Sirkku Ketola: The artistic process of performing Paula

Finnish artist Sirkku Ketola had her performance project A Body Called Paula at the NARS Foundation Gallery in Brooklyn in November. In Finnish the word paula means a ribbon, something to tie or to be enchanted with. It is also a synonym for a trap. Globally Paula is known as a female name, originating from the Greek word ‘Paulus’, which means small.

In her current project of ten years, Ketola creates an installation that mixes screenprinting with performance. Part installation, part performance, A Body Called Paula is a piece that develops over the days of the installation through long-duration printing sessions. The movements and their soundtrack create an enchanting, sensual machine with the main themes of time and temporality, pleasure, and the meditative process of working.

The narrative story behind the performance hunts beauty through the themes of light, passion, knowledge, reality, and depth, finally balanced out by darkness. What is the measure of time? Ornament is a universal form of visual art in every culture. The installation at NARS is part of Sirkku Ketola’s long-term project. For the duration of ten years ‘A Body Called Paula’ produces hand printed ornaments, or ribbons.


Paula prints by Sirkku Ketola.
Paula prints by Sirkku Ketola.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What comes to mind, when you think about your project Paula is that it is so clearly beyond the visual practice, or enhances the physicality of the practice. What is so intriguing is how you dive into the embodiment and stretching of the paper. Is it that the body becomes a continuation of the paper in the printing process, as if being one with the paper? What kind of metaphors would you like to highlight, or are being evoked in the process?

Sirkku Ketola: I guess I need touchable material to support thinking and understanding. In this case the handling of color and paper together with challenging technical crafting, tune us as one organism, where the tempo is being set in the cohesion of the qualities of the all included matters. The strength of the body, the sensitivity of the hands and the exactness of the eyes, are sensing constantly the fragility, stretching, moistening and drying of the paper, and the consistency and volume of the ink. The local, or should I say site-specific humidity and temperature effect strongly to the functioning of this paper/colour/body formed sensual machine. Also the instant substance of the body, the general vitality, the emotional ambiance, and for example the daytime, give all some special marks, first to the performance, and second to the visual appearance of the ribbon in progress. Imprint is different during mornings and evenings, also in the beginnings and the ends of the ribbons. I have chosen the long and fragile paper to be forced to lose control. The process is too tiring to hold on it. During the series of the performance the same paper roll goes by my hands 12 times so it is impossible to dominate the quality or the crossing effects of different layers. I just must be humble, and let the ribbon teach me. Maybe the greatest thing is that the ribbons still surprise me even though I’ve been working with the same materials for years. The major errors have been avoided, but the danger of errors are constantly present – everything can be irreversibly spoiled even in the last round of printing.

Sirkku Ketola performing Paula.
Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in Cable Factory, Helsinki, August 2017.

Sirkku Ketola: The ornament arises on paper in stages from light to darkness. The colours (yellow/magenta/cyan/black), except being common from every home printer symbolize light, passion, knowledge, reality, depth and darkness. Step by step these colour layers, as named the elements of beauty, while mixing and uniting approach the truth, the code of life or would I say the mystery.

The hand printed ornament reminds somehow of the DNA. Basically with the repetition of same patterns, the motif is being affected continuously by the changes of the circumstances. All the variations show together endless amount of visual possibilities and diversity. At the same moment the so-called mistakes come part of the entirety and open up routes for the new beginnings.

Today we talk a lot about unmaterialized art, light and it’s different digitalized reflections. I am blown away by it also, the transfer of energy from one equipment to another accomplishes wonderful outcomes. In my own work process the need of touch, the acception of the tardiness of the body as the part of the thinking self, in other words handling with hands, have so far helped me to the deeper knowledge. I choose to cherish this special bodily tempo – it might be good for human species. When one forces oneself to stop by the slow repetition, one might also have time to understand something essential.

Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in New York, November 2017.
Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in Helsinki, August 2017.

 

Sirkku Ketola: To be able to do the metamorphosis to become a sensual machine I had to create a role. My character Paula is simultaneously enraptured and trapped (in Finnish there is a sentence with both meanings, derived from the word ‘paula’ which also is a ribbon). She is a metaphor of a small human in cosmos. The name Paula comes originally from the Greek name Paulus which means small. So my Paula works with paula, with her special ribbon. Her job is to communicate visually by printing this repeating and overwhelmingly beautiful ornament. She wanders globally and communicates of the seen beauty. The previous place sets the next pattern, for example the New York effects to Paula will be seen next spring in Helsinki, Finland.

The machine is slow and time bending. It is a factory that is able to work without problems approximately four times per year. The doctor’s order has set the limit. I forget the rules always in the beginning of the new project, but now, when the Brooklyn ribbon has been finished, the pain in my hands is there and that makes calming down easy. By respecting this manual of the project, it will be possible to enjoy after ten years from now about the yet unknown massive installation, which is made of these forty different and international printed ornament ribbons.

I feel extremely privileged to be able to define the speed of the assembly line. For that reason the pleasure is an important part of the performance. Paula enjoys her movements and the choreography set by the printing process. The ink flows and the paper glides with the hands accepting to follow the weight of the body. The touch varies from strong to gentle and the rhythm beats with the working steps. The birth of the image feeds the will to come along to the anonymous destination. The possibility for sudden challenges forces the printer into the extreme concentration and to overcome difficulties and accept the errors. With the physicality, the mental part is also reacting all the time to the present. The chosen repetition grows thinking and developes strong pleasure.

