Straight from the Source: Interviewing Five AIM Artists About What They Are Trying to Communicate Through their Piece
Straight from the Source: Interviewing Five AIM Artists About What They Are Trying to Communicate Through their Piece
by Kiara Ventura
When studying a work of art, there is usually one main question on our minds: “What message is the artist trying to send to me as a viewer?” You search every corner of the piece and your questions still remain unanswered. It would be great if the artist who created this work was there to answer your floating questions.
On the night of July 15th, the Bronx Museum of the Arts held a Summer Open House event in which they invited the public and artists who had their work on display in the exhibition called, “Bronx Calling: The Third AIM Biennial.” These emerging artists residing in the New York metropolitan area were selected participants of the AIM (Artists in the Marketplace) program in which they attend a 13-week seminar that aid them in networking and finding opportunities. Every two years, AIM produces an exhibition and catalogue that features the work of 72 artists.
I got the rare opportunity to speak to some of these artists and ask that exact question we ask ourselves. While standing in front of their piece, I asked five AIM artists, “What is the main message you are trying to send to your viewers through this work?” This question then sparked a discussion.
Here is what they said…
1. Fiederieke Reveman and Red Head
FR: My work is about childhood memory and the sensitivity about childhood. It is kind of a research through the colors and through the composition. It is like a collage of memories and trauma.
KV: It seems like the memories are flashing by...I see a sense of movement.
FR: Yes, there is a dreamlike atmosphere. There are things you can guess maybe by seeing it. But by seeing it together as a painting, it is always changing. There is never a fixed point in the painting.
KV: Is there a reason why one eye is clearer than the other?
FR: Yes, it is like a memory so the face is almost vanishing into the surrounding. It is kind of coming out of nowhere. The face is almost sculpted with the whites then it goes more to the detailed part.
KV: I love how there are a lot of vivid colors on one side and then they fade away on the other side. Oh, and I see some faces here!
FR: You can see some figures in there. This is why I think it is interesting to play with the viewers. You can see something, if you want to see something.
KV: Yeah, maybe different viewers will see different things in this work.
FR: Yes, that is exactly what I want to transport.
Click here to find out more about Fiederieke
2. Ronald Hall and Shadows of Color
RH: Well, I just moved here from Seattle about a year and a half ago. When I first moved here, I was here to do a residency. I was excited about living in New York for the first time so I wanted to do something that was a homage to New York. I decided to do some research and find out about the history of African Americans in New York. I dug up some images I found in books and online. So this painting is loosely based on some historical images of African American life in the 18th century.
KV: When you did research, what did you find out about African American life in New York during that time period?
RH: I found out about a slave revolt that happened in Manhattan during the 1800s that caused the destruction of a lot of African American affluent neighborhoods and businesses. Some of these images are loosely based on that. This building here (to the right) is based on one of the buildings that actually existed in one of these neighborhoods located in Brooklyn. And that building (to the left) is an image of the first African American color school in Brooklyn. It is actually still standing I believe. That silhouette (next to twisted arrow symbol) is of a voting ballot.
KV: What does the little face placed in the purple word cloud suppose to symbolize?
RH: Yes, it is a symbol of an racism. The image is based off of a well known book called Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Click here to find out more about Ronald
3. Gamaliel Rodriguez and Figure 1730
GR: Basically what I do is draw illustrative drawings using ballpoint pen and ink. The whole idea is to create this illusion that looks real but it is actually not. I actually invented them. And also if you see the top of the drawing, there is a text attached to it. The text is also false. There is a relationship between the image and the text. I would like the viewers to create questions when they see this work. This is very important for an artist. When you make something you want people to ask themselves, “What is happening in the image?” and “What did the artist chose to use this material?” The more questions the artwork creates, the better the artwork is. As an artist, you are a communicator and you use art as a channel of communication. And the receivers (the people viewing the work), they will receive and perceive many things. The whole idea is to create something that looks real but actually isn`t.
KV: You said that the text is false. What makes it false?
GR: I invented the number and searched for real companies that went broke. Then I invented this theory that there was a fire at the company's building but that is false.
KV: So this work is all based on your imagination?
KV: Is there a special pen that you used for this? Or did you use a regular ballpoint pen?
GR: I just used a regular Papermate blue pen. And to make the straight lines, I used a ruler. For the smoke, I blew the ink out of the pen and onto a plate. Then I used my fingers to create the smoke.
KV: How long did it take you to make this?
GR: Eight hours a day over the course of a week.
KV: How did you come up with the idea for this work?
