Sian Welch on the ‘what-might-have been’ in the exhibition ‘I Wish I Said Hello’
Whether it’s a fleeting conversation with a stranger, that lingering look on the bus or the person you repeatedly catch sight of in the distance, the ephemeral nature of the ‘missed connection’ has been both captivating and frustrating people for centuries. Usually associated with a romantic enterprise, a missed connection happens when two people meet unexpectedly, make an impression but somehow don’t manage to exchange contact details. It seems a natural inclination of ours to ponder upon what might have been, to fret about what our destiny holds and form romanticized alternatives.
In their recent street art installation ‘I Wish I Said Hello’, Lisa Park and Adria Navarro have scrutinized our fascination with the fleeting romantic connection. Their idea was to bring missed connection stories sent into newspapers, and their purpose built website, to the real world by plastering them on the very streets of New York City, in the exact location where the encounter took place. Modelled on the Google Maps marker, each brightly coloured sticker placed at the location encapsulates the encounter through image and quoted text. They vary in locations from subway stations to bars and street corners, not as a platform for reconnection but rather a celebration of the multiplicity of everyday poetics, mapping stories that all connect in this shared spotlight upon serendipity. Whilst I was in New York last summer I met up with Lisa to find out more about Street Art and the missed connection.
Q: So Lisa, this sounds like a really interesting way of exploring the topic of serendipity and the missed connection, how did the project come about and why choose this topic in particular?
A: Both Adria and I are students at NYU and we were set the task of exploring art and the influence of technology in our ‘Recurring Concepts in Art’ class. It’s a great class, taught by Georgia Krantz who is a big name at the Guggenheim. We had both worked in very different media before this project, so it was a challenge for both of us but through mind mapping our ideas, we kept coming up with the medium of the internet and the irony of having greater access but less intimacy in relationships. It turns out that in the era of social media, when we’re supposedly connected to anyone; the network of missed connections is one of the most inefficient ones. When we heard about the infiltration of ‘I saw you’ style posts on Craigslist (a US-based website that offers free classified advertisements) we both thought it was perfect for our project.
Q: Could you tell me a little more about what struck you in particular about these ‘Missed Connection’ posts?
A: Surprisingly, it was actually the element of loneliness that kept coming through in these ads. I think people are more willing to make something of a missed connection here in New York. People come to the city in the hopes of finding their soulmate after seeing films like Serendipity and are more often than not disappointed. Saying that though, I think that some people really do reconnect after missed connections so perhaps they should have faith in it. Two of my classmates recently got married after meeting again through a Craigslist ‘Missed Connection’ post.
Q: You just mentioned the significance of using somewhere like New York City as the starting location for your project, but how do you manage to get around the bureaucratic issues and laws that seek to circumvent Street Art?
A: There is so much Street Art in New York that funnily enough that is the reason it isn’t an issue. A few people stopped us whilst we were putting up our stickers, but only to ask about the project out of interest. I think we get away with it because we are students! Some of our pieces were taken down recently, there are six official stickers in Manhattan now but it is just part of working with an active medium. We make sure there are always a few stickers on display by putting them up a few at a time; this keeps the Missed Connection stories up to date too.
Q: How did you come up with the final design of the stickers?
A: We started out by looking at signs; we wanted something eye-catching and recognisable. We knew we had to create the stickers in a shape that would resonate with the idea of a location marker, and what is more iconic than the Google symbol? The element of technology was something that had to remain an important part of our project, and the final design of the stickers managed to encompass the concept of a location-specific, personal event with the universality of the forum in which these stories where emerging from. The text on our stickers are direct quotes from the ads, we didn’t contact the people to tell them what we were doing so it’s funny to think that the person who wrote the advertisement might one day come across their sticker unexpectedly.
Q: What was it like working collaboratively with another artist? How did you divide the tasks on this particular project?
A: I think we worked really well together. We both have very different backgrounds, I am Korean and Adria is from Barcelona and he has a background in Engineering whereas mine is in Fine Art. Through collaboration you learn a lot, I was trained to work alone but it is nice to have a partner. In terms of dividing the jobs, Adria mainly worked on the website but we both looked through the advertisements together as it was important we agreed on the most iconic encounters.
