PROJECT: Make a proposal for a piece of work, considering the concept, material and process.
noun. The belief in or pursuit of a state in which everything is perfect, typically regarded as unrealistic or idealistic. (Oxford Dictionary)
Notes: This definition of utopia reminded me a of a thought experiment proposed by Robert Nozick in an argument against Hedonism.
School of thought that argues pleasure or happiness are the most important pursuits of human life.
THE EXPERIENCE MACHINE:
This is a thought experiment that argues against the case of Hedonism. It is as follows: There exists a machine that is capable of giving you experience of living in a perfect world free from pain and suffering, in other words, a utopia. However, it is simulated, not real. If you were given a decision to either live in this simulated yet euphoric world or the bitter but real world, which would you choose?
Assuming the latter was chosen, Nozick argues that there is more to life than the pursuit of happiness (such as the pursuit of truth).
Notes: Though this is an philosophical argument against hedonism, I found this thought experiment to relate heavily to utopia. It made me realise there are many problems with achieving utopia, the first of which is the loss of truth or reality.
The word 'Utopia' derives from the Greek words 'ou' (meaning not) and 'topos' (meaning place). A direct translation meaning no-place or nowhere. Although, it means a perfect world, originally the term meant an imaginary place, or fantasy. First used in Thomas More's novel: 'Utopia'.
Notes: This fits into place nicely with the idea that in the pursuit of a perfect utopia, from another perspective it may result in dystopia. The origins of the word did not distinguish between good and bad, More's world could have been interpreted as either utopia or dystopia, reflecting the conflicting views people often have on ideals or philosophies that claim to be the path toward utopia. This is evident in writer H.G. Wells' belief
'people who cannot live happily and freely in the world without spoiling the lives of others are better out of it'.
'What they build may carry within it its own potential for crushing or limiting human life'
Notes: H.G. Well's statement can be met with mixed opinions. Such extreme and unwavering resolve may allow 'good-natured' people to live in peace but it also restricts freedom. This conflict of view is embodied in critic Carey's statement, one person's view of utopia may be someone else's view of dystopia. Paraphrased from his book 'Faber Book of Utopias', the ultimate conflict in utopia is the divide between human centered systems and systems that diminish or obliterate mankind. Should Utopia be achieve through a selfish 'human centered system', holding humanity above all else, or through a system that destroys mankind, killing off the parasite of the world that is humanity?
There are many problems in achieving utopia, it seems impossible and rather irrational to aim towards it. I rather prefer to think about individual utopias. Cary again says, 'Most utopias reform the world, some reform the self. They suggest that if only you were to look at the world, with all its imperfections; in the right way.. you would be secluded in your personal utopia, irrespective of what was going on outside.'
Similar to the 'experience machine', this idea seems to suggest that people are able to blind themselves to the suffering in the world and live in a bubble of happiness. I believe individual utopias are not uncommon. Many people live in the world, including myself, who live in awareness of atrocities and pain yet don't do anything to actively prevent it. Perhaps there is too much suffering in the world to be upset over, perhaps it is out of selfishness (and the desire to be happy), or perhaps it is in defeat of how impossible it is to help everyone. Still I want to represent this indifference towards pain, and individual UTOPIAs in my final proposal.
The below images are examples of silk made in China and Britain. Silk was seen as a luxurious garment and could convey the owner's wealth and affluence. These associations are related to the idea of utopia, a perfect and luxurious world.
Notes: Silk was later often used in quilting and pillows. Pillows represent dreams and fantasies, relating to the etymology of the word 'utopia'. It originates from the greek words ou meaning 'no' and topos meaning 'place'. This suggests that utopia is a fantasy world that is very idealistic and does not exist.
I took note of this page in the fabric reference book in my research to see how silk is used. For my final proposal I would use 'silk habotai' that most silk pillows and quilts are made from.
