I Didn’t Ask for It (Interview with the Artists from OT301-Amsterdam)

Hey all-

I am really excited to share with you the work of Debbie Young and Katerina Sidorova, two rising artists who are studying at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. I had the wonderful opportunity to see their work exhibited in I Didn’t Ask For It at OT301 last week in Amsterdam. I was later able to interview them in their studios in The Hague. Read on to find out what inspires these artists to create, their thoughts on group exhibits and Dutch contemporary art, and more!

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I first meet Debbie and Katerina at OT301, the multi-media art organization located near Vondelpark. I am not immediately sure who they are, as the exhibit space is a mass of artistic types draped in woolen coats and decked out in colorful lipstick. Any of these uniquely-dressed people sipping wine and chatting could be the artists. I end up meeting the curator, Lorena, who introduces me to the them. Debbie is wearing the same red lipstick she wears in her video installation piece. I am surprised that I did not immediately recognize her from this work. It might be because her brown hair, straightened in the video, is thick and curly in person. When she speaks, a bright Scottish accent comes out. She and her friend Katerina stand at about the same height- several inches shorter than my 5’8″- but they could not be more different. Katerina has a blunt blonde bob and speaks with a slight Russian accent. They are both curious about how my friend and I ended up here. I gather that OT301 is not a spot frequented by Americans.

I chat with the two artists briefly, and learn a little bit more about their work, which is being displayed in the same, small, vibrant space. We agree to meet the next day in The Hague to chat about their work and to take a tour of their studios. In the meantime, I explore the fascinating artwork displayed by these two artists and let them mingle with the excited crowd.

I Didn’t Ask For It explores the intricacies of human nature through two specific case studies. The first is Deborah Young’s, which examines the relationship between characters in the media and their obsessive fandoms.

The most prominent element of her work is a video installation projected onto a blank, white wall. Here are several stills from this work:

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In this video, Young creates a character that is obsessed with Justin Bieber. She performs a youtube tutorial in which she describes how to make Justin Bieber her boyfriend, through a variety of steps that include makeup, confidence, and flirting “techniques.” It is wildly comedic at times, such as when Young steps off her chair to illustrate the importance of flexibility in wooing Justin. Yet it is also alarming to see this character’s dissolution into utter insanity.

A bedspread, shown below, with Justin’s likeness and the likeness of Young’s character, is absurd and yet also unnerving.

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Stores do sell Bieber bedspreads (I actually looked and you can buy one here). Yet depicting herself next to Justin on this spread underlines the strangeness of this practice. It demonstrates the lengths that obsession can go in a humorous, light-hearted tone.

The third part of Young’s installation is the following altarpiece:

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In this work, sketches of Bieber are framed and surrounded by creepy, deformed, three-dimensional figures. My first instinct is that these little figures are meant to represent the fans who have lost their own identities in their obsession with Bieber.

In the same space, Katerina’s work is displayed. There is only a few feet of space between the two. Katerina’s installation piece is inspired by the the journey of the hero in mythology, and how people buy into mythology as a means of grappling with their own mortality. Envision the previous images, in the same space as the following:

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At first, I am not entirely sure what Sidorova’s work was meant to represent, but I recognize symbols of strength and power. The pitchforks stretch from the floor to the ceiling, but are constructed from many separate pieces of wood tied together. The emphasis on construction is clear. The white sheet also undergoes a transformation throughout the trajectory of the work. In the corner, where the light is dim, it is grubby and muddy. The grime disappears closer to the center of the room. The swatch of sheet draped over the pitchforks is completely clean. I look forward to talking with Sidorova to gain more insight into the meaning of this multifaceted work.

The next day I meet Debbie and Katerina at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. They show me their studios and I am instantly jealous that I don’t go to art school. Everywhere we go we pass friends they say hello to, and art I want to steal. Only in art school do you find a guitar, ten empty cookie boxes, and a human body made of plaster all in the same room. I put my bag on the ground and cloud of white dust splashed across it. They apologize simultaneously, but I say it gives my bag “character.”

Chloe: So guys, tell me about your early experiences with art and how you knew you wanted to be artists!

Debbie: I’ve always been good naturally, it was one of the first things that I really enjoyed doing, and it was mostly drawing cartoons and just drawing all the time. And actually I ended up going to study psychology first because, in Scotland, there is a very realistic way of thinking… [it is] self-deprecating, sort of pretentious, to be seen as an artist, or to see yourself as an artist. Then when I was 21 I decided I wanted to move away from Glasgow [and be an artist]. I just moved to the Hague really on a whim because I got in here.

Katerina: I was growing up under the guidance of my Grandma. She was an engineer but she always wanted to be an artist. She would introduce me to the world of drawing, painting, and just some modeling from clay. It kind of embedded in my brain the fact that you can become an artist but not in Russia. I started to catch up on drawing first by myself, then in my at teens I was really into street art. I was just running around with brushes in my hometown painting- what was it back then? Words and naked ladies I think haha. Trying to be a rebel. Then I started to take it actually serious and I thought that it can be a full time occupation. It is rather recent the realization that I can do this, this is what I am going to do with my life.

Chloe: I want to hear about the work that you two showed at OT301 and what you were trying to convey to viewers. Debbie, tell me about yours.

Debbie: It all started with the idea of the persona, and the hero aspect, the idolizing of a human being. I thought was a really strange concept because we are all humans. But we forget that these are people too just because they have a large skillset and the will to accomplish the goals we all want [to achieve.] So then I was thinking, what’s the contemporary hero? The contemporary hero seems to be celebrities because people aspire to project themselves onto celebrities. They also judge them quite harshly. They rise and fall quite hard. So I was interested in that concept of the E News world, the Kardashians who are superficial, shallow, the mindset of the whole thing. It’s an illusion, the whole world. Even the people who have a lot of skills and make it to the top are turned into this character and therefore are mythologized into this godlike presence. I was really interested in the fandom as well, with Justin Bieber especially, who is the contemporary idol of all the teenage girls. I was thinking he was the best example currently of how to illustrate these crazy fan groups, and how disconcerting this is in a way.

Chloe: How did that influence the fact that you chose to do a video, and that you had the bed sheet? The altar? How did you choose those specific mediums?

Debbie: Video is really fast and you can edit [yourself into] it. This can be superficial, yourself creating this character that is just this YouTube celebrity- which is a new type of celebrity. It’s so accessible and anyone can do it, so people seek to put on this character [to stand out]. That is a really interesting aspect as well. I just did loads of research on YouTube on people who have become famous on YouTube for the makeup tutorials and all these different types of characters. The bed sheet was a teen fan-girl thing but I wanted to make it a renaissance painting with a godlike Justin.

Chloe: Well I like that you put your image onto the bed sheet as well. I thought that was interesting. Can you say more about that?