Sirkku Ketola: Feedback, 2016. Handprinted silkscreen on wood. 81 x 105 cm. Process picture.
Sirkku Ketola: Feedback, 2016. Handprinted silkscreen on wood. 81 x 105 cm. Process picture.

Firsindindigo&Lifestyle: How do you prepare for the performance of this scale, which is almost a marathon? What is the preparatory phase like, and what happens during the performance aftermath?

Sirkku Ketola: During the performing period I take specially good care of myself. I try to do the outdoor activities daily, sleep enough and eat healthier. I try also to avoid the evening happenings and alcohol. The preparation for the performance takes mentally the whole day, but the most intense are the two hours before the show. The soundtrack of the performance follows me since morning. I’d like to highlight, the sound scape of my music and the noise of the printing table are essential elements of the performance. When arriving to the show space I tend to eat lightly and drink a lot of water. After it is time to check all the technical equipments and to mix the printing inks, the hue and the saturation needs to be done carefully. I have a special ritual order to do this. After this, I isolate myself, warm up and slowly become my transformation to the role. Thirty minutes before the show it is time to change the costume and become Paula. She doesn’t speak. The aftermath of the show is quick, washing the make up and changing the clothes are rapid, so I’m soon ready to communicate with the world again as myself. Before leaving I clean the colours and check all the technical details for the next day. When arriving home I stretch well and take a warm shower, except in Finland my choice is sauna.

Paula performance in Nars foundation Photo Nov 17, 3 38 57 PM
Ketola performing at the NARS Foundation in New York, November 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How is New York as a place different, and this performance venue special, in terms of what is their impact on the quality and outcome of the work? How is the location different from the rest, say, Canada or Finland where you also created this performance piece?

Sirkku Ketola: The place impacts mainly how the performance is being installed. I like different spaces because they challenge the art work and keep it impossible to predict. The space in NARS in Sunset Park in Brooklyn is many ways special. First, it is near the Finntown, where there was a strong community of Finnish emigrants. During today’s new emigrations flow it felt important to mark the difficult roots of my own country. Second, the size of the gallery was perfect for the project. It fit there well, both visually and functionally. Third, the space is in the building, which is full of working artists, situated in the middle of the industrial Brooklyn. Where else should the sensual machine be? I came to New York as a visiting artist-in-residence of Finnish Cultural Institute for two months. My main goal was to research the structures of the money and power in the contemporary art scene. Beyond A Body Called Paula –project I started to sketch the new large-scale print installation referring to this research theme. The work will be produced during next three years. My colleagues in Brooklyn taught me a lot about independent artists’ living at the capital of contemporary art (NYC).

Paula, NARS foundation.
Paula performance, NARS Foundation in New York, November 2017.

The physical dimensions and the quality of the NARS space gave the rhythm for the installation when growing during the performances. The intimate gallery of the Sunset Park made possible to the paper ribbon to take a shape of a visually fine zig zag when it landed to dry to the perches I mounted. Also the rest of the visual elements of the performance found their places to create a dynamic composition. There was space for Paula to move and the audience was able to have several standpoints. The space was also photogenic with A Body Called Paula – and that’s important in our social media time.

This was the fourth time and the fourth place for Paula. In Toronto it was seen in a gallery with the long hallway. There the magic of Paula worked like in the story of the Pied Piper, when people saw the action from far, they just had to reach to the space. In Helsinki Paula measured the huge hall in Cable Factory during the five hours marathon performance. And in Turku, Finland she worked behind the lightened window in the darkness of the first autumn evenings by the riverside. And in Brooklyn she captured the industrial space around the other artists. I believe that during the next ten years, Paula can capture many different structures and spaces as rich as she has done in her first year of the process. The big scale quality will be seen in the end of the whole process. All in all, these places are valuable treasures for me, and will affect the final installation.

 

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Next time A Body Called Paula will be seen in Helsinki in March 2018. After that Sirkku Ketola travels mostly in Central Europe. She will be back in New York City during autumn 2019.

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The screenprints made in New York have been prepared at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop: http://www.efanyc.org
More information:

Introduction: http://sirkkuketola.com
Previous exhibitions: http://www.la-bas.fi/ketolaeng.html

SFMOMA Serendipity

Richard Serra at SFMOMA.

The opening of a new expansion of the SFMOMA art museum was celebrated just a couple of weeks ago. The intention of the new Snøhetta designed museum, is to increase public access to the museum by creating more room for education for the arts and related fields, to bridge the gap between the exhibiting gallery spaces and unticketed areas, as well as connect the outdoor spaces around the museum. More room to hang out, to meet, to educate, to inspire and to be inspired. SFMOMA opened at its current location in 1995, when the construction was designed by Mario Botta. For the reconstruction, Snøhetta design team had a challenge to double the gallery spaces, and help create a museum, which is a hub for new things to emerge. The refurbished museum aims to bring together American and International arts, while the collections span through gestural modernism and conceptual art, to the emerging contemporary art from the Bay Area. SFMOMA has also promised to reach out to global art communities at large.

The new SFMOMA proves that it is possible to reinvent an art museum. First, the museum architecture plays a huge role in creating the potential for the artworks that are being installed, as innovative architecture contests the boundaries of the space. This time, museum interior communicates with the exterior. Snøhetta has created a construction, which is seamlessly woven into the existing building, adding into the city’s urban dreams. As a result, the museum goes beyond its construction site, and communicates with surrounding parks and alleys. This proves that the ‘institutional’ side of the museum’s bureaucracy is set in the background, and the numerous stages of the public dwellings offered to the visitors is more apparent. A visitor attains the key role through the alteration of the spatial elements. Having so many choices to play with, the architecture transmits the perception, and creates together with the artworks a unique encounter for each visitor. The architectural line, it’s material continuation inside and outside sparks into multiple directions. Second, art plays with architecture in a new and unexpected ways, and changes the constructions too. With Richard Serra, Sol LeWitt, and Alexander Calder, among others, it’s hard to make the space appear as null. But there is so much art in the world to add into the master classics. New works show as much potential to communicate with the space.

