Week 1 : Being Human
"No No No"
Bruce Nauman, 1987
"Bruce Nauman’s No, No, New Museum forms part of a series of four videos called Clown Torture. In it, the American actor Walter Stevens performs absurd scenarios dressed as a clown. The video elicits unease and disturbs the viewer despite including nothing shocking. Nauman works with very simple elements, but combined and repeated infinitely they become worrying. The clown, associated with the circus and parties but also horror films such as ‘It, repeats countless times the word ‘no’, which we use repeatedly each day. This monotonous complaint ‘no, no, no’ fixes itself in our minds like a torture. The video plays on a loop, so restarts automatically when it ends, giving the impression that this act continues eternally."
"What Will Become of Me?"
Adrian Piper, 1985
"What Will Become of Me? is a work in progress that will be completed upon the artist’s death. Since 1985, Piper has filled honey jars with her hair and fingernails whenever she cuts them. The last container to be added will hold her cremated remains. The jars are displayed on a shelf flanked by two documents: One is a personal account of the artist’s experiences in 1985 when she started the project, and the other is a notarized statement in which Piper declares her intention to donate this work to The Museum of Modern Art. As both an African American and a woman—two groups that have traditionally been marginalized in the history of art—she is literally inserting herself into the Museum’s collection."
MOMA, https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/adrian-piper-what-will-become-of-me-1985-ongoing/, sourced 4th of November.
Yoko Ono, 1964
"In Cut Piece—one of Yoko Ono’s early performance works—the artist sat alone on a stage, dressed in her best suit, with a pair of scissors in front of her. The audience had been instructed that they could take turns approaching her and use the scissors to cut off a small piece of her clothing, which was theirs to keep. Some people approached hesitantly, cutting a small square of fabric from her sleeve or the hem of her skirt. Others came boldly, snipping away the front of her blouse or the straps of her bra. Ono remained motionless and expressionless throughout, until, at her discretion, the performance ended." (https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/yoko-ono-cut-piece-1964/)
When I watch "Cut Piece", I think about both fragility and power. It strikes me how loose these terms actually are, and how easy it is to loose control by telling people that they can do whatever they want.
At the same time, I think this piece manifests female power, since Ono by herself makes the decision to allow people to cut her clothes of. Further on, it is brave to agree to this, and I think braveness symbolizes power in itself.
Something else that I think is notable, is that to me, it feels different when a man and a woman cuts her clothes of. The artist seems more vulnerable when it is a male that holds the scissors, and I get the feeling that she is made fun of, than when it is a woman that cuts.
Semiotics of the Kitchen
"In this performance Rosler takes on the role of an apron-clad housewife and parodies the television cooking demonstrations popularized by Julia Child in the 1960s. Standing in a kitchen, surrounded by refrigerator, table, and stove, she moves through the alphabet from A to Z, assigning a letter to the various tools found in this domestic space. Wielding knives, a nutcracker, and a rolling pin, she warms to her task, her gestures sharply punctuating the rage and frustration of oppressive women's roles. Rosler has said of this work, "I was concerned with something like the notion of 'language speaking the subject,' and with the transformation of the woman herself into a sign in a system of signs that represent a system of food production, a system of harnessed subjectivity.""
Sourced from: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/88937
"In 1924, with the West on the mend after World War I, French poet André Breton unleashed a manifesto of a brand-new revolution: the artistic, intellectual, and literary movement known as Surrealism. From this point, until the end of World War II, the artists, writers, and intellectuals who joined Breton sought to creatively undermine what they viewed as postwar society’s excessive rationality and oppressive order. They accomplished this by producing work generated not out of the conscious—that cerebral, rule-bound part of the mind—but by tapping into the unconscious, its desiring, dreaming, irrational portion. “Beloved imagination,” Breton wrote in his manifesto, “what I most like in you is your unsparing quality.”1
Women were largely regarded as the subjects and muses of the men who dominated Surrealism, among them Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Man Ray, and René Magritte. So, it is notable that painter and sculptor Meret Oppenheim (German-Swiss, 1913–1985) made a place for herself as one of Surrealism’s central artists and produced some of its most powerful works. In 1932, she moved to Paris, the center of the movement, and was soon participating actively in their meetings and exhibitions. By 1936, she had her first solo exhibition. Assuming she, like her artistic peers, must be male, critics and admirers of her work often mistakenly referred to her as “Mr. Oppenheim.”
The artist possessed a wry wit and was keenly aware of how women were regarded by both the Surrealists and society. Suffused with humor, eroticism, and menacing darkness, her work reflected her critical explorations of female sexuality, identity, and exploitation. Oppenheim became known for her assemblages, sculptural works in which she brought everyday, often domestic, items into disturbing and humorous juxtaposition. For the Surrealists, such objects served to crack the veneer of civilized society, revealing the sexual, psychological, and emotional drives burning just beneath the surface.
A Sensational Teacup: Meret Oppenheim’s Object (1936)
It began with a joke over lunch. In 1936, Meret Oppenheim was at a Paris café with Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso, who noticed the fur-lined, polished metal bracelet she was wearing and joked that anything could be covered with fur. “Even this cup and saucer,” Oppenheim replied and, carrying the merriment further, called out, “Waiter, a little more fur!”2 Her devilish imagination duly sparked, the artist went to a department store not long after this meal, bought a white teacup, saucer, and spoon, wrapped them in the speckled tan fur of a Chinese gazelle, and titled this ensemble Object. In doing so, she transformed items traditionally associated with decorum and feminine refinement into a confounding Surrealist sculpture. Object exemplifies the poet and founder of Surrealism André Breton’s argument that mundane things presented in unexpected ways had the power to challenge reason, to urge the inhibited and uninitiated (that is, the rest of society) to connect to their subconscious—whether they were ready for it or, more likely, not.
While Oppenheim was not the only artist bringing everyday things into unlikely alliance in the 1930s, her fur-covered teacup is considered to be among the quintessential Surrealist objects. It caused a sensation when it was introduced to the public in 1936, first in Paris, at the inaugural exhibition of Surrealist objects organized by Breton, and then in New York, at The Museum of Modern Art’s show Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism. “The fur-lined-cup school of art,” ran a headline of the day, capturing the mixture of bemusement, offense, shock, and fascination Object provoked.3 Though many viewers could not comprehend how or why it constituted a work of art, by 1946, The Museum of Modern Art acquired the work.
“Art […] has to do with spirit, not with decoration,”4 Oppenheim once wrote, and a work as small and economical as Object has such outsized spirit because fur combined with a teacup evokes such a surprising mix of messages and associations. The fur may remind viewers of wild animals and nature, while the teacup could suggest manners and civilization. With its pelt, the teacup becomes soft, rounded, and highly tactile. It seems attractive to the touch, if not, on the other hand, to the taste: Imagine drinking from it, and the physical sensation of wet fur filling the mouth."
Horizon - "Hair Care Secrets" (See down below)
The Horizon episode "Hair Care Secrets" gave me the realization that hair fills a more significant role in our society than I first thought. In according to this program, "the time and effort that we put into our hair, creates a global haircare market worth the staggering 60 billion pounds. An estimated 1.5 billion of that is spent on hair loss treatment." Further on, the interviewed people all agrees with that hair effects their self confidence. A scientist from the program notes that it only takes about 13 milliseconds for us to decide wether we think a face is attractive or not, and that our hair effects how old other people think we are. Yet, they make it clear that this material that we put so much value in, actually only is dead protein.
Pictures of fake hair taken in a cosmetics store in Dalston, 4th of November, 2019
These are all products that are a part of the 60 billion pounds industry that circles around hair. It fascinates me that humans spend so much money and time on dead protein. In the episode from Horizon, a man was so bothered by how his hair was looking, that he was going to make a hair transplantation to change it, in order to feel better about himself. As so many other things in our society, this obsession of ours makes no sense.
Horizon: "Hair Care Secrets"
Being Human: Heather Dewey-Hagborg - "I steal DNA from strangers"
The Sculptural Condition: Part 2 : The Language of Objects
"The Social Life of Things"
Cambridge University Press, Arjun Appadurai, 1986
Karl Marx "The Fetishism of Commodities"
To figure out the best method to create a self portrait sculpture, I've researched how other artists work to create their sculptural pieces.
Transformer: A Rebirth of Wonder at 180 The Strand
"Themes such as ritual, identity, magic, and political reality connect the artworks, which consider social transformation and the role of the individual in relation to our collective future.
Evan Ifekoya explores the meeting point of technology and wellness, conjuring a futuristic centre complete with padded white walls and a metal-framed meditation pod where visitors can relax, recharge and reconnect with their inner self.
"Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3"
"Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3" is the epilogue to a series of works created during the past four years, about the making of a painter. In the present world, where reality and fiction merge together to form diverse paradigms, Korakrit Arunanondchai develops his character: a Thai denim painter. His autobiography, his constructed image as an artist, the social realities of present-day Thailand, and the phenomenon of globalization are mixed together in the exhibition to form what the artist calls “a memory palace.”
The installation is made in two parts. “The Body” is composed of a large denim body painting, only visible in its entirety from a bird’s eye view. It functions as a landscape and a stage for the audience. “The Spirit” presents a video, in the artist converses with Chantri - the invisible main character of the trilogy and the incarnation of the audience and Korakrit Arunanondchai’s consciousness, voiced by Chutatip Arunanondchai.
Korakrit Arunanondchai looks to the Buddhist and Animist framework of Thailand, as well as to popular culture, geopolitics and technology, to question what it means to be an artist today, while celebrating connectivity, the merging of art and life, of fantasy and reality, of science and incorporeality.
“Chantri, I think I finish my final painting, will you come to see it?”
"Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3", (2015)
Performance at MoMa
"Untitled (History painting)"
"There are a lot of resources given by nature for free -- all we need is our sensitivity to see them and our creativity to use them," says architect Anna Heringer. Heringer uses low-tech materials like mud and bamboo to create structures from China to Switzerland, Bangladesh and beyond. Visit an awe-inspiring school, an elegant office and cozy social spaces -- all built from natural materials -- in this delightful talk.
Load-bearing earth walls that really ground the school, and large bamboo structures that bring the lightness in. That's the classroom on the ground floor. Attached to it are the caves. They're for reading, for snuggling, for solo work, for meditation, for playing ... and the classroom on the top.
Especially mud has a very poor image. When we think of mud, we think of dirt -- it's ugly, it's nondurable -- and this is the image I want to change. In fact, it's the 11th rainy season for this school now, really harsh, horizontal monsoon rains, and the walls are standing strong.
So how does it work? First rule, a good foundation that keeps the wall dry from the ground, and second rule, a good roof that protects from the top, and third rule, erosion control. Mud walls need speed breakers so that the rainwater cannot run down the wall fast, and these speed breakers could be lines of bamboo or stones or straw mixed into the mud, just like a hill needs trees or rocks in order to prevent erosion. It works just the same way. And people always ask me if I have to add cement to the mud, and the answer is no. There is no stabilizer, no coating on these walls, only in the foundation.
Yeah, and the great thing is, if an earth wall is not needed anymore, it can go back to the ground it came from, turn into a garden, or get fully recycled without any loss of quality. There's no other material that can do this, and this is why mud is so excellent in terms of environmental performance.
What about the economic sustainability? When we built the school, I practically lived on the construction site, and in the evening, I used to go with the workers to the market, and I could see how they spent their money. And they would buy the vegetables from their neighbors, they would get a new haircut or a new blouse from the tailor. And because the main part of the building budget was spent on craftsmanship, the school wasn't just a building, it became a real catalyst for local development, and that made me happy. If I had designed the school in cement and steel, this money would have been exported and lost for those families.
The building budget at that time was 35,000 euros -- it's probably doubled by now -- and this is a lot of money for that region, and especially because this money is working within the community and rotating fast, and not on the stock market. So when it comes to the economic sustainability of my project, my main question is, who gets the profit?
It seems totally out of our focus, but approximately three billion people all around the planet are living in earth houses, and it is a traditional building material in Europe just as much as in Africa.
in fact, in more and more countries, load-bearing earthen structures are not allowed to be built anymore although they're traditional and have lasted for hundreds of years, and not because the material is weak, but because there are no architects and engineers who know how to deal with that material. So education on all levels, for craftsmen, engineers and architects, is really strongly needed.
