ACROPOLIS ART JOURNAL
Fall 2016 Chaos // Disorder
Editor Tabor Chapman Staff Zhengyang Huang Kyle Lopez Tess Thompson Noah Shaw Jordan Wyner Cover art by Zhengyang Huang Mask, 2016
Purging, Christian Brahe This fall, I had the pleasure of attending Accumulations: Drawings by Christian Brahe at the Hillyer Center. Here, I was crammed in a room smaller than my bedroom and I watched numerous individuals talking about Braheâ€™s art. One pointed out mountains and another attempted to pick up a girl using his quite intellectual interpretation of the work. Everyone had their own interpretation and when I spoke to Christian about it, remarking that there are no mountains in Williamsburg. He remarked that his favorite quality about his art is the individuality of each personâ€™s perspective. And that he finds each one valid in their own way because although it's his constructed world, each individual perceives different aspects Therefore, I invite you to look through this journal and its collection of interpretations of chaos and disorder. And to remind you, that art is looking slowed down. -editor
332, Christian Brahe
Solace, Christian Brahe
Botticelli’s Disruptive Perspective by Leena Santos In the Period Eye, Baxendall stresses the importance of perspective and rise of classicism. Perhaps Sandro Botticelli’s late artistic works could be seen as gothic, or even a rejection of classicism. Despite the fact that Botticelli flouts Albertian principles of perspective and realm of idealization or beauty, Burroughs argues that Botticelli was simply responding to concerns of Florentine painters of that time and its manifestation in their artistic sensibilities. Botticelli disregarding classical perspective, or Albertian principles, as both juxtapositions clearly appear in the Calumny of Apelles and in the Lamentation over the Dead Christ. Problems with perspective become immediately apparent in the Calumny of Apelles. The Calumny of Apelles is a Greek tale of Apelles, a Greek painter, falsely accused by Ptolemy. Fraud, Conspiracy, and Slander are depicted as women whispering in Ptolemy’s Midas-eque ears. The painting is Albertian in subject matter and format, but not in perspective.
The vanishing point is behind the head of Fraud. Barrel vaults recess towards the lower point. The throne creates an axis of interest in flux. Yet, Burroughs articulates that Calumny refers to Alberti’s treatise in clear terms. This pargone painting is “responding to the discursive context of Alberti’s passage the requirement that the painter be learned, at least not literate, in order to be able to develop pictorial inventions.” From this picture, Botticelli showcases a different way to utilize space. Historically, artists rationally constructed a pictorial composition within a discrete frame. Botticelli is an undisputed leader of Florentine painting in his period since his ability to develop a pictorial “mode that closes of the effect of distance [creating] a spatial illusion” plays no small part. Despite this, the Calumny of Apelles iconography and moral message brings Botticelli back to his time. This painting is often viewed as Botticelli’s response to Florence’s dire climate: accusations against Saronova (a prophet Botticelli admired), to the explusion of Piero de Medici and the death of Lorenzo de Medici, which caused political and economic decline of the city. 8
Concerns about death at the coming of the new half millennia and scruples about ritual use of religious imagery culminate in the emotionally intense Lamentation of Botticelli. The composition may or may not be indebted to Rogier Van Der Weyden’s Deposition of Christ (due to the enthusiasm for Flemish art and landscape). Regardless of the rejection of Albertian perspective, projecting the dead Christ “heightens the drama of a narrative by projecting it outward to beholder’s space” is a radical innovation. This also alludes to the theological arguments about cultic use of religious images as icons, and therefore heretical. Christian and pagan imagery
mingle in the sarcophagus relief. Yet the Lamentation remains grounded in classicism. St. Peter and St. Paul, saints associated with Florence, flank the Virgin and the topography hints to Florence’s position as a model of Rome. In this manner, Botticelli still remained within the realm of the Period Eye while eschewing Albertian principles, pushing boundaries of image conception, pictorial intensity to show the artists self-consciousness as they adapted with the times. In this capacity, Botticelli’s innovative perspective created disorder and pushed for new manners of constructing perspective.
