Through a Monumental Sculpture of Moving Chains, Artist Charles Gaines Confronts the Enduring Legacy of American Slavery
Eight years after artist Charles Gaines began work on “Moving Chains,” the monumental public work now stands at Outlook Hill on Governors Island. Evocative of a ship hull, the enormous kinetic sculpture features nine rows of steel chains weighing 1,600 pounds each that roll atop a structure made of Sapele, a wood native to Africa, with eight moving at the pace of the harbor’s currents and the other at that of a boat.
The 110-foot is Gaines’ first public art commission and a sharp critique of systemic issues inherent within the American economy. Located next to the harbor that was an essential waterway in the transatlantic slave trade, “Moving Chains” exposes the nation’s capitalistic impulses and inextricable foundation in the heinous practice. “I wanted the piece to address that… in order to produce this kind of economy, they had to legitimate slavery,” Gaines says in an interview. “It becomes a real emblem of what I call the fatal flaw that exists at the foundation of American democracy.”
Specifically, the artist focuses on the Supreme Court’s landmark Dred Scott ruling that prohibits anyone of African descent from becoming a U.S. citizen. Although reversed with the 14th amendment, that decision has spawned myriad effects that continue to plague American society today. “It shows the history of slavery and Manifest Destiny and colonialism and imperialism as an interlinking narrative,” Gaines told Artnet. “In education, they’ve been separated, but the U.S. economy was built on slavery. Manifest Destiny legalized the taking of land from other people.”
Commissioned by Creative Time, Times Square Arts, and Governors Island Arts, “Moving Chains” is one part of Gaines’ ongoing The American Manifest project and is on view through June 2023 in New York before it travels to Cincinnati. You can find more of the artist’s work on Hauser & Wirth and Instagram.
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Spanish street artist Pejac (previously) addresses the concept of “returning to normal” in a discerning new series that focuses on the urgency of the issues affecting the world today. Centered on the increasingly disastrous effects of the climate crisis and the social issues that dominate the news cycle, the artist speaks to the myriad global crises in his largest exhibition to date, which opens on October 30 in a former train factory in Berlin. Titled APNEA, the solo show features 45 of his newest works in myriad mediums and themes, including chaotic scenes in acrylic, oil, and spray paints, delicate honeycomb on cardboard, and large-scale sculptures and installations that occupy the industrial space.
Pejac created many of the pieces on view since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, an ongoing concern that also formed the basis for his 2020 trio of interventions paying tribute to health care workers. The new series includes a disquieting depiction of the White House overcome by a violent riot, with canisters releasing billowing smoke and an unaware figure golfing in the foreground, in addition to a cyclone-like drain on a paint palette. Other pieces depict a surreal earthen map of the U.S. with state lines cracked in the dirt and a rendering of Rodin’s “The Thinker” precariously balanced on scaffolding. “During a time of lockdown, painting within the four walls of my studio felt like a liberation and a lifeline. APNEA represents this contradiction,” the artist says.
To coincide with the show’s opening, Pejac is releasing “The Boss” (shown below) as limited-edition prints and postcards available through a lottery system, and proceeds will be donated to Sea-Watch, a German NGO that has helped thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The artist also teamed up with the organization for an installation depicting a child wearing a life jacket atop Neo-Gothic Holy Cross Church in Berlin, a heartwrenching visual that draws attention to the refugee crisis. You can find out more about the release and see additional works on Instagram.
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Tony the Frosted Flakes tiger sacrificed as a living room rug, wooden dolls handing their babies off to smugglers in freight truck trailers, and welcome mats stitched from life jackets: rather than offering an aspirational lifestyle, one South London storefront window depicts a capitalist dystopia. Created by Banksy and appearing overnight, Gross Domestic Product is the latest installation to critique global society’s major issues of forced human migration, animal exploitation, and the surveillance state.
The temporary installation, which will be on view for two weeks in the Croydon neighborhood, incorporates multiple window displays for a shop that is not in fact open to passersby. However, some of the items on display are available for purchase in GDP’s associated online store including the welcome mats, which Banksy hired refugees in Greek detainment camps to stitch; all proceeds go back to the refugees. Revenue from sales of the doll sets will also support the purchase of a replacement boat for activist Pia Klemp, whose boat was confiscated by the Italian government. The product line is rounded out with such oddities as disco balls made from riot gear helmets, handbags made of bricks, and signed—and partially used—£10 spray paint cans.
