“Survival Sex”: exploring the plight of homeless youth with Nigerian-American filmmaker Ukachi Arinzeh – in conversation

Nigerian-born American filmmaker Ukachi Arinzeh speaks of universal feelings of compassion and the struggle to survive in our times.

After a life changing experience, Ukachi Arinzeh has planned a project that encourages us to stop and acknowledge the plight of those less fortunate, who often go unnoticed and are avoided in our urban fast-paced, global realities. The artist speaks about his personal drive to create something meaningful, his new project and how his multicultural life inspires his work.

Ukachi Arinzeh. Image courtesy the artist.

Ukachi Arinzeh. Image courtesy the artist.

Working for a long time between Shanghai and New York City, and engaging with both a personal creative practice and a commercial job, Ukachi Arinzeh has embraced film and video to create a view of contemporary reality that aims to shake us out of our torpor and indifference.

After a trying experience with a serious illness, Arinzeh realised how fortunate most of us are while there are a great number of people everywhere, in cities like New York, but also in other parts of the world, that everyday have to suffer debilitating ways of life in order to survive.

Recently, the artist became aware of and took up an interest in exploring and understanding the plight of homeless teenagers in New York City, who amount to about 5,000 in a city where there are only 500 beds available for the homeless per night. Studies also show that around 50 percent of homeless youth have been rejected by their families for their sexual orientation, putting at risk a great part of the young LGBT community in the United States.

Arinzeh’s upcoming project, aptly entitled Survival Sex, explores the story of a homeless teenager in New York struggling for survival on the mean streets of the city. In order to be able to create this meaningful story and bring it to the screens, the artist has set up a GoFundMe campaign, which will end on 28 February 2017.

Click here to watch Ukachi Arinzeh’s ‘Survival Sex’ campaign video on YouTube

Art Radar speaks with Ukachi Arinzeh about the meaning of being a successful filmmaker, his multicultural experience and inspiration, and what his new project is about.

You have been working with video for a long time now, both on personal filmmaking projects as well as in the commercial sphere. How would you say your perspective and your goals as a filmmaker have developed over the years and at what stage are you now? What would be now the biggest achievement and success for you in terms of your creative practice?

This is a great question and it actually speaks to the heart or the inspiration to make Survival Sex. I truly love the craft of filmmaking, but like most people it can be difficult trying to strike the right balance between art and commerce. Sometimes life has a way of intruding and forces you to make decisions you’ve been avoiding. At some point in time I think we all ask ourselves about our life, our direction, and what we want to achieve or who we want to be. I realised I really wanted to be a filmmaker and not just a commercial director. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy working with brands to tell their story but I fell in love with films. So now my biggest achievement and success in terms of my creative practice is overcoming my fears and putting myself and my own work out there. I shouldn’t say overcoming my fear, putting myself out there despite my fear would be more accurate.

You have lived for a long time in Shanghai, and have experienced life at varying levels both in the West, and especially in New York City where you are from, and the East. How would you say this duality has shaped the way you think creatively?

I’m a firm believer that the greatest education is travelilng, or at least growing up with other cultures. Growing up in the States as a Nigerian, I was aware of culture. I knew the difference between American culture and Nigerian culture. In Nigerian culture I couldn’t take things from adults with my left hand, Nigerian culture smells different, it tastes different. One wasn’t better than the other, they were just different. I think we often assume what we know is how things are or should be, but when you travel you understand what you know or believe is only what you know or believe, it’s not the law. It’s just one way of doing things. So creatively I attempt to look at things without judgment, I attempt to approach things aware of perspective so that I can see things for what they really are and not just what I want it to be.

Ukachi Arinzeh shooting a commercial project in Shanghai, China. Image courtesy the artist.

Ukachi Arinzeh shooting a commercial project in Shanghai, China. Image courtesy the artist.

You have chosen to turn your lens onto more profound, perhaps even spiritual concerns, through an exploration of specific realities that can represent universal views of what people have to face and endure to survive. Can you tell us more about what your project for Survival Sex is about, and how for you it can resonate not only in its immediate surroundings like New York City and the reality of the United States, but also in other parts of the world?

I think what the movie is about and how I hope it resonates with the audience are two different things. I hope that the film inspires people to have greater empathy for their fellow man. That it causes people to take a moment to be aware of someone else’s suffering or plight. Like most of us, I previously would ignore homeless people when asked for money. Since I started this process I now always respond. I try to make eye contact and with a smile say, “Sorry bro, I can’t today”.  Acknowledging their presence is what I have to give. Maybe I can do more, maybe this film is my way of doing more. I do believe a simple act of kindness on the streets of New York or the slums of Lagos goes a long way. Not just for them but for myself as well.

Watch an interview about ‘Survival Sex’ with Ukachi Arinzeh by Nigerian musician Nneka, Founder of Rope Foundation

Finally, you have mentioned before in a conversation we had, that perhaps your way of relating to particular struggles for survival could derive from the fact that you have witnessed and partly lived similar realities of hardship in Nigeria, the country you were born in and you are linked to inextricably by blood. Could you expand a little on this notion and tell me how your experience of life in Nigeria make you more receptive towards suffering individuals, how this has perhaps helped you build a heightened level of compassion and how it might also propel and become a catalyst for your creative process?

As a kid I can remember the first time going back to Nigeria. I left when I was very young so I didn’t have any memory of it. I must have been around 11 or 12 when I first went back for a visit. I remember thinking how lucky our family was. My parents didn’t come from affluent backgrounds. My dad was the oldest of 9 kids and from what I hear very bright. In order for the village to prosper they decided it was best that everyone chipped in to raise money to send him to college in America. With the idea being he would become a success then return home to assist those behind him. It was truly an example of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. I think with the help of my mother he has far surpassed his part of the bargain. Thankfully, I’ve never known poverty, but its close proximity on those early trips back home fostered an appreciation for the blessings we were given, as well as an awareness for those less fortunate. I think that has influenced the type of stories I would like to tell, the characters I’m drawn to, and the type of filmmaker I aspire to be.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Nigerian artists, American artists, film, video art, art about society, art about the urban environment, New York City

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Photo Gallery: “An Atlas of Mirrors”, Singapore Biennale 2016

As the Singapore Biennale 2016 is soon coming to a close, Art Radar gives you the opportunity to see some of the work on show until 26 February 2017.

“An Atlas of Mirrors” features more than 60 artists and artist collectives from East, South and Southeast Asia, presenting a “constellation” of artistic perspectives on the world and our shared histories.

David Chan, 'The Great East Indiaman', 2016, wood, welded steel and concrete, 2400 x 500 x 1800 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at National Museum Singapore. Image courtesy Singapore Biennale.

David Chan, ‘The Great East Indiaman’, 2016, wood, welded steel and concrete, 2400 x 500 x 1800 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at National Museum Singapore. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Chia Chuyia, 'Knitting the Future', 2015, 2016, performance with knitting needles and leeks, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. At SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Biennale.

