There’s a band, who wanted to be (the) Verbena but someone else got the name first, and so became Verdena, not the divine plant anymore, just the name of the best rock band I’ve gotten to know. With a lot of personal affection in it, yes.
They started playing in 1995 in an old henhouse, just teenagers, two brothers and, couple of years later, a bassist. They started taking great inspiration from the grunge of Nirvana, publishing the first album, Verdena, in 1999, with the independent Italian Black Out, label born from the idea of promoting underground music with the means of a major, the owner Universal (and despite how it sounds, I would say it worked, considering also the other names supported).
Since their debut, and even before with their demo tapes, it is clear that Verdena have something special, a sound that is hard, melodic, complex, full of references from the greatest of rock, yet fresh and distinctive.
Verdena grew up with me (or viceversa): I discovered them with their third album, Il suicidio dei samurai, and immediately started to listen to everything from their past. The result became an ongoing addiction.
Their cultural background is impressive but not surprising: they are big fans of the Beatles (that, ahem, I personally don’t like… yes I know, but), Interpol, Nirvana, Flaming Lips, to cite some. And every album expresses a new side, or maturity, of their sound, always carrying their timber, yet always unexpected and magnificent. When you think they have released their best album, the next one will change your mind.
So, what happened? Verdena, the first album, was grunge. Clearly. They were just 18, with introverted personalities, rebel: Kurt was the muse, their first inspiration. Solo un grande sasso (Just a big stone), the second album, is a new story: psychedelic and ambitious, with long complex tracks. The dark melancholy started with the second album gets emphasized in the third, Il suicidio dei samurai (The suicide of the Samurai), and almost disappears with Requiem, despite the title, that brings back their grunge but grown-up attitude. Then the double album Wow, Endkadenz Vol. 1 and Vol. 2… I prefer to leave (personal) descriptions aside and suggest you some tracks to listen to and get your personal idea.
Since when I moved abroad, I’ve started to realize that, aside from the main genre, every country, even the closest ones (Austria and Italy, where I live and where I was born, for example), has a personal way to translate it, that implies that culture too. In my case, I am a big fan of the (old) Italian songwriters, I like that mix of tradition and sperimentation, that being politically engaged, poetic, idealistic; that decadent yet still brilliant flair of a brilliant yet decadent country. Lucio Battisti, Franco Battiato, Fabrizio De André, Rino Gaetano to cite a few. But I can also try (hard) to see it from an external point of view and understand that, together with the (indisputable) beauty of an execution, the emotional involvement plays a key role. That’s the best part of art.
As you may know, Vienna is a city that developed in the proximity of the Danube. A former arm of it, the Donaukanal (Danube Canal) delimits the city centre, and it is a cozy urban yet green place to hang out, especially during summer. Along its path there are free areas for making graffiti, public vegetables gardens, outdoor exhibitions, many small and bigger bars, and the most interesting clubs (for example Grelle Forelle, which I mentioned more than once previously). And many different music and art events take place here, free events where people can gather in a chill setting.
Couple of weeks ago it was Kunst am Kanal, Art on the Canal, organized by the club Das Werk in cooperation with its two art ateliers, Lichtbogen 334, the nest of the visual artists from the collective 4youreye projectionArt, and Dachsbau, a co-working space for artists to rent and exhibit their work. Das Werk means “the factory”, but also “the art work”, and that’s what this club promotes aside from music.
Contemporary art can be easily seen as snobbish, due to its hermetic messages and aesthetics, the high prices and the steered value, not necessarily based on pure talent (see my post about Roberta Sinatra and her study that analyses the trends in the art business). It’s the underground facet, instead, that can offer a glimpse of closeness to a wider audience and become part of a bigger context, integrating into the surrounding of music, drinks and good vibes. The final result is not individual anymore, rather a sum of different contributions, styles, perceptions, points of view; and the location, even if the same one, acquires each time a new unique appearance.
