pictured above, she adopted the static role of a rock and let members of the audience urinate on her in order to protest against abuse and unequal power relations in modern societies.
CANAN (formerly known as Canan Senol), a self-proclaimed feminist artist and activist, lives and works in Istambul, Turkey. In her art she continuously addresses the oppression and harassment of women by family, government and religion through a mixture of the old and the new, tradition and modernity. This is the case of her series Perfect Beauty, which consists in the appropriation and manipulation of Ottoman miniature paintings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which are accompanied by several texts describing female beauty traits from a book of sexual subjects written during the same period. Although the standards for women are drastically different nowadays, the artist aims to demonstrate that interference with the female body and the supremacy of the male gaze are equally present in both realities.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Candice Breitz currently lives and works in Berlin. Her main corpus of work consists in video installations where different strategies of appropriation can lead to the exhaustion of meaning. In Mother + Father, Breitz carefully edits and manipulates scenes taken from famous Hollywood films where men and women express their frustrations and feelings towards parenthood. Although her work is usually very open to interpretation, she is often concerned with identity and its representation (in her Ghost Series, for example, she explores the violence that can be performed by whiteness), as well as with contemporary mass culture and its influence on people.
Born and raised in the United States, Andi Arnovitz emigrated to Israel in 1999. Much of her work is informed by the experience of living in the Middle East, and reflects the challenges that women, and particularly Jewish women, face during their lives. As many of the artists featured in this list, she also uses art forms that have been traditionally relegated to the realm of women, such as textiles, “to create awareness, protest, dialogue, and disapproval”. I particularly like her works on paper, which adopt many different shapes and formats. In her series of etchings entitled Acid! and Before/After, Arnovitz uses nitric acid, a substance that is part of the process of making etchings but also a common weapon against women in many countries, to destroy the etching plates where she had depicted women at risk of suffering these violent attacks.
April 27, 2016
I recently got back from a short, museum-packed trip to Washington, D.C. for spring break. Do you remember the museum scene from Passport to Paris? It was a little like that, except unlike Mary-Kate and Ashley, I had a blast. Among the multiple Smithsonian institutions I visited, one of my favorites was the National Museum of African Art (not to be confused with the National Museum of African American History and Culture opening this September). The seemingly small but uniquely designed museum first opened its doors in 1964. At the time it was known as the Museum of African Art, located on Capitol Hill in a townhouse that had been the home of Frederick Douglass. In August 1979, the museum became part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is now located on the National Mall (which, by the way, is full of cherry blossoms this time of year, in case you’re planning your own “wanna get away” trip).
Among other exhibits, now on view is Artists’ Books and Africa. The twenty-five books included in the exhibition are either by African artists or feature traditional African themes, and all come from the permanent collections of the museum and the Smithsonian libraries. Through the books, the exhibition explores African history and cultures by embodying collective memory and reclaiming cultural heritage and storytelling. The show features fine art books as well as those employing multiple formats, materials and techniques by predominantly contemporary artists.
The books range in theme from personal narratives to reflections on the human condition. The sprawled out pages of Atta Kwami’s (b. 1956 in Ghana) Grace Kwami Sculpture (1993) resemble the form of a spider, drawing upon the African folklore of Anansi, the mischievous but knowledgeable spider known for his cleverness and skill, to tell the story of the artist’s mother, Grace Kwami (1923–2006), who was also an artist. Each of the book’s “legs” show pictures illustrating Grace’s life, creating a metaphor between the skillfulness of the spider and the creativity of the artist’s mother (my mind immediately went to Maman by Louise Bourgeois).
Another artist, Judith Mason (b. 1938 in South Africa) and poet Wilma Stockenström (b. 1933 in South Africa) use the book to visualize pain, or more specifically, a woman’s pain. In their book, Skoelapperheuwel, Skoelappervrou (Butterfly Hill, Butterfly Woman), Mason uses lithographs of pencil illustrations and collages of torn paper as the background for Stockenström’s enigmatic yet thought provoking words. Written in free verse Afrikaans, Stockenström contemplates the role of women in society, as well as other existentialist themes such as death and the afterlife. The ripped pages signify a kind of trauma presumably felt by all women, whether from childbirth, intercourse, or menstruation. The poetry is not fully translated into English, but even without textual reference, the message of the powerful and often visceral images is clear.
