Category Archives: Art, Literature and Poetry

“We left when the bullets were falling like rain:” Syrian refugees’ illustrated stories

These items belonged to a family of four who spent a night in the mountains before arriving in El-Qaa in the northern region of the Bekaa Valley. Their new home was a makeshift tent on agricultural land. Rent was covered by working in the fields for the Lebanese farmer. The children grabbed the teddy bear and soft toy. The mother grabbed a box that she knew the torch was in. All the other items just happened to be in the same box. Even though some of it is useless, such as a TV remote, they could not bring themselves to discard it.

These items belonged to a family of four who spent a night in the mountains before arriving in El-Qaa in the northern region of the Bekaa Valley. Their new home was a makeshift tent on agricultural land. Rent was covered by working in the fields for the Lebanese farmer. The children grabbed the teddy bear and soft toy. The mother grabbed a box that she knew the torch was in. All the other items just happened to be in the same box. Even though some of it is useless, such as a TV remote, they could not bring themselves to discard it.

Earlier this year, artist George Butler spent several days in the refugees’ ‘tented settlements’ of northern Lebanon. His portraits of the people – and the often random possessions they brought with them when they fled their homes – tell their own poignant tales. Picture captions by Nick Rice.

Read the full story and see more images in The Guardian

Best of Material World Blog: Art

Haidy Geismar, UCL

In this new series of summer posts, we, the editors look back at the past 8 or so years that Material world Blog has been going and curate a series of “best of” themed post. Here, I link to what I consider to be some of the very best postings about art on the site.

In his post Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations on the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway Christopher Pinney presents a series of his own technicolour photographs, inspired by Ed Rucha’s 1963 series.

Jonathan Patkowski and Nicole Reiner unpack Alfred Barr’s infamous artist network diagram and unpack the neoliberal logics of the avant-garde as presented in the exhibition “Inventing Abstraction“.

Ryan Schram describes the tensions and identity around the speaker of the Parliament of Papua New Guinea trying to destroy the carvings evoking customary art and identity, made upon independence to decorate the new Parliament House.

In Museums Get the Best Gifts, Marcus Moore describes several gifts from Marcel Duchamp to collections in New Zealand.

Ross Hemera reviews Damien Skinner’s The Carver and the Artist: Maori Art in the Twentieth Century.

Dan Perkel writes about The Art of Theft: Creativity and Property on DeviantART

Fernando Dominguez Rubio looks at the conservation of modern art as a Material Ecology of Culture

A team of scholars from Leiden University examine Photographic Traditions in South African Popular Modernities

Jennifer Deger presents her collaborative exhibition about a Yolngu Christmas: Lights, Tinsel, Presence.

William Viney writes about the work of Mark Dion

Edmund Clark presents his work on secret detentions in the UK: Control Order House

Finally, in our most popular post ever, April Strickland discusses the case of Maori tattooing, appropriation, and Mike Tyson.(in the case of the film Hangover Part Two)

 

Veiled Truths by Hossein Fatemi

"Mayha." Credit: Hossein Fatemi/Panos Pictures. Reposted from the New York Times.

“Mayha.” Credit: Hossein Fatemi/Panos Pictures. Reposted from the New York Times.

The New York Times recently ran this photo essay by the Iranian documentary photographer Hossein Fatemi of diverse women in Tehran posing behind veils of one sort or another, accompanied by a short commentary critiquing the imposition of the hijab on secular women there. While the piece ran in the “Review” (opinion) section of the Sunday print edition, it was featured online — without the commentary — as a “Fashion and Style” slideshow.

 

 

Call for photos of intriguing museum display structures

Jes Fernie, Independent Curator, History Rising Project,

We’d like you to send us your photos of museum display structures from across the world.  These could be from your local museum, trips abroad or from your academic research.

We are interested in vitrines, plinths, shelves and general display mechanisms, rather than museum collections.  They could tell a pathetic story of desperation (the spider plant in a regional museum used to disguise ill-maintained vitrines); a humorous dictat (a carefully positioned sign on a piano which says ‘Do not put anything on this piano’); or simply a display structure that shows off a collection in an intelligent and beguiling way.

The initiative is part of the History Rising programme by artist Marjolijn Dijkman and curator Jes Fernie.  

Please send jpegs with museum details to: jes@jesfernie.com

History Rising is a subversive and engaging study of museum display in Wisbech, East Anglia. Viewers and participants are invited to reconsider their view of history by looking at the mechanisms museums put in place to create a sense of order and hierarchy within their collections. 

By distancing museum objects from their support structures History Rising forms a critique of the assumptions that are made about how things are positioned, who chooses to display them, and how the social, political and aesthetic choices that are made in the process dictate the language of display.

