Dia de los Muertos

Day of the Dead is a holiday widely practiced in Mexico. Families come together to honor dead loved ones and encourage their sprits to visit with various gifts. Evidence of ceremonial rituals meant to attract the spirits of the dead and honor them can be traced back to Pre-Colombian times. Aztecs dedicated a month long festival starting around August to the goddess Micteozcihuatl, the precursor to today’s Catrina. Over time beliefs of the indigenous peoples combined with Catholic beliefs, producing a three day celebration that starts on October 31st and lasts until November 2nd. Each day holds specific significance. On the first night, called Dia de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents) children make altars for the angelitos (spirits of young children or babies) encouraging them to visit. The next day called All Saints Day honors adult spirits and on the last day, All Sous Day, families gather in cemeteries to decorate the graves of relatives and friends who have passed. The traditions of this festival spread through out the region and now similar holidays for the dead are practiced in Spain, Brazil, and some areas of Europe, Asia, Africa and America.

There are specific icons that make up the visual lexicon of Dia de los Muertos. The most readily recognized being sugar skulls (calaveras de azúca) placed onto graves as oferenda (offerings). These decorations made of sugar and can be bought, but are often homemade. The sugar is shaped into a skull and brightly decorated with patterns in multi-colored icing, shiny foil, sequins and glitter. These are not morbid items, but are cheerful reminders to the dead of the love their living relatives still have for them. Marigolds are the flowers of the dead and are thought to attract spirits. The flowers and sugar skulls populate art inspired by Dia de los Muertos themes. Faimlies also paint their faces in a likeness of the sugar skulls and wear marigolds in their hair.

Altars made for the dead can become large and complex, filled with sugar skull, paper decorations, food and drink favored by the deceased, candles, flowers, toys and pictures. These altars are made to attract the spirits during the days of the holiday when they can visit. Special bread is baked called pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and also placed on graves. These elaborate alters are quite beautiful and reenforce the celebratory themes of the holiday. Below I have attached some pictures of altars and other items from Dia de los Muertos. Later this week, my work place will participate with Dia de los Muertos by having private and public altars for the community to visit. I am very proud to be able to contribute to this long tradition as well as excited to be a part of it. I will try to take some good pictures of the altars to share later this week or early next week.

Thanks for reading guys, and whether you chose to celebrate Halloween or Dia de los Muertos or both, I wish you all the best.

 

Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz

Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei is photographed inside his studio in Beijing on June 16, 2014

Ai Weiwei is building portraits of imprisoned human rights activists onsite at Alcatraz out of legos. The portraits total 176 and feature political exiles like South African leader Nelson Mandela, Tibetan pop singer Lolo and even American whistle-blower Edward Snowden. The work is part of an exhibition titled “@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz”  that opened on September 27th and will run through April 26th. The instillation is organized by For-Site, a San Francisco producer of public art. The portraits will be located in the prison hospital, A Block cells, dining hall and the former laundry building.

Weiwei’s project will bring awareness to limitations on freedom of expression across the glob. I know it is hard for Americans to really understand how censorship abroad works (not to say our government never casts shade on topics) because our freedom to express seems unbound when compared to the degree of persecution human rights activists, artists, musicians, and political rebels face in say Russia or the Middle East among others. Weiwei has himself fought to resist efforts by the Chinese government to stop his artistic efforts.

And now the answer to the question on everyone’s mind. How many Legos did Weiwei use to build his portraits? The artist estimates the final count will total around 1.2 million pieces.
Heres a link with a video about the project and an interview with Weiwei:

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/sep/24/ai-weiwei-alcatraz-lego-extraordinary

 

 

 

The YBAs

YBA=Young British Artists. Both title and acronym refer to a loose group of visual artists who began to exhibit together in London 1988. The first use of the term “young British artists” was by Michael Corris in ArtForum (May 1992) and the acronym  “YBA” (or “yBa”) was coined by Simon Ford in  1996 in his feature “Myth Making” for the March issue of Art Monthly magazine. Since then it has manifested into a historic term because most of the YBAs were born in the mid-1960s, with an active period from the 1980s to the late 1990s, though many still make art today— just not large group exhibits. Though strictly speaking, it includes only those artists who showed at Freeze, or Sensation. However, the name is also used in a broader sense to embrace all progressive, avant-garde British artists who achieved recognition during the late 1980s and 90s. A new termPost-YBAs has been coined to describe British artists emerging in the 2000s. They include Darren Almond, Mike Nelson, Tim Noble, Oliver Payne, Nick Relph, Eva Rothschild, Simon Starling, David Thorpe, Sue Webster, Carey Young, and others.

