A Collection of Essays on Art
TABLE OF CONTENTS
On Work Titles
On Bicycle Riding
On Funding Fine Art
On Conveying Information about Art
On Children’s Drawings
On Tempera Painting
On Art as a Career
On Looking at Art
On Pots, Pitchers and other Containers
On Fantasy, Play, Language and Poetic Function
On the Work Pubertet after Munch
On Public Service Programming and Instruction Manuals for Art
On the Korean Alphabet, Grammar and Gray Areas
On Ancestors, Role Models and Color Theory
I grew up in the 70’s on my grandparents’ farm in Denmark. My father was born and raised in Korea and my mother is Danish. Two gifted draughtspersons, my parents encouraged me to draw from an early age and my decision to become a painter was thus a natural one. My earliest artistic endeavors were the sketches I did from tv-shows, cartoons and art-history books in my childhood home in the Danish countryside.
I feel that if we want to know our history and look at the development of our culture the information provided by art and art’s history is of the essence. I strive to create works of art, which are independent of me as an individual, yet, intimate and felt. I am particularly interested in monochromes. Eastern and Western art are culturally disparate; Western monochromes originally point out a reactionary response to the dominance of naturalism in fine arts in the 19th Century, while painters in Korea have sought access to spiritual equilibrium with nature through their monochromatic brush strokes. My bicultural heritage is reflected in my work.
I studied visual arts at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London in 1994 and 1995, making my debut as a painter in Copenhagen in 2008.
Throughout my career I have initiated, arranged and participated in collaborations with other artists. These have included work in the theater and multi- and single channel video projects, screened at various venues and spaces in the United States, South America, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia.
Globalization and the diffusion of fundamental cultural differences are some of the transformations reflected in contemporary art. In the beginning of the 21st Century, we are witnessing cultures of the world encountering and influencing one another. We exchange our life experiences, and our understanding of who we are is just as wide open to interpretation as the word art. History changes us and we change history. Art continues to be a tool of universal reflection on our existence, and the massive intercultural exchange has begotten an awareness of our global identity. Art is one method of studying our history, and by knowing our history, we learn about ourselves. I have found a way to apply myself to the cultural changes in my time by choosing art as a profession.
Shortly after I began showing my paintings I began writing about my work. Originally, the following essays were letters of correspondence to two of my colleagues and friends: Marty McCutcheon and Jan Kather. Their responses are an inspiration to me, and I am deeply grateful to them for their profound and thoughtful feedback. Marty McCutcheon (b. 1967) began painting in oils in 1982 as a student of abstract expressionist Charles Wolters. McCutcheon’s works hang in private and corporate collections throughout the United States, Canada, China, Denmark, England and Switzerland. He presently lives and works in Berkeley, California. Jan Kather (b. 1951, MFA Cornell in 1982) has been teaching traditional photography at Elmira College since 1979. Since graduate school days, she has been teaching at Cornell, whilst continuing to explore digital imaging in her own work. In 2011 Melanie Chilianis, a sonic artist from Australia and Hans Manner-Jakobsen, a visual artist from Denmark, was included in the exchange of letters. The essays are now arranged chronologically, and their titles accompanied by the date they were first published. I owe enduring debt to Justina Joy Bartoli-Miller for her editing skills and patience and to my children for their artistic inspiration.
ON PERCEPTION / Published: Østerbro, December 3, 2010
Dear Jan and Marty,
In the late 1950s, while Warren Sturgis McCulloch was doing research at MIT, he discovered (on a frog) the eye’s valuable role in organizing and interpreting visual information before it is sent to the brain. Let’s consider perception for a moment.
Given that the eyes play an integral role in preparing information for the brain, the location of the eyes on the human body is logical. Eyes behind the knees, say, would be a less advantageous arrangement. The human brain is moist, spongy and safely shelved out of harm’s way inside a ventless skull. It’s an eager organ which takes up precious few percent of the human anatomy and continually prompts us to identify the nature of reality by examining its symptoms. Our external features (our fairly symmetrical hands, feet, arms, legs, nostrils...) are far superior to the internal at sensing worldly qualities; we use our external, physical bodies to gather information and determine if something is tall, wide, hard, soft, dry, moist, rough, smooth, flaky, hairy, mat, shiny, cold, warm, sweet, sour, bitter, salty, putrid, fragrant, far away, close, outside, inside, natural or unnatural etc. We define the world according to how our external bodies experience it.
Painting creates both a physical presence for our bodies to sense and experience and information for our eyes to organize, interpret and convey to our brains. The act of painting is the labor of executing the objects we call paintings. Part of being a painter may be trying to come up with new ways to perceive the act of paintingeither in an uncertain, groundbreaking way or by drawing out traditions to lead to renewal. The contents of our minds can be handed over easily, like a baton. Paintings have a physicality that deteriorates and in this way they speak to the senses of the body. What painting is about is linked to what physical presence is about.
As we know from exploratory surgery performed on green animals with webbed digits and protruding eyes, perception and knowledge are intrinsically linked. Therefore, the responsibility of eyeballing a painting in a modern museum today can be placed on (or in) the eyeball itself. But if we look at art with our brains, viewing a painting as a work of art becomes an act of introspection. For instance, in the Sistine Chapel there is a fresco of a naked young man lying on the ground, one arm raised limply. The arm points towards an elderly male, who in turn points back whilst hovering in front of a deep red organic shape reminiscent of the sagittal plane of the human brain. One possible interpretation of the composition is that the elderly patriarch is a product of the human brain. The exercise in the Apostolic Chapel then suggests that ideas activate our sensory system and animate our bodies. Painting is paradoxical, because looking at paintings sparks ideas, which after all, aren’t there on the surface.
Linguistically, painting in the beginning of the 21st Century is defined by the idea of pluralism. Terms like Hard-edge painting, Geometric abstraction, Appropriation, Hyperrealism, Photorealism, Expressionism, Minimalism, Lyrical Abstraction, Pop art, Op art, Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting, Monochrome painting, Neo-expressionism, Collage, Intermedia painting, Assemblage painting, Digital painting, Post-modern painting, Neo-Dada painting, Shaped canvas painting, Environmental Mural painting, Graffiti, traditional Figure painting, Landscape painting and Portrait painting; these are all ways of ‘perceiving’ painting.
Now, if we apply the concept ‘pluralism’ to the history of painting a hundred years ago, the list is shorter. Projecting the idea of pluralism a hundred years in the future, we can reasonably assume that the list will be longer; that is, new ways of perceiving painting will be added to its ”history”. But because history is deeply rooted in language, changing the course of the history of painting requires nothing more than the rejection of any verbal description of the act of painting.
”NO to spectacle, no to virtuosity no to transformations and magic and make-believe no to glamour and transcendence of the star image no to the heroic no to the anti-heroic no to trash imagery no to the involvement of performer or spectator no to style no to camp no to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer no to eccentricity no to moving or being moved.” Rainer, Yvonne, “No manifesto”, 1965
I’d like to add to Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto from the 1960s:
No to Hard-edge painting, no to Geometric abstraction, no to Appropriation, no to Hyperrealism, no to photorealism, no to Expressionism, no to Minimalism, no to Lyrical Abstraction, no to Pop art, no to Op art, no to Abstract Expressionism, no to Color Field painting, no to Monochrome painting, no to Neo-expressionism, no to Collage, no to Intermedia painting, no to Assemblage painting, no to Digital painting, no to Postmodern painting, no to Neo-Dada painting, no to Shaped canvas painting, no to environmental mural painting, no to Graffiti, no to traditional figure painting, no to Landscape painting and no to Portrait painting. No to mimesis, no to abstraction, no to realism, no to naturalism, no to romanticism, no to idealism, no to elitism and no to populism. No to gesture, no to skill, no to concepts, no to content, no to communication, no to language, no to messages, no to articulation of ideas and emotions. No to critique, appraisal and commentary. No to elements of art, no to color, no to line, no to space and composition, no to rhythm, no to texture, no to shape, no to form. No to aesthetics and appreciation of beauty. No to theory and practice. No to art. No to artists.
ON IMAGES / Published: Østerbro, December 15, 2010
Dear Jan and Marty,
”The essence of learning is the attaching of symbolic value to signs from the outside world. Images on the retina are not eatable or dangerous. What the eye of a higher animal provides is a tool by which, aided by a memory, the animal can learn the symbolic significance of events.” Young, John Z., "The History of Neuroscience in Autobiography, volume 1", edited by Larry R. Squire, 1996
Let’s consider images for a moment. They are alien, apparitions that enter us through our eyes, projected on our retinas from an outside world. As independent entities, we are not physically linked to that world. We are mobile, and we sense the world pressing against our skin, which forms the real border between us and everything else. The surface of the eye isn’t part of the skin-barrier. To shield ourselves from the outside world’s visual impulses, we must keep our eyes closed. If we choose not to, our eyes respond to wavelengths between 390 and 750 newton meters and we engage in the visual interpretation of the world as we have come to know it through our eyes.
Images are powerful, and they keep us on a rather short leash. They activate our sensory systems, protect, stimulate, provoke emotional responses even in want of a real need… Without exaggeration, every single image is unique. Images activate our memories, and we respond to those memories, for example by drooling at the sight of a well-photographed apple pie, despite knowing how photographic paper tastes or a computer screen. Images elude our memories. As objects, paintings may be created to endure for centuries, but the image of any particular painting can only be experienced by looking at it directly. As soon as we close our eyes, the image disappears, perhaps leaving behind an afterimage on the retina as a neural adaptation.
We may not be consciously aware of it, but each time we look at an image is a unique experience. Don’t blink too long! Just this notion keeps some people from taking photographs; they might miss something when the shutter closes. The exact image on a photograph has never been witnessed firsthand. Analogue objects such as paintings cannot be copied exactly, but they can be reproduced more or less convincingly. Because we use our memory to respond to the images on our retina, the quality of reproductions varies (not to mention the psychological effect of knowing or not that we are looking at a reproduction).
Taking into account that each and every person possesses a unique set of visual memories, and assuming that we want to share our notions of the world with each other, the symbolic value of an image is very relevant. As we all know, paintings come in an endless variety of styles, shapes, and sizes, with their own tactile qualities and motivations; a little-known painting requires a thorough description in a conversation, but a well-known painting already has a place in our visual vocabulary and can be used in communication. Naturally, specialized groups of professionals do consider works of art that are generally little-known to the public, as well-known.
So how should one gather knowledge about paintings? The complex anatomy of paintings calls for the categorization of paintings, both to facilitate the work of those dealing with paintings professionally and to enable the use of paintings as cultural metaphors and historical anchors. Looking at images, paintings in particular, is something that can be taught and learned. The exercise of looking is in turn linked to the exercise of remembering. It is tempting to assume that the more paintings we have seen the more we will learn from looking at paintings, but quantity is only one aspect to consider. Knowledge about what to look for and how to look for it will impact how exposure to images can activate our senses.
Without a sense of purpose it is difficult to remember anything. Luckily we use the entire body to memorize past experiences, e.g. riding a bicycle. As children, we explored and experienced the world with our mouths. The specifics of when we first tasted glass, aluminum foil or a shag carpet may escape us, but our bodies remember the sensation well. Have you ever tried to imagine the taste of paintings? It opens up a whole new world of sensation. Certain paintings taste familiar, others are definitely an acquired taste… the memory of our impressions will influence the paintings we have yet to see and change the paintings we’ve already seen. Or what about lying with our bare skin on the painting, to bring us closer to the physical dimensions: the proportions, the framing? I vow to someday arrange shows with a hands-on policy, complete with a room in which experiencers can lay their bare skin on the canvas. Allowing a full synthesis between vision and our other senses expands and heightens our experience, not only of paintings, but of the world in general.
ON WORK TITLES / Published: Østerbro, February 3, 2011
Dear Jan and Marty,
For quite some time now, working as a painter, I have been concerned with the nature of work titles. I have repeatedly found myself pondering which words I should assign to a painting. I feel that paintings can bear whatever names we choose. Besides the fact that all of us have names, we all have children to whom we have assigned names. Marty, by the time we first met in Hornbæk, your daughter Mariel had already changed her name from Dana to Marie, then reinvented the name by adding an ‘L’ (as I understood it, the ‘L’ was quite simply a character she was fond of?). Mariel claiming her name was something I could relate to. As a child, I adopted the name of a storybook character with whom I identified very strongly, writing the name in all of my schoolbooks. “Who is Paw?” my math teacher would ask. Eventually I grew into the name Michael, motivated by my father’s Korean translation: in Korean, Migil means ‘journey of happiness’. Then there was my invisible friend, Mida. The origins of Mida’s name are beyond my recollection. Mida existed merely because I chose the title: Mida.
What do names do? Semantic signs represent the complex nature of objects and let us use them as linguistic building blocks. Names, and other labels, help us to distinguish one person or thing from another person or thing and single out objects or phenomena from other objects or phenomena. In this context, the work title of a painting helps distinguish one painting from another or alternatively, refer to another painting. Many cultures use names to denote bloodlines; in Denmark the suffix ‘sen’ means son. So the surname Andersen, as in Hans Christian Andersen, is ‘Hans Christian, son of Anders’. Hansen, son of Hans; Christensen, son of Christian and so on. When all of the strapping young ‘-sens’ were called upon to defend the borders of Denmark against invasion from Prussia and Austria in 1864, there was a lot of confusion about names. Hundreds of Peter Hansens, Hans Andersens, Anders Jensens and Jens Petersens made it impossible to organize an army. To minimize the confusion, the officers, (who were also ‘sens’) began to address soldiers with the name of their hometowns, and it eventually became a tradition to add one’s hometown as a middle name. My own middle name, Baastrup, is a tiny town in Jutland. In other countries, like Greece for example, nicknames were used to make the distinction between many people with the same name. ‘he who shout’, ‘he who never changes his underwear’, ‘she who takes long baths’. Traditionally, there has been a strong patronymic system in Arab countries for many hundreds of years, meaning that a name can extend to the roots of a family tree.
How do our names affect us? Does Michael limit or liberate me? Who would I be if my name was Untitled? Onomastically speaking, my surname, Chang, links me to my particular history. The work titles of paintings can do the same. Sometimes, a painting can evoke its own name, and its name can in turn create various associations. I once entitled a work of mine Picture of Nodding. It was a long and thin stick painting I later renamed Pica Pica. Looking at it made the viewer nod her head, but it also resembled the black and white pattern of a magpie. And a pica is a unit of measurement. This approach to naming paintings uses words’ pictorial and referential power to keep the internal reflection over the nature of the painting alive. Pica Pica is about exploring something from various angles, up and down, from side-to-side, up close and far away. No single angle will allow you to see the entire painting at once. On occasion, you can slowly sense a title, letting it come to you instead of seeking and deciding much like growing over time into the name given to you by your parents.
Reading the publication Reception Theory by Robert C. Holub and art theory in general, I was considering, for a while, assigning paintings titles like Work Title or Look at the Painting, not the Title. But I feel that this might detract attention from the sensual experience of a painting. For a short time I tested odd ‘meta-names’ for work titles, but I abandoned them shortly thereafter, feeling perfectly reassured that there would be plenty of more interesting approaches to titles; treating the title in the same manner as the painting, for example. Titles can also reflect theories of art criticism, from formalism via structuralism to deconstruction, iconography, Marxism, Feminism, biography, autobiography and psychoanalysis… White on White; Ceci n’est pas une pipe; Life of the Virgin; Beggar; Interior Scroll; The Painter; Memento Mori; The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. It’s not easy to find an approach to naming works of art that is likely to further both the discourse about art and art theory at the same time which is, after all, one of contemporary art’s challenges.
This year (2010, ed.), I’ve been working with flags, and flags have given me something new to think about. How can a flag be considered art? Flags are used to send signals; they often evoke strong emotional responses, which was also interesting with regard to the investigative work I’ve done with video about why we respond emotionally and physically to images. One of the triptychs I produced shows three white flags: the Danish, the Norwegian, and the Swedish. Stripped of their colors, the differences in the designs and dimensions of these three very similar flags are revealed. When I was trying to come up with a suitable title, I turned to my family for help. My oldest daughter, Frederikke, and I were walking along the lakes in central Copenhagen on our way to the train one day and had a long talk about what titles do. Although I seldom discuss my work with her, I asked for her input. She was quiet, pensive and in light of her age (13), possibly a little timid to make a suggestion. We were passing under a bridge when she uttered: ‘a lonesome beer’. I had been so absorbed in my own thoughts that I hadn’t noticed the beer bottle she saw standing in the middle of the road, but the coincidence didn’t escape either of us. Coincidence is very much in the nature of art and I should quite like to keep my daughter’s peculiar and inadvertent title for the flag piece. It has a story and even an educational purpose, a meeting between a parent and a child.
There are so many ways to name works of art. I’ll close here, inviting you to share your thoughts on the matter.
