WONDER exhibition celebrates the Renwick Gallery’s reopened spaces. The museum’s new statement is to bring the future of art into its program. It is now confronted with large-scale installations by nine artists. Janet Echelman is one of them with her piece 1.8, (2015). A large suspended net glides across the ceiling of the Grand Salon, which is located upstairs in the museum. The work is composed as knotted and braided fiber with programmable lighting and wind movement, above a printed textile flooring. Echelman’s sculptural installation speaks in relation to a map of energy released through the Pacific Ocean, when Japan’s Tohoku earthquake and tsunami took place on March 11, 2011. The title of the work implies the 1.8 millionths of a second, which measures the earthquake as it shifted the earth’s axis.
At the Gagosian Gallery’s Chelsea location, opened a new exhibition around a theme of ‘impossible bouquet’. Known for her challenging multidisciplinary photography, artist Taryn Simon has conducted extensive research for her current project Paperwork and the Will of Capital. The idea of ‘impossible bouquet’ refers to the Dutch 17th-century economy during which the market was booming. Simultaneously the birth of modern capitalism was reflected through the rich fauna of the era’s still-life paintings. The impossible bouquet is also an imagined bouquet. It includes flower pairings that cannot coexist in the natural world; the flowers are not blooming at the same time or they originate in different geographical locations. Today this economy has changed completely, when the global supply keeps bringing diverse specimen to the consumer’s market. The exhibition includes photographs of 36 bouquets formed as centerpiece and still-life. They gather thematically around 12 unique columnal sculptures, which also trace back to the fauna accumulated in the photography. Next to the large photographs are their textual references connecting the arrangements to their sources. The flower typologies in the artworks suggest real events that create the context for the exhibition.
These flowers sat between powerful men as they signed agreements designed to influence the fate of the world. —Taryn Simon
Memorandum of Understanding between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the Government of Australia Relating to the Settlement of Refugees in Cambodia. Ministry of Interior, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, September 26, 2014, From the series Paperwork and the Will of Capital, 2015. Archival inkjet print in mahogany frames with text in windowed compartment on archival herbarium paper 85 × 73 1/4 × 2 3/4 inches framed. © Taryn Simon
The exhibition is Taryn Simon’s first at the New York gallery. The sculptures displayed in the exhibition were previewed at the 56th Biennale di Venezia in 2015. Now they appear together with large-scale photographs that culminate as a complete body of work for the first time. During the process of making the photographs and sculptures, which navigate layered meanings, Taryn Simon worked together with a botanist, investigated archives, and benefited from 4000 different specimen to structure the process. Each specimen coming to the process was dried, pressed, and sewed into the herbarium paper. The artworks engage a level of communication as botanical collages, in a photographic form, and as pressed and preserved subject in the sculptures. The artist utilized George Sinclair’s nineteenth century horticultural study, which contains actual dried grass specimens.
As much as the flowers have decorative power, the art speaks with full textual meaning. The textual references attached to the photographs and sculptures, describe diverse political agreements that semantically ground the ‘flower fantasies’ into realities, which touch lives. In the past, the bouquets staged world dramas. In their present artful context they contribute to breathing new air into the archives. The level of ignorance on the agreement’s impact on actual realities is communicated through the floral that is now taken care of. In the art it represents the colorful, palpable, and vivid side of the reality. Among the textual references, there are themes of global trading of goods, and examples of the attempts to access natural resources over national boundaries and geopolitical territories. There are strategic negotiations, where commercial value has weight over human capital, or it entirely suppresses environmental viewpoint. Often the signing table puts a full stop to development projects, social welfare and economic aid. For the artistic series, Simon studied archival photographs of official signings. She examined accords, treaties, and decrees that were drafted to influence systems of governance and economics. The subjects include nuclear armament, oil deals and diamond trading.
