Diasporic Iranian artist Farzad Kohan searches for self in the City of Angels – interview



Iranian visual artist Farzad Kohan on using social media in art practise, and challenging the self through a fragile new medium.

Los Angeles resident Farzad Kohan employs physical methods to shape his work. Art Radar spoke with the artist to find out more about how he uses social media to connect with others near and far, and what it means to be an “immigrant artist” in Los Angeles’ vibrant contemporary art scene.

Farzad Kohan, 'Love Me My Love', 2014, mixed media on wood panel, 152.5 x 152.5 cm (60 x 60 inches). Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Farzad Kohan, ‘Love Me My Love’, 2014, mixed media on wood panel, 152.5 x 152.5 cm (60 x 60 inches). Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Farzad Kohan (b. 1967, Tehran, Iran) is a self taught artist who has resided in Los Angeles since 1991. His work has been shown widely in California, as well as Amsterdam and the United Arab Emirates, and has been offered through Christie’s Auction House and the Young Collectors Auction. Kohan’s work can be found in private collections in the United States and the Middle East. He is represented by Ayyam Gallery in Dubai.

Khaled Samawi, Founder of Ayyam Gallery has high praise for Kohan’s work:

Farzad is one of the hardest working and most underrated artists in the world … time will prove his importance.

Art Radar caught up with Kohan to learn more about his experiences as a diasporic artist and how his work addresses the idea of migration and finding oneself through a unique blend of mediums and techniques.

Farzad Kohan, 'Lost Promises', 2012, mixed media on wood panel, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Farzad Kohan, ‘Lost Promises’, 2012, mixed media on wood panel, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

You were born in Tehran in 1967, spent time in Sweden at age 18 and moved to California when you were 25. What was it like being a diasporic artist when you first arrived in the United States? Is it different now? 

I got my first, serious taste of culture shock at age eighteen when I moved to Sweden. Moving to California was somehow easier. Los Angeles is such a big place with so many interesting things happening! Many people move here, so it is not a big deal if you are from somewhere else. It felt like home when I arrived and many years later, although I am an immigrant artist, it still feels like home.

Things are certainly different now, the city has changed and the people have changed with it. Artists are finding different ways to communicate with people on many different levels. Social media has really helped with this. The use of social media has connected artists with broader communities throughout the city and the world.

One example of me using social media to connect was my “Lost Paintings” project. It started in April 2010, when I wondered what would happen if I put small pieces of my art outside around the community, similar to the lost cats and found dogs posters one often sees. I was curious – would people take my art seriously if they saw my art on a wall outside? I started by making smaller paintings, with the idea of giving them away and seeing how far they migrated.

The idea was to push the boundaries and make the art very temporary and environmentally friendly. It changed the role of the viewer and gave him/her a chance to interact with the painting, touch it and even take it home. I relied upon random strangers to help me with this through social media. I numbered and signed everything. I mailed the finished pieces to whomever was interested and then these “collectors” put it out into the world for someone else to find. The “lost” paintings were trying to “find” homes. They went to twenty-three countries throughout the world! Several pieces even ended up in prominent European museums and went all the way to Iran. In the end, I had around 300 odd pieces out.

This project was a good reminder to me that we all move around and find different homes. Sometimes we get lost and sometimes we never make it. Sometimes we find places that we call home or we adapt to them.

Another example of how social media has had a big role in my practice is when one of my paintings entitled Lost Promises went viral and became the cover image of The Young Collectors Auction in 2013. Unlike “Lost Paintings” where I did the work and sent it out to people, this time people started making art using my blue skull and adding it into their own thoughts and daily lives. They shared it on social media, making a statement that we are all part of the bigger picture and are all a part of each other’s lives.
Farzad Kohan, installation shot in Paris from the "Lost Paintings" series, 2010, acrylic on paper, 23 x10cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Farzad Kohan, installation shot in Paris from the “Lost Paintings” series, 2010, acrylic on paper, 23 x10cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Although you were interested in the visual arts, your primary objective towards moving to Los Angeles in 1991 was to change the Iranian music scene there. Is there a creative connection between your interest in music and in art that can still be seen today?

I come from a background where all of my brothers are musically talented. I started playing keyboard at age five. My older brothers taught me how to play simple songs and I will never forget that moment when I changed a song I had learned. It felt powerful, like I had changed it to something new and it was all mine. Music taught me how to trust my feelings and instincts and allowed me to express myself, something I still do on daily basis but I use different materials to do that now.

In addition to being a sculptor and a painter, you have a daily drawing practice, where you often use Persian letters and numbers. Are your drawings different to your paintings? How? What purpose does this daily practice fulfill regarding your creative journey?

My drawings and paintings are two completely different bodies of work. I have been trying to make marks with a lot of things that I find around me, from coffee and tea to motor oil and milk, sand, water, and so on. Beginning in 2013, I started drawing in sketchbooks. Before that, it was always on separate sheets of paper or surfaces. This was great because at the end I have a book documenting my daily experiences through the process of drawing.

The works range from my own thoughts and ideas to figures; from complicated forms to simple words, and from things that pass my mind in the moment to a memory that appears in my head. I try to capture anything that makes sense to me. They can be funny at times or dramatic or something that I encountered. They can be stories that I hear here and there. I have made over two thousand drawings, and I am only adding to the collection. In a way, it’s kind of cool to be able to say that I have more than two thousand drawings!

Farzad Kohan, Untitled, 2015, ink on paper, 25.5 x 21 cm. Image courtesy the artist. © Farzad Kohan.

Farzad Kohan, ‘Untitled’, 2015, ink on paper, 25.5 x 21 cm. Image courtesy the artist. © Farzad Kohan.

Please tell us about your experience teaching the Children’s Creative Art Workshop in Glendale, California. What did this experience teach you about creativity in both children and adults?

I started The Creative Art Workshop about seven years ago. I work with elementary school children and I teach them different ways of making images, how to use different mediums and mix them. Sometimes children have a hard time painting because they want to make a picture that looks very close to the real thing. I try to teach them that their art does not have to look like anything else – it is great the way it is and we can work together towards making it better. More than anything, I am helping building these kids’ confidence through the experience of making art, and I think I am very lucky to work with them.

Much of my work as an artist over the last two decades includes stories with kids, like when my “River of Life” paper boat project expanded beyond the context of its exhibition space and many local schools were invited to contribute to it. Of particular note was a child named Alex who was born with certain conditions and part of this programme. Most children in his class did not know how to make a paper boat when the teacher asked them to participate in my project. Since Alex was the only child who knew how, the teacher asked the rest of the class to learn from him. This allowed him to become friends with his classmates, something that never happened before because of a condition that limits him.

Your work has been described as containing layers or strips of meaning. What hidden narratives might someone see in your artwork?

I use many layers of advertising and magazine clippings, found paper, and paint. I build up these materials, refine and then paint over the resulting surface with multiple layers. I repeat this process over and over again. My work is very physical. My friends think I am sitting in my studio, sipping wine, having a great time! They have no idea that I am covered in dust, working with noisy power tools.

Our lives are constantly bombarded by paper. I am trying to make sense of this chaos by using paper in a way that recycles it back into my art without the element of advertisement being the primary focus. Sometimes you can see a slight glimpse of what it originally was but again, that is just a sign of day-to-day life in contemporary society, and I use that to make art.

