Passing Through by Saburo Murakami (1956) /// Photo by Léopold Lambert
A few days ago, I visited the exhibition Gutai: Splendid Playground at New York Guggenheim Museum. That gave me the opportunity to get to know an artistic movement I was not familiar with beforehand. Although I was not necessarily fascinated by all the artwork presented (the two reasons being that it is somehow odd to put in an institutionalized museum a movement that was frankly against the idea of institutionalization of art, and that rather than showing the artwork itself, we would have gained from having access to the creative process itself as it is the real artistic production of Gutai), some of them compelled me for their relation of the body to the matter.
First of all, let us look at the very name of Gutai in its original Japanese writing: 具体 (as currently learning how to write in Japanese, I became obsessed with characters!) associates 具, the tool with 体, the body/substance, forming together the idea of embodiment or concrete. Let us then look to the Gutai Manifesto written by Jirō Yoshihara in 1956. In it, he explicits this relationship of their art with the matter:
Gutai Art does not alter matter. Gutai Art imparts life to matter. Gutai Art does not distort matter.
In Gutai Art, the human spirit and matter shake hands with each other while keeping their distance. Matter never compromises itself with the spirit; the spirit never dominates matter. When matter remains intact and exposes its characteristics, it starts telling a story and even cries out. To make the fullest use of matter is to make use of the spirit. By enhancing the spirit, matter is brought to the height of the spirit.
We believe that by merging human qualities and material properties, we can concretely comprehend abstract space.
Utagawa Hiroshige – Ocean off Satta (1858) (detail)
I have recently visited the exhibition Edo Pop at New York’s Japan Society and so much beauty made me feel compelled to write something about it. This exhibit gathers about fifty ukiyo-e (浮世絵) prints from the Edo era including an important amount of works by Masters Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige as well as others from 18th and 19th century. What fascinated me in them (and that will certainly not fully translate through the images here unfortunately) and made me stay several minutes in front of each of them consists mostly in the fact that each of the line traced on them seems to be absolutely necessary. What I mean by that is that there seems to be a purity of the gesture tracing the lines, a form of confidence, a breath which at the end, gives the impression that the print does not miss a line nor should necessitate an additional one. This could have something to do with the fact that, on the contrary of Western art, tracing those lines is a similar assignment than the one of calligraphy which is also part of these prints. As my readers would know, the art of tracing lines is how I usually define design as well: lines of space, lines of power, lines of flight, symbolical lines, conceiving architecture (building it is a very different story) is closer to calligraphy than what we might think.
One way to perpetuate my fascination for these ukiyo-e prints is to insist on one question that seems to have obsessed the Japanese artists of that time. How can one represents the formlessness we see in water, mud, lava, wind, rain, snow with the use of lines which intrinsically carry a circumscribing power, and therefore a tendency to form things rather than unform them. The various responses to this questions involve various processes that manage (sometimes without even the help of color) to represent formlessness through lines. The strength of their expressive representations carries the ones of the elements they represent and the fragility of humans who can, at best, compose with them (that is often the case for the boats in the waves, although they never seem to be perfectly comfortable with it!). Formlessness is feared at many level of consciousness, precisely for the reason that it cannot be circumscribed and therefore controlled and understood (for a political reading of it, see my essay Abject Matter). Humans in Edo prints are certainly not the Cartezian ones “masters and possessors of the nature”; on the contrary, they are surrounded and subjected to the power of these formless phenomena and, for the most skillful of them, they try to compose harmonious relations with them.
Photograph of the exhibition The Crystal World by Cyprien Gaillard at PS1
The Crystal World is the first-solo exhibition in New York of French artist Cyprien Gaillard. It is currently displayed at MoMA PS1 and gathers a very interesting collection of films, photographs and artifacts, all of which deserve to spend an important amount of time on. I wanted however to focus on one specific film that occupies the largest room of the exhibit. Entitled Artefacts (2011), this short movie was shot on a phone then transferred to a 35mm film. The cinematographic projector and its mythical sound, placed in the middle of the room, already participate to the composition of a landscape of artifacts both inside and outside the screen. The film itself is a document filmed in occupied Iraq on the tracks of the ancient and the new Babylon. The difference of scale between the gigantic ziggurats and the American soldiers discovering the architectural treasures of the old Babylon is striking. Iraq is somehow anthropomorphizes through its heritage and the occupation soldiers cannot help but to be humbled by its grandeur.
In Artefacts, the ancient ziggurats also dialog with the monumental symbols of Saddam Hussein’s reign. Baghdad looks like the new Babylon and again, brings a scale that is unknown to the spectator of the American militarized spectacle of rockets in the city’s night sky. Similarly C.Gaillard develops a visual correspondance between old Babylonian museum artifacts with a multitude of bulldozers and aggregated broken cars. The repetitive score reinforces the quasi-hypnotic characteristics of the film and adds an ambiguous dimension as the sound is part of the song Babylon by David Gray that U.S. soldiers were using on some Abu Ghraib prisoners as a form of torture.
The Iconoclast Museum /// Photomontage by the author
The following paper is a piece I wrote for the third issue of Studio Magazine which was dedicated to the notion of icon. In order to do so, I tried to elaborate on the article I wrote in July about the destruction of the Timbuktu mausoleums.
Iconoclasts vs. Iconodules: Understanding the Power of the Icon
by Léopold Lambert
In the beginning of July 2012 in Timbuktu, some members of the Salafist armed group Ansar Dine has destroyed several Muslim mausoleums registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This event has been covered in an over-simplistic way in the Western Media who were capitalizing on the short term emotional impact that these destructions triggered. The following text first attempts to examine the reasons behind such an emotion through the argument of the paradoxical absence of essential difference between the iconoclast and the iconodule.
extracted from The Mechanisms of Meaning by Arakawa & Madeline Gins, New York: Abbeville Press, 1971.
Today’s guest writer is Russel Hughes who recently finished his dissertation, DIY Biopolitics: The Deregulated Self at the RMIT (Melbourne) and, while waiting for its publication, gives us one of its chapter. In the latter, he introduces a philosophical interpretation of the work of artists/poets/philosophers/architects Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Russel starts his analysis from the paintings created in the 1960′s and 1970′s in order to shift later to their architectural sequels.
Arakawa and Gins’ Reversible Destiny has been the subjects of many of the articles published on the funambulist for the last two years (and there is at least one more coming up); I therefore decided to dedicate to it a category by itself so that it could be explored by anybody curious about it in an interesting way through the archives of the blog: CATEGORY ARAKAWA/GINS
DIY Biopolitics: The Deregulated Self (excerpt of the upcoming book)
by Russell Hughes
In 1961, for her first exhibition, Niki de Saint Phalle shot her paintings on which several little bags of paint were bleeding on the canvas when they were pierced by the bullet. Maybe Enki Bilal got inspired by such a performative art for his character of Opus Warhole (see previous article).
Image 01 / Ryan & Trevor Oakes
The guest writers essays series is back with, this week, Eve Bailey dedicating her text to an introduction of the work of Ryan and Trevor Oakes. Eve is a French artist living and practicing in New York. Her work investigates the body and its anatomical capacities as it engages in equilibrium with the various mechanical assemblages she creates. She is, however, equally interested in the representational techniques that can be developed in a phenomenological perception of the world. That is in this spirit that she met with the Oakes brothers for the second time in order to write this essay in which she addresses the practice of Frederick Kiesler and his obsession for the notion of endlessness.
The Groundbreaking Clarity of Ryan and Trevor Oakes
by Eve Bailey
Excerpt from Bilal, Enki. 32 Décembre. Paris: Les Humanoïdes Associés, 2002.
- And that, what is it? What are we walking on?
- Canvas. White canvas… The walls and the ceiling are covered with it
- It’s very nice
- Nike, I would like to introduce you to my friend Milorad Zivokovic
The Beast Trilogy (The Dormant Beast, December 32nd & Rendezvous in Paris), graphic novels written and drawn by Enki Bilal introduce a charismatic character in the person of Optus Warhole who claims to be the inventor of the Art Brutal. This terminology resonates with the notion of Art Brut in French (Outsider Art in English but obviously the resonance is lost here) invented by Jean Dubuffet in 1945. The three pieces presented in this trilogy by the Andy Warhol’s quasi-homonym, are indeed brutal as they celebrate the creativity of destruction. Such artistic paradox reminds us of the book On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts written by Thomas de Quincey in 1827 or more recently of the remarkable character of the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight in 2008 (see previous article).
