Komar and Melamid | Yalta Conference, 1982January 26, 2023
Komar and Melamid, Yalta Conference, from the “Nostalgic Socialist Realism” series, 1982
I enjoy speculative fiction and recently was reading Harry Turtledove’s Joe Steele. It’s a stand alone story, but you may be familiar with his Southern Victory series (in which the Confederate States survive the American Civil War, and it stretches into the mid twentieth century, offering alternate – yet familiar – takes on everything from WW I to the Holocaust) or World War / Colonization books. That series of books inject an alien invasion into the midst of WW II. This might sound ludicrous, until you read them and one of the aliens observes that – upon their discovery of Buchenwald and Auschwitz – that clearly humans are monstrously incapable of governing ‘ourselves.’ It’s an interesting tonic to the proliferation of science fiction that posits an alien deus ex machina that proffers the narrative that humans are special – such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, for example. Perhaps it’s because Clarke was more hopeful, and much has happened since then…
“The novel [Joe Steele] explores what might have happened had Joseph Stalin been raised in the United States, postulating his parents having emigrated a few months before his birth, instead of remaining in the Russian Empire. It depicts Stalin (in this history, taking the name Joe Steele) growing up to be an American politician, rising to the presidency and retaining it by ruthless methods through the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War. The president is depicted as having the soul of a tyrant, with Stalin’s real-world career mirrored by actions taken by Steele.” (from here)
But I mention Turtledove’s Joe Steele as it reminded me of Komar and Melamid’s painting Yalta Conference, from the Nostalgic Socialist Realism series, 1982. This work has also been the cover image for Boris Groys’ seminal book The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond (2011). The ‘inspiration’ for this painting is a famous photograph.
Komar & Melamid are interesting for their cultivated personas as much as their art. This painting can’t help but offer and foment a myriad of interpretations, drawing upon not just the ‘players’ but the moment it re imagines. Yalta was, after all, the point at which the shaky alliance between the USSR and the United States began to seriously fracture. The employment – or appropriation – of ‘socialist realism’ (a style that was the official style of the USSR but that – to quote a Soviet born historian – was like Pravda, in that you can find some grain of truth by what it ignores) only makes this a ‘scene’ even more about failure (like the Yalta Conference was, towards any peace in a Post WW II world) than progress, with a sprinkling of absurdity and skepticism, with the hushing Hitler and American leader a goggle eyed alien….
Boris Groys, in writing about Komar and Melamid, offered the following about their aesthetic: “[The artists] themselves, however, perceive no sacrilege whatever here, because they consider the religion of the avant-garde to be false and idolatrous.”
More from Groys, that could also apply to this painting, and the multiplicities of potential interpretations of it (combined with the irreverence of Komar and Melamid’s larger practice): “[in] the West, the march of progress is “aimless” – one fashion succeeds another, one technical innovation replaces another and so on. The consciousness that desires a goal, meaning, harmony, or that simply refuses to serve the indifferent Moloch of time is inspired to rebel against this progress. Yet the movement of time has resisted all rebellions and attempts to confer meaning upon, control, or transcend it.”
More of Komar & Melamid’s work – and their unique aesthetic and legacy – can be enjoyed here. If you’re interested, more about Boris Groys’ writings and ideas can be read here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Kelly Tapìa – Chuning | More Than Once, 2022January 20, 2023
Kelly Tapìa-Chuning | More Than Once, 2022
needle felted Romney wool on foam board insulation, 27.50 x 49 x 4 inches
I could pretend I’m sorry for saying this (but I’m not, in the least), but 2023 has been off to an interesting start with the deaths of Joseph Ratzinger and Gerald Pell. Perhaps you think that’s ghoulish, but when considering the work of my latest Curator’s Pick – Kelly Chuning – I remembered that not just had both of those men aided and abetted abusers of children, but their lives and actions were drenched in misogyny. Their hatred of women who didn’t fit their own ignorance is one of the many rank stenches that they’ll leave behind, akin – if not worse – than the smell of a corpse.
If that seems ‘disrespectful’, let us consider the artwork by Tapìa – Chuning that spurred these thoughts, which were in an exhibition titled What is Respect? that was at Red Arrow Gallery in 2022.