Moreover, these events can also give the possibility to minor and free-time artists, or simply creative talents, to express themselves: collaborations and projects can bloom, most likely not for decorating a fancy loft, rather for creating a collective experience.
The new huge graffiti of two hands exposing the teeth of a ferocious dog was mapped by the visualists collective 4youreye for projecting colourful visuals that gave a whole different feeling of it; at Werk a new exhibition space offered a solo from Noémi Kiss, an architect and philosopher (and woman that I deeply admire) who rose in the last six years as conceptual artist, using simple and poor materials (concrete, carpets as example) to give them new shape and purpose. In this occasion she presented five different reinterpretations of three-dimensionality recreated on beautiful antique Persian carpets hung on the walls, creating a door –or a window– for the viewer to look into.
And then much more is offered, involving all different forms of performative arts, and the music: live concerts during the daylight, dj sets at night, offering a wide range of styles and sound.
A special paragraph deserves Lichtbogen 334, with its dark ambience particularly fitting to the projections introduced: a “digital mirror” altering colours and movement, that I already mentioned in the post about the Playground Festival; a panel with two plaster cast faces emerging out of it, one happy one sad, lightened by changing shapes and patterns; two lysergic skulls decorating the shutters that divide the exposition space from the storage for the 4youreye equipment.
The Kunst am Kanal festival takes place once a year, but still there are many other events where lights, colours and moods mix together to create the special atmosphere that characterises this part of the Kanal. All this arty melting pot just opposite to the District Heating Plant designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a famous Austrian artist I will definitely talk about, and just adjacent to a complex of buildings ideated by Zaha Hadid, uncompleted due to financial cuts and changes that – rumors say – made the architect not satisfied anymore with the project to the point that she wanted her name dissociated from it. Still, these buildings are masterpieces here for us to admire and, thanks to these occasions, to rediscover in a different light.
sorry I am not a good blogger. I cannot produce constant content, I write only when something really catches my interest and my attention (and my inspiration too…). I write to promote good art, good music, good events. I overthink my writings, because I want them to be precise, well written, of high quality. On the Internet, as a blogger (although I don’t feel this label so much) among million bloggers, I choose quality over quantity. I choose to talk about what positively inspires me, I have no interest in openly criticizing something I haven’t appreciated, because I think there is already enough negativity and criticism around and I want to be on the positive side; maybe it simply wasn’t my taste, maybe I didn’t get it –therefore, I won’t recommend it to you.
This said (to slightly justify myself too), it’s summertime here, and I may have partially put aside my hunger for culture; you can still decide to scroll through the old posts and read about Mark Rothko, about the exhibition Beauty from the designers Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh, about the visionary architects and artists Lucio and Duilio Forte, about the interview with Electric Indigo. I am sure you will find something appealing for your taste.
I am taking this time also to rethink about my blog, about what I’ve learned, about what I would like to change or improve. It’s been a year now, and many things have grown!
I would like to conclude with a poem I’ve written some time ago (not yet inserted in my poetry page) that nicely fits to this post. It is still raw, sounds a bit like a song from a minstrel: and minstrel, rather than blogger, is how I feel.
All my gratitude if you have followed me through this, and my warmest welcome if you have just started to read me.
See you the next chapter.
How to avoid disappearing
I sit and listen to music.
Nothing more, nothing less.
I am wasting my time
because I technically do
Tic toc tic toc Time is running and you are not producing Tic toc tic toc Time is passing and you are still unmoved Wear your coat, get to work, don’t be absurd about live for love.
I am totally with you,
I need my dreams to come true.
Reality is tough, though,
even worse than
silence in ropes,
even if I change,
I can’t change.
Even if I change,
why do I?
Why do I?
Modify my shape
Shape my body
Get healthier, more active
I am still in awe about what happened last Friday. I was, as often, wandering in Grelle Forelle thanks to my sixth sense (aka Dead Sea Diaries together with Meat Market, the organisers of the night, which both are a guarantee of high quality music delivery); yet there was something new, something different in the atmosphere. I could only arrive when SHXCXCHCXSH started to play, but something went magical.
