Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Work From The Sixties by Betye Saar

I saw this work in the daily email from Art Knowledge News and just had to post it. It was included in a show at the Getty Center in Los Angeles called "Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950-1970. Show dates were October 1, 2011 through February 5, 2012. Here's a link to the Getty's page about Betye Saar that includes a video of her talking about her work. She cites the Watts Towers and Joseph Cornell as specific influences but also talks about the artist as shaman and what viewers bring to art to complete its transformation.

The Getty site comments on the 1950-1970 period covered by this show:
...Los Angeles has shed its stereotype as the land of sunshine, palm trees, and movie stars to become an artistic powerhouse and an increasingly important international creative capital. This fundamental shift in the cultural landscape of the city dates back to the 1950s and 1960s, a period of critical importance in art history that has never before been fully studied and presented.

Too bad the show is long over.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sandi Miot

Gotta love that Facebook - mostly! I saw a notice from someone about Sandi Miot's upcoming show, "Reliquaries: Requiem for the Printed Word" at Market Street Gallery in San Francisco (opening October 8th). This piqued my interest on several counts: first, I know Sandi and her work from the annual encaustic conference, I showed  with her in the Wax Libris II show at the 2010 conference and admired her works with book parts. Finally, anything called a "reliquary" is bound to attract me.

Sandi Miot, Found Out Along the Way, 12" x 12" x 2", encaustic, graphite, book parts

The still images in this post are from Sandi's website,  from her Folio Series, and I think will be included in her October show. I find them very beautiful - the deep black of the waxy grounds, the stained and aged pieces of old books displayed as relics, the simplicity of the compositions in the first two pieces that emphasizes their physical nature.

Sandi Miot, Things I've Learned, 12" x 12" x 3"

Sandi Miot, Chopin's Etudes, 24" x 24" x 4"

This third piece introduces the element of music, along with those little heads. I am not sure if they are cast wax or another material. The physicality of the splayed book with dark cover and rusty looking binding is so rich and evocative of a lost history.

Sandi Miot, Transformation I, 36" x 36" x 2", encaustic with book spines

This piece has a different feeling from the first three, but I love the rhythm in the carved and colored lines, the texture, the pieces of buttons and the dark area at the bottom which seems like a book spine. (Sandi confirms that it is.)

Finally, I was really intrigued with a short video of Sandi talking about her work and showing her in the act of creating. She speaks about the importance of books and how they are being lost in the overwhelming deluge of digital media. About found objects, she says that she works with a jumble of things but aims to bring order out of chaos. As she works out initial ideas, the selection of objects becomes an intuitive process.

From Sandi's artist statement:

I paint because to not paint is unthinkable and encaustics as a medium totally absorbs me. It offers a sumptuous richness of color and an abundance of texture--a subtle variety of surface markings--contrasts of smooth, silky wax and rusted, pitted metal: order and disorder, chaos and plan.

John Outterbridge

Artforum Newsletter (an online newsletter) of September 16, 2011 had an interesting 500-Word piece about John Outterbridge, a Los Angeles artist with a long history of making work from found, recycled and discarded objects, i.e. bricolage. Students of bricolage, please note that the material (rags) that Outterbridge uses is where he begins, but he reaches way beyond that in relating his meaning and intention in the work. I'm quoting the whole piece from the AF Newsletter below.

John Outterbridge, The Rag Factory (detail), 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view

For “Pacific Standard Time,” the multisite initiative that runs from October 2011 to April 2012 and celebrates art made in Southern California between 1945 and 1980, the artist John Outterbridge has created a site-specific installation at LAXART made almost entirely out of rags collected from the streets of Los Angeles and from a downtown factory. Widely known as a teacher, mentor, and community organizer, and as the director of the Watts Towers Arts Center from 1975 to 1992, Outterbridge has made work for the past forty years that is widely associated with the California Assemblage movement. The show is on view from September 10 to October 22.

I SEE A RAG AS AN OBJECT OF MANY VIBRATIONS. You wear clothes, and after you’re tired of them, they’re just rags. But you can’t escape the importance of the rag, no matter where you go or what you do. We use them to wrap around our bodies, but we also hide in them. Because of the colors, because of their previous lives and their histories, rags are pretty much a statement about our social position in the world and the importance of the cast-off. I like using metal a great deal too, or really any material that has a voice. Rag is not as cold as metal, and you can fold it up and put it in your pocket, you can put it in a bundle, you can hang it from the ceiling, you can decorate with it, it becomes a pillow you can lay your head down on. And that’s why I chose not to use anything for this show but piles of rags.

