Back in the realm of spatial theory, I don’t think it’s worth fighting my tendency to gravitate toward the politics and meaning of space, but I was also back to needing to connect it to creativity and art.
I'm not alone in feeling terrified, angry, sad, confused and guilty that it took until to take this situation I've found my country in seriously. I've also never found anything that so perfectly encapsulates my feelings on the subject until I started seeing David Barnes' illustrations about He Who Must Not Be Named Or I Might Increase His Ratings. THIS is what the presumptive Republican presidential candidate looks like in my mind, why my skin crawls when I think about him, why I used to giggle when I thought about his candidacy and why my heart sinks when I think about the people voting for him. But this is also the artistic moment I write for, when artists are able to visually express something I'm struggling to even wrap my head around.
I'm not actually surprised, because he helped formed my entire worldview, but I figured I'd take the reminder and share it.
I'm very grateful that it's taken until late November this year to see ice on the ground, but the time is here. As a result, I'm obviously in a constant state of Los Angeles-based daydream. As the KCRW Art Talk email came in today, I saw a short review of a great looking gallery show. So, preempting the eating festivities, here are a few shows in LA I wish I could see.
1. Kristen Everberg at 1301PE, a gallery I've had my eye on for a bit. It was great to get a reminder, especially from the venerable Edward Goldman. The artist was inspired by the house of Ingmar Bergman, and the paintings certainly have that ephemeral, slightly eerie quality I enjoyed in his 1966 film, Persona.
2. Njideka Akunyili Crosby at the Hammer Museum at UCLA, one of the few free museums in LA. Their programming is widespread and impressive, and this is a giant collage show examining African and American culture by an African ex-pat. I would love to see it...
3. OUTSIDE/IN by LeBasse Projects at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. When I lived in LA, LeBasse had a gallery space, but has moved on to do collaborative alternative art projects around the world. It's definitely worth keeping tabs on the projects, but they still have a big presence in LA, and this survey of Street Art in Pasadena is HUGE.
4. I'll finish up with a traditional: New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933 at LACMA. I've recently been drawn to Max Beckmann, especially around the 20's, and this show includes a lot of lesser-known artists around the same time, which is a fascinating era of history no matter who is making art about it. Also, revisiting pre-WWII cultural perspectives might be particularly relevant, given the world's current political situation.
Trying to keep it light so I'll lay off, but stay safe and loving this season, and if you must go out on Friday, stay local and don't trample anyone.
This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for EDGE Magazine that never made it into the paper or onto the website. Normally I'd let it go, but I think this project is really great and Becky Field was amazing to talk to. It is too late at this point to see the show at the library, but her book is still for sale at RiverRun, Gibson's in Concord and online. Proceeds benefit organizations working to support the refugee community. The Levenson Room in the Portsmouth Public Library spent October with walls lined in photos of a little known New Hampshire community. The diverse population depicted in these prints is far from what is expected from a predominantly white state, but the smiles and bright eyes of children, mothers, doctors and brides are entirely familiar. Different Roots, Common Dreams perfectly captures those human moments any New Hampshire resident can relate to.
Different Roots, Common Dreams is a culmination of years of work from photographer Becky Field. For the past two years Peter E. Randall Publishing and Field worked to create a book of her images supplemented by story essays from a few of the faces pictured. A New Hampshire artist working in close contact with immigrant families, Field attends weddings, prayer meetings and family dinners, using her camera as a passport to a unique perspective on a new population. “[Everyone is] very cooperative and helpful,” says Field, “many are exuberant at the idea of getting their photos taken.” The photos show this clearly; one shows a grinning boy leaping in front of the camera. The types of photos are familiar, from wedding shots to senior class portraits. The work isn’t detached or voyeuristic; Field is more welcome part of the community than objective documentarian.
The desire to photograph of life events is just one commonality between the immigrant and “receiving community” (Field’s term for New Hampshire natives). Field found one Hindu ceremony strikingly similar to a Christian communion. “These amazing parallels I see,” Field explains, “[the receiving community can] experience through my lens the depth of thinking that is so similar to ours.”
The project was actually inspired by derogatory graffiti glimpsed on immigrant homes in Concord. “I thought it was a totally inappropriate way to treat new American neighbors,” explains Field. A beacon of relentless positivity, the artist believes the two communities avoid interaction due to a lack of understanding. She aims to highlight elements of immigrant life the receiving community can relate to. She makes it clear that her project has done as much or more for her than for her new neighbors. “I don’t think I was thinking [as deeply] before this project,” she explains, “[it’s] helping me understand my own culture.”
The Portsmouth Public Library was “thrilled” to discover Field wanted them to show her work. “It’s a perfect fit,” states Nicole Cloutier of Special Collections, “We are often called upon to assist new residents with aspects of getting settled and finding their way in the community.” Field’s honest, universal images work within the goal of helping the refugee community. Different Roots, Common Dreams, is an apt title for a project that allows us to understand without embarrassment, inspiring us to examine our own culture through the lens of another.
I’ll take a little detour from the road of public and politically-engaged art to call attention to something in the area I'm incredibly excited about. As a prepubescent experience-sponge educated by my mother I went to the Peabody Essex Museum, a great art spot in Salem, Massachusetts. I haven’t been there since, but have heard off and on about interesting shows they have going on.
The latest was the museum bringing Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests to New England, and every side of my art nerd is having a fit. As I’m sure Ive mentioned, my alma mater requires every graduate to have completed a self-designed thesis (Independent Study) in their chosen field. Theo Jansen took over an entire chapter of my I.S., where I discussed his art as an interdisciplinary project occupying a really unique sector of art that challenges multiple conventions.
Theo Jansen, creator of Strandbeests, “beach animals”, shows in his writing how connected his art is to the process of evolution. His animals show the ways in which cultural concerns can be pushed to the side while concern for the inner workings of nature overtakes art and life. His Strandbeests blur the line between artist, creator, and scientist, lessening the tensions between these facets of culture as he adopts the media as a way to raise awareness of his art, making it accessible, process and all, to any who find it.
Needless to say, when I discovered that the Strandbeests would be at Crane Beach in Ipswitch, MA, I was incredibly lucky to have two art adventure friends to journey south with. After a three mile walk along a standstill stream of cars we made it to the beach, where volunteers were pushed two small Strandbeests along the shore, where the wind was not strong enough to move them alone. During the walk back someone held a sign out their car window reading “Lower your expectations.”
I agree that the "Sneak Peak," as they are called, may not have been that exhilarating proportionately to the effort it took to get there. I take heart that the consensus seemed to be in execution of the event, not as a reflection of the project itself. The smaller beests that they chose were probably the most practical for transportation and ability to move, but didn’t command the same awe as those seen in the videos. Most people coming to see the beests wanted to see the plastic giants, and few people want to look on the bright side after an hour in stop-and-go traffic.
Ultimately I was thrilled that so many people showed up to see the Strandbeests. They are fascinating feats of engineering (to me, at least), and the diversity of comprehension was apparent. With MIT connected to the happenings, some people understood the mechanics of the Strandbeests completely. Others (me) had only a rudimentary understanding, while many people simply saw the video and wanted to see them in the flesh, not having considered the Strandbeests much past cool works of mechanics/art. Everyone shared different tidbits of knowledge with each other, and even if I was disappointed by the beests themselves, the crowd was better than I could have imagined.
I can’t wait to see Jansen talk at MIT on September 10th, and I’m sure I’ll have another post after that.