Theatre of the World Exhibition- Elsie Campbell

Over all, I found the exhibit at the Guggenheim to be very eye-opening and well designed. I loved how the progression over time was so visible as the whole show was set up in a chronological way as you ascended the gallery. I think the focus on the 2008 Beijing olympics was also interesting for viewers my age because that was one of the first memorable olympic cycles. The over all feel of the exhibit exuded a sense of cultural pride yet also exhaustion and disintegration.

Though there were many interesting pieces, I found a few pieces really stood out.

My first favorite was a piece called Sewing by Lin Tianmiao. This multi media sculpture was a sewing machine completely wrapped in cotton thread on top of a small table. Everything was white. Then on top of the sewing machine there was a video projected of a pair of hands operating the sewing machine. I felt that this piece was interesting because it had a very unique use of medium. I love that the video portion showed what the physical portion could be used for, it created an interesting sense of disassociation. The piece was aesthetically appealing in its all white appearance. My initial response to the piece was that it was making some commentary on the factory systems in china, this was made all the more interesting by the ‘pureness’ of the sculptures appearance, the physical softness, and this eerie disassociated hint from the projection of the hands.

My second favorite piece was called Ascending Dragon: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 2 by Cai Guo-Qiang. This piece was very visually appealing in its interesting textures and use of alternative mediums. The painting was made of ink on paper but it had large scorch marks that were made with gun powder. I had never heard of an artist using gun powder for their art like this, so I was very interested. The dragon motif is definitely one that is associated with Chinese art, so using it in a modern context is interesting. Further more, using a traditional motif but modern techniques, especially one that indicates a sense of violence, creates a sense of cultural destruction which I think is interesting.

Yayoi Kunama at the Zwirnier Space- Elsie Campbell

Roberta Smith’s New York Times article gives a brief overview of the life works of Yayoi Kunama and an account of Kunama most recent exhibition at the Zwirnier Space in New York City.

Yayoi Kunama first came to rise as an artist during the 1960s and has continued to produce avante-garde work to this day. She began with paintings on canvas during the abstract expressionist period of the 1960s. She slowly moved into creating installation projects made from found objects. Through out her experimentation with installation she began incorporating phalluses and mirrors, both of which remained a trend in her later works of art. Eventually Kunama moved towards making video art projects, using many techniques and styles from her installation projects to create the setting for her videos. Her latest endeavors have been Infinity Rooms. These rooms are filled with mirrors reflecting each other all over, creating a sense of flying and endless space.

Today, now 88 years old, Yayoi Kunama is still producing work. Even today, she does all of the painting and constructing herself. Her latest installation at the Zwirnier Space in NYC includes her 2d show Infinity Nets, made up of 10 paintings, all of which were made in the past year. These paintings have an “automatic yet meditative quality” with a focus on dots, repetition, process, spacial illusion, and a feeling of moving and shifting. The exhibit also has infinity rooms. The infinity room titled Lets Survive Together is a room covered completely in mirrors lined entirely with silvery orbs. It is possible that the infinity rooms are attempting to capture the “enormity of love, death and god.”

The article also mentioned that it is well known that Yayoi Kunama has long struggled with mental health problems. These problems, including severe auditory and visual hallucinations, resulted in her hospitalization at one point.

I think that Kunama’s Infinity Rooms sound so fascinating. I can image that entering one feels like entering a new world. I was curious about her infinity rooms so I looked up a few videos to try to get a sense of the experience. Even from the videos, it feels like all senses of time and place and location are lost. It seems to me that suffering from mental health problems, especially ones that illicit hallucinations, might cause a person to in a way lose touch with reality, and that is certainly a feeling that is present in these infinity rooms. But they aren’t scary seeming the way I imagine hallucinations might be, they are far more tranquil and fantastical. This article left me wondering to what extent does Kunama’s mental health problems shape her Infinity Rooms, and in what ways.


Video of Infinity Room:


Beautiful Trouble- Elsie Campbell

The book Beautiful Trouble by Andrew Boyd and Dave Oswald explains the ways in which people, artists, and socio-political movements have employed art and creativity as means of protest. The authors go over various cases in which art was used for such a purpose, they explain core tactics, principles, and concepts “that drive creative activism.” The authors clearly outline that the book Beautiful Trouble shows different tactics and tools, but does not explicitly instruct. Some examples of the case studies explained in the books are as follows: Couple in the Cage, Mining the Museum, and Streets into Gardens.

