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.
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.
October 28, 2016
I catch up with Rubén –who now works as a solo artist— after a particularly busy summer to talk about one of his most recent projects, Stupid Borders, which deals with the absurd human need to possess the land.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?
It was a visceral decision.
At 16, before I started studying engineering, I used to paint graffiti in the outskirts of Madrid. During my studies I continued painting murals, developing the artistic side of it, and when I was finishing my degree I projected myself into the future, and two things happened. If I thought of myself as an engineer, my guts clenched and I could see a heavy darkness. If I thought of myself as an artist, I could perceive light and I felt free of any tension. So after university I backpacked in India for four months, and when I came back I realised that uncertainty was going to be constantly in my life. That uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do or where I’ll be tomorrow, has won me over.
How were your beginnings in Boa Mistura?
Simply wonderful, like everything we have done together until now when, due to my personal circumstances, I have decided to step aside to see my children grow up. The beginnings were full of innocence and fun. Then came years of learning and growing, and the project developed like the forging of iron, through fire and hard work, full of difficult and wonderful moments, and always with a dash of good humour.
How was working in such a multidisciplinary team?
Before a studio or a company, Boa Mistura was a group of good friends, and that has enabled its powerful growth. We worked very close together and learned a lot from each other. Except for girlfriends and underwear, we shared everything with each other. There is something very beautiful in sharing an idea, shaping it together, and feeling as if it was yours even if came from somebody else. A dissolution of individual ego takes place in favour of the group and the common good, and that is precious.
How has this collective, urban experience affected your individual work?
The collective experience made me grow both as a person and as an artist.
What I love about urban art is its capacity to reach a really wide audience, to go beyond the limits that museums, galleries and the conventional art circuits impose. It’s necessary to forget the idea of art as lifeless objects contained in museums and to start thinking about it as a process, like that vital attitude so necessary for everyone in every aspect of life.
In your statement you mention that your work revolves around the concept of “associated behavior”. What does this concept entail?
Landscape and what I call “associated behavior” –that behavior and bonds that connect you to a certain place— are at the centre of my work. In Seaside Holidays I focus on holiday landscapes in the Mediterranean coast and on the collective and mimetic behavior that leads people to massively go to those places. In Stupid Borders I study frontiers, the concept of limit and our attitudes towards an Earth that transcends us in age but that we strangely feel the need to possess.
How did you come up with your project Stupid Borders?
It emerged from an invitation by AP Gallery to create a project ad hoc for their space. This gallery has a line of work linked to the landscape and an exceptional location near the mountains of Ayllón (Segovia, Spain). It was just the right time for me to begin developing actions on the landscape and to do more conceptual work. In my notebook I drew a line across a lake. I imagined a lane rope dividing that lake in two, crossing it from side to side. Under that I wrote Stupid Borders. That’s where the project was born.
What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
The beginning, when there’s just an idea. There’s a special magic when a project is just a sketch in a notebook. At that point I feel a great intellectual pleasure because I imagine all its possibilities and the thousands of shapes that it could adopt. That moment really captivates me. Then there’s a phase of refining it, when you filter and polish, and then comes production to make it real. This last phase is interesting because there are still surprises and problems to overcome, and it counts on one’s previous experience, which is very enriching. Once the piece (or project) is finished, it loses interest to me, as if that idea was already dead. Although it’s precisely then when the idea is passed onto –or revives in— another person.
In Stupid Borders, the documentation that you produce while you work is also exhibited and becomes essential in order to understand your project. Do you think that the educational element is often left aside in contemporary art?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for others. The only thing I can say is that for me that educational element is essential. My work is very conceptually and philosophically charged, and it’s important that the public can get to know that part. My aim is to make us reflect on our behavior and on our way of inhabiting the Earth.
How do you choose the spaces where you create your Minimal Republics?
My Minimal Republics are set in places where normally no one would live or establish a micro-state. The first three are located in the middle of a rye field, in a fallow land, and the last one floating in a reservoir. Absurd places for absurd nations.
I believe you want Stupid Borders to become a life-long project. Was this decision motivated by the problematic situation of borders nowadays?
Indeed. We perceive borders as real entities. We fight for them. We stop those who want to use their freedom of movement. We believe that a piece of land can be ours… we even believe that the Earth belongs to us, when we’ve been here for barely an instant.
The day we come to realise that we belong to the Earth, and not the other way around, we will start behaving differently. It is essential to understand this. I think that’s where Stupid Borders plays an important role as a means for critical reflection. That’s why I have decided to continue creating Minimal Republics until the time comes when either borders or I cease to exist.
Which other plans do you have in mind for the future?
I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which will never see the light. There’s a project entitled Overcrowded where I talk about overpopulation as the main problem we face as a species. Another one, Descanso Visual (Visual Rest), where silence is considered an alternative to our hyper stimulated and noisy society. And also Topographies, which explores how moulds or models –words, preconceptions, physical laws, and other representations of reality— confuse us and lead us away from reality itself.
