Tag Archives: conceptual

Art is…

My sister has worked for 3 years on a body of work – almost every Saturday afternoon and one day a week – which is currently being exhibited at fortyfivedownstairs.

I admire my sister’s talent, dedication and intelligence as an artist. She has what I have described in my previous post a positive obsession, an obsession which tunnels through to a truth which is unique to her vision. I happen to think that what is created from this kind of obsession is worth contemplating.

I am not in any way educated in art, and so my response and interpretation of any work of art remains personal, even ridiculous perhaps. Still, I’d like to attempt to express in words my uneducated understanding of her pieces.

Here is the gallery’s biography and description for Lena Torikov:

The works in Subtractions explore the possibility of tension and space within a three dimensional surface; although Torikov is trained as a painter, her current work replaces traditional subject matter and colour with an abstract composition of white shapes. Foamcore has replaced linen and brushes have been exchanged for a sharp knife.

Subtractions are works experimenting with surfaces to build city-like constructions and slices of landscapes based on memory and the impact the immediate environment has on us.

One thing I know about Lena’s work is that it evolves from a tireless, disciplined and critical process. Her focus is far from superficial and never flighty. This is the obsessive aspect; she will not grab at any idea until she has worked through relentlessly to what she sees as completion and only then will she move on. I admire this ability to maintain focus because I shift with the wind and run after anything that moves.

It’s interesting but not unusual that Lena has evolved from paint, colour, representative art to some degree, to 3-dimensional work, in this case all white, concentrating on form and space. I’m not sure what she would say about my understanding of her work because she has been relunctant to talk about what her art means or what it’s trying to do, at least to me. The only thing I remember her saying is that she likes to focus on the space between the forms. I’m not sure if I’ve understood this correctly but, to me, she seems to be paring down representational image (isn’t any image a representation of some sort?) to a purer form. Without the distraction of colour variation, dependence on the replication of identified forms, her art is playing with the mathematics of form, spaces and the relationship between these.

What happens when you add this shape, this line? And what if it’s smaller, larger? Why don’t we extend these forms out into space and take the equation even further? Further still when we observe the changing light transform the work; the shadows cast on the wall around the work, shorter or longer, first this way, then that. Follow the movement created within the frame of the piece, enjoy the contrast between empty space and overcrowdedness.

Conceptual work is how I interpret this art. A thinking person drilling down to deeper truths. Not always entirely serious, Lena throws light-hearted allusions into the mix – maybe because the tension is too much even for her, but probably for an entirely different reason.

In the case of one of her works in this exhibition, there is an obvious reference to the Sydney Harbour – yes, the works are quite ‘architectural’ – but then our perception of this is shaken up again. The whole thing is turned around so that, if we insist on viewing the recognisable landmark, we have to turn our head sideways and bend down at a 90 degree angle. We are forced to adapt to a changed view, or be very uncomfortable if we insist on seeing it in a familiar way.

For me – and I love good representational art – Lena’s mental activity within the abstract genre produces an image which I don’t easily tire of. So much art is instantly attractive but quickly become boring. These pieces are like puzzles – not to be solved but offering new ideas. Not disturbing in a way you would expect disturbing to be, but unsettling in a challenging way.

And I hope she won’t find it offensive if I say that she still produces beautiful lines, pleasing shapes, perfect relationships in between. I’m not sure if it’s beauty she is aiming to produce, but the works are very beautiful.

There is variety in the selection of pieces exhibited – in size and complexity – and the viewer is treated to just the right amount of it.  As a whole, the selection fits together into a larger puzzle.

Unlike James Yuncken’s lovely paintings of his trip to Cape York, a pictorial journey capturing the feel of the landscape and tones of the land and sky, Lena’s art is a carefully orchestrated collection of symbols. James’ selection could easily be extended with more pictures, like photos, of his trip. Lena’s collection can hold no more; she has said all she has to say.

I wonder what kind of person would appreciate this conceptual art. It’s definitely not the kind of art which warms the heart because it reminds you of a place you’ve been; it’s more like the kind of art that takes you where you might not have been, or haven’t stayed so as to pause and reflect.

Photos by Alexander Sheko.

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Facebook performance – What are you doing right now?

phonetasticview

Photo of An Xiao

I was reading an article in the New York Times,  Where art meets social networking sites, and came across Debbie Hesse who is an installation artist and the director of artistic services and programs for the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. According to the article, Debbie said she was a lot like others in the late boomer generation,

“trying to learn how to not be left in the dust with the new technology.” But she may be ahead of the pack in employing social networking as the theme for an art show.

Social networking a theme for art?

I figure it’s not entirely surprising. Why shouldn’t artists create something from the ubiquitous social networking phenomenon? Where there’s something happening, it’s natural for someone to analyse it or create something from it?

