THEORY STUDY: GUISEPPE PENONE'S ARTE POVERA - MANIPULATED NATURE
Image courtesy of Fendi

Image courtesy of Fendi

I went to Rome for the weekend after visiting some factories in Italy recently. Although extremely beautiful, being alone in Rome was fairly boring except my time at the Fendi HQ on the outskirts of town. Unbeknownst to me, Fendi actually plays a big role in modern Rome, having paid to restore the Trevi Fountain and taking up headquarters in a building Romans call the 'Square Coliseum.' Locals call the building this because of its classical Roman arches in an otherwise modern rectangular buildingThe building formally known as the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana was commissioned by Mussolini, and is a bit of a controversial building on its own given its fascist origins. Designed by architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano, the travertine marble building was intended to be the centerpiece of Mussolini's new Roman empire, but was abandoned after WWII. The building was essentially in disrepair until Fendi took on restoring it in 2015.

Being so bored in Rome got my wheels turning, "what else is there in this great city besides tourist attractions that I can do without knowing any locals? And then it hit me that some Arte Povera artists lived and worked in Rome! After asking around for anything Arte Povera, I was instructed to go to the Fendi HQ to both see the amazingly rehabilitated building and to see Guiseppe Penone's exhibition that is on display on the ground floor of the building.

A long cab ride into what appeared to be 'normal Rome,' ie not touristy or super-duper old, and probably where a majority of Romans live, I reached the monumental building. It seemed like it was five stories in the air, just on the ground level. I entered through the marble stairs and was greeted by one of Penone's trees.

Image courtesy of Fendi

Image courtesy of Fendi

Having recently moved to New York, I actually thought the tree was just a sad winter tree like so many I see in my city, but upon closer inspection, I realized that there were metal pipes and sculptural elements in the 'tree.' Admittedly, my heart raced a little faster once I realized I was looking at Penone's work. There's something so exciting about experiencing something in real life that was once only experienced through the internet.

In the main foyer of the building, I entered the exhibition area where I was immediately confronted by Penone's Soffio di Foglie, or 'Breath of Leaves.' The current exhibition at Fendi is just a recreation of Penone's original, but I presumed that the impression of the human body in the pile of myrtle leaves was created by Penone. My mind went to the images I had seen of his body on the leaves in 1979. I missed that moment in time, but the pile here in 2017 excited me. (Funny how a pile of leaves can do that).

Arte Povera, the genre to which Penone's work belongs, literally means poor art. It is exclusively Italian, and a reaction to the high production and high price ticket art of the post-modern era. Using common objects (such as leaves and trees in Penone's case), Italian artists worked to both criticize contemporary art and to create a new genre. 

You can see a brief essay I wrote on Arte Povera here.

Observing Penone's work in such an environment was paradoxical to me, and after I looked at the pile of leaves for a while, I burst out in laughter (thank goodness I was the one of two others visiting at the time). Being in a Mousollini commissioned building that is now operated by luxury brand Fendi is the antithesis of 'povera.' The whole thing seemed ridiculous to me for a moment, but I suppose since arte povera's conception, a gallery setting in and of itself undermines the driving force behind the artwork. And I think that's ok because no matter what the reason it's being made, art really should be for the people, and the first step to getting it there is for it to exhibit in a gallery. Plus artists deserve to have their work exhibited in a respectable place.

Fortunately, the Fendi exhibition was free to enter, so I let my mental tangent stop there. Beyond 'Breath of Leaves' were sculptures of tree forms, holding what looks like pieces of Roman ruins. Penone often examines the tension between humanity and nature, and these pieces fit very well with my experience of Rome where ruins would literally have been engulfed by nature were it not for humans actively manicuring the growth.

Below: Fendi

Below: Fendi

Blurry image courtesy of my iphone

Blurry image courtesy of my iphone

There was also a black polyptich (top left) comprised of four panels painted black with with graphite haphazardly drawn all over. As I looked at it in amazement, I also recalled a time in my life where I might have thought, "I could have made this." The drawing was seemingly aimless, representing some kind of scales on an animal or maybe the surface of a water worn rock, with solid painted boards that take no real skill. But nowadays I understand that I couldn't have made it, one because I wouldn't have thought of it (most importantly), and two, I didn't make it, Penone did, and if I had used the same materials and had the same objective, my work would have resulted in something completely different.

At the time when Arte Povera was first exhibited, it is said that many critics didn't consider it art. A pile of rocks, sticks and other natural objects especially repulsed lovers of so-called high art, where there tended to be a preference for modern materials such as lucite, acrylic and plaster in sculptures, which is exactly why I look to Arte Povera so often.

Fashion is so overtly made by people of privilege, and it reinforces class structures just by virtue of its cost, and though Bagtazo may not use as common of materials as Arte Povera artists did/do, I like to think of my entire brand mission to be a big 'fuck you' to the mainstream fashion world, so thanks for reading along as I explore my heroes.

Beyond the first section of the exhibition, I found a sparse forest of pillars and a felled Penone tree. I really enjoyed this section, as it seemed to be created for the space. The wood-like glossy stone floors and the stark white gallery walls coordinated with the real wood with rich color variation, made to sit on pillars or plaster looking bases made me feel like I was in a reverse-city setting. Usually human manipulated natural materials creates at least a village-like if not urban environment, but in this case, the natural objects were manipulated to create a man-made natural environment.

Another blurry shot from my iphone

Another blurry shot from my iphone

In the second room, one of my favorite pieces lines the wall: Penone's series of self portraits where he made the same expression but changed out reflective contact lenses in some of them. Between my love for repetition, self portraits (not to be confused with selfies), and the subtly of the contact lenses, the photos kept my attention for close to a half hour... I basically just slowly walked past each one, stepped back, look at the series as a whole, went back to inspect each individual photo, etc.

Also, I mean, look how hot he looks:

 
Penone's self portrait (one of many in a series)

Penone's self portrait (one of many in a series)

 

Also in the center of the second room is a hollowed out tree with many broken branches. It reminded me of a canoe or for some reason, a parody of the table used in the Last Supper. 

Maybe because Penone grew up in the wooded town of Gargessio, Italy, Penone's work focuses on the connection between humanity and nature. Through this lens, he manipulates nature (much like we do as humans in general), but he keeps much of the natural integrity of his medium, which often deceives the viewer. Like when I mistakenly thought the tree outside was a sad winter tree, for example.

I'm not totally sure what he 'means' by creating any of these things, as I haven't read any interviews or know if he has ever explained his work in terms of meaning to anyone, but I do enjoy considering how keeping the integrity of the natural materials he works with makes me think and feel.

So anyway, if you're in Rome soon, I highly recommend visiting Fendi HQ.


COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017


BIBLIOGRAPHY

All images not credited, or clearly the artist's original work, were taken on my phone.

How to Spend it, Fendi Salutes Giuseppe Penone in a New Exhibition.

Yaetzer, Natural Affinities: Fendi Hosts First Contemporary Art Show in Rome Showcasing Works by Giuseppe Penone.

 

FEMALE STUDY: RENATE BERTLMANN'S PORNOGRAPHIC JOKES

Washing Day, 1976

Hi! It's been about 6 months since I wrote. I moved to New York and life got busy. But I'm fine now so let's see if we can pick things up.

I recently reacquainted myself with the artwork of Renate Bertlmann. What kept my attention this time around is the humor I see behind Bertlmann's work, and the simple messages that can be abstracted.

Bertlmann is a feminist avant-garde artist whose career began in the early 1970s. Born in 1943 in Vienna, Austria, Bertlmann studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Upon graduating in 1970, she lectured at the academy through the early 1980s. Throughout this time, she built a corpus of work using various media including drawing, painting, object art, installation, photography, film, and performance.

Touching mainly on the binary opposition of male and female roles, Bertlmann worked with phallic and breastlike shapes, using humor and hyperbole as a platform for discussion on a topic that is otherwise generally a sore subject for any thinking female.

As was en vogue in the post-minimalist time she began her work, Bertlmann often used ordinary objects. But in her case, this was to her advantage, as she worked with familiar household objects, a place where things are almost strictly divided between male and female genders. This by default made her a "feminist" artist, even without publishing a manifesto or saying anything about it outright.

Caress (Washing Day), 1976

The undisguised sexual nature of Bertlmann's work bends gender norms as much as it overtly acknowledges the dichotomy between the two. Her ability to blur the lines is well demonstrated in her close-range photographs of inflated condoms touching each other. Male gendered objects become reminiscent of the female body and hermaphroditic inuendos.

Tender Touches, 1976

Tender Touches, 1976

Likewise, hanging inflated condoms alongside flaccid condoms on a laundry line in her Washing Day series, Bertlmann juxtaposes the male and female figure using a traditionally male gendered object.

Washing Day, 1976

In a recent interview with the Tate Modern (2015), Bertlmann explains her subversive humor:

Pornographic jokes have always been a male domain, made at the exclusive expense of women. I consider my series of objects an accomplished example of an obscene female joke. This joke has hit home; it targets the deadly serious, male sexual arrogance. My works could be created only because I was obviously able, despite my anxieties, to discuss sexuality and sexual repression simultaneously through desire and ironic distance.