Debbie: Yeah, well I did that to go with the video mainly because that is the creation of the character. [The character] is almost psychopathic by the end of it and you see a gradual demise of her sanity. So I thought that it would be a funny addition to the video to have the bedsheets. And also just I’ve always been into portraiture and I thought it would be witty.

Chloe: It definitely added even more humor to an already self-consciously funny work. I really enjoyed it! Now Katarina, can you tell me about the work you displayed at OT301?

Katerina: I work with narratives and for this I decided to make it year-long. Each of the works presented would be a step in a story .The whole bigger project is about “The Feat,” and the reflection on the logics of mythology. So the structure [includes] the hero being born, realizing that there was some sin performed in his early life/birth, the necessity to make up for this sin with the Feat, the preparation for The Feat by the family, the wandering, and The Feat itself. Then, the consequences of [The Feat]. So in OT301 I concentrated on the wandering, on when the hero is just becoming this active figure. I was trying to show this first step: leaving the place to try and fight for something, not knowing why, having some weapons that are rather limited and not so much skill  or experience yet. But having the drive to do something, and [the hero] doesn’t know what yet. This logic I’m applying to a very simple human thing: how do we deal with the knowledge of our mortality? For me it is about creating this logical construction of narratives, whether it is religion or science or art per say or mythology in the case with this work.

Chloe: So how did you apply this concept of myth as a means of dealing with human mortality, to the materials you used and the form that you created?

Katerina: What I’m trying to do is transform materials that I used in the first steps throughout the whole project. So it all started when the hero realized he’s mortal and that death is really disgusting, with chamber pots made of clay next to a dirty bed of a dead person. The cloth from that bed was washed, ironed, and prepared, sewn together into that big peace of fabric that you saw [at OT301]. The big spades or pitchforks that were holding it used to be legs of a bedframe. So [the materials are] transforming throughout the whole project and they will be reused again in a different form. So the whole journey of the hero is becoming more a journey of materials.

Chloe: That’s such an interesting idea to use the same materials throughout the different acts in the myth. What is the next step in the journey?

Katerina: In the beginning I made quite a strict structure for myself, but it was made in order to break free later on, which is what is happening. So the next thing on the list is, of course, that the hero performs The Feat. He performs the labor. This for me will be the erection of a church or a chapel-like structure. I don’t know yet how it’s going to look. I don’t know if it’s going to stay or fall and what’s going to happen with that.

Chloe: Well I look forward to seeing the next step in hero’s journey, and how you use the same materials to represent that! Now guys, why OT301? What drew you two to the space?

Debbie: We actually got the opportunity through a girl we know, Lorena. She did an open call and Katarina is the one who noticed it, and she asked me [to apply with her].

Katerina: We just had a school show that was quite an exhausting experience, but I had the strong urge to keep on going on our own. As an art student it is very easy to get carried away within this education, and you attempt to forget that this is not your real world. You are in a very safe greenhouse bubble. It is necessary to make first steps outside school already because, if you don’t take initiative, nobody will. When I heard about the opportunity to exhibit at OT301 I didn’t think twice. I figured I’ll just apply, I’ll put Debbie’s name on it, we will figure it out later.

Debbie: So we decided to collaborate because we always sort of end up having quite similar thoughts.

Chloe: How do you guys think the element of having someone else’s work in the same space, influences the way your work is perceived?

Deborah: I think it definitely makes a big difference. We got a lot of comments last night about how it was really surprising that our work was so different, but it seemed to work. We both used sound, so we had to swap [alternate using sound]. Even when Katarina’s sound went over my muted video, it worked. Her music went with it even though it was completely different.

Katerina: Yeah, I think for viewers it worked quite successfully, and that’s what I experienced as well. The main difference between our works is the approach, I guess. In this project I attempt to make things over-serious, over-dramatic, rather dry, and she went for the humorous side. Showing them together exaggerated our original intentions. I think the works were screaming more than if they were just by themselves, and I quite like that.

Chloe: I definitely felt similarly. When my friend and I first saw the Justin Bieber altar we thought it was part of your exhibit Katarina! The white color and the melting shapes… the works really interacted in such an interesting way.

Debbie: They did! We were like, “this is really crazy!”

Chloe: So exciting when things come together like that. What else is exciting you guys right now about the art world in general?

Debbie: Well, it’s really open. You can do anything. You can do installation, which I really like to do.  I like the playfulness in today’s art. But mostly I am inspired by old art and other things that aren’t in the art world per say like film and seeing something beautiful in the street.

Chloe: I saw the influence of the old art. The way you portrayed Bieber reminded me of the “Heroic Nude” in history paintings.

Debbie: It was definitely deliberately an academic painting because I wanted it to seem like someone, like a fan, took a lot of time to paint him.

Chloe: Definitely. And Katarina, what’s exciting for you?

Katerina: I think this part is the exciting part for me. [I like] the idea of being able to put up a show yourself and to invite the crowd you want to address your works to. That artist initiative is something that really keeps me going because I know I have the drive to make things happen. Sometimes just making artworks is not enough. Its more about creating somewhat of a platform for discussion around it and putting people who are sincerely interested in your work around you, rather than people who appreciate your work on a purely shallow level.

Chloe: And it must also be exciting for you guys to be experiencing contemporary Dutch art when both of you come from different places. Have you noticed anything specific that stands out about the Dutch contemporary art scene? Are there vibrant Scottish and Russian contemporary art scenes?

Katerina: There is a Russian contemporary art scene, still dealing much with Post-Soviet heritage, which I don’t like. But it’s still emerging now so that’s interesting to look at. With the Dutch art scene I do have more problems. Because these artists have been spoiled with funds for a while, they have gotten little lazy and I never appreciated laziness in thought or in deed. But there are quite some talented people around as well.

Debbie: I don’t think I would make the same art at all if I was in Scotland. It would probably be very Scottish.Scotland has got quite a good art scene. There’s also this tendency to use painting a lot which has rubbed off on me quite a lot. It’s always kind of colorful, always got a lot of humor, kind of more playful than textual. There’s  a lot to do with the body and subtleties, whereas in the Netherlands it’s more conceptual. It’s more, maybe minimal?  For instance, I was always really disappointed when I first came to the Netherlands because I couldn’t really associate with the art and I was always feeling like it was a bit empty. But there’s certain artists I really like in the Netherlands. Materials are really important [here] in a really tangible way. Art is also quite expressive.

Chloe: Do you think you guys will continue making art here after your graduate?

Debbie: Katarina and I are actually going to go back to Glasgow when we graduate. We’re going to start an artist-run space and show our own work and invite people we’ve met who we really respect art-wise to come and show there as well.