The environmental challenge of the global flower distribution connects intimately to the exhibition narrative. Paperwork and the Will of Capital, implies the complications behind the global consumption. The underlying political themes communicate about environmental fragility. One of the flower narratives introduce a plan that was created around the Caspian Sea oil reserves, known as Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline. As an outcome of this plan, Western nations would have more ideal access to the area’s natural resources and allude strategic presence in Central Asia. The February 3, 2004 flower bouquet, testifying the signing of the finance package for constructing the BTC pipeline in Baku Azerbaijan, included: Baby’s Breath from Kenya; Dutch Iris from Netherlands; Israeli Ruscus; and Hybrid Tea Rose from Kenya.
Another environmental flower arrangement relates to the 2014 agreement to conduct studies on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Damn, bringing in parties from Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt to negotiations. The construction of the damn contests the neighboring countries, because the negotiations handle the water rights to the Nile. While still in the construction process, the dam will be Africa’s largest hydropower project taking massive segment of its infrastructure. The discussion challenges larger schemes linking back to the colonial history, which places Egypt as majority holder of the Nile’s water, when in reality Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and five other African states share access to its waters. The flowers present at the negotiations were: Gerbera from Netherlands; and Hybrid Tea Rose from Ethiopia.
Can flowers change attitudes toward things and ideas? At least, the commerce between flowers from different territories and geographical locations stretches boundaries as we know them. Sometimes flowers travel further than people. Anthurium, Netherlands; Dendrobium, Thailand; Orchid Venezuela; and Hybrid Tea Rose, Kenya, were at present in the memorandum held to negotiate the status of refugees and asylum seekers to Australia. The negotiations took place in Cambodia on September 26, 2014. Australian refugees from the refugee center located on the Pacific Island of Nauru were to be transferred to Cambodia into a permanent resettlement. By shifting their refugee responsibilities elsewhere, the economically advantaged Australia signed to exploit one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.
Highly conceptual thoughts embed the large photographic prints and their similarly intentional sculptures within a frame of time that scopes past and attains to preserve some for the future. It seems that the fragility of flowers echo past remnants, but more forcibly introduce newly fluid forms. The photographs speak through large canvas. They accumulate painterly softness through the backdrops, and the archival feel responds to the dimensionality of the bouquets. The floral appears as richly layered; the bouquets were photographed multiple times. Sometimes the setting stands still as if being part of a funeral setting, then the collage screams out from the mahogany frames. The bouquets are in a state of being and emerging.
Artist Riitta Ikonen traveled recently to Greenland to discover new artistic work that reflects interaction between humans and their natural environment. Her exhibition, “Glacial Reveries”, is on view at The Chimney Exhibition & Performance venue in Brooklyn until February 7th. Interestingly, the body of work touches directly a topic of glaciers and their fate in the age of the anthropocene. Reveries, then, as a form of day dreaming, means for the artist a human survival strategy during the end of the world scenario. The objects include; a ”wetsuit for the tip of an iceberg, a lifejacket for a brick, eroded stones tied back together with strings, a video hidden in a suit, stairs leading up to cinder block windows”. Few year ago, Riitta Ikonen captivated her audiences with a collaborative photography project, Eyes as Big as Plates, which embeds something remarkable of the elderly human portraits, characterizing people among their surroundings. In this interview, the artist discusses her exhibitions, travels, artistic practice and plans.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell about this ongoing project called ”Eyes as Big as Plates”, how did it start, develop, and so on?
Riitta Ikonen: Eyes as Big as Plates is an ongoing collaborative venture with Karoline Hjorth, a photographer with a journalism and tall-ship sailing background. We met in 2011 on an artist residency after I, in search of a collaborator, typed in: Norway+Grannies+Photographer into an Internet search engine and found Hjorth as the top search result. (She had just published a book on Norwegian grandmothers.) We met for the very first time on the doorstep of a 20 m² flat in the small town of Sandnes, southwest of Norway.