The versatility of artist books shows how their form and structure often supercede their content. Inspired by the “power to the people” mindset of the 1960s, inexpensive artists’ books referred to as “democratic multiples” are made to be distributed to as many people as possible, and typically convey social or political messages. South African artist Luan Nel’s (b. 1971) piece Paper: An Installation by Luan Nel at the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet takes the form of a tiny deck of cards. Looking at the cards feels like taking a Rorschach test as the small, ambiguous figures gradually create stories and sequences the longer you engage with them. The images are playful, but also veil the experiences of the artist’s life, addressing his homosexuality, Afrikaans heritage, his upbringing in the strict Dutch Reformed Church, and being drafted by the South African army during the era of apartheid.
The books are beautiful, surprising, darkly humorous, and at times bizarre. At first glance they seem to be purely aesthetically driven, but each page reveals something about the artist who created it. Artists’ Books and Africa will be on view until September 11, 2016 at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C.
On an abnormally cold April morning, I had the pleasure of meeting with the New York City based artist, Phoebe Berglund, at Hunter College where she is currently the Artist in Residence in the ceramics department. In addition to ceramics, she also has an extensive dance background and incorporates choreography into her work. Berglund, who radiates with an interesting combination of wisdom and youthful optimism, recently finished her solo exhibition Dance Floor: An Archive of Steps at Hunter. I sat down with Berglund to pick her brain about the exhibit and her fascinating artistic trajectory.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and your education?
I’m from the Oregon Coast, I started taking ballet and modern when I was 5, I joined a dance company when I was 9. We had class and would rehearse like 6 days a week for 3-4 productions a year, mostly reconstructions of classic dance works and dance interpretations of literary classics with original choreography. My dance teacher came from New York and she had studied with Martha Graham, so our productions were very polished. I grew up really poor, my mom raised me and my five siblings alone; she still works at a fish market today and my brothers are commercial fisherman. When we didn’t have money my mom would pay my dance teacher in fish.
How long have you wanted to be an artist?
In high school I got a big scholarship to study at a gymnasium near Frankfurt, my German host parents were artists and it was the first time I saw people living off their art. My host mom was a contemporary ceramicist and my host dad made book ends and they ran an art gallery, they taught me a lot about life.
I saw on your CV that you studied at the Universitat der Kunst, what was it like studying in Berlin? How does the art scene there compare to the one in New York?
When I went to the UDK a few years ago it was like going home, I feel very comfortable in Germany. Berlin is a cool place, I liked it that we could smoke cigarettes in class during art crits. I met a lot of interesting artists and just did a lot of hanging out. I bought an inflatable boat and took friends on boat rides in the canals, we would row around the swans and paint watercolors. It was very relaxing, I didn’t meet any artists that worked more than like one day per week. That’s a big difference from New York.
Your exhibition is quite elaborate. What did the process entail and what was your vision and concept?
First I developed the choreography, which involves 3 jobs- walking, working and waiting-then and some elements of a game structure on a grid. I performed this with two dancers while cutting tiles to build the floor on the opening night of the show. The following week the tiles dried then I fired them in the kiln. I put the bisqued fragments of the dance floor back into the exhibition space and treated it as a dance archive and I invited archaeologists, librarians and choreographers in to interview. I asked each person to physically handle the dance documents and to rearrange the composition of the library according to the logic of the discipline they came from. Every day the exhibition was in a new order.
When the show closed I photographed every single piece of the dance floor individually in the style of how the Met photographs artifacts. The next step is glazing them and making wall pieces that are coordinates with stage positions from the perspective of the dancer- upstage, downstage, center stage, etc.
A very important part of the work is that it will be sold by weight. Each piece will be sold based on a calculation that considers the 500 pounds of clay used to build the dance floor, the weight of 3 dancers, the square feet of the space, the time it took to build, divided by the total number of fragments of the dance floor.
Did anything in particular inspire you to do this project?
I have been thinking about dance documentation and dance archives for a long time. During undergrad at Antioch, my federal work study job was in the library and I was very into dance research. I exhausted the interlibrary loan system, I ordered everything that had to do with dance history and any critical theory related to dance. I think it’s interesting that documentation is always incomplete even with technology today, there is always something missing. Retracing dance steps is puzzling, it excites me.
Can you elaborate a bit on the themes of labor and leisure in your exhibition? Do you think these themes are especially relevant to the dance world?
