December 16, 2010
Yesterday, the American Art Museum announced that French artist Pierre Huyghe is this year’s winner of the museum’s biennial Contemporary Artist Award. The $25,000 prize is awarded to a contemporary artist under the age of 50 who has already amassed a significant oeuvre and demonstrates great creativity and vision.
“Pierre Huyghe represents the commitment to creative innovation that this award seeks to recognize,” said the director of the museum Elizabeth Broun in a report. “Huyghe’s pioneering use of appropriated imagery and filmic reenactment reveal the power of mass media to shape our memory of personal and historical events.”
Huyghe is best known as a media artist who uses video and light installation to explore the boundary between fiction and reality in today’s society. One video work, “The Journey That Wasn’t,” showed footage from Huyghe’s search for an albino penguin in Antarctica. Of the work, Huyghe told PBS, “It’s called that because the journey happened… or did not. It was also kind of a mental journey, and maybe that’s the one I’m most interested in. The film is literally a process, a process of finding an idea and bringing it to light… We just invent fiction and we give ourselves the real means to discover it.”
“The Host and the Cloud,” pictured above, is a film shot at a closed museum on Halloween, Valentines Day and May Day. Characters such as the Grim Reaper and ET make random cameos as the video explores the relationship between their images and popular media.
One notable installation by Huyghe shown at the Tate Modern museum in London is a series of words in white light lettering that complete the phrase, “I don’t own” with “Tate Modern or the Death Star,” “Snow White,” or “Modern Times.” The words are punctuated by white doors in the middle of a white room. PBS’ Art 21 Web site has slideshows and more information on Huyghe’s work.
Huyghe was born in Paris in 1962 and attended the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. His work has been shown around the world, with notable solo exhibitions at London’s Tate Modern in 2006, the Carpenter Center at Harvard University in 2004, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City in 2003, as well as the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, to name a few. He has won several awards, including a special award from the Venice Biennale jury in 2001. The artist is the ninth winner of the Contemporary Artist Award, formerly known as the Lucelia Artist Award, and was chosen from 15 other nominees by a panel of five judges from various museums and art institutions.
“I am thrilled that the jury has selected such an innovative and influential individual to receive the museum’s artist award,” said Joanna Marsh, curator of contemporary art at the museum. “Pierre Huyghe’s work expands traditional expectations of what art can be.”
December 15, 2010
A video artist born of mixed African-European descent, Theo Eshetu has spent his career presenting images of his global identity. His work, Brave New World II, is currently on display in the African Art Museum. The piece is a series of moving images that includes everything from cereal boxes to dance groups to planes taking off from the runway. The video is projected on a TV screen inside of a mirrored box set into the wall, which reflects the screen in the shape of a globe.
Eshetu is speaking tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. at the African Art museum. I caught up with him recently about finding artistic solutions to practical problems, technology, and his inspiration for doing art.
How did you get into video?
I was studying to become a photographer, and while studying I was in a communications course. I was interested in art, especially art with communication media, or media art. At the time, video was something very new, and it seemed to me that there was far more to discover in doing research in video than in photography. Video was so new that one wasn’t quite sure what the art of video was. So I thought, well, that’s a good path to go on. I started making videos to discover what the art of video is, what can possibly make it an artform, and how I can use it as a medium of expression rather than of communication.
What is one of your favorite aspects of the video medium?
I think the most striking thing about video is the fact of its strong relationship with reality. Painting obviously has a certain distance from reality, photography is already quite a bit closer to reality, film is pretty close to reality, but somehow video and television seem to be able to show you reality. One starts asking oneself, what is reality? If this video image I’m seeing can represent reality, what is there in reality that’s worth inquiring or defining?
Another interesting thing is the fact that we all accept that television is a very influential medium and it influences our perception of the world. We know what’s fake and what’s real, but somehow it gives us an image of the world, how places are, how we are. Therefore, [I use] the same medium as television to create or construct an artistic message, a sort of personal reality rather than an institutional reality or a political reality. In the hands of an artist, [video] becomes something different, and you can have a different kind of reading of it. So that individual aspect I think is a very powerful thing.
How is your work about global identity?
I started making videos to use my own identity as a subject matter. In other words, my identity is made up of being of Ethiopian father, Dutch mother, born in London, live in Rome, so there’s a whole complicated network of cultures that are dialoguing with each other within my own being. An attempt to reproduce that is what most of my work seems to be about. It’s not really the work of an African artist or a European artist, but it’s really the work of what the world looks like when you in fact have different cultural influences within you.
