Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The theme for the following thread was sourced from the book titled, "The Map as Art - Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography" by Katharine Harmon. 

In Katharine Harmon's book artists take inspiration from maps, something very utilitarian in nature, and transmute these diagrammatic representations of the world into artworks. The utilitarian value of the artworks in themselves becomes far from eroded as their forms function as poignant messages, pervasive in their beauty, which is about truth. How can artworks that channel depictions of the Earth not speak of a bigger picture? 

Qin Ga, Site 22: Mao Zedong Temple, 2005
In 2002, China's Long March Project embarked upon the route of the 1934 - 1936 historic 6000-mile Long March. Beijing-based artist, Qin Ga, tracked the group’s route in a tattooed map on his back. Three years later, Qin continued the trek where the original marchers had left off, accompanied by a camera crew and a tattoo artist, who continually updated the map on Qin’s back.

Jane Soloman, Body Maps, 2003
Memory Box, a community outreach programme initiated by the University of Cape Town, worked with HIV+ people to encourage expression and contemplation of their experience through writing, painting and other media. Cape Town-based artist, Jane Soloman, helped participants create Body Maps - life size images tracing the contours of their bodies that visualize the virus and articulate each individual history. 

Each Body Map image bears the name, the place and the date of birth, as well as the handprints and the footprints of its maker. On the Body Maps, painted representations of wounds, marks and attacking HIV viruses appear together with textual fragments and areas of emotional significance. Each participant selected a symbol of personal power and hope, often taking the form of a flower or a heart, to embody the optimism of the project. The shadowy forms of the participants' partners hover behind them, underlining the crucial need for support and encouragement from others.

Corriette Schoenaerts, South America, 2005
Schoenaerts, a conceptual photographer living in Amsterdam, constructs countries and continents out of clothing.

Rhonald Blommestijn
The above illustration by Dutch artist, Rhonald Blommestijn, depicts a politician from the West ironing out a crumpled map of Afghanistan.

Joao Machado, Swimming, 2007

"Everybody needs a map to understand the physical world we live in. We look to maps to understand the spiritual world, as in astrology, for example. We need maps to understand each other in this constant exploration. An exploration of both the extent of the galaxy and the depths of our own inner-space."
Joao Machado, Los Angeles, 2006
Vernon Fisher, Man Cutting Globe, 1995

Doug Beube, Strike Anywhere, 2007

Elisabeth LeCourt, dresses based on maps of London and Paris

Jane Hammond, All Souls (Kirov), 2006
Art direction by Michael Ciancio, photography by Piero Martinello, "Africa Map Ketchup"
An activist design collective at Fabrica uses icons of consumer culture to contrast lives in the affluent West with those in war-torn Darfur, a region in Western Sudan. 

Ai Weiwei, World Map, 2006

World Map by Ai Weiwei, was constructed from 2000 layers of cloth cut into components. The work was designed to be extremely labour intensive to install, hinting at China's status as a source of cheap workers for the fabric industry. Weiwei stated that the difficulty in joining the components together raised questions around concepts of national unity. "The major problem was to resolve how to hold together a hundred pieces tightly and precisely," Weiwei said. (source via)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Wheel in Motion

Diego Velazquez, The Spinners, 1657
The Chicago Wheel / The First Ferris Wheel, 1893
Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913
Martin Kersels, Tumble Room, 2001
(From the top!) In 1657, Diego Velazquez was the first to capture the illusion of movement in his oil painting, The Spinners. Here the wheel depicts apparent motion, paradoxically frozen in a hypnotic blur.

The original Ferris Wheel, also referred to as The Chicago Wheel,
opened to the public in 1893. With each revolution, occupants were swept upwards and then downwards, experiencing the view quite like a bird or possibly a bat would. Or because the Ferris wheel moved at a slow rate, maybe a better analogy would be that occupants experienced a sense of planetary motion.

In 1913 Marcel Duchamp, the high-level chess player, mathematician, theorist and goofy Dadaist, came up with his creation entitled, Bicycle Wheel. It is a bicycle wheel that turns on a fork mounted on a wooden stool. Because it was assembled from manufactured parts, Duchamp called it an "assisted readymade." It is now considered to be the first important piece of kinetic sculpture. Despite what the critics may have vented, Duchamp enjoyed a direct pleasure from spinning his quirky wheel and is widely quoted as saying, "I enjoyed looking at it, just as I enjoy looking at the flames dancing in a fireplace."

