Tuesday, December 28, 2010

EU regulation out to kill Light Art

A few days ago I read an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung to which I was attracted because it was crowned with a picture of a wonderful work by Dan Flavin, light artist (here are some pictures of his works):

article heading: Extinguished!

I had seen a retrospective of Flavin's at the Pinakothek der Moderne in 2007, which was on display at the same time when the old Amish Quilts were being shown. As much as I adored his works then, I still thought at the time that they could have spared a few of the many square meters he had been given for his installations to give the Amish quilts a few more square meters so they could breathe, they were so jammed into their room. But that’s a different story.
I loved Dan Flevin’s work, and am very grateful that I got to see such an overwhelming number of works at the same time. 

I am a light person, and the biggest disappointment of my trip to Dortmund last May was that I did not have enough time to go to nearby Unna to see the museum for Light Art, Zentrum für Internationale Lichtkunst there.

Another wonderful light installation I got to see was Olafur Eliasson’s exclusive work for the Kunstbau of the Lenbachhaus Munich  which was shown there and gave you a very specific feeling for the premises due to the constanstly changing colors of light. I could have stayed there much longer than the three hours I actually did. Some pictures of his works can be seen here.

The article I mentioned above, however, is about a serious threat to such wonderful pieces of art. The European Commission, known for a broad and extensive urge to regulate anything that can be regulated (from the thickness of toilet paper via the standardized size of condoms to the length and straightness of cucumbers, to name just three notorious examples) obviously has found another area where regulation and standardization is necessary and overdue. They have ruled that anything that has lightbulbs or neon lights in it – i.e. a standardized switch with which these can be turned on or off – does no longer classify as art, but is merely „an emitter of light“. Although article author Gottfried Knapp stays rather calm about the regulation, simply pointing out that this will affect video art and computer art as well, it is very clear that he expresses a certain lack of understanding for this most recent EU ruling. This is most obvious in his last paragraph:

Wie unsinnig der Makel ist, mit dem Brüssel fest installierte Lichtkunstwerke in Europa versieht, macht ein Blick auf die Installation deutlich, die Dan Flavin kurz vor seinem Tod für den im U-Bahn-Schacht eingerichteten Kunstraum des Lenbachhauses in München konzipiert hat: Die vielen im Raum verteilten farbigen Neonröhren animieren die sparsam eingefügten architektonischen Elemente – […] – zu einem plastischen Eigenleben und machen den leeren Saal zu einem begehbaren Kunstwerk, das keiner Ergänzung bedarf und vieles, was Brüssel für Kunst hält, blass und alt aussehen lässt.

(Free translation: It becomes obvious how senseless this Brussel-initiated stigmatization of permanently installed works of light art is when one takes a look at the installation which Dan Flavin designed for the Kunstraum of the Lenbachhaus, a museum in an underground tunnel in Munich: the many colored neon lights spread out through the entire room animate the few and sparingly inserted architectonic elemts […] to take up a plastic life of their own and transform the hall into a piece of art that can be walked through which needs no further additional elements – and which lets much of what Brussels considers Art look stupid and pale.)

So why am I so upset about this regulation? After all, I needn’t care, do I?

Gottfried Knapp points out that part of the ruling must be monetary – if these pieces loose their status as ART they no longer classify for a special tax rate but fall under normal VAT regulations, surprisingly resulting in the fact that these pieces will be more expensive in the future, although now they aren’t art any longer. And they will thus present more of an income for the state institutions. This looks to me a bit like the big ‚saving efforts’ the states are attempting these days after they bailed out numerous badly managed banks, which often are taken out on those at the bottom of the social scale, ingeniously hidden under inventive formulations.

For one thing, I care because two of my most recent quilts involve LED-strings. One of these was recently accepted by SAQA for the show „Beyond Comfort“ and will be shown in Birmingham next August for the first time. Here is a detail from Illuminated:

Detail from "Illuminated"

The other one cannot be shown or talked about here yet.

Of course it is upsetting the see these pieces, which have a hard standing in the art world to begin with because they are quilts degraded as ‚not art’ simply because they rely on a plug-in for the lights that are a composite of the design.
Secondly, however, I feel threatened by the Commissions decision – they as non-artists, but true bureaucrats, are telling artists what art is allowed to be, at least by bureaucratic standards. 

Isn’t that taking it a bit too far?

Certainly I am all for a lively discussion about what constitutes art or not, and anyone is allowed to have an opinion on the fact whether a piece of work including a lightbulb or a neon light is ‚true art’ or not. But do we need a governement regulation to tell us that? And if you look at all the wonderful pieces by people like Dan Flavin and Olafur Eliasson, by Brigitte Kowanz 
(pictures hereor Christina Benz , to name only a few, one just realizes that certainly in this case the European Commission took a wrong decision. 

Let’s hope it really is the only wrong decision they took – and that they realize their mistake a.s.a.p. and take it back.

