Le livre des Monts et des Mers à l’honneur au paradis du shopper

Capture d’écran 2016-02-25 à 13.52.26© gabriel de la chapelle

Savoir-faire et traditions ancestrales chinoises ont investi, du 16 janvier au 15 mars 2016, les allées du Bon Marché Rive Gauche. Pour son exposition « Er Xi, Air de jeux », Ai Wei Wei a spécialement créée des sculptures monumentales rappelant les significations et traits de caractère des créatures mythologiques du Shanhai jing, le livre des Monts et des Mers, un recueil, vieux de 2000 ans, qui compile données géographiques et légendes de l’antiquité, et qui fut essentiel dans la culture chinoise.

Ai Wei Wei avait déjà exposé ses photographies au Jeu de Paume, en 2012, mais ce n’est que rarement que la France a pu accueillir les sculptures de l’artiste.

Dépassement des clivages culturels populaires chinois et européens

Tout comme les migrants anti-fascistes européens qui s’intégrèrent à la culture américaine lors de la seconde guerre mondiale, Ai Wei Wei se voit aujourd’hui comme un avocat de la question migratoire. Il rappelle que la diaspora peut jouer un rôle majeure pour lier deux communautés, comme lui-même le fait avec son art qui rassemble les deux cultures, chinoise et européenne.

Ai Wei Wei a peuplé l’intérieur du Grand Magasin ainsi que ses vitrines, de figures fantastiques. Pour leur réalisation, il s’est inspiré de l’art ancestral des cerfs-volants dont l’invention en Chine fut très ancienne, remontant, selon certaines sources, au IVème siècle av. J.C. Et en effet, ses installations révèlent au public occidental, les techniques traditionnelles de réalisations des cerfs-volants, avec structures en bambou et garniture de soie.

« Je voulais repousser les limites de ce médium qui est très populaire en Chine. Je me suis adressé au meilleur fabricant de cerfs-volants chinois, Monsieur Wong Yong Xun. Ces personnages sont des prouesses techniques. En même temps, c’est un artisanat très simple, tout le monde peut réaliser un cerf-volant. » explique l’artiste.

Le lien avec la culture populaire chinoise est, de plus, mis en exergue par les thèmes traités, des figures mythologiques qui peuplent l’inconscient collectif chinois.

Les étranges créatures oniriques, mi-humaines mi-animales, à qui Ai Wei Wei a donné vie, sont autant d’interprétations des dieux et esprits qui peuplent le livre des Monts et des Mers, une des principales source des légendes populaires de la Chine ancienne, que nul chinois n’ignore.

Ainsi, par exemple, l’artiste a représenté la déesse Mingshe, un serpent à sonette avec quatre ailes, qui fait des bruits de carillon. La voir serait un bon présage pour la réalisation d’un projet. Heluo, le poisson aux dix corps et à la tête unique, qui aboie comme un chien, permet, selon la légende, à celui qui le mange, de réduire les tumeurs. Manger le Shuyu, un poisson aux plumes rouges, ressemblant à un poulet, avec trois queues, six pieds et quatre têtes, guérirait de la mélancolie…

Capture d’écran 2016-02-25 à 13.56.43Heluo © gabriel de la chapelle

Capture d’écran 2016-02-25 à 13.58.06Ai Wei Wei posant devant un dessin d’Heluo, le poisson à dix corps

Au rez-de-chaussée, un immense dragon de papier accueille le chaland. Ai Wei Wei propose ici une vision différente de la conception occidentale de cet animal chimérique qui se veut féroce. L’artiste met en lumière l’approche asiatique du dragon, un être empreint de succès, pouvoir, perseverance et immortalité, qui fut le symbole des empereurs pendant des siècles.

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Le visiteur découvre à nouveau gigantesque dragon, au niveau de l’escalator central, thème issu de la mythologie des dynasties chinoises impériales, sur lequel Ai Wei Wei a dessiné de subtils méandres calligraphiés, rappelant l’art populaire des tableaux à l’encre de Chine.

Inscrire toute cette mythologie traditionnelle dans le temple de la consommation et donc de société parisienne, n’est pas un hasard. Ai Wei Wei créée des ponts entre les deux cultures.

Paris n’est pas anodin pour l’artiste, son père, alors jeune étudiant, partit étudier la peinture et la littérature et revint en Chine la tête pleine des textes de Balzac, Rimbaud, Baudelaire… Il transmit cette culture à son fils.

Et tout comme ces figures légendaires asiatiques, Paris, la grande ville, représente pour l’artiste une mythologie par elle-même, c’est-à-dire une approche poétique du monde, qui reflète l’imagination, les rêves, les inquiétudes, les souvenirs de nos sociétés. Paris est un gigantesque réflecteur de notre imaginaire collectif.

Et tel en est du Bon marché, lieu directement lié à la ville et à ses habitants. Le Grand Magasin est un gigantesque mirroir de genres, de styles de vie et de caractères.…et exposer, non pas dans une galerie ou un lieu d’art, mais dans un lieu de vie, représente un véritable défi pour l’artiste, qui lie ainsi les deux cultures populaires, la chinoise et la française.

Des années plus tard, l’artiste peut ainsi faire le lien entre le Paris rêvé de son père, le Paris d’aujourd’hui et la Chine traditionnelle et populaire.

Un camouflet au nez du Parti Communiste chinois.

Le Parti communiste chinois avait en effet assigné l’artiste à résidence pendant quatre années, lui avait retiré son passeport pour ne lui rendre qu’en 2015, date à laquelle il a pu réintégrer son atelier pékinois et commencer la réalisation de ces oeuvres spécialement conçue pour le Bon Marché. Ai Wei Wei fait ainsi honneur à son rôle d’activiste, en exposant dans le lieu même de la consommation capitaliste, un grand magasin occidental. Ce militantisme est depuis toujours ancré dans son caractère.

