The Art of the War on Germs

The Art of the War on Germs

The Art of the War on germs

by Cyndie Lack, (BFA, MAC)

Readers of this blog are already convinced by the emotive power of visual art. While CVPAG is dedicated to bringing a gallery facility to the island, we support public art in any environment. In light of the pandemic, it is timely to consider the solace art may bring to those in the institutional setting of a hospital. In this article I will also comment on the possible impact of infection control measures on hospital art collections.

As a volunteer for the CDHF (Cowichan and District Hospital Foundation), I undertook an inventory of art and related objects on display at CDH 2017-2019. The objects vary widely in quality and type and include: paintings, drawings, prints, calligraphy, photographs, plaques and display panels, stained glass, needlework, mixed media, reproductions, 3-D objects and relief panels. There is no curation, in fact there is no acknowledged collection per se; the hospital walls and corridors have been gradually populated, and many works are commemorative donations.

(click on the images above to open in a new window)

The striking clay and mosaic relief sculpture opposite the hospital chapel was my personal inspiration for the inventory project. To mark CDH’s 60th anniversary, “Earth, Sea, and Sky” (1992) [above, left] was created by students of Cowichan Secondary School under the guidance of local artist-instructor Lynda Faulks and her colleague Craig Campbell. The rich and complex surfaces of plant and animal forms evoke fossils magically sprung to life. Glenn Spicer’s mastery of stained glass [above, right] is evident in several dazzling installations in the Chapel and main corridor. I was also motivated by my previous work treating art in hospital collections, and a firsthand look at the pacific northwest contemporary art collection at the University of Washington Medical Center.

While conducting the CDH inventory, captured in spreadsheet data and photographic documentation, staff and visitors often stopped to chat about their favourite artwork and its personal significance. The expectation of being able to repeatedly “visit” these works was reported. Even before the pandemic, however, infection control measures were being introduced restricting displayed images to those behind glass in metal picture frames. This dramatically limits the size and type of visual art that could be shown in the new hospital facility.

None of my hospital art administrator contacts report the same narrow-minded measures. When one considers the number of unscreened visitors normally entering a hospital, not to mention the preponderance of materials unable to withstand ship deck swabbing, why target art? Coronavirus, for example, survives longer on most metallic surfaces than more porous surfaces. While I have no expertise in medical matters, I question the efficacy of the proposed restrictions, and wonder if this is yet another bureaucratic measure serving appearance more than reality.

Contemporary art has reached new heights of diversity in scale, subject matter and form. Exciting possibilities for hospital settings include installations utilizing light, sound, kinetics, and video. Art installed out of reach of passersby and/or composed of highly durable, architectural materials are other options. Vitrines would protect more traditional sculptures and barriers of acrylic glazing could be used for works such as “Earth, Sea, and Sky” (newer acrylic glazing products have superior scratch resistance, are anti-static, and can block harmful ultraviolet radiation). New glazing fabrication methods even allow for seamless, oversize barriers. There is a reciprocal relationship between protection of human health and practical measures designed to protect original artworks as valuable assets of cultural property.

Art councils that fund public art commissions routinely assess safety and durability and would be invaluable advisory partners. Numerous established hospital art collections and conservation agencies such as the Canadian Conservation Institute have a wealth of knowledge to share. Far from the severe restrictions currently envisioned, I believe comprehensive hospital art programs that include permanent gallery spaces should be mandated for all new medical facilities on Vancouver Island. Innovative partnerships between art and medicine have long been standard fare; the benefits of engaging visual art for human physical and mental health are well-known.

The sad alternative of banal framed images is suitably condemned in this article with the question: “Are designers hoping to bore germs to death?”

. . .

Across the Water

Across the Water

I was in Vancouver recently in the West End area for a couple of days and found myself with a few hours to pass before I had to be somewhere.

It had not been an actual plan, but my time turned out to be a tour of public sculptures in English Bay and Stanley Park. First stop: the “A-maze-ing Laughter” installation by Yue Minjun at English Bay, where people love to have photos taken of them in front of the sculptures.

