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.
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.
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. Everything is still for a little while until the dogs return and start sniffing and licking the camera.
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