Mike Leavitt is already known for his playfully subversive figures that feature and poke fun at other artists, celebrities, and world leaders. In his newest series, Empire Peaks, Leavitt combines famous leaders and innovators with characters from Star Wars. Comprised of 18 figures sculpted out of wood, and each corresponds to one character from the movie franchise. Albert Einstein’s infamous expression is sculpted into R2-D2, while Steve Jobs is his counterpart C-3PO. Michael Jackson plays the part of the adorable Ewoks. US President Barack Obama is Lando Calrissian.
Inspiration for Empire Peaks came from Leavitt’s experience growing up as a Gen-X’r raised by Baby Boomers. With both his parents working, he had to entertain himself, relying on the cheap thrills of television and plastic toys. Describing the series, he writes:
For better or worse, each ‘Empire Peaks’ non-fictional character is complicit in the world order today. We’re all shackled to our past because of endlessly echoing paradigms. David Sirota argues in ‘Back to Our Future’ for a cyclical 30-year regurgitation of politics and culture. I think it’s an inescapable human nature causing regimes to repeat themselves. ‘Empire Peaks’ are meant to reduce modern dynasties to a sci-fi soap opera of objects.
It’s all about gluttony. Serving desires lubricates civilization. Capitalism fills desire and demand. Development expands. Culture thrives. From religious redemption to material objects, mass coveting is the driving force. (Via ARTNAU)
Cambodian-based artist Anida Yoeu Ali conceptualized The Buddhist Bug Project, which sprouted from her fascination of other religions. She was raised in the Muslim faith but is drawn towards the Buddhist religion. Her project attempts to reconcile these two interests. Ali explains:
The Buddhist Bug Project seeks to map a new spiritual and social landscape through its surreal existence amongst ordinary people and everyday environments. The Buddhist Bug (BBug) is a fantastic saffron-colored creature that can span the length of a 30-metre bridge or coil into a small orange ball. Rooted in an autobiographical exploration of identity, the Bug comes from the artist’s own spiritual turmoil between Islam and Buddhism. Set amongst everyday people in ordinary moments, the Bug provokes obvious questions of belonging and displacement.
The Bug’s colorful exterior references robes worn by the Buddhist Monks, while the style of its head piece is modeled after the Islamic Hijab. The travelling project has made its way to Cambodia, where Ali and photographer Masahiro Sugano stage site-specific performances. We see the Bug wrapped around tables, in a boat, up a flight of stairs, and more. Its presence allows for others to interact with it and take part in the project, which is part of Ali’s intent. “…meters and meters of textile act as skin, as a way for the surface of my body to extend into public spaces, and as a metaphoric device for stories to spread across an expanse.” She says. “For me, performance and storytelling become ways of bridging the interior and exterior space of self as well as initiate critical dialogues between communities and institutions. (Via design boom and The Philanthropic Museum)
If you aren’t careful, the video Milkyeyes by Donato Sansone might give you nightmares. The piece describes itself as “A slow and surreal video slideshow of nightmarish, grotesque and apparently static characters.” The video clocks in at just over 2 minutes and features 26 different characters, and is accompanied by music you’d hear in an old, abandoned warehouse or horror film. Some characters have faces that have been mutilated and warped to the point where they are nearly unrecognizable. Milkeyes is a name that conjures an unpleasant visual. So, it’s not surprising that this video is a visceral journey into a world of unfortunate humans. We see steam coming from their heads, stuff bubbling from their lips, and eyes floating of their head. While they are affected, the environment behind them remains static and untouched. The juxtaposition between calm and a surreal chaos makes this video both puzzling and trippy. (Via Artnau)
Believe it or not, these very old drawings of Japanese men farting are not Photoshopped. The images were produced during the Japanese Edo period (1603 – 1868), and they depcit what is called he-gassen or “farting competition.” They show men shooting noxious blasts of gas towards other men, women, and animals (including a cat!). Seemingly, the force of the farts is so great that it the targets turn topsy-turvy when hit.
These drawings are peculiar, and not having a vast knowledge of Japanese culture makes their meaning even more alluring to me. Luckily, the website Naruhodo explains the historical context. They write, “similar drawings were used to ridicule westerners towards the end of the Edo period, with images depicting the westerners blown away by Japanese farts.”
The individual images originally appear on a scroll, which has obviously been sectioned off today. You can view it in its entirety here. It’s funny to think that farts have always been a source of amusement, even across time periods and cultures. (Via Dangerous Minds and Naruhodo)
Like a lot of us, artist Yue Wu uses Instagram. He “likes” things on Instagram, as we’re supposed to, but takes it one step further. Everyday, he turns those “likes” into drawings. Coming full circle, he then Instagrams the drawing and tags it the source photos. This way, you can click through to the originals. He tags this work as #whatilikedtoday.