Farzad Kohan, 'Soulmate', 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 152.5 x 152.5 cm (60 x 60 inches). Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Farzad Kohan, ‘Soulmate’, 2013, mixed media on wood panel, 152.5 x 152.5 cm (60 x 60 inches). Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Please introduce some of your series to us.

Soulmate belongs to a series of works that I did between 2013 and 2014. In this series, my skulls represent the commitments that are important to us and those we keep until we die. They do not go anywhere and are like a tattoo on our skin. Each skull is made up of words that construct the figure, repeated in the eyes, nose and lips. It is like they are seeing and saying and smelling the same things, the same commitment.

One Thousand Moonlights on Your Lips belongs to a body of work that I am working on at the moment, entitled “Love Letters”: a series of works on paper. It is a very challenging body of work, as I have eliminated the wood panel and am working directly on paper. We will see how far I am able to push the formalistic limits of this new series, which makes it even more interesting to me. It is as though all of a sudden nothing works the way it used to! I have a new reality in front of me, and I have to make it happen the best that I can, which for me becomes an analogy for migration. When you leave home and move away from what is familiar, you are dealing with unknown realities, different languages, cultures, etc.

My work is very physical and at the same time, very fragile. It’s a search for me to uncover something new. This new series is like that. The best part is that I really don’t know where it’s going. It’s a search for me more than anything else.

Farzad Kohan, 'This Heart Wants You' from the "Love Letters" series, 2015, mixed media on paper, 75 x 56 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Farzad Kohan, ‘This Heart Wants You’ from the “Love Letters” series, 2015, mixed media on paper, 75 x 56 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Tell us about the contemporary art scene in Los Angeles. Are there many Persian contemporary artists in California? If so, is it a tight-knit community?

Los Angeles has a great art scene. A lot of great works are created in this city with influential galleries and museums and lots of street art. Pretty much anything you would like to see can be found here. Los Angeles has a strong history of art that has been receptive to immigrants; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was one of the first museums to acquire Middle Eastern contemporary art for their permanent collection, and there are a few galleries that concentrate on Middle Eastern artists.

There are some contemporary Iranian artists in California but not too many. The art world is a small place. We are not a tight-knit community when it comes to visual artists – the support for other artistic disciplines is much more visible, but it is changing and people are learning about supporting visual artists and the importance they carry.

Any upcoming shows, exhibitions or auctions during the next six months where people can see your work?

I am preparing for a major solo exhibition in Dubai in 2016 and will also be showing my works on paper at Abu Dhabi Art this November.

Farzad Kohan, 'Closer To You', 2014, mixed media on wood, 122x122 cm (48x48 inches). Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Farzad Kohan, ‘Closer To You’, 2014, mixed media on wood, 122×122 cm (48×48 inches). Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery. © Farzad Kohan.

Lisa Pollman

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Related Topics: Drawing, Interviews, Iranian, Mix Media, Painting

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Japan after Fukushima: 10 artists making art about the disaster



Four years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster ripped through their country, Japanese artists continue to grapple with the aftermath today.

From photography to radioactive soup, Art Radar spotlights the work of 10 artists and collectives who explore the Fukushima disaster in their work.

Lieko Shiga, 'Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore) 46' from the series 'Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore)', 2011. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Lieko Shiga, ‘Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore) 46′ from the series “Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore)”, 2011. Image courtesy the artist and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 megathrust earthquake off the coast of Japan triggered a huge tsunami that swept through the country’s Northeast Tōhoku region. Destroying virtually everything in its path, the great wave caused a nuclear meltdown of three of the six reactors of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant – the largest nuclear incident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

Four years after the tragic incident, its aftermath is still being felt. Artistic response to the tragedy continues to be highlighted by recent exhibitions: two current shows include the Museum of Fine Art Boston‘s “In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11″, and RMIT University’s “Japanese Art after Fukushima: Return of Godzilla”.

Scouting out works from a range of sources, including but not limited to the above shows, Art Radar spotlights ten Japanese artists and collectives that employ different media to grapple with the epic catastrophe.

Activist art

1. Chim↑Pom

Barely a month after the tsunami hit, members of the six-person artist collective Chim↑Pom (founded in 2005, Tokyo) dressed up in hazmat suits and trespassed into high-security areas around the Daiichi nuclear plant. Johnny Magdaleno writes that the daring collective

hiked across fractured earth and roads. [...] Once at the peak, and with the still-smoldering reactors within clear view, the collective planted a white flag into the ground. The flag was initially unmarked. [...] Chim↑Pom spray painted a red circle in its middle to imitate the Japanese national flag, and then added three demarcations around the circle, to turn it into the universal symbol for nuclear radiation.

Chim↑Pom's intervention at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011. Image from dnp.co.jp.

Chim↑Pom’s intervention at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011. Image from dnp.co.jp.

Once described as the “enfant terrible of Japan’s art world”, Chim↑Pom tackles provocative social themes in their work. Blurring the lines between art and activism, their performance at the power plant expressed discontent with Japanese nuclear policy and the way the disaster was handled by the government. Their antics were recorded and featured by major news outlets like CNN and PBS.

Another of Chim↑Pom’s high-profile Fukushima activist pieces took place in the Shibuya railway station where Okamoto Tarō’s iconic large-scale mural Myth of Tomorrow was hung. The famous 1960s-era painting depicted the devastation caused by the US nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The collective conducted an unauthorised installation of Level7, an addition which fit into a missing corner of the mural, representing the March 2011 nuclear meltdowns. Chim↑Pom artist Ryuta Ushiro reportedly said:

There was the first post about it on Twitter [within an hour of the rogue-installation]. The tweet was about whether Myth of Tomorrow foretold Fukushima. So this prediction myth spread like crazy.

Image of the 'Finger Pointing Worker'. Image from japantimes.co.jp.

Image of the ‘Finger Pointing Worker’. Image from japantimes.co.jp.

2. Kota Takeuchi

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, artist and temporary Fukushima clean-up volunteer Kota Takeuchi (b. 1982) performed a similarly overtly subversive activist stunt. Facing one of the live feed cameras recording the post-disaster cleanup efforts, Takeuchi pointed his finger straight at the camera and maintained the accusatory stance for nearly fifteen minutes. His face was hidden in his hazmat suit, so although the recording went viral, for a long time he was only known as the ‘Finger Pointing Worker’.

Koki Tanaka, 'A Poem Written by 5 Poets at Once (First Attempt)', 2013. HD video, 68:30 min, 4 framed papers written by participating poets. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Koki Tanaka, ‘A Poem Written by 5 Poets at Once (First Attempt)’, 2013. HD video, 68 min 30 sec, 4 framed papers written by participating poets. Image courtesy the artist, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou and Aoyama Meguro, Tokyo.

Conceptual/performance art

3. Koki Tanaka

Award-winning artist Koki Tanaka (b. 1975) responded to the disaster with subtler works of a different nature. Because Tanaka lived in Los Angeles and did not experience Fukushima’s direct impact, he focused his attention on Tokyo, a city which also experienced significant disruptions. Touched by the “manifold expressions of kindness and helpfulness” springing from the unfortunate disaster, Tanaka created collective works to embody the beauty of strangers helping each other.