I think that that vision of a world where different cultures are interacting with each other is something that is very relevant today, and its also characteristic of the medium of video and television. In other words, it’s a medium that can be broadcast via satellite, it can be relayed simultaneously in different continents in countries, and therefore somehow it has to communicate different things to different people around the world. It’s not an Italian film for an Italian audience that understands the Italian language. These are works that put into relationship the union, clashes or harmony between different cultures. Some videos, I do that in an explicit, specific way, and in other videos I do it in a more abstract, poetic way, and I would say Brave New World is a more abstract poetic approach.
How did you come up with the mirrored box piece of your work?
It really came about as a kind of a solution to a problem. I was invited to do an exhibition in a museum, and the budget was quite limited. The problem was how to create a new video work for an exhibition that was planned to be a very important exhibition here in Rome without having the possibility of doing a lot of filming, a lot of editing and at the same time not having many TV sets that I wanted originally to use to create a piece. So I had to come up with some kind of solution to do something that was quite stunning or attractive and at the same time I didn’t have the budget to do so.
It was basically just messing around in the bathroom, and looking at my bathroom mirror that I noticed that by moving the mirror of the medicine cabinet, it created a kind of interesting effect. So I thought, hey, what would happen if instead of just the light, there was a TV set, and instead of just mirrors on the sides there was also mirrors on the top and on the bottom. So it just sort of came about through trying to solve a problem and almost desperation for wanting to do something visually striking with something very simple.
One would have to be a genius to just have that idea. But if you just go through the process of thinking and doing and trying and making mistakes and trial and error, you come up with a solution that you wouldn’t have thought of.
How and where were the images recorded?
They were a collection of images that I had shot on Super 8 in my travels around the world. There’s no real logic to my editing. I chose the Super 8 images because I don’t generally want to celebrate the video as something technologically advanced that’s going to solve all our problems. I don’t believe in technological advancement as making better art. But I think that technology can be a useful tool, and therefore the idea of using Super 8 was to use old technology and yet do something cutting edge that seemed to be all digital but in fact it was done with old, super 8 technology. I like the fact that Super 8 evokes memory as well.
Kelly Church (Grand Traverse band of Ottawa and Ojibwe) is a Michigan-based basket weaver who, along with Caddo potter Jereldine Redcorn, is currently visiting the National Museum of the American Indian for their Artist Leadership Program. She will be speaking today with Redcorn at 2 p.m. at NMAI.
Perhaps best known for making whimsical, red “strawberry” baskets, Church incorporates photos and copper sheeting harvested from the Great Lakes into the centuries-old basket patterns of her people.
One of her primary materials is the black ash tree, which is being terrorized by the emerald ash borer, an insect introduced to the Northeast United States from Asia that is predicted to destroy every black ash tree in Michigan within the next ten years. Church has committed herself to educating both her people and the greater public about the black ash. For the past couple weeks, she has been looking at black ash carvings in the museum’s collections to learn about other ways the black ash has been used by her people. She hopes to pass the information along before the black ash dies out completely.
Tell me about what brought you here to NMAI’s Artist Leadership Program.
This year, I’m doing a symposium, and it’s a follow up to a symposium I did in 2006, in which I invited all weavers and people of the Northeast in to learn about the emerald ash borer, which we first discovered it in Michigan in 2002. It will address the work that we’ve been doing collectively and individually in our own states on collecting seeds, working together to teach our children, where all communities are at different levels.
In Michigan, we’re perhaps some of the most traditional basket weavers in the Northeast. We take our kids into the forest when they’re first able to walk, and they’re out there and they’re learning how to identify their trees. Up in Maine, they have an economic-based system where they have a harvester who harvests for the community and they purchase [the ash trees] from him. They’re just beginning to teach their children how to identify the trees. So we’re all working together to document how to harvest, how to replant those seeds, what good basketry is, all of those things. Because what we’ve come to realize is that in Michigan, we’ve been [weaving baskets] continuously for thousands of years and we’re most likely going to have a whole generation that is missed if we do lose the ash trees as predicted.
When is the ash tree predicted to disappear?
It’s going to depend on which community you’re in. In my community we’re looking at… ten years would be wonderful, but that might be too optimistic. It really only takes the emerald ash borer three years to kill an entire ash stand, and emerald ash borer is all over the state. The whole state’s quarantined now.
