Vanessa Lam is an emerging contemporary abstract artist based in Canada. Working with mixed media painting, Vanessa explores the relationship between unconscious, form, and space. The artist loosely uses paint to create spontaneous brushstrokes, maintaining a balance between chance and control. Expressive nature of Vanessa’s work establishes a contrast between the placement of paint and collage elements found in her work.
Recently, Vanessa won the 8th Annual BOMBAY SAPPHIRE Artisan Series award and decided to collaborate with ARTSY, the global art platform, and Bombay Sapphire to create a new public exhibition in New York City.
I spoke with Vanessa about her journey up until now, ‘There Is Another Sky’ exhibition and her future artistic aspirations.
Hi, Vanessa! Before we dive into a discussion about your new show in New York, tell me about when was the first time you realized you want to be an artist.
I always liked drawing when I was young. Pencil and paper were all that I needed to start expressing my ideas. I had taken some classes during university, but it wasn’t until over a decade later that I reconnected to art again after taking a mixed media course at Emily Carr University Art & Design. Taking this course was the turning point for me to continue exploring art. I was curious to uncover my potential. After a few more classes at Emily Carr, I decided to give myself a five-year window to pursue a fine-art practice and see where it takes me. It’s been about five years now.
What was your journey up until now?
I worked as a healthcare professional for over a decade and continue to juggle my day job with making art. I took over a small spare room in my home and painted mostly at night after work. One of my instructors became my mentor. Although I began finding other artists to connect with to build my community slowly, I still didn’t know many people in the local art world and became my teacher for the most part. For the first few years, I read a lot of books, tried to make as much work as I could and submitted work to any exhibition opportunity that presented itself. During this time, I was working very hard, but soon I found that I took on too many projects and I burnt myself out.
It was at this time that I happened to move into my current studio space. It’s a shared, open studio space in an industrial area and it turned out that it was the change that I needed. I not only had more space to grow and experiment but I had the chance to physically connect with artists from a variety of other disciplines on a regular basis. I took a break from exhibitions to enjoy my new studio space. During this time, I created work without any deadlines and pushed exploring both collage and painting.
Then, I began looking into residencies and was offered a month-long residency in Berlin last year. It was my first residency and my first time in Berlin. The combination of being in a new city and having a dedicated month to develop new ideas was extraordinary. It gave me exposure to international artists and different perspectives which helped raise my confidence in the work that I was doing. The ideas generated from this residency led to some of the new work that is in the upcoming show in New York.
I noticed color takes the main stage in your work. What inspires you?
This new body of work is a culmination of my experiences and observations translated into color and form. I take notice of textures, shapes, and colors around me, particularly ordinary objects, like a piece of rusted metal that I have walked by on the roadside. Whether I’m in the city, traveling or in the mountains, I pull from all these experiences and feelings. My process is very intuitive in how I apply paint as well as color choice.
I wouldn’t say that color is my primary focus, but it’s more the feeling I get from seeing a specific intensity or combination of colors together within the context of where I first observe it. It could be one of many jumping off points that leads to trying a new color palette. Color doesn’t often come naturally to me, so I think that is why I look for ways to experiment in this area. Overall, I’m trying to find new ways of doing things, and it’s those unexpected outcomes of those experiments that keep me motivated.
‘THERE IS ANOTHER SKY’ EXHIBITION
Tell me about your upcoming collaboration with Artsy and Bombay Sapphire.
This year I began regularly connecting with Artsy to discuss ideas for the exhibition and venue. I had only seen photos of the site, so it was a challenge to create work for a space that I had never set foot in before. I chose to create a lot of the new work on canvas given the logistics of shipping. These pieces have a lot of loose forms through the staining and pooling of paint but also contrast against more drawing and solid, hard-edged shapes. Throughout my meetings with Artsy, I was encouraged to use the opportunity to stretch myself artistically.
Some of the pieces are the largest I have ever made, one of which is an 11.5’ foot long painting. Working on this large of a scale forced me to change my process. It was a very physical process, and I immersed myself into the canvas so I can reach all the areas to paint. Also, I wanted to somehow shift painting into the three-dimensional space. The concept came from some cut-outs of paintings on canvas that I made during my residency in Berlin. I had also been experimenting with paint skins but found that it would be hard to maneuver on a large scale without some support.