I was born in 1933, a long time ago. When I was a kid growing up in North Carolina, I had a mother and a father who had a lot of faith in cast-offs, the beauty and the aesthetics of what is not of use anymore, and that has always excited me because I saw old fences, degraded buildings, and scrub rags not as foreign objects but as being of a piece in the language of life, each with a lot of kinship between them. When you grow up the way I did, the way most African Americans did, separation was the law, and there were certain things––many things––that you just couldn’t do. We don’t talk about race in the way that we should, because it’s not popular anymore. We think that everything has been done before––even though nothing has been done before.

You bring that in your studio with you, that anger, whatever knowledge you gain from it. You don’t just do art; art becomes your life. The creative expression, whatever you’re doing—the fact that you have to go on the sidewalk and protest, and sometimes you have to break a glass window—it becomes part of your creative gesture, and it becomes part of your art. There is a little time to separate the act of doing art and act of going into life. And sometimes you’re not capable or able to speak of it, simply because you choke up, when you have to get into the past.

I feel good about the use of rag as an expressive element, but I don’t see it as different from other aspects of my life, or the way I think about a general population, a world population. Rags have always been in and around the environments I’ve been a part of. With me, art has the audacity to be anything it needs to be at a given time. Anything. Because the creative process is the beginning of all things, no matter what we’re doing or where we are going. You just can’t get away from rag; even when you throw it away it comes back to you. It’s like water, nourishing to your character, to the character of the cast-off, and to the way we practice living.

As told to Allese Thomson Baker

John Outterbridge, Traditional Hang-Up, Containment Series, 1969. Mixed media, 30" x 25"

Note: All photos in this post except the first one (from the Artforum article) are by Tilton Gallery, New York © John Outterbridge

More About Outterbridge
John Yau in The Brooklyn Rail also wrote a piece in 2009 on Outterbridge when he had his first New York show at Tilton Gallery 8. Students of bricolage, please note that Yau speaks about the wider context of Outterbridge's work in terms of artists and writers with related ideas and also about the meaning of Outterbridge's intention and the wider meaning of his work. I'm quoting an excerpt from Yau's article below:

Long before it was fashionable to do so, Outterbridge recognized that identity is a construction, not a given, and certainly not something to be defined by succumbing to external pressures. In this regard, Outterbridge’s philosophical-aesthetic position has affinities with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982), Ed Clark, David Hammons (whom Outterbridge mentored in L.A.), Martin Puryear, Alma Thomas (1891-1978), and Stanley Whitney, artists and writers who do not utilize any of the familiar and ultimately reassuring racial markers to make quickly readable work that announces their identities. Rather, Outterbridge’s relationship to art history, including non-Western art, and personal history (Rodia’s monumental assemblage, for example) is complex, and does not fit into any of the overarching narratives used to categorize all art. The death of the artist and originality, as well as the emergence of deskilling and art that is supposedly anti-market, are not only irrelevant when it comes to Outterbridge’s work, but they are also exposed for their repressive nature—they too are manacles.

One of the central subjects in this exhibition is Outterbridge’s belief that art has the power to heal and to curse. In two otherwise very different wall pieces, Asafetida Yoke (2008) and Hinged Window with Asafetida Bags Branded (2009), the artist includes a tiny bag or bags tied tightly at one end. In African American Hoodoo, which should not be confused with voodoo, asafetida can be used for magic spells as well as for protection. By introducing these and other elements into his work, Outterbridge reminds us that in some cultures the function of art is not purely aesthetic or formal. Moreover, in his work, which often incorporates a wide range of detritus, from pieces of wood, wire, rags, tool parts, unrecognizable things, and hair, Outterbridge both uses and fashions his materials, all in the service of transforming them into something more than what they once were.

Formally, Outterbridge’s unearthings echo the subject of his work, which is the excavation of different histories that have been covered over, neglected, and hidden. He possesses a masterful ability to join delicate things (a tiny painted bell) to larger, sturdier things, which are often rusted, patinaed by time. Their power to endure time’s corrosive vagaries, to survive and become transformed, is the eloquent testimony suffusing all of the work.

