Sunday, November 1, 2009

plus ca change

Ella minutia series # 1, 2009 (ambrotype, 19 x 24 cm) Bart Dorsa

On show at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMoMA?) is an exhibition of some strangely beautiful photographs by Bart Dorsa called Deep Inside My Dollhouse...more interesting because they are not perfect. Dorsa uses wet plates, homemade, chancy. Funny, the early days of photography had artists being able to leave realist art behind because the camera captured it so wonderfully - with a struggle, in those days. That struggle became interesting in itself. Now we have effortless digital photography for all there has been a growing move to explore inexact or imperfect processes (old and new) of capturing images photographically - we can say mechanically - an interest of mine of course. I can think of many over the last 10 years at least - light sensitive emulsion on eggs, bricks, fabric etc. Catherine Yass, Walead Beshty, and Pinky Bass spring to mind.

Rather like the way that Chris Markham's film La Jetee (made in black and white on a shoestring) captures some exciting drama to me as an artist (in a way that the Twelve Monkeys, however interesting an extrapolation, did not), so these primitive-feeling photographs do something that large scale perfection does not.

Its not necessarily the content of many of the Deep Inside My Dollhouse images - that seems a little cliched in fact. The mysterious girl child of dark fantasy... um. But the visual presentation makes that unimportant - or part of it, or something. The story line of the Cabinet of Dr Caligari or Eraserhead isn't really the point, in a similar way. In fact they are two of the most fascinatingly boring films I have watched...closely followed by Zabriskie Point (but that was just boring, seen for the first time in the early 21st century). But they stick in my mind, they thrill me with their suggested potential, the thinking behind their artistic circumstances. Their simplicity, their home-made-ness, their willingness to play around with some imperfections and capture an idea. Pinky Bass's camera hidden in a bible at mountain ceremonies does the same thing. We see the hidden-ness, the distance.

Julia Marionette # 3, 2009, (ferrotype, 19 x 24 cm) Bart Dorsa

The Minutia series on the other hand (top image) has no cliche in sight. It seems to have the most impact with its small image of a woman against a large black background. The image becomes archetypal, like an Indian temple sculpture, an Aztec drawing, a company logo...without surroundings to identify the era, the naked woman could be from any time in history. The black flattens. The fingerprints round the edges add to the idea of the image being seen, handled, an object of some intensity and accessibility. Interesting little gems.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Art and change

This is one of a series of photographs taken by Sue Johnson in the township of Khayelitsha, outside Cape Town in South Africa. I met Sue as she was teaching at a recent Creative Capital Professional Development Program Workshop.

Following on from her work in Cape Town between 2004 -06, sales of Sue's photographs went on to fund a small not-for-profit photography group of township residents called Iliso Labantu, which means the eye of the people. Please do visit this site and see the work of people living on the edge, "marginalized by apartheid and its legacy of poverty and unemployment" (Sue Johnson) as they photograph their world. It is a wonderful site!

What it actually means is that within the townships it is now possible in some small way to achieve individual empowerment, and a valuing/sharing of self and culture that is very new. The photographic exhibitions that are put on act as a catalyst for this, and a mixing of the so far fairly separate ethnic/economic populations in South Africa.

Over 10 years ago I visited cousins living in Cape Town, who saw the townships as dangerous slums from their viewpoint behind all the"Armed Response" notices on the walls. So it feels like something pretty special to start changing that situation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

chronicling change

Wilhelm Sasnal
Krakow, 2007
oil on canvas
40 x 40 cm

at the K21 Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Dusseldorf, Germany

Here's a guy I'd noticed recently for his style of painting elsewhere. Thought this image was Luc Tuymans at first - the casual insipidness - but see that it makes sense as Sasnal. I love it, and it comes as no surprise that, according to the press release...

He "conceives of the painted image as reflecting themes and aspects of the present moment...... he rebelled against Krakow's academic tradition... his artistic activities are conditioned by an awareness that by virtue of the retarding effects of the Communist period in his country, he himself is a witness to a still unconcluded postwar era..."

Interesting for him to be aware of this - "a consciousness that forms the subtle substrate of many images"

His paintings are mostly based on photographs, and the "presentation is configured freely around the classical themes of portrait, landscape, still life, genre, and history painting, thereby exploring the larger historical context of the art of Wilhelm Sasnal".

History in the making. History acute enough and different enough to be noticed maybe? Luckily, Sasnal's is an academic debate, a contemplative reflection on dark days of strife.

What of the same considerations in America? I'm not feeling so positive after seeing the disinformation and hate, the polarization of opinions and the lack of openness stirred up by the current health reform debate. (Debate!?? Debate involves sensible discussion, not calling everyone jerks!) We thought the election was hard won! My instinct is to go for the positive... but based on the opinions put forward in this last year I wonder, could the largest, richest country in the world have an even bleaker, more backward and more malnourished culture than we can currently comprehend?

Friday, July 31, 2009


Baltic Center for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK

Concrete evidence of valuing the debate of contemporary art enough to fund it and nurture it ... seen here in the Baltic Center, a converted flour mill near Newcastle, England. Similar to the rejuvenation of areas of London and the Battersea Power Station that became the New Tate in London, Baltic is notable in that it is NOT in the capital. Newcastle/Gateshead was not too long ago considered to be a culturally barren area sinking deeper into the post industrial era without much hope. What has been done here - funded and encouraged by the city and government - is inspiring.