Also while at Antioch, I took a lot of economics classes. My most involved research paper was about the political economy of dance in late capitalism, which was a turning point for me in my understanding of dance as an academic discipline. My current research has to do with the relationship between dance and Neo-liberalism, which places a high stress on corporate ‘performance’ and eradicates the boundary between work and non-work time, now we are essentially always working, always performing. For me, I think that dance is an interesting form to use to investigate how time is structured today, how work is currently being organized. With my projects now I am asking some of the same questions from my undergrad research paper about the exchange value, cultural value and transformative value of dance which is absolutely relevant to the dance world and the art world today.
Why did you choose to use EDM music as your soundtrack?
I think of the body as a technological tool and in this work the body is the instrument that notates the dance. It is important to me that the body operate between music made with contemporary machines and clay tablets, the oldest material used for writing. Also there is the rich history of EDM that is really radical and democratic, it has been bringing people together in alternative spaces for a long time now. The majority of the soundtrack came from Larry Levan’s DJ set on the closing night of Paradise Garage, a discotheque in Hudson Square from the 70’s, 80’s, the set list traces back some of the beginnings of New York House music.
Can you talk more about your dance background and how it influences your work?
When I got to New York I went to the Martha Graham School, classes were at 8 am uptown and everybody would wear black unitards and red lipstick. I was also hanging around Movement Research during that time, downtown and mostly everybody was in sweatpants. Then I quit dance for a while because the stage didn’t make sense to me anymore and dance for the camera didn’t make sense to me either. I had other interests and I found visual art to be more stimulating so I did my MFA in Combined Media at Hunter, I finished in 2013. I think I had to leave dance in order to understand it. I am still trying to understand it, it is deceptively simple but it is really very complicated.
Are there any artists or performers that inspire you the most?
I go to see a lot of shows, recently I saw the Fischli and Weiss: How to Work Better retrospective at the Guggenheim. I went alone and listened to the audio guide, I was there all day I loved it so much. Last week I saw DD Dorvillier‘s beautiful piece Extra Shapes at the Kitchen, it was part of the exhibition “From Minimalism into Algorithm,” which was all great. I loved my friend Geo Wyeth’s performance Storm Excellent Salad at PS1 last month, it was totally wild and inventive. I try to go to see all my friends work, that’s a priority.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I like working with my friends, the great thing about both dance and ceramics is that it’s all about community. Unless you are a solo artist you are never going to dance alone. In the ceramics studio it took three people to load the dance floor into the kiln, it is physically impossible to work alone on projects of this scale and scope.
Would you like to experiment with any other forms of art?
I’ll use any form the idea requires. Right now I’m basically running a construction company/ dance company that specializes in clay flooring that transforms into libraries of dance documents.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I have a show coming up May 1- May 31 Dance Floor: An Archive of Steps (Rite of Spring) at Orgy Park, an artist run space in Bushwick, curated by Katherine Aungier. On May Day we will build a terra-cotta dance floor outside in the garden, I am reconstructing a few of Nijinsky’s steps from his 1913 Rite of Spring but mostly it will be my choreography.
April 12, 2016
Focusing on actors, dancers, poets, artists and more, the exhibition contains a whirlwind of movements captured in a selection of images where the body becomes art. Organised into different sections such as ‘Staging/Collaboration’, ‘Performing Icons’, ‘Self/Portrait’ and ‘Performing Real Life’, the exhibition looks at the diverse nature of performance. It also contains diverse forms of photography from film to digital and even the inclusion of the ‘selfie’.
‘Performing for the Camera’ shows that performance is much more complex than people might think. Yes, it includes an array of posed models, choreographed dancers and constructed personas, but it also shows more intimate elements that we perhaps do not even realise are a performance. Whether you are vegging out at home, interacting with people around you or developing your identity through your clothes choices, it seems that life, in fact, is a performance and this exhibition captures every element of it.
Photography is a vital tool in the world of art as it preserves the moment before it is lost forever. It can be staged; it can be candid, though it always captures the precise momentum of time. The photographs within the exhibition showcase how our movements and expressions can become a political battle ground and how we can use our bodies to represent higher concepts such as gender inequality or resistance against a political regime.
Highlights of the show included a series of photographs of Ai WeiWei entitled Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn taken in 1995. The photograph depicts Ai WeiWei with an expressionless face looking into the camera and dropping a 2,000 year old urn, thus, allowing it to be smashed to pieces. In this performance, the artist is rebelling against the intense focus China puts on its culture. However, without the aid of photography, this performance would not have been captured. The act of dropping the vase itself would not have taken more than a few seconds, but its significance stretches far beyond its existence and produces a provocative and somewhat empowering effect for both the artist and the spectator, as we witness the artist liberating himself from a symbol of a regime that has limited him so much in both his life and his career as an artist.
