The Aesthetician

The unending pursuit of exploring visual culture and the issues that prevail.

China is growing fast… but is their culture?

On yet another ASW forum I was greeted with the following

Is China becoming not only the dominant economy, but the dominant culture as well? What does this mean for western art, culture, and well, everything else? Will history be re-written to include more influence from Chinese culture?

So I HAD to reply…

Heres my 5 Yuans worth!

Having lived in Macau, a rich and very Western part of China, and Beijing, the almost polar opposite, I believe I have some relevant perspective.

Rather than this being the death of Western Culture and the birth of Chinese cultural supremacy, its just pure globalism.

Culture, for much of the twentieth century, was shorthand for individualism, a trait that the Chinese Government deeply discouraged. China sought to expunge itself of 5000 years of civil culture through the cultural revolution, and persecuted those who sought to have any form of individual expression.

Art, in itself, was restricted to informational posters and communist design. To study art was in fact outlawed in much of mainland China until very recently.

Western culture was able to fill the vacuum left by the sweeping removal of Chinese Culture instigated by the Communist Party and Government. From my point of view, China has become the worlds biggest APPROPRIATOR of culture. China still has a great deal of catching up to do with regards to individuality and expression of its own lifestyles and experiences. Their art market, although burgeoning, is still very much based on the Western model and heavily consisting of Western Artists. There are some very successful Chinese artists ( Ai Wei Wei et al.), as a percentage of total sales in the Chinese Art Market they barely register.

This is very agreeable to the Chinese Government. The importing of cultural ideals, ideas and objects, means they can maintain their position as stalwarts of Communism whilst reaping the financial benefits of Global commodity fetishism and consumption culture.

I can’t agree with you Sveta, although an interesting observation,

Chinese students that I know in London, and those still living in China, thrive on Western food, clothes, language, expressions and even physical appearance. They do certainly use Chinese supermarkets and buy chinese food, chinese Films etc but it is not anything more than me living in Macau for example, and shipping in a pot of Marmite!…. cultural nostalgia is not cultural ignorance.

From Macau to Beijing, Western Culture has become Chinese elitism. From designer goods to Art, the possession of western objects elevates an individual. Mercedes cars cost three times as much in Macau as they do in London. European design houses are able to charge twice the standard price for items and open store after store. The ferocity of consumption of Western Goods, that despite being made in China, are developed and designed in the West, is alarming and the social consequences of not conforming to the perceived ideas of Westernism creates many a social pariah.

So intense is the rejection it is not uncommon to see a family in Southern China living 3 in a bed, living off of meagre food supplies yet have a brand new sports car parked outside. The burden of saving “face” and appearing as one thing but existing as another creates an extremely fragile foundation for any kind of new culture to emerge. The Chinese (authorities) find comfort in the established and well known and still find it difficult to understand and value ‘difference’.

Lets not confuse financial supremacy with cultural. Culture is about difference. No one culture is better/stronger than another as it is truly a notion of relativity. China probably will become the super-power of the next century, but the idea of a superpower in itself is fading.

China, just like any other trading, has become reliant on other economies. This has fractured one of its main strengths of the past 100 years. China was a model of self sufficiency. Food, energy, manufacture and natural resources were all sourced in-house. The China of today, however, buys electricity and gas from Russia, imports resources from Middle Africa and imports food from South America. As do we. The China of today is running over capacity, and cannot meet its own demand for resources and our demand for exports.

We all have reliance on these conflict-prone and tumultuous parts of the world. We are all in it together. To me, it seems more like a measure of equilibrium is coming, a levelling of economic and cultural contribution to the WORLD ECONOMY. Not one culture replacing another, because to all intents and purposes, the Chinese Culture of today IS Western Culture too.

What do you think?

Comments on Libya

I have been a bit of a forum junkie lately and have contributed my share in comments etc.

I was interested in a comment on ASW (A SMALL WORLD) that was making comparisons between Libya and Iraq etc and decided to respond.

Libya is indeed an interesting development. The escalation of intervention could be interpreted as institutional hysteria. It seems that no nation wants to be seen as inactive, neither do they want to appear heavy handed - with the Iraq war a not so distant memory - it appears to be a lose/lose situation.

I have no doubt there are atrocities being committed in Libya on a daily basis, but I think its possible that Gaddafi himself, the ageing, egomaniacal power hungry creature that he is, has lost control.

