In: Artist

Absolutely breathtaking, powerful, beautiful, visually striking, and so utterly important in today’s milieus of self-representation and socio-cultural movements.

This week I had the greatest pleasure of attending a lecture featuring world-renowned photographer Zanele Muholi at New York University’s Gallatin Galleries. I had stumbled upon about this talk on a poster pinned up inside an academic building while waiting for class to begin. I had studied Muholi in class before and had been instantly captured by her striking images and powerful portrayal of the stories of South African women, specifically black lesbian women. The presentation had been stunning and the talk was beyond illuminating; the event was concurrent with Gallatin’s current show Zanele Muholi: Zinathi.

Bester V, Mayotte, 2015 - 9257-LR

Muholi self identifies as a black lesbian and a visual activist.

She was born in 1972 in Umlazi township in Durban, South Africa; she currently lives in Johannesburg. Before her photographic career took off she worked as a human/lesbian rights activist, as a reporter for the LGBTI website Behind the Mask, and co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) as well as Inkanyiso, an organization dedicated to queer visual arts, activism, media, and advocacy.

The lecture began with the presentation of a short film (2013) from the Human Rights Watch with whom Muholi collaborated with. The revealing film explores her work, speaks to the pressing issues surrounding homosexuality in South Africa, and marked the start of the global campaign—16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

Lebo Leptie Phume Daveyton Johannesburg 2013-LR

Working almost exclusively in black and white film, Muholi creates powerful images that confront the viewer and simultaneously tell a story, always seeking to educate. Gallatin’s current exhibition, entitled Zinathi, brings together new works from two series Faces and Phases and Somnyama Ngonyama. Zinathi is a Zulu expression that means “All races, nations, communities and cultures” have LGBTI individuals.

The works from Faces and Phases focus on portraits of black lesbians and trans men surrounding Muholi within her community in South Africa. This continuous series began in 2006 as a visual project and has turned into an unprecedented archive of photographs documenting the community and the country. Stretching until today, Muholi has revisited a number of these women, re-capturing them at different stages in their lives. Her intent is “to fill a gap in South Africa’s visual history that, even 10 years after the fall of apartheid, wholly excluded our very existence,” (Zanele Muholi, Faces and Phases 2006-14, 2014).

Lesedi Modise Mafikeng North West 2010-LR

These women stand proud and defiant in front of the camera. Most are portraits and the rest are shot from the waist up. Muholi made a point throughout her lecture to mention that she made sure that all of these women “looked good,” as in clean, put together, with fresh haircuts—because she is tired of seeing the same images of Africans perpetuated throughout the media. These are ones of poverty, sickness, uncleanliness, and extreme desperation, ones that provoke pity. However, these archetypes are not her or her community’s reality. She wishes to uplift these women and present them as members of society worthy to be celebrated, respected, and documented within history. Each woman stands in front of a different background and has a unique way of interacting with the camera, of interacting with Muholi. She has developed relationships with almost all of these women; they trust her and have shared their stories with her. Many of these narratives revolve around the unrelenting hardship of living as a lesbian woman in South Africa as well as other countries where African leaders have criminalized homosexuality and publicly projected hate speech while doing very little to prevent violent hate crimes.

{ In 2006, with the Civil Union Act, South Africa became the first country in Africa to legalize same sex marriage and the 5th country in the world. The legislation includes same sex marriage under common-law definition and legally gives gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. }

Her second series displayed, Somnyama Ngonyama, translates to “Hail, the Dark Lioness” and confronts the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive, while commenting on specific events in South Africa’s political history. Here, Muholi turns the camera on herself and shows a series of self-portraits where she takes on different characters and archetypes while referencing traditions of portraiture and fashion photography.

“The black face and its details become the focal point, forcing the viewer to question their desire to gaze at images of my black figure. By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone, I’m reclaiming my blackness from the privileged gaze.”

 I cannot play down the importance of Zanele Muholi as an artist, as a photographer, as an activist, and as a deeply impassioned [gay female] human being.

Zanele Muholi: Zinathi is on view at NYU’s Gallatin Galleries until February 26th.

Recently I had a pleasure to meet an incredibly inspirational young artist – Anouska Beckwith. Born in London, Anouska spent her early years traveling and exploring her artistic side with the help of good old photography. Moving on to pursue her degree at Speos Photographic Institute, Anouska lives and works in Paris. She is also the founder of the World Wide Women Collective. We caught up on life, art and spiritual in a pre-christmassy moody city of London that left me motivationally driven to go on and explore my inner self.

awakened

  1. When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?

My two Grandmother’s taught me how to knit and embroider and my mother always enoucuraged me in art classes, ceramics and photography from a young age… it wasn’t something that I decided necessarily on, but I enjoyed it a lot. Then it got to a point where I was about 22 and I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. So I thought to myself, what would make me really happy throughout my life, what is something I can do in my 80’s, or when I have a child? I live in the future, I find it quite hard to be in the present. I started taking photographs again, which I had done before but not on a specific subject, just on travels or of friends. I started looking at what I was inspired by, and by 23 I knew that was the field that I wanted to go back into. I think as a creative person, you should never say well, this is just what I am. Otherwise you get quite frustrated or have an artistic block. That’s the death of the artist, so for me I like to play with different mediums.

  1. So you don’t define yourself?

As just one thing, no. At the moment I’m working on two photographic series for myself, and then I’m building an installation room, which I’ve been working on with the architect, Omar Ouazzani Touhami for the past three months but I had the idea 4 years ago. Then I’m building a photographic light installation featuring my muse Flo Morrissey. The artists that I very much respect are Yayoi Kusama and Yoko Ono. Those are the people I’m very inspired by, because you look at their body of work and there’s just so much to choose from.

  1. Would you do performance, like Yoko Ono?

Absolutely. I would like to do a performance piece to do with dance at some point as I trained as ballerina and have always feel free when exploring that as a medium. I’ve learnt how to be in front of the camera and I’ve just done my first music video as a director for the musician Katy Rose which will be released in the next couple of months and I did a short film last year about Shakespeare’s Ophelia. It’s always about the right time and the right material, I never like to rush things. I studied photography at school, and then I studied at a Speos Institute a French school in Paris, so that was the initial starting point.

