Art, close up

This reminded me of Tezi Gabunia’s tiny art galleries.

Honey, we shrunk the art! The return of the micro galleryElephant
Simon Martin believes it’s the little things that count. As the coronavirus pandemic forced museums the world over to temporarily close, the director of Pallant House Gallery quietly reached out to a cohort of British contemporary artists with a simple yet challenging proposition: to create a small-scale artwork measuring no more than 15 sq cm.

More than 30 creative luminaries have contributed original works to the 2021 Model Art Gallery, ranging from a pair of terracotta vessels by studio potter Magdalene Odundo and a painting by Sean Scully, to a Julian Opie sculpture and a miniature print from photographer Khadija Saye, the only work from her Crowned series not destroyed in the Grenfell Tower fire which took her life.

It’s not the first time the Chichester institution has scaled down: the earliest model gallery in Pallant House Gallery’s collection, The Thirty Four Gallery, debuted in 1934 after art dealer Sydney Burney invited his contemporaries (including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Vanessa Bell) to create miniature artworks to fill a dollhouse for a charitable cause. Lost for decades, some of the works were later rediscovered in a suitcase by Burney’s grandson. The model was recreated by Pallant House Gallery in 1997 based on photographs of the original designed by the architect Marshall Sisson.

A persistent photographer

An interview with Ian Treherne, a photographer with a certain sense of urgency.

“I’ve managed to break a few boundaries along the way”: Meet the blind photographer who captured this year’s ParalympiansIt’s Nice That
Ian says that he enjoys making people question how he can be both blind and a photographer, he likes “hurting their brains. I’m just super happy that I can inspire other people to pick up the camera and tell themselves, ‘I’m allowed to do this,’ because I know people feel like they’re not allowed to do it.” Paralympians, in his eyes, are superhuman: “bloody brilliant”. They’re showing us, he explains, that with a certain level of commitment, practice and dedication, you can really achieve what it is that you want to do.

“The box that I’m being put in is only based on seven per cent of people in the UK. There are people that are totally blind, in total darkness. That’s the universal idea of what a blind person is, but that’s only seven per cent of us, so it’s a really small number. There’s another 93 per cent of people that have been questioned as to why they’re holding a white cane whilst looking at their phone.”

This profile of him from a few years ago gives us a sense of what he’s up against.

How a blind photographer sees the worldBBC News
Completely self-taught, Treherne is influenced by photographers David Bailey and John French – and also by his blindness. With their dark peripheries, his black and white portraits “mimic” his eye condition. “I’m not going to lie, it is extremely difficult for me,” he says. “It is insanely hard working with this tiny window of sight. There are shoots I can’t do but I don’t know any other way and I just utilise what I’ve got left. I’ve never had an assistant, I have done it the hard way.”

Treherne’s window of vision is demonstrated in this representation of his eyesight

Pretty inspiring stuff.

Restored #2

Following on from yesterday’s post on successful and unsuccessful restoration projects, here are a few more. Let’s start with this example of when a more cartoony, less realistic painting was deliberate rather than the result of a botched job.

Ghent altarpiece restorations reveal the alarmingly humanoid face of the famous mystic lambSmithsonian Magazine
To be fair, the lamb—which features prominently in a panel appropriately titled Adoration of the Mystic Lamb—is meant to represent Christ himself. But perched atop its fluffy woolly-white body, the penetrating, close-set eyes, full pink lips and flared nostrils of the original lamb are, at a minimum, eye-catching, if not alarmingly anthropomorphic. Its “cartoonish” appearance is a marked departure from the serene, naturalistic style characterizing the rest of the scene surrounding it, as well as the other panels, Hélène Dubois, the head of the Royal Institute’s restoration project, tells Hannah McGivern at the Art Newspaper.

For that reason, during the century or so that the painting hung in its full, unadulterated glory, onlookers gazing upon the lamb probably got a more “intense interaction” than they bargained for, Dubois suggests. Perhaps the anomalous nature of this riveting stare was part of the motivation behind a spate of modifications to the painting in 1550, when a second set of artists swapped the lamb’s soul-penetrating gaze for a more “impassive and … neutral” expression, restorers explained in a statement, as reported by Flanders Today’s Lisa Bradshaw in 2018.

As we read yesterday with the Vermeer, these restoration projects can take years…

The restoration of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch begins: Watch the painstaking process on-site and onlineOpen Culture
“It is like a military operation in the planning,” said Dibbets, and it has required the utmost precision and expert teams of restorers, data experts, art historians, and the professionals who moved the enormous painting into the glass case it will occupy during this intense period. The crew of restorers will work from digital images taken with a macro X-ray fluorescence scanner, a technique, says Dibbets, that allowed them to “make a full body scan” and “discover which pigments [Rembrandt] used.”

…but here’s an approach I wasn’t expecting with this painting.

AI helps return Rembrandt’s The Night Watch to original sizeThe Guardian
In 1715, three-quarters of a century after it was painted, the canvas was trimmed – 60cm (2ft) cut from the left side of the painting, 22cm (9ins) from the top, 12cm from the bottom and 7cm from the right – so that the masterpiece might fit between two doors at Amsterdam’s city hall. But using high-resolution photography of what is left of the original, computer learning of Rembrandt’s techniques and a contemporary copy of the full painting by Gerrit Lundens hanging in London’s National Gallery, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was able to reproduce the work in all its glory.

I’m a big fan of Antony Gormley’s spooky and solemn sculptures on Crosby beach near Liverpool, so I was happy to read that they’re being looked after.

Antony Gormley asks for ‘vandalised’ beach sculptures to be cleanedThe Guardian
Antony Gormley has asked for paint to be removed from his iron men sculptures on Crosby beach after they were embellished with colourful outfits by an unknown artist. At least nine of the famous group of statues, which face out to sea and have been standing naked on the Merseyside beach for a decade, have been brightly decorated in the past week.

Antony Gormley hopes Crosby statues last 1,000 years after resetThe Guardian
One hundred cast-iron statues modelled on Gormley were installed in 2005 at Crosby beach, spread across 3km (2 miles) of the foreshore and stretching almost 1km out to sea. The installation, Another Place, was only supposed to last 16 months in Crosby, and the men were almost sent packing early amid safety complaints including cases of the coastguard being called out to “rescue” them. Sixteen years on, the artwork has become a tourist attraction for the Sefton borough of Merseyside and a beloved local institution. But unnoticed by all but the keenest eye, 10 of the men have been missing in action for the past few years after their concrete support piles disintegrated, plunging them face-first into the mud.

Of course, restoration isn’t just limited to paintings and sculptures. There are people who also want to restore … letters of the alphabet?

