Category Archives: Marine Kambara

Silver Eye: No Job No Home No Peace No Rest

Knowing that five generations of Will Steacey’s family (including himself) worked in the diminishing newspaper industry, we better understand the blend of photographs, pages of handwritten thoughts, and newspaper clippings that make up The Beast, a colossal collage that takes over the first room of the Silver Eye Center for Photography. In “No Job No Home No Peace No Rest” he portrays the death of the American dream, the core of American lifestyle. He appoints himself spokesperson for those who have had to bear the brunt.

Thousands of clippings, obsessively amassed over the years and carefully assembled with deliberation encapsulate the economic slump and the people’s growing desperation, from the prosperity of post-WWII to the changes triggered by 9/11. Headline after headline, some words crop up repeatedly: Nightmare. Promise. Crisis. Hell. Concerning the American Dream, this collage is truly disenchanting. In Steacy’s handwritten notes, his shock, and anger that it’s gone this far, shows through – and he’s not forgiving. Everything that’s going wrong in America makes The Beast; it’s monstrous, and once it charges, seems unstoppable. And it’s trampling over everyone.Steacy attempts to “hold a mirror to America” so we can review our mistakes. But, the mirror is tinted – it’s through the perception of the national media that we see, so it can eventually seem too blunt and excessive (like INVITATION TO A BEHEADING being placed above THE AMERICAN DREAM) because headlines are dramatic and provocative in order to get a reaction. However, he uses the collage to cover several subjects, which is not as easy to accomplish in a single photograph.

After the overwhelming information-crammed walls of the first room, the following two rooms feel quiet. Unless you’ve been desensitised by the staggering collage, Will Steacy’s photographs have an unnerving subtlety that tells the stories of individuals in a way that the collage can’t; The Beast is the nation’s agonising lament of its own condition. The photographs depict a building that has been planned but never realised, a “Set for Life” Lottery ticket that has been vigorously scratched. Some photos fall short of surpassing a normal view on a lower-class quarter of a city, like the two jack-o’lanterns on garden chairs or the discarded cup in a newspaper stand. Likewise, the portraits only work in the context of the economic crisis; without any captions to help us imagine their woes, his subjects are simply dispirited.

For those who aren’t struggling from the effects of the issues covered by Steacy, his works might make the magnitude of America’s problems dawn on you, or perhaps they just make accusatory generalisations. And for those who are strongly impacted, you may realise that the situation is worse than you thought. It would be futile to look for any signs of hope in the exhibition. There’s so much going wrong, how do we even begin to make amends? Is it possible to think of solutions if faced with an apocalyptic view of all the problems of America at the same time?


Woodstreet Galleries: The City & The City

“The City & The City”, guest curated by Justin Hopper, is not a portrayal of London that one might ordinarily see on a trip as a tourist. From wandering, observing, and contemplating, selected artists (who are primarily writers) give us a sense of how geographic environments affect the human psyche. All the reading asked of visitors is unusual, but in skipping it, one would leave with a very different experience. The artists bring us new awareness and ways to interpret our surroundings through their works on their city’s history, memory, language, and its contrasting existences during daylight and darkness.

Depending on with what floor you begin, you either start with London’s history, or end up there after seeing explorations of the present the floor below. In “Sights Unseen” Rachel Lichtenstein draws from her roots, her grandfather being a watchmaker/jeweler, to uncover quarters of London where diamond merchants have thrived, unobserved, over generations. However she does not go much further than documentation with her display cases of artefacts, whereas Dickinson and McCarthy rewrite an historical event, making an anarchist’s failed bombing attempt successful in “Greenwich Degree Zero”. In a darkened room stands, softly lit, prop up journal reports, letters, and photos, as if they were light-sensitive documents in a museum or library archive. They are altered to fit the new story; history, memory, and the way events are recorded are part of the city even if we don’t see it.

Sukhdev Sandhu’s  “Night Haunts” records impressions he had amongst the night-dwellers of London, from the avian police to Samaritans, cleaners, and graffiti-artists, who see the city in an entirely different light and mindset than other Londoners. The rules of the day do not seem to apply. Through writing so perceptive and poignant, we feel the same darkness, loneliness, and beauty of the city that they do while the rest of the city is asleep. The eerie ambiance sounds and curious noises, the fragmented images, and the trickle of words, slow down the time and help us empathise with the stories being told. A title like “Night life” would not quite capture the “different texture and gravity” of the night. Petit, Matthews, and Sinclair’s “Flying Down to Rio”, on the other hand, is a voyage in daylight; the screens act as windows simulating a car ride through East London. Very little makes it differ from Google map’s streetview – a strange soundtrack, the ornament on the bonnet, the lines of the defroster on the rear window. But at certain moments, all four screens are identical and the scene quickly becomes unreal.

