Friday, January 28, 2011

January 28, 2011

Here, Sandile gets pretty in-depth as he explains the piece Spinal Diagnosis--a regenerate case no. 2. He goes on to say that it is one of his favorites.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The intern perspective

My name is Meghan Park, and I’m an intern in the Education Department here at the NMAfA. I’ll be contributing to this blog with thoughts and doings from an Education angle as Artists in Dialogue 2 progresses!
Today I visited the gallery for the first time since installation of Artists in Dialogue 2 began. While I’d been told, and saw from this blog, that the pieces being installed were being done on a grand scale, I was not prepared for the fully consuming experience of being in the gallery space. Walking into the gallery was a sensory feast. Initially, my eyes didn’t even know which way to look. The twists and turns, the textures and shades, the rough edges and dark scorch marks provided so much visual interest, it would have been easy to stand in one spot and stare for a very long time. At the same moment that my mind was attempting to process the incredibly surreal images of this convoluted wooden entity and charred outlines, my nose was filled with a scent that was powerfully earthy. The wood on the piece, as well as laid out in strips on the floor and soaking in a wooden crate-turned-bathtub, has a distinct smell that brings to mind forests, construction sites, and rain. Meanwhile, the piercing sounds of staplers and nail guns provided the soundtrack and in order to explore every nook and cranny of these fascinating artworks, I found myself walking in circles, stooping, squinting, and cocking my head at all angles. The nature of the art forced me to physically engage with it in order to satisfy my curiosity about it, and so my whole body became involved in the process of learning about what was in front of me.
It is exactly this type of absorbing experience that we at the museum and in the Education department are hoping to inspire. The mission of the Smithsonian affords us wonderful opportunities to go beyond the surface of the art and investigate the physical, intellectual, emotional and personal experience of encountering artwork like this in the context of a museum space. With that in mind, I have been developing a set of Thought Questions to be used in various aspects of this exhibition. Here they are:
What common themes do you see between Henrique’s and Sandile’s works? Think about reclaimed materials, social and political commentary, nature and the environment. Where and how are these themes reflected in their works?
Do you feel the processes involved, like burning, reclaiming, bending and breaking, are as meaningful as the finished pieces themselves?
How does the large scale of Henrique and Sandile’s work affect your physical and visual experience of being in the gallery?
Sandile Zulu lived through the apartheid era in South Africa. Is this relevant to the way you interpret his artwork?
Henrique Oliveira frequently passes by the favelas, or slums, in Sao Paolo and uses old fencing from these neighborhoods in his artwork. Do you think he is making a statement by choosing this material? If so, what?
What, if any, aspects of Henrique’s works feel specifically Brazilian to you? What, if any, aspects of Sandile’s feel specifically African?
Do Henrique’s and Sandile’s pieces challenge any ideas or convictions your previously had about what art is, how it is created, and what it means?
Exhibitions like this one hope to spark your curiosity. What additional commentary, interpretations, or voices do you want to hear? What would you add to the conversation?
Perhaps these questions will help to spark some hearty discussions and provoke some challenging debates! This installation should that get us all thinking, looking, smelling, feeling, and talking. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

snow days

It's a bit desolate around here as the weather takes a turn for the worst outside.  The artists work on, however.  Today, they even had to shuffle their work around meeting with schoold groups -- a first grade class from Key elementary and painting students from the Corcoran School of Art.  I am running a bit behind with my picture taking, but there's definitely been process.  The platform is in place for Sandile's sculpture, "Spinal Diagnosis - a regenerate case no.2" and I'd say a good 80-85% of the surface Henrique's "Bololo" is now covered.

Sandile's platform is coated with a green primer.  It will be painted white before he begins installing.
We're jsut waiting for a clear path through Henrique's "tapumes!"

Henrique's "Xilonoma Chamusquius" still lies on in three parts on tables in the gallery. Here, Don Llewellyn is making a template for where the screws will go when we attach it to the wall. This way, we will be able to find the screws without digging holes in the wall when it's time to deinstall.

