Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blu - street artist - political take on big global corporations


Blu, a secretive Italian, is famous for his amazing murals and graffiti the world over.
His distinctive comic book style sometimes deliver caustic messages against big corporations like the oil companies. One of his controversial street art creations is the smoking politicians mural, which was intended as a protest against political inaction towards pollution in Southern Italy.

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Do-Ho Suh (Korean) – war, identity

Looking at Some/One

An artist who has explored war through his art is Do-Ho Suh. In his piece "Some/One," constructs a sculpture made up of thousands of dog tags, which are circulated through every soldier in the U.S. and beyond. Observers first identify a fish scaled garment, made from thirty thousand dog tags, which is too resemble a soldiers garment. Suh's sculpture conveys the dehumanization of a soldiers role in society, but how can viewers put his piece into context, and understand it by connecting to their own experiences in order to relate it to their own knowledge and understanding? What do dog tags mean generally in art and to the artist himself? Suh''s interpretation is more than literal.
Before any other research was conducted I could not connect this piece to any of my own experiences. The only knowledge I could connect the piece with was war and a community of soldiers somehow formed into a rope.

An article from the online journal base called "Home in The World: The Art of Do-Ho Suh" was helpful to some questions posed before determining the guiding question. Suh's works have a lot to do with experiencing space and identity. In "Some/One," the sculptures back is turned to entering viewers. Viewers are invited to walk around the piece and soon stand face to face with themselves, when they discover that the garment has an opening that is line with mirrored foil. Like in Suh's other works viewers have to walk over the bridge, across the floor, or under seoul home. They all have double meaning concerning the construct of identity. This identity focuses on the importance of the individual as a single representative of a greater entity, such as a nation. Instead of being viewed as multiple individuals, viewers see the greater body.
In "Some/One," the gallery floor in New York City is covered with a blanket of shiny military dogs tags, bringing to mind, all the shadowed identities. Each single soldier is part of a larger military body, deprived from individual human qualities. A quote by Sollins about dehumanization of soldiers in Suh's work is present in how the dog tags used,

"swell to form a hollow, ghost like suit of armor at the center of the room. Whether addressing the dynamic of personal space verses public space, or exploring the fine line between strength in numbers and homogeneity, Do-Ho Suh's sculptures continually question the identity of the individual in todays increasingly transnational, global society," (Sollins).
The piece draws attention in a way which viewers are welcome to occupy and inhabit the space. As they walk over the piece and face the front of it they are able to see the inside of the piece, which has mirrors embodied inside the stainless steal garment. That moment is symbolic because the viewer is experiencing the piece physically by stepping on the dogs tags, and also when they see their reflection inside the front of the garment.
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Picasso (Spanish) - war

An Introduction to Guernica

On April 26 1937, late in the afternoon, the undefended Basque town of Guernica was bombed relentlessly for three hours by German and Italian aircraft that were acting on the instructions of Franco's Nationalist forces. The horrific campaign experimented with the potency of modern warfare, including incendiary bombs, explosives and shrapnel and was deliberately aimed at destruction of the civilian population. Escort planes that plunged from the sky to strafe people fleeing from the town exacerbated the massacre. The town was razed to the ground. Of the ten thousand inhabitants and refugees who made up the population of Guernica, three thousand were estimated to have died and thousands more were injured and mutilated.
When newspaper reports of the brutal attack appeared the following day the world was shocked and outraged, particularly as the attack took place on market day. Also, most of the inhabitants of Guernica were women, children and the elderly, because the younger men were away fighting in the Republican army.

To access Bombing of Guernica: original Times report from 1937:
Picasso had never been moved to engage in overtly political art, but his deep sorrow at the outbreak of civil war in his homeland (where his cousins were fighting on the Republican side), and his relationship with the politically charged Dora Maar, a member of the French Communist Party, had galvanized the passionate Spaniard into publicising his outrage. Early in 1937 he began the Dream and Lie of Franco, a series of fourteen etchings designed to be published as individual postcards to raise funds for 'Governmental Spain'. Resembling a comic strip, they evoked a traditional form of satiric Catalan engraving and depicted Franco as a giant, grotesque, demonic dictator in a series of ridiculous postures and costumes, including the elaborate attire of a courtesan. A nightmarish parody of civil war and a protest against Franco's claim to be a champion of traditional Spanish culture, the works show him in various frames riding a mad and disembowelled horse, destroying a classical sculpture or mounted on a pig. In each case Franco is leaving a trail of death and destruction. The key messages were in no doubt, that Franco was an oppressor of the common people, an enemy of the arts and a murderer of women and children.
When news of the bombing of Guernica reached Picasso he was stunned and horrified to such an extent that he was again driven to respond with impassioned political statements. He added four new plates to the Dream and Lie of Franco series that were first printed in the journal Cahiers d'Art in 1937, and later as a portfolio with an epic poem by the artist mourning the tragic events in Spain.
'Cries of children cries of women cries of birds cries of flowers cries of wood and of stones cries of bricks cries of furniture of beds of chairs of curtains of casseroles of cats and paper cries of smells that claw themselves of smoke that gnaws the neck of cries that boil in cauldron and the rain of birds that floods the sea that eats into bone and breaks the teeth biting the cotton that the sun wipes on its plate that bourse and bank hide in the footprint left embedded in the rock.. '
The above is Picasso's poem accompanying the Dream and Lie of Franco
Picasso was appointed honorary director of the Prado in 1936 and commissioned by the Spanish Republican Government to create a mural for the Spanish Pavilion at the World Fair being held in Paris in 1937. He started on a large painting based on the theme of The Studio: The Painter and His Model. The emotional wave of horror and indignation following the barbaric attack on Guernica led Picasso to instead create what was to become one of the greatest masterpieces in the history of art – a monumental outpouring of grief and rage condemning the senselessness of war.

