aldrich~LIVE: notes as a docent trainer @ The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Land Mine Notes 06-06-06

Land Mine:

1. To Mine the Land for natures’ resources. Dig, excavate, and extract for a deposit of ore, minerals, or precious metals.

2. An explosive device buried under the earth’s surface with the intention of injuring trespassers and marking territories.

3. Mine as a possessive pronoun. It refers to something that belongs or relates to the speaker or writer. Land that is owned, controlled or possessed.

Land Mine is an organized exhibition inside the Aldrich Museum that was loosely tethered to Anselm’s Kiefer’s work as a way to think about artist’s today who are working and using the land as a means to talk about human pain, emotion, and truth. The work communicates an intense emotion about a human and visceral feeling. As the curator aptly put it, “truth must be mined and human history easily eludes us.” By following these three artists, Laleh Khorramian, Wangechi Mutu and Michael Zansky, as people who use the idea of ‘land’ to communicate their ideas, and by bringing them together, a viewer is able to see a contemporary perspective of the physical world.

“The works of art in Land Mine gain their strength from the literal and metaphorical relationship between land and the human body”(Hough).

Wangechi Mutu, an artist who has born in Nairobi, studied undergraduate at Cooper Union, received graduate studies at Yale, and currently lives and works in New York. Her work explores the “contradictions of female and cultural identity” and makes reference to colonial history, contemporary African politics and the international fashion industry”. She draws from the aesthetics of traditional craft, science fiction, and funkadelia. Figures in Mutu’s work are distorted and mangled forms that still maintain a particular poise. Collaged elements combine to generate images of violence disease and suffering through the utilization of the female form.

Aside from figuration, and also within Mutu’s body of work, are less figurative and more circular composed forms from the artist’s “from tumors” series. A viewer can perceive them as either volatile molecules, sea urchins or planets. The exterior linear components look like shards extruding explosively. It is as if the form is blowing up or bursting with a sudden release of energy. These images clearly give vent to an intense emotion that is apparent suddenly to the viewer. Land Mine is an opportunity to focus on these peculiar editions in relation to the idea of the land in an explosive aesthetic.

Laleh Khorramian, was born in Iran, studied at RISD and the Art Institute of Chicago, received her MFA from Columbia University, and currently works and lives in Manhattan. Her work is uniquely lyrical (they are wildly enthusiastic and emotional about something). Her giant compositions look like topographical maps of newly charted lands. Like a map, viewers can experience an inclination to focus in on a finer detail. The captivating terrain is evocative and diverse – studies in depth of field, miniatures derived from abstract landscapes.
The abstract landscapes come from painting on top clay sheets that are smooth and slick. The surface looks liquid-like. Using this quality to her advantage, Laleh then concentrates on detailed sections of the overall canvass. Zooming in, she makes video animations out of enlarged segments of the painting. Direction notations for these digital compositions can be observed from up close. Overall, the work functions as a massive motion picture. A viewer can explore a haphazard time line of events from the point of view of the director. Korramian;s imagination circles intently moving towards encounter, yet ready to veer off into enticing nooks and small discoveries.

Michael Zansky, born in Bronx, New York, Michael went to school in Boston at Boston University. He now currently works and lives in New York as an artist and set designer for the television series Law and Order. Zansky’s works within Land Mine are selections from two independent, yet conceptually linked series: History as Ruin and Giants and Dwarfs.

The former is a sequential narrative combining figuration and abstraction in a series of 200 carved wooden panels reliefs (note: a selection from the series is on display). History as Ruin can be seen as an extensive schematic analyzing the workings of the universe and the course of human events in attempt to excavate the strata of thought to reveal a continuum. Zansky once said, “History is only an accretion of myths we must constantly recreate the history that has created us”. By outlining a history of human thought he employs a reductive process to forge a breath of vision that envelops science, mythology, philosophy, psychology, literature, music and art history. There are earthy hues and scorched shades that give the work an archeological feeling. Viewers are intended to have the sensation that they are discovering monumental artifacts that have survived an unknown era and civilization.
Giants and Dwarfs is a series made at the same time as History as Ruin. It covers similar ideas and themes but differs conceptually and physically. Conceptually, Giants and Dwarfs suggest multiple referential representations. For instance, Giants can represent intellectual titans who appear sporadically throughout time who challenge rigid belief systems and change the course of human history with revolutionary new ideas (Leonardo, Galileo, Newton, Einstein to select a few). They stand on the shoulders of their forbearers and peer into the distance for knowledge, while others shrink because they are constrained by a false belief system or lack of curiosity. There is also the literal link to astronomical terms forever expanding supernovas (Giants) and tiny dense black holes (Dwarfs). Likewise, Giants are the more vulnerable goliaths felled by a small stone and slingshot, or the dinosaurs that become extinct and replaced by smaller, more adaptable life forms. In the works, movement and lenses are critical for viewers to consider detailed clinical examination, variable ways of seeing, and the observation of the movement of bodies. Concepts like, growth and decay, expanding and contracting, impetus and energy and change and transience are at play. In totality, the works of Michael Zansky are most notable for their ability to embody and convey timely discovery and exploration.

