It’s Halloween season, and campy macabre aesthetic surrounds us, making the general public a little more open to the darker parts of our existence. Reflecting back on the origin of this holiday, All Hallow’s Eve and Samhain, the pagan celebration, it’s clear that death and the unseen world is the foundation. Our ancestors believed that the veil to the other side became thin or disappeared completely on this night, allowing the spirit world to comingle with the physical and living world. There are many people and cultures that still hold this belief and practice today.
In light of the season I began searching through aesthetically significant contemporary art that finds its foundations in death and dying. This is Part 1 of 2 of the scope of art about death, ranging widely in medium and other interwoven themes. Damien Hirst, Angelo Filomeno, Joel Peter Witkin, Konrad Smolenski and Doris Salcedo all embrace the subject of death and dying in a widely varied manner. As well, all are highly revered in their own right for their individual continuums of art produced over the years.
Damien Hirst is no stranger to controversy as an artist. He always delivers shock value well and does not shy away from creating work that makes viewers squirm. Materials he used to create the pieces featured here range from dead flies, to animal carcasses, formaldehyde and maggots. Hirst’s works don’t just discuss the business of birth, death and dying- they display it in action right before your eyes, in a way that some of the work nearly becomes about life itself.
Last night, Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea, NYC opened a group show entitled Détournement : Signs of the Times. The show includes works from some big names including Ron English, Shepard Fairey, Jamie Reid, Steve Powers, and Aiko Nakagawa. “Détournement” refers to the practice of altering the face of public signage to change their respective meanings. From curator Carlo McCormick (editor of PAPER magazine):
Employed brilliantly by the Situationists, whose great philosopher Guy Debord laid out the socio-aesthetic framework for this practice, détournements twist the terms of mimicry in ironic parody using the a semblance of the easily recognizable to dissemble and redirect the literal meaning of signs so as to construe a more honest picture of their deceptive intentions.
A natural response to the lies and coercions we are fed on a daily basis, the détournement has been the reactive impulse of all those who question reality, from the Punks who adopted it in the 1970s through Culture Jammers, Adbusters, contemporary street artists and the winding legacy of protest movements from WTO to Occupy.
We have featured the work of Portland based Adam Friedman on the blog (here) in the past. He has just opened a new solo exhibition at Eleanor Harwood Gallery in San Francisco entitled Space and Time, and Other Mysterious Aggregations that is on view through March 2nd. From the press release Friedman explains, “In my work, rules of perspective, distance, and light are bent. Space can become a solid object and places are folded on top of one another. Millions of years are compacted into a single instant and rocks become fluid. I strive to present a moment that defies human intervention in the landscape, and pays homage to the potential in the inexplicable.”
Making themselves out to be a designer version of the Ramones, Cosmo Sapiens consist of 3 Parisians: Golgo (Ruben) Sapiens, Malmo (Ben) Sapiens and Romano (Romain) Sapiens. Not limited to these three, they like to consider themselves a huge “creative family,” using various artists, photographers and designers (not unlike ourselves). Mostly playful illustrations, their works are colorful, exciting and imaginative, everything we’d want to see in a band of quirky designers.
There is something desolate about Ryan Pierce’s woodblock-style paintings, although they’re filled with color and often the riotous bounty of nature…maybe it’s the lack of human presence that makes all of his scenes feel somewhat abandoned. A couple of the pieces below, in particular, are very Van-Gogh-ish in their paint handling and palette, a reference I feel I haven’t seen explored much out of young contemporary artists. Ryan seems to update the expressionist ethos into a post-industrial landscape.
Chinese artist Qie Zhijie is known for working in mediums as diverse as calligraphy to performance art. Much of his work, though, is tied together by a subtle mischievousness. These two sculptures constructed by Qie, Oil Can Dragon and Cash Cow, are no exception. Both sculptures are entirely built from skillfully cut oil barrels. Considering the dragon and the tree are both symbols strongly tied to the natural world it’s clear Qie’s choice of using oil barrels wasn’t a trivial one. In Cash Cow, an imposing tree of six stacked oil barrels, Qie contrasts birds perching on boughs and cut from metal lids with an airplane high its branches.
In 2004 TINKEBELL. made a purse out of her dearest cat Pinkeltje. Pinkeltje was a ‘depressed cat’ who couldnt be left at home alone. By killing her and making her into a purse, TINKEBELL. could carry her always with her.
The extensive attention to her project ‘My dearest cat Pinkeltje’ received from activists and the media demonstrates that this approach certainly meets with its share of resistance. In this project, she killed her cat with own hands and then had it stuffed and made into a hand bag as a product for consumption, thereby directly bridging the gap between house pet and animal for consumption/production and thus painfully bringing the matter to light. A collection of the threats generated by this and other projects was later published in the book ‘Dearest TINKEBELL
As a life long vegan and animal lover I have been struggling with whether I should post the work of TINKEBELL. Not only do I find the work in terrible taste but I generally don’t like to promote work that involves killing of any kind. However I think this work brings up some interesting questions about what can be considered art and how we define animal cruelty as well as our distinctions between animals that are killed everyday for food, clothing, accessories, and even art (leather) and what animals we wouldn’t dare touch because we have grown to live with them as pets and companions. How do we justify slaughtering millions of cows for Louis Vuitton purses yet get bent out of shape when someone turns a cat into a purse. If I had it my way neither would ever happen but I find it hard to justify one without the other. So what do you think? Is this art and how do we draw distinctions between one animal over the other?
Portia Munson turns one thousand garages worth of plastic kitsch and junk into surprisingly beautiful mounds of stuff that both uplift and mock our contemporary consumer culture. Portia will have a new installation at the PPOW exhibition “Debris” opening March 20th- if you are in NYC be sure to check it out.