Critique Collective

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Tag: philosophy

Axiological Discourse on Material and Textual Metanarratives: Gabriel Weinstock

Gabriel Weinstock is an emerging installation artist working in Brooklyn, New York. He is a recent graduate of Bennington College, where he acquired a Bachelor’s degree while studying sculpture. Weinstock’s recent works focus on the shared personal experiences of viewer and artist, exploiting the various cultural metanarratives that define the meaning behind recognizable materials. His artwork is also available for view on his website.

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Paul Weiner:
When do aesthetic concerns come into play in your work?

Gabriel Weinstock:
In both my text and installation work I think a lot about order and organization, form and function. I think about aesthetics in terms of specificity and idiosyncrasy. I do not like work with aspects that feel arbitrary or that only serve some utilitarian purpose. There should be a reason for everything that is used and exists within a work. It is that specificity that makes a work of art cohesive; it is what makes a work a definitive statement. The viewer should have to confront and engage with the ideas that the work proposes. Specificity is what makes a work of art believable.

I like to make stuff, so I end up spending a lot of time on the various components present in my installations. Making helps give the work clarity, both physically and emotionally. Each aspect is distinct, even the forms that are repeated (like in Convex; undertow and Concave; undercurrent). I think that being able to see my hand in the work helps the viewer trust it. I like to use a lot of materials that feel nostalgic or familiar, like faux fur and how it seems to hint at a childlike fascination with other living creatures, textures, and stuffed animals. When these materials are used to create obscure objects rather than recognized forms, it forces the viewer to become idiosyncratically involved with it. These objects of concurrent natures force the viewer to search for its familiarity through referencing and remembering their own life experiences.

In my text work, my aesthetic concerns have everything to do with establishing their plausibility as documents. They are somewhat contradictory in nature: is it the documentation of raw information presented as art or is it art that is presented as a document? I have done a lot of research on cataloguing systems and antiquated record keeping methods, and this has become the basis of how a lot of the information is presented. How the words and numbers are formatted and the punctuation is used helps build connections and produce narratives. Because so much of the information is so personal, I think a lot about the material the text is on, or the location that it exists in to indicate that a narrative does exist and that the information is not random. This helps the viewer bring the work into their own experience.

People have called my work minimalist, and I am not averse to the comparison. A lot of my installation work is gestural, with parts pulling towards and away from one another, creating lines that divide and redefine space. And the conceptual ideas that drive my work often result in comprehensible lists. I think that this “minimalism” allows for my space and concepts to collide and coexist with the viewers.

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Paul Weiner:
To what extent do you find physical materials thought provoking? For instance, how did you decide on using steel and paper in From First, To The Last?

Gabriel Weinstock:
I think a lot about the materials that I use. All materials have value, so whatever is being used must be considered and assessed. Nothing can be secondary because the viewer will have some kind of reaction, whether they know it or not. I spend a lot of time trying different things out, seeing if they convey the idea that I am after. I think that a lot of art is self-defined, so, if something exists within the work that is not a part of the definition, it can muddle the whole thing. Our understanding of materials is multifarious. We see and understand their physicality: weight, color, durability, etc, but we also experience them through our cultural experiences: age/history, cost, location, etc.

The choice to use both steel and paper in From First, To The Last  was a product of this thought process. The paper came first. I had no intention of making the steel plates. I thought the paper would be the work. But when I had finished, it became clear that something was missing. Although the paper was acting the way I had wanted, it did not quite express the weight of the experience the work was about. The steel entered the work to express an idea that was very much so about its physicality. But together they express the conceptual notions of the work. The paper has a history; it was taken from my childhood home. My father had accidentally ordered the wrong paper for his office and it had been sitting around the house since before I was born. I found the steel. It was incredibly rusted, and I spent hours cleaning and then stamping it. Although these may be parts of the work that only I know about, I think they become a part of the viewer’s experience. On a surface level, the materials contradict one another, but when the work is further investigated they begin to work together, creating a narrative. The paper speaks to some archival process while the steel conveys the weight of time and its longevity.

 

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Paul Weiner:
What is the ideal forum for viewing your work?

Gabriel Weinstock:
I am interested in art that fills spaces. That is why I often think of curators as artists too. Curators are not just facilitators. They are artists that specialize in the art of collection. I try and work collaboratively with my friends who are interested in curatorial practice as much as possible. They see things that maybe I don’t, especially when it comes to group shows. An exciting aspect of working with curators is that the conversations often result in the consideration of non-traditional spaces and environments for the work.

Most, if not all, of my installation work is site specific, so it is helpful to work with someone who is able to push me to think about unfamiliar and, often, challenging spaces. In this sense, I try not to think in terms of ideal forums because every piece is different. Granted, while I am working, I place the work in a metaphysical space to help me make decisions about it.

