Street Art

Banksy is an unknown British street artist who works with a variety of media, usually graffiti or paint, to comment satirically on political and social aspects of society. He also made the film Exit Through the Gift Shop, a very interesting documentary about street art and how it can turn into a commercial cult. His artwork is incredibly realistic at times, providing a provocative commentary on certain aspects of our contemporary world such as writing “I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring, boring” in the elephant enclosure at Bristol Zoo, and painting images on the Israeli West Bank barrier that suggest breaching the wall by climbing over it or digging through it. He also uses his art to raise awareness about pollution like the rat figure shown, as well as animal abuse and commercialism like the bar code tiger. His social pieces are particularly poignant, though, especially his paintings on barriers. The one with the girl and balloons rising up over the wall as well as the bulls eye over the white dove, a sign of peace, are very indicative of his views on war and boundaries. He also comments on class structure, as seen in the drawing of an officer reporting “Secured: By sleepy migrant workers on minimum wage.” His takes on society are very interesting and the way in which he conveys his work, in public areas where everyone, no matter what class, may view them show a whole different world to people, raising concern about issues that maybe they hadn’t thought of before. All photographs are from Banksy's website.


The Magnificent Macabre

            In terms of seeing relationships in the world in a different way, I immediately thought of a friend of mine who is currently studying for her second degree at SUNY New Paltz. Her name is Holly, and her artwork is unique and very provocative to me in the ways in which we see everyday items around us and as she notes, as being part of this consumer-driven world and society. As Holly states in her explanation of her work (which can be found at this website, along with a portfolio of other works:, “I work with every day items such as paper towels, pushpins, Elmer’s glue, styrofoam, toilet paper, coffee sleeves, plastic, wax, thread, and beads - all disposable articles in a commodity-driven society,” as well as striving to display “a juxtaposition of magnificence and the macabre.” These ideas have led me to think about our own existence and development in such a consumer-driven world and the feelings that our own interaction with nature and progress evoke in me. In my reflection, this idea of juxtaposing magnificence with the macabre is quite poignant. I think about the magnificence of progress and the macabre view that nature receives as our society becomes more and more grandiose. I believe Holly’s aim of juxtaposing these ideas through her use of everyday disposable items truly begins to unconceal the relationship between progress and nature.
            She also talks about keeping in touch with her child-like sensibilities through the use of these materials, which I think ties nicely back to the idea of nature, possibly thought of as innocent and pure, and the stark reality and contrast of the impinging progress and modernity of society on these childish ideals. In this artwork I also get a sense of ephemerality. The use of normally disposable materials gives the artwork a delicate nature akin in a way to the work of Andy Goldsworthy. In this sense I see the ephemerality of both nature and our society, which is ever- changing and never static, just as nature is. It is also very interesting to note that several of her pieces made from Elmer’s glue are created to reflect trees, as indicated by the title of the pieces “Forest.” This idea of representing nature through these disposable products, which are part of our consumer-driven society and modernity as a whole, gives an entirely new viewpoint through which to see this artwork. Nature is not just pure and ideal, it is part of modernity, ephemeral, ever-changing, but always part of us. I think viewing this art this way unconceals some of the hidden relationships that exist between our modernity and nature’s supposed removed existence. The feelings evoked run deep for me, and the closer I look, the more I learn. Isn’t life- society and nature- the same way?


Paul Kucznski: Satirist

 In his supremely satirical art, Paul Koczynski explores an array of topics including disparities and relationships between politics, the economy, agriculture, the environment, war, peace, wealth, poverty, playtime, status, knowledge, climate change, memory, tourism, technology, survival, time, space and energy.  His art frequently reveals or “unconceals” hidden or less-considered results of these relationships.  He typically does this by employing quasi-surrealist elements such as mixing scales, motivated color combinations, melding forms, as well as incorporating artifice into natural scenes.  In the first image, a man (presumably a tourist) is seen vacuuming away some Roman or Grecian landscape into a giant camera.  This reminds me of I discussion we had in our first discussion of sight. Koczynski conveys through this image the view of photo documentation as a means o memory that is ultimately destructive to the subject.  When a picture is taken, the human experience is mitigated, the entire focus of the situation held in the action of taking the photograph.  Furthermore, this depiction comments on the relationship of foreigners in and beautiful, new land.  However, the tourist cannot see the beauty because of his desire to take pictures instead of just being.    In the second image, two toddlers of different racial, socioeconomic, and presumably nationalities are seen playing with and interacting with a set of lettered toy blocks that spell, in English, “APPLE.”   This piece, as satirical as it is, “unconceals” the stark contrast between the identities that these figures represent.   Koczynski’s images are provocative and certainly point to a colored opinion of current systems.

