Bells, tools and meditation are all ancient. When it has been confirmed by historic research, that tools and weapons were among the earliest bronze objects in China, the bells also now belong to this bronze age era. The meditative component has eminently added value and appreciation among the Asian arts. People are looking for nurture from art, and statuesque buddhas seem nurturing, even healing with their meditative poses. Massive sculptures are surrounded with the calm that is often lacking from the demands of the everyday life. The journey inwards requires little more participation.
Chinese bells have a special form that calls for a closer investigation. They are emblems of music, and when tried, the sound can be interestingly different from the Western terms of bell-sound. The church-bells have varying melodies, yet Chinese bells embody tones that are thousands of years old. It is believed, that the sound has not changed since they were casted. Bells still narrate of ancient technology as a soundsystem.
With the global travel, the world has shrunk, and meditation practices have become increasingly popular. We are at the moment pushed to scrutinize ourselves into increased indoor dwelling, so discovering new possibilities of meditative practices might be useful. Sound is one way to go, listening to music with new awareness, concentrating fully into music or sound may turn the focus into a particular matter. A ‘look’ inwards may be rewarding.
Meditation is a bodily practice of a mind as operator. A word techne would also fit with its stance of the world. Techne is a philosophical term, which includes knowledge at its core. By using it in reference to bodily practice, it might as well connect to understanding your meditation approach. Learn to meditate by meditating, gain knowledge of meditation by doing it. Knowledge is coming from the act and art of doing.
Sitting buddhas are art works that meditate, giving out a pose with a silent approach that is almost demanding us to participate in a technology of looking inwards, of stopping our other activities, breathing with the sculpture. The art stimulates the senses into a sole pattern of sitting with a more disciplinary attitude.
A 90-year old Chinese artist An Ho finds inspiration from nature and its serene beauty. Still a steady brush in her hand, she invents nature with her visionary approach. The landscapes seem like in many Chinese classical paintings, where the vision engages in the detail. Stillness of a landscape is poetic, without rush forward, yet bearing undertones of memories and dreamlike solitude. The artist who lives in Upstate New York, shows her love towards the trees and landscapes of her environment.
An Ho’s six recent paintings are on display at the CHINA 2000 FINE ART in New York City. In a way, the works on silk and paper are telling an ancient story. Ho studied techniques that were forgotten many centuries ago. The artisthas revitalized this history by bringing the painting styles into life in modern times. Eventually, there is a play of translucent refinement that of color and movement.
An Ho’s mastery of the Chinese brushwork lays the basis of the landscapes. There is a sense of perception in the works, as her artistic vision develops in a close observance of nature. Each composition has its own reality, and perfection, or an entire world to narrate. If the works were a dream, they would be more perfect than a reality. They propose harmony and co-existence between man and nature.
An Ho, also known as Wen-ying, was born in 1927 in Beijing, China. Her father was chief newspaper editor, and mother was a painter of flowers. Her parents were senior members of Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary movement.
An Ho got introduced to famous Chinese traditional painter Pu Ru (1896-1963), who took her as his student and protégée. She studied 17 years with him, learning that Chinese painting takes into account both the fine quality of the art, and the personal approach and attitude of an artist. She studied with him initially in China and then in Taiwan. Master Pu Ru came from the Qing royal family. He was a poet, calligrapher and painter. Also, An Ho studied first classics and poetry, before starting arts and painting. The artist started with calligraphy, and finally learned the techniques of painting. Pu Ru’s teaching method cultivated her character as the basis for the skillful using of brush and ink. The brush is profound and important part of the technique, and the character of an artists rehearses for it.
In 1952, An Ho’s work began to be noticed by the Chinese art world. Her works have been exhibited in China, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, France and the United States.
Artist and global citizen Liu Shiyuan is a young generation Chinese artist. She comes from Beijing and lives currently between China and Copenhagen, Denmark. Her multiplicity as an artist has gained her presentation across continents. Liu Shiyuan’s visually colorful photography and video montage, and her approach to cultural patterns perform traditions from new angles. In her body of works, monochromatic tones meet performative arrays.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What made you decide to move to Copenhagen Denmark, as you have lived in so many places?
Liu Shiyuan: I was born and grew up in Beijing. I studied in The Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). Then after that, I went to NYC to get my MFA from the School of Visual Arts. I´m a very typical Beijing person, my dialogue accent and my behavior are pretty local Beijing type. I got used to living in a big city where there´s a lot of competitions going on. I like it, it makes me always have to work harder and be a better person and so on. So I actually never thought about moving to a place like Denmark. But I met my husband in Beijing in 2009 while he was doing his exchange studies there. We kept the relationship going even when we were living 8000 miles away from each other. He is Danish, and that is the reason why I am living in Denmark now.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How has your choice of living in multiple places changed your artistic identity and your perspective into things?
Liu Shiyuan: I got influenced by this kind of “international” life style a lot. Meeting with people from different places, it brought me a bigger image of understanding the world. I started thinking about things in a totally different way. By living with three different languages, my words are getting less, but my emotions are getting more. There´s so many things coming to me every day that I cannot even explain, they are too big and too complicated to be expressed by any language. That is why I work as a visual artist.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the best aspects of living in Copenhagen as an artist, in what ways do you think it is special there?
Liu Shiyuan: I found out here in Denmark that the “artists” (not including the Danish artists living outside of Denmark) are not like the “artists” I understood at all. I still don´t know what I can do here to the Danish society as an immigrant, except continue what I used to do. And I think doing art is enough for me. I don´t care where I live, as long as the life goes on. I travel a lot every year, we bring our baby with us to wherever we go. So home for us could be at any new places. We also stay in Berlin for a lot of time, since it´s very close to Copenhagen, so I guess besides Beijing, Berlin could be our second city.
Do you feel Scandinavian now?
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about your time spent in New Yock City, how did you experience the living and studying. Could you explain what ingredients did the art education give you?
Liu Shiyuan: I went to NYC in 2010, when I was 24. And I graduated from CAFA in Beijing in 2009, so there was only one year I was doing some stuff in Beijing in the time between. I wouldn´t call it a career, I only built my own performance group, and we made two conceptual theater pieces. I´m still very proud of the works and the people I was working with in my team, because the two pieces ARE really good whenever I watch the video recordings again. It was really for fun, for doing something new, without thinking it is the beginning of anyone´s career. People from the art circle didn´t even think I was an artist. But I was a very serious student in NYC, I never wasted my time, I never gave myself a chance to do so-so stuff, I had to make sure my artwork was going in the best way as it could. It was really the fantastic two years in my life that I really put my art practice together, clear everything up. I was working very hard, having a BF on the other side of the earth, so I spent most of my time in the studio while in school.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your primary medium of working now, or are you making art with different and varying tools and efforts?
I am very hard on myself. Every time I make a new proposal, I begin from imagining I have never done art before. This is exhausted I agree, a lot of artists don’t work like this, but I just couldn´t help. I don´t have a studio in Denmark, I don´t put my works on the wall, and when I start a new project, I try not to look at my old works. So, I don´t think about the medium or the tools. Rather, the ideas are all coming from a brand new clean mind.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have created video works together with sound artist Kristian Mondrup Nielsen; how do these works usually develop?
Liu Shiyuan: I am also a video artist. But I know nothing about sound, so I work with Kristian Mondrup Nielsen when I need sound in my work. He is a very professional musician, for finishing the sound part of my work, he also needs to cooperate with other people. The process usually starts from renting a recording room, inviting people to play, then he mixes the sound by himself, and the final step is mastering.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your‘Wonderland’ color photography series was on display at the Frieze New York in May 2016 with Leo Xu Projects. This collage of photography brought to mind European food ingredients. Are these works influenced by Danish meals?
Liu Shiyuan: Maybe. Danish food can be very conceptual sometimes, because they really care about where the ingredients come from, if the farming is bad for the environment. So when you go to a good restaurant in Denmark, often what you get can look very minimal, no exaggerations. But the taste is just so good because of all the effort behind the curtain, the carrots taste like the best carrots you have ever had, the black coffee tastes like it has milk in it. This way that they treat the ingredients is very similar to how I treat the elements in my artwork. I show how I fully respect the pictures I use in my photos, just simply placing them on “the plate”. ‘Wonderland’ is also related to how fictions are influencing our real life.
In that series of photos, the amount of humor equals the same amount of sadness. So when you look at them, they are actually not food any more, they become the actors on the stage.
Liu Shiyuan, Wonderland, installation detail, photography digital prints / 23 x 30 cm, Frieze, NY, 2016.
Liu Shiyuan, This way or that way, installation detail, 80 printed carpets, 90 x 100 cm each, Frieze NY, 2016.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does the word Bentu, meaning native soil, personally resonate in you? It was a title of the exhibition, in which Fondation Louis Vuitton represented contemporary Chinese artists, who are crossing boundaries across traditions and geographical places, or are transforming something?
Liu Shiyuan: Bentu was the group exhibition I attended in January 2016. The defenition of Bentu definitely doesn´t mean a location or a pin on the map. I think it´s more like the root of you, the foundation of your understanding of things.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is a lot of discussion going on about the role of Chinese contemporary artists as part of the art market booming in Chinese centers. Do you want to say something specific about the phenomenon?
There´s a boom of something in China, but I´m not sure if it is mainly related to the art market. Among all the money China got every year there´s only 5% coming from art. So I think the discussion is more on the economical level. It is very scary if you go visit a small city in China, you see new buildings everywhere, but they are empty. So I guess it´s like someone took a loan from the bank to build them while hoping a lot of people can also take loans to buy them. So the whole thing is holy. I am actually very bad at thinking about money, so maybe I shouldn´t talk too much about economy.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you see older generations contemporary Chinese artists like Ai Weiwei influencing your thinking or methods of working, or something like that?
Liu Shiyuan: He definitely made me thought about my art practice a lot, especially in NYC when almost everyone was asking me about him. Sometimes I explained a bit about how understandings can get twisted between cultures, sometimes I just answer he is not my uncle I don´t know.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Would you like to say something specific about the galleries, which represent you in Beijing and in Copenhagen. Do you feel that there is a common nominator now in the international art world, meaning that the patterns of working and featuring artists can be too similar?
Liu Shiyuan: Definitely. The culture of mixing thing has been going on for a long time, and now it starts to seem a bit boring. I don´t think the way most of the people use the word “international” is right.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As your art works have been exhibited in different platforms and sites; in museums, galleries, and art fairs, however, who would be an ideal collector for your art?
Liu Shiyuan: Anyone who loves the works. For me, and also my galleries I believe, the best is not always the biggest. Of course, my artworks only have few editions, sometimes they are unique, so I hope the collectors are willing to show them again somewhere, to let more people see them, to make the works live forever in a way.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think there is something unique for being a woman contemporary artist that has a new empowering resonance?
Liu Shiyuan: Actually I don´t feel any difference as being a woman. I don´t really know the art world a lot, maybe some people think there´s too few female Chinese artists, so we need to dig more out. But for me, I don´t think about it, it has been a long long long time that I didn´t think of myself as a woman, but I do remind myself all the time that I am an artist.
Katsutoshi Yuasa is a Japanese artist who has revitalized the original idea of photography, thinking about its early techniques, and bringing the digital production close to ancient Japanese printmaking practices. His detailed and lengthy artistic process starts usually with a digital snapshot. Eventually the image finds a new life as woodcut print or relief work, which the artist carves and prints all by a hand. In this production the original alters into something else, depicting a feeling or experience. Katsutoshi Yuasa was born in Tokyo. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, and has exhibited internationally for over a decade now.
