VIDEO: John Solt on Avant Garde “Plastic Poetry” from Japan

August 14, 2013

We recently interviewed scholar, poet, and collector John Solt in the Pavilion for Japanese Art, about the extraordinary exhibition Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet, currently on view. Soft-spoken and modest, Solt nevertheless attracted a small crowd of enthused visitors during our interview, as his passion for Kitasono’s work (Solt is the author of Shredding the Tapestry of Meaning: The Poetry and Poetics of Kitasono Katsue, among other books) was palpable to all who overheard him.

Solt, a long-time advisor to our Japanese Art department, was perceptibly pleased with the installation at LACMA, accomplished through the deft work of curator Hollis Goodall and our design department, who labored to achieve a modernist aesthetic consistent with Kitasono’s own leanings. (Even the takeaway exhibition brochure is designed as a kind of fold-out paper sculpture, reflective of Kitasono’s aesthetic.)

Brochure accompanying Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet

Brochure accompanying Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet

Brochure accompanying Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet

Brochure accompanying Kitasono Katue: Surrealist Poet

In our interview, Solt talked about Kitasono’s “day job” as the librarian for a dental college, the radical nature of his poetry, the political oppression by the “thought police” that he endured during  World War II, and his far-reaching influence on other poets and artists. He also reflected on the pure pleasure of seeing great works of modern visual and linguistic poetry by Kitasono installed adjacent to masterpieces of Japanese art from previous centuries, in the contemplative atmosphere of the Pavilion.

Kitasono Katsue: Surrealist Poet is on view through December 1st.

Amy Heibel, video by Alexa Oona Schulz


Wilson Sisters Explore Stanley Kubrick’s Unfinished Business

November 15, 2012

Artists Jane and Louise Wilson had a rare opportunity: they were invited to take part in a residency at the Stanley Kubrick archive in London as part of a commission by Animate Projects and the British Film Institute. Amidst an overwhelming collection of material from the late filmmaker’s career, they found themselves drawn to documents, records and remnants of the creative process associated with a film about the Holocaust, called Aryan Papers, that Kubrick researched for decades but never produced. The film was to be an adaptation of Louis Begley’s semi-autobiographical novel Wartime Lies. The sisters contacted the actress, Johanna Ter Steege, whom Kubrick intended to play the lead in the film.  They interviewed her, and she appears in the Wilson sisters film installation, titled Unfolding the Aryan Papers, which is presented in an enclosed space lined with mirrors within the Stanley Kubrick exhibition.

Louise Wilson had this to say about the project:

Amy Heibel


Datamoshing Surrealism

November 13, 2012

The latest in our Artists Respond series is by Antonio Mendoza and a French artist known as Jimpunk. Inspired by Drawing Surrealism, the two artists are collaborating from afar, creating a video mashup that transforms found material into a dynamic ongoing collage that changes daily. The project is called Dysleksic. (Note: depending on your internet connection and various other factors, and in keeping with the nature of the artists’ work, the project may not play perfectly in all browsers or for all users.)

Random screen grab from Dysleksic at dysleksic.tumblr.com, by Antonio Mendoza and Jimpunk.

Here’s what Antonio had to say about the project:

I’ve always loved surrealism. I’ve been working with collage – video or physical – for twenty years. I’ve been collaborating with Jimpunk, who is based in Paris, for awhile and decided to go back to the surrealist roots in Paris and do a project with him.

Describe the project?

We take these found videos and pile them on top of each other. It’s kind of like an exquisite corpse. We’re trying to use random material, creating a clashing of signs and a never-ending collage that has a lot of sound. Our goal is to keep this process going for awhile, loading new videos. It’s interesting to see how our respective contributions load and how they affect each other. It pushes the limits of the browser, but doesn’t quite crash. I think the surrealists would do something like that.

