What happens when an image feels more real than the real thing itself?
While deinstalling Sculpture for Snow (2011) in Downtown Brooklyn, artist Erin Shirreff discusses the creation and inspiration for her first public sculpture. Intrigued by book reproductions of the twentieth century American sculptor Tony Smith’s large-scale outdoor works, Shirreff describes visiting an actual Smith sculpture only to realize that there was a lot “more romance and mystery in the image.” In response Shirreff created her first video work, Sculpture Park (Tony Smith) (2006), a black and white video of Tony Smith sculptures revealed by falling snow (actually, tabletop sized cardboard maquettes dusted with Styrofoam in a studio.) In Shirreff’s video, the mysteriously scaled sculptures appear to be both solid three-dimensional forms and fluid two-dimensional apparitions. Shirreff describes how the video served as the springboard for the Public Art Fund commissioned project Sculpture for Snow, on view for a full year in the exhibition A Promise Is a Cloud (2011–12) at MetroTech Commons. Using Smith’s sculpture Amaryllis (1965–68) as a model, Shirreff retains Smith’s signature black metal surface and larger than life scale, but collapses the sculpture’s volume and geometry into thinly drawn, weightless lines. With its pictorial and sculptural qualities intertwined, Shirreff’s Sculpture for Snow is an iteration in the artist’s ongoing exploration of the complex relationship between images and objects.
Erin Shirreff (b. 1975, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Watch the full film, Erin Shirreff & Tony Smith Go Way Back, below.
It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself. —Jean Baudrillard, 1994
In the film, The Matrix (1999), Morpheus says, “Welcome to the desert of the real” after Neo wakes up from his computer-generated virtual reality. Experiencing the Real as a virtual and natural landscape is one way to conceptualize New Frontier, a Sundance Festival event that is described as a “social and creative space that showcases media installations, multimedia performances, transmedia experiences, panel discussions, and more.” This year’s offerings took place at The Yard in Park City, UT, providing more than 100,000 square feet of multipurpose venue space. In the following excerpt from New Frontier curator Shari Frilot, visitors are welcomed to The Pixelated Pavilion:
The 2013 edition of New Frontier features full-dome wrap-around films, augmented reality experiences, 3-D projection-mapped environments, and datamoshed hip-hop performances. The works by this year’s artists disorient time and space and provoke a reconsideration of how we may integrate the fibers of our bodies with the realities of life on the digital frontier.
Words like “frontier” and “desert” conjure up images of artists as pioneers working on the edge of a border separating two worlds. Indeed, the New Frontier program presents itself as a place of transition where contemporary artists (and filmmakers) blend the virtual and natural (physical) worlds. This is makes sense for a festival like Sundance that showcases independent film.
One of the biggest problems facing teachers today (besides the fanatics who want us to walk around schools with guns) is the fact that many kids just don’t like to read. As excited as I may get about certain books, articles and interviews, it’s the rare occasion when a student goes the distance and actually reads, never mind purchases, a work that is recommended unless it’s assigned and part of a graded project.
Contemporary artists and performers offer pathways into literature for the hard-to-inspire. Artists such as Glenn Ligon, Jenny Holzer, and even performances like the off-Broadway production of My Name is Asher Lev offer students ways to get inspired and involved with literature from different starting points.
Glenn Ligon’s appropriated text-based works ask students to look through (and into) quotes by Walt Whitman, Zora Neal Hurston, Gertrude Stein, James Baldwin and even Richard Pryor in order to examine the connections between what the quotes say, how the artist frames it, and what the sum of these parts produce.
Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, created by distilling an extensive reading list featuring both Eastern and Western literature and philosophy, allow students to visualize and make sense of the larger meaning behind so many of her “summaries”.
Next week, I am fortunate enough to be attending a performance of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev at the Westside Theater in New York City with one of my classes. It’s before, during and after this play that I am looking forward to sharing the story about Asher in order to inspire great work and great works of art with them. We will soon be working with quotes from both the book and performance in order to instigate not just works of art, but also debates and discussions around what it means to be an artist today.
When works of literature make the leap to places like canvas, articles of clothing, electronic signs, billboards, subway cards and stages, options for teaching with (not necessarily instead of) the printed page become more attractive.
For more information about teaching with works by Glenn Ligon, download our season 6 educator guide here. Jenny Holzer and artists from the season 4 educator guide can be found here. And for information about current performances of My Name is Asher Lev, please visit asherlevtheplay.com.
