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Read the articles ‘What Nancy Rubins does with 20,000 Pounds of Metal’ and ‘El Anatsui, Old Mans Cloth’ and watch the two vid


Read the articles ‘What Nancy Rubins does with 20,000 Pounds of Metal’ and ‘El Anatsui, Old Mans Cloth’ and watch the two vid

https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/el-anatsui-studio-process-short/

https://art21.org/watch/extended-play/el-anatsui-language-symbols-short/

Read the articles “What Nancy Rubins does with 20,000 Pounds of Metal” and “El Anatsui, Old Mans Cloth” and watch the two videos on El Anatsui’s practice all posted in Week 2 module,

In a paragraph (5 sentences or so is all you need), briefly summarize the readings and videos and then respond to the following analysis questions in paragraph form:

  • How do both artists use the source of their metal materials to convey new meaning in their work?
  • How were these sculptures made? Do the processes used change your interpretation of the meaning of the work, or are they not that important?

Your response should be about one full page double spaced. Your grade will be drawn from the summary, overall analysis response, grammar, clarity, and conciseness. Upload your Word or PDF file to Canvas. Please bring a print out of your response to class or have it open on your laptop to reference during our class discussion.

El Anatsui, Old Man’s Cloth

by  DR. ALLISON YOUNG

Old Man’s Cloth hangs like a large tapestry, but when we look closer, it’s easy to become captivated by the small metal fragments that comprise the work in hundreds. Arranged within a shifting grid of stripes and blocks of color, the components form their own internal maps across the surface, melding into vertical gold bands, interlocking black and silver rows, or a deviant red piece floating in a field of black. While Old Man’s Cloth would have been laid flat during its construction, it is contorted and manipulated during installation, so that the individual metal pieces can catch the light from every angle. This brilliant visual effect makes its humble origins all the more impressive.

The Medium or the Message?

Old Man’s Cloth has been constructed from flattened liquor bottle labels that the artist collects near his home in Southern Nigeria. While critics often write about Anatsui’s metal wall hangings using the language of textiles, the labels and bottle caps are typically fastened together with copper wire and attached corner-to-corner. As such, the issue of medium is one of the first to inspire debate amongst viewers—are the wall hangings two-dimensional or three-dimensional?  Are they sculptures, even as they hang against the wall like paintings?  Are they individual works or immersive installations? Lastly, are they “fine art” or simply an innovative form of “craft”?

Purposefully disregarding the limited categories imposed by Western art history, Anatsui’s practice emerges from a more expanded understanding of what art can be that stems from both the radical practices of the late-1960s, and from a vantage point outside of the Western tradition completely. As scholar Susan Vogel has explained, “such categories did not exist in classic African traditions, which made no distinction between art and craft, high art and low.”

Anatsui’s choice of discarded liquor bottle caps as a medium has as much to do with their formal properties as with their historical associations. As an African artist whose career was forged during the utopia of mid-century African independence movements, his work has always engaged his region’s history and culture. The bottle caps, for Anatsui, signify a fraught history of trade between Africa and Europe. As he explained,

“Alcohol was one of the commodities brought with [Europeans] to exchange for goods in Africa. Eventually alcohol become one of the items used in the transatlantic slave trade. They made rum in the West Indies, took it to Liverpool, and then it made its way back to Africa. I thought that the bottle caps had a strong reference to the history of Africa.”

The luminescent gold colors also recall the colonial past of Anatsui’s home country—modern Ghana was previously a British colony called The Gold Coast until its independence in 1957. The fluid movements of the work’s surface remind us of the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, which carried slave-ships and traders between Africa, Europe and the New World. By bestowing his works with titles such as Man’s Cloth and Woman’s Cloth, Anatsui also makes reference to the significance of textiles in African societies, and their own historical role in trade networks.

Old Man’s Cloth was included in one of Anatsui’s first exhibitions of hanging metal sculptures. Held at London’s October Gallery in 2004, the show was entitled “Gawu,” which means “metal cloak” in Ewe. Old Man’s Cloth is unique for its uneven and jagged edges as well as the “rough texture” of the recycled labels that are incorporated into the piece.