Martin Kersels’ installation “Tumble Room” went on display in the exhibition "Under Destruction" in Switzerland. First presented at Deitch Projects in New York in 2001, Tumble Room is a life-size recreation of a young girl’s bedroom. Turning on an axis centered on its back wall the room slowly spins, tumbling its contents from floor to ceiling. The spinning room grinds its furniture much like a rock tumbler grinds its stones, gradually destroying its contents to smithereens. By centrifugal force the trashed furnishings are sprinkled out through a hole cut into one side of the room, littering a fenced enclosure with the bits and pieces.

Monday, March 12, 2012

To Adorn a Skull

Damien Hirst
Aztec turquoise skull at the British Museum
Decorated skull from Paupa New Guinea
Jim Riswold
(Tribute to Damien Hirst)
Amy Sarkisian
Christopher Steinmeyer
Kenn Munk
Tom Sachs
Julie Moon
John LeKay
Kendell Geers

 Gabriel Orozco

Alfonso Castillo

Given the theme of this blog, the skull post was an impending inevitability. To an outsider, this may seem like some kind of morbid voodoo. Fact is, ever since Damien Hirst created his "For the Love of God" skull in 2007 (see top of this post), observers in the art world have been rattling on about how he was not the first to ornament the human cranium. Hirst's skull is cast from platinum, encrusted with 8,601 real diamonds and has its original teeth. The ostentatious artwork went on the market for about $100 million. 

Did Hirst commit an act of imitation? Yes, dammit! Of course he did! Ever since the first antelope was drawn on the first cave, homo sapiens have been aping each other. In the contemporary art world, this trait seems to be reaching its zenith. On a planet that is over-saturated with imagery, our visual memories trickle down into our imagination and it's often hard to be indifferent (the etymology dictionary refers to imagination as "faculty of the mind which forms and manipulates images"). We are living in a remix culture, where image recycling is paramount and most ideas can be traced one step backwards. What’s more, our collective unconscious has been known to trigger parallel ideas across cultures separated through time and space. 

Hirst claimed that his inspiration came from the turquoise Aztec skulls which he had seen at the British Museum (John LeKay thought otherwise). Interestingly, folk art has proven to be the biggest stimulus pot of all; effortlessly appropriated (or misappropriated?) by the bigwigs of the Westernised art world. So what does the jewel encrusted skull represent? Did Hirst put the final spin on this concept, pushing the limits for a valid reason? As mortals, we do perhaps have trepidation about our own death and so the skull alerts us to this inevitability and because of the superfluous diamonds, maybe it acts as a mirror to our self-obsessed, gluttonous society.

Within the traditional cultures that the skull has supposedly been appropriated from, death is not thought of as a gloomy affair, but rather a sacred journey of transformation. The line between life and death is not strongly drawn. Ancestors are thought to be present as spirits among the living. They have a great influence on a person’s daily existence and it is essential to ensure that the spirits remain well disposed. The ancestors' skulls are adorned in a spiritual ritual that has nothing to do with the profane nor are they intrinsically thought of as Art for that matter. Isn't it ironic? 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Mona Lisa on Repeat!

Salvador Dali, Self Portrait as Mona Lisa,1964
Jean Michel Basquiat, Mona Lisa, 1983
Yasumasa Morimura Mona Lisa in the Third Place, 1998
Keith Haring, Apocalipse 7, 1988
Kazimir Malevich, Composition with Mona Lisa, 1914
Jasper Johns, Figure 7, 1968
William T. Wiley, Mona Lisa Wiped Out, 1967
Fernando Botero, Mona Lisa Age Twelve, 1959
Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q. Readymade, 1919
Andy Warhol, Thirty Are Better Than One, 1963
Banksy, Mona Lisa Mujahedin

For more tributes to the Mona Lisa, visit the Lunatica Desnuda blog.  

You may wonder why the Mona Lisa has been the subject of more reactions, scandalous ripoffs and fuel for commercialization than pretty much any other artwork in history. Surely, after such relentless exposure as well as inundated recognition, the Mona should be relegated to the realm of kitschy cliches that aren't even safe for the second-hand chewing gum of pop culture. As a child, I was once informed that the Mona Lisa was famous because if you looked at her for long enough, she would go squint. I believed this explanation, and felt quite satisfied that she had magical powers. I would stare at postcards and any other images I found of the grinning sorceress for great lengths of time, eagerly awaiting her far-flung eyeball on the right to gravitate towards its twin.

Besides having the ability to squint and smile at you simultaneously, the Mona Lisa is said to have revolutionized painting. Her pose itself broke with tradition; previously, portraits were depicted in full length. Leonardo introduced the waist-up, hands-folded-on-lap approach, which allowed for a much more intimate treatment. The pose was imitated immediately and became fashionable for portraiture by painters such as Raphael. The background is painted in a gradation of lights and colors, becoming blurry in the distance, instead of the traditional approach in which foreground and background are equally distinct. The overall composition has an other-worldly quality to it, accentuated by the close-up figure and the far away imaginary landscape behind her which is split unnaturally on either side of her head.

