In his work, John Baldessari continually challenges notions of beauty and disregards conventional rules of what is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to art –his piece Wrong comes to mind, a photograph in which he purposefully defies the rules of photography and composition. His artwork urges the viewer to question these rules, for example in his series Choosing (A Game for Two Players), where he plays with personal perceptions of beauty (David Salle calls it a “faux exercise of taste”)
The game is simple: one player arranges three samples of the same vegetable in a line (eg. three green beans), the second player is asked to choose the “best” of the three, based on his/her own aesthetic criteria. That lucky bean moves on to the next round where it is placed next to two new beans, and again player two is asked to pick a favourite, and so on. Meanwhile, the exercise is recorded in a series of photographs where we can see the player’s fingertip pointing at the chosen vegetable. The absurd game just goes to show that taste is subjective and there are no universal rules for beauty, be it a turnip, a person, or a work of art, we should not conform to conventional standards.
Olafur Eliasson‘s installation in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern:
“In this installation, The Weather Project, representations of the sun and sky dominate the expanse of the Turbine Hall. A fine mist permeates the space, as if creeping in from the environment outside. Throughout the day, the mist accumulates into faint, cloud-like formations, before dissipating across the space. A glance overhead, to see where the mist might escape, reveals that the ceiling of the Turbine Hall has disappeared, replaced by a reflection of the space below. At the far end of the hall is a giant semi-circular form made up of hundreds of mono-frequency lamps. The arc repeated in the mirror overhead produces a sphere of dazzling radiance linking the real space with the reflection. Generally used in street lighting, mono-frequency lamps emit light at such a narrow frequency that colours other than yellow and black are invisible, thus transforming the visual field around the sun into a vast duotone landscape.”
Text from Tate
Sharon Millar is a Trinidadian writer who published her first book The Whale House and Other Stories (Peepal Tree Press) last year. She is one of my favourite local writers, I am sure you will understand after reading the following passage, three extracts from her short story Earl Grey:
Sally is coming to tea, she is not arriving until four but Leah is nervous that she won’t have everything prepared. She has already cut the butter into the flour and is trying to think cool, calm, thoughts to keep her fingertips cold. But in the small kitchen, humidity coats everything with a damp film and causes her hair to stick to the back of her neck. She dips her fingers into the water bowl. The water is icy, the little silver chips melting around her hot fingers. She begins to handle the pastry mixture gently, touching it with the tips of her fingers. She keeps her movements light and soft, imagining a tender, flaky crust as she rubs the butter into a grainy mix. So much trouble for a pie.
[…] She’d never heard of quiche before she met Henri. Her mother baked sturdy pies with tough crusts, the kind that could hold a whole pot of guava stew and not buckle under the weight of the fruit. Pies that did not melt in your mouth but rather had to be cut firmly and chewed with a concentration that brought its own pleasure. She is kneading the pastry gently now but it falls apart, refusing to come together even though she adds little drops of the freezing water.
[…] Suddenly it is 3.30 and the quiche has become a monstrous thing. She ignored the instructions to blind bake the pastry and it bubbled and rose in the oven with a determination that surprised her. She has had to prick holes in the bottom to get it to lie flat in the pie dish. When she pours the egg mixture onto the crust, it seeps through the holes and pools around the edges. At 3.45 she is in tears, the quiche strangely misshaped and uniformly brown.
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.
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.
CaboSanRoque is a Catalan band which has been performing for 14 years and has released 6 albums, but beyond that they are “sound collectors” and artists. The experimental instruments they create are works of art, they look nothing like the compact and streamlined musical instruments we are used to seeing. These are large, complex machines made from scrap objects, including tape measures, shells, typewriters, hockey masks, a cow skull, and even a washing machine making a gentle hum. The objects are assembled into crazy mechanisms which, when activated, create an array of sounds that range from the beautiful to the strange: clicking, squeaking, banging, rattling, hissing and more. The effect is a wild and jazzy orchestra.
The fascinating contraptions are reminiscent of Michel Gondry‘s films The Science of Sleep and Mood Indigo. These films create surreal worlds which are full of bizarre inventions, like the “Pianocktail,” a piano programmed to mix and dispense cocktails. The setting created in this exhibition was similarly surreal and very magical. Whether you were walking around the room observing the strange instruments, or lying on the floor, eyes closed, immersed in the sounds around you, you were likely to experience a sort of trance.
The red-room was a square chamber, very seldom slept in, I might say never, indeed, unless when a chance influx of visitors at Gateshead Hall rendered it necessary to turn to account all the accommodation it contained: yet it was one of the largest and stateliest chambers in the mansion. A bed supported on massive pillars of mahogany, hung with curtains of deep red damask, stood out like a tabernacle in the centre; the two large windows, with their blinds always drawn down, were half shrouded in festoons and falls of similar drapery; the carpet was red; the table at the foot of the bed was covered with a crimson cloth; the walls were a soft fawn colour with a blush of pink in it; the wardrobe, the toilet-table, the chairs were of darkly polished old mahogany. Out of these deep surrounding shades rose high, and glared white, the piled-up mattresses and pillows of the bed, spread with a snowy Marseilles counterpane. Scarcely less prominent was an ample cushioned easy-chair near the head of the bed, also white, with a footstool before it; and looking, as I thought, like a pale throne.
This room was chill, because it seldom had a fire; it was silent, because remote from the nursery and kitchen; solemn, because it was known to be so seldom entered. The house-maid alone came here on Saturdays, to wipe from the mirrors and the furniture a week’s quiet dust: and Mrs. Reed herself, at far intervals, visited it to review the contents of a certain secret drawer in the wardrobe, where were stored divers parchments, her jewel-casket, and a miniature of her deceased husband; and in those last words lies the secret of the red-room–the spell which kept it so lonely in spite of its grandeur.
Mr. Reed had been dead nine years: it was in this chamber he breathed his last; here he lay in state; hence his coffin was borne by the undertaker’s men; and, since that day, a sense of dreary consecration had guarded it from frequent intrusion.
From Jane Eyre by Charlote Brontë