Monday, September 24, 2012

Anca Gray: Unfinished Poem

Photos by Mr.Stonebender
Anca Gray has a fascinating piece in ArtPrize.  I feel like I could get lost just looking at it.  It's made of eggshells, a material that I don't consider at all, let alone consider as a media for art.  I had the chance to interview Anca about her piece, and here's how it went.
How would you describe your ArtPrize piece?
The way I see it, unfinished poem is an enormous puzzle of countless egg shell pieces, fitted together without the solution into an abstract seascape.  Others have likened it to the scales of a white dragon, marbled bark, ice melting, foam on a white sandy beach. 

Have you done other art that is similar to an abstract seascape?  Is there a significance to the use of eggshells?
This is the first piece of its kind, although I have worked with egg shells at smaller scales.  I am fascinated with discarded objects, especially those intimately connected with human consumption.  so you will often find such scraps in my work as old yellowed book pages, bits of kitchen string, tea filters, and egg shells.  As one of the most iconic naturally occurring objects, the egg holds high intrigue for me.  The broken shells speak of life and death, fragility and strength, past and future, mystery, trasformation, and possibility.  Handling each vulnerable piece becomes a meditation on the formative process, an exploration of being and becoming - human, an artist.  The nature of the material and the meditative process instinctively led to the shaping of the final piece. 

Could you tell me a little about your method?  How do you start thinking about and working on a piece like this?
My approach is that of a child at play, tactile and fueled by curiosity.  I start simply by carefully washing each shell and peeling the delicate membrane.  Once dry, I smooth out the rough edges, discarding the crushed bits.  As I handle each piece again, I become aware of tinny fissure cracks and fragile spots, and further break down each piece, yielding to it as it guides me.  I now have slender jagged columns of various sizes of the stacked pieces, and piles of smaller clean edged shards - my puzzle pieces.  Now, for the fourth, fifth, sixth time they each pass through my hand, I reinforce them with layers of acrylic paint - their new skin.  A world of possibilities opens up as I spread out the pieces and start exploring how they might fit together.  The wave patterns naturally emerge, challenging any preconceived notions of the directions I might have stirred the project. 
I knew immediately that the canvas itself needed to be fragmented, as much a nod to my architectural background as a mirroring of the fragmented nature of the egg shell mosaic at the larger scale of the canvas.  The geometry of the canvas cluster exposes my impulses to control and organize, and so they provide a great foil for exploring the organic nature of the material.

Has that impulse to organize and control shown up in your art in other ways as well as in this piece?
It seems that impulse manifests itself in a sort of visual obsessive compulsiveness in my work.  One obvious aspect of it is my use of color - I only work with black and white paint - the only other colors present being the intrinsic color of the mixed media objects I incorporate.  Perhaps less obvious, my treatment of layers in mixed media paintings.  The layers remain quite distinct and the materials recognizable.  And yet again in my approach to figure painting; my girls are always minimal representational line drawings in poses that are at once vulnerable and protected, captured in abstract settings. 

What kind of art do you look to for inspiration?
I look for inspiration everywhere in life and in all manner of art spanning from religious icons, to abstract painting, installation and performance art, literature, film, contemporary mixed media and art jewelry.  Rather than a specific style, I favor work that demonstrate restraint, vulnerability and strength, respectful use of materials, a minimalist aesthetic; artists who widen the horizons of possibility.  These I hold in tremendous admiration: Cy Twombly, Constantin Brancusi, Kiki Smith, Egon Schiele, Cecil Touchon, Arie de Groot. 

Is there anything else that you would like to say about your art?
Just that I believe it to be a common misconception that in order to challenge the status quo you have to work outside of the box.  There is much yet to be explored and challenged within the old confines and I will keep plunging into the depths for meaning.  The hope is that my work speaks for itself, just as it speaks to me in the creative process.  