Chia Chuyia, ‘Knitting the Future’, 2015, 2016, performance with knitting needles and leeks, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. At SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Debbie Ding, 'Shelter', 2016, replica of household shelter: plaster on cement-fibre board, plywood, steel, ceiling light fixture and paper, 240 x 290 x 170 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at National Museum of Singapore. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Debbie Ding, ‘Shelter’, 2016, replica of household shelter: plaster on cement-fibre board, plywood, steel, ceiling light fixture and paper, 240 x 290 x 170 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at National Museum of Singapore. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Do Ho Suh, 'Gate', 2003, silk and stainless steel tubes, Artist Proof 1 of 1, 326.5 x 211.5 x 100 cm. Private collection. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Do Ho Suh, ‘Gate’, 2003, silk and stainless steel tubes, Artist Proof 1 of 1, 326.5 x 211.5 x 100 cm. Private collection. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Eddy Susanto, 'The Journey of Panji', 2016, ink on canvas, acrylic and wood, 300 x 500 x 300 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Eddy Susanto, ‘The Journey of Panji’, 2016, ink on canvas, acrylic and wood, 300 x 500 x 300 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Faizal Hamdan, 'Dollah Jawa', 2016, two-channel video projection, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Faizal Hamdan, ‘Dollah Jawa’, 2016, two-channel video projection, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Han Sai Por, 'Black Forest', 2016, wood and charcoal, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Han Sai Por, ‘Black Forest’, 2016, wood and charcoal, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Jack Tan, 'Hearings', 2016, textile hangings with audio recordings (set of 8) (27 to 29 Oct 2016, 2pm) and ‘live’ performances (29 Oct 2016, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm) at Chamber, The Arts House; bound manuscripts, music stands and speakers with audio recordings (set of 8) at SAM at 8Q (30 Oct 2016 to 26 Feb 2017); Hangings 150 x 120 cm each; manuscripts, 25 x 17.6/25 cm x various widths (closed/opened dimensions, each); recordings various durations 1:04–3:59 mins; ‘live’ performances total duration approx. 17:00 mins (each). Collection of the Artist. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Jack Tan, ‘Hearings’, 2016, textile hangings with audio recordings (set of 8) (27 to 29 Oct 2016, 2pm) and ‘live’ performances (29 Oct 2016, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm) at Chamber, The Arts House; bound manuscripts, music stands and speakers with audio recordings (set of 8) at SAM at 8Q (30 Oct 2016 to 26 Feb 2017); Hangings 150 x 120 cm each; manuscripts, 25 x 17.6/25 cm x various widths (closed/opened dimensions, each); recordings various durations 1:04–3:59 mins; ‘live’ performances total duration approx. 17:00 mins (each). Collection of the Artist. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Jiao Xingtao, 'The Unity of N Monuments', 2016, cypress wood and copper (100 pieces), 45 x 34 x 34 cm (each). Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Asian Civilisations Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Jiao Xingtao, ‘The Unity of N Monuments’, 2016, cypress wood and copper (100 pieces), 45 x 34 x 34 cm (each). Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Asian Civilisations Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Made Djirna, 'Melampaui Batas (Beyond Boundaries)', 2016, antique boat, terracotta and found materials, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Made Djirna, ‘Melampaui Batas (Beyond Boundaries)’, 2016, antique boat, terracotta and found materials, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

MAP Office, 'Desert Islands', 2009, 2016, engraved mirrors, cardboard, aquarium and media player with sound, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artists. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

MAP Office, ‘Desert Islands’, 2009, 2016, engraved mirrors, cardboard, aquarium and media player with sound, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artists. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Marine Ky, 'Setting Off', 2016, ink transfer prints on fabric and paper, copper, wood and ceramic. Site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Peranakan Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Marine Ky, ‘Setting Off’, 2016, ink transfer prints on fabric and paper, copper, wood and ceramic. Site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Peranakan Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Azizan Paiman, 'Putar Alam Café', 2016, mild steel structure, zinc plate, ventilator, exhaust fan, fridge, transistor radio, TV monitor, mugs, kettle, tyre, microwave, wheel and interactive performance, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Azizan Paiman, ‘Putar Alam Café’, 2016, mild steel structure, zinc plate, ventilator, exhaust fan, fridge, transistor radio, TV monitor, mugs, kettle, tyre, microwave, wheel and interactive performance, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Nobuaki Takekawa, 'Sugoroku – Anxiety of Falling from History', 2016, Sugoroku table, glass rocket sculpture, woodblock prints, acrylic on canvas, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Nobuaki Takekawa, ‘Sugoroku – Anxiety of Falling from History’, 2016, Sugoroku table, glass rocket sculpture, woodblock prints, acrylic on canvas, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Phuong Linh Nguyen, 'Memory of the Blind Elephant', 2016, single-channel video, rubber latex, soil drawings on paper and metal stands, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Phuong Linh Nguyen, ‘Memory of the Blind Elephant’, 2016, single-channel video, rubber latex, soil drawings on paper and metal stands, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Sharmiza Abu Hassan, 'The Covenant', 2016, treated aluminium sheets, strips, rivets & wire cable, Jawi text, stainless steel wire mesh and nylon thread, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Sharmiza Abu Hassan, ‘The Covenant’, 2016, treated aluminium sheets, strips, rivets & wire cable, Jawi text, stainless steel wire mesh and nylon thread, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Sakarin Krue-On, 'Kra-Tua Taeng Seua (A Tiger Hunt)', 2016, video installation with black-and-white film, original soundtrack, video documentation and artefacts, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Smu - The Suantio Gallery. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Sakarin Krue-On, ‘Kra-Tua Taeng Seua (A Tiger Hunt)’, 2016, video installation with black-and-white film, original soundtrack, video documentation and artefacts, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SMU – The Suantio Gallery. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Suboh Gupta, 'Cooking the World', 2016, found aluminium utensils, monofilament line and steel600 cm (diameter). Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Suboh Gupta, ‘Cooking the World’, 2016, found aluminium utensils, monofilament line and steel600 cm (diameter). Collection of the Artist. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tan Zi Hao, ;The Skeleton of Makara (The Myth of a Myth)', 2016, fibreglass and metal, 220 x 425 x 115 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tan Zi Hao, ;The Skeleton of Makara (The Myth of a Myth)’, 2016, fibreglass and metal, 220 x 425 x 115 cm. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, 'Jaonua: The Nothingness (King of Meat: The Nothingness)', 2016, five-channel video installation, duration 35:00 min. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, ‘Jaonua: The Nothingness (King of Meat: The Nothingness)’, 2016, five-channel video installation, duration 35:00 min. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Rathin Barman, 'Home, and a Home', 2016, welded mild steel bars with rust-preventive transparent coating, cast concrete and weathered steel, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Rathin Barman, ‘Home, and a Home’, 2016, welded mild steel bars with rust-preventive transparent coating, cast concrete and weathered steel, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tun Win Aung & Wah Nu, 'The Name', 2008–ongoing, video projection, books and musical score, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artists. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tun Win Aung & Wah Nu, ‘The Name’, 2008–ongoing, video projection, books and musical score, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artists. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Ade Darmawan, 'Singapore Human Resources Institute', 2016, installation with paintings, prints, photographs, found objects and furniture, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Ade Darmawan, ‘Singapore Human Resources Institute’, 2016, installation with paintings, prints, photographs, found objects and furniture, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at SAM at 8Q. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Ryan Villamael, 'Locus Amoenus', 2016, paper (replica maps) and felt, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Ryan Villamael, ‘Locus Amoenus’, 2016, paper (replica maps) and felt, dimensions variable. Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Perception3, 'There are those who stay / There are those who go', 2016, installation with text on aluminium composite panels (set of 2), 240 x 420 x 60 cm (each). Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Stamford Green. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Perception3, ‘There are those who stay / There are those who go’, 2016, installation with text on aluminium composite panels (set of 2), 240 x 420 x 60 cm (each). Collection of the Artist. Singapore Biennale 2016 commission. Installation view at Stamford Green. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

 

The Singapore Biennale 2016 “An Atlas of Mirrors” runs from 27 October 2016 to 26 February 2017, organised by the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) and commissioned by the National Arts Council Singapore.