Tying this latest project to his larger body of work, Banksy incorporated familiar motifs. The fireplace and stenciled jacquard wallpaper from his Walled Off Hotel, the stab-proof Union Jack vest he created for Stormzy to wear at the Glastonbury Festival, and the Basquiat-inspired ferris wheel that appeared outside the Barbican all appear in GDP.
In a statement about the project, Banksy explains that the impetus behind Gross Domestic Product is a legal battle between the artist and a greeting card company that is contesting the trademark Banksy holds to his art. Lawyer Mark Stephens, who is advising the artist, explains, “Banksy is in a difficult position because he doesn’t produce his own range of shoddy merchandise and the law is quite clear—if the trademark holder is not using the mark then it can be transferred to someone who will.”
Despite this project’s specific goal of selling work in order to allow Banksy to demonstrate the active use of his trademark, the artist clarifies, “I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal and amend my art for amusement, academic research or activism. I just don’t want them to get sole custody of my name.”
Per usual, Banksy shares updates on Instagram, where he claims recent projects, including GDP, which he just announced an hour ago as of press time.
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The next time you’re in a grocery store, pharmacy, or toy department and spot a subtly unusual item, it might an Obvious Plant. Jeff Wysaski, the man behind the meme, has been creating and depositing strange flyers, placards, and packaged products in conventional retail outlets for several years. His creations are often a send-up of a popular pop culture phenomenon like Sesame Street or The Avengers, and feature chuckle-inducing copy, alternately quippy and filled with intentional typos. From a lonely Bert to Barely Any Ketchup (made by “Hardly Foods”), Obvious Plant items have become increasingly elaborate over the years, and Wysanski makes some of his designs available for purchase in an online store.
You can follow along with Obvious Plant’s quirky interventions on Instagram. If these are up your alley, also check out Chindōgu, a concept and subsequent community of designers of useless products, first popularized in 1990’s Japan by Kenji Kawakami.
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Last year may not have been the most prolific for Italian street art legend Blu (previously), who besides releasing Minima Muralia, a 288-page collection of 15 years of murals, completed only two officially announced murals. His latest piece titled Capita, was recently shared on the elusive artist’s only official communication channel Blublu.org. The mural was painted in Rome’s Rebibbia neighborhood, and was realized in collaboration with Comitato Mammut, a self-managed civic organization. Painted using artist’s intricate illustrative style, the image depicts an imaginary amusement park water slide attraction as a sharp critique of the social injustices of capitalism.
The slide offers participants several colorful entry points on top with all but one ending in the same swamp-like cesspool of trash. The only slide that keeps its original color and shape, gold, is the one used by politicians, businesspersons, and religious representatives. Ending with a crystal clear pool with and cocktail table set on a lush green field, it’s a direct commentary on subdued class division present in modern societies throughout the Western world. The piece further comments on the dramatic shift in the political climate of his Italian homeland, especially in terms of immigration and the ongoing refugee crisis. Painted on an 8-story building, the work’s oceanic backdrop depicts small boats filled with people on one side with luxurious yachts floating on the other.
Earlier this year, Blu spent several days in Valencia, Spain, taking part in the Sensemurs project, the first meeting of muralists whose goal is to raise awareness of the repeated abuses by the local port authority toward people living in the La Huerta (Orchard) area. For this mural, he depicted port authority personnel as Egyptian pharaohs using the local community as a source of free slave labor. A few months later he began work on another large piece in Rome, painting revisited versions of the Greek Venus de Milo next to a similarly redone David by Michelangelo, as a commentary on the modern values of consumerist society. The piece is yet to be finished.
Blu remains completely focused on working with non-government organizations and groups, creating works as a gift and source of empowerment for local communities, all while trying to retain his anonymity. Exposing everyone from corrupt politicians to violent police or greedy real-estate moguls, the artist is continuously producing work that supports common people and their fight against an increasingly imbalanced economic and political system. (via Juxtapoz)
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