Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Little escap(ad)e: Ai Wei Wei in Bregenz

When I returned from my two-week-stay in Switzerland earlier in the year, I came through Bregenz on Lake Constance and thought I would stop there and visit the fantastic Kunsthaus. However, they were inbetween exhibits – I was a week too early for Ai Wei Wei’s exhibit „art / architecture“.

That was the moment, when I decided that I would have to plan some visits with friends and my brother-in-law before October 16 so I would be able to stop by the Kunsthaus after all. Add to that the experience of reading Ai Wei Wei’s blog, which I wrote about two days ago. Last week saw the realization of these plans – my brother-in-law and my son spent some time at the nearby mini-golf and had some ice-cream while I had some time in the museum.

Despite the fact that Ai Wei Wei has been nominally ‚free’ for a few weeks now the Kunsthaus has kept the writing on the roof, reminding even people who are looking in that direction from further away of the fact that something is amiss. After all, he is not ‘free’ in every respect.
The exhibit covers three of the four floors of the building and concentrates on his architectural cooperations, with a few interesting pieces of pure art put in.
You get to see several different models of stages of design of the National Stadium in Beijing for the Olympic Games. Ai Wei Wei was a cultural advisor to the design consortium Herzog & de Meuron and Ove Arup & Partners, and a few buildings that Ai designed for various American clients.

Very impressive is the installation on the third floor, namely a wooden model of Ordos 100“. Ai Wei Wei had been asked to develop a master plan for the development of a large area in Ordos, a city in Inner Mongolia with rapid industrial and economic growth and lots of building activities. Ai Wei Wei contacted 100 architect offices from all over the world and asked them to design one house for a specific part of the development area. One of Ai’s aims with this project was the initiation of a discussion of modern architecture in China. He thinks that the current building boom in China, which does not give a lot of thought to principles of design and a concept of modern architecture has a very destructive effect on Chinese cities, and the Chinese identity. These 100 designs are presented in posters along the walls of the third floor. Ai Wei Wei himself was initiated the realization of the wooden model according to scale, all houses were modeled in Chinese style woodwork, made from one kind of wood. When Ai was arrested in April the installation had not been exported from China, and the organizers in Bregenz lived through a few fearful weeks while they were waiting. However, labeled as “Chinese Design” the installation did get permission for export, and on time...

According to one of the staff at the Kunsthaus the project has not been realized yet due to financial (not political) reasons – the investor went bankrupt.

On the top floor you can see the installation „Moon Chests“. Eight large wooden boxes, each with a circular hole in different places are arranged in two rows so that you can see through them. Depending on your point of view the circular holes appear to be different phases of the lunar cycle.

You can also see two photo-series on screens, and two videos. One of them is „Beijing: The Second Ring“. The other is a documentation of the destruction of Ai Wei Wei’s newly completed studio in Shanghai in 2011. The city of Shanghai had invited him to build a studio there, and by the time it was finished he had turned into a politically undesirable person, so the studio was destroyed.
This last video left me rather distressed. What an absurd procedure – to invite somebody to come to a city and build a studio there, and then to demolish that studio just after completion. It seems somewhat inconsitent that the videotaping of the demolition was not forbidden. During the video you could see that Ai Wei Wei himself was present during the demolition, on site. I’m impressed by the mental strength that he must have – to be the personal witness to the demolition of one’s studio, even if he hadn’t worked in it yet, must be a very emotional experience. By videotaping the procedure, he turned around and transformed that experience into another piece of art, and of resistance against the forces who had ordered the tearing down of the building. You have to be very strong to be able to do that...

Monday, August 29, 2011

On reading Ai Wei Wei's blog/book

In July, just before we left for our summer vacation, I came across the newly published German translation of the English translation of Ai Wei Wei’s blog, which was deleted from the internet by Chinese authorities in May 2009. 

Because I already knew then that I would be going to see his current exhibit at the Kunsthaus Bregenz I picked it up and took it along. Good I did, we had quite a few rainy and windy days and I was glad to have taken a decent amount of reading.
I have to admit that I was not too happy with the book at first. For one thing I got the impression that this was indeed a good example that a selection of blog entries do not necessarily make a good book, at least in a situation where the original author did not have a chance to go over the selection and be involved in the editing process. And I had the feeling that this publication was pushed a bit hastily, trying to make the most publishing profit of the fact that the author had been arrested, and that had caused considerable international uproar, at least in the art world. The chronology at the end of the book did, however, include a note on the fact that he had been released under severe restrictions and was now awaiting trial.
These points of criticism from my side are certainly valid for the first half of the book (which consists of a mere 478 pages).
I cherish Ai’s art, I think it is some of the most interesting and exciting art that can be seen right now – at least from the famous people in the art circuit. But at first I was slightly disappointed that this book seemed to prove that he is not a literary genius. This may be due to the fragmentation of the entire entries due to the fact that they could not well publish over 2000 blog entries. Or it may be due to the already mentioned lack of editing from the author, or the fact that it was the translation of a translation... Of course, he might not even have meant to publish great literature when writing a blog, or he might not have thought it would ever be published as a book at all.
However, I did revise this critical judgment during the process of reading. After the year 2006 his texts take on a much more critical and outspoken tone. The back-cover-slurp announced “an artist’s self-definition of himself as an artist”, which I think really is a self-definition as a resistance fighter. But Ai Wei Wei has, if I understand correctly, always seen his being an artist as inseperable from being an outspoken fighter  for human rights, justice, etc.. So it may be a bit narrow-minded on my side to keep nagging about these aspects...
Ai Wei Wei repeatedly writes about the situation of human rights China, he continuously denounces wide-spread corruption on all levels of management and administration in his country, he ponders the connections between ethical conscience, awareness of historical relations, respect for individuals, and he repeatedly laments the political situation in occupied Tibet (official lingo in China: ‘liberated’). He is explicitly on the side of the underdogs and people who have been subjects of arbitrary acts of the authorities, he demands official and thorough investigation of the fact that so many children fell vistim to collapsing schools during the earthquake in Sichuan in May of 2008 geführt haben. (His various activities when trying to establish a list of names of the children who died finally led to his famous installation of thousands of backpacks on the front of the Munich Haus der Kunst.)

In Memory of thousands of dead school children
killed in the earthquake May 2008:
thousands of backpacks form
a message.

He does not spare foreign reporting about the situation in his country, and as the Olympic Games in Beijing are coming closer he gets more and more critical about the intrigues and scheming of the Communist Party in Chinas and the IOC’s greed of gain.

As a whole the book is an intriguing report from a strange country and a document of resistance.
For me, who grew up in and lives in a country where free speech is a constitutional right, it is an oppressive thought that somebody would not be allowed to freely voice a few critical remarks about political ongoings in his country, be they harsh or not. It is hard to believe that censorship would go so far as to delete the blog from the inernet, and that the author was assaulted and badly injured when a witness on the way to court. And that he was arrested under mysterious circumstances for rather obscure reasons, or released under severe restrictions, including that he is not allowed to give any free interviews. When seen under all these circumstances it is certainly a MUST that at least parts of the blog were published as a book, even if that is not the ideal medium for the kind of writings published on a blog.
However, I find it even  more disconcerting that the western world, always so outspoken about issues of human rights, as can be seen in this German article on the openings of shows by Ai Wei Wei while he was still under arrest, does not feel capable of taking any real action beyond a few culture officals stating something on the importance of human rights and that they be respected. I was appalled that the German government did not decide to at least interrupt or even close down the German show on – of all things! – "Enlightenment" that had been opened in China just a few days before Ai was arressted. I can’t believe that chancellor Angela Merkel merely requested that Ai Wei Wei receive a fair trial, to me she is thus making herself an accomplice of the Chinese oppressors.
Why on earth have Norwegian goods been under a trade ban from the Chinese side since last year’s announcement of Lu Xiaobo as recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize? Why is it not possible that Chinese goods receive a similar treatment from the western side? Fact is, it is only the economic gain that counts. We talk about human rights, but we don’t really mean ‘at all costs’.

Here are photos from Ai Wei Wei's New York photo exhibit.

 Here is a report on the opening of his show in Berlin while he was still under arrest.

Others can be found when you search the internet.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Little escap(ad)e: Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation in Seebüll

While we were vacationing at the North Sea during our summer holidays my family gave me a day off to go and see the  Ada and Emil Nolde Foundation in Seebüll near the Danish border. It is located in the house they lived in after the 1930s, and also during the years when Emil Nolde had been banned from painting by the Nazi Regime.
I had been there for the first time thirty years ago, on a bike trip taken together with two friends of mine and my brother. Ever since then Emil Nolde has remained one of my very favorite painters. I am delighted whenever I happen to come across one of his paintings in a museum. So imagine my disappointment when I stood in front of closed doors on May 1st, where an exhibition of his water colors was being shown at the Munich Pinakothek der Moderne. I think that’s when I decided that I would definitely go up to Niebüll during our summer holidays, although we would still be approximately one and a half hours drive away.
Even driving further north was sheer pleasure. The cloud formations that you get to see due to the different angle of sunlight (compared to what I am used to from the south of Germany) are phenomenal.

By coincidence I arrived at the museum on Emil Nolde’s 144th birthday and received an audio CD as a present with a radio play about Nolde and his travels.
Then I had a lot of time to explore the wonderful garden, situated at the foot of the hill upon which the house is located, overlooking the wide landscape.

Looking up at the house from the garden

Nolde-style flowers

The garden-house

Unfortunately the gorgeous display of paintings was rather crowded, so in that respect going there on a birthday might not have been the smartest idea. Though it was better to have seen it crowded than to not have seen it at all. But it was a great outing nevertheless. One would like to pick up a paintbrush and start painting oneself... though it’s probably more satisfying to look at Nolde’s work than at what I would produce.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Making the most of leftovers...

During the last weeks of my sons’s career in kindergarten I had an extensive tie-dye party with the children so they would have T-shirts to remember their kindergarten days by. At the end of the party I had a few bottles with color leftovers. Those I could not let go to waste, after all the dye powder is too extensive to just dump something like that down the drain.

For the regular instalments of the fabric club I try to stick to the recipes which I have come up with in my five different systematic dye charts, in order to make them as reproducable as possible. But even then the shades can vary considerably from my samples. That’s the theoretical knowledge put to reality – each and every dye batch will produce different results, even if the same recipe was used. For example, in this picture you can see the samples I chose when I decided upon my July collection, put right next to the results of the July dyeing.

I assume that this noticeable difference was caaused partly by the fact that my systematic dye chart was produced with small swatches, and partly by the fact that I used a different kind of fabric for the July collection. Each fabric dyes differently. In this case it didn’t matter to me. The combinability of the fabrics results from that fact that the colors were all mixed from the same colors. The entire collection as such was well balanced and didn’t depend on the close matching of the collection fabrics with the color of the samples.

July collection of the fabric club
The leftovers from dyeing T-shirts gave me a chance to indulge in my favorite way of dyeing, however – experimenting without having to think about exact measurements. The colors I had were pre-mixed, I had different amounts of each one left, and all I had to do was use them up.
So I went ahead and took a swing at what I had seen when translating for Jan Myers-Newbury, i.e. what she called a „three primary-mix“. (Of course the larger number of colors in my systematic dye charts are mixed from three basic colors, too... but this was doing it free-style.) And I decided to do several dilutions, too. They turned out a noticeably different shade than the brown in the July collection.

"Three-primary mix" with 4 dilutions
These fabrics will soon be available from my website, they can then be found via the link “Meterware” (yardage).

Everything that was still left after that was mixed in combinations of two colors. And a very nice shade of yellow, not a clear color either.

In the dye-bath...
... and finished.
Now these mixings are definitely not reproducible because I did not take any notes regarding which colors I mixed for the kindergarten project, nor how much I had left and which of these were paired with with. I just love pouring things together and let myself be surprised by the results. In any case they turned out to be pleasing and strong secondary mixes. Of course it would have made a lot of sense to go into dilutions with these colors, too, but I did not have enough fabric. What I have left is just enough for the upcoming September-collection. I will make sure, though, that I always have enough fabric at home to include several dilutions in my production whenever I get an attack of experimenting-mood!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Beyond Comfort" in Birmingham

As I have mentioned before, two of my quilts were chosen to be part of the SAQA „Beyond Comfort“ exhibition.

