In the midst of the holiday season, with record cold temperatures in parts of the world and Winter Solstice, the shortest day/longest night of the year, upon us, I’ve been spending time studying work made with a simple organic material: Ice. Truth be told, despite spending my childhood in Minnesota, I now live in the desert, and the only ice I see is in my drinking glass. After studying art works made with ice as a central material, I am struck by a number of repeated inclinations by a number of artists. Much of the works I present here demonstrate that the transitory and temporal qualities of ice lend it to meaningful works about the body, time, climate, a sense of place and elements of endurance. Though this list is in no way exhaustive, artists included are: Marina Abramovic, Jay Atherton and Cy Keener, Nele Azavedo, Kirsten Justesen, Greatest Hits (a collective), Julie Rrap and Tavares Strachan.
Artists are magicians in their own right for making something from nothing, for infusing the everyday mundane tools and objects with poetic meaning and creating a whole new experience from it. In the holiday season, with a good part of society taking part in excess shopping, people are becoming increasingly conscious of what we discard. Our relationship to the accumulation of stuff and the level of waste humans produce seems to be collectively shifting. The artists whose work is shared here: David Ellis, Vik Muniz, Gabriel Kuri, Song Dong, Tim Noble and Sue Webster demonstrate the way individual artistic voices arise from this consciousness and the beautiful and often magical work that is informed by our accumulated or discarded stuff.
Chinese sculptor Liu Xue combines a human with an animal, creating a hybrid being. Each being has a human head with animal appendage (or appendages). A man is merged with a pig, a woman with a chicken, a man with a dog, and more.The result is something we haven’t seen before, one that seems non-threatening, but still grotesque at the same time. Xue has honed his craft and painted the sculptures to be so life like that they fall into the uncanny valley.
Xue’s choice to pair a human with an animal seem to be because it’s funny, and the hybrids fit with each other thematically. For instance, a giant, bald man is given the tiny wings of a bat. Another work pits this same man with a seahorse bottom. We know both of these creatures are tiny, and the disparity in size is what makes it humorous. Other sculptures aren’t so amusing. An older man is combined with the body of greyhound dog. The gaunt appearance of the dog’s body and pained look on the man’s face makes this piece somber.
The unnatural combination of Xue’s work explores the notion of what’s considered attractive or glamourous. A naked, conventionally pretty woman, for instance, is given the unwieldy feet of a chicken. Likewise, a young man has the same features. In the artist’s attempt to make both appear seductive, it’s hard to imagine these creatures moving gracefully.
Young-Deok Seo uses the human figure as the core of his work, though material is an ever present, and surprisingly inventive, concern. Using bought and discarded bicycle chains, the young South Korean artist spends months constructing and welding his pieces, with larger pieces taking even longer. Although the majority of his intricate constructions are manifested through the human form, there is an ever-present emotional quality present, oftentimes that of hurt and loss. While some figures physiques are the pinnacle of human perfection, others are faceless, in positions of mourning, or shattered upon the gallery floor. The viewer can easily make the assumption that the links Seo uses go past material and into metaphor, connecting chains to our manufactured, and fractured, world.
The artist explains, “We get to deal with lots of relationships in our fiercely competitive society. And from those relationships, we get desire for materials.To portray the mankind as a being which are bound to many things around them, I use the material that is also bound and also connected to each other….material restrict and choke each other.Modern people’s addiction to the material can be stood up as a main theme, in this way.” (via myampgoesto11)
Artist Kate MacDowell uses porcelain clay to craft her nature-inspired works. MacDowell’s works are realistically sculpted and meticulous. Hollowing out a solid form and building each piece leaf by leaf and feather by feather, she intimately involves herself with the process of building. The works themselves are beautiful, ghostly white and evoke a very serene feeling. Upon a closer examination, however, things aren’t quite right. A large bird has human hands instead of its normal claws, and an apple has a tiny skull inside of it. Mice have ears on their backs. MacDwell explains in a statement, writing:
In my work this romantic ideal of union with the natural world conflicts with our contemporary impact on the environment. These pieces are in part responses to environmental stressors including climate change, toxic pollution, and gm crops. They also borrow from myth, art history, figures of speech and other cultural touchstones. In some pieces aspects of the human figure stand-in for ourselves and act out sometimes harrowing, sometimes humorous transformations which illustrate our current relationship with the natural world. In others, animals take on anthropomorphic qualities when they are given safety equipment to attempt to protect them from man-made environmental threats. In each case the union between man and nature is shown to be one of friction and discomfort with the disturbing implication that we too are vulnerable to being victimized by our destructive practices.
The careful construction and fragility of material MacDowell has chosen coincides conceptually with her work.
Walter Robinson creates amusing sculptures that work as witty social criticisms about consumerism and popular culture.
I’m fascinated by the human drive to possess material objects and by our intransigent attachment to the things we own. In my work I investigate the ways that consumer products have been crafted to perpetuate hunger for more. Brand and corporate logos, mascots, cartoon characters, advertising text and signage are the semiotic sources I draw from.
Robinson subverts meanings of familiar brands and Western cultural symbols by tweaking their scale, context and color.
With marketing and adverting psychology in mind, Robinson uses seductive surfaces, saturated color, bling and glitter to draw his audience to examine their own relationship to consumer culture and it’s effect on the environment and world events.
Olivier Ratsi‘s latest project Onion Skin is an attempt to create an unreachable plane by physical means. Two walls are connected at 90 degree angles, and a series of visual light displays plays simultaneously off of the joined walls, created a uniquely intangible, unreachable dimension. This type of work is typically elaborate for Ratsi, who describes his works as “The deconstruction or fragmentation acts mainly as an emotion trigger, which does not aim at showing what things could be, but more at questioning their references.”
Shapes that begin to form are quickly changed, morphing into others and blending into a seemingly 3-Dimensional landscape. Ratsi, who is also the co-founder of visual art label AntiVJ, gives the viewer a sound component to coincide with Onion Skin‘s hypnotic geometric shapes overlapping, peeling and unfolding. Ratsi explains, “Its aim is to generate a break with the meaning of the original items, to propose a new viewing angle and to provide the public a new field of experience, another way of looking at space and time.”
Onion skin is currently installed in Belo Horizonte, Brazil (until November 30th, 2013), after which it will be included at an exhibition at the Parque Lage in Rio De Janeiro (December 7th and 8th, 2013). (via designboom)
American artist Phillip K. Smith III found inspiration from the most basic of places in his recent project, Lucid Stead. Taking a small cabin which had been slowly eroded by the harsh environments of the Joshua Tree Desert for seventy years, Smith III modified the existing structure, adding mirrors between aged wood slats and changing LED panels to the door and window frames. By day, the desert scenery is reflected upon the modified mirrored slats, while the piece illuminates the desert landscape by night. The artist explains Lucid Stead, “This project is about tapping into the desert, into the pace of change, and is about responding to the quiet of the place. And ultimately, in that quite, the project begins to unfold.”
While the piece has a decidedly aesthetic-first quality, Smith explains that there are four ideas at play in Lucid Stead – “Light and Shadow” (the interaction with the sun, and changes in the reflections of its light), “Reflected Light” (within the mirrors, using the desert as a medium placed on the shack), “Projected Light” (the LED lights within the shack, pure color illuminating the cracks and openings of the structure), and “Change” (the shifting colors of the lights, which change so slowly as to be almost unnoticed). Smith III continues, “The project really is about slowing down…stopping and being quite so you can truly see and listen.” (via from89 and designboom, additional images via Kevin Smith, archinect)