Researching on controversial art works
MILO MOIRE – PLOPEGG (2014)
Warning: Age-restricted content
At Art Cologne 2014, Swiss artist Milo Moiré stood naked on a pair of stepladders outside the German art fair, proceeding to squeeze paint-filled eggs out of her vagina. Each egg smashed on the blank canvas below, creating a supposedly colourful expression of fertile creativity. Moiré explained: “I’m interested in pushing boundaries through art, living and expressing my art with my body and mind while opening mental doors.”
Milo Moiré is a Swiss conceptual artist and model known for her nude performances and the use of her body in her art. “To create art, I even use THE original source of the femininity – my vagina“.
I came across this piece of performance art by Milo Moire from a video post shared on Facebook, 2 years ago. It was a memorable piece to me as I first watched such a daring and raw art performance (before I started studying art).
What was impactful to me, was her nudity in public and that she was performing with her private body part, pushing painted eggs out of her birth canal (an act which will be censored and disallowed in most conservative societies such as Singapore). Hence, I was shocked by the explicity of her performance, but also admired how she was composed and confident of her own work. She knew what she was doing, and she gave sense of pride in her production.
In my own understanding, I perceived it as “a birth of her work of art” literally, with the most traditional and explicit expression and development of the work. I could relate it to concepts of women, fertility and creativity, but I feel like it could be at a more appropriate setting, with interested audience, instead of a public place with passers-by just moving on with their everyday life.
Was she trying to normalise the performance and be integrated with the everyday thing or was she trying to invite serious attention to her art?
“a powerful feminist statement about women, fertility and creativity”
“absurd, gratuitous, trite and desperate. Anywhere but an art gathering, this would be regarded as a satire on modern cultural emptiness”
She believed in using her body as a medium, a tool of her art expression live. In her famous performance art pieces, she was mostly nude as symbolism for her beliefs/concept.
Other controversial works by her:
Naked Selfies was another piece of work by her which resulted in a resounding public discussion disputing over the controversy in the concept she was trying to perform.
JOHN CAGE – 4’33” (1953)
John Cage composed his most famous and controversial piece of ‘music’, a piece void of sounds made by any musical instrument. It was performed by David Tudor, in 3 movements.
Pianist David Tudor walked out on stage on August 29, 1952, in Woodstock, NY, sat down at the piano and closed the lid. At the end of the first movement, the lid was re-opened. This closing and opening was repeated to before the second and third movements. Instead of music performed in a traditional concert setting, the initial impression was that the audience had been subjected to silence.
John Cage on Silence:
Why 4’33” ?
John Cage: “Of the four characteristics of the material of music, duration, that is time length, is the most fundamental. Silence cannot be heard in terms of pitch or harmony: it is heard in terms of time length.” He emphasised structural significance in his music.
Cage (1912-1992) was a pioneer in using instruments in non-standard ways. For example, he wrote works for a prepared piano–a piano that had objects placed under some of the strings to create unique sounds. He was also a major influence in the development of modern dance along with his partner, choreographer Merce Cunningham. He was also one of the first to compose using electronics.
It was the composer’s study of Zen Buddhism that influenced his aleatoric or chance music, meaning that part of the composition is left up to chance as determined by the performers.
(Adapted from: http://www.cmuse.org/john-cage-433-music-or-silence/)
The silence of the piano did not leave the audience in silence. They made their own music by their whispers that grew louder as they wondered what was going on. Some of them got up and walked out. Others shuffled in their seat, anticipating that the pianist would play something. Cage created this work to encourage people to listen to the sounds around them. The sounds make their own music even if it is not the traditional or conventional music people are used to.
Many were supportive with the idea of the natural soundscape and appreciative of the piece that was ‘played by the audience and the environment’. John Cage brought attention to silence (and pauses) as fundamental and essential music. It gave a deeper level of understanding of music that it comprises the production of sound as well as its absence.
However, others disagree with the labelling of simplistic silence (already present & not produced) as music even though the composition and performance by professional musicians seemed to give the piece justification as legitimate music.