Dès le début de sa carrière, Ai Wei Wei a en effet fait montre d’un tempérament subversif: À la Beijing Film Academy, où il étudiait l’animation, il expérimentait, avec d’autres jeunes artistes, les valeurs progressistes de l’impressionnisme et de l’abstraction occidentale. Il forma alors en 1979 le groupe Stars avec Ma Desheng, Huang Rui, Li Shuang, Zhong Acheng, Wang Keping, Qu Leilei…Le nom Stars (Etoiles) fut choisi pour souligner leur individualité, et s’opposer à la morne uniformité du parti communiste chinois. Leur art fut très vite rejeté et sanctionné par l’Etat. Après s’être vu refusé l’espace officiel d’exposition, à la China Art Gallery, le bastion de l’art socialiste officiel à Pékin, les membres du groupe Stars accrochèrent leurs peintures et sculptures sur les grilles du parc de la galerie avant que la police n’intervienne et qu’une annonce officielle déclare l’exposition illégale. Pour résister, durant le 30e anniversaire de la fondation de la République populaire, les Stars organisèrent une marche de protestation au nom des droits humains individuels arborant la bannière «Nous exigeons la démocratie et la liberté artistique ». Enfin, ils organisèrent une exposition au Huafang Studio à Beihai Park, Beijing, puis après divers affrontements avec le Régime, les membres des groupes quittèrent la Chine et le groupe fut démantelé en 1983.

Mais plus que ce désir imminent de liberté, l’œuvre d’Ai Wei Wei réfléchit sur les dangers de la civilisation dans son ensemble. 

Récemment par exemple, pour protester contre la loi sur l’immigration danoise qui permet de saisir les biens de valeur des demandeurs d’asile, l’artiste chinois a décidé de fermer son exposition Ruptures à la Fondation Faurschou à Copenhague.

Une histoire personnelle initiatrice de ce désir de justice

Son engagement politique peut se comprendre compte tenu de son histoire familiale. En effet, le père d’Ai Wei Wei, Ai Qing, était l’un des poètes contemporains les plus connus de Chine. Il fut emprisonné par le Kuomintang de 1932 à 1935 soit disant pour avoir témoigné de sensibilités révolutionnaires. Reconnu par la suite comme une célébrité littéraire communiste, l’opération de lutte contre les intellectuels qui fut entreprise dans le cadre de la campagne des Cent fleurs, en 1957, mit fin pour un temps à sa carrière; L’année suivante, toute la famille de Ai Qing fut envoyée en exil au Xinjiang au Nord Ouest, un état particulièrement aride et stérile. Bien qu’Ai Wei Wei était très jeune alors, tutoyer les difficultés à cette période primitive de sa vie se révèla très formatrice durant les vingt années suivantes et incita l’artiste à adopter une attitude de résistance et de détachement.

L’art, outil de remise en question et de mise en garde

Selon le dissident chinois, l’art nous permet de nous poser les bonnes questions, et si on en a la volonté, d’atteindre et de découvrir nos propres structures mentales, telle une vanne qui s’ouvre lorsque l’on exprime ses rêves avec des mots.

Insuffler une sorte de malaise, inciter à se poser les bonnes questions sur notre perception ou sensibilité visuelle, remettre en question les éléments essentiels de nos processus mentaux, juger et interpréter des objets ou fragments culturels communs, sont quelques-uns des procédés utilisés par l’artiste pour faire évoluer les habitudes et codes sociaux.

Par exemple, au Bon Marché, son oeuvre a démantelé le grand récit de la tradition culturelle chinoise, en l’inscrivant dans le temple du capitalisme, créant à cette fin un trouble volontaire.

Mais on retrouve cette stratégie de remise en question contre l’édifice culturel chinois dans nombres de ses travaux. The Furniture series, 1997-2000, par exemple questionne la fonction rituelle du mobilier de la dynastie des Ming et des Qing, et son appartenance à une classe dirigeante. Le style, la proportion, le type de bois de ces meubles révèlent en effet, le contexte social du propriétaire de ces objets.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-25 à 12.31.48Grapes, 2010. Twenty-seven stools from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

De telles pièces de mobilier étaient construites sans un seul clou et pouvaient être démontées et remontées pièces par pièces sans instruments. Ces meubles révèlaient donc une certaine harmonie entre les divers éléments, jusque dans les moindres détails. 

Bien qu’Ai Wei Wei ait altéré ces pièces de mobilier originales pour en créer de nouvelles, l’artiste a pris soin de respecter les lois fondamentales de constructions pour élaborer de nouveaux objets. 

Ai Wei Wei a par ailleurs beaucoup utilisé le vélos, objet emblématique de la vie chinoise, pour le convertir, en sculptures gigantesque. La sculpture Forever peut être vue  à la fois comme une référence aux paysans chinois (pour qui le Forever vélo était un des principaux moyens de transport) et au peuple en général qui constitue la force de travail permettant aujourd’hui la production industrielle de masse d’objets manufacturés, particulièrement excessif dans la Chine devenue capitaliste. Une antithèse se créée ainsi entre cet objet à la fois symbole de la Chine traditionnelle et contemporaine, et illustre la rapidité des évolutions sociales de ce pays. 

Une nouvelle classe dominante a vu le jour et avec elle, en effet, une classe moyenne considérable; beaucoup ont acheté leurs propres maisons, objets de luxe etc…Il y a un désir rudimentaire d’atteindre un certain statut,  style, et peut-être même beauté,  tout ce qui peut transcender la brutalité de la vie dans une Chine entraînée par l’argent et le désir brut.

Son œuvre réfléchit sur les périls et possible impasses de la civilisation dans son ensemble, et témoigne de réserves quant au développement d’un certain type de classe moyenne sans le secours d’un garde-fou.

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« Shaida » endless walk in the streets of London

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From the 14th to the 17th of January 2016, the streets of London have been lit up on the occasion of the Lumière Festival, staging art wonders from various artists.

The first outdoor festival edition showcased the capital’s buildings through the installation of artworks in public spaces, letting the strollers explore the city in a new way.

