Post-Grad Updates

Hi everyone!

It’s been a while since I last posted, but I am happy to say that my hiatus from Canvas And Crumpets has come to an end. This year was a busy one academically and artistically (those two things go hand in hand for me…) I taught an art history course to freshman, wrote a senior thesis on Dutch Cobra art, played Roxie in the Tufts production of “Chicago,” and took both my math and science requirements in my senior spring. I ended up falling in love with my math course, an exploration of the math behind M. C. Escher’s symmetrical tessellations.

All my hard work paid off! I am happy to say that I won both the Art History Prize for my graduating class and the Madeline Caviness Prize for my senior honors thesis. Additionally, I won highest honors for my thesis and graduated summa cum laude. I celebrated these achievements with copious amounts of pizza from my favorite pizza place in Davis Square, Oath. (Try yours with ricotta…mmmmmm)

So what’s next for me? Next Friday I leave for a three week Euro Trip. First I’m visiting my family in Northern England. They live in a suburb between Manchester and Liverpool. During my stay, I hope to visit as many museums in both cities as possible, and also take a ride to the beach in Wales. Next, I’m flying to Amsterdam to see my abroad friends and travel around my favorite city with my best friend, Lara. It’s the 100th anniversary of De Stijl in the Netherlands, so I’m sure our trip will include some Mondrian! On my list for art spaces to see in Amsterdam are the Stedelijk (of course), the Rijksmuseum, the Witteveen Visual Art Center, and Foam. Lastly, Lara and I are traveling to Berlin for the first time! We hope to see as much art and history as physically possible. Luckily for us, the art fair Documenta is open in Kassel during our stay in Germany. Documenta only arrives every five years to this small German town. We plan to take a day trip or overnight trip to Kassel to experience this politically-charged exhibition.

When I get back from Europe, I plan to spend a good five weeks relaxing in New York City. I’ll likely hit up a July 4th Barbecue and see a bunch of Broadway Shows. You can expect lots of posts about my Euro Trip and the exhibitions I visited, as well as reviews of exhibitions here in NYC.

And after that? I’ll be starting GRE prep and German classes in August. During my gap year between undergrad and my art history masters, I need to learn as much German as humanly possible! Translating art history texts is an important part of the art history masters curriculum. So I’ll be in New York City for the next year, learning German and hitting up all my favorite museums, galleries, and brunch spots. Hit me up if you’d like to join me!

xoxo,

Chloe ❤

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Link to another article I wrote for the Tufts Daily!

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re all well and enjoying this rainy April! I personally love the rain, so this month has been pretty lovely for me.

As graduation approaches, I am contemplating what my role in the art world will be. How can I be a positive force for change in a discipline that is traditionally white, male, and euro-centric? I wrote a thought-piece for the Tufts Daily on this topic. Take a look here. Enjoy!

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. 

* * *

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 ❤ 

 

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design (The Jewish Museum- NYC)

Hi everyone! I hope you all had delicious Thanksgiving weekends. I ate a full plate of stuffing at 3 o’clock this morning so that’s where I’m currently at. But I’ve also had a really fun weekend of museum-hopping. It’s been a very busy semester (thesis! teaching a class! curating collective!) so I haven’t been able to go to many museums this fall. Having a couple days off gave me time to re-immerse myself in the art world. One of my favorite exhibits that I saw was the Pierre Chareau exhibit at the Jewish Museum.

Pierre Chareau was a prominent French interior and furniture designer in the years between the world wars. His elite and influential patrons commissioned him to design their homes because they were drawn to his innovative designs. He mixed high-end and low-end materials to create striking spaces. His approach to space was marked by an attention to openness; he was forever searching for ways in which material could, paradoxically, make a room feel lighter and wider.

Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design is fabulous not just for its fascinating subject. The curation of the exhibit embodies Chareau’s principles of design, and allows the viewer to experience interior design, rather than stare at it. Esther da Costa Meyer, professor of architectural history at Princeton University, worked closely with architects Diller Scofidio and Renfro to curate this exhibit. Chareau’s innovative designs set the bar high for curators to display his work, and this curatorial team rises to the occasion.