Universal Truths within Anselm Kiefer: Velimir Chlebnikov

Velimir Chlebnikov is an exhibition by Anselm Kiefer (b.1945-today) that is a major new installation of recent paintings based on a Russian eccentric poet and thinker, Velimir Chlebnikov. Long having fascinated Kiefer, Chlebnikov is best known for creating analytical systems based on arcane mathematical calculations, which aim to indicate historical paradox and human absurdity.

Velimir Chlebnikov (1885 – 1922), was a fringe Russian Futurist Poet. (Futurism was an international art movement founded in Italy in 1909. for more see: ( At university, Chlebnikov studied both mathematics and linguistics. It was here that he began developing ideas for the renovation of poetic language. Chlebnikov partially founded Russian Futurism along with Vladimir Mayakovsky. When researching Chlebnikov, one will find that his work is less well-known than his fellow Futurist Mayakovsky, however, it is arguable that he exerted greater influence on twentieth-century poetry.

The Russian Futurists set out to shock the middle classes. They did so by staging extravaganzas. “Their poetics advocated a coarse vernacular, a whiplash line, verbal antics such as the pun and double-entendre, and a garnish of typographical invention”… Chlebnikov retained a degree of mysticism in his work – a mysticism of objects and words rather than of ideas and symbols” (Power 2). Proclaimed as a genius and the “King of Time”, he would travel through Persia as a lecturer/ journalist for the Russian government impressing his ideas on the cycles of time to soldiers of the Red Army. His goal was to create a universal language and to discover the algorithms that govern natural and historical events.

The writings of Chlebnikov navigate both history and time. Through systematic study of naval histories, Chlebnikov concludes that “sea battles repeat themselves every 370 years, or the multiples.” Apparently, his calculations take into account the charting of stars in relationship to recorded dates of sea skirmishes. As if this were not enough, his writings are constructed in a Russian Futurist style. This style implemented a Russian language “free from dilution.” In taking his native language, Chlebnikov “transformed it into something totally plastic and sonic by adopting a system of sounds derived from a pure Slavic vocabulary untinged by European or Latin influences as well as sounds taken from the animal world”(Power 2). That said, one finds that texts of his writing have been labeled with disclaimers stating that ‘the contents are incomprehensible’.

Chlebnikov’s biography is surely one of the most seductive in the history of Russian letters. Anselm’s Kiefer’s fascination with Chlebnikov and his work is likely due to the ability to rethink history on both an epistemological and philosophical level. Both are timely historians involved in the activity of rethinking how we know the past through history. Through the genesis of these paintings, Anselm Kiefer has given extended consideration to the life’s work of Velimir Chlebnikov. He has represented in a visual form, the memory and history of turbid waters, endless conflicts and sinking ships.

Similar to Chlebnikov, Kiefer’s work “radically and obsessively questioned his own tradition - not to push towards a utopia, but to find his own identity. It has cultivated its own mystique: opaque layers of German Romanticism, Mediterranean mythologies and esoteric doctrines, and, even more significantly, of a highly personal communication with the meaning of things”(Power 2). The exhibition however, is an amalgamation of more elements than just the writings of Velimir Chlebnikov.

For instance, Kiefer’s perceptibly physical style of painting accompanied by the vast scale of the work provides viewers an entrance into an immersive space. The exhibition itself is encased within a replica of a building in Barjac, France that the artist owns and used as a studio for the works’ conception. This building has been reassembled twice. The first time was on Hoxton Square in London for an opening with White Cube Gallery (2005). Now, it is re-installed for the second time in the Cornish Sculpture Garden at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut (2006).

The pavilion in which the thirty paintings reside, is a vast structure. Approximately 25’ x 50’ x 30’ (w’ x d’ x h’), with a massive doorway, the building emanates the aura of a cathedral, temple, or mausoleum. Standing inside, the paintings engulf and overwhelm the viewer within a sea of stimulating surfaces.

In the paintings Kiefer has inserted elements that reference layered meanings. For example, in several paintings there exist massive model ships, sunflowers*, or artist gloves hanging or attached directly to the canvas. Made of lead and/or plaster these carry metaphorical and physical weight. The ships are bodies within the sea tossed about endless waves. The sunflowers carry mythological meaning. Lastly, the artist glove refers to the hand of the artist. In an artwork, the hand of the artist is analogous to the hand of God.

An undercurrent to the work that can be appreciated with close attention, is the reference to love and desire. On many paintings there are references scrawled onto the canvas in the upper left corner. The text is “Odi Navali” (Italian for Naval Ode*), “Hero and Leander”* (Greek Mythological Lovers), or “Aphrodite”* (Greek Goddess of love, beauty and sexual desire). All of these were also the names of ships during World War II. Therefore, these vessels can be interpreted on a literal, a metaphorical, and a conceptual basis.

It is said that if you take an idea and enlarge it, it will become absurd once it is blown out of proportion. On the other hand, if you take a large idea and distill it to simplified proportion, it becomes concentrated and more potent. In a way, this is exactly what Kiefer has done with the concept of love and war. Using the writings of Chlebnikov as a springboard, Kiefer has infused mythological understandings with German Romanticism to acknowledge this inherently paradoxical opposition within human nature.

