Robert Gober

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The Heart Is Not A Metaphor, MoMA, NYC, 2015

Robert Gober (born 1954, Connecticut) is an American sculptor, whose work has informed my spring term practice.

The first word that comes to mind when I think about Gober’s work is ‘eccentricity.’ His sculptures are always unexpected; always as if seen for the first time. His work is striking, yet can be wonderfully simple – it often involves domestic objects, which he presents in a playful and theatrical way.

The pieces connote themes of sexuality, politics, gender, and religion. They also depict a narrative and seem to suggest an alternate universe, in which objects and images of Gober’s interest relate to each other and mean different things.

THE HEART IS NOT A METAPHOR

The Heart Is Not A Metaphor is Gober’s 2015 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, USA. I’m focusing on it in this post because it provides an extensive overview of the artist’s career.

The wildly imaginative exhibition features around 130 of his works across many different mediums, such as sculptures, immersive artistic environments and a plethora of drawings, prints, and photographs. The more or less chronological presentation of the artwork follows the progress of his impressive career, emphasising ideas and motifs which came about in the early 1980s and continue to inspire Gober’s work to this day.

I experienced the exhibition via NOWherelimited’s extremely helpful video on YouTube (all images in this blog post are screenshots from it). Seeing this exhibition made me laugh, it made me wonder, it made me uneasy, and it made me question.

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Some of the sculptural work is quite familiar, even domestic, like this white sink. It is displayed mounted against a camouflage colour-scheme wall, with both taps running.

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Underneath the sink is a small container of rat poison. It is unclear why the rat poison is there – it introduces the idea of death to an otherwise normal image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some sculptures had an air of familiarity, however they were balanced out by some more obscure ones.

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Many of Gober’s works depict feet or legs protruding from walls. This one simply displays a With these you are compelled to consider the person on the other side of the wall: is there one? What can we tell about them from the shoe alone?

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One of the sculptures was simply a paint pot, heavily dented and with paint spilling down the sides. It looks as if extensively used; in fact I originally though it was an artefact from Gober’s own studio. However, it is a sculpture made from scratch to look like a paint pot. Modelled on the brand Gober uses, he carefully painted the branding in exquisite detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are some bizarre and unexplained juxtapositions involved in some of the pieces. Seen below is a mural involving two small drawings, both repeated across the walls and ceiling of an entire room. Here, the entire room is an art piece, rather than individual sculptures. The drawings depict a man hanging by the neck from a tree and a man sleeping. There is also a racial element – the hanging man is black whereas the sleeping man is white, so perhaps this is a comment on the ever-present white privilege. Resting on the floor up against the mural are two large bags of cat litter. We have to wonder if these have any connection to the mural. Does something that is designed to clean/absorb mess have extra meaning when juxtaposed with something so disturbing as the wallpaper? The third element is the wedding dress – standing by itself as if being worn by an invisible bride. Perhaps this connotes purity, which is interesting when juxtaposed with the wallpaper and the cat litter and their opposing connotations.

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Gober’s drawing is very sketchy, not very detailed, and highly expressive – the subject matter is more important than the drawing process here.

He sewed the wedding gown himself and attached it to the frame of a tailor’s dummy to make the wedding dress appear to stand up by itself.

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An entire wall dedicated to drawings of what appear to be genitalia. It is a startling and powerful image to say the least – perhaps the point is to provoke thought on the general public’s attitude and reaction to images of genitals.

Below are more of Gober’s sculptures featuring legs; a seemingly recurrent theme in his work. These raise questions of identity – is Gober inventing characters here? Can we tell anything about the person to whom the legs belong merely by what we see? They are created in fastidious detail; Gober uses both wax and actual human hair to create them.

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Here we have a more surreal work, where the person is fully clothed (from the waist down) and has candles sprouting like mushrooms from his legs. Do the candles connote some kind of religious ritual/practice?

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This example seems to connote vulnerability and raises many questions. They are wearing just socks and lace-up derby shoes, nothing else, and they have musical score written across the buttocks. It is hard to tell what music it is – is the song important? Why is this person naked apart from shoes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This one is dressed entirely differently, with modern trainers and short sports shorts on. Instead of things sprouting out from the legs, there are a series of holes in them. Why is this one dressed differently? Is there a connection between the holes and the clothing?

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This one is different again; instead of a pair of legs coming out of the wall, this one appears to depict a single leg, complete with a sock & a shoe, being born from a featureless torso. This one is particularly striking, giving rise to potential themes of motherhood and pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here we have a human chest placed upon a plastic bag. In an exploration of hermaphrodism, the bag appears to be female on one side and male on the other – what is Gober trying to say about gender here, if anything?

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An almost Dali-esque arrangement: a flaccid rifle droops over an apple-filled basket, sitting on a small wooden stool. This subverts our idea of the physical qualities of a rifle – instead of being rigid and straight, it appears to be flexible and limp.

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This sculpture appears to depict a block of Swiss cheese with a thin crop of long, straggly hair. This could be interpreted as the personification of a block of cheese by giving it the human attribute of hair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A large stone sculpture of an ear. From the appearance of the rock that surrounds the ear it seems as if excavated, as if it were a fossil.

HOW HAS GOBER’S WORK INFORMED MY PRACTICE?

Gober’s work is a brilliant example of surrealism and abstraction. Although seemingly random, the pieces all seem to be from a common, alternate universe. I love working with ongoing themes, and I find the idea of creating an alternate universe via art fascinating. This idea informed my series of works with painting plastic items.

 

 

 

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Andrea Zittel

 

POCKET PROPERTY:

 

Andrea Zittel. A-Z Prototype for Pocket Property, floating off the coast of Denmark, 1999. Concrete, steel, wood, dirt, and vegetation; approximately 23 × 54 feet.

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Shown above are compartments for the animals she breeds. They are designed to include everything the animal needs and she says they would influence the way the animal would develop. She never specifies which animals she was breeding, and I question whether she actually kept animals and bred them in these boxes? I personally disagree with her doing this even if it is in the name of art because the animals cannot consent to participating in the project.

Shown above is a collection of animal ‘breeding units.’ They are designed to contain everything the animal needs all in one small compartment. This was around 1990, when Zittel had just moved to New York and was living in a tiny storefront in Brooklyn that was around “two hundred square feet”.

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View of her living unit, displaying a filing cabinet and desk that slots into her sleeping area for maximum space-saving.

She says the places in which she lives influence her artwork a great deal. The combination of living in this tiny Brooklyn apartment and her animal breeding work brought on a desire to create similar utilitarian structures for herself.

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The ‘kitchen area’ of her living unit. You can see a tiny hob, microwave oven, and to the left a mirror and towels. In the pursuit of utilitarianism she has condensed nearly two rooms into a tiny space.

Zittel’s practice blurs the boundaries between art and life; she very much lives her art. Her living in her art pieces is the artwork as much as the pieces are. Her practice is very much experience-based.

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Zittel’s living space is seven feet high, eight feet long, and five feet wide. It fits nicely into a room and appears to be on wheels for motility. It even comes with a built-in sofa.

The living unit is like a house that she can take with her and even put inside someone else’s house. It is similar to a tortoise’s shell, or a snail’s – she can be “home” wherever she has her unit.

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Zittel’s A-Z Pocket Property. Note the entirely concrete appearance; seemingly a triumph of substance over style.

Zittel’s work is centred around solitude; creating a situation where one person is totally in control of their life, and makes all the decisions. This idea of being totally autonomous and self-sufficient is perhaps a model for how she believes people should live. It is an idealistic concept, pursing absolute efficiency in life.

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Here we see Zittel watering her plants while on the island. To her, it seems, the experience is about getting the maximum out of home life and being focused on looking after only herself and her home. 

Zittel’s 1999 installation A-Z Pocket Property is a 44-ton floating concrete island anchored off the coast of Denmark, on which she lived for one month. The idea is to create a reproducible structure that could be lived in. To me it seems to represent the epitome of solitude – being out at sea literally cuts off everybody else.

I find this exploration of human values fascinating. As someone who loves efficiency it is a satisfying concept to be totally self-sufficient with the least input possible, while taking up the least amount of space possible. In a world plagued by overpopulation, Zittel’s vision of human life becomes an ever more practical prospect.

The Mighty Boosh

To be clear, The Mighty Boosh is not actually an art piece, rather a comedy troupe, but this doesn’t mean it hasn’t influenced my artistic practice. Aside from the fact the troupe is written by artists, it has some fantastical, mad and thought-provoking elements that have been instrumental to my writing and film-making.