Next up: Stanley Park Totem Poles. I grew up in the Vancouver area, and this particular attraction was one of many that I avoided for decades as being far too “touristy” to be of interest to me. In the years since, however, I have come to appreciate the different styles and simple, yet powerful forms of First Nations art from the West Coast.

An interesting addition to the Totem pole area: “Shore to Shore” by Master carver Luke Marston. Originally carved in cedar, then cast in bronze, I found this piece to be very interesting from many angles. I am glad that the public is able to come close to the sculpture and touch the forms (unlike the main Totem Pole area that keeps people at a distance with a small water filled moat).

Along the Seawall: “Harry Jerome”. This sculpture, balanced on the toes of one foot, appears to float in the air as the figure plunges toward an invisible finish line.

Judy Brayden wins Duncan’s Arts Trophy 2019

Judy Brayden wins Duncan’s Arts Trophy 2019

Judy Brayden (left) presented arts award by Duncan Coun. Carol Newington.

By Peter W. Rusland   photo: Peter W. Rusland

Arts and culture are a life-long labour of love for artist, teacher and volunteer Judy Brayden.
Her selfless commitment to exposing Cowichanians to creative expression of all types was publicly rewarded when Brayden earned the City of Duncan’s 23rd Perpetual Arts Award Dec. 2 in council chambers. “I was delighted,” the former Cowichan Valley Arts Council president said of the community award started by the former Cowichan News Leader Pictorial newspaper.
“The arts award means a lot to me.
“It was very touching to be honoured the same night as Phil Kent,” the former Cowichan Valley Arts Council president said of Duncan’s retired mayor named a Freeman of the City during Duncan’s inaugural meeting.
Brayden was also chuffed council’s coveted arts award is open to valley-wide public nominations saluting efforts by arts patrons, artists, and teachers — including late local choirmaster Peter Yelland, the award’s 2019 winner.
“I appreciate the city doing this award — and they don’t simply look only at Duncan (residents); that’s wise and wonderful,” Brayden noted.
Her award and maple-box keeper piece partly honours Brayden’s work on the Cowichan Valley Arts Council. CVAC among five valley arts councils including those in South Cowichan, Chemainus, Ladysmith and Lake Cowichan.The artist and former arts teacher joined CVAC’s board in May 2010 and became its president that summer.
Soon afterward, the busy arts council moved into the PORTALS gallery space fronting the Cowichan Community Centre’s lobby.
Brayden, 70, is not on CVAC’s board now — she retired in May 2019 — but is still an active arts council member.
“You can be entirely consumed by CVAC and proposals that come up.
“I just ran myself too hard and had to stop.”
Her long-running efforts helped CVAC’s 2019 shows in PORTALS, including young artists’ displays in the Arbutus Gallery.
Fostering young arts talent has “really been a thrust by CVAC as a service to our community.”
“We receive civic money and offer services to people of all ages.”
Brayden is proud of CVAC’s scholarship program, and its receiving of annual grants in aid from the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s respected arts-and-culture function.
“Each of our five subregional arts councils get a specific grant each year.
“CVAC gets the most because we’ve been around the longest,” she explained, noting CVAC’s 50th birthday next year.
That half century has seen thousands of multi-media artworks presented to countless culture vultures during the volunteer arts council’s annual Spring Arts Show, and other remarkable exhibits.
“It’s tremendous,” the Langley native said of CVRD arts funding.
That regional purse also sees grants applied for by various local groups spanning actors, musicians and other artists.
Brayden applauded “the energy of people who’s step forward” to help Cowichan’s arts and culture scene amid “thin budgets and thin human resources.”
“People step up and do the best they can with an open heart”.
“I’ve always taken the approach that we live in the (entire) Cowichan Valley, not just in small towns. We share, and what we give is used by everybody.”
Brayden also supports the Cowichan Valley Public Art Gallery project as outreach to bring more art — bringing global, national and local works— to valley folks and tourists.
“We all benefit when there’s art in the community.
“It’s not only visual art I’m interested in; I’m interested in working with people on problem solving too.“
Wide-ranging arts interests also saw Brayden win the Jeff Hunter Memorial Award last year.
Her kudos follow a productive life immersed in the arts.
Brayden trained as a secondary-school arts teacher, and focussed on printmaking and painting.
She left teaching in 2005, and finished a diploma in interior design that dovetailed with her business called All Facets Of Design.
“Now, I wouldn’t mind doing a retrospective show, or doing a big installation helpful to the community in collaboration with other artists.”
Meanwhile, Brayden is confident Cowichan is “on the right track” concerning a bright arts-and-culture future creating jobs and enlightening lives.
“The arts can only get better, and everyone can benefit from this.”

