Own Research – Destined to be Happy – a site installation Jan 2017 GRAD

Whilst out and about in London with friends we decided to be cultural and take in a few exhibitions and galleries that were new to us. A quick Google and we came across GRAD.

GRAD is a cultural platform for initiatives and communication, bringing new insights into Eastern European art, design and culture through exhibitions, publications, live events, collaborations and digital engagement.

We act as an engaging social and visual platform to encourage creative dialogues, create cultural links, and question long established preconceptions of Russian and post-Soviet culture.

The exhibition they had on at the time was Destined to be Happy  by Irina Korina, a surreal art installation that I thought was amazing! But that could be due to my warped mind and sense of fun.

Irina Korina is known for her installations of large-scale sculptures that weave narratives through the interplay of textures, material and scale. Her work often recalls the décor of ordinary Russian homes and Korina favours every-day, disposable and often industrially-produced materials for her works, ranging from textiles and plastic to plasticine. Within her installations the artist often contrasts allusions to local and global concerns, presenting epic ideas in tandem with colloquial and local references. Through these pseudo-monumental sculptures the artist addresses issues such as collective memory and social history.

You entered via the rear of the gallery to access the installation, walking through a darkened tunnel of black plastic, into a weird disorientating world: a monochrome world consisting of a forest of dead and burnt trees, corrugated iron ‘walls’ and tons of industrial plastic sheeting. In amongst the tangled confusion were large life-sized characters, legs protruding from mascot-like costumes, lying on the floor. Artist Irina Korina explains:

The title initially draws the viewer to the characters that are lying on the floor. There are 6 characters who can be associated with so-called “people-sandwiches”, those ones who are walking on the streets with the advertisement banners on them. They are usually poor people who could only manage to get a job like that. There is also the topic which interests me a lot- the relationships between appearance and the internal things. The fact that you don’t see the characters faces inside their funny costumes creates the dramatic effect and provokes a sick feeling of horror. So “Destined to be Happy” means that there is an attractive and fake appearance which doesn’t show the reality or truth. The title of course pertains first to the characters, yet thinking globally it signifies the mismatch between the expectations and the reality.

Some of the audience  said it reminded them of a ‘dystopian Christmas’, and I totally get their point as you wander through it, getting glimpses of the blackened pine trees. There is an assault on every sense as the smell of burnt wood pervaded the nostrils and weird sounds echoed intermittently throughout the room. There was a notice ‘there is nothing more permanent in the world than the temporary thing’.

As well as giving a different perspective on the surreal, this exhibition also gave a totally different take on a sense of time and place. In an interview with Elena Markocheva, Irina was asked:

G.Many of your exhibitions that took place in Russia and around the world were about your attitude to the 1990’s. Does “Destined to be Happy” have a connection with this period of time too?

…the reference to 90s probably happens subconsciously. The exhibition is all about the ambiguity and confusion which I feel in nowadays Russia. This project shows the confusion about where everything is moving. For me it somehow resembles to the mythological feeling of a time when you move somewhere with an aim, but then you lose your way and become uncertain about your destination…it was important to create the area of uncertainty and suspense where the viewer doesn’t have the orientating points and support; nothing to rely on to feel stability.

On looking at the contrast between B&W and colour documentary it was interesting to note that this exhibition was constructed using a black and white colour palette.

Again, Irina explained her choices:

It is connected with the filters which people use on social media like Instagram and Facebook. They make their beautiful photos even more beautiful and the reality even more real. This exhibition is as if it went through black and white filter; it is achieved beforehand, having already passed as history.

Korina also wanted to show explore communication through social media and the extent that we employ Emojis.  Children and adults use them as hieroglyphs nowadays, a new language, a fixed amount of pictures which can explain many things. By juxtaposing concepts of ‘global and local, epic and colloquial, physical and virtual, Korina continues her anthropological research into the paradoxes of human behavior’.  Addressing issues memory, cultural and social history to challenge our traditional perceptions of everyday routine.

Emoji language seems to be incredible for me. Look attentively to the characters on the floor- their costumes look exactly like emojis.