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Paul Weiner:
Conceptual installation art often presents a challenge in that the viewers must comprehend the visual language an artist presents, thus placing a heavy onus on context. This can be further complicated by the inclusion of text. Do you think the universal themes of your work would be as powerful on display in an international exhibition in a country that does not speak English as a first language?

Gabriel Weinstock:
My interest in memory, at least consciously, came about while reading a translated version of Don Quixote. Since then, a lot of my work, or ideas for my work, were inspired by literary works. What is interesting about Don Quixote is that the entire form of the story is based on the recounting and translation of the story about the man known as Don Quixote. The reader is constantly evaluating the information given to him, questioning its authenticity and reliability. This relationship creates a character out of the reader. I strive for my work to create a similar relationship with the viewer. Translating texts really is an art form. It is the task of taking the idea and the sentiment that exists in one language and putting it into another truthfully.

Conceptual work is often experienced through multiple layers of narrative. Despite this, the initial idea originated at the artist, who is unavoidably a product of a specific culture. This subjects the work to being a part of that culture. This does not have to problematic. Although my ideas are reflections on the world I grew up and currently live in, the work I create is an attempt to bring attention to the commonalities among disparate experiences. The information I present is an effort to create characters out of the viewers. Dates and places are universally understood, and I think that these are able to be translated. I display dates and locations in a way that is intentionally under-mediated. I don’t want the viewer to (and I am not so sure they could) figure out what my narrative is. It is through their attempt to figure out the story that it becomes their own. Fragments from my own idiosyncratic experience are also someone else’s. This is what I am interested in.

I do think if I was to exhibit work internationally, I would be very conscious of content. I would either exclude English words, relying primarily on locations and dates or I would collaborate with a translator. I think that would be a lot of fun, creating a text work that was consciously and cohesively in two languages.

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Paul Weiner:
Many of your works seem to revolve around the concept of time. How did you settle on time as a theme?

Gabriel Weinstock:
I’m not sure if I ever “settled” on time. I have been intrigued by the notion of time for as long as I can remember. Installation art helped me realize and understand why it was important to me. Before installation, I had had a hard time articulating what it was about time that I wanted to represent, and I lacked the visual language to explore it with. It wasn’t until I created an installation in 2010 entitled Technology is Fragile that I began to develop an idea of how I could continue to explore time as a theme and concept. I think that my awareness of time, specifically in regards to family and genealogy, is a product of being adopted at birth. My adoption has never been a point of contention, but it has made me hyperaware and curious about one’s history and the importance of family both legally and psychologically. I think that my experience and my history is what has driven and influenced a lot of the ideas in my work. I have explored adoption explicitly in From First, to the Last and implicitly through the use of the archive and materials I choose to use.

What I like about time is that everyone experiences it. It exists for us both idiosyncratically and culturally. It allows us to have a basic understanding and connection with one another. Time’s universality presents a near infinite number of possibilities for its exploration and representation in artworks.

Time and art cannot be separated. It is present when we talk about specific art movements and is transient when we talk about the contemporary. I think time’s dualities and contradictions are part of what makes it so interesting. I feel them in my life and in my history; creating work helps me better understand these complex and confusing ideas and feelings.

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Convex; undertow.

Paul Weiner:
What was the process for creating Convex; undertow, both conceptually and physically?

Gabriel Weinstock:
The conceptual and physical aspects of my work tend to manifest simultaneously; they rely on one another and are continually in conversation. Completing a work does not mean that I fully understand its meaning. The conceptual ideas of the work shift and take on specific meaning as its physical aspects are evaluated and adjusted.

When I begin an installation, I tend to have an idea of the materials and pieces I want to include. I do multiple preliminary drawings, which helps me figure out what I need to make. This is how the conceptual notions of the work start to find specificity. My drawings help produce questions and find answers. For instance, how many faux fur medicine balls should I use in the installation? Why that many? Does that number represent something? Convex; undertow was somewhat of an anomaly because I knew the exact space I was going to be using ahead of time. This did not cause me to prematurely conceptualize the visual aspects or arrangement of the work. Instead, it allowed me think about how I wanted the space to feel and be interacted with so, when I was finally installing the work, I felt secure in what I was after. That guided the installation process.

I make the varying physical aspects of the work before installing anything, such as the faux fur medicine balls or casting concrete. When the objects are complete, I begin installation. The drawings become less relevant during this stage because the space is what dictates the installation. I usually bring everything that I would like to use into the space and quickly sketch out some possible arrangements. These drawings help me place some of the bigger or heavier parts, like the steel plates in Convex; undertow and the concrete block. From there, I start trying different arrangements out by connecting chains, figuring out where the balls fit in, etc. I am looking for the arrangement that feels the most cohesive and is true to the feelings and questions I want the installation to evoke. As I go through this process, the conceptual notions become more defined. I start to better understand what I want the work to say through the decisions that go into the arrangement of its parts. This is what led to the medicine ball on the floor, the broken chain links littering the floor, and the concrete block being labeled with its weight. These aspects were not planned. They were added as the installation progressed. These details helped define the work and the space that it exists within in.

