ANYBODY that knows me knows that I'm obsessed with all things Japanese.
You just can't beat Japan. At anything.
Japanese people have an amazing heritage to call back on. Their society, which grew in isolation from most other nations over the course of it's history, is really the byproduct of hundreds and thousands of years of selective isolation and development. In the past, Japan looked to China for inspiration, but these days there's no place in Asia at least that doesn't look to Japan to see how things need be done.
Have you been there? I don't know anyone that went away unimpressed.
I lived in Japan for two years and for me it was a dream come true. I lived in Kyoto which made things that bit more special and during that time I really dug a lot of things about the Japanese ethos. Sure, like anywhere in the world, it's not a perfect place, but I've never felt such an affinity with a place as I did there.
So in my ongoing obsession with Japan, I have added a few modern day touches to my repertoire. This includes on going championing, support and patronage of certain Japanese brands that just get me really excited in a nerdy kind of way. I hate labels but I love UNIQLO. I pine for a MOS burger every now and then. I disintegrate like a geek when I see window displays of washi (traditional Japanese paper) and I have a weakness for anything that even remotely sports a Japanese motif.
Living in Europe makes it tough for me to get my Japanese fix. At least in Italy. Yes, there are a million Japanese/Chinese/Thai restaurants but, let's face it, most of them are not any cop.
When daily life got the best of me in Rome, I would hop down to the tiny little MUJI store that exists there. It's like as big as a broom closet, but it was big enough to kind of restore the hope that this country often crushes in me.
Well, good news. MUJI it seems is moving into new territory. We're talking MUJI flat pack houses people. Prefabricated houses that sell from as little as $150K and that don't bother you with doors orr internal walls. It's open space living. And of course, being so fabulous, MUJI will send someone out to set it up for you. It's not a DIY nightmare waiting to happen.
Think neutral tones, efficiency and design, design, design.
Watch this video for some fabulous background (with computer generated narration(?) and start lining up at my gift registry for the housewarming.
BACK in my gallery days running Immersion Therapy, I had the good fortune of meeting a lot of artists who were living and working in Australia at the time. My memory isn't as precise as I would sometimes like it to be, but I think I met Shiau-Peng Chen at one of the shows that I had at the gallery through another remarkable artist that I know.
I recall heading down to the studios at RMIT in Melbourne which has played a part in a lot of artists' training there and I was immediately struck by how exact, precise and disciplined Shiau-Peng's work was. All the things that I'm not capable of, but that she nails time after time in her work. The other thing that impressed me is that in person, she's warm and funny, as if she gets all that exactness out in her artwork to free her up for day to day life.
Shiau-Peng's practice runs across different mediums: she paints, she constructs, she deconstructs and she uses print mediums in inventive ways. She is a prolific worker, teaches and is widely respected (and exhibited). She was kind enough to find some time to answer some of my inane questions. Let's meet Dr. Shiau-Peng Chen!
Is it sunny today?
Yes, it's always sunny!
Looks like you are busy as always...three shows already this year? Can you tell me about them and about any upcoming projects?
This year I have participated in three group shows so far. They are Concrete Post 2 in Project Space/Spare Room at RMIT University in Melbourne (Australia), Yi Jing: The Art Dialogue Between Different Generations and Religions in Da Xiang Art Space in Taichung (Taiwan) and Concrete Post 3 in Raum2810 in Bonn, Germany. Currently, I'm working on my Taipei Series. Next March I have a solo show coming up at IT Park in Taipei (Taiwan).
So what's taken up the most of your time this year?
I would say that's teaching and art making. I'm trying to keep the two things well-balanced.
When we first met, back in 2008, I remember that your work had a few major themes running through it. I would say that at that time you were interested in exploring spatial arrangements, socio-political geographies and art theory, and that you tended to express all those things in an abstract, but clear and symbolic way. Would you agree?
Yes, good observation Dave! I think you have a very sharp eye.
Why, thanks. Are those themes still important to your work? Are you still exploring them or has time taken you elsewhere?
The themes are still important to my work. I have tried to push the ideas further and texts are used as a new format to support the images. Works from the I Would Love to Become An Author Series are good examples.
