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A3 EDITORIAL |MAD LOVE

In Conversation:
Alexie Glass-Kantor, Del Kathryn Barton, Patricia Piccinini & Paul Yore

Upon the occasion of the group exhibition of contemporary Australian art “Mad Love“, show curator Del Kathryn Barton, and fellow Australian artists Patricia Piccinini and Paul Yore, travelled to Berlin for the opening on the 6th of June 2016. Prior to the event, the three artists were invited to take part in a round table panel discussion with Australian arts leader, Curator and Director, Alexie Glass-Kantor. Below is an excerpt from the transcript from the conversation that revolved around the exhibition, the role of the artist, and Australian identity.

Galerie Arndt
Installation view: mad love, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin, 2017

Alexie Glass-Kantor (AGK): Del can you discuss the process of development for the mad love exhibition?

Del Kathryn Barton (DKB): My starting point for the show was a gathering of others’ work that really spoke to me. It was a very subjective starting point. There wasn’t really a conceptual rationale, but rather, the inspiration came from a deeply felt poem I wrote. This text erupted out as the text in my work often does. The statement for me describes my whole oeuvre and why I make art. I wanted to work as a curator as I would work as an artist. I wanted it to be vulnerable and pure in that way. Let me read it to you:

Body as pleasure. Body as machine. Body longing, always longing. Hungry body, filthy body. Body to run. Body to deny. Thinking body. Muscle Body. Body as instrument and song, as instinct towards life. Body light. Body dark. Evolutionary body, dinosaur body. Plastic body. Colour body. BODY as unmitigated surges of light and energy, just briefly, but oh, such, such love……… mad, mad love

AGK: You’re a beautiful writer. When we were asked to do the interview today, it seemed much more natural to me even without having read the poem, to think about this exhibition in terms of the body, rather than in terms of an exhibition of Australian artists. I think it’s reductive to call it a show of Australian artists. Rather, it’s a show of artists who happen in some way to have a connection to Australia. I think in the 21st century this imposition to distinguish or provide that as a prefix is arbitrary. It’s as if the postcode the longitude and latitude – is the thing that determines the situation of your work, rather than the content of your work. That connectivity to Patricia Piccinini and Paul Yore’s work, of being led by intuition is evident when you think about the works in this show.

DKB: There was a beautiful initial list of works and it was very hard to decide on the final cut. Matthias Arndt and I tussled a little bit. I feel that his name should be beside mine as the curator to be perfectly honest.

AGK: I think it’s equally important to speak about what’s not included in the show. That is the process of making and the process of curating. I suppose again it’s that problem of having a show under the banner of Australian art, because you can’t include everything that’s ever going to be truly representative of such breadth and diversity. So you include the works that suggest possibility rather than the things that name the detail.

DKB: Patricia’s work in the show, Eulogy, was one that Matthias fought for. I see this work as a father; it is an important beat in the show. A very sincere, deep, male beat that for me has a lot of emotionality, love and sentimentality.

AGK: Do you know about the fish?

Eulogy_01CatPatricia Piccinini, “Eulogy” (2011), Artworks series, Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, clothing, 110 × 65 × 60 cm, Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Patricia Piccinini (PP): The blobfish is an Australian fish that lives offshore in the deep seas near South Australia. And it looks exactly like the one in my sculpture.

DKB: Stop it! Are you serious?

PP: One of the things about that particular work that’s different from all my other works is that I actually didn’t make it up. This creature, the blobfish, and that’s its common name it’s Latin name is Psychrolutes marcidus is being fished to extinction because it lives with crabs and gets caught up in trawling nets.

DKB: So, it’s like a waste product.

PP: Yes, and because it’s gelatinous and inedible, it gets thrown away as waste. But it’s an extraordinary creature because it’s one of the few fish that stays with its young, and the density of its body has evolved so that it can survive with tons and tons of water above it. That’s why other sea creatures, like crabs, have hard shells.

DKB: Like an armour?

PP: Yes. It’s evolved to be perfectly suited to its very difficult environment that up until recently was unknown. We tend to anthropomorphise the blobfish because it’s got this face that looks like a human face and we find it funny. I researched the story of this fish and found out that it is at the end of its time on this planet. It’s a very sad story. In my sculpture this everyday man is just holding the fish he’s not the culprit. He’s probably one of those people who wouldn’t even care or know about it, but in this moment he’s supporting this fish through its demise. To me it’s actually optimistic and, as you say, there is a kind of strong sentiment. Even though it’s also heartwarming.

DKB: A moment of reverence.

PP: Yes, and also of connection, between this ordinary man and this ugly fish that is doomed because no-one wants to care for it. And the title of the work connotes we’re at the wake and he’s saying goodbye.

AGK: There’s a perfect line in Del’s poem: Body to run. Body to deny. Thinking body. Muscle Body. Body as instrument and song, as instinct towards life…Evolutionary body. It’s quite beautiful when you walk into the exhibition to see something that looks fictional being held by a figure that looks real, however, that real is inauthentic because they are both replicas, a kind of form of reality. I love the idea of this being an exhibition of artists who come from a place that exists for most people in this context as something that they know of as real in an abstract way, but not something that they know of as real through experience. Similar to the blobfish. As Australians, we exist in a kind of subterranean space at the bottom of the world, off the edge of Antarctica. I was thinking last night about the connectivity to animals and to their totemic and spiritual qualities. Paul your koala bear is pretty spiritual! That’s probably Del’s spirit animal!