The Making of Guernica

Picasso moved into a new studio in the attic of 7, rue des Grands-Augustins, which Dora Maar found for him in early 1937. Originally part of a grand 17th-century mansion, it had an intriguing history that appealed to Picasso's sense of irony, particularly as he was painting Guernica. The studio was said to be the setting for The Unknown Masterpiece, a short story written in 1837 by the famous French author, Honoré de Balzac. It describes an obsession by the painter, Frenhofer, the greatest painter of his time, to represent the absolute on his canvas, a process that takes years for his creative powers to complete. When the picture, which becomes less and less recognizable as time goes on, is ridiculed by his artist friends as the work of a madman, he destroys the work and dies. The story resonated with Picasso who, like Frenhofer, also locked himself away in the same studio to create a masterpiece, although in his case it was recognized as such.
Picasso made hundreds of preliminary drawings for Guernica and more than fifty studies. In some of these the heads of Weeping Women appear for the first time.
Constraints such as the enormous size of the stretched canvas, measuring 3.5 x 7.8 metres and so had to be tilted to fit under the rafters of the ceiling, and dim lighting from bay windows on one side of the studio, failed to hinder Picasso. The painting was completed in twenty-four frenetic days. Streams of ideas, emotions, traditions, myths, obsessions and symbols of his roots deeply embedded in Hispanic and Mediterranean culture spilled onto the canvas. These were fuelled by anger and a need to express his pain.
Motifs of a woman screaming in agony as she clutches the limp body of her dead child; another woman stretching out from a window with a lamp, hoping in vain to illuminate the encroaching darkness; mutilated bodies and the gaping mouths of those hysterical with pain, fear and sorrow merge with a wounded horse and the ever-present bull to create a profound dramatic tension. The gruesome imagery encircled by burning buildings and painted in black, white and subtle gradations of grey, suggests that Picasso may have drawn on newspaper photographs and newsreels documenting the tragedy in Guernica. The fine patterning in the centre of the painting resembles words on torn pieces of newspaper, suggesting that art is as powerful as the mass media in communicating a message. Chaos and despair are amplified by sharp, angular shapes, particularly the bold triangular form at the centre of the painting and vivid contrasts of light and shade. Purity of line from Picasso's Neo-classical period, elements of Surrealism and Cubism, and a reference to Goya's famous painting of 1814 depicting the horrors of war, El Tris de Mayo (Third of May), coexist in this summation of Picasso's development as an artist to date.
Speculations about the exact meaning of the symbolism in Guernica have varied. Some insist that the bull represents brutality or the ritual of life and death epitomised by the bullfight, while the horse is a metaphor for the suffering people. Others suggest that the reverse is true and maintain that the bull signifies the people and the horse can be read as Franco's Nationalist forces. Picasso was adamant that he had not intended to symbolise in such a concrete way and it was entirely up to the viewers to interpret the painting.

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     For more analysis of Guernica go here

Francis Bacon (British) – war, violence

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion  circa 1944

Francis Bacon made some early reputation as an interior designer and painter in London in the period 1929-34 but then, unable to find a direction, painted only sporadically through the next ten years. Finally, in 1944 he completed 'Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion', with which, he said later, 'I began'.
It was exhibited in April 1945 at the end of the World War 2 at the Lefevre Gallery in London and in his book on Bacon published in 1964 the critic John Russell recalled: 'Visitors ... were brought up short by images so unrelievedly awful that the mind shut up with a snap at the sight of them ... They caused total consternation.'
The importance of the Crucifixion to Bacon is not as a Christian image particularly, but as a focus for a particular view of humanity. In one of a series of interviews with the critic David Sylvester, Bacon said: 'it was just an act of man's behaviour, a way of behaviour to another.'
In choosing the Crucifixion image and the triptych format as a vehicle for his vision of man Bacon is drawing on one of the central and most important traditions in Western painting of the portrayal of human suffering. But there are other touchstone expressions of suffering in Western culture and in a letter to the Tate Gallery Bacon said that these figures were 'sketches for the Eumenides'. The Eumenides or, more correctly, Erinyes, are the Greek Furies, the instruments of vengeance of the Greek gods, and Bacon's reference is to the trilogy of plays, the Oresteia of Aeschylus, one of the most unrelentingly blood-soaked and savage of the works of ancient Greek drama. The painting thus potently blends both classical and Christian frames of reference, as well as absolutely modern ones: Bacon has acknowledged the influence at this time of Picasso's paintings of the early 1930s of strange and savage pink and grey creatures on beaches. He is also already using here the photographic sources which were to become fundamental to his art. Bacon is particularly fascinated by high-speed photographs which capture human beings in attitudes invisible to the eye. One of his best-known sources, relevant to this work, is a still from the Russian Revolutionary film by Sergei Eisenstein, Battleship Potemkin (1925), showing in close-up the face of a screaming woman who has just been shot.

