Opening tomorrow, September 27, is Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei’s exhibition @Large in the former San Francisco Bay prison, Alcatraz Island. The sculpture, sound, and mixed media installations are staged in four locations throughout the space: the New Industries Building; a group of cells in A Block; the Hospital; and the Dining Hall. Ai’s work inside creates a dialogue about how we define liberty, justice, and individual rights.
In 2011, Ai was secretly detained by Chinese authorities for 81 days, and is still not permitted to travel outside of the country. He was unable to visit Alcatraz during the planning of the show and was developed in his studio with the help of the FOR-SITE Foundation.
There are a variety of pieces in @Large, including Trace, which is 176 portraits of political prisoners and exiles made from LEGO blocks. The impressive works began at Ai’s studio in Beijing and were completed in San Francisco by a team of 90 volunteers. Cheryl Haines, the exhibition’s curator told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I’m overwhelmed by how remarkable it looks. This is the face of the individual in the fight for freedom, but it’s also a collective statement and to see the density and quantity of people that are incorporated in this work, I find deeply moving.”
In addition to Trace, there are six other themes: With Wind, a giant traditional Chinese dragon kite; Refraction, stunning metal wings; Stay Tuned, sound installation that occupies 12 cells; Illumination, the sounds of Tibetan Buddhist and Native American chants; Blossom, fragile floral bouquets; and Yours Truly, where visitors can write postcards to prisoners. (Via FOR-SITE and Artnet)
Long before the magic of Photoshop and its ability to manipulate came the work of Herbert List, a surrealist photographer working from the mid-1930’s through the 1960’s. His black and white images feature fake scientific models with their skin cut away and their guts partially exposed. This isn’t a particularly unusual sight- they are things you’d see in a classroom or museum – and show historical ways of practicing medicine. But, it’s how he frames the images that gives them an unnerving feel. Compositions are tightly cropped and provide us little context for what’s around them; it creates an air of mystery.
List was influenced by the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, which is evident as we see these statues that seem to exist in a void. They’re moody and strange, and List’s documentary-style photographs show how strange things are when presented a deliberate way. (Via Boing Boing and My Amp Goes to 11)
A screenshot, or screen capture, is a tool that’s existed on computers for a very long time, and it’s an easily accessible modern-day archival method. In just a split second, we can take a snapshot of our desktop or movie screen and save it later use. For Japanese artist Toru Izumida, this simple process is used to create collage-esque artwork.
“I use selections of online media to create unexpected combinations that are finalized into a single screenshot,” says Izumida. “The exact date and signature of the creation is recorded on every work.” We see multiple screens open and contain pictures of textures, people, landscapes, and more. Izumida arranges them, varying the window size before capturing the final product on his Mac. The fractured layouts are then turned into prints, and elevates the ubiquitous tool into the realm of fine art. (Via Spoon and Tamago)
Susannah Martin is a German-based artist whose subject matter is timeless. Her realistically-rendered pastel drawings and oil paintings feature nude subjects who are exploring an idyllic landscape. As they wade through streams and pass by mountains, men, women, and children encounter different wild life. The poses and scenarios aren’t sexually motivated, and instead we see Martin’s figures presented in a much more classical, art historical way. She explains:
The history of the painted nude in landscape documents exactly this eternal longing. Setting aside for a moment, any erotic motivations, the nude has always also been a symbol for man in his purist form, his original form, his primordial form. Stripped of all social indicators; clothing, possessions , etc., he exists independent of identity in a time of pure being ( ein Zeit des Seins). Being is our eternal home. Nature does not possess an identity, it is. The nude in a natural setting has always been associated with our return to a time of pure being, a return home.
As time has passed and technology rapidly advances, we become more disconnected with the natural world; so much so that we’re more of visitors than inhabitants. Martin goes on to write:
Nature is no longer home to us, she is much more a tourist destination. Certainly no representation of the nude in landscape in the 21st century can escape conveying our extreme estrangement from nature, intentional or not. There is an unavoidable strangeness or feeling of dislocation which envelopes the most sincere attempt at harmony. How absurd man seems stripped of his possessions and identity crutches and yet it is indisputable, he gains strength, clarity and beauty when we contemplate him abstractly , as a phenomenon of nature. My experimentation with contemporising the nude in landscape takes place within this framework of tension between these two poles of self-perception.
