Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, an amiable and quick-witted nonagenarian born in Qazvin, Iran, is best known for her scintillating mirror mosaics. Inspired and guided by geometric principles, they are infused with her own inherent elegance and joie de vivre. The sparkly three- dimensional works draw the viewer in and reflect the movements of visitors while also offering fragmented glimpses of individuals, including oneself. Monir’s technique and designs are steeped in the legacy of Persian craft, Islamic decorative art and geometry, yet she uses them to arrive, perhaps unexpectedly, at Modern abstraction.Read More
Filtering by Category: Contemporary Art
On the day before escalating tensions with Hamas saw the Israeli Defense Forces to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, an exhibition opened at the New Museum in New York, which presents that region’s thorny history through documentary-driven works by 45 artists and artist collectives from 15 countries with various degrees of connection to the Arab world. It invites reflection on the process of recording, interpreting, editing and presenting historical narratives, both personal and collective.Read More
A spritely figure dressed all in white, 77 year old Joan Jonas recently bounded around the stage at Roulette, interacting with small objects, drawing materials, video projections and music performed by the jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran. In their collaborative performance Reanimation, they respond to one another’s work in a live improvisation.Read More
Though held in the sauna, the imagined setting is a New York City subway car on a sultry day. The performance is artist Rashid Johnson’s revival of Amiri Baraka’s 1963 Obie-winning play, Dutchman.Read More
DOHA -- With the iconic limestone and stucco bust of Nefertiti created by Thutmose in 1345 B.C. as their starting point, Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil have put together an exhibition that examines artworks spanning thousands of years and various continents through three lenses: that of the artist, the museum, and the public.Read More
NEW YORK - The neighborhood surrounding the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) buzzed last Tuesday as moderate-sized crowds mingled on Fulton Street in front of three newly unveiled public art installations. It was precisely the intended effect of BAMart:Public, an initiative to enliven underutilized public spaces with visual art (a fourth project is on view inside BAM’s Peter J. Sharp building). David Harper, the program’s curator, walked me through the installations and explained the project’s genesis along the way.Read More
NEW YORK - Lorraine O’Grady is engaging audiences across the spectrum of Manhattan cultural institutions these days, sharing her insights as a conceptual artist and cultural critic. Today, O’Grady’s ideas about race and feminism no longer seem radical, yet they still contribute powerfully to the public discourse in a society that has yet to fully come to terms with its messy past.Read More
NEW YORK - This year Pulse Art Fair switched from its usual early March slot during the Armory Fair to try out New York’s new art week during the Frieze Art Fair. View highlights from the fair below and get an inside perspective from director Cornell DeWitt.Read More
DUBAI - Through the nonprofit START, the commercial fair Art Dubai channels a great deal of the wealth and enthusiasm for art that descends upon the United Arab Emirates (UAE) during the fair each March to benefit disadvantaged children.Read More
A freedom of spirit, tempered by thoughtful reflection, is evident in the oeuvre of Lebanese artist couple Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige. I meet them in Dubai before the vernissage of their gallery show Lebanese Rocket Society and the unveiling of their Art Dubai video installation A Letter Can Always Reach its Destination. Skepticism over the truthfulness of images continues to inform their work, in what they describe as an archaeology of their observations.Read More
DUBAI - At (It’s Not) Net Art 2: Emancipate the Medium!, one panel at Art Dubai’s Global Art Forum, heated debates began over nearly every aspect of the medium, from its formal qualities to its politicization and the notion that it is inherently radical. This argumentativeness is perhaps unsurprising given that the medium lacks a strict definition.Read More
This year’s Global Art Forum, an annual discourse on contemporary art under the aegis of Art Dubai, explores the theme “the Medium of the Media”. The event takes place on the rough anniversary of uprisings that spread across the Middle East, making it inevitable that panelists focused on where art fits into a landscape marked by tweets from Tahrir Square and the real-time dissemination of images of Qaddafi's corpse.Read More
NEW YORK - Enigmatic and in constant flux, human emotions are not easily grasped, let alone quantified. Yet, the French new-media artist Maurice Benayoun endeavors to do precisely that for the sake of opening new ways of thinking about the world. He tracks worldwide emotional trends and catapults them into the spotlight, juxtaposing real human feelings with the monster known as the global financial system. It results in two related artworks, Occupy Wall Screens and Emotion Forecast, presented by Streaming Museum at Big Screen Plaza, a public space located at 851 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan (on view at Big Screen Plaza through February 29th and permanently at StreamingMuseum.org).
