In: Contemporary Art

My last article discussed the difficulties and problems of outsiders photographing a place that isn’t their own. This article will take the opposite approach and focus on photographers whose work is primarily about where they come from, and why that is important to the rest of us.

The Balkans are a fascinating region which has endured violence and conflict over the past 500 years. In many Balkan capitals and cities, life appears to have been caught in time, or at least exists liminally, partly progressive, partly antiquated. The beauty of these places is unique, distinctive from their Western European counterparts. That character is wrapped up in the history of war and regime shifts that have been dominant throughout the different countries that made up Yugoslavia and its neighbors. So now the region is at a critical turning point, and much of the art being produced from natives of Southeastern Europe is not so visible to “the West”. At this juncture, it seems important to know and understand the artwork emerging from there, because (to be reductive and brief) artwork produced from any sort of struggle is often some of the best. Here are 5 photographers whose work allows us Westerners (me, as a Dutch-American) into an artistic vision of the Balkans and gives us a taste of the landscapes, identities, and cultures to be found there.

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Michał Korta
, Polish – Okay, so with this photographer I am breaking my word a bit in terms of origin. Korta is from Poland, not Southeastern Europe, but his photography project called “Balkan Playground” is a good introduction to the visual language of a place, namely, the Balkans. Korta has a strong eye, and an authoritative approach to photography which makes his work simultaneously easy to view, but complex to think about, like a good novel. This project takes us on a brief road trip through 8 Balkan countries, and shows us the beauty, contradiction, and humor that exists in everyday life in these different places. He captures a certain idiosyncrasy in an abandoned trailer in the middle of a forest, a handmade shack labelled “castle”, an unfinished house in naked cement, and two red chairs, one broken, one whole.

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Enri Canaj, Albanian – This photographer, through high contrast, black and white, moody images, shows both life in Albania where he has his origins, and the difficulties of living in neighboring Greece as an outsider. This perspective does not necessarily include his own experience as an Albanian living there; he chooses instead to focus on other fringe members of Greek society, and their struggles. He creates intense and charged portraits of drug addicts and sex workers in Athens, as well as immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan living in deplorable conditions. The overall feeling from these photographic essays is that these subsets of Greek society are not accepted in terms of social equality or government support. His latest work is on the influx of Syrian refugees in Greece. His particular window into the lives of these people looks like one of sympathy and journalistic exposition.

Some of my favorite of his projects is called “Albania – A Homecoming”, where he describes the culture and place where he grew up as a small child. In this collection of images, he shows a group of five women at what appears to be a funeral. They are dressed in black, and holding each other in grief, support and solidarity. This is the first image, an introduction to the project, which goes on to highlight the significance of family relationships in a country that looks, in his images, to be pretty bleak.

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Eugenia Maximova, Bulgarian – This photographer’s style could almost be classified as halfway between collage and photography. She contrasts vibrant and high resolution patterns with everyday objects, and highlights the culture of kitsch that existed in the second half of the 1900’s in Bulgaria. Within these constructions, she interrogates concepts of memory, the general taste and aesthetic of her country during this time, and her own emotional connection to objects and patterns. Her latest project up on her website, called “Associated Nostalgia” is her most sophisticated and concise work that brings together strengths existing in her previous projects to create a dreamy, exaggerated, hyper-reality where her imagination seems to play.

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MACEDONIA / Istibanja / 18.08.2004 Group bathing and soaking in an improvized spa at the site of a hot thermal spring. © Ivan Blazhev / Anzenberger

Ivan Blažev, Macedonian – Blažev’s work “Macedonia Dreaming” is photojournalistic, and mostly concerned with the everyday experience of people in Macedonia. It is lucid and humorous, creating contrasts and disconnects between the people and the background, but provides a realistic and clever look at the life and culture in a post-Yugoslav country. This includes the sense of a general lack of infrastructure, leaving people to fend for themselves. But in this type of abandonment, he finds peace and camaraderie between people, and shows how the society functions based on them rather than focus on the government. In many ways he seems to be a photographer still finding his eye, but is most at ease and fluid around people and their stories.

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Samir Karahodzha, Kosovar – More than any of the other photographers on this list, Karahodzha plays with the viewer’s sense of temporality, and illustrates the timelessness of the Balkans. His images are cinematic, unfocused, and dreamlike, leading the viewer down a mysterious path. Little information or work is available about him via his website, but what is available is worth getting acquainted with.

