NOISE MAKING & INSTALLATIONS

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE July 2011 issue.

 

The 20th century was a turning point in the expansion of all things tek, from the now-common LED to the nano-dimensional transistor. The waves produced by the development of electronics reverberated into all life facets, including music, and making way to analog circuitry as a means to produce sound. From the very first electronic pieces of music, to the electro-industrial industry of today, oscillators produce waves, waves turn into sound, and all at the touch of a button.

This tiny incursion into analog devices could either wake in you the love for the mighty electron, or sent you on a path to prick your fingers with a paperclip.

Author’s note | While the schematic for the analog sound producing circuit is accurate, we advise caution in building it at home. The second apparatus is meant to be a mock-up miniature installation of the real circuit, in memory of all the fathers of today’s field of electronics and the new ways they brought into making art.

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Get stuff from the local electronic components store :: two resistors :: four capacitors :: one transistor :: one small audio transformer :: one push button switch :: one speaker :: one battery/power source :: some wires. Get your hands on a soldering iron. Get your hands on a schematic: the schematic used in this article has been developed by Andy Collinson; the circuit is a modified hartley oscillator with a couple of extra components included; see above.

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Get stuff from the local office supply store :: a few paperclips :: 2.5m of internet cable. Buy chewing gum. And get some pliers with a wire cutter. Get your hands on some tequila: ‘cos if you’re going to start this, you might not want to think clearly.

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Heat up the soldering iron. Glue the components together, preferably without glueing your fingers, too. In case a soldering iron is impossible to get, you can also carefully connect the wires and press the knots with pliers. It is usually customary to build such circuitry on a circuit board, but unless you are an electronics buff, this work is most times tedious, as it is very easy to make mistakes. The schematic should be carefully followed. During soldering, first melt the end of one connector, and afterwards bring closer the other wire or connector and hold it in the melted metal drop that has previously formed. Do so hastily, as wires as thin as the ones used in this presentation harden easily. Press the button to make noise. This circuit will reproduce the sounds of a chirping canary.

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Start chewing, to take away the tequila smell. Start by removing the first layer of coating from the internet cable. This should be done without cutting the cable, as you will need a long stretch of it. Internet cable usually has high malleability, but is also quick to break off. Now, sculpting with wires is pretty difficult, as they won’t stay in place unless on a stand and while securing an end, the other might decide to take a stroll. At this point, we recommend another shot of tequila. The usual internet cable has four colours of wiring inside, each of them comprised two-wire spirals. It should be easier to work with a spiral instead of a single wire, as it is a bit harder to break, while remaining malleable enough to stretch and fold by hand. Start at one end of the schematic and make your way around it without cutting the wire; imagine you are sowing something, but without the cloth. Yes, it is time to get another shot. Use some paperclips to mark the components’ places (the miniature installation presented here lacks some components, but since art is a representation of various entities, it makes no difference), so you can afterwards wrap different coloured wires around them for aesthetic effect. Enough with the shots already. Is half the bottle gone? You are ready for the next step. Run around the room making beep-beep noises while holding the installation up high. Or just take some pictures of it, like we did.

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Skip ahead and you can get a whole stage setup. And you know you are a genius.

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Skip ahead and you might make it into a museum. And you know you are a genius.

 

BUILD YOUR OWN

The Spheres Virtual Art Gallery and the N-Sphere Art Magazine present:

THE MICROINSTALLATION ENDEAVOUR

In a world bound by change, how is art evolving? Is it possible to create emotion out of everyday items? Build your own microinstallation using everyday items. Take a picture and send it to the gallery address. In December, we will feature the best works in a special showcase. Entering the contest :: sign up to this endeavour by sending a message to the gallery address. Themes :: every participant needs to enter a theme when entering the contest. This theme will be approved by our editorial staff. Deadlines :: the deadline for entering the cotest is September 25th, 2011. The deadline for submitting the artwork is October 25th, 2011. Eligibility :: all participants must be of legal age in their country of residence.

Details on the Spheres website :: sfere.ro/inside/contest

text & artwork by Vel Thora

Full article here.

PERFORMATIVE IDENTITIES

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE may 2011 issue.

 

Do we actually realize that every time we interact with someone we are playing a role, displaying a persona? When we are getting dressed, looking in the mirror, putting on make–up, we are using our bodies as subjects in a theatrical society, creating complex relationships within the environment. Perfomativity was brought in discussion by the philosopher of language John Langshaw Austin. He didn’t use the term per se, but he introduced the concept of “performative utterance”, which refers to situations when saying something becomes more of doing something. For example the utterance “I name this ship dog/boat Jimmy/Queen Mary”. In this case, the act of naming is performed. In his book How to do Things with Words, Austin presents a new perspective regarding speech as a form of acting (being more of a practice) that can be used to alter/affect reality. Thus, a sentence can’t be classified as true or false, but more like “happy” or “unfortunate” due to the context in which it was developed. The theory developed by J. L. Austin had a great significance in developing a large range of fields from economic science, feminism to queer theory. Therefore, in this essay I will use the work of Judith Butler, philosopher and feminist, and Claude Cahun, a French artist, to illustrate the concept of performative identity.

Judith Butler was influenced, among other things, by the philosophy of Michael Foucault, developing the idea of gender flexibility. In this case we can talk about our identity as a social construct, as something that is fabricated rather than inherent. In her book Undoing Gender, she is questioning the idea of autonomy over the body in the social context. If we examine our identity from the perspective of something unconsciously performed for the other, we shall see that we are following a script. The social environment is governed by hetero–normativity, thereby we function in specific parameters. Therefore our personal acts are in fact conventions and ideologies. In her essay Imitation and Gender Insubordination, Butler eliminates the categories of gender defining the concept of “drag”. We need to see that gender is not a feature of one of the sexes, more precisely the “masculine” doesn’t denote “male” and “feminine” doesn’t mean “female”. That way, “drag” constitutes the everyday life in which genders are worn and made theatrical, implying that all gender imprinting is an approximation. There is no “proper” gender, therefore gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original, being an imitation itself. To sum up, the theory of gender developed by Judith Butler redefines identity.

The French artist Claude Cahun is most recognized for her photographic work. Born in 1894, in the Nantes region, under the name Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob, she started to create her self–portraits around 1912. In 1919 she changed her name, to Claude Cahun, this one being more appropriate for her androgynous character. Her photographic imagery appeared in a controversial space and time, when women’s social and cultural statuses were debated.

She started her career engaging with symbolist themes, using in one of her first self–portraits the image of Medusa. Embodying one of the most powerful examples of “femmes fatales” in history, she re–envisions the social image attributed to women. The character which is interpreted here is a powerful woman, subverting in this way the stereotypes of femininity in that epoch. The 1914 photograph illustrates her in a chair on the floor with her body covered and her head resting on a pillow. The hair is arranged in a snake–like fashion highlighting disembodiment. This is not the only symbolic figure that she adopts, there is also a self–portrait in which she resembles Buddha.

In another piece of work, she embodied the figure of a glamorous male. Posing in front of a dark cloth pinned on a white wall, she approaches the viewer with a expressionless figure. Useless to search here for a gender, the figure constructed is more of an androgynous individual rather than of a male, much less of a woman. Holding one hand on the hip and the other by her side with the fist clenched, she presents the same body in another form. Wearing a white scarf and a velvet suit we can assume (just assume) that this could be a fashion shoot. But with Claude Cahun we can never know, our single information is that this is another form of the persona of Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob.

