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In mid May a friend and I took a day trip to Ferrara to eat some good pumpkin ravioli. When wandering around, we stumbled on a surprisingly good exhibition entitled, VIOLENCE, L’arte interpreta la violenza (art interprets violence). The following images are select works from the show. I kindly encourage you to ask these questions while looking:

IS THIS ART OR IS THIS JEWELRY?

OR IS IT NOT THE SAME GOD DAMN THING?

Curated by Lola Bonora and Silvia Cirelli, the group show was part of the XV Biennale Donna, or Woman Biennial , and located in Ferrara’s Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea (or PAC Museo). If not already clear, the works shown do not belong to the realm of contemporary jewelry, YET THEY COULD. On the surface, both pieces are obviously aesthetically linked to similar work being produced by artist-jewelers, and when more thoroughly investigated, their conceptual underpinnings act as confirmation to the relationship between the two realms.

Had this work been a part of a contemporary jewelry exhibition and the artists from a background of jewelry as well, how would the framework of the show been different? The first image, Peso (or Weight), 2006, is by Regina José Galindo, a performance artist I have previously mentioned on this blog because of her similarities to practices found in art jewelry, namely her devotion to the body. Peso is described as a framed lambda print on forex, made singular by the physical absence of the chained object that adorns the wearer in the photo. If Galindo were a contemporary jeweler, I would be willing to bet the object itself would also have been on display. Whether or not Galindo would have hypothetically made the chain by hand perhaps does not matter in this case due to the strong visual connotations the piece carries with it. The audience would also probably know whether or not she had done so, as the written framework usually highlights this aspect and more clearly communicates the materials used when it comes to conceptual work in jewelry. If it wasn’t hand made, the chain would have most certainly been indicated as a found object. In the present context however, the audience knows nothing of make or material and that’s because it really doesn’t matter. As such, the idea, the message and the visual impact is all the more highlighted and not weighed down by material discourse like it so often is in contemporary jewelry.

Below is a similar work of artist Gisbert Stach entitled, Fitting, 2008, a 29 minute video showing a woman being repeatedly adorned with chains until she is holding 30+ pounds of weight on her upper body. This piece was not a part of VIOLENCE. 

Fitting was a piece included in the exhibition What’s in a Frame?, a collateral show during Schmuck 2012 in Munich. Although part of a contemporary jewelry fair, here we can also ask ourselves, IS THIS JEWELRY OR IS THIS ART? When considering work like this, especially in relation to a piece like Galindo’s, the question becomes almost unnecessary and silly. I’ll mention that chains  adorning the woman in Stach’s film were also not on display. Like Peso, they simply did not need to be; Fitting was much more about the collective power and physical burden. Gisbert can be described as a trans-disciplinary artist heavily tied to contemporary jewelry yet is not limited to any particular medium. He also regularly makes work with Rose Stach and they exhibit as a duo.

Naiza H. Khan’s installation for VIOLENCE included four galvanized steel armor sculptures entitled, Armour Suit for Rani of Jhansi (2008), Armour Lingerie IV (2007), Armour Lingerie V (2007), and The Robe (2008), as well four photographs from the series, New Clothes for the Emperor. When considering if Khan’s works had been part of a contemporary jewelry show, the audience would probably assume that the artist had personally made the armours, but here we do not know, and again, it is not so important. I myself would be interested to know one way or the other; kudos to Khan if the metalwork was done herself. Is the question of who made the work a shared curiosity or is it my background as a jeweler that has sparked this interest? As a maker, I also walked around the hanging armours and thought about how well or not-so-well they were made. This is another typical discourse in contemporary jewelry when distinguishing weather the work is good or bad, but in this scenario, it hardly matters.

Below is a poor photograph of the write up for Khan’s work.

The show’s specific theme of violence meant that most of the included work had a strong and central tie to the physical body, an obvious fundamental seen in the most interesting works within  conceptual jewelry practice. Although much less visually linked on an obvious scale, I found Galindo’s prints, No perdemos nada con nacer (2000) to be similarly relevant. Like Khan, the use of photo documentation as an effective tool for reading the work remains to be underutilized in works in jewelry artworks. Here we can take note and follow the example of how Galindo gives her work a very specific environment that without which would fail to mean much of anything.

Yoko Ono’s adaptation of her 1965 performance,  Cut Piece, can also be abstractly tied to the world of jewelry. The performance, which included a seated Yoko Ono and an invitation for members of the audience to come on stage one by one to cut off pieces of her clothing, emphasize the necessity of interaction as the functioning role to the success of an artwork. “Yoko Ono’s body becomes in itself the performance with an exchange of roles where the spectator is turned into the protagonist,” states the writeup; the point of which mimics the inherent foundation of jewelry objects once adorned and living in the world. The statement also mentions subordination, the passivity of women and the lightening of spirits, concepts that are historically buried beneath jewelry’s societal past, truths that can almost always be dug up from any jewelry object if looking to find it.