“What is Respect? takes place two months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, guaranteeing a women’s right to an abortion and 5 days before abortion is completely illegal in the state of Tennessee. With this body of work, I am giving the responsibility to the viewer to decide what the term ‘respect’ implies, given the current political climate; and asking the audience to consider how we can utilize language as a tool for change going forward.
Growing up in a fiercely religious household, the people of Tennessee weighed heavy on my mind as I heard the news of the state’s trigger law (‘The Human Life Protection Act’) banning abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest. As a victim of sexual assault, the implications of this law influenced me to act immediately.” (from here)
It is necessary to remember that the voices on the Supreme Court of the United States that spewed the Dobbs decision are predominantly religious – with ‘precedent’ being ‘cited’ by one, the rabid catholic Alito, regurgitating the biliousness of a witchfinder from several centuries ago. If my writing seems caustic – or ‘disrespectful’ – it is less so than those that seek to dehumanize people like Tapìa – Chuning…..
Kelly Chuning is an interdisciplinary biracial Latinx artist currently based in northwest Montana. She received her BFA in Studio Arts from Southern Utah University and will be attending Cranbrook Academy of Art fall 2022 as a Gilbert Fellow. Chuning’s work explores rhetoric, imagery, and media as a tool of constructing various modes of female identity.
Her IG is @kelly_chuning/
Kelly Tapìa – Chuning’s site is here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Romina Ressia | Woman with a Water Pistol, 2014January 6, 2023
Romina Ressia | Woman with a Water Pistol, 2014
Most of the writing around Ressia’s photographs talks about absurdity and anachronism: perhaps that’s because she appropriates form and redefines meaning in a manner that challenges art historical tropes around gender and relevance. Meticulously executed, her ‘portraits’ have a gravitas on the one hand, but then this is broken by elements that can’t help but amuse (though her people never crack a smile, with eye contact that might wilt any irreverence from the viewer).
There is a hint of dourness to the woman who is the player in this series, and many others, having a heavy handed seriousness that is then fractured by the various objects her subjects are brandishing that seem silly and puerile.
Bluntly, Messia’s Woman with a Water Pistol looks like she’s had just about enough of you, young man, and unless you want to be sprayed with water – disciplined like an unruly, disobedient cat – you’d best behave. You shan’t be told again.
A bit flippant perhaps. But consider the [still, uninterrupted] proliferated misogyny in Western art history [or contemporary art] of women as object, or demure commodity, or the validation / apologia of rape as seen with Europa or the Sabine women or ‘Susannah and the Elders’ (and so, so many others). Consider that in (recently done) 2022 we’ve seen groups of women around the world make it clear that they have had *quite* enough and my interpretation is not without consideration….
This image is part of a larger series titled How would have been Childhood? with the same figure in them all, her unimpressed body language acting as a unifying aspect of the artworks. Birthday hats, costumes, balloons – nothing seems to inspire joy, here. When I first encountered this series online, a birthday party that no one was enjoying – if anyone even came, besides the ‘star’ of the series – can be forgiven for being an initial impression….
“Romina’s art cleverly initiates dialogue on important contemporary social issues through the striking use of anachronistic tropes juxtaposed with mundane and banal elements of modernity. Indeed, the influence of classical artists like Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Velazquez is instantly recognizable in the palettes, textures, ambiance and scenes captured in Romina Ressia’s works, bequeathing them an air of familiarity which only serves to highlight the contradictory and sometimes confrontational presence of objects of modernity such as cotton candy, bubble gum, microwave popcorn and Coca Cola.
The theatrical absurdity in her pictorial compositions, which combine stylistic elements of Renaissance paintings and Pop art, and the dissonance of the stark contradictions captured therein have a surprising clarity, making for an honest critique through visual dialogue of received notions of modernity. In this sense, Romina succeeds in achieving her artistic intent which is not to recreate or refer to the past but to establish a frame within which to interrogate the perceived evolution and progress of society especially in respect to the role and identity of women.” (from here)
If you’re doltish enough to suggest ‘she’d look better if she smiled’, don’t be surprised if you get soaked – deservingly.
More of Romina Ressia’s evocative – if a bit disquieting – work can be seen here.
Her Instagram is @rominaressia
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Dan Kennedy / Dr. Erosion | Animations, 2019 – 2022December 15, 2022
Dan Kennedy / Dr. Erosion | Animations, 2019 – 2022
I’ve always been a fan of animation in its many forms (I am a member of Gen X, so Saturday morning cartoons shaped me, but I also remember watching Science Ninja Team Gatchaman – and the butchered Western version Battle of the Planets when small, and Akira [アキラ] is another seminal experience, for me, when young).
