Learning from Contemporary Art – Week 5

What about Pleasure?

Pleasure can be problematic in writing about art. On the one hand, everyone acknowledges that pleasure is fundamental to our experience of art. If we like something that’s neither useful nor morally good, then it must be because it gives us pleasure. On the other hand, compared to something like meaning, pleasure seems trivial. Many of the arguments for funding and preserving art rely on the idea that art is serious like a religion or philosophy. As a result, pleasure is disavowed in much art writing. It’s simultaneously acknowledged and dismissed.

Carsten Höller’s ‘Test Site’ is an example of art that provides pleasure. Set up in the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern, Höller’s sculpture is that of a giant slide. I think kids are a good sign for wether art is pleasurable. Kids wouldn’t think twice about sliding down ‘Test Site’, they wouldn’t care if it’s art.

3 Forms of Pleasure:

1. Humour (laughing in a gallery, jokes, stupidity, satire)

2. The Body (sex, physical pleasure, playing)

3. Abstraction (meaningless)

 

How not to behave in a Gallery:

Woody Allen, scene from ‘Play It Again, Sam’ 1973

  • How should we behave in a gallery? What sort of things should we say about art?
  • The video consisted of a man and a woman looking at a Pollock, instead of him looking at the art, he’s stood there to get a date. Her response to the art is so lengthy and “deep”, that it becomes ridiculous. Both characters are taking the piss of the gallery setting and the way in which people act within the gallery setting.

Jean-Luc Godard, scene from ‘Bande á Part’

  • How are social forces revealed in this scene?
  • The video answers the question, how fast can you get through Le Louvre. Three people can be seen running and laughing through the gallery. There’s a conflict between their action and the stationary-ness of the gallery and art. They are breaking the conventions of the gallery.

 

1. Humour

Why is it funny when someone falls over? Why do we find human error so funny?

Henri Bergson, Laughter, An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, 1900

Laughter is:

  • Human – do animals laugh?
  • Indifferent – is it true when we laugh at someone, we don’t care about them? However I think there are degrees if indifference. We feel more sorry for some people than we do others.
  • Social – does laughter reinforce social boundaries?

 

  • Laughter is triggered when someone acts outside of their allocated role and function, and fails.
  • Laughter is society’s revenge on the individual.
  • In a funny situation, the physicality of the body visibly punctures social pretension. When a model trips on the catwalk, it punctures the elegance and perfection of the catwalk, and normalises it.

Is there an equivalent in art to falling over?

  • The Amateur Fresco Restoration, Spain, 2012 is an example of such. ‘Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)’ by Elias Garcia Martinez had deteriorated due to moisture. An amateur painter took her brush to it to restore it. Her restoration job was so bad you can’t help but laugh and feel sorry for the “restorer”.
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Elias Garcia Martinez ‘Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)’, before and after restoration

Is there a wisdom in the dumbness of the body?

  • Gelitin, ‘Nellanutella’, 2001 – deliberately falling into the canals of Venice, henceforth deliberately embarrassing themselves. I think there’s a relief in not having to think. It releases the social pressures of art and the gallery setting.

Bergson

For Bergson, verbal humour works in a similar way. The set-up leads us in one direction but the punchline trips the listener up mentally and deflates our expectations.

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Richard Prince, ‘Joke Painting’, c.2000

We fall for a joke, we can laugh at our own stupidity because it’s disguised and we feel that we are laughing at someone else. Someone who doesn’t get a joke becomes the butt of others’ laughter, thus the social bond is reinforced through inclusion nd exclusion.

  • A news article came out in Norway titled, ‘Bus seats mistaken for burqas by members of anti-immigrant group’. Bergson would suggest that this is funny because of the stupidity of the anti-emigrant group. As we are not members of that group, and have nothing to do with its policies, we can laugh at their stupidity. The things we find funny emphasise the particular social groups in which we find ourselves in any given society.

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  • David Shrigley ‘Untitled (I Hate Wood)’, 2013 – can it be explained with Bergson’s theory? It parallels the previous point about immigrants but with absurdity. No one really hates wood, It has the structure that Bergson identifies but there is no real target unlike with the immigrants. Anti-immigrant members are stupid whereas wood-haters are silly.
  • David Shrigley ‘Untitled (Fuck off I am a Painter) – I really loved this painting/drawing as I can sympathise with the predicament and find it relatable. I become a member of a social group with the painting and everyone else that doesn’t agree with the painting becomes the butt of the joke. Although it is funny overall, is the drawing funny in itself? Is it stylistically coherent? The amateur-ness of the drawing I think emphasises the point of the text so is ironically funny. Is the text funny itself? I think Shrigley purposely put the spelling mistake in the text, if it was removed it would be less funny. Additionally, if you took the “fuck off’ out of the text it wouldn’t be as powerful and therefore would be less funny. The blatancy of the language is what is funny and I think we like to hear people using it.
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David Shrigley ‘Untitled (Fuck off I am a Painter)’

Freud, Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905

How jokes are formed:

1) Aimless play with words, concepts, things etc. ——> 2) Lifting of inhibitions, suspension of critical judgement. ——> 3) Expression of repressed ideas.

  • For Freud, jokes are always obscene and come from repression. Therefore, the most repressive societies will have the most (and the funniest) jokes.

 

Reading

  • For Roelstraete, the function of pleasure in a gallery is to ‘unnerve, rattle and destabilise’. Roelstraete therefore suggests that pleasure is a form of irritant.
  • Paul McCarthy’s ‘Tree’ is an example of an irritant. At first glance the green from resembles that of a Christmas tree, however, it is actually in the shape of a butt plug. People didn’t realise at first but once they did they knifed the sculpture, causing it to collapse as it was inflatable. This raises the question of whether the vandalism destroyed the work or vindicated it.

