(23/10/2017-03/11/2017) Place Project Research - Peter Waite, Cildo Meireles, Christoph Büchel
Peter Waite - 'Art School Crit Room', 1998, acrylic on aluminum panel.
"Peter Waite is a Connecticut based artist. His large scale paintings document his travels to sites of the built environment that embody public sentiment or ideological concerns. [...] His interest lies in the intersection of personal and social memory. The figure is intentionally omitted from the representation to emphasize the viewer’s participation as witness to the moment of perceiving, then remembering, these architectural spaces."
Waite's painting of an art school crit room exists as an institutional critique given its eerily disturbing nature, which the artist achieves through the greenish filter that permeates the image and the absence of figures in a place where their participation is essential. The chairs looking at a blank wall invite the viewer to be confronted with the dogmatic, oppressive nature of the educational environment; Waite further's this by choosing to depict the three main chairs in primary colours, which are a symbol for the traditions of the art world that exist as sources of limitations for artists. This piece was particularly relevant to my process given it exploration of the very world in which Waite is forced to work, the same world that my piece was targeted towards (given that it is a site-specific installation that references CSM's King's Cross site). He invites viewers to question the role that education plays in developing artists, especially in how he chooses to represent a situation whose main purpose is to sharpen critical thinking in relation to art. The theme of memory and collective consciousness of a place is also something extremely relevant to my work, which Waite explores in most of his pieces; he instigates his viewers to consider the history of the places he depicts, much like my aim for this project.
Cildo Meireles - 'Através,' 1983-1989, installation.
"The imposing Através is a good example of this. The work, a navigable structure, is in the form of a labyrinth created with fishing and hunting nets, fences, gates, barriers and metal posts, but also voile and cellophane, and much else besides. The floor is completely covered in glass, which creaks and crumbles with each step. By using the direct physical experience of transparency and the sense of danger, Através is a thematic expression of the tension between visibility and invisibility, penetrability and impenetrability, and inclusion and exclusion."
Having seen the piece live in Inhotim, and knowing the full effect of its grand scale and interactive nature, this piece was on my mind from the beginning of the project. Meireles crafts his visual poetry through the use of conventional and unconventional material, the familiar and alien, to an outcome that leaves viewers both intrigued and repelled, but always with a sense of curiosity, eagerly anticipating the moment where they reach the centre, which appears so elusive. However, when you finally get across all the barriers and get to what is meant to be the 'prize,' you are confronted with the reality that the journey was much more instigating than the reward. The space is arranged meticulously, and the viewer constantly finds points of interest with distinct meanings. Metaphorically, the piece alludes to all of the barriers that restrain our freedom, which exist in our daily lives, in banal things, as much as in a large, socio-political level.. I drew from the way in which Meireles uses materials that seem unrelated so that, when they come together, the viewer is able to make their own associations. Also, I was aesthetically inspired by the way in which some materials are hanging and produce a draping effect.
Christoph Büchel - 'Dump,' 2008, installation.
"Christoph Büchel is known for his hyperrealistic, large-scale installations and conceptual projects. Tending toward the intensely political and provocative, his works challenge artistic and societal assumptions, often inviting the active participation of the viewer. Büchel’s disturbing imagery includes oil tankers, bombs, remnants of an exploded excursion bus, claustrophobic chambers, and cramped tunnels."
With "Dump," Büchel is able to put across a variety on comments. On one hand, he is making a statement about consumption, waste and the oppressive and destructive potential carried by small, seemingly useless objects when they accumulate. He puts the viewers themselves in the position of the trash he exhibits as an art piece, as they are made to enter the space through the tunnel out of which we can assume the debris came from. Büchel connects past, present and future in a work that makes viewers contemplate the origins of our tendency to consume and produce waste, the current living conditions of many people around the world, and the prospect of the future which will arise from our current behaviour, if it persists. The exhibition space is invaded, and Büchel is able to dialogue with the gallery, and so the art world, in a way that they become witnesses, alibis to the crime that is committed against our planet. The fact that the piece is able to act as a reminder, a trigger to viewers, was a reaction I wanted to attempt to draw from my audience, by decontextualising familiar objects in order to instigate a newfound interpretation of their meaning and relationship with the space.
