Cristina NualART

Tag: Women Artists

24 hours to reflect on gender

I glazed this ceramic plate last millennium. It’s called Oppressed Woman.
Not all is bad for women on this planet, but it takes very little research to see that there is much gender inequality hindering humanity. Much of that inequality is invisible to many people who have not yet challenged how much of their own attitudes and values comes from gender biased ideologies. Whichever way you celebrate women, I hope that it brings you to a better place.

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How to save a village and age more rapidly

This exhibition review was published in the August 2013 issue of Word Vietnam magazine.

Artist Le Hien Minh’s use of Vietnamese dó paper

lehienminh_by_cnualart-jpg‘I don’t know how to use a drill, I don’t know how to cut wood,’ says the artist who refuses to call herself a sculptor because she doesn’t know how to use workshop machinery. And yet Le Hien Minh’s exhibition is full of surprising 3D objects.

Le Hien Minh labels ‘real’ sculpture as a noisy activity requiring power tools. Her artwork consists mostly of squashing paper softened with glue into shapes. It can be done quietly, with no tools except her hands. But this simple activity makes her partly responsible for keeping afloat the few Northern villages that still handcraft dó paper, a thin, soft paper made from tree bark.

Over five hundred kilos of traditional Vietnamese dó paper were needed to make one of the installations here. One thousand hand-made dictionaries in a neat labyrinth cover the floor of the largest room at the back of the 1930’s building.

Dictionaries were the tools of Minh’s father, a linguist. Her father passed away ten years ago, but the exhibition title, Dó10, refers to the ten years that Minh has been creating art using dó paper. After training in lacquer painting in Saigon, Minh studied art in America. Far away from family, Minh received a surprise parcel containing some dó paper. Her mother’s gift was more influential than either of them might have guessed at the time. Minh felt immediately connected to her homeland’s traditional paper, and started painting on it.

lehienminh_by_cnualart3-jpgA few more experiments resulted in the first sculptures, and she’s never looked back. ‘I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have dó paper,’ she reflects.

Each finished sculpture is put outside to dry and to age. The weathering effects of sun, humidity and wind change their surface. After a few months, the paper objects look like ceramics, stones or other treasures unearthed from the dusty depths of history.

This process gives a solid, weighty appearance to the hollow art objects. The weight is also psychological. She laments that women carry a heavy load in life. ‘Do we have to carry that much weight with us? We don’t know! We’re always asking ourselves,’ she exclaims, pointing to the sculpture of a woman floored by her struggle with ropes hanging down on her.

Weight doesn’t floor Minh, though. She sometimes wonders if, being a woman, she carries too much baggage, but as a feminist, she looks for balance. The underlying concept for all her artwork, she shares, is looking for balance. Not just the balance of a fair society, but internal balance as a person, and balance with nature. Minh makes work that will return to earth. ‘The paper will disintegrate and disappear, like me. Accept and make peace with nature.’

Hanoi-born artist Le Hien Minh exhibited at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum (20-25 July 2013). Some of the artworks in this show have appeared in previous exhibitions in Hanoi, HCMC, Korea and the US.

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Red scars and blue dust. Deodorant-free installation art.

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The world’s landfills have been dusted with the discarded union jacks that briefly saluted the Queen of England’s jubilee last fortnight. This week the red and blue colours continue to make waves in Saigon, dominating two major art galleries. Two Vietnamese women artists, neither of them from this city, put on show two distinctive art installations, one red, one blue.

Craig Thomas Gallery, veering from it’s preference for showing paintings, invited Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai (Mai being the first name) to set up ‘The Scar’. Lightboxes and a corridor of glass squares (recycled from disused window panes) flood the rooms with tainted red light and a pungent smell. The glass sheets trap tomatoes that were stitched up by the artist before getting flattened as if for microscope viewing.

