Contemporary art slides
Moorland Productions, “CM_006_Popsicle” (2008) – the painting is part of a series called “Control Mechanisms” created collaboratively by Seetha A & Kenneth Hay under their collective name ‘Moorland Productions”. The image references RFID chips in merchandise to track goods and prevent theft. Their form also echoes Japanese Zen gardens, sports arenas, American ‘hard edge’ abstraction up to Peter Halley, and the notions of surveillance and control discussed by Foucault in “Discipline in Punish”.
“CM_020_Sofia” (2011) was created specifically for the Viacom Telephone Headquarters building in Sofia, Bulgaria. It uses shredded documents (bank statements, love letters and other secrets as well as coloured paper, synchronised with the logo colours of Viacom) as well as the mosaic pattern on the floor, to tie the work to the location. Produced for the 2012 Water Tower Art Festival curated by Nia Pushkarova, whose theme that year was “Follow the White Rabbit”. It thus also alludes to labyrinths, and the complicated electrical webs used for surveillance and control.
US artist Peter Halley “Two cells with circulating Conduit“, 1985. Halley’s large seemingly abstract paintings in day-glo textured acrylic metaphorically depict elementary dwelling places – box-like cells separated from each other, but linked by tubes and conduits, like an allegory of modern urban life. They also reference American hard-edge geometric abstraction from the 1940s and 50s, and thus form part of the American “Neo Geo” movement of the 1980/90s.
This abstract heritage is more evident in “Loop” (1995), although the ‘cell with conduit’ image remains essentially the same.
Robert Morris, “Tangle” (1967-8) – US artist Morris, like Robert Smithson Carl Andre and Richard Serra began by creating environmental interventions using simple materials without ornamentation or elaboration, in a natural setting. His work crosses over between Land Art, Environmental Art and Minimalist sculpture. Like the artists of the Italian Arte Povera movement, Morris allows his materials to follow their inherent qualities. Here, felt, folds, tangles and drapes according to gravity and the supporting wall. The structure is determined by the material and the context.
German conceptual artist Josef Beuys (1921-1986) developed a highly personal body of work drawing on a discrete ‘vocabulary’ of repeated forms and themes elaborated throughout his life: wax, felt, fat, woollen blankets, gold, sulphur, clay, batteries, copper wires, his walking stick, waistcoat and felt hat. With these and other props, including the legendary blackboard and chalk drawings used during lectures, he created works about survival, about man’s balance/imbalance with nature and animals and the need to protect the environment. In this work/performance, he had himself flown in to the USA, transported by Ambulance from the airport to the upstairs gallery, so that he did not physically touch US soil, and then spent two weeks locked in ‘dialogue’ with a coyote – the original inhabitant of America – negotiating his own place as a human intruder with the rightful owner.
German Conceptual artist Hans Haacke (b. 1936) uses the opportunity of an exhibition or event to explore the socio-political background of the gallerist or context, or here, uses the medium of advertising to subvert itself. Usually controversial, Haacke’s mission is to reveal the myths and hidden power structures that permeate the art and business worlds. Who sponsors which exhibition, where did they get their money from, how do they treat their employees? By so doing, Haacke reveals that nothing is innocent or accidental or without convoluted chains of (usually financial) attachment and interdependence.
Similar to Beuys, US Conceptual artist Mary Kelly (b.1941) has created a highly personal art from her lived experiences. She famously documented every stage of her pregnancy and subsequently the birth and first years of her son’s life in two intimate diary/artist’s bookworks, first “Antepartum” (1973) and then the “Post-Partum Document” (1973-79). The pages incorporate specimens resulting from the baby’s growth and development as he grows towards language acquisition, labelled and tagged like the anthropological specimens that they are . Her works have been very influential on contemporary women artists. Kelly works at the USC School of Art and Design of the University of Southern California.
US Conceptual photographer Louise Lawler (b.1947) living in Brooklyn, New York. From the late 1970s onwards, Lawler’s work focused on photographing portraits of other artists’ work, giving special attention to the spaces (museums, collector’s houses) in which they are placed and methods used to make them. She remains ‘anonymous’ behind the lens, but her ‘signature’ work is ironically recognisable nevertheless.
