Monday, June 17, 2013

is this art? a torso project update

it's time for a little torso project update. some of the creative women from the original torso project weekend met up yesterday to show their finished products/works in progress and to discuss next steps towards showing the work.

the end results are as diverse as the women themselves. as i see it, the common thread for all is autobiography. these casts of our very bodies, frozen in a moment in time, are the canvas for a snapshot of all that we feel has made us who we are, right here and right now.

words, photos, maps, yarn, paint, drawings, color - all have been used to depict the individual lives of each of us. how we see ourselves and how we imagine that others see us. these torsos hold fragments of our memories, our lives, our documents, our experiences. they are there, written on our very bodies.

but i find myself thinking about whether they are art. we used artistic techniques - collage, paint, photography, one person even "drew" in yarn, as you can see above - but did we achieve actual art?  which raises the more complicated question of what is art anyway? it's a bit like that old joke about pornography, "i know it when i see it." and i can't help but think that what we made wasn't art per se.

but if it's not art, then what is it? it is expressive. and highly personal. it is storytelling. and a bit of art therapy, in that i think we all found it therapeutic to look within for our memories and stories. but to ask a museum to display our work would be a stretch. a big one. maybe it would be different if yoko ono or madonna had been part of our project - they would lend caché and would have perhaps lifted us all in our visions and our work. one of the most powerful things we did yesterday was that each person shared the thoughts behind their torso. and it made them so much more meaningful to hear people's stories.  but art needs to be able to stand alone, as we can't stand them beside at an exhibition and explain them to people.

but the fact is that we are a bunch of creative people in a little town in the middle of nowhere in denmark who happen to have tried to tell a little piece of the story of who we are in the form of a plaster cast of our own bodies. and while a few members of the group are trained as artists, as a whole we are not. we are teachers and office workers and librarians and nurses and consultants and physical therapists and prison guards. and those are wonderful things to be.

what we had was an amazing experience - to make those torsos together in a room of 20+ women. baring ourselves (literally) and opening up our hearts and experiences and stories and sharing them is a powerful thing, a wild woman sisterhood sort of thing. but where do we go with it? we are going to exhibit them locally at the end of august, but i wonder beyond that. they might fit well in a library exhibition, connected to other forms of autobiography, or to part of a storytelling conference. but i honestly don't think we'll convince a museum or a gallery to show them.

here's mine, i'm not done yet. it's filled with words that resonated with me - many in danish, because those are the newspapers that i have at hand. i've given those words first a wash of sepia, followed by a a wash of watered down paynes grey ink, as i don't want to completely cover them. tho' i do intend to cover them to an extent with small paintings and drawings of places and memories that are important to me. but mine isn't art either, but it is a personal expression of me. words are important to me. as is expressing myself. right now, it's darker and more foreboding than i actually feel, which is interesting, but doesn't reflect the hazy vision of it that resides in my head. and that's a big part of the process too.


celkalee said...

Wow, I just have to say this project is Art, real, tactile, intuitive. To appreciate the exhibit I am not sure I would need to hear the stories. Each piece speaks to me. Congrats on such a great idea.

I like the display in rows intentional or not. It imbues a strength of womanhood vibe to me.

heidikins said...

Art is so subjective and so vast, and what one person deems art may not fit another's perspective, and even what MOST people deem "art" may not do it for someone else. And that's fine. I think the beauty and power of expression through artistic pursuits (paint, craft, sewing, writing, performance, sculpture, etc) is that "what is art?" is answered differently by each of us.

If a famous celebrity had made one of those torso's that one wouldn't be any more artistic than the one it was next to, it would just be more recognized. And recognition and art are not the same thing.


will said...

I don’t think the torsos are art.

Class projects begin with an idea or starting point created by another person, usually a teacher… this removes the most difficult elements of the creative process – originality and non-derivative uniqueness.

In terms of art, Warhol succeeded in elevating manufactured objects to iconic status, but most things, whether it’s childbirth or gardening, simply fall in the category labeled “common” (there’s nothing wring with common). A butterfly might have significance to one person because of a specific picnic or summer vacation but to others, the butterfly is simply a winged insect.

Concerning the message or content imbedded with a construct: Symbolism is a tricky business. Personal symbolism, when woven into an object, often as not, will have minimal impact on anonymous audiences simply because the symbols might be too vague or too much of a cliché.

Each torso, from what I can see, lacks coherence; instead each relies on seemingly random stuff. Viewers tend to look at art and use their previous experiences with art to place things in some sort of rational organization.

For example, if you view a painting of dogs smoking cigars and playing poker or a canvas with melting clocks and birds without eyes – the tendency is to place either of those two painting into certain art styles.

The decorated torsos are difficult things to classify. They aren’t equivalent to primitive art or to pop art or pop surrealism – they appear as collages of scrapbook materials or experimentations with paint.

I suppose the argument can be made the torsos are exploring feminine art, maybe so – but there are so many examples of good art by women, that defense is weak.

The irony of art is we relate to the work of masters (van Gogh, Monet, O’Keeffe) because they somehow transform the ordinary into something more universal. But that transcendence doesn’t mean every painting with a flower or tree is art… therein is the mystery and challenge of art.

Personally, I thought the most powerful statement from the torsos was the photo of all of them together when they were freshly done and were all white.

The whiteness made a statement. Yes, there was a sense of a collective experience but each was unique enough to stand apart and be considered as a solitary sculpture.

The torsos refused age, dismissed the trivial and they made the viewer look at the shape of each torso and to then think about the person it represents.

Contextually, those were powerful icons, representing real people who had triumphed in life – people who survived and could assertively say, “I am me, I am here and I’m your mystery.”