"It has no purpose"

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are probably two of the most provocative contemporary artists. Their environmental artwork causes intense controversy because it challenges the ways people see and think about nature, the use of technology, and the purpose and definition of art. For the last 50 years, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have become known for projects like the wrapping and unwrapping of one million square feet of coastline with erosion-control fabric, the installation and removal of a running fence of two million square feet woven nylon fabric, the surrounding of eleven islands with 6.5 million square feet of floating, shiny pink polypropylene fabric, the filling  of two valleys in Japan and the US with 3,100 yellow and blue umbrellas, the wrapping of the Reichstag with silvery fabric, or the installation of 7,503 gates with bright orange curtains in Central Park. Undoubtedly, this unconventional art form causes people to ask questions about the purpose, the resources or the associated environmental impacts. According to Jeanne-Claude, there is no particular purpose: "We do not create symbols. We do not create messages. We only create a work of art, of joy and beauty, which has absolutely no purpose whatsoever. We believe it will be beautiful, and we wish to see it. And the only way to see it is to build it."


The projects usually cost several million dollars and the artists finance all of their work themselves, through selling Christo’s preparatory drawings and collages.  Christo has his own corporation (he is the president, vice president, treasurer and secretary) and has developed his own business model due to the belief that “the only way to work in total freedom is to pay for it,…even if it means that we have to be our own gallery, our own art dealer.” This detachment from institutions represents a unique way of being an artist in today’s world. In fact, some people believe that Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not fit the definition of artists: “Other artists often called us entrepreneurs, and we used to take that as an insult. Then one day a friend of ours, the Swiss collector Torsten Lilja, said to us: “An entrepreneur is somebody who enterprises, and enterprise you certainly do.” Well, I wish someone had told us this earlier. In the meantime we have even been subject of a case study by the Harvard Business School – The Art of the Entrepreneur.”


In creating their artwork, Christo and Jeanne-Claude bring together and cooperate with architects, scientists, professional climbers, construction workers, federal commissioners, professional seamstresses, and engineers. As a result, all these people get to apply their knowledge and skills in an alternative context and to interact with nature and technology in new ways. Instead of working towards maximizing efficiency and assimilating aspects of the natural world, the people involved in the art projects strive to create systems that take embrace all aspects of the natural world. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s last piece, called Over the River (which federal regulators actually approved this week!, has “already made history for its interconnection of art and public participation, with a federal environmental impact statement that drew thousands of comments.”


Despite the artists’ claims that there is no purpose behind their art, their work achieves much meaning. According to Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s website, The Umbrellas “reflected the similarities and differences in the ways of life and the use of the land in two inland valleys,” one in Japan and the other in the US; “Surrounded Islands was a work of art underlining the various elements and ways in which the people of Miami live, between land and water.” In addition, pieces like Running Fence or Ocean Front resemble Goldsworthy’s work (the stone fence and the structures subject to the ebb and flow of water). All these projects are meant to be ephemeral and even though Christo and Jeanne-Claude use synthetic materials, everything gets recycled when disassembled. In this way, the two “entrepreneur artists” offer yet another alternative way of understanding and engaging with the natural world. Christo’s most important message is not to focus on purposes and messages because they “can be political, religious, commercial – they are all propaganda. I will never do art with messages. Our projects are much more complex, much more meaningful than any illustrative art.”

GlacierWorks: Revealing Climate Change

For this blog post, we were asked to examine an artist that reveals the nature of human experience and whose work is “inspirational, or provocative, or in some way points to different ways of doing or being or seeing.”  I immediately thought of a project started by renowned American alpinist and filmmaker David Breashears called GlacierWorks.  Breashears is most famous for co-directing and co-producing the first IMAX film shot on Mt. Everest, creatively entitled Everest, which was highly acclaimed and went on to gross the most of any IMAX documentary ever.  He was the first American to summit Everest twice and now has made it to the top five times. 

GlacierWorks’ self-proclaimed mission is to employ “art, science, and adventure to raise public awareness about the consequences of climate change in the Greater Himalaya.”  The organization has made ten expeditions to the Himalaya to record and document climate change in the region as illustrated by the retreat of glacial ice.  They seek out the locations from photos taken by pioneering alpine photographers, such as George Mallory, and then capture new images that align perfectly with the early photographic records.  This allows scientists and the public to view the extant of glacial retreat and thus the potential for a diminished water supply for millions of people throughout Asia.

