“Louise Bourgeois: Structures of Existence; The Cells. Louise Bourgeois’s Cells are intensely psychological microcosms: situated within various enclosures, each is a multi-faceted collection of objects and sculptural forms arranged to evoke an atmosphere of emotional resonance”.
I strongly identify with the statements made about psychological spaces. I’ve realised lately that the spaces I’ve been creating are a reflection of my inner state and this surprised me. The installation for my degree show is a fusion of objects that I used to try to evoke an emotional response but also reference deep inner triggers regarding the themes I’m working with.
“Space does not exist; it is just a metaphor for the structure of our existence.” Louise Bourgeois
“Beyond the emotional states so vividly expressed by her individual works, it is their physical effects that are most striking. They are, above all, visceral works, and perhaps Bourgeois’s most significant accomplishment is connecting the body and physical experience to emotional life. What gives her art its powerful impact is the compression of the movement between the two. She transforms vulnerable, problematic, very private and often unacknowledged feelings- the powerlessness of shame, the helplessness of chaotic emotions, forbidden thoughts- into concrete form. As she says, making a work of art is physicalizing the problem. This is indeed a dangerous passage, requiring for its transit much inner strength and courage. Navigating it, Bourgeois insists on the significance of vulnerability and its relevance to social life. Defending herself in a way, but also defending the vulnerable, problematic child still present, however buried in each of us. She transforms vulnerable, problematic, very private and often unacknowledged feelings – the powerlessness of shame, the helplessness of chaotic emotions, forbidden thoughts – into concrete form”.
Images of a recent exhibition ‘Deeper in the Pyramid’ 2018 by Melanie Jackson and Esther Leslie at the Grand Union gallery in Birmingham.
Pinuccio (Pino) Sciola (1942-2016)
Pino Sciola was a Sardinian sculptor based near Cagliari. There is some information about him and his practice online but I hope to visit his sculpture museum in San Sperate soon to gain a deeper understanding of him and his work. He has talked about his passion for stone and rock in depth and he clearly had a great affinity for the material. Sciola talks about rocks behaving as the backbone of the earth and through forming his sculptures, he aimed to unlock the ancient voice of the earth. He conveys a reverence for the earth, cosmos and geological process that I find inspiring and uplifting and I believe he may reflect a tradition relating to the great respect for nature inherent in the Sardinian culture. I have been fortunate enough to visit the island of Sardinia twice (many years ago) and I gleaned a sense of the unique culture and sensibility of the people. It’s an extremely special place where traditional values run deep and an emphasis is placed on a respectful, harmonious relationship with the environment.
The ancient inhabitants of the island also believed rocks were sacred. There are special caves dug into rocks located all over the island called ‘Domus de Janas’ that translates as ‘the houses of faeries’.
At the 2017 Venice Biennale, I found work by a Sardinian artist called Michele Ciacciofera who referenced these ‘Domus’ in his works and I found this fascinating.
He referenced the history and traditions of the ancient people of Sardinia for this work and it was a type of homage to the fae or nature spirits that inhabit the natural environment (including rocks) over the island. This work drew me in instantly and I felt an intuitive understanding about the work. Its so amazing and exciting to experience that feeling from art. From my interests and research about Sardinia, I feel there are parallels between its history and that of Cornwall (or ancient Celtic Britain) and I hope to explore this idea further one day.
I’ve recently read ‘Acorn’ and I found it to be an inspiring and uplifting book. Yoko Ono makes wonderfully simple, quiet but astute observations about human nature and the natural world. The book begins with her brief account of post-WWII Japan were she and her family experienced harsh food shortages. During this time she spent a long time lying in the fields, watching the sky. In her short passage about this experience, we learn that the sky gave her hope and she conveys beautiful, minimal and simple mini-manifestos for living. Acorn is an absolute treasure and the name even alludes to the little seeds planted in the reader that grow into larger ideas. I have certainly been carrying her words within me and when I began editing my work where I’d captured footage of the sky, I knew I wanted to infuse the wisdom and words of Yoko Ono into the work.
The Studio Ghibli film, “The Grave of the Fireflies’ clearly references the same experiences of Yoko Ono and also references the sky, conveying a sense of displacement but receiving comfort and hope from the consistency and familiarity of the natural world.
I saw Yoko Ono’s memorial to John Lennon in Reykjavik last year. I thought it was amazing but I didn’t realise it was her work at the time. I took a photograph of it from the coastline of the city.
London Trip 10th October 2018.
Seeking the work of Mika Rottenberg and discovering artists who are informing my current practice.
I arranged a short study trip to London to experience the work of artist Mika Rottenberg who I’ve been researching for my dissertation. She had a solo exhibition for the opening of the Goldsmiths CCA so it was also a great opportunity to visit the university and catch a public lecture that luckily coincided. I caught the night train from Penzance and arrived in London around 7 am so I managed to cram quite a lot into one day. The Whitechapel Gallery is on the way to Goldsmiths so I spent a few hours there beforehand. The works I found most memorable and poignant there were those of Salvatore Arancio and Elmgreen and Dragset.
Salvatore Arancio (b. 1974, Italy) is a contemporary artist working predominantly in sculpture and video.
The Whitechapel Gallery invited Arancio to select from and respond to a collection of curiosities and antiques owned by George Loudon. The exhibition staged the objects in dialogue with Arancio’s own works and as I encountered the exhibition, I was unsure which object was his sculpture and which was a cultural artefact from Loudon’s collection. The fusion was flawless and I felt as though I had been transported to the future alien natural history museum with antiquities spanning millennia. Was I part of a Star Trek television set from the 1960s fused with a Pitt Rivers cabinet of curiosities? Arancio’s bizarre and intriguing sculptural forms sat comfortably with the Victorian anatomical collections.