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“Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks and You”: Iranian artist Farhad Ahrarnia at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai

Iranian-born artist Farhad Ahrarnia explores urban spaces and the effects of modernisation in his recent solo exhibition at Lawrie Shabibi in Dubai.

Art Radar had a quick chat with the artist about the themes of materiality in his work.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

From 8 February to 2 March 2017 Dubai-based gallery Lawrie Shabibi presents “Something for the Touts, the Nuns, the Grocery Clerks and You”, a solo exhibition by Farhad Ahrarnia. Ahrarnia was born in Shiraz, Iran and now lives between Shiraz and Sheffield in the United Kingdom. His work explores aspects of national identity and intercultural exchange through a diverse range of meticulously crafted works.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Iranian architecture and western modernism

Farhad Ahrarnia’s practice is simultaneously influenced by his hometown, particularly the mix of modern and historic architecture found there, and western modernism. A major influence in his work is Kazimir Malevich, an artist of Suprematism, a movement that focused on basic geometric forms. In an essay for the Tate, Ahrarnia explains how the complex structures of Shiraz were built organically among ruins of ancient architecture and were influenced by modernism. He explained how this town of his youth, during the 1970s and 1980s, along with discovering Malevich’s artwork, fed into his practice:

As I perceive Shiraz through a Malevichian lens, I see the intermingling of these spatially and temporally varied spaces functioning as a prism, with the effect of creating a fractured, punctuated, yet dynamic and animated twentieth-century city. In parts this is reminiscent of Malevich’s architectural models, where protruding cubic shapes flow outwardly with different rhythms and in opposite, irregular directions.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Ahrarnia adopts craft-making techniques such as embroidery, engraving and marquetry into his practice, exploring the nexus between art and engineering. As he developed an interest in Malevich’s work, he began to look at this practice as an act of construction, producing, in his words, “a kinetic impact on a static surface”. He goes on to explain in the Tate essay:

Malevich creates movement most effectively through his compositions, choice of colours and forms. I therefore continuously refer to his work as a blueprint for my embroideries and marquetry to suggest displacement, movement and collision.

Farhad Ahrarnia. "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Materiality of urban spaces

Ahrarnia has taken the title of this exhibition from a poem by German-born American poet, novelist and short story writer Charles Bukowski. Bukowski was well known for writing about his surroundings as well as about the impact of industrialisation on the working classes. In the exhibition Ahrarnia uses this title as a starting point to explore the urban spaces of Shiraz, Esfahan and Tehran through compositions involving discarded packaging boxes that he found. He uses these works to explore manufacturing and consumption in the Iranian context and the legacy of modern mass-production.

Farhad Ahrarnia. "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Ahrarnia explains to Art Radar that he has long been interested in the materiality of cardboard boxes:

Perhaps my interest in cardboard, specifically in the shape of a box, goes way back to my early childhood days living in Shiraz, where I would be spending hours exploring and playing in my grandmothers house. A grand old house which was partially disused, with abandoned rooms turned into storage, filled with cardboard boxes containing objects belonging to different members of my extended family accumulated over various decades. I was amused and fascinated by what these boxes might contain. Their appearance spoke of an indefinable potentiality for containment of certain desires in form of objects. Resembling second skins, these boxes hid what rested beneath. As such, the box would function as a fetish, referring to a missing or perhaps indefinable or unclear object of desire, simply remaining open ended! Waiting to appease or otherwise!

As I learnt to read the surface of these boxes, each one would turn into a testimony of it’s own making and history, communicating a trajectory and possibilities for consumption and subscription to various necessities, sensibilities or life styles! Eventually I was hooked on the signifying power and the understated aura of cardboard boxes in general.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Ahrarnia deliberately selected boxes marked with “Made in Iran” texts, symbols and fonts that have their origin in 20th century advertising graphics and Russian avant-garde influences. He also selected them for their prior contents, such as kerosene lamps and hair spray, calling back to a past era. Though the boxes are taken apart, they retain the residue of these past uses.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of "Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Farhad Ahrarnia. Installation view of “Something for the Touts, the Grocery Clerks and You” at Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai, 8 February to 2 March 2017. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi.

Ahrarnia then incorporates these boxes into formal and cubic compositions reflecting his Modernism and Constructivism influences. In this stage he alters the material through adding decorative concentric patterns that are traditionally applied on important devotional texts. Through this process Ahrarnia is changing the tone and import of the discarded, everyday material. In the exhibition text he explains that

By collecting and appropriating the modern cubic structure of these boxes and their worn-out surfaces I intend to raise their significance and cultural value, turning them into critical and self referential art.

Farhad Ahrarnia, 'The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire [After Max Bill]', 2016, Khatam (Persian micro-mosaic), 40 x 40 x 2.4 cm. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist.

Farhad Ahrarnia, ‘The Tomb of Charles Baudelaire [After Max Bill]’, 2016, Khatam (Persian micro-mosaic), 40 x 40 x 2.4 cm. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist.

Seeing objects from a new perspective

Ahrarnia often uses ancient techniques in his work while exploring contemporary realities, mixing the traditional with the modern. In some of the pieces he uses an Iranian micro-mosaic technique dating back 600 years, which was used to decorate everyday objects. On the one hand he utilises high art ornamentation and on the other he challenges the status of mundane objects like a cardboard box through decoration. His interest in materiality and process lie at the heart of this combined practice.

Talking to Art Radar, Ahrarnia expanded on his thoughts about materiality, emphasising the possibility of everyday objects through manipulation and transformation:

For me the materiality of any given object or entity conveys and embodies a set of possibilities and histories which can be explored and manipulated in order to create an alternative set of contexts for new readings and alternative considerations. I’m interested in playing with codes and conventions which are already attached to a particular medium or entity. There are qualities of strength and resilience but also the contradictory factors of vulnerability and impermanence. All the above qualities simultaneously carry their own poetics and metaphysical connotation, I’m interested in all the above when it comes to considering the materiality of any given entity that I select to explore, dissect, reassemble or treat.

Farhad Ahrarnia, 'Album Leaf [After Max Bill]', 2016, Khatam (Persian micro-mosaic), 37.5 x 37.5 x 2.7 cm. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist.

Farhad Ahrarnia, ‘Album Leaf [After Max Bill]’, 2016, Khatam (Persian micro-mosaic), 37.5 x 37.5 x 2.7 cm. Image courtesy Lawrie Shabibi and the artist.

As consumers of culture and goods we can all decide to reconsider the significance of objects and experiences, which we are surrounded by, through a certain amount of shift in our perception, or in our collective and individually applied value systems in operation.

A chipped teapot or vase can gain kudos if we chose to lend it that extra set of significance, as some Japanese do! An aesthetic sensibility for appreciation of damaged surfaces called ‘wabi saabi’. A simple gathering of friends over afternoon tea can be reconsidered as a ‘happening’ and be read as a cultural commentary on the value of time spent on simple human interactions as opposed to time spent on individual activities which are motivated by self-orientated gains and benefits.

Claire Wilson

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Related Topics: Iranian artists, mosaic art, classic/contemporary, gallery shows, events in Dubai

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“Ether is all that is”: G R Iranna at Gallery Espace, New Delhi – in pictures

G R Iranna ponders the meaning of life in his recent solo exhibition at Gallery Espace in New Delhi.

