Gazzola

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Ron Boaks | Stairway To The Heavens V | 2017
October 20, 2023

Ron Boaks | Stairway To The Heavens V | 2017

There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow. 
(Ad Reinhardt, from Art-as-art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt)

The dead cannot remember themselves; that’s why the living have to.
(Sarah Monette)

At the risk of getting too personal, too subjective, it’s often not a good experience to go to an art opening when you’re known in the community as an arts journalist. RM Vaughan has written about this, but there are – of course – exceptions to this rule, stepping outside the space where you have individuals attempting to bully and bleat or blow smoke up your ass, ahem.

When I was spending time in an exhibition of Ron Boaks’ painting a few years ago at a gallery in Niagara, an impromptu conversation with the artist became a high point of interaction and conversation about his work (and the larger milieu of artmaking, too).

At that time, Ron and I spoke about a body of work I colloquially refer to as the ‘Staircase’ series. These are (literally) darker works with an assortment of symbolic or metaphorical glyphs “scratched” and seemingly etched into and upon them : many of the pieces are defined by the recurring – but simple and perfect in execution – staircase. This offers an invitation to another site : not so much an ending as a transition to another place and sense of being.

Our conversation, at some point, touched upon how these were scenes Ron had created in response to the loss of loved ones : and I should clarify that they were dark in a formal sense but not in an experiential one. They had an element of hope, an injection of transcendence, perhaps, instead of a commentary on endings.

This painting that I’m featuring is from that exhibition and grouping of artworks : Boak’s Spirit Arise series.

Boaks’ words : “With this body of work, I am trying to capture “the lightness of being”, that essence of life, state of grace, of being alive right now. In 2013 two very dear people to me died. Awhile after their passing, I began to feel lighter in “spirit”, as, if they were now free, that it was OK for me to feel that too. This lightness is translated into these paintings as the energy or spirit entity, surrounded by rich colour. The paintings are grounded by the almost drafted line, measured, as it were, like distance markers on a map. X and Y coordinates are usually there, doubling as chromosomes. There are collaged bits, often as the pieces on each side edge that mark my boundaries. Balance and the interplay of opposites is as important as ever. Some of these paintings are serene and sublime while others are happy in their intensity or darkness. These are complex relationships made visible as simply as possible. These works need to be mulled over, absorbed and enjoyed.”

I would later visit Ron’s studio and we chatted about his work : I always love when artists trust me enough to invite me into their spaces, and I think that initial conversation had a role in that.

This is an image that offers a sense of what comes after death (and I say this as someone who is between an agnostic and an atheist, most days): but that which we leave behind us exists in a variety of forms, whether our experiences with others or the impressions we leave upon them, that inspire those whom remain to commemorate our passing.

Ronald Boaks’ career as an artist spans 30 + years. He has exhibited throughout Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. His artwork has been widely collected and can be found in many public, corporate and private collections nationally and internationally.

More about his work can be seen here (Boaks was a previously featured Artist You Need To Know from AIH Studios’ continuing series) and at his site.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Diane Beard | Walking from the Darkness to the Light
October 2, 2023

Diane Beard | Walking from the Darkness to the Light

“…life is brief and lovely, not long and foolish, that it is strange and beautiful, yeah as a dream, then so let it be, if it must be tears, if tears alone may serve…”
(Jack Kerouac)

Diane Beard is a photographer who takes pictures of her immediate community of Welland (usually while walking the streets of the city), often manipulating the images digitally to have a surreal or abstracted quality.

She was one of the featured artists in the Welland Creatives Network’ 13 on the 13th exhibition at the Welland Historical Museum in 2022. We became acquainted during COVID, when the artists’ group I facilitate – the 5 x 2 Visual Conversations – began to ‘meet’ online, and Beard was an enthusiastic and impressive participant.

Diane is the widow of artist Ross Beard (1953 – 2019) who was arguably the most significant visual artist in the history of the city of Welland. Frankly, I prefer to say ‘is’ as a recent exhibition of his work indicated that he lives on in his artwork and the joy many find within it.
His passing was – is – a fracture in her life, and part of her response has been the many images she’s produced and shared, both online and in the Niagara visual arts community.

From a recent exhibition – which was titled Walking from the Darkness to the Light – in St. Catharines : “Having been surrounded by Ross’s awe-inspiring art, sharing the same love of nature and appreciation for the Niagara area, driven by grief combined with a loss of identity after Ross’s passing, yet with no formal training, Diane began taking photographs as means to express her feelings and emotions. Diane’s sense of color and form transcends a simple mundane scene into something abstract and at times unrecognizable mimicking the profound change in her life.”

I’ve been lucky enough to talk with Diane often about her work. The contrast between a scene you recognize and something completely alien is one of the aspects of her work that’s alluring. Beard has an innate sense of colour, composition and a vibrancy in her scenes. This vivacity is an appropriate challenge to the fact that these images are, at their genesis, about loss and mourning and how to move through that….

Beard shares images regularly on social media, and is a prolific artist. I’ve only shared a small part of her body of work, and more can be enjoyed here and here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Liz Hayden | I dare you | 2022
September 24, 2023

Liz Hayden | I dare you | 2022

“…the City’s refusal to support a public art gallery makes it’s endorsement of a heritage award a travesty.”
(Elizabeth Chitty)

A decade or so ago, I curated an exhibition from the archives of the now defunct (having merged into paved arts) Photographers Gallery in Saskatoon. On the accompanying panel (with artists Patrick Close, Sandra Semchuck and Doug Townsend, whom all had played seminal roles with the gallery as well as organizations like CARFAC and the Saskatchewan Arts Board) I made the observation that communities will create images of themselves that more accurately reflect the reality of the place, often when confronted with depictions that are not just disconnected from lived experience but in direct opposition to reality.

Liz Hayden’s image has been in my mind since she first shared it on social media some time ago : Hayden has been a vocal ally during the travails here in calling out the lies and self aggrandizing ignorance that has defined Brock University’s ‘demolition through neglect’ (to quote a past Cultural Coordinator for the city of St. Catharines) and sale of Rodman Hall Arts Centre, and the City of St. Catharines’ weathervaning between apathy and self congratulatory dishonesty.

The latest chapter in the travesty that is the City of St. Catharines’ apathy and ignorance – which has, in that manner I should know better by now, become even more egregiously foolish – was  brought to my attention earlier this week. You can read more about that here. Essentially, the city council of St. Catharines – which I sometimes less than affectionately refer to as ‘North Welland’, to remind them that the delusion that STC is the ‘jewel’ of Niagara is a transparent lie to many of us in the cultural milieu – is seeking provincial heritage designation for the former gallery site, though it’s nothing more than a boutique hotel now, and all the things that made it an important site are now lost…

This is nothing more than STC Council giving an award to someone who has helped the local political cowards, miscreants, liars and ignorant incompetents NOT have to deal with the fact that the gallery may have been bulldozed and the subsequent critiques that would then expose their absence on the loss of the gallery and the harm this caused to the cultural community.

We used to have a nationally recognized and lauded art gallery, a centre for cultural and community oriented groups and now it’s just a ’boutique hotel’ and this merits recognition? This is an affront, especially considering the lackadaisical disinterest of the previous mayor and the inaction of many supposed ‘stakeholders.’

Did I mention that the city of St. Catharines has made some rumblings about wanting to have a ‘cultural renaissance’ in the city? Some things I cannot make up.

But now that I have set the stage with that intersecting rant, let us consider Liz Hayden’s artwork that speaks to these ideas. When we were speaking about it recently, she made the comment of ‘angry colours, wasted words.’

This work by Liz Hayden is titled I dare you : and I suspect that is a title that dares the viewer, but also those whom might be ‘offended’ by what the work states, to attempt to defend what has been allowed to happen, so their ignorance might be exposed. This is – like much of my writing and advocacy on the subject – perhps tilting at windmills : a recent ‘conversation’ on the Niagara History social media page was rife with people ‘excited’ at the new hotel, ignoring that access to the grounds would be limited, that a community focal point was gone, that citizens were irrelevant next to a few consumers and that this is a superficial facade that is a shoddy cover for what was an award winning artistic space that was deeply important to many.

These are some of the words that Hayden included to accompany another work in this series (which can be seen in the full post), but they are relevant here, as well :

Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are. (Alfred Austin)

He is the gardener.
There at daybreak, he tills and waters: nurturing the plants, the community. Open-handed, he shares hard-gained knowledge and his harvest. Here is a place to heal, to grow. Free, in the air, without fear.
He is the gardener.
He walks the park, picking up.
Greets the old ladies, and their dogs, by name
A smile, the weather.
The garden is his purpose.
He toils there and grows
Himself and all of us
In that earth

This is one of a series of garden portraits I completed in 2022 focusing on gardens and gardeners here in St. Catharines, the Garden City. This acrylic on canvas portrays Richard Pierpont park, (previously known as Centennial Gardens) and Ross Hayden who has gardened there since the inception of those public gardens approximately 10 years ago.

A garden is a fine metaphor for a community : and there are many who are as insulted by the council’s proposal in terms of the loss of the green space as much as the artistic space. I will admit that I am also reminded of Oscar Wilde’s story about The Selfish Giant, but that one, at least, has a happy ending : but the giant had some introspection and that cannot be said for St. Catharine’s political ‘leaders’, on this front….

~ Bart Gazzola

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Chris Alic | Transience & Memory
September 16, 2023

Chris Alic | Transience & Memory

One need not be a Chamber – to be Haunted –
One need not be a House –
The Brain has Corridors – surpassing
Material Place –
(Emily Dickinson)

The history of one who came too late
To the rooms of broken babies and their toys
Is all they talk about around here
And rebuke, did you think you’d be left out?
(Peter Straub, from Houses without Doors)

Like Mark Walton – and it’s a defining tenet of curated, I think  – I also have a strong presence in my immediate and local visual arts community, with mine being Niagara : several of the artists I’ve featured here (Juliana D’Intino, for example, or Sandy Fairbairn) are ones that I’ve been lucky enough to include in a continuing curatorial project in downtown St. Catharines that began in Fall of 2022 and that is continuing indefinitely, with artists slated into late 2024.

Chris Alic is one of those artists, as her exhibition with Amber Lee Williams is currently on view at Mahtay Café & Lounge. That grew out of a 5 x 2 Visual Conversations evening (a relaxed sharing of art and ideas that I’ve facilitated for over five years, in St. Catharines and Welland). Like any good curator, I offered support to the two artists but primarily stayed out of the way, with some appropriate gentle nagging.

From that immediacy, let’s indulge some of my subjectivity that sparked my interest to consider these two pieces by Alic.

As the artist said when she spoke about the work, these are images from time she spent in Missouri in the United States – and, of late, I’ve fallen down another rabbit hole that centres upon the idea of the aesthetic of the Southern Gothic, whether that be in terms of crime or horror, but usually (and I own this) on the darker side. In light of this, the abandoned and lonely toys of Alic’s images take on a more ominous tone. Further clarification : I’ve been eschewing the ‘standard’ Southern Gothic horror of New Orleans, in my reading and research, but instead have been looking at other sites in the American South – like Charleston, or Alic’s Missouri – as these oft ignored sites have an unexplored richness in their stories that is more diverse than you might think. I also mention this – not just as another subjective indulgence – but because many of the stories I’m encountering in this enjoyable research are defined – or deformed – by the history of those sites (the institutional racism flows into the occult or supernatural horrors of the stories. There’s a story by Alan Moore about a television show that is shot on an old abandoned plantation where the filming somehow invokes the ghosts of the enslaved, and the actors ‘become’ their characters, with new manifestations of hate and racism being merged with old…all horror, they say, comes out of reality….or perhaps even the superficially banal, like Alic’s empty playground and abandoned tricycle….)