My first thought were memories of Anya Gallaccio’s decaying red flowers in ‘Preserve Beauty in the 2003 Turner Prize show. Gallaccio’s installation puzzled me. Looking at the beautiful bed of flowers with stems that by then were starting to fur, I wanted to know how far the rotting would spread in the sealed glass case. Does mould spread in an airtight vaccum? What did one do with this artwork if it turned into a furry green mass? Was it meant to be a permanent artwork? I could understand that formaldehyde would preserve bodies indefinetely. I had seen Mark Quinn’s blood head, and it made sense that electricity supply, unquestionably stable in late 20th century Britain, would keep it freezing forever. Hamilton and Goldsworthy took photos of their assembled natural objects. ‘Preserving Beauty’, however, required neither chemicals nor artificially induced temperatures, nor was it meant to be reincarnated in another medium. Not being in appearance a time-based art piece, Gallaccio’s work, for me, was the first artwork that questioned the longevity of itself. My faith in restauration specialists was tested. I wonder what it looks like now.

A bed of nails frozen into a mattress of ice in another room of Mai’s exhibition wonders me into considering how far the influence of the YBA’s has stretched. As worldwide gallerists and collectors in the last decade have been billed for the huge maintenance cost of storing artworks that need life-support, it’s a surprise to see equally difficult to upkeep artworks on show in Vietnam, a hot country with unreliable electricity supply.

NguyenThiThanhMaiI met Mai as she was carefully packing away her rotting tomato glass tiles to send back to her studio in Hue, but for all her care in boxing the work, I suspect she’s not overly worried about the long term survival of her crafted objects. Her artwork is raw and motivated by powerful emotions. It references the recent collective memory of Vietnam, but thematically it is not concerned with making the audience question the time ahead. Vietnam currently has a forward looking mindset, triumphantly optimistic about its ability to soon be on the list of developed countries. Amidst this nationwide fervor to bulldoze a highway to material progress, Mai’s work is all the more significant for it’s introspective glow, literally illuminating scars and paused ripeness. Exploded tomatoes morph into red stains dotted with neutered seeds, viscerally showing physical pain and memorial trauma. But each tomato has been nursed with medical precision, closed up with needle and thread. The artist doesn’t believe in miracle cures, healing requires the bravery of self-inflicted surgery. Trauma is not a pretty sight, the scars in the glass look like wire lightning. And it stinks.

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A much more sedate installation, in tranquil blue and white, but also aromatic, has opened in Galerie Quynh. Nguyen Phuong Linh’s solo show coincidentally also has a short, resonant title, ‘Dust’. The first pieces on view are cubic tons of tobacco, soap and rubber. The scent of these raw materials permeated the neighbourhood in Hanoi where Linh grew up.

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The walls upstairs are divided by a horizontal line of small scale blueprints, made in Japan with the now barely used original blueprint method. The intense cobalt blue has a purplish hue. The clean, somewhat minimal display of the whole gallery makes the rich, warm colour appear colder than it could, but the closeness with which one must look at the work means that a gentle intimacy infuses the show. It’s a beautiful feeling to examine the little collections of images, tidy like a lavender-scented wardrobe. I’m particularly drawn to the title and the topic. I want to grow a sisterhood rapport with this artist who admits to noticing subtle change in air colour and texture. I share a love for the little observations Linh has recorded methodically, connecting routine urban visions with memories and the little surprises of noticing unusual characteristics of foreign places.

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The little blueprints skirt around a large ‘Whitescape’, 2 tons of powdered limestone, a breathtaking sight. Disguised as a landscape, the room appears to dwarf. It reminds me of the striking miniature snowscapes by Mariele Neudecker. The dust has been whitewashed, sitting harmlessly like fresh snow. The perils of lung damage have been swept away by the poised visual reconstruction.

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Finally, the artist leaves two books on a table. One is a neatly finished collection of blueprints. The other is a grey copy of it, but with Vietnamese replacing the English text of the blue book. I can’t help laughing at the grey book, with its cheap texture characteric of photocopied books – so widespread in Vietnam. An inferior product, the grey book is the only real nudge amidst these artworks that speaks literally of the dirt of dust.

