You go up to the 4th floor, you turn left after getting out of the elevator to look at the description of the show. There, you can see the work which intrigued me the most in the show: A statesmanlike, official looking portrait of President Obama placed high up on the wall. Beneath it, people gather to read the description about the show.
“Why is he there?” I ask my wife. We are at one of the most prestigious cultural institutions where, at least to me, openness and examinations of possibilities should be encouraged, and the shapes, positions and the contexts of humanity in our lives should be explored without any authoritative boundaries. I was disturbed to see him introducing the show, greeting a few thousand museum goers everyday. For a starter, this president joins a meeting every week with the people from the spy agencies, generals and other officials to discuss who should be assassinated with remote controlled planes. This president engages, without due process, the executions of suspects which include the US citizens and innocent bystanders. The attacks are often aimed at wedding ceremonies, funerals, and they often include “double tapping”, a war crime according to international laws, in which a successive attack is aimed at rescuers, desperate relatives in tears and the brave people who volunteer to help the injured victims. My wife sort of avoids the question saying “I don’t know”. We often get into arguments when I start talking about things of this nature.
I really hated to ruin the day with a fight. After all, it was my birthday and she came out to pick me up in the city where I was working for a week. It was nice to see her after a week of separation, but I felt the burning anger and sadness thinking about the deaths and the destruction, the words “why is he there?” just dropped out of my mouth. My wife might have rolled her eyes, but that was not unusual. I also forgot about it after 5 seconds. We were back to our fun outing.
Moving along, looking at art works, I might have taken a picture or two. I thought one of the cardboard sculptures on the wall was nice. My wife complained that she didn’t like anything except for the pots with dinosaurs on them. I wanted to say that some of the works seem to be like blue prints or recipes. They seemed to include instructions or narratives but they didn’t actually create the magical tastes in my mouth, or the profound shock of transformation in my head. But before I could actually open my mouth and say it, we weren’t walking together anymore. I guess I tend to think in a day dreamy manner sometimes, my wife would get mad because I think in my head and I fail to actually say it, resulting in, well, ignoring her without meaning to do so. In short, we were just appreciating the art works in the show.
Anyway, we moved to the 3rd floor. By that time, however, I was feeling something again. I noticed that I was repeating the words “why was he there?”. The portrait: his piercing eyes, the image of the people swarming beneath him. And I almost forgot to mention this but you could also hear low ominous sound effects coming from a sculpture around the corner adding to the undeniable unsettling feeling. Come to think of it, the placement was sort of odd too, stuck at the corner, sort of too high as if it was calling your attention to bring out the question “why is he there?”
I had to tell my wife that I had to go back to the 4th floor to see what the portrait was all about. A big mistake, of course. Later I was accused of leaving her wondering in the museum alone. But the question kept repeating in my head “why was he there”. I could not help it.
This is what the description on the wall said:
“Many of Dawound Bey’s photographs–including the others on view elsewhere on this floor–reflect on the nature of portraiture. They explore the limits of what the genre can and cannot do, using it to pose complex questions of identity and our relationships to history. Bey’s portait of Barack Obama is, by contrast, an excellent but straightforward example of the genre. It is included here as a tactical move within curator Michelle Grabner’s quasi-pedagogical strategy; Grabner notes that this image can be viewed as “a signifier of both civil unity and political and racial instability, a punctuation of nationalism and hierarchy in a shifting field of artworks that occupy the fourth floor””.
OK, so the museum does acknowledge the portrait as a “punctuation of nationalism”, and “a signifier of both political and racial instability”. But the president’s portrait, which is positioned to preside over one of the most important cultural events in the city, is also seen as a symbol of “civil unity”.
There is a civil unity based on justice and humanity and a civil unity based on violence and fear.
The Obama administration has succeeded in rounding up the entire population of the planet under the vast NSA global network. The government is collecting everything we do online and more. They send out bugs to infect our devices to spy. They infiltrate democratic movements to hunt down dissenting voices. They threaten journalists with unjust laws and imprisonment. And as the elected officials talk about peace and democracy, they keep 1000 military bases across the globe with 57% of our taxes going to the defense budget. The US fights numerous covert and overt wars, all of them are offensive and are based on the special interests of the multinational corporations and the giant banks. At home, the police force is militarized. We have 2 million people, mostly minorities and mostly for victimless crimes, incarcerated in domestic prisons, the running of which is out sourced to private corporations, providing virtually free labor for the major US corporations. OK, I’ll stop but my point is that it’s the “civil unity” by the rule of fear.