Loredana Longo’s site specific installation for VIOLENCEFloor#5 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, utilizes recognizable, found materials (once worn clothing) and visitor participation to communicate the magnitude of a past event. Longo shares the sentiment that her work is not complete until truly engaged, the same way that some jewelry artists only see their work as complete when worn on the body. Tactile and physical demands are present and therefore imperative, tampering with the approach to the artwork that ultimately exploits a specific emotional ingredient and connection. Here is one strong example of where visual art and contemporary jewelry share a common ground.

Lydia Schouten’s installation, A Virus of Sadness, is also worth mentioning here. I think it poses questions to the likes of whether contemporary jewelry works could ever rise to a similar occasion and demand a larger and more thougful framework for exhibition. Do objects, small ones at that, harness the same capabilities to tell a story like this? Works in jewelry are capable of being equally confrontational. Are we interested in thinking bigger?

Perhaps the biggest question to ask is whether or not a contemporary jewelry artist like Stach or anyone else working similarly (Shari Pierce could have kicked some ass in this show particularly, Christoph Zellweger and Hilde De Decker are worth noting for thinking more abstractly exhibition wise… just to name a few) would ever be included in an contemporary art exhibition. After all, our world exists on a parallel and basically invisible track to the fine art world. We need some cross pollination. But first, and like I said earlier, we need to think bigger. Taking cues from exhibitions like VIOLENCE will benefit just about everyone, jewelry related or not.

Shari Pierce, detail of 300 Sex Offenders from Within a 5 mile Radius, installation

Shari Pierce, Detail of 300 Sex Offenders Body Piece

Blue and White Jean Dress with Small Blue Flowers, Age 42: USA, Part of She LL Project

http://www.sharipierce.com/shell_project_archive.html

REFLECTIONS FROM THE BIENNALE DI VENEZIA 2011

November 27th marked the ending of ILLUMInations, the 54th international art exhibition known as the Venice Biennale. This was my first biennale.  I was fortunate enough to visit the event twice; the first time in mid September and again just this last weekend to witness the final two days of the 25 week affair. I must regretfully note that I was only able to see what Arsenale and Giardini had to offer, as I couldn’t make it to any of the collateral events or other pavilions sprinkled around the island. I know, I know, I know.

Similar to other biennales that exist on this fair planet, it is known that the general function is to showcase the asserted best of what the contemporary art world has to show for itself, pushing boundaries and conventions of other institutions like the gallery and museum. Here is a bit from art historian, critic, curator, and director of this year’s exhibition, Bice Curiger:

ILLUMInations presents contemporary art characterized by gestures that explore notions of the collective, yet also speak of fragmentary identity, of temporary alliances, and objects inscribed with transience. If the communicative aspect is crucial to the ideas underlying ILLUMInations, it is demonstrated in art that often declares and seeks closeness to the vibrancy of life. This is more important now than ever before, in an age when our sense of reality is profoundly challenged by virtual and simulated worlds. This Biennale is also about believing in art and its potential. Artists work without a safety net, and people who work with artists cannot help but be inspired, question their own assumptions, and constantly strive to do their best.

The Biennale possess the potential ability to globally summarize the qualities within contemporary artwork that curators from all over essentially value. Will patterns emerge when looking at the work geographically/regionally? How is material and hands-on execution regarded to each invited artist and to curator? Among the 89 participating countries (the number of artists each country represents is not standardized- some have one, some have a million [e.g. Italy]), and the 83 additional artists showcased in the international exhibition, I was really hoping to find some work that would speak to my interests in the maker and the thinker as one—evidence of artists able to harness the seemingly impossible duality of contemporary cultural significance through visual art and meanwhile made by hand by artist themself.

Ok, ok I’ll just say it; I was looking for signs of life within the “contemporary jewelry” world and other similar work perhaps labeled as “furniture”… just to find out whether our fields as makers are somewhere, even just a tiny blip, on the radar of these bigwig curators. I’m not talking about design and I’m not talking about craft. But I am talking about artworks that utilize craft-based traditions to communicate ideas that speak to today. I know that I haven’t so far done the best job articulating what I really believe in as far as where contemporary “jewelry” and the like meet the fine art world— but hopefully by now we do know I believe there is a semantic problem that perpetuates a disparate relationship where it is believed that one cannot be the other… but let’s not get too involved in this just yet. Instead, let’s look at artists who seemed to have figured out the secret formula to better illustrate what I mean, artists who straddle the line of which I abstrusely speak.