Returning Home, Christine S. Fulgham
Returning Home, Christine S. Fulgham,
Returning Home, Christine S. Fulgham
Winogrand, Kafka, and Acrobats: A Study in the Chaos of the City by Jordan Wyner extremely heterogeneous traffic of the city, both the pedestrian and the vehicular. However, none of Winogrand’s subjects emphasize the unsettling nature of chaos better than the urban acrobat. Indeed, that figure, captured in his image “New York, 1950s,” serves as an expression of the city’s chaotic essence. The beholder is presented an acrobat, dressed in a suit, frozen in a position upside-down high above the ground. His pants have become elongated in the wind while his jacket has filled with air. In the background, an advertisement contains the silhouette of a flying flamingo, echoing the motion of our human subject. As Winogrand depicts it, the acrobat is able to exist in a position that defies natural law. That gliding, floating, soaring being has ostensibly collapsed the prohibitions of orderly motion. The suit signals that this acrobat is not a subject of the circus, but rather of the modern city; his garb is aligned
The modern city is an arena ripe for chaos. The stream of uncoordinated, roaring noises, the clutter of oblivious, dissimilar pedestrians, and the constant, impenetrable mass of traffic conspire to violently overwhelm the senses. These anarchic aspects of the city embody the notion of chaos as a disruptive force. As Walter Benjamin wrote: “[m] oving through this traffic involves the individual in a series of shocks and collisions. At dangerous intersections, nervous impulses flow through him in rapid succession, like the energy from a battery.” The city’s bedlam tears any feeling of stillness and stability, any sense of structure and order, and any comfort taken in those sensations wholly asunder. Garry Winogrand was no stranger to the chaotic absurdities of the modern city. In fact, he was an expert at capturing them photographically; his canon of American city-based photographs testifies to that fact. Many of them display the 14
with its inhabitants. Moreover, the background, albeit out-of-focus, is apparent: the acrobat’s circus is the city. By disrupting the stability of typical motion, the urban acrobat emphasizes the destabilizing forces contained within the city. He functions as a symbol for the city’s apparent lack of steadiness. Despite its publication decades before Winogrand
“And as freedom is counted among the most sublime feelings, so the corresponding disillusionment can be also sublime … I have often watched … a couple of acrobats performing on trapezes … They swung themselves, they rocked to and fro, they sprang into the air, they floated into each other’s arms, one hung by the hair from the teeth
photographed his urban acrobat, the literature of Franz Kafka challenges the notion of acrobatic chaos. His critique of acrobatic chaos is presented in his short narrative “A Report to an Academy.” Within it, Rotpeter – an English-speaking ape – asserts the distorted nature of humanity’s notion of freedom by considering the movement of acrobats:
of the other. ‘And that too is human freedom,’ I thought, ‘self-controlled movement.’ What a mockery of holy Mother Nature! Were the apes to see such a spectacle, no theater walls could stand the shock of their laughter.” According to Rotpeter, an acrobat’s unsteadiness, their “rock[ing]” and “float[ing],” resembles human 15
freedom. He specifies this view of freedom by indicating that the unsteady motion of the acrobat is “‘self-controlled movement.’” Freedom, therefore, is the ability to determine one’s own motion, to move without having to adhere to external prohibition. The acrobat mocks “holy Mother Nature” by escaping its imposed order. Nonetheless, the apes would laugh at the acrobat’s apparent delusion: their movement is hardly unrestrained by imposed prohibition. Rather, the acrobat relies on structure and prohibition – the precise forces it seeks to negate – in order to generate an illusion of chaos and freedom. Without discipline, precision, and order the acrobat would not be able to achieve its tremendous feats, its seemingly unsteady movement. Indeed, Kafka’s literature suggests a counter view: the destabilizing chaos of the acrobat is merely perceived and its “freedom” from prohibition is laughable. For Kafka, the acrobat’s motion is nothing but stable. Kafka’s nuanced view of acrobatic chaos holds significance for Winogrand’s image. In fact, it even
subverts the concept of a chaotic city. In order to defy natural motion, thereby inspiring his viewers with awe, Winogrand’s acrobat must be extremely calculating, precise, and ordered. Not only does the subject express this condition of stability, but the photographic medium does as well. By merely freezing the image, photography imposes order upon the acrobat’s perceived chaos. The urban acrobat, therefore, doesn’t drive chaos into the city, but rather a hidden, deceptive order. Chaos and Order are too often treated as though they were kin, engaged in a conflict in which one force ultimately dominates the other. These brotherly forces are mistakenly considered to be an embodiment of Cain and Abel. Chaos and Order are not diametrically opposing conditions; instead, the two states are interweaved, inseparable, dependent upon each other. Chaos demands Order, just as Order demands Chaos.