ON COLLABORATION / Published: Østerbro, May 24, 2011
Dear Jan and Marty,
Let me start out by saying: Collaboration is a vast and probably inexhaustible topic. Like it, love it or hate it, collaboration has firmly established itself in the art world over the past decades. As Jan Kather put it in an e-mail:
”[Collaboration is] a pandemic infection in the art world of the 21st Century. Enabled by digital technology and the Internet, international collaboration’s defining moment was when artists, who became infected by this collective desire to create/communicate, unintentionally caused a major shift in 21st Century art practice by stepping out of the artist- genius-working-in-isolation mode into the artist-as-collaborator- communicator-creator mode.” Kather, Jan, Quote from an e-mail exchange on December 30, 2009
What works when we work together? What happens? How do we connect? Who benefits most from collaboration? From what does collaboration benefit most? How does the way we communicate influence the outcome?
In the following, I look at some of the collaborative projects I have directly or indirectly been involved in. The observations are based on seven collaborative endeavors, each of which represents a different method of co-operating.
Method One, The Exquisite Corpse Video Project
It all began with The Exquisite Corpse Video Project. Exquisite Corpse, a collaborative method devised by the Surrealists in the early 1900s, is best known as a party game: after writing or drawing on a piece of paper, a player folds the paper to reveal only a small portion of her work to the next contributor, who in turn bases his own work on the visible portion and so on, until finally the paper is opened to unveil a strangely continuous, yet wildly divergent form or figure. In the spring of 2008, fourteen artists from nine countries on the social network forum at www.artreview.com were all drawn in by this comment:
”Ideas about collaborations, anyone???” Nicolela, Kika, Comment posted in an on line forum at www.artreview.com in 2008
Marty McCutcheon, a painter and video artist from Berkeley, CA, suggested using the Exquisite Corpse method for a collaborative video art series. The first volume of Exquisite Corpse videos was composed over a period of two weeks. As luck would have it, two of the participating artists, Stina Pehrsdotter and Niclas Hallberg, run an independent art space, Formverk Art Zone, in their native Sweden. They screened the project at Formverk on June 4, 2008. Besides myself, participants in the first volume of Exquisite Corpse Videos were Marty McCutcheon (USA), Ambuja Magaji (India), Kika Nicolela (Brazil), Zachary Sandler (USA), Simone Stoll (Germany), John Pirard (Belgium), Niclas Hallberg (Sweden), Anders Weberg (Sweden), Alison Williams (South Africa), Stina Pehrsdotter (Sweden), Per E Riksson (Sweden), Joy Whalen (USA) and Ulf Kristiansen (Norway).
On July 12, 2008, after several months of exclusive online communication, we had our first ‘real-life’ meeting in Hornbæk, Denmark. We all found ourselves surprised by the different impressions imparted by our Internet personae as compared to our ‘analogue’ selves as a result of the face-to-face meeting, our communication in future projects (the Fragments Multi-Channel Installation Project, for example Method Seven) was more personal and more familiar. I am of the opinion that collaboration is not necessarily contingent on discussions or on verbal interaction at all, provided that participants have access to each other, but the combination of communication methods was of a clear advantage. It should be noted that despite the intense communication between the artists in the Exquisite Corpse Video Project, the project itself did not explicitly require participation in the forums discussion. The Vitruvian Woman Video Installation (Method Five) is an excellent example of a successful, partially non-verbal collaboration: of the 34 participating artists, only 17 posted in the project’s online forum.
After the first volume of Exquisite Corpse Videos, a closed social network was created for the group of video artists to exchange ideas, discuss the project’s process and evaluate its results. Lively discussions, for the most part conducted in languages other than the participants’ first language, characterized the discussion forum, which had 61 members by December 28, 2009. By retrospectively documenting and evaluating their efforts and results, participants were able to gain insights and experience growth of a different quality and magnitude than in an independent project.
Method Two, The Exquisite Dialogues
The Exquisite Dialogues Project took place online on the ArtReview website, where it ran for two months. The Exquisite Dialogues called on artists to respond to a work of art with a work of art. The nature of the artworks was unspecified and might include text, video, audio, photos, paintings etc. To stimulate responses, certain challenges were posted, for example: "Respond, in video or verse, to the concept No Concept". Replies were visualized with the help of a chart in the project’s online forum, which was updated regularly. Visually measuring the collaborative activity was a great motivation for involvement and really stimulated interaction; even when the project was no longer active, the response-visualization continued to attract members to the group. On December 20, 2009, more than one year after the conclusion of the project, the group counts 119 members. And despite the fact that the project had been finished for more than a year, a response was registered in the discussion forum on September 1st, 2009. It featured a dual-tone image of a sky with clouds and a poem.
Method Three, Colors of Conversation
The Colors of Conversation project began with a digital guestbook on my website. The idea was to interpret words with colors using a specific set of rules, and to visualize interaction. In collaboration with the Australian audio artist Melanie Chilianis, the result was outfitted with audio, generating a time-based conversation piece with colors, audio and human beings interacting on various levels.
Although the two projects overlap on the investigative timeline, they were carried out separately an example of the essentially symbiotic nature of collaboration.
The result of one collaborative project can function as input for another project and generate something entirely new and beneficial for both parties. In that sense, collaborative work can (even unintentionally) prove valuable to future collaborative projects.
Method Four, The Y’s Letters
On September 23, 2008, three members of the video artists’ group began working on a sort of pen-pal document. The project, which was called “Ys” (pronounced ‘whys’), invited participants to contribute thoughts about life and art. On December 30th, 2009, the document had reached Y14 and boasted a total of 12 906 words, for an average of 922 words per response.
At some point, the Ys project found its flow. The collaborators returned to it repeatedly, and it proved to be a useful tool. I found it valuable as an anchor for lofty subject matter as well as an exercise in articulation.
As simple as it is, the Ys project proves to be a well-functioning investigative tool, allowing the participants to generate content over a longer period of time as well as analyze the development of their thoughts and the way those thoughts are articulated. Unlike online discussion forums, which tend to be spontaneous and emotionally charged, the nature of the Ys document is pre-meditated and rational, a kind of a base for reflection and contemplative development and a potential starting point for other collaborative measures.
Method Five, The Vitruvian Woman Video Project
”The Vitruvian Woman Video Project is a multimedia sculpture created by 34 artists from around the world. Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch ‘The Vitruvian Man’, which idealizes the classic proportions of the (male) human body, The Vitruvian Woman sets out to trace the multidimensionality of womanhood in a flow of five three- minute video sequences reflecting the nine bodily regions: the head, heart, stomach, genitals, right arm, left arm, left leg, right leg and feet. This poetry of dismemberment screened on nine monitors draws on diverse chapters of female identity, from scenes of domestic life to the sensibilities of lingerie and lust. Allegories of the flesh and a male beaten to pulp add to the shaky image of female empowerment as it alternately pins its hope on Buddhist mantra and surrenders to the flux of collective consciousness.” Wyon, Kim, Vitruvian Woman festival programme text, Genova, Italia, 2009
With The Vitruvian Woman Video Project, we were aiming to transpose the two-dimensional screening/projection collaboration into a three-dimensional installation. The Vitruvian Woman Project was defined and administrated in a closed online forum, tracking developments with the use of a progress chart which was updated daily. For me, the Vitruvian Woman Project was an exercise in collaboration and an experiment with collaboration’s parameters.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There's no right way or wrong way to carry out a project, but there are many, many different ways. The Vitruvian Woman Project showcases and celebrates that diversity.
The participating artists came from Sweden (Niclas Hallberg and Stina Pehrsdotter) and Italy (Willy Darko, his assistant Luca Tacconi and fellow artist Irina Gabiani), and they defined the presentation of the project, which resulted in two very different visualizations. In any collaboration, there is one unchanging factor: each participant will have a very different vision for the project’s outcome. Therefore, collaboration generates something infinitely larger than any of its parts.
As in other collaborations, documenting our progress proved motivating and generated energy for the participating artists, both individually and as a group.
Method Six, Audio Visual Research
In the Exquisite Dialogue project, a Melbourne-based sonic artist responded to two challenges: "Make a video of a colour using only black and white images" and “Make a video response to the concept of ‘I'm not okay and you are not okay’". Instead of video, the sonic artist chose to submit her responses in audio form. Her variation from the challenge’s parameters did not have a negative impact on the project or the possibility for collaborationon the contrary. An interactive html page was created in response to the audio file, which in turn inspired an entirely new interactive piece. And that piece, entitled "Red/yellow", prompted a practice-based research relationship between the Melbourne-based sonic artist and the Copenhagen-based visual artist. Diversion from a project’s prescribed parameters can be stimulating, and can push the outer limits much further than originally expected, bringing about unexpected results.
Method Seven, The Fragments Multi-channel Installation Project
The Fragments Multi-channel Installation Project aimed to further explore Exquisite Corpse style collaboration.
The majority of the participating artists had collaborated previously on the Exquisite Corpse Video Project (Method one). For this Internet-based project, the artists were sent the preceding artist’s complete contribution instead of receiving a ten-second excerpt, as was the case in the Exquisite Corpse Video Project. Three threads were created, each with five participants. The first artist in each thread created 1-2 minutes of video, which s/he then forwarded to the next participant, who worked with the initial vision in any way s/he saw fit. Then the new work was forwarded to the next participant and so on. The three threads were completed simultaneously, and the participants were pretty much kept in the dark about the others’ video content until the final unveiling, although a common decision about the screening was made in the online forum: the finished pieces were to be projected onto a wall covered in whitewashed fragments of broken things. Junk!
The Fragments Multi-channel Installation Project was screened at The Berkeley Commonplace Community Screening Center in Berkeley, California on July 25, 2009 and at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira New York on April 5 to April 8, 2011. On the days of the screening, various multi-screen experiments and live performance experiments were conducted. The atmosphere created by a group of people working together on a common project is one of creativity and creative resonance, inspiration, openness and interaction. The participants in these projects, motivated by the “whole that is bigger than its parts”, choose to continue meeting ‘in real life’, working on increasingly more projects together.
Collaboration seems to function well driven by initiative and an exchange of actions towards a goal which more often than not becomes common along the way.
Like independent endeavors, collaboration is time and energy consuming and not necessary easy, but participants seem to reap great advantages from the exchange on a collective as well as personal level. Often, the process and result of a collaborative project will give rise to multiple other projects, collaborative or not.
Pandemic or not, collaboration truly is contagious.
Fragments Project Essay
There’s little doubt in our minds that collaboration across international borders is a great way to meet the challenges at the turn of the 21st century. And for that simple reason exploring collaboration in a field like art has great contemporary merit.
The Fragments Project would have been extremely difficult to realize just a decade ago, simply because there weren’t enough video artists online in art related social networks. Because of very limited Internet bandwidth in most countries at that time, no one really thought about sharing their large video files via the Internet. Services such as YouTube, Vimeo, WeTransfer and Pando came along once the bandwidth increased. The changes bandwidth brought with it, can be compared with the invention of oil paint in tubes.
The Fragments Project is what we would call groundwork. It is a study in a new field where very little research, if any, has been done by previous generations, for obvious technical reasons. The project is carried out in a modernistic sense that places emphasis on contemporary topics and especially on the method itself as a new way of working. The method is in fact a new art making vehicle. Like one of the first automobiles The Fragments Project does have an awkward pioneer quality to it and is not too concerned with aesthetics or aerodynamics. There’s motivation however and the vision is clear: there will be more movements like this one in the future. Most likely better looking, faster and more refined. And that is why being part of an event like this has a sense of significance attached to it.
For the same reasons, however, it is important to be critical about the event too. We can’t help feeling a bit like mad scientists helping to bring this strange creation to life. We wonder if this was how Nikola Tesla felt working on the induction motor and wireless communication or how Hovannes Adamian felt thinking up the tricolor principle of the color television or how Mary Shelley felt while writing about the experiments of Dr. Frankenstein?
At best The Fragments Project resonates with an image such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in the way that traditional beauty is sacrificed for the sake of a new, alienating multi-perspective. One of the points that The Fragments Project makes is that collaboration is about something else than authorship and intellectual property. Curiosity perhaps? In this sense the project is a new kind of social, multicultural investigation of art.
The practical side of collaboration in the 21st century is linked to the development of information technology and world wide access to it. Future inventions will soon make an event such as The Fragments Project look ridiculously old fashioned. Like an oversized typewriter, a fax machine, a Walkman with a 60 minutes cassette, a VHS cassette player or a floppy disc. But rather than technology, The Fragments Project places greater emphasis on human interaction.
How is it exactly, that we feel a need to communicate via sound and moving images? Why is information so important that we need to convey it to each other all the time? Why do we invent all these mediums? How is it we digest the impressions we receive from the constant flow of digital audiovisual information?
The Fragments Project questions how we consume information on a daily basis and how we respond to it. The project even questions itself as a method of presenting digital sound and moving images and questions the way in which we are surrounded by fragments of information all the time: on our watches, in our newspapers, on cell phones, on our computers, on our TVs, in our homes, on our clothes, etc. The Fragments Project projects its information onto our junk! The interactive platform provided by The Fragments Project makes it possible for the audience at Arnot Art Museum to fill up the museum space with digital audiovisual information submitted by contemporary artists and to play with these works to find out what that feels like.
Contemporary artists do have an obligation to construct works of art that make us all pause for a moment and consider the positions we put ourselves in. It might seem overwhelming to try to collaborate and to help each other without speaking the same language, without living in the same country, without sharing the same beliefs, without having similar values, without visualizing the same goals, and without having chatted and shaken hands. Interestingly, it does happen.
Traditionally speaking, in all cultures and all ages, artists have worked together towards common goals and in groups sharing certain viewpoints. In this sense what’s different about The Fragments Project is that the participating artists don’t necessary share any ideology at all. They have different cultural backgrounds and no clear visions of a common goal. They don’t speak the same languages and only very few of them have actually met each other or even exchanged e-mails. And yet their works are united for two days in the main gallery in the prominent Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, New York on April 5 8, 2011. In that way The Fragments Project represents something remarkably new, quite unique and quintessentially of the time we live in.
Michael Chang and Marty McCutcheon, Copenhagen and Berkeley March 2011
ON ICONS / Published: Østerbro, September 7, 2011
Dear Jan and Marty,
As humans, we like mirrors. We like to look into them and contemplate our development and our experiences. We objectify people and things, generating icons via media to create commonplace language or imagery that conveys our particular beliefs. We build socio-icons so we can imagine ourselves, and we can regard paintings as a special kind of mirror too: painters investigate certain aspects of life and paintings show us the mundane world from a particular viewpoint, and we then respond to the reflections. A painting tells us a quite different tale about royalty, superstardom, fame and celebrity than the press. It’s not unlike what Constantine was saying about the link between royalty and divinity.
But when royalty, superstars and celebrities begin to make paintings, two worlds begin to collide. When our icons suddenly begin swapping identities, we have to adjust our orbits, too.
The paintings by Damien Hirst, Bob Dylan and Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II remind me that that we use historical events and public figures as points of reference; that our brains cope with data by simplifying information; that celebrity and anonymity are products of a civilization where citizens’ identities are often inextricable from their professional trade; that the human brain assesses situations to keep us from harm and to reveal opportunities that will improve our sense of safety; that we categorize groups of citizens in accordance to their race, gender, sexuality, class, caste, ghetto etc; that analysis is subjective; that we can’t escape basic needs, no matter how secure we feel and no matter how high up in society we suppose we are situated.
Art is an open-ended concept in the realm of the mind. As the concepts art and painting evolve, so do their counterparts in our vocabulary; in other words, we inadvertently make “art” by embracing new ideas. And because a maker of art is an artist, anyone participating in the revision of the term art is an artist a conceptual artist. Even changing one’s opinion about innovations in art could be perceived as an endless conceptual artistic gesture.
Damien Hirst, Bob Dylan and Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark are as likely as anyone else to advance art as a term. The chances of us becoming colleagues outside the realm of painting are slim, but as professional artists, the contributions made to painting by Mr. Hirst, Mr. Dylan and Her Majesty are perhaps about as probable candidates for advancing the field as any other painter, despite their obvious advantage of being famous. Fame is undoubtedly a great catalyst for getting work shown, even if it is by no means a guarantee of rank or relevance.
When we’re evaluating the paintings of already well-established individuals, it may behoove us to ask ourselves a few simple questions: how can these works of art bring me further to an understanding of art and of painting? How are these paintings beneficial to me and my personal development of art as a term?
The paintings made by the monarchy, the superstars and the celebrities of today may not necessarily have long-term relevance for the field of painting, but they are relevant to art as a term in general. Regardless of their quality, they affirm that the icons promoted by our society are indeed human beings, fundamentally attracted to the same lights as we are.
I find that these three socio-icons/painters resonate with me. I see their paintings as expressions of a social need and as the search for a connection to a world outside themselves. They remind me of the process of development as a painter; of identity crises and the struggle to find your voice; of finding yourself after an arduous journey; of the battle to dispel illusions, insecurity, cynicism and ambition; and finally, of realizing your aspirations to be sincere and humble.