I don’t see what Jimpunk is doing, and he doesn’t see what I’m doing. We just started piling it on top of each other. Now we’re blending it – I’ll take stuff he uses and remix it and he’s been doing the same. At the end of the day it’s not clear who did what. Sometimes when I watch the videos I’m not even clear what part I did and what part he did. I’ll take something he did and alter it, he’ll take something I did and alter it.

The piece is chronological, in that whatever new material we add appears at the top. It’s set to play six videos at a time, and then when you scroll things will be static for a moment and then it starts playing again. It loads, then it will pause. We both like the jerkiness of the whole process, of stressing the system so that it’s working hard to play. It’s related to the surrealist ideal of going for the unexpected, the accidental.

I’ve removed three videos that weren’t playing the way I was hoping they’d play, but mostly I like the way it plays. Sometimes I don’t and I wish it would play a little bit differently, but that’s part of the process. Some of the artifacts from the compression become part of the piece. I’ve worked on other pieces that use that kind of datamoshing, an elaborate process where you take out the key frames from the videos, and then there are these strange artifacts that are fascinating. I’m sure we’ll introduce some of that;  once you run out of ideas you just datamosh it and it’s cool again!

What’s the current state of so-called “net art”?

Net art happened in the mid-1990s to about 2005. There were a lot of people exploring how to make something look interesting out of web pages. Messing up the code. Trying to hack the web browser to do things that it wasn’t meant to do.  The godfather and godmother of net art were a couple, a collective, called Jodi. Once everyone saw jodi.org, they wanted to do something like that.  Overall, I feel like everything that could be done with code and a browser has been done. I might be wrong. Mobile is maybe the new thing. Until I get a better phone I’m not going to be able to do anything with mobile!

What’s it like collaborating with Jimpunk?

We met five or six years ago because we do the same type of work. We talk by email a lot. I understand 50% of what he tells me and he understands 50% of what I tell him. I don’t know exactly what he’s thinking right now! Jimpunk is great in that you say let’s do this, and he’s like a machine. He just starts doing it.

In response to Dysleksic, Drawing Surrealism curator Leslie Jones said, “It gives new meaning to André Breton’s words “Beauty will be convulsive or it will not be at all.”

Amy Heibel


Alight Anew in Indian Yellow

March 19, 2012

Conservator John Hirx immersed in Jesús Rafael Soto's Penetrabile, 1990.

The Jesús Rafael Soto sculpture, Penetrabile, a favorite of visitors posting to Flickr, has a new look. The piece invites one to plunge into the colorful soft plastic tubing and regard the world from within a forest of glowing color.

Head objects conservator John Hirx recently oversaw the transformation of the piece. The original chartreuse tubing was replaced with new tubing in a shade that one of John’s colleagues described as “Indian yellow.” (Conservators are precise about such things, and John notes by way of historical interest that the term “Indian yellow” is derived from a color popular in traditional Indian miniature painting made by feeding mango leaves to cows, then collecting and drying their urine to extract the pigment—today, the pigment is synthetic, as the original method was hazardous to the cows. The tubes are not made with this pigment, but the color is a close approximation.)

Exchanging all of the tubes was no small task. John estimates that the piece requires 20,000 linear feet of the specially manufactured plastic tubing, and a complete back up set is on hand to facilitate ongoing maintenance. There are between 2,000 and 2,500 tubes suspended from the overhead grid. It took two teams working 2.5 full days just to swap out the tubes, each of which was precut to the perfect length to rest lightly on the ground, resulting in a gentle bend that catches the light. John noted that, right now, between about 11 am and 1 pm, when the sun passes across the sky overhead, those tubes sparkle and glisten in the midday sunlight.

Penetrabile, on loan from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, is on view on the LA Times Central Court at LACMA for at least another year.

