When the news hit yesterday of the death of the world's greatest humanitarian of my generation you could almost hear the cries of grief — and celebration.
When the tears dry and the dancing winds down, there will still be the art. And much more to come.
This commemorative public artwork outside Durban, SA, is composed of 50 steel columns representing the 50th year of his capture, and evokes the prison bars he faced for 27 years. 'Release' was created by Marco Cianfanelli
, a five-metres-tall metal public artpiece, also by Cianfanelli, was unveiled earlier this year in front of
the Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg.
Shanghai-based 'seal artist' Phil Akashi paid tribute to Mandela earlier this year by affixing the Chinese seal of the character for 'freedom' on the front of a boxing glove, then walloping a wall i 27,000
See more artistic expressions
of love, gratitude, respect and remembrance to the man the people called Madiba (father).
I'm posting this picture because if I don't do it now I might cram this doomed project into a green garbage bag and stuff it where the sun don't shine: in deep storage.
I've seen through some fraught, laborious projects in my time but I may have met my match. After months of hoarding buttons and hounding others to surrender their button jars "for art's sake" I'm thisclose to admitting this thing is a colossal waste of time.
The plan was to create a companion piece to my QR Quilt: After Douglas Coupland
, a scrappy quilt translation of the artist's QR Code Paintings
This new one will be a 'whole-cloth' quilt, where only the buttons would bind the layers. And of course it will be readable with a QR code reader app. Trouble is, since I designed this coded button blanket last year I'm starting to think that QR codes are a fleeting technology, like the fax machine. The geeky chatter on the interwebs also tells me so . So, in a few years when the industrial marketing complex has made the stampede over to some other state-of-the-art attention-grabbing software schtick, the whole point of this project will be rendered obsolete. How did I not see the futility of trying to grapple with fleeting technology through a painstakingly slow craft method?
The inner negator has been bullying me throughout week one of sewing one found button after another onto my marked grid. It's not helpful realizing that in the unlikely event that I have selected the correct colours to read black, and have sewn in enough button-density to create a readable pattern, I'm still left with an unwashable, lead-apron-heavy quilt. I can't even dedicate it as a shroud in my final wish for a sustainable green burial, as my corpse would be cocooned in all that non-biodegradable plastic poundage.
This is normally the time when I call for reinforcements in the form of artist friends, who will invoke the usual mantra: 'Trust the process, trust the process.'
I get it and I'm going with it. See it through. One button at a time, one day at a time. The week-one picture is posted. There's no pretending it's all still just a concept. This matter of time, technology and endurance matters.
Carlyn Yandle photo
The astronomical private art-investor feeding frenzy at prestigious auction houses is light years away from art. Carlyn Yandle photo
It's a greedy need for prestige, worlds apart from the hand of Picasso or Andy Warhol and, most recently, Francis Bacon and the other Important Artists who conceived those coveted works.
Art is outside the billions of dollars sloshing around the world's art investors; it's in the streets, provoking those who hold the purse strings and the power. You can see it in humble objects, like the garbage monster that prowled around the anti-pipeline rally last weekend
at the end of False Creek, towering over the thick crowd, snapping its messy maw at excited kids. It's not pretty, and it certainly has no retail value, as it's made of the usual stuff that ends up in the Pacific Gyre
, but it functions as art has and always will. It provokes us to think differently, to re-consider, step out of our complacency and see the world for what it is and where it is headed or could be. This is the power of the visual object.
The makers (presumably the two operators) of the garbage monster were compelled to express themselves through their creativity and labour, with no profit or prestige motives in mind. The object serves to contest the ways and means and plans of those in power, in this place, at a time when the news broke that Canada is dead last
in climate change policy in the developed world. It may be a small gesture, but when combined with other creative forms of expression, can turn the tide.
The prevailing discourse was there in the form of an image-object of an actual SUV receiving a giant lethal injection, during Car-free Day on Commercial Drive this past June. The only motive behind this gesture was a need to comment. The high visual impact is art in its purest form and the makers are indisputably artists. And those artists are probably not getting rich if they're spending much of their creative effort on an expression outside of the system of capitalism.
That pretty much has been the history of artists. Their work may have no cash value, but their value to society is priceless.
