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Invented Biology

Continuity, 2012, 82″W x 44″H, Artist dyed silk and wool, yarn, Machine and hand stitched.

Artist Statement

My biomorphic fiber wall hangings are inspired by the lines and patterns of microscopic/cellular imagery which I find visually and metaphorically rich. All changes in essence happen on that infinitesimal level and result in the world we experience. My work is a kind of invented biology zooming in on that fundamental nature of things and bringing it into vision.

Beginning with undyed silk, wool and other fibers, I add vibrant saturated color using dye and paint as well as adding dimension and textures through the process of wet felting. Dense stitching adds lines of light and shadow and color. I love the soothing tactile pleasure of handling and creating with fiber.

Cultivating Connections II, 2014, 31″w x 45″h. Artist dyed wool and silk, yarns. Hand and machine stitched.


Roots of Rhythm X, 2015, 25″w x 31.5″h. Artist dyed silk, wool and other fibers, yarns. Wet felting,hand and machine stitched.


Seed Dreaming I, 2010, 31″w x 34″h. Artist dyed and painted silk,cotton cord,embroidery threads. Machine and hand stitched.


Seed Dreaming V, 2016, 28.5″w x 38″h. Artist dyed silk,wool and mulberry bark, cotton cord, yarn, rug padding. Wet felted, machine and hand stitched.


Seed Dreaming VI, 2016, 28.5″w x 38″h. Artist dyed silk and mulberry bark, rug padding. Machine and hand stitched.


Seed Dreaming VII, 2016, 30″w x 38.5″h. Artist and commercially dyed silk, cotton cord, rug padding. Machine and hand stitched.


The Possibilities Are Endless I, 2019, 31.5″w x 47″h. Artist dyed silk charmeuse, machine & hand stitched.


The Possibilities are Endless II, 2019, 34″w x 31″h. Artist dyed silk charmeuse, machine & hand stitched.


The Possibilities Are Endless III, 2020, 28″w x 34″h. Artist dyed silk charmeuse,embroidery thread. Machine & hand stitched.



All images copyright and courtesy of Karen Kamenetzky



The post Invented Biology appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

Molecular Landscapes

For the past 20 years, I have focused my artistic effort on the biological mesoscale–the scale level bridging the nanoscale of atoms and molecules to the microscale of living cells and tissues. This is an interesting level of scale to explore, because there currently aren’t any experimental techniques to image it directly. Rather, images are synthesized by integrating experimental data from microscopy, structural biology, bioinformatics, and a variety of other scientific sources. “Molecular Landscapes” presents three ongoing projects that explore the mesoscale realm.

Two complementary techniques are used to create these images. In cases where atomic coordinates are available from techniques like x-ray crystallography, images are synthesized using computer graphics. For larger systems, traditional painting techniques with watercolor and ink are used to build images from the body of data that is currently available. A similar non-photorealistic style is used in both approaches.

Coronavirus: Know Your Enemy

This painting was created as part of an informational news feature at the RCSB Protein Data Bank responding to the ongoing coronavirus crisis ( It captures the moment when a virus enters the lungs, with a cross-section through the virus surrounded by respiratory tract mucus, along with antibodies and other defensive molecules from the immune system. My goal with this painting, and with previous portraits of life-threatening viruses, is to demystify and put a face on these submicroscopic foes. The crown-shaped form of the virus is based on electron micrographs and atomic structures from the 2003 SARS virus, which is similar to the current SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Coronavirus 2,000,000X (2020, watercolor and ink on paper).


“VAX” is a series of watermedia paintings exploring the molecular basis of vaccines. These paintings are tied closely to the science–they are designed to be accurate representations of the biological processes–but they also serve as a personal celebration of a miracle of modern medicine. The series currently includes three paintings that explore different aspects of vaccine function.

“Poliovirus Neutralization 2,000,000X” (2019, watercolor and ink on paper) shows aggregation of poliovirus by antibodies in a vaccinated person, neutralizing the virus and preventing infection.


“Influenza Vaccine 2,000,000X” (2019, watercolor and ink on paper) shows a modern recombinant vaccine created by biotechnology in the process of binding to the surface of a B-cell. This will ultimately lead to production of antiviral antibodies.


“Immunological Synapse 2,000,000X” (2020, watercolor and ink on paper) shows a key moment in the dialog between cells of the immune system, when an antigen presenting cell (top) is displaying a small piece of a virus (red dot at center), and using it to stimulate the action of a T-cell (bottom).