The Mighty Boosh is a surreal comedy troupe written by and starring Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt. Originally a radio show, it became a three-series TV show which aired on BBC3 from 2003 to 2007 and subsequently two live tours of the UK as well as two shows in America.

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From left to right: Bollo (played by Dave Brown), Vince Noir (played by Noel Fielding), Howard Moon (played by Julian Barratt), and Naboo the Enigma (played by Michael Fielding).

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Howard Moon

 

 

Barratt plays Howard Moon, described by other characters as a “tall, northern, jazzy freak”. He is an aspiring musician, actor, poet, novelist, and photographer. He is presented as generally very moody, out-of-touch, and pretentious, and seems to take himself extremely seriously despite being extremely unlucky in most pursuits.

 

 

Vince Noir

Vince Noir

 

Fielding plays Howard’s opposite – the smiley, laid-back, sociable Vince Noir, who dresses in flashy, fashionable clothes and has the general aesthetic of a ’70s rock star. He is known to have had 15 people working on his hair at once. He grew up as an orphan, being raised in the forests by Bryan Ferry. Despite having a warm personality and being quite savvy, he is naïve and childlike and has the potential to be pretty shallow at times.

 

 

Howard & Vince are a fantastic example of the comedic duo; being essentially the opposite to each other means they balance each other out, and this paves the way for some exceptional dialogue. They are often very sarcastic and tease each other a lot but despite their differences, they know each other extremely well and have an extremely strong bond.

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“The Hitcher” (played by Noel Fielding) – the ‘evil villain’ of the troupe. Appearing once in each season, he is a green, cockney man-witch with an enormous thumb. He seems to be from Victorian times and claims to have taught Jack the Ripper how to kill people.  

The complete lack of continuity between the three seasons is intriguing. In the first season, the characters work in a zoo, in the second, they live together in a flat and in the third they run a second-hand shop called ‘Nabootique’ in Dalston. They are the same characters, but none of the seasons acknowledge the events of past seasons. The main characters seem to have a different past in each episode: in the episode “Eels” Howard is the same age as Vince (despite looking much older) but in “Party” Howard is ten years older than Vince. This questions our linear perception of time. It also puts a greater emphasis on character rather than plot, which I think is effective as I personally find character a more interesting element. Each episode has its own plot but the show as a whole doesn’t really go anywhere, setting it apart from the majority of TV shows.

Fantasy and surrealism are inherent in my artwork, and they are fundamental in the Mighty Boosh. The fantastical aspects of the show are both amusing and captivating. In the first series, Fielding and Barratt play with the concept of death by portraying the afterlife as unexpectedly mundane. In the episode “Bollo,” Howard is mistakenly taken by a cockney grim reaper, who drives him to limbo in a taxi cab. Limbo is a pub where these cockney skeletons all gather, and Howard waits there for a decision from ‘head office’ on whether he goes to hell or heaven. The banal appearance of what you’d expect be a terrifying situation is hilarious.

The low-budget appearance may not be intentional but it is actually very effective. The comedic techniques inspire me because they are so simple, yet powerful. There are many subtle jokes that run throughout the show. One of my favourites is that sometimes a character says “gather round” or “come closer” to a group when telling a story to them, and an inanimate object in the vicinity comes to life and does just that, only to be asked to leave. This happens once in each series, see the example in the first season below:

Other subtle running jokes include the characters’ catchphrases, which are usually said in life-threatening situations. Howard always says “don’t kill me, i’ve got so much to give”, encapsulating his pretentious nature. In these bleak situations Howard and Vince often reminisce about mundane aspects of life – jigsaw puzzles, soup, sticklebacks – in the form of songs with surreal lyrics. See the lyrics of the soup song below:

“soup, soup, a-tasty soup, soup,

a-spicy carrot and coriander,

chilli chowder,

crouton, crouton,

crunchy friends in the liquid broth.

I am gazpacho, oh!

I am a summer soup, mmm!

miso! miso! fighting in the dojo…

miso! miso! oriental prince in the land of soup.”

The playful, random lyrics have influenced my poetry quite a bit.

The use of animation is extremely clever as well. Storytelling is a big element in the Mighty Boosh and the stories are often presented through colourful animations. See the story of ‘the funk’ below:

Anthropomorphism is also a key part – animals frequently have advanced personalities and can speak. Bollo the Gorilla, a main character from season 2 onwards, is a prime example. The moon is given a bizarre, ‘simpleton’ personality: sometimes it comes to life and has its own monologue – see below:

Although not strictly an art piece, the Mighty Boosh is an incredibly creative comedy, unlike any I’ve seen before, and seeing as I have worked with film and poetry quite a lot recently, it is very relevant to my practice. It has a lot to teach me about writing, concepts, surrealism, and various artistic styles.

 

Film screening workshop: Jean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend” (1967)

Week 6 – Screening and discussion of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1967 black comedy, “Weekend”

The aim of this workshop was to look at all the different elements of film in general and how they contribute to the overall effect.

We started by considering how to analyse a film.

We must consider:

  • form and content, the script, the genre, the acting, the soundtrack,
  • the narrative, the voice, the perspective, the structure
  • meta-text and meta-narrative – is the text or story part of something bigger? does it relate to other films/ stories?
  • interpretation – how can we interpret it? what school of criticism do we use to do so? Freudian? feminist? queer theory? marxist?
  • context – what was going on at the time of the film that would influence a) how the film was written and b) how the first audiences would interpret it
  • technique: the lighting, composition, sets, performance, editing, camera movement, external information.

Film is a visual, time-based medium so we must keep an eye on what camera position and composition are trying to tell us.

French film magazine “Du Cinéma” was founded in 1951, and it reset the basic tenets of film criticism and theory. Writers included Truffaut and Godard himself; the magazine was centred on analysis. Truffaut wrote the ‘les politiques des Autuer’ manifesto in 1954, resulting in the re-evaluation of Hollywood films and directors, including Hawks, Ray, Aldrich, Hitchcock, Lang. By centring on mise-en-scene, directors could be compared and contrasted thus film dialogue develops. The magazine was essential to creation of Nouvelle Vague.

Jean-Luc Godard had 3 films in the top 50 BFI list: 13 – Breathless (1960), 21 – Le Mepris (1963), and 42 Pierrot Le fou (1965). He revolutionised socialism in cinema, played with form and genre, and was quoted as saying “all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.”

Weekend (1967):

Director: Jean-Luc Godard

Cinematographer: Raoul Coutard

Edit: Agnès Guillemot

Music: Antoine Duhamel

Sound: René Levert.

It contains multiple cross-cultural references, remarkable camera work (it is vital to consider camera movement as meaning), is highly influential, has themes of the apocalypse, satire, anarchy, cinema, hollywood, revolution, location, socialism, style, ‘narrative’, polemic, and Brecht’s theory of alienation (in short, the use of theatrical techniques to make the familiar seem strange).

The film struck me immediately as extremely clever. One of the main things that struck me was the constant occurrence of terrible things, so frequent they become normal, which is reflected in the characters’ apathetic reactions to them.

The focus on the two main characters throughout gave an interesting perspective on the many weird and wonderful characters they meet on their journey, including the clan of anarchic hippies they both join at the end of the film.

Use of camera technique is extremely important. A scene where this is particularly important is one where we hear the cultural backgrounds/struggles of two working class young men. We hear their stories in one at a time, and each time the camera focuses on the first while the second recites the first’s story. Another is the scene where the pair reach the mother, hoping to secure her inheritance – there is a close-up of a rabbit carcass with the mother’s blood being spilled on it, accompanied by a monologue; which is extremely jarring to see.

 

 

Frank Wasser

Artist Talk 15.11.17

Frank Wasser was born in Dublin in 1988.

He studied Fine Art at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, Ireland and graduated with an MFA in 2012.

Wasser has exhibited and lectured internationally, recently at the Venice Biennale where he debuted his performative lecture ‘Tendencies in Contemporary Art: A history of fabricated history’ for the European Cultural Academy (August 2017).

Lately, Wasser has supported his own practice by working with artists such as Tino Sehgal and Dan Graham and working as a educator, art historian and researcher across multiple institutions, including Tate, London.

Wasser’s practice includes work with writing, performance, conversations and rumours.

Many of the visual attributes of the practice are deployed strategically to act as decoys that can unravel, scrutinise and dismiss established forms of representation.

