Hands everywhere

During my first swift survey walk through the last years degree show (2016) of the Royal College of Art in London I noticed a curious repetition of a specific motif : The hand . But it wasn’t just a hand that exhibits itself, but a hand that acts, that touches, holds, performs. A hand that encourages empathetic identification.

The hand is one of the the most ancient representational motifs existing in art . Negative and positive handprints have been found in caves and on rocks dating back up to 39 000 years.

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But it has been relatively absent in the art of recent years.  What the hands formed , the  result of their work has been subject of exhibitions, but less the hands themselves.

My thesis now is that there is a renaissance of the representation of hands happening and I see two  contributing factors. 

1. The hand in the viewfinder of our eyes

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The most important factor is the relatively new but omnipresent everyday connection of the hand with the image. Through touchscreen technology the hand is now often and directly physically connected to the image. Today through the use of smartphones and tablets the hand  has become part of  a very large and growing number of images. During our interaction with digital images the hand is often in the foreground or center of the image. One might argue that the hand was also present when in the past we were looking through pages of  museum catalogues or photo books . The difference might be subtle, but then the hand was only active at the edge of the image. Now it is active in its centre. It swipes over, it pinches and double taps. The hand is right in there. Physically. Overall the hand has become a larger part of our daily optical view finder. The heightened frequency of the hands presence is reflected in its taking stage in artworks of recent contemporary artists. And this doesn’t just effect art school graduates.

At the last Turner Prize exhibition at  Tate Britain in London every shortlisted artist had to a larger or smaller degree images or representation of hands present in their work.

2. The making of objects vs the end product

A second factor for the appearance of the hand as a motif is more speculative and more subtle in its arguments: There seems to be a shift of focus in the arts towards “the making”  and away from the “end product”. Artworks now often reflect the way they are made in some way. This is connected to Bertold Brechts ideas about theatre and the importance to show its construction and context within the play. The revival of the collage , of art and crafts and  the return of performance art are all signifier of this trend. In painting abstract process based painting has been all the rage during the last ten years. Marks, material and process have been playing Ping Pong at all the art fairs. It has been young artists that are pushing these interests. My suspicion is that therefore the hand as a central instrument for making art has  become more prominent in artworks.

 

The net as a new model for the world

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I am not too interested in fashion trends in art ,but more in the question why this shift is happening now?

I sense that the world has become more fluid through information technology and social media. Everything is connected with everything it seems. At least it all is caught in the same net.

Water is a better representation of this condition than stone. The fluid closer to it then the solid. Every object is viewed now as more or less part of this net.

water

Information in all directions is attached to the object and it is itself information for other connected objects. Its only logical, that objects including artworks are now viewed in this way. So “the making of it”  is the information we want ,we are used to, we want to convey, as it has become the way we see the world.

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On Doors  into other worlds

A hidden floor, an office door, a wardrobe, a rainbow, a hurricane, a train, a rabbithole, a train platform wall, a bedroom wall, a pill, a tunnel.

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Since childhood my world has been populated by membrans into other worlds. Their reality is  fading away the older I get and only the screen ( cinema , computer or television) is staying with some continuity. Our culture has many examples for stories that include these transitional spaces , transporting us into another world.  I asked myself : What is the reason for these phantastical doorways . Where do they come from and what role do they play in our lives.

Sociological

We are living in a world that is held together by shared imaginations. Myth we all believe in and trust ,so our societies are stable. Shared imaginations like money , law, hirachy, art, capitalism or religion. These shared imagined realities we are taught from childhood onwards .  They have an extremely important function and they form our cultures. Without them humanity would have never evolved into large empires and a global societies. They help us to cooperate with large amounts of strangers and trust them. But they are imagined.

Maybe the stories and imaginations about membrans and doorways are hinting to the fragile character of these shared imaginations. For most people it would be a unthinkable to  say their religion or belief system is purely imagined. For them they form solid realities. Historically if you seize to belief or doubt a god , law or a leader there are truly very real consequences. The solidity of the shared beliefs is important to sustain our societies, but at the same time there is always the suspicion in some that they are purely imagined and that there is no true solidity, just an imagined one. Stories about world membrane might reflect these ideas, give relief to suspicion, include these stories in cultures and so ultimately help stability.