“Crystallographs” explores the complexity and beauty of X-ray crystallography, one of the major experimental methods used to determine the atomic structure of biomolecules. This is a nostalgic piece for me, rekindling an interest in biological symmetry that started with my early training (the DNA crystal is from my postdoctoral studies). These digital images on fabric also explore the increasing commoditization of science. Purely exploratory research has become something of a rarity–currently much of biostructural research is justified with the ultimate goal of improving medical science or biotechnology. In this series, inspired by the work of the Festival Pattern Group from the 1950s, I find an orthogonal utility for biomolecular structures in decorative art.

Orthorhombic Nucleosome Array: PDB entry 6hkt
(2020, detail of digital print on fabric)


Trigonal DNA Oligonucleotide: PDB entry 167d
(2020, detail of digital print on fabric)


Tetragonal Phage Portal Protein: PDB entry 5jj3
(2020, detail of digital print on fabric)


Hexagonal HIV Capsid Protein: PDB entry 6ay9
(2020, detail of digital print on fabric)


More information may be found at:

All images copyright and courtesy of David Goodsell

A previous article by David Goodsell can be found at Nanotransport (Interalia Magazine, May 2016)


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I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there

I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there

© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Jill Gibbon, Leeds Beckett University

The arms multinational BAE Systems is in the final stages of a deal to sell 48 Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, despite mounting evidence of war crimes in Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians but the Saudi-led coalition has bombed Yemeni schools, markets and hospitals, killing more than 10,000 people including children, while survivors face disease and starvation with the collapse of infrastructure.

Fragments of bombs made in Britain and the US have been found in the debris of some of these attacks, yet both countries continue to sell arms to the Saudi regime.

Such deals take place in arms fairs, away from the public eye. I have drawn undercover in fairs in Europe and the Middle East for the past ten years, in an attempt to understand how international arms sales are normalised and legitimised. Access is restricted, but I get in by dressing up as a security consultant with a suit, heels, fake pearls, and a sham company. My performance is a metaphor for the charade of respectability in the industry.

A sales rep.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Arms fairs emerged from the globalisation of the military industry in the late 1990s. At the end of the Cold War, defence budgets were cut. There was a brief opportunity to convert military production facilities into civil areas such as medical equipment, transport and renewable energy; instead, arms companies merged into multinationals, expanded into security, and focused on a global market. Arms fairs were set up to provide venues for these deals.

The largest, DSEI (the Defence Security Exhibition International) takes place every two years in London, with similar fairs in Paris, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi. Here, weapons are displayed to an international clientele including countries at war, unstable states and repressive regimes.

DSEI welcomes 75% of the countries that the UK Foreign Office has listed as “Human Rights Priorities”, where “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations take place”.

A tank salesman.
© Jill Gibbon

Inside a fair, missiles, bombs and bullets are arranged under spotlights; guns are available to try out for weight and size, and to aim at imaginary targets; mannequins pose in camouflage offering private military services and tear gas; tanks are open for viewing. “Lethality” is a sales slogan. Manufacturers boast of the precision of their products, as if war could be refined through science.

As with most advertising, such claims turn out to be exaggerated when the weapons are actually used. Bombing is inevitably inaccurate, compromised by an inbuilt margin of error, malfunctions, mistaken intelligence and the weather. The difference between a combatant and civilian is also increasingly unclear, as Yemen shows. Yet such claims make war more likely.

String quartet.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

Many stalls hand out gifts as an alternative to business cards – stress-balls in the shape of bombs, grenades and tanks, branded sweets and pens. A gas mask manufacturer has condoms with the slogan, “The ultimate protection”. Waiting staff hover with trays of wine, beer and grapes, while a string quartet plays Handel and Mozart.

Grenade stress relief.
© Jill Gibbon, Author provided

There are also promotions. The BAE subsidiary Bofors has a live satellite link to its weapons testing facility in Sweden where a military vehicle explodes in a cloud of light and metal. Alongside the video screens, bowls are filled with toffees in wrappers saying, “Welcome to hell”. Brochures explain that the Bofors test centre is “Hell for your product, heaven for your investment”. The impact on people of the weapons that pass through the test centre is oddly missing. In an arms fair, missiles are forever products.