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Paul Yore, “Art Is Nature” (2016), mixed media textile, beads, sequins, buttons, 112 × 104 cm


Paul Yore (PY): I was brought up on Blinky Bill and I always identified with him as this sort of mischief making character. I was thinking about that as a model for what the social role of the artist could be. I was also considering how abstract the idea of Australia is, and that it’s just an idea, almost a bad idea actually. To have such a huge state is kind of dystopian in a way. That was never what Australia was throughout its human history. In many ways, our short history as a nation state has been so misguided. But that’s heavy and I didn’t want to talk about the heaviness of Australian history when we talk about being artists. Of course, there is this element of wanting to unburden yourself, especially in an Australian settler context, but also at the same time not wanting to deny this history or walk on eggshells. The heaviness of that history also gives rise to this explosive potentiality because if you think about Australia as an adolescent country, which was invaded at the same time other countries were having their revolutions, there’s this latent revolutionary potentiality in Australia. I think it’s expressed most profoundly in our society through art. I really see that kind of possibility in this show. Although we can’t deny Australian history, the imperialism of Western art history and the alienation of being outside of the European and American centres, once you move through all that energy, there’s this other space where there’s freedom to explore. To look at the possibilities of what we could be out in the world. This goes back to that idea about the body and its explosive potentiality.

DKB: One thing that I think about when you talk about the youth of Australia, is that profound dichotomy, because yes, it’s young on one level, but it’s also held within the cloak of one of the oldest living cultures on the planet. The Sally Gabori works are the only abstract works in the show that speak directly to land. Then there is the beat that Brook Andrew’s works bring. They have a deep gravitas that a lot of the other works don’t have, and that presence of the figure is just as much about the absence of the figure as well.

AGK: You mention that the Gabori pieces are the only notionally abstract works in the show, but I think there’s a strong sense of subjectivity and representation that runs through. For example, Dale Frank is most known for his colourist abstractions, but you’ve chosen works that are a composite of images of masks, of a grotesque kind of beauty. And obviously, there’s the kind of kundalini that pushes through Ramesh’s work and that high-key erotic charge that comes from drawing together a range of influences from his own Sri Lankan and Australian background. Through that charge, that energy, I think there is an abstraction that underlines this show. That abstraction is an impression or experience of how something echoes through you rather than the representation of what something is. You are each representing things as you feel them to be. Do you know what I mean Patricia?

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 16.38.35Patricia Piccinini, “The Osculating Curve” (2016), Alone with the Gods series, Silicone, fibreglass, human hair, 54 x 72 x 30 cm, edition of 3 + 1 AP

PP: Yes, because I use representational work to undercut reality. I use a medium and a process that seems very realistic and I use it to undercut what’s real. You can see this especially with my other work in the show, Osculating Curve, which is a mathematical term that defines the place where two curves touch – it comes from the Latin word “to kiss”. That work uses representational forms to talk about abstract ideas such as fecundity, sensuality and a kind of deviation from normal in a good way. It’s saying, “it’s ok not to be what we understand to be beautiful and attractive.” I don’t want to say the word monstrous because it’s not monstrous to me, I think it’s a beautiful incarnation of what it means to be full of energy and to represent the potential for reproduction.

DKB: Yes, it speaks to Paul’s use of the potentiality and irrepressibility of the manifest life energy.

PY: You talk about that deviation from a normative body which really speaks to me. The show is really Bacchanalian in a way, and sort of Dionysian as opposed to this idea of the perfect body. All of the works have a sort of orgiastic or frenzied energy about them which is erotic and, in moments, barbaric or grotesque, but also playful and autonomous as well.

“There’s a kind of belligerent malevolence that runs through this show, the work is not conceding its territory.”

AGK: There’s a kind of belligerent malevolence that runs through this show, the work is not conceding its territory. None of the artists are conceding to convention, to affect to the conditions and circumstances of codes of representational conduct. Each one of them has a kind of resistance that is really interesting, and in that sense it’s quite duplicitous in the way it iterates in this space. It feels quite contained, but actually the works are operating at a high frequency of resistance to convention and code. I quite like that in your work Paul. You of course know very specifically that no stitch is neutral. You know when you make a work that it is going to be situated in a particular space.

PY: Yes, absolutely. I’ve been thinking recently about the work being dissident and the importance of that. That can mean so many different things. As you point out, I think all the work in the show is dissident in the way that it deviates from normal codes of representation, in its energy, and even in its indulgence in the ocular which is almost belligerent in a way, in its decadence and celebration of carnality.

AGK: I agree with you. There’s an interesting balance in this exhibition between the kind of masculine and feminine status quo in a sense that you’ve disrupted. Del, you have such a strong potent feminine charge that runs through your work as a kind of affirmative and powerful transformative catalyst. But it’s really interesting that there’s four male artists in the show, Paul, Brook, Dale and Ramesh, who operate in a particular sphere of masculinity and challenge the conventional representation of the masculine. Brook looks at the trespass space of Indigenous representations of the history of masculinity through time and colonialism. Ramesh through the objectification of otherness. But then we have Dale with this really particular energy in the show.

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Pictured in front of Paul Yore’s works left-right: Britta Schmitz and Patricia Piccinini at the mad love exhibition opening

DKB: The other thing that really spoke to me about the artists that I wanted to gather together is this sort of combination of sincerity, coupled with a kind of conscious fucked up-ness. Having those two beats talking to each other is something that always really excites me.

AGK: You also talk a lot about the political space of vulnerability.

DKB: For me that’s close to sincerity. It’s not enough just to slap you around. That’s not interesting. You have to believe in it at the same time.

AGK: I agree with you, there’s no point being provocative for the sake of provocation, it has to come from a space of being open, to being changed and transformed yourself, and not just trying to transform others, but actually being changed through the process of making or thinking through how ideas come together in a space.