When the installation is complete, I tend to reflect on the ideas that I think are a part of it and what is allowing them to be communicated. I often, if not always, discover that there are ideas present in the work that I hadn’t been able to articulate at its start. These ideas are what lead into the next work. In the case of Convex; undertow, it was Concave; undercurrent.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you ever have trouble finding a location for installation work? Do you create your installations in a studio or on-site?

Gabriel Weinstock:
Finding places where I would like to install work is never difficult. I see them everyday, but getting permission to use them is a struggle. At the moment, I am trying to focus my energy on proposals for a few different spaces. All of my installations are created on-site and my studio isn’t the most ideal space for working on them. I am always working on smaller pieces that I would like incorporate into installations, but, without a space or a deadline, its hard for those ideas to become fully realized.

When one is an undergraduate, they are constantly given project deadlines, which results in the production of  a lot of work in a short period of time. When school is over, it seems like that is how work is suppose to get made. It is a challenge to get out of that mindset. Currently, I am trying to work consistently and consciously without letting myself stress out about how much is getting done.

Recently, I have been working collaboratively on a couple different projects. Creating work with, and not just around, other people is new to me, and I am really excited about it. It has been hugely helpful in a few different ways. It’s resulted in ideas and concepts that I would not have  come up with on my own, and the collaboration keeps everyone focused. The additional input has increased the list of potential spaces and has helped me stay optimistic, determined, and confident about acquiring one to show new work in.


Please view Gabriel Weinstock’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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Jac Saorsa’s Exploration of Illness through Painting

Jac Saorsa is an artist from the United Kingdom, currently based out of Cardiff. She holds a PhD from the University of Loughborough, a MPhil in Philosophical Aesthetics from Glasgow University, Scotland, and studied drawing and sculpture at the New York Academy of Art. Saorsa has worked and taught all over the world. Her recent work focuses on representations of cancer in the 2D picture plane. Saorsa’s work can be found online.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you begin a new painting? Describe your conceptual and physical processes.

Jac Saorsa:
Drawing and painting are, for me, so intimately related that a significant part of my process is about finding a way in which the two disciplines can coexist on an equal basis in the same piece. I have an innate need to draw – it has always been there. For me, to draw is a passion, and the practice of drawing creates a fundamental relation between my hand and my eye that is engendered in a parallel relation between sight and insight. I trained in the craft of drawing so that I could have even a chance of realising what intuition and passion dictate.

The process that is my practice in terms of painting is long and often plagued by a struggle between deliberacy and intuitive elation. This struggle is necessary although sometimes it can be as destructive as it is constructive. My innate need to draw fought struggles to find a balance with the sometimes overwhelming passion that is inherent in the way I strive to use paint. My relationship with my work is a negotiation that is perpetuated by a succession of fragile compromises. I would describe the process as a complication between the craft itself and the subject matter, the latter being fundamentally a visual study of human subjectivity. I work towards compatibility between drawing and painting, which is often realised by my literally drawing into the paint using the wrong end of the brush. It is in the details that understanding and meaning breathe and survive.

Head 3

Head 1

Woman's head

Paul Weiner:
Could you explain the concept behind your “Drawing Women’s Cancer” series? How has this series affected you as an artist?

Jac Saorsa:
I am a visual artist and a writer, and I work with the body as form and with the psyche as content. I have a passion for exploring the complexities of existential subjectivity, most especially with what I see as the inescapable conflict between robustness and frailty in terms of our engagement with the perceived reality of our world. In my work, I focus on how my own lived experience is both influenced and sometimes reflected by that of the ‘other’ and I understand my practice as a whole as a kind of creative multilingualism, a process, a perpetual dialogue that derives from an interpenetrative symbiosis between visual and conventional language and which reflects a far more fundamental narrative, the subtext that underwrites our existence both as individuals and in relation to the ‘other’. Despite my interest in the experience of the ‘other’ my work up until Drawing Women’s Cancer has most often been from a detached perspective, and as much as I liked to think I was engaging with humanity, I was, as an artist, isolated in terms of my own making. This changed however, and I felt – still feel – quite vulnerable having had to move out of the protective shadows of my private practice.

The project came about through a discussion with my co-researcher, gynaecological surgeon Dr. Amanda Tristram. She asked me if I could draw how it ‘feels’ to have cancer. I thought I could. The work is fundamentally premised in a conceptual and methodological extension, through visual practice, of narrative medicine, narrative itself, as according to its professed founder Rita Charon, being a powerful “magnet and a bridge, attracting and uniting diverse fields of learning.” The focus of the work is based on what I understand as the profoundly inclusive nature of narrative, wherein writing and imagery can be understood as equal in terms of their capacity for generating dialogue, in this case between creative practice and scientific intervention.

