March 24: Installation and Conceptual Art

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Conceptual art,as well as installation art, can be confusing for some people. Heck, even I find it confusing sometimes.  This is one of the reasons why I find this youtube video both hilarious and thought provoking:

The idea of adding false labels to everyday objects within a museum setting makes me smile, but it also encourages me to think about what exactly is being presented to us?  Is the intent of the false labelling to encourage us to reflect on what we believe conceptual art is to be?  Is it making a mockery of conceptual art?  Or is it presenting an idea of guerilla art, the idea of putting false art into a museum to see if people believe and accept it a credible work, solely based on the presence of a label?  Evidently the artists here see this as a project, not a prank, and they carry out this work at more than one museum worldwide.  The work is credited to an artist or a group of artists called Tiny Arrow.  I searched on the Internet for more information about their work but couldn’t find any.  However, the video in itself does a pretty good job on its own.  In a sense, this installation or alteration or addition of existing work was also a performance.  We see the artists intervening with the surroundings in order to place the false labels, we see the reactions of people around them.It is also largely based on conceptual art, so beginning with the MoMA seems natural to me.

The first piece at the MoMA is a drinking fountain.  This appealed to me especially because I visited the MoMA this past November.  While we were there, a student from the Mount Allison group broke a sink.  The first thing I asked my classmate who delivered this bit of gossip to me?

“Wait, so was the sink a display or in the bathroom?”

And of course, because it’s the MoMA, the sink had been on display in part of an installation about Tupperware and the American kitchen.

That’s all!

Brit

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March 22: The Journey to Answers

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Ahoy, ahoy!  I can hardly believe the semester is coming to a close so quickly… I have really loved writing this blog, it’s been such a great learning and growing experience.  Who knows, maybe I will continue writing it in the future!

Yesterday, I attended an artist’s talk by Andrea Mortson at the Owens.  While the talk was interesting and entertaining, upon further discussion with my roommate, she remarked that she found Andrea had not answered many questions about her work and that the talk was very open ended.  What do we do when the people we turn to for answers about specific ideas or concepts seem to be drawing as much of a blank as we are?  This brings me back to a problem I had in my Globalization class earlier this term.  We all had to present our ideas and concepts for a massive research paper that we were to be working on all term.  When it came my turn to present, I expressed my frustration at being incapable of establishing a concrete answer to my research question.  My professor, who can be rather cryptic sometimes, merely remarked that “sometimes, the journey of trying to find an answer is as important as the answer that you are trying to find” or something along those poetic lines.

To me, this concept of the journey toward an answer was what Andrea’s works were.  Some of her works, she felt incapable of describing, yet also expressed that what we thought about the work could not be wrong.  She did not have a “right” answer, and maybe she never would.  Why does an answer matter so much to us?  Why do we always have to have concrete examples or structures or concepts behind everything?  While Andreas work is not abstract, perhaps the concepts behind it are.  In a sense, our own personal journey towards answering “what does this mean” can be just as important as finding a concrete answer to that question.  For some questions, there are concrete answers, quantifiable answers, empirical answers.  For some questions, the theoretical answers will be woven out of a personal journey and account of the effects something may have on a person.  Often, we make assumptions and classifications about the meanings behind the work of deceased artists, so I think it is understandable that we may be shocked at the inability of a living artist to express a clear cut, well executed answer about what exactly is being represented or expressed in their work.  Perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked.

That’s all!

Brit

March 17: Installations and Controversies

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Ahoy, ahoy!

On Friday, we had snow, freezing rain, hail, incredibly highspeed wind, and lots of sunshine.  All of that in one day!  Welcome to spring in New Brunswick?  On Thursday we entered the realm of installation art, and in addition to this, controversies in art.  I was especially interested in this because for a different art history class, we have to make a piece of art inspired by a movement between the 1940s and 1970s.  So I’m going to spoil the surprise for any readers who go to Mount Allison.  On Monday, March 21, there is going to be an installation piece on campus!  It’s called “Rubbish in Bloom” and will be set up the night before (stealthily) by myself and my friend Emily-Jean.  However, because Mount Allison has so many eco-conscious people, we are worried that the interpretation of our work may be negative.  We are planning to clean it up afterwards, but we know that some people may initially be unimpressed.