PP: And heartfelt. I just can’t do irony.

Galerie Arndt
Installation view: mad love, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin, 2017

AGK: I’ve known all three of you for a long time. Paul since you were a student, and Del and Patricia, I’ve known you both for almost twenty years.

DKB: I think that’s part of the alchemy and the magic.

AGK: I’ve had this discussion with each of you before about a necessity to be present and authentic in your own practice. Authenticity is such a complicated word. That sense of being located within your work in a way that is conscious and creating work that isn’t detached from subjectivity or the personal.

DKB: Oh, we bleed for it don’t we?

PP: I grew up during the theory boom and was studying at Sydney University at the height of the Post-Structuralist theory madness where everybody was ironic and deconstructing this and that. And I think that really fed into a sense of a long-standing cultural cringe that we as Australians needed some validation, something to prop up what we did. That’s why it took hold in Australia. Now thirty years later, I feel we don’t need that. We can stand by what we think, feel and say. We make the works about what we really want to talk about with our community. We don’t need a fancy theory from somewhere else to validate our ideas. And I think that’s a big shift to be honest.

AGK: There is a question that’s been posed for the mad love panel discussion tonight asking if we think that globalization has meant that national edges have moved to the centre and the centre has moved to the edges? I do not believe this is the case. I believe that what’s happened in the last ten years is that the edges have become deeper and that what we see is that every context has its own sexuality, its own history, its own relevance, its own resonances, and its own discourses that have their own agency and efficacy. In Colombia, in New Zealand, in Indonesia, in Australia, we have such a depth and vocabulary of our own strengths. Paul, it’s interesting when you remarked that we are a young country and we’re probably due for some form of resistance or transformation. How do you feel about the space that your work occupies in terms of agency?

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Paul Yore, “Bless This Mess”(2016), Wool needlepoint, 47 x 28 cm

PP: What you’ve just said really resonates with me because I grew up through the art school system and there was this pressure to engage with Post-Structuralist theory. It always left me cold. That’s nothing against the institution or the academic structure, but I think learning about how to just communicate is something that comes naturally. Rather than feeling constrained by heavy conceptual theoretical models, being able to actually make something intuitive or something that’s just about feeling is important. There’s a juvenility and a playfulness in my practice that I’ve always embraced. I see this almost like a form of idiocy. I want to access that space of not knowing, like agnosticism, like inhabiting that space of unknowingness. I think it’s really interesting how you were talking about the blobfish which is one of the only pieces of truth in the show, of realism, and it’s the one thing that looks totally alien and fantastical. That’s really interesting. We know nothing and this is just a general human habit. It’s like the sort of order, the language, the theoretical framework that we inhabit as thinking social subjects is just full of lies and we learn those lies and tell them over and over. That’s the world we inhabit. This sort of shimmering smoke and mirrors façade. Art can really smash through that when it’s good.

DKB: Something that I try to preserve more than anything within my practice as a forty-four-year-old woman is this idea of serious play. With all the learnt stuff you accumulate through your life, I really believe that the only way my practice can continue to grow with agency and with courage is through serious play.

Galerie Arndt
Installation view: mad love, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin, 2017

AGK: The three of you each have such strong presences and reputations in Australia, as well as having substantial careers that have advanced abroad. Patricia, you have represented Australia at the Venice Biennale through to a range of other international contexts, and Paul and Del you range from more burgeoning to more established. But each one of you at home in Australia has had to be in a situation through the media, through public response, where your work has been taken out of the space of its intentionality and either been challenged in parliament or faced issues of censorship. Each one of you at certain points has had to stand up and speak in a very public way to the intentionality of your work. Because you do all draw on this space of vulnerability in your work, what is it to negotiate that space when you know that there’s this risk that exists when you put your work into the public sphere?

DKB: A word that comes to my mind immediately is just this incredible feeling of relief. It’s a complex question. There is a certain defence in my body and in my consciousness that I have that causes me a lot of anxiety back in Australia, but here it feels more celebratory and more expansive. I feel safer within the histories here. Especially pertaining to audacious, courageous, figurative histories around the body.

“The body is still the most difficult thing to show in Australia. It’s still the thing that’s most sensitive.” 


AGK: The body is still the most difficult thing to show in Australia. It’s still the thing that’s most sensitive. In a sense it’s easier to make directly political work than it is to make work that deals with the spaces of sexualised, gendered or post-human bodies because it’s still somehow within an Australian psyche that negates the value of context. Asking why that is in this context is important. Audiences may not understand the risk that this work represents personally and professionally to each of you. It’s so easy to be an artist in this context with historical precedent, but it’s not so easy to be an artist in a place where that abject threshold is still one that we’re so afraid of, regarding the corporeal. There is still something about the Australian body, whether it’s a black or a white body, that is difficult to show.

PP: That’s a really good point that you have raised and it’s amazing that you’ve made this connection. I think part of being sincere and showing your vulnerability is that you do get hurt. So when politicians say your work is crap or it’s not worth spending money on, you do get hurt and you just take it and keep on going.

AGK: This is interesting because we’re in Germany, the home of the Degenerate Art Exhibition (1937), the most interesting exhibition of 20th century art that became known as the most powerful form of anti-art ever assembled in one place. In this place a hundred years ago, what artists were doing represented a kind of risk. In Australia in the 21st century, what each of you are doing represents a kind of risk as well. That’s a really interesting thing to consider when we’re thinking about the price of mad love.

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Del Kathryn Barton, “hard wet” (2017), acrylic on French linen, 240,3 × 180,5 × 7 cm

PY: When talking about different bodies, the female and the male body, as free as we perceive ourselves to be in the West: as creators of visuality, the context we find ourselves in after the advent of photography, of television, and now the Internet, is an image saturated environment full of debased demoralized bodies. Whether it’s pornography, or unrealistic images of what a body should be – white and muscular or unhealthily thin or all of these things. That is the nightmarish milieu that we inhabit as creators. It’s never been a more difficult time to be a creator of images in this deluge of debased bodily images. I think that’s possibly why we all make the types of bodies in our work that resist and push against that in a really pointed way.

AGK: I think that is a good place to end. Thank you all for contributing to this discussion about your work and good luck for the mad love opening this evening.

Arndt Gallery38mad love panel discussion, 6th June, 2017, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin. Left to right: Krist Gruijthuijsen, Matthias Arndt, David Elliott, Del Kathryn Barton, Alexie Glass-Kantor.
AAAA020_454__DSC4551-454MadLoveA3-020weblow.jpgmad love panel discussion audience, 6th June, 2017, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin.

 

 

 

 

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A3 EDITORIAL | Christopher Le Brun

A Symphony of Colour

Acclaimed British artist, Christopher Le Brun, returns to Berlin with a solo presentation filling Arndt Art Agency’s spaces with a symphony of colour. The title, “Now Turn the Page”, references the artist’s childhood experience with “talking books”. This conscious act of looking and listening continues to resonate with the artist and is the point of departure for his new body of work. Le Brun’s interest in multi-sensory engagement, paired with an enthusiasm for collaboration was the catalyst for this show. Pianist Annie Yim of MusicArt London was invited to hold a live discussion and piano recital upon the occasion of the opening. This unique concert gave each artist the opportunity to present their perspectives about artistic thought processes and musical structures by some of the great composers such as Scriabin, Schoenberg, Rachmaninov and Debussy.

In this exclusive A3 Editorial interview, Le Brun discusses the pursuit of authenticity through his work, the fundamental elements of painting and his strong connections to Berlin and the European tradition of painting.

NOW TURN THE PAGE

Pianist Annie Yim and Christopher Le Brun

You are collaborating with the pianist Annie Yim for your exhibition opening. This brings me to the question about your interest in working with other people from other disciplines. Has this always been something you are fascinated with?
It is. I realised I enjoyed it when I first started printmaking, because the life of the painter is so solitary. But whether it is with a bronze foundry or an etching studio, you are working with highly skilled technicians. So I enjoy the collaborations. They help me to bring out my own ideas more fully.

So in these conversations that you have, you start to make discoveries?
There are so many possibilities that working with a particular medium like bronze or print, that the possibilities start to narrow down. And when you work with a specialist, they narrow down again. That may sound contradictory, but it’s the concentration that’s rewarding.

 

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Christopher Le Brun, Matthias Arndt and Annie Yim

You have parameters.
Exactly. The limits give guidance.

Thats talking about technical ideas. But working with someone who is a musician, a pianist, how does that translate?
In a way it’s similar, because Annie is introducing me to elements of music that I have thought about for many years, enabling me to see new things which I had perhaps assumed or taken for granted. But she has actually been able to demonstrate their significance. She has proved to me the underlying sense of what I have been thinking about.

Galerie Arndt

Installation view: Now Turn the Page, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin 2017


And in turn it works the other way, that she perhaps also sees a watercolour in a different way, or looks at your brush strokes and compositions in a new light.
She noticed a very simple thing when she was in the studio. She saw that most of the paintings have these vertical marks, a sort of raining light or note motif, but then occasionally a horizontal motif appears, which I think of as a wave motif, like light striking on waves and always appears to imply distance. Whereas the standing motif is here and present like a figure, like something coming closer. So these two simplest of forms already between them suggest a vast range of space.

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Christopher Le Brun, “Colour Study 25” (2017), watercolour and acrylic on paper, 76 × 50 cm

The vertical motif feels a bit more urgent somehow.
Yes, even in the action of the arm to make the vertical strike is like a chopping action or a hammer blow, but to make the horizontal mark is like a waving or smoothing, or even soothing motion, so they do have a different psychological feel.

Regarding this new body of work shown at Arndt Art Agency, it feels like the show is anchored around this amazing almost 4.5 metre wide painting The Heralds Note. Was this work a central point for you in building the show?
Well I think the two key works are “The Herald’s Note” but also “Now Turn The Page”. They demonstrate two sides of what I do. So you could look at the “The Herald’s Note” almost like an encyclopaedic account of painting, what’s possible in shape, colour, texture, layering, covering, scale, line, activity and rhythm. So all of that’s in this painting. And you can also look at the works on paper, as it were, like the children of that big painting, like fragments of a totality. They are fragments that are complete in themselves but nevertheless they are events or passages that stand on their own from the big painting. So you can see that relationship.

And when you turn to “Now Turn the Page” that has apparently a very simple structure, because it is made of covering, so you see something almost like a list of one colour, of variations of one colour, that is pushed away from you with layers of off-white. Covering has come to have a great significance in my work, like an essential insight that once I discovered it has never been forgotten. That creates a very different atmosphere where you find yourself looking as it were through the surface into the painting in a searching or guessing way. Whereas in “The Heralds Note”, you barely need to search, you are organising the experience which is presented in abundance.

Galerie Arndt

Installation view: Now Turn the Page, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin 2017

Organising is an interesting word to use, but you also used the word rhythm that is obviously very pertinent to this show. This sense of musicality it not uncommon in your work. Would you say the rhythm and passages is a type of story-telling for you, or it is more experiential?
It’s always experiential, it’s always about looking, it’s always about appearances, but the rhythm of the painting is the way in which I somehow find out whether it’s what I mean.

