Our planet is a truly magical work of art; complex, multifaceted and textural. Perhaps this is why Andy Warhol, a name that is unlikely to be associated with this topic, once said, “Land really is the best art.” Viewed in this simplistic yet profound light, land, or Earth, serves almost as found object in the implementation of Earthworks. In other instances land becomes the canvas, or the sculptural negative space for installation, or even a foundation and medium to explore sociocultural patterns.
Lita Albuquerque has used the earth and its materials for decades to create ephemeral and spiritually infused work. Her incorporation of performance, photography and installation creates multiple dimensions and lenses to experience our world, our relationship to earth and the stars, as well as their rhythms and cycles. The images featured here of her project Stellar Axis document an artistic expedition into Antarctica, which was the first and largest ephemeral work created on the continent. The installation of ninety-nine spheres across the icy landscape mimics the pattern of the ninety-nine Antarctic stars above- visually linking Earth to the cosmos.
Nøne Futbol Club is a duo of Paris based artists. They work in a wide variety of mediums and forms from video to installation. However, nearly all of their work seems to be tied together by a certain mischievous sense of humor. Though not always overtly political, the duo’s art is definitely subversive. For example, consider Lift a Finger, the first piece pictured here. The maneki-neko, usually a statuette of a welcoming or beckoning cat suddenly becomes hostile with a simple change of hand gesture. The pharase “KEEP WARM BURNOUT THE RICH” is turned into a branding iron. The implement not only burns, but more importantly is a tool for displaying and designating ownership.
Nicolas Rosette goes onto describe the duo’s practice saying:
“Nøne Futbol Club is a duo that is capable of mobilizing as many accomplices as necessary to make their works and performances.
The playful component is inseparable from their creative process which tackles the world like a playground for the expression of an art whose nature has continually bordered on the cellophane of the white cube and the great palaces must take the risk of being a mass distribution product. The recursive principle in their work is reversal. It is not about diverting elements from pop culture(or popular culture, the term changing depending on whether this culture comes to us from one side or the other of the Atlantic Ocean) but of a reversal whose final address is always popular culture. A double inversion, whose process of revelation reflects back to us as in a mirror the possible destiny of an art world which has become less subtle than the current popular media cultures; whose practices of critical and jubilatory diversions are the foundation. Would the Nøne Futbol Club be applying to contemporary art what digital cultures have subjected Chuck Norris, the pope and Darth Vader to?”
Artist Wen Fang has a way turning an eye toward the often overlooked. In a way, some of her work memorializes the unfortunately common. This first installation – a room filled with hanging knives printed with images of garbage – is titled Rain and illustrates this well. She explains the personal story and Chinese idiom behind the installation:
“One day I was on a public bus, heading to a suburban enclave not far from my home on the outskirts of Beijing. The road was lined on both sides by filthy, stagnant drainage ditches. The disgusting smell of the water wafted into the bus, immediately wiping out the hunger I was feeling a moment before. The water was blue-grey, and looked quite thick. The surface was covered in floating instant noodle packages, popsicle sticks, rotting vegetables and other garbage that couldn’t be sold as scrap. Suddenly I saw a stray dog at the edge of the ditch, trying to drink the water. Several times he would approach the water with his snout, only to be repulsed by the powerful stench. In the end, I guess he was just too thirsty, and he hesitantly stuck his snout in the water, taking a few gulps. It sent pangs through my heart. Lots of migrants live by the drainage ditches. Their kids run around like wild dogs, and are just about as dirty. About half of their toys were picked up along the side of this road. None of the adults control their actions, as these migrant workers are too busy trying to eke out a living, and the old people just sit there by the side of the road. The Chinese refer to these situations as knives raining down from the heavens…that is to say; this is the worst it can get…I don’t know if this is the worst possible situation, but these knives often cut right into my heart. That’s why I make them, so that everyone can see these knives. Economic development is a sound idea, but how much money does it take to be truly wealthy? I spent my childhood playing in the wilderness around here, while these kids are spending their childhoods playing on the trash heaps. I really wish these kids could grow up in gardens, just as we promised. But what I really don’t know is, when we finally have enough money, whether or not the garden will be anything more than a bunch of sharp knives.…”
The saying “home is where the heart is” very rarely relates to contemporary art. And though the works featured here are not directly about home, they are informed to some degree by immediate family,relationships and experiences that stem from it. In a global spectrum of east meets west these five artists come from genres ranging from Chinese Avant Garde to lowbrow painting, from surrealism to contemporary portraiture, to name a few. The paintings, mixed media works and digital media stills of artists: Song Dong, Brooke Grucella, Seonna Hong, Aaron Holz and Zhang Xiaogang exemplify the diversity with which the artists’ loved ones have become not only the subject for the works, but also at times part of the process, as well as a platform to tell a story that becomes increasingly universal.