There is no way to find any common dancing move while listening to them: the bass is predominant, unpredictable, broken, visceral, the sound is cold, melodic, dark, magnetic; it is truly a whole new-level experience, for the ones like me who love deep and hard techno music; but also for people interested in new sounds, and with the right amount of emotional firmness… I cannot hide the obscure and gloomy intensity that soaks every track they produce (and only play during their sets, apparently), their appearance under a black hood resembling two dark knights, the repetition of the same loop like a growing mantra; but damn it feels so good…
They come from Sweden, and the comparison between the coldness of their sound with that of their hometown is banal…but reasonable. They debuted in 2012 with their first full-lenght album “STRGTHS”, presenting already their trademark sound with an opening (SLVRBBL) recalling something in between Gregorian chants and Irish fairy-tale music (Scarborough fair anyone?), then straight to a mechanical, vibrational strength. Surprising everyone with the second “Linear S Decoded”, still a powerful release, but introducing a different sound, more harmonious with respect to the first. SHXCXCHCXSH somehow remind me of Mark Rothko: the decision of not showing themselves, of being simply the means through which transmitting the music; and the unpronounceable name and choice for the last album “SsSsSsSsSsSsSsSs”, the tracks named by increasing number of paired Ss. No wonder, though: there’s no need of titles, I would almost define it as a concept album, where every track is the prosecution of the previous one, in a growing pathos that ends up in a paranoid robotic sound that disturbs and doesn’t let go.
Darkness, it is often called; and darkness is, we are deep in the lowest frequencies here, out of any melody resembling a whatsoever musical instrument, in the core of the sound of the machine, yet reaching straight the most sensitive parts of the body. The music gets to its essentials, to the emphasized beat, to the most touching of its appearances. And not in a minimalistic way, on the contrary: the lack of high melodies is balanced by the richness of the middle-lower frequencies, the sound getting at the same time grounded and alien. It is repetitive, persistent, cold; and coldness was a strong feeling for me too, during their live set, while I was overwhelmed by the constantly changes in the bass, by the biting and hypnotic sound that opened a hole under my feet and had me falling in the hell of heaven.
Of course, I’m a writer, I (love to) tell stories, I try to reproduce with written words what I experience with my eyes and toes (eyes being the mind, toes being the heart when it comes to music, An). I do also think that techno, but I can say music, but I can say art, brings out the best of me. It makes me feel good, positive, hopeful, honest; it makes me think we can still experiment, discover, share, love.
The head image is taken from the official Facebook page of SHXCXCHCXSH. The title of the post is an obvious quote of the book “The unbearable lightness of being” from Milan Kundera, one of my most favourite (book and author).
Mark Rothko has been one of the most influential artists of the last century. Despite his great production –nearly 800 works were left in charge to the heirs after his death – and the different periods that have characterised it, he is known in particular as one of the protagonists of the Abstract Expressionism, the first American current that got international recognition. And that is also how I got to know him: through his colourful undefined rectangles. When I’ve started to see his paintings on the many online art channels I follow, I genuinely wondered why he has become so important in art history. I started to read more about him, and his works were described as a pure journey into the human emotions, to be experienced in first person. Then the exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Museum of Art History in Vienna, came.
While Rothko has revolutionised the art world during his times, I think in Europe he still hasn’t the recognition he deserves, if we consider other artists like Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse (and I haven’t mentioned these artists as merely contemporaries of him; but let’s proceed step by step). Europe in history has always been the centre of the artistic movement with respect to the rest of the world (and here it is interesting to mention my post about a study from Roberta Sinatra, where it is shown that nowadays the major museums and art institutions are almost concentrated in the United States). And it is from the old continent that Rothko takes his inspiration.
