assignment two: the displaced image

David Hockney, The Dancers IV, 2014 and the Dancers VIII, 2014

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Kim514407 – annotation

These paintings were first exhibited under the title ‘Some New Paintings’ which straight away gives us the feeling that Hockney is having some fun. Vocal about the inspiration the Old Masters bring him, he has painted his two versions of Matisse’s two versions of La Dance. And just as Matisse’s first work was preparatory for a commission, Hockney’s first round of dancers feel not quite ready, they are warming up, finding their feet.

The Dancers IV is tentative, the light is cool, the dancers cast side-long glances at each other and throw awkward shadows on  a green stage. By contrast Dancers VIII is warm, the dancers begin to get lost in the movement, there is a rhythm to their circle.

Hockney hired LA dancers for this work, and that’s what they look like. Dressed to dance in leggings and vest, confident in their bodies. These paintings are bold. They say: I love Matisse, I love to paint, I want to enjoy myself, I am feeling joyous. Hockney painted these as part of a larger series, after his return to Los Angeles from England in 2013. They seem to be a celebration of the act of painting and of his love of Matisse; a thank you, a homage.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hockney credits  the impetus for this work to a recent visit to New York museums: “I saw twelve-hundred paintings by Matisse and Picasso on that trip,” he says. “There were the Matisse cutouts at the Museum of Modern Art, the Cubist show at the Metropolitan Museum, and Picasso shows at Gagosian and Pace [galleries]. I came back absolutely thrilled with what I saw.” (Isenberg, 2015)

Looking into Hockney’s inspiration throws up questions about Matisse’s own influences. His dancers had already appeared earlier work Le Bonheur de vivre, 1906 (perhaps this describes well what Hockney is feeling) while the motif of the dance had already appeared up to 300 years earlier and again with Turner and Blake (see below).

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La Danse I, (below) and La Dance II, 1909, Henri Matisse

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Le Bonheur de Vivre, 1909, Henri Matisse

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1786 by William Blake 1757-1827

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing c.1786 William Blake 1757-1827

The Golden Bough exhibited 1834 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The Golden Bough exhibited 1834 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

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Reciproco Amore, Agostino Carraci and Paolo Faimmingo,  1589-1590

Le Bonheur de Vivre has been described as a ‘cannibalistic attack at iconographic level’… ‘the whole pantheon of Western painting seems to be quoted’ (Foster et al., 2011) and thus Hockney Dancers points to the artist joining in the same dance, continuing it  – and giving us his own version for today. But today the dancers are clothed, man and women are clearly identified – has an element of carnal pleasure been lost – and does this speak for Hockney’s own life, or for our world today?

 

Bibliography:

Isenberg, B. (2015) Artist David Hockney builds on his portraits for the 21st century. Available at: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-ca-david-hockney-20150308-story.html (Accessed: 29 November 2016).

 Foster, H., Krauss, R.E., Bois, Y.-A., Buchloh, B.H.D. and Joselit, D. (2011) Art since 1900: Modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism. 2nd edn. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Lewis, T. (2014) David Hockney: ’When I’m working, I feel like Picasso, I feel I“m 30.” Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/16/david-hockney-interview-i-feel-like-picasso?0p19G=c (Accessed: 30 November 2016)


Anselm Kiefer, 1969, Occupations

The oca in their outline of the requirements for this assessment refer to the ways in which artists and designers use the work of others in their own work, explaining that the term appropriation art is often used to describe works of this sort. The Tate website defines appropriation as the practice of artists using pre-existing objects or images in their art with little transformation of the original. The work by Anslem Kiefer that I’ve chosen to look at fits best with the Tate’s definition.

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Kim514407 – annotation

I have selected one image from Kiefer’s performance art project Occupations, photographs of which appeared in his book Heroic Symbols, 1969. The project involved Kiefer making the forbidden, indeed illegal Nazi salute at a number of European locations. Kiefer has appropriated images and other works in his project but this is the most overt – he has appropriate the Nazi salute, the most shocking image of our time.

The sequence of photographs was called: ’Anselm Kiefer. Zwischen Sommer und Herbst 1969 habe ich die Schweiz, Frankreich und Italien besetzt. Ein paar Photos’ (‘Anselm Kiefer. Between the summer and autumn of 1969, I occupied Switzerland, France and Italy. A few photos’). This specific photograph was taken at the French town of Sète, on the Mediterranean coast.

When the photographs were first published in 1975 they caused such outrage that the magazine Interfunktionen that carried them was forced into closure, however Kiefer has continued to draw from Occupations in subsequent works.

Kiefer is an artist that asks so many questions through his work, of himself, of the viewer. His works have layers upon layers to uncover, all seemingly grappling to find the answers to these questions.

His book Heroic Symbols has taken not only its title but also photographs from an article that appeared in the National Socialist publication of the time Die Kunst im Deutschen Reich, a magazine that Keifer’s father owned. Kiefer has appropriated photographs from the magazine  – pasting them into the book alongside his own works – as one would a sketchbook.

The book and the photographs have the feel of a child. A child investigating, exploring, trying to understand. Kiefer is often dressed in clothes to big for him, without care, there is a scruffiness to his appearance and to the book. In this childlike handling of the project, is he pointing to his own position – born in 1945 he was one of the ‘Nachtgeboren’ (those born after the war)? This is the first generation that were born into the collective guilt of Germany – simply by the place of their birth, they assume the guilt of one of history’s most horrific acts. This is their inheritance. This is at the root of what Kiefer is addressing.

He is not just reproducing the Nazi salute, he is making the salute himself, he embodies it. He is asking what this really means.

From a Royal Academy panel discussion, Lara Day (who has researched and published on Kiefer for Tate Gallery) puts this succinctly:  “Am I a Nazi because I’m a German? am I a Nazi because of when I was born? am I a Nazi because I am performing the gesture? “ If we say yes, we are continuing the Nazi idea of blood and soil – that your identity and behaviour is tied to your place of birth.

It’s also important to note that Kiefer is not making any critique. He is not appropriating the Nazi salute to specifically condemn the past, in the way other artists have done. There is a great deal of ambiguity here, but it is the ambiguity that makes this work so interesting. From the same panel discussion, curator Andrew Renton suggests that the ambiguity is what “makes them (the images) useful to us – you can’t just say nazi bad, us good – the world doesn’t work like that . the ambiguity makes us question ourselves and position ourselves. We don’t need to like the work or approve of the work”. Kiefer himself is quoted as saying “I did it beacuse I wanted to know about me (not to provoke)”

Kiefer’s generation was brought up in silence about the past. They took on the guilt, without asking questions. Andrew Renton again: “It’s one thing to be german, but to be a german artist at that moment – what is your subject matter? do you choose to repress your subject matter, what goes on around you? Kiefer puts it straight in your face, peristance – there is no escaping your father’s generation.”

Die Vergangenheitsbewältigung is the very specific German word used to describe the ‘coming to terms with the past’, not forgetting, but taking it on and coming to terms with it. The simple fact of being German is loaded with this – even for today’s generation. Kiefer is tackling this head on.

The work also raises the question of the potency of the image of the salute itself. In repeating and reproducing the gesture, does it diminish its potency?

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Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818, Caspar David Friedrich

A further layer of this particular image is its direct reference to Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818. Considered by the Nazis to be a patriotic painting celebrating the victorious 1813 battle against Napolean, Friedrich’s works were appropriated by the Nazis and his romantic portrayal of nature held up as portraying aryan ideals and german patrioism. Friedrich was considered the perfect German artist.