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Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger (Swiss) – the environment

The Waterhole
at the water hole
in retrospect
Artwork by Gerda Steiner and Jörg Lenzlinger
Text by Gabriel García

Uncoiling like a dreamtime serpent, a tunnel of foil leads the way to a land
unknown. The tunnel is supported by a canopy of branches and appears to
breathe with my every move. I look inside the silvery cavern. Do I want to
know what lies ahead …?

Steiner and Lenzlinger were back in Melbourne last year. From December
2008 to March 2009, Melbourne’s Australian Centre for Contemporary
Art played host to their thought-provoking exhibition based on the
Australian drought—The Water Hole.

Upon reaching the end of the aluminium tunnel, The Water Hole journey
begins. I find myself facing the exhibition’s main installation: a forest of
the future.
A mobile phone with canary-yellow spider legs lays prostrate at my feet,
while tiny hybrid reptiles breed from a nest of water bottles. Fertilizer
crystals grow, forming stalactites and stalagmites, the exhibition staff
feed the crystals daily doses of water. As the crystals grow, they creep like
vines, imprinting lapis blue and coral on their surroundings. Upturned
umbrellas searching for water look up to the skies, and along with sinks,
toilets and bathtubs form an entirely new vegetation. Interconnected
through a tangle of tubes and pipes, this new growth bends itself towards
its one and only life source—water.

At the centre of it all, surrounded by a luscious doona, rests the water
hole—a muddy pool. I stand in front of it and see my reflection in its
surface. The image breaks into a myriad of wavelets with a plop!—the
heartbeat of this world. Hanging from the roof like a frozen star, a medical
bag drips water into the stagnant pool. Like any other heartbeat, it will
draw unparallel attention if it becomes silent.


unwritten, 2OO9
Although mouthless and mute, the elusively rendered figure in Vernon Ah Kee’s unwritten
speaks to the misrepresented or suppressed histories of indigenous nations. Ah Kee, a member of the Kuku Yalandji, Waanji, Yidinji and Gugu Yimithirr peoples, is recognised for his unapologetic and candid explorations of the treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia.

The loosely executed black-on-white charcoal lines of unwritten trace the ominous impression of a face on the verge of perception. It is unclear as to whether the eyeless, earless and mouthless face is moving into or out of visibility and Ah Kee describes the face as depicting a state of ‘becoming human’ in the eyes of white settler society. In its irresolute form, unwritten speaks powerfully and clearly to the struggle between existence and erasure within imperial perceptions of Aboriginal people.
Milani Gallery,

“Ah Kee’s artistic practice has a valuable role in the discourse that is contemporary Aboriginal
art. Asserting the authenticity of urban Aboriginal identities and therefore the authenticity of
urban Aboriginal cultural production, connects Ah Kee with a proud history of urban Aboriginal
activism, a role that arguably has facilitated enormous developments in the awareness and
recognition of Aboriginal rights nationally and internationally. Aboriginal art should be as varied
as Aboriginal people, and the political strength of Aboriginal art today may be that it is an expression of contemporary Aboriginal sovereignty in action."
Gary Jones, ‘Vernon Ah Kee: Sovereign Warrior’ in Artlink: Blak on Blak vol.3O 1-2O1O, pp.5O-51

text from: Cairns Indigenous art fair resource
Go here for more info about Vernon Ah Kee

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

JR (French) – street artist

The Parisian photographer JR is a man routinely touted as the hippest street artist since Banksy. His work has sold at Sotheby's and been plastered 100ft high on the wall of Tate Modern. His celebrity admirers include Trudie Styler and Damon Albarn. But regardless of his undoubted artistic pedigree, it seems inevitable, given his name, to ask him about Dallas.

So is his two-letter moniker a tribute to the fictional 80s oil baron JR Ewing?

"No," he laughs when we meet in his Paris studio, a bright, airy space filled with video-game consoles and designer chairs. "It's just my initials."

And they stand for?

"I can't say."

The deliberately enigmatic reply is more than mere artistic pretension. In fact, JR's anonymity is crucial to the integrity of his work: this is an artist who prides himself on operating under the radar, on creating dazzling installations in unexpected places through the force of his personality and vision.

