An extract from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Then we had the irises, rising beautiful and cool on their tall stalks, like blown glass, like pastel water momentarily frozen in a splash, light blue, light mauve, and the darker ones, velvet and purple, black cat’s ears in the sun, indigo shadow, and the bleeding hearts, so female in shape it was a surprise they’d not long since been rooted out. There is something subversive about this garden of Serena’s, a sense of buried things bursting upwards, wordlessly, into the light, as if to point, to say: Whatever is silenced will clamour to be heard, though silently. A Tennyson garden, heavy with scent, languid; the return of the word swoon. Light pours down upon it from the sun, true, but also heat rises, from the flowers themselves, you can feel it: Like holding your hand an inch above an arm, a shoulder. It breathes, in the warmth, breathing itself in. To walk through it in these days, of peonies, of pinks and carnations, makes my head swim.
The willow is in full plumage and is no help, with its insinuating whispers. Rendezvous, it says, terraces; the sibilants run up my spine, a shiver as if in fever. The summer dress rustles against the flesh of my thighs, the grass grows underfoot, at the edges of my eyes there are movements, in the branches; feathers, flittings, grace notes, tree into bird, metamorphosis run wild. Goddesses are possible now and the air suffuses with desire. Even the bricks of the house are softening, becoming tactile; if I leaned against them they’d be warm and yielding. It’s amazing what denial can do. Did the sight of my ankle make him lightheaded, faint, at the checkpoint yesterday, when I dropped my pass and let him pick it up for me? No handkerchief, no fan, I use what’s handy.
Winter is not so dangerous. I need hardness, cold, rigidity; not this heaviness, as if I’m a melon on a stem, this liquid ripeness.
“I see Castro’s entire body of work as a series of breadcrumbs scattered across a forest floor. For some, hundreds of tiny pieces of old stale bread is hardly worth noticing, while others are able to discover within a trail of detritus a path towards something not yet known. It this within this tension between the known and unknown that de Castro’s works generously offer the alchemical potential to their viewers. Of course, with alchemy everything is already there for the making, but one must have the right point of view…”
From Steve Roden’s essay, The Intimate Boundlessness, in the exhibition catalogue Concrete Invention: Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
This beautiful portrait is of Sophie Brzeska, a Polish writer and the muse of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. They met in Paris when she was almost twice his age, and Henri soon took her name although they never married. They had an intense but chaste relationship which ended abruptly with Henri’s death -he was killed in the trenches in WWI at the young age of 23.
Once again we share some of the highlights from the Swab International Contemporary Art Fair, Barcelona. There were many fantastic artists to discover, here are our top five finds, in no particular order:
Galería Alegría represented Juan Escudero within the programme of Drawing Applications. Born in Bilbao and currently based in Barcelona, Juan Escudero’s drawings are simple, yet incredibly detailed, and form part of his series Piel (Skin). In them he explores the act of drawing a line and the natural wave and forms which can emerge naturally from that action. Using india ink, the artist draws line after thin line upon the paper, creating the effect of waves and textures from their varying closeness. They are abstract and process-lead drawings in which you can get lost and imagine different possibilities, one of which could be that they detail the relief of a landscape, like a topographic map.
Estefania Peñafiel Loaiza in Galerie Alain Gutharc, Paris:
Presented under Solo Swab, a programme curated by Direlia Lazo and Carolina Ariza which presents individual Latin American artists whose work is of a procedural and documentary nature. Estefania Peñafiel Loaiza, an Ecuadorian artist based in Paris, exhibited a fascinating project. In her piece Untitled (Extras), 2009-2014, the artist used an eraser to remove the bodies and faces of anonymous people found in newspapers. She collected the eraser residue of each individual and stored them separately in tiny glass vials. Presented are a few of the newspapers, in which we can see large blurred areas where she has erased, a display case filled with hundreds of glass vials, arranged and labeled like scientific specimens, and a list which documents each person erased (the newspaper and date they were taken from) and links it to the corresponding vial. A tribute to the “extras” in our everyday life and a reminder of the many things that go unsaid, unnoticed, or unrecognized. Galerie Alain Gutharc was awarded the prize for Best Art Gallery at Swab 2015, sponsored by the Fundació Banc Sabadell.
Shown within the Swab Seed programme, curated by David Armengol and representing independent spaces dedicated to contemporary art, Salón presented a compelling exhibition of ceramics. Based on a text from Gulliver’s travels, the project explores the physicality of language, playing with ways of representing words as objects, giving shape to a gesture or a vocal cord. Teresa Solar Abboud, for example, materialised sign language by moulding her clay based on the gestures, spelling out words like “chicken” by putting together the shapes imprinted by her hands when forming each letter. The objects were arranged on a shelving unit, and moved around each day and combined in different ways, creating new dialogues and connections every time.
Galería Silvestre had a fantastic booth inside the Swab General Programme with many wonderful artists and an inspired presentation. While I enjoyed all their proposals, the highlight was discovering these three painters. Luisa Jacinto has a way with colour and brushstrokes, her paintings transmit a kind of serenity while retaining a sense of mystery which keeps the viewer wondering what is happening on the canvas. Germán Portal‘s paintings have a surreal edge. His large and striking painting, Figura al Sol,is clearly inspired by Picasso’s Nude Standing by the Sea, but in Portal’s version the figure is a structure made from cardboard templates. In this humorous series, Vanguardismo DIY, he questions the aura and glorification around certain works of art and artists. Gloria Martín‘s paintings are simple but contemplative and clearly thought-out. She takes everyday objects and visions and by virtue of the attention she shows them, she gives them an importance, turning them into mysterious and meaningful objects.
3k Art is an online art platform which participated in the fair within the MYFAF programme of young galleries. What stood out the most in their stand was the work of Spanish photographer, Javier Ayuso. His series Walking Around (Sucede que me canso de ser perro) draws its inspiration from Pablo Neruda’s eponymous poem in which he reflects on the uncertainties and absurdities of existence and says “it so happens that I’m sick of being a man”. In his photographs Ayuso explores these concerns from the point of view of his dog, captured in moments where he appears almost human. Ayuso draws parallels between human and animals behaviors –encouraging the viewer to reflect upon the animal qualities which can perceived in human behavior as much as the human qualities seen in animals.
See more of their work in Swab:
Swab is an art fair dedicated exclusively to young emerging artists – most of the programmes within the fair are restricted to artists aged 45 and under. This year the fair presented 65 galleries from 22 countries, including Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Japan, Greece, and many more.
Grenada makes its debut at the Trio Bienal, a new International art show set in Rio de Janeiro and focused on three-dimensional contemporary art in its full scope – ranging from sculpture and installation to other mediums acting as three-dimensional research. Inaugurated this year, it is showcasing the work of over 150 artists from 44 countries including two Grenadians, Susan and Asher Mains, alongside art superstars Marina Abramovic, Anish Kapoor, and Ai Wei Wei, amongst others. Susan and Asher are currently also on show at the first Grenada Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. In fact it was in Venice that they were scouted and selected to participate in the Trio Bienal by its director Alexandre Murucci.
Susan Mains is an established painter with a career that stretches over more than 30 years during which she has exhibited around the world and had her work included in numerous public and private collections. More recently, she has begun experimenting with mixed media – specifically video and installation. In addition, she is a patron and supporter of art in Grenada and runs her own gallery, Art and Soul, where she promotes Caribbean art. Her son, Asher Mains, has been exhibiting at the annual Arts Council show in Grenada from the age of 10. He works primarily as a representational painter and is currently exploring the significance of the materials used in a work of art, investigating alternative art materials sourced entirely in Grenada, with the purpose of giving a deeper meaning to his work and creating a more sustainable practice.
Both Susan and Asher presented installations which incorporated found objects and local materials, giving their work a strong link to their home island. The Caribbean aesthetic and language is something intrinsic for both artists, from the sea fans and sailing cloth in Asher’s piece, to the heliconia and dried spices in Susan’s – Grenada’s presence was felt strongly. Their proposals were remarkably humane and approachable, firmly rooted in the Caribbean and directly referencing the local culture and environment, but still equally accessible from a non-Caribbean perspective.