Musician Katy Rose

  1. Why did you decide to move to Paris?

I had always wanted to live there, inspired by the culture, beauty, and as a visual fantasy land, I mean, I love Tim Burton, that kind of Gothic, subtle, beautiful, but it’s not modern. Everyone still dresses like they’re from the ‘60’s or ‘70’s, and I love that style, so there’s a lot of things for me as a woman that I found very appealing. They have amazing food and culture, so I thought that if I could live in Paris and survive there with the French, I could live anywhere else in the world! I’m definitely a traveller so I like to go to different places. I believe in reincarnation, so I feel drawn to certain places that I haven’t been to, and usually if I’m desperate to go there, I end up just loving it.

Katy Rose

  1. Do you get inspiration and ideas from traveling?

Absolutely, but not only traveling. I love film and literature, art and photography, poetry, I’ve got my head definitely in the stars, so I’m not somebody who’s very pragmatic, I like to be away with fairies and look at life as if its a miracle.

  1. Why did you decide to stay permanently in Paris?

Well I knew I wanted to move for a period of time. I’d grown up in London partly and I didn’t really ever feel very English. I’m someone who likes to see other cultures. At the end of the day if you can see as many places as you can before you die, that’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself, whether or not you have a boyfriend or you’re married, or you can show your children… so I’ve definitely got the traveling bug.

  1. Do you just go trekking with a backpack?

It depends, if I’m going to America, no. If I go to India, I used to go with a backpack, live on a hut on the beach. Once I slept in a broom closet, I’m quite versatile with how I can travel. If somewhere is special and it’s worth going to see, I like it to be as natural as possible. I’m very lucky that I’ve had some amazing people that I’ve travelled with and who have showed me lovely places. India was an eye-opening experience from a very young age.

Sea Of Sunflowers

  1. Do you think the art scene is different to each other in Paris and London?

Very much. Paris is a bit behind with the art. They don’t do so many installations, they love reportage photography, so Henri Cartier-Bresson is their mecca, they’re not so into fine art, they love fashion, whereas in London, fine art, fashion, reportage, they fit all of those aspects in the same, and you have nature and geographical but that’s very specific. But me, personally, I love New York as one of the places with the best art because there are just so many art galleries, it’s just a bigger industry. But Los Angeles is definitely becoming a hubbub of contemporary artt, photography & fine art, it’s becoming quite a cool place to be an artist. You have to know where you, as an artist, are inspired. It’s about standing as an individual and developing your own voice.

  1. Have you found it?

To a certain degree but I think with an artist you’re always looking at your work in a way that’s slightly like torture. You’re always wanting to be better, to push yourself, and you want it to be somewhat original. We’re all slight shades of grey to begin with because we’ve had so much work in the past thousands of years that it’s quite hard to come up with an original idea.  I’m not thinking that everyone’s going to like my work, that’s not the goal. It’s more to bring light and positivity and hope and beauty to people, because I think there’s a lot of darkness in the world. Sometimes I make darker work but I don’t necessarily expose it. There’s a difference with making work just for yourself or having it to show others…

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  1. Do you remember the first time you showed your work in public?

The first work that I exposed, was when I created the collective World Wide Women, in 2012 for the ‘ Wanderer’s Eye Exhibition’ in Paris. I was quite nervous about showing work, so I set up the collective with women who were just starting out and exhibit under common themes of nature, femininity, and positivity, and the esoteric which went under the banner of the positive. It was about empowering one another and not about extreme feminism. That was the beginning of WWW and since then we’ve done eight shows in the past three years. At present we are coming up with our next theme for an exhibition and expansion for 2016-17! Then I had my first solo show Transcendance curated by Andi [Potamkin] in New York in 2015, and then I did another female exhibition at the Box Studio in East London curated by Clio Peppiatt with Female Matters. That’s been my journey so far and then next year I would like to exhibit the installation room.

  1. What is this installation room like?

The project’s called “I am the other you”, and it’s about human beings relationship to nature, especially trees and how important it is to preserve the rainforest and for us as humans to live in harmony with the planet. I came up with the idea four years ago after a shamanic ceremony and had the vision to do 8 rooms, called the “Infinity Series”. My good friend designer/artist Koji Tatsuno was extremely encouraging of the original idea and really pushed me to create them so I am very grateful for his belief in me.

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  1. Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’d like to be a working artist throughout my life. I like producing work and getting it seen, promoting it through social media or having it in an exhibition or in a magazine, because part of it is to share with others, and have feedback. It’s an interaction. Everything’s so personal and subjective. I want people to tell me what they like and don’t like. That’s what’s so interesting about art – it’s so individual.

  1. In the contemporary art world, though, artists could be forced to create something trendy in order to sell it. Have you ever experienced this pressure?

No, that’s why I live in Paris. In London, there is that feeling of having to confrom. I think a lot of art is the emperor’s new clothes, it’s something on the wall, invisible art as an example. If you’ve got to imagine what’s on a wall… Well I can imagine what’s on a wall any time. For free. For me, nature is one of the most important aspects. I love going somewhere and finding a completely beautiful and raw backdrop and having a very simplistic form, generally it’s women because I like photographing my friends or people I’m inspired by. I’m photographing more men at the moment. I just shot the actor and musician Reeve Carney for a two projects in Dublin. After a while of having just women, it’s a bit of a challenge to take a photograph of a man or do something slightly different. So I’m always exploring other options. I like beauty, but I don’t necessarily like what commercial beauty is. I’m interested in not just the outside, but the inside as well. I’m very much a romantic person, I’m a fantasist to a certain degree. I love Dali, Klimt, Millais, John Currin and Frida Kahlo those artists take you to another place, and that’s for me what art is about.

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  1. Do you think art is necessary in society?

100%. Personally I feel that schools try to educate people to conform to being the same as everyone else. I don’t think that’s what life’s about at all. I think life’s about being happy and finding that happiness, and if you have to work three different jobs to make your art, I think personally that’s what I’d rather do. In some countries around the world, obviously that’s not an option to even think like that, so I’m very privileged to have grown up in England where you are given the freedom to have those kinds of thoughts. I feel that art is something that you don’t have to be taught to know what the picture is about. I don’t need to be told, this is why you should like it, you either like it or you don’t. I do different Shamanic ceremonies, and I met this incredible Brazilian doctor and he was saying at the beginning of the ceremony that he used to try to define who he was, like “I’m a doctor, I’m a husband,” and he said the moment you start defining who you are, that part of you dies. And I thought to myself I can totally understand what he’s saying.