I recall visiting the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco a couple of years ago to see Song Dong’s massive solo exhibition of works made with his family members as subjects, as well as a massive installation that incorporated decades worth of of family possessions as material. His work is deeply personal, with a strong narrative thread, and truly draw you into his world with their reverence and profoundly flawless execution. Zhang Xiaogang’s works from his series Bloodlines uses other family portraits as a vehicle for conveying the experiences of his immediate family that they experienced as he came of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Each piece in this series has a thin red line that weaves throughout the composition, symbolizing the connection of heritage and family.
The Metamorphosis Series by artist Shi Shaoping is a poetic look at life. Shi created 3,000 ceramic eggs over the course of a year. Each egg weighs about 22 pounds and as a group come in at about 48 tons. The eggs were then taken to some of China’s loneliest locales. From grassland to beach, deserts, and mountains, the ceramic eggs were spread out on the ground. The entire project was documented with photographs and videos.
In a way The Metamorphosis Series is as much a site specific installation as it is a performance. Shi set before himself an intentionally difficult project, one that would entail hard work, a journey, and perhaps transformation. Like the egg, these too are a symbol of life. However, they clearly also point toward potentiality – the field of eggs seems poised to hatch. The exhibition statement goes on to relate about the project:
“Shaoping is like a fortuneteller who uses the 3,000 giant eggs to remind people of the weight of life. The beauty of the work is the unpredictability, and the unlimited imagination it brings. The fragile yet vigorous eggs of life emphasizes that we eventually have to respect every single living thing in the universe. The sands may cover the frost-glazed castle; the soaring fallen leaves may blanket the ground. The persistence and power of life, however, will fight against the mediocrity and itself. The contradiction is the language Shaoping’s looking for to express his world of Metamorphosis. This triggers the speculation and discussion on contemporary art and life value.”
I have to confess I am easily drawn to works of art that resemble or depict toys and other childhood objects. At face value these works are easy, as all of us have some form of relationship or pre-existing association with the referenced nostalgic icons. In other words, the works naturally engage us and draw us in. However, these works, specifically those featured here, use the familiar imagery to interject layers of conceptual content, moving far beyond catchy into heavier implications, through expert usage of scale, quantity and context.
Context is key in these pieces. Maurizio Cattelan is a conceptual master of context, as demonstrated in his piece Daddy Daddy, which features a large drowned figure of Pinocchio floating face down in a pool inside the Guggenheim. The result is ironic, tragic and flawless. As well, the practice of significantly altering scale such as Jeff Koons‘ balloon animal sculptures, Urs Fischer‘s Untitled (Lamp/Bear) and Yoram Wolberger‘s life-size sculptures of toy and trophy figurines, allows the objects to become monolithic, dwarf us and alter our sense of reality.
Artist and desinger Fabrizio Lamoncha works with more than a little bit of humor. His Pooprinter project statement begins with the quote “A common idiosyncratic habit in all birds is their inevitable punk nature to shit over our most precious belongings.” The project is as innovative as it is gross. Lamoncha slowly prints an alphabet on large sheets of paper by using strategically placed perches and the birds own droppings. Check out the time-lapse video of the bird poop in action above and enjoy Lamoncha’s toungue-in-cheek explanation the project:
“A group of male zebra finches underwent this experiment with rigorous commitment. The author/captor, taking the role of some kind of 1984´s Big brother, is providing the implementation guidelines for the transformation of this countercultural attitude into a marketable artsy product. The observation of this group of non-breeding birds in captivity and the experimentation with induced behaviors has been rigorously documented for this task.” (via booooooom)
Artist Katrin Sigurdardottir offers unexpected perspectives by way of her installations. For this first installation High Plane, Sigurdardottir set up two ladders in the gallery for visitors to climb. The ladders lead to a hole for the visitors to insert their heads. Once visitors peek through the holes they see they are at eye level with a miniature landscape. Pale blue islands seem to dot a white sea, the visitor looking from god-like perspective. However, the viewer also encounters another viewer peering through the other hole, reminded of their absurd size and situation. In another installation titled Boiserie, she sets up an entirely white parlor-type room adorned with period furnitutre. Mirrors mark the corners of the room which create an endless loop of reflections of the rooms interior. The mirrors, though, are interrogation mirrors visitors can use to look inside the room. The parlor is essentially only a set and roughly hewn from the outside.