The musée du Quai Branly, my favourite Paris museum, has recently opened a fascinating show called Tattooists, tattooed. I haven't stopped telling people they should go and see it if they happen to be in town in the coming months. In town and french speaking preferably because a large part of the information in the gallery spaces hasn't been translated in english.
I was expecting the usual about tattoos: the criminals, the freak shows, the Māori warriors, the virtuosity of contemporary tattoo artists. I certainly found all of that in the show. I wasn't however expecting to be shocked by the way tattoos were used to mark women.
In the 1920s, thousands of Armenian girls and women managed to escape the Genocide of their people by feeling to Syria. They were kept in slavery and forced into prostitution. In order to identify them and prevent their escape, their pimps tattooed their face and arms.
The girl in the photo above had just been rescued from a Turkish house and was cared for by the Y.W.C.A. workers at Aleppo.
The significance of the tattoos worn by Ainu women couldn't be more different. In the Ainu culture of Northern Japan, only women tattooed and were tattooed. The traditional practice was a prerequisite to marriage and to the afterlife. Mouth tattoos were started at a young age with a small spot on the upper lip. The design would gradually increase in size over the years.
The exhibition looks at tattoo through ages and cultures. It also demonstrates that tattooing is an art in constant evolution that traverses all continents, even if its essence, acceptance and purpose differ from one culture to another. While in societies from the Oriental, African and Oceanian worlds, tattooing had a social, religious and mystical role, the West saw it as a mark of shame. In the past, only criminals, prostitutes, sailors, circus freaks and other marginals would wear one. Or many.
The exhibition displays 300 historical and contemporary artefacts, including photographs, prints, paintings, posters, short films, tribal masks, books, clothing, tattoo-making instruments (such as Thomas Edison's perforating pen) and even mummified samples of body parts and preserved tattooed human skin.
I was obviously drawn to the displays showing how tattoo was used by 'the underworld' to frighten, claim their belonging to a certain gang, parade their crimes or share secret codes.
Tattoos were of great interest to European criminologists during the late 19th century. Many scholars believed that the presence of tattooing in European culture represented worrying signs of atavism, criminal proclivity, or dangerous 'degeneration' within their populations (via.) French criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne, however, believed that the choice of tattoo offered an insight into the criminal mind. He catalogued thousands of images according to type and body location. In 1881 he published Tatouages: Étude Anthropologique Et Médico-légale, or Anthropological and Forensic Tattoos.
Lacassagne's archives offer an interesting parallel to the drawings and photos detailing Russian criminal tattoos.
Sergei Vasiliev worked both as a photographer for a newspaper in Chelyabinsk and as a prison warden when he encountered the work of Danzig Baldaev, the son of an ethnographer who was arrested as an "enemy of the people". Baldaev spent over 30 years working in the Soviet penal system. He recorded the horrors of the Gulag in dozens of drawings but he gained fame for his meticulous documentation of the tattoos etched on the skin of the inmates.
Nowadays, you don't have to be a criminal to wear tattoos. But the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gangs of Los Angeles and Central America wear their symbols and languages on their faces.
With the help of a priest working on the rehabilitation of gang members, Isabel Muñoz gained access to a prison in El Salvador where she made stunning portraits of the men.
More images from the show:
Marc Garanger's 1960 portrait of a woman whose village was destroyed during Algeria's war of independence from France. She clearly wasn't impressed by the French photographer.
You probably don't want to see this video but here is the Lizardman, i discovered its existence in one of the videos screened at the museum:
Tattooists, tattooed is at the musée du Quai Branly until 18 october 2015. It was curated by Anne & Julien, founders of the magazine "Hey! Modern Art and Pop Culture," in collaboration with tattoo artist Tin-Tin, anthropologist Sébastien Galliot and journalist Pascal Bagot.
Related: Russian Criminal Tattoo portraits.
I had forgotten to tell you about the work of Jérôme Zonder.