Most of the YBAs graduated from Goldsmiths in the BA Fine Art course in the late 1980s; studying under the likes of Michael Craig-Martin and Richard Wentworth who undoubtably had a huge impact on the approach to art making these young artists made after graduating. From the humble start of exhibiting in warehouses their innovative and provocative shows quickly gained popularity, attracting the attention cultural royalty like Charles Saatchi. The post-war authority of things socially acceptable, Saatchi  invested much of his money in supporting and collecting his favorites like Damien Hirst and Rich Wentworth. Saatchi even went beyond funding and collaborated with Hirst and Wentworth in organizing exhibitions. Art from the YBAs also provided the catalysis so desperately needed to rejuvenate the British art scene, and even starting artistic atmospheres where previously there had been none. 

The six exhibitions the serve to unify this loose group of art affiliates were held between March 1992 and November 1996 at the Saatchi Gallery, London. The genesis of the YBAs can be traced to a 1988 warehouse show in London,  entitled Frieze and it was curated by none other than Damien Hirst. Hirst exhibited works by himself and 15 of his fellow Goldmiths’ students, including Angela Bulloch, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Richard Patterson and Fiona Rae. Subsequent group exhibitions cemented the artists’ reputations for independence, savvy entrepreneurial skills and the ability to manipulate the media. The warehouse show Modern Medicine (1990) in particular demonstrated the artists skill at transforming different media and was also curated by Hirst, but in this instance he partnered with journalist Carl Freedman (b 1965) Later Freedman curated Minky Manky (1995; London, S. London A.G.). But the consolidation of the artists’ status was cemented in 1995 with a large-scale group exhibition Brilliant! held at the Walker Art Center a respected art museumin Minneapolis, USA.

Rachel Whiteread, cast of an apartment complex, 1992

Works by Young British Artists include all forms of painting, a wide range of sculpture and assemblage, contemporary video and installation art, a variety of photography, and conceptual art.  Thus famous works of Britart have included: maggots and dead animals (Hirst); concrete casts of whole houses (Rachel Whiteread); a bed surrounded by highly personal detritus including condoms (Tracey Emin); found objects crushed by a steamroller (Cornelia Parker); elephant dung (Chris Ofili); and frozen blood (Marc Quinn) and many more varied materials. Numerous YBA works have also employed a number of controversial references some of which are such as Jenny Saville’s paintings of grossly obese nude female forms and the Chapman brothers’ savagely mutilated shop-window dummies. They force us to consider these topics with shock tactics and they were quite successful. Other artists made conceptual video art like Mark Wallinger’s Turner Prize exhibit, a 2-hour film of a person wandering around an art gallery in a bear suit; or Gillian Wearing’s video of actors dressed in police uniforms who stood still for an hour in total silence; or Martin Creed’s installation of a white room with a single light bulb blinking off and on. Despite the varied showcase of subject matter, styles, and medium, there remains a common “anything-goes attitude” to materials and the creative process. Their works also share clear influence from Marcel Duchamp in the prominence given to conceptual art, found objects and unconventional, even humorous interpretations of everyday life.

Damien Hirst, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” a tiger shark suspended in formaldehyde, 1991

I also think they all model after Joseph Beuys in their experiments with positioning the artist within society, asking what is the artists’s purpose or message? Gavin considers how his art is influenced by time passing showing his work through the lens the future as if we are looking back at his work, and in some cases as though he were already deceased. Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (tiger shark, glass and steel, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.) also underscores the prospect of imminent death. Sarah Lucas’ Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab (photograph, fried eggs, kebab and table, 1992; London, Saatchi Gal.) asks us to consider issues of sexuality with food items foreign to the gallery environment. The signature pieces of Gavin Turk, like Cave (ceramic, 1991; London, Saatchi Gal.), explore the relationship of the artist to his work and his public. Other aYBAs include Chris Ofili, Marc Quinn, Rachel Whiteread (featured in Freeze the first of Saatchi’s group exhibitions), Dinos and Jake Chapman and Ron Mueck.

Tracey Emin, “My Bed” 1999

Tracey Emin, “Tent”

Even  though the group enjoyed much success, YBAs were heavily criticized for their lack of craftsmanship and other artistic traits, by numerous art critics the composer Simon Rattle, and the playwright Tom Stoppard. But by and large the British public have enthusiastically embraced the YBAs for their contributions to the visual arts establishment. One reason for this, is that there works have rescued in almost every aspect Britain’s  contemporary art, significantly raising museum attendance figures in the process. They also contributed to the success of a whole new generation of contemporary galleries, including Jay Jopling’s White Cube, Victoria Miro, Karsten Schubert, Sadie Coles, Maureen Paley’s Interim Art, and Antony Wilkinson Gallery -as as increasing the circulation of contemporary British art magazines.

Another one of the best aspects of this group, in my opinion is the evident contributions of female artists. Gillian Wearing, Tracey Emin (nominated in 1999 Turner Prize for My Bed). Fiona Rae,  (1963 Untitled, Emergency Room) and Jenny Saville and more have all benefited from the publicity of associating with the group finding much success and a generally equal amount of respect and fame as their male peers as well as receiving respect from their male contemporaries.

Here is a listing of the artists that exhibited with the first two shows (the shows that bonded the group) and a list of additional artists who exhibited with the group at later dates.

Frieze Exhibitors:

Brilliant! Exhibitors:

Other YBAs

Marc Quin, “Kate Moss”

Damien Hirst, “Dot Painting”

 

Gavin Turk

 

Sarah Lucas, Spamaggedon (2004)

Gavin Turk, “Gavin Turk Takes the Biscuit” 2006

 

 

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), Fireflies on the Water, 2002. Mirror, plexiglass, 150 lights and water, 111 × 144 1/2 × 144 1/2 in. (281.9 × 367 × 367 cm) overall. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

I am obsessed with Yayoi Kusama’s instillation art. She utilizes color and texture in a dynamic exploration of infinite space. Kusama creates the illusion of limitless space using polka-dots, lights, mirrors, water, and pattern to make endless reputations of texture, color and shape. She is able to trick our senses into perceiving her fictional environment— no matter how bizarre, garish, or fantastical— as reality. Right now she has exhibitions in three different countries, one at the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (“A Dream I Dreamed”) until March, another in Japan at the Kochi Museum of Art (“Yayoi Kusama Eternity of Eternal Eternity”) until February, a third in New York  (“Yayoi Kusama I Who Have Arrived In Heaven”) through December, and the last in Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro (“Obsession Infinita”) through the end of January. But Kusama has had a dynamic career in a variety of mediums, she continuous to evolve her art making techniques while still exploring boundaries and space with pattern and color.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Driving Image (detail) (1959-64)

 

 

Kusama has had an incredibly successful international career. She started to paint around ten, creating richly textured paintings in watercolors, pastels, and oils using polka dots and nets as motifs. When she first arrived to the United States in 1957 she showed large paintings, soft sculptures, and environmental sculptures assembled from mirrors and electric lights. In the late 1960’s Kusama began to stage happenings in the US and Europe, such as body painting festivals, fashion shows, and anti-war demonstrations. In one happening she had participants dance to her choreography naked except for a painted polka dot pattern she applied. She also explored media-related activities, and in 1968 released the film “Kusama’s Self-Obliteration.” This film, in which Kusama produced and starred in, won a prize at the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium and the Second Maryland Film Festival and the second prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. In 2008 her documentary film “Yayoi Kusama, I adore myself” released in Japan and  screened at international film festival and museum. 

 

Yayoi Kusama, Accumulation of Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain of Depersonalization) (1950)

 

 

 

In 1973 Kusama returned to Japan where she continued to produce and show art works. During this time she became interested on language and book artand issued a number of novels and anthologies. In 1983, the novel “The Hustlers Grotto of Christopher Street” won the Tenth Literary Award for New Writers from the monthly magazine Yasei Jidai. for the rest of the 70’s and to present, she continued to expand her art productions and held many solo exhibitions, retrospectives, and museum exhibits in Paris, Australia, New York, LA, London, Brazil, Denmark, Rome, Milan, Mexico City, China, Tokyo, Korea, New Delhi, and even participated in the 1993 45th Venice Biennale and the 2012 Sydney Biennale and Aichi Triennale. She has had her work recognized by many titles museums and associations the world over.

 

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – Love Forever (1996)

But perhaps being insanely prolific and successful does have its drawbacks. The rumor is that Kusama’s intensely patterned and bright art literally drove her insane. “Obsessions, phallus obsessions, obsessions of fear are the main themes of my art. Accumulation is how stars and earth don’t exist alone,” she explains. For the last forty years, she’s been a patient of a mental institution in Japan, where she continues to produce extraordinary works. This is an excerpt from project by filmmaker Heather Lenz, titled “Kusama Princess of Polka Dots.” Though the film remains unfinished, this 7-minute cut is a part of an exhibition on Kusama at London’s Tate Museum.