London is explored in ways that we might not be able to, as it exists in people’s minds, and as it exists in reality. Pyschogeography changes our perspective of the world around us, relating our immediate environment to our subconscious. Although the history of Pittsburgh is hardly as long as London’s, it seems an appropriate place to hold the exhibition because of how rapidly it has gone through change.

Pittsburg Gallery Crawl: Unblurred

The buildings that artists have bought, renovated, and used on the section of Penn Avenue that intersects Garfield and Bloomfield now make up the art scene and community that host the gallery crawl known as Unblurred. It’s preferable to attend during the warmer months so the streets were calm and the gallery crawl-ers could mostly be found hiding inside. As a newcomer coming with expectations from the gallery crawls of downtown, the stark difference of atmosphere and art was a surprise. The event pulls away from the more typical white cube setting into something more community oriented, attracting a more local audience.

After stopping at Awesome Books to pet several rotund felines sprawled over stacks and shelves, I crossed the street to see the International Children’s Art Gallery, whose name is deceiving for a place that doesn’t have much to do with children. There is a rawness to Richard Rappaport‘s huge gestural figure paintings that are propped up on bookshelves and stapled directly to the walls. Further down, Garth Rafacz’s “8-Bit Art” at Garfield Artworks is nostalgic of Nintendo game days. Far from the pristine walls of a standard gallery, the dirty walls of the long room are ridden with nail holes. Small canvases float several inches above a pencil line drawn at eye-level, and it’s hard to find paper cutouts of pixelated characters that are peeling off impressive.

The sign outside Artisan for explicit sexual content – “…you must be 18 or with an open-minded parent or guardian” – doesn’t prepare you for what’s about to be seen. The floor is tiled with pennies, and a single brick wall is covered with photographs by Caldwell Linker depicting a realm that one might not be able to handle live – the queer and trans community and nights of drag debauchery in Pittsburgh. The nature of the subject attracts a certain crowds, and it makes me realise that I haven’t seen many families on this crawl.

A ten-foot fish of recycled metal welcomes you into Wherehouse, a studio space for several artists where paintings, zines, sculpture, and handmade artefacts are sold amongst indescribable piles of “junk” only artists can amass. Any neat freak might suffer a heart attack. The atmosphere is warm; visitors chat to artists, make their own shrines for Dias de la Muertos, and hang out on a shabby spray-painted couch whilst a huge blue paper-mâché face stares down from the ceiling. As for the smell of musty buildings, beer, and marijuana that you might have gotten used to on this crawl, this warehouse surpasses them all.

The crawl is relaxed and amusing, though most works were subpar; but attempting to be something that its not would take away some charm from the experience. Some scenes of the crawl have such character that perhaps Oakland, with the university population to cater to, doesn’t have. Even the lack of labels for work and general information for exhibitions help you chat to artists and get to know a pleasantly odd side of Pittsburgh.

The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project

Pittsburgh Filmmakers present a series of photo essays that act as documentation to be archived and reexamined in retrospect. Encouraging activism does not seem to be a motive; there isn’t much hope in stopping the already charging beast of the natural gas industry exploiting resource-rich lands. Being a team of six, the photographers were able to cover more ground, problems, and personal stories all over Pennsylvania within 18 months. They attempt to equally present both sides of the situation, but in reporting their encounters as truthfully as they experienced it, along with the incompliance of companies involved, fail to do so. Nevertheless, they are still effective in prompting refection rather than handing over their opinion.

Though not exclusive to Pennsylvania, it’s daunting to realise that whilst standing in the gallery, this grave situation is happening right at the city’s doorstep. The crucial stories in the captions make it more personal to us. For those who aren’t directly affected, the extent of impact on the environment and certain communities can be easily missed. The challenge of visually presenting a situation caused by excavating an invisible gas, with consequences that are slow to surface and not particularly active, is tackled with different approaches.