The british artist, Julian Opie, took part in the event, enjoying the « combination of festival, party, nighttime, art, extravaganza (which) goes together well”.

For Lumière, Julian Opie has installed an artwork which, contrary to other art pieces on show at the festival, will remain as a permanent installation in the central Carnaby Street area, in Soho.

Entitled « Shaida Walking », the piece is a double-sided LED vertical monolith which is animated to create a ‘walking portrait’. The moving artwork is set on Broadwick Street and shows a female figure walking towards Carnaby Street. ‘Shaida Walking’ will join the existing permanent installations through the 13 streets of Carnaby.

This moving installation creating an interaction with the viewer, is “an interesting way to present art.” Opie stated.

This urban artpiece is not uncommon in Opie’s work and is part of a series of installations the artist has completed for major public commissions in cities all over the world.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 10.20.54Galloping horse, 2012, Yorkshire sculpture Park, UK

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 10.20.05Walking on O’Connell St, 2008, Dublin, Ireland

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 11.13.02Crowd, 2011, Seoul Square from Seoul Station, South Korea (Courtesy of Gana Art Gallery)

Julian Opie indeed created series of videos where he made his drawings into films, as he would also do in different media, such as paintings, billboards, cd covers, sculptures in steel, wood, concrete, road signs and screensavers, thus exploring multiple forms for a single image or concept.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 14.24.24.pngCaterina dancing naked 02, 2009, Paint on aluminium (Courtesy Lisson Gallery)

Even if the artist has not only produced reduced and standardized depictions, such as « Shaida’s walking » in London, the « Crowd » in Seoul, « Walking on O’Connell St » in Dublin, and many others, these quintessentials imageries have been democratized. They became well-known and very popular.

Minimal syntax

In order to show a standardized visual language, Opie used a most common imagery, avoiding the specific.

These simple geometric forms somehow minimalist by their rigorous economy of means, had rather placed the emphasis on the generic, the universal, the essentials, to give immediacy and create the most direct relationship between the art object and the viewer.

Opie’s visual language, devoid of any decorum or details, tends to be reduced to the minimum.

But where do the roots of this particular condensed imagery lies?

Defining his style towards a virtual reality

Opie’s economy of visual means was refined in preparation for his participation in the 9th indian triennale in 1997. He aimed at compressing the physical aspect of his subjects so as to make them more mobile and therefore more adjustable. Being rectangular and narrow, reminding canvases, the shape of the office buildings he got inspired of, led him to go forward. He realized this format was easy to read and that he could paint anything on it, as these boxes-like shapes functionned like screens. So he came to the idea of putting all the painted objects – cars, buildings…- onto flat boxes.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 19.12.07Church ? 1. 1997, Courtesy of the artist

Opie felt these condensed forms were able to function independently from each others as well as in groups. « I’d realised it wasn’t necessary to build a full scale world. Just a few suggestions were enough ».

He added « I see the sculptures as functioning a bit like objects in an Ikea catalogue. They can exist on their own but are also capable of  being combined in many different ways with other objects from the catalogue, to create a larger whole, an exhibition in my case or a home in the case of ikea. »

Indeed, the parts of a whole could be displayed and arranged in new ways, according to the limits of space. These images created a virtual reality.

The artist explains « different combinations of symbols or drawings create different scenarios and atmospheres. Car/tree/road is calm, modern, smooth and distant. Trees/high office buildings is noisier, urban, crowded, tough, but a bit romantic. Trees/low office buildings is more campus-like, quieter, a bit lonely, but still public. Trees/suburban house becomes a little mysterious, more old-fashioned, silent. »

To populate his world, initially the artist’s intention had been to make anonymous the passers-by.

Thus, Opie approached the human form by first selecting the most standardized representations he could find – looking at signs and symbols in the real world, such as those to indicate male and female in lavatories. He then combined these with a digital photograph of a real person, merging the two using a computer-drawing programme.

His representation of key famous people is a perfect exemple of this quest to quintessential depiction. « I think the whole notion we carry of people, as examples of types, is very interesting…There are some key famous people who become these types and I want extend that really so that everybody is a type, if you draw them in the way I do ».

Thus Gary, the pop star, in Opie ‘s world, is nothing more than a receptacle of formal archetypes.

Capture d’écran 2016-02-08 à 13.33.38Gary, popstar, 1998-9, Tate Gallery, London

Julian Opie’s strive to immediacy and mass-culture recall for some, the pop art current.

A new pop art language to question our contemporaryselves? 

Opie’s minimalist language has shown his desire to communicate directly and to give immediacy. But instead of using abstract and metaphoric form, he would rather ground his work in figuration and use recognizable representations, as the pop artists has done decades ago, interweaving art and ordinary life.

Many critics were quick to see in Opie a mere successor of pop art. The art historian Marco Livingstone stated: « The jocular tone and simple forms of representation, both of which masks the technical complexity of the structure, were clearly intended to entice a mass audience in much the same way as the most exuberant forms of Pop art had done 20 years earlier. »

But the motives are more ambiguous than it appears.

Reflecting imagery that derives from brands and logos, the artist wants « to be as if each person I draw were a multinational company with a logo. »

Indeed, Opie shows an interest in the psychology of perception and in the complex representation and discernement of reality.

Reducing reality to quintessentials and multiple forms is part of the effect. When we think of the human form we think of ourselves, a subjective being, but Opie’s people are blank impersonal reflections…

The serial form of ourselves leads us to think about the society we create and how we relate and resemble to each others, and inevitably, we ask ourselves if we are all reductible to predefined signs and archetypes.

It is intriguing to see something so particular as a human, crystallized in such a neutral, graphic language.

However, while making anonymous the passers-by, the artist never completely erased their personality. They look like signs but their particularities – a woman with a handbag over her shoulder, a man with sneakers and earphones – become more prominent thanks to the reduction of everything else. They look like signs but are still subjective.

Hence the ambiguity.