As a teenager, he started out as a graffiti artist but began taking photographs when he found a camera on the Paris Métro. Now aged 26, he mixes the two forms and styles himself a "photograffeur", pasting oversize black-and-white photographic canvases in surprising public locations. It is something of a point of honour never to ask permission from the authorities.

"The fact that I stay anonymous means I can exhibit wherever I want," he explains with a broad grin, a plate of microwaved lamb tagine balanced precariously on his knees. "No one knows my name, so it's easy for me to travel."

In the aftermath of the 2004 riots in the Parisian suburbs, JR chose to exhibit in the grand central districts of his home town, pasting up photographs on the walls of the Marais. Portrait of a Generation featured close-up pictures of the young residents of the banlieues pulling funny faces through a fish-eye lens. Instead of the immigrant thugs of popular imagination, the Parisians who walked past JR's photographs were confronted with a more human image. "Most of the media shots of the rioters were taken with a long lens," explains JR, who comes from a mixed-race background with Tunisian and Eastern European heritage. "I used a 28mm lens to capture them really close up."

The second phase of his 28 Millimètres project took JR to the Middle East, where he mounted what is believed to be the largest illegal photo exhibition in the world. Appropriating a border wall running the length of the disputed areas between Israel and Palestine, JR pasted a giant triptych of a rabbi, a priest and an imam wearing deliberately comic expressions. The message was simple but arresting: when you are mugging it up for the camera, what brings you together is more in evidence than what sets you apart. "It's about breaking down barriers," JR says. "With humour, there is life."

Most recently, JR's ad-hoc exhibition space has included some of the most dangerous and poverty-stricken places in the world. Women Are Heroes is the third phase of the project and has seen him travelling to the slums of Kibera, Kenya, where he covered 2,000m² of rooftops with blown-up photographs of the women who lived there.

"I was interested in women because I realised in the projects I'd done before – most of the time in the kind of places I was going to – it was men on the street, but it's actually the women who are the ones holding the community together."

Then in 2008 he went to Morro da Providencia, the oldest and most perilous favela in Rio de Janeiro, to paste portraits of its female residents on the sides of the houses in which they lived. The distinctively monochrome eyes and faces were positioned looking towards the centre of Rio, a constant reminder of the grinding poverty that exists on the doorstep of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

"I asked each woman to give me something real," says JR, recalling the process. And it is true that, in contrast to the usual media images of grief and despair, the women project a pride in where they come from and a certainty about their own identity. "The photo is the story," he says. "They all gave me really strong eyes because they knew they would be facing the city."

It seems difficult to imagine JR in the heart of a drug-ridden favela. He is a slim and smiley young man, today wearing the casual uniform of the urban hipster: a Day-Glo sweatshirt, a black trilby and a pair of fashionable, thick-rimmed glasses. Was he scared? "Yeah of course," he says, nodding his head vigorously. "You can't even get a taxi to take you there… There are kids with guns and bulletproof jackets on the street. It's like finding yourself in the middle of a war."

In fact, the favela is so lawless that journalists are banned and no NGO operates there. Undeterred, JR simply drove himself to the centre of the shanty town and started chatting about what he wanted to do to anyone who approached him. He had been drawn to the favela by news reports concerning the murder of three innocent young men caught up in the brutal turf wars between drug traffickers and corrupt military police.

"Everything is about eye contact," JR says. "The first thing they have to know is that there's no brand behind it, that's really important… I'm not trying to use the favela to advertise Red Bull or BMX bikes, and I'm not a journalist either.

"I could speak for hours about the origins of the poster technique, but out there, there is not the same frame of reference. You have to go straight to the point. There's this person in front of you and there's no fucking around. That's how I test my projects: if they get it, it's going to work."

Almost immediately, the women of the favela understood what JR was trying to do. He asked anyone interested in participating to come along to an informal meeting. "The women who came were the ones related to the three kids who had been killed: the grandmother, the mother, the best friend. They reappropriated my project to tell their story." The end result was startlingly beautiful: a faceless community with its humanity regained.

But however successfully JR's installations work as art, they have a social conscience, too. In Kibera the photographs of women on the rooftops were printed on to vinyl so that their homes would be waterproof. The sheets of corrugated iron used in another part of the shanty town were distributed afterwards to those who had taken part. Last April JR returned to Rio to set up a cultural centre in the heart of the favela. All of the money he makes from the sale of his work – in 2009 a print of one of JR's most famous photos, "Ladj Ly", sold at auction for £26,250, and he has just sold an image to Damon Albarn for the cover of the forthcoming Africa Express album – is ploughed back into his projects so that JR can ensure his continued independence. "The finance is a key part," he says. "You wouldn't take it in the same way if I did it with L'Oréal."