Couple in the Cage was a performance art set up where two artists presented themselves as American Indians preforming traditional tasks. The goal was to shed light on the animalization of non-western peoples and the horrors of colonialism. The piece also served to provide proof that racist beliefs permeate our society. Mining the Museum was a show that essentially shuffled, dug up, and exhibited a museums collection to tell a different story, not the glorified, classy way a museum appears to be impartial, but instead as a demonstration of satirical irony by showing everything through a dramatized perspective of white privilege. The show was successful because it was “suggestive rather than didactic, provocative rather than moralizing.” Lastly, Streets into Gardens was a demonstration piece where dancers and citizens of New York City took to the streets to dance and play in response to a move that the city was trying to make to pave over gardens and parks. The movement embodied the ideal “if they’re going to pave over the places where we play, then we will play in the places they’ve paved over.” Streets into Gardens was successful because it viscerally demonstrated who and what would be lost by the paving over of the gardens, in addition, it was easily understood because it was presented in the context of a broader environmentalist campaign.

Personally, I think it would be very interesting to read further into this book. The introduction and the excepts definitely captured my interest. In all the cases discussed, the ‘pieces’ were very unconventional from an artistic sense, they all could seem to be something that is more a social or political act or event. However, I think that the creative aspects employed and the heart of the mission for each piece really does give weight to the idea that protests and political demonstrations (and less conventional pieces of art) can still be considered art. If anything, protesting like the Streets into Gardens protest seems almost a natural next step for modern art. I see similarities between these protest-works and the video works we saw of Shirin Neshat, only in these cases they are done live. These similarities make it plausible that protest as art is a very natural next step. Further more, I think that the motivations behind the protests and the ways in which the protests, as the book put it, ‘show without telling’ the ideals and morals and goals of the protest is very akin to a lot of art throughout human history. Art is meant to make you feel and react and think, often without directly telling you, thats what a newspaper is for. So, in that sense, the indirect yet powerful protests rest at eye level with more conventional pieces of art.

Loved To Death- Elsie Campbell

            Kerry Mansfield’s exhibit Expired documents books that have been discarded, exiled, from libraries after decades of being read, handled, mistreated, and loved. Mansfield thoughtfully photographs the covers, inside pages, and spines  to capture the evidence of the years and years of use. Each picture is taken against a black background in order to emphasize the marks left on the books. Marks such as spilled coffee or finger print marks from dirty hands.
            This article explains two main points of commentary: time and collectiveness. First, this documentation captures the passage of time. The pictures of the check-out cards are a very obvious show of the passage of time, a sneak peak at every library-goer to borrow said book over many days. I think that the subject itself, books, lend itself to commentary on time. For example, one images shows all the dates and names that Charlotte’s Web was checked out. As a child, everyone who learns to read experiences the feeling of losing themselves in a good book and completely losing track of time in the real world. Next, the idea that so much of the value in this work comes from the ‘left-overs’ of many others lends itself to the idea of the work being a collective process. It would not have the sentimental value or the emotional impact without the layers and layers of experience that the readers left on the pages. The images show “decay reflecting a collective act of reading.” This quote does a nice job of drawing together the ways that the collectiveness and the idea of time are drawn together.
            Personally, I think this project was such a lovely idea because I have so many memories of being a kid and looking at who checked out the book I was reading before me. How exciting it was if I recognized a name or if I saw a date from fifty years ago and feeling like I was connected to something so historic, it had a treasure or magic like feel. This project captures this youthful curiosity while still focusing on the agedness and decay of the books. Sharing the echoes of youthful curiosity and the decay creates a sense of bittersweetness for times gone by similar to the feeling of returning to a childhood home or going back to a place that you used to love and expired but now is closed, abandoned, or changed. I also feel like there is something really sad about this project because it shows how things so wrought with human touch and connection can be so easily thrown away and discarded.
This link has better pictures of the work itself:

Perform, Repeat, Record- Elsie Campbell

Chapter 41, The Live Artist as Archaeologist


In this Chapter, Amelia Jones interviews renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic on the topic of re-performing her own work, re-performing other artists work, and having new artists re-perform her work. This interview touches on many points regarding performance art that I had been either curious about or had never even considered.

A minor point that Marina made early in the dialogue was regarding the birth of performance art and interest in the human body. She mentioned that the renewed interest in body art was related to the AIDs epidemic (which we already kind of new from our segment on AIDs) but she followed that by saying that this epidemic spurred a pervasive fear of dying and interest in the exploration of that fear. This does seem like a natural outcome of the AIDs epidemic, but I had not thought of it in quite such stark terms. Performance art is a great way to explore death because it is the most ‘alive’ art one can create. Additionally, it would be quite easy to bring the audience through a begining to end cycle, which is a sure fire way to deal with death.

Beginning on page 548 Marina begins discussion re-performing her own art and what that means to her and moves on to discuss re-performing others work. She talks about how when she is re-performing her own art she has the freedom to rearrange the ‘pieces’ that make up the original. This gives her room to apply new life and personal experiences to the piece without needing to adhere to a strict outline in order to retain the structure of the original. More than that, she says that it is inevitable you “find[ing] yourself unconsciously repeating actions or visual elements you’ve seen from other parts of your life.” (552) When she re-performs other people work, she needs to keep at least some of the original structure to keep it the same piece, and she is not the original creator of the artist so does not have the freedom she discussed when talking about her own work. From this, I had a few interesting thoughts: first, it seems like re-performing one’s own art hold very different implications and come from different places of motivation. When you are re-performing your own art, it’s more like editing and revising with new life and new pieces that make it more contemporarily relevant. Where as when you re-perform someone else’s art and adhere to the original structure, it seems more like you are re creating the original piece and the original message. This difference points to a distinction between the ‘piece’ and the ‘performer’ that leads into the last point I wanted to talk about.

With traditional art (paintings, sculpture, et cetera) you only get the product of the art. With performance art you get both the product and the performer, and the interaction therein brings something specific to the piece. Like i just mentioned, re-performing art exhibits one element of the performer and piece dynamic. On page 550 Marina talks about how when she reenacted seedbed she could not convey the every element of the original piece’s intention because she had not ‘production’ because she was a woman. I thought this comment was very interesting because it touched on how each artist, in some sense, is forced to bring pieces to a performance work, whether it’s their own work or a re-enactment of someone else’s. For example, a black woman reenacting a performance piece by a white man, even if she did it exactly as he instructed, would carry different implications socially and would by necessity add a layer of identity to the piece that had not originally been there (or had originally been different.) This comes back to the idea that performance art isnt just art, but its the piece, the performer, and the symbiotic relationship of identity and intention therein.

Keith Haring and Ancient Egypt Connect At Frieze Masters- Elsie Campbell

An interesting cross-cultural exhibit is currently on display at the Salon 94 and Antiquarium Ltd. booths at Frieze Masters in London. This exhibit showcases the work of modern artist Keith Haring and ancient Egyptian artifacts. Salon 94 and Antiquarium Ltd. are two New York galleries that teamed up in the London location to exhibit this exploration of cultural and temporal juxtaposition titled Egyptomania. The contemporary arts were all influenced by the style, color scheme, vibrancy, and richness of the ancient Egyptian arts. The main modern piece is a large blue and gold ‘pyramid’ with ‘hieroglyphics’ emblazoned upon it; the ‘hieroglyphics’ are cartoon-like dancers spiraling over the bright surface. The piece draws on many traditional elements of Egyptian art for inspiration; colors (bright blue and gold), shape (classic pyramidal form), and composition and subject (renditions of human forms, lacking in perspective and much detail but conveying ideals nonetheless.) As noted in the article, displaying Haring’s work in such a small exhibit with ancient artifacts allows for more detailed investigation into the ways in which his work was influenced by the ancient Egyptians.
I think that it is interesting to see how ancient cultures still influence art today. Especially that of ancient Egyptian cultures. Its incredible how in the 1920s, the British were drawing on the archeological discoveries from pharaoh’s tombs for their fashion and their jewelry, and now contemporary artists are still drawing on the rich gold and jeweled style to influence their 21st century art.
The question that leaps to my brain is how do the Egyptians feel about this exhibit? Do they feel that the reinterpretations of their ancient artifacts are in anyway belittling their culture or spiritual practices? Do they feel that Haring is honoring them or making a mockery of them? Interesting questions to ponder.