A new contemporary art installation inaugurates the museum’s New Work -space. Leonor Antunes, has created work with a title ‘a spiral staircase leads down to the garden’ (2016).  This piece communicates with the architecture, showing diverse angles to enter the gallery space. The artist has stated that she carries ghosts with her into her works, in bringing artists, designers, and architects whom she admires to her installations. ‘a spiral staircase leads down to the garden’ is no different, appearing as a continuation of the space as an interior. The handcrafted materials cover the floor, hang from the ceiling, light the space, and block a direct path. The installation shows the artist’s interest in the Modernism, highlighting especially the woman practitioners in the history of craft and design.

Leonor Antunes, installation view at SFMOMA.
Leonor Antunes, 2016, installation views of her new work at SFMOMA.
Leonor Antunes, new work at SFMOMA.
Leonor Antunes, ‘a spiral staircase leads down to the garden’, 2016, Brass, cork, leather, hemp rope, nylon yarn, monofilament yarn, steel, electric cables, light pulps, brass and Bakelite light bulb sockets, and foam. Courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City.

The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection creates much of the museum’s art collection. In particular, noteworthy is the display around the historic gestural abstraction, which started molding the American Art after the end of the World War II. The movement started to erase questions about the art’s capability to evoke thoughts and feelings. Perhaps it originated in the idea of believing in the healing mechanisms of the art. One work is particularly interesting. Joan Mitchell’s large size triptych ‘Bracket’ (1989), is a great example of the instantaneous moment in art. For her, painting could represent similar forces as the sculpture, forging out the movement and physicality.

Joan Mitchell, Bracket, 1989, oil on canvas, is an example of the gestural modernism.
Joan Mitchell, Bracket, 1989, oil on canvas, is an example of the gestural modernism.

The show around gestural modernism is well thought out as part of the SFMOMA’s new opening. It reaches up to redefining the concept of a gesture via selection of works. This becomes a red thread to other artistic displays as well. The museum exhibits plenty of work coming from the plural identities of the Bay Area, yet, some combining elements construct a more cohesive palette. The best part is that the transitional space of the West Coast and its cultural crossroads confuses the pattern of the gesture as something fixed, measured, white and universal. The inside of the culture is turned outside, as much as the architectural environment overlaps both domains.

Hung Liu's oil on canvas.
Hung Liu, The Botanist, 2013, oil on canvas.

The contemporary artworks do not create separation, but quite wisely culminate in supporting each other. Series of contemporary works follow black and white patterns, with a hip touch of pop art, and borrowing from chic minimalism of American interiors. These could of course be easily absorbed into the world of design and culture lending to Modernist and Postmodernist architectural patterns. Over all, the sometimes too heavy collective experiences are not so much emphasized, and there is more room for subdued artistic politics. Fragmented selves and posthumous experiences, ghosts of the artist’s personal influences as part of the installation define the process in the contemporary art.

 

Images: Firstindigo&Lifestyle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camilla Vuorenmaa carves wood into paintings

Camilla Vuorenmaa is a young visual artist focusing on the human experience and the everyday encountering between people. She creates portraits with full of affect that stem from an exceptional artistic medium. Her portraits appear on carved wood as vigorously painted characters. An award-winning Finnish artist had a recent museum exhibition at the EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art in Finland.

The main motive in my works is the individual experience and a sort of portrait. Effort, success and experiences of failure, the dignity of everyday life, affection, frustration and the experience of innocence and pain are subjects I reflect in my works. Mainly I portray the figures as themselves, doing some kind of a activity or being in the middle of it. Fundamentally we are all alone with our personal experiences. -Camilla Vuorenmaa

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find your recent artistic medium, is it common that an artist combines woodcarving and painting together?

Camilla Vuorenmaa: I started to work with wood year 2010, when I had the first opportunity to work as a full time artist for longer period of time. I had wood on my mind already before, but then I knew it was time to start with this material. My work has though always been moving between 2 and 3 dimensional form. I have felt the need to add mass and structure to my paintings, for example continue it with foam rubber stuffed canvas, or continue painting to the wall, over its material form.

Using wood in sculpture and even painting on the wooden sculpture is quite common. But this combination, painting and carving on wood boards is not yet very common. My working method is actually closer to the graphic boards that graphic artists make as a basis for their prints. Difference is, that I use that basis as the art piece itself, instead of making prints out of it. I call them paintings; others might call them something else.

As an artist do you feel that you can associate with both design practices and with the fine art history?

Camilla Vuorenmaa: Hard to say. I guess the things you grow up with, see and smell, forms, colors, light and shadow, basically everything has an effect on the visual idea. I am sure that Finnish design and especially its patterns have had influence on my visual choices. It is more unconscious than relevant though.

Your recent exhibition at the EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art, was about people working by the sea. Could you tell more about this project?

