Where I grew up, parents teach you: “Don’t talk to strangers.” That advice is ok if you are a wandering child on a public street. If you are sitting in the living room, though, you are most likely surrounded by friends or relations of some sort – even if you don’t know them by name. Such was the case for me yesterday in “The Living Room” project by artist Lee Mingwei at the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills.
Through January 4th, 2015 the Mori Art Museum is hosting the exhibition “Lee Mingwei and His Relations” – a series of projects involving various acts of participation under the motto “Take Part. Make Art.” After the museum invited me to host a session in the Living Room, I met with the artist Lee Mingwei and spent an afternoon in The Living Room on November 10th.
“The Living Room” was originally created for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It is a space where community members are invited to tell stories about their own personal collections and share conversation with visitors, just as Mrs. Gardner might have done in her own art-filled living room. As living with art is a major part of life for me and my partner, and as a member of MAMC, I was delighted at this opportunity.
For Lee Mingwei and visitors, I recounted how the Mori Arts Museum has become a kind of living room for me – a place to enjoy art and meet other art enthusiasts. Living far away from “home” and unable to bring my art to the museum, I shared a collection of my impressions about moving to Tokyo, interacting with artists and how living with art has changed my life since curating the exhibition LIGHT BREAKS last year.
When I visited the Living Room a day earlier, I sat in the beautiful wooden chair that belonged to Lee Mingwei’s grandmother. A glass of water was offered to me and I thought about what stories I might share while staring at the skyline of Tokyo and listening to Lee Mingwei’s voice in the background, where he was having a conversation. I saw my reflection in the window and thought about my Uncle Arthur who had a portrait of himself hanging above his fireplace. I only met Arthur and his partner of 60+ years late in his life when he was 90 years old, and listened to stories about Arthur’s and Walter’s Glass and Wedgwood collection in his living room over the first gin martini I had ever had. If they were still here today, I would share with them my fascination with art how it has enriched my life.
Even in the comfort of The Living Room, engaging others in conversation wasn’t easy. Upon hearing me speak English, many Japanese visitors shied away, perhaps feeling a bit uncomfortable with their own English skills. The language barrier is still quite difficult to overcome in Japan, and while I am learning Japanese, I am not yet fluent enough to engage a native speaker. Perhaps the bravest visitor, though, was a Japanese girl who didn’t say a word. She simply came over and handed me a flower from Lee Mingwei’s “Moving Garden.” With the city view in the background, this “unexpected encounter” with a stranger was clearly a spontaneous act of courage for her and I could see the reflection of her fanning her reddened face as she left The Living Room.
Most of the visitors with whom I spoke in The Living Room were tourists visiting Japan for the first time. Many were eager to share impressions about people in Japan and hear about the places I have visited. I brought along the copy of a book which I had received many years ago before my first trip to Japan. Entitled “Bluff Your Way in Japan,” author Robert Ainsley wrote about Japanese society in the 1980s. Many of his observations are still accurate today. About sightseeing, he encouraged visitors to deliberately bypass popular tourist attractions and observe the more commonplace wonders like the endless variety of vending machines throughout the city. I recounted that a visiting friend from Germany was so fascinated by the “Jihanki” that he returned home with hundreds of photos of them and compiled a book about it, which I brought to show. I shared the story of exploring Tokyo’s unlikely art spaces with two Living Room guests from New York, including a visit to the “container” gallery housed in a hair salon, also featuring a vending machine for art outside. I told them about Design Festa, the most unique assortment of art, design and creative expression that I have yet to experience in Japan.
Not everyone came to the Living Room to talk. Some were there to simply enjoy the gaze out the window or take a break on the comfortable sofa. A couple from Sweden was there with a small baby. While the mother went off to feed the child, I had a chance to converse with the father who was originally from Laos. I recounted that my partner and I had encountered a large community of Swedes in Ko Lanta, Thailand. We talked about the inspirations of cross-boarder experiences and I shared some of my thoughts on the exhibition “Go-Betweens” immediately preceding the Lee Mingwei exhibition at the Mori Art Museum. Among my Japanese conversation partners was a young relational artist, who spoke well about her work on the relationship between mothers and children.