Modernism in Africa

El Anatsui was born in Ghana in 1944, and was trained in an academic European curriculum. In 1964, when he began his studies, many parts of Africa were experiencing a cultural renaissance associated with decolonization movements. Anatsui himself joined the unofficial “Sankofa” movement, which was invested in unearthing and reclaiming Africa’s rich indigenous traditions and assimilating these with the European-influenced aspects of society. His earliest works, for example, included a series of wooden market trays into which he burned designs inspired by African graphic systems and adinkra motifs (symbols widely used by the Akan people of Ghana).

In 1975, Anatsui joined the faculty at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.  Nsukka was a vibrant creative capital for African artists and writers in the 1970s, many of whom spearheaded the Zaria Rebellion in the early 1960s and revived the traditional art form of uli wall and body painting in their contemporary works.

Anatsui’s work differed slightly from that of his colleagues in his insistence on abstraction. In some of his first mature works, he used an electric chainsaw to slash geometric patterns into wood. Though abstract, these works were metaphorically rich; Anatsui chose woods of different colors to represent the diversity of African cultures, while the violence of the chainsaw enacted the ruptures imposed by European imperialist expansion.

Critical Reception: African or Contemporary?

When two of Anatsui’s metal wall hangings appeared in the 2007 Venice Biennale, they were lauded by the public and swiftly cemented his place as a leading international contemporary artist. He had, in fact, already shown in Venice almost two decades earlier in 1990, when he participated in a small exhibition surveying contemporary African art. During the time that lapsed between the two exhibitions, the art world became more receptive to artists outside of its Western centers, and by 2007, Anatsui could exhibit not only as a representative of the continent, but as an individual artist whose work was significant in its own right.

As such, his work provides an excellent opportunity for discussion about the relationships between artists at the center and at the periphery, and between the West and the Global South. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for instance, has now acquired two of Anatsui’s metal wall hangings, but they are owned by two different curatorial departments: the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, and Modern and Contemporary Art. Both were recently on view at the same time, but in separate galleries. Visitors, students, and art historians should continue to ask themselves which designation seems more appropriate, and for what reasons. Should we understand his art as a product of its place, its time, or both? What do we see in Anatsui’s work when it is placed among African masks and ritual objects, and how do our impressions change when this work is placed beside contemporary art from around the world?

There are no correct answers to these questions, but they are indicative of the changes that have taken place both in the art world, and in today’s increasingly connected society at large.

See images and original article: https://smarthistory.org/el-anatsui-old-mans-cloth/

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What Nancy Rubins does with 20,000 Pounds of Metal

By Rachel Small for Interview Magzine, July 2014

See article for photos: https://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/nancy-rubins-gagosian-gallery-our-friend-fluid-metal

To artist Nancy Rubins, a hunk of trash isn’t the end–it’s a new opportunity. Take her recent series at Gagosian, “Our Friend Fluid Metal.” The four sculptures consist of aluminum children’s playground toys, bound in twisting spires by tangled steel cords. When she discovered the discarded objects a few years ago, she realized they were made of the same material as World War II planes, a medium she first used in the 1990s.

That got her thinking. “Before it was in the airplanes for the war effort, it was something else. And before that it was in the earth. And before it was in the earth it was part of the solar system, flying around in globs and stars exploding and meteorites,” she says. “I’m catching it in between, as children’s toys.”

The aluminum probably doesn’t know it, but it’s the core of Rubins’s latest works, the most recent results of her long relationship with others’ junk–or, in art-world jargon, “found objects.” She’s been working steadily since the early 1990s, though the massive volume of her sculptures warrants a slower output than most. In the past, she’s used hundreds of metal boats, blooming in Lincoln Center for Big Pleasure Point (2006). She repeated the feat with some variations in Las Vegas and Chicago—the series is known as Monochrome. 10,000 pounds of mattresses and 1,000 pounds of cake were the materials for her aptly titled 1993 Whitney Biennial piece, Mattresses and Cake. A veritable edifice of discarded electric appliances made up Worlds Apart (1982) in Washington, D.C., one of her earliest public commissions.

Before the big stuff, a young, recently graduated Rubins was digging through thrift store bins in a late 1970s San Francisco for scraps of inspiration. “I could get great stuff for almost free, and that was like caviar for me,” she remembers. Early experiments involved everything from hairdryers to televisions to waffle irons. Though it was generally loathed by the city, Worlds Apart put her on the map, attracting the attention of MoCA Los Angeles chief curator Paul Schimmel, who in 1992 placed her in a popular show about contemporary Los Angeles artists. The next year, she easily landed a commission for the Whitney Biennial.

Fast forward about two decades, and Rubins can be found outside of her suburban Topanga Canyon, California studio working closely with a trusted engineer to hoist 20,000 pounds of aluminum animals into elaborate configurations. She chuckles when we ask if there’s spontaneity involved.

RACHEL SMALL: Tell me a little bit about the show. How did it come to be? What are the underlying ideas?

NANCY RUBINS: The name of the work in the show is a series called “Our Friend Fluid Metal.” It’s a sculpture made of a mass of multiplicity of these aluminum doo-dads that I’ve been accumulating.

For many years I was working with airplane parts. I would buy them in mass quantities. When I first started buying them, they were 10 cents a pound–[for] scrap. I made friends with this gentleman in the Mojave Desert named Mr. Huffman and he had mounds of scrap of airplane parts.

SMALL: How did he get them? 

RUBINS: There’s airports there. The space shuttle lands out there. There’s an army and air force base out there. Also he would just accumulate those scrap airplane parts. When I first met him, he showed a picture of himself to me with a mobile smelting unit from the early ’50s. He has this mobile smelter that he took throughout the southwest Arizona and New Mexico, places like that, where the fleets after World War II were stored, and he melted it down.

As I started looking at these little aluminum doo-dads that I’m working with now, I realized that they were made of that aluminum. They were made at the same time, right after all that aluminum from World War II was melted down [in the 1940s and 1950s]. These things started being produced in profusion, because aluminum was super cheap. It is much cheaper to recycle aluminum than to mine it. It’s a metal that was recycled a lot. 

SMALL: So, these are probably the remnants of World War II planes. Children’s toys.

RUBINS: Yeah, mostly from playgrounds. I started accumulating massive quantities of these things. When I first saw them, I was a little bit concerned about the objects. They were such specific objects. You saw a turtle, a frog, a horse, whatever these little animals were.

As a sculptor, I was concerned how to figure out how to use these things so they became something beyond those objects. So I started working with them, and I realized that if I turn them upside down, use them in massive quantities, let the springs come out, that they became abstracted forms. The color in them is beautiful. The last few years I’ve been working with monochrome elements–boats mostly [in the Monochrome series]. It was refreshing to go back to using color again. And so I realized that these new pieces became very painterly, as I built them and started looking at them. Because it was all a discovery for me. I realized I was making three-dimensional paintings. I started seeing them in early Philip Guston, when his works were abstract. Willem de Kooning is in it for me. All these kind of weird, curly shapes became curly shapes of color that I could work with. I started thinking about Roberto Matta, the surrealist. They became these huge blobs of these deeply three-dimensional paintings. So I started working with them on the ground, and then I started thinking about making these extreme cantilevers. So I’ve been developing one piece in particular, an extraordinary cantilever that I’ve been working with with my engineer–my engineer really came up with a fabulous design. You know how cables go through bridges? This is [held up] by the tension of cables going through the structure, and keeping the cantilever suspended.

SMALL: That seems pretty technically complicated. You needed an engineer?

RUBINS: Oh yeah, I work really closely with an engineer. I’ve been working with him since around 2004 or 2005.