Especially at the time of her work, Bertlmann's pervasive use of 'private' parts of the human body were, and are widely still considered vulgar for women to discuss, let alone exhibit. I feel like her ability to avoid erotic notions while still using these symbols is a huge feat, and actually adds fuel to the outrage fire, as one might be able to accept an erotic "vulgar" female, the way society does with Anais Nin, but for Bertlmann's work, replacing eroticism with overt symbols of obscenity, the message is no longer palatable to social conformists.

Urvagina, 1978

Renate Bertlmann has explained that she identifies with "physically handicapped wheelchair-bound outcasts," which is partly influenced by their role in Thomas Bernhard’s play A Party for Boris (1968). This explains the presence of wheelchairs in her work since she started in the early 70s.  (A very "unfeminine" ordinary object, don't you think)? A wheelchair might seem incongruent with the rest of her work at first glance, but Bertlmann explains that she likes to use wheelchairs "to emphasize the tension between inertness, mobility, and bodily contact," which combined with gender norms, actually makes a lot of sense.

In her performance Pregnant Bride in Wheelchair (1976) (below), Bertlmann implies the handicapping outcome of a woman who is both pregnant and a bride. I can't find any interviews with her in English about this particular performance, but it seems like she assumes the persona of a pregnant woman who is made to marry due to social pressures of the time.

The pregnant bride is not only in a wheelchair, but her fingertips also appear to be nipples, exaggerating the exhausting and giving nature of the female body. Her face is also ghostly, perhaps alluding to the death of the young woman's freedom, or maybe done in effort to depict a grotesque figure in a situation where women are typically expected to look pure and beautiful.

After she finished lecutring in 1980, Bertlmann soley focused on her studio work and what she calls "freelance" work. I've never heard a working artist call themselves freelance but maybe she also did work for hire that is outside of her personal aesthetic.

Below, Bertlmann's installation 1984 piece, Breast Incubator has holes for hands to enter within the clear case, offering a means to fondle the breasts within. The nipples, however, have exacto knife blades sticking out of them, which to me symbolically expresses the instances where being groped is an unwanted experience.

Breast Incubator, 1984

Through today, Bertlmann continues to create work that sheds light on the objectification of the female body and using her humor to emasculate male gendered objects. 

Untitled, 2016

By hanging condoms that are used as bud vases on a towel rack with ribbon, I see Bertlmann making a multi-layered joke here. And hello, still at it in 2016! She was born in 1946. She is not faking this joke. She lives this thing and she is nailing it. Flowers and ribbons—so "girly." A towel rack—a domestic object, maybe gender neutral (though I think one could argue that almost all domestic objects are associated with females). Yes Ranate. Yes.


COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017



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FEMALE STUDY: SENGA NENGUDI'S FLESH & GENDER IDENTITY
 
 

I’ve made it a point to highlight underrepresented women in western art history, and I have written about Latin Americans and Eastern Europeans, and yet still no black artists. But I mean, how many black artists are mentioned in the same breath as Max Bill? Why are there still entire books dedicated to black artists, rather than integrating them with their contemporaries? Why is it so hard to even find black artists in history?

I'm half Filipino and half Irish. Growing up I never realized I was racially different from anyone, as my corner of California was racially diverse. However, as I've gotten older, racial identity has become very important to me. The Filipino family name, Bagtazo, was chosen in homage to this.

For black artists in America, racial identity seems inextricably related to their work. It's as if one cannot be a black artist without discussing being black. And with good reason, as I think there is no racial identity as inescapable in the US. When I decided to write about a black artist, I will admit I didn't know where to begin. But then I found American artist, Senga Nengundi.

Senga Nengudi, was born in Chicago in 1943, but grew up in Los Angeles. Originally named Sue Irons, Nengudi took her working name early in her career when a friend from the former Zaire started calling her by that name.

Senga Nengudi was part of the avant-garde black art scenes in New York City and Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. Some of my favorite of her works involve panty hose. Panty hose are one of the few things that have catered to the varying shades of skin tones since before the civil rights movement, and so I think it’s super cool that Nengudi used them in her work. (Because duh, all women are candidates for shaming and social decency norms).

 
 

In 1977, Nengudi worked with Hassinger for a performance piece in the same vein as RSVP, improvising movement entangled in a web of pantyhose at Just Above Midtown Gallery in NYC. According to Nengudi, the performance was made to symbolize how women are restricted by societal gender norms. These performances were captured on film in stills, where Nengudi appeared as an androgynous figure, in attempt to defy gender definitions.

Since moving to to New York, I’ve really missed the gender neutral values of the west coast. Black boys in Oakland wear earrings with vintage turbans that one may have seen their grandmothers wearing in the 60s. Young boys in LA wear skirts and paint their nails. To think that Nengundi was doing this in New York in the 70s blows my mind because it was not only advanced, but it must have been viewed as extremely radical.

In 1979, Nengudi performed Ceremony for Freeway Fets under a freeway overpass on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. The performance was made with her collaborators, Hammons and Hassinger from Studio Z Collective. Nengudi crafted costumes and headdresses from pantyhose for the performers.  Hammons and Hassinger played the roles of male and female spirits, while Nengudi's character represented a spirit that united the genders. Both the performance and music were improvised.

I was able to find a slideshow with the original music, and an audio interview of Nengudi, which can be viewed below:

 

In 2007, during her residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, she created a video installation entitled "Warp Trance.". The film was made to communicate the experiences of textile workers. (As some of you know, I have been working in manufacturing for over a decade, and so I'm really into this, even though I think the aesthetic is v 2007 video art).

 

From 1970 through the present day, Nengudi has performed nearly thirty original pieces, and has exhibited in sixty-five group and solo shows combined. Nengudi is a prolific artist whose focus on racial and ethnic identity has remained strong throughout her work. She also explored gender politics and identity from the beginning of her career in the 1970s, a topic that society has just began to discuss publicly in the last few years.

I actually saw Senga Nengudi's work in Los Angeles at WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibition at the MOCA in Los Angeles in 2007 without realizing it. The show in its entirety had young me in tears, but I remember looking at her pantyhose piece and thinking how great it was. The installation looked like boobs and balls all at once. And I was all about the nipple back then, so that piece really got me.

 
 

Nengudi continues to work today from her Colorado Springs studio. Since 2007, she has re-performed many of her early works, as well as exhibited a number of retrospectives.



Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


DESIGN STUDY: TOMÁS MALDONADO'S ANALOGICAL COMPUTER DESIGN & PRE-DIGITAL ART
 

Desde un Sector, 1953

 

In my recent studies I stumbled upon Tomás Maldonado, an artist whose work I was not familiar with before. But it's like I found a design ancestor, because I totally use similar shapes as him and I have even applied his theories unknowingly.

Maldonado was born in Buenos Aires in 1922, but he studied and produced much of his influential work in Europe during the 1950s and 60s. Before moving to Europe, he attended the Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, where he studied design.

After his education, he began working with other Argentine artists such as Jorge Brito, Alfredo Hlito, and Claudio Girola in the 1940s. With this group, a manifesto was published, rejecting the status quo of the then-institutional views of El Salón Nacional in Argentina, quoting Italian artist Carlo Carrà's statement, "the suppression of imbeciles in art is essential" in their treatise. (Oh how I love a good artist manifesto). In doing so, the group effectively founded a movement known as Arte Concreto-Invención (Concrete-Invention Art), which was dedicated to 'pure geometric abstraction.'

Trayectoria de una Anécdota (Path of a Story), 1949

And like most art movements of the era, their work was fed by politics, only where the United States and European movements were a reaction to society and government (with the exception of Russia and Eastern parts of Europe), Arte Concreto-Invención, was at once a reaction to social values in regards to art, but also confined by the ideals of Argentina's Marxist leader, Edelmiro Julián Farrell, a predecessor to Juan Perón. As a result, Arte Concreto-Invención was less experimental than other similar movements of the era, but like artists in Russia, working within the confines of their country's political climate, Arte Concreto-Invención was still able to push the boundaries of art. Such feats are far and few between, as most artists and writers who play by the political rules aren't usually able to contribute anything beyond romance and fantasy.

Desarollo del Triángulo (Destruction of the Triangle), 1951

In 1954, Maldonado moved to Germany to teach at the newly founded school, Hochschule für Gestaltung of Ulm (Ulm School of Design), which was started in part by former Bauhaus student and instructor, Max Bill (one of my favs). Ulm School of Design for sure deserves its own post one day, but for now just know that the school was extra cool. (I mean, the internet says it's only second to Bauhaus, which is like really saying it's first because Bauhaus is just so amazing that it's like in outer space, so). 

Ulm School of Design was founded in 1953 and operated until 1968, during a time where the West was transitioning from an industrial to a post-industrial society. And though the school operated very briefly during the Post War period, the Ulm school restructured social sciences to be based on a strong belief in reason, rather than opinion. Living in an era of Nazi resistance, founder Max Bill promoted the idea that in a democratic society, “good design” should be accessible to all. 

At the Ulm School of Design, Maldonado taught industrial design and visual communication (also known as semiotics, the study of signs and symbols and how they are used). Teaching with an emphasis on philosophy of science and technology for ten years, Maldonado was eventually appointed as the director of the school in 1957. Once director, Maldonado cultivated a pre-digital approach to design that translated well to the technology era of design that followed.  