For Katsutoshi Yuasa, the photography contains several layers of meaning. The complexity of the medium implies that the production cannot be perceived as pure images.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your woodcutting is based on photography, did this practice in your mind transform the idea of photography?
Katsutoshi Yuasa: Yes, my process of making art works is a way of thinking about an origin of photography. Or it is about image-making. How we understand and transform an image in front of our eyes to our mind.
I start from a photographic snapshot, but re-emergence of a photographic image is not my goal. My purpose of using a photograph is to make visible something which is perceived but no one sees.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your background in the arts, how did you end up choosing woodcutting?
KY: I studied painting at first when I was a student. But I gave up my paintings because I couldn’t find a good future in my paintings. So I participated in a short printmaking course, and then found positive possibilities in the printmaking. Even that time my interest was photography, so I was thinking photo etching or screen print technique as my primary expression. At first, woodcut print seemed to be too far from photography. But later I concerned carving lines on wood as a similar process to making lights in the dark room. Now I’ve been making woodcut prints and works related to wood for over 10 years. Basically, woodcut print includes questions about light, image, water and colour.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In how many countries have you exhibited so far, including art galleries and art fairs?
KY: Maybe about 15 or 16 countries.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Coming from Japan, do you find that there are common approaches to making art in Japanese and Nordic cultures, asking this also because your art has been showed in Nordic countries quite often?
KY: My main subject is woodcut print but it is about light, image, water and colour. So I made a project with an idea of these and created a concept from a place where I stayed. When I visited Norway with the art project “20 Coastal Stations”, my subject was water & colour. I’m going to have a exhibition in October 2016 with artists who traveled together in Norway last year (see info here http://www.sfk.museum.no/nn/node/48).
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You spent also some artist residence time in Finland, how was this experience like, did it change your artistry, how about finding new influences?
KY: I spend a really good time in Finland. During the artist residence in Finland, I searched Scandinavian myths and poems. I’m interested in how myths are made. I made woodcut prints titled as “Illmatar” and “The world without words”. Also “Listen, Nature is full of songs and truth” is a phrase that I borrowed from Finland.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that many of your photographs carry nature imagery, what is your artistic philosophy about nature and how does it change in the process of making your works?
KY: I am not interested in making just beautiful pictures. My interest are words, stories and myths behind the nature and the landscape. The topics are words, images, art, nature, politics and beauty. I would also like to show and include ambivalence in my works.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In recent years, you have made a series of works that imply thematic concerns about what is happening in the world. You did a series titled “The Colors of the Innocents”; the theme is based on events in the Middle East adopting Syrian crisis. How did this project come about?
KY: Everyday we see many shocking images on TV or on a screen. There are too many images around us via the internet. I have the works titled as “We lost something but we don’t know what we lost”. And, we can say “We see anything but we don’t remember what we saw” and also “We know something is happening in the world but we don’t know the smell and temperature”. These topics are about cruelty and colour.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The result of these prints is quite amazing. Tell about the aesthetic choices of making “The Colors of the Innocents”? They are quite different from your other works, which are more representational.
KY: For these works, I was more interested in making colourful works because colour is getting more important in my practice. One colour work is following up from my CMYK printing system. So I made 4 wood blocks with different lines and printed with 4 CMYK colours.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You can see that in 2015 there are new lines and shapes emerging, and result is perhaps more geometry and color. The prints titled All is Vanity, CMYCYMMCYMYCYCMYMC, and Nordlys, to name a few, have this form. Can you say that there is a fine line between design and art in the project that you are doing with these shapes?
KY: The most important idea for these works is “A Throw of the Dice Never Abolish Chance”. My interest is making an Image by a chance. Especially the I Ching is very interesting. There is a question that we choose something by a will or a chance. So my latest solo exhibition was titled as Colour/Numbers. How we choose numbers or how a number was chosen by us.
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015,Nordlys 45cm diameter Water-based woodcut on paper.
Katsutoshi Yuasa, 2015, CMYCYMMCYMYCYCMYMC / Set of 24 sheets, 64cm x 48cm each / Water-based woodcut on paper.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the “Beyond assumption” exhibition, which you had in Copenhagen in 2011, you kind of wanted to create an oppositional imagery of disaster, could you tell about this background, and what did you choose to be part of the imagery beyond assumption?
Yes, the exhibition “Beyond assumption” is a word from the Natural disaster that hit in Japan in 2011. Artists want to make their art works beyond assumption in the end. And of course Nature is always beyond our assumption. But we made a system under an unstable base. So here art connects to nature.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The works from 2016 also are experimenting with different shapes, reflecting pattern explorations, and bringing forth new influences. It seems that you have a flux of going between geometry and nature, to create and implement beauty?
KY: Yes, I’m very interested in geometry and patterns. It is about image-making. History and culture are included behind an image.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are you heading next with your art and career?
KY: My next exhibition will be in Norway in October. It includes works from 20 Coastal Stations project. So 6 artists will be showing together, presenting the project. Also, I will have a group exhibition with young Japanese artists, who make water-based woodcut prints, in Melbourne in October.
Aimee Lee is an artist, papermaker, writer, and the leading hanji researcher and practitioner in the United States. With paper, she makes thread, sculpture, books, drawings, prints, garments, and installations. AimeeLee’s background as a performing artist and musician carries traces of paper as sets and costumes. Her installations are artistic research on paper and sound. She has pursued a career with traditional Korean hanji, coming up with new aesthetic concerns and techniques for her artistic practice. As a scholar, she is author of award-winning book,Hanji Unfurled (The Legacy Press).
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are a musician, a performer with live violin. How did you start creating performances onsite, including your own installations, manifesting set designs and creating costumes? Did everything start with music?
