Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Graphically Conscious at the Carnegie International

Drawn by friends and curiosity, the Graphic Conscience traveled to Pittsburgh this past week to see the 55th Carnegie International before it closed. I found most of this international exhibition a disappointment and example of lazy curating, as the show was basically the same as a window cruise through Chelsea. The theme, "Life on Mars," did not appear to be anything that any of the artists included were considering. There was redemption, however, as I was introduced to the work of Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander.

Neuenschwander's piece, I Wish Your Wish, is encountered by visitors just as they pay their admission to the Carnegie Museum. It is based on a tradition from the Basilica da Nosso Senhor do Bonhim in Sao Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, in which ribbons are tied around a parishioner's wrist with three knots. With each knot tied, a wish is made, and the ribbons are worn until they fall off, upon which wishes are confirmed upon the wisher. In Neuenschwander's piece, ribbons are screen printed with the wishes of participant-viewers. Each participant viewer is invited to write down a wish of their own, and in return, take a wish-ribbon of some one else and tie it around their wish. Thus creating a cycle of wish making and granting though interactions with viewer-participant/museum parishioners. Collected wishes are then printed onto new ribbons, and the cycle continues.

The wishes vary in content, from the silly to the very desperate. Some the Conscience came across are the following:

I wish my cat could talk.
I wish it was benign.
I wish I hadn't cheated on him.
I wish everyone in the world could be happy and own unicorns.
I wish my life had a soundtrack.
I wish I loved myself.
I wish guns didn't exist.

I was intrigued by both the interactivity of the piece, as well as how it creates small ritual for viewer-participants. Moreover, I was struck with the responsibility that if I had one wish that I knew would come true, what would I wish for? It seemed too selfish to simply wish for my own fortune, if such an opportunity came along, doesn't a Conscience have an obligation to wish for the benefit of humankind?

Surprisingly enough, I did not come across any wishes for world peace, which seems the obvious and most ethical wish. However, my companion did remind me of the X-Files episode in which a genie grants such a wish by erasing humankind from the planet.

The wishes of Neuenschwander's piece are like prayers or ceremonies, only by completing the rite is the wish granted. It was unclear if your wish was granted when your ribbon fell off, or if that granted the printed wish. I Wish Your Wish is more an interactive rite of focusing desire and providing an opportunity to earn deliverance rather that a service that provides a miracle. It was evident that viewer-participants must earn their happily-ever-after, but it is dependent on all viewer-participants following the forms.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

News from the Fund for Women Artists - Golden Globes Continue to Ignore Women Directors

The Golden Globe Award nominations have been announced by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and once again, no women have been nominated in the category of "Best Director."

This year the omission is worse than usual. Danny Boyle was nominated for an award as "Best Director" of "Slumdog Millionaire", but his female co-director, Loveleen Tandan, was not mentioned in the awards list. "Slumdog Millionaire" has been nominated for "Best Picture, Drama", "Best Screenplay", and "Best Score", in addition to "Best Director".

Chicago film critic Jan Lisa Huttner interviewed Danny Boyle as part of her review of "Slumdog Millionaire" for The Fund for Women Artists (see here.) Huttner specifically asked Boyle if Tandan was his co-director, and he said, "Yes, she deserves it! She's a proper director." (See here)

In the 65 year history of the Golden Globe Awards, Barbra Streisand is the only woman to ever win in the Best Director category (for "Yentl" in 1983), and only two other women have ever been nominated - Jane Campion for "The Piano" in 1993, and Sofia Coppola for "Lost in Translation" in 2003. The people nominated for Golden Globe Awards are often nominated for Oscars as well. Only three women have ever been nominated for Oscars in the "Best Director" category and no women have ever won.

We think it is time to give women directors credit where credit is due. We are asking you to please send the letter below to Ms. Chantal Dinnage, the Managing Director of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to let them know that we think Loveleen Tandan should be recognized for her work on "Slumdog Millionaire."

You can cut and paste the letter below and send it to Ms. Dinnage at: info@hfpa.org Please remember to sign the letter before you send it!!

You can send a snail mail to:
Ms. Chantal Dinnage
Managing Director
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association
646 N. Robertson Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069

You can also send a copy to Michael Russell, who has been the publicist for the Golden Globes for the past eleven years: MRussell@MichaelRussellGroup.com
Michael Russell, Publicist
The Michael Russell Group
1601 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 509
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Thanks for your help with this. Please feel free to forward this message or include it in your blogs, Facebook pages, MySpace pages or elsewhere online. The people who make these nominations need to hear from us.

Martha Richards, Executive Director
The Fund for Women Arists

Jan Lisa Huttner, The Hot Pink Pen
The Fund for Women Artists

Dear Ms. Dinnage,

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has nominated Danny Boyle for a Golden Globe award as "Best Director" for his work on "Slumdog Millionaire." Why has the HFPA ignored Boyle's co-director, Loveleen Tandan? Since he acknowledges that she was his co-director, shouldn't she be a co-nominee for the "Best Director" award?

