Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Interview with David Bowen

A little late with this link, but here is an interview with David Bowen, an artist who uses natural systems like wind and flies to manipulate mechanical systems like lights and moving parts. He participated in ReceiverFest at Redux, which I so regretfully missed (they'd better do it again in 2012 if the world has not ended!).

I know the author, Rebekah Drysdale, from Tivoli Studios in Charleston but perusing her writing on Daily Serving was the first time I ever heard her critical analysis or thoughts on conceptual and non-object-based art. Charleston needs more of this and I'm glad she's posting.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Re-Nude: Part 3 (collages n stuff)

These may look like drippy paintings but they are collages by Conrad Guevara. The top one is called, "Rear Action," and the one on bottom is "Make It Rain." The fact that I don't get excited about exploring the History and Meaning of Painting through art that fetishizes painting makes me a really bad postmodernist (or a great post-post-modernist?) But where I fail Guevara steps up, and he seems to pose an intriguing question:

Lichtenstein famously made a gigantic steel sculpture that represented an Abstract Expressionist brushstroke, presented in Lichtenstein's famous cartoon-dot-and-outline style. It was a sculpture of a cartoon of the ideal painterly expression, oh-so-ironic. What if he had conceived of that piece today, informed by punk graphic art, Tokyo pop art, the Etsy marketplace, and feminist art?

While Lichtenstein was making art for galleries, public squares and modern mansions, many artists today are designing artwork for ease of shipping, for digital sharing, and for a young, middle-class, apartment-dwelling crowd. The contrast is similar to the difference between Northern (German/Dutch) and Southern (Italian) Renaissance painting. While Michelangelo and da Vinci were making theatrical, larger-than-life murals and sculpture for the tombs of royalty and to decorate the Church and the villas of great families, in the North painters like Durer, Vermeer and van Eyck were supplying the newly-created middle class with art. Their paintings were much smaller, often of domestic themes that ordinary people could relate to, and more affordable. They were more contemplative as well. Durer even had great success as a print-maker because because he could make simple artwork that was even more affordable to the middle-class.

To answer the question, Lichtenstein's commentary on the state of painting today may have looked more like these collages. The materials are (I think) colored paper and magazine pages on an acrylic background, affixed to a canvas (as in "Make It Rain") or framed ("Rear Action"). The size is appropriate for a small house or apartment, and the materials (photographic magazine pages) are familiar to an audience of ordinary people, as are the pretty candy colors and references (banal pornography and now-familiar drippy Abstract Expressionist art like that of Jackson Pollock).

The use of materials is very witty, too: printed magazines and photography have largely replaced painting and hand-made or -printed illustrations as a mode of mass artistic expression. Using a magazine to mimic paint is balls-to-the-wall ironic. But my favorite critique of "The Brushstroke" is the comparison to a spray of semen. My mind immediately went there with the "drips" covering the face of the model in "Rear Action." It is SUCH an accurate way to describe the macho post-war culture of Abstract Expressionism. I always wondered why critics like Lichtenstein stopped so short of the obvious: the Big Ideal Painterly Expression championed by Clement Greenburg and New York AbEx collectors was a sublimation of male orgasm, full stop.

And that's as far as I'm willing to go down the "Is Painting Dead?" rabbit hole.

Here's another collage. It's called, " I Love You, I Know," by Angela Chvarak. The title immediately reminded me of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back with Han Solo and Leia right before he gets frozen. Then the hands in the collage reminded me of Luke's hand that gets severed, since my mind had already gone down that road. But I re-grouped and took another look.

It bears an uncanny resemblance to a piece I did in art school:

We were supposed to work along the theme, "God or Goddess," if I recall. That may be Mila Kunis' head, but I didn't know that at the time so ignore that and don't think of Meg Griffin or Black Swan.

Anyhow, Chvarak's piece looks like a flower in full bloom with arms for stamens, with a background of collage and graffiti-like paint radiating outward from the flower. In this context, "I Love You, I Know," makes sense because flowers can pollinate themselves. The piece could be a metaphor, then, for loving one's self (or, more literally, masturbation, since we cannot impregnate ourselves). It seems like more of a female construction of masturbation or sexytimes not only because flowers are symbolic of women but because women's "alone time" is often portrayed as special, sensual, an indulgent retreat from the world complete with lit candles and a bubble-bath; whereas men's "alone time" is usually portrayed as a gross, thoughtless indulgence, the way you might eat your way through an entire bag of chips out of boredom.