But let’s start from the origins: Marcus Rothkovich was born in 1903 in Dvinsk, a city in Russia, nowadays in Latvia, from a Jewish family. Since an early age he shows a perceptive and sensitive soul, particularly affected also by the times he lives in: before the First World War there is already a feeling of intolerance against Jews all over Russia. When the situation worsens, his father decides to emigrate with the family to Portland, in the United States. Here Marcus becomes a great student and receives a fellowship for Yale University, although he is still not devoted to art only and chooses a major in humanities. He will never finish his studies at Yale, though he will get, 46 years later, an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts.
After having dropped out of Yale due to financial reasons, he decides to move to New York and continues his studies in drawing and design. He enrols in the class of the famous Modern artist Max Weber, who shares the same background of being Jewish and immigrant with his student and soon becomes friends with him. Max Weber had travelled to Paris and met Henri Matisse, with whom he studied for a short timee. Thanks to him and to the increasing interest in museums and exhibitions, Rothko gets introduced to his contemporaries in Europe, like the Fauves (the French group around Matisse) and the German Expressionism. This will be the beginning of a long exploration in the art world, from which Mark will constantly take inspiration to create his personal and unique style. Other strong influences –and artists that will deeply inspire him – will come from Milton Avery, Giorgio De Chirico, Michelangelo, but also Nietzsche, the Greek mythology, poetry, music.
His artistic development can be divided in four different periods: the Realist years, from 1924 to 1940, the Surrealist period, from 1940 to 1945; the transition ‘til 1949 that will lead him to the Abstract Expressionism period, his trademark style.
The works characterizing his first two stages are mainly landscapes, interiors, still-life, New York subway scenes, clearly inspired by his first mentor, Max Weber.
In 1940 Marcus Rothkovich decides to change his name in Mark Rothko, uncanny because disconnected to any nationality. The period during the Second World War has a strong influence on his style, bringing a deep change in his conception of art, making for him inconceivable to keep painting like before. This change makes him revisiting the Greek mythology, whose brutal tragedies of violence and revenge and strong passions well reflect the modern times. The transition in his works starts with the abandon of concrete subjects to focus on colours and shapes (the so-called multiforms), getting then to his classical stage of pure abstraction, influenced by Dada and Surrealism coming from Europe.
What emerges from Rothko’s art, in particular from the last period, is the absence of any guidance to interpret his works, later reflected also in the removal of the titles, with the artworks simply numbered. His intention is, indeed, to leave the viewer, through the colours and the large sizes of the canvasses, free to experience their own feelings and emotions.Mark Rothko hasn’t been a poor, unfortunate artist: he has rather been successful and estimated. Yet, he has always refused any label and has always felt somehow misunderstood by the art world. A double proof of his great talent and ability of touching human vulnerability.
There is a lot more I would like to add about this artist that has deeply impressed me; but I would, instead, suggest to simply take the chance to visit the great exhibition that the Kunsthistorisches Museum is offering in Vienna until the 30th of June, or simply to get curious about him, and to open your mind to the beauty that is not necessary expressed in the form of an idyllic landscape.
Head image: Self-portrait, 1936 (image taken from the official page of the exhibition)
All the information are taken from the book Rothko – Pictures as drama, from Jacob Baal-Teschuva, Taschen Books editions, that I bought at the Kunsthistorisches Museum after having visited the exhibition. I give high value to the quality and correctness of my contents, but I am also just an enthusiast (you can find my self-introduction here). Please leave any comment or addition that can improve or give a wider view on this great artist!
She started with funk and jazz, then became one of the most prominent names in the techno scene. I met Susanne Kirchmayr, better known as Electric Indigo, after a little note I gave her last month during her great set at Grelle Forelle in her hometown, Vienna.