What happens when you place the same item or piece in a different venue?
Primary Research: Dome in Clissold Park
Wynton Guest House Minnesota
John Pawson : Home Farm
"Over the course of more than thirty years, a body of work has accumulated based on the objective of making simple spaces, with just what is required and nothing more, where the eye feels as comfortable as the body. At the heart of everything has been the idea of refining by removing, meticulously paring away until what is left cannot be improved by further reduction: sensual space, where the primary experience is of the quality of light, materials and proportions. During these three decades, every project has represented a manifesto of the thinking, but nowhere is this truer than at Home Farm in Oxfordshire, where architect and client are one."
Powers of Ten
The film "Powers of Ten" (see down below), awakens thoughts about that in the end, it is all about physics, biology and other sciences. Everything cultural, anthropological, it's only a human construction, it has all been made up.
I call myself a woman, Swedish, happy, and lots of other things. Actually I am nothing else than DNA, molecules and particles, all existing on a planet situated in a solar system that only makes up a minimal part of the entire space that we call the universe.
For some reason, despite this knowledge, I still care about all of these human constructions.
Rebecca Louise Law
"British installation artist Rebecca Louise Law creates stunning installation art made from thousands of real flowers, suspended with copper wire. Exploring the relationship between humanity and nature, the artist transforms art galleries, museums, and other public spaces into immersive indoor gardens that “cocoon” the viewer with floating flowers and gorgeous spectrums of color.
As a classically trained artist, Law’s inspiration comes from the work of abstract expressionists and their energetic use of bold color. However, rather turning to acrylics or oils, she opted for more organic materials. “The flower became my paint,” Law explains. As such, she creates mesmerizing, site-specific installations that capture the beauty of nature in three dimensions. By working with a variety of of fresh and preserved flora, Law’s ephemeral art transforms naturally over time—viewers can appreciate the changes in the natural material’s form, color, and texture as they wilt and dry
By sight, your installations look incredibly beautiful, but is scent also an important part of your work?
The scent can be intense. Life in Death at The Shirely Sherwood Gallery, Kew included spices as well as flora and grasses. Each natural element takes you on a scented journey, I love hearing the responses to my artwork in relation to smell.
What kind of impression or feeling do you hope to leave upon others who experience your immersive installations?
My work allows the viewer time to observe nature within a controlled space. The fantasy of rolling around in a field of wild flowers, contained and suspended in time. I hope that the artwork can be a place to escape and bathe in nature."
Room: "Powers of Ten"
Texts for Room
"The city as Sculpture"
Is the city a work of art?
Even a state might become a work of art.
To Buckhardt, art described the product of artifice, and one of the grater developments of the Renaissance was that every part of the state was subject to conscious thought and decision.
Sculptors see space as a physical substance to be manipulated
To architects see it (space) as just a void?"
"One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity"
Site specificity used to imply something grounded, bound to the laws of physics. Often playing with gravity, site-specific works used to be obstinate about "presence," even if they were materially ephemeral, and adamant about immobility, even in the face of disappearance or destruction. Whether inside the white cube or out in the Nevada desert, whether architectural or landscape-oriented, site-specific art initially took the "site" as an actual location, a tangible reality, its identity composed of a unique combination of constitutive physical elements: length, depth, height, texture, and shape of walls and rooms; scale and proportion of plazas, buildings, or parks; existing conditions of lighting, ventilation, traffic patterns; distinctive topographical features. If modernist sculpture absorbed its pedestal/base to sever its connection to or express its indifference to the site, rendering itself more autonomous and self- referential, and thus transportable, placeless, and nomadic, then site-specific works, as they first emerged in the wake of Minimalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, forced a dramatic reversal of this modernist paradigm.' Antithetical to the claim "If you have to change a sculpture for a site there is something wrong with the sculpture,"*site-specific art, whether interruptive or assimilative, gave itself up to its environmental context, being formally determined or directed by it.
In turn, the uncontaminated and pure idealist space of dominant modernisms was radically displaced by the materiality of the natural landscape or the impure and ordinary space of the everyday. The space of art was no longer perceived as a blank slate, a tabula rasa, but a real place. The art object or event in this context was to be singularly experienced in the here-and-now through the bodily presence of each viewing subject, in a sensorial immediacy of spatial extension and temporal duration (what Michael Fried derisively characterized as theatricality), rather than instantaneously "perceived" in a visual epiphany by a disembodied eye. Site-specific work in its earliest formation, then, focused on establishing an inextricable, indivisible relationship between the work and its site, and demanded the physical presence of the viewer for the work's completion. The (neo-avant- garde) aspiration to exceed the limitations of traditional media, like painting and sculpture, as well as their institutional setting; the epistemological challenge to relocate meaning from within the art object to the contingencies of its context; the radical restructuring of the subject from an old Cartesian model to a phenomeno- logical one of lived bodily experience; and the self-conscious desire to resist the forces of the capitalist market economy, which circulates art works as transportable and exchangeable commodity goods-all these imperatives came together in art's new attachment to the actuality of the site.
In this frame of mind, Robert Barry declared in a 1969 interview that each of his wire installations was "made to suit the place in which it was installed. They cannot be moved without being destroyed."4 Similarly, Richard Serra wrote fifteen years later in a letter to the Director of the Art-in-Architecture Program of the General Services Administration in Washington, D.C., that his 120-feet, Cor-Ten steel sculpture Tilted Arc was "commissioned and designed for one particular site: Federal Plaza. It is a site-specific work and as such not to be relocated. To remove the work is to destroy the work."j He further elaborated his position in 1989:
As I pointed out, Tilted Arc was conceived from the start as a site-specific sculpture and was not meant to be "site-adjusted" or ..."relocated." Site-specific works deal with the environmental components of given places. The scale, size, and location of site-specificworks are determined by the topography of the site, whether it be urban or landscape or architectural enclosure. The works become part of the site and restruc- ture both conceptually and perceptually the organization of the site.
Barry and Serra echo each other here. But whereas Barry's comment announces what was in the late 1960s a new radicality in vanguard sculptural prac- tice, marking an early stage in the aesthetic experimentations that were to follow through the 1970s (i.e., land/earth art, process art, installation art, Conceptual art, performance/body art, and various forms of institutional critique), Serra's state- ment, spoken twenty years later within the context of public art, is an indignant defense, signaling a crisis point for site specificity-at least for a version that would prioritize the physical inseparabilitybetween a work and its site of installation.'
Informed by the contextual thinking of Minimalism, various forms of institutional critique and Conceptual art developed a different model of site specificity that implicitly challenged the "innocence" of space and the accompanying presumption of a universal viewing subject (albeit one in possession of a corporeal body) as espoused in the phenomenological model. Artists such as Michael Asher, Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren, Hans Haacke, and Robert Smithson, as well as many women artists including Mierle Laderman Ukeles, have variously conceived the site not only in physical and spatial terms but as a cultural framework
defined by the institutions of art. If Minimalism returned to the viewing subject a physical corporeal body, institutional critique insisted on the social matrix of class, race, gender, and sexuality of the viewing subject.8 Moreover, while Minimalism challenged the idealist hermeticism of the autonomous art object by deflecting its meaning to the space of its presentation, institutional critique further complicated this displacement by highlighting the idealist hermeticism of the space of presentation itself. The modern gallery/museum space, for instance, with its stark white walls, artificial lighting (no windows), controlled climate, and pristine architectonics, was perceived not solely in terms of basic dimensions and proportion but as an institutional disguise, a normative exhibition convention serving an ideological function. The seemingly benign architectural features of a gallery/museum, in other words, were deemed to be coded mechanisms that actively disassociate the space of art from the outer world, furthering the institution's idealist imperative of rendering itself and its hierarchization of values "objective," "disinterested," and "true."
As early as 1970 Buren proclaimed, "Whether the place in which the work is shown imprints and marks this work, whatever it may be, or whether the work itself is directly-consciously or not-produced for the Museum, any work presented in that framework, if it does not explicitly examine the influence of the framework upon itself, falls into the illusion of self-sufficiency-or idealism."g But more than
just the museum, the site comes to encompass a relay of several interrelated but different spaces and economies, including the studio, gallery, museum, art criticism, art history, the art market, that together constitute a system of practices that is not separate from but open to social, economic, and political pressures. To be "specific" to such a site, in turn, is to decode and/or recode the institutional conventions so as to expose their hidden yet motivated operations-to reveal the ways in which institutions mold art's meaning to modulate its cultural and economic value, and to undercut the fallacy of art and its institutions' "autonomy" by making apparent their imbricated relationship to the broader socioeconomic and political processes of the day. Again, in Buren's somewhat militant words from 1970:
Art, whatever else it may be, is exclusively political. What is called for is the analysis offormal and cultural limits (and not one or the other) within which art exists and struggles. These limits are many and of different intensities. Although the prevailing ideology and the associated artists try in every way to camoujage them, and although it is too early-the condi- tions are not met-to blow them up, the time has come to unveil them.
In nascent forms of institutional critique, in fact, the physical condition of the exhibition space remained the primary point of departure for this unveiling. For example, in works such as Haacke's Condensation Cube (1963-65), Me1 Bochner's Measurement series (1969), Lawrence Weiner's wall cutouts (1968), and Buren's Within and Beyond theFrame (1973),the task of exposing those aspects which the institution would obscure was enacted literally in relation to the architecture of the exhibition space-highlighting the humidity level of a gallery by allowing moisture to "invade" the pristine Minimalist art object (a mimetic configuration of the gallery space itself); insisting on the material fact of the gallery walls as "framing" devices by notating their dimensions directly on them; removing portions of a wall to reveal the base reality behind the "neutral" white cube; and exceeding the physical boundaries of the gallery by having the art work literally go out the window, ostensibly to "frame" the institutional frame. Attempts such as these to expose the cultural confinement within which artists function-"the apparatus the artist is threaded throughw-and the impact of its forces upon the meaning and value of art became, as Smithson had predicted in 1972, "the great issue" for artists in the 1970s.11 As this investigation extended into the 1980s, it relied less and less on the physical parameters of the gallery/museum or other exhibition venues to articulate its critique.
In the paradigmatic practice of Hans Haacke, for instance, the site shifted from the physical condition of the gallery (as in the Condensation Cube) to the system of socioeconomic relations within which art and its institutional programming find their possibilities of being. His fact-based exposis through the 1970s, which spot- lighted art's inextricable ties to the ideologically suspect if not morally corrupt power elite, recast the site of art as an institutional frame in social, economic, and political terms, and enforced these terms as the very content of the art work. Exemplary of a different approach to the institutional frame are Michael Asher's surgically precise displacement projects, which advanced a concept of site that was inclusive of historical and conceptual dimensions. In his contribution to the "73rd American Exhibition" at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979, for instance, Asher revealed the sites of exhibition or display to be culturally specific situations generating particular expectations and narratives regarding art and art history. Institutional siting of art, in other words, not only distinguishes qualitative and economic value, it also (re)produces specific forms of knowledge that are histori- cally located and culturally determined-not at all universal or timeless standards.
In these ways, the "site" of art evolves away from its coincidence with the literal space of ar;, and the physical condition of Bspecific location recedes as the primary element in the conception of a site. Whether articulated in political and
kconomic terms, as in ~aacke'scase, or in epistemological terms, as inhher's, it is
rather the techniques and effects of the art institution asihey circumscribe the defini-
tion, production, presentation, and dissemination of art that become the sites of
critical intervention. Concurrent with this move toward the dematerialization of
the site is the ongoing de-aestheticization (i.e., withdrawal of visual pleasure) and
dematerialization of the art work. Going against the grain of institutional habits
and desires, and continuing to resist the commodification of art in/for the market
place, site-specific art adopts strategies that are either aggressively antivisual- informational, textual, expositional, didactic-or immaterial altogether-gestures, events, or performances bracketed by temporal boundaries. The "work no longer seeks to be a noun/object but a verb/process, provoking the viewers' critical (not
just physical) acuity regarding the ideological conditions of that viewing. In this context, the guarantee of a specific relationship between an art work and its "site" is not based on a physical permanence of that relationship (as demanded by Serra, for example), but rather on the recognition of its unfixed impermanence, to be experienced as an unrepeatable and fleeting situation.
