October 10, 2017
For nearly 60 years British artist David Hockney has been painting, drawing, and experimenting with the limits of artistic production. While merging traditional techniques with modern technologies, Hockney is interested in examining perspective and the reproduction of images.
A celebrated artist, he has been inspired by the never-ending genius of Pablo Picasso. Simply put, “[Picasso] mastered every style, every technique. The lesson formed is to use all of them.” From the beginning of his career, Hockney took it upon himself to master every skill, to become a virtuoso; this is what the artist continues to accomplish.
Hockney’s most recognizable works revolve around water, pleasure, leisure, and the domestic lives of his friends and family as seen in his double portraits and swimming pools. Starting in 1964 after a move to Los Angeles he switched to acrylic paint and a roller and embarked on a formalist journey that depicts a hedonistic and modern California. He also incorporated the use of photography in his practice by painting from his photos, resulting in precise and yet almost immaterial images. The most recognizable A Bigger Splash (1967) and Portrait of an Artist [Pool with Two Figures] (1972) proudly show his experimentation in representing transparency and light in water and his fascination with the male figure.
During the same period, Hockney began his double portraits to embrace naturalism and depict the psychological relationships between his subjects, friends or family. Despite their intimate nature, he painted these large-format works with a sort of mechanical “photographic” coldness.
The most famous works in Hockney’s oeuvre are far from how he began his career. He received a traditional arts education from the Bradford School of Art and later the Royal College of Art in London. During his schooling, he expressed interest in the social realism found in the British Kitchen Sink School of his teachers and American Abstract Expressionism. As a result, his early works are less colorful and vibrant. These pieces represent a mix of gritty realism and abstraction with themes concerning love, homosexuality, sexual liberty, and domestic life. In finding his voice and expression, the artist brazenly borrowed stylistic elements from painters he admired such as Bacon, Dubuffet, Picasso, Balthus, Hopper and Morris Louis among others.
An underlying interest throughout Hockney’s career has been experimenting with the representation of space over time. Significantly inspired by Cubism, his work confronts traditional, static perspective in favor of multiple simultaneous viewpoints. Despite his skepticism towards photography, in the ‘80s he turned to photo collage and Polaroid composites to create what he calls “joiners.” He takes the camera’s single viewpoint, turns it on its head, and produces works that mimic traditional painting in size and subject while retaining photography’s claim to uninterrupted “reality.” Pearblossom Hwy., 11-18th April 1986, #1, 1986, for example, shows a highway desert scene composed of a couple of dozen photos aligned next to one another to portray how each is a different, singular perspective coming together to form the image as a whole.
While he has never abandoned traditional painting or drawing, Hockney broadens his experimentation by using technology such as the fax machine, printer, video, computer, and Apple products as new tools for creation. He uses his iPhone and since its launch in 2010, the iPad. The iPad specifically proved useful for blowing up images and as a sketchbook with the capacity to record and later replay the process of production. Pretty impressive for someone born well before the tech generation.
A captivating production showing Hockney’s enthusiasm for technology is The Four Seasons, Woldgate Woods, 2010-11, a work consisting of 36 synchronized screens showing video footage of winter, spring, summer, and fall in England. Hockney again combines old and new by taking the approach of a large-scale landscape painting, a traditional medium and theme, and puts it into motion through the application of nine high-definition tracking cameras. Here, a concept as simple as natural weather patterns results in the creation of a mesmerizing universe; the magic of 365 days transformed into a few minutes of simultaneous peaceful pleasure. It is a truly immersive experience that almost hypnotizes those who marvel at each season, either reliving their nostalgic memories or witnessing the changes for the very first time.
Hockney’s different themes and modes of production may be experienced in the most extensive retrospective of the artist to date, which also happens to celebrate his 80th birthday. The exhibition is currently on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and is scheduled to travel to New York City later this fall. Through over 160 works it is the most comprehensive survey of the Briton and touches upon all significant periods of his career.
During the exhibition’s run, the Pompidou announced with excitement that Hockney had generously donated one of his more recent large-scale landscape works to the museum. The work in question, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire (2011) is the culmination of several months of continuous observation and sketching, all recorded on the artist’s iPad. The gift is a particularly important one as it is the first work by the artist to enter the Pompidou’s collection and according to Franceinfo to come into French collections as well. The work is currently on display in the museum’s central forum, open to everyone, and will be moved when the exhibition closes on October 23rd.
David Hockney is on view at the Centre Pompidou in Paris until October 23rd, 2017 and afterward will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City at the museum’s Fifth Avenue location, opening November 27th, 2017 and on view until February 25th, 2018.
You may have been lucky enough to embark on the journey of a virtual lifetime by travelling through the extraordinary installations of Mat Collishaw.
