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Tuesday 29th September 2015Dismaland to the Rescue?

You'll no doubt recall our recent post on Banksy's latest installation project, a massive undertaking dubbed 'Dismaland', a riff on the famous American theme park Disneyland. The project ran for five weeks, from August 22 to Sept 26, and sold out it's 4000 available daily tickets every single day that it was in operation, an impressive feat in and of itself. Banksy apparently called the installation 'crap', but if anyone knows how quickly the public eats up his work, it's him.

Now that the installation has run its course, however, there is a new plan in place for the remnants of the installation. It was incredibly large, though nowhere close to the size of the park it's cheekily mocking, and now Banksy finds himself in possession of a huge amount of raw building materials that can easily be repurposed. So what's a politically aware street artist to do?

It turns out that he's willing to put his money where his mouth is, and has decided to dismantle the park and ship all the materials to Calais, France, where a huge number of migrants fleeing strife in the Middle East have congregated. The camp in Calais, known as The Jungle due its incredibly high rate of crime and terrible living conditions, is temporary home to an estimated 5,000 refugees at the moment, and that number is only likely to rise.

The website for the project, dismaland.co.uk, has now been updated with the photo shown above and a brief message, which reads:
“All the timber and fixtures from Dismaland are being sent to the Jungle refugee camp near Calais to build shelters. No online tickets will be available.”

It's a strange world we live in, where a mock theme park (a 'bemusement park', as Banksy put it) filled with anarchist training courses selling hacking kits run by a political activist artist is going to do more to help refugees than governments do. Admittedly, governments tend to have more hoops to go through, but that doesn't make the human cost any lower. Here's hoping that others will follow Banksy's good example and try to contribute what they can to alleviate people's suffering. Not that he's the only one helping, of course - many brave and compassionate volunteers around the world are helping every day without getting a whit of credit - but it's nice to see people continuing to step up to the plate.
 

Posted on September 29th 2015 on 04:24pm
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Friday 25th September 2015Autumn Inspiration

Autumn is a strange and magical time in the world. The transition seasons, Spring and Autumn, tend to bring about a feeling of excitement and wonder, as we watch the world change right in front of our very eyes. Spring certainly has wonder and the promise of growth and rebirth, but we can't deny the necessity of Autumn's sense of closing and ending.

Now before you let that sound depressing, stop and really think about it. At least here in the temperate latitudes, the natural world needs a bit of time to rest, recuperate and weather the storms of winter - and despite what it may seem in our technologically advanced wonderland, we're still a part of the natural world. Consider all the projects you've likely got sitting around your workspace (or your studio, if you're lucky enough to have one). You know the ones. For whatever reason, they've stalled, or you can't quite decide how to finish them. Autumn can teach the value of knowing when to end something, if you let it.

Any number of unfinished projects will build up in the background of your creative life, if you let them. Whether it's because they're frustrating, perplexing, or just not quite perfect enough yet, all that uncompleted creativity can really start to wear you down if you're not careful. We tend to have a limited about of available operating space in our creative brains, and if you don't take the time to clear out the cobwebs every once in a while, it can start to hold you back. Failing that, it might even begin to inhibit your ability to start creating new projects.

Try taking a lesson from the natural world, and take stock of your current creative practices. That old painting that you never quite knew how to finish, or the photo series that defies every attempt to categorize - whatever it is that you've got kicking around, yank it all out into the open and see what can be done with it. If you can finish the project, by all means finish it - but it's also important to know when to end things. Winter is a great time to stay in the studio for as long as possible, but in order for new ideas to start to gestate, it's usually a good idea to clear the way for the next project. Don't let the idea of 'Spring cleaning' decide when you chuck the old and ring in the new, and try Autumn cleaning instead. You never know what might come of it!
 

Posted on September 25th 2015 on 03:58pm
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Wednesday 23rd September 2015Artist Spotlight: Naruto

Many people have conducted experiments on animal behaviour and psychology by offering them artistic supplies and seeing what the animals make of them. You've likely heard about the painting elephants and apes that seem to demonstrate the capacity for abstract thought and representation, although the academic jury is technically still out on whether or not these events constitute true abstract representation.

Now before you get completely confused, this latest edition of Artist Spotlight isn't about the anime series Naruto, but rather about a monkey - a crested macaque, to be precise. Still confused? You're probably not alone there.