The voting code for Unfinished Poem is 53523, and it's on display at the Calvin College gallery during ArtPrize. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

SiTE:LAB - The Dream Before

I went to SiTE:LAB last night.  It was everything I hoped it would be and more.  The big idea behind all of the SiTE:LAB exhibits has been creating art that's site-specific in spaces that aren't traditional art spaces (like galleries) and aren't usually open to the public.  SiTE:LAB The Dream Before is at 54 Jefferson St SW, the site of the old public museum.  I've often wondered about the building, why they stopped using it, what was going to happen to it in the future, and I think that this is one of the best things that could have happened to it.  In some parts of the venue, there are remnants of the site as a museum, there's part of an exhibit about the human body, and an exhibit that's about lightening, integrated with the artist's work.
This piece is really intriguing.  It's located in what used to be the taxidermy shop, near the back of the museum.  Those are bubbles, actual bubbles, coming from the floor of the room.  They're  transfixing to watch as they move around.  I had the chance to talk to Lisa about her work, and she said that it's about metaphors in architecture and accessing inaccessible spaces.  A lot of her other work relates, it's about dealing with the residual, with things left behind.
Another thing that's sort of funny is watching other people interact with the installation.  The best conversation I overheard was between a small child and their parent, as the child was trying to play with the bubbles.
"I wanna touch the bubbles."
"No."
"Why not?"
"I don't know."
I also got the chance to talk to Drew Vanderveen and Michelle Terry, members of the collective  Not Design, who did the graphics work for SiTE:LAB.  They've been involved with SiTE:LAB "since SiTE:LAB became SiTE:LAB" and their piece is part installation, part workshop.  I really like this way of doing things, seeing the process of creating something adds a lot to the finished product.  Their prints are made using a letterpress, which creates entirely unique prints.  The press that they have at SiTE:LAB is a proofing press.  On the press bed, they compose the movable type.  When they've decided on a final design, they lock the letters in the press, ink the letters, and start printing.  This process is fascinating to me, and I hope that I'll have the chance to try one day.
Moral of the story? Get yourself to SiTE:LAB.  It is amazing.  They have crazy dark clouds hanging from the ceiling.

Monday, September 17, 2012

ArtPrize and Musings

As you may or may not know, ArtPrize features a lot of terrible art.  Part of the whole philosophy of letting everyone enter is that EVERYONE will enter, and a lot of things will be less than great.  So, to help you choose where to go, I have compiled a list of venues that will have great art.

  • Kendall College of Art and Design has some great stuff happening this year for ArtPrize.  There will be galleries in both buildings, so be sure to visit everything.  Parking here is a pain, so be aware of that.
  • The UICA (Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts) has a pretty great curated exhibit. Parking here is a pain, just like at Kendall, but both are worth it.  Unsurprisingly, the art here is going to be pretty contemporary, so don't expect much in terms of your 2D representational paintings.  Also this is free during ArtPrize.  Yay for free!
  • The GRAM is great and has some fantastic stuff, but be aware that it will be incredibly crowded during ArtPrize, and ArtPrize is when the art touchers come out.  Parking is also a pain.  Still, you should go.
  • The Women's City Club isn't a venue that you would automatically assume has great art, but when I've been there in the past, it's had some awesome stuff.
  • Meijer Gardens!  Meijer Gardens is fantastic and is usually full of big sculptures, which I like.  There aren't a ton of people who visit Meijer Gardens, since it's so far from downtown, but it is worth the trip out there.  Go.  You will not regret it.
  • And SiTE:LAB is going to rock everyone's world.  Just so you know.  It's...just going to be awesome and amazing.  They're having a big opening party on September 18th at 5, and you're invited.  I'll be there.  I heard a rumor that Design 99 is going to be there too.  Don't miss out.
I hope you enjoy your visit to ArtPrize and your time in Grand Rapids!

Artprize is fun, and it's great that it brings art into the center of discussion.  I think ArtPrize is great for the city in that it brings economic activity and makes Grand Rapids a center of art in the region.  Making people who aren't "art people" think about art is a great thing, and it needs to happen more often.  However, ArtPrize brings a lot of bad art out into the open.  And sometimes that bad art can pander to the audience just enough to win.  Should everyone have an input on who wins such a large prize?  The piece that won last year was Crucifixion, which was a giant mosaic of Jesus.  Grand Rapids is a churchy town, and it seems like a lot of people who voted for that piece may have just been giving Jesus a thumbs up.  The thing is, Jesus isn't the one who received $250,000 for that piece.  Placement in the top ten also relies heavily upon location, last year I noticed that works in the parking lot of The BOB did surprisingly well.  Since it's in the center of downtown, it's not surprising that a lot of people voted for them.  This is the same reason why pieces at Meijer Gardens are never going to win, they're just too far and don't see enough traffic.
This year is the first for the juried prize, which could really be a gamechanger and add some much-needed legitimacy to ArtPrize.  We'll have to wait and see what happens.
Here's an article from GQ about ArtPrize that touches on the issue of bad art winning prizes, and on Surfer Jesus.  It's worth a read.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

