The Circus as a Parallel Universe, edited by curators Gerald Matt and Verena Konrad. With essays by by Birgit Peter, Matthias Christen and Verena Konrad. And interviews with pop artist Peter Blake and filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger.
Published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name at Kunsthalle Wien.
Publisher Verlag für moderne Kunst writes: Clear the ring for the world of acrobats, clowns, and exotic animals! Presenting a number of contemporary works of art, the catalog »The Circus as a Parallel Universe« offers an introduction into the universe of the circus and highlights a wondrous place full of knowledge of the world, surprises and sensations, a place of poetry, but also of excitement, confusion, and unease. The circus as a parallel world has become a projection surface in film and literature, but also in the fine arts.
I wouldn't normally review the catalogue of an exhibition i haven't seen but i was seduced by the description of the book and its accompanying images (midgets! Anthony Quinn in La Strada!) But then i don't know much about the circus, i've never even been to the circus. Not because i have that "clowns freak me out" affectation but because i've always been so sad for the animals.
Still, there is something unique and endlessly appealing about the whole circus aesthetics though: the garish colour, the merry silhouette of the tents, the posters, the costumes (which i do wear on some occasions) and Moira Orfei (do click with sound to max volume). Don't laugh at Moira, she used to be the most beautiful creature of Italy. I just wish she'd leave those tigers alone.
The book has the usual format of a catalogue: a series of essays and then a few pages about each artists participating to the show, plenty of images and a couple of interviews thrown in. The essays are particularly good at identifying the rules and roles of the circus. On the one hand it's a world of escape and dreams. A world where social conventions, animal behaviour and even the laws of physics are challenged. But it is also a microcosm that sets very clear limits to its own transgressions, makes a business of violating norms and requires that its members operate within a strict framework.
The text The Circus as a Model of the World charts the intertwining histories of circus and cinema. Both shared the same venues, the same audiences and the nomadic lifestyle in the early days of the cinema. They might not have so much in common right now but the movie industry has never stopped looking at circus as a source of inspiration (apparently some 600 circus films have already been produced in 30 countries.) The essay Taste and Prejudice, however, demonstrates that the circus isn't meeting with the same appreciation as the other sources of entertainment. While theatre and circus used to compete in the 19th century for example, it is now obvious that one is now regarded as a form of art while the other doesn't meet with the same respect.
The interviews in the book are as enjoyable and though-provoking as the essays. They would, however, benefit from some context or at least a short introduction. For example, the interviewer kept asking Peter Blake about his collection. If i hadn't seen an exhibition about that collection two years ago, i wouldn't have received much information about it from the interview only.
I've said a few words about the essays, the interviews, the images are as good as you can hope in a catalogue. Let's talk about the small texts explaining the works exhibited by each artist. Actually there's only one thing i can say about them and it is that they are in german only! The whole book is in english and german except the part dedicated to the individual works. Why be so cruel? Why translate one half of the book and leave the other part in german only? Still, i did discover a few works i liked a lot. That Deborah Sengl does animal anthropomorphism like no one else.
The artists selected have found inspiration in the circus in its childhood entertainment form (as opposed to glamourous Cirque du Soleil-like performances), reconstructing part of its magic, decoding its figures and metaphors, extending its boundaries. Here's just a small selection of their work:
In 2005, Javier Téllez organized a parade of patients from Mexicali's CESAM mental health center. They were protesting against general views on mental illness in today's society. The procession stopped in Las Playas, a Mexican town on the US-Mexico border for the first-ever firing of a human cannonball over an international border: from Mexico to the US.
In the installation illustrated below, light chains hanging from the ceiling move up and down. The installation is activated by a person pedalling on an exercise bike.
Publisher Routeledge says: In an accessible yet complex way, Rebekah Modrak and Bill Anthes explore photographic theory, history and technique to bring photographic education up-to-date with contemporary photographic practice. Reframing Photography is a broad and inclusive rethinking of photography that will inspire students to think about the medium across time periods, across traditional themes, and through varied materials. Intended for both beginners and advanced students, and for art and non-art majors, and practicing artists, Reframing Photography compellingly represents four concerns common to all photographic practice: vision, light/shadow, reproductive processes, editing/ presentation/ evaluation.
I'm guilty of a serious case of Judging a Book by its Cover. The indecisiveness in picking up a single image for the cover put me off. Once you open the book, i can't say that the design gets much more appealing (although it is remarkably effective) but the content is literally mind-blowing. Bringing together rigorous theory, idiot proof 'how to' tutorials, artistic works that illustrate each concept and method might sound a bit too much for a sole book written by only two authors but somehow, it works. Theory, techniques and illustrative works complement each other efficiently.
