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Chris Burden.

In Art, Performance on May 11, 2015 at 6:56 am
‘Trans-fixed’, Venice, CA, 1974 Photograph © Chris Burden

‘Trans-fixed’, Venice, CA, 1974 Photograph © Chris Burden

Chris Burden is an art school staple. As you warily begin to ingratiate yourself into the world of modern and contemporary art, you soon realise that Burden is one of the world’s preliminary performers, perhaps because he’s done well to make sure you never, ever forget him. Whether you perceive his performances to be a destructive waste of time or whether you consider him a courageous genius, that’s up to you. Many people know him as ‘that bloke who kind of shot himself in the arm.’

Burden was born in Massachusetts in 1946. His early college works were sculptural, but early on he noted the potential for human interaction with the artworks. In reference to his untitled outdoor tunnel sculptures constructed out of plastic and steel, the artist claimed to have “realised that what I had made was not a piece of sculpture but something that had to be activated” (Horvitz 1976). It was the act of running through the 100 foot long tunnels that drew Burden towards processes more associated with physical activity than minimalist sculpture. And so a performance artist was born.

‘Shoot’, F Space, Santa Ana, California 1971

‘Shoot’, F Space, Santa Ana, California 1971

From then on Burden’s artistic explorations began to consist of sculptures that required physical triggers, thereby causing the viewer/performer (you essentially became both) to become an inherent aspect of the artwork. Then he went one step further with Five Day Locker Piece, where he confined himself to a 2’ x 2’ x 3’ studio locker for five consecutive days, apparently for reasons more to do with curiosity than anything else.

Burden’s work continued to embody these themes of tense and often claustrophobic anxiety, although in some cases he actually came to enjoy the isolation and deprivation. In Bed Piece (1972) he inhabited the corner of a room with only a bed and a portable toilet for him to spend 22 days of his time on. His visibility to the audience, however, prompted Burden to rethink his approach. He came up with White Light/White Heat (1975), in which he spent three weeks lying hidden on a raised platform in the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York. When discussing the piece with Robert Horvitz, Burden elucidated:

I have this fantasy, which may or may not be realised, that someone will come in off the street, not knowing my name, just doing a gallery tour, come in and see the platform and be able to feel that something’s amiss. There’d be something that would nag at them and they could maybe feel my presence…” (1975)

Not all of Burdens work was so contemplative and quiet. In what are perhaps his most famous performances, entitled Shoot (1971) and Trans-fixed (1974), we are offered much more abrupt and violent artworks. In the case of Shoot, the statement goes: “at 7:45 p.m. I was shot in the left arm by a friend. The bullet was a copper jacket .22 long rifle. My friend was standing about fifteen feet from me.” Ouch. This overtly aggressive performance impelled journalists and the public alike to consider him as either a crazed man or as an artist presenting a commentary on modern-day gun use and warfare. Whichever stance was taken, it certainly got people talking about him.

Burden following ‘Shoot’ 1971

Burden following ‘Shoot’ 1971

In Trans-fixed (pictured in the title image) Burden was literally nailed onto a Volkswagen in the manner of a crucifixion. Whilst his palms were pinned to the car, the vehicle was displayed for a matter of minutes before it was placed out of sight and Burden removed. Whilst this performance and Shoot did not appear to outwardly resemble his subtler, durational pieces, references to religious themes such as voluntary seclusion and trial by ordeal were consistent throughout his entire practice (Horvitz 1975).

Other performances by Burden involved the artist electrocuting himself, not to mention all of the cutting, drowning, disappearing, (yet more) shooting and fasting that went on. On later returning to a literal sculptural approach he created artworks such as Medusa’s Head (1990), the monstrousness of which renders it almost irresistible to look at.

‘Medusa’s Head’ 1990.  Plywood, steel, cement, rock, model railroad trains and tracks, 14’ in diameter.

‘Medusa’s Head’ 1990.
Plywood, steel, cement, rock, model railroad trains and tracks, 14’ in diameter.

In 2005 Burden revealed his project Ghost Ship, a yacht that is capable of navigating itself on the high seas. Whilst we may not have all been talking about it in our lunch-breaks, it is impressive that Burden had the momentum to keep his art practice up, especially when considering the fact that the prime question on everybody’s lips in 1971 was “will he even make it past 30?” Well, I”m glad he did.

Chris Burden passed away on 10th May 2015.

Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say: the art of Gillian Wearing.

In Art on May 10, 2015 at 8:51 am
‘I’m desperate’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

‘I’m desperate’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

Let’s say a person you didn’t know propositioned you to write a snippet about anything on a blank piece of paper – kind of like a tweet before any of us really knew what the internet actually was. Now let’s say that person then requested a photograph of you with your piece of worldly wisdom in order to exhibit it to the world. What would you write?

This is exactly what YBA (Young British Artist) and Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing asked members of the London public to do from 1992-1993. Titled Signs That Say What You Want Them To Say and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You To Say, the resulting images range from the extremely jovial to the heart-wrenchingly poignant.

‘I have been certified as mildly insane’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

I have been certified as mildly insane’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

I have been certified as mildly insane’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

Wearing made it clear in an interview with Paul Judd that artworks such as Signs… are an attempt to “find out as many facets as possible about people. I’m interested in people more than I am in myself, maybe that’s what it is”.