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Ironies of ‘the female condition’

Below are my digital drawings currently on show in Cúnhouse Lounge. I like seeing and capturing funny anecdotes. The poem and illustrations chosen for this small exhibition on the occasion of International Women’s Day humorously picture some favoured debates of ‘the female condition’.

glassceiling_cnualartWoman Underneath Glass Ceiling

hormonalblackbird_cnualartBet You Thought She Was Hormonal! laughed the Crow…

rocketscientist_cnualartRocket Scientist Dips Her Toes into the Waters of Love as She Looks into Her Future

skyinmouth_cnualartThe Sky Inside Your Mouth

ode2pms_cnualartAn Ode to PMS

This illustration was first conceived as a poem, and published in <a href="http://www.blankmediacollective omeprazole 40 mg.org/blankpages/issue_19″ target=”_blank”>Blankpages magazine in 2010.

  
Dear PMS,
my moonly visitor
red traffic light
to stop
to stop and check
And in that
little waste of time
of road rage
I feel.
Thank you PMS
for the warning.
Flashing amber
(go slow now)
twinkling.
Do some thinking.
Interrupt my sleep
with thoughts
middle deep.
Sweet films and hurts.
Thank you
for the thin skin,
for the blood
that drains
the stagnant still
impressions.
I enjoy the feeling
of feeling.
I cry
the hurt
of others.
Sorrows come alive
spiking through my pain.
(You give me)
I like to hear
my soundbeat,
and to love more.
To love.
To miss.
To no sorrow.
Better tomorrow.
Thank you PMS.
Until we meet again.


 

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The art of freedom

Tu Do (pronounced tuyo), Vietnamese for freedom, is the name of the first art gallery in South Vietnam. It opened in the newly named Ho Chi Minh City, some years after the Fall of Saigon. The owners are Son and Ha, an adorable couple in their gentle years, who are still pushing on in their mission to give art a quiet and valuable space in this frenetic city.

Now in his 70s, Son speaks good English and knows a formidable amount about Vietnamese artists. Ha, in running a gallery with her husband, developed an urge to make art of her own. The artists they worked with were able to give her some pointers, but it was her drive that propelled her work. Her first painting of a vase of flowers, in expressionist blues and greys, was completed 20 years ago, at a time when her life companion was imprisoned in a ‘reeducation camp‘.

The extraordinary pair survived life’s blows, and are still together, now celebrating a retrospective of her work in their gallery. In some of Ha’s sweet lacquer paintings, you can see the two of them as young lovers in rolling fields, protected by knobbly trees and the health of fresh air. This one, titled ‘Together’, is my favourite:

 TuDo Gallery sells quality artworks from a selection of established Vietnamese artists. Overall, the topics are safely likeable and non-confrontational, with some little curious pieces, a handful of experimental gems, and the odd rare treasure that is not for sale. I really like that this gallery has not followed the lead of others in HCMC that are greedily overpricing the artworks out of proportion with their artists’ trajectories and international competitiveness.

 

How to make art with someone else’s artist books

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Vietnam was the first country chosen for the daring initiative made possible by the Hong Kong based Asian Art Archive. A selection of the archive’s art books, magazines and catalogues arrived in San Art gallery, Ho Chi Minh City, to be edited by the public, before moving on to other Asian countries for more people to explore the interventions, and add their own.

This interactive proposition may smack of relational art theories, or remind one of Hans Ulrich Obrist’s loan for the  Interarchive exhibition, but is actually founded on the ancient Chinese tradition of literati, whereby a painting is not the work of a single individual, rather, it is the work of a scholar. Collector’s seals and calligraphy poems are superimposed on the landscape painting created by the literati. Effectively, this millennia old tradition is a collaborative editing process. With this in mind, publications on contemporary Asian art were given to the people, as a potentially risky, potentially enriching, tactic for engendering collaborative editing.

The exhibition opened in February 2011, and I went to have a play. A few fun hours later I’d produced a number of interventions that intersected existing drawings in my sketchbook with images I found in the books. Tran Minh Duc’s art mural based on maps of HCMC had not taken off yet, but maps and location seemed to be the dominant ideas for me too, helped by fate, recent life anecdotes, and by meeting some architecture students there. See photos of my ‘editions’ on the left.