Aimee Lee: My early aspirations were to become a concert violinist, but I learned in college that I was not serious enough to devote the requisite hours of practice and study. However, I still loved music and wanted to stay close to musicians, so I continued to play and my first jobs were in music administration—bringing music to people who did not have access, or bringing people together through music.
When I moved to Chicago for graduate school, I entered an interdisciplinary program that encouraged combining different media, especially performance. It was a book and paper program, but I was interested in the intersection of books and performance. Once I began to make paper, the connection between paper and performance was so compelling that I created installations that were dependent on paper that I made. The performances, which almost always included sound from my violin, activated the installations.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Some of the live performances, which you composed and put together implement almost haunting kind of sound that responds back from the architecture of the venue, and then audience is stretched to interactive listening and feedback, where did you get the ideas to make these works?
AL: Mostly, I studied classical music, but later learned improvisation and jazz. The heart of what I have always loved to do is rooted in improvisation, whether or not I was aware of it. Human communication, which sound and music are, has always fascinated me, so I wanted immediate feedback and interaction with my audiences. In Chicago, I was influenced by performance residencies with Aaron Williamsonand Greg Allen, and by Julie Laffin.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Now, we can perhaps say that you have become a master of hanji, the Korean traditional paper making. Where did you find the enthusiasm to start exploring it, and how did it come about?
AL: While I studied papermaking history in the graduate school, I noticed that it began in China, moved to Korea, and then traveled to and flourished in Japan. Most of the existing research in English on East Asian paper was based in Japan, and I was unable to find much about hanji (Korean paper). I grew up at a time and place in the US where people always tried to guess my heritage, but they could only imagine that I was Chinese or Japanese. This sense of Korea being overshadowed affected me deeply, so I felt a curiosity about Korean paper history. My Fulbright research in Korea uncovered an entire history and culture that fascinated me on all levels, as an artist, a researcher, a Korean American, a person in the world. After my return to the U.S., I felt a strong responsibility to share what I had learned. I would never call myself a hanji master, but will always be a steadfast hanji ambassador and artist (read Aimee Lee’s exhibition review in Firstindigo&Lifestyle)
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is the knowledge of making hanji widespread in Korea today, how about the new generations and passing down this historic form that goes back hundreds of years?
AL: Korea has similar issues to the U.S. and other cultures where the current knowledge of traditional craft by the general public is quite limited. It is not a priority in contemporary life, so not many people in Korea are aware of the process of making hanji and its impact on Korean history. There are less than 25 paper mills remaining in Korea, and very few have serious apprentices, because it’s not an easy living. In a world where you could live and work in an urban center with all the amenities you need, why would someone decide to live in a rural area doing manual labor for very little money? There are no good incentives to do the work, even if you believe in continuing an ancient and important tradition.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How sustainable is the process, could you tell about the ecological aspect of the paper making?
AL: Papermaking on a small scale (meaning individuals or families who are in business) in Korea is ecologically sustainable, though it may not be financially so. The main raw material is the paper mulberry tree, which is cut each year. This coppicing practice encourages the plant to grow back every year, so the same plant can produce material for over 20 years. These are not trees in the way Western minds think of hardwood lumber: they are tall and skinny, almost shrublike, and cutting them down does not kill the plant. The traditional methods of processing always used plant materials so that production byproducts were easy and not toxic to dispose of or reuse. The bulk of the energy that goes into making hanji is human energy, which means that the process is very labor intensive but has a very light ecological footprint.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is it correct that Hanji derives from nature, or implies a closeness to it?
AL: Hanji is made from plants, and could never have been invented without a human closeness to non-human nature by observing the possibilities of certain species and experimenting over time. Dorothy Field, artist and author (my favorite is her book Paper and Threshold) writes beautifully about how certain plants long to become paper, and all they needed was the human hand to let them reach that state.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can Hanji accessories, or clothing, be compared to textiles, or is it irrelevant?
Paper and textile have a very strong connection, aside from each being able to be transformed into the other. The first paper was made from hemp cloth, and hanji can be cut, spun, and woven into cloth. Hanji has been used to make clothing, and today’s contemporary designers and manufacturers are including hanji into their textile production.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are teaching as well, could you tell about the workshops and education aspect?
AL: I mentioned before that sense of responsibility to share knowledge about hanji to a much wider audience. Part of this is from a conservation instinct, out of a fear that hanji is disappearing. But most of it comes from a joyous instinct, out of my love for this material that is so endlessly versatile. I always knew that handmade paper had great range, but even after almost a decade, I continue to find possibilities for hanji. If the substrate was not impressive, I would not feel compelled to promote it. However, I want people to know about hanji as an option, so that they can have another tool in the toolkit. This means that I teach a range of workshops, from preparing fiber to making hanji to manipulating it by hand. I travel continually to spread the word, in the hopes that eventually hanji will become as familiar as other papers, and that paper itself can be regarded on the same level as canvas, clay, metal, glass, wood, and so on.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The aesthetic form of Hanji art and folk art influences your making, how do people receive these traditional objects, which you are making today?
AL: Most people don’t know about the lineage of the objects, so the responses are mostly of wonder—they are amazed that my pieces are made of paper in the first place. This provides an opening to share the stories of their historical use, and illuminate the ways that humans have always made objects that are not only useful, but embedded with meaning. Some have asked if I am interested in using the techniques to make much more contemporary ‘looking’ art. I have wanted for years to extend crafts like jiseung into installation and larger work that goes past the original shapes and functions of their predecessors. The issue is that the time and labor that it takes to make one piece is so great that I could only go in that direction if I had a very long and uninterrupted stretch of time to work. However, I am gratified to see that some of my students are moving in that direction after learning about hanji and its applications.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What other materials do you use today in the making of your art?
