In: Contemporary Art
Vanessa Lam is an emerging contemporary abstract artist based in Canada. Working with mixed media painting, Vanessa explores the relationship between unconscious, form, and space. The artist loosely uses paint to create spontaneous brushstrokes, maintaining a balance between chance and control. Expressive nature of Vanessa’s work establishes a contrast between the placement of paint and collage elements found in her work.
Recently, Vanessa won the 8th Annual BOMBAY SAPPHIRE Artisan Series award and decided to collaborate with ARTSY, the global art platform, and Bombay Sapphire to create a new public exhibition in New York City.
I spoke with Vanessa about her journey up until now, ‘There Is Another Sky’ exhibition and her future artistic aspirations.
Hi, Vanessa! Before we dive into a discussion about your new show in New York, tell me about when was the first time you realized you want to be an artist.
I always liked drawing when I was young. Pencil and paper were all that I needed to start expressing my ideas. I had taken some classes during university, but it wasn’t until over a decade later that I reconnected to art again after taking a mixed media course at Emily Carr University Art & Design. Taking this course was the turning point for me to continue exploring art. I was curious to uncover my potential. After a few more classes at Emily Carr, I decided to give myself a five-year window to pursue a fine-art practice and see where it takes me. It’s been about five years now.
What was your journey up until now?
I worked as a healthcare professional for over a decade and continue to juggle my day job with making art. I took over a small spare room in my home and painted mostly at night after work. One of my instructors became my mentor. Although I began finding other artists to connect with to build my community slowly, I still didn’t know many people in the local art world and became my teacher for the most part. For the first few years, I read a lot of books, tried to make as much work as I could and submitted work to any exhibition opportunity that presented itself. During this time, I was working very hard, but soon I found that I took on too many projects and I burnt myself out.
It was at this time that I happened to move into my current studio space. It’s a shared, open studio space in an industrial area and it turned out that it was the change that I needed. I not only had more space to grow and experiment but I had the chance to physically connect with artists from a variety of other disciplines on a regular basis. I took a break from exhibitions to enjoy my new studio space. During this time, I created work without any deadlines and pushed exploring both collage and painting.
Then, I began looking into residencies and was offered a month-long residency in Berlin last year. It was my first residency and my first time in Berlin. The combination of being in a new city and having a dedicated month to develop new ideas was extraordinary. It gave me exposure to international artists and different perspectives which helped raise my confidence in the work that I was doing. The ideas generated from this residency led to some of the new work that is in the upcoming show in New York.
I noticed color takes the main stage in your work. What inspires you?
This new body of work is a culmination of my experiences and observations translated into color and form. I take notice of textures, shapes, and colors around me, particularly ordinary objects, like a piece of rusted metal that I have walked by on the roadside. Whether I’m in the city, traveling or in the mountains, I pull from all these experiences and feelings. My process is very intuitive in how I apply paint as well as color choice.
I wouldn’t say that color is my primary focus, but it’s more the feeling I get from seeing a specific intensity or combination of colors together within the context of where I first observe it. It could be one of many jumping off points that leads to trying a new color palette. Color doesn’t often come naturally to me, so I think that is why I look for ways to experiment in this area. Overall, I’m trying to find new ways of doing things, and it’s those unexpected outcomes of those experiments that keep me motivated.
‘THERE IS ANOTHER SKY’ EXHIBITION
Tell me about your upcoming collaboration with Artsy and Bombay Sapphire.
This year I began regularly connecting with Artsy to discuss ideas for the exhibition and venue. I had only seen photos of the site, so it was a challenge to create work for a space that I had never set foot in before. I chose to create a lot of the new work on canvas given the logistics of shipping. These pieces have a lot of loose forms through the staining and pooling of paint but also contrast against more drawing and solid, hard-edged shapes. Throughout my meetings with Artsy, I was encouraged to use the opportunity to stretch myself artistically.
Some of the pieces are the largest I have ever made, one of which is an 11.5’ foot long painting. Working on this large of a scale forced me to change my process. It was a very physical process, and I immersed myself into the canvas so I can reach all the areas to paint. Also, I wanted to somehow shift painting into the three-dimensional space. The concept came from some cut-outs of paintings on canvas that I made during my residency in Berlin. I had also been experimenting with paint skins but found that it would be hard to maneuver on a large scale without some support.
This installation incorporates draped canvas which plays on the idea of dried paint skins. Layering together these shapes brings in my interest in collage and shape-making. I created another four large paintings on canvas which will be layered together over wooden frame support to create a sculptural form. I have learned so much in creating and coordinating the work for this show.
‘There Is Another Sky’ will create an immersive experience for audiences. What’s the key idea of the show?
The title of the show is from the first line of a poem by Emily Dickinson. She refers to the existence of new sky that belongs to another mysterious place which behaves and feels differently from the world that we physically see and know. The invitation to enter the garden implies a message to her brother to read her poetry and enter the world she has created.
My work makes reference to space much like the expanse of the sky, and use of ambiguous forms in space is suggestive of another “realm”. There is also an invitation to experience “entering into” the art and as well as move amongst the works in the exhibition ranging from sculpture to collage and painting. The sculptural piece was a key component in the space where I’m releasing the layers of a “painting” from the usual confines of two-dimensional rectangular structure.
ARTIST AS ENTREPRENEUR
Do you think nowadays artists need to become entrepreneurs to build and manage their brand?
I do believe it is vital for artists to be entrepreneurs. The definition of what an artist can be is so varied which offers more freedom but also can make it hard to know what direction to take. My understanding of a personal brand is that it is an extension of who you are, and generally, it’s the what and how you want to present to others. For me, I’m still figuring things out and is an ongoing process. But what I do know is that people are interested in knowing the story behind your work, who you are as a person, and the influences in your life. How I share my story is through social media, mostly Instagram.
I’m trying to find ways to connect with others, and hopefully, it will resonate with them. I recently did an Instagram takeover with Create Magazine which made me think carefully about what kind of impression I wanted to leave with people. I wanted it to feel polished, like the work I create, be reflective of my style and be authentic. The projects that I choose to take on also contribute to who I am and where I would like to go with my art practice. Everything I do has some element of risk as I don’t always know what the response will be.
I still need to try and take these risks so I can grow as an artist.
What’s next for you after ‘There Is Another Sky’?
I have some possible commissions coming up, but mostly I want to expand on some of the ideas that I created from this show as well as continue to experiment with collage and different painting techniques.
LEARN MORE ABOUT VANESSA LAM’S WORK ON HER WEBSITE
168 BOWERY, NEW YORK, NY
Louise O’Kelly found Block Universe London, the performance art festival, four years ago.
Coming from the art background, Louise discovered her interest towards performance art while working in a gallery that represented the estates of many performance artists from the 60’s and 70’s. She then continued to study Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths and focused her research on performance and memory studies.
We talked about how Louise came up with the idea for Block Universe, how she accepted the challenges, backed the venture and became a successful female entrepreneur in the art industry.
ABOUT BLOCK UNIVERSE
Hi, Louise! It’s so nice to meet you. Tell me about how you came up with an idea for Block Universe.
Hi, Daria! Block Universe was born out of a desire to support artists who work with performance and to create a platform to promote this medium. As someone who loved going to see this type of work, I was conscious that it was primarily being programmed in galleries and museums as either a form of entertainment at the opening of an exhibition, or as part of the public programme in response to the main show. Rarely, if ever, it was being given space in its own right. I felt it was important that this new generation of artists working with the performance was acknowledged and that space was created where performance was the focus, even if that was just for one week in the year.
How did you back your idea?
We still work with very tight budgets, but the first year was on a complete shoestring. We put in a successful bid to Arts Council England and called in as many favors as we could to make it all happen. I and two friends – Nicky van Breugel and Xica Aires – put in many late nights to pull it together. I knew that many artists received little or no pay for their performances and that they were often under-resourced, so my goal was to ensure that the artists were fairly paid and received appropriate support. To supplement what we had already raised, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to secure fees and costs towards the productions.
Why performance art?
To me, artists working with performance are making some of the most exciting work in the contemporary art field today. I see a new generation of artists creating work that is genuinely interdisciplinary and approaches live experience from a different perspective than previous generations of performance artists.
Having that element of live bodies moving, speaking, feeling, and sharing the same space as you create an intangible quality and an immediacy that I find compelling.
How do you find new artists?
I spend a lot of time researching, seeing shows and getting to know an artist’s practice as well as following recommendations. The internet is, of course, an incredibly useful tool, but doesn’t compare with seeing something live. There is no submission process, the selection of artist is lead instead by mine and my colleague’s research.
Why did you decide to have a pop-up structure, rather than a specific location?
I feel it’s important to look at the different contexts in which performance is presented and experienced, and how this alters audience expectations or adds another layer to the conception of the work. That shift between a white cube to a black box, a historical museum or space, which is none of those things, becomes a useful tool to think about where performance sits within traditional gallery models in the visual arts world, or how it operates within traditional theatre confines.
What was the theme for this year’s fourth edition?
The theme this year is looking at ways of being together in the world, whether that is on a communal or societal level, or in our intimate, personal relationships. It felt necessary to think about how we can exist together in an era of very divisive and discriminatory politics in the UK, including the looming specter of Brexit. On a one-to-one basis, these power structures play out in our relationships also, so many of the works in the festival this year also look at the politics of love and sex. For example, on the 31st May at Senate House, we have Australian artist Giselle Stanborough looking at the techno-capitalization of our love lives in a 4-hour durational lecture-performance that is kind of like a tongue-in-cheek, ramped up version of a TED talk.
What have you learned since the first edition of Block Universe?
So, so much. We all just threw ourselves into it, and I can see how passion and determination make so much in the world possible if you believe in what you’re doing.
ABOUT BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR IN THE ARTS
What do you think are new trends in the arts startup/entrepreneurial hub?
I think there is a lot of potential to look at ways of engaging with time-based work using new media, such as video and digital works. Suitable examples of re-thinking how we experience these or how one collects these type of works are organizations such as Opening Times or Daata Editions. There is indeed plenty of potential for disrupting current models of buying and selling artworks online, although so much of the art world is based on relationships that it may require generational shifts for that to evolve in the long-term.
Do you think it’s harder to find financing for a startup in the art world, rather than in any other industry?
I do think it’s a real challenge. Philanthropy for the arts does not exist in the same way in the UK as it does in the US. Government funding to the arts is continually cut, even though it provides a very significant return on investment to the economy. As a performance festival, we can offer a ‘return on investment’ regarding experience, but not necessarily a monetary one in the same way an investor would hope for from a tech startup.
Is there a high potential then for disruption by new entrepreneurial ideas in the art market?
Having contributed something new to London’s cultural landscape, it made me realize that there is still plenty of space to introduce new ideas and ways of operating within London and the art world more widely. I feel that it’s a space that welcomes innovation, and there is plenty of scopes to shift or disrupt existing models within the arts, on either commercial or non-profit levels, though of course, these things take time and shifts are often subtle.
Tell me about your personal experiences as a female entrepreneur in the arts. What have been your challenges, findings, revelations?
It’s nice to be referred to as an entrepreneur, as that entrepreneurial mindset feels relevant to what it takes to launch a new organization and idea into the world as I have done with Block Universe. I’m acutely aware of the imbalance of power structures and how this negatively impacts upon women, but I can’t say that I can identify any particular challenges or revelations that relate to my being female in my experience of setting up Block Universe. I feel that every challenge I have encountered throughout the process has been a positive process to learn from, and relates more to the fact of me realizing my vision in the world than it does to my experience of being a woman.
What’re your plans for both Block Universe and beyond?
Next year is our 5th year, so we’re already looking ahead to this special anniversary! We’re planning more events throughout the year in the run-up to our next edition. And beyond that… you’ll just have to watch this space!
Learn more about BLOCK UNIVERSE on its official website
I am Brunno Silva, curator of the series Unimagined Surroundings that just had its debut at Trace with the exhibition “Dispossession” by English artist Heidi Locher. The series explores the boundaries between art and architecture through different takes on architecture by four artists. Monthly Trace will exhibit one artist between April and July, where visitors will have the chance to discover each artistic practice at a time. As a group show, Unimagined Surroundings will be exhibited in Italy later this year.
Hi Heidi, can you tell me about the process behind Dispossession? What was your inspiration for creating the show?
I think you and I were chatting about the relationship of architecture and fine art, and I was saying that in the hands of great architects “Architecture is the highest form of art and that it should encompass within its sculptural light-filled spaces all the delights of life as well as offering within beautifully crafted shadowy recesses sanctuary and retreat”.
This lead me to describe a little hut that sat quietly in the landscape where I live in Puglia, Southern Italy. The hut kept drawing me in, as it seemed to embody all the basic elements of Architecture, basic but beautiful and instigating. Seemingly offering sanctuary and shelter, holding within its walls the whispers of peoples hidden memories and lives. The title is a personal connection with a poem by the Canadian poet Anne Michaels where she describes poetry and the human condition, which I felt had a direct connection to this hut somehow. Michaels wrote, “Poetry is insurrection, resurrection, insubordination against every sort, against every form of oppression, dispossession, and indifference”.
The show is composed of different media: newspaper, photography, video, and sculpture. What were your interests whilst making decisions for each medium?
I felt that I wanted somehow to convey the feeling and essence of the hut, so the show was a totally immersive experience, but also to allow for various imaginations to flow and wander through the work, as mine had done time and time again. Sometimes experiencing it as purely architectural, sometimes wondering what it would be like to take refuge or step across a threshold that was not your choice. I also wanted to set up a tension between the large-frame doors and the large-scale images.
The doors are especially empowering; I am happy we got them all the way from Italy to Berlin, they make such an impact. It was incredible to observe your decision making in choosing which image to use. Could you guide me through your creative process?
There are a lot of ideas that are there initially, as if my brain will explode if I don’t get them out, turn them over, then hold on or let go. The newspapers, for example, were a way of conveying an idea about disposable culture we live in, and the Photo Roman piece felt precisely the right way to describe the feeling of the hut in the tough and windy climate.
I remember also discussing how the newspaper gives visitors the chance to take possession of the artworks and the hut itself, a shared use between the hut and the exhibition.
Creating this exhibition and all its elements was phenomenal, people during the opening brought different views to the newspapers and the doors too. I enjoy very much to listen and see a growing interest in the hut and my work.
Dispossession is your first show in Berlin, how was the experience in showing for the first time in the city?
Berlin felt exactly like the right place to show this work given its background of borders and zones. The doors sculptures look exactly how I wanted, and it will be interesting see them in new venues later this year. Also, it was an opportunity to be part of Berlin Gallery Weekend, a time of exploration and exchange, thank you Brunno and thank you Berlin.
Thank you! What are the plans for the future? Can you tell us a little about your upcoming projects?
Exciting times I hope. As you know, Dispossession is part of a broader dialogue which encompasses three other artists, David Ebner, Randi Renate and Henrique Neves. I am very excited to see all works together after July in one group show. After Berlin, I am traveling to Italy, where I am going to expand Dispossession series with some additional pieces.
Architecturally we are making a beautiful space to house the Zagara Foundation, in Puglia. The project is the collision of ruin and innovation, where simple ordered modern elements are inserted into a vast scale historic ruin in order to create a gentle harmony. The Foundation will be an international artist residency, hopefully, I will be able to share more details soon.