CV: I applied to the SIM residency in Reykjavik on the winter 2014. I got the residency time to the September and October 2015 and it was perfect timing, since this project was on my mind before I knew about the prize and following exhibition at EMMA. All together, I had only nine moths to prepare EMMA exhibition, so it was good to have this idea already burning on my mind. I wanted to investigate the basis of the culture in Iceland, which is fishing. Everything in that country has basis on their fishing culture, so very simply, my aim was to go with the fishermen to the sea for some period of time, observe their working habits as an isolated community, atmosphere at the boat and individuals’ relation to the sea. I got connected to the MSC-Marine Stewardship Council representative Gisli Gislason in Iceland, and he told me a lot about the history of the fishing industry and helped me to connect with the Helga Maria ship’s crew. I went to the Atlantic Ocean with Helga Maria ship for one week on September 2016. During that time I photographed their working and used later these photos as basis of my paintings. The ship left from Reykjavik and went up until the northeast Iceland sea area. And returned. Gladly, weather was good most of the time.

 

What was your experience in working with EMMA museum; did you work particularly with a curator to build the show?

CV: Making an exhibition is usually a lonely work, but bigger shows definitely involve more people and more things to be taken care for. For EMMA exhibition I was closely working with curator Tiina Penttilä from EMMA. She came to visit me at my studio and also interviewed me for the catalogue several times during the making of the exhibition. I felt I got well supported by Tiina Penttilä and the whole museum crew during the making and building process. As an exhibition space, EMMA is wonderful and gives many possibilities to an artist. Especially I enjoyed making the wall paintings to the space. This was great experience as a whole.

Where does your artistic process start, from the idea of a canvas, or from the wood?

CV: Everything comes side by side, simultaneously. I choose material same time as I collect ideas. I take photos of something that interests me, like for example wrestlers. I made series of paintings based on the observation of the movement of one wrestling team in Helsinki. I do not really make sketches on paper; I see my photos as my sketches. I buy material, print photos that inspire me and spread them around the studio. Then I start to combine different sized wood panels and paint the beginning of the piece on the boards. I paint and carve, paint and carve until it is ready.

Wood has been my main working material for the past six years, but now I start to feel working again also with other materials.

You have worked with mixed media, how did you develop the techniques in each period of time, can you speak of artistic growth, or is it more like a seasonal thing?

CV: I guess all the developments on my techniques have had to do with the search of some kind of layer in between a painting. Painting on canvas, plexi glass, paper, mdf-boards, wood, wall, all these have circulated in my work. I can return to a technique I tried and worked with several years later and proceed with it further. I see working as a visual artist also some kind of work of an inventor, chemist, and alchemist. All the material details and accidents with them lead in to interesting paths and can start even a new process.

Camilla Vuorenmaa, Fisherman, 2015, painting (carving on wood), 200x120x2cm, EMMA -Espoo Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Ari Karttunen/EMMA 

What are you inspirations for creating your art, does it usually start with observations or fieldwork?

I used to collect inspirational pictures from old magazines. I spend hours and hours in old bookshops and went through dusty old magazines and photography books. The nostalgia and history inspires me, and also the idea that everything that happens in the world has already happened many times, they just appear in more modern form from century to century. Also my love to literature and books as objects has something to do with it. For the past years I have also started to use more my own photography as a basis of my paintings. I have become maybe more brave to confront the subject, or my curiosity has gone over my shyness.

 

How would you describe the education in Finland, much did you learn from your art education?

CV: My times in Finnish Art Academy were great. My teachers gave me a lot of freedom and opportunity to try everything. I was on the painting department but visited other departments regularly to try their material and working methods. For some, this kind of working freedom might have been too much, but for me it worked perfect. And if I needed support or comments, I could get that from the courses or ask studio visits from the teachers.

Is there something particularly Finnish in your art making?

CV: Well, I guess wood is pretty Finnish material. As wood industry is still so big in our country. Also I have understood from my colleagues and collaborators in Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and England that Finnish painters seem to have something peculiar and wild in their visual language. This has been of course great to hear – what a compliment to Finnish painters.

Do people ever ask you about the nature of your practice in regards to your gender as a woman making art, and your subjects for art, does the gender play any role in your art making?

CV: Well, I wish I could answer that “no – I have never have heard any questions that have something to do with my art making and being a woman”. But of course I have. Many people still seem to wonder how a small woman like me can handle big wood blocks, or do so big sized works. Once I even heard one man saying to me that your works are great, they look as if they are made by a man. I wonder what Louise Bourgeois must have heard! Good thing is that these comments are though not the first and the only thing I hear about my work and my working methods. Art is always political. So of course my art is too. I am more interested to hide my perspective of the roles of humans in my work, than comment it very straight in my work. But of course it is there. And I was the one who made these images.

What expectations do you have for the future, where do you see yourself going next?

CV: Now I am in the rare situation that I have exhibitions and plans made already until next year. Usually I have not known my ways for more than six moths. Interesting for me is to also see how this will affect on my artistic work, I have a possibility to plan and make long-term choices. My next big solo exhibition will be on January 2017 in Gallery Forum Box in Helsinki. After that I will take part to two group exhibitions in Sweden. I am more than exited and grateful for this situation. My aim has always been to make it possible to work as a visual artist without making compromises in the content. I follow that road.

Artist website:

http://camillavuorenmaa.com/

Interview: Eric Decastro, a French painter

French artist Eric Decastro is known for his large-sized paintings that he constructs using the dripping technique. He is focused on creating a balance of color and light by applying thick impasto into canvas. Since 2008, Decastro has been running an art space Kunstraum Dreieich | Artspace Frankfurt in Germany that promotes artists with the motto of welcoming them back. The artist himself has a solo exhibition A Whiter Shade of Pale, Level 2 in New York City at The Bronx Art Spaceuntil April 30. Decastro is also showing as part of the DOPPELGÄNGER -exhibition, which is currently at Torrance Art Museum in California, and runs until May 28. The group show is a dialogue between German and US artists, and is curated by Dr. Julia-Constance Dissel and Sandra Mann from Germany together with Los Angeles-based curators Ichiro Irie and Max Presneill. The exhibition explores similarities of practices within globally expansive and hyper-connected art production.

In the solo exhibition at the Bronx Art Space, the visitor encounters a poetic cosmos, ‘which is intentionally designed to allow the illusion of landscapes or outer spaces.’ The theme of the Whiter Shade of Pale, Level 2 -exhibition is to explore issues of fugacity.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you decide to become a painter? 

EricD: I already knew as a child that I wanted to be an artist. When I was 5 years old I was able to paint in my mothers atelier. It was something I was destined to do and I finally fulfilled my dream.

So what did you learn from your mother, who is the painter Mirei de Castro? How about your other influencers?

EricD: I learned the basics from my mother. Painters like Richard Poussette Dart, Lee Krasner but also Cecily BrownFabienne Verdier, Paul Rebeyrolle, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, have all also influenced me.

There is installation and performance development mixed with your paintings. In one installation you used, or it looks like, fake grass in the gallery as part of the show?  

EricD: The installation Prevenue d’avance (Warned in advance) from the performance artist Mike Hentz (USA) and myself at a Kunstverein near Heidelberg 2012  has been furthering me a lot. Through Mike I was able to get a perspective for what one can call art. The lawn was actually real and has been tended and watered for a week in Kunstraum-Dreieich. After the event, it was fully removed. Then, the over dimensional “Dejeuner sur l’herbe” was a parody of the famous works of Edouard Manet.

prevenudavance
Eric Decastro, Dejeuner sur l’herbe, installation view.

You have also painted tsunami? 

EricD: After the Fukushima Tsunami, I did a complete series of works that looked like aerial shots of Tsunamis.

Some of the dripping technique paintings come out with natural confrontations, what do you see yourself in the works, are there reoccurring themes that come out?

EricD: One topic has been on my heart since 2008. My near death experiences have been both positive and negative for me, and I’ve been trying to depict this experience on canvases through a dripping technique in a meditative state. That’s how those paintings mostly have been created.

A really interesting one is the point when you washed some of the acrylic painting out of the canvas, and went on the real action forward method of making art. Tell about the work, in which the canvas and you are hanging from the tree?

EricD: This artwork was actually not created in the woods. I was walking with my dogs and saw this tree who looked like it could be a perfect frame for a canvas. I called a good friend of mine, a renowned Art-photographer Sandra Mann. We decided to do a photoshoot with one of my green paintings and put it in the natural frame of the tree.

How does the performance aspect work with the painting, are they part of the same discipline for you?

EricD: Of course the performance on a canvas in a natural state is my art. The work is being created, the performance oftentimes is the beginning of an idea that develops through painting.

For example, in “suffocating performance” the artist wrapped cellophane around his head to represent a type of suffocation. He was filmed and was also supervised (Don’t try at home). Afterwards I painted his performance “Suffocating Performance” for the exhibition “CARNAL DESIRE” in Museum Villa Rot. The other artists were Wim Delevoye, Hermann Nitsch,  and Fischli and Weiss. It’s a hommage to a boy from Kosovo who was suffocated and skewed and grilled all while his father was watching. I tried to depict the cruelty of this war.

suffocate
Eric Decastro, Suffocating Performance, Acrylic on canvas.

Then, few questions about identity, how do you criss-cross between different countries, locations, and even continents? 

EricD: I’ve been traveling my whole life. I really enjoy it and have been able to visit over 110 countries in this world. I’m getting my inspiration and positive energy from exceptional places. In the next time I’ll be traveling to Tibet, Nepal, Buthan and North India.

You have recently been exhibiting in Peru, and one of your galleries is in France, how are these art cultures different from each other?

My gallerist Mathias Bloch from Gallery Younique is French and my last exhibition was in “Alliance Française de Lima” so it was a home match for me as a French man myself. My abstract art is established in South America. A subsidiary of Coca-Cola (Inca-Cola) has recently bought one of my works.

You must feel that you are dealing with a variety of roles, a gallerist being one, and then a painter, is there a difference that is significant?

EricD: I’m not a traditional gallerist. I don’t participate in the art fairs. Kunstraum Dreieich  is an Artspace with the motto “Rendes-Vous des Artistes.” It’s supposed to be an opportunity for artists to be displayed in the circles of art collectors that I have tended. This concept works well in Europe and especially in a city like Frankfurt the art will sell really quickly.

Art world is a phenomenon for its own sake yet many artists are involved in societal practice, mending the world so to speak. What do you wish to say about that? 

EricD: Jonathan Meese said at Art-Basel in Miami in 2012 „Art is the new currency.“ He’s right, art is seen more like an investment nowadays. Never have people previously in history spent so much money on art as it is done today. Independently from whatever the artist wanted to reach with his art, whether a political message, improving the world, to amuse someone or as a wakeup call, art is and will be a good that can be traded in stock. Most buyers, buy art because they have a mindset to leverage the art.

 

unnamed
Eric Decastro uses dripping technique to create acrylic color patterns on canvas

As April is the Earth Month, could you say something about, how does art and preserving our planet correlate, or meet thematically?

