Week 1: Sol Lewitt, Yoko Ono, Bruce Nauman, & One Kilometre

On Sol Lewitt:

Sol Lewitt - The New York Times
Sol LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing #564,” at Paula Cooper Gallery.

I think that Sol Lewitt utilizes the inspiration derived from a vision in making his works come to real life. Especially in terms of conceptual art, where often artworks can’t necessarily be made by a singular artist. Conceptual art has a beautiful way of integrating a lot of different fields of knowledge and subsequently creating an interdisciplinary experience, even though at first glance it may not seem so. Lewitt’s genius is in letting the plan become more than just an artwork – the foundational blueprint for the piece creates a creative process with so many different layers: there’s someone doing measurements and tracings, someone checking colour codes, someone dabbing ink, and someone streaking ink. That blueprint pushes forward every member on that creative team to delegate their skills to finish the piece, is what the team refers to at all points in assembly, and essentially mechanizes all the processes needed to create his art. I think in terms of conceptual art, the artist’s hand, or power, is in concept, is in delegating task, and assembling parts that eventually make a whole work. Without the artist’s original concept, the work falls apart. The artist is essentially (at least in my opinion) playing with puppets to tell a story or explore an idea, but it’s important to remember that although the “puppets” are what we see, there is a figurative puppeteer above the stage, pulling the strings. His hand lies in the approval of the final realization of the concept – this in my opinion leads back to that interdisciplinary way of thinking. When you think of it that way, you can also consider chefs conceptual artists – they hold the concept, the recipe, and delegate to create that total vision – like if they’re opening a new restaurant. And at the end, the consumer’s investment is not just in the food itself, but in the total experience, in the amalgamation of all these cogs that came together to make an engine.

On Yoko Ono: I think if you are looking at Yoko Ono’s work and conceptual work as part of an experience, then her works do fulfill the definition of what conceptual art is, and is still within the boundary of art. I think the boundary would be that you are not directly shown the work. But I mean, ideally conceptual art doesn’t have a boundary, right? It’s interdisciplinary, it’s expansive, and it doesn’t have a label or limit. In that sense you can always argue that there are no boundaries to draw. The artworks themselves are essentially experiences. They’re essentially instructions, which is interesting because she divides the different tasks she gives you based on the experience or based on the connection it might have to the world around us or to a specific category. It’s very feeling-based or very grounded and in some natural elements as well, so the artworks are essentially self-experiential tasks. The end result of the work will always be different and ever-changing in the sense that she’s not providing the artwork, and is instead allowing the viewer to engage in conceptual art themselves by imagining the individuality of their work.  If you think of Sol Lewitt’s job in providing the blueprint, Yoko Ono similarly reflects this process, and she directly confronts the viewer to create their own experience through their unique understanding. The artwork is conceptual in Yoko Ono’s performance of the work, but also is conceptual in the sense that it is a conceptual extension of the person experiencing it. She creates this almost 4-dimensional or 5-dimensional sense of artwork where she’s relaying information and she’s allowing you to create the experience in  your own space and time. In my opinion she sort of functions as the trunk of a tree, while the roots are the persons consuming her art – extensions of her that overtime create their own network.

On Bruce Nauman: I think in examples like ‘Double Poke’ and ‘Wall/Floor Positions’, Nauman essentially questions the idea of how far the boundary lies in terms of understanding and visualizing work. As he defined himself, his profession automatically makes all of his actions art if he chooses, which in retrospect is a perfect conceptual ideology. In that art can come from anywhere, and that even in simple human gesture there can lie various meanings, and fields of depth that we might not see otherwise. It’s interesting because he does essentially create art out of different meanings, while continuing to explore his ideas of analyzing semantics and the limits of conceptual art/art. That might be my favorite part about Bruce Nauman – that he uses language and semantics as a material to visualize.

Double Poke in the Eye

Bruce Nauman - Double Poke in the Eye II, 1985 | Phillips

In this piece, the shifting of each hand positions creates several stories of violence, in more and more extreme degrees. There’s a great contradiction in the neon-colouring versus the actual signs themselves that creates both a sense of amusement – but also uncomfortable-ness. The lighting shifting back and forth creates a sense of depth – and literally reflects the idea of “layered meanings”, as each light shift creates a different story. There’s clearly an exploration of language and a sense of social commentary here (although I’d have to do more research to discern the exact context) – and in the neon experimentation, the continuous cycling visual imagery – therein lies the art, in my opinion.