“This great Being is endless and without any limit. It is a mass of consciousness only”. Taken from the ancient Indian scripture Chandogya Upanishad (VIII. 3. 4), the verse encapsulates the nature of existence and introduces G R Iranna’s solo exhibition “Ether is all that is”, on view at Gallery Espace, New Delhi until 8 March 2017.

G R Iranna, "Ether is all that is", 21 January - 9 March 2017, Gallery Espace, New Delhi. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, “Ether is all that is”, 21 January – 9 March 2017, Gallery Espace, New Delhi. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

Unfolding at three levels – through material, form and time, the exhibition “Ether is all that is” at Gallery Espace in New Delhi traces G R Iranna’s exploration into the realms of the unknown, beyond the abstract form and its motivating thought, into a formless, eternal state. Being careful not to limit the visual and conceptual experience of his show, he carefully chose a title that resonated the deep resolve of his practice.

G R Iranna, 'Lofty Tree', 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin 54 x 104 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Lofty Tree’, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 54 x 104 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

The smell of sandalwood wafts through the gallery space and is the first encounter of experience. In a small, dimly lit room of the gallery is the long console, its top embedded with a meshing over which is laid out the burning words “Idaṃ mahadbhūtamanantamapāraṃ vijñānaghana eva.” Sandalwood powder or chandana is known for its medicinal properties and to spiritual seekers is considered a metaphorical link between the earth and the sky, between the finite and the eternal. The continuous burning of the sandalwood powdered words leaves a trace of ash, and in doing so defines the moment material form becomes immaterial. The words and all that they reveal return to ‘ash’ – the medium that the artist chooses to draw with, coat onto or burn off.

G R Iranna, 'इदं महद्भूतमनन्तमपारं विज्ञानघन एव । (Idaṃ mahadbhūtamanantamapāraṃ vijñānaghana eva.)' Translation in English: "This great Being is endless and without any limit. It is a mass of consciousness only." – Chandogya Upanishad (VIII. 3. 4). Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘इदं महद्भूतमनन्तमपारं विज्ञानघन एव । (Idaṃ mahadbhūtamanantamapāraṃ vijñānaghana eva.)’ Translation in English: “This Great Being is Endless and Without Any Limit. It is a Mass of Consciousness Only.” – Chandogya Upanishad (VIII. 3. 4). Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

While speaking with Art Radar, G R Iranna elucidates the material context of his show by saying, “We treasure diamonds, but to nature they are but rocks.” With the understanding that everything is to return to dust, Iranna began to think of how to visually communicate the transient. He began using charcoal a few years ago and evolved to employing holy ash as a way to punctuate human mortality more vividly. Known in the Hindu tradition as vibhuti when smeared on one’s forehead, it signifies the eternal consciousness within us while also serving as a constant reminder of our eventual consummation.

G R Iranna, "Ether is all that is", 21 January - 9 March 2017, Gallery Espace, New Delhi. Installation view with 'Psychic Sound', 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 66 x 120 in (Left) and 'Beautiful Burning Tree', 2016, silver foil on paper 60 x 80 (Right). Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, “Ether is all that is”, 21 January – 9 March 2017, Gallery Espace, New Delhi. Installation view with ‘Psychic Sound’, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 66 x 120 in (Left) and ‘Beautiful Burning Tree’, 2016, silver foil on paper 60 x 80 (Right). Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

While in Mexico, Iranna came upon a tree that was 3,500 years old and standing beside its massive trunk, looking upward towards the network of branches it supported, the artist marvelled at this silent witness of times gone by. Filled with a sense of wonder and humility, he explains the tree’s repetition in his work as a metaphorical reminder to us existing as observers, playing out our part within the larger, cosmic scheme of things. Of the many relationships we sow through our lives, some get charred, few smolder and still others continually take root. Iranna plays off these as he paints the branches of his trees with ash in a series of works entitled Ethereal Tree, Beautiful Burning Tree, Lofty Tree, Heaven on Water, all executed in 2016.

G R Iranna, 'Untitled', 2016, acrylic on canvas 60 x 66 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Untitled’, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 66 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, 'Ethereal Beauty', 2016, acrylic paint on ash blocks, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Ethereal Beauty’, 2016, acrylic paint on ash blocks, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

Also part of his repertoire of forms is that of the carpet – laid out as a decorative floor covering or a mat for prayer. The carpet wears away like the memories of those whose feet have walked over it, until the day it too is threadbare and returns to dust. Made of brightly painted ash bricks, a rich patterned floor work Ethereal Beauty (2016) puts the point across quite lucidly.

In a corner of the gallery is placed a full length standing mirror, except the mirror’s surface itself is replaced with cubes of ash. Iranna’s belief is that self-reflection explains the relationship between the ego and the body and in this work entitled Loved Ash (2016), the self image is in fact, ash itself.

G R Iranna, 'Loved Ash', 2016, ash blocks, wooden mirror, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Loved Ash’, 2016, ash blocks, wooden mirror, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, 'The Tree Disappeared into Ether', 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin 54 x 132 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘The Tree Disappeared into Ether’, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin
54 x 132 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

Iranna has been working on this body of work for the last two years. The first work to be publicly presented was Garbh, an egg shaped larger than life form, supported by Gallery Espace’s Founding Director, Renu Modi for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016. Iranna shares his intent to sculpt a form that was solid and strong but also fragile. Built in a small room, with a narrow opening, Garbh consumes the space it occupies and by the end of each day sheds a circle of ash around itself.

G R Iranna, 'Ethereal Tree, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 60 x 132 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

G R Iranna, ‘Ethereal Tree’, 2016, acrylic on tarpaulin, 60 x 132 in. Image courtesy Gallery Espace.

The work will need to be destroyed at the end of the Biennale in March and with it, the work will be complete – its birth from and end into the formless, while leaving a daily trace of residue as a memory of its existence. Coming full circle to the first piece of his gallery solo, Iranna successfully imparts a multi-sensorial experience through a predominantly visual language that takes the viewer through life’s journeying in a rather simple, yet purposeful way.

Kanika Anand

1559

Related Topics: Indian artists, installation, painting, gallery shows, events in New Delhi

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“Destination: Still Unknown”: Thai photographer Pramuan Burusphat’s retrospective at BACC – in pictures

Thai photographer Pramuan Burusphat holds retrospective show at BACC.

New Zealand-based Thai photographer Pramuan Burusphat enjoys a retrospective survey at Bangkok Art and Cultural Center until 26 February 2017. Art Radar takes a look at the exhibition and talks to Pramuan Burusphat about the roots of conceptual photography in Thailand.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Photo-Reconstruction Series', 1978. Hand-painted Gelatin Silver Prints. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Photo-Reconstruction Series’, 1978, hand-painted gelatin silver prints. Installation view at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

In Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre‘s fourth floor studio room is an exhibition of New Zealand-based Thai photographer Pramuan Burusphat’s work. Since Pramuan Burusphat’s first solo exhibition in 1982 at British Council Gallery, Bangkok, the photographer has been making work at the borders of documentary, conceptual art and photography. The current exhibition at BACC entitled “Destination: Still Unknown” presents a retrospective survey of the photographer’s work, with the aim of highlighting some of the threads in his artistic practice as well as Pramuan Burusphat’s impact on Thai contemporary art.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Ideal Symmetrical System Series', 1978. Gelatin Silver Prints. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Ideal Symmetrical System Series’, 1978, gelatin silver prints. Image courtesy the artist.

