Christopher Cozier

Christopher Cozier has an artist friend born in Africa, working in the Caribbean, and opening a show in New York. Such things are not uncommon. The artist could very well be born in Beijing, educated in Los Angeles, and showing in Zurich. Globalization is something Christopher Cozier explores and embraces. He himself is an artist living and working in Trinidad but gives international appearances, including in the United States.  He was at Northwestern University this spring and gave a lecture on May 4th.

Christopher examined many forms of border crossing during his lecture. He notes that more than 50% of people who get more than 12 years of education will leave Trinidad and never come back. They leave for economy sake. They leave for opportunities and reasons much like earlier waves of immigrates.  He examines trade with China and the influx of Chinese goods to all sectors of the world. He talks about drug and human trafficking.

He also talked about borderless-ness. Borderless-ness could be thought of the ultimate form of globalization.  The Caribbean is a prime example because of its mixture of cultures and people.  However, the struggle with globalization can be seen by the difficulty of travel between each Caribbean island, especially the ones governed under different European countries. Passports, visas; all are needed to travel even miniscule distances between a neighboring land. There are not even direct flights to Haiti from the United States. As borders disappear, they are becoming more and more apparent as some form and structure of old human life tries to remain as it may prove to be impossible for humans to be label-less.

Christopher Cozier mentions an early form of border crossing when he discusses the image of the slave, more specifically, the image of the black American slave. Slavery in historical sense has been traversing many boundaries and seas. A Slave is crossing borders entering a country and needs to cross them to seek freedom. The Canadian-American border was a symbol of freedom during and before the American civil war.  Slavery has not gone away, but the majority of human trafficking has taken a different form; it is the form of the salary man Christopher Cozier has juxtaposed next to the image of the slave. Sugar,cotton, tobacco; that is old trade. Technology and information is the new the trade. Globalization is not a scary evil, but it is different in that it places every worker all at the mercy of the new economy.  Outsourcing jobs and outsourcing people is a common place phenomenon resulting in many migrations of people across the country and across the world.

Christopher’s artworks explore his ideas.

As mention before, he is drawn to the image of a black slave with a canvas sack and the salary man with a briefcase. He did an ark work with the image of the worker printed on many small of sheets of paper, arrange in the form of Trinidad, and positioned in the direction the workers are migrating.

He is also very attracted to drawing. As an artist, drawing is a way for him to lay down ideas, but as a medium, drawing become much more as they take on the flighty persona of his migrating subjects. As a medium, drawing is fast and mobile. His drawings can be rearranged in any order as they are shown and reshown in different locations around the world and are displayed very simply with hanging paper clips. This transient form can be added to as Christopher Cozier builds up his collection.   On the topic of paper clips, Christopher is also drawn to working with office supplies such as rubber stamps and butterfly clips.  He says he explores “the use of bureaucracy in a post-colonial space”. This is a very interesting idea since bureaucracy signifies heaviness. Weightiness. The opaque solidity of bureaucracy seems to imply the structure and the strength of an institution but is translated differently into artwork that is at its most transparent and mobile. In present times, bureaucracy is still tolerated as long as it is not too bloated or complaints about it slowing down life in its constant surge forward starts being heard.  The longevity of borders as they remain today is in question as more fluid forms of segregation and identification takes over but brings into question of the reality of individualism and identity.

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Antonio Martorell

Language, like memory, is fluid and flexible. Always ready to be molded by the user. Antonio Martorell struggles with the medium’s mercurial characteristics as he translates the title of his newest exhibition at Northwestern University from Spanish into English. He settles on The Insignificant Other: The Very Young and the Very Old in Our Society.

His exposition transforms a white square room into a landscape of colorful prints. The artworks have an imposed narration and linearity that starts on the wall to the right of the entrance. This is the wall Antonio worked on first, more than 10 weeks ago when he set off on his most recent project.  Following this narration, the story begins with three complete and recognizable faces of an elderly woman, an elderly man, and a baby whose sex is inconsequential. The portraits are composed of four separate wood prints, splitting each face into quarters through the nose. Using this very balanced split, Antonio disfigures each face as the story continues clockwise around the room. Faces are mismatched and jumbled, some parts are left out and gradually, colored prints descends on the original neutrals and becomes an abstraction in itself as color takes over the recognizable faces. Following with the pictorial narration are scrawled text travelling beneath. The texts highlights the artist’s primary focus on the disenfranchisement of the very young and very old as they become more and more dependent on outside sources of revenue. The artist addresses the loss of pensions, the breakup of the family institution, migration and globalization, and increasing life span as factors feeding the disenfranchisement.