Byproduct of a Model, Kathryn Hogan
Je Suis Charlie, Rebecca Shkeyrov
Mountain Faces, Rebecca Shkeyrov
Reverb, Rebecca Shkeyrov
Saltimbanques, Rebecca Shkeyrov
Chaos & Disorder in Williamsburg
the left of the installation or driving to the bank and dry cleaners to the right. The polarity of this movement with the stillness of the small field create a curatorial chaos. The sculptures are both in competition with and energized by the disorderly fusion of trees, offices, shopping centers, and traffic. I look away from the orange steel sculpture of a lion to the political headquarters of a certain wispy haired orange man across the street. The staggered campaign signs in the adjoining lots across the street contradict one another and hint at an intangible form of disorder that looms. The flimsy campaign signs and feathery grass counter the solidity of the industrial sculptural forms. Who slows to look at these sculptures? Students walking home in the dark, the smokers outside the Days Inn, people trudging off (and sprinting to) the bus stop at the corner. I realize how easy it is to disregard this collection of sculptures and to miss their static energy. Until now, Iâ€™ve only viewed them as a flash of color or a collection of simple curved or vertical forms from a bus window or blocked them out while walking past with my headphones in.
by Noah Shaw When I walk down Richmond road towards campus at 1:00am there is an eerie stillness. This motionlessness feels out of place in a road normally clamoring with commuters and tourists driving past the outlet malls and pancake houses. As I walk, I stop to take in the strangeness of the arts district. A line of semi-orderly sculptures unselfconsciously pose on the edge of a field. Every structure around the field is square and made of brick and concrete. The flat and rounded metal shapes seem to be casually flaunting their incongruity. The black void of the night and the empty field serve as a backdrop from my position on the sidewalk. The forms are vague in the fuzzy pink-orange glare of the Williamsburg street lights. Sculptures protrude upward as if emerging from the plane of grass. This open-air curation is caged in by the Days Inn, Richmond Road, and a line of trees. During the day there must be constant movement from the people coming in and out of the motel to 22
There is something unpretentious about the way they sit on their concrete slabs. Who created these? At first glance, there is an inherent anonymity because of the setting. With no context, the sculptures seem like an alien landscape, a metallic stonehenge. When I twist around the large objects, the surroundings momentarily push away. With the traffic of Richmond road blocked out, the sense of chaos doesn’t disappear. Instead it reemerges within the sculptures as sweeps of lines and colors. This jumble of metal is a containment of the confusion in the greater world. All art is. It provides a physical reflection that abstractly makes the disorder manageable. Art can overwhelm us, even in these confined physical boundaries. Art is so often not left out like this, it is enshrined and encased. This makes it easy to sanctify it and ignore that art is just a human creation that encapsulates the natural sense of imbalance. This tension can be artificially achieved with the juxtaposition of color or the torsion of a form. Chaos has an innate fecundity which drives art. Even the flat cut metal shapes in these sculptures are injected with tension when arranged together. Art’s appeal comes
from the way that an individual’s perception of the disorderly world can be sublimated into order through media. The written information about the sculptures says that the theme of the project is “This Glorious Earth.” I laugh at how strange it is to have these eclectic sculptures in the center of insurance companies, dry cleaners, and other suburban institutions. The surroundings are so intertwined with the installation, that the Arts District becomes an art piece in itself. It is a Portlandia-esque kinetic sculpture contained in a city block. The space has a quiet edginess by eschewing the quaint and colonial that overwhelms the burg. Even in it its unexpectedness, it is so easy to zoom past this art installation. When I pause and push out the commotion of the outside and immerse myself in an art piece, I find how satisfying that the artificial tension within a work is. There is a serenity in the containment of chaos that can serve as a momentary escape from the world. I sit down in the grass and notice how the mud pools at the cement base of the sculptures. My eyes take in all of the empty space punctuated by dimly reflective rods and geometric disks. 23
