Today, on the anniversary of the « MA » Exhibition’s opening I would like to share my final instalment of the « MA » series.
In this post I would like to share some photographs and a compilation of videos of the actual exhibition space, which took place on the mezzanine level of TASTE Shop in Shanghai. I was incredibly pleased how it all turned out. In particular, choosing the white frames made the gold leaf really stand out and helped the leaf to emphasise the triangular shapes that were created across the corresponding pieces.
Thank you for your interest and if you wish to check out the rest of the series please CLICK HERE. There, I introduce the collaborators, discuss the concept behind the artwork and show the stages of the development process.
Last but not least I would like to thank my collaborators Piotr Zalewski of Noo-Studio, Atsushi Takenouchi along with Jordi Arque and the TASTE Shop group for providing inspiration and support. Without these wonderfully creative people this exhibition wouldn’t have happened.
P.S Here is a simple compilation of videos from different angles to give one the idea of the exhibition space, how and where the artwork was placed.
« MA » Exhibition had its› launch on the 11th of April 2014 in the Exhibition Space of TASTE Shop in Tian Zi Fang (Shanghai).
I spent the evening talking to many interesting people, discussing my work and making new friends. Commercially the exhibition was a great success too, with half of the show selling on that first night. To top it all off I also received a gorgeous bouquet of flowers from a friend. All this made me feel very blessed and thankful. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank everyone who came to the launch, as well as everyone from TASTE Shop for their help organising things and for giving me the opportunity to work with them in the first place. It was all quite an extraordinary and unique experience that I will hold very dear.
I could have not imagined it to go any better and it was the perfect way to round off a residency that I felt really challenged me and helped me develop ; I got to go and work in a new and wonderful continent ; try out new drawing techniques (mixing gold leaf in too) and it all passed by in a whirlwind of six-weeks. Above all I learned that, « Life starts at the end of your comfort zone ».
I was also extremely privileged that the Consul of the Polish Embassy in Shanghai (Krzysztof Smyk) accepted my invitation and came to the event. Please click HERE to read a piece from the Embassy’s Website about the Event.
photos courtesy of TASTE Shop
The opening night was fast approaching so we were keen to promote the exhibition and invite people to the opening night. To do this Noo-Studio designed this cool poster using one of my drawings. The composition of the poster was inspired by some of the concept behind the artwork — mainly the rules of golden ration and the use of primal shapes — a triangle and a circle. We left out the gold leaf as we wanted to surprise the audience upon arriving to the exhibition space. Then the title of the exhibition was added, represented by the HAN symbol (間). In separate Chinese marks it means the “Door of the Sun” so we thought that’s a nice, little suggestion of the gold leaf element.
This image was sent out in newsletters and used on social media. Additionally, it was printed as a door sticker and a massive window sticker.
For the window sticker the poster needed to be redesigned to a long strip. We wanted to add a quote that would introduce people to the exhibition. In homage to my main inspiration and the axis of the exhibition we settled for a poem by Atsushi Takenouchi titled « KAKELA ». You can find the full post about it on JINEN Butoh page — click here. I felt I could relate to it more as it described Atsushi’s performance in Poland where I am originally from. My interpretation of it was that we are all a fragment of something else. The inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere, all the components of our environment contribute to our perception of it as a whole. I felt that it was a beautiful piece of writing that was open to interpretation by anyone willing to connect with it.
I am just a fragment. Who knows where this fragment comes from.
What am I ? With this question humans travel through life.
Why go so many places ? Why tirelessly keep going until death ?
Why always look for new people, new experiences…?
Because I want to know…. what I am. I wanted to understand…. very deeply.
Before becoming a fragment, you and me were one ?
Before becoming a fragment, sky and me were one ?
Before becoming a fragment, sea and me were one ?
Awakened people said to me,
Do not search outside, look in. Truth is inside of you.
That’s why I put a ladder inside to go in myself one step at a time.
This is the beginning of butoh.
But I keep on dancing, that means I meet new people, I have new experienceEven though awakened people said sit still and look inside.
I really want to meet you, I want to meet sea, I want to meet sky, I want to meet light.
…May be I just wanted to know what I am.
But this dire need to meet new people, new things.
I am a fragment, not perfect, a broken piece.
I’m a dreamer of life that’s why this need to meet.
Million billion years ago, we were just one thing….