* * *

The first category that the exhibit encounters is furniture. Several different tableaus feature innovative pieces. This one in particular stood out to me. The table can be swung back underneath the semicircular shelf when it is not in use. I found this to be very efficient. However, the form here does more than follow function. The sleek blend of the bookshelf mirrors the slight curve to the bench, and the roundness of the table. Curving lines make the efficiency of this arrangement feel incidental- I noticed the rich wood and sleek design before I processed its innovativeness.

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White screens separate the tableaus from one another. Projected on these white screens are moving silhouettes of people living and working in Chareau’s spaces. They sit on his chairs and rise from them, hanging their coats on his coat racks and bending over his desks. Here are some stills from these projections:

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And here is a contextual view of my father admiring a tableau of furniture with the shadows of moving bodies projected on nearby screens. (Note the yellowish triangular formation on top of the stacking desk- that’s made from alabaster)

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What I really appreciate about these projections is that they allow the viewer to imagine the furniture in use. While paintings (after the medieval period) serve mainly as decoration, furniture exists to be used. Sometimes I have difficulty enjoying a furniture exhibit if the works are simply placed on a platform and admired. I want to get a sense of what it felt like for someone to sit in a chair- did it make them sit up straight? Did they recline? How did the upholstery feel under their arms? The artist takes all these sensations into consideration in his design, and if we don’t consider them, then how can we truly understand their art? Of course, we can’t sit down on Louis XIV’s bed, but we can sit on a  replica. We can watch the human body relax or stiffen in a digital recreation. Here, we watch shadows of real people interact with the furniture in front of us. It allows us to transitively absorb the sensations of interacting with this furniture, and experience it more fully.

* * *

The second section of the exhibit I’d like to examine is Chareau’s personal art collection. I think that looking at an artist’s inspirations can really inform one’s understanding of the artist’s work. After all, the images that I choose to surround myself with inevitably find their way into my thoughts, my art, and my writing. Chareau had quite the art collection- here are some standouts!

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Many of these works feature a strong emphasis on line. The Mondrian in the top left corner plays with color blocking and straight lines. The works beside it introduce bent and curving lines, and the relationship between the two. The work on the far right seems to be composed almost entirely of lines- all of differing widths and lengths.

I particularly like this work, Max Ernst’s The Interior of Sight (1922). It isn’t hard to imagine this uncanny still life inside one of Chareau’s interiors. Its self-conscious perspective is both a celebration and mockery of traditional means of representing space.

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I really enjoyed how the Jewish Museum embodied Chareau’s notion of expanding space through materiality. In the following picture, you can see how a glass display of Chareau’s collaborations with other artists and designers extends through two gallery rooms. The wall separating the two rooms abruptly ends about six inches above the display table. Look closely- you can see through to the other room, where a person in red and two people in black are looking at the display case from the other room. The cut-out in the wall creates a dynamic flow between the spaces, and creates a feeling of airiness.

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* * *

I’ll now turn to the section of Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design that is devoted to interior design. The first thing the viewer sees when he walks into this area is a large white cube within the gallery space. The cube has cut-outs a few inches below eye-level in which photographs of Chareau’s interiors are displayed.

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One circumnavigates the giant cube, following the trail of photographs. This was one of my favorites:

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The interior is the dining room of the Grand Hôtel de Tours in 1927. Notice how the ceiling is never flush with the walls. There are multiple platforms extending from the ceiling, connecting to pillars and making contact with each other. I enjoy how this treatment of wall and ceiling adds visual interest to the space without making it feel cramped. Perhaps the cut-out in the wall on the viewer’s right compensates for the thick pillar and busy ceiling design. 

After walking around the large cube, one walks through a slight opening on one of its sides into a virtual reality wonderland. There are four stools and four virtual reality glasses situated at the four cardinal points. When you sit down and puts on these glasses, you are immediately transported to one of Chareau’s interiors. Here I am immersed in one of these rooms.