The Christmas trees were one of her favourite elements of ‘the visual dictionary.’ The spruce trees signify many different emotions for her: these trees are grown for one evening only and then they are thrown away.

I would like to recall this idea to people at Christmas time and to make them feel sad that the party is going to be over.

The exhibition venue has silver confetti strewn across the floor, which creates the feeling that you are at the middle stage of a party where suddenly ‘you don’t understand what are you doing there. The party becomes somehow frozen, without culmination and development.’

I’m not sure I understood her reasoning behind the soundtrack which seemed to include grunting pigs and pulsating brainwashing type music, and if I remember a chattering sound.

With the music myself and the composer Sergey Kasich wanted to let the visitor know that the exhibition venue is somehow a cinematic adventure and the space you are in has some kind of plot. I am very happy to work with Sergey as it was him who created this atmosphere too. The sounds which might be thought to be unimportant in fact play a huge role. I like it very much.

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Suggested Research – Louise Bourgeois

I did not recognise the name Louise Bourgeois, but when I looked at her work I instantly knew her HUGE spider sculpture, MamanMaman is a bronze, stainless steel, and marble sculpture, which depicts a spider. It measures over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide and was created in 1999 by Bourgeois as a part of her inaugural commission of The Unilever Series (2000), in the Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern. The original was created in steel, with an edition of six subsequent castings in bronze. It includes a sac containing 26 marble eggs, and its abdomen and thorax are made of ribbed bronze.

It would seem that Bourgeois had a fascination with spiders from early on; there is a small ink and charcoal drawing dated 1947.


It alludes to the strength of Bourgeois’ mother, with metaphors of spinning, weaving, nurture and protection.Her mother Josephine was a woman who repaired tapestries in her father’s textile restoration workshop in Paris.

‘The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.’

Her father was apparently ‘a tyrannical philanderer’ and after her mother died in 1932, she swapped her studies in maths to art. Her father thought ‘modern artists were wastrels’ and refused to support her, however she continued to study by joining classes where translators were needed for English-speaking students, these translators were not charged tuition.  During one of these classes she met Fernand Léger who advised her that her future was as a sculptor, not a painter.

Turning to her father’s indiscretions for inspiration- he had an affair with the family Nanny over several years- Bourgeois’ artwork is famous for its exceedingly personal themes: the unconscious, sexual desire, and the body.

Using art as a catharsis Bourgeois ‘transformed her experiences into a visual language using mythological and archetypal imagery’, utilising objects such as spirals, spiders, cages, medical tools, and sewn appendages to symbolize the feminine psyche, beauty, and psychological pain.

I really like her piece of work 10am is when you come to me. I love the symbolism of the time shared together with her assistant, the motif of the hand to symbolise dependency and support, the colour red to possibly symbolise emotional intensity and the musical score paper it is painted on ‘further emphasises the rhythm of Bourgeois and Gorovoy’s relationship’.


A full explanation of the piece is on the Tate website here.

It took a long time for Bourgeois to receive any real recognition and finally had her first retrospective in 1982, held by the MoMA in New York City. This was followed by another in 1989 at Documenta 9 in Kassel, Germany. In 2000 her works were selected to be shown at the opening of the Tate Modern in London and in 2001, she showed at the Hermitage Museum. Although Bourgeois exhibited with the Abstract Expressionists such as Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko, and her work has much in common with Surrealism and Feminist art, she was not really part of any particular artistic movement.

On the Tate website there is a short video interview she gave.

More of her work is described here.

Like Kienholz she drew on personal experiences and passions for political and social issues to inform her artwork. Bourgeois created artwork for the AIDS activist organization ACT UP in 1993 and in 2010 she promoted LGBT equality by creating the piece I Do, depicting two flowers growing from one stem, to benefit the nonprofit organization Freedom to Marry. Bourgeois said ‘Everyone should have the right to marry. To make a commitment to love someone forever is a beautiful thing.’


Although an artist/sculptor rather than a photographer Louise Bourgeois was a brilliant person to research, as she once more underlined the way you can draw on personal/shared experiences to influence your creative processes in different directions. Also her use of quite surreal metaphors for ordinary everyday subjects was enlightening.