Butoh : Atsushi Takenouchi
Music : Hiroko Komiya
In the last post I promised to share the video art piece that accompanied the opening of the “MA” Exhibition. It was created by Piotr Zalewski /Noo-Studio (to read more about him please check out the earlier post — here). Inspired by the original reference video called “Urban Butoh” by Jordi Arque he came up with his own interpretation. The video art was projected onto a large cotton panel hanging in the exhibition space at TASTE Shop.
Here is the concept for the video art described in his own words :
Video Art for the MA Exhibition was created to support and transform the space to implement and showcase the concept of “MA”. The basis of the artist’s approach was based on the idea of contrasted elements : structures, lines & shadows. There is a space in-between the lines, that creates a way to interpret the reality of the person, strongly attached in Asian & European culture, corresponding with the changing environment we live in. The main components of the video are abstract lines, based on the original video that are overlapping, changing and transforming to abstract objects. The movement is preserved, but filtered and mixed with noise & sound, that creates loops & bubbles. The simplicity of it interacts with Asian parts of the drawing, but the attachment to the body as a structure and figure, references to European idea of beauty. The music breaks and repeats itself ; slightly altered original movie tracks are juxtaposed with Alva Noto & Ryuchi Sakamoto sounds, creating an impactful yet tranquil experience.
Credits for the original video material : Video Title : “Urban Butoh” Project / Performed by Butoh dance master : Atsushi Takenouchi / Directors : Jordi Arqué and Roberto Romero / Music : Hiroko Komiya /shot in the Poble Nou cemetery in Barcelona | http://vimeo.com/26881375
To read more about the music please visit TASTE Shop Blog here where you can find more in-depth information about the video art piece.
The previous blog post series talked about the development process of the pieces for « MA » Exhibition. To catch up on it please follow the links : Digital drawings, Sketches, Drawing, Gold leaf. Now, I would like to focus on the actual exhibition space. When the artwork was ready the next step was to frame it, thus I wish to devote a separate post to the subject of frames and hanging of the “MA” Exhibition.
I was immensely pleased with the frames I got done, hence I would like to share it with you. To extend the Japanese theme running in the artwork into the exhibition space the frames were made out of Japanese materials — real, beautiful wood painted white. In order for the gold leaf to really leap out, the frames were made deep with couple of centimeters between the glass and the surface of the artwork. Finally, the back of the frame was sealed seamlessly with a gorgeous dark olive tape. And.… it was all ready and delivered within 3 days ! Just amazing ! The frames arrived in a sturdy, elegant box and packed in an immaculate, white soft cotton bag. I was delighted with how fabulously the frame completed the artwork. I could have not wished for anything more. The exhibition space looked clean, minimalistic with white walls and white frames, which made the gold leaf and subtle line and drawing really stand out.
The way we hung the artwork was very symmetrical — 4 A2 pieces each wall mirroring each other and 2 A1 on a separate wall. The next thing that we needed to set up was the panel to project the video art onto. More about that in the next post so please stay tuned.
Today I would like to share the last instalment of the blog post series discusses the development process behind the “MA” Exhibition. Please check previous posts to catch up on the earlier stages (Digital drawing, Sketches, Drawing). After the drawings were completed the final touch was to apply the gold leaf which was going to be a whole new experience for me. To learn why and how I decided to go with gold leaf please go here. I was a little nervous before I started but once I ran few tests I was confident this was going to work and was eager to go through with it.
THE PROCESS :
Firstly, I sprayed the whole image with fixative to protect it from any damage or pencil smudging. I wanted the gold leaf to appear “behind the image” so to achieve that the gold leaf needed to come up right to the edge of the linear drawing. To achieve that I used masking tape to cover the part of the drawing that I didn’t want gold leaf on. I lined the edge of the image with a scalpel. Afterwards I applied a stroke of special glue with a wide brush. I had to not only use the right amount of glue but also place the stroke exactly where and how I planed it. I wanted the edges of the stroke to start sharp but end expressively which was a little difficult to do. Once the glue dried a little I peeled off the tape and let the glue dry longer till it was transparent. Then I lied down the sheets of gold leaves, which are very fragile so I had to be very careful not to rip them. I went for the real gold leaf so it was very soft and forgiving of any imperfections. It was soft enough to fill in the little gaps seamlessly. After the gold leaf was down on paper, using a soft, clean brush I gently pressed it down to reveal the stroke I had created with glue. Once the stroke of now gold was fully dry I wanted to soften the edge between the gold and the drawing. To help me even the surface I used some tools for working with metal and jewellery. I had to watch out not to scratch the soft golden surface though ! I’ve put together a short video that shows this process, to watch please click here. Hope you enjoy it.