Shown in the Japan Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, such works were entitled “Abstract Speaking – Sharing Uncertainty and Collective Acts”. The centerpiece of the pavilion was his film A Poem Written by Five Poems at Once, in which five writers struggle to reach a consensus on what form a collective creative process might take. Speaking to ART iT, Tanaka described the inspiration behind his works in Venice:

I was thinking about what artists can do following March 11. Many artists raised the question of whether it is possible for art to respond to the disaster. [...] For quite a while now art in Japan has been removed from dealing with socio-political or even systemic issues. [...] If you look at the long term, including issues related to nuclear energy, then it’s not enough to respond with sympathy.

Ei and Tomoo Arakawa served soup with vegetables from Fukushima at Frieze London 2014. Photo by Frank Gualtieri via Wikimedia Commons.

Ei and Tomoo Arakawa served soup with vegetables from Fukushima at Frieze London 2014. Photo by Frank Gualtieri via Wikimedia Commons.

4. Ei & Tomoo Arakawa

In Frieze London last year, two Japanese artists offered visitors the chance to try a soup made from vegetables grown in Fukushima. Insisting that the soup was safe to eat, the duo served it daily at the fair free of charge. As Artnet reports, Fukushima born and raised Ei Arakawa and brother Tomoo flew their mother from Japan to London to prepare the broth. The performance was entitled Does This Soup Taste Ambivalent? and expressed the pair’s solidarity with those affected by the nuclear disaster. According to Artnet, the Frieze catalogue explains: 

The gift of food represents the essence of hospitality, sharing and humanity. However, the soup [that the Arakawa brothers] offer is laced with the (conceptual) possibility that it may be radioactive.

Naoya Hatakeyama, '2013.10.20 Kesen‐chō' from the series 'Rikuzentakata', 2013. Image courtesy the artist, Taka Ishii Gallery and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Naoya Hatakeyama, ’2013.10.20 Kesen‐chō’ from the series “Rikuzentakata”, 2013. Image courtesy the artist, Taka Ishii Gallery and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Photography

5. Naoya Hatakeyama

Photographer Naoya Hatakeyama (b. 1958) lost his mother when the tsunami destroyed his hometown Rikuzentakata in Tōhoku. Prior to the disaster, Hatakeyama had been taking photographs of manmade detonations since 1995; after March 2011, he focused exclusively on capturing images of his ravaged and obliterated hometown. As Majella Munro writes in ICA Journal, Hatakeyama’s photographs “evoke the sublime”:

[Hatakeyama's] works remind me of Tomatsu Shomei’s (1930-2012) photographs of the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, since both memorialise by means of synechdoche, and find pathos in the detritus left by deceased persons who have left no other physical trace, whose bodies have never been found.

Hatakeyama’s work on Fukushima is featured in the current photographic exhibition “In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11″ at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, which goes on until 12 July 2015.

Nobuyoshi Araki, 'Untitled' from the series 'Shakyō rōjin nikki (Diary of a Photo-Mad Old Man)', 2011. Image courtesy the artist, Taka Ishii Gallery, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Nobuyoshi Araki, ‘Untitled’ from the series ‘Shakyō rōjin nikki (Diary of a Photo-Mad Old Man)’, 2011. Image courtesy the artist, Taka Ishii Gallery and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

6. Nobuyoshi Araki

Also featured in the Boston exhibition is veteran Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki (b. 1940). Shunning his trademark erotic photography to pay tribute to the national disaster, Araki created powerful imagery by intervening with the image production process. Slate magazine observes that Araki scratched the negatives of the photographs he took, “creating gashes that look like black rain”Huffington Post writes that Araki’s method “ma[d]e visible his agonised feelings”:

[...] Araki scratched into 238 photographic negatives using scissors. The resulting black-and-white photographs are marked with deep cuts, reminiscent of gaping wounds or nails clawing for help.

Yoi Kawakubo, 'When the mist takes off the suns', 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

Yoi Kawakubo, ‘When the mist takes off the suns’, 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

7. Yoi Kawakubo

On the other side of the globe, an upcoming solo show entitled “To Tell a (hi)Story” at Husk Gallery in London organised by Art Action UK will feature the work of artist Yoi Kawakubo (b. 1979). Kawakubo combines photography with conceptual art: he buried photographic film under the ground in an area of the Fukushima exclusion zone such that the resulting images feature radiation exposure. Kawakubo’s works are said to

focus on the limits of photographic representation, particularly with reference to nuclear energy and the social impact of the tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

Collaboration between JR and Takao Sharaishi. Image from jr-art.net, courtesy the artists.

Collaboration between JR and Takao Sharaishi. Image courtesy the artists.

Installation/sculpture

8. Takao Shiraishi (collaboration with JR) 

Here’s photography with yet another twist: installed as an ephemeral, site-specific structure. When famous street artist JR visited the disaster area, he brought with him one of his Inside Out Photobooth trucks and let it to a group of Japanese artists. Takao Shiraishi was among their number, and he apparently made an impression on JR. The street artist sings Shiraishi’s praises in an interview with Cool Hunting:

I love Takao’s incredible energy. [...] I have rarely met such a dedicated artist. His whole life is dedicated to the making of art.

After collaborating in various projects around the world, the pair reunited in Fukushima in 2015. For this collaboration, Shiraishi built temporary wooden structures near the sea close to Fukushima, and together they pasted enormous photographs of the eyes of twelve local people. JR tells Cool Hunting:

We have chosen the eyes from my imagery because we thought it would connect with Takao’s wood-wave architecture in the best way possible. But most importantly, it’s a symbolic representation of the hundreds of people who have given their life or their health to save others and limit the damage. [...] This time we wanted to focus on the people who have worked inside the nuclear plant and tried to clean the mess that was left there by the company.

The powerful installation was ephemeral by nature, existing and disappearing in “a blink of the eyes”, and only stood for two days. 

Ken and Julia Yonetani, 'Radioactive', 2012, uranium glass tubing and UV light. Image courtesy the artists and RMIT Gallery.

Ken and Julia Yonetani, ‘Radioactive’, 2012, uranium glass tubing and UV light. Image courtesy the artists and RMIT Gallery.

9. Ken + Julia Yonetani 

In 2012, Australian and Japanese collaborative duo Ken and Julia Yonetani created 29 uranium chandeliers, each made up of hundreds of vintage uranium beads. Each chandelier represented a country that relied on nuclear power for energy, with their dimensions proportional to how much nuclear power the particular nation used. The work was exhibited at the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney, whose Director Aaron Seeto said of the display

The particular focus on the exhibition is on shared cultural expressions on environmental anxieties within indigenous Australian and Japanese culture, and whether these function as either warnings or premonitions. Ken Yonetani is now based in Australia but was born in Tokyo and grew up there. However, both artists have spent considerable time in Japan so the issue holds particular emotional significance for them.

Other works by Ken and Julia Yonetani, also dealing with the Fukushima disaster, can now be seen at the RMIT Gallery’s “Japanese Art after Fukushima: Return of Godzilla”, which runs until 30 May 2015.

Film

10. Takashi Murakami

Last but not least, international superstar artist Takashi Murakami‘s feature film debut Jellyfish Eyes (2012) is “a sort of post-Fukushima fairy tale populated by adorable, if pugilistic, Pokemon-like creatures”, writes Artnet. According to another Artnet article, the artist

repackaged elements from Japanese and Western film traditions, drawing on everything from 1950s-era Japanese monster movies such as Godzilla to E.T. and Pokemon, to create his own unique hybrid.