Moving to Tokyo and traveling back and forth between my native homes in Switzerland, Germany and the United States has been a great adventure so far. The opportunity to explore the art world in Japan has given me new insights into the way Japan views itself and new ways for me to think about art in my life. My explorations in Japan inspire me to continue with Project Art Lounge – a sabbatical to my 20 year career in IT and digital media. Thanks to Lee Mingwei and the Mori Art Museum I now have new relations to India, London, Vancouver, Sweden, Laos, New York and Tokyo. From Art Fair Tokyo to the art sites around Naoshima to the Yokohama Triennale – and a chance to meet artist and curator Yasumasa Morimura – I have plenty of stories to bring back to my own living room conversations in the future.
When visiting a contemporary art exhibition, who hasn’t heard the expression “my four year old could have done that”? Or how about the other favorite quip: “is that art, or is it trash that can be thrown away.” The fact is that both of these statements might sometimes be true – and that’s the beauty of it.
Recently, artist Michele Schuff introduced me to the Drifters Project by her friend Pam Longobardi. By turning plastic debris found in the ocean into beautiful sculptures, she is raising awareness about the massive amount of plastic drifting around the oceans, washing up on beaches and how it is personally connected to all of us.
Pam Longobardi: Drifters: Plastics, Pollution, and Personhood
In her artwork, Pam Longobardi’s encourages us to see that trash for what it is and not just walk by and ignore it. She challenges us to recognize our own role as consumers of plastic and to do something about it. By picking it up and making great art from it, she’s done her part as an artist. Now it’s our turn. Read more about the Drifters Project and The Concious Ocean on her website and buy her book Pam Longobardi: Drifters: Plastics, Pollution, and Personhood.
If children’s songs are known for their easy melodies and lyrics, the exhibition Go-Betweens: The World Seen through Children demonstrates that the lives of children are all but simple. The Mori Art Museum in Tokyo has put together an impressive collection of artwork depicting a complex world, in which children are challenged to endure, transgress and bridge cultural, personal and family conflicts and other borderline situations as they are growing up. A common theme is how children uniquely master these challenges through their ability to move freely between the worlds of reality and imagination.
Through creative cardboard cutouts, drawing tables for kids and placement of many works at child-eye-level, the exhibition is a summertime invitation to the whole family. Content-wise, however, the orchestration is clearly tuned to the adult visitor. The works of 26 artists are divided into 5 thematic categories, which at times feels a bit overdefined, but helpful nonetheless.
The title of the exhibition stems from the Danish-American photographer Jacob Riis, whose works in the first section of the exhibition show the plight of children confronted by cultural and economic division. Images of Japanese-Americans in internment camps by Toyo Miyatake are particularly impressive. Prideful large format photographs by Kim Insook of Zainichi Korean families in Japan are juxtaposed against oddly disturbing pictures by Zhang O showing young Chinese girls posing with their adoptive American fathers. Set among garden flowers and trees, the latter pieces suggest something both natural and unsettling about these relationships.
After raising questions about cultural ambiguity, the next two sections deal with sources of isolation, pain and conflict that children face in their everyday lives. The video loop “Eight” by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler show the infinite, “rainy day” loneliness of the child in a adult world, while an impressive mixed media piece by Christian Boltanski portrays the almost faceless anonymity of young people in a world full of evils as unimaginable – even for children – as the holocaust.
Luckily, Tracey Moffat’s edgy photographs with lighthearted tag lines add a welcome irreverence to ease the mood before we move on to the fourth section which is dedicated to the trials and tribulations of emotionally insecure pubescence.
The depiction of teenagers in search of their own identity is surely no easy task. An important film by Tomoko Kikuchi portraying the sexual exploration of a young tom boy in China gets drowned out by a larger surrounding piece showing the downfall of a Chinese town as if the teen’s soul searching was simply the fate of a decaying society. The pictures of Kayo Ume and installation “Tomorrow” by Fiona Tan are further interesting attempts to go inside the adolescent psyche. Unlike the highly charged photographs of Larry Clark and Ryan McGinley in other exhibitions, though, the world as seen through the eyes of “the fourth sex” here comes up short.
If you were expecting to enjoy childhood fun, fantasy and cheer, you’ve so far been disappointed. In the fifth and last section entitled “Moving between Different Dimensions,” you’ll finally be rewarded. Whether listening to kids explain how they came into the world in Shiota Chiharu’s video series or the fantastical fairy tale collages by Won Seoung Won, this is where kids finally get their say. One of my favorite pieces in the whole exhibition is the video “The Weeping Woman” by Rineke Dijkstra, in which school kids give their own interpretations of a painting by Picasso (it’s actually more fun if you don’t know what they are looking at).