“The opposite of war is not peace, it is creation”
- Jonathan Larson Rent

“Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence”
-Henry Louis Mencken

“All is fair in love and war”
- Francis Edward Smedley

Discussing works by Jennifer Zackin with Richard Klein

Thinking about Jennifer Zackin and her work, periods and artists who have turned traditional into modern come to mind. For example, there are similarities between Zackin’s work and the work of Paul Gauguin from his travels throughout Tahiti. In both there is an exoticism that is colorful and salable. Pablo Picasso as another example, incorporated elements taken from African sculpture into his work. This was done from a very formal and distant stance where the mythology and true meaning of such imagery was absent. In either example, one hopes that this type of art making - one that embodies a form of multiculturalism- does so in such a way that all cultures can be equally valid.

There is an argument that one should let the culture speak for itself. Opposed to falsely romanticizing a belief system, a way of living, or a culture as a whole, the burden of representation is palpable in any discipline. Of course, anthropology shows great concern for these issues and even goes so far as to prescribe set methodologies. Equally, if not more concerned with the idea of fair representation, the discipline of art encourages new approach and processes so as to define a period in time. Anthropology seeks to encapsulate culture over time, where art seeks to embody culture in specific time.

Gauguin, Zackin, and artists working in a similar manner, exemplify an embracive methodology of art making. It is a collaborative practice where the artist is allowed to experience a culture from within, and then translate into a tangible form.

These issues are more central to anthropological understandings than they are to artistic understandings. There are two anthropologists who merit mention. The first, Carlos Castanata, is an anthropologist of the belief that one should become very involved with the culture of study. He insists on an immersion. That we should base our findings from lived experience. He thinks outside observation often calls for speculation and his style is defined by the need to document from living within a culture.

A second anthropologist, Margaret Mead, approaches anthropology from a very distant and scientific perspective. Her style is to document a culture from a distance in order to accurately observe the natural occurrences. She notes the human tendency to act differently based on the precept of awareness and approaches documentation accordingly.

Zackin’s approach incorporates elements of both anthropological styles. Separate from anthropology, it is not essential for art to adhere to prescribed methodologies. In fact, most great art defines itself by creating and implementing new and innovative methods. Art is a simplified blending of beliefs whereas the reality it represents is more complicated. Though it may be illusive to the viewer, Zackin is clear about her motivations and brings this work to us from a conscious point of view. As an artist (not an anthropologist), she can preserve the culture from the contemporary world in whatever manner she chooses. In doing so, Zackin has created unique testaments of both a contemporary and a traditional culture. The bringing of foreign imagery together with western perspective combines to form a new artistic hybrid.

“There are no bounds on how you want to express yourself. What a wonderful time to live in” – Richard Klein

Todd Hebert opened the training session by joking about his paintings by saying “Lately, I have been having a hard time seeing” (hence the blurred effect within the paintings). That said, he went on to say that he is not limited to drawing and painting, but that he works in sculpture and many other mediums. He felt it important to be versed in multiple mediums. More specifically though, he felt it important to have a control over the space represented in two-dimensional works. He describes his process of image making as being a stream of consciousness where he pursues a spatial dynamic and the ambiguity therein.

He also found it humorous that his work incorporates seasonal representations (fall, winter and spring). When listening to him, I noted a polarization in his rendering and how focus plays a large part within his imagery. Another person in the group enquired about the meaning behind the “Chinatown” drawings. He explained how the Chinatown of LA was a thriving hot art scene about a decade ago. Now it is not so much. This motivated him to make these drawings out of his curiosity for art scenes and their dynamics and cycles of movement.
Beyond that, these works were about the idea of familiarity. Apparently, Hebert found himself observing this Chinatown sign on a regular basis. Every time he passed it, he described how it would grip his attention. As a result he commented that his artwork pays homage to scenes like this in life that have the ability to grasp and hold a viewer’s attention. Similarly, this is how the painting “Dew” came about.
He is interested in creating dynamic spaces in the picture plane. The airbrush effects enhance this dynamic space by intensifying atmosphere while at the same time underscore the concepts conveyed. His works glorify subtle and invested image production. These techniques divert the viewer’s eyes to different levels in the paintings. This control over the image plane can be attributed to the devices he uses in the image construction. He describes it as a difficult space, one which he palpitatable and rich in the sense of a visual optical space.
He spoke about the phenomenon of optical vision and the push pull effect that occurs in reference to Hans Hoffman of the 1950’s who was renowned for playing with color intensities in his color field paintings.

While mentioning his influences, he discussed briefly how iconography, Carol Walker, Cosmology, Carol Dunum, and enfranchisement play into his art making. For him, making art is much about a process of induction and deduction. He describes it as an involuntary response in attempt to even out Global distortion. Acknowledging painting as a career that requires the painter to spend much time in solitude, led him to shed some reverence to past painters, who have played with the habitual relationship between painter and painting. The idea of painting a painting within a painting was of interest. Playing with the functionality of the picture plane was stimulating for him. He touched on the idea of permanence and how paintings outlive the artist in order to preserve culture from one perspective. As a result he encouraged us to see all the possibilities and try to observe perfection in painting. He motioned that one is not more important than the other. The important aspect was within a paintings ability to centralize vision and decentralize space being rendered. Optically he described the expansion and contraction of eyesight and vision. He appeared fascinated with the physics and function of the eyeball and the mechanics of optical space and how it has and is to be rendered.
Towards the end of the discussion he went into the meaning behind the water bottle. He sounded much like Andy Warhol and his ideas on Coke Cans. The reproducibility of the commodity was of fascination to him. The idea of water as a currency. He thought this particularly timely seeing as it is a reality of contemporary consumerism. He asked, “What makes one bottle more refreshing than the next?”

Oct 17 Docent Training with Todd Hebert

Lastly, Todd mentioned a few more thoughts/ ideas surrounding his work. He mentioned the similarities between Chuck Close, Signac and Seurat as being other artists who have had significant influence on him. This led him to proclaim that an artist “Must be faithful to their image.” He remembers his high school art teacher advising that he quickly learn to draw from memory. And one of his final comments elevated the bodily relationship humans have to paintings and how as art connoisseurs we need to be aware of this relationship and the corporeal dynamics and schemas that exist surrounding it. The owl exists in his work because of his fascination with the dead stare of the owl and how it relates to his own vision as an artist.

The following notes are taken from the Cyrilla Mozenter Brown Bag on November 16, 2005.
At this meeting, Cyrilla discussed some of her work in a slide presentation. The presentation began by expressing her interest in the development of her work over the duration of a 20-year career period. She said that she is always pleased to hear of any insights on, around or surrounding her work and the ideas contained. She hoped that if we had any varying interpretations, we would share them and their connections.

The slide presentation began by projecting an image of a painting that Cyrilla made in 1982. This painting was noted for having multiple layers of paint. She said that when she made it, she was interested in the choking of the surface. When making her marks, she thought of penetrating or breaking it up somehow. She imagined her sharp charcoal stick as an instrument similar to a sword. She said that cutting into the image was something like cutting into one’s self. She wanted to dislodge the image from inside and it resulted in this type of mark making. The whole while, she describes a great feeling of intention. No mark was made without intent. She wanted everything to matter, and reveled in the moment of each mark. She mentioned that it is important to her that artists be present in mark making. She could not understand how some other artists could hire people to develop their work for them. The actual imagery contained in this first work could be best described as a shape similar to the likes of a peanut or a wooden spoon. Other possible interpretations were a baby, a fetus or a seed.

Not all of Cyrilla’s works merited as much discussion as the first, though the second work shown was a three-part snowperson that apparently became a thematic style later on as the body of work developed. An important aspect of this work is the idea of growing. Snow, hexagons and other geometric shapes were of interest and importance to the artist. The idea of revealing shapes from alternative perspectives was mentioned. She said if you pick up a hexagon from vertical to horizontal, the bottom shape is revealed.
This movement was thought of as moving from something “rocky” or unbalanced towards stabilization or a state of balance. The result was something like a vessel-shaped head. For Cyrilla, making drawings is like making stories. One must pose a problem and find resolution. The problem of constriction was important. Similar to Alice in Wonderland the notion of fitting in a room or a limited space was present. Being either to small or too large was of interest to the artist but more importantly the Magical resolutions that are described in Carrol’s book were of conceptual influence.
Visually, these images reference the Psyclatic figures from Greece approximately around 3000 BC.

Cyrilla discussed the importance for artists to be in conversation with other art and artists from other times and in other places. Enthralled by these mysterious figures, Cyrilla created representational versions of them in her large-scale charcoal drawings. Beyond drawing, other mediums, such as sewing and cutting was incorporated in her works. By paying attention to every stitch she experienced a feeling of calmness. Other images included the lotus leaf. She mentioned that she felt a lack of ownership when creating a representation of a lotus, however, despite this repeating occurrence, she wanted it to be there. At this point Cyrilla mentioned a lush insight that she gained from excessive working with charcoal it is that “ Black charcoal erased over and over becomes silver”.
She then went on about the importance of tone and the concept of release from darkness.

Visually these shapes look similar to scissors cutting, a rabbit with large ears, or a pocketknife. She mentioned how the rabbit has a relationship with fecundity. Also the visual reference to image of the devil with horns was described. In her drawing she stressed the importance of release and the need to incorporate impulses.

Shifting into a more theoretical discussion she described the necessity for destructive forces in order to open up possibilities for new construction. This was meant to explain the varying mark making techniques employed. She went on to describe a fascination with archiving and imagined creating a giant tomb for maps and other documents.

Cyrilla’s following slides displayed work that can be described as portraying whirling flowers at great scale though the use of big gestures. She commented that there is a struggle to do small gestures because she finds small gestures harder to do. Images of abundance were projected. These images also contained the recurring image of these permutated and rather mysterious psyclatic figures.

At this point in her career, she acknowledged a shift from drawing to more sculptural elements. She described this as refreshing to work with actual objects simply because they carry a certain realness that was alluded to in her drawings. These sculptures are bowl like, fragile, and subtle. They are made of beeswax and different powdered pigments. She mentioned the influence from Egyptian fans and the Egyptian culture’s notion of preserving things. She noted that when a viewer brushes up against her work there is a positive tactile experience.

Again she returned to the idea of containment and worked in the idea of crucifixion. One of her sculptural pieces incorporated the spreading of seeds and beckoned thoughts of procreation and regeneration. It was described as drawing on the floor and acknowledged for holding aspects of vulnerability. The artist described it a particularly hair-raising experience. This then transitioned into the artist’s thoughts on drama and its incorporation within art making.
The next piece can be best described as a “Meditation on Soap”. Apparently, an impulsive process was employed in stealing soap from public restrooms that gave the artist a focus to her day. She knew it was wrong, but she said she felt like doing wrong. She thought of these objects as both clean and dirty. She liked thinking of soap as a purifier. The soap bars were ultimately displayed on towels in a grid on the floor. She says she was influenced by the Japanese dry gardens stances of poetry and that this work has reference to language, rhythm and musicality.
Following, came a work developed around the idea of choking and hurting. This piece placed fruit pits in felt bags that were subsequently stained a reddish/ violet color.
In briefly discussing this piece, she mentioned “You watched waffles while I watch watercreast” Obviously an alliteration, I believe this was constructed by the artist in relation to the work.
Following, the artist discussed the idea of influences. We transform the book as the book transforms you. A good artist absorbs all of culture. Should they not, it reflects an inability to see and makes art making a meaningless gesture. She implored that we use it (art) not just study it.
The artwork shown thereafter went into including more felt sculptural components. She brought up Hexagons, Geometry, polar bears, the color white, and snow. One slide displayed a pair of snow white felt gloves. They were gaudy and looked similar to polar bear paws. From here her interests followed ideas such as notes on a musical scale, hand pain, puppeting and marionettes.
The last piece displayed a suspended figure. She concluded the luncheon by acknowledging a sense of purpose or something beyond the art. She hoped to find out if her work told , taught or showed us something new or forgotten. And Lastly, she described her process as being a joyful procedure that is both pressured and playful.

Jane Harris: New Painting is an exhibition on view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum from August 21, 2005 until March 12, 2006. The exhibition displays six recent works completed by the artist while on sabbatical from Goldsmiths College. The nature of the work can lend itself toward many modernist painting styles (geometric abstraction, monochrome, op art, Color Field), though the artist is determined to stand distinct from these traditions. The key to decrypting these works is in realizing that these works are only simple on the surface. (Remember that simple does not mean easy. It simply means not complex). A thorough evaluation of Harris and her artwork will reveal an embedded consideration for the position of illumination. The subject of illumination alludes to multiple contexts within an understanding of art. It will help to focus on three distinct significations.

The more technical and scientific definition of illumination refers to the physics of light.

Illumination occurs whenever the luminous flux per unit area at any point on a surface is exposed to light. When an object is made visible it allows a viewer to evaluate according to their capacity to analyze visual stimulation. Every painting has surface texture. The surface texture of a painting allows the viewer to see further into the process behind its creation. The implemented painting technique in the work of Jane Harris emphasizes the surface texture so that the careful and consistent application of paint promotes the importance of brushwork. This texture reveals the portrayed forms as the viewer chooses to see the shapes. In other words, the mark making of each work (particularly the edges of each shape) enables the viewer to view the forms as either advancing or receding. This is nothing new. Op art has incorporated such visual techniques since the 1950’s. The fundamental importance behind this work occurs in how the texture reflects light to the viewer differently dependent on position. That is to say that the viewer will be influenced into seeing the shape as either positive or negative form based upon where they are in relation to the painting. In addition, the source of light in relation to each work will also influence the perspective of the viewer. As opposed to affectively and convincingly depicting the illusion of light, this painting reflects and revolves around the illusion of light. It is significant because through its approach, it unveils a relationship between light and form that has not been incorporated since Byzantine icon painting. This work sheds new light on a modus operandi of painting. This particular method reveals a more dynamic way to paint.

A second understanding of illumination is when there is a clarification or elucidation.