Antonio wrote, “The usefulness of the very old is in the past and the very young in the future.” In today’s world ruled by technology, the old are not keeping up and the young are going to be going much faster. In the past the elderly worked for as long as their body allowed them and death took care of the rest.  The young started work early, becoming as asset to the family whereas children are children for much longer in modern society, unable to contribute financially significantly until at least in their later teens.  Such dependency can be cause for concern.   The artwork not only observes current social phenomenon but is a piece of social commentary itself as it tries to show the disfigured social structure through a way that is understandable but not grotesque enough for us to shield our eyes.

One can claim the very old and the very young have always been marginalized because they are the very weak. When one brings up physical strength and susceptibility to illness, the very old and very young are always on the losing end.  However memory is fluid and likes to naturalize modern phenomena. Questions of when have there not been some sort of disenfranchisement in America comes to the surface. The Native Americans. Anyone not white.  Eastern Europeans and Russians. Women.  Lower class. All examples of people who were marginalized, maybe still are, and searching for an equal share of power. This Power slowly gets relinquished to more and more people, but where does the majority of the power still sit if not in the lap of the very wealthy? When have the weak not been taken advantaged of?  Fighting the seduction of memory, social concerns cannot be written off because they are always present. But it is not the disenfranchisement of the young and old but the parallel issue of segregation that is most striking. A continuous separation of people in society is based on a variety of identifications people associate with themselves. If not race, then class and gender and politics will separate people.  Now generations will separate people.  When people fragment, power has a tendency to go with the money.  When people stay together, power is held together. On the brighter note, at least for the very young, the future of power may not lie in the hands of money but in the hands of people with information and control over it.  At that time, it is not the very old and very young who will have to worry about technology but every single person not qualified and not up to date. Nostalgia does not move forward.

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Feast Review

Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art

Smart Museum

University of Chicago, Chicago

Feast: Radial Hospitality in Contemporary Art is written in black, blue and purple upon the white walls of the Smart Museum.   The show centers on the idea of using food and drink in various art forms to form connections between individual viewers and between the viewers and their cultural community.  This idea was highlighted and talked about on the museum’s own website, but I didn’t read it, and it wasn’t until days after the exhibition that I dawned upon this central idea myself.

The exhibition is larger than I thought, and the variety of artists and art works featured is wider. The show’s organization is very neat, very formal, and very linear. An out of place, but strategically situated, Feliz Gonzalez-Torres recreation starts out the show; the innocuous pile of candy illuminates the right most corner when the visitor first enters the exhibition.    Feast reorganizes itself and jumps back to the 1930s, to the proclaimed origins of hospitality in art, and features works by the Italian futurists. The next room over features Conceptual and Performative  Feasts; artworks made in the 1960s through 1970s.  Artists such as Daniel Spoerri, Bonnie Ora Sherk, Alison Knowles, Marina Abramovic and Suzanne Lacy are included in this part of the exhibition. Feast tops the show off with the last and largest section of works under the category Social and Critical Feasts from 1990s and Onwards.  The mixture of artists becomes more global and more Asian artists are featured.

The space itself is very mechanical and adds to the linearity of the story told by the exhibit. The many turns produced by the gallery takes the viewer on an “S” shaped and mirror “S” shaped tour.   It feels guided and historical. As I progressed along the gallery, I imagined and doubted how the works developed the idea of hospitality throughout the ages.

Here is a rough map, if it helps:

(Warning: may not be anatomically correct)

When I started my tour, the first thing I heard was, “Could I please ask for you to hang up your backpack or put it at the front desk.” It was a young security guard who spoke.  She was like a hostess asking her guests to take off their shoes. How could I refuse the rules of this new home? After getting a backpack identification card, I proceeded to enter the show.