A reminder of the EphemEra

Opie’s language is a powerful reminder of the speed of contemporary life.

Shorthands icons are everywhere in the contemporary world. Signs and symbols quicky tell us what we need to know and think. And we have come to a point of relying on them without even realizing it.

The artist uses this symbolic repertoire that became too familiar and reassuring, conveying an information we are accustomed to.

Such as multinational logos, being so repeated that they are ordinary and easily recognizable, these everyday domestic symbols relieve anxiety and restore confidence.

His work discloses the modern condition of the accerelated experience.

It could be said that technology is moving too fast for us and that in our daily lives we tend to see life in general.

Opie depects how reality one can feel as well as how our fast-paced environment can look like.

Thus, we don’t pay attention, the surface area being determining element in our world of ephemeral speedy visual expressions.

And Opie exploits this fully. Although when three-dimensional, his objects appeared to be all surfaced.

Opie questions: how do we deal with our perpetual enchantment and disillusionment with superhighway information and cyberspaces.

He strives to far-fetch one’s reflexion of our own neutrality towards things that are so paradoxal in modern world, the will of being individualized and subjective, and the fast-paced environment that make us nothing more than signs, logos and neutral.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring Sepik art & culture

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From the 27th of october 2015 until the 31rst of January, The Musée du Quai Branly in Paris gathered a suite of 230 sculptures concerning the culture Sepik.

The Sepik is actually the longest river in North Papua New Guinea, of nearly 1,200 kilometers snaking through the swamps and rainforest, before spilling into the Pacific Ocean.

As human occupation is attested for several millennia, the river used to be a source of food and a means of transport, but it was also a source of threat, with flooding and crocodiles, and many other animals that populated the Sepik mythologia.

Along its shores, a countless diversity of cultures and languages ​​has developed over millennia. Scientists could count over 90 different languages, the smaller language groups being limited to a few villages of 300-400 inhabitants.

 

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IMG_4704.jpgVarious linguistic groups in the Sepik area

 

The abundance of food the Sepik River has induced the development of complex rituals and ceremonies to consume and use them. That gave an opportunity to make many objects.

Sepik Iconography and artfacts

Big and powerful birds, as sculptures on houses, often represented the agressive strength of the whole village, which would spot men in enemy territories, such as fishes to be caught.

The world of women and men were strictly separated. The spaces reserved for women, dwelling houses in particular were accessible to all members of family lines, friends and guests. This is where women prepared food and mesh bags, or richly decorated pottery.

There also were mythical figures like Daria, a very powerful and quite malicious woman, representing the authoritarian mother goddess but also distributing wealth.

The men’s house, inevitably forbidden to women, is symbolically a woman’s body, referring to a glorious feminine ancestor. Several masks and erotic carvings represent this symbol in the men’s house, the center of the male world and ceremonial life. Only adults had the right to enter the imposing building, with high roof and exuberant exterior and interior decoration. In the house of men, were preserved items used in the mysterious male rituals, including the initiation of young boys such as spears and masks.

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In Sepik, ritual passage into adulthood leads to very impressive dances and songs. Boys to be initiated would be secluded in the forest, eating a special kind of food and once they appeared again in the village, they were celebrated as having reborn. Giant drums resonate for days and nights.

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Drum from Kairiru island

 

Being initiated gave men access to knowledge and the privilege of accessing the most powerful objects, such as masks, musical instruments, sculptures, bones, shells….These were directly linked to the ancestors.The Sepik masks have in common to be very frightful. And those who wear the costumes are adorned with leaves and feathers, they look like monsters.

The paddles were often considered as « the first child » by the warriors attacking another village. But the military expedition did not aim at destroying the enemy and every mission was submitted to the ritual and spiritual prescriptions. For the first cut head, a man was considered a real warrior by the village.

A paste made of sap, lime and red ocher was used to mold the cut heads to keep them in the houses of men.

The ancestors played a key role, especially as creators of the world. They were ubiquitous in everyday life and rituals. We perceived the sound of their voice through water drums and bamboo flutes. Terrifying figures of ancestors and masks created with boundless fantasy were used in initiation rituals that can last one year.

Ancestors figures were proeminent in the Sepik culture also because ancestors represented the « Everything ».

Ancestors decided what the law was, and if someone, would act against the law, ancestors would appear in various shapes to punish.

The crocodile often represents the ancestors: In some villages, such as in the tribe Iatmul, during the initiation rites, the bodies of the boys are adorned with spectacular scarifications representing crocodile-ancestors bites. Crocodiles symbolically eat the young non-initiated spirit and spit the new out at the end of initiation.

IMG_4745.jpgScarifications on initiated men

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A boat-shaped crocodile statue in one of the most famous sepik creation. Carefully carved from wood, it length two meters. That gives a hint of the Sepik River dimensions.

These canoes allowed the people to exchange goods and objects, to find partners to marry, but also to make war. They were the most important means of transport in the Sepik Basin.

Zoomorphic trophies as the skull of crocodile where adorned with precious stones to create sparkling blue eye. Numerous musical instruments, which, thanks to their sound, embodied the ancestors: for example, bamboo flutes up to two meters long, that rendered voices, important in initiation rituals.

Iatmul

The Iatmul were a broad ethnic group inhabiting some two-dozen politically autonomous villages along the middle Sepik River. The Iatmul were not a centralized tribe. They never acted politically, socially, economically or as a single unit. Villages were autonomous. Yet, the communities were roughly grouped according their language as well as sociocultural affinities.

In Iatmul legend, the original status of the world was a primal sea.

The waves stirred by the wind made the land surfaced, leaving out the first generation of ancestral spirits and culture-heroes. The ancestors then embarked in a series of mythic-historical migrations. Where they trod, land would appear. The ancestors created the world through naming. Literally, They named all the features of the world into existence-trees, mountains, stars, winds, rains, tributaries, towns, everything in the world. These names are called Expired totemic names. They are patrilineal names claimed by specific clans and lineages. Totemic names are magical, and form the basis for the religious system.