You can find Lisa and Adria’s website at: http://iwishisaidhello.org/
Ellie Gascoyne examines how the clash between religion and evolution theory is reflected in Cardiff castle’s architectural decor.
It is easy to think of the Victorians as being dull, prudish and averse to change, especially when faced with threats to the established religion and culture. Darwin’s theory of evolution is, for example, conventionally misconceived as having been a huge bombshell that struck terror among Victorian Christians. In reality, however, the threat of Darwin’s theory to the church was convincingly rebutted, so much so that the themes of Creation and natural history were even celebrated simultaneously in art and architecture, notably by the Third Marquis of Bute, in the construction of his Gothic, fantastical Cardiff Castle.
Initially, evolutionary theory troubled the church; it contradicted the literalist, orthodox reading of the Creation story. Evolutionary theory challenged the idea that humans were created specially, separately from other animals, and that the supposedly 6000 year-old world was created in seven days. Evolution estimated the world was in fact millions of years old, that species’ ‘creation’ or evolution took millions of years, and that, shock-horror, humans were descended from apes (so much for our being created ‘in the image of God’). Additionally, the concept of ‘natural selection’ seemed so brutal and cruel that the Christian God surely would not condone it.
The church did manage to overcome these seemingly insurmountable challenges by suggesting that evolution was part of God’s plan, and given that the ‘survival of the fittest’ was based on intellectual or moral excellence, this was not cruel or unfair. Even fossils (as William Buckland claimed) were placed deliberately by God for human discovery. Ultimately, it was concluded that science and religion’s differing notions of creation were entirely compatible, if a non-literalist reading of the Creation story were adopted.
Therefore, far from being terrified of these new discoveries and theories, many Victorians did not see them as a threat at all and positively embraced such change. One such man was the third Marquis of Bute, an eccentric and quirky character who was obsessed with natural history, ancient mythology and the occult, but mainly medieval or ‘Gothic’ architecture and art. His other passion was his faith; he controversially converted to Roman Catholicism aged 21. Being such an ardent Christian, would he not have been frightened or troubled by the new doubts posed by science?
From looking at Bute’s Castle in Cardiff, it would appear much the opposite.
Although allegedly the richest man in mid-19th century Britain, Bute inherited a ruinous wreck of a castle – dating back almost 2000 years, it was a jumble of different architectural repair-jobs from over the centuries. Undeterred by the crumbling reality of his so-called ‘picturesque seat’, Bute was determined to change it into the ultimate ‘des-res’ for the medieval, and natural, history enthusiast. Bute employed the equally eccentric architect William Burges, and together the pair created a truly individual, extravagant explosion of Gothic romanticism, with every room preoccupied with natural history: more specifically, with Creation.
Before even entering the castle, life-size stone-carved animals, including a lioness, wolf (and, of course, apes) peer down at you from the ramparts, with amber glass eyes. The inclusion of these creatures is to celebrate God’s creation, but the apes play an especially comic role in relation to Darwin’s claims regarding human ancestry. Inside the castle, the Winter Smoking Room’s stained glass windows depict Norse Gods, while two corbels represent the Sun God and Moon Goddess. Grotesque marquetry monkeys look down on visitors. In the Summer Smoking Room, the floor shows the earth at the very centre of the universe (a strong medieval belief). The walls detail legends associated with the Zodiac, whilst emblematic depictions of animals clash with naturalistic ones: on the wall tiles, a brave medieval knight battles a giant crab, whilst tiny life-size carved mice scurry across the wooden panelling. In the Small Dining Room, scenes from Genesis cover the stained glass windows, whilst painted butterflies and birds flutter around the door frames. Bute’s bedroom is dedicated to St John the Evangelist (of whom there is a statue above the fireplace) and his prophetic Book of Revelation, though colourful heraldry and a carved animal frieze also attract visitors’ attention. In the library, there are more mischievous carved monkeys, depicted eating apples, or sneakily peeking inside books – obviously reflecting the themes of temptation to gain knowledge, as in the Genesis Creation story, where Adam and Eve are tempted to eat the fruit which will give them great knowledge. Finally, the magnificent Great Hall, with its vaulted wooden ceiling and miniature castle above the fireplace, is incredibly theatrical.