I don't have much to say about Chvarak's piece but it is one of my favorites. It's very fun to look at.

*If you enjoyed this work you might also like Wangechi Mutu, Robert Rauschenberg

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Inevitable Preggobelly!

Check out ClinicEscort's tumblr, The Inevitable Preggobelly, showing the images that publications choose to accompany articles about abortion. ClinicEscort suggests several appropriate illustrations: doctor's offices, serious conversations between a man and woman, a woman, or the typical lab-coat medical imagery. Yet the illustrations are of mostly white women's pregnant bellies "minutes away" from birthing a baby, while nearly all abortion happens in the first trimester (when pregnancy isn't really showing). She also points out, though, that the headless, legless womb photos are dehumanizing for the women portrayed. They erase the woman involved in the pregnancy by showing only her pregnant belly, thereby framing abortion in terms of the fetus and not the woman. As a visual suggestion, it seems to work.

I think this is really important to keep in mind in terms of portraiture: revealing people in a certain way can sometimes make that person invisible. I think that is what many women grapple with when they do self-portraiture and depict their own bodies in artwork: how to reveal, versus objectify. Personally, I still aim for that romantic notion of depicting a personality, a history and an energy instead of merely a face when I do a portrait. It can be impossible to know, though, if I'm hung up on something I see in them that erases what is really there.

Sara Schneckloth & Patrick Nugent at Toro y Moi

My husband and I drove up to Columbia to see Toro y Moi play. Since it was part of the Indie Grits Film Festival there was an accompanying video piece by Sara Schneckloth and Patrick Nugent projected on the wall while Toro y Moi performed. Schneckloth, who teaches drawing, had created a huge line drawing that was stapled to the wall, while Nugent had created a video that, when projected onto the drawing (and was painstakingly calibrated), appeared to make the drawing come to life in an animation that interacted with the music. Nugent said they were only about 20% done with the project and were showing "all they had ready." He already had something crazy like 19 layers of film (sort of like digital film overlays that you put together like a puzzle in an editing program). If this is only 20% I'd love to see the finished product, because what they had was gorgeous. I stupidly took no photos of it, but Schneckloth has some frames from the video/drawing up on her website, from what I take to be an earlier showing of the piece. Schneckloth described the process and it sounded like Nugent asked her to create the drawing, then she handed it off to him and he used it as a literal framework for the video. The finished piece had a trippy, organic feeling reminiscent of cellular biology, intestines and 90s grunge music videos.

The only other time I've seen a video projected onto a concrete surface that was a part of the video, was a short film by David Lynch. He projected what must have been an actual celluloid film onto a white sculpted surface with three tortured looking faces affixed to it. The content of the film was animations that involved the faces. The animated film was always changing while the faces, of course, were static.

Still, this piece was very different from Lynch's film. I associate Schneckloth's drawing style with an overarching movement in contemporary art of fetishizing the act of drawing. I see it in every indie film that has hand-drawn block letters in the credits, and in artwork that pushes doodling and amateur drawing beyond the limits of notebook pages and into galleries. I see Schneckloth's particular style as an homage to mark-making, a glorification of drawing for drawing's sake. Within the context of an increasingly digital world and an artworld that has come to accept simpler visual expression, a labor-intensive abstract drawing like Schneckloth's seems to flout modern design conventions in favor of engaging manually in the act of creating.

So I was surprised that this hand-done piece was used to create a digital video installation. As far as digital video editing goes, this seems as hands-on as possible, though the two media still seem at odds even as they flawlessly coordinate. It is certainly a technical stunt that introduces and suggests new uses of technology and I was duly impressed. But it is also an example of the digital side of this duo bending over backward to conform to the old-fashioned analog drawing.

The band, Toro y Moi, is also a digital/old-fashioned mix. They use Ableton Live software, which is a computer program for mixing sound and creating digital music that can be manipulated live or saved and replayed. My husband, who uses the software, thought they'd be using laptops and digitally manipulating the music more during the performance. Though they did use it some the performance was mostly live players on guitars and keyboards. The singers sometimes mimicked echo effects in real-time by repeating the end of words, and lots of other elements of the music were informed by digital alteration.

I had a great time and when we got back home the next day I promptly got sick. I guess sleep deprivation + beer +hipster club germs + devouring pizza with my hipstery germy hands = disease.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Re-Nude: Part 2

*My apologies for the shitty photography.

Continuing what I loved about Re-Nude, here is part of Jenna Lyles' series, "Fempire / Night Vision."

I didn't immediately love this. Actually, when I first saw this hasty-looking display, I exclaimed, "What the crap?" But then I was drawn in by this glittery weirdness:

You're looking at strips of holographic stretch fabric that you might have seen on an ice-dancing or stripper costume from 1994, sewn down only on the top edge and hanging in loose strips. Above that is black fabric with a chain-mail-type texture exposing a grid of sheer black mesh beneath vinyl-type overlay. Mounted over that is a developed Polaroid with a blank image. To the left, between the fabric sections, are three repeated copies of a photo of a woman in a red wig and cosplay-esque purple lingerie, in a cartoonish "sneaking" pose. The photos are sewn on with orderly zig-zag machine stitching. The whole piece is sewn down to a raw-edged irregular scrap of canvas about the size of a notebook page and stapled to the wall on the top edge only.

The piece is obviously very playful and flashy, like a toy. But it isn't candy-colored and well-packaged like a lot of neo-Pop art and Tokyo Pop. It looks like a kid made it (sort of), but it doesn't fall into the category of cutesy childhood fetish hipster art, like the endearingly awkward, big-eyed, wolf-hide-wearing, lost-little-girl illustrations on Etsy. It incorporates crafty elements, like exaggerated stitching and use of cloth but seems divorced from homemaking, stuffed sculpture or clothing design.

What we have, then, feels very uneasy. My first instinct was to suggest that the artist either make the pieces smaller and more precious/sculptural, or large and numerous enough that they feel like a visual assault. But I keep coming back to the size and presentation because they don't resolve themselves and that experience feels challenging and fresh. And although the fabrics are wonky and unfinished, and the photos look homemade, the regular stripes and grids anchor the piece while the repetition of the colorful photos create an exciting rhythm. The small size also makes the piece seem half-hidden and private, like a radical fantasy told in a quiet voice. Functionally, the canvas is a tiny playground for the tiny redheaded heroine.

She shows up in all the pieces in the series, usually duplicated:

"Fempire:" I take it to mean, "female empire." So the canvases, as her playground, could be that empire. She could be suggesting that a woman's empire is an imaginary realm that she crafts for herself and rules like a superhero. Totally empowerful, right? But why the stripper clothes and fabrics, and why the implied male gaze? Why does she repeat the images of the woman, which usually serves to cheapen the image and efface the original, a la Andy Warhol's Marilyn? Could she be taking the opposite approach, that repetition glorifies the individual through syndicating and branding oneself? From a marketing perspective, the model has put her best foot forward by decorating herself, then has reproduced that image and displayed it in a dazzling peacock-like array.

What's more, the woman doesn't seem to rule the space, exactly. She seems to be involved in some sort of covert guerrilla tactics, which would imply oppression and fighting back. Is she trying to take back her own psychic space? Is she experiencing conflict about her own sexual fantasy? The fabrics-- purple lame, sparkly black fishnet and black lace-- suggest sexuality that caters to a male gaze. Is this the "fempire," the power of pleasing others? And is this the conflict she is engaged in? The other fabric, canvas, at first suggests a traditional artist's canvas. But in the context of covert guerrilla tactics it suggests military warfare as well. The juxtaposition of the sparkly fabric and the canvas, then, brings to mind the quote, "love is a battlefield," but also suggests common realities in which female sexuality and sex work incur violence, and where warfare breeds prostitution and sexual violence toward women.

"Night Vision." She actually wears what could be night vision goggles here. I also think the title, "night vision," refers to the nighttime fabrics that would be seen in a club or bedroom. The split title seems to reinforce the notion of conflict between female sexual domain and violence. It could simply be a reference to the conflicting urges to be vulnerable and open, versus guarded and strong when it comes to sex.

I just looked up Jenna Lyles after writing this post and it turns out she co-organized Tick Tock Blume, a small Kulture Klash type festival with the theme, "time," and her co-organizer was... Liz Vaughan, the subject of my last post and my other favorite artist from Re-Nude. Wow.

More on what I loved from Re-Nude coming up in another post!

*If you like the artwork above you might also enjoy work by Hannah Hoch, Wangechi Mutu

Edited to add: My husband has this to say about these pieces: "...I like it. It looks like a Trapper-Keeper."