Albert’s Way

Francis Alÿs has a knack for turning his walks into art. In Albert’s Way, however, his walk is limited to the four walls of his Mexico City studio. For 10 hours per day during 7 days he circled the periphery of the room, adding up to the 118 km of the Camino Ingles, a pilgrimage route from El Ferrol to Santiago de Compostela. His inspiration came from Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, known for being the only Nazi leader at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials in 1945-46 to admit his guilt: Rumour goes that while jailed in Spandau, Albert Speer walked in circles in the prison patio, pacing the exact distance from one city to another and imagining the places he’d be passing through on his virtual tour around the globe.

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Solar Breath

In Solar Breath (Northern Caryatids) (2002) Michael Snow records the movements of a curtain in his rural log cabin in Newfoundland, Canada, about an hour before sunset. In it we observe beautiful gentle flutters that occur alongside dramatic gusts which blow the fabric into large balloons only to slam it back into the glass, and out again. Snow says, “While on one level Solar Breath is merely a fixed-camera documentary recording, it is also the result of years of attention”


In the Blink of an Eye

I discovered Greta Alfaro‘s work a few weeks ago while dining at Monkey Town 5 in Barcelona. Monkey Town is an immersive dining experience combining gastronomy and video art. In other words, guests watch a programme of video art while being treated to a delicious five-course meal and plenty of wine. The evening was opened by In Ictu Oculi where we see a flock of vultures ravage a feast carefully set on a picnic table in a barren landscape. With this dramatic start, Greta Alfaro set the tone for what was to be an extraordinary and highly thrilling night. 

“From its title (meaning ‘in the blink of an eye’) onwards, Greta Alfaro’s In Ictu Oculi (2009) is concerned with the viewer’s experience of time: the eye is yours. The work’s title, which alludes to the brevity of human existence, is shared with a number of vanitas paintings from the seventeenth century, and, like them, Alfaro’s video treats the stuff that surrounds us as coded references to our own demise. A dinner table, laden with plates of food and wine bottles, its chairs waiting to be occupied, stands in a scrubby, semi-mountainous landscape, a breeze flickering its tablecloth. The table’s placement, in the centre of the frame (the shot is still), makes unmistakeable allusion to painted conventions – the Last Supper, the Supper at Emmaus. And yet the occupants, when they arrive, transform the table’s Biblical and epicurean suggestions into something nightmarish and deathly. The stilled moment of the painted meal becomes subject to cinematic time: movement is change. Vultures descend, from nowhere, their bulk and scrabble bringing instability to the implied order of the scene. Yet the meal’s duration, and its strange quietness (aside from the flapping of wings and chink of claw on plate) lend it a human quality: this might be the soundtrack to a medieval banquet. The birds here, like Hitchcock’s, act out repressed human desires (to gorge oneself): they’re us, with the mask off.”

Text by Ben Street on Saatchi

In Ictu Oculi by Greta Alfaro, 2009. Single channel video (HDV, 16:9, colour, sound). Duration: 10:37

Greta Alfaro enjoys documenting the process of destruction, meanwhile commenting on capitalism, consumerism, and the transience of life. A similar concept was explored in her piece In Praise of the Beast (2009), where two wild boars find a giant wedding cake abandoned in a snowy landscape. Watch what happens:

In Praise of the Beast by Greta Alfaro, 2009. Single channel video (HDV, 16:9, colour, sound). Duration: 14:58

And speaking of documenting destruction, Sam Taylor-Wood and Ori Gersht also have an interesting take. See here


The Ballad of Maria Lassnig

Kantate (The Ballad of Maria Lassnig, 1992) by Austrian artist Maria Lassnig is the story of her life in 14 verses. A witty and wise commentary on the pains of living. See translated lyrics bellow: 

This whole wide world is full of growing grasses
This whole wide world is full of flowers that grow.
And now I am sitting here, – with dreams of yester-year
I’m thinking of the times of long ago.

A babe-in-arms, I was and hardly born
a great wet tear came splashing on my head.
It was my mother dear, – lying lonely and forlorn
she rocked and hugged me, lonesome in her bed.

My early childhood was a real life-drama,
the pots and pans went flying through the air.
The small child screamed aloud: “Stay alive, dear Mamma!”
The poor child suffered from her parents’ war.
I realized from the start, married-life is not made of sugar
a drop of bitterness fell upon my heart.

The good nuns taught me how to read and write
the other children pulled my hair and smiled
I was so slow to learn — and did not like to fight
because I was such a goody-goody child.

The Gods of Fortune gave me no great Beauty.
But one great talent was bestowed on me.
I drew and painted here, – pictures of people clear
like brother Dürer, Rembrandt, Da Vinci.

