The Art of Not Making: The New Artist / Artisan Relationship, by Michael Petry.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: Can an artist claim that an object is a work of art if it has been made for him or her by someone else? If so, who is the 'author' of such a work? And just what is the difference between a work of art and a work of craft?
The Art of Not Making tackles these questions head on, exploring the concepts of authorship, artistic originality, skill, craftsmanship and the creative act, and highlighting the vital role that skills from craft and industrial production play in the creation of some of today's most innovative and sought-after works of art.
Michael Petry presents the art of over 115 contemporary artists - including Takashi Murakami, Matthew Barney, Tony Cragg, Cornelia Parker, Grayson Perry, Ai Weiwei, Daniel Buren and Carsten Höller - all of whom have one thing in common: they do not always make their own work. Instead, they often either employ others to produce it on their behalf, or appropriate objects made by someone else. Original interviews with the artists and artisans offer insights into this creative collaboration, which often produces works breathtaking in their scope and ambition.
Painters of the Renaissance did it, Damien Hirst does it and so does Takashi Murakami. Marcel Duchamp became one of the most influential artists in history for doing it. Each of these artists rely on external assistance to 'do their job.' Some have an idea for an artwork and entrust an assistant or the expert of another discipline or craft to actually make the whole piece. Others delegate only part of the process. We know that. Yet, in the mind of the public, the artist is still this individual of great mind, impeccable dexterity and expertise who's behind every single element of his work.
Interestingly, Michael Petry draws parallels with cinema. A film is the result of a collaborative effort between actors, technicians, assistants, writers, etc. Yet, we never question the fact that it is the film director who is credited as the maker of the film.
Petry believes that the rise in this partnership between the artist and the artisan is partly due to the return in favour of a highly crafted aesthetic in art, an aesthetic that contrasts with the mass-manufactured one. Another factor is that museums and galleries need to create 'spectacles' that will attract visitors, and that often entails works of spectacular proportions, a challenge that usually requires the involvement of more than one person/skill.
The author had the pragmatic idea of interviewing (or maybe he had an assistant do it for him?) artists as well as professional makers and artists who work for other artists. He asks them the reason for their collaboration, how they deal with production issues, authorship issues and what happens when one of the parties is not satisfied with the final object.
The book is quite light in theory (since The Art of Not Making is one of those coffee table trophies, theories was probably not the whole point anyway) but it still manages to provide a historical perspective, a few thought-provoking ideas, many questions and almost as many leads to help readers answer them for themselves. It also contains hundreds of illustrations and for each artwork, the author attempts to retrace the production and the technical skills necessary to complete the piece.
A mushroom cloud weighting several tons and made of brass cooking utensils.
Wool tapestry based on an engraving showing rioters burning and looting an orphanage in New York, partly hidden by the hand-cut felt silhouette of the hanged woman.
Rug produced by hand by women rugmakers in Arraiolos, Portugal, using a traditional needlepoint stitching technique invented there.
The artist collected dead fighting dogs and lapdogs and had them stuffed and preserved by professional taxidermists.
I'll never get tired of this one! Working with a taxidermist, the artist had the life-size cast made from a living animal. Body is made of polyvinyl, polyurethane foam and polyester resin. Eyes and horns are made of glass.
Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture No 2) is a real wooden shed that the artist bought, dismantled, reassembled into a boat which he rowed down the Rhine, dismantled then reassembled again as a shed to be exhibited in a Basel museum.
Houshiary and architect Pip Horne oversaw the fabrication of handmade clear-glass panels which were etched with patterns based on her paintings. The new window replaces the one that had been damaged by WWII bombings.
Branching bronchia of a human lung made from glass and partially wrapped in silk extracted from the golden orb weaver spider. The silk is being developed for use in bullet-proof vests.
Doves made from Murano glass, then covered in ink.
Alternative and Activist New Media, by Leah Lievrouw.
Publisher Politi writes: Alternative and Activist New Media provides a rich and accessible overview of the ways in which activists, artists, and citizen groups around the world use new media and information technologies to gain visibility and voice, present alternative or marginal views, share their own DIY information systems and content, and otherwise resist, talk back to, or confront dominant media culture. Today, a lively and contentious cycle of capture, cooptation, and subversion of information, content, and system design marks the relationship between the mainstream 'center' and the interactive, participatory 'edges' of media culture.
Five principal forms of alternative and activist new media projects are introduced, including the characteristics that make them different from more conventional media forms and content. The book traces the historical roots of these projects in alternative media, social movements, and activist art, including analyses of key case studies and links to relevant electronic resources. Alternative and Activist New Media will be a useful addition to any course on new media and society, and essential for readers interested in new media activism.
I might have covered many books and exhibitions that demonstrate how artists use technology to protest, campaign, challenge institutions, or express social and political concerns but i still had to review a book that studied alternative and activist new media from an 'Information Studies' or purely social point of view. This one was written by a professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and it has the (rare) merit of including contemporary art practices in its field of investigation.
Leah Lievrouw looks at what she calls the five basic genres of contemporary alternative and activist new media: Culture Jamming (think of the Billboard Liberation Front or ®TMark), Alternative Computing (hacking), Participatory Journalism (e.g. Indymedia, blogs), Mediated Mobilization (the Arab Spring) and Commons Knowledge (Wikipedia). She goes from defining elementary concepts (such as "what makes new media 'new'") to detailing recent theories and observations in a seamless and impeccable way.
She describes Alternative and Activist New Media, traces back their antecedents, weights their strengths and weaknesses in, pits them against their mainstream/institutionalized equivalent, analyzes their rise from fringe to (almost) mainstream, sums up the debates surrounding this 'new media ecology', and illustrates each 'genre' with a case study.
Alternative and Activist New Media is a book for students. Of media, new media, communication, sociology, media art. This is also a book for people like you and me. People who've been using wikipedia for years, who blog, who know about The Yes Men's "identity correction" performances. People who are familiar with the language and concepts of Alternative and Activist New Media. But does that mean that our insight doesn't need more structure and a solid historical background?
Elvis, my young Staffie, was a equally enthusiastic about the book (or maybe equally unimpressed by the design of its cover) ....
Image on the homepage: The Yes Men's golden skeleton.
Collect Contemporary Photography by Jocelyn Phillips and Malcolm Cossons.
Publisher Thames & Hudson writes: The individual photograph exists as both image and physical object, and often the same image may be printed in different versions or media, which makes collecting decisions more complex.
From discovering photographers to determining editions and displaying prints, Collect Contemporary Photography accompanies collectors through the whole process of acquiring photographic works, while providing guidance on practical matters including information about different photographic techniques.
• Price guide to cover all collecting budgets
Forty photographers to consider when collecting are profiled in detail, with information about their background and training, and sources of inspiration.
Last year, a photo by Andreas Gursky, Rhein II (1999) sold for £2.7 million at Christie's, breaking the record for most expensive photograph. Such prices are still rather rare and the reason why collectors are starting to pay attention to photography (apart from the inherent quality of the medium) is that photos are still regarded as affordable. The price of a print from a young photographer is around 200 pounds.
I don't have the budget to collect photos, not even from emerging talents -not until i stop stop collecting Swedish Hasbeens- but that doesn't prevent me from being tempted once in a while.
Collect Contemporary Photography outlines in a few pages the basics of photography: its history, the techniques used by the photographers, the format, the ideal storage conditions, the importance that framing can have, etc. Although the book is not the ultimate weapon that will make you an expert in negotiating the price of a photo you covet, it does a good job at telling readers what to look for and at explaining why a photo can fetch a relatively higher price than another by the same artist.