So rather from being afraid of Darwin and evolutionary theory, and shying away from the most controversial topic of their era, Bute and Burges actually confronted evolutionary theory and Creation head-on, and created a humorous, ironic parody of the contemporary debate and clashing of ideologies. They were not afraid of change or ‘the new’, but used art and architecture to deride the arguments, and to realise their own unique architectural dream. All throughout the castle rooms, images derived from medieval history, the natural world and the bible all co-exist together as part of an aesthetically beautiful whole – almost as if Bute was thus giving the message that, far from being threatened by science, Christian doctrine could be accepted alongside it – there was no inherent contradiction, so no reason to fear the scientific ‘change’. Perhaps he was also trying to illustrate Sir Thomas Browne’s idea that “nature is the art of God”, and is therefore sacred anyway.
Unfortunately, the castle today has roads encircling it where Bute would probably prefer a moat to be, whilst 19th and 20th century commercial buildings peer over the battlements, which Bute would probably see as unwelcome modern encroachments, trespassing on the magical and romantic Gothic world that he created within the castle walls.
Helen Shaw speaks to Olivia Arthur on her photographic essay, documenting young women in Saudi Arabia.
I recently wrote a paper on the newly published and enchanting photographic essay, ‘Jeddah Diary’. Assuming pride of place in my room, this photographic diary currently haunts my desk, although not in an exhaustive thank-god-my-deadline-has-passed-and-it-was-an-alright-piece-of-work kind of abject presence. On the contrary – against the dismal and bleak, grey window panes and walls, its sheer physicality and materiality (it’s laden with a beautifully orangey and fiery fabric), shines like a jewel in a cave. Once opened its content echoes back at its reader the very stimulating refractions and reflections it wishes to cast its magic of ambiguity onto:
‘I feel like a precious stone or diamond’, they echo each other, ‘you should keep it away from eyes to keep it in a safe place.’
It has a Golem-esque “my precious” element to it, sure, but this particular quote, printed adjacent to a photograph of a young woman wearing a full-length hijab, camouflaged by her living room curtains and sofa as she peeps out from behind to ‘see’ the outside world, poses a fundamental problem concerning the integral positioning of women’s rights within contemporary Saudi Arabian community.
Arthur’s photography offers a new vision for both Western and Eastern ideals on women’s rights and agency to engage in a level-pegging visionary dialogue, where neither assumes agency or authority over the other culture. Its approach, to create a collaborative space in order to address, inform and ultimately conduct a possible renegotiation of identity for young women in Saudi is startlingly subtle, yet powerful in its diarist format.
Revealing a series of unsettling portraits, Arthur’s photography is a multitude of dualistic and dialectic vocabulary: most fundamentally a blurring between subjectivity and objectivity, where women’s faces are censored and concealed, identities fractured and fragmented into a leg, an arm, an eye!? We start to contemplate what it means to censor or conceal identities in both the East and the West; and more so, a woman’s identity.
In true elliptical and paradoxical art historical fashion, my interpretation was that of my first thought for this article: the ghostly, shadowed identities of Arthur’s diarist entries will forever be left open to interpretation, forever left to haunt and taunt the viewer’s thoughts and opinions on women who emerge from the shadows of a patriarchal society.
I spoke to Olivia on her recent publication and what she thought these photos meant for the future in terms of the changing role of women and their rights in Saudi Arabia:
HS: How did the laws governing photography in Saudi Arabia affect your photographic practice, especially in photographing the women?
OA: I often got shouted at when I took pictures outside which is why I didn’t really in the end. Some people tell you it’s illegal, but mostly people tell you that this is a conservative country and you can’t do that, even women with full niqab. The quote on the back of the book was from one such occasion from a woman who thought I was taking her picture. In the end I only really took pictures in situations where people were aware and had accepted my taking photographs. Sometimes I would ask and they would say ‘is it just for you or for other people?’ This concept is quite prominent there, public and private photographs. I wanted to always be very clear about what I was doing, so in a way it became almost collaborative, letting them know what I was doing, making sure I knew what their limits were in terms of how much of them I could show, and then trying to make photographs that suggest a reality beyond any facade or cover. Of course with the snapshot images, it became much more a depiction of reality and the facades were often lifted. Then of course I had to put them back on (with the flash) once I realised that I couldn’t show these pictures.
