With works by Lubaina Himid
Galerie Max Mayer
One of three doors by Jef Geys from the legendary “Chambers d’amid,” exhibition which took place in 1986 in Ghent, Belgium.
@sarah_pichlkostner, Roger Hiorns, Meiro Koizumi, Erik van Lieshout, Ed van der Elsken and David Maljkovic
Works by Anna Uddenberg, Florian Auer, Alexander Carver, Slavs and Tatars
The recent controversy regarding the Guggenheim’s “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” show again highlighted an important issue that has affected the art world for a very long time; that of animal rights in art.
Of the exhibitions featured, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s piece “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” caught the public’s attention. The piece features 4 dogs, in pairs, facing each other 2 vs 2. A harness holds the dogs in position, nose to nose, barely out of range of the other’s bites, while a treadmill makes their attempts at running towards each other futile. The dogs growl, snap and howl, in a perpetual state of aggression, fear and agitation as they never get free and never get to make contact, so with no release for the building stress and tension they are ‘all bark and no bite’.
“Dogs that cannot touch each other”, however, is tame compared to Sun`s earlier pieces. A large number of snakes, frogs and lobsters as well as other animal life was bought from stores and skewered alive on wires. Writhing in pain and agony, the animals suffered a long and painful death in front of an audience. In her defence she said they would be eaten anyway and was actually confused as to why people cared.
Looking back at other examples of animal abuse, Guillermo Vargas drew criticism for“Exposición N° 1″ where a homeless dog was taken from the streets and placed into a gallery, chained and left to starve to death. If that wasn’t bad enough, Vargas wrote on the wall “you are what you read” in dog food, just out of reach of the dog. The dog in question, depending on the reports, either died of starvation there or escaped from both the gallery and its tragic fate and was never seen again.
Like Yu and Yuan, in answer to criticism Vargas points out people’s hypocrisy regarding animal life; people turn a blind eye to animals suffering and dying in massive numbers yet protest an exhibition showing cruelty towards and the death of a single or few creatures. The big revelation it seems, is that people are hypocritical, but is this something we don’t already know? Do we need this kind of “art” to remind us?
Imagine if we applied that morality universally? A death of a child in UK is nothing compared to the infant mortality rate of Afghanistan. The starvation of a single homeless person in the US is a drop in the ocean compared to the emaciated millions that perish in Sub-Saharan Africa. The thought of a torturous slow death of people in a gallery to“highlight” the hypocrisy is ludicrous, immoral, illegal, and for any artist who would attempt it a quick route to life imprisonment or even the death sentence.
By comparison punishment seems no deterrent whatsoever to the people killing these animals. Animal rights laws are notoriously lax and light the world over and it’s worth mentioning that extreme animal abuse in the name of art is not an issue limited to only a small number of countries. In the US, Kim Jones for his piece poured lighter fuel on rats and burned them alive; the fine he received was insignificant but then again, most are not even fined.
Damien Hirst, the world’s richest living artist is also, probably, the art world’s greatest animal killer. Whilst mostly made up of insect life, Hirst has a current death count in his pieces to date estimated at 913,450, and, although some of the animals were sourced and already dead, many were not. Nine thousand butterflies died in one exhibition alone.
Hirst’s influence on the younger generations of artists is clear. In the signature work of“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” a table with a transparent wire mesh dome houses a variety of insects and reptiles in a kind of gladiatorial fight for survival. They kill, eat, starve and do what they can to survive. When numbers dwindle they are re-stocked with more lives thanks to local pet shop owners.
Art is providing a kind of justification and validation for people to abuse animals. People with serious and potentially dangerous psychiatric disorders can find a kind of safe haven of sorts in the art world. Backed by collectors and galleries they find a kind of acceptance which in itself encourages and funds more abuse of living things. When Xu Zhen bought a cat, strangled it to death and then beat its corpse until it was a bloody pulp his comments were particularly revealing. “In order to release my frustration without violence towards the public, the cat was a substitute.”
The people responsible for these atrocities as well as the galleries, collectors, critics and others backing these people must be held accountable. We have a situation where morality, ethics and animal lives are literally and figuratively being sacrificed for notoriety, exposure and money.
The good news? In the face of so much public protest and campaigning against “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” the Guggenheim felt forced to remove 3 of the most controversial pieces from their exhibition. A small victory but an important reminder about what can be done in the face of such cruelty. Vargas, when questioned about the starving dog coldly remarked that none of the visitors to the gallery tried to help the dog in question, that he simply placed it there and the dog’s fate was decided by the people who came to see it. For me the message is clear; people must not be reduced to spectators. Animal lives can be saved, if the public is aware and active enough to do it.
The Armory Show was founded in 1994 by four New York gallerists; Colin de Land, Pat Hearn, Matthew Marks and Paul Morris.
Daniel Faria Gallery
Works by Kristine Moran, Douglas Coupland Allyson Vieira and Jennifer Rose Sciarrino.
Magdalena Suarez Frimkess
Works by Ramiro Gomez, Joe Houston, Hunter Reynolds, Erin M. Riley, Betty Tompkins, Robin F. Williams, David Wojnarowicz
The New Art Dealers Alliance put on the seventh edition NADA New York a fair dedicated to the cultivation, support, and advancement of new voices in contemporary art.
Asya Geisberg Gallery
Works by Angelina Gualdoni and Marjolijn de Wit.
Works by Scott Anderson, James Collins, Stevie Dix, Joakim Ojanen.
Independent is a fair founded by Elizabeth Dee, Darren Flook, Matthew Higgs and Laura Mitterrand in 2009.
Sixth floor, Booth 9
First floor, booth 7
Works by Milena Muzquiz and Charlie Billingham.
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.