Brayden’s current work aimed at PORTALS is dubbed Dissenters’ Story: The Story of Father & Son Dissenters.
The 3-D installation creation, inspired by Hardy Lee Scott and his son, involves pieces of writing “that you react to. They’re quotes from the father’s FBI file and from the son’s draft board appeal,” she explained.

Paint it Black

Paint it Black

Paint it Black

by Cyndie Lack (BFA, MAC)
. . .

On the subject of painting Sir Winston Churchill once said: “At one side of the palette there is white, at the other black, and neither is ever used neat” (https://winstonchurchill.org/the-life-of-churchill/life/artist/painting-as-a-pastime/).

Painters have long been told to avoid straight-from-the-tube black or to use it most sparingly. While this conventional advice remains sound for many practitioners, artists of this century continue to challenge, reject and even massacre things conventional. Gone too is the image of the artist working in stoic isolation (though in reality many still do, like it or not). Large scale public art projects have made art into a team sport by necessity. Scientists and others from what were once regarded as distinctly different areas of endeavour are now routine players on team art.

Years ago I was intrigued to learn of the once “blackest black,” an artificial mineral pigment called spinel black named after the natural mineral spinel. It was said to be the pigment used to coat stealth bombers. As a paintings conservator I’ve yet to require an ultra deep black for colour matching, but out of curiosity I purchased a small quantity from my favourite London artists’ colourmen, L. Cornelissen & Son.

Fast forward to 2019, the year that MIT engineers developed a blacker black with only 0.005% reflectance of incident visible radiation, or to put it another way, a material that absorbed 99.995% of visible radiation aka “light” (http://news.mit.edu/2019/blackest-black-material-cnt-0913).

From a first glance at the press release, one might conclude that this material represented an entirely new technology, but carbon nanotubes were first identified in the early 1990s. Subsequent innovations have been in the particular way the superfine nanotube particles are created, and hence the extent to which light is absorbed. Black is not a colour per se but a substance that absorbs light, however black pigments available to artists reflect a small percentage of light. Carbon nanotubes reduce this percentage to minuscule levels.

An earlier innovation, “Vantablack” (vertically aligned nanotube array) with its 0.035% reflectance was developed in 2014 by Surrey NanoSystems, UK. Anish Kapoor outraged the art world by striking a deal for his exclusive use of Vantablack. Social media was littered with objections, some hostile, and a seemingly irresistible urge to take a pop at Kapoor persists. A 2016 fake news piece saw Kapoor’s monumental 2006 sculpture Cloud Gate with its famously reflective surface disappear in a shroud of Vantablack.

But then along came Vantablack Vbx2, also produced by Surrey NanoSystems and so went Kapoor’s short-lived monopoly of the blackest black. Vbx2 was utilized by architect Asif Khan for his 2018 winter Olympics pavilion in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Vantablack Vbx2 is used in the automotive industry. Incidentally, the volume of pigment usage by the automotive industry is of critical importance to the art world by maintaining market demand for quality, highly lightfast pigments. As with many manufactured goods, Chinese production offers reduced costs but with a possible tradeoff in quality and dubious disclosure of composition. Artist material manufacturers are at the mercy of market forces in their access to raw materials such as pigments, which may be suddenly discontinued. Furthermore, a supply change means months of extensive testing to ensure the newly supplied material meets quality standards for art materials. This is well described by Golden Paints CEO Mark Golden in his article “Manufacturing Artist Paints: Keeping Pace with Change” (GCI Newsletter: Conserving Modern Paints, Fall 2016).

