The Fabric of Identity in Trans-Migratory Setting


Winds Series #1, 12/2010, 40″x50″, gouache transfer, synthetic polymer and collage on paper

Winds Series #2, 12/2010, 40″x58″, gouache transfer, oil and collage on paper.

An important question of “Where do I place myself by making a painting?” was suggested to me for consideration by my supervisor Landon Mackenzie. In my understanding this question touches upon identity issues.  Artistic and personal identity and communal affiliations I have as an artist. 

My search led me to one of the latest publications on the subject in Themes of Contemporary Art, 2010, by Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel, Oxford University Press. In Chapter Two, titled Identity the authors analyze how identity as a theme in art has kept evolving throughout art history and how it has been reshaped during the last three decades. ”A deep, implicit connection between art and human identity has existed throughout the art history… An artwork subject matter, its formal properties, and the very material it is created from reflect the identity characteristics, on the individual and broader cultural level, of both the artist and the intended audience.”

Identity, defined in terms of communal affiliations became popular in the art world around mid-1980s. Critic Lucy R. Lippard in her Mixed Blessings: New Art in Multicultural America, 1990, brought attention to the vitality of contemporary artists who were representing themselves in communal terms. While strongly arguing in support of the artists’ desire to connect with their cultures, she stated that “an individual identity forged without relation to anyone or anything else, hardly deserves the name.” Identity is relational and is defined by our similarities and differences with others. Lippard advocates embracing a collective self, expressed through naming oneself as a member of various cultural groups and representing oneself verbally and visually in terms of shared identities. Identity-based groups like “women-artists”, “black artists”, “Asian-American artists”, etc. created artworks that represented their communal identities and “often at the same time advanced social agendas”.

Exhibitions of the 1990s set off debate on the value, ethics and meaning of art and exhibitions that engage issues of identity, according to the authors of the Themes of Contemporary Art. The criticism was that those exhibitions

- created overly simplified identity categories

- were seen as didactic and highly political in tone

- lacked in aesthetic appeal

On the other hand, exhibitions like those of the 1990s might have felt empowering for artists from ethnic, racial and gender groups who were underrepresented in the mainstream art world.

Although identity is always an implicit factor in the creation and interpretation of art, the use of identity as a highly theorized and often politically charged theme in art is a recent development. Contemporary artists are self-conscious about identity to a degree that was rare in previous periods. The value of emphasizing identity has generated much debate. Art-world fashions and theories change; already the terms multiculturalism and identity sound “dated and misguided” (Robertson, 57). “Even proponents of identity politics increasingly believe that multiculturalism has become an institutionalized strategy that has led to the assimilation of diverse populations within parameters that pretend to value race, ethnicity and other markers of identity, but instead actually homogenize meaningful differences and mask pervasive racism, sexism, and homophobia.” (58) At this point the authors introduce the term post-identity: “Postidentity artists while being justifiably wary of being forced into racialized or ideologically driven straitjackets, build on what is now a well established and highly elaborated body of critique surrounding the construction of identity, ‘othering’ and the politics of representation.” (57)

There are many possible developments for how identity is defined and represented in art in the twenty-first century. The authors name the development of virtual identity as one of them. One of the factors that will continue to impact identity as an artistic theme is globalization. 

Identity remains an acute issue for artists who were raised in one cultutre and now live and work somewhere else. “Establishing a coherent identity is more complicated for people who move…” (58) Such experiences work against a stable sense of identity, as identity is tied to place for anyone who feels a powerful cultural and emotional connection to a particular locale and geography. 

I have used the term of “distributed identity” for describing the feeling of temporal simultaneity and spatial synchronicity that might be experienced by transplaced persons – immigrants, migrants whose numbers keep growing around the globe. In the course of the last two decades many interweaving forces and events have reshaped concepts of identity on a worldwide basis. Rapid technological change, dismantling of the Soviet union, currency unification for European countries and the resulting work-force migrations as well as rising influences beyond US and the Western Europe – such changes in the fabric of whole societies inevitably influence artists.

Where do I place myself as an artist when I am making a painting? Hopefully, as a spokesperson for the transplaced, far from the land they feel “emotional and cultural ties with”, those for whom boudaries have collapsed but a feeling of a part of them being left behind prevails. Those who frantically strive to survive as their past communal identities as well as Phoenixes that want to build their new cultural identites out of fertile ashes of their past. Right now I am trying to convey these feelings through the trans-migratory geographies of my paintings.

