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Art

Tau Lewis’s Monumental Textile Masks Envision a Mythical Post-Apocalyptic Transformation

November 10, 2022

Grace Ebert

A photo of a large textile mask sculpture

“Saint Mozelle” (2022). All images © Tau Lewis, courtesy of the artist and 52 Walker, New York, shared with permission

Translating to “the voice of the people is the voice of god,” Vox Populi, Vox Dei is artist Tau Lewis’s reimagining of historic systems and principles. The Latin phrase is often associated with the British Whig party and the establishment of secular democracies throughout Europe, although Lewis hones in on the saying’s lingering religious reference as she envisions enormous characters who’ve emerged from an apocalypse.

Six sculptural masks populate the gallery at 52 Walker for the artist’s ongoing solo show, which explores what she describes as “the incapacity of humankind to create structures of law, principles of morality, or hierarchies of government without a reliance on the imaginary.” The monumental works, the largest of which stands upwards of 13 feet, meld classical myths, contemporary science fiction, and the dramatic performances associated with Yoruban masking traditions. Focused on the idea of transformation following destruction, the collection engenders a joyful, hopeful outlook.

Born in Toronto and now based in New York, Lewis’s world-building is unique and particularly expansive as it connects myriad bodies of work: each character within Vox Populi, Vox Dei contains fragments of the artist’s earlier projects, engendering what she terms a “material DNA” that courses throughout her oeuvre. In a similar vein, the sculptures pay homage to the legacies of the fabrics themselves. The artist stitches salvaged textile scraps, donated leather, and remnants from a Long Island furrier into patchwork eyes and lips, tousled hair-like fringe, and vibrant floral tendrils that dangle and pool on the floor. Otherworldly and imposing, the works are totems for an imagined future.

If you’re in New York, you can see Vox Populi, Vox Dei through January 7, 2023, and Lewis’s work is also included in Black Atlantic, which is up at Brooklyn Bridge Park through November 22. Explore more of her genealogical archive on her site and Instagram.

 

A photo of a large textile mask sculpture

“Ivory Gate” (2022)

A detailed photo of floral textiles

Detail of “Saint Mozelle” (2022)

A photo of a large textile mask sculpture

“Trident” (2022)

A detailed side view photo of a large textile mask sculpture

Detail of “Ivory Gate” (2022)

A photo of a large textile mask sculpture

“Mater Dei” (2022)

A photo of three large textile mask sculptures in a gallery

Installation view

A photo of a large textile mask sculpture

“Homonia” (2022)

A photo of three large textile mask sculptures in a gallery

Installation view

A photo of a large textile mask sculpture

“Resurrector” (2022)

 

 

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Art

Mysterious Creatures Emerge from Recycled Materials in Sculptures by Spencer Hansen

November 8, 2022

Kate Mothes

Two sculptures by Spencer Hansen in the snowy mountains near Aspen, Colorado.

“BADU” and “FINCH” in collaboration with Jason Siegel. All images © Spencer Hansen, shared with permission

Long-legged creatures don otherwordly masks in sculptures by Bali-based artist Spencer Hansen, whose work explores identity and connection through a cast of uncanny characters. Using primarily natural, found, and recycled materials like wood, metal, bone, plant fibers, and ceramic, he draws inspiration from surrounding environment and frequent travels. Originally from Idaho, he relocated to Bali where he built a workshop that houses studios and live-work space for a team of skilled artisans who help to bring the pieces to life.

Alongside business partner Shayne Maratea, with whom he founded independent clothing and art company BLAMO, Hansen often collaborates with artists and photographers to merge sculpture and performance. Intended to inspire curiosity and play, the characters are carved and assembled in a variety of scales, from toy-like figurines to life-size suits, with mysterious faces.

Hansen will be showing work with Skye Gallery at Aqua Art Miami at the end of this month and has a solo exhibition opening in December at Samuel Lynne Galleries in Dallas. You can find more of his work on his website and Instagram.

 

A sculpture by Spencer Hansen of a bat-like mask.

“BOBA”

A sculpture by Spencer Hansen of a fuzzy suit with a metallic, faceless mask.

“Eternal Embrace” collaboration with Naomi Samara. Suit worn by Aleph Geddis. Hands: Naomi Samara, Chantal Ka, and Shayne Maratea

Two sculptural figures by Spencer Hansen.

Left: “EQUUS.” Right: “Tikus”

A group of wooden, abstracted, figurative sculptures by Spencer Hansen.

Two mask sculptures by Spencer Hansen.

Left: Head of “LELA.” Right: “M11 Topeng Barat”

Artist Spencer Hansen standing next to a life-size sculpture with a bat-like mask, all in white.

“LELA”

Three wooden mask-like sculptures by Spencer Hansen.

“M11,” “M12,” and “M13”

A group of ceramic sculptures by Spencer Hansen in progress with carving materials.

 

 



Art Design Photography

In Bold Self-Portraits, Fantastical Masks Camouflage Noah Harders in Flora and Fauna

October 27, 2022

Grace Ebert

Artist Noah Harder wearing an elaborate mask of aqua jade flowers.

“First Time, Face to Face” (2021), blue jade flower. All images © Noah Harder, courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art, shared with permission

Native Hawaiian artist Noah Harders takes a whimsical approach to style in Moemoeā, his first institutional exhibition opening next week at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Translating to dream or fantasy, the show’s title offers a conceptual, political, and aesthetic foundation for Harders’ vast array of works that transform crustacean shells, skeletal remains, lush jade flowers, and other organic matter into sculptural wearables. The fashions are intricately constructed and mask most of the artist’s face as he captures their sprawling forms through bold self-portraiture, which he describes as fostering a connection between himself and the found objects. He explains:

When I put on these masks, I feel like I am embodying the spirit and essence of seemingly ordinary materials that can be found around us…These pieces are a way for us to step out of the harsh reality we are consumed by every day and simply have a moment to dream and feel inspired by what surrounds us on this earth.

Moemoeā runs from November 3, 2022, to July 23, 2023. Dive into Harders’ extensive archive of headdresses on his site and Instagram.

 

Artist Noah Harder wearing an elaborate mask of plumeria flowers.

“Resilience” (2020), plumeria (frangipani)

Artist Noah Harder wearing an elaborate mask of red torch ginger.

“Lead The Way” (2022), red torch ginger (etlingera elatior)

Artist Noah Harder wearing elaborate masks of koa leaves and lauhala.

Left: “Modern Warrior” (2022), koa leaves (Acacia koa). Right: “Two Worlds Collide” (2022), lauhala (pandanus tectorius) and crinum amabile

Artist Noah Harder wearing an elaborate mask of lobster shells.

“The Depths” (2021), lobster shell

Artist Noah Harder wearing an elaborate masks of spiny lobster shells and fish bones.

Left: “ Looks Can Be Deceiving,” (2022), spiny lobster shells, 22.25 x 28.25 inches. Right: “Life After Death” (2022), fish bones

Artist Noah Harder wearing an elaborate mask of mink protea.

“Malolo” (2022), mink protea

Artist Noah Harder wearing an elaborate mask of white king protea.

“Pecking Order” (2022), white king protea (protea cynaroides)

 

 



Photography

Photographer Stéphan Gladieu Documents the Congolese Street Children Turning Waste into Wonder

September 2, 2022

Gabrielle Lawrence

All images © Stéphan Gladieu, shared with permission

“So dramatic, so strong, so visual,” artist Stéphan Gladieu said of his first encounter with the revival of an ancestral folk art movement in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Kinshasa is the capital of Congo but also one of the many places American and European countries send their waste. Though doing so is illegal, wealthier nations still export tons of debris with the knowledge that these places do not have the resources to treat or recycle it. Instead, these discards sit, swell, and slowly drown everything around them.

In the face of this ecological disaster, the young people of Kinshasa began to repurpose the waste into traditional religious costumes that were previously destroyed, along with other cultural histories and rituals, by the forced Catholicism of colonization. Gladieu’s relationship with these artists has evolved into the Homo Détritus series.

“(In the photographs), we are talking about ecology, but we are talking about ecology through African masks. As you can see, they’re completely covered up. You don’t see any part of the skin. The traditional masks were done with natural materials. They symbolized the spirit of the ancestors or the spirit of support of the natural world. These young artists reinvent these traditional masks in a way, but they do it today with trash because they find more trash and natural materials.”

 

While doing research in Yoruba for a different photo project that has yet to be released, Gladieu found some grainy photos of a girl dressed in plastic bottles. After reaching out to the contact, he discovered that several of these outfits already existed in Kinshasa and were being produced by local artists as a cultural response to the growing waste problem. However, some of them were damaged due to the lack of resources to properly store the pieces. The labor ranged widely. It could take a few days to repair a mask or when working in groups of three to four people. When using plastics like the shoes seen in “Babouch” (“Flip-Flop”), costume construction could average five to six days.  The most complex garments made of tires, bottles, and metal scraps took up to three to four weeks.

In “Homme Bidon,” which translates to “Phony Man,” brightly colored cups, water containers, and buckets form a mask. With two pails in each arm, the figure balances a water bucket on top of its head. The opening of a yellow container becomes a mouth, and a perforated top represents its eyes—creating a pained expression that also evokes thirst. To the left of the figure, there is a woman in a yellow chair pouring water into her hands. This image references the inequitable economics of water that disproportionately affect poorer countries like those across Sub-Saharan Africa where, as of 2020, 30 percent of people have access to safe drinking water. The surrounding environment also nods to the gendered divisions of women and girls who are responsible for gathering this vital resource for their communities. 

The young artists of Kinshasa and Gladieu’s photographic approach set this project apart from other ecological art concerning this region. “I didn’t want to do work that would be dark. A lot of work had been done like that,” Gladieu said of wanting to avoid guilting viewers into paying attention. “People don’t want to see and don’t really react anymore to those images. It doesn’t help them realize that we all have a personal responsibility in the way we consume and throw things away.” This approach also better honors the agency and resilience of the community of Kinshasa. It exalts the reclamation of their culture rather than the systemic violences enacted against them.