As if too much good cheer is a bad thing, the final room of the exhibition is a display by the artist Yamamoto Takayuki from her series “New Hell.” In response to the question, “What kind of hell will we go to?” children created sculptures depicting fantasy filled monsters and machines to devour and eradicate the bullies and bed guys (and presumably themselves if they don’t watch out). With these prospects in mind one is left with the ambiguous feeling that even a fantastical world weighs heavy on children. If it weren’t for their honesty, creativity and ability to bridge differences as “go-betweens,” our world would be a lot worse off. This exhibition will not make you reminisce about or long for a warm and innocent childhood, but to the credit of the exhibition’s curators it will leave you with a good question in mind: why do we subject children to so many “evils” and force them to deal with unsettling realities they didn’t create. Instead, we should encourage them to do what they do best: imagine things as they ought to be.
*On that note: here’s a TED talk by Korean novelist Young-ha Kim to cheer you up:
I keep coming back to the DMO ARTS stand at Art Fair Tokyo. The Osaka based gallery is bursting in color. While the middle of the stand with it’s fantastical figures and portraits seem to attract most of the visitors, I prefer the quiet outside wall and alley way separating it from the next booth. There you will find artist Hideo Anze standing next to works from his solo exhibition “FRAMING”. The carefully constructed photographs glow with color which is key to Anze’s work. While the gallery director draws a comparison to the works of Thomas Demand, I rather see the constructivism of Imi Knoebel and the radiance of Dan Flavin. Perhaps my interest is also motivated by the similar radiance found in the works of Silvia Sinha. It’s quickly apparent, that Hideo isn’t fond of such comparisons. He feels quite at home with his own personal space in the realm of conceptual art. Even with a language barrier separating us, it was clear to me that FRAMING is part of a larger discussion that is still evolving. These pieces are sure to be a milestone in the current and very personal work by Hideo Anze. His works will be part of a group show “COGNITION / RECOGNITION” at DMO ARTS from March 8th to April 19th.
Last summer I visited Kapoor in Berlin with my friend and Atlanta based artist Michele Schuff. Conveyor belts and cannons discharging hot red wax projectiles, splattering them on the walls and floors of the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Anish Kapoor’s Symphony for a Beloved Sun. The breathtaking size and scope of Kapoor’s work on display made me ask myself: how in the world can anyone create art on such a scale? As an extremely successful artist with the institutional resources and staff to support him, there really are no limitations to Kapoor’s creativity.
When I asked Michele how she recognizes great art and what appeals to her as an artist, she answered “when it feels authentic.” In a contemporary art world full of successful artists who have turned their ateliers into factories, appropriating the work of other artists and creating amazing art out of everyday objects, it can be hard to differentiate between art and avocation, between the authentic and the deceptive. And what if deception is precisely what the artist intended (see “Exit through the Gift Shop“)…don’t worry, you are not alone in asking: is that art?
Who better to explain the (r)evolution of contemporary art than Japanese artist Morimura Yasumasa, who has been “appropriating” the work of other artists for years and has been appointed artistic director of the 2014 Yokohama Triennale. At Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum annual cocktail party for new members, Morimura gave an honest reflection about the current Andy Warhol exhibition. A teenager at the time of Andy Warhol’s rising popularity, Morimura recalled how obscure Andy Warhol and his pop art was in the mid to late 1960s. In contrast with conventional wisdom that painting is a window to the innermost thoughts and feelings of the artist, Morimura quoted Warhol’s famous saying: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” In other words, it is what it is – take it or leave it. In fact, Morimura concluded, there is much more behind Warhol’s work than first meets the eye. He sees an homage to the concealed advertising artist (Brillo) and the insightful eye of a discerning art director well attuned to the iconic imagery of his day (Marilyn Monroe). Whether you appreciate Warhol for his aesthetic use of color and form on the surface or for a deeper – and perhaps nostalgic – and concealed context, it is impossible to deny Warhol’s authenticity as an artist. Morimura, whose self-portraits also include projections of himself as Marilyn Monroe, knows as well as anyone what it means to test new waters, while paying tribute to the artistic past.
So the next time you find yourself asking “is that art,” it is worth taking a step back for a moment. In contemporary art – as in life – it often makes sense to reserve judgement and simply “take it all in” before drawing a conclusion, because contrary to conventional wisdom, beauty in art is not only in the eye of the beholder, but foremost in its creator.