SONG DONG "WASTE NOT" 2005
A collection of items by his mother who lived during the cultural revolution. This reflects the lack of resources during the time and the need to conserve and save. The way it is presented by this artist is ordered and adds a dimension of aesthetic depth. Additionally, the choice to exhibit this collection as a piece of artwork acts a a social commentary on the wasteful behavior of modern day people. It may also be interpreted as an insight into the personal life of Dong's family. This is evident when a neon sign accompanied the piece, 'Dad, don't worry, mum and all the family are well'.
DIETER ROTH "FLAT WASTE" 2016
Roth records a year of his life by collecting trash that fits his criteria of being less than 5mm thick. The taxonomy used by Roth to collect trash is unexpected as trash is often overlooked and ignored. However, Roth spends a lot of attention towards trash. This paints an intriguing portrait of his life or at least a year of it.
SUSAN HILLER "AFTER THE FREUD MUSEUM" 1991 - 1996
Hiller was inspired by the Freud museum and how Freud's personal trinkets and belongings were put on display. This seemed to put inanimate objects on a pedestal simply because they were owned by Freud. Hiller undermines this celebrity worship through her own collection. By placing everyday objects, like the cow creamers, next to what is deemed culturally 'significant', such as the Mayan obsidian blades, she calls into question the inherent values of objects. Why should one be valued more than another? She accentuates her message through proximity of the items in her collection, suggesting that there is no superior or inferior object, they are treated equally in their relation to one another.
NICHOLAS NIXON "THE BROWN SISTERS" 1975 - 2014
Nixon documented the same sisters over 40 years. Unlike Bernd and Hilla Becher who precisely line up their shots in an almost identical manner, Nixon's framing is inconsistent. The positions of the women change constantly, some years they will all be in one line, some years one sister will be infront, only to be behind her sisters in another year. This fluctuation in facial expressions and proximity to the camera, not only reminds the audience that these are real people with changing circumstances in life, but also builds a narrative within the series of photos.
TARYN SIMON "THE INNOCENTS" 2002
'The Innocents' is a series of portrait photos depicting falsely convicted people. The photographs are reminiscent of mugshots, alluding to the fact that these people were wrongly accused of a crime they did not commit. The irony is that, through photography, Simon undermines the faith and belief in photography's accuracy as evidence. In other words, 'the medium undermines itself'.
JIM SHAW "THRIFT STORE"
This Los Angeles artist bought art from thrift stores and displayed them as a collection. By re-contextualizing these paintings Shaw created a new piece of artwork. He had a criteria that each painting had to fulfill before he decided to purchase and curate them. This time and attention given to unappreciated paintings by both Shaw and viewers send a powerful message. He criticizes institutional art, calling into question what art should be valued and what shouldn't.
HAIM STEINBACH "ONCE AGAIN THE WORLD IS FLAT"
Steinbach builds structures to hold up his chosen items, tying together the collection aesthetically. His work exemplifies the idea of an artist as a curator. He suggests that the display or plinth should be well considered as it is part of how the artwork is viewed. In other exhibitions Steinbach asked the public to contribute to his collection.
MARTIN PARR "BORING POST CARDS" 2004
Through this collection, Parr imparts his judgement onto a collection of postcards. This insinuation is seen by some as offensive or insulting, however by appropriating these postcards into his collection, a new meaning is imbued upon them. They act as his commentary on commercial photography, 'boring'.
OLIVER CROY AND OLIVER ELSER "THE 387 HOUSES OF PETER FRITZ"
Aritst, Oliver Croy and architecture critic, Oliver Elser presented a collection of miniature houses as found objects. These models were originally created by Peter Fritz a Austrian insurance clerk. They were made from easily gathered materials and realistically model a range of different buildings. Impressed by his creativity, passion and dedication, the pair exhibited this collection, citing and crediting the original fabricator, Peter Fritz.
RICHARD WENTWORTH "MAKING DO AND GETTING BY"
Wentworth photographs found sculptures or instances of objects being transformed for functionality. This brings sculpture into the real everyday lives, and by re-contextualizing them he showcases these as a coherent collection.
The mandatory reading of an essay by Stefano Basilico discussed the various techniques artists or editors used to transform found footage. The complete control of what the viewer sees is in the hands of the editor and this allows the editor to create meaning through what he chooses to show and what not to show. Basilico talk about 'gestures' and the different methods artists employed to edit film. These are: to stretch, to remove, to arrange, to systemise, to erase, to repair, to continue, and to match.
24-hour Pyscho by Douglas Gordon
The iconic thriller film, Psycho, by Alfred Hitchcock is stretched by Gordon into 24 hours. This transformed the movie by diffusing the tension that was carefully constructed by Hitchcock. This is evident in the climax of the movie; the montage of stabbing and quick flashes of the knife is slowed to the point where the viewer can see the knife does not penetrate the skin at all.
Notes: The amount of editing required to create this piece was not substantial and thus I felt underwhelmed by it. However, it still shows the degree in which a small change can affect a piece of work entirely. In that sense I am able to appreciate the simplicity of how Gordon undermines the master-fully crafted thriller.
Soliloquy Trilogy by Candice Breitz
Breitz is able to create a commentary on Hollywood and the movie industry by removing all but the dialogue and scenes of an individual actor. She edited the well-known movies of iconic actors such as: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick and Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. In her film, she chooses what and what not to show the audience. What is understood by the audience is that, within a 2 hour movie, these actors only appear in no more than 8-10 minutes. We are left with disappointing fragments of a brilliant movie. This then begs the question: 'why do we glorify and worship these so called "Hollywood stars" '. It becomes apparent that these actors are accredited with stardom, while the hundreds of editors, cinematographers, screen-writers and other creators are underappreciated. In further criticism of Hollywood culture, Breitz creates a narrative through these actors which highlight the repetitive archetypes that actors are placed into; the seductive and attractive dame, the masculine action man and the devious devil.
Notes: I was heavily inspired by how Breitz used Hollywood to discredit Hollywood. In addition, she creates a new narrative out of the footage through her editing, this feels more intentional and thought out than Gordon's 24-hour Psycho. By exposing the flaws of Hollywood and the massive movie industry, she urges viewers to rethink their attitude towards mainstream media, which is something I've tried to incorporate into my own work.
CNN Concatenated by Omer Fast
Fast edits footage from CNN by stringing individual words, spoken by news anchors, presenters and reporters, into a seven different monologues. These monologues are more personal, emotive and intimate in contrast to the serious tenor of news broadcasters. This can be interpreted in many ways, one may see Fast's re-contextualization of CNN newscasters akin to how news stations often places incidents out of context or manipulate the news in order to evoke an emotional response. The quick succession of flashing images also creates a sense of urgency that is often seen on news channels as breaking news or news flash. Another interpretation may suggest a criticism of the false intimacy created by television personalities and viewers. Whether CNN concatenated is meant to contain satirical undertones or not, Fast is able to create new meaning through a careful arrangement of found footage, testifying that meaning is not only in the hands of the person being filmed but more so in the hands of the editor.
Learning from Las Vegas by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy
By cutting and categorizing movie scenes set in Las Vegas, the McCoys create a collection of 120 different films. It attempts to teach you lessons about 120 different things through these collections of things. For example, 'learning to smoke' or 'learning from art'. These films would take scenes with characters smoking or scenes where a painting is framed out of their original context and create 'lessons'. This quick compilation of similar images reminds the audience that movie scenes are often indistinguishable when taken out of context, allowing us to appreciate how carefully movies are timed, edited and constructed. Using this systematic method of creating art interests me and is something I would like to try to apply to my own art. This technique of quasi-programming allows the artist to step back and indirectly create something unique.
