Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Olive Ayhens new painting

Olive Ayhens is a wonderful painter and a great artist. This is a new painting called Amphibian Emergency. If you look closely you can see that inside the glass condominiums are frogs, an endangered species. They are disappearing everywhere. They are an essential part of our ecosystem. The condos are popping up everywhere in her neighborhood of Williamsburg making communities extinct also. Condos don't really create the same sense of comaraderie of street life celebrated by Jane Jacobson, The Death and Life of American Cities. Of course I am generalizing, but on my street in Seattle, I never see anyone from the condos.

Outside the window is the wasteland of urban living. Olive creates interfaces of humans and nature that call attention to our treatment of the natural environment. She also is a seductive and sensuous painter who knows how to use color and the texture of paint itself so skillfully that her content and her technique are wedded inextricably. Her love of beauty in the art work is a part of her distress about the ruin of the natural environment. Since she is currently based in NYC, she is painting that distress with an urban focus. She has also painted western streams rushing down Manhattan streets with cars floating in them, and a lumber mill and power plant set right on the Columbia River . She depicts vanishing species, birds, animals, and also vanishing trees, lost in our contemporary world.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Break the Silence Mural Project

 Susan Greene, of Break the Silence Mural Project  (the name is coincidentally similar to, but not connected to,  Breaking the Silence, a project asking Israeli soldiers involved with the war on Palestinians to speak about their experiences) gave a talk in Olympia Washington about Rafah, about bulldozed orange groves in Bil'in, about murals for peace, about people whose entire neighborhoods have been destroyed. This is a mural she painted with others a few years ago for the Amer family. Their home is completely surrounded by the wall. The only way they have survived is by all the attention they have had in the resistance movement. Greene worked with a collective and and with local children. The artists and the people helping them were driven away before they could finish the blue sky, but with the left over paint, the woman living next to the wall (and surrounded by the wall) had painted her own bedroom blue. She had brought the sky into her room.
Is this not an act of resistance to power, an act of bare life that is insisting on itself as something more. Perhaps people will argue that it is a useless decoration of an inevitable fact on the ground.
Greene is currently working with the Rachel Corrie Foundation painting a mural in Olympia Washington for the Olympia-Rafah sister city project.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Image Wars and Zones of Conflict

Sam Durant moves the detritus of war in front of the US Capitol.  I have not seen artists address the topic of how much trash is generated by war. War trashes everything in its path. People, animals, culture, land, trees, and leaves a big pile of rubbish tht includes a lot of death. Durant's manipulated photograph very simply confronts us with that fact. 

He was one of the artists included in the exhibition in "Image Wars", curated by T.J. Demos 
The show was provocative. It had one manifestation at Pratt Manhattan Gallery in New York City along with a symposium. That show presented 15 artists, some working in collaboration, most of them well known. Lebanon, along with Palestine, Iraq, South Africa and the Acoma Nation. The show included mainly video and photography except for Thomas Hirshhorn's drawing in which he is examining his relationship to the political arena in the now familiar tactic of a complicated flow chart. Hirshhorn has made seriously political work. but this piece was included in the exhibition perhaps to be emblematic of what artists think about when they engage with politics.

Other than Hirshhorn who is addressing the artist's own position, the works expand our understanding of what is going on inside of an environment in which military attacks are destroying if not your own building, then the one next door, or in another part of the country (Lamia Joreige). Do you go and look, do you stay home and drink tea. Lamia drove nearby.  

Other artists are also telling us what happens with the people who are on the ground, but not actually shooting, what happens to memory, what happens to you? Ghaith Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi photographer and journalist who was next to a US shoot out of civilians in Iraq. His image of a screaming child in his fathers arms, which I have on my desk, is haunting beyond any image I have seen. It interrupts us entirely. We cannot avoid it. These artists are telling us that conflict is a long, wide and deep place. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad was also part of an exhibition and book called Unembedded. The photographers did work for mainstream media, but they are free lance, and the book includes a lot of work that they couldn't get published. 

Image Wars is one exhibition that is part of a bigger project called  
Zones of Conflict Rethinking Contemporay Art in A Time of Crisis that included several symposia and exhibitions in London between October 2008 and February 2009. It is attempting to re think the role of artists in the midst of what is being called Zones of Conflict. This is a carefully turned phrase implying that today "war" is no longer what it used to be, a fight between nation states over specific borders, but that it has extended to the war on terror which is dominated by non state actors, deeply involves civilians as combatants and as refugees, and is characterized by media representations that falsify information, oversimplify it, or simply fail to report. Art in the midst of this new environment is playing the role of altering the media discourse. 