Set after the Fukushima disaster, Jellyfish Eyes tells the story of Masahi, a young boy who moves to a small town with his mother after the tsunami, who befriends an adorable jellyfish-like creature. The film will headline Art Basel 2015 next month.

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Vietnam’s Tiffany Chung explores the effects of disasters in New York exhibition – in pictures



Tiffany Chung’s latest solo exhibition explores three historical events and their effects on society.

Vietnamese artist Tiffany Chung, whose work is part of the Central Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, is having a solo show in New York that offers reflections on human landscapes traumatised by war and natural catastrophes.

Tiffany Chung, 'Operation Lam Sơn 719 in 1971', 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 16 x 24 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘Operation Lam Sơn 719 in 1971′, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 16 x 24 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung’s latest solo exhibition at Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, entitled “finding one’s shadow in ruins and rubble” (16 April – 30 May 2015), features multimedia works that engage with the lingering effects of destructive manmade and natural disasters. In particular, Chung explores three such historical events, which took place in three distinct geographical locations:

  • the 1995 earthquake that devastated Kobe, Japan
  • the current conflict in Syria
  • the battlefields of the Vietnam War
Tiffany Chung, 'An Lộc, somewhere between 1966-1972', 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 30 x 42 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘An Lộc, somewhere between 1966-1972′, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 30 x 42 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Through beautifully detailed drawings of maps on vellum and paper, lightboxes and a multimedia installation comprising photographs, text, video and maps, Chung develops narratives that intertwine the documentary and the archival with the poetic and the utopian.

Tiffany Chung, 'battle of An Lộc [Easter Offensive] 1972', 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 24 x 21 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘battle of An Lộc [Easter Offensive] 1972′, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 24 x 21 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Pamela Corey writes in the accompanying catalogue essay:

Characteristic of Tiffany Chung’s broader conceptual and material practice, the lure of the aesthetic serves a critical objective grounded in her commitment to produce unsettling reflections on human landscapes that have been traumatised by warfare, the processes of modernisation and industrialisation, or the forces of nature. Chung’s interest in the human responses to such changes is manifested through efforts to map these psychic states using various forms and media […].

Tiffany Chung, 'COSVN, NLF, PRG and VC bases', 2015, oil and ink on vellum & paper, 21.5 x 14 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘COSVN, NLF, PRG and VC bases’, 2015, oil and ink on vellum & paper, 21.5 x 14 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, 'battle of An Lộc - key locations', 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 28 x 19 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘battle of An Lộc – key locations’, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 28 x 19 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

World history and personal memory are juxtaposed in a reflection of the artist’s long-term research into geographical shifts in countries traumatised by war, human destruction and natural disaster.

Within these contexts, Chung focuses on the growth, decline or disappearance of towns and cities, and explores related issues of urban development, environmental catastrophe and humanitarian crisis. The latter is also the focus of a series of works, part of her “Syrian Project”, that Chung presented in the Arsenale’s Central Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, curated by Okwui Enwezor.

Tiffany Chung, 'The Syria Project', installation view in the exhibition "All the World's Futures" at the 56th Venice Biennale, 2015. Image courtesy Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘The Syria Project’, installation view in the exhibition “All the World’s Futures” at the 56th Venice Biennale, 2015. Image courtesy Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, 'battle of Lộc Ninh 1972, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 24 x 18 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘battle of Lộc Ninh 1972, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 24 x 18 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Corey explains in the essay how the artist collects the ruins and fragments left behind by such catastrophic events, to create moving artworks that probe into psychological as well as socio-political and historical dimensions:

For the artist, the social imaginaries that shape the shifting identities of a place are most effectively represented through assembled fragments that challenge the viewer to discern a didactic narrative. The artworks are outcomes yet also starting points within a larger project of psychogeographical inquiry. They are made legible only to a certain extent without extinguishing the poetic ambiguity of the objects and the environments they create.

TIffany Chung, 'memories reconstructed', 2015, archival photographs, video, brochures, pamphlets, assorted printed materials. Installation view at Tyler Rollins Fine Art. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘memories reconstructed’, 2015, archival photographs, video, brochures, pamphlets, assorted printed materials, dimensions variable. Installation view at Tyler Rollins Fine Art. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, 'national route 13 and abandoned airfields from my father’s youth', 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 27 x 27 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘national route 13 and abandoned airfields from my father’s youth’, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 27 x 27 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, 'remapping history: an autopsy of a battle, an excavation of a man’s past', 2015, vinyl decal, photographs, videos, archival photographs, found images & audio recording, texts, drawings. Installation view at Tyler Rollins Fine Art. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘remapping history: an autopsy of a battle, an excavation of a man’s past’, 2015, vinyl decal, photographs, videos, archival photographs, found images & audio recording, texts, drawings, dimensions variable. Installation view at Tyler Rollins Fine Art. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

In remapping history: an autopsy of a battle, an excavation of a man’s past (2015), Chung delves into her father’s life and his experience of the Vietnam War as a helicopter pilot for the South Vietnamese Air Force. Archival fragments of his wartime experience, such as photographs, are placed within a carefully constructed timeline installation that comprises the artist’s current investigations of disused and ruined airstrips scattered in southern Vietnam. A haunting audio installation transports the viewer through time, with a close-up of voices speaking in mission codes during the war.

Tiffany Chung, 'Kobe urban planning map after 1995', 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 79 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘Kobe urban planning map after 1995′, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 79 x 100 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

A series of works exploring the massive destruction in Kobe, Japan, after the earthquake in 1995, juxtapose the geological with the historical, and the spatial with sociopolitical changes. Archival video, photographs and map drawings present a complex layering of topographies from different historical periods, and include Chung’s future predictions and utopian visions.

Tiffany Chung, 'finding one’s shadow in ruins and rubble', 2014, 31 hand crafted mahogany wooden boxes, found photographs printed on plexiglass, LED lights, electrical wire, dimensions of boxes range from 18 x 18 x 9 to 41 x 18 x 9 cm, includes 3 wooden display tables, total dimensions: 300 (w) x 75 (d) x 86.5 (h) cm, each table: 100 x 75 x 86.5 cm, edition of 3 + 1 AP. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘finding one’s shadow in ruins and rubble’, 2014, 31 hand crafted mahogany wooden boxes, found photographs printed on plexiglass, LED lights, electrical wire, dimensions of boxes range from 18 x 18 x 9 to 41 x 18 x 9 cm, includes 3 wooden display tables, total dimensions: 300 (w) x 75 (d) x 86.5 (h) cm, each table: 100 x 75 x 86.5 cm, edition of 3 + 1 AP. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

The work finding one’s shadow in ruins and rubble (2014) constitutes a poetic portrait of the large-scale urban destruction and refugee crisis created by the civil war in Syria – part of Chung’s ongoing research. The installation comprises light boxes arranged as a chaotic cityscape, with images of the contemporary ruins in the Syrian city of Hom, as “a poignant meditation on loss and shattered polity”.

