DOUG AITKEN: kaleidoscopic synchronicity

DOUG AITKEN: kaleidoscopic synchronicity

American artist Doug Aitken is known around the world for his multi video installations. His work covers a wide range of artistic mediums, such as video, photography, sculpture, installations and performance. His presence on the stage of the contemporary art world is documented by individual and collective exhibitions in prestigious public and private institutions, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the MoMA and the Centre Georges Pompidou. It was in the late 90s that the artist made a name for himself with the video installations Diamond Sea (1997), exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in 1997, and Electric Earth (1999) which won the Golden Lion at the 1999 Venice Biennale. Diamond Sea reveals the structural elements of Aitken’s work early in the artist’s career. For this piece, which includes simultaneous video projections, Aitken produced films and images taken in a small area of the Namib Desert that for decades has suffered the exploitation of diamond mines. The desert is transformed into a post-apocalyptic landscape and the filmed sequences are of artistic interest as well as being an historic documentary. They record moments with an autonomous visual rhythm accompanied by sounds which, in addition to highlighting visual correspondences, create an enveloping spatial effect. In this work, the history of the place becomes the starting point of a timeless synthetic experience.

Doug Aitken Underwater Pavilions, 2017, 303 Gallery, Victoria Miro, Regen Projects Video/Film video installation with 3 channels of video, color, sound

He presents his work as if it was an investigation of the many ways to perceive time from the experience. The idea of fragmentation is something that has always attracted him in the sense that, in contemporary culture, there is always a tendency to identify things in a linear way. The artist has always wanted to break with this logical perception, but always remaining in the experiential context. We are immersed in constant change. We are building new tools to mitigate it, but these only intensify the vortex of transformation. Aitken is interested in breaking the usual perception systems of the observer, as well as the traditional idea of contemplation of the artistic work. The spectator must move around and occupy all the spaces of the structure where his work is displayed. Although we are immersed in a world of increasing acceleration, to capture the individual experience is one of the aims of his art. The reproduction of a real situation produces a dissociative effect that refers to the receiver at the moment of perception. This effect offers the artist an infinite number of suggestive and thematic possibilities, free from being committed to any specific reference, as other works confirm. 

Doug Aitken migration (empire), 2008 Courtesy the artist; 303 Gallery, New York; Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Victoria Miro Gallery, London; Regen Projects, LA Film Still © Doug Aitken

Migration (2008), for example, is a paradigmatic work in which a very unusual situation manages to compress its otherness into the parameters of its own normality. For this work, Aitken films wild animals in motel rooms without human presence. With no other obstacle than space itself, animals live in a foreign place, generating a situation that is both paradoxical and coherent. On the other hand, the scenographic component of the installation recalls the same feeling of timelessness which is expressed in the video sequences. Aitken creates an environment composed of three simultaneous video projections, but with minimal synchronous delay, which generates a suggestive visual rhythm with which the receiver interacts in real time.

DOUG AITKEN, installation view, Black Mirror, 2011 © Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2015 PH. Norbert Miguletz

DOUG AITKEN, Black Mirror

The Black Mirror video installation (2011) highlights the elements developed in previous works. The actress Chloë Sevigny stages a character without past or intimate connections. Her performance consists of a permanent journey around the world. From country to country, from hotel to hotel, her motto is: “Check in check out/ … Customs security delay / One room single / Check in check out”. The piece presents a series of unconnected scenarios, but related to an unusual situation, triggered by a character whose unique attribute is to be like a “blank canvas”. The ability to condense the aesthetic experience in the present is related not only to the content of visual sequences or to the kaleidoscopic effects that are provoked by the simultaneous repetition of images in the same context, but it is also a property of the sounds that encapsulate the scenery. 

DOUG AITKEN, Black Mirror

DOUG AITKEN, Black Mirror

This aspect is of paramount importance in Aitken’s work, for whom sound is as crucial as the visual and spatial components and becomes an especially important factor in works like the Sonic Fountains (2013/2015),  sound installations where faucets distributed in a grid, drip with a distinctive tone according to a precisely written partition. In the water, microphones record the sound and broadcast it live in space, as if it was a concert. Sonic Fountain is a deliberately abstract work that exposes architecture and reveals rhythm, tempo and language. The search for an absolute present is seen by Doug Aitken as aesthetic parameter. However, we are talking about a multidimensional present that covers not only the expression of an epoch, its mechanisms of production and reception and its Zeitgeist, but also a deep reflection on notions such as space, time, perception and interaction. Without pathos or nostalgia, he thematizes the conditions and contradictions of a contemporary world that modestly reveals its own vulnerability. In the contradiction that arises from the attempt to deprive the present of its own history, the artist claims the autonomy of art and thus contributes to its historical renovation. 

Séverine Grosjean

Will Dubai Present the New Economic Model for the Art and Culture Industries?

Will Dubai Present the New Economic Model for the Art and Culture Industries?

by Hania Afifi

Dubai’s creative industries received a massive blow when their golden art season which starts at the beginning of February was cut short before its biggest event Art Dubai; the largest Middle Eastern art fair and its accompanying activities like the Sikka Art Festival, DIFC Art Nights and Galleries Night were realised last March.

“In my gallery for one, we truly depend on Art Dubai and Abu Dhabi Art for 65% of our [Middle Eastern gallery] revenue”, explains Leila Heller, owner, and director of Leila Heller galleries in Dubai and New York City. Like many other participating commercial galleries and studios, Heller’s revenue during this season and Abu Dhabi art week covered their entire annual operating expenses.

Although most of the participating galleries and institutes rushed to replace the cancelled festivities with digital versions, the authorities knew it will not suffice. Not only were the planned activities conceived for the physical realm and thus may not migrate the full experience into the digital world, many of the participants were not equipped with the necessary digital business tools and expertise to carry out online financial transactions that can sustain the needed liquidity.

Dubai Ideathon, Zoom-Still

“An immediate action responding to the COVID-19 crisis came shortly after we understood how disruptive this pandemic is going to be to the cultural sector, especially the most vulnerable communities being freelancers and cultural SME’s.” says Ghassan Salameh, Dubai Design Week creative director and member of Art Dubai Group.  

Within two weeks members of the Art Dubai Group, Alcove Advisors and Atölye (creative services company) carried out exploratory research to identify the key challenges the industry is facing.  By collating the findings from 70 participants in 7 focus groups, they identified 6 challenges which they put forth in an open call to the public under the Dubai Ideathon banner:

  1. What solutions could be created to protect jobs and employees during crisis?
  2. How can the creative community self-organise? And what kind of public-private collaborations can we explore to help support the cultural industries?
  3. How can companies start reducing their fixed costs?
  4. How to improve company / client relationships and collaborations?
  5. How to maintain the flow of supply chains?
  6. Are businesses able to generate revenue from digital shifts? And how?

Within two days, the organisers received over 300 submissions which they filtered down to 150.  The selected applicants were invited to a two days online workshop where they were divided into 12 groups and asked to develop their ideas into solutions that they can present to Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (DCAA).

Similar efforts are currently taking place across the world.  However, few have asked the general public to contribute their thoughts on policy and other possible opportunities to rebound after the lockdown.

Dubai Ideathon, Zoom-Still

“I feel there is a very solid listening ear at the other end.  And this spirit of collectivity that we have … There is a sense of urgency to collectively protect the cultural industries and mitigate damage to businesses and prevent talent drain to the extent possible”, emphasizes Ayeh Naraghi, Director of Alcove Advisors; a culture consulting firm.  All members of the organizing committee in addition to the participants volunteered their time and forewent any fees to assist the authorities in finding solutions.  The committee is due to present the proposal within the next few weeks to DCAA outlining the necessary steps to implement the suggested solutions. 

