Gilles Peress- First Snow in Ardoyne, a Nationalist Neighborhood, Belfast, Ireland, 1981 (Tufts Art Gallery, Meford/Somerville)

On the surface, art is aesthetic. It is created from any number of mediums- photography, paint, pieces of sticks- but the end product is a physical product that can be seen, touched, or felt. However, art serves as much more than as a thing to be looked at. I have already discussed several exhibits and works that have underlying social messages. What I am going to discuss today is a photograph with a related purpose: to deepen our understanding of history. It is one thing to simply memorize dates and read accounts of people who experienced events of the past. It is another to live and breath their experiences through the emotionally charged artwork created at the time of these events. While we can never truly understand what it is like to live through conditions that are long gone, we can experience a deeper connection to them through artwork. What people paint, photograph, and scribble in their notebooks is a reflection of their deepest thoughts about life, which cannot be translated properly through a history textbook. Art is a fantastic companion to what you learn in history class, because it offers a human perspective on hard facts.

All that being said, I present Gilles Peress’ evocative photograph: “FIrst Snow in Arodyne, a Nationalist Neighborhood, Belfast, Ireland, 1981.” It hangs in the Tufts Art Gallery, inside the Aidekman Arts Center.

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This photograph is aesthetically interesting. Several boys are positioned within the frame facing different directions. One lies down in the middle of the street. Another appears to be mid-run in the distance. On the viewer’s left, a child is half cropped out of the frame. We are given a wide street, dusted in white, that disappears into houses beyond.

An analysis of the composition of this photograph deepens our understanding of its historical context. This photograph was taken during the years of the Troubles in Ireland, which lasted from 1968-1998. At the heart of the issue were the constitutional rights and independence of Northern Ireland.  In 1981 there was a second hunger strike that resulted in the deaths of ten political prisoners, all members of the Irish Republican Army. One was the IRA leader and member of British Parliament, Bobby Sands. He became a martyr. Violence and riots erupted in Belfast, killing both civilians and police officers.

What is depicted in this photograph is a moment of peace despite the Troubles and the violence. The youth of these boys reminds us that we are all people. Whether you are a loyalist, or a nationalist, or a viewer looking at this photograph thirty years later, we were all once children once. The inclusion of children also points to a loss of innocence. In a time of rioting and mass killings, children are forced to grow up very quickly. Here we see a moment where they can be free and young- perhaps a rare occurrence.

The composition itself is evocative. The street is a street people may have been shot at hours before during the rioting. One boy lays down on it, assuming the position of his dead countrymen. Another boy is cropped out partially. His partial existence in the photograph suggests his uncertain connection to the events occurring. He asks to be included in the scene, yet hides from it. Perhaps he feels the same way about the events unfurling around him.

The fresh snow on the ground could be interpreted as fresh and hopeful, but I see it as ominous. A sheet of snow attempts to cover up the blood on the streets. It warns of a growing cold; a coming storm.

One feels uneasy looking at this photograph. The title reminds us of the tumultuous context of the picture, but the boys appear to be playing. We feel uncomfortable looking at this joy because it is inevitably momentary. Will these boys become the next boy soldiers, holding guns and shooting their neighbors? How long will their innocence last? This kind of unease cannot be properly translated by only reading the facts about the events of the Troubles. It is important to know the timeline of events, but they should be supplemented with other material. This photograph provides an emotional counterpart to facts that allow us viewers to empathize with the feelings of Irishmen in 1981. We feel uncomfortable and frightened looking at these young boys whose lives are in danger.

I hope that you find this image as haunting as I do. If you attend Tufts as well, I urge you to see it in person at the Gallery. I also suggest reading more about the conflict in Ireland and viewing related artworks, as the subject is fascinating (while stomach-turning at times as well.) What I have provided is the bare bones of a very complicated issue, well worth exploring.

Until next time…

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

 

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Antoine Hunt- Pickled 2 (National Gallery of Bermuda)

Hi everyone! I apologize for the lack of posts this week. I’ve been studying for my midterms, and my brain has only had space for food, the sixty paintings on my impressionism exam, and food. I was thinking about doing a post ABOUT impressionism, but most of the pictures on google are not in the public domain (I am not trying to get sued).

Without further ado, I present another fantastic work from the National Gallery of Bermuda: Antoine’s Hunt’s “Pickled 2.” The medium is toned and tinted cyanotype on paper.

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With this work we have the delightful task of interpreting Hunt’s work without being given much explanation. The accompanying blurb only lists where Hunt’s work is currently being shown. The one clue we are given reads, “His practice is often a response to the physical and emotional limitations or inspirations of being in Bermuda.”

