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Monday, October 24, 2011

Object lessons

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 2:45 PM

Corpuscles by Carrie Becker, part of the Elements exhibit
  • Photo courtesy of McColl Center for Visual Art
  • "Corpuscles" by Carrie Becker, part of the Elements exhibit

By Barbara Schreiber

Incorporating recycled materials, installations large and small, and wearables that challenge the idea of wearability, several current exhibitions pretty much run the gamut of three dimensional art.

In Elements at McColl Center for Visual Art, Michael Gayk and Carrie Becker deal with the organic and the cellular. Although Gayk’s work could accurately be called jewelry and Becker’s soft sculpture, these innocuous labels don’t begin to describe the bold content.

Gayk combines 3-D printing and other current technology with traditional craft. He's at his best here in a sequence of bracelets that, viewed from left to right on the gallery wall, mutate from sleek design to something you might see under an electron microscope, to pieces that look like sentient beings capable of inflicting harm. Even though produced over a period of several years, these controlled works have a hyper-focused consistency.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Recession, architecture and Dope: A tale of two art shows

Posted By on Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 1:33 PM

Two notable — and maybe the best attended — art shows that opened this month are (1) the Art by Architects show, a collaboration between AIA Charlotte and Hodges Taylor Gallery; and (2) the Art of Dope – Vol. 1: Coke by five artists from the God City collective, held at the Art House. And they present a perfect study in contrasts, if there was ever one.

There are the more obvious differences: one is in one of the oldest galleries, right in the middle of the glossy corporate heart of the town, the other in an area full of rundown mill buildings and empty warehouses. The artists and the attendees at the opening in one event were predominantly (if not all) white — and the other, black. But it is the contrast in the nature of the work that is even more fascinating, and perhaps more revelatory.

The Art of Dope series attempts to explore the effect of drugs on the individual, society and popular culture. This premier installment focuses on cocaine (both the blow and crack varieties, in case you have a preference). It was also a play on the popular usage of the term “dope” — as something so good it is addictive — art as dope. Some of the work is literal, some more subtle and layered; some dark and complex, some not much more than slicker versions of editorial cartoons … yet taken as a whole, they blur the boundaries between various media, and question the role of the artist in the society — as it has become characteristic of God City’s work. They boldly tackle the complex and highly sensitive politics and culture of drug use in the community, while offering up art, music and creativity as a possible way out of the trap.

Murray Whisnant: "Fuller's Earth." Image courtesy of AIAC/Hodges Taylor Gallery
  • Murray Whisnant: "Fuller's Earth." Image courtesy of AIAC/Hodges Taylor Gallery

Marcus Kiser: "Coke is it." Image courtesy of the artist.
  • Marcus Kiser: "Coke is it." Image courtesy of the artist.

Whereas the architects show was notable due to the total absence of any reference to social/political/community issues. Other than the usual travel sketches/paintings, the majority of the works comprised of abstract compositions drawing from the various early 20th Century styles in very traditional media, like painting and sculpture. (That is not to imply that the Architects’ show did not have some exceptional pieces: Murray Whisnant’s “Fuller’s Earth” showcases his characteristic skill and levity, Ron Morgan’s marble and wood abstract “Figure” displays a high refinement of craft and aesthetic, and Carrie Gault’s small and seemingly quick watercolors captures a unique emotional intensity. And that is just to name a few — in fact most of the 30-odd pieces display notable talent.)

I also don’t believe that art should be judged by the strength of its message (or the lack thereof), or the (un)conventionality of the medium; however, how a group/community acts at a time of crisis often reveals a lot about its true nature. The “safe and detached” nature of the architects’ work would not have been so ironic if not for the fact that the show is taking place after two years of the worst recession in anyone’s memory (and because of which, most people who were at the opening were probably facing the biggest professional crisis of their lives). When one’s work is out of touch with one’s own reality — let alone that of the larger society — something is fundamentally wrong.

Of course these problems are not unique to Charlotte. (Even though our city, being middle of the road on most things, seems to illustrate them perfectly.) Also analyzing what is wrong with architecture is a whole ’nother discussion. Yet it is not hard to conclude that if the current conditions teaches anything, it is the need to redefine architecture (both academics and practice) to be more responsive to the times, make itself more inclusive, and be relevant to the larger community, well beyond the tiny percentage of the populace it currently serves.

Crises force one to be inventive, to redefine one’s role and to be creative beyond the confines of one’s medium. Maybe the ailing Uptown architects can start by learning something from the sick work of the young artists at the edge of the city. Hip-hop architecture, anyone?

– Manoj P Kesavan

Show details:

Art by Architects at Hodges Taylor Gallery: June 4 – July 31, 2010

Art of Dope – Vol.1: Coke at the Art House: June 4 – June 30, 2010.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The (social) media and the new pioneers of our virtual universe

Posted By on Wed, Mar 3, 2010 at 2:11 PM

A special conference/fundraiser was hosted on Feb. 20, 2010. But it did not take place in one place — it started in Tokyo at 5 p.m. their time, and followed the time zones around the globe to end in San Francisco 24 hours later. During that period, tens of thousands of people in 130 cities around the world participated in it. This “largest global distributed conference ever” was the Pecha Kucha for Haiti event, and 100% of the proceeds went to the Haiti rebuilding efforts spearheaded by Architecture for Humanity. Most regular readers of this blog would know that Point8 Forum, the informal grassroots group this blog derives its name from, organizes Pecha Kucha in Charlotte. The series is held in most other cities by similar all-voluntary groups. And even more impressive is the fact that this whole event was planned and executed in around 20 days.

All this was made possible by media that barely existed five years ago; the word was spread through Facebook and Twitter and by various blogs, the event was streamed live on Ustream, with the founders chatting with the organizers and the audience around the world by Skype video. It was perhaps one of those not-too-common instances where the much-hyped “social media” delivered on all its promise.

PK for Haiti used new media for a rather traditional objective. But art isn’t often about tradition, and moreover, about having any immediate or tangible purpose. In fact, what artists often do is use a new medium for purposes it was never intended for, in the process expand the boundaries of that medium.

For example, Charles Westfall and Layet Johnson, two artists from the University of Georgia, set up a life boat with supplies for a day, and at 8:15 p.m. on Jan. 21, paddled off into the Atlantic off the N.C. coast ... on Google Earth! This performance piece, titled "Platonic Voyage" too was live on Ustream through which they stayed in touch with their landbound audience.

Johnson & Westfall on their "Platonic Voyage." Images courtesy Charles Westfall/Dugg Dugg.
  • Johnson & Westfall on their "Platonic Voyage." Images courtesy Charles Westfall/Dugg Dugg.

Set up/scene from "Platonic Voyage."
  • Set up/scene from "Platonic Voyage."

Another unconventional — if a bit irreverent — exploration/journey in the virtual world took place on Second Life, as an artist "recreated" Gandhi’s Salt March by advancing his avatar using a treadmill. You can see that and related projects recorded here.

As our connection to our non-immediate surroundings becomes primarily through the electronic screen, and as our socialization turns increasingly virtual, is the vast expanse of cyber space the last frontier? Are our contemporary Daniel Boones and Davy Crocketts out there in the fringes of the internet, staking it out for us less adventurous souls? Check out the art gallery near you to find out ... or just wait for their tweet.

– Manoj P Kesavan

Related: CPCC will be holding a half-day workshop to discuss Social Media and Visual Art on April 13, Tuesday afternoon at their main campus. Contact Alyssa Wood for more details: Alyssa.Wood@cpcc.ed.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The shape of thing to come: The real and virtual expansion plans of the North Carolina Museum of Art

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2010 at 11:07 AM

The Gantt Center opened last October, the Bechtler last month, and the new Mint is scheduled to open in October — quite a lot of major events in Charlotte’s cultural calendar. And just outside our normal field of vision, another major event is taking shape that deserves our attention: The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, the state’s premier and official museum, is getting ready to open its new 127,000 square foot building in April.

"Ogromna" — sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard, a typical new facade in the background. Images by Manoj Kesavan.
  • "Ogromna" — sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard, a typical new facade in the background. Images by Manoj Kesavan.

Unlike the striking new structures in our downtown, the new building (by architect Thomas Phifer) is very understated and almost minimalist  — the long muted metal-clad forms keep a low profile and attempt to blend in with the expansive (and redesigned) landscape of the suburban campus. It is yet to be seen how well the naturally lit gallery spaces come together, how well the artworks would fit in there, and how well it accomplishes the design goal of integrating the interiors with the exteriors. But so far it looks promising and could be a valuable addition to North Carolina’s artistic/architectural scene.

"Askew" — sculpture by Roxy Paine, framing one of the new sculpture courtyards
  • "Askew" — sculpture by Roxy Paine, framing one of the new sculpture courtyards

Beyond the brand new facility, the museum is also trying to expand in other less literal and perhaps more challenging ways: it is trying to reach out to the far corners of the state in an attempt to be a true “state museum” — an institution truly representative of, and of value to, the various communities all over the state. Can a museum located in the East-Central part of the state overcome its geographic limitations, and accomplish that through new collaborative and technological means? Can it have a regular presence in the cultural life of cities like Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington without being physically present there? That too is yet to be seen.