The gesture 'to systematize' is closely linked to Gustav Metzger's concept of 'Auto-creative Art'. Metzger originally wrote his manifesto on 'Auto-destructive Art', discussing how artwork can decay overtime. Later on, he publish another manifesto called 'Auto-creative art' that suggests decomposition and destruction can be a foundation for growth and creation. This is embodied in his work 'Liquid Crystal Environment' on display at The Doris and Donald Fisher Gallery in Tate Modern. Light is projected through liquid crystals that are in an ever-changing chemical state. This piece immerses the viewer in a room of colour that constantly changes. The idea of an artwork constantly changing and growing is fascinating and is perhaps more relevant in modern society where people's attentions are so fragmented.
David Schnell's work is heavily related to the title of this project: 'Altered Spaces' and the idea of creating an image where the real and the imaginary can coexist. His blend of dream-like colours and realistic lighting creates a space that seems to be in a realm between possibility and impossibility.
The essay on Schnell by Dieter Daniels does not concern itself with the unique aesthetic qualities of the paintings but rather the context behind them. Schnell's interest in architecture and its apparent lack of fuction in his painted world comes from riding BMX bikes.
In an interview he states: 'Before I started painting, I rode a BMX. That was something that stripped architecture of its structural function. It lost its gravity. At the same time, more and more wooden structures were built. The materials were usually stolen from big building sites. The ramp constructions made from them had the sole aim of serving an essentially absurd activity with no real purpose.'
The unusual linear constructions in his paintings are reminiscent of scaffolding one might find in BMX ramps, however, in this case, there are no BMX bikes and there are no inhabitants. The audience is left guessing the purpose of these peculiar structure in a made up space.
Schnell is also interested in how the environment has been changed and shaped by the human race. The essay refers to a film 'Losers and Winners', in which an entire factory in Germany is dismantled and re-assembled in China. It depicts the seemingly impossible task completed and leaves viewers with a grand impression of how much humanity has altered the natural state of earth. Indeed, the changing landscape of Germany is not new for Schnell. The industrialization of Germany during the Cold War and the revitalization experienced by the newly united nation sought great impact on his surroundings. Now more than ever, globalization is continuously altering our spaces and Schnell's paintings reflect this truth.
Ever since Landscapes were painted, they represented their contemporary surroundings. Schnell wrote about this in his diploma thesis 'Landscapes as Social Criticism'. It is no surprise then that he looks to criticize the modern landscape with its gigantic industrial buildings.
A certain irony in Schnell's paintings is discussed by the essay. The discovery of linear perspective (a technique skillfully used by Schnell) can be seen as a necessary by-product of urbanization. After all it was Filippo Brunelleschi, an architect and engineer, who developed the technique. The essay points out that alteration of the environment had been occurring long before it was ever recorded on painting. Therefore, Schnell uses the techniques that helped urbanization to criticize urbanization itself.
In his essay: 'Where does one thing end and the next being?', Monroe proposes that collages defy our incessant need to clarify differences, categorise and organise 'things'. This gave me a deeper appreciation for the technique that I previously believed to be quite childish and immature. He refers to the Vietnamese artist, Dinh Q Lê's work as an example of how collaging can be used as a cultural commentary. Lê uses a collaging technique called 'cubomania' to combine images of Iconic images of Vietnam heritage and American pop culture. He reflects the fear of merging identities in the age of globalisation and perhaps the loss of cultural identity itself. His work deeply resonated with me as an international student. It is difficult to grasp a sense of individual identity when people feel the need to place others in distinct categories. This notion of mixed/lost identity is something I want to explore in my future work.
Monroe continues to discuss the idea of the 'edge', specifically where a certain 'thing' ends and the other begins. In Jake and Dinos Chapman's work 'Zygotic Acceleration Biogenetic, De-sublimated, Libidinal Model' the edge of each individual girl is merged with one another. This therefore constitutes as a collage and reveals the nature of how we view things when it is individual compared to when the 'edge' is merged. Often using the Greek myth of the Chimera as an example, Monroe insists that Chapman's work shows how we may become unsettled when a few, completely benign, things are combined. The Chimera is made up of a lion, a goat and a snake, which can represent bravery, fertility and cunning respectively. Yet, when combine as one creates a terrifying beast, much like the combine bodies of girls by the Chapmans.