It was a brave move to “perform silence live”. I liked the avant-garde of it, a fresh idea of observing greater detail of our surrounding sounds and ambience into a soundscape. I was greatly inspired by that fact that 4’33” is a versatile and a constantly different piece played at different settings, under different conditions and with a different audience – because it is live piece contributed by everything/everyone in the same setting at the time. It just means that, each time it is a new experience. wow. Yet, I agree with the point that it may not be considered music or composition as there wasn’t a fixed or specific tune/feeling designed by the musician, but the novel idea and experience initiated by John Cage should definitely be credited. 🙂
KANYE WEST – FAMOUS (2016)
Warning: Age-restricted content
One of the most discussed controversial video of today’s age. This video features naked wax dolls of George W. Bush, Donald Trump, Anna Wintour, Rihanna (who sings the hook for the track), Chris Brown, Kim Kardashian, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner, Bill Cosby, Taylor Swift and Kanye West all laying naked in bed in a modern recreation of Vincent Desiderio’s Sleeppainting from 2008.
The controversy lies in the feature of controversial figures who were related to him in different aspects, as well as nude exposure of the other celebrities. Was it his attempt at greater fame? Was he using his artistic license to broadcast nude likenesses of real people to a worldwide audience.
Kanye West is an American rapper, songwriter, record producer, fashion designer, and entrepreneur.
In a public interview with Vanity Fair, West divulged that the celebrities chosen for the “Famous” video had some impact or influence on his journey to fame which included his ex-lovers, industry friends, family and anyone else who has contributed to his controversial trek to celebrity.
He said his inspiration originated from “Sleep” by Vincent Desiderio (2008), and he had tried to maintain artistic vibe in the video by ensuring the shots were not too sexualised.
There were varying responses from the public. Most of them shared their own perception of the meaning of the video.
“The video itself is really uncomfortable, because it mirrors how the media/world is super obsessed with these famous people, almost in a serial killer kind of way. Even when these famous people are really vulnerable (sleeping and naked), we still keep looking at them. At the end though, he thanks them for being famous and kind of having to put up with being famous. There’s a redeeming/clear shot at the end of the whole painting.”
An interesting rendition of “Sleep” by Vincent Desiderio.
Many comments on his video included discontent regarding the sexual content and explicit lyrics, drawing reference to it as pornography.
I feel that this whole controversy brings us to a bigger issue in this age – nudity and sex. Looking at most controversial pieces around the world in the modern society, the feature of nudity and sexual content invites most discussion about what should be the extent/scope… IN THE NAME OF ART? This leaves us to defining art and how art should be. Yet, it cannot be done, which is why controversy arises. With regards to “Famous” by Kanye West, I do not agree with his ‘artistic move’ in rendering his own version of “Sleep” by including known figures ‘in the same bed’. I think it is unnecessary and there could be other ways to express his same meaning. In my opinion, he made use of the idea of sex and nudity as a topic for discussion and… fame.
DAVID HAMMONS – HOW YA LIKE ME NOW? (1988)
This painting was initially on a public billboard near the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, but was later moved inside the gallery setting after a group of young black people attacked it with sledgehammers.
In this painting, Jesse Jackson was portrayed with white skin, bleached hair, and blue eyes (the general features of white Americans). The words along with the portrait “How ya like me now?” were inspired by Kool Moe Dee’s lyrics (an iconic rapper of the eighties).
Why Jesse Jackson?
In the 1984 presidential election and 1988 presidential election, Jesse Jackson became the second African-American black candidate to run nationwide primary campaigns.
Through this art work, Hammons challenges the notion that the colour of one’s skin can accountably change their politics, suggesting that racism still interfered with politics.
The most immediate and direct response triggered by the art work was the damage of the work piece by a group of young black people. They probably felt that Hammons’ portrayal of Jesse Jackson was an act of racism, an insult to the black as it suggested a white superiority.
Hammons’ ‘How Ya Like Me Now’ conjures an amalgamation of responses. Some find his portrayal an insult to black political history, whilst others recognise a pressing statement made by Hammons, ultimately, urges us to defy and combat the prejudices made in politics.
I liked this piece of controversial art. It was meant to invite discussion, raise controversy. The act of damage of the painting is a reflection of superficial understanding (misunderstanding) of the message behind the Hammons’ portrait of Jesse Jackson as white. Some may perceive it as racism, that white Americans are preferred, and would be superior than the black to become President. However, I feel a sense of Hammons’ sarcasm in his work. “How ya like me now?” contains a negative connotation in this case. He seems to be mocking/ expressing his disagreement towards the issue of race and skin colour, a factor to affecting victory of presidency election.
Ultimately, art is subjective. Most art become different in the varying perception of its meaning. And I feel that is what is interesting and attractive about art.