Boyle was recently interviewed by
Chicago film critic Jan Lisa Huttner. She asked him if Loveleen Tandan was his co-director. He replied, "Yes, she deserves it! She's a proper director." (See http://www.womenarts.org/reviews/SlumdogMillionaire.htm#co_director ) Also, according to the Internet Movie Database, Danny Boyle is the director and Loveleen Tandan is the "co-director" of "Slumdog Millionaire." (See http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1010048)

In the 65 year history of the Golden Globe Awards, Barbra Streisand is the only woman to ever win in the "Best Director" category (for "Yentl" in 1983), and only two other women have ever been nominated - Jane Campion for "The Piano" in 1993, and Sofia Coppola for "Lost in Translation" in 2003.

It's time to give women directors credit where credit is due. Please include Loveleen Tandan as a co-nominee in the "Best Director" category for her work on the film "Slumdog Millionaire."

Thank you.

(insert name)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Praises for Gee's Bend!

Before my recent visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I was familiar with the stories and reproductions of the quilts of Gee's Bend. As a quilter myself, I thought I knew what I was talking about. Seeing them in reality, however, was a completely different story.

These are not traditional, geometrically symmetrical quilts that I have been exposed to in the past. These quilts have an edgy, unpredictable quality. They defy the typical logic imposed on art students in art schools because they are not the work of "art school artists." The quilters of Gee's Bend have not had the "rules" imposed on them, so their work is unhindered by any legacy or ego except their own. These quilts stand as a testament for the human need for visual expression, further evidence that art is not only something we do for baseless decoration, it is a necessary impulse of the human condition.

The patterns and shapes have an energetic, almost musical feel. Another thing to appreciate is their use, or re-use, of material. Jeans, corduroy, scraps and fragments of their lives merge into quilted narratives. In the exhibition text, several women are quoted, saying that despite their success and ability to purchase unused fabrics, they prefer to make use of material that would otherwise be thrown away. To paraphrase the exhibition text, they state that such material has a greater spirit, a sense of soul, and this presence is reborn in their quilts.

Whatever their secret is, Gee's Bend, The Architecture of the Quilt, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art till December 14, offers viewers a chance to see magnificence. More than anything, it is a portrait of humanity. The quilts reveal to everyone our basic need to tell our stories, to express ourselves, and to transcend all logic and reason to unveil soul.

Above Photo: Blocks and Strips Quilt, 2003
Ruth Kennedy, American
86 x 75 inches (218.4 x 190.5 cm)
Collection of the Tinwood Alliance
Photo: Steve Pitkin, Pitkin Studio, Rockford, IL
From philamuseum.org

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Philly Book Artist Thoughts on New York

Amanda D'Amico, the Philly Book Artist, recently attended the Contemporary Artist Book Conference in New York. Her post here contains some quotes, both entertaining and true, from that series of events.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Global Warming at the Icebox -- Curator Response to the Graphic Conscience

Dear GC,

I am deeply appreciative of all the effort you put into your comments and observations on our exhibition. It is very rewarding to get this kind of thoughtful response, especially since the majority of the other written commentary has been brief and fairly superficial. I also appreciate your photography, which has so far represented the best images I have seen.

You have been the only writer who has addressed the actual theme in depth. I personally share most of your views, if not all of the specific critiques. When we reviewed the submissions for the juried part of the show, we too were hoping that we would see more in the way of solutions. I think Ralf Sander's piece "World Saving Machine 2" does at least postulate a direction for a solution, even if we perceive it as more whimsical than practical. What we realized after seeing the artists' responses to the theme, was that artists are first of all, artists. That ended up meaning that as much as we would like to think that artists can solve the world's problems through our gifts of creativity and imaginative thinking, what artists are really better at is to provide diverse and unpredictable ways of seeing. From them, perhaps people will walk away with questions, new lines of thinking, and an appreciation for both the art itself and the issues that inspired it.

We did have lofty goals for this show, and in reading what you wrote, it seems like we did accomplish some of them. We had put a lot of thought into it, including commentary and possible contributions from non-artists concerned about global warming, but ultimately decided that since this was a show sponsored by Philadelphia Sculptors that we needed to focus on the art. I think we made the right decision.

Leslie Kaufman

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Registration is now open for THE HYBRID BOOK

In 2009, the MFA Program in Book Arts and Printmaking will celebrate its twentieth anniversary by hosting THE HYBRID BOOK, INTERSECTION AND INTERMEDIA. This international event consists of a conference, exhibition series, and book art fair.

Registration is now open for this series of events. To find out more, visit THE HYBRID BOOK.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Global Warming at the Icebox, Final Thoughts

In fourteen days, the exhibition Global Warming at the Icebox comes to a close. I strongly urge anyone to make sure they don't miss it. Props go to Philadelphia Sculptors for putting on one of the best exhibitions in Philadelphia in 2008.

Of all the exhibitions in the Icebox Gallery, Global Warming was the best use of the space in a group exhibition that I have seen so far. Typically, group shows in this space display the artwork so that the Icebox dwarfs and overwhelms it. By breaking the space up into separate sections, the work on display was undiminished, and viewers were able to fully appreciate each individual piece.

My main criticism of this exhibition is that none of the work on display suggested any solutions for global warming. Many pieces provided evidence of climate change, some expressed the poetry of environmental issues and loss.