Katerina: We have a quite similar working attitude. We like to work, yeah, simple as that. Debbie’s from Glasgow and she knows the art scene there and she knows there is now energy in the air that is quite receptive for young artists with initiative. We share very similar thoughts on what a true artist is and what that person is ready to do for his work.  We want to start our own little space and see how it goes from there!

Chloe: Wow that sounds like a really exciting prospect. I can’t wait to hear about how that goes! I just have one last question for you two. If you could show your work at any gallery or institution in the world, where would it be?

Debbie: Obviously the MoMA in the New York.

Chloe: Oh my God can I curate that exhibit?

Debbie: That’s the dream haha! I do also really love the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It’s such an amazing building, it’s such a cool space.  In Hamburg there’s also some really cool places. In Glasgow I would like to exhibit in the Tramway.

Katerina: I have a dream to show my work in my hometown. We just have a contemporary art museum that opened a couple of months ago. It looks horrible. But I dream of the day when it would be quite a vivid institution and I would like to show work there. Apart from that, I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter, just as long as it can reach some people who could respond to it, I’m happy.

After saying goodbye to Debbie and Katarina, I begin the journey back to Amsterdam, images of Justin Bieber and pitchforks swirling in my mind. It is so exciting to see the artists of tomorrow in the beginning phases of their careers. I am sure you will be seeing more from Deborah Young and Katarina Sidorova very soon. Keep an eye out for these talented artists!

Until next time-

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

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Link to my review on the Public House of Art’s Website

Hey everyone! Hope you’re having a sunny Wednesday.

It’s been a very exciting week for me. I just found out that I am going to be interning at Sotheby’s this summer in New York City! I will be very sad to leave Amsterdam (temporarily!!) but very happy to start a new artistic chapter in my life. More to come on that later 🙂

My review of the “The Awesome” at the Public House of Art here in Amsterdam was also published on their website. You can check it out here. Many thanks to the Public House of Art for featuring me!

I’m looking forward to the next Thursday’s launch of new artwork at the Public House of Art. Check out the event here. 

Until next time!

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Seth Siegelaub: Beyond Conceptual Art (Stedelijk Museum-Amsterdam)

Hey everyone!

Today I’d like to discuss a unique exhibit I recently saw at the Stedelijk Museum, a modern art museum in Amsterdam. “Seth Siegelaub: Beyond Conceptual Art” is a retrospective of the work of Seth Siegelaub, famous New York curator, author, collector, and bibliographer. He was a contemporary Renaissance man whose impact on the art world cannot be overstated. What I find most important about Siegelaub was his multi-disciplinary approach to art. He did not view art in a vacuum, but in the context of physics, media, history, globalization, politics, and english. Furthermore, his definition of art reached from abstract conceptual art to the study of headdresses and textiles. In “Seth Siegelaub: Beyond Conceptual Art,” the Stedelijk Museum introduces a new generation to the legacy of Siegelaub. What is this legacy? That the interconnectedness of everything can be felt through the practice, collection, and study, of art.

This is what one sees when one first enters the exhibit:

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Transferred. To transfer is, by definition, to cause to pass from one to another. It can refer to a tangible transfer, such as the passing of goods from one person to the next. It can also be used to explain non-tangible exchanges, such as the transfer of ideas into words. So why focus on this idea of transference in Siegelaub’s retrospective? I think that Siegelaub’s multi-disciplinary approach to art is actually a web of transferred ideas, manifested in words, motifs, and abstract concepts. In order to understand what I mean, I’ll take you through the exhibit as I saw it. At the end, I’ll show how underlying themes are transferred in Siegelaub’s understanding of the world.

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The first part of the exhibit that I explored was Siegelaub’s large collection of headdresses.  Siegelaub started collecting headdresses in the early 1980s, and continued until his death. His collection spans the whole globe, with pieces from six continents. They represent a range of cultures, materials, and techniques. And yet, together, they form a beautifully coherent whole. Take a look.

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These headdresses, all arranged on thin white pedestals of varying heights, form a unit. But upon closer inspection, it is clear that these ornate works are very distinct from one another. This first headdress is made from banana fiber, cane marrow, bark, leaves, pigment, and feathers. It is called a “Rom Kon” mask and was made on Ambrym Island, Vanuatu, in the mid-20th century.

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This second headdress was made at the same time by the Kuba People of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is composed of wood, vegetal fiber, shells, and glass.

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By displaying these headdresses together, Seigelaub indicates that people all over the world have intrinsic similarities and interests, simply due to the fact that we are all human. Cultures that are oceans from one another independently chose to wear headdresses, whether for protection from the elements, for spiritual reasons, or for stylistic choice. It is a fascinating and beautiful thing to think that people from different places have similar desires, fears, and solutions to their problems. Taken together, this collection is both a celebration of humanity’s similarities and an exposé of cultural individuality.

I am curious here about the relevance of transference in this aspect of the exhibit. The transference of human emotion to creation is clear.  The fear of the elements and the need to protect oneself, as well as religious sentiment and the creation of spiritual garment, are apparent precursors to the use of headdresses in various cultures. But what kind of exchanges may have occurred that allowed ideas to bounce between existing groups? Do trade and tourism impact the resources available to the creators of these headdresses, influencing how they construct them? And do these activities expose them to different styles and intellectual concepts that affect their approach to making headdresses? These are questions I would like to find an answer to in Siegelaub’s writings, and in literature on anthropology/textiles in general. I am not a student of globalization, but perhaps, as Siegelaub suggests, we all ought to be. After all, art is a reflection of globalization, and the two are intrinsically tied.

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Siegelhub was also an avid collector of textiles. His collection was just as global as his compilation of headdresses, and it indicates his fascination with woven and stitched art. The majority of these textiles are non-western, and feature complex patterns and motifs like the one featured below. These textiles are displayed in horizontal glass cases throughout the exhibit. The light in the room is kept low to preserve the pigments of these fragile works, but their beauty radiates through the dim glass.

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Many of the textiles, despite being from different cultures, share similar motifs. Geometric shapes, symmetrical patterns, and motifs within larger shapes are abundant. I wonder if, like the global popularity of the headdress, these similarities can be attributed to some extent to human nature. If there is something, perhaps, psychologically pleasing about a repetition and straight lines, or a perfect circle. Does the human mind find pleasure in symmetry? Is there a transference of human desire into the methodical design of a textile?

I also believe that the transference of ideas and materials between cultures is an important element of Siegelaub’s study of textiles. The same logic can be applied here that I explained in relation to headdresses, but more so, I believe, because textiles are a more portable medium of art. They form the basis of clothing, blankets, tapestries, scarves, prayer shawls, rugs, and any other fabric-based item. One can trace the pattern of human movement by mapping the transference of motifs and ideas between cultures. For instance, it is easy to see when Europeans began trading with and colonizing the East, because they brought back with them notions of the “Orient” that manifested themselves in European textiles. The appearance of Japanese, or mock-Japanese fans and parasols became prominent in female quarters, as well as layers of velvet and silk shawls shading the windows and covering wooden furniture. Mens’ smoking rooms saw increasingly padded upholstery in vivid colors. Oriental rugs became commonplace in western Europe. Such trends of global movement can be seen on a smaller scale as well, as cultures diffused information through local interactions.

