In: contemporary art
November 15, 2015
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
November 13, 2015
The current display at Four Corners Gallery is the culmination of work by five artists: Marianne Bjornmyr, Maria Kapajeva, Jo Lawrence, Georgia Metaxas and Elisa Noguera Lopez. All were selected to take part in Fathom 2015, a residency in its second funding round, granted via Arts Council England with additional support from the European Regional Development Fund for this final exhibition. The driving force behind the programme is to provide London based film makers and photographers with an opportunity to explore their ideas in an open, practice-based, experimental manner.
The exhibition space itself is fairly modest and fitting all five artists in was clearly a curatorial challenge. I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with Dave Than, Exhibitions and Project Manager, who treated me to a fascinating account of the history and cultural significance of the space which houses (amongst other things): around twenty artists’ studios, a fully functioning photographic studio, the London base for photographer Steven Gill (arguably the photographer of London’s east end) and a fully functioning colour and black & white darkroom. The darkroom itself is shared with the photographic printing service Labyrinth who have just been awarded the Lucie Foundation’s Best Darkroom award – so a massive congratulations to them! Hopefully I am beginning to paint an accurate picture of just how important the work that goes on inside the Four Corners building, which is currently celebrating it’s 40th year, really is.
What became most apparent from my conversation with Dave is the care and support each of the artists in residence receives as a part of the programme, with such a wealth of knowledge and resources available it’s not surprising that there is such diversity in the works on display. At one side of the gallery you have the quietly confident work of Georgia Metaxas who has created bust-portraits of invigilators across London in a classical style, a great homage to those who work in the galleries we visit and endure the painful task of sitting in the same place for hours on end. Then, at the other end of the gallery, you have the work of Jo Lawrence who happened upon Angeles Duran, a Spanish activist who found a loophole in the legality of constellation ownership and claimed the Sun at the centre of our solar system as her own.
Her animation tells Duran’s story in a playful style and is the result of many conversations that took place between the two women. Sandwiched between these are offerings from Marianne Bjornmyr, Maria Kapajeva and Elisa Noguera Lopez. Bjornmyr’s beautiful black and white photograms were created by scattering actual meteor dust across the surface of the paper whilst, opposite the Dogs and Chairs in Lopez’s films and found images explore the notion of animism – the belief that natural phenomena possess souls. Finally, Kapajeva shows a sensitive and tense collection of previously undeveloped photos the artist found that had previously belonged to her Father. These are paired with equally delicate excerpts from the novel ‘If on a winter’s night a traveller’ by Italo Calvino. All of the works require a dedicated amount of time to really get the most out of them – I would highly recommend purchasing the exhibition catalogue to gain and even great understanding of the artists’ background and intentions.
To any budding photographers based in London, do make sure that you keep an eye on the Four Corners website for future photographic residencies as this programme is potentially one of the most exiting in the capital.
Fathom 2015 will run unitl 23rd January 2016 .
November 10, 2015
As I walked into the next gallery at Wolfgang Tillmans’s most recent exhibition at David Zwirner, I kept hearing gasps, whispers and hushed comments. As I turned the corner, I saw why immediately. A large-scale photographic print showing the close up of a man’s hairy ass and scrotum greets visitors as they enter one of the largest galleries within David Zwirner’s West 19th Street gallery. “Is this supposed to be art?” a woman next to me, evidently perturbed, mumbled curtly to her friend under breath.
To some Tillmans’s work may seem unsophisticated, crude, and ordinary. Some say there’s no point–it’s just a bunch of photos that anyone could have on their iphone or in a family album. To say make these comments is not to truly see the work, to not take enough time to look at his images and allow yourself to feel an emotional response. For this is what Tillmans’s work is all about—a personal, intimate and emotional connection to something or someone within the realm of the everyday.
A German photographer and artist, Tillmans has made quite the impact in the contemporary photography world. His career gained a high level of prominence in the 1990’s with its new approaches to subjectivity, pairing intimacy and playfulness with social critique, and the persistent questioning of existing values and hierarchies.