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Expanded Field

The four artists whose work and methodology I analysed in my last Forum presentation helped me not only see the commonality between their work, but mostly figure out why those were the artists I wanted to write about and thus, shape my own methodology better:   

Katharina Grosse, Bob Nugent, Allen Ball and Matias Duville were the artists whose work I looked into for the presentation. It is relevant to my thesis research in various ways.  

Katharina Grosse’s paintings and installations relate to the scale and constructed environments of my paintscapes. The “drifting” vantage point is perceived by me in both its literal and metaphorical way: drifting in time and space as well as moving through a painting which I am considering incorporating in my work. Her use of brilliant colour to convey a message on an emotional level is something I have been studying as well. 


Bob Nugent’s “unlikely realism” and “romantic abstraction” rooted in nature and natural environment is, as I feel it, exactly the field I am feeling my path through. Combining impressions with improvisations is my modus operandi in painting. His subtle reminder of loss or possibility of it is present in my painted geographies. I also admire his fantastic touch in preserving the watermark in his work. “Distilling art into energy” – is something I have been trying through the use of dramatic colors. 


Allen Ball’s transposition of desert spaces heated by Middle-Eastern reality onto a Vancouver gallery is geographically impossibly close to my own transcontinental search; his moving through image is something I am researching right now. 

Matias Duville’s projected hope in “Future Memories” symbolizes my own search into the unknown territory and resonates with my passion of creating coded environments and unseen landscapes. 


These four artists’s methodologies I believe, share several trends or have several features in common: 

- creating environments, different from the reality in order to convey artistic message and this will be different for each one of them  

- using large scale as means of allowing viewer virtually ‘enter’ the created world  

- preserving natural mark of water, of soil, or of light   

- using color or intentionally avoiding it for a stronger emotional effect  

- re-placing or transposing environments (worlds) e.g. bringing soil inside the gallery, leaving watermark in the seemingly desert surrondings, intentionally ‘forcing’ one world upon another.

As I came to believe, and was suggested in several replies of the Low Res MAA students to my post, these are features of my work as well. The work on presentation helped me sharpen my view and verbalize some points of my own methodology. Some are still “projected”, reflect my intention – like Katharina Grosse’s forcing the acquirement of the “drifting point of view“, or both Grosse’s and Allen Ball’s technique of making viewers literally (and physically) “move through the image“. These are fascinating features and the goals I am investigating at the moment. 

The latest theoretical reading I have been doing is the article of Gitte Orskou “The Longing for Order: Painting as the Gatekeeper of Harmony”, 2009. While I agreed with the statements of Gitte Orskou (she is the director of Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg, Denmark) to some point, I also noted that several of her statements have been overthrown by Katarina Grosse’s work I have illustrated earlier: 

At the beginning of her article she asks if we can maintain that painting today “is part of a wider field – …due to the fact that painting has accepted and adopted the more recent art forms, including photography, video and installation art”. Then she proceeds to saying that the visual sense of the viewer has been sharpened and opened to a “spatial and interactive virtual world that is far beyond the quite limited means of traditional painting defined as a ‘square, flat surface covered with paint and which is either figurative or abstract in content’”. 

Another point that I feel has been simultaleously proved and disproved by Grosse’s work is that “Viewers have started to behave differently towards art as a result of their encounter with the new artistic genres that demand a physical, visual and cognitional approach of quite different kind” – ‘proved’ – if you agree that painting of Katharina Grosse’s is a new artistic genre, and ‘disproved’ if we try to see Katharina Grosse’s creations as pieces of traditional painting (“figurative or abstract in content”).

Another statement of Orskou that Grosse challenges is that “Whereas painting is an autonomous unity, installation is based on interaction”, as well as this last one:”Seen in relation to installation art, painting is both boring and authentic, both static and intimate, both anti-spectacular and present. But, on the other hand, to be boring, static and anti-spectacular is also what defines art as the opposite of commercials and entertainment.” One of the examples of Katharina Grosse’s work that could put these statements to test is Lobby 2, 2007:

which, in my opinion, is spectacular (not ‘anti-spectacular’), moving and defying traditional perception of both painting and space, and highly interactive (as opposed to ‘static’). Though I agree with the author that painting today is or is “part of an expanded field”, I am thrilled to discover new and probably overlooked by Gitte Orskou paths painters like Katharina Grosse welcome us to follow.








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Images (11/2010)

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Desideratum – Intention to Produce

Paintings, Ontology, and Self-Reflection.

Sinai (Sunworks), gouache and household paint on paper, 60″x 124″

Sinai; Sunworks (detail)

Sinai; Sunworks (detail)

 Creating new work (new paintings) for me has become increasingly informed and driven by my research. New work appears and then, reflexivity demands further research.

