Monday, 27 January 2014

Auschwitz Day 2014

- Holocaust Memorial Day in Denmark

Back when the Jewish Museum Berlin opened, Ken Gorbey, who was their Project Director, showed me a map of Europe with the numbers of Jews killed in each country. The number across Denmark said 67. I still feel the shock of seeing the 67! - I think, I was screaming out something like SO MANY, it is a massacre - while Ken was pointing out the difference to the six-digit numbers written across each of the countries south of DK.

Almost all Danish Jews were saved escaping to Sweden in October 1943, a fact of which we shall always be grateful. But 67 (and a bit more, about a 100 in all) still constitutes a massacre, personalities, whose input was lost to Danish life and culture. And no one should ever be forced to leave home, risking his or her life in doing so. The two stories remain interlinked - the Shoah and the escape from it - which makes the iconic solution by Per Arnoldi all the more unique when given the task of creating a poster for the 50th. anniversary of the escape.

As he says himself, the poster had to be as simple as the story is grand, and he continues:

Per Arnoldi, October 1943, The 50th Anniversary of
The Escape and Rescue of the Danish Jews
. 100x70 cm. Saloprint, 1992.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Challenge in Blue

What on earth is The Blue Boy on to back there? - was the first thought when opening paper this Tuesday.

And so I had to read the article next to it. Bob Katzenelson once told how a friend had scolded him for having made a great drawing "which made me read the b… article and IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT!"

Per Marquard Otzen, "Blå hoveder /Blue Heads",
Politiken, January 21, 2014.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Arthistory in the Making

It is a rare treat to see an archetype take form, an image consisting of certain elements to be recognized across time, or in this case since it is still so new, across space.

Ammar Abo Bakr, Wall to the Faculty of Fine Arts, Luxor, January 18, 2012.
Photo courtesy of Ammar Abo Bakr.

The stenciled prototype ready to be distributed - at the addresses stated in the image itself.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Fearless Monumentality

Today marks WillisfromTunis' third anniversary, and while we are shouting Williiiiiis on t'aiiiiiime!!!!! - it is an opportunity to revise an old blog post and take a closer look at a cat we would sorely have been without these past three years:

Nadia Khiari, WillisfromTunis, December 17, 2013:
(President) Marzouki, (Prime Minister 2013-14, member of the Ennahda) Laarayedh
and (President of the Assembly in charge of drawing up the constitution,
which we shall finally see this January?) Ben Jaafar are absent
 from the third anniversary of the revolution for security reasons…
- What a band of cowards!
- and we, who wanted to give you presents
… and kisses….
Note, how cleverly the resounding of the words des bisous in itself adds innocence to the scene

The drawing above marks the third anniversary of the day Bouazizi set fire to himself in December 2010, while the drawing below is from the second day of WillisfromTunis' existence almost three years before in January 2011, when Bouazizi died of his wounds and the protests began to spread, culminating on January 13:

Nadia Khiari, WillisfromTunis, January 14, 2011.
 - The downfall of a banana republic caused by a banana vendor…
there is s certain justice in that.

The unique art work of art meets its beholder in 1:1. The work is created for the concentrated confrontation with the viewer. This is in other words his level:

Edouard Manet, Parisian, 1874,
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

The Parisian by Manet is a force. Not only through her sheer physical size. She overtakes the room in which she confronts the beholder at the same time as she steps back from the surface of the picture plane because she did not seek us in the first place and see no reason to explain herself to us. It is us who are drawn to her, and has anyone ever been able to remember afterwards any others in the room with her?

Art history refers to her as an example of Modernism's break with the characteristics and the game of illusions on a surface. She was not the first, though, her inspiration was quite a bit older, and Velázquez's portrait is even naughtier by allowing him to nail us by making eye contact:

Diego Velazquez: Pablo de Valladolid, 1636/37,
Museo del Prado.

So Willis is in good company, in direct line from the most daring masters of art history: Those who broke the rules by not disguising the picture plane behind a veil of figurative elements to negate the nature of the painting as painting.