Learn more about Heidi Locher’s work at Studio Locher
December 20, 2017
If you’re an artist with innovational techniques (think technology or quantum physics) and still don’t have a gallery representation, listen up! MTArt, the first artist agency, could be the ideal place for you to become a greater artist and get recognized.
Founded two years ago, MTArt is the first artist agency (working similarly to more common music or film agencies). Marine Tanguy, the founder, came from a cultural background and always strived to work with artists and help them get known. The result? MTArt Agency!
We met a few months ago at Marine’s artsy flat in London and spoke about MTArt and her latest endeavor, art festival Unfold, that took place in October 2017.
Hi, Marine! So nice to finally meet you! I’ve been following your business, MTArt, for a while now. How did you get an initial idea?
Hi, Daria! I never thought it would become a business really. We created MTArt back in 2015. I always loved contemporary art and especially artists and I always thought how I could find a better supporting system for them. I was a young gallery manager in London when I was 21. So I knew I wanted to work in the industry, but I was not as close to artists as I wanted to be. Something expectable from a traditional art business model. Then, I got a chance to move to LA.
I love Los Angeles! It’s so different from London though…
It was a mind-blowing experience. I looked a lot at music and film agencies, so I thought why can’t something similar work for artists? It got me moving. After raising the capital, we’ve established an artist agency. Our primary focus is not only on works of art, it’s a more grounded approach towards art. It’s about building a visibility, making art more accessible. We want to establish a name of an artist with a significant content. MTArt is an agency that is all about a continuous collaboration with artists on a long-term basis.
How do you find your artists?
We get a lot of submissions via social media, texts, emails… What makes us choose is the degree of innovative techniques and valuable content. Now ‘innovation’ is such a buzz word! What I mean by it, is that every MTArt artist questions the status quo; content is the key.
But when do you say ‘yes, this artist is the one’? What is the selection process?
So, first, we meet the artists and we start testing them. In the agency, we want hard-working and committed people. I know that those who will do very well in the future, can handle stress easily. That is why we look for team players. Artists usually work alone, but during stressful moments they start working as a team.
After we select the artists, we support them for three years. It works like a typical music or film agency in Hollywood. We talk to our artists and try to understand what they want to do in the future, what their aspirations and interests are. Then, all we need to do is complement the artistic vision with exposure. Basically, what we do is accelerating and financing our artists. There’s constantly trust between us. I even have a spare bedroom upstairs so they can always stay for a night or two! ‘laughing’
Sounds very inspirational! And what about your latest endeavor – Unfold Festival? Is it connected to MTArt?
The vision is similar. There were four of us, four co-founders. We all came from different art businesses. The idea was to help people to engage with art in a different way. So, we decided to take art to the streets and new exhibition spaces. Unfold emerged as a street festival during the Frieze Week.
Why did you choose to host the festival during Frieze? Not too crowded?
The timing helped a lot since everyone comes to London in October to see art, but we wanted to do it differently. We did not like putting works under a tent, as it happens in other art fairs. It lessens the experience. We decided to take a historical street in London (Church Street) and enhance it with art. No more walls and psychological barriers that come with gallery spaces. It was all about people being surrounded by art, together with a series of talks and artist studios curated in the main exhibition space.
The wine was blue as well!
Oh yes, my French friends did not approve! ‘laughing’ Very artistic and alternative to a traditional art fair. The crowd was very mixed as well. We had collectors of course, but also people who have never been to an art event before. The partnerships we had (e.g. with Aston Martin) have never taken place with artists. So, we tried to approach new people and get them interested in art.
Unfold was fun. There was wine and art… what not to like?
The festival showed that the content of art was meaningful, but also entertaining. We want people to engage, it’s our main priority.
Will you continue Unfold on an annual basis?
We had another festival, called MELT, last year. It was all about integrating art into urban landscapes. I’ve always attempted such projects to get a conversation going. It’s a way to try new things. Now we commission urban exhibitions, so I want to scale it up. Eventually I would like to have a lot of collaborations coming out of Unfold.
I cannot wait to see these new collaborations! So, what do you think is yet to be done?
What’s lacking is an art and tech festival. A lot of artists are experimenting with these mediums already. We want to create evolution in art and celebrate revolutionary artists, so we hope to do the art and technology festival next year and recognize the artists who are pioneering this new medium.
I can see one of your goals is to attract new people to the arts. Why do you think it can be hard to get new people interested in art?
The art world is considered to be a part of the luxury industry. So, by definition it needs to be exclusive and inaccessible, but that works only for a small percentage of the population. If you think of music and film industries, they focus on entertainment, not luxury. That’s the biggest conflict in the art world. You can’t be luxury and for everyone. I think, we should educate more people about art and get interested in new practices.
Thank you so much for your time, Marine! I hope to see our new projects in London soon.
Thank you, Daria!
October 6, 2017
The South African artist, Jenna Burchell sits opposite me. Despite the fact we are surrounded by the creative bustle of the 1:54 (where she is currently exhibiting), she captivates me by the undeniable devotion she has to her work. Represented by Sulger-Buel Lovell, Burchell is fascinated with the theme of time and has used technology as a way to enhance her subject matter.
Burchell has a particular resonance with technology as her parents migrated from South Africa when she was younger, and thus programs such as Skype were her only forms of communication that produced an emotive response. She explains to me how technology not only helps to reveal previously hidden meanings and emotions but also connects and brings people together.