What can we make of this enigmatic work and the elusive accompanying description? We are confronted with a nude female figure inside of a jar, much like a pickle jar as the title suggests. Her body is mostly in shadow. Given the 3/4 angle of the figure’s body, her face should be visible. However, it disappears into the expanse of white. She is not represented beyond her hairline. This suggests a kind of loss of individuality and independence, as the face is a key identifier of who a person is. The removal of her face also shifts focus to her body, drawing attention to her gender. The female looks down and hunches her shoulders. She is clearly uncomfortable under the gaze of the viewer. We, the viewers, feel equally uncomfortable, because we feel as if we are invading her privacy. Furthermore, the position we are projected into is that of an appraising voyeur. She cowers under the possibility that we are evaluating her.

We can also not forget the fact that she is standing inside a clear jar, which functions to trap her while simultaneously keeping her on display. Her slouched position suggests that she is resigned to this position of exposure. There is no point trying to escape from her glass cage.

We can take this interpretation one step further by referring back to the one sentence hint given in the accompanying blurb. Hunt is inspired by the limitations of living in Bermuda and the inspirations of living there. Perhaps he is equating this jar to the seclusion of island-living. He could feel trapped and exposed in his home. Or maybe it has nothing to do with Hunt himself, but rather his observations of sexism in society. I prefer this idea, because of the strength of the metaphor provided by the jar and the naked woman. It seems more likely that this is a commentary on female objectification than a representation of Hunt’s own claustrophobia. However, feel free to take either or neither of these stances!

I find “Pickled 2” mesmerizing. There is something incredibly eerie about the shadows on the figure’s body and the vast emptiness that spills from the background onto her form. I hope that you find it intriguing as well!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Dreamcatcher DIY

I have always been obsessed with dreamcatchers. There is something so ethereal about their delicate form, wooden beads, and feathers. When I was seven, I got my first dreamcatcher at a Native American reservation in the Southwest. It hung from a necklace, its silver body looped with pink beads.

This past summer I passed a craft fair in NYC and saw a booth selling beautiful dreamcatchers. I was feeling good about my crafting abilities and decided to go out on a whim and make a dreamcatcher without studying a tutorial… (Side note: do not try this with crafts involving glue and glitter or you WILL end up covered in a sticky mix of both!!)

Here is the dreamcatcher I came up with! The diameter of the circle is approximately a foot, for reference.

 

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If you have ever looked online at dreamcatcher tutorials and gotten a headache, then look no further! Here is your migraine-free Dreamcatcher tutorial!!!

Step 1: SUPPLIES. Buy an embroidery hoop of whatever size you want the circle to be. You will also need wooden beads, feathers (I bought a pack of regular ones and three accent feathers), 1 cm leather string, hemp string, and elastic string.

Step 2: Begin by tying one end of the leather string around the base of the circle, where you want the bottom to be. Then, slowly wrap the open end of the leather string tightly around the entire circle, careful not to let any wood show through as you go. This is lengthy. Put on music. I chose disco.

Step 3: Once the entire hoop is covered in leather as shown above, tie the end of the string to the hoop.

Step 4: Tie hemp string to the bottom of the hoop. Then, wrap the hemp in an asymmetrical pattern all around the hoop, all the while keeping the string taut. When you are done, tie the end to the bottom of the hoop. (Side note, many dreamcatchers have a webbed pattern in the circle. I prefer this look but that is another option.)

Step 5: Measure a length of elastic string as long as you want a string of beads/feathers to hang down beneath the circle. Now, add three inches to that length, and cut.

Step 6: Choose a bead to be the bottom bead for that particular string. Quadruple-knot the string around this bottom bead.

Step 7: THIS IS THE FUN PART! Add beads in whatever order you want, slipping feathers through the holes of the beads as you go.When you slide the beads down, the feathers will stay stuck between. (Oh, the wonders of improvisation!)

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Step 8: Leave two inches at the top of your string to tie it to the hoop. I recommend you hang your longest string in the middle of the hoop, and make the strings shorter on either side. Tie the elastic tightly in your desired place on the hoop so that the knot is on the back side. From the front it should hang cleanly.

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Step 9: Repeat steps 5-8 for as many lengths of beads/feathers as you want. Some dreamcatchers have ten strings, others three. Mine felt perfect with six.

 

I hope you found this helpful! I love having a dreamcatcher above my bed at night. There is something satisfying as well in being able to say “I made that.” You can too! Best of luck and sweet dreams…

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

Anne Neely- Water Stories: Conversations in Paint and Sound (Museum of Science, Boston)

Art can be found in the most unlikely places. On an otherwise ugly street corner, a college student’s dorm (posters are their own kind of amazing, graphic art), or lining the walls of a restaurant. A few days ago, I found art in the Museum of Science, alongside optical illusions, weather simulators and buzzing electrical generators.