There is no word about any of that in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. We may talk about gay rights. We may talk about women’s rights. We may express and explore the boundaries of our culture and our perceptions. But we are unified under the piercing eyes of our commander in chief. Why is he there? Because he is the symbol of our corporate cage. We are free and creative as long as we stay inside of our cage. And the more I see our moral and ethical obligations neglected in our art community by our silence, the brighter the president’s portrait on the 4th floor shines.
Of course, that is just all in my head. But I fantasize and I’m dying to want to believe that one of the curators of the 2014 Whitney Biennial sees it through. She is compelled to step out of the cage and poses important questions as a responsible human being: Why is he there? Don’t we know what is going on? What is art for? What is culture when our basic values are based on corporate interests? Don’t we care?
As we left the museum, the entire building seemed to be a giant art monster with President Obama’s portrait as the head and the long line leading out of the door as its tail.
This story really moved me. It happened in the 90s in Japan. The economic bubble of the 80s had burst and the corporate oriented restructuring and austerity measures gave some people a newly found reality of surviving outside of the corporate routines. The underground station of Shinjuku, Tokyo was filled with cardboard houses populated by the homeless people.
It’s a story of young artists who themselves lived on the edge of the corporate cage, relentlessly trying to be true to humanity…
I came across their website recently and the English translation was missing in the descriptions of their art works which are crucial in telling the story of those artists. I offered to translate some of them and here is a first set of images which tells about how they got started.
Photos are by Naoko Sakokawa.
The very first Shinjuku Underground Station West exit Cardboard painting.
Initially, I wasn’t intending on painting those cardboard houses at the underground corridors at all. I was set to street-paint in Shinjuku, guerrilla style. I walked around Shinjuku with paint cans with “TAKEWO”. But the seemingly open, unrestricted big city didn’t have any place for the guerrilla paint job. We looked and looked but it was all systematic. We just walked around aimlessly with disappointment.
We just stood around hopelessly. The city was gigantic and oppressive. As we followed the river of people in despair, we came across the village of cardboard houses at the Shinjuku Underground Station West Exit. We stumbled onto one of them, knocking the cardboard door:
“What do you want?” A large man with a menacing face answered.
“I’m an artist and I would like to paint on your cardboard house,” I answered.
“Like I said, I would like to paint on your cardboard house.”
“OK, go ahead.”
That’s how our cardboard house painting got started. We, “TAKEWO” and I, spent all night painting two of the cardboard houses that night. We kept hearing distant sounds of people screaming and shattering glass, and the underground corridor was filled with the police siren and the ambulance siren every once in a while.
In the summer night, our rebellion was born in the underground of the mega city.
This piece is considered a representative work of ours that survived the forced removal of homeless people by the city of Tokyo on 1/24/1996. It’s THE Shinjuku Underground Station West Exit cardboard house painting.
Yamane mentioned the words “Left Eye of Shinjuku”. The image of those words got the three of us started. It was an all night live painting. The battle of us three. It was so intense that we drew some audience.
Across from the West Exit rotary there is a monument called “An Eye of Shinjuku”. It’s the right eye. And the one we painted is the left one. Makes sense. It’s the pair. The giant eyes had emerged in the Shinjuku underground corridor. The underground became a creature with a soul, baring its teeth against fucking Japan.
Just in case, I must say that the “Left” of “The Left Eye of Shinjuku” has nothing to do with the left wing. So those middle aged dick-wad lefties dragging around the 60s shouldn’t mix this up with that. We are not piece of shit like you all. By the way, it’s odd but when we finished painting this one, we somehow felt that when this painting is gone, that’ll be the time this village will be gone.
The Left Eye of Shinjuku which survived the forced removal had prevailed as a symbol of the underground kingdom.
Then the big fire of February of 1998 came. Soaked in water, the painting was disposed of by the City of Tokyo, and the village has disappeared as well. The Left Eye of Shinjuku really died with the cardboard village.
A piece made with circles.
I wished my work to be weirdly “inevitable” to the time and the space, not to be about my personal ideology, my philosophy or my process.
I drew lots of circles. A circle doesn’t have edges. It’s round, and it looks the same from any angle. And it’s somewhat humorous. I was edgy but I drew lots of circles.
When we become excessive, we lose the essence. I also wanted my expression to include a healthy dose of looseness and a sense of humor. But that was pretty tough. We often ended up painting with a grabbing-someone-by-the-neck sort of an attitude.