PS: However, yesterday, in my local paper, I read that another EU regulation which is already slowly being implemented is also endangering Light Art, from another side. The new regulations regarding light bulbs, which are supposed to be replaced by energy-saving-bulbs completely by 2012 is already affecting many works of art today. According to Wulf Herzogenrath, the director of Kunsthalle Bremen, the new bulbs are not adequate to replace light bulbs incorporated in many pieces of art on display in museums. It seems the EU is really going strongly after Light Art.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dyeing with snow – further results

On Sunday, snowfall stopped to give me break and take a stock of what I had done during the storm.
After washing and ironing I am very pleased with the results – especially with the increase of knowledge that I went through in these few days! Although I have to admit that I don’t like every piece equally well…

Let me show you a few pictures, with explanations of what I did.

This is Brown Rose after washing. Certainly a very characteristic piece.

This is the first blue.

Another blue, from a different mixture:

This was turquoise, very thinly mixed, and yellow, both distributed on the same layer of snow:

When dyeing you are bound to come up with results that you don’t like. Usually I put those back into the cellar right away to be dyed again with another color the next time. Here is an older piece of magenta, overdyed with brown:

This is a piece of linnen which had not been soaked in soda ash beforehand. I had wanted to find out how the pattern changes when the soda is applied after the color. However, I had forgotten that it was this piece, and when I remembered I had already rinsed it partly, so the soaking in soda ash took place with only a limited amount of color left. Pretty interesting chameleon-fabric, I’d say!

One time I did not use a flat tub but put the fabric into a flowering pot where the melting snow could exit through the holes in the bottom. The first snow layer was soaked with yellow

and a second layer after the first one had melted was soaked with blue.
This is the first piece, which thus went through two colorings, no rearrangement took place.

This is the second piece which was put on top and dyed blue. Here you can see very well that the closer arrangement of the fabric in the smaller container caused a more crunched-up layering and resulted in larger white areas. I will definitely overdye this piece with another shade of blue.

And last not least a detail from a piece that was dyed with a color „avocado“. As with brown rose you can see that the components in the mixed powders have different reaction times.

I must say, dyeing with snow certainly is a lot of fun and to my liking. I love experiments, even if (or should I say exactly because?) I don’t know what exactly will happen. However, I don’t consider all the pieces that I made during this past snow storm equally usable. But then that’s a question of taste, too. Let me know your favorites, I'd be interested to find out about other people's tastes in this regard!

I'm very satisfied with the fact that I choose to go for bigger pieces of fabric right away rather than doing Fat Quarter sized samples. Large expanses squeezed into smaller containers give more patterning!

During the next storm I will stick to the simple colors and see what happens to the patterns depending on how you manipulate the fabric , crunching it up, twisting it, perhaps even knotting, who knows. I also have a few shibori-style pieces in the waiting into which I bound up pebbles. That might be interesting, too.

They are calling for more snow tomorrow – and what else is there to do on Christmas Eve than think about dyeing with snow…

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dyeing with snow – first results

Snowfall continued heavily until this morning, and I have indeed set up a little experiment with snow dyeing every day. They are calling for heavy rain tomorrow, but I do hope it will be snow again! And the results so far have been exciting and encouraging. In case you are curious, I now want to present the first results.

As I did not want to turn on the washer for only two pieces of fabric I have thoroughly rinsed them in the sink and then hung them up to dry. They were photographed without having been ironed. I will continue to collect further results and then wash them all together when a full load has assemble. Then I will present pieces that will have been ironed!

This picture shows approx. half of the piece that was dyed in blue. Snow was heaped onto a dry piece of fabric in this case:

And this is the result of the so far unknown shade of Brown Rose, again approx. half the piece of fabric:

I particularly like this little area in the lower half of the piece, where the mesh printed itself onto the fabric. 

It is only a very small area. But certainly an incentive to use this mesh for printing, too. I hope I can get more from the building company that did the renovation of our house last year!

And I do believe I might try to get some more of this color!

Once the washer has been through a full load, I will present the other results, too. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dyeing with snow

What is a sensible way of spending one’s time while one is still waiting for the new sink in the newly tiled laundry room, when one really wants to be dyeing? Add another component to this scenario – the fact of lots of snow piling up around the house, with a possibility of being snowed it – then what do you do?

Exactly! You start dyeing with snow.

Mixing the colors is slightly more of a problem because you have to lug everything upstairs to the bathroom as there also is no faucet in the laundry room right now – but I was so eager to get going that I took that easy. However, this picture of our bathroom sink once again convinced me that dyeing is nothing you want to be doing in your bathroom!

I had made plans for snow-dyeing when I first heard about it from a participant in one of my classes. She had brought beautiful examples of snow-dyed fabrics. After that all it took was the right kind of weather.

Of course you need containers and a method to prevent that the fabric will muddle up in that soup of melting snow and color. I decided to make use of some of the many empty marmelade jars downstairs and put them on the bottom of the container upside down.

On top of these I put a mesh to make sure the fabric would not slide into the melted snow-water on the sides. I still had several pieces of fabric that had been pre-soaked in soda ash, so that did not need to be taken care of anymore. And I was lucky enough to find these pieces right away when I started looking for them.

To be on the safe side I decided to start off small, using only two containers. Into each came two pieces of fabric each, on top of the glasses covered with mesh. And on top of the fabric came hand-reaped freshly fallen snow from right outside our front door. (It does make sense to use gloves for this, and not the rubber gloves you use for dyeing, but real gloves.)

Each container was meant to hold a different shade of color. Recently a friend had given me all her colors that she wasn’t using anymore, amongst these was a shade called „brown rose“. Since I had never had that shade before I had no idea what it would turn out like, so I decided it was the right shade to participate in this experiment. I did not measure exactly but simply mixed the remaining amount of powder in the little jar with water. The other color was a shade of blue, also mixed in a rather random manner, no exact measuring. The color was then squirted onto the snow.

The containers were left sitting in the basement where the snow melted slowly during the day. As the melted water dripped down onto the fabric the colors were reacting with the soda-soaked fabric.

I have checked the first batch and it looks wonderful and exciting, results of a kind I have not had before. I will present the first results after washing.

But I can tell you this: I have decided to set up a double container of snow-dyeaing every day for as long as we have snow! I already have several more ideas of different experimental set-ups which I want to try out.

And: the sink has been mounted, too. I can now mix the colors in the basement. Much easier!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Making plans, and what becomes of them…

This week seems to be the week of thwarted plans.

Originally, I had wanted to start dyeing another dye chart fron yet again different shades of red, yellow and blue, to have more colors at my disposal for my little fabric club. And I had wanted to go to an interesting opening of an exhibition last night.

The dyeing was completely intefered with, however, because a few weeks ago we discovered that the tiles that covered the walls of the laundy room in the basement where I also do my dyeing where falling off.
Because we had had water in the basement earlier in the summer, experts were called in, and they found out that the walls were dry, the tiles stuck very well to the plaster they had been put on – but the plaster was coming off the wall. My husband and I had agreed that since no immediate danger seemed looming we would have the necessary repairs done in February. Early last week we received a call from the firm which had been chosen to do it that they had a three-day slot this week, that the work would be finished within that time and that they would prefer to do it now rather than later. So I packed up everything into boxes, stored it in the next room. The tilers came, were very efficient, did a neat job and left after three days.

New tiles - imagine, how glad I am
that the new tiles are white!
Before, it was all covered with similarly
colored tiles as the floor still is ...

The problem was the sink in the laundry-room. We had decided to replace it with a larger sink because it was going off the wall anyway, and I wanted a bigger sink than the original one, which had been in the house when we moved in. However, the sink will be installed by a different firm, they don’t have the one I want in stock, and right now we have a perfectly tiled laundry-room without a sink. At least the washer and dryer are working, and I can take care of the laundry while waiting for the sink. It is supposed to come ‚sometime early next week’. Let’s hope it does.

The opening of the interesting exhibition yesterday evening, on the other hand, was interfered with by the weather. It was supposed to take place in Rotthalmuenster, a small town more than an hour east of where I live. But we had lots of snow during the night before:

This is how our car greeted us when we
opened the door yesterday morning.

Although it had stopped snowing during the morning I did not really feel like driving for over an hour in these road conditions, and more snow called for by the weather people. So I did not get to go.
I’m interested in the concept: Jutta Koch-Franciso, a friend of mine, is a gold-smith, has a wonderful shop in Rotthalmünster, goldrichtig (sorry, no website), and always has interesting shows going on in her shop.
I was lucky to exhibit a few of my quilts there together with unusual furniture pieces handmade by carpenter Winfried Neuhäuser in 2009.

Quilt by Uta Lenk, furniture (except the mirror!) by Winfried Neuhäuser

Quilts by Uta Lenk, furniture by Winfried Neuhäuser
(except the display stand for jewellery).
Jutta has now rented out part of her very spacious shop-windows. The tenants, Franziska Lankes and André Hasberg, have started to organize ‚shop window exhibits’ in these windows. Certainly a very interesting way to add to the cultural life in a small town.
They started off with a show of Franziska’s own work – and unfortunately I couldn’t go to that opening either, because I was out of town then. Yesterday they started the second exhibit, BRUT by Lena Zehringer, and I really wanted to see how they do it, and to find out what people come to the opening. When the weather gets better I defifnitely want to go and have a look at it, or at least go to the next opening in February.

Do you know about other or similar alternative ways to exhibit art work? Let me know, and perhaps you can tell me how they were received by the public, too.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Inspirational pictures

Whenever I leave my house, I almost always carry my small digital camera with me. While I don't consider myself a great photographer, I do like to take lots of photos. I consider them inspirational pictures, though not every one will necessarily turn into a real inspiration and result in a piece of artwork. Every once in a while I would like to share them with you.

Given the current weather situation, today's pictures are all about winter.

Leftover leaves

Winter scene

Tree in winter, in front of truck

Snow pattern

Lake Chiemsee in winter