By Deb A.
Chris Ofili is arguably best known for creating art with elephant dung. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ was made with the artist's urine. Tracy Emin's My Bed hosted a range of bodily fluids, including one that has recently made headlines again in the art world: menses.
The first major movement in the West of using or depicting menstrual blood in art started in the 1970s, along with second wave feminism. And so it is no surprise that recent efforts to address the period taboo coincide with a reaction to the rise of high-profile misogyny.
In 2015 Rupi Kaur's photo showing the artist with a bloodstain at her crotch was removed (and subsequently reinstated following public backlash) from Instagram, leading Ms. Kaur to object to a world that "will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak."
Six months later, American artist and activist Sarah Levy used her period blood to create a portrait of a presidential candidate who reacted to tough questions at a debate by claiming the female moderator had "blood coming out of her wherever". He is now president, and the painting was purchased this year by the Museum of Military History in Dresden, Germany. It's hard to say which fact is stranger.
The latest controversial attempt to normalise a regular function of the bodies of half of the earth's human population can be found in an equally surprising place: the Stockholm subway. Its new exhibit by Liv Strömquist is a series of black-and white felt pen drawings that feature the occasional blotch of bright red between women's legs. Some have hailed it as a coup for womankind, while others have recoiled in disgust, angry at their newly uncomfortable commute.
For those who prefer to decide when they will be confronted with the reality of women's reproductive cycles--a luxury most women do not have--there's Period Piece in London, which "seeks to provoke critical dialogue about shifts in contraceptive technologies and constructions of the 'natural' around women's bodies." With music composed from ovulation cycles and poetry based on reactions to the Catholic church's rejection of birth control in 1968, the exhibit finds new, less confrontational ways of talking about periods. It is a pop-up event by the Science Gallery London, which opens officially in 2018.
For a brief overview of period art, this piece by Kristen Cochrane is a good place to start.
By Deb A.
He was Canada's unofficial poet laureate, documenting the nation's past and present and guiding Canadians to a clearer understanding of their own cultural identity. Gord Downie, lead singer of The Tragically Hip, solo artist, and activist, died of brain cancer on October 17th. And while he held that his writing could only be completed through performance, his lyrics are still powerful in black and white.
Nautical Disaster (1994, Day for Night)
I had this dream where I relished the fray
And the screaming filled my head all day
It was as though I'd been spit here
Settled in, into the pocket
Of a lighthouse on some rocky socket
Off the coast of France, dear
One afternoon four thousand men died in the water here
And five hundred more were thrashing madly
As parasites might in your blood
Now I was in a lifeboat designed for ten and ten only
Anything that systematic would get you hated
It's not a deal nor a test nor a
Love of something faded
The selection was quick, the crew was picked in order
And those left in the water
Got kicked off our pant leg
And we headed for home
Then the dream ends when the phone rings
"You doing alright?"
He said, "It's out there most days and nights
But only a fool would complain"
Anyway, Susan, if you like
Our conversation is as faint a sound in my memory
As those fingernails scratching on my hull
By Deb A.
As the first recipient of a DARE Art Prize, composer Samuel Hertz will produce a chamber piece below the frequencies audible to the human ear.
The £15,000 prize was created to mark the tenth anniversary of a groundbreaking academic and creative partnership between Opera North and the University of Leeds. Its aim is to encourage artists and scientists to collaborate on investigating "new approaches to the creative process."
The aptly named Mr. Hertz will work with a scientist from the University of Leeds to compose a low-frequency piece that can be felt but not heard, and to examine the effects this infrasound may have on emotions and wellbeing. The results will be released in a year's time.
Mr. Hertz, a classically trained composer and performer who works in a range of acoustic and electronic media, was selected from a shortlist of five entries, which itself was culled from applications from around the world, representing all media. The shortlisted artists were Gary Zhexi Zhang, who sought to create an interactive film installation modelled on the behaviour of slime; Marina Rees, who proposed an installation featuring live underwater transmissions and a whale choir; Melanie King, who aimed to build an installation of illusions based on astronomy; and Robin Dowell and Joanna Lampard, who envisioned creating sculptures, images or books based on the idea of scientifically classifying emotions.
By Deb A.
... but it's going to be OK. Here are a couple things of beauty that have emerged from recent events.
Whether reacting to the American election results with sadness, joy or fear, New Yorkers are offering each other messages of hope and unity on their commutes.