  1. So it’s also a power of thought?

Absolutely. I believe in manifestation, and I believe there’s a lot more to the power of mind than we’ve been given access to. Everyone likes to put everyone in a box and categorize what that person is. I think it’s a challenge not to be put into a box. I think only a small group of people can know who you really are, and those are your close friends.

Do Not Be Lonely

  1. Do you remember the best advice you were ever given?

Andi was definitely very helpful. She told me to embrace my weirdness, to not be afraid of that. That’s valuable advice. I’ve not been ever one to conform, but we all like to think of ourselves as not weird, but I think to embarce the light and darker aspects of ourselves and love them rather than repress them could all do us the world of good.

  1. Do you have advice to young people?

You need to not give up, to keep trying, to believe in yourself.. You never know when a door shuts it will lead you to an open window. Just believing in yourself is a very important thing. Follow your dreams. Life is so short, I try to live everyday as if it’s my last, and not wishing to be doing something else. If you’re wishing to be doing something else, then you should probably be doing that. I feel very lucky that I’m at the point in my life that I can explore what I want to. Even if you’re not in that position, having hope is very important.

Chris Burden. Courtesy of the Chris Burden Estate and Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Rob McKeever.

Chris Burden’s ever-popular Urban Light (2008) might just be the most Instagrammed (yes, it’s a verb) installation in the Los Angeles area. The 202 restored street lamps that once lit the streets of Southern California in the 1920s and 30s have been reappropriated, now standing in a vast sea of light, greeting visitors as they approach LACMA, the largest art museum on the West Coast.

However, if you’re like me, the closest you’ll get to interacting with this beautiful, large-scale assemblage is by double clicking as you scroll through your Instagram feed. So, you can imagine my delight when Gagosian on Madison Avenue presented Buddha’s Fingersa small, though no less entrancing, version of LACMA’s Urban Light.

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Buddha’s Fingers is one of Burden’s last works before his death this past May at age 69. It features thirty-two similar antique, cast-iron street lamps as found outside of LACMA; however, the lights are grouped in tight, honeycomb cluster that disallows visitors to weave in and out, unlike Urban Light. Although the installation may only be viewed from outside of the circle, the bright, cold light of the LED bulbs forms a singular, radiating spectacle that envelops the ceiling and trickles down the hexagonal shaft, creating a play of light and shadow that one can only truly appreciate from the exterior. There is a disjunction between the classic, Art Deco-meets-Manchester style of the antique street lamps and the somewhat harsh blue glow of the energy efficient LED lighting. The combination of the old and new forms an arc through time, creating a whimsical realm in which antiquity and contemporary can be experienced all at once, fulfilling our longing for a not-so-distant past, without losing the conveniences (though, sometimes aesthetically disheartening) of the now.

Chris_burden

©Chris Burden. Courtesy of the Chris Burden Estate and Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Jeff McLane.

Buddha’s Fingers is on view until March 12th, having been extended from its February 20th closing date due to popular demand. New Yorkers: check this out now before it’s too late.

January 29, 2016

10 Digi-Pop Artists to Know

Krist Wood

Krist Wood creates artwork that acts like a digital map, unfolding as you click through the artist’s website, each page taking you to a different URL complete with another hyperlinked image. Wood’s work is true to its medium, it is a sort of digital performance that occurs over multiple websites, mimicking the act of browsing by forcing the viewer to actively participate. The artwork is only realized if it is “surfed,” exploiting the nature of the Internet as the art itself is an interconnected network of websites—layers—that find its meaning only through interaction. His work also highlights the omnipresent, intangible quality of the Internet as it forces the viewer to acknowledge the invisible doorways of the web, the connectedness of the digital world.

Wood is the founder of Computers Club, a blog with nineteen contributing members that is a collaborative “digital sculpture” of GIFs, large-scale images with embedded videos and links, and software-based drawings. His website can be found here.

Nicolas Sassoon

Nicolas

Another member of the Computers Club, Sassoon creates digital GIF environments that range from large, pixelated abstractions to digitized representations of his studio space or virtual rooms. Some of his works are full-fledged 3D models: though crude and lacking in detail, they depict the capabilities of early-Internet programing and visuals and create virtual environments that lack a narrative context and present a digital space for contemplation. Beyond the use of a low-tech, mundane medium such as the GIF, Sassoon’s works emphasize the extent that the digital has influenced, if not enveloped, our “IRL” (in real life) identities and lives.

As Sassoon states while discussing his artwork, “there is a form of darkness in my work process as well as in the environment surrounding my work…My studio is a very dark space inside a basement located in a city that is pretty dark for eight months of the year.  A lot of my work emerges from extended periods of time immersed in that environment. This lifestyle allows me to project myself into a virtual world, but it also lacks the physical interactions of the real world.”

Tom Moody

OptiDiscs

Tom Moody is a New York artist who entered the scene in 2001 with his blog and gained the attention of the art world in 2005 when he was featured by Art in America in the article “Art in the Blogosphere.” He uses obsolete, low-tech tools to create his digital artworks, ranging from pieces made on simple imaging software to drawings on MS Paintbrush (an earlier 90s version of MS Paint). Unlike many other digital artists, Moody’s skill-set would be considered amateur, as his coding knowledge stops beyond HTML—his under-designed blog layout a reflection of his limited technical abilities, as well as a nostalgic throwback to the early days of blogs and personal websites.

Moody’s newer artworks often are GIFs, hypnotizing optical abstractions that border on Op-Art with underlying pop-culture allusions. However, the endless loop reduces the impact of the images, creating a sort of soporific sensation within the viewer. “I am drawn to ‘cyber-kitsch’ in all its forms, whether in old programs such as MSPaintbrush, the amateur imagery that abounds on the Web, or the unintended poetry of technical glitches. My work proudly inhabits the ‘lo-fi’ or ‘abject’ end of the digital spectrum.” 

