Vignettes

Sebastião Salgado. Tolbachik Volcanoe. In the background, the huge base of Kamen Volcano. Kamchatka, Russia. 2006.

Sebastião Salgado. Tolbachik Volcanoe. In the background, the huge base of Kamen Volcano. Kamchatka, Russia. 2006.

When I first saw this I was immediately drawn to it. It presents two pictures in one. A collage made in camera and with one exposure. The top picture is a majestic mountain surrounded by clouds and the bottom is mountain seen from further away. The picture seems to show the detail and long shot of the same mountain, in the same shot at the same time like a cubist painting.

Similar to the shan shui Chinese painting, this image is divided by clouds. Although this kind of painting might seem like a depiction of reality, its real intention is not to show what they are painting as is, but as it feels.

I went out looking for images that had divisions such as windows, mirrors, prints, and paintings that depicted more than their subject. These divisions acted as vignettes and montaged new meaning to the image. More than reflections, shadows, inside or outside, each of these images create an intricate language.

John Singer Sargent. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. Paris. 1882.

John Singer Sargent. The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit. Paris. 1882.

This is a family portrait, but what does it mean to paint sisters in such an odd way? The spaces generated by geometric shapes and shadows place the different characters in this picture in multiple states of mind. While the little girl in front receives a very soft light, the girl in the red dress, who is physically right behind her, has a stronger light darkening half of her face. Then the girls in the back are behind a wall, which casts a shadow over them. This means that while the youngest is brighter, the older ones become progressively darker, until the older one is not only the darkest but is also facing away. If this were a photograph, the intention behind this particular light decision would be attributed to the location. Even though I am not entirely convinced by that, it is true that when it is a painting, this intention is underlined. Is the author saying something about aging? Are these girls falling from enlightenment as they get older?

Jan van Eyck. Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. France. 1435.

Jan van Eyck. Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. France. 1435.

This is a 26 in × 24 in oil painting. In it we see the commissioner of the painting, chancellor Nicholas Rolin, and the virgin with baby Jesus. Even though this is a rather small painting, Van Eyck decided to add as much detail possible not only to the chamber but also to the landscape and buildings outside of it. What does it mean to add a rich environment to this equation in a picture style that is so clearly iconographic and in which every detail so obviously has a meaning? At first, I thought about the outside world in the background being indifferent about the highness of chancellor Rolin and this magnificent apparition in front of him. But then it was brought o my attention that it could be an indication to a religious man’s ascetic life, highlighting his abnegation of the enticing exterior world and emphasizing his religious fortitude.

Henry Peach Robinson, Sleep, 1867.

Henry Peach Robinson, Sleep, 1867.

This photograph would not be the same without the window. In the foreground we see two girls sleeping in a theatrical position, in the back, the sea. The intricate pose and the flowers rising from her head makes me think this window is not showing the exterior, but rather, the interior of what this girls are dreaming. I know this interpretation might be a modern one that the author could not forsee with his lack of familiarity with the thought bubble, but I like to think of the relationship of these two parts of the image not only as a comic vignette, but much more as the montage of the two image together in a movie, in the way which Lev Kuleshov added A+B to gain an entirely new meaning, C.

Robert Frank. Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey.1955.

Robert Frank. Parade, Hoboken, New Jersey.1955.

More than inside and outside, the division in this image is mainly generated by tonality: a white and a black part. The white part is the conjunction of a windowshade and an American flag and it is obscuring the figures peeking out the windows. The anonymity of the characters creates a gloomy presence that charges this image with mystery. I am left with the title and the word “parade”, i keep thinking about what it means that during a parade the American flag is making people unidentifiable, as if it was depicting these two people not as individuals but as part of something greater than themselves.

Luigi Ghirri. Ile Rousse, 1976.

Luigi Ghirri. Ile Rousse, 1976.

At first glance this picture seems like a diptych. Two images, maybe even of the same space a while later. The spotting on the divider line is the first hint: uplon closer inspection, webecome fully aware of the texture and notice it is actually a wooden stick with beautiful shadows on it. This realization suddenly grounds this image and makes you think of the particular moment when it was taken and how it was done. This picture is not about depth but about the collapsing of a 3D space into 2D space. To create this, the placement of the camera is not the only consideration; other technical parameters like a high f-stop were also necessary. I think about time, about 1976 and how familiar we are with the photographic image by then so that this effect could even cross a photographer’s mind.

Zoe Strauss. Mummer Toasting from RV. Philadelphia, PA. 2008.

Zoe Strauss. Mummer Toasting from RV. Philadelphia, PA. 2008.

This is a single shot that feels like a paper collage. While the man toasts with us, we are trying to understand how this intricate image is working. Much like Ghirri, Strauss is creating an image in which this window is not showing us the inside or the outside, but instead creating a physical place that exists only for this particular photograph. What does the juxtaposition of three smiling children in the Grand Canyon with a middle-aged man drinking in an urban environment mean? I wonder again about 2008, about photography being inserted on everyday objects like this RV, about our familiarity with collage and comic strips. I wonder about when was the most recent moment in time that could have allowed this complex building of an image.

Erb Bunnag. Princess Dara Rasami. Thailand. Circa 1900.

Erb Bunnag. Princess Dara Rasami. Thailand. Circa 1900.

Mirrors help us see different angles of the same body simultaneously. Although using mirrors this way is not something new, what is interesting in Bunnan’s composition is how the girl seems to be situated in a very studio like environment, but the mirrors reveal an outdoor scene, implying that Princes Dara Rasami is in two places at once. I can’t help but to compare this to René Magritte and Pablo Picasso’s approach to the mirror, even though this image was created before them. Even though I love the surprise, I keep thinking about the real intention behind Bunnang and how it feels so much more naïve and unaware.

Helmut Newton. Self-portrait with wife and model. 1981.