Emerging from Goldsmiths College, London in the late 1980’s, Collishaw is a key figure in the important generation of the original Young British Artists. Although the YBA is not something that he particularly dwells on, he has established a provocative and increasingly intricate body of work since his first participation within the group. During his time at Goldsmiths, he started appropriating forensic photography, fuelling his interest in technology and his obsession with “the slightly morbid human fascination with the darker side”. He has exhibited widely internationally since his first solo exhibition in 1990, including at the Centre Georges Pompidou, The New Art Gallery Walsall and The Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
His new exhibition at Blain|Southern, London, titled The Centrifugal Soul, is a fantastical combination of illusion and haunting reality. He attempts to create “images that are awe–inspiring”, enveloping the human conscious into a world that is equally shocking and familiar, governed by our primal urges for visual supremacy. The exhibition is separated into two fragments; a freestanding sculpture based on the model of a zoetrope, and an evocative projection inspired by the Victorian theatrical illusion, Pepper’s Ghost.
Collishaw worked with evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller to produce the centrepiece of the exhibition, The Centrifugal Soul. This sculpture in the form of a zoetrope –a pre-film animation device that simulates the illusion of movement through the use of rapid rotation and stroboscopic light– directly comments on Miller’s theories. Miller postulated that the origins of art derive from our natural instincts of courtship and reproduction, hence why the birds in the sculpture are condemned to repeat a series of seductive routines.
The dancing birds of paradise and bowerbirds not only entice and trick the viewer into entering an optical world, but their aesthetic beauty comments on how humanity has an unquenchable thirst for visual stimulation. We have an undoubtable appetite to be noticed in a visual competition, much like animals do in the courtship rituals they perform. Perhaps The Centrifugal Soul exaggerates how we cannot escape our own primal urges; we must create art as an attempt to articulate our own frustration with courtship and reproduction. Ultimately, the human race, like any other species, has the fundamental goal to reproduce, and if this goal is not reached then the purpose of life is questioned.
Collishaw continues his commentary on the ways in which we consume imagery whilst struggling with our own biological conditioning with Albion, a new installation in the form of a laser scan of ‘The Major Oak’ in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham. This hollowed-out tree trunk is supposedly the hiding place of Robin Hood, and it is because of this mythical significance that the tree and it’s limbs have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. Collishaw’s rendition of ‘The Major Oak’ is a glowing ghost-like skeleton that slowly rotates on its axis. The eerie presence of the tree is a living representation of an object that is eternally trapped to present the illusion of life. The artist states that “the tree is interesting because it wants to die… it has chains internally holding it up. It’s very sad. It becomes a portrait of England -this mythical idea that everyone wants to believe in, which is perhaps something we should let go”.
Collishaw’s intuitive use of one form of illusion to illustrate another, observing how delusion is drawn out from the optical, is an unreserved refection of ourselves. The dying fragments of ‘The Major Oak’ embellish everything that we believe we are; what we perceive through our eyes, the things we consider to be true, the past, and everything we think we want. He therefore not only explores the tension between the beautiful and the wretched, but also how this tension relates to our own origins. The human race is a vacant shell, filled with memories and past experiences that cannot be escaped; the internal chains that support ‘The Major Oak’ are the same supporting elements that sustain our own thoughts and feelings. We all want to believe that there is a component of Robin Hood in us.
Mat Collishaw’s The Centrifugal Soul is on display at Blain|Southern, London until 27th May, 2017.
“The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945” -the exhibition currently on at The Barbican’s art gallery- is an immersive, multi-sensory experience in which the visitor is not simply a viewer, but is invited to become an occupant of the houses and structures themselves.
The exhibition comprises the work of 40 architects who worked to redefine Japanese architecture in the years following the Second World War. The work on show takes the form of photographs, video installations, maquettes and partial and whole structures, offering an all-encompassing snapshot of Japanese architecture and domestic life over the last seventy years. The exhibition explores a range of architectural styles which developed during an era of radical social change following the Second World War, beginning with the notion that modular and prefabricated structures were a solution to post-war housing crisis.
The exhibition brings to the fore the dichotomies of post-war Japanese architecture: traditional building methods versus industrial techniques, the home as a space for the imagination to run free versus a space dominated by technology to enhance its occupants experience, the notion of escapism and separation versus that of connectedness.
The imposing concrete Brutalism of The Barbican serves as the perfect foil for the light, airy, prefabricated structures of Japanese minimalism designed to exist harmoniously with the natural environment. Conversely, the interaction of the two contrasting architectural styles, as the temporary exhibition structures weave in and out of the columns and staircases of The Barbican, highlights the fact that they do share one thing in common: concrete. Not just concrete as a practical material to add stability, for example in the event of an earthquake, but concrete as a flexible, malleable material from which aesthetic beauty can be created.
