The Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles has not one, but two very appealing magic-related exhibitions opening April 28. The first, Houdini: Art and Magic, travels to us from New York. Featuring tons of Houdini-ana, the exhibition looks not only at the historical Houdini, but also at his enduring legacy. To that end, the exhibition includes a number of artworks by contemporary artists inspired by the Houdini legend, including such luminaries as Matthew Barney, Petah Coyne, Vik Muniz and Raymond Pettibon. The Skirball has created a second exhibition to give context to Houdini. This is called Masters of Illusion: Jewish Magicians of the Golden Age, and it focuses on Houdini’s predecessors, colleagues and competitors in both Europe and the US, focusing on the years 1875 to 1948. The exhibition examines more than 40 fascinating careers, largely forgotten, and contains many outstanding objects, all displayed in “period” environments meant to evoke vaudeville stages, Victorian magic parlors and the like. Both exhibitions feature vintage photography, gorgeous promotional ephemera, original props and costumes, and rare documents, and Masters of Illusion includes four renowned automata.
“Hermaphrodite [sex … is] the sex of the angels,” explains Claudette, an intersex sex worker, to the photographer Malika Gaudin-Delrieu. The pair began their collaboration after meeting in Claudette’s native Switzerland, where Gaudin-Delrieu was documenting the country’s legalized prostitution. With her recent series of photographs, the artist elegantly dispels stigma around complex gender identities; as seen through her lens, Claudette is a woman, a husband, and a father.
Ideas on prostitution, a field often associated with the abuse and exploitation of women, is also complicated by the work. Here, sex work is seen as a means of self-actualization and joy; “Claudette is the opposite of a victim. She controls her life, makes her choices clearly and knowingly. She does more than just live her life, she loves it,” says Gaudin-Deirieu of her subject. A courageous activist for sex workers’ rights, our protagonist stands before a dark auditorium, bathed in spotlight, silently inhaling, poised to speak.
Laced throughout the work are subtle moments of love and intimacy. The series, romantically titled La vie en rose (presumably after the love song by Edith Piaf, a prolific French singer who was cared for by sex workers), focuses in part on Claudette’s 52 year marriage to her wife Andrée. Claudette’s quiet warmth and affections, seen in her and Andrée’s sleepy embrace, permeates throughout the entire visual narrative; with the same profound care, she counts her earnings, dresses in lingerie, rubs her neck.
Claudette describes her work as “[assuming the role of] ultimate femininity […] with happiness and a sense of relief,” and her nuanced relationship with her sensual yearning shines through in the images. We follow her as stops in the street, seduced by a lingerie shop window, as she dresses herself, fingering the textured fabrics as they cling to her body. Claudette’s life, as seen through streaming sunlight and soft darkness, is magnetic, alluring, and unexpectedly soothing, and viewers are left to ponder an indescribably complex global sexual and political landscape. What do you think? (via Feature Shoot and HuffPost)
Writer’s note: Gaudin-Deirieu’s work and this post are in no way meant to be taken as a generalization of the lives of sex workers; instead, they are meant to highlight the life an individual. As the artist explains, there are as many views on prostitution as there are people practicing it. For many, it’s a form of abuse; for Claudette, it is not.
The word “hermaphrodite” is usually considered to be offensive, and in no way is this post meant to condone or encourage the use of the word under most circumstances. Here, it is used only because Claudette herself identifies with the word.
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Lionel Bawden is an Australian artist working in sculpture, performance, installation and painting. Bawden’s core practice exploits hexagonal colored pencils as a sculptural material, reconfigured and carved into amorphous shapes, mining the material’s rich qualities of color, geometry and metaphor. Bawden explores themes of flux, transformation and repetition as preconditions to our experience of the physical world, essential to the construction of identity. Bawden’s sculptural works harness landscape as a stand-in for the body, personal themes of desire, longing and interconnection become abstracted in a generative process to create form. Bawden’s recent paintings explore darker psychological states, grounded in an exploration of an ambivalent relationship between figure and landscape. These paintings mark a return to the figure after a sustained fascination with more oblique approaches to articulating aspects of the human condition.
Joseph Parra is an artist working with the human portrait and figure. While he obviously draws and paints very well, Parra is not necessarily concerned with perfectly replicating what someone looks like. He finds this notion limiting to an artist; after all, a photo or realistic painting can only go so far. You’ve made someone look like their outward appearance, but now what?
Parra strives to delve deeper into the figure or portrait and reveal what is unseen. His work questions what it means to be human using a couple of different methods. One way is through layers. Aside from a portrait, he adds of media that distorts the face or the body. Parra scrapes, pricks, and sands his subjects. In his words, this is “acting as reminders that we are merely a union of ideas.” Additionally, he will cut, braid, or fold paper as a way to express the complex nature of humanity. Oneself (directly below) is the same portrait but manipulated in three different ways. It references the fractured, multiple, and twisted ways we often view ourselves. Some days we think we’re great, while others we are loathsome.
Much of Parra’s work is screen prints and digital prints, which I think enhance his ideas and again parallels the human experience. We see these images mutilated and/or distorted, and they look very textural. Yet up close, they are mostly reproduced images and have a smooth sheen – the rawness is kept contained. I compare it to having a friend who appears very put together on the surface, but beneath you know they are a mess.
Parra was featured last year on Beautiful/Decay, not long after graduating college. Since then, he’s created more work that focuses on the braiding or manipulating of paper, which are some of my favorite pieces. I’m looking forward to seeing where Parra goes from here.
Kate MccGwire’s feather sculptures are awe inspiring in their detail; they are the type of thing that is marveled. Gathering, peeling, and layering are just a few ways she constructs her work. The materials, vibrant colors, and tactile quality gives them an uncanny feeling. Seeing layers of feathers, we expect a winged creature attached. Instead, MccGwire has created organic yet indistinguishable forms. Her sculptures wrap around themselves, like the ouroboros, eating their own tail. Like infinity symbols, they are never ending. These forms feel powerful, and the feathers play a large role in it. Their volume, combined with a high level of craft, make us do a double take and demand our full attention.Yes, MccGwire’s winged creatures are kept under glass so they won’t escape. But wait! They were actually real. This uncertainty is exactly what MccGwire wants. From her artist statement:
Kate MccGwire’s practice probes the beauty inherent in duality, exploring the play of opposites – at an aesthetic, intellectual and visceral level – that characterises the way we conceive the world. She does this by appealing to our essential duality as human beings, to our senses and our reason, and by drawing on materials capable of embodying a dichotomous way of seeing, feeling and thinking. The finished work has a consistent ‘otherness’ to it that places it beyond our experience of the world, poised on a threshold between the parameters that define everyday reality.
While we might try and figure out what MccGwire’s sculptures are supposed to be, that isn’t her top priority. The artist is much more interested in combining our uneasiness of the unknown with the beauty of the natural world. (Via Colossal)
Kyle Thompson is the artist behind these haunting photographs. His image are darkly surreal, seemingly caught in the middle of a or sinister or tragic situation. An autumnal palette adds a slight chill to each scene. What may be most surprising about the work, though, is its creator. Thompson’s biography states that he’s only been photographing work since he was 19 years old – the young photographer is now only 21! Further, Thompson is a self-taught artist with no formal training.