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how to become a non-artist

'How to Become a Non-Artist' (2007) by Norwegian artist Ane Hjort Guttu is a deadpan exploration of the artistic achievements of her four-year-old son, whose oeuvre develops "from sculptures to readymades to functional objects". Initially performed live as a lecture, the work is now shown as a slideshow with voice-over, and is part of the Witte de With exhibition 'Making is Thinking'.

The artist's son's early work includes, for instance, symmetrical arrangements of coat hangers and egg cups, prompting detailed interpretation of the kind that's ubiquitous in the modern art world and which mostly consists of carefully stating the obvious.

They consist of two unitary objects placed together in a symmetrical relation. In this way, the compositions become more abstract and less functional, and are consequently turned into something qualitatively different.

Both compositions express mirroring, perhaps a fundamental human experience of a relation?

Amid all the seriousness of 'Making and Thinking', 'How to Become a Non-Artist' has a refreshingly self-mocking tone, and one imagines Hjort Guttu performing the piece live with a guerilla attitude akin to the Yes Men. But underneath the satire the work also has a more serious point to make, theorizing as it does about the nature of art and whether it's possible at all to distinguish art from non-art. (Does non-art exist? In which case, how does one become a non-artist?)

Of a later work (which most parents would categorize simply as a mess) she notes:

An important work because it's so uncertain whether it has been made like this, or if the objects were randomly tossed there. I couldn't get any certainty in this, and when I thought about it, it suddenly didn't matter any more. The meaning was as clear or unclear whether it was a conscious work or not.

From this point, as her four year old's interventions become "increasingly imperceptible", her conception of art seems to move towards postmodern relativism, where anything goes as long as it's properly framed - or in this case, noticed and photographed. At the same time, however, she finds that with her heightened perception she starts looking at non-art - i.e. the world - with different eyes. As it turns out, becoming a non-artist is 'simply' about that perennial poetic aspiration of learning to look at the world through the eyes of a child...

And, while we went down this road towards a disbandment of the universal idea of good and bad form, this new attitude towards things infected the surroundings. As if I was inside a zone where all things could be the result of a higher formal awareness: The roads, the chewing gum on the side walk, the yellow light over the city on our way home from the kindergarten. Or it could not be, it didn't matter any more. Everything became art, and in the same moment; nothing.

Best seen narrated by the artist, but to get an impression here's the presentation (pdf).

Update: The exhibition's companion publication includes an interview with Hjort Guttu titled 'The emancipation of forms'. Commenting on 'How to Become a Non-Artist' she says:

The work points to a state of affairs where the notion of "good and bad form" no longer exists; where everything, and thus nothing, can be called art, and where we are no longer preoccupied with this distinction. After all, this is an old dream for many artists: a dissolution of the distinction between art and life.

ars combinatoria

The work of Spanish photographer Chema Madoz has been described as visual poetry. Full of wit and wonder, it seems to follow Lewis Carroll's advice of looking at the world "with a sort of mental squint". The current exhibition at the Nederlands Fotomuseum, 'Ars Combinatoria', shows his unique style, halfway between sculpture and photography, of subtle and treacherously simple manipulations of everyday objects.

Chema Madoz - 1

Chema Madoz - 2

Chema Madoz - 3

More photos on the artist's website, and many more out there.

dutch expats

Currently touring Dutch theaters, 'Expats' by Het Toneel Speelt is a scathing portrait of the current generation of Dutch 30-somethings. Written by Peter van de Witte and directed by Mark Rietman, this screwball comedy dripping with sarcasm lays bare the clueless complacency of the "wealthiest and happiest people in the world".

The play's arena is an expat compound in Beijing (though the sterile bubble of luxury could've been located anywhere in the globalized world) where five Dutch expats and one American are having a dinner party. Their evening takes a dramatic turn when they find a Chinese baby on the porch.

Expats - Het Toneel Speelt

In trying to decide on a responsible course of action, it becomes apparent that these expats, who as a rule seem to get involved in local culture as little as possible, have completely lost their sense of normalcy. In typically Dutch fashion they try to build consensus among themselves, but their insulation has created a moral vacuum that no amount of postmodern irony can fill, and the solution they eventually reach is shockingly callous.

The play's pressure cooker situation is well suited to expose the egocentric insecurities and blunt provincialism of the Dutch characters, which are contrasted with the supple worldliness of their Chinese speaking American friend. Particularly well captured is the colloquial language, both in the soap opera superficialities ("Het is ook mijn avond hoor") and in the excruciating English of these Dutch people abroad ("Stop being so arelaxed").

Even if the characters remain somewhat schematic - the whole spectrum of career types is present, from the rude businessman to the spineless journalist - the mirror that 'Expats' holds up creates a hilarious and painfully recognizable image.

mother of god pelagonitissa

The fifteenth century icon of 'Mother of God Pelagonitissa' is one of the highlights of the exhibition 'Unimagined Beauty' in the Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, which shows icons and other religious art from Macedonia.

Mother of God Pelagonitissa

Since antiquity Macedonia has been at a crosscroads of cultures and religions - literally, as the Via Egnatia, connecting Rome and Constantinopel, ran through the area. Long on the border between the realms of Western and Eastern Christianity, until conquered by the Ottomans in the fourteenth century, all these influences left traces in its artistic heritage.

Named after the region Pelagonia, the icon depicts Mary, or the Theotokos (Mother of God) as she is commonly called in the Eastern-Orthodox Church, with the child Jesus. The child's playfully contortionistic pose creates a dramatic contrast with the stillness and tenderly sad face of the mother, who, we readily interpret, anxiously foresees her son's fate. The drama is echoed in the colors, with bright vermilion highlights on browns and gold.

It is one of many Theotokos icons in the exhibition, with others including the 'Mother of God Hodegetria' and 'Mother of God Pantonchara' - all part of the rich Orthodox tradition of iconography with its particular conventions and pre-perspective aesthetics.

Unfortunately few decent images can be found online, but here are some resources on Macedonian icons. (It's not like digital images do much justice to this kind of centuries-old art anyway.)

On a different level the exhibition also shows a young nation (the Republic of Macedonia celebrates its 20th anniversary this year) claiming its own past. It makes for an enthusiastic, though somewhat selective presentation, which invites Wikipedia use afterwards.