Happy talk in Miami

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Words poured out of gallery director Catharine Clark when we asked her about Sandow Birk and his American Qur’an drawings (on view at Pulse). She told us that before the show at her eponymous gallery, there was a lot of internet buzz calling the work anti-Islam, even though the accusers hadn’t seen it. So on opening night, Clark for the first time ever had security on hand. Once people set their eyes on the work, however, they were no longer offended. It’s neither pro-West nor pro-Islam. The imagery is juxtaposed to a Sura in the Koran that is called Smoke, a response to 9/11.

Sandow Birk, American Qu'ran, detail.  Note the vernacular imagery with the ornate script, in English,
Sandow Birk, American Qur'an, detail. Note the vernacular imagery with the ornate script, in English,

The translations also were a potential issue that melted away once people who understood the Koran read them.  The texts apparently came from several highly regarded sources in the Islamic world. Interestingly, the use of imagery, generally prohibited under Islam, did not cause a stir.  The imagery is illustrational of the text, but in the context of American life, people and vehicles. Clark, who was clearly moved by the entire experience–both the negative reactions, which mostly melted away, and the positive ones–said the exhibit brought into the gallery people who she otherwise never reaches–an audience that included women with covered heads and robes, and men also in robes.  They seemed delighted that the Koran had a presence in her gallery.

Turkish Delights

Politics were on a lot of minds along with art and people in the conversations we had as we went from booth to booth in the fairs. Libby got into two conversations at two Turkish galleries, looking for the links between East and West in an Eastern country with a lot of Western influence.

Baris Saribas, Idil Tasbasli and Yigit Yazici in front of a landscape by Saribas.
Baris Saribas, Idil Yazici and Yigit Yazici in front of a landscape by Saribas.

At the booth of Hat Art Fruit, Istanbul, at Scope, nothing was as it seemed. Hat Art Fruit was no gallery, just a funny made up name for three buddies to show some art.  The young Turks holding down the fort looked pretty American–two artists–Baris Saribas and Yigit Yazici–and Yigit’s true love, Idil Yazici, who said she is in art fair arrangements. Libby took that to mean she was behind the Hat Art Fruit setup.  Saribas and Idil Yazici also have a Facebook page under Hat Art Fruit–so we can call it an gallery avatar!

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detail of Burak Bedenlier's flying horses

The work there looked mostly Western. Only a digital print of some chunky horses with pointy wings seemed from another culture. That work, by Burak Bedenlier, was a digital print based on a hand drawn image multiplied on the computer–but the source was ancient–the horse that transported Muhammed to heaven. Much of the other work in the booth was by Saribas (austere and Germanic–Richteresque) and Yazici (exuberant and French-flavored).

Gunes Terkel, The man who carries his family on his head, 2009, embroidered cheese cloth
Gunes Terkol, The man who carries his family on his head, 2009, embroidered cheese cloth

Despite Muslim prohibitions against image-making, Western art traditions and well as social customs have become part of Turkish culture, thanks to Ataturk’s liberalization policies. Libby heard pretty much the same story at the second Turkish booth she visited, this one at Nada.

Barak Arikan is showing off another Gunes Terkol piece. Love the leopard skin scarves!
Barak Arikan is showing off another Gunes Terkol piece. Love the leopard skin scarves!

Stitched art by 28-year-old artist Gunes Terkol, at NON Gallery, has feminist concerns. She is also part of a feminist performance Group, Ha Za Vu Zu, and among her work is images of transvestite hookers and a split-personality women, dressed modestly except for the leopard skin scarves draped on each of her personas. This info came from artist Burak Arikan, whose own art work, like that of all the artists in the booth, has a political edge. Arikan was gallery sitting (his fellow artist/gallery sitter was on a break) because the gallery director was refused entry into the U.S. for the fair. Fortunately, the art, though political, was deemed non-threatening by Homeland Security.

Cars and Nails in Capetown Gallery

Gaba
Meschac Gaba's car (or school bus) headdresses at ABMB

At Cape Town’s Michael Stevenson Gallery at ABMB, we watched as emissaries from the Armory Art Fair in New York posed for Polaroids, wearing Meschac Gaba‘s car bonnets, where fashion and politics meet. The Armory folks were scoping things out in preparation for New York, where Gaba is scheduled to man a nail bar he bought in Benin. The transition suggests a shift to full bore fashion–unless the bar itself turns out to be an economic and aesthetic statement.

China by way of Sydney via The Glue Society

Nick Marzano of The Glue Society standing by his piece about the solar eclipse at Pulse
Nick Marzano of The Glue Society standing by his piece about the solar eclipse at Pulse

The Day the Dragon Ate the Sun is what the piece was called. The title means solar eclipse, which is what was happening during the day of filming. But we stopped even before we knew that, intrigued by the eight monitors tucked into an alcove at Pulse, each monitor containing a short, speeded-up colorful loop of what looked to be scenes from a Chinese city. More than a travelog, we were seeing gritty, smokey hard-at-work factory workers in an endless row, a superhighway covered in cars and lost in smog, a construction site, and an intimate scene of a family gathered around the nightly news. What was this? Part documentary and ethnographic it was beautifully filmed and seemed to capture the passage from day to night as if the camera had been there all day.

Detail from Nick Marzano's The Day the Dragon Ate the Sun
Detail from Nick Marzano's The Day the Dragon Ate the Sun

The piece pictures the eclipse in Shanghai from 14 different vantage points. The crew hit the ground running with 14 cameras and little to no ability to speak Chinese. They put the shoot together in seven days. “We gave away a lot of cigarettes,” said the artist, Nick Marzano, especially to get into things like a factory and a construction site, which they wouldn’t have gotten official permission to shoot in. There’s so much building in Shanghai that they slipped in beneath the official radar, he said.

Marzano told us he was part of a collective called The Glue Society. They’re a loose affiliation of artists, designers, film makers and art directors from Sydney, Australia and New York. He’s based in Sydney but most are based in New York he said. They’ve been around for 10 years doing a lot of non-traditional ad campaigns and winning awards for their smart graphics and non-standard thinking.

The members have done some other fun projects, like manipulating Google satellite pictures to illustrate Bible stories (the parting of the Red Sea, e.g.). “People come and go” from the collective he said but they maintain a core group of seven.

We asked Marzano if he went to art school and he said he went to business school but got bored with it. He’s worked mostly as a writer but when he heard about the solar eclipse he was propelled out of his writer’s chair and into the idea of capturing the phenomenon in China on video. The eclipse date was July 22, 2009.  Apparently it was a 6-minute and 39 second eclipse that happened in Southeast Asia. They speeded up each 30 minutes of film 1500% to two minutes for each vignette. We didn’t have a solar eclipse in Philadelphia that day and we were fascinated to see this one captured in such a smart, immersive way that blends the boundaries of art and anthropology and weaves together the East, the West and the Cosmic.

Tags

barak arikan, baris saribas, burak bedenlier, gunes terkol, hat art fruit, idil yazici, miami art fairs, nick marzano, non gallery, pulse miami, scope miami, the glue society, yigit yazici

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