The museum advertises the idea of treating gallery surveyors with a spoonful of slatko (a traditional sweet Serbian preserve offered to guests at the beginning of a visit) before they view the exhibit. But only during certain times is slatko offered, so the pile of candy was quite welcome and quite well placed.  After all, what better way to start off a visit than with a sweet metaphor representing a man dying of AIDs? Yum.  Surprisingly, the pile of candy was able to foster some sort of interaction during my visit.  A young girl still in middle school was surprised that I took a piece of candy and asked me excitedly if she could as well. As I tried to explain to her Feliz Gonzalez-Torres and walked over the description plaque, I couldn’t help but discover a camera with a black prohibition sign over it.

Throughout the exhibition I kept noticing these small signs. They were placed so innocuously and became almost omissible. Almost. The little white signs, the perfectly prim text, the textured black lines outlining places I can step and places I cannot; these small gestures exude authority. The cognitive disconnect between a space dedicated to gestures of hospitality in art (human connections, home comfort warmth)  and a space filled with the authoritative gestures of a museum heighted my sensitivity to these contradictions.

It was not until I was politely asked by a young security guard to not take a picture of a wok on a pedestal that I asked the curator why museum visitors are prohibited from taking pictures of some art pieces. He answered that many of the artworks are prohibited from being photographed by the artist’s requests. A lot of legal issues. I will not be posting any pictures of any artworks that can implicate the museum or upset the artists. I, after all, am trying my best at playing the gracious guest. But those little white cards of authority almost make me want to post my photographs anyways.

I cannot help but cry out with indignation. Where is my social interaction? Where is the hospitality I deserve? I understand that museum settings have limitations.  I cannot hope for the same level of interaction that a live participant in an art piece can expect, nor can I expect to be treated as personably as someone visiting a home gallery. And I really could have made more initiative to talk to other visitors.  But I was disappointed. I expected too much and forgot that I was not partaking in art but merely viewing the after products (but where and when should they be separated?).  Art about hospitality, and connections and performance, and hell, life out in the open world, feels constricted and over protected when it is displayed behind black lines and white barriers. More points of interaction in the gallery space and conversation initiators can help the exhibit foster a feeling of connection that imitate what the art works were trying to do. Such disconnect between space and art hindered my processing of the works themselves.

Aside from my complaints above, the exhibition was an enjoyable one. The artworks were sometimes beautiful, funny, grotesque and thoughtful.   Two pieces made the deepest impressions on me.

They stood out because of their grotesque qualities.

The first was Daniel Spoerri’s Tableau Piège.  Moldy leftovers of a dinner were glued onto a wooden display and covered with a clear case. It was then turned on its side and displayed.  These displays are not a sign of life to me because dirty dishes get washed and leftovers get eaten by the living.  A fixated end of dinner scene that is left to wither throughout the ages does not signify a moment of life but an instance of death. Like a morbid science fiction in which humanity meets its demise, the stagnant remains of a dinner only compels me to think of a world without human life left to clean up the chaos it has made.

The second piece is Julio Cesar Morales’ Interrupted Passage. The two-channel video displayed a man preparing a roast in one screen and in-costume actors reenacting a dinner scene from the 1846. The screen depicting a meat roast was the most entrancing. The luscious process of roasting over a low heat and the slow browning of the meat, dripping of the fats, feed a most primal desire. When the roast was taken off the fire and cut into, the rawness of the meat was over powering. The flesh felt too red and indulgent and violent and close that I felt sick to my stomach.

I also applaud the museum for featuring art works that request social input. The questions and answers booths featured by the artworks have been popping up all over the place in recent years and are a favorite form of cultural engagement.

The museum itself tried to foster interaction by asking the question “What is Hospitality to you?” but the question’s popularity pales in comparison to the “What make you feel bitter” question and is insufficient in its purpose.

What does hospitality mean to you?

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Punny pun pun

The origins of my blog, meiyoumayo comes from my obsession with unintelligent puns and dull wit. In Chinese, “mei you” means “there is none” or “not”; so putting it all together, “mei you mayo” indicates I have no mayonnaise for anyone’s enjoyment.

If you want mayo, go make your own sandwich. In the meantime, enjoy my art critiques I have posted for my Critical Methods in Contemporary Art class.

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