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I explored every single one, tilting my head up to see the ceiling, and down to see the chair that I was sitting on. All around me, steel and wood mixed to create a visually arresting space. In one of my favorite interiors, a steel bookcase took up the entirety of a two-story wall. A diagonal steel ladder allowed its inhabitants to reach all of the shelves while perching precariously in mid-air. The ground floor was wooden, and featured innovative furniture like the table and bookshelf set examined in the first section. The incorporation of virtual reality into this exhibition allowed me to imagine myself moving through one of Chareau’s spaces, while the photographs showed me real snapshots of what these spaces looked like almost a hundred years ago. The exhibit works so well because it includes both forms of representation.

* * *

In the last room, there is a screen that moves forward and backwards, projecting a changing image. Maison de Verre (The Glass House), is the subject of this projection. The house was designed by Chareau in 1932 and built in Paris. It is wedged between other buildings and actually cannot be seen from the street. It is an architectural marvel. Made from glass, steel, and glass brick, Maison de Verre makes no effort to cover up its structural elements; they are an essential part of the decorative scheme. As the viewer watches the screen move, the projection drifts through the house, from the outside to the inside, following the steel beams as they protrude through different rooms and stretch down to different levels. Here are some stills of the projection in motion:

Every once in a while the screen and the projection pause. A section of the building is colored in red. Then, a separate projection shows up on the side of the room, showing a close-up view of someone interacting with that highlighted part of the building.

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The exhibit is constantly contextualizing itself, allowing the visitor to feel every single space that is introduced, either by becoming a body within the space, or watching another body move within it.

That was my main takeaway from Pierre Chareua: Modern Architecture and Design. I was utterly fascinated by Chareau’s shifting, open spaces, and his juxtaposition of steel, wood, and more precious materials. Yet the way the exhibit was designed truly took my breath away. I just finished reading “Eleven Museums, Eleven Museum Directors,” by Michael Shapiro, and one of the major themes discussed in the book is the role of the museum. Many of these American directors agree that their main concern is serving the public. How can they make the museum accessible to people? How does the museum fit within the fabric of the city? The Jewish Museum is constantly asking these questions, and coming up with new and exciting answers. Here, the curatorial team took a selection of photographs and a collection of furniture that visitors are obviously not allowed to sit on, but managed to make the exhibit extremely immersive.  I came away with a much deeper appreciation for and understanding of Pierre Chareau’s work.

The Jewish Museum is at the forefront of innovative and thrilling exhibition design. Please make your way over to the Jewish Museum to see this incredible show. You have until March 26th!

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. 

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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 ❤

 

 

 

The Awesome (The Public House of Art- Amsterdam)

After being here in Amsterdam for almost two weeks, I finally visited an art gallery (a whole bunch of art galleries, actually). I’ve spent two weeks getting fully oriented by not one, not two, but three orientation programs here in the Netherlands. I won’t bore you with the details, but the fact of the matter is I am DONE with scavenger hunts, DONE with awkward ice-breakers and DONE with hostel bathrooms. I am free to do what I will with my days.

Which means: I am about to be eating a lot more brunch and seeing a lot more art!

One of the galleries places I visited yesterday is called The Public House of Art. It is very adamant about its identity as NOT a gallery, but rather, a house in which affordable art is sold to everyone who is passionate about it. At the Public House of Art, there are four price brackets for buyers: 100 euro, 350 euro, 750 euro, and 1500 euro. I look forward to treating myself to a painting in the first price point by the end of my trip. Check out this video from the Public House of Art’s website, comedically explaining how they are different from typical art galleries.

The playful vibe of the House (I will be referring to it as a house from now on, so as to remind you all that it is not, not, not a gallery!) is emphasized by cheeky posters framed all over the space. Near the entrance is a sign that reads:

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I will be looking out for openings at the Public House of Art…

On the wall next to a row of photographs is a sign that looks like this:

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I enjoy these signs because they match the non-pretentious vibe of the House. They make the visitor- who might feel uncomfortable in a traditional gallery- feel welcomed.

This particular exhibit, “The Awesome,” is a collection of works by different artists reflecting on the phrase, “totally awesome.” In the catalogue book about the exhibit, the curators write, “the awesome became cheap, you can buy them online, subscribe to them, download them, refresh them.” They ask, “can an image still confound us, amaze us, leave us in awe?”

The answer, it seems, is yes. And the artists of the Public House of Art have responded to this question with images that reveal the awesome, despite their ability to be photographed, reproduced, and reloaded. There may be thirty limited edition copies produced of every work of art, but that does not make the content of these works any less awesome.