Helmut Newton. Self-portrait with wife and model. 1981.

This mirror is not only helping us to see various angles of the same body. Instead it is juxtaposing two ideas: the world of Helmut Newton and that of Alice Springs, his wife. While he is preoccupied by a beautiful and perfect woman, Alice is left at the edge of the frame, trapped in a little space and looking back at him, bored, maybe annoyed. Coming out of her head, the outside world and the word “exit”.

Jan Vermeer. The Love Letter. 1666.

Jan Vermeer. The Love Letter. 1666.

Vermeer decides to give us the point of view of an spy intruding on a very personal moment. When a character is being depicted at her own place every detail that is part of it helps us to get to know him, or in this case, her. Why is it important that she was in the middle of playing a mandolin and that right in front of us there are music sheets? This letter is interupting daily life. The maid has put her housework aside and the woman is still holding her instrument. Her expression and how she is holding the letter creates an expectation for its contents. In the same way that Alice Springs’s desires where expressed by the window, our imagination about what the letter contains is fuled by the paintings of the boat and of the trees, similar in their presence of turbulent wind.

Sarah Pickering. Semi-Detached. 2004.

Sarah Pickering. Semi-Detached. 2004.

Before knowing the subject of this photograph, the picture is already giving important hints to its contents. The symmetry in this house generates an expectation and then a surprise when it is not fulfilled. Not only does the right side lack a door, but what we find behind it makes us question the whole inegrity and purpose of the building itself. It is in fact a picture of a town built for the sole purpose of military practice. With this image Pickering is pointing at the simulacra, at the reenactment, and at the constructing of things for a purpose other than what they were designed for. She insinuates all that just by photographing grass where a house interior should be.

Martha Naranjo Sandoval. Alone in Aline’s. 2014.

Martha Naranjo Sandoval. Alone in Aline’s. 2014.

Life and its natural flow

Sebastião Salgado

Sebastião Salgado (Brazilian, b. 1944)

Zo’e Group, State of Para, Brazil [Zo’e Women], 2009

The gallery below is chosen after this photograph of the Zoe women in the Brazilian Amazon taken by Sebastião Salgado on his Genesis exhibition at ICP. The photo shows a group of women touching and painting themselves in a very natural way. They are wearing white flowers head ornaments and are all either sitting on the floor or in the hammocks. All of them are very comfortable with the place and presence of one another. Every figure seems to play an important role not only for the composition of the photograph, but among their social group.

Torii Kiyomitsu

Sento bathing scene. Japanese woman bathing in a wooden tub (woodcut by Torii Kiyomitsu, late 18th century)

This image shows the moments of the day that we spend doing something without realizing the action itself, it just flows naturally. We inherit cultural behaviors that come from ancestors and relatives and they just become part of us. The act of cleaning ourselves is one of those things.

Frances Benjamin

Modern Dance Group of Young Women Performing Outdoors, 1900,

Frances Benjamin

As seen in the Salgado’s photograph, these women are doing something as a group without any commitment to it. They just seem to be distracting themselves, dancing bare feet in the woods with no expectation or anxiety of being judged. Both Frances Benjamin and Sebastião Salgado leave us with an image in which the photographer seems invisible by its subject – what makes the image stronger. The spontaneity of doing something just for the sake of entertainment and no expectation for outcomes is beautifully translated in this photo.

Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix

Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix

The Women of Algiers (study). 1832, 10×13cm, Louvre

These two women sitting on the floor in a very intimate relation to the space and the object in the center of the photograph relates directly to the Salgado’s photograph when talking about belonging to the space/ setting. The relationship between subject and its surrounding is portrayed in a very homogenous way as if the girls are blending to the background and floor.

Philip Baldaeus

“Einwohner in Ceylon (People of Ceylon)” by Philip Baldaeus, from ‘Nauwkeurige beschrijving Malabar en Choromandel, derz. aangrenzend rijken, en het machtige eiland Ceylon’, Amsterdam, 1672

19.5 x 29.5 cm

This photograph makes me think of work versus survival. Are these women working because they enjoy working or is it a matter of surviving the rules of colonizers? Also, because countries like Ceylon were colonized and black people were forced to work then I think of them as individuals who did not even have the choice of decision making about where, how and what to do within a group. The level of acceptance is pretty much denied and not questioned among them, but the idea of survival.

Jose Medeiros

Ritual de iniciação das filhas-de-santo. Bahia, Brazil, 1951.

Photo: José Medeiros/Acervo IMS.

This photograph is the opposite from what I have chosen so far. José Medeiros composed this image of a girl looking very much to her inside with a posed action rather than experience the spontaneity of movements and feelings from the other photos. I think she is very much aware of where she is and what she is doing. I like to call this a more “controlled” situation in comparison to the others. Looking at this image among the others raises the question of the difference between the staged and spontaneous moment of photography.

Claudine Doury

Claudine Doury – photo: Sasha 2005

I really enjoy this photo of these two teenagers covered in mud walking in the woods.They do not seem to care about the photographer and are just playing around as they do daily. That is what girls do – they have fun with foolish things. Claudine Doury has photographed her daughter Sasha in her teenager years in familiar places, but even being so intimate to her subject matter this is one of the few photographs that I find the spontaneity of the moment more powerful.

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse

music 1910

260 x 389 cm

And as seen on the Salgado’s photograph, the subject is shown throughout the entire image frame, which creates a need to move our eyes around the image looking for the connections between the elements, instead of having just one main “object”. It is a group of people and each one seems very comfortable with their own roles among themselves. Some men play the music while the other just enjoy it, regardless of who does what they are just there enjoying it.

Tacita Dean

Tacita dean

Urdolmen II, 2009

Like the women in the Salgado’s photo, these rocks are just sitting there not fighting against the other. They are doing what they are supposed to do within this specific space. They touch each other in a pleasant way. They all have different bodies sizes, characteristics and still work perfectly together. As if one need the other for the whole group to work and flow.