 

“L’Homme Caoutchouc” (“The Rubber Man”) calls out industrial companies that are not relegated to strictly enforced environmental regulations. This charge is captured in the figure’s monstrous stance, rugged form, and emergence from a pool of oil black mud. Similarly, “L’Homme Sachet” (‘The Bag Man”) speaks to the way the plastic bag engulfed many developing countries and quite literally consumed land, animals, and water sources. The abundant layers and repetitive colors represent the excess of plastic that hungrily survives even after we have tossed it into our garbage cans and out of our minds. Along with the depth of representation, Gladieu’s portrait style captures the magnitude of each figure’s artistic presence. He attributes this accomplishment to the collaborative nature of the project.

“I was living with (the artists in Kinshasa). We chose the materials, and I helped provide the money to build a costume or to repair the ones that were damaged. Then we worked in the city to choose the backgrounds. And when I say it’s a collaborative project, it’s also in terms of income because there is a part of the money that I can send by doing speeches and books. It’s a wonderful experience, even if it’s not easy. There are 25 artists. So sometimes it’s a mess, but it’s quite fun.”

You can see more of Homo Détritus on Gladieu’s website, Instagram, or by pre-ordering his forthcoming monograph, which will be released in November.

 

 

 



Craft Photography

In Roberto de la Torre’s Documentary Photos, Yearly Masking Rituals Celebrate the Change of the Seasons

August 4, 2022

Grace Ebert

Boteiros, Viana do Bollo, Spain. All images © Roberto de la Torre, shared with permission

In regions throughout Europe, ancient religions often welcomed solstices and equinoxes by crafting elaborate garments that evoked different points in the agricultural cycle. Bulky suits of fur and hide might reference the slow movements of winter’s dormancy, while the straw dresses associated with the Tafarrón festival ask for fertility in the coming year. More vibrant iterations with patterns and towering headdresses are known as boteiros, or the centuries-old garments associated with the entroido of the Viana do Bollo region in Spain.

Capturing what remains of these seasonal celebrations is what drives Galicia-based photographer Roberto de la Torre, whose ongoing documentarian series Microcosmos records those who participate in the yearly rituals. “There is little information about them, so I often travel through these regions and ask the people of the towns,” he tells Colossal. “It is also research work. Going to the sites to be able to photograph the masks also means going on a certain date. Many of these rituals are done only one day a year.”

Each suit is just one facet of a broader character with its own name, talismans, shamanic references, and specific purpose within the celebration. The garments interpret the physical conditions of the land, and in his images, de la Torre intends to dissolve the boundary between the subjects and their surroundings, instead exposing the inherent, and sacred, connection between the two. “In Microcosmos, I present a hierophantic landscape where the mythical beings that build the magical places are manifested,” he says, referring to his photos as “a visual game between the tangible and the intangible in a physical and natural setting, a heritage and cultural memory that has treasured its uniqueness over the centuries.”

De la Torre is hoping to compile his images in a book, and you can follow news about that release, along with more of his documentary work, on Instagram.

 

Oso, Samede, Galicia

Oso, Salcedo, Galicia

Home de bugallos, A Mezquita, Galicia

Tafarrón, Pozuelo de Tábara, Zamora

Vixigueiro, Samede, Galicia

Chamador, Lalín, Galicia

 

 



Art

Wildly Expressive Masks by Karolina Romanowska Freeze Contradictory Emotions in Ceramic

July 19, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images © Karolina Romanowska, shared with permission

“Extremely resilient yet fragile” is how artist Karolina Romanowska describes the moody, anthropomorphic characters that comprise her series of sculptural works. Romanowska hand-builds a vast array of fantastical personas from clay, using a combination of slabs, coils, and molds to form flat tongues, individual teardrops, and horns with pointed tips. The contradictions inherent within the figures’ expressions are the conceptual counterpart to the ceramic material, she says, referring to both its ability to withstand fire and its propensity to fracture or burst upon impact.

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, the artist gravitates toward colored slips to add dimension and texture to the stoneware pieces. “I find that material extremely giving as it’s reminiscent of my childhood days of playing in the dirt,” she tells Colossal. “Those were some of the most fun times I had as a child, engaging with my environment and transforming mud into pizzas, birds, and castles. Through mud, I am able to experience true freedom.”

Today, that creative energy manifests in Romanowska’s ceramic practice, which spans three-dimensional sculptures and masks that vary from miniature to life-sized. Minimal in construction and playfully contemporary, the cheeky works also reference cultural and art historical traditions. “Masks are present wherever humans are. I am only repeating an act that has been done since the beginning of us. Used for rituals and entertainment, masks can hide or reveal who we are,” she says.

Romanowska’s colorful works are on view through September 4 at the Overture Center in Madison, and she’ll have a few pieces in an upcoming group show at Higher Art Gallery in Traverse City. See which sculptures are available to add to your own collection on Instagram.