The fringe, the outcast and the marginalized members of society are the subjects and characters of German photographer Tobias Zielony, which inherently blurs the lines between fine art and documentary photography as the photographs tell a story with no story arc, no beginning nor ending, while many of them are not aesthetically pleasing in the traditional sense.
A by-product that is quite consistent throughout is the theme of boredom, which for some might be hard to conceive, in this age of inter-connectedness, but for the people in these pictures, it seems that this the hand that they have been dealt with in life. Zielony himself thought at first that boredom was a sign of rebellion, a rejection of hall society has to offer, but that has changed as the subjects taught him a thing or two about their lives, and he in turn gained their trust.
One project called Vele (2010) which depicts the ‘failed’ housing estate of Le Vele Di Scampia in Naples, Italy, documents the people and the place of this once utopian architecural dream; to provide a harmonious living environment and ultra-modern sense of community while addressing the post-war housing shortage. But what transpired was that the local mafia moved in just as the building was completed, which sealed its fate of decay and dereliction while Government officials sort of ‘washed their hands of the situation’.
What do dead trees, headless horses, deer antlers and pale naked people in contorted postures have in common? For the uninitiated, they might be passed off as something frivolous, done by an artist because, “they felt like it”, but these subjects of acclaimed Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere from the past decade or so actually mean something.
In The Pillow (2010) a pale naked person hides his/her head in a pillow. But is he/she really hiding or being stuffed into a pillow? The fact that the whole head is submerged into the pillow makes one think of the latter, because in hiding, one would be under the pillow. But then again, who is doing the stuffing? It remains unclear as this sexually ambiguous person does not appear to be under captivity.
In Into One Another III, To PPP (2010) two sexless bodies appear to be having sex, but somehow become intertwined, metamorphosized together into one body, the closer to the head the sculpture goes.
This also happens in We Are All Flesh (2009), where two bodies are intertwined in a sensual/sexual posture, however it is unclear who is male and who is female. As opposed to Michaelangelo’s Statue Of David, here the genitals are ambiguous, undefined, unclear whether one is looking at a vagina or a penis. It is also unclear who is doing the penetrating; whether the person on top is actually flipped up and being penetrated from behind or is lying face down and doing the penetrating on the other person.
I don’t think artists should try and understand everything. If I could put the answers into words, I wouldn’t make sculptures any more. So as a general rule, I try to say as little as possible about my work…Berlinde De Bruyckeye, 2008
One thing for certain is that Bruyckeye just wants her work to do all the talking, not sure if she appreciates the graphically sexual descriptions of the sexually sexless artwork. Perhaps the literal and literary descriptions limit an artwork, by putting it in a box. For maybe in a hundred years people might see something different in them.
These headless humanoid beings also used to describe various emotional states common to man, with what appears to be guts spilled out from inside of a body to the outside in In Doubt (2007), and a portrait of someone, Marthe (2008), whose head transforms into the branches of a tree or maybe roots of a tree, and further transforms into antlers of a deer, which hold up the whole upper body, or weigh it down depending on how one looks at it.
Trees in western mythology are a symbol of life itself, a giver of life and a place of abode, a home. Animals live in it. So when Bruyckere saw this grand old tree fallen and uprooted by a storm lying by the roadside, the same feelings of loss, loneliness and disappointment found in her earlier works were aroused and so decided to bring a representation of it to the Venice Biennale, entitled Cripplewood (2013).
Taking it a step further she also got Nobel peace prize winning novelist J.M. Coetzee to create a fictional tale of a son visiting his dying mother who took care of stray cats and an abandoned mentally disturbed man, to be an accompaniment to the exhibition.
The tree, represents the mother who had nurses come and tend to her during the day, and so the bandages on the tree indicates the wounds which have been cared for by people. In fact, if one strips away the bark, the tree somewhat resembles those pale naked people found in Bruyckere’s earlier sculptures.
The dying tree also symbolizes ruins, and situated in Venice provides a commentary on the classical architecture, beautiful palaces that are being slowly turned into water-logged ruins, swallowed up by rising water, mold and decay. Which explains why the walls of the exhibition hall are black, with mold-looking fabric hanging from the ceilings blocking sunlight from fully entering.
And believe it or not, in this dark, depressing environment, this sculpture is actually about hope. As the mother recalls the incident which lead her to adopt these cats, when she saw a pregnant cat giving birth in a dirty gulley and didn’t want ‘to live in a world in which a man in boots would come and kick you to death (because he felt like it) taking advantage of your being in labour and thus unable to escape. So too would she have nurses tend to her needs and her own son to visit her. A world of strife, greed and abuse of power is beginning to be transformed from an act of kindness; a place of brightness in the middle of a dark, decaying environment.
Challenging cultural stereotypes involving racial bias, of what women should or shouldn’t do, success and failure, Australian artist Tracey Moffatt seeks ‘cultural justice’ for minorities through her photographs and videos, which is pertinent since she herself is of aboriginal ethnicity.
In one of her earliest works, The Movie Star (1985), which features an aboriginal person trying to look cool at the beach, raises the question of why Aborigines can’t be movie stars and fashion models, since at the time there weren’t any in Australia.
In quite a bizarre but poignant piece of artwork, the Scarred For Life (1994) series of photographs, Moffatt reenacts scenes from people’s life stories in a graphic display of the domestic injustices that go on daily in Australia, and in any other part of the world actually; a girl gets the job by being more flirtatious, another girl finds out the real name of her father when her mother throws her birth certificate at her and other boys and girls get called derogatory names by their respective parent(s) or siblings.
There is no doubt about the emotional and psychological damage to a young person that gets lied to by their parents or siblings or other authority figures (like a teacher etc..) and the fact that people lie to each other to feel better about themselves is, ubiquitous and has existed probably since mankind figured out how to speak. But as to why Moffatt felt so strongly about this issue to turn it into an artwork is a bit puzzling.
Canadian artist Geoffrey Farmer also uses collage as a medium of expression in his work, but unlike Kirstine Roepstorff’s, he doesn’t have any signature iconic motifs, exploding stars and or any ‘weak’, extra-curricular materials. Space which is a ‘void’ in Roepstorff’s work, represents something else in Farmer’s. He doesn’t even deal with hyperreality so much, but all these little figurines cut-out from magazines over the years have to do with our existence, or lack thereof.
In The Last Two Million Years (2007), figures of historical sculptures and pictures of modern-day people were cut-out from a Readers Digest encyclopedia which attempted to explain the history of our planet up to the proliferation of the modern man, that Farmer found lying on the street. These figurines are laid out in a procession leading to a series of plinths, curving around the exhibition area, but apparently not in chronological order.
Continuing with the theme of trash in art, this time we have Chinese artist Song Dong’s mother’s trash, 40 years worth of it, collected through the years of hardship, turmoil and fortunes lost during the cultural revolution which started in the 1960s. Coming from a relatively well-off family, to have it all being taken away and Song’s father being sent to a labour camp for re-education must have been hard enough for Song’s mother, but when Song senior died in 2002, she went on over-drive; forbidding Song Dong and his sister from throwing anything away and filling every square inch of the house with every consumed household item imaginable, most of which would be considered trash.
Something had to give, as the house became unlivable under these circumstances, and in 2005 Song Dong convinced his mother to allow him to use this stuff in an art exhibition, entitled Waste Not (2005) which is derived from the Chinese thrift mentality, that everything has multiple uses beyond its intended use, and that one should capitalize on this, otherwise ‘one would be considered wasteful’.