 I. The new feeling that I welcome right now is that my paintings count less for me as separate objects –(finished products standing on their own) – but more important as evidence and part of the ongoing research in the arts and clues to the underlying story. The process has changed and brought about a new routine: surrounded by several ongoing pieces at a time I am involved in the process of re-defining the project on a daily basis depending on my findings in theory, self-reflection, and the constant dialogue with the paintings in progress.

 Barry Schwabsky’s article “Object or Project? A Critic’s Reflections on the Ontology of Painting” that I read recently felt as some indispensable wisdom essential to the development of my thesis at this point.

In his article Schwabsky states how crucial it is for an artist “to arrive at a subject – all the more so if the work is abstract… with postmodernity, the artist has to produce, not so much the work itself (as we’ll see, there exist artists whose every effort s to reduce the work to its vanishing point) or even as its subject – its ‘myth’, … as its cataloguability… But in any case, these minimal attributes of the artwork are so indispensable precisely because they are requisite to any attempt to understand the work’s relation to the project that generated it.”

Schwabsky goes on recalling Friedrich von Schlegel’s statement “A project is the subjective embryo of a developing object” – which, though made in 1798, is “as relevant as ever today, if not more so.” The author explains that whenever we look at a painting and think we are looking at an object, we should remind ourselves that it is only a clue to the artistic project behind it. He offers an example of a wrong conclusion we might arrive at if we view a painting as means to an end: Given the minimum of paint that one painter uses as compared to a massive amount of which used by another – the paint mass could be ironically taken for a “compensatory reaction against the object’s ontological inadequacy as such – a sort of aesthetic Napoleon Complex.” He offers another way to look at it: “A project, by definition, is nothing like that. Its very nature is to be in progress, in development – to be incomplete and unfolding, and above all to be subject to revision. (A project is not a program , which can simply be executed.) With a painting, like any other work of contemporary art, what you really have to ask yourself is, “Does the artist have a project? And if so, what can I learn about it from this particular work?”

The author comes to the conclusion that it is not what the painting represents that counts in the real world of art. What the painting represents when it does represent, is only one more clue to the all-important sense of the underlying project, and this is “the primary focus of our aesthetic attention.”

The deviation from Schwabsky’s theory in my artwork will be the idea that the knowledge should be embedded and showing in the work itself. This was suggested by my supervisor and that is what I am striving to achieve.

II. As for the unfolding of the back-story, or the project which is embedded in the work – there have been some new developments recently as well. Donald Kuspit’s thoughts said about the role of landscape or nature in contemporary painting resonated with my thoughts and aspirations: “What can art do in the modern situation of the use and abuse of nature – the massive exploitation of nature and the indifference that attends its ruin?” Kuspit offers the work of Bob Nugent, a Californian abstract painter as an example: “preserve nature in aesthetic fragments – preserve not the appearance of nature… but the sensations nature arouses, aesthetically distilled into elated energy”.

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Coded Landscapes in Mediated Visuality


Fresco, synthetic polymer and oil on canvas, 80″x60″Arch, tempera and house paint on paper, 30″x42″Outer Limits, tempera and oil on paper, 30″x42″Creatury, tempera and oil on paper, 30″x42″Creatury I, tempera and oil on paper, 42″x30″Creatury III, tempera and oil on paper, 42″x30″Gulfstream, tempera and oil on paper, 48″x112″Gulfstream,(fragment) tempera and oil on paperGulfstream, (fragment), tempera and oil on paperRadium, tempera and oil on canvas, 48″x72″I would like to start this review of my recent findings en route to my thesis with the  distilled interpretation of my essay “Wishful Landscapes” (the initial interpretation was by Ric Bearisto):

Building upon traditions, the practices and the critical efforts of the past, contemporary abstract painters are trying to convey the emerging meaning of their own work in the age of the dominance of conceptually informed art practices. The awareness of the crucial importance of maintaining an analogous connection to the present issues as well as being well-informed of the changing criteria of evaluation and the purposes of judgement makes their art relevant.

Abstract painting can be tied, through the artists’s experiences to the lived experience via the ‘landscapes of the mind’ – the systems we inhabit, the systems our lives depend on.  This environment includes politics and economics, the cultural as an extension of the natural, our bodies as natural systems that pattern our thought, and our thoughts as structured around metaphors drawn from nature.

The second part of this ‘distillation’ is more of a projection on the scope of my future research for the thesis than a reflection of the ideas in the essay; more of a proposal than a summary of the already known. My practice-led research and the research embedded in my paintings of constructed landscapes required extensive exploration of the ideas that are relatively new (modernism was not interested in landscape – it was just a scene for ‘improvement’ which was forcefully imposed on nature): “Landscape was not significant in modern art, but it has become increasingly significant in recent strains of art that are not part of modernism” (Rebecca Solnit, 2003, “Elements of New Landscape”).


