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There are many kinds of maps to help find our way in this world. Political, road, and topographic maps may be familiar, but in Chilean artist Rodrigo Arteaga’s hands, maps are made by and of cultivated fungi. Meticulously grown and preserved, Arteaga’s maps are simultaneously science lesson and aesthetic object.
“Convergence” is a mapamundi (map of the world); an installation composed of filamentary fungi in glass containers. The propagation these fungi propagated represented the surface of the earth. The other components of the work were elements that evidence the research process: photocopies of mycology books, pencil drawings that imitate the growth of fungi, sketches, photographs, and Petri dishes with laboratory tests.
A second project, “Atlas de Chile Regionalizado,” consists of 15 glass containers in which different types of filamentary fungi represent each one of the 15 regions of Chile. The living organic matter of the fungi is delimited and cut in the shape of each region, then preserved under resin.
These interdisciplinary works involve people from interdisciplinary areas of thought. Their beauty is in the relationship between art and science; order and chaos.
Henry Ford’s Digital Collections Initiatives Manager Ellice Engdahl recently wrote about one of his favorite artifacts of the 18,000 published online: The Monkey Bar diorama. This diorama was created by a man known as Patrick J. Culhane (various spellings) in 1914-15 during his time at the Massachusetts State Prison at Charlestown where he’d been sent after a conviction of “larceny from a conveyance.” Culhane carved and assembled this incredibly detailed piece of prison art by hand from a variety of materials, including peach pits, and scraps of wood, fabric, metal, cellulose, and plastic, all fitting into a base measuring only 16″ x 20″.
Engdahl notes that Monkey Bars were created by other prisoners in the early 20th century, and that “Culhane intended the diorama to depict many of the worldly pitfalls that had put him and his fellow inmates on a path to prison. The Bar is chock full of monkeys engaged in all kinds of rambunctious activities—drinking alcohol, gluttonous eating, smoking (cigarettes, cigars, and opium), gambling and gaming in many forms (craps, roulette, checkers, shell game, and cards), playing music, monitoring the stock market via a ticker, and even paying off a policemonkey. Clearly some of the monkeys are ready to check into (or out of) the associated hotel, as they have their suitcases with them and keys and mail are visible behind the desk.”
After Culhane finished his piece, he arranged to have it sent to Henry Ford, with a hand-written note, “Presented to Mr. Henry Ford / As a token of appreciation and esteem for his many benevolent and magnanimous acts toward, and keen interest in, prisoners / By A Prisoner.”
Engdahl surmises that Ford became interested in Culhane, and may have a hand in his release from prison, as Culhane was hired to work at the Ford Motor Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1916 and Ford’s secretary corresponded with Culhane regularly.
Titus Kaphar creates new perspectives on art with his deconstructed installations. After painting in the style of classical and Renaissance greats, he begins to change the works, literally peeling them back in some cases. He uses cutouts and silhouettes to recontextualize the paintings in a way seems to lift the curtain and show us another layer of reality. “Open areas become active absences, walls enter into the portraits, stretcher bars are exposed, and structures that are typically invisible underneath, behind, or inside the canvas are laid bare, revealing the interiors of the work,” Kaphar says of his work.
Cipher also experiments with texture, adding thick layers of paint and creating a new dimension of emotion and expressiveness as a result. Some of his pieces are contemplative, but others are playful, like a portrait of a man with the subject peeled from his surroundings and left crumpled before the foot of the frame. Kaphar explains:
“I cut, crumple, shroud, shred, stitch, tar, twist, bind, erase, break, tear, and turn the paintings and sculptures I create, reconfiguring them into works that nod to hidden narratives and begin to reveal unspoken truths about the nature of history. … In so doing, my aim is to perform what I critique, to reveal something of what has been lost, and to investigate the power of a rewritten history.”
Shintaro Ohata’s painting slash sculptures are beautifully finished glimpses into another world. The artist, born in Hiroshima, Japan, creates paintings that are accompanied by three-dimensional sculpture. Both the painting and the sculpture are so perfectly rendered that they seamlessly intermingle with one another. Ohanta’s painting abilities incorporate light, mood and subject impeccably. The effect is a snapshot out of a narrative where each figure is the heroine of her own story. A girl perched on a ledge blowing bubbles, the girl dancing through a nighttime urban scene, or my favorite, the girl walking amongst puddles that reflect the sky, looking up, which happens to be out at the viewer; each of these scenes has a unique story that feels very sweet, compelling and endearing.
There is a theme of solitude to Ohanta’s work. His subjects, usually young girls, are generally depicted alone, or in such a way that they seem alone, often in urban environments where there should be other people around. The paintings, however, are not lonely. Rather the subjects feel like they are lost in their own world, seeing, thinking and feeling things that we as viewers can only conjecture about.