EricD: To preserve the planet and to make it better for our children is more vital than to collect art and display it in museums. What kind of benefit comes from a world that has been destroyed when museums are full of artworks, and there are no humans to enjoy the art, because then all of humankind will be too busy to focus on survival than to look at art. Politics don’t react to the signs of mother earth, the glaciers have been melting, global warming is unstoppable, and still there is no change of mind or thinking. One should replace the democracy through Geniocracy.

Tell a little bit about the project in Nepal, how long has it been in progress, and how did it start?

EricD: My wife is buddhist, and through her Master Lopen Tensing Namdak Rinpoche we got the idea to build a boarding school for children from Nepal in Tibet through fundraising and even some profit from selling my paintings. Since then it was possible to finance the first step of the project. We have already built a hospice in Katmandu in 2012. I myself volunteer as a hospice worker in a hospice in Frankfurt for about 4 years now. The experiences I have made there have helped me to stay grounded and to be confronted with the topic of death and what happens after death. This has been something I have been processing for years.

 

Eric Decastro online:

Artist website: http://www.decastro-art.net/

Artspace Frankfurt: http://www.kunstraum-dreieich.de/

Current exhibitions:

A Whiter Shade of Pale – Level 2 -solo exhibition at the Bronx Art Space, until April 30, 2016

http://www.bronxartspace.com/

DOPPELGÄNGER, at Torrence Art Museum, until May 28, 2016

http://www.torranceartmuseum.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anri Sala’s musical mystery

“Anri Sala: Answer Me” -exhibition, which will be on display at the New Museum until April 10th, 2016, features multichannel audio and video installations. In his recent works, Albanian artist Anri Sala has interpreted musical compositions, classical works so to speak, with experiments that are structured into video and sound installations. The monumentally compound works navigate through the limits of our perception; mapping the sound and the spatial, and investigating the sound in the architectural spaces. This experiment transformed New Museum floors into symphonic areas of soundful meaning, leaving room for small encounters.

Anri Sala’s often political works have tested the boundaries of sound and language in our construction of cultural realities. From cultural point of view, his works seem to investigate contexts that are outside the dominant aspects of reality. Or the realities are rather revealed through the layering of world of sounds. We have adopted a notion that the words create the meaning in our cultural communication. Yet, as Sala with his approaches has shown, it is possible to challenge this definition further by mapping and deconstructing the terrain, in which words actually restrict our ways of interpreting or seeing the world. From this perspective, the everyday life is full of noises that communicate without restricted syntax. Sound, form this point of view, has a great capacity to alter meaning.

Sound’s features are attached to the material world that is so close to music. For Anri Sala, sound plays a role of an incomplete music, or music, which is in the state of becoming. Sound as a mediating device – even when it is real musical pieces divided into fragments – can document and edit reality, and communicate on a new level of poetic composition. This becomes immanent through the artist’s works, which New Museum profoundly projects. What stays with the viewer, is the personal corporeal experience, which is created in the architectural space as the entirely new perception. The change in the reception of the artistic works is focally in the embodiment. The surrounding sound world invites the viewer to walk into the next room full of sound. Or it freezes on the threshold, making the mystery of the sound’s origin more significant.

Fragmentation and repetition is evidential in Sala’s second floor installation. The work unfolds as a two-channel HD video from 2014: ‘The Present Moment (in B-flat)’. This installation depicts different interpretations of an original compositional score by Arnold Schoenberg, titled ‘Verklärte Nacht Op. 4’ (1899).’ On the video, the chamber music setting acts as a fictional rearrangement of the historical work. Two videos feature a sextet of two violins, two violas and two cellos that play solitary notes from the musical work. Eventually the original musical score unfolds. The audio-visual installation works powerfully on two separate screens absorbing the body of a viewer into its mellow soundscape. The intimate portraits of the musicians, the movements and gestures of their heads, hands, arms, and backs, act as counterbalance to the interior, in which their playing has been recorded. The setting of empty room or hall creates an atmosphere of a vast space that accumulates sound on multiple stages. Sala’s meditative and mesmerizing piece truly puts an emphasis on the present moment.

 

Upstairs, at the fourth floor of the museum, is a presentation of Anri Sala’s installation ‘Ravel Ravel Unravel’, from 2013. This is the work’s US premiere, it debuted in 2013 at the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale, where the artist represented France. In the title work ‘Ravel Ravel’ (2013), Sala reinterprets Maurice Ravel’s ‘Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and Orchestra in D major’. The composer created the composition in 1929 for an Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during the World War I.

The museum space, in which the ‘Ravel Ravel’ video is installed, is designed to absorb sound and prevent echoes. In this chamber like room, there are two unique and separate performance interpretations of Ravel’s composition taking place. The musical echo is produced with ‘in and out of sync’ parameter, as two simultaneous performances measure temporal dimensions. The two pianists gradually shift out of unison, they are projected with their performances with two different orchestras. The one might evolve slightly different from the other, creating a minimal echo. Shifting between doubling notes and echoes creates the difference of the entire work, leaving the spectator paralyzed and in awe.

Sala’s work contours in time, with tempo variation and within the space that has left no chance for error. The other video in the fourth floor being part of this work is titled ‘Unravel’, 2013. It debuted at the Venice Biennial alongside ‘Ravel Ravel’. ‘The Unravel’ video presents DJ Chloé Thévenin who takes part in the manual and physical manifestation of these two concerto recitals. She has the performance recitals on two turntables, in which she accelerates and slows the records in process. Fascinating, a visual turnout of the concerto sound in a new gesture.