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Here is one of my favorite works in the House, entitled “Yuddith, 9:15 AM,” by Henri Senders.

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This print celebrates the female form and the female spirit. Yuddith’s skin glows in the ethereal light. Patches of sunlight highlight the curves of her hip and her breasts, as well as the tip of her nose and forehead. Her magenta hair brings out the pink undertones of her skin, and contrasts deeply with the barren gray wasteland behind her. Yuddith looks up and away from the viewer, allowing the viewer to consume her without feeling guilty or ashamed. Yuddith’s hands are positioned oddly in the air. There is too much tension in her fingers for her hands to be floating. Rather, they appear to be pressing against an invisible wall- perhaps a glass one. If so, she is trapped, naked in the wilderness. And yet she is remarkably calm. Her raised chin and closed eyes are the picture of sensual freedom. The image is a fantasy for the projected heterosexual male viewer. There is a beautiful, naked, otherworldly woman prancing about in the woods, unable to come any closer to the viewer due to some invisible barrier. Though the viewer desires her, she is untouchable. We look in awe upon her, and thus we carry out Henri Senders’ intention: that the female body and spirit be seen as awesome, despite the fact that images of the female nude are commonplace in society. “Yiddish, 9:15 AM” reveals more about a woman’s sensuality than a Playboy cut-out or a pornographic scene. It uses tiny details to form a string of associations in the mind of the viewer. Pink hair, pink skin, blurry exposure, an invisible glass wall- are all more titillating and awe-inspiring than any Victoria’s Secret advertisement.

*  *  *

I am also quite fond of this work, a mixed-media piece by Lola Cervant called “Harlequin.”

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The name of this work, Harlequin, is a response to the way the girl’s hands create a mask on her face. A Harlequin is a character from an Italian theatre style called Commedia dell’Arte, in which characters wore masks to indicate which role they were playing. The audience could identify a character purely by the mask he wore. The matte, pastel pink hue of the girl’s finger-mask contrasts with the grey pencil shading in the contours of her face.  The effect is a kind of oscillation between front and back. It is difficult to focus on both her twisting pink fingers and her eyes all at once. Her wrists appear less solid than her carefully shaded lips. One struggles to find something to grab onto here; it is as if this girl lives in a plane where different dimensions can exist simultaneously.

As I stared at this work, I became less and less certain that the model was a young girl. Her slightly parted lips and intense gaze bear a maturity and sensuality not known by the prepubescent. Perhaps the mask of her hands helps to disguise her true age, and transitively, her true identity. It is ironic, then, that her name is Harlequin, because the Harlequin’s mask serves to identify him to the audience. This Harlequin mask hides her. Identity, then, is that awesome thing Cervant wants us to consider- a set of characteristics that we set aside to put into a category. If something is missing- a face, an age- can we still make sense of the whole?

*  *  *

I have always been fond of psychedelic art, and was pleased to see it well represented at the Public House of Art. Here are two works that I found especially trippy and awesome:

Eugenia Loli’s “Moonstroke (Until the End of Time) and “Sunday” can be interpreted as depictions of an acid trip. While this is undoubtedly true, Loli takes the trope of the LSD moonscape and turns into something else, that reveals both the awesomeness of a hallucinogenic trip and the awesomeness of humanity.

In “Moonstroke,” a boy caresses a female whose face and arms have been replaced with a psychedelic blue fabric. All of the tiny details make for a trippy image- the pom poms on the girl’s dress, the rocky landscape, and the suburban boy are all tropes of psychedelic art or details meant to interest the wandering mind. And yet one still feels as if he or she walked in on a young couple enraptured by each other.

“Moon stroke” is actually a lesson in tenderness. Despite the fact that we know nothing about these unidentifiable strangers, we can sense the softness with which the boy cradles the girl’s back. While we cannot see the girl’s face, the boy looks right through her blue patterned skin, as if he can see something that we cannot. They are isolated in some rocky landscape, as people often feel when they are young and in love, together. It feels as if there is no one else on the planet. Perhaps what is so awesome about young love is the way it makes people see stars, and feel as if they are walking on the moon.

