On Monday 22nd January 2018 I was listening to Andrew Marr’s Start the Week radio show where the subject was art and its economics. At one point the art economist Don Thompson, stated that a mere 500 artists of the 80000 living in London and New York lived off their work. A shocking statistic. How could it be that the so-called example of creative freedom was delivering such bleak figures of success? Especially as the term “creative” and the phrase “creativity” are very much buzz words within many industries today.
There is nothing more crushing than receiving a rejection letter with the opening phrase Dear Applicant. After the painstaking time spent writing a proposal, studying the institution (or company) you are applying to, for them to write back without your name compounds the depersonalisation of these procedures. And yet artists will tell you they spend day in day out writing these applications, looking for opportunities, looking for work, hoping to gain some footing in their chosen field.
In the autumn and winter of 2017 I must have written over 300 hundred applications. I received one worthwhile response, and whilst this response was detailed, elegant, and sincere, it could not balance out the abjection and diminishing confidence I was feeling. You realise when your confidence is at its lowest point that you begin to barricade yourself in. You tell yourself there is a systematic order to things, that you should pass through this process or that process to get somewhere, you lose track of what you want from anything, let alone your career, or future. Everything you’ve learnt in education becomes irrelevant and self-doubt manifests itself in unpleasant ways; you project the anger you feel towards yourself onto others, you hide away at home, watching TV you watched when you were young as if the answer to life lies somewhere deep inside the romantic, unerringly coincidental fortunes of those stories. But most of all you defend your integrity. And here in lies the obstruction, one’s integrity.
As artist’s there is a kind of unwritten code, that the seriousness and purity of your work lies in being authentic and maintaining your integrity. Selling out is the greatest taboo. Marketing oneself the next. Yet these two things are fundamental essences of what could change the 500 from 80000 statistic. When Marcel Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time he paid for reviews he had written to be published, to increase sales and the publicity of his, as he wrote, “little masterpiece”. * Proust risked his integrity so he could get his book into the world and seen as a success, and it is now considered one of the great classics. Of course, this information only came to light recently, but one wonders had the public, or literary crowd of his time known of this would he have been considered a fraud, devoid of integrity, and thereby destroying the authenticity of his work?
Yet to be authentic is perhaps one of the most difficult and complicated challenges that faces an artist. It seeps into everything you try to achieve. Writing those application letters, I tried to distil my most authentic self into 300 words, giving the stranger at the other end a picture of my totality. Knowing full well that that task is impossible. And that every single other person applying was attempting to do the same. Whilst those reading the applications are most likely looking for someone who ticks the boxes of their requirements. You begin to think that perhaps there has been a breakdown in our ability to communicate. That in the search of getting to the quickest result you skip some of the most detailed, and interesting parts of the story. And in the end, as it has always been, is the story not that which defines our authenticity?
One thing is for certain, for every great example of success there are plenty of others desperately trying to piece their future together. Yet perhaps part of the “integrity” and “authenticity” questions lies in this exact concept. The struggle for existence as someone who seeks to make art becomes a defining period of work. It’s the period where you really question your motives. Not only do you think about the work, but you ask yourself, maybe I’m not good at this? Maybe I it’s too hard? You find jobs that might not benefit your future, you have very little money, you sit around asking yourself what’s the point, why bother? Of course, you make work. For many it’s the point where the ideas really begin to form as solid components, for others its total misery.
Many examples of this struggle exist throughout art history, none more so than the famed story of Van Gogh. But I can’t help finding this glamorisation unnecessary, a kind of self-presenting philosophy. What I mean by this, is that whilst there is a certain difficulty in achieving one’s ambitions in the arts, where funding and support are minimal, it does seem that perhaps we too have been trained to think in a singular, linear direction. Pigeon holing oneself, rather than expanding. By expanding I mean looking at ways to use the tools at your disposal to earn and live, breaking with the so-called regular outlets for the work, and even potentially finding audiences one did not know existed for the work.
Later on, in the radio show the critic Andrew Graham Dixon detailed the extreme conformity of the major art institutions, the lack of challenge to the big artists and the use of art literature to maintain a kind of conservatism and popularism within the arts. This was a blunt and scathing attack, but deeply honest opinion. Folded into it was the question do the institutions of art do enough to support the body of artists living today?
