Monday, December 19, 2011


Waafa Bilal Lecture

Wafaa Bilal is an Iraqi artist, and an Arts Professor in New York. I was somewhat familiar with his work before, having heard about his exhibition where he locked himself in an apartment in which people could shoot paintballs at him over the internet. He spoke about his different works over the years. He is an interactive and video artist. He is known for his controversial work Domestic Tension, or “Shoot an Iraqi,” which was the interactive installation that I had recognized his name from. The piece consisted of a paintball gun that could be controlled by people who logged into the internet. Bilal lived in the gallery in Chicago for a 30 day period and people could shoot at him with the gun 24 hours a day. The point of the work was for Bilal to experience what a regular Iraqi does in time of war, which is just about every day now. Bilal also spoke about another controversial work called Virtual Jihadi. In it, Bilal took a computer game called Quest for Saddam and altered it. The game was called The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi. In the game Bilal made himself a suicide bomber and is recruited on a mission to find former President Bush. The work was pointed at bringing attention to the Iraq war and racist and stereotypes in video games.
Bilal spoke about his latest piece called and it was very interesting. He has took a camera and surgically implanted it into the back of his head. The camera is set up to take a picture every minute and upload it online. He did this work for a year beginning on December 15, 2010. He captured photos of what was behind him. In this work he tried to express the issue of privacy. The photos were uploaded online and his location was shown on the website by GPS. This was interesting because he turned himself into somewhat of a cyborg voluntarily. It shows how we are connected to technology, and in the future we are going to be connected with technology physically whether we like it or not.

Lecture : Miss Representation

Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s film Miss Representation was an informational documentary about the current state of feminism in the United States and the representation of women in the media. The first thing that came up on the screen during the movie was “the media is the message and the messenger” which set the tone for the entire film. Statistics presented in the film, like that fact that of 78% of women hate their bodies and spend between 12 to 15 thousand dollars a year in beauty products tie in perfectly which what we have been learning about in this class for the entire semester. 
The documentary made apparent to young girls, “you can’t be what you can’t see,” referring to the lack of women in upper level jobs. The film said that women have to work twice as hard and earn half as much as a man while doing jobs twice as difficult. As a male with a prior understanding of the situation from my Race, Gender and Media clas, Miss Representation was an informational awareness video to the public about feminism in the United States. It was really an abbreviated crash course into what we looked at through the entire semester in class in my other class, with pictures and videos. The public has turned women to believing they can only be beautiful in a specific way and successful in life with certain career limitations. Women are unfairly treated in the United States and when given the opportunity to be on television, they are forced to present themselves in a sexually revealing way in order to appeal to the male audience. Overall I thought the film was very well made and reinforced the ideas that I was already introduced to by applying them to real people. 

Exhibition: The View Without

Morgan McAuslan's exhibit at UNR's Sheppard Fine Arts Gallery was very interesting. He took common items like colored plexiglas, small motors, some metal and the inside layer of old thermoses to make a very unique and interesting installation. With the use of the motors, he allowed the materials to interact with one another to create an interesting and unique sound art aspect to the piece. Upon walking into the gallery, the first thing that grabbed me was the constant but light sound of the installation. A mix between wind chimes, a xylophone and a steel drum, the sound had a calming effect that filled up the entire room, but was light enough not to over power anyones talking or thoughts. 
The main structure of the exhibiting consisted of a couple dozen neon multicolored plexiglass arrangements, which when powered by the rotating motor within, caused them to spin like a clock and eventually cause a series of connected small wooden hammers to make contact with the chromed thermos components. It was a very visually stimulating interaction of color and motion followed by sound. I really liked how he turned common stuff that everyone has access too like the plexiglass and miniature motors and combined it with the interesting thermos "bells" to make something all his own.
It was very obvious that the artist put a lot of though into the exhibition despite the look of chaos on the walls. When examined closely, each of the separate contraptions had dozens of little pieces that looked like they required a bit a precision to align in the right way to make it work as a whole. Another small thing that caught my eye was his use of all red extension cords to power the individual pieces. First off, I've never seen a red extension cord so I was a little taken aback at first and thought he might have painted them. They were, however, really red extension cords that were arranged and installed very neatly adding to the piece as a whole themselves.
Overall I though the installation was very interesting and a good use of the space. The constant sound coupled with the motion, color and composition of the piece made it interesting to the eyes and ears and showed very creative use of somewhat common materials. This exhibition really showed that with a little creativity you can make just about anything into a compelling piece that is sound related, but much different than anything I would have thought of regarding sound art. 

