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Posts from the ‘Art’ Category

Bring the Marie Celestial to life

A performance art project to create a living, mobile spaceship – the Marie Celestial. It’s not necessarily what you expect to hear about whilst speed networking. But at a women’s business event recently, I was inspired by Juliet Webb and Ruby SoHo’s kickstarter campaign to bring an art installation to life, whilst giving young people the chance to learn new skills and unleash their creative potential.

The Marie Celestial is being hand-built by Ruby SoHo, with the assistance of a collective of emerging artists working across disciplines from welders to aerial circus acts to graphic novelists. When complete, this mechanical metal fabrication will be powered by performers and built and rebuilt in interaction with audiences at public events.

Marie Celestial kickstarter

The back story is that the Marie Celestial is a space-craft from a distant, dying planet, designed to re-propagate its species. Whilst mourning the loss of its crew, it remained hidden under the sea for generations, and now it will slowly come back to life to become a human-powered breathing, moving stage.

Ruby has vast experience in creating mechanical, art installations at major public events, including the main stage at Secret Garden Party. But the Marie Celestial is particularly exciting for her, as it’s the first project she’s devised on her own with all the creative integrity that allows – and the challenges of funding.

The catalyst for the Marie Celestial was at this year’s Burning Man Festival. Ruby worked on the beautiful Lost Tea Party installation with Alex Wreckage. From the heat haze of the Nevada desert to steamy breathes in a chilly workshop tucked away in St Phillips in Bristol, her passion and determination to make the Marie Celestial project happen is clear.

The team hope that the Kickstarter funding will help them invest in the Marie Celestial over the longer term to develop a more sustainable street theatre culture in the UK. For instance, Les Machine de l’île , a French street theatre company based in Nantes, is a huge influence, creating projects such as this impressive mechanical elephant. With a thriving scene in France, many performers are invited here as there are fewer home-grown projects, in part because of funding. The Marie Celestial team seek to turn this around and contribute to a growing, revitalised national scene.

Maquette

The project in turn will support the arts and local community through education. With Ruby’s background in training young offenders and those excluded from school, she plans to run training days and apprenticeships for young people, who may not have the money or resources, to learn these valuable skills hands-on in the workshop.

In the Kickstarter video, Ruby places emphasis on giving young women the confidence to enter realms which traditionally have been male preserves:

“I want everyone to weld, but I think that it’s a lot harder to just walk into a workshop and just try something if you’re a girl.  Certainly when I walk into a building site or any other kind of site I have to prove myself again and again and again. I just want to open that up. The best crews I’ve ever worked on have been a mixture of men and women.”

And the Marie Celestial will certainly be an inspiring project for young people to get involved in, with its imaginative story-lines and construction, including CO2 cannons to make the sails billow and flame jets. The team plan to tour the show throughout 2015, and the Marie Celestial will land first in whichever city raises the most money in the Kickstarter campaign. (Come on Bristol, get supporting!) Then a UK tour will follow with prospective performances across Europe. For me, the Marie Celestial is well-placed to seek public support as it spins around interactive participation, and sustainable development of the art form through education and evolving performances.

To help Ruby and the team unleash the Marie Celestial, check out their Kickstarter campaign which ends on 3 December. Depending on the level of investment, funders can own a limited edition graphic novel of the Marie Celestial, attend workshops or even take part in performances.

If you live in Bristol or surrounding area, you can visit their workshop when it opens to the public on Friday 28 November. Marie Celestial is taking provisional bookings for 2015 and there are opportunities for artists and performers to join the crew. To find out more watch their video, and keep up to date with progress on @4mariecelestial.

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Wearable code and physical pixels

My week has been sullied a little with a cold so I’ve not been up to much, other than watching the final episodes of Breaking Bad... Actually discovering how that epic series ends is probably quite enough for one week, but here are my other cultural treats, both playing with the virtual and the ‘real’, the digital and the tangible.