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After examining Siegelaub’s collections of headdresses and textiles, I moved on to the area of the exhibit examining his work as a curator. Siegelaub is often referred to as the Father of Conceptual Art. His early years were spent curating in New York City. The ideas he fostered during this busy time would influence his later endeavors.

One of Siegelaub’s most famous projects was the exhibit, January Show, which he curated in 1969. Up until then, conceptual art was popular, but people were unsure how to package it to the public. Siegelaub presented conceptual art in a way that was digestible and purchasable, by expanding its definition to encompass things that were tangible, and others that were arrangeable. What I mean is, a book or a poster could inhabit a wealth of meanings that made it conceptual. An entire space could be arranged to convey a meaning, and that in itself was conceptual art. In reference to January Show, Siegelaub said, “The exhibit consists of (the ideas communicated in) the catalogue; the physical presence (of the work) is supplementary to the catalogue.” The artists whose work was represented in January Show were Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, and Lawrence Weiner.

You can view the catalogue here. 

Congratulations. You are now in possession of conceptual art.

Because the concepts outlined in the catalogue are the art itself, the physical representations of these ideas in the show are supplementary. As Lawrence Weiner indicates in the catalogue, “the piece need not be built.” And so, the fact that we do see the piece built is merely by chance. Had it not been built, the concept would have remained.

Here are some photographs of the physical representations of January Show. 

“Art as Idea as Idea,” by Joseph Kosuth (1968).

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This concept, as explained in the catalogue, is composed of the artist creating nine dictionary definitions. Each time one of the definitions is exhibited, he instructs that it be enlarged to different, specific, dimensions. In this way, the work has no constant shape. It doesn’t even have a constant form, because there are nine different definitions that can be printed to follow the directions of “Art as Idea as Idea.” Here I have shown ‘Painting’ and ‘Definition,’ but there are seven other options. Both the small version printed in the book and the larger canvas version represent “Art as Idea as Idea.”

The photo below is of Lawrence Weiner’s “AN AMOUNT OF BLEACH POURED UPON A RUG AND ALLOWED TO BLEACH” (1968).

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In this work, Weiner emptied a can of bleach on the carpet of the exhibition the day before it opened. What makes this work a fine example of conceptual art is that it is not about the final image of the bleach on the rug. While it is visually arresting, it is supplementary to the statement, “an amount of bleach poured upon a rug and allowed to bleach.” This statement is the act of art-making. It represents the control the artist has on the space around him. The rug is not bleached; it is ALLOWED to bleach. In this way, Weiner shifts the focus of the work to the act of making, and what this says about individual will and power, rather than the aftermath of this power.

I think of it a bit like physics (which becomes even more relevant later in this post). In physics there is a concept of kinetic energy vs. potential energy. Kinetic energy is the energy one has from moving, such as the flow of a river. Potential energy is the energy one has from positioning in space, such as the water right at the brink of a waterfall. In AN AMOUNT OF BLEACH,  the potential energy of the artist, instructed to bleach the carpet, is the focus. His position in the world allows him to yield force to create a lasting impact.

It seems to me that Siegelaub deliberately chose to curate works that revolved around the idea of transference. The ideas present in the catalogue of January Show could only be seen if they were transferred into something physical, but the original idea, written down in the catalogue, was purest in the minds of visitors. Transference is what allowed these ideas to be seen by more and more people. Reprints of “Art As Idea As Idea” hung in various countries may be secondary to the concept, but they transfer its meaning to new audiences.

I linked you with the exhibit catalogue. You are now a PART of this transfer.

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Siegelaub’s intellectual publications are also a central aspect of this exhibit. After Siegelaub moved from New York to Paris, he became interested in mass-media and left-wing politics. He created the International Mass Media Research Center and started writing bibliographies, one of which was titled Marxism and the Mass Media. Towards a Basic Bibliography. Before the internet made it easy to do research, bibliographies like Siegelaub’s were immensely important for researchers.

This exhibit focuses on the influence of mass media and leftism on Siegelaub’s personal ideology and publications. Siegelaub was inspired to create a radical daily newspaper that would combine his passion for conceptual art with its natural ties to journalism, mass media, and politics. The following is an excerpt from a draft of this paper.

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One can see the influence of conceptualism in the layout and design of this page. It is handwritten, and squeezed for space at the top. The focus is clearly on the message of the work, rather than its aesthetics, a key characteristic of conceptual art. It is also a sly yet direct attack on censorship. It is easy for the reader to decode this page for the censored words, yet it does not technically break any rules. This loophole underlines the absurdity of censorship. The content of the page also shows Siegelaub’s opinion that censorship is a direct attack on the First Amendment. Such a stance reveals his radical political leanings. He believes in free expression, which was associated with a leftist political mindset at the time.

We can also see how political views translated (or transferred, if you aren’t completely sick of that word yet) into a visual, almost artistic, work.

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Lastly, the exhibit ends with a video installation entitled, “The Causality of Hesitance.” It was created posthumously to explore Seigelaub’s ideas about time and causality in physics in a visual way. Although the curator and researcher died before he could finish exploring these theories, he left behind a wealth of bibliographic information about the relationship between and time and causality. Furthermore, his interest in these ideas stems (transfers!!) from his early involvement with conceptual art. One cannot separate the two, as conceptual art in the 60s often dealt with questions of time . And so, “The Causality of Hesitance” takes Seigelaub’s theories and builds off of them, creating a work that is both thought-provoking and chilling. Here is a still of the video:

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In “The Causality of Hesitance,” a man in a turtleneck monologues his ideas about time, all the while acting out these ideas. It sounds confusing, but let me give you a few examples:

  • He says, “Hesitation carves time…” [he hesitates] “…out of time.”

The very act of hesitating is a demonstration of what he is saying.

  • And then he starts talking about radio broadcasting, and its relationship to time. He wonders how long it takes for words to bounce from one person’s mouth, through the radio, and into another’s living room.

“How… long… does… it… take?” He pauses between each word, emphasizing the delay of broadcasting, and how that warps our perception of time.

  • The man then begins to talk about time in relation to art.

“Can an artwork hesitate itself?” he asks. “Can we make an exhibit about not saying?”

If art is about saying something to a viewer, what happens when it says nothing? Is this still art? He says yes, that “unvoiced ambivalence can be an artwork.” It is a poetic utterance, to hesitate. Choosing to not speak, choosing to not represent, elongates time.

