King Woman (Pen & Brush- NYC)

Hi there,

Last Thursday I attended the opening exhibition party for “King Woman” at Pen & Brush. This exhibition, featuring 25 emerging and existing female-identifying artists, spanned the two floors of the gallery on East 22nd Street. After taking in the paintings, photographs, and sculptures on the ground floor, I descended the industrial staircase to a lower level filled with more artwork (and a bustling bar serving both mimosas and chocolate chip sea salt cookies). It was incredible to see so many people at the opening- easily 300 or more. I have attended openings with significantly fewer visitors, perhaps due to the ease in which people may purchase art online. It is a testament to Pen & Brush’s importance as an institution that there were hundreds of people there to support, discuss, and buy the works of art.

Pen & Brush was founded in 1894 by an incredible painter named Janet C. Lewis who was frustrated by the exclusivity of the male-dominated literary and artistic scenes in New York City. For the past 123 years, Pen & Brush has served as both an incubator and and a platform for emerging and existing female talent.

It is only natural, then, that “King Woman” was curated by Mashona Tifrere. In 2016, Tifrere founded ArtLeadHER, an organization that mentors female artists. In the exhibition catalogue Tifrere writes, “[These artists show] that women can be more than Goddess or Queen: that they are capable of being the pinnacle of power and strength. That they are capable of being King.” She goes on to explain that the featured artists celebrate their gender, but are not confined by it. This point hits home for many women- haven’t we all been told at some point that we were pretty smart… for a girl? The artists in “King Woman” are talented, smart, creative, emotional, and powerful women. They celebrate their womanhood. Simultaneously, they are kings, and their gender is just one aspect of their rule.

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I got the chance to speak more about this dual identity with Stephanie Hirsch. When asked about the tendency of female artists to become “pigeon-holed into a feminist camp” Hirsch explained how she was able to celebrate her womanhood without being labeled. “I think the stereotype of a feminist is inherently changing,” she wrote, “but I still think it has some pretty harsh connotations. I do not need to be harsh to get my message across. I use beautiful imagery and strong words as a juxtaposition. A woman can be beautiful and stand tall and proud in her peaceful power.” Hirsch’s work is not an expression of feminist discourse but a celebration of all aspects of femininity. It also delves into a variety of other themes, such as self-growth and spiritual exploration.

Indestructible (2016) epitomizes Hirsch’s perspective.

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With Indestructible, Hirsch has constructed a beaded garden wonderland. Leaves and flowers decorate the surface of the canvas, sprouting vibrant petals of red, purple, blue, and yellow. They sparkle in the light as one’s eyes travel the canvas,  making the experience of consuming Indestructible dynamic and ever-changing. The artist also includes the figure of a snake and that of a skull (the latter in the center bottom portion of the canvas). As Hirsch notes in the exhibition catalogue, gardens often symbolize personal growth. The combination of symbols indicating both life and death highlights this metaphor. As one develops physically, intellectually and emotionally, his spirit blossoms like a flower. However, there is temptation all around, shown here in the guise of a snake, a symbol established in Genesis. In the first book of the Bible, the snake tempts Eve to eat a forbidden apple which leads to man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The snake is now synonymous with treachery and temptation. Secondly, the small beaded skull symbolizes the inevitability of death. Though the snake and the skull serve as contemporary memento mori (reminders of death), the overall message of Indestructible is not to live in fear of mortality. If anything, Indestructible reminds the viewer of the inevitability of the circle of life. Yes, life bears death, but death will surely give way for more life.

The presence of the superimposed title over the garden imagery underlines this concept. Flowers, snakes, and skulls are all ephemeral objects, but something here is indestructible. Hirsch writes that gardens within our souls experience a rotation of light and darkness. She emphasizes the fact that it is impossible for life to ever stay the same– one must come to terms with this and accept life for what it is. Perhaps the soul, then, is what is indestructible. The very existence of the garden- though its appearance may change- is everlasting.

And so, Indestructible reflects themes of self-growth and the life cycle. It references the female experience through the allusion to Adam & Eve, and perhaps the femininity of a garden scene, but its purpose is greater. The use of beads as a medium allow for the multiplicity of associations Indestructible bears. “I use beading intentionally for its literal and figurative depth,” wrote Hirsch, “and [for its] illumination to higher consciousness.”

 

You can read more about Stephanie Hirsch on her website, here.

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I also really enjoyed the artwork of Azi Amiri, who I had the good fortune of talking to at the opening. Amiri is an Iranian artist whose work explores the expression and perception of Muslim identity. She focuses especially on how Muslim women are dehumanized in society. Take a look at the work she exhibited at “King Woman,” I Am A Dreamer (2012).

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And here are several details of the work:

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For I Am A Dreamer, Amiri wrote to her friends in Iran and asked them to send her photographs of themselves wearing a hijab. She then removed the faces and bodies from the images, leaving behind colorful hijabs wrapped around invisible faces. Each hijab is positioned differently and made of different colorful fabrics. As Amiri explained to me, women express their individuality through their hijab. She also described the rebellious way with which many women in Iran position their hijab, so that some of their hair is visible. According to Amiri, “The way you wear a scarf is the statement you make in a way that shows on which side of the game you are standing. Depending on how tightly you wear the scarf or how much hair you are revealing, you may affirm how much you approve the force behind the mandatory hijab.” Thus, choosing to reveal a lot of hair is a statement against the mandatory nature of the hijab. The women in I Am A Dreamer exist along a “spectrum of believers and non-believers,” revealing varying amounts of their hair. In this way Amiri used the hijab to communicate  the diversity of Muslim women.

