Archive for January, 2009

Programming the Cosmos: Leo Villareal at the National Gallery

Posted in Contains Video Elements, Contemporary Art, Film & Video, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2009 by Liz Hager

Hypnotic, mysterious, mesmerizing, cosmic, soothing, ephemeral. . . enlightening. These are some of the sensations that wash over viewers as they encounter Leo Villareal’s Multiverse in the underground concourse between the East and West Buildings of the National Gallery. A computer geek from teen-hood, Villareal harnesses one of the fundamental attributes of the computer—simple rules, complex patterns—to create unique and kenetic light sculptures.

With 41,000 LED bulbs Multiverse is by far Villareal’s most complex work to date.  The software he developed for this project generates several different layers of synchronized patterns (Villareal likens what he does to composing music) that alternately shoot in straight lines down the length of the tube, explode in a big bang-like effect, bounce along in ball-shaped clusters, or just pulse.  The concourse is a transitional space; its ceiling is oppressively low, the space claustrophobic. Normally it must make for a rather prosaic journey. But whisked along the moving sidewalk under the twinkling stars, one is liberated into the cosmos, living a brief  StarTrekian moment.  The universe talks to us; we try to decipher its meaning.

While Villareal’s art acknowledges artistic forbearers in Dan Flavin and James Turrell, the underlying concept of his light pieces relates more to Sol LeWitt‘s wall drawings, Agnes Martin‘s grids, and even Peter Halley‘s paintings.

Comments Villareal: “I’m very interested in rules and underlying structures, which all tie in with the code I’m writing. There are things in nature that inspire me, like wave patterns or natural systems that at first glance appear to be very complex, but when I study them further there are simple rules that govern them. That’s what I try to get at in my code—building simple rules that refer to some of these ideas. Laws are another thing I’ve been working on lately. I’m not a physicist, but I use rules to create software and in the software I’m able to play with parameters like gravity, velocity, friction. I’m able to use these parameters and access them as an artist and see what compelling things result.”

Not everyone has been wildly enthusiastic about the project. Some critics feel that Villareal didn’t have enough mature work to warrant membership in the National Gallery club with Picasso, Titian, Rothko and Sol LeWitt.  The lack of critical thought surrounding Villareal’s work and the superficiality of the work (technology for technology’s sake, not art’s sake) are other criticisms.  Programmers have gone on record as saying that Villareal’s software is pretty basic stuff.

Multiverse may not embody a BIG ART IDEA, but what’s wrong with a little Sybaritic pleasure now and again?

Wider Connections

Multiverse

More Leo Villareal

Other light artists

Cool Hunting

Advertisements

A Novel Proposal: US Secretary of the Arts

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Politics with tags , on January 28, 2009 by Liz Hager

In November, during a WNYC radio interview, Quincy Jones indicated that he would “beg” now President Obama for a permanent US Secretary of the Arts.  Musician Jaime Austria took up the charge, creating an online petition in support of Jones’ efforts. To date, 216680 people have signed.

In conceiving of the idea presumably Jones saw a cultural need  that went beyond the jurisdiction of the NEA—i.e. a policy-making entity in addition to the funding agency.  As Jones has pointed out, every other first world country has a “minister of culture.”  Its staggering how much support the European countries give their artists. 

In Jones’ key argument for this position has been the welfare of kids. He believes that art has the power to transform education, give kids a deeply-grounded (as opposed to artificial and fleeting) sense of self, and ultimately help prevent the alienation and self-hatred that has led to senseless mass killings in American schools.  

Certainly HEW could be tasked with improving arts education. But there’s a bigger picture here. Promoting ones culture at the international level is perhaps the most effective form of informal diplomacy.  Sure, to paraphrase Wim Wenders, American culture has colonized the subconscious of peoples around the globe.  But couldn’t elevating the focus on the arts to the Cabinet level demonstrate a (new) seriousness in our belief in the glorious multiplicity of influences that make up the American culture? Wouldn’t that be a good thing as we work to repair deteriorated relationships abroad?  

Sign the Petition

Wider Connections

Colin Stutz weighs in.