French artist Yves Klein (1928-1962) was a leading member of Pierre Restagny’s “Nouvel Réalisme” group in Paris in the 1960s. His paintings developed in series – focussing on particular materials smoke, gold, or colours, rose, and a blue: YKB (Yves Klein Blue), which he patented. His work draws on such disparate influences as Rosicrucianism and Judo. His performances include “Le Vide” (Emptiness) (1958) in the Gallery Iris Clert, Paris. For this performance/event, he had two doormen in the formal dress of Republican Guards issue a colourless drink to all those entering the gallery space. Inside was empty except for the curtain at the entrance. The gallery was however, psychologically ‘filled’ with the absence of the artist. After the audience got home they discovered that the drink stayed with them, turning their urine blue for a week or so afterwards.
US feminist artist Judy Chicago, created this major installation,”The Dinner Party” (1979), as a celebratory metaphorical dinner for the notable female artists from history. The fact that they are relatively few is precisely part of its content, as her work addresses the ‘absent other’ in (art) history; absent because they were not allowed to pursue a career in art, or because they were not named and celebrated in the same way because of their gender. Each artist has a customised ceramic and place-setting referring to aspects of their art.
The US artist couple Christo and Jean-Claude (1935- 2020 & 1935 – 2009) developed their signature activity, wrapping things, over a long career. From original idea, developed through sketches and plans, through to the liaising with public/ museum/state bodies to obtain permissions, then the sale of the drawings to raise funds for the project, to the final project – involving massive quantities of materials (tarpaulins, ropes) and assistants, their work is always fundamentally the same – but ever-changing and with time becoming ever-more expansive. “Wrapped Reichstag” (1985) was refused three times over 24 years until the German Parliament finally voted in favour of the project, against the wishes of the Prime Minister.
American artist, critic, teacher and writer Douglas Davis (1933-2014) was a pioneer of Video Art in the 1970s. His “live” satellite performance/video pieces were influential models for the use of interactive technology as a medium for art and communications. With Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys Davis collaborated on the first live international satellite telecast by artists, transmitted from Documenta 6 in Kassel, Germany. In this video work, Davis confronts the anonymity and passivity of television production and reception, establishing an intimate, interactive dialogue with the viewer as a forum for intellectual and moral debate: ” I acted out of the same sense of intimacy, this time on the other side of the screen.”
In “Passage Dangereuse” (1997) French/American artist Louise Bourgeois, (1911 -2010) combined found objects with her own sculptures, and presented a narrative about a young girl going through different rites of passage. The installation includes: children’s chairs, a school desk, animal bones and an electric chair. Her work is closely related to her personal history and her interest in psychoanalysis.
“Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View” (1991), by UK Conceptual artist Cornelia Parker,(b.1956) is the restored contents of a British garden shed exploded by the British Army at the request of the artist. The thousands of fragments were then attached to cords and painstakingly arranged around a light source, suspended from the gallery ceiling in a manner so as to suggest the micro-seconds after the explosion. As its title suggests, the work alludes to the Big Bang and the forces of creation and destruction underlying our universe.
Rachel Whiteread, (b. 1963) “Holocaust Memorial“, Vienna, (2000). Turner-Prize winning British Conceptual sculptor Rachel Whiteread , (b. 1956) is known for her technique of casting the negative of objects (their moulds) in plaster, wax, or concrete. She cast the negative space of a whole house in London’s Docklands as a fleeting memorial to an area that was being developed (and destroyed). Here the technique is marvelously and poignantly adapted to comemmorate the absent Jewish population of this part of Vienna. She casts the negative of a library, which we cannot enter to read the countless books which might have been written by the missing population. Current occupiers of the former Jewish quarter must walk round it daily as a constant reminder..
For his 2003 Venice Biennale installation, Spanish Conceptual artist Santiago Sierra used black plastic and masking tape to cover the word ‘Spain’ set in relief over the entrance to the Pavilion. The entrance was then partially bricked up to hinder access and guards posted to permit access only to holders of a Spanish passport. The work was based on the idea that “national purity has always been a fantasy based on an imagined and necessarily ruined past”. Those who were permitted into the building found that all that was there was the debris of a previous exhibition. Sierra’s (non)installation suggests that “national purity.” is a non-existant, and dangerous myth.