Wasser is currently working on an exhibition that will take the form of a book (published by Ma Bibliotheque an imprint of Dr.Sharon Kivland). The book will take as it’s starting point Irelands failed relationship with Modernism through an interweaving of metafictional autobiographical fragments and collected contemporary fables. Wasser will next show work at hmm no. 11 at Somerset House, November 27th, curated and selected by Anne Tallentire and Chris Fite-Wassilak.

Wasser’s artist talk began like many others, with what seemed like a powerpoint presentation on his practice, a few biographical details, and how he was inspired. Early on in his hour-long presentation we became aware he was not in fact showing us a powerpoint but a video, which was odd but we just thought this was a way to automatically change the slides for him. Later on in the video, a bright blue image of Theresa May popped up for merely a split-second, accompanied by a cough played extremely loudly through the speakers. This surprised us quite a bit but Wasser ignored it and carried on so we thought nothing of it. This then happened a few more times, punctuating what was otherwise a very normal artist talk. Each time it happened it scared the life out of us and created an overwhelming sense of tension, as though it was building up to something. That something manifested during the last ten minutes of the artist talk when his powerpoint once again turned into footage of Theresa May, this time constant footage rather than just a split-second, accompanied again by her coughing. This carried on for about a minute, in which time we realised Wasser was now completely doubled over, arms dangling listlessly, where before he had been standing up normally. He remained in this zombie-like position as his video changed to footage of himself in various white rooms, in a blood-red filter, accompanied with emphatic, harsh, deafening white noise. The video continued for ten minutes and then finished, at which point Wasser returned to standing upright and thanked us for watching.

This work was a bizarre and quite terrifying thing to watch. To me it seemed as if him and the powerpoint were connected, and when the video, like a virus, took over everything, he too ceased to live. The work was inherently political because of Theresa May appearing. It was interesting that he should focus on her coughing – what does this say about what Wasser thinks of her? Maybe it discusses how we see politicians in general – the focus on her performance of a normal bodily function draws attention to her role as someone who is expected to be extremely composed all the time; perhaps the coughing is an attempt to humanise her. Despite this, the association of her with such a deliberately horrific film challenges this interpretation – surely the intent cannot be to praise her when she is presented in such a loud, gaudy manner.

I do not want to suggest that I did not enjoy this performance; on the contrary; I found it extremely creative. I love subversion of the norm, and his subversion of the archetypal artist talk was fascinating and thought-provoking. The aesthetic of his film, both visually and audibly, resonated with me because of its unstoppable sensory impact.

This has, later in the term, been a great source of inspiration for my film work; the sheer depth of the visuals and sound affected me greatly and gave me ideas to incorporate in my practice.

Rackstraw Downes

Rackstraw Downes is an English painter, who is often described as a realist painter but has an aversion to this description – he has some very particular and fascinating ideas about painting.

He has studied what he calls the “endlessness” of the deserts of Texas. He studied an area which he happened upon full of sparse, straw-coloured plains with pinkish mountains in the background. He notes these structures made of corrugated metal for shade, and realised the area was a racetrack. His work here seems to be centred around the idea of flatness.

He has also deliberately painted mountains that he deems “not magnificent” – it is interesting that he explores the opposite of the artistic norm; choosing to study something mediocre as opposed to something amazing perhaps gives it a new sense of excitement.

Instead of seeing a landscape as something in front of him, he thinks of it as his “surroundings.” When painting a small mountain range, for example, he likes to paint from within the mountains and see how the light changes the landscape as the day progresses.

Although he is evidently passionate about painting and landscape, he likes to keep emotion out of it, believing that to make his painting emotional would take away from his respect for the landscape.

He talked about his shameless possessiveness over the landscape. He seems to want the landscape to himself and doesn’t want any other artists going the places he does, showing his deep connection with these places.

Capturing the character of every aspect of a view is imperative to him, and he states he could work on a painting indefinitely.

One key result of these specific thought processes is that curves that we do not ordinarily see are clearly visible in the painting, much like when you take a panorama picture on an iPhone, because you don’t see a landscape all at once.

Perhaps paradoxically, although perspective is a key part of his work, he does not let the rules of perspective (including one-point, two-point, etc. perspective) sway him, because he feels they are untrue to his eyes. He says the transferring of 3-D to 2-D is always the creation of metaphor; there is no standardised way of depicting it. Any rules that are followed by painters distract from the very thing that drew you to the landscape in the first place.

Rackstraw Downes on Art21