Christopher Rimmer’s haunting photography series Sign of Life chronicles two towns that are slowly being buried by sand. The desolate and surreal works were shot in the diamond mining towns of Elizabeth Bay and Kolmanskop in South Western Namibia. Here, we see the hospital, ballroom, power station, theater, casino, and more slowly filling up of sand. The amount of it makes these places indistinguishable from one another as well as uninhabitable as the spaces are totally devoured.
The juxtaposition of the once-ornate interiors and the giant drifts of sand is fascinating. We see how the material, which is the same thing that’s used to build children’s sandcastles, is really destructive, as it takes doors off its hinges and works of filing rooms to the brim.
With Sign of Life, Rimmer explores the ultimate futility of human endeavor. The now ghost towns depicted in the work were extremely wealthy due to diamond mining and were once a symbol of growth and prosperity. After the diamonds ran out, the last resident moved away in 1951 and left the town to the elements. Now, they are no match for nature as it destroys the structures residents worked so hard to build. (Via Yellowtrace)
For the last few years, Japanese artist Jun Kitagawa has installed large zippers in public spaces. Sometimes they are painted on the wall, but more often and impressively, they are placed as sculptures in the middle of rooms and in public ponds. There, the ground looks as though it’s opening up and going to swallow you whole. Kitagawa has fashioned larger-than-life zippers, complete with his name on it (akin to the popular manufacturer YKK). Between the giant zipper’s teeth you can see what’s below, like wooden beams or most of the time, a dark void.
Kitagawa’s work plays into the wonder we have of what lies beneath the surface, and is a metaphor for making light of the unknown. The giant zipper reveals what can’t easily be seen, and what we often wish that we could. Even if the zipper is “open,” many times the artist fills it with nothing, saying that the truth or reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (Via Colossal)
In artist Reiner Hansen’s series Facial Fallout, she paints self portraits that each depict a different persona. In some, she plays a character, like a reality star or the girl next door. In others, it’s another version of who she already is, but with a different hair style, skin sunburnt, and more. All of these are a departure of her true identity, which itself is fleeting and malleable based on who she was trying to be. Hansen explains:
Each is based on, or rather mapped onto, my own features and characteristics. My self image is re-conceived as these other women, who live in a world entirely different from my own. There is a process of transformation into involuntarily ‘stereotyped’ notions of who these people are or might be, a sort of method acting in painted form, leaving a history of performance in each image. Simultaneously a game that is playful as well as a meditative speculation on a fabricated ‘other life’, these images are partly about investigating the idea of ‘escape,’ not just away from ‘the self’ and into anonymity, but also away from the art historical traditions of the self portrait and its established practice of depicting the artist. Instead, concealing my self behind imagined personas, I attempt to escape identification.
These portraits are humorous, and part of the joy of looking at Hansen’s work is finding glimpses of her true self within all of these paintings.
Artist Saint Hoax’s series War Drags You Out imagines prominent world leaders dressed as drag queens. The digital illustrations depict the likes of Obama, George W. Bush, Vladamir Putin, and even Osama Bin Laden getting dolled up. Animated GIFs show the primping process, which includes drawing on eyebrows, contouring the face, and adding fabulous accessories. And of course, like any good drag queen, they have stage names, too, like Putin’s “Vladdy Pushin,” and Bin Laden’s sassy moniker, “Ossie B.” The idea for this work came from Saint Hoax’s first visit to a drag show. They explain:
…I was struck by the richness of this glamour oriented culture.
I took a minute to actually look at the faux queens and deconstruct their main components.
The recipe for an iconic queen:
1- Flamboyant name
2- Fierce persona
3- Defining outfits
4- Personalized hairdo
5- A trademark feature
6- One hell of a PR team
I then realized that it takes that same exact effort to make a leader.
A rush of images containing Hitler’s mustache, Bin laden’s headgear, Obama’s campaigns, Saddam’s narcism crossed through my mind. It got me thinking that behind every “great” man, there’s a queen.
While Saint Hoax’s unique project is over the top, it’s had some serious consequences for the anonymous artist. Before the Osama Bin Laden painting (first in the series), was to be shown, they released a Youtube video announcing where the work would be displayed. Because of the video, Saint Hoax received over 70 death threats, and the painting was destroyed at the airport while in transit to its location. (Via Huffington Post)
Marc Dennis’ hyperrealistic paintings are centered around the gaze and ideal for viewers who enjoy spending a lot of time with a single work of art. Layered with symbol upon symbol, it’s apparent that there are two subjects featured in any one of his complex compositions – the person who does the looking and the object that’s being looked at. As we view how the two interact, we form a narrative about their relationship. What does it mean, for instance, that a NFL cheerleader stares at the classic Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso? How do the they relate to each other? And, how does this relate to us? In an interview with Hi Fructose, Dennis talks about trying to find our own meanings within art. He explains:
I saturate my paintings with truths and suggestions about human behavior, ways of looking, and the psychological, spiritual and physical relationships we have with art. Walter Benjamin, the famous social critic once said, “To experience the aura of a phenomenon means to invest it with the capability of returning the gaze.” I believe that we, as viewers and art lovers, are eager and more pleased when it happens, to find ourselves, or some semblance of ourselves in a work of art. In other words, I do my part in “returning the gaze” that Benjamin speaks of. And in this hyper self-conscious, glamour-driven, sexually-inflated and media-obsessed art culture of today, my works are satirical yet sincere, artificial yet real, and most definitely loaded with personal symbolism yet public pomp — a timely combination and expression. (Via Faith is Torment)
Victoria Williams, Valley State Prison for Women, Chowchilla, California.
Anonymous , Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility, Ionia, Michigan.
James Bowlin, United States Penitentiary, Marion, Illinois.
Anonymous Backdrop Painted in State Correctional Facility, Otisiville, New York.
Photographer Alyse Emdur offers a fascinating look into the world of prisoner portraiture in her ongoing project Prison Landscapes. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, visitation rooms of penitentiaries have backdrops where friends and family can get pictures taken of/with the inmate to commemorate the time they spent together. Often, these backgrounds are idyllic landscapes that offer the inmate a moment to emotionally escape their sentence. Emdur’s series is two-fold; It features inmates posing in front of these faux scenes, as well as the rooms that the giant paintings inhabit.
There’s a stark and ironic contrast between the prisoner-painted backdrops and the rest of their interiors. “Prison visiting room portraits are constructed to intentionally leave out the reality of prison. The aim of my project is not to be an authority on that which is left out, but to rather make the artifice visible. Although the paintings on the backdrops represent freedom, they are vehicles to control the representation of prisons and prisoners.” Emdur explains to Featureshoot.
To obtain the some of the portraits seen here, Emdur spent years corresponding with inmates. “My role was to document a system that I did not have physical access to. I did this by asking those with access, to send me their own photographs,” she says. The limitation of her available sources adds to the institutional critique of prisons that are inherent within the scope of this project. (Via Featureshoot)
With a moniker like Daisy Balloon, it’s no surprise that their medium of choice is balloons and sculpted like you’ve probably never seen them before. The artist (whose real name is Rie Hosokai) uses them in window displays and as art objects, but more surprisingly, fashion. Taking numerous small balloons, she gathers them into large groups that make up long flowing dresses, body suits, and structures reminiscent of armor. Her avant-garde designs are worn by models and celebrities like Bjork (are you shocked?).
Her entire portfolio is no doubt impressive – after all, keeping all of those balloons full is no small feat – but the colorful, giant teddy bear that’s constructed completely out of smaller teddy bears is the right mix of visual ingenuity, nostalgia, and fun. (Via Spoon & Tamango)
In 2004, artist Kim Alsbrooks began painting regal portraits on discarded cans in a series titled My White Trash Family. The work, which features both male and female subjects dressed in elaborate wigs, stately ascots, and enormous hats, is a juxtaposition of literal trash and fine portraiture. It was as initially inspired by Alsbrooks’ friend, a women’s history professor, who pointed out the historical biases that are present in art. In response, Alsbrooks’ tiny paintings mimic those that you’d find in museum collections. The fact that these exquisite works are produced on trash rather than quality materials is both ironic and amusing.
My White Trash Family is prolific; Alsbrooks has produced over 600 paintings since it started. All beverage cans are pre-flattened, mostly by passing cars or trucks. She describes her technique, writing, “One cannot flatten the trash. It just doesn’t work. It must be found so that there are no wrinkles in the middle and the graphic should be well centered. Then the portraits are found that are complimentary to the particular trash. Generally I depict miniature portraits from the watercolor on ivory era (17th-18th century more or less). The trash is gessoed in the oval shape, image drawn in graphite, painted in oils and varnished.”
Part of the success of this series is found in the dedication to craft, and the fact that she paints miniature portraits really well. But, what ultimately makes these works appealing is not necessarily tangible. The reference to high society and its traditional paths challenged by cheap, “lower class” items is instantly recognizable and relatable at a time when the one percenters rule the world. (Via Booooooom!)