(via the New York Times)
Leonard Cohen on democracy
Maria Popova at BrainPickings has assembled some insights from Canada's treasured poet, where she also reminds us of David Remnick's beautiful profile of Mr. Cohen in The New Yorker. If you prefer to close your eyes while you reminisce, listen to this.
By Deb A.
By now you have heard that Bob Dylan has won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition". You may have greeted the news with skepticism, outrage, joy or confusion, or maybe all of those at once. It's an announcement that requires some unpacking.
Is songwriting poetry?
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, nonchalantly lists Bob Dylan as a poet, but literary scholars have been debating for years about whether this should be the case. Clearly, lyrics do not need to be crafted as poems; they can succeed as part of a song. (Imagine submitting "Come on baby/Let's do the twist/Come on baby/Let's do the twist/Take me by my little hand/And go like this" to a magazine editor.) But that doesn't mean that lyrics can never stand apart from their music as examples of literary achievement.
America's former poet laureate Billy Collins told the New York Times that "Bob Dylan is in the two percent club of songwriters whose lyrics are interesting on the page even without the harmonica and the guitar and his very distinctive voice. I think he does qualify as poetry."
Would Dylan's lyrics have ever moved a generation without that harmonica and guitar? It's unlikely.
Is Bob the best?
If we accept that songwriting can be poetry (or some subsection of literature), the question then arises of whether Dylan is really the best lyricist out there. Leonard Cohen, who immediately comes to mind as a suitable candidate, likened the win to "pinning a medal on Mount Everest for being the highest mountain," and there can be no doubt about the impact Dylan has had on popular music and even other potential Nobel winners. Joyce Carol Oates dedicated her short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" to Dylan and called the news "an inspired choice"... although she believed that the Beatles would have been an equally good, if not better, option.
Expanding the debate beyond whether Bob Dylan is the most deserving songwriter to whether he's the most deserving writer highlights a plethora of writers and poets (in the traditional, music-free sense) who have been snubbed in favour of a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who has already received multiple Grammys, a Oscar, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Oates and other favourites, such as Haruki Murakami and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, will have to wait another year.
Is this really innovative?
This year's announcement could be a cynical attempt to remain relevant or an innovative approach to the nature of literature, but it falls short of its goal on either count.
Every single one of the eleven Nobel Prize winners this year is a man. Nearly all of those men are white. In 115 years, only 14 women have received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and just four were women of colour. From the perspective of race and gender, this purported break from tradition is anything but. One has to wonder what Dylan, whose songs formed part of the soundtrack of America's civil rights movement and who has remained typically tight-lipped about his most recent honour, thinks about that.
By Deb A.
He would play a few notes and then stop, nonchalantly dismissive: 'Nahhh... I don't think you can handle it.' The crowd would shriek, laughing and begging and howling, unsure of whether their cheers meant that they wanted more or that he was right: they couldn't handle it. He would always give them just a little more than they could handle. Prince made an indelible purple mark on generations.
As the world began to light up purple, collaborative studio Random International put a call out to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to amend its Rain Room. The exhibit allows visitors to control the rain: falling water pauses in response to a human presence. LACMA bills Rain Room as "a respite from everyday life and an opportunity for sensory reflection within a responsive relationship."
On Friday, visitors found themselves underneath the purple rain.
The exhibit is closed from tomorrow until May 19th due to conservation efforts. But the world will still be purple for days and weeks to come.
And the universe will be, too, for much, much longer.
By Deb A.
It inspired leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson over the course of hundreds of years, and its legacy resonates throughout the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the United States Declaration of Independence. And yet the physical dimensions of the Magna Carta offer a surprising contrast to the breadth and depth of its impact: one of the world's most important symbols of liberty, it fits on a 38 cm x 51 cm parchment.
Magna Carta (An Embroidery), however, is nearly 13 metres long. Created to celebrate the document's 800th birthday, British artist Cornelia Parker's tapestry features the handiwork of 200 contributors, including activists, politicians, lawyers, musicians, and Ms. Parker herself, as well as nearly 40 prisoners, who stitched the bulk of the text.
It is, in a shift from analogue to digital and back again, a near-perfect replica of the Wikipedia entry on the Magna Carta.