 
 

It is argued that during his tenure at the Ulm School of Design, Maldonado pioneered design theory, and in particular, was among the first to apply computation to architecture and design. Though during the time of his work at the Ulm School, Maldonado did not work with computers, he is credited for theorizing "analogical computer design," which you can actually see very clearly in the first and third images in this article. (They kind of remind me of Wire's 154 album art that was released in 1979, only the analog version).

Like the Bauhaus school, Ulm's curriculum took a multidisciplinary approach, though Ulm was far more focused on science than craft. Bauhaus’s perspectives seemed to have become obsolete in the post-industrial age because they were viewed as simply artistic, rather than scientific. Though Max Bill attempted to recreate the Bauhuas curriculum, Maldonado kept pushing for more concrete theories and approaches to design. Wishing to create a closer relationship between science and technology, Ulm slowly oriented themselves towards the theoretical aspects of the Bauhaus school but expanded their approach, applying technological approaches to design. In this second phase, different subjects such as economics, sociology, mathematics, operational research, statistics, set theory, linear programming techniques, cybernetics and other subjects that deal with the history of science and the theory of machines were added to Ulm's curriculum. With the addition of these subjects, and the help of guest teachers, Maldonado made it possible for the students of Ulm to engage and participate in the scientific and theoretical philosophy of the time. 

 
 

Like the designers of Bauhaus, Maldonado proved to be very prolific, and towards the end of the Ulm school's existence, he really began applying his interests in semiotics to create a symbol system that is largely still used, and built upon for other methods of symoblic communication today. Above is a code system Maldonado built for the programmers of the Olivetti typewriter company, which was a project carried out in collaboration with the German designer Gui Bonsieppe. This symbolic language helped build the early stages of computer science. (So cool)!

Perhaps because the Ulm School was very ambitious and very ahead of its time, the school closed permanently in 1968. A year before its closure, Maldonado resigned and relocated to Milan, where he continues to live currently. After the disollution of the Ulm school, Maldonado continued working in design, where he followed Max Bill's lead, creating logos for companies. The first of such projects was with german again in collaboration with designer Gui Bonsiepe, where the two designed the corporate identity for the Italian department store La Rinascente. A corporate identity that is still in use today. 

 
 

From here, Maldonado continued to design, from furniture to medical equipment, as well as continue to paint. (The two images below are his contemporary work made between 2000 - 2010).

 
 

What's even cooler though, is that Maldonado is still alive and teaching theories in Italy as Professor at the Faculty of philosophy and arts of Bologna. Having worked with and studied under the Bauhaus school, while creating very modern theories in regards to computer science and technology, I feel like students who get to work with Maldonado are very lucky, because there are very few thinkers from this era left today. I'm so into the idea of having access to my predecessors, maybe I should email him in Spanish and see if he'd let me meet him!

Maldonado in his office in 2008

 

 



Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


MOVEMENT STUDY: PINA BAUSCH 'RITE OF SPRING'

I'm still just being a terrible blogger. I'm so busy trying to catch up. So here's a quick video of Pina Bausch and co doing a beautiful dance to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. I'm personally doing my own rites of spring, so I thought it was appropriate.

Pina Bausch is a modern dance choreographer that I have been studying off and on for the last year. Her work is obscure and often hard to follow, but I really love her take on movement. She also incorporates a lot of dance for film and land art, which I really love. If you just do a Google image search on Pina Bausch, you can see her striking continuity throughout her various works. Her aesthetic is very strong and feminine. The costumes she uses are Grecian and with tonal shades as a common motif. She tends to work with natural elements like water and flowers a lot.

She's a genius.

I'll say more about her eventually, but for now. Here's a small taste.

 

PERFORMANCE STUDY: SQUAREGAME VIDEO

I've been having a hard time adjusting (schedule-wise) to my new life in New York. I really love it here, but I'm so busy trying to settle in that a weekly post has been asking a bit too much of me during this transition process.

But here's a cool video of Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1976 moving around in ways that I think accurately expresses how I feel rn trying to jump around from here to there in order to find my stride.

I've had intentions in doing an in-depth study of Merce Cunningham on this blog, but for now here's less than a minute of footage to tide you over.

More regularity to come soon, I promise.

xx


Courtney Cady, © 2016


FEMALE STUDY: BARBARA KRUGER'S RED & BLACK
 

Barbara Kruger, 1987

 

The first time I saw the above image I was 11 years old. The postcard was pegged to a bulletin board collage at my friend Blake's house. The same friend who influenced me to think that anything "trendy" was super lame. Blake also owned a Prada purse. My mind was blown.

I didn't understand Descartes, "I think, therefore I am" at that age, but I understood the Barbara Kruger version enough to know that the artist was taking a stab at consumerism. No one told me the artist was Barbara Kruger, that was something I learned a few years later, but already, I felt like whoever this was, they were speaking on behalf of people like me.

 Barbara Kruger is more contemporary of an artist than those I usually post about, but I've noticed ad campaigns all over recently that straight rip her style without honoring the jabby undertones of what the red background with white text, or white background with black text has come to mean, so I thought I'd revisit her work a little bit to set the record straight.

1985

Barbara Kruger has most recently lived and worked in Los Angeles. Given that I lived 12 years in Los Angeles, and spent 30 years in California in general, Barbara Kruger's work is a personal subject. In my youth, I was a staunchy feminist, and a critic of consumerism who hung in the 'art scene.' Barbara Kruger wasn't as much of a god as she was like the LA sunshine to me, just something that shows up everyday.  Plus I grew up in a Stepford Wives-type suburb, where money and female oppression were the norm. I saw Barbara Kruger as my voice. I even started putting my own statements on the artwork I made as a teenager, she had influenced me that much. 

I mean, just read how funny the caption below is vvv

Barbara Kruger, 1991

Barbara Kruger is among the first to use appropriation art through pictures and text, something that has since become a widespread practice in fashion, art, and funny enough, now even in advertising. By using words and found images, Kruger subverts the common ad with social critique through postmodern conceptual art. 

For me personally, Kruger's humor and dark undertones used to discuss reproductive rights and built in female oppression (something I still think even the most evolved males: gay/straight/trans or otherwise, have yet to fully comprehend) has always stood out to me. The work is politically charged, totally in the vein of Bauhaus graphic design, and easy to understand, even for the simpleminded folks who oppose her messages.

Barbara Kruger was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1945. She attended Syracuse University in 1964 for one year before moving to New York, where she studied at Parsons School of Design. At Parsons, Kruger met artists Diane Arbus and Marvin Israel, who are said to have introduced Kruger to photography, fashion, and magazine sub-cultures. After a year at Parsons, Kruger dropped out and started working with various Condé Nast magazines as a graphic designer, where she was quickly promoted to art director and picture editor for several magazines. This career went on for a decade before Kruger moved to Berkeley, California, where she taught at UC Berkeley for four years.

By 1979, Kruger started using found images from mid-century American magazines in her art, pasting messages in Bauhaus fonts with color blocked backgrounds over the found pictures. Applying her graphic design sense, Kruger's work mimiced advertisements, but subverted the familiar with topics of gender, consumerism and equality. 

What's really cool is once Kruger saw that her work was well received, she started printing her images on gift items, so the 80s and 90s were flooded with Kruger tote bags, postcards, mugs, t shirts, posters, whathaveyou; which is a hilarious way to blur the boundaries between art and consumerism, while also expanding her reach in a similar fashion as branding does. (Hello? Genius).

Using the power of her ubiquity, Kruger became well known for her work, and was often commissioned to make political statements on behalf of groups such as reproductive rights advocates. Like me in my youth, Kruger was seen as a voice for people who had something to say.

In 1989 Kruger made the image below, (left), for the Women's March on Washington, which was a march in support of legal abortion. A year later in 1990, Kruger used this slogan in a billboard commissioned by the Wexner Center for the Arts. Twelve hours after the billboard went up, a pro-life group responded to Kruger's work by replacing the adjacent billboard with an image depicting an eight-week-old fetus. (Um, super metal, guys)...

1989 

 

1990

Evolving with contemporary art, from the 90s through today, Kruger began creating site-specific work that is pasted on sides of buildings, buses, trains, and museum walls.

Commissioned by MOCA of Los Angeles, the image top right, is the among the first of her site-specific work. The concept originally included messages pasted over the the American Pledge of Allegiance, but after some test drives with the idea and community backlash, the work was toned down, and the flag salute was eliminated. This image was first exhibited in a group show, and then a year later pasted to the side of a warehouse in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles where it showed for two years.

I love Barbara Kruger so much I could catalog her entire work here, but in the end, it's all much of the same thing. Even if it's really good. Today, given that she is fairly well known, she continues to work on site-specific pieces through commissions all over the world. She also keeps making her paste ups, as we have seen that over the last 30 years, change is slow enough to come that her messages are as poignant today as they were at their beginnings. With the seeming timelessness of her style, Kruger is able to revisit mediums and platforms such as magazine covers and simple paste ups regarding abortion, political statements, female oppression, popular culture and consumerism.

I felt like since her work is so familiar at this point, that it was almost "too soon" to talk about her here, but I couldn't help it after seeing so many ads abusing her style. Guys, if you're going to rip her off, at least make the words say something punk.

K? Thanks.


Courtney Cady, © 2016


DESIGN STUDY: MAX BILL & CONCRETE ART
 
 

So so sorry for the radio silence. I was in over my head with market and moving from LA to NY. I think I let a month go by since I've done any sort of design research. Woops! And though I'm still super busy and not in the mood to do anything after hustling so hard, I have been looking at the work of Max Bill lately, so I figured it was time to get back to it.

Max Bill was born in Switzerland in 1908. In his home town of Winterhur, he apprenticed as a metalsmith before studying at the Bauhaus school in Dausau, Germany in 1924. Like most Bauhaus artists, Bill worked with a number of mediums and designed across genres. 

Some of his most notable work in my opinion is in his graphic work, which included typography.(Yes!) But then again I also love the architectural pieces, sculptures and industrial designs he did too, so maybe I actually just love Max Bill.

What's really cool about Bill is that he studied under Bauhuas, but he also hung out with French painters like Hans Arp and Piet Mondrian, whose work represented a movement then called, Abstraction-Création, which influenced him to form his own group known as the Allianz Group in Switzerland in 1937.

The Allianz Group focused on Concrete Art theories pioneered by Max Bill, which was similar to Constructivism, in that both were interested in abstraction, but Bill's theories made a heavier emphasis on color. (A good student of Bauahaus, I'd say)... 

A major tenant of the larger Concrete Art movement of the time, which was the probably the most distinguishing departure from Constructivism, was that Concrete Art strived to make no references to objects found in visible reality or in nature. So out went all the boring notions of cubism and in came really cool shapes.

Once Constructivism spawned in Russia around 1919, its influence on artwork made in Europe lasted through the 1930s. And while Bauhaus ended up a movement in its own right, some of the Bauhaus instructors such as Josef Albers, worked to create the Concrete Art movement. (See my previous posts on Josef Albers for more info). After studying with Bauhaus, hanging out with super cool French painters, and starting his own art group, Max Bill went on to teach at The School of Arts in Zurich in 1944, before forming his own school called the Ulm School of Design in 1953, with artist Inge Aicher-Scholl and Otl Aicher in Ulm, Germany. 

Originally basing their teachings of the Bauhaus school, Ulm School of Design developed a new education approach that integrated art and science. This unorthodox design education even included semiotics in its curriculum, which caused a bit of stir amongst the art and design snobs of the day. And maybe Bill and his friends were actually too ambitious with their education theories, because the school only lasted for 13 years before it closed.

After this foray, Bill started working heavily in architectural and industrial design. He also kept painting and doing graphic design, but his more commercial work in the 1950s might be what he is best known for today.

Max Bill's Ulmer Stool, (pictured above) was made in the 1950s, and is meant to be used either as an modular object that sits on the ground or as shelves mounted on the wall. So pretty! He also worked with Junghans, a Swiss timekeeping company, where he designed watches, clocks and scales, which are still available on the market. v v v (I die).

Being that Max Bill was so prolific much like his predecessors of the Bauhaus school, he worked and exhibited up until his death in 1988.

Towards the end of his life, architects and public planners in Germany and Switzerland began commissioning Bill to make large sculptures to be displayed in public spaces. Nearly all are still on view and are protected by a conservation trust started post-mortem by Max Bill's son.

I could go on forever about this guy but I need to go to bed. If you haven't familiarized yourself with his work, check it out. There's so much... the guy lived for 80 years and worked for almost 60 of them. Soooo coool.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


FEMALE STUDY: LIUBOV POPOVA'S UTILITARIAN ART

Painterly Archietetonic, 1917

You might have noticed I've been into Russian art this season. This week I looked at the work of yet another Russian artist, Liubov Popova, a founding member, and one of the only female constructivists of the early 20th century. I'm pretty impressed with Popova because of her range of work, and the amount of theory she applied to her work. From line drawings, linoprints, water color and oil paintings, to graphic and textile design, most of which was politically charged, Popova had a prolific though short career as an artist. 

Active from 1912-1929, Popova worked in a few styles before helping create the Russian Constructivist movement in the early 1920s. Starting with cubo-futurism, a popular style of the time, Popova employed the use of lines, color and shapes to create her pieces. (I could care less about cubism or cubo-futurism so I'm not posting any of her work from that era. Sorry not sorry). 

Shortly after the start of her career, Popova employed the Supermatist style that was developing around 1917 in Russia. It is from this point on that Popova really starts to innovate. Unlike most of her male counterparts, she was more willing to work with curved shapes beyond just a circle. She used rounded lines, and even dared to use color as shading, rather than simply creating geometrical shapes with it. (And fine, maybe she adopted that from cubo-futurism).

In 1921, Popova was one of five artists who participated in a show called, 5x5=25 in Moscow, a show that some critics claimed was "the end of art." (She was the only female in the exhibition). Showing minimal paintings with exposed canvas, viewers were left confused and accused Popova of 'fleeing painting.' On the contrary, Popova wrote, "all pieces presented here should be regarded as merely preparations for concrete construction," which was basically one of the first steps towards constructivism in history. In a highly political exhibition, Popova and the other four participating artists rejected expressionist work that was common before WWI. Their goal was to create an entirely new culture where the proletariat was the focus. (This was known as proletkult in Russia).

From her work in Supermatism, Popova began exploring the reductivist use of shape, line and color, inadvertently helping create the constructivist movement. Working in Communist Russia, constructivists of the early 20th century rejected what they thought was frivolity in traditional art, instead creating art for social purposes. Constructivists sought to combine faktura, the particular material properties of an object, and tektonika, its spatial presence, in attempt to participate in the construction of the then-new Communist spirit, by using artistic skills to design everyday objects for mass production.

So this is where I start to get super into Popova. I've been working in production for over a decade for a few of the same reasons. For me, fashion is the most commercial of my creative endeavors and since I need to make a living, it's where I chose to focus my energy since my early 20s. Plus I'm really into the laborer, which I actually got from the Communists, but more about that another time... And where Liubov Popova and I intersect, is our interest in making things that have a purpose. Yes, most fashion is beyond necessity, but compare a necklace to conceptual architecture, and you can see what I mean about function at least. (Queue the useless wall hanging textiles that are everywhere right now... hello, that's not what rugs are for).

To back herself up, Popova said in an untitled manuscript written in 1921:

The era that humanity has entered is an era of industrial development and therefore the organization of artistic elements must be applied to the design of the material elements of everyday life, i.e. to industry or to so-called production.
The new industrial production, in which artistic creativity must participate, will differ radically from the traditional aesthetic approach to the object, in that primarily attention will be focused not on the artistic decoration of the object (applied art), but on the artistic organization of the object in accordance with the principles of creating the most utilitarian object…
If any of the different types of fine art (i.e., easel painting, drawing, engraving, sculpture, etc.) can still retain some purpose, they will do so only: 1. While they remain as the laboratory phase in our search for essential new forms.  2. Insofar as they serve as supportive projects and schemes for constructions and utilitarian and industrially manufactured objects that have yet to be realized.

Applying this philosophy to her work hereafter, Popova and her colleagues created in effort to support the Bolshevik revolution. During this time, there was civil war going on, and many of the artists in Russia were Communist, so their work reflected their political and theoretical views. Working with architect Aleksandr Vesnin and the avant-garde theatrical director Vsevolod Meierkhold, Popova work on the sets for a ‘theatrical military parade’, which was called ‘The End of Capital’ and was to take place in Moscow that summer to celebrate the meeting of the Congress of the Third Communist International, a communist gathering that was held in 1921. This performance was proposed as a mass theatrical event, employing a cast of thousands of people, but was ended up getting cancelled.

Popova then began working with playwrite, Meierkhold where she designed the set and costumes for his production of The Magnanimous Cuckold, which opened in 1922. The following year she also produced the designs for the play The Earth in Turmoil. Throughout this period, Popova was teaching color theory at the Moscow Vkhutemas as well.

During her tenure at Vkhutemas, Popova was invited to work in the reviving textile industry in Russia as a textile designer at the Tsindel (the First State Textile Factory) outside of Moscow, where she worked with a later female constructivist designer, Varavara Stepanova.

You can see the influence Popova's work in textile design had on Bauhaus, especially among the female artists, as well as the theoretical influence constructivism had on the school in general. I really love Popova's later work in textile design, both from an aesthetic standpoint and a theoretical one. While it's not necessary for art to serve a purpose beyond 'art for art's sake,' I do really appreciate the political drive behind Popova's work. To use one's creativity as a means to reject social norms and question the status quo is never a bad thing (even when it's communist), and honestly these days, having a voice and actually saying something is so difficult to do, especially in fashion where commercial ads disguise themselves as sociopolitical statements, so I kind of envy a time when artists could do this effectively and noticeably.

Anyway, Liubov Popova's career was sadly cut short in 1924 when she died of scarlet fever at the age of 35. I feel like maybe she would have moved to Germany if she had lived longer, or maybe she would have started a Russian equivalence to Bauhaus, given the trajectory of her work, but we'll never know. Either way, considering her career started at the age of 23, and she only worked for thirteen years, her effect on art history is massive. And to be a woman working in the early 1900s with recognition was no easy feat either.

New hero right here vvv

 
 

Shout out to: 

Christina Lodder, 'Liubov Popova: From Painting to Textile Design', Tate Papers, no.14, Autumn 2010.

I've decided I need to start citing the academic pieces I reference in my blog posts. My apologies for not doing it until now. Blogs are the new frontier...