This was the fundamental belief of architect and former mathematician Kazuo Shinohara (b. 1925) who, in 1962, proclaimed ‘a house is a work of art’. Shinohara rejected the commodification of architecture and instead focused for the majority of his career on the single family home, emphasising that homes are spaces in which to dwell, spaces where the inhabitant can be creative and thrive. This idea stands in direct contrast to the more prescriptive, modular megastructures of Metabolism.
The exhibition explores the identity crisis experienced in Japan’s built environment following the war, owing to the westernisation brought by the occupation of the allied forces. It traces the rise of Metabolism in the 1950s and 60s and its subsequent rejection by the following generation of architects and the shift in the perception of the home as a fortress in which the occupant is protected from the outside world to one of the home as being accepting of its environment and fundamentally connected to it.
The work of architects such as Kazuyo Sejima (b. 1956), whose structures are characterised by connectedness, demonstrates dialogue between man-made buildings and their natural surroundings, while the exhibits by the ‘Bow-Wow’ atelier show the recent return to vernacular architecture by anonymous designers.
The show’s centrepiece is a full-scale reproduction of the ‘Moriyama House’ by Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966) and the accompanying film Moriyama-san by Ica Bêka and Louise Lemoine which presents glimpses of the life of the owner, an “urban hermit” named Yasuo Moriyama. By recreating the ‘Moriyama House’ to scale, visitors to the exhibition are invited to inhabit the sprawling conglomeration of single and multi-storey white cubes and experience the details that make the house so functional for living yet inherently entwined with nature for themselves.
In keeping with other recent exhibitions, such as ‘Do Ho Suh: Passage/s’ at the Victoria Miro gallery, ‘The Japanese House’ offers an altogether on-trend and immersive exploration of an important period in architecture, presented in a manner suited to the digital age.
This ambitious exhibition underlines how ideas surrounding architecture in the second half of the 20th century are still very much relevant to 21st century urban environments, resonating with modern city-dwellers who seek to live in balance and harmony amid the chaos of the metropolis.
‘The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945’ is on show at The Barbican Art Gallery, Silk Street, London until 25th June 2017.
“I feel like everyone wants me to give them some drama about this show,” Touria El Glaoui, Founding Director of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, said with a laugh, “but it’s actually been one of the easiest set-ups…with New York, there’s this window of opportunity and visibility for the artists and a unique engagement with institutions that you don’t really see in any other city.”
1:54 was founded and organized by Moroccan curator Touria El Glaoui to improve the representation of contemporary African art worldwide. Now, 1:54 is the foremost art fair dedicated to contemporary African art in the primary art market, showing in London during the October Frieze Week since 2013, and 1:54 NY during the May Frieze New York since 2015. Entering its third year in New York, 1:54 NY is showcasing over 60 emerging and established contemporary artists, bringing 19 international galleries together from 10 countries.
1:54 is a ratio that runs parallel to the entirety of the fair’s mission, representing the entirety of Africa: 1 continent, 54 countries. As the title suggests, 1:54 tries to preserve rather than blend together the differences between each country’s histories and cultures. Taking a look at this year’s 1:54 NY, the fair exemplifies its goal in representing individual countries, illustrating local development with global engagement, while connecting to common themes such as female representation, a hugely controversial topic in America as well as worldwide.
The role of gender identity and the fragile state of humanity come up in many of the pieces, always based from the African perspective, which within these topics play a fascinating role. For instance, Lawrence Lemaoana, an artist from South Africa represented by Johannesburg-based Afronova Gallery, creates graphic works that critically engages with the media in present-day South Africa. He views the relationship between media and the people of South Africa as extremely problematic and expresses this view through his trademark cynicism emblazoned on kanga fabric, a traditional fabric with its own complex history. In one of Lemaoana’s kanga canvases at 1:54 NY, the phrase “MY FATHER WAS A GARDEN BOY” reflects upon the time of Apartheid when the easiest job for a man to get was a gardener, and those who worked as gardeners were called “garden boys” by their white employers. Lemaoana brings up a part of South African history on a piece of fabric that lines modern day streets at markets. Kanga fabric is also considered to be a female cloth, so along with telling the story of his father in the past, Lemaoana is toying with gender identity and who the use of this fabric is truly for.
Nigerian-American artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji’s diasporic view and love for the fusion of opposites creates an upfront look into micro- and macro-relationships. She was born in the United States but currently lives in Nigeria (and is represented by London-based gallery 50 Golborne), allowing her to mold the experience of a life spent between two countries. Her delicate lines build private and public scenes on trace architect paper, the translucency of the background and fragility of the paper’s surface translating to a bigger idea of the delicacy of humanity. Just like in Lemaoana’s work, Ogunji is playing with bigger topics that are experienced worldwide but adds personal elements such as her life as a Nigerian-American woman.
