≡ ‘docile bodies’ and fiery hands: the work of Azril Khairul Ismail ≡

jikaditanya© Azril Khairul Ismail,

If asked of my lover,
Tell her I have gone,
If asked of my mother,
Tell her I shall return
If Asked of the Police,
Tell them I have Died

Blessme..© Azril Khairul Ismail, “In Jesus Christ We Pray, Amen!”.

garudatheeagle© Azril Khairul Ismail, Garuda the Eagle.

Lie© Azril Khairul Ismail, Lie.

twophoenix© Azril Khairul Ismail, “Two Phoenixes”; the drawing found within the same cell space as the “Mad Monk” and the
“Warrior”, it was noted on the cell space was supposedly occupied by higher triad gang member, based on several
interviews with the previous wardens.

thewall© Azril Khairul Ismail, The Wall.

“The images that appeared in this portfolio carried many kinds of writing. Most of the anecdotes, quotes, and poetry came with very little in the way of bibliography. These graffiti were already anonymous despite the reclusive nature of the inmates whom produced them. I began to realise that there was actually no need to find the authors of the graffiti (futile perhaps), if the intended paper was to have a historical approach. I knew that proceeding with this research would reveal very little about the origin of the graffiti’s authors. As I knew nothing about the writers and had no specific details of the past inmates, it would not be possible to fully explain the drawings’ rationale. However, I do believe that this paper shows my inquisitive nature in looking for a common ground in how this type of graffiti links the inmates to the devotional objects and subjects of their lives, while ignoring their crimes or confessions.

I avoided reflecting these images as a kind of ‘depictive misery’ of incarceration. On several occasions, there were account of many horrifying stories; in the suffering of the inmates that evoked sympathy about the injustices that happened in the prison. On the other, most of the locales suggests think the graffiti might demonstrate a world of ghosts and paranormal, which I found quite interesting aspect to it as it was common for the locales to practice the black arts of magic. However, it was a subject which I do suggest in certain segments of this research as one of the components that builds towards the rationale of the graffiti, though it would not be the main focal point. The drawings of the graffiti within this portfolio goes beyond being about prison reform and social justice. The works may contain some of that, but I know not to get involved in something that needs a much more in-depth examination of the penal system.

I have presented this paper on many occasions, locally in Malaysia and to international audiences. Many questions were raised by it and I welcomed the supportive response. But there was one occasion, when I had presented the paper and was discussing why it should be shared with the world, when I was silenced by the question: “What do you mean by understanding?”. That question, grew and I was obsessed with finding the answer for such a fundamental response. I had assumed that this concept of ‘understanding’ was not important, despite hundreds, if not thousands of hours spent looking at these images. I began to realize that there was no need to begin to explain what these graffiti meant, as the audience had their own capacity to read and experience these images as they wanted without needing my instructions as on how they should be looked at.

The drawings I found were simple and used techniques, which did not follow the usual rules as expected in art drawings. Yet those hard lines on the walls defined the spirit of their makers’ will and certainly carried a different weight compared to drawings done on paper. Over the intervening years, these drawings have remained silently on the dark walls of the prison, and now, these marks will disappear from the world as the wrecking ball plummets into the bowels of the prison.” excerpt from Khairul Ismail’s article Pudu Jail’s Graffiti: Beyond the Prison Cells. Full text can be found here and complete set of images here.

16-Dont-Cry© Azril Khairul Ismail, “Don’t Cry”.

15-Outlaws-of-the-Marsh© Azril Khairul Ismail, “The Monk”, an illustrated figure of a monk character, “Ji Gong”, or Ji Dian, the mad monk whom
goes against the Buddhism’s traditional ways of thinking and choice of diet

14-the-warrior© Azril Khairul Ismail, The Warrior.

12-lord-ganesha© Azril Khairul Ismail, “Lord Ganesha”, approximate height of 80 cm,
a large intricate drawing of the Hindu God

11-temple-no.I© Azril Khairul Ismail, Temple No.1.

10-salvation© Azril Khairul Ismail, “Salvation”, graffiti of a large almost two metres high of a cross, alongside it, the wall was
scribbled with various texts from the bible, reflecting words from the gospels of St. John’s, St. Peter, St. Matthews. Although it was interesting on the odd Chinese writings among them, which depicted different tones of rage and metaphorical descriptions of death.