Amiri also asked her friends to send a sentence, beginning with “I,” about themselves. Some of Amiri’s responses were simple and light-hearted (I am slowly falling asleep at the keyboard zzzzzzzz.) Others were poignant reinforcements of identity (I am confident enough to follow my heart.) These sentences reflect genuine human thoughts that are not exclusive to Muslim women. By including these universal thoughts beside images of Muslim identity, Amiri informs the viewer of the humanity and diversity of Muslim women. It is an important service she undertakes, as Muslim women are often dehumanized and de-individualized.

The effect of the work is powerful. It does not feel like an attack on the viewer for having preconceived prejudices. The colors are soft, the images are arranged in a balanced grid, and the words are written in a genial typeface. But the calmness with which Amiri communicates is precisely what gets through to even the densest of viewers. She pulls us in with the grid’s hypnotic nature and then hits us with the realization of our prejudices. In this way Amiri adeptly handles both the political and physical material of her work in order to communicate with her viewers.

 

You can read more about Azi Amiri’s work on her website, here. You will notice that she works in a wide range of styles, which I found fascinating. She works in printmaking, painting, drawing, sculpture, video, and digital mediums. Says Amiri, “Mediums are different containers for your thoughts and ideas… Those times that I just want to touch and feel the softness, whiteness, and smooth surface of a paper, I am not going to use anything else.”

If you’d like to work with Amiri, check out her art-making workshops at the Met. On November 4th she will be leading a free printmaking workshop at the World Culture Festival. Check it out!

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When I descended the stairwell to the lower level I was instantly drawn to Lynn Spoor’s  Flower Path (2017). It was lit so beautifully the colors seemed to jump off the canvas. Take a look at this mesmerizing piece below:

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I looked at Flower Path before reading its title. The swaths of blue swept downwards with a palette knife reminded me of waterfalls and distorted reflections. I felt as if I were staring into the water beside a meadow, taking in the contents of the meadow through their reflections alone. Gone are the specificities of form. They are replaced by color, rippling through water with the aid of light.

When I spoke to Spoor, she was pleased to hear that Flower Path had conjured up such strong nature imagery. She then explained that she is from the Netherlands. Born in Beverwijk and residing now in IJmuiden, Spoor is surrounded by the colorful Dutch countryside. Her upbringing was marked by rainbow-colored tulips. On the surface, Flower Path is an abstract depiction of Dutch flora.

But there is much more at play here. Spoor has mixed acrylic paint with metallic silver and gold to create a dynamic surface texture. When hit with light, the metallic components of Flower Path glow, illuminating the entire painting. However, this is an effect which is felt rather than seen. I cannot pinpoint where exactly the patches of silver and gold have been added. They have been blended too well into the work as a whole. As a result, the glimmering canvas bears a mysterious quality. There is something at work here the viewer cannot understand which renders the work incandescent- perhaps it is divine.

The replacement of form with color is integral to the communication of Spoor’s emotional message. As it is written in the exhibition catalogue, “Reflecting [Spoor’s] energy and state of mind when painting, color will take precedence over shape, departing from the distraction of realism.” I sympathize with the notion that form can be distracting. Spoor’s colors are so rich in feeling; so liberated by the freedom with which they brush over the canvas. To contain them to rigid forms would rid them of their emotional volume.

Furthermore, the richness of Spoor’s colors and their freedom on the canvas reflect her desire to evoke positivity. “Today, it is a reflection of re-capturing and appreciating purity through [my] colors, brushstrokes and textures,” Spoor writes. “It is returning purity back into a world that has lost its way.” This idea is built off the underlying assumption that art can impact people’s feelings and actions. As a strong proponent for the ability of art to transform the viewer, I believe that Spoor’s vibrant canvases do have the capability to return positivity to a wayward society. It is impossible not to feel an overwhelming sense of light and happiness when gazing upon Flower Path. This is the sort of immense feeling needed to heal a broken world.

 

You can read more about Lynn Spoor on her website, here. You’re bound to come away from it feeling lighter and more at peace.

 

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I also took great interest in the paintings of Renee Phillips. I had a full conversation with the woman standing next to me about how tangible Phillips’ canvases are. They make you want to dive into them and roll around in rivers of pastel-colored paint. Take a look at Meditation XXXII (2017) and I’m sure you’ll experience the same urge:

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Here are two close-up images of Meditation XXXII, if you weren’t already enticed. Note the clarity of color and variety of texture and depth:

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Phillips was inspired to create the Meditations series during the pregnancy of her first child. I love the way Phillips described this experience in the exhibition catalogue, and I will quote it here:

“During pregnancy a profound internal shift was occurring. I found myself at the threshold of change; shedding old adolescent beliefs and habitual behavior. Raw emotion introduced clarity in thought and perspective; my once hard exterior was realized to be a facade, and a softness emerged that was grounded in true strength, authenticity, and love.”