In an article for the Huffington Post, author Jeanette Leardi wrote that “Nostalgia is much more than mere reminiscing; it’s a feeling” and she adds a call to action: “If you find yourself recalling a fond memory and wishing you could recapture that moment, give in.”
Czech Artist Kamila Najbrtová has done just that. For Kamila, memories and reflections of the past have a hypnotic effect, which draw you in and create a new reality – a reality which she captures in her paintings. Like in a mirage, the subjects in her painting never seem to exist exactly as they appear. They are more like “tips of thought” or dreamlike memories that change with the moment of their thinking. A selection of Kamila’s works were presented at the Project Art Lounge exhibition LIGHT BREAKS last November.
In a new series of works, Kamila Najbrtová embraces nostalgic images, which are a dominate theme in her work and captivate the viewer. Among the most powerful are the black and white images like the TV test pattern, to which you awakened on the sofa late at night before the days of non-stop entertainment, or the blinding light diffusing from an unidentifiable source. Interpretations are left to your own imagination. Her signature use of painting on transparent fabric and glass create a mesmerizing effect of depth and movement that is both interesting and stunning to look at. These and other new works will be on display at Art Prague from March 11-16th in the Kafka House.
For more information about Kamila’s work, please contact Project Art Lounge.
After just completing her beautiful book project Girl on Canvas, artist Pola Dwurnik turns her focus to another creation which utilizes her diverse artistic palette. The goal: to create an alternative world history out of reused postage stamps. On her project’s Facebook page she sends an open invitation to send her your stamps from around the world. Take a closer look and you realize how captivated she is by the stories and motives behind the images.
In their book Teaching As a Subversive Activity, authors Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner challenge the hierarchy of a teacher driven education system in America and invite a democratization of the learning process – a revolutionary idea when the book was published in 1971.
In her book project GIRL ON CANVAS, artist Pola Dwurnik presents her own work in a revolutionary new way. Self described as “Subversive, rascally and girlish,” Pola’s book includes contributions by over 30 art historians, designers, essayists and philosophers. She challenges us to take a fresh look at painting and its reception, “completely uncontrolled by the artist.”
In an art world where trends are frequently culled, curated and controlled by a small elite, Pola Dwurnik invites us – like Postman and Weingartner – to challenge our assumptions and let art (like schools) be what they are – a source of creativity and independence. Pola’s book premiere’s at berlinerpool on January 30, 2014 in Berlin.
The lights went out for LIGHT BREAKS on Sunday night at Project Art Lounge’s first international exhibition. But as Silvia Sinha, Michele Schuff and Kamila Najbrtová return to work in their studios at home, the positive feedback in Basel continues to pour in.
With visitors likening their works to James Turrell and Dan Flavin, these three artists clearly set Atelier Davidseck aglow with their own interpretations of light filled spaces.
In two days, nearly 100 visitors engaged the artists in an intense dialogue, exchanging “tips of thought” and giving evidence that the glow worms evoked in Dylan Thomas’s poem were all about.
As Project Art Lounge sets out to discover new ways to help art enthusiasts discover great art, take a moment to enjoy some impressions from LIGHT BREAKS on the Project Art Lounge youtube channel: http://youtu.be/81OReaw3uuc
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As the days get shorter we appreciate all the more how light enlivens us. The name of the exhibition LIGHT BREAKS is inspired in part by the creative power and energy that emanates from light and how it is used in art. In his poem “Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines” Dylan Thomas evokes images of light to symbolize life, passion and self-awareness. “Dawn breaks behind the eyes,” Thomas says, where “tips of thought” reside like “glow-worms in their heads” until, finally, “light breaks on secret lots” and “logic dies.”
Our perceptions of light and the passing of time are inherently connected. Dawn and dusk are like bookends separating the lightness of day from the darkness of night. Michele Schuff – one of the artists featured in the exhibition LIGHT BREAKS – explores notions of time and space in her last exhibition, Measure for Measure: “I imagined a space outside of time might exist when one is entirely engaged in some kind of creative work- where everything drops away and that one can tap into a completely alive, creative state of consciousness where time becomes irrelevant.”
As seen in the artwork of Michele Schuff, as well as with Silvia Sinha and Kamila Najbrtová, glow-worms are clearly in their heads and “tips of thought” are evidence that their art is still very much alive.
For the full text of “Light breaks where no sun shines,” visit Poets.org.