Petition · Restore the ampersand as the 27th letter of the alphabetChange.org
The ampersand dates all the way back to 45 AD and Johannes Gutenberg even included it on his first printing press in 1440. During the 19th century, American schoolchildren were taught to end their ABC’s with “X, Y, Z, and per se and” because the ampersand was indeed the 27th letter. But then it mysteriously and inexplicably disappeared from the alphabet. […]

This isn’t just for us. Think of all the uses of the ampersand out there, and all the people and organizations that could benefit from allowing the ampersand back into our alphabet. We’re not asking for much. And to be completely honest, we’re not exactly sure who calls the shots on these sorts of things, but having Merriam-Webster on our side seems like a good start.

For law firms, the ampersand is a character worth savingABA Journal
Paul Hastings, Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer Rose, Baker Botts: the list of new BigLaw titles built on the corpses of ampersands is almost endless. All these firms discarded their ampersands as if they were ashamed of them. The BigLaw ampersand now stands on the precipice of extinction. Accordingly, it is up to BigLaw partners and associates to see to its survival. You’re thinking, “But what can I do? I’m only one lawyer among tens of thousands?” You have answered your own question: You are one of tens of thousands. Your voice, added to the voices of your brother and sister lawyers across the land, can be a mighty chorus demanding the restoration of the ampersand to its rightful place in American law.

Restored

It’s nice to see the completion of that Vermeer restoration I mentioned a while ago.

First full image of ‘new’ Vermeer with uncovered Cupid released by Dresden museumThe Art Newspaper
Art lovers get ready to be struck by Cupid’s arrow, as the first image of the completed restoration of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (around 1657-59) has been released today by Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, fully revealing a hidden image of Cupid. The change to the composition in one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings is so great that the German museum is dubbing it a “new” Vermeer in publicity materials.

A restored Vermeer painting reveals a hidden Cupid artwork hanging in the backgroundColossal
The new restoration—dive into the lengthy process in the video below—is just one of the mysteries that’s surrounded “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” since its creation between 1657–59. Originally attributed to Rembrandt and later to Pieter de Hooch, the artwork wasn’t properly credited until 1880. The piece is evocative of another one of Vermeer’s works, “Lady Standing at a Virginal,” though, which similarly features a painting within a painting by showing a solitary figure standing near a window with Cupid on the wall behind her.

There’s something very hypnotic and life-affirming about watching such intricate restorations. Here are a few more.

The Museum of Modern Art: Microscopically reweaving a 1907 paintingYouTube
To ready Paula Modersohn-Becker’s “Self Portrait” (1907) for MoMA’s reopening in October, conservator Diana Hartman tackles the question of how to repair holes in the painting’s canvas. She figures out that a curved needle typically used in eye surgery might allow her to avoid removing the work from its original stretcher. And her inventiveness doesn’t end there: Using an adhesive made from a sturgeon bladder, she secures linen thread to the needle to darn the pieces back together with the help of a microscope.

Tate: Restoring RothkoYouTube
Mark Rothko’s ‘Black on Maroon’ 1958 goes back on public view at Tate Modern on 13 May 2014, following 18 months of intensive work by the Conservation team and colleagues across Tate. The painting, one of the iconic Seagram murals which Rothko donated to Tate in 1970, was vandalised with graffiti ink in October 2012. It has since been the subject of detailed research and restoration by the core treatment team of Rachel Barker, Bronwyn Ormsby and Patricia Smithen.

Baumgartner Restoration: Ex Multis Ad Unum – Restoring a split painting, narratedYouTube
One of the challenges that the conservator often faces is before being able to embark upon the work of restoring the painting the old conservation attempts and materials must first be addressed. That is, before the “do” comes a lot of “undo.” Unknown materials and motives can be frustrating and difficult to address yet with experience and resources these can be overcome.

There seems to be no shortage of examples of restoration going wrong — though I don’t know why it’s Spain so often.

Worshipping at the altar of Beast JesusHyperallergic
Instead of trying to restore the restoration, the people behind the Santuario de Misericordia decided to make Giménez’s bizarre creation work in their favor — something they may have learned from the wise people of Pisa, who never tried to straighten their famous tower.

Botched Spanish sculpture restoration evokes the infamy of Beast JesusHyperallergic
The wooden statue is housed in the town’s St. Michael’s Church. Before-and-after photo comparisons show a badly damaged but tonally subtle and complex sculpture that has been updated with a cartoonish palette. The makeover has not only changed the facial expression of Saint George to a kind of dumbfounded stare, but also obliterated many of the details in his ornate armor, which now resembles that of a toy knight.

15th century Virgin Mary sculpture gets a very special makeoverHyperallergic
“I’m not a professional painter, but I’ve always enjoyed it, and these images really were in need of painting,” María Luisa Menéndez, the local tobacco shopkeeper responsible for this latest painting fiasco said in a statement to the newspaper El Comercio, adding that the local clergy had given her permission. “So I painted them the best I could, with the colors that seemed right, and the neighbors like it.”

How ‘Monkey Christ’ brought new life to a quiet Spanish townThe Guardian
Between August and December 2012, 45,824 people visited the sanctuary. The numbers may have dropped off since then, but Borja still receives 16,000 visitors a year – more than four times the number who came before Giménez picked up her brushes. Not only has the picture’s fame provided jobs for the sanctuary-museum’s two caretakers, it also helps fund places at Borja’s care home for the elderly, a haven for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to live there.

Botched Spanish statue that went viral is lovingly unrestoredThe Guardian
“It’s been a long process because we had to do preliminary tests and take samples to see how we could go about cleaning it and to determine which would be the best materials and methods,” [Carlos Martínez Álava, the head of the Navarre government’s historic heritage department] said. “Today, the statue has the same colours it had before last year’s extremely unfortunate intervention. But we know that we’ve lost part of the original paint along the way.”

Spanish statue bodge-up is a new rival to Borja’s Monkey ChristThe Guardian
What was once the smiling face of a woman next to some livestock has been replaced with a crude countenance that bears a passing resemblance to the incumbent US president, Donald Trump. Or one of the Sand People from Star Wars. Or something from a cheese-induced nightmare. Or, to be honest, pretty much anything you wish to project on to it.

Furniture restorer disfigures Murillo’s 17th-century Virgin Mary—and charges owner €1,200The Art Newspaper
The incident has sparked debate in Spain’s art conservation community, which says the country needs stricter rules on the restoration of art and heritage. “The works that undergo this type of non-professional intervention can end up irreversibly damaged,” says María Borja, one of the vice presidents of Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators (ACRE), speaking to Europa Press.

Fractured identities

My profile picture provides a hint of my past as an art student interested in photography and collage, but Argentine multidisciplinary artist Karen Navarro takes the idea to an altogether higher level.

Houston artist Karen Navarro looks inward in her latest exhibitionML Houston
Known for pushing the boundaries of traditional photography, mixed-media artist Karen Navarro has reached new heights with her latest exhibition—a series of photosculpture configurations assembled and arranged in various ways, shapes and forms. In The Constructed Self, on view April 30 through June 25 at Foto Relevance, Navarro uses multidimensional portraiture to illustrate our ability to reorder and redesign our public-facing personas.