Andrej Ujhazy

Andrej Ujhazy, Untitled, Photoshop painting, 2015.

Andrej Ujhazy is a Brooklyn based artist who creates Photoshop paintings that depict scenes inspired by video games. His works mimic the large landscapes and battle fields found in video games and allude to traditional history paintings. However, his style is gestural and expressive, which is paradoxical to both the medium and its digital inspiration. Ujhazy interjects his own individual and artistic touch into the video game’s narrative. While his works are still images, their massive scale and digital medium create an environment that consumes the viewer. Only by scrolling about the page can the full piece be realized. Ujhazy posts his digital artworks on various blogging platforms, his current blog can be found here.

Cory Arcangel

YouTube play

Cory Arcangel in some way epitomizes Digi-Pop in that all of his works’ main purpose is to comprehend, or at least explore, the relationship between digital technology and pop culture. Arcangel has explored many facets of the digital world; however, his central focus has been video game culture. He uses the digital as his artistic style, often appropriating the visual language and sensory components of gaming and digital pop culture phenomena, if not manipulating the very technologies themselves. For instance, in his most well-known work, Arcangel hacked an early version of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers, leaving only the sky and pixelated clouds floating past the screen. The game, with all of its other components reduced, is GIF-like, a constant, hypnotizing loop. In another piece, Arcangel modified an obsolete version of Super Mario where the game begins with Mario standing on a single cube in a vast world of nothing, left to just stand forever. Arcangel uses his knowledge of coding and software development to hack, experiment with and exploit common tools or objects of pop-culture as a means to expose and critique our ever-advancing relationship with the digital world.

Petra Cortright

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Cortright’s name may be one of the most recognizable on the list, as she has garnered attention across multiple online platforms such as Tumblr and YouTube. Big in the GIF game, Cortright often produces digital works that emphasize the technological process of creation, including errors on the part of the artist.She makes use of the early internet visual lexicon, her work littered with the crude animated smiley faces, pop-ups, everything reminiscent of the “congratulations, you won!” era. She collages Google images with symbols from Internet Explorer’s toolbar plug-ins. Her YouTube videos are straight out of an early 2000s preteen’s bedroom where Cortright dances alone to hyper-electro, DDR music, her dance moves coming straight from the game itself. She’ll pause to play with her cat or adjust the camera. She interacts with digital technology in a familiar way, a nostalgic embrace of the early Internet, video game revolution. 

Amalia Ulman

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Ulman has recently received a lot of attention for her digital performance piece on social media platform Instagram. Instagram and Digi-Pop go hand-in-hand, as social media has defined our pop culture, allowing its users to stay connected to quickly moving trends and influencing global tastes. Instagram is a network of curated lives, presenting an identity that, once posted, its consumption is out of your control, people can make up their own minds. Ulman’s Instagram series focused on this new-found ability to curate multiple identities in the digital world. The series follows a narrative arc of a girl in LA lost and found again. Scrolling through the works posted on Instagram over 21 weeks, one can see Ulman’s exploitation of the typical images and paired captions seen on a popular Instagram page, such as selfies, food shots, half-dressed girls and pop-culturally relevant memes. Her critical performance found its meaning as her professional and social relationships started to change as her peers began to assume truths about the artist through her social media presence, paralleling the experience

Hal Lasko

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Lasko began creating his digital paintings at the age of 85, when his family gifted him with a personal computer that came preloaded with Microsoft Paint. The software, now obsolete and considered kitsch, was easy to use with high quality precision. Slowly going blind, the digital medium allowed Lasko to work pixel by pixel, creating large landscape pixel portraits and still lives. The translation of painting into pixels through the mundane software gives Lasko’s works an “old school,” early-internet and video game feel. One would not be surprised to find the scenes in the background of a early 90s computer game.

In 2013, “The Pixel Painter,” a short documentary about Lasko’s life and interest in the digital medium was released, it can be viewed here. Lasko died June 6, 2014, at the age of 98.

Marisa Olson

marisa olsen double bind

Olson is one of the founding members of the Nasty Nets’ “Internet Surfing Club”, a website where members all create web-based artworks that document and re-imagine their experiences online. Much of Olson’s artwork examines that act of searching the Internet and one’s response to this interaction as both the spectator and the performer. She often utilizes YouTube as her platform for both creation and presentation, playing off of the popular “response” videos found on the website. Olson’s interests largely lie in the cultural history of technology and the digital world’s impact on the future. Her series Assisted Living exemplifies this interest, parodying the typical domestic/home living TV show; however, Olson focused her video on DIY projects and recipes that are meant to help the viewer cope with new side effects of digital technologies and remain healthy in the technological world. The artist often attempts to point out the sometimes abusive influence technology has upon us, while in turn abusing technology itself. Her work can be nostalgic, as she sometimes works with mundane, out-dated technologies like the floppy disk or simple coding software, “Out of sight, out of mind…I feel like this is what’s happening with all of our tv’s, walkmen, air hockey tables, nintendos, etc as we follow our drives to upgrade. They just get pushed into dumpsters and disregarded. And I’ve been trying to think about my own role in this cycle, because I certainly love my iPod as much as the next gal.”

Alexandra Gorczynski

Similar to Cortright and Wood, Gorczynski creates websites as artwork that are composed of video, photography, digital painting and hyperlinked objects.

You may find that “Cambodian contemporary art” sounds unfamiliar, but it is actually emerging in the international art world. Cambodian contemporary artists were engaged in some international group exhibitions last year in Palais de Tokyo, Paris. This year, another French city, Lille would hold an exhibition solely of Cambodian artists, which is fresh, intriguing and educational at the same time. The exhibition “Phnom Penh” (capital of Cambodia) is part of the theme with four other cities under “Lille 3000 – Renaissance”. “Lille 3000” is a large-scale cultural programme with exhibitions, public installations, theatre programmes, etc. spreading all over Lille, which was elected as the European Capital of Culture in 2004.

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Cambodia is recovering from its painful history of Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) which destroyed almost everything in the country, including art and culture. The recent rapid economic development is going alongside the reconstruction of its art sector. Bearing rich cultural tradition, Cambodian artists are constructing their new ways in the contemporary art scene. Seen from such contexts of the country, their art is refreshingly unique, and goes particularly well with the theme “Renaissance”.

