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