… if we accept that realism now includes virtual realism, that is it incorporates a high degree of improbability, a hyperbolic realism. Man may return once again to his original landscape, his eternal home, all be it this time as a tourist, a primordial tourist.
As a generation in Palestine confronts misery, violence, and rejection, the hip hop scene is an outlet to express themselves. Photographer Pierre Mérimée and journalist Jacques Denis capture the young people involved in this scene in their new book, Intifada Rap. In it, we meet MWR’s Mahmoud Shalabi, the girls of Arapyot, and the “veterans” on the scene, including Said Mourad, the voice of the first Intifada.
The book’s press release describes it as:
A dive into the heart of the Palestinian hip hop scene, Intifada Rap bears witness to the incredible strength of the musical movement, from the suburbs of Tel Aviv through to Ramallah. Pierre Mérimée and Jacques Denis’ work shines a glaring light on the reality of Palestinian rap while offering an unprecedented view into the daily lives of a generation confronted with misery, violence and rejection, fighting back against it all to escape their imposed fates. Far from the shocking image of television news and the continual discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two journalists have documented the day to day lives of youth facing a dark future, for whom hip hope is more than just an escape. Armed only with their words, these men and women on the cusp of their twenties express their need for freedom, hope and equality through lucid texts and heavy beats.
Sally Hewett is a UK-based embroider who gives new meaning to a sculptural approach to the craft. Instead of stitching subject matter like flowers, puppies, and generally happy scenes, she fills embroidery hoops with butts, breasts, and genatalia. The circular compositions rise from the surface and Hewett uses well-placed stitches to give form to these bulbous shapes. In addition, she’ll use dangling threads to simulate public hair, both trimmed and natural.
In her artist statement, Hewett states that she’s interested in ideas of beauty and the things that people do because of it. She writes:
Men and women almost ritualistically shave and remove hair from their bodies – beards, underarm hair, pubic hair, leg hair etc, whereas other hair – hair on the head, eyebrows, eyelashes – are valued and encouraged to flourish. But there is other hair which not everyone has. Sometimes this special hair seems to be reason to feel ashamed. A large number of women and men submit their bodies to extraordinary procedures in the name of convention or beauty – liposuction, implants, scarification, surgery, laser treatment, electrolysis etc.
Embroidery is often see as an innocuous craft, and part of the reason that Hewett works this way is to see how the medium affects how the content is seen. Is it more shocking, amusing, or beautiful simply because it’s portrayed with a needle and thread?
Looking at these paintings out of context, you might not know that they are very small. In fact, sometimes these works are no larger than a coin or someone’s fingernail. Artist Lorraine Loots says that she creates “paintings for ants,” but you wouldn’t necessarily know it at first because of their intricate details. They have as much visual information as paintings 10 times their size.
Every day, Loots posts a new small picture to her Instagram, @lorranieloots. It’s always of an impossibly tiny subject and the caption features information about what they are and what we’re looking at. Loots realistically-rendered cars, landscapes, boots, birds, statues, and much more. The small scale is a nice twist on what we’ve seen before, and here the short explanation helps, too. “Paintings for ants” is an amusing thought, and one that’s entirely possible given the size.
Photographer Claire Rosen uses self portraiture as a way to transport the viewers into a world of fairytales. Through her aptly named series Fairy Tales and other Stories, she creates fantastical worlds where the isolated subjects surround themselves with scenes of nature, piles of books, and more. Often, their faces are obscured in the darker, more introspective version of these classic stories.
Rosen’s work mirrors her unconscious, and she explains in her artist statement:
Inside my dreams, I am someone else. I create characters, like alter egos, presented as recognizable archetypes. The figure inside the image often looks away from the viewer, the face hidden by the turn of the body or by a mask. I hope that the viewer will imagine themselves inside fairytale, and interpret the narrative of the image as one might interpret a fairytale, searching for hidden meeting inside the story.
This series speaks to living in the 21st Century, a time when we are constantly bombarded with noise, information and moving images. Still imagery, by contrast, allows us to shut out the noise and hear ourselves. I use photography to both escape and convey the overwhelming nature of our modern reality.
The pastoral setting of this work recalls a simpler time, while reminding us of humanity’s attempt to conquer the enormity of nature. I draw on themes in classic fairytales – beauty, chastity, and passivity – not as a comment on post-feminism, but as an expression of a more universal experience. My aim with the use of folklore is to suggest the continuity of the human condition: outside, the physical world changes with dizzying speed; inside, our cerebral world remains timeless.