Speaking as a more mature viewer, The Brothers Quay’s Street of Crocodiles (1986) is something I can watch over and over: and recently I rediscovered the 1986 animation The Mysterious Stranger, from the larger film The Adventures of Mark Twain (that vignette is based on Twain’s ominous story of the same name). The shifting mask of Satan, in that claymation, disturbed me as a child and still horrifies me now. Perhaps, with stop action animation, there’s that same ‘perversion’ of the human body that we see in work with dolls, as I touched upon when responding to Gabrielle de Montmollin’s Weird Baby World installation.
When I began researching Dan Kenndy / Dr. Erosion’s work, I was mostly familiar with his two dimensional ‘still’ artworks, but soon became engrossed with his short ‘films’. Drawing Time, Cats Dream of Water, Where is the Blue Fairy? – and many others – are brief visual anecdotes, amusing and disturbing simultaneously.
The images below are teasers for the longer works, which can be enjoyed here (works from 2019) and here (works from 2020 – 2022).
Kennedy’s aesthetic is ghostly ethereal and densely complicated, pulling upon his continuing “explorations of commercial culture or as he refers to it, ‘the commercial unconscious”.” (from here) There are hints of Hieronymous Bosch in these brief vignettes from Dr. Erosion / Kennedy that are engaging but also eerie.
When I’ve written about abstract painting I’ve often stolen and shared an idea from art historian Julian Bell: ‘In other words there was no prior context to the painting itself. The viewer’s eyes would submit, and the painting would act.’ Kennedy’s works are often short, and this makes them even more focused – like a sharp taste, where more would be too much.
Dan Kennedy / Dr. Erosion was also a previously featured Artist You Need To Know in AIH Studios’ continuing series. That can be explored here.
More animated works from Kennedy / Dr. Erosion can be found on VIMEO.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Jane Evelyn Atwood | TOO MUCH TIME: WOMEN IN PRISON, 2000November 25, 2022
Jane Evelyn Atwood, TROP DE PEINES: FEMMES EN PRISON, 2000, Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, France. (OUT OF PRINT)
Jane Evelyn Atwood, TOO MUCH TIME: WOMEN IN PRISON, 2000, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, England. (OUT OF PRINT)
“Curiosity was the initial spur. Surprise, shock and bewilderment soon took over. Rage propelled me along to the end.”
Too many times – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – I have heard some well meaning dilettante assert that ‘art should be about beauty’ or ‘should only uplift us.’ In terms of that space where photography intersects with ideas of art and documentary – and not to mention history – something that comforts you is most likely wrong, if not simply pablum. When I’m sharing images on social media, there are some photographers I hesitate to post works from (as photography still carries the weight of being more ‘real’, thus can ‘offend’ as well as see yourself banned from those platforms): Gilles Peress is one of those, for his unflinching lens in places from Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia (“I don’t trust words. I trust pictures”), Gordon W. Gahan (specifically his images of the Vietnam War), Donna Ferrato (I was lucky enough to experience her groundbreaking series Living with the Enemy decades ago, in Windsor) or Martha Rosler (her House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home works that had their genesis in response to the Vietnam War (c.1967–72) but that she ‘revisited’ in 2004 and 2008, ‘updating’ them to Iraq and Afghanistan).
But the text I’ve selected for a Library Pick is something that is not ‘there’ but ‘here’, and in that respect is often – easily, repeatedly – ignored.
Jane Evelyn Atwood’s “monumental work on female incarceration, published in both French and English, took Atwood to forty prisons in nine different countries in Europe, Eastern Europe, and the United States. The access she managed to obtain inside some of the world’s worst penitentiaries and jails, including death row, make this ten-year undertaking the definitive photographic work on women in prison to date. Extensive texts include interviews with inmates and prison staff as well as Atwood’s own reminiscences and observations. The prize-winning photos in this book, including the story of an incarcerated woman giving birth while handcuffed, established Jane Evelyn Atwood as one of today’s leading documentary photographers.” (from her site)
Atwood has always used her camera as a means to tell stories too often not even dismissed but denied, and she has granted a level of dignity and consideration to those whom are too often not considered human but detritus.
