IdeaFestival: Friday Highlights

Halfway through day two of IdeaFestival, organizer Kris Kimel announced that some organizations that had reserved blocks of tickets had released their reservations. So now, individual tickets to most events are available. The festival ends Saturday, and sessions run from 9 am until 5:30 pm.

Friday kicked off with two presentations featuring artists who are currently exhibiting at the Land of Tomorrow gallery at 233 West Broadway:

Grimanesa Amoros

Alice Gray Stites, curator of 21c Hotel and Museum, introduced Grimanesa Amoros, an interdisciplinary artist who was born in Lima, Peru and now resides in New York. Her work is currently featured in a Land of Tomorrow gallery group exhibition here in Louisville, and she is creating a site-specific installation for the soon-to-open 21c in Cincinnati.  

Amoros discussed a number of her installations from all around the world and showed concept videos documenting the creation, the inspiration, and the reception of these pieces.

The heart of her inspiration for most of these pieces lies with the floating, man-made islands inhabited by the Uru people of Lake Titicaca in her native Peru. Titicaca is the highest lake in the world. The Uros are a pre-Incan people who have constructed 42 un-moored islands made out of totoro reeds. The natives add to these structures every day otherwise they will sink.

To represent these islands in her installations, Amoros crafts translucent bubbles of varying sizes and arranges them either vertically or horizontally, so that they resemble either an island chain or a bubble pyramid or cone. These bubbles, which are either hemispheres or globes of silk screened fabric with striated patterns lit from within, also harken back to her seaside childhood and memories of the ocean churning foam onto the beach.

The first installation she highlighted was a chain of hemispheres created as a site-specific installation for Issey Miyake clothing store in NYC.  She constructed a similar chain for the Venice Biennale 54. Because of that city’s unpredictable floods, the curators of the exhibit insisted that she engineer an ‘escape’ system for her installation, a way of evacuating the piece if a flood was immanent. Amoros conceded to the request, but admitted that she would have preferred that, in the case of flooding, the gallery just let the bubbles float like they’re supposed to.  

She also created a work of public art for Times Square in New York. This was a pyramid of different sized globes constructed out of material that not only allowed light to shine from within the globes but also reflected the neon lights of the environment at night. The installation was part of the 2011 Armory Show and was called Uros House. Eventually Times Square police had to create barriers to keep people from stealing the smaller bubbles. But every time Amoros went to view her installation, she surreptitiously moved the barriers further and further away from the piece.

Creative Capital

Also participating in the Land Of Tomorrow group exhibition are four artists sponsored by Creative Capital. Without fail, the annual presentation at IdeaFestival by Creative Capital artists is among the most compelling of the event. This year was no different. Creative Capital has supplied nearly $9 million in direct support to artists every year. This year there were more than 3000 applicants for 42 grants.

Liz Cohen is a documentary photographer from Detroit. She presented works from several of her long-term projects. The first was a series of photos of transgendered sex workers in the American sector of the Panama Canal. The second was a project involving “tattoo artists who are motorcyclists, militia members, and miniature animal breeders.” Finally she showed photo documentation of her eight-year-long quest to hybridize a German-manufactured Trabant car with the iconic El Camino. Cohen trained with car customizers in auto body shops across the country. Over the course of the project, she took bikini model-style pictures of herself posing with the car, even when she was eight months pregnant with her child.

Sam Van Aken is the Director of Sculpture at Syracuse University. His presentation began with a film project involving Germans and their love of American Cowboys. But it quickly shifted to his interest in a water tower in Grover’s Mills, NJ. After Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio hoax, citizens of Grover’s Mills mistook the water tower for a UFO and took up arms and started blasting it full of holes. The owner donated the tower to him, and he took it down and turned it into a radio studio from which he broadcast his own radio hoaxes (primarily interrupting commercial oldies and country radio stations) until the FCC shut him down. The centerpiece of his presentation was his “Trees of Forty Fruits,” a piece of horticultural art created through grafting technology. Each of his trees produces forty different kinds of fruits. When he showed an artist’s rendering of the tree in full blossom, the audience burst into applause.

Hassan Elahi says his art barely passes as art. After 9/11, he was mistaken for a terrorist and was subjected to a six-month investigation by the FBI that culminated in Elahi enduring nine polygraphs in a single day.  After this experience, Elahi decided that whenever he had to go anywhere, he would call “his” FBI agent. This “relationship”—which was entirely one-sided, he admitted—evolved as Elahi began to send the agent emails and photos and blog entries in addition to his phone calls. Every time he reported to the FBI, they responded with a simple “thank you.” Elahi decided that if providing some information kept him off the no-fly list, providing even more information to the FBI would further secure his freedom. So he turned his cellphone into tracking device. At this point he’s provided the FBI with over 50,000 pieces of evidence of where he’s been and what he’s done in the form of maps, photos, financial data, phone records, and transportation records.

“The way to protect your privacy is to give it up,” he says.  

If 300 million people started doing this, the intelligence community would have to be entirely reconstructed. Elahi says that with the amount of information we’re putting online, we’re all creating similar archives now.

“We need to take control of these archives, if we don’t, other people will, and they will be inaccurate,” he says.

Tahir Hemphill is the 2012-2013 Hip Hop Archive Fellow at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He has created an online searchable database of over 50,000 hip hop songs recorded between 1979 to today. Hemphill says he was groomed to be a scientist but decided in college to become an artist, so all of his art is informed by science. These databases can be used to map lyrics and language and history to discover what is said over time and space. These data visualizations can be graphs or charts or maps. An example of this in practice is a data visualization piece called “Champagne Always Stains My Silk” which charts the popularity of certain champagne brand mentions in hip hop from 1980-2000.

Exhibits featuring these artists will be on view through November 2, 2012.

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