Tag Archives: collage

Los Angeles Studio Visits

Some Say Ice

Dai Toyofuku, Glacier, 2012

Dai Toyofuku, Glacier, 2012

What can one artist do, in one day, to save the planet?

For Dai Toyofuku’s performance piece Glacier, which took place at the Eagle Rock Recreation Center during the height of the summer heat wave, the artist temporarily turned himself and his car into “glaciers”—structures draped with tarps that were then painted white. Over the course of the five hour performance/experiment, Toyofuku stayed inside his “human glacier,” and carefully recorded the temperatures inside the human glacier, the car glacierist, a control car and outside. At the peak of the day it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler inside the human glacier than outside, and 30 degrees cooler in the car glacier than the control car.

For five hours, Dai Toyofuku successfully contributed to the cooling of the earth. It was an absurd yet earnest act.

The absurdity was inspired by the very real claim of Nobel Prize winning physicist Stephen Chu that painting roofs white and manufacturing “cooler” colored cars could dramatically reduce global warming. Within this context, Toyofuku’s gesture becomes a way to raise awareness, make scientific theory approachable and render the specter of climate change less abstract and overwhelming.

The execution of the glaciers was quick and dirty, more a child’s sketch of a glacier (a big white triangle) than something scientifically or visually accurate. Placing these homemade glaciers in the Southern California landscape, Dai drew attention to their foreignness. Though they hold a strong role in our cultural story, glaciers remain unreal, almost mythological, to most people–especially on a hot summer day. However, we have to be able to hold multiple landscapes in our minds simultaneously, imagining the totality of our planet and the long term consequences of seemingly harmless choices, if we are going to start really digesting what climate change does and could mean.

This cognitive collapse of space and experience also happens in the Parts (un)known collage works of Sara Schnadt. She created these collages for an installation and performance work that tracked her personal travel history through found images, but now Schnadt is beginning to explore the collages as works in their own right.

One that caught my eye, and acts as a nice visual accompaniment to Dai’s performance, is a juxtaposition of a glacial landscape with what looks to be a piece of farm equipment, obscured by a tarp, sitting in a hot dry landscape.  My focus is magnetically drawn to the single tentative point of contact—the impossible space which connects hot with cold, the untouchable arctic and some obscure, unreachable past.

This flattening of the world is not a new concept, but Schnadt’s personal approach creates compelling fictive spaces from the fragments of experience.  I am a fellow nomad–someone who’s friends and family are regularly stretched over the globe and who’s working life happens in the intangible data-space between L.A. and Cameroon–so this bittersweet work hits home.

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

A particularly haunting collage in the series connects together Berlin, Inverness, Afghanistan and Jerusalem. The way the spaces transition into each other is artfully done–the experience of viewing recedes into mist just as memory allows places and experiences to blend and soften. There are very specific and painful histories lying just below the surface, but these snapshots and postcards see the world through a tourist’s idealized and apolitical lens, speaking not to specific places but to the melding of longing and familiarity that permeates the experience of ex-pats and wanderers.

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Parts (un)known, Sara Schnadt, 2012

Though with very different agendas, these two artists are addressing the ways we conceptualize and understand our relationship to the globe in its entirety. I want to be optimistic and claim that as we become more familiar with far away lands and people, we become more empathetic and have a larger sense of responsibility. But on the converse, the more information we have, the more overwhelming and hopeless things seem to feel. It is at the nexus of global responsibility, frustrated activism and instant gratification that Toyofuku’s performance makes sense.

So, just what can one person do, in one day, to have a positive impact on the planet?

Los Angeles

Are you in the loop?

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Googy (Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery), 2012. Photo by Kohl King.

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Googy (Courtesy of Charlie James Gallery), 2012. Photo by Kohl King.

I’m not usually one for superlatives, but the first incarnation of The Loop Show, which took place at the Beacon Arts Building last fall, was one of the most exciting group shows I saw in 2011. Carefully thought out, the show not only had a strong conceptual through line, but also addressed the particularities of the space—women dressed in curator China Adams’ Trash Garments guided viewers up and down the stairs; a large collage of cigarette packets by Robert Larson reflected the stained concrete of the warehouse space; an undulating installation by Anne Heironymous flowed seamlessly into the warehouse architecture —and brought together a group of artists with unique and divergent aesthetics.

Having been rejuvenated and inspired by the first installment, I was truly excited to hear that the show was being re-staged, on a smaller scale, in Chinatown. The Small Loop Show features works by a selection of the same artists, but where the last show highlighted excess and had a freewheeling sense of possibility—the art pieces seemed as if they could actively climb the walls, consume the furniture and possess the whole space—this show addresses material waste in a more personal and introspective manner.

The Small Loop Show, Installation View. Photo by Kohl King

The Small Loop Show, Installation View. Photo by Kohl King

Before visiting the show I had dinner with a friend who is a recent transplant to LA. She summarized her initial impression of Angelino art as “rigorous decorative,” and I can’t think of a better starting place to describe this show. Like last time, the pieces were carefully chosen and create a satisfying flow of material, form, texture and color, allowing the eye to easily move between pieces and make immediate visual comparisons. Though all the pieces use recycled materials (hence the loop of the title) their approaches and internal logic vary widely. From the simple gesture of William Ransom’s wooden sculptures, to Nuttaphol Ma‘s subtly politicized spool, and the large friendly creature created by Elizabeth Higgins O’Connor, the show weaves effortlessly between playful and serious, elegant and goofy.