Abdulnasser Gharem

Abdulnasser Gharem

“I want to change that text culture to a visual thing, because the people here they didn’t used to the visual or to the images because it was prohibited”— Abdulnasser Gharem

I am obsessed with artist Abdulnasser Gharem for two reasons. First, he is brave enough to use art to challenge censorship traditions in a culture greatly controlled by its government and second because he lives a double life as a Major in the Saudi Arabian Army.

Whoa.

So I was checking NPR’s recent articles— ’cause I am weird and prefer reading them to listening to them— and I stumbled upon an interview Gharem gave to NPR reporter Renee Montagne. Immediately I am impressed with how boldly Gharem expresses himself in such a censored  and conflicted country. I’ll put the link at the end of my gushing because I am sure you will want to read it.

One of the first questions Montagne asks regards one of his first performances in 2007 delivered in his home town of Khamis Mushait (near Abha) in which he wrapped himself and a tree up in plastic. Performance art was an early solution to the problem of reaching people with his art. He said that there was no art in his city, no museum, no gallery, nothing for him to exhibit in. So Gharem asks himself, “Why should I wait for them? Why don’t I just go to the main street of my city and just do the performance? Just go and connect with a real audience.” I love it! He puts the situation in his control and just strolls on down to the main street of his hometown and wraps himself up with a tree. His performance that day was a criticism of the government; he was challenging their decision to plant a foreign trees that were now sickening native trees. This kind of political criticism is nothing new in the US where we have so many people involved with activism that there we’re bombarded with a “Rights for [any cause]” promotion until we’re apathetic to pleas, but these organizations do not exist in Saudi Arbia. So Gharem’s actions are very radical and possibly dangerous. But he goes further, he is trying to actually begin a tradition of visual art in Saudi Arabia.

You see, even since ancient times  Middle Eastern culture forbade the use of images. In their religion, images are regarded as idols so instead of a culture of imagery what developed was a rich artistic tradition of nonobjective design, such as elaborate floral motifs on tapestries, colorful complicated patterns on walls, beautiful illuminated manuscripts, and of course amazing feats of architectural engineering. But images, short of gods and important political figures in historical and religious texts, are very rare and follow very specific guidelines. Talking about censorship Gharem admits that, “I’m trying to be careful with these things. You know, with the social media, I think no one now can block anyone or not letting anyone to show what he want. But I’m a little bit worried. I can’t do that sort of show — the one I just did in London — in Saudi Arabia. I think it would not be allowed, to be honest.”

So Gharem’s efforts to bring a new art culture Saudi Arbia is as ambitious as it precarious. A lot of his work he has to show outside of the country, such as his instillations and recent exhibition of paintings in London where he is allowed more liberalism. Gharem has achieved international fame for recently becoming the highest selling living Gulf Artist when his instillation “Messege/Messenger” made history at an auction in Dubai by selling at a record price. The artist, staying ever true to his goal of encouraging visual art traditions for his homeland, donated all the proceeds to the art education organization Edge of Arabia, of which he is a founding member.

“Rubber Stamps”

Aside from instillations and performance art, Gahrem also makes art that comments on international events and his duties as a part of a bureaucracy. His three-foot tall stamps are larger-than-life interpretations of the bureaucratic seals he employs in his day job — as a lieutenant colonel in Saudi Arabia’s army. He was inspired by the authority stamps give to documents that receive their marking. In his country, anything that is of importance— birth certificates, licenses, marriage contracts, vacation documents,anything asserting value— gets a stamp marking its importance. He uses stamps often in his work for the army and noticed that the younger generation rebels against the requirement to obtain approval through stamps. This piece illustrates a gap dividing the youth and the elderly, and blames bureaucracy for creating the divide. He also has a painting commemorating the 9/11 attack in America. Bearing the titled “Pause” the painting is very but very moving. It is simplified to the extreme in a very flattened perspective using only graphic shapes, two shades of grey, and a streak of yellow. But it simplicity allows you to immediantly recognize what is happening in the image; literally it forces you to stop to consider the event for a moment. I am just going to paste what he said in the interview right here because I could not summarize what he says about this painting and maintain the same impact:

“Pause”

“That painting, I call it “Pause” because it’s related to 9/11. You know, in that moment, I think the whole world were like someone pushed that button: pause. And the 19 who were in the airplane, most of them are from Saudi Arabia, and two of them, I was studying with them. They were with me in the same schools. … They were with me in the high schools, and I was wondering why did they choose this path while we have the same knowledge. We were in the same school, we were sitting next together, and I don’t know why did they choose that path. It was a crazy thing, to be honest.”

So yeah, I am just kind of obsessed with this man and what he is doing for his country. Sometimes we really do not appreciate the freedom we have to create like we should. We can be artists, we can be writers, we can be performers, and we can be collectors of whatever kind of art we want. This is a great thing and when there is so much in life that we cannot control, at least we have art— in any form— to satisfy our desire for expression of whatever needs to be expressed.

Here’s Gharem’s NPR interview

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/08/243492165/saudi-soldier-questions-authority-with-art-and-plastic-wrap

And here is his awesome website:

http://abdulnassergharem.com

Now You’re in New York!: “In the AIr” by T.J. Wilcox

“In the Air” T. J. Wilcox

“In the Air” by conceptual film artist T.J. Wilcox, is a stunning panoramic film instillation at the Whitney that asks the viewer to consider the complex, entertaining relationship between New York and film. His new work makes you realize anew how perfect a match New York and film are for the other. I mean the pedestal upon which we have placed the shining city of New York (where dreams are made from) is largely constructed from famous movie moments. In a way, this piece is part narrative of New York, part exploration of the city’s reputation as cultivated by film, and part personal biography of Wilcox’s career in New York.

The following quote from Roberta Smith describes Wilcox’s set up well:

“This piece centers on an in-the-round bird’s-eye view of Lower Manhattan that was shot from the artist’s studio, the 18th-floor penthouse of a building on Union Square, and compresses the passing of one day into 30 minutes. Like the old-style panorama, it appears on a circular screen, one that is about 7 feet high and 35 feet in diameter. Hanging about four and a half feet above the floor, it’s like a giant lampshade.”—, Art Practical

Although Wilcox’s is best known for shorter projections,— films only a few minutes long (and often looped) that are pieced together from all kinds of existing footage— with “In the Air” he goes BIG, and the effect is astounding. This project began from his reaction to the 360-degree view from his own studio, he descrbes the moment as initial paralysis followed by compete awe of the city’s ageless majesty. Consistent with his preference for lower-tech gear, he downgraded his equipment from five complicated cameras to the same number of relatively small, rugged, inexpensive GoPros. He also found he improved resolution by switching from filming to shooting stills. And he prayed for sun skies, but dotted with clouds so the stills would have some interest.

And after much trial and error and some uncooperative weather, in July Wilcox was finally able to shoot about 15 hours’ worth of a single day in the life of New York City. He ended up with 60,000 stills, shot at a rate of one per second. These were individually processed, and then animated and sped up using a computer program that seamlessly stitched the views together, eliminating distortions and evening light levels.

The final result is pure majesty and clarity. The wraparound vista portrays a timeless living record of New York that is ethereal and yet absolutely personal. By omitting the details of street traffic and storefronts, the ageless and eternal grandeur of the city can be fully appreciated. The sights include the Con Edison clock tower, Zeckendorf Towers, Freedom Tower and the West Side, with glimpses of the Hudson and New Jersey. The sun pushes shadows from many sets of clouds in different shades and shapes across the masses of architecture; airplanes arrive and depart; the lights of the city come on and then dim, as the sun returns.

But that is not all. Superimposed on the panorama are six short cameo-films that pull us from one place or era, one event or personality to another, across varying film methods, between color and black and white. The cameos appear one at a time on different parts of the screen, each with its own title, forming a carefully linked loop of narratives. Some draw on Wilcox’s life, like “On the Horizon” which remembers the prominent fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez by stringing together images of his work, film footage, stills of him and also of break dancers performing in his studio. The Con Edison tower in the backgrounds of some images of the break dancers are within sight of Mr. Lopez’s former studio just across the square.

My own reaction to this piece is to consider how it portrays the singularity of New York, its diversity of people, and cultural resources, and yet concurrently represents a non-discrimatory haven for all. Even though the city is a shining beacon for lofty ambitions, it is still a place for all, and it’s spectacular reputation never imposes an ostentatious barrier to anyone seeking to make it their home.

To read more about the exhibit and see a picture— sorry! I could not find any really good quality ones, maybe I will search again later after its been up for awhile— then follow this link to Art Practical:

fhttp://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/20/arts/design/t-j-wilcox-in-the-air-at-the-whitney-museum.html?ref=design&_r=0