Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Fantasmagoria: Tomas Saraceno & Mira Nussbaum

Scene of a Fantasmagoria, 1885
Scene of a Fantasmagoria, 1885.
By Arthur Pougin [Public Domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
This week, instead of a What The F!#& Should I Read Friday, I'm trying a new feature: Friday Fantasmagoria, in which I introduce fantastical and inspiring works of art and/or artists I've recently discovered. Why fantasmagoria? Fantasmagorias were magic lantern shows in the late 18th/19th century that utilized all sorts of materials and projection methods to create spooky, supernatural effects. Although I don't intend to highlight ghost stories in this feature, I do want to choose works that include uncommon materials used to almost unbelievable results. I'll be choosing artists who use smoke, silk, paper, etc, twisted into truly fantastical forms that might just make you gasp or gape in disbelief. This week, I've got two artists, one famous, one relatively unknown: Tomás Saraceno and Mira Nussbaum. Both of them use fabric in their works to astounding, wonderful ends: Saraceno is his installation Poetic Cosmos of the Breath, among other works, and Nussbaum in her incredible Silk Stories, personalized paintings on silk.

Montreal Biosphere by Buckminster Fuller, 1967
Buckminster Fuller's Montreal Biosphère, 1967
Attribution: Cédric THÉVENET [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Tomás Saraceno is an Argentinian artist living in Germany who is mainly preoccupied with futuristic, utopian visions of a world in which we'll all live in groovy mutating "cloud cities," habitable, bubble-like platforms floating in the air. He gets compared to people like Buckminster Fuller in glowing articles about his work, although the New York Times expressed some disappointment with his rooftop installation at the Met, dismissing it as "funhouse formalism" and disagreeing with the Met's claims that it's "site-specific," sniding that "really it is just a big, climbable piece of plop art, amenable to most any rooftop or plaza." That's as may be - but it has more to do in my mind with the fact that installations in giant museums often feel like big, goofy experiments. I often find it difficult to have really extraordinary experiences of art in the sterility of gallery settings, which is why I'm so drawn to Poetic Cosmos of the Breath, a stunning endeavor if I've ever seen one. I wouldn't call it site-specific, exactly, because it could have been done on any flat field at dawn, I suppose, but it's something else - sunrise-specific. That is, the people who really got to experience it most fully are those who arrived at Gunpowder Park, Essex, before sunrise to help inflate the huge piece of foil for the rising sun to strike. And then - why, it looked like a giant technicolor soap bubble you could walk right into. Every shift of the breeze and change in the angle of the sun alters the colors on the inside of the dome. Poetic cosmos, indeed: everything the NYT didn't see in his "Cloud City" is here in this staggering installation.

Golden Gate Bridge reflected in a soap bubble! Now imagine
standing inside the bubble seeing all those shifting colors
as the bubble floats. Sound awesome? Seriously, go and look
at the pictures of the installation. Your mind will go boom.
Attribution: I, Brocken Inaglory [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0
or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Commissioned by The Arts Catalyst, this piece really does combine art, science, and architecture, not to mention a visionary nature. (You may notice that I'm not posting pictures of the installation. Why? Because I don't have the permissions and I really can't afford to get sued. But you can see absolutely jawdropping images here, here and here. Seriously, go look. They are amazing.) And whoa, lookit the colors! For me, the really fantasmagorical aspect of this piece is  the way it asks us to reimagine the way we see something as ordinary as sunlight or a soap bubble as a poetic realm, a dwelling-place, an iridescent environment.

Mira Nussbaum's silk paintings echo the radiant color spectrum of Saraceno's installation in a much more personal way. Her paintings transform stained glass into a softness, combining the translucency of windowpanes and the compelling physicality of silk. I was lucky enough to visit her house a while back, and saw there a number of paintings she had made for friends and loved ones. She drew intricate interpretations of their life stories and spiritual journeys, illuminated them in brilliant color, and mounted them on lightboxes. The mutable, watercolor luminance of her works is very much akin to the soap-bubble light of Poetic Cosmos, only in this case each wash of color has a narrative behind it. Nussbaum is a cook and a landscaper, among other things, with a serious investment in permaculture, plant knowledge, and wildcrafting skills. Her preoccupations with land, growth, sustainability, and fertility are evident in her paintings, which are full of a vivid and abundant natural life growing and swirling over the panels. Silk, that most fluid of fabrics, is the perfect material for an artwork that seems simultaneously to be glass and watercolor, translucent and shimmering. You can see (you should see!) an album of her work, including some amazing process photos, here. And for twenty bucks you can buy a book full of absolutely glowing pictures of her work, a kind of modern illuminated manuscript. If you're broke or just want to feast your eyes, the full preview, including dozens (hundreds?) of pictures of her pieces, is available here. The book is called Silk Stories: Visual Treasures for Your Body, Your Wall, Your Soul, and it is most definitely an accurate title.

Why share these works? First of all, because they are unusually splendid and spectacular. Second, because they are inspiring: both Nussbaum and Saraceno are thinking about fairly ordinary materials in fairly extraordinary ways. And finally, of course, because their work speaks about joy - joy in color, the dance of the jeweled spectrum, color like a river or a sea, holy and mutable, poetic and transformative.

1 comment:

  1. Well, now I really wish you had seen the peculiar found art in the antique store off Railroad Square. It's gone, now, though :(


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