Hector Carybe

Hector Caribé

Mulheres, 1992 – silk screen printing

50 x 70cm

This image is about these women and how they play around with themselves. They are standing or sitting down in this beach and interacting with one another. They are all naked and the body movements look so spontaneous that the naked body does not become an issue of interpretation. They could be dressed up and the image will have the same effect. The group interaction becomes the powerful structure on the scene and how comfortable they look with the presence of the others.

paraty

Bia Monteiro

Paraty – 2014

This is a photograph I took of a group of people in a little bar in the country side of Rio de Janeiro. The encounter of different people in a common space is a nice experience of seeing, feeling and respecting one another. To see how people behave and occupy a space in relation to the space itself and with others is something that interests me a lot. I look at it  as a microcosmo of our planet.

Unframed

Sebastiao Salgado (Brazil, 1944). At times, only the tails of the southern right whales (Eubalena Australis) are visible. Valdés Peninsula. Argentina, 2004.  Photograph, Black and white print

Sebastiao Salgado (Brazil, 1944). At times, only the tails of the southern right whales (Eubalena Australis) are visible. Valdés Peninsula. Argentina, 2004. Photograph, Black and white print.

This art exhibition is composed of 12 works. It begins with the photograph of Sebastiao Salgado, ‘At times, only the tails of the southern whales are visible’ (Valdés Peninsula, 2014), and considers the dialogue between what is seen and what is not.

Francis Blake (United States, 1850-1913). Pigeons on flight, 1889. Plate negative 6x8”. Credit Line: Current Owner: Massachusetts Historical Society. Object number: #57.1424-1437#6.3.401S-406S.

Francis Blake (United States, 1850-1913). Pigeons on flight, 1889. Plate negative 6×8”.
Credit Line: Current Owner: Massachusetts Historical Society.

The stillness that surrounds the whale, represents the desire of stop motion that is so clearly depicted at Francis Bacon’s ‘Pigeons of flight’ (1889-1890). The fluttering of the birds wings is revealed by the mingling of their feathers. The whiteness of the leader pigeon is beautifully broken by the dark spots on the other pigeons’ bodies. They are flying freely and being very aware of their position in the group; they are drawing a ‘V’ shape in the air, just as the whale does. The way that the two of them look at/interact with the photographer humanizes them; and their shape leads me to think about a group of native Americans donning almost ceremonial headdresses in the city, enjoying the afternoon as the sidewalk is for them.

Herbert List (Germany, 1903-1975). Rescue the flag. Rome, 1961. Gelatin silver print Courtesy of Magnum Photos: www.magnumphotos.com

Herbert List (Germany, 1903-1975). Rescue the flag. Rome, 1961. Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of Magnum Photos

There is a moment of freedom created by the movement of our gaze following the little boy in ’Rescue the flag’ (1961) by Herbert List. Fast and light as if nobody could catch him, his left foot suspended in the air… His other foot is nowhere to be seen and we get the impression that he is flying. This desire for freedom is also provocatively framed by a the anxious feeling created by the two wheels and the strength of the lines created by the stones on the pavement. I can’t see what’s going on behind him, so a number of scenarios run through my imagination and I feel his body trembling with excitement.

Ben Berlow. Untitled, 2013. Casein, gesso on paper. 33 x 25 1/4 inches. Courtesy the artist and Rawson Projects, New York

Ben Berlow. Untitled, 2013. Casein, gesso on paper. 33 x 25 1/4 inches. Courtesy the artist and Rawson Projects, New York

In ‘Untitled’ (2013), Ben Berlow combines the lines and curves of distinct blue and pink paper to create separated and contained fields. There is an exquisite curve on the brown craft paper which references something imagined. It becomes a riddle, and it is up to us to figure it out.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (Spain, 1746 – 1828). ‘Perro semihundido’ (Half-submerged Dog). 1819-1923. Oil mural plaster transferred to canvas. 131.5 cm × 79.3 cm (51 3⁄4 in × 31 1⁄4 in) Credit Line: Current Owner: @Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The gaze of Goya’s ‘Dog’ (1819-23), looking candidly out of the frame, conveys defenselessness and mystery. The total absence of context in this scenario without perspective, creates an enigmatic atmosphere. An aged background of intense gold appears to be a sand storm, as if a giant monster were hidden behind the sand and the dog expected him to approach. Maybe ready for death, maybe ready to follow the monster, the master…

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (México, 1902-2002). La Hija de los danzantes (The daughter of the dancers), 1933. Gelatin silver print,  9-5/16 x 6-1/2 in. (23.7 x 16.5 cm) Courtesy Asociación Manuel Alvarez Bravo, A.C. www.manuelalvarezbravo.org

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (México, 1902-2002). La Hija de los danzantes (The daughter of the dancers), 1933. Gelatin silver print, 9-5/16 x 6-1/2 in. (23.7 x 16.5 cm)
Courtesy Asociación Manuel Alvarez Bravo, A.C.

The paint scratches on the walls of ‘La Hija de los danzantes’ (The Daughter of the Dancers) (1933) by Manuel Alvarez Bravo, draws tears in this intriguing scene starred by the languor of this young girl. Her white dress as a symbol of purity, her naked feet, and the subtle position of her tiptoes, adds more intensity and mystery to the enigma of what is happening on the other side of the window. I wonder why she is relaxed and unaware. Surrounded by the labyrinthian lines and shapes of the wall, her hat and arm makes me think of a Mexican version of Alice in Wonderland and she is about to fall down the rabbit’s hole.