However according Jonathan Jones in his 2001 article The ghost of Germany’s past, Friedrich was satirist, not patriot. “To see any of Friedrich’s paintings as simply nationalist is, however, mistaken. His paintings are not celebrations of German mysticism so much as examinations of it. Friedrich uses the emptiness of the Baltic shore and the Thuringian forest to suggest the hubris of empire. He is not the prophet of German territorial ambition but its satirist. Friedrich’s theme is the unconquerability of space. Human beings are tiny interlopers in a world they can never hope to rule. He exposes authority – of the monarchical states, Prussia and the rest, from which German liberals felt so alienated – as a cosmic vanity”

In his appropriation of Friedrich, and the questions that raises, is Kiefer going some way to actually releasing German culture from its association with Nazi ideology?

Bibliography:

Kiefer, A. (no date) Podcast: Anselm Kiefer’s heroic symbols | Blog | royal academy of arts. Available at: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/pocast-anselm-kiefer-heroic-symbols (Accessed: 30 November 2016).

The Guardian (2001) The ghost of Germany’s past. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2001/feb/19/artsfeatures2 (Accessed: 30 November 2016).

Weikop, C. (1969) ‘Occupations’: A difficult reception. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/in-focus/heroic-symbols-anselm-kiefer/difficult-reception-occupations (Accessed: 30 November 2016)

Day, L. (2016) Inhabiting collective guilt and the inability to mourn. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/in-focus/heroic-symbols-anselm-kiefer/inhabiting-collective-guilt (Accessed: 30 November 2016).

Foster, H., Krauss, R.E., Bois, Y.-A., Buchloh, B.H.D. and Joselit, D. (2011) Art since 1900: Modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism. 2nd edn. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Weikop, C. (1969) Heroic symbols artist books: Incubating ideas. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/in-focus/heroic-symbols-anselm-kiefer/artist-books (Accessed: 30 November 2016)


Cri, 2013, Adel Abdessemed

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Kim514407 – annotation

This artwork is currently on display in Avignon’s Galerie Lambert. For the visitor not expecting to see it, or even for those who know it is there, it has been well placed – a corner is turned and there she is, running towards us – just as she ran towards photographer Nick Ut forty-four years ago. Kim Phuc was fleeing her bombed village where she had been horrifically burned by napalm. The bomb had been dropped by the South Vietnamese airforce in a misdirected attack. This was the Vietnam War. The image was circulated by Associated Press in June 1972 and has become iconic, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

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Nick Ut’s photo as it appeared on 9 June 1972 (via thestar.com)

The confrontation is already disconcerting but approaching the sculpture brings more horror – she is made of ivory – a material with its own nightmares. From napalm to ivory. One horror to another. To Ben Luke of The Evening Standard Abdessemed says “And I did it not with resin or plastic, but with ivory, where you still feel a deep sensation of a living substance.” (Man on fire: Adel Abdessemed brings his work to Mayfair, 2013)

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Cri (detail), 2013, Adel Abdessemed, photo by Marc Domage

(The artist has pointed out that he used the only legal ivory – mammoth – but it is hard to tell them apart, sometimes they are mixed, and the legal market has not diminshed the illegal)

The sculpture is the perfect replica of the photograph of Kim Phuc, from the lock of hair falling across her forehead to the big toe curling up on her right foot.

Abdessemed has taken an image of a girl, frozen in time, and has frozen her again, as she runs across the gallery floor. He has drenched her yet again in a repulsive and violent material and he has exposed her again, naked, to the viewing public. In an interview with Farah Nayeri of the New York Times, Abdessemed is described by Okwui Enwezor, artistic director of the Venice Biennale 2015 as ‘an artist who likes to probe at the scar tissues of pain’. (Nayeri, 2015)

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Kim Phuc and Nick Ut together in 2013 (Ringo Chiu/Zuma Press/TNS)

Abdessemed produced this work one year after the 40 year anniversary of the award-winning photograph during which Kim Phuc’s story was much publicised. She continues to get treatment for her burns, she is married with children and living in Canada, and is ambassador for the Kim Foundation, a charity helping children worldwide. Did Algerian-born Abdessemed, a man who while at university witnessed the horrific violence of civil war want to inject the horror back in to this iconic image, lest Kim Phuc’s happy ending make us forget?

The New York Times reports ‘he chose ivory, which he described as an immortal material, to lift those images from the banality they had fallen into on the Internet’  (Nayeri, 2015).  Ironically one year later and the image is at the centre of a storm surrounding Facebook’s censorship. Choosing to ban Nick Ut’s photograph on grounds of childhood nudity, Facebook has been ridiculed and attracted the attention of Kim Phuk herself: “I’m saddened by those who would focus on the nudity in the historic picture rather than the powerful message it conveys. I fully support the documentary image taken by Nick Ut as a moment of truth that captures the horror of war and its effects on innocent victims.”

Bibliography:

Nayeri, F. (2015) Adel Abdessemed: Tackling themes of everyday cruelty and Extremism. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/21/arts/international/adel-abdessemed-tackling-themes-of-everyday-cruelty-and-extremism.html?_r=0 (Accessed: 30 November 2016)

Man on fire: Adel Abdessemed brings his work to Mayfair (2013) Available at: http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/exhibitions/man-on-fire-adel-abdessemed-brings-his-work-to-mayfair-8436674.html (Accessed: 30 November 2016)

Harris, M.E. (2015) Photographer who took Iconic Vietnam photo looks back, 40 years after the war ended. Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/04/vietnam-war-napalm-girl-photo-today (Accessed: 30 November 2016)

Posted (2012) Nick Ut’s Iconic Napalm girl photo. Available at: https://photothisandthat.co.uk/2012/08/18/nick-uts-iconic-napalm-girl-photo/ (Accessed: 30 November 2016)

Levin, S., Wong, J.C. and Harding, L. (2016) Facebook backs down from ‘napalm girl’ censorship and reinstates photo. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/sep/09/facebook-reinstates-napalm-girl-photo (Accessed: 30 November 2016)

Productions, F.S. (no date) The KIM Foundation international: Healing children of war. Available at: http://www.kimfoundation.com/modules/contentpage/index.php?file=project.htm&ma=40&subid=401 (Accessed: 30 November 2016)

Photograph, JOUBERT, B., Creative, N.G., Alexander, R., Images, G. and 00, S.N. 26 (2016) Woolly mammoth ivory is legal, and that’s a problem for elephants. Available at: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/08/wildlife-woolly-mammoth-ivory-trade-legal-china-african-elephant-poaching/ (Accessed: 30 November 2016)


My Bed, Tracey Emin, 1998

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Kim514407 – annotation

While writing this piece I spent some time contemplating whether this really is a work that appropriates everyday objects and reuses them as works of fine art (to quote the oca). Is Tracey Emin’s My Bed appropriation art or has it just been moved from one place to another?

One second this was the place she slept, the next it became My Bed, shortlisted for the 1999 Turner Prize.

The story is well documented: at an all-time low, Emin spent four days in bed. When she finally left the bed and viewed it from afar it transformed from something revolting to something quite different. in her own words: “From one second looking horrible it suddenly transformed itself into something removed from me, and something beautiful. I suddenly imagined it out of that context, frozen, outside of my head, in another place.” (MAGAZINE, 2014)

Emin packed up her bed along with all its detritus and made an installation from it. She added three items: a pair of chained up suitcases and a hangman’s noose. (The noose has since been removed and is no longer part of the work).traceyemin-mybed-int-5

When the bed is moved every item is placed in its own labell1448ed plastic specimen bag. Each time the bed is installed, Emin insists on ‘making’ the bed (often getting into it), and placing the objects on and around it herself- describing the process as looking like something out of a crime scene.
Though we can’t be sure what goes on behind scenes at Tate, it’s said that nothing has been replaced, these are the exact same objects, now 18 years old.

I wonder what the art conservators’ plan is – is it possible to restore soiled pants? A tampon applicator? If these items are surreptitiously replaced, does that change the work?

My Bed seems to gain in stature with time, I think this is no small part down to Tracey Emin herself. She has grown up very publicly – and now comes across as someone who is deadly serious about her art, eloquent and extremely likeable.  She talks openly and honestly about her time in the bed, and how she feels about it now. Today the bed is a time capsule for Emin – nothing about it relates to her life today – she claims not to smoke, have periods or sex. I do question if the bed has more impact on women than men, and on people of similar age to Emin. This bed is a reminder of how traumatic teenage and young adulthood can be and feels specific to the 1990s.

Emin has always used herself and her life experiences in her art, and back in the 90s it was relatively rare to ‘share’. Since then we have had Big Brother (launched in the UK 2000), and Facebook (2004). She has essentially appropriated her life throughout her artworks. In her own words:  “I don’t set out to be controversial. I do what I want to do” (VHS PILE, 2013). In the same programme she admits that her work is an ‘irony-free zone’, it’s sincere – which is both a strength and a weakness. I find this interesting as art that appropriates is often ironic or satirical.

In discussion with fellow artist Julian Schnabel: A lot of my contemporaries are influenced by minimalism and by conceptualism, but when I was a student, I was influenced by expressionism. There’s nothing postmodern about what I do. It is what it is. There’s no cynicism there at all 

Emin has taken her bed, and in putting it in the new context of a gallery space it has become “something beautiful”, like “a damsel in distress, like a woman fainting or something, needing to be helped” (Tracey Emin – artists, 1999). It’s very clear that from the moment Emin decided the end would become an artwork, she stepped away from it, she no longer belonged in that bed, it had become part of her past.

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In reading up on My Bed, I come across Rauschenberg’s Bed, 1995, Stuart Home’s Airstrike Bed, 1993 and even the hypothetical bed of Arthur Danto’s J in The Transfiguration of the Commonplace (1981) and some inevitable questioning over whether Emin appropriated Stuart Home’s bed (an installation she had exhibited next to in London two years before.This doesn’t make sense to me. Emin’s bed has come from the heart – the culmination of wayward times – the bed and its objects are her story. She sees her bed as rooted in the art of the past : “I’m not coming from a contemporary tradition, I’m coming from – I’m Van Gogh, I’m Schiele, I’m Edvard Munch – I’m working with my emotions – I’m not working with controversial contemporary ideas of openness, or like real-time TV or Facebook”  (SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT, 2012).

Jonathan Jones attends the installation of My Bed at Tate Liverpool where it will be until September 2017: “It looks “baroque”, she comments as she drops a pair of tights in – and she’s right. It looks like a bed painted by Caravaggio. It is finished. Stuff has become art. And not some dry intellectual work of conceptual art, either. My Bed is a visceral monument to being alive. It is a mirror of its maker. ” (Jones, 2016)

Bibliography

MAGAZINE, T.T.G. (2014) Tracey Emin, my bed, on the market for the first time at Christie’s, London on July 1, 2014. Available at: http://www.tretyakovgallerymagazine.com/news/tracey-emin-my-bed-market-first-time-christies-london-july-1-2014 (Accessed: 1 December 2016)

VHS PILE (2013) Tracey Emin – the south bank show. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxaoAy9oNtY (Accessed: 1 December 2016)

Tracey Emin – artists (1999) Available at: http://www.lehmannmaupin.com/artists/tracey-emin/press/376 (Accessed: 1 December 2016)

SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT (2012) INTERVIEW. TRACEY EMIN. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg5ad44knPA (Accessed: 1 December 2016).

Jones, J. (2016) Tracey Emin makes her own crumpled bed and lies in it, on Merseyside Tracey Emin makes her own crumpled bed and lies in it, on Merseyside. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/sep/16/tracey-emin-artist-1998-installation-my-bed-tate-liverpool-merseyside (Accessed: 1 December 2016)

remixthebook (2011) Appropriation. Available at: http://www.remixthebook.com/the-course/appropriation (Accessed: 1 December 2016)

Holsworth, M. (2011) Tracey Emin and the 3 beds. Available at: https://melbourneartcritic.com/2011/10/13/tracey-emin-and-the-3-beds/ (Accessed: 1 December 2016).


Ai Weiwei, Straight, 2008-2012, steel reinforcing bars, 6 x 12m

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Kim514407 – annotation

Weiwei often works with found objects: rucksacks, timber, bicycles, a Han dynasty urn. For this work he bought 200 tonnes of steel reinforcing bars, salvaged from the devastation caused by the 2008 earthquake of Wenchuan, China.

Some 70,000 people died in the earthquake. Poorly state-built schools collapsed and took the lives of many children.

Talking to Tim Marlow of the RA, Ai Weiwei describes the impact the earthquake had on him: “I just feel speechless, this is too overwhelming for me, I couldn’t find the right language to describe that instant, I’m not prepared for that. So I told myself I had to go, so only when I’m in there, whatever I say will be relevant otherwise I should stay away, because this is beyond my comprehension. So when I went there, while I’m standing in this earthquake area, I feel the wind, air… really horrifying … you feel in the wind that death is there. I never had such a feeling”. (Royal Academy of Arts, 2015)

His first act was not that of an artist. He took responsibility for identifying and naming the children that had died in the earthquake. Of this act, he says “I don’t know if it’s art, or not art, it’s an expression that has a lot of people listening” (Royal Academy of Arts, 2015) His investigation identified 5,196 children and named them online.

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Ai Weiwei with the names of the children he identified as having died in the Wenchuan earthquake, 2008. Photo courtesy Ai Weiwei

During this ‘citizen’s investigation’ Weiwei and his team were subject to arrests and beatings by the authorities, including an 81 day incarceration for Weiwei himself.

In the same interview Weiwei explains that he didn’t “know how to carry that emotion, how to make it remembered” but thinking about the rebars he came up with the idea to “straighten them, to the original look, like they’ve just come out of the factory”. This work – to straighten the twisted and mangled rebars by hand continued while Weiwei was detained. He speaks of the moment he was released and arrived at his studio to hear the ‘ting ting ting’ of steel  – it gave him such joy – the realisation that work had gone on without him.

I sense from listening to Weiwei talk about this project and this moment of hearing the ‘ting ting ting’ that the process of making of this work is very much part of the work itself.

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Ai Weiwei, Straight (detail), 2008 Photo via artobserved.com

These steel rods are used to reinforce the concrete of buildings. It’s thought that corners were cut in the building of the schools in Wenchuan, for personal profit. These bars are imprinted with the ghosts of  innocent children. The steady, rhythmic and manual straightening of the bars – over four years – was perhaps a therapeutic act, a peaceful protest. As Weiwei said, he wanted them like new, as if they had just come out of the factory. But this is not about  wiping  clean the memory, starting back at zero, this act points us very directly to these items that did not do their job – they left the factory and they were ill-employed by the state.

In similar way, the process of installing Straight also feels like part of the work. Each installation starts with the obvious safety requirements – structural engineers and architects are brought in wherever Straight is installed. This is political statement in itself. The work in its entirety weighs 150 tonnes but has never been shown in full. The Royal Academy were able to take 90 tons. The Art Gallery of Ontario was only able to take 38 tonnes. The AGO’s curator Kitty Scott explains how the steel rebars are laid down very much like they would be in traditional construction, using a plywood mould. The installation is labour intensive, with rods moved again and again until the undulating steel landscape is achieved. She describes the process as almost a kind of healing, transformation – a sense of putting things back together  (The National, 2013).

On the wall next to Straight are listed the names of the 5,196 identified children.

Straight is many things: memorial to the the earthquake’s victims, reminder of the force of nature, political statement, anger and sadness at how lives were sacrificed to personal gain, a healing, a laying to rest. These steel bars are loaded with emotion.

Unlike many artists, Ai Weiwei asks galleries to actively encourage the sharing of his work on social media. He wants his work and its messages recorded and past one. He wants the knowledge and the experience shared.

Bibliography:

The National (2013) Online extra: The installing of ai Weiwei’s ’straight’. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1ak4cj1YD0 (Accessed: 2 December 2016).