How to draw this? My drawings veer between caricature and observational methods. Mainly, I focus on the etiquette that gives the industry an appearance of respectability – the handshakes, pinstriped suits, hospitality, and violins. I also draw cracks in the façade – a lewd advance, a rep slumped in a chair with his head in his hands, the continual, desperate drinking. Brecht used the Latin word gestus to describe an attitude that expresses a social role or condition. In his plays, gestures are frozen so they seem strange. Perhaps drawing can be used in a similar way.

© Jill Gibbon

Or, perhaps the gifts are sufficient in themselves to reveal the strange amorality of an industry that uses war as a sales opportunity. The BAE Bofors toffees might be intended to convey the impact of a test centre on weapons with the slogan “Welcome to hell” – but sweets are usually meant for children.The Conversation

Jill Gibbon, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Arts, Leeds Beckett University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The post I go undercover into arms fairs – and secretly draw caricatures of the ‘hell’ I find there appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

Through his art, a former prisoner diagnoses the systemic sickness of Florida’s penitentiaries

Through his art, a former prisoner diagnoses the systemic sickness of Florida’s penitentiaries

Moliere Dimanche would use anything he could scrounge up – pieces of folders, the back of commissary forms, old letters – as canvases.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

Nicole R. Fleetwood, Rutgers University

In 2007, Haitian-American artist Moliere Dimanche was sentenced to 10 years in Florida state prisons, where he ended up serving eight-and-a-half years.

While imprisoned, he made art – a series of pencil drawings on the back of stray sheets of paper – to document the brutality of his time spent behind bars, much of it in isolation.

In 2017, I was introduced to Dimanche, one of the dozens of currently and formerly incarcerated people I have interviewed over the past several years for my forthcoming book on visual art in the era of mass incarceration.

Often using state-issued material or contraband, imprisoned artists use a myriad of genres and styles to create political collages, portraits of other imprisoned people and mixed-media works that comment on abuse, racism and the exploitation of prison labor.

In Dimanche’s story, I see the stories of thousands of others in U.S. prisons who are using art and creativity to shine a light on their experiences and advocate for systemic change.

A malignant system

Florida prisons, in particular, have become notorious for their pervasive culture of neglect and abuse.

In 2016, investigative reporter Eyal Press wrote about the torture and routine abuse that took place in the mental health units of Florida’s prisons.

Central to Press’ account was the case of Darren Rainey, an incarcerated man with a history of schizophrenia who was scalded to death when prison officers forced him into a shower of boiling hot water.

According to The Miami Herald, at least 145 people have died in state penal facilities so in 2018, making Florida’s prisons among the deadliest in the country.

In response, many inside have resisted or continue to resist the inhumane treatment and prison conditions. Earlier in 2018, prison laborers in Florida organized a strike to protest unpaid labor and brutal working conditions. (Many of the participants were punished with solitary confinement.)

In August, incarcerated people in Florida joined others across the country in a nationwide prison strike. Their demands include being paid prevailing state wages for their labor, reforms that would allow prisoners to file grievances when their rights are violated, and a reinstatement of Pell grants in all U.S. states and territories.

While these strikes can certainly bring attention to dire prison conditions, the stories of incarcerated people can also emerge in creative and clandestine ways – in drawings, photographs, paintings, letters and poetry.

Incarcerated activists like Kevin “Rashid” Johnson – whose Guardian essay denouncing prison labor as “modern slavery” went viral in August – also use art to communicate with the public.

Because prisons are institutions of constant surveillance and censorship, art can serve as a crucial conduit for self-expression and as a tool for survival – a way to earn money, document prison conditions and stay connected with the outside world.

Drawing to survive

After Moliere Dimanche was sentenced, his family was unable to financially support him. From the costs of phone calls to commissary items to the expenses of visits to see imprisoned relatives, prisons can be a financial drain for families already struggling to get by.

Dimanche soon realized that he could use art as currency for toiletries, clothing, cigarettes, writing utensils and coffee. Other incarcerated men – and even some prison staff – commissioned him to make portraits, drawings and greeting cards that they would then give to their loved ones. He also designed tattoos and fashioned a tattoo gun and ink from prison supplies.

Dimanche ultimately created a series of fantastical, highly symbolic, allegorical drawings during his time in solitary confinement. They are bold, cartoonish representations. Filled with dark humor, they provide a sustained lens into the abuses inside Florida’s prison system.

Moliere Dimanche realized that his drawings could accomplish much good: He could take care of basic needs, document his experience in prison and relay messages to the outside world.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

While art gave him a way to provide for his basic needs and acted as an outlet for creative expression, Dimanche also became an expert of the state’s penal system and how it stifles the rights of the imprisoned. Early into his sentencing, he began to study law and to advocate for himself and others.