Another highlight is the artist Jemima Stehli with her piece Strip from 1999-2000. In these images, Stehli takes an array of somewhat unconventional self-portraits where she performs a strip tease in front of seated male figures, all of whom come from the art world including curators, critics and more. With her back to camera and the male subject looking straight into the lens, Stehli creates a strange yet effective dynamic within her images. It is in fact the man in the photograph who is given the shutter release and therefore is in control of when the images are taken. These challenging photographs capture an array of concepts such as a male gaze, voyeurism and sexuality and the artists’ bold use of her body. The artist both sexualises and desexualises the body in her piece with everything from the use of her sexually charged title, the display of her naked body and the reactions of the male subjects involved.
Both Ai WeiWei’s and Stehli’s pieces are massively contrasting but they also have some similarities at their core which run throughout the whole exhibition. They show the diversity that photography can take, the meaning that one frame can hold and, ultimately, they really do embody the concept ‘an image is worth a thousand words’.
With it being two years since Tate Modern last showcased a photography exhibition, I think, their newest edition definitely showcases the importance and diversity of this art form. Whether we realise it or not we all perform for the camera at some point in our lives: a posed family photo, photographs taken of weddings and celebrations or simply selfies.
‘Performing for the Camera’ brings out elements that I believe most visitors will find a connection with as it also looks at life with the inclusion of celebrity culture, gender, race, sexuality and more. It shows how on some level, even if there is not a camera there to capture the moment, we all interact and engage with performance throughout our lives.
April 10, 2016
During my last year of university, my Contemporary Art professor completely changed my views on art history. On the first day of class, she asked us to think about the artists we had studied in depth during the previous three years. How many women could we remember? The answer was simple: not a single one. A few had been mentioned briefly, often as this or that artist’s wife. The next question seemed to follow naturally: Why have there been no great women artists? This was precisely the title of a 1971 ground-breaking essay by Linda Nochlin, then a Professor at Vassar College, where she questioned the whole intellectual structure upon which this inquiry is based.
Yoko Ono’s 1965 performance Cut Piece examined in a very simple way the role that the female body has played in art throughout the ages: that of a passive object. In art history, women appear mainly as models or muses. For centuries, the work of those few women that had access to artistic training has been considered to be inferior and secondary compared to that of their masters, fathers, brothers, husbands or lovers. Misleading categories such as “Genius” and “Great Artist”, reserved only for men, have been intrinsic to the discipline of art history for a long time and were not really challenged until the 1960s and 1970s by scholars like Nochlin, who stated that doing so “would reveal the entire romantic, elitist, individual-glorifying, and monograph-producing substructure upon which the profession of art history is based”.
The immediate effect of Nochlin’s essay was to increase the interest of scholars in recovering the work of those women that had been forgotten by history. This idea crystallised in the exhibition Women Artists: 1550-1950 organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1976, which included works by more than thirty artists from different periods, such as Artemisia Gentileschi, Rosa Bonheur, Gwen John and Lee Krasner.
The flourishing of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s prompted not only art theorists but also artists to re-discover lost role models for women and attack the male-centred version of history that had always passed as legitimate. Perhaps the most important work in this sense was Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (1979), an installation where the names of thirty-nine notable women from history (most of which still do not appear in any history textbook) were represented by embroidered textiles and porcelain plates, artistic expressions that have traditionally been considered “women’s work” and have therefore been excluded from the category of “high art”.
It is important to remember, however, that not all art produced by women is necessarily feminist or aimed against patriarchy. In opposition to the initiatives that simply sook to lessen the effects of discrimination, such as women-only exhibitions, important voices like that of feminist scholar Griselda Pollock urged for a more political model of feminist interventions. Rescuing the work of women who have been excluded from art history is not enough; in order to undermine patriarchal society, it is necessary to explore and deeply question the social structures that have led to this process of exclusion.
Many female artists have brought awareness to the oppression, marginalization and violence that women have suffered for centuries through their art, particularly after the 1960s. One of the most iconic pieces in this regard is Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), a video performance in which the artist not only criticised women’s roles within the home, but also the culture of frenetic consumption fostered by capitalism.