Someone to keep an eye on? Nigerian artist Ndidi Emefiele (featured image). Represented by London-based gallery Rosenfeld Porcini, her work is confrontation and humorous, mixing the contemporary (cut-outs taken from magazines or printed from Instagram) with the traditional (Nigerian dress colors or patterns found in modern settings). The pieces showcased at 1:54 NY hold a message of female empowerment, while the glasses found on most of the girls act as a layer of protection from the world, particularly the “male gaze”. In her 2017 piece Taxi, the exposure of the subject’s skin in comparison to the Matisse-like figures dancing in the background paintings is just one of the contemporary vs. traditional comparisons that can be immediately interpreted. Emefiele confronts popular topics such as gender as a social construct and the portrayal of female bodies within the media while incorporating traditional patterns, foods, and stances from her Nigerian roots.
1:54 NY does an incredible job of not only representing separate African countries but respecting those differences while creating worldwide topics that can be picked up by anyone who comes to visit the fair.
May 5th – May 7th 12-8pm
Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer Street), Brooklyn
A mass of colourful figures is scattered across the floor of the Lisson Gallery (London), resembling discarded children’s toys. On closer analysis, it becomes apparent that these “toys”, these silicone figures -the creation of artist Nathalie Djurberg- explore often repressed elements of the human psyche.
The figures are restless and chaotic as they eat, play with, and are tormented by anthropomorphic faeces, which sport human-like facial expressions and sprout cartoon-esque arms and legs. The composition of tiny sculptures creates a sprawling collection of tensions in a dream-like setting where animals wear clothes, houses can move and familiar childhood characters wrestle excrement.
A doorway leads to a darkened, purpose-built room at the back of the gallery where a larger-than-life video projection is accompanied by thumping techno beats composed by musician Hans Berg. Stop-motion animation abruptly juxtaposes debauched imagery with familiar childhood themes, creating an invasive, overwhelming experience that assaults the senses. The aural and visual combine to create a wholly immersive environment. Certainly not what one expects from a visit to the Lisson on a sunny, spring afternoon. This is the sort of art which cannot be read about or viewed in a photograph but needs to be experienced first-hand.
The animation comprises three films shown in a continuous loop, seemingly with no beginning, middle or end, which adds to the intensity of the whole experience. There is no crescendo, only a constant barrage of complex and often troubling imagery.
These claymation films explore the often-repressed elements of sexuality which drive human beings. The first, Delights of an Undirected Mind (2016), presents a melange of fantasy, role-play and sexual awakening, while Worship (2016) explores ideas of voyeurism, scopophilia and exploitation. The third, Dark Side of the Moon (2017), takes on a different tone. Set in a dream-like woodland landscape, the film moves beyond infantile impulses and carnal urges towards connection and emotion.
Video and sound artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg have been collaborating since 2004 to produce interdisciplinary works exploring the human condition. The Swedish duo have now brought their distinctive, multi-sensory installations to London in an exhibition that is designed to awaken the audience to the salacious elements of their own subconscious.
Faeces is a recurrent image which pervades Djurberg’s work, yet its purpose is somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps it is intended as a criticism of capitalist society, shown to be literally consuming its own excrement. An obvious conclusion to reach is that they are intended as a condemnation of the state of contemporary art. Perhaps it is a comment on infantile scatological fascination, or simply no more than the result of a feverish nightmare. Regardless of the reading, the installation is designed at first to draw in, then to shock and finally to engage the viewer.
It is Djurberg’s mode of representation, rather than the themes themselves, which makes for particularly harrowing work. The juxtaposition of bodily functions and sexuality with the innocence of childhood is nothing new (ask Freud) and has indeed become a tired trope in art. However, the specific visual language employed by Djurberg to represent this medley of images is particularly uncomfortable. Cherished protagonists from childhood stories, such as My Little Pony, Pinocchio, or the Big Bad Wolf, appear in playful compositions which, on closer inspection, show them in compromising situations. The stop-motion animation and a vibrant colour palette are reminiscent of childhood television programmes. This seemingly innocuous mode of representation is subverted to present the brazenly perverse and depraved tendencies of human nature.
Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg’s exhibition Who am I to Judge, or, It Must be Something Delicious (2017) is on at Lisson Gallery, Bell Street, until 6th May 2017.
April 19, 2017
The exhibition Matisse/Diebenkorn, co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Baltimore Museum of Art, is an excellent examination of two brilliant artists and shows the extent of how a single artist’s admiration of another can live through works produced years after their deaths. Although there are more paintings and drawings of Richard Diebenkorn’s showcased than of Henri Matisse’s (60 to 40), Matisse enters each piece of work due to the way Diebenkorn held the great French master in a very high regard.