The biggest section of the book traces the careers and illustrates the work of 40 photographers worth collecting. Some are fashion photographers, other documentary photographers, some are decidedly fine art photographers. The game for me was then to think about whom i'd want to collect. Martin Parr obviously and he's among the magical 40 but the other photographers whose work i'd want to buy were not represented in the book: Pieter Hugo (i'd become the biggest collector of Hugo's work if i could), Guy Tillim, George Osodi or Don McCullin. I was also very impressed by the Thomas Ruff's Nude series i saw at Gagosian a few weeks ago. Besides, i can't see how any self-respecting collector could do without a few pieces by a German photographer.
The fact that readers might not agree 100% with the choice of photographers selected in the book illustrates what is probably the most sensible piece of advice dispensed by the authors: take your time, visit as much photo exhibitions as you can and develop your own taste.
Here are some of the 40 photographers appearing in Collect Contemporary Photography:
Living as Form - Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011, edited by Nato Thompson, with essays by Claire Bishop, Maria Lind, Teddy Cruz, Carol Becker, Brian Holmes and Shannon Jackson.
Publisher The MIT Press says: Over the past twenty years, an abundance of art forms have emerged that use aesthetics to affect social dynamics. These works are often produced by collectives or come out of a community context; they emphasize participation, dialogue, and action, and appear in situations ranging from theater to activism to urban planning to visual art to health care. Engaged with the texture of living, these art works often blur the line between art and life. This book offers the first global portrait of a complex and exciting mode of cultural production--one that has virtually redefined contemporary art practice.
Living as Form grew out of a major exhibition at Creative Time in New York City. Like the exhibition, the book is a landmark survey of more than 100 projects selected by a thirty-person curatorial advisory team; each project is documented by a selection of color images. The artists include the Danish collective Superflex, who empower communities to challenge corporate interest; Turner Prize nominee Jeremy Deller, creator of socially and politically charged performance works; Women on Waves, who provide abortion services and information to women in regions where the procedure is illegal; and Santiágo Cirugeda, an architect who builds temporary structures to solve housing problems.
Living as Form contains commissioned essays from noted critics and theorists who look at this phenomenon from a global perspective and broaden the range of what constitutes this form.
I've reviewed a few books about socially-engaged art in the past: Art & Agenda - Political Art and Activism, a monography of Krzysztof Wodiczko's works, Goodbye to London - Radical Art and Politics in the Seventies, Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism, An Atlas of Radical Cartography, and Art & Activism in the Age of Globalization which is probably my favourite. Living as Form demonstrates that i still had a lot to discover on the subject.
The projects selected for Living as Form are often explicitly local, long term and community-based which sets them apart from many 'activist' projects that sound more like media coups than real, thoughtful attempts to improve a social issues. Many of the works documented in the book are probably not well-known (unless you've visited the exhibition that took place last year in New York) and i actually couldn't always find good photos to illustrate some of the interventions i found most compelling. Unsurprisingly, some of these socially-engaged projects come from the usual suspects: Europe and North America. Many however, were born in Africa, Latin America, Asia and were selected by international curators (I wonder if anyone was covering the Middle East?)
The projects might not be the most spectacular you've heard about. Maybe because the varnish of subversion has faded over the years, or maybe because the artists didn't necessarily go for the shock tactic, the loud nor the dramatic but their works serve a precise need, competently and with humility.
The book contains some 150 pages describing projects or outlining the career of artists involved in socially engaged practices such as Voina, The Bureau of Piracy (Piratbyrån) or Neue Slowenische Kunst.
Nato Thompson explains in his introductory essay that the reason why the starting point for book is the year 1991 is that he wanted to cover the period that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. The event opened the gates to a new neoliberal order which gave a huge boost to the private sector and debilitated the role of public and State functions in protecting and supporting citizens. Given the state of politics in Europe right now, the relevance and importance of the projects described in the book isn't likely to dwindle any time soon.
Just a few works from Living as Form:
A few years ago, Minerva Cuevas set up web-based nonprofit corporation that distributes for free products and services. Mejor Vida Corp provides anyone who might need them with a recommendation letter, a Mexico City subway ticket, a self stamped envelope, a student ID card or cheaper barcode stickers for fruit and vegetables.