The Arts and Culture Sector has never had a better opportunity to demonstrate its importance in our communities.  During this crisis we turned to the two most often undervalued and underfunded sectors in a given economy for relief; healthcare to attend to COVID-19 patients and the creative industries who provided us with the mental stimulation while we soldiered in self-isolation.  The question which remains now is will the policymakers in Dubai and across the world acknowledge the significance of the industry and implement the necessary solutions?

Germano Celant Dies at 80. A chapter of Italian contemporary art has closed and is definitively handed down as part of history.

Germano Celant Dies at 80. A chapter of Italian contemporary art has closed and is definitively handed down as part of history.

We could follow the definition adopted by the voices of the national media to mourn the death of the ‘theorist and father of Arte Povera’ Germano Celant, who died today at the age of 82, months after being diagnosed with Covid-19, but it would seem reductive to summarize in this way the pioneering role of the first independent curator of contemporary art Italy.

Germano Celant – Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918–1943– Foto Ugo Dalla Porta, Fondazione Prada

Having trained in the theatrical and literary avant-garde circles in Genoa, Celant collaborated at a very young age, invitated by the founder Eugenio Battisti, to the first interdisciplinary magazine in Italy, Marcatré, as a correspondent for the art news section.

He participated in major national cultural events – such as the conference of the Gruppo ’63 in Palermo or the Critica d’Arte in Verrucchio – getting to know some of the most important Italian artists and gallery owners – from Fontana to De Martiis to Sperone, Paolini and Pistoletto in Turin. Since 1965 he has collaborated with the publication ‘Casabella’ with Alessandro Mendini and in 1967 he published his first book, a monograph on the first Italian designer, Marcello Nizzoli. The interest in this subject in and industrial design soon led him to approach with his research, the currents of Arte Programmata and Ghestaltic Art, which, with their investigation of the relationship between art and technology, will influence him in years to come. In December 1964, Celant curated one of his first exhibitions in Florence, Proposte strutturali, plastiche e sonore, which perfectly sums up the debut and the background of the Genoese critic.

When in 1967 Celant published the manifesto-article Arte Povera, Notes for a guerrilla, he has already matured the vision of an art that, rebelling against the acceptance of the inventions and technological imitations of the system, indicates the freedom of man in the contingency of the event. This hypothesis will be clarified in the double exposition Arte Povera-Im Spazio, at the Galleria La Bertesca in Genoa that same year, in which the historical core of Arte Povera is presented for the first time. The theoretical formulation of the movement was moreover consolidated in the dialectical opposition to the demands of the Programmed Art, as Celant himself had illustrated in the intervention in the catalog of the exhibition Lo spazio dell’Immagine, which preceded the exhibition by a few months at La Bertesca, which was inaugurated at Palazzo Trinci in Foligno in the summer of that year.

Tuned on the revolutionary frequency and the ideological premises of 1968, an artistic adventure begins in dialogue with all shades of reality, from historical point of wiev and the social reference to the international environment, following what happened in the United States with Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Land Art.

The wide success of the national and international exhibitions that follow the Arte Povera movement, go together with a global-wide opening of the art system and with a critical-militant strategy as an onemanband, as Celant himself defines it. He was, in fact, the first to give an example of a model previously unknown in Italy, a model that was independent from the institutions and able to rely mainly on a network of contacts and curators for artistic promotion.

Hence the success thanks to the creation of large exhibitions such as the one at the Arsenali in Amalfi, Arte Povera plus Azioni Povere, in 1968, promoted by the collector Marcello Rumma or, the inclusion of the movement within the historic exhibition in 1969, When Attitudes Become Form, at the Bern Kunsthalle, thanks to the friendship with the Swiss curator Harald Szeeman.

But Celant’s activity of critic and curator continues beyond the end of the movement in 1971, as curator of the exhibition Ambiente/Arte created in 1976 on the occasion of the 37th Venice Biennale and aimed at further investigating the relationship between artwork and the space surrounding it, which remains a constant thread throughout his research. Worth of mentioning are his roles for the curatorship of major Italian exhibitions abroad, such as Identité Italienne. L’art en Italie depuis 1959, at the Center Georges Pompidou in Paris in 1981, aimed at formulating a first historicization of the Arte Povera movement. Or the collaboration with the Salomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, with the Royal Academy of Arts in London in 1989 or with Palazzo Grassi in Venice, where in 1989 he proposed a retrospective on the Italian art from the early twentieth century to the second post-war period with the exhibition Presenze 1900-1945.

The nineties, on the other hand, are the time of the works at the Biennials, from the one in Florence in 1996 Arte e Moda, to that in Venice in 1997. In the year 2000 he curates the Vedova Foundation in Venice and then he is responsible of the artistic direction at the Prada Foundation in Milan, which led him to win The Agnes Gund Curatorial Award promoted by the ICI of New York in 2013 – the year in which he organizes a remaking of the 1969 exhibition in Bern at the Prada Foundation in Venice, When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969 / Venice 2013, in a dialogue with the photographer Thomas Demand and the architect Rem Koolhaas.

Then it’s the Art & Food exhibition at the Milan Triennale in 2015, created for the World Expo and finally the great retrospective of 2019 on the artist ‘street companion’, who died in 2017, Jannis Kounellis, at the Venetian headquarters of the Fondazione Prada. 
Germano Celant’s career ends on the latest monographic exhibition inaugurated in October 2019 at the Mart in Rovereto featuring the artist Richard Artschwager, and which was later on display at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

With the death of Germano Celant, a chapter of Italian contemporary art has closed and is definitively handed down as part of history.

Giulia Pollicita

Vincent Fournier: a time traveler taking the past into the future

Vincent Fournier: a time traveler taking the past into the future / In conversation with Alice Zucca

Vincent Fournier is interviewed by our Editor in Chief Alice Zucca

It is easy to cross the border between fiction and reality, while diving in the imagery of Vincent Fournier, and this is not only because of the suspended atmosphere and the unusual representation of spaces and human figures. He explores the conceptual frontier between concreteness and imagination, between past and future, and in this intermediate parallel reality he identifies a non-space, the ideal scenario to document the possible forms of a possible future. Like a tireless narrator, he builds his stories through elements that are based on a tangible and familiar ground, which at the same time is also ethereal and impalpable, proposing a solemn and cinematographic staging, which with enchantment extends to what is and what’s not perceptible, made of imaginary universes, epic stories and futuristic utopias that cause a feeling of bewilderment and estrangement but simultaneously a sense of familiarity that lengthens the dream, making it in some way possible and including it in the sphere of things that, although they never happened, they echo in our memory like a deja vù.

Space Project, Mars Desert Research Station #9 [MDRS], Mars Society, San Rafael Swell, Utah, USA, 2008

Fournier’s world is, in fact, made of intuitions, a world in which one can remember what has not yet happened, and what’s possibly about to happen in a near future which, however, already echoes in the present moment. The artist ranges between the most captivating themes and the most significant utopias of the twentieth and twenty-first century: between anthropomorphic robots, futuristic architecture, space exploration, artificial intelligence, ambiguously oscillating between documentary and fiction, nature and artifice, thus triggering a reflection on our way of living, our perception of time and space and their evolution. Fournier seems to recall film sets capable of bringing to memory an novel temporal dimension, a sort of future that is dissolved in the maze of a past-present. What is going to happen? What are the variables of the possible future? An imagery that shows the nostalgia of a fictional time that does not belong exaclty to this era but, at times, becomes frozen in a utopian limbo that has not yet taken place, echoing as trace in the present.

Space Project, Mars Desert Research Station #11 [MDRS], Mars Society, San Rafael S 64 well, Utah, USA, 2008

Photography thus provides new interpretations and alternative ways of describing reality, albeit unreal, contributing to the generation of a simulated space within the already “built” contemporary space. Moreover there is no present that cannot be established without referring to another time, to another “present”, the present is a trace as theorized by Derrida. It indicates that time gap with the present element of non-contemporaneity, which is in all aspects a space of freedom, since it is interpretable. The matter is all about understanding whether the human being is able to stop in this space of “uneasiness”, if he is up to conveying the trace. In my opinion Vincent Fournier is able to achieve this.

Space Project, Robonaut 2, NASA’s Johnson Space Center [JSC], 

Alice Zucca: What is the path that led you to this type of deconstructive / reconstructive reflection of reality? Where does the idea for the development of the narrative come from?

Vincent Fournier: My photographs and other works are allegories of childhood dreams where reality is mixing with fiction. They are stories where the meaning is floating from opposite themes : serious and playful, sense and non sense, reality and fiction, organic and artificial… like an encounter with Jules Verne and Jacques Tati. I think this feeling is linked to the world of childhood, when the meaning of things is blurred, when things can have a different meaning. My stories are fed from several mythologies of the future – space exploration, humanoid robots, the transformation of living things through technology or utopian architecture. It can be the past future or the future we imagine for tomorrow. How we see the Future is my main playground. Then the starting point is often a familiar, comfortable and aesthetic situation in which I introduce a disruptive agent… At the end I like my images to be somehow like UFOs!  I’m looking for tension between support points and break points in between a documentary and fiction. 

I believe this “obsession” comes from my childhood and many visits to the Palais de la Découverte in Paris with my grandmother. All these evocations of the “wonder of science” and the mysteries of the Universe have nourished my imagination and stimulated my curiosity for utopias and the field of possibilities. I also grew up in the 70s and 80s with many representations of the future, both in fiction but also in the development of technology, space exploration, internet, robotics, architecture… I still have a romantic vision of this future and maybe I am quite nostalgic about it! I know that it sounds completely out of date, but I think we need to feed our imagination with images of the future that are both credible and somehow attractive. It gives a perspective and a goal especially at a time when it is only a question of an eternal present, as if urgency had everywhere repudiated the future as a promise. For instance the space adventure proposes a perspective and a new angle to better see and understand our Earth from a distance.

I think my main inspiration comes again from the memories of my childhood: the first image that really struck me when I was ten was a reproduction of the «The Hunters in the Snow» by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It’s a funny coincidence because you can see this painting in the movie «Solaris» by Andreï Tarkovski that was also an important reference for me. As a kid I was very fond of science fiction, from comics, to series and novels…  I remembered as well that with some friends we rented the movie «2001: A Space Odyssey» by S. Kubrick. It was a revelation: the aesthetics, the ideas, the narration… but not with my friends who all left before the end… I also listen to many podcasts about science, history, philosophy, art… and TV series as we all do!  I have also been deeply influenced by “rationalist” compositions, such as the grids used by architects or graphic designers.

Self Portrait Vincent Fournier ©

Space project” is a collection of strange terrestrial landscapes with which Vincent Fournier stimulates our imagination between reality and dream. They are visionary photographs on space exploration, which offer science fiction-like visions of missiles, astronauts, research stations and spectral scenarios. Fournier was able to create such stunning images through his collaboration with major space organizations such as NASA, ESA and the Russian space agency, as well as the world’s largest astronomical observatories. Therefore he had access to information on the first Sputnik and Apollo programs, on the future missions to Mars and on confidential projects such as NASA’s SLA rocket, which he transfigured and sublimated through his peculiar artistic vision of space exploration. Fournier’s intent is to induce us to question our perceptions of space and time and he suggests a reinterpretation of our past and future utopias, revisiting them with evocative images that recall myths and fantasies of mankind about the future. To achieve this, Vincent Fournier brings together innumerable subjects: from the clothing of Captain Boris, a Russian astronomer, in his daily space, to the Norwegian astronomical observatories and the Atacama desert, in Chile. From the multitude of antennas scattered in a field to the collaboration/interation between robots and men.

AZ: Can you tell me about this project and how do you perceive the relationship between man and machine? And what about technological progress?

VF: Space Project is my founding project, started in 2007 and is still going on. It tells the story of space exploration, from the memories of the space age to the new futuristic projects such as the NASA SLS launch vehicle which is expected to go to Mars. The strong relationship that I have created with the most representative space organizations around the world led me to see behind the doors that are normally kept tremendously secret. My latest images are from last December show the Artemis project, at the NASA Glenn Research Center, whose objective is to return to the Moon in order to develop a base (orbital station) that will serve as a starting point to go to Mars. The plane that looks like a “big whale” is the NASA Super Guppy, which carries the famous ORION capsule that will go to the Moon next year. 

I love machines, the ones that fly, talk, count, observe… I am fascinated by the magic of science where the universe and the complexity of the world seem to be summed up in a few mathematical formulas. There is a certain irony in giving a visible and understandable picture of the mysteries of the universe. Waves, time, space, stars, light, all make sense. Observing, indexing, measuring, treating… the universe is not as perfectly organized as our machines. It acts irrationally, in a chaotic, violent and mysterious way.

Space Project, Ergol #11, S1B clean room, Arianespace, Guiana Space Center [CGS], Kaurou, French Guiana, 2011
Space Project, Ergol #12, S1B clean room, Arianespace, Guiana Space Center [CGS], Kaurou, French Guiana, 2011
Space Project, EISCAT Svalbard Radat [ESR],
 Spitsbergen Island, Norway, 2010

The cinematographic reference constitutes a fundamental element that has influenced the conceptual matrix from which his creativity is inspired. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as stated by Fournier himself, was a source of inspiration for his imagery and in a certain sense is able to vividly describe the fundamental assumption of his creative process. The film, made in 1968, describes facts that refer to the year 2001. Inevitably it describes more the world of 1968 than that of 2001 but it continuously intertwines the past with the future, and places with non-places. The initial scene “the dawn of man”, as Fournier points out, shows an ancient past in which monkeys, in an atmosphere that feels permeated with sacredness, from harmless animals begin to transform into dangerous and violent beings, that is to say, into human beings. This ancestral scene is connected with the future shown in the next scene, full of technology, space stations and spaceships flying to the rhythm of the waltz “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss. The realistic narration of the life of the astronauts on board a concrete place such as the spaceship DiscoveryOne and the final journey of astronaut David Bowman through a hallucinatory non-place, a psychedelic tunnel made of stars, nebulae, geometric figures and unknown worlds, which will take him to a surreal and white mansion furnished in a neoclassical style.

Brasilia, The Itamaraty Palace – Foreign Relations Ministry, stairs, Brasilia, 2012

The architectural formalisms of the architect Niemeyer appear in Fournier’s photographs in “Brasilia”, they are almost like abandoned movie sets that recall the flavor of those by Jacques Tati. Built in the late 1950s according to the plans of the urban planner Lucío Costa, the landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx and the architect Oscar Niemeyer, Brasilia is an example of speculative architectural hypotheses for the future, which today, about sixty years after its creation, are still unspoken utopias, crystallized between past and present. The contrast between the austere urban fabric of Brasilia made up of bureaucratic and governmental locations and the irrepressible liveliness of the streets of the Brazilian metropolises of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo appears extremely striking, as an interesting spark that points out the transitions of the human element that is well distributed in Fournier’s work . In his landscapes, the French photographer, hovering between the dreamlike and reality, also shows normally unpublished spaces, such as engine rooms or training rooms for astronauts, places that, although concrete and real, appear at the same time as almost virtual, elusive and inaccessible.

Brasilia, Chamber of Deputies [Annex IV] #3, Brasilia, 2012

AZ: Can you tell me about your relationship with cinema, from Kubrik to Tarkovskij? And the relationship between staging space and architectural space? The one between space and the human figure (which in your representations is often “evident” for its lack rather than its excess)?

 VF: I have made numerous film references along my work. David Cronenberg or Stanley Kubrick are amongst those directors who had such an influence on me because of their technological approach and the forward-thinking aspect of their work. Indeed, “Solaris” by Andrei Tarkovsky  fascinated me and one can easily see this movie together with “2001, Space Odyssey” as heads and tails of the same coin. Both movies show the cosmic sphere as the reflection of intimacy and both directors actually question our perception of reality with unexpected spaces – always imaginary rather than real – or time inconsistencies, such as the final of “2001, Space Odyssey”, where you can see an astronaut evolving in a Louis XVI decor. 

I also like Jacques Tati’s movies because his sense of humor has always been very close to the absurd. His vision of utopias was far ahead of his time even though it was also often satirical and of course I like him because of his aesthetic approach, very sharp, architectural and with several layers of meaning. It has certainly influenced my work about Brasilia that explores the utopian Future of this city which was born at the same time as the beginning of the space age. Indeed, the date of the “pilot plan”, conceived in 1957, coincides with the launch of the Sputnik, the first artificial satellite of the Earth. Brasilia was born at the beginning of the space age and the whole aesthetics of the city is largely inspired by it. It is the dream of space and the race towards the future that is embodied in a metaphorical and anticipatory way in the city’s architecture. The portholes are reminiscent of those in Gagarin’s space capsule, the passageways connecting the various buildings evoke the long corridors of orbital stations and the architecture on stilts anticipates the “chicken legs” of future moon landing modules. The metaphor is even more obvious as with the National Museum surrounded by a ring of Saturn. Moreover, this city which has fantasized space and invented its own future, has remained frozen in time. Indeed, the city plan, identical since its origin, is registered since 1985 in the Unesco Heritage, which preserves it definitively from any change. Brasilia is therefore a bubble out of time, a time capsule where the dream of the future of the 60s is nostalgically offered.  The book «Brasilia – a Time capsule» will be released in November with a text by the MET curator. Several images from the Brasilia series are part of the MET permanent collection.

Brasilia, The Claudio Santoro National Theater, Spiral Staircase, Brasilia, 2019
Brasilia, General Army Headquarters #1, Brasilia, 2019
Brasilia, The National Museum #3, Brasilia, 2019

The documentary element confirms itself as another distinctive element of Fournier’s approach to the variables of what exists. In the Post Natural History project, Fournier imagines an extraordinary collection of upcoming living species, that mutated to adapt to changing environments and events. Are they the result of the adventures of a reckless space traveler committed to visiting unknown worlds and cataloging new forms of life? The combination of the traveler/collector figure strikes me as spontaneous and evocative. Fournier like Captain James T. Kirk of the famous TV series Star Trek, set in the future, which tells the adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise of the United Federation of Planets, “dedicated to the exploration of new worlds, in search of other forms of life and civilization, to get where no man has gone before”.
AZ: Can you tell me something more about this project?

The Bestiary [Post Natural History – Cycle II] Monitor Lizard [Varanus imitabilis] Mimetic Lizard, 2012
The Bestiary [Post Natural History – Cycle II] High Speed Shark [Squalus moleculo]
Autonomus shark with the ability to control the speed of which molecules travel, 2018

VF: With my last body of work, «Post Natural History» I am telling the story of the transformation of life using technology. I think for the first time in History man has the tools to transform, create, reprogram the living and merge it with the non-living. This future is much further away so we don’t have images yet, that is why this body of work is based more on our imagination. It is inspired by synthetic biology and also by Surrealism. I think biotechnology and Surrealism both share a fascination with mixing things that have nothing in common. They both create strange, hybrid and uncanny species, composed, cut and pasted, of different parts just like a chimera or an “exquisite” corpse. 

The Post Natural History is composed of 3 cycles. The first cycle is called the Flesh flowers. It shows the result of tissue engineering techniques that create artificial flesh using edible plants. And what I am presenting are the remains of those flesh flowers, their skeletons. This work is made with 3D printing. The second cycle is a bestiary of upcoming species inspired by medieval bestiaries. Those strange and hybrid creatures are the mirror of our wishes, hopes and fears. The bestiary is presented just like a curiosity cabinet. Each image of the species is like a taxonomic illustration with a plate describing their particular features. Those creatures are engineered species with special features designed by man. For instance if you take a closer look at the scorpion, you will realize that this is not just a scorpion but also a remote controlled robot which is able to perform surgical operations. A closer look at the body of the dragonfly makes you realize that it contains sensors that measure the quality of air, or the Fennec is able of mind-reading. 

The last cycle is called the Unbreakable Heart. After being created outside the body, the technology is going inside the body. And what organ is more symbolic than the heart? So I have created the first advanced unbreakable heart made of gold and lead, and designed to live forever. As in my other works I forged a link between the past and the future. This unbreakable heart is inspired by alchemy, which sought to turn lead into gold in order to create the elixir of life, but it also echoes the desires to live forever of the transhumanists and the Silicon Valley. And since living forever is quite expensive, this advanced organ is made of pure gold and set with precious stones.

Alice Zucca

SAVE THE DATE ▼

Paris Photo – November 12/15 2020 – event + book signing > Vincent Fournier will present Space project and Brasilia and will also do two book signing – Space Utopia and Brasilia (Noeve, Rizzoli)

Vincent Fournier / BRASILIA – coming soon – solo show at Paris Photo with MOMENTUM gallery (Miami).

The Upside-Down world of Yngve Holen

The Upside-Down world of Yngve Holen

by Elda Oreto

When I entered the world of Yngve Holen, I had the impression men were hybrids of flesh and synthetic material. It’s as if the artist dreams of clandestine experiments in which the brain is injected with substances that induce hallucinations and excruciating headaches. But here sensory deprivation and excessive stimulation activate superpowers — an eruption of inorganic material and synthetic colors, hammers the body in a sexual frenzy. Simultaneously, you can see an army of electrically charged, hysterical demigods fighting for supremacy on our planet.

Yngve Holen, Parasagittal Brain, 2011 (detail)
Watercut water appliances, left and right contact lens boxes, ultrasonic humidifier, dimensions variable 
Courtesy: the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; Modern Art, London; and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt

Yngve Holen’s artistic practice emerges from the cyberpunk movements of the early 80s and evolves through the Post-Internet era in a direction that reinterprets the themes of postmodern sculpture. His path has led him to a bewildering bipolarism from which his strategy of appropriation of everyday objects unfolds, a strategy characterized by humor, like in the exhibition HEINZERLING, at the Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo and at the Kunsthall Stavanger in 2019. The starting point of the exhibition, which includes works that are representative of Holen’s various artistic periods, is the artist’s dual nationality, German and Norwegian. “Heinzerling” is, in fact, Holen’s paternal surname when he normally uses his maternal surname. Among the various works on display there’s a series of wall sculptures — huge spirals made of cross-laminated timber (CLT), each is about 200 centimeters in diameter and represents enlarged copy of an SUV tyre rim. Among the sculptures we can find Heinzerling (2019) and Rose Painting, that were exhibited at the Galerie Neu in 2018 and in the HORSES exhibition at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, also in 2018.

Installation view, Yngve Holen, HORSES, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Germany, 2018. Photo: Stefan Korte, Courtesy: the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin 

Holen uses humor as a tool to juxtapose different materials. In fact, the combination of materials with opposite qualities, soft and hard, smooth and rough, handcrafted and highly technological, creates a tension that alters the perception of the artwork and the context in which it is exhibited. But like a two-faced Janus – who in ancient Roman mythology represented the God of duality, transition and beginning, and has two faces, one for looking into the past and one into the future – these two aspects of the same element cannot be separated, on the contrary they constitute its intimate nature.

Yngve Holen, Parasagittal Brain, 2011 (detail) Watercut water appliances, left and right contact lens boxes, ultrasonic humidifier, dimensions variable, Courtesy: the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; Modern Art, London; and 
Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt

Holen’s strategy of “intervention” in everyday objects overturns the perception of the exhibition space itself, and the space becomes an experimental laboratory. In this place, the boundary between human, physical — and also ethical and economic — perceptions constantly flips between good and evil, between the domestic and the uncanny, between the licit and the illicit. This double aspect of his work is not a mere misrepresentation of reality, but it’s a way to twist it, intensifying it to the point of dissolving the familiar parameters of judgment.

In Corpus Quality, the exhibition at Stuart Shave’s Modern Art, London (2019), Holen’s sculptural series replicates the “Legends of Chima” action figures that LEGO introduced to the market in 2013 and then recalled in 2015. The figurines are created through a 3D printing process. Alongside this project, Holen presented Headache, the third issue of the magazine ETOPS, edited by the artist himself and by Matthew Evans. The magazine focuses on a series of optogenetic experiments, which inject chemicals into the brain in order to activate the neurons. These tests control the human mind but can also stem the course of neurogenetic diseases. The idea of being able to control and be controlled is another constant in Holen’s research. Often, the artist’s work ironically imitates that of a neuroscientist who uses the brain to study the brain itself. For example, in Parasagittal Brain, at the Johann Berggren Gallery in 2011, Holen dissected mass-produced electric kettles with a water saw.

Yngve Holen, CAKE, 2016 (detail), Mixed media (Porsche Panamera), 4 parts, each 145.1 × 96.5 × 250.7 cm
Courtesy: the artist; Galerie Neu, Berlin; Modern Art, London; and Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt
Collection: Lafayette anticipations – Fonds de dotation Famille Moulin
Installation view, Yngve Holen,  VERTICALSEAT, Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland, 2016. 
Photo: Nick Ash

In 2015, at the World of Hope exhibition at the Galerie Neu in Berlin, Holen exhibited a series of sculptures composed with the face panels of Siemens SOMATOM Force CT Scanners, covered with black, white or yellow stretch mesh fabric. In a solo exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Basel in 2016 called VERTICALSEAT— a name that refers to a special type of standing chair that low-cost airlines hoped would allow more passengers to fit on each plane —, the artist exhibited CAKE, a black Porsche Panamera sectioned into four parts. According to Holen, the pressure for wealth and power always passes through the body.

If, at first glance, Holen’s work illustrates a dynamic where the high-tech oppresses the “low-life” we can also have a glimpse at a more raw and primitive dynamic can be seen in the depths of his work, where reality becomes a posthuman nightmare, where meat, metal, technological and organic materials are mixed together to create new beings. Objects are created for us as we adapt to them, an erotic fusion of bodies in a boundless and sensual process of invasiveness and violation. Dehumanization, repression and sexuality are the basis are also recurrent themes, something where the human body becomes the spirit of things and, evanescent, it forms a thin, plasticized and glossy glaze, a varnish of stainless steel that glides over objects until they are incorporated into it.

Yngve Holen was born in Braunschweig, Germany in 1982. He studied at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, graduating in 2010. Holen received the Ars Viva 2014⁄15 Prize, for which his work was exhibited at Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany; Bonner Kunstverein, Bonn, Germany; and Grazer Kunstverein, Graz, Austria. He has also exhibited his works at Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (2013) and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, Germany (2011). He lives and works in Berlin and Oslo.

Elda Oreto

Exhibiting Art in the 21st Century

Exhibiting Art in the 21st Century

by Hania Afifi

“I am sorry, we only have one more ticket left for the 4:15pm show” replied the ticket booth assistant. “I have 3 available at 4:45pm if you like” he added. My father gestured to me to forget about it and to purchase only one ticket for the 4:15 show. We were due back in Dubai at 5:30 pm that day and he was not as eager to view Rain Room as I was. He believed it would be just another art show. I was convinced it was going to be an unforgettable experience.

Rain Room Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

Rain Room is an immersive art installation created by Random International, an art group that is based in London and Berlin. Visitors are invited to walk through a downpour of water without getting wet due to the hidden pressure sensors underneath the perforated floor tiles. This site-specific artwork which was first conceived in London in 2012 and had its first permanent installation in Sharjah’s Art Foundation in 2018, uses “2,500 litres of self-cleaning recycled water, which is controlled through a system of networked 3D tracking cameras” in addition to the floor pressure sensors. The floor, the ceiling and the wall panels are all painted in black thus challenging the visual perception of dimension and form. This surreal atmosphere is further compounded by the singular light source which emits a faint dispersed ray that allows to see the rain droplets as they fall and hit the ground. Inside Rain Room, one can smell the dampness, feel the cool air and see and hear the rainfall. In short, the exhibition offers a memorable experience.

Rain Room Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation

In the last decade we have seen an explosion of exhibitions aimed to actively visually stimulate the observer and art curators have been inventing new ways to make art shows that entice us to visit cultural institutions. From Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project at Tate Modern in London in 2003 to Yayoi Kusama’s ongoing kaleidoscopic Infinity Mirror Rooms, curators continue to seek artworks that transform the intended space. “The relationship between art and humans is shifting”, says Hani Asfour, Dean of Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation at Dubai Design District in the UAE. “the art exhibition model we know is dead… it’s about designing an experience… an immersive / holistic, engulfing, sensation experience”, he explains.

1991, Fischli & Weiss, 
Fischli & Weiss installation for “The Kitchen Show.” 
Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, St. Gallen, Switzerland, 1991

Indeed, the role of the curator as preserver, selector and presenter of artworks is no longer enough. He/She needs to be a designer of experiences, and as a designer, they need to learn how to optimise the visitor’s experience. Curators cannot continue to fill up dedicated art spaces with art objects which require written or verbal background directives and expect visitors to become engaged with the artworks and the shows. They need to create accessible temporal and physical spaces which visitors can holistically experience and part away from with a new memory. These spaces can be within the confines of an existing cultural institution or in completely unforeseen areas and times.

1991, Fischli & Weiss, Fischli & Weiss installation for “The Kitchen Show.” Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, St. Gallen, Switzerland, 1991

This view echoes that of Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the prolific curator, when he writes, “Exhibitions, I believe, can and should go beyond simple illustration or representation. They can produce reality themselves.” Obrist has been designing exhibitions in unexpected spaces since the early 90s that take visitors on journeys in which they are encouraged to reflect upon the newly created reality. From The Kitchen Show in 1991 when he invited renown artists like Fischli and Weiss to create site-specific works for the kitchen of his rented flat at St. Gallen, Switzerland to the latest edition of his instruction-based art exhibition Do It; first conceived in 1994 at Klagenfurt Austria, where the visitor must participate in the realisation of the artwork. His exhibitions are designed around the visitor’s experience rather than the chosen theme or selected narrative. Hence, he is comfortable designing an exhibition at hotel rooms for only a handful of guests to experience like in Room 763 of Hotel Carlton Palace which took place in Paris in 1993, as he is designing an interactive conference that combines the visual arts with poetry, literature, architecture and design in the latest edition of Poetry Will Be Made by All! At Moderna Museet in Sweden in 2015. In short, he understands that we need to continue challenging the prevalent format of art exhibitions today.

1991, Richard Wentworth, Richard Wentworth installation for “The Kitchen Show.” Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, St. Gallen, Switzerland, 1991

This flexible approach to exhibition design will serve us well in today’s digital age where the viewer is happy to consume artworks on the small screen of their mobile phone whilst sitting comfortably in his/her chair. The plethora of curated art content on the Instagram accounts of cultural institutions, creative publications, artists and art enthusiasts may be regarded as stand-alone mini exhibitions. In fact, this new medium democratised the curation practice and removed the formality of the courtroom from the periodic blockbuster exhibitions at national museums. However, it also robbed art exhibitions off their wonder and mystique. Scrolling through a page and flicking through images does not give the viewer the same experience as marvelling through the halls of an exhibition wondering what treasures the next room may hold. In fact, this is the very reason that ‘real-life’ exhibitions need to deliver a multi-sensorial experience if they wish to remain competitive in attracting visitors. However, they also cannot ignore the digital world. On the contrary, curators now need to face the limitations of the medium with its flat surface plane and design exhibitions that are still engaging and offer viewers an experience.

Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013
(Wood, metal, glass mirrors, plastic, acrylic panel, rubber, LED lighting system, acrylic balls, and water) Courtesy of David Zwirner, N.Y. 
© Yayoi Kusama

Perhaps one of the best examples that demonstrate this possibility is Aspartime’s Nine Computer Exercises For the 21st Century Online Digital Interactive Era of 2015. The independent Chinese duo, Qu Xiao and Fengya Liu who started in 2012, were inspired by the ancient Chinese practice of health preservation Jiànkãng tῐcão. The tradition which is commonly practiced in public schools, parks and corporate institutions entails simple daily physical and breathing exercises like those seen in Qi Gong and Tai Chi. The duo reinterpreted the practice into the digital sphere and re-formatted it into an engaging online exhibition where the viewer is asked to perform desk exercises at the end of the day or after work.

The exhibition consists of nine GIF animations that are viewed consecutively on separate pages. Each GIF instructs the viewer to make certain movements, almost as if you are performing meditative exercises while looking at the images. As a result, the viewer can spend anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes viewing the images instead of the average number of seconds in which an image is normally consumed. Incidentally, this was also the same amount of time I had spend inside Rain Room during my visit. Like Aspartime’s GIFs, Rain Room offers an opportunity to retreat into our own thoughts while viewing the artwork. Such experiences fulfil Martin Heidegger’s first function of an artwork, that of revealing a truth that has been lurking in our subconscious or taken for granted. It is these experiences that will be imprinted into our memory and from which we emerge satisfied and content.

Hania Afifi

David Altmejd’s magnified Mitosis

David Altmejd’s magnified Mitosis

by Doron Beuns

Our human imagination has brought forth figures like three headed dragons, two headed gods and four-armed goddesses. These figures are nonetheless no match for the figurative sculptures of Canadian artist David Altmejd. The appearances of his figures are far from wholesome and divine but do accomplish to invoke the supernatural by imagining physical mutations that are out of this world. On Altmejd’s imaginary planet we find that severed body parts and bodies retain a degree of vitality. These conditions subsequently cause bodies and body parts to spontaneously grow and multiply alongside their disintegration. This results in a vibrant, singular yet haunting stew of facial features, body parts, studio materials and various objects. Anything goes and anything grows within the oeuvre of David Altmejd. The artist provides further possibility where normal organic life is supposed to end.

David Altmejd © Spacing Out, 2017 – Polyurethane foam, extruded polystyrene, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, epoxy resin, steel, aqua-resin, fiberglass, cast glass, acrylic paint, glass eyes, fake cigarettes – 33 H x 15 W x 14 D inches, Courtesy the Artist
David Altmejd © Spacing Out, 2017 – Polyurethane foam, extruded polystyrene, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, epoxy resin, steel, aqua-resin, fiberglass, cast glass, acrylic paint, glass eyes, fake cigarettes – 33 H x 15 W x 14 D inches, Courtesy the Artist
David Altmejd © Spacing Out, 2017 – Polyurethane foam, extruded polystyrene, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, epoxy resin, steel, aqua-resin, fiberglass, cast glass, acrylic paint, glass eyes, fake cigarettes – 33 H x 15 W x 14 D inches, Courtesy the Artist

The tension between organic deformations and replication in David Altmejd’s sculptures makes it appear as if things will transform indefinitely. Each multiplied element in the sculpture thereby hints at a supernatural vitality that resides within it. This principle can be traced all the way back to Altmejd’s ‘First Werewolf’ piece from 1999 where enticing crystals grow from the potent corpse of a werewolf. By now, the artist elaborated the above principle through human subject as well. This is was recently demonstrated in his 2019 show titled ‘The vibrant man’ with white Cube Gallery in Hong Kong. The vast amount of fingers, eyes, mouths, crystals, cigarettes appear as if another one could pop up any given time. Here Altmejd accomplished to turn chunks of static material into something that appears to be in motion.

David Altmejd ©, Crystal System, 2019, Expanded polyurethane foam, resin, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, synthetic hair, acrylic paint, quartz, steel, coconut shell, glass eyes, paper, graphite, pearl mica flake and glass gemstone, Courtesy the Artist
David Altmejd ©, Crystal System, 2019, Expanded polyurethane foam, resin, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, synthetic hair, acrylic paint, quartz, steel, coconut shell, glass eyes, paper, graphite, pearl mica flake and glass gemstone, Courtesy the Artist

The surreal appearances of David Altmejd’s sculptures are nonetheless rooted in biological phenomena that are undeniably real. The proliferation, amalgamation and disintegration that we observe when looking at a sculpture by Altmejd does in fact reflect and magnify the mitosis and meiosis that takes place in the depths of our very own bodies. It is also at this molecular level that we as human beings connect to all other matter that exists beyond us. Altmejd’s works are in that sense predicated on a flat ontology, where living and non-living entities become symbiotic and replicate each other’s behaviour. A process in which internal incentive clashes with serendipity and results in singularity. The artist in that sense reconciles our interior and exterior world through his figures. They are hard wired from within to creatively engage with the environment on the outside.

David Altmejd © The Flux and the Puddle, 2014
Plexiglas, quartz, polystyrene, expandable foam, epoxy clay, epoxy gel, resin, synthetic hair, clothing, leather shoes, thread, mirror, plaster, acrylic paint, latex paint, metal wire, glass eyes, sequin, ceramic, synthetic flowers, synthetic branches, glue, gold, feathers, steel, coconuts, aqua resin, burlap, lighting system including fluorescent lights, Sharpie ink, wood, coffee grounds, polyurethane foam 
129 H x 252 W x 281 D inches
 Courtesy the Artist

Of course, the relations between interior and exterior in David Altmejd’s works are also deeply related to the human subconscious, not unlike Surrealism. One could nonetheless argue that Altmejd’s work is more reflective of thought or human subjectivity in general. Things unfold in a non-linear manner whilst being simultaneously rooted in a symbolic, causal or biological order of some kind. This is perhaps most visible in Altmejd’s larger installations like ‘Flux and the Puddle’ from 2014. This installation consists of a large transparent rectangular structure that facilitates a complex network of causation between a large variety of life-forms and objects. Every element presented within the structure is both a source that generates outcomes but also the outcome of another preceding source. The installation is one large ongoing work in progress that generates within its own confines and is infinite in its further possibility. This is without a doubt analogous to the activity of our brains, in their entirety. The subconscious par is merely the catalyst in this equation.