The Iatmul are best known for their art, related to men’s houses, male initiation, elaborate totems, and a famous rituals.

Explorations and heritage

The Sepik River was long neglected by explorers and travelers. But in the sixteenth century, the first Europeans landed on the island of New Guinea, a part of Papua New Guinea. However, the river would only be discovered in 1886 when a German researchers colony settled there. It was not before years that exploration trips were organised, including the Hamburg expedition of 1908-1910 and the Berlin South Seas expedition in 1912-1913.

Quickly, Europe got to know the exceptional aesthetic value of Sepik art. The first masks, drums and sculptures from Papua New Guinea who managed to arrive in Europe, there are over a hundred years, caused a sensation. 20th century artists used the visual language of these carved wood, which was new to them; Expressionist artists such as Emil Nolde and Max Pechstein, members of the Brücke group, but also the Surrealists were fascinated by the poetic beauty and the artisanal virtuosity of these objects from Oceania. The European public was intrigued by the unusual materials, such as shells, feathers, but also bone or animal teeth.

 

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A sepik headrest that belonged to André Breton

To know more about the exhibition:

http://www.quaibranly.fr/fr/expositions-evenements/au-musee/expositions/details-de-levenement/e/sepik-26753/

 

Cai Guo-Qiang, the chinese land artist to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival 2016

Cai Guo-Qiang, one of the most reknown chinese artist, is the subject of the documentary by Kevin Mcdonald, Sky Ladder, that will be shown at the Sundance film festival 2016 in the category World Cinema Documentary.

The title of the documentary refers to one of the artist’s most ambitious creations, accomplished last year, a gigantic ladder « into the clouds », of 1,650 feet high rising from his hometown of Quanzhou, China.

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The pyrotechnic masterpiece was the result of his maestria of the ancient art of Chinese fireworks, and after having tried years and years in various places, creating an immense scale of metal and fireworks, slowy rising to the sky, was the achievement dream of Cai Guo-Qiang’s lifetime. 

Cai Guo-Qiang became internationnnaly known in the early 1990’s for the big strokes not of ink, such as would commend the ancient chinese tradition, but of gunpower.

Transforming violence into ethereal beauty

The work of the artist consists indeed of physical, intellectual and spiritual gesture, such as in calligraphy, but at an awe-inspiring scale, and using a technic invented in China, fireworks.

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Pyrographed calligraphy at the artist’s solo exhibition at industrial city of Donetsk, Ukraine.

In China, gun power was used both in good and bad ways, in destruction and reconstruction, that is one of the reasons why explosion is such important in the artist’s work.

Cai’s father having to burn his beloved manuscripts and calligraphy because of the maoist censorship and going into a strange self-exile as a result, has furthermore certainly pushed him to revive this ancient art on a bigger scale.

The heartbreaked artist once said “my father would take sticks and write calligraphy in puddles on the ground” during his exile. “The calligraphy would disappear” when the water evaporated, leaving behind “invisible skeins of sorrow.” Not entirely invisible, one senses the inscribed like calligraphy on his son’s memory.

Humanity and Human scale

But far beyond personal insights, each of his work aims at creating a dialogue between humanity, the earth and beyond, to feel humanity within the universe.

Cai’s philosophy is that humans must exist in harmony with the earth and the cosmic spirits, not separatedly.

His “crop circle” in Germany, modeled on those supposed extraterrestrial “signs” carved in wheat fields—a project that called for 90 kilograms of gunpowder, 1,300 meters of fuses, one seismograph, an elec­troencephalograph and an electro­cardiograph—is a good exemple of this strive to understand the complex relationship between the earthy and extrearthy entities.  In this event, two medical devices were there to measure Cai’s physiological and mental reactions as he stood in the center of the explosions, to symbolize the echoes of the birth of the universe, that can still be felt in every molecule of every human cell.

https://vimeo.com/42229948

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Fetal movement II: project for extraterrestrials n°9, 1992

Indeed, Cai claims not to separate the spiritual and the physical, and that « art can transcend time and space, and achieve something that science cannot. The job of the artiste is to create such time/space tunnels. »

Art critic Yashushi Kurabayashi wrote « An explostion is a magical encounter of two different elements, and a process that encompasses the eternal transformation of matter (…) as an explosion is sometimes compared to the Big Bang (that) forces us to imagine a moment without time and space, an instant before they come into being ». The explosion takes place both in an instant and in eternity.

Later, some of his major projects included, to have extended the Great Wall of China by 10,000 meters: Project for the Extraterrestrials N.10 (1993), and extension of the Great Wall of China, a fiery elongation of the Ming dynasty’s most famous work, designed to be seen from space by aliens, as he wanted to open “a dialogue with the universe” he says. the extension constituted of a detonation of a spectacular six-mile train of explosives.

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Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10, 1990

https://vimeo.com/43421473

But most people know Cai Guo-Qiang, since 2008, for the worldwide televised “fireworks sculpture” that he created for the opening of the Beijing Olympics. “The explosion event consisted of a series of 29 giant footprint fireworks, one for each Olympiad, over the Beijing skyline, leading to the National Olympic Stadium. The 29 footprints were fired in succession, traveling a total distance of 15 kilometers, or 9.3 miles, within a period of 63 seconds. » as he described it.

Provoking debate in China and international recognition

Over fifteen years he has refined his concept and expand his range of media.

For the 48th Venice Biennale’s prize, Leone d’Oro  he won in 1999, Cai recreated the Rent collection Courtyard installation. This originally is a very popular anonymous sculpture from the 60’s. This propagandistic work, a social realist tableau of more than 100 sculptures, depicts the exploitation of feudalism and was meant to contrast with the benefit of the life under Mao Zedong. This recreation in Venice provoked an intense debate in China, some of the artists of the Fine Arts Academy of Chong Qing even have threatened to bring legal actions against Cai for copyright infringement. A teacher in the Academy granted his art as ‘an exemple of postcolonial cultural imperialism in which China is demonized as backward and despotic’.

But in the Cai’s point of view, it is time for the artist to take responsibility for what had happened during the Cultural Revolution. Cai wants to raise issues such as the role that the artists played during this era, and in any strong political setting in general. As he put it « Everyone acted as if they were victims of the times, yet these are the same people that made up those times ».

The artist also wants to « open up the discussion of the Chinese contemporary art » which has roughly had taken two separated ways that have nothing in common with each others.

Internationally, the artist has been awarded of many prizes, such as the Hugo Boss price in 1996, and is highly bought by collectors. In 2007, his canvas Set of 14 drawings for Asia-Pacific economic co-operation attained the record of 9,5 millions de dollars (6,02 millions d’euros). This record for a chinese artist will be, however beaten in 2008 by Masques, séries 1996, no 6 by Zeng Fanzhi.

 

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Venice Rent collection Courtyard, 1999

Cai at Sundance Film Festival 

Kevin Macdonald, excited about the cinematic potential of Cai’s works, aims to bring the a very up-close and international look at the work of the Chinese artist, showing all these explosions and sculptures in smoke, in slow motion using drones and multiple cameras. Kevin Macdonald wants to give the public the opportunity to understand more the artist’s lifelong obsession: Sky Ladder, and give an insights of the reasons for this quest.

 

 

 

Liu Zheng, « New Documents » of China: between harsh reality and romanticism.

In 1994, the artist Lui Zheng has started his photographic project, The CHINESE, in the idea of capturing the atmosphere of the populated streets of china, grasping moments in which archteypal chinese characters, such as provincial drug traffickers, coal miners, children, Toaist priests, street eccentrics are encountered. This project remind that of Diane Arbus or that of August Sander.

In this prospect, Liu Zheng wanted to seize the incredible transformation China has experienced since the 90’s, when economical modernization would dialogue with ancient traditions, enhancing the ambivalent of China in the 21rst century.

Playing with the Maoist romantic representation of workers, peasants, soldiers, he infuses a sense of everyday drama, tragedy and absurdity, as the characters are often shown in often in unexpected situations.

This project took place while the chinese experimental art was, and is still, slowly trying to gain prominence, the aim of the artist, moreover, being to capture truth behind an archetypal vision of the entire chinese culture. That is all the more important as we know that photography in communist China served as officially controlled press photography.

Unlike the images of communist propaganda, Liu Zheng’s photographies are like mirrors, reflecting not only the joy, whimsical attitude and innocence, but also sorrow, loneliness and pain.

For instance, Xinjiang girl working in a textile factory (1996) show the cruel reality of child workers. The  gaze is longing for help, and reveal the cruel exploitation of her body. This exploitation exposes the ugly side of capitalism, which multinationals to exploit children in the name of progress.

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Xinjiang girl working in a textile factory, 1996

The Four beauties identifies with China collective legend, that of the the four beauties, Xi Shin, Diao Chan, Wang Zhaojun, Yang Gufei. The tragedy of human perils is given form as the beautiful heroins sacrified to the emperor. Liu Zheng strives to break with the traditional chinese fascination to these beauties by depicting them with a strong « earthiness » that would contrast with the sacred image of the collective psyche, that of the traditional chinese painting. Thus, the artist blurs the borders between history and reality in the chinese culture, performing an intricate balancing act between harsh reality and romanticism.

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Four beauty, Diao Chan, 2003

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A rural boy in school uniform, 2000

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Three country stripers, 2000

 


Bernd & Hilla Becher’s heirs: Struth, Gursky and Ruff

Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff, considered some of the most internationally acclaimed contemporary photographs, have all in common to have been influenced by Bernd & Hilla Becher’s pictorial language, under whom they have studied.

The three photographs indeed go on in creating art infused with the cold and scientific distancy their teachers were famous for. Adding thus some distortion on reality, and a certain impression of loosing hold on materiality and existence.

 

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Coal Bunkers, 1966-1999, by Bernd + Hilla Becher

  • In Thomas Struth’s photographs of streets, buildings, and squares, the viewpoint is the one of someone who would move into the the urban landscape. The use of black and white and the empty streets contribute to increase the distance and soberness of the picture as well as the impression of loosing hold on reality. The scientific-kind series and inventories of streets, flowers, museums, buildings, railways, which are normally  rather unconsciously perceived by passersby, enhance the abstractism of reality, although this urbanism is the witness of human development. The daily is here presented as unusual.

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  • Andreas Gursky usually opts for a bird eye’s perspective,  from far above the scenery, giving a feeling of awkwardness as human cannot see from so far away naturally. Furthermore, while seeing we root ourselves in a particular place. But Gursky shows us a scenery with no particular standpoint. In this prospect Gursky questions our experience of the world, allowing our eyes to achieve what we are not capable of, that is to see the overall scenery and its details in one blink. This create a distance from reality and the overwhelming richness of details recall sthat of an inventory.

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  • Fascinated with astronomy, Thomas Ruff uses negative produced by anonymous astro scientific hand, from the observation shots of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) based in the Andes in Chile. But these photographs prove to be deceptive as the photochemical substance reacts only to light. Indeed, starlight can only be perceived after a delay, as the speed of light shows us places that can even not be here anymore. The paradox is that the places we see with these photographs may not exist anymore.

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It’s when the adventurous life has to face reality that it takes its dramatic dimension, which grinds dreamers and weak people

The Costa Concordia, full of lamblike and peaceful tourists, wandering what a journey on a holiday boat looked like, could have inspired Joseph Conrad, one of the greatest adventurous novel british writers, to write Lord Jim, the novel dealing about a ship captain, cowardly abandoning the travelers he has to look after, whilst in a shipwreck. That is a wonderful exemple of: It is when the adventurous life has to face reality that it takes its dramatic dimension, which grinds dreamers and weaks.