Another example of a performativity in the work of Claude Cahun is a photograph of extreme camouflage. We can see a being covered in a black cloak with masks applied on it. The face is also hidden by a mask. We are not able to determine if the eyes belong of this entity behind the material or are fake, being painted on the mask. In this case we are facing the tension between looking, which is a form of knowledge, and appearance, feature of the meaning of things. We can see how masks are used to veil probably a form of alienation, but we cannot penetrate them. In her book of essays Aveux non Avenus she wrote:”Sous ce masque un autre masque. Je n’en finirai pas de soulever tous ces visages”. In the same note we can say that whenever we remove our make–up, we are reinventing ourselves, because along with the chemicals, we also remove the first layer of skin.

In her work she tries to exemplify the relation between the visual alter–ego and the conceptual one. Her features enable her to play with an androgynous image, giving to each and every single image its own personality, making herself more of an artistic subject. Efrat Tseëlon defines masks as objects of transition, as rooted in a “metaphysics of ambivalence”, concept which perfectly suits Cahun’s work, because she allows us to see her strategies of self–representation and the stage on which she performs. François Leperlier quotes the artist in his book Mise en scène when she says “The happiest moments of my life? Dreaming. Imagining I’m someone else. Playing my favorite part.” She creates her own vocabulary in which she slips between the social categories that threatened to limit her.

I will use one more example of performativity, namely the mundane carte de visite or business card. First used in 1854 by the photographer A. A. E. Disdéri, it was a very accessible photographic portrait which could be handed out to friends and associates, having engraved on the back personal dates. At first, the photographers had a difficult task to teach the public to pose. Therefore, they put in their studios celebrity portraits, especially those of movie stars. This way the clients were encouraged to imagine a role, to shape a fantasy in which they could identify themselves. Countess de Castiglione is famous for posing in more than hundreds of outfits. Also, in their studios, the photographers constructed elaborated stages where any scenario could be played out for a small amount of money. Nowadays we are using cartes de visite to represent us in the social medium putting our identity on a small piece of paper, creating an illusion for everyone else. That way it doesn’t matter if it’s a lie as long it is a good one.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Claude Levi–Strauss from his essay Split Representation in the Art of Asia and America when he says: “the face is predestined to be decorated, since it is only by means of decoration that the face receives its social dignity and mystical significance. Decoration is conceived for the face, but the face itself exists only through decoration. In the final analysis, the dualism is that of the actor and the role, and the concept of mask gives us the key to its interpretation.”

Further reading.
Gen Doy. Claude Cahun A Sensual Politics of Photography. 2007
Rice Shelley (edited by). Inverted Odysseys: Claude Cahun, Maya Deren, Cindy Sherman. 1999.

Quote. Claude Cahun. Aveux non avenus. 1930

Artwork: Claude Cahun quote. Type treatement Vel Thora

by Ioana Stan

Full article here.

MARIA MANN

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE April 2011 issue.

 

Hallo and welcome to The Spheres. According to your biography, Maria Mann is a multifaceted artist residing in Germany. Do you believe that artists have to branch out in different areas in our time?

This is a time of over saturation. Also in the field of art – everything had already been done or exists in a form and the scene is overcrowded with artists and so called artists.
I think it’s important to build new connections, which means not to Diana Daia think only in old structures, but be open for mixing up things – concerning the field of work the same as the art itself.

Would you be interested in changing your location and move from to another country? Do you regard your work as close to your background and the people living in Hamburg, Munchen etc.?

Although I have been living in Germany – mostly Munich, where I was born, and Hamburg, where I live today – all my life and certainly am influenced by that, I don’t feel like I really belong to a certain place, city, country, society or anything. I always loved travelling and could imagine to live anywhere else on this beautiful earth, there are so many places that for me – for several reasons – seem to be much more livable than let’s say Germany. There are so many places I haven’t seen yet and would like to see! Primarily I prefer a natural surrounding with less people and a way of living, that goes back more to the simple roots. Very small things can make me happy and have a value for me, so I don’t need much. But anyway – wherever and however I live –, I always carry my “little universe” with me and that’s basically my home. You can even say, although I’m still part of this society, i always tried and try to look at all from a more external perspective to free myself as much as possible from all these human built systems, structures and influences. At the same time I look very deep into the inside to understand the inner truth behind all these surfaces.
I’m sure, that all the people on this planet mainly have the same inner fights and problems. I consider myself primarily as a human being of this planet and my work also relates to all the humans on the whole planet. So the answer to your question is: the background for my work is first and foremost my own little universe and planet earth with all living creatures on it.

While living in Berlin, I got caught up in the cultural and artistic turmoil, as so many things are happening there. On the one hand, Germany seems to offer both the space and means for artists nowadays, but on the other hand, most of this experience seems to center on a constant flux from gallery to pub, meeting fellow artists and so on. Do you think this setting is profitable for the creative process overall?

I think it’s a good setting as long as there is a healthy distance to the scene and a balance between such activities and making art.

Is the “artworld” more hermetic and restricted to small circles these days, while paradoxically claiming openmindness?

It’s always a balancing act between the acceptance in the “scenes” and your own position.
For example my way of doing art with its various expressions using different medias keeps me in touch with different scenes.
It’s funny, ’cause all scenes – including the art scene – have things in common and for sure not only the best things.
So trying to find a way of interaction, that strengthens my position on the market, as well as keeping my individuality as an artist.

How important is having a university degree in Arts for you, and by extension, in Germany to make your way through?

I think, today a university degree in arts is not the most important thing – degrees in common have not that importance anymore, if you ask me. Don’t understand me wrong, I think a good education only is useful and there’s also nothing wrong about a university degree, but in the end it’s just a piece of paper, that shows not much about your actual abilities and state of development. Most important is your personality, what you do, your own experiences, development and work. All that speaks for itself. The degree is the cherry on the cake. People go to school and then to university and after some years of study, they have to get along with the tools they’ve learned in “real life” and then they realize, that this isn’t easy at all and that learning never stops with getting a degree – actually then at the latest it really starts! I see big firms today, that don’t give much on a university degree, much more important for them are your actual personal abilities, mental flexibility, creativity and your practical work. Of course you can collect a lot of experiences and learn much by a university study, but there are also many other ways – and there have to be other ways.
As an artist for first and all life long you have to be open, interested and active and think with your own head, feel with your own heart and soul, be your own teacher, try out things and experiment and learn as much as you can. I have experienced and learned a lot of very different things in my life – also at university –, but I consider all equally. This made me what I am today and my inner growth process never stops. There’s never a recipe how to become this or that and be successful – anyway, success for everybody is something different and everybody has different aims in life. You always must find out what you really want by yourself, make your own decisions and go your own way.

Your photographic body of work centers on self–portraiture. Why have you chosen to have yourself as a model in the photos?