٠ Maurizio Anzeri and the problem with labelling and expectations ٠

maurizio_anzeri_rebecca© Maurizio Anzeri, Rebecca, 2009

20110701033135_maurizio_anzeri_Rita300© Maurizio Anzeri, Rita, 2011

I came across Maurizio’s work through an unusual root – Bric-à-brac -, a section of the electronic journal Sans Soleil, specialized in issues related to Art Brut and self-taught art. Not only because of that but also (1) because embroidery is a very common medium within the world of art brut, and (2) because it is also fairly common to encounter appropriations of portraits that authors then re-work – in a sort of manifestation of the complexity of any identity notion or even as a symbolic expression of transcendental ego features -, I “was lead” to believe that Maurizio was not an academically trained artist, nor was he in a conventional circuit.

Anyway, my instinctual mode of association came into place and I found myself thinking of spontaneous art. It was only when I looked for more of Maurizio’s work on the internet that I realized it was framed in a completely different world, though that didn’t change the fact that I really enjoy his embroidery work. The problems that arose have little to do with the work itself, instead they pertain to the artist and the machine around him, which he is undoubtedly responsible for. There’s no sign of bad faith in Maurizio’s statement about his work. In fact, he meets my expectations, in part created by the qualities of the work itself, and speaks of something alike affective labor: “I work with sewing, embroidery and drawing to explore the essence of signs in their physical manifestation. I take inspiration from my own personal experience and observation of how, in other cultures, bodies themselves are treated as living graphic symbols. I then use sewing and embroidery in a further attempt to re-signify, and mark the space with a man-made sign, a trace. The intimate human action of embroidery is a ritual of making and reshaping stories and history of these people. I am interested in the relation between intimacy and the outer world.”

There is no denying that his work is sculptural. I don’t understand the need to label it as photographic, since the photographs are either found, archival or collected in flea markets and the medium that defines his artistry is embroidery, not photography. While googling for his work I came across a description in Vitrine Gallery where it says that Maurizio invent[ed] the term: ‘photo-sculpture’ and I can’t help but laugh. I don’t know who’s responsible for this slip or if this is just bad marketing, but it doesn’t help him in anyway to “sell” him as a surrealist or an avant-garde artist from the 70’s, especially because he was born in Italy in 1969 which would lead to biographic discrepancies.

20-maurizio-anzeri-zelda-1941_2009© Maurizio Anzeri, Zelda, 2009

Maurizio Anzeri's La Famiglia (2013)© Maurizio Anzeri, A stitch in time… La Famiglia, 2013

Tri-dimensional photography, collages, photo-montages and so on, are part of the history of contemporary photography. With surrealism, dadaism and constructivism these techniques were already building their one symbolic field but with the advent of digital photography there was a new boom. The nostalgia, nothingness and apathy that led artists to turn to archives (not only but also) as a way to react to digital manipulation and bring back analogue deconstruction of the one-layered idea that photography is an amalgamate of signs that “were really there”, also sprouted the discussion about the photographic support and its potential to be something else.

Questions about what defines one’s identity in the 21st century merged with questions about what defines the photographic medium and with it portraiture gained a new light. There are several examples of collages, montages and embroidered portraits, most of them recognized and awarded in the last few years and I’ve been posting some of them here – an example is Julie Cockburn. This is the ground Maurizio walks on. There is not a single problem with not having invented the wheel. This lack of originality doesn’t define the work in absolute, only in relation to its culture. In an intimate relation, the work is free to become whatever one needs it to be. The problem is with lying and bad faith, which ruins expectations of an authentic creation.

Sean O’Hagan, from the Guardian, states Anzeri creates something new and surprising by applying an old-fashioned craft to old-fashioned artefacts. I keep questioning the need to adjectivize this as new, specially since the works-of-art are good enough on their own without the help of ‘new-technological’ or ‘ground-breaking’ add. There are also other descriptions which, without being false, are just over embellished – there are far too many adjectives and no critic of the art on display. It’s part of the problem with art criticism in general, too complex, so let’s see another example.

maurizio_anzeri_roundmidnight© Maurizio Anzeri, Round Midnight, 2009

I can’t say who worte it, for there is no signature, but in Maurizio’s portfolio in The Saatchi Gallery one can read that Anzeri’s delicately stitched veil recasts the figure with an uncomfortable modesty, overlaying a past generation’s cross-cultural anxieties with an allusion to our own. My problem with this sort of statement is that it is pretentious and naïf at the same time: it is arrogant to the point that it suggests that what the work communicates should be contained (within a subject and its culture); and it is ingenuous in the sense that it presupposes that there is one understanding for the notion of ‘cross-cultural anxieties’, which means the spectator bust be either the colonizer or the colonized.

I’ll finish with another of Maurizio’s statement, since they are the most honest to his work: “I’ve been collecting old photographs for a long time. A few years ago I was doing ink drawings with them and out of curiosity I stitched into one. I work a lot with threads and hand stitching, and the link to photography was a natural progression. I put tracing paper over the photo and draw on the face until it develops. Sometimes the image comes straight away, suggested by a detail on a dress or in the background, but with the majority of them I spend a lot of time drawing. Once the drawing is done, I pierce the photo with a set of needle-like tools I invented and take the paper away; the holes are obsessively paced at the same distance to convey an idea of geometry. When I begin the stitching something else happens, drawing will never do what thread will – the light changes, and at some points you can lose the face, and at others you can still see under it.

text by Sofia Silva

٠ Américo Marcelino – from the Objectivity of the device to the Subjective gaze of the author ٠

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_01© Américo Marcelino, CAMERA OBSCURA drawing, Untitled

For his PhD Project, Américo Marcelino went on a big adventure: he set out to find how does the drawing represent beyond its basic mimetic qualities. For that, he decided to use a couple of optical devices and went on to create them himself. The drawings here shown are part of three major groups: one made with the Camera Obscura, another made with the Camera Lucida and the last one a series of self-portraits made with a Mirror.

Though his study was focused on the medium of drawing I’d like to suggest that any discussion about perspective is not only about technical specificities but also has a philosophical nature to it. Drawing, or any other form of (re)presentation, cannot be the object of a reflection without contemplating the place of the observer – the point from which perspective starts to vanish. It’s fair to say that the place of the observer and the sort of mediation influence the relation between the subject and the object. It’s also fair to conclude that these optical devices determine the level of alienation of that relationship. Therefore, the distance between what the observer sees and what the reality gives back has its biggest expression with the photographic camera, since she creates the illusion of being an automatism, falsely implying that there is objectivity in the way we look.

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_03© Américo Marcelino, OCAMERA OBSCURA drawings, Sara

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_13© Américo Marcelino, CAMERA LUCIDA drawings, José Maria Pereira (left) + Sara (right), 2010

These prosthetic devices presuppose an artificial eye, denoting the straight connections between the physiognomy of the eye, the artificial eye and the camera obscura – the eye being the primordial darkroom. As Jacques Lacan puts forward in “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis”, it’s in the eye/I that one of the elementary and formative moments of the image takes place: the eye is the point of departure and arrival where the image field is projected.

When Lacan scheme is completed, the image plane overlaps the place of the observer. The gaze is placed in one of the extremes and it’s thru it that the subject and the image are made visible: gaze is the instrument through which light is embodied and through which […] I am photo-graphed. If to be is, in fact, to be seen, as suggested by Lacan, it is possible that the circumstances that created the (re)presentational moment inside the camera obscura are also similar to the act of being seen. The fact that we are “protected” from the exterior and can only glimpse at it through small beams of light, highlights a scopophilic moment that unites the subject with his/her satisfaction to feel that the object of his/her desire is returning the look.

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_10© Américo Marcelino, CAMERA LUCIDA drawings, Dona Alda (left) + Klaus Velasco (right), 2010

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_11© Américo Marcelino, CAMERA LUCIDA drawings, Inês Dionísio (left) + Gabi (right), 2010

In his PhD thesis, Marcelino writes: As a final balance, we’d say that the device couldn’t have a more appropriate name. The camera obscura is a strange place. It is a place where an uncertain drawing process takes place. An obscure drawing, in the true sense of the term. A drawing where the latent gloom makes gestures become prudent, where a glimpse is embarrassed by a dull vision, a disturbance in the apprehension of things. […] As when we enter a thick fog or a dark room and put our hands forward to touch something safe, here too, the eyes try to hold on to the apprehension of a form, given the dimmed uncertainty of what’s blurred or darkened. Paradoxically, facing the apparent clarity and seduction one feels once observing the projected image, follows a state of near blindness when the aim is to be able to draw. To draw like this is a very demanding exercise, strenuous, shaky and faltering. (2011,p.340)

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_15© Américo Marcelino, MIRROR drawings, Untitled

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_17© Américo Marcelino, MIRROR drawings, Untitled

The recurrent obsession with the mimetic reproduction of reality is not an exclusive question of the aesthetic field concerning technical achievements and the ability to construct optical devices. Such an obsession is, first and foremost, the subject’s attempt to see himself represented and fulfill his/her desires; to create imaginary, real and symbolic fields that can secure him a structure of identity. As Michael Taussig refers, in an article about Walter Benjamin’s concept of mimesis, the mimetic faculty is the rudiment of a former compulsion of persons to become and behave like something else.(1994, p.206)

It’s precisely the double nature of the photographic game – to capture and become captive – that makes photography such a complex medium. Men and Women want to build an image map that can be representative of the spatial and time frame they live in, so they can organize their symbolic universe. Photography plays a major role in this situation, for she is a document that supposedly can present an object almost like it represents itself. She is the illusion of power, of being in control – the eye penetrating the field, the subject looking, the photographer freezing, the subject “understanding” the world he belongs to . But because she has double nature, she is also submissive, for photography is also as arm against anxiety – Sontag dixit – allowing the subject to be locked inside his own eye/I which in its turn is hiding behind the camera, surrendering to the power of the gaze over himself.

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_20© Américo Marcelino, MIRROR drawings, Untitled

Marcelino_Da Semelhança no Desenho_Page_24© Américo Marcelino, MIRROR drawings, Untitled

Marcelino concludes, about his mirror drawings: The page is a battleground. A battle with an image wavering on its mirror reflex. It is there but is not tangible. It’s on the other side. It’s immaterial but it confronts me. My own look challenges me, probing me. […] I am the one that looks, that searches beyond the glass, that picks up the arms and goes into the battleground. The arms being the pencils and whatever is at hand. There is rarely a strategy. We are the ones that draw and we are the ones being drawn. Sometimes you win, others you lose. Sometimes we give up. Rarely do we interrupt and they get back to it again. A drawing has its own time and here that is the law. It is always a struggle without hostility. Between gentlemen. A fight with no fixed rules but with a tactical conduct. It is a walk, a talk. A date that ends up in a wandering drift, with chance giving directions. It is a train, like a gymnasium. An hygienic routine. It is all this and much more. (2011,p.378)

LACAN, J. (1998) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company
MARCELINO, A. (2011) Da Semelhança ao Desenho (Volume II). Tese não-publicada (PhD), FBAUL, Universidade de Lisboa
TAUSSIG, M. (1994) Physiognomic Aspects of Visual Worlds. In: Taylor, L. (ed.), Visualizing Theory: Selected Essays from V.A.R. 1990-1994, New York: Routledge, pp.205-213.

┐ Lake Como – from Camera Lucida to drawing, from Photography to Pinhole └

_58673345_tr© Dave Wise

0_photographers_talbot_smm_sketch© Fox Talbot, drawing made with Wollaston’s Camera Lucida, Italy, 1833

“One of the first days of the month of October 1833, I was amusing myself on the lovely shores of the Lake of Como, in Italy, taking sketches with Wollaston’s Camera Lucida, or rather I should say, attempting to take them: but with the smallest possible amount of success. For when the eye was removed from the prism—in which all looked beautiful—I found that the faithless pencil had only left traces on the paper melancholy to behold.

After various fruitless attempts, I laid aside the instrument and came to the conclusion, that its use required a previous knowledge of drawing, which unfortunately I did not possess.

I then thought of trying again a method which I had tried many years before. This method was, to take a Camera Obscura, and to throw the image of the objects on a piece of transparent tracing paper laid on a pane of glass in the focus of the instrument. On this paper the objects are distinctly seen, and can be traced on it with a pencil with some degree of accuracy, though not without much time and trouble.

I had tried this simple method during former visits to Italy in 1823 and 1824, but found it in practice somewhat difficult to manage, because the pressure of the hand and pencil upon the paper tends to shake and displace the instrument (insecurely fixed, in all probability, while taking a hasty sketch by a roadside, or out of an inn window); and if the instrument is once deranged it is most difficult to get it back again, so as to point truly in its former direction.

Besides which, there is another objection, namely, that it baffles the skill and patience of the amateur to trace all the minute details visible on the paper; so that, in fact, he carries way with him little beyond a mere souvenir of the scene—which, however, certainly has its value when looked back to, in long after years.

Such, then, was the method which I proposed to try again, and to endeavour, as before, to trace with my pencil the outlines of the scenery depicted on the paper. And this led me to reflect on the inimitable beauty of the pictures of nature’s painting which the glass lens of the Camera throws upon the paper in its focus—fairy pictures, creations of a moment, and destined as rapidly to fade away.