John G. Bullock (United States, 1854-1939). Study of a Birch Tree, 1895 -1900. Platinum print. 7 7/8 x 5 7/8” Credit Line: Current Owner: College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (UM-Dearborn) Object number: ARTH 368

John G. Bullock (United States, 1854-1939). Study of a Birch Tree, 1895 -1900. Platinum print. 7 7/8 x 5 7/8”.Credit Line: Current Owner: College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (UM-Dearborn)

You also sense fragility about to break at ‘Study of Birch Tree’ (1895) of John Bullock. The stripes of the trunk bend down in the opposite direction that the wind is blows the ferns, and creates a suspense intensified by the darkness on the ground. There is contradiction in the strength of the ‘birch tree’ that looks vulnerable, and the flimsy ferns that look powerful, acting as a shield to protect it. The forested background envelops the entire moment and evokes a dreamy and mysterious scene.

Wolfgang Tillmans (Germany 1968). chaos cup, 1997. Courtesy of the artist

Wolfgang Tillmans (Germany 1968). chaos cup, 1997. Courtesy of the artist

IIn ‘chaos cup’ (1997) by Wolfgang Tillmans, at first glance the reflection of this big tree without leaves has crystallized on the surface of the tea. The liquid becomes part of the reflection and vice versa. The materiality becomes melted, like Dali watches. The handle of the cup becomes the tree trunk, the smallest is the biggest and the strongest the weakest. The darkness on the trunk mixes with a mysterious shadow around the tree empty branches. This tonal game follows a line out of the cup where is a tea bag, a little element able to create this dense and intense atmosphere.

This is an underlying theme in most of the pieces we have been looking at. This unpredictable and quiet suspenseful world takes me back to Salgado’s whale. It belongs to this unknown world that remains unexplained. The elements in the composition and the gestures of nature that surround, it makes us understand a moment that is happening far away but feels so close.

Juan Manuel Castro Prieto (Spain, 1959). Equilibrio Inestable (Unstable Equilibrium serie). Tarragona, 2010. Large Format photograph.

Juan Manuel Castro Prieto (Spain, 1958). Equilibrio Inestable (Unstable Equilibrium serie). Tarragona, 2010. 8×10″ Large Format photography. Courtesy of artist

This is a feeling I had when I first saw the photograph of ‘Equilibrio Inestable’ (Unstable Equilibrium) (Tarragona, 2010), by Juan Manuel Castro Prieto. It was around Christmas, time, and my Dad was at the end of a long illness. Castro Prieto sent me this photograph by email as a Christmas card. It came as a relief to be immersed in this tiny and content Victorian universe, so far away from mine. The weirdness of the naked doll with white socks and painted black shoes and the light around her, draw me close to this special being that brought me a sliver of light as an omen. One week later my Dad passed away in such a peaceful way. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I had ever had. Keeping this photograph in my cell phone is like having my dad’s guardian angel always with me.

Amy Friend (Canada). Are We Stardust, 2014. Photograph.  Courtesy of artist.

Amy Friend (Canada). Are We Stardust, 2014. Photography.
Courtesy of artist

We encounter the same play with light in ‘Are We Stardust’ (2014) created by Amy Friend. It works by narrowing the distance between the fragile quality of the vintage photograph itself and the fragility of our lives. The pose and the relaxed open arms of the little girl sitting on the bench, her hands suspended tenderly over her lap, the bench in darkness, create this wide, empty, and suggestive space. It starts an imaginary long wave in the air that is filled up with the light from the stardust as the group of fireflies that surrounds her take us to a fairy tale state of mind.

Henry Fitz Jr., (United States, 1801 – 1863). Self-Portrait, 1839. Daguerreotype Credit Line: Current Owner: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (NMAH) www.si.edu Object number: 109990/4114A

Henry Fitz Jr., (United States, 1801 – 1863). Self-Portrait, 1839. Daguerreotype
Credit Line: Current Owner: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution (NMAH). Object number: 109990/4114A

The most beautiful part of the daguerreotype that Henry Fitz made in 1839 is the corrosion. It is probably one of the first portraits with eyes closed because of the need for longer exposure time. But is in those beautiful signs of time on the image that I find enchantment, Henry seems to close his eyes in order to be sprayed by light and time in an antique barbershop.

Ivana Larrosa (Spain, 1975), Hair 1992 (2014). Scan 7×5″

I am going to end this exploration with my piece “Hair 1992″ (2014). I have kept my braid since I chopped off my locks at 16 years old; it looks like the whale in Salgado’s photograph. This walk along time has brought me to live intensely with her (my inanimate braid). I have photographed her at the studio, I have drawn her, I have played with it …until  I realized that I had to reconnected with what it was that I was letting go of back then. The freeing ritualistic enactment of cutting my hair and shaving my head was something liberating when I was 16 years old. And re connecting with that symbolic ritual while scanning the hair of that old braid now in New York has made that happened again, sparks included.

The experience of these images allowed me to discover a world of guessing beyond what the eyes can see. A world that reveals itself between two winks of an eye or perhaps deep inside a braid.

Hidden In Plain Sight

I was drawn to Sebastãio Salgado’s image by the hundreds of star-like dots. I wasn’t able to distinguish what I was seeing, only that it was obviously about an environment “untouched” by modern society. As I approached, I noticed a crocodile in the bottom of the frame and I realized that what I was confusing for lights were the eyes of crocodiles and their reflections in the water. What is illuminating the crocodiles’ eyes? Would this image exist without Salgado’s intervention? These are logical questions, but beauty of the print, the formal qualities in this image, and the initial shock have me reeling too much to want to answer them. I am excited by works of art that shatter my expectations.

