Sunday, January 30, 2011
Saturday, January 29, 2011
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was not on my “100 places to visit” list, but when my work was accepted into the 29th Annual Exhibition of the Emirates Fine Arts Society, held at the Sharjah Art Museum, I was given the opportunity to attend. Before I knew it I was onboard a jet at Philadelphia Airport, January 7, 2011 on my way to Dubai International in the UAE, heading back in the same direction from which I had come from 49 years earlier in 1961. Philadelphia was my point of entry into the United States, arriving at a young age from my place of birth, Lahti, Finland. Naturalized as a US citizen at the age of six, I have recently applied and been granted dual citizenship with my mother country Finland. This new found status as a citizen of the European Union and Nordic Council opens up the potential and desire to interact with the world as a holistic global community.
Flying out of the country, I felt handicapped with a lifetime of ethnocentric cultural bias deeply rooted in a western mind set. And undoubtedly, my limited perspective of the Middle East has continuously been shaped by the media I have been exposed to. Saying I was an open minded person and being open minded are two different things and immersion into Islamic culture would be a great test of my flexibility. Along with having little time to prepare, I have set a challenge for any journey that is documented by my artist statement: “By questioning the beliefs of myself and others, and confronting societal issues such as prejudice and racism, gender bias, consumerism, pollution, and natural resource depletion, I hope to dissolve dualistic thinking, identify non-sustainable practices, and promote more cooperative relationships between people and the planet.”
At times, feeling hypocritical when I read this, I am also learning to be patient with myself while transitioning to better way, setting high ideals in order that I might someday aspire to them. A gift of being an artist lies in having the ability to initiate an honest dialog without words. Contemporary art is a universal language transcending ethnic barriers, a sublime vehicle of heart to heart and mind to mind communication. Our group of Americans, one Ghanian, and one Korean artist, showing our artwork together in one museum, reveals our likenesses as human beings rather than what can sometimes be alienating cultural differences.
The Emirates are developing a strong center of culture and commerce, attracting the entire global community. The core of this expression is displayed with their innovative structural achievements, one of which includes the tallest building in the world. Architecture is an artistic expression that can transcend social norms. To stand in awe may be the closest experience any of us will have with what we perceive to be divine. Looking out from 160th floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, towering at 2717 feet, was a truly awesome experience, reminiscent of times in my past spent above tree line. Mountaintops may have given birth to the dreams and visions of skyscrapers reaching for the heavens and been the inspiration for their construction, but it was human effort that climbed those mountains and built those monuments testifying to one facet of the human potential.
My short stay of eleven days revealed only a microcosm of Arabic culture, but it was a positive life changing experience. I was less impressed with the architectural spectacle than the peacefulness, generosity and kindness of the people I met during my stay. H.H. Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Bin Sultan Al Qassimi, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, attended the opening of the art exhibition and took the time to shake my hand and ask about my artwork as he did with each of the attending artists. It was an honor to meet him and experience first hand the government’s generous support of the arts. The Sharjah Museum, under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, hosted the Emirates Fine Arts Society annual event which was made real by the Sharjah Museums Department, with an experienced installation team, an immaculate, almost divine, gallery space, and refreshments, provided as needed during our press conference and lectures.
Arabic culture has touched me deeply on a heart level pointing more to my own shortcomings rather than those of a foreign culture. I was humbled by the discipline of the masses to stop what they were doing and be mindful of the sacred. The calls from the mosques were contagious and each time I heard them I became more still and took time for reflection myself. They don’t feel so far away to me anymore. If there’s one thing the world needs now it’s more places conducive to a peaceful cross cultural exchange and dialogue. The Emiratis have opened their home to the world, hopefully we will continue to be humble guests with open minds and hearts ready to receive the many gifts they offer and give them the best of ourselves and culture in return.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Friday, January 21, 2011
Call to prayer floating in the hazy morning air.
Henna stained skin.
Tea and toast with rose apricot jam.