All started, when I got an instant camera in my hands in 1997. I was curious and it was the first natural desire and activity for me, to explore and express myself by photographing myself. I still have these very strong photos.
Later then I wanted to expand and concentrate more on the part in front of the camera, so I started several collaborations with photographers. I’ve had some very intensive collaborations over many years and still sometimes work together with other artists like Lilya Corneli. But I never stopped self–portraiture and today even mainly focus on it for several reasons. It needs experience and sure instinct, because it’s a double challenge and i have developed my technical methods that work. But sometimes i just wish to be able to clone myself, so i can be in front and behind the camera at the same time!

How does the position differ from being behind the camera to posing in front of it? Are you comfortable with both those perspectives?

Yes, I’m comfortable with both. Photography always has been an important medium for me. For many years i did analogue photography, which i still very much appreciate, but today I’m primary using digital imaging and post processing.

Could we still talk about a critical distance between artist and artwork, when one is also part of the setting/ concept?

Critical distance and reflection are very important for the creative process and result. For me it makes no difference, if I’m the object or anybody/ anything else – the major focus is on the artwork itself and what it needs.

One of your interesting collaborations was with costume designer Annemarie Bulla, for whom you did a photostories with yourself and puppets. Why the interest in puppets for this series? Were you trying to draw some parallels between models/humans and inanimate objects?

The puppet theme and puppets are important for my art in several ways. During my study I also did stop–motion– fim with puppets, I love puppets and creating puppets by myself. I relate much to puppets and can transport my feelings with them. Especially with the marionette. The marionette is controlled by the puppet player, I’m guided by my intuition/creative will. Anet Strusinski alias Anima Pompon (www.animapompon.com) from Zurich, Switzerland made the woolen puppets.
She won a price with her The Winston Dandy Family and got the possibility to exhibit them in Zurich. She asked me, if I would like to do a photo series with them to exhibit together with the puppets. I was delighted and so the puppets travelled to Hamburg and i had a great time, creating a little photo–story with them and myself in it.
Annemarie Bulla is another costume designer I worked with on several projects. Mainly as a model, makeup artist and photographer for her dresses like Die Harpyie – a female demon birdlike creature in a “raisorblade– dress”, or her last project Die abjekte Mutter, which thematises disgust and the role of the woman as a mother. She created an extraordinary dress with latex.
I also worked with: The unique spats by Maide (www.maidestreasuries.blogspot.com), Hats by Topsy Turvy Design (www. topsyturvydesign.com), A mask by Tanith Hicks / Symphony of Shadows (www.symphonyofshadows.com)

Art for you also means to create “something out of nothing, while at the same time you seem to relate to past eras through your work, both aesthetically and conceptually. In a sense, this could be considered bricolage, do you believe we could talk about this ex nihilo state in the post–modern era that we live in?

“To create something out of nothing ” just describes my intuitive way of creative working. Actually I’m not so much a conceptual artist, usually my ideas are not completely finished in my head before. I have a vision, an idea, a thought, a feeling, a song or something else that inspires me – I have a direction. Of course I also plan, arrange and prepare to a certain necessary degree, but mainly I intuitively follow this direction and try to transform the intensity of my vision into the chosen medium. My strong point is my intuition, it’s an important part of my creative process to play, to try and improvise, to see what happens and what works for the picture in which way. It’s exciting and i love to free myself and look at the world around me “without knowing and categorising” the things I see – and use them in a maybe unusual and unexpected way. It’s like looking with a third eye or through the things.

You argue that “Life is art and art is life”, which, in turn, erases the boundaries between reality and fiction, artwork and artist. Is it easier to adopt this stand nowadays than some years ago?

I think art always is a twilight zone between reality and fiction with a boarder that is relative. All that you can imagine is possible in a philosophical way.
I always tried and try to find out and trust my own feelings and thoughts and follow this truth. I’m a very sensitive and intuitive person. It’s the same part of my life and my art. I don’t make a difference, it’s a whole philosophy of natural creative being, living and growing.

You are also a model for other photographers, how does a collaboration usually develop? Are the artists persons you already know and have some former information on their background and approach?

In general collaborations of any kind can come up in different ways – mostly through internet or “real life”. It’s quite easy… if someone finds someone’s work interesting, they get in contact and if there’s a common ground and all fits, a project can be planned and started. I love to work with people I have already successfully worked together with, which I know and appreciate for their being and work. It’s great to have a long grown artistic relationship, where you understand each other and act like one, where you enrich and complete each other – without many words. But in the same way I’m always curious and open for new people and experiences.

You described yourself as not being “just a model”, do you also get involved in the conceptual part of a photoshoot? How flexible are the collaborations and who brings what in the work?

There is no common rule in my collaborations. Mostly they have been 50/50 regarding ideas and realisation. It’s like we look into a certain direction together and try to get there.

Although I am not a fan of the term “alternative”, there seems to be a growing “alternative model”/photography scene in Germany. Are there any artists/models you would like to work with?

I have always been interested in what’s going on and watched the world around me and what others do. Until today this so called “alternative photography scene” or however to call it has grown a lot. Basically i see it positive, cause in this age of industry and globalisation, many people are on the search for sense and for themselves and try out creative things to express their individualities. Art is perfect for that and everybody can do it. I think as long as some of us have such a desire, there is still a healthy tendency in this society. On the other hand, also in this “scene” I see critical points like superficiality and arbitrariness.
I’m always open to work with and for other artists, if there’s a common ground, a certain quality and professionalism.

Some of your photos also play with fetishist elements. Would you expand to more fetish orientated visual art as well?

What is fetish? It’s just a specific preference and passion. Sensuality and eroticism are always part of my art. I’m a butterfly that likes to fly everywhere. For some time I tried out a lot in the fetish direction, but for sureit won’t expand especially the fetish orientated visual art.
I just pick out things from everywhere, that I need to express myself.

What are your thoughts on nudity in both performance and photography nowadays? Overused or should it be used more?

I think the answer is quite easy: What you need to show to display your certain individual imagination and vision, you need to show. It’s always the choice of the artist, how to make the message/impression of the art the “right way”. First there should always be the question, what the art needs.
If the message needs nudity, then there should be nudity. If not, then no nudity. It’s the same with all other questions how to formulate or present a message/impression. And it’s always the decision of the artist, how to formulate his art.
Regarding me: It never was easy for me to be naked in front of other people, cause I’m quite shy, but when i felt, that the art needed nudity, it was ok for me. You can’t say use more or less nudity – for example, when a painter decides to paint a picture, then you also can’t tell him to paint people with or without clothes or to use more or less blue colour, but more red – it’s his vision and he chooses the tools and ways to display it.

What I found interesting is that you are also a make–up artist. When did you become interested in that field? I always loved to draw and paint. Make–Up is nothing but painting the face and/or body to complete an artistic work as a whole.

The use of Make–Up was very natural for me and it has always been part of my artistic expression.
I have made some practical experiences in theater and since then I’m always learning and experimenting.

Make–up also implies creating masks and personas. Do you believe one’s own individuality is erased through the process or is it just a revealing other facets of the spectrum?

Make–Up is a very strong medium, that makes nearly everything possible. The question is, how and for which purpose you use it.
I always try to work out, how it could emphasise my artistic vision. I love using Make–Up and it’s a very important part of my self–portrayal and photography. I use it to accent certain parts of my personality, my feelings or my thoughts, as well as to explore new or different facettes. Who am I and what could I be? I’m always changing and growing. This is the nature of life itself.
I call my photos just “Face(tte)s of Maria”. It’s like a puzzle: All these parts – the different and contrary they might appear! – considered in their entire shape a picture of myself. The same, when I portrait other people: What do I see in this person? I try to make inner aspects visible and play with personality and roles. This enriches as well the artistic process as the personal development.