HS: Do you think your photographs suggest that you are not the only ‘active’ person within the staging of these shots?
OA: The section at the front of the book I have kept as a section in order to emphasise the fact that these pictures are posed (which I think is a better word than ‘staged’ as the scenes are their own homes). These are obviously more collaborative than the others.
HS: You speak of bubbles in the introduction of Jeddah Diary; did you feel that you could easily go between these secret bubbles or that as you photographed them you made a ‘new’ bubble?
OA: I think it was both, and I think that the two roles are reflected in the two cameras that I use, medium format for the photographer and snapshot camera for the friend, but of course the borderlines are blurry. I think I was allowed to slip in and out of their different bubbles. In the end what you get is my experience of these fragments which build up to make something more like a half-made jigsaw than a bubble. I wanted the viewer to see the contradictions and non-sense that I was trying to puzzle together, to share a part of my experience and confusion with it all.
Megan Knight looks at the visual image and questions what role it has in multi-medial dimensions of contemporary art…
In an attempt to evade an arbitrary discussion on the beginnings of art, one must acknowledge that at its very foundation, at a given time (suggested to be over forty thousand years ago), the concept of creating an image was consciously pursued. Comprehensively discussed in Whitney Davis’ ‘The Beginnings of Art’, one must maintain the belief that in moving from the spoken or written word into the realms of visual language, pictorial intention dictated a new way in which to communicate. Diffusing beyond the restrictions of context or meaning, fear of the image – and in turn, of what it has mutated into – punctuates the history of the art, fully acknowledging the threat that visual culture posed to established channels of communication.
As previously noted, I fully intend to evade a fruitless discussion on the beginnings of art; I merely seek to formally identify that in the inception of art, the image has been rejected as an object to provoke fear.
Critically paramount to the refusal of visual language, the Medieval reaction to the image in the Iconoclastic period, beginning in 726, is one of earliest, and most significant examples of the image as a threat. Recognised as a period of barbaric control of production and dissemination of images, the imposed restrictions sought to effectively remove the place of the image within an ecclesiastical environment. The fear of the image, or more extensively, the fear of God in venerating an image, propelled a period of expulsion for visual language within the liturgy.
Extrapolating the core argument of Iconoclasm, one must meditate upon the fear of the image in betraying its own ideological basis; meaning to say, the fear that the visual and aesthetic quality of a given object will undermine or wrongly convey the ideological connotations of a delineated subject. To what extent does the visual have to maintain a faithful connection with that which it represents? Surely then do we not alienate whole artistic movements?
Here it is prudent to reign in the discussion of Iconoclasm and maintain its specificity to a religious context, although the pervading questions are something to contemplate beyond the religious references and perhaps become more relevant to a contemporary audience. In extracting the image against the ideology hypothesis, and expanding it beyond its given time frame, we may as a contemporary audience seek to question the development of the image through the historical lineage of art and thus pose questions of medium and practice.
Within the artistic spectrum, one should not ignore the diversity of media that is now housed within the creative sphere. Artistic practice has developed beyond the visual; performance art and sound have moved from the peripheries of artistic consequence and feature prominently in discussion. Developing from the earliest images that seemingly form the foundations of artistic practice, the expansion of media across communication methods seeks to retain a concern for pushing a given concept into the foreground for a particular audience.
To simplify, art has gone beyond the image. Its visual constriction has expired, it has spread to movement, to touch and to sound. Does the fear of the image have a cross-media, time transcendent translation? Do we fear modern practice? Does the work of artists like Santiago Sierra and Damien Hirst threaten what we recognise as art and inspire us to fear the unknown, non-conformist ways of the modern artist?
