Louise O’Kelly found Block Universe London, the performance art festival, four years ago.
Coming from the art background, Louise discovered her interest towards performance art while working in a gallery that represented the estates of many performance artists from the 60’s and 70’s. She then continued to study Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmiths and focused her research on performance and memory studies.
We talked about how Louise came up with the idea for Block Universe, how she accepted the challenges, backed the venture and became a successful female entrepreneur in the art industry.
ABOUT BLOCK UNIVERSE
Hi, Louise! It’s so nice to meet you. Tell me about how you came up with an idea for Block Universe.
Hi, Daria! Block Universe was born out of a desire to support artists who work with performance and to create a platform to promote this medium. As someone who loved going to see this type of work, I was conscious that it was primarily being programmed in galleries and museums as either a form of entertainment at the opening of an exhibition, or as part of the public programme in response to the main show. Rarely, if ever, it was being given space in its own right. I felt it was important that this new generation of artists working with the performance was acknowledged and that space was created where performance was the focus, even if that was just for one week in the year.
How did you back your idea?
We still work with very tight budgets, but the first year was on a complete shoestring. We put in a successful bid to Arts Council England and called in as many favors as we could to make it all happen. I and two friends – Nicky van Breugel and Xica Aires – put in many late nights to pull it together. I knew that many artists received little or no pay for their performances and that they were often under-resourced, so my goal was to ensure that the artists were fairly paid and received appropriate support. To supplement what we had already raised, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to secure fees and costs towards the productions.
Why performance art?
To me, artists working with performance are making some of the most exciting work in the contemporary art field today. I see a new generation of artists creating work that is genuinely interdisciplinary and approaches live experience from a different perspective than previous generations of performance artists.
Having that element of live bodies moving, speaking, feeling, and sharing the same space as you create an intangible quality and an immediacy that I find compelling.
How do you find new artists?
I spend a lot of time researching, seeing shows and getting to know an artist’s practice as well as following recommendations. The internet is, of course, an incredibly useful tool, but doesn’t compare with seeing something live. There is no submission process, the selection of artist is lead instead by mine and my colleague’s research.
Why did you decide to have a pop-up structure, rather than a specific location?
I feel it’s important to look at the different contexts in which performance is presented and experienced, and how this alters audience expectations or adds another layer to the conception of the work. That shift between a white cube to a black box, a historical museum or space, which is none of those things, becomes a useful tool to think about where performance sits within traditional gallery models in the visual arts world, or how it operates within traditional theatre confines.
What was the theme for this year’s fourth edition?
The theme this year is looking at ways of being together in the world, whether that is on a communal or societal level, or in our intimate, personal relationships. It felt necessary to think about how we can exist together in an era of very divisive and discriminatory politics in the UK, including the looming specter of Brexit. On a one-to-one basis, these power structures play out in our relationships also, so many of the works in the festival this year also look at the politics of love and sex. For example, on the 31st May at Senate House, we have Australian artist Giselle Stanborough looking at the techno-capitalization of our love lives in a 4-hour durational lecture-performance that is kind of like a tongue-in-cheek, ramped up version of a TED talk.
What have you learned since the first edition of Block Universe?
So, so much. We all just threw ourselves into it, and I can see how passion and determination make so much in the world possible if you believe in what you’re doing.
ABOUT BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR IN THE ARTS
What do you think are new trends in the arts startup/entrepreneurial hub?
I think there is a lot of potential to look at ways of engaging with time-based work using new media, such as video and digital works. Suitable examples of re-thinking how we experience these or how one collects these type of works are organizations such as Opening Times or Daata Editions. There is indeed plenty of potential for disrupting current models of buying and selling artworks online, although so much of the art world is based on relationships that it may require generational shifts for that to evolve in the long-term.
Do you think it’s harder to find financing for a startup in the art world, rather than in any other industry?
I do think it’s a real challenge. Philanthropy for the arts does not exist in the same way in the UK as it does in the US. Government funding to the arts is continually cut, even though it provides a very significant return on investment to the economy. As a performance festival, we can offer a ‘return on investment’ regarding experience, but not necessarily a monetary one in the same way an investor would hope for from a tech startup.
Is there a high potential then for disruption by new entrepreneurial ideas in the art market?
Having contributed something new to London’s cultural landscape, it made me realize that there is still plenty of space to introduce new ideas and ways of operating within London and the art world more widely. I feel that it’s a space that welcomes innovation, and there is plenty of scopes to shift or disrupt existing models within the arts, on either commercial or non-profit levels, though of course, these things take time and shifts are often subtle.
Tell me about your personal experiences as a female entrepreneur in the arts. What have been your challenges, findings, revelations?
It’s nice to be referred to as an entrepreneur, as that entrepreneurial mindset feels relevant to what it takes to launch a new organization and idea into the world as I have done with Block Universe. I’m acutely aware of the imbalance of power structures and how this negatively impacts upon women, but I can’t say that I can identify any particular challenges or revelations that relate to my being female in my experience of setting up Block Universe. I feel that every challenge I have encountered throughout the process has been a positive process to learn from, and relates more to the fact of me realizing my vision in the world than it does to my experience of being a woman.
What’re your plans for both Block Universe and beyond?