The texts are extremely rigorous and well-researched but the authors never take readers' knowledge of any concept nor reference for granted. Nothing is too pedestrian: the tutorials are extremely detailed and info boxes regularly pop up on the side to explain in few words what is a magic lantern, a chiaroscuro or an installation. Who is Lacan, why Bauhaus matters.
Reframing Photography is probably not a book you'd want to read from cover to cover in one afternoon (it's 500 dense pages, my friend!) I headed to chapters presenting the work of the artists, looking for new names as much as new perspectives on artists i already knew. In the coming weeks i'll probably be back inside the book for the step-by-step on how to construct a pinhole camera and use it. I'm also quite tempted by the one detailing how to hand-colour black and white images.
Another quality of the book is that it doesn't abstract photography from its social context, discussing issues such as censorship in military operation, the place of photography in social networks like facebook, or comparing notions of originality and reproduction in photography to the same notions in genetics, etc. I learnt a lot from the paragraphs dedicated to the right to photograph, the authors not only explain that private parties have no right to confiscate your film if they don't have a court order, they also explain how to handle confrontation.
Reframing Photography: Theory and Practice is accompanied by a website of the same name. The online resource is so action-packed i sometimes wondered if the publishers were not shooting themselves in the foot.
Here's a few works i discovered in the book:
With Objective Distortions, Garth Amundson questions photography by manipulating the image with lenses made from recycled water bottles.
Rebecca Cummins converts trucks, buses and mobile homes into moving camera obscuras.
Somewhere in France, long before Cindy Sherman:
Shizuka Yokomizo sent an anonymous letter to people living in ground-floor apartments asking them if they could stand in their front window at a specified date and time, for them to be photographed. Anyone unwilling to participate, they are suggested to draw their curtains. Because the seance takes place at night, Yokomizo's subjects can only see the photographer as a dark silhouette.
Just because i love Edward S. Curtis' photos:
German expressionists were pioneers in the art of playing with shadows:
I love that movie btw, and it's now in the public domain in the US.
The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture, edited by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann and Sofia Borges.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Thanks to innovations in building materials, design technologies, and construction tools, a new generation of architects can finally realize structures that would have previously remained mere dreams. This emergence of a new vernacular of radically sculpted buildings, rooms, and installations melds rigorous usability with a playful and cutting edge aesthetic, facilitating highly functional yet undeniably exhilarating spaces.
The Sky's the Limit serves as a compelling exploration of these seemingly impossible, yet surprisingly practical structures and spaces. Unleashing the creative potential offered by the latest developments in design and construction, this book presents spectacularly formed buildings, façades, and interiors as well as inspiring temporary projects and urban interventions by both young and established talents. The projects featured here have all been built, are actively in use, and transport us to the outer limits of our spatial imagination.
The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture shows architecture that defies inhibition and doctrines but its 'radical' element shouldn't be confused with the critical investigations of Archigram or Superstudio. Many of the buildings presented in the book have been commissioned by major cultural, political and religious institutions and by business organizations. They act as striking symbols of their power. Given the high number of ambitious buildings erected in Spain, one can also suspect that they were commissioned and financed long before the crisis that is bringing Europe to its knees.
One thing is sure though, every single building in the book is arresting, unique and worthy of more newspaper columns than The Shard and other candidates in the race for tallest skyscraper.
The chapters in the book divide radical architecture into:
The Sky's the Limit is a collection of cutting-edge buildings. And it is a remarkably well-curated collection. But don't expect detailed descriptions of the technology used, of the challenges encountered or the impact the building had on the people who work inside it or live around it. This is a coffee table book, theory is scarce.
Another thing! This is probably not the place for such comment: but why is architecture literature suddenly so fond of the preposition 'atop'?
Still, i loved that book, its content is magnificent. Quick selection:
Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world's first commercial space terminal.
Invisible from a distance, the Moses Bridge is a wooden passageway that parts a river in two.
The terminal, control tower and storage spaces of the Aeroport Lleida-Alguaire are drawn in a continuous line, forming a single construction.
A playground structure turned into a joyous pavilion covered in funhouse mirrors and wood panels.
Twelve buildings shaped like archetypal houses and stacked upon one another.
The 4-story building has plants in lieu of a façade, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows and curtains to make up for the absence of interior walls.
On the coastal border between Turkey and Georgia:
A concerte building for the employees of the Paris transportation system. Shaped like a ship with round windows.
Ordos Museum is covered in metal tiles that can stand violent sandstorms.
Little Hilltop with Wind View, a 8 meter-tall viewing tower commissioned by a Japanese wind power company, allows people to admire the landscape as well as the company's wind turbines. The light and flexible building is also responsive to the wind, swaying slightly on its platform when the wind blows. Like a tree in the breeze.
Views inside the book:
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: