Curator’s Review

© Bill Hayward

Self and Society

Radka Salcmannova

For this issue of PTM, I had the good fortune of interviewing several of the artists about their work — discovering the stories behind what they make. All of them shared an interest in exploring the effects of social, political and cultural influences on the psychology of the individual. Each focuses on this subject from different, sometimes divergent points of view. Where Michele Beck looks at how relationships tend to submerge or efface individuality, Khvay Samnang documents how an individual’s behavior is shaped by cultural rules and practices. All of the artists think beyond themselves, using the experience of others as they explore their subject rather than creating works that are self-referential.

Michele Beck is a multidisciplinary artist. Her work deconstructs the human psyche to some of its most primitive components and presents broken-down forms of language, archaic sounds, emotional experiences, thoughts and psychological processes. The single channel videos, installations and performances function much like poems, choosing the minimum of materials in order to articulate internal spaces where the unconscious has free rein and where primitive trauma is worked through, re-created and mastered. The result is an artistic work that, like a dream, is frightening, disconcerting, disorienting and a truly visceral eye-opening experience to behold. Michele often collaborates with the artist Jorge Calvo.

Amelie Chabannes is a French artist living in New York City who works with sculpture, installation and drawings A central theme in her work has been the exploration of notions of Identity, its various derivations and representations within philosophy, psychology and art history Profoundly interested in fused relationships in which individuals’ identities disappear in the service of a couple’s collaboration, she has investigated the bond between such performance artists Marina Abramovicz and Ulay by manipulating documents depicting their work. In her drawings and sculptures, she destroys parts of what she’s created to ironically symbolize the loss of herself in the process of creating her own work

Khvay Sammang, a Cambodian artist who recently visited New York City as part of the Cambodian Festival of Art, engages with concepts of mediation, change and continuity. The figure is prominent in his serial photography and performance work, in which he documents himself and others enacting poignant gestures. With profound sensitivity and humor Sammang works like an anthropologist, quietly observing subtleties within Cambodian society in order to pose meaningful and relevant questions. Using sculpture, photography, video and installation he offers new interpretations of history, longstanding cultural practices, and contentious current affairs.

Canadian artist Yann Pocreau, uses photography to observe the intense and intimate relationship between individuals and the places in which they find themselves. He considers buildings as both physical and psychic envelopes – in which light becomes a third, metaphysical envelope – and he discovers them by testing with his own body the different positions that the spaces suggest to him. He often chooses to be photographed in places in transition – abandoned or under renovation. His recent work shows a particular interest in exploring the liveliness of natural light as a subject replacing the solid presence of a human figure with a study of immediate but immaterial environmental effects. Pocreau’s new images offer a tension between identifiable somewheres and existential nowheres, attesting to the narrative potential of any space when seen in the right light.

Jelena Tomasevic lives and works in Montenegro. Her paintings, photographs and installations explore the alienation of individuals in our highly competitive, consumerist society. Combining emptiness and saturation, realist and dream-like qualities, they convey the emotional dulling, isolation and cynicism as a consequence of contemporary life. Humorous and violent at the same time, through the depiction a of absurd and unpredictable situation. Tomasevic’s work exposes the insidious sociopolitical mechanisms by which individualistic and patriarchal values are enforced. In particular, they express the difficulty for women to escape the stereotypical images of femininity and the anxiety resulting from the social pressure to conform to a masculine ethos. In creating the installations for her paintings, Tomasevic often uses concrete as a counterpoint creating tension between materials as a metaphor for life itself.

I hope you find this issue’s artwork challenging and inspiring. As ever, please share your feedback through comments and social media, and if you’re an artist interested in working with us, you may contact me at  Enjoy!


Read the Curator’s Review for previous issues: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5