 

The words of the artist :

Memory is a huge part of what makes us human. Every interaction, every step, sight, sound, touch, smell – all these things create memory. But they are fragile. They are guided by perception, they are malleable, layered, are influenced by who we become, and who we become is in part made up of what we remember. Our memories continue to create us, and we create our memories. And we lose them. They fade, disintegrate, become suspect. They are subject to context, transformation and decay, and temporality, just like the spaces we inhabit and the things we use. They become the liminal space between an event and a feeling. Does emotion exist without memory?

I have been using a camera to secure my memories since I was a single-digit kid. I don’t remember ever not having a camera, or access to a camera. It was a part of my childhood, and everyone around me took photos and 8mm film of everyday life. My immediate and extended family were avid documentarians. I am continuing that tradition, but somewhere along the way I made the decision to “crop” those memories – to capture only small portions of context, little bits of an event, inexplicable to anyone but myself because each image is connected to an important moment, an emotion, a piece of who I became because of it. And then I edit. Adjust. Refine. Sometimes intentionally erase, fade, and transform them.

These seven images were made during a two-year period living in Columbia, Missouri. All were taken on a Yashica FX-70 Super 2000 film camera. I learned to use a darkroom and print my own photos with this film, and two of the images were only recently developed using caffenol-c. I had forgotten that I had taken the photos, I had forgotten the existence of the places until I saw them again.

The two person exhibition CHRIS ALIC & AMBER LEE WILLIAMS | TRANSIENCE OF MEMORY is on display at Mahtay Café & Lounge in downtown St. Catharines for the month of September, 2023.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Joseba Sánchez Zabaleta | Room With Mirror
September 8, 2023

Joseba Sánchez Zabaleta | Room With Mirror

“It is said that scattered through Despair’s domain are a multitude of tiny windows, hanging in the void. Each window looks out onto a different scene, being, in our world, a mirror. Sometimes you will look into a mirror and feel the eyes of Despair upon you, feel her hook catch and snag on your heart.

—————————————

In her world, there are so many windows. Each opening shows her an existence that’s fallen to her — some only for moments, some for lifetimes.”
(Neil Gaiman, from Season of Mists and Brief Lives, respectively)

Part of a larger series that engages with ‘footprints and memory’ and places now empty where the artist has recorded – or interpreted – the detritus of those who once existed in these spaces, Zabaleta’s paintings seem haunted. Though empty of people, their presences still suffuse the space, with an implication of absence, with someone missing that still is intrinsic to the atmosphere of his compositions.

His words : I wanted to paint the uninhabited buildings that I found in search of the memory of all those lives that I sensed should remain intact and detained in them. Waiting for something to happen, the empty buildings keep within their walls the trace of what has been lived between them. Somehow the fled love is imprinted on the plaster of its partitions. The silence of those deaf rooms falls through the walls, depositing itself between the joints in the pavement, next to the arid and dusty trace of time, among accumulated fragments, piled up by the wind in the corners.

One of the images I’ve shared in the full post is titled Marlom. Zabaleta offers the following meditation about this site, this painting, and the unknown person :

Of you there is only a name written in blue blood.

You thought it would be easy, that it would be just as they had told you. You thought that if others had achieved it, you would also achieve it. You thought while you were hiding, while the world was chasing you, what would be the best way not to be seen, to disappear, and you didn’t realize that nobody saw you, that you could have gone out on the road and walked, because those who are like you around here and you don’t look at them nor do you see them.

More of Joseba Sánchez Zabaleta’s fine paintings can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Annie Collinge | Table For One | 2020
August 25, 2023

Annie Collinge | Table For One | 2020

With styling and art direction by James Theseus Buck and Luke Brooks of Rottingdean Bazaar, the Table For One series was created for Luncheon Magazine, featuring the model Tin Gao.

There are a number of places to stand (or crouch, on your knees with your head tucked under, like the resting chicken ‘downward dog’ work by Collinge) in considering Table For One.

Some are more light-hearted (when I first encountered Collinge’s performative scenes, I was having the type of day where staying at home in a banana bag or sitting stoically as a snug, solitary tomato was a comforting concept. Table For One might mean being grateful to be left alone, that day). Other responses may be darker : perhaps these are incongruously bright, vibrant metaphors for loneliness and separation. Eating alone at a table for one is interpolated as isolation – and assumed to be by reluctance not preference – which feeds (sorry) into the history of how eating with others and communal meals are lauded as linchpins of social structure. This is – of course – debatable, as it has a rank stench of nostalgia, like those who lament the myth of ‘family dinner.’