AL: For the longest time, I have been very strict about using hanji whenever possible, or other handmade papers. My thread box is always full of different paper threads I have made, though I use cotton, linen, and silk thread to sew my hanji dresses. I also use the raw materials that make these papers, such as the cooked bark before it is beaten to a pulp. I use mostly natural dyes and finishes, which add color, structure, and protection to the paper. Last year, I collaborated with Kristen Martincicon a paper and ceramic installation, and recently had a couple of jewelry metals artists help me with additions to my paper ducks at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. I’m interested in continuing this last investigation further.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is fascinating about your use of paper is its multiple dimensions from small objects to books. Your own writing and art (illustration) is sealed into these art books. Tell about the books, which you have made, how did the stories develop?
AL: Books came first for me, before paper. I was making artists’ books at Oberlin College while studying with Nanette Yannuzzi Macias, which was a game changer. It was a way to combine writing, drawing, storytelling, and all kinds of other media into a form that felt very familiar and yet new. I don’t remember when I started to draw comics, but like improvisation, it was something that came naturally to me. I always thought that the point of being able to make my own books was the ability to create all of my own content. Most of my books contain original writing and stories that come from my own life experience, literature that I love, and the immediate present moment—whether an emotional space or an actual time in history that could be marked in the news cycle.
Aimee Lee, Lapse relapse, 2015, ink and persimmon dye on kozo and hanji, thread. Oberlin College Art Libary collection.
Aimee Lee, Blue moon, 2015, Naturally dyed, spun and woven mulberry paper, mildweed paper covers, thread, 4 leaves.
Aimee Lee, Figure and ground, 2006-2011, pen on handmade paper, tacket binding, 12 pages, CIA Gund Library Collection
Aimee Lee, Arithmetic, 2016, Pencil and stamped foil on handmade paper, 300×300
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you travel to Korea to get new ideas and exchange?
AL: I am able to get back every several years, whenever I am funded. However, because of the distance and difficulty of making enough time to visit (I prefer going for longer periods of time), it’s not a journey I make often. Certainly it is inspiring, but it is a challenge as well because the expectations of me as a Korean American woman can be stressful.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Often you hear that there is a division of thought between Eastern and Western approaches or philosophies. Do you feel you are bridging the gap between east and west in your practice, or do you think about these questions?
AL: This idea comes up often and much of my work can be seen as bridge building between cultures. However, I do my best to stay away from the reductive nature of “East/West” because it sets up an automatic “Us/Them” mentality that can become dangerous. My life experience of feeling reduced to a single word, automatically, because of how I looked, keeps me aware of the unconscious instincts we have to categorize everything. I prefer to present my scholarship and artwork as being rooted in and inspired by many different traditions and cultures. It’s impossible for me to work any other way because I was born to immigrant parents and always lived between at least two disparate cultures.
The “east meets west” cliché is one I particularly dislike, as if it has just happened, and as if there are only two monoliths in the world. It also comes from the point of view of a certain place being the center or more superior, which is problematic. Most cultures around the world have been in contact with each other for centuries, so cross-cultural understanding is not a new thing or an anomaly. Rather, it’s the norm.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you see yourself as an artist and educator in the future?
AL: My goal is to build a new hanji studio for myself, where I can work, make paper, and teach independently, while continuing to travel to teach and exhibit. I want to train apprentices in this new space so that I can increase the number of people who can support hanji. There’s at least one more scholarly book left in me as well, so I look forward to finding the ideal setting to properly research and write it. All of this will be unlocked, I think, once I find the right place for myself to be.
Re:visioning HANJI exhibition showcases artworks made from Korean traditional paper hanji. Two artists, Ran Hwang and Aimee Lee, have each developed their own contemporary aesthetics and styles based on the traditional modes of mastering the paper in artistic forms. The exhibition is on view until March 31 at the Korean Cultural Center in New York, and connects to the Asia Week New York.
In the old days, the masters of the Korean paper manufacturing were called jijang. This profession was proudly inherited and passed on to the next generation. The art of Korean paper making is a complex production process starting with a fiber of mulberry tree. It has developed into multiple use of materials and techniques that are still valid today. Historically, paper was not only applied into books, but its role was more daily as functional material in architecture and clothing. It was also part of making calligraphy, painting, money and armor. The remarkable part of early Korean paper manufacturing was connected to Buddhist scriptures.
The paper process starts with harvesting. A year old mulberry fiber is harvested during the time of November – February, when the plant has enough moisture and the fiber is soft. The skin gets steamed right after harvesting to make a peeling process easier. The entire making is ecological and does not harm nature in any way. After washing and drying, boiling, and peeling cycle, the fiber is used to make hanji. Then the project involves beating the fiber so paper will become thinner and tougher. Finally, the fiber needs to be dissolved and sieved into paper.
Jiseung is an indigenous art form that Koreans have practiced for hundreds of years. It evolved from hanji; when books were printed and bound, the trimmed edges were saved and used further in making baskets and decorative items. The paper rope became popular, because it was softer than straw, but as strong, and available for use. Many of the traditional pieces have gotten lost through wars and modernization. Yet woven hanji artifacts still include everyday items such as shoes, baskets, wallets, backpacks, and lanterns. For young Korean-American artist, Aimee Lee, the idea of 100 percent hanji includes making the paper herself. She then weaves and naturally dyes the materials used in the artworks. Eventually her objects take a form from the traditional dimensions, gestures and environments. Lee says that her pieces borrow from the historical artifacts. The wedding ducks, which were traditionally given to Korean bride and groom, are one example of this long history. The artist plays with the proportion and shapes creating unique contemporary versions of the objects. She states that none of the original materials went to waste, because paper was so durable and labor intensive to make. Repurposing the paper is a way to connect to the tradition and stories. Paper was carrying secret messages during war. People made sandals out of civil service examinations and other certificates.