This latest exhibition, which closed on October 24th in New York, titled PCR (polymerase chain reaction) presented a diverse array of subjects and photographic styles. The prints are displayed haphazardly around the galleries; some are hung so low that you have to bend over and crouch to see them whereas others are stuck high up so you have to crane your neck back. It’s different, but makes you physically interact with the space, most likely what Tillmans hoped for as he designed the layout.
Everything and anything was on display; from mundane yet carefully arranged still lifes of fruit, to beautiful nature landscapes, to snapshots of protests from around the world, to dark and smoky club scenes, to intimate portraits of couples or families, to night shots of Los Angeles traffic intersections.
The arbitrary nature of these images is frustrating at first—what are we even looking at? Do any of these things even matter? Where is the artistic revelation…perhaps under that heaping pile of laundry (which every single person in the gallery has dreadfully waiting at home) that he decided to point his camera at and transform it into a print priced in the thousands?
The beauty of Tillmans’s work is that he humbly brings us back to reality. Everything around me seems familiar, like I’ve experienced or seen something similar to it before. It is comforting in a way that many contemporary shows strive not to be. Instead of shocking or irritating us with nonsensical, perverse, or ridiculous manifestations of “the limitlessness of art” Tillmans gives us a much needed breather from the weirdness of contemporary art. The images on display at David Zwirner are the in-between moments. They are reminders us of the small, seemingly insignificant details of our daily lives, which we so desperately try to ignore or transform into something fabulous and “likable.”
His next show will be opening at the end of November in the Gallery of Contemporary Art and Architecture at the České Budějovice House of Art in the Czech Republic. After that his next show will open in December at the Hasselblad Center, Göteborgs Konstmuseum in Gothenburg, Sweden.
November 7, 2015
The first part of an ongoing exhibition which will see contributions from artists, philosophers and neuroscientists, is Ann Veronica Janssens’ sublime vapour filled room. The title yellowbluepink describes the spectrum of colours beautifully limiting the perceptions of those entering. At first, this feels slightly unnerving, the colour leaves you blind to the world in front of you and those entering the space can be seen with arms tentatively outstretched, nervously trying to avoid the other bodies that they can hear but not yet see.
Once the initial sensory shock has abated, you are able to travel seamlessly through the hues of the space, and of course the setting is incredible for taking a never ending amount of yellow, pink and blue tinted selfies.
As well as the colours interrupting and dominating the typical conscious experience, the people sharing the space ebb and flow from each others visibility. It is entirely possible that my experience of the space was directly affected by the fact that I seemed to be the only person in there alone, but the blanket of vapour clouding my vision had a definite feeling of alienation. There was what felt like an obstacle of colour between me and everyone else, realised through my perception of my immediate surroundings. I was aware of not only how this installation was affecting my visible world, but after a while, I began to analyse my entire position within the world at large.
The installation is running until January 3rd and full details of the installation can be found here.
October 23, 2015
Less than a week after Frieze Art Fair in London, gallerists, collectors and art-lovers in the art world take only a short breath and then gather around another important international contemporary art fair, FIAC, in Paris. Under the natural light coming through the exquisite glass roof of Grand Palais, the 42nd edition of FIAC has gathered 175 exhibitors from 23 countries. Here is a quick guide for some galleries to watch out for!
1. Neugerriemschneider (0.A30)
Directly facing the main entrance, this gallery from Berlin has proudly put up a large piece to match its honourable location. Overdose by Michel Majerus consists of 15 panels and forms a painting as well as an installation. Woody, the easily recognisable cowboy character from <<Toy Story>>, together with other colourful ads and brands, immediately gives visitors a familiar feeling as they set foot in the fair.
2. Galerie Chantal Crousel (0.A32)
The gallery is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year and is showcasing artists including Danh Vō, Haegue Yang and Heimo Zobernig. The spotlight is on Melik Ohanian, the winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize this year with his Portrait of Duration. Every year the Marcel Duchamp Prize selects a French artist or an artist residing in France in the field of the plastic and visual arts. Don’t forget to check out this prize-winning artwork at the far end of the exhibition hall.
3. Andrea Rosen Gallery (0.A40)
The three sections inside the gallery booth presenting different artists sit well with one another. Among those artists presented, David Altmejd is undoubtedly my favourite and whose solo exhibition was in place in the modern art museum of Paris (Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris) earlier this year. His gestural plaster works have always been his signature while the shattered mirror this time has caught much photographic attention.