Autobiographical Images Series #1, 1978. Vintage Kwik-Print

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images Series #1’, 1978, vintage kwik-print. Image courtesy the artist.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Interior Project, Bangkok', 1979-80. Gelatin Silver Prints (made from 1979-80’s negatives in 2016). Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Interior Project, Bangkok’, 1979-80, gelatin silver prints (made from 1979-80’s negatives in 2016). Image courtesy the artist.

Art photography in Thailand began with Burusphat, asserts Manit Sriwanichpoom, one of Thailand’s leading photographers and co-curators with Zhuang Wubin of the exhibition at BAAC. The first section of the exhibition is dedicated to Burusphat’s early work. Many of his images, such as Interior Project (Self-Portrait), are the results of his experiments with long exposure. While this may be a tired departure point for experimental photography work in 2017, the images were relatively innovative at the time and place of inception: the early 1970s in Thailand.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Flash 3', 1979. Vintage Hand-painted Gelatin Silver Prints. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Flash 3’, 1979, vintage hand-painted gelatin silver prints. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Recycled Images Series, 1997/2001. Hand-painted gelatine silver print. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Recycled Images Series’, 1997/2001, hand-painted gelatine silver print. Image courtesy the artist.

Walking (1977) is a series that captures the artist’s foot movement, a work inspired by a lecture by US conceptual photographer Duane Michals. Landscape Project (1979) also comprises a series of photographs put together as a gesture towards a narrative. The experimentation with the “series” and thus the fragmentation of the “single shot” was untrodden territory at the time.  Recycled Images (1997-2002) reflects on Burusphat’s more recent explorations into the role of the artist in waste production and consumption cycles. In the images he mixes layers of drawings, paintings and found objects.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Photo-Reconstruction #1', 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Photo-Reconstruction #1’, 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Photo-Reconstruction #1', 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Photo-Reconstruction #4’, 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Photo-Reconstruction #1', 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Photo-Reconstruction #1’, 1978. Image courtesy the artist.

Speaking to Art Radar about the processes that lie behind his 1978 work Photo-reconstruction Series, Pramuan Burusphat stated:

the series is about recording and expressing something else which lay beneath the surface of the so-called reality.  In my traditional darkroom I would print in a straight forward manner first, then I would flip the negative and made a reversed prints. I then proceeded to mount 2 or 4 prints together on a matte board.  In the final stage of the production of each work I would selectively apply Marshall Photo-Oils on to the mounted prints.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Autobiographical Images' #11, 1978. Kwik-Print © 1997 by Pramuan Burusphat. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images’ #11, 1978, kwik-print.
© 1997 by Pramuan Burusphat. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Autobiographical Images #10', 1978. Kwik-Print. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images #10’, 1978, kwik-print.
Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Autobiographical Images #10', 1978. Kwik-Print. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images #30’, 1978, kwik-print.
Image courtesy the artist.

For the curators, the shift from Pramuan Burusphat as photographer to Pramuan Burusphat as artist occurs with the work Autobiographical Images Series, in which the artist presents a series of experimental self-portraits using a collage method that permits the inclusion of other material: letters, images and writing. The colours of these works have been achieved with different experiments with chemicals added to the images in development. Speaking to Art Radar about the production process behind this series, Pramuan Buruspat states:

Autobiographical Images Series was created by using an alternative photographic process called Kwik-Print (sold by Light Impressions Inc., NY in the late 70s).  For each of these Kwik-Print works, I had to made from 3 to 4 – 8×10” or 11×14” high contrast negative/positive films for printing each colour layer of the work on to a piece of receptive polyester sheet of the same size as the film.  At the final stage of production I also painted, scratched and wrote something on the work.

Curator Zhuang Wubin writes in the exhibition catalogue of this work:

In other words, his identity as an artist surfaced experientially through the making of the Autobiographical Images Series. Pramuan uses his art-making to probe the unknown.

Pramuan Burusphat, 'Bangkok Chronicle', 2000. Hand-painted gelatine silver print. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Bangkok Chronicle’, 2000, hand-painted gelatine silver print. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

Pramuan Burusphat, “Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective” at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, 'Autobiographical Images Series', 1978. Vintage Kwik-Prints. Installation view "Destination: Still Unknown: Pramuan Burusphat: A Retrospective" at Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 2017. Image courtesy the artist.

(On right): Pramuan Burusphat, ‘Autobiographical Images Series’, 1978, vintage kwik-prints. Image courtesy the artist.

The exhibition, showing works made as early as the 1970s, offers one of the possible origin stories of conceptual photography in Thailand. Speaking to Art Radar about the exhibition and the status of photography in Thailand, the artist stated:

Nearly forty years on, I see these images as a reflection of the path that I’ve taken from Bangkok to Texas, from Texas back to Bangkok, and later from Bangkok to Auckland, New Zealand.  Hopefully, they say or convey something positive about my passion about art and life.  Photography itself has changed a lot and recently it has become very popular hobby in Thailand.  Unfortunately, the status of the medium as an art form has remained the same as it was forty years ago.  Photography still has no place in major national art competitions in Thailand.

Rebecca Close

1562

Related Topics: Thai artistsfilmvideo artinstallationphotographymuseum showsgallery shows, events in Bangkok

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Lust for life: contemporary women artists on “Radical Love: Female Lust” at The Crypt Gallery

Arab poets inspire an international cast of women artists through a shared struggle.

A bold group show at the Crypt Gallery in London shines a light on the passionate strength of female artists across cultures and centuries.

Elizabeth Wirija, 'About Sensitivity', inspired by a poem by Hafsa bint al Hajj Arrakuniyya, 2017, C-Type matte print, 12.7 x 9.3 in. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Elizabeth Wirija, ‘About Sensitivity’, inspired by a poem by Hafsa bint al Hajj Arrakuniyya, 2017, C-Type matte print, 12.7 x 9.3 in. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Opening at The Crypt Gallery on 14 February and running through 5 March 2017, “Radical Love: Female Lust” marries work of 48 contemporary female artists with poetry written by Arab women from a collection of classical poems dating back to pre-Islam. The passages, such as this poem written by Ullayya Bint El-Mahdi below read very much like contemporary sound-bites:

I held back my love’s name
and kept on repeating it to myself.
Oh how I long for an empty space
to call out the name I love.

The exhibition aims to challenge stereotypes beyond a one-dimensional view of the female creative practice in a field where the most expensive auction prices are commanded almost exclusively by male artists and women’s art exhibitions are placed in the realm of the “other”. More importantly, it seeks to crush patriarchal myths that continue to spread about women hailing from the Middle East.

Ilona Szalay, 'and gulp down my oversplit drink' inspired by a poem by Ishraqa al-muharibiyya, 2017, oil and pen on paper, 45 x 33 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Ilona Szalay, ‘and gulp down my oversplit drink’ inspired by a poem by Ishraqa al-muharibiyya, 2017, oil and pen on paper, 45 x 33 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

The Crypt Gallery at St Pancras Church is found in Central London. Beginning in 1822, the locale provided coffin burials for well-to-do patrons. Its last burial was in 1854 and remains as the final resting place of 557 people. According to the venue’s website, the gallery supports “art that provokes and questions”:

In 2002 the Crypt at St Pancras Church became a gallery space where the imagination, thoughts and emotions of 21st century artists are shared with visitors from around the world. Now this popular venue hosts a year-round programme of art exhibitions. As a church we are pleased to include art that provokes and questions, as well as art designed for contemplation, because all form an important part of our common humanity. Throughout history the Church has encouraged and supported the arts and artists.

The Crypt Gallery. Image courtesy the gallery.

The Crypt Gallery. Image courtesy the gallery.

