June 16, 2017
The art of calligraphy dates back to 4000 BC, which is the earliest record of written Chinese characters. Though many might see calligraphy as merely “beautiful writing,” Chinese calligraphy came to be appreciated as one of the highest visual art forms. Many ancient Chinese scholars were devoted to the importance and power of words. They produced a powerful means of expression by combining physical form and abstract concept with just the movement of a brush. A calligrapher’s style became just as revealing as the words they wrote, and the combination of the two created a supremely eloquent form of art. Today, artist Ni Li draws inspiration from calligraphy and brings this ancient art form into our present time by applying it to modern objects and ideas.
Ni Li was born in Shanghai, China in 1989. From a young age, she was introduced to philosophy, literature and calligraphy as part of her formative schooling. She eventually went on to become a well known television host, columnist and journalist for SMG (China’s largest media network). In a recent interview with AXS, she stated that “In my career as a TV talk show host, I interviewed high profile guests from all over the world and being a shy, introverted and sensitive type of person, I eventually realized it wasn’t the right fit for me. Art has always been my way of expressing my true self and connecting with others. As an artist, I also felt it was important for me to do different things and gain new perspectives on life.”
Today, Ni Li lives in Los Angeles and creates mixed-media art that explores the relationship between an ancient art form, calligraphy, and contemporary materials and subjects. The artist’s love and appreciation for the Chinese prose stems from her extensive education in the art form, but it has blossomed into a mode in which her distinctive style expresses her authentic self.
Past projects, such as “Flow” from 2016, encompass Ni Li’s fascination with the old and the new. In this specific series, she used ten bamboo skateboards as scrolls for her wildly written calligraphy. Ni Li pays tribute to legendary ancient calligrapher Huai Su (737-799) by taking excerpts from his works (less than ten of which still exist today), which she combines with quotes from famous Chinese poets such as Li Bai (701-762). Phrases like, “The sounds of torrents and whirlwinds fill the room” and “Under the pen, one only sees the flow of arousing electricity” – taken from Huai Su’s Autobiography – are given a new context when Ni Li’s rapid and rhythmic calligraphy is applied to the skateboards. The ancient words and sentiments of movement are brought into the contemporary world by Ni Li’s use of the characters upon modern objects.
Another recent series, entitled “We Are Parts of the Culture” (which was featured at this year’s LA Art Show in January), expands upon Ni Li’s exploration of the concepts of ancient and contemporary. This project consists of a set of images of nude female models upon which Ni Li’s calligraphy of ancient Chinese poems and aphorisms have been written. The images are giclée printings on watercolor paper which, materially speaking, show the contrast between modern and ancient process of image making.
The use of the female body in this series creates many derivations. It criticizes the lack of representation of women in a historically male-dominated art form, but may be seen as a commentary on the exploitation of the female form as well. In addition, it also uses the female body as a vessel to transmit the ancient into the contemporary. Ni Li has been quoted saying, “As a feminist, I not only pay homage to the female form, but also convey the idea that the human body or even the human self are merely the carrier of the immortal culture and history.”
Since she left her journalistic career behind in order to focus on art back in 2016, Ni Li’s work has been exhibited at the Shanghai 2016 Art Show, the LA Art Show 2017, and Art Expo New York 2017. Her latest projects, “Heart Sutra” and “Untitled”, continue to explore the art of calligraphy from a contemporary perspective.
June 12, 2017
In the world of museum giants, inexhaustible lists of galleries, and raved-about art fairs, art foundations are often hidden gems that not only offer visitors the experience of viewing art and learning more about it, but also actively engage with their community, supporting contemporary artists or preserving the legacy of an individual. While other art institutions or businesses have commercial or collection-building interests, art foundations typically focus more on the development and backing of artists themselves. Here are some of the most reputable and successful art foundations found in Paris.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
Since recently opening in 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton has made quite a name for itself in Paris by rising to the top of the city’s cultural ranks. Located just west of the city center, at the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the larger Bois de Boulogne, the foundation is housed within a unique structure designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry. A visit here is worth it just to admire the dazzling building, which has been called “the iceberg” and described as a “glass cloud.” Personally, I had the impression of walking up to a futuristic pirate ship stranded in a lush forest.