You are also a part of the audio–visual project Lady Bloody Mary together with Marco Reinbold. What is the concept behind that and what made you choose this name for it?

Lady Bloody Mary is the audiovisual project of Marco Reinbold. I joined it in 2005, cause we were on the same wavelength and just fit together – in our vision as well as personally, we have been a couple for three years. It was a fundamental artistic collaboration. Marco did the music and I did Performance and all visual things, but we always worked together very close to bring our visions alive by transforming it with different medias – music, performance, artwork, photography and film. Our experimental shortfilm Unzweins has been nominated at several short film festivals. Mainly our topic was the decline of a fragile individual, that suffers and breaks because of inner/outer conflicts.

Lady Bloody Mary is a duo and, in many ways, two persons seem fitting for this project. What are you planning for future performances and releases?

Lady Bloody Mary is Marco Reinbold. We walked together for some years and presented two albums together. For two years now the project in this form is standing still – for the reason, that we always did everything by ourself, put much lifeblood, effort, time and money in it, never had any support and somehow lost our energy on the way and more and more concentrated on other aims. Lady Bloody Mary is still existing and Marco is still active, but we both have changed and I’m sure, today we would do something new and different. Actually I’m not sure, if and how I will appear in this project again in future. But Marco and I are still artistically connected, so let’s see what happens next!

How about your personal work, any projects in development at the moment?

I’m always active in a creative way and work on different kind of art. My fields are drawing/painting/illustration, photography/digital art, design, (trick)film, objects (puppets/accessoires/ costumes/requisites/stages), styling/make–up, performance and writing.
Mostly I’m working on new (self)portraits, doing commissioned work and searching for possibilities to publish, exhibit and sell my work.
In addition I’m working as a freelancer in the areas of design and journalism/ editorial/word/language.
The next big scheme will be my diploma project to finish my study at the University Of Applied Sciences in Hamburg (HAW / Department Design).

Artwork: Maria Mann. White Pain, Self-portrait. Courtesy of the artist

questions by Diana Daia

Full article here.

THE ART OF PRETENDING

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE March 2011 issue.

 

When I was little, I wanted to be Winnetou… or that cowboy dude; whichever one the story was focused on when I was reading it. I even had a small wooden axe and stick for a horse. Either about dolls and tea ceremonies with dirt instead of liquid, or about cowboys and knights and sword fights with crummy sticks, each and every one of you has pretended to be someone else during childhood years. While growing up, the pretend game changes, it becomes more subtle and more sinuous, until it embeds itself into life to never ever disappear again. Here, at the beginning of a third millennium, counted from when humanity found it more suitable, with the entire technological substrate of society, things have not changed, but merely shifted, in that intricate pretend game we all call life.

I. “AS A ROCK OR A CLOUD OR THE HILL”

Even before the world has been changed by the greatest pretend game of all times, there had already been an art dedicated to representations. In ancient Athens, about six centuries before year zero and stretching for about 300 years, the theatre was spawn and nourished as one of the arts. But what is theatre in essence? On a stage, a group of people will set up actions and words to convey a story, an emotion, a point to the audience. It sounds simple at first glance, but it is far from it. Even though the subject of a play depends highly on cultural and historical backgrounds, its complexity remains unchanged. Inside the theatre world, roles shift continuously, the identity of the player remains immutable under the masks, yet the projected image recreates itself, from costumes to gestures and words.

Ancient Roman theatre would use masks, large stone amphitheatres and full male casts. Elizabethan theatre would use circular open roof playhouses, expensive costumes and full male casts. Peking opera would combine music, vocals, mime, dance, acrobatics and full male casts. In the beginning of the most influential non–modern theatrical currents, women were banned from participating in plays, thus all roles were performed by the male actors. It all comes to a peak of pretend, as one not only needs to change appearance in order to perform, but also to change an entire view upon life and its particularities. Why, you say? Because there will always be a rift between male and female constraints leading to different experiences, believes and behaviours; even though contemporary society is not supporting most of them any more.

II. “AS A WHISPER YOU MIGHT NOT BE HEARD”

“Why, except as a means of livelihood, a man should desire to act on the stage when he has the whole world to act in, is not clear to me.” (George Bernard Shaw) asked the fake golden idol. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (William Shakespeare), said the turtle. “The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” (Oscar Wilde), a grouchy voice was heard from behind the trees. A Buddhist monk walks in spreading knowledge. “Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.” (Confucius) “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” (Henry David Thoreau) he continues and sits down pensively. So you see, this crazy idea of playing out life as a performance is not new. However, the roles are continuously changing.

With time, the advances in technology, the rift of society from permanently assigned roles (such as slavery, the vassal system, the Indian castes) to a more uniform organization, produced a large infusion of literary works in which the self was presented from two different perspectives, one of which was hidden and only visible under extraordinary circumstances. In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson publishes the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Even though the short novel is usually associated with split personality, what could imped one to identify one of them with the actor and one with the character? The subject is not entirely lost in ages, as Jane plays the pretend game (whether she realises it or not) as Eve Black and Eve White in Nunnally Johnson’s The Three Face of Eve released on the silver screen in 1957.

The idea of playing the role of a lifetime in daily life is not far from modern playwright David Henry Hwang. His 1988 work, M. Butterfly, borders on fantasy, lies, betrayal and centres on shifting a person’s entire life around a single glorious performance. The role becomes life, it changes the entire set of morals for the actor and produces reverberations into the life of his audience. Song Liling plays for Rene Gallimard, he becomes a wife for the French diplomat, he brings him a child, he loves and dedicates himself to his role even when the illusion is over for his spectator. The props are even alive in the form of a baby, and the role is so masterfully played, that it engulfs the Frenchman completely, even causing his suicide.

“If all the world’s a stage, I want to operate the trap door.” (Paul Beatty) says the hare and jumps away through the bushes.

III. “LIKE A TITAN WHO COMES FOR HIS OWN”

In the book Intelligent Control Systems (2002, Meystel et al.), Albus is stipulating that all intelligent life forms, be they alive or artificial, need an interface with the outside world. These sensory and executive elements, for instance the eyes or one’s hands, build an integrated mask around such object that contains them. The individual is thus seen as enclosed in a web of networked elements that help interact with the environment. Though incredibly useful, this interface presents also the gap between the stage and the audience. The dissociation between the self and the world allows for roles to be created, illusions to be projected, stages to be set and plays to be unravelled.

The third millennium society hides behind the most invisible mask of all: cyber–identity. From the creation of innocent avatars to the hidden self behind a monitor in the depths of fantasy, the virtual world offers a better, newer, infinite stage for human performance. The multitude of stages is only limited by time, since all of them require the actual presence of a human, even though interfaced by a computer. Second Life (2003, Linden Labs) is one of the largest virtual worlds in which characters are played by human operators and interacts through avatars, a representation of the projected self, much like the ancient theatre masks. From virtual spaces in which one can play an everyday role, to fantasy spawn mass–multi–player–online–role–playing–games, the current technological state is facilitating the need for humans to perform on a large stage.