Wall/Floor Positions, 1968

Werkdetailseite ::: Sammlung Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main

Because Nauman has the idea that all of his actions are accountable as part of his art practice – this work is quite on the nose – although the work itself is photography, he seems to be creating gesture as the specific art form. The stills of him moving his body in different ways comes together as a collage of something somewhat silly (especially the full butt shot – it’s somewhat porn-y (is that a word?) to me which is hilarious). But besides the fact that Nauman is again using language and his understanding of art to create gesture – I see a more layered understanding of the gesture here that I really like. Throughout art and art history the human body is painted as a figure of respect, as an idol almost. Think of Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’, or Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’. In these works, the human body is exalted. I think what Nauman is doing is altering our understanding of human anatomical art. He’s pushing the boundary of how the human figure can be seen in art, how even a butt shot can be considered an artistic form of expression. He takes gesture, and pushes it to the extreme or the silly, to question the meaning of it, and that becomes his art.

Kilometre Exercise: I initially had some trouble with deciding on how to measure my kilometre, so I initially delved into what I relate kilometres to in my everyday life. After some thought, I realized that often in conversations with my family, they sometimes remind me of how they travelled halfway across the world, almost 11,000 km, to immigrate to Canada. In thinking of that, I decided to investigate the connections I have to my heritage, and how I might measure that with what I have around me. My mind immediately went to saris, which I’ve collected over the years, from trips to Bangladesh and from my mother as well. To give some context, saris are a traditional South-Asian women’s garment that simply consist of one long piece of cloth – which is draped around and tied to stay in place. Here’s a picture of the most common style of sari (this was me in 2017) and of what it looks like, I’m sure it’s familiar to most.

Little old me pre-COVID (aha good times)

Sari length can vary based on region and style, but the saris that I have and Bengali style saris are often about 9 meters long. Sari blouses are often custom made – the fabric for them are made as part of the sari, and after purchase the wearer will separate the fabric for the blouse and make it in the style they prefer. The fabric for the blouse is usually an additional 1.5 meters long. I have some saris with the blouse already made (since I’ve worn them before) and some with the blouse fabric still attached. I decided to make a kilometre of my saris, sort of as a kilometre of my history and roots. Subsequently, this is the math I did: I counted each sari as 10.5 meters total (with the blouse fabric included)

So: 1 km = 1000 meters, 1000 meters/10.5 meters = 95.2= ~95 saris total.

After I did this math, I wasn’t even sure I had that many saris! I raided my closet and our storage closets and collected all the saris I could find and did an initial time-lapse video to count exactly 95 sarees! Turns out I had more than that too! Then I laid them all out on my bed (see below) and took a picture of every one of them individually as well. Here are the depiction(s) of my kilometre below:

All my saris stacked on my bed
A timelapse of my counting 95 saris.

Week 2: Marina Abramovic & Stillness Exercise

On Marina Abramovic: I just want to make a short comment on Abramovic after viewing her work and watching her film – on something that I think she does and that I actually really like. I really respect Marina Abramovic’s work in the sense that she relinquishes control of her body, but in the same sense, gains power in the freedom she allows her body to undergo. She lets others see and explore their own mistreatment of her body and gender (especially depending on the work), rather than necessarily only internalizing that feeling. From my personal experiences in looking at her work – I think that is why she is so comfortable and masterful with performance – I think that in the experience of it she finds a sense of inner understanding and peace – and she’s able to reflect that energy to her viewers – which in turn creates that cathartic experience for the participant. Even in her pieces that are mostly meant to engage with others – that release of control allows the participant to feel comfortable enough to do so themselves – and that is where you get those rare moments that people dream of having with Abramovic, where in sitting with her they get to delve into their deepest self. In her piece “Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful”, I really connected with the internal frustration, the sense of female rage that emanated from her action. Aside from her dedication to the action, there was a true involvement in the emotion behind her statement. The action itself is a direct testament to the feeling – women in my opinion are often not simply respected for their work, but must also be considered societally attractive for their work to be respected, and for them to be respected. I think with time this is changing, but the feeling is exactly that – you become trapped in your vanity because it is the only way you can be respected – but in the process, you feel like tearing your own hair out.

1 Hour Stillness Exercise: For this project, I had some experimentation and some trouble-shooting I went through. At first I sat in the corner platform of my stairs – we have a bunch of plants there. However, my mom runs a home daycare, and so not long into the process the kids my mom supervises see me at the top of the stairs and ask questions, as expected. So I ended up breaking my hour-long session, and decided to try again.