ON AGING / Published: Østerbro, December 9, 2010
“To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.” Wilde, Oscar, Quote from ”The Picture of Dorian Gray", 1891
Where I grew up in the Danish countryside there was very little artificial light outdoors in the evenings and plenty of time to wonder about the universe, extraterrestrials and the meaning of infinity. Star-gazing makes you think about time: the distance covered by the rays of light from each star, is it as old as cave-paintings, older than cavepeople? I can easily recall the night skies of my childhood. And despite the nasty and disorienting business of growing up, the sky still looks itself to me. It’s reassuring, a kind of North Star in and of itself. It’s literally universal.
One way of looking at time is as a line from birth to death with life squeezed in between. Linear thinking is standard in the Western world. It governs our communication and our schedules. I’m told that Eastern cultures, where time is perceived as cyclic rather than linear, newborns are considered the oldest in a family. The Australian Aboriginals consider time a question of being awake or dreaming, giving rise to thoughts of the concept of dreamtime and connecting with other species via our dreams. The Indian Vedas describe time as an endless string of unique moments and as an awareness of a constant flux governed collectively. No yesterday or tomorrow.
What does this have to do with making art? Interrelatedness and infinity. Time and space are elements of painting. They are intrinsic parts of the method and the motivation and they are part of the product. They are part of how a painting affects us. Paintings are passed on from generation to generation under the constancy of the night sky and someday, the paintings we’re painting now, in 2010, will be relics from the dark ages. There are so many possible directions to investigate when it comes to the abstract realms of space and time, but I’ll try to stay close to the ground.
Materials change over time. Solid grows brittle, moist dries out, pliable becomes stiff, potency diminishes. Some material changes rapidly, others change slowly, over the course of decades or centuries. An oil painting can easily outlast a human being, even if the painting is hanging on the branch of an apple tree, subjected to the harsh Norwegian weather and with birds crapping on the canvas as target-practice (a technique famously utilized by Edvard Munch). If they’re well-constructed and taken care of, paintings can last centuries and even millenia. Physical objects themselves, paintings touch on our own physicality. In a way, the inevitable slow decay of paintings makes us face the speed of our own decay. Paradoxically, the paintings from an artist’s early career are those on which s/he is most likely to witness the aging process. The aging of later paintings is entrusted to future generations. For this reason, thorough, honest and detailed documentation is essential; information about how a painting has been constructed allows optimal maintenance, restoration and repairs, should they be necessary. Detailing methods is also a service to future generations. A lot of techniques have gone lost in the history of painting, a lot of painters have safeguarded their methods from their peers and competitors, but personally I advocate generosity to serve many and further personal and collective development rather than selfishness to serve few.
The materials a painter chooses can reflect her understanding of time. Acrylics age differently than oils, temperas, emulsions and waxes and the choices made in the studio reveal your personal frequency, and the wavelength on which you choose to work probably resonates with that frequency. Our frequency is a unique tone in space and time, but it is not limited to a single individual. This might be a blow to the ego, but it is also very reassuring that there are others out there who will pick up the tone you emit. Paintings can let your personal rhythms reverberate long after you are gone.
Producing ephemeral works of art is the exact opposite of trying to make lasting artworks. Work rendering the ephemeral essence of gestures, moments, awareness, states of mind, uniqueness and the intimacy of personal experiences and our emotional lives occupies a small, but far from insignificant place in the art world and is honorable, poetic even heroic. Experimental use of materials and the investigation of life’s nuances is one way to express the delicate balance between the ephemeral and the everlasting; time and space and the eternality of every single moment.
Notions like these prod painters to acknowledge the aging of paint. In my own experience, my youthful ambitions to upend the world and revolutionize painting have slowly dissipated with my increasing involvement in my work. I have become conservative and traditional, one of those deadbeats I once despised, but secretly admired for their enduring devotion to their work. I have come to understand that devotion is rewarding and sparks renewal itself, rather than feeling that I’ve sacrificed originality and innovation in my work. Reading about older painters has become stimulating for me. As I mature, I understand what the painters I admire have been saying, and what I don’t understand intrigues me.
I find that the less I intellectualize, the more ’connected’ the images I produce seem to be. I am conscious and determined when it comes to my methods. The images come as a surprise, which I find energizes the process. I find this rewarding. When certain values are cultivated and incorporate into the work, the work succeeds. It may seem ahead of me from time to time, as I struggle to catch up with the expressions. Perhaps, we learn to understand ourselves not only through reflections, but through our actions too. It reminds me of a saying I once heard about luck: Luck is when alacrity meets the right opportunity. In a way, a painting is at once a cumulative record of a series of gestures performed over a period of time and a record of choices, dating all the way back to your first childhood drawing. Just like newborns in the East are considered the oldest in a family. In a way, then, your life connects with all lives lived; everything we do makes up a collection of recorded actions and thoughts and a personal library of private references, which in turn belongs to a universal library. Using these references gives actions a purpose and as a result we experience the past as meaningful for the present moment. Just like the Indian Vedas describe time. When we are aware of this system it also gives a sense of meaning to future events. Just like linear thinking is standard in the Western world. We become visionaries. Dreamers who are awake.
ON RELATIONS / Published: Østerbro, January 2, 2011
Dear Jan, Melanie and Marty,
A while ago, I started noticing that the conclusions I was reaching in my work tended to resonate with the rest of the world as often as they outrightly conflicted with it. Because I feel a certain responsibility to communicate my thoughts and my discoveries, it became necessary for me to reconsider my relationships with art foundations, art schools, artist colleagues, art historians, art museums, art galleries, art collectors, art journalists, laypeople, my family, past and future generations of artists.
I consider myself a painter. As such, I feel a kinship with past generations of painters my relationship with them is at the core of my work. I study their work in hopes of making a small but significant contribution for future generations of painters. What better place to study artists of the past than in art museums? I remember visiting Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen as a five year-old. I wish I could say that I marvelled at the contours of Thorvaldsen’s sculptures, but I only recall being contrary and fed up after a day of touring the city. I do vividly remember the smooth, cool stone floor on which I eventually threw myself facedown, and my uncle Sun (who was visiting from Korea) dragging me around on it, and the way my cheek was cold to the touch afterward. As an artist, I am aware of the importance of my work being included in museum collections (and not only because they are open to the public for any tired kid to come in and commence their cultivation by being dragged over their cool and smooth floors) but because I believe that art museums take good care of their works, take them seriously and present them well to their audience.
Of course, museums are more than deluxe storage units; the works in museum collections must have relevance for the general public and offer vital information about our cultural development. But needless to say, museums are far from perfect. They can manufacture or distort history; they can be competitive businesses, changing the natural course of contemporary artists’ development; they can bow to politics; they can make corrupt deals and they aren’t even foolproof storage units: their security can fail, jeopardizing extremely valuable work. I like being in museums, the sheer mass of artwork that they can house and that they give me the opportunity to see works I know only from books or maybe even not at all. I know a few museum directors, but I can’t say that this affects or enhances my relationship to museums in any way. It’s the works that speak.
And then there’s my gallery. For most intents and purposes, galleries are businesses. Running a gallery is a lot of work and an extremely costly affair to boot. And when a young artist becomes involved with a commercial gallery, s/he must be discerning as well as realistic. On some level, the relationship between an artist and a gallery will always be reflected in the artist's work, and in my experience the best relationships only impact the way you work, not your material or immaterial artistic goals. Today I am lucky to have a fruitful relationship with my gallerist and I value the fact that she sincerely cares about me and respects my art. She arranges exhibitions of my work and artists’ talks, introduces me to curators, critics, and other relevant personages in the art world. As far as I'm concerned, this is the optimum outcome of the alliance between art and commerce.
My relationship to members of the press has been a little rocky. An attempt I once made to have a journalist write for a catalogue ended in disaster for both the poor journalist and myself. Journalists, or news reporters, report the news, and art is very very old news. Journalists’ hearts beat quickly and their Five W’s don’t quite do justice to the spirit of art; what I needed was an art historian, a professor, an art critic or a curator, not a journalist. Not that things are less complicated with art historians, professors, art critics and curators, but my experiences with them have been more fruitful. Having your work translated from a visual language to the written language of words is odd. As an artist, you gain a new perspective, albeit a subjective one. There is no objective translation of artwork; there is always a built-in sentiment. I truly enjoy reading well-written texts about (or responses to) my work and feel honored to have inspired such eloquent reactions.
I steadfastly believe in my relationship with my colleagues. In particular, I’ve forged a kinship with artists I have met on the Internet. Some of my colleagues have afforded me a bridge to art students, reminding me of my own studies and allowing me to reflect on the development process of an artist, starting from the safety of the seedpod, to sprouting and eventually blossoming. I realize that art students need care, warmth, water and light to thrive and in a way, I would do almost anything to foster and promote their growth. But my firm belief in the Platonic tradition hinders me. Essentially, there is one answer to the question of how to navigate the jungle of relationships without sacrificing progress, integrity or authenticity: I am my own teacher and my own student and above all, I have a great deal of self-reflection to do. I have little or perhaps nothing at all to communicate, but I am willing to share my humble reflections so that others can reflect their own self-reflections on them.
ON BICYCLE RIDING / Published: Østerbro, March 25, 2011
Dear Jan, Melanie and Marty,
Since I started painting I’ve experimented enthusiastically with different work methods. Two very different approaches have concerned me in particular. My initial approach was to paint based on what I believed was a gut feeling, and with time I developed a second approach which is methodical and much more formalized. The latter has proved extremely valuable holistically that is, benefitting the overall project, while the ‘youthful passion’, as it were, remains at the core.
Several events of late have given me insight into the complementary nature of these two seemingly contradictory approaches to painting. One of them was a recent e-mail exchange with a Danish Art Consultant, Birgitte Riis. Ms. Riis had posted an article in an online forum which resonated with some of my own texts and she was encouraging me to participate in the online debate. I seem to get imbalanced when I post comments in online forums something I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to since I left the artreview.com community website and now-closed Ning! website created for the Exquisite Corpse Video Project.
When I sit at my worktable and write, I have a map in front of me which I’ve drawn to illustrate my relationship with the world outside my practice as an artist and a painter. As I was replying to Ms. Riis that I would have to decline, I realized that for me, withholding my opinions from public debate creates inertia; it builds up my momentum as an artist instead of as a debater.
When I had seen that, I recalled something else. In the summer of 2009 I was in Berkeley. I stayed with my friend Marty, whose daughter Mariel was just learning to ride a two-wheeler. Thinking about using inertia to build up the momentum to transform intellectual energy into creative energy, I was seized by the Wikipedia-urge and read this:
”Kinetic energy may be best understood by examples that demonstrate how it is transformed to and from other forms of energy. For example, a cyclist uses chemical energy that was provided by food to accelerate a bicycle to a chosen speed. This speed can be maintained without further work, except to overcome air-resistance and friction. The chemical energy has been converted into kinetic energy, the energy of motion, but the process is not completely efficient and produces heat within the cyclist.”
With these ideas in mind, a link between my two different work methods began to emerge. Gut feeling and a more formalized and methodical work strategy seem to be connected by a dualistic bond; one source of energy is used to fire up the engine and generate a tempo, which, in return, can be sustained with very little effort, at least until the motion is stopped, for example, if one should stop pedaling. (Luckily Mariel was not discouraged, and she can now ride a two-wheeler.)
Thoughts like these explain some of the seemingly effortless experiences I’ve had producing paintings. The painting Equities, for example. I had bought a synthetic-fiber canvas as a sort of experiment: I wanted to explore my affinity for natural flax canvasses. Was it prejudice, or was it the material itself that didn’t resonate with me? It lay in wait for a long time, leering me from the living-room shelf in Store Kannikestræde on a daily basis, I took it down without thinking and began drawing a grid with a felt-tip pen, dividing the plane into tiles. After sketching out a division of each side of the canvas I began filling the spaces with a mixture of graphite and linseed oil. It all happened quite simply, as if it had gathered the energy it needed while eyeing me from the shelf.
I used a different method with the multi-panel painting The Man Without Qualities. Here, in retrospect, I was riding the bike, using a series of instances to build up and maintain the speed, or momentum if you will. This particular group of paintings started out as numerous sketches dividing a plane, which became larger drawings, thus giving me the opportunity to study ideas about scale and sequencing and the idea of human size and to work with the concept of 1:1. I worked with the number eight: I explored eight different painting media, eight different brush stroke gestures and seven “virtues or sins” in a 1:1 relationship with a panel that could contain them all proportionally; a larger body, scaled down to fit on a canvas analogous to my own dimensions. A methodical approach with a different outcome.
I am very grateful to have grasped the connection between these two working experiences and the practical application for art of energy changing form. Without the external circumstances: exchanges with colleagues, an event arranged by the art foundation and the feedback I wrote about it; I would hardly have discovered it. As always, we are confronted with the interconnectedness of all things, the importance of sharing our thoughts.
ON FUNDING FINE ART / Published: Østerbro, August 13, 2011
Dear Jan, Melanie and Marty,
I don’t know whether you, like me, have been following the debate about cutbacks in funding of the arts in Denmark this year. There have been layoffs at the Royal College of Art and departments have been closed. This has sparked some debate, among other things leading to Denmark’s current (now former, ed.) Minister of Culture, Per Stig Møller, appointing a special task group to evaluate the funding of the arts in Denmark.
Recently Berlingske (daily newspaper, ed.) published Møller’s impassioned reply to a letter from the editor. Møller wrote in firm favor of continued funding of the arts, and his arguments roused my curiousity. There were so many “Y’s” and I wondered: aren’t there any more profound arguments? What are the current parameters for funding the fine arts? What kind of art should we be funding?
I think it’s important to remember why we’re having this discussion right now. No, it's not because the general public has suddenly and collectively decided that art is irrelevant; the motivation is the global financial meltdown which, for the record, was not caused by funding of the arts.
I understand the pragmatic short-term logic of the argument. Our nations reek of financial havoc, so we should consider cutting the funding of things we don’t explicitly need. But isn’t removing an appreciated part of society without consequence an impossible task? What might the consequences of reducing funding of the art to a minimum be? Naturally, funding is a stimulus for the creation of art, and even without it, art would still be produced; it is so fundamental to our existence. It has been with us, within us, since the dawn of humanity. But would future historians discover drastic declines in the volume of art produced in our time? Would they consider ours a Dark Age for the arts? Art has been relevant to every culture in world history, and as the Minister of Culture suggests in his letter, the art we make reflects our society in a particular era. And as we established in our Y-letters, a combination of images, objects and the written word gives us the most complete picture possible.
What kind of art then deserves funding? The kind of art that benefits the most people? The kind of art that benefits people the most? Art that could never be created without funding support? A wide spectrum of art because who knows what will be beneficial to whom someday? Art which is considered great by a panel of experts? Should the available funds be distributed equally among all applicants? Or perhaps according to gender? The aim seems to be to enable the creation of art that will provide fodder for intellectual and spiritual development. But who can best determine which stimuli are most valuable?
Ideally, there should be a “separation of art and state”: art should be autonomous, a refuge, unaffected by politics and commerce. As far as I’m concerned, autonomy is the cornerstone of art. Autonomy, but not anarchy. Fine art should be free to criticize and comment on society, but the fine artist should not feel obligated to criticize in order to be eligible for public funding.
Decrypting the funding system is no easy task. I’m certain that artists and supporters of art would agree that right now is an ideal time to reorganize and improve the ever-more complex system of fine art funding, leaving out the drastic cuts. But the revamp should be carried out without the assistance of slenderizing politicians. Even the general public’s participation should be moderate. Nevertheless, the debate should be open and aimed at finding a pragmatic solution for all of our benefits.
Private funding need not be altogether good or bad, but the development of privately funded fine arts can’t be said to be unbiased. When we cut public funding of the arts, we leave the fate of fine arts to private philanthropists, which in turn increases the risk that the art produced is heavily influenced by personal interest. Take for example the aid of connoisseurs like Charles Saatchi and Larry Gargosian; what began as the cultivation of a visionary art slowly becomes increasingly one-sided, eventually cultivating brands.
Additionally, private funding presents new challenges for new talents, who usually don’t receive much funding before they are established as artists. Eliminating public funding is a move in favoring the established, limiting the potential for talented autodidacts or the less socially adept to excel as professional artists.
Public funding in the form of travel-, project-, or any other kind of grants is an invaluable way to support artists with less formal credentials, giving self-motivated ‘dark horses’ an opportunity to excel within their chosen field. Another obvious advantage of public funding is funds can and do reach artists regardless of whether they are well-connected with commercial businesses or not. While the majority of funds are distributed in capital cities, there are allowances for artists involved the cultural development in smaller communities. Having received a grant for a video-art project at the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, NY, I can attest to the fact that the response was far more riveting than it might have been in a saturated city setting.
Public funding supports the idea of art belonging to everyone. Regardless of the particulars of a committee’s decisions, we can rest assured that an artist in need has received endowment. The essential thing is that the funds are there and we all have a shot at them. Ideally, an experienced public committee will be visually oriented and have sympathy for the less verbally gifted applicant, recognizing the potential in work samples and promising project proposals.