But if the critique of the cultural confinement of art (and artists) via its institutions was once the "great issue," a dominant drive of site-oriented practices today is the pursuit of a more intense engagement with the outside world and every- day life-a critique of culture that is inclusive of non-art spaces, non-art institutions, and non-art issues (blurring the division between art and non-art, in fact). Concerned to integrate art more directly into the realm of the social, either in order to redress (in an activist sense) urgent social problems such as the ecological crisis, homelessness, AIDS, homophobia, racism, and sexism, or more generally in order to relativize art as one among many forms of cultural work, current manifestations of site specificity tend to treat aesthetic and art-historical concerns as secondary issues. Deeming the focus on the social nature of art's production and reception td be too exclusive, even elitist, this expanded engagement with culture favors "public" sites
outside the traditional confines of art in physical and intellectual terms
Furthering previous (at times literal) attempts to take art out of the museum/gallery space-system (recall Buren's striped canvases marching out the gallery window, or Smithson's adventures in the wastelands of New Jersey or iso- lated locales in Utah), contemporary site-oriented works occupy hotels, city streets, housing projects, prisons, schools, hospitals, churches, zoos, supermarkets, etc., and infiltrate media spaces such as radio, newspapers, television, and the Internet. In addition to this spatial expansion, site-oriented art is also informed by a broader range of disciplines (i.e., anthropology, sociology, literary criticism, psychology, natural and cultural histories, architecture and urbanism, computer science, political theory) and sharply attuned to popular discourses (i.e., fashion, music, advertising, film, and television). But more than these dual expansions of art into culture, which obviously diversify the site, the distinguishing characteristic of today's site-oriented art is the way in which both the art work's relationship to
the actuality of a location (as site) and the social conditions of the institutional frame (as site) are subordinate to a discursively determined site that is delineated as a field of knowledge, intellectual exchange, or cultural debate. Furthermore, unlike previous models, this site is not defined as a precondition. Rather, it is generated by the work (often as "content"), and then vmiJied by its convergence with an existing discursive formation.
For example, in Mark Dion's 1991 project On Tropical Nature, several different definitions of the site operated concurrently. First, the initial site of Dion's inter- vention was an uninhabited spot in the rain forest near the base of the Orinoco
River outside Caracas, Venezuela, where the artist camped for three weeks collect- ing specimens of various plants and insects as well as feathers, mushrooms, nests, and stones. These specimens, picked up at the end of each week in crates, were delivered to the second site of the project, Sala Mendoza, one of the two hosting art institutions back in Caracas. In the gallery space of the Sala, the specimens, which were uncrated and displayed like works of art in themselves, were contextualized within what constituted a third site-the curatorial framework of the thematic group exhibition.14 The fourth site, however, although the least material, was the site to which Dion intended a lasting relationship. On Tropical Nature sought to become a part of the discourse concerning cultural representations of nature and the global environmental crisis.15
Sometimes at the cost of a semantic slippage between content and site, other artists who are similarly engaged in site-oriented projects, operating with multiple definitions of the site, in the end find their "locational" anchor in the discursive realm. For instance, while Tom Burr and John Lindell each have produced diverse projects in a variety of media for many different institutions, their consistent engage- ment with issues concerning the construction and dynamics of (homo)sexualityand desire has established such issues as the "site" of their work. And in projects by artists such as Lothar Baumgarten, Renee Green, Jimmie Durham, and Fred Wilson, the legaciesofcolonialism,slavery,racism,andtheethnographic traditionastheyimpact on identity politics has emerged as an important "site" of artistic investigation. In some instances, artists including Green, Silvia Kolbowski, Group Material, and Christian Philipp Miiller have reflected on aspects of site-specific practice itself as a "site," interrogating its currency in relation to aesthetic imperatives, institutional demands, socioeconomic ramifications, or political efficacy. In this way different cultural debates, a theoretical concept, a social issue, a political problem, an institutional framework (not necessarily an art institution), a community or seasonal event, a historical condition, even particular formations of desire, are now deemed to function as sites.16
This is not to say that the parameters of a particular place or institution no longer matter, because site-oriented art today still cannot be thought or executed without the contingencies of locational and institutional circumstances. But the primary site addressed by current manifestations of site specificity is not necessarily bound to, or determined by, these contingencies in the long run. Consequently, although the site of action or intervention (physical) and the site of effects/reception
(discursive) are conceived to be continuous, they are nonetheless pulled apart. Whereas, for example, the sites of intervention and effect for Serra's Tilted Arc were coincident (Federal Plaza in downtown New York City), Dion's site of intervention
(the rain forest in Venezuela or Sala Mendoza) and his projected site of effect (the discourse of nature) are distinct. The former clearly serves the latter as material source and "inspiration,"yet does not sustain an indexical relationship to it.
James Meyer has distinguished this trend in recent site-oriented practice in terms of a "functional site": "[The functional site] is a process, an operation occurring between sites, a mapping of institutional and discursive filiations and the bodies that move between them (the artist's above all). It is an informational site, a locus of overlap of text, photographs and video recordings, physical places and things. ...It is a temporary thing; a movement; a chain of meanings devoid of a particular focus."li Which is to say the site is now structured (inter)textually rather than spatially, and its model is not a map but an itinerary, a fragmentary sequence of events and actions through spaces, that is, a nomadic narrative whose path is articulated by the passage of the artist. Corresponding to the pattern of movement in electronic spaces of the Internet and cyberspace, which are likewise structured to be experienced transitively, one thing after another, and not as synchronic simultaneity,lg this transformation of the site textualizes spaces and spatializes discourses.
A provisional conclusion might be that in advanced art practices of the past thirty years the operative definition of the site has been transformed from a physical location-grounded, fixed, actual-to a discursive vector-ungrounded, fluid, virtual. But even if the dominance of a particular formulation of site specificity emerges at one moment and wanes at another, the shifts are not always punctual or definitive. Thus, the three paradigms of site specificity I have schematized here-phenomenological, social/institutional, and discursive-although presented somewhat chronologically, are not stages in a linear trajectory of historical develop- ment. Rather, they are competing definitions, overlapping with one another and operating simultaneously in various cultural practices today (or even within a single artist's single project).
Nonetheless, this move away from a literal interpretation of the site and the multiplicitous expansion of the site in locational and conceptual terms seems more accelerated today than in the past. And the phenomenon is embraced by many artists and critics as an advance offering more effective avenues to resist revised institutional and market forces that now commodify "critical" art practices.
In addition, current forms of site-oriented art, which readily take up social issues (often inspired by them), and which routinely engage the collaborative participa- tion of audience groups for the conceptualization and production of the work, are seen as a means to strengthen art's capacity to penetrate the sociopolitical organization of contemporary life with greater impact and meaning. In this sense the possibilities to conceive the site as something more than a place-as repressed ethnic history, a political cause, a disenfranchised social group-is a crucial conceptual leap in redefining the "public" role of art and artists.19
But the enthusiastic support for these salutary goals needs to be checked by a serious critical examination of the problems and contradictions that attend all forms of site-specific and site-oriented art today, which are visible now as the art work is becoming more and more "unhinged" from the actuality of the site once again-unhinged both in a literal sense of physical separation of the art work from the location of its initial installation, and in a metaphorical sense as per- formed in the discursive mobilization of the site in emergent forms of site-oriented art. This "unhinging," however, does not indicate a retroversion to the modernist autonomy of the siteless, nomadic art object, although such an ideology is still predominant. Rather, the current unhinging of site specificity is reflective of new questions that pressure its practices today-questions engendered by both aesthetic imperatives and external historical determinants, which are not exactly comparable to those of thirty years ago. For example, what is the status of traditional aesthetic values such as originality, authenticity, and uniqueness in site-specific art, which always begins with the particular, local, unrepeatable preconditions of a site, how- ever it is defined? Is the artist's prevalent relegation of authorship to the conditions of the site, including collaborators and/or reader-viewers, a continuing Barthesian performance of "death of the author" or a recasting of the centrality of the artist as a "silent" manager/director? Furthermore, what is the commodity status of anti-commodities, that is, immaterial, process-oriented, ephemeral, performative events? While site-specific art once defied commodification by insisting on immobility, it now seems to espouse fluid mobility and nomadism for the same purpose. But curiously, the nomadic principle also defines capital and power in our times.20 Is the unhinging of site specificity, then, a form of resistance to the ideologi- cal establishment of art or a capitulation to the logic of capitalist expansion?
museum culture and the art market. Photographic documentation and other materials associated with site-specific art (preliminary sketches and drawings, field notes, instructions on installation procedures, etc.) have long been standard fare of museum exhibitions and a staple of the art market. In the recent past, however, as the cultural and market values of works from the 1960s and '70s have risen, many of the early precedents in site-specific art, once deemed so difficult to collect and impossible to reproduce, have reappeared in several high-profile exhibitions, such as "l'art conceptuel, une perspective" at the Musie d'art moderne de la ville de Paris (1989),"The New Sculpture 1965-75: Between Geometry and Gesture"
(1990),and "Immaterial Objects" (1991-92), both at the Whitney Museum.21
For exhibitions like these, site-specific works from decades ago are being relocated or refabricated from scratch at or near the location of their re- presentation, either because shipping is too difficult and its costs prohibitive, or because the originals are too fragile, in disrepair, or no longer in existence. Depending on the circumstances, some of these refabrications are destroyed after the specific exhibitions for which they are produced; in other instances, the re-creations come to coexist with or replace the old, functioning as new originals (some even finding homes in permanent collections of museums).2*With the cooperation of the artist in many cases, art audiences are now offered the "real"
aesthetic experiences of site-specific copies.
The chance to re-view"unrepeatable" works such as Serra's SplashPiece: Casting
(1969-70) or Alan Saret's Sulfur Falls (1968) offers an opportunity to reconsider their historical significance, especially in relation to the current fascination with the late 1960s and '70s in art and criticism. But the very process of institutionaliza- tion and the attendant commercialization of site-specific art also overturns the principle of place-boundedness through which such works developed their critique of the ahistorical autonomy of the art object. Contrary to the earlier conception of site specificity, the current museological and commercial practices of refabricating (in order to travel) once site-bound works make transferability and mobilization new norms for site specificity. As Susan Hapgood has observed, "the once-popular term 'site-specific,' has come to mean 'movable under the right circumstances,"'~~ shattering the dictum "to remove the work is to destroy the work."
The consequences of this conversion, effected by object-oriented decontextu- alizations in the guise of historical recontextualizations, are a series of normalizing reversals in which the specificity of the site is rendered irrelevant, making it all the
Sarah Selby : Raised by Google, Arebyte
Raised by Google explores the impacts of current data practices on our seemingly autonomous lives, investigating to what degree our opportunities and experiences are influenced by the underlying systems of a data-driven society.
Exploring the rapidly expanding behavioural futures market highlighted by Shoshana Zuboff in her book ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’, the exhibition circumvents the opacity inherent to these practices by placing the viewer within the mechanisms of ‘black box’ algorithms that underpin our daily lives. The show adopts processes and techniques prominent in the behavioural analytics industries such as psychographic analysis, microtargeting and the gamification of data collection. Psychographic microtargeting is a method of citizen profiling that goes beyond previous demographic segmentation by dividing groups into narrower subsets based on attitudes, interests, moods and dispositions. This level of extreme microtargeting has been made possible by large available amounts of big data, the availability of targeted media platforms such as social media, and advances in experimental methodology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Raised by Google utilises ‘Apply Magic Sauce’ (AMS), software created by Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Department. Created with the intention to put the user back in control of their data, AMS makes visible what is predictable (and therefore profitable) about you through your data. Using digital footprints, AMS predicts each visitor’s psycho-demographic profile - from age and personality to intelligence and life satisfaction.