I suppose that is a risk you have to take with your work.  If you tried to ensure that everything you ever created didn’t offend people, then art would not exist.  There will always be people who do not like what you have created for whatever reason.  It is impossible to be universally liked.  But there are some works that result in being more controversial than others.  Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic by Jana Sterbak was a piece like this.  I found this piece interesting because I had heard of another meat dress before this class, and it caused the same type of controversy.  Lady Gaga wore a dress made of beef to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards.

Meat Dress with Steak Headpiece

The designer of this dress (with matching shoes that look like roasts?) is Frank Fernandez.  His design was called hideous and offensive by people everywhere, and Lady Gaga, who is known for her unique fashion choices was seen as finally taking her outfits one step too far.  When I first saw the pictures of Gaga’s meat dress online, my initial reaction was “oh for heaven’s sake…”  Because of her history of odd clothing choices, I interpreted as her just trying to shock people.  However, like anything that shocks people or takes them by surprise, the reasons for Gaga’s dress were more indepth than her just trying to make a scene or try to get attention.  When she went on the Ellen DeGeneres show after the awards show, she explained some of the reasons behind her choice of the meat dress.  While not everyone liked the meat dress, explaining the inspiration and reasons behind it certainly helped people to at least attempt to understand the why behind this fashion choice.  I wonder if Fernandez was inspired by Sterbak?

That’s all!

Brit

March 10: Reacting to art

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Apologies for the delay.  I promised to have something really fantastically insightful for you up sometime this weekend, and suffice to say, this did not happen.  So I don’t know if this entry is going to be awesome or insightful, I just know that I have to do it.  A plus, I’ve got a lovely entry based off of today’s lecture that I cannot wait to post tomorrow.  But for now, reflections of the weekend.  We had to write a painting review for class today, reflecting specifically on either a talk by Ben Reeves or a gallery exhibition by Andrea Mortson.  I was at a complete loss of what on earth to write about.  My brilliant, art-history-masters-program accepted roommate, however, polished off a great little review about the technique of thin application of paint in Mortson’s works.  I, on the other hand, felt as though it would be torturous to get a few words out, and whether or not they were good words was to the mercy of Gemey.  Sometimes I wonder how art critics do it.  I went to the Owens and was there for close to an hour, just looking at these paintings and thinking lots of different thoughts associated with each one.  But when it came down to analyzing or critiquing the subject of painting, I didn’t even know which way to look!  Was I supposed to be speaking about the application of paint or the subjects in the paintings?  Colours used? How the painting made me feel?  The possibilities were so varied!  I ended up writing about how the paintings made me feel, but the technical aspects of the art were lost on me.  I love art but perhaps I wouldn’t make a very good critic or art historian.  A patron of the arts perhaps?  To me, what I take away from most works is not technical but how I felt.  Was my first reaction “That’s cool/scary/weird/awesome” or was it “That’s bad/sloppy/messy/poor quality?”  I feel like I have not been immersed long enough in the art world to begin passing judgements on the quality of work.  Perhaps, like anything, it simply takes practice.  Until then, I suppose I’ll be content with personal reactions and reflections.

That’s all for tonight!

Brit

March 1st: Photography’s Stories

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Ahoy, ahoy!

Reading break is over and March in Sackville has come in like a lion with another vicious dump of snow last night…I find it hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for five months now!  I feel like I have learned so much about my own ability to reflect on artists, movements and pieces.  I hope my entries have shown steady improvement in both content and clarification for my readers!

Today we’ve moved into photography.  I always love looking at photography that came before digital.  You can really tell that these artists had to work hard at their craft in order to perfect it.  I took a photography class once and I remember how difficult of a time I had getting my images to turn out just right in the wash.  I remember the frustration I would feel after unclipping several dried prints and examining them in the light only to realize that one was too dark, the other too light.  Sometimes I had not timed the exposure properly, other times there were fatal cross processed images.  Sometimes the film itself was the problem, and my apertures were set incorrectly.  And then it would be back to the drawing board, to pore over scribbled notes about how I went about developing and processing the first time around, in order to identify the mistake.  However, I had a lot of fun in that class and learned so much with that old camera of my dad’s.  But, at the end of the day, it seemed so much easier to just use a digital camera and then fix my mistakes later on the computer.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think digital photography can be art.  Not by any means.  I know people who are digital photographers, and there is immense amounts of work involved.  it’s just a different kind of work.  I think that these two types of photography are very different, and both ought to be respected equally.  However, when I see old professional photographs, I can’t help but want to stare at them for much longer than digital prints.  They are often more beautiful to me than digital work, and usually more intriguing.  I find that most of my encounters with digital photography are focused on landscape.  Digital is an amazing way to capture blazing orange sunsets and the crystal perfection of the sea in the Mediterannean.  But black and white photography like Michel Lambeth and George Zimbel’s works seem to be more about stories and ideas, rather than the image itself.