Tiffany Chung, 'battle of An Lộc 1972 - NVA's & VC's movements towards Saigon', 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 32 x 23 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Tiffany Chung, ‘battle of An Lộc 1972 – NVA’s & VC’s movements towards Saigon’, 2015, oil and ink on vellum and paper, 32 x 23 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Corey expresses the weight of Chung’s exploration in our perception of global geopolitical events, and the artist’s effort in contributing to reverse the ubiquitous collective amnesia that seems to permeate social consciousness:

[…] this group of three seemingly discrete components, effectively representing disastrous historical and current episodes in Vietnam, Japan, and Syria, finds connection through the artist’s larger preoccupation with the persistence of everyday life in the face of such upheaval. Without rendering these catastrophic events commensurable, Chung draws our attention to them as part of a global constellation of crises – crises too often relegated to the margins of public memory and social consciousness.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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From the streets to the gallery: interview with Filipino artist Chichimonster



Filipino street artist Chichimonster has moved on from socio-political murals to a gallery show revealing his personal vulnerabilities.

Archie Geotina, a.k.a Chichimonster, chats with Art Radar about taking a break from the streets, making A.D.D. work for him, immersing himself in the narratives and aesthetics of traditional porcelain and fabric prints, and the importance of a controlled environment when presenting his own story.  

Artist Archie Geotina a.k.a. Chichimonster trying his best to control every element of “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” which includes the scent of the gallery. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Artist Archie Geotina a.k.a. Chichimonster trying his best to control every element of “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” which includes the scent of the gallery. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Recently, street artist Archie Geotina, better known as Chichimonster, took a break from concrete walls – his usual canvas – and launched a gallery show. Entitled “Alpha Omega A.D.D.”, this intriguing first solo exhibition at A SPACE_Gallery in Manila received positive feedback, despite being far from his usual practice of working in public spaces and tackling social and political issues.

What’s impressive is that the curator, Collective 88 – an independent multi-disciplinary art and design company – granted Geotina a free reign. Teresa Herrera, the president and creative director of Collective 88 told Art Radar:

When it comes to exhibits, we like to support the artist and his vision. Naturally, we guide the artist in terms of the market, however, artistic expression is our highest value.

Thus, every step and aspect of the show, from its conceptualisation and intricate artworks to exhibition display and overall atmosphere, came from the artist’s mind. Herrera adds,

We’ve had a long working relationship with Archie Geotina. He is extremely talented and just needs a platform and sometimes a little push to help him execute his vision. We enjoy working with him and have more projects planned for 2015.

Though often associated with graffiti, Geotina is in fact a multi-media artist. Apart from working on murals and portraits, he has created pieces using ink, acrylic paint, spray paint, resin, wheat paste and even fire extinguishers. Perhaps the most admirable quality of Geotina’s art is the amount of research he pours into it. His graffiti lettering, for instance, is based on the Alibata, the pre-colonial system of writing of the Philippines. “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” is inspired by the aesthetics of Japanese porcelain, Chinese scrolls and French scenic patterns.

Geotina is the co-founder of the Katipunan Street Team, a graffiti crew. His art has brought him to other art hubs in the Philippines such as Bacolod, Baguio and Cebu, as well as Los Angeles and New York.

Partial exhibition view, featuring Geotina’s ‘God’s Hand I’ (upper left), ‘God’s Hand II’ (upper right) and custom head sculptures entitled ‘The Embossed Gravity of Taclessness and Syntax Error’.  Image courtesy Collective 88.

Partial exhibition view, featuring Geotina’s ‘God’s Hand I’ (upper left), ‘God’s Hand II’ (upper right) and custom head sculptures entitled ‘The Embossed Gravity of Taclessness and Syntax Error’. Image courtesy Collective 88.

“Alpha Omega A.D.D.” reveals interesting shifts in your artistic career. From being a street artist, Art Radar now finds your work confined in the walls of a gallery. Moreover, instead of tackling society and politics, you look inward to present your own experiences. What moved you to pursue these shifts, considering that most artists start with the theme of personal identity before studying the constructs around them?

I felt that it was important for me to go deep within myself, to say something more personal rather than tackle the culture I grew up in. I have been avoiding solo exhibitions for the longest time, because I felt that I wasn’t ready and that I didn’t really have anything to say. I felt that even if I did create work that reflected my exterior constructs, the best story to tell is still my own, especially at this point in my life.

I was thinking of three things when I made the show: one, Alpha (the beginning of a chapter in my life) and Omega (where one thing ends); two, God – the Complete Creative Power, and three, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Regarding the third, I was diagnosed with A.D.D., but I’ve turned this into something positive. I learned how to multi-task and be productive, putting every aspect of my creative prowess into play, starting from design conceptualisation and ending with the execution.

What’s the significance of presenting your own story and your personal views about the beginning and end and A.D.D. in a gallery setting versus a concrete wall/public space? 

Compared to executing murals in public spaces, where there are a number of uncontrollable variables, a gallery setting offers a controlled environment. It meant everything to me to be able to control the space for “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” I wanted people to feel like they were entering my mind. And I wanted them to not only see artworks, but also go through and leave with an experience. To achieve these objectives, I needed a controlled environment. I needed every element of the show (the sculptures, structures, artworks, projections, music and smell) to represent how I view my past and present.

In addition, the gallery setting allowed me to make “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” like visiting a chapel or going into a garden of porcelain. I was forced to attend church while growing up, and I remember the Stations of the Cross, where the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion were basically laid out around the chapel’s space. I treated the gallery space like the Stations. As you walk around the gallery, you could talk about a certain aspect of my life, an event, or a type of pursuit.

Archie Geotina, a.k.a. Chichimonster, ‘Pursuit’, acrylic paint and sublimated ink on canvas, 69 x 57 in. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Archie Geotina a.k.a. Chichimonster, ‘Pursuit’, acrylic paint and sublimated ink on canvas, 69 x 57 in. Image courtesy Collective 88.

The press release puts forward that “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” tackles your professional and personal struggles. Reading this statement makes us viewers wonder: do you experience the common A.D.D qualities of hyper-focusing and difficulty in concentrating? If yes, how has this worked and challenged you as an artist? 

Yes, as mentioned, I was diagnosed with A.D.D. I don’t know if justly. I remember playing in a pen and there was a two-way mirror when I was in grade school. They said that the reason I was often sent to the counselor or psych back then is [because] I couldn’t concentrate on the teachers. Haha! Fast forward to college – I majored in (but didn’t finish) Psychology. I was to be a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, but then I remembered and learned that I had A.D.D.

Still, there wasn’t any problem once I realised that I had the traits of one who had A.D.D. I used these traits to my advantage by multi-tasking properly and making everything I could. When you look at my works, nothing looks the same; I keep changing aesthetics. Now, I don’t know if that’s good or bad for me. I was told once to maintain a style, but I don’t really care; as long as it works for me, I’m happy to express and show it.

Could you talk about your artistic process for this solo exhibition? Was the creation of works more fluid or more cautious since you were drawing from personal experience? 

The process was very meticulous. I was looking to show something personal; and I knew I couldn’t be too dramatic or literal. In addition, if I were to embellish my story, it couldn’t be overtly surreal. To achieve this, I delved into several weeks of research.

My research began when I stumbled upon a Japanese porcelain plate. The story on it got me interested and led me to research more about porcelain designs, and eventually the aesthetics of Chinese scrolls. I then stumbled upon Toile Les Jouy, a traditional fabric print from Paris, which normally features parables. This is basically how I got started with “Alpha Omega A.D.D.”

