When Pretty Hurts: Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi’s Depictions of Daily Confrontation

There’s a feeling of unrest in Hedieh Javanshir Ilchi’s work. It takes the form of twisting and turning strokes, flattened, into layers upon layers of translucent media that seem to perpetuate out of the paper from which they seep. In no more than two dimensions, a viewer finds incredible depth.

What Ilchi has done, these movements, render a more precise portrayal of the subconscious than of the figures and landscapes that comprise her illustrative narratives. Her paintings somberly remind a viewer that every moment has its layers, and every scene is embroidered by a powerful inner dialogue, and, that sometimes this inner dialogue speaks so loud, that it drowns out the visions of reality.

If She Only Belonged is such a painting. It offers a snapshot of the subconscious layers that alter, cover, or construct– and sometimes in very real ways– a scene. Tucked underneath translucent strokes of paint, colored pencil, and ink on Mylar is not simply a crisp day at the park. It is a crisp day tainted by post-traumatic visions of a different country’s warfare; diverted by an invisible eruption of emotional turmoil herein suppressed like lava beneath tectonic plates; and made both sweet and fragile by a juxtaposed symbol of beauty: a faint and colorless layer of ink petals in this chaos.

Or, perhaps, the images recorded here are those of a girl standing in the middle of a battlefield, yearning for the peace that comes from a life with flowers, trees, grass, and people at ease: talking calmly to one another, doing nothing more than standing. Or running, for leisure instead of survival.

Beneath the bleakness of an empty “sky” and drips of watery paint that melt into bare Mylar, it is unclear whether the nightmare or the dream is reality in this captured moment. But whichever is, the other surely was before it, depicting the perpetual weaving of interpretations one experiences within a moment. Regardless of the location of this moment in time or space, one thing holds true: our protagonist is a victim. She is as much a victim at the foot of a smoking volcano, or beneath volatile military aircrafts, as she is in the shiny and safe suburbia, alienated by her own memories and identifying experiences. Dressed in mourning, we see here the heartbreaking inner dialogue of a girl trapped between worlds.

And yet, there is an eerie hope to be threaded out of If She Only Belonged. Ilchi illustrates here our complex world: one in which confusion, clarity, longing, peace, energy surmounted and energy drained, can exist within the very same frame, or the very same second. A day at the park does not always have to instill the typical feelings of a day at the park, and nor should it. Layering emotions onto a scene, though at times painful and alienating, produces a multifaceted way of viewing the world that makes us human. And it is a viewer’s hope that, like the gossamer-fine floral etching that peeks through smoke and fire in If She Only Belonged, the interconnectedness seen here can serve to heal, not harm, the victims of everyday beauty.

By Grace DeWitt


What We See is What We Are

Ernst Haas once said, “The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” A photo can be great in many ways: the lighting, the subject, the angle… However, a great photo always has limits, that there is only one of them, and it is always subject to the viewpoint of the photographer.

It is not until I saw Exposure#43 that I realized how subjective and limited photography can be. Exposure #43 by Barbara Probst presents viewers two photos of same scale but different content. The first part is black and white. A woman appears striding across the screen. The background is full of landscapes tightly packed against each other. Her hair flows in the wind and her face is blurry. The  composition of clear buildings and blurry figure suggests that our subject is in motion, just like how city life never slows down a second. On the other hand, the second part of the art exhibits a beautiful scenery: deep blue sky, tranquil waters, and boundless valley. At the center of the image, there is a group of people. It is hard to clearly see what they are doing because they are so small in the picture in comparison to the the mountains and pine trees, but one of them is holding a camera so it is assumed that they are taking photo shoots.

With the strong contrast, Probst investigates the potential range of impressions of a single time and place. The two photos are completely different from each other: one is black and white, one is in color; one setting is urban while the other is in nature; one gives viewers a fast-moving mood, and the other creates a peaceful moment that is impossible to interrupt. These two images were taken at the same time to record a single scene, but two or more cameras were used to record from multiple angles. It is very hard to pull these two parts together and think of them as one, and the juxtaposition made me think outside the photo, of not only what is presented in the image but also what is around the camera at that moment.

Observing the artwork by Probst made me think. Now whenever I see a photo, I always try to imagine what else is happening at that instant, what are other possible perspectives, what are the photographer’s intentions, and what are my hidden biases.