My involvement as an artist is perhaps superseded by my involvement in the project as a human being. I engage with the ‘other’s’ lived experience of illness through having long and often very revealing conversations with women who are suffering gynaecological cancer. These conversations take me to a particular part of our world that Sontag describes as the “kingdom of the sick” and the women citizens of this kingdom welcome me as a kindred soul even though they know that I live, without pain, in the “kingdom of the well.” They understand that actually we all hold ‘dual citizenship’, and through listening to and immersing myself in their stories, I share sharing their certain, yet often unacknowledged sense that divisibility between objectivity and subjectivity is impossible in terms of experience. Their spoken stories then are the driving force of Drawing Women’s Cancer, but at the same time as dialogue dictates my creative process there is a meta-language that the process itself evokes that goes beyond the parameters of individual experience. This is where the work itself becomes far more autonomous than other work I have done. It engenders the meta-language that comes alive through the viewer’s subjective experience of the drawings and the continuing dialogue that this experience provokes.

Diagnosis

Dying Child (detail)

Paul Weiner:
Would you consider philosophy to be an imperative course of study for contemporary artists?

Jac Saorsa:
Philosophy for me has never really been manifest in a particular course of study, it has rather been something that I have lived, and created my art through, even though I may not have been aware of it at the time. Very early on – its not important to remember when any more! –  I read somewhere that Existentialism was not so much a school of thought but more a way of being. That felt so natural to me. I read more and more – mainly continental philosophy – and I did indeed go to university and gain academic qualifications, but it didn’t really feel like study, rather a continuous dialogue I was having with all these writers. My conversation with Gilles Deleuze has been the most prolonged. His ‘manner’, a tempestuous honesty, characterises his chaotic reasoning that persists like Ariadne’s thread through plethora of references that continuously lead off along innumerable tangents, and the way he uses, and clearly loves, literature…all of these things keep me in dialogue with him. He says however – and I agree on the whole – that philosophy is not about communication, or contemplation, or reflection, and indeed these could be conceived as passive. It is rather about the active forming, inventing and fabrication of concepts. He distinguishes philosophical concepts from general ideas, from scientific prospects and from artistic percepts and affects, and this is all well and good but for me, such forming and inventing of concepts remains, in essence, aesthetic process. My practice crosses boundaries between art and medical science and neither takes precedence over the other in terms of the work that ensues from the diverse relations I find between them. Diversity I think is the true basis for my constantly ‘wondering’ approach to the relation between thought, feeling and action that engenders the creative process, and this is inevitably unending, multifaceted and definitely non-linear. Where the open-endedness of process and the constant dialogue between idea and execution is addictive, I have suffered (?) such addiction since birth. A questioning that may or may not be philosophical, yet is certainly derived from philosophical thinking, as it is generally understood, is certainly then a personal imperative that pervades my practice as a whole.

So, and to answer the original question! – imperative is a strong word. But from a personal perspective, where philosophical study has clearly been a crucial aspect of what I do as a contemporary artist, in its sense of urgency and vitalism, imperative may well be the right word. Whether I would consider philosophical study to be imperative for others however is a different issue. I must hesitate. There can be nothing dictatorial in art so I will restrict myself to saying only that, in my view, an intuitive and productive awareness of philosophical thinking, if not imperative, is certainly something that can challenge any ‘shallowness’ in contemporary art practice and is therefore very important. Such awareness is undoubtedly enhanced by academic study, but it is not necessarily tied to it.

Amputee (after Muybridge)

Abjection

Has he eaten

Paul Weiner:
Does working as a teacher impact your own work? To what extent are you teaching the students or are they teaching you?

Jac Saorsa:
It may be a cliché, but the idea that ‘teaching is learning twice’ does resonate with me. I would like to think that I never stop learning, in all aspects of my life, and it is therefore with a sense of exploration that I approach things. Teaching is a ‘living’, organic process for me. Working with students is rewarding in its own right and it also helps to maintain the constant questioning attitude that pushes on my own practice, even while I am helping them with theirs. So yes, I do feel that teaching can be a reciprocal process.

Teaching art is clearly not only about skills and technique, it is far more encompassing of the way we all engage with the world as a whole than that, but sadly, in my experience of teaching in Higher Education in the UK, the emphasis has become less about education of any description, and more about making money and status at the expense of the students’ quality of experience. Skill and craft seem definitely to have become ‘dirty words’ (drawing for example, surely fundamental skill, has little importance in many fine art curricula) leaving students bereft, with albeit plenty of ideas, but lacking in the ability to actually execute them. Teaching is often reduced to setting projects that are undertaken with minimal tutor contact and this situation has, I think, a lot to do with the significant rise in uptake of places at private institutions by students who are dissatisfied with what they are offered at university art schools and more concerned with gaining the skills necessary to express their true potential, rather than simply obtaining a degree certificate. 


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Provoking the Patriarchy: Elle Kennedy

Elle Kennedy is a 23 year old artist from the United Kingdom who lives in a state of flux between London, Brighton, and Bath. Having studied design and fashion history at Brighton University, Kennedy’s work deals with the contemporary discourse on fetishization through the lens of a transgender woman.

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Paul Weiner:
How do you begin a new work of art? Take us through your material process.

Elle Kennedy:
My everyday life, the experiences of my friends and family, and the transgender experience internationally are the sources of my inspiration. I usually take a good few weeks to develop an idea for a piece, as I like my final work to have a coherent and strong concept behind it. Most of my ideas come about during bouts of insomnia where I find myself analyzing my life and the lives around me.

When creating pieces which deal with the transgender experience internationally, I take extra care to honor the message about trans women in grim situations, with sensitivity and authenticity. Once I have decided upon my idea, I then decide upon a suitable color palette, which has to compliment the black and white backdrop.I consider the colors of what I am wearing in the image, the colors of additional materials which I may layer onto the piece, and the tone of the photographs which I alter through basic copying and scanning techniques, whether I want a ‘bluey’ moody tone or a bright, flushed tone. I then chuck all my props into my rucksack and use local photo booths to take the pictures. This is an essential aspect of my work.

I’m interested in the ideas of trans women being perceived as violating the heteronormative sphere through using what is essentially such a public, open, generic, and common space to create deeply personal trans-related art that, to me, seems like something of a statement of defiance but also self empowerment. I like the idea that the tiny curtains found in photo booths are shielding me from the criticisms and scrutiny of others whilst I chaotically, and often messily, create my images.

I’m also interested in ideas around on-the-go or fast art, as this fits my lifestyle and mindset. Photo booths facilitate this. Once I have created my images, over a few days, I reproduce the images, often altering them, savagely gluing, layering the images over one another, and changing the order of the images to suit my concept. I use thick, cheap tyre markers, permanent pens, and sometimes paint to complete my aesthetic. I consciously use almost ran-out and old tools to communicate austerity and thrift. I hastily scrawl the slogans and messages onto my work in a way which suggests the pieces are worthless scraps and disposable. I consider this to be branding or labeling my work. The titles of my work are consciously confusing, literal banal, or tacky much like the titles of a porn film, a b movie, or a gaudy flop pop song.

I like to think that my work would look suitable in a gallery, a bin, or a telephone box like a prostitute’s calling card, as if my pieces are cheap pieces of trash easily disposed of. This very much relates to the perception of women, including trans women, being disposable objects to be visually enjoyed then forgotten, disposed of, or even killed. Hence, the last square on my pieces is often black or cut out to symbolize this.

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Paul Weiner:
Have you found it hard to find your place in the art world given your position as a transgender woman?

Elle Kennedy:
I’ve been making art for years, but it’s only recently that I’ve felt confident enough to go public, share, and expose it for opinion criticism and hopefully success. The reason why I’ve taken so long to share my art is some of the pieces intimate nature. Transitioning is an incredibly public ordeal, be it coming out to friends and family, taking those initial baby steps, dabbling with one’s style, voice, etc. whilst facing ridicule, scrutiny, criticism, and possibly violence. I really struggled with the public nature of transition and therefore enjoyed being able to keep my art private, to myself and a few very close friends.

My art is something of a diary. I only feel confident enough now to share that diary with the world. My art directly addresses the public nature of transition – the voyeurism of the critical stranger in the street, the fantasies of the “trannychaser” – a heterosexual male who fetishizes trans women. But, mostly, my pieces help me articulate within my own mind the realities of my identity. I suppose the art world has always been a refuge for those who may be classed as the “other” within society. Despite being a regular gal in most ways, I’m constantly made aware of my “other” status, and I communicate this status within my work. Jean Michel Basquiat, my biggest influence and favorite artist addressed his “other” status within his work. His dignified yet confrontational methods of doing this have been a huge influence upon me.

My work addresses a broad range of topics such as the socioeconomic positioning of women within society and questions about the contemporary female experience. I would hope that this quality of my work resonates with all women, transgender or not.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us about your interests conceptually.

Elle Kennedy:
I’m very much interested in the ideas of the public sphere, the private sphere, and the blurring of the two. Social networking has enabled this blurring of the two spheres. I’m fascinated by how much people are willing to share about themselves. I personally share very little of myself though social networking, but I choose to metaphorically whore myself out through my art to tell stories of the modern female experience.

Since first stumbling across them as a child, the calling cards of sex workers have fascinated me. Who are these women and men hiding behind false names, dated photos, and cheeky slogans enticing punters? The poses, slogans, and fake name I use in some of my pieces reference the calling cards and the lives lived by these people. I refer to death in many of my pieces to communicate the fate that many sex workers face. The murder rate of sex workers is incredibly high, especially that of trans women. The voyeurism faced by sex workers, assisted by calling cards, may ultimately lead to their death.