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


FILM STUDY: FERNAND LEGER'S BALLET MÉCANIQUE

I'm super, extra, very busy right now but I don't like it when I skip a post so here's a short film, Ballet Mécanique by Fernand Leger made in 1924. The music sounds exactly how I feel right now.

Ballet Mécanique is an early Dadaist (or what some call post-Cubist) film that was written and co-directed by artist Fernand Léger and filmmaker Dudley Murphy. Man Ray (my fav) also gave cinematic input (whatever that means), and he even included one of his recurring subjects, a now iconic 1920s female face. The film premiered in Vienna as a silent film, but a score was made by American composer George Antheil shortly thereafter.

This is one of the earliest examples of experimental film, and was made in part as a mockery of Charlie Chaplin. (Because good artists have always hated the main stream, duh).

I'm really into the use of mirrors and kaleidoscopic effects. This technique set a standard for early experimental film and can be seen as a main motif through the 1950s.

It's 16 minutes of stimulation without dialogue, but you can make it even though it's 2016, I promise.

Enjoy.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


DESIGN STUDY: WASILLY KANDINSKY & MINIMIZING SUBJECT MATTER

This season, to consider abstraction of form in my designs, I took a look at Wassily Kandinsky.

Wassily Kandinsky was a Russian-born artist who lived in Germany during the 1920s where he taught with the Bauhaus school. Kandinsky is primarily famous for being one of the first 'purely' abstract painters, departing from impressionism to pioneer abstract expressionism in the early 1900s; though I think his most notable work was made during his tenure with Bauhaus. 

At Bauhaus, Kandinsky developed theories on color, lines, points and shapes. Analyzing various art forms, he reduced each to their simplest form in effort reveal their structures. In 1926, mid-way through the lifespan of Bauhaus, Kandinsky published two works concerning his theories on form: Dance Curves and Point and Line to Plane.

Dance Curves is an essay accompanied by abstract drawings referencing four images of German performer, Gret Palucca, who was an early pioneer of modern dance. All four images referenced were by photographed by Charlotte Rudolph, a prominent German dance photographer during that time.

Being an inter-disciplinary school, Bauhaus often collaborated with, and studied modern dancers. In Dance Curves, Kandinsky wrote that his drawings illustrate the "simplicity of the whole form" in Palucca's movements as well as the "construction of the large form” where the structure of Palucca's movements are based on the simplistic forms in his reductive drawings.

Concerned with minimizing subject matter, Bauhaus emphasized compositions of pure lines, blocks of color, and geometric shapes. Kandinsky's personal application of this approach explored shape, form, and structure. From this school of thought, Kandinsky also developed his own color theory, which tied in to his elemental theories of design.

In Point and Line to Plane, Kandinsky analyzed the geometrical elements that make up all art forms, which he argues are points, lines and planes. In a comprehensive examination, Kandinsky reduces music, architecture, movement, and painting to demonstrate his theories. 

In perfect Bauhaus fashion, Kandinsky's work is nearly exhaustive, covering an impressive range of subjects across the above mentioned art forms.

Check the Index in the back of the embedded copy of 'Point and Line to Plane" below to see just how much he covered. I also highly recommend a good look at the diagrams and the appendix now, and then clicking on the link to read through this book in full-screen later. It's so good!

Aside from breaking down drawing and painting to their more intuitive geometric elements, and creating the simplistic forms from the body structure of dance movement, Kandinsky applied his graphic symbolism to music in a way that I've become obsessed with. In Point and Line to Plane, Kandinsky wrote that, "the graphic musical representation in common use today–musical notation–is nothing other than various combinations of point and line." 

I don't fully understand how to apply his theories to my own drawings yet, but I do know that in order to create his renderings of music, he used color to correspond with angles and shapes, as well as points whose sizes varied according to the pitch and volume of a given sound in terms of intensity or duration. 

The result is stunning:

A student's graphic analysis of music according to Kandinsky’s theories on graphic representation of music made during coursework at the Bauhaus. Bauhaus Archive, Berlin, 1930

As a result of WWII, Bauhaus disassembled in 1933. Kandinsky eventually relocated to Paris, where he lived the rest of his life. Applying his theories on form and color, Kandinsky created his own color pallets that appear as dissonant as unusual time signatures sound in music; but because they are governed by a theoretical foundation in both color and form, somehow they work.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


DESIGN STUDY: CONCEPTUAL ARCHITECTURE, 'SUPERSTUDIO' & UTOPIA

Superstudio - "Happy Island," 1971

I've been studying architects quite a bit lately. I'm especially interested in their relationship with Utopia. It's as if each rendering is an insight into the architect's notion of perfection. People are depicted using a design... sitting on a bench having a sandwich, walking up stairs, etc. These drawings portray ideals of society as much as they portray the utility and applications design.

While I mostly design things of absolutely no utility, like an architect, I am nevertheless considering the function of everything I make as well. If one did not have to wear the things I make, my rings would be outrageous, I'm sure. And I would have produced a few of the necklaces I designed early on that require directions in order to be worn correctly. 

But what if I didn't have to consider reality or application in my designs?  

In the mid 1960s through the 1970s architects began exploring the notion of conceptual architecture by asking a similar question. By the 1960s almost everything in architecture was 'modernist' cement and steel blocks, and as a reaction to this homogeneity, some architects began rejecting the wholesale acceptance of futurity and modernism in general. 

Perhaps the first to do so, (and my favorite) is a group from Florence, Italy who called themselves Superstudio.

Superstudio formed in 1966 and began their work by creating fairly useless things made of wood, glass, steel, brick or plastic. But this work quickly was followed by a few useful objects such as tables and chairs. Despite their utility however, these objects were not intended for use as much as they were intended to be used as a means to critique consumerism and society's, "continuous drive for novelty." Blandly designed, these objects served as a rather politically charged message from Superstudio that western decadence must be put to an end.

In 1968, architecture & design magazine Domus published some of Superstudio's work (above) where people were depicted 'using' architecture in unorthodox, and perhaps even impossible ways. Considering conceptual architecture had not been formally introduced to society at the time of publication, Superstudio was asked to publish a theoretical article in Domus as a follow up that same year. The combination of the two publications is one of the finest examples of early postmodernist thought, in my opinion, and perhaps the first example of conceptual architecture.

In Superstudio's follow up article, a sort of manifesto was created where their theories were explained. Citing prior movements in architecture in three main stages known as: architecture of the monument, architecture of the image, and technomorphic architecture, Superstudio's manifesto titled, "Superstudio: Projects and Thoughts," simultaneously rejected futurism and historical revival, arguing for an all-together new approach to architecture they called, architecture of reason.

Just read this amazingly postmodern excerpt:

The increase in the speed of reading (transport as a factor in spatial velocity, consumerism as a factor in temporal velocity), and the increase in social mobility, call for architecture that can take stock of the situation moment by moment... To bear witness becomes working in history, with history and for history. 
Today we are all "intellectuals" or cultivated. Everything seems charged with reference and recall. The primitives of modern architecture – the Bauhaus, the 1920s – are the first models for the operation, initiators of the key cultural position that we are interested in continuing. Not "revival" but "survival" – permanence, that is, of vital reason. 
We begin anew from the art of building, from the economy of materials, from the reasons for construction and from the meanings of a building. Reason has reaffirmed its place, accounting for itself. 

I'm such a nerd, I get super excited reading that. Perhaps because what they are saying is still valid today. Everyone is not only cultured now, but they're also photographers, filmmakers, critics and everything else outside of science and medicine that was once preserved for specialists. And consumerism is likely worse now than it was in the 1970s. With webstores at anyone's fingertips, people can both create and patron a sales platform without much capital. Plus we've all accepted personal advertising through social media, and originality in idea or design is pretty hard to come by. So yes, Superstudio, yes! Let's PLEASE design from reason rather than novelty. (I'm looking at you 14k emoji face earring studs)...

But I digress... Having established a cannon of ideas, Superstudio began exploring what they called, "negative utopias," eventually publishing a series of works in 1969 known as Il Monumento Continuo (or Continuous Monument). 

This series, (above) was a direct attack on the dull nature of modern architecture in the 1960s. As steel and concrete boxes began to overrun cities, erasing historic culture, Superstudio saw a need to make fun of the possible outcomes of an unchecked modernist society. And while these warnings were clearly humorous, they were equally effective in making their point. 

Continuing in this vein, Superstudio moved on to form an "anti-design" campaign in 1970, beginning with their series, Quaderna (above). Designed using severe, geometric forms made of plastic laminate normally found in provincial Italian towns, Quaderna was a comment on the excesses of pop design of the time. Applying similar aesthetics as Continuous Monument, both works served as a critique of global modern design, suggesting that the outcome of sparse, functional spaces results in sterile environments, "free of local color and individual expression." In both works, Superstudio is essentially suggesting that, "everything could be replaced by the continuous, global grid."

But of course this is simply satire, because though much of their work appears utopic and rather surreal; and while most of the objects present in their collages are actually modern and beautiful, there is a bleak undertone of sterility that suggests modern, man-made objects have the ability to take over nature and humanity in adverse ways. 

Excerpts from "12 Ideal Cities," 1971

Disillusioned with modern society, global culture and consumerism, Superstudio continued their work in the 1970s mostly with collage. Partly due to the economic decline and scarcity of resources in post-war Italy, but more importantly as a result of their critique of society, Superstudio created a corpus of work without creating objects. 