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I should mention that this list is not at all exhaustive or comprehensive, and during my research for the article I came across tons of artists and photographers whose work astounded me. Below, find a few links to recommended pages for deeper examination and also, please check out this article on photography of Yugoslavian punks in the ‘80’s (incredible!).

Everyone is talking about the Frank Stella Retrospective at the New Whitney museum this fall. However, the art world is split right down the middle when it comes to their opinion of the show. Some find that the Whitney dropped the ball, stating that the show’s monumentality is purely just that, an aesthetic play on the public’s taste for the spectacular in the modern day of Instagram and Snapchat. However, some find that it is exactly this focus on the aesthetic that so greatly captures why Stella was revolutionary for the art world.

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Frank Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts to first generation Italian-American parents and attended Princeton where he earned his degree in history. While attending Princeton, Stella furthered his interest in art and studied underneath the painter Stephen Green and art historian William Seitz, who introduced Stella to the New York art world, and in turn, the Abstract Expressionist movement that he was soon to react against.

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Stella moved to New York in 1958 and quickly became famous due to his emotionally cool and aesthetically sleek geometric black paintings that stood dark and menacing in the face of Ab-Ex. Whereas critics like Clement Greenberg believed Pollock to be the ultimate destroyer of perspective (this is a good thing) and king of formalism, others like Michael Fried praised Stella for removing the “theatre” from art and allowing the works’ own formal properties, such as two-dimensional surface and structural shape, to define it. Ever since his explosion on the scene in the late 50s, Stella’s career has ceased to slow. Moving from Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism into Lyrical Abstraction, Color Field and Abstract Illusionism; Stella’s work is always reactionary, aware of the times and its own influence over the path of artistic experimentation.

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The best word to describe the Whitney’s Stella Retrospective is monumental. Visitors are greeted by the artist’s enormous forty-foot painting entitled Das Erdbeben in Chili, 1999, paired next to his huge, gray-scale geometric work Pratfall, 1974. It is fitting, as the exhibition takes you from the early Minimalist works of the artist, though while minimal they are not small, to the “Maximalist,” hyperbolic pieces that the artist has created during the later years of his still on-going career. In its entirety, the show is filled with huge paintings and sculptures that tower over visitors and snarl with metal tongues or stare blank faced, sometimes almost haughty, from their painted structures; while the works at the beginning of the show may seem completely unrelated to those at the end, their differences highlight the true genius of the artist, a formalist with no limits.

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The museum’s new space enhances the already intense overall visual impact of his works. The visitor follows Stella’s career as he shoots to art stardom with his Die Fahne Hoch! 1959, the epitome of his black painting series that is comprised solely of the shape of its own structure; at the time, a rejection of the exploding Abstract Expressionist movement and an embrace of the antithesis of gesture and human expression. This idea of allowing the art and its formal elements to define the very content of the work will remain with the artist throughout his career.

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The show is designed in a mainly chronological order, exemplifying Stella’s experimentation with color and shaped canvases that create dynamic and complex structures to form the subject of his work. As visitors move through the open galleries, they can stand before a metal sculpture that is grotesquely kitsch, baroque to a point where Gaudi himself would be proud, and look two decades back at the artist’s first shaped, colorful canvases. The space allows the viewer to make connections and understand the artist’s progression by putting fewer restrictions on the visitor’s visual input.The one noticeable trait about Stella’s oeuvre that stands out in the retrospective is the display of true dedication to formalism. Whether it is the rejection of expression and perspective on a canvas to the embrace of gesture and curvature in metal works, Stella is always seeking to highlight the formal aspects of the materials, the object, itself. The motif that marks Stella’s career as presented by the Whitney’s retrospective is the growth and diversification of aesthetic in the realm of abstraction. The exhibition stays true to Stella’s early motto of “what you see is what you see.”

November 13, 2015

Fathom 2015

The current display at Four Corners Gallery is the culmination of work by five artists: Marianne BjornmyrMaria KapajevaJo LawrenceGeorgia Metaxas and Elisa Noguera Lopez. All were selected to take part in Fathom 2015, a residency in its second funding round, granted via Arts Council England with additional support from the European Regional Development Fund for this final exhibition. The driving force behind the programme is to provide London based film makers and photographers with an opportunity to explore their ideas in an open, practice-based, experimental manner.

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The exhibition space itself is fairly modest and fitting all five artists in was clearly a curatorial challenge. I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with Dave Than, Exhibitions and Project Manager, who treated me to a fascinating account of the history and cultural significance of the space which houses (amongst other things): around twenty artists’ studios, a fully functioning photographic studio, the London base for photographer Steven Gill (arguably the photographer of London’s east end) and a fully functioning colour and black & white darkroom. The darkroom itself is shared with the photographic printing service Labyrinth who have just been awarded the Lucie Foundation’s Best Darkroom award – so a massive congratulations to them! Hopefully I am beginning to paint an accurate picture of just how important the work that goes on inside the Four Corners building, which is currently celebrating it’s 40th year, really is.

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What became most apparent from my conversation with Dave is the care and support each of the artists in residence receives as a part of the programme, with such a wealth of knowledge and resources available it’s not surprising that there is such diversity in the works on display. At one side of the gallery you have the quietly confident work of Georgia Metaxas who has created bust-portraits of invigilators across London in a classical style, a great homage to those who work in the galleries we visit and endure the painful task of sitting in the same place for hours on end. Then, at the other end of the gallery, you have the work of Jo Lawrence who happened upon Angeles Duran, a Spanish activist who found a loophole in the legality of constellation ownership and claimed the Sun at the centre of our solar system as her own.

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Her animation tells Duran’s story in a playful style and is the result of many conversations that took place between the two women. Sandwiched between these are offerings from Marianne Bjornmyr, Maria Kapajeva and Elisa Noguera Lopez. Bjornmyr’s beautiful black and white photograms were created by scattering actual meteor dust across the surface of the paper whilst, opposite the Dogs and Chairs in Lopez’s films and found images explore the notion of animism – the belief that natural phenomena possess souls. Finally, Kapajeva shows a sensitive and tense collection of previously undeveloped photos the artist found that had previously belonged to her Father. These are paired with equally delicate excerpts from the novel ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ by Italo Calvino. All of the works require a dedicated amount of time to really get the most out of them – I would highly recommend purchasing the exhibition catalogue to gain and even great understanding of the artists’ background and intentions.

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To any budding photographers based in London, do make sure that you keep an eye on the Four Corners website for future photographic residencies as this programme is potentially one of the most exiting in the capital.

Fathom 2015 will run unitl 23rd January 2016 .

 

Part I of this article explores the current exhibition “Warhol Unlimited”, but why Andy Warhol again? With this “King of Pop Art”, we are now still struggling to distinguish the actual influence he had on his time from the artistic importance of his art, and indispensably also ours.

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In order to better understand the influence of Andy Warhol’s art, we may first try to look at the rise of pop art. Though we often associate pop art with American artists from the early 1960s, such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, pop art actually began in early 1950s when a group of artists, such as Richard Hamilton, architects and critics formed the Independent Group and organised conferences and exhibitions with topics such as popular culture’s place in fine art. This group wanted to counterbalance the hierarchical and rigid English society.

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By the 1950s, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, artists in the United States such as Jasper Johns started to react to abstract expressionism by using abstract expressionist techniques to depict easily recognisable objects from reality, such as the American flags. Thus, the emergence of pop art can be seen as a way to counteract the prevalent abstract expressionism and to reintroduce figurative representation into modernism.

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Contrary to traditional “high art” subjects of morality, mythology or historical events, common objects and people from daily life are adopted by pop artists. In this sense, they uplift popular culture to the level of fine art, disrupt the hierarchy of culture and blur the division between “high” and “low” art. The central feature of pop art, that anything can be art, has had a tremendous influence over art ever since. It became an international phenomenon that artists from different cities were making use of forms and representations from popular culture. At the same time, since pop art integrates many commonly seen popular images, it has become one of the most discernible genres of modern art.

Quite a few pop artists come from the commercial art field, for example, Andy Warhol had gained recognition as magazine illustrator and graphic designer; James Rosenquist started his career as a billboard painter. Their commercial art background equipped them with the abilities to make use of mass culture as the visual vocabulary, and in turn, to finely blend the dimensions of high art and popular culture.

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Among the pop artists, Andy Warhol has cast remarkable influence on spreading this art movement. Warhol is well-known for his unique style with vividly coloured portraits of celebrities. Warhol explored various subject matters throughout his career, with mass consumer culture having always been the common theme throughout. In the 1960s the United States actually witnessed the advancement of production and the diffusion of mass-produced consumer products. Then, Warhol would reproduce Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s soup cans in an infinite quantity virtually transforming the gallery space into a supermarket shelf. At his first solo exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, he showcased 100 canvases of Campbell’s Soup, which has changed the face of modern art ever since. Through this mass-produced product put within a fine art context, Warhol especially draws attention to people’s perceptions of commodities in consumer society. This early work, Campbell’s Soup, a version of which is also exhibited in the current “Warhol Unlimited” exhibition in Paris, is then recognised as one of the most representative and important works of pop art.

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Warhol relied on screenprinting for large-scale replication of popular images. His persistent adoption of this mechanical method repudiated notions of artistic authenticity and genius. In that sense, paintings became comparable to common consumer goods such as cans of Campbell’s soup that can be bought and sold. Even celebrities in Warhol’s art, such as Marilyn Diptych (1962), were treated as parts of mass-produced consumer products. By acknowledging the commodification of art, Warhol eliminated the boundaries of art. Therefore, pop art has become widespread and unlimited. Art is emancipated from traditional perceptions and limits, and as a result, has gained appeal to a much wider common audience.

The first part of an ongoing exhibition which will see contributions from artists, philosophers and neuroscientists, is Ann Veronica Janssens’ sublime vapour filled room. The title yellowbluepink describes the spectrum of colours beautifully limiting the perceptions of those entering. At first, this feels slightly unnerving, the colour leaves you blind to the world in front of you and those entering the space can be seen with arms tentatively outstretched, nervously trying to avoid the other bodies that they can hear but not yet see.

Once the initial sensory shock has abated, you are able to travel seamlessly through the hues of the space, and of course the setting is incredible for taking a never ending amount of yellow, pink and blue tinted selfies.

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As well as the colours interrupting and dominating the typical conscious experience, the people sharing the space ebb and flow from each others visibility. It is entirely possible that my experience of the space was directly affected by the fact that I seemed to be the only person in there alone, but the blanket of vapour clouding my vision had a definite feeling of alienation. There was what felt like an obstacle of colour between me and everyone else, realised through my perception of my immediate surroundings. I was aware of not only how this installation was affecting my visible world, but after a while, I began to analyse my entire position within the world at large.

The installation is running until January 3rd and full details of the installation can be found here.

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I can only imagine the amount of talent and prestige it takes to land yourself a personal exhibition at the Met.  Not only did Alex Katz accomplish this feat, but the gallery is fashioned from works that Katz donated to the museum.  Like it’s not a big deal or anything to be sought out after by the Met…
For those who are not familiar with Alex Katz, here’s a brief description of him: he’s an American figurative artist born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens.  He is well known for his sculptures, prints, and paintings.  Predominately in his paintings, Katz’s style is often associated with New Realism, East Coast Figurative Painting, and Pop Art.  Katz’s painting can be divided into two categories: portraiture, his subjects being family, artists, writers; and landscape, his immediate surroundings and Maine (he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and continues to spend a few months every year up there).
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For someone with such a rich history, the Alex Katz exhibition is startlingly small.  The show is comprised of 7 pieces of work, including 5 paintings and 2 cutouts.  To only have a handful of artwork in comparison to the magnitude of Katz’s lengthy career seems odd, but it mimics the style which he is best know for – a bold simplicity.
When you enter the gallery, the first thing you see is another door frame leading into a room further back that is home to Wolfgang Tillman’s Book for Architects, and Katz’s show almost acts as an atrium to it.  Not the greatest first impression, but Tillman is just as brilliant and they wouldn’t be placed side-by-side if they weren’t of equal greatness.
His works are spread along the outskirts of the room, and my favorite part was the window on the south wall: it added natural light and created shadows along a painting already with cutting edges and on the floor beside the single standalone cutout.
My favorite that completely capture Katz’s style are: Purple Wind (1995), Phillip Pearlstein (1978), and Ada (1957).
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Purple Wind is an example of Alex Katz’s landscape paintings; shown here is a barren tree set in relief against an apartment building and here you can see an exemplary image of the flatness of color while at the same time using vivid color contrasts that Katz utilizes within his paintings.
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Phillip Pearlstein is a prime example of the cutout technique that Katz pioneered in the 1950s.  He was trying to veer away from the standard square/rectangular canvas mimicking a window and did so by creating contour while occupying space, which the cutout is in fact doing in this space, being the only object other than a bench parallel to it using floor space.
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Ada is the first portrait that Katz did of his wife, Ada.  In fact, she is the subject of over 250 paintings that Katz created throughout the course of his career and is featured in several portraits in this exhibition.  Although the subject of the painting is quite different from a landscape, you can still see the minimal brushstrokes used to imply different figures that Katz uses for all of his paintings’ subjects.
I think that the limited works provided in this show makes you appreciate the works that are here.  It’s placed in a more intimate space, and you can sit and engage with the paintings due to their confrontational enormity. Alex Katz at the Met will be open until June 26, 2016, but I highly suggest going the minute you can because despite its size, the exhibition is truly a masterpiece.
Alex Katz is at the youthful age of 88 and still banging out incredible exhibitions.  In conjunction with the Met, he is showing at Guggenheim Bilbao as well.  Talk about an inspiration to turning your computer off and getting started on that project you’ve had in mind for the past year.