Royal Academy of Arts (2015) Ai Weiwei in conversation with Tim Marlow: Part 2. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSu5DP4EQA8 (Accessed: 1 December 2016).

Brown, M. (2015) Ai Weiwei’s RA show to house weighty remnants from Sichuan earthquake. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/jun/15/ai-weiwei-ra-show-sichuan-earthquake-chinese-artist-steel-rods (Accessed: 2 December 2016


Untitled (Placebo-Landscape for Roni), 1993, Felix Gonzalez-Torres

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Kim 514407 – annotation

Felix Gonzalez-Torres is an artist known for his minimal installations using everyday objects: lightbulbs, clocks, stacks of paper, sweets. He has made a total of 19 installations using sweets. Prior to this particular work, sweets had been silver or multi-coloured.

In 1990 Gonzalez-Torres came across Roni Horn’s sculpture Forms from the Gold Field (1980–82) – 2lbs of pure gold pressed into a delicate sheet and laid on the floor. This work took on enormous significance for him and his partner. Three years later he created Untitled (Placebo-Landscape for Roni) using gold sweets. Though his sweets are sometimes piled up against a wall, when laid out, they make their own gold field.

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Forms from the Gold Field, 1980-2, Roni Horn via thecommonguild.org.uk

Galleries borrowing this work may install it as they wish, the only guideline is an ‘ideal’ weight. Meanwhile a small panel invites visitors to take a sweet. These two gestures strike one as generous, open, sharing and this involvement in the piece triggers a desire to find out more.

It is widely considered that the decreasing weight of the pile of sweets throughout the day relates to the dropping weight of Gonzalez-Torres’s partner who died in 1991 from AIDS.  The daily disappearance of these shining sweets may also be a reference to the alarming and rapid spread of HIV/AIDS and the resulting deaths – the nonchalant and everyday act of eating a sweet a horrible allegory.  In the six years from 1990, it’s estimated that 54000 men died each year in the US from AIDS. (hrsa.gov).

However a third way to see this participation is that by inviting viewers to take a piece

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Sweet taken September 2016 from Untitled (Placebo-Landscape for Roni), 1993, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, installed in Galerie Lambert, Avignon. Now installed in Rue Espariat, Aix-en-Provence

with them, the artwork is kept alive and disseminated around the world – the sweet I took is currently on a bookshelf in the south of France.

I won’t throw it out, I won’t eat it, I won’t forget where it came from. I have appropriated the artwork (with permission!). This is very powerful. This sweet has a new story, carrying with it the reminder of this art and of our mortality.

A further perspective is put forward in Art Since 1990: “his candy spills are listed as “endless supply”, which reminds us, in a utopian sense, that mass production once had democratic possibilities latent within it”. (Foster et al., 2011) The paragraph closes “For all its spirit of offering, however, this art is also imbued with the pathos of loss” – for five years after his partner died, Gonzales-Torres followed him. He was only 38. (Foster et al., 2011)

Bibliography

work, C. (no date) Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Roni Horn – exhibition. Available at: http://www.andrearosengallery.com/exhibitions/felix-gonzalez-torres-and-roni-horn/1 (Accessed: 2 December 2016)

(No Date) Available at: http://hab.hrsa.gov/livinghistory/issues/Gay-Men.pdf (Accessed: 2 December 2016). CDC. Update: trends in AIDS incidence, deaths, and prevalence— United States, 1996. MMWR. February 28, 1997; 46(8): 1-28. Figure 2.

Keats, J. (2012) How Felix Gonzalez-Torres continues making art 16 years after his death. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2012/08/30/how-felix-gonzalez-torres-continues-making-art-16-years-after-his-death/#58d3315d63d3 (Accessed: 2 December 2016)

Foster, H., Krauss, R.E., Bois, Y.-A., Buchloh, B.H.D. and Joselit, D. (2011) Art since 1900: Modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism. 2nd edn. New York: Thames & Hudson

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