Biomorphism and Other Stories

Focusing on the weird outcomes of my taboos-merger, I started researching about the framework I could use to contextualise them (and hopefully expand a little more on the whole concept emerging from it). I realised that these sculptural attempts partly embodied the specifics of Biomorphism, an art movement developed between the 1920s and the ’50s that focused on the biological shapes of the artefacts evoking emotions and connections in one’s subconscious. It was very interesting to read a little more about this current, as I wasn’t aware of its existence, but yet I failed to understand (as it often happens to me) how exactly is it considered “ended”. In my view, this is a conceptual approach that many artists still utilise every now and then in their work, so can we really say Biomorphism is no longer a reality in the Art world?

Among its most famous creative members I could identify Joan Mirò, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Louise Bourgeois, but, as I was mentioning, I see a strong connection with contemporary bodies of work too. Another artist that I discovered in my research was Isamu Noguchi and his conceptual sculptures (and everything else! He was indeed quite a jack-of-all-trades).

Thinking about it, his work already crossed paths with a much younger Vivee back in the days where I used to dance for a ballet company. Among all his numerous collaborations with other artists, in fact, Noguchi also created from the 1930s several stage sets for the famous dancer and choreographer Martha Graham (whose technique was being taught to us performers in the academy). From these projects to designing playgrounds or mass-producing interior design products, Noguchi never rejected any mean of creative expression and that is something I can truly admire and partly resonate to. He created for the sake of creating. “L’art pour l’art”, as Victor Cousin would say.

On the line of organic structures with an ambiguous appeal, I also came across the Australian artist John Meade. His work might be less known than others but he still has an impressive body of work behind him, made of sculptural open interpretations and metaphorical innuendos. What especially stood out to me, however, was the harmonic merge of geometrical rigid shapes with morbid round ones and intuitively biological elements. And let’s not mention the sleekness of his artefacts, something I am always (always) fond of. Vivee’s obsessions, welcome.

Before concluding this story of inspiration, I wanted to mention one last piece of work that reflects the sculptural directions I’ve been investigating: the sculptural vessels of the ceramic artist Martha Pachon Rodriguez. Once again I was struck by the clean lines, but also by the care placed in the detailed construction of the artefacts and the rigorous repetition of patterns enhancing the boldness of the colours (although these were not necessary, in my opinion). Although more product-orientated, her creations should still be considered artworks not only due to the intense craftsmanship but also for the creativity behind them and their conceptual erotic mixture of animal features with human ones. I must say I was particularly intrigued when I read the artist’s statement and as soon as I saw the “sharp teeth” of the vases I was hooked.


Shift, Drift, Turn and Twist

Perhaps calling it a “paradigmatic shift” is a bit of a stretch, but unquestionably this experimental period is bringing me closer to concepts that I initially didn’t plan to approach. As the story began, I went full on to tackle the issue I simplified as “taboos”. Starting from my vagina-in-a-box, I was interested in what we do when nobody is watching, what we don’t feel comfortable sharing or even acknowledging. Turns out people don’t (or can’t) really want to share that.

Not that I had large expectations for my flyers, but the complete lack of engagement made wonder for a long time whether it was completely my fault or if I was asking too much to people or perhaps even if this introspection/self-assessment I was calling out was something not many do in the first place. Is it for the self-preservation of one’s mental health perhaps?

I also started thinking about some of my “taboos” and the performative experiments with the boxes stashed in my closet were the direct consequence of such brainstorming. Vivee’s waste, Vivee’s shameful waste. But we all produce waste, don’t we? Not that this makes it any less bad. I was partly inspired by the ’80s/’90s performances of Mona Hatoum and that of Michael Landy in 2001. I guess, though, my tag line was more that we should do our best but also not be too harsh on ourselves whenever we don’t reach the utopian “perfection”, and therefore we should find a way to coexist with our “taboos”.

Moving forward, I decided to create some organic shapes out of the contents of the boxes and I engaged in some sculptural making of ambiguous ensembles. In my mind, I wanted to create an orgy of taboos inspired by the aesthetics of Louise Bourgeois. Partly also this failed, as what turned out were just sexual innuendos resembling crafty toys for children, according to the feedback I got from people around.