Henrique selecting some "tapumes" strips of wood for the surface of his tangled roots, "Bololo."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25, 2011

Today, Sandile talks about getting comfortable with the exhibition space and how happy he is to finally be in Washington, DC.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Welcome arrivals


Henrique's art has finally arrived from Brazil!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And was it ever an adventure.  After weeks of bureaucratic hassles, the truck pulled up on Independence Avenue and --- drum roll please --- did not fit into the loading dock shared by The National Museum of African Art and the Freer Museum and Sackler Gallery of Asian Art!  It was too tall.  So, the museum's noble staff unloaded the crates there on the street in the 20-something degree weather.  The enormous crates were wheeled down the driveway, through the loading dock, to the doors of the museum, through which.... they were to big too fit.  In the end, one of the crates for Henrique's impressive new artwork, Xilonoma Chamusquius, had to be unpacked in the loading dock and then very carefully wheeled across the museum to the gallery where it now resides awaiting installation.  Henrique has taken just a bit of ribbing about why he couldn't have made work that was just a few inches smaller.

Did we mention they were heavy?


safely in the loading dock

K-9 Inspection team arrives to make sure there is nothing nefarious in the crates....

Back in the gallery, the crate containing Henrique's tapumes is repurposed as a bath tub to soak long strips of wood, though the staff are all vying to get a turn soaking out their own aching muscles

The other incredibly weldome arrival: Sandile!  He made it safe and sound from Johannesburg and came straight to the museum to see the excitement and catch up with Henrique.  We gave him sunday off to recover, but as of today we are starting to videotape him, as well, so stay tuned to hear him in his own words tomorrow!

January 24, 2011

Here's an updated panorama of the piece. 

January 24, 2011 -- Welcome Sandile Zulu!

Welcome to Sandile's first post. We look forward to hearing more from this fascinating man.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23, 2011

Time to add the skin! Now that the basic structure is finished it's tine to line the outside of the piece with individual strips of treated wood. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Turtle washing

For those of you near and far wondering what it's really like in a museum, here is a photo of some behind the scenes glamor:

We've had a week with some tensions.  While it's great fun to work with Henrique -- he really is as nice as he seems in the videos -- we've been waiting anxiously for his other artworks and materials to arrive from Brazil.  The trademark feature of Henrique's sculptural installations is his use of tapumes, weathered wood used as fencing material across his home town, Sao Paulo.  So, Henrique and his team of helpers finished the understructure for his towering, tangled "Bololo" but then we couldn't move forward because he didn't have the Brazilian wood he needed to proceed.  So, yesterday he took a break.  Today, he returns to experiment with stains and pigments before the shipment arrives tomorrow.  Once it arrives, we will have roughly 500 pounds of old, splintery, fungus-adorned Brazilian scrapwood that Henrique will paint, soak, peel into strips and use to coat his sculpture in brushstroke-like patches of wood.  Here's where the turtle comes in.  we didn't have anything big enough to soak the wood in to make it pliable for wrapping around the sculpture.  So, I snagged my kids' big plastic turtle sandbox.  It took some negotiating, but my four year old agreed to share.  I drove the turtle into the museum's loading dock and as I lifted the turtle out of the car, realized how filthy it was.  What you are seeing is the illustrious Steve Mellor, Chief Conservator and Associate Director for Collections and Facilities, washing the turtle while I laughed and took pictures.  The no longer dirty turtle has now taken up its new home in the gallery.

The other good news is that Sandile is at the airport in Johannesburg and should be arriving tomorrow.  Although Sandile created all of the artworks that will be on view specifically for this exhibition and in response to Henrique's work, he made them in South Africa.  As you can see from the photo below, his chosen medium of fire poses some risks.  Since we couldn't get permission for him to burn here in the museum, he made the works and shipped them ahead.  We installed the thrid of his "paintings," "Large Colon(y) Brownprint" yesterday.  Today, we start rubbing the object labels on to the wall.  Once Sandile comes into the museum, he can install the fourth work of art, a floor sculpture called "Spinal Diagnosis - a regenerate case no.2" and begin to meet with regional art students, radio and press.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 19, 2011

Todays installment shows the piece finished structurally. Now, Henrique will decide how and what to cover it with and the piece will be finished.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I got to try!

Well, Henrique has succeeded in tearing down the "root" that wrapped its way around one of the support columns in the colum.  It's been replace by a new coil that droops lower, and I agree, looks better.  Best of all -- I got to have a turn drilling some of the support wood into place.  So, I earned my first splinter and gained a new appreciation for how the wood is placed to create this understructure.

In addition, we are positioning the "paintings" by Sandile Zulu.  I use the quotation marks because he works with fire, not paint.  Tomorrow, we are considering moving "Old Bones, Old Genes" 6 inches to the left.  We want to position a third work, "Large Colon(y) Brownprint" first to have a better visual of the overall harmony.  Sandile will be checking the blog, too, so that he can let us know what he thinks of the placement.

January 18, 2011

Today, we learn that the basic structure has been completed and now it's time to make some decisions as to what colors to cover it with.

Monday, January 17, 2011

January 17, 2011

As the piece begins to be attached to the walls Henrique takes time out to thank his "team" of museum staff and volunteers. THANKS EVERYONE!!!

Working through the weekend

In honor of the great Martin Luther King Jr. and on his holiday, we've got volunteers, staff members and one Brazilian artist coming together to fabricate one pretty wild installation.  Henrique's background is as a painter.  To date, his installations have explored notions of surface -- the surface of a canvas, skin, fences etc.  Even when he's created fully 3-dimensional sculptures, the tend to look like enormous drops of paint.  For us, however, he has gone fully sculptural and imagined a tangle of roots, or maybe worms -- a la Kevin Bacon in "Tremor."  they are either busting out of the walls or holding them up -- right now, it's not quite clear.

strips of flexi plywood getting spritzed with water to enhance their flexibility

Henrique and volunteer, Walt, extending 2 more "roots" toward the north wall

Henrique has decided he wants to re-do the loop that coils around the column in the gallery, so here all the screws are being pulled out so that we can take it down and start over

We've also started installing Sandile's work, even though he won't arrive until the 22nd.  He works with fire and after months of trying to get a permit for him to burn in the museum, or in a warehouse in the region, or in the studios of a local art school... none of the options proved feasible and we decided to have Sandile make his art works in his own studio in Johannesburg.  He met with Henrique here in Washington DC last December and I went out to South Africa to meet with him, too, so the 3 of us had plenty of time to talk about how he wanted to create works in response to Henrique.  The crates containing his art works arrived a few weeks ago, so we opened them up to make sure the artworks arrived in mint condition and to think through how to hang them.  I've been on the phone most everyday with Sandile, so we've worked out a system that he's approved and the first work is up.  It's a modular, 15-part, 3-dimensional wall piece called "Spinal Diagnosis - a regenerate case no.1" and you can preview it here:

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January 16, 2011

First phase done! Here Henrique talks about what's next and how he'll begin to "grow" it towards the walls.

Friday, January 14, 2011

January 14, 2011 -- Getting into a rhythm

In todays installment, Henrique speaks at length of the piece, how it will look when it's complete as well as what there still is to do.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 13, 2011 -- It's taking shape!

Henrique updates us on his installation and why it's taking him a little longer than he originally expected.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Busy around here!

As you can see from the videos, it's been getting hectic around here.  Henrique sketched through the weekend and then started fabricating his installation on Monday.  It's been fantastic to see how he moves through the space and reimagines its potential.  it will also be great to see him interacting with Sandile when he arrives in about 2 weeks.

It's also been incredibly nuts around here trying to finalize the proofs for all the labels, getting a spiffy portrait photo of Henrique (who even shaved for the occasion), choosing angles for the time-lapse video, working on the possibility of an interactive mobile phone applicaiton, and the myriad other behind the scenes details that go into getting an exhibition ready.  Fortunately, Henrique has spared us a minute a day to share his updates and we've got to give you a sense of what's been going on!

January 12, 2011 - It's taking over!