“Sunday,” has just as many trippy motifs. Half the picture is created from black-and-white images, while the other half is technicolor. The sun is rimmed with red, and the blue sky becomes less and less saturated as it approaches the horizon. Whimsical hot air balloons dot the landscape. Black-and-white images of little boys are perched in the sand like cardboard cut-outs.

Beyond the psychedelic fascination with earth vs. sky, there is also a hint of nostalgia in “Sunday.” The title alone evokes a carefree day of play and trips to the beach to watch the hot air balloons fly close to the sun. Old-fashioned images carry inherent nostalgia in them, their grainy exposure recalling simpler days when it was harder to preserve a moment on camera.

The two boys in “Sunday” look up at the sky in awe. How awesome is it, for a little boy or a grown one, to understand the humans can fly so seemingly close to the sun? That two-legged creatures can board a jet or a balloon and soar into the sky? When did we stop thinking about how totally AWESOME it is that HUMANS CAN FLY??!?!?!

“Sunday” is a simple reminder of the awesomeness of humankind, and the way that children are often the ones to remind us, in all their youthful wonder, how truly awesome the world is.

* * *

Looking back, I wonder why I did not take more photographs in the Public House of Art. I suppose I was just enjoying looking at all the artwork so much that I simply forgot to take more pictures. But I do implore you to take a look on their website and take a look at these incredible works- so many I didn’t analyze here! Marvel at awesome photographs, sculptures, digital art, and paintings without becoming extremely depressed because you’re 20 and have a part time job at school but are currently abroad without a job and you just bought yourself a new coat because it’s cold in the Netherlands and tram tickets really add up and you can’t afford to buy the art you love.

If that described you half as well as it describes me, then you should really visit the Public House of Art.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

Sweet Death (Officina delle Zattere, Guatemalan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2015- Venice)

Venice is a city of winding canals and pivoting cobblestone streets. The salty air constantly erodes the plaster walls of three-story walk-ups, creating a patchwork of textures- terra cotta spots over pale yellow brick, grey dingy dust clinging to what might have been white. And between one patchwork house and the next there are alleys that seems to spring into existence before the eyes of the pedestrian.

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It is down one of these alleys that I discovered “Sweet Death” on my first day in Venice. This exhibit, part of Guatemala’s pavilion for the Venice Biennale, is a singular gem sparkling outside of the central conglomerate of pavilions at Giardini and Arsenale. I was not expecting to turn my head and see an illuminated face looming from within a dark door on the sunny streets of Venice. I am very thankful that I did, because “Sweet Death” was one of my favorite exhibits in the entire fair.

“Sweet Death” centers around the concept of “death-finitude,” which can best be understood as the disintigration of values in the modern world. The curators, Luciano Carini and Simone Pieralice, do not approach this universal phenomenon through a morbid or depressing lens. Rather, they utilize bright color and an oddly harmonious mixture of sexual and childlike motifs to underline the wasting away of traditional values in contemporary society. The death of values is likened to the actual experience of death in Guatemalan tradition. Mayan rituals suggest a celebration of life, indicated by colorful tombs. “Sweet Death” includes work by both Guatemalan and Italian artists who respond to the notion of deathfinitude through the unique lens of Mayan burial ritual. The result is a conversation about contemporary society between two distinct cultures, Guatemalan and Italian, who have overlapped culturally for several hundred years.

* * *

In “Parsmoke,” by Paolo Residori, a glass container is filled with cigarettes and vaseline.

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Bubbles of liquid sit pressed against the glass, reflecting the dingy yellow and brown coloring of the cigarettes. An image of a person’s decaying grin has been pasted to the front of the container. At the top of the container is a little hole protruding from a silver cap that makes the glass look like a fancy perfume bottle. It appears to be a tomb of sorts, marked by the deceased’s smile rather than his name. What Residori is getting at is this notion of deathfinitude- the idea that contemporary society is destroying traditional values. Here, cigarettes are the offender, physically destroying both teeth and lives. But what does this say for society as a whole? The nozzle at the top seems to be an indicator that the negative effects of cigarettes are not self-contained. At any given moment they can be sprayed outward, through secondhand smoke, to anybody in the vicinity.