He became a writ writer – a jailhouse lawyer – filing grievances and writing briefs on behalf of fellow prisoners and himself.

But he believes his legal advocacy only subjected him to more punishment and surveillance. He was held in solitary confinement for much of his sentence.

Even in isolation, he continued his writ writing and making art.

In a piece called “Pills and Potions,” Dimanche depicts himself as the Monopoly Man, and converted the Monopoly board into the Florida Department of Corrections, with each property representing a different prison.

‘Pills and Potions’ is an allegorical drawing that depicts Moliere Dimanche as the Monopoly Man ‘bouncing around from prison to prison.’
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

“I had been bounced around so much for writing grievances,” he explained,
“I just depicted myself as the Monopoly man running around the board, bouncing around from prison to prison.”

“I had to find a way to laugh about some of this stuff.”

There’s nothing funny about some of the brutal forms of punishment depicted in many of his pieces.

There’s what Dimanche calls “the strip” – a punishment in which guards “take your linen, they take your mattress, and they take your clothing, and they put you in a cell for 72 hour restriction and you don’t have anything in there … and it’s absolutely freezing in that cell and you have stay in it without clothing or anything the whole time.”

According to Dimanche, “saving a life” involves a corrections officers shackling a prisoner to supposedly take him to a medical appointment. But once he’s out of the cell and out of sight, they slam the prisoner’s head against a wall.

Dimanche also documents a common abuse practice in Florida where officers gas people confined to their cells. These practices have led to reported deaths. Dimanche calls one form of gassing “Black Jesus”: Guards lock someone an isolation cell and gas them through the porthole. The gas, he explains, “comes in a big black can and it’s known to make people scream for Jesus.”

Dimanche titled one of his pieces after this punishment by gassing, and depicts a guard gleefully spraying a hanging Dimanche.

‘Black Jesus’ is a searing critique of the ingrained racism of Florida’s prison system.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

“Black Jesus” also highlights the racism of Florida’s prisons, where an ACLU study found black people are subjected to more abuse. In 2017, two former Florida prison guards who were Klan members were convicted of plotting to murder an imprisoned black man.

Dimanche witnessed this racism firsthand. “I was in a couple of institutions where it was revealed where a lot of the correctional officers were Klansmen,” he said.

In “Black Jesus,” he portrays a man who is half dressed as an officer and half dressed in a Klan robe to symbolize, according to Dimanche, how each group uses force to “reinforce old Jim Crow ideas.”

A connection is made – and a bond forms

Eventually, another prisoner in solitary confinement put him in touch with Wendy Tatter, an artist living in St. Augustine, Florida. Tatter’s son had also spent time in Florida prisons, and Dimanche wrote to her asking if she’d be interested in seeing his art.

Tatter recalled to me Dimanche’s first letter – sent in September 2013 and written in a tiny font, so he could cram as much information as he could on the few sheets of paper available to him.

She agreed to see his work, and he started mailing her “these gorgeous original pencil drawings.”

She told me that each was made with a broken pencil and no eraser. They arrived “on just random pieces of paper that he managed to find” – on the backs of order sheets, Manila folders and old letters.

One of Dimanche’s drawings was made on the back of a canteen order form.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

The two wrote back and forth for three years until his release in 2016. Since then, he and Tatter have worked together to exhibit his work.

On Sept. 9 – the day that the national prison strike ends – Moliere and Tatter will host a program on mass incarceration and prison reform at the Corazon Cinema and Café in St. Augustine, Florida.

“Even though there’s a lot of talk about prison reform now, it’s bigger than sentencing guidelines,” Dimanche told me. “We have to address the physical abuse in prisons.”

Lack of transparency and access to prisons and detention centers makes this work extremely difficult.

Dimanche hopes that his art will open some eyes, and eventually end the American tradition of locking up, neglecting, exploiting and abusing millions in prisons across the country.The Conversation

Moliere Dimanche wears a T-shirt he designed using his prison art.
Moliere Dimanche, Author provided

Nicole R. Fleetwood, Associate Professor of American Studies, Rutgers University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The post Through his art, a former prisoner diagnoses the systemic sickness of Florida’s penitentiaries appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

Drawn Forms

Untitled 1 (no plan is foolproof), 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 66 x 91 cm (Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Massinissa Selmani: I grew up in Algeria (Algiers and Tizi-Ouzou) where I studied Computer science. In 2005 I moved to Tours (France) to study Fine arts. I live between Algeria and France.

RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?

MS: As a teenager, I was very fascinated by cartoonists. As I got older, I discovered artists such as Saul Steinberg, Tacita Dean, Adrian Piper and the Belgian surrealist Paul Nougé as well as others who inspired me.  Algerian francophone literature also has an important influence on my work.

Untitled 2 (no plan is foolproof), 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 50 x 65 cm (Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?

MS: My practice is related to drawing and its various fields of experimentations in terms of aesthetic or graphic approach. I am interested in drawing as it relates to the documentary form, drawing as movement, the media coverage of events in the print media as well as more fictional modes. This body of research results in what I call drawn forms.

RB: The subjects feeding into your work originate in current social and political events. Would you say your work is political and/or documentary?

MS: Many of my formal sources come from newspapers and from press photography. I take fragments of these stories as a point of departure by drawing. I am particularly interested in the construction of those stories that are related to historical or social events. The event itself—in epistemological terms—can act as an object of research. My work is at the crossroads of these questions.

Untitled 3 (no plan is foolproof), 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 50 x 65 cm )Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)


Untitled 5 (no plan is foolproof), 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 90 x 135 cm (Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

RB: Can you say something about the concept of simplicity in your drawings, that is, of making work with the minimum of materials and components?

MS: My work is constituted by very little and is characterized by fragility or lightness. I have always worked in this way because I try to get to the point, to the essential thing. This process generally produces light forms as opposed spectacular ones. Conflict is inherent in the subject matter of my work, but it does not appear immediately. Instead, it is revealed slowly at different levels of encounter. My exhibitions are sometimes conceived as investigations linking different graphic elements. The content of the investigation is revealed in the overview or by making associations between drawn forms. This way of working allows me to remain independent and to be able to work in all kinds of circumstances.

Balances précises, 2019
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 76 x 56 cm. (Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Anne-Sarah Bénichou © Adagp Paris)

RB: What can you say about the concept of space in your drawings?

MS: My drawings generally create unlikely situations. This construction of space is linked to a question of context. The drawings are constituted with graphic elements from different sources with different contexts. Drawing these disparate forms together provides them with a new context that is dissociated from their original one. I try to occupy the space in such a way that everyone can project themselves into its mental space. I usually say that my work is made up of absences that need to be filled.

Trajet , 2019.
Graphite and coloured pencil on paper, 14 x 18 cm. (Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery © Adagp Paris)

RB: A mix of the comical and the tragic is very much present in your work. How do you reconcile the two in your drawings and how important is humour in your imagery?

MS: In the environment in which I grew up, comedy and tragedy were often entangled. Humour is a defence mechanism against violence, a way to live through or deal with it. As I mention above, my first sources of inspiration are the cartoonists in the daily newspapers. Their state of mind partly shaped the way I work with material.

Mémoires potentielles. Altération #1, 2013-2017
Looped animation projected on wood, perspex and paper, variable dimensions.
With the support of the DRAC centre, France
(Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Anne-Sarah Bénichou © Adagp Paris)

Souvenir du vide, 2011-2015. 42 animations projected on calque paper cubes. Projection :168 x 192 cm (66,1 x 75,5 inch )
With the support of Mode d’emploi, Tours.
(Courtesy of the artist and Selma Feriani Gallery. Collection of MAC Lyon, France).
Installation view: “la vie moderne”, 13th Biennale de Lyon, 2015. Curated by Ralph Rugoff
© photo : Blaise Adilon

RB: Can you say something about your project 1000 villages?

MS: At the beginning of the 70’s, the Algerian government launched a large public-works project known as the 1000 “socialist villages.” The initiative aimed to relieve the rural population’s isolation and poverty and to return land to them that had been taken away during colonization. This project also aimed to encourage the rural population to adopt modern agriculture techniques and to involve it in the Algerian socialist project via agriculture.

Despite a laudable initial intention, the project could not be fully implemented because the implementation and construction of these villages, with few exceptions, often involved ideological or administrative considerations that imposed standards of production at the expense of the farmers’ real needs. The population gradually lost interest in the project, which was terminated a few years later.

