Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Aurum, an installation by Laetitia Hussain

I've recently begun writing a blog for the Register-Star Newspaper, which will be including a number of reviews of art. Please take a look at my first piece. It's a review of an new installation by Hudson, NY artist Laetitia Hussain at Terenchin Fine Arts in Catskill, NY.

Man and Nature: Aurum, an installation by Laetitia Hussain.

For thousands of years humanity has toiled to mold nature to its own ends, removing that which doesn’t suit its purposes and manipulating that which does. Aurum, a new installation by Hudson artist Laetitia Hussain, at Terenchin Fine Art in Catskill, uses cast-off items, both natural and man-made to talk about the relationship between humanity and nature in its positive and negative aspects.

The gallery, located at 462 Main St., is filled to overflowing with Hussain’s work, mainly sculptures and most covered in gold paint, thus the name of the show “Aurum,” which is Latin for gold. While the work’s gilding helps to integrate the pieces internally and as a whole, they suffer from a loss of the individual color characteristics of the materials used.

The work also suffered from overcrowding. Less is sometimes more and many of the larger pieces lost their impact by being too close to each other in the gallery.

Her wood slice dartboards, while a bit facile, efficiently hammer in the metaphorical aspect of the show. The act of throwing a dart—which the artist encourages—at a beautiful piece of wood, marring the surface, helps force the viewer into an understanding of how humans often affect nature.

Another interesting piece is a tree branch mounted on wood to resemble trophy antlers. It forces the viewer to go beyond thinking only of the animal world and to contemplate humanity’s attitude towards the rest of nature.

The largest piece—and probably the best—incorporates the root system of a tree with various implements associated with farming—pickaxe and pitchfork—affixed to the roots’ ends, while the carved wooden handles of scythes rise out of the top. It plays with this relationship as well but takes it further by the interplay of materials that echo one another. A small reflecting pool below the tree trunk works to expand and reflect the hanging portion of the piece above and gives it a meditative quality that works nicely with the rather wild, dynamic aspect of the tree.

A sculpture of a windmill juxtaposed next to a small wooden piece hanging on the wall, carved to resemble a farmer’s field with crop rows, uses both scale and space to give the viewer a sense of being outside the gallery and while not as intellectually bracing as some of the other pieces is none the less completely engaging.

Hussein includes a large-scale photographic piece in the show featuring a quote by 18th century painter, printmaker and poet William Blake. The words are formed in the large photograph by maple seeds and seems to capture Hussain’s intentions. “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way,” it reads in part. Her new show goes far in visually exploring those words and the thoughts behind them.

Click here to view images from the show.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Classic Cad: The World of Tony Stamolis

Photographer Tony Stamolis, whose work has appeared everywhere from the New York Times to London art galleries, has been called a “classic cad” with a “prankster’s eye,” among other sobriquets and was recently included in Taschen’s coffee table tome “The New Erotic Photography.” Look, Read, Listen recently caught up with the 38-year-old California born artist who has made his home in New York City for almost half his life.

How and when did you get started in photography? Have you always been interested in photographing the nude?

I have always taken pictures but it wasn't until I had my first show in 1999 that I saw that my photography communicated to others. That's when I started taking it seriously and looking at it differently. I assisted a friend for a while and went on my own in 2003. The nude thing just sort of happened. I took some of my first serious girlfriend in my grandmother's basement bedroom when I was 18. Of course, my wise old grandmother knew I had had a girl down there and I got a talking to. She probably would have disowned me if she had know about the pictures. Sorry Yia-yia!

Your work has been included in Taschen’s “The New Erotic Photography.” How would you define this genre and your role within it?

Like I said in that book, I hate the term erotic, and typically hate anything associated with the genre. Most things that try to be sexy, are quite the opposite. I take photos of women (and this doesn't always mean sans clothing) because I like to and apparently, I am good at it. I don't want to be dubbed an erotic photographer. That's too limiting. I consider my nude work to be portraits as well.

What separates pornography from erotic art? Is it intention or something more ill-defined?

I think it's the thought behind it, and the perception of the eye of the beholder. Porn has become a form of pop art. It's more accepted and mainstream now and is very influential to so many areas of our daily lives and culture. Maybe penetration is the line people need to differentiate.