T. J. Demos is the organizer of all of these events. His four symposia in London addressed
"image wars" ( the subject of the exhibition in NYC), "bare life" (refugees in particular), "uneven geographies", and "transnational social space. " He refers to the fact that these subjects exist in what he calls "rifts of representation" blurring fact and fiction, reinventing documentary photography, collaboration on socially engaged practices, and use of the internet to explore what he calls "heterogenous and uprooted representational structures"

Given the crisis in Gaza, I have been focusing on that in my own writing. In the New York exhibition, Demos included Emily Jacir and Ahlam Shibli, both of whom fall into the category of reinventing documentary photography. But I also found this statement by Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun a pair of artists in one of the London symposia. They comment on the difficulty of representing Palestine, when it is non existent. How can it be made visible they ask? How has it been made visible? They use as the example the Jenin Refugee Camp, a place where the residents have been repeatedly asked to represent themselves, the artists ask if the refugees could be represented as other than victims? or other than witnesses? 

Fascinating as these theoretical arguments are to thinking about the role of art in the midst of crisis,  I feel that artists who are in the situation, who make connections to people are more signficant for me. 

Friday, February 6, 2009

Gloria Bornstein Some New Art

Gloria Bornstein had a small showing of her new work recently. This is what she said about it

"The title of the grouping of Rorschach tests and queens is: "you've been confirmed as queen". I heard a voice saying this in a dream.

The artworks are part of a series exploring the perceptual gap between the eye as optical instrument - and the gaze of the unconscious.

Like Rorschach tests and dreams, the artworks play with objectivity, subjectivity, and the illusionary space in-between.

The artworks developed from one of many dreams I document daily, a continuing practice begun 1974".

After reading Frank Rich in the NY Times yesterday I realized how apropos the mirrors are to the current financial hall of mirrors capitalism is mired in. The queens represent anything you project on them but Madoff (& sub-prime mortgages) are a perfect example of elation/deflation we find in dreams - awake and not). "

These evocative works are eerie, as seen in this suggestive photograph where they are reflected in a window at dusk. They come out of Gloria's Bornstein's subconscious. We love Gloria's subconscious. When I need a jolt in my head I talk to Gloria, who is a private person who rarely shows personal work. But talking to her is always a treat. That is why we were so lucky to have this momentary showing ( or was it a sighting?)

The pieces were in two parts, the Rorschach drawings and the metal "crowns" based on those drawings are set on wooden heads from dummies. This is a great metaphor, a crown coming from the subconscious is placed on a dummy head. It suggests the inversion of the order of things, an accidental person becomes queen.

Since Gloria is so deep, the pieces also connect to Lacan, mirror stages, and dreams. Queens seem like a subject that doesn't come easily in a dream. But a tiara on a wooden dummy head, this is pure comedy, pure outrageous defiance of expectations. I wish more people dared to be this ridiculous and beautiful. Life in the contemporary art world of Seattle would be a lot more interesting!.

Gloria also has a public side: She has done a lot of incredible public art. Here I will mention only the Sentinels at the Fire station in the International District. This is what she told me about them:

"Inspired by forms found in Asian Art, architecture, folk craft, and public safety, the multi-sculptural environment represents the guardians of the city. Just as the staff of Fire Station 10 Center in the Chinatown-International District is responsible for the public safety of the city, the surrounding Asian community has been standing watch over the interests of their neighborhood. I wrote the art plan "Different Voices, One Community" after interviewing the folks that make up the tapestry of Seattle's Asian community. Basically, the firefighters of Seattle's oldest station in Pioneer square-have a historic relationship with the community that goes back 100 years. At that time, the city had laws prohibiting firefighters from putting out fires in "Chinatown". The firefighters helped change the laws. When large buildings were condemned, they arranged for neighborhood residents to work round the clock to bring them to code & meet city deadlines."

Is this not wonderful information. These sentinels bring together art history, political, cultural connections, and Seattle's history of racism. Looking at these red sentinels we see iconic forms, a little like pieces on a game board, they interrupt the dreary area of Seattle where the fire station is. They declare themselves, they say stop, here are people who are going to suddenly rush out to help us in an emergency. Here are sentinels!

What is amazing about Gloria's public art is that every piece is different. See her website to know what I mean.