Eclectic artist, DJ, feminist, producer (in no particular order), with her passion and determination she has opened the doors not only to herself in the new born scene that, guess what, was men-mostly, but also to all the different gender expressions otherwise very little re-present-ed. In 1998 she started a revolutionary network for female, transgender and non-binary artists in electronic music and digital arts. I start the interview with her exactly from this point.
female: pressure. How can an artist join the network? How has gender diversity changed in electronic music?
female:pressure is based on personal connections: there is no profile, no online subscription, rather you can join us by sending an email to email@example.com and then filling in a form about your music style and sector, which can vary from DJ and producer to academic researcher (concerning music studies, but also social sciences for diversity and feminism). Currently female:pressure connects about 2400 artists from 75 countries. It is not an agency, as many erroneously think, rather a powerful tool that can be used in different ways, depending on the interests: many use it for having access to the mailing list, an old-fashioned but efficient platform to share ideas, discussing, stay in touch; others simply use it for discovering new artists. I am the main manager together with other two assistants, at the moment only one, Death of Codes aka Meg Wilhoite (An: from California, to understand also the international management that is behind the project). Consumer Refund aka Sarah Martinus is the third one, temporary inactive. From the beginning of electronic music there have definitely been changes in female and non-binary artists representation, in the techno scene as everywhere. The Internet has become the tool to reach a larger audience and to spread your message, your music. This can be related as well to the music production: once it was much more expensive to get the proper equipment for playing, nowadays it is much more affordable. So on one side we have this big right-wing wave spreading again all over Europe; but on the other side people are much more aware and particularly care for themes like diversity and gender equality and freedom to live intersexuality. Which is, of course, reflected in the electronic scene too.
What are your biggest influences, in- and outside of techno, in your style and which artists do you like?
I’ve started playing funk, jazz and hip hop in a small club in my city, Vienna, soon realizing that, apart from the old records, I didn’t like the new hip hop releases so much anymore. I was into 70’s stuff and kept playing records from this time, as they were a guarantee. But contemporary music was missing. Then house and techno came, and it was an epiphany! These two styles may sound unrelated, but hip hop and techno do have many parallels, maybe not so easy to catch. I enjoyed immediately the new sound. Apart from this, funk has been always present in my style because it’s a genre that surprise you, unpredictable and fun! I am also a huge Beatles fan, in particular of the less common stuff: Number 9, for example, has been a big inspiration for me. I love trippy music, with long loops, monotonous sounds, because they can bring you on a different level, it’s almost like meditation.
You played last year for the celebration of 30 years of techno at the Funkhaus in Berlin a set that is in my opinion sensational (post-note: I had to say so, I just fell so much in love with it). Your career as a producer started exactly in Berlin, how has the time you spent there influenced your career?
I lived in Berlin from 1993 to 1996, starting to work at Hard Wax, the famous music store where the best names were passing by. This has been the shaping and most important time of my career. What I liked the most was the attitude of these people: while others were trying to make techno a mainstream genre and becoming superstars (Mayday, Love Parade, Sven Väth), the people from Hard Wax were part of the opposite tendency of staying behind the scenes, a big influence coming as well from the Detroit techno (see Underground Resistance, for example). Berghain, as another example, is similar in this attitude to Hard Wax, creating a mystery and exclusivity around itself. I feel in between these extremes, but I was fascinated by this perspective. In the early 90’s, I was friends with DJ Hell who used to work at Hard Wax and introduced me there. The boss, Mark Ernestus, remembered him as somehow chaotic and suspected the same from me. Actually, I’m quite the opposite of chaos and I was very determined to get a job there. Finally I got the chance to replace someone for a short time. Which was enough to show my reliability and become not only an employer, but also the responsible for purchasing from European labels. It was a great time that allowed me to make great connections and create new ideas.
What are your current and future projects?