(23/10/2017) Place Project Research - CSM King's Cross Site
"The Goods Yard complex, designed by Lewis Cubitt, was completed in 1852. The complex comprised the Granary Building, the Train Assembly Shed, and the Eastern and Western Transit Sheds. The buildings were aligned to the axis of the Copenhagen tunnel through which the trains arrived from the north.
The Granary building was mainly used to store Lincolnshire wheat for London’s bakers, while the sheds were used to transfer freight from or to the rail carts. Off-loading from the rail carriages was made easier by cranes and turntables powered by horse and, from the 1840s, hydraulic power.
Loaded and unloaded carts were moved in to the Train Assembly Shed and formed into trains for departure northwards. Stables were located under the loading platforms – some of these remain in the Western Transit Shed.
In the 1860s, offices were added on either side of the Granary to provide more clerical workspace."
William Boxall - 'Portrait of Lewis Cubitt,' 1845
(9-13/10/2017) Material News Project Research - Farnese de Andrade, Betye Saar, Leonilson, Wagner Schwartz
Farnese de Andrade
Farnese de Andrade - 'Oratório da Mulher,' 1973, assemblage.
The Brazilian artist was fascinated by the process of assembling material found during the long walks he would take along the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro, taking discarded material that he would then repurpose in his art. He also acquired many historical artefacts from antique markets, as well as old family heirlooms and photographs, which he would incorporate into his art, dealing with intensely personal themes of sexuality, religion and oppression. By recontextualising objects from the past, the artist creates a dialogue with the present state of his country, which was at the height of a military dictatorship, and explores the relationship between affection, memory and emotion. I was particularly influenced by Andrade's use of religious iconography and the juxtaposition of these sacred items with banal objects, and how one shifts the meaning of the other to arrive at a seemingly neutral middle ground; this is seen in my own juxtaposition of the crucifix with the lycra stockings. This piece in particular centres around themes of femininity, birth, life and death, suggesting the sacred nature of these topics to the artist. Stylistically, I was influenced by his choice of using worn-out wood that was found abandoned, showing the artist's role in elevating mundane objects to the level of something worthy of worship. The flesh-like tones of the wood, and the carnal red of the background, are also echoed in my piece.
Betye Saar - 'Spirit Catcher,' 1977, assemblage.
"Spirit Catcher is a mixed-media assemblage— created from bamboo, bones, feathers, shells, and wicker—that was inspired in part by Simon Rodia's Watts Towers. The artist's conceptual inspiration for this work also comes from her first visit to Africa as well as Tibetan spirit traps, which were blessed by shamans and placed on roofs to ward off evil spirits." (https://hammer.ucla.edu/now-dig-this/art/spirit-catcher/) I saw Saar's work at the Frieze Master's collection and was immediately struck by its poetic nature, and how the assembling of pre-existing objects generate new meanings. Saar explores themes of racial representation and spirituality in her modern context, and so the inclusion of her art in a gallery space immediately leads viewers to recognise and pay attention to her message as she utilises imagery and materials that are not conventional and commonplace in a western, white-dominated space that generally does not draw references from sources such as tribal African religions. The ritualistic undertone of this piece is evident in her use of objects such as feathers, wooden beads, straw and artisanal crafts, that are combined to create a tower that has a domineering, imposing presence, almost as if it were an object used for religious purposes. I was inspired by Saar's overall aesthetics and how she approached the theme of religious/spiritual oppression and visibility, and I aimed to create a sculpture that responded to conservative outlooks on the nature and validity of certain art forms.
Leonilson - 'Empty Man,' 1991, thread on embroidered linen.