A good friend is a theologian, but of the liberation theology vein: I enjoy talking with them, as their righteous anger is only matched by their ability to quote that repeatedly translated and edited text with a sense of the public good. I mention them as they once pointed out that in the New Testament, only one person was promised a place in the ‘kingdom of heaven’, and that was one of the criminals being crucified at the same time as Jesus.
In a more modern sense, I might cite Lutheran Minister (and ‘public theologian’) Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s contemporary addendum to the beatitudes, which include ‘Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working.’
Atwood published ten books of her work and been awarded the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, the Grand Prix Paris Match for Photojournalism, the Oskar Barnack Award, the Alfred Eisenstadt Award and the Hasselblad Foundation Grant twice.
More of Atwood’s work can be seen here.
Like several of the books I’ve recommended, this is one I came across in my local library.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Arthur Tress: Fantastic Voyage, Photographs 1956-2000 | 2001November 10, 2022
Arthur Tress: Fantastic Voyage, Photographs 1956-2000
200 pages, Hardcover, Bulfinch, 2001.
Arthur Tress (Photographer), with writing by John Wood and Richard Lorenz
There was a recent exhibition of Tress’ photographs mounted at Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto, and that brought his work back to mind. Having enjoyed several of his books, I returned to this one – which is, for me the definitive publication of Tress’ art and aesthetic – and it’s definitely worthy of a Library Pick.
Tress’ works are striking, if unsettling. An initial amusement or facile reading gives way to a more conflicting or uncanny narrative upon closer consideration. He shares this with photographers like Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Mary Ellen Mark, Diane Arbus and – an artist featured in a previous Library Pick – Roger Ballen.
“Tress started out as an ethnographic documentarian but, partly inspired by the rituals he recorded, turned to ever more premeditated subjects. In an early project, he asked New York children to tell him their dreams and then posed them, with appropriate trappings, in neighborhood spaces to illustrate their sleeping fancies. His projects since the mid-1980s involve arrangements of tools, toys, furniture, dolls, and other stuff that Tress paints and lights to suggest scenarios and even narratives. Besides the short-term projects, Tress has made surrealist outdoor still lifes and male nudes over longer periods. The latter, including some of his best-known pictures, are implicitly homoerotic but considerably more apprehensive and even dread-filled than the nudes of fellow gay surrealist Duane Michals. But there is more humor and less darkness in Tress’ highly polished work…” (from Tress’ site, which is worth spending some time exploring, as well)
“Arthur Tress’s career can be seen as a long fantastic voyage – from early photojournalism into the realm of surrealism, eroticism and miniature worlds. This retrospective is an overview of Tress’s career. As the title implies, Tress’s work is full of fantasy – nothing is what it at first seems. His images contain dark undercurrents and light wit, violence and beauty, futuristic scenes and homoerotic and psychologically charged tableaux. The 250 images featured in this volume range from the early black-and-white work to the richly coloured surrealistic images of the 1990s and his latest, previously unpublished work in progress. Richard Lorenz, (curator of a retrospective exhibition in Washington, DC, in May 2001) offers an in-depth biographical essay on Tress and the development of his vision. An essay by noted photo critic John August Wood puts Tress in context.” (from here)
The images I’ve shared here are from the bodies of work by Tress that are my favourites – primarily Dream Collector (1970 – 74), Theater of the Mind (1976 – 77) and Still Life (1981 – 83): but there’s other series in this book that are very different, and a testimony to the breadth of his aesthetic and career. These include the starkness of his documentary work in Appalachia (1969) to the uncanny quality of his Fishtank ‘installations’ (1989) to the moribund garishness of Hospital (1985 – 87).
From the Corcoran’s review of this publication: “Tress’s work, above all else, reveals a personal approach to photography, a subjective view of the world that continually reinvents itself while it ponders universal archetypes and myths.”
Arthur Tress was a previously featured artist in AIH Studios’ ongoing Artists You Need To Know series: that can be enjoyed here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Don Bonham | Twentieth Century Technology Utilized by Third World Mentality, 1993September 9, 2022
Don Bonham | Twentieth Century Technology Utilized by Third World Mentality, 1993
Don Bonham (1940 – 2014) was a sculptor who produced monumental works that intersect with classical ideas about art and also incorporated contemporary references – especially as pertains to industry and technology. His work alternates between humour and a disturbing – yet attractive – aesthetic that reflects back on a larger society, especially in terms of how often any new technological advance is met with the brutal inquiry of whether “Can this make killing less of a hassle?” (Sadly, the second blunt question is, “Can I have sex with it?”). If you think I’m wrong, consider other works by Bonham that would please J.G. Ballard as three dimensional iterations of some of Phoebe Gloeckner‘s illustrations to his texts…or horrify him, edit as you will.