At the moment I am working at a new audio visual project called “Ferrum”, first time performed this January at “Art’s birthday” at Funkhaus in Vienna. Ferrum is the Latin word for iron, and refers to the types of sound I am using for the piece, like the sound of metal objects that I recorded. I am developing a generative, reactive visual part of the piece, too, building from what I learned from making the videos for my last album. I followed a colour-and-light concept, playing with them. I’ve started to learn on my own, and when I was trying to blend gradients, this “mistake” resulted in a animation which comes from compression artefacts! For Ferrum I want to further develop this approach and make it in real time, not just triggering prefabricated videos like I do in my album show 5 1 1 5 9 3. I like very much audiovisual performances, and for Ferrum I need room for improvisation, but video and music should still go together in specific time frames.
As you already know, my blog is dedicated to contemporary art, whether it be literature, visual or performing arts. Besides music, which forms do you like and follow most?
Since my early 20’s, I’ve been always surrounded by art. At first, I wanted to study industrial design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, but I wasn’t selected. Still, most of my friends at that time were art students. In any case, I keep being surrounded by artists and people who have a great affinity with fine arts. My booking agent, Mo Loschelder, for example, studied under Gerhard Richter (An: one of the most important contemporary German artists). During my time as resident DJ at Flex – from 2000 to 2008 – a lot of art students and artists came for “my” nights. I also had the occasion to give talks and workshops in academies, both of music but also of fine arts. I feel particularly connected to architecture, design, fashion, computer art, graphic design.
What do you think about the techno scene in Vienna? What do you find most interesting in it?
Sadly, there is limited space for music experimentation, it is hard to find suitable places mainly because of the loudness. The scene is varied and split up. It seems limited because of this, but there are many small realities that makes it eclectic. When it comes to electronic music, my favourites in Vienna are the MEAT Market / Fish Market parties and the associated label MEAT Recordings, the Editions Mego label and the Hyperreality Festival.
Last week I got to know Gerald Wenschitz aka Gerald VDH, the founder and mastermind of MEAT Market, who deserves (and will soon have) a chapter aside. And it’s with the motto of his parties that I want to conclude:
No homophobia, no sexism, no racism, no discussion!
They are one of my first experiences with experimental music, the roughest, craziest, out-of-any-possible-box one. Their sound is dramatic, visceral, distorted, disturbing, sometimes an enchanted melody, sometimes a hammering noise. Xiu Xiu are the ever changing band of singer and songwriter Jamie Stewart, and represent, in my opinion, one of the finest expressions of aesthetics in music.
It takes an effort to me to go back in the days, where I was a virgin disc to fill with the most interesting music. Music was coming from friends, from friends of friends, from magazines, even the library had (and I think it still has) a nice catalogue that gave me the roots, my background, after long hours passed just listening to music. Xiu Xiu were at the moment, for me and my circle, the ultimate sound. It was their beginning too. I was already in love with Nine Inch Nails, Sigur Rós, Björk, Radiohead, and couldn’t help connecting with their music. It was in 2006 at the Teatro Miela, an experimental theatre in Trieste, that I finally met them.
The funniest thing is that I’ve been knowing them since their debut, and still I was literally spelling Xiu Xiu (for me, Italian native). When you just need to go on their (Italian) page on Wikipedia to read that the pronunciation is “Shoo-shoo”, written in an Anglophone way…
When I got to know they were coming to Vienna I decided to update myself, damn they are still active and great and I’ve forgotten about their music…(Please don’t get me wrong, they are definitely unforgettable but I also listen to a lot of music). I think Xiu Xiu are one of the rare examples that can leave you puzzled about their music and at the same time about your critical abilities.
Before the concert there is already an intimate atmosphere, that peculiar connection that you feel among strangers when going to a special show that few know. I get interesting feedback from the people around: some are seeing them for the first time and very excited about, some are big fans, describing every concert as a new experience, from extreme experimentalism to regular and plain execution. And it is undisputable that they are true performers: when they finally start under a blue light the audience is immediately captured. I am lucky, I get a full-on piercing and distorted live, where my euphoria is equally mixed with the intensity of the performance.