So it is very process driven.
It is very process driven. There are points in the process where the rhythm carries you with it and that carries me with it through what I call my physical imagination. Finding this place doesn’t come at all easily. Painting is a combination of pictures, pictorialising and painting. And painting is the physical, the direct side of painting. But I need to keep the two completely in balance. However, the one that is to some extent more reliable, is what I call the physical imagination. You could say it’s like asking yourself how you describe or tell the truth. Often a physical manifestation of who you are is more true than what you say.

Because you cant argue with it.
You can’t argue with it, it’s how you are. And therefore the doing side of painting is a powerful test of authenticity.

And thats something that is important to you?
Yes. I think one of the rare things about painting is that it depends entirely on touch. We are naturally interested in touch, we regard it as having a special component of regard and care and interest, rough, careful, tender, tentative; all these things. The piano has a wonderful response to touch, and painting likewise is the most perfect response and record of touch, it is so delicate, so tough and rhythmic.

Galerie Arndt

Installation view: Now Turn the Page, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin 2017

And there is a visual residual.
There is visual evidence of feeling that remains. This isn’t conceptual, this is the physical reality of making painting. And that interests me very much – obviously. Because then the evidence of what you have done may become a picture and then the picture launches you into a different world of memory or implication.

Touching on the word memory, I read that your work Now Turn The Pagereferences your childhood memories and experiences of talking books. This is an interesting point where two senses are merged: something you listen to and something that you see.
Yes exactly. This title just came into my mind one day quite soon after I had completed the picture and it just felt right. Because I had been thinking about music with the previous exhibition “Composer” and I remembered books that we had as children that came with long playing 78 rpm records. It involved listening, and looking, and touching, because you had to turn the page. And when you turned the page you revealed the next picture. The narrator told you the story and you would listen to the music. It was a very, very rich experience. The expression doesn’t mean turning over a new leaf in your life, it’s more to do with anticipation and experience.

So not a disconnection.
No. It is not saying “right I am starting again”. It’s more like – be aware. That’s the reference. And it also implies turning the page of a musical score; in other words you follow. In fact, when I recently found the books online I realised the narrator only says “Turn the page” but I remembered it as “Now turn the page” which puts you exactly in the present where you want to be.

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Installation view: Now Turn the Page, Arndt Art Agency, Berlin 2017

Considering your career’s trajectory it is interesting to note that you are coming back to Berlin for this show after having shown in Berlin several times over the years. I would like to end the interview by talking about your connection to Berlin.
We lived in Berlin as guests of the D.A.A.D between 1987 and 1988 before the wall came down. At that time Berlin was an island. We travelled in Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. So it was an immensely valuable lesson in European history. Just as important was meeting my fellow German painters and getting a sense of the difference in status for a painter in Germany compared to my experience in England. I had the sense that, in the way the painters behaved and lived, I was seeing something of a former Europe. There was a role in society. Artists in England seemed more tangential, somehow disorganised.

In terms of recognition?
More of individual recognition. The British system, essentially to generalise, is time and again a tradition of single artists. We don’t form schools, it makes us uncomfortable. But actually what was impressive and important was that there was a type of momentum in German painting at that time in the early 80s. There was contributory discussion and dialogue, not of agreement, more like rivalry, but energetic, with conviction. Conviction about the importance of the medium and importance of art. So I learnt a lot from that. And that followed on from showing in this famous exhibition “Zeitgeist” at Martin-Gropius-Bau in 1982. That was very important for me in my career at that time. I remember on the night of the exhibition in the back room of the Paris Bar and artists and dealers were going from table to table making appointments and sorting out the next decade. And that’s what we did, six months later I went to New York and I was in the blissful position of virtually being able to select my gallery.

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Annie Yim and Christopher Le Brun

How do you assess your artistic practice in light of these past experiences?
I am reminded when I come back to Berlin of how much my work is connected and embedded into European culture. Because you will notice in the concert program the inclusion of music by Schoenberg, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy. So that resonance and echo is very important to hear in my work, because that’s what gives colour and range to what I am doing in the present.

 

 

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A3 EDITORIAL | Entang Wiharso

THE HUMAN CONDITION MADE VISIBLE

A3 Editorial interviews acclaimed Indonesian artist Entang Wiharso about his professional career path that is strongly intertwined with his fascination in the human condition.

Viewing Indonesia as a nation in transition, Wiharso cites this notion of flux as a trigger, and also inspiration for his work. In the transfer from one medium to the next, and regular travel between America and Asia, this re-assessment of materials and roaming geographical perspective informs the artist’s thought-provoking work. Describing his practice as “full of tension and awareness”, Wiharso’s visual language often engages in critical global issues, at once, enlivening curiosity and disturbance in the viewer. Articulating ideas in paint, sculpture, performance and video work, the artist talks to A3 about the power of recurring symbols and his interest in the language of different materials.

dsc_6432Entang Wiharso at Black Goat Studios,Yogyakarta, 2016

Can you discuss your evolution as an artist?

I have strong memories of growing up and living in Indonesia. The strongest memory is always of being in transition and moving. Indonesia is classified as a developing country and during my life, it has been in transition from an agricultural to an industrial nation. My parents also transitioned during that time from being farmers in rural Tegal to entrepreneurs, opening a food stall in Jakarta. This was not only a physical change, moving from one place to another, but it was also a mental paradigm shift. For college I moved to Yogyakarta and later moved to the US. Now I travel frequently while living between two countries. I believe this condition of living a life that is shifting supports the way I work. Each transition brings an entirely different feeling in my life and art.

Have you always worked in different art forms?