4. Luciana Brito Galeria (0.A47)
I was intrigued by the installation work But a Melon for Ecstasy by Héctor Zamora, a Mexican artist who lives and works in São Paulo, Brazil. According to the gallerist, the watermelon on a bike refers to a Brazilian movie from the 1970s about a watermelon fetish. The watermelon denotes a secret sense of desire and loneliness.
5. Galerie Pietro Sparta (0.A50)
The sculpture consisting of shells and plates by French artist, Jean-Luc Mouléne is wisely juxtaposed in front of the installation by Mario Merz. It creates a dialogue between the two artworks, both emphasising the material and metaphorical qualities of natural objects.
6. 303 Gallery (0.B22)
Several conversations engaging various artists are happening in this booth. A silvery installation by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster is placed below a painting by Karen Kilimnik in a smaller confinement while a glass sphere is superimposed in front of blue Breathing Watercolours (Wallpaper) by the same artist, Jeppe Hein. My favourite piece is Moot Matter by Alicja Kwade –sitting on the ground subtly collecting everything from its surrounding onto its reflective surface.
7. Kamel Mennour (0.B32)
The gallery has very diverse displays to offer, mixing rising and established artists, from sculpture by Alicja Kwade to Anish Kapoor, from Michel François to Daniel Buren. The most eye-catching was the sculpture by Huang Yong Ping which resembles a deer divided into two with a bow in the middle.
8. Karsten Greve(0.B34)
The gallery has put up several works by well-known French artist, Louise Bourgeois, alongside Claire Morgan, a London-based artist of contemporary sculpture and installation art. Artworks by both artists caught equal attention and are all amazing, especially the light and soft sculpture by Morgan using grains as shown in the picture.
9. Lisson Gallery (0.B40)
There is an installation work of fluorescent light called Paris Sky by Spencer Finch, probably especially chosen to match FIAC’s setting in Paris. Anish Kapoor‘s In-between, a sculptural installation with sexual undertone, retreated at a corner of the booth but still caught a great deal of attention, even with a security guard solely dedicated to it.
10. Galerie Nagel Draxler (0.B53)
The French-Algerian artist, Kader Attia‘s sculpture, Culture, Another Nature Repaired is reflected in another piece, Repaired Broken Mirror #11 by the same artist. “In the mended mirrors, the visitor will see his own face as if scarred by the metal wire,” the artist once said. With the wooden sculpture, Attia has transformed faces of mutilated war victims into a new depiction of human existence under interacting influences of African-Arabian and Western cultures.
11. Hauser & Wirth (0.C33)
The stand paid tribute to the attacks to the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo which happened earlier this year in the city. There are works with themes on freedom of speech and expression, such as Tienanmen (Students) by Fabio Mauri, being displayed around a stack of Charlie Hebdo issues.
12. Galeria Plan B (1.J28)
Let’s then turn to a booth on the first floor with a more playful selection. There is a work by Navid Nuur that requires you to take a flash photo so as to truly see it. On the other side of the booth, clementine skins are displayed as Pattern for a Sphere, accompanied by a kind of recipe that teaches you to make similar artworks, possibly with oranges, mandarins or grapefruits as suggested by the artist, Miklos Onucsan.
If you are in Paris for FIAC, don’t forget to check out the programme “Hors Les Murs” by FIAC — exhibiting outdoor installations scattered at various spots along the Seine, with the beauty of the City of Light as backdrops.
October 19, 2015
Last week it was London’s annual Frieze week. This meant a week of hectic art fever in the capital. Not only did two gigantic white tents – as well as a sculpture garden – take over Regent’s park, but all over London galleries and museums organised events to coincide with Europe’s most exciting commercial art fair and ride the wave of all-round Frieze-mania. Besides openings, artist performances, talks, huge auction sales and ‘art marathons’ (see the Serpentine’s ‘Transformation Marathon’ that occurred past Saturday), there was also the occasional alternative art fair. One such fair is SUNDAY.
