This is an illustrated essay I put together in 2014. I feel like I should add it now as a bit of a back log to why my art took the path it did. It could be an essay that could be repeated countless times to help tease out what we think about things along with the process of art-making. Maybe I will do it again soon to become more aware of my immediate surroundings and circumstances. I have had a few battles of my own where I feel like I have removed myself from community. It is always good to take on more than one perspective to get a broader understanding and knowledge of people. Blah blah....and yes I know I shouldn't use Wikipedia or blogs or whatever, but how do you gain a picture of current day without using these. Plenty of sources we can all double check details against.
Discuss the works historical and cultural connections, the ideology represented in the work and the works connection to your own practice.
The artwork and its context
Venetians, Mixed Media, 2013. Location, New Museum, New York. Image taken from Budick, 2014
‘…..it’s up to you….what you find here, what you get here. What you looking for. That’s the message. Open yourself….my mask is not here. I am looking for myself in this space……then the next step was to follow in the tradition of sculptures’
Pawet Althamer (You Tube, Biennale Arte, 2013)
The artwork was made for the 55th Venice Biennale, 2013. The artist, Pawet Althamer took casts of the faces of people in the streets of Venice, in order to capture people in the immediate present. Figurative sculpture represents the body as a vehicle of the soul in a spiritual context and physically in a spatial context. The face and the hand castings, because they were taken from locals, create a cultural context directly associated with Venice. The casts were transported back to the artists’ plastics factory in Warsaw to be made into the wiry, ribbon like plastic figures which provides the locational/global connection or community context. This work, along with many of his other works, rely on the cooperation of members from surrounding communities to participate in varying ways in order for the artworks to come about. The image above has the artwork set up in New York, where the artist has instructed further sculptural workshops to capture the immediate essence of this location. Music from a New York street musician was added to the display. This then adds another level of connecting community and representing the present. The artist is on a continuous search for self in any given space while at the same time embodying the present and the philosophical movement of humanism – a value system placed on individuals and a community’s dignity and worth through rational and critical thinking (Renaissance philosophy).
Explore the artworks historical and cultural connections across the following periods. Discuss cultural instances that have connections to the artwork
Post Modernism c 1975: present – digital age
Mask II, Mixed Media, 2001-2.Image taken from Taylor, 2013
‘Although I spend a lot of time on the surface, it’s the life inside I want to capture.’ Ron Mueck (Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2010)
The artist Ron Mueck (London based Australian) creates hyper realistic human sculptures using resin, fibreglass and silicone along with other materials. He uses scale to demonstrate everyday moments of human activity highlighting vulnerabilities and psychological states or emotional qualities. Qualities we all recognise and which are very personal – sensory, emotional, intellectual/conceptual and spiritual. The poses and features conjure memories from the viewer. ‘His work creates an imaginative opportunity to reflect upon the themes and cycles of life, death, suffering, longing, loneliness and desire’. (Kim, 2011). In a world that is so connected electronically, it is often said that individuals have never been so alone. This is strongly highlighted in Muecks’ work which parallels Althamers’ work in seeking what space we belong in in this current climate and the importance to reconnect community – locally, nationally, and globally. The works ‘challenge viewers to reassess not only former ways of thinking and understanding the world, but also former ways of being’. (Cranny-Francis, 2012).
Modernism c 1875-1975: Information age
Three Men Walking II, Bonze, 1949. Image taken from Bikinas, 2012
‘The world as a whole is absurd and irrational, and does not contain any inherent moral value system. However, this does not mean that values don’t exist! It simply means that we are responsible for our own experience in this world, moral values included’ (Maryckhayes, 2010).
Alberto Giocometti (born 1901, Switzerland) is a sculptor, but also painter, draughtsman and a printmaker. Three Men Walking II, cast in bronze, is one of a number of Giocometti’s linear sculptures which, like Althamer’s work, is suggestive of space and a psychological response to the environment. ‘Giocometti too works with space: space as a spiritual burden and as the arena of human events’ (Lynton, 1965, p.161). The figures are universal in appearance and represent alienation from each other as they take wide steps away from each other. The space around them is becoming a blockage to communicating. These concerns can be applied to humans across time and space. Maryckhayes (2010), a tour guide at the Art Institute of Chicago, notes that when asking the viewers what context they see the figures in, those aged over 25 years see the figures as representing those in World War II concentration camps and those reacting to the war, of despair, isolation, loneliness and starvation. Those under 25 years see the contemporary disease of anorexia and alienation. Giocometti was most likely referencing the Holocaust and Existentialism – a late 19th to early 20th century philosophy that ‘thinking begins with the human subject – not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual,…starting point…[being] a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world’ (Wikipedia Existentialism, 2014). Pawet Althamer himself mentions ‘I think first I have a body and I like to experience my body’. (You Tube, Biennale Arte, 2013).