As a self-proclaimed anti-disciplinary artist, Burchell has designed her language to create a new form of art. When presented with the question of how she would describe her artistic practices, she explained how it is difficult to develop an idea that is unique; one can only improve what has already been conceived. The artist notes how what were once singular disciplines can now be joined and explored together to create something beautiful; for example, science and art can now work together to shape something new. She states passionately, “You must twist the ordinary on its head and question the conventional.” Her outlook of manipulating disciplines and borrowing techniques is especially prominent in her most recent project Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind), nicknamed ‘the singing rocks’ by her audience. Within this project, she has transformed a relatively ordinary historical object into one of beauty and functionality.
The artist has collected some naturally broken fossils and rocks from three ancient sites in South Africa. She then repairs the fractures following the Japanese method of Kintsukuroi in which gold lacquer is inserted into the cracks of the object. As a result, the piece becomes more beautiful from the destruction which it faced; it has been gifted with a new lease of life. Not only does the rock become a form of beauty, but it also encompasses a historical tradition. In this sense, Burchell has connected and interlocked cultures, communities and individuals in a single rock. She captures an essence of humanity, and our desire to be bound together, united as one entity. Her work, therefore, generates a cultural capital in which common ground anchors people.
Although the rocks are incredibly beautiful, they are also functional objects. Jenna Burchell has ingeniously uncovered the poetic voice of the rock by capturing the raw-electromagnetic readings beneath the objects’ original resting place. In essence, when you interact with the piece, the magical sound of the earth echoes around you. Captured entirely by mother nature’s call, the viewer has an undeniably personal and emotional relationship with nature (click here to listen). The enchantment we have with the work is amplified by the different sound each Songsmith produces, based on its weight.
Each Songsmith is a time capsule. The voice of each rock is infused by the place it came from, meaning each song has been sung for 2.2 million years (in the case of those from the Cradle of Humankind). So not only are we connected to nature physically by touching the rock, but we are also teleported 2.2 million back in time. We are part of an unbelievable collective experience; we breathe the same air, walk upon the same soil and are reminded by nature’s melody.
It is important to remember that Burchell would not be able to conceive her artistic concept without technological help. She argues that technology is like “the books of our age,” and in a sense she’s right. In the 21st century, we learn and adapt through the use of technology, so there is no reason not to embrace it. The only way in which this can be reached is through the specific technological technique called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The golden band running through each rock also aides our understanding. It is not only compositional but also allows the stone to resonate and the foundation to sing. Without technology, Burchell would not have been able to build the bridge joining humanity and nature together.
Carry with you the beauty of the Songsmith’s and let them be a reminder to interact, connect and build relationships with those around you. Replay the Earth’s song in your head and know that beneath you something genuinely incredible is happening.
Jenna Burchell is exhibiting at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in Somerset House, London until the 8th October. Find her on the first floor of the South Wing in room G27.
Artist Alexa Meade is a painter who does not use a canvas.
Her artistic practice hovers somewhere between painting, installation, and performance art. She paints directly onto the bodies of her live models, using loose brushstrokes to collapse the appearance of depth and make her subjects appear two-dimensional. She then photographs her models, and the still images visually resemble paintings on canvas.
Trompe l’oeil is an artistic technique that artists have been using for centuries to trick the eye into believing that a two-dimensional image looks as real as a three-dimensional one by creating extremely detailed, hyper-realistic depictions of objects. Meade takes the concept of trompe l’oeil and turns it on its head. Once painted, that which is three-dimensional looks as if it was created on a two-dimensional surface. She paints her subjects and their surroundings with heavy, large brushstrokes, which creates an optical illusion that collapses any sense of depth.
Meade is entirely self-taught; as she ruminates on in her TEDx talk “Your body is my canvas,” after earning her degree in political science from Vassar College she made a career path U-turn and ended up teaching herself how to paint in her parent’s basement. At first, she used her own body as her canvas, creating a series of self-portrait photographs of herself covered in angular paint strokes.
These initial works of art were only documented and circulated as photographs. In the past year, the Los Angeles-based artist has broken out of that format and created more interactive works that have appeared at Art Paris Art Fair, Boom Basel in Miami, and the United Nations in New York City. These “Living Paintings” are created on temporary sets in public spaces, where viewers can see Meade painting the model, and then see the finished product. She has had live models pose in gallery settings and has even done a live painting session in the streets of Tokyo as a promotional event for Mini Cooper in 2013.
Meade’s performance art-style displays ride the same wave of Instagram-able art that Pipilotti Rist’s Pixel Forest & Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. This is probably because you can photograph her work from any angle and the illusion still holds up. Her immersive, painted environments simulate the act of walking into a painting. And in some cases, it is her models walk out of their paintings. Her latest collaboration with hip hop dancer Jon Boogz in “The Color of Reality” has the two central dancers move out of their painted space onto the street.
Alexa Meade wants her audiences “to find the strange in the familiar… to look beyond what’s already been brought to light, and to see that there can always be more than meets the eye.”
In Say Hello to English, his second exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery London, multimedia artist Moffat Takadiwa presents a compelling new series of three-dimensional wall hangings, or object sculptures, that aesthetically engage with problematics surrounding postcolonial constructions of Zimbabwean national and cultural identity.