“Radical Love: Female Lust” represents an ambitious gathering of female artists from nearly every continent – half of whom are Arab or Muslim. To offset the costs of the exhibition, the founder has set up a crowdfunding campaign. “Radical Love” began with an exhibition co-founded by Róisín O’ Loughlin in 2016 to “promote love through art”. The inaugural show featuring music and poetry successfully raised money for victims of war. O’ Loughlin feels an even stronger and urgent need for a second show with proceeds going to the Global Fund for Women:

Female Lust is a bigger and bolder venture which began formulating in February 2016 and will come to fruition on Valentine’s day in what feels like a different world. It came about as a response to the ever raging criticism of female behaviour and use of stereotypes to divide and deny shared experience and humanity, something which has been aided by the burial of female voices across history. Frustrated with this, we found inspiration in those that rang out loud and proud across the Arab world over a thousand years ago: a whole store of brilliant poetry. This look back and away helped illuminate something of who we are now, what unifies us as women.

Eylül Aslan, 'Your Manhood Stretch Stands No Chance', 2017, Hahnemuhle paper, 21.0 x 29.7 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Eylül Aslan, ‘Your Manhood Stretch Stands No Chance’, 2017, Hahnemuhle paper, 21.0 x 29.7 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Despite the name of the exhibition “Radical Love: Female Lust”, unbridled desire is just one of the themes explored here. According to journalist Lydia Morrish for Dazed Magazine, the poems chosen uncover other more subtle narratives such as exploring one’s value and display an attitude about sexuality that may be surprising to Western audiences:

Throwing away notions that female sexuality is only potent in certain cultures, the ancient verses demonstrate the fierceness of female lust, be it through sexual hunger, autonomy or simply having a crush.

Aula al Ayoubi, 'My eyes Outshine the Oryx's Eyes', 2017, mixed media on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Aula al Ayoubi, ‘My eyes Outshine the Oryx’s Eyes’, 2017, mixed media on canvas. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Ahead of the opening, “gifts” of 24 poems were sent to a Muslim artist and one of another/no faith to inspire the work to be shown in the exhibition. According to O’ Loughlin, the poems from a collection translated by Yemeni poet Abdullah al-Udhari asked each artist to provide their own unique interpretation:

Each artist will receive a poem (written in English and Arabic) by post, to be opened like a gift, which they will respond to however they feel. The words of these poets who have been silenced are given voice again, and in doing so the desire for life that is present in the female and often quenched by society, rises again in the art of the modern artist.

The idea is upon receiving the poem, the artist creates a piece of work inspired by it. It’s a loose idea because we want the artist to feel free to express themselves as they wish. We’re including both English and Arabic writing for this reason. It may just be a word, or the shape of the poem that sparks something.

Dia Batal, 'Call Out the Name I Love' inspired by a poem by Ullayya Bint El-Mahdi, 2017, ink collage on recycled cotton paper. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Dia Batal, ‘Call Out the Name I Love’ inspired by a poem by Ullayya Bint El-Mahdi, 2017, ink collage on recycled cotton paper. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

These chosen poets offer evidence of a life lived boldly and often unapologetically – providing a stark contrast to contemporary life, a time O’ Loughlin says “seems filled with agenda”. As O’Loughlin told Art Radar, these classic poems offer up lessons that we would be wise to study and remember in a time rife with alternative facts:

At a time when the term ’empowerment’ has been co-opted to sell us everything from razorblades to shoes, it felt thrilling to come across someone with the balls to embody it – she was so sure of her worth that she had these words embroidered on her (transparent) tunic! Wallada, this amazing Muslim poet, was the daughter of a Caliph who inherited her fathers estate and ran her own palace and literary salon which many of the great minds of the time attended. She gave lessons to the women of her court and held her love affairs openly and unapologetically, writing rhymes in praise of her lover Ibn Zaydún and when things went bad, lambasting him. This was in Spain – why have so many of us never heard about her?

Hana Perlas, 'Immoral Love' inspired by a poem by Umm khalid al-Numayriyya, 2017, 23 x 70 in. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Hana Perlas, ‘Immoral Love’ inspired by a poem by Umm khalid al-Numayriyya, 2017, 23 x 70 in. Image courtesy the artist and Radical Love: Female Lust.

Unfamiliar to some, the impassioned words of these Arab poets strike a chord with contemporary audiences. According to Egyptian artist Hana Perlas, her poem about the loss of a woman’s son by Umm khalid al-Numayriyya brought home the tension and violence that has plagued the Middle East in the last decade:

Arabic literature in general is very poetic and full of beautiful metaphors. I tried to depict the emotional metaphors in the poem which are full of pain and longing through two photographs, the sorrow of a lonely mother doing her duties – baking bread for her family while staring at the fire and so lost in thought – and a dream-like photograph of a young boy playing with pigeons which represents peace and love. I merged the two photographs together to evoke the idea of her longing to see her son and feel his presence, with the wind bringing him to her mind. Two worlds flow and become one. Separated yet connected. So far yet so close.
Mashail Faqeeh, 'My Youth Passing Me By' inspired by a poem by Qasmuna bint Isa'il ibn Yusuf ibn Annaghrila, 2017, embroidery on canvas with pearl-cotton thread. Image courtesy the artist.

Mashail Faqeeh, ‘My Youth Passing Me By’ inspired by a poem by Qasmuna bint Isa’il ibn Yusuf ibn Annaghrila, 2017, embroidery on canvas with pearl-cotton thread. Image courtesy the artist.

In another work by Saudi artist Mashail Faqeeh, a poem by Qasmuna bint Isa’il ibn Yusuf ibn Annaghrila presents a girl with opportunities – but the subject is too scared or confused to choose any of them. Faqeeh’s embroidery of thread on canvas shows “lemon, olive and pomegranate trees which were common during that time” as the subject’s environs.

Regardless of the times and the location, “Radical Love: Female Lust” sweeps aside the differences to emerge with a fresh take on the female experience. And as O’ Loughlin reminds us, these words (and now artworks) are like a light in the wilderness during these unsettling times of the 21st century:

Luckily for us in wanting to share them with a modern audience, they read like the best Pop lyrics – short and sweet in their intense defiance, desire, lovesick longing, pride and fun. The lust – whether for sex or simply life itself – was so apparent the title suggested itself. Written over millennia, by women ranging from slaves to wits to princesses, they challenge preconceptions of faith, of class, of the female experience long ago. They are a deliberate and timeless resistance to the silencing and patronising of females. Whatever external restraints were placed on these women, they retained a vitality and independence of spirit, a powerful tonic to these troubling times.

Lisa Pollman

1567

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“The Future is Nostalgic”: Lebanese artist Raed Yassin at Kalfayan Galleries, Athens

Kalfayan Galleries in Athens hold third solo show of Raed Yassin’s work.

Lebanese artist and musician Raed Yassin explores Beirut’s swinging Sixties in “The Future is Nostalgic”, on display at Kalfayan Galleries until 12 March 2017.

Raed Yassin, 'Sex,Spies and Suicide Dance', 2016. Archival inject prints ed. of 5+2a.p. 38.3X30cm. Courtesy Kalfayan Galleries,Athens Thessaloniki.