This installation incorporates draped canvas which plays on the idea of dried paint skins. Layering together these shapes brings in my interest in collage and shape-making. I created another four large paintings on canvas which will be layered together over wooden frame support to create a sculptural form. I have learned so much in creating and coordinating the work for this show.
‘There Is Another Sky’ will create an immersive experience for audiences. What’s the key idea of the show?
The title of the show is from the first line of a poem by Emily Dickinson. She refers to the existence of new sky that belongs to another mysterious place which behaves and feels differently from the world that we physically see and know. The invitation to enter the garden implies a message to her brother to read her poetry and enter the world she has created.
My work makes reference to space much like the expanse of the sky, and use of ambiguous forms in space is suggestive of another “realm”. There is also an invitation to experience “entering into” the art and as well as move amongst the works in the exhibition ranging from sculpture to collage and painting. The sculptural piece was a key component in the space where I’m releasing the layers of a “painting” from the usual confines of two-dimensional rectangular structure.
ARTIST AS ENTREPRENEUR
Do you think nowadays artists need to become entrepreneurs to build and manage their brand?
I do believe it is vital for artists to be entrepreneurs. The definition of what an artist can be is so varied which offers more freedom but also can make it hard to know what direction to take. My understanding of a personal brand is that it is an extension of who you are, and generally, it’s the what and how you want to present to others. For me, I’m still figuring things out and is an ongoing process. But what I do know is that people are interested in knowing the story behind your work, who you are as a person, and the influences in your life. How I share my story is through social media, mostly Instagram.
I’m trying to find ways to connect with others, and hopefully, it will resonate with them. I recently did an Instagram takeover with Create Magazine which made me think carefully about what kind of impression I wanted to leave with people. I wanted it to feel polished, like the work I create, be reflective of my style and be authentic. The projects that I choose to take on also contribute to who I am and where I would like to go with my art practice. Everything I do has some element of risk as I don’t always know what the response will be.
I still need to try and take these risks so I can grow as an artist.
What’s next for you after ‘There Is Another Sky’?
I have some possible commissions coming up, but mostly I want to expand on some of the ideas that I created from this show as well as continue to experiment with collage and different painting techniques.
LEARN MORE ABOUT VANESSA LAM’S WORK ON HER WEBSITE
168 BOWERY, NEW YORK, NY
I am Brunno Silva, curator of the series Unimagined Surroundings that just had its debut at Trace with the exhibition “Dispossession” by English artist Heidi Locher. The series explores the boundaries between art and architecture through different takes on architecture by four artists. Monthly Trace will exhibit one artist between April and July, where visitors will have the chance to discover each artistic practice at a time. As a group show, Unimagined Surroundings will be exhibited in Italy later this year.
Hi Heidi, can you tell me about the process behind Dispossession? What was your inspiration for creating the show?
I think you and I were chatting about the relationship of architecture and fine art, and I was saying that in the hands of great architects “Architecture is the highest form of art and that it should encompass within its sculptural light-filled spaces all the delights of life as well as offering within beautifully crafted shadowy recesses sanctuary and retreat”.
This lead me to describe a little hut that sat quietly in the landscape where I live in Puglia, Southern Italy. The hut kept drawing me in, as it seemed to embody all the basic elements of Architecture, basic but beautiful and instigating. Seemingly offering sanctuary and shelter, holding within its walls the whispers of peoples hidden memories and lives. The title is a personal connection with a poem by the Canadian poet Anne Michaels where she describes poetry and the human condition, which I felt had a direct connection to this hut somehow. Michaels wrote, “Poetry is insurrection, resurrection, insubordination against every sort, against every form of oppression, dispossession, and indifference”.
The show is composed of different media: newspaper, photography, video, and sculpture. What were your interests whilst making decisions for each medium?
I felt that I wanted somehow to convey the feeling and essence of the hut, so the show was a totally immersive experience, but also to allow for various imaginations to flow and wander through the work, as mine had done time and time again. Sometimes experiencing it as purely architectural, sometimes wondering what it would be like to take refuge or step across a threshold that was not your choice. I also wanted to set up a tension between the large-frame doors and the large-scale images.
The doors are especially empowering; I am happy we got them all the way from Italy to Berlin, they make such an impact. It was incredible to observe your decision making in choosing which image to use. Could you guide me through your creative process?