Yvette Yu

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Barbara Probst, Exposure #43: Barmsee, Bavaria, 08.18.06, 4:02 p.m., 2006
2 parts, 44 x 66 inches each
Image © Barbara Probst, Courtesy Murray Guy, New York


Banishing Stereotypes

I love all kinds of music. I have a playlist on Spotify in which I am creating a massive collection of the songs I like. The genres included in this playlist ranges from TINCUP’s bass -bumping electronic trap to Bon Iver’s calming folk music. While I am extremely proud of this ongoing playlist, for years I have been ridiculed for my diversified taste in music. Oftentimes, friends and even strangers will comment on my musical interests wondering why I listen to “white” music. This has always been a pet peeve of mine. Classifying a genre of music based on race just does not make sense to me. Music is created by people of different racial backgrounds for people of different racial backgrounds;musical preferences should not be assumed based on the color of one’s skin.

Jefferson Pinder addresses this issue in his work, Juke, a video installation that shows African Americans lip synching songs stereotypically classified as “white. The people featured in this artwork, including Pinder himself, lip sync songs performed by white musicians such as Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, David Bowie and Patti Smith. Through his artwork, Pinder hopes to address these racial issues, “in the most unfamiliar way.” Pinder hopes to start a discussion on whether or not music can be black or white and whether a song can be used to “provoke a conversation about race.” Pinder believes that the lyrics in all of these songs can be sentiments felt by African Americans and I believe they can be felt by anyone regardless of race.

Pinder’s work is only one of many aiming to banish stereotypes created by insinuating musical preference is based on race. While it may not be able to rid our society of these stereotypes on its own, Pinder succeeds in his efforts to start a conversation on why these stereotypes are created and what we can do to eliminate them.

Shay TyndallJuke_installation viewJefferson Pinder, Juke (still image detail), 2006. 10-channel digital video installation


The Punch Line of Wafaa Bilal’s “Lovely Pink”

On a small pedestal stand two even smaller statues– part of the newest additions to the Stamp Student Union’s permanent art collection — a Barbie-pink David eyes a slick and shadowy Perseus. Both in casual stances, weight shifted to one side, seeming to bear little burden under the objects they grasp, the two figures could be catching up at a cocktail party.

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Pink David and Perseus Beheading Medusa, Wafaa Bilal, 2015

My immediate question inquires the depth that such a seemingly playful visual experience can deliver. In simpler words, why are these, what could be easily mistaken for toys, here? It’s an off-shoot of a much larger question every piece in any gallery, museum, or exhibition, entails about the significance of its featured work, and a question that contemporary galleries continually struggle to simultaneously answer and leave open.

But perhaps the better question is, why does one imagine this comical scene when viewing one of Michelangelo’s greatest gifts to humankind, and Cellini’s illustration of a deeply harrowing moment in Greek mythology? What is the source of the humor seen here? Was it intentional, and if so, why?

In all honesty, any humor that comes from how the pieces are positioned on their shared pedestal is likely beyond the artist’s intentions. The two statues were initially placed facing towards each other, so that Perseus holds out the decapitated head of Medusa towards David, each other by the gallery’s installation crew: a light-hearted reference to Medusa’s ability to turn humans to stone with just a gaze. However, I believe these included, certain pieces from the series present a whimsical air even when isolated.

My initial reasoning for the humorous thread to the two works is the size of the statues, perhaps a more startling deviation from the original works than the bold colors with which they’ve been coated. David stands at nearly seventeen feet in L’Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, and Perseus with the Head of Medusa stands at about ten and a half in the same city’s Piazza della Signoria. In The Stamp Gallery, they stand under twelve inches, closer resembling items from a tourist’s kitschy souvenir collection than great artistic and cultural icons of the classical Western era.

And yet, something small is not without beauty — miniature artwork is an emerging practice that offers scrutiny of the world with just as much conviction as its larger-scale contemporary counterparts. And yet, it seems that the Lovely Pink series does not offer its message through details, as smaller works often do, but in the opposite: a deliberate obscurity.

Much of Wafaa Bilal’s work as of late has seemed to play with the disconcerting experience of assumptions, by way of subtle images with a subsequent bite. The photographs that comprise his Ashes Series (one of which is also joining The Stamp’s permanent collection, and is currently on display in The Stamp Gallery) appear to merely capture structures of Iraq’s destroyed buildings; they are in actuality, shots of miniatures of buildings that Bilal created and destroyed himself, and then covered with a dusting of human ashes.

