Seen in New York this week and the one before:
Tina Kim Gallery is showing the delightful and eerie Kyung Jeon: a story, 13 works on traditional Korean rice paper that trace the story of a boy and a girl as they descend together into a symbolic world of dark forces and mythic transformation.
Drawing their influences from such disparate sources as children's fairytales, traditional Korean genre painting, and the worlds of Henry Darger and Hieronymus Bosch, Jeon's narrative follows a boy and a girl from the moment they leave their Edenic paradise. Along the journey, they stop at a crossroad and wonder which way, negotiate a labyrinth, meet allies and face enemies.
Totally different is SACRED_PROFANE, a solo exhibition by Alicia Ross at Black & White Gallery.
The images of the Samplers series are downloaded from search engine results, digitally removed from the original background and put through another program that translates its pixels into cross-stitch.
Using the sewing machine like a drawing instrument, Ross customizes the stitches, outlines and colours according to her inspiration. Besides, the line is being blurred between the types of websites that housed the original content. Some of the figures were fished in pornography sites, others were taken from sites that display famous works of art and fashion websites.
Covered in knitted an almost virginal beige yarn and fitted over a prefabricated sex-swing stand, Love Swing speaks to the wavering stability between woman as nurturer and woman as object of sexual desire.
In the Ishihara Test Series videos, web-sourced porn video is fitted into the template for testing color deficiencies. The twist in the work is that men are considerably more prone to colorblindness than women. Hence, Ishihara becomes an ideal mechanism with which to confound the male gaze.
Timely and heroic, the paintings and drawings examine the ongoing Russian/Chechen conflict and his personal and highly political response as a refugee. The series on show at Lehmann Maupin, Chechnya Women's Team of Parachute Jumping and Its Virtual Fans depicts young woman in varying stages of parachuting that recall the segregated teams Kallima observed as a child.
While Russian propaganda maintains that the conflict is over, the Chechen economy has been paralyzed and segregation is still prevalent.
There are very very few artists whose work i admire as much as Nathalie Djurberg's. Actually there's only one and she's a woman too. Her name is Gabríela Fridriksdóttir. These artists create universes which are dark and mysterious. But there stops my desire to compare one with the other.
I don't know what happened to Djurberg since the first time i saw her work, at the 2006 Berlin Biennale but her twisted tales have grown crueler and more menacing .
The protagonists of Djurberg's stop-motion animations are hand-modeled plasticine puppets. If this reminds you of some cute tv programme you followed as a kid then let me crush any nostalgia you might have. Djurberg clearly didn't see the same children animations as you and i. Her animations show human beings at their most crass, psychopath, sadistic and often disarming behaviour. The macabre atmosphere of her animations almost never come with words, just a languid and fidgety music composed by Hans Berg.
It often starts well. In one video, a mother plays in the bedroom with her kids. In a second video, three beautiful girls get naked to take a bath in the pond. A third film shows a pretty eskimo girl walking on thick ice. After a few seconds, the children start disappearing inside their mummy's vagina turning her voluptuous, elastic and Fellini-esque body into a monster creature with multiple arms and legs, the girls chase and burn the young lad who was peeping at their nudity and the eskimo does what any eskimo is supposed to do: she harpoons a walrus, remove its bowels. Only that she won't eat it. She sews herself inside the animal's skin and quietly leaves for a crawl on the icefield.
The videos address a fair amount of intense issues such as violence, sexuality, sadism, cruelty, death and brutality. Made all the more upsetting by the fact that the artist messes with our moral codes and would never point to us where is the right and where is the wrong. She takes us on a roller-coaster and all we can to is try and keep track of our landmarks.
The artists filled the exhibiting space of Fondazione Prada with models that work as counterparts to her videos, there's a huge sprouting potato, the plump bum of a woman, a little house . These models become pavilions inside which the videos are projected.
You have until June 1 to check out the show. Previously at the Fondazione Prada in Milan: Tom Sachs.
All images courtesy of the artist and Fondazione Prada, Milan.
One of the most striking and enchanting pieces i saw at BAC!, the contemporary art festival in Barcelona, is Yamila Fontán's Nocturna. The audiovisual installation uses several artistic disciplines to tell a very intimate story in a very intimate way. Nini is a cabaret performer and Ema is selling the tickets at the entrance. They are friends and lovers.
One night Ema wakes up and Nini is gone. She'll dreamingly go through the city looking for her friend.