Perhaps they are not. After all a large number of exhibitions in the major cities appear to be of ‘big name’ artists, which have huge crowds, but also leave residual effects on the emerging artists. Take the freshly reopened Hayward Gallery, which chose to show Andreas Gursky as its big opening. Here was an opportunity to make a fresh start; a new look, a new identity, instead it felt very much more of the same old.
What then could be done? Perhaps one method of exploring new artists and at the same time maintaining the big crowds, would be to have an ‘opening act’, as is used at a music concert. A small room before the big room so to speak. But then who decides who is worthy of this space. Would it not also be more effective for artists to reclaim their agency? To run their own spaces, to promote themselves in inventive ways and expand.
Morgan Quaintance, the curator, writer and radio host wrote “If radical progression and a separation of art from systems adversely effecting people across London and the rest of the United Kingdom, is to stand a chance, then it has to start with a reclamation of agency from actors who have been conditioned to believe they do not have any. Replace, or at the very least augment, the impulse to engage and reform with a robust effort to withdraw and rebuild.” It would appear to me, that by breaking with our integrity and authenticity, which are seemingly learned attributes, we may just find ways of shedding the belief of self-doubt and thereby change our fortunes in terms of living, success and the work itself.
So, thank you for inviting me in your studio. I see you have a lot of collage notebooks. What are they about?
Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by science, astronomy and archaeology. In these books, I have collected many pictures taken by satellites of the surface of the moon and of planet Mars which I have put together in the form of a research, along with my own interventions. This series has been going on since 1997 when I was working together with friends who worked in the German Space Agency in Munich. When put together, these pictures compose a new, interesting form of landscape from a unique perspective, a view from above – the so called bird´s-eye view, which interests me very much in my artistic creation. This is a big part of my inspiration and also led me to the decision to experiment with surfaces which resulted in my ‘Mars Series’.
Can you describe a little bit more in detail about the ‘Mars Series’?
Well the Mars Series is a series of top-down paintings where I have extensively experimented with surfaces and the color red. I have taken several materials that people throw on the garbage and turned them into speculative extraterrestrial soil as imagined from the pictures I have seen. Through these series I particularly wanted to reflect on unanswered questions such as ‘could life have come from this super cold planet’ or ‘where did life come from’? At the same time I come face to face with questions regarding the future of humanity as a species like ‘is it possible to colonize other planets?. We, ‘earth-men’ have a talent in ruining big beautiful things. We love to produce garbage. Will our human arrogance trash up other planets too? These questions are prominent in my work and I try to re-imagine them by using all sorts of materials people would normally throw in the garbage and turning them into solid, hard, non-organic matter. I am encouraging people to touch, smell and look at my work because I think that the engagement of more than one senses is vital to appreciate my work.
Chersoneus Battle Place – Acryl – 120x160cm
Arsiamons 2004 – Acryl – 80x80cm
What are the basic ‘themes’ in your work?
Exploration of space; The Unseen; Modern technological age with robots and AI play a big role for the inspiration of the artist as I like to explore different interpretations of such incomprehensible creations. As mentioned, I am very fascinated by astronomy and the universe, so I draw inspiration from pictures and observations of other planets and stars in our solar system. My work also has strong architectural references and I love to experiment with what a surface can be, what it can look like and what it could be made of.
Would you say you are inspired by specific artists?
Yes, a couple of artists have played an important role in the development of my career. One of my most important influences is the famous collage modernist Kurt Schwitters who was using unexpected materials for his collage and was doing a lot of research before any creation. Another inspiration was while I was studying art in New York. During my studies, I had Larry Poons as instructor who was not a big fan of red but his painting surfaces exuded a wild energy; however my Mars Series involves systematically the color red as a symbol of masculinity, power and even – violence. Another artist that greatly inspired from the first time I saw his show and onwards was Anselm Kiefer. The implementation of various materials and creation of diverse surfaces still remains a basic component of my work and his large-scale works never cease to impress me.
Architectural Remnants of an ancient civilization – 100x130cm
What is your biggest dream as an artist?
Well, I guess to have a group art exhibition alongside with Anselm Kiefer and Bosco Sodi in Tate Modern (Laughter). The other would be to somehow make sure that my art survives through time and is left to the new generations to reflect, comment on and get inspired by. I always have this anguish of whether my art will be good enough for the next generations to take over and this is what mostly drives me forward to constantly create and become better.
And what will your next projects look like?
My next project will revolve around the Mars topic but this time, I want to explore how Mars would look like from the inside. . . I would like to explore more the color variations in this effort. I am now also getting more interested in environmental topics, such as the pollution of our oceans, the melting ice, the soil degradation and deforestation. New paintings dealing with such matters will be available in 2018.
