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My Recent "Artful" Excursions

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Just some of the art I have consumed lately . . .

At the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC from November 1, 2018 through April 28, 2019.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Upon reflection, especially considering my last blog post, I actually have managed to get a few things accomplished in the "art department" so far this year. In early February, once the Federal Government shut down was resolved and the Smithsonian museums were back open for business, I ran over to the Hirshhorn to catch the Rafael Lozano-Hemmer exhibition Pulse, which is the culmination of a series of immersive and interactive "experiences."

Lozano-Hemmer was inspired by the heartbeat, something that is universal to us all. He initially starting thinking about it during his wife's first pregnancy in 2003, when he heard the "pulse" of his first child during an ultrasound. As he states,"an ultrasound machine does not let you hear the real heartbeat, but a sonification of data arriving from a transducer. The machine works by imaging the soft tissue using echolocation, just the way a bat navigates its surroundings." Who knew?! I have had many ultrasounds done during pregnancy, and I never realized I wasn't listening to my baby's actual heartbeat.

As seen in the picture above, one of the ways in which Lozano-Hemmer visually represents the heartbeat, is through the use of lightbulbs. In his "Pulse Rooms" he conceptualizes the complex sounds that are made by many beating hearts and "creates immersive experiences that are platforms for participation, where the sum of the heartbeats [can] create an unforeseen biometric landscape beyond the symbolism or medical importance of a singe heartbeat."

As you walk through, the lightbulbs flash to the beat of hundreds of hearts, creating a visually and audibly mesmerizing experience.

When you first walk into the exhibit, there is a timeline of the different ways in which artists have considered the heartbeat through their work over time. In it Lozano-Hemmer "offers a glimpse into the extent of [the] collaboration between art and technology and the various meanings revealed in the intimate measure of a pulse."

Just a few of the interesting items that jumped out at me were:

  • 1966, Boyle Family, Son et Lumiére for Bodily Fluids and Functions. During a series of projection based performances across the United Kingdom, the artists attempted to incorporate all bodily fluids in existence. It consisted of projections of bodily fluids such as tears, saliva, sperm, vomit, and urine, accompanied by a score of amplified body sounds, including heartbeats. (Gross!)

  • 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Baby's Heartbeat. A track on the experimental album Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions features the fetal heartbeat of Ono and Lennon's unborn son recorded before Ono miscarried. (Sad! But I also wonder if over time it became a comforting memorial to their painful loss.)

  • 1971, Jack Goldstein, The Burial. In which the artist, for his California Institute of the Arts master's thesis exhibition, buried himself alive on a hill overlooking an LA freeway. The burial site was marked by a beacon that pulsed along with Goldstein's heartbeat. (Morbid! And don't expect anything that ambitious or strange from me at my thesis exhibition in June 2020 : )

I also think that this is a good example of how artists can turn to the historical "archive" in order to add context and a deeper level of detail and meaning to their work.

Lenzo-Hemmer is also concerned with the "relationship between biometric technologies, public and private control, and identification systems" and how they are used to collect and interpret things like fingerprinting. In the exhibit above, you can have your fingerprint scanned and see an image of it along with an EKG like graphic (projected up on the screen) that represents your recorded pulse.

There are other elements to the exhibit that work in conjunction with your recorded pulse, the sound waves it makes, and how they can be used to create motion in water. The imagery from that is then projected onto the screen in a visually arresting way. And, there is a station where you can get your resting heart rate recorded and the number is then projected up on a screen, as well as translated visually from a single lightbulb that flashes to your heartbeat. I have to admit, that once I did this, I couldn't really enjoy the rest of the exhibit because I was convinced that my heart rate was too high for optimal health! I guess it's true when it's said, that "sometimes, ignorance is bliss." : )

This was definitely a cool exhibit with something to do for people of all ages and levels of interest in contemporary art to participate in and to be stimulated by. I have noticed a trend in this type of immersive and entertaining exhibit in many museums lately. I suppose that this is how they have figured out that they can get the people through their doors!

At the Guggenheim in New York City from October 12, 2018 through April 23, 2019.

Hilma af Klint

Later in February, I was able to jump on the train and take a quick overnight trip to New York to see the amazing Hilma af Klint show, Paintings for the Future, at the Guggenheim. I won't go into too much detail here about this one because I plan to write a paper on it later in the semester, but needless to say, it is as good as all of the Instagram worthy photo ops you have seen on social media portray it to be.

Basically, Hilma af Klint, a woman artist in Sweden, was making her "radically abstracted paintings . . . [that] were like little that had been seen before . . . untethered from recognizable references to the physical world" in 1906. And she did this many years before other European artists like Kandinsky and Mondrian would cover similar territory, and at least three decades before the American Abstract Expressionist artists in New York City were breaking new ground along similar themes. Yet af Klint rarely showed her work, and "convinced the world was not yet ready to understand" her art, she stipulated that it not be shown until at least 25 years after her death.

The photos below are taken from a series of ten huge canvases, Group IV, The Ten Largest, that represent the phases of life from childhood, to youth, through adulthood, and old age. Through sheer size, bold coloring, and graphic shapes, these are some of the most striking and memorable of the show. Apparently it only took her seven days to paint them all! What?! Now I'm really feeling like I'm not prolific enough in my art practice. I guess I better get back into the studio and paint.

In front of No. 1 Childhood, 1907.

A spread in my art journal inspired by my trip to NYC to see the Hilma af Klint exhibit.

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