My main material is paper and my central concern is how we use it. I make paper with abundant native and invasive species, which involves harvesting plants, stripping and cooking, processing into pulp, forming sheets, and drying. With this paper, I make thread, sculpture, books, drawings, prints, installations, and performance components. Aimee Lee
Korean-born, internationally acclaimed installation artist Ran Hwang creates poetic pieces out of materials that are deployed in fashion industry. She uses handmade hanji buttons to create monumental pieces in installations that display iconic images. Her 9 feet tall work that displays Eiffel Tower and Triumphal Arch, required hours of securing handmade materials on plexiglas panel. The Beginning of the Bright piece, includes also Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. The work was displayed in Paris at the UNESCO headquarters to celebrate Hangeul’s designation as world cultural heritage. For Hwang, the lengthy hours of making the works means hammering each button on pins for approximately 25 times. The work is like meditative ritual similar to those of the zen-masters who concentrate on their practice for hours at a time.
Hwang creates three types of series, including, the plum blossoms, the birds and spiders, and architecture. The blossoms refer to ephemerality, to the endless circulation of life, which flowers depict when growing and falling. Architecture, like palaces, are symbols of power, which in the art also imply tragic events like invasions and deaths. The small creatures, birds and spiders, represent states between restriction and freedom, implying a constant flux and wandering in life. The artist states that all her work is in a state of fluidity. Nothing is fixed or permanent. The art evokes a dialogue between fleeting and the eternal.
The combination of endurance and ephemerality is at the heart of my choice of using buttons as the primary medium. I hammer thousands of pins into wooden or acrylic panels with my bare hands. The process of creating these large installations is time-consuming, repetitive, and labor-intensive. Thus, the production process is a meditation for me to visualize a cosmological amount of time, and de-installation process is to end the cycle of life and start a new cycle. Ran Hwang
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 atHAM Helsinki in on view until February 28th, 2016.
Cho Kuwakado is a Buddhist priest and director of Lumbini Kindergarten in Saiki City in Japan. He is an Arts educator together with his team that makes Chara-Rimpa mural projects in Japan and abroad. The most recent international collaboration was for the opening event for the celebration of Colegio Madrid’s 75th anniversary in Mexico. In the interview, Cho discusses the background of these projects, and encourages us to think together with his educational philosophy, which is rooted in the history of Art and in the Buddhist thinking.
There are two levels of nature in my thinking. One is a superficial level like weather, vegetation, and ecosystem. Another is a cosmological level from which the superficial workings of nature emerge. Valuable works of art for me entail some elements of nature at a cosmological level. I think that is the source of the universal appeal of fine art work.
Chara-Rimpa is an art project initiative with a global production perspective, how did it get started and when?
It started in Spring 2013 when I began planning for our kindergarten’s 50th anniversary event. I contacted Dr. Yasuyuki Sakura, a graduate of our school and an established artist based in Tokyo, to ask him to be involved in our celebration event. Dr. Sakura agreed to be the art director of our kindergarten as well as to be a co-planner of our anniversary celebration- this was the initiation of the Chara-Rimpa project.
The global production idea came up when teachers from our sister school in California visited our school in Saiki. They were quite attracted by the professional work of Dr. Sakura and in the large mural in our school play yard that was created with 64 kindergartners in one day. I then thought about the possibility of doing a Chara-Rimpa art project in California and was interested to see how it could be carried out. I made a proposal to one of the teachers, Sarah Clark, to visit her school with my artist team. Then we started to talk about the details of a possible mural making project in California. After six months, in June 2014, we visited the town of Burney, CA where the movie “Stand by Me” was filmed. We worked with the sixth graders of Burney Elementary School. Our Chara-Rimpa project in Burney was a great success.
I’m very curious, what is your own background in the intersection of the arts and community involvement/community work?
My family has resided in Saiki City, Oita Prefecture, Japan since the 17th century as a hereditary Buddhist temple chief-priest/caretaker family. I am the 17th head priest of a Shin Buddhist temple, Zenkyoji, as well as the director of its kindergarten. As I grew up, I often looked into the writings and possessions of the former head priests, and I learned that india-ink painting, calligraphy, and mastery in classical Chinese poetry were common practices of former Buddhist priests until a century ago. Nowadays some limited groups of priests do continue these traditional practices. My interest in art came from my predecessor’s interest in Chinese art culture.
With 1500 households belonging to my temple, I think it is an important part of my responsibility to serve our community. Planning art events and workshops building relationships between children and adults is one of my community commitments.
Where did you study, and how did you find your international networks?
I was trained in Buddhist practice at my temple since the age of five. I studied social anthropology at Claremont Colleges (Pitzer) in Southern California, University College London, and Cornell University. My father was a Buddhist priest and a child education specialist. He studied in the US for one year. He developed a scholarly network then, which later led to my interest in studying at a university in the US. When I was a student there, I was fortunate to make friends from various countries, though I lost contact with many of them after graduation. However, through Internet SNS, mainly Facebook, I have reconnected with many friends that I studied with in the US and the UK.
Your recent project took place in Mexico City, how did the murals come about? How do you feel, what was the impact at the local level? Do you use multicultural tactics?
Dr. Sakura and his partner Toshie Yoshioka worked together to develop the design theme of the mural. In a photograph of the elementary school wall, they noticed a water fountain in the lower central part of the wall. The shape of the water fountain resembled a plant pot and they decided to draw a big tree growing from ‘the pot.’ It came out incredibly vibrant and beautiful and the impact of the mural was greater than I had expected. It was an opening event for the celebration of Colegio Madrid’s 75th anniversary. About 20 teachers and 70~80 students participated in making a giant mural on its elementary school building wall. I felt the power of the artists’ imaginations, which enabled many people to work together for the same purpose enthusiastically. The directors, teachers, students, and invited guests all looked happy and marveled to see the beauty of the completed mural. We also organized and ran workshops which incorporated elements of traditional Japanese culture. Our photographer took photographs of Mexican people in “on the job/off the job” style to be used for later workshops in other countries.