There are a lot of ideas that are there initially, as if my brain will explode if I don’t get them out, turn them over, then hold on or let go. The newspapers, for example, were a way of conveying an idea about disposable culture we live in, and the Photo Roman piece felt precisely the right way to describe the feeling of the hut in the tough and windy climate.
I remember also discussing how the newspaper gives visitors the chance to take possession of the artworks and the hut itself, a shared use between the hut and the exhibition.
Creating this exhibition and all its elements was phenomenal, people during the opening brought different views to the newspapers and the doors too. I enjoy very much to listen and see a growing interest in the hut and my work.
Dispossession is your first show in Berlin, how was the experience in showing for the first time in the city?
Berlin felt exactly like the right place to show this work given its background of borders and zones. The doors sculptures look exactly how I wanted, and it will be interesting see them in new venues later this year. Also, it was an opportunity to be part of Berlin Gallery Weekend, a time of exploration and exchange, thank you Brunno and thank you Berlin.
Thank you! What are the plans for the future? Can you tell us a little about your upcoming projects?
Exciting times I hope. As you know, Dispossession is part of a broader dialogue which encompasses three other artists, David Ebner, Randi Renate and Henrique Neves. I am very excited to see all works together after July in one group show. After Berlin, I am traveling to Italy, where I am going to expand Dispossession series with some additional pieces.
Architecturally we are making a beautiful space to house the Zagara Foundation, in Puglia. The project is the collision of ruin and innovation, where simple ordered modern elements are inserted into a vast scale historic ruin in order to create a gentle harmony. The Foundation will be an international artist residency, hopefully, I will be able to share more details soon.
Learn more about Heidi Locher’s work at Studio Locher
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.
March 5, 2017
It’s the first week of March in New York City, which for art lovers only means on thing: Armory Week! In its third edition, the Art on Paper 2017 fair exhibits paper-based art that frequently pushed the boundaries of what a work on paper could be. The medium-driven focus of the fair sets itself apart from the other larger-scale Armory Week fairs. The 84 galleries hosted at Art on Paper are from all over the United States, with several international additions from Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Kyoto, London, Shanghai, and Copenhagen.
Upon entering the space, visitors are greeted by two site-specific installation pieces. Tahiti Pehrson’s “The Fates” is composed of three colossal, 17-foot towers of hand cut paper, and Timothy Paul Myers, in collaboration with Andrew Barnes, crafted a domestic installation made entirely of felt. These are the first of many works of art that incorporate and utilize paper, but are not necessarily what you would think of when you hear the term ‘art on paper.’
There was a wide scope of artists included familiar modernists like Picasso & Matisse in the Master Fine Arts Gallery, to the all-star lineup of Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Alex Katz at Richard Levy Gallery, and a few unheard of standouts. My favorites included Martin Kline’s rhythmic dry brush oil series “Palm Beach” (cover image) at Heather Gaudio Fine Art, whose bright blue compositions imitate patterns that occur in nature. Also in Heather Gaudio Fine Art were a few equally mesmerizing works by Jaq Belcher, whose sculptural, hand-cut leaves in “Lions Gate” cling to a single piece of paper. More of a traditionalist, Ekaterina Smirnova “Blue Path” at Villa del Arte Galleries appears to be an updated, watercolor version of French Impressionism. And Donald Martiny, whose works appear at Spender Gallery, resemble thick, impasto paint strokes but are actually made of pigmented polymer, and are so three-dimensional that he blurs the line between sculpture and painting.
George Billis Gallery’s display of Steven Kinder’s geometric abstractions and the hodgepodge of artists grouped together in Tamarind Institute were the more underwhelming booths. The most bizarre were the black and white photographs by Morton Bartlett that showed kitschy images of dolls posed in occasionally provocative positions. His display in Marion Harris’s booth was visually eye-catching… When you stepped close enough to realize the subject matter.
Amid the abundance of things to see, and the frenzy of visitors and art professionals, there were a few booths that stand out in my memory. Gallery Poulsen was one with the overtly political works of art, including one entitled “What the Fucking Fuck Just Happened” by William Powhida, as well as Artemesia’s installation created from torn pages of used books, and the technicolor portraits at Sasha Wolf Projects.