In the second installment of Henrique's video diary he talks about the work he's completed in just two days as well as shares his plans for what's next.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Henrique shares his insights

We spoke to Henrique this morning and asked if he would be interested in collaborating on a video diary of his time here at the museum so starting today (and everyday) he will be sharing thoughts on his work, the exhibition or anything on his mind.

Please enjoy this fascinating look inside the process of not only an artist but of his work as well.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

He's here!

And even though it’s a snowy Saturday afternoon, Henrique and I are sitting in the gallery.  His flight arrived with no problem Friday morning and after a minor hiccup with the hotel, he was able to recuperate a bit before coming to the museum.

It was a productive afternoon.  Henrique met with staff, primarily the installation and production guys.  He got a first look at the paints and stains we have on hand, visited our impressively outfitted carpentry shop, and mostly surveyed the gallery.  Steve Mellor (NMAfA’s Chief Conservator and Assistant Director of Facilities and Production), Kevin Etherton (Installation Coordinator), Don Llewellyn (who along with Melvin Vega builds all the platforms, cases and phenomenal display structures you see in our galleries), and stood around with Henrique and talked about what the walls were made of, where the sprinklers were located, and tried to trouble shoot to help Henrique think through the possibilities of what he could make.  We reviewed his schedule, confirmed how many helping hands he’d need and when, and talked through what supplies he might need.  Henrique snapped some photos of the space and with help from Jeremy Jelenfy of the Design department, we got them printed out and Henrique started sketching out ideas of what he might like to do in the gallery.  I am pretty impressed by what he came up just hours after a crowded overnight flight! 

Henrique says he likes to sketch a few hour each day rather than in a continuous stretch.  That way, each day he can review his ideas with fresh eyes.  We’ll be here for the afternoon and then decide about tomorrow.  Fortunately, we were able to get a camera installed in the gallery, so if he starts sketching on the walls, etc., I’ll be able to flip on a switch and start the time-compressed video of Henrique making the art work that we’ll post to the exhibition website. Stay tuned…

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Henrique arrives tomorrow!

Showtime folks.  Henrique Oliveira is en route to the airport in Sao Paulo as I type.  Tomorrow, he will arrive in Washington D.C. and swing by the museum after a bit of recovery in his hotel.  Unfortunately, neither his artworks nor the trademark weathered wood, "tapumes," that he uses in his installations will be here yet.  We anticipate that they will arrive on Tuesday.

One of the greatest challenges in mounting exhibitions that include international artists and artworks is getting the people, art, and materials here.  It's expensive.  And, it's complicated.  Henrique works with "tapumes" -- essentially sheets of plywood used as fencing material around construction sites throughout Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Through months of rain, blazing sun and dust, the sheets of wood serve as fencing material.  Then, battered, peeling and marked with fungus, Henrique gathers them up.  He takes these weathered strips of wood and separates each layer until it looks like the stroke of a paintbrush writ 3-dimensional and builds massive installations that evoke the feeling of walking inside a painting.  The problem is, US customs isn't so keen on importing unidentified woods or, possibly, unknown molds and fungi.  We've had to get certification that the scrap wood has been fumigated and treated.  And that's only one of the problems.  Another has been that a work of art that Henrique has made specifically for the museum and this exhibition is enormous.  Too big, in fact, to fit on any airplanes that land near DC.  It's taken us months to contract for crates to be built, and now that they are, we are flying them to Miami and from there they will be trucked up to DC.  It's throwing a bit of a wrench into our schedule.  So, Henrique comes to the museum tomorrow surveys the gallery to survey the resources that are here.  The weekend he gets to spend thinking about and sketching the site-specific installation he will be making in the gallery.  The plan is that he will mark onto the sheets of flexible plywood ("benderboard") we already have in-house the cuts he wants to have made so that he can begin to build the armature that will support his installation first thing Monday morning.  To learn more about how he's been developing his ideas for the installation, watch the video of him sketching in his studio in Brazil. Not so bad for having been shot on my (curator Karen Milbourne) iPhone!