More info about the artist and the current exhibition “Anri Sala: Answer Me” :

Hauser & Wirth about Anri Sala

The exhibition info at New Museum

 

Interview: ruby onyinyechi amanze, drawings on paper

ruby onyinyechi amanze embeds a notion of scholarly artist in a true sense. Next to her large drawings on paper stands a mind that is influenced by spatiality in a geographical sense. The artist employs a design sensibility that gives her drawings variable perspectives. ruby amanze completed her art degrees, worked in art institutions, and as the Director of Education at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA). She was a Fulbright Scholar teaching art at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2012-2013. Currently, while still teaching art, her artistic practice evolves in a studio located in Brooklyn, New York City.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is fascinating how you translate the theme of hybridity into formations with so much vivid color and fluidity. Do you think this resonates with the fact that you were transferring between various continents?

ruby: Most definitely. There is a way of being and moving in space, that I feel is unique to the experience of having come from many places. Automatically, there is less permanence associated with land (geography) or a sense of home. My understanding of home was that it changed a lot. So I adapted into a shared consciousness that home equates fluidity. Also, that my physical body had the right to claim space wherever I was- nothing felt off limits. I started to identify myself as a hybrid and to recognize that there were many narratives of hybridity. Initially, there was an idea that people who moved in that kind of way didn’t belong anywhere- that they had no home and somehow weren’t “authentic”. Or that they lost something…something they would always search for. I disagree.

I feel that my life is enriched by these multiple homes. I meet people from all over the world who have had similar transcontinental experiences, and I know I’m part of a borderless, expansive “country”. We don’t have a landmass. But the space is a legitimate one. A lot of this informs my spatial decisions in the drawings.

 

What does being ‘African’ mean to you personally, was there a strong sense of a Nigerian community in England where you grew up? 

ruby: Being African for me can mean many different things, depending on the context. Generally speaking, I think it’s far too broad and simple of a “classification”. What I know of Africa is miniscule compared to its vastness. And that goes for any of us, who refer to the region so lightly…the truth is we know next to nothing. Even to zoom in to Nigeria, where I’m from- the same sort of complexity exists. Non-African colonizers, as is the case for many – if not all African ‘countries’ – arbitrarily decided the country’s borders. The writer Taiye Selasi said in a Ted Talk, “nations are concepts”. They’re inventions. She said that what makes more sense, is to think about where you are ‘local’ of, as opposed to a ‘national’. I think this is true, so while I was born on the landmass we call Nigeria, what is more accurate to say right now, is that I have a relationship with the city of Lagos. That’s what I know most of Nigeria. That’s where I have friends and routines…where I invest time and spirit. That’s where I am at home. Yes, there was and still are, large communities of Nigerians throughout England. Growing up there, my family was part of a circle of families that emigrated around the same time, some of whom had known themselves in Nigeria prior to relocating. My generation of this circle is still close. We grew up essentially as cousins.

When did you start making art, how did your career path take direction?

ruby: I’ve been making art, and identifying as an artist, since I was a small child. It has always been, everything I’ve wanted to do and be. My pursuit of it was single minded. At every point that there was an option, I chose art. Coming from a family of Nigerian immigrants, who had grown up with the societal framework that art is not a career, I had to be quite stubborn and relentless in advocating for it. To my favor, I excelled in all academic areas, so my parents didn’t fight me too much, and perhaps took the mentality of ‘waiting it out’ to see if it would pass! It didn’t pass and here I am today, as I knew I would be. All of my life choices have been around art. I did my B.F.A and M.F.A worked in art institutions, taught art (and still currently do)…The turning point for my career was when I decided to leave the best job I’d had, as the Director of Education at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA). I left to do a Fulbright on contemporary drawing in Nigeria. It was a year commitment primarily to the studio. When I returned, there was no going back to anything other than a full time dedication to my career as an artist. This was the best decision I ever made…

ruby onyinyechi amanze, works on paper, detail
ruby onyinyechi amanze, mixed media works on paper, detail. Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, The Armory Show, 2016. photos: FirstindigoandLifestyle

Can you recall your aesthetic language? Somewhere in the drawings/paper, the characters dance, move, and seem to be very mobile?

ruby: Funny that you say that, as I’m influenced a lot by dance, performance and movement languages such as Gaga (that I recently discovered and have since incorporated into my extended ‘studio’ practice). Also films…slow moving, non-linear, beautifully ‘choreographed’ spaces and exchanges. I go to the cinema every other week if I can, and am completely absorbed into the imagery. It’s like going to library and collecting books for research. I collect images, not knowing when or how exactly they’ll resurface. Architecture and design influence my imagery a lot.

In hindsight, I’m aware of many instances where I aligned myself with design conversations and practices. I don’t think I had the language to make the connections before…to talk about my drawings as design. It just was a pull that I kept following. After my M.F.A, I contemplated returning to school to study architecture. I think architectural drawings are so beautiful. And the ways they think about space, as something malleable that can be shifted or constructed, is fascinating to me.

Your drawings on paper seem to be narrating things, and yet say something very poetic in their way of leaving lots of white space around the figures and colors. How about, are any of these patterns and colors influenced by some African aesthetic traditions, and folk features?

ruby: I think of the drawings as non-linear narratives. Story telling is a fluid art, and even when it’s ‘true’, there is always an element of fiction in it. I’m a storyteller. And I leave space for the viewers to insert themselves or participate in constructing the narrative. There are clues- some of which come from actual experiences (mine or sampled), some of which are entirely fabricated. I don’t feel any obligation to give the viewer everything. Nor do I feel that art is a platform solely for me to communicate a particular and clear ‘message’. That’s not my job as an artist.

