Saturday, April 20, 2013

Recycled and Expat Art

I have a unique connection to the theme of this weeks discussion of contemporary global artists.
I have been lucky enough to exhibit in London, Kicevo, Macedonia, Basel, St. Gallen, and Geneva, Switzerland, several US states, Siena, Italy and even Bangladesh. I do not say this to boast it is merely that I have felt the odd sensations of rootlessness that some of the artist describe and certainly the authors seem to romanticize through these exhibits. Further having lived in Italy, Switzerland and seven US states I can also recall the expat sense of being a kind of art nomad. A final nail in all this is having married a Swiss national meaning that half my daily experience is European through my wife and her native language of German. Also that half my family and more than tens years of experiences with have been on another continent. I truly feel that the sense that part of me is always there, and this is prolonged through annual visits but also through social media contacts. Likewise part of me is in New York with family there and Florida and Colorado and New Mexico and so on, some of these feelings are jarring others mere memories.
I will not rehash the last blog on family I found the discussion painful and the dysfunction glaring like Vegas flashing sign, but according to the authors we are to use this dysfunction run with it let it power our art.
The example of nomadic tent like structures from artist  Do Ho Suh mentioned in the article Globalization and Contemporary Art from Julia Marshal, are perhaps the best example of the detached ironic state global artist live with.  the works are both haunting and beautiful, which suggests a state of sadness and wonder at the same time. I am personally thrilled to have been to so many places to have lived in more than one culture but as well I acknowledge that I have given up many things in return. I get the same sense through Do's work.
while living in Switzerland I became aware of the Dada movement in near by Zurich and had a chance to work with a fantastic collection of Hans/Jean Arp's work. working with the curator of the Museum Liner I poured through Arp's personal items, paintings that hung in his kitchen collages made from flyers for his art events.
A series of prints it Snows Up was inspired by a tiny collage Arp made of tiny little pieces of black paper. To hold the original work and frame it for a show of Arp's work is still one of the greatest thrills I have experienced as a museum person.
In the article Transnational Visual Culture: Indecipherable Narratives and Pedagogy from Charles R. Garoain and Yvonne M Gaudelius, there is quote from Arp  (Garoain and Gaudelius pg 144) in which Arp specifically mentions collage I had to smile to myself reading. Suddenly it occured to me having spent a great deal of time with Arp, Klee and even handling Giacometti works I had reached a depth of understanding of Swiss art that a mere outsider would never reach. First, I was living in Switzerland which allowed me to work for an art museum. Second, I had earned a degree in art which was recognized in Switzerland. Third, having worked for AAM accredited museums it was understood that museum standards in America and Canada are some of the highest. Finally, English as nearly the language of globalization also opened doors for me abroad, as folks were looking to practice English as well it was a somewhat neutral language for the museum one that guests from many nations would be able to get by in.  All of the above are examples of how globalization has effected me personally.
Two artists I ran across (one I even met) while at the Swiss art museums Wilhelm Mundt and Wang Du.

Wang Du usually cross cultural references and pop images to blur into something like a global riff. Often political satirical and monumental in scope his works beg to figured out as they seem capable of squashing you. His giant sculpture of a crumpled New York Times seems to combine a fallen satellite or collapsed building with the text of the newspaper. Perched precariously the odd shaped work seems to menace viewers in its park setting creating an uneasy view that feels dangerous or as if we are viewing remnants of some disaster.

Wilhelm Mundt
Wilhelm does many different types of work but his largest body is garbage. Literally he has taken trash wrapped it in polyurethane sanded it polished it in large works that at first glance look like giant tumbled rocks. Upon deeper investigation we learn that they are stamped with manufacturing number often in transparent portions reveal their inner waste and debris and then we feel duped as the beautiful mineralogical specimen finally appears to be mere plastic.
Many different types of critique can read into the works from the industrial number they exhibit to the fact that they are glorified trash and what does it all say of our increasingly disposable global culture.