I offer this as someone who often goes to movies alone, or eats in restaurants alone, but have been told I’m ‘extroverted’ in other social interactions.

When considering art, I often cite what Jeanne Randolph describes as the ‘amenable object’ : it’s a ‘vessel’ that we pour our own experiences into, and thus construct its meaning in collaboration with the artist. Fashion falls within this, and is also a manifestation of art and social history : its a history we wear and perform. As with art history, it is sometimes subversive, sometimes explicit. Table For One exists within that space.

“Puppetry, dolls and larger-than-life costumes populate the images of London-based photographer Annie Collinge. Visual trickery abounds, as if Alice had just stumbled upon a magic potion in Wonderland, with scale (the very large and the very small) frequently distorted. The human body becomes a foil to its surroundings, offsetting imaginative surroundings that conjure the escapist storybooks of childhood. A head appears amidst a mushroom patch, or else a gloved hand clutches at a disembodied head. Like the best fairytales, these images carry as much menace as they do whimsy.” That quote is from an interview with Collinge : more of that conversation can be read here.

More of Collinge’s artwork (sometimes collaborative, sometimes solo) can be seen here and here.

 

~ Bart Gazzola

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ArtActivistBarbie | Dr Sarah Williamson
August 11, 2023

ArtActivistBarbie | Dr Sarah Williamson 

Many years ago, when I was still working in art galleries, I was intimately involved with the first full ‘inventory’ of the Kenderdine Gallery’s art collection (now the College Gallery, at the University of Saskatchewan). This task involved documentation both visual and written, from shooting slides (yes, I am that old) and creating or augmenting artist and artwork files.

At one point, a coworker and I realized that there were more works by unknown artists than there were from female artists, let alone ‘contemporary’ ones : but I also remember an acquisitions meeting where yet another passel of karaoke modernist paintings by a second rate male artist were being considered for purchase (despite, as I pointed out, one of the people on the committee was the son in law of said artist, and we already had many works by this artist, and many more lesser imitations in this derivative genre. Unsurprisingly, I was asked to leave the meeting…).

I can’t help but feel nobody would be able to make ArtActivistBarbie leave, in a similar situation (yes, I am smiling as I type that). A performative persona of Dr Sarah Williamson, it feels appropriate to speak of ArtActivistBarbie as a person, unto herself, in this essay.

If you’re still swimming in that cesspool known as Twitter – sorry, ahem, ‘X’ – then perhaps you are already familiar with ArtActivistBarbie (@BarbieReports) who “has a finely tuned eye when it comes to calling out gender inequality in the arts, and she is not afraid of making a scene. Her provocative wit and fabulous wardrobe lend themselves to staged interventions, predominantly in art galleries and museums. Posing with her tiny, pithy placards, ArtActivistBarbie is photographed gently mocking or drawing attention to problematic exhibits and the images are shared with millions of Twitter users. She also challenges the biases inherent in so many curatorial labels and statements.

ArtActivistBarbie seeks to change the practices of these institutions, the bulk of whose collections have historically been commissioned and produced by men, representing many centuries of male power and privilege. Over 94% of artworks in publicly funded galleries [in the UK] are by white men and many objectify and demean women and girls. Making visible the lives and experiences of women and minority ethnic groups is vital for a more just and equal society.” (from here)

The origin of ArtActivistBarbie is thus : “The woman behind the project is Sarah Williamson, a senior lecturer in education and professional development at the University of Huddersfield. A few years ago, she was trying to find a way to engage her students with social-justice issues and feminist ideas, especially the problematic way women are portrayed in art. She wondered if Barbie, that plastic idealised woman, could become a vehicle for playful commentary on the “patriarchal palaces of painting”. Soon Williamson was gathering a doll army, clothing it in pieces handmade by her feminist mother in the 1970s, with new additions created by her sister. She handed each of her students a Barbie doll and a blank placard on a lollipop stick, then set them loose in Huddersfield Art Gallery.