IV. “TO AN ORPHAN WHOSE KEEPER HAS COME”

I have recently stumbled upon a list of “101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived”. The homonym 2006 book written by Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan and Jeremy Salter presents a list of fictional and mythological characters that shaped future events throughout history, with argumentation. The great surprise was to find the Malboro Man in first place and Betty Boop at the 96th position. It seems that mini–skirts (sex) were not as attractive as brawns (cigarettes), heh. Returning to the topic, go see Annie. It is the most dreamed dream, the most desired role: to be saved. Either from poverty, orphanages, vices, loneliness, madness or reality, the human will always desire to be someone else, to be extracted from its own life. “I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make–up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked onto the stage he was fully born.” (Charlie Chaplin)

Remove your shoes, hurry on stage, wait for the curtains to rise and be like me, as I am the great pretender.

Quotes | Phideaux. Titan. 2005

text & artwork by Vel Thora

Full article here.

THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE February 2011 issue.

 

A clock face, without mechanism, without wheels, with only a quarter of it divided and marked. A disfigured presence, a lifeless mask, a useless piece of… but all in all, an installation that carries one of the heaviest multitude of paradigms, theories, beliefs, successes and failures of mankind: The Doomsday Clock. Ah, how James Bond–ish it sounds (with a British accent, you know). However, the reality of the matter is that someone managed to dramatically materialize the highest fears of the end of the second millennium. It is, indeed, a piece of art. Though the builders are scientists, who is to say a rational mind is an unproductive mind?

The Doomsday Clock has the following written on its back (no, it doesn’t, but let’s pretend):
Lemma: The Big Bang actually happened.
Hypothesis: There is a new Bang in the near future, about six minutes from now.
Proposed Theorem: Humanity is one sick bastard.

Proof (it’s only two paragraphs, don’t be scared): Notation: World = F(Human), where F is a nonlinear, complex function of the Human variable.

Given Lemma, it is stipulated that a huge explosion started the World. According to Chaos Theory, the dynamic system that comprises the World is subject to its initial conditions. Thus, it can be concluded that the World has a Bang for initial state. Second, assuming that the Human variable is a function G of Emotion and Reason: Human = G(Emotion, Reason) and accepting the stochastic behaviour of Emotion, it is concluded that the Human variable is random (you’re doing great, one more paragraph to go).

Thus, it is proven that the function World has a stochastic behaviour in time. Systems Theory proves the continuous character of the real complex World, thus stating that stability of a system is immutable, with the lack external intervention. Given the random nature of the Emotion variable and the asymptotic decay towards zero of the Reason variable (proven by means of observation experiment), the World system is unstable over time (good job, get ready for the big finale).

Conclusion: The World, with Bang initial conditions, continuous random behaviour and intrinsic instability will end in a Bang, and it is all the Human variable’s fault. Tsk, tsk.

And now, in layman’s terms: The Doomsday Clock was created at the University of Chicago by the board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947. This installation is a symbolic approach of humanity to global disaster. With three quarters of the face empty, this lifeless clock was first an alarm signal to the threat of nuclear cataclysm, a metaphor to the frailness of human life and self–destructive tendencies of Earth’s inhabitants. The minute hand of the clock advances or recesses according to international political, economical and scientific context, while the hour hand rests eternally at midnight, proving humanity’s disbelief in being more than mere hours away from total annihilation.

Though disturbing, the idea has deep roots in the events of the past century, which do not seem to have progressed very far until present. The 1947 time, in the midst of nuclear weaponry and research, was 7 minute to midnight. Today, the clock reads only 6. The timeline climbs and decreases over the years, but the farthest to doomsday was 17 minutes, while the closest showed 2 minutes. These two dates are important, as they shape a fear not of nuclear winter and death of humanity, but a fear of terror, a fear of social change, an inability to cope with the established social order and a desire to impose it on others. The 2 minutes time was set when both the USA and USSR had their hands on the first hydrogen bombs. The 17 minutes time was set when both the USA and USSR kissed and made up. So what can one conclude from this, other than an unnaturally extreme fear of being forced into a different society?

But the issue is not that simple. The human mind has been imagining utopian worlds into dystopian futures ever since the invention of science–fiction. From Asimov to Wells, the mid–century literary variations of the same concern are distributed over a wide range of philosophical views on society, its structure, and the influence scientific advances has over it. The question that popped at least once in one’s head was “what will happen a century from now?”. Asimov imagined a world of robots, a world of war, a world of cybernetic triumph over flesh decay. Wells, instead, imagined utopian societies, a global state and the victory of man over matter.

However, they both open gates to the true nature of things. In The Dead Past, a 1956 short story, Asimov presents a society in which scientific discovery is restrained and controlled. The government’s motivation was that this tactic has been put in place for the greater good of the society and to protect the personal freedom of the individual. But Asimov’s point was that control over scientific discovery is impossible. Which reminds me, the point of this little story is that when trying to control a large mass of people, there will always be something that escapes. What? You say it resembles the decay of communism we–know–where? Shut up and be a sheep.

On the other hand, Wells tried looking even further into a fictional future and concluded that by the 22nd century the world will be under the “Modern State in Control of Life”, in 1933′s The Shape of Things to Come. With tactics of behaviour control and sublimation of interest, the global organization of this future society was the result of a different unfolding of the World War II related events. Unlike today, when globalization has become a reality and advertising strategies rule the consumerist society… wait, did I say “unlike”?

So you see, a plenitude of fucked–up… err, concerning points reside behind the Doomsday Clock. There is a fine line between the utopia of equality and the dictatorship of fear. However, a small amount of hope survives. Waking up, smelling the roses won’t cut it anymore. Waking up and using the gray matter is desired. But waking up and seeing the destruction that is already happening around is ideal, in this utopic dystopia we call World.

Artwork: Vel Thora. Doomsday Clock. Artistic representation

by Vel Thora

Full article here.

COUM TRANSMISSIONS – GUARANTEED DISAPPOINTMENT

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE January 2011 issue.

 

One could hardly image how Yorkshire slang and Turkish cyclamens would conjure up a glimmer of excitement in the eyes of industrial music aficionados and art geeks alike. But the answer is clear cut: Throbbing Gristle and COUM Transmissions.

The starting point of this legendary mess of performance art, experimental music, pop culture and of course scandal, would be the Northern England city of Hull in 1969, where Neil Andrew Megson (Genesis P–Orridge) and Christine Carol Newby (Cosey Fanni Tutti) stirred things up through their artistic happenings that included everything from improvised music to street theatre. Or more precisely, if we were to quote a COUM flyer, their activity included “Coumusic, Lightshow (film and slides), Folk, Inflatables, Catastrophe Machines, Vaudeville, Music Hall, Tapes, Bingo, Ballet, Trained Animals, Puppet Show, Street Theatre, Fashion Show and Pass the Parcel.”

Being immersed in the late sixties avid search for alternative lifestyles and means of expression, they joined the Ho–Ho Funhouse commune in Hull, while Genesis left for London to collaborate with the performance group Transmedia Explorations. Needless to say, these experiments proved unsatisfying for both Cosey and Genesis, thus determining them to intensify their activity in COUM. But how would they define their group? “COUM is the sum total of everything said, thought and written about it, plus everything in all media it does, plus everything it never did, thought of doing, might have done, etc. COUM is defined by TOTAL INCLUSION.” One of the main interests of the group was to always contradict expectations, something that could also be observed in Throbbing Gristle’s unrelenting desire to avoid labels and preconceived ideas.