Sacrifice, Ciarra Stebbins
Flight, Elena Sanders
Scream, Elena Sanders
Short Circuit, Elena Sanders
The Man and the Bird, Elena Sanders
Interview with Cherrie Yu by Kyle Lopez Performance artist Cherrie Yu is a senior at William & Mary with a double major in English and World Performing Arts & Cultures. They have been performing for a little over a year and a half, getting their start by joining William & Mary’s performance art ensemble and later honing their craft with summer coursework at The Art Institute of Chicago. They have performed solo and in groups in many public venues, and all of their work is viewable at cherrieyujiqing.tumblr.com. We sat down together for coffee at The Grind on campus at W&M to chat about performance art and all that comprises the form. What is it about the performance art medium that speaks to you as an artist, and how does it help you express what it is that you’re going for? I think, first of all, when I started doing it, I felt like it’s a form that’s not canonized the way [forms such as] acting or music are that started many more ages ago. When my performance art professor was introducing it to us, he traced back
of performance art, and one of the biggest waves of performance art was in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when the second wave of Western feminism was at its peak. That at first fascinated me, but after I started doing it I think I realized that it’s—well, it’s an art form, so of course it does require virtuosity—but it’s different from the other ones. Like, you [don’t] have to have a perfect body, like a traditional dancer, or a certain way of singing, like an opera singer. Performance art kind of works differently than that; it speaks to that genre of breaking the traditional, breaking a boundary, and you do whatever you want. On another level, if you want to do a performance that speaks to other people, you have to think really hard about how you orchestrate yourself and your piece… also it’s very interdisciplinary, so I’ve been in touch with a lot of spheres of performance after I’ve gotten into performance art, because it’s really not a thing by itself. It’s like an amalgamation of other genres of performance. So, you mentioned the exclusion of performance art from the traditional artistic canon. What do you think of the way that performance art is perceived on a wider scale, and how do 30
you feel about the ways people view and think about it?
durational performance—and I remember seeing the media reporting on it. It wasn’t a largely popular piece since it was in this small art district in Beijing, but she was completely naked, and people focused on the nudity of it, and although it could be sexual to some people, people would overtly sexualize the piece and kind of dilute the point of it. And when it got on mainstream media, it would only be about the nudity and the sex and not the performance and the art, and the message the artist was trying to convey. Those are two examples I think of immediately, but of course I’ve seen other performances where the audience is truly respectful and understanding, which is awesome, because the audience of a performance art piece is really important. A great audience makes a great performance.
One thing that I thought of immediately was… Marina Abramović did this piece [The House With The Ocean View] where she was in this art gallery for 12 days on a platform just looking at people, and that was a really famous piece of hers, and I would say it was a groundbreaking moment of her career in the way that she shifted her focus [onto the audience]. A lot of people went and participated in the piece, but there was this episode of Sex and the City that kind of referenced the piece but also made fun of her. So that was an interesting example of mainstream media’s reaction to this piece. Somebody else is portraying her in that episode, and she’s portrayed as this crazy lady with disheveled hair, standing there, looking kind of like Robert Smith [laughing], so that was funny to me watching the episode because that was such a great piece! And they totally made fun of it.
That’s a really important point. On the topic of audiences: when you conceive of a piece, do you have one message in mind, or many? How concerned are you with conveying a particular message?