There is a sense, also, that if JR were to reveal his name or speak more about his background, this would somehow detract from his work. Most graffiti artists start out by tagging their name on empty walls and tube carriages. JR does something different: he takes those who live on the margins of mainstream society and he gives them back their individuality. Paradoxically, perhaps, the photographer without a name creates extraordinary art by restoring the identities of the nameless.

by Elizabeth Day
The Observer, Sunday 7 March 2010

More debate on the changing context of street art


Vik Muniz (Brazilian) - social message focussing on raising awareness of different social groups

Finding beauty in a world of waste
Artist Vik Muniz explores the visible and the hidden in an unusual mix of materials
Staff writer
"If we live in a creative universe, we are constantly pushing the chaos out of the way to protect ourselves from the nonlogical — the natural," muses Vik Muniz at an interview late last year at Tokyo Wonder Site. "Even when you think, you create waste. But everything is made in a way to conceal the waste.
The New York-based artist isn't afraid to step into that chaos. One of his latest projects, currently on show at Tokyo Wonder Site's Shibuya galleries, was realized in the biggest garbage dump in the world, Jardim Gramacho, north of Rio de Janeiro.
There, he worked with the people who scavenge the recyclable refuse of the city — catadores in Portuguese — to make a living. Muniz, who grew up in Brazil, works in unexpected mediums, taking photographs of drawings he does out of sugar, chocolate, dust. But he had always wanted to do something with trash.
"The beautiful thing about garbage is that it's negative; it's something that you don't use anymore; it's what you don't want to see," says Muniz in a movie made about the project with British documentary director Lucy Walker and Brazilian director Joa~o Jardim (tentatively titled "Extraordinary Garbage" or "The Art of Garbage"). "So, if you are a visual artist, it becomes a very interesting material to work with because it's the most nonvisual of materials. You are working with something that you usually try to hide."
The artist believes that the catadores too are invisible within the class system of Brazil. An estimated 3,000-5,000 people live in the dump, 15,000 derive their income from activities related to it, and some that Muniz met in Jardim Gramacho come from families that had been working there for three generations.
"These people are at the other end of consumer culture," he says. "I was expecting to see people who were beaten and broken, but they were survivors."
His aim — besides the creative challenge — was to see not only if the experience of creating art could change people, but, to answer the question, "can you change people; can this be done?"
Muniz selected a number of the catadores to collaborate with him to make their own portraits, including Irma~, a cook who sells food in the dump; Zumbi, the resident intellectual who has held onto every book he's scavenged; and 18-year-old Suelem, who first arrived there when she was 7. He rented 4 tons of junk and a warehouse, and together they arranged the trash on the ground to replicate photographs of themselves that Muniz had taken earlier. Then they would climb up to the ceiling and take photos of the compositions from 22 meters high.
The portraits of the people are made out of empty spaces, out of what wasn't garbage. Shown themselves in this light, the trash collectors were astonished. Two have since left the dumps; another, Tia~o, is using $64,097 from the project — money Muniz raised in an auction at Phillipe de Pury in London by selling the portrait he did of the politically active young catadore — for the Garbage Pickers Association of Jardim Gramacho.
"Ask them what they need, and they usually say 'nothing.' They live in a very civilized, honest way," observes Muniz. "People at the margins, including artists, we don't have power, but we have freedom."
Excerpt from: The Japan Times: Thursday, Jan. 1, 2009

Goya (Spanish) – war, inequality, class, religion

This image shows the random executions of the Spanish citizenry resulted from the fighting in the Puerto del Sol area of Madrid (Also see the Goya painting Second of May). A national uprising in Spain followed, and scenes such as Goya's 'Third of May' were repeated throughout the Spanish countryside, as the French commanders failed to quell the national mood, and instead made it more furious.
Goya had previously admired the practical freedoms the French "enlightenment" had promised. Most of the Spanish intellectuals of Goya's time were weary of the faltering efforts of Charles IV and Ferdinand to bring reform and improvement to Spain. However, the brutality of Napolean (through his brother Joseph & the military commanders instructed to minimize the fighting there) suspended whatever affection the Spanish liberals had for French freedoms.
For the length of the six-year occupation by the French, Goya lived almost entirely in Madrid. There is much speculation in art books about whether Goya personally witnessed events such as 'The Second of May,' and 'The Third of May." It is evident that Goya owned property at La Quinta, where the massacres took place, and there is (though disputed by some historians) a story by one of Goya's gardeners, a man named Isidro, who told Antonio Trueba (recorded in his book Madrid por fuera) that Goya witnessed the shootings at Montana del Principe Pio via telescope (a telescope was inventoried as belonging to Goya after his death), and that Isidro accompanied Goya later that night to the place where the corpses were, at which time Goya made notes. This account is referenced in Xavier de Salas book GOYA, published 1978 by Mayflower books.
...the Third of May, has become even more famous, haunting the covers of history books, appearing on postage stamps and postcards. It has been used to epitomize the art of Goya, as well as the spirit of Spanish revolutionary heroism. This violent yet moving image depicts the public execution of insurgents on 3 May 1808, the day following the insurrection [see Goya's Second of May] In contrast to the vigour of the street battle, in which the Spaniards appear, momentarily, to be gaining the upper hand, this massacre of civilians, which the French carried out in reprisal for the insurrection, has been painted in the most eye-catching colours. Here, in glowing whites, golds and scarlets against the sombre blacks, greys and browns of the background, the doomed men are immortalized, the street fighters from the Second of May meet their fate. One or two are recognizable: the corpse sprawled below the living victims, a prone male figure with matted blood-soaked hair and shattered skull, is identifiable as the hero with the dagger, stabbing the horse in the right-hand foreground of the proceeding picture.
[Above] from Sarah Symmon's book, Goya
Phiadon Press, 1998. Page 263.
To read about Symmon's book, go here
Also, visit Dr. Symmon's web site here.
Most of the victims have faces. The killers do not. This is one of the most often-noted aspects of the Third of May, and rightly so: with this painting, the modern image of war as anonymous killing is born, and a long tradition of killing as ennobled spectacle comes to its overdue end.
[Above] from Robert Hughes book, Goya,
Knopf Books, 2003. Page 317.
To read about Hughes' book, go here.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Jane Alexander - Politics, racism, apartheid South Africa