I’ll start with Guatemalan artist, Regina José Galindo, part of Between Forever and Never (Arsenale), presented by the Instituto Italo-Latino Americano. I will mention that I really appreciated this section of the exhibition, as each artwork included writing next to the piece itself. My opinion of communicative info next to the work has really yet to be determined- this may sound elementary; and although I do like when the work speaks for itself, I appreciate the value of the writing as a tool to understanding. Here, it is an added bit of intellectuality that in this case, assists the viewer greatly… and I also didn’t have to lug around the catalog.

At first glance, Galindo’s work provides a sense of conventional familiarity- two ordinary black pedestals with vitrines stand side by side. I can’t recall any other artworks in the entirety of the Biennale that utilize such presentational standards. The cases are reminiscent of typical display conventions seen in museums and in my opinion, passé contemporary jewelry shows that close off the work to those who wish to understand it, while also giving it a sense of preciousness and distance. It may seem that I am speaking negatively, but here we find qualities beyond that of unoriginal jewelry displays that commonly use the same devices. The blurb next to one of the works entitled, Looting (2010), affirms my suspicions that the pedestal is not just a means of display, but also is part of the work itself (this is indicated by the size description, 136x38x38 cm), a step up from the detrimental qualities this same convention afflicts on objects made within the realm of jewelry.

Inside, one can see eight little gold nuggets, interestingly described by the artist as eight tiny sculptures themselves. Also described by the blurb, Galindo “asked a dentist in Guatemala to make three openings in her molars, and inlay them with national gold of the highest purity. In Berlin, a German doctor extracted all the good fillings from her teeth. Thus, with her own body, Galindo reincarnates the operation of plundering that characterized the Europe-America relation during the period of conquest and colonization…”

This act is also described as a performance, one in which the body is a participant. As Galindo is not a dentist, it is obvious why she needed someone else to “make” the integral components of the piece. Yet here she is, using gold, her body, and formal conventions of adornment displays to communicate an idea. I wonder if Galindo knows who Lauren Kalman is. Is the consideration between these two people as artists the same? Probably not. Although I feel that Kalman to be a great exception in the studio jewelry sphere, an artist that transcends both material and labels, she ain’t in the Biennale. And even more, Galindo actually won the Golden Lion for best artist under 35 years old at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005.  Humph.

Speaking of which, Falso León (2011), shown below and also in the exhibition, is a replica of the previously won award commissioned by Galindo, made by a workshop in Guatemala. Galindo had to sell the original for money and as such, responded with this performance of getting a cheap reproduction made to comment on the practicality of being artist for a living, trying to survive as such, possession and dispossession, etc, etc.

What Galindo is doing closely resembles themes and limitations fundamental to those making good work classified as jewelers, (or in my opinion, artists that make jewelry. Will this ever be less complicated to explain?) For example, the body is inextricable to the success of the first piece. The use of material is similar, and the narrative of the piece is something that cannot escape any work made under the trope of jewelry (value, class, economic history… you name it). Yet Galindo is an artist. The choices that are being made are highlighted by the way she “outsources” the physical objects, insofar  that her idea is stronger and speaks much more than the objects themselves. The objects are stand-ins for a greater narrative. THIS IS WHAT “WE” NEED TO START PAYING ATTENTION TO AND WORKING TOWARDS.

The next noteworthy sign-of-life was curiously in very close proximity. Rolando Castellón’s (Nicaragua) Joyas de Pobre (2010) actually includes the word jewelry in the title!! Leaps and bounds, guys. Athough Castellón is no “jeweler,” this series is part of an ongoing project; this is not the first time he has made work that is highly associative to the contemporary jewelry sphere; whether he is aware of that is its very own question.

Let’s break the work down a little bit. Like Galindo, Castellón uses the same sort of unconventional display- a big case with a glass top you look down into with the work sitting on red velvet. Classic. It is indicated as an installation, similar to Galindo as well. In each of these cases, the artists are both making choices. They feel that choosing what I and other contemporary jewelers would call a fall back, a last resort, an “isn’t there anything else we can use?” type presentation standard, to aid in their message that maybe we should be associating these things to precious objects… ornament…….. jewelry.

It’s a tricky thing, really, because how one chooses to let the work live in the world (here, it is inside these cases) is synonymous to creating an environment which either successfully aids to the work’s conceptual nature, or unsuccessfully binds it to unapproachability and misunderstanding (which I feel happens all too often in my field). As non-jewelers, both Galindo and Castellón need (for lack of a better word) these cases, and in a backwards sort of way, they can lead by example when artists like me (again, “jewelers”) need to think about what kind of environments we need to be giving to our work so others better understand the message. What I guess I’m trying to say is this: while artists like Galindo and Castellón rely on display cases as tools for people to understand this work of theirs, contemporary studio jewelers need to start thinking about getting rid of them (conventional cases) and finding other ways for the work to live. For the artists, the cases are in fact not just cases– they are environments, content, associational tools, and part of the piece as a whole. How can we do the same?