Nina Berman photographs a gas/oil corporation’s third annual picnic (attended by thousands), as well as protests outside the Environmental Protection office, showing the divisive nature of the situation. Brian Cohen’s panoramic landscapes bring a more impartial and observational perspective to the table. Gas pipes snake through pastures; well pads and drilling rigs sit in what would have otherwise been beautiful, serene landscapes. Noah Addis’ huge portraits are separated by just as large photographs of spoiled landscapes. The elderly man, middle-aged woman and child perhaps represent what has happened, the current suffering, and the probability of a dismal future. Lynn Johnson’s weary subjects sit with heads in hands; the colourless photos evoke a sense of irreversible time, crushed dreams, and the legacy of past generations lost. Martha Rial’s narrative shows how close to home the operation is; it becomes a backdrop to their goat farm. Not much economic value is brought by the operation to areas that have been affected; instead, like in wartime, they are left with only devastation, and fruitless land and sources of water. Both Goldsmith and Cohen show the positive aspects; though there are risks, and relations with neighbours become strained, it’s easy to rationalise when some people’s rise in profits helps keep their business afloat in such an economy.

Even with the record numbers of animals dying and people getting sick, proving indirect consequences that aren’t immediate is difficult. What’s worse is what we don’t know, what’s purposefully hidden from the public. This documentary project shows that even though the product may be clean, the process is clearly not. It is difficult for one to leave it concluding that the process of extracting gas is safe. Despite the intention of bringing light to misconceptions surrounding shale drilling, the photographs manage to keep the mysterious aura.

White Cube Green Maze: New Art Landscapes

In contrast with the typical monolithic museum building, those presented in this exhibition are built specifically for the landscape – sunken into hills, their existence subtle. Six institutions from around the world, huge collective efforts between patrons, curators, artists, landscape architects, and architects, are dissected into a maze of sketches, blueprints, models, 3d renderings and videos. We try to get a grasp of each place by perusing them and piecing them together. Each site is vastly different – a few islands, a former NATO missile base, a botanical garden – but is brought together by a common ground in sustainability, and a different approach to viewing art.

The idea of immaculate white walls and concrete floors are discarded in Instituto Inhotim (Brazil), Jardín Botánico de Culiacán (Mexico), and the Grand Traiano Art Complex (Italy). Usually museum visitors don’t go astray or out of order when going from one cold enclosed room to another, but these parks let visitors create their own path and wander from large installation pieces to spaces for temporary exhibitions; the walk between each of them a moment of contemplation. Images and models boast a wide range of contemporary works, including a video documenting one of Chris Burden’s Beam Drop (Instituto Inhotim), but a common agenda of biodiversity, environmental preservation, and education are also clear.

The Olympic Sculpture Park (Seattle) and Stiftung Insel Hombroich (Germany) are two projects that have revitalised communities by reinventing brownfield land local citizens aren’t so proud of, into parks they might come to value. The architecture has a connection to the unique surrounding landscape; it couldn’t be constructed anywhere else.  Barricades, halls, and hangers are altered and added to by sculptors and architects for a place where artists, composers, scientists and scholars can be creative.

None of these sites are focused on a single piece of architecture; they consist of several indoor spaces that are seamlessly integrated with the space outside. Most notably, the buildings of the Benesse Art Site, Japan, barely disrupt the serene terrain of the islands that they inhabit. In a room full of straight-walled, flat-roofed models with meticulous detail, the organically shaped models of the Teshima Art Museum stand out. Artist Rei Naito and architect Ryue Nishizawa were inspired by a droplet of water to create this smooth concrete membrane that envelops the visitors. Unlike ones we’re used to, this art museum is nearly devoid of art. Building, landscape and art are made inseparable in all the projects exhibited.

The exhibition brings a more open-minded way of presenting art to the extravagant and intimidating interior of the Carnegie Museum of Art, showing us an innovative future for architecture, not just for museums. The conventional white box is a vacuum that cuts out any context from the art, making art untouchable and unrelatable. With the exception of the one in Italy, all the sites are already functioning institutions have taken art from this isolation and integrated it with life.

Pittsburgh Gallery Crawl 28/09

One of the more lively evenings of Pittsburgh, affirmed by the crowded on-street parking and garages, is the quarterly gallery crawl – an unmissable event for those into the arts. All the venues within the few blocks are intimate; walking the span of the cultural district is no daunting affair. Yet, there seems to be enough variety in the exhibitions, music and dance events, for a diverse audience to have an enjoyable night. Pinpointing what to go and see on a postcard size map, one often ends up – at some point – in two of the galleries that are usually most exciting: Wood Street Galleries and SPACE.

