Thursday, 21 February 2013

Emin on Art and Love and Art

“I love art,” Emin went on. “And art loves me more than any man has ever loved me. Art has never let me down. When I’ve been my lowest of my low, art has always come and picked me up. I can’t say that about the men I’ve had relationships with. It’s about forever and ever. The last thing I do before I die will be art, definitely. Whereas people come and people go. I wish I could have a lover like art, that loved me as passionately as art loves me, or who I could give as much back to.” Read more: The New Yorker

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Fantastic Planet

I met a rather interested character in a hostel in San Francisco recently. He was visiting the city for a few days from Stanford and started talking to me in the computer room, looking for some human conversation I think. A Phd student of applied physics, he also taught a music technology class and showed me his website for generating music through computer programming. I didn't understand it much, but he asked me about my area of study and had a surprising interest in Land Art and Andy Goldsworthy in particular. He also told me about this crazy little French animated movie, The Fantastic Planet and insisted we watch it together. Unfortunately the movie room was occupied, and we ended up going out to a bar instead, but a few weeks later I finally got around to watching it by myself, and now I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to see it with him, I would love to know what he had to say about it.

A bizarre, surrealist animated film, it was made in 1973 and directed by Rene Laloux, with animation by the writer and artist Roland Topor. The graphics are more akin to the painting than the animation tradition, with slow movement and sketchy lines, all the colours are subdues browns and the whole landscape is reminiscent of a surrealist Dali dreamscape. The imagery is very dream like, with large moving plants that devour each other and populated with a variety of threatening animals and anamorphic forms.
The story centers around a distopian future, reminiscent of planet of the apes, where human creatures called Oms are the playthings of the large Draags, blue creatures who are a hundred times the size and are an advanced species of meditating aliens.  They keep the Oms as pets, and regularly carry out mass exterminations of the wild Oms living in the forests. The plot follows the life of one Om, Terr, adopted when orphaned by a young female Draag named Tiwa. Tiwa's father is one of the ruling elite, and through Tiwa's daily lessons, Terr learns about the culture and history of the Draag planet. When he eventually escapes to join the wild Oms, he takes this knowledge with him to help build space ships for the Oms. With these ships, Terr travels to the Fantastic Planet, where he destroys the huge grey statues he finds there that allow the Draags to reproduce, thus threatening the whole race and simultaneously preventing a mass extermination of his own species.
The film was produced between France and Czechoslovakia and is an obvious allegory for the Soviet Occupation of Czechoslovakia. With the oppressed rising up to threaten the rule of their oppressors, it has resonances for any master/slave society, and can be read as an allegory for many different historical and political regimes as well as an influence on many more recent science fiction universes, from the Empire and Rebels in Star Wars, to the Naa'vi and soldiers in Avatar.
What is unusual in this portrayal of rulers and ruled, is the sympathetic portrayal of the Draags, particularly Tiwa, Terr's owner. In the beginning of the film we see her play with him like a pet, and we laugh at his antics along with her. Innocent of any wrongdoing, it is difficult to blame her for her treatment of him, as she does appear to be genuinely fond of him. The beginning of the film focuses on the civilization of the Draags, and we view the story from their perspective, it is only when Terr gains an education and becomes self-aware that the point of view shifts and we begin to sympathize with him.  When he escapes to join a colony of Oms in the wild, Tiwa disappears from the story, and we never learn her reaction or opinions to the following events. I found her to be a more sympathetic character than Terr, who plays the role of savior, uniting the warring Om clans to bring them salvation. A rather boring and predicable theme.
Strangely enough, the random scenes of large threatening plant life forms are more terrifying than the scenes of mass extermination of the Oms, possibly because the Oms are never given any personality or likeable qualities. The haunting atmosphere of this world is made all the more by the score by Alain Goraguer. It's experimentally trippy psychedelic sound fits the strange quirky animation and the weird slow pace of the narrative perfectly. The music and animation are the most fascinating parts of this film. I'm not a huge fan of science fiction other-worlds, and the story left me a little cold, particularly the abrupt ending, where the two warring species suddenly are able to live in perfect harmony with no hangover from their previous hierarchical society. I enjoyed it best when it abandoned all plot and focused instead on lengthy close ups of the beautiful painterly faces of the Oms, and the extended scenes of the planets flora and fauna.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Contemporary Korean Art

While contemporary Chinese art has never held much appeal for me; too overhyped and market driven, recently there seems to be an emergence of Korean artists in the west. My attention was first grabbed when in a museum bookshop I came across a beautiful edition of Korean Eye: contemporary Korean Art following the exhibition Korean Eye: Moon Generation,  the first international exhibition of Korean Contemporary art. It features sixty of Korea’s most renowned artists. There were some delightful surprises, fresh innovative stuff that easily challenges the most recent work coming out of America or Britain at the moment. There did seem to be a recurring theme, of bodies and identity, whether due to the bias of the curators or the artists, I’m not certain.

Here are some of my favourites:

Kim Joon
Joon’s work depicts large group portraits of anonymous bodies uniquely tattooed with a variety of patterns and colours.  He uses 3-D animation software to construct the body or bodies he wants, grafting on the type of skin he desires - animal skin, artificial skin, or human skin, even the skin of a leather bag or skin of a shoe. He uses this surface skin and grafts it onto the 3 dimensional image he created. This computer program is called 3-D Studio Max. It is the program used to create animated films. Some of his works include tattoos of logos, a reflection of the inscription of universal brands in our daily lives, perhaps even a wry comment on the trend for tattoos of brand names. The artist sees tattoos as a form of collective identity: “In history, anthropologists will tell you that tattoos were used for different kinds of purposes. Sometimes they were used to define boundaries, or to have your own social groups. Then at other times it was to punish somebody in a negative sense, to reject you. There is a notion of acceptance and rejection- a sense of belongingness and non-belongingness. The tattoo or tattooing doesn’t have just one singular meaning, but has multiple meanings, and conflicting meanings”.

Bae Joonsung
In his series ‘The Costume of the Painter’, he paints onto transparent acrylic films. Using recognizable old master paintings, he inserts young Asian nudes that are only revealed as the viewer walks by as a sort of hologram. The use of photography to update and invade traditional paintings plays on the relationship between the two media, and suggests a way of harmonizing the two, rather than opposing them. The viewer interaction in order to reveal the female nudes also introduces an element of play, creating a sort of peep-show effect. 

Lee Rim
‘The Mess of Emotions’ are large oil paintings originate in artistic performances, drawn from photographs of the artist or a model covered in black and white paint. 

"Our relationships are not decided alone.
Through various experiences and
conversations, thoughts are shared,
learning our differences and similarities.
This is the moment when spirits
combine. This feeling is unique in
forming relationships. As such, based on
the feelings of people, I first perform the
nervousness that only I may feel and
then transfer the image of that feeling
onto a flat surface. Even though we live
in different environments, at a certain
point in time we feel the same when we
look at an object. When I am having a
conversation with my family and friends,
I feel that we are of the same mind.
I believe that one admits differences
and similarities of each creature through
interacting with each other. Based on
a perception of this commonality, I try
to put my incidental excitement into
a two-dimensional surface of colours
presenting you with another imaginative,
phantasmagorical world.”
-artist’s statement.

Here are a few more not included in the exhibition who still deserve a mention:

Yeondoo Yung

In the Wonderland series, the artist takes children’s drawings and recreates the scene which he then photographs. Here is the making of, as related on his website: Jung’s new series of photos, “Wonderland” (2004), presents costumed ado­les­cents posing in sets based as closely as possible on children’s drawings. He collaborates with many peo­ple to bring to life the boundless imagination in the drawings. For four months, Jung oversaw art classes in four kinder­gartens in Seoul and collected 1,200 drawings by children between the ages of five and seven. After pouring through them, he carefully selected 17 drawings and interpreted their meanings. Then he recruited 60 high school students by pass­ing out hand­bills at their schools in which he invited them to act out the scenarios in the children’s drawings. In order to recreate faithfully drawing details such as dresses with uneven sleeves or buttons of different sizes, he convinced five fashion designers to custom make the clothing for the photo shoot. He also made props unlike any scale found in real­ity but similar to those in the drawings.
“Wonderland” changes fan­tasy into photographic reality without the aid of computer-generated graphics. The works, entirely made by hand, are a tremen­dous group effort similar to a stage production that captures the sudden changes in the actors’ forms, in the midst of people going about their lives against the back­drop of the city.

Sora Kim
Sora Kim’s ‘Abstract Walking’, deals with a theme very close to my heart. A sound installation, it presented a vast spatial and temporal territory that encompassed diverse stories and interpretations, and invited viewers to walk in this abstract territory. Produced for the Artsonje Center in March 2012, Kim collaborated with different artists and participants throughout different stages. First she collected stories of journeys from the participants. Then nine writers turned the stories into scripts that included their personal reflections and interjections. Next, eight musicians created accompanying scores, which were edited into one sound piece by music director Younggyu Jang. In the gallery the finished piece is played, “creating an abstract territory where the detritus of the collected spaces and time and the interpretations of various artists are scattered throughout; and suggests ways to experience art in an emancipated way, walking in the artist’s abstract territory”. A video work also accompanied the exhibiton. This creation of territories and emphasis on walking reminds me of the artist Francis Alÿs, who uses similar practices to create his artwork, as in the piece ‘The Green Line’,  in which he retraced the border between Israel and Palestine carrying a leaking can of green paint, telling the story of a fraught political history through the medium of walking.  Less politically charged than Alÿs perhaps, but Kim’s conceptual practice uses art as a means of communication, creating a space for non-hierarchical exchange and using elements from everyday life to produce unexpected dialogues.