Thelma Golden’s BLACK: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art— Elsie Campbell

In her writings in BLACK: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art Thelma Golden explores the ways in which the intersectional identities of black men in contemporary American are portrayed and perpetuated. The idea of the “black male,” says Golden, is an concept of conflicting stereotypes that has risen in the twentieth century. It is contradicting because it hold the aspect of black, which for a long time (and arguably still today and moving forwards) contains negative social implications, carries stereotypes of ‘dirtiness’ or ‘lesser-than-ness.’ This view of African-American’s has been present in american society since the earliest years of slavery. Along side this identity that is wrought with oppression and negative social value, the black male also has the ‘male’ identity. The ‘male’ identity is one that has for thousands of years in western culture been one that carries with it power, authority, strength, leadership, and truthfully dwelled at the top of the social, political, and economic strata. Thelma Golden alludes to two ideas that I find very important: first, the growing awareness of intersectionality. Second, not only does the intersection of the two identities (male and black) creates a new identity that is stigmatized in different ways than the two distinct identities, but the qualities of the individual identities perpetuates the stigmatization of the intersectional identity.

In art with a sociopolitical agenda that we have seen thus far, there is often a one track identity being promoted or explicated. For example, the art work that we studied regarding second-wave feminist art (for the most part) was only focused on women’s problems. Not on the problems of black women or lesbian women or disabled women. Though second wave feminist art like that of Hannah Wilke, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Shapiro had a clear, progressive political agenda it did not take into account the differences of overlapping identities. Art during the 70s and 80s that commented on Gay rights movement and AIDs began to see signs of intersectional awareness, for example the overlapping identities of gay and black in reference to the aids crisis (ex Maplethorppe’s work.) However, the art that Golden outlines takes intersectional awareness to a different level. A good example of this is her discuss on Adrian Piper’s work; Piper, a woman, cross dressed as an african american male and recorded her experience, the reactions she received and peoples reception of her. Looking into “extreme otherness” Piper says. This is a clear cut artistic investigation into the two identities of male and black. This intersectional awareness is something that is extremely current in todays discussions of political and personal identity, so I find Thelma Golden’s discussion on this particular degree of emergence important and enlightening.

Before reading Golden’s investigation into black masculinity I never really thought about how the male identity, an identity I always associated with highest privilege, paired with black identity could actually negatively perpetuate the particular stereotypes of black masculinity. By this I mean traits of masculinity such as strength and power, that are seen as positive in white men, paired with the stereotypical traits, that are seen as negative, of black people as unruly, less refined or civilized, animalistic, or dirty actually creates a ‘person’ who can be even more greatly stigmatizes. The idea of someone who is uncivilized (black stereotype) and strong (male stereotype) is more dangerous, threatening, or problematic than one of those qualities individually. The stereotypes of black masculinity follow this quite naturally: sexual, criminal, athletic. Golden mentions the issues that arise when real-life instances instantiate these stereotypes. This issue can be undermined by using art as a method of critiquing this intersectional stereotype. Lorna Simpson’s piece Gestures/Reenactments (1985) has this effect. The subject of the photograph is a black male, dressed simply, with no face showing, arms crossed over his chest. The words “sometimes Sam stands like his mother” is written below the image. In many ways this picks at gender and race. The faceless aspect makes it clear that this piece is made to represent a group more than an individual. The written portion clearly points to gender-role transgression and the race of the subject points to racial-stereotype transgression.

I think that the ideas in this article about intersectionality are important to understand not just art of the late twentieth century, but also important to understand the way our world is structured and the struggles each unique individual faces.

Julie Mehretu’s Politicized Landscapes- Elsie Campbell

This week, Art21 featured a video on Julie Mehretu’s Politicized Landscapes. Mehretu’s work consists of huge, wall murals, expanding multiple stories in height that depict abstract ‘landscapes.’ She describes her interest in landscapes through their historical significance, and therefore their politicized nature. She says, “the actual landscape is politicized through the events that take place on it.” The american landscape is one riddled with colonial historic and violence, crafting a narrative still relevant today. Mehretu takes photos of contemporary race riots that are, in her words, “embedded with DNA,” and superimposes historic landscape paintings on to them with her abstract interpretation. Mehretu’s work is highly politicized and provocative, it draws on the connection between spacial location and cultural weight, place and heritage, and the idealized version versus the real version of America in reference to racial justice.

I found Julie Mehretu’s work to be both visually appealing in its large size (which I am sure would be so much better in person) and abstract fluidity. But upon hearing her discuss her process, I was even more drawn into the psychological happening behind the scenes, so to say, of her work. I love the idea of combining historic paintings of the hudson river school and early American work (ex Thomas Cole) with modern day photos of the raw injustice that is present today. I like it because it urges the viewer to think about the way we often bury important realities so that we can focus on an idealized view of what is around us.

Link to video:

Artist bio:

Reclaiming the Female Body: Feminist Art In America- Elsie

The movie Reclaiming the Female Body: Feminist Art In America captured the excitement and innovation of the Feminist Art movement in a way that slides and texts books could never do. I have always had an interest in the Feminist Art movement (and really Feminism in general) and a lot of my personal work draws on the feminist agenda, so I found this movie both interesting and inspiring.

I think that Reclaiming the Female Body: Feminist Art In America showed an interesting element of the feminist perspective regarding the power, the privilege, of voice. By this I mean the women of the Feminist art movement were not only reclaiming the female body, but they were claiming for the first time their own power of opinion. Maybe their opinions were alternative, unwelcome, unconventional, and difficult for a sexist society to receive, but they were voiced opinions none the less. One artist said, “If we don’t hold ourselves up and give us that sort of grandeur and frame ourselves like that, nobody else is going to do it for us.” It seems to me that the Feminist art movement was a time where women began to collectively realize that though their voices may not have been as loud as those of men, but they still had voices. It seems that all of this is about women recognizing and accepting their own value and breaking out of the system where men came first, and finally sayings I matter, my perspective matters, my voice matters. Featured french artist of the feminist movement in the movie said, “I’m going to be interested in myself as little as I am.” This phrase perfectly captures the realization of the movement that despite their lack of societally instilled power, a voice and opinion no matter how ‘small’ is valuable and needs to be heard.

Rachel Lachowitz’s sculpture titled Sarah, a highlighted piece in this film, connects to our previous studies as it is a mockery of Richard Serra’s House of Cards. Lachowitz imitated Serra’s sculpture but instead of using slabs of steel, she used slabs of lipstick. Like Serra’s work, the slabs were all meticulously and precariously balanced together. Elements that are interesting to note include the nature of the medium. Lipstick is fragile in comparison to steel, highlighting the stereotypical differences between men and women in society at the time. Lachowitz commented on her work saying, “if it fell over it would more damage itself than anyone else,” and though this comment was meant in the literal sense, it also reflects the fragility, not of women as a group, but of women’s reputations: how high the standards are for a woman to be perfect and how easily damaged that is, only by oneself.

Overall, I found this movie to be inspiring, especially in our current political state where it can feel like we are taking steps backwards at times. The excitement of all the women artists gathered around the meeting table definitely evoked a sense of pride within me.

“Ebb and Flow” Maya Lin- Elsie Campbell

This week Maya Lin, renowned contemporary installation artist, opened a new exhibit at the Pace Gallery titled Ebb and Flow. This exhibit explores the beauty and power of water, an element Maya Lin has shown a fascination with throughout her career. I thought this article was appropriate based on our readings regarding Earth art and contemporary works and, as noted in the interview, because of the current state of record rainfall and hurricane devastation.
The exhibit is an 11 piece project, including both installations and sculptures. Lin uses recycled silver, glass, marbles, steel pins, and marble. The exhibit explores the different elemental phases of water and natural properties. She transforms scientific data findings into visual art.
In the interview, Maya Lin touches on a few main points. Firstly, that this exhibit demonstrates that nature, that water, will continue to change and move with or without human interference. Simultaneously, the focus on the natural, ‘slow time’ magnifies the drastic effect humans have had on the environment. Lin is attracted to ambivalence, the possibility of showing both the stability of natural movement and the instability of climate change. Additionally, Lin strives to remove the drama and fanfare to focus on the bare scientific facts, which to her speak the greatest volumes.
I think this exhibit is interesting because of Lin’s understated way of expressing concrete facts, the scientific findings about terrain or environmental changes, in a relatively small space. I agree that her almost mellow, subtle renditions of water and ice have an intriguing, melancholic property that tosses aside the grandeur and drama of floods and glacial melt, and focuses on bare change itself.
Link to the exhibit:
Link to the interview: