LIKE MUCH of his art, “Between the Heavens and Me”, Alfredo Jaar’s most recent video, was drawn not from his imagination but from the news. In this case it began with a report on the BBC about Hart Island off the Bronx. The prison detail at the island’s cemetery—where, for decades, indigent New Yorkers were interred in mass graves—was working round the clock to bury the unclaimed bodies of those who had died, alone and unloved, with covid-19. “My brain could not comprehend what my eyes were seeing,” Mr Jaar says.
He slowed down the footage, replacing the commentary with a haunting tune by Anouar Brahem, a celebrated Tunisian oud player. Over and over the scene repeats itself: uniformed gravediggers stack coffins in a freshly dug trench with solemn deliberation, as if they are making an offering to Mother Earth. “Here we have the poorest people in New York,” Mr Jaar explains, “the anonymous, the invisible, the no-name people being buried by prison inmates, many of whom are poor and black like them. I wanted the film to be a lament.”
In an artistic tradition made famous by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, his videos force viewers to consider the effects of their incessant exposure to horrific images. They also highlight the tendency of the news to focus on a tragedy, then move on. “News events cover reality in both senses of the word: reporting it even as they conceal it,” remarked Hartwig Fischer (now director of the British Museum) when he included Mr Jaar’s work in a show at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2005.
Now 64, Mr Jaar was a teenager in Chile when Salvador Allende was ousted in a military coup, but has lived in New York since his mid-20s. He is not a conventional studio artist, reckoning he has travelled 7m miles (11.3m kilometres) to create art that is meant to provoke. He has staged over 100 “public interventions”, art-world-speak for performances in which audiences gather to watch or even take part. In 2019 he walked the streets of Edinburgh wearing a sandwich board reading “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On”, a quotation from Samuel Beckett. Next year, when a retrospective of his work opens at the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, his board will read, “Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness”. That is a reference to the Japanese Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo, but it is also what Mr Jaar feels like saying “when I see the madness that is taking over this planet”.
“People see new meaning in his work every time they confront it,” says Pablo León de la Barra, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum, which owns one of his best-known pieces, a series of electronic billboards called “A Logo for America”. One panel superimposes an image of the two American continents onto the word “AMERICA”, quietly insisting that there is more than one kind of American. Another enigmatically combines the words “This is not America” with a map of the United States. When it was shown in Times Square in 1987, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, viewers interpreted the sequence as a critique of his administration’s interference in Nicaragua and Grenada. Displayed on the square again in 2014, it seemed a comment on the treatment of migrants. Now, Mr León de la Barra says, it might be regarded as a statement about racism.
Mr Jaar’s travels have ground to a halt this year. Confined to his apartment in SoHo, with books stacked to the ceiling and several thousand CDs, he has slept in the same bed for weeks on end for the first time in decades. He has been reading poetry, listening to the melancholic music of love and longing known as saudade, which is made most commonly by the Portuguese diaspora—and working. “It’s for my mental health, as much as anything else,” he says. He will have much to do when the lockdown lifts; four big exhibition projects have been postponed because of the pandemic, and more are in the offing.
In August Clara Kim, senior curator at Tate Modern in London, hopes to reopen “A Year in Art: 1973”, a show that includes “Studies on Happiness”, a video installation by Mr Jaar that portrays emotional reactions to the coup in Chile. “Violence might be invisible to us,” he says. “But it exists out there, and we will see the consequences of it sooner or later.” The power of his work, says Ms Kim, stems from his dual role as artist and witness—not just through the contemporaneous recording of violence, but in teasing out responses that stretch over decades.
In the mid-1990s Mr Jaar began to focus on the Rwanda genocide. Reports about the massacres compelled him to go to the country, he recalls; over several trips, he took thousands of pictures from which he has created installations around the world (see picture). Returning to New York he found some of his own images so shocking that in one work, “Real Pictures 1995”, he entombed the photographs in a series of black boxes, never to be opened.
Later this year Mr Jaar’s Rwandan work will appear at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town, the first time it has been exhibited in Africa. Audiences will once again be forced to think about, and beneath, scenes they have encountered on television or social media. “I want people to see these images,” Mr Jaar says, “to actually see them, in order to bring them inside in their brain, in their heart, in their soul, to try to understand what’s happening to us.” As Ezra Pound said of literature, Mr Jaar’s art is news that stays news. ■
This article appeared in the Books & arts section of the print edition under the headline “Opening the black box”
'Gerryfest' to celebrate Gerry Atwell's music and art, but also his advocacy against systemic racism – CBC.ca
A festival celebrating the life of the late Gerry Atwell is taking place in Winnipeg next month — but the night will be about more than just music and art.
