They Come to Us Without a Word was the art installation by American artist Joan Jonas that occupied all five galleries of the American Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Higher definition images (2048 x 1365) are available in my Flickr album: Artjouer: Venice Biennale 2015 Gallery.
You can view the whole installation in this video:
The main part of the exhibit consisted of four rooms. In each room, there were two large screens displaying video projections. The videos were dreamy, multi-layered shots of children and young teens who performed wordless role plays set against video of landscapes and other scenes shot by the artist. In each room, one video would be related to the main theme of the room—for example, one room had a bee motif, with inkblot drawings of bees on the wall, while another room had a fish motif—while the other video would be an ongoing narrative that continued from room to room.
The rooms also contained drawings by the artist, props from the videos and free-standing mirrors. An audio soundtrack was also playing—this featured spoken narration as well as a soundtrack featuring ambient music by Jason Moran and songs by Ánde Somby. But what did it all mean? In the press release, Jonas states:
“Although the idea of my work involves the question of how the world is so rapidly and radically changing, I do not address the subject directly or didactically,” said Jonas. “Rather, the ideas are implied poetically through sound, lighting and the juxtaposition of images of children, animals and landscape.” (joanjonasvenice2015.com/press-release/press-release)
The summary by NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, where the installation was also exhibited is more explicit:
My own response to the work, however, was a strong feeling of nostalgia. The videos reminded me of childhood summers. The forest landscapes were reminiscent of summers spent visiting relatives or going to cottages and summer camps. The role-play scenes brought to mind vague memories of elaborate role plays with the daughters of my grandparent’s neighbours. The ‘fish’ room brought to mind summer days at the cottage of my step-grandfather, an avid fisherman. For me, walking through the exhibit was like navigating through the gauzy haze of childhood memories.
This was my sister’s favorite pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale. I liked it as well, though my favorite was Chiharu Shiota’s installation in the Japanese Pavilion: The Key in the Hand.
During the autumn of 2014, a student-led protest was held in Hong Kong. The protesters, calling for greater democracy and for the territory’s Chief Executive to be elected via universal suffrage, occupied streets in three districts: Mongkok, Causeway Bay and Admiralty. For more background on the protests itself, you can read my article: Photo Essay: The People of Hong Kong’s
During the Umbrella Movement protests, many artists, designers and photographers got involved, with new artwork frequently appearing at the protests sites. This article showcases some of the paintings and sketches that were created and displayed. Future articles will focus on posters, banners, installation art and sculpture.
Flyingpig is a young Hong Kong artist who specializes in watercolor paintings of daily life in local neighborhoods. For each painting, she tends to choose one dominant color to set the mood for the painting. During the Umbrella movement protests, she was mainly concerned with documenting the normal routines at the protest site.
During the protests, participants spent the vast majority of time just trying to go about life as normal—eating, sleeping, getting supplies, talking do friends and doing school assignments. This sense of normalcy is reflected in Flyingpig’s paintings; barricades blend innocently into the urban landscape, protest tents looks like market stalls and people are just going about their usual business.
She would sketch on site in a sketch book and after the paintings were completed, they were blown up, printed out and displayed at the Admiralty site.
She is still very involved with social issues; for example, I saw her at an event held to preserve the Yen Cho Street Hawker Bazaar.
Franceso Lietti is a Hong Kong-based artist and designer originally from Italy. When painting the Hong Kong skyline, he tends to use warm, earthy and vibrant colors that reflect both his Mediterranean upbringing and his appreciation for the vibrancy of Hong Kong. From a distance, Hong Kong is all silvery steel, grey concrete and deep green vegetation, but these cool colors don’t really do justice to the territory’s energy and liveliness.
He painted at different protest sites, inviting passers-by to add their own messages and pictures to the buildings. The first picture in this section shows some of the completed paintings that he put on display at the Admiralty site.
Miso Zo’s vibrant paintings capture the contrasting moods of Umbrella Movement protests. In one striking painting, policemen, their faces distorted with rage, blast a lone protester with pepper spray. The man stands still and resolute, with hands clenched at his side.
When I came across Misa Zo at the Admiralty protest site, he was working in acrylic and oil paint on a large canvas, the painting depicting a scene capturing the more peaceful side of the movement. In that painting, set in a quiet area a few blocks away from the main protest site at Admiralty, a man is getting a haircut in the middle of the road. As the protests dragged on, support facilities run by volunteers started appearing to cater to their needs—first aid stations, supply stations, a library an outdoor study hall, battery recharging stations, recycling centers and, in this case, a barbershop.
Artist Miso Zo
Miso Zo is pseudonym. He is a New York-based artist who was in Beijing during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He also did some installation pieces during the Umbrella Movement protests.
Vin is a Hong Kong designer. His ink on cardboard works were more overly political than many of the other artists. In one drawing, a lone figure clad in a rain coat, goggles and surgical masks and holding an umbrella asks “Who dressed me like this?.” At the beginning of the protests, police used tear gas and pepper spray on the peacefully assembled protesters, who used the umbrellas that they had brought to provide protection from the sun to protect themselves from the tear gas cannisters and the spray. The umbrella soon became a symbol of the protest. After that day, whenever police gathered in force in riot gear, the front line of protesters opposing them, would wear whatever protection they could scrounge up.
Another of his drawings deals with the suspected collusion between the police and organized crime members, the latter of which were involved in attacks on protesters.
chanqueen, Kay Cheung & Bear Pang
Like Flyingpig, chanqueen, Kay Cheung & Bear Pang are sketch artists who worked worked with ink and watercolor to document the protests. Their works were blown up and displayed at the Admiralty site. To save space, I have included two pictures from each artist, but you can see more of their sketches at my Flickr album (just click on any photo to go to the album).
Here are some of the other art pieces I noticed at the Admiralty site. These five paintings were labelled #PaintForChange, but I don’t know anything about the artist(s). If you happen to know anything, please leave a comment below.You can see higher resolution versions of the images in my Flickr album (https://flic.kr/s/aHskYVL8pU)
The painting by Jenn Chan below is a reference to a meme involving Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s surname, which sounds like the Cantonese word for ‘wolf’.
I spoke briefly with the artist who painted the next picture. It is an optimistic piece describing a dream in which birds return to a forest and the filling the air with their songs.
Here are two more works:
Notes: The Umbrella Movement in a Nutshell
The umbrella movement refers to the pro-democracy protests that took place in Hong Kong from 26 September to 15 December 2014. Protesters, who occupied streets in three districts, were seeking greater democracy and sought to have territory’s Chief Executive elected via universal suffrage. For more information, you can check out my blog post on the Umbrella Movement: Photo Essay: Hong Kong Protests
The artwork on this page features fascinating and colorful large-scale portraits by three European artists. Each artist uses his or her own special techniques and materials to explore themes of identity (To view any of the photos at a higher resolution, click on the image).
Lita Cabellut, a Spanish artist of Romani ancestry, specializes in large-scale portraits (though she is involved in a wide range of creative endeavors such as photography, poetry and video). In her portraits, she strives to obtain a realistic, almost luminous skin tone via the use of carefully selected media and pigments.
In her coral series of portraits, the canvas is pockmarked with tiny holes, bringing to mind coral skeletons. In Coral Flowers 05 (shown above), the vibrantly colored explosion of hair is like the living coral covering the surface of the reef. In a coral reef, the living coral organisms are anchored to the framework of the reef, a framework built of coral skeletons. Similarly, for humans, we live for ourselves but are still anchored to the culture, heritage and genes of our ancestors. We live in a present built upon the framework of the past.
Video: How Lita Cabellut grew from street child to an internationally renowned artist (by the Economist)
The human face is a favorite subject of Hopare, a Paris-based street artist. Rather than going for a strictly realistic style, Hopare uses bold colors to evoke emotions and moods and superimposes geometric lines and curves on the faces. In the untitled painting shown here, the bold black lines and curves bring out the natural geometry of the subject’s facial structure and are also reminiscent of Maori tattoos (known as moko), which represent the identity and history of the wearer.
Italian artist Gian Piero Gasparini works with mosaics of painted cloth. Gasparini is fascinated with the relationship between personality and outward appearance and the way the two react to form one’s identify. His use of mosaic reflects this preoccupation. Our identity is composed of different personality traits and of different physical characteristics (e.g., skin color, hair color, facial structure, etc.). Like pieces in a mosaic, these traits and characteristics bear no meaning when viewed in isolation, but when stitched together they combine to form the fabric of one’s identity.