John Outterbridge, Ragged Bar Code, 2008, Mixed Media 58" x 8" x 2 1/2"

In Ragged Bar Code, the artist wrapped twigs with brightly colored scraps of cloth and mounted them vertically in a horizontal line across the wall. A form of identification, barcodes compress data into a visual abstraction; as the poet Christopher Dewdney has advanced, one recent manifestation of them is tattoos.Ragged Bar Code is dense with data, all of which we have to translate. Inviting intimacy—I was tempted to touch the bits of cloth as if they possessed talismanic power—Outterbridge’s work conjures complex, multilayered narratives that are viscerally and visually enchanting. Having made a real and important place for himself in postwar American art, he continues with unparalleled grace to implicitly challenge many assumptions regarding the proper place and meaning of art in postmodern culture.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Is "Bricolage" the New Buzzword?

From the studio mailbag: Joanne Mattera forwarded to me an email announcement from the New Museum (or, as they apparently like to be called, just "New Museum" without "the") an announcement about a special program at 231 Bowery innovatively called "Studio 231." The inaugural production in this "pop-up program" will be launched by  Spartacus Chetwynd and her traveling band of amateur actors. This improbably-named and London-based artist will present Spartacus Chetwynd: Home Made Tasers, an installation with performances and direct interactions with audiences.

Spartacus Chetwynd, image from Timothy Gaewsky's blog "Can You Dig It Too" (No indication of which one is the real Spartacus Chetwynd)

Here's where it becomes pertinent, quoting from the announcement:

Spartacus Chetwynd "uses the idea of bricolage as a physical practice as well as the organizing principle to bring together the disparate images and characters within her work."

(Read the announcement for yourself here.)

OK, it's true that "bricolage" has many meanings and that the definition I use in this blog's heading is just one of many. It basically means that you take found or recycled whatevers and combine them into something. This very loose definition applies to music, architecture, cultural studies, philosophy, biology, education, information technology, popular culture, and you name it. Just see the Wikipedia entry for the list of examples. You will be amazed.

That being said, I seem to see the word used much more frequently in connection with art recently (probably because I keep saying it) and I think it's the start of a trend.

Citations to Support My Contention

Ted Larsen, Strange Offsets, 2009, 15" x 5"

For example, one of my favorite contemporary artists, Ted Larsen, says in his statement that he is "constructing bricolage works in order to re-purpose the materials and re-identify their meanings: to re-contextualize and re-label the idea of Ready-mades." [my emphasis] Ted's work is made from metal that he cuts from junked cars. I wrote about Larsen in Art in the Studio last year when he showed at the Clark Gallery in Lincoln, Mass., and at that time his statement did not use the word "bricolage" to describe his work.

Mark Bradford, Strawberry, 2002, 72" x 84"

Another artist whose work can be described as bricolage is Mark Bradford, whom I have written about in Art in the Studio here when he showed at the Boston ICA. When I Googled "Mark Bradford + bricolage," I turned up an article headed "Bricolage: Visual Artist As Social Multitude (Mark Bradford in Chicago)" by Chicago Art Magazine of May 31, 2011. While I would certainly describe Bradford's work as bricolage, since he works with found posters and other papers, I am not sure if the "bricolage" of the article's title is referring to Bradford's work or to the social interaction of The Mark Bradford Project in which Bradford connects with "different Chicago communities to interact around the creative process....[and] serves as a catalyst for community engagement projects and ongoing discussion." It could be either one according to the dictionary definition of bricolage.

A sample Twitter trends map (not the one for Bricolage)

Here's something else: the Twitter trend for "bricolage." (Here's the map for the trend.) I am a non-tweeter, but apparently that's the number of times this word appears in tweets. It looks like most of the tweets are in French, but many in English refer to Bricolage Theater Company in Pittsburgh. Here's their link. This is home to the Bricolage Production Company, founded in 2001 by Jeffrey Carpenter, who chose the name "based largely on the environmental philosophy of Claude Levi Strauss, who used the term "bricolage to mean 'the innovative use of what's at hand.'" So now we come around full circle with "bricolage" being applied to theatre companies.

Call for Info
If you have seen other examples of the word bricolage being used, please comment to let me know. I would be interested in hearing about it. Am I right that it is becoming a new buzzword?