These are the quilts.

Yellow Line (2010)

Illuminated (2010)

Illuminated comes with its own hanging rod as the stability of the entire quilt depends on the fixation of the netting. And, of course, it needs a power supply. It looks great overall, but it posed a serious problem once we had proceeded to the process of shipping and hanging. Several e-mails were exchanged between Eileen Doughty and me regarding the hanging, and I supplied an international power converter so that the LED-cord could be plugged in at different international venues.

The show opened for the first time a week ago in Birmingham at the Festival of Quilts. Eileen Doughty sent us this link to take a look, for those who could not be there in person.

I could not go because we were still on vacation, so all I have is these pictures, and I am also still waiting for the complimentary copy of the catalogue.

Unfortunately, Eileen has notified me that the power-/plug converter started smoking Saturday night and that the LED-cord had to be switched off. Perhaps it’s not fit for multiple-hour use? In any case I am glad they noticed before it set everything on fire. And I hope that the problem can be fixed. But I am definitely going to get a substitute converter.
This may be a clear indication, however, of the limitations of using light cords in quilt design. That's too bad, I had quite a few more ideas in that direction.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Little escap(ad)e: Ré Soupault

A few weeks ago my husband brought home a flyer with the year’s program for the „Ostdeutsche Galerie“ in Regensburg. As I had never been to that museum yet and was looking for another nice exhibition worthy of a “little escap(ad)e”, I decided to take the opportunity. Together with two friends we planned a day’s outing to Regensburg to see the retrospective for Ré Soupault. Admittedly, I had never heard of her before, but the text in the flyer sounded intriguing.

Ré was obviously a woman with her very own mind. Born in 1901 as Erna Niemeyer – same age as my grandmother! – she was a student at the Bauhaus, where she was very much influenced by Itten, whose ‘Vorkurs’ she took twice. However, she got sidetracked into being technical assistant to Viking Eggeling for his “Diagonal Symphony”, the first abstract film. She never graduated from Bauhaus officially because she disliked the change towards a more functionalized orientation after Bauhaus moved to Dessau. She then started working as a fashion journalist for a Berlin fashion magazine, went to Paris as their correspondent and reported on the latest French fashion trends for the modern German woman. Eventually she started her own fashion business as “Ré Sport”, developed what she called the “transformation dress” and wanted to make wearable fashion for the modern working woman.

"transformation dress" by Ré Soupault

When her financial partner died in a car accident, she had to close her shop, however. She met French surrealist Phillipe Soupault and started traveling with him on his reporter trips through Europe. She picked up photography along the way, taking the pictures for his stories in Spain, Norway, Paris and other places. After their marriage in 1938 they moved to Tunisia where he was building a radio station, she took photos, most famous among them her pictures from the ‘reserved quarters’, where women without any family connection (and often without any other income than prostitution) lived.

Catalogue page with pictures from "reserved quarter"

During the war her husband got arrested and was imprisoned for six months. After that they left Tunisia for Algiers on a bus and had to leave everything behind, including all her photographic equipment. Parts of her belongings were recovered by a friend who found them for sale at a bazar a few years later.
Eventually they went to the States, where she started working as a translator. They traveled to South America, too, and there she ‘shot’ her famous self-portrait at a Buenos Aires fair: shooting, and hitting dead center, she took a picture of herself .

shooting her own picture: Ré Soupault

After the war the couple separated, but she eventually went back to Europe, working as a translator (she translated Romain Rolland and Lautréamont, who had up to then be considered intranslatable) and for various radio stations, producing radio reports on a wide array of topics. She had kept contact with her husband and got back together with him, and with the help of his German publisher the photographs from her photographic period were published.
These are just the briefest outlines of her long and restless life, taken from the wonderful catalogue that accompanies the exhibiton – she died in 1996, aged 95, having experienced that her creative work was beginning to be recognized.

Catalogue to the exhibition

The exhibition in Regensburg is a well-documented introduction into her life, her various kinds of work, and her multiple connections with the crème de la crème of the avantgarde.
What strikes me about her, is that she did not let unfavourable circumstances bring her down. She left, closed that period of her life, started again, something new, and again she turned out to be very good at what she was doing. Filmmaker, fashion reporter, fashion designer, photographer, translator, radio reporter – what a list of occupations! And obviously she had a talent not to worry about the past – she simply closed that period of her life for herself and went on. Which is one reason why her photographs, after her friend had recovered them on the Tunisian bazar, remained unrecognized for forty years – she had not bothered to really open the box which held what was left of her negatives.