I love working with different materials and mediums because it gives me lots of opportunity. I studied painting in art school, but when I was a child, I created three-dimensional work first because my material came directly from nature. I didn’t have paper until I went to elementary school. My mind was always working in ways that didn’t fit with the system that I was being taught in. When I was in art school, painting, sculpture and printmaking were all separate departments. I was in the painting department but I always wanted to mix painting with sculpture or objects and I did a lot of experimenting even with painting itself. The ideas always felt urgent, so there was a rush to express in my early works. But the curriculum discouraged this approach. I felt like I was standing at the starting line, but couldn’t cross it. I remember traveling on a bus, thinking about these issues and this idea came into my mind and it resulted in a work that combined drawing and painting on carved wood; a synthesis of painting and sculpture.

 

“The ideas always felt urgent, so there was a rush to express in my early works.”

 

From the beginning I liked to experiment. Each material gives me opportunities to express my ideas with a very specific purpose. Also, each material has its own language, which also allows me to make a strong, nuanced statement. I feel like my paintings come from my subconscious. I take a lot of information that I see around me and I process it on the canvas. There is freedom in painting and it is a very responsive process. Sculpture and installation rely on a technical, step-by-step process that slows things down. There is more opportunity for editing the visual concept. I always feel like I am moving around, going from place to place, so the way I work with a range of media is a reflection of this reality.

wiharso_inheritance_2014Entang Wiharso, “Feast Table – Being Guest” (2014), aluminum, steel, graphite, resin, color pigment, thread, car paint, 180 cm x 400 cm x 170 cm

Is it an easy process for you to translate your ideas in different media?

I like to resolve or deal with problems when working and the challenge of working across media keeps me focused and passionate. This condition steers my practice as an artist. It is a reflection of my mindset and the way I live on this planet. I believe that there are no limits and the consequence of this outlook is that I deal with the unexpected and therefore do not rely on a set way of working. I try to create a state of being which is full of tension and awareness.

bild-064_optEntang Wiharso, “Borderless: Floating Island” (2011), graphite, resin, steel, brass, pigment, thread, 350 × 750 × 140 cm, Edition 1 of 2 + 2AP

You have commented that you are interested in exploring the human condition through figuration. Can you elaborate on this and perhaps provide examples of some key works?

Every day I deal with my interaction with people and also my interaction with global situations. I want to bring that knowledge and feeling, and also my own opinion and concerns into art. My art is a form of evidence. It is evidence of my experiences and thinking about the world. Part of the evidence I try to capture utilises imagery of the human figure.

 

“My art is a form of evidence. It is evidence of my experiences and thinking about the world.”

 

In my work I want to talk about the structure of society. For example when I did the large installation “Indonesia: No Time to Hide” for the Venice Biennale in 2013, I used distortion of the human figure to talk about questioning what is real and what is perception. When I distort portraits of former leaders, I change the orientation of the portrait. Also, people become more curious because there is something disturbing and attractive at the same time. There is an uncomfortable feeling that arises from looking at these portraits. Another example is the way I portray figures in my paintings. I always create figures that are naked to show the marks on the body and psychological impact of events. You can see the skin and through the skin to the blood vessels, muscles and bones. This is a way to show my deepest feeling through a visual code.

wiha0079_installation-view-art-stage-sg-2014_4Entang Wiharso, “Crush Me # 2” (2012), graphite, thread, pigment, lightbulbs, electrical cable, steel, 340 × 650 × 90 cm

What other key themes do you hope to convey in your work?

The human condition is an endless story. It is like standing in front of a mountain and deciding to explore every rock. For a while I’ve been looking at issues of migration and geography as a way to understand the historical underpinning of our current situation. Much of my recent work has an autobiographical content, some of it obvious, while some of it more hidden. The work is about something coming to me or something already inside of me, like history, experience, family, geography, people, politics, culture and so on, and how to deal with that. Those factors run through all of us, they change us and define us.

0024617Entang Wiharso, “Expanded Dream #2” (2011), brass, aluminium, resin, colour pigment, thread, 62 × 200 × 57 cm, edition of 2

Are there recurring symbols that you draw upon in your work?

I’ve been creating bodies of work over time that draw on a visual language and set of codes that carry specific meanings. One example of a recurring symbol in my work is that of the table, which you can see in my paintings, sculptures, performance and video work. I’ve spoken about the table many times, but what I continue to find most interesting and useful about it is that it is an extremely familiar object. It is present at so many important moments in human history and in individual lives. It’s a site of negotiation, of coming together, of sharing. Its design over time reflects cultural norms, fashion and politics. So while it is simple and common, it is quite flexible and can act as a stage upon which I create action. Another recurring symbol, particularly in recent years, is the car which also functions as a platform or stage in my work.

 

How important is it for your work to include an Indonesian context?

I never think that I want to include an Indonesian context in my work. I do not need to perform my “Javanese-ness” or “Indonesian-ness” in my art because it exists inside me. I think the presence of an “Indonesian-ness” can be a form of resistance to the uniformity of global art. An Indonesian context is not a strategy to explore identity issues or to create a sense of “localness”, or a negotiation with the market. It is a dissection of the issue of history and tradition through a new investigation, a new survey. Through my work I want to apply history and tradition in a new formation. Even when I travel far away from my home, or move around the planet for my work, people want to tie me to an Indonesian context. This is a heavy burden for me as an artist. I don’t want to be put into a box or have people create borders around me. In my work, I resist the ways that tradition and history are normally perceived, explained and used to frame my identity and ideology.

 

“I don’t want to be put into a box or have people create borders around me.”

 

What are some of your proudest career moments to date?