SMALL: Obviously when artwork has to happen on such a large-scale…

RUBINS: When people walk under it, you think, “Can it possibly be outside with 18 feet of snow or wind conditions or earthquakes?” These sculptures have been designed to basically go through the apocalypse…That’s an exaggeration. They’re designed to withstand massive amounts [of strain]… like 18 feet of snow, earthquakes. They’re really built.

SMALL: How did you get them into the gallery?

RUBINS: We figured out how to build these things at my studio in California, take them apart in sections, put them on many trucks… it’s kind of like a giant jigsaw puzzle. 

SMALL: Yeah. I see you’ve done these shapes…

RUBINS: You know, the sculpture is a cross between a grotto, a painting, and a sculpture. 

SMALL: Did you think about how these parts have been discarded again and again?

RUBINS: What I love about them is that they’ve had so much use. The initial use of what it was before it was these objects, and then thousands of children who jumped on these things and wore them down, and they’ve been painted and re-painted again. They had their own life way before I ever got them.

SMALL: It sounds like that life was very rooted in the actual transference of material. The experience of other people in relation to this material and that sort of history… different people had different experiences around it.

RUBINS: Yeah, that’s interesting to me. It’s interesting because you get these objects and you note that they’re loaded with this history, and it’s time for me to blow a new history into it.

SMALL: What would you like that history to be now?

RUBINS: Well, it is what it is. They’re sculptures.

SMALL: In your past public works, landscapes play a part in your sculptures. Do you see these being shown anywhere else, outside of a gallery?

RUBINS: I built them outside in my studio in Topanga Canyon. It’s funny; my friend would say, “Oh my goodness! Look at the hill! It’s having a conversation with the hill!” The work is having a conversation with the hill, or there are references to oak trees. For me, I love the idea of taking it from this place where it’s built, and bringing it into a beautiful clean, white space with beautiful skylights so the history of the environment where it’s built is embedded in the sculpture. But the environment isn’t there anymore. It’s a clean space; you can see the sculpture really clearly.

SMALL: You can still go around it, move around it, 360 degrees. Seeing it against a white wall versus seeing it against a landscape is a very different experience. Having this in a gallery in New York, how does it compare to doing a public installation in Chicago or Las Vegas, or New York?

RUBINS: It’s very different. When I built the piece at Lincoln Center, it was built for that specific site. We were building it on-site, and when I would see it shaping the structures around it, I could respond to the situation. What I love about this is that I can build it in my studio. These are all new works. They’re highly experimental for me to build it in my studio, where I have peace and quiet and wasn’t under any time pressure. The piece in Lincoln Center, we built that, I believe, in six nights. Because it was at Lincoln Center and that property was so busy, we would begin at 11 at night and working into the night isn’t an easy thing to do. I love working in my studio and waking up in the morning. My crew would get there and we would work every day in a gradual way. It was a beautiful thing for me to do. I love working like that.

SMALL: Even if you did want to work at night in the desert, that’s a possibility.

RUBINS: Yeah, but I don’t. I like to work in the day. [laughs]

SMALL: Would you say you’re a morning person?

RUBINS: Yes, definitely.

SMALL: Have you ever been a night owl?

RUBINS: Never.

SMALL: Do you have a favorite sculpture or a favorite part about any of the sculptures?

RUBINS: No, I love them all. I love the way the cables and the wires are working, the density and those little delicate parts and those little passages that are little tendrils that you can walk under. It’s quite beautiful. There’s a huge mass to it, but a remarkable delicacy at the same time.

SMALL: Earlier in your career, some of your sculptures were not built to last. Why is that different with these?

RUBINS: Because they’re so good. [laughs] I think we’ve been working on these for two years now.

SMALL: You still have any of those little animals left over?

RUBINS: Yeah. I like working with them. I have other ideas.

SMALL: Can I ask what those ideas are?

RUBINS: No. They’re just ideas. If I could explain it to you, I’d be a poet. But I’m not. The words don’t come.

“OUR FRIEND FLUID METAL”  WILL BE ON DISPLAY AT GAGOSIAN GALLERY ON WEST 21 STREET THROUGH SEPTEMBER 13, 2014.

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