Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s not the first city that pops into one’s head when one thinks “diversity”. The Midwest, especially for a Californian like me, has always been representative of a more “traditional” idea of the United States; that is, suburbs with perfect lawns and processed food. And at least in terms of its economy, the Midwest was the heartland of America, home to the industries of flour-milling and corn-growing. But what exactly is that “essence” of the United States, and what has it come to mean as our traditional industries “leave” for cheaper shores and new people come into spaces traditionally defined as American? It is this interesting nexus that the exhibit, Foodways, housed within Minneapolis’ College of Art and Design, attempts to address. Through a series of thoughtful art pieces, in various mediums ranging from video art to sculpture and oil paintings, the power and ability of food to represent both our past, present and future selves (i.e. our heritage, our every day lives, and our legacy) is tangibly felt in all the pieces.
Kazua Melissa Vang’s piece is a striking metaphor between our insides and the insides of refrigerators. Using a triptych of photographs showing the inside of a family’s refrigerators, the artist metaphorically demonstrates the ability of refrigerators to fit all; stuffed full of both “traditional Asian” cuisine ingredients (Chinese broccoli, bok choy, red chili paste) and “traditional American” ingredients (mayonnaise, ranch dressing, strawberry jam). Indeed, the ability of the family to cram ingredients into a very available space cannot help but bring to mind our own ability as humans to do exactly the same with our often “contradictory” experiences.
Another video shows the preparation of “typical” Midwestern food: syrupy cheese mixed with potato mix from a box, while a gravy with meat chunks simmers. The videos are hypnotic; there is no voice, only the sounds of various-sized ingredients mixed into piping-hot pots. The displays remind one of Kitty’s kitchen from “That 70s Show”, the somehow soothing idealization of Midwestern America.
Yet another video installation tells the story of another continent: a woman’s Somalian sounds accompany the rhythmic sounds of a large grinder, held by a woman dressed in traditional Somalian wear, pounds a food stuff in a wooden bowl. “The work song,” the artist’s statement says, “that with its connected narrative, is meant to encourage the performers of the task while reinforcing a life lesson.” In that darkened room, one feels tradition of another country being carried on and communicated to the next generation. A part of the past coming into loving contact with the present, and future.
This exhibit represented more than a simple exhibit of food cultures from around the world. It was the representation of America’s culture in its truest form. For what is culture if not “the people who live in it and the lives they lead in it, not the possessions they have inherited from those who came before,”? In each piece, the lives of each artist, each with their own cultural heritage, each with their own struggles with adaptation, assimilation, or remembrance, was carved out, cherished, exhibited. If art is to continue to be representative of a culture, it is our stories and experiences art must strive to tell. It is exhibits like this that remind us of what we are, especially in times when we as a country and as individuals ask ourselves, “Who Are We?”
A contemporary feminist artist walks into Vienna and runs smack-dab into a billboard advertising a feminist art exhibition of female artists at Mumok, the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien. Naturally, she ditches her parents at the local Matisse exhibition and hustles to the museum…
WOMAN: Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s exhibits three hundred works from the Sammlung Verbund Collection across several floors of the Viennese museum. This decade was a pivotal and socio-politically charged period. The Civil Rights Movement had come to an end, but inequality persisted, the feminist movement was gaining momentum, and the Vietnam War raged on, amongst other events. In a male-dominated world, women artists claimed this heated moment as their opportunity to redefine themselves in the art world. The feminist artists represented in this exhibition became active participants, protestors, aggravators, and objectors through their art, abandoning traditional roles as passive subjects and muses. The introduction to the exhibition professes that the artists in the show all share “the rejection of normative concepts based on traditional models.” These women shared the belief that women could serve a multitude of roles in society, not just those that were traditionally prescribed. Forty-seven artists are shown in the exhibition, including Eleanor Antin, Lynda Benglis, Renate Bertlmann, Judy Chicago, Kirsten Justesen, Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman, Penny Slinger, Hannah Wilke, and many more.
The first work in the exhibition is Some Living American Women Artists (1972) by Mary Beth Edelson, which humorously introduces several artists in the show and drives home the fact that this exhibition is all about women and that they weren’t afraid to step on anyone’s toes to make their voices heard. This piece takes a famous biblical image and replaces the figures, men in particular, with avant-garde feminist artists that are challenging a major, male-dominated field. Edelson’s piece utterly sets the stage for the exhibition, which features an overwhelming number of works in which the artist inserts herself into the art.
Penny Slinger is another artist whose work in this exhibition utilizes self-portrait and collage as modes of production. Slinger’s self-portrait collage series places her seductively in a wedding cake built onto her body as a bride. The bottom tier of the cake has been “sliced” and opened to reveal a new cavity, which Slinger avails with different “fillings.” One work reveals her vagina, but the others have been collaged to obscure and replace it. In one work from the series, ICU, Eye Sea You, I See You (1973) Slinger has filled the cake’s cavity with a picture of waves that host an eye in the center where her vagina would be. She is posed covering her eyes, therefore she is looking through the “eye” at her vagina in this work. The eye becomes the focal point of the piece, drawing the viewer’s eyes to Slinger’s vaginal region. She is energizing and empowering this “third” eye that speaks to feminist consciousness and examination.
Renate Bertlmann’s work in the show diverges from the self-portrait pattern that is predominantly observed. Bertlmann, an Austrian artist, is intrigued by the sexualized image of woman and male fetishes. Her sculptural piece, Washing Day (1976/2004) presents “clothes” on a clothesline that resemble plastic synthetics of phallic imagery such as puckered objects and small structures resembling nipples. The works are not pornographic, because they are too abstracted from reality, but there is a remotely voyeuristic sensation in observing the provocative piece.
The selection of artists and works in this exhibition is remarkable and delivers a firm reminder to the contemporary art period of what these feminist artists accomplished and paved the way for during the 1970’s.
- Ivy Guild
WOMAN: Feminist Avant-Garde of the 1970s is on view until September 3, 2017.
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It's More Fun To Compete - Museum of Contemporary Art, Marseilles
Marseille, a paragon of Southern France that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, is also a dominant hub for contemporary art. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Marseille rests in a residential neighborhood off the beaten path, but is well worth the seeking out. One of the museum's current exhibitions is It's More Fun To Compete, a show motivated by Marseille being declared "European Capital of Sport 2017". The city won this accolade by showing its fervor for prompting sports participation and events for its citizens. The exhibition incorporates works activated by various aspects of sport, such as competition, training, individuality, and business.
Leading off for this exhibition is a project created by young French fashion designer, Simon Porte Jacquemus, called Marseille je t'aime. The path into this project is lined by ersatz sunflowers arranged on the floor on either side of the first alabaster room. The silk florals lead to a pearly sphere and a bleached cube situated against one another on the far side of the room. These entities are referred to by the artist as "houses", which seem to be positioned in conflict with one another, potentially demonstrating a struggle of the old bumping against the new. A separate part of this project was a live performance human sculpture that took place on a mountain overlooking the city. Life-size images of the performance piece are shown from various angles to capture the human heap that Jacquemus created with Willi Dorner. The human heap represents a pile of clothing, which is the field in which Jacquemus primarily works. Small diagrams next to the large prints identify the performers as various garments, including "the sweater", "the mittens coat", "the mesh cut", "the pink shirt", and "the small button shoes". This project focuses on Jacquemus' regard for competitive human nature, particularly within industries, such as fashion.
One of the most compelling spaces in the exhibition elegantly merges Valerie Belin's Bodybuilders (1999) photographic series with Boris Chouvellon's The Small Illusion (2008-2011). Belin's images of the bodybuilders are black and white, largescale, and captivating. The figures are tanned and oiled to the point of looking metallic as they pose and stare intently at the camera. The figures are nearly bare, but for their bottoms, and their muscles are so bulging and contorted that they appear illusory. Sharing many physical characteristics with the figures on the walls, Chouvellon's towers of trophies in the center of the room are arranged precariously up to the ceiling. He has taken these commonplace honors out of their symbolic arrays, stripping them of their singular importance as they become a mass of light, colors, mirrors, and reflections. The piece itself nods at The Endless Column of Constantin Brancusi. The air between Belin's images and Chouvellon's sculptures shares an affinity for aesthetics and preservation. The images will exist much longer than the men that posed for them, and the trophies will exist much longer than the personal memories associated with them.
Another outstanding installation in this exhibition is Malachi Farrell's Hooliganisme (1997), which combines several aspects of sport, including business, spectators, the media, and franchises. On May 5, 1992, at the Arman Césari Stadium in Bastia, France, a terrace of spectators collapsed during a semifinal soccer game. Eighteen individuals were killed and hundreds of spectators were injured, but the unwavering media continued to film the event. This incident serves as Farrell's point of reference for this exhibition, which confronts the media in the form of a multi-headed monster that travels up and down a pole in the center of the exhibition. The floor is littered with fake dollar bills and beer cans, while cheering mechanical bleachers of bottles symbolize the spectators in a mechanized dance resembling a disjointed wave. In the middle of the ceiling, triggered clotheslines extend across the room transporting muddied spectator jerseys and pants, and then retracting across the same space. With the multi-headed beast giving a speech, the crowd rattling in the stands, and the clotheslines slinking overhead, a copper ball on a track moved forward and backward, eventually reaching a goal of the end of the room and causing the electronic ballet to reset. This installation represents many of the tenets of sport posed by the expansive exhibition, including the decisive sides of competition and cheer, and the volatile sides of media-control and greed.
It's More Fun To Compete is on view until January 14, 2018
Fahrelnissa Zeid: The Woman Who Made Me Feel It Was Okay To Be Me
I did not plan to pay for any special exhibit when I walked into the Tate Modern with my mother that semi-beautiful London day. Which is why when I chose to see the Fahrelnissa Zeid exhibit rather spontaneously, it felt "meant-to-be".
Fahrelnissa Zeid didn't apologize for who she was. As the daughter of a rich, politically well-situated Ottoman family, coming to age during the turn of the long 19th century and the end of the Islamic empire, she had opportunities that many within the Ottoman Empire never had. At the same time, her upbringing challenged European notions of the "Orient"; as a female going to school at the newly established fine arts school in Istanbul, Zeid stood directly in contradiction to the veiled and obedient, Ottoman girl that many Europeans painted onto postcards or photographed during their ethnographic studies of the "Orient". No doubt her reality was one that was fortunate and perhaps not so common, but her existence in the world challenges our assumptions about the Middle East, and particularly Turkey. Her life continued in an extraordinary way, defying any sort of cultural teleology that is often applied to female artists from the Middle East. She never had to "choose" her identity, at least not on canvas. She was free to be a portraitist, a realist, an abstractionist; she was free to be influenced by Ottoman design, Turkish colors, European art forms. It was only for everyone else that these labels, both cultural and artistically, might have mattered. And to the extent they mattered is to be debated. She was revered and respected wherever she lived - Berlin, London, Paris, Baghdad, Istanbul, Amman. While she was the wife of a diplomat, she hosted extravagant art nights for the high society of whatever city she lived in. Obviously, as a diplomat's wife, she commanded this sort of attention and her upbringing as the daughter of a high-up Ottoman official prepared her for this. I reiterate this to highlight an important fact: to her, her existence wasn't anything unusual. It was simply her life. And this is something that is often missed when discussing those who have intimately experienced more that one culture: these individuals do not feel "burdened" by their cultural background. Their existence, while often perceived by others as a contradiction, is one that is lived as just as any other's is lived: because within every "disharmony", there is a secret, unspoken of, hard-to-spot harmony. It is this "harmony-within-disharmony" aspect of human life that artists like Zeid uncover perhaps unwittingly in their work.
And it is in communicating this aspect that the Tate did so well in; rather than attempt to situate Zeid's identity within a specific country or even one identity, Zeid was allowed a space in which her art could speak of her varied influences. Her struggles as a painter to identify her own style was very well-articulated in the exhibit. As Zeid moves from place to place and experiences major political upheavals of the 20th century (like World War II and the assassination of the royal Iraqi family), she uses the canvas as a place to paint her own emotional journeys. Each room in the small exhibit, is like stepping into a different time and space of Zeid's life; one room tells the story of her fabulous and decadent life in Paris and London, while the next room shows a more somber yet creative lifestyle, where she uses old bones to create strange, almost fossil-like studies of everyday objects.
The exhibit closes, fittingly, with the last stage of her painting and her long life; doe-eyed portraits made while living in Amman, Jordan. It is these portraits that were most striking to me, as they seemed to be the biggest departure from anything previous she had done. Neither realist nor abstract in the strictest sense, the portraits communicated an other-worldly yet child-like feeling. Rather than paint the subjects in realistic proportions, Zeid emphasizes the beauty of each person by painting large, soft, piercing eyes onto the faces of her subjects. At the same time, these portraits are not abstract. In fact, their "realness" comes from how she manages to capture the spirits of those she is painting. Her portraits communicate something deeper than interesting or aesthetically beautiful faces; they offer us a glimpse of the artistic vision of the woman who saw so much and who met so many. She was able to capture that indescribable "something-larger" that both connects and encapsulates all of us. It is for this reason that artists like Zeid are valuable to our collective art histories; for they offer us an often buried view point that seems to be shrinking in our increasingly polarized spaces; that is of a universal human connectedness that lies outside cultural, political, and national bonds.
- Alia Kiran
Fahrelnissa Zeid is currently running at the Tate Modern until October.