The three pieces I was evoking above can be described as followed. The first one consists in an entire apartment covered with white canvas and in which few dozen of people dressed all in white wildly massacre each others thus providing the paint of the piece by the red of the blood spurting all around. The second one materializes in the form of a sort of acid rain cloud, drifting with the wind, and whose drops pierce any matter encountered . Eventually, the third one consists in another cloud composed by millions of red flies which dissolve the building that they originates from. The implosion of the latter is said to have provoked a brutal sound rupture, a sort of anti-vibration that absorb all sounds and creates multiple auditory injuries. ‘You are mad‘ says Nike Hatzfeld to Optus Warhole in December 32nd. ‘No, I am an artist‘ he answers.
Australian Artist Stelarc recently gave a lecture at the Architectural Association in London entitled Circulating Flesh: The Cadaver, the Comatose and the Chimera. For about an hour an half, he allows us to explore thirty years of his work entirely dedicated to the human body, its abilities, its limits and its potential voluntary transformation via technology. From his work in the 80′s in which he was hanging his body with hoists directly in his skin, to the more recent surgical operation that transplanted him a third ear on his arm, his work is as fascinating as disturbing to consider. In fact, this difficulty to approach these experiments directly applied to his body tells us much about our profound ignorance and taboo that we associated our own body with. It is also somehow shocking that we experience a stronger uneasiness when we see his work dedicated to his body transformation rather than this experiment he lead in the 90′s in which somebody was taking over his body’s behavior via a remote control sending nervous electrical signals. This latter work is indeed proposing the vision of potential terrifying futures…
Stelarc’s work is therefore as much interesting for its content than for the imaginary it opens on the way the body can be a terrain of experiments illustrating its characteristics. It thus participates to proposing a beginning of answer to the Spinozist problem (see previous article): What can a body do ?
Watch the lecture by following this link. (Thanks Frank)
Perry Hall: Tidal Empire (Coral Painting), 2011. Oil, acrylic and custom paints filmed live using a RED Epic digital cinema camera.
Carla Leitão dedicated her monthly contribution to the Huffington Post to a short conversation with American artist Perry Hall who brought to painting as well as other mediums, a whole new materialist approach that confuse mean and content in a fascinating expression of paint for its physical property and behavior. By doing so, he makes visible the invisible forces that animate the physical world and the cosmos in a literal application of Paul Klee’s definition of art. Perry and I are in contact to perhaps do something on this blog soon and this interview is a perfect mean to enter his work before this happens.
I copy here the article for the blog’s archive but it can (and probably should as it also includes a digital gallery of Perry Hall’s work) be read on the Huffington Post’s website itself.
Perry Hall: Sonified, Synesthesia and Livepaintings
By Carla Leitão
Contemporary discourse in architecture and design reflects upon the increasing ability to engage the lively part of matter and train this sensibility as not only a broader search for tools as much as an agenda of exploration — that expands realms of thought on the concepts of information exchange, nature and construction, environment and interaction or collaboration. My own interest in it has been temporarily focused on the flickering merging of the concepts of matter and media through the lens of seeing information as currency in the natural world.
Seher Shah Object Relic
This week’s guest writer is Alexis Bhagat., co-author with Lize Mogel of An Atlas of Radical Cartography (Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press) whose upcoming Spanish publisher is nobody else than our friends of dpr-barcelona. Alexis’ essay is written in the form of questions to the artist Seher Shah who already kindly agreed to write her responses in another guest writer essay that should be released soon.
In the following text, through the second question addressed to Seher, What does it mean to draw like an architect when architects no longer draw? Alexis explores the recent history of a shift of paradigm in the architectural practice, and more generally in the various forms of signifier and symbols. He indeed describes the evolution from the systems of representations that used to use the material mark of a tool (pen, pencil, ink etc.) on a piece of paper and the birth of a new system of representation, whether what is represented involves architecture, cartography, or simply literature, that digitized (and therefore complexified the intermediary translation between the intent and the output) this process. In an interesting move, Alexis explored the history of the company Autodesk which developed the software that allowed such a paradigm to shift in the realms of architecture. As he suggest the presence of a new paradigm is problematic as the movement that embraces it forgets to question it at the same time, resulting in a lack of criticality that can be lethal to a discipline if it lasts.
This paradigm problematic is indeed relevant to Seher Shah’s work as it interrogates and reinterpret paradigms as much in its form than in its contents. We look forward to her responses which probably won’t constitute real answers, but rather means to go further in this exploration.
Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra
In their Treatise on Nomadology, Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari introduce their concept of Holey Space (see previous article) by the following injunction:
Metallurgical India. Transpierce the mountains instead of scaling them, excavate the land instead of striating it, bore holes in space instead of keeping it smooth, turn the earth into Swiss cheese.
Deleuze Gilles & Guattari Felix, Treatise of Nomadology – The War Machine in A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
This evocation of India comes directly from an excerpt of French historian Élie Faure‘s Medieval Art History which dedicates a chapter to seven civilizations (India, China, Japan, Tropics, Byzantine, Islam and Christianity) during Middle Age. The excerpt that Deleuze and Guattari are referring to is therefore extracted from the first chapter about India in which Élie Faure describe splendidly the birth of Indian caves carved within the granite:
King Kong meets the Gem of Egypt / Partially Buried Wood Shed. Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves
In the chapter Threshole of the great book Formless: A User’s Guide, (Zone Books, 1997) Yve-Alain Bois addresses more specifically architecture to illustrates this concept created by Georges Bataille. I hope to make a review of the whole book sometimes soon, but for now I would like to focus on Robert Smithson‘s work which, along with Gordon Matta Clark’s share the focus of this chapter. Yve-Alain Bois introduces Smithson as somebody who is interested in strategies of entropization of architecture on the contrary of the latter’s pretention:
“The ideal is architecture, or sculpture, immobilizing harmony, guaranteeing the duration of motifs whose essence is the annulations of time.”
Thus the dream of architecture, among other things, is to escape entropy. This dream may be illusory on its face; but this is something that must be demonstrated nonetheless – which is to say that one must “exit the domain of the project by means of a project.” (P187)
This project that exit the domain of the project, Robert Smithson will first attempt to achieve it in 1970 with a project entitled Island of the Dismantled Building that was going to build and dramatize a ruin/island in Vancouver Bay. In the end, this project never occurred (because of local associations) but few months later, he will re-iterate such attempt with his Partially Buried Wood Shed on Kent State University campus, associating his fascination for formlessness and entropic architecture. Indeed, a year earlier, he created one of his most famous work Asphalt Rundown which dramatized the slow drip of hot asphalt on an earthly slopped. This artificial geological interaction is fascinating for a lot of reasons. The slow movement of this black matter winning over the earth is not without making us think of an anti-matter that would absorb whatever interacts with it, the asphalt drip characterizes quite convincingly a materialization of formlessness, one can also think of this fluid mass that will eventually dries-up and somehow strangle the earth below it etc.
Strangle Poise Lamp from the Red Goods collection by James Chambers (2010)
After a month of absence on the Funambulist, the guest writers series is coming back with its 18th opus written today by Esther Sze-wing Cheung, principal of ESC Design and currently working with the Reversible Destiny Foundation (Arakawa/Gins). Her essay, entitled Twin (Technology / Art Induced) Architectural Daydreams is a mind peregrination triggered by two pieces of art she recently encountered. While the Strangle Poise Lamp (by James Chambers) questions in her, the potential contractual masochism that industrial design and architecture could develop with the human body, the Object Breast Cancer (by caraballo-farman) pushes her to investigate the symbolic dimension of architecture as a conscious or unconscious memory once physically experienced by the body.
This essay is thus a small ode to the process of creation that chronologically alternates a brief understanding of reality with what Esther calls here a daydream which eventually leads us to the production of artifacts, subtle chemistry of the reality’s objectiveness and 0ur imaginary’s subjectiveness.
Twin (Technology / Art Induced) Architectural Daydream
by Esther Cheung
My friends of Socks-Studio recently posted a very interesting pseudo-documentary created by Dutch artist Floris Kaayk. This film (see below) about a fictitious disease that can be imagined in a near future in which the transplantation of metallic prosthetic to the human body will be developed and banalized. F.Kaayk thus describes a form of mutation of the organism that would start to grow metal as part of the body. This parasitic new anatomy would then invade little by little the organic tissues of the body while keeping the vital organs operative. The ambiguity of feeling experienced while watching his film is interesting: both fascinating and repulsing at the same time. The cinematographic mean of pseudo-documentary (see previous article) seems to be perfectly appropriate here, as it uses familiar means of information in order to challenge our imagination to accept it as real.