My darling mother thought this was not proper:
I should be married with a family.
I threw my arms around her feet, fell to the ground:
A man, a child is not my destiny !

The Art Academy was my destination,
I painted better far than any man.
I believe in Art, in Life — and all Creation
That Art should make a better World for Man.

The God of Love just did not like my features
though many suitors clamoured for my hand.
Yet they betrayed me all, – those handsome creatures
I packed my bags and left my native land.

Oh Paris, Home of Arts and velvet drapings,
but Love and Art for me was just a sham
I could try Op-Art, Pop-Art or Tachism
but the Art Mafia always called the game.

America, oh land of hope and glory
the land is mighty and her women strong.
They fight for all their rights, – don’t say they’re sorry
The Macho Men are stung when they do wrong.

The Lady Minister of the Art Department
was wise and friendly , called me home again.
A woman’s aim is high, – she should reach for the sky
a good professor can start her pupils’ fame.

I’ve scrambled up the peaks and reached the summit
my whole long life just lies beneath my feet.
But I’m still searching for — the stone of wisdom
Life’s made me cautious, Life still calls the beat.

I’m growing older and my legs seem longer
but now I love the world with all my might.
My feelings poor and soft, my face is stronger,
my television helps me through the night.

I just don’t feel my life as nearly ended
I still go skiing, ride my motor bike.
And each new day that breaks — brings new dimensions
so Art has kept me young in ways I like.

Refrain:
I know it’s Art so dear, that keeps me young and clear
Art made me thirsty, now fulfilment’s near.


Gringo

Francis Alys is a Belgian architect turned artist. He went to Mexico City in 1987 to help with a rebuilding program after an earthquake and has been living in Mexico City ever since. He abandoned his career as an architect and started working in a number of media including photography, video, installation, and painting. Alys is an avid wanderer and much of his work draws inspiration from the streets around his studio in Mexico City.

Being Belgian, Alys occupies an interesting position as a foreigner and an immigrant. From his stance as an outsider he presents his version of reality by taking the mundane and shifting it slightly into the absurd or the poetic.

Humor is very important in Alys’ work. He says, “Laughter is a symptom of incomprehension… a simple manifestation of the defeat of intelligence.” But While Alys may make us laugh, he also makes us think, at the core of his work we often find the more brutal implications of city life.

In his video El Gringo, Alys explores the discomfort of being an outsider. Gringo, the Latin American name for Americans is usually used to generalize all white foreigners, this video is a comment on the social tendencies to group people together based on their appearance. In the video the viewer follows the camera down a rural path, a few pot hounds approach and start circling the camera and barking wildly. They get increasingly riled up and begin snarling and baring their teeth. The camera suddenly drops and we are left to assume that the man behind the camera has been bitten. Everything is still for a little while until the dogs return and start sniffing and licking the camera.


Exploring the Surreal

Need some help getting to grips with Surrealism? The Doctor will see you now.

Peter Capaldi, a former art student, and the latest actor to play Doctor Who, settles down on Freud’s couch to deliver his wry take on the Surrealist movement.

‘Unlock Art’ is Tate’s new short film series, offering a witty inside track on the world of art.  Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi joins forces with rock duo The Kills, comedian Frank Skinner, Girls star Jemima Kirke and other celebrity art fans to introduce some of the big ideas that have shaped art history. A new film is released each month, with topics ranging from the history of the nude and the nature of the art market, to Pop art.

Thanks to Tate, Unlock Series


Danger Book

‘Be careful of books. Be careful with books. Be careful or one can become a weapon-wielder. Be careful or one can become the victim’ -Cai Guo-Qiang

Artist books are not so much books as book-like objects. They are in themselves a work of art, they come in all shapes, sizes and forms, often challenging our notions of what constitutes a book. Artists have come up with some pretty inventive ways of presenting their work, however the most bizarre I have encountered is by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang.

Cai Guo-Qiang’s Danger Book is made up of a series of drawings made using gunpowder and glue. Within the pages is attached a bundle of matches with a string that dangles out of the edge of the book, inviting the reader to pull it and in so doing ignite the book and set off the gunpowder. Thus each book is unique and comes with a kind of performance included in the price.

Read The Transient Art of Cai Guo-Qiang

danger book by cai guo qiang3
Cai Guo Giang Suicide Fireworks
danger book by cai guo qiang4
Danger Books: Suicide Fireworks. Edition of nine unique books, one prototype and one artist’s proof. Each book is individually titled.
Height: 75 cm | Width: 41.4 cm | Depth: 2 cm

The video below is a documentation of the process of making a Danger Book: