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Art

A New Book Repaints the Legacy of Street Art by Spotlighting Women Leading the Genre

December 1, 2022

Kate Mothes

A photograph of a mural of a woman wearing a scarf on the end of a building.

Medianeras, “The Crystal Ship” (2021) in Ostend, Belgium. All images courtesy of the artists and Prestel, shared with permission

For street artists, the urban landscape is an infinite canvas. Whether wheat pasted, sprayed, or layered with brushes, vibrant compositions revitalize public spaces and provide an ever-evolving barometer of the political climate and current affairs. The genre has been historically dominated by men, but a new book by journalist Alessandra Mattanza and Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art founder Stephanie Utz shifts the dial.

Women Street Artists spotlights the diverse practices of 24 graffiti and mural artists hailing from around the globe who work in a variety of styles, from large-scale public projects like Camilla Falsini’s vibrant pavement composition in Milan to striking interventions like Olek’s pink, crocheted coverlet for “Charging Bull,” Wall Street’s masculine bronze sculpture. Each finds walls, sidewalks, demolished structures, prison cells, grain silos, and other nontraditional surfaces to express ideas around feminism and empowerment, body imagery, racism, the climate crisis, and other critical issues.

You can find a copy of Women Street Artists on Bookshop.org, available now in the U.K. and scheduled for release in the U.S. on December 6.

 

A mural of Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and symbols of American democracy.

Elle, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg” (2020) in New York City

An aerial image of a colorful geometric public art piece on a Milan street.

Camilla Falsini, “Tactical Urban Planning Intervention” (2020) in Milan, Italy. Photo by Jungle Agency

A detail of graffiti featuring two women wearing hijabs with Superman logos on their torsos.

#LEDIESIS, “Superwomen” (2019) in Italy

A pink crocheted coverlet sewn over the "Charging Bull" sculpture on Wall Street.

Olek, “Charging Bull” (2010), Wall Street, New York City

A blue and black portrait of a young woman on the site of a disused diner in Miami.

Christina Angelina in collaboration with Ease One (2015) in Miami, Florida

The cover of 'Women Street Artists' book.

 

 

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Art Design

Designed for Leisure, Sarah Ross’ ‘Archisuits’ Question the Inhospitable Environments of American Cities

November 2, 2022

Grace Ebert

A photo of a person wearing a blue bulging leisure suit that nestles into the built environment

All images © Sarah Ross, shared with permission

Among American cities, Los Angeles has a reputation for being particularly car-centric, and it lacks the infrastructure for walkability or a robust public transit system. This choice of design is inherently political, as it makes commutes and travel across neighborhoods more inaccessible for people who don’t drive.

There’s also the fact that public spaces available to pedestrians generally aren’t constructed with comfort in mind, an issue Chicago-based artist Sarah Ross sought to remedy back in 2005 with the satirical Archisuits. Absurdly shaped, Ross’s four leisurewear pieces bulge with supports that perfectly fit into the negative space of benches, fences, and building facades. The designs draw a contrast between the soft, bendable wearables and the cold, rigid architecture, which the artist describes as “an arm of the law, a form that uses the built environment to police and control raced, classed, and gendered bodies.”

Nearly twenty years later, the project retains its original relevance and has gained new urgency as the climate crisis requires mass reduction in car use and an overhaul in how we collectively conceive of public areas. Ross shares with Colossal:

The same issues are happening where people are criminalized for being poor, black, brown, or disabled in public space. In many places around the globe, there is a turn to the right a monopoly of power is concentrated into the hands of the very few. We continue to live in siloed, segregated worlds.

Find more of the artist’s projects that consider how politics inform spaces on her site.

 

A photo of a person wearing a blue bulging leisure suit that nestles into the built environment

A photo of a person wearing a blue bulging leisure suit that nestles into the built environment

A photo of a person wearing a blue bulging leisure suit that nestles into the built environment

A photo of four people wearing blue bulging leisure suits

 

 



Art

From Play to Politics, Artist S.C. Mero Transforms Los Angeles’s Streets into Sites of Satire

October 4, 2022

Grace Ebert

“Vote-by-Mail” (2020). All images © S.C. Mero, shared with permission

An explosive mushroom cloud, an absurdly large bike lock, and a lobster served up from a pothole are a few of the installations from artist S.C. Mero that relay both the irony and irreverence of modern life. Working across Downtown Los Angeles for the last decade, the artist transforms infrastructure into temporary sites of critique and play. “Both of those realities are equally true not only of my environment but life itself,” she says. “Given the nature of this neighborhood, the subject matter can seem quite political because the disparity of wealth and its consequences are more apparent here.”