Being heavily involved in mail art and consequently, in contact with a growing network of artists, they developed fictional organizations such as L’ecole de l’art infantile or the Ministry of Social Insecurity. But soon enough, Hull had become too provincial and limited for COUM’s creative energy. In 1973, Cosey and Genesis moved to London and found a studio at 10, Martello Street, in Hackney, where Death Factory would later be located.

Drawing on influences from the Viennese Actionists, a group of artists that sought through ritualistic and often violent performances to break the taboos of a highly conservative Austrian society, COUM staged numerous happenings such as “Art Vandals”, “Marcel Duchamp’s Next Work”, “Couming of Age” or “Throbbing Gristle” and participated in several group exhibitions like “Fluxshoe”, “Hygiene de l’art”, “Postal Art” or “Kitschmas 73″ in Europe and North America.

In Genesis P–Orridge’s words: “COUM theatre is intensely honest and accessible. Disarmingly simple. Intellectually complex, reconciling conflicting levels and attitudes. COUM combine intellectual force, popular culture and sheer comedy.” Genesis further explains: “We expand ourselves to boundaries, even destroying, condemning ourselves to forms of madness and isolation”, also tracing a parallel between COUM and sexuality, undeniably a central theme of their work. “Sex is sensual, delirium, escape, key to magick, joy, excitement”, quite similar to a COUM performance, as they wanted “people to be themselves”, abandoning “all thee false ideas one has of oneself.”

From the very beginning, the group explored notions such as the male/female binary and set out to blur fixed gender roles, while Cosey developed her own type of performance art. By working as a model for pornographic magazines and as a stripper, she subverted the male gaze that objectified her, through conscious approval. In a sense, Cosey was well ahead of her fellow artists that pertained to the same feminist struggles, since she acknowledged the performative aspect of gender identity and its culturally–constructed quality.

As one can imagine, dealing with repressed emotions and social taboos wasn’t exactly what the public and art institutions were expecting. Often dismissed as nonsense, COUM Transmissions was described as an “anti–human piece of evil” or to quote the infamous remark of a conservative politician “these people are the wreckers of civilization”. But the constant controversy surrounding COUM escalated to massive proportions in October 1976, when they had their solo exhibition “Prostitution” at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London. The deliberate purpose of the show was to scrutinize the relationship between money and art or the importance of representation and to subvert high art expectations. The exhibition showcased pornographic images with Cosey (available on request), props and photographs from previous performances and press cuttings. In some way, it was conceived as a retrospective of COUM and possibly as a shift to Throbbing Gristle that performed at the opening. However, the heated debates it stirred, ranging from public spending on arts to the state of contemporary art, surpassed the initial scope of the show. Reactions were violent and the exhibition was described as “squalid rubbish”, “sickening outrage” and a “celebration of all social evils”. Disgruntled and frustrated by media pressure and the lack of support from the art world, COUM members decided to focus their energy on Throbbing Gristle, comprising Genesis P–Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and Peter ’Sleazy’ Christopherson. Wanting to address a larger and more diverse audience, TG expressed their desire to “subliminally infiltrate popular culture.” TG was at the same time an attempt to “popularize academic concepts and blend them into what people thought was a popular culture medium. A rock band which was actually not a rock band.”

What followed next is a piece of music history, which will only be explored very briefly in this article. In 1981, Throbbing Gristle is disbanded, each of its members continuing separate projects. P–Orridge and Cristopherson formed Psychic TV and the religious organisation Thee Temple ov Psychic Youth. Three years later, in 1984, Cristopherson leaves PTV and forms Coil, along with his partner John Balance. During this time, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti performed under the name of Chris and Cosey and initiated the projects Creative Technology Institute and Conspiracy International. In 2004 Throbbing Gristle reunited, but the current situation of the band remains unclear due to the unexpected death of Cristopherson in November 2010.

In their words: “The archetype has been investigated, the information is stored.” TheMission is Terminated.

Further reading: Simon Ford, Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of COUM Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle, London: Black Dog Publishing, 1999

Artwork: GENESIS BREYER P-ORRIDGE COUM Transmissions action at Kielinie/Spielinie art fair. Kiel, West Germany. 1975. Courtesy of Genesis P-Orridge © 1975.

by Simina Neagu

Full article here.

THE SKELETAL GARDEN – A SHORT INTRODUCTION TO THE BAROQUE DEATH

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE December 2010 issue.

 

Nous le voyons apparaître au Moyen Age, se comportant et s’étalant avec toute la maladresse cynique et toute la superbe de l’idée sans art. Mais depuis lors jusqu’au XVIIIe siècle, climat historique de l’amour et des roses, nous voyons le squelette fleurir avec bonheur dans tous les sujets où il lui est permis de s’introduire. La sculpture comprit bien vite tout ce qu’il y a des beauté mystérieuse et abstraite dans cette maigre carcasse, à qui le chair sert d’habit, et qui est comme le plan du poème humain. (Ch. Baudelaire, Salon de 1859, VIII, Sculpture)

 

Troublesome times logically cause introspection and reevaluation. There are some remarcable cases when a discourse centered on the finality of humankind develops in historically critical conditions, when the impulse to judge one’s own epoch as decadent amplifies and time is to be perceived dramatically. Throughout the two millenia of christianity, western Europe has often been tempted to perceive political and social catastrophs as a manifestation of the imminent Apocalypse.

Apart from the idea of temporal ciclity inspired by the constant annual regeneration of nature, the judeo–christian vision of a linear time, which would perhaps end with the Second Coming/Parousia, helped to reintroduce in Renaissance times an adjusted version of the old Saturn/Chronos of antiquity. He illustrated the philosophical concept of Time with all its undertones: time’s irreversible flow, life’s briefness, the dissolution of all possible illusion when facing the Truth and so on, thus receiving an ambivalent nature, positive/creative and negative/destructive. Although, for instance, Marsilio Ficino, considering himself a saturniano, attempted to somewhat rehabilitate the old god by proposing a general typology of those “born under saturn”, governed by melancholia and strokes of genius/madness, the negative aspects (Saturn’s canibalism, his gruesomeness) brought Saturn closer to the image of Death. The old god borrowed Death his hourglass and eventually his wings, as seen in Bernini’s Death at Pope Alexander VII’s Tomb in Vatican’s San Pietro; or allowed it to appear in the decoration of timepieces, reiterating a memento mori.

Saturn’s old appearance mirrored the way humankind perceived itself: old, almost reaching the end of time, when all essential in history had passed by. Although this might be explained sociologically and historically on a larger scale, I will try to address the collective imaginary of the elites and its influences. Death, however, insidiously invaded the social imaginary through alternative routes: expressions in lyrical, sacred or secular poetry; or through the apparition of phantasmic productions dealing with Death, as forms of “modern” theatre which distanced itself from the medieval mystery plays (the Elizabethan dramas as large processions of murder and blood). The new sensibility was heavily influenced by iconographical trends: see, for instance, Emile Mâle’s stance that the art of the Counter–Reformation was centered around the image of the martyr, and subsequently death. It is common knowledge that a world of violence and instability inspired Caravaggio and the European caravaggisti; and that the most interiorised meditations of still–life painters placed the skull in the center of their Vanitas paintings.