However, I wonder, like any exhibition, how many people left the opening, got into their cars, and went home to make changes in their lives that contribute to a resolution? Was it an exhibition only for believers? It is clear now that there is no single solution to climate change; the way this problem will be resolved will be through multiple approaches, small changes made by large numbers of people. We do not just need artists to raise awareness of the issue; we need artists to reveal to others how simple it can be to reduce their carbon footprint.

To end this thread, I suggest to all readers to consider changing a light bulb. If 110 million Americans switched out one sixty watt bulb in their homes with a compact florescent bulb (at an approximate cost of $3), it will be the equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads (source: EnergyStar). Like I said, simple changes, when magnified by millions, have a powerful affect.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Global Warming at the Icebox, Part 4

Of all the works in the Global Warming at the Icebox exhibition, Yi Chuan Chen's piece Shower stood out to me as the one in which I desperately wanted to ask the artist, "How did you make it do that?"

Chen's piece consists of a series of innocent looking fluffy white clouds suspended the ceiling in a section of The Gray Area at the Crane Arts Building. Sporadically falling from these clouds are needles (see photo above, by the Graphic Conscience).

In a simple and yet eloquent way, Chen evokes the dangers of acid rain, an issue which was frequently discussed in the 1990's, and despite its lack of press today, remains an ongoing environmental issue. As an artist, I cannot help but wonder how she constructed such delicate looking clouds that periodically drop needles without completely collapsing. It's very impressive, and I believe that the one of the greatest compliments one artist can give another is,"Really, how did you do that?"

A final note: Global Warming at the Icebox has been featured in other press. The Philadelphia Inquirer featured a brief review, visit here to read. Other coverage was provided by Libby Rosof and Roberta Fallon of Artblog, to read their reviews, please visit here and also here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Conscience at the New York Art Book Fair

This past weekend was the annual New York Art Book Fair, organized by Printed Matter, held at Phillips de Pury and Company in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. It was held in association with the Contemporary Artist Books Conference.

The fair had two sections, a more mainstream commercial area taking over most of the gallery, and the "Friendly Fire" section, a curated selection of independent publishing by artists and nonprofit organizations. Browsing the fair, I found most of the books on view similar to the type that Printed Matter sells -- the glossy, offset book, made up either entirely of photographs or overly filled with text. They were books as containers, things to be owned, casually perused, and then put back on the shelf. Very few were created for the purpose of viewer experience.

Events like this have led me to determine that there seems to be two schools of thought on the artist book. There is the non-narrative, book-containers that I saw this weekend, and then there are the forms that are descended from traditional printmaking. This second variety often embraces the narrative, creating through the use of text, image, structure, and sequence a transformation, an experiential arc that engages and carries viewers through the book. It is this second type, once encountered, that is much more engaging. They are much more sensual, and once discovered, the book-container format is disappointing and lackluster in comparison. This was not true of all artists at the fair, such exceptions as Keith Smith, Scott McCarney, Dobbin Books/Robin Ami Silverberg, Purgatory Pie Press, and Visual Studies Workshop proved to be extraordinary examples of the medium.

Additionally, there were several representatives of the new field of art journals such as Cabinet or Parkett, those that take the form of the artist-journal collaboration, a hybrid of mass communication and art. I'm very excited to see this field growing, but due to my typical lack of funds I've never had the opportunity to subscribe. I hope such enterprises continue, and I wish them the best of luck.

The fair had some of the scariest bouncer-type security guards I've ever seen at a book-related event (see photo above, by the Graphic Conscience). It seems that art events are following this trend of trying to imitate the hip-hop scene of a nightclub. In the past, artists set the trends of what was cool, original, and new, now we are following the fashions set by others in order to get noticed. It is the whole creation of "scenes" that take away from the art. No longer are patrons buying works because they are engaged, inspired, uplifted, connected or because of some other feeling. Now they purchase art to hold a part of that scene, that imagined party lifestyle, to make themselves feel less inadequate. Perhaps the next generation will rebel against this, and find themselves returning to making art with consideration, moving away from the endless system of pure reaction. Or maybe, the party will just continue on.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Global Warming at the Icebox, Part 3

Third in our series on the Global Warming at the Icebox exhibition, we turn our focus to Elizabeth Mackie's sculpture, King Ortier and Little Siberia.

Mackie's piece can be seen to the left as viewers walk past Shai Zakai's Library. It consists of a number of large sheets of handmade paper suspended from the ceiling. Each sheet decreases in size from the viewer when standing in front of the sculpture. The sheets hang just below eye level, creating a cavernlike space beneath them (see photo above, by the Graphic Conscience).

Mackie's piece intends to suggest the changes global warming has wrought on the Alps, particularly the decrease in the size of glaciers. The piece itself is more evocative of caves or glacial tunnels. I could not help but wish that Mackie had been more cognizant of color. She has left her cotton/abaca sheets their natural tone. Instead, I would suggest considering pigmenting them, not strongly, but a delicate blue, maybe with a small addition of luster pigment. I feel that will have captured more accurately the shimmer of blue ice and snow that forms glaciers. Alternatively, this could have been achieved with blue light.

Handmade paper has a presence, and its stillness reaches out beyond its boundaries to draw viewers closer. As a material, it inherently evokes its natural origins of water and plant fiber. Mackie presents the raw, textured side of her paper to viewers, allowing us to marvel and its deckle edges and character. She states that the goal of the piece is to "symbolize the melting of the ice cap over the last century."