This “New Painting” by Harris reflects an intense outlook through controlled painting. This is visible in the meticulous craft, the color characteristics, and the psychological nature of the work.
Created by hand in one session, this work demands an intense physical discipline. In order to obtain the crisp edges, each layer of paint is applied “wet on wet.” Opposed to painting in separate stints, this paint is applied in an extensive session with each painting having a minimum of five layers. Also, it should be mentioned that the precision of her line curvature references calligraphy. The exacting nature of production is evident of an intense painterly control.
This type of art making is coupled by the artists selection of color. Equally as intense, the majority of colors could be described as synthetic, acidic, or essential. There are only two colors incorporated in each piece. Each pigment is mixed and proportions are recorded should the artist need to recreate a color. Aside from the unique quality of the colors, there is rich association to be found with such color selections. Terms such as strong, rich and pulsating come to mind. It may have to do with the vividly saturated qualities found within the colors. However, the nature of color is that it can resemble many things, which lends towards personally loading. The artist herself mentions a reference to the iridescent, metallic color found in the current trend for opalescent finishes on automobiles. Personally, the color palate is reminiscent of some of Van Gogh’s later works.
The history of painting is also riddled with psychological weight. Within a painting there exists an injected mindset of the artist. In analyzing a work of art, viewers often participate in conjecturing opinions on the ideas perceived in the artwork. This forming of evaluations is often based of off incomplete information. Often, artists themselves are even unable to fully grasp the overarching implications of their manifestations. However, it is important to note that within every piece of art there exists a way of thinking. This way of thinking determines an artist’s behavior and subsequently the production of the art.

There is an engulfing quality (both positive and negative) to these pieces of art. The size of each painting has the ability to surround and permeate a viewer. As stated previously, there is an intense quality to the work. In general, the forms perceived are eloquently depicted shapes that are completely resolved. This resolution exudes an aura that leaves a viewer feeling either completely fulfilled or slightly apprehensive. However, how the viewer sees these forms - as either positive or negative - influences their visual and emotional response.
For example, when a viewer sees the shapes as positive forms, the resolution of these shapes into precise, complete wholes is a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It is encouraging to see a sound relationship with the balanced inclusion of all parts or aspects. So much so, that the work carries an element which is true, striking and impressive.
Though should the shape be viewed as negative, one may experience a feeling of apprehension. When perceived as a negative form (an opening or whole), the scale and sharp edging present a viewer with an imposing cavity. This can be viewed as potentially threatening and trigger an instinctive “fight of flight” response. In other words, it sets off an “eat or be eaten” frame of mind. Reason will tell the viewer that there is no need to fear being eaten by a painting. Yet the shape resonates deep within our primordial unconsciousness and an uneasy feeling of uncertainty occurs.
Since there are several contrasting emotions that a viewer can experience as their relationship to the lighting shifts, there is much that a viewer can pull from these works.

While the viewer can personally load the image to resemble a multitude of things, the subject represented in the work remains neutral. The ovular shapes are cloud-like forms that can conjure representations of globs of semi liquid bodies, comic book and graphic novel text frames, reese’s pieces candy, and atmospheric masses amongst other things. But, how a viewer perceives these shapes can vary greatly because they are open for the viewer to inject meaning into these forms. Despite the apparent neutrality of the subject, the tightly prescribed geometry of these elliptical forms entertain conflicting ideas and forces for the artist. For example, it should be mentioned that the artist has a predilection for Florentine fresco painting. This lends toward titles such as “Halo” where additional meaning can be tapped once one references the threads of icon painting throughout art history.
So sitting atop an extensive history of painting, this work enables several parallel and corresponding connections to be drawn. Once clarified, this work is much more complex than it first appears. What is most illuminating is the artwork’s ability to raise questions about the role of contemporary painting and the interactivity involved in viewing art.

Lastly, the third and metaphorical form of illumination is when one experiences a spiritual or intellectual enlightenment.

After viewing these works, one is able to transcend beyond the antiquated notions of contemporary painting and experience painting in a more elaborate and stimulating manner. John Berger in Ways of Seeing once wrote :

“We never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves. Our vision is continually active, continually moving, continually holding things in a circle around itself, constituting what is present to us as we are.”(Berger 9)

This segment of Berger’s book encapsulates the relationship between the viewer and the artwork. This “New Painting” is a good example of how art can cater to human perception. Unlike a static image that is intended for viewing from one perspective only, these paintings are intended for multiple perspectives. A viewer experiences the imagery from a unique perspective that relates to their physical locale and their perceived source of illumination. Therefore, this work does not translate well through reproduction as understanding it is dependant upon experiencing in person. As a result, it epitomizes and reinforces the missions of museums and exhibition spaces as well as enhancing our knowledge of human perception.

Overall, the “New Paintings” of Jane Harris critically champion and extend concepts found within modern art theory. This work contributes to the furtherance of Walter Benjamin’s concept of the ‘aura’ surrounding an original piece of artwork, by extending the quality of presence an artwork can hold. And, most importantly, the work stresses the imperative of viewing artwork in person due to the dynamic physical and psychological exchange that occurs.

Miniare: to Color with Red

“Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration”(KACC) affords a viewer with an enriching account of a present-day Pakistani miniature painting collaboration. This work contributes to the furtherance of two distinct art historical topics. The first and perhaps more immediate reference, is this works orientation to the Persian arts (more specifically, the rich history surrounding the painting workshop – Karkhana). While the second, and particularly distinctive element of this work, is its alignment with other artistic collaborations. Keeping this in mind, the artwork on exhibit is important because it documents a diffusion of the miniature method into occidental contemporary painting. This new “Karkhana” represents a break with the traditional institution and reflects a distinctly contemporary moment through collective expression.

History of the Karkhana

“Karkhana”, an Urdu term for workshop, references the imperial Mughal court of the 16th century. In 1526, a Turkish warrior Babur (1483 – 1530) captured Delhi and established the Mughal Dynasty. Babur’s son, Humayan (reigned 1530–1556), had spent fifteen years in Persia prior to his father’s death, and developed a preference for the styles observed in the Persian arts. When he returned in 1530 to continue his father’s dynasty, he imported with him Persian émigrés and Indian courts to be patronized within the Mughal Empire. The dynasty promoted new subjects based on Mughal history, rulers, and nobility. Due to these origins, Mughal painting began as a purely Persian style, marked by virtuoso brushwork and naturalistic rendering of forms.
Humayan’s successor, Akbar (reigned 1556–1605), one of India’s greatest and wisest rulers, continued and expanded this tradition of patronage. Circa 1565, the imperial Mughal court began to expand. The pool of artisans enlisted in the imperial Mughal court workshop went from approximately 50 to reaching as many as 130 painters by 1600. At its height, the court was a “complex organization where bureaucracies were set in place to harness the appropriate talents and coordinate tasks in a fruitful and efficient manner”(Seyller 12). For any project there was an elaborate process of distributing the work amongst several skilled artisans. Single manuscripts would be circulated amongst several artists over multiple stages of development. Each artist would contribute their part separately, and pass it on to the next artist until the work was complete. Since authorship belonged to many, a strict style was developed for the sake of consistent image production. This was achieved through refined technical practice that was passed down from generation to generation. Mughal painting gradually developed its own identity, however, new techniques and subject matters blended with more established traditions.
The established tradition of Mughal miniature painting is still in practice today. The National College of the Arts in Lahore Pakistan is just one of the universities still instructing the more traditional elements. All six artists in the KACC exhibition have graduated from this program. This exhibition is an opportunity to view contemporary Pakistani painting and observe how elements of the traditional Mughal miniature are incorporated to form a hybrid expression of both contemporary and ancient technique.

Collaboration is Key

As mentioned previously, collaboration is another central topic found within this KACC exhibition. Collaboration is influence positively perceived as part of an ongoing cultural dialogue. Whenever artists create, they assume an established way of looking and reacting to the world. Art is, simply, a means to an end. Art communicates complex understandings that words cannot. The collaborative nature of this work allows for a collective expression from combined understanding. This exhibition allows the viewer the opportunity to see, learn and grow from an alluring array of Pakistani artisans. In addition, collaborative art enables both the artist and viewer to examine the dialogue and/or conversation between artists. So in effect this work offers valuable insight into an eastern perspective through the dialogue of contemporary art making on world politics.
This work is also significant because of its alignment with other artistic collaborations. There are several examples of effective artistic collaboration throughout history. However, the Karkhana Catalogue essay “In The Spirit of Improvisation” by Jessica Hough, points out how the manner in which this work was created, directly correlates to the drawing games of the Surrealist movement in the 1940’s and 1950s. The game known as the Exquisite Corpse is most like the KACC style where each artist layers imagery in turn.
The exquisite corpse is a game of folded paper which consists of having several people compose a phrase or a drawing collectively. This method of the Karkhana artists mirrors this process. In the surrealist game however, none of the participants are to have any idea of the nature of any preceding contribution or contributions. The now classic example, which gave its name to the game, is the first phrase obtained in this manner: The exquisite corpse shall drink the young wine.
In both versions of the game, the final result was believed to be greater than what the players would have otherwise achieved separately or together in conscious collaboration. As a result, the works took the measure of the collective mind. There are several findings on collective thought. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell are experts on the subject, and have published books on how collective thought comes into play through mediums such as mythology, dreaming and entertainment. Andre Breton, the “Pope of Surrealism”, reveled in how each participant supplied only one part of imagination through creation, and how the end product was always multiplied to have a more intense effect than any individual could have imagined.
This form of artistic expression was elevated within the Surrealist movement. By gathering all huddled around and in what was called the “moment of grace”, the etat d’attente or “state of expectation” allowed these poetic representations to take form. “The Exquisite Corpse disorients: it devalues the singular imagination. It exults the anti-sentimental, the anti-individual, the anti-logical. It is about relations, about the mind and the object, the mind and chance, the mind and its ultimate possibility”(Becotte 37). Here, Breton insists on the ability of images to procure a desired emotion. The poetic here is a matter of collective interpretation. For example, what might have seemed, to the outside eye, disorder, proved instead to reveal some remarkable hidden ideas and/or longings within a visual and especially dynamic form. The partial creations merged together to combine an explicit substantiation of group desire for the body entire. Each part refers back to the whole while at the same time remaining uniquely distinct.

Looking Again at KACC

Since each participant added one segment of a larger whole, the combined imagination and creativity is unique to this collective collaboration. Beyond their expression as a collective, they create work that connects to the universal unconscious mind through a collective interpretation and synthesis. In other words, there is an extension of voice through collective expression. Incorporating multiple artistic minds in such a manner enables dynamic, and reflexive expression. This work reveals remarkable hidden ideas or longings within a visual and dynamic form.
This collaboration marks many milestones within both the contemporary and art historical narrative. Since all of the artists featured in this collaboration received their education from the same Lahore Institute only a few years apart from one another (with an overlap in the years enrolled), the artistic nature of these works is relative through their training received, and their cultural heritage. The direction of each work is typically local to the themes and styles consistent within the initial artist’s vein of work, though each subsequent artist thereafter, has full reign over the reinterpretation of each piece. This process allows the artwork to extend the meaning further and become more complex.
In noting the divergence of approach to contemporary art making between the artists located within Pakistan and those who create work abroad in other cultural environments, one can infer aspects of cultural transference. Their joint experience in Lahore is a shared understanding, while their individual experience shows through in how they have acclimated within particular frameworks of living.
The combined work contains all of these perspectives. The exhibition displays both collaborative and individual artwork. This allows a viewer to develop a visual literacy for an individual artist’s style and then be able to trace their contributions through the twelve collaborative pieces. In doing this, the viewer is able to better understand the degree of interplay and lateral thinking that was integrated in its production.

Contemporary Discourse

Aside from acknowledging the difficult interpretation of all the cultural nuances contained in this artwork, one may still behold and appreciate its progressive nature. The KACC exhibition arises from the fusion between traditional oral transmission, and a postcolonial art-school training. The orally transmitted tradition is discrete while the complete influence of British Imperialism in all aspects is intangible. Aspects of both may be perceived, though it is important not to jump to any conclusions from conjecture.
What is known is that there is a widening split between the two discourses on miniature painting. One believes that the miniature should remain autonomous, whereas the other is for the diffusion of both the methodology and philosophy behind the tradition. The artworks of the KACC exhibition are important because they record the understanding of a group of artists who have learned to read both discourses and are critically creating works with a jointly directed vision.
In addition to progressing Pakistani artistic tradition, these works provoke and promote current ideas, thoughts, and attitudes towards Pakistani culture, politics, and worldviews. The distinguishing characteristic of this work is in its ability to recontextualize the robust history of the karkhana. In effect, what is shown, are the lasting elements of a historically traditional system that have negotiated form in a modern way.
What is for certain about this exhibition is that it draws attention to an understanding of global politics. Opposed to the simplified nature of western media coverage, this work acts as a positive and peaceful force in the US and Middle Eastern dialogue. The artwork offers creative and insightful foreign perspective on a thoroughly complex issue. It’s acclaim and positive reception in occidental venues will encourage the furtherance of this vanguard and similar hybridizations anew.

Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration

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Production of a Karkhana Miniature
How is this Made?
Seeing as several docents frequently stress understanding the manufacturing process of artwork- here are some helpful descriptions of the components incorporated in these artworks. This information may be appealing to people who partake in the artistic tradition of creation, however, one should note that the general public is typically more concerned with what the artwork means as opposed to how it is created. In other words, beware boring your audience by lecturing about Karkhana’s production techniques. Keeping that in mind, below are some additional insights into the process behind the miniature tradition. This is a supplement to information viewable in the Project Space video by Anna Sloan.

The Support
The support for a miniature painting is wasili; a board composed of three or four sheets of paper glued together using laii, a flour paste. A sheet of paper is wet with water, and then laii is applied and worked into the surface. Trapped air bubbles and excess laii are worked out to the edges of the paper by hand. This process is repeated as more sheets of paper are added. Finally, a decorative piece of paper (tea-stained, marbled, a page from a book, etc.) may be used for the top layer of the wasili.

The wasili is taped to a flat surface using strips of paper coated with laii. The paper strips prevent the board from curling as it dries. They can be removed later, or left on the wasili as decorative elements. After the board is completely dry, the surface is burnished using a shell. The thin layer of laii that was left on the final sheet of paper is polished to a very smooth, hard surface for painting.

The Brushes
In addition to the artist’s fingers, several sizes of brushes are used in miniature painting. The smallest are made by hand from the hair of a squirrel’s tail. The hair is collected from a certain part of the tail, sorted, individually inspected, shaped, bound together, and then set in the base of the shaft of a pigeon feather. The handle is created by whittling down a bamboo splinter.

Types of Painting
There are two types of miniature painting. The first, siyah qalam, is a transparent watercolor technique using only sepia-colored paint. The paint is made by mixing gum arabic and very finely ground pigment powder. The second type, guddrang, is similar to gouache, in that white pigment is added to make the paint opaque. In both types, gold leaf and gold paint are often used to embellish the surface of the painting.

Indian miniature painters mix their paint in mussel shells and use their fingers as both palette and paintbrush. They achieve a sense of shading through the use of tiny parallel brushstrokes, filling in the spaces between the strokes until there is a very even transition from light to dark. In the guddrang technique, color is first laid down in a flat, very even wash. Shading is done over the top of this solid area of color. Jewelry and other details are added at the end. Artists traditionally work while seated on the ground, supporting the wasili on a knee or a small board.

There are a substantial number of training notes I have written for past exhibitions that I now realize would be better if made available online. Now they can benefit any one who is interested enough to find them. I plan to keep this open and continually available as an open source communication path for the technoligically inclined aficionados.