In fact, almost all of her work involves the documentation of people other than herself. In Drunk (1997-99) she gave some of the more colourful characters from British society free reign in her studio in order to make a three-channel video projection. In 10-16 (1997) we see adult performers lip-syncing perfectly to the confessions of young children and teenagers. In Confessions (1994) we encounter the masked faces of those who responded to her advertisement in Time Out Magazine: “Confess All On Video. Don’t Worry You Will Be in Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian”.

‘Help’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

‘Help’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

‘Help’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

In many ways Wearing’s projects almost seem to be verging on therapy for the participants. This is not so surprising considering the subjects that she lists as influencing her practice, with reality television and fly-on-the-wall documentaries being two of her primary fascinations and concerns.

In works such as Signs… and in many of the videos that followed, the participants’ written and spoken revelations are often surprising and moving, be they shocking, disturbing or amusing in content. What is perhaps most enlightening, however, is how readily we seem to welcome the catharsis of releasing our stories and emotions to a stranger. Who knows what we’d find out about people if we just thought to ask?

This post was originally published on Guy.com

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‘I signed on and they would not give me nothing’ © Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley/ Interim Art, London

Ode to a Painting: Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.

In Art, Painting on January 15, 2015 at 9:10 am
'Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer', Caspar David Friedrich, 1818

‘Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer’, Caspar David Friedrich, 1818

Painted in 1818, Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (that’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog to you and me) is perhaps Caspar David Friedrich’s most recognisable painting. Friedrich has been established as one of the leading German landscape painters to emerge from the Romantic period. His depiction of human figures within vast and looming panoramas has prompted all sorts of arty types to list him as an influence, including Max Ernst, René Magritte and Mark Rothko.

The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog encapsulates all the themes generally associated with Friedrich’s work: spirituality, nature, contemplation, the passage of time. His depiction of Germanic landscapes even drove the Nazi movement to appropriate his work for patriotic propaganda. Fortunately, the resulting stigma didn’t endure throughout the mid-twentieth century and Friedrich’s paintings are valued once again.

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog is a masterful depiction of nature and our philosophical contemplation of it – not to mention the rugged manliness of a lone ranger who goes hiking in what looks like his Sunday best. As far as landscape paintings go, it’s pretty damn sublime.

After the Woods: Ernesto Caivano.

In Archetypes, Art, Drawing, narrative on January 5, 2015 at 9:19 pm
Philapore Tug (Due Tension), 2009 4.25 x 5 Inches. Ink, marker and graphite on paper © Ernesto Caivano

Philapore Tug (Due Tension), 2009
4.25 x 5 Inches. Ink, marker and graphite on paper © Ernesto Caivano

If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s fondness of a good yarn. Stories are passed down for generations, sometimes over the course of centuries. We read them in magazines and see them performed on television, in the theatre and on the big screen. We read novels and biographies, picture books and comics. We sing them and celebrate them.

So what place does the fictional narrative have in Fine Art? While most people’s thoughts will immediately flicker to the rapturous brushstrokes of the Pre-Raphaelites or the classical painters, contemporary artist Ernesto Caivano has striking and enigmatic methods of putting his own epic narrative on paper.

Philapore Tug (Due Tension), 2009 4.25 x 5 Inches. Ink, marker and graphite on paper © Ernesto Caivano

Philapore Tug (Due Tension), 2009
4.25 x 5 Inches. Ink, marker and graphite on paper © Ernesto Caivano

It seems that all Caivano needs is some paper and ink. Give him these materials and the outcome will be a delicate, complex and alluring image, both in technique and concept. Take, for instance, Breathing Through the Code, in which we see one of the protagonists in the artist’s ongoing story After the Woods. Her name is Polygon, and one can assume here that she is communicating with her lover-from-afar – the knight Versus – via what Caivano has titled Philapores (they are the birds that you see in the images).

According to Caivano, Polygon and Versus are lovers who were separated a millennia ago. His drawings depict their attempted reunification in the near future on a cosmic, geometrically ambiguous world. Versus’ powers reside in the growth and evolution of plants, Polygon’s in the capacity and possibilities of technology (she herself is epitomised as a spaceship). Their only communication relies on the Philapores. It is these narratives that Caivano illustrates within the scope of Versus’ and Polygon’s wider universe.

Suspension of Elements (A Kind of Reassembly), 2009 18.25 x 45.25 Inches. Ink and graphite on paper © Ernesto Caivano

Suspension of Elements (A Kind of Reassembly), 2009
18.25 x 45.25 Inches. Ink and graphite on paper © Ernesto Caivano

Innumerable possible interpretations lie within each image, as is the case for the narrative as a whole. Brian Sholis writes in Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing (2005) that “the story can be seen as a metaphor for our attempts to reconcile technological development with non-human life and the natural environment”. Visual allusions to molecular physics and fractal geometry reside alongside more literary medieval references, forming an almost archetypal narrative that brims with nostalgia and trepidation.

And yet despite this apparent complexity Caivano is far less ambiguous than his artwork. As to the fate of his protagonists, of the Philapores and of the beautifully sinister cosmos in After the Woods, he is deliberate about not stipulating direct connotations and meanings. Even he doesn’t know how the narrative will end. I suppose that’s the success behind any good story. We can only look on and wait to see whether or not longing will be transformed into reunification. But whilst After the Woods may resemble fairy tales in some respects, fairy tales by nature are not as delectable as one may first assume. After all, there’s nothing more boring than reading a story and seeing the words ‘happily ever after’ written at the end.

You can find more images of Ernesto Caivano’s artwork at the Richard Heller Gallery website.

This post was originally written for Guy.com’s Daily Slice.