Wildlife photographer David Slater was visiting a wildlife preserve in Indonesia several years ago, when he happened to leave his camera briefly unattended near a crested macaque - probably not the smartest move in and of itself, but something rather extraordinary happened. The monkey, named Naruto by the park staff, picked up Slater's camera and snapped a few selfies. Slater then published these photos as a part of his book titled 'Wildlife Personalities', and the craze of so-called 'monkey selfies' was born.

Things have recently taken a turn for the absurd, however, as the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Naruto, arguing that Slater cannot claim ownership of the photos in question, as they were technically taken by Naruto, not Slater. Whether or not this lawsuit has any legal merit whatsoever has yet to be determined, but this isn't the first time the photos have caused legal trouble. In 2014, the online media repository Wikimedia refused to remove them from their own archives, on the grounds that nobody could technically claim ownership of the photos, as they were taken by a monkey.

Slater, for his part, seems to have wanted to do the right thing from the beginning. He has actively worked with PETA in the past, and is somewhat baffled by their decision to pursue this legal avenue. "Had [PETA] contacted me I would support them in efforts to get animals recognised legally with an aim to promote animal dignity. Sadly they choose to attack me personally in this ridiculous way which puts me under more financial and emotional stress."

No matter how you feel about the case, it's hard not to appreciate seeing the phrase 'monkey selfies' appearing in an official court brief. Thanks for the laugh, PETA.
 

Posted on September 23rd 2015 on 03:39pm
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Friday 18th September 2015Secret Nazi Treasure Train Discovered?

It seems like a story out of an Indiana Jones adventure, rather that a story that belongs here on an art blog - but for some lucky posts, those two ideas can blend together into something that barely sounds real. Authorities aren't entirely certain it is true, as the story is still unfolding, but regardless it's a tale worth telling. It's not quite a new one, as it seems impossible for more than a couple of months to go by without a new artistic treasure trove being discovered somewhere in the world.

This latest trove has supposedly been found in Poland, and has already inspired a wild series of speculations about what might be contained within it - but nobody has any idea for certain. The find was discovered by two anonymous tipsters who are claiming that it is a World War II era train stuffed to the brim with valuable art, gold, and jewels.

"In the documents they sent us, they inform us that they have found a military train from the second World War and that outside the train some guns and weapons can be seen," confirmed Marika Tokarska, a local municipal official. "They also said there could be gold and some other precious things inside."

The real issue comes from the fact that the two tipsters won't share the location of their fund until they are guaranteed a 10% finder's fee for revealing the location. Under Polish law, any discovered weapons must be immediately reported to the police, which puts the two men in a sticky position as they're unwilling to do this. The authorities are also concerned that there may be some serious danger in the train as well, especially if it's as loaded with valuables as the tipsters claim. Considering the military nature of the train, it's quite possible that the train has been mined to prevent tampering, or that methane gases have built up in the abandoned tunnels, ready to be triggered by a simple static spark.

With every new treasure trove that's discovered, whether they're verified or merely speculative, it's a reminder of how devastating war and greed can be to all aspects of life. Not just the human cost of suffering, but the damage being done to humanity's cultural legacy.
 

Posted on September 18th 2015 on 01:11am
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Wednesday 16th September 2015The Redball Makes a Break For It

It seems that this month is dedicated to an awareness of public art. Whether it's the beautiful weather outdoors or the sudden profusion of projects that are available outside the gallery, we're not going to complain. The residents of Toledo, Ohio might have a bit of cause for concern, however - at least until their current exhibition rolls on to another location. Hopefully, it won't change their opinions about the value of public art!

You may remember a post here on Gallereo a while back about a travelling art installation/exhibit by Kurt Perschke entitled RedBall. It's more or less what the name describes - a massive, inflatable red ball that appears and disappears across the United States. We previously wrote about it being co-opted - stolen, if you will - by a corporate entity that just so happened to pretend it had never heard of Perschke's exceedingly similar project, and the ensuing legal battles. The aspect that somehow escaped mention in our earlier posting was that RedBall sometimes seems to have a mind of its own.

It recently set up shop in Toledo, Ohio as part of its tour of the US at the behest of the Toledo Museum of Art, and that was the moment that residents were shown the (admittedly rare) darker side of public art installations. After a torrential downpour and heavy winds, RedBall broke free of its moorings and decided to take a little jaunt around town. To give you a bit more of a sense of scale, the RedBall is extremely large, with a diameter of 15 feet (roughly 5 meters), and a weight of 250 pounds (roughly 110 kilograms). Fortunately, there was a bare minimum of damage to the surroundings - a bent street sign, and some incredibly amazed and disgruntled locals - although the piece itself took some damage, requiring some careful patching by diligent staff who managed to corral the RedBall back to where it belonged.

Is this going to affect how you view your local neighbourhood art installations? Hopefully none of them are as potentially damaging as RedBall might have been under other circumstances, but it's always nice to add a slight - and inflatable - amount of danger to our art viewing. Something about a little bit of danger always adds a nice spice to life.
 

Posted on September 16th 2015 on 01:08am
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Friday 11th September 2015Curator Salaries and Museum Bankruptcies

Executive salaries have been in the news quite a bit ever since the global financial meltdown in 2008. In case you hadn't been paying attention, or were on another planet during that time, executives at major firms that had experienced some serious financial trouble - and in some cases, were even directly responsible for the global issues - were being given outrageously large bonuses and salary raises despite their damaging actions. This trend has continued in many of the world's largest firms, even as companies are trying to refuse to provide raises for the lower levels of staff - you know, the people who actually do the work.

With all that in mind, it's hard to tell if the current situation at the beleaguered Detroit Institute of Arts should be surprising or not. For those of you who haven't been following the situation, partially as a direct result of the collapse of the US auto industry, which was centred around Detroit, the entire city of Detroit has declared bankruptcy. The bureaucrats charged with turning the city's books around have explored various methods of raising funds, and briefly floated the possibility of selling off some of the highly-valued collection from the Detroit Institute of Arts (as we wrote about previously). Fortunately, this idea was largely quashed, although some factions within the municipal government are still keen on the idea.

The truly baffling element, however, comes in the form of a press release from the DIA. They have decided to grant salary raises to their three top executives: the former CEO Graham Beal, the COO Annmarie Erickson, and the CFO Robert Bowen. These aren't mere pittances, however - each salary has been raised to the tune of $49,000 USD, an increase of more than the average yearly income of the residents of Detroit. The reason for this extremely generous raise? The turmoil caused by trying to fight off the city's emergency manager, who was the main driving force behind the idea of selling off parts of the museum's collection. Yes, you read that correctly: in order to cope with the possibility of selling off the collection due to lack of funding, they have given raises to their chief executives. The mind boggles.

As if that wasn't enough of an insult, the departing CEO Beal, who stepped down in June, was also granted a hefty severance package of $285,000. But wait, there's more! Beal was granted a loan from the museum to develop his house - and the entirety of that loan has also been forgiven, to the tune of over $155,000! It beggars belief, but there you have the solid numbers. It's a disgrace when the corporate financial excesses bleed over into the art world. Here's hoping it doesn't start a trend.
 

Posted on September 11th 2015 on 06:28pm
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Wednesday 09th September 2015Artist Spotlight: Heather Barnett

We've written about some pretty strange media over the course of the Artist Spotlight series, from smells to blood to self-referential machinery, but in this week's edition, we're going to look at a whole new order of material: life itself. Before you start to worry about the ethics of genetic manipulation or anything of that nature, relax: we're talking about slime molds.

In case you've never heard of them before, slime molds are actually an extremely strange type of organism known as a supercell. Slime molds have no organs, no brains, nothing except the ability to replicate their simple cellular structures. They follow extremely simple rules, yet are capable of mapping entire areas of forest floors - or, as is the case more often lately, entire labs run by robotics systems analysts. They can evaluate their surroundings and make calculations about the best ways to move forwards - all without even the most rudimentary of brains.

Some artistic purists may complain that her explorations of the interactions between art and science are a little too technical, but they are perhaps ignoring the true function of art: to make us reflect on what it means to be a thinking, conscious being in this crazy world we live in. Speaking to Wired magazine in an interview, she explained her primary working themes. "I'm interested in what we can learn from nature as individuals as organisations as a society. For me as an artist it is a fascinating subject matter. It's also my working material."

Speaking about her latest project, which was on display earlier this year for a limited engagement, she said, "Broad Vision is an innovative interdisciplinary learning project, which puts the students in charge of their own research and allows them to explore new and stimulating interactions between art and science. The residency at arebyte gallery offers a fantastic opportunity for the students to share their experiences of interdisciplinary inquiry and showcase the results of their creative collaborations with public audiences."

It's always fascinating to see the boundaries of what constitutes art being pushed. Rather than having clearly defined areas of perception in the world - this is science, this is art, this is technology, this is social psychology, etc - it's far more accurate to appreciate that all of these various elements interrelate in this glorious experience we call reality.
 

Posted on September 09th 2015 on 06:26pm
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Friday 04th September 2015Welcome to Dismaland

The world just can't get enough Banksy. From fighting over the rights to spraypaint scrawls on walls to outright thefts of public property to million dollar auction prices, Banksy is one of the most well-known disruptive influences in the current art world (whether this is a blessing or a curse depends on which part of the gamut you're in). The satirical lampooning of popular culture and media icons continues in his latest project, a massively scaled installation titled Dismaland Bemusement Park.

Set up in the English coastal town Weston-super-Mare in the south-east part of the country, the grey skies most often seen above the park seem perfectly suited to a grim, bleak mockery of Disneyland, the famous American theme park that refers to itself as 'The Happiest Place on Earth'. The entire place is a monument to the destruction of ersatz happiness: the castle centerpiece of the real Disneyland has been reconstructed and burned down, and the entire place is strewn with the gritty underside of the world - that which we pretend to ignore yet obsess over compulsively, and that which is just downright alarming. Cinderella's coach has crashed into a building and is surrounded by paparazzi, while children are offered advance payroll loans on their allowance.

There's more to the installation than just sending up Disney, however, as there are several galleries contained within the installation itself. Showcasing works from Jenny Holzer, Damien Hirst, and a number of other artists whose pieces were felt to support the underlying premise of the "park", over 50 in total from around the world. Banksy also has several new pieces on display, the most poignant of which is presented as a game, where visitors pilot boats filled with migrants through corpse-riddled waters. Definitely much grimmer than the real deal, it nevertheless sparks much more thought, debate, and dialog. Even the gift shop is more novel, where it's supposedly even possible to pick up a kit designed to hack bus stop billboard displays - no word on the price, however

Tickets to Dismaland are limited to 4000 per day, and cost under $5, meaning that they're likely to be sold out each and every day. It opened on August 22, but it will only be open until September 27, so be sure to get in there while you have the chance. It might not be the happiest place on earth, but it sure is the most interesting for the moment!
 

Posted on September 04th 2015 on 06:47pm
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Wednesday 02nd September 2015Public Art Series: Covent Garden

All too much of the world's beautiful artwork is hidden behind a gallery door. While some of these masterpieces must be shielded from the elements, in our reverence we often ignore the works that appear right in front of us in daily life: public art. Breaking down the barrier walls to the inner sanctum of aestheticism, the public art installation is art at its best - art that reaches as many people as possible. To celebrate that role, we're going to be starting a new series dedicated to examining the world's most beautiful and influential public art pieces, both permanent and ephemeral.

In a world where Photoshop can easily alter what appears to be incontrovertible evidence, Charles Petillon has a bit of a problem. His installations are so grandiose that he must constantly work to convince his audience that his photographs are not altered digitally in any way (aside, presumably, from the exposure adjustments that almost every good photographer applies). His typical style, at the moment, involves typically mundane settings transformed into eerie spectacles - using only balloons.

“I want to change people’s point of view, their perspective of a place they see every day and never really look at. A swimming pool, a field: if I suddenly put something strange in it like these balloons you will see it differently. I don’t want my works to be seen just as decoration, there is always something they are trying to draw out or question.”

To that end, his next project involves the world-famous Covent Garden, which he'll be filling with over 100,000 glowing white balloons. Titled Heartbeat, the balloons will pulse semi-regularly with flashes of light that propagate through the entire mass like waves, creating an impressive effect. This is also a first for Petillon, who typically photographs his installations and exhibits the photos, without making the installations themselves available to the public view.

Petillon was a bit nervous about the project from the beginning, saying, “I have never done anything on this scale so it has been quite daunting. Because it is such a historic place, we had to be very careful – I wouldn’t want to be the French man who made Covent Garden fall down.”

Hopefully, he will succeed in his goal of having visitors see the old building in a completely new light. The exhibit runs from August 27 to September 27, so be sure to pop by for a visit if you're in the neighbourhood!
 

Posted on September 02nd 2015 on 06:49pm
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