Art on Paper is open at Pier 36 (299 South Street) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on March 2-5
February 3, 2017
Okay, there’s a lot of red… some nice white strokes, a hint of yellow, and… now they’ve all blended into orange and pink dripping endlessly down the canvas. And then there’s the black lines and swirls. Are they supposed to be scratches? What’s written in that corner? It’s all so big, I can’t quite make out the top…
I’m not sure I know what I’m looking at but, I can feel it. And that’s what makes the works of American artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011) so significant. His energy can be as subtle as the breath of a mark on a cream-colored canvas, or as animated as the manic blood red loops of Bacchus (2005). No matter the intensity of his energy, one element remains coherent —the unpredictability of where his emotions will take him.
The Centre Pompidou presents an in-depth retrospective of the artist’s long career, beginning in the 1950s and right up until his death in 2011. The show revolves around three major cycles —Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), and Coronation of Sesostris (2000). The exhibition, organized chronologically, includes some 140 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs featuring well-known works such as Blooming (2001-08), as well as others never previously exhibited in France.
The journey begins with a step into the bare landscape of cream washes, imperfect whites, and clumsy scribbles. The first gallery encompasses Twombly’s early works from the 1950s. During this period he was still in his hometown of Lexington, Virginia and he also began his travels to Europe and North Africa accompanied by his friend Robert Rauschenberg. Often characterized as graffiti (a label which Twombly rejected), his erratic, aggressive lines fill the entire surface, almost as if someone was trying to claw their way out from behind the canvas.
Moving further into this strange new world we discover Twombly’s life-long muse —the Mediterranean. The artist was fascinated by it since his first visits to Rome in the ’50s, and this fascination intensified during the periods that he lived in Italy. The iconography, metaphors, and myths of ancient civilizations left a strong mark on his works. From Egyptians to Greeks, Romans, and Persians, Twombly acts as an archaeologist, layering references from the classical past while drawing connections to contemporary figures and painting practices such as abstraction and minimalism.
The subject matter of Twombly’s oeuvre suggests a vast literary knowledge and a deep understanding of the human psyche. He reinvigorates the ancient myths and histories of Achilles, Eros, Venus, Apollo, Mars, and Commodus with an instinctual understanding of not only their narratives but also their spirits, their dramas and traumas. We can feel the rage of Commodus, the cruel Roman tyrant, as he unleashes terror and chaos in Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963). With each successive canvas the battle between white (innocence and victims) and red (power and oppression) grows more aggressive. Textured paint is thrown back and forth until at last a fresh reddish-orange glistens with victory.
Perhaps the most intriguing and complex element of Twombly’s artistic approach is his use of language. He creates visual poetry by merging the principles of abstract expressionism and the lyricism of words. Coming off as difficult and rather unclear, his script is largely incomprehensible. A mishmash of singular words or illegible phrases float throughout his compositions neglecting any true syntax or logic. The words are activated and energized by the dynamic forms, expressive lines, and bold colors that accompany them. The ten-part series Coronation of Sesostris (2000) perfectly demonstrates how Twombly blends language and image so that each complements and fulfills the other. Referencing Egyptian sun god Ra, Egyptian king Sesostris I, ancient Greek poets Sappho and Alcman, and contemporary poet Patricia Waters, the series shows the artist’s unrelenting dedication to narrative and ancient civilizations.
Twombly is a modern poet. His work can most easily be understood as an emotional and intellectual reaction to an understanding of the past, expressed through the language of color, form, and writing. It possesses an archaic energy that surpasses traditional and one-dimensional representations of history and instead strives to express a universal essence. His work is as sensual and sensitive as it is intellectual and independent. Cy Twombly, a true maverick, interpreting humanity across time and space.
“Cy Twombly” is on view at the Centre Pompidou until April 24, 2017.