GR: Basically, I was looking for old prints from the eighteenth and seventeenth century. They would use a lot of prints and engravings to illustrate books. When you read a book and then you see the image. You can relate the text to the image. Say you read about a boat that went on fire, then you see the image and think that the fire actually happened. If I invent events like this, that is going to be better because people will believe it is true but it is actually not.
Click here to find out more about Gamaliel
4. Maria Hupfield and All Places All Times
MH: This work is about exactly what it says "all places, all times, always and forever" and how art has life and energy even from inside a frame. I think that each of us have different relationships with works of art and although meaning may appear fixed change is a constant. We can see the same piece but we are different people so we have individual encounters. How we see a work can evolve as we gain new insights, experiences and reach different points in our lives.
KV: Does this piece also go with the performance piece you just showed us?
MH: Absolutely, yes. My performance activates all the elements you see here including those you don't such as the actions made by my body, what I am doing with the materials and of course the live music of Laura Ortman. For performance artists, we often get asked, “Well, we want you to perform at our exhibition,” and I say, “For sure, I would love to perform as part of the exhibit!” - so I can show the full range of my work. Often we only get to see the document of the performance, I never really get to see Coco Fusco doing Planet of the Apes because that is so sought after. Live performance offers a special shared experience. I like to think about our bodies occupying the the gallery and the space coming alive full of creative energy. Hopefully, after the performance you see the work with new eyes and that memory offers something more to the inanimate still object on display.
Click here to find out more about Maria
5. Michael Shultis and The Flop
MS: The whole initial concept was to paint the USA winning the world cup and it was suppose to be a joke about global dominance, which I feel an as American we inevitably confront every time we wake up. I took images from the actual World Cup of other teams and replaced the winning team with the USA. The idea of USA and soccer to me is like the perfect combination of irony in the sense that it is the one thing that no one gives a f**k about. That is what I want to use for our conversation about power.
KV: I see the big yellow "M" letter in this piece. Is that suppose to resemble the Mcdonald's symbol?
MS: Yeah, and it is also the “M” for Mexico. The chainlink fence was an after thought but I am glad I put it in there.
KV: Oh, it sort of looks like a goal and fence?
MS: Yeah, it was an afterthought thought. What's funny is that it actually needed something so I ended up placing a fence there and I did not even know the connotation until afterwards.
KV: What are the objects on each side of the piece?
MS: Oh, those are skis. I found those right by the World Trade Center actually.
KV: And why did you choose to include them?
MS: Part of the goal was to also to reference sports without using the correct objects. The skis and the volleyball while focusing on soccer...It was actually suppose to show the viewer that I am not just talking about soccer, I`m using it only as a metaphor for American stupidity.
KV: ...and it is suppose to have a funny sense to it…
MS: Totally! I think humor is the most important tool in contemporary art right now. The act of the jester in the Renaissance times was the only person who could confront the king and actually critique the king. And I think that is the same way with art right now. Artists can actually confront the ruling class because the ruling class are those who are buying art.
“Bronx Calling: The Third AIM Biennial” is now on display at the Bronx Museum of the Arts from July 9 to September 20, 2015. For more info, visit http://www.bronxmuseum.org .
14 Things I discovered at the Whitney Museum
by Kiara Ventura
5. A man approached this work and said, "This is a masterpiece!"
Artist Barnett Newman (1905-1970) Title Day One Date 1951-52 Medium Oil on canvas Dimensions Overall: 132 1/16 × 50 1/8 in. (335.4 × 127.3 cm) Credit line Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art Accession number 67.18 Rights and Reproductions Information © artist or artist’s estate
6. It is best to start your visit from the 8th floor and then make your way down the museum. When you are done looking at a floor, all you have to do is go down the stairs inside the building or outside on the balcony.
7. You can get an amazing view of Manhattan's West Side from the 8th floor balcony.
Here is Melanie gracefully posing in front of the west side`s urban background. The Empire State Building is saying hello from afar! Taken by: KV
Hey, that's me! Taken by: MA
8. Instead of simply signing the right hand corner of his piece, artists such as John Court chose to uniquely sign with his thumbprint too.
9. The 6th floor was my favorite floor. I mean look at all these cool pieces...
10. Chuck Close is an amazing artist. Well, I knew that already but look at this piece that he DREW and PAINTED.
Click here to listen to the audio guide to this piece.
11. Cigarettes come in all sizes.
12. It is okay to feel uncomfortable around art. Some artists play with pushing boundaries.
13. This is not just a tower of old televisions. This is a tower of ART.
14. When you are done visiting the Whitney, take the stairs up to the Highline and catch some more works of art as you walk up the west side.
To find out more about the Whitney Museum click here.
Making the most out of your art exhibition visit
By Kiara Ventura
I know what you are thinking. You just set your eyeballs on the work of art and voila, you have looked at art. This article is not about the simple act of putting your eyes on a work of art but rather about how you can make the best out of your experience with a piece and take in some understanding of what the artist was trying to convey (whether it be an image and/or an idea). My goal is to try to make you spend at least 5 minutes in front of a work of art rather than a few seconds.
Keep in mind...
Firstly, let me just put this out there; I believe that we will never fully understand a work of art. A work of art will never be fully understood unless you were the one who created it yourself. Each work of art was made by a certain person, in a certain place in the world, in a certain culture, and in a certain time period. Therefore, we as art observers will never know every thought and intention that was going through the mind of an artist when they created their work. There are many artworks from ancient worlds that are not fully understood simply because we can only get glimpses of what their societies were like through the literature and/or artifacts they have left behind. We will never know why an artist chose to give his canvas a rough spiky texture rather than a smooth flat texture or choose crayon as his medium rather than acrylic paint, etc. We can only be certain of the artist's choices and views only if they revealed their exact thought process behind their work.
Tip: When you are looking at a piece you should not comment, “The artist felt happy because...” or “The artist chose this color because...” Instead, keep an open mind and try saying, “The artist may have felt happy...” or “Maybe the artist chose this color because…” Keep an open mind when trying to understand art. When your interpretation comes out as a fact, you are more likely to not think about other possible interpretations. Remember that you are not in the artist`s shoes. But also remember that most artists produce art for others to see and interpret on their own.
How to look at art:
1. You walk into a exhibition. In front of you stands a wall with the title of the exhibition and under it are paragraphs of information that are as long as the Great Wall of China. I know what you are thinking. You're planning to read the first paragraph and rush right into the exhibition. Slow your roll there buddy! Read the wall text! It is there for a reason. Wall texts are meant to serve as a foundation for your thinking process while observing the works.
Tip: If you are one of those people who have a habit of rushing right into the exhibition, try visiting the exhibition website before your visit (usually the exact intro wall text is posted on the site) and read up on the exhibition.
2. Hopefully by now you have read the introduction and you are walking into the exhibition. There is usually a work that stands in the front and center, and that is meant to be the first work you see. Do not just spend three seconds looking at it and pass by, because these are usually the gems of the show. Curators carefully pick which work or works they place at the opening of the show to attract visitors inside. Usually the first work visitors see are meant to represent and connect to the other works following it. So while viewing this piece ask yourself, “Why did the curator chose to place this piece here?” You can bring up this question with the following pieces too.
3.You’re walking. You’re walking. Now, you are getting to the meat of the show. It is time to spend some one on one time with each work of art in the exhibition. Even if a work is initially confusing or uncomfortable to look at, give it a chance. If you skip it, you might be a missing a cool new learning experience.
4. You are in front of a work and you do not know what to think or look for. You may have the urge to look at its label information but lets not read about the work just yet. While your eyes are set on the piece, try to answer all the questions you have in mind. To start off, simply identify what you see in the art work. Bring up the basic 5Ws: Who created the work? What is the work made out of? Where was it made? How was it made? You can create more questions based on its features such as color, shade, pattern, symmetry, texture, style, and more. Try to identify the work`s foreground, middle ground, and background. Ask yourself if the work has a sense of flow or movement. My personal favorite question to ask is what feeling am I sensing as I am viewing this work? Or what mood do I think the artist was trying to convey?
Tip: If you are with friends, take some time to ponder on your own and have a discussion. If you have a question you did not answer yourself, ask your friend(s). See if you can find evidence in the work to support a potential answer. Remember that art is a very open field, do not be afraid to get imaginative and say what you think. Have fun while you explore your thoughts and the exhibition.
5. Go ahead and look at the work`s label! See if your thoughts were somewhat correct. If not, try to revise your thoughts and connect them to what you just found out. Some labels provide more information than others, so not all of your questions will be answered. But this is okay, the art world revolves around unanswered questions.
6. Try this questioning process with works of art throughout the whole exhibition. You can even have a curatorial approach to your questions by asking yourself why you think the curator choose to group certain works together? Why is the space set up in this way? How does the lighting of the exhibition affect the mood of the space? Did the curator do a good job in providing enough information and guiding the visitors through the show?
7. You have finally reached the end and maybe all the thoughts you gathered made you have a new outlook on life. Connect every piece of information you gained and try to come up with an overall theme or message of the show. One main purpose of art is to communicate. So ask yourself, “What message did this exhibition communicate to me?”
Viewing art in this manner is a process that I learned through time while visiting art galleries. There is no “right” way in understanding art but I do find this way to be effective. If you agree, feel free to share your experience by commenting below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.