In response to this statement, I suggest that Mackie rearrange the order of her sheets of paper to better communicate this goal. Their current order leaves this suggestion a little vague as to whether they are shrinking or growing. Additionally, I think Mackie should consider hanging them below eye level, so that when viewers encounter them, it is clear that they are to indicate the waning of glaciers and not their expansion. However, it is an exquisite beginning of something that I hope grows to become an environment, something that draws viewers in and so when they depart, they understand what they are on the verge of losing.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

AFTER THE WORDS, James Rosenthal at Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art

From now till November 1, Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art is showing Famous Last Words, an exhibition of video, works on paper, and installation by James Rosenthal.

Rosenthal’s pieces explore ideas of text and image, or maybe I should say, text as image. The works on paper comprise of drawings with letters collaged on top, almost ransom-note style (see above, photo by the Graphic Conscience).

Rosenthal’s ideas seem restrained by adhering to the restrictions of typical rectangular formats. Even his installation, in which screen printed text appears on records and mirrors, felt confined to some sort of plop art version of printmaking. I see much potential but he seems held back by the two-dimensional substrate.

Rosenthal should let himself loose to collage directly on the walls of his spaces to create textual environments. However, I think he should avoid the clean white cube. I sense that if he has an awkward space with architectural character for him to respond to, the space will begin to directly embody his work, elevating it to another conceptual level.

As a final note, I’d like to respond to the question in the work above. As someone who was in Ushuaia, Argentina last year, it was very clear to me that Las Malvinas no se olvidan.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Global Warming at the Icebox, Part 2

Second in our series on the Global Warming at the Icebox exhibition, this post will focus on Chicory Miles’ installation, The Churning of the Milk.

Just past the entrance to the Icebox Gallery hangs a series of white organza panels, approximately fourteen feet high by four feet in width. Each panel has been dyed up to about shoulder level with a brown color. Miles, a native of New Orleans, evokes the waterlines that stained her city upon her return after Hurricane Katrina. As viewers make their way through this grouping, they come to a video. The video contains images of milk being agitated, sometimes superimposed with satellite imagery of Katrina, dead frogs, or infants breastfeeding. Once again, the opening din prevented me from hearing the accompanying sound component.

The video is based on a part of the Mahabharata, the tale of The Churning of the Milk Ocean. In this part of the story, several deities band together to churn the Milk Ocean in order to create an elixer of immortality. As a result, they also create a toxic potion. To paraphrase Miles, she saw in this story a parallel in how we as humans have tried to control nature, and how this attempt at control often leads to deadly affects, such as Hurricane Katrina.

As an artist, I am extremely drawn to work such as Miles’. The eloquence of raising the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans to a mythic plane gives viewers a feeling of witnessing the unfolding of a fairy tale. It becomes a visual art equivalent to literature’s genre of magical realism.

And yet I can’t help but wonder, does all this magic remove us further from the catastrophic proportions of what really happened? The real tragedy of New Orleans was not that the levees gave out, it was that our government turned its back on the city while people suffered. By elevating the account of New Orleans to that of the supernatural, does it remove us further from what really happened?

Sunday, October 5, 2008


From now until November 15, the Icebox Gallery in the Crane Arts Building is hosting Global Warming at the Icebox. The exhibition, curated by Cheryl Harper, Leslie Kaufman, and Adelina Vlas, is more commentary than activism, providing evidence of global warming but very few suggestions on how to combat it. Over the next several days, I will be recording my impressions gained during the opening on this blog.

One notable piece is Shai Zakai’s Forest Tunes – The Library. She, with assorted assistants, has created an intimate black box space in the center of the Icebox’s typically overwhelming white. This ongoing project of Zakai’s contains boxes in which she has collected leaves, seeds, twigs, and other natural detritus from around the world. Each box also holds an account of how the particular circumstances of how Zakai discovered their contents.

Across from the Library a video was running, its imagery either overly blurry or a bit too Photoshopy obvious for this Adobe nerd. There was also a sound component, but the roar of the opening did not let it reach my ears.

Going through her archives, I found myself wishing she had used better boxes, instead of just assorted shoeboxes painted black. While on one hand, I can respect her ability to reuse and upcycle, they seemed a bit unconsidered. This lack of consideration is particularly obvious upon opening the boxes, when remains of their former purpose, such as labels and leftover packaging material, stares you glaringly in the face, distracting from their contents. What might have been more appropriate would have been handcrafted clamshell boxes, appropriate to the size of their contents, made of recycled materials.

In the center of the installation is a reading table, with a card catalog of the Library placed in holders to be read. These holders are designed to allow readers to page through her cards, duplicates of every card that is placed in one of the boxes. However, I found these holders a bit awkward and a little too artsy. In particular were the multiple repeats of cards, or the cards in which text ran over onto the next card -- when these got out of order it created confusion for the reader. I think it would have been more effective to have simply spiral bound them into book form and allowed readers to simply page through them. They could even be placed on elevated stands so that their placement echoed the shape of the space, as the holders Zakai chose did.