Raed Yassin, ‘Sex, Spies and Suicide Dance’, 2017, archival inject prints, 38.3 x 30 cm, edition of 5 + 2AP. Image courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

Raed Yassin: pop culture and the civil war

While Raed Yassin’s exploration of notions of archive, memory and fiction is characteristic of a constellation of practices emerging during the 2000s from Lebanese artists dealing with the unresolved civil war, the artist’s focus on popular culture distinguishes him from his peers. In an interview with Nat Muller for Ibraaz, Raed Yassin explains:

I am addicted to commercial films, pop films, pop music. But also this has a connection with collective memory. My work with popular culture has a focus on manipulating collective memory and also the unconscious in the whole Arab world, because we in the Arab world share a lot of cinema and music in common.

Raed Yassin, 'The Best of Sammy Clark', 2008. Installation. Installation view at "The Best of Sammy Clark" at Delfina Institute, 2008. Image courtesy Delfina Institute.

Raed Yassin, ‘The Best of Sammy Clark’, 2008. Installation view at “The Best of Sammy Clark” at Delfina Institute, 2008. Image courtesy Delfina Institute.

Yassin’s explorations of the possible and curious overlaps between family story, national history and pop culture was explored in the 2008 installation The Best of Sammy Clark, on display at Delfina Foundation in London. This work served as a tribute to the eponymous Lebanese pop culture icon 1980s singer Sammy Clark. The installation includes a series of digitally manipulated photographs, in which Sammy Clark appears to entertain the Yassin family during a birthday party. A text indicates that these objects are the only remains after an explosion that destroyed the Yassin family apartment during the Lebanese civil war.

Raed Yassin, 'The Best of Sammy Clark', 2008. Installation. Installation view at "The Best of Sammy Clark" at Delfina Institute, 2008. Image courtesy Delfina Institute.

Raed Yassin, ‘The Best of Sammy Clark’, 2008. Installation view at “The Best of Sammy Clark” at Delfina Institute, 2008. Image courtesy Delfina Institute.

Through the “contrived genealogy” of the installation – posters, magazines and compositions recorded on vinyl that could be listened to on four turntables displayed in the gallery space – Yassin constructed a series of fictional links between the figure of Sammy Clark, the disruptions caused by the civil war and family narrative, pointing to a representational rift between the lived experience and the normativity of its conventional forms of documentation.

Raed Yassin, 'Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer', 2016. Archival inkjet print 38.8 x 30 cm courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

Raed Yassin, ‘Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer’, 2017, archival inkjet print, 38.8 x 30 cm. Image courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

“The Future is Nostalgic”: The material and visual cultures of sexual desire in Beirut’s swinging sixties

In the current exhibition “The Future is Nostalgic” at Kalfayan Galleries, the artist directs his exploration of the links between popular culture and collective memory to the question of desire: how may the visual cultures of the sex industry of a given epoch be made accountable for the framing and production of human desire? The exhibition includes the artist’s new “neon works”, Manual for Disasters (2016), The Future is Nostalgic (2016), Crying Station (2016), The End of the World (2016), and Conspiracy Theory (2016) as well as a new photographic series entitled Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer (2017).

Raed Yassin, 'Thinking of the end of the world', 2017. Neon (ed. of 3 + 2 a.p) 87 x 84 cm. Courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens-Thessaloniki.

Raed Yassin, ‘Thinking of The End of The World’, 2017, neon, 87 x 84 cm, ed. of 3 + 2 AP. Image courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

For Yassin the project revolves around the question of what power-systems, architectures and individuals are behind the moulding of patterns of consumption in a given time period. In the aforementioned interview Yassin states:

I am interested in this area of mass production, how mass production can change the way people consume and the way people look at things. Because of mass production, we have popular, trash culture. Mass production really helps people consume more and more and make stuff more quickly and as a result there are mistakes and misunderstandings.

Raed Yassin, 'Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer', 2016. Archival inkjet print 38.8 x 30 cm courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

Raed Yassin, ‘Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer’, 2017, archival inkjet print, 38.8 x 30 cm. Image courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

This question leads Yassin to uproot the material detritus of the epoch – magazines, posters and any information relating to the individual actors involved in the operations relating to the sex industry in Beirut. However, as is characteristic of Yassin’s work and that of his generation, the viewer would be wise to hesitate before these documents and remain suspicious of which are indexical and which may have been doctored or even invented by the artist for the purposes of creating a “contrived genealogy”.

Raed Yassin, 'Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer', 2016. Archival inkjet print 38.8 x 30 cm courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

Raed Yassin, ‘Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer’, 2017, archival inkjet print, 38.8 x 30 cm. Image courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer

A text written by the artist and published as part of the work Sex, Spies and the Suicide Dancer narrates a story that the viewer is unable to confirm as true or false. The text begins:

The Swinging Sixties and Super Seventies were a time of pleasure and paradise in Beirut, when it was the designated erotic capital of the Arab world. Dubbed “The Paris of the Middle East”, the city quickly became the top tourist destination in the region, attracting movie stars and pop singers. Beirut boasted many casinos, nightclubs and cabarets filled with flashy dancers and playgirls, ready to serve the sensual whims of incoming celebrities, businessmen, and royal Gulf Arabs. In those years, you could come across sexy lms and magazines everywhere, magazines like Sex, Arabic Playboy, Furnished Apartments For Rent, Stars Lights, The Camera, Cinema Wonders, and Alf Layla wa Layla (A Thousand and One Nights).

The owner of the Shahrazad nightclub Mr. F. had an idea to start an erotic magazine to promote the girls working in the club. So he published Alf Layla Wa Layla. Little did he know that the magazine would soon become a huge hit, as it was the only one featuring local Beiruti strippers, who would soon be showered in unending fame and desire while they adorned its shiny covers. In no time Mr. F. started to abuse his newfound success by using his girls to spy on customers, collecting scandalous information for future blackmail and bribes. Alf Layla wa Layla transformed into a dark source of power, and at one point Mr. F. even became an agent for the notorious “Second Of Ice” of the Lebanese intelligence, operating his club as a honey trap for actors, singers and politicians alike.

Raed Yassin, 2017. Installation view of "The Future is Nostalgic" at Kalfayan Galleries, Athens, 2017. Courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens-Thessaloniki.

Raed Yassin, “The Future is Nostalgic”, 26 January – 12 March 2017, installation view at Kalfayan Galleries, Athens. Image courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

The text, written by Yassin, continues the narration with an anecdote in which Saudi Arabian “royal playboy” Prince Khalid bin Saudi encounters pimp and drug dealer Mr. F, becoming so close that the prince agrees to publish diary entries in Mr. F’s magazine, in which Prince Khalid narrates the “sexy details” of his encounters at Mr. F’s club in Beirut with “Mr. F’s girls”. The anecdote continues ending with the mysterious death of the girls mentioned in the prince’s published texts.

Raed Yassin, 'Fayez', 2017. Off-set prints. Ed. of 5 + a.p. 50 x 50 cm. Courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens-Thessaloniki.

Raed Yassin, ‘Fayez’, 2017, off-set prints, 50 x 50 cm, edition of 5 + AP. Image courtesy Kalfayan Galleries, Athens – Thessaloniki.

Sex-industry, politics and memory: repeating the cliches

The sex industry is without doubt under-explored territory by Lebanese artists investigating the material and narrative legacies of civil war. Yassin’s project stays comfortably within the accepted clichés established by mainstream movie culture’s musings on the relations between politics and the sex. However, Yassin’s intuition that the archive of the sex industry from Beirut may be relevant to current explorations of memory, war, nation and identity is groundbreaking.

Rebecca Close

1561

Related Topics: Lebanese artistsgallery showsarchivemixed mediafeature, events in Greece

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“Lee Mingwei and His Relations: The Art of Participation” at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

“The Art of Participation” is the largest retrospective of Lee Mingwei’s practice presented in the Southern Hemisphere to date.