Some historians have noted that the lyrical, theatrical, musical or visual productions shared the same traits (hence the artificial denomination: “baroque”): a mannerist artificiality, the search of new forms, exaggeration or hyperbolizing, a constant fear or epigone complex followed by a collective non possumus, perhaps most ably illustrated in La Bruyère’s Caractères: Tout est dit, et l’on vient trop lard depuis plus de sept mille ans qu’ ’il y a des hommes et qui pensent.

Two of the most poignant apparitions of Death happen, unincidentally, within the “anatomical” studies and funerary art, both covering christian, moral undertones. In the case of anatomical studies, if Death is already blooming (avec bonheur – as Baudelaire put it), skulls and bones somehow expose the internal limits of “scientific” exploration, calling for a reapproach through allegory, under the effect of the most realistic depictions.

As for the other medium which allowed the obsessive multiplication of skulls or skeletons in the most macabre depictions, funerary art probably influenced the most the later perceptions (18th – early 20th century) of “baroque” as something of a rather mauvais goût. I would only like to remind the close bond between the baroque taste and rhetoric. There is something that only through the theme of Death may be explored. When realising the distinction between an emotional discourse or a discourse dominated by reason, the baroque taste “chose” the emotional one. A conduct centered around the idea of passion gains validity through the appeal to sensibility and affectivity. But this also permits us to ask, in the manner of Johan Huizinga: Est–elle vraiment pieuse la pensée qui s’attarde si fort au coté terrestre de la mort? (Le Déclin du Moyen–Age).

by Roxana Vasile

artwork by Diana Daia

Full article here.

PIERRE ET GILLES

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE November 2010 issue.

 

Pierre et Gilles are Pierre Commoy, born in 1949 in La Roche–sur–Yon and Gilles Blanchard, born in 1953 in Le Havre. They created through their artistic symbiosis of photography and painting a magnificent authentic universe. They have been inseparable ever since they met at a party in Paris in 1976, having solo exhibitions all over the world in Paris (European House of Photography), Glasgow (Museum of Modern Art), Tokyo (Ginza Art Space), Turku (Turun Taide Museum), New York (New Museum of Contemporary Art), San Francisco (Yerba Buena Arts Center for the Arts) or Vienna (Kunsthaus Wien).

Having worked together for 30 years, they produced over 700 artworks including portraits of celebrities from all over the world such as Salvador Dali, Yves Saint–Laurent, Paloma Picasso, Nina Hagen, Boy George, Catherine Deneuve, Kylie Minogue, Claudia Schiffer, Laetitia Casta, Dalida, Juliette Greco and close friends like Marc Almond or Nina Hagen or just random people. They create an unique experience of artificial settings, theatre elements, decors, lighthing, make–up, hairstyles, costumes made from special, varied material, sometimes receiving help from known specialists.

Their style is immediately recognizable because of their distinguishable technique, which leads to creating a unique handmade object: after Pierre takes the picture of the model, Gilles, without any digital manipulation and only by using successive layers of glaze and paint, brush and airbrush, adds new elements to the original frame transforming a reproducible photography into a unique piece. The boundaries between media of artistic expression are erased, and the photograph gradually transforms into a painting where their models find perfection and become porn or pop stars, religious figures, gods, saints, sailors, human clichés, at the crossroad of the sacred and profane, beautiful and ugly, good and evil, popular culture and classical elements.

Instead of representing the world as one marked by violence, they consider that they have the task to create a fairy–tale universe, dominated by kitsch, which is a result of mixing elements from Asian culture, extracted from their visits in Morocco, India, Thailand, while finding adorable the chromatics of these places and the people’s way of being.

To them, kitsch is just a way to meditate about themes as love and hate, tenderness and violence, and to combine commercial and high art, poetry, glamour and homoeroticism, adding to their artificially enhanced subjects exotic backgrounds with star–filled night sky, floating clouds, forest floors or industrial cityscapes and frames with flowers, branches, trees. Pierre et Gilles, like many other gay artists, focus on the male body, homoeroticism being one major aspect of their artwork. They use beautiful melancholic male models, naked or partially dressed, with muscular bodies, heavy face make–up, playing with notions such as masculinity, perfection, superficiality, body in modern gay culture.

Artwork: Pierre & Gilles 1992 Les Maries Models: Pierre et Gilles Courtesy of Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris

by Anca Stirbacu

Full article here.

SOME RANDOM THOUGHTS ON OUTSIDER ART

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE October 2010 issue.

 

Of all the “–isms” of the 20th century, outsider art – umbrella term quasi–interchangeable with art brut or raw art, marginal art, self–taught, visionary art, mediumistic art, folk art, contemporary folk art, arte naïve, neuve invention – distinguishes itself through its inconsistency and lack of ideological or stylistic framework. Within this article, I will try to outline the major problems posed by such a “volatile” term, which essentially reflects the aesthetic revolution of modernism and postmodernism.

EXPRESSION, TRANSGRESSION, OUTSIDER ART

Long viewed as simply pathological, symptomatic and therapeutic, the art of the mentally ill, along with the art of the “primitives” and children’s art, became, for the historical avant–garde of the early 20th century, the object of reassessment and idealization. Radical anti–traditionalists recognized in it their own ends: the expressive force of an immediate, pure, spontaneous artistic act, devoid of convention and traditional values. The affinity between degeneration or the typical process of schizophrenia and the artistic phenomena can easily be illustrated, e.g.: multiple points of views – analytic cubism or even, tracing back, impressionism or Cezanne’s studies on light; no external referentials/self–referential – abstract expressionism; detachment – theatre of the absurd, Duchamp; and so on.

Perhaps as a legacy of the romantic image of the creative genius touched by madness, rethinking the art of the psychotic or mentally ill was due to a growing interest as manifested in such studies: L’art chez les fous (1907 – Marcel Réja/Paul Meunier – psychiatrist) or the more influential Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (1922 – Hans Prinzhorn – psychiatrist and art historian), in parallel with the psychoanalytic approach which sought possible signs of disturbance in artists previously considered sane (Freud’s analyses on Leonardo and Michelangelo – 1910, 1914). A contact with Prinzhorn’s study and a tour of the psychiatric asylums in Switzerland, where he also encountered the works of Adolf Wölffli, prompted Jean Dubuffet to destroy his previous works and gather in a personal collection (1945) “brut”, “uncivilized” productions, including naöve, folk or mentally ill art. Along with André Breton and other friends, he established his own Compagnie de l’art brut and organised the first exhibition in 1949, publishing his important text: L’art brut préféré aux arts culturels. Later on, he would consider the brut character as universally defining modern art and develop his style accordingly.

Coined by Roger Cardinal in 1972 as outsider art, the term acquired autonomy, a plethora of dedicated exhibitions, catalogues, monographs and evolved into a unequivocal pigeon–hole for anything produced outside the art establishment and its institutions, by individuals with none or limited artistic education.