One of the amazing motifs in your work is the way that you reduce everything down to its essential state and kind of rebirth it into something new. I recall that you even adapted your own visual alphabet into your work. Can you explain that a little to people who are not familiar with your work?
Through reducing everything down to its essential state, most of my work tends to have a flat and simple appearance. The method of reduction and simplification I used is both subjective and objective. Originally it is derived from the physical facts I have observed. I then try to adjust the images through my understanding of these facts... and sometimes just by free associations which reveal what I've perceived and thought subconsciously.
And the alphabet?
Using my own visual alphabet in my work is another method I use to combine the outer world and my inner world in a playful and humorous way. It is way more subjective though.
You are a prolific publisher and there's been a literary side to your work for some time. Will you extend your genius one day to showing the world that you are an actual writer?
Last year I had a solo show entitled Shiau-Peng Chen Publications at the NHCUE Art Space in Hsinchu (Taiwan). It was a show presenting my text-works including drawings, silkscreens, text-photographs and artist's books. I was using text to support the ideas of my work.
Most of the artists I admire are artists who create conceptual, geometric abstract works. And many of them are writers of writers. Somehow, I feel doing text-work is more like a way of saying that I want to be a good artist, just like them.
Very effective use of an amazing space in Gallipoli, even if the art exhibit, featuring one of Italy's living treasures, Michelangelo Pistoletto was a little light on in content.
Great excuse for a wander around a castle that was neglected and only received a spit and polish a handful of years back.
Worth popping into if you find yourself in southern Puglia.
Probably the most amazing photo I've seen this year with an equally Fascinating read at the New York Times about what's happening in Turkey.
'If you're going to sample anyone, sample ABBA,' our Lady of Pop once said.
Well, if you're going to (re)write the definitive A-Z on the woman who has done it all then make sure you're a super fan, meticulous about your research and a walking, talking, blogging authority on the woman. Enter Matthew Rettenmund, author, editor and one of the holy grails of Madonna fandom.
While living in London in the nineties I remember one of my favourite haunts was Tower Records. Yes, I know! I'm so old that I've actually stepped foot in a living, breathing record store that still had a fair amount of vinyl in it. I had a friend who worked at one of the Tower stores. She had this thing about stealing toilet paper from where I lived at the time but I forgave her because she has one of those Tower employee badges that hung around her neck like she was a roadie or a VIP. Anyway, I'd stop in and say hi regularly and rummage through the store for hours on end.
And thank God I did because even though I was backpacking (I know! I'm so old that I was once a young, nineties backpacker)I was determined to pick up a copy of Matt's tome Encyclopedia Madonnica that I stumbled across during one of my rummages. It was the nineties, so it was an A-Z of every conceivable thing, person or theme that was connected to M right up until her Bedtime Stories album. I snapped up a copy of that book and lugged it around with me in my backpack until I made it all the way back to Australia. Matt knew his shit. And this was pre-internet shit (I know) so imagine how much time and travel went into researching it.
Since then of course, the world has changed, the Internet has put pretty much everything out there (and usually without context) and M has racked up another twenty uneven years in the business. That means for a lot of misinformation to duck and weave through and a lot of stuff that has to be reconsidered because time is both a friend and foe to pop music.
Writing a definitive tome on anyone is hard enough but when you're doing it under all those circumstances, well, ouch. Has to be a labour of love.
So onto the Wishlist goes the new Encyclopedia Madonnica 2.0 because M's career has been constantly fascinating and Matt's effort deserves some sitting up and paying attention to. I've got a feeling that EM2.0 will at least temporarily, become the new reference tool in our house. I'm gonna give my excellent googling skills a bit of a rest for a bit.
Incidentally it's not technically a Madonna house that I live in. Even though I consider any house that I live in to be one. My partner is not an M fan. Quite the opposite really. Yes, like pretty much everyone he loves Borderline and a lot of her early stuff. But these days he just raises an eyebrow at both me and the M news that filters through. I think there was a bit of surprise on his part when he realised that Living For Love and ghosttown were perhaps not the radio hits that they seemed to be at my place. (And heartbreak city). I don't know if he thought it was just the radio that I was listening to but let's just say that in our 80 square metre apartment M scored at least two No.1 hits from Rebel Heart and he was at a loss as to why no one else seemed to be able to hum along to them.