Modern era c 1400 - onwards 1875: Age of Discoveries
Head of Christ, Lime wood, traces of wood, late 15th – early 16th Century. Image taken from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Website (2006) 24.3 x 26.7 x 23.2cm
‘The image of the head or face can have the capacity to instruct, but in certain forms it can possess a special power to protect, to heal, or even do harm’ (Metropolitan Museum of Art Website, 2006)
The modern era is also known as the Age of Discoveries. Many changes took place during this period to develop better living conditions in all areas which included ‘politics, industry, society, economics, commerce, transport, communication, mechanization, automation, science, medicine,technology and culture’ (Wikipedia - Modern Era, 2014). Less physical work through improved processes left time available to contemplate and create value systems other than that provided by the Bible. Iconoclasm – the breaking of images, shows how much power an image or sculpture like the Head of Christ (unknown artist) can hold. During this period the head ‘signified not only the intellect, the centre of power, but was also regarded as the seat of the soul. The face is not only central to identity, but is also the primary vehicle for human expression, emotion, and character’ (Metropolitan Museum of Art Website, 2006). The sculptured head having been removed from its original setting loses its original contextual meaning, however does provide a symbolic representation of the changes that took place at the time. The people involved in removing the head, possibly having a belief that removing the head, removed the power held either within it or what it represented. The modern era developed individualism which is reflected from the artists’ individual style of the Head of Christ, and which Althamer, with modern processes, created for each of his “Venetians”, each holding that individuals choice of powers, set of values, emotion and character.
Medieval history c 500-1400
‘Beyond their evident visual and narrative qualities, we cannot help but be struck by the emotion they convey as they follow the funeral procession, weeping, praying, singing, lost in thought, giving vent to their grief, or consoling their neighbour. Mourning, they remind us, is a collective experience, common to all people and all moments in history.’ Sophie Jugie, Director, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon (Mourners, 2014)
The Dutch artist Claus Sluter, born in the 1340s brought the scale, naturalism and realism of painting of the time into sculpture. The work out of the later part of his career, such as that of The Mourners is ‘highly emotional, using facial expressions, figural stance, and drapery; this can be particularly seen in the heavy folds of cloth’ (Wikipedia – Sluter, 2014). The mourners are 42cm high and stand in the niches under the tomb of Philip the Bold (1342-1440). Sluter began a new iconographical tradition of having mourners stand around an authoritative figures’ tomb, which was popular until the end of the 15th century. Also Auberjonis (1958, cited in Wikipedia – Mourners (2014) notes that an assortment of social classes are represented in the mourners including ‘priests, monks, members of the ducal household [and] choirboys’ – all with highly emotional expressions of face, in stance and of drapery, over Philip the Bold’s death. It seems that as stated on LACMA You Tube (2011), in the court of Burgundy, were some of the most rich and powerful people of the time who gathered great talents from all over Europe to represent them, including Suter. The effigy monument was created to commemorate Philip the Bold’s life and Death, surrounding him with these realistic figures to represent people just as they were - expressive and emotional……just as Althamer captured the Venetians, just as they were. Althamer’s Venetians were part of his collection of work called the Neighbours….a collective experience.
Ancient history c 3350BCE – 500 and prehistory
Terracotta Warriors, Terracotta, 210-209 BCE. Image taken from Terracotta Warriors, 2011.