Debbie organised an exhibition named after Facebook’s communication format, Status Update. More than 50 works of art by a dozen artists were displayed.

But how can art come from social networking?

“Status Update” has turned out to be a somewhat unlikely intersection of digital concepts and conventional art.

Ms. Hesse curated the show almost entirely through Facebook, with the help of Donna Ruff, a Brooklyn artist. She found two categories there, she said: “Artists that are using it as a medium, performing in it, using it as poetry, using it as a canvas. And then artists that are commenting on it as a new form and creating new dialogues about what this means in our lives.”

Rachel Perry Welty is one of the artists who comments on the new way of communication.  For her performance, Rachel used her iPhone to enter a status update every minute for 16 hours.  That is, every sixty seconds Rachel answered the Facebook status question ‘What are you doing right now?’ (which has since been replaced by the question ‘What’s on your mind?’)

I hope artists and art lovers will not scream at me if I raise my eyebrows every so slightly in response to Rachel’s compulsive stream of status updates being called a ‘performance’.  Or maybe I’m just annoyed that I didn’t think of the idea first. Or maybe I should reconsider my concept of art.

Rachel says that, after reading an article about social networking entitled Brave new world of digital intimacy by Clive Thompson, she decided to give Facebook a go.

I’ve found Facebook to be useful as a view to the global artist community, but I don’t send gifts or answer quizzes or throw sheep at people. And I don’t update my status on Facebook anymore after my performance on March 11.

Rachel explains the performance aspect of Twitter on the Art:21 blog:

I use Twitter as an extension of my creative process, in the sense that it’s a view into the daily life of a working artist. As an artist, my project is concerned with the minutiae of life. As humans, we spend most of our time engaged in the small moments (whether we tweet or Facebook about them or not) and in my project I am trying to get people to notice the things they wouldn’t ordinarily. In that sense, Twitter seems like a perfect platform for me. It’s an ongoing performance.

You can follow Rachel on Twitter.

It’s worth reading Rachel’s interview in the blog post, but before you do, I’d like to highlight this paragraph, because it’s something I’ve been thinking about  myself (although not expressing as eloquently):

I had been thinking about and observing how we craft a persona online. I started paying attention and reading people’s status updates in learning my way around Facebook. It struck me that some people must spend more time than others choosing their words, just as some people spend more time getting dressed in the morning. Some are clever and entertaining, some vague or opaque, and others utterly banal. Each statement on its own doesn’t say much, but the collective tells a surprisingly sophisticated story, and forms a portrait of sorts. My performance was a way to make a quick and intense self-portrait. Imposing the limitation of 60 seconds was an attempt to make that more real.

‘Quick and intense’ is another way of looking at Facebook or Twitter status updates. We’re not talking great literature here, but as a snapshot of the mundane, it’s a pretty good window.

I realise that when I look back at my year-long daily photo challenge, threesixtyfivephotos. Each day’s snapshots seem banal and almost ridiculously tedious, but looking back at over 300 days now, I can see that it’s a concise overview of a life which would otherwise just pass by and be largely forgotten.

Rachel’s observations provide much food for thought; I urge you to read the whole article. Forgive me but I can’t resist pulling out one more paragraph:

Afterwards, I thought of Sophie Calle’s work where she follows a stranger throughout his movements in a day. My work was the reverse: I got strangers to follow me throughout my day. Well, into the next day, I found myself silently narrating (“Rachel is getting a cup of coffee,” “Rachel is ready for a nap”), this experience imprinted on my brain like the afterimage from a flashbulb.

And a big question which was asked by the interviewer:

In your statement, you mentioned that you aim “to raise more questions about narcissism, voyeurism, privacy, identity and authority, as issues we consider in a technologically modern world.” What do you see as the role of online social media in society?

That’s a big question. I’m not sure we know yet. Clearly, it’s a way to communicate with a lot of people quickly and without friction. Relationships will be easier to maintain for a long time, for good or for ill. Imagine, as my son will probably experience, never losing touch with your best friend from 3rd grade. (Michelle Turner from Mr. Brentnall’s class at NIS in Tokyo, are you out there?!)Will it make it impossible to shed your identity as you move through life? Will you always be who you once were?

This is a fascinating question and one, I think, which we should all consider, and as educators, raise with our students.

I also recommend you read about how other conceptual artists have represented social networking. An Xiao, pictured above, is one of the group of artists.

As an aside, it’s interesting how the Facebook status ‘What are you doing right now’ has been replaced by ‘What’s on your mind?’ – a move from the external to the internal.  Is Facebook becoming less of a place where you keep an eye on what people are up to, and more of a platform to share thoughts, feelings and reactions?

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