In 1943, at the age of 21, Diebenkorn encountered works by then 75-year-old Matisse for the first time while visiting the Palo Alto home of Sarah Stein, an important early supporter of the French artist. A decade later Alfred H. Barr, the founder of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, organized a Matisse retrospective in LA, the show that led Diebenkorn to fully absorb Matisse’s approach to painting. While abstract expressionism ruled the art scene when Diebenkorn moved back to the Bay Area in 1953, Matisse’s paintings inspired him to add certain elements to his own work, such as unusual color combinations and compositions organized through distinctive passages.
1955 began the 12-year interval in Diebenkorn’s career that later would be known as his Bay Area Figurative Period. Diebenkorn shifted his focus to subjects of daily life, catching many by surprise; the sudden nature of his switch to representation coincided with Matisse’s death in 1954.
Matisse never fully fades from Diebenkorn’s overall work. A commonality between the two artists was the female figure as a central subject painted in ‘quiet moments’. Attention to the female form was further exemplified through ink, charcoal, and watercolor drawings –both of them enjoyed working directly with a model as a means to experiment for future paintings. A small room off of the exhibition’s main path contains an exquisite collection of these drawings, leveling Matisse and Diebenkorn as equals in this medium.
Matisse’s influence slowly began to infiltrate Diebenkorn’s works once more as his Figurative Period came to its close –Diebenkorn turned to elements in his workspace, highlighting his own work and furnishings, with reminiscences of some of Matisse’s studio scenes from the 1910s.
Diebenkorn used Matisse’s compositional characteristics as a guideline for his own vision: the foreground does not overshadow the background or vice versa –they are treated as equally important to the overall scene; the perspective creates the illusion of being within an interior space with a view of the outdoors; and geometric structures are emphasized (a throwback to organizing the composition based on distinctive features in the Berkeley series).
Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series (1967-88) was the result of a combination of two major events that he experienced in the 1960s: his trip to Russia (back then the Soviet Union) in 1964, and the 1966 LA exhibition Henri Matisse: Retrospective. Diebenkorn took cues from the works he encountered in Russia –such as the large scale compositions and the use of Matisse-esque decorative patterns and flourishes– while exemplifying the ability to adapt what he observed for his own means.
The Ocean Park series is Diebenkorn’s most sustained body of work, in which he returned to abstraction with the same suddenness of his technical switch in 1955. As in his Bay Area Figurative Period, where he wrestled with trying to incorporate his love and knowledge of abstraction, this series bears vestiges of his figurative work. In this area of the exhibition, Matisse’s 1947 ‘Two Girls, Red and Green Background’ offers a bolder palette with broad areas of color and shape, a recurring theme in Diebenkorn’s incorporation of Matisse’s style that resonates with the compositional strategies in his late abstractions of Ocean Park.
Although Diebenkorn made it clear Matisse’s techniques were merely incorporated and adjusted to fit his own work, he left his legacy in the form of a love letter to Matisse. What started with Matisse’s transference onto Diebenkorn’s work has continued to live on through artists of our time. Along with paintings and drawings, books on Matisse from Diebenkorn’s personal library are showcased throughout the rooms, clearly well-read in the never-ending study of Matisse’s work undertook by the American painter. The impact Matisse had on just a single young artist creates a link to his work that lives on today, 63 years after his death.
Matisse/Diebenkorn is open until May 29, 2017 on the 4th floor at SFMOMA. Tickets are available here. If you’re in the Bay Area be sure to plan a trip and see how Diebenkorn translated his home onto the canvas!
In Say Hello to English, his second exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery London, multimedia artist Moffat Takadiwa presents a compelling new series of three-dimensional wall hangings, or object sculptures, that aesthetically engage with problematics surrounding postcolonial constructions of Zimbabwean national and cultural identity.
Born in Haroi in 1983, and practicing in the capital city of Harare since graduating (B.A. Hons) from Harare’s Polytechnic University in 2008, Takadiwa has consistently devoted his work to critical explorations of how material, environmental, and social factors impact the reality of contemporary Zimbabwean daily life. In a previous exhibition entitled Across Borders (on display at the What If The World gallery in Cape Town last year), Takadiwa examined the nature of Zimbabwean-Chinese economic and trade relations, and their deleterious effects on the natural Zimbabwean environment. For that show, Takadiwa created a collection of intricate, highly textural wall sculptures using post-consumer waste materials, such as bottle caps and disused computer and laptop parts.
In Say Hello to English, his current exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery, Takadiwa shifts his (and our) gaze to a critical reassessment of post- and neo-colonial aspects of the English language, a legacy of Zimbabwe’s colonial past as the former British Crown colony of Rhodesia. For Takadiwa, the English language is problematic because of its tendency to create class divisions (i.e., English-speaking elites) in Zimbabwean society, and its power to both shape and undermine contemporary constructions of Zimbabwean cultural identity. For Takadiwa, language and culture are inextricably intertwined –especially in the context of post-independence Zimbabwe–, and this standpoint is reflected throughout his oeuvre.