Conrad opposes the reality of an inglorious existence, that of Jim, who wants to survive, that of a heroic captain, who would risk everything even to die. Is the sea world playing here with the proximity between heroism and stupidity?

The violence of the marine world destroys the heroic dreams of the main character who does not stand reality, thus revealing the flaws of his human existence, he, who, after reading adventure novels, dreamed of becoming a romantic hero.

He had the heroic dream of becoming a quixotic captain but the violence of reality, that led to the sinking of his ship, compelled to reveal his cowardly and weak nature.

And the shipwreck itself revealed there were no possible heroism: nothing epic in the wrek of his ship but a slow death, without passion, in which the character suffered.

Later, Jim flees reality and tries to become the hero he was not able to be, but he is constantly reminding the weakness of having abandoned the ship and its cargo pilgrims, and he wanders from ports to ports, ashamed of his crime. It will search all through its journey, the means to redeem themselves by heroic actions, risking his life.

Is Francesco Schettino, the former cruise ship Costa Concordia’s captain, who has recognized his errors to the court, condemned to flee from ports to ports, towards neverlands, to redeem himself by heroic actions…?

 

Is Yaokwa, the ritual of cosmic and social order to be vanished?

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Yaokwa, a ritual practiced by enáuenês-nauês, known also as Salumã, an Indian tribe of Mato Grosso, in Brazil, marks the dry season, during which enáuênes-nauês interact with the creatures of the underworld, called Yakairiti.

Offerings are made for these spirits to calm down their insatiable hunger. In exchange of the relief the food given bring to them, the spirits maintain the social and cosmic order. The preparation of Yaokwa begins in January, cassava harvest time, also the best time to build  fishing traps in rivers Joaquin Rios, Arimena, Black River and Nhambiquara.

The fishermen remove all adornments that can identify them as human, so as to represent the beings of the underworld, the Yakairiti.

The village is divided into nine rituals clans. And after two months of fishing, each clan offers salt to the group of fishermen/ Yakairiti, in exchange for fish. The salt consumption symbolizes the communication between spirits and humans.

On the way back to the village, the fishermen/Yakairiti, again representing the beings of the underworld, encounter the residents of the village. And, after the ritual songs, they again exchange fish for drinks, prepared with cassava and maize.

The ritual lasting months, in the following weeks, the food is to be consumed in night banquets with music, songs and dances to pay tribute and communicate with the world of spirits.

Indeed, constantly maintaining balance and harmony between nature and the spiritual world is essential, as the Enawene Nawe universe has two levels and they are between the two.

The upper level is the living place of Enore Nawe, or celestial spirits, who are the masters of honey and of certain flying insects. They accompany the Enawene Nawein during their fishing parties or their expeditions, and protect them against the dangers of the world surrounding the village. The subterranean level is the realm of yakairiti. The spirits of the world below are of highest importance as the yakairiti are the masters of natural resources, and if you exhaust the earth and the fish, yakairiti will take revenge and kill all the Enawene Nawe…

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UNESCO recognized their importance a few years ago, but are they to be disappear anyway?

In August 2006, has started a process to acknowledge the Yaokwa ritual as a Brazilian intangible UNESCO heritage, after Iphan studies pointed to the risks posed by factors such as the acts of woodcutters and miners in the area, as well as the construction of small hydroelectric dams, changing the natural and social landscape. The request was approved in 2011 with the inscription of Yaokwa in the registry of UNESCO Cultural Heritage, enhancing the urgent need of protecting it. The decision was taken during the meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage in Bali, on the grounds that the Yaokwa « is an extremely delicate and fragile ecosystem whose continuity depends directly on its conservation ».

But today, things are far to be sorted out as the brazilian government announced it would begin the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams upstream of their territory. The Indians oppose the dams which pollute water and will remove the fish that are an essential part of their diet, and by extension that will threaten their forest as well as their rituals and traditions.

Indeed, not polluting their river is all the more of the utmost importance as the Enawene Nawe are one of very few tribes in the world who do not eat red meat. They are expert fishermen catching fish with timbó, a poisonous juice made out of a woody vine. The natural poison is put in the water, so the fishes will rise to the surface, asphyxiated.

Will they have to flee again?

Unfortunately, due to other tribes attacks, they already had to flee, finding no rest in their nomadism and being compelled to abandon their religious centers:

Salumã people had to flee from their primary local source, in the 1940’s, in response to frequent attacks of the Rikbaktsa tribe. They then moved to the inhabited region known as Serra do Norte, where they built villages and dams. In the 1950s, they reached the Iquê margins, which expelled the Nambikwara and from which they were expelled again a few years later. They continued moving up the river Camararé, to settle near a small tributary, the river Spring, inside the Nambikwara territory. There remained until the 1980’s, when they migrated back to the Iquê, where they remain until 2012.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of recognition in their importance by the brasilian governement, will this tribe have to flee again?

Will their beautilful art and tradition is condemned to disappear?

To know more of their art and traditions, find below:

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A view on the Global Art Market and more specifically the Latin American one

Trends in the Latin American art market:

For more or less 5-10 years, there indeed has been an unprecedented development of the South American market. We often talk about China and the Middle East as centers of artistic concentration, following their strong economic development. But we must now reckon with another region of the world: Latin America.

Brazil, world’s sixth largest economy, is booming: collectors are increasingly numerous, the artists’ values on the art market explode, more and more young artists get out of anonymity worn by stupendous curators, galleries, officials, institutions. These regularly collaborate together to create a fruitful dialogue between artists and the major art events.

For example, two of the most important curators of Brazil presented shows during two major artistic events in Brazil:

– Rodrigo Moura, director of Inhotim, the most important private art foundation in Latin America, which spans a 1,200-acre park, curated a solo show at the SP-Arte Fair 2014, the contemporary fair of São Paulo.

– Andriano Pedrosa, the artistic director of the Art Museum of São Paulo and member of the selection committee of the Frieze NY 2015 new section, Spotlight, organized the exhibition Artevida  in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.