Sebastião Salgado, The Pantanal, Mato Grosso, Brazil. 2011

I first came across Toyin Odutola’s work on my tumblr dashboard. Similar to Salgado’s piece, I was drawn to Odutola’s work by its dark tones and by my inability to immediately decipher what I was seeing. Her drawings reminded me of my sad attempt at drawing a life-size muscular, figure and the sketches in my “Anatomy for the Artist” book. Unlike these, Odutola’s muscles were lush, fleshy, and black. As I learned more about her work, I was blown away by her process and her use of ballpoint pen to make drawings dense with ink. How many marks did it take to fill her 12” x 19” drawing of Mabel?

With her more recent work, such as LTS III, 2014, she further plays with abstraction by using every inch of her frame. At first I thought I was looking at an abstract drawing of patterns, then, as I looked closer, I followed a diagonal form across the frame and was able to make out the silhouette of a figure, the distinction of his shoulder blade and his arm, the curve of his lips and the distinction of his eyebrows, then lastly his eyes.

Charcoal, pastel, and marker on board, 32 x 40 inches. 37 1/2 x 45 3/8 x 1 1/2 inches framed. ©Toyin Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Charcoal, pastel, and marker on board, 32 x 40 inches. 37 1/2 x 45 3/8 x 1 1/2 inches framed. ©Toyin Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s piece titled Voice Array is an installation piece of an audio waveform created with light. I was drawn to it by the beauty of the dark room and flickering lights (I am a sucker for mood lighting). I kept a safe space from the piece, but as I stood there I started hearing faint voices. I realized the piece was a visual translation of the human voice, and not just any human voice, but of hundreds of participants. As I read the piece from left to right, I noticed an intercom at the far left inviting me to speak. Just as Salgado’s piece evokes a sense of community, Lozano Hemmer’s piece is a communal work only made possibly by contribution.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Voice Array, 2011. Fletcher Gallery, London, United Kingdom, 2014. Photo by: Grace Storey, Carroll/Fletcher Gallery.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Voice Array, 2011. Fletcher Gallery, London, United Kingdom, 2014.
Photo by: Grace Storey, Carroll/Fletcher Gallery.

Similar to the golden ratio in art and its direct relationship to nature, Stefanus Rademeyer translates math into the visual. Point Line Field, 2010 is a mesmerizing drawing of what looks like millions of birds in flight coming together, or ants closing in on a cloud of sugar. Upon closer inspection though, I was able to make out thin hair-lines spreading out from various starting points. It became a complicated connect-the-dots game. Now my eyes move frantically from point to point, trying to follow each line to figure out the logic behind the design. Looking at this piece never gets old.

Stefanus Rademeyer. Point Line Field, 2010. Pigment ink on archival cotton paper, 610 x 610 mm Edition of 3. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery.

Stefanus Rademeyer. Point Line Field, 2010. Pigment ink on archival cotton paper, 610 x 610 mm
Edition of 3. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery.

As a high school student my definition of art was very limited. Gustav Klimt’s paintings seemed like child’s drawings. My best friend and I rushed around a show of his work in Ottawa in disdain. How could this be art?!?! I spent my next five years in blissful avoidance of him, even though Klimt’s posters overran every college bookstore. Slowly, and thankfully I started understanding the beauty of his work.

Klimt’s play between shape and form brings mosaic techniques into painting. In his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Adele is a three dimensional form, spurting out of a two dimensional space. Klimt uses paint and gold leaves to create intricate designs on every inch of his canvas. Adele is dressed in a gold dress with patterned tiles that merge with the gold background. Just as my surprise with Sebastião Salgado’s image, I realized the tiles are eyes.

Gustav Klimt. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil on canvas. 4’6” x 4’6” in. Neue Galerie, New York.

Gustav Klimt. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil on canvas. 4’6” x 4’6” in. Neue Galerie, New York.

Just as I was drawn into Salgado’s image by it’s dark tone, I am similarly drawn in by Albrecht Düer’s engraving Knight, Death, and the Devil. What keeps me looking in this piece is Düer’s marks on copper. The harsh and jagged lines in the background echo the morbid theme of the image. At the same time the lines that define the horse’s neck and thigh muscles are delicate and soft. When I look at the horse’s thigh I imagine myself creating the same lines and how delicate I’d have to be with my mark. The lines carved in this engraving are echoed in Rademeyer’s drawing. Everytime I see this image I make new discoveries like a game of “Where’s Waldo.”

Albrecht Dürer. Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513. Engraving, 9 13/16in  x 7 11/16in. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943.

Albrecht Dürer. Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513. Engraving, 9 13/16in x 7 11/16in. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943.

As a kid, museums and galleries were very intimidating places for me. My experience was reminiscent of browsing stores with easily shop-liftable items where guards followed you around making sure you didn’t get too close. In art classes I learned about great Greek sculptures such as the David and the Nike of Samothrace. Therefore, I wasn’t expecting any surprises while strolling through the MET until I came across La Capresse des Colonies by Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier.

I had the broken expectation of seeing a black woman immortalized in a sculpture inside of one of the world’s most famous museums. I made the association to Odutola’s use of black ink to depict the black body and Cordier’s use of Algerian onyx-marble. La Capresse des Colonies beauty is further emphasized by her confident stance and coy smile. I had the desire to touch the smooth marble and invade her space. However, this made me uncomfortable because I didn’t want to fall into the role of colonizers and f exoticize her. This feeling lead to the same question as Salgado’s image. What is illuminating the eyes of the crocodiles? How was La Capresse made? How did she get to be here? Is her armband a slave mark? These questions remind me of my initial disappointment of walking through the museum. Regardless of the negative answers I find, seeing a figure I can relate to is an important step for me to see my value in the art world. For all I know, this could have been my grandmother’s grandmother.

Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier. La Capresse des Colonies, 1861. Algerian onyx-marble, bronze and gilt bronze, and enamel; white marble socle. 37 ¾in x 23 1/4 in. 208.4 lb. European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, 2006.

Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier. La Capresse des Colonies, 1861. Algerian onyx-marble, bronze and gilt bronze, and enamel; white marble socle. 37 ¾in x 23 1/4 in. 208.4 lb. European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, 2006.

Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night Over the Rhone has an opposite effect to Salgado’s painting. I am certain of what I see from afar, a view of a city across a river during a starry night. But up close I am taken in by the beauty of van Gogh’s paint dabs. The blotchy brush strokes that create the whole are reminiscent of mosaic work. My most recent “a-ha” moment was noticing a couple walking from the shoreline towards me. I easily overlooked them because their bodies blend in nicely with the water and their faces can be confused for the reflection of stars in the water. The couple reminds me of the “tortured artist” cliché. They become a reminder that none of us are alone; that I am not alone.

Vincent Van Gogh. Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888.Oil on canvas 28.5 in x 36.2 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Vincent Van Gogh. Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888.Oil on canvas 28.5 in x 36.2 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Paul D’Amato’s portraits of Chicago’s West Side residents are some of the most arresting I’ve seen. A D’Amato image is unmistakable, yet his image titled Angela, 2010 is not easily placed. The scale, the soft diffused light, and Angela’s golden skin is what draws me in. Angela’s gesture and gaze insinuates a longing. The pattern created by the leopard print sheets becomes a sea engulfing Angela. The overall impact of the image makes the photographer’s intent and background trivial. Similar to Cordier’s piece, Angela is drapped in white linen. Angela is our modern day Capresse des Colonies transplanted in the reality of Chicago’s West Side neighborhood.

Paul D'Amato, Angela, 2010. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Paul D’Amato, Angela, 2010. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Some of my favorite works of art are those that combine art and the utilitarian. The craft and science behind arms and armor are impressive on their own, yet Filippo Negroli’s helmet, Burgonet, stands out by the intricate design and relifs decorating the helmet. A mermaid runs like a mohawk over the headpiece. Her tail morphs into acanthus leaves where each vein is discernible. Through closer inspection I was able to make out each of the mermaid’s ribs, the snakes that create Medusa’s hair, and the individual feathers in the cherub’s wings.

Filippo Negroli, Burgonet, 1513. Steel and Gold, 9 1/2in. x 7 5.16 in, 4 lb 2 oz. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917.

Filippo Negroli, Burgonet, 1513. Steel and Gold, 9 1/2in. x 7 5.16 in, 4 lb 2 oz. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917.

The color palette in Edvard Munch’s painting, The Sick Child, 1885-6, causes a sense of uneasiness and nausea. It consists of greens and yellows in vertical brush strokes. It’s clear that we’re looking in on a sad scene, and a young girl that is beyond help. There’s an older woman with her head down that looks highly distraught, and a redheaded girl propped up in bed who has accepted her fate. The beauty in this painting is in the abstraction created by rough brush strokes that evoke a feeling of a dream or an unclear memory from long ago.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-6. Oil on canvas, 120 × 118.5 cm.  Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-6. Oil on canvas, 120 × 118.5 cm. Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo.

The joy I experienced of a broken expectation first occurred through the discovery of my identity. Perhaps this is the reason my work revolves around my family history. The thrill in seeing La Capresse was parallel to when I learned I was not an only child. That in fact, I had two half sisters. Discovering the presence of crocodiles in Salgado’s image is similar to the feeling of finding out my great great grandmother had a beard and was “Africana.” The discoveries in Düer’s work are reminiscent of being introduced to an unknown aunt or cousin. Rademayer’s Point Line Field is my family tree.

Groana Melendez. Untitled, 2014.

Groana Melendez. Untitled, 2014.

ICP-MFA Online Curated Show Matthew Cohen

-1-2Sebastian Salgado, Himba Group

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Guernico, Elijah fed by Ravens, 1620

Guernico’s work was the first logical jump my mind made from Salgado’s image of a drought stricken area because the tablet in the far right of the image shows Kings 1, a passage about God warning of a drought. However, both of these depictions of drought created a feeling of the lack of water in another surprising way. An empty well at the bottom of Salgado’s piece is mirrored by an empty cup at the bottom of Guernico’s. This led me to think. How do we show lack? How do we depict that which we do not have? Guernico chose an empty object meant for holding. I sought more examples of this and other portrayals of this question.

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El Greco, Cardinal Fernando Niño de Guevara, 1600

With the empty bowl in mind I was struck by how I overlooked the blank sheet of paper in this image. Why was that piece of paper there and why was it blank? Suddenly I wondered if this image takes on the same meaning we feel in the Guernico piece, yet without the direct depiction necessary. I my interest was renewed after dismissing this image as another technically amazing commissioned piece to perhaps a great statement about the artists perception of the individual.

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Steiglitz, Black Forest Girl 1894

How far can we take this physical representation of the nonphysical? Steiglitz takes us to another empty feeling with yet another object meant for holding. How much do we learn about the photograph, the photographer, the subject, the time and the place based on what isn’t in this bucket? Without the bucket the viewer is significantly less informed about what the image tries to tell us about its subject.


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Daumier, Third Class Carriage, 1864

Similarly, how does Daumier make us as viewers see this basket in the in The Third Class Carriage? He shows us people from all time periods of their life but our eye is drawn to a basket in the center of the frame. Here the object meant for holding things is informed by the characters within the image and the image title to make one think the basket might be empty.

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Graciela Iturbide, Desierto de Sonora, 1979

I was first drawn to this image for the gasoline jug but felt it revealed a further connection to Salgado’s piece in that the empty holding object informs the entire world view of the subjects within the image. In Salgado’s image, the emptiness of the well only highlights the overall framing of drought and desperation the people within the image feel. Iturbide frames the life of the girls in the image and pinpoints the viewers feelings using the empty gasoline jug.

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Elliot Erwin, USA. NYC. 1950.