For the sculptural objects on view in Say Hello to English, Takadiwa makes use of a radically different medium to portray his ideas, namely: lettered, Roman-alphabet keys taken from post-consumer laptop and computer keyboards. These computer keys appear to have been woven together like traditional Zimbabwean textiles, but are here recast into a more contemporary, high-tech idiom. In an amusing and daring act of subversion, Takadiwa deconstructs and subverts the English language itself in these objects, by arranging the keys seemingly randomly (in effect scrambling them) so they are not legible in any way. Moreover, the artist has turned most of the lettered keys upside down, so that all viewers can see are their bottom ends, with the lettered crown rendered invisible. This aesthetic strategy powerfully conveys the struggles contemporary Zimbabweans experience with the English language, and how important it is, at least to some extent, to say “goodbye” to English in order to preserve the Bantu languages, as well as other aspects of pre-colonial Zimbabwean culture.
Although all of the works included in the exhibition Say Hello to English deal with problematics surrounding intertextuality, language and culture, one work in particular provides a paradigmatic example of Takadiwa’s philosophy, namely “The Falling of Rhode/sia.” According to the press release issued by the Tyburn Gallery, this work takes its inspiration from the “Rhodes Must Fall” social movement that was formed to contest Western-oriented education in Africa. “The Falling of Rhode/sia” also makes direct reference to the arch-imperialist Cecil B. Rhodes, whose statue at Cape Town University was recently removed from the campus as a result of student protests. In “The Falling of Rhodes/ia,” Takadiwa essentially reimagines Rhodes as a new, post-colonial creature, whose persona is both fierce (signified by the long red tongue and bared claws) and friendly (suggested by the creature’s loose and amorphous shape). For this viewer, Takadiwa’s “fallen,” reincarnated Rhodes is a likeable, positive figure who successfully reconciles Zimbabwe’s colonial past and post-colonial present.
Say Hello to English is on view at the Tyburn Gallery, London until May 6, 2017.
Located at PIER 90 on Manhattan’s Westside, the 10th anniversary of VOLTA NY, the signature solo-focus artist show of the Armory Arts Week, featured a plethora of beautiful and thought-provoking works by artists from 39 nations that collectors and art enthusiasts alike were able to enjoy. Yet, of the 96 Galleries and artist-run spaces presenting this year, perhaps the most poignant, politically-oriented works were found in the show’s thematic Curated Section.
The timeliness of the artworks presented was undeniable, with their subject matter feeling ripped from today’s newspaper headlines. Beginning with a video wall at the entrance of Volta, the Curated Section, titled Your Body Is a Battleground, was aptly found at the heart of the show. Its deviser, New York-based writer and independent curator Wendy Vogel, drew inspiration from Barbara Kruger’s photomontage Untitled (Your Body Is a Battleground), produced for the 1989 Women’s March on Washington. “After the enormous turnout for the recent international Women’s Marches, Kruger’s work reads as a vital precedent for art that protests the erosion of civil rights,” said Vogel. “Though these artists’ works are a generation removed from Kruger’s, they continue her legacy of examining media and representation.”
Taking an intersectional feminist approach, Vogel selected eight artists from across North America and the Caribbean whose works explore, through various corporal representations, the treatment and controversy around Queer Bodies, Black Bodies, Latinx Bodies, and Women’s Bodies. “I was thinking about all the types of bodies that are in danger under the current political circumstances that we are living through”, stated the curator.
This is unsurprising as Vogel conceived the show last November shortly after the U.S. Presidential election. However, in a refreshing twist, not a single image of President Trump was presented —an intentional choice—, because “all of this work has staying power, and it’s political without feeling so tied to one particular moment in time.”
With that said, much of the artwork showcased was created specifically for Volta. With most of her work out of the country, Melissa Vandenberg’s burn drawings, presented by Maus Contemporary | beta pictoris gallery, were made just eight weeks before the exhibition. Integrating text into the images created with matches, an outline of America with the phrase “Wish You Were Here” has an intentionally camp sensibility, while the use of matches add greater symbolic meaning, linking the work to Wiccan cleansing rituals and cremation. Vandenberg said:“A lot of the work has to do with mortality and loss, whether it is our innocence as a nation or personal, intimate loss.”
In contrast to these typographic images, Nona Faustine’s striking photography was perhaps the most literally corporeal of the Section. Presented by Baxter St Camera Club of New York, many of the photographs depicted the artist partially or fully nude at historical sites where slaves lived, died, or were buried. In the photograph “Lobbying the Gods for A Miracle,” part of a Triptych from 2016, she embodies an escaping slave from the Lefferts House. Smoking gun in hand, children’s shoes around her waist, she presses her back against a tree in the woods anticipating her captors. The woods where she hides are the same that Americans fought in during the Revolutionary War, reflecting the complex relationship of being black in America. “My work is autobiographical; it’s more about how I feel in relationship to the history as a native New Yorker and as an African American,” said Faustine.