‘Emperor Qin enlisted his subjects to build a dazzling burial complex with an impenetrable army to protect him in the afterlife’. (Conger, 2014)
The terracotta warriors are a funerary art that are buried in pits about 1 ½ k.m. from the first Emperor Qin Shihuang’s mausoleum in China. The figures ‘symbolizing the main defending force that guarded the capital before Emperor Qin died’ (Terracotta Warriors, 2011). Each statue is unique – no two faces, expressions, clothing, hairstyle or gestures are the same. China Highlights (1998) that the statues were made as a status symbol and a reminder of China’s united front over the Warring States at the time. There was also a belief that the statues became animated in the afterlife and seeing as many had perished during the wars, the Emperor needed continued protection in the afterlife. Somewhat like Althamer’s focus on the importance of travelling through life with others, the first Emperor took the Terracotta army in the hope that they would accompany him into the afterlife. It is noted, however, by Conger (2014) that life after death had been discredited by ‘notable philosophers, such as Confucius….. [however]….Qin…certainly didn’t wish for death to draw the final curtain on his reign’. He went on to have Confucian scholars executed because he disagreed with their philosophy (Szczepanski, 2014). It seems the emperor lacked compassion or understanding of humanism. His drive was for selfish gain but as isolated as he was in his beliefs, he still desired company.
Ideology represented in the artwork. An ideology is a set of conscious and unconscious ideas that constitute one’s expectations and goals. An ideology is a way of looking at and understanding things. It is a system of belief based on Myth. Myths are stories we tell ourselves.
From your historical and cultural research what myths is the artist confirming with the artwork?
Althamers work seemingly tries to evaluate the myth of the body being a vessel to carry the soul and the contemplations that surround the questioning of what is the point of human existence. He created the Venetians in a state of reflection on the themes and cycles within life and death. Like Mueck’s work, he challenges the viewer to understand the world as it is, and consider alternative ways of being, consider the afterlife but to remain present, physically, emotionally and spiritually within ourselves and with the people around us. This dual presence (body/mind) was challenged with Giocomettis’ work and era - questioning humans as a subject as a whole (thinking and physical) and becoming disoriented when the environment is conducive to little pleasure. There is the myth from the modern era that images and sculptures (head in particular) have the ability to contain power, intellect and soul. It was, as if the emotions and the life of a human can be transferred to art forms as well. Sluters work reflects the importance in the collective experiences and journey through life while the First Emporer did not experience the collective because of self-gain and was then afraid to journey into the afterlife alone, holding onto the belief that the terracotta warriors would in fact accompany him. Maybe heaven is here on earth and the more we give, the less afraid we become of what is next. I feel Althamer’s work has embodied somewhat all of these myths and questions.
What ideology is the artist conveying through these myths?
The artwork ‘The Venetians’ is presented as a portrait of a cross section of people in a given time period – 2013. The cast faces are from people from diverse backgrounds that happened to be in this particular location. Althamer has formed contemplative facial composures and placed the masks onto expressive body positions. The figures are a representation of the humans’ nature (across the centuries) to question the purpose of our existence. It seems that the artist has the belief that the body is a vehicle for the soul and it is within that, that we hold the power or ability to create our own destiny. He seeks to explore the importance of being in the present and continually attempts to record the here and now or immediate presence in his artworks. To explore, to learn, to share and enjoy. A part of the importance of the here and now is the interaction we have with the people immediately around us – participating in being a part of the community. A community, whether that is local, national or global. Althamer also uses his artwork to engage with those who sit outside the ‘normal’ parameters of society – engaging community as a whole.
…..‘how important and how simple can be the message coming from the body shape and how old is a tradition to express spirituality through the body drawings and sculptures’ – Pawet Althamer (You Tube, Biennale Arte, 2013)
What materially or stylistically in the work is connected with your own practice?
I feel that I have very little in common both materially and stylistically with Pawet Althamer’s ‘The Venetians’. I do believe that I can read his artwork and this artwork was particularly powerful to me. Many through history look to artwork as a language in and of itself, even to those that do no form of artwork. I can appreciate what he has done and would be open to materially and stylistically approaching new methods to display similar themes Althamer has used. His use of contemporary materials and an all-inclusive approach is inspiring.
What ideologies in the work are sympathetic with your own practice?
I like to think I will approach my own practice in a similar way to Althamer and view it as a circle of thought. Hopefully to question, looking within and finding answers, while being open to others to learn. I would like to involve others or prop them up when they themselves are learning something new and are ready for input. Lastly go back to questioning again when I reach the next level of maturity. It seems this questioning is a lifelong search for all of us, to find out the true meaning of life and there has been this search for many centuries and across cultures. There is an importance to record the here and now. It can be seen that recording life as it exists can be appreciated across time and locations also. We can relate today to the psychological contemplations of Althamer and Mueck’s sculptures, the expressions carved into the body stance of Giocometti’s figures, the face and bodily emotions of Suters work and the individualism of the Terracotta warriors. In all of these artworks, we can see or sense ourselves within them. The context that these sculptures are formed in changes over time; however the human approach to life, fears and joys essentially remains the same. Community and connection is essential. We are not meant to travel alone.