Two years ago the world’s first Street Art museum appeared within the structure of an active Soviet laminated plastics factory in Saint Petersburg, Russia. The reality is that impotent and unprofitable leftovers of the Industrial Soviet past are torn down almost all the time, surrendering to the giant capitalist commercial centers of today. Industrial land repurposed for commercial motives raises unemployment by approximately one percent, which in turn incubates crime growth by 7 percent, all while a chosen few make a fortune. A similar fate awaited SLOPLAST, which was the biggest factory within its sector. The wheels started turning a couple years ago, when after a street art party at the plant, Mikhail Astakhov, one of the museum’s curators, received a text from the factory’s management to negotiate the terms of the future museum.

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Giving the plant an alternative future was seen as a substantial contribution to the local community, which would in turn bring about positive social change. The Russian youth are conscious and hypersensitive to the injustice of the ongoing social order, and their reactions to it take on the form of street art. The creation of the Street Art Museum has not only saved a drastic number of jobs, but has also contributed the operators’ cultural and social involvement by engaging them with the museum’s activity.

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Soon, 50,000 square meters of the factory’s walls will be covered entirely in murals. Such a vast space offers unlimited possibilities to artists’ expression. Museum walls are already hosting works by artists Ecsif, Pasha 183, Timofey Radya, Kirill Kto, Pasha Wais and many others. In addition, the museum’s 11 hectare outside area will be a platform for music festivals, performances, shows and other events. Thus the museum’s activity is not limited to only a pictorial aspect, but grasps every bit of the local contemporary culture.

Today street art’s crisis lies in its forceful withdrawal from its natural context. Paradoxically, “street art” is also showcased through gallery displays, where it can travel to museums and private collections. This tendency is an indicator of a rapidly rising interest in street art worldwide (ironically, very first article on Art Versed was on street art as well), but it may also lead to street art’s decline. Such enthusiasm appears to be damaging to the development of certain artists. The increase of demand defeats the purpose of street art by shifting its ideological and aesthetic content towards consumerism and away from opposing it.

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While serving as the skin of a city, street art also serves as an indicator of its inner state; it reflects what we are as a society, thus it shall never be reshaped by demand and investments. Failing this, street art risks being transformed to a bias information source, like a federal news channel. Instead, it can be used as a 3D-dolby-cinema, which, according to Astahov, catalyzes concern and interest in art within the society. With its industrial setting, Saint Petersburg street art museum is a concentration of urban culture that gives birth to protesting art forms that are extremely important today to Russian society.

November 3, 2015

A New Outsider Art

This is going to be the first in a series of articles that I will write about Albania and art. As an introduction to subsequent pieces (where I will also explain my obsession with the place), I want to write about an issue that has been plaguing me as an artist. This does not have to do specifically with any place or people, but with the issue of fine lines. There are many of these to be explored as an outsider looking into another culture that is not your own and is initially alien to you. And there are countless problems that appear when attempting to make art and be creative about something or somewhere that you don’t know. But people have always been inspired by far places, different cultures, the sounds and smells of the unfamiliar. That inspiration should not be quelled or silenced by fear. So there is this tension and that is what I will explore.

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To illustrate this, I want to give examples of two photographers who have travelled to Albania and made projects about the place. Their styles are totally different and so are their photographic narratives; what they have in common is an interest in the country. Marco Kesseler is a UK-based photographer, and his work, in general, relates to socio-political issues. His photos have careful and thoughtful compositions. Gilles Roudière, a French photographer based in Berlin, has work that is dreamy and confusing, impressionistic, often vignetted and in black and white. But before I get further into their work, I want to discuss the difference between art that is declarative, and art that is explorative. Using these terms should make the distinction pretty straightforward, but when it comes to photography, the usage becomes foggy. Photography is, by nature, a declarative medium. It is indexical, it touches its subject and renders it as the light is captured. This is, I guess, a tired conversation in photography, but it always fascinates me to think about it. Despite its straightforward nature, it can also be so deceptive in terms of the reality it shows. This is why there are conceptual photographers and then photojournalists (and of course everyone else in between and beyond).

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So this is where the tension arises. When artistic photography is more journalistic than conceptual, it teeters on the line between declaration and exploration. Sometimes this comes across as the idea behind the work not being fully fleshed out, or the voice being a bit uncertain. When the work presents itself as an exploration, suddenly a whole new range of possibilities is available. Probing into a problem or issue almost always allows a more honest and authentic voice to shine through, rather than any form of authority that doesn’t really exist. This is an issue that does not just apply to artists – actually probably to them least of all. Essentially this ties into a current conversation about cultural appropriation which artists are infamous for not really giving a f*ck about, as long as they make something that they care about. What I’m more concerned with in this discussion is the effectiveness of the voice behind the artwork, and what makes one photograph hold more impact than another.

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In the case of Kesseler and Roudière, it seems unfair to compare them, so I will try not to do that. Kesseler’s work takes a more straightforward approach to its subject, which is the controversial and antiquated tradition of gjakmarrja, or blood feud that still exists in northern Albania today. This is the eye-for-an-eye approach of taking back blood for a family member who has been killed. It is a heavy subject for a photographer to depict, and his work does a good job of illustrating how lonely and difficult it is to live with this problem. It shows scenes from life in Albania, the condition of a house with hardly any furniture, a rocky landscape with a jagged clothesline, faded color and grey skies. As I said before, it’s careful, thoughtful, and beautiful work, lending integrity to its subject. He also captions his work like a photojournalist, explaining each scene and situation. We as viewers understand that he is an outsider looking into the life but not participating in it. It is a first look into another culture, and not necessarily an exposition of it. In this way, the work self-consciously has some difficulty accessing its subject.

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Roudière’s work takes Albania as “photographic theatre” and he approaches the place purely through his own experience. He doesn’t care to be objective, in a sense he disregards a politically considerate method, and revels entirely in his own vision of the place. Featured in the British Journal of Photography, the work is described as taking “documentary to the realm of emotion and metaphor”. It is disinterested in being careful, but it also manages not to be disrespectful or condescending towards its subject. Rather than pointing to say how strange, or how different these people are, it presents an immersive experience.

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These two photographers give me, as a photographer interested in Albania, a framework for my own approach to the work. They present some answers to a struggle that is not just artistic, but could be applied in everyday life. Finally, if you would like to view my first look into Albania, photos are available here.

Entering the Andrea Rosen Gallery, at the opening for their latest exhibition, one finds the pervasive presence of security personnel near almost every one of the sculptural works on display. The collective sculptural works form the basis for a traveling retrospective and solo-exhibition of large scale figural sculptures by Polish born artist Alina Szapocznikow. And the security presence adds to an already surreal atmosphere wherein each figural form seems to be in a process of metamorphosis and mutation, decomposition or expansion. It leads the viewer, or at least this viewer, to conceive of these guards as personal watchmen for each entity, keeping the public from touching their fleshy, endlessly malleable forms but also protecting the public from becoming part of the mutation and transformation! The piece titled Alex (1970) takes the photographic image of a smiling woman and encases it in a flattened cocoon of resin. Standing at over 5’ tall, a play of transparency and opacity occurs in Alex where glimpses of fleshy torso, leg and stomach can be seen, a sweater and jeans are embedded in the form, mangled and detached from the one they are meant to cloth. Moving around the sculpture one is challenged to read what is at once human and subhuman.