Archie Geotina, a.k.a. Chichimonster, ‘God’s Chair’, custom chair, 38 x 16 x  40 in. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Archie Geotina a.k.a. Chichimonster, ‘God’s Chair’, custom chair, 38 x 16 x 40 in. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Everything from your custom heads and chair to your paintings exhibit blue-and-white porcelain characteristics. Why did you choose this motif? Blue-and-white porcelain is associated with the ideas of elegance and serenity. Did you feel a sense of peace while working on “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” or was the experience ‘unsettling’ – a word that viewers during the opening night used to describe the general atmosphere of your show? 

I never really thought of it that way. I don’t know really. To me, I was taking and presenting to you my past and my present; and I wanted you to feel these.

The blue-and-white porcelain motif is just very beautiful, I think.

Geotina’s style keeps changing. Here, he makes use of custom goyard bags for ‘Deficit’ and ‘Dsordr’. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Geotina’s style keeps changing. Here, he makes use of custom goyard bags for ‘Deficit’ and ‘Dsordr’. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Speaking of viewers, how did they react to your shifts: Chichimonster’s artistic development? Will we be seeing more personal narratives or more socio-political commentaries in your future work? 

The opening night of “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” was kind of deafening. Not because it was noisy, but the vibe was just electric. I received amazing feedback. But really, that night wasn’t all about me. There were the people who helped me work hard on the different elements of the show. And there were the people who believed that I would be able to pull it off.

That being said, I’m taking in all the lessons from this show and I’ll apply these to more shows within the year. What I talk about depends on what I really feel at the moment of creation, but I’m seeing a mix of both.

Exhibition view of “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” held at A_Space Gallery, Makati City. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Exhibition view of “Alpha Omega A.D.D.” held at A_Space Gallery, Makati City. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Your custom heads stole the show due to the amount of details you’ve put on them. Apart from the wide range of expressions that the heads expressed, these pieces had figures swinging on their peripheries, a rear opening, as well as a blend of human (both living and dead) and animal figures that seem to resemble the Afterlife. Why did you choose to bring these intricate images together in a single head and repeat these in more heads? 

This is actually a collaboration between Imagination Studios and myself; its name is The Embossed Gravity of Tactlessness And Syntax Error. When I was speaking with Imagination Studios, I showed them particular images and expressed that I wanted them to mix all these images in one piece. I wanted it to be intricate, almost as intricate as human brain syntax.

You know, when you’re thinking of things to say, your brain produces multitudes of images and connections. Also, the piece speaks of the consequences of honesty (or the lack of it). There will be a lot of smoke, fire and chaos around, but the end can be beautiful.

I also told Imagination Studios to think of the concept of “sky fall” when designing the piece with me. Sky fall is that feeling of having your back against the wall, because the whole world/sky is falling down against you. In this situation, you just want to fight back so much.

Your paintings, on the other hand, have backgrounds with repetitive images of skulls, UFOs, deer, trees and pillars. Could you share with us the significance of these images? 

I don’t know really, about those elements. I just thought they were beautiful and added these to the story.

Archie Geotina, a.k.a. Chichimonster, ‘My Mind in the Search of the Centre at the Garden of Desolation’ is the artist’s favorite piece. Acrylic paint and sublimated ink on canvas, 39 x 45 in. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Archie Geotina a.k.a. Chichimonster, ‘My Mind in the Search of the Centre at the Garden of Desolation’, acrylic paint and sublimated ink on canvas, 39 x 45 in. Image courtesy Collective 88.

Do you have a favourite piece from “Alpha Omega A.D.D.”? Why this piece?

My Mind In Search Of The Centre At The Garden Of Desolation is my favourite, because this is the first image I created in my head. This piece just has so much subliminal meaning to me that I developed the whole show from it.

But really, if it weren’t for my collaborations with Raw.Tura, who helped me make the furniture, and Imagination Studios, who helped me with the candle holder incense diffuser, my solo show couldn’t have been complete. My hats off to them!

More and more artists are persistent in tackling human disorders/illnesses (especially those that they have themselves) in their work. What do you think is the role of art in dealing with disorders/illnesses? Should this somewhat sensitive theme be continuously explored by artists?  

It depends on them really. I just think that the best stories, messages and lessons are the ones that come from personal experiences.

Jeffrey Deitch (an American art dealer and curator) once expressed in an interview that art is a continuing conversation. This made me ask myself: if I were to continue the conversation of the old masters, modern masters, and the art conversation now, what would I say? What stories would I share? Of course, it would have to be stories that no one else knows about.

Javelyn Ramos

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Related Topics: Filipino artists, gallery shows, events in Manilainterviews, curatorial practice, installation

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1:54 African art fair makes New York debut



The first international African art fair debuted in New York during Frieze Week.

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair is a fairly new addition to the international art world and is already expanding from London to New York. This move testifies to the ever growing interest in contemporary African art on the international stage.

Omar Victor Diop, 'Frédérick Douglass', 2015, pigment inkjet printing on Harman By Hahnemuhle paper, 90 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Magnin-A.

Omar Victor Diop, ‘Frédérick Douglass’, 2015, pigment inkjet printing on Harman By Hahnemuhle paper, 90 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Magnin-A.

1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair was founded in 2013 to coincide with Frieze Week in London by Moroccan-born market developer Touria El Glaoui, a passionate promoter of African art and daughter of one of the most respected Moroccan artists, Hassan El Glaoui.

The name of the fair, 1:54, is a reference to the 54 countries that constitute the African continent (one continent:54 countries). Talking to Hyperallergic, the Fair’s Founder said that the aim of 1:54 is

to share and give visibility to the diversity of the African art scene, to be a player in the international scene.

The London edition takes place at Somerset House, a historic building and major cultural arts centre in the heart of London. In 2015, the fair will inaugurate its third UK iteration from 15 to 18 October.

1:54 started off its first London edition with 17 exhibitors and 70 artists. In 2014, it grew to host 24 galleries from territories such as Kenya, South Africa, France, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom and United States of America, presenting over 100 artists. Among the 2014 exhibitors were Afronova from Johannesburg, Art 21 from Lagos, Art Lab Africa from Nairobi, as well as international galleries such as London’s October Gallery, New York’s Taymour Grahne and Milan’s Primo Marella Gallery.

Lawrence Lemaoana, 'I didn't join the struggle to be poor', 2015, fabric and embroidery, 155 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Afronova Gallery.

Lawrence Lemaoana, ‘I Didn’t Join the Struggle to be Poor’, 2015, fabric and embroidery, 155 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Afronova Gallery.

1:54 New York

This year, 1:54 debuted in New York during Frieze Week (PDF download) from 15 to 17 May 2015 at Pioneer Works, Center for Art + Innovation in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The fair was held at an iron factory built in 1866 with a 24,000-square-metre exhibition space re-adapted for 1:54 by London-based award-winning architecture and design studio RA Projects – who also designed the 2014 London edition.

As in London, the young African art fair takes advantage of the international art crowds converging to the city for Frieze, while at the same time giving the opportunity to larger audiences to discover and learn more about contemporary art from the African continent.

1:54 in New York featured sixteen exhibitors, half from Africa, and half from Europe and the United States, showcasing over sixty artists from Africa and its diaspora. Artnet News points out that exhibitors from Africa came from only four countries: five from South Africa, one each from Ivory Coast, Morocco and Nigeria.