Since it lacks the stylistic criteria, art brut/outsider art challenges the classical art historical method of periodisation or the newer geographical approach*. The term essentially refers not to any formalistic or ideological traits, defining instead the status of the artists. This state not only increases the difficulties of finding a consensus regarding the definition of outsider art, but allows to ask ourselves whether the term, understood literally, can still be validated in a world of anti–elitistic cultural pluralism, where “anything goes”.

In addition, there are a few other senses in which the term may seem ambiguous. Firstly, outsider art was (at least until recently) discussed only through its sustaining role and source of inspiration for modern artists (Rousseau & Picasso; Wölffli or anonymous artists from the Prinzhorn Collection & Klee or Dubuffet), since this type of art responded to the ideals of immediacy, rupture, purity etc. This aspect was linked by Hal Foster (critical art historian) to a “misreading” of the art of mentally ill which informed, however, the avant–garde’s need for transgression or metaphysical. His main idea is that if the avant–garde sought to break a symbolical order and renounce conventions, the source of inspiration for allowing the fostering of these ideals – the art of the mentally ill, expressed intrinsically the desire of those individuals to repair, replace, reinvent a symbolical order, the lost conventions and regain, eventually, the equilibrium of the mentally sane. This may imply that, as a vehicle to provoke and deconstruct art’s established spheres and elites, the art of the mentally ill, though brought to mainstream attention, was actually obscured.

Secondly, its link with the historical avant–garde turned into a backlash when the notion of avant–garde itself was rediscussed in the 50s–60s, with the dawn of the neo–avantgarde movements. See for instance Leslie Fiedler’s verdict that the avant–garde was dead, the works of Leonard Meyer, Angelo Guglielmi and others.

Finally, outsider art, especially in its folk aspect, has always been existing, as vernacular art alongside the official art. Mediumistic art goes back to mid 1800s, inheriting the belief in immaterial entities. Sometimes, the cathartic expression is a natural reaction to one’s suffering.

It is perhaps the modern need of an Other, a stranger to the conventional art world, that generated the outsider art and the new aesthetic and market categories implied.

*but, concerning the historiographical problem, a side question arises: could outsider art be the subject of a study within the broader history of objects and images, as proprosed by George Kubler in the The Shape of Time?

Artwork: August Natterer. 1915. Hexenkopf. Courtesy of the artist

by Roxana Vasile

Full article here.

MODERNISM & VINTAGE

   

The following article was published in n-sphere september 2010 issue.

 

First of all, welcome to the Spheres. In order to introduce our readers to the Modernism & Vintage world, how would you describe your body of work?

Modernism & Vintage was born as a personal blog, inspired by things like Fashion clothing, Design, Photography, Architecture, Natural Cosmetics… Then, I wanted to create my own accessories, for my personal use and with my personal taste, but in the end, they ended up being published on my blog, under the name/brand Modernism & Vintage.

In today’s over commercialized consumer society, packaging aspect holds great weight on a customer’s decision to buy one item or another. What concepts and/or ideas lie beneath the decorative packaging and tagging you choose for your pieces?

I’m one of those people who care about the packaging of the products that they buy, so I really think about the item as an entire concept. I usually? have a final idea of the finished product in my mind.
At this moment, I’m just a person who makes her own accessories in a handmade way, so I pay attention to the article itself, the tagging and its appearance when I publish on the blog. I’m a designer, so I try to show the pieces in the best way I can, but at this moment, I do my work within my means.

Given the small size these items usually have, how would you ascertain the level of difficulty in creating your pieces? Is the design and development usually demanding or is it just a means to pass time?

I guess that “making” something like my accessories is not so difficult, in fact, there are a lot of people who make jewelry as a hobby. The main thing is to choose the right materials and design for a beautiful composition. So, I want to believe that is my aim as well. I’m discovering my style. It started out as a personal work, to pass the time, and at this moment it is something more serious. I had to recreate some pieces because someone requested and wanted one in particular.

You mentioned having a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. Would you categorize your accessories as a result of a hobby, or does it have deeper roots and implications?

Yes, I’m a Fine Arts Graduate with Graphic Design and Audiovisual specialization, so my accessories can be the result of that, obviously, but it’s also something deeper.
I have my personal taste and preferences. I like certain painters, architectural styles… your aesthetics sometimes influence you more than the world you have to live in.

Which of your past projects do you consider to have been most rewarding personally?

The best thing that happened to me as a designer, was to be sponsored by the Promsite Collective, which is a site with the best graphic designers in Spain at the moment. It was the greatest honour I received as a professional. You can visit my graphic portfolio under the pseudonym Insofferenza (insofferenza.com).

Do you have your own clothing line or is there a collaboration with designers, such as Amoelbarroco?

I would love to, but I have to say no for the moment. Probably in the future… I’m thinking about it. I studied at the same university as Amoelbarroco, we’ve also lived together some time ago. She’s a good friend of mine, it would be great to do something in collaboration with her.
Who knows if she gives me that chance some day… jeje.

Are there any other collaborations in progress now for the Modernism & Vintage project?

No, I’m very individualistic about/regarding my work, but nothing came up either.

Some of your brooches have inserted vintage photos. What is the source of these pictures and what is your motivation for choosing to integrate them in your pieces?

I browse for that kind of photos, with the vintage feel, in second hand shops or on the internet.
I chose the vintage style because I love the way the pictures were taken, the colors (or the black and white), the scenery, the textures, the models… I love the XIXth century, it means elegance to me and that’s exactly what I want for my accessories.

Accessories are usually associated with symbols of status or connection to certain social groups. How would you argue your pieces fit into today’s social machinations? Are they a means to transgress norms or just nostalgic elements?

My accessories appeal to certain people. Not everybody likes that vintage and romantic look. I don’t pretend to transgress norms, I just want to look back into the past and feel that we can have part of them nowadays. Part of the beautiful things they made, the elegance of that season, under my personal perspective.

The feel of a certain era transgresses through your entire body of work. Why this specific choice and not another historical period? Does it hold any special meaning for you?

I’m a Romantic person, with all that implies. As a Romantic, I always have the dark side of life present, but I want to show the beauty of that period in my work too.
As far as I remember, the Symbolist and Romantic painters were my favourites, I also love modernist architecture… For me this is one of the most beautiful aesthetic movements in history. I am fond of movements such us Wiener Werkstätte, artists like Beardsley, Mucha, decadent painters…

Do you have any other interests at the moment?

Yes, I always have many things on my mind… But studying something related to Fashion Design is my priority.

What type of tools do you usually make use of when creating your pieces?

I use fabrics, bronze items, laces, ribbons, tulle, vintage photos, chains, buttons, clocks… every single thing that I find interesting and could be included in a piece of my work.

What do you find inspirational at the moment and what projects are on their way?

Well, I have been doing this for a few months, so… I didn’t have enough time to grow up in this area. I want to continue improving my designs, making better accesories, with better fabrics and more beautiful compositions. And I want to explore more fields, making some bracelets, some headdress, some T-Shirts… this would be the future aim for Modernism & Vintage right now.

To conclude, how would you describe the sphere of Modernism & Vintage and its elements?

Modernism & Vintage, sums up the meaning and the entire concept of my tastes and preferences. The XIXth Century is the center of my blog and work. My creations are the result of my personal love for the vintage look. Modernism is one of my favourite periods.
The result: accessories in which I try to infuse that old fashion essence.

questions by Vel Thora

answers by Patricia Brito

Full article here.