Both public and private funding are necessary to maintain diversity in art. Our common aim as a society should be to produce as much good art as possible. Without public funding, art risks becoming one-sided and geared to suit patrons. The lack of public funding will create more competition and the number of artists will probably decrease. Certain approaches to making art might face extinction altogether. Art institutions will probably turn their focus back to ancient art and the public will praise the new superartists’ quick thrills and easy entertainment as fine art’s role as a natural part of our everyday disappears into the sunset.
Academics, intellectuals, critics, curators and artists like myself are already taking turns to guard the gates of Art for the rest of society. We trumpet our feelings on the matter and our suggestions for the future of civilization; we implore our fellow citizens to direct their attention to what we believe to be of the utmost value, to keep art in everyone’s hands, hearts and minds.
ON CONVEYING INFORMATION ABOUT ART / Published: Østerbro, August 31, 2011
Dear Jan, Melanie and Marty,
When we met in Elmira for the ’Fragments’ show earlier this year (group exhibition at the Arnot Art Museum, ed.). I needed my laptop to screen the video art, and being a notoriously light traveler, I chose to leave my trusty Leica at home. Jan, you were kind enough to lend me a camera.
On a Monday, we drove to Cornell to do a crit-class with Jan’s photography students and I took pictures out of the car window. Because I didn’t know the camera I was using and had no idea how the pictures would turn out, I didn’t think much and just snapped shots of the landscape speeding by.
I don’t think that I was taking pictures of the view, but rather of the situation: sitting in Jan’s car on our way to the crit-class, taking pictures with her camera on the way from Elmira to Ithaca, listening to the Twin Peaks’ soundtrack and being conscious of where I was in a dream-like, David Lynch kind of way. I aimed the camera in different angles and pressed the button when it felt right.
I took ten photographs and then forgot about them. But when we downloaded them the day before I left, they really surprised me. The first image I opened spoke to me in a clear and painterly way. It was both figurative and abstract, with a clearly defined background and the sharp silhouettes of trees on top of the hillside set against a grey and misty sky. The perspective gave the image in an interesting layered structure, with the trees growing larger and larger, then disappearing into a valley with the hill before they reached the road. I remember telling Jan that I thought this image would change the way I work.
After I saw the photographs I had taken, I got to thinking about the relationship between image and method. The series I took with Jan’s camera imparts a special mood, and that mood may well be the only content the images offer a viewer.
But how can we possibly know what our images will mean to another person? We can analyze their formal aspects colors, dynamics, contrast. We can compare them to other images and make associations, but it is nothing more than speculation and projection and it fails to address the images’ potential meanings.
Information about methods in art is indispensible for scholars of art and valuable for spectators. But do the conditions under which an image has come to be influence how a spectator perceives that image? Knowing them certainly helps in a formal analysis. At the same time however, it taints the sensory experience that is arguably the true content of the work.
In Elmira, we spoke a lot about methods in visual arts. In the spirit of the inspiration and warmth that I still carry with me from these conversations, I ask you the following:
Is the experience of art, situated in the work of art themselves, or inside the person looking at the work of art?
If we believe the latter, further information about the works is obviously very relevant. If we believe the former, only the work itself is relevant. I find this paradox intriguing and therefore pass this question on to you.
”My memory of childhood drawing is mostly focussed around age 9 or 10, I think. I drew football scenes. It might be interesting to note that I never went to actual football games, so my drawings were based on television and the newspaper. A few years ago, my uncle, my mother's brother, found these between the pages of an old book: O.J. Simpson and Tom Dempsey” Marty McCutcheon McCutcheon, Marty , Quote from an reply to ”On Children’s Drawings”, December 4, 2011
ON CHILDREN’S DRAWINGS / Published: Østerbro, November 30, 2011
Dear Jan, Melanie, Marty and Hans,
As you know, I am the proud father of four daughters. With the many joys and challenges of being a parent come renewed views of the world we inhabit (not to mention of oneself!). As an artist I’ve been particularly tuned in to my children’s drawings. Among other things I find there to be interesting parallels between art history and the artistic development of a child, and I’d like to share some of my observations with you.
From pictures and e-mails you’ll know that I have consciously allowed my youngest daughter Kastanje to draw and paint on any surface in our home without limitations. My objective has been to encourage and facilitate her visual development as fully as possible. I praise her work, making it a point to ask about her experience in drawing.
By permitting Kastanje to express herself anywhere in our home, I’ve had the opportunity to notice some of the parallels between art history and a child’s first artistic experiences. For example, Kastanje’s first ”paintings” were decidedly investigative. They were without figurative ideals and expressionistic; her sole motivation seems to be some sort of internal impulse. I believe that impulse lies latent in all of us, and that we can choose whether or not we wish to react to it.
With three older sisters who love to draw, the figurative universe was bound to find its way into Kastanje’s world. One of the first examples of just that was on the first blank page of a bedtime story: it is a picture of me, and as Kastanje explained, she hadn’t been able to finish drawing one of my eyes. It’s clear from the drawing that she knew where on a face the eyes should be placed and that there should be two of them for the representation to make sense. Figures soon became an important part of Kastanje’s reality and her drawings changed from the application of color to strokes and contours. I framed that first drawing and hung it on my wall.
As I was writing this today, Kastanje drew another picture of me. This time, the elements of my face are outside of my head, which in turn is placed on a long body, which she has filled in. She doesn’t seem troubled by the fact that the two eyes and the smiling curve of a mouth are placed outside of the head; she just seems satisfied that everything is there.
I wonder if the same applies to other things as well. Do we mirror our own physiognomy in the world and feel most at ease when the world responds with a body with a head, a nose, a mouth, two eyes …? I wrote earlier about the effect that the body’s symmetry has on our perception and the way we interpret the world. I can now confirm that the effect is already active and can be be expressed in a drawing from about three years of age.
Kastanje’s closest older sister is Josefine. Josefine clearly considers her material when drawing, which is why I introduced her to watercolors, gouache, oil pastels, graphite pencils and charcoal at a rather early age. Her readiness to take on those challenges shows me how natural it is for humans to use the materials available to us in the world.
Early on Josefine began filling out sheets of paper with color. Kastanje did the same, but unlike her younger sister Josefine didn’t use an array of colors, preferring instead to choose only one. Her drawings from that period are as finished as my own, and they even share the same content: materials and the frequency of visible light.
At six years old, Josefine has a crystal clear vision for her drawings. ”Mistakes” in her drawings can bring her to the edge of tears. Josefine is already creating ideals which can be difficult for her hands to realize: she has already begun a classic struggle with criticism which quite clearly begins in our intellect.
I’m guessing that the internal battle between ideals and reality is what gives us the chance to develop our potential. In the challenging process we get to know ourselves, learning from our experiences and maturing with them.
And art is about persistence. Maybe talent lies in the recognition of that internal battle.
I consider it my responsibility to show Josefine that I make ”mistakes” in my work, but that ”mistakes” can also be an opportunity to discover something unexpected and arrive somewhere further than merely ”right”.
Josefine’s willowy older sister Filippa is more of a dreamer of nature than her sister. In a lot of ways she is Josefine’s opposite this is reflected in her drawings, with their fine strokes and feather-light tones.
Filippa spent a lot of her time drawing patterns early on. She would divide her drawing paper into segments, filling each one with different colors and designs made up of different graphic elements and varying strokes. Her drawings reveal a knack for combining small features to create a larger whole, and her compositions are often fascinating for example her self-portrait, in which her face is divided with a wire mesh pattern.
Frederikke is the oldest of the sister-flock. Like her sisters, she began drawing at a tender young age. Unlike her sisters, Frederikke has always been most fascinated by the contours of drawing, and at 15 years of age (in 2011), she has created a unique universe and a ”stroke” that combines precision with great implicitness.
Frederikke spends a lot of time exploring different comic styles, and for a while she was inspired by the Japanese comic style manga. She studied it in depth, even writing an essay about manga’s role as part of Japan’s antique cultural heritage.
But a couple of years ago, she suddenly turned away from manga and began to develop her own style, which was a combination of both Eastern and Western elements. She shared her drawings online with a community of other young budding artists and received quite a bit of criticism. They couldn’t get their minds around it, declaring simply that it was neither fish nor fowl.
Luckily Frederikke shared her thoughts and feelings about their criticism with me. Teenagers need a lot of resisting power to stand up against their surroundings and preserve their autonomy. Frederikke was naturally vulnerable when it came to her peer’s criticism, but it was obviously important that she continue exploring the authentic and not allow criticism to dictate her direction or stifle her curiosity.
It is essential to be prepared for criticism to come from a variety of sources and to learn to use criticism as a constructive tool.
In November 2011, I was a resident artist at Statens Værksteder for Kunst (Danish Art Workshops), where I worked with copperplate prints for my upcoming exhibition Billeder af æg (Images of Eggs). I took Frederikke with me to give her a behind-the-scenes look at the process, and she made a series of engravings based on brilliant and unique drawings from her private visual universe.
The series of copperplate prints I’ve been working on for the upcoming show brings together my great-grandmother and my grandmother’s hand-penned recipes with my mother’s childhood drawings, my own childhood drawings and my children’s childhood drawings. I’ll tell you more about the show soon in another letter. In the meantime, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about childhood drawings your parents’, your children’s, your own?
”I very much identified with Josefine when Michael described her “mistakes” in her drawings nearly bringing her to tears. I distinctly remember this happening to me in first grade (age 6). We read a story about children losing their white bunny, but later a “black” bunny was found in the cellar coal bin. It was discovered that the white bunny had gotten black from the coal, of course.
We were to draw a picture about the story. I imagined my own kitchen and the cellar door that led to the coal bin. I actually spent a lot of time on that checkerboard tiled floor of my mom’s kitchen, driving very tiny toy cars I had gotten as prizes in cereal boxes, or playing jacks with my sister. So I first drew the children and the bunny, and I commenced to make the floor in a checkerboard pattern. Suddenly it occurred to me that my floor was now touching the ceiling, as I built square tile upon square tile as a grid (apparently I’ve always liked grids...a bit like Filippa and her wire mesh?)
I was so embarrassed by this dilemma of not knowing how to make the floor/wall connection (of course I just needed a short course in perspective drawing...) that I looked at my neighbors’ drawings in desperation they had drawn a horizontal line across the lower fourth of the paper, where all the action took place ON THE LINE.
Well, I had my art lesson that day from my peers how I wish instead I’d seen some Persian miniatures, or Japanese woodblock prints I surely would have felt at home with that space that is much more connected to what we physically experience, like those oh so cold kitchen floor tiles under my fingertips! I know that I drew like my peers --in that very schematic, stylized way-- for years afterward too afraid to draw what I really knew from touch, observation.
Sometimes I think about me ending up as a photographer the medium with the built in one point perspective! It probably answered my question of how to get those kitchen floor tiles off the ceiling!” Jan Kather Kather, Jan , Quote from an reply to ”On Children’s Drawings”, December 28, 2011
ON GRIDS / Published: Østerbro, December 2, 2011
Dear Jan, Melanie, Marty and Hans,
When I first began working with grids, I found that I had discovered a modality that was independent of imparting a specific message, and yet still allowed me to produce work that was very meaningful to me. What grids lack in societal critique and emotionally-charged subject matter, they recompensate for with their structure and their subconsious interplay, which makes them an interesting subject for reflection.
Grids are all around us. The grid plan (Hippodamian plan) has been implemented in urban planning for millenia, from ancient Greece and Pakistan to New York and Portland, Oregon. They are also relevant for the written language. Take ancient Egyptian scrolls and sarcophagus engravings, for instance, or the organization of written languages on a page. In my children’s art, I have witnessed the strength that a grid structure provides for the creation of beautiful mandalas (‘mandala’ comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘disk’), a sacred symbol which represents the universe in Buddhism and Hinduism. Grid systems support the digital age, representing high or low-resolution images on a computer screen.
Grids can also be used to analyze gestures in space. Take for example the movements of a body. A grid gently lifted up from the picture plane and transformed to a three- dimensional mesh that surrounds the body can provide lines to record the body’s gestures. Grids are thus linked to brushstrokes and their direction in space, to abstract expressionism and even performance art and dance: While I was working with Christy Walsh on ”Stories of the Sun God”, I learned that grids are used as an invisible structure for ballet and modern dance to provide anchor points for a dancer’s movements.
Grids are of course a valuable tool for sketching. Each line generates the foundation for the next line and before you know it, there are endless variations of intersecting lines and spaces, often produced without even thinking. Getting accustomed to working with grids (not to mention to working without thinking) can release the picture plane, as well as new ways of working with it. Drawing with a grid might even be likened a study of the nature of a plane and its possibilities, its challenges and likely constructions. This type of work directs attention to the nature of edges as well as the nature of a plane’s proportions and even what the physical presence of the painting as an object in a space can be about.
One of the central considerations of a painter is how the layers of a painting are constructed and how the plane reads visually, physically, sensually and conceptually. Since ancient times grids have been used to lay the foundation for compositions, and grids inspire mathematical compositions allied with sequencing and scale.
The fine arts are concerned with the definition, occupation, division and control of space. Grids are both two- and three-dimensional and can define cubes as well as planes, playing with the concept of where a work of art begins and ends. For example, a grid space can be created using as little as a string as a boundary and the result declared a sculpture of air. This conceptual work of art presents the viewer with a conundrum: is the string part of the work or not? Is it inside or outside the sculpture of air? Is the string itself the work of art, or merely a delineation?
So grids are not only powerful tools for the production of art but potent expressions in their own right. When I visited the ABEX exhibition at the MoMA in October, 2010, I encountered a painting by Robert Motherwell from 1941 entitled ”The Little Spanish Prison”. ”The Little Spanish Prison” was a divergence from the other Motherwell paintings on exhibit, as well as a departure from Motherwell’s signature black vertical and oval shapes against a white backdrop: it features instead six white and six yellow vertical stripes, several of which are linked together on the top left hand side by a short, horizontal red rectangle.
Both stripes and grids use lines, but their claim on space is different. In the visual arts, both stripes and grids serve as tools to mathematically define space and generate images. In a way, grids divide space, while stripes occupy space with their frequency. In ”The Little Spanish Prison”, Motherwell achieved both effects by intersecting his twelve vertical stripes with a horizontal red rectangle on the top left hand side.
I remember suggesting to Jan [Kather], with whom I visited the exhibition, that the painting was more about Motherwell’s personal development as a painter than anything else; that it was a steppingstone as well as an arrival. I later read an exchange between Motherwell and Paul Cummings about that very painting that supported my suspicion. Cummings remarked that “The Little Spanish Prison” seemed to have been a key picture, and Motherwell replied that the painting had “hit something that is deep in [his] character […] But what it is I don't know. What it stands for I don't know.” Cummings, Paul, Interviews Robert Motherwell, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, November 24, 1971
“The Little Spanish Prison” did indeed refer to actual events, as I later learned, but the painting is as much about formal means in visual art as it is Motherwell’s experiences with the law enforcement of Franco’s fascist regime, his emotions and his personal growth as an artist. Despite its apparent simplicity, the grid painting can be about anything we bring to it and if we want, even more.
Grids are also inexorably linked to Albrecht Dürer, whose perspective device made out of wire strung in a frame was essentially a portable grid that aided him in capturing a plausible perspective of any type of scenery.
Contemporary artists still use grids to capture perspective, and they don’t stop there. Post-modernist Dürers investigate the perspective device itself as subject matter, directing attention to the structure/grid while the scenery beyond it remains coolly encapsulated in mesh.
Grids are of almost infinite potential and much more can be said about them. They are like skeletons, inviting us to rearrange their bones and hang flesh on them as we wish. The opportunities inherited in the grid are infinite, as the grid itself.
ON NUMBERS / Published: Østerbro, January 12, 2012
Dear Jan, Melanie, Marty and Hans,
While thinking about my children's drawings, I realized that one of the methods I most fervently employ in my art parallels an essential element of children's drawings. I'd like to share my thoughts with you and bring your attention to numbers.
Jan, when you replied to my letter about children's drawings, you quoted Picasso to me: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up".
All children can draw. That's why drawing is something everyone can relate to.
But what happens when an adult sits down in front of a blank piece paper to draw? There are so many potential hindrances. Maybe it's the feeling of awkwardness with the media; maybe there is internal or even external resistance. In order for an adult to begin drawing when she sits down in front of that paper, her inborn impulse to create art must still be alive. Nothing must stand in her way: she shouldn't have to stop and think about what she's actually interested in or what she considers important.
When my daughter Filippa sits down to draw princesses, mermaids, unicorns and fairies, she brings her universe with her. Consciously or subconsciously, she already has her subject matter. When Filippa's little sister Kastanje sits down to draw, she also brings her universe with her and as a two year-old, Kastanje's universe is still universal. Life's dogmas and rules and the effects of growing up haven't taken their toll yet: they haven't yet begun influencing her actions.
When I sit down to draw, my subject matter is drawing and producing pictures as a result. However, I want to draw like a two year-old; the period of time in our lives of simple reflections fascinates me. Of course, I lost that innocence a long time ago. So to recreate it, I developed a method of restoring and preserving that freedom and universality: when I sketch, I often use numbers as an instrument for art.
