Posts tagged ‘Artists’

“Still Men Out There”, an exhibition by Bjørn Melhus in Istanbul

Until the middle of last April a selection of Bjørn Melhus’ works could be visited at the Amerikan Hastanesi Sanat Galerisi ”Operation Room”. Presenting key works within the artist’s oeuvre, such as “Again & Again “„The Oral Thing“ (2001) or „Still Men Out There“ (2003) – from which the exhibition borrowed its title -, the show also featured more recent pieces like his 2008 multi-channel video installation „Deadly Storms“.

The selection offered the viewer the opportunity to grasp several decisive aspects in Bjørn Melhus’ work. Namely, the artist’s multiple attention to the worlds of American commercial film, television pop music and publicity, the coexistence throughout his oeuvre of pieces in which the artists embodies all the media roles and pieces in which he consciously redraws himself from and which result more abstract. Finally, a certain performative aspect was made available through the documentation published in the catalogue for occasion of this exhibition showing the intense and rich pre-production work in Bjørn Melhus’ films.

Manifold, the exhibition provided the viewer with the opportunity to compare works regarded upon as „classical“ – those in which the artist himself appears and enacts different characters -, with a work like „Still Men Out There“. Less “recognizable” as a Melhus’ piece, “Still Men Out There” is basically a pure synchronized sound and light installation in which the artist consciously redraw his own figure from. Next to pieces which are figurative and in which Melhus embodies different roles, the artist has also created pieces in which images are reduced to abstract fields of color. Both strategies have in fact always coexisted in Bjørn Melhus’ production. His absence in some of his works is not as unusual as one might think and is not without consequences for the overall understanding of his work. Far from being an isolated example, one must only think of „Emotional Fields“(2007), „Murphy“ (2008) or Melhus’ successive tree houses to recognize just that. Significantly all these works have been produced in parallel to the ones in which the artist plays different roles, including that of a woman, and which the public specially identifies the artist for and critics have payed most attention to.

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Thus missing a trademark – Melhus himself -, “Still Men Out There” (the installation) contains however other characteristics of the artist’s work, such as the exploration of the conventions of film (American war cinema in this case), repetition and multiplication of effects and found sound footage.
Placed on the floor in three concentric circles, the eighteen monitors show their screens facing up. Monochrome color fields alternate rhythmically, pulsing to the sound of machine guns. The soundtrack, composed of snippets from mainstream war movies includes everything a good war film needs, from marching troops, to tragic love, to gunfire, to heroic soliloquies. These sequences of monochrome image, script and sound produce a penetrating effect. At times full of pathos, other times purely kitsch, “Still Men Out There” stresses the highly entertaining and spectacle qualities present in American mainstream war cinema. The work’s sources are well documentated, “Still Men Out There” takes on sound footage from “Platoon” (Oliver Stone, 1986), “The Thin Red Line” (Terrence Malick, 1998), “Black Hawk Down” (Ridley Scott, 2001) and “We Were Soldiers” (Randall Wallace, 2002).
Melhus is interested here how cinema, as the greatest manipulative technical dispositive of all times, has been conditioning our feelings and behavior in respect to what our cultural notions, in this case of war and death, concern.

Regarding this, the artist has said in an interview: “Still Men Out There is not a statement about war or politics (even if the material does refer back to this reality), but is about evoking and exposing cinematic stereotypes”. But this is only partially true, for in the end the work does open into the ideological workings of cinematic war representation.

It is extremely significant that we are being offered the spectacle of war with no images (except for monochromatic images), in this way addressing directly what has been described as “American media’s refusal to show the American dead and injured in the war” in recent times. On the one hand the work pervades the idea that one can no longer trust any image of war to be authentic and that the only solution would be the renunciation of all imagery. This feeling is a direct consequence of the on-going control of images of war scenarios since the Golf War – from which only generic night shots of Bagdad under attack were divulged. And the so-called “embeded journalism” in practice since the Iraq war – when journalists march alongside the troops during their advance – which results in a loss of objectivity, and also contributed to a general sense of crisis due to the conflict of interests it generates.
On the other hand, because we can identify the audio sources of the installation, it is forcing us to deconstruct the cultural references regarding war on cinema, thus awakening all sorts of images of war which lie dormant in our heads and which obviously have been shaped by the mass media.
“Still Men Out There” is not only exploring the impact of American cinema on our collective memory but also forcing us to admit that some of our notions are being actively designed by it, against historical facts and in favour of specific ideologies.

The work is thus not only bringing cinematic stereotypes into light but also forcing us to consider the reception of cinematic war representation critically. The sound and its different moments borrow a narrative structure to a work, which is in itself abstract. As already noted, this “practice of fragmentation, destruction, and reconstitution of well-known figures, topics, and strategies of the mass media opens up not only a network of new interpretations and critical commentaries, but also defines the relationship of mass media and viewer anew” (Schmidt, Bremen, 2002).
By exposing the mechanisms of mainstream cinema, Melhus rebels against pre-established simplifications and global cultural standardization. Admitting that no images exist today outside of the corporate media, Melhus’ works contest such iconographic hegemony.