I like my works to appear shallow, sordid, and vein, as this is what sex worker calling cards may appear to be. Yet, in reality, we are all guilty of such acts through our own social networking habits or our relentless self promotion, be it on a dating websites, within the employment market, entering into education, or indulging in new lingerie to please a lover. Ultimately, we all end up on our knees. It’s just that some of us are more open than others.

In some of my pieces, I explore the shallow and often cruel world of pornography. Again, behind the façade of glamour, lurks something of a dark world which is rarely discussed yet commonly acknowledged as existing. Through over-the-top depictions of hyper-femininity, my work seeks to remind the viewer of the façade. Being a trans woman endures a degree of fetishization. My work plays up to the male gaze, warping the fantasies of “trannychasers” and mocking the fickle nature of male sexual desire.

Paul Weiner:
Would you say that transgender women and women suffer from the effects of the patriarchy in the same ways (e.g. fetishization, masculine gaze, “othering”) as women born with female physical characteristics, or is the effect different or more pronounced? Do you think race, religion, or mental state can play a similar part in terms of being viewed as an “othered” person within the masculine power system?

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Elle Kennedy:
I think it’s blindingly obvious and rather sad that we still live in a society which remains primarily dominated by privileged white men. I don’t feel I have the right to discuss the “other” status of other minority groups; however, it remains super obvious who comes under that status due to race, class orientation, etc. When creating pieces which explore the transgender experience internationally, I’m keen to acknowledge my relative privilege of living within the UK, having had access to an education, and having medical and emotional support around me.

In pieces such as “Athens is Burning,” I’m utilizing my privilege to communicate messages about trans women who may not be able to get their voice heard, yet suffer greatly. In such pieces, the work becomes almost entirely not about myself- I just happen to be using myself as a medium to channel information and messages about such topics without pitying or patronizing such women. I think there is great progress being made whereby minority groups become slightly less “othered” within society. For example, 20 years ago, gay men in particular were very much considered the “other.” Yet, as a group, they have made great strides and have become less defined by their “other” status.

I see this happening for the trans community very, very slowly. Again, I can only really speak from my own experience, but I think the way that trans women are fetishized is very much down to their passing ability – whether or not people know their trans status, their pre or post op surgical status, who knows this, and how they choose to navigate the worlds of dating and sex. Crudely, it would seem that so much of a trans woman’s life is defined by her appearance and what is between her legs. If a trans woman “passes” and attracts the attention of, say, a wolf-whistling builder or attracts the flirtation of a stranger in a busy bar, this is an experience that may be familiar to both trans and biological women, these are examples of the male gaze being actively exercised and acted upon in the public sphere.

If a trans woman does not pass, she may still come under the curious male maze. However, the voyeur may be less inclined to show sexual interest and may become abusive instead. So I would argue that passing trans women are fetishized in the public sphere along with biological women, yet most trans women, including those who do not pass, are fetishized within the private sphere, for example, within the fantasies of “trannychasers,” curious strangers, and within trans pornography. And, of course, when individuals fall in love, one’s surgical status may become irrelevant, not reviled or fetishized.

In my experience, there are endless conundrums faced by trans women when it comes to romance and sex. For example, do I want to be fetishized? Does this stranger know that I am trans? Such questions pose about the inner and outer self alongside ideas around the public and private sphere. Such questions may resonate with biological women. “Does he only like me because I’m blonde? Am I comfortable being fetishized due to being Asian? Will he be comfortable knowing that I am twice divorced?” All women and, of course, men navigate the struggle of how much of oneself should be kept private, who has the right to know one’s history, and what is the appropriate way to navigate social and personal issues in one’s life. By decoding the images that I have created, the viewer is invited to explore my public and private identity whilst considering and questioning their own.

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Paul Weiner:
This idea of bringing about public activism in a heteronormative public sphere is intriguing. Would you ever consider making public performance art?

Elle Kennedy:
I’ve considered moving into performance art and can see how it may end up being something of a natural progression for me artistically. However, I’m focusing on my current format at the moment, which I suppose incorporates elements of performance when creating such works. I would be interested in performance art, which explores voyeurism and pornography within the next few years. I just need to look into ways of financing and facilitating such art.

4

Paul Weiner:
Do you think that your work in any way attempts to disrupt the masculine gaze or simply explain its impact?

Elle Kennedy:
I would say that my work seeks to highlight the masculine gaze in the most literal way through the performing of female sexuality that indulges the masculine gaze. However, through the work’s grubby aesthetic and my trans identity, I seek to challenge, warp, and sordidify male fantasies. I’m not demonizing male sexuality or even the masculine gaze. Through my own style, I may subliminally seek to indulge it. However, I use my work to highlight what happens when the voyeurism and sexual desire of a minority of men gets out of control – violence and even murder.

Naturally, sex workers are more likely to encounter this by having few legal protections and coming into contact with all sorts of clientele. By having reoccurring imagery in my work such as messy hair and black eyes, whilst dabbling with sexualized gestures and aesthetics, my work actively confronts the issues faced by sex workers, trans women, women, and those whom may have “other” status. I stare directly at the voyeur, inviting them to question him or herself and invite them to contemplate their own gaze. In a sense, I gaze back at them. In pieces, such as “Real Girls Take It,” I have purposely communicated a non-passive female sexuality, which may disrupt and confuse the male gaze. That piece is probably one of my most complicated, with various meanings. But, despite being rather crude, I like to think that it contains positive messages about women owning and indulging their own sexualities.

1

Paul Weiner:
I know academics and artists such as Jacques Lacan, Toril Moi, Hélène Cixous, and Mary Kelly have dealt with similar concepts in the past. Are there any particular philosophers or artists who have impacted your work?

Elle Kennedy:
To be honest, I’m fascinated by pop and what may be considered “trash” culture. Therefore, I find myself looking for logic and inspiration in the lyrics of sickly Britney Spears songs, in the slurred words of Anna Nicole Smith, or in the dialogue of bad teen films. Photographers such as David Lachappelle, who I admire greatly, choose to portray such culture in a kitsch, camp, and over-the-top style. However, I choose to communicate ideas about such a culture by creating a more stripped-back, barren aesthetic.

I have found the writings of Ariel Levey and Lauren Greenfield incredibly eye-opening when it comes to discussion about such topics, and, of course, Naomi Wolf’s writings remain relevant. I literally think every teenager should have to read The Beauty Myth. Some of the performative elements of my work dabble with Judith Butler’s ideas around gender and identity. There seems to be an abundance of confident and creative-minded young trans writers at the moment, notably the likes of Juliana Huxtable and Paris Lees, who I was lucky enough to meet.

It’s great that the contemporary trans experience is being documented in such a wide variety of ways via visual art, academic writing, blogs, film, etc. I greatly admire the way in which artists and photographers of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Keith Haring and Oliviero Toscani, conveyed social awareness messages though bold and distinctive aesthetics. I also find German expressionist painting incredibly beautiful, for example, the work of Kirchner. The repression and persecution that the artists faced now seems unfathomable and tragic, making such works even the more poignant. I particularly admire the way in which Kirchner coherently told stories about his time through his beautiful abstract style.


Please “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective. Elle Kennedy can be contacted directly at torinaughtylondon@outlook.com.

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Breathtakingly Realistic Urban Reflection Paintings by Erik Nieminen

Erik Nieminen is a painter based in Berlin and Montreal who holds a BFA from the University of Ottawa and MFA from Concordia University. His work focuses largely on human perceptions of reality, particularly within the reflections of urban landscapes. Nieminen’s paintings can also be found online at http://www.eriknieminen.com/.

Afternoon Coffee

City Swish


Paul Weiner:
How do you find a subject and begin a painting?

Erik Nieminen:
I have always been fascinated by large cities. There is a certain dynamism and excitement to life in the city that I think has fascinated artists, writers, composers, filmmakers, etc. since the dawn of the industrial age. I view the city as a kind of construct, a fabrication that is intended to serve humanity in an organic, natural, fluid kind of way. I mean this in the context of it attending to natural human behaviors and tendencies, not in terms of serving a green environment. The city itself is a vast template for meaning, and it is inescapable that we absorb the meanings and intentions of the various images that we encounter throughout the urban fabric. However it is not these particular meanings that would generate a painting, as I do not intend for my paintings to have an outright describable meaning. The structure of the painting itself will create the meaning through the orchestration of an experience on the canvas.

I take thousands of photographs, documenting my experience of being in an environment. The photographs themselves are merely tools to use on the path to creating the eventual painting. Out of these photos, certain ones will jump out as being useful, but I keep all my photos as, years later, I will sometimes find something in an old photograph that has suddenly become relevant. I will then start to imagine the possibilities in combining these various subjects found in the photographs, and, at a certain point, I have a general idea of what I’m looking for. At this stage, I may begin doing several sketches, usually quite loose but sometimes more detailed, in order to get a firmer sense of the space I will be dealing with. Usually, I will wait at least a couple of months before starting the painting in order to see if what I initially envisioned is still worth doing or if it can be improved upon; it generally can. Then the painting can begin.

Taxi

Pillars

Paul Weiner
You mentioned how the “orchestration of an experience on the canvas” develops meaning. To that extent, do you feel that the experiences of your viewers and audiences determine the meanings behind your paintings?

Erik Nieminen:
To an extent, yes. The viewer will always take something unique from a painting, and, so, I agree that the viewer might determine a meaning for a painting. However, the painting need not rely on this to give it value. Marcel Duchamp once said (I’m paraphrasing) that an artist only has fifty percent of the responsibility, the rest being up to the audience. I do not necessarily agree. The artwork has its own autonomous existence, whether or not the audience places anything on it. The “meaning,” if we can call it that, of the painting is inherent in its structure, in its form, in its very existence. The meaning of the painting is to create a new framework in which to experience what we think we know. To that extent, the meaning lies in the experience of the painting, and, if viewers choose to pull social commentary or political statements out of it, then that is their prerogative.