You enter a booth, the size of the ones you'd find in train stations to make passport photos. Or is it the kind of booth they have in peep shows? Nothing tells you what might happen in there, only your own curiosity will have you take the following actions:
You enter, sit down, the curtains are red, the armchair is red and comfortable. Adjust your seat, lean on and place your eyes in front of the binocular-like apparatus. The story unveils in 3D images which change when you press a button, just like the View Master. There's also a sound track which changes and brings a new atmosphere each time the protagonist visits a new location. You can't choose your role, you have them all: you're a voyeur, a curious child, the reader of a fotonovela and an art lover.
Each stereoscopic image is made of 2 photographies which were taken with a 35mm camera featuring a double objective lens. What the spectator sees is in fact two diapositives displayed at the same moment.
The 34 images of the story are mounted on a cylinder and at its center is the screening light. The cylinder moves the photos and is activated by a motor which in turn is controlled by a PIC microchip which adjusts the sound track and the intensity of the light as well.
I really felt sucked into another world, the images were exquisite, the women made me question my heterosexuality, the soundtrack mysterious, the story... Well, you get it, right? I loved that work.
All images courtesy of Yamila Fontán.
Do you want to replace the existing normal?, a collaboration between Fiona Raby, Anthony Dunne and Michael Anastassiades, looks at designing for complicated or irrational needs... Just like their previous Anxious Times project did a few years ago, but this time, the designers focused on electronic products rather than furniture.
The work, which was partly supported by the Arts Council is currently part of Wouldn't it be nice, an exhibition, curated by Katya Garcia-Anton and Emily King, which addresses the application of wishful thinking in art and design today. You can visit the show until December 16 at the Centre d'Art Contemporain in Geneva, then at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zürich. After their litle Swiss tour, the objects will fly to New York to be part of MOMA's upcoming exhibition Design and the Elastic Mind (February 24–May 12, 2008).
There will be 5 objects altogether, here are the first ones:
S.O.C.D* is for people who enjoy porn but feel a bit guilty watching it, or think that it's wrong. You put a dvd into the black box and hold onto the rubber part of the object. The long bit is made of rubber, it's shiny and soft like a dildo, except that the section is square. The metal bits sense your level of arousal and pixelate the image accordingly in real time. The more you get aroused, the bigger the pixel size, and the more distorted the sound gets. If you let go the film goes blank.
To enjoy your porn video, you need to hold on but try to de-arouse yourself at the same time, which parallels your contradictory feelings.
Electronics: Erik Kearney, software: David Muth.
The Statistical Clock checks the BBC website for technologically mediated fatalities: car, train, plane, etc and pulls them into a database. The clock checks it every minute or so, and each time it finds a new one it speaks it out loud... 1, 2, 3, etc. The way the object works was partly inspired by the Number Stations', you pick them up on short wave radio and can hear usually a female reading streams of numbers, words, letters, tunes or morse code. They were probably used by spies in conjunction with one-off code books that could only be used on a specific day with a specific chain of numbers.
Each technology has its own channel on The Statistical Clock. You can select the channel you want to listen to. The object is meant to re-sensitise you. When you read about deaths or see them on the news they don't really have any impact. But if the clock suddenly says '1' and you are eating your dinner, you are much more likely to find it disturbing. That feeling reconnects you with the reality behind the statistics. It's not intended to be morbid, but to genuinely give meaning back to something we just take for granted.
The object is made from acoustically transparent foam, like the material used for speaker covers, it's 600 mm long and 400 mm diameter at its widest.
Electronics and programming: Chris Hand.
The Risk Watch speaks a number when you place it to your ear, the rubber deflects and activates a specially built device inside. The number corresponds to the political stability of a country.
This watch is not connected to the telcoms network right now, but if it was, it would subscribe to one of several commercial providers of up-to-date risk assessments usually beamed to employees' blackberrys. There are 5 levels. It's meant to be reassuring when in an unstable country and relates to local geographic position.
Electronics: Erik Kearney.
The Herald Tribune has a review of the exhibition.
All Images courtesy of Anthony Dunne.
Time for a lazy post.
Bra Trainer is a fictional teaching aid designed by Noam Toran to instruct adolescent boys to overcome the intricacies of opening the brassiere. When initiated the machine mechanically demonstrates the basic principles of clasp disengagement. Following a short pause the machine then re-secures the bra ready for the next demonstration.
The piece is inspired from accounts of repressive post-war institutionalised sex education in the UK in which teachers were not allowed to touch any of the props (prophylactics, physical models of reproductive organs) unless using gloves or a stick. In collaboration with Nick Williamson.
See also: a bra-less Interview with Noam Toran.
Editor Reaktion Books says: Consuming Bodies explores the themes of sex and consumerism in contemporary Japanese art and how they connect with the wider historical, social and political conditions in Japanese culture. Essays by writers, historians, curators and artists, plus diary extracts of a sex worker, engage with a range of artistic practices, including performance, digital media, painting, sculpture and installation. Together the contributors examine the contradictions and ambivalences embedded in the Japanese experience of modernity, and the effects of commodification on the individual and the nation state.
The list of contributors features a nice mix of Japanese and Western authors, artists, journalists, researchers, curators and academics.
As the introduction points out, despite Japan prime presence on the global marketplace, Western audiences are still fairly unfamiliar with the Japanese contemporary art scene. The book has been written in 2002 and 5 years on, the statement is still true. Proof is that finding images online of some of the artists mentioned in the book has been hard work.
A precious characteristic of the essays is that its authors do not isolate art and analyse or comment on it for its own sake but they also take into account the historical and material circumstances which have conditioned the emergence of contemporary Japanese art. besides the account of the imaging of sex and consumerism moves beyond the glamour, exotic and amusing aspects of Japanese behaviours and explores with much finesse the balance between the private and public aspects of sexual activities as found in media, comics, departments stores, etc.
Of course the book provides you with that Japanese quirkiness we like so much. I learned about Soaplands (a type of brothel where "client" can be bathed with female "companion"), Pink Salons (a brothel which specialises in oral sex); Compensated dating (the euphemism that usually refers to the practice of high school-age girls being paid by older men to accompany them on dates enabling the girls to get the lifestyle they crave for) which doesn´t carry the same evil connotations as in Western countries, women´s attitude towards sex and prostitution is different in Japan as it is not necessarily regarded as degrading in itself.
I also discovered the inevitable dark sides of sex, consumption and art such as the strong gender division, illegal human trafficking and how different the art system in Japan is from ours, from school to art galleries.
Chapter 1 and 2 give an historical perspective on sex and consumerism from the Edo period until today. The three following chapters focus on the work of contemporary artists who reached their artistic maturity during the height of the bubble economy in the late '80s. Chapter 4 in particular is a montage of images performed by Bubu and Yoshiko Shimada; titled Made in Occupied Japan, the work recalls the experiences of US GIs in Japan, prostitution, and Japanese housewives. Chapter 5 is all about the cult of kawaii and how it came into being. Chapter 6 explores the work of Makoto Aida. Chapter 7 Tokyo´s Urban and Sexual Transformations: Performance Art and Digital Cultures is mostly about performances and theatre, not much about digital anything.
It is interesting to be reminded that when Japan opened its borders, art and craftmanship were so indistinguishable that the language had no word for "art", they had to invent Hijutsu which means "technique of beauty". This has several consequences on contemporary art in Japan, one of them being that there is absolutely no stigma attached to being an artist sponsored by commercial companies.
The representation of sex in Japanese art often comes with a high dosis of dissent. Nothing new except that the formula is now adopted by many women artists eager to trash the confucianist idea that they have to be demure and submissive creatures.
Sex in itself is actually not enough to shock, the Japanese do not carry the burden of Christian guilt. For the more austere Samurai rulers, licentiousness was more the stuff of self-indulgence and weakness but not necessarily more than other forms of entertainments. That might explain why today bars, pachinko parlours, discos, game centres and sexual entertainment all come under the Law for the Regulation of Business Affecting Public Morals (1947). Another noteworthy peculiarity of the nation´s laws is that showing pubic hair was forbidden until 1981 when the government officially allowed for the appearance of 5% amount of pubic hair in photographs.
The work of Takahiro Fujiwara embodies quite well the ambivalent attitude towards sex. Fujiwara specializes in kitschy sculptures that look like big sex toys. There´s this naked women lying on her back with open legs (which reminds Allen Jones´ furniture) which he presented in a kids´playground as a kind of hobby horse. No one found it particularly obscene. The artist believes that one could only do such thing in Japan, albeit under certain conditions. Fujiwara explains. "Sex is something everyone is interested in, but using real experience is too physical, so by using something like a sexual toy which does not refer to one´s life and body but which is cute, one can get away with dealing with a taboo..."
I loved BuBu´s Dairy, the final chapter of the book. BuBu is both an artist and a sex worker and she wrote about her daily life: who her clients are, which kind of present they offer her (from potatoes to pastries and lottery tickets), the way her 80 year old client makes love, nightmare, etc.