New work by Marjolijn Dijkman is installed in two public museums (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery and Wisbech & Fenland Museum) and an artist run space (OUTPOST). Dijkman’s sculptures propose strange and fantastical juxtapositions, alleviate objects from the weight of history and create links with modernism, the heritage industry and the aesthetics of sci-fi.

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On the Enclosure of Time

Marjolijn Dijkman, Wisbech & Fenland Museum, 1 Nov 2013 – 2 Feb 2014

International Dutch artist Marjolijn Dijkman has made a significant body of new work for one of Britain’s oldest museums, the Wisbech & Fenland Museum in East Anglia. When she first visited the Wisbech & Fenland Museum in 2011 Dijkman was immediately taken with the display structures: the wooden and glass vitrines that have remained unmoved for 166 years; the labeling system and the various shelves used to support museum objects.  Each of these elements contain within them their own systems of hierarchy, hinting at what is deemed to be important and what is not.

‘The Present is Now Appearing’, 7 layers of 6mm glass, afzelia wood

During a two year research period, Dijkman visited a large number of public and private museums in East Anglia – from the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker in Brentwood to the Gordon Boswell Romany Museum in Spalding – looking at the way objects are displayed, which stories are prioritised and who chooses to tell them.

As the visitor moves from the main museum space in the Wisbech & Fenland Museum into the Hudson Room, the change in atmosphere is immediately apparent.  From the relatively dark surroundings of the museum space, with its packed vitrines and eclectic ethnographic and natural history collections, you are greeted with a light and airy space with no labels and a selection of strange sculptural objects. The carpet from the museum area has been extended into the Hudson Room; a devise instigated by the artist to create a sense of continuity between museum space and the neutral white cube environment beyond.

The chain at the top of the steps of the Hudson Room (called Please Don’t Touch) is taken from the design of the chain that binds the hands of the slave in the Thomas Clarkson display in the main museum space.  This chain alludes to the type of barriers often found in museums to demarcate space and time, and discourage visitors from touching exhibits. The chain here is broken and although it is called ‘Please Don’t Touch’, it is manifestly not doing its job; we can walk past it with little chance of being challenged by a museum guard.

Each sculpture in On the Enclosure of Time references a museum display structure.  The objects have gone missing. Has the artist forgotten to install the collection? In What we know of them (Shelves of the World), museum shelving systems have been positioned on the wall in a way that is reminiscent of fungal growth seeping out of a tree trunk. These reference the shelves in the Wisbech & Fenland Museum which display the Waterhouse Hawkins models of extinct dinosaurs.

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The little red wooden wedges positioned on the floor are a play on a commonly used museum display system which stops wheels turning in agricultural or transport exhibits, known as ‘chocks’.  There is a suggestion here that we consider the controlling mechanisms of museums: wheels become trapped in time, unable to create a vital relationship with the present, forever repeating the past.

Furniture in museums is often displayed in such a way that deters visitors from sitting on chairs and sofas. The pink, green and yellow sculptures in the exhibition entitled Treasure, Trade and the Exotic allude to the diagonally placed pieces of string that are often attached to museum furniture to deter use.  Here they are transformed into sculptural objects with vibrant colour codes. One of these works is placed underneath a vitrine in the same way that many items in the main museum space are placed underneath display structures. Space is often at a premium in museums as time forms layers of accreted objects, signage and display paraphernalia.

 

The titles of individual works in the exhibition are taken from museum labels, many of which have a very particular form of didactic expression verging on the surreal.  About 40 Million and 195 – 140 Million are both impossible to imagine and strangely specific; The Beginning and the End is bombastic with ominous overtones; The Present is Now Appearing sounds like a metaphysical tract. The title of the exhibition On the Enclosure of Time references the ambition of many museums to encapsulate time in an effort to present an overarching worldview that is fixed and definite.  Dijkman’s sculptures ask us to look again, to re-consider the parameters of our knowledge base and how it is presented to us.

Marjolijn Dijkman is an artist who lives and works in Brussels and Rotterdam.  Her work has been shown in galleries and public spaces across the world, including The Hague, Rotterdam, Barcelona, Tongin-si (Korea), Marrakech, Sharjah (United Arab Emirates), Tblisi (Georgia) and Berkely (USA).

Seashell Sounds

At Cabinet Magazine, Stefan Hellmreich

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Antique Japanese horagi (conch shell trumpet). Photo: samuraiantiqueworld

“puts an ear to popular science and poetry, following a history that has, first, shells singing, speaking, sighing, and echoing distant oceanic and communal pasts, and next, shells reflecting back the personal and present moment, and, then, as we approach today, delivering sounds imagined deep inside, rather than outside, human bodies. At stake are changing models of the relation between hearing, the world, and the self, with the avowedly mystical and communal gradually replaced by the secular, scientific, and individual—though, with the arrival of the blood-in-the-ears interpretation, infused anew with an element of the mythical.”

Exhibition: “An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design 1915–1928″

On View September 27, 2013–February 2, 2014

At the Bard Graduate Center, New York, NY

Walter Mitschke for H. R. Mallinson & Co. Drawing for “Zuni Tribe,” ca. 1927. Pencil and gouache on paper. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Gift of Robert and Joan Brancale, 2008.1950.35.

Walter Mitschke for H. R. Mallinson & Co. Drawing for “Zuni Tribe,” ca. 1927. Pencil and gouache on paper. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Gift of Robert and Joan Brancale, 2008.1950.35.

By Ann Marguerite Tartsinis, Curator of the Exhibition

An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design, 1915-1928 examines the efforts of the American Museum of Natural History to educate and inspire New York textile and fashion designers during and after World War I. This remarkable exhibition features rare textiles and garments ranging from a 1920’s hand-batiked caftan-style dress and mass-market hand-blocked silks to Native American and other indigenous dress. Never-before-seen photographs, objects, and design manuals will be on view.

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Modeling Nostalgia

Randy Hage, 1/12th scale sculpture of Ideal Hosiery, located at 339 Grand St. New York, NY; 17" x 15" x 8"

Randy Hage, 1/12th scale sculpture of Ideal Hosiery, located at 339 Grand St. New York, NY; 17″ x 15″ x 8″

By Aaron Glass (Bard Graduate Center)

Armed with his camera, Randy Hage explores urban landscapes threatened with eradication through development, gentrification, or other civic improvement schemes. Yet unlike the many other salvage-oriented artists who photographically document such streetscapes lest they vanish, Hage translates his photos into meticulously crafted scale models. Rather than just imaging these places, he materializes them; in some cases, he re-materializes buildings that may have been destroyed since he photographed them. Through the laborious process of simulating structures along with their contents and immediate environs, Hage must develop a particular tactile as well as visual intimacy with the sites and buildings in question. For him–and presumably for many of his viewers, patrons, curators, and collectors–the physical presence of his dioramas makes palpable a nostalgia for the corner stores and “mom-and-pop” businesses being rapidly replaced by big box stores and multinational chains (even if the commodities Hage lovingly miniaturizes are the same in both kinds of outlet). Semiotically, the hand-crafted nature of his art lends itself to memorializing small-scale economies of place rather than the corporate behemoths that he bemoans (and that are treated with equal, if contrastingly large-scale, attention to detail by photographers such as Andreas Gursky). In their affection for vanishing places rendered containable, collectible and preserved, the models evoke miniature ethnographic villages in natural history museums.

Despite the impressive materiality of Hage’s dioramas, most viewers likely enjoy them only through photographic mediation (and the additional miniaturization that photography allows). On his personal website, the artist invites people to evaluate the “sculptures vs. the real structures,” although what we see are only photographs of both (moreover, the specific photographs on which the models are based). This medium and mode of comparison flatten the scale and physical reality of both building and model while enhancing the illusion of their absolute likeness. In some cases, the carefully lit models appear more richly dimensional than the actual structures shot under overcast skies. What at least this viewer yearns to do is stand before the remaining storefronts, models in hand. Yet such an exercise risks additional fetishization of the “original place.” Moreover, despite–or rather, due to–being enchanted (in Gell’s sense) by Hage’s considerable fabrication skills, one might miss his intended level of political-economic critique. What the remarkable models-as-art don’t show, which photography or film or ethnography might, is the presence of neighborhood denizens with a stake in the continued existence (or disappearance) of these colorful, dilapidated, vernacular vistas.

For those in the Los Angeles area, there is a chance to stand in the presence of the dioramas at the Flower Pepper Gallery until November 15, 2013.

 

Ethnographic Terminalia, Chicago 2013

Image for PROMO (October 11)
“Exhibition as Residency–Art, Anthropology, Collaboration”
18-22 November 2013
Arts Incubator in Washington Park
301 E. Garfield Blvd.
Chicago, IL 60637
 
Ethnographic Terminalia is an initiative that brings artists and anthropologists together to engage in emerging research through exhibition. “Exhibition as Residency” is an interactive installation of several collaborative projects between artists and anthropologists where visitors are invited to explore what lies within and beyond disciplinary territories of art and anthropology. The performative dimension of this exhibition makes visible how collaborations can shape new communities and innovative representations of cultural practice.
 
The range of artistic and anthropological research on exhibit includes: emergent visual research methods for visualizing place, material culture and indigenous history, film, migration studies, contemporary art, natural/realist painting, fashion design, and curatorial methods.

APERTURE Asia Pacific International Ethnographic Documentary Festival

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The first APERTURE Festival will be held in Melbourne, 21-23 November 2013. APERTURE Asia Pacific International Ethnographic Documentary Festival aims to promote and support ethnographic documentary film about the Asia Pacific region and film directed or produced by filmmakers originating from this region.

Ethnographic film festivals are almost not existing in this region, with the exception of two events in Taiwan and Vietnam. Ethnographic film festivals elsewhere in the world, along with similar events attached to anthropology conferences, present mainly films made by European and American filmmakers, and most of their work does not focus on the Asia Pacific cultures and societies. Filmmakers originating from the Asia Pacific region are grossly underrepresented, also because the cost of travel and other accessibility issues.

APERTURE aims to provide an accessible event within the region, for the region’s local filmmakers as well as for all filmmakers worldwide whose work is about the Asia Pacific region. The festival will also welcome proposals from local filmmakers in this region who have made ethnographic films about cultures and society located in other parts of the world (not the Asia Pacific) providing their work features an Asian Pacific ethnographic perspective. APERTURE thus will offer a platform that promotes documentaries on Asia Pacific cultures and society, and provide emerging filmmakers from this region the opportunity to be screened internationally and network with other filmmakers and potential producers and distributors.

The first APERTURE Festival will be held in Melbourne, 21-23 November 2013. While this first edition will invite submission for ethnographic film-documentaries, the aim is to open the following editions also to photo-documentary projects to be displayed during the film festival. As one of the key aims of the project is to educate about and promote the culture of the Asia Pacific region, attendance to the festival will be free and open to the public.

Future festivals could be held in major cities in the Asia Pacific region by rotation or continue in Melbourne, depending on sponsorships and partnerships. If you are interested to host a travelling APERTURE event or future editions, please get in touch with us!

The focus on Asia Pacific cultures and filmmakers makes this an innovative and unique festival that has not been previously offered in any other country in the region.

Festival Director
Dr. Erminia Colucci
Centre for International Mental Health
School of Population and Global Health
The University of Melbourne
Phone: +61 03 90353082
Email: ecolucci@unimelb.edu.au

 

The Mechanical Postcard

Adam Drazin, UCL Anthropology

  • • Is it possible to communicate material properties and senses across long distances?
  • • How do exchange and sharing play a part in the understanding of material properties?
  • • How can artistic work help us understand material culture?

In April, a collaborative Skype workshop, The First Encounter, was held between members of the School of Material and Visual Culture, Massey University in New Zealand, and UCL Anthropology  in London.  During the workshop, we presented a year’s worth of work on material properties conducted by working with various heritage artifacts made of different materials.  The intention was to discover if, and how, we could think about the evasive cultural topic of what properties are, and whether we could use the stimulus of having to communicate across the breadth of the globe to find new ways of thinking about and representing them.

postcard

One of the pieces of work arrived in London from Mattijs Siljee, who had built a mechanical postcard in Massey and sent it to UCL.  It arrived as a flat wooden object, with a brass interior, about the dimensions of a postcard.  When we unfolded it and drew out the lever at the side, a mechanism in the postcard drew us an image on the spot.  At first, this was only visible to a couple of people.  As we passed it around, the image of an arrow piercing a heart shape was evident to everyone.

Subverting the digitally-mediated Skype meeting, the mechanical postcard worked to make the material object animate.  It blurred the distinctions between the intentions of the author and the question of whether we had written the message ourselves, or whether Mattijs had.  Rather, the postcard itself seemed to have acted itself.  It was not just a neutral and passive conduit of information, blurring into the background and attempting invisibility and social camouflage  like Skype software.  It flaunted its agency.  However, the postcard placed us under a sense of obligation to somehow respond to the surprising, complicated and engaging artifact, which evidenced so much intellectual work.

The power in the postcard was partly intentional.  It was intended as a response to work presented by UCL student researchers on the properties of a decorated spear thrower in UCL’s collection, whose capacity to both fascinate and launch violence is evident.  The image of an arrow-pierced heart combined violence with love, and also seemed to represent a forceful bodily intermingling of object and person.  It followed the journey from the Southern hemisphere which the spear thrower had made, some decades ago, and reboundingly emphasised its emotive humanity.

The mechanical postcard was donated by Mattijs to the ethnographic collection located in the basement heart of UCL anthropology, and has taken up residence alongside many artefacts from across the world where, perhaps, its energy may be stored.

At present, UCL anthropology remains contemplating an adequate response to the gift of the postcard.