THE MEANING BEHIND GOLD :
In my previous posts (click here to read) I mentioned the influence of MA on the concept of the exhibition. Having studied History of Art, I was aware of similar MA-like concepts in Western culture such as “AMOR VACUI” (latin for : the love of emptiness). “AMOR VACUI” is an approach opposite to “HORROR VACUI” (the fear of emptiness). The latter refers to a tendency to fill up the entire compositional space with elements of artwork and detail. These two points are at either end of the spectrum in terms of the constant dilemma between “Less in More” and “Less is Bore”. I saw the gold leaf as bringing an echo of the horror vacui opulence, thus creating a complementing contrast with so far very minimal space. Gold leaf represents abundance, strength, perfection and sophistication. Furthermore, the colour reflects the masculine energy present in the artwork and Butoh. Gold amplifies the association to the employed in the artwork divine principles of the golden ratio and basic shapes – triangle, diagonals and circles. In European culture gold was primarily used in religious representations of medieval altars and icons. In opposition, in the Eastern standards of Butoh the dancers perform naked, stripped of all boundaries allowing full, pure, organic expression. Finally, the Han character for “MA” comprises of separate Chinese marks meaning “Door of the Sun”, again alluding to the use of gold leaf.
Once I had all my images planned out I was very excited to get started. From herein it took around two weeks of spending pretty much every waking hour in the TASTE studio — but I do like a challenge and gradually over the course of the fortnight my carefully laid plans started to be realised. In this post I wanted to share with you some of my work during that time, showing photographs of the drawings at various different stages in their development and by doing so illustrate their ‘construction’ process.
The shaped sections of pencil shading, which juxtaposed against the subtle lines of the digital print, were the axis of the contrast between the traditional and contemporary values within my work. The aesthetics of the pencil sections were intended to evoke the standards of beauty present in European Renaissance art. My method of drawing focused on highlighting the muscle tone, sinew and landscape of the skin — accentuating the sculptural qualities of the human body. Philosophically, this alluded to the primacy of the human form and humanist values during the Renaissance era. Functionally, within my pieces, these pencil drawn sections acted as islands of three-dimensionality, popping out of an otherwise flat, linear background.
Meanwhile, the digital linear art was more minimalist in tone and was strongly influenced by more Far Eastern, primarily Japanese, aesthetics. To further contextualise this aspect of the work I collaborated closely in the studio with Yutaka Onozawa, a member of TASTE group who has a Japanese background. Most importantly, he introduced me to the the notion of “MA”, which was to become the main reference point for the contrast of ‘minimal’ and ‘detailed’ elements within the exhibition (and the eventual title of the exhibition).
MA is a Japanese word that translates as “space” or “pause.” In Europe we would probably understand this as negative- or white- space. However it has a broader conceptual meaning in Japan and is best described as :
“a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.”
The concept of MA has extended into every aspect of Japanese life and contains religious, psychological, and physical significance. It is prominent within their small-form, interior design, garden and building architecture. This spatial concept is also reflected in two-dimensional arts such calligraphy, where the mastery lies not only in the painted forms but also in the relationship of these forms to their surrounding space.
In my pieces I began to see that the impact of the pencil drawn sections was actually enriched by integrating them with the surrounding linear digital drawing and white-space. Moreover, this was not a simple juxtaposition of incongruous elements because when combined they holistically depicted the human form. To me this was the embodiment of ‘form’ and ‘non-form’ contributing to an experience that was greater than a simple sum of its parts. Equally, as a drawer of dance, I felt this approach was complementary because the final piece wasn’t overloaded with detail, leaving still enough space for the viewer to have freedom in interpreting the Butoh dancer’s movements.
Also, as serendipity would have it, I discovered later on that “MA” is represented by the HAN symbol (間). In separate Chinese marks this symbol translates as the “door of the sun”. Which I thought was yet another nice little metaphor to support the introduction of the gold leaf into my artwork. The HAN symbol was used in the design of the exhibition poster. The next post is about applying the gold leaf, so please stay tuned !
Once I arrived in Shanghai I shared my ideas for the residency with the TASTE group and we started to expand on them. Foremost, they were equally keen to extend the theme of Japanese aesthetics, which I’d initiated by selecting BUTOH as my subject matter.