I discovered the work above at the exhibition Tous Cannibales at La Maison Rouge in Paris. Somehow, the show got lost in the frenzy of my last gallery-marathon in Paris. Plus, taking picture was a big 'no-no-!-get-out-of-here' which means that i couldn't document properly the exhibition. Yesterday, however, i was preparing my trip to Berlin (DMY!) and discovered that Tous Cannibales gets an Alles Kannibalen? reincarnation at me Collectors Room in Berlin. As its name indicates, the exhibition explores anthropophagy in art. Works by Goya and James Ensor are shown in dialogue with pieces by Wim Delvoye, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Pieter Hugo and Jérôme Zonder.
Zonder's work is provocative. Everybody loves provocative nowadays but he plays the provocative and offensive game with more panache and imagination than most. I thought he deserved more than just a photo on this blog:
Seizing on strong iconographic symbols taken from the Nazi aesthetics and the worlds of childhood and cartoons, Zonder revisits these forms of narration and the innocence they carry (children drawings, clear lines) as well as the cruelty (realism, caricature) through mise-en-scenes with a gory tone where sex and barbarity are more than compatible. (extract from the press release of the exhibition Pupper Show Dust at the Galerie Eva Hober Paris)
A few days ago, i was at La Cantine in Paris to cover and be a member of the jury of the second edition of the ArtGame Weekend. Artists, graphic designers, musicians, interaction designers, engineers, VJ's and coders were given 48 hours to develop a game for mobile devices.
On Friday evening, 36 participants - most of them had never met each other - submitted their ideas for a game. They had then 20 minutes to discuss what the 6 most exciting proposals were and built teams around these 6 winning ideas.
The remaining hours were dedicated to collaborating on a game that had to be playable, playful, original, suitable for mobile platforms and have some art credentials (although the definition of that particular point was rightly left to their discretion.) Participants were provided with food, sofas, coaches to guide them and a team of hosts.
The 6 teams worked day...
The winner last year was Générations, a game that a sole person will never have the time to finish since it has to be passed on from one generation to another and thus be played over several decades.
I didn't have particularly high expectations before the Sunday presentation. I had heard some interesting ideas on the first night but then i thought "how much can you do over 48 hours?" A lot as we discovered. I had a fantastic time reviewing the projects together with the other members of the jury: designer slash researcher slash developer Damien Djaouti, Sylvain Huguet, co-founder of Dardex-Mort2Faim, and of the festival GAMERZ and Fabien Delpiano, founder of Pastagames. Here we are during the public presentation:
After the presentations, we (=the jury) were led together with a great choice of antipasti in a room to play and decide.
The game we liked the best was "Gone" and if i tell you that it is simply about death and has the player run for their life until they ineluctably die, you might not find the concept highly exciting. But as developer writes "It really needs to be played to be understood. If I had to sum it up in a sentence I'd say "embrace the calm inevitability of death". The design was impeccable, the sound design was flawless and the game was extremely absorbing. It was an unpretentious game but there was nothing we wanted to change about it. Bravo to Claire Sistach, Romain Bonnin, Caesar Espojo Pham, Fabien Cazenabe, Lionel Jabre, Lise George and William Dyce.
Another game that deserves a mention asks players to keep a nuclear power plant in their pocket. As its name indicates, Fukushimagotchi was inspired by the Fukushima accident. The nuclear plant quietly grows and thrives inside your pocket but if you climb the stairs too fast, jump or let the phone fall, the nuclear power plant will suffer from the instability it immediately perceives and will start releasing radiations in the environment. The team explained us that they plan to make the game geolocative so that the radiations in Paris will not only be mapped but can also be detected by your device as you go through the city. The team members for the project were Lucas Grolleau, Cedric Liang, Josselin Perrus, Marc Planard, Johan Spielmann, Jet Ung with Cedric Pinson.
Then there was Baby Boom. The team have created a game that simulates a woman giving birth. Very graphic, very politically incorrect.
The game Colossus is very promising. Players use their index and medium finger to 'walk' on the screen. Like a Godzilla terrifying a whole city. You can chose to either destroy the buildings and crush people. The city will then rebuild itself slowly after your passage. Or you can decide to spare everyone but your stroll will get more difficult as the game proceeds since you will encounter more and more houses and people to avoid.
