For thousands of years, churches of every denomination were the center points of art and culture in the West and beyond. They were protected places that escaped much of the harsher aspects of life, allowing them to preserve many more cultural treasures than other places could manage. Of course, this isn't usually the case today, where arts and culture flourish around the world in the absence of global wars, but on one special night the ages were crossed in a very unique way.
That night, of course, was Nuit Blanche in Paris. For those of you unfamiliar with the special day, Nuit Blanche ('white night' in English) is an arts festival that has spread around the world. Essentially, the entire night is transformed through the magic of art, transforming everyday spaces for a single night of celebration. Nuit Blanche festivals can be found in almost every major city with a decent arts presence, from Paris to Vancouver to Melbourne and many places in between.
The particular project we started discussing took place this past Nuit Blanche in the Saint-Eustache Church in Paris. Transformed by digital artist Miguel Chevalier, the massive vaulted ceilings of the church were covered in incredible light shows that transformed the very nature of the shape of the building. The piece, entitled Voûtes Célestes, was accompanied by improvised organ music by Baptiste-Florian Marle-Ouvrard, the organist who usually performs at the regular church services.
While this is Chevalier's latest massive installation project, he's actually been working with digital media for a surprisingly long time. He was one of the first artists to begin employing computers in his work, going back as far as 1978 according to the biography on his personal website.
He has had an incredibly distinguished career, with hundreds of solo and group exhibitions under his belt, springboarded by a degree in Fine Arts and Archaeology from Université de Paris La Sorbonne.
As he puts it himself: "Since 1978, Chevalier has focused exclusively on computers as an artistic means of expression. He quickly secured a spot on the international scene as a pioneer of virtual and digital art. Miguel Chevalier continues to be a trailblazer, and has proven himself to be one of the most significant artists on the contemporary scene.
Miguel Chevalier's oeuvre is experimental and multidisciplinary. Taking references from the history of art and reformulating them using computer tools, his works investigate and explore recurrent themes such as nature and artifice, flows and networks, virtual cities and ornate designs. His images are a rich source of insights into ourselves and our relationship with the world."
In the past, we wrote an Artist Spotlight about Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, and a relatively strange installation piece he had created involving tortoises. In today's follow up we're going to look at a specific project that he created, and the Netflix documentary that goes along with it of the same name: Sky Ladder.
Aside from playing around with tortoises, which actually sounds like it might be kind of fun regardless of its relative artistic merit, Cai Guo-Qiang has had an extraordinary career in many other non-traditional media - namely in fireworks, coloured smoke and flame. Tortoises are great and all, but pyrotechnics must be a lot more fun, and Cai Guo-Qiang gained an incredible amount of fame for devising the pyrotechnic displays at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
In 2014, he took his pyrotechnic effects to a new level using coloured smokes and incredibly carefully designed forms and was able to create a stunning range of effects, painting in the sky with smoke and flame. This eventually led to the development of his lifelong project, which has been chronicled in the documentary of the same name.
Produced by Kevin MacDonald and Wendi Deng Murdoch, Sky Ladder tells the story behind his life-long project that took a while to develop into a concept, and even longer into a feasible and performable project. There were many false starts before it was finally properly performed, but the final piece grows into a rather titanic scale that manages to look beautiful too - even though it's a touch more conceptual than the rest of his pyrotechnic work.
As Cai Guo-Qiang explains the project, it sounds like something the world could use more of:
Behind Sky Ladder lies a clear childhood dream of mine. Despite all life’s twists and turns, I have always been determined to realize it. My earlier proposals were either more abstract or ceremonial. Sky Ladder today is tender, and touches my heart deeply: it carries affection for my hometown, my relatives and my friends. In contrast to my other attempts, which set the ignition time at dusk, this time the ladder rose toward the morning sun, carrying hope. For me, this not only means a return but also the start of a new journey.
Continuing our theme of hope in the face of strife from last week with another dose of perspective, today's Artist Spotlight is going to look at the work of a young Assyrian sculptor named Nenous Thabit who has a powerful dose of hope for everyone affected by the destruction wrought by the Islamic State.
Most of the Islamic State's terrorist campaigns are launched at the local people, and one of their most potent weapons is the destruction of local temples and historic sites for being 'un-Islamic'. This breaks the link the local people have with their cultural heritage and, in theory, makes them more likely to embrace the twisted vision of Islam espoused by the terrorists.
His project will be a long one, but it's truly inspirational - he hopes to recreate many of the most famous works that have been destroyed by the Islamic State. At only 17 years of age, he has been practicing sculpting in his father's workshop, who is a professional sculptor.
Thabit was inspired to action by the destruction of the ancient Assyrian temple of Nimrud, which IS fighters bragged about destroying with sledge hammers and bulldozers for not being Islamic.
“They waged a war on art and culture, so I decided to fight them with art. Lamassu is my favourite statue, it is the strongest creature in the Assyrian heritage.
“In Iraq, there are people who are killed because they are sculptors, because they are artists. Continuing to sculpt is a message that we will not be intimidated by those devils.
“My dream is to become a prominent artist in Iraq to make my country proud and show the world that we in Iraq love life and cherish our heritage.”
So far, he has completed 18 new statues, including one of Lamassu, and is looking forwards to attending art school in the city of Dohuk in the coming year. Hopefully, he'll be able to maintain his optimism in the face of anger, and recreate many more of the lost treasures that so many artists, historians and curators have been racing to preserve.
If you've been to downtown Miami in the last couple of years - perhaps during a visit to Art Basel Miami Beach (we wish) - you've probably passed one of several intensely bright, geometric murals painted on a large scale on the sides of buildings. These are the product of a street artist known as 'Hoxxoh' and his team, though perhaps better known by his given name Douglas Hoekzema.
The pieces are massive, colourful, geometric and kaleidoscopic, often playing upon the tricks of optical illusion that can seem to make a static image move as your eyes travel across the piece.
Speaking to an interviewer from The New Tropic, he explained how he developed his process: "I think it was 2008 or 2009, I discovered this mark…painting it over and over and over. And through this repetition I started discovering these other patterns it can make and then it became containing the madness.
So the logical thing was “I can do a freehand circle and only paint in that.” And the next step was increase the scale of the circle. And then, for the last year or so it was concentric rings, which is read as a mandala. And then this current year I offset the rings, which is being read as a portal or a vortex. And in that sense it’s really exciting with my work, reducing it just to this one mark and one mechanism and then these ready-made guns that you’ll find in Home Depot: an airless spray gun or the "weekend I’m gonna paint my picket fence" little gun. That makes a different mark."
Unfortunately it has come to our attention that just before the writing of this piece, there was a terrible accident at the site of Hoekzema's latest mural project in Miami. One of his assistants was killed after a 40 foot fall as their scaffolding collapsed during the painting process, and one other was injured and remains in critical condition at a nearby hospital. A third muralist was saved by his safety harness and was rescued by emergency crews on the scene.
A statement from Eric Fordin, the Vice President of ownership company 4111 South Ocean Drive, LLC., read: "Tragically, a section of scaffolding at Hyde Resort & Residences Hollywood fell today. Security and safety are, and always have been, a priority at every one of our construction sites and an internal investigation of today’s events is underway. We are deeply concerned and send heartfelt thoughts to the individuals involved and their families."
Hopefully this tragedy won't prevent the completion of the piece, or impact the promising future prospects of the artist.
We live in incredibly exciting times, no matter what part of the world you choose to dedicate yourself to, but few things are more fascinating to the human race as a whole than what lies beyond our world. Ever since the fabled Space Race of the mid-20th century, aerospace technology has been moving forwards in leaps and bounds, but it still was generally the area of nations rather than individuals. It was simply ridiculously expensive to get anything up out of the gravity well.
Except, of course, for balloons - and Makoto Azuma decided to take that cheap method of flight and send up some truly astonishing satellites.
Well, perhaps they're not satellites in the strictest technical sense, as they're only kept aloft by the lifespan of the balloons rather than a planetary orbit, but they're still pushing the boundaries of art in a literal physical sense. Azuma has become famous for working directly with nature and living media to create his artwork, whether it's bonsai trees, fungi, or something in between.
Probably Azuma's most famous piece was entitled Exobiotanica, which featured a 50 year old Japanese white pine bonsai tree and an exquisite bouquet of Mother's Day flowers into the atmosphere - 30,000 meters up, to be precise. The two objects were then photographed by a camera that travelled with them, creating some truly beautiful images.
"Many misunderstand me as a contemporary artist, or drawer, or sculptor. But I create living art. I am creating a totally new way of expression."
In an interview with CNN Style (oddly enough), he expands on what inspired him to begin working in this truly unique medium.
"While I was running a flower shop, putting together bouquets and decoration, I thought I could find a new type of flower by applying a new expression on the flowers themselves. Besides merely making bouquets as presents or table top decoration, I thought it would be possible to capture the beauty in a photograph or video while the flower is changing its shape. It is like slicing out a moment for keeping the beauty eternal."
A beautiful sentiment, and while Azuma tends to shy away from the traditional art world - he avoids traditional artists as inspiration, and does not draw comparisons between himself and other working artists - he certainly has the flair for drama and beauty that mark the best of what the art world has to offer.
When you've had a career that spans almost 50 years, it's only natural to be completely fascinated by the technological developments that you've seen over the course of your lifetime. As in the case of Serbian artist Dragan Ilic, that fascination can lead to some pretty interesting results.
Those readers of a comparable age to Mr. Ilic will have no difficulty understanding this fascination, but for those younger readers who have grown up with the internet, it probably bears pointing out that his first solo exhibit was in 1975, well before the existence of the internet and definitely before the age of ubiquitous robotic manufacturing. So try to view his latest work with the full scope of that appreciation.
As Ilic explains in his global artist statement, "The starting point in my work is conceptual analysis and de/reconstruction of the process of drawing as inscription of bodily activities on paper and opening the space for communication of ideas or realization of specific artistic intentions."
So, without further ado, here's an animated GIF of Ilic at work with one of his most recent projects, DI-2K4.
Later on in his statement, he argues, "realization and excitement felt as a result of inclusion of various auxiliary tools into the process of work, whether pencils as basic „artistic tools“ or various multifunctional technological pieces of equipment which have become an integral part of my work – have confirmed the decision to build my own artistic expression at an interaction between the body and the machine, the natural and the constructed, the intimate and the structural and the physical, symbolical and imaginary space."
Aside from being an impressive sentence - yes, that was one sentence - you can't deny that he can write one hell of an artist statement. Whether or not you accept what he has to say about the nature of his artistic practice is naturally up to you, but this writer is definitely a fan of his latest ongoing work, which is entitled 'PEOPLE I DON'T LIKE', and recently has added a continuation based around installations at seven sites across the United States where he'll be performing/creating site-specific symbolic portraits.
One wonders if he ever gets too dizzy to continue, or if he simply really enjoys this process at a basic physical level. Perhaps there's truth to the saying that we always suffer for our art.
Would you get naked for art? This writer probably wouldn't, but that doesn't mean there aren't a number of people who would. Quite a large number, in fact. So large a number that photographer Spencer Tunick was able to achieve his dream of painting the town blue.
Not literally, though, because it was actually the naked volunteers who were painted blue from head to foot. Over 3200 people showed up to volunteer to be a part of the shoot, which is a rather impressive figure, pun intended (apologies).
The shoot took place in Kingston Upon Hull in England, as part of an art project called "Sea of Hull", which is a celebration of the region's rich maritime culture and history.
“I can’t believe it,” Tunick said in an interview with the Daily Mail. “It was cold, it was chilly, people had to put lotionlike paint all over their bodies — every part.
“It’s beautiful. We are little strokes of paint. Everybody is equal.”
Certainly an admirable sentiment, even if it only lasted as long as the photoshoot.
One wonders if the Guinness Book of World Records has an entry for the largest gathering of naked people in body paint or something similar, because if not, maybe it's time to create a new entry.
The thing is, it's possible that Spencer Tunick might be the all-time champion in the category, since the entirety of his body of work involves large-scale naked photoshoots (again, pun intended). In fact some of his shoots have involved tens of thousands of naked volunteers, although they were absent the bright blue bodypaint.
While it might seem a bit silly at first, it's actually an interesting exploration of privacy in a public world. All of his shoots take place in recognizable public places, where we are traditionally covered up. Even dedicated nudists generally don't seem too interested in being naked in public when others are clothed.
However, his work has been regarded with some suspicion in his native America, where he has been arrested five times in New York City alone since 1992. He's filed civil rights lawsuits to protect himself and his participant volunteers, but has since decided to take his work out of the more puritanical United States and explore work in parts of the world who are less ashamed of the naked human form.
Of course, one could argue that this would diminish the impact of his work, but it's probably better to be out of jail and still creating than in jail for your artistic sensibilities.
Terence Koh is one of the most famous naughty artists you may never have heard of. Regarded widely as a provocateur and all around bad actor of the art world, he did his very best to earn this reputation. He first made a name for himself during the mid 2000s when the art fair world was really taking off. He went to Art Basel, the grandfather of all the famous art fairs, and gold-plated his own feces.
As if that wasn't enough, he sold said gold-plated objects for roughly half a million dollars US. It sort of boggles the mind.
In 2014, he said in an interview that he was quitting the art world, whereupon he moved to the Catskill Mountains region of New York State where he was quiet for some time. Then, of course, came his return, along with his protestations at this characterization. “I never had any intention of quitting the art world, I just moved to a different part of the world,” he claims, which seems fair enough.