Support the Hustle

Rolling Stone

Washington Post

 


Inauguration Fever: Proud to Be an American (Again)

Posted in Liz Hager, Politics, Pop Culture Miscellany with tags , , on January 21, 2009 by Liz Hager

“. . . On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. . . “

 

 

20090120-p1060111

photo ©2009 Liz Hager


As shots appear on the Jumbotrons, the enormity of the visual impact made by 1.8 million of us on the Mall was clear. The symbol of hope seen ’round the world.  On the ground, the crowd sizzles with pent-up energy.  Eight am rolls into 9 am and 10 am; the Mall filled. The rainbow coalition is reporting for duty.  The weather oscillates between biting cold (wind chill in action) and almost tolerable. People shuffled and marched to stay warm, aided by Sunday’s concert re-play on the Jumbotrons. 

With the arrival of dignitaries on the podium stage, we forget all about our frigid bodies. Anyway, the sun has come out, a portend of things to come. Random and large cheers rupture, ripple, reverberate. John Lewis, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, and Puff Daddy come and sit.  Cheney rolls in on his wheelchair—what righteous symbolism!  With the announcement of the man soon to be “Formally Known As,”  the crowd sends forth loud boos, chants of “Good Riddance,” “Go Back to Texas”and choruses of “Na, Na, Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye.”  The party is underway!

And then The Moment arrives. Our Man waits for the Chief Justice to get the words straight; alas he is unable, so our Man, poised as ever, repeats the wrong sequence.   “Congratulations, Mr. President.” The crowd goes wild.  Ding, dong the witch is dead!

 

 

. . . The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. . .”

 

20090120-p1060146

©2009 Liz Hager

 

“Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”

 

20090120-p1060096

©2009 Liz Hager

 

“All this we can do. All this we will do.”

20090120-p1060131

 

 

 

Inauguration Fever: Martin Luther King/National Day of Service

Posted in Liz Hager, Politics, Pop Culture Miscellany with tags , , , , , on January 19, 2009 by Liz Hager

20090119-p10600531

Moving in a Straight Line ©2009 Liz Hager

We brave Massachusetts Avenue and the traffic jams at Union Station (hoards of people arriving today), then head SE down Pennsylvania Avenue and cross the Anacostia River. It’s a part of town none of us have ever been in. From the elevated overpass, we can see a small part of Anacostia Park below us. Anacostia is a very large park, which hugs the river for miles upriver. The park looks bleary in the hazy low-slung sunshine of the afternoon. The Pennsylvania Avenue overpass bisects the park, creating a no man’s land underneath it.  A collection of shabby buildings huddles together at one end of the park  and a sorry playground sits forlornly on the downriver side. With some trees standing along the river, this part of the park seems to be holding on to a last shred of dignity.  The river, industrial structures lining its shores here and there, chunks of ice bobbing along, definitely gives this area an aura of bleakness. It’s the dead of winter on the Eastern Seaboard.

We turn into the park and head towards the parking lot. 

Anacostia borders one of the poorest districts in Washington, DC.  The Anacostia River was once referred to as “DC’s forgotten river,” because of its state of severe pollution, caused by the dumping of raw sewage and industrial waste. Since 2004 a coalition of the willing—including No Child Left Inside, the National Park Service, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and a number of Senators and Congresspeople—have banded together to spearhead clean up efforts. It seems that the Park too has its share of the audacity of hope.

A lot of us have come for speeches and a tree planting on this National Day of Service.  Senators Steny Hoyer and Ben Cardin are here. (Hoyer gives a truly impressive speech linking Martin Luther King’s legacy to all of us.) The formidable Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC’s representative without a vote) is here. Even former Mayor Marion Barry is here, his drug-related problems apparently behind him.  There has been a rumor that Obama might show up. That would be truly exciting, but we’re content to support No Child Left Inside and the Park Service, even if he doesn’t come. And, as big fans of Friends of the Urban Forest back in San Francisco, the idea of participating in a tree planting feels like a way to be a good national neighbor on this National Day of Service. 

A local gospel choir kicks off the event; their undulating sea of rhythm is infectious. Speeches follow—most are

Inauguration Fever: The Pre-Game Show

Posted in Liz Hager, Politics, Pop Culture Miscellany with tags , , , , on January 19, 2009 by Liz Hager

 

With this post Venetian Red begins coverage of the Inauguration. 

 

20090118-p1060009

Shot Rings Out  (photo ©Liz Hager)

It’s Sunday mid-afternoon in our nation’s capital. The temperature is warming. 

As our afternoon activity, we’ve opted for the National Gallery, not the Reflecting Pool. (Need to store all of our crowd-coping reserves for Tuesday’s event.) After a wholly-satisfying perusal of the East and West buildings (more on this in later posts), curiosity about the outside world has gotten the better of us. We head along the short block from the Gallery to the Mall. 

The Capitol building is festooned with garlands of flags, its stage visible visible from the first two Mall “yards.” Phalanxes of port-o-potties stand at attention along the edges of the Mall, their virginity preserved by plastic clasps. The feed towers, news stages, and Jumbotrons are all up.  A few thousand people have gathered together in loose clumps in front of the immense screens. As we round the corner of a supporting vehicle, we look up to see Bono’s be-spectacled face beaming down at us.  It seems we won’t miss a concert experience after all. 

The crowd is a joyous one, shuffling around to the beat, many singing along. More of us sing along with Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen. When Byoncé appears on the screen, she transfixes us (that girl has a set of pipes!). By the end of her performance our crowd has erupted in cheers.

And then the Man himself appears on screen to give us a sobering and uplifting pep talk. More than a few eyes are brimming with tears. 

We feel a disembodying sensation to be outdoors with thousands of people (truly a rainbow coalition) WATCHING TELEVISION. Though the concert is a short, straight shot away at the Lincoln Memorial, our gathering has its own unique make up, emotions, rhythms. But one thing is for sure, we’re all in this together, and that’s an expansive feeling.

This afternoon we’ve had a small preview of what will come.

The Unpredictability of Life: Annie Leibovitz’s Sarajevo Bicycle

Posted in Contemporary Art, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Photography with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Annie Leibovitz, Bloody Bicycle, Sarajevo 1993

Annie Leibovitz, Bloody Bicycle, (Sarajevo, 1993), Kodak T-Max P3200 (©1993 Annie Leibovitz)

Though she is best known to the general public for her glossy “celebrity” portraits, Annie Leibovitz began her photographic career in the gritty tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, that is to say, wandering around “looking for stories.”  The unpredictability that characterizes photojournalism is a thread that runs through all of Leibovitz’ work, even those staged portraits.

In 1990,while reviewing images for a retrospective of her work, the photographer realized a pressing need to get back to “reportage.”

I was developing my own style of setting up formal portraits and theatrical scenes at the time, but I didn’t consider those conceptual portraits to be journalism. Portrait photography was liberating. I felt free to play with the genre.  Photojournalism—reportage—was about being an observer. About seeing what was happening in front of you and photographing it. You didn’t tamper with it. For my generation of photographers the rules were very clear. That’s why so much is still written about whether Robert Capa did or did not stage the picture of the falling soldier during the Spanish Civil War and why Roger Fenton moved the cannonballs for the picture of the battlefield in the Valley of the Shadow of Death during the Crimean War. What they did matters…

In the summer of 1993, Leibovitz found an opportunity through Susan Sontag to go to Sarajevo. The city had been under siege for over a year; Serbs had been shelling the city from many points along its ring of mountains. Basic amenities—food, water, shelter—were minimal. Necessities, such as medicine, were scarce. Life in the city was extremely dangerous. People tried to go about their daily lives. Snipers were shooting at random.  “Death was random,” remarks Leibovitz.

. . . Jeffrey Smith of Contact Press Images had helped me get in touch with someone who rented armored cars to news organizations. That’s how I met Hasan Gluhić. Hasan was my driver and guide. He got me everywhere. Hasan was with me the day I went to the apartment of a woman who had just won a beauty pageant. She had been crowned Miss Besieged Sarajevo. There was some irony intended, I think. Miss Besieged Sarajevo lived in a high-rise development on the western edge of the city where there was a lot of shelling. A mortar came down in front of our car as we drove through her neighborhood. It hit a teenage boy on a bike and ripped a big hole in his back. We put him in the car and rushed him to the hospital, but he died on the way. . .