I love this passage because it so clearly manifested itself in Phillip’s work. The nature of the enamel paint in Meditation XXXII is dynamic. It feels as if we have frozen time just as a wash of paint were being poured carefully over the canvas. It pools in places, following the laws of gravity and matter. The dynamism of the work reflects the spiritual and emotional growth Phillip’s underwent during a formative period. On the canvas, Phillips performs her own transformation. Furthermore, she performs the disruption of her old way of life. Layers of paint pile on top of one another, reflecting the build-up of experiences that have led to her present self.

I felt a very strong feminine energy exuding from Meditation XXXII. I started to see reconfigured female anatomy- was I imagining this? I questioned Phillips on the matter, and she told me that she uses her entire body to pour the enamel paint on her canvases. She referred to this movement as a sort of guiding “dance.” Thus, “the subconscious undercurrent of feminine energy in [that dance]” is what provided Meditation XXXII its intense feminist associations.

Additionally, Phillips ought to add “scientist” to her CV. When I asked about the extraordinary quality of her colors and textures, she revealed the scientific manner in which she studies paint before beginning her art-making dance. She spends hours taking notes on how paint dries depending on viscosity and temperature. Writes Phillips, “These studies help me further investigate time, gravy, and movement for each color so I know how to manipulate the paint on larger works.” She describes the experience as “peaceful and contemplative.”

The combination of dance, science, and painting in the creation of something beautiful exemplifies the power of the interdisciplinary. I am very passionate about incorporating art in the classroom, especially in conjunction with math and science. It was lovely to see a work incorporate a concept so near and dear to my heart.

 

You can read more about Renee Phillips on her website, here. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another work from the “Meditations” series. Meditation IX (2017) is too beautiful to leave out.

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In the 1970s, Jane Olin was living in California, where male photographers like Ansel Adams were gaining recognition for their vistas of the western American landscape. Olin and her fellow female photographers fought to be included in gallery shows due to their supposed inferiority. Rather than cave to the “limits and rules” imposed by male photographers as the status quo, Olin formed a salon to support her fellow female photographers. In this environment, they thrived, breaking boundaries of photography and slowly securing themselves a place in the Monterey Bay art scene.

Today, Olin’s work reflects her personal experience fighting for recognition. It is deeply personal, and I am so pleased I got to hear her story to supplement my viewing experience.

Greta: A Woman’s Journey of Self Discovery (2017) is composed of four silver gelatin prints. Take a look:

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There is a very tangible tension to Greta. I believe it is a product of the figures’ evocative gestures and their intentional blurring. Greta is photographed in four installments. One version of Greta imagines her standing in a box, holding a square object in one hand. Another shows her recoiling slightly from the camera. A third is a nude torso. The last shows Greta clasping her mouth and wrist. It is only natural to question the purpose of these poses. And yet, the slight blurring of each image prevents the viewer from making full contact with each photograph. We are left in a constant state of curiosity, desperate to make sense of the emotional content spilling out of each work. We want to know who Greta is and how she feels.

I asked Olin about the figures’ gestures and blurry surface quality. She responded that Greta is a demonstration of women’s marginalization. Women have been trying to overcome their subordination for thousands of years. We are in a state of constant movement, as we try to move forward, and perhaps fall short of our ambitions due to external conditions. The soft, out of focus quality of the photographs represents this constant motion. This metaphor is complicated by the fact that the viewer does not know if the figures are coming in or out of focus. Is Greta moving towards her hopes and dreams, or is she in the process of being stifled? Olin asks, “Is Greta holding her hand over her mouth or is she finally pulling her hand away?”

The images represent various moments along Greta’s journey to find her voice in a world that asks her to be silent. The figure of a nude, standing tall with her shoulders back and her breasts pushed unabashedly forward, is delightfully positive. Her definitive gaze, meeting that of the viewer, is determined. Meanwhile, her position in a box demonstrates her mobility, and her recoiling from the camera reveals her instinctive response to fear.

Olin discovered the soft, out of focus quality that is central to Greta purely by accident. She neglected to refocus her enlarger in the dark room and her prints came out slightly blurry. “It felt mysterious to me,” said Olin, “I felt a visceral acknowledgment that this was how I wanted to print this body of work. I went back and reprinted the images that I had already printed in this way.  This printing method underscored how I feel about the process of empowerment and self-realization.”

 

This August, “Salon Jane” will exhibit the work of its six members at the Monterey Museum of Art. I am hoping to be there and see more of Olin’s evocative photographs. In the meantime, I will have to appease myself with her website, which you can explore here.