With the Trans Rights Movement and the Dakota Access Pipeline in the background, Kent Monkman’s work takes on an additional level of intensity; Monkman is of Cree and Irish ancestry and identifies as both queer and two-spirit. His paintings, presented by Peters Projects, re-appropriate the narratives around indigenous people by utilizing the Western European tradition of historical paintings to poke subversive fun at romanticized depictions of Native Americans and colonialism. Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s drag alter ego, also made an appearance at Volta in the collage series “Fate is a Cruel Mistress” (2017), in which she transforms into Biblical temptresses. In the portrait Judith you see Miss Chief in a headdress looking out determinedly before she beheads an inebriated Holofernes, depicted as a white colonial man —a clear victory.
The idea of temptresses and fantasy women was also taken on by Joiri Minaya, presented by Casa Quien. Her work #dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016) features pixelated depictions of dismembered female limbs floating in space, a commentary on the exoticized representations of Dominican women. The piece alone is intriguing, but its message is strengthened by Siboney, a performance in two parts, displayed on the video wall. In her latter work, Minaya documents the painstaking process of copying a found tropical pattern into a mural (around a month of work). She then lies seductively before the floral wall and pours water over her form before rubbing herself against the mural, effacing and transforming the piece simultaneously. Intercut with words like “Islander,” the performance challenges the viewer’s vision of an idealized land and people.
Through thoughtful analysis and exploration of the human form, Your Body Is a Battleground offered an introduction into several hot-topic issues without sacrificing aesthetics or relying exclusively on shock value. Yet, even though subject matter varies, when combined the artworks revealed a unified front against oppressors.
Other artists included in Your Body Is a Battleground were Zachary Fabri (ROCKELMANN & in collaboration with Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art), Deborah Roberts (Art Palace), Sable Elyse Smith (The Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts), Carmen Winant (Fortnight Institute), Chelsea Knight and Autumn Knight.
Volta NY 2017 took place at Pier 90 (W 50th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Manhattan) from march 1st through March 5th, 2017.
At a first glance, Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s current exhibition at Blain|Southern (London) evokes a surprising feeling of nostalgia. The large twisted bronze sculptures remind me of summer evenings spent with my family on holiday in Croatia. My favourite pastime was to wander through markets filled with hand-made goods crafted by the locals. I always found watching the artists sitting at their stalls and contorting thin strands of wire into a menagerie of animals and human figures rather extraordinary and strangely soothing. However, the feeling of nostalgia fades as fast as it emerges, as does the dense blue Adriatic Sea and its warm glow reflecting the summer sun. It is the end of February, it’s freezing cold outside, and I am surrounded by the sterile whiteness of Blain|Southern. The title Sticks with Dicks and Slits could hardly get more literal: the exhibition consists of pairs of gigantic stick figures endowed with humorous genitalia, engaging in actions such as lactating and urinating. This new series of work might seem raw and crude –because, quite frankly, it is—, but it can also be seen as toys with a more playful and whimsical side, its naivety lending a certain charm and innocence to these clumsy figures.
The duo met while studying together at Nottingham Trent University and became friends due to their shared love of music. They have been creating together, as a couple, since then, and have challenged the notion of self-portrait and portraiture throughout their series of well-known light and shadow sculptures. Just as their previous works, these double portraits explore the nature of relationships and identity, but they seem to open up a new chapter which allows us to see a different side of the artists.
In comparison to their self-portraits built from trash and waste, these stick figures are surprisingly light-hearted. Earlier works, such as Wild Mood Swings (2009-2010), Masters of the Universe (2000), and Dirty White Trash (1998) scrutinize certain aspects of human relations, from anger and rejection to pleasure and desire. Dicks and Slits focuses on the cheerful, comical side of Noble and Webster. A lovely Pair (Standing) portrays stick-Noble chasing stick-Webster with an erection, while another figure seems to be urinating on the viewer. While sex and bodily fluids are returning elements in the duo’s work, in this case they are paired with the charm of immaturity. The large stick-figures are celebrating our inner child, and act as a reminder of the joy of not taking ourselves too seriously. Childishness is still often considered an undesirable personality trait, and to portray vulnerability and flaws is rare in a world where the artist is still so often seen as an impeccable genius. Noble and Webster, once again, go against the notion of immaculateness to explore natural human attributes so often condemned.