How is your own practice different and what direction do you see your practice heading?
Every one of the works in this paper I chose has been, or is most likely to have been created by a male. I am a female asking the same questions. For whatever reason, I did not find a contemporary female work that related to the same questioning. Maybe if I had chosen a contemporary female artist, the language would have pointed me to other female artists that cover these issues and I am a little cranky with myself for not looking more thoroughly. Anyway I am what I am and I can put my spin on questions asked by all, in a feminine way. I have not used sculpture up until this point and I see my practice exploring many more materials. I see my arts practice engaging with the community and those in the community that have not previously looked toward art as an outlet. I like the idea that my work will (hopefully) take me in an unknown and unexpected direction.
Bikinas, K, 2012 Art Nowa, Alberto Giacometti. Viewed 19th September, 2014 http://karolisbikinas.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/alberto-giacometti_07.html
Budick, A, 2014 Pawel Althamer: The Neighbours, New Museum, New York – review. Viewed 18th September, 2014. Written 6th March,2104 http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/c10256b8-9f94-11e3-b6c7-00144feab7de.html#axzz3Df6puR9O
China Highlights, 1998 The terracotta army. Viewed 22nd September. http://www.chinahighlights.com/xian/terracotta-army/
Conger, C, 2014 Howstuffworks. How the terracotta army works. Viewed 22nd September, 2014 http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/terracotta-army3.htm
Cranny-Francis, Anne, 2012 Sculpture as deconstruction:the aesthetic practice of Ron Mueck. Viewed 19th September, 2014
Friends of Art Website, 2010 Three Mourners. Displayed at Museum of Art Cleveland, O.H., U.S.A. Viewed 21st September, 2014. Created 2010 http://www.friendsofart.net/en/art/claus-sluter/three-mourners
Gallery of Modern Art, 2010 Ron Mueck 8May – 1 August 2010. Viewed 19th September, 2014 http://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/91894/1736_Mueck_Secondary_worksheet_4.pdf
Maryckhayes, 2010 Visual Tidbits for the Culturally Curious: Giocometti, Existentialism & General Sculptural Discomfort. Art History Blog. Viewed 20th September, 2014. Posted 17th August 2010 http://maryckhayes.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/giacometti-existenitialism/
Mourners, 2014 The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. Viewed 21st September, 2014. Date posted unknown. Part of the French Regional American Museum Exchange. http://mourners.org/about.html
Kim, T, 2011 Theresa’s Mosaic. Ron Mueck’s Sculpture and Humanism. Viewed 19th September, 2014.
LACMA You Tube, 2011 The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. May 8th – July 31st 2011. Viewed 21st September, 2014. Uploaded May 11th 2011. LACMA = Los Angeles County Museum of Art https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6mBfwYg_6k
Lynton, N, 1965 The Modern World, Landmarks of the World’s Art 19th and 20th Century painting, sculpture, architecture and design. Published by Paul Hamlyn Limited, London
Martinfield, S, 2014 The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. An out come from FRAME (French Regional & American Museum Exchange). Polychromed and gilded alabaster. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Viewed 21st September, 2014. http://www.sanfranciscosentinel.com/?p=151939
Metropolitan Museum of Art Website, 2006 Heilbrunn Timeline of Art. Viewed 20th September, 2014. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/face/hd_face.htm and http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1983.406
Szczepanski, K, 2014 About education: Why was Qin Shi Huangdi buried with Terracotta Soliders? Viewed 22nd September, 2014.