Karen Navarro: The Constructed Self – Foto Relevance
Using digital photography as a foundation, I transform traditional prints into three-dimensional objects by cutting and incorporating tactile elements such as wood, paint, and resin. The labor-intensive techniques I apply to create these sculptural objects not only allow for a physical deconstruction of my images but also become a form of meditation that reflects my efforts in trying to reconstruct and make sense of my own identity.

More on her website.

El pertenecer en tiempos modernos (Belonging in modern times)Karen Navarro
Belonging is intrinsic to our humanity and integral to our understanding of ourselves. While the need for community transcends time, the means to develop one’s “tribe” has transformed from the physical to the digital realm and has subsequently impacted how we view ourselves in this interconnected world. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, that value the visual image above all, have altered our sense of self and the very mechanisms for how we develop our external and internal identities and to which groups we belong.

They’ve seen it all

Via Kottke, an alternative to Noah Kalina’s method of photographing the passage of time. It reminds me a little of Nancy Floyd’s work, only more so.

Faces of centuryJan Langer
Photographs show portraits of one hundred years old Czechs. Nowadays, there are over 1200. In fifty years their number will reach 14,000. How these people see their life after such a period? The majority of those I approached agree that with advancing age life is faster; until, at last, the life will pass in a moment. Time is shrinking, as are the faces of the elders. I wondered what changes and what remains on a human face and in a human mind in such a long time, and in such a short while in relative terms. I wondered how much loneliness of the old age weighs, and what memories stay in 100-year-old mind.

The biographies are quite poignant, the last one especially so.

A secret photographer #3

Not quite sure why, but I found myself wondering what Audrey Tautou, the star of Amélie, is up to these days. Yes, she’s still working as an actress, but has also found another outlet for her creativity. Here’s a hint from a 2008 interview, ostensibly promoting a rom-com she starred in at the time.

‘It doesn’t take much to catch a man’The Guardian
Audrey Tautou has this thing with journalists: she takes their photograph. She started doing it soon after the release of Amélie, when she became, almost overnight, one of the most in-demand interviewees on the planet. She waits until the end of your allotted slot, asks politely if you’d mind, then points her Leica at you and presses the button. She has no idea how many of these snaps she has taken – “maybe as many as 400, I guess” – nor what she is going to do with them, but they are her compensation for the time she has spent, over the past few years, sitting in over-decorated hotel rooms talking about herself.

“They’re just kind of lost hours for me,” she says, apologetically. “All that time talking totally about myself, which is of course a fascinating subject but not exactly new and exciting for me. And then the interviews appear, and obviously there’s not really going to be anything very new or exciting for me in them either, because I was the one being interviewed. I wanted there to be something in the whole process for me. I’m thinking of maybe turning them all into table mats. That was a joke, by the way.”

Almost ten years later, these snapshots became part of something a little grander than table mats.

Audrey Tautou’s very private self-portraitureThe New York Times
In July, the annual Rencontres d’Arles photography festival will show Tautou’s photographic work for the first time. The precisely cataloged and annotated portraits of journalists will sit alongside three other bodies of work by the actress: All are forms of self-portraiture. Counterbalancing her pictures of the journalists responsible for creating her public image are small, spontaneous snapshots Tautou takes of her own reflection. “I always have a camera with me,” she says.

“I’m an actress, but I’m not only an actress,” Tautou says. “This part of me that has grown and grown and grown for all those years was more important for my balance than I’d thought. Now it’s this part of me I want to express and develop. So to me, it’s something very intimate, it’s not a hobby. It’s a way to become complete.”

Audrey Tautou: SuperfacialLes Rencontres d’Arles
In a series of self-portraits using film photography, and shown to the public for the first time, Audrey Tautou explores her image, playing with her celebrity status by turning herself into her own model. As creator of her own image, she imagines herself, not without humor, from head to toe, in dramatizations which openly bear the signs of their artificiality. These photographic fictions create the space for her long-distance look at herself, and invent another angle on the actress.

Audrey Tautou: ‘My subject in these photos is somebody between the character and who I am’The Guardian
Tautou says that she was always interested in creating work, and in living a life less ordinary, rather than pursuing fame. After Amélie, the drawbacks became apparent: “Because your face is known, people will see it before you. It’s like a glass screen you can see through but in fact there’s always a reflection of their imagination, their fantasme.” […]

By dressing herself up, she says, she enters a kind of “no woman’s land”, where she is neither herself nor a made-up figure that might readily be associated with her. It’s a sort of “fake instantaneous moment”. “It’s not realistic mise-en-scène. My subject, in these photos, to me it’s not a real proper character. It’s somebody between the character and who I am. It’s somebody just right in the middle of the travel between the regular humans, the normal humans, and the one who’s going to become a character.”

She loves the poetry and the evanescence of photographers such as Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus and the great chronicler of Parisian life, Brassaï. Is it because, perhaps related to her work as an actor, she is interested in those who suggest the story beyond the frame? She agrees: “I like when an image could be just one of several others which would create a story. That you can imagine who are those people or what would happen before, what’s going to be next; I like when there’s a past and a future that we can imagine when we see photos.”

Art bargains

Collecting modern art can be a costly affair. I guess you’ve just got to be in the right place at the right time.

Discovered: American couple buys a picture by Van Gogh’s friend Edmund Brooke for $45 in antiques shopThe Art Newspaper
During the last weeks of Van Gogh’s life he got to know an Australian artist who had spent most of his life in Japan. Until very recently Edmund Walpole Brooke remained an enigmatic figure, but the Japanese Van Gogh specialist Tsukasa Kodera has now tracked down one of his watercolours. It was bought in April for $45 by an American couple.

Fame: Portrait by David Bowie found in a thrift store goes up for auctionThe Globe and Mail
A painting by David Bowie purchased last summer at a donation centre in rural Ontario for $5 is expected to fetch upward of $12,000 at auction this coming week. The semi-abstract portrait by the Changes singer is a small acrylic and computer collage on canvas, dated 1997, with Bowie’s signature on the reverse.

Bowie’s painting is currently at $50,100. The auction’s set to close the day before my birthday — it would make a wonderful birthday present, if anyone reading is looking for ideas!

Just 15 minutes

Turns out it only takes me a quarter of an hour to go from yeah-it’s-an-ok-painting-I-guess to god-you’re-right-that’s-amazing-I-never-realised.

Great art explainedYouTube
I’m James Payne, a curator, gallerist and a passionate art lover. I am on a mission to demystify the art world and discover the stories behind the world’s greatest paintings and sculptures. Each episode will focus on one piece of art and break it down, using clear and concise language free of ‘art-speak’.

David and Alexandre-Gustave

David Hockney, national (and local) treasure. Even just silently flipping through his sketchbook is a calming joy.