David Breashears as a photographer is “unconcealing” the changes caused by climate change that may not be obvious at first glance, especially to first world citizens who are increasingly insulated from the natural world.  These photographs provide a invaluable view of areas not accessible to the non-climber.  The project is able to reveal the effect many of our technological systems have on the natural world.  Ideally, this artistic/photographic work will inspire the public to take against to stop or at least slow down anthropogenic climate change.

This topic particularly fascinates me because of my interest in nature and mountaineering and because I am taking a Geology course this semester titled Earth’s Climate: Past and Future.  I never tire of being able to connect material and topics between different classes during the school year.

Richard Serra: Centralizing Space in Different Ways

A few years ago I went to Dia: Beacon Art Museum for the first time and was immediately struck by the Richard Serra pieces. 3 massive steel shapes filled an empty warehouse style room. It was kind of scary to walk through the narrow slits that invite you into the pieces, and once inside. I was in awe of their scale and material. I just could not fathom how they were made. The experience began my fascination with the construction of large things. In looking at the pieces, I immediately began thinking about ships and airplanes and buildings- how do we construct things that are so much bigger than us? It seems as if when the utility of the piece is apparent, like it is with a ship for example, we don’t take any time to consider its construction. We don’t consider what an outstanding feat it is that humans make such outrageously large things. But with Serra’s art it is so apparent and awe invoking. Serra says his work is “about centralizing the space in different ways” and “how people move in relation to space.” His pieces are seemingly so unnatural, but they directly question the ways in which we move in nature. They are reminiscent of ships, walls and buildings to draw scale to our attention- you can’t help but feel small when you look at one of his installations. His pieces draw into question the scale of our activities and all of the "installations" that we come in contact with on a daily basis. It was not long after my trip to Dia: Beacon Art Museum that I saw Manufactured Landscapes (from which we watched clips in class) for the first time and was again fascinated by the clip which shows the men building the ship in China. It seems so typical for us to create things that are hundreds of times our size, yet it is so unnatural. Serra’s pieces are reminders that how we occupy space is a choice and creates our orientation to the world. Large, supposedly purposeless, metal sculptures seem to challenge us, yet they are all around us in other forms that we easily accept. One of his most contested pieces is "Titled Arc" which was installed in Manhattan's Federal Plaza in 1981. It was so poorly received that in 1985 a hearing took place and a 4-1 vote determined that the sculpture would be removed. It is remarkable that a simple wall of metal created so much backash in a city that is nothing but densely packed metal walls. Again, our scale for development seems unquestioned, but when art pushes us to think about how we use and define our space, we are resistant.


Living Trees, Living Art

Imagine shaping a living tree into a fully functioning chair, to use while it is still planted in the ground. I quite literally "stumbled upon" this artist my freshman year while trying to put off homework. The image stuck in my mind and, three years later, I knew that this would be a perfect way to share this amazing art with others. In 1986 Peter Cook had the idea to grow a chair. Cook chose to use a plum tree for its strength and growth rate, and with the correct shaping process succeeded in growing a comfortable chair straight from the ground. Cook teamed with Becky Northey in 1995 and began expanding their repertoire of living art. They specialize in Tree People, trees that bear a resemblence to the stick people one might draw in elementary school, but have also made tables and mirrors. Their company Pooktre offers an alternative to conventional furniture. After they cut down the finished shape (for maybe a mirror or chair), new growth sprouts out of the old stump, leading to very sustainable furniture production. While I really enjoy this furniture, I don't think it's very practicle in the sense that Pooktre only produces five pieces a year. Pooktre's beauty is its provacation. I did a double take when I first saw Peter's chair because I had never seen anything like it. The chair itself does not look like it is strong enough to support a full man, then you see Peter relaxing in it. If nothing else, the chair plants the seed of an alternative, renewable chair. In my opinion, Pooktre's coolest work is their tree people. The tree people act out a fantasy of trees coming alive, seen in contemporary literature from The Wizard of Oz to Lord of the Rings. Tree People break trees out of their black box. They aren't just wood and leaves that provide oxygen, paper, and firewood to the world. These whimsical pieces of art reinvent what a tree is and what a tree has the potential to become.

Here is the link for Pooktre's website. I highly suggest looking at the work- it's all very whimsical.