There was a beautiful video he’d made called ‘Dedicated to the Blue Soul’ 2018 that was inspired by a book in the collection called ‘Soul Shapes’ by Alice Murray Smith (1890). The video was narrated by a voice reminiscent of a 1950s radio broadcast of the ‘War of the Worlds’ – a clinical, factual relay of spiritual, ephemeral content. Arancio delivered a wonderful installation, expertly weaving moving image, narrative, presence, mood, intrigue and play with light, reflections and colour. I could have spent days in that space. The arrangement of objects and interaction with the projections and moving images were fascinating and I learnt a great deal from scrutinizing his assembly and composition. There was much for me to consider and possibly apply for my future installations. His presentation was highly impressive and I will most likely refer to his exhibition when I next set up an installation space. Arancio’s work was a very important find for me.
In his interview for the 2017 Venice Biennale, he made many fascinating comments about his practice and process that resonated deeply with me. He very often works intuitively, putting his works to one side until he feels they make connections with subsequent works. I identify with this and have found myself working in very similar ways.
Elmgreen and Dragset
Elmgreen and Dragset are an artistic duo from Denmark and Norway respectively. They also had an exhibition at Whitechapel in the main gallery during my visit. https://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/elmgreen-dragset/
I obtained some beautiful photographs of their work – particularly of the pregnant maid that I have processed and developed into a more abstracted visual.
Making art from art. Sometimes a visual grabs me and this was one of them. The pregnant female form always catches my attention and the subdued mood of the maid is suggestive of despondence, submission and resolution to an inferior stance. It speaks volumes about class hierarchies in society and hints at racial and socio-economic issues. The white, stark marble-like medium of the sculptures play with an association with race but also harks at Victorian era subservience. Perhaps this hints at a generalised subservience of women or the 99% in society? We are all at the mercy of capitalism and consumerism machinery and Elmsgreen and Dragset have drawn rich associations with these concerns in their work. My current research is concentrated around the same theme and the works were highly informative in showing possible ways of visually conveying these issues.
The following works by Mika Rottenberg were on show at Goldsmiths CCA during my visit:
Time and a Half (2002) Mary’s Cherries (2004) Sneeze (2012) Bowls Balls Souls Holes (2014)
NoNoseKnows (2015) Cosmic Generator (2017-18) Frying Pans (2018)
Experiencing Mika Rottenberg’s video installations can be a bewildering mix of surrealism, absurdity, voyeurism and empathy that reference a wide range of themes alluding to feminism, identity, labour, production, domesticity and globalism. Born in Argentina in 1976 and raised in Israel, Mika Rottenberg was almost immediately thrust into the art scene in 2004 on graduation with a master’s in fine art from Columbia University. She has alluded to early childhood influences of TV infomercials as a subconscious link to the general surrealist and repetitive qualities in her films. In her earlier works (Tropical Breeze, Marys Cherries, Squeeze), she has also expressed her intent to seek actors/characters who convey a strong sense of confidence in the bodies they inhabit and has often created sets or scenes specifically for the women who agree to be part of her work, such as female bodybuilders, women who have unusual body shapes.
Mika Rottenberg is adept at conveying meaning on subliminal levels. Everything about her work ties vague references together with oddly familiar but intangible ideas and subject matter. In her later works, she expresses concerns of global inequality and the disparity between eastern and western women and cultures. Her work can jump between scenes depicting western decadence to those of abject poverty in Saharan or jungle environments conveying the polarity between cultures that are also inter-dependent on each other. Rottenberg’s worlds can sometimes hint at an odd dystopic reality encompassing entrapment, resilience, despondency and a strange dejected acceptance of the states the characters are part of within her films. Her geopolitical concerns are reflected indirectly and, at times, absurdly but a sense of empathy is evident through her work.
Rottenberg admits her intention is often to place the viewer in forced or uncomfortable positions both psychologically and physically as a means to invoke a bodily component to her installations. Another device she employs to achieve this is by using set elements from the films within the installation themselves, thus reinforcing the virtual as physically tangible – making you believe that what you see is a reality. I feel this is highly effective in fusing the video aspect with reality. She is interested in reality and combining realities.
During my encounter with Rottenberg’s work, I was struck by various reoccurring visual motifs that feature across her works. In interviews, she discussed the certain elements that persist and repeatedly feature in her video installations. The most striking is her repeated use of women with unusual physical features as well as food matter, sneezing, peculiar production lines, holes, passages, compacted claustrophobic spaces and circles.
In an interview with Tim Dixon, she discussed her recent show at Goldsmiths CCA and her research into the cultured pearl industry in Zhuji, China where NoNoseKnows (2015) was filmed.
She talks about the project’s inception and her fascination with pearl formation as a possible metaphor for the creative process. She states: “So many ideas are born out of irritation. I like that idea, especially thinking about art and how I sometimes feel when I’m creating a piece. It’s a funny thing and a very feminine thing. It has all this mucus, all this grossness, and then it has something beautiful inside.”
She likens the process of pearl formation to that of allergy as both are induced by an irritant – in the case of pearl formation, a foreign body is inserted into the body of the clam to stimulate the release of nacre (liquid mother of pearl) that coats and traps the irritant. Layers and layers are formed over many years and eventually, a pearl is formed. Value judgements are then placed onto the pearl in match the same way an artwork might be.
This metaphor Rottenberg drew between irritants, allergy, pearls and hyper-capitalism formed the core theme for my dissertation so her works and insights have been a very important factor in my gaining a clearer understanding about my own unease and confusion about the system and inequality. Discovering Rottenberg has been a poignant milestone in my journey.