Suppressed ideas, especially if they have truth in them will not go away , but erupt in a uncontrolled way. The acceptance and inclusion of membrane stories in a culture are psychologically disarming.

They give room to possibilities of other orders, other possibilities, other worlds. They create momentum for change, if it is necessary. They help motoring our culture through this dynamic battle between belief and disbelief.

FlammarionWoodcut

The Flammarion engraving is a wood engraving by an unknown artist that first appeared in Camille Flammarion’s L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (1888) (source: wikipedia)

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Dorothe’s house in “The wizard of Oz” . A film from 1939.

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From ” Where the wild things are” by Maurice Sendak

Individual

If we look at the individual instead of the sociological , one could argue  our cognitive ability to form ideas about the world is nothing else then opening the door to another world. The process of “Thinking” itself finds representation in these metaphors of doorways and membranes. When I think about something a form appears outside of myself, somewhere. I can close my eyes and develop the idea in front of my inner eye. A new place appears as I have self consciousness.

From the movie "Being John Malkovitch"

From the movie “Being John Malkovitch”

from the movie "Being John Malkovitch"

from the movie “Being John Malkovitch”

Neurological

As I do notice that I had many more doorways and membranes populating my mind ,when I was younger I wonder if the developmental stages of the brain might have also something to do with the presence of these metaphors. Almost like  an outward projected fluency that points to neural networks that are still open and possible to form unexpected connections.

Drugs

Drugs that are influencing our brain processes and change our perception and actions are also part of  this complex of stories. Taking a pill can transport your mind and some of your body into another world.

From "The Matrix" movie 1999

From “The Matrix” movie 1999

In “The Matrix” Neo the main character is given a pill that can transport him out of a controlled purely imagined reality into a reality where he inhibits his body consciously again.  The chemical pill is his doorway.  “The Matrix” is an essay on control through shared reality. Doorways and Membranes are everywhere in the movie.

"The Matrix" 1999

“The Matrix” 1999

Other examples of Movies with Doorway or Membrane Stories

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will expand its three-month celebration of anime with a screening of the 2002 Oscar¨-winning animated feature ÒSpirited AwayÓ on Friday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m., and ÒA Tribute to Animation Master Hayao MiyazakiÓ on Tuesday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m.  Both events will take place at the AcademyÕs Samuel Goldwyn Theater and will include extended gallery hours for the AcademyÕs ongoing exhibition ÒANIME! High Art Ð Pop Culture.Ó Pictured here: SPIRITED AWAY, 2002.

 SPIRITED AWAY, 2002.

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Harry Potters Platform 9 3/4 at Kingscross Station

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

The Chronicles Of Narnia The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe-04

The Wardrobe in ” The Lion the Witch and the wardrobe”

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How artists want to be seen

Some Artist are interested in their self image. They make specific choices how they want to appear. Here are two different sets of collections: Artists referring to the motive of the hand or the mouth or both and Artists with different animals. I find both revealing and engaging.

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HAND-Mouth1

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Everybody I met

An ongoing project where I draw Everybody I met from memory.

………………….Marcel Vater ,Anne Duffau, Signore Burmeister, anonymous, Karina Schmitt, Herr Reifers, Graham Crowley, Mark Dickenson, Petra Vater, Martin Sullivan, anonymous, anonymous, Sandra Burk, Frau Phillippi, Friederike Clever, Peter, Steve, anonymous, Frau Breil, anonymous, Sandra, Girolamo, Nigel Rolfe, Alexandra, anonymous, Frau Balkenhol, Wolfgang Tilmans, anonymous, Dan Fox, Allessandro Raho,Valentina Bin, Matthias Dettmann, attempts Anne, Christoph Wedding, Orla Kiely, Attempt Andrew, Marvin Gay Chetwyn, Nasim Weiler, Raphy Tailor, Dorothe Nett, Geelke Gayken, Emma Sullivan, Anthea Sullivan, Heather, Sebastian Burkner, Joe Scotland, Michele Rowbotham, Andrew Parker, Andy, Babette, Sven Sachsalber, Dave Hanger, Tim Braden, Saskia, Hans Vater, Nathaniel Mellor, Michael Zoellner, Patrizia Cristaldi, Jemima Montague, Faye, Paul O’Neill, anonymous, Wiebke Loseries, Lou, Anthony Taylor, Achim Hoops, Harriet, Mick Jagger, anonymous, Miranda Symonds , Andreas Oennerfors, Jemima Montague, anonymous , Clea Sullivan , Nick Laessing, Timothy Taylor, Herr Saftig, Andreas Gursky ,anonymous, Gavin Houghton, Thomas Knaps, Bjoern Bicker, Nike, Steve, Alfonso, Sam, anonymous, Sophie von Hellermann………………