Jan Svankmajer Artist Profile

Dan Conroy
Dec 7, 2011
Art 345
Final Paper

Jan Svankmajer is a Czechoslovakian film maker who is most famous for his work with stop motion animation. His work is firmly rooted in surrealism, both through his involvement with the Czechoslovak Surrealist Group and the surreal aspects of his films, and he is regarded as “the only major film maker who’s work fully belongs to surrealism,” (Richardson, 11). Svankmajer’s work is very recognizable and intriguing to me. I really like the way he uses common materials like clay and food to tell stories and get his message across, often without any words. Though I have never tried stop motion, it has always had an aesthetic that has appealed to me and I would definitely like to try it in the future, especially after watching more of Jan Svankmajer’s work.
Svankmajer was born in Prauge, Czechoslovakia in 1939. On his eighth birthday he recieved a small puppetry theatre which would lead to his first venture into the world of fantasy and art. Later on in life, his fascination with marionettes continued as he attended the college of Applied Arts in the Puppetry Department. This is also where Svankmajer was first introduced to surrealist art forms which would later become the backbone of his work and life surrounding it, (Rogers).
Prague was both a place of birth and a source of inspiration for Svankmajer. Jan Uhde wrote that “It would be hard to imagine Svankmajer without Prague” in his essay entitled “Jan Svankmajer: Genus Loci As A Source Of Surrealist Inspiration. His interest in Prague is not that of contemporary society, however. Svankmajer and his work focus on the city’s old quarters, legends and ancient castle ruins. Svankmajer himself lives in one of Prague’s most ancient areas, just outside the Prague Castle walls. It is this connection to the the city and historical core which binds him and his art to the area. Many of his films were made in surrounding ruins, (Harper, 64), and one piece was even filmed at the Sedlec Ossuary, which contains the bones of some 70 thousand people, which had been buried there since the plauge’s of the Middle Ages, (Uhde). His fascination for such locations and morbid themes has been a theme since his school days when he was “criticized for a certain morbidity, sickness, negativism, and pessimism,” (French, 188). Regardless of early criticism, Svankmajer is a product of his environment and continues to use his surroundings and their history to shape his work and make it uniquely his own.
While Prague and the Bohemian region surrounding it are ever present in Svankmajer’s work and life, the communist government which ruled the country until 1989, did as much as they could to stifle his artistic productivity. From 1972 to 1979, he was banned from making films by the Czech Government as a result of his criticism of the regime in many of his films. Many of his other films during the period which were not banned were suppressed by the government and as a result, his work was largely unknown in the West until the 1980’s, (Rogers). The government was so against his work that his piece, Dimensions In Dialogue, “was used by the Czechoslovakian authorities as an object lesson in what was politically unacceptable,” (French, 188). In regard to the political stance in many of his films, Svankmajer said:
"I would like to say that I consider all of my films to be very politcally engaged. But I never narrowed it down to a totalitarian system, the way, for example, the artist dissident would. Because I realize that civilization does allow for the creation or existence of something as sick as Fascism or Stalinism, then the entire civilization itself is very ill, something is wrong," (Jackson).
It is this critique of society as a whole, based on his experiences with the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, that have garnered Svankmajer such acclaimed while at the same time addressing the issues and shortcomings of the communist regime in his homeland. Even after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, Svankmajer still finds issue with politics and they way society is run as a whole, not limiting his rebellion to a fallen regime. “For Svankmajer, Stalinism was nothing but a particular emanation of the sickness of modern civilisation: the fact that consumerism has come to replace Stalinism does not reflect any improvement in the structure of society,” (Richardson, 133). His ability to adapt his art to the times is a key testament to his longevity in the art world and the success of his work.
Svankmajer’s work is unargueably surrealist, though he himself does not consider surrealism itself an art form. Instead he says, “Surrealism is psychology, it is philosophy, it is a spiritual way, but it is not an aesthetic. Surrealism is not interested in actually creating any kind of aesthetic,” (Jackson). This stance on surrealism and it’s connection to art is unabashedly surrealist in itself, as one of the major facets of surrealists is to “regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being and artifact,” (Surrealism Wiki).
I really appreciate the depth of Svankmajer’s work. His films are intriguing to me on many levels. The first one I saw, Meat Love, is a short, simple film involving two slices of meat interacting, eventually making love, and then being thrown into a pan full of hot oil. His stop motion style is instantly recognizable and refined, each shot obviously well thought out and presented as a small fraction of the whole. Like many of his works, the subject is food and it’s ultimate destruction. To Svankmajer, “the action of eating - and by implication of the act of creation itself - is ultimately destructive,” (Richardson, 126). This destruction a a thread that permeates many of his films, from the clay figures eating themselves and tearing each other apart in Dimensions In Dialogue, to decaying human made of fruit and vegetables in Flora.
Most of Svankmajer’s videos are very simple. He uses clay, marionettes, fruit, people and more as subjects, and through his stop motion, brings them to life in order to tell his story. I really admire his ability to make very accesable objects come alive. Most of his films also have a deep underlying sense of humor. He makes fun of his subjects, be they monkey puppets or clay humans, in order to poke fun at society as a whole. Though they may be tearing each other to pieces or jumping into frying pans, it is hard not to laugh at clay humans eating on their partners extremities or slices of red meat dancing on a cutting board.
I often have ideas for art floating in my head, but can never seem to put them into action exactly the way I want too. According to Svankmajer this is a result of an artistic block. “The artist is able to reach their resources, and overcome the block. But a clerk who sits in the office, obviously, has his blockage and cannot. This so-called ‘professionalism’, is much more a matter of technique, or skill than creativity. You can see that in naive art, or folk art, if an individual wants to express him or herself, they find a way to do it if they really want to. It is really inside me, what's going to come out. The way I see it, each individual accumulates in his or her lifetime. That which accumulates inside him or her needs to find a way out. Basically, everybody can do that, but most people do not find a way of releasing it, they have certain blockage. There is no such thing as talent" (Jackson). To be able to combine the techniques and skills that I have learned in this program with the creativity that is lodged in the back of my brain is one of my goals for this course and for all art I attempt to create.
What really draws me to Svankmajer’s work is his style. The quirky puppets and subjects, the humor and the dark undertones all work together and make for interesting pieces as a whole. His work has levels of political scrutiny, dark comedy and his own creativity that make them very unique and interesting on many levels. I really respect his ability to combine these themes into his films and make them work so well together. Though Svankmajer’s films usually deal with the oppressive government and now the rise of capitalism and consumerism, he makes them interesting on a different level and then allows the viewer to infer his real meaning behind the work. Though I will never have a communist regime to rebel against in my art, I would like to think that with time and thought I can address things that are going on around me in my future work.


French, Karl. Art by Film Directors. London: Octopus Publishing, 2004

Harper, Graeme; Stone, Rob. The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film, by Jan Uhde. London: Wallflower, 2007

Jackson, Wendy. “The Surrealist Conspirator: An Interview With Jan Svankmajer.” June, 1997. Animation World Magazine. Dec 6, 2011.

Richardson, Michael. Surrealism and Cinema. Berg: New York, 2006.

Rogers, Pam. “The Works Of Jan Svankmajer.” 2002. Rosewood Graphics. Dec 6, 2011.

Voorhies, James. “Surrealism: Thematic Essay.” 2010. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dec 6, 2011.

Wikipedia. “Surrealism.” Dec, 2011. Wikipedia. Dec 6, 2011.

Uhde. “The Bare Bones of Horror.” 2011. Kinoeye: New Perspectives on European Film. Dec 6, 2011.