How to learn code in style

I came across this article about wearable code earlier in the week discussing how people are learning to code through fashion. Check out this video about fashion and technology (the whole video is interesting but the DIY wearables segment is at 3.30s).

The ribbon hair bow comprised simply of two LEDs and a battery is super-cute, and as Becky Stern, director of wearable technology at Adafruit Industries, says a fantastic way to encourage girls in particular to take an interest in electronics and coding. The DIY, open source ethic is alluring meaning that these wearable computing fashionistas can create their own look and share and learn from the wider community. It’s the point where craft meets code, and puts what some might see as dry computing language in a new context on our bodies, either with a use value or simply to allow its wearer to glow.

Submergence

Just as the code becomes wearable, pixels on a screen became tangible, replaced by thousands of floating lights at an installation I visited this week. Submergence is by the award-winning Squidsoup, residents at Bristol arts cinema, the Watershed‘s Pervasive Media Studio. In the exhibition space, there are over 8,000 hanging lights which change in response to the participants’ movements.

You become immersed in the changing lights, reminiscent of nature’s bioluminescence, which build to a rush of light. Yayoi Kusama’s Gleaming Lights of the Souls and her theories of self-obliteration came to mind immediately, although there is a perhaps a greater sense of losing yourself to infinity in her work through her use of mirrors.

Always a good sign, Submergence seemed to be enjoyed by all, becoming for babies and kids of all ages, a light-filled playground.

Bristol is home to Submergence’s UK première before it heads to St Petersburg. If you’re in Bristol, you can still catch Submergence on 12 October from 14.00 to 21.00.

What were the cultural highlights of your week? Go on, share with us…

No Borders – the post-Christmas antidote

My suggestion for the perfect antidote to the post-Christmas bulge? A trip to No Borders

No Borders: contemporary art in a globalised world is an exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, which pulls together artists from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to explore global stories from local perspectives. Reflections on the local and global seem particularly timely in the aftermath of Christmas with its consumer frenzy for stuff and more stuff made miles away with little connection to their location of production, or purchased online in seemingly non-spaces. Having Bristol as the site of this exhibition puts a twist on it, where city initiatives are helping to rethink the local and global with creative projects, such as Bristol Pound which encourages us to shop and spend locally with the city’s own currency. The pieces in No Borders, which have been purchased through the ArtFund, are themselves part of a global trade network, and open up a dialogue about our global interconnections, shared histories and conflicts as well as Bristol’s economic and cultural place as an international trading city. 

Ai Weiwei

In Ai Weiwei’s A Ton of Tea, Pu’er tea, drunk by ordinary folk in China (and named after the trading post for dark tea in Imperial China) has been dried and compressed into a block as though it were being packed for export. In this minimalist, witty piece, the everyday and ubiquitous are transformed into a precious object to be looked at and tiptoed around in the gallery space, which raises its commercial price as well as cultural value. (At another exhibition, Ai Weiwei said of it “don’t touch it or you’ll have to drink it”.) So this new museum acquisition is put into conversation with the more traditional Chinese objects collected by the museum, questioning what constitutes ‘art’ from China for Western galleries and how the Chinese nation has been constructed through these traditions. In another well-known work, Ai Weiwei plays with similar political and cultural themes, creating Duchamp-like ready-made vases and purposely dropping a prized Ming vase offending the antiquities trade not only in China, but globally.

Questioning the role of art culturally, politically and commercially is certainly a theme of the exhibition with the contemporary works set in the traditional gallery space of the blue damask patterned wallpaper and placed in dialogue with those in the permanent collection of Chinese ceramics and Indo-Persian miniature paintings. 

Imran Qureshi

The Mughal tradition of miniature painting is given a contemporary twist by Pakistani artist, Imran Qu’reshi. This Leprous Brightness makes the blood from a reported incident of violence into beautiful foliage. In the video below you can see Qu’reshi’s imagery of flowers/blood seep from the stones in a site-specific piece. 