This next picture shows an exhibition at BALTIC of a collaboration between Slovenian born and New York based artist Thomas Putrih and American architect and design company MOS.

This installation shows styrofoam blocks and temporary materials such as cardboard, stacked to produce light weight structures that appear to be "on the verge of collapse".

"Putrih's work exists between science, sculpture and architecture, his projects informed by improviation and often collaboration with others. [...] Embedded in his work are ideas that undermine and question the fixity of things we know."

"This exhibition is presented at a time when a well-known modernist edifice in the center of Gateshead is in the process of being dismantled, piece by piece."

Friday, June 19, 2009

freakin fabulous

see more work by this artist DJ Simpson

this is laminate or mirror laminate on plywood with trails cut by a router. It looks like rope (or sausages...) floating in space. It could come off as a gimmick, but he seems to be exploring its possibilities in interesting ways and aware of its brilliance. Brilliant idea - art historically, spatially, illusionistically speaking. Mechanically created imagery, and what's front is back. In the mirror one, what's front is back in several senses...

The scale of those large ones is amazing. Read somewhere that showing these in the purist gallery setting is like organizing a rave in a church. Awesome!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fearing fear itself?

Regina Jose Galindo - above Lipieza Social, below Who can erase the traces? 2003 (Bloody footprints from the supreme court to the National Palace in Guatemala City).

Despite a feeling that success with such weighted subject matter is rather like shooting fish in a barrel, and a personal unwillingness to dwell on fear, I am intrigued. It is powerful work.

The Fear Society is host to Galindo and others at the Venice Biennale...doesn't seem constructive to re-live fearmongers' propaganda and results, but it makes it compelling viewing, as we know. Isn't part of the problem with fear-based propaganda (separate from the horror of the things really happening) the result that it spreads disempowerment? A disbelief that we can alter things? I'd be REALLY interested in work that addressed that aspect of the news content, and how to counteract it. I have still to check out the other artists in that show.

Anyway, more of Galindo's work at, and artipedia

She's recently spent time with her husband and daughter in a jail cell/container rented for $6000 and transported to Artpace in San Antonio to protest at incarceration of immigrant families at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center. Info at artpace on that.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Alex Hubbard

Untitled (SOP # 3), 2008
One shot sign paint and enamel on aluminum panel
62 x 47 x 1.125 inches

This layering of opposites may be reminiscent of the table tops from so many of his earlier video works, but is more specifically conditioned by an interest in the opposition between fictive depth ("optical") and factual depth ("thickness") in painting and how this will allow for a collapse of the relationship between fore- and background. It also exposes a greater concern with Hubbard's production: the aim at constructing an index or the appearance of empirical research, while also clearly exposing his aim at tension through the construction of a structure of oppositions.

That's an extract from Standard Oslo's website.

Not sure what this does for positive change on a wider scale, but in terms of painting it is very interesting. His other work adds a different dimension to painting - the videos, C prints and altered screenprints take the paintings from academic dryness to irreverent and exciting new territory.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Light wall

This is pretty cool. Its a model for the front of a building in Spain, that acts as a low res, pixellated screen.

Check out more images here

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Review of Village in ART PAPERS

Came across a review of Village in the latest ART PAPERS magazine. Interestingly the reviewer (Mari Dumett) mentions the emptiness of the dollhouses. What you see inside is untended dilapidation - peeling wallpaper, carpets curling up, dust and spider webs, highlighting this emptiness. After initially appearing to indicate human presence (my interest in electric lights) the lights in this installation emphasize abandonment which introduces "a subtle foreboding of collective trauma and loss". Dumett lists some of the stories that the artwork suggests - "rural exodus, urban migration, social class and industry-dependent communities" - all reasons for homes being empty, or, in fact, not functioning as homes. Dumett also links this absence with the negative space usually described by Whiteread's work. Great insight into an installation for those of us who didn't see it.

Though I resolutely focus on the positive there's an experience of absence in the USA that I haven't yet come to terms with. On the road between Newark Airport and NYC, for example, and a recent night trip to Tennessee I have felt a chill desolation. In the 80's I used to hitch-hike at night in the UK and I didn't feel this emptiness. Though I was in places that could be defined as similarly empty, I thrived on it. Perhaps I am different now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rachel Whiteread

Pairing up nicely with my own interests in light and human activity, this is an installation that was recently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It is called Place (Village), from 2006/8 and consists of 200 vintage hand-made dollhouses lit from inside. It also included 6 additional sculptures and 15 drawings by the artist, Rachel Whiteread. I've seen her cast works in various places and enjoyed them but have not seen this kind of work from her before. Electric light is definitely an indication of human presence...! I read the book "Devil in the White City" recently, to learn that the first time most ordinary people had ever seen (or heard of) incandescent electric light was at the world fair in Chicago in 1933. Now we take it utterly for granted - I'm glad about that but it makes you think. Wonder when these dollhouses were made... some of them constructed possibly by gaslight, or candle light.