That’s all!

Brit

February 10th: The Body As Your Tool

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We’ve launched into performance art, as I’ve mentioned previously.  Performance art is incredibly body-centric.  If there was no body, there would be no performance!  Thus, how the body behaves and interacts with the audience is what truly gets the message of the piece across.  What costumes are being worn?  Are there even costumes at all?  How is the body interacting with the audience?  Is the audience even aware that they are an audience?  So many different factors come into play, and the success of the piece is dependent on all of them.  And even then, the piece will always be different because we are never existing in the same way at any given time.

Some performances are done on stages, some for video cameras.  Others are done in public space, when the people around may not even know what they are witnessing.  But for the most part, performance is united in the focus it places on the body.  Performance art developed a strong following of both people interested in it, and those who practiced it in the 1970’s.  Coincidentally, this is the same time period that focus on the place of the body in society was becoming a dominant focus of anthropology.  Many anthropologists began centring their ideas around the importance and place of the body in society, and developing theories related to how we view the body’s role.

A interesting phenomenon among human beings is how we will automatically be drawn to focus on something when it is undergoing a change.  The body was no different.  Over the 20th century, technology became more and more advanced as time progressed.  Suddenly, to see or communicate with someone did not require actually being physically in the same place.  You had photographs and telephones, radios, then televisions, movies.  Computers and the Internet would catch on later.  Additionally, the 1970’s were a time of liberation from stereotypical roles attributed to gender and race.  People were breaking down barriers every which way you turned.  Suddenly, not only were you communicating differently with others, you were communicating with different people in different ways and contexts from the past.  Your body was communicating with other bodies in a new way.  And this is what spurned anthropologists and other social scientists to begin theorizing and discussing the body and it’s societal role in an almost instantaneous way.

I truly believe that the onset of performance art in Canadian society had much to do with this new context the body was being placed into.  After all, art imitates life, and life was focused around the body and the liberation of the body.

That’s all!

Brit

February 1st: First Nations Performance

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Ahoy, ahoy!

I can hardly believe it is February already.  It feels like the Arctic out there, with blustery snowy days and windchill of -40C.  Brrrrrr!  I’m happy to sit inside the library with a hot cup of tea and blog while the drifts pile up outside…

First Nations performance art is an interesting topic because too often, First Nations performance is used to demonstrate Canadian culture to the world.  The type of performance I’m talking about is traditional performance, that is, traditional dances and songs.  Often, these performances are done in the traditional dress of a particular First Nations group.  At the Vancouver 2010 Olympic opening ceremonies, every First Nations group in Canada was invited to dance and perform to celebrate the beginning of the games.

This ceremony celebrated the histories of the First Nations peoples, to be sure, but did little to recognize or acknowledge present day First Nations people.  These traditional dances originated with the express purpose of passing knowledge through the generations.  They ensured that the preservation of the legends and customs of their people are passed on.  The First Nations writer, Thomas King, often speaks about how knowledge is transferred from one person to another.  In his mind, becoming entertainment for others is what you do when you have nothing left to offer, when nothing else has worked in order to have your voice heard.  The very fact that contemporary First Nations performance exists demonstrates, to me, that becoming entertainment in this sense has been like a cry for help.  These new stories that are being manifested and performed through these performances are the ones that the next generation of First Nations are going to have to worry about.  The sale of their traditional lands, the contamination of their ancestral rivers and the general dissipation of their language and culture is what is happening, and these performances urge a change.

They are not only demonstrations that exist within the present, they look forward to the future.  These performances about the current plights of First Nations people provide us with information about what needs to be addressed.  Sometimes, when all you have left to do is entertain, the survival of your culture could very well depend on your performance.

That’s all!

Brit

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