But my true plans for the future include becoming more of a hippy, seeing my children grow up next to my wife, getting away from the city to live closer to the earth, building a house with my own hands, growing my own tomatoes, writing a book, traveling, learning to surf, becoming more humble each day and enjoying each moment, because the future and the past are not easy to live in.
Stupid Borders opens October 28 at Palacio Quintanar in Segovia (Spain).
I met Touria El Glaoui during the opening of 1:54 art fair this October. Already familiar with Touria’s tremendous success in not only establishing the fair four years ago, but also expanding to New York only two years after the inauguration, I was intrigued to meet her.
Elegant in her long silky dress with a stylish, and warm for English weather, cardigan, Touria made you feel 1:54 was not simply an art fair, but a home. The amiable, pleasant atmosphere of the Somerset House, which you don’t typically find in a large-scale art fair, made me feel like a guest to a home party, rather than a stranger in a museum. There was no sense of pretensiosness.
While we were sipping hot morning coffee and treating ourselves with a warm butter croissant, Touria shared how she built the brand, or better say the platform for contemporary African artists, and what it took to get 1:54 to the level of today.
You earned your MBA in Strategic Management and have an impressive background working both in banking and IT industries. What made you decide to turn to the art one?
I grew up in Morocco in the house of an artist – my father, Hassan El Galoui – and he was the person who gave me my artistic education. For this reason, art – particularly African art – has always been a part of my life. Much later on – in fact, during my career in the IT industry – I was travelling extensively around Africa and the Middle East, and this is when I fully realised how absent African and African diaspora artists were from the international markets in Europe and the US. Having the seen the incredible work being made on the continent, I decided it was time to the bridge the gap and create a platform.
How did you personal background (your farther is a famous artist) influence you throughout your career?
Many of my earliest memories are of my father’s studio with its incredible smell of oil paint. I would spend hours watching him transform his canvases, and the life of an artist became my daily norm. Because of this, my approach to running 1:54 has always been centred on the artist and on maintaining the integrity of the work. I have also organised and co-curated a number of my father’s exhibitions, and have also been working on the catalogue raisonné of his life’s work, and these experiences have certainly shown me much about the realities of being an artist working on the continent verses in Europe and America.
How did the idea for 1:54 come about? What challenges did you face/still facing?
When I established 1:54 back in 2013, the biggest challenge was finding both the interest and the support. This underpinned much of my decision to launch in London. In 2011 I could already see evidence of a growing interest in African and African diaspora art – for example with the Tate launching its two-year African art programme. I will never forget the incredible backing that I received in that first year, yet every year we continue to face the financial challenge of making the fair happen. We are incredible grateful this year to our main sponsor, Floreat, as well as to Christie’s education and the Arts Council England who have both sponsored this year’s FORUM.
Are you planning on expanding the fair to other locations? What’s the importance of having the fair now in both London and NY?
As I said, London was the most obvious ‘home’ for 1:54 for a few reasons, its internationality being one. Once London was up and running, we began to toy with the idea of New York, and began to see that our galleries and collectors were keen to make the move. We first launched as a pop-up edition, in May 2014, but returned again this year to enjoy our second edition. The two fairs are actually quite different due both to the buildings they are housed in as well as the different audiences they attract, and so the importance of having both editions is to widen the diversity and outreach of the fair. It’s very exciting for us when collectors are able to visit both.
Who’s your favourite artist?
This is always such a difficult question! I can never choose and it would be unfair for me to do so. All the artists and galleries that we welcome to each new edition brings something unique to 1:54 and my greatest hope is always that our visitors will explore and appreciate this diversity, and appreciate each artist in their own right.
6. Tell us what is new in this year’s edition of 1:54 art fair.
I am particularly excited about our incredible line up of Special Projects joining us this year. We have 10 in total, and each one is incredibly unique and will add a whole new element to the fair. Zac Ové’s installation, for example, will extend the fair into the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court for the first time ever; Ifeanyi Oganwu’s lounge design – created in collaboration with Phoebe Boswell – and Barthélémy Toguo’s Mobile Cafeteria will introduce vibrant, interactive spaces; and we will also be extending out over the airwaves with a live three-day broadcast by a new music-radio platform, Worldwide FM. Of course the Malick Sidibé exhibition – created in collaboration with Somerset House and MAGNIN-A – is also incredible exciting. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase such an influential African photographer, and to be able to extend the exhibition past the four days of the fair, throughout Somerset House’s winter season.
Who are the artists to watch at 1:54 this year in London?
I want to draw attention to the fact that this year we are delighted to be welcoming 16 Africa-based galleries, of which 6 are from North Africa. Many of these are joining us in London for the first time, including Village Unhu from Harare, Zimbabwe; Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art from Cairo, Egypt; and L’Atelier 21 from Casablanca, Morocco.