While spending time in Nigeria, what did you learn and study? How was the experience like; did it feel foreign at times, or was it more like returning home?

ruby: I’m sure I learned many things…but mostly from the normal day-to-day living, as anyone would wherever they found themselves. There were no grand epiphanies. Generally speaking, there was no “adjusting”. I wasn’t there as a student, but in the position of a professor, I think there’s always a reverse learning that happens in the classroom- if nothing else, how to be a better professor. I was there and it was my home, my life- it felt familiar. Of course, there were things that were different. But the only thing that really rattled me were social attitudes that seemed antiquated when it came to gender or sexual equality. Let’s just say, I got into a few fights!

ruby onyinyechi amanze, works on paper, detail
ruby onyinyechi amanze, mixed media works on paper, detail. Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, The Armory Show, 2016.

Do the paper works without borders or frames imply different moods than the ones with frames?

ruby: No, it’s just a different presentation. I like that paper does many things.

Could you tell a little about the experience and feedback you received at the Armory Show, you were there with Mariane Ibrahim Gallery during the first week of March? 

ruby: I’m happy to have had the opportunity. It can be a complicated space for an artist to navigate, because it’s a market. There is little conversation about practice or curatorial interests. I had to separate it in my mind from the studio. In making the work, I was very intentional about maintaining my integrity. Time wise, the work was shown at the Armory, but in a different time, it could have been shown anywhere. In other words, showing at the Armory didn’t change anything for me in terms of what I’m interested in exploring in the studio. More than sales, what I’m most excited about is the visibility…the introduction to museums and such.

Where are you heading next, artistic plans for the future?

ruby: I look forward to many things in my career as an artist. But the number one joy in all of this is what happens in the studio. That’s where I’m heading next…

ruby onyinyechi amanze, works on paper
ruby onyinyechi amanze, I sent you to survey the world, and when you did not return, I came, 2016.

Artist website: www.rubyamanze.com

 

 

Taryn Simon’s emerging bouquets

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

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 website: http://tarynsimon.com/

Taryn Simon: Paperwork and the Will of Capital

February 18 – March 26, 2016

Gagosian Gallery

555 West 24th Street,

New York

http://www.gagosian.com/

Hours: Tue–Sat 10-6

Riitta Ikonen’s artistic day dreaming

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/

Ai Weiwei @ Helsinki

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
Ai Weiwei, Map of China (2008) installation view.

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.

ai weiwei installation
Ai Weiwei, Traveling Light (2007) & White House (2015) installation view.

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.

Ai Weiwei, White House, detail
Ai Weiwei, White House (2015), detail.

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.’

Through
Ai Weiwei, Through (2007) & Frames (2013) in the background.

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.

Treasure box
Ai Weiwei, Treasure Box (2014) with IOU Wallpaper on the walls (2011-2013)

Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at HAM Helsinki in on view until February 28th, 2016.

Artist website: http://aiweiwei.com/

images: Firstindigo&Lifestyle

Eliasson’s ice revisited

Ice Watch will open to the public on Thursday, 3 December 2015, in the Place du Panthéon in Paris. This artwork by Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing is part of the occasion of COP 21 at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change.

Olafur Eliasson is a Danish-Icelandic artist known for his large-scale installation art, which often has a site-specific component. He has also worked with sculpture. The elements, such as light, water, and air temperature are essential parts in the works to draw the viewer into experiencing them as corporeal and sensory.

Olafur Eliasson is not a newborn to the climate change issue; neither is he using blocks of ice for the first time in his installations. He has created interconnected works that are close to environmental happenings, proposing an innate sense of activism. How to catch great attention and international visibility with earthy and conceptual works, is his niche. Perhaps Eliasson artistry sometimes implies great attention with metaphysical value, but this fact is by no means discarding the materiality and tactility of the things. Perception and comprehensibility of larger subjects, particularly that of a climate change are very much embodied in the projects.

Taking the icebergs, which predominantly float far away from our sight in the isolated North are now taken seriously. Eliasson brings a hint of their monumental presence along with him putting them down on the marketplace of a metropolis, across the street so to speak. Let the ice melt there in front of our eyes to remind how the world is running out of time with the climate change, and how things truly are physical. We live in a physical world. In 2014, Eliasson installed the show in Copenhagen. The ice was placed in the middle of the town square, lifting the local spirits to think about the fjord water in the north. In 2013, at PS1 of MoMA in New York City, another work of this kind “Your waste of Time”, had ice pieces that arrived from the Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. Visitors had a chance to observe and discover the melting ice.

The project, which is installed in Paris recalls the title “Ice Watch“. The metaphorical piece has a power to speak of the ice that is speedily disappearing due to the global warming. Eliasson has stated that he is interested in giving knowledge a body, to encourage action on an everyday social level. What is sure is that everybody in the recognition of the global warming is going to be involved in the process. The artwork addresses it to the world, and thinks of it from the perspective of the future generations.

The physicality of the ice is remarkable because it stands for the longer life spans. Ice is older than us, who dwell here. For the installation, there are twelve large blocks of ice that come from free-floating icebergs in a fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland. They are arranged in a clock formation on the Place du Panthéon. Weighting around 80 tonnes, the ice will melt away during COP21.

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Origin: Nuup Kangerlua fjord outside Nuuk, Greenland
Transport: Organised by Group Greenland / Greenland Glacier Ice, the ice was collected by divers and dockworkers from the Royal Arctic Line and then transported in six refrigerated containers from Nuuk to Aalborg, Denmark by container ship and to Paris by truck. Ice Watch is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies and realised in collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle. Ice Watch is part of the initiative Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015.