To continue the development of my work I was given a desk in the TASTE Studio, which is just few minutes down the lane from their shop, in a fascinating art district Tian Zi Fang. In the studio I also got introduced to the pet cats, who were faithful (furry) companions throughout my visit.
I had only brought one copy of each of the digital prints with me to China. So first of all I needed to make a clear plan regarding which parts of the prints I would embellish with hand-drawn sections. I went back to Photoshop and started preparing sketches for how I envisaged the final artwork to look like. With some images I experimented with few different arrangements, whilst with others the ideal solution jumped right out at me. Meanwhile, whilst planning out this pencil work I started to think more about the juxtaposition I was making between digital and traditional drawing. I dwelt on the stunning academic studies of the human body produced by Old Masters like Michelangelo or DaVinci and realised that by referring to that type of academic drawing in my pencil work I could evoke the aesthetics of the Renaissance. I re-familiarised myself with the concepts of beauty during that period (e.g. the proportions of a golden ratio and the compositional foundation of simple shapes : circle, rectangle and triangle) and began to feel that bringing out this western lineage in my work could provide a powerful conceptual counterpoint to the eastern influence that were now evident too (e.g. in the subject matter and the digital linear drawing). Fusing both these eastern and western philosophies seemed a powerful metaphor for the overall residency and exhibition.
Once we had the sketches printed out and laid out in front of us I felt that something was missing. I had been contemplating using strokes or accents of colour in my work but seeing them altogether I didn’t feel that this particular set of drawings would be enhanced by something as drastic as a splash of paint. In TASTE Shop they do love their black, white and gold and in fact use quite a lot of gold leaf in their branding. Piotr Zalewski suggested to me that I should consider incorporating gold leaf into my, currently, monochromatic pieces, initially simply as an homage to the residency with TASTE Shop. Since I was already venturing bravely to the field of mixed media I decided to give it some thought. I liked how gold leaf would introduce some texture to the overall artwork, as opposed adding colour, which I felt would overshadow the subtlety of the drawing. The idea of using gold also grew on me because it would need to be applied on a brushstroke of glue ; the dynamic energy this would bring would further contrast with the very structured composition of the drawings. Finally, I fancied that the gold leaf would support the concept of movement in my work because its shiny surface shimmers with reflections, suggestive of being in constant flux.
Before I committed to using gold, I made sure I researched into appropriate reference points that would justify the usage of gold within the exhibition. My ideas for using the Renaissance as an inspiration really began to align at this point, using some of this era’s aesthetics to plan the placement of gold within my compositions. Within the images I laid out the shapes made out of shading, as well as the strokes of gold, to suggest geometric shapes comprising of diagonal and straight lines.
When we once again printed it all out, the images worked extremely well as a series due to the underlying compositional threads of ‘shape’ and ‘gold’ which tied them together. We decided to strength this aspect by putting 4 of the images together as 2 diptychs and build linking elements between the images using the gold leaf. So, the decision was reached. I was going to use gold leaf in my work. Confident in my choice and excited at the opportunity to experiment with something new I measured out how many pieces of gold leaf I would need and place an order.
This week my blog posts are going to give you an insight into the development work underpinning my recent “MA” Exhibition in Shanghai, which was the result of a residency with TASTE shop. Writing these posts is very exciting because it’s the first time I’ve decided to share the ‘behind the scenes’ processes that I go through when putting together an exhibition.
In the weeks before my residency began, before flying out to Shanghai, I put a lot of thought into how I was going to use the residency as an opportunity to experiment, and try some new things within my practice. I decided I wanted to keep a consistent theme from my previous work, continuing to use Dance as my subject matter but that I would explore some new representational techniques and diversify into ‘mixed media’ compositions.
As you’ll know if you read my posts last week, I decided to use BUTOH dance as my subject matter. In particular I took inspiration from a video-recorded performance entitled “Urban Butoh.” I poured over that video, watching it countless times to identify specific stills from it that would serve as my core reference material. Primarily I looked for postures and movements that were going to make powerful statements when presented as still images. In a slight departure from previous practice I decided to select a few of these stills to work with as close-up images. Until then I had always worked with full-figure images, without any cropping, This time I wanted a few pieces which focussed on facial expressions. Around this time TASTE also sent over some details about the dimensions of the exhibition space, which I used to plan the size of my display. After some complex mathematics (okay, basic arithmetic) we worked out that I could fit 2 A1 size images and 9 A2 pieces into their space. Meaning the exhibit would, in total, comprise of 11 pieces.