2 main reasons why pleasure is disapproved of within art:

  1. Pleasure is disapproved as it’s seen as unimportant (compared to the pressing issues we currently face).
  2. Pleasure is disapproved of as it’s unthinking, therefore any pleasure is easily characterised as escapist. There’s a deep anxiety, Roelstraete claims, that artworks and exhibitions shouldn’t appear to be forms of entertainment. For example, video games are characterised as entertainment when some of their makers intend them to be works of art. This suggests we shouldn’t enjoy art.

 

2) The Body

The body becomes the object of our interest. The mind is the subject of experience.

  • Disney’s Inside Out: If this is what goes on inside Riley’s head, then what goes on inside Joy’s head?

Jordan Wolfson ‘Female Figure’

  • Wolfson’s ‘Female Figure’ presents the horror of the unthinking body. A robot dancing, faces away from you but locks eye contact with you whilst talking. It is an incredibly uncomfortable piece of work to look at, especially because it stares back at you. Being seen/ looked at by a machine is a weird concept. Although you are fully aware that it has no thought processes, you can’t hep but think about what’s going on in its mind.

Playing VS Contemplation

Ernesto Neto ‘The Bird Island’

  • With Neto’s sculptures, children automatically want to interact with the sculptures, exploring the work physically and having fun, whereas adults tend to stand a safe distance away and contemplate the work without touching it. Children’s first form of interaction is to play if they’re allowed, whereas adults have to be encouraged. The unspoken assumption is that playing and pleasure are bodily and therefore the opposite of thinking and intelligence. This reminds me of when I went to the Venice Bienalle. There was a sculptural piece of work that was made to be sat inside, even though I knew it was allowed, I still chose not to go inside the sculpture and just stood next to it, contemplating and drawing. I do wonder why we as adults have this idea imbedded within us that it is socially unacceptable to have fun with art. It seems that everything has to be serious for the art to be a success. This is a concept I want to look at within my own practice. I want to think about the different ways in which you can enjoy art apart from the conventional, stand back and look at it. I don’t think we always have to take work so seriously in order for us to fully understand it.

 

3) Abstraction

  • Abstract contemporary art has no identifiable objects, so it’s not about anything.
  • We looked at the work of Karen Davie, in particular, ‘Seeing Spots no.7’ and ‘Symptomania’. Her work is more about gesture and form, and colour relation. Colour relation is a topic I am currently looking at in my own practice. Davie works by layering up different colours using different gestures. The colours beneath should appear behind, however they are so bright in comparison to the top colour of paint that they create a flat surface and look level to the other colour. This and many other abstract works raise the question of whether once you’ve got the idea, is there anything else to look at. I think there is plenty to look at, just in the mark making alone. I get caught up in the ideas about rhythms and find pleasure in exploring how tone and balance changes. The idea behind the work is less so important than the work itself.

 

  • Charline Von Heyl ‘Jakealoo’ – with an abstract painting like ‘Jakealoo’, you get no help from the title of the work, therefore the only thing to do is break it down into components, i.e. marks, colours etc, and make associations to it with you’re own ideas. You try and identify things in the work that make sense in your mind.

My child could do that…

In constellation we discussed the idea of “my child could do that”. I am constantly hearing from my parents “I could do that” when they are looking at abstract work. I am constantly trying to explain that although it looks simple, there is often a lot of thinking and skill behind the work. We discussed this concept in constellation and Jon tested us with a couple of examples. First we were shown two abstract paintings, one done by a master painter and the other done by a 4 year old child. I could instantly tell that the painting on the right was done by the painter. You could see more a process behind the painting and the thought processes behind the colours and forms used. Next we were shown two paintings, one done by a master painter and the other done by a chimpanzee. Although I actually preferred the painting done by the chimpanzee, I could still tell that the painting on the left was completed by the master painter. This and the multiple tests that reached the same conclusion, that the majority of people were able to identify a painting done by a painter and that done by a child, show that “my child could have done that” isn’t true.

 

Another study that I find interesting showed that eye-tracking patterns changed substantially when a Mondrian painting was rotated, indicating a decrease in interest. Additionally, when a small block of colour was either added or removed, viewers reported a less pleasurable reaction. This shows that a minute change to a painting can completely alter the reaction from the audience and success of a piece of art. It also shows that Mondrian was a master and that his paintings couldn’t have been done by anyone. I find this concept really interesting and want to further look into it.

Bibliography

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-19349921

https://www.widewalls.ch/artist/richard-prince/

https://www.buzzfeed.com/ishmaeldaro/bus-seat-burqas?utm_term=.ipmMK1Ab7j#.wc5J48e57O

http://www.nicolaiwallner.com/works.php?id=90

http://jamesharrisgallery.com/artists/karin-davie/seeing-spots-no-7-low/

http://www.artnet.com/artists/karin-davie/seeing-spots-no-2-symptomania-series-a-oDIWqqdr3z1Lc3l-36IUGw2

 

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Learning from Contemporary Art – Week 4

What are my responsibilities to the wider world?

Responsibility has 2 meanings:

  1. Duty: as members of society we have a duty towards other members and the wider environment. But what can art do to help improve social conditions and the environment?
  2. Ability to respond: many of the structures of contemporary society tend to numb or dull our response to the world in which we live. For example, if we see to many images of starving children we become unresponsive to it. Our ability to respond is our ability to respond to the world in which we find ourself. It raises the question of what role art (the aesthetic) can play in overcoming the anaesthetic. How can we release art  (the aesthetic) from its narrow market-driven confines and return it to the life of society.

We are used to thinking of contemplation as the natural, or even the only, way of engaging with works of art. Joseph Beuys suggests there is an alternative. Beuys thinks that we need an active, not passive relationship with art. Activity and participation were/are thought to challenge the art world status quo.

Contemplation and activity are not the only ways of engaging with art however.

  • Bidding in an auction for art, competing for sole ownership is a form of engagement with art.
  • Someone kissing the feet of a statue for religious purposes is a form of engagement with art.
  • Koki Tanaka’s ‘Painting to the Public (Open Air)’ and Helen Bur’s ‘The Walking Gallery’ promote a new form of engagement and activity with art. Typically, art is made in the privacy of a studio and is then transferred to the seclusion of the gallery. Challenging this, Tanaka and Bur both came up with the same idea of artists parading their work through public spaces, creating a “walking gallery”. The art therefore becomes about getting people involved, and brings the art to the people. The performance was met with positive attitudes. I really like this idea of removing art from its social structure and releasing it from the strict gallery settings.

 

The form of art in any given society is linked to the forms of production operating in that society or inherited from earlier times. In the West we tend to think of art as either:

  1. Craft-based (handmade): for example, Cezanne creating an intricate painting.
  2. Industrial: for example, Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ required a multitude of people other than the artist, with specialist skills, working on the art.

The one exception is conceptualism:

  • Conceptual art is an exception, as nothing needs to be made in order for it to exist.
  • Conceptual art is indifferent to production. i.e. Robert Filiou’s ‘Crowd Project’ consists of the artist walking into a crowd of people.
  • The only issue with conceptual art is that if you want to make a living as an artist, it’s hard to sell ideas. Once the person interested in the work has found out about the idea, they know it without them having to pay you.

Digital Economy:

  • Some artist’s media in art is twitter or instagram.
  • Richard Prince blew instagram posts up to a larger scale, hung them on the wall and presented them as paintings.
  • Amalia Ulman’s art consists of Instagram performances. She creates a fake persona, creating the question between fiction and reality. I think this speaks on social media and how people are trying to present their best self.

 

3 Roots for Socially Engaged Art:

1. Joseph Beuys

  • Joseph Beuys’ ‘7000 Oaks’ consisted of planting 7000 oak trees throughout the city of Kassel, each paired with a Basalt stone. Even if you think that the art is pointless and is not really ‘art’, Beuys still managed to plant 7000 trees in Kassel which is a monumental achievement and ultimately helps the environment.
  • What is social sculpture? The most modern art discipline – social sculpture/social architecture – we will only reach fruition when every living person becomes a creator, a sculptor or architect of the social organism. EVERY HUMAN BEING IS AN ARTIST. This is a Fluxus idea that everyone is an artist. Loads of people doodle but say they can’t draw, a lot of people use art to fill time, they just don’t realise it.

2.Institutional Critique

  • This creates the idea that artwork becomes artwork because it’s in the gallery setting (i.e. a normal toilet may be placed in the middle of a gallery and be classed as a masterpiece because of its surroundings when in actuality it is just a normal toilet).
  • Michael Asher’s ‘Installation at Claire Copley Gallery’ consisted of the actual art space being blank. Instead, Asher removed the wall that hid the gallery office away, so the office and workers are the artwork.
  • Elmgreen and Dragset’s “Dug Down Gallery Powerless Structures’ takes the white cube space, that is ordinarily removed from everyday life, and places it in everyday life. The pristine space is put in the earth in the middle of a field, and although completely pristine to begin with, once the weather changes the white cube will get dirty and lose its mystique.
  • Elmgreen and Dragset’s ‘Reg(u)adding the Guards’ is a room filled with gallery guards. Normally the guards in a gallery protecting the artwork go unnoticed unless you do anything wrong, i.e. get too close to the art. in Elmgreen and Dragset’s work however the room only consists of guards, too many for the one room. It creates the concept of wasted labour, the guards are paid to do a pointless job as there is nothing to protect. I can imagine as the viewer of the art, this installation is quite an uncomfortable setting to walk into and I wouldn’t want to approach the art.

3. Public Art

  • Art out in the open air works in a different way to art in a gallery.
  • Outside The National Museum in Trafalgar Square, Elmgreen and Dragset placed ‘Powerless Structures’ on the fourth podium that is a temporary art exhibition space. ‘Powerless Structures’ is a sculpture of a little boy on a rocking horse. Alone it doesn’t have much meaning but the idea is for the public to make the connect between it and the three other permanent plinths which have noble statues of important figures on horses. When ‘Powerless Structures’ is compared to Francis Chantry’s ‘George IV’ it robs it of its ideological power.
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Elmgreen and Dragset ‘Powerless Sculptures’

Clare Bishop – text

  • Bishop argues that instead of thinking about a ‘generalised set of moral precepts’, we should instead focus on ‘the disruptive specificity of a give work’
  • She argues that ethics alone cannot replace aesthetics where art is concerned. Art’s purpose (for her) isn’t therapeutic, it’s not intended to make us feel better about out lives. Instead the value of art lies in its ability to expose injustices and contradictions that everyday life renders invisible and unthinkable.
  • Bishop discusses that aesthetic is a dangerous word. Making art that is purely aesthetic loses its meaning as artwork so instead it should be replaced with ethics.

Socially Engaged Art

  1. Artworks that address political issues.
  2. Artworks that perform a function.
  3. Artworks that prompt or enable a (new?) form of sociality: participation.

1. Political Issues/Politics

  • Michael Landy’s ‘Creeping Buttercup’ initially look like intricate and detailed illustrations of plants and weeds. They are intact this but they also have a deeper political meaning that is not obvious from their surface value. The weeds come to stand for life in a large city that exists but has no place, the underclass. We tend to talk about plants in a way that we would never talk about people. We consider a lot of foreign plants to be invasive and dangerous to our natural species. It is a very nonchalant thing to stay that we need to crush and destroy foreign species in terms of plants and weeds but you would never be able to say this about people without public outrage. Mandy’s illustrations hints at racism and xenophobia.
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Michael Landy ‘Creeping Buttercup’
  • Richard Moss’ ‘The Enclave’ visually looks like paradise or a wonderland. The pink landscapes look like something from dreams. However as you progress through the exhibition you are presented with videos all shot in the same pink colours. However now the landscapes are filled with young men with guns. Our perception of the work changes. Moss uses extinct infrared military film which turns the natural greens of the landscape pink but camouflage green red. This was a technology used by the military to find hidden soldiers in camouflage. Just learning this about the work completely changes your initial perception of the ‘wonderland’, it creates this happy world and then punctures it.
  • Ai WeiWie’s ‘Straight’ is a piece on the Sichuan earthquake in China. We don’t know how many people were killed in the earthquake as the Chinese government never released the figures. For ‘Straight’ Ai WeiWei tried to find out how many children had died. He took iron rods that were bent from the buildings that had collapsed and straightened them back, returning them to their perfect state. Ai WeiWei doesn’t think ‘Straight’ is either art or not art. The children that dies are more important than the status of the art. ‘Straight’ was the beginning of Ai WeiWei’s bad relationship with the Chinese government.
  • The Beichuan Earthquake Museum in China that was once a place of death and destruction has become a tourist destination. It’s this exploitation of a disaster that I think Liu Xiaodong plays on in ‘Getting out of Beichuan’. The girls in the foreground of the painting don’t look like they belong to the crumbled city of Beichuan and are very calm and nonchalant. I think Xiaodong is playing on this idea of a tourist destination and everyone wanting a selfie with the disaster.
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Liu Xiaodong ‘Getting out of Beichuan’ 

 

2. Function 

a) Practical function: 

  • In Dominique Mazeaud’s ‘The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grand’, Mazeaud removes rubbish continually from the site, creating a physical change.

b) Symbolic function:

  • Ayse Erkmen created ‘Plan B’ which is a water purification machine in Venice which cleans the water from the canal, making it drinkable, and then pumps it back into the canals. There is no real change created by ‘Plan B’ but it makes us think about the environment.

 

3. Participation

i) invited guests

  • Lucy and Jorge Orta ’70×7 The Meal Act III’ – people were invited to come and eat leftovers.

ii) volunteers

  • Fritz Haeg ‘Edible Estates’ – attack on the American front lawn, turned the grass which takes a lot of upkeep in water into an allotment and relied on volunteers. It plays on the desire of the other, “look the neighbour likes his garden so will we if we change ours too”.

How does socially engaged art function in the gallery space?

  • Last year the artes mundi at the National Museum of Cardiff held work by the Futurefarmers. I don’t think the work of the Futurefarmers fit the gallery space. Their art is of a global concept, exploring seeds. By putting it in the gallery I think it was reduced to petty symbolism. I found it to be very underwhelming in the gallery setting because of the nature of this work, and without a thorough explanation, didn’t see to make sense.

 

Bibliography:

https://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/michael-elgreen-and-ingar-dragset-powerless-structures-fig-101

http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/lowly-weed-has-its-day

http://www.richardmosse.com/projects/the-enclave

Learning from Contemporary Art – Week 3

Who Is The Other?

  1. Otherness is sociological.
  2. Otherness is philosophical.
  3. Otherness is psychological.

1. Sociology 

  • Within society, the dominant groups set the norms. People who through biology or choice that don’t fit the norms are excluded from full membership of that society.
  • Mike Kelley’s ‘Deodorised Central Mass with Satellites’ is an example of how otherness is sociological. The sculpture consists of old hospital toys knitted together, grouped together by colour. This creates the concept of different groups. In one presentation of the work a single toy sits on the floor alone as it isn’t quite white. This individual creates the boundary for groups.
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Mike Kelley ‘Deodorised Central Mass with Satellites’
  • Otherness may be present as a type of exclusion. Juan Muñoz’s ‘Towards the Corner’ is a sculpture of multiple people, slightly smaller than life size. This begins with us grouping them separately as we can’t relate to them. Additionally, from your first angle of view the sculptures have their back to you so you are unable to interact and are excluded. At another angle (front view) the people in the sculpture are laughing at you, you become the joke, another type of exclusion. Finally, on close inspection the people in the sculpture all have the same face, the repetition in their faces groups them together and leaves the viewer as the excluded member.

 

  • Minority groups are understood and represented primarily through their relation to the norm. This means even a ‘positive’ representation of a member of a minority may still confirm the norms. An example of such is Jitish Kallat’s ‘Carbon Milk 9’. Although it is a happy representation of an Indian street child smiling straight ahead, it came under heavy criticism. Although it is a positive image, it still plays a set of anxieties we as Westerners might have about people’s acceptance of their position in society. The boy is happy being poor. This is a very naive view to hold.
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Jitish Kallat ‘Carbon Milk 9’

How does society handle the notion of difference? To what extent is a person’s ethnic identity a matter of choice?

  • Adrian Piper is of mixed race, having a white mother and black father. She felt she had no distinctions to fit her into either group. Therefore people felt that they could be racist around her as the was ‘no black person present’. Consequently in her self portrait she bean to exaggerate her features to make her look more black, fitting herself into the black group.
  • The Rachel Dolezal case. Rachel Dolezal was the president of the NAACP in Washington from 2014-15. She resigned when her parents outed her for lying about her ethnic identity. Dolezal was the daughter of two white parents however she justified categorising herself as black as she grew up with 3 adopted black siblings. This raises the question of whether she has the right to identify herself as black. Is black based solely on biology or is it something sociological?
  • Zhang Hongtu recreates traditional Chinese art in a European stye. What do these paintings do to our ideas of Chinese-ness and European-ness? Does it make a mockery of Chinese and European art? I think the transition between two completely different styles of art is fascinating. When recreated in the style of Van Gogh, or Cezanne, the traditional art does lose its authenticity and ethnicity, but at the same time it is exciting to see it recreated. Hongtu’s recreations are an example of cultural appropriation.

Cultural Toursim:

  • Culture tourism is the idea that the other is re-packaged as exotic. Shigeyuki Kihara’s ‘Culture for Sale’ is the perfect example as a metaphor for today’s cultural tourism. We questioned whether the video mimics the structure of cultural tourism or whether it critiques it. The performance art consists of multiple native Hawaiians in traditional outfits on different podiums. In front of them is bowl and when a member of the audience puts money in the bowl, the natives perform a traditional action. At first the actors felt exploited and used, having their talent reduced to a couple of pennies in a bowl. It created this idea of buying the Hawaiian experience. There was something quite uncomfortable in watching the video. It felt like begging, as if there was something quite shameful in the transaction. I think it was quite an insulting way to exhibit someone’s culture, however it was highlighting how many people go on holidays now and want the traditional experience. But does that even exist? The performers eventually changed their opinions on the art however, saying that talent costs no money. The money no longer felt like they were being paid to perform, but instead the money becomes a cue for the action. This is a defence mechanism against exploitation. I would say the performance art is critiquing cultural tourism by mimicking it. It is point-blank showing the problem with cultural tourism.
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Shigeyuki Kihara ‘
  • Kara Walker’s ‘A Subtlety’ consists of multiple sugar sculptures cited in an old sugar factory. The installation is full of contradictions, highlighting the history we want to forget, i.e slavery and the slave trade that traded sugar for bodies and bodies for sugar. The sculptures are of a sphinx that bares all and multiple child slaves that worked on sugar plantations. The slaves are made from the product that had put them in that situation to begin with. The work does a complete 180 and creates a never-ending cycle. The use of sugar also puts power behind the work as historically, royalty used to eat sugar sculptures between meals. The work as a whole raises the question though of whether it is okay for a black female artist to use racist and sexist imagery. Is it just promoting slavery and sexism again? For me the work is fairly ambiguous in the material it is made from, whether if this is just because I am only getting to see a photograph of it instead of seeing it in person. From just looking at a photo, I think the work definitely needs an explanation alongside it.

 

2. Philosophy

  • The other is understood to be everything that is not the self. In this sense otherness is crucial to the construction and maintenance of a sense of self. Without the other we aren’t real.
  • Self and other, while opposites, are bound together. The existence of each depends on the opposing term.
  • ‘Othering’ is used as a verb which describes the process of being tuned into an other. This is a form of alienation.
  • Santiago Sierra’s ‘Wall Enclosing a Space’ is an example of otherness as philosophical. The work was displayed in the Venice Biennale and only people with a Spanish  passport were allowed inside the pavilion. This created a group. Of course the people let into the pavilion gained nothing as the room was empty but it created this feeling of exclusion and othering.

 

3. Psychoanalysis 

  • The other describes: a) the internalised representation of other individuals b) a mental structure of self-surveillance
  • The argument is that desire is mimetic. “Desire is the desire of the other” Jacques Lacan – our desires are not our own.
  • We want things, not in themselves, but because other people want them (or so we think). If an other wants something, then it appears to me as something that must confer power and status. It’s the desire of the other that makes the object desirable. For example, you will often see toddlers fighting over a toy because another child wants it. It could sit on the floor all day but as soon as one toddler picks it up, everyone else wants it.
  • The other is internalised in us as an aspect of desire. The other becomes the one  who sees what we do, and often, for whom we do things.

How can the self also be the other?

  • At what point do babies realise that they are staring at themselves in a mirror and not someone else?
  • Mirroring occurs without mirrors.
  • We can’t be certain at this stage whether the baby distinguishes between itself and the environment.
  • Some form of mirroring occurs every time we engage with another individual. You might sit the same way, or mirror each other’s voice pitch.
  • Mirroring might be our schema for looking at artworks too – the artwork leads us and influences us. We behave how the artwork wants us to behave.

Who is the Other?

  1. We talked about Marc Quinn’s ‘Alison Lobber Pregnant’. I have come across this work before. Quinn creates marble sculptures of disabled people. In this example Alison Lobber is missing many of her limbs. We questioned whether it is more important that it’s of a working class disabled single mother, or that it was made by a man. Personally I don’t think who made it is important at all. The work is about challenging traditions by celebrating the disabled. Traditionally marble sculptures were of Greek Gods, the fittest people and pictures of health and beauty. Quinn flips this by creating marble sculptures of those that don’t fit into this category.
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Marc Quinn ‘Alison Lobber Pregnant’
  • Finally we talked about Sarah Lucas’ ‘Fried Eggs’. I recognised this work as I have a postcard of it at home. We questioned whether it was masculine or feminine. For me it is quite an androgynous photo. The woman has no physical features that are typically attributed to being a woman. She is sat in a typical manly pose, her haircut is more a man’s haircut and she has an aggressive expression on her face. The only physical attribute that makes us realise she’s female is having two fried eggs on her boobs. The idea was brought up in constellation that maybe the fried eggs were placed there as a metaphor for a term that is offensive to women with small boobs, and is turning it into something good. I had never though of this before but I think that this could be the idea that the artist is trying to present.
Self Portrait with Fried Eggs 1996 by Sarah Lucas born 1962
Sarah Lucas ‘Fried Eggs’

 

Bibliography:

 

https://www.timeout.com/los-angeles/art/mike-kelley-deodorized-central-mass-with-satellites

Laughter, pain and shadow

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/munoz-towards-the-corner-t07872

http://www.artnet.com/artists/jitish-kallat/carbon-milk-9-oBw1_sNDKV3d5Cog3tE6dQ2

http://old.citygallery.org.nz/exhibitions/shigeyuki-kihara-culture-sale

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/lucas-self-portrait-with-fried-eggs-p78447

http://marcquinn.com/artworks/single/alison-lapper-pregnant

Learning From Contemporary Art – Week 2

What does the world look like?

What counts as a realistic representation in the 21st century? What do we mean by ‘realism’? Would a realistic image look realistic to everyone regardless of their culture? Alternatively, if realism is dependent on culture is it actually realistic at all?

We discussed the opposition between Gombrich v. Jakobson.

Gombrich

Greenberg states that we can’t see or represent anything in art without some previous image or object to refer to. Gombrich’s theory agrees with this. Features of an object that agree with the schema are visible and obvious, features that don’t agree are difficult both to see and represent. Sometimes although the schema is inaccurate it’s more powerful than perception and we believe what we have actually seen even though we know it doesn’t exist. For example, we all know unicorns as white horses with a horn on their head. No one has actually seen a unicorn but we’ve seen photos of one so we have a schema to follow.