Nothing against the design visionary of Zaha Hadid
but all this global starchitecture looks like rich people's toys in the wake of disasters like Typhoon Haiyan.
This is no time for designers to try to outshine one another with glittery sculptural-building displays of unimaginable wealth, at any monetary and environmental cost. The real innovators are looking at the pure essence of architecture: creating structures that enhance our lives with a low-carbon footprint.
It's seen in the transitional cardboard cathedral
in Christchurch, New Zealand, providing a spiritual focal point following the February 2011quake that destroyed the city's most revered piece of architecture. And it's just one example of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban's commitment to the craft. (Watch Ban's Ted Talk, at bottom.)
In these times of wild, climate-change-induced (un)natural disasters, the truly important cutting-edge architecture does not appear as large-scale steel-polymer edifices with conceptual references to nature, the likes of which is taking shape in the form of Hadid's $27 billion performing arts centre
in Abu Dhabi.
These times call for humane systems that are actually connected to the natural ecosystem, such as Ban's network of emergency shelters
set up in a school gym after the devastating tsunami in eastern Japan in 2011.
More than natural in concept, the materials are tubes made of recycled, locally available material that are easily cycled back into the ecosystem.
They are light enough for anyone to use to construct without the aid of heavy machinery and simple enough to be re-used according to need, from temporary beds to longer-term shelters for displaced people, to these cardboard cottages
It's architecture that can react fast to calamity, restore self-respect, contribute to a humanitarian effort through design.
I read two articles in the old-timey newspapers this morning
, one revealing that speaking another language may help delay dementia and the other suggesting that sitting for eight hours a day can shave off five years of a typical adult's lifespan.
So after spending a marathon week hunched over my laptop, bent on becoming fluent in the 3-D modelling program SketchUp
, I've decided that the most I can hope for is a sharp awareness that I'm headed for an earlier grave.
This sitting stuff is tough. I know most adults are prone to prolonged periods of it, but it's also what led to the epiphany that I could possibly assume another position than that of the chicken-necked editor, staring at punctuation on a screen all day long. So I took a stand, walked away from the job and have avoided most seat-warming activity ever since. Until last week, when I could no longer run from the real need to learn how to present my sketches in SketchUp. Now I am back in chicken-neck mode, struggling in a trial-and-error approach (What? Take a course? Neveh!) of drawing a shape, wrecking the shape, deleting the shape and starting again. Repeat. For 10 hours a day. All those years of repetitive learning in needlework and music are serving me well yet my dreams are full of angles and tubes, flying through space on the green axis and the red axis. I am the Sarah or Anna (depending on what sanity-restoring YouTubed tutorials I'm following), bushwacking through the geometric jungle, looking for a space to breathe, maybe something with four perpendicular walls and a parambular roof. (If nothing else, I am learning some fancy geometric terms).
I could always outsource this part to someone who actually knows what she's doing, but that doesn't fit with a lot of us makers. We need to get in there, stick our chicken necks out, muck around and figure out how to make this system work for our conceptual purposes.
I'm proud to say I've moved from Hopeless in SketchUp to Super Shitty. My grey matter is definitely vibrating, so I can only hope it's not dementia but some neural generation
. There may be light at the end of that backward, inverted, bisected tunnel cluster, but for now it's back to the e-drawing board until I can't sit it anymore.
A little sample of the kind of SketchUp fluency I will never acheive:
They say if you want someone's attention, whisper. Or maybe that was just a line from a Whisper pantyhose commercial back in the '70s.
Whispering to get attention isn't easy in an image-packed urban landscape where slick marketing messages infiltrate our entire field of vision, from pop-up ads on our screens to the clutter of billboards.
There's so much of it that we subconsciously absorb, dismiss then ignore each image as we move through the visual bombardment. And we wonder why we're mentally exhausted at the end of the day.
That's what makes the experience of public artwork in the city landscape so compelling. No call to buy or to back a product or political organization or private enterprise. With no aspirational words (Believe! Passion! Simplify!) or branded images, logos, phrases or text of any kind to cue our automatic-piloted brain to overlook the visual image, a slight confusion sets in. Whoa. What the hell is that?