The songs are sweet and delicate, then getting harsh and sharp. Some people need to plug their ears, ’cause it’s too loud, or simply too much (but also for the small club Chelsea, thank you for having brought them to us!); meanwhile they play their hearts out, they dance like trapped in a state of trance (mainly Jamie, actually), they exchange, interchange the instruments, they read a poem: I am completely lost in the music. Sometimes I cannot even understand the lyrics; but the soft and tender, the shouted and violent, the simply passionate voice of Jamie Stewart brings me to a whole different level of communication. That’s the power of music, yes, but THAT is the power of Xiu Xiu.
I am following a real one on Instagram (sentence I thought I would have never used, grumpy and sceptic as I am with these new “social” means, making you even less social than before).
I see on the same f@#g Instagram she is going to Zurich too. She is from New York.
I contact her immediately, maybe I have an occasion to meet your art..?
She replies yes! In few weeks. I am there for few days.
Then she says “well, we can hang out together then”.
We meet and greet. She is calm, sweet, with such a delicate voice. I love voices. I love delicate voices.
I would love my mind to be a recorder, like a proper one, able to keep every single word. I am just a human.
We have lunch together, we walk around during an unexpected sunny day.
I wasn’t expecting anything, but I am definitely impressed. Not by her words, or her aspect, or her shyness: rather by what she radiates. She IS poetry.
I talk more than her; it wasn’t my idea, actually the opposite; still I want to give her something too.
I met Precious Okoyomon, and this is our story.
Precious is a young and talented artist. Grown up between London and Lagos, she is currently living in New York. By connecting her daily writings – messages to friends, notes taken on the phone while walking in the streets – she has shaped her own style, still taking inspirations from the authors and artists who touch her soul. She is now introduced to Europe by the art guru Hans Ulrich Obrist, who fell immediately in love with her art. Currently she has her first solo exhibition in Zurich where she present her sculptures made with mixed materials and natural live elements –trees, mushrooms, plants that are constantly growing and blooming. Her three-dimensional poetry.
“My sculptures are a continuum with my poetry, it’s just a different form”.
The exhibition, A drop of Sun under the Earth, is open until the 20th of April at the Schwarzescafè at Luma Westbau, the headquarter of a non-profit local foundation that supports emergent artists. If you have the chance, don’t miss it!
Do we sit on chairs and eat on tables for its proper function or is there also an aesthetic motivation behind it? And what is created to be functional should leave aesthetics out to maximize and focus on the function only? How do our senses work and why do they tend to conglomerate in the same idea of beauty? These are just few of the questions answered or simply addressed by Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh, creators of the exhibition Beauty, on show until the end of March in the MAK Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.
The location itself is an architectural masterpiece in the style of the Neo-Renaissance, offering a permanent collection from different artistic periods: Viennese design from the 20th century, a Baroque, Rococo and Classicism section, Art Nouveau, Empire Style, Asian art. Currently it is possible to visit a commemorative and comprehensive solo exhibition of the works from Koloman Moser, an eclectic Austrian artist died one century ago; and Chinese Whispers, an exhibition taking Chinese contemporary art to Vienna. But let’s go back to our (my) focus.
Beauty is an interactive, informative journey into the concept itself, how we define and perceive things. This topic links as well to my last post where I talked about the difficulty – even impossibility – to identify parameters in art and, therefore, quantify the value of an artwork. “Beauty is a combination of shape, color, form, composition, material and texture to please the aesthetic senses, especially the sight”: this blue neon sign welcomes you in the majestic entrance of the museum, where a huge installation made with Two Hundred and Seventy (that is its title too) plastic bags following a programmed choreography, giving the idea of a huge sailing ship floating upon everyone’s head.
I love the arrangement of the exhibition, which spreads all over the museum: in different rooms, up the stairs, even in the toilets. One area is dedicated to the exploration of our senses, how we tend to have the same unconscious parameters to identify beauty. A consistent part of Beauty is inevitably, referring to the background of the authors, about design, being architecture or interior, facing the relative importance of aesthetics, functionality and environmental sustainability.
