with social commentary
A ubiquitous decoration at birthdays and family celebrations, piñatas are conventionally associated with fun, festivity, and of course, their potential to split open and release candy and other treats. Now on view at Craft in America, a group exhibition re-envisions the party staple by connecting it with contemporary practices that extend the playful artform’s capacity for social and political commentary.
Piñatas: The High Art of Celebration features approximately 50 works from Mexico- and U.S.-based artists and collectives, who explore the evolution of traditional construction techniques and the object’s broad cultural significance that reaches beyond its Mexican heritage. The fantastical creatures of Roberto Benavidez’s illuminated manuscript series, for example, encapsulate questions about race and sin, while Justin Favela (previously) translates the confrontation between American pop culture and Latinx experiences into fringed, abstract landscapes. Other works include a massive COVID-19 vaccine bottle by Lisbeth Palacios, Diana Benavidez’s motorized cars that speak to issues at the San Diego/Tijuana border, and a swarm of tiny suspended monarchs by Isaias Rodriguez.
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In Beginnings, Spanish artist Paco Pomet (previously) visualizes a series of jarring and absurd scenarios born out of an equally concerning event. He juxtaposes disparate elements—a mushroom cloud erupting in a classroom, women cavalierly poking at a tabletop sunrise, a mountain range lying on an operating table—in a series of satirical commentaries infused with pop culture references and nods to art history.
Generally contrasting a black-and-white scene with a recurring, full-color sunrise or sunset, Pomet’s compositions merge time periods and situations to mark the start of a new reality, a broad theme tied to the current moment. “Romanticism with a twist of irony is a very powerful visual engine,” he says about the series.
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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.
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Woven throughout Selva Aparicio’s cicada veils and fringed floor coverings are the complexities of rebirth, transition, and beauty’s ability to endure. Organic ephemera—human hair, thorned branches, scavenged wings—become poignant installations and smaller artworks that ruminate on a myriad of global issues, including the climate crisis and the infinite failures of the medical establishment.
Aparicio shares that her explorations of life and death began during childhood when she watched the natural world cycle through growth and decay in the woods outside of Barcelona. This lasting fascination has crystallized in the artist’s body of work, particularly in pieces like “Velo de luto (Mourning veil),” which sews together 1,365 seventeen-year cicada wings with strands of hair taken from two generations of women. The shrouds typically are worn to honor a spouse who’s died, and Aparicio notes the material and form exemplify that “as the fragility of the veil of wings decay so does the patriarchal veil of history that it represents.”
Overall, the artist says that her “practice has evolved beyond the individual to encompass environmental, social, and political activism and evoke the change and rebirth I witnesses in nature.” “Childhood rug,” for example, merges personal memory and a domestic object with larger themes of covering and exposing trauma.
Similarly, Aparicio cites her own experiences in “Hysteria,” an installation that surrounds an antique gynecological table with a curtain of thorned branches. Commenting broadly on the unjust power dynamics inherent within traditional healthcare, the artwork draws a direct correlation between the invasive and painful processes of medicine for women and their ability to bring new life into the world.
Although she spends half her time in Barcelona, Aparicio is currently in Chicago and has work on view at two locations: her piece “Hopscotch” is part of MCA’s group exhibition The Long Dream, while her solo show Hysteria is at the International Museum of Surgical Science, where the artist is in residence. Both are slated to close on January 17, 2021. Head to Instagram for glimpses into Aparicio’s process, as well.
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Jamaica-born artist Nari Ward bases his practice in found objects and their inherent mutability. The Harlem-based artist has scoured New York City’s streets for 25 years gathering house keys escaped from a ring, discarded glass bottles, and clothing tossed season-to-season. Through sculptures and large-scale installations, the scavenged objects find new meaning, whether explicitly scribing a phrase from the United States Constitution or creating more subtle historical connections.
While commenting broadly on themes of race, poverty, and rampant consumerism, Ward is cognizant of the varied meanings burned wooden bats or shoelaces hold for different populations. No matter the medium, many of his works are site-specific in form and fluid in context, allowing the narratives to take new shapes as they travel from community to community.
His 1993 installation “Amazing Grace,” for example, originally was presented in Harlem in response to the AIDS crisis. The artist gathered lengths of fire hose and approximately 300 baby strollers to line the space’s perimeter, with some piled in a central area, as well. In New York City, houseless populations sometimes use the childcare item to carry their belongings, imbuing the objects with a specific message within that milieu. When “Amazing Grace” later traveled around Europe, the strollers were interpreted anew.