The empty coffee cup in this image depicts another form of absence along with empty cup idea. It tells a story about its characters. Along with the year of creation, 1950, the coffee cup informs us of a businessman with no care for a spilled coffee or wasted dollar fifty. His stride past the fallen and spilled cup tells a story of a man who does not consider absence of goods.

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Goya, The Dog, 1819

In Goya’s “The Dog” the eye is directed very similarly to the well and bowl, but our nothing is now a something, the subject is a dog. However, it accomplishes discussing absence in it’s own unique way. If you own a dog or lived with a dog you know they do not just look at nothing. They respond and react to things. As I began to write this sentence my dog sent a quick inquisitive look at me as my keyboard started to make noise. The dog in The Dog is looking at something, but what? Goya’s dog addresses emptiness by having the real subject be both unknown and out of frame.

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Picasso, Still life of a Bottle of Rum, 1911

What else could be explored by physically representing less? My mind jumps to Cubism and the lack of complete viewing and understanding. How does this lack inform our understanding of the image as compared to a more physical absence? It pushes the viewer to think about the realness of the object even more than depicting it as it could be seen by anybody.

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Ad Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1963

Pushing the depiction of absence further still, what if nothing is actually ‘depicted’ in the image? Ad Reinhardt poses a way of forcing the viewer to consider almost nothing in an image. Soon I realized I was not looking at a depiction of emptiness but emptiness itself. Reinhardt’s abstractions are the emptiness we see in the bowl and the well without the surrounding context. Abstract Painting could very well be the piece of blank paper in the floor of El Greco’s piece.

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Nasa, 2012

How is lack and drought shown right now? How do we show it empirically? Sometimes we need to see the change of things over time. NASA shows change to the Brazilian rivers as a before and after gif, forcing the viewer to witness the drastic physical changes in the landscape and color and consider its consequences.

A Delicate Balance

Yali Man, Sebastião Salgado 2010

Yali Man, West Papua, Indonesia, Sebastião Salgado
2010

Salgado’s photograph of a Yali man integrates the figure so seamlessly into the foliage that it takes a second to notice him. The majority of the frame is filled with the lush leaves of a fern-like plant or bush. There is a pleasing randomness to the pattern they create and the full tonal range is used to the utmost to exploit this variety. The figure is nude with the exception of shoes or sandals. He is oddly placed in the composition; his head is centered at the very top of the frame as if he is about to float away. Drawn out of the disarray of the leaves, the figure holds your eye. The integration of the man and the tree points to the possibility of man’s symbiotic relationship with nature, but we also see that it is a delicate balance. I have selected images for this exhibit that speak to our relationship with the world and nature, and capture the majesty and wonder that is embodied in the image above.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with Virtues, Netherlandish tapestry, early 1600s

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with Virtues, Netherlandish tapestry, early 1600s

My first image is a tapestry from the early 17th century that depicts depicts Adam and Eve in a bountiful Eden before the Fall. When I came across this image, I saw strong parallels with the Salgado image. The rhythmic patterning echoes the leaves surrounding the Yali man and I kept discovering more layers within the frame. Although there are three different types of trees represented, I didn’t notice this immediately. It was only after more patient looking that I noticed one had berries, another pod-like blossoms with seeds on the verge of dropping. Similarly, a wide range of animals are represented throughout, but their homogenous toning camouflages the diversity. Adam is reclining to the left and vines curlycue around his ample frame. A single grape leaf covers his genitals. Eve is standing to the right. A different plant, also vine-like obscures the lower part of her body. There is a delight I feel as my eye scans around discovering all the details; it is a similar delight to my experience of Salgado’s image.

Manjuvajra Mandala 1400s

Manjuvajra Mandala
1400s

While researching non-Western representations for this project, I thought about buddhism and its ideas about integration and the need to respect life in all its forms. This led me to this painting of a mandala from the 1400s. I was immediately drawn in by the repetition and symmetry. A series of squares radiates out from a central figure that has multiple hands like the goddess Shiva. As I move out from the center, I notice that the entire image is made up of these repeated figures; they occupy the corners of every level, as well as the openings that take you outward to the next levels. A mandala is more a representation of the universe than nature per se, but I can’t help feel the overlap. Nature, world, universe all speak to an integrated and interdependent system. When I look at this mandala, I get lost in a similar way to how I get lost in Salgado’s photograph. Here the repeating vine-like and scrolling patterns remind me of the veiny fern leaves. They are part of the structure that supports this constellation of figures, and together they create a seamless whole.

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645 Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645
Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645 Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651) (DETAIL)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645
Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651) (DETAIL)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645 Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651) (DETAIL)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645
Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651) (DETAIL)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645 Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651) (DETAIL)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645
Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651) (DETAIL)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645 Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651) (DETAIL)

The Old Plum, Edo period (1615–1868), ca. 1645
Attributed to Kano Sansetsu (Japanese, ca. 1589–1651) (DETAIL)

Japan’s native belief system, Shinto, places much importance on seasonal change and the fleeting nature of life that it implies. We see this reflected in Japanese art which is inextricably linked to nature and the cycles of the earth. In this four panel screen, we see the hulking trunk of an old plum tree jutting out from the far right panel. It’s jagged and twisty form traverses left. It is barren but shows the budding of flowers; an indication of spring and its renewal. The little berries that dot its branches remind me of the Yali man harvesting from the tree in the Salgado image. Here as in there, the cycle of life is revealed in poetic dimension.

Swimming Hole, Thomas Eakins, 1883

Swimming Hole, Thomas Eakins, 1883

I was drawn to Eakins photographs because they portray a more intimate relationship with nature than some of his contemporaries. The landscapes of Carleton Watkins & Timothy H. O’Sullivan depicted majestic nature but they were devoid of human presence. This was a time of rapid industrialization when man was trampling nature in the name of progress. I see Eakins photographs pointing to something different and they show an entirely different experience of nature. It is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. In this way, they show the potential for what can be lost. When I imagine him dragging his giant view camera and daring to choreograph these figures frolicking by the water’s edge, I feel the same sense of amazement that I do for the Yali man balancing so perfectly in Salgado’s frame. It seems like an impossible proposition.

