Tag Archives: Art

Materiality in Japan: Making, Breaking and Conserving Works of Art and Architecture

April 11, 2014

Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Organized by Anton Schweizer, 2012-2014 IFA/Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
RSVP is required. Please find instructions below.

Japan is widely regarded as an exemplar in terms of the preservation of material integrity, the perpetuation of historical production techniques and the responsible preservation of works of architecture and artifacts in museum contexts. The Japanese certification system for Cultural Property – which also includes the category of Living National Treasures for specialist craftsmen who embody manufacturing techniques as Intangible Cultural Property – has earned far-reaching acclaim. It is frequently overlooked, however, that there is actually a wide range of divergent approaches towards originality and authenticity even in contemporary Japan. While some of these inconsistencies find their counterparts in the West, others are related to pre-modern cultural practices, e.g. concurrent concepts of artifacts in divergent contexts of reception and evaluation.

This conference attempts to shed light on this issue with a series of case studies as a means to deconstruct overly simplistic explanatory models.

The conference schedule will follow three thematic sections:

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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).

The Distributed Effects of Alfred Gell

Distributed Object

Book Review:

Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering after Alfred Gell.

Edited by Liana Chua and Mark Elliot

Berghahn Books (London & New York), 2013

 

 

By Fiona P. McDonald (University College London)

 

According to Georgina Born in Distributed Objects: Meaning and Mattering after Alfred Gell, “we all have our own Alfred Gell” (p. 130). Therefore, I too must admit to having my own Alfred Gell—one more clearly understood to me after exploring an entire volume dedicated to what can best be summarized as profound scholarly reflections on the distributed effects of Alfred Gell’s endeavor to identify an anthropological theory of art in his Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory (1998). Distributed Objects is a captivating pendant piece to Gell’s original publication. It is not meant as a guidebook to understanding Gell’s work; rather it is a collection of complex studies that capture distinct engagements with Gell’s ideas around an anthropology of art. A sound understanding of (or at least an attempt at having read!) Art and Agency is suggested in order to fully appreciate the depth to which each chapter in this volume unpacks Gell’s work.

Comprised of eight chapters—seven written by academics from Britain’s leading institutions, plus one chapter by Gell himself—Distributed Objects represents a remarkable breath of engagement with Gell’s oeuvre across a variety of disciplines. From anthropology, ethnomusicology and literary theory, to contemporary art, as well as performance, archaeology, material science, and art history, the scope of disciplinary expertise in this volume is extraordinary. The entire volume is book-ended by two overview texts. The first is the Introduction, where the editors Liana Chua and Mark Elliot contextualize their own understanding of Alfred Gell—a summation that eases both seasoned and novice readers through Gell’s oeuvre and the density of research that follows throughout the volume. The final text drawing a close to Distributed Objects is by Nicholas Thomas, who presents a succinct Epilogue that is itself a truly distinguished review of this volume. It leaves the reader with a somewhat buoyant view when looking ahead to identify and understand future spaces where the distributed effects of Gell can be located within a museum context.

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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.

 

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.

 

 

Figuring Exchange: Art and Money

IMTFI fe_poster_web

How is money more than mere container and conveyor of value?
What happens to money we destroy, alter, or simply stop using?
How do the materials and the making of money matter?

Artists and craftspeople are highly attuned to these questions of money, aesthetics, and exchange. Political cartoonists offer direct commentary on the dramas of money; conceptual artists play with money’s materials and meanings through theory and technique; non-Western valuables make apparent the close connection between the making of objects and the making of value. This exhibition includes installations made of out of circulation Mexican bills by Argentine artist Máximo González; the art of trompe l’oeil painter G.B. Tate and others; as well as a variety of money and non-Western valuables. Figuring Exchange presents this assemblage of objects to explore the diverse perspectives they offer on questions of materiality, value, and exchange, and to reflect on money’s making, meanings, and artful transformation.

The Claire Trevor School of the Arts, and the Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion in the School of Social Sciences proudly feature Argentine artist Máximo González during an opening reception.

Date: October 14, 2013
Time: 6:00-8:00pm
Location: Outreach Gallery, Rm 3100A, Contemporary Arts Center, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, University of California Irvine

CFP: Collecting Geographies – Global Programming and Museums of Modern Art

Organized by Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; ASCA/ACGS University of
Amsterdam, Amsterdam; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Folkwang Museum,
Essen;Tropen Museum, Amsterdam

Location: Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Dates: 13-15 March 2014
Deadline for papers: September 30, 2013
Admittance fee: €100,-

Key-note speakers / panel participants
James Clifford, Sarat Maharaj, Annie Coombes
Kader Attia, Wendelien van Oldenborgh, Daniel Birnbaum and Tobia
Bezzola.

For the latest information on key-note speakers and panel participants
please keep an eye on our website: www.stedelijk.nl/en

Introduction
Against the backdrop of globalization today, museums for modern and
contemporary art in the West are inclined to pay serious attention to
the acquisition and presentation of art from all over the world, beyond
the still prevalent dominance of European and North American art. Given,
on the one hand, the extreme concentration of internationally operating
art institutions in Western  Europe and the United States, and the often
radically different self-understanding of non-Western art institutions
on the other, the institutional claims to the global need to be
reviewed, contextualized and contested.