ArtPrize Preview: Gabriel Dawe

I met Gabriel Dawe at Kendall, in the lobby of the Federal building and we went into the gallery where he's installing his piece, Plexus 18, a site-specific work made of sewing thread. He's been doing the Plexus series for two and a half years.
Gabriel describes his work as “Architectural structures composed of the main component of clothing, which is sewing thread. That refers to ideas of shelter, protection, architecture and clothing protect us from the elements, but what I'm doing is reversing the material of clothing into an architectural scale. That quality of sheltering sublimates or becomes transformed, and instead of sheltering the body I have a structure that shelters the human spirit, in a way. They become soothing structures that are very comforting, and they protect us. Not in a physical way, but in a metaphorical way.”
I had the chance to walk inside this installation, which will be closed off when it is completed. The only way I can think of to describe it is quiet. When you're between the wall and the lines of string, it feels like nothing can touch you, like you're separate from the outside world.
I asked Gabriel why he used the theme of shelter in his work. He said it was “Probably just happenstance. It all started because I was working with textiles and working with clothing. I was doing small sculptures with clothing and pins, I was doing embroidery, and because of that I was invited to be a part of a show and collaborate with an architect, and the aim was to explore the overlap between fashion and architecture. So that's what put me on that path of exploring, and that exploration led to these installations...It was just like, thinking about what I was doing that led me to realize, well clothing, it has many functions, but one of the functions is to protect us, and architecture is the same thing. They have many functions, but one of them is to protect us. There's something there. I realized that by changing the material of one into the scale of the other one, it kept that sheltering quality but it's transformed and it just becomes more metaphorical.”
I thought it was interesting that he had worked with embroidery as a media for sculpture. He said, “You know, I used to be a graphic designer, and I got really tired of it. That's when I decided I wanted more creative freedom, so I started doing painting and collage, exploring that avenue. Then I recalled that when I was growing up, I really wanted to learn how to embroider. I grew up in Mexico, so it's a very macho oriented society. Because I was a boy, I wouldn't even dare to ask my grandmother to teach me, because that's not what boys are supposed to do. I was remembering that and I was like “well, I could start exploring that.” so I just started on my own, trying to see what that was about...It was very frustrating in the beginning. It's a very slow process, and I had this designer mentality that you have to produce and be fast and you know, if I wanted to have a certain commercial viability to it and be able to live off my artwork, but I came to terms with that, that it was a slow process that was going to take time...I went back to school to do my MFA and that pushed me to creating sculptures. I started working with textiles and I started introducing pins, that's how I started the Pain series...It's pieces of clothing with pins. I would have a collar with pins all around. They become this little fetishistic object, and those pieces led me to be invited to be a part of that show to collaborate with the architect that led me to the installations.
"All of my work, because I'm a man and I'm dealing with textiles, it deals with gender politics in a way, and gender identity, and questioning social structures that we're used to and don't nessecarially question...I still try to do that, but it's in a much more subtle way. It's not an overt political statement."
Gabriel also mentioned something that I don't hear very often, about external rewards. For him, people reacting to his installations is an external reward. He said that he received an email from a parent, with his child's drawing of his work, and another email saying that his work gave someone escape and hope.  I think that kind of thing is fantastic.
Thanks to Gabriel for taking the time to talk to me about his work!
The vote code for Plexus No. 18 is 52805, and I think that you should probably vote for it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Difference Between Art and Design