Susan Mains showed her piece in the main exhibition next to some of the most relevant names in contemporary art, including Ai Wei Wei and Vik Muniz. The exhibition, titled Utopia: Preterites of Contemporarity, was located in an underground hall at the Memorial Getúlio Vargas and brought together pieces with a political or social focus, confronting issues of war, migration, identity, and hope amongst others. Susan’s multi-disciplinary piece, What If, is a meditation on fragility and deterioration, based on her own experiences after undergoing serious back surgery. It consists of a video projected onto a make-shift bed laid on the floor, made from coarse crocus bags and surrounded by Grenadian spices. The bed is laid with a crisp white sheet and contained inside a mosquito net canopy. In the video, images of a heliconia flower are alternated and overlaid with original X-Rays from Susan’s own surgery.
The structure of the heliconia recalls the framework of the human spine and the resemblance between the titanium screws in the X-Ray and the heliconia flowers is startling. As the video progresses the flower laid on the woman’s back begins to decay, it speaks of the deterioration of the human body and our coming to terms with illness and mortality. The remarkable connection between the structure of the heliconia and the human spine inspires the viewer to question our relationship to nature and the development of medical technologies, Susan asks, “What if these natural forms could replace the surgical knife to heal a broken spine? What if human cells could be taught to imitate the stem cell differentiation demonstrated in the heliconia flower? What if tomorrow could be better by honouring what is already in our hands?” The overall effect is a tragic and beautiful montage.
Asher’s installation, Sea Lungs, is located at the IED (Instituto Europeo di Design) set on Urca beach at the foot of the famous Sugar Loaf mountain. The exhibition, entitled Reverberations: Crossed Borders of Three-dimensionality, brings together art of three-dimensional research. Asher’s Sea Lungs, for example, is an installation of hanging paintings, representing an intersection between painting and sculpture. Using stencils, spray paint, and a sea fan as a filter, a woman’s face is portrayed in various positions on the six canvases, her face bathed in light. The “canvas” is actually a piece of sail cloth, fixed on to simple wooden frames and hung against the light, creating a dazzling blue glow. Sea fans, collected from the beaches of Grenada after they have died and washed up on shore, are fixed on to the back of each frame, their silhouette and intricate details show through the cloth and resemble the human cardio-vascular system, giving a mysterious body to the detached faces and alluding to the intrinsic connection between all life-forms. Hung in the middle is a seventh frame, empty except for a single sea fan suspended within, representing death.
Asher reflects on the dying Caribbean reefs and in the last frame depicts the sea fan contemplating its own death. This object of nature is converted into a work of art, allowing the viewer to fully appreciate the beauty of its organic form and the importance of keeping our reefs alive. The effect is a moving and visually stunning piece full of light, delicate shadows, and gentle movement which evokes a figure swimming through water, reaching out to the light. It can be viewed from all sides, and from each point a new beauty can be appreciated – there is a dynamism to it, because it is always changing. It stresses the importance of our connection to nature and our environment, and as the artist says, it is “a reminder that our own life-force can be found in the sea.” Asher’s piece has a magical aura and holds a privileged position at the entrance of the building –the first thing people see as they enter the room, it sets the tone for a great exhibition.
Perhaps it is from being Caribbean myself, but Susan and Asher’s pieces felt like home – comforting and warm. Their work stood out not only for their energy and humanity but also for the high standard of the technical skill and conceptual foundation. There are only good things to come for both artists, and for Grenada as a whole. Asher has an upcoming residency in Bolivia and Susan is cooking up some interesting projects and collaborations to bring further opportunities to local artists.
The Trio Bienal, curated by Marcus de Lontra Costa, can be seen from 5th of September to 26th of November, 2015 in various locations around Rio de Janeiro.
I love these stunning photographs of Helen Frankenthaler amongst her paintings in her New York City studio. Photographed by Gordon Parks for LIFE magazine ca. 1956:
And here she is at work, photographed by Ernst Haas in her studio in 1969
On a Sunny Day…
On a Rainy Day…
Two summery prints by Tom Wesselmann: