Week 1: Book Stacks
Investigating the artists work:
I’ve been sort of chuckling to myself all week when doing this assignment thinking about its connection to my current studies in ARTH 3320 Lives: Aspects of Western Art. In it so far we’ve briefly gone over our disagreements with Roland Barthes theory from his essay “Death to the Author”. He essentially argues that as soon as the a book is finished and shared, the author and their biography add nothing to the context of the book in the eyes of the reader. Of course there are many valid arguments for and against Barthes theory, but what I find interesting in relation to this course is that while one might use a book they own as a window into the life of its author, Nina Katchadourian goes a step deeper and uses someone else books as a window into their owners life. To sum up her process, Katchadourian will take a group of books owned by someone else and rearrange their order so that the titles on the spine can be read in sequence. The sequence includes books that she sees as illustrative to their owner(s) life, almost like a portrait of them as well as a glimpse into their library taking into account how they organize their books, which ones they love, or don’t care for, etc. Compositionally, Katchadourian will also take aesthetic elements into account such as fonts used in the titles and other physical qualities such as the books “heft”. Her method of arranging stacks was the one during practice that I was most drawn to.
In his project One Billion Years [Past and Future], 2012, Dave Dyment aimed to create his stack using chronology as his organizational tool. When arranging, the source of where the books came from, their authors, previous owners, or titles, did not take precedence over the time (past, present, future) that each books contents pertained to. He found books that wrote about thousands of years in the past and thousands of years into the future and arranged them accordingly.
Ryan Park on the other hand, in his 2009 Untitled project, took on a more playful approach and arranged books focusing on their colour and aesthetic. Of the three artists in question he is the only one to stack the books opened as opposed to closed. Ironically each books contents have nothing to do with the meaning of the whole sculpture.
As I mentioned earlier, when it came time for me to compose my own stacks I was most drawn to Katchadourian’s method of book selection and arrangement. I wanted the books to say something about me and my literary interests. I’ll say this, it’s quite difficult when you’re someone that doesn’t ever read, which is why the first stack idea I had was one composed of various sketchbooks and notebooks I own. I also pulled select books from my roomate’s collection, using ones that I felt reflected shared interests we have in music, poetry, society, culture, and nature. The primary goal was to arrange the books so that their titles would read a little interesting phrase that reached for, if not encapsulated a common theme shared amongst them. I tried to compose each phrase like a poem, though forgive me for I wouldn’t call myself a poet by any means. Similarly to Katchadouran and Park I paid attention to the shape of the full sculpture that each book acted as a single unit of. I wanted the sculptures form to support the flow of the poem – spacing the books to emphasizing certain words when needed, and aligning or skewing titles position in relation to one another to form groups or stanzas.
Stack 1 – Wood, Ink, & Paper
Stack 2 – Wandering the Blasted Pine
Stack 3 – Embers
Week 2: Notes
This week I really enjoyed looking into a few of the handful of suggested artists, namely Hiba Abdallah and Barbara Kruger
Starting with Kruger, it’s clear right off the bat, even before reading the text, that her message is immediate. That colour pallet of black white and red – the dark and light contrast combined with danger associated with blood red – screams urgency. Her messages are extremely politically charged and visually, the composition of her images resemble propaganda almost. The use of bold text, bold simple shapes, and urgent colour pallet remind me a little of Russian constructivist propaganda. Sometimes the messages aren’t all that far off, in the sense of calling for a mass group of people to organize, like in “Your Body is a Battleground” which was promoting a rally in support of abortion and women’s rights.
I love the “I Shop therefore I Am” as a comment on modern consumer capitalist society. The hand looks so ominous and mindless, reaching out towards us as if we the viewer are about to be consumed. I feel a hint of irony with Kruger’s work, or style I should say, as it relates to the Supreme skate and streetwear clothing brand. Supreme basically copied her white text on red shape design and claimed it as their own, suing other companies who remotely copy it, like streetwear brand Married to the Mob did in 2013. Kruger commented on this in an interview calling Supreme “uncool jokers.” The irony is definitely real comparing “I shop therefore I am” to Supreme, since the billion-dollar streetwear enterprise is entirely based off of fast fashion. Owning the latest product signifies some form of street credit, fitting into the consumers mantra of being what you shop, where the less you buy the lesser you are.
The other artist who’s work I loved looking through and who was not featured on the week 2 blog was Hiba Abdallah. She’s a UofG alumni who specializes in text based work and has done a lot of collaborative work with communities in Toronto to re-imagine public agency. One work of hers that I really love is her “Something written in the Arabic language” logo, which is placed on cards as a print, as well as on t-shirts. Here she uses corporate branding strategies to sell an Arabic logo that literally says: “something written in the Arabic language.” While the message is apolitical, the script and logo design is highly charged and can challenge people who carry so much as a hint of anti-Arab sentiment. To me, wearing one of the shirts feels like a really cool opportunity for some prejudice checks!
Week 3: Text Banner
For this assignment I contemplated a couple phrases; “Don’t be Shy” (written in Cree) and “Seek to Challenge” were some close contenders.
I ended up choosing the phrase “in between these moments” as to me it spoke to mindfulness and a call to presence. It didn’t take long to realize that the stairwell would be the ideal place to hang it. The stairwell is an area of the house where I (mindlessly transition) from the upstairs to the downstairs – carrying with me mindsets and thoughts from the upstairs space that may not serve me in the downstairs space. I wanted to use this phrase as a little bit of a reset as I transition between areas of the house. Another thing is that because the stairwell is such a neutral and brief space, it doesn’t manifest new thoughts within me or affect old ones. So, a call to presence in a space that is removed from the context of my busy thoughts kind of allows me to check in with myself from a more neutral perspective. I can re-evaluate what is serving me and what isn’t. It can be simpler than that too, where it just gives me a brief moment to catch my breath.
I decided to divide the phrase into two sections so that, one, the letters and words could occupy more space, and two, to draw attention to the infinite divisibility of all moments. Without getting further into the crazy physics of time, the division of this sentence just points towards the moments between each step, let alone the moments of different spaces.
Below are my notes and then images of the setup. Enjoy!
Week 4: Notes & Commune w/ Nature Planning
This week Wolfgang Laib and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsays work really stood out to me – I think I mainly liked how tactile and physical their works were. I think we interact with nature more than we think, though if we’re not being mindful and drawing our attention to the moment, the interaction is not a true commune per se. When I think of times that I’ve felt extremely present in nature it’s usually been due to a combination of mindfulness and physical interaction. I think tactility and physicality are important to me when it comes to being present because as long as you’re being mindful of what you’re touching, how you’re moving, what you’re feeling, the physical interaction grounds you in that moment. What’s more than that is it makes it a shared experience with whatever it is you’re interacting with. I believe that for my commune it will be crucial to exercise mindfulness to recognize myself and nature as being two equal parts of a shared experience.
A physical interaction with nature I’ve always interested in is climbing trees. Since we were small, both my brother and I gravitated towards climbing any tree that looked accessible. So even today, as a young adult, on a nature walk with some friends I’ll get those urges from my childhood to clamber up a tree as quickly as I can. With that, I want this commune to have an underlying sense of play.
That said I want to integrate the practice of mindfulness to the activity of climbing. While climbing is fun, it also feels reminiscent of the fact that we’re often led to believe we as humans are above nature – that we can dominate it and control it. This sentiment is not as prevalent today as it may have been, say a century ago, yet I can’t help but draw a parallel between that and tree climbing.
This video assignment will aim to portray the moment of pause and reflection before engaging in something impulsive and exciting – taking a moment to be truly present with the tree; understand the possible risks to both yourself, as the climber, and the tree; and in a weird way asking the tree for permission to climb its branches. Of course, the tree cannot offer any direct “yes” or “no” answer to that question. The way I like to see it is that its reply is measured by the amount of genuine and attentive love you feel for that tree. If you’re able to genuinely connect with the tree the feel free to begin safely climbing – maintaining that air of love and mindfulness. If you’re not feeling the connection, either from your own lack of love for the tree, or a negative vibe you get from the tree, do not proceed to climb.
The exercise I will be demonstrating in my video will be me approaching a tree that I have selected based on its climb-ability, then proceeding to sit by the base of its trunk for a short while as I reflect. Finally, based on mindful reflection I’ll decide to either climb the tree or walk away from it.