Human

Camouflage

Paul Weiner:
Describe your affinity for reflective surfaces. What do these surfaces represent for you?

Erik Nieminen:
The reflective surface is a crucial component to most of my works. It is also one of the most prominent things that one finds in the modern city. Initially, I gravitated towards the depiction of reflection as a means of depicting the disconnect that one experiences in urban environments. I am fascinated by light, and, for me, it is light that defines form and creates space. A reflection is an ephemeral response to light, but, in a sense, it is disconnected from the gravity of our world. If we allow for the possibility that the reflection is a state of “non-gravity” (light itself does have gravity, in terms of general relativity), then the possibilities that arise from it in terms of making art are basically endless. In its sublime materiality, it allows a direct connection to the natural world as the primal state of glass is a liquid, and the reflection as seen through a liquid visually destroys the world we know. Part of my interest is in deconstructing the city and reforming it on my own terms. The glass reflection is a means to this end, as it allows us to see beyond ourselves and to twist and manipulate our vision of what is real, a visual truth, to break the grid of the urban environment.

The reflection and it’s primary material, glass, are elements that allow us to escape the mundane world. If art is to present us with an independent state of reality, something that is based on what we know but creates something that is ultimately unknowable, then a subject as rationally slippery as the reflection is one way to go about it.

Stepping

Paul Weiner:
As a realist painter, would you say that your art is more influenced by old masters like Caravaggio (or even Degas) or by more contemporary art movements?

Erik Nieminen:
Actually, my main influence is modernist painting from the early Twentieth Century such as the works of the Futurists and the Cubists. They posed problems for painting that have not yet been resolved, even though it has often been assumed that Art has moved past that. The masters of old are, of course, important, and really should be important to any painter, even those working in the absolutes of abstraction. In terms of more contemporary movements, for a time I was quite influenced by certain elements of the photorealist painters. It was a way for me to escape the modality of working in a somewhat neo-Futurist stylization or method. I found the best way was to do what would seemingly be the opposite, thus photorealism. Within a couple years, however, I started moving further away from the photoreal aesthetic and began defining the spaces of my paintings more on my own terms.

I do not adhere to any particular label, and, thus, I am not a photo- or hyper-real painter, nor am I a realist painter. If anything, I suppose I could be called figurative, but what does that really mean? The lines between figuration and abstraction are blurry, and, for the most part, don’t exist.

Paul Weiner:
How do you like the Berlin art scene?

Erik Nieminen:
The Berlin art scene is very vibrant, but very hard to put into a box, as there is a such a range of art that is always to be seen. A lot of it is quite experimental, as many younger artists come here to try things out because it’s cheaper in Berlin to get started on a project. However, there’s also lots of traditional mediums (painting, sculpture) on show, as well. Between the hundreds of galleries, several museums, or the occasional art fairs, if you want to see art, you always can. Most days of the week, you can find an art opening; however, I don’t go to openings all that often, as the type of socializing that one finds at such events isn’t necessarily something that I enjoy on a regular basis.

In any case, for the moment, I enjoy living in a city where art is always in easy access.

Flow

Paul Weiner:
How did you find yourself interested in painting? Why do you paint rather than create, for instance, photography?

Erik Nieminen:
I’ve always been interested in painting. My father is an artist who focuses primarily on painting, and there are and have been other artists in the family, as well. I have, thus, been surrounded by painting my whole life, so it was only natural that I might be interested in it or, at the very least, see the importance of it.

The wording of the second half of your question is interesting and actually points towards my answer. You asked why I would rather paint than create, for instance, a photograph. The key word here is create, as you “take” a photograph, but you “create” a painting. I am interested in the act of creation. Photographs are interesting in their supposed documentation of reality, although it is debatable whether or not it really does create a document, but it restricts the person using the photographic device due to the structurally mundane nature of a photograph.

A painting has the possibility to take on whatever form it wishes, only limited by the capabilities of the artist. The photograph grounds its reality in that of the one in which we live, as it repeats the answers to the questions we know. Painting does the opposite. The use of photographic sources in painting is not necessarily problematic if the photo is used as a tool to manipulate our definition of veracity and to create a new space through painting. Because photography is so readily accepted as a document of something real, that is what makes it so useful to a painter who can turn the photographic veracity into a painterly de-simulation.

As for other mediums, such as sculpture, perhaps I will turn to that at some point. I have many ideas that might function in three dimensions, but I haven’t dug far enough into it yet to warrant doing it. Film is also interesting, as it’s actually closer to painting than photography is, but it’s not anything I want to focus on.


Please view Erik Nieminen’s work at http://www.eriknieminen.com/ and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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