What are your future plans for the fair and beyond?
1:54 is constantly evolving, this year we welcome an incredible 40 exhibitors with over 130 artists exhibiting with us this year. Despite this, we want our ethos to stay the same: to create a platform for African and African diaspora artists in the international art market while putting the artist first. In terms of expanding further afield, we first want to ensure that our London and New York editions are as good as they can be.
September 14, 2016
START Art Fair opens its third edition on September 15th in London. Located in the unique Saatchi Gallery, this new (compared to others) art fair is a star on the rise. Apart from featuring and showcasing emerging artists and galleries from all over the world, the fair also stands out for its curatorial projects. This year’s START Projects present works by Iraq-born and Qatari-based artist Mahmoud Obaidi.
The director of START is Niru Ratnam (check out his twitter). A believer in cultural globalization, Ratnam, who previously worked as Head of Development at Art14, brings the multicultural drive and global focus to the fair. We talked about START, London’s art scene and what Brexit could potentially mean for the art world.
What was the initial idea behind START and what is new in its third edition opening next week?
The idea behind START is very simple – an art fair set in a museum-quality location that focuses on emerging artists and new art scenes. There are lots of great art fairs around Europe so we wanted to do something that was a bit different – where you could go to and come away with a series of new discoveries. Ideally we want each visitor to go away with interests in artists and gallerists who they haven’t come across before. In terms of the setting, I wanted to move away from the trade show type venues that most art fairs go for and do something in the type of place that you’d normally visit for an exhibition – hence the Saatchi Gallery is our base.
Apart from its boutique-like setting at Saatchi Gallery, how does START differ from other art fairs happening in London?
We try to have quite a tight focus—on emerging artists and new art scenes. So the emphasis is very much on discovering artists and galleries who are new to you. Lots of these galleries are new to London audiences, so hopefully that gives the fair a little bit of a unique flavour.
START is relatively small scale compared to other art fairs. Would you think of expansion?
I think fair organizers are realizing that viewers, no matter how expert, can only meaningfully look at a certain amount of art and artists at a fair. At a certain point, no matter how good a fair is, it becomes a blur, which means that the good stuff you seen gets forgotten. Also in terms of collectors, it just gets too confusing if there is too much to see.
How do you select artists for START Projects?
Again the emphasis is very much on looking at new art scenes in a bit more depth, so the opportunity to showcase Mahmoud Obaidi’s work in advance of his major museum show in Qatar, introducing him to London audiences at START makes perfect sense. He is exactly the type of artist that START is all about –somebody with a strong reputation in the region where he works but one who deserves recognition on a wider stage — and his participation as both artist and a curator in START Projects emphasizes the important role that established artists play in nurturing emerging talent in new art scenes where there is a relative scarcity of public institutions.
We tend to take each edition one at a time – we’re not a big art fair or organisation that will suddenly roll out three similar fairs around the world. So the main plan is simply to deliver a really great edition again!
What are your views on cultural globalisation being even more pronounced now due to political changes both in the UK and the world?
Do you think London will still remain the heart of the art industry or will it shift in view of Brexit?
September 4, 2016
Anouska Beckwith, England-born and Paris-based photographer, is the artist to follow. Interested in nature and mystical, Anouska tries to capture the intrinsic relationship between the unseen natural wonders and presents her subjects in the dreamlike settings.
The founder of the World Wide Women, the collective of female photographers from all over the world, the artist searches for ways of expressing her own views on the world by means of photography, poetry and music. Her models are frequently musicians and other people from creative industries giving her photographs yet an extra layer of artistic meaning.
This September Anouska presents her second solo show (following her debut in New York last yer with the show Transcendence) and her first solo show in London called Uni~Verse at the Palm Tree Gallery. I met Anouska last year when we discussed her creative process and her inspirations to follow up her own practice and perhaps have a solo show in London. Now, when the show is finally happening, we talked again, discussing the background behind Uni~Verse and the new future ambitions.
Why did you choose the word Uni~Verse as the title for your show?
I chose the title ‘Uni-Verse’ for the show as I loved the meaning, ‘One song’ coming from the Greek origin.
I believe that despite humans, animals and nature being different from one another we are all a collection of parts that make up the whole to form ‘one song’. I felt that ‘Uni-Verse’ encompassed what I wished to express through my work, a melody in nature’s symphony.
What’s the theme/focus behind it?
‘ Women have always been the guardians of wisdom and humanity which makes them natural, but usually secret, rulers. The time has come for them to rule openly, but together with and not against men.’ – Charlotte Wolf
The theme for the exhibition looks at nature as the backdrop for the exploration of feminine archetypes and endurance throughout time. As I believe that our planet is having a rebirth of the feminine. We have been living in a patriarchal society for the past 3000 years and although we have had some incredible advancement we are now in need of a big change, which is beginning to happen. I feel that we need to encourage guardianship of the Earth and for us to realign with the natural cycles rather than go against them.