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The “Phnom Penh” exhibition consists of different mediums of art including painting, photograph, sculpture, video of performance and film, by both internationally recognised artists and those who have not before been exhibited.

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Paintings by Theanly Chov depict people trying to get their heads out of water to breathe, symbolised by a line discreetly crossing their faces at mouth level. This is a metaphor for the situation of the artist himself and other ordinary people in his country who might have benefited little from the economic development.

_Enter Series_, Anida Yoeu Ali


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Anida Yoeu Ali, who had an art performance at Palais de Tokyo, Paris last year, is one of the foremost performance artists in the world. The current exhibition displays a video of her poetic and aesthetic performance, where she appears to be dancing in the middle of rice fields –the representative kind of landscape of Cambodia. It is an act of rediscovery of the Cambodian countryside, departing from the growing city of Phnom Penh.

_Cambodge is Bazarre_, Ti Tit


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Another artist, Ti Tit is without any artistic or technical training, and started initially as a blogger, who kept posting funny pictures accompanied with provocative captions, either in French, English or Khmer. For example, he stages fake suicides to instigate existential questions. Born after 1990, this very young artist puts us in the perspective of the young generation in a rapidly developing Cambodia.

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This exhibition gathering three generations of artists could give an overview of Cambodia’s traumatised history and recent economic development. Transformation and the search for an identity (or a new one) seem inevitably to be recurrent themes in Cambodian contemporary art … or actually in the art of our time in general?

December 7, 2015

In talk with Juliette Losq

Juliette Losq is a London based artist, both born and raised in the city. Before taking an artistic path, she undertook an immersive training as an art historian, graduating with an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and continuing on to study fine art. Having had a number of solo and group exhibitions in the past, the artist mostly works with traditional technique of watercoloring, though adding a touch of contemporaneity to the artistic feel of a piece. I caught up with Juliette in her studio in Southwark (n.b. the artist just moved to a new location, DZ), where surrounded by a variety of her pieces we talked about art, literature, and life.

  1. How do you see contemporary art per say and its purpose, if there is any.

I don’t really see it’s having a single purpose. I just feel like it’s got to that point where if you’re making contemporary art you can use any medium to make it that you feel fitting to your ideas, so I don’t think anyone’s really restricted anymore to painting, drawing, sculpture…

  1. Do you think it’s in a way easier to be a successful artist because there are so many types of medium you can use, or are there so many different choices you can make that it’s in fact harder?

I think it’s always been hard – artists have always struggled. It’s probably more difficult to be recognized for a particular medium as a standout person within that medium because it’s no longer just about being a painter or a sculptor, or even a photographer, is it, you can mix them all together and be making work in all of them, which a lot of successful artists do.

  1. So be original in a way…


It’s always been difficult to be original hasn’t it, but it seems that throughout history people just look around them and see what’s come before them and then just reimagine it or reuse it in some way, so it is like the most exciting people are aware of what’s happened before or a range of things that’ve happened before and then they’re changing it in their own particular way.

  1. Is that something you’re trying to do because you’re using techniques of watercolour?

Technically I do look way back to 19th century painting and drawing, I look at things like the Hudson River School who are American landscape painters, and I look at the pre­Raphaelites in terms of their colour, not in terms of their subject matter. I look at etching, woodcuts; I just like to collect images. I must be drawn to particular things because they sort of feed into the work, if not instantly then a little bit further down the line. But I do definitely like the aesthetics of print and graphic drawing.

  1. But it’s still a traditional art form seen through contemporary eyes?

Sure, because we can’t avoid that. Instantly, I’m filtering it through contemporary vision but definitely I’m interested in changing historical techniques slightly so even though I’m using materials that have been used traditionally in watercolour, I’m doing it slightly differently, so I might be using watercolour more in the way that you might use ink as a drawing tool. I use modern mediums with watercolour as well, so things that have only been invented or refined into their current fom maybe in the past 50 years or so.

  1. For instance?

I use something called masking fluid which is a stopper, so I can stop the ink from touching the paper at all and then remove it right at the end to just have the raw paper, so it’s almost like diluted latex solution.

  1. So do you research these kind of things in advance?

Well it’s trial and error, really. But the way I happened upon it was because I liked the process of etching and I worked out a way of reimagining that process using ink and watercolour and this masking fluid stuff so rather than building up an etching plate I was building up an individual image in the same way you would, so you have to have a certain knowledge of materials but then you just experiment until you find something that you’re happy with, and then it’s always interesting when someone takes something to the extreme limits of how you can use it, so I guess I try to do that.

  1. Also, watercolour was always an artwork of a smaller scale, and you are trying to make it a large­scale piece?

Definitely, I think that’s a different way of using it. Traditionally it was used as a sketching medium, but I really do enjoy working on a large scale with it and I think that’s another way of making something contemporary that’s historically been used in a different way.

  1. I know you studied art history first. You are an art historian. Were you always fascinated with the 19th century art practice? Did you want to be an art historian or an artist after all?

I always wanted to be an artist really but I think I was too easily persuaded out of it when I was at school. They wanted me to do an academic subject, and I did enjoy studying art history. I was drawn to particular eras, it was 18th and 19th century, because if you look at some of those 19th c paintings, the pre-­Raphaelite ones are almost photographic and you just wonder, it was always fascinating to me how did they get that effect, ignoring the subject matter, the vibrancy of them… it still looks hyper real now when you look at some of those paintings.

  1. So would you say that they are your inspiration?

Not really, there’s lots of things that go into it, there’s literature…

  1. British?

Mainly British, I suppose. Things like old magazines and newspapers that I read and found and collected and images that appear in films, also objects…

  1. Just everyday objects, or?

Sometimes specific things I collect, I literally trawl ebay until I find something interesting, just a cover of an old newspaper or a poster for a film, and I’ve just acquired them and had a few walls of my studio plastered with pictures that could then become an inspiration for something else. There’s only a couple left up there now but like. Right now I’m quite interested in looking at traditional Chinese painting… Those artists were not bothered about whether a landscape really can make sense as we would think about it in terms of Western perspective; they’re just narrating a landscape almost, which is quite interesting.