Anyhow, I'm digressing. Visit Matt's post for more info about the book. I'm off to play the ageist card.
YOU know I often find myself wondering about how I should spend my money. I have wish lists of things that I have been meaning to pick up for ages, or sometimes I see a work of art or a photobook and think damn!
If you're a bookstore browser: (wait, do bookstores even exist anymore?) I'm sure you've stumbled upon the exhaustive series of art titles published by Taschen. Man, Taschen have a book on EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. They know how to distract me on my way to the self help aisle.
So rather than coming home with a book that is likely to help me improve my social skills, tell me how to get rid of my flab or turn me into an entrepreneur I always end up coming home with illustrated books that make me anti social, encourage me to sit at home on the couch leafing through pages while munching on corn chips and wondering why I never have any money.
Well, Taschen have done it again. They're about to release a limited edition book celebrating Gisele Bündchen's twenty years in the fashion/modelling business. 300 photos, put together by Gisele and Giovanni Bianco and full of tributes from the people closest to her.
Just a thousand copies will be printed, at the bargain price of 500 euro a pop. DAMN! I know girl's gotta pay the rent, but really? Oh, wait, they'll be signed by her too.
I know Linda Evangelista once famously said she wouldn't get out of bed for 10K, but I guess you gotta move with the times. Are we now going to go around saying I won't sign it for anything less than 500 euro dollars? Doesn't have the same ring to it I guess. Oh well, best take out a mortgage and sure up the legs on my wonky coffee table.
Ok, lately my world seems to have become INUNDATED by people with children. Babies, toddlers and bored teenagers. Gosh! They're everywhere.
Thing is I still think of myself as a kid so they don't really bother me at all. It's just important to keep things to manageable numbers. I think I'm up to about ten kids that I adore. But sometimes I get super annoyed. Not with the kids, but with their parents (my friends). Because they give their kids the world but not the one thing they really need.
No, not love and a secure, supportive environment. I mean one of these excellent dolls. OMG these are awesome! Can you imagine...if you'd grown up with these you would have no body image issues, you'd have been perennially cool and you could totally have put, like Iggy and Blondie in the barbie convertible and had them drive around the worlds that your tiny kid like brain and epic imagination would have invented. And if they were going to the love shack they totally could've stopped to pick up Madge and David Bowie and pretended not to see Morrissey cos you know he would've killed anything that even resembled a good time. And crapped on about cats or veganism or some shit like that.
Anyway, back to my cruel friends. You best be putting in your orders cos if I have to cough up some pressies this Christmas you know I'm going to want to play with them too.
Get to grips with the full offerings at Katkiller, the Brazilian designers behind these works of art. Oh man Morrissey is gonna be pissed with that too. It's just a name Mozza. JESUS!
It's almost the end of September already, meaning that a number of events are winding up.
In case you're not a regular reader of the blog, I'm an avid exhibition hopper and try to write up things after I see them so that other people can benefit (and to help you tune out the noise).
There are a few events that are winding up or on the verge of closing, so I'm reposting a couple of links in case you or someone you know is heading to any of the following events and is interested in a quick read. And I'm popping in a few other articles that might've been of interest to you as well.
The Venice Biennale runs until November this year and I've compiled my 12 favourite shows in addition to a one day guide to visiting Giardini and one for Arsenale. You can find all the solid stuff here.
There's a nice photography exhibition which is winding up in Otranto at the moment. You might not make it to see the exhibit, but the following article might give you some food for thought on our obsession about how photography shapes our viewpoint. Here.
All the controversy in the new appointments to 20 of Italy's most important art galleries here along with why Italians are up in arms for the wrong reason.
Lest we forget Khaled al Asaad, who just a month ago died at the brutal hands of IS in service of Syria's antiquities.
Beware the might of China and the weaknesses in protecting authorship and copyright. The Anish Kapoor edition.
We recently commemorated the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima's devastation and its moving and powerful museum is getting a (controversial) face lift.
There are a lot of photography festivals around the world: they often bring together photographers from different parts of the world, there's usually residencies or workshops of some kind, a final exhibition and sometimes, even a photobook festival. A lot of cities and organisations clamour to get them happening in their own backyards. And some of them offer a great way of exposing new photographers to the photography public and opportunities to refine their craft.
I've mentioned in recent posts that besides the other projects I've been working on recently, I've also done some work translating the catalogue and printed material for Bitume Photofest 2015. It's their second annual photographic exhibition, and as an event, it has quickly shaped up as the most important photographic event on the southern Italian calendar.
While there are so many photography festivals that seem to take place nowadays, I would say that very few of them actually seek to engage with the wider public. This is what sets Bitume apart from so many of the photography festivals that take place each year.
One of Bitume's main goals is to engage the wider public, not just those who might otherwise purchase a ticket or be willing to enter a gallery or converted loft. What we are talking about here are large scale installations that make themselves at home in and amongst the city. In public spaces, residential streets...wherever there is an appropriate space in the city.
In this case, the city is one of Italy's most beautiful (and oldest). Gallipoli. It's a scenic port city on the Ionian coast, full of charming laneways and snaking streets. And though it's just a half hour away from cosmopolitan Lecce, it's like stepping back in time, especially if you visit its historic centre which is basically a walled island. Honestly, if you have a stereotypical view of what a small Mediterranean city is supposed to look and feel like, then you're going to be pretty vindicated with the old town of Gallipoli. It really is a gorgeous place, especially when it's not overrun with tourists.
This year Bitume's event is taking place there and I head down there yesterday for the launch. It was a great excuse to inspect the large scale prints that have taken over parts of the city and that are elbowing for your attention. It was also a great excuse to take my favourite editor in the world out to Gallipoli and give her the chance to kill two birds with one stone: get some culture and see Gallipoli in action while tagging along for the curator's tour.
Bitume's exhibition is mostly an outdoors one. It takes place on ramparts, piers, city walls, balconies and other surfaces that the photography deems worthy as a temporary home. (There are also conventional indoor exhibitions).
You mightn't think it, but this is a challenging undertaking. You'll be surprised to know that beyond cities that have been schooled and educated in outdoor festivals, the realities can be difficult when you're importing the concept to somewhere new (old). There are a million considerations about how and where you're going to exhibit work, how you're going to maximise their visibility, and how you're going to protect them and ensure that they withstand the elements.
As such, the curatorial team have had to deal with a number of logistical problems with some of the installations.
Also, and unfortunately, people will be people sometimes, meaning that some people in the city took it upon themselves to deface a couple of the pieces that lined the streets. But in a way, it's almost the ideal thing to happen. Unfortunate for the handful of works, but ultimately it will act towards educating more people in appreciating such an ambitious undertaking. (And let's face it, bored teens, the likely culprits, exist everywhere in the world.)
But no matter, the issues were isolated and snaking through Gallipoli's streets over the next week or so will reveal some wonderful artwork that has been sought and collected from around the world. I'll be heading back for a proper look at the indoor exhibits later this week, but there are a host of public events also taking place over the coming week. Check the website for more information.
The photos in the post offer only a selection of the outdoor exhibits on show. Specific posts relating to the photographers featured in my post are linked below:
Lucas Foglia's A Natural Order.
Thomas Savin's Beijing Silvermine.
Gregg Segal's 7 days of Garbage
Suffering for my art today- 37 degrees and locked in a cemetery. But worth it. I think cemeteries are underrated because we are so disconnected to death in general and because we don't pay funerary art the respect that it deserves.
Personally I think a lot of funerary art is like the ultimate expression of love we have for others. Or ourselves. These days we are also about simplicity: a couple of lines on an epithet, a few dates and a photo.
But really, there are some amazing things to be seen beyond a cemetery wall if it's more than a few decades' old and there are worse places to be stuck on a hot, hot day.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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