David Hockney shows us his sketch book, page by pageOpen Culture
Though filled up the previous year, the artist’s sketchbook depicts a quiet world of domestic spaces and unpeopled outdoor scenes that will look oddly familiar to many viewing it after 2020.

He’s not without his share of critics, though.

‘Brilliant’ or totally phoned in? David Hockney’s new design for the London Tube is sparking merciless mockery onlineArtnet News
To be fair, Hockney reportedly made the illustration for free. And no one actually thinks he forgot to leave room for the “s.” In reality, he probably made the piece on his iPad, perhaps between rounds of Fruit Ninja, one hand on the tablet, the other pinching a lit cigarette. He was likely trying to instill in the design the same sense of childlike hope that has underscored much of his recent work, such as his 116 new spring-themed iPad paintings opening this month at London’s Royal Academy of Arts.

Eddy Frankel, Time Out’s art and culture editor, has the correct response, I think.

Mind the Gap: why Hockney’s Piccadilly Line roundel uproar signifies a deepening disconnect between art and the publicIt’s Nice that
So how did an 80-year-old with an iPad manage to cause uproar? Because the government is cutting 50 per cent of funding to higher level arts education in the UK. Because kids aren’t taken around museums, because they’re not taught about why cubism matters, or why a urinal can be art.

The temptation is to blame everyday people for not getting Hockney, when the truth is that this is the result of years and years of arts education being shoved into the background and decimated through an endless, attritional cultural war. The education secretary Gavin Williamson just said: “The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt.”

He’s genuinely gleeful about people not studying art. That’s what it means to the people in power, and that heinous attitude trickles down through every facet of society.

Someone makes a thing for the public, some like it, others really don’t — same old story.

PleaFutility Closet
Are we going to allow all this beauty and tradition to be profaned? Is Paris now to be associated with the grotesque and mercantile imagination of a machine builder, to be defaced and disgraced? Even the commercial Americans would not want this Eiffel Tower which is, without any doubt, a dishonor to Paris. We all know this, everyone says it, everyone is deeply troubled by it. We, the Committee, are but a faint echo of universal sentiment, which is so legitimately outraged. When foreign visitors come to our universal exposition, they will cry out in astonishment, ‘What!? Is this the atrocity that the French present to us as the representative of their vaunted national taste?’

Black and white thinking

Do you remember the hype about Vantablack, the blackest black that absorbs 99.96% of light shone on it? I mentioned it a while back when BMW used it for one of their cars, though I could have sworn that I had shared these links too:

Can an artist ever really ‘own’ a colour?The Guardian
Painters are outraged that Anish Kapoor, the British sculptor who designed the blood-red Orbit tower for the London Olympics, has exclusive rights to the artistic use of this revolutionary new colour. NanoSystems has confirmed that he alone can paint it Vantablack.

Absurdism: Artists fight over use of world’s “blackest black” & “pinkest pink”WebUrbanist
Recently, as a sort of satirical retaliation, British artist Stuart Semple created a flourescent pink pigment, designed to be the “pinkest pink” in the world. To drive the point home, the shade is available for purchase (just a few dollars per pot) to anyone on the planet except Kapoor, who is legally banned from buying the stuff.

Museum visitor injured after stepping into pit he thought was a painting on the floorBoing Boing
British artist Anish Kapoor licensed the worldwide exclusive rights to use Vantablack in art, which makes him kind of an asshole, but we’ve already complained about him on Boing Boing and that’s not the point of this post. The point is that Kapoor has a work of art at the Serralves Museum in Porto, Portugal called Descent Into Limbo. It’s an eight-foot deep pit and because Kapoor painted the interior of the pit with Vantablack, it looks like a two-dimensional black circle painted on the floor of the museum. You can guess what happened next.

Anyway, this was the link I wanted to share this time.

Whitest-ever paint could help cool heating Earth, study showsThe Guardian
The new paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space. In tests, it cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature, even in strong sunlight. The researchers said the paint could be on the market in one or two years. White-painted roofs have been used to cool buildings for centuries. As global heating pushes temperatures up, the technique is also being used on modern city buildings, such as in Ahmedabad in India and New York City in the US. […]

Andrew Parnell, who works on sustainable coatings at the University of Sheffield, UK, said: “The principle is very exciting and the science [in the new study] is good. But I think there might be logistical problems that are not trivial. How many million tonnes [of barium sulphate] would you need?” Parnell said a comparison of the carbon dioxide emitted by the mining of barium sulphate with the emissions saved from lower air conditioning use would be needed to fully assess the new paint. He also said green roofs, on which plants grow, could be more sustainable where practical.

The sunglasses are a nice touch, but Parnell’s point high-lighted above definitely needs addressing, I think.

It’s books all the way down

Here’s another bookish sculpture to go with the others I found a while back.

Idiom installationAtlas Obscura
For bibliophiles, an infinite tower of books is a nightmare disguised as a dream—a huge collection of literature that you can’t get at because pulling a book or two out will cause the collapse of the tower. But it does make for a wonderful sight.

A real-life iteration of this dream-nightmare is on display at the Prague Municipal Library. Artist Matej Kren’s “Idiom” is a long-term art installation where hundreds of books are stacked in a cylindrical tower. Mirrors placed at the bottom and the top give the exhibit the illusion of being infinite. A tear-shaped opening on one side of the tower allows visitors to peek in and experience what it would be like to drown in a book well.

You should definitely pop into the Prague Municipal Library if you’re passing by.

Matej Kren’s ‘Idiom’Awayn
Located quite centrally, it’s a fun five minute stop to get some fresh photos and look at the book tower. Though it’s a lovely way for people to step into the building, you don’t have to go too far into it, so you don’t disturb anyone who goes for the actual library. As you come in the main entrance, it is literally in front of you; need to walk upstairs.

Here are some more photos of this little/infinitely large landmark. (via)

NFT could almost stand for Not The Future

Most artists are not making money off NFTs and here are some graphs to prove itKimberly Parker
These numbers do not show the democratization of wealth thanks to a technological revolution. They show an acutely minuscule number of artists making a vast amount of wealth off a small number of sales while the majority of artists are being sold a dream of immense profit that is horrifically exaggerated. Hiding this information is manipulative, predatory, and harmful, and these NFT sites have a responsibility to surface all this information transparently. Not a single one has. […]

Truly the most shocking thing about these numbers is that they look ordinary. They look just like every other market. Everything about this is run-of-the-mill, banal, predictable capitalism. That is exactly the point. Despite the promises of revolution, equality, and “lifting artists up” this technology has changed nothing: the few people at the top continue to have the greatest amount of wealth.