Suggested Research – Edward Kienholz

Edward Kienholz 1927-1994

I’d never heard of Edward Kienholz therefore was intrigued over what I might find ‘challenging’ about his work when Russell suggested I look…on Googling him I soon found out why he is described as an ‘artist of unwavering originality, critical insight, and notoriety’; he certainly does seem to produce some obscure and in some cases repulsive, looking work!

His huge life-size three-dimensional tableaux were ‘immersive environments’ that strongly reflected upon ‘contemporary social and political issues of late twentieth-century America.’ These tableaux were mainly made from discarded items.

Kienholz was married several times, but eventually settled in a stable relationship with his fifth wife, the artist Nancy Reddin Kienholz, who worked closely with him in the conceptualisation and fabrication of his later works.

In the 1960s Kienholz took an even grittier approach to his materials than his predecessors by utilizing discarded objects that appeared grimy and damaged. In large-scale installations with life-sized figures and built environments, Kienholz made his work physically and emotionally immersive, breaking down the comfort zone between the art and its audience.

Echoing the degraded, filthy quality of his materials, his sculptures and tableaux often evoke American society’s sexual prudery, political corruption, moral hypocrisy, and oppression of marginalised groups. These works are designed to evoke complicated responses of revulsion and guilt, often making viewers feel complicit in their atrocities.
Due to its controversial subject matter and its unflinching portrayals of sex and violence, Kienholz’s work was frequently the target of debates over obscenity and the appropriate use of public funding for the arts, foreshadowing discussions about contemporary art that still continue to this day.

The more I found out about him the more I wanted to discover, looking on YouTube for videos of his installations was definitely eye-opening. His work is visceral, ugly, deformed, in some ways incomprehensible, whilst at the same time sending exactly the right message, which inexorably draws you in – well it did me. I could not just look and comment on one single installation.

The following block quote descriptions are all taken from the website The Art Story.

The Illegal Operation (1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: Made nearly a decade before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion in the United States, The Illegal Operation depicts the scene of an abortion at a time when the procedure was practiced in secrecy, often in dangerous and unregulated conditions. This early sculpture, created out of found objects including a shopping cart, a wooden stool, and a standing lamp, is a prime example of Kienholz’s Funk art assemblage. Its title hints at the taboo debate surrounding abortion rights, while its crudely hewn composition – with the cart reconfigured into a chair, the lampshade tilted askew, and the linens darkened with filth – suggests that something is clearly amiss. Through its visceral imagery, the sculpture draws attention to the country’s problematic handling of the abortion issue during the middle of the twentieth century. This piece was also based on Kienholz’s personal experience of abortion, since his wife at the time had undergone the same procedure during this period and was forced to do so illegally. Like much of his later work, The Illegal Operation broaches a controversial topic while insisting that matters of political and social discourse are never unwarranted artistic subjects.


I like the way he drew upon personal experiences a well as world events to base his pieces on.

The Back Seat Dodge ’38 (1964)

Artwork description & Analysis: When this work was displayed in Kienholz’s 1966 solo show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it caused an uproar, leading some local authorities to call it pornographic and others to plead for its removal from the exhibition. The sculpture portrays a youthful couple engaged in sexual activity in a truncated 1938 Dodge coupe with its passenger seat door propped ajar. The woman, cast in plaster, lies across the seat with the man, formed out of chicken wire, lying on top of her; the two figures are surrounded by beer bottles. As Kienholz has noted, this piece represents an adolescent experience common to many young adults who grew up in the new age of the automobile and is based on his own early sexual experimentation. The work, which can only be seen by gazing through the open door, gives the sense that the viewer has intruded upon the scene as a voyeur. By embedding the scene within the car, dimly lit by the car’s headlights and cab light, Kienholz engages simultaneous reactions of discomfort, revulsion, interest, and curiosity that evoke the mid-twentieth century American public’s attitudes towards sexuality.

What attracted me to this piece was that it could be altered by changing the lighting, which gave a completely different atmosphere. Again he was drawing on personal as well as most contemporary, Western adolescent experiences.

He may or may not have got inspiration from a Bobby Smith image taken in Tampa Florida in the 1950’s simply called The Back Seat of a Car.