Ai Weiwei

             The artist that I would like to highlight for his provocative work is Ai Weiwei. Weiwei is a Chinese contemporary artist, best known for his contribution to the design of the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 summer Olympics. Weiwei is one of the most inspirational and criticized artists in China due to his investigation into corruption in the Chinese government. One of his more famous examples is his artistic expression of frustration with the government after the death of 8,000 children during a recent earthquake. His piece titled "Remembering" (see photo) was constructed from the 8,000 backpacks of the children that lost their lives in the tragedy. The piece spells out the phrase "She lived happily for seven years in this world" in Chinese. Weiwei believes the government allowed for the tragedy due to the fact that the construction of school buildings was not adequately mandated.

            Another piece of Weiwei's titled "Forever Bicylces" (photo also included) is a particularly abstract piece of art. "Its layered labyrinthine space creates what appears to be a moving abstract shape that symbolizes the way in which the social environment in China is changing," as Weiwei describes. Ai Weiwei uses art as a mechanism in which to express his unique outlook on the world. Ai Weiwei clearly has a distinct way of being in the world, and "unconceals" his truths through contemporary art. Weiwei was recently arrested on the charges of tax evasion. Several major protests responded to Weiwei's arrest, displaying the breadth of people his messages communicate to. Using art in this way changes the nature of Weiwei's human experience.


 The theme of Group 2's "A Day Without A..." blog posts is resistance, and survival. All of the blog posts suggest what life might be like without a particular technology, and, whether that picture is bleak or bright, the bottom line is survival. We would survive without that technology, without a camera, windows, a car, a train, or even general electricity. This theme is very refreshing in this "give me", "I need this now" era that I am always told I live in. People might bemoan the thought of life without a cell phone, or life without a car. But guess what, a technology implies that it is something new. And that implication of "new" means that there had to be a time of "old" without that technology. And we humans are resilient, and adaptable. Maybe Sarah's mother is more optimistic and resilient than the usual person, but she dealt with not having power (yet having houseguests) for six days and lived to tell the tale; it was not the end of the world. Life continued. An altered life, yes, but time marched on.

This summer I had to fill out a questionnaire for the camp I worked at. Nothing serious, just some fun questions to enlighten parents about what kind of people were supervising their children for the next eight weeks. One of the questions read, "If you were a superhero, what superpower would you want?" I thought through the usual responses: flying would be super cool, I wouldn't feel comfortable with x-ray vision, but being lightning fast would be awesome too. Then I thought about how my power didn't have to be "usual", and, if I could have any power in the world, why shouldn't I pick something REALLY awesome that I think would be amazing, even if no one else would? I settled on time travel. I think it's the history nerd in me, the person who reads books on the Civil War for fun and dreams of touring Gettysburg someday. My mom and I actually have this conversation often, of what time period I would want to go to if given the chance. I usually narrow it down to 1630 Boston, 1775 Philadelphia, and 1840 Charleston, South Carolina.  I can't narrow it down any further after that. My mom usually has more modern periods (1968 San Francisco), and every single time brings up "But Kay, think about how horrible people smelled back then. And life was so hard!!" And I always respond "But mom, they didn't realize how badly they smelled, or at least it wasn't unusual, because everyone smelled badly back then."

Like the theme for this weeks blogs, it's all a matter of perspective. We tend to look at life without these technologies from a modern perspective, with modern horror. But there was a time when these technologies didn't exist, and people lived. Life without modern technologies is possible, but one must have the right frame of mind.

Personal reflection on a carless life...

When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that in a carless world I would still be able to get from the door of my room on campus to the door of my apartment some 5000 miles away the same way but not to my friend’s house in New Jersey which is about 40 times closer (yes, in distance). As much as I would miss driving and road trips, my life right now wouldn’t change much if cars somehow disappeared and I wouldn’t find it as hard to adapt. For the past three carless years in the US I have felt many times that dependence on cars can restrict my freedom and I have learnt to avoid it (ok, to an extent). But would you feel trapped in the middle of a forest if tomorrow you realized you couldn’t just drive away or take the shuttle to the train station? I’m still surprised I’ve never met anyone else here who knows that there is a bus that stops in Clinton and goes to NYC twice a day every single day. Not even the people who work in the bank in front of which it stops every single day. And even if you think that I must be hallucinating about that one and you just want to be able to do your groceries, go watch a movie or buy clothes in this new carless situation, I’m sure that eventually you’ll come across and decipher the mysterious schedule of the mysterious bus that stops in KJ circle and can take you to those places. The hours will probably be very inconvenient and there probably won’t be enough space for everyone most of the time. But trying to imagine the legitimate complaints of two thousand well-versed Hamilton students, saying that you can’t live this weird new carless life with such bus system from a car-based world, might make you think that a new bus line could appear…

Cars, however, can never just disappear miraculously from our lives. Right? At least not until we become much more creative about their alternative uses than this

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