The Butcher Boys, 1988-89, plaster

The “Butcher Boys” were created in the context of South Africa’s Apartheid history. The “Butcher Boys” are symbolic of how not speaking out against evil make us become evil. The figures don’t have spines (if you walk around the work you can see there are hollow groves where the spine should be). They don’t stand up for what is right – they are literally spineless. They are detached from what is going on around them – the oppression that took place during apartheid. They don’t have ear (only small holes in their heads). Their eyes are dark and cold. They mouths are shut and have become animal like snouts… because they do not speak out against what is wrong.

The sculptures are frightening to look at and elicit a sense of repulsion in the viewer. It forces the spectator to evaluate the change that took place in society; these forms used to be men but have been transformed into demons. Through this sculpture, Alexander not only portrays the regular use of violence in a masculinized regime but also the way the Apartheid regime changed and brutalized a whole section of society. While its impact on the general viewing public has not been measured, it serves as an addition to the growing archive of visual arts that is spreading in South Africa to confront its past.

Fiona Hall (Australian) – the environment, politics, war

    'Mourning Chorus', 2007 - 08, resin, plastic, vitrine

Curator’s Quote
Fiona Hall’s recent work Mourning Chorus (2007-08) refers to the demise of the once ‘deafening’ song of New Zealand’s bird fauna. This work brings together characteristic aspects of Hall’s practice; flora and fauna are represented by reworked found objects and an ironic reference is made to the museological practice of collecting specimens—species that were once seen in nature are now only seen dead in the museum.

Eleven extinct or endangered bird species are represented by disposable plastic chemical containers animated by carved and cast resin beaks. Bottles of toxic chemicals that eradicate insects, for example ‘Beetle and Grub Killer’ stand as a metaphor for the destruction of bird species and light up
randomly as though flickering to life. All this is visible through the delicate vinyl patterns of native New Zealand plant foliage, spread across the glass panels. The complex circuit of wires below the coffin connects the birds to the earth, as though allowing the toxic liquid to drain into the ground, causing further destruction.

Mourning Chorus is a work born out of Hall’s interest in the environment and humanity’s impact on it. During an artist residency in New Zealand in 2006, she began to research the politics of bird extinction. Describing New Zealand “like a silent island”5, Hall recalled reading an entry dated 6 February 1770 from the diary of Joseph Banks, “This morning I was awaked by the singing of the birds ashore... the numbers of them were certainly very great…their voices were certainly the
[most] melodious wild musick I have ever heard, almost imitating small bells but with
the most tuneable silver sound imaginable.” 6

The discrepancy between Banks’ description of New Zealand and her own formed the conceptual framework for this artwork.

Isabel Finch, 2008

Research Information
Many Australian and New Zealand bird and plant species have evolved from a common ancestry, with shared origins from the time when both lands were part of the ancient, southern super continent known as Gondwana. However the subsequent post- Gondwanan development of New Zealand fauna took a very different path: an absence of native mammals and snakes enabled the
continued evolution of unique bird species, many of them flightless and ground-nesting.

Waves of human migration over the past 900 years have disrupted this vulnerable ecosystem.
The introduction of predatory animals such as rats, stoats and weasels has devastated the populations of numerous species. Land-clearance and the arrival of other environmental competitors such as possums and rabbits have hammered more nails into the coffin of the demise of New Zealand’s birds. Of the eleven bird species represented in Mourning Chorus nine are extinct, and two, the Kakapo and the Little Spotted Kiwi, are extinct in their native habitats but undergoing breeding programs on several of New Zealand’s off-shore island sanctuaries which
have been cleared of vermin. A number of the birds and all of the tree species represented in Mourning Chorus are closely related through their Gondwanan ancestry to others native to Australia.