But in the failure I got the chance to step back and reevaluate what was standing right in front of me more than what I had pictured in my mind. By looking at the “sculptures” all I kept seeing was tension. These haptic forms embracing and constricting one another, almost constraining yet comforting each others. I immediately linked it to my experiences in mental hospitals with patients suffering from eating disorders: one of the most consistent feelings is that the ED is something they all want to get rid of because of the impact it has on their lives, yet it’s also the one thing that keeps them company at night, so to speak.

This was already a topic I wanted to explore but I would have never imagined such a journey to get there. I feel particularly inspired and intrigued by this concept of tensions and I will probably be directing my trial-and-error processes towards this dichotomy. We’ll see where that leads me.

Pilgrimage to Bilbao

London is a great city, full of creative inspiration and cultural stimuli but every now and then it’s simply not enough. J and Vivee needed a change of scenery so we impulsively decided to fly to Bilbao, a true mecca in terms of Architecture and Art (from the tales we heard, none of us had actually any first-hand knowledge).

We ended up spending a quite a peculiar weekend of exploration and research around the potpourri of buildings and artefacts scattered around the basque city. It was lovely to break from the Londoner routine, don’t get me wrong, but certainly we were surprised by Bilbao and its inhabitants. Anyhow, we tried our best to navigate the city as much as we could and fill our lungs with a new (still chilly, though) air.

Obviously the Guggenheim is an amazing museum and I am glad we got to experience it but, what enchanted me the most was the building itself and its surroundings. Above all, the Fog Sculpture of Fujiko Nakaya. Simply genius. But also Maman by Louise Bourgeois, an installation I was particularly eager to experience first hand and, I must say, turned out to be just quite as powerful as I imagined.

Inside Gehry’s creature I also got the chance to reinforce my appreciation for the practice of Jenny Holzer, as her work was being exhibited at the Guggenheim while we were visiting. The use of simple, yet powerful installations that combine graphic elements, often aesthetically pleasing (or at least intriguing), with serious sensitive topics, is definitely a source of inspiration to me. Her work had already caught my attention at the Tate Modern in London but it has been nice to experience some further artefacts also not necessarily made with her signature technique (although no photos were allowed in that room).

Aside from visiting the Museum of Fine Arts and the Cultural Center, we wondered around in a greatly-missed dérive, that was long due and much needed. My attention circulated back to water reflections and shadows, images showing something that is there yet not exactly. Showing a way someone might look at the specific original vision, a point of view bound to change throughout time and between different individuals. I am not yet sure how I might pursue this concept, as for now it’s mostly just a brainstorming, but I surely am noticing a red thread linking all that has somehow grasped my attention in this pilgrimage.

What we look at is not necessarily what we see and what we see is also not necessarily what it really is, as well as what we look at is most likely not what it is for someone else.

Experimenting With The Box(es)

I stand by the belief that we all have one or more boxes in our closets, representing the (singular of plural) insecurities and taboos we don’t feel comfortable to display in the light of day. As the Paradigm continues its course (and I have been giving flyers out to people and local businesses around the city) I started wondering more about my own “boxes”.

And guess what? Turns out Vivee actually has some physical boxes stashed in a closet at her place. These have been there for years now and, since I am planning to move, I was bound to deal with them sooner or later.

So there I was, staring for hours at those boxes I still feel so ashamed of, impersonating the waste I created as a younger (and less mindful) version of Vivee and that I would hate to acknowledge out loud even up to this day. Those 3 or 4 boxes represent certainly one of my metaphorical boxes.

Even if we all produce some waste to some extent, I don’t feel okay about mine. Not that specific one, at least. To be specific, I am talking abput clothes, shoes and crafty materials of all sorts that I, like many others probably, have accumulated over the years working in the fashion world. They represent a visual slap to me, a part of myself (or at least my old self) that I truly despise.