The resulting mini-protest signs stopped visitors in their tracks, and the photographs of Barbie’s protests drew plenty of notice back in Williamson’s office: “I realised I had something which attracted everyone’s attention and catalysed conversations about how women are portrayed and represented not only in art, but society in general.”” (from The Guardian)

It’s also necessary to consider how “museums are somewhat newly self-reflexive about their role in shaping the culture and the discourse, and are working hard to stay relevant and expand the canon—and to grow their audiences.” (That’s from a recent article in ArtNews that appropriately decries the slipshod ‘critique’ offered by the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition Pablo – matic – and although ArtActivistBarbie seems to ‘shoot from the hip’, her aim is more accurate, and considered, in the larger discourse of whom and what cultural institutions serve – and don’t….)

Much more about ArtActivistBarbie’s caustic yet comedic commentary (comedy, it has been said, is just rage in fancy dress, and Barbie has no shortage of snazzy outfits) can be enjoyed here. There are a number of interviews with Dr Williamson that are as educational as they are engaging.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Tish Murtha | Elswick Kids | 1978
August 4, 2023

Tish Murtha | Elswick Kids | 1978

All we wanted was everything. All we ever got was coal.
(Bauhaus, from the album The Sky’s Gone Out, 1982)

Patricia Anne “Tish” Murtha (1956 – 2013) was a British photographer best known for her images of working class life in Newcastle upon Tyne and the North East of England. Murtha’s work is a raw documentation of these communities – and often youth within these social groups – at a time when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waged war on her own citizens, embracing a neo – liberal cruelty that is like a virus whose symptoms can be still seen in contemporary post Brexit Britain.

The images captured by Murtha evoke notions of a ‘third world’ country, with the scenes of desolate and despairing youth amidst a wasteland that – being shot in black and white – emit a hopelessness that reaches across the decades. Or perhaps it is simply combining with the contemporary desperation among working class communities in these places now.

From here : “In 1976, aged 20, Tish left home to study at the famous School of Documentary Photography at The University of Wales, Newport under the guidance of Magnum member David Hurn.

She took many photos in Newport, including The former Prime Minister James Callaghan opening up a new stretch of the M4, as well as documenting Aubrey Hames’ year as Mayor of Newport in the Queens Silver Jubilee year (1977-1978). Tish also worked with the South Wales Argus during this time and photographed the local election campaigns.

When she returned to Newcastle, she began to document the lives of her friends and family and numerous other projects.
Tish’s work was often concerned with the documentation of marginalized communities from the inside. She invested her time building relationships of trust, which allowed her access to different parts of the communities that she photographed. Her approach was informal, generating an understanding of what she was doing by giving copies of her photos to the people in them. The young people she photographed as part of the Youth Unemployment and Juvenile Jazz Band exhibitions showed how tenacious, resourceful, clever and resilient they were (and had to be) – Tish was always fiercely protective of them.

She felt she had an obligation to the people and problems within her local environment, and that documentary photography could highlight and challenge the social disadvantages that she herself had suffered.”

Three books of her photographs have been published posthumously : these are Youth Unemployment (2017), Elswick Kids (2018) and Juvenile Jazz Bands (2020).

More of Tish Murtha’s work and her life (as her daughter is maintaining her archive and ensuring her mother’s work is given its appropriate place in terms of history and art) can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Dimitri Tsykalov | MEAT | 2007 – 2008
July 28, 2023

Dimitri Tsykalov | MEAT | 2007 – 2008

It’s not a new idea that firearms make acts of violence ‘too easy’, almost ‘antiseptic’, as they minimize the necessary physical contact intrinsic to other acts of brutality. This is an idea that’s been raised about technology since we began using it to kill each other.

(At the risk of seeming flippant, I must also inject a quote that came to mind when I first encountered images of Tsykalov’s MEAT : Invariably, the first question asked about a new technology is, “Can this make killing less of a hassle?” The second being, “Can I have sex with it?”…)

The implicit ‘removal’ or ‘remoteness’ (I’m reminded of the ski pole scene from Timothy Findley’s The Wars, for example, where the firearm and act of murder almost seem separate from the character himself) makes it almost a ‘trivial’ or ‘throwaway’ action to fire a gun.