As surveillance culture is increasingly normalised and data collection becomes more subtly ingrained with the arrival of 5G and the rapidly expanding Internet of Things, we are at a critical point to initiate conversation around the process, ethics and impacts of this practice. Although big data and behavioural analysis are still in their infancy in terms of best practice and usage, the negative impacts of psychographic targeting and bias applications are already being seen in individuals and larger groups globally. The exhibition seeks to raise questions and provoke critical thinking around what the impacts of this may be over time, when companies have access to not only our data, but our parent’s data and the data of future generations. If black-box algorithms are already playing a role in employee screening, health insurance and discerning crime risks, how will tracking this lineage over time influence predictive algorithms and their applications? Raised by Google is a call to action for the netizens of today to set boundaries that protect the freedom and autonomy of the children of tomorrow.
“Throughout history technology has provided artists with new tools of expression. Sarah Selby is pushing the boundaries of art looking outside and taking us to places that we least expected and challenging us to think.” Kadine James, CEO and founder of The Immersive Kind
At Home or on the Move
Robert Venturi, Complexity and contradiction in architecture
How to mix your own oil colors:
Oljemängd 15-30% av pigmentmängden: zinkvitt (V), titanvitt, kromoxidgrönt, azopigment.
Oljemängd 30-60% av pigmentmängden: järnsvart, järnrött, ockror, bränd grönjord, ultramarinblått (V), ultramarinviolett (V), manganviolett.
Oljemängd 60-120% av pigmentmängden: elfenbenssvart (S), grönjord, umbror (V), siennor (upp till 200%), krapplack (S), smaragdgrönt (V), järnblått.
William McDonough & Michael Braungart : "Cradle to Cradle
This book is not a tree
"We used water baded paints. We tacked down carpet instead of gluing it. We provided thirty cubic feet per minute of fresh air her person instead of five. We had granite checked for radon. We used wood that was sustainably harvested. We tried to be less bad." p9
"I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau to see what the worst of human intentions could accomplish: giant machines designed to eliminate human life. I realized that design is a signal of intention. What is the very best that designers can intend, I wondered, and how high a building manifest that intention?" p9
"I began to discover the rich experience of other cultures in working within nutrient flows, such as that of the Yanamamo of Brazil, who cremate their dead and put the ashes into a banana soup that the tribe eats at a celebratory feast. Many people believe in karma and reincarnation, an "upcycling" of the soul, if you will. These perspectives broadened my response to the problem of waste in the Western European tradition." p11-12
"The scientific community is usually paid to study problems, not solutions; indeed, finding a solution to the problem under study usually brings an end to funding research." p.12
"In hopes of devising a strategy to avoid the worst consequences of industrialism." p.13
"Consider this: all ants on the planet, taken together, have a biomass greater than that of humans. Ants have been incredibly industrious for millions of years. Yet their productiveness nourishes plants, animals and soil. Human industry has been in full swing for little over a century, yet is ha brought about a decline in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Nature don't have a design problem. People do." p.16
Chapter One: A Question of Design
"The spinning jenny, patented in 1770, increased the number of threads from one to eight, then sixteen, then more. Later models would spin as much as eighty threads simultaneously. Other mechanized equipment such as the water frame and the spinning mule, increased production levels such as pace, it must have seemed something like Moore's Law ( named for Gordon Moore, a founder of Intel), in which the processing speed of computer chips roughly doubles every eighteen months." p 19
"By 1840 factories that had onee made a thousand articles a week had the means and motivation to produce a thousand articles a day." p19-20
"More, more, more- jobs, people, products, factories, businesses, markets- seemed to be the rule of the day." p20
" "Cities... are nothing less than overgrown prisons that shut out the world and all its beauties." wrote the poet John Clare. Artists and aesthetes like John Ruskin and William Morris feared for a civilization whose aesthetic sensibility and physical structures were being reshaped by materialistic designs." p.20
"The victorian London was notorious for being "the great and dirty city", as Charles Dickens called it.
"London air was so grimy from airborne pollutants especially emissions from turning coal."
"In early factories and other industrial operations, such as mining, materials were considered expensive, but people were often considered cheap." p21
"But the general spirit of early industrialization - and of many others at the time - was one of great optimism and faith in the progress of humankind." p.21
"Cheaper products, public transportation, water distribution and sanitation, waste collection, laundries, safe housing, and other conveniences gave people, both rich and poor, what appeared to be a more equitable standard of living. No longer did the leisure classes alone have access to all the comforts." p21
"The industrial revolution was not planned, but it was not without a motive. At bottom it was an economic revolution, driven by the desire for acquisition of capital. Industrialists wanted to make products as efficiently as possible and to get the grates volume of goods to the largest number of people. In most industries, this meant shifting from a system of manual labor to one of efficient mechanization."
"Henry Ford... founding the Ford Motor Company in 1903.... In 1908 his company began producing the legendary Model T, the "car for great multitude".
Ford developed a moving assembly line based on the ones used in the Chicago beed industry: it carried materials to workers, it enabled them to repeat a single operation, reducing overall labor time dramatically.
"This and other advantages made possible the mass production of the universal car, the model T". This pushed the cost down from 850USD in 1908 to 290USD in 1925, "and sales skyrocketed".
"By 1927, the total sales reached fifteen million." p.23
"Manufacturing was viewed as what Winston Churchill referred to as "the arsenal of democracy," because the productive capacity was so huge, it could produce an undeniably potent response to war conditions". p.23
In 1914, Ford increased the factory worker salary from 2.34 USD a day to 5 USD a day. p.24
"Ore, timber, water, grain, cattle, coal, land - these were the raw materials for the production systems that made goods for the masses, and they still are today."
"Resources seemed immeasurably vast. Nature itself was perceived as a "mother earth" who, perpetually regenerative, would absorb all things and continue to grow". p.25
"The Western view saw nature as a dangerous, brutish force to be civilized and subdued." p.25
"Ralph Waldo Emerson described nature as "essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf."
"Today our understanding of nature has dramatically changed. New studies indicate that the oceans, the air, the mountains, and the plants and animals that inhabit them are more vulnerable than early innovators even imagined. But modern industries operate according to paradigms that developed when humans had a very different sense of the world. Neither the health of natural systems, nor an awareness of their delicacy, complexity, and interconnectedness, have been part of the industrial agenda. At its deepest foundation, the industrial infrastructure we have today is linear: it is focused on making a product and getting it to a customer quickly and cheaply without considering much else."
"Industrial revolution brought a number of positive social changes. With higher standards of living, life expectancy greatly increased. Medical care and education greatly improved and became more widely available. Electricity, telecommunications, and other advances raised comfort and convenience to a new level. Technological advances brought the so-called developing nations enormous benefits, including increased productivity of agricultural land and vastly increased harvests and food storage for growing populations.
But there were fundamental flaws in the Industrial Revolution's design. They resulted in some crucial omissions, and devastating consequences have been handed down to us, along with the dominant assumptions of the era in which the transformation took shape." p.26
"Imagine what you would come upon today at a typical landfill: old furniture, upholstery, carpets, televisions, clothing, shoes, telephones, computers, complex products, and plastic packaging, as well as organic materials like diapers, paper, wood, and food wastes. Most of these products were made from valuable materials that required effort and expense to extract and make, billions of dollars' worth of material assets. The biodegradable materials such as food matter and paper actually have value too, they could decompose and return biological nutrients to the soil. Unfortunately, all of these is wasted. They are the ultimate products of an industrial system that is designed on a linear, one-way cradle-to-grave model." p.27
"You may be referred to as a consumer, but there is very little that you actually consume- some food, some liquids. Everything else is designed for your to throw away the you are finished with it. But where is "away"? Of course, "away" does not really exist. "Away" has gone away." p.27
"More than 90 percent of materials extracted to make durable goods in the united States become waste almost immediately"
Space Time : Trevor Paglen From 'Apple' to 'Anomaly' at the Barbican
Through visiting the exhibition at the Barbican, I found this essay "Excavating AI" written by Trevor Paglen and Kate Crawford.
"You open up a database of pictures used to train artificial intelligence systems. At first, things seem straightforward. You’re met with thousands of images: apples and oranges, birds, dogs, horses, mountains, clouds, houses, and street signs. But as you probe further into the dataset, people begin to appear: cheerleaders, scuba divers, welders, Boy Scouts, fire walkers, and flower girls. Things get strange: A photograph of a woman smiling in a bikini is labeled a “slattern, slut, slovenly woman, trollop.” A young man drinking beer is categorized as an “alcoholic, alky, dipsomaniac, boozer, lush, soaker, souse.” A child wearing sunglasses is classified as a “failure, loser, non-starter, unsuccessful person.” You’re looking at the “person” category in a dataset called ImageNet, one of the most widely used training sets for machine learning.
Something is wrong with this picture.
Where did these images come from? Why were the people in the photos labeled this way? What sorts of politics are at work when pictures are paired with labels, and what are the implications when they are used to train technical systems?
In short, how did we get here?
But what if the opposite is true? What if the challenge of getting computers to “describe what they see” will always be a problem? In this essay, we will explore why the automated interpretation of images is an inherently social and political project, rather than a purely technical one. Understanding the politics within AI systems matters more than ever, as they are quickly moving into the architecture of social institutions: deciding whom to interview for a job, which students are paying attention in class, which suspects to arrest, and much else.
Japanese Female Facial Expression (JAFFE) Database
As the fields of information science and science and technology studies have long shown, all taxonomies or classificatory systems are political. In ImageNet (inherited from WordNet), for example, the category “human body” falls under the branch Natural Object > Body > Human Body. Its subcategories include “male body”; “person”; “juvenile body”; “adult body”; and “female body.” The “adult body” category contains the subclasses “adult female body” and “adult male body.” We find an implicit assumption here: only “male” and “female” bodies are “natural.” There is an ImageNet category for the term “Hermaphrodite” that is bizarrely (and offensively) situated within the branch Person > Sensualist > Bisexual > alongside the categories “Pseudohermaphrodite” and “Switch Hitter.” The ImageNet classification hierarchy recalls the old Library of Congress classification of LGBTQ-themed books under the category “Abnormal Sexual Relations, Including Sexual Crimes,” which the American Library Association's Task Force on Gay Liberation finally convinced the Library of Congress to change in 1972 after a sustained campaign.
The Uncanny : A Centenary, Freud Museum
Through the exhibition at the Freud Museum, I was introduced to the essay the "Uncanny", written by Sigmund Freud in 1919. I have studied Freud, but have never read this specific text before.
"It is only rarely that a psychoanalyst feels impelled to in- vestigate the subject of aesthetics even when aesthetics is understood to mean not merely the theory of beauty, but the theory of the qualities of feeling. He works in other planes of mental life and has little to do with those sub- dued emotional activities which, inhibited in their aims and dependent upon a multitude of concurrent factors, usually furnish the material for the study of aesthetics. But it does occasionally happen that he has to interest himself in some particular province of that subject; and then it usu- ally proves to be a rather remote region of it and one that has been neglected in standard works.
The subject of the “uncanny” is a province of this kind. It undoubtedly belongs to all that is terrible—to all that arouses dread and creeping horror; it is equally certain, too, that the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with whatever excites dread. Yet we may expect that it implies some intrinsic quality which justifies the use of a special name. One is curious to know what this peculiar quality is which allows us to distinguish as “uncanny” certain things within the boundaries of what is “fearful.”
As good as nothing is to be found upon this subject in elaborate treatises on aesthetics, which in general prefer to concern themselves with what is beautiful, attractive and sublime, that is with feelings of a positive nature, with the circumstances and the objects that call them forth, rather than with the opposite feelings of unpleasantness and repulsion."
Space / Time
Sans Soleil, Chris Marker, 1983
Storytelling and memory
Through the trope of “play”, this paper explores Chris Marker’s interpretation of memory as time and space in his experimental essay film Sans Soleil. My discussion draws primarily on Gadamer’s concept of the work of art as “transformative play” as I seek to describe two particular aspects of the film: firstly, the formal construction in terms of its generic arrangement of images, both visual and aural, which Marker uses to make his film, and which we see projected onscreen; and secondly, the film’s content which represents both the process and social practice of memory. My analysis does not formally draw on previous theories of reception. I propose rather another way of understanding how we use film as social practice. Gadamer’s idea of “transformative play” offers a way of understanding further the overall experience of film as a means for society to act out social issues in the subjunctive, “as if” mode of behaviour, and in the case of this film, an acting out of various kinds of remembering.