There is no doubt that participating in the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 was an important and historical platform. The interesting thing for me is that all these stages are important. When you get there it is a real achievement, but once you get there, you have to move on. I am always looking forward and thinking about how to engage and create a dialogue with the audience. I think today artists have to be free thinking and ready to work in a variety of ways and take risks.

11_opEntang Wiharso, “Indonesia: No Time to Hide”, Indonesian pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, 2013

What do you attribute the recent rise in interest in Southeast Asian contemporary art to on an international scale?

The platforms have changed. People recognize that the centres of production that they understood to exist 30 years ago are no longer isolated or dominant, either geographically or economically. And so they are finally curious to look beyond the familiar.

You founded Black Goat Studios based in Yogyakarta in 1993. Can you explain a bit about it and what you hope to achieve through this initiative?

Black Goat Studios is a mechanism and framework to accommodate my creative practice in both the US and Indonesia. The name came about through work I was doing around issues of identity. I was thinking about my status in both these countries and my inability to fit into either comfortably. It was a way to change my feeling of being an object to being a subject.

My studio is a flexible institution because it is personal and transformable; it can expand and contract to suit my projects and needs. My studio is a laboratory for work in progress, where I conduct experiments, make observations, analyze and collaborate. The function of my studio is also more than a workspace – it is an office, library and workshop. In my creative process I often use my studio like a laboratory, testing materials, making observations about my data, analyzing and experimenting to make well-developed conclusions that support my intentions. I also support my community in Yogyakarta by creating projects that facilitate other artists’ practice.

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Entang Wiharso, “Coalition: Never Say No” (2015), aluminium, car paint, 200 x 300 cm

You are very interested in collaboration and were recently included in a two-person exhibition in Jakarta with Australian artist Sally Smart. Can you discuss the concept behind this show and collaborative project?

Sally and I decided to create this project together. It came out of our friendship and a desire to produce a joint project where the collaboration stems from intensive conversation rather than through collaborative art work. We wanted a framework where the collaboration expands, rather than contracts. The collaborative aspect was through conversation and a joint exploration of ideas that have been discussed endlessly through human history. We picked up these threads and discussed the exploration of essential ideas that we all experience and struggle to understand. From conversation to conversation there was a growing consciousness and a meaningful proximity that led to the first exhibition in Jakarta. We are moving the project to Australia this coming November and I will be in Melbourne working on Sally’s turf as we continue our conversation.

double-headedEntang Wiharso, “Double Headed” (2016), aluminium, care paint, resin, colour pigment, thread, 145 × 240 cm

What are you working on currently?

At the moment I am working on a series of aluminium reliefs that are a form of self-portrait. They are painted and highly detailed featuring images from my personal archive, including many cars relating to my American family history. With this new direction, the glossiness has the quality of painted ceramic which is in contrast to areas where the raw material is exposed. This highlights two different characteristics of being simultaneously covered and exposed. I can see the tension between these two aspects and want to keep pushing in this direction.

 

 

Video

A3 BEHIND THE SCENES | Rodel Tapaya

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BEHIND THE SCENES

Film credit: Gerard Wood

Filipino visual artist, Rodel Tapaya, is a self-confessed storyteller who draws upon his close connections to his home country for inspiration. Integrating ideas of the sublime and the everyday in his work, Tapaya is recognised as a socially-minded artist who offers insights into the lived experience in The Philippines. Utilising traditional folklore and symbolism as a point of departure, the artist animates characters from mythological narratives, both human and animal, in complex mural-style compositions.

Allegorical scenarios that tap into the primordial imagination are juxtaposed with imagery relating to current-day social issues. His recent 7-metre wide painting “Adda Manok Mo, Pedro? (Do You Have a Rooster, Pedro?)” (2015–16) included in the 20th Biennale of Sydney depicts a rural scene disrupted by soldiers with bird heads and instruments of war, enlivening Catholic-Muslim conflicts within his homeland.

A3 Editorial spoke with Tapaya about the increased critical attention his work is attracting, his working methodology, and his participation in the 20th Biennale of Sydney in 2016.

Why are you so drawn to enlivening mythological narrative and how did this become part of your artistic focus?

I think my interest in the stories, myths, folktales started when I was seven years old. As a young boy I really believed in the the Filipino myth about Bernardo Carpio. This tale is about a giant who tried to stop two mountains fighting against each other, and in doing so, got buried underneath and trapped in the mountains in the northern part of the Philippines in the province of Montalban. People in our village would talk about the handprints that the giant left on the mountains. I personally went to hike on that mountain to see it. As a young imaginative and gullible boy, I was convinced this was true. My interest in this ‘giant’ continued when I went to university where I researched this story and its historical significance. I found out that one of our heroes during the war would go to the mountain to strategize about how to conquer the Spaniards at the time we were under Spanish colonial rule.

I really enjoy reading these kinds of stories not just because they offer another perspective to the way we view our world, but also, because one can consider the origin of these narratives. I am fond of reading stories because they are just words and I am free to imagine the story using my own vocabulary of images.

 

“I use stories to create another world. Stories guide me, inspire me and enrich my creative process.”

 

I use stories to create another world. Stories guide me, inspire me and enrich my creative process. A number of stories can act like a seed where a picture can grow and transform and relate with the other parts of the painting. Sometimes I will first make rough sketches, almost abstract, fluid and random. Then I will isolate a story and an element such as a character that is used as the main focus. Most of the time the story becomes invisible.

One artist that saw my work told me that he doesn’t see the stories and doesn’t need to know about them, but senses that there is a tale behind my imagery. He views my work through the formal sensibilities and elements of colour, form, composition, pattern, and repetition. The works stand alone and the stories act as a reinforcement. The narrative aspect is inevitable as the work is figurative.  