. . . The concerns I had before I went to Sarajevo about what kinds of pictures I would take were erased simply by being there. There wasn’t time to worry about whether I was taking a portrait or some other kind of picture. Things happened too fast. You could only respond to them.

—all quoted texts from Annie Leibovitz, At Work, pp. 102-110 (Random House)

Put its difficult subject matter aside for a moment and notice that Bloody Bicycle is actually a graceful, well-composed still life. While serving up images of war, it’s a good trick for a photographer to play to an audience’s aesthetic sensibilities. (Do pictures of war need to be nasty for us to feel, to get the point?)  The arc of the blood smear echos the shape of the bicycle wheels;  the hurried brushstroke of blood counters the stationary mass of the bicycle. In some ways, by shooting in black and white, Leibovitz must have wanted to suspend our preconceptions about war, at least for a moment. No shocking red blood. Despite these strong pictorial components, the most powerful element in Bloody Bicycle is the unseen presence. The absent rider is the shocking reminder that the circumstances of death are the ultimate unpredictability of life.

Connections

American Masters: Life Through a Lens

Lee Miller’s Dachau photographs

Bridge Coaker: The New Photojournalism

Into the Valley of Death

Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others

A World in the Process of Becoming—The Girl Project

Posted in Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager with tags , on January 15, 2009 by Liz Hager

This photograph was taken by a teenage member of The Girl Project.  (The Girl Project© 2009)

Adolescent girls are some of the most exasperating creatures on Earth. Their multiplicity of moods—giggly, self-obsessed (or just plain obsessed), shy, petulant, inquisitive, obstinate—can wear on the most patient and sympathetic adults, even those who remember what it was like to be an adolescent girl.  And yet, from a sociological point of view, girls are fascinating for the glimpse they offer of a future world (culture) in the process of becoming. 

That’s why, when I recently heard about The Girl Project, I knew it had the potential to captivate universal audiences. Conceived by photographer Kate Engelbrecht, The Girl Project is a national photographic documentary on female adolescence from the point of view of the adolescents themselves. The project involves Engelbrecht sending free disposable cameras to girls from the ages of 13 to 18. She asks them to document themselves and the world around them. She plans to cull the most interesting shots into exhibitions and ultimately a book. She expects the collection to reveal “unseen truths about teenage girls and our culture.”

Humans have long been fascinated with female adolescence. The promise and hope behind their eyes… the purity and romanticism youth represents, the razor thin line between immaturity, maturity, innocence and rebellion. 

In today’s world it not only piques our curiosity—it feeds our insatiable need for drama. The supposed lives of teenage girls have become modern entertainment. Our ideas about them grow from what we read about Lindsay Lohan in The New York Post or what we saw on last week’s episode of The Hills. We learn what they like, buy and wear and what they believe, think and do… and just as quickly as we get our fix, we fail to understand the complexity and truth behind the very group we obsess on. 

With the hope of reintroducing them to us, The Girl Project explores the lives of American teenage girls through images they create themselves. Using the raw, honest qualities of photography, girls reveal their self-perceptions in a daring act of intimacy- both behind and before the camera. 

—Kate Engelbrecht, The Girl Project statement

Engelbrecht  is well on her way to achieving this objective. Last month, The Girl Project was featured at SCOPE Miami. That exhibit featured 150 photographs by 57 girls.  Engelbrecht continues to send cameras. My guess is that more data will reveal overall patterns and unexpected nuances. Our jigsaw puzzle of the future will look more complete.  

The photographers themselves will benefit in many ways, not the least of which is that many girls will be inspired to a life of creativity.  But it seems to me that no benefit is as powerful to them and us as this: knowingly or unknowingly, as the girls capture what is meaningful about their current world, they will be exploring the shape of the future. 

Encourage participation in The Girl Project, by passing along linkages below to girls near you!

Connections

Kate Engelbrecht  

Girl Project website

Girl Project blog

Girl Project Facebook

%d bloggers like this: