STERLING RUBY | TRANSCOMPOSITION by ADWENA SHEMON

                                                                                                                                                     Installation Views || Sterling Ruby (2009-2012)

The composition is the organised sum of the interior function of every part of the work

- Wassily Kandinsky.

The internal visual world of diverse artist, Sterling Ruby can be realised as a Contemporary collage of varied mediums, modified modern principles and a transcomposition of form. In often decadent representations, Ruby is the answer to Contemporary art's question of challenging traditional principles in an attempt to recreate or revitalise. His installation-work particularly offers a liberty to formalism, taking traditional mediums into a contemporaneous context. From collage-work to ceramics and sculpture, Ruby attains a firm visual narrative which surrenders to the conception of "heavier minimalism." The strength from which this dialogue derives can be transposed to that of antagonism and perhaps aggression towards the minimalist tag, as it has always afforded (in a Contemporary context) the ideology of stripping down and refining the visual to its most basic of principles. 

The oeuvre of Sterling Ruby in this way is a strong reminder that in order to convey a compelling message within the microcosm of the art world, the work itself must extend beyond the visual and into a trans-communicative space. SP178 (2011), perhaps one example of his most celebrated series of works, takes on the street art medium, utilising spray paint and stimulating it into a visual semblance between Richter and Rothko. The streams of spray-paint are indelicately applied within these works, although they do seemingly appear quite dense on the surface of the canvas. The often fluorescent colour palette references chance-aeshtetics in its application, and relays Ruby's dichotomy of juxtaposition as well as extension beyond the Contemporary art context. 

Crib Drill Yellow (2011), is a Brutalist structure which appears to be a spatially aggressive installation, yet seems to recoil from its Minimalist echo. Adapting the aesthetic of Brutalist architectural structures and principles, Ruby juxtaposes the harsh surface with a diffusion of ochre yellow: a base colour alluding to iron-oxide. The effect is thus, it softens the appearance of the object, hence transforming it's narrative dialogue to one of harsh opposites. Forces are invariably pertinent in Ruby's dense installations - They often oppose, prevent, dispute and transpose what they are intended to question. The countenance of the work is determined to remain disagreeable in the face of the Contemporary art world. 

© Site installation images courtesy of Pace Gallery & Xavier Hufkins


MAPPLETHORPE + MUNCH | EXHIBITION REVIEW by ADWENA SHEMON

                               Robert Mapplethorpe, "Self Portrait" (1988)                        Edvard Munch, "Self-Portrait with Skeleton Arm" (1895)

 

MUNCH MUSEUM  |  OSLO, NORWAY

(06/02/2016 - 29/05/2016)

An incongruous, comparative exhibition between two artists who explored genre-specific narrative, MAPPLETHORPE + MUNCH is an improbable, yet sensical exploration of the parallels between the two artists and their artistic worlds. The exhibition’s curatorial structure is thematic rather than sequential, and it is this structure which accounts for an in-depth and striking dialogue between a catalogue of over 140 works, including Munch’s “Madonna (1895)” and Mapplethorpe’s “Self-Portrait” (1988)

Stylistically speaking, the work of Edvard Munch lends itself to the provocation of Symbolism, as well as its sufficient 20th century modern counterpart, Expressionism. Throughout his artistic career, there is a poetry between the self and the duplicated effects of melancholia – all the more expressed in the genre of self-portraiture. The parallel is then extended to the oeuvre of Robert Mapplethorpe’s monochromatic portrait photography, as depictions of himself were prolifically explored in the guise of different personae. They provide what seems to be a journalistic catalogue of the two artists, and in turn highlight an underlying modicum toward mere mortality.

The exhibition segments into thematic sections the parallels between the two artists seamlessly – from portraits, self-portraits, nudes and expressions of sexuality. They are represented side-by-side, in a mirror-like duality, both seeming to exist as a pair creating an overarching whole. It is especially pertinent throughout the exploration of nudes within this exhibition – (as both artists worked extensively at claiming and reclaiming this genre) that the nude portrays an allusion to a more arresting fascination with sexuality. The work of Mapplethorpe particularly, highlights through the genre of the nude, antithesising viewpoints concerning gender and the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity respectively. All the more, Mapplethorope’s then controversial tone is reflected in a more ambiguous approach to Munch’s female nudes – their depiction a more romanticised, languid and painterly visualisation attentive to Classical counterparts.

Although what may seem an unlikely duality at first, MAPPLETHORPE + MUNCH is effective in achieving its ambition. There is a wonderful simplicity in its drawing of comparative links without detriment to the work’s power. The balance throughout the exhibition is all the more as nuanced as Munch’s examination between self and suffering. 

