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.
Galloping horse, 2012, Yorkshire sculpture Park, UK
Walking on O’Connell St, 2008, Dublin, Ireland
Crowd, 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.
Caterina 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.
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.
Church ? 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.
Gary, 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.