Below are some more notes that detail my ideas leading up to the video.
Week 5: Commune w/ Nature Video
How to Climb a Tree:
This is an informative video on how to climb a tree. As I mentioned in my Week 4 post, I approach a tree I’d like to climb, examine it, then proceed to sit by it and in a sense gain its permission to climb. The process of asking for permission from something that cannot directly communicate with you is a tricky thing that I myself am not even entirely certain about. I liken it quite a bit to eating meat. Although I tend to avoid it, the times that I do eat meat I try to mindfully recognize the animal that unwillingly gave its life at some factory farm. Climbing trees is definitely more tame than consuming meat (no trees or me’s were harmed in the production of this video), but I believe its still very important to approach the activity with that same mentality of thanks, love, and recognition of a shared experience. The title “how to climb a tree” is instructional because if I could I’d show this video to my younger self – have him pause before mindlessly engaging in an activity that involves more than just himself.
Week 6: Zoom video project prep
This week I was happy to partner up and work with with Claire and Justin. I was very excited by the idea of making video art – the examples we went over in class were really interesting and inspiring, especially Candice Breitz’s Legend (A Portrait of Bob Marley) and Queen (A Portrait of Madonna). As we discussed in class, the energy from those pieces was so easily felt by all who watched it. The video brought together multiple individual energies that wouldn’t normally overlap. Normally, people listening and singing to a song together will have the music track playing in the background. Here, Breitz eliminated the background reference track, making a new song out of each persons vocalizations of the original track. Voices would join together to sing Bob Marleys lyrics, and each line of the song was bridged together not by original instrumentation but by improvised vocal ad-libs and percussive snaps and claps. In the end, our final piece for week 7 would be heavily inspired by those works.
At first I pointed the group’s attention to Jason Salavon’s video piece All the Ways (the Simpsons), which used AI technology to analyze every episode of the Simpsons and produce a new video based on all previous episodes. Please refer to Claire’s week 6 blog post to view the video. The result is a fever dream resemblance of a Simpsons episodes with distorted audio and visuals. It inspired the idea of overlapping sound and video to create a similarly distorted effect. We imagined applying that technique to various zoom video tiles of people in a similar position looking at their cameras – as one would in any class or meeting. The idea was to create a distorted video of overlapped heads and faces that would create the vague shape of someone sitting at their computer attending a meeting. However before we experimented with that idea we considered the potential cons of the technique not producing what we imagined in our heads. After all, the original inspiration from Jason Salavon did not use any overlapping but original AI generated images.
We took a step back from the Salavon inspired idea when Claire suggested a piece that involved each individual in a zoom meeting writing a line of poetry. We then expanded on that idea thinking we could make a video where everyone’s prepared with a unique line of original poetry and, in a random order, read that line aloud forming. We hoped to create a poem that was loose and unpredictable, and thought it’d be interesting to see if any cool moments rise out of that collaboration. During the critique, however, we did discuss some reasons why that may not be a very compelling or effective piece.
We then moved on to the idea of the interview as a way to unite multiple people into one zoom video under one similar and controlled activity. The ideas we had around the concept of the interview were definitely informed by Factum Tremblay (2009). From the surface, I really liked in that piece how both individuals were talking about the same events and being asked roughly the same questions – that’s something I was interested in carrying forward in our work. Eventually we settled on the idea of asking a bunch of our friends random, nonsense, yes-or-no questions and only recording their response. We spent a good session together coming up with these questions and planning the execution. Please refer to Claire’s page for meeting notes.
Week 7: Zoom video art
The below piece is entitled “Yes or No” and it’s a collaborative work that was conceived and organized by Justin, Claire and myself. Each video tile is an interview with a participant who is asked the same questions in the exact same order as every other participant. The questions themselves aren’t tied to one another under a common theme. They are random, silly, and most importantly, remain anonymous during the video. Beneath its playful appearance, this project highlights the similarities and differences between us that appear when undergoing the same task. Playing each interview simultaneously (and largely uncut) allows these similarities and differences to interact, communicate, and form relationships with one another.
Originally I intended to line up the yeses and no’s to happen at the same time; the thought of everyone chanting the responses (as similar or varied as they may be) seemed really interesting at the time. However, hearing things play out naturally without trimming and re-arranging sounded so nice (it also saved me a ton of time in edits). The three of us agreed immediately upon hearing it that that was the way to go.
Week 8: Lets talk about bread.
What bread means to me? It’s so many things. On the surface I see it as something soft and warm (preferably). It’s nice on it’s own but I usually treat it like a vessel for hummus, butter, honey, peanut butter and jam. Freshly baked bread is something I’ve learned to not be interested in because it sits outside my price range when I’m going shopping.
Bread was made around the house by my mother but it wasn’t anything crazy, just a loaf she’d make from the bread maker machine. So, I’ve never associated bread with my immediate family or our kitchen. I do associate it with my Greek Orthodox upbringing however; bread was a key element in the weekly ceremony of communion. The cube-cut piece was usually rather dry and a trip to the water fountain would be in order. But there were some Sunday mornings when the bread was so moist and soft, retaining the slightest bits of warmth from the oven. My friends and I would congregate afterwards and remark on how “they really nailed the andithero this week.”
I see bread as something sensitive that pertains to my health. It was the food that called frequently to my dad late at night when he shouldn’t be eating. I’ve often found myself mindlessly eating it, slice after slice, far past the time I should be eating. We didn’t need it but we needed it. Especially when orthodox easter comes around – the tsureki (sweet egg-bread) is irresistible to a fault. When I learned that my aunt was unhealthily binging, it was bread that she couldn’t stop herself from eating. And while I’ve never had a food disorder of my own, eating bread is something that I’ve done easily and without control.
I think that cooking and art are integrated when you share and express stories like these. When the making, presenting, and eating (respectively or collectively) intentionally speak to these stories and carry their weight, that’s when it becomes art.
I forgot to take a picture of the bread I made that week. I became preoccupied trying to save the sinking ship that was my failing hard drive 🙁
Week 9: Food project
I think I initially missed week 9’s class, but going back to see the material I really loved Christian Jankowski’s 1997 video piece The Hunt. A really funny, bizarre, and bold performance – I feel like it’d be hard to pull something like that off today without a considerable amount of trouble. The commentary on the contrast between the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and our current method of obtaining food was definitely apparent.
One thing I can’t shake from that video is the slightly triggered feeling I get seeing him prep a potentially harmful or lethal weapon and walk into a public building in broad day. The influx in mass shootings in recent years has made me sensitive to that kind of scenario. That’s not to take away from the piece at all, only another thing that would potentially affect its recreation today.
For my project I decided to focus on waste: either organic food scraps or food packaging. Whenever I go grocery shopping I can’t help but feel stressed by the overwhelming amount of waste that we as a collective group of people will produce from this week’s haul. The stress worsens as I remember how the store that I’m in is only one of hundreds of thousands of stores that people are currently shopping at. Visually representing overwhelming thoughts like that through digital photographic and video media is something I’ve done before and I feel like it’s a one that people can easily resonate with. I’m inspired by motion graphic pieces of work where hundreds of images are taken of a similar object or shape that stays in the same position of the frame the whole time. Click here to go to an instagram post that serves as an example. I’ve always thought about doing a project similar to something like that, taking pictures of the compost or barcodes or something. As I write about this after the fact, I decided on photographing my compost bin from a birds-eye-view to record its composition throughout the week. There are 5 members in my house, so naturally, something is being added to the bin every couple of hours – especially in the mornings and evenings. The goal was to take as many images as possible and present them in a fast paced video where each image takes up a single frame per second of screen time (usually, videos run at 30 frames per second).
Week 10: Final food piece
This is the final piece. Each image takes up a couple of frames per second. In total there are about 50 images. This is definitely a project that I am excited to take further, not only with compost but with repeating symbols on food packaging like recycling symbols, barcodes, CMYK dot/labels, etc.
Week 12: LET THEM EAT CAKE
While the act of making this particular cake (or there lack of) didn’t meet the mark of the assignment, the effect was all the same. Here you’re looking at evidence of a happy household that got to eat cake at 3:30 in the afternoon.