One thing that has puzzled me for years is the passion some people profess for the Louis Vuitton monogram. It's not that it's unsightly, it's just that the reason why some girls ruin themselves for the joy of sporting that insipid brown thing on their arm is beyond me. That prejudice against the brand has held me back from visiting the Espace culturel Louis Vuitton each time i was in Paris. I went a couple of times to the Fondation Cartier and to the Fondazione Prada in Milan but i couldn't get past the name of the Espace Culturel. Until last week when i decided that it was only fair to get rid of my narrow-mindedness.
It didn't start so well. I wasn't allowed to take any photo, not even of the artworks i had copiously photographed in other venues. When i asked why i wasn't allowed to take photos i was told "Because it's not allowed." The exhibition itself, however, made much more sense than the answer i had just received. The artworks selected makes you bounce from the poetical to the humorous to the downright dangerous. Plus, the LV cultural center team hands out hard cover catalogues of the show like other distribute b&w copies of press releases.
"Somewhere Else" showcases the work of eighteen artists for whom expeditions are the starting point of artistic endeavours.
Some try to relocate their creation in order to define them separately, some work on work installations while some others produce their creations outside of its conventional environment. Such undertakings have, in fact, led to a new artistic movement which is primarily based on encounters with new spaces and other human beings.
The title of the work that Joanna Malinowska presents in the gallery directly refers to Ader's last performance. In Search of the Miraculous, Continued.../part II is a continuous video shot of a solar-powered boombox playing Glen Gould's recording of Bach's 'Goldberg Variations'. The equipment was abandoned in the Canadian tundra, its sound fading in the wind. Notes of Bach and Gould might be forever audible if the installation survives storm, snow and winds. But this, of course, would be truly miraculous.
Fabrice Langlade was showing the plans and model of a porcelain bridge he hopes to build one day on the steppe of Mongolia.
Fernando Prats, who will represent Chile at this year's Venice Art Biennial, celebrates the expressive work of the physical elements. Sometimes he's there to nudge and help natural elements. Other times, such as in Acción Chaitén, he merely records the result of nature's endeavors. Acción Chaitén documents the destruction wrought by the Chilean volcano which, when it erupted in 2008, covered an entire region in ash.
Despite his wide notoriety, i confess that i had never heard of Marc Horowitz before. But did he make me laugh! In 2005, while working on a catalog shoot for Crate and Barrel, he managed to sneak in the words "dinner w/ marc 510-872-7326" on one of the pages of the catalog. The catalog was distributed, he lost his job but received more than 30,000 phone calls. He spent the following year driving across the country and having dinner with individuals he had never met. He documented "The National Dinner Tour" in charming pictures and blog posts.
The Marc Horowitz Signature Series is a set of 19 performances aimed at 'improving' the lives of the citizens he encountered. He planted an "Anonymous Semi-nudist Colony" in Nampa, Idaho, inviting passersby to shed some pieces of clothing and bounce around a park with him. In Craig, Colorado, he enticed people to bury their problems in a park plot. My favourite is the video he shot in Walsenburg, Colorado where he reenacted the techno viking dance session in a junkyard.
For Horizon moins 20, Laurent Tixador & Abraham Poincheval spent 20 days digging an underground tunnel in Murcia, Spain. They advanced one metre a day and sealed it up behind themselves as they went. Like moles.
Other artistic expeditions: Rentyhorn, making the legacy of colonialism visible, The Spice Trade Expedition - In pursuit of artificial flavoring, Biorama 2: the Moon Goose Experiment, Interview with Ulla Taipale from Capsula.
I had never heard of Laurent Montaron before last week. I was preparing a trip to Paris and going through the list of exhibitions open when i stumbled upon a small photo of a Catholic saint and, far more interestingly i should say, a press release that mentioned the artist's interest in the history of media from the appearance of mechanical modes of representation in the late 19th century up to today's different digital forms.
Off i was to see Montaron's solo show at the galerie schleicher+lange. The exhibition is small with only three pieces, each of them strong, perplexing and unlike anything i've seen anywhere else recently.
Phoenix awaits the visitor right as they step into the gallery. An antique Phénix, a wax-cylinder phonograph launched in 1902 by French mail-order company Maleville, is laying on a wooden stage. Someone has to come and activate the phonograph for you. During a few minutes, the time it takes for the needle to go from one end of the cylinder to the other, one can hear the voice of a person speaking in tongues. No sense can be made of what is said in the recording.
When he patented the phonograph in 1877, Thomas A. Edison -who ironically was suffering from increasing deafness- wasn't thinking about musical recordings. He saw the invention as an instrument that would provide a kind of immortality by preserving the human voice well after the person had died. It was a 'machine to record the last words of the dying'.
"My intention," the artist has said in an interview with curator Daniel Baumann, "was not only to transform these questions about the advent of the media into images -- although I do believe that to some extent the questions are being asked in the same way today as they were a hundred years ago -- but also to make the experience of death part of the work. As in a number of my other works, the physical medium is wearing out as we listen and we're witnessing the death of the sound. In a way the viewer remains the sole repository of the memory of the work."
The second work in the exhibition, Lent portrait de Sainte Bernadette ("Slow Portrait of St Bernadette", 2011), is a slow-motion 16 mm film loop with the camera moving across the face of the saint.
Bernadette Soubirous was a miller's daughter who made the fortune of a small market town in the SW of France. In 1858, she reported apparitions of "a small young lady" and required that a chapel was built at the site of her visions. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage. It is said that after her death, Bernadette's body has shown no signs of decomposition.
The worked i found most amazing is Minolta Planetarium MS-15, a large-format photograph taken inside the planetarium in Memphis, in the United States. All one can see at first is a starry sky. After a while, the eye wanders and realizes that, in the foreground, there is the dark silhouette of the machine that projects the images of the stars inside the Planetarium.
These works subtly remind us that while technology has provided us with new means of perceiving and representing reality it has not necessarily brought us closer from 'the truth' for it has also given rise to new ways for questioning reality.
Laurent Montaron's work homes in on the paradoxes attendant on our awareness of modernity, and simultaneously on the tools that shape our representations, revealing the sometimes irrational element of belief involved.
The exhibition closes tomorrow. Make haste and visit the galerie schleicher+lange if you're in Paris this weekend.
Quick overview of a couple of photo exhibitions i saw in Paris over the weekend:
The French photographer documented -mostly in black and white- the cityscape and society of England at the time of Thatcherism.
God i love this guy's work!
More images at La lettre de la photographie.
In January, Martin Parr was invited by the Institut des Cultures d'Islam to spend 4 days snapping his way through the Goutte-d'Or, a neighbourhood in Paris known as "Little Africa" because of the large numbers of African and Arab residents living there.
The show opened as a controversial debate on "laïcité" -or secularism- was taking place at the parliament, and a week before the law banning full face veils in public places was implemented in the country. Véronique Rieffel, the director of the institute, commented on Parr's work in the neighbourhood: "It throws a light on them that is different from usual. For once one speaks well of them, with tenderness, with empathy; it was important for us that they saw the photos before everybody else, so that they were not surprised, so that they appropriated their image rather than the usually stolen images."
There are only 2 mosques in La Goutte d'Or. On Friday, so many followers of Islam turn up for prayer that they have to install their little prayer mats outside of the places of worship. The streets have thus to be kept clear of car traffic for one hour every Friday.
The Goutte d'Or! is at the Institut des Cultures d'Islam, Paris, until July 2, 2011.
Far away from the Goutte d'Or neighbourhood, the Galerie Frank Elbaz shows life on the road with train-hoppers, hitchhikers, wilderness squatters, wayfarers, and drifters. Jane Kurland spent nine month on the road with her son following the nomadic subcultures of America.
Justine Kurland, "He sleeps where He Falls" remains open until May 4, 2011 at the Galerie Frank Elbaz in Paris.