Rivane Neuenschwander is a Brazillian artist who works in film, photography, sculpture, collaboration, participatory events and installation. Her work employs beautiful ideas, unpretentious materials and an inspiring vision. For I Wish Your Wish, an installation at the New Museum, Neuenschwander drew from a tradition at the São Salvador church Nosso Senhor do Bonfirm. She invited visitors to take a ribbon from the installation, tie it around their wrist, and leave it until it falls off. Once that happens their wish will come true. Or First Love, a work where a police sketch artist sits with visitors as they describe their “first loves.” The portraits were then hung in the gallery for the exhibition. Rain Rains, is a collection of leaking buckets controlled from flooding by a Sisyphean recirculation tended to by museum staff. One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of galaxy scenes that depict narrative layers of which the viewer becomes a participant. The hole-punched circles along with the frames, articulate the duration of the exhibition in calendar form. A viewer is encouraged to contemplate the idea of one thousand and one nights.
Allowing the participation of visitors, Neuenschwander blurs the boundaries that traditionally stand between artist and viewer. She instigates an idea, permitting it to discriminate via the public. Her work becomes a living, breathing mass collaboration combining nature, language and the ephemeral.
Walking the line between fine art and craft, Brent Owens has a characteristic style of woodworking that he incorporates with a somewhat irreverent sense of humor and applies to a myriad of subjects. Conspicuously hand-carved, embracing the flaws and all, Owens enhances his imperfect look by selecting wood with notable imperfections. The casual woodwork is not a comment on Owens’ talents. Rather it is done to emphasize the fact that the human hand has influenced the material. Conceptually, Owens works from the notion that humans have a tendency to render nature amenable to their own agenda. Describing this “healthy disrespect for nature” as a “shameless manipulation of a gorgeous natural material,” Owens considers his woodworking to be “imposing his own desires on the material” in the name of progressing culture.
Owens’ exploration of craft takes him in several directions. His “Turkish rugs,” for instance, are carved freehand and modeled after Googled images. These works are juxtaposed with carved paintings of appropriated text of medical queries and responses, which have been translated from Chinese to English. The results are a mix of park signage and conceptual art exhibited as a confused mix of words that have lost the nuance of human translation. The works becomes symbolic of how epically the human desire to understand and control everything so often fails.
Both funny and frightening Owens’ works are ultimately a representation of the fact that craft as fine art becomes a commentary on fine art itself. Thereby becoming commentary on culture, and human nature at large.
Melissa Godoy-Nieto is a multidisciplinary Mexican artist and designer based in Brooklyn, NY. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, Godoy-Nieto incorporates pre-hispanic history, art and hieroglyphics with traditional crafts and materials that she uses in untraditional ways. For her installation at SPRING/BREAK art fair earlier this year Godoy-Nieto painted the inside of a closet with a bright mix of mystical South American imagery, focusing partly on life, and partly on death. Though she references the vibrant palate, dynamic and hand crafted aesthetic of Mexican culture, her works employ unusual techniques and structures, making the final product relevant and contemporary.
Her “textiles,” which she refers to as paintings, incorporate imagery from traditional Mexican imagery and patterns, but are made with untraditional materials. Taking the concept a step further, Godoy-Nieto will sometimes link her paintings to spray paint cans using hand-dyed yarn and pushpins. Describing the works as “experimental murals,” Godoy-Nieto toys with a viewer’s sense of how the work was made; conventional imagery is presented as being created in an unconventional way. Initially, a viewer might believe the work is made with spray paint, but then he realizes the spray paint is yarn and had nothing to do with forming the actual image. By challenging expectation and altering dimension, Godoy-Nieto’s process directs the way in which a viewer might interact with or perceive the work, and thus the way he might consider traditional iconography within a contemporary context.
Natalie Arnoldi is a California-based artist whose work explores the fine line between abstract and figurative painting. Her works identify the psychological effects of ambiguous representation, allowing a viewer’s imagination to fill in the missing subject matter. Currently a coterminal Masters student at Stanford University, pursuing a M.S. in ocean science and a B.S. in marine biology, Arnoldi’s life has always centered around the ocean. Thus, it is unsurprising that she references the ocean as her inspiration for both her academic and artistic pursuits.
Though she doesn’t always use the ocean as her subject matter, there is a kind of depth to Arnoldi’s paintings (which are often tinted some shade of blue) that is reminiscent of looking into unfathomably deep waters. Highly reductive, Arnoldi’s paintings still manage to be moody, psychological and rich with meaning. A lone shark’s fin, a simple road median disappearing into the fog, or an airplane silhouette becomes a decidedly dramatic narrative delivered from the most uncomplicated version of an image.