Think of these artworks as the visual embodiment of everything the recent global economic crisis has taught us: unfettered pursuit of financial gain by elite members of society often comes at the expense of human suffering borne disproportionately by the majority with little responsibility for creating the mess. Now we can actually see the emotions this phenomenon is stirring, expressed by Mr. Benayoun as colorful world maps and tickers flashing across a giant LED screen.
“It is my way of offering another perspective, to help people understand what is going on,” explains Mr. Benayoun.
If this sounds familiar in light of the Occupy Movement, you are following Mr. Benayoun’s line of thinking. Inspired by the movement, his Occupy Wall Screens displays in real time the stock valuation readouts of major financial institutions next to emotional currents emanating from Occupy sites around the world. Playing on familiar visual symbols from the financial world such as stock tickers and Bloomberg-style news programs, Occupy Wall Screens portrays the quotidian in a new light.
“For me,” explains Mr. Benayoun, “this is the beginning of something that can extend the actual Occupy Movement to other realms. I encourage people to think more about how to occupy not only this wall screen, but the global media because that is how we can really start to change the world.”
In the same vein, the related artwork Emotion Forecasts relies on a free software program to accumulate data from the web using algorithm searches for sixty-four emotions from 3,213 cities. In other words, it counts how many times people in a certain geographic area use words like “happy” or “fear” on Facebook etc. At the same time every day, the software analyzes a snapshot of the collected data and calculates predictions about how the world will feel over the next two days. Reminiscent of weather forecasts, the data is presented visually by superimposing the emotions, written out in words, and their corresponding figures, over a world map.
While Mr. Benayoun makes no pretense about his works being scientifically accurate, he believes that “the internet is the world’s nervous system and we are the nerve endings.” As such, these exhibitions constitute “symbolic attempts to take the human factor into account.”
These exhibitions present the latest incarnations of the Mechanics of Emotion, Mr. Benayoun’s ongoing series comprising over twenty multimedia artworks that render statistics on human emotions into visual art.
Underlying Mechanics of Emotion is Mr. Benayoun’s notion of critical fusion: blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality in order to “see the world in a more creative way, but also in a more critical way.” In Occupy Wall Screens and Emotions Forecast it is achieved by “juxtaposing quantified emotions with stock values, placing them face to face in one work, which for me is the key to the whole series Mechanics of Emotion. He believes that inserting doses of fiction into reality has the potential to make society more understandable.
Technology is a crucial component of critical fusion, but to Mr. Benayoun it is merely a means to reach a higher plane of understanding rather than an end in itself. He explains, “I rely on technology as a tool that shares images and sounds, putting people in touch. It helps me connect with others and to understand and deal with the world.”
Mr. Benayoun likes to say that if he had the power to dictate changes to the financial system, he would impose a twenty-four hour delay on all trades to allow time for passions to cool enough to let reason dictate the appropriate move. “What is the harm of waiting a little bit to give people time to consider the consequences?” he asks rhetorically. Alas, his influence is unlikely to extend over Wall Street so directly. Nevertheless, his critical fusion – inserting a dose of fiction into a very real social movement stirring new debates on income inequality – has activist undertones.
Does Mr. Benayoun consider himself an activist? “I am an artist using art to act on the world, maybe to help changing it, at least a little bit,” he says, hesitating to use the term “activist” because it can mean just about anything these days. Still, he clearly believes art plays a role in shaping society: “If it is also unconventional, not only in the shape it takes but also in its intention, then art can come close to achieving what the historical activism set out to do.”
Published online by Artlog Magazine February 10, 2012
PARIS - Artists are known for their ability to grasp the currents of ideas, frustrations, and desires flowing through society. Art that reflects on these dominant thoughts and emotions helps the rest of us process what is going on around us and contribute to the public discourse.
So then, might contemporary art sometimes provide political stakeholders and decision-makers valuable insights into the societies they seek to manage?
Émeric Lhuisset thinks so.
Meeting in the courtyard of his alma mater, l’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts de Paris, the 28-year old artist mused over the links between art and geopolitics:
I constantly wonder about the extent to which an artist can make an impact on wars and other important events. I like to think they can help solve conflicts, but I am not convinced. Still, art is powerful. It struck me when the UN covered the tapestry of Picasso’s Guernica when Collin Powell addressed the Security Council seeking authorization for the United States to enter Iraq.
Émeric compares himself to a journalist who tells a story through images instead of words. Through “a mixture of drawing, photography, and investigation,” he explores themes such as conflict and its representation, the boundary between real and virtual, the media, and the idea of controlling individuals. He plays with the codes of the photojournalism because the “ambiguity makes the audience reflect more deeply on what they see.”
For example, he shot the photographic series War Pictures (2010) in formats typically used in reporting, to communicate a sense of urgency vis-à-vis the Afghan war scene. Yet despite depicting “real” soldiers who have actually fought for the Afghan government in scenes resembling the ones recreated in the series, the photographs do not document an actual war. By carefully staging each scene, Émeric transforms the soldier into an actor playing a version of himself. Every detail -- from the lace covering the toy kalashnikov alluding to an old Afghan tradition of decorating pistols, to the compositions that reference battle-scene paintings of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 by Eduard Detaille -- adds layers of ambiguity between real and fake and blurs the lines between reporting and art.
Like a journalist, Émeric researches and analyzes his subject’s historical background and does investigative fieldwork to inform his artwork.
Driven by a desire to “witness places where others dare not go,” such fieldwork has taken him from tribal areas of rural Pakistan, to FARC controlled zones in Colombia, where he eventually earned FARC’s trust enough for them to show him, and even allow him to photograph, their weapon stash. He has also worked in the Brazilian Amazon, Siberia, Cambodia, and Israel/Palestine.
When asked what compels him to return again and again to conflict zones or otherwise troubled areas to pursue his art, Émeric explains that as a child he loved history, geography, sports, and art. “When you mix them all together, you basically get what I do now.” For Émeric, living amidst violent conflict provides an addictive adrenaline rush that unleashes his creativity through its “simultaneous attraction and repulsion.”
Immersing himself in conflict zones also brings Émeric closer to understanding the issues at hand in a given country. Accordingly, he can avoid the common pitfall of “subconsciously looking for images and stories that reinforce preconceived notions about places like Iraq”.
For instance, Émeric spent time in Iraq in 2010 to observe the reconstruction process. There, he was struck by the diffusion of the American lifestyle that began permeating the country in aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. This observation led him to think about the consequences of American influence and spawned the photographic series “American suburb” (2010), which exploits viewers’ tendency to perceive images in the context of the familiar. A close examination of the photographs reveals that the newly constructed suburban residential enclave is located not in Texas or Arizona, as the architecture and landscaping might suggest, but within a militarily secured zone in Iraq.
Are the photographs a political statement? Émeric denies any sort of activist agenda. “Ultimately, each viewer draws what she wants from my work according to her beliefs, experience, and ‘personal mythology”.
Jean-Baptiste Chantoiseau draws the same conclusion about Émeric’s work in essay entitled Touched by the Image: Traps and Raptures in the Photographs of Émeric Lhuisset:
The works that emerge from these projects attract attention: they are conceived to emanate an immediate plastic beauty. The lights, contrast, and staging, seduce the viewer at first sight and hide the inner workings of creation that are never exhibited as such. It is therefore necessary to search, to unearth the image in order to read the layouts, rhythms, and compositions that give these works their strength and authenticity. Seduction has a price: these images charm in order to better challenge the viewer, leading him to reflect on his own place and role.
Yet, even without a political agenda, Émeric perceives links between art and geopolitics. Struggling to define that relationship, he grapples with questions such as: Is it conceivable that analysis of contemporary art could shed light on the major geopolitical trends of the future? Can artists play a role as barometers in our societies? What links exist between two disciplines that are similar in certain respects, but that nevertheless seem to ignore one another?
With these questions in mind, he recently launched a collaborative project with the Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi, who served as director of culture and heritage at Turquoise Mountain, a non-profit cultural organization in Kabul, where Émeric completed a residency.
The two artists created “Kandahar: Furniture for Belligerents” (2010), which encourages us to reevaluate the meaning of everyday objects. Considering that within certain contexts in Afghanistan, kalashnikovs are banal, carried around with the same indifference that Europeans confer to carrying a mobile phone, the artists thought about how to imbue them with a utility beyond their function as weapons. The result is a line of chairs named after the province of Kandahar (like Ikea names its seating after Swedish provinces), made with technical assistance from the designer Pierre-François Dubois. “After all, Kalashnikovs are heavy and cumbersome,” explains Émeric, and “combatants in a war zone spend 97% of their time waiting around and only 3% fighting, so they need somewhere to sit”. The beauty of the design, at least in the eyes of a combatant, lies in the ease with which he can slide the kalashnikovs out of the chair to employ them on a dime as weapons.
Exhibited by Galerie Zeitgeist at Slick Art Fair in 2010, “Kandahar: Furniture for Belligerents” proved quite amusing for visitors. Yet, while Parisians might perceive irony in the installation, Émeric points out that an Afghan warlord would likely view the chair as a purely functional object. “The fact of being a combatant doesn’t negate one’s need to sit down.”
To test this hypothesis, Émeric and Aman plan to sell the chairs (weapons not included) at the Mandayi bazaar in Kabul. To Émeric’s delight, they have already piqued the interest of Kurdish-Iranian rebels, who he encountered sitting on the ground on a recent visit to Iraq. “I’ve got a solution for you,” he told them, presenting the chair. The rebels’ reacted positively as they watched him demonstrate how to assemble it. “Thank you for thinking of us and our comfort,” they told Émeric, who had not previously considered the project from that perspective. The response struck Émeric as very human, an attribute we rarely associate with combatants, whom we rather demonize or heroize.
Does Émeric ever worry about aiding and abetting one side of the conflict over the other? No. “I’m not selling weapons, but a chair. I don’t care whether it’s used by pro or anti-government combatants or by civilians.”
“Kandahar: Furniture for Belligerents” may raise more questions than it resolves regarding the connection between art and geopolitics, but it nonetheless furthers conversation on the topic. Like all art, at best it enables viewers to derive new meaning from familiar subjects and surroundings and thus stimulates new ideas. As Émeric knows, this is precisely what we need to extract ourselves from seemingly intractable conflicts.
We are reminded by the beautiful book Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. (Metropolitan Museum of Art) that civilizations have long been adept at recognizing and exploiting the confluence of the arts, economics, and politics. Yet, this holistic approach has fallen out of favor. Emeric’s oeuvre and philosophy reminds us the symbiosis that exists across disciplines, which has great potential to contribute to problem solving on issues across the board from security to the environment to human rights. Perhaps in the near future cross-disciplinary exchanges, such as the dialogue Emeric advocates between policy makers, scholars, and artists, will reemerge as the norm. This alone won’t end conflict, but it might generate enough new ideas to put us on a better path. Given the dismal results of current standard practices, it certainly seems worth a try.
A version of this article appeared on the Streaming Museum website in December 2010 under the essay series "Art - A Seductive Tool of Diplomacy" and on Mon Figaro a French-language version of this article was published by the winter 2012 edition of Art&.
La relation entre art & géopolitique est au coeur e la réflexion de l'artiste Emeric Lhuisset. Homme de terrain, explorateur, et aventurier, il se joue de tous les défis.Read More
Paris June 2011
Base Commune at the Alexis Renard gallery in Paris brings together the graceful artworks of four young graduates of the Lahore National College of Art, whose contemporary creations are rooted in traditional miniature painting.
The exhibition was curated by Mannan Ibrahim Chaudry, the founder of Moulin de l’Est, a Paris-based organization that promotes exchanges between Indo-Pakistani and European artists. The works vary in style, from Isbah Afzal’s delicate watercolor renderings of textiles to the human hair woven into geometric patterns by Rehana Mangi. Reinterpreting the miniaturist tradition through sculpture, Noor Ali Chagani explores the human instinct to enclose themselves in private spaces by building walls out of miniature handmade bricks
Despite the diversity of the works in the show, a distinct aesthetic stemming from the miniaturists’ precision and attention to detail serves as a cohesive thread running through the exhibition. Many of the works consist of ink and watercolors on wasli, a type of paper traditionally used for painting miniatures that was devised in 10th century India. Shades of orange, red, deep pink, and warm brown dominate the artists’ palates.
“It’s not that these colors are traditionally used in miniatures per se,” explained the artist Aisha Abid Hussain, whose works in the show, “Rather, I think the tendency to use warm colors stems from our Asian surroundings where everything is bright. If I lived in Paris, I would probably paint in blue and gray.”
Abid Hussain meticulously transcribes texts taken from her personal diaries in tiny letters to form beautiful abstract forms. Coffee spilled just-so over the wasli adds an organic element to some pieces and exemplifies her enthusiasm for working with various media.
Like all the work on view, Abid Hussain’s is the result of a long thought process and a great deal of patience, but the final product has a spontaneous and even ephemeral feel.