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.
As Picasso himself said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” So Dalí began his career by “stealing” from Picasso, stimulating the development of his own unique style. Picasso was 23 years Dalí’s senior and was already an established figure in the art world when Dalí was a young aspiring artist. He was a huge admirer of Picasso and sought inspiration from him.
Dalí’s first associations with Picasso were very literal – he boldly stole from Picasso’s themes and visual language. This can be seen clearly in the two pieces Group of Female Nudes (1921) by Picasso and Bathers of Es Llaner (1923) by Dalí, which are astoundingly close in their style and content. As he progressed, however, Dalí developed his own personal and distinctive expression while still retaining elements of Picasso’s visual language and symbolism, and when Dalí’s career took off, Picasso went from being his greatest source of inspiration to being his biggest rival.
The artists first met in 1926 when Dalí visited Picasso’s studio in Paris. At the time, Picasso was reworking a style of cubism infused with surrealist ideas of dreams, sexuality and the irrational. The visit equipped Dalí with a newfound maturity in his artistic language, making him more conscious of composition and symbolism in his work. Subsequently, they began to develop in parallel, from their work with surrealist “objects of symbolic function,” their powerful responses to the atrocities of the civil war and their work inspired by Velázquez.
In 1947 Dalí painted Portrait of Pablo Picasso in the Twenty-First Century (One of a series of portraits of Geniuses: Homer, Dalí, Freud, Christopher Columbus, William Tell, etc.), a slightly horrific portrait which sums up their deeply contradictory relationship. The painting uses heavy symbolism to criticise the “ugliness” that Dalí saw and disliked in Picasso’s later work while putting him on a pedestal and evoking his genius.
Valeska Soares was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 1957 and, like most of Brazil’s contemporary artists, has been influenced by the historical Baroque and by Neo-Concretism. Her installation, Vanishing Point, is based on the conflict of visual and olfactory perception. In this installation Soares explores the capacity of scent to magnify one’s senses and heighten the connection between sense and reason, body and intellect. It comprises of fifteen steel receptacles filled with amber-coloured perfume. The containers vary in shape and are arranged to form the pattern of a Baroque garden, also alluding to the shape of labyrinths in several architectural traditions. The perfume impregnates the room with a sweet smell which soon becomes overbearing and creates an oppressive atmosphere. The simple and minimalist symmetry created by the steel containers contrasts sharply with the frenzied scent to create a contradictory experience.
In Vanishing Point (1998) Soares explores the fine line between being intoxicated by something and being sickened by it, a concept she frequently involves in her work. When describing the role of perfume in her work, Suarez said “perfume has become a metaphor for possibilities of intoxication. It’s a substance that crosses that border between being pleasurable and being overintoxicating”. In Vanishing Point, the pleasant perfume is something that seduces the viewer, however, once they are immersed in it, it becomes heavy and oppressive. This idea was beautifully represented on the opening night of the installation when bees were lured by the scent of the perfume and fell into the tanks to meet their death.
Vanishing Point fuses elements of the Baroque tradition with contemporary concepts and mediums. The frantic effect of the perfume mimics the excess which is typical of the Baroque period. The installation also has a definite vanitas quality –a common Baroque theme– as the aroma draws attention to the ephemeral character of the garden and the mortality of all living things.
The idea for this piece grows out of Soares’ keen interest in spaces, gardens and various ideas of paradise. Her fascination with scents stems from her interest in ephemeral things, in her work she does not attempt to create a logical narrative but rather give people triggers that activate memories so that they can create their own narratives. Each piece is subjective and can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the context of the person viewing it.
Vanishing Point softens rigid geometric forms with the sensuality of perfumes. However, little by little the perfume evaporates, leaving the message that even though steel structures may outlive sensual transient ones it is the abstract and spiritual that leaves a profound mark on our memory. Soares also wished to underscore the temporality of grandeur and beauty in the “feminine” essence against the enduring geometric maze’s “masculine” presence with its overtones of order and logic.
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.
My old Sandy, this burly man with the
soul of a nightingale who blows on mobiles
this nightingale who makes his nest
in his mobiles
these mobiles scraping the bark
of the orange-coloured
where my great friend Sandy lives
Poem written by Miró for their 1961 exhibition “Miró-Calder” at Perls Gallery in New York
Alexander Calder and Joan Miró first met in 1928 when the American artist visited Miró’s studio in Paris. Since then they maintained a deep and mutually inspiring friendship lasting almost 50 years during which they exchanged ideas, letters, paintings and gifts and collaborated on numerous exhibitions. There is a remarkable similarity in their creative sensibility. They were both heavily influenced by the surrealist movement, taking their inspiration from the unconscious, and applied heavy symbolism in their abstractions. They also shared a thematic interest in the circus and astrology.
In this day and age it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish a work of art from an ordinary object. In the second installment of his 2013 Reith Lectures, Playing to the Gallery, artist Grayson Perry talks about the tricky boundaries of art and how we can attempt to gauge whether or not something qualifies as art. To answer this question Perry has devised a series of tests which can be applied when looking at the questionable object. Read the list below (it might also be a good idea to print it out and carry it in your wallet — you never know when it might come in handy).
Are you looking at a work of art or some old rubbish?