Fondation Louis Vuitton was born out of the ambition of the LVMH group to continue with their dedication to support art, culture, and heritage by placing strong roots in western Paris. With just about 4,000 sq.m. of exhibition space, FLV holds a permanent collection of 20th and 21st-century works (150 pieces by 71 artists) and puts on impressive museum-grade temporary exhibitions as well as site-specific installations. In its three years of existence, it has exhibited many of the masters of Modern Art, with landmark exhibitions such as Keys to a Passion and Icons of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection, as well as displays of Chinese and most recently African art. The foundation also organizes a series of events ranging from dance and music performances to talks and activities for students and children.
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
Situated in an industrial-style, entirely transparent glass building by Jean Nouvel, both reflecting its environment and blending with it, the Fondation Cartier has been promoting contemporary art for more than 30 years. Since its opening, the foundation has aimed to stimulate creativity and discovery by revealing young artists to the public and regularly commissioning works for temporary exhibitions or for its own permanent collection, which includes over 1,400 works from 300 artists worldwide.
Fondation Cartier engages in all mediums and forms of artistic expression, from design to photography, from painting to video, and from fashion to performance art. Another unique aspect of their programming, entitled “Nomadic Nights,” places an emphasis on the various forms of performance art including dance, music, film, theater, conferences, installations, and spoken word. After exploring this large variety of activities, visitors can relax in the foundation’s “wild” but carefully curated garden, which mixes diverse flora, art installations, and local cultural heritage dating back to the 18th century.
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
Opened in 2003, just a year before the death of the iconic photographer, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson was established to preserve the legacy and complete works of Cartier-Bresson and his wife, Martine Franck. It houses various rare publications, vintage prints, and documents assembled from their lives, and it is regarded today as one of Paris’s central locations for photography: it is a space for education, discussion, and admiration for the photographic medium, as well as a resource and support for contemporary photographers. The foundation also sponsors the Henri-Cartier Bresson Prix, awarded every two years.
Perhaps the most aesthetically modest foundation on this list -white washed interior and all-, but certainly an important cultural gem of the city. It is located along a quiet residential street in an atelier dating back to 1912, where Cartier-Bresson’s famous “The Decisive Moment” (1952) has found a home and where all may come to discover the joy of photography.
Fondation d’entreprise Ricard
The Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, created in 2006, is much smaller than the other foundations on this list; but what it lacks in size and imposing architecture, it makes up for in its rich programme and involvement in the French art community. Situated right off of the Place de la Concorde, it runs very much like any typical contemporary art gallery, with five to six exhibitions a year and free admission. The foundation is dedicated uniquely to the young French art scene, supporting its emergence and promoting its awareness abroad.
In partnership with the reputable contemporary art fair, FIAC, the two organizations have created the program Young Curators Invitational (YCI), where young curators from around the world are invited to participate in the fair by meeting with artists, collectors, gallery representatives, and other critics to discuss the French art scene and other issues in the art world. Additionally, since 1999 Le Prix Ricard has been annually awarded to an emerging artist working or living in France. The winner receives a purchase of one of their works, the chance to exhibit in the Centre Pompidou, and support in producing a personal project abroad.
So whether you are interested in discovering the fresh talent in the French art scene, are yourself an artist or an art professional looking for resources, or want to attend one of the many monthly performances, conferences, or affiliated programs, there is certainly something to be found at the hyper-active Fondation d’entreprise Ricard.
Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent
What would a list of Parisian art and culture be without some fashion? Housed in a traditional Parisian hôtel particulier dating from the Second Empire, at 5 avenue Marceau (just across the street and around the block from the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris), the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent preserves the legacy of the iconic couturier Yves Saint Laurent. The foundation, whose galleries opened in 2004, occupies the same space that the YSL Haute Couture house operated in from 1974 to its closure in 2002. Its mission is to preserve the 5,000 garments, 15,000 accessories, photographs, sketches, and archives that bear witness to the YSL Haute Couture creative history. The foundation also puts on exhibitions of photography, drawings, paintings, and items from their fashion collection. It also owns and manages the Jardin Majorelle and Berber Museum in Marrakech, Morocco.
The foundation is currently closed for renovations in preparation for the opening of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent on October 3, 2017. This new museum will be dedicated to the life and works of YSL, showing across 450 sq.m. about 50 rotating models with items from the permanent collection as well as providing access to the salons and studio where YSL himself worked. From those who consider Vogue to be their Bible to those who more simply take an interest in design and fashion, this is a place to keep your eye on as October comes around!
May 20, 2017
Photo London is only in its third year, but this sprightly young fair does not disappoint in the quality and breadth of the work on show. Eighty-nine galleries present a diverse array of emerging artists and established names in this four-day festival. Here are some of our favourites.
1. Michael Wolf, ‘Tokyo Compression’
This series of uncomfortable, claustrophobic images depicts one of the many unpleasant realities of life in the metropolis. Catch it on display at the Flowers Gallery booth.
2. Stephen Shore, ‘Warhol and The Factory’ (1965-67)
A vintage series presented by Sprüth Magers Gallery captures glimpses of an “off-duty” Andy Warhol and his companions shot in and around The Factory.
3. Photo London Master of Photography 2017: Taryn Simon
Taryn Simon’s ‘Image Atlas’ is an interactive “work-in-progress” exploring the idea of a universal visual language. Using search engine data from around the world, Simon examines the fluidity of reference and the constant changing of meaning attached to images, in a work that interrogates the impact of censorship on our perception.
4. Discovery Galleries
This year’s edition of Photo London highlights the work of new galleries that are between one and five years old, with sixteen stands making up the ‘Discovery Galleries’.
5. Jacob Aue Sobol’s ‘Road of Bones’, presented by Leica Camera
Shot along the Kolyma Highway in Russia, Jacob Aue Sobol captures life in one of the coldest inhabited regions of the world. Using Leica X and Leica M Monochrom cameras, Sobol starkly portrays the bleakness of an area once notorious for its Gulag camps.
6. Michael Hoppen Gallery
Michael Hoppen Gallery presents an engaging selection including Siân Davey’s series depicting the innocent pleasures of youth over a British summer, and the timely “Brexit Wall” offering photographs capturing the essence of ‘Britishness’.
7. Alison Jacques Gallery
This year’s highlights from Alison Jacques Gallery include lightbox images by Catherine Yass from her ‘Decommissioned’ series and Juergen Teller’s brooding portrait of Kristen Stewart for System Magazine.
8. Galerie Johannes Faber
This Viennese gallery presents a selection of photographs from before the digital age, including works by Man Ray, Germaine Krull, Dennis Hopper and Horst P. Horst, among others. The elegant, more conservative compositions in black and white offer a sobering contrast to the abundance of technology-heavy works across Photo London.
9. Isaac Julien, ‘Looking for Langston’
At the Victoria Miro booth, Isaac Julien combines digital and analogue pre- and post-production techniques in a series of stills from his film ‘Looking for Langston’, which explore black queer identities.
10. Mat Collishaw, ‘Thresholds’
Mat Collishaw debuts his ambitious project ‘Thresholds’. The immersive, multi-sensory installation uses a virtual reality headset to recreate the 1839 exhibition of photography staged by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In collaboration with Blain|Southern Gallery –which simultaneously displays some of the artist’s recent works in The Centrifugal Soul–, Collishaw uses 21st-century visual technology to bring to life the cutting-edge photographic technology of two centuries ago and introduce virtual reality as part of the evolution of the photographic image. Collishaw’s work juxtaposes the scepticism that photography once faced with our modern anxiety towards new forms of technology and artificial intelligence. If you missed it at Photo London, ‘Thresholds’ will be on display at Somerset House until 11th June.
Can’t afford the price tag of an original print? A strong contingent of publishers, including TASCHEN, teNeues and Thames & Hudson, offer up their latest photography publications in the fair’s central pavilion. Check them out!
Photo London is at Somerset House, The Strand until Sunday 21st May.
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.
Four years ago, award-winning artist Aida Muluneh spearheaded efforts to create East Africa’s first international photography festival, Addis Foto Fest. Of course, she couldn’t have done it without her team at Desta for Africa Creative Consulting (DFA), a Private Limited Company founded by Aida Muluneh herself. Desta works to spread education through art, and so a festival like Addis Foto Fest was an almost obvious step for their efforts.
Aida Muluneh was born in Ethiopia but has spent most of her life in other countries. However, she had always fantasized about returning to her home land, and in 2007 she got the opportunity to do so while working on a documentary. She saw the allurement of Ethiopia and decided to leave her life in Canada to stay in Addis Ababa, where she worked as an advocate for the culture and beauty of her native country. It was this idea that became the fundamental philosophy and goal behind Desta, which is an acronym for “Developing and Educating Society Through Art.”
Addis Foto Fest was established only a few years after Desta was created, and was the result of Muluneh’s attendance to the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie in Bamanko, where she was to receive the European Union Prize. There she became aware of a strong global misrepresentation and belittling of Africa, both in photography and in the film. Muluneh stated that “This world is not perfect and neither are we, but why is it always our imperfections that are in the lead as opposed to the balanced story of who we are?”. Addis Foto Fest was thus created to rethink what defines Africa, and to show images that truly represent all aspects of the different African cultures.
This festival is all about communicating with artists and educating not only those who are in involved with the festival but the whole world in this progression towards re-branding the African continent. In a recent article in Vogue Italia —a sponsor of the festival—, Muluneh described Addis Foto Fest as “an educational tool; it is a form of cultural exchange that fosters mutual understanding and simultaneously furthers the bigger conversation—that the creative sector is part and parcel to development”.
Addis Foto Fest has been a huge success since its beginnings and is now recognized as one of the leading photography festivals in the whole of Africa. The show is set up every two years —in 2016 it was held between the 15th and the 20th of December. There were amazing events taking place every day, including portfolio reviews by international professionals, lectures, and dance performances. A total of 126 artists from more than 40 countries around the world exhibited their work, shaping an outstanding display where many different contemporary approaches to photography were represented.
October 28, 2016
I catch up with Rubén –who now works as a solo artist— after a particularly busy summer to talk about one of his most recent projects, Stupid Borders, which deals with the absurd human need to possess the land.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?
It was a visceral decision.
At 16, before I started studying engineering, I used to paint graffiti in the outskirts of Madrid. During my studies I continued painting murals, developing the artistic side of it, and when I was finishing my degree I projected myself into the future, and two things happened. If I thought of myself as an engineer, my guts clenched and I could see a heavy darkness. If I thought of myself as an artist, I could perceive light and I felt free of any tension. So after university I backpacked in India for four months, and when I came back I realised that uncertainty was going to be constantly in my life. That uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do or where I’ll be tomorrow, has won me over.
How were your beginnings in Boa Mistura?
Simply wonderful, like everything we have done together until now when, due to my personal circumstances, I have decided to step aside to see my children grow up. The beginnings were full of innocence and fun. Then came years of learning and growing, and the project developed like the forging of iron, through fire and hard work, full of difficult and wonderful moments, and always with a dash of good humour.
How was working in such a multidisciplinary team?