Beyond this somewhat literal translation, “Parsmoke” is about more than the repercussions of cigarette use. It represents the sullying of the earth, the body, and the mind through mass consumption, substance abuse, disease, and garbage. “Parsmoke” is so full of dirt it is bubbling- literally- and cannot be contained. The nozzle and the evil, knowing grin are ominous reminders that we cannot keep our dirt so neatly contained for much longer. Landfills overflow and the weight of decaying values will increase with each new generation.

* * *

Paolo Schmidlin approaches the notion of deathfinitude in a much less roundabout way. The genius of “Frau Magda” is its shock value and visual impact. Frau Magda wears a sparkly silver swastika around her neck.

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Her hair is perfectly coiffed and her eyebrows aristocratically arched. Even her hands are clasped politely. Everything but her necklace signals that this woman is dignified. The presence of the swastika immediately strips her clean of these attributes, and replaces her image with that of a villain. How does this relate to “Sweet Death’s” message? The desecrated value here could be that of life itself. The swastika represents racism, genocide, and death. Its presence impedes freedom, and is a reminder of a violent and cruel time in human history. “Frau Magda” identifies the Holocaust as an event that indicates the downfall of the human race. It is not singled out as a separate horrific event, but listed as a piece of evidence for the theory of deathfinitude.

* * *

“Testiculos qui non habet Papa Esse non posset,” by Fatima Messana, is a very curious work.

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Illuminated purple by the lights in the exhibit, “Testiculos” has an otherworldly glow. This supernatural aura is deepened by the facelessness of the figure, and his spindly, lifted finger. In his other hand he holds an apple from which a cross distends.

In an effort to understand “Testiculos,” I first ran the title through google translate and freetranslation.com in Italian. I came up with this bizarre sentence: “Testiculos here not habet Pope They do not posset.” I was then prompted to try translating in Latin: “Who does not have a Pope, he could not be of the testicles.” The translation is clearly not direct, but what I think this Latin translation is getting at is as follows. He who does not have a Pope (he who is not religious), could not be of the testicles (is not a true man). So the message of “Testiculos” is that religious piety is an integral component of character. 

The apple represents knowledge, as its consumption bequeaths knowledge to Adam and Eve in the Old Testament. Therefore, “Testiculos” also suggests that joining this faceless being in religious duties will increase one’s knowledge. But what about his facelessness? And his gesture, the hand that signals, “wait a minute, that’s not all.” Are these indicators that this straightforward lesson of piety is not all it seems? It is entirely possible that these uncanny elements are present to negate the pious message. The figure’s facelessness could suggest a loss of individuality, a consequence of being part of a group, in this case, the cult of Christianity. When viewed through the lens of this interpretation, the raised finger is a warning. Piety may bring you salvation, but what will it cost you? And is the apple of knowledge truthful, or will it always be the knowledge an institution wants you to see?

I had great fun exploring this interpretation in my mind, seeking out symbols that strengthen my argument for it. But at the same time, I cannot forget its context in “Sweet Death.” Deathfinitude is the loss of traditional values. If Christianity is the traditional value at risk here, would Messana be criticizing it in an exhibit that mourns the past? Perhaps her stance is more reflective. She could be depicting the contemporary questioning of Church values while mourning a time when such questioning was unheard of. The possibilities are endless here. “Testiculos” offers a range of interpretations. While I am eager to know Messana’s real intention, it is almost more exciting to interpret based solely off her artwork. Let me know if you agree, disagree, or thought something completely different about this riveting sculpture.

* * *

“Silent Night Club,” by Teresa Condito, is my favorite artwork in this exhibition. It is the epitome of everything Luciano Carini and Simone Pieralice intended, incorporating bright color and anachronistic motifs with a message about society, all centered around a clever pun that sums up its meaning.

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“Silent Night Club” is exactly what it sounds like; it is the bizarre cohabitation of religious figures and contemporary debauchery. Even stranger- in “Silent Night Club,” beer and biblical characters reside within a dollhouse, adding youth to the already crowded table filled with religion and depravity.