Mona herself is rendered with extraordinary vividness; one has a sense of viewing the living woman. (The effortless realism of photography may have diminished our capacity to appreciate this). Leonardo displayed in this work a mastery of technique that was unknown at the time, profoundly impressed his contemporaries, and has rarely been matched since. An account from 1550 mentions, "A smile so pleasing that it seems divine rather than human." Mona's fame also catapulted in 1911, when the painting was stolen from the Louvre. 

The Straight Dope

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wim Botha's Mieliepap Pieta

Wim Botha, Mieliepap Pieta, 2004

Michelangelo, Pieta, 1498-1499
Hector Pieterson photographed by Sam Nzima, 1976

Botha was born in South Africa and received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pretoria. He has displayed a technical virtuosity that has enabled him to create some astonishing sculptural artworks. In Mieliepap Pietá, Botha re-created a mirrored replica of one of the best-known works of Christian religious sculpture by Michelangelo. What sets Botha’s Mieliepap Pietá apart from Michelangelo’s original is that it is sculpted out of maize meal, a staple of many South Africans’ diets.  
The original Pietá has amassed so much importance that it has become an ideology in itself: the ideology of “good art." It is almost unchallenged in the value that’s ascribed to it. It is, of course, carved out of marble which is reserved for religious or elite applications. However, in essence its only practical purpose is one of decoration. Through re-creating Michelangelo’s Pietá in maize meal, Botha invites the viewer to question the meaning behind this loaded icon. Maize meal is very cheap to purchase but is incredibly valuable as it meets the dietary needs of millions of people every day. As far as meeting the everyday needs of the masses, marble is insignificant as well as a non-essential luxury.  
One questions whether Botha is portraying religion as a form of nourishment through the use of maize meal in the appropriated sculpture or is he alluding to how the expensive use of marble in creating artworks that are only accessible to the elite in society become ineffective in providing sustenance to the majority of ordinary people; both spiritually and physically.
By choosing a material such as mieliepap, Botha also draws parallels to our complex South African history. In Michelangelo’s Pietá, Mary is holding the lifeless body of her son, Jesus, after the crucifiction. This imagery echoes the iconic South African photograph of Hector Pieterson being carried away during the Soweto uprising. When considered in the light of one another, Mieliepap Pietá begins to shed its specific religious context and becomes instead a universal icon for tragic human experiences. Mary’s son’s death represents a far greater cause; as did Hector Pieterson’s. These tragic and unjust deaths were both motivators in spurring change. It is thought that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and as a result, we have eternal life. After Hector Pieterson’s death in 1976, the apartheid system was finally dismantled in 1994. The image of his death is forever a symbol of what the brutal violence of the apartheid system can cause.


Mackenzie. "Apt Appropriation: Contemporary African Artists’ Utilization of Canonical Western Art." 2008 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Tri-Factor

Jake Aikman, Fathom, 2009
Raphael, The Three Graces, 1500-1505
Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners, 1857

Three is a mystical number. Carl Jung asserted, "... every tension of opposites culminates in a release, out of which comes the third." Pythagoras, the grandfather of mathematics, said that three was the number of completion. Three is the only number out of an infinite body of numbers that can be calculated by adding all the numbers below it: 1+2= 3. Three is ingrained into our existence in the sense that we always have a past, present and future in everything we experience. We exist in three modes of being: mind, body and soul. There are three primary colours that create all the other colours. As with the paintings above, the number three has the potential to create a composition that is visually resolved. Maybe that's why there were three blind mice, or three wishes, or Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, ... !

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Fountain's Prophecy

Sherrie Levine, Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp), 1991
John W. Hoopes photography, Johnny-on-the-Spot (from Burning Man), 2003
Marcel Duchamp, The Fountain, 1917

Marcel Duchamp knew a thing or two about chess. In fact, he gave up making art later in life to play the checkered board on a full-time basis. One of his greatest moves in the art world was to put forward the readymade urinal, signed R. Mutt, for an exhibition in 1917. This was no willy-nilly act. Although those within the bourgeois art world at the time were left scratching their chins, Duchamp would later be recognised for unlocking the gateway to modern art through this key art piece.

For the Turner Prize in 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals. The Fountain was a precursor to modern conceptual art, foretelling that artworks would move away from the realm of aesthetics, "retinal art" as Duchamp termed it, and become firmly rooted in the house of thought.