Amy Heibel


Messages from a Fragile World: Washi Tales

September 20, 2011

On Thursday night, paper artist Ibe Kyoko and curator Hollis Goodall will discuss the current exhibition Washi Tales: The Paper Art of Ibe Kyoko, followed by a special, not-to-be-missed performance based on Ibe’s work, featuring actors and an ensemble of musicians playing traditional Japanese instruments. Below, Goodall provides insight into Ibe’s work. More information on Thursday’s event can be found here.

A piece of the world was wiped away on March 11 of this year. In the northeastern area of Honshu, the main island of Japan, what is left to us after earthquake and tsunami is bits of lives that were.

For the last ten years, the washi (Japanese paper) artist Ibe Kyoko has incorporated bits of former lives in the form of torn pieces of letters and documents into her works of art. Following the earthquake and tsunami, Ibe-san’s thoughts turned to her family members and ancestors who lived in Fukushima, and to her aging mother who had come from that region. Reaching into her family’s home altar (butsudan), Ibe-san pulled out family documents dating back over 100 years. From her personal files came letters brushed on beautiful paper from her parents and close relatives, and letters in English from friends. These became the material and stimulus for her present series, called Once Upon a Time, of which several works are on display in the Pavilion for Japanese Art. Ibe-san made the first work of the series for her mother’s home. At LACMA, the largest of the pieces from the series in the gallery has the characters for “mother” and “father” displayed prominently amid the parts of documents and letters now bound into the surface of the new paper art work.

Ibe Kyoko, Four untitled works from the series “Once Upon a Time,” 2011, recycled ganpi paper fiber, old documents, mica, indigo and sumi, collection of the artist

It was a decade ago that Ibe-san went to a used book store and brought home a handwritten census from a town no longer to be found on a map. She became inspired to bring the recorded fragments of information about these forgotten souls into her works of art. How that town disappeared is a mystery, perhaps caused more by economics than natural disaster. That so many people and their town had virtually evaporated from history but for this document that she chanced upon struck her deeply. Their lives began to re-appear a small piece at a time in the surfaces of her artworks. The series called Hogosho (writings on scratch paper) recalls her early concepts about working with recycled texts.

Ibe Kyoko, Untitled, from the series “Hogosho,” 2008, recycled ganpi paper fiber, old documents, mica and sumi, collection of the artist

Sitting in a screen mounter’s studio one day, she noticed that scratch paper reused by the mounter to provide backing for the painting on a screen would begin to peek out from tears in the painted surface or backing paper as the screen aged. She became fascinated with the screen mounting itself as being a time capsule. Old records, inventories, cash receipts, or memos socked into the interior of a screen for support, as old Japanese paper is still strong and useful, represented life at the moment that the screen was being mounted. Japanese paper, most commonly sourced from the inner bark of the paper mulberry (kozo), though in Ibe-san’s case taken from antique paper originally made from the bark of the ganpi bush (a plant of the Daphne family), is both durable because of its long fibers and valuable as the plants from which they come grow relatively slowly. As such, paper has always been valued and reused. Though she refers to her works as “recycled” paper, the lives denoted upon them are in a way resurrected.

Ibe Kyoko in her Kyoto studio placing document bits to be mixed with glue and ganpi paper fiber on a paper-making screen. Photo provided by Ibe Kyoko

The power of nature is so often beyond what people can control. Harnessing that power is part of Ibe-san’s expression. Having laid bits of documents, chips of mica, flakes of gold or silver, recycled indigo paper, and other precious materials onto the paper screen, she then begins to apply paper pulp behind that surface. As she adds layers and layers of various colored pulps of recycled paper behind those, some dense with calligraphy so they take on the color of gray sumi, others pink from the vermillion of seals used to sign a document, colors merge onto the surface and fibers bind with the elements already applied. Layer upon layer of pulp is added with great quantities of water, and Ibe-san relinquishes control, allowing the water to rearrange paper fibers and draw pulp into various patterns. The power of water and the strength of plants inspire this work, while the people whose writings are merged into her paper she feels to be living again through traces of their words.

Hollis Goodall, curator, Japanese Art


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