My Art
My art has varied over the years and it seems to shift with each major move. I am in the desert southwest so the palette and themes come from roadside attractions, old mining towns, the vast desert landscape and the other symbols of tarnished misguided manifest destiny and its reverberation throughout Pueblo lands.  The above work, entitled Roadside Ruin, is comprised of an old ticket booth from a family owned gold mine in Colorado. The shape appealed to me and was going to become fire wood for the often harsh winters at 9000ft in Cripple Creek. I threw it in my truck attached some other pieces to it (that I found on the floor of a home depot) sanded it down painted it, spray painted sanded it down again until had the right mix of worn and intentional.  It is comment on the many abandoned mines, towns, old hotels and roadside attraction of the west. The type of places with ten story high dinosaurs or tepees scattered about to lure the kitsch fevered tacky tourist.
I do occasional contract archaeology work in the southwest often based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have spent a great deal of time cruising the old Route 66 photographing the worn neon signs, the beat up motels and it seems that these are fantastic symbols of globalization.
Our American craze for whatever is new simply because it is new flies in the face of places with centuries old traditions even millennium old, and its this latest and greatest junk that America is known for around the globe. Like a bag of potato chips the salt or spice hits you right away and you tell yourself you can stop anytime and soon the bag is gone and you are left with a kind of junk food hangover. Then the guilt hits health concerns and how long is it going to take on the treadmill to burn that nasty bag of chips off. Sadly this is the kind of culture we export, in its ruined western form it hold a sort of beauty but there is a kind of safety that its crumbling disappearing and that its abandoned and no longer on the march.
Its like a castle in Europe a truly horrible thing when you think of it a symbol of fear, paranoia, war, torture, isolation all the worst things that mankind be. Yet they are clever and to our eyes often beautiful and of course now ludicrous in the age of nukes. They are no longer threatening with enough time but maybe hold important hints into the minds of their creators and the culture from whence they came, hence us. Roadside ruins are returning to the desert without the sacred burning of the Navajo or Hopi they are taking their spirits with them back into the earth. Whose dream was it to open a dinner in a town called Mexican Hat? Who came up with the idea to create a massive 3-d replica of the Flintstones with dinosaurs, crazy foot powered car, and the whole thing right at the entrance of the Grand Canyon? So you have one of the most impressive places on the earth and a door mat of completely not impressive location on its border.
Myself and the three contemporary artists mentioned above seem to feel the same about the throw away frivolous nature of American culture and its exportation through globalism. I imagine it will continue to fuel are art.
Transnational Visual Culture: Indecipherable Narratives and Pedagogy (Garoain and Gaudelius, 144)
Globalization and Art Education,(Delacruz, E., Arnold, A., Kuo, A., Parsons, M., 2009)
 Globalization and Contemporary Art (Marshal, J., 92)
Globalization and Art Education,(Delacruz, E., Arnold, A., Kuo, A., Parsons, M., 2009)

Friday, April 5, 2013

Migration and Adaptation.

 Migration Story/Adapting

The Sanchez and Aguiar families were of North African make up living in the Canary Islands. As undesirables in the eyes of the Spanish they like many others ended up in the Caribbean. Settling in Puerto Rico family legend says that my mother's grandmother was Taino. My father's side visibly appears to be African (A DNA test showed little information from subsaharan African. In fact the test also showed no Taino though a tiny portion came back with the results reading deeper testing unknown area). From Puerto Rico the two families traveled to Brooklyn, New York. My parents were born in Brooklyn, where they met and married. An increasingly dangerous drug filled place my parents moved from Brooklyn  living in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Queens, California, and eventually Florida.
I was born in Pennsylvania near Philadelphia and raised in Florida. We occasionally returned to the north to visit relatives. After a divorce and a second marriage I belonged to a family of eight.
By the time I was in high school I had moved at least fifteen times (It was not at all surprising when the above mentioned DNA test turned up Gypsy heritage in the mix) The big move from Puerto Rico what kind of mark did that leave on my family? My grandmother never stopped talking about Puerto Rico and on here deathbed all she seemed to want was the traditional island dish pigeon peas with rice. She never really stopped being Puerto Rican. My parents however, loved the Beatles, Hollywood movies and gave us all Anglo friendly Biblical names. James, Jeffrey, and Jonathan when my grandmothers were Conception and Gracia. Grandfather's were equally Hispanic by name weighing in with Juan and Julio.
It may seem a silly point but these choices to leave New York, to try and create a better life away from drugs and gangs, to name your kids Jon instead of Juan, they start a process. Overwhelmingly people today lament assimilation as a negative culturally biased form of oppression. From the stand point of wealthy, educated, professional people the idea of loosing your culture is abhorrent but to a struggling immigrant loosing your culture might mean survival.
I have lived in three countries and speak German having married a Swiss national. It is perhaps the migratory nature of my family that has allowed me to adapt and survive in two different cultures. English is my mother tongue but German has a special place in heart as do many aspects of Swiss or larger European culture. Again what some might view as a negative I see as natural. I lived in a German speaking country I learned the language while there. My wife would never quite feel at home unless I learned her home cooking and language. So the process I have gone through has made me rethink what my relatives must have gone through leaving North Africa, leaving Spain, leaving Puerto Rico and finally leaving New York.