Art and Anxiety
Recently, I have had the good fortune of facilitating a collaboration with Residency Unlimited NYC, one of the most respected residency programs sponsoring extraordinary artists from around the world. Each future issue of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine will feature an Unlimited Residency artist in our gallery section beginning with Julie Favreau in the current issue.
Greatly influenced by experimental theatre and dance, Favreau creates video, installations, sculpture and photography using choreography and performance as key features in examining contemporary psychological issues such as alienation and interconnectedness between self and surroundings.
The setting of her installations — a stage, a specific site or a constructed set — serve as far more than a backdrop for her work. They are an essential part of the experience not only for the viewer, but the performer as well. What at first seems choreographed, we quickly realize is a performers first-time encounter with unfamiliar, strange and uncomfortable surroundings — a forest of tree trunks, a large wooden beam. Unlike most theater, what is happening on the stage seems more like what often happens backstage. The encounter feels spontaneous and improvised. Favreau focuses on the performers intimate relationship to the objects in the immediately environment — how she interacts with them, and as importantly, how they interact with her. An object is regarded with no less esteem than the performer, each bringing life to the other through mutual contact. Favreau’s work challenges viewers to reconsider a static co-existence with their surroundings and instead enter into a conversation with it.
Gamaliel Rodriguez creates detailed drawings with ballpoint pen and more recently, felt- tip pen (Sharpie) that reference old illustration, printmaking and architectural plans. Rodriquez also uses smoke in his work as a metaphor for life’s “combustibility” as a result of political unrest and global strife: oppression, anarchy, revolution and terrorism.
Recently, he has been combining image and text based on the work of the writer Roland Barthes as well as experimenting with using images of brain scans. “Lately, in one of my paintings, I have been working on a lot on scans of the brain, thus directly referring to the medical X-rays. Once they are finished, these paintings will be “diagnosed” by experts on the subject. For an artist, a blue stain in a particular part of the cerebral cortex is simply a matter of contrast, of light and shadow; for a doctor it can indicate a malignant tumor, a cerebral hemorrhage or a fatal concussion. Our way of reading things is affected by the knowledge and point of reference we bring to them. To me, it is a painting … to a doctor, it is a patient.”
Dealing with similar subjects as Rodriquez, Ryan Frank’s work seeks to find order within the chaos of the natural world by capturing and containing it in protected structures. Inspired by the work of Donald Judd and other minimalists, for his current exhibition Frank created handmade four-side wooden boxes of which no two are the same. Each four-side box has two open ends and contains a light bulb in the center and a photographic image on each of the two sides. The two images shot are from the same location but from opposite directions. Their placement in the boxes makes the images impossible to see at the same time just the way they exist in the world. The grain and color of the wood contrasts with the bright, realistic imagery in his photographs, and the shape and structure of the boxes make them a natural frame. “Each box gives insight to my own mind’s eye and is a model for a small part of the world in which I’ve lived.”
Czech artist Tomas Nemec’s paintings record a dairy of human emotions. Varying the intensity of his brush strokes, the subtlety or vibrancy of colors, and the level of sexual charge, figures inspired by friends and places from Nemec’s own life are captured in different contexts. In his latest series, the great french singer Edith Piaf stands as the centerpiece of paintings that gently remind us to consider the depth of emotion evoked by life’s struggles.
Mongolian artist Tuguldur Yondonjamts’s works mainly on paper. He is anxious about environmental and cultural changes that result from economic development, particularly the disappearance of nomadic culture and the exploitation of the environment from the lack of effective regulations. In his detailed drawings of animals, bodies are altered to suggest the effects of this conflict on all of us. A shark has a thick bristle of black ink coat and fluorescent orange flower wounds in place of fins and the tail. The artist is currently developing a series of drawings that critiques the exportation of falcons from Mongolia to Saudi Arabia. “Within my work I probe the current issues of tourism and wilderness, actions and consequences, submission and dominance, consumption and environment that play out in the physical and psychological space between tamed and untamed worlds.”
No one feels anxiety in the same way. Each of these featured artists expresses their individual anxiety and concerns about the world in vastly different ways. What emotions and events do their works conjure for you?