Malick Sidibé, 'Nuit de Noël', 1963, gelatin silver print, 50 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Magnin-A.

Malick Sidibé, ‘Nuit de Noël’, 1963, gelatin silver print, 50 x 60 cm. Image courtesy Magnin-A.

El Glaoui explained to Artnet News:

Obviously, we are just touching the tip of the iceberg with what we are representing. It is going to be evolving in terms of what you see at 1:54. All of these art scenes are developing right now.

Speaking to Blouin Artinfo about the issue of equal representation for all in the fair, El Glaoui said:

We aim to highlight the best exhibitors and artists working in the field across international parameters. Given the size of 1:54 – and that the New York edition will be even more intimate – it would be impossible to work with exhibitors located in every African country. In this sense, it isn’t a survey presentation, but a showcase of the most engaging, rigorous and exciting artists at this time, represented by dedicated and pioneering exhibitors.

El Glaoui says about the move to New York:

My goal too from the beginning was to create a destination for collectors and curators who want to see more contemporary African artworks and coming to New York was the logical next step.

Paul Sika, 'Dandelia #1', 2012, photographic print mounted on light box, Edition of 2, 60 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Cécile Fakhoury.

Paul Sika, ‘Dandelia #1′, 2012, photographic print mounted on light box, Edition of 2, 60 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Cécile Fakhoury.

Highlights at 1:54 New York

The artists at 1:54 in New York span several generations and diverse media, including painting, sculpture, photography and installation. This year’s selection includes works by:

  • Edson Chagas, the star of the Angola Pavilion, which was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013
  • Prix Pictet shortlist photographer Sammy Baloji
  • Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté
  • Tunisian artist and researcher Nidhal Chamekh
  • Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama
  • Lavar Munroe from Bahamas

Many of these artists have also been selected for presentation at this year’s 56th Venice Biennale by Okwui Enwezor.

Other artists who are establishing a global presence are Aboudia and Boris Nzebo from Jack Bell Gallery (London), Maïmouna Guerresi and ruby onyinyechi amanze from Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (Seattle) and Joël Andrianomearisoa from Primo Marella Gallery (Milan).

Ayana V. Jackson, 'Does the brown paper bag test really exist? Will my father be proud', 2013, archival pigment print, AP 1/2, 137 x 108.5 cm. Image courtesy Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

Ayana V. Jackson, ‘Does the Brown Paper Bag Test Really Exist? Will my Father be Proud’, 2013, archival pigment print, AP 1/2, 137 x 108.5 cm. Image courtesy Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

The growth of African art on the international stage

African-born curator Okwui Enwezor has re-balanced the art world at the 56th Venice Biennale by giving precedence to many artists from the ‘peripheries’ of the world in the Central Exhibition “All The World’s Futures”. Among the 136 participants, 21 are from the African continent, including from countries like Malawi, Togo and Mozambique, among the more internationally known art from Nigeria and South Africa. The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement was awarded to El Anatsui from Ghana.

Speaking with the CNN upon his return from the Biennale, Chika Okeke-Agulu, a Nigerian artist, art historian and curator, said:

After this exhibition [56th Venice Biennale], any supposedly international contemporary art exhibition that does not include a reasonable number of African and black artists will look so small, and utterly narrow-minded.

Sammy Baloji, 'Raccord #5, Mine à ciel ouvert noyée de Banfora', Kolwezi Series, 2011, digital Inkjet Print, 80 x 231.18 cm, Edition of 5 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist and Axis Gallery, NY.

Sammy Baloji, ‘Raccord #5, Mine à Ciel Ouvert Noyée de Banfora’, Kolwezi Series, 2011, digital Inkjet Print, 80 x 231.18 cm, Edition of 5 + 2AP. Image courtesy the artist and Axis Gallery, NY.

In an article entitled “Africa emerges as new China in global art market”, Mail & Guardian quoted Director of African art at Bonhams Giles Peppiat, as saying

Africa is the new China when it comes to art. When the Tate, the Smithsonian and other similar institutions start putting on exhibitions of contemporary African art, then one knows that something strange and wonderful has occurred and that real change is in the air.

Since 2007, Bonhams in London hosts Africa Now, the only annual sale of its kind globally, selling modern and contemporary African art. London’s The Auction Room followed suit in 2013, with its inaugural African Contemporary and Modern Art auction, and in 2014, it held the world’s first African Contemporary Photography Auction.

Lavar Munroe, 'Exhibit', 2015, acrylic, spray paint, latex house paint, fabric paint, tennis ball, rope, button, staples, band-aids, award ribbons, string, thread, and found fabric on cut canvas, 292 x 231 cm. Image courtesy NOMAD Gallery.

Lavar Munroe, ‘Exhibit’, 2015, acrylic, spray paint, latex house paint, fabric paint, tennis ball, rope, button, staples, band-aids, award ribbons, string, thread, and found fabric on cut canvas, 292 x 231 cm. Image courtesy NOMAD Gallery.

A host of institutional exhibitions of contemporary African art have also taken place in recent years, such as:

Vincent Michéa, ‘Bintou #2, Or series’, 2013, Collage, 21 x 21 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Cécile Fakhoury.

Vincent Michéa, ‘Bintou #2, Or Series’, 2013, Collage, 21 x 21 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Cécile Fakhoury.

In an interview with Blouin Artinfo, El Glaoui comments on the visibility of African artists, explaining how events such as 1:54 help to bring art from the continent out on the global stage:

I think the biggest limitation that we’ve seen is that Africa is not easy to access for most people. The fact that there’s no access to contemporary African art means there’s no knowledge, no education when it comes to it. It had until now been something very niche, but what we’ve seen in London with the two editions is that this is appealing now to a larger spectrum of the collectors, who think that they have to include contemporary African art in their collection. I think it’s a bit of a vicious circle; if you have no access to it, you can’t have curators thinking of even including them in exhibitions.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

727

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Mazes and massage chairs: Asian projects at Frieze New York 2015



Japan’s Aki Sasamoto and Thailand’s Korakrit Arunanondchai contribute unique, show-stopping interactive works to Frieze Projects 2015. 

Art Radar spotlights the 3D personality maze created by Aki Sasamoto and the vibrantly coloured high-tech massage chairs by Korakrit Arunanondchai. 

Aki Sasamoto, 'Coffee/Tea', Frieze Projects, Frieze New York 2015. Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Image courtesy Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.

Aki Sasamoto, ‘Coffee/Tea’, Frieze Projects, Frieze New York 2015. Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Image courtesy Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.

Aki Sasamoto – Mazes 

Coffee or tea?

An art fair is a place where artworks are put on display to be judged by visitors. Aki Sasamoto (b. 1980, Kanagawa) has turned the tables on this game of judgment and created a life-size maze plus a 3D personality test that sorts and categorises visitors into seven personality types.

Entitled Coffee/Tea, the maze feeds visitors along a series of corridors based on the choices they make, the first one being a choice between coffee and tea. Sasamoto’s Frieze Projects blurb reads:

A maze-like structure built within the grid of the galleries’ booths, Sasamoto’s project will consist of several rooms where viewers will face a choice between two objects or situations. The viewers’ choices will then lead them through a succession of rooms and doors which will take them to the exit, where they will discover which personality suits them best.