It was during these thoughts that the idea occurred to me…how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durably, and remain fixed upon the paper!

And why should it not be possible?”

Fox Talbot, (1844) The Pencil of Nature, (introduction)

┐ Alexander Brener & Barbara Schurz └

On the night of October 15th, as I was leaving the demonstration, a guy shouted at me. As I looked back he asked me if I spoke english, I nodded, he grabbed a paper bag and gave me a book. He turned, walked away and cut the corner just in time for me to thank him. I opened the book and this was it!!! Thank you Alexander!

“In the beginning of 1999 we published a little book called What to do? 54 Technologies of Resistance Against Power Relations in Late-Capitalism (in Vienna, and before that in Moscow.) This book is a collection of a number of semi-anecdotes and semi-reflections about the possibilities of political and cultural resistance under the condition of a globalized market and multiculturalism. The centre of our examination were so-called technologies of resistance: familiar and traditional methods of political struggle and cultural resistance, as well as individual ‘transgressive’ techniques. On the one hand we tried to analyze critically technologies such as demonstrations, sit-ins, hunger strikes; on the other hand we discussed the effectiveness of showing your ass in front of your enemy, throwing eggs and spitting on your opponent’s dress. Resistance must take into consideration concrete circumstances of place and time and must act from very precise strategies and tactics of local struggle, if it wants to be effective. Borrowing from Foucault, who spoke about the ‘specific intellectual’ we suggested the term ‘local and specific resistor.’ Such a resistor doesn’t act from universal concepts or out of the doctrines of parties or groups, but struggles against these very doctrines and keeps moving endlessly, not knowing what he or she will do tomorrow. In combating the current art-system, local scandals, interventions, leaflets, graffiti etc. may be effective at a certain moment but useless in another context. Soft subversion, a heritage inherited from the 1980s, is no longer adequate, and the hidden undermining of the political context of the enemy is obsolete and has finally degenerated either into cynicism or into conformism and strategies of success and survival within the system. ‘War is necessary!’ was our answer to the question ‘What to do?’

However, the term ‘technologies of resistance,’ which we have used untill now, no longer satisfies us. From now on we want to talk not about technologies but about anti-technologies of resistance. After the works by Artaud, Bataille and Foucault, Lacoue-Labarthe, it becomes clear that the Greek term ‘techne,’ which denotes a mimetic ideal in the sphere of art and is directly connected with the art of politics, still subordinates itself to political and aesthetic activities in modern society. Techne implies a model of society that is based on the hegemony of certain technologies of power and on the subjection of the will of individuals in a direction favorable to the elite. Technologies are the skills and abilities which guarantee the functioning of knowledge and power in very different fields – from a shoemaker’s business to the construction of intercontinental ballistic missiles, from artistic collages to espionage satellites. Power relations produce technologies and distribute them partly through dictatorship, partly through seduction, but always in the interest of the ruling order. Even if one or another technology is employed in the service of resistance, at a certain moment it inevitably turns out to be the hostage of power and, deriving from power relations, it permanently return us to them. Technologies serve the oldest and most productive game of power, where its myths get the ‘final’ and ‘competent’ confirmation from experts. Nowadays techno-myths serve the neo-liberal elites, repressive tolerance, and the new Right. We no longer want to speak about ‘technologies of resistance’ because we associate the term ‘technologies’ with ‘power’ rather than ‘resistance.’ Anti-technologies of resistance are necessary!

This is a great manifesto by Alexander and Barbara. continue reading here

┐ Wladd Muta └

© Wladd Muta, Hypercops 1 On Mountains, 2011

© Wladd Muta

Les pétales des fleurs de grenouilles, “AnUra-Flora“,
se développent dans un tout premier temps
à partir des tissus pulmonaires du batracien (fig.1.).
L’amorce de la mutation utilise
les traces génétiques fantômes
des branchies du stade larvaire (têtards).
Le pétale se constitue ensuite
exclusivement sur une base
de tissu épithélial humide (muqueuse) respiratoire.
L’étalement des tissus s’accompagne,
progressivement et en s’amplifiant,
d’une hybridation du tramage cellulaire
Même une fois aboutie, l‘AnUra-Flora
gardera toujours
cette singularité cellulaire hybride.
La fleur se déploie tout autour d’un cœur ;
celle-ci n’a pas de tige.

I met Wladd’s work about 4 or 5 years ago when it was a hybrid of photography, design and digital technology. He now seams to be working in his own unique realm of arguments given the ideology and research behind his works.

Some of Wladd’s work here