Can artists make tangible social change while also challenging the institutions that make that change necessary?

The Rebuild Foundation’s “BUILD / REBUILD” benefit at the newly restored Stony Island Arts Bank.
Photo by Kelly Taub/BFA.com, Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation.

On September 19, 2015, champagne flowed freely at the corner of 69th Street and Stony Island Avenue in Chicago’s South Side. Amongst liquor marts, tax offices, and auto shops, the commotion at the three story tall neoclassical Stony Island Trust & Savings Bank Building could hardly go unnoticed. Although it had been slated for demolition just three years earlier, conceptual artist and Southside local Theaster Gates intervened to save the historical building. …


Raymond Hains ‘Sense títol’, 1998

In image-driven societies, acts of resistance are reduced to pictures on the wall.

Raymond Hains’ medium was the city; its accumulation was his work. The French artist was one of the founding members of the Nouveaux Réalisme movement, mingled with Yves Klein, and remains one of the most celebrated artists of décollage, the act of tearing away paper rather than pasting it on. In 1960, he created Coup de Pied (Kick), a life-size replica of a poster wall shredded beyond recognition. …


In 1963, a Japanese artist used interactivity to defy the state

If you found yourself exiting the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum on March 1, 1963, you would not make it far before noticing a clothespin stuck to your coat. You, along with many others who had attended the 1963 Yomiuri Independent Exhibition, had not only participated in a work of art, but had also performed a subversive act that threatened the power of an increasingly authoritarian Japanese state. Nakanishi Natsuyuki’s Clothespins Assert Agitating Action was a haphazard combination of painting, readymades, sculpture, and performance. The work was created during a crucial moment in Japanese postwar history, as the “economic success that bred…


Was The Grudge inspired by an ancient Japanese handscroll?

A unique aspect of Japanese horror films lies in their attention to silence. Suspense is integral to any film, Japanese and otherwise, but the sustained tension that permeates throughout films such as Ringu, Ju-on: The Grudge, and Dark Water creates an atmosphere of constant dread with relatively simple techniques. So why do Japanese horror films dedicate so much narrative time to moments of silence, suspense, and tension?


For queer authors, separating fact from fiction is a uniquely difficult task.

Pictured: Quentin Crisp, someone who certainly fought against concealment.

When I came out in my senior year of high school, I was eager to leave behind the false identity I had developed during my adolescence. This identity was that of a straight boy, who hung out with guys, flirted with girls, and was totally comfortable in the boys locker room. But even after coming out, the true identity I expected to find failed to materialize. The performance I had channeled so much of my energy into maintaining had worked, and the persona I created had become a part of me. I tried to separate the artificial from the genuine…


In many ways, the boundary between graphic design and art is disappearing. We see artists like Damien Hirst recontextualizing the language of everyday branding in order to make a point, and designers often create completely conceptual visual identities for subjective purposes. However, one fundamental difference still exists between the two: While artists create work independently, designers serve a client. Where must designers draw the line between their beliefs, the values they seek to promote, and the job that defines them?

A recent example illustrates the frustration and confusion I face when walking this line. I was asked to rebrand a…


How an image of private suffering became a tool of propaganda

Yamahata Yosuke’s photographs of Nagasaki after the atomic blast remain some of the most revealing, devastating depictions of the aftermath of nuclear war. One photograph in particular, “Two Brothers”, was especially circulated, as the anonymous nature of the depicted figures and location allowed it to represent a number of different postwar narratives. As the audience of the photograph grew from Japanese newspaper readers to the globally circulated Life magazine, the impact of the photograph was radically altered, changing from a cautionary tale to a veiled threat.

Yosuke Yamahata, Two Brothers, Aug 10 1945

“Two Brothers”, taken on Aug. 10, 1945, is a frontal photograph of two Japanese…


What is the role of the artist in the industrially produced landscape?

Interchanges of black and gray lines connect, overlap, and go their separate ways. I am leaning against the window of the bus that is taking me home, back to school after another painfully short Thanksgiving break. As I stare out into the dark, we pass under two bridges and for an instant, I am in a symmetrical garden, a silent, empty ruin, free of the din of traffic passing by. I crane my head back and wish I could stop the bus, ask the driver to pull over so I could capture this strange fleeting moment. Moments like these, when…


The isolated face of a geisha floats on a starkly monochromatic red field. Her eyes peer through a mask of makeup, discreetly avoiding the eye of the viewer in favor of gazing towards the ground. The solid red expanse behind her serves as both a background and another layer of obscurity, hiding her hair and everything below her bare neckline. She appears to be receding into this red murk, the vivid background consuming her delicate form. …


Freeze. A sea of textures, colors, words, and images, interrupted by a bold, jarring X. On an otherwise blank cover, a bright orange line cuts through a winding green fern. No author name or title is present here. The contrast between organic curves and stark solidity stops me in my tracks. That orange makes me think of caution cones, cordoned off areas. The juxtaposition brings to mind a restriction of nature, an imposition of man on the earth…or vice versa. I am staring at a book cover in the science fiction shelf, an area I do not typically frequent. I…

Wake

designer in the streets, pseudo-intellectual in the sheets

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