What was the inspiration behind your new projects?
I have drawn from different sources for my work, which have either been from songs that I have been listening to or books that I have been reading such as ‘Women that run with wolves’ which inspired me to create
‘The Handless Maiden’ or from the use of tarot cards which led me to create ‘ The Empress’ featuring Flo Morrissey or looking at the chaos around me after the Paris attacks all of this past year and seeing the pain and destruction in the world led me to create ‘War In Heaven’.
Your new works position models in the natural setting. Women look unprotected to the natural forces. What notions are you trying to raise in your work?
I love nature and all that it provides us with but I also respect it as it can be destructive and catastrophic in some cases. I feel that we are lucky to be here, it is a gift not a given. I think a lot of people have forgotten this and try to manipulate something much greater than we have been led to believe. Through my work I try to explore the harmony between the two. Yet the insignificance of our presence, how temporary it is in the scheme of things, overwhelms me at times and I am reminded that it is a miracle.
Who are your models?
I usually choose models for my own work that inspire me. I like working with people I know mainly as I find there is a relaxed energy when taking photographs. I photographed Macha Polivka, an amazing healer and actress who I met outside of Paris last summer at an ashram. She is very natural and beautiful. I found working with her an absolute joy as she was completely in her body. Xamira Azul I met through my good friend and fellow artist Amanda Charchian last year during a summer solstice ritual and we have become friends ever since.
Flo Morrissey is one of my best friends whom I met through World Wide Women when she performed at our Ritual Exhibition. Last year she moved to Paris, which has been a dream world for us to share. Over the past couple of years we’ve had ongoing projects together. She is also extremely adventurous! Last year we were in Ibiza and I had a whole vision of her inside this remote cave. At first she looked at me as if to say ‘really?’ but once I told her of my idea she climbed up and took position. She looked like a water goddess.
How do you choose location and subject of your work?
Usually I have an image in mind of what backdrop I would like for the photograph and then I either research a place to shoot or I stumble across something even more magical than I could have pictured. Usually choosing the subject and location come hand in hand.
Why did you decide to have your second solo show specifically in London?
I choose to have my second solo show in London as it’s where I grew up and felt that it was important for me to return to my roots. My family is from England and even though I live in Paris there will always be a part of me there.
You mostly photograph female models, why?
I mainly photograph women because I find them fascinating. The form and curve of a woman is much more interesting to me than men. There is a mystery to them that when photographed can capture a very vulnerable moment that I think only is expressed by a woman photographing another woman. A trust is formed between the two people.
How do you balance the intrinsic nature of your work with the commercial aspect of photography?
I think when you create work it should come from a place of integrity and truth. How one conducts themself is equally important. I feel that nature and beauty are two things that everyone should be exposed to as so many people live their lives in fear without hope of a brighter future. I think that offering work to inspire people as an alternative for the future is what we are in desperate need of. I am not saying that my work does this but I try to convey a message of hope and awareness of our mother earth and all her many gifts.
I use social media and I think the more people who can see ones work is always a positive if the message is truthful. Even if it affects just one person that is enough for me as one person can have a ripple effect.
What’s next for you?
I am creating a short film with a dancer in the Fall and I will be continuing shooting the ‘War In Heaven’ series as I wish to turn it into a book, as well as working on my installation room ‘ I Am The Other You’.
I will also be doing editorial work.
Uni~Verse on view at the Palm Tree Gallery September 16th – October 8th
291 Portobello Rd, London
A week ago, I found it nearly impossibly to look away from C-SPAN’s coverage of the Republican National Convention. The rowdy fanfare of the RNC appears more like a circus than a political conference. No matter how one aligns themselves politically, most people can agree that the upcoming election has been prime material for art and entertainment. Throughout history, politics have seeped their way into the art world. Often artists sneak subtle political statements into their work, or will directly address contentious political issues in very explicit ways. In the world of contemporary art, Swedish artist Johan Wahlstrom is continuing this tradition of politically themed artwork with his harrowing and provocative acrylic and ink paintings. Although Wahlstrom started out as a musician, he always painted as a hobby and after touring with a rock band for many years, he moved from Stockholm to a small village in France to pursue painting full time.