The female body, very often the artist’s own body, became a key tool for visually expressing a multiplicity of issues that directly affect the lives of women, such as menstruation, maternity, sexual violence, gender roles, and body image. For me, one of the most interesting examples of this is Frida Kahlo, who in the 1930s depicted her own birth in a way that finds no parallel in the history of art. This unusual image is still shocking today, as is any that deals frankly with female genitalia, often erased by male painters in their idealised depictions of the female body. In the 1970s, artists like Chicago, who insisted on the existence of a distinct “female sensibility”, scandalised audiences and generated controversy in feminist circles with their use of vaginal imagery.
Sexual violence against women was (and still is) a very prominent subject in feminist art. One of the projects that first prompted a social dialogue around this important issue was Suzanne Lacy’s Three Weeks in May (1977), a three-week performance that took place in a shopping centre and exposed the amount of rapes reported in Los Angeles during that period of time.
A few years before, Ana Mendieta had addressed sexual violence in a very powerful manner, presenting her own body as that of a rape victim in a performance that took place in the artist’s apartment.
Finally, I want to mention the work of Cindy Sherman. From the beginning of her career she has photographed herself in many different roles and scenarios, reminding the viewer about the important role of stereotypes in modern society. I find her striking images fascinating because they seem to highlight what Judith Butler has called the “performative” character of gender and the instability of identities.
Just as there is not just one way of being a woman, there is not only one feminist approach to art. The introduction of feminist perspectives in art history is important because it puts into question the discourse centred on the white, Western, heterosexual male gaze, opening up the discipline to criticism and new points of view.
The development of what has been termed the Feminist Art Movement is greatly indebted to the work of the aforementioned artists. Although most of my examples come from the United States, similar expressions simultaneously appeared in the rest of the world. Still, the question that the feminist collective Guerrilla Girls posed in the 1980s, Do Women Have to be Naked to Get Into the Met. Museum?, is, as their ongoing project shows, still relevant today.
I highly recommend reading Pollock’s recent article “The National Gallery is Erasing Women from the History of Art”. Sadly, in 2016 many museums and cultural institutions are still way behind art theory and practice when it comes to ending discrimination and promoting inclusiveness and diversity.
Born in Limassol, Cyprus in 1989, Meletios Meletiou studied Fine Arts in the Academy of Rome and worked also as an assistant professor during the academic year 2012-2013. Furthermore, he attended professional courses of interior design at the Rome University of Fine Arts as well as window dresser and visual merchandiser at the Altieri Academy of Fashion and Art. Since 2014 attending a second level Master in Visual and performing arts in Rome’s Fine Arts Academy.
Meletios developed his ideas and formulated his own thinking during his academic and pre-academic years and applying it in various ways in his work.
Artists of his nature are essential to the artistic practise, they offer a different perception of the current events, with a realistic and more humane approach.
- How did you enter the art world? How did you start creating?
I can recall my father from a relatively early age being exposed into the arts, and that was the catalyst that triggered me to go into a private art school for 8 years. As I was growing up, I realised that this was my field. The entire procedure of creating art defines me as a person.
- Can you share with us what are you doing right now? What projects are you undertaking?
Currently, I am working on three projects. The two of those begun last year and the last one was initiated few months ago. One of those projects, includes the new park that is taking its shape in Magliana, next to the Tiber River. I was chosen to create a sculpture through my university. This project was supposed to be exhibited last year, but due to some procedural decisions it was postponed. This project includes a rock made by travertine tiles and it is called “Transition”. The other project, was given to our team by the United Nations and it is based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be fulfilled until 2030. The last project however is the one that stigmatised me both as a person and as an artist.
I started focusing on the refugee crisis, and most importantly to the people that were victimised from the war in Syria. It all started when I was scrutinising the entire chaotic situation in Mytilini where it was filled with people urging for a better living with no organisation whatsoever; as it was a crisis indeed. “Better Days for Moria”, a non-governmental organisation, which is volunteering in the area of Lesbos in Greece is burdened by refugees helped me to visit Lesbos to dissect the situation. The initial plan was to take some photographs that I needed for this project depicting the chaos in the area and conduct some workshops with the refugees in the entertaining section that is held by ‘Better Days for Moria’.
The project however took another take. I had to change my approach to it. You have to understand that when you have to do with people, emotions are getting involved and things cannot go according to plan. Generally, this project was related to the journey of ordinary people from Syria to Greece and then from Greece back to Europe. So this included a two-journey depiction.