In retrospect, this shouldn’t surprise me. Art is a reflection of our experiences in the natural world, and science is the study of physical and natural phenomena. There is an inherent connection between the way things work and our personal sentiments about what we see and feel.

This connection is explored in Anne Neely’s current exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science: Conversations in Paint and Sound. Neely grapples with the beauty of water as well as its possible depletion on several large canvases. Her paintings are meant to leave the viewer with a sense of premonition- the beauty of the water is ephemeral, constantly on the verge of pollution or depletion. Neely’s paintings remain in a space that is neither comforting nor visibly dangerous. It is a space that exists for the moment Neely imagines it. After it is depicted, it is left to the devices of nature and the human race.

In her artist statement at the beginning of the exhibit, she describes painting as a means to “respond to and reinvent nature through color and form, and to explore uncharted territories of imagined landscapes.” Painting is a dialogue between nature and the imagination, a place to explore social issues surrounding nature and represent its intricacies.

The exhibit is organized in a small room filled with free-standing smaller walls. The series of walls creates a labyrinth for the viewer. From the entrance, one can only see three paintings. Around the corner, several more. The process of moving about the exhibit reminded me of walking through a forest of dense trees; one can only see what is right before them. Soundscapes recorded by Halsey Burgand play audio tracks of water bubbling, running and rushing. Being immersed in sound and sight simulates the experience of nature, while reminding the viewer how fleeting this experience is.

Here is a picture and a detail of one of my favorite paintings in the exhibit, entitled “Beneath.” I apologize for the quality of this shot. The glistening specks of paint are hard to photograph!

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These paintings imagine what the earth looks like from the inside, with all of its invisible underwater streams and aquifers. Upon closer inspection, specks of paint reveal themselves to be tiny rectangles. This modern update on Georges Seurat’s pointillism technique serves to show how complex nature is up close. Much like Seurat’s works, these rectangles blend together when the viewer steps back. (If you would like a comparison, go to : http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/51.112.6 ) In this cross-section of earth, one can see roots delving deep into the soil, and a pink-toned stream running underground. It seems unnatural for the stream to be pink, but how do we know it is not? There is an element of mystery to these unseen sources of water. Neely portrays this uncertainty by painting the stream an unnatural hue.

“Bloom,” another work in the exhibit, is an eerie marsh scene in which rectangles of green seem to float above the surface.

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While the colors are vibrant, there is an air of death to this painting. Beneath the green and red there is a wan yellow-white, as if the layers of thick green moss have killed the life beneath it. Perhaps these vibrant colors are unnatural, the products of chemical waste pouring into the river. The resulting image is stagnant and putrid. One can almost imagine an odor drifting out from the surface. I can envision the green rectangles in the foreground existing for two different purposes. Maybe they represent the nature beneath, clawing its way to the surface. Or perhaps they symbolize the pollution itself, encroaching on the water source like an invading army. The title “Bloom” could be a desperate desire for life to bloom once more, or maybe it is chemicals that are blooming. No matter your interpretation (there are many one could make), this image is desolate and haunting, and well worth discussion.

Lastly, I want to show you the painting “Spill.” This painting took me several minutes to make sense of. The forms are not easily identifiable, but once they are separated and analyzed, the painting becomes incredibly chilling.

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The title and the brown oozing liquid suggest an oil spill. The brown speckled line at the very top of the painting is the beach above the surface of the ocean. The blue-green mass is the ocean itself. I find myself drawn to the moment of incidence: the brown oozing liquid. It appears to come from nowhere at all. It disappears into turquoise waters, leaving it no origin. Perhaps this is meant to portray the oil from the vantage point depicted- to creatures under the sea, the origin of the oil is not important. It is the existence that is fatal to their survival. Its detrimental effects are visible in the darker, discolored sand on the viewer’s right. The corner looks almost black, and blends into a gray/beige/brown mass. The diagonal stripes of color imply current, suggesting that this oil spill will spread quickly.

I hope that you enjoyed looking at these paintings. If you live in the Boston area, be sure to check out this amazing exhibit, as well as the other exhibits this amazing museum has to offer. For more information about “Water Stories,” go to http://www.mos.org/exhibits/water-stories. These were just my interpretations, but Neely leaves much to be discussed in her magnificent paintings. Let me know if you disagree, agree, or have any interesting ideas of your own!

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Russel de Moura- I Love You Son (National Gallery of Bermuda)

As promised, here is another fantastic work from the National Gallery of Bermuda! “I Love You Son,” by Russel de Moura.

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There is something so visually alarming about this photo-manipulation. To me, the juxtaposition of human form and physical debris uncannily reminds us of our inevitable mortality. The figure on the viewer’s right crumbles into decay, while the figure on the viewer’s left begins to blend into his own street. I feel a sense of our fleeting existence as the two decompose into their surroundings.