Today, Wahlstrom is based in Spain and continues to paint pieces that explore the dark underbelly of modern society and politics. Wahlstrom paints in a neo-expressionist style and cites a diverse range of artists that include Paul Klee, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Jackson Pollack as his influences. His dark inky colors and thick brushwork create portraits of modern life that are simultaneously hazy and abstract and frighteningly realistic. As a former rock musician, Wahlstrom is not afraid to provoke and rile up his audience. His paintings are dark, confrontational, and frighteningly resonant. Upon viewing his painting “Heil Trump,” I was reminded of a similar politically themed work by the German Dadaist John Heartfield, entitled “Adolf the Super Man: Swallows Gold and Spits Tin,” which is an explicit critique of Adolf Hitler. Wahlstrom’s “Vote for Me,” another portrait of Donald Trump, features the presidential candidate’s head surrounded by terrifying abstract figures, representing his loyal followers. “Punch them Hard,” an acrylic work by Wahlstrom is equally disturbing and shows Trump giving a thumbs up while chaos ensues in the background. This is a visual representation of Trump’s verbal encouragement of his followers to attack protesters. This series of Trump portraits evokes the mob mentality and frenzy of Trump’s rallies. Wahlstrom attacks other issues such as immigration in his “Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities” series, which poignantly captures the plight of immigrants and refugees.
As a former rock musician, Johan Wahlstrom is not afraid to provoke and rile up his audience. His paintings are dark, confrontational, and frighteningly resonant. His piece “Too Much Trump” in particular is an apt depiction of Trump’s pervasive presence in the media, his angry scowl taunting the viewer. Wahlstrom’s favorite piece from his body of work is “You Can’t Trust” from 2011, which he refuses to sell and hangs in his living room. Wahlstrom was so satisfied with the piece, that he took a 2 month hiatus from painting. This particular painting is his favorite because he associates it with the catharsis and satisfaction he experienced while working on it. The experience was “magical” for Wahlstrom, he felt like he was inside of his own work and not slaving away in a studio.
Despite Wahlstrom’s sinister aesthetic and disturbing subject matter, he paints with a profound passion and love for his craft. His favorite part of the creative process is conceiving the title or theme behind his work, which eventually determines what will end up on the canvas. For Wahlstrom technique is not the most crucial aspect of great art, but rather “the feeling and messages” behind the work in question.
Wahlstrom’s artist’s’ statement reads:
“I paint to keep myself insane.
I paint anxiety to be calm.
I paint war to have peace.
I paint sadness to be happy.
I paint the dark to be in the light.
I paint death to be alive.
I paint a story so that I don’t have to tell a story.”
In the future, Wahlstrom hopes “to be able to do stronger paintings with political statements, social criticism, to be part of making the world a better place for future generations.”
June 17, 2016
In a seemingly unstoppable and swift movement—galleries, art dealers, art aficionados, trend-spotters, and urban socialites—are flocking to the Lower East Side to enjoy the charms of the experimental food scene, hip and often quirky bars at every corner, the thriving nightlife, and of course, the ubiquitous art presence. From street art, to endless graffiti tags and random public installations, the art scene is evidently booming especially as many galleries, established and new, make their way downtown to partake in the infinite energy.
Located solidly in the Lower East Side, right next to Two Bridges and a just a few blocks from the East River, Sargent’s Daughters first opened its doors in November 2013 as the joint venture of dealer Allegra LaViola and Meredith Rosen, former director of BravinLee programs in Chelsea.
The East Broadway physical location was converted from LaViola’s eponymous gallery into the current gallery space. In an area mostly dedicated to minimalist, conceptual, and experimental contemporary art, Sargent’s Daughters stands out as a gallery focusing on more traditional mediums such as painting, drawing, and sculpture with the intent to bridge the gap between the historic and classical and more modern contemporary aesthetics. LaViola and Rosen search for innovation within already established mediums, genres, and aesthetic conceptions to prove that the contemporary can have strong ties to the past in interesting and meaningful ways. Quality with a sense of tradition and lineage trump overt flash and quirky trends in this gallery space.
Owner and Director, Meredith Rosen, shares what this joint venture is all about with Art Versed as well as her views on working within the art world.
What is Sargent’s Daughters mission?
Our interest is in artists whose work combines the qualities of tradition and cutting edge.
In addition to exhibitions by represented gallery artists, Sargent’s Daughters creates collaborations as a platform for exploring new conversations within a wider context of galleries, artists and objects.
What were the motivations behind making the switch in 2013 from working at BravinLee programs in Chelsea to opening Sargent’s Daughters in the Lower East Side with Allegra LaViola?
I wanted to be able to work with artists and create ambitious exhibitions without the constraints of an existing platform. My partnership with Allegra had a lot to do with timing and instinct.
As a relatively recent space, was it difficult getting the gallery up on its feet?
Of course! To do anything well is very hard, but I love the challenge. I think the gallery model is constantly changing so as a dealer you can never get too comfortable.
Everyone seems to be saying that the Lower East Side is turning into the new gallery quarter—what were your reasons for moving into the neighborhood and has the location proved favorable to you?
We love our location. It’s a great space, across from a park and right next to the subway.
I’ve read in previous interviews that you chose the name “Sargent’s Daughters” in reference to John Singer Sargent, regarding him as a risqué innovator within his time. Can you explain this concept in relation to contemporary art and how it fits into your vision for the gallery?
We loved that John Singer Sargent was an innovator working in a traditional medium and wanted this statement to represent the context of our growing program. We exhibit work that has a strong historical lineage by artists who push the limits of contemporary art today – formally through various mediums and intellectually through their choice of content.
What kind of artists, if there even is a specific, are you looking to represent?
We aren’t interested in a specific kind of work. We are always interested in work of the highest quality whether it’s something brand new or shedding new light on an artist with an established presence.
Do you have a favorite from the shows you’ve put on?
Our last exhibition by Cy Gavin is one of our best exhibitions to date. I really feel each show gets better and better as we have more experience, reflect on past exhibitions and create a stronger dialogue with gallery artists.
What makes Sargent’s Daughters different from other galleries?
When we opened most galleries on the LES were interested in building programs with young and emerging artists. We didn’t open with a roster of artists. We started putting together the best shows we possibly could with the artists we discovered and established artists that we admire.
Do you have any future plans for the gallery that drastically differ from what you are doing now?
To hopefully grow our program and with the artists we bring to the table.
What are your thoughts on the art market today and the increasing interest and importance of art fairs and biennials?
I think art fairs are very important to build an international audience for wide range of artists. I find it very interesting to go to an event where I can see so many dealers in action. You can learn so much by example.
Who is your favorite non-contemporary artist?
What is your favorite museum (world-wide range)?
Fondation Beyeler – I look forward to seeing their exhibitions every June when in Basel.
179 E Broadway, New York, NY
May 23, 2016
Distinguished for his portrait paintings, South African born Ryan Hewett is a star on the rise. After his sold-out show at Unit London last year (Read our interview with Unit London co-founders Jonny Burt and Joe Kennedy), Ryan is preparing for his first solo show in the UK coming up in October this year. We caught up on a typical rainy day in London (not as sunny and bright as days in South Africa, noted by the artist) when Hewett shared his views on being an artist, creative transformation, life outside of a canvas and much more.
Do you remember when you realized you wanted to be an artist ?
Not really. It’s always been with me. I’ve been drawing since I can remember. There was never a point when the lights came on and BOOM I’m going to be an artist ! I was doing a number of jobs, but I kept drawing no matter what. I used to do pencil drawings with a very realistic approach to them. I was never a painter. But then I taught myself to paint. It was always something I enjoyed, it was my passion, and I wanted to take it further and see where it can lead me.
When was the first time you painted ?
I was about 20. It took me a while, but by 22 I sold my first work. And then I became obsessed with painting for the past 15 years.
Would you try any other medium though ?
I mostly have oil paintings, I also use spray paint and I want to start doing sculptures. I’d like to as I feel my paintings are quite sculptural. I’ve never done it before, it’s like I’m painting rocks and putting them together. I’m going to start playing with clay in a month or two and see where it goes.
I can see some of your works are so three-dimensional, you can actually see the thick layer of paint that you applied on the surface…
At the beginning, I tried to approach painting as I did with pencil work. It was very delicate and thin. I needed it to be neat and tidy, I used to put paint lids back on after I finished painting… now it’s a complete chaos (laughs). I use rollers, I throw paint on the canvas, and lids are never on now… I became more confident when approaching a painting and just letting it go. The textures are a lot thicker and juicier. But then again my new works with flat backgrounds are more textured, more thought-out. My earlier works are rough, low-detailed, these ones are more one-stroke, you lay it down and you leave it. Very clean.
Are you inspired by any artists ?
I never studied art history, so my inspiration came from books. Looking through and learning about artists as I got older made my taste change over time. There’s this artist Adrian Ghenie that influenced me in a figurative landscape sense of an artwork… But there’s so much art out there, you can get lost… I think, the art of Francis Bacon and Egon Schiele speak to me the most. Art has to be moving. It’s not always a pretty picture or a pretty face, it’s gotta hold you.
You first show was four years ago at Barnard Gallery in SA. Before that you’ve never thought of being exhibited ?
Most of my 20s and 30s I have been going through a rough time and painting was mostly a way to escape from all the troubles of the everyday life. I can’t even say who I was; it was a very unstable chapter of my life. Art was my passion and the means to get away from that dark place I was in most of the time.
Last year you had a show at Unit London called Untitled where you depicted portraits of famous historical figures. What was the idea behind it ?
The idea came around to put figures that in their own way changed the world together in one place. Winston Churchill, Oussama Ben Laden… Jesus… That body of work was meant for those people to be together in one room. In a certain way, they belonged together. Putin and Obama, which is still relevant today. Even after the show I thought I did a series of iconic people and got caught in it for a while.
What about your second UK solo show coming up in October, will we see portraits again ?
