Posts in FEMALE STUDY
FEMALE STUDY: RUTH ASAWA - RACISM AND THE FEMALE DOMAIN
 
  Shot on my iphone at the David Zwerner Gallery

Shot on my iphone at the David Zwerner Gallery

 

I recently caught Ruth Asawa's first solo exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. In the spirit of my current negative sentiment toward the lives we lead on the internet, I was happy to see artwork in real life, as opposed to my usual 1:00 am internet tours of artists' works.

I first discovered Ruth Asawa in 2015, while conducting research for a post on Eva Hesse. Asawa's most recognizable work incorporated wire. Considering she began in the 1950s, her use of such an "ordinary" medium put Asawa ahead of the curve, as it wasn't until the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s that artists in the United States and Europe were using ordinary objects to make art in what is now referred to as the post-minimalism period.

 
  Portrait by Imogen Cunningham.    Ruth and Imogen were good friends. I ❤️ Imogen Cunningham

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham.
Ruth and Imogen were good friends. I ❤️ Imogen Cunningham

 

Ruth Asawa was born in 1926, in Norwalk, California, roughly 10 miles inland from where I grew up, at a time when Southern California was mostly rural farmland. Asawa's parents immigrated to the US from Japan, and upon arrival in America, her father took work as a farmer. In 1942, during the Second World War, sentiments toward Japanese immigrants had plummeted due to Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, so Asawa's 60 year old father was detained by the FBI and taken to New Mexico for nearly two years. At age 16, Asawa, her mother, and five other siblings were forced to live in a converted horse stall at the Santa Anita Racetrack-cum-temporary Japanese Internment Camp, north east of Downtown Los Angeles. The location was usurped by the federal government and subsequently labeled an "assembly center" for eight months while more permanent residences were constructed. Throughout their six-month stay at the Racetrack, the Asawa family did not know where their father was, or if he was even alive.

Being a Los Angeles history buff, I'm shocked I had never known that the Santa Anita Racetrack served as an assembly center. I knew of Manzanar off the 5 freeway in the Southern Central Valley, but I was completely unaware that such a thing happened in my own [albeit historical] backyard. 

Once permanent housing was built for the Japanese throughout the country, Asawa's family was sent to the Rohwer War Relocation Center in a rural part of Arkansas, where nearly 5,000 displaced Japanese-Americans from California were forced to live. During this time, much like Trump's muslim ban, any Japanese American abroad was denied entry to the US. Ruth's eldest sister had been visiting family in Japan at the time of their internment, so she had to stay in Japan through the remainder of the war.

In her youth, Ruth Asawa had previously been put to work on her family's farm, but once she was interned, she started to draw. According to Asawa's biography, she was motivated by Disney animators also interned at Santa Anita Racetrack who taught art in the grandstands to anyone interested. (Disney studios then, were about 5 miles from the racetrack).

At Rohwer, Asawa continued to draw, and despite the inhumane conditions, she was able to continue her high school education and graduated after living interned for 18 months.

After graduating high school, Asawa was granted a scholarship in 1943 through the Japanese American Student Relocation Council, which was founded by a Quaker group in the Midwest. The scholarship allowed Ruth to leave Rohwer to attend college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Asawa's family was not as fortunate, and continued to live at Rohwer until 1945. The whole family was not reunited again until 1948.

 
  Asawa's ID that allowed her to leave Rohwer. This ID is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection.    Link to Source

Asawa's ID that allowed her to leave Rohwer. This ID is now part of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery collection. Link to Source

 

Continuing her education, Asawa attended Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina from 1946-1949. Because of the instability in Germany caused by WWII, the Bauhaus School in Dessau closed, and many of their teachers joined the diaspora of Europeans displaced from the war. Josef Albers, (one of my favorites; you can read an article I wrote about him here), sought refuge at Black Mountain College. So now we get this insane recipe: several talented artists working in the mostly conservative South, brought together by war; and not surprisingly, lots of magic happens. (One day I will do a lengthy article about Black Mountain College because it rules).

At Black Mountain College Asawa studied under Albers in his design courses, where she says she learned, "the importance of relationships and the relativity of perception."

 
 

Ruth Asawa's work made under Josef Albers

But here's where it gets really cool: There is a current exhibition at the Guggenheim that shows Albers' photos from his frequent trips to Mexico. The exhibition correlates these trips to his work and how his experiences of the country influenced Albers during this period. On one of these trips, Asawa accompanied Albers to Toluca, Mexico where she saw women weaving baskets out of galvanized metal and took interest in their technique. Having shown curiosity, she was taught to loop weave by one of Albers' colleagues during her stay. Asawa retuned home, and after graduating, started creating wire sculptures using the loop-weaving technique she learned in Toluca. 

Side Note - This is when I especially love living in New York. I've been reading about Josef Albers for over a decade, I then learn about Ruth Asawa completely independently of Albers, and somehow it all comes together in exhibitions that I can actually see in real life. Yes to living in the real world.

At Black Mountain College, Asawa also studied under Buckley Fuller, a mathematician-turned sculptor who used ordinary objects like bobby pins, and various readily available household items to build geodesic domes, and other three dimensional sculptures.

The combination of Albers and Fuller's teaching is very apparent in Asawa's work, yet what makes her work unique is that she applied a folk technique to the theories and methods she was taught, which was taken directly from her personal experience. (SO COOL).

 
  Portrait by Imogen Cunningham

Portrait by Imogen Cunningham

 

Asawa's wire weaving received national attention almost immediately following her graduation from Black Mountain College, but given that it was the 1950s, critics demeaned her work, calling it "domestic." Idk, I guess people think supended baskets that don't actually hold things are just women's work? And not helping her credibility even further, Asawa got married in 1960 and had 6 children, so critics continued to discredit her, calling her a "homemaker." 

From here it looks like Asawa moved to San Francisco, where she began arts programs for children. During her early years in San Francisco, she installed her first public sculpture in Ghirardelli Square, a bronze cast Mermaid nursing a baby mermaid. Of course, because of the 'feminine content,' critics again discredited it, calling the sculpture a "suburban lawn ornament."

Maybe this is why Ruth Asawa's first solo exhibition happened just last month. It's about fucking time, she's only been working for SIXTY YEARS. So infuriating. I know right now we talk a lot about intersectionality, but I just want to take a moment here to recognize something: Unlike LGBTQ people, women as a gender have had a 'place in society' since the beginning of modern humanity, yet even now, a woman who has been working for over 60 years is getting her first solo exhibition in New York. Sure, a piece here and there at the Whitney or SFMOMA is an achievement, but I've studied plenty of men from this era who had solo exhibitions right after they became well-known. (I just wrote an article about Claes Oldenberg, an artist who fucking sewed stuff for crying out loud... how is that not considered 'domestic?' – oh right, he's a man... never mind he often had the help of his ex-wife in sewing the sculptures.) RARRR, makes me so mad. 

But I digress, at least her work is being shown. Below are pictures I took on my iphone from the exhibition. Finally, Ruth Asawa is getting the recognition she deserves.

 
 

COURTNEY CADY, © BAGTAZO 2017


BIBLIOGRAPHY

RUTH ASAWA (HOMEPAGE), 2017

DAVID ZWIRNER (HOMEPAGE): RUTH ASAWA, 2017

THE LIVES THEY LIVED: RUTH ASAWA. ROBERT SULLIVAN, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2013


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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




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


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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



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



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


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.

VIDEO: 16 MILLIMETER EARRINGS, 1966
(This video is unable to play on other sites, so click this link 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(Monk doesn't allow her videos to be embedded on other sites, so please click this link to watch)

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



FEMALE STUDY: EVA HESSE & POSTMINIMALISM

Every designer likes to think of themselves as original in some way, but I also like to consider my influences, who my predecessors are, and which of my contemporaries work in a similar vein. I like to do this with other trends and design themes, in order to get a better understanding of where they're coming from.

This month I participated in COEUR Tradeshow for LA Market Week, and was struck by the repetition of postminimalism in accessory design. Though postminimalism came about in the 1960s, and remained a dominant style in art and music through the 70s, there seems to be a new wave of postminimalism in artisanal wares as of late.

At the show, I saw a lot of pieces that resembled the late artist Eva Hesse's work, made in the 1960s. Using misshapen, almost playful lines, the application of rope and other everyday objects; materials containing many characteristics of postminimalist visual art: necklaces, pottery, bags, and apothecary goods by designers from New York, California, and even Australia are being made in this style. This new movement makes sense to me, as designers are likely reacting to the very minimal trends of plain sack dresses and monochromatic outfits that permeated the last five years of fashion.

But now that we're here collectively, I think it's important to study a forerunner. Both to pay homage, and to better educate ourselves on what has already occurred so that we might build upon, rather than repeat.

Eva Hesse was born in Germany in 1936 to a Jewish family. During WWII Hesse and her sister were sent to England to flee the Nazis, and were met by her parents a few years later. Once reunited, she and her family went to New York in 1939 where they lived together in Washington Heights until 1944 when Hesse's parents divorced. A year later, her mother committed suicide. Hesse was only ten years old.

Hesse had an impressive art education, having graduated from the School of Industrial Art in New York as a teen, followed by brief studies at Pratt Institute of Design and Cooper Union, before receiving a BA from Yale in 1959. At Yale she studied under Josef Albers, an abstract expressionist who greatly influenced Hesse.

Following her education, Hesse met her husband, sculptor Tom Doyle. The two went to Germany together in 1965 where they lived in an abandoned textile factory during Doyle's artist residency. Living in a dilapidated industrial space, Hesse began to use left over parts from factory machines and other industrial materials in her work. 

Though the year in Germany with Doyle ended in divorce, Hesse's work was forever changed. Returning to New York, she focused solely on sculpture – moving away from painting to working exclusively with three dimensional objects. 

Hesse's 'anti-form' style, along with her use of latex, resin and other industrial materials gained recognition, allowing her to exhibit her work of large-scale sculptures in a solo show at the Fischback Gallery in New York in 1968. But four years after Hesse returned to New York, the same year of her first solo show of sculptures in the US, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Hesse underwent three surgeries before dying a year later at the age of 34, ending her career at a mere 10 years of work.

Though Hesse was not an outright feminist, she did call her work "feminine" because she was a woman. Nevertheless, in addition to influencing designers today, she also impacted feminist artists from the late 60s through the 80s with her ability to find recognition and to live as a working artist during a time when the art world was dominated by men. Hesse had six exhibitions in the short ten years she worked, two of which were solo shows, something that was virtually unheard of for a woman at the time.

Though Hesse's life and work were cut short, her legacy lives on, and great efforts have been made to preserve her early paintings, as well as her later drawings, drafts, and sculptures. To this day, Hesse's work is debated among critics because of the difficulty in discerning what of her work is complete, and whether to call a drawing a draft for future sculptures, or finished work. Hesse has had numerous posthumous retrospective shows, as much of her work is in the collections of the Guggenheim, MoMA, and other art centers around the world.


Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015


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FEMALE STUDY: ANA MENDIETA

Whenever I go into design mode, I think about gender bending and unisex or un-gendered fashion, which always takes me on a fun ride. While rifling through moodboards, I began studying the work of Ana Mendieta, the late artist whose work with the female body in the 70s and 80s forged the way for women in the contemporary art world.

Aside from a few images, I knew very little about Mendieta before my study, as I mostly encountered her work on tumblr. But Mendieta's story is actually quite compelling, and I now consider her a significant part of American art history.

Mendieta came to the US as a refugee from Cuba at age 14 with her sister. She lived in refugee camps her first few weeks in the US before being placed in foster care in Iowa, where she eventually went to art school before working in Mexico and New York City. At this time, identity was a big topic of discussion, and working with blood had become a medium exclusive to the feminist artist. Mendieta applied both mediums as a means to convey somewhat autobiographical performance works she called "earth-body" work.

Her early pieces made in Mexico, Silueta, included explorations with body art and land art, where the female body was used almost as a corpse that became part of the landscape.

Upon her return to the States, she produced, Chicken Piece, in reaction to the rape of a student at the University of Iowa, where she covered herself in feathers, using blood and a decapitated chicken.

Then in 1982 she performed works she called, Body Tracks, where she used her body as a stamp and blood as the ink

I really love how blood was used as a sign of femininity in her work.

But just as her reputation was growing momentum, Mendieta fell to her death in 1985. This topic is pretty controversial because it was during a drunken argument with her husband (artist, Carl Andre) and it is unclear how Mendieta fell out the window of their 33rd floor apartment. Some speculate that he pushed her out, but the court ruled after a three year trial that she accidentally fell out or perhaps jumped out because there was enough reasonable doubt that Andre didn't kill her.

Seven years after Mendieta's death in 1992, activists holding signs that read, "Where is Ana Mendieta?" blocked the entrance of the Gugenheim Museum's opening show as a means in part, to discuss her enigmatic death, but also to highlight the absence of female artists in high profile exhibitions. It is said that there were more than 500 women present, so I'm not sure why I can't find photos. (I guess mainstream media didn't cover it and people didn't have iphones. And also probably because the stuffy art assholes were bummed about it). But what remains as a legacy is included in a book released in 1999 called, Where is Ana Mendieta?: Identity, Performativity and Exile, by Jane Blocker.

I have yet to read Blocker's book, but as I said, I think Ana Mendieta is an important figure in American art history. Not just as a female, but also as a representative for immigrants exiled to the United States. She played a major role in performance in the 1970s and 80s, experimented with land art, brought blood to the white wall gallery setting and helped voice the feminist movement even after her death.

Bad. Ass.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo, 2015


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