Monday, November 29, 2010

Amazing Birds

This is a trumpeter swan flying. They make an amazing sound, which is why they are called trumpeters. The white spots on the ground are more swans.They do an intricate social ritual arching their necks that was fascinating. We saw hundreds of them in the Skagit Valley. As well as hundreds of snow geese and thirty other birds including Kingfisher, Blue Heron, Bald Eagles, Red Tail Hawks,  Bohemian Wax Wing - but now I am getting technical. I know nothing about birds. I was with two experts who identified what I called little brown birds. But I was good on the big white birds!
And the thrill of seeing so many birds is wonderful. IT awakens all of your senses to spend a day gazing at the sky, listening for bird sounds, an extraordinary symphony of sound that we blot out of our lives. Trumpeter swans migrate to Washingston State from Alaska, the snow geese come from Rangel Island where they have covered the island and eaten everything in sight. In the 1930s they were endangered. Which goes to show we can save the earth if we decide to.  

. As we crossed route 20 hundreds of cars were headed to the mall. If only they would stop and wonder if they really need anything from there, get out and look at the birds and listen to their songs, they would have a free day of joy!

Take a look at Maya Lin's project What is Missing? for a sobering look at the escalating species and habitat loss we are causing. As she has said, we are in the midst of the sixth major extinction in the history of the earth, and the only one caused by a single species, humans.

And pursuit of fossil  fuels is only getting more and more ferocious in its destruction of the earth. The precious Boreal forests in Canada for example, are being destroyed in the pursuit of tar sands. Rising Tide North America are a group of activists fighting this project, but the general public has no clue.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Inscape: Art in a former Immigration Detention Facility

Inscape was an installation of art in a former immigration facility where people were detained until 2003 when a new and much bigger facility opened in Tacoma. Detention is a private industry that is making big bucks. Perhaps you heard the National Public Radio expose that the new Arizona Immigration Law was written by operators of private detention centers and passed word for word, along with corporate and political backing from some major heavyweights.

The artists were attempting to transform the energy in the building. We could all still feel the unhappiness and fear that lurked in these rooms. The building is available for artists studios, and quite a few artists are already working there.

The building was first built during the Alaska Gold Rush as an "assay" office, and the top floor remained that, a place to weigh gold and to establish its value. On that floor of the facility one of the works made a direct reference to that function. Megan Trayner had a piece on the floor with a gold leaf surface.

Other artists on this floor included Romson Bustillo whose characteristic abstract patterns with symbolic meanings and intentionally undecipherable titles ( to remind us of how it feels to not undersand a language) filled one end.

Nic Meisel's serendipitous installation, with its threatening sounds was off in another side room. I saw these pieces as it was getting dark, and the sense of ominousness in Nic's was definately present, in spite of his cheerful presence not too far away.

Some of the work was really inspired by the space and a radical departure for the artist, as seemed to be the case in the work of Katy Krantz ( judging by the art in her studio) who created a wonderful graffitti piece at the front entrance, based on simulating the actual graffitti in the small excersize space upstairs. Detainees from countries all over the world had written their countries on the wall in black tar from the roof. See piece at  top of entry for Katy's artwork based on this graffitti..

The Chinese Men's dormitory inspired an evocative piece by Helen Gamble. The hanging cot beds suggested both the fragility of existence and over crowding. The races were segregated here, and a high percentage of the inmates were Chinese.

Jen Mills Landscape of Memory, a room full of seats made of salt, suggested instability.

Ju Pong Lin combined video and an ironing board with an installation of shirts that documented the many different ways that Asians had been expelled from cities in the Northwest.

Gail Howard's infirmary of shredded sheets draped over beds captured the idea of illness within prison, not much care, just enough to keep people alive.

Christian French made a floor game that suggested the labyrinthine bureaucracy and games of chance that people had to navigate in order to get out.

But perhaps most impressive of all was Ladan Yalzadeh's tour of the facility which gave us a complete history and guide to the various rooms and their functions. She had come from Iran in 1986 and been processed through these rooms.

Her personal experience was mild compared to what people experience today, when there is mostly only one way out, deportation, but she clearly described the experience of standing in line day after day, the cramped and crowded rooms, and the atmosphere of oppression and anxiety.
For another artist addressing detention in these very same rooms see my post on Eroyn Franklyn

Monday, November 15, 2010

Picasso at the Seattle Art Museum

The Acrobat, 1930 Courtesy Musee National de Picasso, Paris
Finally, I have some time to post a comment on this extraordinary exhibition of Picasso's art work  "Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris, October 8, 2010 - January 17, 2011 at the Seattle Art Museum.

For all of us in the United States who have seen the same works from the Museum of Modern Art over and over, everywhere, this exhibition is delightful. Although some of the works are definately benchmarks, like La Celestina and the Death of Casagemas, others are completely unknown, like the self portrait with pentimenti for Les Demoiselles D'Avignon and the chunky wooden sculpture from the same time frame.

In fact Picasso's sculpture is way underemphasized in most discussions. It is consistently original and intriguing. In this show among works in recycled metal, wood, bronze, and paper is the original Bulls Head made from Picasso's bicycle seat and handlebars. You can look at the leather bicycle seat and think about Picasso sitting on it. In this exhibition there is also the Man with Sheep, 1943 and the Nanny Goat 1950.

So why am I so excited about the exhibition, I, the post colonial, feminist, political activist, art critic? Because it is intimate. We can feel Picasso thinking as we look at these works, the sketches for Guernica, the photographs of Guernica in progress by Dora Maar, the photographs from early years in Paris or during the war, murky, shadowy black and white.

But it is also dramatic : the juxtaposition of the wonderful bronze sculptures inspired by Marie Therese in the late 1920s and the paintings of that same period, one of my favorite eras of Picasso's work, installed beautifully in the gallery by Anne Baldessari, curator of the Musee Picasso in Paris

I have chosen only the image of the acrobat from 1930 for this posting, as it is such a brilliant drawing/painting. I see Picasso chasing Matisse in this outline, but never can he accede to the pursuit of the idea of an art work as a  "comfortable armchair" that Matisse worked so hard to achieve. Picasso always struggled, resisted, absorbed, and reworked. The impossibly contorted acrobat is, as in all of Picasso's work, Picasso himself, of course, and the contortions of his art. It is in the room that introduces his pass through Surrealism.

John Berger's Success and Failure of Picasso (1965) is still worth re- reading after all these years.
He suggests that Picasso ultimately sought the primitive instead of the civilized.
He also suggests the biggest failure was Picasso's last works, when he did over elaborate re workings of old master paintings like Velazquez, over elaborate but empty.
Picasso, according to Berger, had a "failure of revolutionary nerve . . . To sustain such nerve one must be convinced that there will be another kind of success: a success which will operate in a field connecting for the first time ever, the most complex imaginative constructions of the human mind and the liberation of all those peoples of the world who until now have been forced to be simple, and of whom Picasso has always wished to be the representative." ( 206)
On the subject of "How Political was Picasso?" John Richardson has an excellent article in the New York Review of Books last week. Richardson knew Picasso over many years, and he watched all the acrobatics from both near and far.

All aspects of Picasso are represented here. We can all decide for ourselves what we think. And of course, all the women who inspired him are prominently included : Fernande,  Eva, Olga, Marie Therese, Dora Maar, Francois Gilot, Jacqueline, and other women who are less famous.
Make up your own mind, but see this show. It is travelling to Virginia and San Francisco from Seattle, and then off to Asia. For an excellent more detailed discussion of the exhibition see Art Dish

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Azar Nafisi in Des Moines Iowa

When I went to visit my grandchildren in Des Moines Iowa, I was excited to discover that Azar Nafisi was speaking, sponsored by Drake University. She has a new book called Things I Have Been Silent About. Azar Nafisi
And of course she is best known for Reading Lolita in Tehran, perhaps one of the best titles for a book in the last ten years. But the subject of her lecture was culture and human rights, and the idea that books can speak across cultures in what she called the "Republic of the Imagination" She spoke of the power of literature to liberate and make connections betwen people. Perfect strangers can share their experiences of a book.
She also spoke about the  imagination in contrast to the idea of smugness and complacency. Villains in books are those who are blind to others. The first target of totalitarian regimes is the imagination.

Curiosity is "insubordination in its purest form" The desire to know, to question yourself, to see ourselves as question marks. Alice running into the rabbit hole is an example of curiosity. At the heart of curiosity is learning about the "other" not thinking that we already know other people.

Of course, as an Iranian, she is well aware of how ignorant people in the U.S. are about Iran and Islam in general. She spoke of how the women of Iran have refused for 30 years to comply with the restrictions of the revolution there.
Freedom means choice, responsibilty, passion, risk,
"How much are we willing to give up in order to regain passion?" She sees a crisis of vision, to be self righteous is a sign of weakness.
It was a really inspiring presentation.

Can visual art play this same role in communication across cultures? I believe so, in spite of being so embedded in capitalism. In fact, it is a perfect example of imagination as subversive to the system. A New York Times article about artists being sent abroad by the State Department in a new grant program being administered by the Bronx Museum of Art quoted Michael Krenn, author of Fall Out Shelters for the Human Spirit: American Art and the Cold War,  as saying  that "artists are not easily controlled" !!