Soon after though, I took notice of a small space in my room, in between my desk and my bed. That space is always unoccupied, and I noticed that it was just wide enough for me to fit in. It made me think of the gap between my desk and my bed – which know have become most of my world, and how often I feel like I’m in limbo between the two. And looking at this space, I felt exactly that. I also decided to really try to take the hour to reassess myself, and truly spend an hour with myself. I did this twice as well – my first try was a bit of a fail and I wasn’t as still as I would’ve liked, so I tried again in a second position (as seen below). I had a lot of racing thoughts, but I think it was nice to sit and analyze myself, go over where I’ve been failing recently, where I’ve been struggling, where I’ve been thriving, etc. It’s been a super tough year – the hour to myself was really nice. At times I itched to get up and get back to work – and that was the worst struggle. I had to push myself to stay seated or in position. I felt so depleted, but I also felt like I had to get up and work. I kind of realized that being busy should not really be synonymous with being burnt out. I had to push myself to realize that it is okay to slow down, to enjoy myself. I often feel guilty when I’m not working on something, but I realized that I’m allowed to slow down and figure out why that is.

I had a really tough year (2020 and ongoing) with mental wellness – and it’s something I’m still working on and that I’ve also never experienced before. This exercise made me realize how mentally strong Marina Ambramovic must be – because there is a strength in being still, with only yourself. I think often many of us might be in go mode as a way to avoid our inner emotions and how we’re feeling. But Marina not only allows herself time, but she shares her self with others – and practices a full vulnerability in life that is truly admirable.

And in terms of the physicality as well – it’s much harder than it seems – whether sitting or otherwise. I finally understood how Kathryn (in class) described feeling – your body almost rejects the feeling and begins to react to the process. There’s a real physical effort in staying still. When sitting down my legs fell asleep twice and I had to extend them out because they were in so much pain. My back hurt, my bum hurt from sitting for so long, my neck hurt. When I was on my knees it was somewhat easier actually – I had very focused breathing however because somehow all my muscles were engaged – I felt like I was in a yoga pose almost. Marina’s training and art is truly full of so much depth and passion, more than I realized.

My failed attempt (I ended up moving quite a bit, and I probably stayed about 20 mins longer than I needed to BECAUSE I felt bad for moving)
My final (and relatively successful) 1 hour stillness exercise – my hands moved quite and I’m breathing pretty heavy – but I was happy with this one overall!

Week 3: Lee Walton, John Sasaki, Lenka Clayton, John Baldessari & Defenestration

On Lee Walton – Getting a feel for things: I like the integration of conceptual art as an exploration of semantics (kind of like Bruce Nauman) – especially now where almost all dialogue is often politicized (whether it’s done in due course or is unwarranted) – so I think Walton sort of prophesized the ridiculousness of semantics and how semantics can be even artistically configured to fit an exploration. It also allows art to be more comical and humorous – this sort of breaks down that barrier that might exist when we think of conceptual art – as he takes conceptual art quite literally.

My 6 Sentences

Lee Walton:

1) In any setting, move one object from it’s original place, and once you are satisfied, quietly go about your day.

2) Sit closely and quietly beside a stranger, and enjoy the company in silence.

John Sasaki:

3) On a sunny day, uselessly attempt to climb an unsupported ladder.

4) Drive your van into a narrow alleyway, and then proceed to turn back the other way.

Lenka Clayton:

5) Test how long you can bear separation anxiety from your toddler.

Exercise: Defenestrate objects. Photograph them in mid-air: I was quite unsure of how I wanted to go about this project. I didn’t have too many items I was comfortable throwing around. And then one night I was looking out my window and I realized that I wanted to explore how objects might look in the night. Eventually I came across the items I wanted to use as well. At first I experimented with a newspaper roll – but it felt sort of boring to be honest, I wasn’t interested in seeing how it might visualize because it had no individual movement and character.

Newspaper – a failed attempt in my opinion

But then I realized: I might have just the thing. My birthday passed earlier this month – and one of my lovely friends had a balloon bouquet sent to my home. I took it apart and played around with throwing ribbon, the balloon portion and a gold foil weight – I had my mom throw them in the air whilst I tried to capture some images – and I really like the variation of light and movement that came from the process and that you can see in all the photos – I also unintentionally had included the moon in some of the photos and I quite like the effect is created:

Below are the images I took for the gold weight in the air – my personal favorite. There’s an effect of bright light and some great movement – it creates the image of something like a firework that really nicely contrasts the greyness of the sky surrounding it.

These are the photos of the ribbon thrown in the air and the balloons (below): I especially like the last balloon photos – the variation in camera focus created this lovely nostalgic tone and the colour scheme in the photo is so cohesive – it’s just a very satisfying photo:

Week 4: Adad Hannah & Social Distancing Artwork

On Adad Hannah: Adad Hannah’s work is interesting in that he investigates human behaviour by paralleling the experience in his artwork. His videos (both during the pandemic) and prior to, like the Burgher’s of Vancouver create a reaction in the viewer similar to Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, where the viewer begins to analyze and monitor their own behaviour and emotion in response to the video of other individuals engaging in stillness.

There’s also a different power to a still video because that subtlety of movement (the humanistic shake) allows you as a viewer to imagine, to really feel the natural rhythm of the figure in each video, what their movements would probably feel and look like.

Adad Hannah observes people of every type it seems – he’s diverse in his selection and seems to select people in very naturalistic settings and routines. They’re different in their occupations, their lifestyles, and more, but through Hannah’s lens (and beyond) they get a moment to stand in solidarity whilst facing their lives during COVID-19. The portraits are like a snapshot in time – the environment continues naturally – people walk by and are unbothered. I think the importance lies in the simple humanity of these people. Especially when COVID-19 is looked at and investigated in a very wide-scale statistical way, it’s really nice to be able to focus on the individual journey each of us have in going through COVID, and how often sharing experiences can be so monumental in moving through it – again, in a time where almost everyone is learning to function more independently and more alone, Hannah’s videos are an insight to our collective human experiences, especially within the few moments we have outside of our homes.

I experimented with two Adad Hannah-style videos. My parents did not want to be filmed, so my options were pretty limited. I was speaking with my younger brother and we both sort of realized that our relationship with screen-time really changed during COVID-19 – so I decided I wanted to explore what that relationship might look like for each of us.

I was sure to center our figures as much as possible, like Hannah so we were the main focus, but my portraits do differ in that my brother engages with the camera, while I do not. Our videos are also inside. I do think my brother’s is the stronger of the two, my video was just initial experimentation. Mine took a bit of extra work – I had to tape my phone to my ceiling, and I think that the distance was 2-3m, whereas my brother’s video was definitely filmed from 5 feet away.

My portrait: (Volume will be a little loud!) My quote: “I’ve never been more glued to my laptop and at the same time I’ve never hated it so much. As someone social and talkative, I really miss large-scale human interaction, more than I can say. I’ve been trying to keep things light by watching animation movie analysis videos on Youtube – learning “useless” information (especially about the Shrek movies) is kind of my guilty pleasure during COVID.”
My brother’s portrait – Quote: “I started school now so it’s not too bad. I mean COVID sucks but I always game with my friends so it’s not too boring. Sometimes I miss playing basketball with my friends, and I wish Maa and Baba wouldn’t bug me so much about video games. What else am I supposed to do?”

2 thoughts on “Marjan

  1. Hi Fatima,
    Yay, I’m so glad to see all of your work!
    W1: Notes on Sol Lewitt, Yoko Ono, Nauman, great and thorough reflection on these references, I think you are really getting the conceptual approaches. Kilometre image and description – this is the best Kilometre I’ve seen, and I appreciate how much investment and effort and thinking went into it. Especially in the ways you tried several iterations and ways to document them – on the bed, individually, and in the counting video. I think to show distance/length – you might play with video and show the length of them, of each one, one after another… to really touch and extend the kilometre for the viewer, and to focus on the subject. But this is above and beyond the exercise, great and thanks. I also can’t believe how many beautiful silk saris you have! Literally a kilometre of silk! Makes me think of them too as a link across distances – wonderful.
    W2: Image of Abramovic/Stillness gesture, and description good – and I appreciate even the “failed” attempts, if it’s too easy it won’t be interesting. Thanks for working with what you’ve got, and showing the reality of your home life where stillness, and privacy are impossible. (I hear you!)
    W3: 6 conceptual sentences all great, Defenestration image and description good – I like when things become ambiguous, larger and more mysterious than their humble origins. Lots to play with – with materials and compositions, thanks for trying a few different ways.
    W4: 1 Distancing video portrait, and description is very good, two versions too – showing our real indoor life right now, especially of your generation.

    Overall, great evidence of curiosity and full engagement with material, and level of understanding of critical ideas at play, keep improving technical investment and effort, and keep seeing how far you might go with experimentation (not knowing what might happen) and adventurousness – for example taking some ambitious risks, extending things out beyond familiar zones, increasing scale etc..

    Thank you for the attendance and engagement in class, it’s wonderful to have you in the class. If you would like to talk with me about your work in progress, readings, exercises, one-on-one comments on your work, and grades – send me an email in the morning to book a 15 minute appointment during the optional contact hours: Thursdays 11:30-2:30.

    And you can show up to a zoom meeting with Nathan anytime during these hours to ask your questions, and get tech support for using software and finishing your projects:
    Mondays and Thursdays

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