The clear connection between my work and that of Brazilian artist Leonilson is the use of red thread. Used given the strong, suggestive symbolism of the colour, the material has a delicate, almost fragile quality that adds an element of visual poetry to the piece. The artist is also concerned with exploring the properties of his surface, which appears unframed, in a raw, unrefined state that serves to direct the attention to the very essence of the message he tries to get across. Leonilson, active during the height of the AIDS epidemic, was an active supporter of the cause given his positive status, and aimed to discuss and bring a new perspective to the issue during a time where people living with the disease were seen as 'untouchables,' exposing his own struggles with mortality as a beacon of hope that inspired others in the same situation. Here, he meshes together a childish figurative method of representation, with text rendered in an imprecise manner, creating various possible associations and layers of meaning. The 'Hare and Turtle' motif, as well as the child on the bottom half centre, appears almost as a way for the artist to regress to an infantile state, where ignorance and naiveness would erase his own self-awareness of emotional emptiness. Overall, I was mainly fascinated by Leonilson's ability to tell a highly subjective tale through his visual poetry and arrangement of elements on a surface, something I aimed to explore with my piece.
Wagner Schwartz - 'La Bete,' 2015, performance
This performance by Wagner Schwartz was the starting point for my idea given the controversy it generated after being shown at the MAM in São Paulo. Alongside an interactive sculpture by Lygia Clark, the artist laid on the floor and invited members of the audience to move his limbs as if he were the sculpture himself. The content of the performance was not the main source of inspiration for me, but rather the fervent response it generated from conservative religious groups after videos circulated of a young girl touching the artist's feet. I was interested in the idea of having a public debate about art and its place in contemporary society, and wanted to express my view as a member of that community who believes that it is wrong to censor the artist, and going as far as accusing him of pedophilia , simply because his nude body was exposed to a girl whose parents were completely unbothered by the situation. This led me to the image of strips of flesh covering a crucifix, in which Jesus appears nearly nude, as a commentary on the hypocrisy of condoning the devotion to a naked figure versus the condemnation of a naked artist. Metaphorically, my piece draws from Schwartz' performance as a way to express the way that humans have tried to place an identity onto a religious icon and claim it as their own. In a way, it is a provocation to the conservative mentality through the fact that I attempt to interfere with, and conceal, the object of their worship, in the same way they did with Schwartz. I wanted the piece to be a direct tribute to the artist, and serve as a reminder and interpretative aid to viewers, and so titled it 'Operation After Wagner Schwartz.'
(2-6/10/2017) Altered Spaces Project Research - Kay Sage, Damian Ortega, Toba Khedoori
Kay Sage - 'The Answer is No,' 1958, oil on canvas
Kay Sage has always exerted a profound influence on my work and how I view and interpret spaces. Her work deals with complex, highly stylised imaginary landscapes that often have dreary, disturbing moods that expertly showcase the artist's psychological state. This notion of space existing as a psychological representation has long interested me, and so I wanted to approach this project in a similar manner. Sage's use of interacting planes and the shadows they cast influenced my own exploration of an altered space, as I chose to re-interpret a photo that I took of a cemetery, in which the tombs all appear in a highly geometrical manner given the presence of a back light which made the foreground look completely black. This allowed me to freely imagine the forms of the tombs and recreate the scene of the cemetery as I conceived it. When painting, I drew influence from Sage's clean forms and the blending of different tones in the sky and ground. Initially, I was also inspired by how Sage's landscape was devoid of human presence, but as I was painting, I saw the paint turn into faces before my eyes and chose to include them in the form of spirits. The uniformity of Sage's colour palette, with which she includes the same tones in every area of the painting in order to integrate forms in a way that they seem to be a part of the background at times, is also something I considered with my painting style, as I made sure to use shades from the foreground in the background and vice verse. Overall, the eerie, unsettling mood of Sage's work was what most influenced my piece, which acts as an exploration of death and its immateriality.
Damian Ortega - 'Colosseum'.
As I visited Ortega's exhibition at the White Cube, this piece in particular stood out to me among the others. It is a collection of rounded rectangular concrete blocks in descending order of height organised in a circle, with a passage that allows the viewer to stand in the middle of the work. With this interactive piece that surrounds the viewer, Ortega places his audience in an interesting position of a God, relatively huge in comparison to the surrounding blocks and with free access to the space. I was quite moved by Ortega's reinterpretation of an ancient Roman monument in abstracted, simplistic forms that offer to something so iconic a new meaning, with which one is led to imagine how such a monument would have been built nowadays, where architecture has evolved and acquired new aesthetics influenced by minimalism and simplification. The colour platte functions perfectly, with the muted shades of pink and blue interacting with the various tones of grey; this lends to the piece a worn-out quality which suggests some sort of industrial production. It is important that the space in the centre allows for only one viewer to experience the work at a time, so making the experience more individual and more connected to the idea of the power one specific person exerts onto their surroundings. Ortega's forms reflect the cubes in my piece, which plays with the idea of space in a similar way; both my work and Ortega's reimagine an existing space in a way that it is decontextualised, becoming even slightly surreal.
