Reprinted from Gaya Art News (June 2008)
Reprinted from Gaya Art News (July 2008).
“We must arrive at a dynamic conception of forms, we must face the fact that all human forms are in a constant state of transformation,” Asger Jorn wrote in 1954. “Architecture is always the ultimate achievement of intellectual and artistic evolution. It is the final point in the achievement of any artistic endeavour because the creation of architecture implies the construction of an environment and the establishment of a way of life.”
Few artists have devoted as much energy as Nino Mustica to this sort of research into the evolving power of transformations. Though his roots are solidly within painting – and, if you had to choose one aspect, within the emotive impact of colour – Mustica’s natural sensibility is one of constant change, constant growth, constant evolution. He is a painter, but without the limitations of canvas or delineations between sign, gesture, colour, material – or volume.
Reprinted from Gaya Art News (October 2008).
Review of Michelle Swayne’s show, Yellow, But Not The Sun.
Reprinted from Suardi Magazine (October 2007).
In Indonesian, pseudonymous.
Tom Wolfe, in The Painted Word, joked that “art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.” In her exhibition at Gaya Art Space, titled Yellow, But Not The Sun, New York artist Michelle Swayne subtly undermines the forces described by Wolfe. Through poetic titles that themselves read like paintings, a solid grounding in both conceptual and academic art, and most of all through the ineffable touch of the art itself — uncannily ambiguous work filled with tonal angularities and tensions — Swayne reclaims enough space for the viewer to see her paintings and sculptures as visual objects married to visual ideas, resistant to easy textual parsing.
But her decision to give up her studio in Williamsburg, New York ¾ an area with the world’s highest concentration of artists ¾ to live in Bali and paint alongside rice farmers (her studio is literally open to a ricefield on one side) is, in part, a reflection of those forces. And she is not the only artist to trade New York for Bali: the painter Ashley Bickerton once lived two blocks away in Williamsburg.
Discussing Matisse and Picasso, Swayne once wrote that there are two kinds of artists — those who are filled up and pour out and those who gather and re-negotiate; those who blindly go to discover and those who specify what is found. Swayne works more in a quiet “pulling” mode than the analytic “poising” mode, and she has found something in Indonesia that New York lacks.
“The best things cannot be told, the second best are misunderstood. After that comes civilized conversation; after that, mass indoctrination; after that, intercultural exchange.” – Joseph Campbell
On the 62nd anniversary of Indonesian independence, I sat, hungry and a little impatient to see the work, listening to a series of speakers introducing an exhibit of Modern Indonesian Masters. The oddest name on the roster, ex ante, was the former Balinese Chief of Police and current head of the narcotics department of the Indonesian police, Made Mangku Pastika. I expected a moral lecture on how art is a way to develop character and fight drugs, or something similar. I did not expect Mr. Mangku Pastika to completely change the way I viewed art in Indonesia.
The essence of his speech was that there are three levels of humanity: at the lowest level are those people who understand only logic, good and bad, right and wrong; at the middle level are artists who create meaning; and at the highest level are artists whose work reaches into the spiritual dimension.
This was disorienting: the act of placing spiritual art at the highest level is the sort of rhetorical flourish that would be possible from any art lover in the West – though an art-loving policeman would already be unusual – but no western cop would ever describe people who “only” understood right and wrong at the bottom of anything. This was no flourish.
There is a two-thousand-year-old story by Ashvagosha about Buddha’s life that describes how Buddha searched for the point where the world didn’t spin like a wheel but stayed steady as the centrepoint of an axle. He found this (psychological) omphalos on the eastern side of a Bodhi tree. There, he was attacked by Mara, the lord of illusion. Mara first sent what both Freud and Jung would much later identify as the two primary motivations of all human behaviour – pleasure and fear. When neither of these worked, Mara ordered Buddha, with the voice of authority, to return to the law and order of society and religion. The Buddha, who had dissolved in his mind the concept of self, ignored Mara. He had moved past the created world, past all dualities, to moksa, the release from delusion. The earth shook with delight, and all the deities and demons and creatures of the world, including Mara, came to celebrate.
And here was the former Chief of Police recognizing, in a way that was so natural as to be almost careless, that pleasure, fear, and obedience (or in Hindu terms, the trivarga of kama, artha and dharma) are all obstacles to this fourth and final goal. The true line of all great work, the only proper space for the creating self, are between these three and moksa. Several of the Balinese speakers who followed echoes this theme.
Cafés in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, art schools across the West, places that artists congregate, are full of conversations about what is art, the role of art, and so on. Each artist will give you a different answer. Was it possible that here there was a consensus? I wondered whether I’d just been given a key to understanding a fundamental distinction between eastern and western art.
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (November 2007)
Tom Wolfe, in The Painted Word, joked that “art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.” In her exhibition at Gaya Art Space, titled Yellow,
But Not The Sun, Michelle Swayne subtly undermines the forces described by Wolfe. Through poetic titles that themselves read like paintings, a solid grounding in both conceptual and academic art, and most of all through the ineffable touch of the art itself – uncannily ambiguous work filled with tonal angularities and tensions – Swayne reclaims enough space for the viewer to see her paintings and sculptures as visual objects married to visual ideas, resistant to easy textual parsing.
Reprinted from Gaya Art News (December 2007).
The demiurge turns demoniac to rip, slit, and slash the thin veneer of civilized society with which we dull ourselves into submission. He’ll stab, shear, cleave, rend, gash, chop, wound, jab, prick and amputate — slicing and cutting to make us whole again. Alive.
In Sharp, he fucks us with fifty pierced phalluses, he cuts us into strips and eat us. Vomits and bites us again, to pierce our imbecile parents, legal hypocrisies, and slave-morality religions — all the scaffolding we’ve erected to make ourselves flaccid, drained of strength. This is our safety: a tired vagina, a tired anus, sewed up by our daughter to keep the polluted seed inside. Sent home in tears. Something sharp is necessary.
The demon has a hard on. He has fifty hanging from the wall, each pierced by a cockring. Named, one for each of his friends — mine will be named Aleko (Alex + kontol) — because his violence is care. Love in death. Killing, power, strength. These were once life. We grabbed the intestines and sometimes disgorged them onto the floor. Now we have perusal and market analysis.
Like the old kings who sliced themselves to bits in ritualized regicides to revive the land, the demon does to the viewer what his razors and pins and swords do to the canvas. Cut, mangle, destroy, and make, in the end and almost by happenstance, beautiful.
Reprinted from Harper’s Bazaar (December 2007)
Tom Wolfe, dalam bukunya The Painted Word (Lukisan Kata), berkelakar bahwa “seni kini menjadi begitu literer: lukisan maupun karya seni lainnya muncul hanya sebagai ilustrasi dari teks saja.” Michelle Swayne, seorang seniwati dari New York, dalam pamerannya yang bertajuk Yellow, But Not The Sun (Kuning, Tetapi Bukan Matahari) di Gaya Art Space, Sayan-Ubud secara halus melemahkan kekuatan dari pernyataan Wolfe. Melalui judul-judul puitis yang secara menyendiri bisa terbaca sebagai lukisan, dengan latar belakang solid pada seni konseptual dan akademis, dan terutama berkat sentuhan dari seni yang sulit dibahasakan itu sendiri-karya-karya ambigu aneh penuh nuansa kekakuan dan ketegangan-Swayne mengklaim kembali cukup ruang bagi pemirsa lukisan dan patungnya, hasil perkawinan obyek dengan ide visual yang resisten terhadap telaah tekstual.
Reprinted from Harper’s Bazaar (Christmas edition, December 2007).
Full version with images.
If there were such a thing as an object history of the world, the 20th century would be represented by the automobile. What an Arthurian knight had in horse, armor and sword, a modern male has in his Mustang, his Ferrari or his Hummer. Sir Lancelot drives a Ford GT40, Sir Gawain a Porsche 917. Arthur himself would probably ride a Maserati, a Rolls, or a BMW painted by Andy Warhol (more on that later). Its narrative arc could come from the movie Vanishing Point-a man alone on the open road, eventually chased by police until, inevitably, he runs his Dodge Challenger into a roadblock of bulldozers.
From countercultural challenge through its co-option into a symbol of status and social power, an aid in mating rituals and a source of traffic tickets, the automobile has remained the ultimate fetish, filled with special powers beyond its own utility.
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (May 2008)
During the week of March 15 to 24, 2008, New York’s fifth Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) brought together forty-six New York City museums and galleries in sixty special events-exhibitions, screenings, and conversations-featuring over a hundred artists from every corner of Asia.
Melissa Chiu, museum director of the Asia Society, a major fiscal sponsor of ACAW that itself holds roughly two contemporary exhibitions per year, noted that “Since the first Asian Contemporary Art Week held in 2002, there has been a dramatic increase in awareness of Asian contemporary art and we like to believe this initiative has contributed.” In fact, from Turkey to Taiwan, Israel to Indonesia, the availability of Asian art to New York viewers has exploded to such an extent that choosing which shows to attend becomes a curatorial experience: just on Thursday, March 20th, between 6PM and 8PM, twenty participating galleries held openings.
Running from gallery to gallery, it quickly became clear that the idea of “Asian contemporary art” is as resistant to essentialization as the idea of “Western contemporary art.” Though New York City still boasts itself the centre of the art world, the art itself, whatever its geographic origin, has become a collection of peripheries.
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (May 2008)
“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” –Oscar Wilde
Art fairs can be exhausting. Not just city-sized biennales like Venice, but even those that try to limit themselves to a couple of piers, like the New York Armory show. When I wandered those two art-filled piers, I dressed for comfort: sneakers and a VIP pass, so I could go sit in the VIP room, put my feet up and have a drink.
I’d never been in a room with quite that many gallery directors, art directors, and other art middlemen. They were beautiful. They wore the latest styles from Milan, from Paris, from that magical place with heroin-addict skinniness, bulk discounts on the color black, and eyes so sensitive they require sunglasses indoors. Except for me in my worn-out Nikes, everyone looked like they’d just walked off a catwalk, swinging hair and thin molto Italo ties, networking while appearing merely to lounge loosely.
Reprinted from C-Arts Magazine (July 2008)
- Dr. Ray Kurzweil
The future started fifty years ago, when mathematician John von Neumann noticed that the geometrically accelerating pace of technological progress “gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs as we know them could not continue.”
The most famous futurist living today, Dr. Ray Kurzweil, transformed von Neumann’s insight into a mathematical predictor that has, so far, correctly foreseen by over a decade specific things like the internet explosion, handheld reading devices for the blind (predicted down to the exact year), and the year a computer would be crowned chess champion (he was off by one year).
Now he is predicting that by the early 2030s, we’ll have “eliminated the heart, lungs, red and white blood cells, platelets, pancreas, thyroid and all the hormone-producing organs, kidneys, bladder, liver, lower esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, and bowel. What we have left at this point is the skeleton, skin, sex organs, sensory organs, mouth and upper esophagus, and brain.” The eliminated parts will be replaced by nanobots. In the meantime, medical technology will start to correct some of the biological causes of aging, further increasing our lifespan, hopefully long enough to reach the “third bridge,” where computers become powerful enough to download our personalities. At this point, the singularity, we become pure information. Keep a backup copy in case of crashes, and you can live forever.
On March 6th, 1457, James II King of Scots decreed that “ye gowfe be utterly cried down and not used,” because too many of his subjects were neglecting their archery practice in favor of a game started by sailors strolling from port to town, smacking stones with sticks as they went over the grassy sheep-shorn dunes that the Scots refer to as linksland. Over time, preferred pathways emerged, and the low spots where rocks tended to fall got smacked by repeated swings, exposing the underlying sand and giving birth to bunkers.
By the time of the king’s proclamation, golfers at St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, had developed a customary route along a narrow strip of land by the sea with eleven holes laid end to end, to be played in both directions for a total of 22 holes. Several of the holes were combined in 1764, for a total of nine in each direction. Thus, a complete round became 18 holes.
And by the late 1800s, groundskeepers like Old Tom Morris were building artificial courses, leaving behind the natural models of St. Andrews, North Berwick and Prestwick in favor of the Classicism of the time, with its Victorian rules, order and brutal symmetry. In these efficiently monotonous designs every bunker consisted of a rampart precisely 112cm in height placed at an exact right angle to the line of play, all fairways were rectangular, all greens square and flat, and a player could ascertain the bogey of a hole by counting the number of bunkers and adding two to the total.
This period, now referred to as the “Dark Ages of Golf,” ended in 1901, when Willie Park Jr. built Huntercombe and Sunningdale on heathland outside London. The “Golden Age of Golf” (1901 to the late 1930s) was ushered in by the confluence of a number of factors: concentrated wealth in the bourgeoisie in Europe and the robber-barons in America; architectural innovation with the Arts and Crafts movement; and technological innovation in mowers, golf balls, club designs, clubhouses and bright clothing, to say nothing of the invention of the golf tee.
Reprinted from Gaya Art News (July 2008).
“His spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and ennobles mankind.” – Okakura Kazue, The Book of Tea (1906)
If Suklu were a peanut, he would not be one of those peanuts that forgets its skin. “I want to be a farmer,” he says. “I want a farmer’s way of responding to materials and objects.”
Not a farmer from 2008, but rather one of the ancient ones, perhaps half-mythical, perhaps real. One of the farmers who made art in the everyday-sculptures in the form of scarecrows; landscaped rice terraces; sculpted ladles and plates and bowls and water scoops out of coconuts, tongs out of bamboo, or cheese graters from duri plants; complex installations out of wind-powered soundmakers; or performance art within Bali’s religious-animist ceremonies.
The dominant characteristics to Suklu’s work-a sense of purity and a rootedness of the work within Bali-make it awkward, artificial, to graft an exogenous analysis or philosophical framework onto it. A perfect review of his work might not include any names other than Suklu, Bali, and the farmer. But Suklu’s work is also such a rare living example of Heidegger’s concepts of authenticity and groundedness, not to mention his postwar agrarian nostalgia, that leaving out the comparison would be a disservice to both.