Another interesting photographer emerging from a box, although much more seems to be known about her than about Vivian Meier.
The exhibition is still on until the 4th of September. Well worth seeing!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Daily Oak - July report

Number of days missed: 11
Number of days with more than one visit: 5
Number of visits with more than the two standard perspectives taken: 6
Guest trees: 2
Total number of pictures taken: 59

Because of my stay in Switzerland I missed a number of days in the beginning of the month during which I was too busy to actually run around looking for a good supply of guest trees. Also, we left for our summer vacation before the month was over, so this was a month with fewer pictures taken than most of the previous months.
And it was a month with very little sunshine. However, I did manage to catch sunny spots, and the days with two visits were definitely caused by the urge to see the tree with a slightly more cheerful sky in the background than I had seen on the first visit.

perspective a, July 21, 4:11 p.m.

perspective a, July 21, 6:41 p.m.

perspective b, July 21, 4:12 p.m.

perspective b, July 21, 6:42 p.m.

perspective c, July 21, 6:41 p.m.

But I have been promising to talk about Daily Oak’s age for a couple of months now, and this is what I am going to do in this July-report.

My husband gave me a present for my birthday in connection with my Daily Oak project, namely a book on „Germany’s old trees“.
According to the authors’ standards, trees are considered „old“ when they have reached a certain circumference, measured around the stem at 1 m above the ground. So I engaged my son’s help one day, and together we found out that “my” oak measures approximately 440 cm around the stem (at approximately 1m above the ground). Although I hadn’t really thought about the precise number to expect, I have to admit that I was surprised. It just seemed a lot to me. Of course, it doesn’t qualify as ‚old’ by the book’s standards, which, for oaks, starts at a circumference of approximately 7 m. Still far from being considered an old tree, then.
After my return from Switzerland my husband gave me another book, this time on "Europe’s old trees". This author spends much more time trying to figure out the age of various individual trees in Europe, different kinds of trees in different countries, and in rather different types of locations. When comparing the discussions of the ages of oak trees it turns out that their circumferences may vary considerably, even when the author seems to have information regarding first mentionings of the trees, or growth rates since a certain point in time. These differences are impressive and may span more than a couple of hundred years for years assumed to be of the same age. Some oaks that already ‘qualify’ for inclusion in his list by sheer size are assumed to be much younger than others.

There is another impressive oak nearby ‘my’ oak which I pass every day when I go to take my pictures. I did not choose it for my project because it is standing in a private garden and much less picturesque due to the fence it is enclosed by. It has been marked a ‘Naturdenkmal’ by the regional conservation agency, and when I asked the owner about its age he told me that the officials think it is over three hundred years old. But they don’t know – it was there long before the house was built, and that has been standing for over a hundred years. I was allowed to measure the tree’s circumference, which is 550 cm at approximately 1m above ground.

550 cm in circumference:
the other oak tree on my way to Daily Oak

In order to be able to make something of these measurements I then went to a sawmill specializing in cutting large trees (koenigbauer) and asked them what they knew about the age and growth rate of oak trees. Experts, after all. They said you really can’t ever tell unless you cut it down and count the growth rings. Don’t want to do this, of course. But I was given two slices of oak, both of which still included the center part, and an outer edge. They were of a noticeably different size – but, when I counted the rings indicating the number of years, it turned out they were not that much different in age: the larger piece had only five years more to it than the smaller piece.

two slices of oak, almost of the same age
So I counted the rings in the section where they were most densely next to each other, indicating hard years for the trees and a slow growth rate, and those in the section where they were farthest apart, indicating good years and a more rapid growth rate. Then I calculated these into the circumference (I actually got to use what I learned in math at school!). The result? Well, if it had only good years, my oak would be just about one hundred years old. If it had only hard years it might be well above three hundred years. The truth is not to be known, but probably somewhere in the middle – shall we say it is 220 years old?