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
August 12, 2016
Japanese artist Mariko Mori’s Ring: One with Nature (2016) is a three meter wide ring overlooking a 58-meter waterfall in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest, in Véu da Noiva, Mangaratiba. The permanent installation is arranged to allow the shift of colors with the movement of the sun, changing from vibrant blue to a bright gold as it is backlighted by the sunrise. Striking in its minimalism, Mori’s sculpture is multifaceted both in its conception and effect. The artist has since stated that the idea originated as an inspiring, ethereal dream of a ring over a waterfall, which she sought to actualize in physical space. Rooted in a spiritual beginning, the installation took on an even broader range of meaning through its inherently environmental message and relation to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Faou Foundation, Mori’s nonprofit in New York which promotes global environmental awareness, produced the sculpture and gave it as a gift to Brazil’s environmental institute, Instituto Estadual do Ambiente (INEA). The installation further actualizes its environmental message through formal symbolism. The singular ring set above the Véu da Noiva waterfalls functions as a conceptual extension of the five Olympic rings, highlighting the message of unification between countries to nature’s realm. This is a crucial message for the planet in its current state of the ecological crisis. Through her highly symbolic gesture, Mori successfully utilizes the Olympics as a platform of global synchrony with nature.
Symbolism behind the ring’s physical form also functions as a reminder of the cyclic relationship between humanity and nature, tracing back to prehistoric times. The artist’s choice of the circle also correlates to organic, archetypal forms found within natural landscapes, further strengthening the timelessness of the piece through its minimalistic expression. The sixth Olympic ring was unveiled on August 2 with a ritual-like ceremony including music and performance by participants dressed in all white. The white color further amplified the artist’s statement of universal oneness and reinforced thematic connections to ancestry and tradition.
Mariko Mori’s recent sculpture recalls her previous work in terms of its synthesis of ancient traditions and belief systems with modern technology. The result is a truly present object that is not only relevant to modern times but also introduces a sense of deeper archetypal connection in its audience. This element is also present in Transcircle 1.1 (2004), where Mori composes a modernized version of the ancient Stonehenge with a constantly shifting scenery of lights. The structure integrates elements of both prehistoric Japanese and Celtic traditions, introducing a personalized synthesis of cross-cultural mythology that is also present in Ring: One with Nature. Mori uses live data taken from a neutrino physics laboratory in Japan to monitor the play of lights in Transcircle 1.1, achieving a startling, distinguished presence that echoes throughout her body of work.
Through integrating technological advances with an artistically spiritual vision, Mori achieves a rich spectacle in Ring: One with Nature and makes a profound statement about humanity’s potential for unity. Her sculpture is a reminder that mankind is capable of creating structures that are environmentally friendly, culturally unifying and profitable all at once. In context of Mori’s previous works, the sixth Olympic ring becomes a part of the artist’s overarching vision that places vital importance on human presence and agency in our global landscape. Her message is both simple and profound. It deeply resonates at this time, calling for unity between nations as well as between mankind and the earth.
August 10, 2016
Here is our list of top 5 exhibitions to see in London this August and how to spend culturally your time indoors if it rains (and we’re talking London here):
Ragnar Kjartansson at The Barbican
This is the first UK survey of the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, internationally known for his multi-channel film installation “The Visitors” (2012), also present in the exhibition. The artist channels a “bad boy” image, while drinking beer, playing guitar and signing in Icelandic in the first piece in the Barbican show. Such notions as comedy, irony, and tragedy are all merged together in Kjartansson’s work. Both controversial and deeply amusing, Ragnar’s works sympathize every visitor.
On view at The Barbican through September 4. £12
Jake Wood-Evans at Unit London
Unit London, the young but well-established contemporary art gallery in Soho, presents its largest project to date, the first solo show of the UK-based artist Jake Wood-Evans titled Subjection& Discipline. Inspired by Old Masters’ paintings, the artist showcases a unique approach to canvas with figurative but rather unconventional technique. Get ready to be awed and mesmerized by Jake Wood-Evans’s unique style.
On view at Unit London August 19- September 11. FREE
Unseen at The Ben Uri Gallery
Unseen London, Paris, New York, 1930s-60s: Photographs by Wolfgang Suschitzky, Dorothy Bohm and Neil Libbert is a group exhibition bringing together such masters of photography as Wolfgang Suschitzky, Dorothy Bohm and Neil Libbert. The exhibition tends to present artistic responses to three great cities throughout three disturbing decades. The photographers try to present not only the greatness of the cities in a political and social arena, but also capture the beauty of them. If you’re into black-and-white photography this exhibition is not to be missed.
On view at The Ben Uri Gallery through August 27. FREE
Terence Donovan: Speed of Light at The Photographers’ Gallery
This is the first major retrospective of a well-known English photographer, Terence Donovan (1936-1996). Donovan was a pioneer in the new fashion, and later advertising and portrait photography in the post-war period. He was famous for capturing actors and well-known people in the scene. A mix of vintage prints is on view, together with previously unpublished works, artist’s cameras, sketches and diaries.
On view at The Photographers’ Gallery through September 25. FREE before 12pm; £3
Under The Same Sun: Art From Latin America Today at SLG Galleries & Fire Station
The exhibition, curated by Pablo León de la Barra, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, highlights the new acquisitions by the Guggenheim Museum of 15 contemporary Latin American artists. The show features 40 works with mediums including painting, installation, video, sculpture and photography. The exhibition strives to showcase the artists’ responses to contemporary realities influenced by colonial and modern histories, economic and social instabilities and regional economic developments.
On view at The South London Gallery through September 4. FREE
August 3, 2016
“I am full of a sense of promise, like I often have, the feeling of always being at the beginning.” — Diane Arbus, July 1957
With more than 100 never-before-seen photographs, the Met Breuer’s Diane Arbus: In the Beginning explores the early work of a photographer considered by many to be one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. The exhibit focuses on the first seven years of the artist’s prolific career, from 1956 to 1962, the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style for which she is now known. The majority of the photographs included in the exhibition are part of the museum’s vast Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. The works are intentionally presented neither in sequential nor thematic order, allowing the viewer to wander through the maze-like exhibit any way they choose. That is to say, with no beginning and no end.
Born to an affluent New York family in 1923, Diane Arbus was fascinated by photography even before she received her first professional camera in 1941 at the age of 18, a present from her husband, actor and photographer Allan Arbus. She photographed intermittently for the next 15 years while working with him as a stylist in their fashion photography company, which gained such notable clients as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Glamour. In 1956, however, she quit the commercial photography business, and began taking classes at the New School under photographer Lisette Model, the artist’s mentor and lifelong friend. That same year, Arbus numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, as if to claim to herself that this moment would be her definitive beginning.
In addition to Arbus’s photographs, also on view are works by her two biggest influencers, Lisette Model and portraitist August Sander, as well as some of Arbus’s contemporaries. The exhibit also presents photographs from the artist’s only portfolio, A box of ten photographs. Among these images are some of Arbus’s most iconic works, such as Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967; Jewish Giant, taken at Home with His Parents in the Bronx, New York, 1970; and A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C. 1966. Like so many artists, Arbus only achieved real fame after her death in 1971 at the age of 48 when she took her own life. She did exhibit in major venues during her lifetime, but even then, her work was often polarizing. Young Man in Curlers was notably spat on during a group exhibition at MoMA in 1967. A print of this work sold at auction in 2004 for $198,400.
In her work Arbus explores the fine line between fact and fiction, the candid and the posed, revealing something fundamental to human nature. We behave differently when we are being observed—we tend to perform for one another. In fact, many of Arbus’s subjects were performers, from “female impersonators” to circus acts and cartoon characters who straddle that oh-so familiar line between real and imaginary.
While reading the gallery copy of the exhibition catalogue, I happened to sit down next to Patricia Bosworth, journalist and author of a 1984 biography on Arbus. Mrs. Bosworth was having a lively conversation with her husband about the show. They lamented over a lack of “honesty” in the show, as well as the absence of her biography and Arthur Lubow’s recent biography in the museum’s pop-up bookstore, which only sells books published by Phaidon. As for the lack of “honesty,” I believe Mrs. Bosworth was referring to the fact that the museum glossed over some of the most interesting and controversial aspects of the artist’s life, from her open marriage and active libido to her lifelong struggle with clinical depression, details which both Lubow and Bosworth include in their biographies. It is no coincidence that Arbus quit commercial photography during the rise of counterculture in the 1950s and 60s–she documented this culture as much as she was a part of it.
Arbus once said “Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it.” A photograph only represents a split second in time, but in these small moments Arbus was able to capture the humanity in her subjects in a way that many others cannot. You stand in front of them and they return your gaze, asking you to consider the reality of their lives. Whatever conclusions you may draw about these subjects or the intentions of the photographer, it does not take away from one simple truth. At least you know they exist.
Diane Arbus: In the Beginning is on view at the Met Breuer through November 27, 2016.
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.”