They are all confronting us. Not drawing us in, but confronting us with our own world and its illusions, never letting us giving us a dream on the picture plane that we could lose ourselves in. The illustration below is from Willis' first evening and while Nadia Khiari let the drawings keep coming on Facebook testing if or when the line to the world outside would be shut down, this one turned out to be the first drawing where Willis took on a direct confrontation. This is Willis only, looking directly at us, with no hint of figurative elements on the picture plane.

WillisfromTunis on the very night of January 13, 2011:
Following the speech by Ben Ali promising freedom,
all the 404 not found-pages were suddenly found.
Free access to all porn pages!
- So what, I have long been castrated...

Porn sites tend to be the excuse to use a filter. This was the drawing in which I for my part as a naïve northern European learned that the code Error 404 may indicate a blocked page.

Speech too had been encoded in the form of metaphors before the revolution. With fear as a constant in all human relations. Speaking in direct sentences is then the triumph. Willis never appeals for an answer, he talks himself. The direct language has a poetic dimension by playing with words across two language families and new concepts are constantly thrown at us with Dégagé! as the epicenter.

"Dégagé" won an award as the keyword for the year 2011. It was used throughout the Arab Spring, but became emblematic of the revolution in Tunisia. The word can mean to leave, go, release what is stuck, retain, cleaning, weeding or clearing out and thus, as the grand old man of the French language, the linguist Alain Rey, concluded when he justified the price, it was also the symbol of elimination of all fear.

Willis transforms Dégagé! into imagery. He has given the revolution a face before it knew it was a revolution and while he is the same cat, he is the testimony that there is still a long way to go. He stands head on to test whether each new statement is possible. He is the direct outcome of the free speech made possible, never certain whether his words will be allowed and so giving it his all. Putaiiin!

The creation of a civil alliance against violence and for freedom!
- To oppose them we create an alliance so vile to violate freedom!
- you cannot do any better?
- to free violence?

Willis is a performance. Nadia Khiari refers herself to the French mixed media around 1968, when everything was to be tried and nothing was too much: From stand-up (Pierre Desproges and Coluche) the collages of advertising on print, cut to pieces and created into new combinations in magazines (Hara Kiri, since 1970 named Charlie Hebdo) and the drawn, twisted existence with the cigarette and a one-liner always on the lip (Philippe Vuillemin).

But there is also a sense of a condensation of a later date. Willis is a punker, the confrontational raw voice in the raw drawing. He has the timing of a stand-upper, for instance, which adds timing and direction to the roughness of what is said. The words have been framed in speech bubbles of increasing angularity and of the same texture as his own contour.

Nadia Khiari, WillisfromTunis, September 20, 2011:
 "- Well, Willis? How are you holding up against the pressure, the uncertainty,
the Bearded (the Salafists), the threats and political instability?
- I do drugs."
Willis the Drogue Addict in good company with Manet's Absinthe Drinker, 
his words locked into the broad cool of his jaw.

Before January 2011 created Nadia Khiari psychedelic universes in bold colors with chimeras of composite animals and a feeling of something suppressed and sick in the adventures before us. Imagery on a society in which everything had to be suppressed. Suddenly we were confronted by a punker cat in a bold black line, and when we look at the drawings from the first year, we instantly note that the development was in place from the very first drawing. Willis turns a bit more compact with time, but he was Willis as we know him from the very first, the language already fully formed. Nadia Khiari was a voice that was more than ready now that it was permissible to discuss the hallucinations:

28 days later….16 months later….Constitutiiiooon…
And we are still waiting for the constitution, this month they say?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Importance of Being Seen

It is one thing having the poster with us since 1908, magnificent as it is:

Valdemar Andersen, Children in Need Day, May 12, 1908.
Designmuseum Denmark. The photo was taken by me, which explains the poor quality for which I apologize.

But there is one aspect of it we lack in the aftermath:

Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa

Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa
It is said that posters at that time were hung in designated areas in the side streets, which in Copenhagen meant that they were seen from a very short distance. The typical meeting with the poster would not have been across a crowded public room, but a direct meeting between poster and beholder, which makes good sense in that the child is drawn in 1:1.

When you stand in front of it or rather him, you just wish you could lift him out of all that white space onto which is scattered a few crocuses, all too cold for a naked child. The white could hint at snow given the crocuses, but the plane is first and foremost kept in white to underline his nakedness freed from all connotations. The poster was about a charity for children in need, and this particular year the child was not presented as one in rags, but a child full stop.

The nine-month old Ib Andersen was the son of the artist himself, Valdemar Andersen. The acknowledged, but not stigmatized child is the very same approach Brigades Mona Lisa takes to their projects, having continually addressed poverty through the portraits of children: Children in a particular, underprivileged area, photographed and projected upon public walls in their own neighborhood and then painted in bright contrasts of light and shadow in one or two primary colors. Gigantic heads and the heads only, giving each child a face and magnetic presence:

Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa
Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa

They are not least given an existence in the eyes from the outside: Poverty is a political issue, a question posed to in order to be solved.

According to Webster's, the word poverty has been around in English since the 12th century. Which is an appalling long time, but not just that - the word itself implies that of "being in need" - in other words the necessity for change. It is a word that calls for action.

Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa

Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa. 

Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa.

The artists take action through their own means, demonstrating the empowering of those of no voice and doing so by giving them majestic proportions which most despots can only envy them. The empowerment works both ways as it is a manifestation too of what art can.

Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa

The little boy on the poster grew up to be one of those pesky cartoonists himself, who asks critical questions and transform them into drawings for everyone to see. For decades his full page drawings from the Sunday paper could be seen framed in next to every home in Denmark. 

Such is the importance of being seen when a child.

Brigades Mona Lisa in Ard El Lwa, October 5,  2013.
Photo courtesy of Brigades Mona Lisa.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

New Year's Greetings from Zwewla

Zwewla at Maison de Jeune Hammam Sousse, January 3, 2014.

Zwewla has created a New Year card in the shape of a mural. Quite small, as they say themselves, in that their economic means are non-existent at present. In itself a democratic problem when the democratic pioneers have no means to reach out. 

But small as the mural is, it is a precise statement with the iconographical elements we know so well from Zwewla. It consists of four personalities we lost in 2013. As read from the left in the order of the time of their death: Chokri Belaïd in February, Hugo Chávez in March, Mohammed Brahmi in July and lastly Nelson Mandela in December.

Friday, 3 January 2014

War Painting and Painting War

Weekendavisen - a Danish weekly paper - writes today of a new war painting on the Danish participation in the Nato mission in Libya in the autumn of 2011, when Gaddafi was toppled from power. The painting was meant to be part of a commission on a series of battle paintings, intended to renew the genre in our day and age.

From then on all went sour. The artist made different choices than the expected ones and the two commissioning parties deny who said what or even had the idea first. The story is not mentioned here to put the blame on anyone, the arguments are only too familiar. The very same positions, oppositions and plenty use of waiving are used every time. The expectations are high and have to be met, there are facts to be kept, such as getting the weapons right and then there is the fictional part. For one thing, victories are seldom clear entities outside of their narrative frames and so the commissioned artwork has to be cut to fit into said frames. It is a mise en scène, which all parties have to have in mind if the painting process shall have a positive end result. We have of course the magnificent examples from the past. Velázquez' portrayal of the handing of the Breda town key to the Spanish general ten years earlier, not least. We have before us a clear cut winner in front of a sweeping landscape, his art of weaponry is presented and the oversized, mighty beast of the general's horse is ready at hand. He might as well be mounted on its back hovering above everyone.

Everything is crammed into the picture plane and yet it works because of the artistic energy binding the narrative elements together to a whole while still letting each element seem to have a life on its own. Just take the two horses, the winning and the losing one whose gazing at each other adds another cross line to the composition and thus an added layer to the narration of the whole. The losing horse mimics the soldier in green, both confronting us from the losing side making sure that we stand humbly before such splendor:

Diego Velázquez, The Surrender of Breda, 1634/35, Museo del Prado.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Another Day at the Office

As it happens, one only notices Per

Per Marquard Otzen, "Buon Natale", Politiken, December 28. 2013.
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