Obviously, the method is the result of a carefully considered, adult reflection. But the process itself is anything but intellectual. It gives me the sense that I'm able to draw freely again, like a child. There's something deliciously paradoxical about rigid parameters affording me that feeling of freedom.
I often use series of numbers combined with gestures to set myself free. I let the image's surface define my gestures: I might choose to work up and down or from side to side or diagonally. At the same time I let circumstances, like the size and proportions of my notebook or my hands leaning on the frame of a canvas, guide me to an expression that feels natural in that moment.
I might start with a horizontal stroke followed by two vertical strokes, followed by three horizontal strokes, followed by four horizontal strokes and so on. As I progress, I confront the problems which arise for example, where the strokes should intersect. I might choose to use the Fibonacci sequence, or I might consciously avoid using it. Or I might divide a plane according to the golden ratio with perceptible perspective, using colors to represent tones with a systematic perceived depth corresponding to their resonance. The distance between two colors can be perceived spatially, and the distance between three colors can intensify the experienced distance.
Working with this particular method is a dance between control and release. The sketches I produce when drawing this way are lent a universal order, like leaves on a plant stem; it's as if they are conjoined with some naturally occurring structure. By definition, these kind of sketches are comparable to landscapes or still-lifes, differing in their stark modernity and the fact that the romantic element is minimized to a nod. But because they are drawn by hand, the sketches are still very human perhaps even a bit romantic.
Numbers and their magic are not the objective of my work. My focus is the structure that they imbue my work as an artist. Working with numbers even liberates me from myself. My work as an artist takes on the character of a gardener tending to plants in a greenhouse or a garden.
And I use the work to liberate myself from the many ideas about adulthood that I've been inundated with on my journey. This transcendental work is also about investigating reality with measures and weights. Numbers will certainly continue to be instrumental in the process as well as the final result they inherently define the work itself, just as numbers inherently define our lives and the world around us.
ON TEMPERA PAINTING / Published: Østerbro, January 24, 2012
Dear Jan, Melanie, Marty and Hans,
The recipe for tempera has been around since ancient times and has long since proven its durability; there are well-preserved examples of tempera from several millenia ago.
Egg tempera consists of egg yolk, water and oil. The standard ratio of 1 to 1 to 1 can be varied to suit one’s own tastes. The recipe is simple and the paint mixture is absolutely nontoxic. Certain pigments used to color the tempera, however, are extremely toxic and can pose a serious health risk.
To make the paint mixture, simply combine the egg yolks, oil and water in a container and agitate them. (An interesting characteristic of tempera is that the yellow of the egg yolk won’t influence the pigment’s color frequency when the paint has dried.) Using purified water in the paint mixture will prevent the appearance of chalky stripes on the painting’s surface.
In addition to oil and proteins, egg yolk contains the substance lecithin. Lecithin is what makes the emulsion between water and oil possible: instead of separating, lecithin allows one liquid to disperse in the other in the form of very tiny bubbles.
The pigment is then incorporated into the paint mixture. The amount of pigment used is, of course, a determining factor for the final mixture; it is important to be aware that certain pigments on the market are more finely ground than others. In addition, certain pigments react differently to tempera mixtures. With a little practice, however, it’s rather easy to achieve the desired color and consistency for your mixture.
The process can be varied depending on the results desired. Measuring the pigment in a measuring cup reserved for this purpose is advisable; in addition, a journal detailing the mixtures can help determine what works well for you and what doesn’t.
A container with a lid can be used to mix pigments together. Do remember to wait until the pigment dust has settled before opening the lid. Inhaling pigment particles is imprudent, as certain pigments contain toxic substances that can also harm fetuses. For that reason it is unadvisable for pregnant women to work with pigments.
There are several lists detailing the toxic substances. With very few exceptions, pigments containing heavy metals have been taken off of the market for private use.
Handling pigments with care and common sense greatly reduces the potential health risks associated with tempera painting. A good method for preparing the mixture for use is to carefully transfer the pigment mixture into a large bowl and add enough liquid to make a pigment paste with a palette knife or a spoon. Add more liquid and incorporate it with a wide paintbrush. The tempera mixture is then ready to be applied using your paintbrushes of choice.
How a painting’s surface will dry depends both on the paint mixture and the ground to which it has been applied. Unlike oil-based paints, egg tempera dries rather quickly, but it is essential to remember that tempera does indeed contain oil. Oil does not dry; it oxidizes, or combines chemically with oxygen, and the process can easily take several weeks to complete. Thus, the final result may be assessed 5 to 7 weeks after the paint has been applied.
Applying tempera to an absorbent ground allows for a vivid finish. The ground absorbs the water contained in the mixture, while the oil and pigment remain on the surface. Instead of resting like a film on the pigment, the oil bears the saturated pigment from under the surface, resulting in a uniquely matte and silky smooth finish.
The ground can be made with a combination of chalk and egg whites. Egg whites are primarily made up of water, but they also contain the protein albumen, which coagulates when it comes in contact with oxygen. Every paintstroke applied to this absorbent ground will affix immediately.
Slaked lime mixed with water has traditionally been used to limewash walls. Using egg whites instead of water produces a variant of limewash especially well-suited as a ground for tempera. Keep in mind that limewashing is done on cloudy days, as direct sunlight has a negative effect on the mixture.
These days egg whites and egg yolks can be bought separately in containers of varying size, from small packs of six to one liter and more. The single liter jugs and the smaller packs containing two eggs each are very convenient for use in painting smaller surfaces and for small-scale experiments.
The pasteurized egg whites and yolks sold in this fashion are preserved with citric acid; the basic pH of chalk makes it a very suitable ground with an almost neutral pH.
I recommend using factory-primed linen for tempera paintings. Woven linen creates a fine mesh net both length- and crosswise. By stretching the canvas with the fabric grain parallel to the stretcher bars, one ensures the even distribution of tension, thus reducing the risk of the canvas being damaged under stress.
For tempera, the canvas is mounted primed-side in. This not only protects the back of the canvas from moisture including the moisture released from the laminated stretcher bars it also provides a prepared surface for the chalk and egg white ground.
The first treatment is the application of a saturating layer of pure egg whites. The liquid is absorbed deep into the fibers of the linen canvas, and it creates a film that becomes slightly viscous when the second layer is applied. The first layer should dry one to two days.
After one or two days a second layer consisting of slated lime and egg whites is applied. The mixture should not be too thick, or the layer will dry out and the excess chalk will begin to chip; nor should the mixture be too watery, lest it be little more than another layer of egg white. There should be enough chalk in the mixture to allow for even distribution over the entire surface to be primed. With the application of the second layer, the first layer is reopened. The chalk then rests, sandwiched between these two sticky layers. The second layer should dry for one to two days.
The third layer consists of pure chalk. I find drawing with chalk on the entire surface to be covered to be the most effective method. It also levels the second layer a bit, pulling up some of the dried egg whites. When the canvas is covered in a layer of chalk dust, the chalk dust is ground into the canvas with the palms of the hands, sending excess chalk dust onto the floor. The objective is to create the most even surface possible, like gypsum board.
When the third layer is smooth and even and the chalk relatively immovable it should not be able to be brushed away with a paintbrush the fourth layer can be applied. Consisting of pure egg white, it will moisten the chalk dust layer and permeate the previous layers. The egg white will dry quickly, so a fairly systematic application will produce the most uniform results. Use the utmost care to ensure that the egg white does not wipe away the previous layers, but truly adds a layer. Should there be any area on the canvas where the previous layers have been scraped too deeply, extra egg whites can be reapplied. The third and fourth layers should dry one to two days.
Depending on the results of the previous treatment, application of the third and fourth layers can be repeated. Again, the objective is to create a smooth, even and uniform surface while retaining the elasticity of the surface. If the ground is too thick or contains too much lime, it will loose its suppleness and risk cracking. Toward the end of the priming process, the surface may be sanded with fine grain sandpaper and the dust gently brushed away.
Meticulous and conscientious priming will allow your craftsmanship to radiate in the finished surface.
When the canvas is primed, work with the tempera mixture can begin. I encourage you to experiment with as many different tempera layers and mixtures as you can.
After painting, brushes, bowls and such can be cleaned with soy sauce.
You may choose to use a pure pigment initially in order to gain experience working with the tempera mixture. When you are comfortable with the priming process and have determined your mixtures of choice, you will discover that you can begin working in a structured way without much thought. Ironically, this autopilot mode is precisely what provides the freedom needed to turn the work into artwork.
Resist the temptation to inspect a drying tempera layer with the tip of a curious finger. The mark will be visible and difficult to repair. After several days, the tempera will begin to take on its silky, matte quality, becoming even more beautiful in the weeks to follow. Remember however that the tempera is 1/3 part oil, and that oil needs 5 to 7 weeks to oxidize. For the same reason, new layers of tempera should not be applied until oxidization is complete, lest the outermost layers begin to crack.
Tempera painting is not a quicker alternative to the oil painting; it is a unique form of painting in its own right. Like oil painting, each layer applied in tempera forms the base for the layer that follows, making corrections laborious at best. Patience, concentration and deriving pleasure from doing a job well and with vigilance are among the most valuable qualities a tempera painter can aspire to embody.
ON ART AS A CAREER / Published: Charlottenlund, May 28, 2012
Dear Jan, Melanie, Marty, Hans and Brad,
Now that the preparations for my May exhibition at Cath’s are behind me (Infinity Loop and Images of Eggs at Cath Alexandrine Danneskiold-Samsøe Gallery, 2012 ed.), I once again have time and energy to write about the work that we do. There are a lot of ways to describe what art as a career is and at least just as many opinions on its results. What does it mean to pursue art as a career? And for whom? In the following, I’ll present three perspectives of art as a career in Denmark today: one is from the public sector, another is from an artist and the third is from a financial advisor.
Ministry of Children and Education
www.ug.dk is a website created by the Ministry for Children and Education. I recently paid it a visit and did a search for information on becoming an artist.
The job description highlights that ’Artist’ spans a wide range of potential fields, which often results in artists going down their own paths. As for the working conditions, artists often work alone or in shared spaces. The actual work process begins at the drawing board and progresses to models which are then realized by colleagues who have mastered the relevant techniques, if the artist chooses not to immerse herself in such technical aspects. Finished works can be sold by the artist directly or on commission through a gallery. Another alternative is to loan out works to art societies.
According to www.ug.dk, the majority of artists rely on work unrelated to art for their sustenance and one’s prospects for earning a living as a freelance artist are ”poor”, as are the prospects for the future of aspiring young artists in all of Denmark from Gedser to Skagen.
Søren Ulrik Thomsen
In 2012, the renowned Danish author and poet Søren Ulrik Thomsen opened a chronologically arranged presentation of a century of Danish art history at Statens Museum for Kunst. In his opening speech, he delivered a perspective on the calling ’Artist’ quite distinct from ug.dk’s bleak outlook for aspiring artists. For the sake of my English-speaking colleagues I’ve taken the liberty of including longer excerpts from SUT’s speech in this translated essay.
He begins: ”Your majesty crown prince Frederik, ladies and gentlemen!”
[…] How often haven’t we stood before a sculpture or listened to a composition whose intentions we couldn’t begin to explain, but from which new significance courses upon each visit nonetheless?
Might we glean more from art if we began by forgetting all about what it may signify and allowed ourselves to simply experience its form […] We may then discover that something that can neither be reduced to a definition nor be defined as meaningless begins to trickle out, and that is what I call meaning.
In art, it is not thus that works express thoughts which existed before form, but the opposite it is the work that thinks as it takes form. The creation of art is ’thinking in material’, which is why the thought cannot be separated from the form and the meaning placed in a silver spoon to be borne about triumphantly outside of the museum walls.
[…]Although it may be accepted that pruning a work of art down to a manageable definition is unproductive, it is quite natural to question the way in which art can contribute to society and why it should be supported. I can’t blame politicians or taxpayers for posing the perfectly reasonable question of why their money should be laid out for the art world when funds are limited and clearly could be truly usefully implemented somewhere else. [It] is also rather tempting to start justifying the role of art in society by arguing perhaps that it makes us better, smarter, freer and maybe even more tolerant, innovative and democratic citizens. But even if we are warranted in raising our glasses for the new exhibition, we must resist the temptation of such toasts.
If the Beautiful as art was called in the olden days were the same as The Good and The True, we would have no trouble in justifying it. For even if a lot of art has taught me things about myself and others and about the world in which we live, there’s just as much art that hasn’t made me a smarter, much less a better person, nor has it endowed me with other characteristics useful to anyone or anything at all, but which has nonetheless been of great importance to me.
When a work of art has fortuitously made us more insightful or ethically responsible it is tempting to generalize the effect, but despite our intentions to defend art we are instead demoting it; for in that very second, one begins to think about other works of great aesthetic value, but perhaps without its good and true effects: An author can very well speak untruthfully, but in a way which makes us unwilling to be without his lies, an artist can preach a very questionable point of view, but paint so that we cannot take our eyes off of his pictures.”
Penge og Privatøkonomi (Money and Personal Finances)
Yet another view is offered in an article written by Anders Ankerstjerne. The article, which I came across online, originally appeared in a magazine called ”Penge og Privatøkonomi” (Money and Personal Finances).
Ankerstjerne begins thus:
”The first thing you need to know about art is that it is seldom worth anything on its own. Some oil paints and a canvas can be bought for next to nothing at the local hobby shop, and that is essentially all you get when you buy a painting. In other words, a painting is only worth what other buyers are willing to pay for it.”
His tone does eventually soften up a bit, but the message is the same: it’s about what it’s worth.
”You can’t always sell art at a reasonable price when you choose. It doesn’t accumulate any interest and as a rule it cannot be used as collateral. In other words, your profit margin lies in the joy of having [the work of art] hanging on your wall.
There are enough experts in the market to make bargains a rather seldom occurrence, and if you buy from high-profile established artists, the price will reflect just that. But somewhere in between it is possible to buy a work of art which will not only bring you joy, but which will also be a great investment.”
There’s no need to quote more than the superscriptions in the remaining article:
Scope out the market before you buy
Classic or modern
Buying at galleries
Buying at auctions
The article is rounded off with good advice from 10 experts:
Look for established artists. The artist should have been featured in renowned exhibitions and be well known. Choose trained artists who are associated with reputable galleries and the art world. Buy few, but good paintings. Always buy the best from a lesser-known artist rather than the worst from a well-known artist. Always buy work that is of interest to private collectors. They are the ones who stabilize the work’s value. Get used to comparing works of art and understanding why you find them good. It will help you train your artistic sense and give you experience. Look for a work’s meaning*, substance and content. A solid work of art is well-constructed, challenging, typical for its era and all-right to look at. Don’t listen to trends. A lot of modern art is hyped and it’s important to preserve your critical reason. Take your time. Familiarizing yourself with the art market requires effort. Ask professionals from the field and be sure to orient yourself well. Find an artist’s price level. Auction prices are a good indicator, but look to similar works and compare with past buyers. The more expensive a work becomes with time, the more probable it is that it will retain its value in the future. Older works tend to have a stable price development.
*Note the difference in Søren Ulrik Thomsen and Anders Ankerstjerne’s usage of the word.
On Art as a Career
I find it interesting that these three descriptions of aspects of one and the same career path are so varied. The contrasts are great and they reveal how differently we experience the world.
In my work and in my descriptions of my own work I am of the view that working as an artist is in part an expansion of the foundation for new ways of manifesting this ancient trade. Therefore, for me working with art is becoming less about definitions and more about sensory experiences and exchanges filled with observations, like this letter. As an individual, I find the intimate, private aspects of work with art far more stimulating than general consensus.
So I am awaiting your responses with great curiosity. What seeds are you planting and how are you going about their cultivation? What are your thoughts and feelings on your work as artists?
I’m adding some questions that this text raised in my translator. I find them truly thought-provoking and would therefore like to share them with you.
”[...] What is a realistic approach to pursuing art as a career? Is it problematic for art/artists that the three presented here view art and/or the art industry as they do? If yes, why? Are there multiple levels of art at play here or are they different breeds of art altogether? Is this essentially the age-old question of what art is? Does art become something different because it is not considered a lucrative career choice?”
ON LOOKING AT ART / Published: Charlottenlund, May 29, 2012
Dear Jan, Melanie, Marty, Hans and Brad,
First off I’d like to thank you for your generous feedback on my e-mails about the critique of my nude drawings in the series ”Images of Eggs”. I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity to pick up some threads related to an essential element in what we do: how we view art.
The word how seems a natural extension of the word why. The title of all of these essays, Y, is derived from the question why. Specifically, why are we artists? But in the texts I see that they bring forth the answer to the more tangible question of how we are artists. Why seems almost concealed between the lines of how. How is the carrier that bears forth why. The why I seek is not causal but functional!