The creation of nationhood, history-making and the mass media are explored by Shilpa Gupta in her piece, In Our Times – Singing Mobile Microphones. The speeches of Jinnah and Nehru at the time of Independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947 are played through two swinging microphones. Annotated versions of the speeches hang at either side behind the installation indicating that Nehru’s speech was more prepared for ‘history’ with memorable quotes (“At the stroke of midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”) compared to Jinnah’s more practical prose. (“Dealing with our first function in this Assembly, I cannot make any well-considered pronouncement at this moment, but I shall say a few things as they occur to me.”) The microphone swings up and down as power shifts from one leader to another, as regimes come in and out of favour. The see-saw of history illustrates the way that nations are constantly in flux and with conflicts still unresolved.

Shilpa Guptta: Singing Mobile Microphones

In Berlin-based Korean artist, Haegue Lang’s work Holiday for Tomorrow the private/public, holiday/work, insider/outsider are explored through an installation of pretty coloured Venetian blinds and traditional Korean bamboo blinds or hanoks. The blinds were used to allow women to see out into the public world of men whilst remaining private in the domestic. Here we can peek through the blinds as voyeurs but also always be partially seen as we wander the exhibit.

Haegue-Lang BlindsIn the exhibition space fans flutter the blinds evoking a holiday mood, whilst the video narrates about the world of work evoking the repetitive nature of many occupations, for instance opening shop shutters each day (which you can see pictured in the still below). Ultimately, perhaps holidays only function to make us refreshed for work.

Haegue Yang Unfolding Places
Walid Raad describes his work as “reigniting our curiosity in truth”. A fictionalised foundation, The Atlas Project, is his mechanism to interrogate the truth of the history-making, specifically of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). By gathering, sorting and thus knowing the evidence both written and produced by visual media, those with power create the ‘truth’ of the manifold stories involved. The “regimes of truth” (in Michel Foucault’s terms) created by institutions such as the Museum are brought into question in Raad’s miniature version of a gallery (pictured below).

Walid Raad / The Atlas Group

No Borders, run in partnership with the Arnolfini, is on until 2 June 2013 and if you are in Bristol I would recommend it. I headed off there after hearing that there was an Ai Weiwei piece but actually there are a variety of works worth seeing in this well-curated show.

If you’re not able to make it, I hope that you can check out of some of the artists’ work. You can download pdfs about the artists and some of the key themes. Let me know your thoughts.

Naoshima – Japan’s art island

Naoshima bath house

Where have empty houses been transformed into perception-altering installations, art museums grow from the natural surrounding and giant pumpkins sit by the sea? On Naoshima, Japan’s art island, where even the bath house (pictured above) is a work of art.

Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan exemplifies the way art can be used to regenerate a community in economic decline. Depopulation and pollution threatened the residents’ livelihoods, when in the late 1980s private investment intervened to revitalise the island. The CEO of publishing corporation, Benesse, worked with the Mayor of Naoshima to drive economic regeneration by displaying his own private collection as well as commissioning site-specific architectural projects and art installations, involving the local community.

Honmura art project

Honmura Fishing Village

Honmura is a small fishing port on Naoshima and home to the Art House Project, a group of abandoned residential buildings and shrines transformed into works of art. Kadoya, the first art house created, features ‘Sea of Time ’98’ by Tatsuo Miyajima comprising LED counters set to different speeds by residents of all ages, illustrating shifting perceptions of time as we grow older.

Charred cedarwood sidings cover many of the buildings adding a beautiful colour and texture to the town, and this renewal of materials is theme of the island as art is created from the decayed and unwanted.

Burnt wood at Honmura art project, Naoshima, Japan.

Go’o Shrine, a reworked Shinto shrine features a glass staircase leading from an underground passway to the worship hall representing heaven and earth.

steps at at temple Honmura art project.

temple at Homura art project

Also built on the site of a shrine, Minamidera contains James Turrell’s “Backside of the Moon”. Visitors are led into the room in complete darkness (we got lost and I sat on somebody…). Then as your eyes adjust to the lack of light, shapes start to appear playing with our modes of perception.