Moura’s own inspiration for the work differs from the way I initially interpreted it (as a reminder of our ephemerality.) He expresses displeasure  at the way people have stopped thinking for themselves and instead rely on imported ideas and innovations. The high, black and white contrast of Moura’s personal images is meant to strip away context and render each image symbolic. The images are only half complete, much like the identity of the islander when his ability to “think on his feet” is removed.

An interesting tid bit on this gray Thursday… How do you feel when you see Russel de Moura’s “I Love You Son?”

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Jeff Koons, A Retrospective (Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC)

Jeff Koons’ retrospective is closing on October 19th!!! If you live near New York City and also under a rock haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check it out! You may think you you don’t like contemporary art. Or you may have seen a Koons before and hated it. But I still encourage you to go see it. Why? In a retrospective, every room represents a different time in an artist’s life. If you don’t like what you see in one room, you may like what you see in the next room. His work is so varied that it is worth seeing his evolution as an artist, and deciding what, if anything, speaks to you. Also- how often do you get to see the ENTIRETY of an artist’s work in one show? It is an amazing opportunity, well worth the money (which is less with a student ID, free with a NYC high school ID).

Still not sure? Let me convince you.

The first room I saw held tall white statues, reminiscent of Roman or Greek busts, with small blue balls balanced on parts of their bodies. I don’t have any physical documentation of that because I did not like it and did not want to take a picture of it.

The next room I went into had all of his “Read-mades.” A ready-made is an object taken from its everyday use, and called “Art.” A hairdryer put in a gallery could be considered a ready-made. It doesn’t seem like it is art, but it makes you wonder what the real definition of “Art” is. How aesthetically pleasing does something have to be for it to be considered art? At what point do objects stop being art, and start being something else? Ready-mades are not my favorite, but they make me think, and I appreciate them. This second room held several vacuum cleaners in boxes: ready-mades.

I was starting to lose a little hope when I rounded the corner and BAM! The impact of seeing THIS made me freeze:

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Followed by THIS (starring my museum/gallery companion, the lovely Arianne.)

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In this series, Koons pictures himself and his porn-star wife in several sexually explicit positions. The purpose is to question the fine line between art and pornography. Koons has a fascination with the boundaries of art and what art rubs up against. At what point do nude photographs become pornographic? At what level does a nude become artistic enough to be seen in a gallery?

The other room I greatly enjoyed was filled with massive sculptures such as these:

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And around the corner, a familiar face:

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My reaction to these works was different than my reaction to other kinds of art. When I look at an abstract painting or an Impressionist landscape, I oftentimes ponder what deep meaning lies beneath the layers of paint. I enjoy that! It is a puzzle. But Koons provides an escape to Wonderland, a kind of oversize universe where we are dolls in a dollhouse. Huge piles of play dough and oversized animals suggest a universe of giant children. Michael Jackson and his monkey sit, frozen, dripping in gold. The effect of these works is psychedelic and freeing.

It makes me wonder- what is a viewer meant to DO when looking at art? Is the viewer meant to puzzle, to question? Or to wander, like a child, through a labyrinth of the senses?

I left the exhibit half confused (I still do not understand the blue balls attached to classicized statues), but half gloriously happy. Koons has a way of reminding us that the world is so much bigger than any of us will ever be.

Brighten Up Your Bedside!

I love flowers. I love them in my hair, on my clothes, pinned to my tote bag, or reinterpreted on a funky poster. But I never thought of flowers as a feasible thing to keep in my dorm. Considering they die after a couple weeks, it seemed like a waste of money. And so, I keep to my silk flowers and printed flowers, imagining their fragrance.

Last week, my boyfriend bought me flowers. (Lilies, one of my favorites.) I put them in a vase next to my window, and put some floral frames next to it. The entire effect is lovely! I wake up to them, study next to them, and fall asleep to their sweet scent. They also match the flower power theme I have going in my hippie-nostalgic bedroom.

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When these flowers inevitably crumble (I have decided not to use the more disheartening, ‘die’) I am going to to buy myself a small potted plant, and maybe a bouquet every once in a while. The small cost is worth the beautiful effect. I encourage you to brighten up your bedside with flowers! If you don’t have a sunny window, try my floral frame craft, seen beside the vase.

Buy a plain wooden frame, a pack of acrylic flowers, sticker gemstones and scrapbooking stickies. All of these materials can be found at your local craft store. Paste each flower on the frame with the stickies, overlapping petals to make sure the entire frame is covered. Place one or several gemstones at the center of each flower. You can improvise with this last step. I want to try a glitter glue, pom-poms, glitter mist, or or tiny stamps for further projects! The whole project takes ten-twenty minutes, depending on how large your frames are.

No matter whether you have a sunny window or not, you can brighten up your bedside with a floral touch.

xoxo, Chloe ❤