Toba Khedoori - 'Untitled (Hallway),' 1997, oil and wax on paper.
Khedoori's work was particularly striking to me given the fascinating simplicity with which she depicts space. She uses the very colour of her surface to act as both floor and wall, separated by a thin black line that indicated to the viewer the distinction. Given the monumental scale of her work, the viewer is placed into an isolated position wherein their field of vision is completely filled by the work, almost as if they were a part of it themselves. This provokes a strong emotional reaction, as they come to feel completely lonely in respects to the imagined space before them. Khedoori's emphasis on a single colour, an orange-red, provides a sameness to the scene that evokes an unsettling repetition, almost like a hospital corridor. Her use of one-point perspective was something that I also explored in my piece, which adds to it the sense of depth present in Khedoori's piece. The highly architectural nature of this piece influenced my process, which included a series of abstractions of spaces in photographs I took into simpler forms, often cubic in nature where the difference in tone between planes exists, and how this creates depth and perspective, as the main point of focus. I also wanted to work with a similar level of detail as Khedoori, which is quite intricate but not hyperrealistic, so that there is still a level of imagination that adds to the scene an emotional aspect.
(25-29/09/2017) Re-Edit Project Research - Jorge Furtado, Guy Tillim
Brazilian director Jorge Furtado's short film deals with contemporary themes of consumerism and waste in post-colonial Brazil. Chronicling the 'journey' of a tomato from when it is planted to when it is disposed of at the 'Isle of Flowers,' where it is rejected by pigs and eaten by human beings, the film compiles bizarre images that appear to be taken from vintage documentaries, featuring often comical narration that adds to the piece a highly satirical element that makes Furtado's criticism of modern society extremely evident. The closing statement is particularly strong and detached from the rest of the narration, as it is explicitly critical and exposes the thematic content of the piece: human evolution has degraded a mass of their own species in favour of a select few, who have access to all their needs whilst some people are being treated as animals. Furtado questions freedom, ownership, community and urban spaces in this stunning, yet disturbing piece. In my project, I explored similar themes that relate to not only my country, but every country that has been colonised by expansionist empires. Drawing from Furtado's quick cuts of imagery that may not even appear to be related, but upon further examination have a clear link, my video 'In The Name of The Empire' collates images from vintage videos, stripped of their original sound, in a way that suggests a narrative similar to Furtado's own depiction of the cause-and-consequence cycle. I wanted to add a element of irony and satire to my piece that recalled Furtado's own, but thought that a narration would prevent images from speaking for themselves and letting viewers take their own conclusions. Thus, I opted to include a lullaby-like piano ballad that lures the audience into a trance that greatly contrasts with the sometimes shocking images, metaphorically reflecting how we have become collectively dismissive of the social, economic and political implications of colonialism. Furtado's video also deals with the theme of rural vs. urban life, a dichotomy I also chose to explore as think it is inextricably linked to post-colonialism and development of nations.
Guy Tillim - 'High School, Lubumbashi, DR Congo,' 2008, photograph.
Guy Tillim - 'City Hall Offices, Lubumbashi, DR Congo,' 2008, photograph.
These photographs by South African photographer Guy Tillim served as a source of inspiration for my project given their raw and uncensored depiction of the post-colonial situation. The derelict scenes shown by the artist serve as a visual reminder to the viewers on the state of, in the first case, education, and in the second, government administration, in less developed countries that have historically suffered exploitation from foreign empires; the images are extremely striking for the average western viewer with access to things that have by now become almost basic human rights to which everyone should have access. Furthermore, I also relate to Tillim's position as part of a privileged majority (a white male) who almost assumes the role of an outsider when depicting a reality with which they have had little contact - thus, the project becomes an exercise in compassion and empathy, a way for someone who has not faced such hardships to have a closer contact with a very disturbing situation whilst simultaneously using their art to bring awareness to such issues as a form of giving back to the community from which they has taken artistic inspiration. However, since my piece is merely a collection of found footage, my role as an active participant in working towards the cause is put into question; it should thus be seen in a subversive way, wherein the very fact that the footage has been found is a way to establish a dialogue with the historical depiction and views on such subjects, putting them into a contemporary context wherein the viewer is able to assess whether there has been any progress made at all.
(18-22/09/2017) Collection Project Research - Adriana Varejão, Edward Hopper, Bernd and Hilla Becher
Adriana Varejão - 'The Dreamer,' 2006, oil on canvas.
A Brazilian contemporary artists who works in multimedia, with a focus on oil paint, Adriana Varejão was an important inspiration for my collection project. Her series 'Baths and Saunas' depict scenes of bathhouses with no human presence, made up of tiles that are painted individually with little detail but together are able to create a mesmerising illusion of space through gradual shifts in colour from one tile to the next. The tiles make up a 'grid' of sorts, a concept Varejão took from Brazilian Neo-Concretists of the 20th Century, who aimed to create rational art through the use of geometry. By using their ideas, Varejão is able to subvert their aim by creating a scene that is emotionally charged with confusion, melancholia, isolation and an unsettling disturbance, exploring our notions of space and what comprises it, as well as our own interpretation of dimension, through a monumental scale that completely involves the viewer.
Adriana Varejão - 'The Seducer,' 2004, oil on canvas.
For my piece, I drew from Varejão's empty scenes in my depiction of places devoid of human presence, in highly sanitised versions of photographs wherein all superfluous elements are removed. Furthermore, I was also influenced by Varejão's process, which included various visits to bathhouses during her travels and taking pictures of spaces that seemed particularly interesting. Upon studying the images, Varejão made them her own by choosing specific elements and moods and transposing them into her paintings, which exclude any humans from their composition and are considerably more surreal than the original images:
Adriana Varejão - photographs of bathhouses.
Whilst these are not presented as an artwork in themselves, their role as a collection was striking to me as they act together to suggest a journey. The maze-like quality of the images also make the collection particularly unsettling as the viewer is almost prompted into trying to find a path between one image and the other.
Edward Hopper - 'Sun in an Empty Room,' 1963, oil on canvas.
For this project, I drew heavily from the work of Edward Hopper in thematic terms. Both in my exploration of the photographic medium and watercolours, I focussed mainly on the depiction of emptiness through architectural forms and the interaction of planes that create shadows and evoke an emotional response from viewers. This is perfectly exhibited in this piece by Hopper, who uses light and shadow to create rectangular shapes that garner even more attention than the space and add to a three-dimensional depiction an eerie two dimensional quality. This is echoed in the way I chose to take pictures of places where content was only secondary to shadows and planes of colour, allowing the atmosphere of emptiness to come through. Hopper's lack of inclusion of any concrete object, apart from the trees outside the window, help to make his piece even more unsettling, something I aimed to recreate in my reinterpretations of the photographs in watercolour.
Bernd and Hilla Becher
Bernd and Hilla Becher - 'Coal Bunkers,' 1974, photographs.
The artists have described their subjects as 'buildings where anonymity is accepted to be the style.’ This description seemed to fit with the content of my photographs, in which the spaces appeared highly anonymous, almost symbolic of 'suburban life' without necessarily denoting a particular place. This concept was interesting to me as, by removing identity, the spaces I depict become psychological as opposed to physical and the feeling can be transposed more readily. Their masterful presentation of extremely similar photographs side by side, as a collection, seems to connote some sort of obsession, as if the collector has an intense fascination with these places; by having them displayed as a grid, as opposed to horizontally, the images become less of a narrative and lose any kind of hierarchy, which was interesting to me as I was unable to remove these aspects from my images no matter how I presented them. There is a clear taxonomy to the images, apparent in how the photographers kept the same angle and had their subjects occupy the same amount of pictorial space in every image, allowing viewers to recognise the precise nature of their process as well as curation.