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It is all in all a feast for the eyes. Pink sequins reflect the light of twinkly bulbs, while pink adorns almost every surface. Feathers surround the figure of a golden angel in hot pink fuzz. Dice dot the coffee table, indicating a sinful game of poker. Pink chiffon curtains are pulled back to reveal a New Testament regular engaged in- well, we’re not quite sure what. The only things that are not bright and colorful are the figures themselves, excluding the half-naked barbie dangling from the shower (not pictured). Jesus and the apostles, perhaps the Wise Men, take up residency here in the Silent Night Club. Their presence is a clear metaphor for deathfinitude.

Meanwhile, below the dollhouse, Jesus and his family sit in a smaller house devoid of pink and ruffles. A yellow light illuminates the dwelling and its humble inhabitants. Below the extravagance of the Silent Night Club, it is a pointed reminder that there at one time was, and perhaps still could be, respect for what is sacred.

* * *

It is interesting to look at Carlo Maltese’s, “Scandalo alla Galleria dell’Accademia” after analyzing “Silent Night Club.” Both strongly express deathfinitude through religious themes and employ overlapping colors and figures.

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In this work, barbie dolls are shown in sexually compromising positions at the Galleria della’Accademia in Florence, which I actually later visited on my Italy trip. PSA: My visit to the Galleria della’Academia was not nearly as scandalous.

The barbies are positioned between columns, as if they are religious statues carved into stone on the facade of a church or official building. For the most part they are unclothed, and engaging in sexual behaviors. There are several traditional values at stake here in “Scandalo.” One is religion, as these barbies are meant to evoke the figures of the Madonna and the Apostles, who often are poised between pillars in facades such as this. Another is art. Perhaps Maltese is lamenting the decline of traditional modes of art in lieu of scandalous, sexually-charged artwork. At the same time, he himself has created a scandalous, sexually-charged piece of artwork, so perhaps that is counterintuitive. But it does seem, whether he has been a part of the decline or not, nostalgic for the great masterpieces in the Galleria della’Accademy, and for simpler times overall.

Lastly, it occurred to me that a value in jeopardy could be respect for the past. This seems most logical. While Maltese excels in creating new and exciting work, he heralds respect for the artists who came before him. He laments the decline in respect for these artists, rather than the decreased popularity of creating in traditional modes. This makes even more sense after I visited Florence. The city is a popular clubbing destination. Perhaps Maltese is making a jab at tourists who flock to Italy for the nightlife without appreciating the art that is so integral to Italy’s history.

* * *

The last work I want to look at is Marisa Laurito’s “La Grande Bouffe.” It approaches deathfinitude differently than the other works I analyzed today.

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A giant strawberry sits on a dining table, engulfed in blue light. A chair is positioned before it, and several pieces of cutlery rest on the tablecloth. The very size of the berry suggests that Laurito is confronting obesity. There is only one chair placed before the meal. Is one person meant to eat such a large strawberry alone? And how does a strawberry grow so large? It could only be genetically modified. With “La Grande Bouffe,” Laurito simultaneously evokes the issues of obesity and GMOs.

However, these issues have a double purpose. Obesity can lead to death, from heart disease or diabetes, making this dining table a premature tomb. GMOs are controversial, but there is definitely a school of thought that believes they are deadly as well. But this dining room is also a brightly lit tomb of tradition. Respect for the earth, for those who make one’s food, and for the pleasure of eating with loved ones all seem antiquated ideas when contrasted with the lifestyle supported by obesity and GMOs. Fast food and genetically modified organisms are products of a world that believes man can and should change the earth to suit his needs. What is left in the dust is a simple, natural meal prepared in the home, a home where people can actually see each other across the table, and not be blocked by the sheer size of the meal consumed.

* * *

I hope you enjoyed reading about “Sweet Death.” If you somehow have the ability to get to Venice before November 22nd, put this exhibit at the top of your To-do list. Well, yes, go to Saint Marks. But no, you don’t need to go on a Gondola ride. You most definitely need to see the uncanny, luminescent works in the Guatemalan Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Remember, it’s not located near the other pavilions. You have to go to the Officina delle Zattere. Here are a couple pics of my sister and I having fun in the exhibit if you need some more motivation.

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That’s all for now!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