Atwell, a Juno Award-winning musician known for playing the keyboard for the Winnipeg band Eagle and Hawk, died after suffering a heart attack in late November 2019.
Family and friends knew they would celebrate his life with a music festival this summer. But with people in North America demanding change once again, a key part of the daylong festival will be focused toward the fight against systemic racism — a cause Atwell long advocated for.
“We’re all missing his humanity when it comes to these types of issues,” said Judy Williams, Atwell’s sister.
“He always had a different message for the different audiences he might have been speaking with,” she said, and were he alive now, he would say “something profound, but something that would be inclusive, whether he was going to encourage someone to take some action, or think of other people.”
Atwell also would see the positive opportunities that will come through the conversations being had, added Louise May, executive director of the St. Norbert Arts Centre, where she worked with Atwell for about 25 years.
“Even though it’s coming from such negativity and such a negative event, there is so much hope through it, and so much burgeoning awareness, and ability to talk about it and ability for people to confront themselves with it,” said May.
“It’s a very, very hopeful time and I know Gerry would be pushing us to see that hope and to really manifest it.”
Gerryfest will take place on Aug. 14 — Atwell’s birthday — at the St. Norbert Arts Centre. Both Williams and May said they felt his presence during the process of organizing the event.
“Even the term ‘Gerryfest’ was Gerry’s idea,” said May. “It was something that we talked about many times, kind of in a joking way. But I knew he always wanted to really do it, which was to have a day when all of his bands played back-to-back-to-back-to-back.
“To which I always said, ‘Gerry, what, you’re going to play for seven, eight hours in one row?'” she said. “That was going to be the very best day that he could imagine for himself.”
Although Atwell won’t be there in person, his presence will be there through former bandmates and other lives he touched, May said.
The planning of Gerryfest started before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Manitoba. So the original plan of a weekend festival has been whittled down to an afternoon and evening of music and art dedicated to Atwell.
“I really think we can just keep his work alive and keep building on it year after year with this,” said May, adding that this will be the first of an annual festival.
The festival will also raise funds for the Gerry Atwell Memorial Mentorship Fund, an endowment fund that will have musicians and artists mentoring young people, just like Atwell once did, said Williams.
An invitation is needed to attend the event at the St. Norbert Arts Centre, but people can tune in through livestreams online, said May.
Window shopping: Whyte Avenue Art Walk shifts from sidewalks to storefronts for 25th anniversary – Edmonton Journal
Article content continued
“More than ever, it’s important for people to continue supporting artists,” said Zhelisko, who also teaches art classes at The Paint Spot. “I’ve had to put more effort into social media and promoting my work online, but I think the pandemic has shown people what’s really important. I’ve had some commissions from people who want portraits of family members or friends as a way to recognize them.”
First-time Art Walk participant Shelly Banks also works at The Paint Spot and specializes in oil, producing vivid nature and wildlife images that will be featured in the shop’s storefront.
“I’ve always been into art, but working at The Paint Spot and spending so much time around artists encouraged me to give it a try,” said Banks, regarding her decision to take up painting five years ago, producing watercolour, acrylic and coloured pencil art before settling on oil as her preferred method.
Penticton Art Gallery hosts first Bob Ross exhibit in Canada – Globalnews.ca
It’s the first time Bob Ross’ happy little exhibit has crossed the border to Canada, and it’s nestled itself right in the South Okanagan at the Penticton Art Gallery.
“There is something magical when you see them in the flesh. There is a greater level of skill than maybe you would believe when see them on TV,” said Paul Crawford, Penticton Art Gallery curator, of the exhibit.
Bob Ross’ TV show, which taught viewers how to paint with soothing words of encouragement and first aired 37 years ago, is seeing a resurgence in popularity online.
During the lockdown, people have been making the most out of their downtime by picking up paintbrushes and are learning how to ’embrace happy little accidents.’
The exhibit pulls back the curtain on a little TV magic by revealing that there were actually three versions of each Bob Ross painting.
“He’d have that first painting that no one would ever see, then there was the one he would do live half an hour on TV before your eyes,” said Crawford.
“Then he would do a third version which they would do if they missed a shot or for close-ups during the live taping.”
As Bob Ross said, “The secret to doing anything is believing you can do it.”
The exhibit will be open until Sept. 13.
‘It’s given me dreams that come to life’: Penticton artist uses studio as creative community hub
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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