Monday, 30 June 2008

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Hell Hath No Fury ...

Yesterday I decided to go and take a gander at the current Jake and Dinos Chapman exhibition at the White Cube Mason's Yard If Hitler Had Been a Hippy How Happy Would We Be. Now, I must admit, I was very much in the dark with regards to this exhibition. I didn't know it was taking place, I didn't know the artists by name (though I recognized their earlier work), and I definitely had no idea what it was all about. This, of course (especially after having read up on it after the fact) makes me feel like a right ass, but that is neither here nor there. If anything, at least, it's always kind of interesting to go into something as a complete ignoramus (something recently stated in a Guardian blog post, though a bit more eloquently stated) since you have nothing but your aesthetic point of view to go by (and I guess some bits of art history that you can draw on - which anybody with a bit of an art history background will do). But to the work ...

The exhibition takes its name from the series of original watercolour drawings by Hitler that the Chapman brothers bought and then added upon with psychedelic rainbows and shapes. What's great about this collection (which was the last part of the show that I saw), was that I had no idea of their provenance when I was looking at them. I noticed the signatures, and I became suspicious when I noticed how aged they looked, but it seemed a little too weird to be true. I actually really enjoyed the images, not because Hitler's sketches were good or because he was the one who originally made them, but the intervention added a surreal and naive quality that reminded me a bit of Henry Darger.

Quoting Dinos from an article in the Independent:

He tried to get into art school with these. They are bland and show no presentiment of the genocide to come. They represent the husk of a man who would be filled up with bitterness and hatred. They are identical to thousands of drawings in junk shops. All they demonstrate is that they are a terrible work of art, not that the person behind them will become a tyrant.

Wondering how things would be different had Hitler a creative spark and been accepted into art school is a bit weird. Could he have turned out differently? Could he have been just another aspiring artist? And if he had made it in, who's to say he wouldn't have been broken a little further along the way? The artworld can be a cruel one. But I guess that's what really differentiates Hitler from Darger; Darger was clinical, but had a creative energy that he was able to channel - and he didn't need any approval to continue with his (tonnes of) work. But I digress ...

What I was really meaning to talk about was the intense diorama Fucking Hell a recently completed redux of the original Hell (1999) which was destroyed by fire in 2004:

HELL hath no fury
Like a chapman spurned,
So come see the second,
'Cos the first one burned.

I really quite enjoyed this work - it was very surreal, very engaging, and very sublime! I didn't recognize that the cases came together to become a giant swastika until I flipped through the exhibition catalogue but I gathered rather quickly that this was Nazi hell (death camp) for the Nazis. Some nice little touches, though, were the Hitler Factory sponsored (?) by McDonald's which produced some kind of radioactive ooze that produced hoards of zombies that would attack the Nazi soldiers intended to become new Hitlers ... at least that's what it looked like to me.

What's always fun about going to art galleries as well is hearing what the others are saying about as they wander around. I heard a pair of women bring in the art historical landscape tradition, and I've read elsewhere something about the Victorian display cases (and cabinets) of curiosities, and I know of a few people who couldn't resist comparing it to Warhammer. But it's basically a giant WWII diorama. They bring back all the WWII miniatures that the son of a family friend used to make as a teenager - they were always very exciting to me as a child. These are a bit more horrifying, but anybody who gets a kick out of gore and is susceptible to the sublime can gain some kind of (sick?) pleasure from this piece (a pleasure heightened by the fact that it did go up - or down? - in flames).

Although there was another room on the ground floor with a lot of great and creepy paintings, I'm going to stop here ... and with another quote from the Independent! But this time it's Jake on the reason for recreating Hell:

As an event, we couldn't fail to see something funny about hell being on fire. We couldn't imagine a world without hell and we wanted to rescue the work from the sentimentality that some clothed it in after it was burned. There was an affection for the work that did not exist when it was there as an object before the fire.

(I imagine it's also a lot easier to laugh when your recreation goes for £7.5m!)

*All images are from the Independent article on the exhibition except for the church scene which comes from Juxtapoz*

Saturday, 14 June 2008

More Odd Figurines!

TheRunnyBunny isn't the only seller on Etsy to create surreal ceramic figurines, Melabo does too! Her figures don't come in coloured versions and her prices are a bit higher, but she's got some fun reconfigurations going on that are worth checking out.

Black and White and Royalty Free!

Getty images has some great promotional and editorial type images in their Retrofile section. They're (mostly) all staged stock images from the 40s and 50s and can be lots of fun depending on what you may want to use them for. The preview images come with a watermark in the top corner, but as they are royalty free I imagine they can be downloaded for free if you're registered with Getty.

Amazing Punch Machine

Incorporates old photography/film and animated gifs!


Thursday, 12 June 2008

Very Low Quality JPGs

An interesting example of my last point from the last post.

These are very low quality jpgs from Fake is the New Real.

Via I Heart Photograph.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Black and White

I've always enjoyed going through my dad's old photos from when he was a young man in the 50s, along with the large collection of his cartoons documenting the family's life from as far back as the 60s (when my older half-sister was born), but it wasn't until my mother inherited a box of even older photos from her mother that I began to fixate on antique photos (I hesitate to use the word vintage, it can be - and is - applied to so much now that it's lost a lot of meaning to me). Not the process - I never went for photography in school - but the aesthetic, which greatly inspired me during my last year at uni.

Now, I haven't done much work since I left Montreal, my current apartment is tiny and London rent is too high for me to rent anything beyond a home, and I've given myself the excuse that as long as I'm studying something art related it's ok if I don't pick up a pencil or brush ... for the time being, anyway. What I do try to do, however, is I keep my eyes open for old photos (and as time goes on, I find myself attracted to contemporary photography with a similar aesthetic, but I won't be getting into that here, at least not now), either on the web, or IRL (Thursday antiques market is a treasure trove).

One site that has a great selection of high quality images is Shorpy Photoblog. Their images are mostly from the 20s and 30s and they're mostly professional images of such good quality that they at times look contemporary.

Another good source is Flickr. I learned about The Library of Congress' photostream through a friend's blog. The National Library of Congress is the US national library (based in Washington, DC), and are sharing their images through Flickr to make their images more accessible to the public. Their images vary much more in quality (though the digital copies are top notch) and often have crop marks or captions, which add to the aesthetic IMO.

The aesthetic I keep referring to is the lack of clarity, the haziness, that occurs physically through the older photo processes and psychologically thanks to the effect photography has on our memory. Even though we have no memories of these older images, we look at them as a record of a moment and compare them to our own photos of our own memories. These older photos belong to someone else's memories and I, anyway, can't help but try to recreate it in my own mind - reality doesn't look like this to me, so what would it have looked like really? The uncertainty of old photographs, I believe, tap into our sense of the sublime - that part of our aesthetic sense that has to grasp something conceptually that we know we can never fully grasp - and the pleasure we get in the unknown.

An interesting net toy is the Vintage Photo Converter. This Japanese application lets you upload your photos and then "converts" them into an image that looks like it's "over 100 to 150 years old." It's actually quite fun to experiment with because the effect isn't bad at all. As a result you realize what makes an old photo isn't just the effect but the composition, poses, props, etc.

You can use it to play with that expectation of memory and understanding of what a contemporary photograph should look like. But there are many other better or more interesting ways of getting a similar effect, such as using an old camera, a polaroid, a lomo, playing with image copying (which degrades the image quality), etc. I could go on and on, but then the post will grow into something else, and nobody will ever want to navigate through it all. Besides, the more I hold back the more posts I'll have for the future!

Give yourself a hand!

I enjoy this.

Via Via

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Look, look at me!

I am SOOOOO buying this!

$13.50 at TopatoCo, from the folks at Pictures For Sad Children.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008


The C-Monster Artspeak Quiz is a simple five question multiple choice quiz where you have to guess which clip of text goes with which artist's work. The beauty of it is that it's all so convoluted, you're not even meant to know the answers (you can win a "consolation" prize if you do, though)!

It made me laugh at first, but then it made me mad - hopping mad! Artspeak is just one of those things that reminds me why I will never actually have a career in the arts. I just can't take myself seriously enough to buy into the rhetoric!

By taking a position of absolutes, namely cosmological embeddedness and the influence of nature on human life and society, this exhibit goes against the relativist grain.

Seriously, what does that even mean?!?

Via Art Fag City (OMG indeed)


Stumbled upon - source: Tinypic.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Nifty Stuff - Kitschy Decorative Goodness

I'm not a very strong browser when it comes to the internet, making online shopping near impossible unless I have something specific in mind (and even then, if I can get it in real life, I'd much rather do that). But recently, while browsing Etsy (which I tend to pass once or twice a day, though I don't get far beyond the front page), I came across work by the seller TheRunnyBunny. Now, if you've ever wanted to own work by Canadian artist Shary Boyle, which are mutated versions of Royal Doulton figurines, then I'm sure these extremely affordable ceramic figures would make fine substitutions.

Her figures are all cast from vintage molds that she reconfigures into a kind of three dimensional collage. Though many are fairly straight forward animal figures, some get more complicated and interesting. This bird for instance, has a similar "flower virus" to many of Boyle's figures, but will only set you back $20.

Another of my favorites is this Rococo "Victorian Lady Bird", again, it's a steal at $16!

I've always found Shary Boyle's figures amazing not only for their detail, nor even for their disfigurement (although, I like the idea that they are a result of a bizarre decorative cancer - how much lace, how many flowers, before you really become sick?), but because of my nostalgia for the figures my grandmother gave me (while she was going through a "give it all away" faze of her dementia) and now sit in my sister's house (they don't move very well). So together with the nostalgia, the kitschy decorative quality make TheRunnyBunny's figures that much more exciting. The detail might not be quite as mind-blowing as with Boyle's or even RD's work, but put in a few bucks and you could create a nice little collection and display. Mix in a few actual Royal Daultons and the mix-up becomes even more interesting!