David Altmejd ©, Les noix, 2014 – steel, polystyrene, expandable foam, epoxy gel, epoxy clay, resin, acrylic paint, synthetic hair, glass eyes, coconut, synthetic flower, steel wire, 22k gold, amethyst, quartz, spray paint – 89 H x 30 W x 42 D inches, Courtesy the Artist

The power of David Altmejd’s works is that they remind us of ourselves in more than one way. The things that unfold in front of our eyes enable us to recognize our own vitality, adaptability and vulnerability. This is of importance because it is through these rudimentary properties that we relate to other forms of being, without looking for exact resemblance on the surface. This for example occurs when we enjoy a beautiful piece of nature or successfully raise a child to be its singular self. On the contrary we find that Altmejd’s works, like nature and children, have the power to unsettle us with their estranged appearance and behaviour. His figures could be considered abject bodies that break down the normative distinction between living subjects and dead objects. However, one might argue that experiencing unsettlement in relation to death and decay is another way of asserting one’s vitality. Altmejd in that sense encourages us to feel alive in front of his work and witness how sublime life itself can be. Every part of the cycle is at our disposal.

Doron Beuns

Subodh Gupta: Railway boy

Subodh Gupta: Railway boy

Subodh Gupta utilizes everyday objects from his birthplace India to create sculptural forms that speak to our universal memory. His capacity to deal with his origins and communicate cross culturally won him a place at Bourriaud’s Altermodern Tate triennial in 2009. Within this exhibition Gupta exhibited a four meter tall sculpture titled “In Line of Control” made from stainless steel kitchen utensils with an approximate combined weight of twenty-six tons. These kitchen utensils formed a nuclear mushroom cloud. A shape and image that we essentially all fear, wherever our kitchens are located.

Subodh Gupta

Subodh Gupta, Line of Control, 2008

Subodh Gupta in the process of installing “What does the vessel contain, that the river does not” at Hauser & Wirth in London

Subodh Gupta was born in the eastern part of India, in Khagaul, in the district of Patna in the federated state of Bihar, one of the least developed areas of the country where almost half of the population lives in absolute poverty. The railway cuts the small town of Khagaul into two parts, each of them is rich with evidence of Hindu temples. The Gupta family is also Hindu. In India the train is the main means of transportation, among the one billion and three hundred million inhabitants, despite of crazy traffic jams in urban areas, in percentage just a small amount of people uses the car for traveling. Subodh’s father worked for the railways, this strongly influenced the boy’s childhood, so much that he was given the nickname “Railway boy”. Trains going back and forth always crowded people. In the artist’s memories there are railway platforms covered by a jigsaw made of luggage tied with laces, suitcases, bags of any shape and color, carried on shoulders, loaded on carts, left everywhere, as well as passengers standing, sitting and lying on the ground. People everywhere, waiting for the train to arrive.

Subodh Gupta, My Family Portrait, 2013 Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Ph. Axel Schneider

This image of the vibrant and colorful world of the railway will find its place in the photographic, painted and sculptural works of Gupta. His mother took him by train to his drama class when, enthusiastically, the very young Subodh dreamed of becoming an actor. Being an actor in a country where the “Bollywood” of Mumbai produces more than a thousand films every year is a legitimate dream. But at some point the desire for freedom, to act as director of himself took over, pushing him down the road of becoming an artist. In search for freedom and for a more dynamic life he moved to the capital, New Delhi, an immense and chaotic city where many artists live, but only a few privileged ones can afford to own a big studio for their work. Gupta’s artistic career started with painting but, as a result of his wife’s criticism, he decided to change discipline and become a sculptor. Today his talent ranges from various genres: performance, photography, installation, sculpture and painting. He is now famous all over the world for his large compositions made with kitchen hardware. Pots and pans, teapots and plates made of stainless steel and gold-plated brass have become his recognizable trademark. To create his monumental sculptures he uses various kitchen tools, chosen in shops and markets, rummaging in mounts of waste in order to pick up an object (sometimes even broken) that strikes him for a reason that’s clear only to his artistic vision. The works of Gupta are always very aesthetically pleasing, all the metal components are polished to perfection until they become shiny, giving the illusion of the use of precious materials, thus acquiring added value.

Subodh Gupta, two cows, 2003 – 2008

Subodh Gupta, Terminal. 2010 Installation view “India: Art Now”, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Ishoj, Denmark, 2012

Gupta on the one hand explores the spiritual world and the daily life of modern India, on the other he remains anchored to a traditional country. His art is contemporary and classic at the same time and its aim is not to deny the past, but on the contrary he tries to link the world of today to the traditions of yesterday, the day before, and a thousand years ago. He finds reasons to collect objects of everyday life, kitchen utensils which have always been the center of life for every Indian family. For example the shape of the pan has not changed at all during time, in the museum of ancient art we can find the ancestors of today’s kitchenware. Every Indian family, rich or poor, recognizes these objects: the art of sculptor Subodh Gupta is popular in the strict sense of the word “people”. Sometimes Gupta compares opposing worlds: the rich and the poor, always pairing everyday objects (like two entrance doors, two projectors, two toilets, two toilet flushes) changing only the finishing of materials they are made of, for instance gold plating for the first, wood or iron for the other. The message consists in the existential truth, which always remains the same: the door serves to enter and the toilet serves basic needs. Despite the economic conditions people are the same, everything else is just an ephemeral and temporary coating. The art of Gupta could have been considered “social” if it included a sentiment of rebellion, instead the artist channels our thoughts into a philosophical feeling, close to the oriental spirit, sometimes a bit ironic, but always calm and rather complacent. 

Subodh Gupta, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Image courtesy of Subodh Gupta Studio

What does Subodh Gupta like? He likes his India which has become an economic giant, its very large population, which manages to keep alive its ancient traditions and rituals, passing them down through the centuries, the goodness and variety of Indian cuisine, the importance of family values that are the pivotal point of the life of every individual, the aesthetics of the forms of traditional Indian art, and overall of the grandeur of its cultural background.

Subodh Gupta,Very hungry God, Monaco

Gupta challenges the “sacred idols” of contemporary art: he molds an elegant sculpture of the Madonna with an adorable mustache recalling Marcel Duchamp, composes a huge skull with kitchen utensils, winking at Damien Hirst. But if his counterparts are the “hooligans” of art, driven by the desire to shock and shake the brain of the viewer, Gupta caresses his gaze instead, reassuring him with the thought that the contemporary world is not madly crazy because it is well anchored to good reasons and good examples. Gupta also drags us to the world of dreams, his own and a common one, invites us in his Bollywood films where poor and rich people live together in a world of fantasy, almost heaven like. The huge sculptures of Gupta are so refined and beautiful that they could decorate any place. They look good in art galleries and become extra-large jewels in the open spaces, such as his “People Tree” which is displayed in the courtyard of the Monnaie de Paris. A tree with many roots (ancient traditions), with many branches (the people of India) and a dense foliage of kitchen utensils (family values). The art of Subodh Gupta is an aesthetically elaborate and slightly “rococo”, but fresh in its composition, hymn to his old new India.

Vlada Novikova

Natee Utarit. Contemporary Thailand dressed in Florentine Renaissance

Natee Utarit. Contemporary Thailand dressed in Florentine Renaissance

The work of Thai artist Natee Utarit (Bangkok 1970) reveals a singular attitude and a figurative language which significantly differentiate it from the artistic production in Southeast Asia today. Having studied at the Silpakorn University, founded by an Italian artist of the Florentine academic school, Utarit, like the Thai artists of his generation, learns a formal foreign language (local academic education provides the teaching of  European art history), which is also a vehicle for a different cultural heritage, in this case the Western Christian one. Together with the traditional style and genres of European painting (historical painting, portrait, landscape, still life), the artist also learns the meaning of the religious symbols and icons of the Reneissance and begins to question the themes and characters they represent, focusing in particular on the similarities between western and Thai-Buddhist imagery.

Natee Utarit , In the Name of God, 2016

From this comparison the artist generates his stylistic code: the search for a native identity and voice within the foreign styles learned (imposed) by the colonizers. Utarit’s visual stories are complex and unexpected allegories, they are born from the combination of various elements. Ancient and modern objects, iconographies of the Christian and Buddhist tradition, historical and contemporary figures, Western and Asian, are combined in impeccable and perfectly balanced compositions, which give life to new scenes and to an artistic formula which is at the same time very personal and astonishing.

Natee Utarit , Nescientia, 2014

Utarit, however, is a “virtuoso” of the style more than of the content: under the skillful artistry of the Thai painter lies a world full of current themes and it’s up to the viewer to choose whether to decipher them or not. The pictorial surface is captivating, with its colors, smooth brushstrokes, infinitesimal details and the splendor of its forms, catalyzing attention to the point of being ineluctably distracting. Only a motion of awareness in the viewer can lead him back to the traces of the underlying meaning, which in Utarit constitutes precisely the soul of the painting. The artist takes strong, decisive positions that unfold moment by moment in the pictorial pieces he produces. He talks about the human condition, about the ethical drama which is related to the collapse of certainties.

Natee Utarit, THE INTROSPECTIVE, 2016

The artist expresses his personal opinion on the existence, on God, goodness, greed and caducity. He criticizes contemporary society and stages its cultural crisis, in particular the crisis of Thai society (Illustration of the Crisis, 2010, series), but also of the contemporary art system (Altarpieces, 2014-2016, series). Taken from this latter series, the painting When Adam Delved and Eve Span, Who Was Then the Gentleman ? 2014, constitutes an exemplary model of the artist’s aesthetics and ethics. Eva appears huddled near what should be a spinning wheel (but that subtly recalls the wheel of Duchamp, leader of Western conceptualism) and the poverty of her and Adam strongly contrasts with the sumptuousness of the garments worn by the central characters, two men of obvious Caucasian origin, surrounded by symbols of western cultural and artistic tradition.

Natee Utarit, Allegory of the Beginning and Acceptance, 2015

Natee Utarit PASSAGE TO THE SONG OF TRUTH AND ABSOLUTE EQUALITY 2014

One of the two characters holds a map of Southeast Asia while a dark-skinned and Asian-like  dwarf plays an accordion. Here the splendid and “error-free” painting of Utarit aspires to unmask the cultural yoke that still affects Southeast Asia today, which is represented as a court Jester whose mere function is to delight the West. The words that give the title to the work therefore seem very accurate, they are taken from a famous sermon by the priest John Ball, inspiring personality of the English peasant revolt of 1381, which underline the condition of freedom and purity proper to Adam and Eve, when there weren’t servants nor masters, when God gave mankind free will and, with it, the equal right to exist. Since Ball is a wandering priest, and therefore outside the canonical religious system, the artist pushes his message even further: he proposes a parallel between the organized religion of that time and the art system of today, which reveals itself as a harbinger of hierarchies, unfair relations and unjust arbitrariness. What Utarit seems to ask to his viewer, through the use of cultured and stratified works in which the plurality of references  look as a compositional rule, is, in the end, the time to deepen the knowledge of the different existing cultural realities, inside and outside his polyptychs.

Lavinia Pini

Erik Bulatov: free to decide.

Erik Bulatov: free to decide.

Erik Bulatov’s father always believed his son would become an artist, on what basis he would think so it is not known but the prophecy has come true: at almost eighty-five years he is one of the most famous russian artists worldwide. Russian or Soviet: difficult to say, because since he was forty Erik has been living outside his native country. Today Bulatov prefers to live in Paris, which he says his wife likes for its calm and balanced lifestyle in line with their current attitude. While the country was struggling to recover and rebuild itself after the terrible events of the 1940s, young Erik completed his studies in the most prestigious artistic institute of Surikov and soon after, twenty-five years old, he looked for a paid job. He had two special friends: Oleg Vasiliev and Iliya Kabakov, future “giants” of contemporary art.

Erik Bulatov

Their relationship became a long and happy friendship, allowing them to make a common front against the grey servility of the regime. They were not rebels, but they fought their “quiet war” in their ateliers, where few trusted friends could have access to see the “fruits” of their clandestine work. Ilya Kabakov as a result of his studies in the publishing field, collaborated with the few state publishers, and it was him who invited Vasiliev and Bulatov to enlist as illustrators for children’s literature. Distant from the Communist Party and its ideology, they were not considered fit to deal with educational books, so they were assigned to illustrate fairy tales for children or folk tales of the many ethnic groups of the Soviet Union. In thirty years of work as editorial illustrators, the two friends have decorated more than a hundred books: Bulatov was responsible for the drawing part and Vasiliev for colors. Working a bit for the State (but avoiding propaganda) and a bit for themselves (without any hope of being able to present their works to a large audience) the artists remained almost immune from the reality that surrounded them and from the Diktat of the regime.

Erik Bulatov, Farewell Lenin

Erik Bulatov, Horizon, 1971-2

They belonged to the so-called “Sretenskaja” group and at the end of the Sixties they sometimes performed in the café “Siniaya ptitza” (The Blue Bird). The artist Grisha Bruskin told the anecdote of when Bulatov, suffering from a backache, had to have massages in a clinic in Gursuf, and while lying on the bed tried to admire the beauty of the Crimea coastline just outside the window, but a bright red handrail in the background stopped him to fully enjoy the landscape. After numerous failed attempts to crawl on the bed sheet, in hope of getting a better view, the resignation arrived in the sacred sentence “That is our life too!”. On this episode he got insipiration for the painting “The Horizon” in which a red ribbon of solemn festivity blocks the landscape covering the horizon. What Bulatov wanted to express is that Soviet people are blinded by ideology: to become a work hero, a worthy son of the Soviet homeland, a man does not see the true purpose and beauty of life and the world around him. Bulatov achieves emotional contrast using the most lyrical landscapes of his motherland as a background and aggressively covering them with parade banners.

Erik Bulatov Freedom is Freedom II

Erik Bulatov ,Train

The big characters of the slogans which are displayed everywhere, in Bulatov’s works are similar to the bars of a prison: in the painting “Glory to the Communist Party of Soviet Union” (СЛАВА КПСС) the gigantic letters look like fresh blood almost completely covering the blue sky, ultimate symbol of freedom, letting the message of eternal slavery shine through. The message was so clear that even the most insensitive were able to perceive its anti-Soviet quality to the point that in 1975 the work was forbidden in the USSR. In 2008 the same work was bought by Philips for 2.5 million dollars, making Erik Bulatov the most evaluated Russian painter. The works of Bulatov demonstrate to the viewer the coexistence of different worlds and their interaction: the real world, the tangible world, opens up in the imaginary realm and the painted world. The gate between them is invisible.  The effect is one of participation and confusion of boundaries. It is reality free from impositions where one approaching enters an illusory world, but just getting away will make one free from any infatuation. Freedom of choice: this is the main motive of the art made by the “last of the Mohicans” of the Sixties, of the first delicate protest of these artists friends sharing destiny and closeness of thought.

Vlada Novikova


PUBLICATION LISTED IN THE ITALIAN PRESS REGISTER BY THE SASSARI COURT OF LAW WITH REGISTRATION NUMBER 447/2017.
EDITOR IN CHIEF: ALICE ZUCCA

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
LATEST INSTAGRAM POST @XIBTMAG
CHECK ALL THE
AND DON’T FORGET TO FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA

SO YOU WILL BE ALWAYS UP TO DATE WITH OUR LATEST NEWS

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Youtube
Consent to display content from Youtube
Vimeo
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google
X