Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

New York and new context

2013 . 03 . 13 - Comments / Commentaires (2)

Last week I was in New York and DC. The original impetus for the trip was the Freedom to Connect conference in Washington where I’d been invited to speak, but, while I was on the right coast, I couldn’t help but check up on the Big Apple…

Brooklyn apartment

...especially since my brother lives in Brooklyn. His street is ridiculously picturesque…

Brooklyn apartment

...and the view from his kitchen is so quintessentially New York.

Louise Bourgeois

photo by a fellow museum-goer

Of course, while I was in the neighborhood, I had to visit with some other family members. This is Louise Bourgeois’ Quarantania I which was an important part of my French thesis a decade ago and which I’m fairly certain I adore only because I know so much about its context and history. I say that because I’m not normally a fan of sculpture, so I can’t see why else I’d love this work so fiercely.

Robert Rauschenberg's Bed

And this is Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed. I’ve never found Rauschenberg’s work the slightest bit interesting, neither from a historical perspective nor from my gut.

Robert Rauschenberg's Bed detail

Still, it felt right to take a moment with his Bed since his foundation helped pay for my first surgery to treat my endometriosis through Change Inc. I may never understand the appeal of his oeuvre, but I’m glad that others do and I’m grateful he used the money his fame brought him to support other artists.

Kristan Seemel directing

One of the highlights of this trip was observing my brother in his natural habitat. He is a long-time theater director and a newly minted MFA in directing from Brown. 

Here, he was staging a reading of Leah Nanako Winkler’s Diversity Awareness Picnic, a play which tackles difficult topics with a kind of magical realism—is there such a thing in theater?—that helps reveal the nuances of the everyday experiences being portrayed. It’s brilliant.

Kristan Seemel directing

Kristan was working with a dynamite team of actors: Whitney Conkling, Satomi Blair, Alex Cook, Eddie Wardell, and Abraham Makany (not pictured). 

It was fascinating to watch him massage the writer’s and the actors’ talents in order to give the piece a wholeness, and it was illuminating to watch the actors practice their craft. There seemed to be no limit to the changes they could make in the way they did a line or an action. With every new run-through of a section, I was surprised by their performances, and it’s never been so clear to me how much imagination it takes to pretend so well.

Kohei Nawa's PixCell-Deer#24

I also stopped by the Met where I was pleased to discover Kohei Nawa’s PixCell-Deer#24, a piece created using a taxidermied deer and balls of artificial crystal. My favorite part of this bizarre sculpture is the curatorial statement which goes with it:

“Whether intentionally or unintentionally on the artist’s part, PixCell-Deer#24 resonates with a type of religious painting known as a Kasuga Deer Mandala, which features a deer—the messenger animal of Shinto deities—posed similarly with its head turned to the side, and with a round sacred mirror on its back.”

Kohei Nawa's PixCell-Deer#24 detail

I love how the museum added context to the piece without caring much about the artist’s intentions. It’s the way art should (and does) function, with the audience always providing new context for the work and making it ever richer in meaning.


photo by my dear friend Beth

Speaking of the power of context, this painting is what drew me to the Metropolitan Museum in the first place. Before I met this Pollock in 2004, I was not only an unbeliever who couldn’t understand on a visceral level what the fuss was about, I was also adamant that our passion for Pollock was entirely fabricated by the US government as propaganda for America’s brand. Back in the 1950s, this non-immigrant artist was made into Mr. Rugged Individualism to ward off art with social commentary and socialist leanings. 

All that is to say that I didn’t think I could be affected by Jackson Pollock’s work and I didn’t want to be, but, as it turned out, I didn’t have a choice. When I first came across this piece nine years ago, I cried. A lot. I cried so much I would have been embarrassed except that I was too busy crying. 

Through this encounter, I came to see that you can’t always know the full context of an artwork. And, in this case, the full context included something within me that responded to seeing a Pollock painting in person—something which, I might add, I still can’t name.

spiky cupcake

As the icing on the cupcake of my delicious New York visit, I had a meeting with a publisher about Crime Against Nature. They had contacted me earlier this year, but, when I explained that I wouldn’t claim copyright on their edition of the book either, I was worried I’d spooked them. After chatting with them in person, three things are clear:

- they love the book.

- they’re moving forward with the pitch.

- they’re a little confused but they’re not running from my anti-copyright stance.

It’s too early to say whether or not they’ll publish the book, but I still call this a win for the free culture movement. The cultural context surrounding copyright is shifting, and more and more people are getting a taste for the new paradigm. Meanwhile, I got a taste of a celebratory cupcake with my big brother!

- My model / Mon modèle
- The book! / Le livre!
- The evolution of copyright / L’évolution du droit d’auteur

CATEGORIES: - English - Crime - Events - Featuring artists - Philosophy - Photography - Reviews - Uncopyright -

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(2) Comments / Commentaires: New York and new context

-- Ian Williams -- 2013 . 03 . 13 --

I’m truly impressed with your work and am looking forward to keeping up with your growth in all you put your hand to..

Your talent oozes and I will certainly be “following” you..

Keep up the excellent work…

a co-creative..


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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 03 . 13 --

Thank you very much, Ian!

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