My preferred medium of practice has always been traditional graphite pencil drawing. However, during a few recent commissions I’d revisited using a digital-tablet to draw with (see example). I was keen to take advantage of the residency to work on pieces that combined these two techniques. I was hoping that juxtaposing pencil and tablet elements within compositions would be an interesting contrast, highlighting the evolutionary lineage from classical pencil drawing to contemporary digital art. To accentuate this idea I decided to make the digital drawing very graphical, clean and simple and contrast this against shading work with the pencil. This paralleled nicely with Japanese (Butoh) influences underpinning my reference work because in Japanese painting the weight of the line is an extremely important feature — a feature I would be experimenting with digitally.
As an aside, the digital drawing in particular proved quite challenging because the stills from the video were very low resolution, in comparison to the size I was intending to print to. So there wasn’t really enough information for a detailed drawing. On the scale that I was working to you merely got a blurry suggestion of the figure and its elements. However, in the end I quite liked this uncertainty because it made me have to rely on my own interpretation in places — with this subjectivity resulting in more personal input from me into how the final images looked.
Once I had my drawings done I was off to Poland to pick up my VISA. That’s where I got my prints ready. I printed them at the Print Shop of the Academy of Fine Arts, in Wroclaw, where I did my initial Foundation Year of training before going off to study abroad for my degree. The facilities there are great and I was able to print on high quality art print paper with archival ink, which isn’t going to fade away in time. I was extremely happy with the quality of the print. All rolled up, the prints went off with me to Warsaw Airport for a flight to Beijing.
To be continued… look out for more posts later this week.
Noo-Studio | The House of Collaboration is a platform that brings together a collective of artists and designers to work on a variety of commissions and projects. In their own words (taken from the website):
Noo-Studio is a Contemporary Design Studio that provides design solutions for brands. We develop ideas of collectivity and bring creatives together. From that we build a quality that is essential to our designs.
Areas of expertise :
Design and Consultancy, Art Direction, Graphic Design Services, Event Management, Multimedia, Website Design, Branding, Creative Collaboration, Photo Manipulation, Illustration, E-mail Marketing, Campaign Design, Blogging, Drawing, Hand Sketching, 3D Design, Packaging Design
Why Noo ?
noonoo : noun (pl. noonoos) variant spelling of nunu. nunu |ˈnuːnuː|(also noonoo) noun (pl. nunus) S. African informal an insect, spider, worm, or similar small creature. ORIGIN from Zulu inunu ‘horrible object or animal’.
Noo : A Scotticism is a phrase or word which is characteristic of dialects of Scots.  An archetypal example is « Och aye the noo», which translates as, « Oh yes, just now ». This phrase is often used in parody by non-Scots and although the phrases « Och aye » and « the noo » are in common use by Scots separately, they are rarely used together.
The director and creator of Noo-Studio is Piotr Zalewski. He is an incredibly creative visual designer, who I am lucky to share a long-standing friendship with. He has worked in numerous graphic design companies including Swedbrand Ltd and Kevin Woo Designs and last year decided to focus on developing his freelance career. Since then he has thrived, working primarily on projects for the fashion industry, building a reputation for being skilled at developing brand identities. He has particular expertise in logo design, website and online presence design, pattern and fabric print design, look-book layouts and photo retouching. I have attached some examples of my favourite Noo-Studio project — pattern/fabric design and website design for EKOKO Createur. To view more please visit his website here.
Personally I have worked with Noo-Studio for about a year, on various graphic design commissions and collaborative projects. Our largest current commission involves designing illustrations and patterns for kidswear collections produced by Chinese clothing brands Mesamis and SunRoo. Linking back to one of my earlier posts in this series, Zalewski is also heavily involved in the TASTE Shop branding. This includes having designed their logo and branding as well as constructing and developing their website. In fact, Piotr also found time to design this beautiful website too, which I hope you are enjoying visiting. He sure does keep himself busy !
Piotr was a great support and invaluable help with the art direction for the MA Exhibition, and for this I would like to sincerely thank him. He encouraged me to try out gold leaf with my drawings and supported me with advice and feedback throughout this process. It was really great to have someone to bounce ideas off of, which made the whole process much more interactive and enjoyable. Piotr’s main collaborative input to the exhibition was to create video art based on the “Urban Butoh” video, which was projected during the opening night of the “MA”exhibition. This I will share in a future post, so please stay tuned.