However from what is there already, and what is in the works, it definitely promises to be worth the two-hour drive out there in late April.

And while you are out there, also try some of that yummy East Carolina barbeque ... just kidding!! I know, who would want to do that ... right?!

– Manoj P Kesavan

More links/info:

Campus expansion – Main page: http://ncartmuseum.org/interim/expansion.php

Flickr slideshow of the expansion: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ncma/sets/72157614316369587/show/

Newly commissioned art works:

Askew by Roxy Paine: http://ncartmuseum.org/untitled/2009/05/building-roxy-paine/

The PBS page on Ursula von Rydingsvard: http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/vonrydingsvard/index.html#

And finally, an in-depth interview with the architect – quite a rarity in these days of marketable sound bites: http://ncartmuseum.org/interim/pdf/interview.pdf

(Thanks to Chad Weinard, Manager, New Media, and Melanie Davis-Jones, Director of Marketing, NCMA, for the tour all and the information)

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Star struck

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 11:35 AM

If you follow the local art/design scene (and if you are reading this, you most probably do) you must be experiencing a “Bechtler overload” right now. Every kind of media — including our little blog — covered it extensively, and I certainly don’t want to add to the hype. However, there is something that was missing from all that coverage: any serious review/critique of the much talked about architecture, of — as everyone knows — “the second building in the US by the famous Swiss architect Mario Botta”.

A few years ago, when he was about to start design on this project, Botta gave a lecture at the Architecture School at UNCC. At the Q&A session afterwards, one of the first questions was from Professor David Walters, and with noticeable reverence, he asked: “Are we really going to get a building from you?!” Now if you have read any of Walters’ formerly regular columns in Creative Loafing, you would know that he isn’t someone who is easily impressed by anything. But then most people in the audience were similarly awed. Here is someone we had read about in magazines and textbooks, about to design something for our own little downtown!

Bechtler-Manoj Kesavan(2)

But now the building is no longer a fantasy; it is a concrete structure that we can experience. It is time for analysis — of the experience, of the structure, spaces, sequence, light, materials, and of the many little things that make up architecture; however, the talk about it still remains at the level of bedazzled gushing adoration. Of course architecture — maybe more than most other media — can be awe-inspiring. But we are in awe of a name here, propagating the same Cult of Genius.

We can expect to see the same drama being restaged when the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Mint Museum opens later this year — after all, they are also by big names. We will treat those few sites as haloed grounds, while we continue to build the most predictable, unexciting structures all around them. While Botta’s building is definitely an invaluable addition to the city, it is how we engage with it and what we learn from it that would ultimately determine its true value to the city. Now that we have top shelf architecture here, it is up to us to elevate the conversation to reach its level. To paraphrase Spider-Man — that big city authority on scaling imposing edifices —  “with any great gift comes greater responsibilities.” Are we up to it?

— Manoj P Kesavan

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An architectural orphan’s wish list for 2010

Posted By on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 at 10:08 AM

What a year has it been! Unofficial/anecdotal figures show that more than 50 percent of all architects in Charlotte are without work (with a similar number probably reflected in the other building-related trades like engineering and construction).

I don’t know if architects have ever felt so forsaken or unloved in recent memory.

So, why don’t we emerge from the fetal position just long enough to wish for a better tomorrow? After all, what is the holiday season but a license to dream big — powered by excessive eating and eggnog — to lose oneself in fantasies about things that otherwise we might be too realistic to hope for?

• I wish, oh I wish, that this stupid recession would end soon, and that people would start building things again. (What wouldn’t we give to get back to doing those things that we used to constantly bitch and whine about for years ...)

• I wish that people would stop hyping “green building” and just start doing it. After all being green is the path, and not the goal of architecture. (Well, what is the goal of architecture — or any art for that matter? Hmmm ...)

• I wish that the media would find some other role model other than Howard Roark when they try to idealize (idolize?) architects. (Maybe architectural achievement can be other than an unsubtle show of manliness and heroism ...?)

• I wish that innocent architectural elements wouldn’t become the victims of cheap political games.

• And finally, I wish my Mom and Dad — Academics and Practice — would get back together again. Then maybe someday, American architectural practice would once again have a sense of purpose and a moral compass, and academic exercises a better grounding in reality. I hear that in many other countries where the families are together, kids like us have a less conflicted/guilt-ridden life — that they actually belong. (Well, they might still wear black, but guess that’s a genetic condition.)

Well, this is my quick, not-too-well-thought-out, highly incomplete list. What is yours? Whether you design livable structures or not, share it with everyone.

All buildings start as shared fantasies.

– Manoj P Kesavan

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