Engagingly beautiful, Arnoldi’s paintings are haunting in their simplicity and straightforwardness. It is eerie how much can be deduced based on an image painted and composed in a certain way.
Will Hutnick is a Brooklyn-based artist who works in painting, sculpture and installation. Incorporating acrylic, oil, ink, spray paint, tape and found objects into his work Hutnick creates works on paper that oscillate between being two dimensional and three dimensional. Using conventional materials in unconventional ways Hutnick changes the rules of painting. Using tape as his paint and paint as his sculpture, Hutnick manages to muddy materials while maintaining brilliance in color. Indeed, Hutnick has an amazing eye for color. And he uses it to generate narritive. With titles like, Marble Madness, Not So Secret Garden, and What Do You Call Those Things With The Wooden Beads And The Crazy Tracks?, Hutnick’s explosions of color become stories, emotions and sensations.
There is a fun to Hutnick’s works as well. The paintings are bright and beautiful, but there is a sense of humor to his work. His “balancing works,” involve late night sessions at the studio stacking any found object to the point of instability. Eventually, the ephemeral sculptures topple to the ground. Often, Hutnick was the only one to witness their existence at all.
A stint in prison for selling drugs helped Australian artist Bindi Cole refocus her mode of expression. Having always been interested in photography, shortly after her release Cole began focusing her work on issues of identity. Aboriginal, but fair skinned, Cole had never really been sure about the way she identified with the stereotype of the Aboriginal. Her Not Really Aboriginal series, which featured fair skinned Aboriginal people in blackface, garnered her much attention.
In another work, EH5452 (Cole’s prisoner number), Cole documents her time in prison using photos, diary entries and prison issue personal items such as cigarette papers and lighters. Cathartic, for Cole, the project in her words “aims to turn something dark, hidden and shameful into something light, revelatory and beautiful.”
In yet another series, Cole spent a month capturing portraits of the Tiwi Island culture’s “Sistagirls.” A Sistagirl is a transgender person. Formerly revered in the culture, after the culture was colonized and converted to Catholicism, the Sistagirls became shunned and excluded from their tribe. Existing in their own mini world, Cole sought to capture the essence of who they are and the spirit o their community.
Liza Lou’s art making process seems a bit obsessive, to say the least. She first came on the art radar when she exhibited Kitchen (1991-96), at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. A 168 sq. ft. beaded “kitchen” that took five years to create and incorporated 30 million beads, Lou created the ultimate homage to the domestic. The space contained beaded walls, tables, cereal boxes, etc. –everything created from glass beads.
In 2002, at age 32, Lou was awarded the MacArthur “genius” award. In 2005 she founded a collective with Zulu artisans in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Although she doesn’t incorporate specifically African beadwork tradition, she finds within it a commonality in the process of working with beads. Creating her works becomes a kind of meditation—the final products representing the impossibility of perfection—something Lou refers to as “the culpability of craft.”
Much less showy and, if not for the same medium, actually completely different, I am actually more drawn to Lou’s recent works. Minimalist and hauntingly beautiful, they appear to be Agnes Martin’s, or Ellsworth Kelly’s re-imagined as beaded canvases. And because of the beads there is a delicate, feminine sensibility to them. They walk the line between fine art and craft without needing to be one or the other. With them, Lou has fully embraced her method as meditation, placing process over content (although the final products are still pretty wonderful).
Giuseppe Penone is an Italian artist and a member of the Arte Povera group who is interested in forming a connection between man and nature. In fact, his work mostly relies on the fact that ultimately, the two are inseparable. Formally, his work relies on the play between gestures and the imprint, the play of light and shadow, and textures and surfaces.
Ever interested in incorporating unusual materials into his works, which are also usually created untraditionally, Penone largely focuses on the boundaries between art and nature and the interdependence among all organic life forms. For an installation at the Tate he carved out wood to reveal its past, allowing the tree to return to a form it had in an earlier stage of growth. In other instances, Penone will cast tree forms in bronze, choosing the medium because its chroma and characteristics liken themselves to those of the bark of a tree. For another project Penone discovered an ancient vase with its maker’s fingerprints still intact. He transferred images from one surface to another to create a series of bronze vessels that mingled his own fingerprints with those from the past.
Most recently Penone’s work can been seen at Versailles. The installation demonstrates Penone’s dedication to wood, stone, marble, bronze and other materials the artist feels have an essence. “What interests me,” says Penone, “is when the work of man starts to become nature.”