  • “Am I talking now?” he hesitates. “How about now?

Does the act of talking cease when he pauses?

  • “Is anyone else listening?”

(Are you still reading?)

  • “Let us make time itself lose its patience. Let us remain. Let us dwell.”

He goes on with this point for a while, dwelling eternally on the concept of dwelling.

  • At this point, I wonder if this man has said anything substantial. I realize that this whole speech is one longgggg hesitation. A deliberate choice to not say anything but to leave us on the verge. He stretches time by explaining time. After all-
  • “Time is material.”

How long did it take you to read this portion of this post? One minute? Five? Did you reread any of it? Was anything that I wrote down actually substantial? Are you very confused?

Can you argue, now, that time is NOT material?

^This is the state of mind I was left in after watching this film. My friend and I had watched this together, and upon leaving, decided we could not see the rest of the Stedelijk that day. We were too emotionally drained from wondering whether we were wasting time or if time was dragging and we needed to sit somewhere and have a sandwich.

* * *

 

“Seth Siegelaub: Beyond Conceptual Art” has been one of the most interesting exhibits for me to review. I enjoyed focusing on a curator, rather than an artist, and looking at art from many different disciplines. I found myself drawing scientific parallels and investigating the evolution of politics. (How does physics relate to conceptual art? How has leftist ideology regarding censorship changed since the 1950s?) I think that this is the main takeaway of this exhibit. I hope that you take it upon yourself to view the world from many perspectives. It is not enough to look at art from a purely artistic lens. It is also not enough to view science or politics or communications in a vacuum.

Start small. I purchased a book at the Stedelijk called “How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic.” Grow your frame of references and you will be able to draw more interesting and complex conclusions from any discipline you study.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

OBEY presents:”Covert to Overt” (Melkweg Expo- Amsterdam)

Hey everyone,

I’m pretty stoked to show you some photographs I took at the opening of OBEY presents: “Cover to Overt” at Melkweg Expo in Amsterdam. It was really exciting for several reasons.

Firstly, I’m a big fan of Shepard Fairey, the artist whose works are photographed in this exhibition. If you don’t recognize his name, you’ll probably recognize his immensely popular clothing line, OBEY, characterized by a rectangle of solid color with the word “OBEY” printed on top. This idea originated in 1989, when Fairey was studying art at RISD. He began a street art campaign called “Andre the Giant Has a Posse,” in which images of the famous wrestler and his dimensions were printed on stickers, then distributed by the skater community all over the country. The phrase caught on, and was appropriated into mainstream culture through these stickers, as well as in everyday speech. It spurred the creation of several documentaries as well . As a result of the image’s popularity, Fairey faced a lawsuit for using the name of a trademarked athlete. And so Fairey brilliantly turned his idea on its head: he simplified the face of Andre the Giant, and changed the catchphrase to “OBEY,” mocking the very system that created its existence. This new motif became Fairey’s trope- he modified it and enlarged it and transformed it for different surfaces all over the United States. He then branched into graphic design, and from there, skate ramps and high school hallways were  blessed with the iconic OBEY flat-brimmed hats and t-shirts. Today he continues to design clothing and create artwork, both on the street and in galleries. It is very exciting to see an exhibit that reflects Fairey’s journey from covert college student printing ironic stickers and getting arrested for destruction of property, to a celebrated artist and clothing designer who is famous for the famous “Hope” poster of Obama from the 2008 election.

I am also very excited to talk about “Covert to Overt” because I really like exhibits that view an artist’s work through a different (pun intended) lens. Last year, Fairey showed a series of paintings at the Jacob Lewis Gallery in NYC, and at the Art Center in Pasadena, his street art was displayed alongside other outdoor installations in “OutsideIn.” “Covert to Overt” explores Fairey’s street art through a photographic lens; that of photographer Jon Furlong.  Furlong has accompanied Fairey for the last ten years, snapping photos of the artist and his work as both have developed and transformed. It is fascinating to see how photography adds even more meaning to Fairey’s work. Furlong’s use of framing and light makes these photographs works of art in their own right.

Here are some of my favorite works from this exhibit. As you look, pay attention to the color scheme and motifs Fairey uses. Also note how big or small the art is in relation to the rest of the photograph. Look at what here is Fairey’s art, and what is Furlong’s. How do the two play off each other?

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“Obey. Never trust. Your own eyes believe what you are told.” This eye, filled with tiny whirring particles, seems to look blankly into the soul of the viewer. Its lack of a central pupil lends it a hypnotized appearance. Fairey seems to be suggesting that we are hypnotized as well, brainwashed by some unspeakable “they” who controls what we see. Perhaps this “they” is the government, or the media.

Beside this poster lies a black and white city. Juxtaposed with this sign, the city looks barren and and cold. There is no one on the street and the sky is a wash of overcast whiteness. The elevated position of the viewer above the city also suggests an all-knowing presence. If we can look down upon this city and see everything, does that mean we are always being watched as well?

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“This has been called to your attention so you will know that it has not been overlooked: PEACE.” A giant red arrow draws the eye leftward, to where these words are printed beside a trippy-looking image of Andre the Giant, enclosed in a patterned circle. The artwork itself seemed to me to be a scathing commentary on how difficult it is to get the world- especially the first-world- to focus on peace-making. It quite literally takes a red arrow on the highway to grab people’s attention.

This image, already eye-catching and powerful in its message, is even more impactful when seen in the context of this photograph. The sky captured by Furlong is immense, highly detailed and deeply saturated. The clouds seem to reach back into the sky for miles into an infinite horizon. This framing of the sky reminds the viewer of the space he or she is present in. Space is more than just the several meters from one’s car to Fairey’s sign. Space extends for miles beyond where we can see. With this photograph, Furlong reminds us that peace is not really peace unless everyone under every sky can feel it. “Attention” calls the viewer out on being materialistic and selfish, while Furlong’s photograph forces the viewer to empathize with people who exist in different spaces.

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This is a beautiful shot of Fairey at work on a mural. I like how the mural’s asymmetry contrasts with the symmetry of the two black poles in the foreground. I also like how Fairey’s clothing emphasizes his trademark red, white, grey, and black color scheme. The sharp lines of the ladder and the poles create a visual dialogue with the swirling mural.

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I also really like this personality shot of Fairey with what looks like a black eye. He stares at the viewer with an unreadable expression. I cannot tell if he is confronting the viewer or attempting to model in some fashion. I am not surprised that Fairey would pose in such an ambiguous way. His art is about challenging societal norms and questioning why things are the way they are. Why should a self-portrait be any different? Why should he reveal himself to the viewer in a truthful way, when so much of the world is masked by media and coded with false meaning?

