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.
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.
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.
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
Art 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.
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.
If 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.
A 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.
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.
Written by Christopher Bugtong
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
Black and white photographs, textured filters, slow-moving figures, a fluffy white dog on a beach, and what looks like a giant floating roller coaster.
Like many video art pieces in the Gallery’s current exhibition, “PROJECT 35, Volume 2,” Alexander Ugay’s “Bastion,” draws incredible depth across multiple psychological layers, within a mere five minutes. Ugay is an Central Asian artist, currently residing in Khazakistan, who uses cameras manufactured in the early Soviet Union and manual processing and film editing to produce eerie, intricate videos: a style often titled “New Romanticism” due to its nostalgic themes and references of Soviet avant-garde cinema.
The majority of the video depicts a bright beach setting with images of family and leisure that blend into each other, seeming to ebb and flow with the sound of the ocean. Figures walk down the beach, converse, and play music, always looking towards the sea. The lethargy of the scenes, the absence of color, and the disregard to details, even facial expressions, comprise an intimidating reflection of how we form memories, what we remember, and the key elements of reality that even our most fond moments lack. The viewer sees flashes that seem to capture a beautiful family outing. Yet, all is left is a literally ‘filtered’ understanding of the scene. Only one audio “channel” from the day lasts, the sound of the tide, not the voices or the music heard that day. Only value, not hue: the color of the beaches, the flora, the blue that made the sea and the blue that may have made the sky.
The climax of the video is the noisy, pained entrance of a giant metal tangle, floating atop the ocean towards its own form of wreckage on the shore. The looming structure is Ugay’s depiction of Tatlin’s Tower– a historic symbol of victory from the birth of the USSR– made from a collage of Hi-8 video and 3-D architectural models.
The physical interruption of the joyful family outing by this structure further reveals the transcendent quality of memories, and in particular, the tendency of the mind to be entrenched in certain symbols, many from cultural influences, that have personal significance, or affected a change in the individual.
In this light, “Bastion” sympathizes with every viewer, speaking to a universal desire of synthesis and preservation of perceived sensory information. Inevitably, our perceptions, as incomplete to reality as they may be, are embedded with emotional meaning that serves to form an even deeper portrayal of the occurrences that encompass our lives.
PROJECT 35, VOLUME 2 will be exhibited until mid-December. Do not miss this short opportunity to view moments, such as that described in “Bastion,” that reveal important perspectives in our world today.
Written by Grace DeWitt
The Stamp Gallery’s current exhibition “Project 35: Volume 2” features several videos selected by curators from around the world. One of these videos, entitled “Pacífico”, is a fascinating piece that was inspired by Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade’s experiences and travels through Latin America (video selected by curator Pablo León de la Barra). The video begins with a captivating and vivid stop-motion sequence that portrays the beautiful Latin American landscape. The artist uses a variety of materials and textures along with bold colors to construct an almost dreamlike, whimsical sequence.
After several minutes, the video cuts to images and narration from the book “Chile Ayer/Hoy.” The narrator describes scenes happening in Chile, alternating between yesterday and today to show contrast. There are images of violence and turmoil, but also images of peace and joy.
Again, the video returns to stop-motion, showing an imagined earthquake that causes Chile to split away from South America and become its own island. There are also sequences of narration over images of maps and landscapes that describe real events such as the 2010 Chilean earthquake.
The video is captivating, to say the least, but you’re probably wondering at this point (as I was) – What does it all mean? In a 2014 interview, the artist describes his inspiration for the piece. While traveling through Chile and Bolivia, De Andrade found many cultural differences and viewpoints, particularly regarding the 19th century War of the Pacific. This was a bitter war between Chile, Peru, and Bolivia over territory and resources that ended in 1904. De Andrade wanted to use the video to depict a fictional solution to the fighting and territorial disputes, which was an earthquake that would force the physical separation of Chile.
However, during the making of the video in 2010, an actual massive earthquake rocked Chile. De Andrade decided to compile images and audio from the earthquake and its aftermath to integrate into the video. The result is a surreal, almost haunting combination of fiction and reality that creates a powerful viewer experience. The interlacing of vivid cartoon-like animation with powerful real-world images and narration can be jarring, but it also leaves you with a lingering reminder of the profundity of imagination and the coldness of reality.
Written by: Nick Freas
When I thought of art and museums, I always had this image of a renaissance painting that sits in a humongous room. However, as I get older and more aware of the contemporary art, I realized that the most important artwork is no longer the one limited to the most refined skills; it is about the idea that the art is trying to communicate with its audience, or even our society. Rather, some of the most powerful artworks nowadays are composed of simple matter. For example: video.
Project 35 is s selection of 35 international curators who each choose one work by an artist that they think is important for audiences around the world to experience today. I was beyond excited when we have the chance to present it at Stamp. The combination of diverse interests from all over the world made the project more value added as a whole. It is even more interesting to see the regional and global connections among practitioners and the variety of approaches they use to make video. One of the unforgettable pieces I had strong feelings toward was Prilla Tania’s Space within Time Series.
Space within Time Series is a series of video works in which Tania employs stop-motion photography to record herself against a background of white chalk images on a blackboard. I found the integration of a 3D subject with a 2D context very creative and interesting. The images change based on Tania’s movement, and the following sound effects add liveliness to the artwork as a whole. Through some background research on the artist, I realized that her work focuses on the elements of environment and exploration with unexpected media such as paper and cloth.
Now looking at the video again, I realized the theme about the environment through the direct contrast between the subject and the background, and the theme about the tensions and connections between us and the environment. The utilization of chalk images on a blackboard naturally simplified the environment we live in. The surroundings are now white chalk lines, and it contrasted the subject and made the audience to focus more on the actions. On the other hand, as the artist performs her daily occurrences, the chalk images alters corresponding to her actions; yet, the chalk marks from previous images can still be seen even after it is being erased. I began to wonder if this were intentional, and if the marks were left there to imply the memories of the past. The ambiguity made me appreciate the art more, for all the possible interpretations that lie within this four-minute long video. Either way, the artist successfully demonstrated the tensions between the changes in the past and the present, through the most subtle and natural way without any artificial efforts.
Space within Time Series portrayed the idea of interacting with the environment and surroundings smoothly. Through the choice of materials, Tania was able to guide the audience to think creatively, and reflect on their own actions. Thanks to Tania, I was able to image myself living in a world of chalk images, and to ask myself: what are some of the chalk marks that I would leave behind, and what are some of the chalk marks that I would create.