Set up as a low-key, low-budget satellite site to Frieze in Regent’s park – a 10 min walk away – SUNDAY has a reputation as the cooler addition to the frenzied art fair week. Staged in Ambika P3’s subterranean space on Marylebone Road, the fair attracts its visitors and evokes their intrigue with a few hundred playful, funky, experimental artworks in a wide range of media as presented by a set of relatively unknown, young, up-and-coming galleries from Europe and North America.
SUNDAY is difficult to compare directly with the big money, big business violence of Frieze, happening just down the road. Upon arrival you were led – instead of past glamorous VIP booths and expensive-ticket queues toward security-manned gates – through a windy outdoor corridor of what felt like an industrial carpark, with unassuming white A4’s pointing the way towards free entry to the fair. The obscurity of this slightly mystifying walk was resolved as the fair’s entrance opened up onto an indoor balcony from which visitors had a direct overview of most of its interior, a set of metalwork stairs leading down into the large, open-plan main room.
October 18, 2015
Scale can make all the difference in a serious collection of figurative portraits or studies, a scale that mimics life size gives figures a type of solid monumentality that invites them into the viewer’s space. For centuries this life size figurative scale was reserved for portraits of kings, gods and mythic personages, here at Sargent’s Daughters on 179 East Broadway in New York, Jordan Casteel uses it as a tactic for humanization. In her exhibition of large scale oil paintings, most around 5 by 6 feet, titled Brothers, Casteel brings before the viewer the faces and forms of African American men, inhabiting the unique environments, really interior spaces, to which they belong. Walking through the gallery, you could see that the diverse crowd present at the opening, faced each painting as if it was an encounter with a familiar friend or new acquaintance. The textured application of paint in works like Crockett Brothers and Ashamole Brothers, renders the surfaces and interiors with an impasto that makes them tangible and felt. Within Three Lions this becomes evident as intimate scene links with figural interrelation, expression and gesture.
Jordan Casteel at Sargent's Daughters
Considering each piece, one must step back and meet the gaze of the figures portrayed, take the time to consider them first as individuals then as intricately linked, as family, as brothers, overall part of a community. The figures are portrayed with key objects that represent their passions and interests: the young Crockett brother dexterously grips his saxophone and the Ashamole brothers balance a basketball between them. First by intuition, then by reflection it becomes clear that Casteel is deploying crucial and timely tactics of humanization, we are allowed into these intimate spaces in order to point up a positive type of visibility that complicates black male subjective. For Casteel concerns herself directly with a contemporary post-Ferguson reality, wherein civil rights struggle is back at the fore and black males have become highly visible within media and news, reduced to being antagonists or victims. When social progress comes under fire, it is art’s job to intervene and create a space for reflection: this exhibit, these paintings, are Casteel’s intervention…
A most necessary one.
October 16, 2015
Every October, the Frieze Art Fair attracts crowds of collectors and art-lovers from abroad and paint exciting events and exhibitions on canvas of art scene in London. It is certainly an exciting experience to go visit Frieze London, one of the most important contemporary art fairs nowadays. The 13th edition of this international art fair features 164 galleries from 27 countries. This personal selection attempts to provide you with a glimpse of the fair and help you feel the vibe surrounding Frieze.
- Galerie Eigen + Art (A12)
The installation made of cardboard, acrylic paint and wood by Birgit Brenner looks subtle but intriguing. The artist takes ideas from the banalities of daily life which is then expressed by using collage of raw materials such as brown cardboard, tape, staples and markers. They resemble pieces and parts of information that randomly coincide, overlap or complement each other in our current human existence dominated by means of modern technology and information. The gallery also exhibits works by conceptual artist, Olaf Nicolai who explores the relationship of idea to image or idea to object.
- Galerie Perrotin (A16)
This well-established French gallery is gathering fascinating works by various artists, including poetic minimalist series of Meditation by Korean artist, Chang-Sup Chung and Studies into the Past by French artist, Laurent Grasso, who recreates human and natural phenomena set in surreal time and space. The most eye-catching piece is Cierra, the superrealist sculpture of a nude woman posed like a muse for classical painting, by John de Andrea. You do feel you are staring at a nude lady so close and right in front of you. I like Ivan Argote’s see?, it’s true which examines propaganda in the history of several countries.
- Pace (B6)
The gallery has put up a new installation by Adam Pendleton alongside works by a group of artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Sol LeWitt, Lee Ufan and Wang Guangle. Pendleton’s work is now in place in the Belgian pavilion of Venice Biennale. I was mainly attracted by the rarely seen Salvage works of Robert Rauschenberg, which will offer an historical precedent for Pendleton’s silkscreen work according to the gallery.
- Gagosian Gallery (C3)
There is solo show of the artist Glenn Brown, whose drawings are the focus this time. Through lines, shadings and strokes, Brown revisits the tradition of copying the historical subjects as a learning process while the effects of gesture are emphasised. The artist is known for the use of appropriation that he would work on other artists’ works by changing colours, forms, or texture in the case of sculptures.
- White Cube (D4)
Here you can see works by big names, such as Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Mona Hatoum. The gallery was a pioneer in exhibiting works by Young British Artists (YBAs). I was quite attracted by the mirrored sculpture Puzzle by Liu Wei, a Chinese artist who often uses unexpected materials in surprising configurations. Its mirrored surface interacts with fair-goers and other artworks displayed at the booth.
- Galerie Buchholz (D8)
The inflatable Felix cat by Turner Prize winner Mark Leckey at the Galerie Buchholz booth is the largest artwork exhibited inside the white tent, and is reported to be sold early on the first day of the fair. On the other hand, I was rather intrigued by Wolfgang Tillmans’s realist and intimate photograph of Arms and Legs (2014).
The London-based gallery was awarded the Stand Prize at Frieze London 2015 for its two-artist presentation, praised by the jury on the ‘impact’ of the stand which instigate ‘intellectual and formal dialogue between the two artists.’ The sculptural installation by Yngve Holen made with washing machines, model airplanes and plexiglass was playful and attention-seeking. When it is surrounded by pixelated Rothko paintings by Mark Flood, the visual effects are elevated and make the stand difficult to be avoided by almost every fair-goer.
- The Modern Institute (E5)
The 23 Granny Smith apples hung with transparent strings lining in a v-shaped form immediately drew me into the booth of The Modern Institute from Glasglow. With this artwork, Urs Fischer makes use of found objects –real apples, and the v-shaped line looks like the trajectory of an apple falling and bouncing back on the ground. It is in dialogue with the installation at the back of the booth by Martin Boyce who likes to explore modernist design and how time affects our understanding of design objects.
This is a visually fascinating booth guaranteed by works of Olafur Eliasson including Panetary Lovers (2015) and Polychromatic attention (2015). The 24 partially chromed crystal spheres have attracted many smartphones and cameras for photo-taking. Draped Marble (2015) by Analia Saban, which examines the inherent quality of the material, was minimalist, finely made and neatly presented.
- P.P.O.W. (G2)
Always adoring blue and white china, I was truly enchanted by Ann Agee’s porcelain and stoneware installation, Lake Michigan Bathroom (2014), a re-creation of her original work from 1992. Agee often uplifts utilitarian objects to the level of artwork while seeking to replicate and mimic pre-existing forms. With this piece, she replicated industrial china by hand as porcelain and stoneware, in a way to examine reproduced objects’ position in culture.
Last advice for the fair includes: i) going to the sculpture park before entering the white tent of the fair because it gets too dark for appreciating sculptures outdoor after 6pm if you only go after all the booths; ii) do not miss out some “Live” sessions or “Projects” scattered around the venue, such as Misako & Rosen’s Portrait Session (2015) by Ken Kagami, fun guaranteed.
If you have also been to the Frieze Art Fair already, what are YOUR picks? Leave a comment to exchange ideas!
October 3, 2015
This new exhibition of JR, “DECADE, Portrait d’une generation” (Portrait of a generation) at Galerie Perrotin in Paris comprises the artist’s work of the past ten years, presenting his videos, ink on wood pieces and recent photographs. “DECADE” in the title does not only signify a period of JR’s artistic practice, but also marks the passing of ten years since the most significant social uprising in contemporary France, which is exactly the subject of the artworks displayed this time.
The exhibition starts with an installation consisting of video projections on three sides of the room and their reflections on the floor. You are put in the scene of the riots of 2005 in Clichy-Montfermeil in the suburbs of Paris, where JR first ever created large-format works in his career just one year prior to the riots.
For people who might have seen some of JR’s works before, large faces pasted on nice architecture is not something surprising. However, when huge faces are shown on damaged housing blocks which were soon to be demolished, it exemplifies the effect of the image –it feels that both the buildings and the people were yelling with strong emotions, if not painfully.
The most impressive piece in the exhibition is a video which filmed a ballet dance reiterating the social uprising from the past of the neighborhood in a delicate and aesthetic way, probably contrasting the disturbances and violence of the original event. It provides a visual link to JR’s documentary work in that territory in various stages during the past decade.
The poetic series of Ballet Diary created with ink on small-format wood panels were displayed in the gallery in a grid composition, echoing photographs of ballet corps posing in containers. As usual, JR’s works are rooted in reality while defeating existing boundaries, and are powerful in linking art and life together. This exhibition firmly stems from the artist’s acute understanding of his generation.
September 18, 2015
Walk down a side street off of Bedford Ave, S 3rd street to be exact, and you will stumble across a door along an otherwise plain and fairly common strip, no restaurants or bars just some apartments maybe a laundromat. But behind this door, conspicuously carrying the label of “spectacle,” and covered over in stickers and graphic posters lies the absolute pinnacle of bizarre, sophisticated, subversive and endlessly sub-cultural, independent-art-house-film experience. Their films always range from the absolutely socio-culturally significant to the bizarre and fascinating, one can see on any given day a wild Kung-Fu movie marathon or stunningly poignant, experimental short films from director Ngozi Onwurah. Spectacle is an absolute diamond in the rough, it consists of one theater, a small intimate space where one walks in to directly confront the singular ticket salesperson, who is also, always, an expert and authority on the films that you are about to watch. One then peels back a curtain and is placed directly in the seating area facing the screen. A complete experience, watching a film at Spectacle effectively breaks you away from the routine malaise and isolation, which larger corporate theaters and films create.
Here at Spectacle, I had the privilege of viewing a distinctively rare and thought provoking collection of animated shorts titled Head Space, what the theater has rightfully dubbed an “animated showcase.” The stylistic range and even the various mediums used by the artists created a depth and breadth that left one dizzy with a curious combination of mirth and introspection. Versatile animators like Leah Shore, used the a full media range within her animated short Meat Waffle, this was a meta-narrative that divided segment through the use of clay-mation, stop-animation, black and white ink drawings and full color animation. This was certainly a powerful piece, the central character through which the other various narratives were launched was an elderly flesh pile surrounded by his tight living room confines.
In a strange voyeuristic play that hints at the possible joys of sinking into a vision filled dementia, the character could call upon surfaces, TV tables, books, the arm of his chair, to spontaneously produce narrative scenes that would jump to life, as if every surface had the potential to become a digital screen. These were all intimate scenes that reflected on our vanities, insecurities and the paranoia that accompanies an interaction with others, always wondering: how do they view and what are their impressions of me? In an interesting twist at each scenes end, we return to our voyeur to find that the vision has affected him corporeally, as he takes the vanities and insecurities onto his person. Further, there is a truly impressive list of artists here, others include Wend Congzhao, Amy Lockheart, Lisa Crafts and an old classic from the late 70’s: Sally Cruikshank’s Make Me Psychic, 1978.
Congzhao with her animated feature Rocks in My Pockets, presents an extremely bare, simplistic dream space, a white washed world where forms are delineated through minimalist contour lines. The figures move in strange repeating motions as if manifestations of psychic trauma, torment and anxiety, accompanied by a soundtrack that captures burbling dripping percussive rhythms: a jarring, destabilizing and genius execution. In combination with the entire list of amazing artists featured, over 10 different artists with their own unique perspectives and approach to the art of animation, this work leaves deep impression on the viewer. Also worth noting, this is a fairly comprehensive list of innovative women animators that all contribute immensely to their chosen artistic discipline and form a direct challenge to the boys club of established animation crews, such as Disney’s Pixar animations crew.
Go out and support Spectacle and see this fantastic collection, Head Space will only be on view for so long but the theater continues to show the greatest independent film selection around at a far lesser price than established art-houses like IFC.