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Art as an activist tool

The main aim of Art being used as an activist tool is to fight back any political and social injustice by challenge them.  These injustices can vary from raising awareness about the people living in poor living condition in underdeveloped countries, environmental concerns, immigration issues and so on and so forth, in simple terms an Art Activist seeks to address the collapsing states that construct an ideal modern society. There are many opinions regarding Activist Art, some Critics state that Activist Art in not an artistically high level due to the reason that the message behind the Activist Artwork is replaced with artistic quality, while others Critics state that high aesthetics quality can deviate from the political and activist aims of Activist Art, turning it into a spectical which defeats the purpose (Boris Groys, 2014).

Activist Art is highly associated with Feminist Art due to its activist nature against social and political injustices. Feminist Art flourished with the second wave Feminism in the late 1960s mostly in the United States and United Kingdom. The Feminist Art Movement began producing art around that time, tackling themes such as the female body, life experiences as a women, and the female’s domestic role, themes tackled by female artists such as Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, who did not self-identify with Feminist Art. The Feminist Artists of the second wave later started to abandon these themes, focusing more on proto-feminist art, producing art that asked for gender equality (Tracy DiTolla, 2016. a .).

In 1972, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro created the installation titled “Womanhouse” which consisted of an actual house in Hollywood, as the result of the “Feminist Art Program (FAP) at California Institute for the Arts”. The project also involved  a 21 year old female student who renovated the house, as it was listed for demolition, before being taken by the project. Then they installed a sculpture of a woman stuck inside a closet full of linen sheets and fried eggs that looked like beasts on the walls and ceiling of the kitchen. The project wanted to address the indoctrinated relationship between the woman and the house, challenging the idea of the female out of traditional domestic roles (Tracy DiTolla, 2016. b .)

kiJudy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, 1972, Womanhouse. [Photograph].

Jumping to 1989, we see the emergence of the famous Feminist Artist Group the Gorilla Girls. The poster titled “THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING A WOMAN ARTIST” was one of the group’s earliest work with their typical use of humour to address the more serious issues, such as discrimination in the art world itself, addressing the disadvantages that woman artists still had to face in the 1980s in a tongue-in-cheek way. The poster displays a list of “advantages” which in reality are disadvantages, to point out the bias of the art world against the female artists, as Lee Krasner better stated;

 “The world of High Art, the kind that gets into Museums and history books, is run by a very small group of people. Our posters have proved over and over again that these people, no matter how smart or good-intentioned, have been biased against women and artists of colour.”  (Tracy DiTolla, 2016. b .).

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Gorilla Girls, 1989, The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist. [Digital Art].

In the more Contemporary scene of Activist Art, we see the political artist Ai Wei Wei who is mostly known for his political artworks questioning the actions of the Chinese Government. In 2008 Ai Wei Wei blamed the Chinese Government, regarding the collapsed Government constructed schools during the Sichuan earthquake, which killed over 5,000 students. His installation listed the names of the children killed, demanding the Government to take accountability regarding the tragedy. This caused him to be arrested for 81 days, as well as his passport being held for 4 years, making him unable to leave the country (Dominique Bonessi, 2016).

Having moved to Berlin in 2016, Ai Wei Wei witnessed the refugee crisis that hit Germany as well as the rest of Europe. He addressed this issue by hanging up to 14,000 life jackets , that were left on the shores of Greece by the refugees, on the columns of the German Concert Hall in Berlin (Dominique Bonessi, 2016).

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Stefanie Loos/Reuters, 2016, Workers build up an installation by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei with life jackets left by migrants on Greek beaches on columns at the Konzerthaus Concert Hall during the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin on Feb. 13, 2016. [Photograph].

In another attempt to address the refugee crisis the Artist wrapped thermal blankets ,which are given to refugees the moment they entered any shore, to warm up, around his 12 sculptures, representing the 12 Chinese Zodiac animals that where exhibited in front of the National Gallery’s Trade and Fair Palace. There was no direct connection between the statues and wrapping them in thermal blankets, as it was more of a solidarity symbol towards the victims, as the Artist himself stated;

“A Gesture in defending the dignity of refugees.” (Dominique Bonessi, 2016).