- What do you want to extract and focus on in Lesbos?
At first I just wanted to go, see what is going on, help, cooperate with the people there and leave. I never thought that the impact of this visit would have altered my perception and my practise. It helped tackle art in a more humane way. Most importantly it reminded me how to be a human and not just a human being. It made me erase everything I considered in the past and create my one “Simio 0” which is the name of the project I will focus on. My ultimate aim is to create an installation that will describe the present situation in Lesbos of the victims of the war and in the same time be used as a historical evidence in the future of what was going on back then. I feel that even if the refugee crisis has gained massive exposure, it is not entirely raising the awareness needed. After all, the crisis is still there. We do not learn from history. History repeats itself, but with different standards every single time.
- How did it all start and how do you visualise the final installation project?
Few months ago, more specifically in September, I started a project that was related to the Refugee Crisis. This project was a continuation of my previous studio practise. You have to bear in mind, that I usually use symbols while creating. From 2010, I am using an everyday object, what people know as clothes hangers as a symbol to depict people that are trapped into certain situations that they cannot handle themselves. I initiated this project to depict a massive issue to create awareness and this was anorexia. I tried to portray bodies that suffer from specific nutritional turbulences. As I went along, this project developed to a generic depiction of turbulences that cause humans addictions. My aim was to actually interpret bodies that due to these experiences turn out to be lifeless. I understand that this is harsh. But my objective was to put an end to it. These bodies were hooked in what I have used as a symbol – the clothes hanger. The clothes hanger turned out to be a symbol that represented the people that are hooked by certain situations. Without it, the people would have been free.
Last year, I used this symbol of clothes hangers to represent the people that suffer and are trapped from terrorism and more specifically ISIS. I called this project ‘PortaCorpi’. Therefore, through this process, this symbol became my trademark. I relate this symbol to the refugee crisis. I relate it this symbol to the life vests that are the only safety nets people have during their journey from Syria to Greece and Greece to Europe.
I don’t know if you have seen this, but when the refugees land into Lesbos, those life vest jackets are thrown away. The irony is that those life vest jackets are the only supportive elements people have. They are not even real. They cannot save human beings. It is simply an illusion for the refugees that the life vest jacket is their own protection. But its not.
I want to create the parallel of these life vest jackets to a clothe hanger. People throw the life vest jacket as soon as they see land, to get rid of the burden. To get rid of the war crime because they feel safe at least. I don’t know how to define the burden. The people that arrive to Lesbos are bodies that were forced to leave their country. They are bodies that are trapped into a situation that they did not choose themselves. Nobody wants to leave their country and that is the only thing we can take for granted. From my perception, this is what I define to be the ‘clothes-hangers’. It is the situation that keeps the hooked embedded into a consequence that they did not choose themselves. They are forced to enter the sea with the fear of dying and Lesbos becomes their zero point where they finally feel safe. Zero point in Greek means “Simio 0” which is the name of the project. As Lesbos becomes the safe haven of the refugees their bodies are finally back on track.
From my own perception, time stops there- in the so-called “Simio 0”. I want to create an installation, with hundreds of handmade wires that will be presented as hangers. This will work as a parallel with the mountains of life vest jackets that are thrown away after the refugees reach the land. As you can imagine, the situation itself is unstable therefore, things can be subjected to transform and develop as I go along.
My plan is that I will visit Lesbos soon. This journey will definitely last longer. My aim is to conduct new workshops that will focus on the ‘imaginary friends’ that refugees may have in this journey as their shoulder. These workshops will consist of handmade wires sculptures that will represent each person’s personal perspective on the matter.
- I understand you work with concepts. Why did you choose to work with the refugee crisis? Why now?
It was not an urge. It was a building process of my previous studio practise. After the ‘PortaCorpi’ concept, this project was subsequent development. The refugee crisis, had a massive impact on me, especially after the incident in the port of Mytillini, last summer. Especially when you see all these horrific images – image is so important nowadays- you understand that you need to relate further. The orange brightness verifies a vigilant sentiment. Therefore, all these images, and the development of my studio practise made me understand that this project was essential for me as an artist.
- Based on your experience, what is the role of art in a society?
As people, we tend to forget quite easily. Art is an important source of communication between people that have a language barrier. When I was in Lesbos and I was interacting with the refugees, we were communicating through sketches. They couldn’t speak English so art was our common language. Art is a language that everyone can understand, every person in this world. Thereby, I feel that art underlines memories and interaction.
- What was the hardest thing you came across in Lesbos?
The first boat. I cannot take it off my mind. I was holding two cameras and I had no clue what I was going to see there. I saw a new-born baby getting off the boat. That was my zero point. I was dashed.
- Are you usually influenced by political/historical considerations or by artistic ones?
I tend to examine historical considerations to create something that is going on in the world right now. I don’t care about visual aesthetics to the eye that much. I care that the aesthetic of the concept will delivery the right messages to the audience or make them ask questions regarding the concept I am raising. Art needs to make people think. If it is aesthetically pleasing or not, that’s not something I focus on.
- How do you approach your work?
I sketch non-stop. I analyse my thoughts. I let myself into my thoughts and research non-stop. Lesbos was a turning-point as I said before. I have seen something that I have never seen in my entire life. It made me tackle art in a more humane way.
- Who is your favourite artist?
I never felt the urge to have a favourite artist. I examine several artists for what they are doing which many of them are influential to me in their own level.
- What is the thing that inspires you?
Humans and their surroundings.
- What are your plans in the future?
I want to feel satisfied from what I am doing in Lesbos. I want to reach a point that I will feel that I have offered something else with the project that is based on the refugee crisis. The only thing I have learnt from my experience in Lesbos is that situations are subjected to alter all the time. You cannot go according to plan.
- As a young artist, what is your advice to the younger generation that aspires to become part of the art world?
Find your own form of expression. Whatever you do, do it passionately.
Yes, you didn’t read it wrong – this is about South Korean artists in the Parisian art fair. The art world in Paris has welcomed spring with Art Paris Art Fair which gathers 143 galleries from 20 countries, including Azerbaijan, Colombia and Iran for the first time. The fair presents art from the post-war period to the present, with South Korea as the guest of honour this year. Almost 70 Korean artists are represented by galleries both from Korea and around 20 Western galleries. In fact, the Korean art scene and markets has been growing drastically with multiplied global market share during recent years. By observation, the work of South Korean artists is generally well received by fair-goers while these following artists have particularly intrigued both the French (majority) and international audience.
- Choi Jeong Hwa
Being one of the most internationally renowned artists from South Korea, Choi Jeong Hwa’s art consists of cultural icons and materials from our daily life, such as soda bottles, shopping bags, and colourful plastic dishes. He is also known for large-scale installations that trump the hierarchy of museum. At the fair Park Ryu Sook Gallery from Seoul presents a moving installation titled Breathing Flower that catches much attention from fair-goers as the large red flower opens and closes with air being pumped in and released at intervals.
- Chun Kwang Young
Generally recognised as a pioneer in contemporary Korean art, Chun Kwang Young’s art employs traditional Korean technique and material but expressed in visual language of our time. Hundreds of small shapes wrapped in tinted antique mulberry paper are inspired by the artist’s childhood nostalgia as they resemble bundles of paper packages of traditional medicinal herbs. His work can be seen at several gallery booths including Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts, Omer Tiroche Contemporary Art, Park Ryu Sook Gallery, Sundaram Tagore Gallery. Among these, Sundaram Tagore Gallery has brought various new site-specific works – a series of colourful and greatly tactile wall reliefs, which make it worth visiting the booth.
While Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts is displaying only one piece by the artist, it is still recommended to visit the booth to check out the work of a younger South Korean artist, Ilhwa Kim, whose work has visibly been influenced by Chun Kwang Young’s while demonstrating his own style and technique, using another traditional material – handmade Korean paper, Hanji.
- Bahk Seon-Ghi
At the booths of 313 Art Project, Galerie Paris-Beijing and Galerie Andres Thalmann, you can discover and be amazed by the artist’s suspended charcoal installations. Started to concentrate on working with charcoal in the late 1980s, Bahk Seon-Ghi wants to express nature which he has been in close contact since his childhood. His work made up of subtle and humble small pieces of charcoal is very visually appealing.
- Kim Joon
This Seoul-based artist explores tattoo culture using digital prints made with 3-D imaging. Desire, memory and youth are illustrated through digital mediums of porcelain and tattoos. Park Ryu Sook Gallery has brought the artist’s latest series Somebody of startling images of misplaced and intertwined body parts. Though not much my cup of tea, it exposes the hidden desire or the human and the society. I personally prefer Kim Joon’s series of porcelain in shapes of broken human bodies imprinted with brand logos, such as Absolut in Drunken-Absolut Vodka, 2011 as presented at Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s booth.