The cost of a single tulip bulb surged to the same price as a mansion 400 years ago: are NFTs the ‘tulipmania’ of the 21st century?The Art Newspaper
The value of an NFT work, having no physical existence, is umbilically dependent on the price of Ethereum. If Ether is on a high, then Ether art is on a high. It’s all about the digital money. “Christie’s auction wouldn’t have been a success if it hadn’t accepted Ether,” Bourron says. “That was the key.” For the moment at least, with the price of Ether having more than doubled since the beginning of the year, it is onwards and upwards for NFT art. […]

To be sure, new technology has brought us enormous benefits, but certain aspects, such as speculation in cryptocurrencies, also bring risk. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, has called Bitcoin “a bubble wrapped in techno-mysticism inside a cocoon of libertarian ideology”.

Van Gogh, his sisters and the NFTs

I missed Van Gogh’s birthday last month, again. I meant to post these links earlier.

Warrior artistDublin Review of Books
Anyone who dips into Van Gogh’s letters will be struck by how much and how widely he read. He devoured and used books up as he did the people around him, though he never used people in a malicious way. It was just that few could match or live up to his passionate intensity. As Mariella Guzzoni, an independent scholar and art curator, writes: “It should be said . . . that though Vincent cherished books, he was not a book collector. More precisely, he was a book-user. For him, it was not important to physically possess books, but to make them his own.”

There’s more to his story than just him, though.

The woman who made Vincent van GoghThe New York Times
Twenty-one months after her marriage, Jo was alone, stunned at the fecund dose of life she had just experienced, and at what was left to her from that life: approximately 400 paintings and several hundred drawings by her brother-in-law.

The brothers’ dying so young, Vincent at 37 and Theo at 33, and without the artist having achieved renown — Theo had managed to sell only a few of his paintings — would seem to have ensured that Vincent van Gogh’s work would subsist eternally in a netherworld of obscurity. Instead, his name, art and story merged to form the basis of an industry that stormed the globe, arguably surpassing the fame of any other artist in history. That happened in large part thanks to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. She was small in stature and riddled with self-doubt, had no background in art or business and faced an art world that was a thoroughly male preserve. Her full story has only recently been uncovered. It is only now that we know how van Gogh became van Gogh.

It’s a fascinating read, his sister-in-law Jo van Gogh-Bonger was remarkable. Here’s a photo of her from around 1909.

And there were other important women in his life too.

The fascinating lives of Vincent van Gogh’s three sistersHyperallergic
Vincent van Gogh’s three sisters — Willemien (Wil), Elisabeth (Lies), and Anna van Gogh — are highlighted in the historical biography The Van Gogh Sisters by Willem-Jan Verlinden (Thames & Hudson). The book was originally published in Dutch in 2016; the English version, translated by Yvette Rosenberg and Brendan Monaghan, includes previously unpublished letters, largely the result of research completed after the Dutch version was first released.

Through letters between the siblings, we read that Lies was frustrated that women didn’t have more professional options that were socially acceptable. We learn about how Wil often copied Vincent’s drawings and was his favorite model, and that the two wrote to each other about art and literature and inquired about one another’s mental health. The book draws you in with stories about the siblings’ pursuits of jobs, love, and artistic curiosities, as well as lush portrayals of each family home.

How Van Gogh paid for his mentally ill sister’s care decades after his deathThe Guardian
Vincent van Gogh remained penniless throughout his tragic life, which ended in suicide shortly after a stay in a mental asylum. Yet two decades later, paintings he had given to his sister were sold to pay for her stay in a psychiatric hospital, commanding such high prices that the proceeds funded years of treatment, according to letters published in a new book.

Willemien, the youngest of Van Gogh’s three sisters, shared his love of art and literature and, like him, struggled with her mental health. While Van Gogh was committed to an asylum after cutting off part of his ear and giving it to a prostitute in a fit of madness, his sister was institutionalised for almost 40 years until her death in 1941.

In 1909, the oldest sister, Anna, wrote of selling a picture that he had given Willemien, enabling her to pay for medical costs: “I remember when Wil got the painting from Vincent, but what a figure! Who would have thought that Vincent would contribute to Wil’s upkeep in this way?”

Speaking of selling Van Goghs, here’s a very realistic/utterly fake portrait of him by the ‘post photographer’ Bas Uterwijk that’s for sale.

I’ve shared a link to his AI-generated portraits before, but now several are for sale as—yes, you’ve guessed it—NFTs. (He’s not the only one, of course.)

I’m still struggling with all this, to be honest. Am I right in thinking that I can spend 20 Tezos (about £100) on something that’s exactly the same as the 1620×2048 .png file I can download if I right-click on the image on the webpage?

Another new world: NFTs aren’t just for cats anymore. What do they mean for digital art?Rhizome
The NFT boom has been a kind of revelation. It should always be the case that artists can keep the wolves from the door and have their creative labors validated, even when the result is a digital file, but the market has never really supported this; the idea that it’s even possible feels revolutionary.

At the same time, the NFT backlash has been furious. Highly visible NFT evangelists make unrealistic claims to be freeing artists from the problems of institutional gatekeepers, but there are clearly still problematic dynamics of race, class, power, and gender that shape these markets too, and artists still find themselves partly reliant on social media platforms and traditional institutions to build audiences and accrue value for their work.

As we’ve already seen, none of this is straightforward.

NFTs are shaking up the art world. They may be warming the planet, tooThe New York Times
“The numbers are just crushing,” he said from his studio in Pfarrwerfen, Austria, announcing that he was canceling his plans, one of a growing number of artists who are swearing off NFTs, despite the sky-high sums some have fetched at auctions. “As much as it hurts financially and mentally, I can’t.”

It wasn’t meant to be like this, obviously. Here’s Anil Dash, the man behind the technology.

NFTs weren’t supposed to end like thisThe Atlantic
The idea behind NFTs was, and is, profound. Technology should be enabling artists to exercise control over their work, to more easily sell it, to more strongly protect against others appropriating it without permission. By devising the technology specifically for artistic use, McCoy and I hoped we might prevent it from becoming yet another method of exploiting creative professionals. But nothing went the way it was supposed to. Our dream of empowering artists hasn’t yet come true, but it has yielded a lot of commercially exploitable hype.

It seems to me that the broken art market is still far from being fixed. I wonder what the folks at Sedition make of all this.

Being an artist these days

It’s a shame to see series 2 of Grayson’s Art Club over so soon. The shows are in response to our being in these lockdowns so, however much we may enjoy them, let’s hope there’s not a third series.

Grayson’s Art ClubWikipedia
I believe that art can help get us through this crisis. It can help us explore our creativity, inspire and console us, and tell us some truths about who we really are. […] Our Art Club exhibition will be a lasting artistic record of how we’ve all felt about these strange times we’ve been through together.

He’s an interesting guy, to be sure. (An alternate universe’s Tony Hart?)