Starting out as a play on characters from Nordic folklore and the personifications of nature in the lore, Karoline and I wanted to find out what kind of connection the Norwegians had with their rocks, fjords and hills. Those hills hadn’t changed since the tales, but the people sure had. We figured that the older the local interviewee/model, the closer we would get to the talking rocks of the tales. Folktales often made complex natural and sociological issues understandable and accessible, with phenomena taking on forms and characteristics that even a mere mortal could have a dialogue with. Perhaps our Eyes as Big as Plates images aimed to discuss the contemporary human in the nature in a similarly approachable language. After interviewing in Sandnes for two weeks, our investigation started shifting more towards imagination and Eyes as Big as Plates has evolved into a search for modern human’s belonging to nature.
Much of the western society is unnecessarily confused when it comes to the ‘usefulness’ of older people. As the project continues to cross borders, it also aims to rediscover a demographic group too often labeled as marginalized and generate new perspectives on who we are and where we belong.
The series is produced in collaboration with retired farmers, fishermen, zoologists, plumbers, opera singers, housewives, artists, academics and ninety year old parachutists. These are people we meet through friends, relatives and newspaper ads, in hardware stores, noodle shops, indoor gardening society meetings, swimming pools, on the city streets etc.
The title Eyes as big as Plates refers to two Scandinavian folktales featuring respectively a goat and a dog with eyes the size of plates.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that the work was presented in multiple international places. Do you think that there were different receptions of your work that you find as constructive?
RI: I traveled to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the US last fall with Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition and was honored to witness the reactions to the photographs from of the large Finnish community. More people of Finnish descent live in the northwest part of the Upper Peninsula than anywhere else in the world outside of Finland. The images resonated with the crowd in a way that transcended borders, time and language. The Nordic spirit was redolent in the minds of the third generation Finns yearning to keep the connection to their heritage alive. Though the exhibition was small, it was one of the most moving and personal of the dozens of lectures and openings I attended last year.
After the opening of the Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition at the National Museum of Greenland, Karoline and I got to listen to Teitur from the Faroe Islands perform live at the Katuaq Center. His song ‘Home’ struck a cord in that moment and I realized there is a ‘home’ in each image for me, perhaps for others too, a universal anchoring point. Greenland was exceptional in many ways and I know that this was the first trip of many more to come.
I wish I could have attended the shows in Korea and Bogota too, but that would have required a body double. I have worked quite a bit with the Norwegians since 2011 and the Norwegian National Museum has been touring an Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition with a workshop for a couple of years now. At the opening of Fotogalleriet in Oslo, Karoline and I also got offered a chance to work on a public art commission by the Arctic Sea at Kirkkoniemi-Kirkenes, where we work on documentary portraits for a brand new hospital until 2017.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Readers of this blog are interested in the artistic language and process, are there any compelling features that make yours?
RI: The process is most often rooted in collaboration, with the current show in New York at The Chimney being a cheerful exception. The latest works consist mainly of interactive sculptures and video all of which bubbled from last October’s trip to Greenland. The pieces were produced after digesting the experiences of the spectacular land- and seascape near Nuuk, and filmed over the next three months in Finland, the Pacific Northwest and New York. The below piece of writing by Robert Smithson also accompanied me through the making process as a kind of fluid spine.
‘One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological miasma, and they move in the most physical way. This movement seems motionless, yet it crushes the landscape of logic under glacial reveries.’
Robert Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects”, 1968
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you see that artistic collaborations and working with curators have formed your artistic language? Are you able to pin down, or do you have a story about how a dialogue with the art field has forwarded your career?
RI: I collaborate with people (architects, artists, photographers, sculptors, writers, postal workers etc.) to catalyze the interaction that determines the direction and the work. Unpredictability feeds my practice and keeps the process interesting.
Working with courageous people is necessary for progress. My solo show ‘Glacial Reveries’ in NY is far wilder than I could have imagined with the fearless support and insight from the curator, Clara Darrason. She encouraged me to follow my initial plan of making the gallery goers walk under water, on the bottom of the ocean with the water level up in the ceiling. We also ended up installing a 25-foot tall iceberg in the show.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you currently based in New York City, and do you have specific plans for staying and working here?