He's back now with two rather important projects, one of which is a performance art recitation and salute to the victims of the horrific shooting in the Orlando gay night club Pulse during June. Koh read the names of each person who was killed or wounded during the massacre, and the recitation was transmitted into outer space via an antenna on the roof of the Andrew Edlin gallery in the Lower East Side neighbourhood of Manhattan.
On a slightly less tragic but equally serious note, Koh's other recent project is an examination of the roles of bees in human civilization, with the installation piece entitled 'Bee Chapel'.
You can see them through the mesh and you can smell them and they’re dropping pollen at you. The hive pretty much vibrates as well,” Koh said in a recent interview with the New York Times. “The idea is I want to be able to resonate with the bees at the same time as the bees are resonating with us.”
Quite a long way to go from gold-plated feces, but a far more interesting direction. Bee Chapel was also on display at the Andrew Edlin gallery, but after an extension to the end of July has now be disassembled. The original piece still lives on in his place in the Catskills, however.
On today's edition of Artist Spotlight, we're going to take a look at the work on an up and coming young portrait artist named Joshua Miels. Joshua, or Josh as he prefers to be called, works primarily in oil paint in an impasto style, building up layers and layers of paint over a great deal of time.
His work focuses primarily on faces in almost garish hues, but there is something remarkably appealing about his portraits despite their relative lack of a powerful emotion. When contrasted with many other portrait artists, his work seems almost undirected and unfocused, but this is arguably the entire point.
As he explains on his website, "Through my portraits I aim to express the ambiguity of psychical emotion by limiting what feelings my subjects portray. These large-scale paintings of males, most of who I know personally appear somewhat nonchalant. Unable to immediately relate with direct human emotions, viewers look past what they see at face-value, prompting people to question the real individual. "
Whether or not you buy this particular rationale, there's no denying the raw talent that he has when it comes to his use of colour and texture in his work. The texture is developed using the impasto technique, a word from Italian meaning dough, which is immediately apparent when you see the extremely thick quality of the paint that is used - it really can seem like working with dough.
Miels uses this technique to great effect throughout his work, and it's very interesting to see the progression of his style over the last couple of years. You can visit his website at joshuamiels.com to see more of his work, and to decide for yourself how you feel about his interpretation of the male emotional world.
If you're in the market for purchasing work by a contemporary living and practicing artist instead of a piece done by someone long dead, you can swing by his website to order works directly from him. This is a remarkable testament to the equalizing power of the internet, where artists no longer depend on a gallery to sell themselves but can appeal directly to the consumer with some clever marketing.
After all, that's what Gallereo is all about, isn't it? Enjoy!
In the West and around the world, most people involved in the art scene - and quite a few who aren't - are aware of the (in)famous Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei. Far less known is the name of Petr Pavlensky, the Russian performance artist and dissident, although it's hard to say why, exactly.
Perhaps it's that the West is far more obsessed with the astonishingly rapid economic growth of China than the rather more alarming cultural regression of Russia, but whatever the reason, Pavlensky has had a rather incredible career that deserves more attention than it gets.
He has been in the news most recently as a result of his latest performance piece / activist statement, which took place last year. As part of a piece entitled Threat, Pavlensky doused the massive wooden doors that serve as the frontpiece for the Moscow headquarters of the FSB ( the Russian equivalent of the GCHQ or FBI) and set them ablaze. He then posed for photographs holding a petrol can, but was arrested immediately on the spot and has been held in captivity ever since.
The truly strange thing is the way it was handled by the Russian authorities. After simply staging a concert at a Russian cathedral in 2012, members of the punk band art collective Pussy Riot were famously jailed for two years before being released. Naturally, most people following the case expected Pavlensky to get an equally harsh sentence as his trial concluded in early June.
Astonishingly he was instead let off with no additional jail time and ordered to pay a fine of 500,000 roubles for damaging the site, and another 491,000 roubles to compensate the state for the cost of repairs. This amounts to roughly £10,000.
It's hard to imagine a British subject being let off so easily for a performance art piece that damaged the headquarters of the GCHQ in any respect, and the fact that Russia of all places was more lenient makes the whole event even more noteworthy.
After leaving the courthouse, Pavlensky said, "“It does not matter how the trial ended. What is important is the fact that we were able to unmask, uncover the truth: the government is founded on the methods of terror.”
Despite the fact that he received no additional jail time as part of the sentencing, his lawyer says that Pavlensky apparently has no intention of paying the fines, which will likely land him in jail eventually anyways.