Don’t criticize Bonham’s presumed priapism and the implicit male gaze in his work: an era gets the artwork it merits. His industrial works often openly acknowledged and built upon the fetishization of object that was a continuation of a fetishization of the female body. His works are always seductive and well executed, if initially unsettling.
In his own words: “The gap between human and machine is constantly shrinking. Are we to become more like machines, or machines more like us? The creators of technology have imbued machines with human characteristics, and this tendency is creating a more hospitable environment for their acceptance by society. As an artist I am only enlarging upon this concept.”
Years ago, a fine film critic spoke of how futurism, in cinema, was either a clean, antiseptic space, like an Apple store, or more like Blade Runner, and broken, dirty and more part of an industrial gothic aesthetic. Bonham falls within the latter.
I have been accused of being somewhat ‘subjective’ as a reviewer, often relying upon ‘inappropriate’ sources and considerations when engaging with artwork. This bemuses me, and entertains me even more when I consider that a motivation for featuring a work by Bonham is the rather disrespectful – though typical of the vagaries of institutions that claim to protect and nurture culture – decision by McIntosh Gallery, at the University of Western, to de accession one of his works from their collection. Curator, writer and gallerist Terry Graff has been working against that, and you can see his efforts – and learn more about Bonham and his legacy – at Graff’s social media.
But in looking at Bonham’s sculpture here (and many of his similar works that meld, merge and mash up humanity and machine, with a sense of militarism that is almost inappropriately amusing and intersects with black humour) a Vietnam era anti – war anthem from the 1960s comes to mind. This is fitting, as Bonham came to Canada during the period when many men from the United States were fleeing their country, opposed to the war there. However, “Bonham enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in an elite Recon unit in Southeast Asia. After six and a half years, he was honorably discharged to enter the University of Oklahoma as an Art History Major. He left university before graduating and worked in Detroit on a Ford assembly line before moving, in 1968, to London, Ontario, where he discovered a dynamic arts community that reinforced his decision to pursue a career as a visual artist.” (from a retrospective of Bonham’s artwork at The Beaverbrook Art Gallery)
The song Sky Pilot by The Animals is as confrontational as Bonham’s Twentieth Century Technology Utilized by Third World Mentality, and for its time was surely controversial: and it’s necessary to include the print below that Bonham produced, of his modified – or realized – helicopters swooping down, mimicking that infamous scene where the ‘righteous’ decimate a village from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Death rides a pale horse, a mechanized cyborg that’s surely a descendant of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse), coming down from the sky….
Regionalism has both defined – and deformed – Canadian art and Canadian art history (and is arguably why Bonham’s work is being so disrespected by the University of Western. Graff is more erudite and informed on this front than I). But regionalism is also the lens through which I respond to the terms of ‘First World’ or ‘Third World’ (cited in the title of this work) which seem as archaic at times as ‘Cold War’ (an epoch I had to explain to students, when I used to teach at a university, and let’s remember that the ‘Second World’ was the Communist Bloc, and the most avowed communist country now is definitely ‘open for business’…).
Bluntly, there are those who have and those who have not, and the tools at hand are used to enhance the former and demean the latter: it is the ‘order of things’, in the era of late capitalist modernism (to quote Jameson) or, as I like to call it, late modernist capitalism. Trinh T. Minh-ha (a Vietnamese – so she has an intimate understanding of the construction of history, as pertains to colonization / imperialism – filmmaker, writer, literary theorist, composer, and professor) famously wrote that “there is a third world in every first world, and vice-versa.” Bonham – and myself, initially – spoke of Vietnam. But you’re more likely to see a third world in your own city, overseen and monitored by a machine not unlike this sculpture (with the excessive militarization of police departments), in the skies over Detroit or Cleveland or Baltimore…or my own site of Niagara, or my previous space of Saskatoon, with tent cities and other ‘undesirables’, too often given harm over help, unlike other more harmful groups that squat, rife with sedition and fascist symbols….
