Everyone now has the opportunity to create a public persona, and make it very public through social media. Sami Lukkarinen is interested in inserting his painterly artistic practice into this digiverse.
I first saw Lukkarinen’s work at Galerie Forsblom in Helsinki. Large-scale portraiture paintings that appear eery from afar, the paintings become abstract, thick applications of paint up close. While Lukkarinen cites Gerhard Richter as an influence, his actual painterly practice is more akin to an amalgam of Georges Seurat’s pointillism and Chuck Close's portraiture. By blowing up smaller photographic portraits, and applying differing shades of paint in organic square forms, Lukkarinen has succeeded in achieving pixellation, a phenomenon that occurs images on the Internet, through the ancient artistic practice of painting.
Below is a portrait by Lukkarinen and a video documenting Lukkarinen's practice.
Molecular biologist, Shinichi Fukuoka, discusses the brain's biases related to perception. The images below are from his Japanese text, You Can't Comprehend the World Even if You Divide It (Sekai wa Waketemo Wakaranai) (2009). They show Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (c. 16th century) in pixellated grid-form, starting from the largest (8x8) to the most minute (80x80). As the image is divided into smaller squares, the jump in tonal ranges between each square decreases, allowing us to look at the overall picture, instead of focusing on the details.
Lukkarinen's artistic practice traces the opposite path from the Mona Lisa images. Trolling Facebook for photographic portraits that catch his eye, he then interprets the image through his painterly process. In a feedback loop, once he is finished with his painting, he sends an image of his painting back into the digiverse by uploading the image on his Facebook fan page for all to see and to comment. He apparently does not ask permission to interpret the original image.
The artistic practices of contemporary artists using available Internet images as source material pose all sorts of interesting legal questions. For an artist like Lukkarinen, does the "sitter" of the original photograph have a claim against his use? Laws on the right of publicity usually cover the use of unique indicators such as name, image and likeness, and generally, you cannot use the likeness of another person for commercial purposes (without their consent). While specific rights are different from state to state, these rights protect all 2-legged people, whether they are famous or not. (Most of the existing case law on the right of publicity involve famous people, because famous people arguably capitalize on their likeness which is directly tied to their own brand, and they have more at stake when they are associated with other entities.)
At the end of the day, however, context is key. Even though Lukkarinen is using the likeness of others in his artistic practice, having a photo of yourself (that you yourself uploaded into a public sphere) transformed into a beautiful painting is not derogatory, but perhaps a celebration of ways in which contemporary artists find and use source material.
I visited Tribal Textiles, a privately owned artisanal production facility in the South Luangwa National Park in eastern Zambia. Operating since 1991, Tribal Textiles designs, paints and finishes textile goods using local manpower, and distributes its goods throughout the world, including in the US and in Japan. At the facility, I was able to speak with Moses, one of the foremen of the factory, to learn more about the production process for these handicrafts.
Set in open air, the facility currently employs about 90 people of both genders. Moses explained that production takes place during the dry season in Zambia, from around May until November. Locals—who might otherwise be day laborers in agricultural production during the wet season—work on contract.
Similar to the atelier system (or the assembly line production for cars), the facility has artisans specializing in specific aspects of the streamlined production process. First, artisans draw the outline of designs—by freehand!—onto the cotton, using a mixture of flour and water. Here is an artisan drawing safari animals (did I mention without any underdrawing??!!).
Next, the fabric is passed onto the painters who use water-based paints. Almost all colors are mixed by hand from the three primary colors of red, blue and yellow.
After the fabric is set out to dry in the sun for about 30 minutes, the fabric is baked in an electricity-powered oven for about 5 minutes to set the color. Then, the flour starch is scraped away, leaving the outlines of the beautiful designs in negative.