Next year is our 5th year, so we’re already looking ahead to this special anniversary! We’re planning more events throughout the year in the run-up to our next edition. And beyond that… you’ll just have to watch this space!
Learn more about BLOCK UNIVERSE on its official website
Artist Alexa Meade is a painter who does not use a canvas.
Her artistic practice hovers somewhere between painting, installation, and performance art. She paints directly onto the bodies of her live models, using loose brushstrokes to collapse the appearance of depth and make her subjects appear two-dimensional. She then photographs her models, and the still images visually resemble paintings on canvas.
Trompe l’oeil is an artistic technique that artists have been using for centuries to trick the eye into believing that a two-dimensional image looks as real as a three-dimensional one by creating extremely detailed, hyper-realistic depictions of objects. Meade takes the concept of trompe l’oeil and turns it on its head. Once painted, that which is three-dimensional looks as if it was created on a two-dimensional surface. She paints her subjects and their surroundings with heavy, large brushstrokes, which creates an optical illusion that collapses any sense of depth.
Meade is entirely self-taught; as she ruminates on in her TEDx talk “Your body is my canvas,” after earning her degree in political science from Vassar College she made a career path U-turn and ended up teaching herself how to paint in her parent’s basement. At first, she used her own body as her canvas, creating a series of self-portrait photographs of herself covered in angular paint strokes.
These initial works of art were only documented and circulated as photographs. In the past year, the Los Angeles-based artist has broken out of that format and created more interactive works that have appeared at Art Paris Art Fair, Boom Basel in Miami, and the United Nations in New York City. These “Living Paintings” are created on temporary sets in public spaces, where viewers can see Meade painting the model, and then see the finished product. She has had live models pose in gallery settings and has even done a live painting session in the streets of Tokyo as a promotional event for Mini Cooper in 2013.
Meade’s performance art-style displays ride the same wave of Instagram-able art that Pipilotti Rist’s Pixel Forest & Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. This is probably because you can photograph her work from any angle and the illusion still holds up. Her immersive, painted environments simulate the act of walking into a painting. And in some cases, it is her models walk out of their paintings. Her latest collaboration with hip hop dancer Jon Boogz in “The Color of Reality” has the two central dancers move out of their painted space onto the street.
Alexa Meade wants her audiences “to find the strange in the familiar… to look beyond what’s already been brought to light, and to see that there can always be more than meets the eye.”
Located at PIER 90 on Manhattan’s Westside, the 10th anniversary of VOLTA NY, the signature solo-focus artist show of the Armory Arts Week, featured a plethora of beautiful and thought-provoking works by artists from 39 nations that collectors and art enthusiasts alike were able to enjoy. Yet, of the 96 Galleries and artist-run spaces presenting this year, perhaps the most poignant, politically-oriented works were found in the show’s thematic Curated Section.
The timeliness of the artworks presented was undeniable, with their subject matter feeling ripped from today’s newspaper headlines. Beginning with a video wall at the entrance of Volta, the Curated Section, titled Your Body Is a Battleground, was aptly found at the heart of the show. Its deviser, New York-based writer and independent curator Wendy Vogel, drew inspiration from Barbara Kruger’s photomontage Untitled (Your Body Is a Battleground), produced for the 1989 Women’s March on Washington. “After the enormous turnout for the recent international Women’s Marches, Kruger’s work reads as a vital precedent for art that protests the erosion of civil rights,” said Vogel. “Though these artists’ works are a generation removed from Kruger’s, they continue her legacy of examining media and representation.”
Taking an intersectional feminist approach, Vogel selected eight artists from across North America and the Caribbean whose works explore, through various corporal representations, the treatment and controversy around Queer Bodies, Black Bodies, Latinx Bodies, and Women’s Bodies. “I was thinking about all the types of bodies that are in danger under the current political circumstances that we are living through”, stated the curator.
This is unsurprising as Vogel conceived the show last November shortly after the U.S. Presidential election. However, in a refreshing twist, not a single image of President Trump was presented —an intentional choice—, because “all of this work has staying power, and it’s political without feeling so tied to one particular moment in time.”
With that said, much of the artwork showcased was created specifically for Volta. With most of her work out of the country, Melissa Vandenberg’s burn drawings, presented by Maus Contemporary | beta pictoris gallery, were made just eight weeks before the exhibition. Integrating text into the images created with matches, an outline of America with the phrase “Wish You Were Here” has an intentionally camp sensibility, while the use of matches add greater symbolic meaning, linking the work to Wiccan cleansing rituals and cremation. Vandenberg said:“A lot of the work has to do with mortality and loss, whether it is our innocence as a nation or personal, intimate loss.”
In contrast to these typographic images, Nona Faustine’s striking photography was perhaps the most literally corporeal of the Section. Presented by Baxter St Camera Club of New York, many of the photographs depicted the artist partially or fully nude at historical sites where slaves lived, died, or were buried. In the photograph “Lobbying the Gods for A Miracle,” part of a Triptych from 2016, she embodies an escaping slave from the Lefferts House. Smoking gun in hand, children’s shoes around her waist, she presses her back against a tree in the woods anticipating her captors. The woods where she hides are the same that Americans fought in during the Revolutionary War, reflecting the complex relationship of being black in America. “My work is autobiographical; it’s more about how I feel in relationship to the history as a native New Yorker and as an African American,” said Faustine.
With the Trans Rights Movement and the Dakota Access Pipeline in the background, Kent Monkman’s work takes on an additional level of intensity; Monkman is of Cree and Irish ancestry and identifies as both queer and two-spirit. His paintings, presented by Peters Projects, re-appropriate the narratives around indigenous people by utilizing the Western European tradition of historical paintings to poke subversive fun at romanticized depictions of Native Americans and colonialism. Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s drag alter ego, also made an appearance at Volta in the collage series “Fate is a Cruel Mistress” (2017), in which she transforms into Biblical temptresses. In the portrait Judith you see Miss Chief in a headdress looking out determinedly before she beheads an inebriated Holofernes, depicted as a white colonial man —a clear victory.
The idea of temptresses and fantasy women was also taken on by Joiri Minaya, presented by Casa Quien. Her work #dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016) features pixelated depictions of dismembered female limbs floating in space, a commentary on the exoticized representations of Dominican women. The piece alone is intriguing, but its message is strengthened by Siboney, a performance in two parts, displayed on the video wall. In her latter work, Minaya documents the painstaking process of copying a found tropical pattern into a mural (around a month of work). She then lies seductively before the floral wall and pours water over her form before rubbing herself against the mural, effacing and transforming the piece simultaneously. Intercut with words like “Islander,” the performance challenges the viewer’s vision of an idealized land and people.
Through thoughtful analysis and exploration of the human form, Your Body Is a Battleground offered an introduction into several hot-topic issues without sacrificing aesthetics or relying exclusively on shock value. Yet, even though subject matter varies, when combined the artworks revealed a unified front against oppressors.
Other artists included in Your Body Is a Battleground were Zachary Fabri (ROCKELMANN & in collaboration with Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art), Deborah Roberts (Art Palace), Sable Elyse Smith (The Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts), Carmen Winant (Fortnight Institute), Chelsea Knight and Autumn Knight.
Volta NY 2017 took place at Pier 90 (W 50th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Manhattan) from march 1st through March 5th, 2017.
March 26, 2017
On March 3, 2017, Turner Prize-winning photographer (and since 2013, Royal Academician) Wolfgang Tillmans live-premiered his sound, light and musical composition, “Fragile: Wolfgang Tillmans, Tim Knapp, and Jay Pluck,” in the South Tank gallery at London’s Tate Modern. Though this performance was billed online by the Tate as an “open-form music installation” that is “part rehearsal, part performance,” this reviewer experienced the event as more of a hybrid, twenty-first-century happening/sound installation composed of: light, sound, slide projection, video, spectator participation, spoken word, poetry, and original music –all of which were interlaced with political and social commentary relating to current global issues. “Fragile” —a reference to Tillmans’ alter ego— was as an immersive, full-body, and multi-sensory aesthetic and political experience that complemented, and extended, Tillmans’ parallel exhibition of photographs, video, musical, and other works, now also on view (until June 11, 2017) in the Boiler House at the Tate Modern.
“Fragile” comprises a diverse variety of audio-visual media, including originally-composed, pre-recorded dance club music (perhaps a nod to the Berghain club in Berlin), audio field recordings (e.g., the voice of a Sainsbury’s self-checkout counter, and sounds of a Berlin subway train), a lightshow, dance videos, and photography projected onto the walls of the large, cylindrical space of the South Tank. Just prior to the artists’ appearance on stage, a rainbow-coloured light sculpture appeared in the near-dark space, the individual lights of which began to rotate and bathe the audience, and interior walls of the usually grey, concrete walls of the South Tank, in jewel-tones of light. The rainbow light sculpture seemed to symbolise both the identity of the artist, and that of the LGBTQ community, and Tillmans effectively used it to define the exhibition space as a queer, safe place for collective reflection, political consciousness-raising, and action.
The full performance of “Fragile” (lasting 100 minutes) featured alternately-played, live and pre-recorded multi-media segments, ranging in length from approximately thirty seconds to ten minutes. Many of the live pieces were performed by Tillmans himself, who —in a departure from his still photography in which he rarely depicts his own image— began to tentatively, and intermittently, occupy center stage. Tillmans’ pieces mixed poetry and song to express his concerns about human rights and other global political, social, and environmental crises.
During the performance, Tillmans was accompanied by deep bass, techno, and house-inspired music played by his bandmates, Tim Knapp and Jay Pluck, as he sang texts, such as:
“Come out, speak out, for your life and for your rights!”
“Because it happened before, it can’t happen again.”
“Twenty-five years ago, I could never have thought that this could have happened.”
“His son had recently been angered by seeing two men kissing.”
For this reviewer, “Fragile” seemed to articulate several themes of crucial importance to the artist. One of these was the concept of community, which Tillmans created through his all-welcome, free-of-charge admissions policy, and his use of the round, inclusive gallery space of the Tate Modern’s South Tank. A second important theme was LGBTQ and human rights, which Tillmans rightly interprets as subject to massive attack in our contemporary society. Lastly, the performance appeared to have an aesthetic purpose as well, namely to “blur the border between still and motion pictures” —a feat Tillmans successfully accomplished in both his live performance of “Fragile,” and his parallel exhibition at Tate Modern.
Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is on view at Tate Modern until 11 June 2017.
December 2, 2016
A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine art museum. The exhibit was drawn from the Charlotte Moorman Archive housed at Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. With more than 300 items on view, ranging from film clips, performance props, musical scores, photographs, audio recordings, and vintage posters, this marks the first major exhibition devoted to a groundbreaking, yet under-recognized figure in the post-war avant-garde.
Along with works by Moorman, the exhibition includes pieces by some of her frequent collaborators, including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, John Cage, Takehisa Kosugi, Jim McWilliams, Joseph Beuys, and Giuseppe Chiari, many of whom created works for Moorman to perform. While she is often remembered as Paik’s muse, Moorman -or the “topless cellist,” as she was known- was dedicated to both performing and promoting the innovative work she and her colleagues would create. Moorman later remarked: “With all of my formal training at Juilliard, I feel I know the rules. That’s something that is very important if you are going to break them.”
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1933, Moorman began her career as a classically trained musician. After earning an MA in music from the University of Texas at Austin, she moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music while building a career as a freelance classical musician. After attending a concert by fellow Juilliard student Kenji Kobayashi in spring 1961, in which Kobayashi played Cage’s 26’1.1499″ for a String Player –a “non-musical” score with sounds of the performer’s choosing-, Moorman began to shift focus. Kobayashi introduced Moorman to the downtown avant-garde arts scene, where composer La Monte Young, artist Yoko Ono, choreographer Simone Forti, and others were experimenting with new interdisciplinary art forms.
Moorman went on to organize fifteen avant-garde festivals from 1963 to 1980 (which are also documented in the show), where she was able to cultivate a strong community of hundreds of artists, filmmakers, dancers, poets, musicians, and festival goers who wanted freedom from the constraints of concert halls, galleries, and museums. Over the years, these festivals migrated from traditional performance venues to public spaces, setting a precedent for future large scale multimedia festivals of this kind.
A typical performance could include playing a cello made from a practice bomb (i.e. non-explosive), frying an egg or mushrooms, drinking Coke, letting air out of a balloon, breaking glass, or reading passages ranging from a newspaper article on the Watergate scandal to instructions on a box of tampons. Combining classical training with pop culture, Moorman once pointed out: “I don’t feel that I’m destroying any tradition. I feel that I’m creating something new.”
As an artist, Charlotte Moorman subverted traditional notions of beauty and society’s obsession with the female form by referencing the very sources from which these notions began. It is nearly impossible to look at images of Moorman performing and not be reminded of classical paintings of inexplicably nude women lying in repose in scenic landscapes.
One of the many highlights of the show is a video of Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s iconic “Cut Piece” in 1982. The artist sits before a large crowd gathered at the roof of her Manhattan loft. The guest, good-spirited and a little drunk, really give the party life. But the occasion is marked by a solemn tone. It takes place only a few days before she was to have a lump in her breast biopsied, three years after having a mastectomy to remove the other breast.
As each guest approaches to cut a piece from her gown, Moorman exhibits her characteristic stoic sensibility and poise, traits that distinguish her as a master of her craft. Barbara Moore, an art historian and friend of Moorman’s, noted that the artist kept all the remaining scraps of clothing from her numerous performances of this work “packed into heaps of shopping bags, the ultimate dossier,” epitomizing her endless dedication to her work. “Don’t throw anything out” were Moorman’s dying words as she succumbed to her illness in 1991 at the age of 57. The result, the Charlotte Moorman Archive, allows us to trace the prolific career of one of the most provocative artists of the 20th century.
A Feast of Astonishments will be on view at the Grey Art Gallery until December 10.
Also on view: Don’t Throw Anything Out: Charlotte Moorman’s Archive, at The Fales Library, Tracey/Barry Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, Third Floor.
November 16, 2016
In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art hosted a major exhibition of performance art, which included live performances taking place daily in the rooms of the museum. I am talking about The Artist is Present, a retrospective of the work of the self-proclaimed “grandmother of performance art”, Marina Abramović, which attracted thousands of visitors (700.000 according to The New Yorker).
The presence of performance in leading institutions such as the MoMA has definitely contributed to its acceptance into the mainstream during the last few decades. However, some people still question why performing in front of an audience can be considered art, and not drama/theatre. Abramović herself gave her opinion on this matter in an interview while promoting her MoMA show, stating that “To be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre. Theatre is fake: there is a black box, you pay for a ticket, and you sit in the dark and see somebody playing somebody else’s life. The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real. It’s a very different concept. It’s about true reality.”
I am sure many actors –and perhaps some artists as well- would have many counterarguments to Abramović’s words, but her assertiveness shows that the performance vs. acting debate is still alive. The lines separating performance art and drama are certainly blurry, and that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a world where everything seems to be more and more interconnected. So instead of focusing on trying to define what performance is against other disciplines, I think it is much more interesting to examine here why its irruption in the world of visual arts has been so important for the development of contemporary culture.
The beginnings of performance art can be dated back at least to the early twentieth century, and particularly to the Dada movement. Dadaists defied conventional definitions of art by mixing poetry, music and visual arts in unconventional performances that took place in alternative spaces such as the famous Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich.
Between the 1940s and the early 1960s, a series of artistic actions (often derived from “action painting”), interactive installations, and performative events organised by artists such as Yves Klein and groups like Gutai, anticipated some of the characteristics of what was to be labelled “Performance Art” from the 1960s onward.
The Japanese group Gutai was one of the first to take exhibitions and artistic actions outside the traditional spaces of the museum and the gallery. They organised many outdoor events, like the 1956 Outdoor Gutai Art Exhibition (Ashiya, Japan), where visitors were invited to take part in the artworks. The idea of opening up art to the participation of the public was also at the heart of Allan Kaprow’s happenings, in which art became a collective experience.
This new role of the public -who is no longer contemplative and passive as in traditional art exhibitions- that comes with performance art, disrupts the conventional relationship between the viewers and the artworks, and generates new dynamics between the viewers and the artists. Because, as the title of Abramović’s exhibition points out, one of the most important characteristics of performance is that the artist is present. In performance art, the body of the artist is the medium, and it becomes an incredibly powerful tool to express different narratives and ideas.
In opposition to an inert painting or sculpture, the presence of the very alive body of the artist means that art stops being a safe experience for the viewer, given the unpredictability of the situation. With performance, art invaded the “real world”, the here and now. Some artists have put the public in particularly difficult positions by putting themselves in danger in front of an audience. Abramović, Joseph Beuys, and Chris Burden are some of the most prominent examples. The latter is known for his 1971 piece Shoot, in which he was shot in the arm by a friend in front of a small audience.
In the 1970s, performance was already a quite established artistic practice, with Fluxus –an international, heterogeneous conglomeration of artists, designers, composers, dancers and other professionals that shaped a highly experimental artistic community- as one of its most important representatives.
Why was performance such a success at the time? One of the main reasons was the rise, particularly in the United States, of a series of social and political movements that demanded civil and social rights, equality, and justice. In such a politicised environment, many artists used performance as a means to address the concerns behind different social groups and communities. For instance, some of the most well-known performances from this period are linked to the rise of feminism and the Feminist art movement. This is the case of Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll (1975), which culminated with the artist extracting a paper scroll from her vagina while reading from it.
These are just a few of the many artists and actions that contributed to the early developments of performance as an art form. It would be impossible to cite them all here, but the changes they introduced during the second half of the twentieth century -the organisation of artistic actions outside traditional spaces, the increasingly active role of the publics, and, most importantly, the use of the artist’s body as a medium- are essential in order to understand our current artistic context.
November 12, 2016
Are you bored of seeing the same types of paintings over and over again, flat and on a regular canvas hung up on a white wall? Or are you an artist in need of some inspiration to move past the traditional image of a painting? Here is a list of artists from the past century that approached the flat surface in innovative ways, leaving behind conventional practices and taking their works to a whole new realm.
Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Matisse was one of the first to depart from the classic method of applying paint onto canvas. While he is known for his “traditional” paintings, towards the very end of his life he broke away from this and pulled out the scissors. With the help of a large crew of assistants, Matisse created what are known as the cut-outs. For these cut-outs, he and his crew hand-painted white paper using brightly colored gouache paints, then proceeded to cut these painted papers into simple geometric and organic shapes. These cut-out pieces were then either pasted onto canvases and paired with other materials such as charcoal or, for the first time in art history, pinned directly onto the walls of the museum or gallery.
Georges Braque (1882 -1963)
Along with Picasso, Braque made some of the first collages in art history, also known as papier collé. As part of the development of Cubism, Braque introduced other materials and patterns onto his canvases, suggesting the subject through the use of found flat materials instead of describing the subject-matter through paint. This may seem like a simple idea, or resemble an art project you did with your kindergarten teacher, but it was a true innovation at the time. This idea soon evolved and inspired other artists to further explore it by introducing three-dimensional objects in their works.
Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)
Kurt Schwitters came from a very academic background, but around 1920 he became very involved in the Dada movement in Berlin, which mocked academic practices and provided artists with the opportunity to approach visual arts with complete freedom. Schwitters brought to this movement what is known as assemblage. Assemblage is linked to the concept of papier collé, but instead of using found paper materials, it consists in fixing actual found objects on the flat surface. Schwitters’ work plays with the shadows made by the objects stuck to the canvas, shadows that move and change depending on the light hitting the pieces.
Lucio Fontana (1899-1968)
Fontana went one step further in the use of scissors. Instead of simply cutting shapes and placing them onto the canvas, like Matisse and Braque had done, he cut the canvas itself and punctured purposeful holes into it. Fontana saw this acts as a means of building a bridge between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional in art. He referred to these series of works as Spatial Concept, and was quite proud of himself for discovering the power of the tagli (“cuts”). He stated “my discovery was the hole and that’s it. I am happy to go to the grave after such a discovery”. Some of these cut canvases are painted in a single color, some are simply left white. These white canvases in particular evoke the sense of destruction of the pure as a vehicle to progress into the sculptural realm.
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Jackson Pollock took his very large canvases and placed them on the floor instead of upright on an easel. Photographs of his creative process have circulated thoroughly. Once the canvases were on the ground, Pollock used paint brushes to drip and splatter paint across these large white surfaces. Pollock is a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement, an artistic current that seeks to represent ideas and emotions using abstract forms and color instead of a figurative and realistic representation. Anyone interested in this important figure of American art can now visit the studio where Pollock worked, where you would find evidence of his technique.
Takis (born in 1925)
This artist ties together art and science. He is known as the first person to “send a man into space”, six months before Yuri Gagarin, during a performance. Takis’ work explores magnetic field energy, which he uses as a tool for altering the shape of the canvas. Takis transforms his canvases into sculptural pieces through the use of magnets, creating works that are a sort of magic trick. He often hangs small three-dimensional magnetic objects from the ceiling using thin wire strings, creating the illusion of floating geometric shapes in front of large brightly colored monochromatic surface. These geometric shapes are held up through the use of magnets on the back side of the canvas, which in turn is slightly pulled by the magnetic forces around it.
Yves Klein (1928-1962)
Yves Klein used the body as a paint brush, transforming the act of painting into a performance. Klein experimented with his “living brushes” technique in small apartments in Paris. He would invite women to strip, dip their naked bodies in paint and press themselves against large white canvases. This, of course, became quite the hip thing to witness, and thus the creation of these pieces became a performance accompanied by live music that was also filmed for us to watch to this day. These pieces were kept very simple, with only one to a handful of single imprints of female bodies per canvas. For these, Klein used very strictly the color now known as International Klein Blue, whose significance for the artist is unclear and highly debated.
Günther Uecker (born 1930)
Günther Uecker used yet another surprising material in place of paint on his canvas: nails. He became obsessed with purification rituals, especially those used in religious contexts such as Buddhism. He used the hammering of nails as a meditative practice that eventually monopolized his artistic works. The canvases are supported by wood paneling in order to make this process possible. The nails create organic shapes through systematic and repetitive patterns. Most of his work is completely monochromatic, meaning the nails and the canvas are painted in a single color, usually a play off of black or white. After a full career of hammering nails to canvases, Uecker eventually progressed onto land art.
August 10, 2016
Here is our list of top 5 exhibitions to see in London this August and how to spend culturally your time indoors if it rains (and we’re talking London here):
Ragnar Kjartansson at The Barbican
This is the first UK survey of the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, internationally known for his multi-channel film installation “The Visitors” (2012), also present in the exhibition. The artist channels a “bad boy” image, while drinking beer, playing guitar and signing in Icelandic in the first piece in the Barbican show. Such notions as comedy, irony, and tragedy are all merged together in Kjartansson’s work. Both controversial and deeply amusing, Ragnar’s works sympathize every visitor.
On view at The Barbican through September 4. £12
Jake Wood-Evans at Unit London
Unit London, the young but well-established contemporary art gallery in Soho, presents its largest project to date, the first solo show of the UK-based artist Jake Wood-Evans titled Subjection& Discipline. Inspired by Old Masters’ paintings, the artist showcases a unique approach to canvas with figurative but rather unconventional technique. Get ready to be awed and mesmerized by Jake Wood-Evans’s unique style.
On view at Unit London August 19- September 11. FREE
Unseen at The Ben Uri Gallery
Unseen London, Paris, New York, 1930s-60s: Photographs by Wolfgang Suschitzky, Dorothy Bohm and Neil Libbert is a group exhibition bringing together such masters of photography as Wolfgang Suschitzky, Dorothy Bohm and Neil Libbert. The exhibition tends to present artistic responses to three great cities throughout three disturbing decades. The photographers try to present not only the greatness of the cities in a political and social arena, but also capture the beauty of them. If you’re into black-and-white photography this exhibition is not to be missed.
On view at The Ben Uri Gallery through August 27. FREE
Terence Donovan: Speed of Light at The Photographers’ Gallery
This is the first major retrospective of a well-known English photographer, Terence Donovan (1936-1996). Donovan was a pioneer in the new fashion, and later advertising and portrait photography in the post-war period. He was famous for capturing actors and well-known people in the scene. A mix of vintage prints is on view, together with previously unpublished works, artist’s cameras, sketches and diaries.
On view at The Photographers’ Gallery through September 25. FREE before 12pm; £3
Under The Same Sun: Art From Latin America Today at SLG Galleries & Fire Station
The exhibition, curated by Pablo León de la Barra, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, highlights the new acquisitions by the Guggenheim Museum of 15 contemporary Latin American artists. The show features 40 works with mediums including painting, installation, video, sculpture and photography. The exhibition strives to showcase the artists’ responses to contemporary realities influenced by colonial and modern histories, economic and social instabilities and regional economic developments.
On view at The South London Gallery through September 4. FREE
It is important to start off the conversation about what circus art is by actually going back to the birth of the circus. Different from other artistic practices like ballet, theater and opera, circus never had a definitive history. It was always told as a tale from one artist to the other, with press agents spreading facts and stories between people rather than physically documented. There’s a controversial notion that circus came from the Ancient Roman times, though it can also be claimed that the only similarity to Ancient Rome is the word circus, which in both Latin and English means “circle.” Though I leave that debate untouched, perhaps it is necessary to note a fine line between public-driven acts of circus artists and Roman gladiators.
Modern circus, as we all know it, was born in England. One of a few accurate facts in the history of the circus is that in 1769 Philip Astley, a former cavalry Sergeant-Major turned showman, bought a property near the Westminster Bridge in London and constructed the very first circus building – The New British School or Amphitheater Riding Ring. The first performance took place in 1770 and was a tremendous success. Interestingly enough, in the beginning Astley was the performer himself, adding later on his wife and children to the act. However, 1770 is the date that marks the first full circus performance with acrobats, clowns, and other artists all in one performance as a theatrical act. It was never called circus though, the name came around only in 1782. Before the beginning of the 19th century, circus was introduced both to King Louis XV in Fontainebleau and Catherine the Great in Saint Petersburg. Circus arts have existed over time but it wasn’t until Astley when the modern circus was born—the circus we all are so used to today.
Being essentially an act of performance, circus is not struggled by language barriers or cultural misunderstandings. It’s easily understandable and transportable to other countries with large successes in multiple locations. Once circus companies started embarking on tours showcasing new programs and performances, its popularity quickly rose.
Flipping through a few centuries and coming to today’s time, it is imperative to note a few trends, or should I say, positive changes happening in the circus world. After decades of slowing down its growth, circus arts have regained their initial strength. As for today, a number of world companies are performing innovative acts that challenge the very definition of the circus. What is a performance? In fact, one starts to look at circus with absolutely different eyes. It’s becoming no longer just a place to bring your kids, but also a theatrical event, climbing to the level of a play with a certain acrobatic involvement.
The Nouveau Cirque, also called Contemporary Circus, was first formed in France in the 1970s. This new type of a circus performance, or dramatic show, has a theme or concept behind it. The involvement of animals is no longer necessary. What we see is a play, with a story, music, and dance. Of course there are also clown performances, but again they are essentially different to those we saw before. No longer is it low-base humor, but rather ironic and more sophisticated. The Nouveau Circus is as much for kids as it is for adults. More so, each age group sees and understands performances in their own way, reflecting on them after watching one, not just blindly forgetting about an act after it’s done. The circus since then became essentially a high quality performance, rather than a “bread and spectacle” show.
Here is the list of our top ten international circuses:
- Cirque du Soleil (Canada)
The biggest circus performance company in the world and the one to establish the Nouveau Cirque on the international level, Cirque du Soleil was founded in Canada by Guy Laliberté and Daniel Gauthier in 1984. The key feature of The Circus of the Sun is that animals were never used in any performance. In fact, that was what made the company so different from others back in time. A show is often based on a tradition of a musical or opera, never stopping the action for even a second. Music is one of the most important tools during Cirque du Soleil performances in obtaining the groundbreaking effect on the audience.
- New Shanghai Circus
The Acrobats of China as they are often called, the New Shanghai Circus features one of the best groups of acrobats in the world. Established back in 1949, the circus tries to make a link between traditional Chinese acrobatic techniques and modern technology.
- Circus Oz of Australia
Circus Oz was established in Melbourne, Australia, in 1978, when two already successful Australian circus companies, Soapbox Circus and the New Circus, decided to merge together. Similar to Cirque du Soleil, Circus Oz produces animal-free shows with an effort to communicate a traditional spirit of native Australia: “collective ownership and creation, gender equity, a uniquely Australian signature and team-work.”
- ROSGOSCIRK (Russian State Circus Company)
The Russian State Company is the largest circus company in the world, encompassing 42 circuses across Russia. Established in 1919, the company redesigned over time due to political and social changes facing Russia in the 20th century. Nowadays, Rosgoscirk focuses on developing circus dynasties that are the stars of any arena. Though not being animal-free in its productions, the Company goes hand-in-hand with contemporary development in the circus-performance field. One of the new features is the annual international circus award—Master—established in 2015. Master is the only circus art award in the world that is presented by means of online voting and international expert council in 14 categories.
- Big Apple Circus
Big Apple Circus, voted the most famous one in America, was founded in 1977 by two jugglers Paul Binder and Michael Christensen. It was primarily crated as a non-for-profit arts institution. Even though showcasing more traditional performances compared to other circus companies on the list, the Big Apple Circus is one of the leading performance companies in the world, presenting their own twist on classic, employing custom music and costumes.
April 29, 2016
In my previous article I discussed what I think are some of the most interesting pioneer feminist artists. But how do feminist premises fit in contemporary artistic practices? Below you can find a selection of ten artists from all around the globe that reflect on the struggles that women still face today in their fight for equality. Whether they consider feminism as central to their discourse or not, their work explores different aspects of what being a woman entails in each of their own realities.
Brazilian artist Beth Moysés is best known for organising parade-like performances with local battered women, many of whom live in shelters, in South America and Spain. In Lecho rojo [Red Bed], however, it is a group of beautiful young women who enact a mysterious ritual. They form a circle around a 30-kilo pile of red lipstick, and mould this sensual matter into hearts while their bodies and the white sheets that cover them get more and more stained with the red substance. Domestic violence, pain, death, and regeneration are at the centre of Moysés poetic oeuvre, in which wedding dresses and blood form an intimate bond.
Joana Vasconcelos was born in Paris but lives and works in Lisbon, Portugal. As she states in her website, her creative process is “based on the appropriation, decontextualisation and subversion of pre-existent objects and everyday realities”. In Lavanda [Lavender] she reinterprets Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain by covering this object, which only men use, with colourful handmade crochet patterns. This material, traditionally associated with the domestic environment (and, therefore, with “women’s work”) is often used by Vasconcelos as a means to explore the relationship between popular and erudite culture, and between tradition and modernity. Check out how her works invaded the Versailles palace in this 2012 unique exhibition.
Cabello/Carceller is a Madrid-based artistic team formed by Helena Cabello (Paris, 1963) and Ana Carceller (Madrid, 1964), who started working together in the early 90s. Their work is influenced by feminist and queer theorists such as Judith Butler, and often revolves around the contradictions of gender stereotypes from a conceptual, politically engaged approach. In one of their most recent projects, which could be seen at the Spanish Pavillion in the 2015 Venice Biennale, they explored the idea of a multiple and undefined identity in relation to the figure of Salvador Dalí. Installation, performance and video are their preferred mediums, and in Suite Rivolta they examine the need to take action in the streets in order to keep public space as a place of dissent. The title derives from the radical feminist movement of the 1970’s known as Rivolta Femminile (led by the art critic and theorist Carla Lonzi), and presents a structure loosely based on the musical form known as ‘suite’.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Wangechi Mutu is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. From her extensive oeuvre, I am particularly taken by her collages, where she explores gender and racial identities through the female body. In her work Mutu continuously questions the way women are represented in western culture, and disrupts common stereotypes by introducing animal and machine parts in her images. Uniting art and activism, she has recently launched Africa’s Out!, a platform that supports and celebrates the rights, lives and creative freedom of African LGBT+ individuals.
Li Xinmo is one of the most controversial Chinese feminist artists. In 2012 she participated in the group exhibition Bald Girls, which has become a platform for the promotion and development of cutting-edge feminist art and theory whose goal is to fight against the social reality of sexual discrimination in China. Xinmo’s work is based on her own personal experience and usually takes the form of body performance, where the artist’s body becomes the centre of different ritualistic actions. This is the case of Memory, in which she deals with the painful experience of abortion by tearing off her dress into pieces and turning these strips into dolls.
Born in Sweden, Anna Jonsson has lived and worked in Seville, Spain, for more than thirty years. Sculpture and female social roles are the basis of all her work, although in the past decade she has also produced several performances in collaboration with professional dancers. One of my favourites is Perdón [I’m Sorry], in which a woman spends 20 minutes asking for forgiveness. According to the artist, “it is based on the feeling I have that I always have to apologize when I say I’m a feminist”. In her colourful clay sculptures she approaches issues such as maternity, relationships, sex, mental health and fashion, always with a great sense of humour.
Regina José Galindo
Regina José Galindo is one of Guatemala’s most internationally renowned artists. She specialises in very shocking and often violent performances in which her body is the protagonist. Her work explores the ethical implications of social injustices, and aims to firmly criticise gender and racial discrimination. Her extreme performances have led her to carve the word ‘perra’ (‘bitch’) on her own thigh, to record the surgical reconstruction of her hymen, and to shave her body completely and walk naked through the streets of Venice. In Piedra, pictured above, she adopted the static role of a rock and let members of the audience urinate on her in order to protest against abuse and unequal power relations in modern societies.
CANAN (formerly known as Canan Senol), a self-proclaimed feminist artist and activist, lives and works in Istambul, Turkey. In her art she continuously addresses the oppression and harassment of women by family, government and religion through a mixture of the old and the new, tradition and modernity. This is the case of her series Perfect Beauty, which consists in the appropriation and manipulation of Ottoman miniature paintings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which are accompanied by several texts describing female beauty traits from a book of sexual subjects written during the same period. Although the standards for women are drastically different nowadays, the artist aims to demonstrate that interference with the female body and the supremacy of the male gaze are equally present in both realities.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Candice Breitz currently lives and works in Berlin. Her main corpus of work consists in video installations where different strategies of appropriation can lead to the exhaustion of meaning. In Mother + Father, Breitz carefully edits and manipulates scenes taken from famous Hollywood films where men and women express their frustrations and feelings towards parenthood. Although her work is usually very open to interpretation, she is often concerned with identity and its representation (in her Ghost Series, for example, she explores the violence that can be performed by whiteness), as well as with contemporary mass culture and its influence on people.
Born and raised in the United States, Andi Arnovitz emigrated to Israel in 1999. Much of her work is informed by the experience of living in the Middle East, and reflects the challenges that women, and particularly Jewish women, face during their lives. As many of the artists featured in this list, she also uses art forms that have been traditionally relegated to the realm of women, such as textiles, “to create awareness, protest, dialogue, and disapproval”. I particularly like her works on paper, which adopt many different shapes and formats. In her series of etchings entitled Acid! and Before/After, Arnovitz uses nitric acid, a substance that is part of the process of making etchings but also a common weapon against women in many countries, to destroy the etching plates where she had depicted women at risk of suffering these violent attacks.