Similarly, the petite statues of Lovely Pink are not wrapped in plastic, acrylic, or any other cheaply traded material, as I and many others first derived from their synthetic color and texture. David and Perseus are shrouded in shrink wrap and crude oil: two Iraqi resources that have historically pushed competitive markets into imperialistic ones. And the effect is just that: a shrouding of details. Bilal’s Perseus does not hold the head of Medusa, he holds a deformed, dripping mass.

Ironically, these materials have great financial value, and yet, they strip the two classical works of art that they coat of their original cultural, artistic value.

Is this Bilal’s civilized form of vandalism? A lesson in the mechanism and art of destruction, like The Ashes Series may be? Or, does he offer commentary on the value systems that humans construct?

Like the touch of humor that David and Perseus present, these questions explore elements of Bilal’s work that I and any other viewer can only speculate upon. What is the overall visual effect of Bilal’s unusual, unexpectedly pointed, choice of materials to create the Lovely Pink? A cartoon-like, “puffed” appearance to the figures that demotes these objects to a lesser degree of power than we have attributed to them throughout history. The punch line of these pretty little mocks is a dark, maybe uncomfortable one. In more than just a physical sense, Bilal is practicing the act of belittling.

When contextualized, I have come to understand that Bilal’s message resonates deeper than simple material experimentation, or art history banter. These pieces come from an artist deeply affected by the destruction of more than just public and personal property by ISIS presence in Iraq. Throughout his career and within projects arguably more controversial than that presented in The Stamp Gallery, Bilal’s voice is one riddled with a sense of dark hum
or towards humanity, but, it is one of both unapologetic passion and conviction as well.

Perhaps, then, Bilal’s playful presentation of global criticism is the bite of Lovely Pink, and it’s anything but sugar-coated.

Grace DeWitt


Black Royalty

Every Tuesday and Thursday I clock in for work and as a routine, walk past the iconic images of a king, queen, ace and jack in a medieval coat of arms . In addition to the immaculate 23.5 carat leaf gold layering, the prominent and untraditional black skin on these kings and queens speak volumes to self-worth and praise of the African-American identity. In today’s social media, I have witnessed constant reminders to the Black mind that we are royalty and our existence should never be looked at as anything less. Without say, this ideology applies for all races and ethnicities but in the art piece, “Game Changing” by Derrick Adams, I believe the artist explores what it means to be black royalty.

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In this piece, Adams uses blue and reds hues, which in my opinion resonate with ruby red and sapphire gemstones. Ruby and sapphire are known as two of the four most precious stones in the world. Coincidentally, these highly beloved gemstones are found in abundance in the continent of Africa. Rubies are considered to be a symbol of power, royalty and vitality while sapphires represent destiny and clarity. These elements makes one wonder about all the triumphs and obstacles endured in the Black experience in order to reach this level of hierarchy. We are all familiar with triumphs such as Barack Obama becoming the first African-American president in the United States; and obstacles such as the ongoing police brutality experienced by African-Americans. But to say the least, with all our triumphs, we are still making progress on ladder of royalty.

Through my lens, “Game Changing” by Derrick Adams opens the portal to engaging conversation and various opinions about the Black experience in the past, present and the future.

Written by Fatoumatta Tunkara


Galleries: Rooms to Live In

DSC_0030Art galleries can be intimidating places. Walls of silence. No photography. Don’t touch the artwork. These unique environments can lead to some second-guessing, especially for those who are new to galleries. “Am I being too loud?” “Does anyone find any of this modernist furniture comfortable to sit on?” “Can the gallery attendant tell that I have no idea what that piece of art is trying to say?” If this sounds like you, take a breath, and relax.

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Art appreciation can seem like a high-brow hobby, but it certainly doesn’t take years of art history classes to react to something emotionally. Some artistic elements may not be completely accessible without an art background, but only in the same sense that the average person wouldn’t fully grasp a grad student’s final thesis without some context.Yet there is always a basic level in which art can be accessed; saying “I don’t understand” is still a response and furthers the conversation. Art is made to make people feel and think. So remember: a gallery isn’t just for the art majors or art collectors, it’s for you.

DSC_0016DSC_0012If you’re interested in visiting such a place, the Stamp Gallery—found on the first floor of the Stamp Student Union—is a conveniently located art space available for students and visitors alike to stop by in the midst of a busy day. Aside from the new exhibition, a few other changes to the gallery have been made this semester. A lounge area provides seating apart from the art. This is an ideal place to do homework, chat with friends, or to browse our provisional library and read one of its books, all of which are in conversation with a piece in the gallery.