We’ve been doing seed collections as tribal entities and sending them to a seed bank in Fort Collins, Colorado. They’ve been partnering with us to save our seeds for each tribe, and they will only let ancestors or tribal members come and pick those seeds back up; whomever we designate them for. They have a whole program in place, so that’s nice. I always tell people about seeds that I collect, I will save a third for my descendants, a third for my tribal people and a third for the state of Michigan. Because between those three entities, some [of the seeds] will be replanted.
Since you’ve been here in Washington, what have you found that you’re excited to share?
I came here last year, and what I did was focus on all the fibers of the Northeast that we used to use that we have already lost the tradition of using, which was weaving cattail mats and brush. I was trying to look at other things that we wove with in light of losing the black ash. What else could we bring back to the communities?
What kind of things did your people carve?
We carved pipes, we carved cradleboard, handles for baskets. The cradleboard specifically I was looking at because I knew we did it but I had never seen any in the collections, so I’ve been looking at a lot of those. They’ve also showed me arrows carved out of black ash, and utilitarian spoons. So there were all these wonderful things that I didn’t realize.
What do you focus on in your work?
I grew up in a basket weaving family, so I just thought everyone in the world wove baskets. So I thought, I’m going to be a painter, a photographer, a sculptor. And then when I started taking care of my grandfather, he had Alzheimer’s, every time someone would come drop off or help us, he’d say, “We need to make them a basket.” So I really got into the basketry and just kind of embraced it. So I’ve been pretty much a full-time basket weaver for the past decade, since I was caring for him. Right after I got back into it full-time is when the emerald ash borer came along in our state.
I weave when I can, but the meetings and education about this emerald ash borer is the number one priority. If we don’t educate people and collect seeds, we won’t have it in the future.
Why is basketry so important to Natives of the northeast?
It’s not really just a tradition of art, what we do. It’s really who we are as people of the Northeast. Creation stories are associated with black ash, there’s medicines made from black ash. That one little seed brings together family, it provides housing, it provides food. After that tree’s grown, everything that we do with those ash trees, it’s amazing to look at it in that bigger aspect.
December 14, 2010
Jereldine Redcorn (Caddo/Potawatomi) is one of two American Indian artists currently visiting the National Museum of the American Indian as part of the Artist Leadership Program. The program brings indigenous artists to Washington, D.C. for two weeks to research the museum’s collections and to network and develop their careers. Redcorn has dedicated herself to reviving a lost pottery tradition of the Caddo people, an art that disappeared when the tribe was removed from the greater southern plains area (in today’s Louisiana and Arkansas) to Oklahoma in the early 19th century.
Caddo pottery dates to around 800 A.D. Made mostly from clay, the pots—which include both utilitarian cooking vessels and fine wares—are known for burnished, engraved and cross-hatched designs in spiral patterns.
Tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the museum, Redcorn will present on her art and culture along with Ottawa/Ojibwe artist Kelly Church, the other artist in the program (read my upcoming interview here tomorrow). I spoke with Redcorn about the day she learned that President Obama and the First Lady selected one of her pots for display in the White House. She also discussed her midlife career change and the importance of reviving this lost art.
What is the purpose of your work?
I’ve been making Caddo pottery for about 15 years. Actually, I’m reviving Caddo pottery. About five years ago I got to come to the Smithsonian to be part of an exhibit. I didn’t actually get to look at the collections, but this time I did. The Smithsonian purchased three of my pieces, and when the Obamas were doing their makeover, bringing new art in, they selected one. Now I can say it being calm. But I was so pleased on several levels, for myself, for my tribe, the Caddo, that a piece of [our pottery] is in the White House.
How did you find out?
It was just amazing. This lady from NMAI, Ann McMullen called me, and she explained to me that one of my pieces had been selected for display in the White House. I just wanted to jump and scream, I was so excited. I could not believe that this was happening. It was really great for Caddo pottery. The Southwest pottery [like that of the Navajo tribe] is so well known, and no one really knows about Caddo pottery. I have to explain, I have to educate, and though it’s a lot of fun, it’s really interesting how many people do not know how great our pottery was and how great our tradition was.
Were you a sculptor before that?
I was not an artist. I’m a math teacher, math and English. My plan was, I was going to make the pots, and my daughter, who was an artist, would put the designs on. She said, “You can do it, you just need to practice drawing.” I did, and it’s really amazing how something will happen if you practice. Actually, I should have known that as a teacher, because everyone has to learn multiplication. Kids will come in just scared to death of algebra, and I would say, “You can do it.” I think I just ran that record through my head, and said, “You can do this.”