These quick, black and white ink drawings are a mash up of a day. They vary in subject matter. Some include what you’d expect, like architecture and animals. Others are more bizarre, including one that has a greco-romanesque statue wearing protective eyewear, and a dancing skeleton wearing a top hat and holding a cane.
The concept behind Wu’s drawings is relatively simple, but amusing. It also has me thinking about my own Instagram feed. We spend so much time looking (and sometimes mindlessly liking) photos. Wu’s drawings illustrate what stands out in the deluge of images. What would your #whatilikedtoday look like? (Via Booooooom)
Taking images from auction catalogs, artist Kour Pour translates intricately-patterned carpets onto paneled surfaces. The multi-step process is labor intensive, not to mention large – his work is 8 feet tall. First, Pour scans in the image of a rug and burns it on a silk screen. Then, he uses a broom to begin his underpainting (the texture gives it an appearance of a textile). Afterwards, he silkscreens the design to the panel and begins the work of painting every painstaking detail. The final step is to use an electrical sander to erase the painted surface and expose the layers of the under-painting. What results is work that looks like an faded, well-worn rug.
Pour is both British and Persian, and when he was younger, his father owned a rug shop in England. His work is tied to this past, as he explains in his artist statement:
Carpets were a part of my childhood growing up in England. I remember my Father’s rug shop, and how he would hand-dye sections of carpets that had faded away, in order to bring them back to their original colours. I felt that in doing this, my Father was making an effort to maintain all their history and meaning, as if he was bringing the carpets back to life. When I first moved to Los Angeles I had feelings of displacement and much like the faded carpets, I too felt a part of my history disappear. I started the carpet painting series and noticed how art and objects could play an increasingly important role in our diverse society. Through making these paintings I am constantly learning more about my background and the rich mix of culture that surrounds me and the carpets.
By recreating carpets, Pour highlights their meaning as object, as well as the implications of their surface design. They signify an object of privilege (as their originals come from an auction catalog), and our commodity-based consumer culture. Beyond that, the patterns of animals and men on horses is representational of globalization, a culture’s history, and more. (Via Bmore Art and Flat Surface)
For more than several years now, Rosemarie Fiore has painted with fireworks. She does so by creating machines that produce an action, like lighting a combustible container to produce smoke. The results are colorful, non-representational images that are very gestural, as if the artist is taking us on a journey. Fiore writes about her work, stating:
My drawings are created by containing and controlling firework explosions. I bomb blank sheets of paper with different fireworks including color smoke bombs, jumping jacks, monster balls, rings of fire, and lasers. As I work, I create imagery by controlling the chaotic nature of the explosions in upside-down containers. When the paper becomes saturated in color, dark and burned, I take it back to my studio and collage blank paper circles onto the image to establish new planes and open up the composition. I then continue to bomb the pieces. These actions are repeated a number of times. The final works contain many layers of collaged explosions and are thick and heavy.
Fiore’s machine is built out of mixed media and found materials. It is fitted with wheels and is comprised of multiple connected containers. When lit, the machine creates a combustion that releases smoke at different intervals.
There’s no doubt that Fiore’s work is labor intensive, as she describes the physical and repeated process of building her images. Knowing this information provides for a greater appreciation of the work itself; It transcends what’s on paper and becomes the product of ingenuity.
Photographer Brian McCarty combines the innocence of childhood with the horrors of war in his series WAR-TOYS. Violent scenes are reenacted with toys; Bombs are dropped on a pink plastic house, while toy soldiers gun down a giant-headed doll. McCarty’s source material is the drawings of children who live in war-torn areas like the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.
The artist travelled to the sites where the children had been, which adds another level of sadness to these images. This project is not just the undertaking of McCarty, but he pairs with other aid workers as well. From his artist statement:
Employing principles of expressive art therapy, my process begins with observation and guided interaction with children under the care of humanitarian organizations operating in areas of active conflict. Specialized therapists and caregivers conduct art-based interviews on my behalf, inviting children to draw pictures about their lives and experiences. The resulting illustrations serve as art direction and basis for photographic exploration.
McCarty tries to involve the tiny artists, too, and uses toys that are acquired locally. You’ll see that a Disney Princess is in the line of fire. He writes:
When possible and under the guidance of specialists, I invite the children to actively participate and use the photographic process as a form of therapeutic play. The resulting photographs provide an interpretive document of witnessed events and context for the children’s accounts.
McCarty plans to continue this project and travel to Afghanistan, Sudan, and Colombia. (Via Huffington Post)