Finally I would like to explore more of installation work in the future.
Works by Jose Dávila, Nathan Hylden and Andreas Schmitten
Hyun Jin Kwon
Jonathon Levine projects
DIVERSEartLA Curated by Marisa Caichiolo
With works by Edgar Plan, Miguel Macaya, Bruno Ollé and Lídia Masllorens
Harmonia Rosales & Aldis Hodge
Ciprian Mureasan was born in 1977 Mureasan lives and works in Cluj, Romania.
Ciprian Muresan’s allegorical artwork respond to the post-communist eastern Europe and questions artistic production. In his drawings every image from a given publication is hand-traced in overlapping layers of graphite pencil onto a single sheet of paper. On close inspection, images of old master paintings are intelligible.
Andrew Gilbert was born in 1980 lives and works in Berlin
Gilbert critically mocks colonialism in his work. He draws in a unsophisticated manner, using British Empire emblems and stereotypical native people. Fabricating soldiers dressed in over the top garish uniforms. So satirizing the racism and tyranny of occupation.
Fernando Bryce was born in 1965 Bryce lives and works in Lima and New York.
Bryce investigates and reconstructs the ways events were represented in old books, magazines and newspapers. His process involves going through the archives looking for advertisements, news bulletins and propaganda to attentively recreate chosen subjects in ink on paper.
Jerome Zonder was born in 1974 lives and works in Paris.
His drawings are mainly rendered in graphite and charcoal, often on a large format or as part of an installation. He refers to classic art, current affairs, family photo’s, comics, and popular culture. Innocence appears abreast of cruelty his in narrative compositions that are often frightening.
Witte Wartena was born in 1976 lives and works in Amsterdam.
His drawings executed in pencil and watercolor may appear as mere documentation, but on closer inspection reveal multiple layers and deeper meanings. His compositions concentrate on (group-) portraits, cityscapes and still lives. He shows his influences but also takes his lack of inspiration as the subject for his work.
Jockum Nordström was born in 1963 lives and works in Stockholm.
Nordström’s very detailed collages, watercolors, graphite drawings seem improvised. He often refers to them as “stills”. In a seemingly naive hand he shows of a world awry with naked bodies and sex. His fantastical settings are populated with figures seemingly pulled from different eras.
Paul Chiappe was born in 1984 and lives and works in Edinburgh.
Chiappe creates painstakingly drawn tiny drawings that are based on photographs. He explores memory and loss. Mysterious subjects stare back at the fewer to reveal something and nothing all at once. He is interested in the relationship between adults and children and the Catholic faith.
Sara Hurley was born in Tehran lives and works in Berkshire, England.
Hurley is interested in the interaction the fewer has with her work. Many of her drawings depict visitors of museums and galleries. The spectators them self become the subject of the art. She makes her work using digital media and is inspired by Persian miniatures.
Rinus Van de Velde was born in 1983 and lives and works in Antwerp.
Van de Velde draws monumental drawings, usually with charcoal, based on found photographs or of self-built staged scenes. His work revolves around identify blurring fiction and reality. Often inserting himself in the work posing as an artist, musician, athlete or scientist.
How often do you walk into an exhibition and know, ‘I will exit this evening holding one of these works of art’. Which one? It could be any. It will be any, that is a fact, a fact with Berta anyhow. The clincher with this art experience is, you do not have a say in which artwork you will depart with. How would you approach viewing an exhibition and encountering works of art for the first time, when you know, ‘I might be living with this piece tomorrow’. Might you ask, ‘I love this work here, now, in the gallery but would I love it next week? I hate this work here, now, in the gallery, but might it grow on me? Could I love it?’
The Berta Art Raffel is more of a happening than an exhibition. It is an ephemeral gathering of works of art and of people, with both of these elements imperative to the event. Having taken part in Berta both as an artist and as a member of the audience, it has become clear to me that these two groups are not two separate groups at all. Berta dissolves the ego and the pretensiousness of (A)rt into the reality of (a)rt. It is a platform to connect with the instinct of creating which lives in so many of us, and to connect to the very human product of this instinct in a variety of forms.
As an artist I continuously struggle with the mindset of creating. ‘I must be self-centered,
self-focused. This work cannot and will not be made by anyone else. If I do not look at the
self, at the imagination, at my voice, creating my art is impossible.’ The double edged sword to this process is of course that I get precious with its products. And so, when the opportunity comes to part with my work a very fragile moment arises.
Berta addresses this moment. It confronts the occasion of selling art so successfully,
tenderly, and sensitively that in its context I have witnessed time and time again, strangers hugging one another, as a work of art passes from the maker to the buyer/receiver/owner. Really none of these words will suffice. I have seen that in these moments the artist and the other, their differences, are dissolved and it is simply two people sharing in an experience which they both trust, believe in and are inspired by.
The creator of the Berta Art Raffle is Arnejo Corata, a collaboration between Juan Arata
and Eli Cornejo. In March 2014 they organized the first Berta Art Raffle to cover medical
costs for their beloved cat, named Berta, of course. They decided to give every ticket holder a prize, a piece of art, in a sign of gratitude. The night before the exhibition and raffle, Berta died. A very unexpected tradition was born though, and 2017 saw its sixth incarnation. Each and every volume I have witnessed has grown in size, energy, audience, and professionalism. The heart of the project has remained constant with its roots in community, in compensating artists without taking advantage of their labours, and in the belief of what art can do for us. These roots are ever present and only growing deeper.
Arnejo Corata is successful with Berta because their inclination, their incentive, and their aim is authentic. They have grown both an audience and a network of artists who are actively respected and who therefore joyously take part. Arnejo Corata state, “The aim of the Berta Art Raffle is to encourage young art enthusiasts to start building their own art collection by exposing them to affordable art, while promoting and supporting local and international artists.”
I would like to congratulate Arnejo Corata on their accomplishments. They have planted a seed of joy, respect, and authenticity in the Berlin art world. At the end of a year dominated by hate, sexual harassment, greed, and power; Berta offers an example of an alternative avenue toward success, an acute criticism of industry values.
Ali Son Sea, Berlin 2017
Virginia De Diaz
@ Foundazione Prada
The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied. was Foundazione Prada’s addition to this year’s Venice Biennale and was without doubt one of the most exciting shows of the year. Combining the feeling of being lost with an unsurmountable joy and hope the show brought together the particular crafts of Thomas Demand, Alexander Kluge and Anna Viebrock, who, combined, articulated something necessary, political, historical and metaphorical. This show gave the artists the license to add to one another, building an enigmatic labyrinth for their us to move within.
Placed in what the curator Udo Kittelmann called “a trail of clues and signs” the artists situated the viewer as the lead detective in a historical retelling of a serious crime, and it is this expansive uncovering act that consumed me. There is a very serious tone to all the work, Thomas Demand’s reconstructions of political spaces, miniaturised then enlarged, devoid of the human, are mesmeric and precise. Whilst Kluge’s videos are confusing and fascinating, in a reconstructed court room we sit as judge, victim, opposition lawyer, and members of the gallery, as the tale of an unfortunate misconduct on a woman is retold. Meanwhile Viebrock gave a masterclass in set building, housing the other two artists’ work in a manner that speaks both of domestic and public spaces, displaying an exceptional empathy for the intricacies of politics and the family, constantly reminding us, this is a set, it’s not real, only a theatre by which to examine reality through.
Of course, the kind of bewilderment experienced is supposed to lead us somewhere. Being inside the metaphor only furthers the meaning, using our lostness as a tool. The accompanying essay for the show speaks of an awareness of the stormy times we are in, whilst the title, a reference to the Leonard Cohen song Everybody Knows, 1988, also points toward something more. So, what is it that we are experiencing? What are being asked to take away?
The first thought, is the “captain” pertains to the “leader of the free world” and the sadness and accompanying mania following Trump’s inauguration as President. Yet this show is mostly based in a European rhetoric, the films are in German, the architecture speaks largely of Europe, although Demand’s image of the Oval Office is submerged deep in the show, and I would go as far as to say that the artists are indicating that whilst there’s political turmoil our domestic, national and continental cultures are undergoing serious upheaval. Through the vehicle of past architectures, The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied. stands as a symbol of the façade of the past century, as it comes to terms with the new century, with its immense powers of interrogation, surveillance and desire for truth and simultaneously fiction leading us towards a spiral, or a maze, as innumerable shames and secrets are revealed. During such times the only voice we can listen to becomes our own, and as moving throughout this show, where some doors work and others don’t, we are left piecing together a story of distress and hope. And here in lies the necessity and pleasure of this show.