Author Archives: speloona

Wangechi Mutu

One Hundred Lavish Months of Bushwhack, 2004

Females carry the marks, language and nuances of their culture more than the male. Anything that is desired or despised is always placed on the female body.

Wangechi Mutu (Saatchi website)

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Wangechi Mutu is a Kenyan-born artist, sculptor and anthropologist, who predominantly works in the medium of collage. The distinctive technique she uses in her large-scale artworks combines drawing with both pencil and ink (very expressive spatters and marbling) with collage elements taken from glossy magazines such as Vogue and National Geographic. Jordan Kantor observes: “The artist’s apparent revelry in the way ink splashes, runs, and marbleizes on the plastic-based Mylar sheets she typically uses conveys an enthusiasm for looking, and for the visual, that is contagious” (Dexter, p.214).

Hide and Seek, Kill or Speak, 2004

Wangechi Mutu uses the African female body as a starting point for her social commentaries. The depicted figures remind plastic surgeries gone-wrong or mutilated war victims, yet this repulsive and violent imagery appears beautiful in some perverse way. Her razor-sharp criticism hits contemporary African politics and the international fashion industry. David Moos, AGO Curator of Contemporary Art, explains: “Wangechi Mutu’s work boldly explores the contradictions of female and cultural identity, drawing the viewer into conversations about beauty, consumerism, colonialism, race, and gender. Her representations of the human form are disturbing and transfixing, at once utterly complex and strikingly direct” (AGO).

Indurated Ulcers of the Cervix, 2005

My Strength Lies, 2006

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Dexter E. (ed) (2005) Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing, London: Phaidon Press Ltd

AGO, Art Gallery of Ontario Provocative Kenyan-Born Artist Wangechi Mutu to Tear Up Gallery Walls in Canadian Debut: http://www.ago.net/provocative-artist-wangechi-mutu-to-tear-up-gallery-walls-in-canadian-debut

Saatchi Gallery, Wangechi Mutu – artist’s profile: http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/wangechi_mutu.htm


Swastika – how symbols change their meaning.. (part 2)

The decorative Hindu swastika

The swastika was adopted as a symbol of National Socialist German Worker’s Party (NSDAP or the Nazi Party) in 1920, and in the 1930s, after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, it became a commonly used symbol of Nazi Germany. It was during the Second World War when in many cultures worldwide the connoted meaning of swastika changed. From the universal genuine sign it suddenly became a racist ‘Aryan’ emblem, a symbol of the Nazis and their atrocities. “The Nazi movement has become such a strong sign that many of the cultural signs to which it linked itself were retooled to be entirely identified with that movement. This re-purposing affected the swastika” (Assaf, p. 8-9).

In 1950s French philosopher Roland Barthes broadened semiology by the term ‘myth’ which he described as “a peculiar system, in that it is constructed from a semiological chain which existed before it: it is a second-order semiological system. That which is a sign in the first system, becomes a mere signifier in the second” (Barthes, p. 114). As the sign becomes associated with a concept, it becomes a signifier and produces a second sign, which is detached from the original meaning. So following this method: the swastika (sign) is a crooked cross (signifier) and in pre-Nazi times symbolizes ‘luck’ (signified); when Hitler decided to use it as a symbol of Nazi Germany (sign) swastika (signifier) became the symbol of hate, racism, evil etc. (signified)

This postcard, copyright 1907 by E. Phillips, a U.S. card publisher, speaks for the universally high regard in which the swastika was held as a good luck token before use by the Nazis corrupted its meaning.

In 1925 Coca-Cola made a lucky watch fob in the shape of a swastika

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Barthes, R. (2000) Mythologies, London: Vintage.

Assaf, K. The Dilution of Culture and the Law of Trademarks: idea-vol49-no1-assaf.pdf

Ward Sr., M. Hitler as a Sign: A Consideration of Semiotics and the Holocaust: SemioticsandtheHolocaust.pdf

Yronwode, C. The Swastika: http://www.luckymojo.com/swastika.html


Swastika – how symbols change their meaning.. (part 1)

Ancient Swastikas: A-Rhodes (585 BC) B, C - Greek (500 BC) D - Greek (615 BC) E - Peru (300 CE) F - Woodland Indian (1000 CE) G - Greek (300 BC)

A friend of mine, who recently came back from India, brought me as a souvenir a red headband encrusted with a gold thread, a Hindu devotional object. After a closer examination, to my great surprise, I found it to be covered with tiny swastikas. Forgetting completely about the true meaning of the sign and looking through the prism of my Polish historical heritage I was shocked (and at first terrified) with my discovery. So how did it happened that this ancient multicultural symbol of ‘good luck’ has such horrid and evil connotations in the modern Western culture?