In yet another intersection of art and science, and a rebuke to Kapoor, MIT’s ultra black was utilized by MIT artist in residence Diemut Strebe. Strebe collaborated with Brian L. Wardle, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Director of necstlab and Nano- Engineered Composite Aerospace Structures (NECST) Consortium, along with team members Luiz Acauan and Estelle Cohen. The resulting installation titled The Redemption of Vanity is a 6.78 carat yellow diamond coated with the new black and presented at the New York Stock Exchange September 13 – November 25, 2019. In this context, “presented” is not quite the right word since the whole point was the visual disappearance of the brilliant cut diamond. The symbolic-charged venue of the NYSE venue added a wealth (pun-intended) of meaningful layers of interpretation.

To be clear, carbon nanotube blacks were never destined for the shelves of artist supply stores. Their application requires highly specialized technology, so how should we interpret Kapoor’s deal? I doubt that these ever blacker blacks are discernible to the human eye anyway. They are designed for aerospace and military applications, and would not work as robust coatings for outdoor sculptures. Kapoor’s preoccupation with reflections and voids are long-standing, and while I have not personally seen any his black-coated sculptures, I would guess earlier black coatings adequately conveyed his intention. The bad PR for Kapoor opened another gateway for discussions about art and science and more unusually, artists’ rights of access to materials.

P.S. While many fascating books about colour and pigments reside on my bookshelves, I recommend a 2016 publication The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St. Clair, which was a gift from a dear friend Andrea Bowes, a conservator for the Edmonton Arts Council (https://www.edmontonarts.ca).

“Comedian”  (the banana heard around the Art world)

“Comedian” (the banana heard around the Art world)

In December, 2019, a banana made news headlines.

The banana in question, a work by contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan was presented by international Art gallery owner, Emmanuel Perrotin, at the 2019 Art Basel Miami Beach exposition.

A conceptual piece; “Comedian” made an impact as sudden and irresistible as seeing someone slip on a banana peel and topple in spectacular fashion to the ground (my apologies…I just could not resist). Crowds of people lined up for an opportunity to take selfies with the piece, and within days, parody images were being posted on the internet by people far and wide.

Part of the energy behind the reaction to this piece is, no doubt, the reported price paid for 3 editions: $120,000.00 (US) for the first two sold, and $150,000.00 for the third.

The buyers claim to understand that the perishable objects themselves hold little value, but that the concept and the accompanying certificate of authenticity are where the true value resides (not to mention the ensuing fame for everyone involved).

This story strikes me as all too familiar: “artist” produces something baffling, “buyer” pays astronomical price, gasps of disbelief and media headlines follow. (Who among us doesn’t enjoy feeling a little outrage now and then…like yelling at the game referee who appears not to see the transgressions of the visiting team?)

However, in the current media environment of seemingly continual disinformation warfare (i.e.: “Fake News”, propaganda, lies, etc.), I find myself casting a critical eye towards that which I would previously have accepted without question. In this particular case I have trouble believing the high prices reportedly paid for this work.

Having people believe you paid $120,000.00 for something would imply that you are so wealthy that such an amount might be considered “disposable”. Having people believe a gallery received $120,000.00 for the sale of a work would imply that the gallery is “special”…perhaps only for the rich and famous. Having people believe that anything a particular artist produces is worth $120,000.00 (US) or more to somebody somewhere implies that the artist’s other “work” might also be worth huge amounts of cash.

But what if none of that were true? What if the “story” that everyone seems so willing to believe turned out to be a carefully constructed and concealed lie? Those involved in the transaction; the artist, the dealer and the buyers benefit directly in one way or another from the mere idea of such vast sums changing hands (whether the sums reported are correct or not).

Over a third of a million dollars US for 3 bananas and less than one roll of duct tape?….call me cynical…call me jaded….just don’t call me late for dinner.


– Dorian Melton CVPAG Newsletter Editor, PR Chair