Additionally, being personally familiar with book art crime, I can’t help wondering how many of these cards will be stolen by the end of the exhibition. Or maybe I should clarify, I wonder how many will be left?

Though her ability to integrate text, image, and reading isn’t up to par, her writing itself is incredible. Either taken directly from or based on the artist’s journal, the accounts of accumulating the Library chronicle her engagement with every leaf and twig in its archive.

One account in particular stood out for the Graphic Conscience. It was a description of her experience walking through a dying forest, a forest, to paraphrase her words, with a shorter lifespan than her own. Zakai reminds me that for many people, trees, with their ability to life longer than several human generations, are a connection to time itself. When we lose this connection to time, awareness of where we stand between the past and the future, everything becomes focused on Now. We grow shortsighted, egotistical, and forget that we are merely a small part in a larger continuum. Our lives, particularly for those of us who live in cities, are removed from natural cycles. We live and work in artificially lit spaces, relying on electricity rather than daylight for our illumination. Zakai’s words remind readers that our souls and nature’s souls are inextricably bound; harm to her is also harm to ourselves.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Graphic Consciousness in Philadelphia

Walking through Center City recently, carrying a screen, I received an interesting catcall. Usually these make shy, inhibited me uncomfortable, but this particular comment was something I could appreciate. The person, a gentleman selling incense on a corner, yelled, "Yeah baby, you got your silkscreen on!"

As a printmaker, it's things like that that just make me love this city.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Time in Bottles at Pentimenti

Traditionally, reliquaries are containers or vessels that contain items believed to be imbued with magical powers. During the last First Friday, the Graphic Conscience stopped in Pentimenti Gallery, which is presenting Tim Tate, Video Reliquaries, A Look into a Digital Mind, for the month of September.

Tate, a founder of the Washington Glass School, presents a series of digital videos contained in blown glass vessels (see images above, by the Graphic Conscience). The videos impart imagery such as large eyes, burning books, a naked man doing a handstand, or the viewer’s own face. Because of my background, I was particularly intrigued by the video of burning books. It had the feeling of memory, as if this video was the documentation of a significant event a for which preservation was necessary, perhaps to prevent it from happening again.

The images shift or are altered fairly rapidly, allowing viewers to speedily observe, then walk briskly to the next piece. This speed turns what could be very contemplative pieces almost into novelty items. I felt that if the film was shown at a more relaxed speed, more mystery would develop. Viewers will pause longer to observe and consider, creating an envelope of sacred space around them. For it seems to me this is Tate’s intention, to explore how a sense of the sacred can be found and applied to the media of the twenty-first century.

This is probably the most amazing aspect of Tate’s work, to take digital video, which creates a sense of distance between the artist and the viewer, and instill in it a relationship to a greater mystery. It makes me wonder what forms sainthood will take as technology progresses – some time in the future, will miracles happen online? Will the laying of healing hands adjust to allow viewers to simply visit saint’s consecrated websites? Or will the miracle be an even faster connection speed so that we can get online to find ways to get rid of our money?

Also on view at Pentimenti this month is work by Jacob Lunderby, The Smooth and the Striated, till October 18.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sarah Palin on Museums and Librarians

Thanks to Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof of Arblog, and through them Artnet, for posting this article on Sarah Palin. She has a history of trying to ban books, slashing museum funding despite state budget surpluses, and attempted firing of officials who did not agree with her. To read the Artblog article, visit here. To read the Artnet article, visit here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Philagrafika 2010 The Graphic Unconscious

The Graphic Conscience was inspired in part by the theme of the upcoming festival, Philagrafika 2010, the Graphic Unconscious. Around the world, biennials and international festivals are being launched, focusing over and over again on the same artists, the same curators, the same patrons, the same conversations. In the mind, there are several levels of awareness. Since Philagrafika has chosen to explore the unconscious applications of printed matter and contribute to establishing hierarchy in a democratic medium (which sounds more along the lines of ego), the Graphic Conscience will serve as a whisper in their ear, reminding them of printmaking's democratic origins. I have great hopes for Philagrafika, yet I fear that the art world/market will pressure them to get caught up in biennialist politics. This would result in their presenting few new discoveries among the artistic offerings, while simultaneously neglecting the Philadelphia print community that has supported them since their beginnings as the Philadelphia Print Collaborative.

Acting as an unseen presence in the printmaking community and the city of Philadelphia, this project, launched in the egalitarian world of the internet, will serve to discuss and critique the graphic arts and its hybrid forms. In the wake of the Graphic Conscience will appear printed ephemera directing those who discover these remains to this blog. Here they are invited to read, comment, and continue these dialogues.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Memory, Nostalgia, Film and Performance at Nexus

It was a rainy evening that brought the Graphic Conscience to the Crane Arts Building for a pair of Philly Fringe performances presented by “asNEXUS,” at the NEXUS/Foundation for Today’s Art. Despite having a name that conjures the sound of a sneeze, the two pieces presented, assembling minutiae and Wanna Kiss Myself, were hybrids of dance, sound, performance and finally audience participation. Dance and movement are not typically seen as graphic art forms, however, the negative spaces created by bodies in motion and the temporal marks of the human form while holding a pose belie this notion.

assembling minutiae

The first of the two performances, this piece describes itself as “an environment designed to explore the construction of memories…thought by neuroscientists to be a dynamic process reiterated each time a memory is called to mind, as minute aspects inhabit separate spaces in the brain and must journey together to form recognizable images.”