After reading “Pittura/Immedia” by Peter Weibel, I have decided to replace the term of “constructed landscape” with “coded landscape” based upon realization that my work actually transmits the message (or conveys the message) in all its urgency and immediacy through the use of a certain code (or codes) that is somehow recognizable and decipherable for the viewers. I believe that my paintings are in (or are striving to arrive at) some polyphonic relations to coded reality and psychological responses.


The terms “temporal simultaneity” and “spacial synchronicity” – in the meaning of thinking about many places at the same time – stroke me as extremely relevant to my work; (these terms were used in the discussion after David Elliot speech at the Center A symposium at SFU this September): the almost forensic evidence of bodily presence in my large landscape pieces speaks of immediate and recent, while the presented subject is often read as places of past experience (or polyphonic references – spacial and psychological experiences that have already taken place). The interwoven space and time phenomenon has its roots in art history, refers to the belief present in many indigenous cultures of the world that space and time is a unity, and is translated into contemporary language of the new landscape art: “Landscape’s most crucial condition is considered to be space, but its deepest theme is time” (R.S. 48)

The experiment I conducted within the frame of Seminar-in-Research this summer

when several of my classmates described their perception of my work as landscapes similar to ones they experienced confirmed my ideas of codes in the visual, which, in my case always refer to both space and time. Space could be also read as a link to global, global art and reflecting on it the way it was touched upon by Ken Lum at the Centre A symposium: “Cultural conditioning only goes so far… Different peoples have more in common than it might seem…” This is relevant to the theme of my research that relates to the phenomenon of immigration and migration in contemporary world.


When the world around us ceases to be perceived as idyll, as a backdrop or the scenery out there and becomes instead the systems and substances which support us as a part of those systems, we move to an ecological worldview. “The concentrating on the substance rather than form as the bearer of meaning, (italics added) artists assert the decisive significance of substance, rather than regarding it as neutral matter that takes on meaning as it is given form.” (52) This way substance suggests that meaning is inherent in the world, and does not have to be inscribed upon it.  “Here is not the landscape that is absent but the ability to read its language, a lack artists have addressed in works attempting to speak in terms of substances and systems.” (53)


“In the new metaphorical landscape… observation – witness – becomes a form of involvement rather than detachment. All positions are political; there is no outside objective position from which to observe – the viewer… is part of the landscape.” (R.S. 56) We find ourselves in a psychological landscape, in one that is rather an “ecology of systematic interconnection, of relationship, of locality”. (56)

The changes resonate between the psychic and physical landscape, they cross and inform each other. I have realized lately that my tendency to choose large size support for my coded landscapes is often driven by desire to prompt the viewer to immerse into the “reality” of my paintings – almost to the degree my body feels it while I paint. They are created to envelop spectators, seduce them with their honesty and urgency. Of course, the response I get varies. The way we inhabit or read the landscape – either in nature or in art – is determined by our metaphors, by how we live on earth.

Work Cited:

1. Solnit, Rebecca. “Elements of New Landscape”, 2003.

2. Weibel, Peter. “Pittura/Immedia”, 1995.


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A Cheshire Cat in a Landscape

Hello, everybody!

I have never blogged so – it can be bumpy at first. If I manage the green, blue routes will be just around the corner. (Mark made me smile too much with his flattering post – I am still brewing the answer, but one thing is certain: Mark, I owe you a hat!) I am not a Cheshire cat (wasn’t that also an allusion – with the smile and disappearing act?) I hope I am here to stay :)

I have been reading some new stuff about painting – Contemporary Painting in Context edited by Anne Ring Peterson, 2010 - a very good selection of articles; among them “Matter and Meaning: ‘The Slime of Painting”  by Rune Gade, which connected my concerns in a obvious link to Joyce’s credo as a feminist artist. (Joyce, I really recommend the book!)

And I met a very exciting person (at a show of Doug Haynes for which my mentor, Amanda McRoberts designed a beautiful catalogue) – Caterina Pizanias, PhD, an Itinerant Academic Independent Curator. I might use her advice a lot.

I paint every day – it feels like I am on the verge of something – but not there yet…

Red Deer radio provided me with a beautiful -haiku? : “You lose your grip

                                                                                                  And then you slip

                                                                                                  Into a masterpiece…”

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Hello world!

Welcome to Low Residency Masters Program. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

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