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Anon, 2016, People walk past the ‘Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads’ sculptures by Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei in front of the Trade Fair Palace run by the National Gallery on Feb. 5, 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic. [Photograph].

 

In conclusion, I do believe that Art has the power to affect culture and therefore can be used as a powerful tool by activist artists to address the injustices around us, to aim for a better society that delivers equality to all minorities. If culture affects Art, then Art should have the same impact on culture, raising questions in a striking visual manner that might be easier for the viewer to relate to and change their views.

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The Last up-date

In a few blog posts I have talked about the development of my dissertation project work, as a way to making sense of what I’m doing through writing about it. I also thought it would be interesting to share with you how I go about creating my art. On Sunday 9th I finally finished taking all the photos I had planned, and after 4 months I can finally announce this project as officially done…well with just the editing left to do but let’s go along with the delusion that I’m completely done.

Being the first time that I have a created a whole body of work in just digital photography, it  has allowed me to learn quite a bit about how to use my camera efficiently, as well as learning more about my own identity as a photographer. Along with several realisations, I have also learned a few lessons, such as never have just one battery when going out for a long photoshoot,  how lighting is able to transform ambiance and don’t be such a control freak, it’s ok to let things flow once in a while.

To recap, in a previous blog I have discussed how I had to start from scratch after admitting to myself that the house I was using simply wasn’t harmonizing with the detached ambiance I wanted to create.  As it was a highly decorated house, it was creating a type of identity, hence a feeling of attachment to the place. Luckily for me, one of the other models offered his apartment, which happened to be more minimalistic with plain furnishing, that created nice sharp geometric shapes. This by itself helped me to better establish a cold disconnected mood which I was aiming for, making me feel more comfortable in the direction I had taken. I kept using the house along with direct light, the direct light aided to emphasise that I’m not documenting life but rather staging it, in a theatrical or rather cinematographic manner.

Progressing with the series, I kept three rules in my head; think in shapes, don’t over stage scenarios and use a light source. The first rule revolved around creating a composition in terms of shapes, I tried to integrate as many geometric elements to that to also unify the images all together. The second one… which maybe is the most important, was not to over direct the models, most of the time I got better Images when they started feeling comfortable in the scenes and adding their own character in them, while the third is for the reason mentioned above.  The last step is now to edit them, title them, print them, frame them, and then upload the series onto my Instagram for everyone to see. Until then, here is another sneak peak of what is to come, so stay tuned.

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Why Micheal Borremans in my favourite Contemporary Painter

If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that I have recently bought Micheal Borremans book titled “Micheal Borremans As sweet as it gets” to continue fuelling my obsession with him and his work. Borremans has just started to gain some proper acknowledgment, and to continue this momentum, I decided to dedicate a blog to him and how he has influenced my  own work.

Micheal Borremans was born in 1963, Geraardsbergen, Belgium, acquiring his M.F.A in 1996 from Hogeschool voor Wetenschap en Kunst located in Ghent, Belgium, where he worked as a teacher for a couple of years and is now currently living and producing his work (Artnet, n.d.). Borremans is mostly known for his paintings and their unusual and unsettling content that makes one ask more questions, rather than being provided with the answers.  He places his characters within a theatrical aesthetic, where they have been captured during a crucial point in their story, which seems more surreal but grounded to the laws of reality.

I was introduced to Micheal Borremans by the same lecturer that introduced me to oil painting around two years ago, from then on I continued to follow him and his work. In fact Borremans is the reason why I became so interested in the concept of ambiguity and how the element of the uncertainty can completely change the physical boundaries of a painting. What I mean by this is, a painting of a realistic nature, can only capture a specific moment in time within the physical boundaries of the canvas, but the element of ambiguity removes those boundaries through the fact that there is something that has happened before or after what you are allowed to see, a story that goes beyond that captured moment which can only be completed by you, the viewer. The genius of Borremans is that he has effortlessly harmonized ambiguity to a realistic style of traditional painting which in some regards is considered to be dead, bringing it back to life and in the Contemporary Art Scene once again.