Dimitri Tsykalov’s MEAT works offer a counter to that, in a grotesque manner that is excessive : I’ve debated writing about Tsykalov’s ‘armaments’ for a while, unsure if they’re too flippant, or too horrifying, or a combination of both that is as unpalatable as gripping cold flesh while your hands are stained and overrun with effluvia…

These works don’t pretend to an aesthetic distance (like in Serrano’s work, or some other artists I’ve talked about here who – like myself, when I worked with fat, bone and meat for over two decades – are interested in creating inappropriately beautiful artwork) :  I feel that Tsykalov takes pleasure in our revulsion and wants to evoke it from us, and considering what he’s ‘butchering’ the meat, flesh and bone into, this is not inappropriate. There’s a swagger here, a bravado that intends to make us ill. Meat and guns are, after all, metaphors for penises or toxic masculinity, and Tsykalov alludes to that (even with the titles that reference specific guns).

Tsykalov, in creating work that intersects with brutality and our capacity for it, as a species, has taken an opposing artistic path to someone like Ralph Ziman with The Ghosts Project (a past Curator’s Pick you can see here).

Tsykalov’s own words : “In these pictures I recognize the murderers within me, I recognize love and death within me; in these pictures I recognize my flesh as the cannon fodder it is and will be for the rest of my life. In contrast the secondary meat in these shots – the one that rots and that kills, the animal meat that is used to create the fleshy weapons – seems unscathed, sanguine and elegiac. It is incredibly alive, it is cannon flesh and we are already mortal.”

Dimitri Tsykalov was born in Moscow (1963) where he attended Polygraphic Institute of Moscow (1982-1988). He currently lives and works in Paris.

More of his work can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Saint Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Leningrad, USSR | Masha Ivashintsova |1977
July 21, 2023

Saint Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Leningrad, USSR | Masha Ivashintsova | 1977

I was not born
to amuse the
Tsars.
— Alexander Pushkin

I loved without memory: is that not an epigraph to the book, which does not exist? I never had a memory for myself, but always for others.
— Masha Ivashintsova

Masha Ivashintsova has been described as a ‘Russian Vivian Maier‘ as she took so many photographs – creating a world, in a way, of her city – in her lifetime but most of them have only been shared since her death. Her eye for contemporary life under the Soviet regime – especially in St. Petersburg later Petrograd later Leningrad then again St. Petersburg (the shift in name and what that entails in the socio political sphere is a good place to stand, when considering Ivashintsova’s photographs) – was an honest and personal portrait of her life and times. One might argue that the veracity of these experiences captured with her lens were – are – so honest and powerful that we can understand why she held them to herself for so long. Her own personal history was also painful, and that was surely a factor, too.

Or, perhaps as I allude to with the quote from Pushkin, autocratic, authoritarian societies prefer facile propaganda and punish uncomfortable truths….

Ivashintsova (1942 − 2000) was a photographer based in Saint – Petersburg (then Leningrad, in the USSR) “who was heavily engaged in the Leningrad poetic and photography underground movement of the 1960−80s. Masha photographed prolifically throughout most of her life, but she hoarded her photo-films in the attic and rarely developed them. Only when her daughter Asya found some 30,000 negatives in their attic in 2017 did Masha’s works become public.”(from here)

“Struggling with life under Communism, by the mid-1980s Masha was committed to a mental hospital against her will, as a way to get her in line with the USSR’s philosophies. Working throughout her life as a theater critic, librarian, cloakroom attendant, design engineer, elevator mechanic, and security guard/riflewoman, she was a chameleon, always camouflaging her inner artist. Only through her diaries and photographs was she able to show her true self.”

A fine article – and interview – with her daughter Asya Ivashintsova-Melkumyan can be enjoyed here. A site devoted to Ivashintsova’s amazing archive can be seen here : as well, there is a social media page that shares her work at regular intervals here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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