In the past, aesthetic was the driving force when designing something new, getting less and less importance with the development of technology and market needs. During the 21st century in particular it almost disappeared – and this is nicely shown right in front of the entrance, with representative piles of books showing the trend of the use of the word itself in literature throughout the centuries – to get recognition back in the last decades.
Few experiments and considerations are proposed on the concept of beauty, leaving the clear evidence that beauty is unnecessary, yet we need it. We search for it, we recognize it spontaneously. Sometimes it is everywhere, sometimes, hard to find; still I think it needs to be educated, and put in the right context. We can as well think about the different ways to interpret it among times, cultures, society. Said all this, let’s leave some space to personal taste and sensibility. And when we have different opinions, still we will get the same feelings and pleasure. Then we can talk about it: but in the end, emotions are what brings us to the same point. Enjoy (and bring) beauty, enjoy this Beauty if you can!
Why beauty matters? This is the contest Sagmeister and Walsh launched within the exhibition. Have a look at their Instagram page to take part in, send the most beautiful thing you’ve ever made or seen.
Back in my quiet little village in Italy I was reading my favourite newspaper, “Il corriere della Sera”, and I found an article that particularly got my attention: Roberta Sinatra, an Italian physicist, has found an algorithm to analyse fashions in the art market. In order to do so, she studied almost half million careers of artists worldwide during the last 35 years to determine whether there were some common factors responsible for the fortune (or not) of an artist.
Success in art, like in every human activity whose value depends on individual perception, is strongly influenced by other factors than talent only (that is, de facto, unquantifiable). Recognition and values are determined by a network of experts, collectors, art dealers and institutions that will determine the visibility and prestige of an artist.
From the study Roberta carried out, Quantifying reputation and success in art, published on Science, it emerged that talent alone is not sufficient to reach fame. The most important factor is geography, specifically referring to the network available for an artist. Given the role of the major institutions as art portfolios, the researchers have mapped the network around these cores, finding a dense community mainly located in Europe and North America with access to selected artists frequently exhibited, while more peripheral areas appeared isolated, showing little or no exchange outside their local network. Within these cores, a high correlation was found between their centrality and the economic value of the artworks exhibited.
The beginning of the career, defined by the average prestige of the first five exhibits, is the stage determining the future development of an artist. Artists exhibiting in or connected to prestigious institutions since the beginning of their career had better chances to continue exhibiting and easier access to top institutions. On the other hand, artists starting from a low-initial reputation, i.e. in a peripheral network, had a high dropout rate, although an increasing access to the top institutions was shown for the ones who persisted.
For a deeper comprehension Roberta and colleagues tried to define how the reputation of an artist grows. With a probabilistic model they found out that reputation doesn’t depend on the current exhibit only; an average of 12 exhibits is what defines the “memory” of an artist, determining her/his advancement within the institutions and, therefore, an affirmed reputation.
I think that this study has confirmed with numbers what was already easy to expect (that is the reason about conducting a study, too…). It is unlikely that talent only is enough, in any field, to emerge, few lucky exceptions aside (read about the interview to the collectors John and Stuart Evans and their role in the art world). I also think, though, that the study has considered a period in between the traditional networking and the increasing diffusion and power of Internet and social media, and I believe this will be a new key factor to analyse while posing the same question again. On the other hand, the quantity of (more or less) artistic production has increased dramatically, leading to a higher concurrence in terms of visibility and, therefore, possibilities. Maybe this is just the result of sharing publicly what was hidden before in our drawers or timidly shown to our closest ones. Maybe this is motivating people to be more creative and free with their imagination. Maybe this is moving the conventional networks and spreading to new connections and expressions.
Whatever it is, I personally know the need of create, the calling that never stops: and I think that is the special flame that makes you an artist.