Defying the norm: An interview with Grayson Perry on what it means to be an artistIt’s Nice That
That’s great that there are people using [Instagram] in that way but there was something about the blessed ignorance when I was younger. I can remember, quite a long time ago now, when the internet was first really taking off, a student came up to me and asked how I decide what to make work about. And I said, well I didn’t have one of those, pointing at her iPhone. You’ve got every image in the world in your hand, I had a tiny library and three television channels! So we made choices much more easily because the choices were limited, it forced you to get on and make your own. There’s something about the bewildering choice and the fact is that, if you have an idea now, you can Google it and someone’s done it already.

Starry bricks

Last month I shared a video of Van Gogh’s Starry Night in Second Life. Here’s news of another reimagining of that iconic painting.

A 25-year-old PhD student just convinced Lego to mass-produce Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ as an official toy kitArtnet News
The kit is the brainchild of Truman Cheng, a 25-year-old PhD student from Hong Kong, who submitted the idea to Lego Ideas, which allows fans of the colorful construction toys to share their suggestions for future Lego kits.

Vincent van Gogh: The Starry NightLEGO Ideas
Clips and brackets form the swirling cloud; plates stack to form the hillsides and bushes; curve parts build up to become the cypress tree. My favorite part is the inclined plate stack on the right, capturing the angled brush strokes within the moon-lit cloud. … I love putting the minifigure before the 3D scenery. It is like watching the artist work on the painting in real time.

What is cryptoart and should I care?

If you cross Simon Stålenhag’s digital painting style with Noah Kalina’s work ethic, you might end up with Mike Winkelmann, AKA Beeple. Here’s a mention of him from 2017.

“Do androids dream of electric sheep?”: A CGI master made a new artwork every day for 10 yearsDesign You Trust
Beeple is Mike Winkelmann, a graphic designer from Appleton, Wisconsin, USA. His short films have screened at onedotzero, Prix Ars Electronica, the Sydney Biennale, Ann Arbor Film Festival and many others. … For 10 years he’s been posting a new digital illustration—ranging from the abstract to representative, sci-fi to surreal, somber to sarcastic—every 24 hours.

All that effort has paid off, after Christie’s auctioned off a digital collage of the results.

Beeple’s opusChristie’s
Minted exclusively for Christie’s, the monumental digital collage was offered as a single lot sale concurrently with First Open, and realised $69,346,250. Marking two industry firsts, Christie’s is the first major auction house to offer a purely digital work with a unique NFT (Non-fungible token) — effectively a guarantee of its authenticity — and to accept cryptocurrency, in this case Ether, in addition to standard forms of payment for the singular lot.

That’s quite a lot of money, regardless of the currency.

JPG file sells for $69 million, as ‘NFT mania’ gathers paceThe New York Times
After a flurry of more than 180 bids in the final hour, a JPG file made by Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist known as Beeple, was sold on Thursday by Christie’s in an online auction for $69.3 million with fees. The price was a new high for an artwork that exists only digitally, beating auction records for physical paintings by museum-valorized greats like J.M.W. Turner, Georges Seurat and Francisco Goya. Bidding at the two-week Beeple sale, consisting of just one lot, began at $100.

With seconds remaining, the work was set to sell for less than $30 million, but a last-moment cascade of bids prompted a two-minute extension of the auction and pushed the final price over $60 million. Rebecca Riegelhaupt, a Christie’s spokeswoman, said 33 active bidders had contested the work, adding that the result was the third-highest auction price achieved for a living artist, after Jeff Koons and David Hockney.

Beeple sold an NFT for $69 millionThe Verge
The record-smashing NFT sale comes after months of increasingly valuable auctions. In October, Winkelmann sold his first series of NFTs, with a pair going for $66,666.66 each. In December, he sold a series of works for $3.5 million total. And last month, one of the NFTs that originally sold for $66,666.66 was resold for $6.6 million.

But has anyone actually looked at this collection of images? All of them? Whilst the futuristic sci-fi imagery shown above is interesting, if a little derivative, there are some major issues with the rest of it, to say the least. Let’s just say leaving off the titles of the original images was a very wise move.

I looked through all 5,000 images in Beeple’s $69 million magnum opus. What I found isn’t so prettyArtnet News
We’ve passed through a racial uprising and a reckoning with sexism, and the cultural project of the moment is… innovating new ways to worship decade-old, BroBible-level brain farts? During a time of immiseration, investors are competing to throw tens of millions of dollars… at this?

Nevertheless, here we are.

Beeple’s USD 69M NFT enters art historyCryptonews
A non-fungible token (NFT) piece of art thirteen years in the making was just sold for a whopping USD 69.35m at famous British auction house Christie’s, becoming the most expensive NFT ever sold, and positioning the author among the top three most valuable living artists. … According to Bloomberg, prior to the sale, Christie’s Noah Davis said that “there have been a handful of really dogged, really serious clients pursuing it, and they are mostly people who are very steeped in crypto.”

Very steeped in crypto? Who are these people?

Rich millennials are splashing millions on crypto artBloomberg
The decline [in art market sales due to the pandemic] would have been much worse were it not for wealthy collectors who spent more time at home and wanted to beautify their surroundings with art. It was a similar picture with virtual works. More hours glued to a screen encouraged crypto investors — flush with Bitcoin gains — to explore the nascent medium of art attached to a non-fungible token (NFT), a digital certificate of authenticity that runs on blockchain technology.

Who spends millions on NFTs? Meet Beeple’s crypto-rich early collectorsARTnews.com
The digital artist Beeple’s first major collector was Tim Kang, founder of Cue Music and an investor in cryptocurrency. Well before Beeple’s $6.6 million sale at Christie’s, Kang had broken all previous records by buying Beeple’s “MF Collection” for $777,777.77 on the non-fungible token platform Nifty Gateway in December of 2020. This sale launched Beeple from a niche artist working on the digital fringe to a force to reckon with, as the auction made clear three months later. […]

“Crypto and blockchain is more than just a stock; the underlying application is a paradigm shift. Anyone can have an opportunity to participate in a global market,” Kang said. “I have been waiting for so long for the breakthrough, for this to really impact the world beyond just cryptocurrency. Digital art is the perfect medium to communicate the underlying implications of blockchain on self-sovereignty.” NFTs demonstrate how blockchain technology can offer decentralized forms of authority: secure ownership without a gallery or foundation.

No shortage of hyperbole.

Beeple’s ‘5000 Days’ NFT sold for USD 69.35M at Christie’sDesign You Trust
“We must recognize the record-breaking sale of Beeple’s opus as what it is: a watershed moment for our industry. This sale will allow the public to see the capabilities of NFTs in the art space, however, it is just the beginning of the NFT revolution, which will ultimately change the way we live,” Justin Banon, CEO and Co-founder of Boson Protocol, the developer of a “capture resistant dCommerce ecosystem” using NFTs encoded with game theory, said in an emailed comment.

A “revolution which will ultimately change the way we live”? Goodness me. I looked up Boson Protocol, wanting to check if dCommerce was a typo. It seems not, though I’ve no idea what a decentralized, capture-resistant, autonomous commerce ecosystem that operates within a liquid digital market that unlocks two planetary-scale value pools actually is!