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Lastly, I want to take some time to discuss Kharis Kennedy’s deeply moving Glove Scarf by Dolce & Gabbana (2017). Take a look:

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My eye goes first to the white gloves entangled around the figure’s face. Due to the red and brown markings on her neck, I assumed that the gloves were strangling her. When I asked Kennedy about this, she responded ambiguously. “I am interested in the physicality and energy inherent in not only our bodies,” she wrote, “but also in objects. I wanted it to be unclear whether her neck, a place of physical vulnerability, is being actively injured, or if her covering of [her injury] is incidental.” I love this response. It pinpoints what is so uncanny about this painting. The neck is an instinctively vulnerable body part- did you just touch your neck protectively? I did. Kennedy pairs this association with a seemingly innocent object- a pair of gloves. Suddenly, the gloves take on this monstrous image. Are there invisible hands inside, strangling her? Who on earth would strangle someone with gloves? Who would strangle her in the first place? The mind is a whirlwind of associations and anxiety regarding the personification of a pair of gloves.

My next thought when looking at Glove Scarf by Dolce & Gabbana was to consider the title of the piece. What could the name-dropping of this designer have to do with our protagonist? (Notice how I said “our.” In about .3 seconds I established a connection with this figure.) Kennedy’s art often explores “how clothing/fashion can be used as both a signifier of class and as a public expression of one’s inner world.” It is typical of Kennedy to satirize how fashion is used to construct both group and individual identities. With this in mind, the gloves bear additional associations. Perhaps Kennedy is suggesting that our protagonist is a victim of the stylistic trends that dictate her race, gender, and/or class? On the other hand, the nonchalant draping of these gloves around her neck, and their transformation into a scarf, could represent the proudness with which she has constructed her own individual identity. Her wide-legged seated position and upturned chin suggest this approach. Her stance is not unlike the many men who frequent the subway with each leg sprawled to the side. (Do they lack spatial awareness or just social awareness? Jury is still out). Our protagonist sits this way intentionally, to claim her own power. Both are appropriate readings, though I prefer the second. In an exhibition entitled “King Woman,” I think it’s most appropriate.

When I asked Kennedy about the possible reference, she responded that the connection was not intentional. However, her exploration of the female gaze situates Glove Scarf in the same vein as these past works. There remains a key difference that identifies Kennedy’s work as the most contemporary- her agency. Olympia’s agency in Manet’s titular painting is often debated. While her razor-sharp gaze zeroes in on the viewer, her obvious occupation as a courtesan suggests only an illusion of self-sufficiency. Kennedy’s protagonist is also in a state of undress for ambiguous reasons. However, as Kennedy writes, “What is known is that she accepts her vulnerable state and through acceptance remains empowered.”

I was also struck by the presence of the black cat. It reminded me of the many manifestations of the female nude shown with an animal. Note this trend in Titian’s Venus of Urbino and Manet’s Olympia.

I feel this truth in her petulant upturned chin, her refusal to make direct eye contact, and her wide-legged stance. Her independence manifests itself in black stiletto heels and red underwear- markers of both seduction and power. The black cat- her spirit animal, as Kennedy says, looks out at the viewer. We haven’t been given the chance to turn away before the black cat crosses our path; She is in control.

You can read more about Kharis Kennedy on her website, here

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I hope you enjoyed this analysis of several key works in “King Woman.” It has been wonderful delving into the works of these six artists. Their artwork touched me and the way they discussed their artwork compelled me to share their artwork with you. If you’ve been as moved by this series as I have been, please follow up on the artists exhibited in King Woman. The following are the remaining (incredible) artists, whose work contributed to the triumph that is King Woman.

Ingrid BaarsHunter Clarke, Donna FestaCarole FeuermanLola FlashKit Kang, Meredith MarsoneLacey McKinneyYvonne MichielsReisha PerlmutterTrixie PittsA.V. RockwellVictoria SelbachSwoonTaïraRoos van der Vliet, Elizabeth Waggelt, and Lynnie Z. 

Thanks to all of the artists who shared their art and their words with me. Thank-you also to Dawn Delikat, Lani Doktori, and Janice Sands at Pen & Brush for sharing the story of Pen & Brush with me.

Until next time!

xoxo,

Chloe ❤

CHloe

 

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Modern Art in Berlin Pt. 2 (Berlinische Galerie- Berlin, Germany)

Hi everyone! I hope you enjoyed my previous post about modern German art at the Berlinische Galerie. As explained in my previous post, there is simply too much to say about this collection/topic to do it in one post. And so, I am analyzing key works from the collection in four increments. You can read Part 1 here.

Part 1 discussed the Berlin Secession and the Pre-War years. Today I am going to discuss a little-known work painted during World War I: Stürzender Engel, by Benno Berneis (1914). There is so little information about Berneis, we will have to use only our eyes and knowledge of historical context to make sense of this eerie painting.

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At the outbreak of war in 1914, the artist Benno Berneis painted Stürzender Engel (Falling Angel).

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For such an extraordinary painting, very little is known about its painter. Benno Berneis (1883-1916) was a German Jewish painter who served as a pilot in the First World War. He died in service in 1916. According to journalist Von Nicola Kuhn, from the German newspaper Tagesspiegel, Berneis’ work was exhibited with that of Lieberman and Matisse before the War. He was poised to follow in the footsteps of his fellow German Expressionists. Unfortunately, his death cut short what was sure to be an incredible career. Now we are left with a smaller collection, albeit a beautiful one. You can look at his other works on his website, which is run by his grandson, Michael Berneis. I have been struggling to find much academic information on the artist (in German OR English). Please let me know if you come across anything!

And so, in lieu of any academic information, we shall have to use our eyes and knowledge of historical context to sort through Stürzender Engel. Take another look at this beautiful painting:

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What stands out to you? The loveliness of the pastel color palette? The illusion of roundness on the canvas surface? The obfuscation of the figure’s face? The curious nature of the figure itself? How about the tree bending sideways- does your mind attempt to find the source of wind contorting its thin branches?

My mind tries first and foremost to make sense of the space. It is (relatively) clear to me that the tree stands on some sort of green hilltop. The curving nature of the earth next to the tree resembles rolling hills. Additionally, the green pigment coloring the hill becomes less saturated as it approaches the bottom of the canvas. Pinks and browns are introduced, and are blended with larger, swirling brushstrokes. Not sure what I mean? Here’s a detailed look at this part of the canvas:

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Note how the inch above the canvas is a wash of different colors, blended into an ambiguous mist. It is only as the eye rises up the canvas a couple inches that the brushstrokes fall into place and one can make out the appearance of a grassy mound. What results from Berneis’ manipulation of color and texture is the sensation of mist rising, clouding one’s view and understanding of the hilltop’s appearance. My extremely limited experience hiking has taught me that there is quite a lot of mist and fog at higher elevations. Atop the highest mountain in Arcadia National Park, I could see only a few feet in front of me due tot he immense amounts of fog. And so, decreased color saturation and the decreasing specificity of brushstrokes lead me to believe that this painting is situated at a very high altitude… and the drop-off from here is incredibly steep.

What sorts of things do you associate with being at a very high altitude? I think of Heaven, spirituality, isolation, pilgrimages, extreme weather, Mt. Everest and all the people who have died trying to climb it, Cloud Forest in Ecuador and my sister’s incredible experience there, and getting altitude sickness at Yellowstone National Park when I was 15. What all these associations have in common is a sense of otherness of which we are in awe. We look to the highest points on earth with a sense of amazement– for the people and creatures who inhabit them, and for their unique (and often dangerous) climates. For some, the way of life atop Earth’s highest points is so foreign that it accumulates otherworldly associations. Mountains in the sky become religious symbols. It is this angle that Benno Bernis took in painting Stürzender Engel (Falling Angel). The title immediately indicates a religious, or at least supernatural, perspective.

Because of our location atop a misty hilltop, close to the heavens, we are poised to watch the angel’s fall from grace right at the moment of its happening. Take a closer look at her exit from the clouds:

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The angel’s body is still touching the voluminous clouds from which she falls. What are we to make of her descent? Firstly, she is nude. Perhaps her stark nudity symbolizes the loss of her wings; without them, she is naked. She covers her head and face, as if in shame. Berneis has actually emphasized the hiding of her face by blurring the outlines of her forearms and her head until what remains is a mass of pink and yellow over the remnants of dark brown. I have to wonder if this signifies Berneis’ chastising of the angels’ actions, or the angel’s own anguish at her fall from grace.

I think it also bears noting that this angel’s fall is more of a graceful descent. She is not plummeting out of the empty sky. In fact, the cloud from which she is released bears likeness to a human hand. Its three-dimensionality, achieved through careful shading and use of light, provide the form a firmness not characteristic of vaporous clouds. It feels thick and soft to the viewer’s eye, like a human hand. If we take this to be true, whose hand is it? The hand of God? The hand of Fate? It is a kind hand, who carefully releases the angel, newly wingless, into the world.

It follow, then, to ask what the angel has done to merit her expulsion from Heaven. Here is where context plays an important role in visual analysis. Given the context of the years preceding WWI which I detailed in my previous post, and the fact that WWI erupted in 1914, it is impossible to separate this painting from the world in which it was born.

Angels are beings believed to be messengers of God. They are women of extraordinary virtue and moral conduct. For one to be expelled from Heaven, she would need to act in an immoral manner. In 1914, what would qualify as such? Perhaps the angel represents Berneis’ homeland, Germany, and her fall from grace, Germany’s descent into violence. Or perhaps the angel is Europe, in which case Berneis’ criticism of violence would incriminate all of the countries involved in the conflict.

I also wonder if Stürzender Engel (Falling Angel) could be making commentary on the effect of war on spirituality. If angels are God’s messengers, could it be that an angel’s fall represents the death of God’s ties with the human race? Had people finally reached a violence so evil that He no longer wished to communicate with them through His messengers? If this is the case, it would explain the delicate way in which the Hand releases the angel. Her fall is not a plummet; the effect of being thrown in disgust from Heaven. Her fall is a gentle, reluctant push, enacted by a remorseful hand. It seems that Benno Berneis wondered if mankind had reached a low so low that God no longer wished to have contact with people. And so, the angels were dismissed.

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I hope you enjoyed this analysis. It was exciting to dive headfirst into a work of art with no literature to bounce my ideas off of. This is a wonderful example of using visual analysis and historical context to understand a work of art. That is how accessible art is! All you need are your eyes. (And if you paid attention during history class, that is a tremendous plus…)

Until next time!

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Pipliotti Rist: Pixel Forest (The New Museum- NYC)

Hi everyone! 

If you’ve been on social media recently, you’ve likely seen a picture from the Pipliotti Rist retrospective at the New Museum. This exhibition has garnered tremendous attention- in part because of how incredible the exhibit is, and also due to its nature as a major spectacle. Like Yayoi Kusama’s “Give Me Love” and Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety, “Pipliotti Rist: Pixel Forest” attracts the instagrammers and the travelers, all eager to document their artistic adventures. Though these exhibits differ in subject matter and medium, they share an infectious aspect of spectacle. Visitors were eager to snap a picture of themselves covered in colorful polka-dots in the “Give Me Love” exhibition space. Just take a look at my icon on your left! Visitors of A Subtlety were just as taken with the spectacle of the massive Sugar Sphinx. The photo-snapping of white visitors angered many, creating a controversy about the role of the viewer that you can read about here. Evidently, the rapid proliferation of ‘spectacle art,’ as I’ll call it, has led many to question the usefulness of these exhibitions. Are these shows ‘selling out?’ in an attempt to attract viewers? Or are viewers polluting exhibits with their smartphones, diminishing the quality of the museum/gallery experience for other viewers?

The reason I bring up this controversy in a review of Rist’s retrospective is that Pixel Forest confronts this controversy head-on. Not only is Pixel Forest a spectacle; it is a commentary on spectacle. Rist achieves this dual effect through a variety of means including size, use of unconventional art-making materials, and visitor participation. In this post, I will talk about how Rist uses these tools to create a spectacle for the viewer and to simultaneously ask the viewer to contemplate the usefulness of spectacle.

Additionally, I’ll talk about some of the other themes featured in Rist’s work through the years, such as voyeurship of the human body, the relationship between the human body and nature, and the deconstruction of femininity. 

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The exhibition begins on the second floor. I took the stairs rather than the elevator, so the first work I encountered was Pickelmporno (Pimple Porno), (1992). Pickelporno is a video installation projected onto the wall in one of the side niches of the second floor. Take a look at a few of the snapshots I took of this rapidly moving video piece:

You can also watch the 10 minute video here. 

It has been shot- or cut in post-production- into an irregular parallelogram, which immediately creates a sense of unbalance for the viewer. It is difficult to get our footing in relation to Pickelporno. If we want to look at the video head-on, must we turn our heads to the right to make our eyes parallel to the slanting bottom line? Rist invites us to manipulate the position of our bodies in order to consume her work. This is an example of audience participation being used to engage viewers in a work and create spectacle.

The content of Pickelporno is fascinating. The camera skims the surface of the human body, taking in the tiniest details of human skin and hair with a sharply focused lens. We see the thinnest of lines and grooves in the palm and foot of an unnamed person. Hands tug at short black hair and we follow this movement, gazing at a mass of oily strands from root to tip. The close contact with this person initiated by the camera turns the viewer- no matter how innocent he may feel!- into a voyeur. By watching Pickelporno, the viewer inhabits the space of the lens, wandering over a body and consuming every detail. Now, depending on the personality of the viewer, this could make a person feel a number of different ways. Embarrassed perhaps, or maybe guilty. Another could feel amazed by the the intricacies of the human form, or even titillated by it.

The transitive process of the viewer stepping into the role of camera man is fascinating in and of itself, but Rist doesn’t stop there. She juxtaposes these shots of hair and skin with images of leaves, oranges, sunflowers, lava, jellyfish and the moon. These motifs are examples of entities found in nature (and outer space). The presence of these objects next to the human being consumed suggests a similarity between the human form and the natural world. Seen from up close, the skin of an orange is not so different from the skin of  a person. Thus, Pickelporno achieves a commentary on both voyeurship and the place of the human within the greater earth.

* * *

In the center of the second floor are two screens at a right angle from one another. Projected on these screens are two videos that play one after the other: Sip My Ocean (1996) and Ever is Over All (1997). Below are two screen grabs of Sip My Ocean.

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You can also watch the entire 5 minute video here. 

Sip My Ocean features similar imagery to that of Pickelporno. The camera hovers over the human form, often zooming in on parts of the body, as shown in the image of pursed lips. These images are also juxtaposed with views of nature, namely, pixelated underwater views. The luscious underwater world is a playground of colorful shapes that bend and morph into otherworldly forms. Early video technology allowed Rist to manipulate the underwater footage, creating a sublime wonderland of bright colors and pixelated shapes that are in constant flux. This spectacular, real-yet-not-real setting is the space within which a bikini-clad woman swims. She is the focus of Sip My Ocean, even though stretches of time pass in which she is absent from the screen. She appears now and then between the waves. We are shown tantalizing views of her from all angles. The camera slides up her body slowly at times, focusing on her bouncing breasts. She is caressed by the camera, by the waves, and by us. All the while a haunting recording plays. She sings, “I never dreamed that I’d love someone like you/No I don’t want to fall in love.” This repeats for about 3 minutes, when she begins to scream over the song. She shrieks these words while the underwater landscape continues to grow and dissolve, glimmers of her body flashing across the screen and twisting upside down before disappearing altogether. It is as if she is drowning. Or perhaps the camera has taken ahold of her and is yanking her through the dimensions of this underwater world.

What is the message of Sip My Ocean? My major takeaway was that the protagonist- who is Rist herself- has little control for much of the video. The camera- and transitively, us- are voyeurs of her sublime body within a sublime world. Yet she struggles to gain control and assert herself, at the expense of the beauty around her. The more she shrieks, the more she disrupts the eerie landscape beneath her. It warps more and more quickly, fragments of waves and unnatural amoebas disintigrating as the voice rises in pitch. To me, Sip My Ocean is a representation of female struggle and female power, and a confrontation of the aestheticism linked to femininity. What happens when women fight this association- and refuse to fall in love? It dissolves around them into pixels of dust.

* * *

Here is a sequence of four screen grabs from Ever is Over All (1997).

You can also watch the whole 2-3 minute video here.

In Ever is Over All, two sets of footage play on either side of the screen. On the viewer’s left, the female protagonist wears a blue sundress and red heels. Her hair is done in a neat up-do. She grins and saunters down the street carrying a long green object with a yellow and red oval top. As she walks, she swings the object back and forth in her hands until she reaches a car window. Then she smashes the object into the window, shattering the glass. She continues down the street, still grinning wildly. At one point a female officer passes her and salutes her. 

Meanwhile, on the viewer’s right, the camera zooms up and down the stalks of flowers in a meadow. These flowers have long green stems with textured yellow and red petals. They mirror the shape and colors of the object the protagonist uses as a weapon. The flower footage adopts the meandering ‘gaze’ that characterizes the camerawork in both Sip My Ocean and Pickelporno. We are made to feel like we are consuming the flowers as we trace our eyes slowly up and down them, moving closer towards them and flipping upside down to devour them from every angle. 

Flowers have an association with femininity, which the protagonist enhances with her sundress, heeled shoes and fancy hairdo. It is uncomfortable to see this beautiful woman wreck havoc on the street while wearing such a traditionally feminine outfit, surrounded by feminine symbols. Rist wants us to feel uncomfortable. In doing so, we are forced to ask ourselves what specifically is making us feel this way. A feminine-looking woman acting in an un-feminine way is initially startling and makes us confused- why is she acting this way? Rist responds, “Why would she not? Who says she has to act one way or another?” 

I assume, then, that Ever is Over All is meant to challenge traditionally ideas of feminine behavior, and the usefulness of the notion of femininity at all. Furthermore, the protagonist uses a weapon that is colored and shaped like a flower, but has the solidity and power to destroy a car (a typically masculine object). It follows that Ever is Over All is also a testament to female strength. Her strength is doubted because of her femininity- after all, the symbol attributed to her is the flower. And yet it is precisely a flower secretly made of metal that triumphs over the traditional symbol of maleness, the car.

The presence of the female officer saluting her introduces a female figure in a traditionally male role, further unraveling the viewer’s preconceived notions of femininity. 

* * *

To the right of the screens projecting Sip My Ocean and Ever is Over All is a series of white sheets hanging from the ceiling. Projected on them is another video. This installation piece is entitled Administrating Eternity (2011). Here is a photograph of one of these projections: 

 

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If one were to pass in front of this projection, the pink and yellow sheep would become projected onto his or her skin. Thus, in walking through Administrating Emily, the viewer becomes part of the work.  Administrating Emily’s space depends on the viewers’ movements. Our bodies are additional screens, and our movements are perpetually constructing the work in new directions and manners. A man briskly walking between the sheets jostles them, making the images shake while 20 different colors illuminate his skin in quick succession. A woman standing  still before a sheet becomes a three-dimensional screen, her silhouette grey against the sheet, but the projection bright upon her back. The amorphous space of Administrating Emily is in constant flux because of variation in human behavior.

The importance of audience participation in Administrating Emily is part of what makes it such a fascinating spectacle. People enjoy the fact that their presence influences a work of art. The importance of human behavior in determining the space of the work points to the importance of the individual in the collective experience, and the relationship between man and the world. 

* * *

The third floor is perhaps the most photographed (certainly the most instagrammed) of the exhibition. When one enters the space, this is what he sees:

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It is the titular work of the exhibition, “Pipliotti Rist: Pixel Forest” (2016). Here are several other pictures.

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As you can see, Pixel Forest is always changing colors. It is composed of 3000 lights, each of which is one LED pixel that has been immersed in a polyurethane sculpture. As the viewer walks around, he is surrounded by whatever color the pixels are radiating at that moment. For a few seconds, the entire room is bathed in pink. Then the pink intensifies and turns red. Red gives way to a sensual purple, a bright blue, a vivid green. The colors of the pixels change in conjunction with the video being projected onto a screen behind the forest. I understood Pixel Forest as behaving in conjunction with these videos.  

Worry Will Vanish (2014) and “Mercy Garden” (2014) alternate on the screen. You can watch an excerpt of Worry Will Vanish here. You can watch an excerpt of Mercy Garden here. Below are a series of stills from both videos: 

The two videos continue Rist’s theme of combining close up, voyeuristic images of the human body with high-res nature footage. Digital technology has removed the pixelated quality so present in Pickelporno and perfected the fluid overlay techniques begun in Sip My Ocean. In one beautiful moment, the silhouette of a tree sprouts from the neck of a man. In another, a vivid red canyon can be seen from between the petals of green leaves. 