Both fascinated and disgusted by the American mainstream media culture, Bjørn Melhus has made his field of research what others would hastily judge as American “trash”. In a meticulous and consequent way he has been thus exposing the manipulative power of modern media by successively paying attention to several genres, including Hollywood films, news TV channels or the talk show format, just to name but a few cases.

With his systematic examination of different mass media frameworks, Bjørn Melhus has been exposing the stereotyped voices, gestures and slogans which are being conveyed on a daily basis and which seem to be dictating our behaviour despite of us. What to do with this awareness, a sort of pledge for responsibility, is the question left open to every single viewer.

(Excerpt of my review published in RES – Art World, Issue #02 May, 2009)

May 9, 2009 at 11:16 am Leave a comment

LATITUDE- Marcelo Moscheta

marcelo-moscheta-cloud-2-2008

Marcelo Moscheta
’s landscapes call upon essential and intense emotions which have been long dormant in our culture but perhaps are endangered today. They relate to the sense of the sublime, difficult if not impossible to behold in today´s world of fleeting values and digital images. “Latitude” speaks of the artist´s amazement for past adventurous expeditions to remote undiscovered places, which in itself have become a sort of a myth to our global connected world, in which the far away has simply been removed as a possibility by our digital condition.

As an act of resistance, the artist reclaims a laborious craft and patient hand labour when producing his drawings. Yet, to think of these as merely romantic in content and academic in what technique concerns, completely misses the point and their level of complexity. These drawings either represent landscapes which we recognize as famous landscapes for they are a part of our culture – as in “Friedrich” – or, they were inspired by images of landscapes circulating in the media. They are assumedly a representation of a representation, nowhere to be found in reality. Except, they do more than just negating their referent, they also negate their own medium.

When Marcelo Moscheta bends over the surface of the PVC sheet a process of fixation, which in a metaphorical way reminds us of photography, occurs. Initially, a thick layer of graphite powder settles over the sensitive plastic support without however, attaching to it. Then, by erasing or removing it carefully with an eraser, the dark shadowy areas emerge, just as if in the dark room. Pointing in their production process to photography, Marcelo Moscheta´s drawings finally look like paintings in the end.

A final negation takes place when Marcelo Moscheta attributes an erroneous coordinate system to his still and silent landscapes. Again, finding no correspondence in the real world – for the coordinates wrongly remits us to the South Pole – they bring about a sense of objectivity, opposing science to what we believed to be a purely romantic representation in the first place.
The coordinate code on the image, the image as a cultural code, and the tableau as a set of pure conventions, may serve to prove that in our hasty and virtual days taking a second, a third or a fourth look, delaying our judgement, may prove decisive.

Marcelo Moscheta – Latitude
Galerie Anita Beckers | Frankfurt am Main
14.11.2008 – 31.01.2009

November 12, 2008 at 12:12 am Leave a comment

Abraham Bloemaert (ca.1564-1651)

Recently, I came across a painting by the Dutch Mannerist painter and engraver Abraham Bloemaert (ca.1564-1651), which stroke me as very interesting and unsual (image not available at this point but I will post it once I have it). “Judith Holding the Head of Holofernes” has been a recurrent theme and the subject of many famous representations, also by Michelangelo and Caravaggio. Depicting the beheading scene, Bloemaert´s painting caught my eye, for all characters involved in the narrative show their back on us, completely careless of us as viewers. Challenging the classical concept of painting as a “world placed before our eyes”, oblivious to the traditional conception of painting as a sort of stage where narrative unfolds, Bloemaert´s version prevents us to connect with the story, forbiding us to assume our tipical role as objective and distanced observers achieving some universal principle. On the contrary, we only know what it is about because of the title and a few represented icons in the painting, for all participants are engaged in something which we´re not given easy access to. Gathering in an almost closed circle with their backs to us, this representation strikes me as extraordinary for its time.

After a period of travel which included Paris (1580-3) and Amsterdam (1591-3), Bloemaert settled in the city of Utrecht becoming a very influential painter, who even raised the attention of Rubens who visited him in his studio in 1627. Very influent as a painter of biblical and historical subjects, portraits and still-lifes, Bloemaert not only taught a generation of Utrecht’s best artists, including Hendrick Ter Brugghen and Cornelis van Poelenburgh but also had a decisive influence in others, namely Jan Both, Aelbert Jacobszoon Cuyp, Gerrit van Honthorst, Hendrik Terbrugghen, and Jan Baptist Weenix. His engravings openly circulated around at the time.

Bloemaert´s activity sprang throughout 50 years from mythological and religious paintings, in some cases completely new to Dutch art, to tapestries, stained-glass windows and more than 1,500 drawings. He also co-founded the famous Utrecht’s Guild of Saint Luke in 1611. His style is usually summoned up as a decorative synthesis of Caravaggio’s contrasting light effects and Mannerism’s bright and acid colors, this late feature as showned in the Charity depiction from c. 1590 above. His painting incorporates Mannerism’s restless light effects and strong contrasts, richly colored palette, and lots of movement and detail. Over time, we watch the subject matter of his landscapes became more and more incidental and even difficult to find…

His elongated figures and complex compositions are no doubtly a part of the ongoing maneristic program but his specific preocupation with human back makes him in my view very special.
Above I post some examples.

July 23, 2008 at 7:34 am Leave a comment


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