The two ceasefires that he announced were totally broken almost straight away, the gut reaction was it was just an opportunity for some public attention, and that he never intended to ceasefire. MY gut feeling, as an outsider is that he may have ordered a ceasefire and his own forces ignored him.

I think the issue runs much deeper than Gaddafi. I make no denial that he is an evil man and does not deserve to rule a car park let alone a sovereign nation. Libya is still a deeply tribal nation that consists of tangled webs of loyalties, honour and ego. It is not quite the organised dictatorship that many would have us believe (mostly to make it seem a clear cut regime to get rid of) - the main question is what would Gaddafi’s regime be replaced with as many of you fabulous people have already discussed, who are the rebels?

Another valid area of discussion is why Libya, it certainly isn’t the most corrupt or murderous regime still out there….

I do not think its as simple as just the fact that there is oil there. Other nations are in deep conflict and have much more precious and divisive resources to the West and yet are not targeted by the “Eye of Sauron” that the West (or at least NATO and UN) have become.

I am working on a photographic exhibition based on the effects of Chinese Investment in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The massacres that happen there on a daily basis puts Libya so far in the shade - the average amount of deaths daily in DRC due to conflict are 1800!!! (2009) - a truly astonishing and harrowing figure. The DRC conflict revolves around control of the minerals, especially COLTAN. It seems there is a general connection between many of the worlds most treacherous nations and that is they all tend to be extraction economies.

Despite the importance of the resources in the DRC, there is little intervention from our own governments and NGO’s. China is deeply entrenched in investment but does not go as far as to tell the DRC regime what to do. Instead it props up a blood stained industry.

If it is all purely about resources, the DRC would have been Public Enemy No. 1. It certainly plays a large part, but I do not believe is the only reason for these ‘interventions’.

I have no idea what the solutions are, I think we have even yet to understand what the problems are, in truth.

War is no longer a tidy concept contained by a start and a finish, as we have seen with the middle East. 

Modern Warfare is an ever evolving and never ending entity - sapping energy and money as well as a dear cost in Human Life, whilst trying to maintain a righteousness that appeases the Liberal West (all of us).

War is messy, undefineable and no longer represents the “them” and “us” mentality of the twentieth century.

We are all in it, all part of the problem but hopefully can all be part of the solution.

Heres looking towards a peaceful resolution and future for us all…one day!

Brad

The Rise of the Urban Inbetweener

Flanuer 

Rebellion, anarchy, anti-establishment, anti-authority…this is the tone set by art of the street, an art form that, in it’s making creates famous yet anonymous personalities whilst making a formerly taboo art form mainstream.

Is there still a ‘kick’ in the soul of street Art and if so where does it go from here?

Recently there has been a definite focus on street art as the genre to be active in throughout the world. This has had has had the effect of normalizing the process of the craft whilst elevating the status of the craftsman. It is interesting to note how we got here, what created the monster that is street art and more importantly how it has changed the way we view and use the voids within our cities.

So what is the point of street art in the net savvy, globe without borders times that we live in?

 Is it still a form of rebellious communication or has it transformed into the commercial aesthetic retrospective reverence that many an artist fears?

 The fascination with street art that has emerged in recent years, culminating in a year of exhibitions and street art projects has brought with it a sense of normality, bringing a formerly taboo art form into the wealthy realms of the mainstream. The public and even institutional support of street art means that it has become a legitimate and acceptable form of visual expression, that formerly held a spot among the urban underground and subcultures.

 Street Art is the antithesis to the commissioned public art that governments and institutions believe will improve our surroundings, carefully selected for their intellectual and emotional impact. Public art, often produced in memorial or celebration, has an agenda that is governed by its commissioner, a form of cultural control that when compounded with other projects forms the larger body of political propaganda (whether it be morally sound or questionable).

 Consider the regeneration of public spaces in London, the increase and regeneration of public squares and parks, huge commercial gentrification projects such as the O2 in Greenwich and ultimately the Olympic construction project in the East. Public space is given far more importance and emphasis within environmental development than ever before, clearly marking the power that public space has over its occupants.

 The realm of public space has become, to many city workers, the void between destinations, a space were lucent consciousness evaporates. Very rarely does a city dweller travel to a public space, they seem to act more as punctuations along an automated journey. An exception is the romantic and vaguely modern idea around what Baudelaire termed the ‘flâneur’, a street wanderer, a person living within the city but outside it simultaneously. To the flâneur, these spaces form the basis of their habitation, spending more time absorbing the city than passing through it.