DSC_0008DSC_0010A chess table has also been moved into the space, providing a place not only to play chess, but also a variety of board and card games made available through the gallery staff. And if you would like to save and share your experience in the gallery with your friends, we allow non-flash photography of the art.

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So, why all these changes to the gallery? A common viewpoint towards galleries is that they are refuges from the day-to-day grind. While the gallery staff wants to make the area a more welcoming environment, we also want it to be a place where you can both appreciate the art yet also retain your identity. We want a person to feel like he/she can coexist with the art rather than just stop by and visit. We want this space to be comfortable enough for people to do homework, go on dates, have arguments. A gallery should not be a place to escape life, but rather to live it.

So sit down and stay awhile.DSC_0075

Written by Christopher Bugtong


Installation Revelation

So you’re walking by the Stamp Gallery one afternoon. Peaking through the glass exterior, you see that there are boxes and packing paper scattered throughout. You see some power tools on the benches, and a ladder leaning against the corner. You notice random walls that seem to be hanging out in limbo in the middle of the space. Walking past the entrance, you find a sign taped to the door: “Closed for installation, please come back for our opening next week!”

Ever wanted to know just what goes into the installation of a gallery exhibition?

The past week at the Stamp Gallery has been quite a busy one, with the installation of our current exhibition featuring new arrivals for the Contemporary Art Purchasing Program (CAPP). As a docent, I get to take part in this installation process. As such, I thought I’d offer a little glimpse into a few of the more subtle, never-occurred-to-me-before-I-started-working-here types of things that go on behind the scenes of an installation.


Vinyl

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When you first walk into the Stamp Gallery and start reading about what the exhibit is about, you are reading the vinyl. I’d like to start off by admitting that, before I started working at the gallery, I was under the impression that someone had to come and actually hand-paint the words onto the wall…which I’m glad is not the case! After the exhibition overview is typed up in a Word doc, it is sent to be blown up in size and then printed out on a kind of sticker-like paper. Before sticking this onto the wall, we measure the length/width of the sheet, take a ruler to the wall, level it, and make light pencil marks for guidelines. Next, we peel off the outer layer of the sheet, which uncovers the sticky part that goes onto the wall. Once we have the sheet up on the wall, we smooth out any wrinkles and press it against the wall as much as possible – this makes it easier to peel the paper off without peeling the actual letters off as well. The final step is to do the actual peeling!

Walls

In the gallery, we have “moveable” walls that are stored in the back. The wall holding Titus Kaphar’s The Jerome Project (Asphalt and Chalk) XII is a moveable wall.

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These walls allow us the mobility to create new, smaller spaces within our existing gallery space. They also provide extra surface area to accommodate more pieces, draw attention to particular works, as well as provide general interest and variability to the eye. For this exhibition in particular, we added a wall behind the podium holding Wafaa Bilal’s Perseus Beheading Medusa and Pink David in order to direct focus onto the pieces, since they are relatively small objects in comparison to the space.

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Lighting

Tracks along the ceiling of the gallery provide grooves that the lights hook into. There are three tracks spanning the length of the space, and five tracks running widthwise. The lights themselves consist of a bulb attached to a frame that can be maneuvered to adjust the angle of the light accordingly. In addition, there are metal bars within the hook of the frame that conduct electricity and make the light turn on when attached to the track.                                                                                       Depending on the needs of the exhibition/pieces, the lights can be placed so that they either “spotlight” or provide a softer, glow to the work. When spotlighting, the lights are generally placed closer to the piece, which provides a very direct focus. Setting the light farther back creates more of an atmosphere and harmonization for the piece as well as the space surrounding it. Other things to keep in mind when setting up lights is reflection, shadows, and the color casted by the bulb. For the pieces that contain a glass covering, we had to consider the effects of possible reflections caused by our lighting choices. In addition, we can control the degree and location of shadows by light placement. For Ellington Robinson’s Oath of the Imperialists, we played around with the distance of the lights from the work in order to “shift” the shadows around.

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Finally, some bulbs are older than others and cast a softer, more yellow hue than the newer ones, which typically cast a very bright, verging on greenish tint. We usually try to match the shades of light throughout the exhibit.


Of course, there are many other aspects that go into a gallery installation that I haven’t mentioned here – each show is unique in terms of the methods used to bring it together. For a closer look at the results of our installation, be sure to check out the opening reception of CAPP New Arrivals 2015 this Friday, September 25th between 6-10pm.

See you there!

Carmen Dodl