In 1972, a series of collages were made with a grid motif. In the collages there is a theme between nature and humanity, which are juxtaposed with man-made elements such as modern architecture and consumer goods. The grid motif, used again by Superstudio, this time is meant to represent not only man's need to organize and categorize, but it is also used as symbol of 'democracy,' as all points of the grid are considered equal. In this series, the grid is known as the 'superstructure,' furthering the discussion started with Continuous Monument.

Much of these collages were put into a film, Supersurface - An alternative model for life on the Earth, in 1972. In the film, Superstudio's theories are reiterated, but the film furthers their discussion by proposing life "without three dimensional structures as a basis." Again, this is satirical, but the message serves as a warning against hyper-modernity and homogeneity.

This film was the first of five films in a series, Fundamental Acts. In Fundamental Acts, each piece was dedicated to what they called "primary acts in human life," namely: Life, Education, Ceremony, Love, and Death. Supersurface was made to correspond with the first act: life.

The five stories in Fundamental Acts were used as, "philosophical and anthropological reconstruction of architecture" and first appeared as text, images and storyboard in Casabella magazine between 1972 and 1973. The purpose of creating these films for Superstudio was to "explore a propaganda of ideas, beyond the typical channels of the discipline of architecture."

Currently, only two pieces of the five films are available to the public, both of which I find poignant and hilarious. (The second is my favorite of the two).

Click on thumbnail below to open a new tab for 'Supersurface.' PLEASE watch it in its entirety... Also the article below the video is worth reading. (After you're done reading this, of course).

Click on thumbnail below to open a new tab for 'Cerimonia.' Trust me, it's really good.

 

 

After their films, it is unclear what exactly Superstudio was up to, because there's not much else about their work post-1973. I do know that the group dismembered in 1978, though each member continued their work as architects (or architecture theorists, at least) afterwards.

Since Superstudio's work was politically charged, and like most maturing adults, the radical politics of our youth tend to appear extreme, unnecessary and maybe even completely incorrect later in life, it is understandable that the group could not continue working together under such circumstances forever. (Abandoning their political views is cited as a major reason for their dismembering, btw). Regardless, Superstudio's contribution to conceptual architecture and conceptual art in general was massive. I likewise think that their critique on society was needed then, and could stand to be heard again today.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2016


FEMALE STUDY: REBECCA HORN'S COMMON THREAD

Still from: Unicorn (1970/72)

The reason I like The Cure is partly because no matter what song is playing, you can tell that it's them just by their sound. This is the kind of continuity I value in my own aesthetics as well. Underlying concepts create themes, which I build upon each time I make a new collection. But no matter what I make, it is similar to every other Bagtazo piece.

Artist Rebecca Horn has worked similarly throughout her life. Creating various works with the same logic, Horn develops her current work from the preceding. Elements may be readdressed, yet appear in totally different contexts. And somehow though none is quite like the other, you can see the common thread throughout her work.

White Body Fan, 1972

Rebecca Horn, born in Germany, lived much of her life in (the former West) Berlin. Starting her career in the 1970s with performances such as Body Extensions, Horn worked within the confines of femininity in order to push the boundaries of visual art. 

Her Body Extensions work included many performances for film, that were re-performed at times. Building costumes that allowed for objects to protrude from her body, she moved about wearing these objects in attempt to "explore the equilibrium between body and space."

Still from: Touching the Walls with Both Hands Simultaneously (1974/75)

Often interested in simultaneity, Horn's common thread in the 1970s can be seen above in, Touching the Walls with Both Hands Simultaneously and below in one of my favorite performances for film, Cutting one's Hair with Two Scissors Simultaneously (1974). While the two performances are visually dissimilar, Horn is exploring the simultaneous use of both hands in unconventional ways.

Playing with scissors, Horn uses an ordinary object to explore her notions of 'body extension' and simultaneity. I really love this piece because of the subversive rebellion against femininity that is expressed by a woman cutting off her long hair. At times I don't believe Horn's scissors are sharp enough to even cut hair. And at the end of this piece, I get nervous she's going to miss and cut her eyelash. But when it's through we're left with her ambiguous expression covered with the two scissors. (The youtube comments on this video are hilarious also, fyi).

As the 70s pressed forward, Horn continued to explore costume and began incorporating her interest in wings and feathers, which is a theme she carried on from White Body Fan in the early 1970s through today. 

"Feather Prison" costume still from Der Eintänzer (The Gigolo), 1978

Also playing with the ballet motif, Horn worked with ballerinas to create simultaneous movements while confined in the costumes she made to further explore simultaneity.

Der Eintänzer (1978)

From her work with simultaneity, Horn began exploring what she called 'kinetic sculptures' in the 1980s and 90s. This work applied the same concepts she used in Body Extensions, only where in Body Extensions the human body was the source of energy moving the objects she created, now the energy source was electronic kinetic movement. Much of this work was site-specific, and the artist chose culturally significant venues for their exhibitions whenever possible.

Also in 1991, Horn created High Moon (bottom left), which applied similar concepts as one of her Body Extensions sculptures, Overflowing Blood Machine, 1970 (bottom right). Since the 70s, Horn began making mechanical sculptures to bring motion to inanimate objects. The idea was to put human desire or movements that belong to the living into ordinary objects. At the time Overflowing Blood Machine was exhibited, Horn had a naked male wearing the suit, and the base of the 'machine' was filled with actual blood that flowed through the tubes. With High Moon, blood flows through tubes, into a reservoir before slowly dripping out of two rifles. In both pieces, the viewer is left to interoperate the significance of the blood.

Working in an era where the female artist laid claim to blood, the above two images are my two favorite comparisons of Horn's work. 20 years of building on the same concepts can lead to similar but different results. The common thread throughout Horn's work are her ideas. Motifs and the use of the same materials are what visually tie everything together, but without her core concepts, the common thread would not be the same.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2016


PHOTOGRAPHY STUDY: PAUL OUTERBRIDGE & MINIMALIST COMPOSITION

Ide Collar, 1921

I'm constantly resisting Instagram for Bagtazo because I feel like the way brands use it resembles advertising a bit too much for my taste. But considering this is the way of the world, I decided to try to find a way to keep up that suits me. So maybe I hate flat lays, but I can appreciate a good still life photo, so I thought, "Well who does the best still life?" Paul Outerbridge, of course.

Paul Outerbridge was a New York born photographer who studied at Columbia University at the turn of the 20th century. Within one year of his studies, his work was published in Vanity Fair and Vogue, launching his career as a photographer for advertising. Outerbridge's unique ability to arrange ordinary objects made his work iconic, vaguely echoing his surrealist predecessors, while creating an all-together new kind of image. Being an artist whose work was commercially viable put Outerbridge at an advantage, because he was able to make a living from his advertisements, while continuing his fine art career, exhibiting at galleries in Europe and the US.

In 1921 when Outerbridge's Ide Collar image was published, he received critical acclaim. The simplicity of the image and the composition gained the attention of artists such as Duchamp and Man Ray. More fame followed when he created Saltine Box in 1922 (pictured above, top left image). Showing a mastery of minimalist composition, Outerbridge made a name for himself amongst the American and European avant-garde.

By the 1930s, Outerbridge was the highest paid photographer in New York, due in part to his evolving work that began to focus on brightly colored photographs. Somewhat pioneering the "Tri-Color Carbo" process again put Outerbridge at an advantage.  Since not many people were able to process color film manually in those days, as controlling temperature is vital to the success of a color print, Outerbridge's mastery of the nine-hour-per-print process kept him on the map. Again his commercial work, such as the Toilet Paper advertisement (below, first left, 1938), funded his studio, where he was able to experiment with avant-garde nudes.

But with the advent of Kodachrome and Kodacolor film in the early 1940s, color photography became more accessible, and the tri-color carbo print process went obsolete. For the first time in his career, Outerbridge found himself at a disadvantage. Out of work, in 1943 Outerbridge moved to Hollywood in search of work with Technicolor film to no avail. So he moved to Laguna Beach and opened a portrait studio where he worked until his death in 1958.

Living in a generation where 'no one wants to live through a time where we miss the next Van Gogh,' it pains me to think that the master of avant-garde still life and color photography died in obscurity, helping his second wife with her sportswear clothing brand, rather than as a celebrated tastemaker. But I suppose many artists and writers lives end this way. It wasn't until the mid-1970s that Outerbridge was 're-discovered' after a collector bought what remained of Outerbridge's collection from his widow, eventually bringing the work to auction. At a time when Pop Art came into vogue, the works that they referenced were getting a second chance in the art market.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2016


DESIGN STUDY: WALTER ALBINI

I'm working on shooting the lookbook for my new collection and I keep coming back to the work of Walter Albini. Walter Albini was an obscure Italian designer until about 2010, when a book called, Walter Albini and His Times: All Power to the Imagination by Maria Luisa Frisa was published. I was given this book as a Christmas gift in 2010 and continue to reference the it for my own work today.

Being credited for pioneering Italian Prêt-à-Porter, Albini was among the first to create ready-made clothing in Europe. Prior to Coco Chanel, most women's clothing was made to measure through the early 20th century. But Albini, was said to be "the designer who came out de l'atelier to enter the factory." (For anyone who knows me personally, perhaps this is why I connect with him so much, given that I'm always in the trenches at the factories).