  1. So that’s what you’re doing with your landscapes in terms of trying to make them realistic, isn’t it, though could you elaborate on why it is landscapes that you’re mostly interested in and what’s behind them?

I guess it’s the idea of using the real world as an inspiration for creating your own environment, and that’s what happens with the big installations as well, I’m using elements of the real world but reconstructing them to form my own…

  1. World…

Yeah. It is not a real place, but obviously I’ve taken elements of real places and reconstructed them, and I do the same thing when I’m making one of those installations, I take elements of a real landscape and put them back together a different way and then blow that up into a large installation.

  1. In terms of a viewer, are you trying to communicate something to them? Perhaps an experience?

I want them to be drawn into that world, I want it to be believable and I want them to… yeah I want them to experience… You’re looking at somewhere where society is broken down a bit and you’re just surrounded by nature, which I do quite like the idea of. I want you to be drawn into it and then find something in it that you think is a bit jarring or not quite right so it’s slightly threatening and also quite enticing at the same time. I’m often thinking about science fiction films where they’re set in these kind of broken down landscapes and certain horror films, post­apocalyptic films but I’m not seeing them in that way, I’m not seeing these landscapes as being totally threatening…

  1. So that’s why you’re trying to make it look wild, or imperfect?

I just like imperfection, I always have done as a child being brought up in London just finding places that are overgrown because it is unusual to find an area of greenery or an area of interest, or an area that you could crawl into or make a den in in the middle of the city. I read a lot of science fiction, so for me, it’s not a reference to something, but it kind of reminds me of all the imaginary cities or buildings in the books and comics.

I saw some really nice illustrations for Jules Verne

  1. He’s classic.

I saw some etchings by Édouard Riou…. it was this underwater scene with jellyfish floating like clouds, wacky things like that…

  1. In terms of being an artist today, do you think it’s important to finish university to be actually qualified in terms of MFA, for instance, in fine arts to be successful?

I think life is always more difficult if you haven’t been through the art school system. I do know people who have gone straight from another degree. I know someone who did a languages degree and then went into art but in a different sphere, but I just think generally, your life would be a lot easier if you studied at art school. I think an MA can help as well if it comes at a time when you’re ready to break down your work and then go back and refine your own practice, it’s also good for meeting people and getting exhibiting opportunities. But there is a whole raft of outsider artists who have not studied at art school. The Museum of Everything is a great place to see this kind of art.

  1. Do you have a favourite artist? Or an artist who is your inspiration?

I like Samuel Palmer, some 18th c artists, quite like Rococo design rather than painting, so things they did for designing ornaments, they call it rocaille. 
Contemporary artists… I like the installation artist Wade Kavanaugh. Mark Fairnington was a tutor of mine and is a great painter. I met some interesting painters through the John Moores Painting PrizeNeal Rock, Mandy Payne, Conor Rogers

  1. Would you ever think about trying another medium?

At the moment I’m mainly working on paper, when I was at the RA I was doing oil painting, I tried acrylic painting as well. I definitely wouldn’t mind, I mean, I suppose for me it’s more about mixing 2­D and 3­D so I like doing installations and I like the way that they evolve over time and the way that they can be changed when you put them somewhere new. I like collecting objects and thinking about where those objects might lead. I’ve got a show coming up next year where I’m making a new installation which is going to be in collaboration with a furniture maker, so he’s going to make a non­functional piece of furniture that looks like it should have a purpose but actually it’s always going to be quite Escher­like, and then my drawing will respond to it. That’s a bit of a new direction.

  1. And finally do you have a few words of advice for young artists or young people in general?

I think it’s easy to be put off by people. So be consistent, put in the hours, do the work, don’t worry too much about where it’s going to end up, just have a body of work that you’re interested in, make it according to your own interests, not according to what you think you ought to be doing because everybody else is doing it. And other than that, someone gave me the advice that as long as you’re continuing to work, eventually it will go somewhere or it will feed into some other work that does. It’s when you give up and get out of the habit it of it that you can lose it.

Facing the pain and fear of the bloodshed in the French capital, art is here to heal. After the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13th November, people all around the world show their solidarity with this city, with many stating “pray for Paris” on social media while others do not much like this religious note. Street artists show their love and support in a unique way –#sprayforparis. Street artist Goin started the hashtag #sprayforparis on Instagram with his artwork illustrating a muse resembling that in Eugène Delacroix‘s painting, Liberty Leading the People. Instead of holding a French national flag, Goin‘s muse is holding a paint roller dipped in the French tricolours, and the caption reads “The paint must flow, not the blood!” Many other street artists from different places echo this call with their talents, not only in Paris or France, but even as far as Melbourne, Australia.

#1 Marianne au rouleau, Goin

One week after the incident, I went to the Place de la République where people come with flowers and candles in memorial of the victims of the attacks. Then, I saw an artist spraying on a wall in the square, presenting colourful forms and words in French meaning “yes to life…” while on the other side, large graffiti on a black background with white font states “Fluctuat nec mergitur”, which has recently caught much attention on media . It was painted by a team of Parisian graffiti artists called the Grim Team. The team also made a similar piece in another spot by the Canal St. Martin, on the other bank where people come and gather in silence in front of the restaurant and café that endured horrifying attacks.

#2 Yes to life @Place de la République

But what is “Fluctuat nec mergitur”? It is the motto of Paris in Latin, translated as “tossed by the waves but does not sink”. This motto is present in the city coat of arms depicting a ship floating on a rough sea, which can be seen in a recent piece of street art by yearz1 too. Both the motto and the city arms had been used for centuries by the powerful river Seine’s boatsman corporation, which ruled the city’s trade and commerce, before they were made official in 1853 by the Baron Haussmann. The artists have revitalised this centuries-old motto in a cool way, reminding heartbroken Parisians of this tough and persevering spirit.