I can’t offer any better explanation for why I am an artist other than that art is quite simply what I want to spend the majority of my time and life on. I find the questions and problems that arise during work both stimulating and highly motivating. The professional and the existential problems often dance cheek to cheek, and the motivation for this particular letter is that dance between the professional craftsmanship of a nude drawing and the existential conditions under which an artist is weighed and measured by his contemporaries.
As I mentioned in my e-mail, I recently received some criticism from a colleague on the quality of two of the nude drawings in a collage in the series ”Images of Eggs” (2011). My colleague, who had earlier encouraged me to apply for admission into the Danish Fine Arts Academy’s Kunstnersamfundet (a jury-selected society of fine artists and architects involved in the Danish Academy’s work and which acts as a national advisory board in artistic issues ed.), declared that an artist of my age (I was born in 1973) should be able to produce better quality drawings. I therefore view the critique as an expression of professional concern and a warning that the quality of these two nudes would hinder my being accepted into the Kunstnersamfund. In other words, my colleague retracted her backing of my application.
Being a sensitive man, I was very affected by the criticism. It made no difference that the nudes were close to twenty years old. I don’t know if I could draw as well today as I did in 1994; nowadays I’m more interested in the qualities of materials and surfaces.
Your responses to my e-mails helped me on my return to my emotional center. I have chosen to follow my intuition and not apply to any kunstnersamfund, seeing as I don’t feel the need to fill my days with anything more pressing than my own projects; on the contrary, I’ve decided to spend less of my time on activities that don’t directly support the three-year work agenda hanging on the wall of my studio. More on that at a later date.
The interesting thing about this distressing ordeal is the question of how we view art. It also gives me the opportunity to include a reference to an essay project: a research review entitled Nordic Visual Arts Education in Transition, which I came across online.
"Among the many studies reviewed by Funch (op. cit.), Michael Parsons’ (1987a-b) phenomenological work on how we understand art is the most well-known one in the Nordic countries. Parsons classified people’s responses to paintings in four categories based upon what they primarily were looking for in a work of art: subject matter (including ideas of beauty and realism); emotional expression; medium, form and style; and the nature of judgment."
I find Parson’s four categories interesting in the context of this particular essay: Subject Matter. Emotional expression. Medium, form and style. And the nature of judgment.
When I look at the collage in which the two nudes are featured, it is without the twisting of any body’s arms that I can say that the subject matter is the human form; in particular the female body.
The emotional expression is warm and humorous with a mild self-ironic element in that two nude drawings are coupled with two children’s drawings depicting essentially the same subject matter. These different interpretations of the female form are interesting, as it is that the collage portrays a classic female form despite the differences.
In the uppermost figure there is focus on the face, particularly the eyelashes and red lips. That a woman is reduced to eyelashes and a pair of bright red lips is thought-provoking in and of itself. The woman in the lower figure has been outfitted with hair, a triangular dress and a lovely pair of red boots. The two nudes are posed in a hard light, symbolized by a little sun in the uppermost right corner also evocative of a classical children’s placement of a shining sun.
Medium, form and style are a copperplate print: aquatint with a chine collé collage.
The nature of judgment. I’ve always hoped that my visual works would be assessed in their context, not dissected like frogs and read like coffee grounds. At the same time I don’t want to make a big thing out of explaining my work. Ergo I must clarify for myself how and with what objective I am an artist (that is, why).
Both questions are relevant, and that feeling of relevance is something I have chosen to spend my time documenting in this letter; this way, I can always come back to the words on paper and true the compass I use to navigate in my life and work. The path of work we have chosen is a special one. As I’ve said earlier, my friendship to you helps me preserve my courage.
ON RECTANGLES / Published: Charlottenlund, June 20, 2012.
The following essay was originally written to accompany a work bought by a collector.
Just a rectangle?
Dear C. and N.,
A rectangle is a four-sided figure whose parallel sides measure equal length and whose angles all measure 90°. It’s a figure we take for granted, especially in art. But if we imagine the first time man saw a rectangle drawn on a surface, we can conjure up the simple figure’s strong and defined lines in our mind’s eye.
A four-sided shape with parallel sides of equal length and four right angles is formidably well-suited for bearing visual art, as we can see in the work of Kasimir Malevich, Alexander Rodchenko, Agnes Martin, Brice Marden, Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd, Barnett Newman, Carl Andre and others. The work you have purchased is an extension and an expansion of these artists’ work.
In the little work, a subdued blue and offwhite do indeed form a rectangle. Most would call the work abstract, but abstract is perhaps misleading in this case, for the rectangle is a representation of a rectangle. And surely a rectangle cannot be accused of being an abstraction?
Another term for works of this sort is concrete, (meaning: it is what it is), but that doesn’t quite define the work either. There is more to the work than mere formalism.
One might also say that the work is a piece of modern art, a label which (at best) serves to categorize works of art which are difficult to categorize.
When we think modern art, we often think of MoMA in New York or SF MoMA in San Francisco or the many other MoMAs around the globe. But is a modest aquarelle like this one modern? The word rectangle and the technique aquarelle date back thousands of years. What makes a work modern? And what does the word modern mean? And if a work is art, in what way is it art?
In addition to technical concerns and challenges, the exploration of questions like these is an integral part of my work as a visual artist. As far as I’m concerned, it is part of the job description.
The questions themselves dictate the results of my work. I make demands of myself in my work, as do most people who work. One of these is that each and every work that I produce should reach beyond my own bank of knowledge and understanding. Ambitious? Perhaps. But essentially, it means that each work has an immanent function and that function is a catalyst for a chain of questions about the label art and our nature.
That dogma means a protracted work process and it can make the results of my work a bit difficult to look at. It also makes each work unique. The work which of which you are now owner exists only once. Although my work is based on repetitive techniques, each work is like the step of a ladder or the branch of a tree; it is unique and does not need to be repeated.
Experiencing the works entails taking the time to intuitively observe and speculate on existence. If the work is visible on an everyday basis, existential thoughts will often simply gradually sneak in and begin their transformation. Maybe not always for the better, but certainly always for the more mature. As a visual artist I am acutely aware of this responsibility and I create each of my works with the utmost sincerity.
Simple works like the one you have purchased are often misunderstood. Part of the misunderstanding arises because at first glance, simple works don’t appear to carry any content. Are they a sham? Now that you’ve bought a little blue rectangle you might find yourselves confronted with a similar perspective. I encounter it sometimes and find it to be interesting thought material.
It seems improbable that so many artists who are so deeply engrossed in their work (myself included) should dedicate so much of their lives to working with art just to swindle and damage others. Working with the delicate and nearly invisible elements of our existence necessarily entails receiving biting criticism and being overlooked not exactly the traditional definition of success or acclaim. In reality though, it may be easier to extol a figurative artist than an abstract one. Most visual artists (even abstract artists) are exceptionally talented at figurative rendering. But if drawing comes easily to an artist, s/he will often be attracted to something else, wanting maybe more than to just be talented. That’s been my experience, at least.
You have chosen to buy an artwork and support my work. I consider the transaction a donation to my work as a visual artist and praise for my work which I do not take for granted. I thank you.
I find it important to emphasize that when a simple work of art is created with sincerity, there is an additional element to that work which can be experienced. One must be open to the paradoxical idea that something so simple has a function, which you have clearly already done. That art doesn’t have a function is a common misconception, propagated even by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios’ logo ars gratia artis, ”art for the sake of art”. Many a Hollywood film has been roared in by that cranky lion. But art is a term much younger than cave paintings or the linguistic developments made parallel to them. So if we dispense with art and determine that a linguistic label exists for its own sake, we can remain in the realm of words and ask ourselves questions such as for example when a book is art when it is open and being read? Or when it’s closed?
By way of the specific dogmas I work with, the content of my works is inherently accessible for the viewer. I’ve left the door open and there is nothing in the way, such as for example an ample nude body, a fragile vase or a dithering portrait, a sweeping landscape or a romantic bouquet of flowers which one might call beautiful, when what one really means is complete; that is, there is no cucumber tucked into the stems. But in the work you’ve bought there is neither fruit nor vegetable nor anything else but an open gate into the work. Not literally, of course. If the blue form were a door, it would be closed. If the motive were a different one, the path would lead us someplace else; maybe someplace we already knew well. We tend to be most comfortable with what we already know and the patterns that our heads (and hearts) recognize. If this is the first work of its type which you own, you are on the threshold of a new world.
As a word of warning, I have to add that that world or universe, as it were has pulled me deeper and deeper inside and there is probably no way out. Like Alice in Wonderland, I’ve found myself engulfed by a fantastic place, for better or worse. Maybe the work is an invitation to that place?
People might call you naïve. I don’t think you are, but we’re all a little naïve sometimes, in our own ways. But naïveté is a luxury; sometimes I’d like to wish myself back to my own childhood and bring back some of the innocence I see in my children. It’s a luxury, like boredom is a luxury, or owning a work of art made of water in the shape of a rectangle. A work made of water makes me think: water can be drank or drown, evaporate or rain down, wear through stone and wear down steel, bring us indoor heating and warm baths, scorch or freeze us. Or give us aquarelles, among other things.
Technically speaking, the work is an aquarelle. It was created in 2011 and instead of describing my work process in detail, I encourage you to buy a watercolor book from Arches 300 g/m2 Rough 100% cotton, a paintbrush and the two colors I used: Davy’s Grey and Prussian Blue from Windsor & Newton. Do it for fun, for your wonderful children or yourselves or, if you should encounter skepticism and criticism of the type ”I could have painted that”, you’ll have a grand old time letting your critic give it a try. For it is not as easy as it looks. The material is water, which runs when you try to form it into a rectangle, and at the point where the brush must be lifted from the paper, pigment and water will pool like a bubble of water and produce a groovy flower-power design fit for a 1970’s t-shirt.
You could try with a stencil of some sort, but water is very stubborn and it will be absorbed by the paper below in spite of almost every kind of stencil. With beautiful results but not, however, a harmonious rectangle.
Another method might be to print the colored area onto the paper. It has been tested without success and it was not the case for this piece. I can reveal, however, that the brush I used is a 4-5 cm flat nylon brush; the kind usually used for lacquer.
But only with years of practice, technical cunning and the utmost care can one paint a simple rectangle in aquarelles. And now that I’ve done it, I don’t have to do it again. Imagine.
See you behind the looking glass.
With heartfelt regards,
ON POTS, PITCHERS AND OTHER CONTAINERS / Published: Charlottenlund, October 7, 2012.
Lately I’ve been thinking about containers.
The impact that a vessel can have on its content even on the same content is fascinating. Drinking water from a plastic bottle is an entirely different experience than drinking water from a ceramic bowl. A drink of water direct from the tap, from a glass or standing open-mouthed in the rain in your garden are three other ways of experiencing the same substance. Even if we don’t necessarily give them much thought, a container’s shape and material influence us.
The same thought is interesting with respect to paintings. Can a painting also be experienced as a vessel with a content? What is the impact of a painting’s material and form on our experience of its content? Can a painting be considered as a reflection of the content we ourselves bear, thus rendering us containers of sorts?
Thoughts like these have let me see containers in a new way. When looking at the vases, jars and drinking cups in the historical wing of a museum recently, I was able to appreciate them. It is natural for a container’s form and materials to relate to the container’s content, as well as to our experience of its content as we use it.
Containers are not limited to material content; we can liken information to the content of a bowl or a cup. Some years ago I took part in a seminar on meditation that lasted several days. The lecturer took extended pauses often, in part to carefully choose her words and in part to allow her listeners to take in her words. At the end of the first day she told us that our cups were full; we should go home and ”empty our cups” for the next day’s seminar.
In order to make use of the information we gather, it is necessary to organize it systematically. We write world histories and annals and summaries and surveys in the attempt to manage the sheer mass of information which we (can) constantly amass. Books, internet and other media are a storage space in fair disarray. As far as containers go, the internet is quite like the universe itself: a container with no outer limits and brimming with innumerable smaller containers. It’s no wonder that search engines, portals, news media and reference works have become such an indispensible part of the modern human’s everyday.
Portrayals of containers are often simultaneously concrete and figurative. When I look at Morandi’s paintings of vases and vessels, I can’t help but see the objects as metaphors for a simple existence, all standing gathered into a group. The renderings are simple. They are painted with tenderness, but also with conviction: the color nuances are delicate, introverted and almost translucent, like the skin of a very old person, but each individual brushstroke is perfectly measured with respect to its subject.
The complexity lies in Morandi’s treatment of the painting. The subject matter could have been (and become) a portrayal in a multitude of ways. The vases are painted in a style verging on abstraction like Turner’s work, they belong to a borderland. Perhaps unwittingly, Morandi’s still-lifes glide over in an interpretation of reality we now refer to as modern. Personally, I see Morandi’s containers as a philosophical investigation of existence, somber images that are both a distant relation to and the utter opposite of vanitas.
In a book of Korean art I came across a vase whose singular form had been used as the benchmark for an entire craft. In that the vase bore an idea as well as represented a craft, it was a container in both a literal and a figurative sense. I was quite taken by its form and the fact that it was entirely white: the color was of particular relevance in the judgement of a vase’s quality. The simple form of a little white vase and the small variations in craftsmanship were the decisive elements. As no two vases could ever be perfectly identical, this can also be considered a rather existential investigation.
Inspired by the white vase, I wanted to recreate it as an image. My feeling was that the space surrounding the vase was more important than the form of the vase itself. But after several attempts I realized that I could stop trying to define the vase’s form. Instead, I could approach it as the potter does, treating the painting and its construction as clay. At the end of that little mental journey, I found myself in a place strikingly similar to my original point of departure for my work with monochromes albeit with a different way of seeing the work, and that is a key distinction for me.
In other words, I filled the container and then emptied it to make room for something else.
There’s so much more to discover in containers, their content and their potential meanings. I’m sure you’ve thought about them too maybe you’d like to put your thoughts to words and share them?
"On a very large-yet-personal scale, a container for me, for many years, was the flute -- its practices and expectations that come with classical schooling in an instrument shaping my listening and thinking. [...]
[...] As a container, what did [the flute] outline? The western canon, a clear-as-a-bell sound which I struggled to get [...] and so I rebelled and aimed for an ugly sound! In hindsight, the electric guitar would have been a better container for my adolescent emotions and body, but for some reason, I couldn't let go! Why do we become attached to some containers, even when they enslave us?
What did the flute give as a positive? The tools and techniques of music, what it felt like to play through continuously, while performing as an embodied container, a musician with the breath. This musician-sense of play-through, phrasing, rhythm stays with everything I do today [...]. I had the instinct first but I have to admit it was the container, the flute, that helped hone it. And playing with others in their various container-ships that brought growth.
Other musical or sonic based containers? There would be many cross-cultural forms to think about. One that comes to mind is the Japanese aesthetic concept of ma[...]. This is the space between events or a moment that is intangible. In Shakuhachi music, the breath spaces between phrases becomes quite important, much more so than in western classical music, where the wind player is trained to quickly gulp down the breath and move on. In Shakuhachi music, the phrase ends and lingers, the player pauses. It is calm. A new phrase starts at a moment in the silence like a drop in a pond. Perhaps the ma concept is a kind of 'porcelain vase' container here, the white shape to be perceived by each player (still allowing variations in materials/sound backdrop etc.).
An Australian Aboriginal example. The spirituality -- or Dreamings -- of the Aboriginals reaches back 40,000 years, however it is constantly adapting to the changing environment and circumstance. One post-invasion example is the invention of the Toyota-dreaming -- where 4-wheel drives were introduced significantly altering ways of life and landscape. This capacity to evolve new Dreamings to explain difficult and altered ways of life is another kind of container, a shared spiritual container." Melanie Chilianis, quote from an reply to ”On Pots, Pitchers and other Containers”, October 9, 2012
ON FANTASY, PLAY, LANGUAGE AND POETIC FUNCTION / Published: Gothersgade, Copenhagen, February 12, 2013.
Recently I had the opportunity to sit and observe Kastanje while she drew in a room adjacent to where I was. I could hear her, fantasy racing, creating a dialogue between the two characters she was coloring. She told a story using several voices:
”Oh, blue!” said the winter fairy. ”Oh blue!” said Tinkerbell. ”And they both have blue eyes!” ”Oh yes!”, ”I’d like to have blue eyes, too!”, ”Me too Tinkerbell!” ”Look, what color is my dress?”, ”Green!”, ”Yes, green!”, ”And what color dress do I usually wear?” ”Green!”, ”Yes, that’s right!” ”See you on the next page!”
She soon began singing, but the melody wasn’t anything I had heard before, and the words weren’t ”real” words, only sounds. I believe that I witnessed a poem, a song and a drawing coming into being simultaneously.
Watching the uninhibited release of Kastanje’s potential through story, song and drawing was an interesting experience. Her play lasted for hours. Even as four year-olds, I realized, we are in possession of vivid imaginations and creative power. I’m very grateful to have such a beautiful source of inspiration so close at hand.
My work with art has taught me that we use art in many different ways; as an unbridling of personal potential, like Kastanje, for one. But we also use it as an identity or as socialization, as an ideal and an idea, as a status symbol and an investment; as an experience, as entertainment, provocation, communication, critique and decoration; as the culmination of knowledge or a way to relay knowledge, and still more.
Interestingly, we can also use art to reflect on our existence. We might reflect on our existence because we want to figure out where we stand and where we’re going, and the reality check can reveal new ways to tackle old problems and get new results. In short, for personal growth.
When I visited Marty in Berkeley for the first time in 2009, I recorded one of our conversations, which I later used as the soundtrack for a video. In the recording, my voice says that I believe that art has contributed to our development as a civilization over the past 30’000 years, and that art has made us able to truly connect with one another in a variety of ways, using images, song and storytelling, among other things.
I believe that the ability to see one thing and imagine another is and has been pivotal for our development. The ability to imagine allows us to communicate via symbols, and without it, we would be unable to use images and physical objects as a departure point for reflection.
For practical reasons, in my day-to-day work I have distanced myself from the idea that art can be a physical object. I can produce any number of paintings, drawings or plates, but find that I often speculate about when, where and why my painting, drawing or graphic becomes art.
In her thesis in visual culture at the University of Copenhagen, Kirstine Autzen writes about what she calls ”Poetic Function” – ’poetic’ from the Greek poïesis, which means to create. Poetic function is what occurs inside of us when we see two superimposed images – we begin, pretty much automatically, to create something out of the two images. Something temporary? Something meaningful? A content-based coincidence, or a dualism? Colors or forms that complement or repel one another? Photography is central for Kirstine’s review of poetic function, but other images, sounds or symbols like numbers or letters can easily give poetic function its starting impulse.
For the creator of a work, the question ”what is it” can at times have devastating consequences for spontaneous poetic function. At other times it may also be an inspiration.
There are differences in how accustomed we are at using art. Using art requires learning to take authority over a work, as well as exploring how others receive it. We construct poetic function individually and what we see is, of course, also individual – even if we’re looking at the same thing.
For me, painting, drawing and graphic work can be an accumulation of knowledge, materials and actions that extend over a period of time, and the art is the registration of my time in a certain form. But the object itself is rarely my point of departure; more often, the point of departure is myself and my relationship to the world.
That using art requires practice is a fact that is not common knowledge. In the documentary ”My Kid Could Paint That” (2007), which is about a painting child and media darling from Binghamton, New York, the writer and art critic Michael Kimmelman remarks that we often accept that many things require practice – sports, or playing the piano – but somehow the sense that art is effortless survives. I like the notion that we might need to train ourselves to see a work of art, just as we need to learn to react to a hard-pitched baseball.
When I see Kastanje orchestrating her play with language while she draws, there is poetic function between her world and mine. Her play resonates with my own play with drawing, language and music, and my own amalgam of fiction and reality.
I think we need to protect the impulse and ability to play, both alone and together. And I believe that we can increase our overall potential by giving ourselves space for play. Maybe play is more important for our development than we think?
As adults, we gradually get used to various limitations. But it doesn’t always make sense to adapt to the systems around us – certainly not without reflecting thoroughly on how and why those systems are in place. Art is not self-explanatory, and images are not always clear for everyone, and that in turn allows for mysterious parallel worlds to arise, sometimes with their very own languages. The jocular guide to International Art English (IAE), to which I recently sent you a link, has been a catalyst of sorts for this letter, by the way: A User's Guide to Artspeak
As a response to the IAE article, Jan Kather sent me a link to an Artist Statement Generator, 500letters.org, which also serves as a warning that the rhetorical system may be convincing, but also banal and devoid of content. Language is a tool with which we can limit our view or set our imaginations free.
As much as I love to see the world through the objective lens that language is, I also love to remove that objective and experience the world without.
We’ve written a lot about these topics already, but I encourage you to share any thoughts you might have with me and each other.
ON THE WORK PUBERTET AFTER MUNCH / Published: Gothersgade, Copenhagen, February 13, 2013.
The work Pubertet after Munch was created and exhibited in 2011. The materials are printing ink, graphite and beeswax on paper. The format of the piece is based on the dimensions of my own hands; the black rectangle corresponds to the space created when I lay my hands flat in front of me, thumbs touching and the rest of my fingers pointing straight ahead. The gesture may echo scenes in films where a photographer, or an artist, or some other visually apt character uses their hands to frame a distant landscape or a face. The work Pubertet by Edvard Munch is the background for the work. And maybe there is some correlation between puberty, the gesture, the image and the staging. Who knows.
Pubertet after Munch is part of a series of a total of 16 ”appropriations”. The term appropriation is familiar: for example, a piece of privately owned land might be appropriated by a government that needs to build a highway right there. The landowner is forced to sell the land to the government – the land is appropriated.
I appropriated six works from five artists. The works were located right where my route needed to be built. The artists were Paul Cézanne, Andy Warhol, Edvard Munch, Francis Bacon and Francisco Goya. And not only did I appropriate the works! I also copied, reproduced, de- and reconstructed, dissolved, wrote on, and quite nearly eliminated paintings by that handful of artists.
It was by no means an expression of my aversion to that five-leaf clover. Quite the opposite, in fact: I did it because I have learned from them on my journey as a visual artist, and because every generation needs to go out into the world with an open mind and have their own experiences.
By overwriting and eliminating our role models, we wipe the slate clean – and in my experience, a clean slate is a vital precondition for being able to create new ones. Puberty seems relevant here. Instead of fleeing from the painfully embarrassing, the pubescence of not really being able to yet, willfully repeating the process of puberty can be useful later in life, for example when the plate (or slate) is too full.
As the Danish poetess Inger Christensen once declared: ”When I sit down to write, nothing has ever been written.”
When I work, I often use numbers to propel the process. I find that minimizes the risk of intellectual obstacles arising in the middle of my work flow. In Pubertet after Munch, the process reached the number four. The image field is divided into four sections. The figure, taken from a Munch painting, is (unlike the original) repeated four times.
I used a combination of techniques in Pubertet after Munch: the internet, which I used to locate a digital version of Munch’s painting, then a computer program, with which I created the new collage. Next, I sent the image to prepress at an offset printer, where four metal plates were printed with my motive and image fields, now divided zero, one, two, three, four and five times, respectively.
The motive and image fields were then printed with black offset printing ink on paper that was otherwise destined for layouting or the waste bin. Some of the sheets had the light imprint of words from brochures the printer had just finished. More than a thousand sheets were printed four times each with black ink. Reused and overwritten. I stopped the machine many times to pour solvent on the plates. Thus, the resulting motives are increasingly faded.
At home in my studio, I chose 16 images from the over 6000 prints. I then treated the 16 images by hand using graphite and beeswax. First, I applied beeswax to the image and paper. I used razorblades to press the cold beeswax into the paper until the surface is smooth. Then, I used a hard rectangular graphite pencil to work the graphite into the beeswax. When a graphite pencil is ground forcefully and insistently into beeswax on paper long enough, the friction creates warmth, causing the graphite and beeswax to melt together. When the material cools, the surface is sealed, a black film. Then, using the razorblade again, I scraped the wax to a thin layer and worked the surface with graphite again, but this time with controlled and calm movements. I wanted to be able to control the surface’s transparency, how much was revealed and concealed, and also to leave tangible traces of my hands’ work with the materials.
That’s how the work Pubertet after Munch came to be. A ”new” image is born.
Yours truly, Michael B. Chang
ON PUBLIC SERVICE PROGRAMMING AND INSTRUCTION MANUALS FOR ART
/ Published: Gothersgade, Copenhagen, May 23, 2013.
In Steven Pinker’s book ”The Blank Slate – The Modern Denial of Human Nature” is a list of six observations about art by the art philosopher Denis Dutton. They are:
1. Expertise or virtuosity. Humans cultivate, recognize, and admire technical artistic skills.
2. Nonutilitarian pleasure. People enjoy art for art's sake, and don't demand that it keep them warm or put food on the table.
3. Style. Artistic objects and performances satisfy rules of composition that place them in a recognizable style.
4. Criticism. People make a point of judging, appreciating, and interpreting works of art.
5. Imitation. With a few important exceptions like abstract painting, works of art simulate experiences of the world.
6. Special focus. Art is set aside from ordinary life and made a dramatic focus of experience.
Here is my reaction.
1. Expertise or virtuosity.
As far as art goes, I’m pretty sure Dutton’s first point is just about passé. It’s not that expertise and virtuosity have become irrelevant, but we’ve long since acknowledged the value of other qualities in art and artists. Nowadays, we recognize and appreciate art forms for which technical and artistic virtuosity are not pivotal. One example is the work of James Turrell, where nature is central to the experience of virtuosity. Conceivably, 21st Century artists in the Western World don’t work to cultivate their expertise and virtuosity anymore, at least not in the classical sense. Maybe the focus is instead on the naturalness so central to other cultures’ art? Isn’t it easier on an emotional level to admire the natural, as opposed to expertise and virtuosity? And isn’t nature simple to recognize, identify with and value? Is art unnatural?
2. Nonutilitarian pleasure.
Ars gratia artis, art for art’s sake – one of my pet hates. Nonutilitarian pleasure leads to devaluation. Point 2 is pointless, and like ”art for art’s sake” is a clever-sounding but perfectly useless idiom. Deriving pleasure from something is a function, and a constructive one at that, because pleasure is motivating. ”Art for art’s sake” and ”nonutilitarian pleasure” reek of a trip to the library to enjoy the spines and covers of books, for their own sake – an inane exercise. Should one inspect the binding work, the craftsmanship, the materials, venture a contemplative thought or allow one’s curiosity to be awakened? Should one open a book and travel with its content? No, halt! Art is for art’s sake! Read no further, and remember: Art is a nonutilitarian pleasure! Humbug!
3. Rules of composition and recognizable style.
To my mind, a term like ’recognizable style’ is no more than a superficial interpretation of a field’s history and of painterly traditions.
Resorting to rules to create a style would be futile. What, then, of innovation? The result would be the reproduction of redundant works. An essential part of painting is working toward new ways of regarding what we recognize. Recognizability is an inherent part of a painting’s nature, and breaking free from all tradition is arduous, so rules can be useful.
My own experience making use of rules has nothing to do with achieving recognizability. But I do appreciate being able to see a correlation. To an outside observer, the repetition of pretty much the same thing might seem like a ’style’. But rules are not made to be followed faithfully, quite the opposite! Rules are there so that we can forever do something new within certain parameters. In part, rules provide an impetus, and in part they compel us to go all the way to the outermost edge, which is quite literally an essential part of painting.
4. Criticism, judging, appreciating and interpreting art.
As extroverted activities, criticism, judgment, appreciation and interpretation serve one purpose: to tell one another who we are. But that’s not unique for art; we do it with more or less everything – it’s small talk for parties and gatherings and when we’re out on the town. It’s social and it’s entertaining, but trumpeting who we are all of the time is also piddling nonsense.
Extroverted criticism of art is, in my opinion, the least interesting way to use the visual arts. I believe that one has to cultivate the ability to be receptive to art. Instead of being right, one has to soften up one’s intellect and pack one’s ego in the backseat to start using art to broaden one’s horizons.
If we turn criticism inward however, things start to get interesting. There’s something reassuring about knowing who we are, and who we are is perhaps most clearly defined by what we do, not what we like or don’t like to do. We can use a work of art to determine how critical we are or aren’t, how much we analyze, rationalize, enjoy or appreciate; even how creative we are and how many different ways we can use a work of art to get to know ourselves better. Dutton may be on to something here.
5. Imitation and simulation.
Dutton’s point number 5 quite possibly corresponds with point 1’s ’expertise and virtuosity’; every well-executed representative rendition contains a certain degree of expertise and virtuosity. But as Dutton himself suggests, imitation is not much of a criterion. Many central elements in the visual arts today are quite liberated from imitation.
In my own studies, I’ve learned that a foetus finds resonance in the rhythm of its mother’s heart and the flow of her blood while in the uterus, and only later as an infant begins to react to its surroundings and imitate the sounds it perceives. So it is with visual arts; (cardio)rhythms and harmonies resonate within us. Oftentimes imitation is a direct obstruction for a visual experience of rhythm. To ”simulate experiences of the world” is a vast heading. Let’s let point 5 be for a moment, calling instead to mind the works of art not eligible for the category ”Simulates experiences of the world”.
6. Special focus. Set aside from ordinary life and made a dramatic focus of experience.
I do wonder if Dutton should have left his list at two or three observations. Maybe he finds a weekend visit to an art museum a change from the humdrum of everyday life. For me, art is a very big part of the everyday humdrum. And yet, when art is the normal state it’s because one has come far enough to know more or less what’s going on.
What I believe Dutton to be saying is that it doesn’t feel ordinary for Dutton to produce a work of art. But there’s no need to start one’s art career making Caravaggio comparisons; he can start with Michael Chang comparisons – then it won’t be so hard to keep up.
I wonder, too, if one can call focus on experience ’dramatic’. I find that experience happens to all people, all of the time. But maybe he means experiences that are out of the ordinary, and while I’m waiting for the realm of the extraordinary to open its door and invite me inside so I can have some dramatic experiences, I can prime some canvasses and try my hand at photogravure.
In my opinion, working with art is rather undramatic business. I remember when I first started painting – the urge to paint was a feeling of euphoria. But doggone it, working like that is just not sustainable in the long run. Some of my most cherished work is accompanied by a teensy feeling of boredom, with my hands just going on doing what they do best.
Danmarks Radio’s instruction manual for the visual arts
Dutton’s six-point list made me think of a recent conversation with a friend and colleague of mine. I had complained about the apparently low level of professional level knowledge of DR (Denmark’s national public radio) when it comes to the visual arts.
She flatly replied that DR doesn’t produce its programs with the professional visual artist in mind.
Thanks to her clear-sightedness, I was reminded that public service access does not automatically mean access to expert knowledge – D’OH!
Professional level knowledge within the visual arts is accessed through institutions of learning, lectures, contact with practicing artists and other professionals, professors and studio instructors, and it is part of students’ daily work in the field.
Information is also available in ‘solid’ form – in bookstores, on the Internet and in libraries. In Copenhagen, Danmark’s Kunstbibliotek (Denmark’s Art Library) is especially valuable.
Then, of course, there are the studios of all practicing artists.
I can’t hold DR accountable for not having their finger on the pulse of expert knowledge in the visual arts, but I can hold myself accountable if I don’t.
Even if DR possesses the technology for mass communication, producing programs with superior professional content is not their responsibility. Actually, as a visual artist, it is my responsibility, as well as that my colleagues’.
Now, having reconsidered the transmission of visual arts knowledge, I have found myself feeling an increased responsibility to share what goes on in my own studio.
As far as DR’s broadcasting goes, of course, there are entertainment factors to consider. But as far as the visual arts are concerned, the work done by a visual artist is not meant to entertain, but rather to produce expert knowledge.
That level of professionalism is key – for example for Statens Kunstfond to distribute grants to artists. Entertainment value is of little account here.
And yet a public broadcaster does strive to help educate the public, and there are many genres well suited to creating ambitious programs about the visual arts. If one considers it, one might be tempted to ask what might come out of it: an art quiz, an art review, an interview with a collector, a videotaped meeting between artists; a visit to an art trade show, a museum and a commercial gallery.
Documentaries can be an apt narrative genre for spreading expert knowledge about art. But a well-produced documentary representing various perspectives can be costly to research and produce – perhaps the reason why so few documentaries are produced about artists today?
Today though, every smart phone with even sidestreet cred has a high-res video camera. Videos are uploaded to YouTube around the clock, and producing a documentary is possible without a huge budget – so why not bypass DR? It’s perfectly ok to challenge public broadcasters if we feel they’re under the mark. And of course it’s alright to be critical of an editorial board responsible for public service programming. Does a broadcaster’s editorial board inadvertently restrict specialized knowledge? Can one with good conscience transmit something one doesn’t understand?
Now, to sum up: I realized that in my role as a visual artist, I not only produce images, but produce and reveal the expert knowledge I have gained. My role also entails debating certain groups’ view of the visual arts, but not to be contrary partout. (I do think that Dutton is right in some respects, and his observations do demonstrate how many people today view visual art.)
For that reason, I’ve tried to lift the lid and shake things around a bit by writing about how I view the visual arts.
My criticism of DR makes me feel a certain sense of responsibility to help people who seek out information from artists get a nuanced impression of how the visual arts are implemented. I don’t have a TV-station, but I have my hands, my time, my energy, my website and the rest of the Internet. And luckily, I have you, my friends and colleagues, and your ears and eyes. (And noses?)
ON THE KOREAN ALPHABET, GRAMMAR AND GREY AREAS
/ Published: Gothersgade, Copenhagen, June 6, 2013.
I finally managed to write an artist statement and here it is.
Through my work with visual art, I explore the relationships between objects, images and language. I am motivated by the notion that objects, images and languages hold court in a gray area; perhaps even more so because I feel that as the child of a South Korean and a Dane my own identity also inhabits a transcultural gray area.
My awareness of the differences between written Danish and Korean came early, but there are even certain similarities.