Born in Haroi in 1983, and practicing in the capital city of Harare since graduating (B.A. Hons) from Harare’s Polytechnic University in 2008, Takadiwa has consistently devoted his work to critical explorations of how material, environmental, and social factors impact the reality of contemporary Zimbabwean daily life. In a previous exhibition entitled Across Borders (on display at the What If The World gallery in Cape Town last year), Takadiwa examined the nature of Zimbabwean-Chinese economic and trade relations, and their deleterious effects on the natural Zimbabwean environment. For that show, Takadiwa created a collection of intricate, highly textural wall sculptures using post-consumer waste materials, such as bottle caps and disused computer and laptop parts.
In Say Hello to English, his current exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery, Takadiwa shifts his (and our) gaze to a critical reassessment of post- and neo-colonial aspects of the English language, a legacy of Zimbabwe’s colonial past as the former British Crown colony of Rhodesia. For Takadiwa, the English language is problematic because of its tendency to create class divisions (i.e., English-speaking elites) in Zimbabwean society, and its power to both shape and undermine contemporary constructions of Zimbabwean cultural identity. For Takadiwa, language and culture are inextricably intertwined –especially in the context of post-independence Zimbabwe–, and this standpoint is reflected throughout his oeuvre.
For the sculptural objects on view in Say Hello to English, Takadiwa makes use of a radically different medium to portray his ideas, namely: lettered, Roman-alphabet keys taken from post-consumer laptop and computer keyboards. These computer keys appear to have been woven together like traditional Zimbabwean textiles, but are here recast into a more contemporary, high-tech idiom. In an amusing and daring act of subversion, Takadiwa deconstructs and subverts the English language itself in these objects, by arranging the keys seemingly randomly (in effect scrambling them) so they are not legible in any way. Moreover, the artist has turned most of the lettered keys upside down, so that all viewers can see are their bottom ends, with the lettered crown rendered invisible. This aesthetic strategy powerfully conveys the struggles contemporary Zimbabweans experience with the English language, and how important it is, at least to some extent, to say “goodbye” to English in order to preserve the Bantu languages, as well as other aspects of pre-colonial Zimbabwean culture.
Although all of the works included in the exhibition Say Hello to English deal with problematics surrounding intertextuality, language and culture, one work in particular provides a paradigmatic example of Takadiwa’s philosophy, namely “The Falling of Rhode/sia.” According to the press release issued by the Tyburn Gallery, this work takes its inspiration from the “Rhodes Must Fall” social movement that was formed to contest Western-oriented education in Africa. “The Falling of Rhode/sia” also makes direct reference to the arch-imperialist Cecil B. Rhodes, whose statue at Cape Town University was recently removed from the campus as a result of student protests. In “The Falling of Rhodes/ia,” Takadiwa essentially reimagines Rhodes as a new, post-colonial creature, whose persona is both fierce (signified by the long red tongue and bared claws) and friendly (suggested by the creature’s loose and amorphous shape). For this viewer, Takadiwa’s “fallen,” reincarnated Rhodes is a likeable, positive figure who successfully reconciles Zimbabwe’s colonial past and post-colonial present.
Say Hello to English is on view at the Tyburn Gallery, London until May 6, 2017.
Located at PIER 90 on Manhattan’s Westside, the 10th anniversary of VOLTA NY, the signature solo-focus artist show of the Armory Arts Week, featured a plethora of beautiful and thought-provoking works by artists from 39 nations that collectors and art enthusiasts alike were able to enjoy. Yet, of the 96 Galleries and artist-run spaces presenting this year, perhaps the most poignant, politically-oriented works were found in the show’s thematic Curated Section.
The timeliness of the artworks presented was undeniable, with their subject matter feeling ripped from today’s newspaper headlines. Beginning with a video wall at the entrance of Volta, the Curated Section, titled Your Body Is a Battleground, was aptly found at the heart of the show. Its deviser, New York-based writer and independent curator Wendy Vogel, drew inspiration from Barbara Kruger’s photomontage Untitled (Your Body Is a Battleground), produced for the 1989 Women’s March on Washington. “After the enormous turnout for the recent international Women’s Marches, Kruger’s work reads as a vital precedent for art that protests the erosion of civil rights,” said Vogel. “Though these artists’ works are a generation removed from Kruger’s, they continue her legacy of examining media and representation.”
Taking an intersectional feminist approach, Vogel selected eight artists from across North America and the Caribbean whose works explore, through various corporal representations, the treatment and controversy around Queer Bodies, Black Bodies, Latinx Bodies, and Women’s Bodies. “I was thinking about all the types of bodies that are in danger under the current political circumstances that we are living through”, stated the curator.
This is unsurprising as Vogel conceived the show last November shortly after the U.S. Presidential election. However, in a refreshing twist, not a single image of President Trump was presented —an intentional choice—, because “all of this work has staying power, and it’s political without feeling so tied to one particular moment in time.”