#3 Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, Grim Team, @Place de la République

On a wall right opposite the attacked restaurant and café, Fred le Chevalier, a well-known Parisian street artist who also lives in that district has stuck a figure dressed in black and white, holding a candle in her hand and a heart-shaped teardrop falling from her eye. The figure is able to cover some of the bullet holes in that wall. Being much lighter compared to the heavy atmosphere just metres away, his art offers comforting compassion to this miserable corner of the city and the devastated people around it. Near to this spot, another street artist juxtaposed the legendary Parisian photo The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville with red paint on the couple symbolising gunshot wounds, alongside French words written in red meaning “not even hurt”. The message is simple but compelling, that the love represented by the kiss would not be hurt even by brutal terrorist shootings.

#7 The Kiss_même pas mal

All of these beautifully painted walls in the streets may not have comparable monetary value with the so-called “high art” that is being sold for millions in auction houses, but they are simply invaluable. These artistic walls are there to show love and support and to spread mighty spirits and positive energy, particularly at this difficult time when people in the city are most in need. There should not be any walls, or wars, to divide humankind, either by religions, races or nationalities. The walls are to defend those previous values and virtues of human civilisation which are the best weapons to counteract terrorism. So, yes, leave paint, not pain, on these walls; let’s spray not only for Paris, but also for Beirut, for all the suffering people, and for a brighter world!

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On a Saturday morning this November, I had my first artist interview with Poline Harbali in her cozy studio-apartment in Paris. That turned out to be a very inspiring conversation with intense exchange of deep thoughts.

Poline Harbali is of Franco-Syrian origin. Her artistic practice is constructed around the search for her identity, which is particularly difficult when she has no direct access to her family in Syria. Poline then started to work on family memories through collected photographs which are then superimposed, wrinkled, redesigned, printed on transparent or textile fabric or burned iron. Poline’s art strives to pose questions on various topics including femininity and to expand the traditional use of materials into a new context, for instance, giving new definitions of embroidery. Her embroidery work is currently being exhibited at bookshop-gallery, Violette and Co in Paris until 29 November. Her works were seen at JABAL Art Fair of Beirut in both 2014 and 2015.

Poline Harbali

  1. You specialised in graphic design, photography and illustration at school, in what way have these practices influenced your art?

At the beginning, I studied Master in Philosophy for four years and I already specialised in aesthetic, and for me, it is important to put ideas into forms. At the beginning in my photography class, I was working with old pictures of my family. My father is Syrian and my mother is French, while all other family members are in Damascus in Syria, but we can’t go to Syria because of the war and all the complicated situations. Then, photography became important as a means to share the life with the family in Syria, pretending I am living with them, because my family in Syria and I would exchange photos from our life. This was the beginning of my work –I was trying to find the missing pieces of myself, my identity through photography. 

  1. How is your family background and identity important to you as an artist?

My family background is very important because I’ve always been striving to search for an identity. There is not one thing from either my mother’s family or my father’s family that can tell me who I am, and that will always keep me wondering about my identity. As an artist, I am not very interested in giving answers to people. What I like is researching and trial and error. So wondering about who I am, who my family is and how I can interact with them has influenced the topics of my work for sure, and also the way that I am working. That is, I am not trying to communicate certain messages, but I am more questioning through my work rather than answering questions. I put questions from my mind into forms.

  1. It seems your artistic practice stems from your quest to discover your identity, and you started this process with photography, can you tell us more about that process, how did you go further from that?

Yes, I started with photography. I’ve been always interested in “transgression”. As I come from an Arabic family, and in Arabic perceptions, there are many norms or rules of how you should behave as a woman. I think I never felt fine with what my family told me to be. To start with, there were a lot of Syrian tablecloths which were made of specific way of Syrian embroidery called agabanee, with gold threads, in vegetal patterns like flowers and plants. This embroidery is an activity that women do a lot at home, including my grandmother. And I really feel close to all the women in my family as I felt we’re concerned about the same wondering. So I wanted to use and work with this technique but make transgression about that. It means that, originally embroidery was something to keep women at home and to just spend their time while waiting for men to come home. And I wanted to make it in the opposite way that I make embroidery because I want to embroider and to talk about myself through embroidery, such as my fears as a woman, my sexuality or my intimacy in general.
I try to make something not beautiful. That’s an important point because traditionally we always want women to make beautiful things, for decorative reasons. But I want to make something raw; sometimes mixing it with beautiful things, for example, I love using floral patterns which I superimpose with something dark and raw.

  1. I see. So I think that’s a way how you to try to expand the traditional use of materials into a new context. Is that what you’re doing in your art?

Yes, exactly. I think it’s very important for me to use traditional materials, like fabric, because I’m really questioning the tradition in my work. Also, I’m working with clothes in an installation project right now. I make use of homewear clothing that I got from my grandmother and then I make embroidery, drawings and prints on it. I think the materials are like a soul. For example, homewear clothing in my grandmother’s generation was something very specific that represents women’s roles in the family as a wife, a mother. There is a book that I really like called A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. I think it’s very important to always have the time and a place at home that you’re with yourself to focus on yourself, your work, your desire… So with this project, I hope to re-establish an individual space for women through these white and not decorative homewear clothes. I’m just trying to question why it’s so important for my grandmother to be a wife, to have beautiful homewear and to be always very pretty for somebody else. Also, I want to bring out all those things which are forbidden by moral norms and make women ashamed of, such as rape, abortion and other humiliations, and expose them on the outside on the homewear clothing, instead of keeping them inside women.

  1. Any artists who have particularly great influence on your perceptions and practices of art?

Well, there’re a lot. I really like Louise Bourgeois that I find the way she was doing her art was very interesting. What I like is that she’s not afraid of working on both more intellectual or conceptual art and raw or brutal art together. Her work is not conventional in the sense that she has plastic art skills for sure as an artist, but she’s also a conceptual artist at the same time. I’m very sensitive to her work. Two or three years ago in Berlin, it was my first time to see a work of hers in person. I saw this huge work with many drawings of red hands, which was powerful for me. I was crying.
Also, I like Kiki Smith because I find her work very seductive. She’s not trying to fit her work into something else, but she focuses more on the process than the results and I also like working this way. So she’s a big inspiration.
Then, the music of an Austrian singer called Soap&Skin who inspires me too. She has a traditional background too but she’s very experimental and contemporary. This is similar to what I do –questioning the tradition and making something new out of it.