Several video projections created an environment for mullet-haired performer Emily Sweeney’s dance/movements (see above, photo by the Graphic Conscience). Most were projected towards the back walls of the performance space, with one at an angle off to the side. From where I was sitting, this angled projection eventually seemed to work, although I wondered about other parts of the audience. At the beginning of the performance multiple projections seemed gratuitous, but began to make more sense as the piece developed.

This piece evolved through projections of several performers in brightly lit spaces illuminating Sweeney’s movements. As the performance continued, she seemed to wrestle, fuck, embrace or seek some sort of ghost or invisible presence. The projections and the droning tones of the accompanying sound performance appeared to embody memories that continue to haunt Sweeney, something relived but not willingly remembered.

At the end of the performance, Sweeney stood in a column of light, and then returned to the fetal position in which she had begun her movements from. It did not feel that Sweeney’s performance came to any resolution with her ghosts; instead it seemed to suggest relief with having escaped the past.

Wanna Kiss Myself

First presented as a film, Wanna Kiss Myself was shot as a site-specific dance/performance in an emblematic Philadelphia row home. Various dancers move through the narrow hallways, stairways, and barely seventeen-foot wide spaces of typical Philadelphia row home architecture. More than anything, I think I enjoyed the site-specific nature of the piece. Director/dancer J. Makary sporadically retained and covered up the knickknacks and chatchkes that define and clutter up our lives. I actually enjoyed the movements more when the clutter was present; it transformed the adolescent pretentiousness of the piece to something more profound.

I was bothered by her sporadic choices to not reveal – they seemed chosen at random. I kept expecting the dancers to pull away the white sheets or paper that was obscuring the objects, but perhaps Makary chose not to just because that would be too predictable.

Makary’s genius may be her ability to imbue the slightest movements with the tension of a grand plie. The film alternates between this controlled rigidity and then releases of oomph and vigor. At the end of the film, she returns to this tautness then allows it to gently dissipate.

After the film, Makary, accompanied by a vibrating goat, came on stage to do a smartass meta performance with barely-willing audience participation of which the documentation will be on display on Nexus’ website and in its gallery from September 11 till October 3. Makary explains that because something she referred to as the “Trans-National Arts Something Important” was coming to Nexus, they needed something “really good” on display in the gallery for when they came. As comfortable as Makary appears before the camera, her live performance felt a little forced and short.

I see a great future for Makary, but I believe that she needs to develop more ease with a live audience. That said, I am interested to see what the eventual exhibition will evolve into, how it will embody Makary's ability to manipulate friction, subtlety, and ironic wit.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The 66th Members' Exhibition of the American Color Print Society

While trying to sneak in some last minute summer reading before the September rush, I recently visited the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. While there, I took the opportunity – as anyone who ever visits there should – to breeze through the wing of the West Gallery and to see what’s on display. Until September 5, it’s the 66th Members' Exhibition of the American Color Print Society.

Like most organizational member exhibitions, the work is the show varies from the somewhat amateurish to impressive examples of the medium. As a printmaker myself, I was most affected by prints such as Elizabeth H. McDonald’s monotype Bird (see above, photo by the Graphic Conscience). The monotype medium can be splotchy and lackluster, but in the hands of the right person, it has an immediacy that cannot be duplicated. According to the accompanying text, McDonald explains that her one of kind pieces evolve through almost a collagraph means of creation. What drew me in most what the sense in her work that the process takes over, and the artist becomes a mere conduit for the creation of the work. Printmakers know that when the work starts cooking like that, it’s real good.

Relief was well represented in the exhibition with impressive reduction and multi block examples by Natalia Moroz and Anthony Lazorko respectively. I’d like the opportunity to see more work by both of them.

In the intaglio field, some of the work felt disappointingly imitative of Mary Cassatt or Katsushika Hokusai. While I can understand the desire to be like such graphic masters, I feel that there is a difference between evoking the similar feelings and simply mimicking. That said, ACPS members Stephanie Nicholson and Yuji Hiratsuka provided stunning examples of the medium.

Ironically, the print with the strongest presence in the exhibition was a tiny – I’m estimating three by two inches – piece by Herbert Appelson. Unlike some of the etchings, it was suggestive of work by K├Ąthe Kollwitz without being derivative. Between the two figures in his print is a feeling of narrative, a dynamic that intrigues. Despite its tiny size, it is bold enough to carry and hold a viewer’s attention.

The quality of the prints aside, the installation of the exhibit felt a bit stretched to cover all the cases of the West Gallery. Very few of the prints had a strong enough presence to hold an entire case by themselves, or even with one other print. I couldn’t help thinking there could have been more consideration of the installation. However, the exhibition text broke down the processes used by the artist in easy to understand bits of information for those who are not members of the cognoscenti.

To see images of the exhibition – some slightly out of focus – please visit here. To learn more about the ACPS, check out their website.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Albrecht Durer

Ah Durer.

Albrecht Durer.