At the end of the maze visitors are given a pin stating their personality type. Kate Messinger at The Creators Project writes that the “ambiguous but poignant button[s] [...] “Into Odd,” “Into Candy,” “Into Vague” [...] [gives us] our social class on the art island”.

Celebrating judgment

In an interview with Phaidon, the Japanese-born, New York-based Sasamoto says that she “promote[s] being judgmental”:

Though judgmental people are often judged to be crass and rude, judging people to assume their next move has been my natural self-defense mechanism. An OCD person would have a particular hand shake and a timid person would place their drinking glass close to the edge of a table. I find immense joy when a person behaves exactly the way I assumed that type would. And I can plan how to enhance my interaction with them. [...] Judgements are natural yet problematic. And I pose a question that they may be useful.

And the art fair is the perfect place to explore such a question, on two levels. First, Coffee/Tea makes shrewd use of the massive audience presence: rather than letting an overbearing audience drown a performance work, Sasamoto translates each audience member into a sole performer of choices. Second, the question of judgment is investigated in a place where people make their tastes and preferences apparent in public. Sasamoto says in the Phaidon interview:

Everyone walks through booths after booths only to reaffirm what kind of art makes them tick. When people converse at the art fair (gallerists, collectors, artists, curators, or whomever they are), there is a kind of assumption game, where they try to figure out each other’s tastes. My piece is light-hearted but satirical. I aim to hit the issue with humour so that we are able to laugh about how absurd and (in)accurate our judgments are.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, 'denim massage chairs (growing up together)', Frieze Projects, Frieze New York 2015. Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Image courtesy Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, ‘denim massage chairs (growing up together)’, Frieze Projects, Frieze New York 2015. Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Image courtesy Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.

Korakrit Arunanondchai – Massage chairs

Multi-sensory massage chairs

While Sasamoto has audience members traipsing through corridors and making difficult choices, Korakrit Arunanondchai (b. 1986, Bangkok) offers a beacon of relaxation. He deposited a series of high-tech and vibrantly paint-splattered massage chairs at different locations, allowing visitors to take a break from the relentless rhythm of the fair.

The chairs are covered with the artist’s signature material – bleached denim – and splattered with brightly coloured paint. While resting, visitors also listen to a hypnotic soundtrack based on a conversation Arunanondchai had with his twin brother while walking through Frieze Art Fair in London in 2014.

More than just a chair

Arunanondchai’s Frieze Projects blurb says that the artist is “interested in creating immersive environments where the viewers can lose themselves in a multi-sensory space”. The work consists of more than just chairs, as Frieze Projects curator Cecilia Alemani told Interview Magazine:

What’s interesting about his work is that there is something bodily and corporeal in it [...] The chairs combine painterly elements and performative elements.

And there might just be a hidden message too – next to one of the chairs were the words:

In three days you will look back at this moment with a sensitivity towards art and life and the process.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Japanese artists, Thai artists, interactive art, installation, art fairs, events in New York

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Who is collecting art in China?



Art Radar Institute scholarship winner writes about art collecting in contemporary China.

Eighteen months ago, Philip Tinari, Director of The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, raised three important questions as he introduced the event “Davidoff Art Dialogue: Collecting Art in China.”

The DSL Collection e-book cover. Image courtesy DSL Collection.

The DSL Collection e-book cover. Image courtesy DSL Collection.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

The event, held in Hong Kong in September 2013, discussed the following issues:

  • Who are the Chinese collectors today?
  • What are their priorities?
  • How are decisions made about their collections?

Today, in 2015, Art Radar revisits these questions through the eyes of pioneering collectors of Chinese contemporary art such as William Zhao, Fabien Fryns and Sylvain Lévy.

Phases of maturity

Between 2008 and 2011, art sales in mainland China saw “exceptional growth” according to art economist Dr Clare McAndrew. In fact, the market continued to flourish even while other markets around the world languished following the global financial crisis. During this boom time for Chinese art, aggregate values of art sales at auction increased 500 percent and led to China overtaking the United States to become the leading art market worldwide.

However, the market finally cooled in 2012, but by 2013, to the surprise of collectors, the market rebounded and they noticed that it had entered a new phase of maturity. Belgian art collector and advisor Fabien Fryns said in an Artshare video in mid-2014 that “the first chapter for me has come to an end – it was from 2004 to 2012.” Fryns bubbled with enthusiasm about changes that he is witnessing: “I am very excited by a lot of the young artists whose work I see in China.” He especially likes sculptor Wang Yuyang, saying that “his work is very very fresh, something perhaps quite revolutionary.”

Watch  Fabien Fryns talk in Artshare Conversation Series on Vimeo

Young mainland-based art collectors

There is an emerging generation of new mainland-based collectors too. “They are very excited and move very fast,” exclaims Fryns, who has collected contemporary art since 1986. His interest in Chinese art began in 2000 and eventually led to a move to Beijing in 2004.

Collector William Zhao has also spotted the rise of a new generation, as he reveals in a conversation with Artshare:

I think collecting and [the art] market in China [has] just started, now you can see at the auctions, art fairs and in the galleries, more and more young collectors coming.

It has been widely documented that Chinese contemporary art collecting has been blighted by a shallow investment driven rather than thematic approach. The rise of Chinese contemporary art was viewed as a bubble, a fad. Can we expect a change in attitude now?

Collections of stature for first time

Zhao sees this emerging second generation of collectors as a positive step towards building art collections of stature.

A serious collection can never be [built by] the first fortune generation. It’s the second or third generation, who can build who have money, [and] are really interested in art, interested in life.

Wang Yuyang, 'Breathing Books', 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Wang Yuyang, ‘Breathing Books’, 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes. Image courtesy CFCCA.

Advantages of the second generation 

The new generation of Chinese mainland-based collectors today also has the advantage of access, language and proximity. Many pioneering collectors of Chinese art such as Haudenschild, Ullens, Lévy and Fryns came from America and Europe. According to Sylvain Lévy,

To begin a Chinese collection in 2006 was a real adventure, because at that time nothing existed. There was no institutional validation. It was 12,000 kilometres from Paris. We do not speak the language, the system of the galleries was not really established, and so for us, to make a collection focused on Chinese contemporary art was quite a big challenge. [But] if you live in New York, how can you have access to the works? There is perhaps just two galleries [of Chinese contemporary art] in New York.

Advice from the pioneers 

What advice would the pioneers give the second generation about how to build a strong collection?

Collector Sylvain Lévy, Founder of the DSL Chinese contemporary art collection, believes that focus is key to building a collection of importance:

You have to focus. We have to create a real DNA. So we have fixed goals: first, to focus on China; second, to collect big format [art]; third, to limit the collection to 250 works.

Fryns and Zhao collect deeply rather than widely – they collect many works by the individuals they favour. A strong artist is a philosopher, not merely an artisan, advises Zhao. He says that it is vital to open up your mind, read and learn.

The future

What lies ahead for Chinese contemporary art collecting? The pioneers agree that we can expect the emerging group of young mainland collectors to trigger an explosive period of maturation, much faster than in the past. Art Radar will be watching.

Samuel Tsang

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Samuel Tsang participated in Art Radar’s art writing diploma on a scholarship from The Friends of the Art Museum, Chinese University of Hong Kong. Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Related Topics: Chinese art, collectors, art in China

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