Before a studio or a company, Boa Mistura was a group of good friends, and that has enabled its powerful growth. We worked very close together and learned a lot from each other. Except for girlfriends and underwear, we shared everything with each other. There is something very beautiful in sharing an idea, shaping it together, and feeling as if it was yours even if came from somebody else. A dissolution of individual ego takes place in favour of the group and the common good, and that is precious.
How has this collective, urban experience affected your individual work?
The collective experience made me grow both as a person and as an artist.
What I love about urban art is its capacity to reach a really wide audience, to go beyond the limits that museums, galleries and the conventional art circuits impose. It’s necessary to forget the idea of art as lifeless objects contained in museums and to start thinking about it as a process, like that vital attitude so necessary for everyone in every aspect of life.
In your statement you mention that your work revolves around the concept of “associated behavior”. What does this concept entail?
Landscape and what I call “associated behavior” –that behavior and bonds that connect you to a certain place— are at the centre of my work. In Seaside Holidays I focus on holiday landscapes in the Mediterranean coast and on the collective and mimetic behavior that leads people to massively go to those places. In Stupid Borders I study frontiers, the concept of limit and our attitudes towards an Earth that transcends us in age but that we strangely feel the need to possess.
How did you come up with your project Stupid Borders?
It emerged from an invitation by AP Gallery to create a project ad hoc for their space. This gallery has a line of work linked to the landscape and an exceptional location near the mountains of Ayllón (Segovia, Spain). It was just the right time for me to begin developing actions on the landscape and to do more conceptual work. In my notebook I drew a line across a lake. I imagined a lane rope dividing that lake in two, crossing it from side to side. Under that I wrote Stupid Borders. That’s where the project was born.
What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
The beginning, when there’s just an idea. There’s a special magic when a project is just a sketch in a notebook. At that point I feel a great intellectual pleasure because I imagine all its possibilities and the thousands of shapes that it could adopt. That moment really captivates me. Then there’s a phase of refining it, when you filter and polish, and then comes production to make it real. This last phase is interesting because there are still surprises and problems to overcome, and it counts on one’s previous experience, which is very enriching. Once the piece (or project) is finished, it loses interest to me, as if that idea was already dead. Although it’s precisely then when the idea is passed onto –or revives in— another person.
In Stupid Borders, the documentation that you produce while you work is also exhibited and becomes essential in order to understand your project. Do you think that the educational element is often left aside in contemporary art?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for others. The only thing I can say is that for me that educational element is essential. My work is very conceptually and philosophically charged, and it’s important that the public can get to know that part. My aim is to make us reflect on our behavior and on our way of inhabiting the Earth.
How do you choose the spaces where you create your Minimal Republics?
My Minimal Republics are set in places where normally no one would live or establish a micro-state. The first three are located in the middle of a rye field, in a fallow land, and the last one floating in a reservoir. Absurd places for absurd nations.
I believe you want Stupid Borders to become a life-long project. Was this decision motivated by the problematic situation of borders nowadays?
Indeed. We perceive borders as real entities. We fight for them. We stop those who want to use their freedom of movement. We believe that a piece of land can be ours… we even believe that the Earth belongs to us, when we’ve been here for barely an instant.
The day we come to realise that we belong to the Earth, and not the other way around, we will start behaving differently. It is essential to understand this. I think that’s where Stupid Borders plays an important role as a means for critical reflection. That’s why I have decided to continue creating Minimal Republics until the time comes when either borders or I cease to exist.
Which other plans do you have in mind for the future?
I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which will never see the light. There’s a project entitled Overcrowded where I talk about overpopulation as the main problem we face as a species. Another one, Descanso Visual (Visual Rest), where silence is considered an alternative to our hyper stimulated and noisy society. And also Topographies, which explores how moulds or models –words, preconceptions, physical laws, and other representations of reality— confuse us and lead us away from reality itself.