In his teens, Albini was the only male student to enroll at the Institute of Art, Design and Fashion in Turin, Italy, and by the mid 1960s, he was working as an illustrator in Paris. From here, Albini met Coco Chanelle, and worked alongside a number of designers including Mariuccia Mandelli, the designer of Krizia, and Karl Lagerfeld, who also worked with Krizia at the time. During this period, Albini studied the industrial methods of knitting and textile milling, and he worked to standardize sizing, cutting and sewing for ready to wear garments made in a factory setting.

After a successful and ambitious runway show that featured over 100 models (and 100 looks) in Italy in 1969, and working simultaneously with five major fashion houses in the early 1970s where he debuted the first-ever loose fitting men's shirt and bare breasts on the runway, Albini began his own line, Walter Albini (produced by then Italian 'it-brand' Misterfox) where he reimagined women in blazers, wearing trousers and shirt-dresses. Much like Coco Chanel's adaptation of menswear in women's fashion, Albini pushed the limits of modern women's dress, working to create a 'total look' with his designs, from head to toe, designing everything from buttons and fabrics, to clothing, hats, accessories, belts and shoes to complete the package.

During this time, Albini also designed several interiors to serve as spaces for showrooms and runway presentation venues where he showcased his work with other lines and his own to press and the fashion milieu, often setting tables just to be shot for Casa Vogue where he created tableware, flatware and other home goods using prints he designed for fabrics as details.

But without much commercial support, Albini struggled for a few years during the mid-1970s, eventually leaving his collaboration with Misterfox, opting to take a break from design to travel for a few years. Upon his return, Albini made an uncharacteristic comeback, creating two Haute Couture collections where he presented the idea of atelier-produced garments to be sold as ‘teletta,’ (his take on undergarments) or textiles to be worn in various ways. However, following these two collections, Albini returned to ready-to-wear, designing some of my favorite collections with Italian brand Trell as well as with his own line, up through the 1980s.

Sadly, Albini's life was cut short, at the age of 42 (I can't find the cause of his death anywhere), but despite his short career, he was not only was prolific in his fashion design, but his concepts of advertising, runway shows as performance and his overall approach to high fashion heavily influences the fashion world today. Loud music on the catwalk is played with thanks to Albini, high designed interiors for showrooms and retails stores were first made by him, and unisex clothing was taken a step further than Chanel had done it to encompass menswear for women and women's wear for men. His attention to detail, ability to see new ideas through and willingness to learn processes made him an inventor. Much of what I do is rooted in what Albini did before me, and I'm sure many other designers, whether they're conscious of it or not, are greatly influenced by the work of Walter Albini.

Walter Albini in his own design, 1976


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2015


PISS CHRIST FOR CHRISTMAS

Piss Christ, 1989

I'm actually not mad at Christmas this year, but that doesn't stop me from talking about Andres Serrano's Piss Christ this holiday season.

In 1987 artist Andres Serrano apparently put a crucifix in a jar of his own pee and took a picture of it. At first since the photograph only hit the art scene, it was actually well received, but by the time it re-exhibited in 1989 word had gotten around, and a ton of people were super pissed. Especially because the project was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and he got about $20,000.00 (of tax payer funding) for the work when it was all said and done. 

But in the endowment's defense, the parameters of the funding explicitly stated that content would not be controlled. Regardless, the artist received death threats and lost his funding as a result of the adverse reaction.  

To me "shock value" art is super dated, but in the 1980s through the 90s, it was huge and much needed. Anyway, Serrano claims he was not intending to shock anyone or to make a political statement by creating the work. Instead he wanted to leave its meaning ambiguous. But of course, whether he meant to or not, many people took the piece as a religious attack.

But who's to say he even put the crucifix in a jar of pee? That liquid could be anything. And even if it was pee, I don't see putting "Christ" in a jar of pee any less offensive than using "Christ" to rationalize racism. Both appeals to Christ are so far removed from Jesus as a person or the religion at this point, that they're almost one in the same.


Courtney Cady ©Bagtazo 2015


DESIGN STUDY: KAZIMIR MALVEVICH'S SUPERMATISM

Where there is flux, I search for continuity. Perhaps that's why I've decided to focus on Kazimir Malevich and Supermatism right now. As everything around me seems to be changing, I'm really feeling the common thread throughout Malevich's work.

Malevich was a Polish artist living in the former Soviet Union. Born in modern day Ukraine in 1879, he worked at a pivotal time in modern art history. Striving to further the abstraction of reality achieved by Cubism, Malevich created his own art movement he called Supermatism, publishing a manifesto, From Cubism to Supermatism in 1915. The term 'supermatism' was used because his aim was to achieve a sort of purity in the pictorial arts that would be superior to other art forms both in feeling and perception. Drawing upon the theories of the Formalists, literary and poetic critics in Russia who worked contemporarily with Malevich, the artist adapted notions of defying reason, pairing down to the essential elements of an artist's work. This took Cubism a step further, to very basic geometric shapes.

Through simple shape, Malevich was able to make an image, because the shapes were painted against a background. The relationship between the background and the geometric forms atop then created a sort of tension, which Malevich hoped would elicit pure feeling, devoid of logic and reason. The idea was to create illusions: with two dimensional space, three dimensional perspective, and infinity as an abstract concept of time and space. Through this, Malevich felt he was able to create things that had never existed before.

Citing Eastern Philosophy in his writings and mentioning god-like feelings during his work, Malevich had an undertone of mysticism behind his theories, which were contrary to both his Catholic upbringing and the atheistic views of Communist Russia. 

Working between WWI and WWII, Malevich's work was met with tension by the Soviet Communist Party. Beginning his career under Stalin and Trotsky, Malevich started his work during a time that has been called a "period of open idealism." Partly because of this timing, his work was recognized by the West, with his first solo exhibition in Berlin in 1927. But once Stalin took over Russia, all art was to be educational, so Malevich's work was confiscated for being "bourgeois," and he was prohibited from creating or exhibiting any longer. Malevich responded by saying, "Art can advance and develop for art’s sake alone. Art does not need us, and it never did.” For this, Malevich was taken to prison in 1930.

When he was released six months later he was given the options to either leave the country, never show anyone his work again, or he could become a realist painter. Though he was radical in his views, Malevich did try to appease his government by attempting a few realist paintings, and while the outcome was good, working in this style was short-lived. Having been forbidden to work as a Supermatist, Malevich left painting to design tableware and clothing until his death in 1935.

Despite the controversy around Malevich's work, mourners were permitted to wave his Black Square on a banner at his funeral. His ashes were buried beneath an oak tree, and a sculpture of his Black Square was placed as headstone. 

Malevich, in his mystical fashion, had requested that a telescope be mounted to one of his sculptures to be placed at the base of an oak tree (a specific tree he had said he felt connected to) so that visitors could view Jupiter, but this wish was unfulfilled. And perhaps for the better, because the entire memorial was sadly ruined during WWII. Apparently his family was compensated with a pension after the war, and then in 1988, a building on the original burial memorial was erected in his honor.


Courtney Cady ©Bagtazo 2015


DESIGN STUDY: ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG'S COSTUMES & SET DESIGN

Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Costumes by Comme des Garcons

I've been focused on dance history a lot lately. While studying dance, I've been reading about (and trying) Cunningham Technique. Cunningham Technique is a dance style based on the theory that dance and music should be able to exist independently of each other while sharing the same time and space. This technique was developed in the 1950s by choreographer Merce Cunningham and his partner, composer John Cage. The two worked together to create music and corresponding choreography that played a major role in the shaping of the American avant-garde from the 1950s through the millennium.

In the 1950s, Robert Rauschenberg, a former student of Bauhaus' Josef Albers at Black Mountain College (see my blog post on that dude from a few weeks ago, he rules), Rauschenberg began designing costumes for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Though Rauschenberg is mostly known for his work in Assemblage or Combine Art, his work with costume design, set design and lighting with Merce Cunningham and later, Cunningham's students Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown are the strongest elements of his work in my opinion.

Throughout his career, Rauschenberg not only designed sets, costumes, and lighting, but he also performed and choreographed his own works. Being an artist working in various genres, Rauschenberg blurred the lines between his performance work and his work with other media, often creating pieces in his studio that would later become props, such as Minutiae (1954), which was later used for a Cunningham performance, or First Time Painting (1961), that was made while Rauchenberg was on stage at the American Embassy in Paris as part of the performance Homage to David Tudor (1961). Rauschenberg also created scenery by using found objects and sounds, developing his concept of “live décor,” or scenery generated by human activity.

Rauchenberg performing in his own performance called "Pelican" (1963) after working with the Judson Dance Theater.

Rauchenberg's involvement with Cage and Cunningham positioned him at the cutting edge of postmodern dance, giving him access to performance on a greater scale. After nearly a decade with Cunningham, Rauchenberg worked with the Judson Dance Theater in New York during the 1960s (see my previous post on Meredith Monk for more on the Judson Dance Theater). The Judson Dance Theater is also one of my favorite parts of dance history because as an experimental collective, they included dancers, visual artists and performance artists, which resulted in performances free of narrative, emphasizing instead the purity of movement: sometimes conventionally dance-like, but also with mundane movements.