Many thanks to Terry Graff for support, and conversations, that helped define this essay. Much more about Bonham’s life and artwork can be seen at Graff’s social media feed (there is also a petition to make Western reverse their decision here) and Bonham was a past Artist You Need To Know, in AIH Studios’ ongoing series. That can be enjoyed here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Florence Vale | Selected Drawings & Verse, 1979November 3, 2022
Florence Vale | Selected Drawings & Verse, 1979
Published by Aya Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1979
My love created
something more real than you are
Florence Vale was an artist influenced equally by surrealism, expressionism and cubism, melding these sometimes disparate movements into unique works. “I paint what I dream,” Florence Vale (1909 – 2003) stated, and the late art historian Natalie Luckyj offered that “Her art was a world in which fantasy and reality are interwoven to create a private and secret environment.”
She published several books of her writing intermixed with her artwork: in this slim volume, the drawings are linear and simple, and often erotic. The text alternates between a light-hearted salaciousness and more stark, desolate meditations upon love.
Vale was a previously featured artist in AIH Studios’ ongoing series of Artists You Need To Know. That can be enjoyed here, where you can see more of her artwork.
A light went out
and I can’t turn it on
the dark is frightening
temptation is rife
a momentary relief
and the pain is there still
but deeper now
despair strains the heart
longing is agony
God’s love cannot compensate for yours
This is not an easy book to find, though you may be able to procure it online through spaces like this one. But – as I so often do – I would suggest your local library, or a local second hand book store, as they have been – and continue to be – treasure troves of fine art books. I discovered this book in the library at AIH Studios, but also have a copy of another of Vale’s publications of prose and pictures that I bought at an artist run centre’s ‘yard sale.’
I must also inject that there are too few collections of artists’ books and publications that are accessible to all, in gallery and museum spaces, and this is an unfortunate consequence of the prevalence of digital spheres, now….
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule | Igort, 2016September 1, 2022
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule | Igort, 2016
All has been looted, betrayed, sold; black death’s wing flashed ahead.
Of late, I’ve been exploring more graphic novels in my reading (this was partly inspired by Virgil Hammock’s feature on Jon Claytor’s Take The Long Way Home). I cut my artistic teeth on comics, as a teenager, and it’s been good to see them garnering the respect they merit in North American cultural discourse.
Sometimes I’ll pick things up at random. That’s how I encountered Putain de Guerre! (Goddamn This War!), by Jacques Tardi and Jean-Pierre Verney, translated into English by Helge Dascher. That graphic novel came to mind as I was reading – also having picked it up on a whim – The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule, by Cuadernos de Igort (who creates his work under the name Igort) with Jamie Richards as translator.
Both are horrific. Putain de Guerre! is perhaps less shockingly immediately visceral, as we can pretend it’s more remote, more ‘done’ and ‘in the past.’ But Igort’s Notebooks have a contemporary resonance, with what’s happening in the Ukraine right now. It scalds, in an immediate manner, and you’ll carry the personal stories of the people in it with you, long after you’ve put it down. It horrifies, and the personal narratives splash onto, and into, you, if you even have the barest sense of empathy. In this sense, it’s like Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, where myself – and everyone I know who’s read it – found they had to repeatedly check the endnotes, as the sheer numbers of slaughter and death seemed unreal. A friend from Poland told me she could only read it in parts, as it was simply too much.
The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks: Life and Death Under Soviet Rule are equally harrowing, as brilliant in a minimalist artistic execution as they are grotesquely overwhelming in the tales being related.
“After spending two years in Ukraine and Russia, collecting the stories of the survivors and witnesses to Soviet rule, masterful Italian graphic novelist Igort was compelled to illuminate two shadowy moments in recent history: the Ukraine famine and the assassination of a Russian journalist. Now he brings those stories to new life with in-depth reporting and deep compassion.
In The Russian Notebooks, Igort investigates the murder of award-winning journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkoyskaya. Anna spoke out frequently against the Second Chechen War, criticizing Vladimir Putin. For her work, she was detained, poisoned, and ultimately murdered. Igort follows in her tracks, detailing Anna’s assassination and the stories of abuse, murder, abduction, and torture that Russia was so desperate to censor. In The Ukrainian Notebooks, Igort reaches further back in history and illustrates the events of the 1932 Holodomor. Little known outside of the Ukraine, the Holodomor was a government-sanctioned famine, a peacetime atrocity during Stalin’s rule that killed anywhere from 1.8 to twelve million ethnic Ukrainians. Told through interviews with the people who lived through it, Igort paints a harrowing picture of hunger and cruelty under Soviet rule.”