The Patriot Library, by Finishing School, is a nomadic library that provides users access to books, periodicals, and other media that may be considered "dangerous" by the US Federal government once the Patriot Act took affect after September 11, 2001. Believing that the pursuit of knowledge is not dangerous in itself, the Library makes publications that range from Aviation Training to Bomb Making, Chemistry to Tourist Information available to the public without questioning the motivation of the individual user.
Thousand Kites is a USA-wide project uses performance, video, online strategies, radio and low-cost media tools to work toward prison reform through grassroots power.
The project emerged in 1998, when Nick Szuberla, host of a rural Appalachian region's hip-hop radio program, began to receive letters from inmates recently transferred into two local SuperMax prisons. The letters described racism and human rights violations, and Szuberla responded first by playing a game of chess with the prisoners over the air and through the mail. Thousand Kites soon became more ambitious and branched into a series of national and local campaigns, artistic projects, and dedicated radio programs.
In 2007, Ai Weiwei invited 1001 Chinese, from farmers to factory workers, from students to minority people, to travel to Kassel and visit the Documenta exhibition as audience. The people he selected were "those who are not able to travel overseas under normal conditions, or those to whom traveling overseas has a very important meaning." Once in Kassel they were hosted in a temporary hostel and visited the area. The guests were both tourists and subjects of art. 1,001 antique chairs were placed throughout the exhibition to represent the visitors.
Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: Utopia has become a controversial concept, spanning the field between the belief in an ideal society and the dystopian nightmare. Within the last decade, the contemporary art scene has witnessed a return of utopia and utopian thinking. Whether detectable as an impulse, critically reassessed as a concept, or cautiously or daringly articulated in a specific vision--utopia continues to matter. This publication investigates the meanings of utopia in contemporary art. Theorists, critics, and curators discuss the different ways of thinking and performing utopia in contemporary art from a broad range of angles. The essays explore the current relevance of utopia as well as how people in different societies live, think, act, and imagine.
The two parts, Utopia Revisited and Utopian Positions, provide both a theoretical backdrop for the reformulations of utopia in contemporary art as well as examinations of specific utopian stances in connection with the three-year utopia project at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art and solo shows by Qiu Anxiong, Katharina Grosse, and Olafur Eliasson.
Utopia & Contemporary Art is a collection of essays by curators, art critics, academics and art historians who explore the meaning and place that the concept of utopia has taken in art. The first part "Utopia Revisited" illustrates the resurgence of utopia in contemporary art. Although utopia as a governmental precept has fallen from grace after a series of misguided attempts to put it into practice in the 20th century, the art world is now welcoming the concept back into its critical discourse. Utopia as a mode of thinking can inspire us to take a break from reality and think beyond what is already existing. 'Utopian' artworks do not necessarily require from us to take their ideas literally. Their objective is rather to elicit a moment of reflexion and inner questioning "to which extent could the art proposal work?" "how does it compare to the world i live in?" etc.
Because the book is a collection of essays about the topic, there are some repetitions in the Utopia Revisited part, with most authors feeling they have to remind us of Thomas More. Each text, however, bring a different outlook and perspective on utopia in art.
Richard Noble's contribution kept on bringing issues that are otherwise often ignored by enthusiastic artists, curators and critics: how most utopian art is made by artists from bourgeois background, paid for by rich collectors or state institutions and how it has virtually no impact on society nor the political world. How difficult it is to make a political work or art that is effective as an artwork or as a political act or both. Or how to distinguish between an utopian artwork from a political artwork. How the impact of a political artwork is influenced by the context (Noble gave the example of the reason behind Ai Weiwei's arrest for tax evasion: a project that involved displaying publicly the list of the names and ages of the victims of the Szechuan earthquake, an information that Chines authorities had suppressed.)
