Contemporary art's narrative language can sometimes struggle to engage, even for the astonishingly cerebral among us. But, when done correctly, the best pieces show a clear message that reveal more and more with each viewing or through discussions with peers, all the while accepting that you might not know your Hirsts from your Emins.
The Artist’s Voice – coming to The Parkview Museum between November 17 and next March – is an exhibition in which the curators have gone to great lengths to showcase pieces that are complex, multi-faceted and nevertheless accessible. There’s an impressive amount of works on display but we’ve singled out four that we think you need to see.
One of the world’s preeminent performance artists, Abramović has consistently pushed the envelope on the interaction between audience and artist. In Pietà, the artist is portrayed tenderly taking the body of her boyfriend in her arms.
A still taken from a live performance by the artist in Bangkok years before, the composition, carefully balanced and strikingly solemn, is inspired by Michelangelo’s iconic Pietà in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The red and white clothing worn is also a reference to Chinese mythology, which considers the universe to be the product of the fusion of a tinge of female blood mixed with a drop of sperm.
This Greek conceptual artist who died in February redefined traditional sculpture. Kounellis’ use of diverse materials such as soil, coal, animals and even door frames reimagined what sculpture can be and very much brought the discipline into the contemporary art lexicon. A strong subtextual narrative feature is the cornerstone of his Untitled piece.
Mounted on broad iron plates and stitched together by the lower sleeves, the black coats are representative of the human body, injury and subsequent healing. The coats are also evocative of human body language and gestures – the way we defensively retreat into ourselves when we are threatened, insecure, afraid or trapped. The heavy railroad tracks that force the coats – vertically and horizontally toward the iron plate – are cold, formal structures outside the organic nature of the human body, forced upon it from the outside. In many ways the artist sees this as a negative representation but he also acknowledges that logical and meaningful formal structures can represent connections between the corporeal and the spiritual.
This Italian artist considers the collective consciousness of modern society and suspends it between the natural and the artificial. With Zero, Grassino explores the connotations of the number – an origin, a symbol of primal state. In this particular work, he attempts to convey humanity in a near ‘zero’ state, stripped of any markers of class, identity or gender. Barefoot, his subjects come in direct contact with the floor. Faces are hollowed out and replaced with overgrown tree branches in an attempt to fuse together humanity and nature in order to restore the balance between the two.
W Fire at Both Ends Automatic Handgun
A fascinating and intuitive portrayal of war logic, this artwork by Chinese artist Wang Luyan depicts a handgun facing both forwards and backwards – the shells shooting in both directions at once. Basically, pulling the trigger at the enemy amounts to pulling the trigger on yourself. The message is clear – killing is not a relationship between killing and killed, but between killing and killing.