RI: I am currently on an airplane, and spend a great deal of time in transit. I am based in Kouvola with restless feet. I just met up with Tiina Itkonen in Helsinki who has done a life’s work in Greenland and it is only a matter of time that I will return there! I was hoping to go to Mexico City, where I have works at the Material Art Fair, in March, there are also the RCA Secret exhibitions and sales in London and Dubai, but again- I am restrained by this one body only.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself a Finnish artist, are there any particular ways to designate and identify with your country of origin?
RI: I am a Finnish artist and I feel it pulsates strongly in my work and me. I receive a tremendous amount of support from Finland, whether it is from the brilliant network of Finnish Cultural Institutes around the world, Consulate staff, Cultural foundations, or curators. Most often as a Finn, you are only two steps (at most) away from a fellow creative countryman. This network is incredibly loyal and operates on a penetrable scale- a truly privileged situation however you look at it.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As mentioned, your current project and exhibition, Glacial Reveries is on display at The Chimney in Brooklyn. How did you find yourself going to Greenland to do a project there?
RI: It was a lifelong dream to go to Greenland; it was also the last Nordic country I hadn’t worked in. My collaborator Karoline Hjorth and I decided ‘it shall be done’, and we compiled a list of various Greenlandic institutions to reach out to. I called a few numbers and sent some emails. I received no reply. Eventually I got used to the ‘radio silence’, but made a habit of ringing one number or another every week. Most often no one replied, sometimes a receptionist or an answering machine picked up. A year went by stubbornly. We finally made the contact when Åsa Juslin from the Finnish-Norwegian Cultural Institute in Oslo, introduced us to Mats Bjerde and Mette Hein from NAPA (The Nordic Institute in Greenland), who were organizing Nuuk Nordisk Festival in the capital. After Åsa’s email, the ball started rolling.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is a topic of climate change important to your work, and how about the nature as such?
RI: Climate change discussion and open dialogue is vital and art is a good communication tool. I am a bit hesitant to talk about nature as I am coming to think that there is no such thing. There are just us in our surroundings, whatever those may be. The idea of nature might be just as manmade as Shopkins. Either way, to acknowledge that you are not separated from your surroundings can be a way to get the most real picture of the world available to us. (Timothy Morton has written interestingly on that)
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is art political to you and if so, how?
RI: ‘The personal is political’ as it was once aptly put.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Did you find your artistic medium early on, or did you master and explore various techniques?
RI: After the wish of becoming a conveyor belt worker in a confection factory faded a little, a career as an artist was an obvious second choice. I am still exploring various techniques, and am a happy amateur. As a fish farmer living by the Arctic Sea said it very nicely last year: ‘I am a charlatan and an amateur, a typical Finnmarking who has adapted to this county of contrasts. I love what I do (Latin Amator = lover, amare = to love), unlike a professional who does something not because he loves it but to earn money. There’s a big difference. (Oddbjørn Jerijærvi)
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have specific plans for the future?
RI: Go work in the desert in the spring, complete a National Park Residency, exhibition at Pielisen Museo in Northern Karelia, continue the Time is a ship that never casts anchor project in Kirkenes, Exhibitions in Germany and the Douro Valley in Portugal, Mail Art- Art Mail Show at the Finnish Postal Museum until the end of February 2016, RCA Secret in London and Dubai, Material Art Fair in Mexico City this month, More Greenland, etc.
Artist website: http://www.riittaikonen.com/
The Chimney, New York: http://www.thechimneynyc.com/
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s exhibition opened in Helsinki in September 2015. Ai Weiwei @ Helsinki will be on view through the end of February 2016. His first solo exhibition in Finland features 25 works from 1985 to the present, including selection of wooden sculptures and installations, and taking materials from antiques and building structures of old temples. Ai Weiwei’s exhibition is connecting to historical China, raising contemporary questions and speaking of the critical voice, which requires to be heard. The exhibition narrates of the personal and the cultural, weighting the nuances that the artist has tested in practice.