“With elegant brush strokes and a stark color palette, Igort has transcribed the words and emotions of his subjects, revealing their intelligence, humanity, and honesty—and exposing the secret world of the former USSR.” (This quote, and the previous one, are from here).
If – after all that – you’re still interested to seek out a copy of Igort’s recording of the stories of Serafima Andreyevana, Nikolay Vasilievich, Maria Ivanovna and so many others, I suggest visiting the artist’s site, though my local library has an impressive collection of graphic novels and their ilk, and that’s a fine place to begin, as well.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Ema Shin | Hearts of Absent WomenAugust 26, 2022
Ema Shin | Hearts of Absent Women
…as empty as an unremembered heart.
(Mervyn Peake, from his Gormenghast Trilogy)
I was born in Japan and grew up in a traditional Korean Family. My grandfather kept a treasured family tree book for 32 generations, but it only included male descendants’ names, not daughters. In my art, I have always tried to celebrate women and their historical handcrafts. These sculptural hearts are made from embroidery, handwoven tapestry, and papier mâché to recognize and celebrate the silent behind-the-scenes domestic duties of women and represent not only her emotions but serve as offerings or amulets for her protection.
(Ema Shin’s words, from here)
Of late, I’ve been watching the series Motherland: Fort Salem. I’ve a weakness – if you wish to put it that way, but I prefer affinity – for science fiction and fantasy (something I’ve been told, along with my interest in horror, is ‘inappropriate’ for an arts journalist…you know, like how the ‘only real art is painting’, ahem, to cite some of the karaoke modernists I endured on the prairies). The ‘alternate worlds’ are what interest me. When I was consuming William Gibson’s books, I was always more fascinated by the subtle things in his stories, presented as more factual and less chimeric (that the USSR eventually – for all intents and purposes – is run by the ‘criminal’ Kombinant, with the Russian mafia having fully taken over the government, that a religious cult appears that believes god speaks to them through movies – only from a certain era, of course – or that another character makes a living testing logos and brands, as she has an immediate, allergic reaction to any kind of advertising…)
In Motherland, a different world exists than that which we occupy: one where the Salem Accords have forged an uneasy alliance between the Witches of Salem and the United States Government, playing out in contemporary times. Imagine a military industrial complex based upon the magic of witches (or more accurately, the power of women), and – this is the part that is of more interest to me – a society that has formed around that, marking a genesis even before the United States became the United States, that is very matriarchal. Small things stood out to me, about how social ‘norms’ and customs play out very differently in this ‘world’ than in our own, especially around sexuality, power, who is expected to lead and who is expected to follow, and how history – in Salem – is overtly defined by a female gaze, if you will. I say ‘overtly’, as I always remember Martha Langford’s Suspended Conversations: The Afterlife of Memory in Photographic Albums, and those outside the frame who define it, but still are unseen metaphorically as well as literally…..
Ema Shin is a Melbourne based artist who was born and grew up in Niigata, Japan: she studied traditional and contemporary Japanese printmaking in Tokyo and completed a Master of Fine Art Degree in Nagoya. Shin has exhibited widely in Japan, Korea, Australia and elsewhere. Prior to this series, Shin focused on a variety of printmaking techniques and mediums, including Japanese woodblock printing, papier-mâché, embroidery, book making, Urauchi (chine-colle) and collage.
This interest in the physicality of materials continued when, due to motherhood and the pandemic, Shin “began to explore tapestry and embroidery…her red embroidered organs and [three dimensional] human hearts are beautiful to look at, and deeply personal-political in meaning.” (from here)
These are the archival giclée prints of the delicate objects Shin has created as part of her Hearts of Absent Women series (all photographs are by Matthew Stanton), and are an edition of 50.
From her site (which has many of her other fine works, so I encourage you to explore it): “Shin aims to create compositions that express sensitivity for tactile materials, the contemporary application of historical techniques, physical awareness, femininity and sexuality to celebrate women’s lives and bodies.”
Her Instagram is @ema.shin.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More