Furlong cuts off the side of Fairey’s arm. This framing draws attention to Fairey’s face and his black eye, which gives the artist an aura of toughness. He looks like the ultimate “cool guy,” which I find funny because Fairey’s art is about the misrepresentation of people and things in the media. Perhaps Fairey and Furlong were using Fairey’s person as a canvas to make a statement about image and identity.

* * *

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This mural depicts the corner of a women’s face and a tear rolling down her cheek. The tear contains a dollar sign. The phrase “OBEY” can also be found on her forehead, climbing down her eyebrow. I like how this image was placed on the side of a building closer down to the ground. It means that the average passerby can see this image, and question its intention. The allusion to money and sadness suggests a commentary on consumerism and capitalism, or perhaps materialism. Is this woman crying because she doesn’t have enough money? If so, is this because she is greedy or because she is in need, because of “the system” or because of her own material tendencies? We are not given enough information to make an informed conclusion, but Fairey raises a multitude of questions worth pondering with this work. Perhaps my biggest takeaway is: our society forces us to view money in a particular way. The cost of living in most places is so high that, if we do not obey the economic system outlined by society, we find ourselves left behind.

I like how Furlong narrows in on this mural rather than stepping back to see it in its context. This way, focus remains on the message of the mural. One could say that the message becomes even more glaringly obvious, and its effect even more intense, due to the framing of the image.

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I like this simpler work that uses spray paint as a material and a brick wall as a surface.  The depiction looks hastily painted, as if Fairey was being chased. Given the laws surrounding painting on public property, that isn’t totally unfeasible. But it is also possible that Fairey intentionally painted “Hello Obey” in a haphazard manner  1.to cover a large amount of ground with his work in a short period of time 2.to allude to the time pressure reinforced by a  capitalist society 3. because he wanted to and overanalyzing is counter-productive. These are all possible interpretations. Do you have any other ideas?

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Here’s a snapshot of Fairey in the middle of painting a mural. His stance and facial expression are playful. I like seeing something light-hearted after a series of slightly paranoid responses to authoritarian society. Even the scaffolding he uses to reach high surfaces is red. The car in the background is red. I am beginning to wonder if Fairey is physically capable of seeing colors other than black, white, and red.

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Lastly, this was my favorite photograph in the entire exhibit. It made it onto my Instagram (shameless plug: chloelikescrumpets. Follow me!) and it’s become the go-to image I show people when i tell them I went to “Covert to Overt.”

This image reads: “Giant cured all my obedience problems!” Giant refers to Andre the Giant, the wrestling figure i referred to in the beginning who inspired the OBEY motif. Now, I’ll be honest. I’m not entirely sure what Fairey is trying to say here- and I think that’s ok. As Fairey said in an interview with Loud Paper, ” When people don’t know what something is, they feel threatened by it.” So, I’m not going to shy away from talking about my favorite work just because I cannot fit it neatly into an analytical box.

All I can really do is take what I do know about Fairey’s inspirations and social concerns and try and relate them to this image. In several other works I showed here, Fairey made commentary on the brainwashing of the media and the watchfulness of the government. The issues seem huge and out of any individual’s control. And so, referring to Fairey’s concerns as “obedience problems” could be a humorous understatement. Stating that “Andre,” which seems synonymous to me with the OBEY brand, could have solved those problems simply by existing, is even funnier. What I take from this poster, then, is that Fairey is being self-deprecating about the importance of his brand. The work underlines the need for action on many fronts: wearing an OBEY flat-brimmed hat is great, but taking political action would be better.

Again, let me know if you gathered something different from this work, or have heard Fairey discuss this particular motif. I am really curious about what Fairey intended it to mean.

* * *

“Cover to Overt” is an incredible exhibit. I am so happy I was able to see it here in Amsterdam. Melkweg Expo did a great job at the opening- the DJ played relaxing but upbeat tunes while visitors sipped free beer and perused the photographs. Signed copies of “Covert to Overt,” the exhibition book, were sold in the corner for sixty euro. Were I not a twenty year old college student who compares bread prices, I would have immediately bought one. I did get a chance to read the preface and the introduction, and it looks like a very thoughtfully-written book. I am really interested in reading more about Fairey and his political/social beliefs.

Here’s a snapshot of the event:

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And here’s a great shot of my friend looking at a display of photographs.

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And here are three more pictures, if you’d like to try and extract meaning from them, and fit them into Fairey’s narrative:

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As always, thanks for reading! It makes me so happy every day to see that people all over the world are checking out CanvasAndCrumpets, and searching for ways to make their lives a little more artistic, and a whole lot more beautiful.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

 

!Women Art Revolution (Film Huis Cavia-Amsterdam)

Last night I went to a screening of !Women Art Revolution at Film Huis Cavia in Amsterdam. It was easily the best movie I have seen all year. It was so good that my friends and I spent the next three hours talking about how the legacy of the feminist art revolution lives on today. The documentary was made in 2010 by Lynn Hershman Leeson, but it has been an ongoing project of Leeson’s for the past forty years.  !Women Art Revolution details the rise of the feminist art revolution in the 1960s and its development throughout the rest of the 20th century. It is an oral history, as well as a series of interviews featuring female artists, curators, and art historians. These interviews have been conducted over the past forty years- it was a unique and special experience to hear these women, some of whom have since passed away, speak about their experiences. Throughout the hour and a half of this incredible film, I was exposed to fifty years of history I had embarrassingly been devoid of in my artistic education. 

How awful is it, that I had only ever heard of TWO of these artists? I had studied Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” in AP Art History in high school, and bought Miranda July’s book,”No One Belongs Here More Than You,” from the Strand Bookstore. But the names Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringold, Miriam Schapiro, Barbara Kruger, and many, MANY more, were completely new to me. I hadn’t even heard of the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of female artists who protested discrimination and sexism in the art world while wearing gorilla costumes. Their humorous posters and literal guerrilla tactics raised awareness about these issues and put political pressure on artistic institutions to be inclusive of women and artists of color. When the Whitney put on a show featuring exclusively male artists, the Guerrilla Girls created a fake press release on Whitney stationary, exclaiming how proud the institution was to be presenting the first exhibition in New York City including 50% female artists. I could not believe I had never heard of this group of activists. I also could not believe I had never heard the tragedy of Ana Mendieta, a Cuban feminist artist who fell to her death from the window of her 34th floor apartment in 1985. It was widely believed that her husband, famous MALE contemporary artist Carl Andre, was responsible for her murder. As !Women Art Revolution points out, Andre’s contemporaries refused to speak against him. He was eventually acquitted, leading to a series of protests in Mendieta’s honor, in which posters of Mendieta’s face and the words, “Where is Ana? Ask Carl!” were scattered all over Andre’s work at the Guggenheim. 

Of course, I have to recognize that I have not taken a course in contemporary art yet, and it is possible that these artists are textbook requirements today. All of my contemporary art knowledge has come from my personal exploration in books, articles, and museum/gallery visits. However, there is something to be said for name recognition. So many male artists of the same era have penetrated the bubble of academic art history to the point where they are recognizable to the general public. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Sol Lewitt, Frank Stella… the male artists who were creatintat the same time as Ana Mendieta and Lynn Hershman are ENGRAINED in my mind. I know all of their names, so why don’t I know these women’s names?

This is why we still need feminism. The art world has definitely become more progressive. Lisa Yuskavage, Yayoi Kusama, and Marina Abramovic are three of my favorite artists. Marcia Tucker, who is interviewed in !Women Art Revolution, founded the New Museum to exhibit the work of living artists, including many incredible female artists. But the art world- the way art is exhibited and the way art history is taught- still has a long way to go. As !Women Art Revolution pointed out, omission is dangerous for the legacy of female artists. It directly leads to eradication. In one chilling segment of the film, an unseen interviewer asked passerby outside the Whitney, “Can you name three female artists?” Embarrassed people stutter and mumbl before finally offering, “Frieda Khalo?” as their only answer. The age-old practice of omitting female artists while they are alive has led to their eradication from collective memory. The feminist artists of the 60s and 70s fought for their work to be included in galleries and institutions. !Women Art Revolution reports that exhibitions of exclusively white-male artists remained popular in the United States through the 1990s. Leeson and her contemporaries describe stories in which gallery-owners repeatedly refused to represent them . One artist described an experience in which she was forced to get on her hands and knees to present her portfolio to a male gallery director, a humiliation surely no male artist was ever forced to endure. Another recounted a time when a buyer returned a painting to her when he found out she  was female, because he said the work had no market value. Today, circumstances are different. Women are not omitted from galleries and institutions. But we cannot forget the work of the feminist artists that we stand on today. We cannot allow these artists and their works to be omitted from history, or we risk their eradication entirely. 

And so, I urge you to find this film on the internet, and donate to !WAR here. 

The only way to prevent omission and eradication is by continuing to spread the work of female artists and information about their lives. Here are some links for further reading:

I hope that you check out these links and are also inspired to do more reading on your own.  After all, I have only scratched the surface with these artists. There are so SO many more to learn from.

If you happen to be in Amsterdam, Film Huis Cavia will be playing !Women Art Revolution again tonight at 8:30 PM! Tickets are 15 euro. 

Until next time! 

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤ 

 

 

What About Africa? (Witteveen Visual Art Centre- Amsterdam)

Hey everyone!

I’m excited to be discussing”What About Africa?” an exhibit at the Witteveen Visual Art Centre in the Jordaan district in Amsterdam. My friend and I stumbled upon it while gallery-hopping nearby. The gallery sits inconspicuously on a side street, its window pane devoid of decoration. Instead, a yellow sign positioned perpendicular to the building’s brick wall indicates that there is  a gallery within.

Once inside, it becomes very clear that there is nothing timid about “What About Africa?” The exhibit is a compilation of fourteen African artists’ work. The three artists I have explored in depth here, Thierry Ossou, Barthélémy Toguo, and Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo, come from different countries and are at different stages in their careers. Ossou is in Amsterdam on his artist’s residency while Toguo and Bondo have already established themselves as major figures in the contemporary art world.

If you would like to read more about the origins of this exhibit, and look at the online magazine, check out the Witteveen Visual Art’s website, here. 

* * *

The first artist who caught my eye was Thierry Ossou, a self-taught artist from Benin. Ossou first came to Amsterdam for an artist’s residency at the Rijksacademie. The selected works at the Witteveen Visual Art Centre are part of a series called “The Poetry of Our Time.” The series reflects on everyday life through the use of acrylic paint, glue, paper, and hot coals. Ossou prefers to work on paper rather than canvas. The way he layers paper and burns through it with hot coals creates a multi-dimensional relief. On his artist profile on the Rijksacademie website, he is quoted saying that “[paper] can be torn, pasted together with other pieces of paper, and thus grow almost indefinitely.”

This is a work entitled “Contemporary Psalm” (2015).

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Here is a detail of the same work.

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While looking at this painting, I was not entirely sure where to start. I did not immediately recognize any motifs besides the obvious and garish face in the top left. The shapes and lines were unrecognizable to me, but I could not stop staring at “Contemporary Psalm,” trying to make sense of it. And so, I took a step back and thought about what the word ‘psalm’ means. A psalm is a sacred song or poem, usually from the bible. It contains religious verses written by David and other key Christian figures. It follows, then, that a contemporary psalm would be an act of artistic, even religious expression, that reflects one’s devotion today. There would also be the possibility that such a name could be coined ironically, if the artist were cynical towards organized religion, or the state of contemporary society.

From looking at the face of the figure here, burnt with coals and twisted into an ugly expression of fear, I gathered that Ossou titled this work ironically. There is pinkish pigment gathered at the figure’s open mouth, giving the appearance of blood. The lines making up the figure’s neck are so narrow it makes it look as if he is choking, or that he is connected to his body by the tiniest, delicate strands of tissue. The spiral representing the figure’s body is turbulent and spinning out of control. It winds its way several times down the body and then charges up the side of the painting and across the top. The figure is tethered to this white zipper-like line. Perhaps Ossou means for this to represent the lack of individual autonomy in modern society, particularly for those against whom direct, cultural and structural violence have been particularly cruel. A tiny little figure in the viewer’s top left, constructed from bits of white paper, is also tethered to this chain. It suggests that the central figure is not the only one bound by society’s constraints.

On the viewer’s right there is a white conglomeration of paper and paste. Four sharp lines extend from it. Perhaps the figure is spiraling towards these dangerous spikes. I am not certain what these spikes represent, but their  shape alone- jagged and precise- adds to the violence of the scene. That alone is worth noting.

Psalm 91 reads: Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Ossou seems to be quoting a new and different text- that of present reality. Contemporary  Psalm might read: Whoever dwells in the world today is forever bound by a chain of limitations.

The narrative I have presented is one interpretation. It may or may not be Ossou’s intended interpretation, and I urge you to make connections between line, form, and color independently. How else could these motifs be related?

I believe a similar interpretation could be applied to another of Ossou’s paper masterpieces, “The Beautiful Dutch III” (2015).

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The fractured windmill suggests a breaking down of contemporary Dutch society… into what is up to conjecture. I would say that given the extreme Islamophobia rampant in the Netherlands, this splintering is racial. The arms of this figure appear caught in the windmill. Perhaps Ossou feels that Dutch culture is caught between the past and the present. After all, windmills are a highly recognizable Dutch motif. The garish spiral and burnt face of the figure, which I previously analyzed as representing a fraught social system, create a dichotomy with the windmill motif. How, Ossou seems to be asking, can the Dutch make sense of themselves when they are a nation of different layers? Immigrants make up an increasingly large population in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is one of the most international cities in Europe. These layers- cultural, temporal, and socioeconomic- manifest themselves in layered paper, representing the fractured state of a multi-faceted community.