Realism in art results from testing and modifying the schema against perceptual experience, making and matching. Realism is thus always relative to the schemata available in any given society. Nevertheless, if making and matching is part of image production, images will become objectively more realistic over time.

Jakobson 

For Jakobson ‘realism’ has multiple meanings which are often incompatible ones. When an expression or form of representation becomes conventional and habitual it is no longer perceived as realistic. The realisms of yesterday become the unrealistic conventions of today. The effect of realism is produced by breaking conventions. Therefore, are modern or contemporary paintings more realistic that classical paintings? For Jakobson, perspective has nothing to do with realism.

Referring back to the idea that the realisms of yesterday become the unrealistic conventions of today, an idea that supports this theory comes from visual technology. Do new visual technologies allow us to get closer to the truth of an object, or do they simply give us a different view which we experience as realistic? When 3D cinema was introduced normal viewings at the cinema became unrealistic. Further down the line when IMAX and 4D cinema were introduced, 3D cinema was no longer considered realistic. With the constant development in visual technology will we ever have a solid view on what realism is? As new technologies grow old ones become dated and unrealistic.

Perspective

We looked at a painting by Hans Holbein titled ‘The Ambassadors’. At first glance it looks like a photo accurate classical painting of two ambassadors but in the botton middle of the scene when looking head on at the painting there is this weird, distorted shape that is unrecognisable as anything. It is only when you look at the painting from a certain angle that you see that the object is in fact a skull. It creates this constant reminder of death for the viewer, the ambassadors and death are antagonists to each other. As the viewer it is impossible to see both the skull and the scene at the same time, creating this idea that death can’t occupy the same space as the living. To see death we have to disregard the living. I really like this painting and its inter-dimensionality. It reinforces this earlier idea that questions realism. In different places, realism is a totally different thing.

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Hans Holbein ‘The Ambassadors’ 

Perspective was never simply about representing a coherent space. From the beginning it was understood also as a way of organising, unifying and centralising the meaning of a picture. Duchamp was interested in creating the effect of 3D without using perspective. These were his ‘Retroreliefs’. There’s no perspective, no vanishing point, and no horizon. With movement however he is able to create the impression of 3D shapes.

 

 

Two Models of Meaning

Meaning is often thought about as a kind of archaeology. digging into a work of art to unearth the meaning put there by the artist. In the first model the meaning is buried, in the second it’s dispersed. In the first model we would talk about an artwork influencing or being influenced by something. In the second model you would talk about an artwork emerging from a population of images.

Horizon

Horizon links back to perspective. The horizon gives us stability and a sense of orientation. Horizon could also be used for “determining one’s own location and relation to one’s surroundings, destinations or ambitions”.

  • “The curvature of the earth is typically disregarded. The horizon is conceived as an abstract flat line upon which the points of any horizontal plane converge.”
  • “The construction of linear perspective declares the view of a one-eyed and immobile spectator as a norm – and this view is itself assumed to be natural, scientific and objective.”
  • Turner is an artist that paints no horizon and no vanishing point. Turner resists fixity of perspective painting.

Techniques of post-perspective:

  1. the multiplication of views and viewpoints.
  2. the adoption of a non-human viewpoint.
  3. doubling and repetition.
  4. historical perspectives.

 

Bibliography:

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/hans-holbein-the-younger-the-ambassadors

Learning From Contemporary Art – Week 1

What does it mean to be contemporary?

Is contemporary art dependent on when it was made? Yesterday? 200? 1980?

Or is contemporary art a kind of style? I would categorise Damien Hirst’s ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the mind of Someone Living’ as contemporary as it doesn’t have an obvious meaning/point from just looking at it. It is the type of art that only when you read the explanation for it that you understand it as art. It is also something that my mum would see in a gallery and say “that’s not art”, or “I could do that”. Although it is perhaps silly, I can always identify contemporary art by my mum’s ‘theory of art’.

What makes a work contemporary?

  • Contemporary art is something shocking and is completely dependent on the audience’s reaction. Contemporary art is dependent on shock-value.
  • Contemporary art is dependent on the concept behind it, it can act as a vehicle for political, social and cultural views.
  • Contemporary art is the idea that anything can be art, the idea that that it’s contemporary art is enough to make it contemporary.
  • Artwork must be relatively new, and most also be about contemporaneity. That is it must express, embody or analyse a contemporary idea or current situation.
  • Contemporary art is something that you wouldn’t understand without a caption or explanation.

What’s the difference between a Brillo Box and an Andy Warhol Brillo Box?

  • Arthur Danto’s idea is that contemporary art isn’t self-sufficient. It relies on a text, a theory that’s not part of the artwork itself and may not be visible in it. The artwork is part of a larger discourse

How do we define ‘now’?

  • Contemporary art is art made at the present moment and is directed towards the present moment – linear time.
  • Contemporary art clashes with other artistic models of its time. 20th century avant-garde focused on the future, postmodernism focused on the past.
  • However the problem with the linear model of time is the more we concentrate exclusively on the present moment, the smaller and more distant it becomes.

 

Contemporary art goes against Greenberg’s idea of disciplinary purity; contemporary art is art that does’t want to be known as art. Paradoxically perhaps, the work that is most of its time is the work that least belongs to its time. The job of art isn’t to define what is contemporary but open that a space of debate, reliant on discussion, disagreement and conflict. Put simply, art is now defined by its dis-identification with the discipline of art. Tania Bruguera’s ‘Tatlin’s Whisper 5’ is considered stronger as art in her opinion when the audience is unaware that the work is art.

Suzanne Hudson The Paradigm of No Paradigm:

  • Contemporary art is only an idea, it has no real existence.
  • The biggest problem with contemporary art as it is currently understood is its futurelessness.
  • “the best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart” – the figure of the contemporary artist is mythical, made up of those qualities thought valuable in the labour market in the moment.
  • ‘Contemporary’ has a value that is based on relevance and urgency.