Myself screaming savagely with a knife in my hand, myself being inclusive with a sense of humor, many thoughts went through my mind.
But I felt that the experience which transformed me positively the most is when I touched the warmth of humanity.
This might be a picture when the cardboard village was being removed.
Far into the picture there is the word “sin” (罪) and to the left, there is the word “no”(無), the piece reads “innocent”(無罪). It was a piece done as a reaction to the not guilty verdict of 1/24/1996 to an activist for protesting against the removal of the cardboard village. Later the verdict was reversed. The activist became the sinner and the city committed a sin of eradicating the cardboard village. A sin is manufactured according to the convenience of the society. The society is made up with individuals. While we fight among each other, we are harming the planet. It might be correct that we are all born sinners.
Please join us for the opening reception on Thursday 10/10/13 6-8pm at Lori Bookstein Fine Art.
#76, , 2010-13, painted resin, 46 x 37 x 31 inches
Lori Bookstein Press release
October 10 – November 9, 2013
Lori Bookstein Fine Art is pleased to announce an exhibition of recent work by Hiroyuki Hamada. This is the artist’s second solo-show with the gallery.
Created from layers of plaster, resin and waxes, Hamada transforms raw materials into sculptures with impressive scale and infinite detail. Taken as a whole, the
volumes he creates vary from simple geometric forms to extremely complicated amalgamations of shaped volumes. However, upon closer inspection, the
surfaces of the sculptures reveal a myriad of individual cells replete with painted and sculpted pattern. This part-to-the-whole relationship is a theme that runs
throughout Hamada’s oeuvre, echoing the artist’s own social consciousness and his interest in the way individual contributions effect larger systems.
Executed with incredible restraint, Hamada limits himself to a neutral palette consisting primarily of black and white [and on occasion, more coppery hues].
This, along with the absence of descriptive titles – each piece is sequentially numbered as it is completed – gives the sculpture an austere quality that allows
for the viewer to bring individual significance to the work. Yet this austerity is not a perfect one. It is tinged with a timeworn patina of dented edges and
scratched surfaces, which imbues the work with wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic in which beauty is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. While this is not
a part of his conscious approach, the artist acknowledges its presence, noting that momentariness is “one of the most fundamental truths we have.”
Hamada’s work often presents itself to the viewer in seemingly opposing dualities: archaic and futuristic, natural and industrial, restrained and effusive. Indeed,
the sculptures are as familiar as they are foreign, and yet, it is this Heraclitian relationship that drives the artist’s practice. Deeply conscious of the
omnipresence of social and political issues at large, Hamada explains that within his studio he strives “to find fine balance in elements to see things being
harmonized, opposing elements coexisting in meaningful ways, richness and warmth being born out of raw materials.”
Hiroyuki Hamada was born in 1968 in Tokyo, Japan. He moved to the United States at the age of 18. Hamada studied at West Liberty State College, WV before
receiving his MFA from the University of Maryland. Hamada has been included in numerous exhibitions throughout the United States including his previous
exhibition, Hiroyuki Hamada: Two Sculptures, at Lori Bookstein Fine Art. He was the recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Grant in 2009 and the
Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 1998. Most recently, Hamada’s work was featured in Tristan Manco’s Raw + Material = Art (Thames & Hudson). The artist
lives and works in East Hampton, NY.
Hiroyuki Hamada will be on view from October 10 – November 9, 2013. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, October 10th from 6-8 pm.
Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 am to 6:00 pm. A catalog of this exhibition will be available later this fall. For additional information and/or
visual materials, please contact Joseph Bunge at (212) 750-0949 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Steppling relentlessly sheds a light on the self destructive mechanism of the corporate domination, particularly on culture and the arts. He lays out the vast desolate landscape of our time with his endless grievances of urgency and desperation. I’ve learned so much from his writings.
This particular one stops me and puts me in a deep contemplative mode since he mentions about my work in it:
I am very much excited that Steppling recognizes the value in what I do. And after reading the piece a few times, it has become clear to me that the main message I get is that we could all contribute in resisting the abuses and the limits put forth by the powerful few. It might not do any good. We might not be as popular. But we still want to stand for the wider reality beyond the corporate structure which allows our full potential as human beings.
And we are all a part of the process. The enormous violence and the unreasonable demands forced upon us by the establishment are in no way a part of the indestructible law of nature, they are merely tendencies cultivated by the power elites while the majority of us allowed that to be a part of our system.
