Expanding far beyond the proverbial box, contemporary art seems to live by no rules and no structure.
Words: Desta Wondirad
Subeditor: Bea Renshaw
Italian cleaners in Bozen, Italy, have been in the news recently for binning a contemporary art piece mistaking it for trash. They share the sentiments of the French security guard who exclaimed “Merde, merde, merde” as the contemporary artist Jeff Koons broke records by selling one of his giant steel puppies (Balloon Dog) for £37million in 2013.
The Cleaner’s had no idea what they were binning was an art piece, and the security guard refused to accept Koons’ work.
Art as a medium of individual or social expression should be limitless, because it’s as much about interpretation as it is about skill and technique. Expanding far beyond the proverbial box, contemporary art seems to live by no rules and no structure. At times birthing unrecognisable (and to some unacceptable) pieces, which perhaps needs a contemporary perspective to appreciate.
Casey Jenkin’s Vaginal Knitting Performance from 2013, Casting off My Womb, is a testament to the limitless scope of art and performance art. Receiving criticism in the form of shock and disgust from online audiences, Jenkin’s writes in an op-ed for The Guardian “I had hoped to create a work that was about forging a path of self-determination in the face of societies expectations”. Societies expectations were challenged, and her performance piece certainly affected people.
We can understand Koons’ success as a natural reaction to the materialistic world we live in and Jenkin’s performance an attempt to challenge the expectations of society. However, without the existing constructs of society, the environment in which the art pieces exist and our own experiences and knowledge the success of both may have hindered. Beyond the emotional reaction a piece stirs within us, art should force us to think around the piece itself as it’s success may have more to do with the world around us than its aesthetic. Art may not always be beautiful and skilfully made but the appreciation of certain art forms depends largely on the times and sometimes trends, both of which can be better understood through contextualising pieces that we may initially look down upon.
The relationship between a piece of art, the world and our ideals and emotions is what makes a woman publicly knitting a scarf from her vagina relevant. A glove dropped in a museum may not be a sanctioned art exhibition but people stepping around it reflects something about contemporary art and the world we live today. That should count for something.