Returning to my original statements on the birth of a visual language, one must keep discussions relative. The production of pictorial thought and the physicality of its practice in a time where images were non-existent introduced an artistic method that radicalised means of communication. One may question if in a contemporary framework, as the sensitivity of culture yields to modern practice, will we ever fear the image? Will the level of artistic innovation ever be able surpass our expectations of contemporary work that we are scared by our own advances?
7-12th March, Ron Cooke Hub
Last night saw the opening of. The NRG worked closely with Professor Brian Cantor, Vice-chancellor of the university, in order to display his personal art collection in which contained prints and oils by artists such as Matisse, Miro, Joanna Usherwood, John Kiki and political cartoons and comic strips from the Mirror, and Pen and Ink.
Many people at the opening were excited by the prospect of viewing a Miro especially his ‘Derrière le Miroire,’ (‘Behind the Mirror’). Derrière le Miroire was a modern art periodical published by Galerie from 1946 for 35 years, containing original prints and lithographs from featured artists. Another name as familiar as Miro that was featured in the exhibition was Matisse. His ‘Le Cirque’ has a prominent focus on colour and modernity, it ties in nicely with the exhibition’s theme. Further prints, yet away from the traditional genre of art, were the political cartoons from Mirror, Mirror and the cartoon strips by Pen and Ink. These were amusing, tongue in cheek and will hopefully encourage those who don’t usually visit the NRG exhibitions to give it a try.
Sometimes prints might seem slightly disappointing, especially if emphasis is placed on the aura of an original, yet even if this is the case, the exhibition is still worth a visit. There are two commanding oil paintings, with highly textured surfaces that are worth viewing. The first is ‘Surfaces’ by Joanna Usherwood, a non-figurative piece which has a focus on the various shades of red and brown and has a textile surface invites the prohibited touch. The second oil is ‘Sphinx’ by John Kiki, the painting featured on the poster for the exhibition. It is an abstract, figurative work which was one of the most popular pieces of the opening.
A change of location also accompanied these works; rather than holding the exhibition at the Norman Rea Gallery it was shown in the Exhibition Space in the Ron Cooke Hub. This new setting complimented this exhibition, the modern architecture continued the theme of modernity, the spotlighting inside the gallery lit the artworks more effectively and the gallery space was slightly smaller which gave a more intimate atmosphere, which promulgated discussion between those attending the opening. The generosity of Professor Brian Cantor allowed his works to be shown in this space and it’s not an opportunity that should be missed.
A final note is that the Norman Rea Gallery has been allocated the time to curate one exhibition a term in the Ron Cooke Hub as well as their regular exhibitions in the Norman Rea Gallery above the Courtyard. This will not only give students the opportunity to see more exhibitions but also bring more life to Hes East.
The Norman Rea Gallery had an opening last night for its new exhibition ‘I think we should see other people’ by the artist Graham Hutchinson. He is a collector and manipulator of images, collecting them from many different cities and flea markets around Europe. These images are then altered in an attempt to create new narratives, contexts and realities and he is specifically drawn to challenging the ‘rituals, tensions and absurdity that occurs between the two sexes.’ The gallery was curated by Rachel Kidd, along with Hutchinson, who had an innovative take on how the pieces should be displayed. They was clustered around the corners of the gallery, rather than uniformly spaced, which complimented Hutchinson’s intention of the viewer being surrounded and overwhelmed by the images. When looking at the pieces the viewer is first drawn to how the faces are covered or absent, creating a void of space. Hutchinson’s intention with this was to remove the loaded focus that is usually on the face in order to have the viewer focus more on the pose or the manipulations he had made. The exhibition is able to be viewed from the 5th-19th February 2013 and is a truly remarkable experience. Below are a few questions answered by the artist.
Where is your studio currently based?
I’m based at Bloc Studios, Sheffield.
How long have you been working with collage?
I’ve been working with collage and found imagery for the past five years.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I find cutting things up quite therapeutic. I find it destructive and it seems to take a lot of negativity
out of me. Specifically, I am drawn to collecting old shabby magazines and journals which house old fashioned imagery. I find the colour and even the smell intriguing.
Is the purpose of your art purely aesthetic or is it a social/political commentary?
I consider some pieces aesthetically pleasing but most of the work comments on human behaviour, especially the relationships between the two sexes.