Last night I had my recurring dream of flood again. I’ve been having this dream for a while, maybe for more than 10 years. Basically it’s a dream about big waves which swallow everything and there is nothing I can do about it. But last night it was different. The usual helplessness and the quiet acceptance of the fate was absent. The flood was coming but I was standing on a higher plane looking down on the flood approaching. And it was a night time. This one didn’t accompany the clear blue sky which I somehow associated with the flood dream. I felt uneasy and apprehensive but full of life. As the reflection of the moon delineated the rising water, I started to run, thinking that I would perhaps be saved this time. And I knew that I wasn’t alone.
Here is a clip of a short talk I did about making sculpture last year.
Thank you Andrea Grover and Parrish Art Museum for putting it together.
Thank you for inviting me today. I would like to talk about making sculptures. The first step is to come up with the basic idea for it. This is a tricky process because I am interested in an experience without words, stories or symbols. What I am interested in is to make you feel like you belong to the vast universe that is within the tiny cells we are made of reaching out to the edge of the space out there. It can be a scary feeling. You are all alone just floating in the unknown vastness. You might be stuck with something you don’t understand. Or you might feel like you are nothing. You might be lonely and afraid. But I believe good art can let you feel the vastness and the mystery without the fear. It welcomes you with open arms. And remind you that you belong to that reality. It can be a moment when you look at a painting you love. Or it can last for a whole song when you listen to a great song. Or it can last for a whole chapter of a book. What it does is that it can become a bridge between that part of you and you buried in our everyday life. It gives us the courage to go on and it gives us the courage to embrace the unknown with curiosity and excitement.
Making process is a weird thing. You open yourself in certain ways at the same time you let go of other things. It’s not like solving a math problem where you add a fixed number to a fixed number for instance. Most of the time you can’t even see all the numbers you are adding. And the missing numbers can only be seen with your heart and soul. For an average man in mid 40s, jaded, cynical and disillusioned, it is not easy. As soon as I think I caught something, it’s gone. It’s like building something with my eyes closed. The things I can count on the most in this complicated process are persistence and time. Good work requires breaking rules that I have cultivated over the years. It requires additional trials and errors that allow me to see the new possibilities. I have to be patient in sticking to the goal.
The process is very slow and it’s done with my tiny brain with yet smaller art window looking out where the work sits. I go around the work so many times trying to look through the window mostly failing to see what’s out there. But eventually I succeed in mapping the area. I slowly build the work. I try to feel my way through every inch of the surface. In fact, it’s much less than an inch. Sometimes a tiny dot might make a big difference, like a tiny sparkle in somebody’s eye that can make him come alive. But it gets complicated when the work doesn’t even have an eye or a face. It’s a very time consuming process. But when the work is done. It’s very obvious. I am at a special place only with my work and myself. Nothing else matters and I am completely at peace, or completely excited.
So how do I go about it? My approach is to start from drawings. That’s my map to guide me to where I will be struggling. The lines, subtle shades of tones, shapes, these things can imply the vast process that I will be going through. I keep my sketchbook with me all the time. I try to brain storm on papers and come up with recurring shapes that literally ask me to work on as it starts to appear as a three dimensional piece in my imagination. Or sometime it just pops right on the page and I’m certain that I have to work on it.
I started out as a painter so building structures can be rather crude with lots of trials and errors. I mostly use materials you can find at a hardware store: Wood, insulation foam, burlap, plaster, roofing tar, spray paint, and so on. And using newer, more exotic materials has been an interesting challenge today.
The surface treatment brings up the characters of the piece, It defines the shape, it gives a static object movements, rhythm, surprises, and visual narratives. Or it can even tell you an imaginary history of a catastrophic event, reconciliation, or just endless calmness and richness of unbroken cycle of nature. I have fun going along with the flow. I take chances. I try to see things I didn’t see before. The result, when it works, always surprises me with a fresh presence of its own.
It’s been 4 years since I showed a set of new works. Finally I will have a solo show with new works this fall. The show opens on 10/10/13 at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in NYC. So far I’m planing to have 3 to 5 large pieces and probably around 4 midsize to smaller ones. And possibly some small drawings as well…
Pieces are still in progress… I still can’t see how the pieces fit in the space yet… But here is a floor plan of the space.
Here is a link to an interview with the lab magazine. It went really well. Please check it out!