Below is one of my favourite paintings by the artist titled “The Preservation”,  one can identify that a puzzling action has been paused in time, an action which I find to create a tense ambiance. I find the idea of putting, what seems to be, a plastic bag over someones head a bit alarming,  as my perception immediately identifies the dangers associated with such an action. Then again the woman seems to be calm….. Her head is down and her eyes are closed, rather than being frightened she’s sitting still, rather submissive. I can’t help but ask who is the other person? And why is she or he placing such an object on her head? Is it to harm her?, or to help her? What has happened before that lead to this, and what is going to happen after the action is done? What is being preserved? Is it her hair?  Maybe her head?

As I mentioned before, putting a plastic “bag” on someone head can create quite a few bad connotations. Just by adding an unusual element Borremans manages to create a sense of tension which lures you in and makes you ask questions which might never be answered, or perhaps be answered by all of us who have been enchanted with its mystery. Let’s not forget to pay attention to the incredible level of skill the artist has using oil paint with such fluidity yet conciseness, the skin is rich and fleshy, detailed and loose.

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Micheal Borremans, 2001 (image Online). The Preservation. [Oils on canvas].

The painting below titled “The Devil’s Dress” is more recent dating back to 2011. Between the two images one can see the evolution of Borremans painting technique. His brush work is still very fluid, but has become more solid and informed. The content is still unique and makes you raise an eyebrow from inquisitiveness, why is this man lying on the ground? And why is he laying within a cardboard box? Or if asking so many questions is not your cup of tea and you simply accept things as they are visually, appreciating Micheal Borremans refreshing paintings.

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Micheal Borremans, 2011 (image Online). The Devil’s Dress. [Oils on canvas]

 

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Ben Quilty and his view on masculinity

Ben Quilty is an Australian contemporary Artist, at the height of his artistic career, having over 30 solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas as well as being the winner of various prizes such as, The Doug Moran Prize in 2009, the Archibald Prize in 2011 and the Redlands Westpac Art in 2012.  Quilty can be considered as one of the artists who explores the concept of masculinity in relation to “rituals” that best display the characteristics of male rebellion and anxiety. Quilty’s  work is usually autobiographical, often recalling his teenage years, full of no sense of authority, boldness, restlessness, spontaneity, pleasure seeking, alcohol, drugs, cars and recklessness, and he uses such events to explore how we define what is being a man, and how boys become men (Caddey, n.d, p.7).

In the painting “Self-Portrait Dead (Over the Hills and Far Away)”, 2007, the artist depicts himself heavily drunk after a whole night of drinking (Caddey, n.d, p.8). The paint is thick and heavy, composed of patches of dull colours that make up a blurry representation, portraying through medium the mood of being heavily intoxicated. The artist states “it’s a comment, about reckless masculinity rather than a celebration of drunkenness” which acknowledges the fact that he’s aware of how the idea of masculinity has affected him personally, which might be the reason why he heavily drinks. The artist then follows by stating “It’s me as a willing participant in the mayhem that is modern man, it’s quite critical the statement I’m making. I want people to see the vulnerability” acknowledging the fact that he’s consciously taking part in activities that make man today, himself included, chaotic, showing the viewer the state of vulnerability that ensues (Caddey, n.d, p.8).

hjk Ben Quilty, 2007, Self-Portrait Dead (Over the Hills and Far Away)

Quilty also tackles the aspect of guidance, or rather the lack of.  Teenage boys acquire from boyhood to manhood, in white Australian culture, “rites of passage”, such as getting legally drunk on their eighteenth birthday, which symbolize some kind of passage from boyhood to manhood. In the “Crash painting series” the artist choose to represent, with his bold application of paint, this issue the iconic powerful cars of the 1970s such as the Torana and the Falcon, cars that “reeked of rebellion”, as a metaphor for the idea of masculinity which consists of strength, power, swiftness and intimidation. In this series Quilty depicts the powerful cars after they all had crashed, to intentionally send a visual message that masculinity is just as vulnerable to self-destruction, such as the high injuries and death rates in males caused by reckless behaviors encouraged by this idea of masculinity (Caddey, n.d, p.9).

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Ben Quilty, 2012, Crash painting 1.