Lena Bui, also artist in residence, discussed with me her insightful ideas on the conflict of powerful family traditions versus the desire for independence –and a sex-life- amongst young people in Vietnam. Her slashed and embroidered canvases are cuttingly open about the social dynamics at battle.
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A week or so later, I embarked on an educational project, collaborating with an international school and the gallery. Imparting ideas of ripping up books with young children, in a country rife with breaches of copyright, may be a risk, but the challenge held great promise. A small group of children enjoyed the laid-back space and comfy cushions, and created their own versions of images in the books, some of which were assembled into a book that was left on site. Tran Minh Duc, artist in residence, was working on his wall installation inspired by maps of HCMC. In turn, this inspired little Lucio to create a floor installation, complete with train tracks and vehicles. Art is ageless. GIS

Evening events during the duration of the exhibition gathered HCMC art-lovers for more art and ideas sharing. Artist Tammy Nguyen, who the gallery had invited for an editing process of the book ‘A History of Art in 20th Century China’ in collaboration with a writer, involved the public in responding to images from the archive displayed on a big screen. Drawings circulated and were re-edited several times before coming together as pages in a collective book.

The project now moves on. San Art held a closing party this weekend, and Susanna and Linda from the Asian Art Archive collected impressions and feedback, and the edited books, in preparation for the next city that will develop the process. The final hours of Open Edit in HCMC were as alive with ideas as when the initiative opened, but with many ‘edits’ scarred across the pages. Ironically, the closing party was itself edited by government censors, who prohibited a DJ from playing and prevented any improvisations during an artist’s performance. Just before leaving, I was leafing through a book on Ai Weiwei, marred with poignant interventions (I later found out they were cut by artist To Lan Nguyen). We hope the Chinese government opens it’s ‘editorial’ censorship on the living artist.

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Art start for the year of the cat

Unlike nearby Asian countries that are about to enter the year of the rabbit, Vietnam chooses to start the year of the cat. And Ho Chi Minh City has a mixed bag of art up in its best (and rare) contemporary art spaces.

Craig Thomas Gallery has a group show themed around self-portraiture, with paintings that range from samey to dramatic to humourous.Oil painting by Nguyen Quang Vinh

Nguyen Quang Vinh has created his ‘catman’ series at an appropriate time. The cat-morphous faces hold the glory of pop colour and fun, but don’t offer any deep insights into human (or animal) psychology. They’re well painted and amusing to look at once, but don’t pose any questions – other than maybe how saleable a work might be if it repeats tried and tested compositions and ideas a generation later.121_CatYear

Le Kinh Tai is being promoted as Vietnam’s enfant terrible, and he does a good job of pumping energy into the local art scene. He too goes for vibrant colours and some humour, but adds street art influences, and heavy texture à la Dubuffet,  to create some messy images that could be hybrids of an Anselm Kiefer and a Keith Haring, if such a genetic experiment could be spliced. Craig Thomas’s beautiful space is suffused by the muted gazes of Luong Luu Bien and Nguyen Thuy Hang.

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He palettes and glazes the paint to develop some serious but not despondent, richly moody group portraits, while she works on producing quiet and calm expressions akin to ‘The Scream’. Venice carnival masks turn mannerist while giving birth. The line begs for a bit more lighthearted fluidity, but this young artist is working on getting something out of her system. If she doesn’t end up waning in self-pity in years to come, she’ll be an interesting one to watch.

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Gallery Quynh
, for a full 3 months, is showing Nguyen Trung’s new ‘Grey White Black’ series. Trung is one of Vietnam’s original exponents of abstract art, and has experimented much in his 50 years of practice.

The press release states that the source of inspiration for this series, apart from formal exploration of monochrome compositions, is the ‘urban fabric of Ho Chi Minh City’.

Clearly, fear of censorship or a desire to please/appease the public have omitted a much rawer topic. The paintings are scratched and drawn into with disgustingly disembodied genitalia. Saigon may be grey and rough and itchy with injustices, but it is far from being the dispassionate sexual exchange that appears here. It would be interesting to know if the motivation for euphemistically inventing the city subject matter is one of discreet shame or one of deluded self-indulgence.

 

Thankfully San-Art save the month by putting up a joyous group show of gallery artists. Tuan Andrew Nguyen, from The Propeller Group, has carved self-immolating Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc (d. 1963) into a baseball bat that sits righteously in the center of the show. The sculpture is superbly crafted, but at $10,000 (and it’s an edition of 5!), the pricing is out of place with the rest of the exhibits – and the country’s GDP.
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The lightboxes in the background are the work of Tammy Nguyen, who seems to be growing well into her art career since moving to Vietnam from the US. Her embroidered, painted and printed work, most recently in some form of a 3D casing, is wonderful to ponder over, enjoying the overlapping layers of media. It seems to collect together the best of feminist art practices since the 70s, while discussing multicultural concerns in a wholly coherent way.