Not only. There will be landscapes … It’s so new to me. There are hints of landscape here and there in my previous works, where figures seem to be crashed into the flower field, for example, or a skyline. There will be movement away from portraits; in fact, I want to tell my personal story. It will be a great challenge, as I’ve been doing just portraits for the past 15 years.
Do you have any work ready for the show already ?
I’ve just started the first one (laughing). It’ll be based on landscapes I saw growing up in Johannesburg… quite colorful… It’s hard to explain, but I remember reading a book when I was young that was a big inspiration to me so it’s a flashback to that time in a way. Revisiting my styles, paintings that I did ages ago. Not to do with the painting but with the concept behind it, my darker past, memories… Going back to them and trying to put them on canvas is quite scary, as I haven’t done it. I know it’ll be a great challenge, but I feel like I have to do it. I want to ultimately show the journey that I’ve had.
What’s your favorite part of the artistic process ?
It takes time to have that breakthrough. But there are these moments when everything changes… A new idea or a mistake. Painting is a very technical process and I am kind of an obsessive painter. I’m always in the studio for long hours, painting and painting. But then you always stumble on something new. A painting created in a few hours or a few sessions moves you. Sometimes I remember a facial structure and I keep the reference in my mind, and then the face just comes together on a canvas in a matter of a few days. It’s done.
I used to just attack the canvas and lately I started to reflect on how and why I lay down that brushstroke. I get in a rhythm, I’ve a roller, paintbrushes in my hands, it’s quite chaotic, but I get focused and zoned into what I am doing. I don’t even put music on, just because I like to be in my head when I’m doing it. But I also know what to be in and out of rhythm, I am a very up and down artist.
Do you work on multiple canvases at the same time ?
I never used to. I used to work on just one piece at a time. I recently started to because I don’t want to fall into a routine or a pattern, when you go from A to Z. It becomes predictable. Now I jump from one canvas to the next. And sometimes when you throw paint on a canvas, let it be there for a while, come back to it a few days later, and you see something new. You can’t get bored of it. You can’t get bored of the process of mixing it up… It depends though, sometimes I can finish a piece in a few hours. I don’t like the statement “it has to be this way”, I used to and I broke this pattern. I just know that there are moments when you’re in tune with the rhythm, you just see it. Everything feels right. It’s not always like that, it’s not easy. I am not trying to imagine a picture before I get to start the painting. Though with my new body of work that’ll be focusing on my own journey, I do have a picture, a memory in my head and the challenge is to ultimately communicate the felling I had through a painting. And I get so much satisfaction just letting it go on a canvas and I not controlling the process. I don’t want to know what I’m getting. That’s the art of making.
Do you have any advice to young artists?
As a painter, spend more time on a canvas. It’s not just books and books, you’ve to get on the canvas. Don’t be afraid of it. You’ve to be able to throw a canvas on the floor and walk over it at the end of the day. You’ve to be ready to take those risks. Things happen accidentally. Mistakes happen, great mistakes. It’s hours and hours on the canvas; you can’t get away from it. Go explore.
Ryan Hewett Solo Show is coming on September 29th, 2016 at Unit London.
On an abnormally cold April morning, I had the pleasure of meeting with the New York City based artist, Phoebe Berglund, at Hunter College where she is currently the Artist in Residence in the ceramics department. In addition to ceramics, she also has an extensive dance background and incorporates choreography into her work. Berglund, who radiates with an interesting combination of wisdom and youthful optimism, recently finished her solo exhibition Dance Floor: An Archive of Steps at Hunter. I sat down with Berglund to pick her brain about the exhibit and her fascinating artistic trajectory.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and your education?
I’m from the Oregon Coast, I started taking ballet and modern when I was 5, I joined a dance company when I was 9. We had class and would rehearse like 6 days a week for 3-4 productions a year, mostly reconstructions of classic dance works and dance interpretations of literary classics with original choreography. My dance teacher came from New York and she had studied with Martha Graham, so our productions were very polished. I grew up really poor, my mom raised me and my five siblings alone; she still works at a fish market today and my brothers are commercial fisherman. When we didn’t have money my mom would pay my dance teacher in fish.
How long have you wanted to be an artist?
In high school I got a big scholarship to study at a gymnasium near Frankfurt, my German host parents were artists and it was the first time I saw people living off their art. My host mom was a contemporary ceramicist and my host dad made book ends and they ran an art gallery, they taught me a lot about life.
I saw on your CV that you studied at the Universitat der Kunst, what was it like studying in Berlin? How does the art scene there compare to the one in New York?
When I went to the UDK a few years ago it was like going home, I feel very comfortable in Germany. Berlin is a cool place, I liked it that we could smoke cigarettes in class during art crits. I met a lot of interesting artists and just did a lot of hanging out. I bought an inflatable boat and took friends on boat rides in the canals, we would row around the swans and paint watercolors. It was very relaxing, I didn’t meet any artists that worked more than like one day per week. That’s a big difference from New York.
Your exhibition is quite elaborate. What did the process entail and what was your vision and concept?
First I developed the choreography, which involves 3 jobs- walking, working and waiting-then and some elements of a game structure on a grid. I performed this with two dancers while cutting tiles to build the floor on the opening night of the show. The following week the tiles dried then I fired them in the kiln. I put the bisqued fragments of the dance floor back into the exhibition space and treated it as a dance archive and I invited archaeologists, librarians and choreographers in to interview. I asked each person to physically handle the dance documents and to rearrange the composition of the library according to the logic of the discipline they came from. Every day the exhibition was in a new order.
When the show closed I photographed every single piece of the dance floor individually in the style of how the Met photographs artifacts. The next step is glazing them and making wall pieces that are coordinates with stage positions from the perspective of the dancer- upstage, downstage, center stage, etc.
A very important part of the work is that it will be sold by weight. Each piece will be sold based on a calculation that considers the 500 pounds of clay used to build the dance floor, the weight of 3 dancers, the square feet of the space, the time it took to build, divided by the total number of fragments of the dance floor.
Did anything in particular inspire you to do this project?
I have been thinking about dance documentation and dance archives for a long time. During undergrad at Antioch, my federal work study job was in the library and I was very into dance research. I exhausted the interlibrary loan system, I ordered everything that had to do with dance history and any critical theory related to dance. I think it’s interesting that documentation is always incomplete even with technology today, there is always something missing. Retracing dance steps is puzzling, it excites me.
Can you elaborate a bit on the themes of labor and leisure in your exhibition? Do you think these themes are especially relevant to the dance world?
Also while at Antioch, I took a lot of economics classes. My most involved research paper was about the political economy of dance in late capitalism, which was a turning point for me in my understanding of dance as an academic discipline. My current research has to do with the relationship between dance and Neo-liberalism, which places a high stress on corporate ‘performance’ and eradicates the boundary between work and non-work time, now we are essentially always working, always performing. For me, I think that dance is an interesting form to use to investigate how time is structured today, how work is currently being organized. With my projects now I am asking some of the same questions from my undergrad research paper about the exchange value, cultural value and transformative value of dance which is absolutely relevant to the dance world and the art world today.
Why did you choose to use EDM music as your soundtrack?
I think of the body as a technological tool and in this work the body is the instrument that notates the dance. It is important to me that the body operate between music made with contemporary machines and clay tablets, the oldest material used for writing. Also there is the rich history of EDM that is really radical and democratic, it has been bringing people together in alternative spaces for a long time now. The majority of the soundtrack came from Larry Levan’s DJ set on the closing night of Paradise Garage, a discotheque in Hudson Square from the 70’s, 80’s, the set list traces back some of the beginnings of New York House music.
Can you talk more about your dance background and how it influences your work?
When I got to New York I went to the Martha Graham School, classes were at 8 am uptown and everybody would wear black unitards and red lipstick. I was also hanging around Movement Research during that time, downtown and mostly everybody was in sweatpants. Then I quit dance for a while because the stage didn’t make sense to me anymore and dance for the camera didn’t make sense to me either. I had other interests and I found visual art to be more stimulating so I did my MFA in Combined Media at Hunter, I finished in 2013. I think I had to leave dance in order to understand it. I am still trying to understand it, it is deceptively simple but it is really very complicated.
Are there any artists or performers that inspire you the most?
I go to see a lot of shows, recently I saw the Fischli and Weiss: How to Work Better retrospective at the Guggenheim. I went alone and listened to the audio guide, I was there all day I loved it so much. Last week I saw DD Dorvillier‘s beautiful piece Extra Shapes at the Kitchen, it was part of the exhibition “From Minimalism into Algorithm,” which was all great. I loved my friend Geo Wyeth’s performance Storm Excellent Salad at PS1 last month, it was totally wild and inventive. I try to go to see all my friends work, that’s a priority.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I like working with my friends, the great thing about both dance and ceramics is that it’s all about community. Unless you are a solo artist you are never going to dance alone. In the ceramics studio it took three people to load the dance floor into the kiln, it is physically impossible to work alone on projects of this scale and scope.
Would you like to experiment with any other forms of art?
I’ll use any form the idea requires. Right now I’m basically running a construction company/ dance company that specializes in clay flooring that transforms into libraries of dance documents.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I have a show coming up May 1- May 31 Dance Floor: An Archive of Steps (Rite of Spring) at Orgy Park, an artist run space in Bushwick, curated by Katherine Aungier. On May Day we will build a terra-cotta dance floor outside in the garden, I am reconstructing a few of Nijinsky’s steps from his 1913 Rite of Spring but mostly it will be my choreography.