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Ben Quilty, 2012, Crash painting 2

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Summery on John Locke’s Theory of Identity

John Locke was a 17th century Philosopher who opposed the Cartesian theory, which states that the soul is the creator of our identity. He defended his argument with the essay titled “Identity and Diversity” in which he debates the first conceptual idea that, consciousness is how one is aware of oneself. He also debates that identity is the substance of psychological continuity, which means that a person in different stages of his/her life, is the same person, only if he/she constantly remembers his/her experiences equally.

Locke disagrees with the reasoning of the Augustinian idea that humans are sinful from birth and also against the Cartesian idea that humans are born with immediate basic logic. Instead John Locke suggests that humans are born with an empty mind, or rather “tabula rasa” which takes shape from future experiences, which give sensation and reflection becoming  the origin of our ideas. Regarding this suggestion Locke stated that:

“the little and almost insensible impression on our tender infancies have very important and lasting consequences”

This is the ideology behind Locke’s theory of “Associationism” which means that our foundations of the self, starts to be constructed at a very young age, which is also the most delicate. If an association of an idea is introduced at this stage of life it will leave a larger imprint on a “tabula rasa”, rather than if it was introduced at an later stage, as it would affect us in the future. An association of ideas could easily be, convincing a child that monsters are in some way connected with the night or darkness, this later resulting in the child believing that the night brings with it negative ideas.

In Section 12 of the Essay “Identity and Diversity” Locke also states that consciousness, which includes our identity, can be transferred from one soul to another, due to the reason that consciousness can be transferred from one substance to another. The soul changes but consciousness remains as is, which in turn conserves personal identity with it.

According to the Philosopher, this ideology could “solve” the issue his Contemporaries had with the idea of resurrection of the dead, in relation to the Biblical text, in which it states that we will have the same body which we left behind after judgement day. His reasoning made it possible for the same person to come to life during Judgment Day, for God to decide if the individual should be priced or punished. The difference is that the person doesn’t  need to be resurrected in their respective body, as only consciousness defies the person while the body is simply secondary.

Locke also wanted to state that we judge others on actions of the body, while God judge’s in the truthful way by looking at actions decided by our consciousness. This statement was the foundation of to days  “insanity defence” in which a criminal who is found to be legally insane when the crime was committed, is not found guilty due to his/her insanity.

Many other Philosophers found flaws in John Locke’s argument, for example Joseph Butler states that one can only remember ones experience, but it’s not the recollection of the experience that makes it belong to the individual, instead the individual can recollect it, because the experience is already his/hers. To put in simpler terms, memory can retrieve ones identity from past experiences, but the past person who had the experiences doesn’t create the current person.

Thomas Reid was another Philosopher who didn’t agree with John Locke, regarding his version of psychological continuity, in which he counter argued with his “Officer Paradox” in which he states that, one does not need to remember all their experiences equally at once, as Locke stated, but rather in stages. This can be explained further with Reid’s Officers memory metaphor which states, if the Officer at 10 years of age stole an apple from his neighbours, at 40 years of age stole the enemies standard and at 80 years of age the officer is a retired General, the 40 year old version will only need to remember the event that happened when he was 10 years old and the 80 year old version will only need to remember the event that happened when he was 40 years old.

In conclusion John Locke’s theories led to other developments in other fields, such as in Psychology, with his “associationism” theory, as well as in education, and Philosophy itself. Today current Theorists who analyse the Lockean custom , reconstruct it to make it more practicable in this day and age.

Biography:

 

Did society make men afraid of touch?

Zoë Zimmerman is an American Photographer, with a Mexican background, skill in raging antique photographic processes such as platinum prints and albumen prints.  Smithson, the author of the article regarding the artist states, that in her series titled “Of Men” the artists analyses “touch and platonic intimacy” between males, that their boundaries and how these parameters have been established by society itself. Zimmerman believes that American society, has acquired a negative view of “platonic male affection” making touch between males only acceptable if it’s in an aggressive context and not in a nurturing context. With this series the artist is trying to question why this happens, questioning if it’s due to the idea that the male touch is considered as “inheritably sexual” therefore implying homosexual behaviour, and is it restricted due to homophobia? (Smithson, 2014)

The author Aline Smithson, states that Zoë Zimmerman challenges our perception of where such physical contact between men is socially allowed. In the first group of photos, Zimmerman takes inspiration from a 1930s Red Cross First Aid Manual in which it displays men aiding men in situations of physical vulnerability, but in her series, even though there is physical contact between the two males, the facial expression and body language that is not indicating any level of intimacy. This group is basically representing the type of physical contact that is allowed by society between males, to touch but keep isolated (Smithson, 2014).

Zoë Zimmerman, 2014, Group 1. [Photography].

In the second group of photographs, Zimmerman re-enacts photos from vintage medical texts with the difference that they are more focused on a more direct and intimate type of touch. The two images are now taken out of the context of medical examination, allowing the viewer to focus more on the act of touch between the two males. The aim of this group was to portray intimacy, without referring to any type of eroticism but just as a nurturing behaviour. It reflects on the modern fear that men have developed regarding physical intimacy when it doesn’t even relate to homosexuality or any form of sexual interaction. The images serve more as an idea of example of how men could act between themselves once overcoming such irrational fears (Smithson, 2014).

Zoë Zimmerman, 2014, Group 2. [Photography].

In the third group of the series, the artist shifts her focus onto society itself, the viewers included, and the preconceived judgment we have regarding fraternal physical intimacy. A simple act of two men holding each other’s hand which may cause a sense of awkwardness and in some individuals even irritation and disgust. With a simple but effective visual message, Zimmerman is pushing the viewers to question why that might be. The models themselves exhibit, such as the two teenage boys in sports gear, a form of struggle that might be caused by the same preconceived that dictates that such physical contact is unacceptable but the images, even if the models seem uncomfortable, still draws your attention to them. With this group of photographs the artist is not trying to create a fantasy that allows males to be comfortable physically, but rather question why males are uncomfortable displaying physical intimacy in the first place.

Zoë Zimmerman, 2014, Group 3. [Photography].

Bibliography:

 

Gregory Crewdson, beneath the roses and ambiguity

Through my journey of researching the theme of ambiguity in Historical and Contemporary Art, Gregory Crewdson has been a very fundamental contemporary artist and shaped the way my work is currently visually developing.

“Beneath the roses” is a series of 36 photographs by the Artist Gregory Crewdson, completed after four productions, some on location in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, others in a soundstage specially constructed. Crewdson’s method of photography is quite unique, often resembling a movie set with a crew, composed of around 40 people from production designers, personnel in charge of lighting and even a director (Amy Larocca, 2008). As a matter of fact many film production techniques and technologies are used, for example lights are held up by cranes, fog is produced from fog machines, rainmaking machines to create a downfall and even shutting down main streets to be used for a location (Kenneth R. Fletcher, 2008).

loooGregory Crewdson, 2006 (image Online). Untitled (Sunday Roast) from the series ‘Beneath the Roses. [Photography].

huiGregory Crewdson, 2006 (image Online) Untitled (Shane) from the series ‘Beneath the Roses’. [Photography].

Gregory Crewdson often tackles the idea of ambiguity in his photographic series. As he states himself “There are two possible interpretations, one is the possibility of impossibility and two is the impossibility of possibility. I know there’s a sadness in my pictures. There’s this want to connect to something larger, and then the impossibility of doing so” (Amy Larocca, 2008). If one takes “Untitled (Sunday Roast)”, it is quite evident that there is a sense of sadness from the characters facial expressions but the reasons why are ambiguous. Maybe is the father late again? Maybe he passed away? The guests didn’t turn up or maybe it’s a single mother who just had an argument with her son. This makes the image part of a larger narrative but the photograph limits you from finding it, thus making it impossible to have a clear conclusion. The ambiguity grows when looking at the whole serious which provoke more questions rather than answers. Just from comparing the two photographs above, which are from the same series, makes you question if the two images are even connected, making part of a larger narrative. If they are, is there a timeline where each image falls? Are the characters indifferent to each other or not?  Is the child in “Untitled (Shane)” part of the family in “Untitled (Sunday Roast)”?

The fact that many questions arise from an individual photograph, as well as from the whole series, creates ambiguity on different levels and scales. Just from comparing two images from 36, the sense of narrative already grows and so does the ambiguity in each photograph and the entire series.

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