And there was this artist when I was in Beijing two or three years ago. She did this piece where she slept on a bed made of iron wires for a long period of time —it was a
I think that’s a really good question. Sometimes when I conceive of a piece I [don’t] have a message in 31
in mind at all. I’ve seen plenty of other artists who are extremely vocal and political with their pieces, but in my course of creation, I perceive before I start to think, and I try to collage different things together and make it a coherent/incoherent combination of things and start to make sense of it. Other people might start to make sense of it, and we might not be making sense of it in the same way, but it does speak a certain language. There are times where I do have messages in my mind that I’m trying to get out, and I’m very clear about that. For example, I did this piece called “SHUT UP! BITCH!!,” where that single message was recorded and repeated throughout the piece, and that was really clear, but other times I don’t have messages like that. This issue of Acropolis is themed “chaos and disorder.” Do you relate to that in terms of your own work? I think performance itself has, to me, become a site where chaos and disorder happen in order to break away from conventions and traditions that are already persistent in art. On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about how to speak to
other people through chaos and disorder, and not necessarily getting a message through, but making sense to other people, and finding some sort of order in the disorder. I think the performative creates a space in which you don’t really see the order. You see the order dismantling itself, and there’s this moment of pause where you look outside of yourself and realize, “oh, this is what’s happening in front of me, and I see this, and I’m trying to make sense of it,” and I think that moment itself where [the performance] comes into your face and you come into its face is itself a disorder, or a disorienting experience. But making a performance takes so much consideration of how you’ll make an experience so that when the audience is experiencing that disorientation and disorder that is precisely and very minutely made by the performer, who has thought about [that resulting experience] over and over. You can’t completely have control over your performance—I mean, some people do, but I don’t think I can do that. It’s sort of a balancing situation. And how long, on average, does it take you to plan a new piece? 32
The House with the Ocean View, Marina AbramoviÄ‡
I would say one to three weeks, normally. During the ensemble class period we’d have two to three weeks per assignment. My friend Ada curated an art and ecology performance art show that I took part in, and it took me one week to prepare that performance, called “PostFall.” It depends on the thought process and the materials. As time goes on, the materials matter for me more and more. I didn’t really identify as a craftsman originally, but arts and crafts really go together, and for that piece I had to find a pile of large rocks, which took me two to three days to prepare, and I had to carry them down… dealing with the materials is totally different than just thinking about the conceptual side of performance, and I think chaos and disorder can be expressed through materials as well, especially when materials interact with the performative and with bodily movements and experiences. Which piece of yours have you most enjoyed performing? It’d be the piece I made last December called “I Loev uou ! !!,” which I think is the most complete of my first pieces. I did that piece three
times in total, and I don’t think I’ll do it again, because it’s kind of a one-time performance. I did it for class, I did it for a larger presentation, and I did it again for the sake of recording it. But I don’t think the real performance can actually be recorded or documented [as it feels in person]. That’s the one I most enjoyed doing, and it’s one of the pieces that speaks to me the most because it comes from a really personal place. You touched on the participatory aspect of performance art that arises from the presence of the audience a little earlier. What does that experience do for facilitating chaos and disorder? I think that’s a really good phrase, “facilitating chaos and disorder,” because it takes a lot of pre-meditation to reach the state that you want the chaos to be at. One thing we have to think a lot about in performance art is how we want to deal with the audience. By that I mean we think about the boundary between the audience and the performer, and sometimes that boundary just disappears, which people would call interactive performance , and that’s the point where you lose some 34
of the control and give that control to the audience. That’s the sort of chaos or disorder that you wouldn’t see in a traditional theatrical setting. In early theatre, you’d just sit there in the dark, and what you’d see would be so meticulously controlled by the architecture of the theatre. But in a performance art setting, the performance also speaks to where you perform. There are a lot of site-specific performances where the site matters a lot, and sometimes it becomes an installation, and audiences will go interact with the installation, and that itself is a kind of performance in which the performer would just disappear.
interactivity arising from literary texts, which seem like just words on paper, but they can be performative as well. So I think that so-called “chaos” has become a lens through which you look at things, sort of an artistic mentality that goes beyond the art form itself. So do your performance pieces tend to be very planned out, or do you leave room for improvisation, or both? Most of the pieces I’ve done are pretty well planned out. I’ve taken a lot of time to think about what I’m going to do and what the audience might be going to do with me. Last year, a lot of my pieces involved sound scores, which is very confining when it comes to improvisation because, like in a theatrical setting, you’re using cues for moments of things happening, and you’re thinking, “Am I behind, am I ahead…?” That didn’t really work out for me, so I stopped using sound scores. Then I started using semi sound scores, where maybe there’s just a sound in the background that doesn’t really confine my performance. It’s more so to score the length of time of my performance, but I’d still have the different parts of the performance