Another example of combining edges can be seen in Linder's collage work. In this case, she does not seek to explore the unsettling nature of combining two seemingly harmless 'things', but rather to criticize our reliance on, and affection towards technology. In a hyperbolic manner, she uses collaging techniques to combine the female figure with irons, blenders, cameras, and so on. It is as if to suggest the line or 'edge' between technology and the human body is becoming increasingly blurred.
For Monroe the edge does not have to be physical, much like the edge between one girls body and another, the edge between different animal parts in the Chimera and the edge between technology and body. He suggests that there is an intangible edge between reality and imagination that artists are able to exploit as well. One such artist is Thomas Demand, who constructs paper-models of interiors, rooms and different spaces. However, once a photograph of the finished model is taken, the physical version is destroyed. By doing so, Demand restricts our view to a singular point, preventing us from seeing the entirety of the model and enforcing the illusion that the paper construction may be real. Monroe likens this technique to a film set, the viewer is convinced of a world that ends just outside the frame. The edge, between reality and imagination, is found in the inevitable imperfections of the paper models. Reaching neither perfect illusion or grounded truth, his work remains in limbo creating a unique aesthetic and instilling an unusual atmosphere.
Continuing his exploration of intangible edges, Monroe discusses the disappearance of the 'edge' entirely. This is akin to the act of camouflage and allows for a complete illusion as the viewer is unable to tell the difference between an object and its altered state. He refers to Tim Noble and Sue Webster's Dirty White Trash, 1998, as an example of the camouflaged edge. A pile of trash and garbage is arranged by the artists in a certain manner so that, when light is projected onto the sculpture, the shadow depicts human figures. Here one cannot pinpoint where the trash ends and the illusion begins, the object and its altered state is interlocked, one cannot exist without other in this arrangement.
John Stezaker's Mask series is alluded to as an example of how the edge can be corroded, meaning the edge that separates two distinct content is degraded. Monroe claims that in Stezaker's specific arrangement of two jarringly different images, a face and a landscape, the individuality of each image is no longer recognized. However, I disagree; if the 'edge' is where one thing ends and another beings, then it is quite apparent to see where the face ends and the landscape begins. In fact, Stezaker seems to emphasize this distinction deliberately. He could have employed techniques such as layering, overlapping, double exposure in order to blur the edge between the two images. I believe this corrosion of the edge is better exemplified in Dinh Q Lê's work, where is intentionally combines two images to make a cultural statement. Thankfully, Monroe refers to a more suitable example, Dallas by Sheena MacRare, 2005. This video piece takes 18 episodes of 'Dallas' and overlaps them, making each episode intelligible from the other. Here the destruction of individuality, that occurs through the 'corrosion' of the edge, is obviously present.
The aesthetic of this piece is heavily related to my final work. Richter's well-known work of abstract colour paintings such as 'Abstract painting (726)' is similarly related as it involves a sense of movement, almost smearing like. However, what really interested me is the recent work he has done involving computers. Using computer software he divides his past paintings pulling them into thin strips. This creates the effect of a computer glitch, colours being stretched on screen. It has a similar visual quality as motion blur, except in a purely lateral movement. This is similar to the experiments I trialed in my sketch books and my final outcome.
Our project is based and inspired by the challenge Damian Ortega embarked on in 2010, that was to create a piece of work using the daily news as a source of stimulus. In his publication 'A Selection of Outcomes in Reaction to the News', Ortega discusses his successful sculptures, linking each work to a specific date and article.
This piece of work is related to our collections project and represents his surroundings through a collection of trash. Ortega was inspired by an article on waste, likely to be criticizing throw-away culture and encouraging recycling. This reminded me of Hong Kong where old ladies would collect recyclable material in order to sell and make some extra money. There is always a sense of poignancy in rubbish, they are discarded and unwanted things. Ortega forces the audience to look at the amount of unnecessary waste that is produced in our modern society.