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This amazing collection that brings together Szapocznikow’s work from the 60’s and 70’s, seems poised on the very brink of carnal desires and instinctive human fears. In her life size human resin cast of a nude male, Piotr (1972), the body is pale and wan, and it cantilevers out from the feet creating an uneasy tension in the space it inhabits, leaving the viewer to feel the weight and torpor of the form. Moving around Piotr, you find yourself haunted and enchanted by the mixture of catatonia and orgasm or perhaps narcotic pleasure; he is vulnerable yet unfazed. Overall, here, one is forced to reconcile the real significations, either socially ascribed or personally felt, which one reads from physical forms. Once the human body becomes tampered with its textures and presence distorted, we reveal the ways actions and gestures, our physicality itself, become signs to read and interpret.

Illuminated Woman

Szapocznikow embraces a deeper personal and psychological terrain but in doing so also touches on collective psychological pressure points and social significations. Viewing works like Illuminated Woman or Souvenir, one is overwhelmingly faced with partial elements of the human body, exploded forms that conjure fleeting glances and encounters, moments of passion and desire. As the gallery’s press release states, these are “visceral sculptures that unravel gravity and composition – to explore what she saw as the most vulnerable of all ephemeral manifestations, the human body.” As a holocaust survivor, the artist clearly carries a complex negotiation with trauma and experience forward into her work, as this seems to inform the relation between human vulnerability and conditional extremes, a bridge between the personal and social, the historical and psychological.

Yes, here is another Andy Warhol exhibition. In this busiest month for the Paris art scene, the modern art museum of Paris (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) has launched a new exhibition, “Warhol Unlimited”. There are over 200 works, highlighted by the rare showing of Shadows (1978-79), which is being shown in its entirety for the first time in Europe.

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The first Andy Warhol exhibition I went to was “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal” in Hong Kong in the end of 2012. It was a touring exhibition started that year – 25 years after Warhol’s death. That retrospective was very comprehensive, exhibiting over 300 works of Andy Warhol – the largest ever collection; including paintings, photographs, screen prints, drawings, installations and sculptures. The   exhibition was very impressive as it showed a great deal of this star artist’s life and art. Quite different from that, the current “Warhol Unlimited” focuses on exploring the serial side and the repetitive nature of Warhol’s art.

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The Flowers series is quite appealing as various sized and coloured prints of flowers are placed at different heights on the wall. They all look like flat and simple decorative paintings. Despite being in different colours and sizes, they look very alike and it may not be easy for you to pick your favourite if you have to. It is said that Flowers indicates Warhol’s utopian dream to make all paintings interchangeable so that “nobody thinks they have a better painting or a worse painting.” It recalls one of Marcel Duchamp’s famous quotes that “it doesn’t matter whether taste is good or bad, because it is always good for some and bad for others. Whatever the quality, it is always taste.” The commonality between both artists lies in their desire to subvert established standards and modes of perception of art throughout their lifetime, which as a result, has reshaped modern art and even art in our time, and how we perceive art nowadays.

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One exhibition room is painted all in silver, replicating Warhol’s studio in New York City, which is often referred to as the Silver Factory. This recalls the nothingness in Warhol’s art as he explained that he chose the silver colour based on its capacity to muffle and dissolve its environment.

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The final part of the exhibition is dedicated to the most anticipated piece, the ensemble of Shadows (1978-79). It consists of 102 silkscreened canvases of 17 different colours, totals over 130 meters in length and stretches across the whole large exhibition room. You cannot view the whole piece all at once but you have to walk around to see all of it. In this way, Warhol aimed at disrupting our spatial and temporal perception of paintings; and thus making his art unlimited, as suggested by the title of the exhibition. While gazing at only one single canvas of Shadows, you might feel its undertones of death and misery. Intriguingly, if you keep walking around and grasp the repetitive image altogether, the feeling fades away and what remains is abstract. As with Warhol’s other series, Shadows’ excessive repetition turns the inherent quality of the subjects into nothingness.

Then, you might have wondered: Why Andy Warhol again? Why is he the “King of Pop Art”? Why is pop art still everywhere almost thirty years after his death? Follow us and wait to check out my next post to see what pop art is and why it is so pop and “unlimited”!