Delica neon sign at Honmura art project, Naoshima.

Haisha (photographed above) was the home and office of a local dentist in a previous life. Rather than demolishing these vacant houses, the artists transformed them into something new, often in collaboration with the people of Honmura. Located in residential areas, these site-specific pieces are embedded into the community. The artist Shinro Ohtake designed this house, using his scrapbook style with a montage of cuttings on the floor and a neon-lit Statue of Liberty simulacrum squashed into one its rooms.

Naoshima Bathhouse – I♥湯 or I love Yu

Refreshing, relaxing and a new cultural experience for me, one of my favourite things to do in Japan was visiting to the sentō or bath house. I♥湯 or I love Yu, the Naoshima bath house, again designed Shinro Ohtake, is a play on words with ‘Yu’ phonetically meaning hot water in Japanese.

I love Yu bathhouse sign

As in Honmura, the art work is placed at the centre of the community and the space of the bath house aims to foster cultural exchange between tourists and locals.  Although this is a more touristy experience than other bath houses in Japan, the interior space is worth experiencing to see this artist’s scrapbook style. And how often do you get the chance to get naked and wash yourself in an art installation?

I love water bathhouse Naoshima.

I love Yu is a cultural collage as you can see in the image below as various tiles from different periods and styles are juxtaposed. A tiled image of a female diver surrounded by jellyfish and an elephant statue look down on bathers, whilst peering down to the bottom of the bath, you can catch glimpses of pop cultural images through the shimmering water. This scrapbook-style adheres to the decay and renewal theme of the island with old fishing boats, a plane cockpit and empty picture frames recontextualised on the outside of the building becoming art rather than junk.

Tiles on the Naoshima bathhouse

Ohtake uses a mix and match postmodern style culminating in the kitsch 1970s influenced female silhouette framing the bath house entrance.

Lady symbol for the Naoshima Bathhouse.

Benesse House Museum 

Architect, Tadao Ando’s vision is integral to the Naoshima Art Project creating the Benesse House Museum and hotel, designed to fit into its surroundings, not just in order to preserve the beauty of the island coast, but also to use the interaction of culture and nature to create art. Interactive works such as Kan Yasuda’s ‘The Secret of the Sky’, allows the viewer to lie on a curved stone seat and gaze upwards with the modern concrete of the building juxtaposed with the blue sky or starry nights.

The Benesse Art Gallery shows works by big names, including Warhol, Rauschenberg and Hockney, but a piece that resonated particularly with me was Yukinori Yanagi’s ‘Ant Farm Project‘. It critiques our discourses of national identity by allowing ants to live in the flags of national states so that they symbolically create patterns without borders. In the cafe, our relationship with television is questioned by Nam June Paik’s ‘Sonatine for Goldfish’, where a goldfish circles and circles a vintage set. Bruce Nauman’s work 100 Live and Die with his trademark neon signs flashes combinations of words about life and death, from tragedies (‘young and die’) to the mundane (‘sleep and live’).

Kusama on Naoshima

After visiting the Kusama retrospective at the Tate Modern in London this year and with her work inspiring a fashion collection, I was looking forward to visiting her iconic pumpkin statue.

Kusama's pumpkin with light stream.
When we arrived at our accommodation, I couldn’t believe that we could almost swim up to the yellow and black dotty pumpkin. Kusama’s red and black pumpkin is one of the first things that you see as you arrive and leave Miyanoura port. As in the residential spaces of Honmura and the communal bath house, the viewer is able to get very close to the art works and interact with them.

red and black pumpkin top.

Red and black pumpkin by Kusama at Naoshima.

For more Kusama photos, check out Kusama: seeing and wearing dots, my previous blog post.

Visiting Naoshima

On our stay, we slept in a yurt mere seconds away from the sea. How relaxing to listen to the sound of the waves and watch the natural glow of jellyfish.

Our yurt on Naoshima

You can find out more about visiting Naoshima on Benesse’s website and I would recommend Naoshima Tsutsuji-so Lodge as a place to stay. There are regular buses from Miyanoura port to the Benesse House but it is not actually very far on foot (around 30 minutes) or by cycle.

There is art everywhere on Naoshima, even these little frogs are placed to add colour to an industrial building along the coast road to Honmura.

The architect, Tadao Ando also designed two galleries that we didn’t have time to visit – Chichu Art  Gallery, which is mainly built underground so as not to detract from the natural landscape, and a gallery devoted to the work of Lee Ufan. So we have an excuse (as if we needed it) to return.

Fancy taking a trip to Naoshima now? If you’ve visited already, please share your experiences. Are there any other art islands that you’d recommend visiting?

Seeing and wearing dots: Yayoi Kusama, fashion and art

I came face-to-face with artist Yayoi Kusama in Omotesando Hills in Tokyo…

Kusama model Louis Vuitton Shop Tokyo.… that is a model of the octogenarian artist who is now window dressing across the world. Kusama with her signature dots has become Marc Jacob’s muse for his Louis Vuitton collection.  Her art, which has never been confined to the gallery, has taken over the department store, and a few weeks ago a pop-store appeared in Selfridges in London designed as her iconic pumpkin sculpture.

Kusama-inspired Louis Vuitton fashion collection

Kusama is not the first artistic collaboration for Marc Jacobs, previously working with Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Marakami but this is the most extensive, including sponsoring her Tate Modern retrospective earlier this year. This exhibition showed her extensive creative output over a 60-year career and the breadth of media, from sculpture, drawing and paintings to installations, performance art and fashion.

As one of the most recognisable female “celebrity” artists in the world with fashion as part of her artistic repertoire, it is understandable that designers would want to collaborate. Indeed the meeting of art and fashion is not new from Elsa Schiaparelli’s surrealist creations to the postmodern circularity of Campbell’s soup creating paper dresses à la Andy Warhol. Before the Louis Vuitton collection, Kusama had put her name to other commercial products such as lip gloss and, as a popular artist, her work is embossed on scarves and bags, perhaps more for tourists than high fashionistas.

Art, fashion and commerce had already combined for Kusama back in the 1960s. With financing of $50,000, the Kusama Fashion Company was established with her clothes on sale at 400 stores across America, including Bloomingdales. Her range was designed for the sexual revolution – dresses with circular cut-outs and holes in the breast and rear, and some designed for more than one person to party. Just as in her other artistic output she tried to eradicate the boundary between self and other through fashion. In her autobiography she says that her stock was in demand from the Jackie O crowd and that, “All the clothes I designed and produced were, of course, decorated with polka dots”. The  images below illustrate the dots in her sculptures, taken in Naoshima, Japan.

Kusama dots closeup.

Kusama red and black pumpkin.

Kusama dots

The Louis Vuitton collection is all about the dots too. After a nervous breakdown as a teenager, Kusama has lived with psychological trauma and has been in a psychiatric hospital since the 1970s of her own volition. During hallucinations, she says that dots multiply covering her field of vision threatening to overwhelm her. Her art has been therapy to help control these feelings and she puts the viewer firmly in her hallucinatory world, often in the domestic setting. In one of her installations, children are invited to stick brightly coloured dots in a white room – the blank canvas.  When you visit the Louis Vuitton website, red dots flash before your eyes and so a consumer of fashion, you’re positioned in Kusama-land.

I first entered Yayoi Kusama’s head in Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. “Gleaming Lights of the Souls” could only be entered two by two. Immediately the queue added to the aura of the experience and anticipation at seeing in the box. Inside, we found a hall of mirrors with water on the floor and dots of lights that sparkle off into infinity. The installation made me feel slightly off-balance, wanting to reach out but fearing slipping. Perhaps I wasn’t given into Kusama’s art process where she tries to understand her place in the universe through “self-obliteration”.

“My desire was to predict and measure infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots – an accumulation of particles forming in the negative spaces in the net… I wanted to examine my own life. One polka dot: a single particle among billions. I issued a manifesto stating that everything – myself, other, the entire universe – would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulates of dots. White nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness.”

Fashion is sold more in terms of the drive for self-expression than self-obliteration. The Kusama persona and her style became an intrinsic part of the installations as she was self-consciously photographed in front of her sculptures in similarly patterned clothing so that the distinction between self and world dissolves. In advert for the Louis Vuitton collection below, the model stands in for Kusama and the dots of the clothing merge with the background.

Kusama raincoat Louis Vuitton

Department store art

The visual merchandising of the collection takes lessons from Kusama’s work. In her autobiography she says that “my work is a means to heal myself from psychosomatic illness. As a category of art, therefore, it did not relate to the social establishment or to fads. My art was not of the department stores window variety, where you are constantly changing the display to conform to the latest fashion – Action Painting today, Pop Art (or whatever) tomorrow.”

However, in the shop windows, we can see reproductions of her work which would not look out-of-place in the gallery, although we may read them differently there.

Kusama shop window.

Flowers recur throughout Kusama’s work from her first sketchbook of worm-eaten peonies to later psychedelic sculptures with eyes at their centre. In her early visions, she says that:

“I saw the entire room, my entire body, and the entire universe covered with red flowers, and in that instant my soul was obliterated and I was restored, returned to infinity, to eternal time and absolute space.”

The scene below reminds me of an Alice in Wonderland set, with the oversized shoes and purses evoking Kusama’s distortions of scale in her later sculptures.

Kusama bags and shoes

In the 1960s, Kusama held one of her Happenings at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York’s Central Park. At these events, hippies from the protest movement became a naked canvas for Kusama to paint them in dots. The rain-mac above from Marc Jacob’s collection is a playful nod to these performances as the dots almost look painted on the skin.

“I, Kusama, am the modern Alice in Wonderland. Like Alice, who went through the looking-glass, I, Kusama (who have lived for years in my famous, specially built room entirely covered by mirrors), have opened up a world of fantasy and freedom. You too can join my adventurous dance of life.”

In the 1990s Kusama created a series of pumpkin sculptures, including the one photographed below in Naoshima.

Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin Naoshima inspiration for Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton.

As with the flower motif, pumpkins have recurred throughout her work from early Nihonga paintings in her late teens. She says that she “was enchanted by their charming and winsome form… its solid spiritual balance.” In the Louis Vuitton collection, the pumpkin sculptures are transformed into sweet little bags and keying chains.

Fear of phallus fashion

Fashion, art and psychological obsession are again evident when she uses repeated phallic symbols as a way to work through her associated fears. In the image below, the phallus-filled cream-coloured shoes evoke a nightmarish wedding. In a similar style of repetition she created macaroni pants which illustrated her disgust of overeating and the mass-produced American food which contrasted with post-war Japan austerity. Sex and food seem inextricably linked to the fashion industry with its commodification of the former and the perfect female body starved of food, not through economic dependency, but desire for an idealised shape.

Kusama Fashion Company

This critique of mass-production becomes mass-produced as fashion albeit luxe fashion in the phallic tentacle shapes in the Louis Vuitton window display.

Kusama phallic window display

Get Kusama fashion inspiration

If like me, you only look at designer fashion and prefer to buy vintage, it’s still easy to join the fashion dots with one piece. In fact, if you make clothes, cutting out a circle or two in a summer dress (I don’t recommend in the breast or bottom) could look striking. However, perhaps it’s more “Kusama” to find your own statement “dots”. Here’s footage from one of Kusama’s happenings which almost parodies itself but contains beautiful images including one of the artist on a horse covered in dots.

What do you think about the Kusama and the Louis Vuitton collaboration? Please share your thoughts.