You disrupt the faces which causes tension, what is the purpose of this?
The main idea of hiding the faces is to cast the viewer’s eye on to the figures pose or the manipulations I have made. I think by taking the face out of the equation the work becomes more open.
What is your favourite aspect of your work?
Using scissors and glue…..I enjoy many aspects. I’m not a tortured artist. I enjoy making quick work. Each piece seems to have a short time to get finished or I become bored of it.
How do you intend for you art to be exhibited?
I will be exhibiting two clusters of works which will comprise of over a 100 works.
Why did you agree to exhibit with the Norman Rea Gallery?
I will exhibit anywhere, really. I think York is a fantastic place.
This is the hip-hop that matters, it is born out of poverty and discrimination, searches for justice with beats and rhyme. There is a growing scene of Muslim hip-hop in Europe, their music expresses their hostility towards being objectified as an enemy or as dangerous people, they feel marginalized. Farah Pandith, the US representative to Muslim communities in America, says hip-hop conveys a “different narrative” to counter foreign violent ideology, it is a form of peaceful protest, and suffering is best conveyed to the privileged through the arts of music, visual media, or written literature. However these forms of protest have been condemned by governments as “Muslim hate rap,” rappers have been prosecuted and the slogans like “Free Palestine” have been tuned out of Radio One Xtra to “ensure impartiality was maintained.”
Salah Edin, a Dutch rapper, speaks of racial dicrimination and islamophobia, in his music video ‘Het Land Van,’ (funded by the government and later condemned for its racialism) he is body searched and an old man is searched because he was praying, Salah Edin’s beard progressively becomes thicker as the video progresses and this leads him headlong into Guantanamo bay.
Kerry James is a French Haitian rapper born in Paris, he is widely known in France and popular among the large West Indies and Muslim population. He speaks out against the same problems of race and religion, he says the French government are:
“…pillagers of wealth, murderers of Africans, torturers of Algerians, the colonial past is yours, you chose to link your history to ours…”
In his video people are blindfolded, handcuffed, guns and barbed wire surround them. These symbols clearly show us the feelings of the marginalized populations in Europe, and it could replay the Civil Rights Movement in America during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Six hours after writing this article the Narcicyst (Iraqi – Canadian hip-hop artist) declared on Facebook…
“Due to partnerships that have just been made clear to me, I have chosen to drop out of the CreativeTimeSummit tomorrow in Dubai. I stand in support of the Palestinian people and against the genocide of a people and am a firm supporter of the Palestinain BDS National Committee. I apologise to the organisers here, but it is my duty and role as an Arab artist to stand with the people of Palestine. To see the change we have to be the change.”
Whilst York Art Gallery is not to be sniffed at, hosting an array of big name artists such as David Hockney and William Etty in recent months, York is also home to a number of art hideouts that are worth spending an hour or more seeking out. Local curator Lottie Stone has followed on from the success of her first pop up gallery and has recreated a similar space in an empty shop on High Petergate. Greatly enthusiastic about local artists and their work her gallery promotes this interest showcasing pieces by artists in the Yorkshire area. The work is also available to purchase at a reasonable price. Beautiful art trinkets and hand-made jewellery together with evening events help to create a friendly unimposing space where Stone hopes people will gather to discuss art or at least enjoy the space she has created.
If you can muster any energy after an exhausting fresher’s week, Bar Lane Studios is holding ‘The Big Draw’ this weekend inviting budding artists or those of us who like to whack a bit of paint on some paper the chance to get involved in a mass drawing session that will also be joined by local artists. You can celebrate the success of your finger-paint work with others at the Studio’s café. Throughout the following months Bar Lane Studios will be holding life drawing sessions and exhibitions. Not to be missed is their Affordable Art Fair and Christmas Craft Fair hosted by ‘Made in York’ in December.
Closer to home, on the University campus, the student run Norman Rea Gallery starts off the year with their first exhibition ‘Temple of the Occult’. Taking the form of a temple, the exhibition becomes an installation of works inspired by occult traditions and reveals religious truths. Launching on Monday 15th October, the exhibition will be held for a week in the Gallery above Courtyard.