Bobby Smith was the first female “messenger boy,” and co-founder of the Metropolitan Community Church in Tampa, Bobby Smith’s personal and professional photographs include both portraits and “everyday” shots of the LGBT community. The collection consists of nearly 450 photographs documenting Tampa’s Gay and Lesbian communities from the 1950s to the 1970s. Images of popular hang-outs, such as Jack’s Place, Knotty Pine, Jimmie White’s Tavern and the Brass Rail, are included. A small sample of the collection has been digitized and are available online at http://digital.lib.usf.edu/maniscalcor


The Beanery (1965)

The walk-in installation The Beanery is one of Kienholz’s most admired works. Inspired by Barney’s Beanery, a seedy pub located off the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles that was a famous hangout for celebrities, musicians, and artists, the work reconstructs a typical bar scene filtered through Kienholz’s unwieldy lens. While the installation reconstructs the general layout of the pub, The Beanery is also surreal, featuring denizens with faces formed out of clocks, all of which are set to the same time of 10:10. Kienholz has noted that time is suspended in the installation to underscore the escapism of the bar’s clientele; as he stated, “A bar is a sad place, a place full of strangers who are killing time, postponing the idea that they’re going to die.” Only the figure of Barney, the pub’s owner, has a human face, which acts as an emblem of the merciless passage of time.

As one of Kienholz’s most ambitious installations, this work also highlights the artist’s prowess as a craftsman. The tableau, which includes seventeen individuals scattered throughout the scene, combines cast elements with found objects that have been cleverly woven together; some figures are engaged in private interactions, creating multiple simultaneous narratives that are united through the looped soundtrack of clinking glasses and laughter that plays whenever the installation is displayed.

This installation has in recent years been re-displayed, with the museum concerned trying to restore it.

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Suggested Research – Edward Hopper

Garry Winogrand extolled the virtues of looking at other arts and elements in normal life to give inspiration. Russell also suggested that I take a look at the work of Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper 1882 – 1967

Edward Hopper  was a prominent American realist painter and print-maker. He died in 1967 and sadly his wife died ten months later. She bequeathed their joint collection of more than three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Other significant paintings by Hopper are held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Des Moines Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hopper mainly painted from two primary sources: the common features of American life  and its inhabitants and seascapes and rural landscapes. Urban architecture and cityscapes also were major subjects often depicting the city as desolate and dangerous.

Hopper’s individuals, usually depicted isolated and disconnected from their environments either literally by glass windows or metaphorically through formal means, are manifestations of the artist’s focus on the solitude of modern life. The starkness of detail and unmodulated revelatory light in many works builds a tension, drawing the viewer’s attention away from the given subject, and suggesting much about his emotional experience. In this way, the artist’s work acts as a bridge between the interest in everyday life exhibited by the contemporary Ashcan School and the exploration of mood by later existential artists.

He loved to create moods and atmosphere by using light and shadow: bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, played ‘symbolically powerful roles’ in Hopper paintings such as Early Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty Room (1963). His use of light and shadow have frequently been compared to ‘the cinematography of film noir.’ His use of saturated colour also heightened the contrast and created mood and atmosphere. Rooms by the Sea touched on the surreal.

Said to be  attracted to ‘an emblematic, anti-narrative symbolism’ he ‘painted short isolated moments of configuration, saturated with suggestion’ with his ‘silent spaces and uneasy encounters…[touching] us where we are most vulnerable.’ The images are said to have ‘a suggestion of melancholy.’

The best-known of Hopper’s paintings, Nighthawks (1942), is one of his paintings of groups. It shows customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. The shapes and diagonals are carefully constructed. The viewpoint is cinematic—from the sidewalk, as if the viewer were approaching the restaurant. The diner’s harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, enhancing the mood and subtle emotion. As in many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal. The restaurant depicted was inspired by one in Greenwich Village. Both Hopper and his wife posed for the figures, and Jo Hopper gave the painting its title. The inspiration for the picture may have come from Ernest Hemingway’s short story The Killers, which Hopper greatly admired, or from the more philosophical A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. In keeping with the title of his painting, Hopper later said, Nighthawks has more to do with the possibility of predators in the night than with loneliness.

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