© Site installation images courtesy of the Munch Museum - MunchMuseet.no


DAVID BOWIE | BRIGHT STAR by ADWENA SHEMON

                                                                                                                                            © images via || Brian Duffy

DAVID BOWIE (1947 - 2016)

An icon, a genius, and a bright star who voiced the eternal embrace of what we esteem different within ourselves...Words, which often purvey a sense of dissonant connection with feeling, seem quite abstract when speaking of a man who was more than mortal.

★ Farewell, you magical, transcendental being - to the star from whence you came

 


PATTI SMITH | POETESS by ADWENA SHEMON

     

                                                    " - What do you want of me? I said - language, she said, language."

Any attempt in describing the work or genius of artist Patti Smith, is undoubtedly where continued efforts of description would only be met by a barrage of daunting hindrance.  From the likes of Arthur Rimbaud, Alan Ginsberg, W.B.Yeats and Charles Baudelaire, her poetic voice is akin to a lightening strike amid a still expanse of open water. It startles, unsettles, captivates, whilst all the more reassuring readers with a beautiful, yet fluid assemblage of words. Although Smith is renowned for her sonic brilliance in the punk rock music scene, I'd like to shed light onto some of her written material - from poetry to wordy fragments. 

 Patti Smith - Paris (1969)                                                                                                                                              ©  image via || The Red List

Patti Smith - Paris (1969)                                                                                                                                             © image via || The Red List

      THE MEANING OF LIFE - AN EXCERPT (1992) 

My first sense of life was that of motion, of being lifted, and the beating of my mother's heart. Then, as consciousness pressed, I turned to the radiance of my father's mind. When I closed my eyes, I could feel the world spin. When I reached out I could feel the breath of care. Bound, within my blood, was their love, their burning and their discordant prayers. 

Yet time makes ravens of all of us, and swiftly, it seemed, I fled from their grasp. The sea was a glass. The sky, an immeasurable path. 

Guided by the knowledge of them I journeyed fettered, free. And as all before me, I have questioned, grateful for the privilege of being able to ask: What is my task? Why do we exist? All answers produce the pain of recognition, emptiness and joy. 

To prey upon stillness, to suffer dawn

To bow before God, to administer grace

To unveil space, to be spirited away

To lift a child

into the reigning air

where the voice of heaven

chirps like a bird.

                                                                               JUST KIDS - AN EXCERPT (2010)

...Yet you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a peal of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. Sometimes I just want to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up. 

                                                                                         ON POETRY (2014)

"Poetry, I think is one of the most difficult of the arts. Maybe even the most difficult...The act of writing poetry is torturous - and sometimes magnificently transporting. But often it's just torturous. But poetry is a very high language, hopefully above all of this. But to me I think of poetry as very pure. There's no real rules. I don't know anything more than anybody else.

                                                                                         ON 'M-TRAIN' (2015)

"It's M-Train like mind train, whatever came to mind. I think that 'M-Train is most like me. Its not a book about the past so much. It's who I am, what I do, what I'm thinking about, what I read and the coffee I drink. The floors I pace, so we'll see. I hope people will like it." 


BJÖRK | VULNICURA by ADWENA SHEMON

The dissolution of a love relationship, its emotional turbulence and the havoc wrought on a newly wounded heart, all bear startling subject for the eighth studio album by Icelandic, electronic-minstrel, Björk. There is no doubt that upon its first full-length experience, Vulnicura (an abstract portmanteau of the words vulnerable and cure) may in fact be her most poignant and important release to date. With a back catalogue as expansive, experimental and sonically verbose as Björk’s, it is no surprise that an entire album she attests to being about “pure heart break” would seem an extraordinary tangent from her 2011 release, Biophilia - in which she explored the fusion of music, the universe and modern technology in a contemporary conduit.

As responses unfold to Vulnicura, I have encountered several comparisons to 2001’s Vespertine, touting it a companion piece, with Vulnicura being the yin equivalent to Vespertine’s yang.  Although, to compare Vulnicura to any of Björk’s previous releases would in fact disfavour its candour as it is, quite simply put, a chronological account of the breakdown of her relationship with artist Matthew Barney, and the destruction of a familial triad all unfolding in heart-straining strings and circling synths. Perhaps the most striking component to this record is its lyrical honesty, as it comes across in moments, a dirge-like lament imposing submission on the emotional space of the listener. This is certainly not an easy listen – its stark lyricism contrasted with the brooding echo of cello and violin instrumentation, intentionally pluck at the heartstrings as you enter what feels like a sacred, soul-bearing space. 

The production of Vulnicura is nothing short of impressive. Forming what is this time an aural collaborative triad through Venezuelan co producer Arca, The Haxan Cloak and regular contributor Antony Hegarty, the three provide a seamless, sensual addition to the often affecting lyrical landscape. The album’s opener ‘Stonemilker’ is a beautifully heart-shattering fusion of wallowing strings and languidly arranged beats. The juxtaposition of orchestral string arrangements and Arca’s flowing accents are especially vigorous in the tracks ‘Family’ and ‘Quicksand’ – where the complex didactic arrangements swell almost as the beginning of a tide to the shore of Björk’s sentiment. The album’s heart-stopping centrepiece ‘Black Lake’ is a haunting ballad in which she professes feelings of abandonment and the destruction of the covenant of her family. “Family was always our sacred mutual mission, which you abandoned,” she laments into a shattering abyss of echoing strings. Hegarty’s voice (the only other we hear on this record) projects as a fragmentary, ghostly phantom in ‘Atom Dance,’ and offers what seems to be a supportive embrace to Björk’s attempted return to emotional wholeness. 

In a lot of ways, Vulnicura feels regenerative, and in a recent interview, Björk attests to the fact that through the adversity of its process, she “rediscovered music.” Music is in many ways her safe-haven albeit her emotive organ, and with utmost humility continues to be, her sole saviour.

© All images via || Inez & Vinoodh, M/M Paris || One Little Indian.com


FILMIC FIVE | FROM SILENCE TO SOUND by ADWENA SHEMON

                            FIVE important examples of cinema from the era of silence to  the introduction of dialogue through sound.

METROPOLIS (1927) - FRITZ LANG

German-expressionist cinema at its finest, Metropolis is a silent, science-fiction gamut ordained in a futuristic dystopia. Set during the year 2026, in a technicized world governed by Joh Frederson, this is what I esteem to be Wiemar cinema's most paramount product. Beyond its highly ambitious concept, Metropolis is at its core, a visual predilection relaying the effects of modern technology on man. The film follows a silent-stylus, which contrasts a bleak working underclass with grandiose Futurist sets, not unlike the work of Italian architect, Antonio Sant'Elia. The machine-human (Maschinenmensch), robot-double, and her evil gynoid twin portrayed by Brigitte Helm is perhaps one of cinema's most iconic creations -  the film is worthy of viewing if only for her gradual metamorphosis alone. Metropolis extends beyond the boundary of timelessness in the rubric of cinema, and continues to engage and enthrall contemporary audiences with its unconventional special effects, futuristic thematic and stylistic visual dialogue.

MESHES OF THE AFTERNOON (1943) - MAYA DEREN

Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon is an avant-garde, experimental short film which weaves a thematic tapestry between surrealism and the inner reflections/machinations of the self. The film opens with a shot of a disembodied hand, gently placing a flower onto a paved pathway. This gentle allusion to detachment sets the tone for the short which sees the central figure (Deren hersef) pursue a hooded, mirror-faced figure dressed in black. Throughout the short film, Deren utilises filmic technique such as repeated shot-sequences and slow motion to challenge perceptions of reality and the subconscious. Throughout the surrealistic-short, you are intended to discern what is blurred beyond reality and what is in fact 'real' - from keys, flowers and the more sinister knife which we see reappear and disappear. The use of mirrors cleverly ties into the theme of reflectiveness, wherein Deren herself claims of the film - " [that] it reproduces the way in which the subconscious of an individual will develop, interpret and elaborate an apparently simple and casual incident into a critical emotional experience."

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) - BILLY WILDER

When one thinks about the finest of film noir, one should look no further than Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity. The film's influence extends beyond the genre, and surrounds itself around its two protagonists Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Stanwyck portrays a provocative, vaudeville keen on committing the ultimate crime - the murder of her husband, whereby claiming his wealth of monetary fortune. She enlists the assistance of Walter Neff, an insurance salesman and throughout the process of their exchange, she lures him into her seductive web of hopes and promises. Although at times the dialogue in this noir/murder/romance film can come across as "cheesy," its pace, direction and editing is nothing short of Wilder's flawlessness. The character development and dynamic alludes to films which lay outside the genre - I'm thinking the likes of Deckard and Rachael in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982). The film contains a large amount of narration via monologue, but who could ever forget that icy elocution so venomously uttered by Stanwyck to a seemingly love-stunned Walter Neff? - "No, I never loved you Walter -- not you or anybody else. I'm rotten to the heart. I used you, just as you said. That's all you ever meant to me. Until a minute ago, when I couldn't fire that second shot..."

THE FACE / Ansiktet (1958) - INGMAR BERGMAN

In what is declared as Ingmar Bergman's most prized personal work, he delivers this gothic-style 19th century tale centered on a struggling artist and his mesmerist troupe, in the film Ansiktet. Volger, the lead character played by Max Von Sydow portrays a magician who relies on his professional means to disguise facets of his true character unto himself and others. He leads his companions to the border of Stockholm where he is met by Dr.Vergerus, a strange yet alluring physicist enamored with the conception of death,  In many ways, Bergman draws into themes relating to the role of the artist and the constant power-play relating to having to 'prove oneself' worthy of that title. This is masterfully done in true Bergman-style, from the wonderfully visual art direction of his assistant Gunnar Fischer to the aesthetically beautiful leading women (such as Ingrid Thulin) he purposefully selects to allay visual diversion to the film's bleak surroundings. 

PSYCHO (1960) - ALFRED HITCHCOCK

Touted as Alfred Hitchcock's most iconic film for its unconventional plot progression and its thriller/horror/slasher style, Psycho is undoubtedly cinematic art at its finest. The film seems to imbue viewers into the realm of its protagonist, Marion Crane, who is on the run after stealing a large sum of money from her employer. We follow Marion on screen as she drives through a stormy evening and makes a detour into the Bates Motel where she checks in to stay the night. There she meets its young owner, Norman Bates - an outsider and hermit who we soon learn is veiling a dark secret. Hitchcock masterfully utilities the use of editing, sound and situation to clearly set up the key moment of the film, that infamous shower sequence where Marion is brutally 'slashed' to death. During its time, Psycho was surrounded by controversy for its deliberate demonstration of sexuality, subversion and violence. But for all its scandalous credentials, Psycho is at its core a classic noir film partaking within that convention yet subverting it all the more. 

© All images via DVR screen capture || All images 1. Psycho, The Face - Promotional photographs © 1958 - Svensk Filmindustri, © 1960 - Paramount Pictures 5. Double Indemnity - Promotional photograph - Photo by MPTV


JAMES TURRELL | ARCHITECT OF LIGHT by ADWENA SHEMON

                                              “...Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is                                                                                                                       transfixed, only the light moves.” – Leonora Carrington

The painterly masterworks of Turner with their sensibility to romantic allusion, the observational watercolour landscapes of Constable, and the courtly compositions of Caravaggio are among an endless ensemble of artists who affirm a deliberate courtship to the manipulation and corporeality of light. It can be declared from a historical context that for these artists, the source of light lay within an institution ascribed to divine principles, for light was the ‘physical’ embodiment of divinity – a phenomenal reminder of god in our earthly realm. This notion is not entirely new, as one can trace this paradigm into impressions of history – from the coloured stained glass of medieval cathedrals, the obelisks of Ancient Egypt in their sanctifying axis to the sun-god Re, and the ziggurats of the Mayans in their ascension to the heavens. Light as a devotional entity, as a corporal object to be perceived rather than experienced plays a paramount role in the oeuvre of artist, James Turrell, a true visionary in the realm of science, mathematics, art and the architecture of light.

The entrance to a James Turrell work is an invitation into another realm. It is in fact otherworldly, meditative and imparts challenges to our conventional senses. There is theatricality in its execution, a dramatic interplay between perception and what is perceived, all of which is filtered through an engineering of light’s properties. One of Turrell’s earliest cross-projected works entitled Afrum (White) 1966 draws focus on his interest in structuring light into an object, drawing into its three-dimensional characteristics. Afrum looms along a darkened space which implies its transparency, although the visual projection conveys a solidity which counteracts this perception. Perception is at the forefront of Turrell’s intent as for him it's about "using light as a material to influence or affect the medium of perception...[and] how we go about forming [the] world in which we live, in particular with seeing.” In this way Afrum (White) feeds into this notion as the use of geometry and light manipulates is voluminous appearance the longer we perceive the work. It is about pushing the boundaries of three dimensional space as perceived, and creating an allusion to a realm beyond this dimension.

Beyond the gallery context there is what I esteem to be the most fascinating of Turrell’s creations – that of his autonomous, architectural structures. Playing on the duality of ancient architectural monuments and modern branches of science, this fusion of the past and present conveys a beautiful understanding of how the past can in fact inform our present. This dialogue is particularly realised in the instance of his celestial architectural skyspace – Within Without (2010). In this skyspace, light embodies a painterly essence whereby the viewer is invited to experience the dramatic evolution between night and day in a chamber-like structure. The interplay between varicoloured light and the natural progression of time is poignantly highlighted by a circular, open, central oculus located at the top of the chamber’s dome. Light is the core medium in which Turrell devises the architecture of the structure, taking into account a time-lapse-like movement with the sky as central spectacle. The square-base pyramid structure itself encompasses a sloping walkway, turquoise water, red ochre walls and a round floor-set moonstone, all in which hamronise the shifting movement of light inside the central dome space. Within Without conveys a visual dialogue between the visible and invisible, whereby architecture relates to the former and light to the latter. There is a meditative beauty in this paradox whereby the reticent nature of light is just “like [a] wordless thought that comes from looking into a fire.” It is this paradox which allows architecture an informed secondary role, as for Turrell structure is fundamentally just a grandiose vessel in its containment of light.

L/R || 1. James Turrell, Afrum White (1966), 2,3,4. James Turrell, Within Without - Details (2010)

 © All images - Adwena Shemon