Fiona Hall, 2008

Text from: Fiona Hall Force Field exhibition at the MCA in 2008

Wangechi Mutu (African)- changing culture of African women

  Wangechi Mutu (*1972),
The Bride Who Married a
Camel's Head
, 2009  

Snakes slither out of her Medusa’s head, which is adorned with mushrooms, shells, and pearls. In her hand, she is holding the mouth of a camel opened wide in a scream. With its strange marriages, Wangechi Mutu’s The Bride Who Married a Camel’s Head is typical for the work of the New York-based Kenyan artist: Mutu’s collages combine images from fashion, sports, and sex magazines to create hybrid, “exotic” creatures that are simultaneously human and animal, monster and machine. Mutu, who was Deutsche Bank’s first “Artist of the Year” in 2010, addresses issues of feminine identity in the fraught relationship between western culture and post-colonial history. At the same time, her collages explore the dreams and desires propagated by the global consumerist society and its effects: the ruthless exploitation of natural resources and a world in which the body has become a product.

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Shirin Neshat (Iranian) - gender

Shirin Neshat is a leading contemporary artist. In her videos, films, and photographs she draws upon her Iranian heritage for inspiration and addresses the complexities of the contemporary Muslim world through visually arresting imagery.

According to popular understanding, soon after the establishment of Islam in the mid-seventh century, the jihad, or Holy War (as a means of enlarging Muslim territory), was outlined as one of the foremost duties of the believer. Women actively contributed to the expansion of Muslim territory and fought on the battlefield side by side with their male co-religionists (Ahmed 69-72). The Prophet Muhammad’s aunt Safiyah is reputedly the first Muslim woman to kill an enemy in battle. Another famed female soldier was Nusaybah bint Kaab, who in the Battle of Uhud shielded the Prophet from harm with her own body, thereby receiving thirteen wounds. In a later battle she even lost her hand, and the Prophet honoured her courage publicly. Further role models for later Muslim women include the Prophet’s politically conscious daughter Fatima, who as his sole surviving child and wife to his cousin and successor, Ali, kept Muhammad’s bloodline from dying out. Fatima’s and Ali’s daughter Zaynab holds a special place in the heart of Shia women. When the Sunni caliphs usurped power over the Muslim community after assassinating Ali, the rightful caliph, Zaynab and her brothers, Hassan and Hussayn, along with a group of followers traveled to Iraq to raise resistance there. In order to accompany her brothers, Zaynab divorced her husband. On the journey she took charge of the women and children. After their followers were massacred and she was taken prisoner at Karbala by the resistance-crushing army under Sunni command, she nursed the survivors. And she was the one to inform the Muslim community of the atrocities committed by speaking out publicly.

Zaynab became the heroine of Shiism and the role model that was deemed fit for Iranian women. Ali Shariati (1933-1977), an important ideologue and demagogue who was to Iran’s Islamic Revolution what Marx was to the Bolshevik Revolution, was instrumental in the promotion of this new Islamic ideal of Iranian womanhood. This new Iranian woman had to be politically conscious, religious, intellectually developed, strong, patient, and committed, militant and self-sacrificing, and yet at the same time loyal to her husband and family, compassionate, feminine, and modest in appearance (Reeves 121, 128). Thus, while women were considered inferior to men in daily life, they were seen as equal on the battlefield. Shariati’s ideal, epitomized by Zaynab, was emulated by many young militant women who donned the veil and fought as soldiers of Islam - they are even called “Zaynab commandos” (Reeves 128).

In the context of these powerful role models, it is not surprising that some girls begin to handle weapons at a tender age, much like the dolls and cooking utensils that can invariably be found in toy boxes elsewhere. These girls are likely to grow up to be volunteers joining the military training offered to female university students or to be a member of one of the underground guerrilla movements. Two examples of such movements are the Marxist People’s Fedayin and the Islamist-socialist People’s Mujahidin (both established 1965). Both previously fought against the Pahlavi and now against Khomeini’s regime, in a struggle for freedom and against the repression of opinion. Other groups welcoming volunteers are militant women’s organizations, such as the Society for Militant Women or the Militant Women’s Committee. Many women have chosen this extreme way of life, marked by bloodshed, violence, and tragedies, out of conviction for Islam and for justice. And it is exactly this conviction to the point of violence and self-sacrifice that was Neshat’s vantage point for her photographic series “Women of Allah” (Camhi 150).

Speechless (1996, above) is the title of a photograph consisting of Neshats portrait, cut off along the nose and overlaid with minute Calligraphy. Next to her cheek, at the height of her ear, a gun emerges from under the chador, pointed at the viewer so that one finds oneself staring at a gaping muzzle. Maybe it is not so much the woman portrayed who is speechless - if we pursue the argument that her voice is symbolized by the Persian text inscribed on her face - but the viewer who sees her/himself threatened by the gun. Although the gun conveys violence, at the same time its position also evokes an earring, an ornament enhancing feminine beauty. Neshat states, “The gun placed beside the woman’s cheek is at once a warning and an object of beauty. Both are divided in terms of their purpose - their combined statement is deliberately puzzling” (Goodman 53). However, the combination of a gun, an emblem of violence, with a woman’s face in such a way that the gun becomes an ornament seems less puzzling when we consider Ali Shariati’s notion of the ideal Iranian woman. He sees militancy and violent behaviour for the cause of Islam as a virtue, as an ornament, that grace and enhance her.

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Barbara Kruger (American) – Stereotypes of women in advertising

“I work with pictures and words
because they have the ability to
determine who we are and who we
aren’t” - Barbara Kruger

 First her signs address you with the use of pronouns, then they entertain you with clever text, later they cause you to question why they are amusing, and finally her pieces indicate that the humorousness comes from something deeper in our society.
Kruger’s You Are Not Yourself (1982) uses this humorous technique to underscore a feminist point of view. The words ‘you are not yourself’ are disjointedly laid over a photograph of a distressed woman looking into a shattered mirror. This montage is immediately ironic because you are looking into a mirror, the object our culture relies on to reflect reality, but it is cracked and without its reassurance you are not yourself. Somehow without the recognition of the mirror, the axis of our culture, your own existence is in question. This begs the question why are you not yourself? Continuing with the theme of feminist art, Kruger is perhaps indicating that you are not yourself because our culture, ruled by the mirror and the media, mandates that you be one thing that you are not or possibly may never be. Kruger is commenting on the unreality of the ideal female image portrayed by the media

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Patricia Piccinini (Australian) – science and ethics in treatment and experimenting with animals

Hannah Hoch (German) - Gender, Politics

Beautiful Girl - 1920

"The Beautiful Girl" clad in a modern bathing suite, with a light bulb for her head, seated on a steel girder, surrounded by various images of industrialization. For example, BMW insignias, tires, gears and cogs and watches. In the right hand corner a black boxer appears stepping through the tire representing automation. In the back ground a silhouette of a woman's head with cats eyes stares at the audience.

Being modern meant speed, consumerism, urbanization and technology, these changes promoted hope for the women. Yet amongst the hope came fear as seen in the watchful cat eyed woman who lurks behind the scenes staring out at the audience. In this juxtapositinoing of images Hoch reflects upon a certain optimism for technology and its relationship to the modern woman. 

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For more info on Hannah Hoch:

Indeed, one of Höch's primary preoccupations was the representation of the "new woman" of the Weimar Republic, whose social role and personal identity were in a complex process of redefinition in the postwar period. Women enjoyed new freedoms, including the right to vote in 1918 and an increased presence in the working world, albeit in low-paid positions. The subsequent increase in disposable income made women a prime audience for the mass press, which became a venue for the expression of desires and anxieties associated with women's rapidly transforming identities. Juxtaposing photographs and text to both endorse and critique existing mass-media representations, Höch parodied elements of bourgeois living and morals and also probed the new, unstable definitions of femininity that were so widespread in postwar media culture.

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Jenny Saville (British) - Gender, Body Image

“Saville’s work interrogates our perceptions of the female body in challenging ways. To use the self in this way is to come full circle in the questioning of fixed identity and the body” (Meskimmon 125). She challenges the male fantasy of the perfect body and opens doors to alternative notions of beauty. 

Saville fights society’s ideal of the perfect body by showing her own enlarged and distorted body, which becomes the opposite of the skin and bones we see on the covers of magazines. In many paintings, she uses her own head and face and the body of an obese woman. "Jenny Saville has visualised her concern about the tyranny wielded over women by the fantasy of the perfect body in a series of larger-than-life-size nudes overlain with contour lines, words, and the kind of marks made by plastic surgeons in preparation for their cuts. Her innovation was to use her own distorted and enlarged nude body" (Rideal 31). She also defies the “male gaze” as she faces the viewer and one cannot ignore that she is actively making a bold statement about the female body. The fact that most of her paintings and photographs depict the body covering the entirety of the canvas, and sometimes spilling over the edges, adds to the drama of viewing the human body’s flesh and imperfections. “Saville’s self-portrait nudes overwhelm in their excess” (Meskimmon 123-124). From this perspective, we see the details of these imperfections, and in some paintings we see the body with markings similar to that of a plastic surgeon and provocative words etched into the skin. These in-your-face enlarged and distorted views of the human body force the viewer to reflect on their own self-image and distorted views and emotions about their own body. “They draw out something that is repressed or obscure in the viewer’s experience and bring it to light” (Gray 8). She creates emotion by filling the field of view with raw flesh. 

"Branded" (above) is one example of Saville using her own face on top of her enlarged body. Here, the obese body is raw and shows every imperfection. The body is inscribed with words such as "delicate," 'supportive,' 'irrational,' 'decorative,' and 'petite.' I think that these words could be a kind of internal dialogue in Saville's mind or words that one thinks about when viewing a body in all its naturality. She grasps the folds of her skin as a kind of gesture that would be individually interpreted by the viewer. The body faces the viewer with purpose and stature and does not conform to the notion of a passive object to be viewed, but is instead very in-your-face. "Saville's work interrogates our perception of the female body in challenging ways. To use the self in this way is to come full circle in the questioning of fixed identity and the body" (Meskimmon 125).

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