Two years ago, writers Megan Fizell of Feasting on Art and Andrew Russeth of the New York Observer helped me compile the first year-end roundup of food-art. That is, food inspired by art and art inspired by or involving food. They’ve kindly returned to the blog to do it again. Together, we’ve come up with a list of some of this year’s best, from museum feasts and baking performances to mobile farm stands and guacamole sculpture. Bon appétit.
Best Non-Edible Exhibition: Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art
Considering the ritualized act of eating, the exhibition Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum in Chicago presents “the work of more than thirty artists…who have transformed the shared meal into a compelling artistic medium.” FEAST brings together artists concerned with the act of consumption with performance pieces by Lee Mingwei, who shared a one-on-one meal with a guest selected by lottery, and Mella Jaarsma’s I Eat You Eat Me, where participants feed one another over a table supported on their lap. Alongside the exhibition, performances and political food truck, the Smart Museum hosted symposiums and children’s programming to further encourage conversation and sharing–both components necessary for a successful feast. —M.F.
Over the past three days I can’t say I am exactly brimming with confidence as a teacher when it comes to guiding conversation about the massacre that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. Discussing the shooting with my son, who is seven, made me realize what a simultaneously delicate and brutal topic this is.
In the classroom, the situation is no less difficult. Across the country schools have employed a wide range of strategies to help students, teachers and families work through the events of December 14. Many districts have taken an approach of not saying too much about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and simply having support staff available for “students who want to talk”, but I wonder if this is enough when we, as a region and even as a country, are mourning not just the loss of very young children and adults, but also the collective inaction that has ignored twenty one K-12 school shootings in the United States……. since 2000 alone.
While students haven’t been asking about or discussing the tragedy as much as I would have expected, I wonder if it’s “appropriate” or even advisable asking students to visually respond to what they have seen and heard over the past few days? My classroom has been eerily quiet with students simply going about their current assignment. One student even asked for Christmas music yesterday, even though I must admit I am not feeling much like Christmas music lately.
To quote Krzysztof Wodiczko, there is an opportunity here to, “break the code of silence, to open up and speak about what’s unspeakable.” This includes why it’s necessary to own semiautomatic weapons, why jail is often the only option for so many people with mental illness, and perhaps one question that’s getting lost at the moment and may very well resurface as this story unfolds: why America embraces brutal violence, especially in video games.
In the contemporary art classroom, perhaps there is an opening here to deconstruct what’s really behind our love of guns, the obsession with “killing”, and “hunting down” characters in things like video games? Can we make spaces where these things are discussed and responses are shared in order to educate a broader audience that really affects change? Or should we just shut up and wait a few more decades for congress to take on the NRA and the entertainment industry?
As an artist who grew up crossing the Tijuana/San Diego border every day – Tanya Aguiñiga’s life and career is often punctuated with the “/.” Although her work takes on many forms, ranging from installation, fully functional high-end furniture, hand-made apparel, accessories, social practices and performance – the continuous thread of her transnational autobiography runs through her descriptions of all of it.
I had the pleasure of meeting with Tanya for a lengthy biographical interview in her studio, situated in Atwater Village, down the street from her home near the LA River. Because of the way that she incorporates autobiography in her work, I asked her to start at the beginning. “I was born in 1978 in San Diego, California but raised in Tijuana. I lived in Tijuana and went to school in San Diego starting at the age of four. I crossed the border every day for fourteen years. So that’s a big part of my story, my influences and my approach to art making.”
This week, the U.S. Department of State celebrates the 50th anniversary of Art in Embassies (AIE), a program that facilitates the Department of State’s public diplomacy through the power of the visual arts.
As part of the celebration, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will honor five artists—Cai Guo-Qiang, Jeff Koons, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems—by awarding each artist with the U.S. Department of State’s inaugural Medal of Arts. The Medal of Arts is given in recognition of each artist’s outstanding commitment to the AIE program and international cultural exchange.
Over the last decade, Art21 has worked closely with all five honorees, each of whom has extended their relationship with our organization beyond their initial filming sessions for the Art in the Twenty-First Century series. We have experienced first-hand each artist’s passionate commitment to facilitating dialogue through visual art, across many cultures. Through our own international screening programs, we have witnessed conversations generated by the work and words of these artists in communities around the world.
Art21 is proud to support these artists in their commitment to cross-cultural dialogue, and we congratulate each artist—Cai Guo-Qiang, Jeff Koons, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems—for receiving this very special recognition for their efforts from the U.S. Department of State.