As part of my research on Taboos, I have decided to experiment with the contents of my stashed boxes. The first adventure I embarked on was with the clothes and, inspired by a recent exhibition of Christian Marclay’s video works, I developed a short video of the improvised performance. I started, in fact, only by wearing all the clothes at once and, while documenting the outcome, I decided to take them off one by one and crawling naked back in the box. Vivee getting rid of her taboos by acknowledging them and by redefining her own physical space within them. The final video (I will upload it further on, promess!) was also inspired by Mona Hatoum’s voyeuristic take in her initial performances back in the ’80s, giving the audience a violent and somewhat disturbing action to witness.

What’s in Your Box?

As the Paradigm-adventure continues on I wanted to share some bits from Vivee’s all-around brainstormings. If there’s one thing she does, it’s brainstorming, people. But brainstorming can only get you so far and you have to physically start doing something for it to matter somehow, therefore I’m hoping that pinning some of it down could help to further develop the correlated actions and plan upcoming ones.

So I’ve started by thinking a little about my vagina-in-a-box project, Vivee’s V how some have labelled it, and, specifically, about how people wouldn’t “interact” with it as long as I was in the same room. This made me wonder about all the little (and bigger) things that we all do when we aren’t being watched, things that might be embarrassing or plain weird or gross or unmentionable to others and so on. Our taboos, to simplify it.

The research therefore developed into the real world and little Vivee, armed with hope and positivity, went around to distribute her flyers (and put up posters) for a taboos-are-out campaign. Basically I was interested in seeing if people would have been willing to share their own taboos (anonymously) as a mean to unload and let go of some of the struggles entailed.

We’ll see if someone bites or not, I guess.

Deconstructing to Build

Recently, as I’ve been mentioning, I underwent a proper all-hands-on-deck with literary bits and philosophical excerpts. Part of myself wanted to find theorists with my same views and properly written concepts in line with mines, while another part of me was more eager to encounter new knowledge and ideas to perhaps even question my own set of beliefs.

I always always have this duality when it comes to research. Perhaps many else do as well. I want to find like-minded people, yet I would love to be surprised with some insight I haven’t yet considered.

In this particular instance, I got a little bit of both. On one hand I found individuals like John Berger, Sol Lewitt and Camille Paglia who presented concepts I already believed in, and on the other I was surprised about the specificity with which they proficiently argued about sensitive topics that I hardly thought anyone had tackled in such ways (I am referring especially to Paglia here).

All in all I felt that, while undergoing all these readings, my mindset slowly turned into a deconstructivist mode just so I could (re)build bits and pieces stronger than before.

This concept per se also translated in one of the latest works that I had to produce for a graphic design workshop. The brief was to create 7 posters for a family-run scales production company (Bizerba) in order to celebrate and promote their long heritage and brand values. Playing with the whole idea of deconstruction and reconstruction, this is what Vivee came up with. Ever wondered how a scale is made inside?

Back to Books

I need to make a confession. I used to read a lot, like really a lot. And eventually I stopped. Altogether I couldn’t approach anything vaguely intellectual (as in with some depth to it) for a couple of years, at least, and I never told it to anyone because I guess I was too ashamed to even admit it to myself. Obviously I had my reasons for this ceasing (no need to dive into that chapter now), but it was never a conscious decision that I made one morning. Truthfully, my brain was just tired. Very tired and deprived of energies to spend on reading anything other than what was strictly required for my studies. I had lost the pleasure of reading a book, literally. Recently (I might add a big “thankfully!”) the status of things has changed and here I am, eager to dive back into some good old literature.

So without further ado, I started collecting several excerpts and journal articles about some of the topics I wanted to research, mostly around the critics’ response to conceptual art and some of its pioneers but also about some other interesting theories about aesthetics and philosophical matters in relation to the Art world. I have been literally swimming from a Sol Lewitt’s essay to inquiries about John Baldessari’s work, from Terry Smith’s “State of Art History” to the Stanford Encyclopedia’s definitions of “Conceptual Art”. All to end up with “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger in my hands. I can’t count all the times I have read about this book or read quotes from it in the past two years, and yet I have never actually read it (unfortunately it fell in the dark gap I was mentioning before). So let’s just say it was about time I fixed that (and that deserves a chapter on its own so… more to follow).

