Research, Travelogue

Art I Saw and Really Liked in England

Sao Paolo-based Carla Zaccagnini at Blow de la Barra, London
A restrained show of a selection of curious objects — which were slightly reminiscent of Surrealism and Fluxism, in very good ways — united by heady concepts. From the press release: “‘Wish’… is mainly based on works that deal with desire and its necessary insatisfaction.”

Travel Guide by Matei Bejenaru, which was part of The Irresistable Force at the Tate Modern, London
A fold-out map with detailed instructions for a successful border-crossing into Great Britain or Ireland from Romania. It documents the physical and legal dangers. This content was an eye-opener for me — I have only a vague understanding of immigration in the European Union, as membership frees up the movement of people, to dramatic effects. I also liked the restrained form of display, limited to one floor graphic and take-away brochures.

I enjoyed Outside the Box at Cornerhouse very much. Almost every work in the show was a thought-provoking contribution. Gallery 2 (there are three) was my favorite, because it included Jim Campbells’s low-res screens of LED lights, Daniel Canogar’s fantastic fiber-optic projector and projections and Christopher Thomas Allen’s Dialogue, a theatrical replica of two adjoining office desks, whose computer monitors appeared to engage in a debate, flashing Google-image-searched pictures based on the words in an audio track.

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Community, Research

Tastes in art: what I learned from two videos

My generous host in London, curator and artist Rico Reyes, posed a thought-provoking question. We were visiting galleries, and I had something like an allergic reaction to psychedelic self-portrait videos at a gallery in London’s chi-chi West End (think: garish tie-dye animation superimposed on a bodysuit, with an Enya-like house music soundtrack, and hideous picture quality). I couldn’t hang, so I waited for Rico outside.

He asked: Do you look at art that is similiar to yours, or dissimilar?

Clearly my estimation of art is influenced by my tastes, and of course any artist would be happy to discover art that resonates with one’s own. So I admitted I usually look longest at art that is similar to mine. For example, I tend to spend less time with photographs and videos.

But I don’t feel that this is too limiting, because Jordan Kantor, a professor of mine in grad school, pointed out that art can look or think like one’s own. So while I headed out to the V&A just to see Simon Perriton’s installation just because its medium is papercuts, I’ll also happily perform actions with built-in futility in Jon Brumit‘s Vendetta Clinic, which was on view in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts earlier this year.

Which is not to mean that I don’t appreciate art that’s dissimilar to my own. I was recently surprised and impressed with a short video by Michelle Blade. Her work is on display in “I’m OK, You’re OK” (a group show I’m also in) at Playspace, the graduate gallery at CCA. (While our work can be tied together curatorially, I find her work different than mine because it seems uniformly optimistic.)

Michelle’s video consisted of a single shot of a gathering at Golden Gate Park. In the video, dozens of people, organized as a color spectrum of brightly hued shirts, hold hands and run in a winding spiral until they form a tightly knit column. And then they disperse. If you view the work as an abstraction, the colors advance in an orderly, quick pace, slow to a graceful endpoint, and then re-animate in disorderly joy. Colors overlap, the action reveals itself, and the activity disperses. It’s utopic — like the previously mentioned video — but Michelle’s is simple, short, endearing, unpretentious and pleasingly self-contained. While the video employs simple parameters, the social sculpture depicted in it is a fertile catalyst for ideas about art, painting, abstraction and social actions.

Though I tend to look for work that is similar to my own, I’m most interested in the elegant conveyance of complex ideas.

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Art & Development, Research, Travelogue

Travelogue Entry No. 2: Manchester, London

My last day of four in London. Too premature to sum up any concrete ideas. Immediate impressions follow:

-Manchester’s great. I was really impressed with the city’s investment in culture. Saw “Outside of the Box,” a knock-out show of media art at Cornerhouse, an contemporary art gallery and film hub, as well as a cool retrospective of work by SF-based Lynn Hershman Leeson at the Whitworth Gallery at the University of Manchester. I was so impressed with the city’s vibrance that I found the constant refrain that Manchester was trying to shake off its industrial reputation to seem outdated, but a Londoner’s slight scoff at Manchester proved me that other minds have yet to be opened.

-London has looked like this in my visit:

–Lewisham Road feels remarkably similar, at least on appearances to parts of Brooklyn: lots of immigrants from all over the world, internet cafes/call centers, low storefronts with lightboxes, fried chicken, mattress retailers. Of course on the other side of Lewisham Road is Goldsmith’s, where I’ve stumbled upon a small community of Filipino and Fil-Am expats. How funny it is to sit in a Morrocan cafe in punk-rock Camden-town and listen to Taglish.