- Kim Tschang Yeul
Living and working in both Paris and Seoul, Kim Tschang Yeul, at an age of 87, has spent much of his career painting water drops. He drills into the expression of the forms and meanings of this object. At the booths of both Baudoin Lebon, Paris and Park Ryu Sook Gallery are some latest important pieces of this distinguished artist, visually vivid water drops lying on backdrops subtly inscribed with characters from the Korean language.
Art Paris Art Fair at Grand Palais, Paris, 31 March – 3 April, 2016
The delightful Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side is my favorite escape from the hustle and bustle of life in Manhattan, but you may already know that from my review of Berlin Metropolis. There is nothing like great art, old world nostalgia, and sublime Viennese desserts to take your mind off the stresses of everyday life. The exhibition, “Munch and Expressionism,” does not disappoint. Munch, who is best known for his iconic piece, “The Scream,” painted works that dealt with heavy existential themes and were both horrifying and erotic. The show displays the fascinating symbiotic relationship between the Norwegian father of Expressionism, Edvard Munch, and German and Austrian Expressionists; the German artists being Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Münter, and Emile Nolde, and the Austrian artists Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. This exhibition, organized with The Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, features “The Scream,” in addition to several other captivating paintings and woodcuts from this fascinating period of modern European art.
The exhibit is organized into four different galleries that chronologically document the evolution of Munch’s provocative aesthetic. The first gallery, “Experimental Printmaking,” features some of Munch’s early works from the late 19th century and demonstrates Munch’s “radical approach” to his craft. In addition to Munch’s innovative woodcuts, this gallery includes some great paintings such as the three versions of one of my personal favorites, Munch’s peculiar “Madonna” from 1895. This painting features a beautiful nude female subject; the lithograph version is adorned with a border of tiny sperm-like creatures and a little fetus in the corner. While the painting is conventionally erotic, it also conveys Munch’s association of sex with death and other grave consequences.
The second and third galleries, “Munch and the Expressionists in Dialogue” and “Influence and Affinity,” delve a bit deeper into the dynamic between Munch and the Expressionists. These sections explore how Munch paved the way for these artists to break with the conventions of realism and experiment with color and brushwork. I was especially drawn to the playful use of color in Munch’s “Model by the Wicker Chair” from 1919 and “Bathing Man” from 1918. Although these paintings are done in vibrant shades of blue, green, and violet, they maintain Munch’s signature ethos of anxiety and grief.
I was also intrigued by the equally colorful “Street, Dresden” by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The painting exudes brilliant color, yet simultaneously reads as dark and devastating. No exhibit at the Neue Galerie would be complete without a few pieces by Egon Schiele, one of the (literal) poster children for the museum and one of my favorite expressionist painters. I really appreciated the addition of Schiele’s “Self-Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder,” which, with its liberal brushwork and penetrating eyes, is full of intense emotional pathos. Prior to visiting this exhibit, I wouldn’t necessarily associate Munch with Schiele because I consider their aesthetics so distinct from one another. However, after looking at Schiele’s paintings in the context of Munch, I began to see the similar themes of anguish that pervade the works of both artists.
The fourth and final gallery in the exhibit is an appropriately claustrophobic and dimly-lit room dedicated to the main event, Munch’s “The Scream” from 1893, and the two original lithographs. Additionally, the room features Erich Heckel’s woodcut “Man on a Plain,” as well as a few Schiele portraits. Above the final version of “The Scream” is a quote by Munch himself:
“I was walking along the road with two friends,
“The sun was setting – the sky turned blood-red.
And I felt a wave of sadness – I paused
tired to death –Above the blue-black Fjord
and city blood and flaming tongues hovered.
My friends walked on – I stayed
behind – quaking with angst – I
felt the great scream in nature” – Edvard Munch
Although I had seen this iconic image countless times reproduced in textbooks and on the internet, I felt like I was looking at “The Scream” for the very first time. There was something powerfully cathartic about standing in that tiny dark blue room and confronting the painting live. After gaining a better understanding of the cultural and historical context that Munch was operating in, the painting resonated with me on a much deeper level. Visitors can expect to leave “Munch and Expressionism” emotionally moved and curious to learn more about this innovative period of art history. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a slice of Sachertorte, mit schlag on your way out.
“Munch and Expressionism” runs until June 13th and is definitely not to be missed. Bring a friend or two for a solid afternoon of superb paintings and delectable pastries.