Another essay worth mentioning is the one by Jacob Wamberg in which he maps the utopian tendencies of modern art movements depending on whether they are located in 'virtual' space (the one of autonomous consciousness, think Kandinsky), the 'real' space (the one that directly engages with architecture and design, think Bauhaus) or in between (in the social sphere, think Situationism, Fluxus, Dada, etc.)
The second part of the book, Artists Projects, is pure joy. It opens with a selection of Unrealized Art Projects that Hans Ulrich-Obrist has been collecting since 1990. He has amassed thousands of texts, drawings, and correspondence that documents projects which, for some reason, never saw the light of the day.
Things get even better in the third and last part of the book, Utopian Positions. In The Claim for New Territories, Ildiko Dao and Simon Lamunière, look at communities founded by artists. From Yoko Ono and John Lennon's Nutopia to micro-nations, to a borderless city built on Second Life, up to the more viable The Land, a self-sustaining and transdisciplinary project created by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Kamin Letchaiprasert.
And perhaps because each culture has its own idea (or perhaps experience) of what constitutes an utopia, the final essays examine artists' utopian projects in different territories: Rachel Weiss considers the form and role of utopia in Cuban art, Inke Arns gives a tour the Utopian in Eastern Europe, and Hou Hanru explores the Chinese contemporary artists' reaction to the rise of the consumerist society in their country.
Views inside the book:
Publisher Gestalten says: Visual storytelling uses graphic design, infographics, illustration, and photography to convey information in the most elegant, entertaining, and informative way. Today, the creative scope of existing visual storytelling techniques is being expanded to meet the formidable challenge of extracting valuable news, surprising findings, and relevant stories from a daily flood of data head on. Visual Storytelling is the first book to focus solely on contemporary and experimental manifestations of visual forms that can be classified as such. The rich selection of cutting-edge examples featured here is put into context with text features by Andrew Losowsky and interviews with experts including the New York Times, Francesco Franchi, and Golden Section Graphics.
Visual Storytelling was the big surprise of the last batch of books that Gestalten kindly shipped to me. I thought that volume would be merely lightweight and amusing but it turned out to be far more striking and informing than expected. Hundreds of works are presented in the book. Yet, there's no redundancy, no boredom, no weakness. It's a perfectly well curated collection of some of the projects that have spread over countless design/graphic design/interaction design blogs over the past couple of years. Some of the works presented are more narrative than others but page after page have brought me revelation and wonder. I must confess that i don't read many design blogs (up to zero actually) so it's probably not much of a challenge to amaze me.
In his introduction, magazine editor and journalist Andrew Losowsky defines 'visual storytelling' as a combination of narrative information and emotional reaction, he charts its history, explains its challenges, its ability to substitute data complexity with order and clarity and rejoices in its total absence of universally accepted rules.
The first part of the book contains interviews with a few creative studios: DensityDesign, Les Graphiquants, Steve Duenes, Antoine Corbineau, Carl Kleiner, Peter Grundy, Jan Schwochow and Francesco Franchi. Franchi is the art director for IL-Intelligence in Lifestyle, the monthly magazine of Il Sole 24 ORE, and his work is particularly arresting. Gestalten TV interviewed him recently:
The second part of the book is entirely left to images and short descriptions. The works range from graphic design to software pieces to installations to wall paintings and they are distributed over 5 themes: News, Science, Geography, Modern World and Sport.
Now for a quick selection of some of the works i discovered in Visual Storytelling:
Roland Loesslein's installation, Digging in the Crates, uses modified turntables to navigate dynamic data visualization. The works also uses info graphics and sounds to allow the public to explore Sampling as a production technology of music.
Lang/Bauman gave an urban edge to a traditional village in Switzerland by painting lines on the streets that evoke a subway map.
Kali Arulpragasam's oversized necklaces pay homage to conflict-torn countries.
Views inside the book (Images: Gestalten):
Related book reviews: Visual Complexity, Mapping Patterns of Information and Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design.