"I wanted the embroidery to raise questions about where we are now with the principles laid down in the Magna Carta, and about the challenges to all kinds of freedoms that we face in the digital age," explained Ms. Parker.
With the aim of creating a "portrait of our age," she carefully selected the words for her more notable contributors to stitch: each individual embroidered a word or phrase that was significant to them (embroiderers handled the illustrations and other tricky bits). Edward Snowden tried his hand at "liberty", and "user's manual" came from Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder. Moazzam Begg added "held without charge" to reflect his time as a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. The editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, provided "contemporary political relevance" as well as a few small blood stains after an unfortunate run-in with his needle. Philip Pullman got "Oxford". Ms. Parker gave "common people" to Jarvis Cocker, and chose "prerogative" for herself. Julian Assange and a former Director General of MI5 were not the only ones to stitch "freedom"--a host of prisoners also added it to the final piece.
Magna Carta (An Embroidery) is on display at the British Library until July 24th.
By Deb A.
Stained, littered, unflinchingly honest, Tracey Emin's My Bed debuted at the Tate in 1999 to reactions as messy and visceral as the sheets it put on display. The piece is now back in Tate Britain, this time surrounded by Francis Bacon paintings rather than her own drawings, and starkly lacking its original shock value. Now that our collective fingers have loosened from our pearls, it is possible to take a deep breath and more clearly examine the work's true power: what is the meaning of this rumpled pile of bed linens, cigarette butts, contraceptives, bodily fluids, and vodka bottles, now that so many taboos around women's sexuality have been broken, or at least repeatedly dented?
Emin's answer is clear: "Back in the '90s, it was all about cool Britannia and the shock factor and now I hope, 15 years later, people will finally see it as a portrait of a young woman and how time affects all of us."
The bed, in which Emin stayed for several days during a period of depression triggered by relationship issues, is part of a wider tradition of exposing an intensely private element of an artist's personal life. Toward the end of the twentieth century, this became known as confessional art.
Louise Bourgeois is generally recognised as the mother of confessional art. One of her best-known works is Maman, a giant sculpture of a spider that she described as an ode to her mother: "She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother."
Mona Hartoum's Light Sentence grew from her sense of dislocation after being unable to leave London to return to her home in Lebanon after war broke out there in 1975: "The movement of the light bulb causes the shadows of the wire mesh lockers to be in perpetual motion... you have the disturbing feeling that the ground is shifting under your feet."
Yoko Ono does not shy away from exposing her personal struggles, including her fight for custody of her daughter in Plastic Ono Band's "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow)". Ono herself is clear that "if you go back to all my albums, they're all confessional."
By Deb A.
JWTIntelligence has made its predictions for 2014, and one of them is titled 'Telepathic Technologies'. Artists and scientists alike are already transforming brain waves into art; here are a few examples that may offer a glimpse into our shared future.
Lisa Park's Eunoia converts the brain waves the artist creates while meditating into ripples of activity in five dishes of water, each representing a different emotion: anger, desire, happiness, hatred and sadness.
Josef Pavisi and Chris Chafe translate brain waves into music. Having set an EEG of a seizure to music, next year the two professors will debut a system that allows visitors to Stanford's Cantor Arts Center to use their smartphones to convert their brain activity into music in real time.
Maria Abramović joined forces with neuroscience researcher Suzanne Dikker to create Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze, which provides a visual representation of a meeting of minds, documenting the brain activity of two individuals holding eye contact.
Photography: Mierswa-KluskaImage courtesy of blog.gessato.com
By Deb A.
Saturday evenings at the Berlin Philharmonic present a unique opportunity to stand amongst ardent music-lovers and phone-checking partners, born-and-bred Berliners and reverent tourists, aging women in ball gowns and bespectacled students in jeans. And yet, to some extent at least, everyone is there for one reason: to get inside the music.
This campaign — from the first orchestra in the world to break tradition by bringing the musicians into the middle of the hall, encircled by the audience — brought a city even closer to the classical by bringing them inside the instruments themselves.
The photos are magical: at times majestic, at times gently graceful, but always strangely silent. The quiet nooks of the violin and the empty cathedrals of the organs are breathtaking, like the Philharmonic itself, but they do not share its movement, nor do they invoke its sound. They are tranquil, static. They are waiting for you to come inside, to come closer, to enter these unconventionally familiar spaces in your ball gown or your faded jeans and wait patiently until the music begins.
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