My discussion of memory play in Sans Soleil also serves as a reflection on how film might be understood as significant in developing an epistemology for memory itself. Gadamer’s concept of “recognition” further contributes a conceptual device for exploring how a film might operate to provide a representation of the world as something with which we are very familiar no matter how surprising or disconcerting. Gadamer suggests that:
In recognition what we know emerges, from all the chance and variable circumstances that condition it and is grasped in its essence. It is known as something. (Gadamer 1989: 114)
This idea of recognition correlates with how memories can emerge from an awareness of the process of recognition itself. Our personal “recognition” of sounds and images and the links which Sans Soleil makes between them, is indeed the process that a viewer needs for understanding the associative memories which are displayed in the film as relevant to our own understanding of the world. Recognition is the way in which we identify Marker’s filmic world as part of our own. Sans Soleil’s audiovisual images become part of our own negotiation and finally, our own “remembering” of the stories embedded in the film.
"All the Sea"
Experimental Relationship (2007- Now)
"As a woman brought up in China, I used to think I could only love someone who is older and more mature than me, who can be my protector and mentor. Then I met my current boyfriend, Moro. Since he is 5 years younger than me, I felt that the whole concept of relationships changed, all the way around. I became a person who has more authority & power. One of my male friends even questioned how I could choose a boyfriend the way a man would choose a girlfriend. And I thought, "Damn right. That’s exactly what I’m doing, & why not!"
I started to experiment with this relationship. I would set up all kinds of situations for Moro and me to perform in the photos. My photos explore the alternative possibilities of heterosexual relationships. They question what is the norm of heterosexual relationships. What will happen if man & woman exchange their roles of sex & roles of power? Because my boyfriend is Japanese, and I am Chinese, this project also describes a love and hate relationship.
This project is an ongoing project which grows with our real relationship but is never meant to be a documentation."
Men as Bags (2016)
"A popular internet phrase came up to my mind when I was making this bag. That is “I’m unhappy, I want bags.” The sentence literally means when a female is trying to get comforts from a man, she asks him to buy her luxury bags. Besides its original function and meaning, bag is now a way to show off taste, wealth and lifestyle. In this popular phrase, bag also becomes a symbol of man’s indulging love for the woman. When a woman is carrying a bag bought by a man, she’s also carrying the man’s affection for her. Also we can view human’s skin as a bag for a person’s whole existence."
"Big Bang Fountain"
"Water, dyed blue and illuminated by a strobe light, is pumped up before the viewer in quick bursts. The strobe light catches the bursts at the apex of their trajectory, freezing them in the frenzied and globular form they take at the instant before they are pulled down by gravity. Rather than experiencing the entire arc of the water, viewers can only glimpse the final moment of each burst’s upward motion, a mesmerising series of abstract forms. The fountain is housed within a black, circular room, to create a completely dark space against which the contrast of the strobe-lit water is made even more striking."
Interview from Frieze:
Nathaniel Budzinski In your new installation Heads May Roll (2014) at Matt’s Gallery, London, in March, an untitled video at the show’s entrance served as an introduction. It’s filled with downbeat text captions like ‘out there is gone and there is only here’ or ‘it’s knackered’, which are undercut by screwball-paced editing and blasts of sound. I’m interested in how your work creates environments, moving quickly between being serious, funny and disturbing.
Benedict Drew Most of my work is very explicit about what I want it to do. I mean, it says it in writing in the videos! It’s not oblique at all. The humour is often about undermining seemingly authoritative statements, puncturing the different fantasies that I’ve created and then causing an oscillation between all of its parts.
NB Like the wobbly knees in that introductory video? I thought those were very funny, but also touching.
BD They weren’t necessarily meant to be funny. I mean, they can also be disturbing, or a sign of weakness, or sexualized. I wanted to show how video can take different body parts and almost tear them from their own frames. In pornography, it’s not about the body, it’s about parts, and images today have been infected by this way of looking. These ideas come from conversations I had with the late artist and writer Ian White; they really stayed with me. I watch a lot of TV, and even cookery programmes use this type of pornographic technique. I’ve spent the last year watching footage demonstrating high quality digital cameras. It’s as if these images want you to do something, but at the same time they want to act upon you. They want to arouse you or make you buy a camera.
NB Your work doesn’t moralize about these images, though. Implicitly, it’s a feedback loop in which images affect the process of creating more images and so on. Explicitly, it seems to be about creating a neurotic mood that expresses this dynamic.
BD I like the word ‘vibe’ more. It describes my process well in thatI start with a vibe and go from that. Heads May Roll is about an exhaustion of images, a feeling that comes from how these images work on you.
NB When we first met, we shared an interest in the hallucinogenic drug Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and its effects. We ended up watching a cheesy but colourful documentary, DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2010), complete with over-the-top CGI replicating psychedelic trips. In hindsight, it summarizes important aspects of your work – like drug culture, DIY relaxation techniques, self-help and commercialized therapy culture – and how those things are represented.
BD I’m very interested in, yet repulsed by, the whole culture of self-development, a process outlined well by Adam Curtis in his 2002 series ‘The Century of the Self’. That Thatcherite–Reaganite moment, and the ‘me’ generation that came out of the hippy generation, infected my early life, so it resonates with me.
NB There’s an intensity close to panic in your work, but when it’s about to reach the point of nervous breakdown, it pulls back. It’s like a bad trip, but one that dumps you right back into the world.
BD There’s a history of drug culture in the UK, with rave and acid house and psychotropic drug experiences creating a form of interiority. The structure of that experience is important to me. That’s what I enjoy about music and art – their psychedelic potential to transport us away from the horror of the world. I see it everywhere, people on public transport plugged into devices, trying to escape the dread of reality. Music is good at providing this release. So, in my work, I want to make a route out of the world, one that is fantastical, giddy, but that can also be critical and voice a protest against that reality.
NB You were very active in music for over a decade, performing and organizing experimental gigs. How did the shift into art happen?
BD I actually went to art school before getting involved in experimental music. I wanted to make both improvised music and exhibitions. There was a moment in 2000 when musique concrète and dance music collided in a very punk rock way, which was exciting – like, why wouldn’t you do that rather than trying to be Damien Hirst or whatever? Plus, it’s easier to get a gig than it is to get an exhibition. But there was a point when my interests changed.
NB You mentioned that the musician and poet Henri Chopin influenced Heads May Roll, specifically his 1967 essay ‘Why I Am The Author Of Sound Poetry And Free Poetry’, which rails against the stifling order of ‘the all-powerful Word’. How does that relate to using music in your work?
BD One of the elements I was thinking about in Heads May Roll was how in Chopin’s music – which is machine music, tape works, often using the voice – the machine seems moist with bodily excretion, with language drowned in this mix. It’s the opposite of the synthetic voices that I hear on tube train announcements, mobile phones and Siri, in different public spaces. That voice is only language and no body, all instructional words, no innards or spit. More generally, music can be a great upsetter as well as having a calming effect. I can change how I feel about the world by simply putting on a pair of headphones. Music has an alchemical property, transforming the body in ways that other cultural forms struggle to. That’s why it’s deployed so cynically in adverts and by Hollywood.
Interview by Mineral House:
"California-based Tra Bouscaren, represented by N2 Gallery in Barcelona, was selected as the ARC: Artist Residency Chattanooga artist for the 2018 Chattanooga Film Festival. His installation included multiple screens, cameras, lights, and floating sculptures. The installation was highly emotive as the viewer was pulled between two spectrums, that of horror and play. The screens functioned as filters of society collecting our images and actions; cross layering digital frequencies, unveiling the bitter sweet truths of surveillance and America's obsession with consumer culture. Tra used live cameras for the viewer to be projected onto the work, and continually added and deleted footage of his environment therefore creating a palimpsest of actions, sometimes recoding footage from recent surrounding events. Viewers could be surprised to find their image appear on the screens revealing the previous evening’s karaoke exploits. During the installation in front of the live feed, viewers skipped across the floor and swung their bodies upside down smiling by mere happenstance when they discovered their bodies’ hidden reflections. Concurrently, the repetitive sounds of the oil rig meditatively refocused the viewer into the works subverted political and social undertones. Lastly, the ghostly sculpture hung silently in the corner and confronted it’s audience with their bad habits and addiction to creating trash. Zizek would call this the stain of our society as our objects of past desire are left to haunt us. - MH Curator Claire Bloomfield
MHM: Can you tell us about the materiality and structure of your installation? What materials did you choose to work with and why?
TB: My work begins in the trash. Waste presents a negative portrait of the society that produces it. Material in the dump is also interesting because it’s culturally levelled. All of our waste goes into the same pile. Aaron Cowan, the guy who invited me to Chattanooga, works at this great billboard printing place. When we realized we weren’t going to be able to source the kind of trash we were initially looking for, these huge pieces of offcut billboard vinyl presented themselves as a near-perfect alternative for projection. The cuts we got were massive - over 300 square foot screens each - and they were free because to the billboard company they were just trash. I only wish we had more time to work with them. Almost as soon as we got them rigged up in the ceiling, the show had to open, and all the 2.0 ideas about how to shape the material not as screens but as sculpture just flooded in. I hope there will be a next time.
MHM: What are some of the experiences from your past that lead you to this point in your practice? Is there anything in your past that still influences informs your practice?
TB: I don’t really know how to answer questions like that. I never had some epiphany after being thrown into a pile of my own trash from a great height. As artists I think we mostly just work through what interests us, and then somehow twist it into some arched position. Right now I’m working through what American spectacle means, and how it intersects with waste culture in the context of the surveillance state.
“Pollution is in fashion today, exactly in the same way as revolution: it dominates the whole life of society, and it is represented in illusory form in the spectacle.”
--Guy Debord, "A Sick Planet"
MHM: How did you learn to manipulate technology, and why do you choose to work with it as a physical and conceptual medium?
TB: From a technical perspective, I’ve taught myself most of what I use at this point. From a methodological standpoint, I’ve also picked up some stuff by working with other artists. Learning the value of collaboration has been great for me. I think too many artists work alone, cut off from one another. I did that for a long time and feel my practice would be much more advanced at this point if I had just gotten on with collaborating earlier.
MHM: Being under observation by the screens as I am observing reminds me of our current technological state and the internet. It seems like your work is informed by Foucault’s writings about Panopticism and what it feels like to be looked at in a controlled environment. This is a haunting feeling as the eye of the camera becomes the unregulated/regulated “gaze”. With all of this I have to ask what is your relationship to power and the internet? How do you feel about your image being captured?
TB: Not good. I do what I can to keep pictures of myself (and my young son) off the web. While there is no longer any way to control that completely, I try not to invite surveillance upon myself. Like many resources we think we can take for granted, privacy is already scarce. If we want to have some it’s best to pay attention to how that might work...
MHM: How much data have you collected for your installation? What do you do with old collected data/ images?
TB: While I (mis)appropriate a variety of surveillance techniques, I do very little recording of anything. Most of the feeds I capture are taken live, and deployed algorithmically in real time. While a lot of people assume that I'm recording because I’m using security cameras, I’m not actually recording at all, just pulling the live feeds. When I do record video in and/or around an event--usually on my phone--I only record that video in order to then deploy it almost right away as part of the installation. After I pull down the work from the show, so goes those videos. I delete them. Beyond what I need to represent the work in terms of documentation--mostly stills--the only data from my projects I’m interesting in preserving only lives in my memory.
MHM: With the images you collect- what are you looking for? Have you set up any rules or parameters around collecting images?
TB: What working site-responsively means for me is working with what is at hand. I’m mainly concerned with pulling live feeds from within the space of exhibition, such that anybody who’s there becomes automatically implicated into what’s at stake. Your presence is made manifest, clearly, in the current content of the video as it's bring projected in real time. In a more traditionally ‘material’ sense, my focus is on the collection of materials local to the project--but most of what I gather is just trash, material trash, and/or video trash. I say ‘video trash’ not because I don't value the people who are there--I don't throw them away--but I do throw away the live surveillance capture of them because I'm not recording it. Sometimes I pull pieces from Youtube, and consider them to be sourced much like material is sourced from the street--like a found object. It's just there, in public. It's easy to simply pick it up for a little while and use it if that makes sense. Even those videos sourced from YouTube are never just played straight in a show. They're always being modulated by other video streams, usually the live feeds so whatever questions of "authorship" that are going on are blurred. But what I’m ultimately interested in is that it's your live video image that illuminates the trash that you see before you. Your presence is projected onto the trash, which is in a sense your trash--it’s our trash--because it was pulled in the local area surrounding the exhibition. By collapsing the viewer and the viewed, I want people to think about how they are implicated in what they are seeing.