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Conference Report–”Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity”

This summer saw the conclusion of ‘Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity’, an international research project led by Leon Wainwright (Department of Art History, The Open University, UK) which began in December 2011. (For an overview of the project, visit: www.open.ac.uk/Arts/disturbing-pasts/ )

The main focus of Disturbing Pasts was a major conference that took place over three days at the Museum of Ethnology, Vienna (recently renamed Weltmuseum Vienna) on 20-22 November 2012. The majority of speakers were from outside academia, the event was free to attend and widely publicised, while ample time was allowed for discussion and interaction with the audience and for networking among participants. It consisted of panels of highly-illustrated presentations on five distinct yet complementary themes. Each panel combined speakers from the three selected groupings of stakeholders (artists, curators and academics) and saw a productive exchange between them.

The sessions were filmed by technicians from The Open University and an audio-visual record of speakers’ presentations is now available at the Open Arts Archive (www.openartsarchive.org) Click on the links below for each presentation, available by ‘open access’.

Panel 1, ‘Cultural Loss and Fragmented Heritage’, began with two presentations from the artists Peju Layiwola (Lagos, Nigeria) and T. Shanaathanan (Jaffna, Sri Lanka), who showed how historical episodes of violence and the removal of cultural property – a British punitive expedition of 1897, and conflict in Sri Lanka – have been explored in each artist’s creative practice, as well as those of their peers. The curator Shan McAnena (Naughton Gallery, Queen’s University Belfast) evaluated recent curatorial attempts to reconnect the city of Belfast to the troubled memory of the Titanic. The visual anthropologist Elizabeth Edwards (De Montfort Leicester) and art historian Simon Faulkner (Manchester Metropolitan University) responded with a related critical debate on museum practice and colonial archives across the UK, and issues of public memory that are raised by paintings of Gerhard Richter recalling the history of Left-wing extremism in 1970s Germany.

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“Plastic” Art: The Work of Maika’i Tubbs

By Fiona McDonald (University College London) 

Maika'i Tubbs, "A Life of Its Own," 2010, plastic forks, spoons, knives

Maika’i Tubbs, “A Life of Its Own,” 2010, plastic forks, spoons, knives

During the 2013 Sakàhan: International Indigenous Art quinquennial exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, the complexity of the materiality of many works was explored through a series of interviews with artists who were on site at the gallery to install their works. While many intricate threads are interwoven throughout the Sakàhan curatorial project, the main focus stems from the ambition to create an exhibition that explores, on an international level, what it means to be indigenous today.

Prior to the closing of the exhibition on 2 September 2013, The National Gallery published a short interview with Hawaiian artist Maika’i Tubbs presenting the scope of his multi-media plastic art installation. In his piece, Life of its Own (2010), Tubbs repurposes plastic forks, knives, spoons, and plates to create an evocative site-specific installation that invites viewers to reflect upon the aesthetic transformation of materials—specifically, a material Tubbs calls an “invasive species” and situates as comparable to intrusive plants such as the morning glory flower. Tubbs’s work with plastic mobilizes the conversation around the aesthetic manipulation of objects to provoke further consideration about the politics of consumption on islands with limited waste disposal management.

Watch the interview here:

 

Topsy Turvy: Artists and the Amusement Utopia

60 Wall St. Gallery, New York, NY

Now trough October 23.

www.db.com/us/content/en/1094.html

 

by Aaron Beebe (Independent Artist and Curator)

exhibit 1

A lot has been said about the changes that modernism brought to cultural producers beginning in the late 19th century, but one piece to consider adding to study of avant-gardes is the unrecognized freedom of the amusement industry for creative individuals.

In June, I curated an exhibition at the gallery at 60 Wall St. that pulls together a host of artists who work in and around Coney Island, and who have found that working in an amusement park offers extremely rewarding creative possibilities for their lives and work.

A century ago, there was a revolution in Western ideas of work and leisure that opened up new opportunities for creative entrepreneurs to make their marks on the world. New technologies of display in museums, department stores and amusement parks created a topsy-turvy world in which the skills of artists and creative thinkers were in remarkably high demand, and individuals who could think creatively were hailed as leaders instead of misfits. These new industries relied on the vision of creative individuals to make money and offered exciting new opportunities for artists and visionaries to make their marks on society, elevating popular culture and paving the way for pop artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein generations later.

In the 115 years since George C. Tilyou opened Steeplechase Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn, artists, small business owners, and creative individuals have been the leaders in a narrow field of entertainment and amusement that privileged creativity and textual prowess in architecture and design, and offered visitors a place to lose themselves in environments created by nominal outsiders. This strange, special environment continues to look like a world reflected in a funhouse mirror – where a misfit can be mayor and normal, middle-of-the road people are hailed as genius superstars.

exhibit 2

The artists in this exhibition have all, at some point in their careers, been inspired by the unexpected freedoms that the amusement industry (at its height as well as in its decline) provides for creative thinkers. They have each gravitated to this nurturing space for their own creative outlet, and made the creative arm of the amusement industry all the richer for it. Inspired by the fantastic stories of Coney Island as a home for outsiders and “freaks”, they all create work that is at times literary and performative – and that references the history of amusement.  “Topsy Turvy” celebrates the utopian concepts that bind this evolving artistic community, wherever their work takes them, as it continues to be shaped by shared interests and contemporary practices.

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