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Art in the 21st Century

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Art in the First Decade is conceptual, philosophical and very conscious of its reception. Two prominent artists featured in the ‘ 21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ at the Gallery of Modern Art are Nathalie Djurberg and Ah Xian. (GoMA, 2011) Djurberg is a Swedish artist who lives and works in Berlin, explores themes of fantasy, dreams and sexuality through stop motion animation. Xian is a Chinese artist living in Australia who combines traditional Chinese materials and techniques with a contemporary sculptural practice to address issues surrounding cultural displacement, identity politics and the relationship between East and West.

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Djurberg’s work; Putting down the prey, and Xian’s body of work, Metaphysica. (GoMA, 2011) Although seemingly quite different in style and practice, share some themes and subject matter as a result of their technological, political and environmental influences. Ah Xian’s highly acclaimed and celebrated porcelain figures are a clear reflection of the artist’s history and beliefs. Since Xian came to Australia in 1990, after the Tiananmen Square massacre, he has developed a new perspective of China as well as a new expression for that perspective.

The Australian, 2009) Xian’s works are made with archaic, traditional techniques, from specific regions of Jingdezhen, the traditional centre of China’s porcelain trade. Some of these techniques have very specific localities. (Art moulds, 2011)The techniques symbolize the relationship between China and the West which developed around porcelain trade. Technology and trade have always been linked, and Xian refers to this in his employment of specialist factories.

The world sees China as an anonymous factory and Ah Xian reflects this view and challenges it by using anonymous models for his casts and then branding his sculptures with obvious Chinese symbols. His use of traditional techniques contrasts with China’s contemporary mass production technology of goods including iPhones and plastics. The employment of this ancient yet seemingly timeless technique of decoration suggests that in his work he seeks to address technology’s progress in relation to the division of industry around the globe, and this is displayed in the figurative nature of each sculpture.

These technological influences relate greatly to his environmental or geographical influences, as Chinese culture and custom is very much embedded in the techniques that he employs. The designs are quite obviously inspired from Chinese landscape, as well as traditional Chinese subject matter. The objects on the busts heads represent various symbols of luck in Chinese lore. Traditional Chinese designs and motifs including dragons, lily pads, trees, flowers and craggy mountains ‘which snake around necks cover mouths and eyes and glide over foreheads’. The Australian, 2009) The works pose questions about nature and landscape in the world’s industrial powerhouse. In ‘Human human – lotus, cloisonne figure 1’ the figure is depicted with lotuses and reeds, portraying the person as a garden or landscape. This depiction suggests a connection between humanity and nature. The use of a lotus as the Chinese symbol for continuity and life also creates a link between the traditional and cultural in the context of contemporary art. His political influences include ideas of individual and cultural identity.

His work carries definite political overtones about China’s attitude to free (especially artistic) speech. (Edwards, 2008) Depicted with closed eyes and mouths, Ah Xian’s sculptures point to China’s lack of democratic freedom. (The Australian, 2009) The artist, however, plays down any political connotations, insisting that his busts are primarily objects of beauty. Xian states that “If I had not come to Australia I would not have had the idea… it was only after a few years in Australia that I had a better perspective on China. (Art Moulds, 2011) The themes in his work are relevant to contemporary society as cultural identity is important to all races and nations, as many countries feel the need to maintain a sense of independence and sovereignty. The nation’s involvement in the large scale production of goods is important as goods production is necessary to sustain a first world lifestyle. This is an important part of the relationship between China and the West, as China’s role emerges and its global identity changes. This is both a political and cultural phenomenon which Xian comments on.

Nathalie Djurberg’s artwork in the 21st Century exhibition relates to themes of power, survival and death. Her works make the viewer feel quite uncomfortable through their confrontational and uncensored style, creating a strong psychological and emotional impact. Various technological and environmental issues influence the artists creation of her work, as well as its intended reading in a contemporary context. A technological issue addressed in her work is a comparison between modern and ancient technology, and how that technology bestows power.

In Putting Down the Prey, an Inuit huntress spears and guts a walrus and then proceeds to climb inside it, then ‘becoming the animal’. As the artwork is shown in an exhibition of contemporary art, a comparison between the spear that she uses in the animation and more evolved modern technology is highlighted. The idea of power being a result of technology is clear, as a human could not kill such a beast without tools. This concept translates to an urban setting in an everyday as well as a physically aggressive sense. The contemporary equivalent of the spear is a gun or bomb.

Also, in the same way, someone with a computer or mobile phone will have a more efficient method of communication, and thus power, as the contemporary definition of power is no longer physical. Djurberg’s understanding and interest in nature and survival are distilled in this animation which abstracts the theme of death and survival into a wilderness setting. This is illustrated in the animation when she kills a walrus and uses its death, and from that it’s carcass, as a vehicle for her to enter the new environment of the sea.

This action is perhaps an inversion of an ancient Icelandic and Celtic myth of the ‘silkie’ which is believed to change from a seal to a human. (21st Century Blog, 2011) The incorporation of this myth is relative to her glacial hometown of Lysekil on the North-West coast of Sweden. Children’s stories from this area such as Tove Jansson’s ‘Moomin’ also reflect and communicate ancient myths and legends which are so important to communities in such rural settings.

This concept is communicated through simplified animation, and is just as applicable in large cities such as Berlin. Instead of the literal fear for one’s life, as in the animation, many city-dwellers have economic and social insecurities and vulnerability. This is particularly relevant in the context for the global financial crisis and the increasing number of natural disasters around the world. Djurberg’s adoption of technique communicates themes which New York Times has referred to as “faux-naive” and quite adult.

The dark and complex adult element is an important antidote to the childlike aspect of the technique. Both artists use different kind of technique to seduce and involve the viewer, Xian through intricate decoration and highly aesthetic and historic techniques, and Djurberg through the simple appeal of popular culture. Djurberg’s technique of stop motion animation, when contrasted with Xian’s involved and specialized technique seems childlike and simple.

In terms of concepts, it appears the morbid and dark concept of death and survival in Djurberg’s work is a polar opposite to Xian’s claim that his works are merely ‘objects of beauty’. Like many other contemporary artworks, both seek to explain an aspect of the human condition through exploration of the human figure. However, the methods of this delivery differ as Xian’s work seeks to resolve an object as a metaphor, and Djurberg’s imparts a narrative through illustrative technique.

Reference List

Edwards, D (2008). More Than Human. Retrieved 6th March, 2011, from http://www.theblurb.com.au/Issue37/AhXian.htm Australian Centre for the Moving Image (2011), Ah Xian: Australia, Retrieved 6th March, 2011, from http://www.acmi.net.au/2006/artists/ngv/ahxian.html The Australian, The Face. Retrieved 6th March, 2011, from  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/arts/the-face-ah-xian/story-e6frg8n6-1111119160459 Art Moulds, Hall of fame: Ah Xian, Retrieved 6th March, 2011, from http://www.artmolds.com/ali/halloffame/ah_xian.htm Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art: 21st Century, Retrieved 6th March, 2011, from http://qag.qld.gov.au/ Zach Feuer, (2010) Artists: Nathalie Djurberg, Retrieved 6th March, 2011, from ttp://zachfeuer.com/artists/nathalie-djurberg/ We Make Money Not Art (2006), The Berlin Biennale, Retrieved 6th March, 2011, from http://we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2006/05/the-berlin-bien.php Youtube (2011), Nathalie Djurberg, Retrieved 6th March, 2011, from www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlTS_RF6iBI

Cite this Art in the 21st Century

Art in the 21st Century. (2017, Mar 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/art-in-the-21st-century/

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