MHM: Other than ARC, what other residencies have you spent time with? What were those experiences like?
TB: I’ve done a few residencies, and have learned from all of them. Mostly I think I’ve learned that no matter where I go, I still have to deal with my own bullshit. So moving around can be kind of good that way, because as the scene changes, my own bullshit is easier to spot. As it becomes a little more obvious, and hopefully I can work on it."
Being Human at the Wellcome Museum
The Sculptural Condition : Part 1 : Sculpture as Performance
"Into This" (2010)
performance, 1 hour
chocolate cake, red frilly thong.
"I enter the room wearing a red frilly thong. Posistioning myself on all fours I plunge my head into a large chocolate cake. I remain like this for an hour. After this time I pull my face from the cake, get up and leave."
"Für Zwei", "Kope zu Kopf über Kopf", 1967
Franz Erhard Walther: "This idea of having a frame started with the outline drawings. First on paper, then with these material processes, the air enclosures. Then it entered real space. The original idea was to have a frame with nothing in it. It asked the spectator to project his or her idea, image, object, whatever. So, a projection field. Through the decades, it’s a main theme for me, working with a frame, and the idea of projection, filling the frame by imagination. Your magnum opus, where it all seems to come together, all these years of experimentation, is the Werksatz, or First Work Set (1963–69). It’s actually 58 different works. That’s what you showed at MoMA. I had to make definitions of what I thought in relation to history. How do you make something real? How do you make it concrete? If it just exists in time, there ’s a start and an end. Many serious people told me, “These are not matters for the so-called fine arts. It’s a matter of theater or music to try to activate real time. In art, you must transform it into allegory, illustration, symbolism.” I persisted in thinking that it was also possible to do this in the fine arts, in sculpture. But how to show experience to people? I decided: through a large corpus of so-called Work Drawings. I tried to formulate all these experiences, ideas, projections."
”Något om vår samtid” (2019)
"The sculptures are portraits of people that I've seen or meet, sometimes several persons in one piece, perhaps one in Malmö, in Hongkong, in Sunne, Torsby, Pixbo, Borås, in the outskirts of Norrköping close to Mem, in Lund or in Maastricht. Who knows, all these people who we live next to, we know some of them, some of them we don't, we share what is called the contemporary. They are portraits of people that are close to me that are made of things that they have around them, mostly pieces of wood. The sculptures shows how I experience that these people experience their surroundings, what they show me."
Cajsa Von Zeipel
"Von Zeipel uses her own body in her art by primarily creating self portraits in form of sculptures.
Mirrors have been there next to my sculptures to enhance certain feelings from the beginning; it’s also because my work began to develop entirely after a lecture on narcissism, and I wanted to bring the mirror as a reference to the starting point of where my work took off from. This was during my exchange year at Stäedelschule [in Frankfurt, Germany] and I took these ideas and tried for a long period to abstain myself from eating. I wanted to practice the relations that I thought to have found between narcissism and the pro-anorexic culture and see where it would take me. It was very costly for my well-being. It was only after I finished this that I took my experience and translated it to working with sculpture."
"Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema", and The Male Gaze
"The psychoanalytic background that has been discussed in this article is relevant to the pleasure and unpleasure offered by traditional narrative film. The scopophilic instinct (pleasure in looking at another person as an erotic object), and, in contradistinction, ego libido (forming identification processes) act as formations, mechanisms, which this cinema has played on. The image of woman as (passive) raw material for the (active) gaze of man takes the argument a step further into the structure of representation, adding a further layer demanded by the ideology of the patriarchal order as it is worked out in its favourite cinematic form - illusionistic narrative film. The argument returns again to the psychoanalytic background in that woman as representation signifies castration, inducing voyeuristic or fetishistic mechanisms to circumvent her threat. None of these interacting layers is intrinsic to film, but it is only in the film form that they can reach a perfect and beautiful contradiction, thanks to the possibility in the cinema of shifting the emhpasis of the look. It is the place of the look that defines cinema, the possibility of varying it and exposing it. This is what makes cinema quite different in its voyeuristic potential from, say, striptease, theatre, shows, etc. Going far beyond highlighting a woman's to-be-looked-at-ness, cinema builds the way she is to be looked at into, the spectacle itself. Playing on the tension between film as controlling the dimension of time (editing, narrative) and film as controlling the dimension of space (changes in distance, editing), cinematic codes create a gaze, a world, and an object, thereby producing an illusion cut to the measure of desire. It is these cinematic codes and their relationship to formative external structures that must be broken down before mainstream film and the pleasure it provides can be challenged.
To begin with (as an ending), the voyeuristic-scopophilic look that is a crucial part of traditional filmic pleasure can itself be broken down. There are three different looks associated with cinema: that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion. The conventions of narrative film deny the first two and subordinate them to the third, the conscious aim being always to eliminate intrusive camera presence and prevent a distancing awareness in the audience. Without these two absences (the material existence of the recording process, the critical reacting of the spectator), fictional drama cannot achieve reality, obviousness and truth. Nevertheless, as this article has argued, the structure of looking in narrative fiction film contains a contradiction in its own premises: the female image as a castration threat constantly endangers the unity of the diegesis and bursts through the world of illusion as an intrusive, static, one-dimensional fetish. Thus the two looks materially present in time and space are obsessively subordinated to the neurotic needs of the male ego. The camera becomes the mechanism for producing an illusion of Renaissance space, flowing movements compatible with the human eye, an ideology of representation that revolves around the perception of the subject; the camera's look is disavowed in order to create a convincing world in which the spectator's surrogate can perform with verisimilitude. Simultaneously, the look of the audience is denied, an intrinsic force: as soon as fetishistic representation of the female image threatens to break the spell of illusion, and the erotic image on the screen appears directly (without mediation) to the spectator, the fact of fetishisation, concealing as it does castration fear, freezes the look, fixates the spectator and prevents him from achieving, any distance from the image in front of him.
This complex interaction of looks is specific to film. The first blow against the monolithic accumulation of traditional film conventions (already undertaken by radical film-makers) is to free the look of the camera into its materiality in time and space and the look of the audience into dialectics, passionate detachment. There is no doubt that this destroys the satisfaction, pleasure and privilege of the 'invisible guest', and highlights how film has depended on voyeuristic active/passive mechanisms. Women, whose image has continually been stolen and used for this end, cannot view the decline of the traditional film form with anything much more than sentimental regret."
Mary Sibande : I came apart at the seams at the Somerset House
2011 Archival Digital Print 126 x 87 cm
From Somerset House's website:
An exhibition of new and celebrated works from one of South Africa’s most prominent contemporary artists, Mary Sibande.
In her first solo exhibition in the UK, Mary Sibande presents a series of photographic and sculptural works exploring the power of imagination and constructive anger in shaping identities and personal narratives in a post-colonial world.
In her first solo exhibition in the UK, Mary Sibande presents a series of photographic and sculptural works exploring the power of imagination and constructive anger in shaping identities and personal narratives in a post-colonial world.
"I Came Apart at the Seams follows the transformative journey of Sibande’s avatar, Sophie. Taking form as a series of colourful human-scale sculptures modelled on Sibande herself, Sophie transgresses from her humble beginnings as a domestic housemaid into myriad empowered characters, transcending racial bias and marginalisation. Iterations of these striking installations are also captured in vibrant large-scale photography, documenting Sophie’s journey. Through these works, Sibande pays homage to the generations of women in her family who worked as domestic labourers. In sharing their previously untold stories, Sibande challenges stereotypical depictions of Black women in post-apartheid South Africa throughout history and today."
Tony Cragg : Stacks, at Lisson Gallery
About the exhibition, from Lisson Gallery's website:
"From early and earthy stacks made at the Royal College of Art, through to his later and larger columnar, spinning stacks in wood, stone, bronze and steel, Tony Cragg’s sculpture continues to surprise and enthral, offering up a fascinating mixture of order and disorder, balance and imbalance, method and madness, encouraging us to think about our place in the world and what lies beneath." Dr Jon Wood, 2019
For Tony Cragg’s fifteenth exhibition with Lisson Gallery, the artist presents a selection of complex polymorphic sculptures, rendered in bronze, wood and steel, including a new series of works entitled Stack, alongside works from the Over the Earth and In No Time series. This exhibition also extends outside the galleries, featuring the debut of a monumental, outdoor bronze Stack. This presentation illustrates the movement, growth, dynamism and sense of wonder at the seemingly unlimited possibilities of sculptural form. The show also celebrates the artist’s long-standing relationship with Lisson Gallery – the show being 40 years since his first with the gallery in 1979.
The exhibition focuses on the resonance of stacking in Cragg’s practice, considering how the creation of solid, cohesive forms out of small, disparate parts has been a constant in his work, spanning over five decades of making. Cragg’s Stacks developed initially in the ’70s, coinciding with his emergence as an artist and the critical recognition of his exhibited work, as well as his move to Germany in 1977. Cragg has variously stacked, gathered and layered ever since, deploying various acts of stratification, compilation, accrual and accumulation in his work. These constructive, physical activities have also been animated by a range of ideas, references and narratives, drawing from geology, archaeology, biology, chemistry, natural history, psychology and anthropology. The geological concerns displayed by these early works – including the sculptural Stack presented at Tate in 1975 and Minster (1987) presented at Hayward Gallery that year, combining a multitude of miscellaneous, recycled and geological materials with physical hand-made endeavour – set Cragg apart from the other artists working in Britain at the time.
The exhibition also includes works from Cragg’s In No Time series. These works conjure up emotionally-charged ideas of bodily enclosure, intimate habitation and the feeling of living between the layers. These works speak to the connection between ‘layer’ and ‘history’ – the accumulation of meaning, and developing histories. Cragg has always been interested in etymologies and the ways in which experiences, ideas and words are materialised. In German, the word Geschichte means both ‘history’ and ‘story’ – two theoretically different concepts, with history referring to a ‘factual’ event in the past, and a story referring to a narrative or fictional tale. “We might also talk about ‘storey’ and ‘story’: the storeys of buildings and the stories of life”, says Cragg. “Telling ‘histories’ as telling ‘stories’ and recounting ‘tales’. I think about ‘telling’ as ‘narrating’ but also about ‘accounting’ or ‘recounting’. You might recount a tale and tell a history, for example, or account for yourself. Counting and accounting, telling and numbering, adding and accumulating… these words and ideas also introduce time and are part of a broader, bigger idea of history as layering or a layering upwards of deeper experiences.”
The exhibition follows a solo presentation of Cragg’s work at this year’s Armory show with the gallery, and museum exhibitions at the Kunstpalast Düsseldorf and the Franz Marc Museum in Kochel Am See (2 June – 6 October), as well as a major installation of his works at the Boboli Gardens, behind the Pitti Palace in Florence (7 May – 13 October).
A publication focused on the history of Cragg’s Stack works will accompany the exhibition, featuring an essay by Dr Jon Wood, entitled ‘Strata, structures, stories: "Stacking" in Tony Cragg’s sculpture’."
Richard Deacon : Deep state at Lisson Gallery
Found on the website of Lisson Gallery:
“As a sculptor, I have always wondered what exactly is depth? It is shifting and ineffable. Perhaps all I can know is surface, the rest a fiction, a deep state that slips away from view.”
Richard Deacon presents his eleventh exhibition with Lisson Gallery, showing works incorporating steel, ceramics, clay, bent wood and ink on paper that evoke different senses – from memory and touch, to sight and movement. This new collection of sculptures, reliefs and drawings also inhabit different planes – from verticality to horizontality – all while shifting between two and three dimensions and passing from porosity to solidity, suggesting their fluid possibilities as either sites for bodily experience or spaces for contemplation and, as the title suggests, for deep dives into each object.