Sultagi, S, 2013 Critlt: The Venetians of Pawel Althamer. Viewed 18th September, 2014. Written 31st December, 2013 http://inventime.blogspot.com.au/2013/12/the-venetians-of-pawel-althamer.html
Terracotta Warriors, 2011 Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor. World Heritage Pages. Viewed 21st September, 2014. Created between 2008-2011. http://www.globalmountainsummit.org/terra-cotta-warriors.html
Taylor, A, 2013 The Atlantic, In Focus. The Hyperrealistic Sculptures of Ron Mueck. Viewed 19th September, 2014. Written October 9, 2013 http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2013/10/the-hyperrealistic-sculptures-of-ron-mueck/100606/
You Tube, Biennale Arte, 2013 - Pawel Althamer Viewed 7th September 2014. Published on May 29, 2013 An interview with Pawel Althamer at the 55th International Art Exhibition (la Biennale di Venezia, 2013).
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arxAYO-ERtg or http://www.labiennale.org/en/mediacenter/video/55-b12.html
Wikipedia Existentialism, 2014 Existentialism. Viewed 20th September, 2014. Last updated 15th September 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentialism#cite_note-5
Wikipedia Modern Era, 2014 Modern History. Viewed 20th September, 2014. Last updated 17th September, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_history
Wikipedia – Mourners, 2014 Mourners of Dijon. Viewed 21st September, 2014. Last updated 31st July 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mourners_of_Dijon Auberjonois, Fernand, (1958, September). The Missing Mourners of Dijon. Horizon, 62-63.
Wikipedia – Sluter, 2014 Claus Sluter. Viewed 21st September, 2014. Last updated 6th May, 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claus_Sluter
I watched an ABC iview documentary around Chopin's Ballade No.1. Just like any art form, there are people who can technically perform it perfectly, and then there are people who can play and move every part of your being into their performance. I am thinking of this because one of our children has begun playing clarinet...who has highlighted to me the importance of the rest in music in making something beautiful and whole (not her words exactly, but none-the less). The blank and negative spaces in art, the silences in conversation, the places not filled with anything. Taking a breath and not listening to anything is just as important to make sure I can hear properly when somebody says something important. I am full of crap! These are just the connections I am starting to make again to drive me to get going. I have been to the doctor finally to help put a label on what is wrong with me. A label could help as well as a rest. Maybe a label could be worse. What good comes from labeling anything. There is nothing normal about anything. Anyway we'll see what happens.
So I listened to Chopin's ballade No.1 no less than 15 times in a row and started using colour to paint nothing but just what comes out. I began drawing with some artists too, colour and movement, nothing in it just colour and movement.
On music...Kate Miller-Heidke visited the kids school the other day. I picked them up because it was stinking hot and I felt sorry for them and I love seeing them get into the air-conditioned car (like when we give the dog a treat...yeah terrible comparison). Anyway, they were so excited by the visit. I played one of her albums (Curiouser) to the kiddies when they were wee ones...kids crooning along again was ear sweet. Kate Jones was there too but I am not sure our children fully appreciate the role she plays in their world just yet, great to have them thinking about it though.
Exhibition called Imagine Me (as written on the board) - an innovative project empowering people with disabilities to explore their imagination in creative photography and digital imaging workshops. Visited December 2015.
I am writing what I am doing and where I want to go next. I have been feeling like a fish washed up on the beach flip flopping around and trying to get back in the water. We have three children and I need to help them develop all their skills to be as well rounded as I can. I want them to get enough skill that they can decide what they want to be without them ever thinking they are any better or any less than anybody else. I need to give them more of my time. This is tricky while trying to sort out my own head. We are all just trying to do our best.
I like to think I could produce enough work to hold an exhibition of a reasonable quality within the next year or two. Nothing I have done yet is quite good enough. Maybe I will just get brave this year and somehow get it out there. Do I produce things that people just want hanging on their walls to look pretty? Is that a successful artist? Not for me it is not. Do I make work that is meaningful to me? Which is often not pretty, that will end up sitting in my garage waiting for another painting to go over the top of it again? Does anybody have any interest in what I have to say? If I am being honest, I am a socially awkward and oversensitive so it is the only way to express myself honestly. Can I combine the both to create something that the novice to the visual literate can appreciate. I have to decide do I care if anybody ever will appreciate it (I will always go between yes to no on this one).
Until then I am trying to paint the walls in my house. Painting over all of our children's smudged finger marks and where they have taken chunks out of the wall (leaving the honorary scrawled pen and sharpie growth chart though). A new coat, a fresh outlook. I am trying to change my thinking patterns. Geez wall painting is boring....oh I mean, it looks great when it is done!
Brisbane visual artist