In 2008, the Japanese artist collective Chim Pom managed to invade some specific landmarks of Tokyo, like Shibuya or the Parliament building, with a swarm of wild crows ingeniously driven by a taxidermic bird and a megaphone using crows’ screams. This project is appealing (see the video below) for the introduction of wildness in our tamed domestic environment. In order to do so, they used animals that we are used to see around but that never really reach to carry this strange anxiety that this scene provides. I thus interpret this operation as a manifesto for strangeness as a political weapon, the one that makes a well known environment slightly different from normally and this way, triggers the awareness and imagination.
After writing an article about Björk, the transition is easy in order to speak about the her husband, Matthew Barney‘s work, and more specifically the short-film he released in 2004 under the name Hoist for the collection Destricted.
This idea to write about Hoist came for the reading of a similar article written by Todd Satter on his very interesting Any Space Whatever. Although my own (short) post will not reach the intellectual level reached by T. Satter, I felt that it was important that I wrote about this 12 min film which manages to bring the sexual relationship between human and technology to a new level. This new level is purely visual here and does not reach the power of Crash by James Graham Ballard -about which, I was incidentally writing yesterday- yet its literalness succeeds to increase our imaginaries.
Hoist shows a man hoisted under a deforestation caterpillar truck, itself suspended in the void. This man is methodically ejaculating against the rotating axis of the truck in such way that this operation appears as being part of the machinist process itself.
I am not really interested here, to dissect M.Barney’s own constructive interpretation involving the fact that his character seems to be related to the forest that the truck has been built to destroyed, or any other obscure narrative that would leads us into the usual “what he is trying to say” etc. On the contrary, I am much more eager to insist on the pure literalness of those images that mix a pure mechanic process with an organic one. The Deleuzian concept of the body as a desiring machine here seems so obvious and so literal that we might want to be cautious with it. In fact, the production of desire here does not appear to be its own end but rather a mean registered within the global function of the machine. The machine itself should barely be differentiated from the body who complete it and is somehow prisoner of it. Nevertheless the poetic aspect of those two entities hybridizing themselves together (it goes to the point that the body’s skin color is very similar as the bulldozer) manages to maintain the literalness of the film when symbolism is screaming to exist.
Watch the movie after the break
Theo Jansen and his beautiful Standbeests are having an exhibition in the Oita Art Museum (Japan) with Earthscape. Entitled in a very Miyazakian way, The Beach Animal that Eats Wind seems to translate very poetically T.Jansen’s narrative in which the ingenious assemblages he builds-up acquire the status of living beings once achieved.
picture: The Shower by Kerry Skarbakka
Gravity is never more perceptible than when an object falls and when this object is a human body, the visual expressiveness of the scene becomes even more dramatic. Photographs of the body falling probably all owes a lot to the one composed by Yves Klein jumping in the void of a Parisian street in 1960. Since then other photographers worked on this subject, more or less voluntarily as we will see.
The photographs of Kerry Skarbakka are very expressive in this matter. Although his body is always suspended, he indeed succeeds to translate the weight of the body in his literal meaning: the degree of attraction of the body towards the earth. The viewer can inexorably imagine the moment that comes next, the collision of the earth and the body, climax of the violence of gravity.
Denis Darzacq is observing a similar method but, for better of worse, tend to express a feeling of slow motion that add to the aesthetics of the image but reduce this very interesting attraction which subject the body. In D.Darzacq’s photographs, bodies seems to be suspended in the void for ever as if the notion of weight was not effective anymore.
Eventually, one last photographer, Richard Drew, somehow involuntarily revolutionized this photographic subject as he managed to photograph one of the most traumatic scenes from the September 11st 2001′s attack against the New York World Trade Center, a man who chose the void over the flames and fell for long seconds along the very linear facade of the towers. This photograph tackles a lot of problems in the definition of art and its limits; nevertheless, it expresses the subjectivization of the body to gravity like no other work and provoke an intense emotion to the viewer who cannot not identify to this body and associate to it the context in which it has been photographed.
Sept 15th Add-on: The Huffington Post just released an article about a beautiful video filming base jumpers…it seemed appropriate to add it here.
Read the first sequel to this chapter published on September 26th 2011.
Read the second sequel to this chapter published on December 6th 2011
Read the third sequel to this chapter published on January 3rd 2012
All the concerned photographs are to be seen after the break:
…withdrawn at the author’s request (December 22nd 2011)