It is refreshing to see the duo stepping away from their usual light/shadow technique to experiment with new materials and methods. The bronze sculptures seem weightless and spontaneous, and it’s interesting to learn that they use the old and difficult method of lost wax casting to create them. Sprezzatura, to conceal the difficulty of production, was considered as an art form in the Renaissance and it was essential to possess it in order to be acknowledged as a great artist. Noble and Webster have been considered the power couple of the art world, but they divorced in 2013, they said, for the sake of their work. As I see it, these sculptures could be the results of an emotionally exhausting period. It might not be wrong to assume that there’s a parallel between the choice of using the troublesome wax casting technique and the hardships experienced in personal life, which are both being concealed by the overall carefree appearance of the figures. This exhibition marks a new period in their relationship, just as in their professional life. Stick with Dicks and Slits portrays two people co-existing in a harmonious and joyful manner, which is a kind of revelation after the intensity and violence that characterizes most of their earlier works.
I can’t tell whether this exhibition has left a deeper impression on me than the market artists sculpting their wire pieces or not. It is fun, yet I find it a bit superficial. The figures seem to get lost in the sterile whitewash of Blain|Southern gallery. The antiseptic environment doesn’t do justice to the works’ potential, as the figures seem awkwardly out of place. On the one hand, the repetition of the same motifs, although it serves as a link between this new body of works and Noble and Webster’s oeuvre, it also makes things predictable. On the other hand, this exhibition might be just the start of a progress through which we will be able to see the pair’s work developing into something very different.
Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Sticks with Dicks and Slits is on view at Blain|Southern, London until 25 March 2017.
March 11, 2017
“I see life as a passageway,
with no fixed beginning or destination”
– Do Ho Suh
Humanity is often focused upon the destination of life rather than the journeys travelled. These journeys are the ones that result in a life worth living, instead of a life in which the centre of attention revolves around the end result. To be obsessed with the end result of an endeavour, as opposed to living in the present, is the very premise that the artist Do Ho Suh (b.1962, Seoul, Korea) challenges in his new exhibition, ‘Passage/s’.
Currently on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, Suh’s body of work questions the boundaries of identity as well as the global connection between individuals and groups. After growing up in South Korea, the artist has moved and lived in many different countries, immersing himself in the culture of each one of them. In his work he aims to create a global connection between his identity, his previous destination, and his current journey. He establishes that his own understanding of ‘home’ is both a physical structure and a lived emotional experience. In this sense, the physical structure of a ‘home’ can only be described as the building or property in which one has lived, whereas the home as an emotional experience is documented in the adventures and memories of life. I
Beginning upstairs on the First Floor, the visitor is immediately transported into the many ‘homes’ of the artist. Each independent aspect of a home, whether it is a simple light bulb or a complicated fuse box, has been carefully replicated by Suh’s meticulous hand. Polyester, which is both a fluid and a translucent medium, is the main choice of material for Do Ho Suh. He uses to replicate everyday objects, and its translucency amplifies the importance of concentrating upon the ‘passageways’ of life: you must be able to travel through each destination in order to continue growing and developing.
This concept is heightened in ‘Passage’s: The Pram Project’, a video installation recorded from the perspective of three different cameras. Taped from the comfort of his daughters pram, the video removes the viewer from the controlled environment of the gallery, and places them into the charming streets of Islington and Seoul. Surrounded by the child’s adoring laughter and babbling, we are reminded of the innocence of humanity and the importance of ‘home’ as an emotional connection, something which provides stability and safety.
Continuing on the Lower Floor, Do Ho Suh displays large threaded drawings replicating doorways and stairwells. Each entrance has been accurately copied from the multiple buildings in which Suh has lived, exaggerating how the outside exterior of a ‘home’ does not necessarily reflect the individual immersed within it. For example, not everyone who lives in a London home is British – the immersion of cultures is the most important aspect to create a global identity.
The exhibition arguably concludes with the most impressive component of Do Ho Suh’s work. His series ‘Hubs’ occupies the entirety of the Upper Gallery, where nine reproductions of the apartments in which Suh has called ‘home’ are on display. The transient polyester spaces are connected by threaded doorways and moving doors, enticing the viewer to walk through and experience each room. Although interactive, ‘Hubs’ removes the practical function of a home: door hinges and handles remain motionless while electrical outputs and pipes are frozen without power. By referring back to Suh’s original premise of the home as a physical entity, as well as an emotional experience, we are placed in this complex structure as both ‘private’ and ‘public’ viewers. In one way the elongated home visualises the ‘private’ life of an individual, while the ‘public’ global identity seeps into the design through the fragile material.
I encourage you not just to see the exhibition first-hand, but to interact and engage with the artwork. The unfortunate irony of this brilliant collection of work is the influence of present day technology, and our infatuation and dependence upon our mobile phones. The majority of people visiting exhibitions today try to capture every moment and work of art into a single photograph. This degrades the original intentions of Do Ho Suh and his exploration of life as a journey, as a photograph destroys the steps travelled in order to take it. Life is about the experiences seized by your eyes, not the artificial screen of a phone or lens of a camera; rather than living through your phone, live through reality.
Do Ho Suh‘s ‘Passage/s’ is on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 18th March, 2017.