Color seems to play a huge part in your work. Have you always been drawn to that aspect of photography?

I have used B&W before, but yes, I have always been attracted to juicy, saturated color.

Do you use digital or traditional cameras or both? Which do you prefer and why?

More and more digital, the better it looks, but I still love film. The immediacy of digital is a big draw. I am not a snob though. Whatever is in front of me, I use. My photography is super lo-fi.

Your book “Frezno”(which came out last year) has a sense of immediacy and intimacy. Since you grew up in Fresno did the subject matter come easily to you? What were you striving for? How long did the project take?

I shot a few days a year for six years when I was home visiting my mother. The place definitely defines who I am and how I look at things, so I guess it came easily in that sense. I did work for it though. I didn't know any people there anymore, and shot almost a hundred portraits in three days on one trip. A project like that never feels finished, but I wanted to tell a story with what I had up to that point.

How did your project “Narcissister” come about? It seems like there is a relationship there to the work of Paul McCarthy and Hans Bellmer. Who are some of the artists who’ve influenced you?

All of that is the genius work of a friend who has fused her art work with burlesque. She's an ex-Ailey dancer who I met at Louise Bourgeois' monthly artist "salon" years ago. I have photographed many of her projects but really fell in love with her Narcissister "alter-ego." She's always creating new pieces so this is ongoing.
I love that you compared this to Bellmer and McCarthy. I love both of their work. Nobuyoshi Araki and Nan Goldin are major influences and to repeat myself again, old album art and vintage smut. Always inspiring.

Where do the ideas for your projects come from?

These are just silly ideas that I latch onto, and run with.

What are you working on now?

I have just finished my second book that will be out this's a secret!
But I can tell you that it has a whole bunch of nekkid women in it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

History through the private lens: An interview with Benjamin Patton

Benjamin Patton spends many of his days sorting through the memories of others, putting the pieces together and rediscovering history through personal reminiscences, both for himself and the men and women he makes films about. But then he’s had a lot of experience with history through a personal lens. He’s the grandson of one of America’s most famous warriors, Gen. George S. Patton, and the son of Major General George Smith Patton, both of whom kept personal histories. Benjamin Patton took time to answer some questions for Look, Read, Listen.

History seems to have been important to your family, both in the private and public spheres, from your grandfather and father’s collecting their own letters and papers to your family touring historical sites. Has this influenced your view of history? Can personal history help to explain the larger
picture of the past?

I think it's incredibly valuable and enriching to be able to experience history through those that lived it. Whether it means reading someone's diaries and letters - such as The Patton Papers (Vol I & II) in the case of my grandfather, or being able to read a copy of Rudyard Kipling's Complete Book of Verse that has been annotated with all sorts of margin notes by both my father and grandfather. History through the lens of another person sort of brings you there to that moment; not only in history, but the moment THEY experienced that history. We visited more than a few battlefields as a family when I was a teen - from Gettysburg and Chancellorsville to Zama (where Scipio Africanus bested Hannibal) and Austerlitz -- This all has left an impression on me that is much harder to shake or forget than simply reading a text book.

As a producer and filmmaker why have you chosen to focus on peoples’ personal histories as opposed to exploring history in other ways?

Again, I feel that experiencing history through the conduit of someone who as there brings it alive in a special way. This is even more important when you are chronicling your own family's history and say, want to understand the great depression more viscerally and personally through your grandmother or great aunt or uncle who lived through it.

You come from a long line of distinguished military men. Why did you choose to follow a different path and was there a defining moment for you when you decided against a military career?

For most of my childhood I was set on becoming a naval officer. Just loved the ocean and sailing and maritime history and that was my focus. But that career plan was made in the context of military being the family business. The pressure to serve in the military wasn't overt, my father was content with any career that would fulfill me - but he, like me at the time, felt this would be something I could excel at. Perhaps the first of many defining moments came when I opted not to attend the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport - an Annapolis feeder program that I had been accepted to. There were many more such moments to come throughout my twenties as I opted not to pursue a military career each time I reached a juncture in my life where I would henceforth lose an options - USNA > ROTC > OCS, etc. In the end, I have come to peace with that decision because I have found another - perhaps even more effective - way for me to express my patriotism while also working in my gifts and following my bliss.