First comes the double-take, then out comes the smart-phone camera. The proof of the attention-grabbing power of commercial-free artwork on the city environment can be measured by the number of similar google images. You'd be hard pressed to find that Telus panda ad on a Flicker photo stream, but you'll run across multiple images of a single public artwork, like this giant macrame-esque installation created by Jasminka Miletic-Prelovac, at the only tall building (for now) at Main and Broadway. Or Edward Burtynsky's images on Pattison billboards (spotted along West 4th Avenue, below).
These message-free images that appropriate buildings and billboards are enough to compel viewers to investigate further. Turns out Miletic-Prelovac's work was this year's commission to highlight the livable laneways
movement. And Burtynsky's images are from his latest book and new documentary, Watermark
No logos. No brands. No text. These are whispers that can create a small roar.
I became acutely aware that craft can pack a serious political punch when I first saw a fleeting image of an Afghan rug designed with bombs, grenades and exploding figures, created by children.
It's a potent example of how craft can transcend its place from a use/decorative object to an art object, and was just one of many collected war rugs that formed a 2008-2009 exhibit at the Textile Museum of Canada
It is their inappropriateness, in conventional terms, that resonates. And even if the maker is never known, his (or more likely 'her') soul is woven into the piece. The expression is a response to the maker's environment, providing moments of discovery while posing new questions, like: What is the use of a rug as a comfort object if it's communicating discomfort?
It's in the images, but also the laborious, repetitive process, and the materials themselves.
It's why rags can become collectors' items, like this Japanese 'boro' (literally 'rag') futon cover that appears on a collectors' website (and at collector's price of $1850.US)
While there's no apparent narrative in this humble textile, it speaks of the time when it was made, in the form of a visual sample of the fabrics of the day. It's also a visual history of sashiko
stitching, which evolved from a method of repairing and recycling fabrics to a highly symbolic craft. And it speaks of a sensibility toward thrift, whether out of simple necessity or attachment to the materials (probably both).
The transcendent ability of crafts is seen in how simple stitchery evolves, from patching a jacket to emblematic artworks.
This sashiko tool bag, shown in the first major sashiko exhibit
in the UK, has long transcended its original use but remains a use object in an art context, complete with stitches representing hemp and pine bark, emphasized by a persimmon flower patterned border.
Those patterns may reflect the actual rural culture or physical surroundings, or a nostalgic yearning of place by the maker.
These days my dreams are awash in faded, ragged indigo — it must be all the eerie, enduring fog — and lacy white construction cranes. For reasons beyond my left brain, I've been trying to figure out how to capture the forest of pivoting white cranes as I weave through these large-scale spaces of work on my way on to my own work.
Cranes are part of my place that during my life is enduring massive change as my place transforms from industrial port town to glittering international resort city.
Somewhere in this pile of rags and stitches, towers and cranes is a space for expressing my place and time. I'm turning paintings into rags, photos into stitches and back again, trying to tie in the loose ends, working my way through the discomfort and the need for comfort.
Where is it all going? I wonder that every day as I dodge the bike route closures and count the clusters of looming cranes pivoting overhead in an aerial Developers' Dance.
Thank god for The Walking Dead. It is the one force that has the power to kill off the overpopulation of pink princesses.
All that Pepto-Bismol-hued froth and glitter kicks in my gag reflex but I'm no censor; I've indulged in the princess fantasy of those little girls (and, shockingly, some grown women) for too many years to mention. But there is hope. Pink fatigue appears to have set in this year, at least for Halloween, due, no doubt, to the craze for the undead.
Next battle: the pink aisle.
Princesses and stupid Sexy costumes (popular YouTube clip at the end of this rant) are a waste of a great fantasy opportunity — and an art opportunity.
American photographer Cindy Sherman
's long and rich career dedicated to using her body as a blank canvas on which to apply various female personas, makes her an artist of an ever-changing body-sculpture, earning her an important position in conceptual art, performance art, and gender studies.
There's a lot of concept to be mined when altering one's appearance, whether for art or undercover information. Former New York Times
restaurant reviewer Ruth Reichl,
who donned disguises to ensure she would be treated as a regular restaurant patron, discovered that her different range of personas garnered different reaction from the wait staff. That body effect became equally as interesting as her reviews, and even more so to many of her readers.
Buenos Aires photographer Irena Werning
explores the persona of the past, recreating photos of subjects using their own childhood images. She not only recreates the pose and garments, but goes to great lengths to mimic the backdrops and particular photo quality of the original image. Werning insists she has no arching concept in mind in her two-part series, but the effect is there in black and white or colour: a riveting time-based visual study in changes in body and persona.
Above: Christoph 1990 and 2011, Berlin Wall.
Kimsooja with curator Daina Augaitis
Internationally renowned artist Kimsooja was verklempt at the opening reception for her show, Unfolding, at the Vancouver Art Gallery Thursday.
Her audience would soon feel that emotion unfolding as the soft-spoken artist led a tour of the new exhibit that runs to Jan. 26.
Revisiting some 30 years of her deeply personal works, with her son and other close family and friends in attendance, was clearly overwhelming for the Korean-born New York artist , who recently wrapped up another wrapping at the Venice Biennale
'Overwhelming' is a good descriptor for the show, too.
Bright, satiny boulder-like mounds presented in the Bottari
tradition of wrapping gifts in colourful fabrics contain material scraps the artist retrieved from the Tsunami-struck region of Japan.
Visitors feel the unfolding of a singular vulnerability in a cavernous room as simultaneous video screenings reveal the artist standing still in a crowded street in various urban corners of the Earth. The mix of rusty, worn mechanical objects and brilliant satin fabrics is a visual feast.
Another room featuring truck overloaded with a heap of colours evokes displacement or an unwieldy migration.
This retrospective is a reminder of the potency of found fabric, a culturally embedded material that can be a medium for painting or sculpture, often at the same time, as Kimsooja does so powerfully.
The artist raises those stakes by making material a metaphor for the wrapping and unwrapping, the enfolding, the unfolding, the concealing and exposing that resonates long after leaving the gallery.
A performance of Kimsooja's A Beggar Woman
(see video clip, below) is set for Nov. 29 as part of Fuse
Whenever I'm hit with another CBC countdown promo of its exclusive Canadian coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi that viral image of Putin in drag makeup pops into my head.
That one cheeky act packs a political wallop and reminds me that while the pen is mightier than the sword, there's the same power in the paintbrush. And Photoshop.
That image (which I'm still searching for in the form of a legal-fundraising T-shirt) has me dreaming of an Olympics that has athletes wearing rainbow scarves on the podium. More likely it will be the very real nightmare of the military dragging away brave individuals in the stands and the streets who are demanding justice in the face of a homophobic president and its national political policy of hate.
A taste of things to come was most recently seen when Russian artist Konstantin Altunin fled to Paris to seek asylum after his painting of Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in lingerie was seized along with three other paintings in his August show. The crime is unclear. It may be promoting homosexuality to minors. Or hooliganism, which sounds funny but landed the members of Pussy Riot with two years' hard time for performing a "punk prayer" in Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral last year after Putin was reinstated as president.
So 'performance', even if it's a sloppy dance in homemade hoods, is mightier than the sword. The heavy hand of Putin's policies may be winning the battle — Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova ended her nine-day hunger strike
last week to protest working conditions in the women's prison, to no avail, apparently — but the war for social justice is just beginning.
It's unclear whether these unlikely political terrorists (the three convicted seen here pose with their verdict) see it that way.
Taking on the U.S. President or his policies through art has none of that threat of individual freedom of expression. True, there may be a sort of White House Down going on there at the moment, in the form of a government shutdown over a glacial move toward universal health care, but you don't go to jail for performing or painting or Photoshopping your president in a political artwork.
You can march on Washington, carrying your homemade sign depicting your president's head on a Pez dispenser spouting one Lie after another, or you can even tattoo his face on the sole of your foot so you can stomp on his image with every step (below) but you can't mess with individuals. And in these parts that includes private companies, as we learned in viewing The Corporation
(written by Vancouver's own Joel Bakan, UBC law professor).
You want a taste of the kind of trouble you can bring upon yourself via the paintbrush or Photoshop or performance, take on some of those individual-companies. You might not land in the gulag but you may find yourself paying through the pocketbook in legal defence fees for violating their 'individual' rights.