Level 4 PDP: Constellation Reflection

Constellation has been really interesting and thought provoking this year, allowing me to challenge my ideas and the way I interpret other artist’s work. Although I initially found it intimidating to voice my opinions in lectures, being able to hear other students interpretations of work, working as a collective, and being encouraged to discuss my ideas was really beneficial. It allowed me to consider new concepts, and overall deepen my understanding of areas in art and design.

In the first term I had After Modernism which was exciting as it taught me a lot more about the evolution of art movements and how world events caused their advance. After Modernism also had a direct influence on my own work as it introduced me to so many artists’ work that I was previously unfamiliar with. For example, in the Abstract Expressionism lecture we looked at the work of Art & Language, ’Portrait of V.I. Lenin with Cap, in the Style of Jackson Pollock III’ which inspired me to produce portraits in my subject brief that were almost unrecognisable and research into other abstract expressionist artists outside of the lectures. We also visited the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts and the Tate Modern. Being able to view some of the work we had been discussing in lectures in person really benefited my understanding and learning as I think it can be easy to miss important details when looking at a photograph. It was also interesting to note the difference between the one viewpoint you get in photograph compared to the multitude of viewpoints you can get in person, and how the meaning behind the work can develop with this. Our visit to the National Museum Cardiff was particularly interesting as we not only discussed the work housed within the building, but the building itself and its architecture. Although having visited the museum many times, it was almost shocking how much I’d missed as it was hidden in plain sight. After having a discussion of the Gallery and Institutional Critique on the significance of the gallery’s layout, I can now appreciate the relevance of the surroundings in relation to the art. Through the After Modernism lectures I was introduced to work that encouraged abstract, conceptual ideas, that ended up inspiring my own work.

The second term of constellation was a lot more thought provoking for me than I initially thought it would be. I explored the topic of Things Can Be Otherwise. Although I didn’t choose this option as I had never studied philosophy before, and didn’t think it was an area that I would be interested in, it has provided me with a deeper interest in philosophical understanding. Although initially it was quite an intimidating and unknown subject for me, it allowed me to consider ideas I’d never thought of before and made me question things I thought I knew to be certain. Discussing Russell’s concept of knowledge and the table was particularly interesting as it made me question my sense awareness; for example, with an object’s colour or texture. If it is constantly changing then what is its true reality? This questioning of reality linked in well with my practice as it enabled me to analyse my own work deeper. Within Things Can Be Otherwise, we had a lot of writing practice. I found this really challenging as I am not very confident with my analytical skills. However this practice proved to be beneficial for my writing skills as it taught me how to produce concise, well structured and well supported paragraphs. This was an important skill to gain, as I also have a tendency to ramble on in essays, including a lot of information and sources with no direct relevance to my essay question. This ultimately helped me to write my final essay as it has taught me how to select important sources to support my claims and arguments, and discard anything that doesn’t directly link. I feel I have significantly improved my analytical skills thanks to writing practice, and am now confident in voicing my interpretations and opinions of other’s work.

I decided to write my essay on indexical drawing, which having attended the Things Can Be Otherwise lectures, I now have a deeper understanding of. I wanted to focus on indexical drawing as I found it inspirational for my studio work, and was a topic I wanted to learn more about. I think that the relation I created between constellation and my own work was really important as it enabled me to contextualise my essay into my work, and create an essay that I was really interested in exploring. Indexical drawing is a key concept for me that without constellation, I would be unaware of.

By attending the keynotes I was able to learn about such a broad range of subjects and discover new artists every week. For me, the most significant lecture was Tradition & Originality. Having attended this lecture, I now have insight in the misunderstanding between tradition and originality and am able to put in into context. In the lecture we discussed how the future changes history. At first I found this concept hard to grasp but when put into an example of how Vermeer’s paintings were only understood when the camera was invented years later, does it then make sense. This knowledge could be useful to me as a learner, as previously I had only considered how the past affects the future; now I have a broader understanding of the significance of all art on each other.

In conclusion, I found that all of the areas of constellation were really beneficial for the development of my understanding, especially the second term. I feel that I now have a deeper knowledge of more areas of art and design, and how it is linked and impacted upon by the ever-changing world. Constellation allowed me to develop my analytical skills and consider how I can relate my own practice to different subjects’ concepts, that I was previously unaware of.

Things Can Be Otherwise – Seminar 6

Writing As Looking

This seminar explored how writing can promote looking. We analysed two pieces of work by people in the seminar group.

Rhiannon’s Sculpture:

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Notes made about sculpture:

  • rough surface looks like it’d be soft.
  • impression of skin.
  • feminine form.
  • looks like leather texture.
  • colour looks classical, like a classical sculpture, almost like the Venus statue.
  • pillar of flesh.
  • human torso minus arms (suggestion of a torso, not literal).
  • liquid form .
  • looks like dollops of thick white paint.
  • insect’s exoskeleton, skin becomes a shield -> hard yet delicate, like an insect, could be broken.
  • actually about form, shape & materials, no actual meaning.
  • contrast between hard dense material and malleable shape and liquid. 
  • called globule, liquid-esc type shape.
  • shape reinforced against the hard geometric shape of the stairs (?):

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Sentence beginnings:

“Banks and I believe; Yates’s small sculpture conveys a plump female figure with expressive marks that could possible resemble leather suggesting this female is a tough chick.”

Mel’s Animation Still: 

both-bod.jpg

Notes made about the still:

  • challenges gender norms and explores gender binaries.
  • figure is transgender/ has no gender at all.
  • the colours behind each figure section challenge gender norms and traditional views on gender -> blue is paired with the woman, pink is paired with the man and most importantly black is paired with the alien head as the gender is unknown to us.
  • the way the genitals are covered makes the figure gender anonymous to us.
  • third arm, body postures.
  • simple, innocent, playfulness.
  • conflict in body language ], man takes a powerful stance whereas the female is more shy, almost like she is attempting to cover herself.