Finally, the fabric is finished into products that include cushion covers, pouches, table runners, and napkins. Pouches cost approximately ZMW 70-110 (or approximately USD 13-20) and a set of six napkins cost approximately ZMW 200 (or approximately USD 40). These prices appear to be expensive relative to the cost of living in Zambia; while it is unclear whether the artisans are paid in proportion to these retail prices, it appears that many of them return year after year during the dry season to work at the facility.
Each step within the production process appears to have a daily ‘goal’ (or quota for units). The foreman explained to us that lunch is provided for the artisans, and pursuant to a USAID contract, HIV/AIDS prevention training classes also provided on-site.
I got to experience the painting process ourselves through a pre-organized Art Safari (approximately ZMW 250, or USD 48, per person). Given pre-starched cushion covers to paint (right alongside the professional artisans!), the facility baked, scraped and finished them. It made me realize how truly time-intensive the process is.
Thanks to Kerstie, Rosie and Marie at Tribal Textiles for arranging and facilitating this wonderful experience!
I think Akira Horikawa is a bit of a maniac (and I mean this as a compliment). Horikawa has been working on his 1000Drawing Project, with the goal of creating 1,000 drawings on the same-sized drawing paper. Flipping through these drawings, the viewer questions the meaning behind the imagery -- is the image a reflection on Horikawa's day, a riff on a concept that intrigued him, an exploration of a visual idea, or a response to a song he heard or a person he saw?
The worldview in each drawing is chaotic and complex, yet it manages to pull you into its unrealistic sense of order. Horikawa's drawings remind me of stories from Black Water, an anthology of fantastic literature edited by Alberto Manguel. Manguel defines fantastic literature as a genre that "makes use of our everyday world as a facade through which the undefinable appears, hinting at the half-forgotten dreams of our imagination. Unlike tales of fantasy...fantastic literature deals with what can be best defined as the impossible seeping into the possible, what Wallace Stevens calls 'black water breaking into reality'." Black Water contains short story gems from authors as varied as Jean Cocteau, Tennessee Williams and Tanizaki Junichiro. Each story has an utterly surreal, but complete logic of its own.
In Horikawa's Happy Ending, Horikawa draws what appears to be the East Village in NYC at the corner of Avenue B and 11th street. Perhaps late at night, a lone soul sits dejectedly on the sidewalk, while another straggling partyer proves to have drunken a bit too much (while her partner takes advantage of her). A ginormous cat loiters into the scene, unbeknownst to the humans around it. A "happy ending"? Depends on who you ask. Creepy? A bit. Mesmerizing? Entirely.
Here are some of Horikawa's other recent drawings.
The feeling of Horikawa's work has definitely changed over the course of the 1000Drawing Project. When he first started the project in 2007, his drawings seemed more sparse and slightly experimental in motif and use of lines. Over the course of 6 years, Horikawa appears to have become more confident both in his worldview and style.
You can go see Horikawa's last 100 drawings in 1000Drawing Project at Pierogi Gallery, between now and November 10. Horikawa should also have some works available for sale in Pierogi's flat files, so if you find a 'black onyx' of a drawing that speaks to you, inquire at Pierogi!
All images of work courtesy of Akira Horikawa
Late in the summer, people started finding out about Mysterabbits -- a public art project where teeny tiny meditating bunnies started popping up throughout New York City (and apparently, through the world). Started by designer, Ji Lee, and friends, according to their website, the project attempts to provide brief moments for people to wonder about "a small piece of the beautiful world that surrounds them." It's a public art piece, participatory project, scavenger hunt, and Instagram feed rolled into one.
According to the Huffington Post article about Mysterabbits, some of them were in the +718 (around the Bedford Avenue stop off the L train, to be exact). Try as hard as I looked, I couldn't find any, although it definitely made me look more closely at my daily surroundings during my commute.
I contacted the brains behind Mysterabbits through their Facebook page, and they kindly sent me a couple of my own Mysterabbits to take with me (and to leave) during my travels.
So, here is my first installment of Mysterabbits and their travels. Participating in the project has allowed me to stop and take in my environs (and work on that elusive perfect iPhone shot). More installments to come!