In a 2019 interview, Ward expanded on the inherent fluctuations within the symbols and objects he employs:
History tells a particular story, and I’m trying to say: ‘Yeah there is a particular story, but there are many stories that aren’t visible within that one created narrative.’ I think that it’s about bringing mystery into the conversation more so than facts. So the whole idea is bringing this marker, image, or form to the forefront, but at the same time destabilizing it so that it acts as a placeholder for other possibilities or somebody else’s narrative.
Ward is incredibly prolific, and in 2020 alone, his public artworks and installations have been shown in Hong Kong, Denver, New York City, Ghent, New York, and Ridgefield, Connecticut. To explore the artist’s projects further, check out his site and pick up a copy of Phaidon’s 2019 book, Nari Ward: We the People, which accompanied the 2019 New Museum retrospective of his early works.
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Shelters of People Experiencing Houselessness Are Photographed within Affluent Residences to Demonstrate Inequality
Whether opulent or minimalist in style, the houses that Jana Sophia Nolle photographs are displays of wealth. Plush rugs cover hardwood, hardback editions line built-in bookshelves, and tall windows reach from floor to ceiling. Even the stark rooms with few sculptures and seats signify a choice, rather than a necessity, and demonstrate the ability to furnish a room with just significant objects.
Within these residences, though, Nolle reconstructs a contrasting shelter to illuminate a growing disparity. In her series titled Living Rooms, which culminated in a book published by Kerber Verlag, the artist situates the shelters of those experiencing houselessness within the dwellings of affluent folks in San Francisco. (Houseless refers to lacking a specific kind of structure, while homeless does not.) The single-occupancy structures often are formed with rain-resistant tarps, cardboard boxes, shopping carts, and other small objects.
Nolle started the affective series as a way to raise awareness about disparity, gentrification, and income inequality by explicitly comparing differences in living spaces, wealth, and security. “Art cannot, unfortunately, solve problems or change society: at least one work on its own cannot. It does not provide solutions, but it can wake up people,” she says. Although the photographs shown here were shot throughout 2017 and 2018, income inequality has only worsened. Recent reports state that while the wealthiest Americans have seen significant gains during the last few months, people with lower incomes have not rebounded to even pre-pandemic levels. According to the Federal Reserve’s data collected through the end of March, the richest 1% of Americans own 31% of wealth.
Nolle’s project is also empathy-driven, serving as a reminder of our shared humanity. “While working on Living Room, I noticed that unhoused people said that they feel invisible to the housed residents of the city,” she writes. “For most Americans, homeless people are barely visible, somehow on the edge of our vision in most urban areas.” Her time working in San Francisco was both arduous and gratifying and inspired her to join the Coalition for Homelessness. She formed bonds with about 15 people, who she later witnessed being forcibly removed by officials. “This was one of the hardest parts of the project. It is about people. It is about individuals’ lives.”
Prior to the pandemic, Nolle planned to replicate the project in Paris and Berlin. Her time photographing the French city was cut short by the lockdown measures, sending her to Berlin, where she’s been building relationships with people who are experiencing houselessness and those who aren’t. “While housed people can ‘go home’ and close their doors and do everything possible to protect themselves, I met many unhoused individuals who described how their networks and support structures changed dramatically due to the pandemic,” she writes. People who are experiencing houselessness are increasingly worried about being infected with the virus and struggling more because they report receiving fewer monetary donations.
Nolle also tells Colossal that she’s noticed differences in the materials people across the globe use to build their homes. While the structures in San Francisco generally are covered, those in Berlin tend to be open on top and use more mattresses for bases. She attributes these differences to both weather conditions and to the varying rules and landscapes of the cities. In terms of photographing large, lavish residences, Nolle says that due to the pandemic, a lack of connections, and other reasons, she’s had more difficulty finding wealthy people willing to open their living rooms to her in Germany. “Sometimes I get the feeling they do have money and wealth in the background but they seem to have trouble admitting it. Being wealthy/privileged seems sometimes also linked to feelings of shame,” she says.
The San Francisco-based series is currently on view through October 24 at Torrance Art Museum in California, while those captured around Berlin will be part of a solo show at Haus am Kleistpark staring in March 2021. Until then, follow Nolle’s work on Instagram. (via It’s Nice That)
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Highlights below. For the full collection click here.