Sentence beginnings:

“Rozel’s animation still brakes the barrier between gender binaries, challenging traditional views on gender. The lurid colours protest against gender typical colours and the black has significance of mutuality between male and female. the covering of the genitals accomplishes an androgynous connotation, further breaking the barrier.”

Things Can Be Otherwise: Seminar 3

In this constellation we looked at technology and the idea of cyborgs. Is everyone a cyborg? Because I wear glasses does that make me a cyborg?

One of the ideas discussed was the question of whether we are all cyborgs. We are programmed by our parents from birth to act a certain way and have certain morals. Therefore are we really individuals or objects that have been built up and programmed much like machines. We then discussed the question of whether animals are cyborgs as predators are programmed genetically to to kill to survive.

Social media controls our lives. We present ourselves in a certain way and use filters to aid this. Is it possible now for us to survive without it? In the present day the younger generation validate themselves through their phones, our personalities are on our phones. Combined with our phones, are we then cyborgs? If you’re thoroughly programmed, what’s left of the self? We are now completely at the whim of technology.

The second part of this seminar had us looking at the idea of drawing. There are three types of drawing: Iconic (where there is resemblance, for example a portrait), Symbolic (with the idea of convention, for example when we see a red traffic light we know to stop), and finally Indexical (causality, for example smoke signifies a fire).

In this seminar we were focusing on indexical drawing, participating in it ourselves. We went into the park and used the tools around us provided by nature to make drawings. I rubbed and printed objects such as stones, leaves and sticks into molehills and then pressed these objects into my sketchbook. The results created were very delicate and faint:

 

 

Things Can Be Otherwise – Seminar 2

In this seminar we looked at the opposing theories of Plato and Nietzsche .

Plato believed that whatever we encounter in life, there’s a perfect original template in a transcendent realm that only thought can access. Instead we are living in a secondary state. Plato believed that all art is a copy of a copy, it is a reflection of the secondary state and not the real thing. He believed art takes us away from the truth and deceives us.

“The sun, I think you will agree, not only makes the things we see visible, but causes the processes of generation, growth and nourishment, without itself being such a process.” – Plato, Republic, 509b.

“The art of representation is therefore a long way removed from the truth…” – Plato, Republic, 597e -598b.

 

Examples of deception in the arts:

  • photoshop -> mistaken for reality and so creates a state in which we compare ourselves to.
  • social media -> makes life look exciting all the time, puts a filter on reality.
  • newspapers/reporting -> fake news/ open to bias.
  • pornography -> we assume these depictions of women as objects is how women should be viewed in real life.

Nietzsche directly attacks Plato as he said that instead of everything being fixed/singular, reality is in a constant state of flux and everything is changing. The idea of a perfect singular thing is just an image. There is no such thing as a singular perfect version, everyone translates things differently. Therefore Nietzsche celebrates the arts as he sees it as always going through transformation, taking something from one realm and turning it into something else (a metaphor).

“We know nothing whatsoever about an essential quality called honesty” – Nietzsche

“Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions” – Nietzsche

Plato —> Idealism

Nietzsche —> Nihilism (denies transcendent truth)

In this seminar we looked at answering 3 main questions:

  1. How do Plato and Nietzsche’s theories of knowledge differ?
  2. Which idea/s is at the heart of their thinking?
  3. Which passages in either Plato’s or Nietzsche’s texts help to reveal their ideas?

As an artist, the ideology of Nietzsche seems most relevant to my practice. Nietzsche believed that reality is in a constant state of flux, constantly changing. This relates to the Fine Art practice as they say that everything takes inspiration off something else. I may look at ‘Starry Night’ by Van Gogh, and not replicate it, but take inspiration from his brush technique and use this one reality to transform into another reality/metaphor of my own. I think Neitsche’s idea that reality is ever-changing has status as we may look at something in one particular way at one point in time, but over time this view changes.

Paragraph Practice:

Nietzsche was a philosopher who believed the world is in a constant state of flux, where reality is ever-changing. An example of such is when we put our hand on a table, it is a solid and still surface; however if we were to take a microscope to it, you would see particles vibrating. Therefore what we perceive to be reality may not be reality in another state, and in the words of Nietzsche, “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions”. Relating to this, Nietzsche supported the arts as he believed the artist is taking something from one realm and turning it into something else, another metaphor. This is true for me at least as I may look at the work of one artist and utilise it to create my own reality (art).

Things Can Be Otherwise – Seminar 1

In this lecture we looked at a passage from Bertrand Russel’s book ‘The Problems of Philosophy’. It explored the concept of a table and whether we really know it to be true. For example, when I look at my desk I see a certain colour, however, when the light changes the colour becomes completely different. Therefore what is the table’s true colour? This made me think of reality in terms of paintings. Is a realist painting really depicting reality or just the reality in the painter’s mind? As reality constantly changes through different circumstances could you consider an abstract painting just as realistic as a realist painting?

One question that we looked at was What Counts as Knowledge in the Internet Age? In the matter of seconds we can have endless articles, so why should we bother with books and lectures? Because everything is available do we eventually stop learning? Everyone is capable of an opinion, but knowledge requires discovery and understanding.

We then discussed the idea of a drawing. Can anything that documents the existence of an object be classed as a drawing? Therefore can these pieces of crumpled paper be classed as drawings? I think they can be classed as drawings as they are illustrating reality in a different format.

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“For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, & never can observe anything but the perception” – David Hume, ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’, 1740, p.252

Finally we continued to answer the question, What Counts as Knowledge in the age of the internet? Who do you trust? Wikipedia? I began by saying that the only internet sources I would trust when researching in my Fine Art practice is gallery websites and the artist’s own websites. I never trust Wikipedia. However, the issue of bias in a gallery’s crit of work was raised as obviously they’re article is going to be biased towards work, especially if an exhibition is being held as they obviously would want it to do well. In some cases have they even seen the work to be able to discuss it? Why is their opinion more valuable than my own? In terms of the artist’s own explanation, they may feel one way about their work to begin with, but this may change with time. So who should we trust?