Signifier: swastika is a symmetrical cross with its arms bend usually at right angles. In geometric terms, it is known as an irregular icosagon or 20-sided polygon.

Sacred Swastikas in different cultures

Signified: the word swastika comes from Sanskrit and literally means ‘well-being’. It describes a lucky object or a mark denoting good luck. The symbol appears in many ancient cultures with different meanings attributed to it: image of the supreme god, solar symbol, symbol of fire, union of the male and female sex, harmony. It is a historical sacred symbol in Eastern Religions. In Buddhism swastika represents eternity and it appears on the chest of some statues of Buddha. In Hinduism it represents Sun’s rays, upon which life depends. As well in Christianity swastika is used as a hooked version of a Christian Cross and appears in many ornaments and church decoration.

more info on swastika’s historical and cultural appearances: Fernando Coimbra’s A Swastika Pictorial Atlas

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The American Swastika Drug Company, 1922

Swastika in Kruszwica, Poland

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Coimbra, F. The Swastika: From Origins Through Present Days: http://www.archaeometry.org/coimbra.htm

History of the Swastika, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007453

Origins of the Swastika, BBC News Magazine: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4183467.stm

Taylor, S. Swastikas on Scottish Grave stones: 2A Scottish GRAVE STONES.pdf


Charles Avery and The Islanders

Untitled (the Port of Onamatopoeia)

Charles Avery is a Scottish artist, who in 2004 created a parallel universe, an imaginary island, which than he filled meticulously with its own geography, population, flora and fauna. Mythical creatures, gods, inhabitants, tourist and adventurers are embedded into complex social structure, forming an entire cosmos that spans between pure fantasy and theoretical reflection. This vast, ongoing project is executed in a numerous large-scale drawings, texts, sculptures and installations. The pencil and ink incredibly detailed drawings illustrate islanders’ everyday life, as if in a reportage, they invite the viewer to explore the story of Onomatopoeia, while sculptures and installations make it even more real and believable.

Untitled (Heidless Macgregor's Bar)

The fantastic world, which Avery devoted himself to describe, is based and reflects on the world around us and the artist’s own experiences (he was brought up on the Scottish Isle of Mull) and could be interpreted as “a philosophical meditation on art-making and the impossibility of finding truth“(Avery, p. 145). Nicolas Bourriaud compares Avery’s work to Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and says: “In our globalised universe, where even the slightest square meter has been charted by satellites and is accessible on websites like Google Earth, the invention of the world has a completely different meaning […] Inventing a country, nation or region from A to Z as Avery does, is like practicing a kind of intellectual separatism.”(Avery, p. 150)

The Palace of the Timewatchers

Untitled (Place of The Route of the If’En)

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Avery, Ch. (2008) The Islanders, An Introduction, London: Parasol unit, Koenig Books Ltd

Rawlings, L. Island Life, The List: http://www.list.co.uk/article/14587-charles-avery/


Is Postmodernism “dead and buried”?

Many academics argue that Postmodernism collapsed at the same time as Twin Towers did (9/11 Ten Years After, p.2). Whether 9/11 deserves such a pivotal role in our artistic and literary tradition could be argued. Others insist that the end of Postmodernism is marked by Jean Baudrillard’s death, the last of the greatest intellectuals of the era (Beaumont, online).

But the Postmodernism was “dead and buried” earlier than that, reveals Dr Alan Kirby (2006, online). Digimodernism, or formerly Pseudo-modernism, has “displaced Postmodernism to establish itself as the twenty-first century’s new cultural paradigm” (Kirby, 2009, p.1). Digimodernism emerged in the mid 1990s and it is characterized by “excruciating banality and vacuity of the cultural product” (Kirby, 2006), as well as  infantilization and general decline of intellectual culture: “The pseudo-modern era, at least so far, is a cultural desert” (ibid.)

First decade of the 21st century is far more consumerist-sophisticated than any other in the past, which consequence is the flood of a product (including cultural product) on the scale never experienced before. I strongly disagree with Dr Kirby that everything produced nowadays is of intellectually poor quality (most of it probably is, but not everything!). The difficulty, which today’s recipient is facing, is to find this ‘culturally significant product’ in the vast accumulation of junk, which as any other challenge could be actually intellectually stimulating. It is the modern quest for the Holy Grail!

This new era is still burdened by the mistakes and faults caused by it’s predecessor. What it needs is yet another cultural revolution to cleanse itself and have a fresh start (Tabula Rasa). Howgh!

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9/11 Ten Years After: History, Narrative, Memory (BAA Workshop July 14-15, 2011): 9-11_Program.pdf

Beaumont, M. Baudrillard and the end of postmodernism: what next?, the Guardian, 9 March 2007: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2007/mar/09/baudrillardandtheendofpos

Kirby, A. (2006) The Death of Postmodernism and Beyond, Philosophy Now, Issue 58, Nov/Dec 2006: http://www.philosophynow.org/issue58/The_Death_of_Postmodernism_And_Beyond

Kirby, A. (2009) Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture, US: Continuum. read Introduction: Introduction.pdf


Zbigniew Rybczyński

Zbigniew Rybczyński is a visionary Polish film director, animator, cinematographer, innovator and experimentator in the technical field of filmmaking. He is a recognized pioneer in HDTV technology, which he used for the first time in 1986, while directing music video for John Lennon’s Imagine. Rybczyński won numerous prestigious industry awards internationally. He also has a distinguished academic career, teaching at universities in Poland, Germany, US and Japan.

Rybczyński is best known for his short animated video Tango, for which, among many other awards, he received an Oscar in 1983. The entire film is shot from a static camera, which focuses on the interior of a medium-sized room. The space is gradually filled with random characters from everyday life, who preoccupied with their daily routine move around the room in infinite loops, avoiding each other miraculously. The ostensible chaos and madness, created by Rybczyński in this scene, in fact happens to be a work of mathematical perfection and an extraordinary montage skill.

“I had to draw and paint about 16.000 cell-mattes, and make several hundred thousand exposures on an optical printer. It took a full seven months, sixteen hours per day, to make the piece […] The miracle is that I made less than one hundred mathematical mistakes out of several hundred thousand possibilities.” [zbigvision]

Tango was an inspiration to many music videos, including excellent (video, not the song!) Kylie Minogue’s Come In To My World directed by Michel Gondry.

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Gizycki, M. (2009) Antologia Polskiej Animacji (Anthology of Polish Animated Film), DVD, Poland: Polskie Wydawnictwo Audiowizualne

Zbig Vision: http://www.zbigvision.com/


John Stezaker – the surreal collagist

Untitled, 1977

‘I am dedicated to fascination – to image fascination, a fascination for the point at which the image becomes self-enclosed and autonomous. It does so through a series of processes of disjunction.’

John Stezaker


John Stezaker is a British conceptual artist working mostly in the field of collage. The excellent exhibition in Whitechapel Gallery is his first major solo retrospective, yet he has been manipulating photographs for the past four decades. Stezaker works mostly using classic movie stills, vintage postcards and illustrations.

Negotiable Space I, 1978

His collages at first glance seem effortless (very often it’s a postcard pasted onto an old photograph), but closer look reveals an incredible precision with which he chooses two pictures to fit perfectly together (the collages are made manually without digital manipulation). Also carefully selected titles intensify the poetic meaning of the artworks.

Mask X, 1982

My favourite works are the Marriage and the Film Portrait series, in which the artist creates the Frankenstein-like impressions simply by fusion of two halfs of different portraits together (usually male and female). Stezaker acts here as some mad plastic surgeon, who with a single cut of the blade constructs these often creepy, yet somehow beautiful hybrids. The hand of the same ‘maniac’ could also be seen in the Love and the Blind series, where the artist enhances the eyes of his female subjects by giving them the hypnotic ‘double vision’, while taking away the visual perception from the males.

John Stezaker @ Whitechapel Gallery.

The artist is represented by the Approach Gallery.

Marriage I, 2006

Film Portrait (She) VIII, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love XI, 2006

Blind II, 2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Voyeur, 1979