All notes with the topic Ariane Vielmetter | Notes on Looking

On realism as a fiction and as a useful tool

A mirror lets me become an anthropologist of my own body. It is an almost transparent barrier between my faculties of perception and the thing I’m looking at. It is also a lie, a flattened out and distorted image of a live, fleshy, thinking and perceiving body. But it is a useful lie in that it allows me to look from a distance at something intimately familiar. I think that realism, both in art and in literature, works in a similar way. It pictures an alternate reality so life-like that we can’t help but see in it a reflection of our own condition. In this way, realism has something of a shelf life – it is very much a product of its time, and it is at its most potent when it is most relatable. An 18 th century trompe l’oeil still life becomes a less comprehensible testament to reality as time passes, not because its flowers and fruits begin to rot, but because the cultural context in which it was painted shifts, ages, and permutates. The still life’s relationship to reality is like Dorian Gray’s relationship to his portrait. It is a reflection of a single moment, frozen in time and spared from decay, but loaded with history underneath the thin veneer of its surface. The subject of still life is the mundane object. Objects that make possible the daily routines of people in their homes, and that retain their familiarity despite centuries of permutation. Cups, plates, vessels, vases, food, flora, fabrics, various kinds of instruments, these are at the core of still life painting. Norman Bryson describes...

Reverence and quiet grandeur: Ariane Vielmetter writes of the floor

The floor is fertile ground for a painting. I don’t necessarily mean the floor as a site of production, I mean the floor as subject. It sits like a skin between the buried and the walking. It carries the scuffs, filth, and dust of attrition and of abandonment. It is a surface that records movement, contact, erosion, and repair, and provides a stage for the small and large dramas of everyday life. The floor is a reference point in our perception of perspective, and its presence in painting is a rather bold acknowledgement that painting, too, extends into the realm of the everyday. An ancient Roman trompe l’oeil floor mosaic by Herakleitos depicts the unswept remnants of a decadent feast scattered tastefully among the tiles. A light gray shadow falls from each crab claw, fowl bone, artichoke leaf, and fruit pit. A small mouse feasts on a nutshell. Maybe this mosaic was a reminder that all beautiful things are eventually consumed, whether by mouth or by decay. Maybe it was a signifier of wealth, waste, and excess, a precursor to the vanitas still life. Or maybe it was a nod to the burial ceremony of presenting the dead with a feast for their transition into the afterlife. These leftovers are immortalized – they are deliciously vivid stand-ins for their mortal counterparts, forever embedded in the grid of the image. The mosaic is aware of itself as both a floor (to be walked over, used, dirtied) and as a painting (to be looked at, interpreted, and preserved). Julia Fish focuses on the floor between thresholds, and paints the tiled surfaces...

Akina Cox: A profile by Ariane Vielmetter

Akina Cox is a tall woman with a petite voice. A voice that, like her tenderly crafted collages, films and sculptures, has the tendency to (sweetly) deliver gut punches and initiate heavy-duty discourse. I remember her casually piping up that “the art market at CalArts is like sex at a Catholic school” during a heated classroom debate about whether it was justifiable to make “saleable objects” after the triumph of conceptualism. She was pointing to a developing culture of naïveté, denial and dismissal in art students’ attitudes towards the increasingly privatized and unregulated art market that they are thrust into, or barred out of, after graduating. So much information about the commercial side of the art world is unspoken or ignored in academia, which prevents many students from developing a practice that maintains agency despite market whims. Cox suggests a more proactive approach: to gather as much information as possible and use it to infiltrate and manipulate a rigid system. It’s the notion that in order to approach abstraction, you first have to understand representation, or, in order to make yourself visible, you first have to spend some of your time hiding. Cox doesn’t really make saleable work herself. On the contrary, she almost compulsively rethinks her practice as soon as it becomes comfortable, logical, or predictable. Her work is a disappearing act – it takes as its subject the flickering space between ground and figure, phoneme and word, accident and intention, play and work. With minimal gestures and humble materials, she is able to make  something out of nothing. Many of her works rehabilitate a sort of magical...