Here is what Castellón’s blurb says about the work- I am going to bold the things I think area a bit… shaky:

The series of sculptures Joyas de Pobre [Jewels for Poor People] by Rolando Castellón is a set of decorative objects, elaborated from precarious materials such as tree branches, seeds, frayed fabrics, laminated coconut, stones and rusty metallic scraps that are shaped by the artist’s hammer into new assemblages, creating a series of modest jewels…”

Ok, stop. Wow! What a concept. Immediate ways of making! Found objects! Modest jewels! Sounds awful familiar. Within our world as makers, this blurb so far doesn’t really say anything new or different…WE’VE ALREADY BEEN DOING THIS INHERENTLY SINCE THE 1960’S! But because this man is an “artist”, those playing the contemporary art game are going to give him a lot of credit for this, aren’t they? And the artist’s hammer…what is that? And just how the display cases are conventions we don’t like to resort to, the language that Castellón uses is language we as real makers should also stop using; it relies too much on material and process… meat certainly, but not the whole meal. The only thing we absolutely should take away from this writing, is the word sculptures. As naive as this all sounds, and as much as I really do hate hate hate labels and boxes, we have to start using more of this vocabulary to describe our work. Let’s try to get it outside just the jewelry realm when it can go so far beyond. After all, Castellón was not the first to do this and it is a concrete example of how contemporary jewelry is completely off the radar. DOES ANYONE IN THE FINE ART WORLD KNOW WE EXIST?

“…Castellón’s project involves the recovery of the creative mechanisms of the informal street commerce in Central America, where small groups of artisans offer their objects, which though constructed by humble means from cheap materials nevertheless add color and creativity to the commercial environment of the cities. While the street commerce presents an alternative for small producers and a means of earning a living for the poorest sectors of society, Castellón’s work criticizes the region’s socioeconomic inequality, placing the jewels of the poor in counterpoint to the jewels and privileges of the rich.”

Ah, ok, now here is the concept. Castellón aims to emulate jewelry pieces or the objectives of decorative objects through scrap material and straightforward application to ultimately comment on economic inequalities, social history, lack of education, etc… I read —->elsewhere that by placing the work within the context of contemporary art spheres like the biennial, it adds to the overall concept; Castellón views these “commercial exhibition systems” as globalization. WHAT A PRIVELEDGE to be able to make a comment like that! But of course, one must be accepted, chosen to participate in the biennial for this to happen, right? What a shame, really, because those within my field not only know, but cannot ignore the fundamental relationship jewelry objects have to socioeconomics. We have to deal with it every time we make anything. It’s there and there ain’t no way around it. And it’s the same with notions of value, sumptuary, class, and the like. – And as much as I have sounded like I’m knocking down the work… well actually, yes I am knocking it down. On the verge of being redundant, WE ALREADY DO THIS. WORK LIKE THIS ALREADY EXISTS. To see more of Castellón’s Joyas, click here<—The way he deals with space here is considerably more sensitive than most “jeweler’s” have the guts to go for… but then again we rarely get solo shows, and if we do, we rarely get big spaces to play with.

Here is a short list of diverse artists that I think make work similarly, or at least highlight the main themes both Galindo and Castellón touch upon. Some use cheap materials like Castellón and some are working more traditionally with precious materials… (is material a good enough connection though?). Some are old vets and others are fresh and innovative up-and-comers. But the main difference between the following artists and artist like Castellón is the way we write about are work. “We” usually try to avoid writing textual summarizes that so clearly articulate the object’s relation to the history of value, material as concept, and socioeconomics, etc because… it is…… redundant.  The object already carries with it these connotations. Let’s pretend Castellón actually was a jeweler. If read his blurb knowing that, I would think his explanation to be quite sophomoric, especially in the way he talks about process. The tiles of the piece is succinct enough.

What is interesting is this: Castellón needs to say his sculptures are jewelry-like objects. But because the following are in fact jewelers, how often does the work speak for itself in that regard, or must they also tell you what the objects are? Perhaps if we used the word “sculpture” more often, people on the outside would consider the work we are doing to be similar concrete choices, not just making jewelry because we were trained as such. We must start to articulate bigger and better reasons for the things we make. And here we have once again, the problem that is vocabulary, when pinning labels and talk of process.  Let’s think more about the way we frame our work, shall we?

I encourage those that read this to look around. The images below are in the order that follows, and the names are all links:  Adam Grinovich, Karl FritschAshley WahbaLisa WalkerIris Bodemer, and Lauren Tickle.

STAY TUNED FOR #2