Photo Credit: Mr.Stonebender
Thursday night at Kendall's old/new Federal Building, Design West Michigan hosted a panel discussion with Andrew Blauvelt and Joseph Rosa, with Susan Szenasy moderating. The topic was “The Difference Between Art and Design” and a little bit of what they discussed was on topic, the rest was tangentially related. They arrived on the topic of architecture as art and stayed there. We normally think of architecture as design, but design involves working with a client and creating a product that is functional for them. If architecture is functioning only as an expression of what the architect wants, it ceases to be design and becomes something closer to a commissioned piece of art. This led the conversation to museum design, where it stayed for a great portion of the talk. They discussed the value of landmark art museums, buildings that function as attractions unto themselves, let alone the art inside. The downside of this type of building is that often, they are ineffective at actually displaying art. There should be some balance that can be achieved between the two, a building by a big-name architect that still achieves the desired function, but that balance is hard to find. I think that the Art Gallery of Ontario blends the two really well. They also touched on the topic of art museums that involve modern additions to older buildings, which would have been interesting to elaborate on, and would have tied in nicely with the recent renovations of the Federal Building.

This discussion, while intriguing, would have been much better suited to a panel about architecture as art than a panel about the difference between art and design. In fact, the first question from the audience was “What is the difference between art and design?” which earned a few laughs. In his answer, Blauvelt touched on something that I wish everyone had talked about more, the fact that context matters. If you put an Eames LCW on a pedestal in a museum, does it inch closer to becoming art? If it's inching toward art, does it move away from design, or can it exist in both spheres? If someone who was trained only in design starts to create designs for which there is no client, is that art? Are commissioned artworks somewhat like design?

Why does the difference between art and design even matter? I think one of the people on the panel mentioned this, but it wasn't discussed much. I don't think that there needs to be a defined rule or a line between the two, and I think that trying to keep them separate is counterproductive and discourages collaboration. I wish that question, the supposed topic of the panel had been discussed more, because I think that they would have come to a similar conclusion, that the difference between art and design is not really something that we should care about.

Overall, the event could have been coordinated better. The venue wasn't made for this sort of thing, and there were some issues with the sound system. From what I overheard, there was space for 300 people, but 400 attended. That meant that many people were watching on tv screens from the lobby of the Federal Building or from Kendall's main building. For future events, I think that Design West Michigan should try to find a larger venue, and see what can be done about the sound situation.

Today I also had the opportunity to visit the old Grand Rapids Public Museum, which is housing site:lab for ArtPrize. It was fascinating, and I encourage everyone in the universe to take the time to visit when it opens up. Until then, this is a website documenting stories of artifacts from the Public Museum's collection, and is worth a look.

This is the first time I've posted on Fifteen-Seventeen when it's not a Monday. I'm considering using non-Monday posts on occasion for time-sensitive things, like event coverage or the “This awesome thing will be happening tomorrow! Be there!” type posts. What do you think of that idea? Email me about it!

Also, this blog post is up on The Rapidian!  Yay!  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The Musée des Beaux Arts Montréal rocked my world. Like most places I go, I didn't know much about it before going there, but when I arrived, I was amazed. The museum was founded in 1860, making it the oldest art institution in Canada. Admission to the permanent collection is free for everyone, which I think is fantastic. I love free things. The museum consists of three buildings, connected by a tunnel beneth the street. It's funny though, because the tunnel is used as a gallery, and since it doesn't seem dark or damp or confining, you can't tell it's a tunnel unless you know to look for it.  I remember just thinking that I was in a basement gallery, then ending up in another building, across the street.

In the main building, the person who gives you a list of what type of art is in which gallery tells you that the best way to go through the museum is to take the elevator to the forth floor, then go through the galleries there and work your way down.  If you do that, you see the art in a somewhat chronological order, starting with the Middle Ages and ending in the mid-twentieth century.  In the other buildings, they have collections of contemporary art and non-western art.  I wish I had more time to spend at this museum.  As it was, I had about two hours, and I feel like I saw a small fraction of the whole collection.  I will definitely stop here if I'm ever in Montreal again.
This piece was the most intriguing thing that I saw.  The full title is The Throne Room, Queluz National Palace, Sintra, Portugal, and it's by Dorian FitzGerald.  The process by which it was created sounds interesting, involving printing the image on strips of acetate to transfer it to a canvas, which is coated in a thick acrylic, then traced with an acrylic caulk.  The result is striking, and it makes me want to attempt something similar.
So, here's the deal.  Go to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and it will change your life and make you a better person and get rid of your acne and you will make friends with everyone.  Seriously.  It's great.
Thanks for reading.  If you know about anything super cool that I should write about, email me.  Also, I'm super pumped for ArtPrize to start!