–Quiet opulence everywhere. The city is not especially pretty, but the remarkable architecture always gives me an awareness of a sensibility of being in the seat of an Imperial power, however faded it may be in the shadow of the U.S. superpower. Even as I snap my tourist photos of Parliament and Big Ben, I’m thinking: what were the conditions that made all of this possible? The finest building materials: gold, marble. The huge consumption of tea from China, chocolate from Latin America, sugar from the West Indies? I like the idea that somehow I can subvert something by being here and sitting in Royal parks, walking through the free museums… but of course what’s more important is what I can bring home as a citizen, not just a consumer, of the United States.

I was startled and amazed and angered when, lost in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London’s swank South Kensington, I stumbled upon a view of two great halls. In one hall sat two monumental columns, which soared to the atrium several stories above. They were the two halves of Trajan’s Column, built in Rome in AD 131. On the other side sat a conservatory for antiquities, with a replica of Michalangelo’s David sitting among dozens of partially crated busts, statues and reliquaries. The view of these priceless antiquities was awe-inspiring. And I mean awe in the sense of terrific, and terrible. I am only surmising the conditions that made it possible for the Column to be cut in half and moved to South Kensington from Rome. And there are so many layers of meaning to explore: the collapse of the Roman empire, the past greatness of the British Empire, the vulnerability in the consolidation of wealth and power of that magnitude.

View of amusement park
My DIY Burtynsky. Visited the Mall of America — mega-church of consumerism and diversions — on an unplanned overnight layover in Minneapolis (Tip: Flying to London? Fly direct and avoid Northwest Air).

Victoria and Albert Museum
The wealth of nations at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

–In addition to some art and history museums, I’ve been visiting as many contemporary art spaces as possible, seeing everything from Doris Salcedo’s unsettling exhibition at White Cube on Hoxton Square to Ed Ruscha’s stunning watercolors at Gagosian on Oxford street — about £1m in small photorealist watercolors were watched over by two suited and booted guards who found my photo-taking suspicious — to group shows at Alma Enterprises, which has all the atmosphere of a decaying public high school, in up-and-coming  Bethnel Green. The standout space, however, is inIVA, the Institute for International Visual Arts, spearheaded by an international consortium of artists, thinkers and business leaders of color. It’s brand new, on a smelly alley in Hoxton, with a largish gallery, project space, and library that collects catalogs by artists of color only. I love it. It’s a beautiful building in a great location with top-notch art and huge potential to be a formidible force in London, and hopefully, the world. I find it hope-inspiring.

Rico Reyes (artist, curator, theorist and my generous host in London) and I had the good fortune of participating in Leticia Valverdes’ project, “Is London the Place for Me?” As I’ve been travelling and shooting photos of landscapes of sheeps and stone walls, neo-Gothic cathedrals and plates of bangers and mash, I’d been wondering how much I’m looking for experiences that fit my expectations of England, instead of seeing England as it is. But with Valverdes’ props and a digital studio, we were able to play with the cliches. We placed ourselves — Chinese American and Filipino American artists — into a tea room designed to display wealth and refinement. It’s a simple, ironic gesture, and I enjoyed it very much.

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Art & Development, Travelogue

Travelogue Entry No. 1: Cumbria, England

Visuals will be uploaded in mid-October, but here is an interim post. 

-Participating in the FRED festival looks like:

–Hanging out in Brougham Hall, the fortified castle that dates back 1600 years ago to the Roman days. It’s currently undergoing private reconstruction under the leadership of Mr Christopher Terry, a delightful Englishman, world traveller and architect. Mr Terry took me to see the Lake District, past the beautiful lakes Ullswater and Brotherswater, and over the Hardknotts Pass, where we could see 20 miles to the Irish Sea.

–Meeting a few other artists involved with FRED, such as Sally Barker, who has made sculptures of poo and set them out along a beautiful creek and waterfall outside of Sticklebarn(?) Tavern in Great Langdale, Kate Gilman Brundrett, who developed the Ministry of Creative Parking for the parking-starved town of Penrith, and Tony Charles, who makes his own pigments out of steel rust and created a marvelous floor pattern in the art college, which is housed in a former steel mill. And I also enjoyed painting rocks to assist Kate Raggett with her piece, which involved hauling 5,000 stones up the side of a hill behind a mining museum into sheep grazing territory, and arranging it into a design that can be seen from miles away, such as at the Castlerigg Stone Circle.

–Staying at the Keeper’s Cottage B&B, which was actually the gamekeeper’s cottage during Lord Brougham’s time. Pam and James Wright maintain it now as a beautiful, homey cottage, and the little touches in the decor are adorable. The view outside my window is picture perfect: a farm with sheep and what looks to my city-slicker eyes as Shetland ponies, walls of slate cutting up the green fields. The breakfasts of Cumberland sausage and bacon (what we Yanks call ham) and eggs and toast with homemade marmelade are fantastic…

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