The City & the City exhibition atWood Street explores London as it exists in people’s minds, as well as in reality – through its history, urban landscape, and psychogeography. The first piece you encounter, Flying Down to Rio [2011, Petit, Matthews, and Sinclair] will stay with you for the entire evening. You are surrounded by four sizable projections of London streets during the day; and the longer you stay (especially when you sit) you realise you’re looking through the windows of a travelling car. The slightly eerie music, and instances when the four projections are identical, keep you away from the place’s reality.

Further down the street, instead of seeing manikins in the large storefront-like windows of SPACE, anyone outside sees a darkened room interrupted by moving projections, flashing colours, and a consistent blaring sound that is hard to call music. The title of Circles of Commotion and Moving Pauses fittingly describes such an assault on the senses. Lights, reflections, and distortions create this exhibit, as well as a crusty sailboat placed on Persian rugs that makes us feel like we’re miles under sea level, and a huge weightless ball swinging back and forth like a pendulum coolly coaxes visitors into the gallery through the window. Handheld twisting footage of this ball is projected on its own smooth white surface so we can see the sphere within the sphere within the sphere; you can’t make heads or tails of it and trying to recognise what you’re seeing projected is futile.

The crawl would have lacked much of its exuberant energy without Project Pop Up: Night Market. In front of the glittering backdrop of the familiar cell phone disco, independent vendors stood behind stalls adorned with string lights, enticing you to try out their products; from pies, to woodcut prints, to robot repair for robots that never functioned in the first place. A wall was marked with huge chalk letters: “I WANT ____TO POP UP”, inviting people enjoying the market to scrawl suggestions. Interactivity is often a crowd pleaser in public events such as this. As usual, the crawl was successful as a social gathering, bringing together a creative crowd, but not as enjoyable as an observer taking copious notes on the artworks themselves. Not one of the strongest gallery crawls that Pittsburgh has had, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Vanessa German, Emerging Artist of the Year

American flags and quilts set the tone for an exhibition that explores the artist’s heritage, and forces a reckoning with history. The recurring motif of a bare breasted black woman is printed on them, embedded in the country’s history. Delia in a Field of Stars becomes a slave-spangled banner . It’s covering a darker cloth, suggesting that it’s hiding an iniquitous part of history. We are afraid to touch the flag to get a better view – it feels like we are forbidden to; but do we want to see anyway? Vanessa German’s multimedia sculptures fill the entire first floor of the Pittsburgh Center of the Arts for her exhibition for winning the Emerging Artist of the Year Award. Being a poet, actress, designer, and photographer, German certainly doesn’t limit her self-expression to any single medium.

The adjacent rooms hold visually complex sculptures that require more careful attention. German masters assemblage, weaving narratives from the stories of each found object. They resemble nkisi, tribal fetishes (primarily from the Congo basin) that are inhabited by spirits and awakened by driving in sharp objects; each nail was thought to protect, heal, keep an oath, or the opposite – to curse or strike one with a disease.  German’s figurines are laden with history, made immobile by what adorns them; each key, plug, watch, whistle, comb and piece of jewelry represents a happening. Clearly the sculptures are charged with symbolism, however the meaning becomes irrelevant and allows the individual to offer his/her own experience and significance to the sculpture.

Any aloof visitor might overlook the figures, not noticing that they are in fact fair skinned dolls reconstructed and altered with plaster by the artist, facial features moulded to fit the African American stereotype. An image in Littlest Rebel is particularly striking: a young Shirley Temple’s skin and hair is scribbled over in black; she now has an afro. German paints over condescending mentalities and portrayals of African Americans in popular culture, reinventing societal views similarly to Betye Saar’s use of Aunt Jemima in the Black Arts movement in the 70s.

The healing aspect of the power figures is most strongly portrayed in It’s Out of My Hands; seven arms protrude from its head, palms exposed, eyes closed in resignation. At its feet a box holds small magnifying glasses labelled with all the problems and fears shed, from a brain aneurysm to just a wrong decision. German gives sculptures a practical use spiritually, not only to be observed from afar. Traditionally, nkisi have a compartment in the belly holds medicinal substances; but in, Red, White, Blue, the cavities hold footage of a serene wooden house, the seaside, and trees swaying in the wind. Whether these things disburden her from fears or just comfort her, it shows that these sculptures don’t solely concern the empowerment of a race that struggled through one of the worst episodes of American history, but also her own personal struggles and ways to deal with them.