The founder of San-Art himself, Dinh Q. Le, contributes another bizarre hybrid artwork made a decade ago. The little resin figurines of Lotus Land are cute and toy-like, but their spliced bodies, thankfully much less disturbing that the Chapman brother’s ‘children’, ooze a mysterious sadness.
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Nguyen Thai Tuan really tackles feelings of unease, with some of the Black Paintings dated 2009. The clean and powerful oil images report a social silence that resonate powerfully in Vietnam, but are graphic enough to be construed as old film stills or political strife in other continents.115_CatYear
Walking out the little gallery into the sunshine again, you can’t help but smile passing the Juice barrels painted by Bui Cong Khanh. Borrowing again from Pop Art, his works are not sinister, but carry a similar ‘prettified’ social critique as Cheri Samba’s glittery paintings. Both artists make work that appears cheerful and amusing to look at, but adds a spoonful of sugar to some ugly truths. May the year of the cat continue with that colourful glee!114_CatYear

Heroes and Villains in Public Sculpture

One thing that has surprised about Vietnam (not that I’ve seen the whole country, I only just got here) is the lack of public sculpture. That’s probably a good thing, because the last thing a struggling country needs, in my opinion, is to put lots of public funds into squares and parks when the majority of the people’s basic needs aren’t met. Nonetheless, I was expecting to see monumental memorials and grand homages to political leaders, like the massive, rather elegant megaliths in Poland or Turkey. Maybe I have just not found them yet, and public sculpture is one of those things that often goes unnoticed anyway. Another bronze man on a bronze horse can pass you by more discretely than a boat in a giant glass bottle

And speaking of the Fourth Plinth, near Trafalgar Square in London lies one of my favourite public sculptures: ‘A Conversation with Oscar Wilde’  by Maggi Hambling. The title couldn’t be more inviting!

The piece is brilliant. Nice situation (though the sculpture has moved from next to St. Martin’s church to the pedestrian street behind it), the roughly drawn portrait that is Hambling’s trademark, the tactile black marble, and the dual role as mock tombstone and public bench, this is clever. Sitting next to a witty conversationalist, crafted by the powerful Maggi, you couldn’t be in better company. To me, this is heroic sculpture, and not those casts of hieratic politicians. Art doesn’t get more interactive than this – and it doesn’t even move or have a switch anywhere! Smart…
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Art as teleportation via the internet

I’ve recently moved from London to Saigon, and last night I phoned my grandmother to let her know all is well here. When I told her I was phoning from my computer via the internet, my nan, who has never used a computer, was  amazed that technology could do such things. Imagine if we’d used video-link! Her sense of wonder is not out of place. I can safely say that computer literate people also find intercontinental links heart-warmingly extraordinary!

Artist Mariele Neudecker has expressed a fascination for the ability to create art in multiple locations simultaneously, via the internet.
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‘Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived’ (2000) is her sculpture of a stretched skull based on the skull in Holbein’s 1533 painting ‘The Ambassadors.’
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Holbein’s large canvas is wonderous, so perfect and full of detail, but with that mysterious shape hovering in front of us. Oh, I wish I’d gone to see it one more time before I left London. At least I did visit my revered Carlo Crivelli’s next door… There are so many great things to see in life!

Mariele Neudecker, in awe as the rest of us with Holbein’s floating metaphor, created a 3D digital image of the skull, and the file was used to machine-carve it out of resin. ‘The stereo lithography machine cut that 3 dimensional, virtual object out into resin,’ she says of the new technology, which she sees as ‘a kind of a forerunner of teleportation, I suppose, because in theory, you could have a computer sitting in Cardiff and send all the information and data down to Australia, and have the machine cut out exactly the same object. You can put any object, any three dimensional object, from the computer into reality’

Mariele Neudecker, 2002

Joana Vasconcelos: hand crocheting and kinetic sculptures.

