When we're asked to think about art, most people visualize paintings by Picasso, Dali or Monet. Most people don't think about artists who are alive today, making art with something other than a paintbrush.
Certainly the majority of us wouldn't know about Freya Olafson and Derek Brueckner, two Winnipeg artists whose art supplies include duct tape and YouTube.
While many members of the public feel artists today are lacking in the time-honoured skills of drawing, painting, or sculpting the human form, artists such as Olafson and Brueckner are more interested in advancing the visual language of the body through less static means. For Brueckner, a talented drawer and painter, it became important to diversify his approach by "becoming curious about other kinds of art-making."
In the late '90s, Brueckner began to explore the relationship between artist, model and audience by doing live drawings of nude models in the large windows of Winnipeg's Plug-In Gallery. Anyone passing by could catch an eyeful and see the artist at work.
Today, Brueckner's work has evolved to include collaboration with performance artists in lieu of models, and live-feed video projections replace live drawings. At a recent show in New York City, performance artist Geraldo Mercado climbed in and out of giant geometrical shapes Brueckner built out of duct tape and white Masonite. The performance was recorded live on video and projected back onto the piece.
The effect of the projection was stunning; picture arms and legs moving in and out of multi-faceted forms that flicker with an ephemeral glow. Breuckner spent hours in "rehearsal," observing performers interacting with the ad hoc sculptures, and making large-scale paintings based on what he saw. In "fusing the act of painting with technology," Bruecker said he was aiming to "reinvent the entrenched tradition" of painting the body.
Freya Olafson, too, works across artistic disciplines to provide "many ports of entry for the audience." It would be clich© to say her work breathes new life into the practice of making art, but she possesses ingenuity in spades. Trained as a dancer, Olafson uses her own body as well as video and sound to make work about how we relate to technology.
Olafson is interested in YouTube for its strange blend of public and private and for the fact it shows "unedited behaviours of contemporary people." Olafson recently became inspired by videos uploaded by parents showing their kids dancing to popular music. Inspired by the "continuously shifting impulses" in one boy's "somewhat under-coordinated body," Olafson mimicked his spastic and hilarious dance moves in a performance of her own.
For her upcoming work Hyper, Olafson manipulates lighting and video technology. In the mesmerizing work, the screen swallows her whole, becomes a curtain through which she emerges, and at times seems to blend seamlessly with her dancing body. But here's the catch; Olafson paints her naked body in black-light paint to resemble a skeleton. The animated bones glow like some sort of psychedelic X-ray machine, leaving the viewer to question whether the dance is a celebration or one that is macabre.
Artists always reflect and comment upon the times in which they live. To do this best, many artists today use an interdisciplinary approach, mirroring every technological advance and cultural phenomenon. Just as the fragmented shapes in Picasso's cubist paintings were in part a response to Einstein's ideas about the unreliability of matter, Brueckner and Olafson's work is a response to the disconcerting postmodern questions of our day.
Today, the "what is art?" debate continues in the mind of the public. There are many who would say what Olafson and Brueckner do is not art but something else. Picasso's groundbreaking cubist work was not widely accepted at first, either. But artists excused themselves from the debate a long time ago. Instead, they continue to make work that challenges, provokes and upsets old traditions.
Sarah Swan is a Winnipeg artist and writer. On Friday Sept. 6, Swan will host Art Talk/Art Walk at the Free Press News Café. In this edition, she will talk with Freya Olafson and Derek Brueckner about alternative approaches to art. For tickets or more information, please call 204-697-7069.