Salty sand angels.
New friends for life.
Glowing black light waves thorough grape hookah smoke.
Standing on the top of the world.
Conceptions. Misconceptions. Re-evaluation. New perspective.
Avocado shakes and lemon mint juice.
Buildings, buildings, buildings.
Things familiar written in mysterious loops, lines, and dots…Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, Pizza Hut.
Evening boat ride.
Souks, souks, souks.
Hummous, Tabbouleh, Kebab.
Scraggly bits of green struggling to grow.
Rauschenberg, Ruscha, Serra, Twombly, Warhol and Wool.
Sleepy, sleepy, sleepy.
Everything under control.
While sitting in Hassan's workspace and looking at his sketchbooks, Hassan and I had a conversation about language and expression. He stated, "The aura of language is the part that cannot be translated; it is a feeling. This is what we strive for in art."
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Joe Girandola, Director UArts MFA Studio Art Program
The city of “brotherly love,” as it was coined by William Penn from the Greek terms philos and adelphos, the city of Philadelphia was planned in grid-like fashion to separate residential life from occupational endeavors. The people of Philadelphia quickly abandoned Penn’s plans and merged their living arrangements with their entrepreneurial talents. The city quickly grew and spread its arms to include denizens of all cultures from around the world, a true melting pot of ideas and creativity. Home to a vast cauldron of human achievement, Philadelphia has embraced with open arms the likes of Ben Franklin to Alexander Calder, Louis Kahn to Kobe Bryant, Billie Holliday to Naom Chomsky, Joe Frasier to Bill Cosby, Solomon Guggenheim to Kevin Bacon and Betsy Ross to R Crumb. To phrase one of Philadelphia’s most favorite sons, the rapper Will Smith sings, “maxing and relaxing,” to indicate a long and vibrant history of a creative city on the banks of the Delaware River with a passion for work and play. The Master of Fine Arts program in Studio Art at the University of the Arts(UArts) has an equally vivid history of merging its talents to create a more vibrant whole. As one of America’s oldest Universities dedicated to the Arts, UArts was literally created by melting together the Philadelphia College of the Performing Arts and the Philadelphia College of Art. These two schools have historical roots embedded in the city since the 1870’s. In 1985, the Master of Fine Arts program in Ceramics, Painting and Sculpture was introduced with the renaming of the academy as the University of the Arts and students from around the nation entered the graduate studio art program. As the program has grown and embraced all forms of visual art making, the MFA Program in Studio Art encourages creative researchers from all parts of the globe to call Philadelphia home for three consecutive summers of eight-week residencies. The melting of ideas and ingenuity in the intense heat of the summer, leads to anything but grid-like outcomes for the graduate students at UArts.
From Philadelphia to Ghana, Iowa to Korea, Omaha to Idaho, to Connecticut to Michigan and the shores of Finland, this exhibition presents a small sample of the diverse practice and accomplished skill of contemporary art from twelve students currently enrolled in the professional practice studio art program of over 40 graduate students. The ideas that have emerged from this exhibition invite discovery and contemplation and honestly investigate the currents of contemporary art.
The work of Eric Abaka, Marge Renno and Lauren McCarty merge the fields of installation and performance. A recorded act is reconfigured and exhibited as a dynamic installation that invites the viewer to join in the artistic experience. Abaka creates work from his surroundings and has chosen to create a site-specific work from the environs of Sharjah. These found-object alterations weave together his boyhood memories from his home in Ghana and his urban existence in Chicago and Philadelphia. Renno produces large-scale projected works mesmerize the viewer into the trace of natural phenomenon. Usually projected in urban environments, the video artworks deliver a story of the passage of time and the memory of travail. Lauren McCarty investigates chance encounters by producing documentaries of her day-to-day discoveries. Animating her sketchbook into a projected diary with sound displays McCarty’s interest in the connections of daily routines in the artistic practice.
AJ Bredensteiner, Guy Loraine and Andy Walker produce artworks that envelop time and produce digital fractionations that when presented in large format installations, reveal minute details embracing the beauty of intense observation. Bredensteiner’s current work focuses on the computerized recreation of sketches drawn on paper. Evaluating the myth of ownership in today’s global culture, AJ creates fantasy landscapes that entice visual contemplation. Guy Loraine has captured a specific moment of the laborious process of collecting acorn shells and caps from an oak tree near his studio in Des Moines, Iowa. A small piece of an elaborate installation and performance artwork, the image drives home a loneliness of artistic process and perfecting practice of integrity and honesty in art making. The Liberty Bell piece also displays the quiet energy of a cracked bell of independence and the significant ring of progress in the shadow of doubt and citizenship on native grounds. Andy Walker, a lifelong Philadelphian, photographs tarnished buildings in city limits that have succumbed to economic shifts in the housing market. Hand-built structures weep in their abandoned state as government policies prevent individuals with finances and creative re-use strategies to purchase these homes. They remain dormant in their once-cherished beauty and they creep into memory as their card is called for demolition erasing the vibrant past of energy.
David Chatfield, Tae Gyun Yoon(Lucien) and Carrice Mckinstry compile life into compartments of analytic and mysterious human space. Chatfield discovers the never-ending task of updating resumes and the job application process to further ones opportunities in the workforce. These paintings overlay a multitude of pages in a transparent attempt to “pile on” experience to rise to the top of the applicant pool. Tae-Gyun Yoon embraces his Korean upbringing and the packaging of societal goods and “Western” needs in intricate drawings that resemble his installation work. Stacking of mass-produced packaging goods and containers, Lucien is interested in the re-purposing of items usually meant for one-time use. Carrice McKinstry hand toils in a laboratory style process that is far removed from any scientific method. Handcrafting object after object and letting shape and form develop through process rather than research based assimilation, Carrice sets up dramatic whimsical installations using light and space to dispel the act of creative calculation in art. Allowing for the freedom of interpretation and the viewer’s need to place each of her “specimens” into context, Carrice develops a sculptural vocabulary that welcomes debate.
Harry Hukkinen, Michele Kishita and Kris Strawser contemplate abstraction though their varying works. Harry Hukkinen, born in Finland and raised on the shores of New Jersey, creates opaque sculptural objects that become integral components to photographic works that investigate contrasting elements of linear form and organic surroundings. Experimenting with color, texture and shape, Michele Kishita’s use of gold and silver leaf borrows renaissance techniques while reinforcing the act of painting as a collaborative symphony of marks and movements. The installation work of Kris Strawser joins in the playful coordination of making by incorporating mass-produced objects (in this case, Slinky’s and Mylar Balloons) to coordinate an indoor mythical landscape. Interlacing with light and shadow, the installation reflects the viewer and the environment in fractal planes that creates a unique experience with time.
All twelve of these varying artists share the commitment and dedicated passion of creative research and exploration. The University of the Arts graduate program in studio art does not have a distinct “look” or “style.” What it lacks in a singular vision, it gains in its melting pot existence. UArts is as diverse as the global world of creativity and its artists thrive in their varying perspectives. Still Melting presents a brief look into a visual art program that embraces diversity in visual art production and research based awareness of visual culture and historical structure. Allowing for cross-disciplinary studio practices, artists in the UArts MFA Program in Studio Art are encouraged to follow their instincts and be guided individually by leading creators in all fields of practice. The blurring of disciplines and formulaic processes lead to new discoveries that once were as flat as the Earth was thought to be. Philadelphia rings its cracked Liberty Bell to signify Independence through difficult times. The determination of these twelve individuals each sound off in varying tones of creative impulse while together their ideas speak loudly to exemplify the still melting pot of artistic diversity.
2011 UARTs MFA Students selected to participate in the Emirates Fine Arts Society Exhibition at the Sharjah Art Museum, UAE:
Tae Gyun Yoon