Who are your greatest influencers in terms of the arts and creativity?
I have always been influenced by the thoughts and activities of Ryuichi Sakamoto (Japanese composer/musician), Levi-Strauss (Claude) for his work “La Pensée Sauvage,” and the Vienna Secession for their quest for freedom in art, departure from historicism and conservatism.
Could you tell us about your most important collaborators, who are they and what is their role in the projects?
Dr. Yasuyuki Sakura is the key artist of our project, conceptualizing the overall plan. His partner Toshie Yoshioka is a splendid designer who creates our workshops and mural design. Hiroaki Seo is our indispensable photographer who records the process of our activities, the finished work, and also captures the fleeting expressions of the participants. Hiroaki is responsible for all those vibrant images of the project and the people involved. Hanako Suro, our writer, communicates in a friendly and warm style to share information about our projects for a Japanese audience. Keiko, my wife, helps me making plans and doing projects. Kate MillingYonezawa always helps me with English wording. Hao Phan, my friend from Cornell University, has been very helpful in planning overseas projects. It was thanks to Hao that our project in Mexico was so successful. I am very appreciative of Hao’s support with her global network. Another Cornell alumna, Young Ju Kwon, owner of the sushi restaurant YUZU, is helping us with possible project development in New York City.
When we plan our overseas projects, it is crucial to have a devoted, experienced person in charge of the art project. Sarah Clark in Burney and Laura Gilabert at Colegio Madrid were such teachers. We were very lucky to have Sarah and Laura in charge of the project at each school.
Do you have a specific education philosophy that gives you guidelines? Does being Japanese implement ideas that you think are unique, and that the world should learn about?
My education philosophy has its base in Buddhism; every individual’s potential is valued equally and is educated accordingly, everyone needs to play a role for a peaceful society.
A former professor of Tokyo University of Arts, art critic Hideto Fuse points out that one of the distinctive characteristics of Japanese art throughout its history is to cultivate “the mind of children” as expressed in the facial beauty of Buddhist statues. I agree with him that the Japanese art tradition valued “the mind of a child” in the sense that Picasso expressed, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. “ I think that if there is something Japanese artists can offer to the world, one thing is its artistic tradition of expressing “the mind of a child” in art forms as can be seen in the contemporary works of Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.
Do you have a favorite art form, performing arts or visual arts, what does being so multidisciplinary mean to you?
Visiting museums is always a treat for my mind. I was fascinated by William Turner’s work in London. I love music very much. A solo performance by Rostropovich that I attended at Cornell Concert Hall was one of my most fortunate experiences. A Sankaijuku dance performance that I saw in LA was impressive. Form itself does not define my preference. I am more attracted to the spirit expressed in any kind of art form. I think multidisciplinary is a very stimulating concept. It is a very effective approach to reach more audience in the context of technologically progressing diversified modern society. I think our art project can be viewed as a type of participatory art or relational art, which is usually, categorized as multidisciplinary art.
What kind of role does nature play in your thinking? Are there any specific metaphors in the nature that are important for you personally, and in your creative process?
There are two levels of nature in my thinking. One is a superficial level like weather, vegetation, and ecosystem. Another is a cosmological level from which the superficial workings of nature emerge. Valuable works of art for me entail some elements of nature at a cosmological level. I think that is the source of the universal appeal of fine art work.
What kinds of projects you have in mind for the future in Japan and overseas?
Dr. Sakura and I are planning mural making projects in Japanese towns. We are also planning another overseas art project for the next year involving mural making and cultural exchange art workshops. The mural design and the workshops are planned taking into account the project location and the country’s unique culture and traditions.
We are also planning to partake in a local festival here to attract more people and to create an improvisational call-and-response singing event. We are hoping that more people will experience and enjoy the spirit ofChara-Rimpa.
The mural design and the workshops are planned taking into account the project location and the country’s unique culture and traditions.
Anish Kapoor returns to Italy with a new exhibition Descension, a project produced specially for the former cinema and theatre space of Galleria Continua in San Gimignano. The exhibition takes its name from the installation Descension, which is a black whirlpool consisting of motor-powered water swirling towards its center. Interested in binary relations and opposite energies, Kapoor(born in Bombay in 1954, lives in London) poses alchemical questions with the large scale installation. It creates paradoxical ideas of matter, energy and the universe, which also touch our human core and perception. The exhibition opened on May 2 and will run until September 5, 2015.
The exhibition features a series of new sculptures in alabaster, in which the artist has meticulously carved out a more refined section. We can expect that the concepts of infinite and time are buried within their form and substance as they appear in nature. The intense red (and kind of orange) embedded in the translucent qualities of the alabaster sculptures suggest organic qualities. But idea travels well through the entire exhibition, which among alabaster includes a variety of mixed media works in fiberglass, paint, stainless steel, pigment and acrylic.
Descension, the installation established by Kapoor in the stalls area of the cinema-theatre in San Gimignano, continues his earlier theme introduced as ‘Descent into limbo’ in 1992. The artist’s former work was presented respectively in Kassel, Germany as documenta IX; a Cubed building with a dark hole in the floor. In the middle of a cube, there was a kind of bottomless black hole opening up in the floor, which was “dragging” viewers with its powerful presence. The idea of Descension shows how Kapoor has an interest in non-objects and self-generated forms. In 2015, the installation destabilizes and undermines our perception of the earth as a solid element. The earth, perceived also as mother earth, is in constant flux and movement bringing forth a thrust downwards and towards an interior that is unknown and hidden from the visible world.
Kapoor has inevitably shown how he is reinventing his artistic language both in monumental dimension, as in more intimate pieces. His philosophical inquiry begun early with his very first works and has continued through to recent and more large-scale installations in museums and public spaces. His themes are partially alchemical, dealing with mystery and universality of time and space. But the human beings with their self-awareness and experiences is at the heart of his artistry as well.
”… all my life I have reflected and worked on the concept that there is more space than can be seen, that there are void spaces, or, as it were, that there is a vaster horizon. The odd thing about removing content, in making space, is that we, as human beings, find it very hard to deal with the absence of content. It’s the horror vacui. This Platonic concept lies at the origin of the myth of the cave, the one from which humans look towards the outside world. But here there is also a kind of Freudian opposite image, that of the back of the cave, which is the dark and empty back of being. Your greatest poet, Dante, also ventured into a place like that. It is the place of the void, which paradoxically is full – of fear, of darkness. Whether you represent it with a mirror or with a dark form, it is always the “back”, the point that attracts my interest and triggers my creativity.”
Galleria Continua, Via del Castello 11, San Gimignano (SI), Italia
Subodh Gupta’s new exhibition ‘Seven Billion Light Years’ opens with multiple content, showing his performative sculptures, installations, films and a body of new paintings at Hauser & Wirth starting on February 10th. The exhibition takes root in the life in India which is his native country, addressing the local life where mundane and sacred exist side by side. Gupta is known for utilizing found everyday objects in his artworks, resonating meaning with utensils used in making and cooking food, as well as larger vessels such as a bicycle, on which smaller everyday objects are stacked. His works narrate about the culture of accumulation, where the people, food, and the daily exchange gets fused, appearing both chaotic and ritualistic. As a centerpiece of the gallery’s current exhibition is a series of new paintings called ‘Seven Billion Light Years’. These belong to Gupta’s signature subject of using basic kitchen utensils that are familiar to every Indian. Gupta’s art works raise questions, addressing what it means if the world’s people are not anonymous, but have identity and a bit of infinity. In the level of the paintings, the artist uses three-dimensional objects that are fixed to canvas with resin. These paintings carry the exhibition’s title, but there is more behind the meaning. The title refers to the seven billion inhabitants on the earth echoing about the materiality and the material fragility of our human lives. It displays the idea of intrinsic marks that we leave on the earth’s surface throughout the years. The objects speak about the human marks in the cosmos as well; the distance between our mortal lives and the cosmos appears as unfathomable.
Anthropologist and writer Bhrigupati Singh has written about Gupta’s work. The artist reminds us that what is near is
‘no less cosmic or mysterious – on the surfaces of ourordinary domestic vessels that journey with us, sometimes for years. What we discoverin the process are intricately crafted pieces of the cosmos.’
Gupta’s film ‘I go home every single day’ (2004/2014), narrates his commute between New Delhi and his native home in Patna. The journey in the film poetically tells about the changing landscape of the urban cityscape and the more traditional Indian home. The home is a place, where the camera lens repeatedly comes back to focusing on outdoor areas interpreting smaller details, in which the white wall becomes a surface of nuances. It acts as a backdrop for objects, ropes, plants and canvas totes. The yard itself as entrance stands as a sign for the domestic; water pipe carry a meaning that water is a sustenance, without it there would be nothing. Everything in-between the train and the home is in evolving chaos, where progress lives as traditional life changes and even disappears.
As a counterpoint to Gupta’s recent paintings called ‘Seven Billion Light Years’, Hauser & Wirth also presents an installation ‘Pure (I)’ (1999 / 2014), which is a variation of a piece exhibited last year at the Museum fur Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Gupta’s early work ‘Pure (1)’ originates back to 1999, and it was first presented at the Khoj workshop in Modinagar, India. This initiated the ongoing project on the everyday objects as vessels of larger cosmic power. The artist started collecting household utensils around New Delhi, including a hookah an a plough, sinking them into a field which was composed of a paste of mud and cow dung. He also covered himself with the same paste laying at the center of the field in a yoga posture of shavasana (the corpse). This, according to the artist, resulted in the state of ‘meditative blankness’.
At Hauser & Wirth, ‘Pure (I)’ has become a new work, in which Gupta is revisiting his own artistic process that took place 15 years ago. At the gallery, he presents a group of household objects that are partially buried in pure earth, along with a group of black and white photographs which stand for the neighbors from whom he borrowed the original objects for the earlier piece in 1999. These photographic portraits hang opposite of the earthy field, where gallery visitors can also walk, and hence experience its entity. The group of photographs present the people as de facto collaborators from the artist’s time of making his art.
Another big piece of art is an installation ‘This is not a fountain’ (2011-2013), that comprises of a large number of timeworn aluminum utensils that the artist collected. In the midst of it are water pipes, which while dripping ‘keep washing’ the surface of the installation. The artist states that he has been interested in the uniform of the mass-produced dishes. Yet, what comes out is the water as an essential element that pours as a ritualistic connotation for purity, showing the basis of things themselves. Meanwhile, the other art works at the gallery exhibition also reflect about Gupta’s own biographical attachment to his subject. His own middle-class background allows him to show the contrastive realities of the deprived and poor versus the richer classes. His use of everyday vessels made of various materials, where the socially humble turns into a shiny bronze, displays a sharp division between different social classes, whilst in the global exhibition space the meaning gets circulated into other levels as well, perhaps becoming a subtle divider between east and west. Additionally, the short film playing with the same title ‘Seven Billion Light Years’ (2014/2015, film, 2. min), meditates a Hindu philosophical idea of the cosmos as leela, which means play and dance in the traditional philosophy. The daily bread-baking becomes a metaphor with cosmic turns, where bread flies lightly like moments in life.
‘Seven Billion Light Years’ will be on view 10 February 2015 at the Hauser & Wirth’sdowntown gallery location at 511 West 18th Street, and be on view through 25 April. The exhibition coincides with the debut of a major work by Subodh Gupta in the exhibition ‘After Midnight: Indian Modernism to Contemporary India 1947/1997’, which opens 8 March 2015, at the Queens Museum in New York NY.