This sculpture is very representational. Inspired by an article on Pakistan's flood survivors, Ortega creates a poignant sculpture. The sculpture is a bike that holds a lot of different items, mostly household objects and appliances that are tied down. The items are stacked so high it seems unpractical and almost impossible to move. It highlights the desperation of the survivors and their want to salvage what's left of their homes.
'Arsenal's Tika Taka'
Replicating a graphic diagram showing Arsenal's positions and passes that resulted in a goal, this piece demonstrates how a 2 dimensional graphic can be turned into a 3 dimensional work. Through a simple combination of white mapping pins and string, Ortega creates a pleasing aesthetic that can be taken out of its original context. From this piece I realized understood how inspiration from newspapers does not need to be politically or culturally charged, instead it can be as simple as appropriating an image.
'Ball of newspaper'
Heavily involved in the Arte Povera movement in 1960s, Pistoletto came to London in 2009 in order to recreate a performance from 1966. He rolled a 2 metre wide ball of newspaper through the streets of London with support from a crowd. By doing so Pistoletto shows how art can be democratic, created and shaped by the public. A lot of this performance is left up to chance, at one point they carry the ball into a boat, Pistoletto suggesting 'why not?'.
A very strong political message is sent through Merz's piece, 'A Mallarmé'. He stacked newspapers featuring George Bush and the War on Terror on the cover page. On top of which, he wrote 'un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’ in neon lights. This translates to 'a throw of a dice will never abolish chance', insinuating that the President's determination to continue the War on Terror is risky and foolish.
Art Povera (ARTEPOVERA Art from Italy 1967-2002 Essays by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Germano Celant)
Arte Povera originates from Turin in a period between 1967 and 1971. Artists such as Giovanni Anselmo, Alighiero Boetti, Luciano Fabro, Mario Merz and Michelangelo Pistoletto started exhibiting together. Arte Povera meaning 'poor art' was coined by art critic and curator Germano Celant. Their work stemmed from use of every day techniques and materials to create meaningful and relevant art. Instead of developing a signature style and sticking to a single medium, the Arte Povera artists often moved from one medium to another. The common point between these artist was their interest in elementary perception, fascination for daily life and respect towards the tradition of high art through out Italy's past.
Perhaps this commonality was bound in their similar background. By the end of the Second World War, Italy was lacking in food, shelter and jobs. These were the conditions that the artists grew up in. As Italy began to recover, urbanize and industrialize, Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana marked the beginning of art in the post-war period in Italy. They experimented with the philosophy of modernist painting, namely deconstructing the canvas and surface through textural means. Their influence was felt in artists that are recognized as the early pioneers of the Arte Povera movement.
One of Pistoletto's recognizable works is the mirror paintings, he began painting on top of mirrors early in his work. Each painting encompasses the world (or gallery space) by reflecting it and by walking further away from the painting the viewer, in a sense, walks deeper into the painted space.
Mario Merz, who is also discussed above, similarly uses daily materials such as metal tubes, glass clay, fruits, twigs, piles of newspapers and neon lights. He also often uses words in his own handwriting, underlining the connection between the body and the mind. In his work 'Che Fare?' meaning 'What is to be done?' Merz models neon lights to his own handwriting. The words itself is taken from a call-to-arms pamphlet by Lenin, this refers to the constant quest for meaningful practice in intellectuals. It may also be view in a political context, Celant interprets the work as 'what is to be done' in a society where 'authoritarian power of one generation over another' is the status quo? The use of beeswax and how the neon lights melt into it can also be read as representing the obdurateness in these political slogans. However, Merz has been quoted saying 'For me, ‘che fare?’ was to be taken literally, not in its direct political thrust ... It was a question I was asking myself. Le Feurve suggest that perhaps: 'Merz was driven by asking what an artist can do in the face of a precarious future, informed by an examination of the role of art in day-to-day human experience and motivated by the belief that an artist can show something otherwise impossible to explain'.