Through the 1980s to 2000, Rauchenberg continued designing costumes and working with performance, making a large body of work that is now considered art in its own right. Many of his pieces from sets and costumes are displayed in museums and galleries since his death in 2008.


Courtney Cady ©Bagtazo 2015




FEMALE STUDY: MEREDITH MONK'S ORDINARY OBJECTS

I'm in design mode again, and this time I've been referencing performance artists working in the 1960s and 70s to help me shape the tone of my next collection.

Lately my main focus has been on Judson Dance Theatre, which was a repurposed church that housed a number of avant-garde dance and performance artists working between 1962-1964 in Greenwich Village, NYC. With the help of Choreographer Robert Dunn and composer John Cage, performers at the Judson Dance Theatre worked to re-envision modern dance by eliminating its compositional constraints to incorporate ordinary gestures, which effectively created what is now known as postmodern dance.

Among the artists working in the Judson Dance Theatre, Meredith Monk's early work with site-specific performance, and her postmodern approach to dance and music has really struck me. While pioneering an interdisciplinary approach to performance, Monk incorporated everyday movements and sounds in her work with a classic postmodern stance. However, Monk took her work beyond traditional postmodernism by combining her interdisciplinary approach with consideration for the venue her performances were held. This unique technique made for some very interesting work, especially while she was in her early experimental phases.

(This video is unable to play on other sites, so click the "watch on youtuble" link to view)

16mm Earrings was one of Monk's first interdisciplinary pieces. The original performance was held at the Judson Church in 1966 which included sound loops that echoed in the theatre, and incorporated smells of formaldehyde and burning tires to provoke all of the senses of the viewers. The above video was a re-performance made in 1979 in effort to document the work. 

16mm Earrings was a sort of 'coming of age' work where Monk explored her sexuality, and began to form her own artistic identity outside of the influence of her postmodern predecessors at the Judson Dance Theatre. In an interview Monk explains her aim with the piece:

With the concept I had in 16mm Earrings I realized that anything in my life could be used as material: my hair, my body, my crossed eyes, anything about me physically or mentally. By reading [Wilhelm Reich’s 1940] The Function of Orgasm, I could objectify it. It wasn’t that I felt I was doing a confessional piece at all; it was just the opposite of someone like Karen Finley. It was taking anything of my being and making that a plastic material, like paint.

This distinctive interpretation of what 'ordinary objects' meant is what sets Monk's work apart from her contemporaries. Likewise, her willingness to reject minimalism in her theories and her aesthetic was a departure from her predecessors, making her work it's own niche of avant-garde.

After working with the Judson Theatre, Monk formed her own vocal ensemble. As Monk worked into the 1980s, her performance pieces pushed the limits of what she was accepting and rejecting from postmodernism even further, creating a number of bizarre, but provocative pieces. (I once read in an interview with David Lynch that in the 80s, the highest compliment one could give another person in regards to their art, was that it was "weird." Well Monk definitely wins the weird award for her work in the 1980s.)

The amazing strangeness I speak of can be seen here in Monk's Turtle Dreams(This video is unable to play on other sites, so click the "watch on youtuble" link to view)

Turtle Dreams was recorded for television in 1983, and incorporated Monk's interpretation of postmodern movement, as well as her own music, which took multi layered vocals and minimal droning instrumental music to set the mood for the entire piece. I really love the gloves on the synth player, as well as the expressions on the performer's faces. It's hard for me to believe that this actually aired on television, it's just so strange. 

But what makes this piece important, to me, is that Monk uses sounds and lyrics that aren't generally considered 'musical' as one of the focal points of the piece. What might seem like uncommon sounds though, are actually basic noises that all humans make outside of speaking formal language. And the common, however non sequitur lyrics or words stand out as odd or unlyrical, despite their being used in everyday language.  This combination makes for an almost oxymoronic juxtaposition that the viewer is left to sort out on their own.

What also strikes me as significant about Turtle Dreams is that the performance was made with the camera in mind. This approach, which is known as dance for film, is a matured version of site-specific performance that is basically a side effect of the ubiquity of motion picutres at the time.

During the 1980s Monk also filmed two features, Ellis Island and Book of Days. Again using an interdisciplinary approach, Monk uses her personal sound and movement techniques, as well as a dance for film approach.

Excerpt from "Book of Days," 1988

Book of Days isn't easy to find in full length, but of the excerpts I've seen, it's my favorite of the two features Monk made because of her use of 1980s anachronisms in a "medieval" period piece. I also really like her application of dance for film. The movements go in and out of frame with intention, which is like a way of directly breaking the fourth wall, without the performers actually interacting with the audience. 

However bizarre Monk's work might seem, I find her to be extremely influential, any strangeness aside. All the Portland art school 'weirdos,' the non-burners in Oakland, and everyone at the Smell in LA and Weird in NY circa 2002-2010 can thank Monk for her ability to take the ordinary and obscure it. Without her contributions to postmodern art, pop culture of the late 1990s through the millennium wouldn't quite have the flavor it does. 


Courtney Cady ©Bagtazo 2015


FILM ANALYSIS: PARIS EXAMINED THROUGH ROBERT FLOREY'S, 'THE LOVE OF ZERO'

The west is praying for Paris. But some are asking, "Why Paris?" With regular bombings in Beirut and Palestine, and a massacre that just happened in Kenya (again), why Paris? And to those people I ask: Is it because we are less attached to humanity than we are to our own lives? 

There are very uncomplicated answers to 'why Paris.' Because Paris is in the west, and we either know someone in Paris, or have been to Paris ourselves; Paris is familiar to us, so we collectively identify with Paris and Parisians in a way that we don't with other countries who have suffered similar violence. It's almost akin to this happening in New York. Plus, to put it simply, we aren't accustomed to things like this happening in Paris, whereas we have become numb to their happening in Palestine. (For better or for worse). And I'll leave the question of why violence is not 'supposed to' happen in Paris, yet we ignore it when it happens elsewhere to political activists, because I think the more important thing to ask is why people have more interest in themselves than they do with humanity as a whole in general.

But Camus, an Algerian disillusioned in Paris, already answered my question for us over 50 years ago. It is because life is absurd. We choose what is important to us based on personal identity, based on our own experiences, and still most of us wish to give meaning to the choices we make. As if they are anything beyond our own inclinations and principles. Perhaps because we find ourselves to be so important. But to me, none of what we care about does us any good if we think there are actual reasons for caring beyond our own interests. So what I am faced with now is the human experience. Because the commonality underlying our care for Paris, and the call for attention to other acts of violence, are just different degrees of the same experiential category: the importance of human life. 

Sometimes in order to see the humanity in large events like this, it is helpful to consider the individual experience. In order to do so, I thought we would consider two basic experiences, love and suffering. These two experiences are depicted on an individual level in Robert Florey's 1927 silent film, The Love of Zero. Though the film is usually regarded for its use of avant-garde techniques, and impressionistic use of light, I think we can also use the film to put ourselves in the shoes of others, to experience our own ideas of the value of human life first-hand. Plus the film was made by a Paris-born filmmaker who immigrated to the United States in 1921, so it seems fitting.

This film was originally silent, but everything that exists today has been put to music. This is the coolest version in my opinion. For an 'authentic' experience, the film can be muted.

In The Love of Zero, we follow the main character (Zero), who at the beginning of the film, falls in love with a girl named Beatrix. The film continues with Zero and Beatrix in the throws of love, but about half way through, Beatrix receives a letter saying she has to return to Kabul, where she was a concubine before meeting Zero. So to both of their dismay, Beatrix leaves Zero, never to return again. Following her departure, we see the suffering each person endures as a result of their lost love, each one having their own experience. It is because these two have a personal connection with one another that they are capable of grieving their loss in such a way. Without having first hand experience of each other, their care for one another would be dependent on each individual's care for humanity, which we have seen, is thus dictated by how much or how little one cares for themselves.

But later in the film, we learn that Beatrix is dead, and so we are left with the mourning of Zero alone. And it is curious that we see Zero's grief increase when he discovers that Beatrix is dead. They were to never see each other again, but somehow learning that she was no longer alive made it worse for him than if they simply had not been able to see each other. Perhaps this sentiment in part, stems from the hope of her escaping in the future, but it also exhibits the inherent value of human life, and how extremely valuable we perceive it.

When one is in love, they see the other person as part of themselves, so a lover becomes as important to us as we are to ourselves. In this same way, when we can identify with one individual, say a Parisian... we are moved to care for them because we can see ourselves in them. Others who think it important to extend a mass reaction to injustice all over the world perhaps think too much of humanity, because we know that the masses only care for themselves. And while it might seem liberal to care for 'more than Paris,' any reaction to the violence of life is a positive, so there doesn't seem to be a grave difference to me. This is not to say that the lack of reaction to massacres that occur regularly is justified, but to expect this of people, or to even see the need for a broader care of humanity, tells oneself more about her own wishes than it does about the short comings of society.

It is not an impossibility that one day people in the west can see themselves in the victims of violence in Beirut, but given that we all more or less care about ourselves, it would take a complete annihilation of the other for these views to catch on. And before I get too Ayn Rand for one blog post, I'll close with one last question: Given that revolution cannot happen over night, isn't it good when the masses react to violence at all?


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015