Large pillows are provided for viewers to sit down and gaze up at the colorful footage on the walls. When I sat down, it felt as if I had just journeyed through a forest and had landed in a small clearing. In this way the entire space on the third floor mirrors a series of spaces in the natural world, and the process of moving through them. 

Without a doubt, Pixel Forest constitutes a spectacle. It fulfills the basic criteria I outlined before: size, audience participation, and the use of unconventional art-making materials. The forest is vast- it takes up one third to one half of the entire third floor, stretching from floor to ceiling. Viewers are welcomed into the space and encouraged to participate by weaving their way through the strands of light, and making their way to the clearing to sit down. The use of LED lights in an artwork is unusual for the average museum-goer who may not study contemporary art. Even if he has seen art that incorporates light, he likely has not seen it at such a great scale. The result of all this spectacle is a sensation of awe. When I walked I walked through Pixel Forest, I wondered if this was how pilgrims felt when they walked into gothic cathedrals reflecting multicolored light through stained glass windows. There is something heavenly about a space flooded with light. It evokes sacredness, the supernatural, and the celestial realm. While not a religious work, the spectacular nature of Pixel Forest filled me with an overwhelming sense of the sublime. And so, Rist’s spectacle serves more purpose than to simply shock. 

“Is spectacle useful?” the cynic may ask. Rist’s response speaks volumes: a spectacle that can aid the viewer in transcending this world. 

* * *

On the fourth floor, Rist instructs the viewer to lie down on a series of beds and look up at a video installation distending from the ceiling. Fourth Floor to Mildness (2016) is projected on two large screens. You can watch a short clip here. As you can see, the work continues Rist’s exploration of nature from different angles and perspectives. Below are several stills from the space, demonstrating the space between the beds and the screens as well as the shape of the screens. 

Fourth Floor to Mildness is a site-specific installation created for this exhibition. And so, it took the architecture of the New Museum into consideration. The two large screens fill the ceiling space in the center section of the fourth floor. The result is a sense of organic unity; it does not feel as if anything else could fit in the space, or that anything should be removed. 

The presence of the screens on the ceiling reverses the way in which we usually consume images. On the second and third floors we were asked to consume videos on the walls. There were also several videos projected onto the floor and through other unconventional means. The shift of the screen to the ceiling signals the final metamorphosis of image consumption. We are lying down, finally at complete and total rest. 

Additionally, Rist confronts the dichotomy between individual and collective consumption through the inclusion of large beds. This forces strangers to lie down together, breaking down social barriers about the normative ways in which we consume images. The smart phone is individual. The movie theatre is collective, though we sit in individual seats. Fourth Floor to Mildness is collective. If you want to consume, you must first take off your shoes- another socially inappropriate behavior- and lie down next to total strangers. 

The fourth floor is meant to be a culmination of the spectacle as a whole. It is vast, incorporates the audience in its representation and meaning, and questions social norms in a way that excites the viewer. I personally prefer Pixel Forest and its relationship to Worry Will Vanish and Mercy Garden in terms of spectacle and the usefulness of spectacle, but it is important to comprehend the exhibition as a whole. As the viewer makes his way through the different floors, he is asked to alter his body in relation to each work until he is lying flat on his back. I thought this was a fascinating curatorial choice, and was the most memorable part of Fourth Floor to Mildness for me. 

* * *

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the different works in “Pipliotti Rist: Pixel Forest.” I have often thought about the construction and usefulness of spectacle, and was happy to encounter an exhibit that I believe facilitates the understanding of both. I also hope that you come away from this post thinking about Rist’s main themes: voyeurship of the human body, the relationship between the human body and nature, and the deconstruction of femininity. These are topics that are relevant in our own lives, and issues that we can tackle both with and without art (though I prefer the former method).

One last thing I wanted to discuss is the abundance of documentation that I noticed in this exhibit. I went with a good friend and I believe we spent a good 20 minutes complaining about the people standing in Pixel Forest taking pictures of themselves. The sheer volume of people standing and snapping pictures made it extremely difficult for us to take a step in any direction. While I did manage to feel a sense of transcendence, it was not before jostling my way to the edge of the room, where there were less people with selfie sticks. We eventually spoke to a tour guide about this, and suggested there be an hour a day when cameras aren’t allowed in the New Museum. He brought up something we hadn’t thought about: Pipliotti Rist could actually be happy with the proliferation of screens in her exhibit. The whole show presented images in different shapes, on new surfaces, at unconventional angles. Administrating Emily was constructed on the idea that new bodies would forever create new screens, giving the work an amorphous, ever-changing, shape. Perhaps the millions of selfies taken per day in Pixel Forest were an extension of the work itself. Maybe the work is as big as our entire earth- or as far as a selfie bathed in pink light can travel. What do you think?

In the meantime, I very hypocritically still ask that you limit the amount of pictures you take per room to 5 (gasp) or you might find an elbow in your side.

Until next time!

xoxo, Chloe ❤ 

 

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!

* * *

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 ❤