Many pieces utilize crumbling streets or areas the city has yet to fix as the base. In creating a miniature streetside swimming pool, for example, Mero left the soy sauce packet, cigarette butts, needle caps, leaves, and other debris found in the exposed manhole before she covered the cavern with plexiglass. Those objects are now frozen under the clear material and surrounded by lounge chairs and a diving board fit for Barbies and Kens.

Other works like “Vote-by-Mail,” which is included in a group exhibition on view through December 10 at Torrance Art Museum, are more explicit in their commentary on contemporary issues. Directly speaking to the rampant voter suppression of the 2020 elections, the blue post office box stands atop legs that are unreasonably tall, making it impossible to drop a ballot.

Currently, Mero is working on a sculpture that will be included in the next show at Shit Art Club opening later this month. She’s also planning a series of works with the Fashion District’s business improvement organization and plans to transform the battered concrete spheres lining a traffic median into a new piece each month. “It’s the first time I’ve worked in collaboration with the city or property owners. I think it’s a cool story considering they were the ones who removed most my artwork when I first started,” she says.

Find more of Mero’s satirically minded works on Instagram.

 

 

 



Art

Subversively Embroidered Money and Penny Sculptures Question Historical Narratives

March 18, 2021

Grace Ebert

From Insurrection Bills. All images © Stacey Lee Webber, shared with permission

Throughout 2020, Stacey Lee Webber developed Insurrection Bills, a revisionary collection of United States currency overlaid with subversive stitches: flames envelop monuments, a wall is left unfinished, and an eclectic array of face masks disguise Abraham Lincoln’s portrait. Contrasting the muted tones of the paper, the vibrant embroideries stand in stark contrast and as amended narratives to those depicted on the various denominations. “The series references feelings of anger, turmoil, and frustration during the tense political climate while recontextualizing and questioning the beloved iconography we see on our money,” she tells Colossal.

Currently working from her studio and home in Philadelphia’s Globe Dye Works, Webber is formally trained in metalsmithing—she has an MFA from the University of Wisconsin, where she initially began using currency as the basis of her projects—and sees the two mediums as an ongoing conversation. Embroidery “allows me to work in a quieter setting outside of my metal shop acting as a sort of ying to the yang, soft and hard, masculine and feminine,” she says.

Many of Webber’s sculptures involve soldering coins, including the copper penny works that make up The Craftsmen Series and question the value of blue-collar labor in the U.S. Comprised of hollow, life-sized tools, the collection visualizes “putting endless amounts of work into a single cent,” the artist says.

Webber has multiple exhibitions this year, including at TW Fine Art Palm Beach Outpost in April, Philadelphia’s Bertrand Productions in October, and Art on Paper Fair in New York City this November. If you can’t see the currency-based projects in person, head to Instagram, where the artist shares a larger collection of her works and glimpses into her studio.

 

“Masked Abes,” from Insurrection Bills

From Insurrection Bills

Detail of “Masked Abes,” from Insurrection Bills

A ladder from The Craftsmen Series, soldered pennies

From Insurrection Bills

Jewelry made from coins

 

 



Photography

Cindy Sherman, Ed Ruscha, and More Than 150 Photographers Are Selling $150 Prints to Combat Voter Suppression

October 14, 2020

Grace Ebert

Photograph © Alec Soth. “Priscilla, Los Angeles, (from The Last Days of W)” (2008), 10 x 12 inches

An ongoing print sale is bolstering fundraising efforts that promote progressive organizing in five battleground states. Offering work from more than 150 photographers and artists—including Cindy Sherman, Alec Soth, and Ed RuschaStates of Change is selling 10 x 12-inch prints for $150 each with all proceeds going to the Movement Voter Project, which is targeting 42 local organizations dedicated to fighting voter suppression in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. All are printed on 100 percent cotton paper, unsigned, and part of an open edition. Check out Colossal’s picks below, and grab your favorites before the five-day sale ends on October 18. (via Artnet)

 

Photograph © Camille Seaman. “Iceberg in Blood Red Sea, Lemaire Channel, Antarctica” (29 December 2016), 10 x 12 inches

Photograph © Steve McCurry. “Flower Seller. Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir” (1996), 10 x 12 inches

Photograph © Ken Light. “River Baptism, Moon Lake, Coahoma County, Mississippi” (1989), 10 x 12 inches

Left: Photograph © Cindy Sherman. “In a pensive sort of mood” (11/1/2017), 10 x 12 inches. Right: Photograph © Diana Markosian. “Backstage, Chechnya” (2019),10 x 12 inches

Photograph © Lelanie Foster. “Sister” (2018), 10 x 12 inches

Photograph © Dru Donovan. “Untitled” (2019), 10 x 12 inches

Photograph © Gregory Halpern. “Untitled” (2016), 10 x 12 inches

Photograph © Sebastian Kim. “Lupita Nyong’o” (2014), 10 x 12 inches

Photograph © Irina Rozovsky. “Untitled (from Island in my Mind)” (2015), 10 x 12 inches

Photograph © Alex Majoli. “Scene of a Scarecrow” (2015), 10 x 12 inches

 

 



Design History

A New Book Chronicles the 125-Year History of the Button, Its Design, and Its Role in Cultural Change

September 10, 2020

Grace Ebert

The cover of Button Power. All images © Christen Carter and Ted Hake, shared with permission

If something is “fit for the back of a postage stamp,” it’s generally understood as lacking depth and nuance. A similarly sized object, however, has been upending that saying for 125 years. From political campaigns to punch lines to keepsakes, the button has packed bits of incredibly rich history into just a few inches. “It seems like a niche little object, but it really tells a very general American history,” collector and manufacturer Christen Carter tells Colossal. The wearable item is, in fact, an entry point into the complexities of the past.

Carter recently co-authored the forthcoming book Button Power—which is available for pre-order on Bookshop—with notable dealer Ted Hake, who’s been collecting the objects for around 60 years. Through composed displays and black-and-white photos, the tome delves into the item’s history, spanning its invention in 1896 to contemporary usages. “Early on people were wearing buttons, and mostly it’s a temporary thing. It’s a moment in time,” Carter says. “They connected you to something else. One-hundred-twenty-five years ago, images weren’t as prevalent as they are now.” Button Power compiles a diverse array of notable figures, from Shirley Chisholm and the Ramones to Rube Goldberg and Muhammad Ali, each represented through the wearable item.

 

From the Obama Inauguration 2012

Originally a casual collector, Carter now is responsible for the world’s only museum dedicated to the medium, which is housed in the Chicago-based manufacturer Busy Beaver Button Co. The institution currently boasts more than 40,000 buttons and is accepting donations. Currently, it’s closed because of COVID-19, although a virtual archive of about 9,000 is available to scroll through on its site.

A medium with popularity perpetually in flux, the button has risen and fallen since its creation and notably surged in the 1960s and 1980s as it was used more widely for countercultural movements and protests. Of course, mainstream efforts from political campaigns, public figures, and large-scale events generally still sought out buttons to share their visions. Many of the slogans and broader undertakings of alternative movements that may have evaded popular narratives, however, also are preserved by the object. “It’s a people’s history, too. There are so many things I learned,” Carter notes. One example involved a series centered on transportation. “What is this ‘good road’ stuff about?” she wondered. “I learned that before there was income tax, there was a movement to have infrastructure built.” Telling a story she didn’t learn in school, the buttons offered a glimpse into the advocacy of previous decades.

 

While the manufacturing process and function hasn’t evolved much, the objects’ value has. Carter notes that when they first emerged, people regarded them as collectibles that were prized as a piece of printed matter. Today, they remain a symbol of the wearer’s political affiliations and interests.

Even social media hasn’t eclipsed the ephemeral object. Although the pithy messages and quips prevalent on sites like Twitter function similarly to the sayings of the button, they lack a material presence and are subject to being deleted or lost when a platform folds. The physical item, on the other hand, has a lasting effect. “It creates a momento,” she says. “It’s not something you can as easily forget about like a Tweet or something like that because you’ll come across it in your sock drawer.” They’re also a more intentional medium, Carter notes, due to the design, manufacturing, and distribution processes and the effort those require.

 

From 1981

Overall, buttons are overwhelmingly uplifting, inspiring, or humorous in messaging, even when centered on serious topics or issues. One tells people to “hang in there” while displaying a rendering of a cat clinging to a rope nearby, while another (shown below) simply is emblazoned with the words “I Love Ringo.”  The optimism helps to start the inevitable conversations from a constructive point. “More positive buttons make them more wearable,” she says. “A button you have to stand behind. Where online stuff can be pretty anonymous, there’s something about having some skin in the game.”

Despite the mediums’ changes during the last 125 years, the ability to provoke conversation and inspire change is constant.  “The person-to-person stuff is just so important, and I think it’s something we’re missing. I would love for buttons to help bridge gaps between human beings because I think in the end, we all want a lot of the same things,” Carter adds.

 

From 1964