Among his major recent sculptures are the undulating, twisted forms of I Remember #5 (2018), Swell and Under the Weather #5 (both 2019). The complex arrangements of stainless steel housings and spiraling wooden beams in I Remember #5 are presented horizontally, suggesting the viewer walk along its length while following the trajectory of its delicately sinuous wooden lines. With every steamed wooden dowel ending at a different point in a tessellating grid of metal plates, there is an invitation to recall where each begins its journey and follow them to their conclusion. The upright form in pale bentwood, Under the Weather #5 (2019), represents the apotheosis of Deacon’s two-decade-long mastery of the various techniques involved in wood steaming, manipulation and construction, with only the most unobtrusive nodes of joinery completing the object’s soaring, shelter-like structure and revealing the techniques of its manufacture.
A series of ceramic pieces, another medium Deacon has long been associated with, likewise alternate between the vertical – for a number of glazed wall-based works, collectively titled Flat (2018-19,) that resemble lustrous abstract paintings embedded directly into the wall – and the horizontal, for dark clay plinths which sit somewhere between monumental earthenware, non-functional furniture and sculptural support. Indeed, Deacon has previously experimented with ceramics on an architectural scale for his frieze of 39 polychromatic sculptures on the façade of One Eagle Place in Piccadilly with Eric Parry Architects (2013) and has recently completed another major architectural collaboration with Serbian artist Mrdjan Bajic, to construct From There to Here (2006-19), a 200m pedestrian bridgeway over Belgrade’s Sava River connecting the Kalemegdan fortress with a towering sculptural form.
While the artist describes his own process as protean and not fixed: “sometimes it’s a consequence of accident and sometimes it’s a consequence of intention or past history and sometimes it’s a combination of all those things,” Deacon’s ability to translate between one type of material and one set of propositions to multiple others, has resulted in his own unique sculptural language – one that speaks simultaneously in different registers and communicates between industry and craft or between geometry and nature. “Changing materials from one work to the next is a way of beginning again each time – and thus of finishing what had gone before.”
Deacon’s linguistic twists and turns extend to his titles, as seen in the large floor-based work called Swell (2019), which consists of ideographic waves of steel, traversing the space like an ocean-bound liner. The exhibition title is indeed also a play on words, between the political inference of a ‘Deep State’ – the hidden and intersecting internal agencies that operate within governments – and his hard-won approach to revealing the internecine workings of each sculptural or imagistic form. His verbal approach to aesthetics is further explored in a new book being published to coincide with the exhibition, entitled ‘I wanted to talk about the future but I ended up thinking about the past’. First delivered as a lecture, this volume provides a historical sweep of the art of sculpture from Paleolithic handaxes to 3D printers, all while revealing some of Deacon’s own ideas on authorship, authenticity and appropriation."
I was especially drawn to this piece:
I found it fascinating that wood, through using specific techniques, can be such a flexible material. It made me curious to explore these techniques on my own, and investigate what forms the material can be manipulated into.
The Sculptural Condition : Part 3 : The Elimination of recognizable form
"If you can describe to someone how a sculpture looks, and they can understand and visualize it exactly, it's probably not an interesting piece"
Formlessness : Moodle
"(monstrance and volute)"
"Pollen from Hazelnut"
Anthony Gormley : Royal Academy of Art
“I see this show as a really important test ground. What can sculpture do?
Can it change the way that you engage with art,
but in the process can it change the way that you engage with the world?
What is the point of doing an exhibition?
I think one of them, is yes, to show some stuff that you've made.
But actually that's the lest important.
Maybe the most important is to ask that question,
what can art do for us?"
Interview with Anthony Gormley:
The days are beginning to lengthen and as the sun sets we admire the cityscape. Gormley checks in on his sculpture Cinch (2017), a stainless-steel-faceted body-form perched above the north entrance to Burlington Arcade, keeping a silent vigil over the daily routines of the street below. Conversation shifts between the practical and the philosophical, which, in the making of Gormley’s art, are inextricable. This is one in a long series of site visits to the RA. Over the past three years, work has been taking place to reinforce the galleries’ floors and walls in anticipation of his large-scale sculptures and installations; every possibility has been probed, testing the building’s capabilities, as if the Main Galleries were one huge armature for a sculptural experiment. Gormley has compared the challenges of any particular site to the resistance of marble for the sculptor who carves.
“We’re trying to use the entire volume of the Royal Academy in a way that really makes the viewer’s journey through it intriguing,” the artist explains. “Every room is a surprise in relation to the room before, but together they make a collective experience.” The sequence of encounters with works both past and present is not a chronological retrospective, explains the exhibition’s co-curator Martin Caiger-Smith, author of the definitive monograph on the artist (published by Rizzoli in 2017) and a crucial figure in the shaping of the show: “Perhaps more than any exhibition to date, this Royal Academy show binds together Gormley’s most recent work and his earliest, emphasising the common and continuing concerns that have preoccupied him from the outset – with who we are, as bodies moving through space and time, with how we experience the elemental, natural world and how we relate to the man-made environment we have constructed around us.”
The artist sums up these concerns in one question: “How do we treat the body not as a given, not as appearance, but as the place that we each find ourselves in?” To answer it, Gormley is staging an exhibition with different aims to a typical Royal Academy show. “Many RA exhibitions tell a story – of a life, of a style, of an artistic movement. I think the work in this show is fundamentally different from that kind of picture show, which is what the Academy was built to do. If there is a story in this exhibition, it’s the one you bring with you as a visitor. We start the exhibition with a tiny object in the Annenberg Courtyard, which hopefully opens people up to the idea that they make, or are, the story.” This tiny object is Iron Baby (1999; pictured above), a solid iron cast based on the artist’s six-day-old daughter. The features are not detailed; we can’t tell if it’s a boy or girl. It is not a portrait. It is the space a body once occupied, a moment of lived time, embodied.
The sculpture consists of 21 huge cages, suspended from the ceiling, that enclose a void the average size of a European new-build bedroom. “It’s about the way we contain space through architecture… the ghost of modernity, hanging there. We have to live in higher and higher densities and I’m asking: what does that mean for our collective identity?" Matrix III is the most complex piece that has ever been fabricated entirely ‘in-house’ at Gormley’s studio. And even then, extensive consultation with specialist structural engineers has been required to find a solution for gradually building the work in sections, accurately and safely.
This non-figurative sculpture (for want of a better description, as it is too physical, too material, to be ‘abstract’) might be unexpected for those most familiar with Gormley’s body-forms of the 1980s and ’90s, for which he won the Turner Prize in 1994, or his colossal Angel of the North (1998), arguably the country’s most famous piece of public art. Yet it has arrived quite naturally in the progression of his practice. In Matrix III, no body is present in the sculpture, but, as the artist explains, "in most of the work for the Academy show, the subject is the viewer’s body. I make a situation that the viewer is invited to bring themselves into – mind and body."
This emphasis on embodied experience is there in Gormley’s earliest works, and is his unifying concern. Before training at Central St Martin’s, Goldsmiths and the Slade art schools, Gormley studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History at Cambridge. He also travelled widely in the Middle East and Asia, spending two years learning Buddhist Vipassana meditation in India, sometimes sitting still for 12 hours a day. Practising this state of “bare attention” left Gormley with an indelible belief that we have innate knowledge in our bodies, and that being aware of our presence and our surroundings is as important as anything one might learn from a book . “At this point I was very much aware of how much art was about art, and how myopic the frame of reference was,” recalls the artist. “I wanted to make work that somehow dealt with the immediate. That meant the materiality of the world and being in it, and wanting to make art about experience and that encouraged a certain form of experience.”
The everyday objects Gormley gravitated towards in these early experiments reveal the impulse, as strong today as it was then, to connect art and life, especially the relationship between sculpture and the natural world. For example, One Apple (1982): set out in a line that bisects the gallery, 53 pieces wrapped in lead record the stages of the season’s growth, from the first fallen petal of the blossom, to the gradual appearance and ripening of the fruit. Lead is a major feature in this room, a material Gormley chose partly in response to the context of the Cold War (the material can insulate against radiation) but largely because of its malleability. The process of wrapping objects was instrumental in Gormley’s exploration of what he describes as “spatiality and how we perceive it: a testing of the edges, the skin of things.”
For Gormley personally, the most important work in this gallery is also “the quietest and the least spectacular”: Land, Sea and Air I (1977-79; below). The making of the work – three more or less identical lead cases, one containing a rock, another water and the last left empty – was a breakthrough moment. “I can remember being on a beach, on the coast of Galway, surrounded by these granite shore stones. I made my choice of stone, and during my journey back with my brother – between leaving Goldsmiths and arriving at the Slade – the stone just sat there, in the back of his Citroën 2CV, almost as a sort of goad, saying, ‘What are you going to do with me?’. I knew that I didn’t want to take the lump of rock and carve it into a beautiful object, but I wanted to honour its shape.”
“In the end, I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll acknowledge you’. I made a lead skin and I covered it up, and then, a while later, I thought, ‘No, I’ll unwrap it’. When I cut it out, that was a total revelation to me: the space that the stone had occupied – its absence – declared the fact that it had been present. I realised that the lead box can be a carrier: it does this job of transformation, turning material into mind, or the thing into an imaginary image. That work was really my kind of talisman of what art can do; it can reconcile imagination with reality. It can take a bit of the real world and in isolating it, may give it meaning or potency."
Gormley was not alone in seeking ways to make sculpture that was closer to life than art. In post-war Italy the artists of the Arte Povera movement were known for their use of “poor materials”. British artist Richard Long RA employed walking as a sculptural medium that engaged with time and space, recording his modest interventions in the landscape in photographs, such as A Line Made by Walking (1967), which shows a strip of flattened turf, a shape imprinted in a daisy-covered field by the repeated action of his boots. While still a student, Gormley made comparable performative works, such as Exercise with Mud (Arizona) II (1979), made in Arizona’s Death Valley by collecting pieces of sun-baked earth and throwing them behind him, leaving a 10m trail of dust. Together with Vicken Parsons, a fellow artist from the Slade (the pair married in 1980 and have three children), Gormley had travelled to the US in search of the great works of American Land Art. These included Spiral Jetty (1970), Robert Smithson’s counterclockwise coil of 6,000 tons of black basalt rocks and earth in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, and Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field (1977), 400 vertical steel poles spread in a grid across a huge area of desert in New Mexico. De Maria’s work draws its power from the place with minimal means. Catching the dawn or twilight, it offers a quiet measure to the surrounding mountain ranges, and if lightning strikes, harnesses the full force of the weather. Gormley’s experience of Lightning Field, and his contact with De Maria, were a formative rite of passage.
At a time when Minimalism posited sculpture as an abstract idiom, Gormley began to use his own body as a tool and medium, moulding himself in plaster, and encasing those forms in lead. Land, Sea and Air II (1982; below) was one of a series of three-part ‘body case’ works that, as the artist has summarised, "attempted to associate a perception with a posture, and a posture with an element.“ Land listens to the ground, Sea stands still, and Air kneels, head lifted to the sky; the three cases are punctured only by holes at the ears, nose and eyes respectively. Each lead carapace is marked with lines of solder in a grid system that from then on persisted throughout Gormley’s early lead body-forms.
Sea Sand and Air II (1982)
Lead and fibreglass
Another work made especially for the exhibition expands the interior of the body into a space we can inhabit. Gormley has described Cave (2019), as “my form of architecture”; he has always thought of the built environment as our “second body”, an integral part of the human condition today. Made from industrial rolled steel, rectangular and cuboid forms intersect at chaotic angles: this stack of boxes crashed into each other is in fact a giant body, crouched to fit in one of the corner galleries. A hand and a foot stick out through the doorways, as the entrance and exit of the dark, cavernous interior. For Gormley, it is when we close our eyes – “an experience of interiorised darkness, which is no different to the darkness of the night sky” – that we most readily feel our body as a place. “I have a profound belief that this internalised sense of space is in absolute connection with the extension of cosmic space. We have an intuition embedded without our biology about space at large. The paradox is that we live within a body that has a skin that is our bounding condition, yet we have this faculty of imaginative extension into endless space."