Deciding how much control to give the audience is really hard to handle, because when you say too much it kind of spoils everything, and when you say too little you’re afraid that the audience might sabotage what it is that you’re doing [laughs]. But really, really magical moments come when the interaction happens, and that’s one of the greatest aspects of performance art. I’ve been thinking about interactivity in other mediums as well, and I think it’s a concept itself that doesn’t have to be confined to just performance art. I’ve started to see that same kind of 35
thought out beforehand. Another thing that stresses me out about planning is the materiality of a performance. Again, I don’t identify as a craftsman, and I’m trying to get better at dealing with objects, but sometimes objects can be really daunting for me because they become this live component of the performance that you interact with, and you try to conquer and control them but you can’t really. And accidents happen, and sometimes good things come with accidents and sometimes they don’t. That’s one thing that’s really hard to plan beforehand, because whatever happens in the moment happens in the moment. While planning the piece I did with a fish, “I Loev uou! !!,” the one thing I was really struggling with was the rope I used for the performance. That piece had a lot of materials, including a live fish in a bowl, and there was one part of the performance where I walk around the fish bowl with the rope tied around my neck and around the bowl, stretching it tighter and tighter, and every time I was afraid the bowl might tilt and spill out accidentally. I had to rehearse that part over and over, and I guess if you practice more it works better for you [laughing], but what might
actually happen if the fish falls out in that moment? I might do something different and the performance becomes something different than what I conceived in my mind, and that might not be a bad thing. This summer I did the strangest performance I’ve done, “Welcome to My Room,” in the basement of a nightclub. I’d invite people in and wash their feet, and it started out with that idea in my mind, but I took a lot of time thinking about the dimensions of the space I was in, and the items I was using… all of the stuff people wouldn’t notice if they just came in and starting having their feet washed. And there were chaotic moments coming from that performance: people would ask me if they could wash my feet, and I’d have to say no, but I wasn’t supposed to talk so I’d have to communicate it in other ways. Most people were fairly polite, I’d say, but I guess the point is that there’s a lot of planning behind seemingly peaceful, simple performances. In those moments where you’re in the middle of a performance and you have everybody’s attention on you, what’s going through your head? 36
It varies. The fish piece was a quick piece, about 15 minutes long, and I got drunk doing it. [laughs] So I was thinking, “AH, WATER… getting through this monologue, it must sound good!,” and it was over just like that. But I’ve started doing longer pieces over the past few months. For “Post-Fall,” I postured myself in front of a pile of rocks, which was pretty uncomfortable. I sort of felt like I became a rock during that piece, which was intentional, and the moment I got down on the floor I felt like I became something else. It was in the middle of a larger art show, so people were walking past me, standing next to me, talking near me, and one person kicked one of my rocks, so I was like, “what’s happening?,” [laughs] but I didn’t want to disrupt the stillness. It felt very strange in the moment that I stood up, and I felt this strange passing of time during this hour in which I wasn’t myself but I was still myself. Something uncanny happened and I felt like I had lost an hour of my life, which was definitely strange. And for “Welcome to My Room,” which was another durational piece, I set out invitations beforehand. That was a strange experience because sometimes people would look at
the invitation, laugh, and walk away, and I had to sit there for the whole three hours until the end of the night. At first I felt sort of rejected and started blaming myself, but on the other hand it’s no big deal; the invite’s out, the ball’s in their court, and I’m just here. So I felt self-conscious during the performance, but then people started to come, and I’d have moments with them, and time starts to pass really really fast, and it becomes “oh, a foot… another foot… another foot [laughs]” and three hours have gone by. I had that feeling of initial disenchantment with the audience when no one would interact with me. So I was really depending on the audience for that one. You never know what might happen.
The Dweller, Zhengzhou Huang black tape + ink
The Hatter, Zhengzhou Huang ink, plastic trash bag, USB cables + tape
The Chaotic Nature of “Art” by Tabor Chapman The term “art” is not universally defined instead scholars, historians and art historians have argued about what constitutes as art for centuries. This is part due to the nature of the individual response, in which viewers are naturally attracted to different paintings, mediums, styles, periods. Although, individuals have different responses, they do share a tendency in how they perceive and categorize art due to a dominant European concept of aesthetic and value. Art has been categorized on an European value scale but has been challenged by “primitive” artwork, which was appropriated to fit a Western aesthetic. Pre-Columbian art creates disorders because it subverts an Eurocentric concept of art and presents a different perspective on non-Western art. The value of non-Western art has been determined by a Eurocentric concept of aesthetic, which has interpreted various art pieces to fit this value system. In her article, The Trouble with (the Term) Art, Dean describes the Lega people and their concept of art as “heavy things”.
From this, Dean imagines a world where the entirety of art has been defined by the Lega people. Would the Lega People find beauty in the works of Michelangelo or El Greco? Or would these works be disregarded because they do not have the aesthetic quality of a “heavy thing”. Instead of judging based on the quality of “heaviness”, we use the Western value system of realism, naturalism and so on to determine value. Dean establishes that the concept of art originated in Europe and as a result, a Eurocentric concept of art changes the meaning of non-Western art. For example, African masks were stripped of their natural materials, cleaned and placed on a podium in order to become sculptures. Artifacts, such as the African mask, were appropriated and their meaning was altered in order to become a sculpture. More importantly, if we consider African masks in their original context they seem strange, exotic and chaotic to our Western order. The act of collecting can be traced back to the seventeenth-century and caused Europeans to view non-Western art as primitive In the 17th century, Hernan Cortes sent back to the Habsburg monarchy 42
Photos of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection at the National Gallery of Art 1963
Whistling Bottle with Feline Face, Paracas, Early Horizon, 400-300 BCE.
Stirrup Spout in form of Pampas Cat, Paracas, Early Horizon, 400-300 BCE.
a collection of items from the New World. Consequently, Europe was infected with a desire to collect the seemingly exotic and bizarre artifacts to place into a kunstkammer, or cabinet of curiosity, which attested to the owner’s status and intelligence. This display of wealth and intelligence instilled the notion that non-Western items, such as ceramics and textiles, were nothing more than exotic and thrilling objects. This is reflected in the 1960s, when the Robert Woods Bliss Collection at the National Gallery of Art (fig. 1 and 2) featured Pre-Columbian objects as art, but items were placed together according to a Eurocentric aesthetic, but not according to Pre-Columbian cultures considerations of their art. Pre-Columbian and non-western art in general was no longer seen in the context of their original culture, but had been reinterpreted into new forms. The chaos physically unravels when art historians attempt to understand these pieces from in their original context and not from a “primitive” lens. In looking at Paracas ceramics, such as the Whistling Bottle from the Early Horizon Period, the process to make this vessel is complex. For the Paracas people, they would mold the clay
into the desired shape, then incise the design of the ceramics with a tool before burying the vessel into the ground allowing for it to be fired. Afterwards using a resin paint made from acacia bush, the Paracas “artist” would paint in the incised design and sometimes add additive measures such as noses. On this vessel, the ceramics takes on the form of the pampas cat, an animal associated with agricultural and prosperity. In Moche culture, ceramics were created using a mold and were mass produced for elite clientele. Furthermore, the Moche portrait vessels captured a likeness as well as emotion as seen in Laughing Ceramic. Although, these ceramics seems to primitive in comparison to Greek statuary - the process and lack of efficacy shows a technically complicated process to create beautiful objects within Andean culture and thus, demonstrates intention to create what we define as aesthetic. Andean textiles prove to be the epitome of a lack of efficacy, otherwise known as the intentional to create aesthetically pleasing objects even though it is not an efficient use of time in a world where time was precious and used for ensuring survival. In Paracas textiles, there were several methods to 45
creating elaborate and intricate designs. The Linear Style consisted of straight stitches, as seen in the Double Headed-Bird Textile, which shows a repeating pattern. This design is created by leaving the negative, in which the background defined the figure, and the weaver left the areas where the design of figure blank in order to create it. This was a complex process, which has been expressed as a mathematical sequence where the weaver must visualize and maintain the pattern beforehand. There was no diagram or outline, but instead these designs were created from memory and is not a simple technique. In this manner, although the style is vastly different than what is considered to be a masterpiece, the process and method of creating these works shows skill, talent and a mastery to create what the Inca language called quimpi. Quimpi was used to denote preciousness in the making of textiles. It also subverts a European concept of art, in which textile are not viewed as the primacy medium and shows how Pre-Columbian works differs the expected standard of art. Pre-columbian art is not seemingly simple enough to reinterpret and appropriate into a
Western perspective and aesthetic, but instead is complex. It demonstrates its own set of cultural priorities and aesthetic that is different than what is widely accepted as pleasing and masterful. What does this mean for the viewer? It means that we have to take a step back, disassociate Pre-Columbian art and others works with the term primitive and instead embrace that the nature of art is chaotic; it does not have a defined meaning or expectation. Scholars have complicated the issue by attempting to create order. Pre-Columbian art demonstrates that art was never meant to be defined, but instead was meant to be experienced and appreciated differently according to each viewer.
Double Headed-Bird Textile, Paracas, Early Horizon, 400-300 BCE.
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