The exhibition presents several of Lee Mingwei’s key participatory installations. Art Radar takes a closer look at some of the significant themes in the Taiwanese artist’s practice.

Lee Mingwei, 'The Mending Project', 2009 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘The Mending Project’, 2009 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

From 5 November 2016 to 19 March 2017 Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki hosts the exhibition “Lee Mingwei and His Relations: The Art of Participation”, the first large-scale retrospective survey of the artist’s practice to be presented in Auckland.

The works in the exhibition involve a number of ways of participating, including sleeping, mending, letter writing and receiving the gift of song, which occur before, during and after the show. In addition to the projects developed by Lee Mingwei, there are also a number of works on display from the Gallery collection that reflect themes in Lee’s work as well as providing cultural context for his practice. These pieces include work from Hakuin, John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Yves Klein and Lee Ufan alongside William Blake, Colin McCahon and Dane Mitchell.

Lee Mingwei, Family Photos 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘Family Photos’, 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

The everyday details in life

Lee Mingwei (b. 1964) is a New York and Paris-based Taiwanese-American artist who is well known for connecting audiences through social and one-to-one experiences, fostering unexpected communication between strangers that take participants on a path leading to deeper reflection. By exploring the mundane and everyday, Lee reflects on people’s place in the world around them. The themes of trust, intimacy and self-awareness are very important in these interactive installations.

Lee Mingwei, 'Family Photos', 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘Family Photos’, 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

This focus on the everyday details in life could be in part influenced by his early years, where, from the age of five, his parents sent him to a monastery in Taiwan for a month every summer. For six years Lee experienced this time of a simple life – waking up early, cleaning the temple and meditating. Here he learnt about silence and about paying attention.

This early experience is threaded through his creative practice. In an interview with EyeContact, Lee explains that “there is something about simplicity, or simple gestures, though loaded with complex memory, sensation, and ritual, that is present throughout my practice.”

Lee Mingwei, 'The Mending Project', 2009 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘The Mending Project’, 2009 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

In his early training as an undergraduate at the California College of the Arts, Lee studied under iconic social practitioner Suzanne Lacey. Lacey was also a well known student of Allan Kaprow, who in turn learnt from John Cage. This artistic lineage is present in “Lee Mingwei and His Relations”.

Lee received an MFA from Yale University in 1997 and has held many solo exhibitions internationally including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Queensland Gallery of Modern Art and Mori Art Museum. Lee’s works have been featured in biennales in Venice, Lyon, Liverpool, Taipei and Sydney, as well as the Echigo-Tsumari and Asia-Pacific Triennial.

Lee Mingwei, 'The Letter Writing Project', 1998 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘The Letter Writing Project’, 1998 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

An open-ended participatory practice

Much of Lee’s work encourages the gallery visitor to move from passive spectator to active participant. Gallery Director Rhana Devenport explains how Lee engages with gallery visitors:

Lee’s projects are often open-ended scenarios for everyday interaction. The works therefore have an unpredictable quality that allows them to grow and change throughout the duration of the exhibition, relating to the Buddhist notion of the ever-changing present.

In The Letter Writing Project (1998 – present) for example, visitors are invited to write a letter in one of three illuminated booths. The public is encouraged to offer previously unexpressed gratitude, forgiveness or apology, which they can either seal and send or leave open for future visitors of the gallery to read.

Lee Mingwei, 'The Letter Writing Project', 1998 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘The Letter Writing Project’, 1998 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee explains that this project came out of the time when his grandmother passed away and he still felt that he had many things he wanted to say to her although it was too late. He then began to write letters to her as if she was still there over the following year. Lee invites visitors to also go through this process of writing out unspoken thoughts and feelings.

Lee Mingwei, 'The Letter Writing Project', 1998 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘The Letter Writing Project’, 1998 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee explained that when visitors left their letters in the gallery space for others to read, it created a cycle of emotions that we all share:

Many later visitors come to realise, through reading the letters of others that they too carried unexpressed feelings that they would feel relieved to write down and perhaps share. In this way, a chain of feeling was created, reminding visitors of the larger world of emotions in which we all participate. In the end, it was the spirit of the writer that was comforted, whether the letter was ever read by the intended recipient or others.

Lee Mingwei, 'Sonic Blossom', 2013, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘Sonic Blossom’, 2013, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Another participatory project in this exhibition is Sonic Blossom (2013 – present), where visitors can be gifted with a song. If the visitor accepts, the singer then performs a Lied (art song) by Schubert. This work was developed when Lee was caring for his mother while she recovered from an operation. They found unexpected comfort in Franz Schubert’s Lieder, which helped the healing. This experience confronted Lee with both the brevity and beauty of life, reminding him of the mortality of us all. In the exhibition he wanted to gift visitors with a similar experience.

Lee Mingwei, 'The Sleeping Project', 2000 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘The Sleeping Project’, 2000 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

The Sleeping Project (2000 – present), where visitors enter a ballot to spend the night in Auckland Art Gallery with Lee or a Gallery representative and The Mending Project (2009 – present), where visitors bring damaged clothes that Lee mends as they watch, both explore the everyday through individual interactions.

Lee Mingwei, 'The Sleeping Project', 2000 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘The Sleeping Project’, 2000 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

In each case the participants leave personal items behind, the objects they sleep with such as a clock or a photo or the mended item, which they collect at the end of the exhibition. These personal objects give clues to gallery visitors about the interactions between Lee and the anonymous participants that explore questions of intimacy and trust. This contribution from a range of participants leads to an evolving experience of the artwork. As Devenport observes,

Because of the role played by the visitor, the artworks have an unpredictable quality that causes them to grow and change throughout the duration of the exhibition.

Life cycles and loss

Lee’s work often explores the fragility of life and the idea of impermanence. Lee developed 100 Days with Lily (1995) in response to the grief of his grandmother’s death. For 100 days he actively chose to live with his grief, planting a lily bulb on the first day and following it through the cycle of germination, sprouting, blossoming, fading and death.

Lee Mingwei, '100 Days with Lily', 1995, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘100 Days with Lily’, 1995, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

The lily, although it died on the 79th day, accompanied Lee in his daily routines of sleeping, gardening, bicycling, shopping, cooking and reading. Through this process he contemplated his own and his grandmother’s mortality. The final product is text from randomly chosen moments in each day overlaid onto five of the photographs of the lily’s life. The poetic contemplation confronts the grief that he was feeling, instead of putting it aside and trying to move on. Lee directed his attention to the emotion as he lived with it throughout his daily routines.

Lee Mingwei, 'The Sleeping Project', 2000 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Lee Mingwei, ‘The Sleeping Project’, 2000 / 2014, (installation view), Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2016. Image courtesy Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Another work that investigates the idea of value and loss is Stone Journey. While visiting New Zealand’s South Island Lee encountered the Pororari River Valley, which was formed from glacial movement 70 million years ago. From that place he took eleven stones that he found soothing, which he replicated in bronze when he returned to Taipei. However, by displacing the stones from their natural environment he was changing their form and circumstances.

The work asks what it means to own something, why do we feel the need to possess. By making replicas, the piece also questions notions of value: is it the natural or the manmade ones that carry more worth? At the heart of this work are the themes of ownership, control, value and loss. Like the death of and grief for his grandmother, much in life is out of human control.

Claire Wilson

1552

Related topics: Taiwanese artists, installation, participatory art, events in New Zealand, gallery shows, features

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