Decentralized forms of authority notwithstanding, theft is still theft.

Reports of stolen art on NFT marketplace raise issues for crypto collectorsHyperallergic
The blockchain has frequently been hailed as the future of art commerce, offering a way to ensure a work’s authenticity while creating an unalterable digital record of provenance on a public ledger. But recent reports of hacking on Nifty Gateway, a popular marketplace for non-fungible token (NFT) art, have raised questions about potential security flaws in the system. Several users have taken to social media in the last few days to claim they had NFTs stolen on the platform, with little recourse to get them back.

This isn’t limited to just slightly racist and homophobic digital collages, of course.

Quartz is selling the first-ever NFT news articleQuartz
Quartz is auctioning an article converted into a non-fungible token, or NFT, giving its eventual buyer unimpeachable, blockchain-verified proof of ownership. The process to do this, we found, was surprisingly easy.

Buy This NFT Column on the Blockchain!The New York Times
The first step in making my own NFT was setting up a digital “wallet” that would be used to hold my token, as well as any cryptocurrency I made from selling it. I used a browser extension called MetaMask and set up an empty wallet for Ethereum, the cryptocurrency network of choice for NFT collectors. Then I had to find a place to hold the auction. I chose an NFT marketplace called Foundation, which hosted the sale of the famous “Nyan Cat” graphic this year for nearly $600,000.

Crypto token of New York Times column sells for $560,000The New York Times
@3fmusic could not be reached as of Wednesday afternoon. The user appeared to be an avid collector of NFT artwork. In addition to the Times token, their collection on Foundation also includes such works as “The result of 2020,” an image of a sad-looking Kermit the Frog, and “Mushy’s Midafternoon Nap,” an image of a cartoon toadstool sitting on a log.

I tried getting my head around cryptocurrencies before, but I’m still none the wiser. Headlines like this don’t help.

Bitcoin’s record-breaking surge means one man ended up paying £440m for two pizzasSky News
Bitcoin’s volatility can also have consequences. Laszlo Hanyecz bought two pizzas for 10,000 BTC in 2010, back when the cryptocurrency was worth pennies. Fast forward to now, and this crypto stash is worth a staggering £440m.

One of the collectors above said that digital art is the perfect medium to communicate the underlying implications of blockchain on self-sovereignty. Everest Pipkin, digital artist and author of the following essay, would strongly disagree with that. It’s a long piece, and I’m including more than I would normally here, but I think its clarity is worth sharing. As he explains, it’s not cryptoart specifically that’s so environmentally damaging, it’s anything that’s “minted” on a cryptocurrency blockchain, be it Bitcoin, Ethereum or any other, because of a process called “proof of work”.

Here is the article you can send to people when they say “But the environmental issues with cryptoart will be solved soon, right?”Everest Pipkin
Proof of work, in essence, is a way to confirm that computational effort has been expended by “the prover” (the system doing a task). The idea was originally conceived in 1993 as a way to disincentivize things like spam or bots. Proof of work was supposed to be unnoticeable by normal human users, but would make things like the thousands of requests needed for a denial-of-service attack hard to run. It is like a little puzzle for your computer.

Fast forward to 2009, which saw proof of work (along with another technology called the blockchain, a kind of public ledger) used for a very different purpose; making the digital currency Bitcoin. This is a simplified explanation, but to make a bitcoin, Bitcoin “miners” task their specialized computers to solve those proof of work puzzles, competing with one another to validate blocks on the blockchain. A successful solution – which is somewhat rare – rewards the miner with the new coin. The more a computer “works” (the more energy is expended) the more competitive it is. You can think of it as a lottery, with every kilowatt-hour a ticket. This process is called mining.

This started innocuously enough – mining in 2009 was a background process that could run on a laptop as it idled. However, the difficultly of mining blocks in the blockchain is designed to increase over time. This is because as the network grows, the relative rate of new coins mined stays stable (for Bitcoin, about 1 block is mined every 10 minutes).

To solve the problem of more computers mining, the proof of work puzzles get harder. Miners get more computers, better GPUs. The puzzles get harder. Miners move to places with cheap electricity. The puzzles get harder. Miners retrofit warehouses, air-condition shipping containers. The puzzles get harder. Monumentally harder.

After a decade+ of a growing cryptocurrency market, what we’ve been left with is a financial network that uses more energy than Argentina, with no regulatory structure or federal oversight whatsoever.

I get that scarcity can affect prices; the more rare something is, or the harder it is to find, the more value is has — in the real world.

However, in a digital context scarcity must be constructed – there is nothing that demands the next block in the blockchain be harder to make than the last. If anything, the opposite should be true – computers grow ever more efficient and powerful. This means any scarcity is artificial, a process that demands ever more energy, ever more resources lost to continue to operate and return, for no other reason than to insure that tomorrow it will be even more expensive – which makes the wastefulness of today a good investment.

This is why cryptocurrency is valuable. There is nothing high-tech about it. There is no miracle. It is simply futures speculation without the speculation – no guessing required, because we know it will be more wasteful tomorrow; it is baked into the tech.

The whole thing makes my head swim. Here are some other attempts at explaining why blockchains and cryptocurrencies are bad ideas.

Why Bitcoin is so bad for the planetThe Guardian
In a year, bitcoin uses around the same about of electricity as the entire country of Norway. The digital currency is one that allows people to bypass banks and traditional payment methods. It is the most prominent among thousands of so-called cryptocurrencies and has been repeatedly reaching new records – but is it sustainable?

As NFT sells for $69M, artists question environmental impact of blockchainHyperallergic
As crypto-art speculation rises, however, so do the planet’s temperature and questions about the carbon footprint of NFTs. These unique works are typically sold in “drops,” timed online sales held by NiftyGateway, OpenSea, SuperRare, and Foundation, to name just a few of the most popular marketplaces. NFTs exist on the energy costly Ethereum blockchain; in layman’s terms, they are created (“minted”) based on a process known as proof-of-work (PoW), which necessitates the use of large networks of processing machines that emit CO2.

NFTs are hot. So is their effect on the Earth’s climateWIRED
The works were placed for auction on a website called Nifty Gateway, where they sold out in 10 seconds for thousands of dollars. The sale also consumed 8.7 megawatt-hours of energy, as he later learned from a website called Cryptoart.WTF. That figure was equivalent to two years of energy use in Lemercier’s studio. Since then, the art has been resold, requiring another year’s worth of energy. The tally was still climbing. The problem, as Lemercier saw it, went well beyond himself. His fellow artists were becoming millionaires overnight as the cryptoart world exploded. But so was their role in emitting carbon. Artists didn’t seem to understand the scope of this problem—Lemercier himself hadn’t—and the platforms making the sales didn’t seem interested in clarifying.