Ai Weiwei is the artistic figurehead for thinking how today’s east meets west in many forms. I call my perception of the works ‘massivity of matter’. Firstly, the amount of matter in a museum space probably recalls any sculpture display as the intervention of matter over the space. In this exhibition, however, the sculptural speaks together with the space, the airy high ceilings are breathing with the objects. Second, the massivity of matter is more of a feeling that comes with the lack of scripture between the works. An echo of Chinese contemporary art, in which ancestral is disconnected from the line of reproducing the artifacts?
Map of China (2008), is Ai Weiwei’s large opening piece to the exhibition. The sculpture is tall, hard to measure, and made of tieli wood fragments that come from ancient temples. This material is centuries old and told to be very rare today. Map of China is made with traditional Chinese woodworking technique bringing the pieces together. The challenge was to create the work without any visible seams. The configuration has the shape of the country showing how there was not a single history or culture in the first place, but only a forced effort to fit all the richness into a one state.
So a question arises, how to connect historical meaning and the general meaning of the past to those issues that define a contemporary consciousness of a man, after he had to struggle with the fascist propaganda and denial? I am not proposing this question as an individualist concern, but more as a rhetorical phrase to speak of a multiple choices. The artist can mirror his personal position on the power/to shed light on the power, which one-sidedly and univocally has taken over all the other voices, eventually starting to represent masses of voices. This is where massivity arises in artistic aesthetics. And perhaps this is why there is no single narrative imposed in the exhibition, because bringing together all the objects would already be a lot. They would utter so strongly, so let them escape the definition, and let the cacophony sing its well-orchestrated noise. Needless to say, as the wood is concerned, the aesthetics is well rehearsed, well mounted, the sculptural is well organized in groups, following up the international sculptural aesthetics of the moment. Working with wood, and collecting pieces that come from a cultural place with this huge time span; say, goes far beyond our contemporary time. This makes the works epic for today. Historical load is apparent. History arrives with the same massivity, as the ancestral would drive you over.
To be a political artist is not easy from the point of view of artistic aesthetics. Our art world needs the voices to break silences, but often the politics becomes massivity. It would perhaps be different to subtly speak without ruins taking over, as objects do have their own weight without us directly attaching them to ‘art’. In this case, the objects are not simply cultural artifacts as they appear in the art museum context, however they connotate in the form of temples, for instance. Some pieces come from temples – that is the shrine nature of a house, narrating about ancestry and patriarchal dominance. These fragments are ultimate references to the age of property, practice, and material attachments.
Another sculptural work by Ai Weiwei, is called Tree (2010). It is an assemblage of different woods deriving from individual trees. The dead tree trunks were collected from various locations in the mountains of South China. Differences between components is left visible intentionally:
‘We assembled them (the parts) together to have all the details of a normal tree. At the same time, you’re not comfortable, there’s a strangeness there, an unfamiliarness. And it’s just like trying to imagine what the tree was like.’
Wood as artistic material is so much about nature. Tree as a material is beyond our dominance. It exists and grows without our appropriation. But we did cut trees, we destroyed their existence, and we were cutting down entire forests. In the exhibition, the tree-sculpture is made from pieces to look like a whole tree, an original, yet at the same it is not. It is a look-alike, a not exactly, and a make believe of a tree, a form of a tree, a powerful signifier of a tree, of nature, of origin. It is quite interesting how this sculpture ended up being the center, as other objects are made of wood as well, representing crafty continuation of the artifacts as man made materiality, a continuation of time, which was before mass production.
The modernity of artificial materials, known as the mass-production is another question. Mass production creates massivity. Perhaps the ancestral places speak in the same manner as the modernity. The history is long; we communicate and paraphrase with it. Perhaps this exhibition communicates beyond art, becoming dynamic battlefield for matter and spirit, proposing final materiality in art. Where do we stretch the line between the materials that make the essence of an artwork? We draw from culture, bringing cultural objects into museum to speak for the culture. And this takes place ultimately not in the name of individual subjectivity but for all the collective consciousnesses.
After all, the dialogue between poetic and anti-poetic is what we are looking in the massivity. Poetry does not speak with the loudness unless it was dried out of mythological meaning and it communicates more with the naturalist approach to speak with metaphors. Metaphor can be standing for something, which is not invisible, and stands for something apparent, showing the evidence, creating presence of the political as inevitable. It is standing, yet changing?
There is an evident need for change in the cultural. The aesthetic is more of a repetitive force that takes form in the massivity. The criticism toward west comes in the undertone of the material in consumption, as enlightening force. The materialism is our new religion?
Traveling Light (2007), is a sculpture mounted on a temple pillar, appearing as being a gigantic table lamp or crystal chandelier. Ai Weiwei became interested in light as an object from the point of view of illumination and environment. The large sculpture stands for the idea that objects are close to human scale to be experienced physically.
Divina Proportio (2012), is composed of huali wood, referring to the golden mean, and as mathematical proportions to geometry in the Renaissance.
The exhibition includes two previously unseen works, White House, and Garbage Container, the former speaking of China’s developments and urbanization, the latter about five homeless boys who died tragically.
A new piece in the exhibition titled White House (2015) is an entire residential house of the Qing dynasty. The composition includes different woods and is constructed traditionally using nail-less joints. The work stands for the heritage, as the new developments in China have pushed away the traditional. The new white paint on a wooden surface creates questions about past and present, authenticity and change.
But cultures change slowly. The anthroposcience of human life shortly lived, continues in the legacy of a son who outlives his father (in a natural cycle). The artifacts have a longer life than we do, and this ends building the culture as fluid and as anatomically tilted. Objects lend to the patriarchal order creating legacy and interdependency. Objects echo about history, so in the name of the poetics and dialogue whenever they are on display there is an underpinning of voices that mesmerize with their presence.
The exhibition architecture divides the show into two large rooms. On the other side there are objects, which call much of the legacy that is darker, even more personal than the first exhibition space. Ai Weiwei became a prisoner after he was arrested in 2011 at the airport in Beijing. He was sometimes handcuffed to a chair while questioned. He also kept washing his one set of clothes while in prison, drying them on a hanger.
The art in this case becomes a historical conscience of a collective. It necessarily opens as a voice for the people whose history it is part of. The objects, their material consciousness and presence appear as inevitably non-corruptive, with presentation and physical presence, as non-poetic solidity. The substance is speaking through the stone, or the stones would shout, in this case wood objects.
Ai Weiwei’s role as a seer or visionary, means a hard position at home in China. His work Through (2007), is composed of tieli wood once again, having fragments of old temples from Qing dynasty. The scale is massive, and piercing, the tables and pillars form an almost cage-like atmosphere.
He says: ‘Artists are not in a position to decide the conditions imposed upon them but they can make statements about these conditions.’
Artists have their own life, their own existential power, their own presence and saying. When it comes to power propositions with artwork, let’s say this. It is hard to assume that the artist proposes his artwork knowing that the entire nature of the artwork would stand for the resistance of power. Cultural legacy changes in a moment, when it becomes ‘art’. The objects are in a terrain of global and international exchange of matter. When it comes to materiality in the sense or meaning, would not the objects have a saying only inside their cultural reference? Legacy or cultural speaking of the history changes with the art market. When legacy becomes art, it has become layered with different meaning; yet the objects are not entirely free of their cultural origins.
The Garbage Container (2014), impresses as a valuable huali wood piece, reminiscing of a cupboard, and looking like a container when it turned on the side. Another impressive piece is the architectural installation titled Ordos 100 model (2011), which was built together with Swiss architect firm Herzog & De Meuron. Made of carved pinewood, an uncompleted, miniature city was planned to be build in Ordros. Treasure Box (2014), is another construction made of huali wood. interestingly, all the objects seem to highlight the wallpaper, titled as IOU Wallpaper (2011-2013), which has decorative appeal, yet a message that makes everything seem unconventional.
Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at HAM Helsinki in on view until February 28th, 2016.
Artist website: http://aiweiwei.com/