But my true plans for the future include becoming more of a hippy, seeing my children grow up next to my wife, getting away from the city to live closer to the earth, building a house with my own hands, growing my own tomatoes, writing a book, traveling, learning to surf, becoming more humble each day and enjoying each moment, because the future and the past are not easy to live in.
Stupid Borders opens October 28 at Palacio Quintanar in Segovia (Spain).
September 25, 2016
Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, arguably her magnum opus, is currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art. The slideshow of nearly 700 images is set to a wide-ranging soundtrack of pop, classical opera, and rock & roll music. The images are of the artist, her circle of friends, lovers, and acquaintances that Goldin affectionately refers to as her ‘tribe’ from the 1970s and 1980s.
Her images are so immediate that you feel as if you are there, in the dive bars and bedrooms of her gritty, real world. By creating The Ballad, Goldin documents the events of her own life and the lives of her friends through images that tell deeply personal stories. Her photographs capture unnerving episodes of addiction, drug abuse, domestic violence, and illness, while simultaneously embodying moments of joy, comedy, youth, ecstasy, and beauty. Goldin wrote that “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read. The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.”
There are three rooms dedicated to the display of her photographs. The first includes an installation of materials from Goldin’s archive, early promotional objects for the first iterations of the work, and a mock-up of the book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. The slideshow has been shown on many occasions since Goldin first created it in 1980. Originally, she changed the slides by hand for an audience comprised of mainly her subjects.
In the second room there is a selection of prints from the MoMA’s collection that constitute some of Goldin’s most evocative images from the film. They show the artist and her subjects grappling with the realities of physical and emotional abuse, while simultaneously indulging in moments of lust and tenderness. Some standouts include “David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City,” “Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City,” and “Nan and Bryan in Bed, New York City.” Each of these images feels fiercely candid and intimate, as if the viewer was intruding on an intensely personal moment.
The third room is the slideshow itself, which runs for about 45 minutes with a short intermission. The images are grouped loosely around visual themes, like people in front of a mirror getting ready to go out, uninhibited sex, New York bar culture, drag queens and performers, the weddings of young friends, parenthood and young children, drug addiction and, ultimately, death. The film is scored to an array of musical genres including an aria performed by Maria Callas, the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” and James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World.”
In the age of social media and advertising, where you can be bombarded by images that are photoshopped, filtered, and staged, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency presents the raw, unedited truth of what Nan Goldin and her subjects experienced in the New York of the 1980s.
The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is on view at the Museum of Modern Art on the 2nd floor Contemporary Art Galleries through February 12th, 2017.
September 4, 2016
Anouska Beckwith, England-born and Paris-based photographer, is the artist to follow. Interested in nature and mystical, Anouska tries to capture the intrinsic relationship between the unseen natural wonders and presents her subjects in the dreamlike settings.
The founder of the World Wide Women, the collective of female photographers from all over the world, the artist searches for ways of expressing her own views on the world by means of photography, poetry and music. Her models are frequently musicians and other people from creative industries giving her photographs yet an extra layer of artistic meaning.
This September Anouska presents her second solo show (following her debut in New York last yer with the show Transcendence) and her first solo show in London called Uni~Verse at the Palm Tree Gallery. I met Anouska last year when we discussed her creative process and her inspirations to follow up her own practice and perhaps have a solo show in London. Now, when the show is finally happening, we talked again, discussing the background behind Uni~Verse and the new future ambitions.
Why did you choose the word Uni~Verse as the title for your show?
I chose the title ‘Uni-Verse’ for the show as I loved the meaning, ‘One song’ coming from the Greek origin.
I believe that despite humans, animals and nature being different from one another we are all a collection of parts that make up the whole to form ‘one song’. I felt that ‘Uni-Verse’ encompassed what I wished to express through my work, a melody in nature’s symphony.
What’s the theme/focus behind it?