Ancient cave art has been an enduring preoccupation for the artist. "The cave is an environment in which you have to become hyper-aware, and it has such strong bodily references – these wet, taut, limescale walls. The act of our ancestors going deep into the body of the earth allowed the imaginative and the internal to find its natural place within the darkness.” Initially encountered as a looming presence at the end of the gallery enfilade, visitors will choose whether to go inside Cave or to walk around the perimeter, which also requires a negotiation of unpredictable angular structures. Some facets are left open, connecting the interior and exterior. “By borrowed light, by variations in volume, by acoustic conditions, a space can begin to behave a little like music.”
Gormley’s belief that we are fundamentally connected with the world around and each other – as specks of matter like the rest of the universe – is central to his work and this exhibition. The culminating work is Host, which has never been seen in the UK before. First made in 1991, the work bears comparison with American Field of 1990, which consisted of around 35,000 fired clay bodies that had been quickly formed to the scale of a pair of human hands, in collaboration with a community of brickmakers in San Matías, Mexico (the work became a global phenomenon, with Amazonian, British, European and Asian Fields created). Like Field, Host is viewed from outside through a single threshold and fills the gallery wall to wall, but in Host the clay is left in its raw state, unworked, mixed with sea water (see Host, 2016, above). In the RA exhibition, the work sits in contrast to Matrix, a structure that evokes the built environment. Gormley describes Host as "the elemental condition of human consciousness: we have air, water and earth, but no form. It is formless, given temporary form by the architecture.“ In both works we are "left outside, as an observer”, our minds left to contemplate.
This exhibition is indicative of a shift in Gormley’s practice away from representation towards open-ended environments that inspire self-reflection and challenge the status quo. “Art becomes this proposition that invites you to rethink what the world is, and your position in it,” Gormley concludes. “In the end, the raw material of this exhibition is the psyche, the bodies, the people who come and indeed the feeling that they make together. That is not something that can be moulded or carved or cast, and that’s what makes the whole thing worth doing, because I want to move people. Can we care? Can we look at things anew?”
Primary research / personal pictures:
Other spaces at 180 the Strand
"Featuring newly composed music by Mira Calix, Our Time is a site-specific evolution of the UVA’s 2013 commission for the Barbican called Momentum. The installation features kinetic structures swinging in and out of phase, while light and sound is projected throughout."
, Makiko Wakisaka - "life" 2002 material : leaf vein, nylon thread, polyester thread, water soluble cloth technique : machine stitch & hand stitch
Eco-visionaries at the Royal Academy
I found the exhibition both horrifying and motivating. I truly scares me when I think about our future. What will life be like in 30 years? I will be 51 years old, I will probably have grown children.
Quotes from the exhibition:
"The absence of our future has already begun."
"Sex discrimination was not a crisis until feminisms turned it into one."
Sometimes I have a hard time believing that a mass extinction is about to take please. That everything that we have built, each little part of our society: the restaurants, the museums, the high couture mansions, are only decades away from takings their last breaths. Because if it is true, why would any sane human being care about anything else than the fact that we will be unable to survive if we don't change our way of living.
What I am trying to say, is that I am convinced that this is true, this is our reality, our future, but what I don't understand is how so few people seem to care. I do understand why though. It is hard to break habits, and it is hard to imagine a future in which we no longer exist.
"2030: According to UN, global carbon dioxide emissions must be cut by 45% byt his date".
"2040: 50 million people across the globe will be exposed to the effects of uncreased costal flooding due to rising sea levels".
"2050 : By this date, according to UN, global carbon dioxide emissions must reach zero to avoid a climate breakdown"
“We are in this crazy, unforeseen and incomprehensible situation where we are competing against jellyfish. And they are winning,” says the Australian marine biologist and jellyfish expert Lisa-Ann Gershwin.
For at least 670 million years, jellyfish have been floating – unchanged – through our oceans, and pretty much everything that damages our ecosystem seems to benefit them: overfishing brings down the number of predatory fish that could reduce the number of jellyfish. Plastic bags in the oceans kill other predators like turtles. On top of that, jellyfish flourish in warm water; it extends their breeding season, while many fish suffer from the lower oxygen percentage. “Warm water is a disaster for anything that breathes and a dream come true for anything that doesn’t breathe much, like jellyfish” Gershwin says.
In the beginning of last year, a massive jellyfish invasion threatened to wipe out the fish population of the South Australian seaport Whylla, and another temporarily paralyzed the nuclear power plant in Swedish Oskarshamn when jellyfish plugged up the cooling water supply….
Marine scientists have thus arrived at an apocalyptic prognosis: “Jellyfish will be the only survivors when everything else has fallen apart.”
In collaboration with marine biologists and animal keepers, Rimini Protokoll is flipping the view of these creatures around and staging it as a gaze directed back at their observers."
"Discover how architects, artists and designers are responding today to some of the most urgent ecological issues of our times.
From climate change to species extinction and resource depletion, the damaging effects of modern life are more tangible than ever. Eco-Visionaries examines humankind’s impact on the planet and presents innovative approaches that reframe our relationship with nature. Through film, installation, architectural models and photography, the works in this exhibition interrogate how architecture, art and design are reacting to a rapidly changing world, beyond mainstream notions of sustainability.
In the 1950s, scientists started raising serious concerns about the damaging effects of modern life on the environment. Since then, architects, designers and artists have joined the urgent effort to draw attention to the planet’s fragile and endangered ecosystem.
This timely exhibition brings together international practitioners including Olafur Eliasson Hon RA, Ant Farm, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Andrés Jaque, Tue Greenfort, Unknown Fields, Rimini Protokoll, Virgil Abloh and WORKac, amongst others. Their provocative responses are a wake-up call, urging us to acknowledge and become conscious of our impact on our environment."
Ink on paper
"In the 1950's, new invasive and predatory species of tilapia fish were introduced to Lake Victoria in Tanzania to increase fish production. This event caused almost complete disappearance of endemic tilapia species, and ultimately destroyed the lace's ecological balance. These black-and-white prints have been produced bu covering the bodies of the endangered tilapia fish with ink and imprinting them directly onto rice paper, evoking a living fossil on the brink of extinction."
"The Breast Milk of the Volcano"
Glass, lithium brine, graphite, aluminium
Colour video, stereo sound
"Over half of the world's reserves of lithium, a key ingredient in the rechargeable batteries in phones, laptops, electric cars and drone technology, is found in the salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. This film poignantly examines hos even the cleanest energy utopias can have dramatic consequences on material, resource and economic exploitation.
Accompanying the film is a lithium battery designed by the artists, it refers to an Inca origin myth of the Salar de Uyuni in which the salt flats were formed by the breast milk and tears of a mother volcano mourning the loss of her child."
Patrick Staff: On Venus, at Serpentine Gallery
Through a varied and interdisciplinary body of work, Patrick Staffinterrogates notions of discipline, dissent, labour and queer identity. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Staff examines the ways in which history, technology, capitalism and the law have fundamentally transformed how we define and identify bodies today, with a particular focus on gender, debility and biopolitics. On Venus is Staff’s most ambitious work to date: a site-specific installation exploring structural violence, registers of harm and the syncretic effects of acid, blood and hormones.
Throughout the spaces of the Serpentine Gallery, Staff initiates a series of architectural interventions: transforming the gallery into a leaking, rudimentary body, a piping network suspended from the ceiling slowly drips a mixture of natural and synthetic liquids into steel barrels, suggestive of sharing intimate fluids, or the trafficking of viruses and data. A single gargoyle, weathered by acid rain, is positioned as gatekeeper to the entrance of the space.
A series of etchings are stacked and leant against oversized boxes in the first powder room. The works depict a news story that gained traction in British tabloid newspapers throughout 2017 and 2018, which claimed that convicted murderer Ian Huntley was seeking to undergo sexual reassignment surgery while serving his life sentence. Some months later, the story was found to be fabricated and the newspapers that had printed it subsequently ran meagre clarifications, edited pre-existing articles or deleted the reports from their websites. Reproducing these retractions and clarifications alongside the original headlines, Staff’s etchings on metal highlight the ways in which the media weaponises cultural prejudices and anxieties about the lives of incarcerated people, trangender identity and the use of public spending to mobilise panic and reinscribe social and sexual norms.
On Venus, a new video work, is presented in the second powder room. The looped film is comprised of two parts: the first of scratched, warped and overlapping footage documenting the industrial farming of hormonal, reproductive and carnal animal commodities including urine, semen, meat, skins and fur. Rather than reducing the struggles of animals to a human-centric view, Staff questions the norms, subjectivity and standards by which all ‘others’ are read, measured and controlled and asks what lives are deemed visible in institutional spaces. The video’s second half comprises a poem describing life on Venus, an alternative state of non-life or near-death, a queer state of being that is volatile and in constant metamorphosis, infused with the violence of pressure and heat, destructive winds and the disorientating lapse of day into night.
The exhibition On Venus continue Staff’s ongoing examination of the exchange between bodies, ecosystems and institutions from a queer and trans perspective. The works in the exhibition seek to question the boundaries of the human subject and understand what bodies are made legible within institutional spaces? Which bodies are rendered livable and unlivable?
Interview, The Guardian:
You use a lot of everyday materials in your work, from milk cartons to potted plants and toilet roll… Are you always on the lookout for suitable objects?
Yes. Images in Debris is very much about the leftovers of an experiment, so, for example, you see a broken egg. But it’s kind of Darwinian: things die out, things stay around, things get added. For this show, I’m interested in the idea that, in some ways, images have replaced objects. Now, for example, people send virtual candles for you to light, like where you’re in a church. Or an artist will say: “I want to make a sculpture, I need something red and soft”, but they see the material online first. So much of what we own materially, we make decisions about digitally, so there’s this interesting kind of confusion.
Do you try to ration your exposure to the digital world? I couldn’t find you on social media, for example.
I don’t do Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. I feel like there’s enough information in my head already. I photograph all the time – I’m totally subsumed by this melancholic way of trying to remember something better by photographing it – but the idea of then putting it [on social media] would be too all-consuming. However, I do go on Instagram and search for my work and see how other people see it. To me, that’s very interesting; it’s giving me the opportunity to see how the work is experienced.
You started out as a painter. Why did you move into sculpture?
I painted since I was little in a very academic way, from the figure mostly. When I went to graduate school it felt almost like an athletic thing, to be able to paint things with virtuosity, and I didn’t know why I was doing it except to say, “This is an academically strong painting.” So I started making sculpture from, I think, a painter’s perspective. Which had a lot to do with trying to harness a kind of improvisation that I found in painting. I’m trying to play with the idea of the live, of seeing process, in sculpture.
For Images in Debris, I was particularly interested in films about timekeeping – such as Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, which is about time and measurement of space through film, or Christian Marclay’s The Clock, or Chris Marker’s La Jetée, which people say was the instigator of Terminator.
Your husband is a physician and has written books about cancer and genetic engineering. Is there much cross-pollination between your work?
I read a lot of what he writes. When he was writing The Emperor of All Maladies, I was saying: “You have to explain to people what a cell is. You have to make it accessible to someone who studied biology in school 20 years ago.” He reads a lot of poetry, so when he looks at my work he might bring up a poem – there’s a cross-pollination of language around the work. He comes to my studio all the time. We actually met because he likes contemporary art.
I was reading a Zadie Smith essay about your work [The Tattered Ruins of the Map, from Feel Free] and it gradually became clear that you know each other.
Yes, I met her through an art critic, Hal Foster, and now we’re close friends with Zadie and Nick Laird, her husband, who is also a great writer.
It all sounds very glamorous…
Spending time with Zadie and Nick is always interesting; they are absolutely brilliant. But as for glamorous… My teacher, Ursula von Rydingsvard, she’s an artist, and her husband, Paul Greengard, is a Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist. I remember when I was a student, she was on stage and someone asked: “Ursula, you’re married to a scientist, you must have all these incredible conversations.” She said: “Yeah, I’m like, ‘Paul, did you play the plumbing bill?’”
A few years ago, Zadie Smith hit back at a piece by Lauren Sandler in the Atlantic that said women should have just one child if they want to avoid limiting their careers. As a mother of two, what’s your take on that?
Any way you do it is fine. If you’re a loving parent and you’re a role model for the child, have five if you want to.
What do you do for fun?
I do like to work a lot [laughs]. But I feel like my work is fun. And work and play are quite enmeshed for me – half of the photographs in the show were taken when I didn’t realise I was working.