The rest of the Latin American countries are also very promising.

There are still treasures to discover, fantastic artists to promote, market to conquer.

Architects Foster and Rogers has been comissionned for several projects in Bogota such as a cultural center for exemple.

The art scene is bubbling, one feels that the next few years something extraordinary is going to grow.

The mutation is certain.

The latin american collectors:

The development of the South American art market is actually noticed by the strong enthusiasm aroused among collectors throughout the major South American art fairs and biennials. Not only SP-Arte and  Art Rio but also the Biennial of São Paulo and the Artbo (Bogota) for instance. ArtLima, the Contemporary Art Fair of Peru, is also worth noticing.

Indeed, in Peru, but also in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, we feels collectors are not only interested in the work of South American artists but also in artists from other parts of the world. They show a curiosity that’s increasing years after years, a taste that sharpens over trips they make to other major international fairs. Indeed, they are the same collectors as the ones we can encounter in Miami, and who play such a key role when the US and European markets are cautious.

These increasingly wealthy collectors are also the ones who compensate the deficiency of cultural offerings in their own country, by creating foundations when museums have no budget.

To give a few exemples :

Airton José Vidal Queiroz, the current president of the private eponym university of Fortalezza in Brazil, has created a cultural space where free art exhibitions are held throughout the year. Thanks to its cultural space, the knowledge of art, history and culture of different countries has been democratized.

The collection is around 10 000 pieces of Art, 3000 of which being exhibited in the univesity, showing artists such as Tarsila de Amaral, Beatriz Milhazes. But you can also admire some pieces from the 17th century such as Frans Post, or older such as Master Ekhart for instance…

Eugenio López Alonso Fone in 2013,  created the Jumex Museum, in central Mexico City, to accommodate his art collection.

The MISOL Foundation in Bogota, has been founded by Solita Mishaan, to promote Colombian artists but also from other South American regions.

With the economic development of Brazil, a new social class emerged, a type of buyer, showing an exponential purchasing power. They are curious, attached to their mainland artists, but not only. This type of collectors asks to be informed, guided … They are literary in demand, attentive, with an incredible desire to learn. That is why this is so interesting to create a dialogue between the European artists and Brazil.

Collectors around the world come to visit the european galleries but it is true that a network of South American buyers has been developed. They also like to see all the promotional work that we do to bring to an upper level the artists of their own countries.

And it also works the other way

Indeed, the development of this new social class is accompanied by a worldwide deployment of young South American artists, and that also cast a light to even more established artists.

These are two related phenomena.

Reaction from worldwide collectors on Latin American art:

One senses an increasing interest from collectors worldwide. They are seduced by this ancestral land long forgotten by Western collectors, where the contemporary art market has been a niche for a long time.

It is also a culture similar to the european one, quick to seduce by its promises and its novelty and to reassure by it strong connection with the Western Culture. The affinity echoes the kinship.

And indeed, the South American art acquired a significant part in international collections. Prices rose impressively during the last 4 years. The south american artists’ value on the art market leapt in recent years, this bounce was more important than expected. And there’s a safe bet that this surge will go on.

Global art market trends:

Of course, Internet has changed the way buyers collect.

Now, networks of Art supply and demand are global, and you can compare how the offer is made in one place to another. This market extent was accompanied by a democratization of the type of buyers and provided an opportunity for small collectors to discover many artists and galleries more easily. This span also gave artists an opportunity to be spotted by galleries and institutions.

But this increased volume of art offered through internet is not without risks. There is more uncertainty as far as the authenticity of a work of art is concerned, and an increased risk of buying counterfeit or stolen works. Buyers need to pay a particular attention.

Moreover, the burst generated by this freedom of information flow is still and always limited by erratic taxes from one country to the other. For example, while the importation taxes for art are 5% in France, they can reach over 40% in some states of Brazil!

Furthermore, we have began to see changes in the fact that, as I said before, public institutions are less and less able to propose a renewal of the cultural offer, budget cuts being what they are. Little by little we observe a replacement of public cultural institutions by foundations created by private collectors showing the artists they supports, the current they are interested in. Maybe in the future, small public museums will tend to disappear in favor of these foundations …..

And relatively speaking, it is a network of collectors that will define the new cultural world map… It’s a real change.

Did Orphée/Orpheus ever existed?

Orphism , the cult of Orpheus plays a major role in the construction of our western  civilizations. Indeed, rites of this worship such as those associated has seen developed the idea of the soul and immortality thereof.

For two centuries, hellenists debated this question. Lately, a papyrus has been found in a tomb in Deverni, in Macedonia, in Greece, that would light up the darkness around this issue. This groups of texts, dating Ca. 4th c. BC, are snippets of sentences, words, chapters….that slip around burnt parts. They show figurative representation that put us on the way….An Aède with his Harp is shown on a small boat often surrounded by books or in Hell…These pictures are often depicted on funerary objects such as vases and obey codified rules.

Let’s have a hint of what the historians of Antiquity and of nowadays historians have transmitted of Orphée/Orpheus and of Orphism :

– Herodote tells us that the greek theogony has been taught by poets such as Orpheus. And that the Orpheus cult and feasts comes from Egypt.

– For Denis Huismans this myth comes from Sicily, and would be the light side of cult of Dyonisos….rid of its demons, excesses and violences. Of this brotherhood emerge the idea of ​​constant identity in an afterlife, and the inclusion of guilt and punishment it can call. We can get rid of one’s faults by sacrifices, announcing therefore the christian indulgences.

– Ciceron says in De Legibus (2,14,36) that Mysteries of Orphism helped humanity to get out of wildlife, and lead us towards sweetnesses of human culture.

There are at least four mosaics depicting Orpheus in the villas of Vienna, in Isere, France. In the third mosaic, excavated in 1859, the central octagon shows Orpheus playing a lyre with eight strings. His music charms wild animals that adorn octagons devices (wild boar, leopard, lion, horse) and squares (duck, parrot, partridge, purple gallinule).