Undergrowth with Two Figures, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

Undergrowth with Two Figures, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

This painting by Van Gogh represents the sous bois genre from the late 19th century. Rather than painting landscapes from afar like traditional painters, rural painters climbed or walked into forested areas for a more intimate view. This piece depicts two lovers strolling through a forest, but Van Gogh has handled his subject in such a way that they don’t seem like part of the landscape. As I investigate how he has formed them, I realize they are sturdy and upright like the stands of trees. He’s used the same green from the forest in the clothing of the man and the woman. But then I notice the pattern of the trees is linear as though man has intervened here. I don’t know if this is deliberate but it implies a human role that is more active.

7,000 Oaks, Joseph Beuys, 1982

7,000 Oaks, Joseph Beuys, 1982

For his project 7,000 Oaks, Joseph Beuys planted 7,000 oak trees in Kassell, Germany with the help of volunteers. It was a response to the rampant urbanization that minimized nature’s presence in modern cities around the globe. The scope of the project is huge and I was struck by how it shifts our understanding of our relationship with nature to one that is more active. In this act of putting trees back where they were removed, our role as stewards is highlighted. Also, I was interested in how it reframes what it means to make art. Typically I think of artists as makers of things, but Beuys art is in the action. This makes me wonder about Salgado’s enterprise and whether making pictures is really the most effective way to make change. Beuys radical thinking exposes me to a different type of discovery that points more towards action and experience.

Silueta Series, Ana Mendieta, 1978

Silueta Series, Ana Mendieta, 1978

This image from Ana Mendieta’s Silueta Series feels strikingly resonant with the Salgado image. Born in Cuba, Mendieta was sent by her parents to the United States during Operation Peter Pan and was raised in foster homes in Iowa. Primarily performance-based, her work was autobiographical and dealt with physical and spiritual displacement, among other things. In this series which she began in the 1970s, she left traces of her body in hundreds of locations around the world including this one shown here. The parched earth fills the frame and gives an eery quality to this barren landscape. The figure is recognizable but It isn’t immediately apparent how this trace was left behind. What does it mean to leave a trace of oneself that will disappear? Does this ephemeral act speak more pointedly about our place in nature and the world?

Touch, Janine Antoni, 2002

Touch, Janine Antoni, 2002

In her video performance piece, Touch, Janine Antoni walks a tightrope that sits just above the horizon. At the point that her weight comes down on the rope, it just touches the horizon. I was initially drawn to this piece because of what it says about balance. In the Art21 segment about her, she talked about learning to tightrope and said “I started to notice that it wasn’t that I was getting more balanced but that I was getting more comfortable with being out of balance”. Nature is the epitome of balance within imbalance and it is something we can learn from.

Neukom Vivarium, Mark Dion, 2006

Neukom Vivarium, Mark Dion, 2006

Neukom Vivarium, Mark Dion, 2006

Neukom Vivarium, Mark Dion, 2006

Neukom Vivarium, Mark Dion, 2006

Neukom Vivarium, Mark Dion, 2006

Mark Dion’s mixed media piece, Neukom Vivarium, takes a fallen hemlock tree and uses it to help us understand what’s at risk when we take the complexity of nature for granted. The 60 foot tree is housed in an 80 foot greenhouse in Seattle’s Olympic Park with an elaborate technological system that approximates nature’s processes. The installation brings visitors in touch with this false system while at the same time offering an up-close view, via magnifying glasses, of the many life forms thriving in the system. My sense of wonder is tempered by fear; this wonderfully lush installation is not meant to be a positive, back-to-nature experience. Rather it is instead a warning of what stands to be lost. Despite all of our technological abilities, reproducing what nature does so effortlessly is enormously costly and impractical.

Justine Kurland, Waterfall, Mama Babies, 2006

Justine Kurland, Waterfall, Mama Babies, 2006

As a counterpoint to Dion’s piece, I returned to the photographic and selected an image from Justine Kurland. I don’t recall when I first saw the photographs from her series depicting nude mothers and their children in magnificent landscapes, but I remember being completely captivated. I also remember struggling to understand how they were made. They looked so completely natural but the elaborateness meant they had to be staged. The image I’ve selected here depicts five mothers enmeshed with their children in a primordial landscape. To the left, three mother/child pairs lead my eye toward the waterfall. At right, a mother with an older child walks across rocks at the water’s edge. There is a swirl that leads my eye through the waterfall and the figures. The landscape is imposing and powerful, but the juxtaposition of these gentle, mothering figures enveloped within it tempers its strength. I’m drawn to this utopian vision that feels modern and anti-modern at the same time. This contradiction appeals to me and I think in order to get back in balance with nature, we have to allow ourselves to dream.

Out my window, Matthew Papa, 2014

Out my window, Matthew Papa, 2014

I was sent into a tailspin when I thought about making a response piece to Salgado and this exhibit. I’ve become a complete city dweller after living in New York for more than twenty years so it provoked me to question my own relationship to nature. I thought I would be a complete imposter making an image that implied a crunchy reality I don’t inhabit. Honestly, I spend so much time in man-made environments I started to think that maybe I don’t have a relationship to nature. But once I got past thinking about using my houseplants as subjects, I realized I was complicating things for myself and overlooking a unique experience I have in the city. I live in the upper reaches of Manhattan and outside my window is the Hudson River. Everyday I am reminded of the glories of nature and it gives me great peace. I’m certain of the interdependence of humans and the natural world; I guess I’m just more comfortable witnessing it out a window.