EVERYBODYEVERYBODY2 EVERYBODY29 EVERYBODY28 EVERYBODY27 EVERYBODY26 EVERYBODY25 EVERYBODY24

EVERYBODY21

EVERYBODY23 EVERYBODY22 EVERYBODY20 EVERYBODY8 EVERYBODY7 EVERYBODY6 EVERYBODY5 EVERYBODY4 EVERYBODY3

EVERYBODY45 EVERYBODY44 EVERYBODY43 EVERYBODY42 EVERYBODY41 EVERYBODY40 EVERYBODY39 EVERYBODY38 EVERYBODY37 EVERYBODY36 EVERYBODY35 EVERYBODY34 EVERYBODY33 EVERYBODY32 EVERYBODY19 EVERYBODY18 EVERYBODY17 EVERYBODY16 EVERYBODY15 EVERYBODY14 EVERYBODY13 EVERYBODY12 EVERYBODY11 EVERYBODY10 EVERYBODY9

EVERYBODY30 EVERYBODY31

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Infinity

 

AI-WEIWEIinFrontOfMyPainting

 

infinity

“Infinity is just not what it used to be” , Acrylic on Canvas, 2010

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two thirty in the afternoon

state of mind...at 2.30...

state of mind…at 2.30…

(written for the Royal College of Art catalogue 2014 )

Agatha Christie made sure that nobody ever saw her writing. She didn’t have a study or specific space where she would work, but instead placed her typewriter on the kitchen table after the children had left for school and she had cleared the dishes. By the time when everybody returned home her typewriter had disappeared again and she would be in the middle of making tea. At least this is what I read.

At 2.30 in the afternoon I start shrinking. A little bit like hulk, who slowly looses his anger and turns back into a small naked man. I have to prepare for a quiet, powerful and invisible portal that is awaiting my mind to cross through daily at around this time. It’s school pick up time. Behind the portal awaits another world: Tedious, structured, exhausted, obeying, with tied shoelaces , brushed teeth, money in bank accounts, hands shivering, stairs, flag poles and homemade pizza. A world strange and deterministic. Slowly it opens its wings and around 4 pm it stands in front of me glorious, cold and all engulfing with fingers, tasting sweet as jelly babies. I rehearse one last time and dissolve once again like fizzing aspirin. A small naked man, fairly happy, mysteriously normal.

The gaps that were wide open during the morning have disappeared, the world is solid again. It has to be. I exchange words with people that look like my parents; I look like my parents. I am boring, serious and use the word “No” during every other breath. At least that is how my son describes me. It doesn’t help that I try to explain the dialectic virtues of using the word “No” and what Hegel thought of it. At 4.30 pm I look at a tree and don’t see the tree, but only a symbol of a tree. While before entering the portal the world was breathing a complex, surprising and somewhat paradox pool of light and words, it now had collapsed into textbook symbolism and the logic of cause and effect. It wasn’t always like that and isn’t always like that, but like a pendulum that is kicked, after a while it starts steering the same course again. Its monkey business ! I explain to myself . Biology. The work that has to be done is to kick the pendulum, to create unbalance and take a glimpse through the gaps of matter and mind that open up in the process.  After all, it is said that it has been a tiny unbalance that had created the universe. Now it is drifting back into vast and cold balance. The process we call time. I piss on time, I throw rocks at it and grapefruits. Recently I noticed the portal getting tighter. Clearly soon I wont be able to pass through it anymore. I just hope I will be on the right side of it, when it happens.

Markus Vater

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I sit opposite You and I can smell you,

There are tiny tiny flakes of You

flying through the air. I ask myself

if you could vanish

through inhaling You

into my nose,

slowly,

flake for flake.

Your eyes look at me.

You are waiting for an answer

and I have forgotten our conversation.

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