I also had one lesson from an archaeologist. They were on an archaeological dig in Texas, but they were on the Oklahoma side. They asked our dance group to dance. I went down there, and they took us to a museum, and it was the first time I had seen Caddo pottery. I think I was 54.
You had no idea this existed?
Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind. But there was a man there with us, maybe 75 years old, who said, “I didn’t know we did this.” This pottery was so beautiful and so inspiring that I set out to revive it. I didn’t set out to revive it myself, but that’s just how it turned out. When I started, my tribe, the Caddo, would walk by, and they weren’t really interested. They are now, and that’s what’s so wonderful.
How was the tradition lost?
Unfortunately, we had been removed, like the Cherokees, the Trail of Tears. So other people knew about our pottery, but we didn’t. As we were pushed further and further by settlers, hunting and surviving was more important. But if we hadn’t been removed, I think we would’ve recognized this pottery and restarted it long ago.
What have you learned so far over the past couple weeks?
I spent a couple of days with the Caddo pottery, and then I went into Caddo clothing and drums and moccasins. And I began to see a relationship between all those designs. I think by the end, I will have grown so much as an artist.
Tomorrow, artists Jereldine Redcorn and Kelly Church will discuss their work at 2 p.m. at the American Indian Museum’s Resource Center, on the third level of the museum.
December 13, 2010
One year ago this month, the RU 27, an eight-foot underwater glider, also called Scarlet Knight, completed a 221-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean. The torpedo-shaped, autonomous vehicle broke the record for the longest underwater trip by a glider in history. Last Thursday, the record-breaking glider was put on display for all to see in the Natural History Museum’s Sant Ocean Hall.
The story of Scarlet Knight begins with a challenge. In 2006, Dr. Richard Spinrad of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) met Rutgers University professors Scott Glen, Oscar Schofield and Josh Kohut at a workshop on international oceanic collaboration in Lithuania. Since 1998, the Rutgers team had been using gliders like Scarlet Knight to sample the salinity and temperature of the ocean in the coastal waters of Florida, Hawaii, New Jersey and the Mediterranean. The gliders were being employed for short distances of up to 30 miles. Spinrad, over a few bottles of wine, no less, posed a formidable challenge to the team—to send a glider all the way across the Atlantic.
The team accepted, and assembled a class of undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines to meet the challenge head-on. ”[The project] brought together engineers, computer scientists, oceanographers, as well as people who were just interested. They walked away with an appreciation of how important the ocean is, and I think that’s the really exciting part,” said Zdenka Willis of NOAA at Thursday’s unveiling.
The glider used the equivalent power of just three Christmas tree lights to undulate in a series of 10,000 continuous dives and ascents over a span of more than 4,500 miles. To dive, the glider would draw about one cup of water into its nose, causing it to sink forward. Once the glider slowed, it would spit out the water, propelling it forward in an upward motion.
Scarlet Knight’s journey started off in New Jersey on April 27, 2009, and ended in the town of Baiona, Spain, just north of the Portuguese border on the Atlantic coast. Its path loosely followed the route taken by Columbus’ ship, the Pinta, when it returned to Spain 517 years ago, immediately after the discovery of the New World. The Rutgers team collaborated with several Spanish schools and worked with the Spanish port authority. “This was a wonderful opportunity to participate in this adventure, this mission that epitomizes partnership,” says Enrique Alvarez Fanjul, of the Spanish port authority.
The glider didn’t go very fast. It traveled only about one mile per hour, but the Rutgers team didn’t have the need for speed. They were only interested in data-collection. “We’re pushing technology in the gliders to allow them to go deeper and further as well as pushing the edge on the technologies so we can look at everything from hurricane intensity forecasting to fisheries management to the general ecosystems, as well as that physical oceanography that’s really the bread and butter,” says Willis.
Most recently, autonomous gliders with similar technology were used to collect data at the Gulf oil spill cleanup.
Rutgers professor Scott Glenn, who spearheaded the project, sees the Scarlet Knight as an educational venture above all else. “I saw gliders as a new platform for exploring the ocean, something we’ve never been able to do before,” he says. “But the main purpose of this was educational. Yeah, we flew the glider across the ocean, but the main thing was we developed new education programs for our students.” The glider will be on display at the Natural History museum complete with photos, maps, and visuals in the Sant Ocean Hall through mid-2012.