Exploring The Dialect

Surely you might have felt, at some point in your life, that speaking the same language of someone else, while visiting a foreign land, almost builds an instant connection with them and can make you feel a little closer to home. At least that’s very much the case for all the Italians abroad I know. As I feel that I am only starting now to (finally) approach the Art world as a legit professional, I thought I might feel less of a tourist if I started speaking the local language of the inhabitants in the lovely “neighbourhood” I have chosen. Therefore, I’m continuing my research in that direction, hoping that learning the dialect could help me define my paradigm(s) even more. Worst case I’ll just get tons of inspiration, am I right?

Among recent works, I was particularly intrigued by Janet Echelman’s aerial installation in Hong Kong for the beginning of the Art Basel and the launching of the “Art in Resonance” campaign. The artist knots 31 miles of twine to create the 160-foot aerial sculpture which explores the interconnected networks of our cultural and physical world. […] transforming with wind and light, the work shifts from ‘an object you look at, into an experience you can get lost in.’ (many thanks to Designboom for the lovely description)

Another installation that caught my attention was the cloud of thoughts by Chilaru Shiota in Berlin’s Gropius Bau (former decorative arts museum) meant to connect the viewers with both the past and the future. Here, the artist filled the institution’s huge atrium with paper ephemera, leaflets, pages and so on all connected by white woven strands in a multidimensional opera that can be perceived from different viewpoints just like a Rococo’ sculpture.

The following are more of the works that I have been looking at in the past few days, all made by Carsten Höller, and that will, hopefully, teach me a little bit more of the creative language I’m trying to learn. Or perhaps even constructing my own?

I Paradigm, You Paradigm, They Paradigm

As hard as it is to define one’s practice when it’s only in the early developing stages, it is also extremely satisfying to delineate a shape and an aim (or aims). I have learned that pinning down what you are aiming to communicate is perhaps an even greater necessity than the tools employed to convey the message. Once I know what I’m trying to say, I have confidence it will find its own mean(s) to be shared with the audience and the world.

This to say that, feeling like I finally know what Vivee’s practice is about (for probably the very first time) is a major achievement to me. I’m aware I have only just started scratching the surface but this sense of purpose and direction that are driving me like never before are an experience worthy of praise. So, in order to contextualise and delineate better my creative direction (or directions), I started digging a little deeper in the valley of inspiring figures that I have come across throughout my journey, either in its beginnings or just around the last corner.

The well-known Damien Hirst was one of the first figures I started resonating with in the early stages of my creative path. Aside from the controversial nature of many of his artworks, which is something I’ve always been drawn to, I shared his interest towards “death” and the difficulties linked to accepting it. This partial inability to cope with it has, in fact, troubled me for a multitude of years since a very young age and it still remains a quite puzzling topic that generates many conflicting feelings in me, as in many others I’m sure. The daring quality of his work, often shocking and not always praised by the critics and the public alike, is another factor that made me feel connected to his work in the first place, especially to the artefacts presented in the ’90s.

Another British artist part of the YBAs group (Young British Artists) that I admire, and whose paradigm interweaves with Vivee’s, is Marc Quinn. As Hirst and the other members of the “movement”, he too approaches the artistic practice with the intent of subverting the conventional norms of communication and representation. The conceptually engaging and controversially shocking tactics employed always seem to hit the mark, either in a positive or negative way, and that has always been one of my goals throughout. I believe in fact that it’s necessary to grasp the attention of the viewers in order to convey a message, and that does not always equal a “fancy” output. Quinn’s work “Self”, for example, has been a major influence for me and I believe it fully channels this idea of obliging viewers to at least acknowledge the artefact in order to promote further brainstorming and questioning. His focus on the relationship between the physical and spiritual spheres, mixed with a desire to push media to the extreme, is another one of the focal points I resonate with.

Since it appears quite obvious by now that my paradigm aligns with those of the ’90s YBA group, as my next point of reference I wanted to spend a few words on Sarah Lucas as well. To avoid repeating the ideals and visions she shares with her comrades, I am just going to highlight what I feel we share in terms of execution and, perhaps, attitude. Her famous employment of visual puns is, in fact, probably the most recurring attribute in my current practice. She narrates to her viewers with a dark irony and an apologetic attitude, even when she is provoking through upsetting or obscene visuals. Furthermore, she relies mostly on “simpler” materials (as photographs and found objects) and, even if some consider her part of a feminist art movement, she never presented herself as such. Surely her practice deals a lot with sexism but, instead of elevating the female figure she actually strips it down as her main concern is to highlight the everyday absurdity and society’s hierarchy regardless of gender.

Last but not least in my paradigm exploration is one of the most recent discoveries I made in terms of artists who I can reference as inspiring influences, despite her being active and successful for quite some time (since the ’80s, so shame on me, I guess). I am referring to the Palestinian artist, Mona Hatoum. With her I, first of all, share the eclectic and multiform approach of communication: she is a multimedia, installation artist and she appears to be effortlessly switching from one mean to another depending on the project. Obviously I still have a lot to learn and experiment with, but that is pretty much my ideal practice’s delivery and workflow as I believe every piece, and mostly every message, has its own mean to be communicated best. Hatoum started dabbling with Performance Art and then evolved into a series of thought-provoking installations, dealing with social issues through an unusual, yet poetic, language. Aside from a similar practice development, I also embrace her diversification in terms of topics presented with a cohesive trademark. She doesn’t communicate the same message over and over again, but she does have a thread throughout her work which is the transformation of everyday objects into dangerous but captivating sculptures. So, one might say her work has a signature in terms of approach and development, but the final execution and the meaning behind each artwork differ every time.

Italian Days Pt. 2 – Personal Bits

I’m not a fan of sharing personal events or experiences in a direct form (especially without relying on some good old sarcasm) and I usually rather opt for disclosing bits and pieces while reflecting on developing projects. But I need to make an exception in this case.

As I previously mentioned, I was in Italy for a family matter and that matter being my aunt in a hospital bed, it hasn’t been the most pleasant holiday break. When I got the news that she had been brought to the hospital, I must say I wasn’t that surprised given the age (98!) but, nevertheless, I wasn’t as prepared to walk that insanely warm maze of yellowish hallways to get to see her. I still went as soon as I could, ready (or so I thought) to say my goodbies and make her feel all the love I could. As sad as it sounds, I don’t have many relatives left so one could say I got used to it (although it’s hard to actually get used to it). Anyhow I went there fairly confident and every door I opened, every corner I turned, my confidence went down an inch (did I mention I have been hospitalised in that same place many years ago? It’s been quite intense).

Without further digressions, let’s just say I got there. And there something extremely thought-provoking happened (also the reason why I’m bending my no-personal-tales rule). She was in an understandable bad shape yet with the attitude of someone who has no intention of dying whatsoever. And so her daughter. Despite the age and the physical state, neither one of them was accepting the inevitable. Surely no one is ever properly “ready” but after a century-long life and many happy memories and loving people around, shouldn’t it be okay to let go?

I started wondering a lot about this because obviously there’s a dichotomy of opinions and no right or wrong stance, yet the situation I have found myself in almost felt unreal by the degree of “ridiculousness” (pass me the term, I mean no disrespect). Imagine an old lady whose body has basically shut down, laying in a hospital bed unable to move or speak or eat or do anything aside from squeezing hands, yet fully conscious. Now imagine the (adult) daughter arranging all the future sessions with a physiotherapist and the other professionals of the kind for as soon as she gets discharged. Sounds a bit unrealistic, no?

For all her life my aunt has been afraid (and unwilling) to die and she has constantly put this fear on everyone’s back, especially her daughter’s. Now, as understanding and empathetic I can be, I also feel there should be a moment when you realise it’s okay to let go both for your own good and for that of those who care about you. I was almost shocked that we still hadn’t reach that moment not even there, not even in that room.

I walked out of there with the conscious thought that she wasn’t going to die any time soon. The next morning she passed.

As harsh as I’m putting it down, it’s been a deeply emotional experience altogether for a series of factors that I don’t feel to discuss any further. The only reason I decided to share this in the first place is to introduce all the thinking I’ve been doing about the ability (or better yet, inability) of letting go and how sometimes perhaps it’s more harmful to insist against the natural course of things rather than accepting it as it is.