 The concept of the flâneur, a notion that arose from the rebuilding of the Parisian way of life following the 1848 Revolution, can, in part, be applied to the audience of street art today. The flâneur has the ultimate freedom of the city, is not bound by social pressure or rules of decency, is able to wander and observe the city without participating, can absorb, process and understand their surroundings rather than passively digesting without prejudice.

 The un-herded folk of the city are in the best position to truly understand the process and reason behind many works of art that can be found amongst the poorest and most debris and detritus laden parts of London. The German sociologist Georg Simmel interpreted the origin of the flâneur as a deep rooted psychological response to the weight of cultural and social existence.

"The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life. The fight with nature which primitive man has to wage for his bodily existence attains in this modern form [Flâneur] its latest transformation."

Simmel is talking about the flâneur as an expression or rebellion against the nature of the Human collective, stepping out of the ring of social acceptance and obediance and floating between the borders of culture and shared an interesting idea of the creation of the flâneur as a look into the face of social struggle and autonomous herd-like behaviour. It is also interesting to pose the question, who fits the description of flâneur in a greater sense, the artist or the viewer?

 The artist exists within an ephemeral space, appearing and disappearing without announcement or fanfare, capturing stolen moments of solitude to perform their vandalist act, abusing and ‘owning’ the surfaces of the streets whilst elevating them from oblique insignificance.

 The viewer, in observing this phantom art, is then pulled out of social activity, tied to the moment, outside the buzz of the streets and for a moment exists as an inbetweener.

Existing in-between the norms, in-between the constant flux of the city and in-between the hives of consciousness that merge to form the “urban” the viewer takes on a new understanding. The viewer of street art, if only for a moment, is granted a sense of realisation. The city has surfaces, the city can be moulded and manipulated, the city is inhabited, the city is all encompassing and the city is alive.

 It has become clear that most street art does not have a specific political agenda, neither in anarchistic nor protestant terms and tends to parody or comment on society rather than try to change it. So can street art be described as, ‘an attempt to preserve the autonomy and individuality of the creators existence’?

 The monuments of the now are temporary, ephemeral, and are forgotten more quickly than they are discovered. The monuments to the past are always, in many ways, worshipfully retrospective, the preservation of which is paramount to the understanding of the narrative behind the monumentally worthy figure or event. Street art, however, seems to be asking the viewer to discover its story, our concerns with preservation and conservation are not excited by street art (in the general sense) and we can easily lead straight to why?

The Death of Knowing…

Einstein

If knowledge is power then despite access to information being freer than it has ever been, why is there an overwhelming feeling that the average individual is even less inclined to  make any difference in this world.

Has the ability to access unending knowledge created a generation of geniuses or has it simply deferred the need to know anything at all. If all knowledge can be acquired on an as and when basis, is stored knowledge a waste of time or a necessary differentiator between the gifted and the challenged?

The rapid and somewhat chaotic democratisation of knowledge that has occurred over the past decade has simultaneously revolutionalised and destroyed Education or at least the concept of a “Formal Education”.

We, believe it or not, have only had the pleasure of Google’s company for roughly ten years. It is hard to imagine life without google now and equally hard to remember what life was like before. Google, however, was just the start in a shift in the way we acquire, process and recall knowledge.

Until big search engines came along, the web operated as a niche and specialised location for specific information such as news headlines via newsgroups, social clubs, and the odd business here and there, the web, it seemed, was a great novelty and one I can recall from my high school days.

In 1997, my second year at school, the internet was used by teachers as a tool for commanding attention, a promise of 20 mins on the internet was enough to encourage a class of rowdy teens to sit still and pay attention. It was the overwhelming sense of freedom of information that was the pull (although that was mostly the lewdest content that could be found through academic firewalls!)

It was still the humble printed matter that formed the cornerstone of my early education, books, encyclopaedias, journals, magazines and newspapers, educational authority simply didnt trust the content of the “that web thing” and the oracle of knowledge was still the humble brown and orange library of the 90’s British high school. Towards the end of high school things has started to move on, slowly, very slowly. There was no longer three or four computers between a thousand or so students, the internet had warranted the construction of computer rooms, where on many an occasion, a group of students could be found hiding from the tyranny of the IT teacher.

It was around this time that CD-ROM’s had begun to take hold. I remember being amazed at the low res images and, by todays standards, bloody awful animations on the early Encyclopaedia Brittanica Software, but it was DK’s “The Way Things Work” that captivated our imaginations (and was the cd permanently on loan from the school library).

This was the first time, in my experience, that a piece of education software attempted to be as equally entertaining as it was educational. It was then I realised that there was more to this computer thing than the odd glance of lady bumps and a snigger at the back of the library computer rooms. One question, that I still recall, despite being more than a decade older, is one that I asked my IT teacher that was never answered.

"If all of this information is on this disc, and I can get to this disc whenever I want to, why do I have to learn any of whats on it?"

This was, although not to my teen mind, a simple yet extremely complex question on many levels. I had, inadvertently cracked open a can of educational worms that my teacher was unable to harvest.  The answer I received was the simple “because you have to” that most teachers tended fling at questions beyond the expected. But I struggled to accept that school, education and all that it entails was just to please those older than me. At this point, my education began to take a bit of a treacherous path towards mediocrity, I believed that I knew it all, more than that, I believed I knew better…

I gave up. At the age of 15 I was convinced that school was pointless, dreary and full of false hope. My general grades nosedived and my school was convinced that I was on a path towards failure. My teachers were always so shocked that my exam results were quite good whilst during class throughout the term they would be so average.

I had seen through the mirage of authority and realised that those teaching me struggled to come to terms with the point of it all as much as I did, I truly felt that school existed to justify the livelihoods of teachers and to keep errant kids off the streets.

I convinced myself that education was only about memory, repeating and churning, and re-writing out the thoughts of others until they were almost mantra. I longed for expressing my own ideas, my own views and my own personality. It was at this point I discovered a passion for the fine art and how it could satisfy these needs, but I digress.

As the end of high school approached, I began to realise that there was a point to it all, experience, discipline and the first taste of conforming to social structure, restrictions and barriers, or more, how to do what you want to do and get away with it.

More important than this, however, was the realisation that it was not what I knew that mattered but having the confidence in my ability to find out that led me down the path I still follow today. The pillars of education are ‘facts’ and the knowing of them. The pillars of MY education understanding that those facts are not possessed but referenced.

Everything starts with a dot!

—Wassily Kandinsky

The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.

—Auguste Rodin

Laminate Kulture Magazine: Pulp Aesthetica, Tokyo Style!

Laminate Kulture magazine has just launched and it has been lovingly put together with a real attention to aesthetic detail. Being a flipsided magazine one side Art and the other Fashion, it has a real unique offering in terms of the cultural viewpoints of London and Tokyo…

"Laminate is a multi-platform project bridging cultures from around the world, comprising a sumptuous print publication, dynamic website and ongoing series of events.

Laminate is a Unique intersection between cultures, presenting the very best in Photography, fashion, art, design, music and film.

Laminate offers a forum for cultural exchange-promoting cross pollination, acting as a catalyst for new creative outputs and collaborations in addition opening markets “Previously lost in Translation”. Through its focus on individuals breaking new ground across the creative industries, Laminate offers a unique perspective on the innovations and innovators shaping our world”

And of course as well as being beaut-ee-filled it also features my writing (some of which you can read here - the anish kapoor article) as a Contributing Editor.

Laminate Kulture can be picked up here: http://www.laminatemedia.com/catalog/laminate-issues

Sacred Decay: Beautiful Decomposition

Sacred |?s?krid|: Regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, group, or individual.

Decay |di?k?|: The process of declining in quality, power, or vigor

Sacred Decay is the title of my upcoming photo essay.

At the very heart of Western Capitalists societies is the brand. Corporate brands have fuelled and encouraged the massive and somewhat unrealistic commercial growth that has helped bring our economies into stand still and in some cases recession. How are these brands faring now?

Fickle is the adoration that we place upon fragile brands built on fragile foundations. We seek comfort in the familiar and big brand names position themselves as exactly that. Through this familiarity we also encounter a relationship that is not dissimilar to the the preacher and the congregation. Willful subjects, simultaneously aware and ignorant. The sacred temples are falling and their soothsayers are silent.

Like Holy Relics, I hope to capture images that position company branding as virtuous, sacrosanct, powerful, reverent and divine. Approaching the images as a kind of record, a modern visual holy book of what was and may possibly forever be the death of globalism.