Neither my eye, nor my mind could settle for too long on any specific piece, but this is the nature of a group show; it is not about the individual pieces, but about building a conversation and, in this case, making critical and cultural space for hand crafted, carefully conceptualized, small foot-print work. Unlike the work from the New Museum’s influential Unmonumental Show, the work does not look like piles of junk, even on first glance, and transcends its “recycled materials” premise. These are beautiful  objects that just happen to be “ sustainable.”

Stephen McCabe, Long Horn Beetle, 2012 and Soft Wing Flower Beetle, 2012. Photo by Kohl King

Stephen McCabe, Long Horn Beetle, 2012 and Soft Wing Flower Beetle, 2012. Photo by Kohl King

The Loop Show does not for a second feel like a lecture or even a call to action—unless you count joyfully pondering as an action–but it surreptitiously criticizes the art world’s excesses. Adams has been working with found materials and confronting our culture’s materialism head on for a number of years. Was it a coincidence that this show opened the same weekend as the Art Platform Los Angeles art fair? Whether purposeful or not, viewing the two events on the same day certainly created a juxtaposition between the mostly slick and commercially viable work of the fair, and the pieces in this exhibition.  It is an irony of the art world that though many artists make do with less in the way of material goods, we actively create more stuff for other people to consume and may admire artwork that adds toxins to the air and junk to the landfills. I choose my toothbrush, shampoo, milk, and t-shirts based on how and where they are made–so why not ask that my art be eco-friendly also?

The artists that are in The Loop, casually capture this contemporary trend, and knowingly suggest that, far from being a limiting responsibility, using recycled materials is a creative opportunity and a possible pathway towards rigorously decorative work that is also socially relevant.

The Small Loop Show
The Fellows of Contemporary Arts
970 North Broadway Suite 208 . Los Angeles CA 90012
29 Sep 2012 – 24 Nov 2012.
Call (213) 808 1008 to inquire for gallery hours.

Los Angeles

The Origin of the Universe

Mickalene Thomas, Origin of the Universe 2, 2012, Rhinestones, acrylic, oil, and enamel on wood panel, 60 x 48 inches, Collection of the Hudgins Family, New York, NY, Courtesy of the Artist, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects © Mickalene Thomas, Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo: Christopher Burke Studio

We are all of us self-inaccessible and can, for example, touch parts of one another in ways that we could not even dream of touching our own bodies.

–David Foster Wallace, Backbone

Currently on view at the Santa Monica Museum of Art is Mickalene Thomas’s show Origin of the Universe.  The most talked about piece, and the namesake of the show, is Thomas’s appropriation of Gustave Courbet’s LOrigin du Monde—an explicit cropped composition focused on a woman’s spread thighs and vagina. Thomas used herself as the model for the image, pushing her identity as a black gay woman up against the history of Western oil painting. I like the piece from an intellectual stand point, but found it less confrontational or personal than I expected. It was Origin 2 (shown above) that  grabbed my attention.

In a traditional self-portrait an artist is generally painting their face from a photo or a mirror. It is an image that they have seen probably everyday for their entire life. They are intimately aware of its flaws and gestures, and of the emotions hidden behind. In creating a portrait of someone else, the artist uses their own self as a reference, and the resulting painting is a result of the artist’s subjective view of the sitter, inevitably refracted through the lens of their own image and ideas of self-hood. But with a portrait aimed between the legs the rules of engagement are slightly different. Most women don’t spend much of their life looking at their own genitals. Partially this is because as a culture, we are incredibly uncomfortable with the vagina, as demonstrated by the recent ridiculousness over Senator Lisa Brown’s use of the word when discussing an abortion bill. But also, it is not that practical to investigate. We can be intimately familiar with the body of someone else in a way that we simply can’t  know ourselves, and as a gay woman I suspect that this holds particularly true for Thomas and her vagina. Whether the model for Origin 2 is Thomas’s lover (as the security guard informed me) or a friend, the case remains that she paints (and bedazzles) this woman with bold tenderness and sensual fascination, making a more personal feeling piece than the work that is explicitly a self-portrait. Maybe it is the distance from her own vulnerability or maybe it was the choice to move away from Courbet’s original composition, either way it allowed her to relax and reveal herself.

Thomas also quoted Le Sommeil, Courbet’s image of two sleeping women. In Thomas’s version, Sleep : Deux Femmes Noires, the two women unselfconsciously embrace in a forested landscape that also pays homage to Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbeanother problematic though beautiful painting, in which the woman is inexplicably naked while her male companions are fully clothed. Where in the 19th century white women were presented as submissive sensual objects and black women were simply invisible, Thomas presents a vision of two suggestively post-coital black women, celebrated and displayed but not pandering to any particular outside viewer or standards of beauty. This was the strongest piece of the show, bringing together the fractured vibrant landscapes, confident portraits and unabashed sexuality of the various other pieces. I could stand in awe of it for hours.

The show is up until August 19th, when it will move to the Brooklyn Museum.