95_JoanaVasconcelos_photocnualartI saw Joana Vasconcelos‘ exhibition in Haunch of Venison a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t planning to write about it because a) I’m busy with major work, and b) this show deserved to attract lots of media attention. But having just come across a really badly written review of it in Fadart, I am compelled to say something. The easy way to say it is: GO! This is a phenomenal exhibition full of energy, joie de vivre and fun. Not only does it tickle your laugh-glands, it also provokes a good number on ideas surrounding the interaction of art and home decoration, the history of feminist art (Judy Chicago comes to mind), irony (a good post-modern theme to waffle about), cross-disciplinary practices (art vs. craft?), and the replaceability of contemporary art (see the dog-machine).
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Best of all, it’s totally kitsch. Tribally kitsch. And it’s impeccably hand-made. Any artwork that oozes skill is usually awe inspiring. Here, the sculptures tattooed in fine crochet will be admired by even those who actually know what a crochet needle looks like.

 

Thai Artists

There’s nothing like a good dose of culture shock to creativize one’s zest for life. Around the time of the great tsunami, I lived in Thailand for a couple of tropical years and I have consequently developed a soft-spot for the place, as you do for any place you call home – especially if it has cha yen and abundant frangipani.

Regular visits to Bangkok’s galleries and museums were pretty dichotomous: exhibitions of run-of-the-mill, nepotistic hi-so paintings or facile images of buddhas were interspersed with epiphanic journeys to fascinating new artists. Obviously, I adore the frescos of Ramakien stories in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, but there was lots of exciting contemporary art too. I discovered Montien Boonma (thank you!) and couldn’t understand why I’d never come across his sculptures in New York, London, Barcelona or any other famous-for-art city. They are mind-blowing! I guess you have to be in the right place at the right time, and let art own you when it wants to.

I laughed at the Pink Man, and will die adoring Manit Sriwanichpoom‘s totally unbarbiefied use of pink (sorry Schiaparelli, he wins…). Yuree Kensaku is another one to watch. Her small picture below, ‘The Battle of Love’ (2005) is on a 3D support, and is a fantastic mix of luminous and metallic paints with heavily textured, alla-prima oil.
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I can’t remember all the names of many other Thai artists that rocked my artosphere, but do read the links on this post, there’s a whole lot to enjoy. Off the elite art world radar there were plenty of other joyous manifestations of visual savoir-faire. From Chalit’s art workshops for children, to the best T-shirt designs in the world (usually combining hilarious world play with unusual craft-collage). Fun stuff.

This month’s Art in America, ironically subtitled Europe Focus, has a special on Thai artists which is a must-read and has great pictures!

My favourite BKK gallery is 100 Tonson, which in August 2010 is offering something pretty special. They’re setting up the first solo show of Rirkrit Tiravanija in his homeland! Yep, that’s the guy made famous by Relational Art and all of that come-dine-with-me before chillaxing in Chiang Mai kinda art…
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P.S.: Artist and Economy professor Hans Abbing says that ‘in contemporary Thailand … the artist’s identity hardly matters’ (Why Artists are Poor, 2002). He adduces no reasons for this statement, which I can’t agree with. Maybe the rationale has something to do with the differences in the individual ego versus group ego that Asia and the West are said to be at odds with? If there is truth in this insight, perhaps that helps explain why I had trouble finding individual websites for the artists I mention. There are many reason why artists would have a page on an art portal rather than their own website of course (see my Artexposure research on this), it could also be that all of the Internet that is not written in Roman script is barred to little ingnarmus me… I can’t read Thai characters. Just the art!

Chan shorb silapin Thai!

Sculpture + 2D

RachelThorby_photocnualartI came across this bust by Rachel Thorlby in Madder139 gallery, and I was pleasantly intrigued by the Cervantian look of the man, but mostly attracted to the 2D image collaged over the 3D surface.

I used the same technique on this little maquette of a woman that I prepared a few years ago for a workshop on feminist art with underprivileged teenage girls. Cheap, easy and effective, I thought – considering the educational outcome of my task. Seeing Thorlby’s work, I now pause to consider the concept of a flat image on a lumpy object, and I am artistically amused 🙂
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Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.



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