But it is not entirely grim. After all, Ossou has been quoted saying, “Remember, without suffering there is no happiness.” Perhaps the spiral truly does need to unwind before the layers of Dutch society can fit together neatly, into a colorful, multi-cultural puzzle.

* * *

The second artist I’d like to discuss is Barthélémy Toguo, an artist from Cameroon. On his website, he writes that one of his goals is to engage more young people in art. His watercolor paintings are also influenced by daily life, but are considerably more light-hearted. Toguo enjoys the process of altering reality in unexpected and and blithe ways. Even when the subject of his work is serious in nature, his depiction is often whimsical. For Toguo, aesthetic interest is elevated to the same status as meaning.

Here is an interesting work, whose title I was sadly unable to find online. I decided to include it regardless, because it was one of my favorite works in the entire exhibition.

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Note the careful blending of watercolor hues in this detail.

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The strange cord that connects all of these faces through the mouth reminds me of the zipper chain in Ossou’s two works. Here, the chord looks bizarrely biological. What could Toguo be saying by linking these faceless heads in such a manner? Perhaps he is making racial commentary; that we are all of us connected despite our different appearances. Or maybe it is a commentary on the information age. We are always connected to one another through phones and tablets. It is as if an invisible cord stretches between us wherever we go, and we are never truly alone. If this is the case, then the use of the cord attached to people’s tongues is a very humorous one. It cheekily suggests that we have so little control of ourselves, it is as if we are all attached to one, big, human leash.

The screws sticking out of the human heads add to the scientific aura of this painting. They remind me of a closed system, a concept I learned about in high school science. A closed system is a system that is not affected by outside forces, and doesn’t exchange matter with its surroundings. If you ever had to make an ecosystem in a plastic bottle when you were thirteen, that was a closed system. Once the cap is screwed on, the matter inside grows, dies, and regrows without any help from outside forces. (Well, maybe the sun is needed. Unless the sun is part of the closed system..? The details are foggy here, but I’m an art history major, so cut me some slack). Anyway, these heads all seem to be part of one ecosystem. If a screw were unplugged from one of their scalps, perhaps some gooey green or red tissue would flood out. This mental image is both slightly disgusting and extremely funny, in my opinion. This makes sense, given Toguo’s self-proclaimed, light-hearted approach to art.

Bizarrely enough, in addition to being funny and gooey, this painting is aesthetically quite pleasing. The way the cranberry pigment flows into the green pigment is really beautiful. I like how the two mix to create a rich brown in certain areas, but also allow one another to create little tributaries of paint inside one another. Take a look at the detail above to appreciate what I mean.

I was also fascinated by this work from the same series:

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This work also features a closed system, but with strange bulbous bodies rather than fragmented heads. This serves to remove the human form from its pedestal of superiority, reducing it to a mere cog in a biological system. Perhaps Toguo is poking fun at the superiority complex humans have over other species by depicting them as helpless, infantile, and dependent beings. Or maybe it is simply a psychedelic and humorous image meant to make one stop and laugh. Either way, it made me stop and reevaluate how seriously I take myself. After all, we are all just people, and we are more closely related to chimps than we like to think!

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The third artist who stood out to be in this exhibit was Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo, a well-regarded artist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His central focus is on globalization, and the cultural encounters that have resulted from this. On his website he writes, “[Globalization] is an expression of resistance to homogenization, to the creation of a world of uniform people, but also a reaction to the confusion of aesthetic codes and cultural references.” Bondo’s work explores what cultural identity means in today’s increasingly multicultural society. He touches on social, political, and economic issues, as well as the violence in, and exploitation of, Africa.

Here we have a mixed-media work, “Untitled” (2015).

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Here is a detail of the same work.

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I was fascinated by Bondo’s use of fashion magazines as a medium. The cut-outs form the face and neck of this figure, while a winding line of cobalt blue distends from his scalp and down the left side of the canvas. Pigment is absent from the figure’s eyes. The use of magazines obscures the figure from demonstrating an obvious skin tone. However, the scraps of paper chosen are on the darker side, and form plum-colored lips. Given these facts and Bondo’s own identity as a man from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, I would guess that this work is a commentary on racial identity in contemporary society. Bondo seems to be questioning what, exactly, designates race. If one’s skin is covered with colorful magazines, can his or her race even be identified? Is race skin-deep, or is it a question of identity? What happens when you are descended from people who are many different colors (and shapes, and sizes, and ethnicities, etc)? This particular figure does not have eyes. Nor does he have a body, or even a top to his head. Is this magazine-skin a mask, then?

I do not think that Bondo is taking a side. Rather, he is asking a series of pointed questions about race, and asking viewers to actually think about HOW we classify race. Furthermore, the use of fashion magazines is painfully ironic, because they have historically depicted many more white models than models of any other ethnicity. And here, in this untitled work, magazines featuring white women have been used to construct a racially-ambiguous mask. Bondo’s work forces the viewer to rethink how he, and the world, understand race.

Lastly, I cannot really end this analysis without making note of the blue squiggly line. Is it a string attached to the mask, meant to tie around the wearer’s neck? It contrasts strongly against the black background and draws the viewer’s eye around the canvas. If you have any ideas about what this could represent, please let me know. I am interested in hearing some interpretations.

* * *

To conclude, I would like to bring up something that was bothering me as I wrote this post. Do I, as a white female, have the agency to write about an exhibit of African artists? Ultimately, I decided that it is important to share the work of all artists, especially since artists of color are underrepresented in the art world. I have never written a disclaimer like this, despite having written about the exhibits of trans and non-white artists. But it seemed especially important in this exhibit, because there were no wall plaques explaining each work. I relied on my visual analysis skills to draw conclusions. I also consulted each artist’s personal page, and I urge you to do the same.

I stress: take the time to research these artists. Look at their websites, which I have linked to throughout this post, and read their personal statements.

As much as I enjoy drawing conclusions from my own observations, I recognize that my position as a white female may make it more difficult or even impossible for me to make certain connections. This goes for cis privilege and male privilege as well. And that is why it is important, when dealing with the art (or literature! or poetry!) of trans/female/non-white artists, to do some extra research.

All of that being said, I really enjoyed “What About Africa?” The artwork was stunning and cohesive. Analyzing these works was an exciting challenge, and reading their personal statements later online was interesting as well. I cannot wait to see what Thierry Ossou, Barthélémy Toguo, and Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo do next.

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