As a printmaker, his name just says it all. One of the true rock stars of art history, of all time, someone who should be nominated to the Great Artist Hall of Fame. One artist that I am truly and literally capable of throwing my panties at out of admiration. Though currently on view at New York’s Museum of Biblical Art, I felt that would be somewhat inappropriate.

On view at MoBia until September 21, 2008, I jumped at the opportunity to kowtow before 150 or so of some of the greatest contributions to the graphic medium. I'm not sure what insight I can provide for such an artist that has not been said before. The show itself is relatively poorly lit, probably to protect these works on paper. I wish that the exhibition text had clarified if what was on view were originals or restrikes. For a show that focuses on Durer's religious imagery, I was surprised at how much information the exhibition text provided on Durer's financial savvy. It was through his prints that he became well known, creating for his time an accessible, reproducible art with explanatory text in the vernacular language of craftsmen rather than Latin.

During his lifetime, Durer left his good ol'hometown of Nuremberg to travel twice to Italy and once to the Netherlands. His work is now considered by critics to reflect these influences, a form of cultural blending that stands across time as a Renaissance powerhouse, influencing some of the big names like Raphael and Titian. Through crossing boundaries to unfamiliar territory, Durer learned how exposure to new ideas and new understanding can find illuminate reflections of your own cultural identity.

I left MoBia visually drunk and wheeling on an excess of fine line and apocalyptic visions. However, I can't wondering, what if the United Nations stocked artists, and whenever there was a conflict, artists from both sides were sent across borders to learn about the culture of their enemy. There would be misunderstandings at the onset, sure, but perhaps such exchanges could lead to clarity. And when the artists return, their work is displayed, revealing the influences of the other. A new form of diplomacy -- it might be worth a try.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Reading Between the Rings; the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony

In the 2004 Olympics Opening Ceremony, Philly was representin’, as our own MattyBoy Hart was on the director's team. For this 2008 round, props go to Zhang Yimou.

As a graphic conscience, the celebrated references to historical Chinese mediums such as papermaking, calligraphy, and printmaking in an event watched by a large portion of the world population made me cheer (see image of movable type, from the Official Site of the 2008 Olympic Games). Though such things as handmade paper and printmaking are now considered art forms, at their invention, they were the height of technology. And, despite all our technology today, paper in particular is still its basis. It takes the form of our money, our marriage licenses, the deeds to our homes, our insurance forms, and all contracts too important to risk in an email black hole or computer crash. So it was exciting to see their origins hailed, and recall that these origins are really the origins of modern society.

It goes without saying that China underwent an enormous amount of construction and design for this event. During the ceremony, one of the American commentators mentioned that the dancers in the electrified green costumes were originally in black. In rehearsal, Zhang Yimou decided he didn’t like the affect, in three days, he had two thousand green costumes. As a conscience, I remembered another Philadelphian, Jeff Gammage, who commented in his book, China Ghosts, (2007) “Alongside of highways we saw tons of dirt being pushed and shaped – and not an earth-mover in sight. No machinery, just a hundred men with shovels, and down the road from them, a hundred more.” (Page 102). I can’t help wondering, who slaved for three days to make two thousand costumes of a different color? Moreover, who were the unrecognized construction workers who built the extraordinarily beautiful Bird’s Nest Stadium, and did they even have power tools?

I’ve always been blown away by the material sensitivity, feeling for light, and restraint of certain Asian artists. Artists such as Xu Bing, Rie Hachiyanagi or Sun Young Kang have the ability to evoke both the transcendental and the mundane, saying exactly what they need to express without clutter. It is this ability that I find lacking in Western minimalism, which seems hollow and plastic in comparison.

Zhang Yimou addressed both the past and the future in his ceremony. He referenced the threat of global warming towards the planet in his ceremony, and went on to imply that through openness and coming together and supporting one another, we can solve problems. The Olympics has brought attention to China as a place of human rights violations, but we should not discount solutions to problems that might be found there and in their philosophies. As threats to the environment continue Zhang Yimou and other artists of Asia and Asian descent’s ability to create works of art with material sensitivity and harmony to their environment becomes more and more important. As we consider our future, perhaps we should take these ideas into consideration.

To see images of the Olympics, including the opening ceremony, visit the 2008 Olympics Official Site. More images of the opening ceremonies can be seen on this video on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Hybrid Book

The Master of Fine Arts in Book Arts and Printmaking department at The University of the Arts will be celebrating their twentieth anniversary in 2009. As part of their celebrations, they are planning to host an international book arts event consisting of exhibitions, a book fair and a conference, called The Hybrid Book, Intersection and Intermedia. Visit their website for updates or information about participating in this upcoming event.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What is the price of democratic art?

Cottage Industry at Baltimore Contemporary

June 1 - August 24, 2008

Above: The Baltimore Edible Estate. Photo from Clarence's Edible Estate.

Passing through Baltimore recently, I had a chance to visit the Baltimore Contemporary for the first time. Their current exhibition, Cottage Industry, was intriguing to me because of the democratic applications of some of the artists that were included. The exhibition itself embraces the do-it-yourself philosophy prevalent today – offering a pay-what-you-wish entrance fee. Even their catalogue, printed by Lulu.com, at a mere $20, is affordable and reflects the DIY spirit of exhibition.

Tyler Green refers to the artists in the exhibition as “hyphen-artists,” though grammatically that seems to imply to me that the hyphen comes first. Most of the practices of these artists do merge their entire process into a hybrid form of object making, activism, commentary, and the necessary participation of others. It calls attention to the fact that many artists no longer separate the process of making art from the final product, creating a new territory in which art objects and the practice of art making are blurred, and part of what an art purchaser actually buys is the account of an object’s creation.

But who are these art purchasers? The recession continues, but art prices skyrocket. As I left the exhibition, I couldn’t help but wonder, what is the price at which art becomes democratic?

Edible Estates

I couldn’t help from being a bit amused by the idea that an art museum wrote grants and begged money from sponsors to create a vegetable garden in a middle class Baltimore neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great, and a terrific benefit to not only those living on the new Estate, but their neighborhood as well. Fritz Haeg’s Gardenlab describes his projects as inspired by the garden as metaphor & laboratory, initiating ecology based art & design projects.” The Edible Estates documentation installation at the museum definitely seemed crowded, it could benefit from more space and some organization, and the tent screamed unnecessary echoes to this Philadelphian of the Philly-ICA’s Locally Localized Gravity exhibition last year. Yet the Edible Estates are more of an ongoing experience, rather than institutional objects. Fritz Haeg has figured out not only how to make a difference in communities, but to get paid to do it. Additionally, he includes advice on how to create your own Edible Estate on your own front lawn, encouraging others to utilize such spaces to grow their own food. As gas and food prices go up, it’s something we can all consider.

A cruise though the Gardenlab website mentions their new project Animal Estates, which were part of the 2008 Whitney Biennial. As Philadelphia launches its new Office of Sustainability, I think Gardenlab would be a great institution to bring to Philadelphia, perhaps in partnership with the newly recreated Office of Arts and Culture.

Tract House

Lisa Anne Auerbach, who happens to be one of the Smockers of Andrea Zittel’s Smockshop, also part of Cottage Industry, debuts a project called The Tract House as part of the exhibition. Installed in the museum are some of the “tracts,” (based on the idea of the religious/political tracts in the past). I was given to understand that in addition there was an actual “Tract House” location outside of the museum, where the tracts were being given away. Unfortunately, time did not permit me to visit. There is also an online component to the project, allowing anyone with computer access and a printer to print out their own tracts to keep or to distribute.

The tracts are basically like numerous other zines I’ve seen before. However, that doesn’t take away from the quality of their presentation or the writing therein. Some of the tracts the Graphic Conscience might get around to printing out and saving. Some of my favorites were:

“Your Economic Stimulus Package”

“The Detainee”

“The Grass is Always Greener”


“How Not To Cook Something”

“Full Frontal Gardening” (a tract by Gardenlab)

These works focused on the dissemination of ideas, clearly, concisely, without any conspiracy theory garbage or radical blame casting. Instead, they simply evoked some overlooked societal truths – how grass lawns are actually bad for the environment, how the economic stimulus package for most of us is a big joke, thoughts on how our belongings define us, etc. Simple truths, subtle suggestions for better lives and how to make a better world – all for free!


I’ve been intrigued with Andrea Zittel for many years now, and I believe she has reached a conceptual breakthrough. I’ve always liked her concept of making life easier with less decisions, however, I’ve found her executions to be awkward and that they somehow always seem to be a form of pushing her own needs and ideas onto others. Now she has created a versatile design that can be customized to suit personal purposes and styles. Her smock design is individualized by various “smockers” – artists whose work, according to the Smockshop website, is either “noncommercial or not yet self-sustaining.”

This isn’t a new idea; in fact, it’s very reflective of current dynamic between individualized and mass-produced items such as jeans, Nikes, handbags, etc. What impresses me most is that Zittel is no longer making it all about herself; she is extending the opportunity to others. Most of the participating smockers are fiber artists of some sort, being part of the Smockshop isn’t too far a step away from their own work. The designs on the website don’t seem to alter the original design by too much, the Conscience wonders if that is to defer to or humor Zittel, or if it’s just easier. Personally, I’d like to see some more daring alterations, as I think the actual smock shape is a little plain.

Smocks cannot be purchased off the Smockshop website (this seems odd), so I cannot comment on their price range. However, the website does list several high end NY, LA, and Chicago galleries where they can be purchased, yet fails to mention their participation in Cottage Industry. This might be due to that fact that the smocks present in the exhibition are not for sale.

Zittel has always claimed her work is about simplifying life and providing peace of mind, and the smocks promise to “save you time, money, and energy.” I couldn’t help wondering, considering where the smocks are selling, for whom Zittel is actually saving money and providing peace of mind. On one hand, let me admit that the smockers are creating handmade work and deserve to be paid well for their efforts and the quality they are providing – this idea would be a more honest marketing strategy. Because who is more deserving of saving time, money and peace of mind, those who can afford to shop on 5th Avenue and Beverly Hills, or those who are struggling to make ends meet?

Also included in the exhibition was the City Reliquary Museum, Christine Hill’s Volksboutique, and the John Erickson Museum of Art. To see images of the opening reception, visit here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Graphic Conscience - Coming Soon!

This page is currently under construction. Please check back soon!