  1. How do you define femininity? What do you think about women artists in the contemporary art world?

I think there should be no definition of femininity and there’re a million ways to be a feminine person. This is what is really interesting in our time. We can make the choice even if it’s not easy at all to make those choices. This is something very different from the years before. I’m not seeing myself as an angry feminist, but I think of the book King Kong Theory by a French writer Virginia Despentes. She says in our society women always define themselves from men. I think both for her and for me, a lot of people think being feminine is to be soft, kind, smart but not too smart, pretty and a bit sexy or seductive somehow. For example, there is one part of the book talking about the double standards between men and women. I always felt myself as a raw person who doesn’t like following others’ expectations. For example, if you’re not always soft or very independent, you speak in a frank way; people would think you’re like a man. And this is something bothering me a lot. I think it’s time to remove these gender stereotypes. There has been definition of femininity for a long time, but I think it’s very important to not have one.

  1. You exiled yourself to Nantes, Montreal and Barcelona. As I come from another culture but now living in a different one, I am very interested in your experiences of displacement, can you share your feelings about that?

I am a person with wanderlust and I like being like this because every time you move out, you have a chance to redefine yourself, to break through people’s perceptions of you. When you encounter new people, you always discover something new about yourself, and you have a broader view of what life can be or what you can be. The year in Barcelona was particularly difficult for me, but I learnt a lot about who I was and why this experience was complicated for me, so it was an important experience. Learning a new language can help to express yourself differently too. I was wandering around for almost ten years, but now I feel that I want to gather all those experiences and build something in a place. At some point, it is important for me to belong to a place for some time at least and then I can transform all the things that I’ve collected from my experiences into some forms.

  1. What impacts do these displacement experiences have on your artistic creation?

What can be seen in my art that is related to these experiences is that I like to experience new ways to work. I don’t define myself with embroidery or photography. In my work, I’m not only searching for subjects, but also searching for forms that I don’t even know what it is. I think I’m wandering in my art.

  1. So now do you see Paris as your home?

Yes, I really feel home in Paris. I’m French but I’m originally not from Paris. I’ve been living in Paris for around four years, but I really feel home here. When I went to Montreal, I really felt home there that I felt connected with that city which has my rhythm. But I thought I needed other experiences, so then I decided to go to Barcelona. I think it is possible to have different little homes and whenever I go back to Montreal from time to time, I still feel myself having nice energy there, so maybe it’s like a second home. And everyone in family comes from different origins and has been to different places too. I think it’s important to find and choose a place to be home by myself. Moving around can bring different perspectives that can make a person complicated but also very interesting. I feel lucky.

  1. How would you describe the art scene in France or in Paris? How do you interact with it?

I don’t really know because I don’t feel very connected with the French art, not that it’s not interesting, but it’s less related to the “questions” I ask with my art. I’ve been participating in the JABAL Art Fair in Beirut for two years. From the art fair, I can feel more connected with the Middle East art because those artists and I are concerned about similar questions, such as war, violence or women’s life. But what is different from other Middle East artists is that I use materials that are more similar to French art. For ideas, I’m more inspired by French writers.

  1. That’s interesting and brings me to another question: How does your art interact with the French contemporary culture?

I always like reading and I think that’s why I studied philosophy. Reading is like endless conversations with the authors. As you read, you always answer and question the writer. Conversations with people are always with certain notions or goals, but with reading, you can always question the writers, which is something very important for me and my art. I work a lot on books. When I read a good book, it always inspires me on my art somehow. I like putting a concept into a form. And I always like questioning more than answering and my art is like questions without words and can make people question themselves while I question myself. There is not any goal. I didn’t choose to do something with words like writing or cinema because words are much more definitive by nature compared to visual art. That’s why I like visual art which is more flexible and open.

I also want to talk to you about a French writer called Olivia Rosenthal that’s really inspiring me. She’s questioning the moral norms and the impacts of the family on her life. Like, she would also speak about how family secrets can influence your life a lot even if you don’t know them. So it’s mainly about the conflict between individual thinking and outside norms in the family system. Then, this is something really well done in the Turkish movie Winter Sleep. This spoke to me a lot because it’s in Turkey and my grandmother is Turkish. In this movie, you can how the family system is working and how in the Middle East, expectations from society can influence almost your every behaviours as a man. This movie is very violent for me because the tension was always kept below the calm surface. This is really in the Middle East culture and is very inspiring to me.

  1. What role does art play in your life?

I can’t say that I’m making art just for myself because I think when you make a form you want it to be seen. I’m making my works differently every time after some feedbacks and observing people’s interactions with my art. I think it’s always a bit political, not in the sense of defending some right, but in the sense that I’m really questioning topics like femininity, family secrets. It’s important to make art for myself for sure, but also to try to make repressed ideas visible to the world. Sometimes I just feel the need to find a good form to express what I feel. It’s very important for me to express all my colours inside me through my works. I have to create a form to get my feelings and questions out of my body so that it exists outside my body and it’s not mine anymore. Maybe it sounds weird… Maybe lots of thoughts come up to me and it’s like I need a place to deposit them, or else it may be too overwhelming. It’s important for my life and my art that at some moments I really concentrate on all my thoughts and questions and other moments I put them away.

  1. As a young artist, have you had some moments of feeling lost? How do you cope with that and find your own way?

I think in my creative life, there are moments when I’m more productive and other moments when I’m not doing anything. At the beginning, I would feel very anxious. I think this is normal and the beginning of the process. When I create something, I have to leave it for a while to let it grow and then get back to it to make it differently. That’s also the research part. As I also work for Le Monde as an illustrator. Illustration is more like an intellectual work because large part of the work is about finding the concept and how to link it with an image, so it’s like a philosophical work but with pencil. It’s also something important for applied art; it’s not just about looking for a good form. I’m trying to experiment with different forms from the same place, so it’s an evolution. Sometimes, it can be stressful when one week I keep working on the same thing, but the next week I don’t like it at all. It’s hard to be always satisfied with everything you do. Well, the way to cope with it is that I try to keep doing it. There is no rush. I just enjoy the process of making art, so I make it. That’s it!

Poline_Harbali_Paris

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

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

frank_stella_ny_5

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

frank_stella_ny_1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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