Unlike written Chinese with its thousands of unique and composite characters, the Korean alphabet is a syllabic language with 24 letters – ten vowels and fourteen consonants. The Korean letters, however, are not arranged from left to right – the vowels and consonants are instead arranged in quadrants, and each quadrant can contain two to five letters.
As a child I did not understand written Korean. The letters were riddles that I couldn’t solve, which perhaps intensified a sense of urgency to explore Korea’s role as part of my identity. I grew up in Denmark, and Danish culture is what I know best. But those with transcultural backgrounds often find themselves searching for meaning in their cultures of origin.
Though Korean culture is an ancient mystery to me, it is a mystery in which I form a part. As such, it serves as a boundless treasure trove of inspiration.
Exploring Korean cultural history feels like an expedition into unknown territories. I study Korea’s history and the phonetics and writing system of the Korean language. I interpret and document what I’ve discovered in paintings, graphic prints and drawings.
The resulting work is neither Danish nor Korean, neither stork nor carp, but both – like myself.
Approaching the journey as a visual artist allows me to deepen my understanding of Korea while expressing myself with more cultural diversity than if I had sat down with a book and begun to study Korean.
Attempting to unite Western and Eastern thought in my work is relevant and natural because of my own position between two cultures. With the exploration of Western and Eastern art history and the images I create, I learn more about who I am.
After years of figurative painting, I one day decided to approach my work from a different angle. I parted from figuratism, choosing instead to concentrate on the relationship between objects, images and language.
Needing a methodology for my studies, in 2007 I decided to work with monochrome paintings. Monochromes link the work that I do with abstract art in the Western world’s art history, and at the same time there are ties to Zen Buddhist monochrome art in Korea.
Despite that, I don’t see my work as an extension of a genre, mysticism or the longing for a bygone era and its –isms. The monochrome is a dualistic paradox whose transcultural nature is fitting for my own project.
It is my wish to use a distinct visual language to express myself, which is why I make use of a personal grammar for my images.
A grammar for images
When I explore semiotics in my work, I try to dissolve the dividing lines between physical objects, images and the spoken or written language. By doing so I hope to highlight the problematic nature of their relationships with one another.
I use limitations as a tool, determining a set of dogmas and implementing them as a grammar for images. As in the Danish dogme-95 films, a vernacular then develops between the objects I create.
The first three dogmas in my grammar for images are the most pertinent to that patois:
(1) Auto-biography, (2) Proportions, (3) Gesticulation.
These three elements are a part of every work I produce, until I modify the grammar.
Results of my studies
My technique produces a variety of results. Sometimes a monochrome will reduce an image to a simple object. But because the object is constructed from a grammar, the image will always function as part of a language. When the objects are joined, a linguistic process can begin.
Blind Orion searching for the setting sun, (Orion and Cedalion) after Poussin, 2011
Works like The Blind Orion (2011) are designed as four objects on a wall with a treated finish. When light hits the treated wall, it creates the image of four colored surfaces.
Monochromes are not only extroverted and didactic, but also introverted and open to endless interpretation. Because of that, monochrome images can be used to gradually call memories and emotions to mind, echoing long after interaction.
The viewer is part of that experience, and I strive to create works that are worth returning to.
The aforementioned grammar was also behind a letter composed to two of my colleagues. It was written in chalk across four vertical boards until the words disappeared into countless chalk strokes, and the letter transformed into a horizontal image. With the help of accumulated gestures, the metamorphosis from letter to image could occur.
Thus the letter’s content becomes encrypted, as a sentence written in a foreign alphabet.
Images of Eggs, 2012
Adhering to the same grammar, I have produced works based on the collection of family documents from five generations, creating collages of graphic statements comparable to the Korean alphabet’s vocals and consonants. Each collage contains words such as life, family, reproduction or relative.
Current projects, 2013/2014
I am currently exploring ”fatherhood” as a subject. I intend to use my grammar for images to investigate fatherhood in an exhibition of copper print, photogravure and monochrome works. In June I’ll be traveling to San Francisco, USA to attend a course in photogravures at Crown Point Press. Send me an email if you’d like to be notified with opening dates for the exhibition.
ON ANCESTORS, ROLE MODELS AND COLOR THEORY
/ Published: Gothersgade, Copenhagen, December 23, 2013.
Dear Melanie, Jan, Marty, Hans and Jules,
It’s been a while since my last Y-letter. Instead of reflecting on what is, I’ve been engrossed in the physical business of making images. It’s been a work in progress for some time now, consisting of copperplate prints produced at the Danish Art Workshops (Statens Værksteder for Kunst) in Copenhagen in 2012; photogravures made at Crown Point Press in San Francisco last summer, in 2013; and paintings and drawings done in my atelier at Tietgensgade in Copenhagen. Action is a natural enemy of contemplation.
This y-letter is meant to tap their essence. Not like rays of light in the style of Harry Potter, but rather like translucent threads of letters through which a light shines. Let's submerge in the flow of my memories and explore role models, ancestors and the sensation of finding a kindred spirit.
About the exhibition
By way of introduction, the exhibition begins with a series of photocopied portraits of my ancestors. These have been transferred to gampi paper with the help of acetone, and then printed as chine-collé with aquatint by way of copper surfboards. A series of photogravures follows. These images, produced in the summer of 2013 at Crown Point Press in San Francisco, are also printed using the chine-collé method, with gampi paper on 300 gram somerset.
Finally, the exhibition includes a series of tempera paintings, all adhering to the first three dogmas in my grammar for images: (1) Autobiography, (2) Proportions, (3) Gesticulation.
Like the proportions used in my work, the colors in my forthcoming exhibitions are closely linked to one another. They are created from and live on in one another, just as a father and a son and all of their sons and daughters that follow spring from the same well.
A color theory
In the summer of 2013 I was in California. One evening, in Marty McCutcheon’s Berkeley studio with Marty, Brad Wise and Mary Jane, I experienced that the character of the flow of words hanging in the room morphed from a series of sounds to a waves of colored frequencies. At the same time, I experienced my chakras' colors mixing on their own axis', not unlike a Rubik’s Cube.
The experience can also be described as surfing on a conversation that has assumed the form of a rough sea of light in various frequencies. Quite suddenly and without any warning, the sensation of surfing brought me in contact with a theory of colors. And whilst I was taking in the conversation with my eyes, I was possessed with the idea of taking notes on this color theory.
But you know how it is. The world of theory is ephemeral and the bridges built to the world of practice can be rather precarious. My hands were rebellious and the task of grasping hold of the theory and transmitting it to paper as the idea developed proved a singular challenge. Remember, I was surfing on a wild sea, clutching a thought and trying not to lose my balance. It was a breathtaking struggle, but in the end I succeeded.
In brief, my theory – in all of its simplicity – is that all wavelengths can be received as a kind of 'color'; even wavelengths that are beyond the spectrum of what our eyes can perceive. I draw a parallel to the Korean Zen-Buddhist art with which I work, where the concept is that one should be able to see every 'color' in a monochrome brushstroke. The color theory, then, is a method of observing beyond the spectrum of colors visible to the eye.
And maybe the theory isn't so abstract after all. We know, for example, that many animals are able to perceive a number of wavelengths that are out of our reach.
Honeybees sense the ultraviolet frequencies of flowers and their pollen; it is the same ultraviolet frequency emitted by our bodily fluids – blood, urine, semen, tears and breastmilk. But we can't see the ultraviolet frequency with the naked eye; we need an ultraviolet light.
There are other wavelengths that we can only hear, for example radio waves that are transmitted over long distances and received by antennas.
We know that whales sing at a frequency imperceptible to the human ear, but we may sense the tones of their song as a kind of silent tremble.
We also know that sharks have a sixth sense that allows them to perceive frequencies comparable to electricity. It's possible that they use this sense to sort sick fish from healthy ones, thereby helping to hold balance in the marine ecosystem.
The popular science lightness of my new-age-color theory notwithstanding, I think that the theory can, when put into practice, have a catalytic function for me when comparing the unexpected. I am inspired by something that Marty said this summer. I paraphrase:
”There are some colors I like more than others. I often let my love of colors guide me.”
The goal of my theory could be to, like Marty, use love to choose colors that can elicit some of the existential questions I love engage in when I work.
A sensation of kinship with Eli Ponsaing
When I came home from America and had finished the greater part of the work for my upcoming exhibition, I began thinking about how the newest members of a family contribute to extending a family's particular wavelength. Not only a "family" in the biological sense.
When I came home from Berkeley and the warm and loving light of the McCutcheon family in July of 2013, I had a portfolio of photogravures and the practical experience to make them that I had gained at Crown Point fresh in my mind. I felt that I had added a new facet to the objective lens through which I view the world.
Maybe that was why I was able to see the extraordinary light that photogravures exude. That was how I happened across Eli Ponsaing, a Danish visual and lithographic artist, and copperplate printer who had spent his life working with photogravures and even invented a unique technique for them.
After visiting Eli's website I felt a deep solidarity with him, and I wanted to meet him.
Eli's works are alive with curiosity, non-figurative and they radiate their own particular authority.
I see the quality I seek in my own works in Eli's works. They remind me of the watchfulness that allows us to feel and be imbued with the strong energy present in objects of nature like stones, leaves, trees, water and natural phenomena like a sky resplendent with circular changes in the seasonal light. This also brings my thoughts to Jan [Kather], who stands on the suspension bridge between the parking lot and the Cornell campus and lets the rushing water and the thrill of the abyss fill her with energy for the day ahead.
I decided to send Eli an email and try to arrange a meeting. Some time later, I was contacted by one of his grandchildren. He wrote:
"Hi Michael. I'm Eli's grandson Jonas, and I regret to inform you that Eli passed away in June of this year. I know he would have been very happy to receive your mail he would have loved to see your work. I'm sure you would have been able to talk for hours on end! It's great to hear that Eli's work has inspired other artists, and apparently still does. Eli left a number of books that he had written, including some on the techniques he used. I've spoken to the others in the family, and we believe that Eli would have wanted us to give you a copy of some of his books. [...]"
The episode was – and still is – deeply moving. I am astounded by the contact that can be established through one's work with art, and how deeply binding the sense of kinship can be. I sense that Eli and I shared a particular frequency; one that arises with the energy and interest that one can invest in one's life and work.
Those were some of the thoughts and experiences I wanted to share with you today. It’s also an invitation for you to share your own experiences with ancestors, role models and color theory with me and with each other.
"I am still into recurring cycles, rhythms, and then the textures that impact the body. I am thinking about spaces that reverberated and echoed for me in the past and how these carry forward affectively into my sonic work. I feel these very deeply and I think your metaphor of wavelengths is totally on the money here. My antenna picks up waves from underground electronic dance parties as well as classical music (13-20 years ago) like an after-image. There are such a range of sonic frequencies, envelopes, velocities, polyrhythms: largo; presto; euphoria; melancholia.
Some of this has to do with the klangfarbenmelodie I mentioned in another mail. I am led to different tone/sound colours (timbres) that pull or push the body and how it feels in multiple ways -- how it felt then, how it feels now. How I am overtaken by events of mindbody mostly unexpected. In recent years this has been a tension between surging forward and disconnecting or dropping out/interruptions. These timbres also tell me about the spaces the body once inhabited with freedom that it perhaps now struggles or feels unsupported in.
Am I like a shark sorting out sick fish (frequencies/textures/timbres) from healthy ones using a making method to enable a better homeostasis in sound for me and others? I do not aim for total unity but there is some kind of back and forth, an ecosystem of klangfarbens."
— Melanie Chilianis, quote from an reply to ”On Ancestors, Role Models and Color Theory”, December 30, 2013
Off-line resources (in English / Danish*)
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Foucault, Michel, ”Power/knowledge : selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977”, Pantheon Books, 1980, ISBN: 0394513576, www.bibliotek.dk
Railing, Patricia, ”From science to systems of art : on Russian abstract art and language 1910/1920, and other essays”, Artists Bookworks, cop. 1989, ISBN: 0946311056, www.bibliotek.dk
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Levin, Patricia L., ”About turns: minimalism to excess in the films of Yvonne Rainer”, Xerox-kopi af disputats fra University of California, Irvine, 2001, ISBN: 0493163182, www.bibliotek.dk
Mayer, Ralph, ”The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques”, fifth edition, revised and updated by Steven Sheehan, Viking Penguin, Penguin Group, 1991, ISBN 0670837016
Rees, Martin, "Just Six Numbers The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe", HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-465-03672-4, (Excerpt)
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*Rex, Jytte, "Inger Christensen - Cikaderne findes", (1998), Dokumentarfilm - Portrætfilm, 52 min., Danmark, www.dfi.dk
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*Dalgaard, Kleinert & Stuhr, Iben, Pernille & Lotte, (Redaktion), ”Øje for Øje - en antologi om synet”, Det kgl. danske kunstakademi, 1994, © redaktionen, det kgl. danske kunstakademi og bidragsyderne, ISBN 87-88608-77-8, www.bibliotek.dk
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Viola, Bill , ”Peter Campus Image and Self”, Art in America, 1969. http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/features/peter-campusimage-and-self/
Viola, Bill, ”An Evening with Video Artist Bill Viola”, Counsil for the arts at MIT, 10 March 2009, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/660
Wikipedia, "On health risks of professional dance", harvested online 3 November 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_risks_of_professional_dance
Cummings, Paul, interview with Robert Motherwell, for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 24 November 1971, Greenwich, Connecticut, USA http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/mother71.htm
Pinker and Kosslyn, Steven and Stephen M., "The Representation and Manipulation of Three-Dimensional Space in Mental Images", Journal of Mental Imagery, 1978, 2, 69-84, Harvard University. Link
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Jackson, Alison, ”Alison Jackson looks at celebrity”, ted.com, January, 2008, www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/acea_ref_xx.html
Razon and Patterson, Na'amah and Whitney, ”When the 'Cuddle Hormone' Isn't so Cuddly”, University of California, Berkeley, January, 2011, Link
De Dreu, Greer, Van Kleef, Shalvi and Handgraaf, Carsten K. W., Lindred L., Gerben A., Shaul and Michel J. J., ”Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism”, Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, The Nederlands, October, 2010, https://dl.dropbox.com/u/22918804/PNAS-2011-De%20Dreu-1015316108.pdf
Bonenfant, Edmondes, Edmondez, Pipe, Ring, Thomas, Silver, Co-curators/editors of ”Cries from the guts”, Winchester University Press, www.winchester.ac.uk, Winchester, 2012, http://www.winchester.ac.uk/aboutus/WinchesterUniversityPress...
Might, Matt, ”Productivity tips, tricks and hacks for academics” and other useful articles, http://matt.might.net/articles/
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Watkins, Stephanie, ”Practical Considerations for Humidifying and Flattening Paper”, Head of Paper Conservation Conservation Department, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center , The University of Texas at Austin, http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v21/bp21-15.pdf
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Rigole, Jasper, ”Artist Statement Generator”, http://500letters.org
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Wang, Ge, Snow, Mitra & Giles, James Z., Weina, Dean R., Prasenjit & C. Lee, ”Determining the Sexual Identities of Prehistoric Cave Artists using Digitized Handprints - A Machine Learning Approach”, http://www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/acea_ref_lvi.html, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, http://www.cse.psu.edu/~ge/publications/mm10.pdf, MM’10, October 25–29, 2010, Firenze, Italy.
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Frascina, Francis, "White Cube, White Culture, White Riot", Third Text, 25:5, 523-538, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09528822.2011.608962
Wood, Paul, "Moving the Goalposts", Third Text, 25:5, 503-513, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09528822.2011.608974
Jorgensen, Darren, "Dreams and Magic in Surrealism and Aboriginal Australian Art", Third Text, 25:5, 553-562, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09528822.2011.608963
*Statens Kunstfond: Arkitekturudvalget og Kunsthåndværk- og Designudvalget, ”Støttemuligheder på arkitektur-, kunsthåndværk- og designområderne, en konsekvens- og perspektivanalyse, December 2010, http://www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/Rapport_SK_Dec_2010.pdf
*Autzen, Kirstine, ”Billedets antropologi: krop, bevægelse og poesi i fotografiet”, Københavns Universitet, København, Marts 2010, http://issuu.com/autzenthorup/docs/billedetsantropologi_kirstineautzen
On-line resources in the News (in English / Danish*)
Chilver, Simon, ”Why David Hockney is my all-time style hero”, Guardian.co.uk, 2012, www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/acea_ref_xxx.html
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Brown, Mark, ”Saatchi's scathing portrait of the art world: 'Vulgar, Eurotrashy, masturbatory'”, guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 December 2011, www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/acea_ref_xxiv.html
Wintour, Patrick, ”A reputation shredded: Sir Fred loses his knighthood”, Guardian.co.uk, 2012, www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/acea_ref_xxxii.html
Jones, Jonathan, ”Damien Hirst: Two Weeks One Summer review”, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 May 2012, http://www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/acea_ref_xliii.html
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Beckett, Andy, ”A user's guide to artspeak”, The Guradian, Sunday 27 January 2013, http://www.michaelchang.dk/04_words/workwords/acea_ref_lii.html
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