I know other areas of our online life affect the health of our physical world…

We finally know how bad for the environment your Netflix habit isWired UK
Netflix claims that one hour of streaming on its platform in 2020 [produces less CO2] than driving an average car a quarter of a mile.

… but this whole cryptoart topic seems so wasteful and unnecessary. To summarise:

Power into artthings magazine
In short. Watch more Netflix. Don’t buy, encourage, promote or celebrate cryptoart.”

Finding my way, under starry skies

I’m still trying to get my head around Second Life. The scale of it confuses me, with its talk of continents and regions, parcels and places. I need a map. It seems there’s a longstanding technical difficulty with that currently, but here’s a helpful resource — an inworld Maps of Second Life exhibition.

The maps (and more) of Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
The maps start from the earliest days of Second Life – 2002 – and run through to almost the present. It encompasses “official” maps, those produced by SL cartographers depicting the Second Life Mainland continents, and specialist maps charting air routes, airports, the SL railways, specific estates. Not only are they informative, some stand as works of art in their own right.

For more background on how that exhibition was curated and designed, here’s an interview with its creator, Juliana Lethdetter.

In an earlier blog post, Inara Pey notes that, whilst maps might not contribute greatly to a sense of community, they’re vital for establishing a sense of presence.

Maps as metaphors: Second Life and SansarInara Pey: Living in a Modem World
However, the idea that the world map presents Second Life as a place, adding to our sense of presence, is harder to deny. In fact, given that Second Life is intended to be a single world of (largely) interconnected spaces, its representation via a map can be a vital aspect of reinforcing this view. In other words, the map is, for many – but not necessarily all of us – an intrinsic part of how we see Second Life as a connected whole, a place.

Of course, there are other ways of seeing Second Life.

Explorer shoots impressionistic photos while traveling through a virtual worldNew World Notes
Mei Vohn’s photostream is a glorious travel journal of Second Life sims highlighted by a person who sees the beauty in a single detail. Her pictures are very impressionistic. They make me think of the phrase “see through a glass darkly” from First Corinthians. Her pictures give us impressions, we have to go there to see it for ourselves.

But let’s go back to 2007, with a video that shows that, whatever technology we use to visualise the worlds around us, Van Gogh’s never far away.

Watch the World – Starry NightAustin Tate’s Blog
Robbie Dingo (aka Rob Wright) produced the “Watch the World” machinima in Second Life in 2007 depicting a build of the Vincent Van Gogh “Starry Night” painting…

Remake the starsNew World Notes
What Robbie Dingo has done is something Akira Kurosawa only envisioned: brought Van Gogh’s masterpiece to rich, three dimensional life, and for a brief moment, recast it as a living place. (Brief, for the construction was always intended as a temporary project, “so it’s all been swept away now, leaving only the film behind.”) But for a breathtaking moment you get to the most iconic of starry nights recast under the rising sun.

“One of the challenges was to make it look fluid and simple,” Robbie tells me. “If I have got it right, then it should look like something that was thrown together very quickly, but in reality I worked on this in dribs and drabs over a number of evenings.”

All gone, no regrets

There was that guy who accidentally deleted his entire company, but do you remember Michael Landy? He’s one of the Young British Artists, the one who methodically catalogued, disassembled and then shredded all of his possessions — all of them, including clothes, family photos, passport, artwork, car — over a two week period in a performance art piece called Break Down.

Michael Landy on Break DownArtangel
Certain people criticised Break Down as a spectacle, but a spectacle is passive, and this wasn’t. Shoppers wanted to know what was going on; you could divide them into two groups. People who had heard about the project (knowing faces) and people who walked in from the street (quizzical faces). Certain shoppers thought this was a new way of selling things – they would offer me money for parts of my car, little old ladies would bring back clothes, which they had bought at the C&A closing down sale. […]

One day a young woman approached me whilst I was on the platform. She asked would I consider swapping my dad’s sheepskin coat for what she had in her duffel bag. I told her I couldn’t swap it, but she was more than welcome to try and steal it. Eight months later I was with Gillian in Tesco’s in Bethnal Green and I saw exactly the same sheepskin coat, worn by a man, maybe one size smaller than my dad’s. I wondered whether she did steal it in the end and it was having a second life.

So where does one go after something like that? Back to the drawing board.

Break Down – Michael LandyGoogle Arts & Culture
Like a phoenix from the ashes, this drawing was part of the process of recapitulating an experience that left Landy with nothing. It amounts to an existential anti-shopping list. ‘Having nothing was a kind of regression, so I was interested in going back to being a child, to just having a drawing pencil and paper.’ Retrospectively, he traces the stages of the disassembly process in pen and ink, employing a line-by-line precision with the pedantry of a military re-enactment. He anatomises his life in terms of the humdrum, a vision of wheelie bins, goggles, odd socks and camera crews, scrutinising the idea that ‘somehow at some point we begin to create our own biographies from the things we own or possess’.

That was twenty years ago. How does he feel about it all now?

‘Like witnessing my own funeral’: Michael Landy on destroying everything he ownedThe Guardian
The minimal aesthetic suggests that Landy’s lifestyle tends towards the ascetic, rather than the accumulative. But still: regrets? “I don’t miss anything,” he says. Then he hesitates. “I’ve never owned up to it, so I can’t own up to it now. I’ve always stuck to that. No, I literally can’t think of anything that I miss.” That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. […]

What was it like when it was all over? In the pub on the last night, he says: “I got very paranoid. I have talked about it as the happiest two weeks of my life, but it was also like witnessing my own funeral. People would come along who I hadn’t seen for years, and then I worked it out: I was only seeing them because I’d in a sense died.”

His work certainly struck a chord, and is as relevant today as it was then (sadly).

The man who destroyed all his belongingsBBC Culture
Break Down – which remains Landy’s best-known work – is considered a provocative masterpiece of recent British art. Moreover, because consumerism in the West has only accelerated since 2001 – witness, for instance, the rise of YouTube vloggers such as Zoella who devote entire videos to rummaging through shopping bags in order to celebrate high-street ‘hauls’ – it has also come to seem remarkably prescient.

Uplifted by Break Down: Breaking down consumerismArt Breath
In your artwork, were you also referencing that we possess more than what we own? In a sense, even with nothing we have a lot we have our integrity

Yes we do, I think we are more than the sum of our parts.

Actually that cropped up afterwards with the artwork Acts of Kindness on the London underground. It refers to when we don’t have the economic means to offer material things, we have our kindness and humanity to offer, which actually gets overlooked a lot. People don’t even notice they have those elements but they are being kind and humane to others without even realising they are doing so.

I think that is what came out of Break Down too. People were really kind to me and really open and when I literally had nothing I started to think, what makes us human, and basically that was humanity and a connection between a person and a complete stranger, that kind of emotional bridge between the self and other.

He received a CBE recently. I can’t see him throwing that away.