‘ Women have always been the guardians of wisdom and humanity which makes them natural, but usually secret, rulers. The time has come for them to rule openly, but together with and not against men.’ – Charlotte Wolf
The theme for the exhibition looks at nature as the backdrop for the exploration of feminine archetypes and endurance throughout time. As I believe that our planet is having a rebirth of the feminine. We have been living in a patriarchal society for the past 3000 years and although we have had some incredible advancement we are now in need of a big change, which is beginning to happen. I feel that we need to encourage guardianship of the Earth and for us to realign with the natural cycles rather than go against them.
What was the inspiration behind your new projects?
I have drawn from different sources for my work, which have either been from songs that I have been listening to or books that I have been reading such as ‘Women that run with wolves’ which inspired me to create
‘The Handless Maiden’ or from the use of tarot cards which led me to create ‘ The Empress’ featuring Flo Morrissey or looking at the chaos around me after the Paris attacks all of this past year and seeing the pain and destruction in the world led me to create ‘War In Heaven’.
Your new works position models in the natural setting. Women look unprotected to the natural forces. What notions are you trying to raise in your work?
I love nature and all that it provides us with but I also respect it as it can be destructive and catastrophic in some cases. I feel that we are lucky to be here, it is a gift not a given. I think a lot of people have forgotten this and try to manipulate something much greater than we have been led to believe. Through my work I try to explore the harmony between the two. Yet the insignificance of our presence, how temporary it is in the scheme of things, overwhelms me at times and I am reminded that it is a miracle.
Who are your models?
I usually choose models for my own work that inspire me. I like working with people I know mainly as I find there is a relaxed energy when taking photographs. I photographed Macha Polivka, an amazing healer and actress who I met outside of Paris last summer at an ashram. She is very natural and beautiful. I found working with her an absolute joy as she was completely in her body. Xamira Azul I met through my good friend and fellow artist Amanda Charchian last year during a summer solstice ritual and we have become friends ever since.
Flo Morrissey is one of my best friends whom I met through World Wide Women when she performed at our Ritual Exhibition. Last year she moved to Paris, which has been a dream world for us to share. Over the past couple of years we’ve had ongoing projects together. She is also extremely adventurous! Last year we were in Ibiza and I had a whole vision of her inside this remote cave. At first she looked at me as if to say ‘really?’ but once I told her of my idea she climbed up and took position. She looked like a water goddess.
How do you choose location and subject of your work?
Usually I have an image in mind of what backdrop I would like for the photograph and then I either research a place to shoot or I stumble across something even more magical than I could have pictured. Usually choosing the subject and location come hand in hand.
Why did you decide to have your second solo show specifically in London?
I choose to have my second solo show in London as it’s where I grew up and felt that it was important for me to return to my roots. My family is from England and even though I live in Paris there will always be a part of me there.
You mostly photograph female models, why?
I mainly photograph women because I find them fascinating. The form and curve of a woman is much more interesting to me than men. There is a mystery to them that when photographed can capture a very vulnerable moment that I think only is expressed by a woman photographing another woman. A trust is formed between the two people.
How do you balance the intrinsic nature of your work with the commercial aspect of photography?
I think when you create work it should come from a place of integrity and truth. How one conducts themself is equally important. I feel that nature and beauty are two things that everyone should be exposed to as so many people live their lives in fear without hope of a brighter future. I think that offering work to inspire people as an alternative for the future is what we are in desperate need of. I am not saying that my work does this but I try to convey a message of hope and awareness of our mother earth and all her many gifts.
I use social media and I think the more people who can see ones work is always a positive if the message is truthful. Even if it affects just one person that is enough for me as one person can have a ripple effect.
What’s next for you?
I am creating a short film with a dancer in the Fall and I will be continuing shooting the ‘War In Heaven’ series as I wish to turn it into a book, as well as working on my installation room ‘ I Am The Other You’.
I will also be doing editorial work.
Uni~Verse on view at the Palm Tree Gallery September 16th – October 8th
291 Portobello Rd, London