- Is it in a gallery or art context? For example Duchamp’s urinal was understood to be a work of art because it was on a plinth in a gallery. Keith Tyson used his power as an artist to convert all the objects and fixtures in the gallery into works of art: the light switch became “the apocalyptic switch” and the light bulb became “light bulb of awareness”
- Is it a boring version of something else? Leo Tolstoy said, “In order correctly to define art, it is necessary first of all to cease to consider it as a means of pleasure and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life.”
- Was it made by an artist? Art historian Ernst Gombrich said, “There is no such thing as art, only artists.” So you have to be an artist to make art.
- Photography- problematic. We live in an age where photography rains on us like sewage from above. So how do you know if a photo is art? (1) If they’re smiling, it’s probably not art. (2) if it’s bigger than two metres and it’s priced higher than five figures. — Martin Parr
- Is it a limited edition? If something is endless, it’s giving away part of its qualification as art.
- The Handbag and Hipster Test – Often you can tell by the people who are looking at it, after all art belongs mostly to the privileged and educated. So, are there lots of people with beards and glasses and women with big handbags looking a bit perturbed and puzzled by what they’re staring at? Then there’s a good chance that it’s art.
- Theme Park plus Sudoku – Is there a queue? “People nowadays, they love queuing for art, especially participatory art – you know the sort of art that kids can crawl around […] People want an outrageous and exciting experience from art and then they want to slightly puzzle over what it’s about.”
- The Rubbish Dump Test- It was one of Perry’s tutors at college who introduced him to this test saying that If you want to test a work of art, throw it onto a rubbish dump. And if people walking by notice that it’s there and say ‘Oh what’s that artwork doing on that rubbish dump’, it’s passed. But of course many good artworks would fail that because the rubbish dump itself might be the artwork.
- The Computer Art Test – Professor Charlie Gere said, “You know it might be art rather than just an interesting website when it has the grip of porn without the possibility of consummation or a happy ending.”
Perry explains that his tests are not watertight, however if you apply them all and visualize them in a Venn diagram, “the bit in the middle is pretty well guaranteed to be contemporary art.”
The illustrations are exclusive drawings for the 2013 Reith Lectures made by Grayson Perry
‘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.
The video below is a documentation of the process of making a Danger Book:
Cildo Meireles was born in Rio in 1948 and grew up in a time of oppression and social turmoil. Thus he began his career as an artist by making subtle protest pieces challenging Brazil’s military dictatorship. Later on he became known for his sumptuous large-scale installations which are a roller coaster to the senses. In his installations Meireles allows the audience to interact with the artwork, hold it, feel it beneath their feet, hear it, smell it, and taste it.
In his installation, Volatile, Meireles uses scent to cause fear. Volatile consists of a darkened room, divided in half by a wall, whose floor is covered in a thick layer of talcum powder. The smell of gas permeates the air, or rather T-butyl-mercaptan, the scent artificially added to natural gas so that deadly leaks can be detected. Around the corner, at the end of the adjacent room, sits a single candle lit up and creating an eerie and faint glow across the room. The scent of gas in itself causes panic in the viewers but the addition of fire creates an even greater sense of fear and tension, the room is volatile and could explode any minute. Meireles transforms the spectator into an active participant and subject of the wicked game, associating perversity and seduction within the same object. Meireles admits that he enjoys playing with people’s fears, saying that “when you have fear, your senses become heightened. You become more attentive to your environment.”
Meireles’ initial idea for Volatile was to have a candle in a bell jar inside a space filled with gas. Meireles liked the idea of giving the power of existence to the viewer. Let them answer the question ‘to be or not to be’. As he explained it, “it’s as if I had hung the hammer of reason and you, the spectator, made your decision”. But eventually the idea progressed to this final version where the true degree of danger involved is removed and the power is transferred to Meireles.
In this final version, visitors are instructed to remove their shoes and socks, roll up their trousers and proceed to open the door and enter the dark room (only four people are allowed in the room at one time). The dry powder feels cold, sludgy, and even wet against the skin, and walking through it gives the surreal sensation of walking on a cloud or across the moon. The stimulation of multiple senses allows a heightened sense of self awareness and deeper connection with one’s environment. Our senses are in conflict, the smell of gas instills fear while the exciting feeling of the talcum generates pleasure. Although many people consider Volatile to be in solidarity with the Jews, referring to the gas chambers of the concentration camps, Meireles himself does not see it in tragic terms. To him it is an entirely pleasurable experience, like walking in the clouds, and, as he describes it, “an attempt to associate sensation and emotion, producing an almost instantaneous link.”
‘We are kneeling face to face, pressing our mouths together. Our noses are blocked with cigarette filters. I am breathing in oxygen. I am breathing out carbon dioxide.’
In their performance piece Breathing In/Breathing Out Marina Abramovic and Ulay blocked their noses with cigarette filters and clamped their mouths tightly together, breathing in and out each other’s air. After seventeen minutes they both fell to the floor unconscious. The viewers could sense the tension through the sound of their breathing, which was augmented through microphones attached to their chests. Is it a beautiful romantic gesture or a comment on how relationships absorb and destroy an individual?
“Something tender and violent at the same time emerges from the performance: the couple are decided to stick together despite the effort, the danger, the damage; but as is the case with human relations of this kind of intensity, they end up with violence, pain, and a part of each other ‘dead’. It is the idea of interdependency portrayed to its extreme.” Interartive