Ron Mueck: Monstrous Reality

Ron Mueck, originally from Australia, started out life as a television and film model maker, creating models and figures for films such as the Jim Henson directed “Labyrinth” in 1986. With an obsession for detail and the minutiae of model making, Mueck’s models were the precursor to his later sculptures that would become described as the “Hyper-real”.

Mueck creates sculptures of people, sometimes whole, but mostly in the form of a body part or feature. The work is creepy, so grotesque, so close to the real thing that waves of disgust, morbid fascination, curiosity and introspectiveness overcome viewers, experiencing a true sense of the sublime, of the overwhelming realities of the Human condition.

Perhaps “Mask” 1997, is where Mueck’s rise to success took a public turn, forming his contribution to the “Sensation” exhibition made famous by other contributors such as Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst. Standing at over 8ft, this self portrait of Mueck’s face was intimidating and disconcertingly scaled. With features under and oversized, at first glance the face seems anatomically correct, slowly emerging as caricature rather than an exact likeness.

Mueck’s sculptures are not beautiful, but they do ask us to question beauty. They stare us in the eye, confront unnerve us, often creating a sense that getting to close would be an invasion of privacy or personal space. To the viewer, the sculptures are not objects, they are subjects, like anthropological samples, examined, prodded, dissected and displayed for all to see.

It is the small details that cause the most disturbance, the oily patch on an arch of the nose, the hint of a blue vein under the scalp of a newborn baby, the glisten of saliva in the corner of a pair of gargantuan lips. It is these details that force us to confront our own fragility and imperfections and lead to the perception of the Hyper-real, so real, it hurts.

EDITORS NOTE:

Ron Mueck (born 1958) is an Australian hyperrealist sculptor working and living in Great Britain.

Mueck’s mother-in-law is Paula Rego, a Portuguese painter, printmaker and illustrator.

Aberdeen Art Gallery, Artist Rooms: Ron Mueck, Aberdeen Art Gallery,

29 August – 31 October 2009.


Banksy: Cultural Re-Evolution?

Banksy, perhaps one of the most infamous artists of the early 21st century, has brought attention to guerilla art giving rise to a love affair with everything street in some of the worlds premier art institutions.

Recognised and documented all over the world, Banksy’s work has become part of urban popular culture. Often taking the form of satire, his stencil art seeks to comment and reflect society, usually in relation to the location that it has been created in.  Banksy’s work is politics with a sense of humour, an anti-elitist, anti-establishment commentary, that, as a byproduct has opened the somewhat closed and clandestine art industry to the ordinary every day dwellers of the cities that these works reside in.

The legality of what Banksy does seems to have been  dismissed by most. His works could be considered as criminal damage by property owners and the municipal bodies but are tolerated because of the notoriety and acclaim that they can bring to the respective areas.

It seems that Banksy has created a moral dilemma for the authorities. What constitutes the difference between vandalism and street art? 

Ironically, his cultural success has encouraged authorities to endorse the art form and designate spots such as Leake Street at Waterloo station in London as an acceptable place to commit paint to brick. The “Cans Festival”, imagined and contributed to by Banksy has become a regular event and with its private and public endorsement has somewhat killed the “edgy” side of street art.

Banksy’s style has been compared to Blek le Rat (otherwise known as Xavier Prou) who is seen by some as the godfather of guerilla art. The style of both Blek le Rat and Banksy is a product of the need for the work to be completed in great haste, avoiding detection and possible legal repercussions.

Mostly in black and white with the odd accent in colour, the stencils are sometimes accompanied with text and vary greatly in scale and quality. This has led to many believing that the work is completed by many individuals rather than a single artist.

Some consider Banksy stencils to be intelligent, altruistic and activist whilst others view them as cheap, one-liners where the punch line whilst witty, is brief and the importance of the messages lost in aesthetic analysis.

With Banksy, one question keeps cropping up. Is the work created to highlight the issues it represents or are the issues highlighted simply as the product of the use of faddish and populist ideas to validate its own existence?

The varied and wide ranging issues that his works have covered include commentary on the Palestinian and Israeli conflicts, homelessness, elitism, consumerism, xenophobia, political corruption, the economy, crime… The list continues.

Is Banksy shallow or is there passion in the meaning? It could be said that it doesn’t matter either way if the issues themselves are given attention that would not have otherwise existed.

Either way, even if his motives are doubtful, his success and the fact that he is now embedded into our urban histories cannot be disputed.