Watch highlights from each of the artists’ Art in the Twenty-First Century segments below.
For more than two decades, wife-husband team Lucy + Jorge Orta have contemplated global problems in food, water, shelter and land. Before meeting in early 1990s Paris, Lucy studied fashion-textile design in England while Jorge studied fine art and architecture in Argentina. Their individual practices were socially engaged and participatory. When they began to collaborate, the artists merged and expanded their methods of involving publics, art folks and non-art folks alike, in the process of making. Their activities range from hosting community banquets and recycling food waste to purifying water and issuing limited-edition passports. All of this is manifest in Food-Water-Life, the Ortas’ first major traveling exhibition in the United States, now up at Tufts University Art Gallery in Boston.
The Ortas founded their design studio five years before Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term “relational aesthetics” and their collaborative processes continue to be associated with this rubric. That seems an old-fashioned way of talking about their work today. The art world has since moved on to “social practice.” Although this field is nebulous and, apparently, suffering from identity crisis, one thing about social practice art is clear to me: food is a favorite ingredient. Being the great connector of people, it makes perfect sense as medium, as catalyzer. Food is also inseparable from issues of climate change, land and sustainability with which so many social practitioners are concerned. Food-Water-Life is an excellent instance of this or the artist as activist-slash-humanitarian. The Ortas’ large-scale sculptures and contraptions symbolize the potential of art to effect change in global conditions that go unnoticed, unchecked, unresolved. The artists raise awareness about, for instance, the growing scarcity of drinkable water, and the 13.6 percent of the estimated world population that suffers from hunger. To this, the Ortas manage to bring optimism, whimsy and lots of color.
Doug Ashford is widely known for his work with the New York City-based artist group, Group Material, from 1983-1996. Through this sustained collaboration Ashford and his peers pioneered forms of installation and curation that explored radical modes of participation and historical representation. The work of Group Material also attempted to inform the public of the US’s tragic role in geopolitics (through works like Timeline: A Chronicle of US Intervention in Central and Latin America, 1984), and to intervene in public political discourse (as in their work Democracy: AIDS and Democracy: A Case Study, 1988-89 and other exhibitions critical of US foreign and domestic policies).
What comes after Group Material seems to me in keeping with Ashford’s aesthetic and political preoccupations. Since his participation in the group, he has worked as a professor at Cooper Union where he has cultivated an environment of collaborative effort among students and with his fellow faculty members. Attending his Friday night seminar in the winter of 2010 on a night when the poet-critical theorist Fred Moten was visiting, I appreciated the specific duration of the seminar, where he did not hesitate to have his students meet on the busiest social night of the week, nor extend discussion well into the night (the seminar began around 6pm and didn’t end until 10 or 11).
What has also been clear to me in Ashford’s transition from Group Material to an “individual” practice (I hesitate to use this word, given Ashford’s demonstrated commitments to participation and collaboration), is his emphasis on ways that affect shapes our lives as subjects and forms a basis for collective struggle. This is clear in the multiple interviews he has given in the past decade and in his writings and talks, where a subtle attention to affect and empathy allows him to reflect upon various social potentialities during a particularly dark moment in our history.
In 1975 the Brutalist-inspired Minton-Capehart Federal Building opened in Indianapolis with a 27-foot tall, polychromatic artwork, Color Fuses, completely wrapping its loggia. This 672-foot mural has 35 bright fields of color that fade into each other, and a complex lighting system for the evening. Legendary designer Milton Glaser created Color Fuses with the idea that he wanted to make “a mural that would express a spirit of openness and thus a new sense of government.”
The project was commissioned through the U.S. General Services Administration’s Art (GSA) in Architecture Program. Glaser was selected to design this site-specific project and worked with the building’s architect, Evans Woollen, who hoped that Color Fuses would make the building “cheerful, disarming, fresh, welcoming, and inviting.”
While it’s always been clear how the artwork was to be viewed during daylight hours, originally it was designed with a complex lighting system that was supposed to gradually illuminate the bands of color in a kind of programmed wave sequence during evening hours. The light-dimming system fell out of operation shortly after it was installed, and later was replaced with fixed illumination. Adding to the technical difficulties of this system, in 1975 the primary lighting source was incandescent light bulbs, which produce a yellowish light that can affect the way color is perceived, particularly when dimmed at low wattage. The original system also did not create an even wash of light on the wall, which caused a scalloped appearance on the mural.