Has being a Patton helped or hindered your career?

Both. Sometimes it's a hindrance, sometimes an advantage -- depending on my age and level of self-confidence and centeredness. As a young adult, it helped to open doors, but when you walk through those doors you'd better know who you are -- and I didn't. Today, I have the family in proper perspective and because I don't depend on it to further my career, it's probably a benefit. The greatest joy of being in this family is being able to help an old veteran reconnect with his own military and combat service by serving as a conduit for them to my father or grandfathers (both of whom were generals also).

Do you feel that the relationship that your grandfather had with your father influenced his parenting style with you and your siblings? How?

Certainly, and I made this point in my June '09 Smithsonian article. My father and grandfather had a good relationship but when my father when away to boarding school at 13, their relationship occurred more at a distance. Keep in mind that my father only saw his father during his leave.

What was it like interviewing Manfred Rommel (the son of German General Erwin Rommel)? I assume you knew him since your father and he were friends. If so did that help in the interview process? What, for you, was the most interesting aspect of your interview?

Certainly interviewing Manfred Rommel was fascinating. I had known since I was about 9 years old - when we lived in Stuttgart, Germany. My dad and he had met in the 50s when my dad was stationed in Stuttgart for the first time. My grandfather had always wanted to meet Field Marshall Rommel - but since Rommel was forced to take poison by Hitler in late '44 and GEN Patton died in late '45, they never met. Once my dad and Manfred met, they quickly bonded and soon, when they realized they shared a birthday of Christmas Eve, we would celebrate it with them whenever we lived in Germany. They would trade memorabilia of their father's - maps, keepsakes, etc. as gifts. It was quite a thing.

How does the editing process come into play in your work? Is it difficult to know what to keep and what to throw away? At the end of the day is it the story line that counts or the accumulation of historical information or is there a happy medium?

The process is partly intentional and partly not. That is to say, when a project first comes my way, I have to determine what the center point of the film is - and how does the family want to organize the film - chronologically, or perhaps more creatively say, according to theme. One film I did about a retired General was organized into five areas: family, education, service, faith and integrity. But beyond that initial organization - which is largely client-driven, you simply go where the story is. I typically proceed as though the film is a block of marble, within which the final story lies. The trick is knowing how and which pieces to chip away and discard (on the editing floor) so that you are left with the essence of someone's story. And while there is of course more than one possible final film, I always proceed as if there is only one possible outcome - we just don't know what it is until it reveals itself to everyone and then Voila! It's a fascinating process.

Your company donates five percent of its earnings to various civic organizations. Why do you feel it’s important to give back to the community?

When I was growing up, we were always having to remember quotes 'to live by,' as it were. One that was often told to us was, "He to whom much hath been given, much shall be required." I'm pretty certain it's from the Bible, though I can't recall the exact reference. But it's so true. I was born with a great deal of opportunities that many people just don't ever have. The key is not to waste it - and (another quote), "Leave the world better than you found it."

You are the co-founder of Fred’s teen workshops. Do you feel it’s important to give the next generation a voice and if so why?

Today’s kids live in a video world. Few activities dominate their lives like the time spent watching movies, television or playing video games. This has left many young people with a sophisticated understanding of images but without the critical skills to process these images contextually. At Fred's Experimental Media, our mission is to flip the switch from passive image consumption to active and thoughtful image creation. Educational engagement and connection are understood to be critical aspects of today’s educational experience. With drop-out rates alarmingly high, schools, as well as community and therapeutic organizations, are all looking to deeply engage teens and provide opportunities for deep reflection on self and community. We do our best to make this possible for kids on as broad a spectrum as possible -- and though we are small -- Guess what? It's working.

What are you working on now?

I'm working on several projects right now - 3 or 4 new video biography projects have come to me as a result of my recent Smithsonian article and subsequent interview on NPR Weekend Edition (on Father's Day.) So that's taking up a lot of my time. We have also just finished a teen film workshop for FRED in Denver and start the fourth year of our MA teen film workshop for 35 teenagers next week. Beyond that, I am father to a baby boy - born exactly one month ago. His name is Tiger and he is a happy handful.