International top Ten: Ai Weiwei

One of the parameters of this semesters assignment is that I may only choose two artists from any single country.  For the most part this is no problem.  There are many great artists in the world and looking for inspiration is a wonderful opportunity for growth.  In the case of China though this is a real sacrifice.  So many of the artists making work I admire most are Chinese.  So then to choose two, was actually a choice for second.  My favorite Chinese artist and possibly my favorite working artist right now is Ai Weiwei.

Seems beyond the reach of an assignment to speak of favorites to emotional connection as I did in the last post, but I think this is exactly what this type of study demands of an artist.  We must take art personally, and deeply so that it can penetrate us enough to change us, as makers and people.  So a great artist then makes work that demands that we as viewers take them seriously.  If the work is compelling, we cannot help ourselves, we look, and if we take the time needed,  we see something of our world or ourselves that we may not have been aware of before.

I think that the work of Ai Weiwei does exactly that.  In his deep collaboration with Chinese culture and history, we find something universal and true for all of us.  The work discussed in this video documents an installation called Sunflower Seeds.  The work is at once intimate and vast.  Each piece receiving so much attention, though there are millions of them.  The work’s content is beautiful and yet manages to be powerfully political at the same time.  The name of a single artist is on the piece yet it was made by an entire village.  The work of Ai Weiwei reminds me of what art is capable and demands that I push myself to find that power in my own work.  So please take the 15 minutes to watch the beautifully produced video and maybe find some inspiration for yourself.

Another body of work that I really respond to are his pots, replicas of ancient Chinese vessels that take a modern twist.  These pots, based on something incredibly rare and precious become absurd  billboards.  This intersection I think is incredibly stimulating as I am constantly considering how to keep pots relevant as the focus of the ceramic world becomes fine art and the importance of craft diminishes daily.  Not only this but the layering of meaning and idea is rich and invites me to consider deeply not just the ancient pot or the company logo, but a world in which both those things could be so intimately connected.

Ai Weiwei1 Ai Weiwei3 Ai Weiwei4

Below is a link to a great New Yorker article on the artist if more information is wanted.  His work is vast and I have only scratched the surface of its potential here.

And to ensure that my own rules are followed, the tech piece.   Here is a link to his twitter account, seemingly his main medium now, though I do not know exactly what that means so I will not make a specific comment other than It has been vital for his work in resisting the current Chinese government.


International Top 10: Alexandria Engelfriet

Alexandra Engelfriet1

The second artist in my personal international top 10 is Alexandra Engelfriet.  I have a very strong personal connection to the work of this artist that relates to the way I discovered her.  Almost two years ago I divorced a man who was not only marriage partner but a ceramist and a collaborator.  The first few months following our separation was a very difficult time for me.  Although I was in school, and so felt very powerfully connected to art and sculpture, I had lost touch with a connectedness that is so essential to work in clay.  My BFF would often send me videos through this time, mostly things that were dirty or funny and lots of music, but also videos made by artists and art videos.  I often think this exchange was the beginning of my obsession with video as medium.  The Alexandra Engelfrit video came on a particularly difficult day, and literally resurrected something in me that I was sure had died.  In the video she works alone in her studio, in silence, sculpting a glorious form.  No fussy attachment techniques were needed for the very plastic natural looking clay she uses.  In the course of the well edited and shot video she builds a vessel that seems to grow from the earth its made of.

alexandra engelfriet2


In that incredible synthesis of complexity and directness, I remembered why it was I chose clay as a medium nearly 20 years prior, and though my former partner was completely woven into that experience my connection to the material could be enough to point to a future.

There also seemed to be great meaning in the form itself.  So many branches coming from the central pillar.  It reminded me of my connections to the people who were in my life, my friends, my children, parents, so many connections, all centered together, connected and essentially one.

Engelfriet collaborates with the earth itself.  Her work is the story of the body and the earth.  Her videos are a sort of sculptural performance where, like in the above video, she makes her gallery work, or in others such as the three posted below, she uses great effort and massive labor to give the same undulating form to the earth itself.

There are many videos that I love, but I will not post them all here, rather I will post three from a recent public work in Le Vent des Forêts in France.  the videos follow the progress of the work through its making, firing and finished stages.  The videos follow her formula.  No sound track but the effort of her body in the making and the sound of the world around her.


International Top 10: Monika Patuszynska

This semester my MFA program is focused on internationalism.  One of the projects we are working on is selecting a top 10 category based on our interests and then discovering the artists to fill that number.  My personal top 10 centers around artists working with narrative in their work, but not only this.  For an artist to make my top 10, narrative is the beginning of the idea, from there I am interested in those who are collaborating with either other artists or communities or histories or what ever.  By this I mean that the work can not be just of the artists creation.  The story they are telling must be significantly influenced by someone or something outside themselves, so that they arrive in a place different from where they would have gone on their own.  The last criteria is that the artist use technology in some way to help tell that story.  Either as a means of dissemination or within the work itself.

The method for my search will be organic an intuitive.  My job is to keep my eyes open to the channels that are open to me, from there I will be inspired or even hijacked as happened today, to tell the story of a particular artist.

So then I offer great thanks to cfile   for their post on Monika Patuszynska today.  Patuszynska is a  Polish artist who’s work over the last few years has focused on a project called Bastards and Orphans.  For this project the artist visits derelict ceramic factories where she sifts through the piles of decaying factory molds to cast her bastards and orphans.  An orphan is an object that cast from the molds she finds in the factory with no intervention on her part other than the discovery.  These molds have been corroded by elements and time which add dramatically to the forms that come come them.  A Bastard comes from the same molds but has been joined to other pieces from other molds.

Orphans_Ksiaz-3 Orphans_Ksiaz-5

In my original statement for my top 10 I said I was interested in artists that were making work that disrupted the quiet , clean world of the gallery and had a presence that could be heard outside that protected space.  I did not include that in my statement here because this is some of the finest gallery work I have seen.  Its not that I have changed my mind on this point, but somehow Patuszynska has taught me better.  The process of making is a rough dirty business as you will easily see if you take the time to watch the videos, but what comes from that dirty and dangerous project is of the finest art.

These videos are beautifully produced and so mysterious.  When I first watched them I had never heard of her and felt compelled to discover more of the work being made.  The films serve as a vehicle for the artist to include the safari through the old factories as part of the work without bringing that aspect into the gallery shows, this allows they complex and evocative forms to speak for them selves without forcing the narrative on their shoulders.  With the film, what is made from the old stacks of molds remains hidden, just as the deterioration of the objects in the gallery remains unknown until the viewer investigates.  This use of the film medium exactly compliments to aesthetic of the objects so that neither becomes more important than the other and both are servant to the larger story of end of factories throughout Europe.

The artists web site is also very well considered.  She transcends the language barrier for an international art beautifully, both by offering multiple languages as the first choice on the page, but also by refraining from labeling every button.  Rather the viewer is allowed a treasure hunt of their own, to first find the buttons and then to follow them to discover the work.

Here are additional links to past articles from cfile, worth the read.