 

Tapaya, Rodel_Adda Manok Mo, Pedro_opt

Installation view: Rodel Tapaya, “Adda Manok Mo, Pedro?” (Do you have a rooster, Pedro?), 2015–16, 300 x 700 x 5 cm, acrylic on canvas, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 20th Biennale of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, 2016

 

Could you discuss the context of your striking 7 metre wide work “Adda Manok Mo, Pedro?” (Do you have a rooster, Pedro?) that was exhibited recently at the 20th Biennale of Sydney?

This enormous work is basically about war; the constant struggle of power, conflicts in ideologies, and challenging the boundaries of territories. It’s interesting for me to look into this topic in various ways through some current events, myths and folk stories, religious and ideological perspectives, and also through children’s games where power struggles are evident and in constant battle. In the end, war, like games and battles, is a harsh reality where no one ends up the winner.

Within this work I reference four historical events and stories that include:

1. Events that took place on January the 25th, 2015, at Mamasapano, Mindanao in the southern part of the Philippines: Forty-four elite police officers died in a clash between two groups called Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Since the 1960’s, the Muslim Mindanao region dreams of having autonomy. It is during the present governmental administration that the lawcalled the Bangsamoro Basic Lawwill be finally passed, which compromises the new proposed autonomous political entity known as the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. But because of the deadly clash, this law is now being opposed by many legislators and also the public. This situation illustrates the peace struggles and civil war in the Philippines between various differences in ideology and cultures. 

2. Myth of the Origin of Bird from the Tagalog Region, in Bulacan where I live: The story’s inspiration came from a myth called “Origin of Birds”. The chickens that existed before humans are ones that wage war and fight against people. The god, Bathala, got angry and transformed them into chickens because they are unjust and unruly, but also so that they cannot fly.

3. St. Peter’s Rooster: The rooster is an animal associated with Saint Peter, manok ni San Pedro. This biblical animal was depicted when Peter betrayed Jesus three times with cock crowing. The animal was also believed to guard the gates of heaven.

4. A Philippine game called “Adda Manok Mo, Pedro?” (Do you have a rooster, Pedro?) – specifically an Ilocano game from the northern part of the Philippines. I chose this title because I find it appropriate in the topic of war and the irony of the children playing these ‘games’ while falling victim to conditions of war. This particular game is a game of power where there is a strong assignment of roles. The leader briefs the players on the correct answers to questions he will ask them when the game starts. The players are expected to memorise the answers.  Players who give the wrong answers will eventually be punished by the leader. 

Do you often create such large-scale mural paintings? 

Large-scale mural like paintings, yes, I always see to it I have one large piece in the studio. They act like playground for me visually.

Your compositions are extremely complex and detailed, with many layers and individual scenarios that make up the greater whole. Can you describe your process in developing your compositions and how you are able to harmonise the various elements within each painting? 

Initially, I make rough sketches that do not resemble anything in particular; just lines and biomorphic shapes. Then later, after ‘meditation’, I will discover how I will approach the visual problem by using images from the stories, which I sketch, and then add the main figure and the other details such as plants and animals. However, my “study” is never finished, it is only like a guide in my composition. Additional images will branch out like a Banyan tree, or a mind map as I work on the canvas spontaneously. I often also integrate references to commentary about social issues and historical events. Lately, I have tried working on studies using the aid of pictures of natural forms like mountains, trees and rocks, taking on forms from this process to either retain or abandon in order to complete the picture. It can be a tedious process, but it is also exciting as the work evolves and transforms before my eyes.

 

Rodel Tapaya

Installation view:  Rodel Tapaya, Bato-Balani, Installation view, Ateneo Art Gallery, Quezon City, Philippines.

 

You are well known for your paintings, however, this is just one facet of your practice. You also create sculptural work and installations. Could you talk about this element of your work?

I have always been fascinated by dioramas, maybe it is the scenic representation of using painting and objects to create reality. I indulge myself sometimes and make sculptural works and installations to create a more experiential dimension of the work. 

For example in my work “Modern Manananggals” (2013), I think my artistic voice is strong through this installation because one can move around the pieces and reflect on its message. A manananggal is like a vampire, but what is unique about this creature is that it can divide itself into two. Leaving half of the torso on land while the upper body can fly, looking for its victim. It is a famous folk belief that when you see a half torso of the manananggal you can put salt on it and the winged creature could then no longer join its body anymore and it will die.
This piece is my take on the Filipino Overseas Workers. It is a reminder and a warning. As the worker leaves half of its body – his or her family and homeland to look for work and money – one must be cautious to ensure there is a reunion with one’s family. Otherwise, if the person leaves for too long, family relationships can suffer.

 

TAPA0123_Deep thoughts 2015_opt

Rodel Tapaya, Deep Thoughts, 2015, reverse painting acrylic on acrylic sheet with wooden frame, 74 cm x 59 cm

 

Your experimentation with new techniques continues with your recent “under-glass” painting technique which is a reverse style of painting. What other techniques are you experimenting with currently?

Yes, I am still working on reverse paintings or under-glass paintings on the different approach and presentation. I always try to stretch myself to challenge my painting process. I am also currently working on sculptural work that can compliment my folk narrative works, while at the same time looking into the additive and subtractive aspect of paint and form.

You draw upon broad universal topics within your work such as life and death, human rights and politics, religion and spirituality. In this sense your create works with a very human dimension that everyone can relate to in some capacity. Would you agree?

Yes! Universal topics on human relationships and values. For me it is simple, I see there are different forces, some good and some not, just like in society. It is because of our choices we make that we are able to create reality. Ultimately, I believe there is goodness in everyone and in everything.