With that said, much of the artwork showcased was created specifically for Volta. With most of her work out of the country, Melissa Vandenberg’s burn drawings, presented by Maus Contemporary | beta pictoris gallery, were made just eight weeks before the exhibition. Integrating text into the images created with matches, an outline of America with the phrase “Wish You Were Here” has an intentionally camp sensibility, while the use of matches add greater symbolic meaning, linking the work to Wiccan cleansing rituals and cremation. Vandenberg said:“A lot of the work has to do with mortality and loss, whether it is our innocence as a nation or personal, intimate loss.”
In contrast to these typographic images, Nona Faustine’s striking photography was perhaps the most literally corporeal of the Section. Presented by Baxter St Camera Club of New York, many of the photographs depicted the artist partially or fully nude at historical sites where slaves lived, died, or were buried. In the photograph “Lobbying the Gods for A Miracle,” part of a Triptych from 2016, she embodies an escaping slave from the Lefferts House. Smoking gun in hand, children’s shoes around her waist, she presses her back against a tree in the woods anticipating her captors. The woods where she hides are the same that Americans fought in during the Revolutionary War, reflecting the complex relationship of being black in America. “My work is autobiographical; it’s more about how I feel in relationship to the history as a native New Yorker and as an African American,” said Faustine.
With the Trans Rights Movement and the Dakota Access Pipeline in the background, Kent Monkman’s work takes on an additional level of intensity; Monkman is of Cree and Irish ancestry and identifies as both queer and two-spirit. His paintings, presented by Peters Projects, re-appropriate the narratives around indigenous people by utilizing the Western European tradition of historical paintings to poke subversive fun at romanticized depictions of Native Americans and colonialism. Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s drag alter ego, also made an appearance at Volta in the collage series “Fate is a Cruel Mistress” (2017), in which she transforms into Biblical temptresses. In the portrait Judith you see Miss Chief in a headdress looking out determinedly before she beheads an inebriated Holofernes, depicted as a white colonial man —a clear victory.
The idea of temptresses and fantasy women was also taken on by Joiri Minaya, presented by Casa Quien. Her work #dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016) features pixelated depictions of dismembered female limbs floating in space, a commentary on the exoticized representations of Dominican women. The piece alone is intriguing, but its message is strengthened by Siboney, a performance in two parts, displayed on the video wall. In her latter work, Minaya documents the painstaking process of copying a found tropical pattern into a mural (around a month of work). She then lies seductively before the floral wall and pours water over her form before rubbing herself against the mural, effacing and transforming the piece simultaneously. Intercut with words like “Islander,” the performance challenges the viewer’s vision of an idealized land and people.
Through thoughtful analysis and exploration of the human form, Your Body Is a Battleground offered an introduction into several hot-topic issues without sacrificing aesthetics or relying exclusively on shock value. Yet, even though subject matter varies, when combined the artworks revealed a unified front against oppressors.
Other artists included in Your Body Is a Battleground were Zachary Fabri (ROCKELMANN & in collaboration with Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art), Deborah Roberts (Art Palace), Sable Elyse Smith (The Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts), Carmen Winant (Fortnight Institute), Chelsea Knight and Autumn Knight.
Volta NY 2017 took place at Pier 90 (W 50th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Manhattan) from march 1st through March 5th, 2017.
The work of Richard Serra has become synonymous with a fluidity of form and meaning.
Serra, born in 1938 in California, first encountered steel while accompanying his father, a pipe-fitter, to a San Francisco shipyard. Serra said of his experiences at the shipyard: “all the raw material that I needed is contained in the reserve of this memory which has become a reoccurring dream”. And, indeed, metal has recurred throughout the artist’s later works.
Now Serra’s works feature in the collections of world-renowned institutions such as MoMA, Tate Modern and the Guggenheim Bilbao, among others, but this hasn’t always been the case. In the early days of his career, Serra took to working in steel mills on the United States’ West Coast to support himself, becoming increasingly familiar with the raw material that would, from the 1970s onwards, form the basis of his monolithic sculptures.
Although Serra has produced a prolific number of works on paper throughout his formidable career, it is his sculpture which has captured the imagination of both the artistic establishment and the general public alike. His undulating masses of steel, contorted in ways that make them appear almost weightless, seem to defy gravity. The sheet metal that characterises Serra’s work mimics rippling natural forms. To create them, the artist takes many tons of this solid material and transforms them into towering vertical planes.
In his work NJ-2 the viewer becomes immersed in the meandering curves coated with a rusty patina, the amber tones reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge of his native San Francisco. The viewer is invited to walk not only around the piece but through it, as if lost or wandering among winding rocky outcrops and crevasses, with snatches of white-hot desert sun penetrating from high above.
Serra’s forms bend and twist, often striking a stark contrast to their environs. These monumental monoliths seem almost malleable and are open to a variety of interpretations. His sculpture is concerned with ineffability and expresses the unsayable through visual means. The works simultaneously point to recognisable forms whilst also bewildering the viewer. It is no surprise, then, that Serra counts Roland Barthes and Gilles Deleuze among his notable influences. The artist’s sculpture transcends pre-existing linguistic systems, stepping outside of the constraints of human language. Serra could be described as reticent: his minimal sculpture gives little away, leaving it to the viewer themselves to derive meaning. His work could be interpreted as the visual counterpart to that of the great philosophers and poets of the twentieth century, who struggled to represent meaning as they negotiated the world.
A key facet of Serra’s sculpture is its relationship to and dependence upon place. This site-specificity quality characterises his art and ascribes meaning to it. In fact, the work’s purpose relies so heavily on its environment that Serra himself said that to remove it from its intended site would be “to destroy it”. This is evident in the case of his infamous commissions for the Federal Plaza in New York City and the California Institute of Technology. Following a controversy, the former was removed while the latter was never installed, and so the works were “lost” or at the very least not realised in their intended capacity. Though the locations of Serra’s pieces vary enormously, ranging from east to west, city to desert, public space to private gallery, the gently undulating yet imposing metal facades, tarnished with a rusty patina formed naturally over several years, remain recognisably Serra nonetheless.
In contrast to Serra’s usual site-specific works, installed in public squares or national parks, three recent works were nestled in a gallery by London’s King’s Cross station. The large-scale steel sculptures, each on display in their own room of the Gagosian gallery, were disconnected from the natural environment and instead presented in a vacuum. Here, prevented from interacting with external influences, their ambiguity and uncertain meaning was intensified. This mode of display bridged the gap between Serra’s site-specific sculptures, created for and bound to their environment, and his two-dimensional canvases displayed on the distraction-free spaces of contemporary art galleries.
In 2011 Ryan Stanier launched the Other Art Fair. Eliminating the middleman (galleries), Ryan created a space for artists to come and show their talent. Tremendously popular from the very beginning, the fair attracts more than 40,000 visitors and exhibits over 100 artists. The last London edition opening featured 130 contemporary artists, art investment tours and the much-anticipated Virtual Reality project, Underworld, by the Guardian. I met with Ryan in the hip part of Coven Garden last week to discuss how it all started and what we can expect in the future.
How did you come up with the idea for the Other Art Fair?
I don’t really have an art background. I got interested in art by being constantly surrounded by friends who are artists. And then I saw my friends struggle to produce an exhibition: it could be an amazing show, but nowhere accessible. That was the problem; it is so expensive to rent a space that artists have a little way out. They have little exposure; dealers and publicists don’t usually visit this kind of shows.
I thought, what if I create a show of the kind, but in Central London? It came out naturally, out of love for my friends. And that’s the thing: unless it comes out of your interest and passion, it has low chance to succeed. The material part was completely irrelevant at that stage. I looked for a space for a while, browsing around London, calling agents, and after hundreds of calls, I found one. I set up an informal gallery in Coven Garden in 2009. It was good timing, as after the financial crisis a lot of spaces were empty. We stayed at that place for a while putting up shows, selling art…
I realized after a while that I don’t want to be a gallerist. It wasn’t something I was interested in. My background in events gave me an idea to create a fair for artists, without galleries being involved. And so, the fair for the artists who don’t have an exclusive contract with a gallery was launched.
Did you think about the competition, big shots like Frieze?
Yes, but it’s a completely different market. We created a space where new collectors can come and buy art. We all go to big art fairs, but we don’t buy anything. There’s an experience, for sure. With that in mind, we decided to create something more accessible, more fun, and equally aspirational. We always knew how we are different with a unique position in the market. It’s all about the artists. People like Gordon Ramsey visit, we’ve been working with UBS for a while to create artworks for their offices… We’re also looking to launch an art prize. We promote our artists and a lot of them make contacts through the Other Art Fair. It’s the same cost to rent a stand for everyone, so it comes down to the artists to make the most out of the fair.
How does the selection process work?
The upcoming fair had 1100 applications and we only have 100 slots. There’s a panel that selects artists, simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We’re interested in different types of mediums, so there are no specific selection criteria.
Who is your target customer?
It varies. We try to create a unique experience like nowhere else. We have a guest artist each fair, usually a known figure in the arts. For example, last year we had Tracy Emin create exclusive work for us in editions of 500, 50 pounds each. So, someone who has never bought art before could afford to buy an Emin. More than 50% of our audience has never bought art before, so we’re focusing on this ‘new collector’ type. The Other Art Fair is also interesting, it’s not intimidating. It’s never the same. What breaks all the barriers, I think, is that anyone can talk to artists and not a gallery sales person.
Tell me about your recent partnership with SaatchiArt.
It started last July. SaatchiArt is the biggest platform for artists, so we created the partnership where all the Other Art Fair artists are now available on SaatchiArt all year round. It came from my initial idea of how to help artists sell their work and create opportunities throughout the year.
Your first international edition was in Sydney last year. Why go to Australia first, and not, say, New York?
The city like London has around 30 art fairs a year, New York – twice more. In Sydney, there are only two art fairs every other year and such an enthusiasm for the arts from the public. It was a natural decision.
This year you’re expanding to New York, but not during the Frieze Week. Why?
In London, we run fairs both during the Frieze Week in October and one in the spring. The thing is, we haven’t noticed a large difference in visitor numbers and sales between the two. So, in NY we decided to develop a clear message about who we are and see who is interested in joining. We’re also expanding to Europe next year with 11 art fairs throughout the year.
Do you personally prefer museums or art galleries?
Museums. There’s no pressure and, you know, there are more impressive shows.
Do you have an advice for someone trying it out in the art world?
Don’t get overwhelmed by tradition. Don’t buy into it. Everyone will have to adapt to innovation.
P.S. Keep an eye on the place, in a few years it could be in your town.