1000 villages, 2015.
Drawings on double pages and notebook cover. Graphite, marker and transfer on paper and tracing paper.
With the support of the 56th Venice Biennale, All the world’s futures. 2015
Collection of the Frac Centre Val de Loire, Orléans. France

1000 villages, 2015 (detail)
Drawings on double pages and notebook cover. Graphite, marker and transfer on paper and tracing paper.
With the support of the 56th Venice Biennale, All the world’s futures. 2015
Collection of the Frac Centre Val de Loire, Orléans. France

1000 villages, 2015.
Drawings on double pages and notebook cover. Graphite, marker and transfer on paper and tracing paper.
With the support of the 56th Venice Biennale, All the world’s futures. 2015
Collection of the Frac Centre Val de Loire, Orléans. France

The related body of work is composed by twenty drawings on two-page spreads of note book paper. They are arranged narratively as elements confronting each other: house plans, furniture drawn on tracing paper; drawings of spaces, agricultural land and animals. The images, reproduced using the transfer technique, are drawn from newspaper clippings from the 1970s. They are increasingly illegible as the series moves towards the collapse of this utopia. The last image is almost a ghost image. The only way to read these images in light of their context is by a caption printed on tracing paper, which restores the mental space of the original newspaper article.

A drawing on the cover of a notebook is based on illustrations sold in the 70s-80s in Algeria that promoted the Algerian agrarian and industrial revolution.


Exhibition view, CCC OD, Tours, France. 2019
Le calme de li’dée fixe, curated by Delphine Masson.
(© Photos : Vincent Royer)

Exhibition view, CCC OD, Tours, France. 2019
Le calme de li’dée fixe, curated by Delphine Masson.
(© Photos : Vincent Royer)

RB: What projects are you currently working on or have coming up in the future?

MS: Currently I am working on a new body of work exploring the landscape through graphic research based on the “disappearance” of the outline. I will be in a residency at the Civitella Ranieri in Italy and at the Fayoum Art Center in Egypt, in addition to several exhibitions projects.

Exhibition view, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. 2018.
Ce qui coule n’a pas de fin. Solo Show. Curated by Yoann Gourmel.
With the support of SAM Art Projects.
(© Photos : Aurélien Molle)


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David Haines and the Black Mirror/Facing faces

Portrait of a Boy With Two Hearts (2015). Pencil on paper 113 x 140cm

David Haines and the Black Mirror

Now, this image of ourselves is obviously not ourselves, anymore than an idea of a tree is a tree, anymore than you can get wet in the word water.”

Alan Watts quoted in ‘Two Way Mirror,’  a two channel video installation by David Haines

Every new medium is a Russian doll.  The radio and the cinema sit inside every television, just as the television sits inside your smart phone.
Because there have been so many Russian dolls over the years, each containing the other, it’s easy to forget that the mirror is a medium, or that the simple act of making marks on paper is a technology. David Haines invites us to consider these things in the reflection of the black mirror. (1)

We carry the black mirror everywhere. It blindly reflects our image when it sleeps and every time we wake it up (with the swipe of a finger) it illuminates our desires. It sorts our personal chaos into order. The black mirror is a good servant. It files, classifies, orientates, and informs. In this respect the black mirror surpasses its master. Because the black mirror’s actions are unconscious, it is able to chart a map of the unconscious.

Casper With Gloves and Sneakers (2015). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 164 x 129 cm

In a group of portraits, images taken from a cam sex site, a series of young men look at themselves. The view is parallax, Narcissus is refracted. A man, his face in repose, gazes at the camera on his laptop. To see himself he must look away from the eye that records his image. We see a boss-eyed double image through the layers of mediation, the video and the shiny glass, the code churning unconsciously beneath the surface.

We never see ourselves, and when we see ourselves the image we see is not part of us. You might catch your image on the surface of a still pond. You may surprise your self as you lope past a shop window; your image may move unexpectedly on a Skype call; you may see your ghost on the black mirror of a sleeping smart phone. Our image is always mediated, always de-centered. Our image is reserved for others and implicitly addressed to others. Because the black mirror extends us and because it surrounds us we forget that, like every interactive technology, the black mirror is a technology of self. It records an image of us whilst simultaneously constructing us, presenting us, and teaching us how to behave.

Still Life with Flyer ( Sweat) 2017. Graphite and nero pencil on paper 27.5 x 36.5cm

Still Life with flyer( Fur- Real) 2017. Graphite and nero pencil on paper 29 x 38cm

A series of Trompe-l’œil drawings, Still Lifes with Flyers, are unlike Haines’ other portraits, they do not survey an interior, subjective, space. The bodies are on display, they project an image produced explicitly for others. But the medium on which the image is carried tells a specific history. It records the wear and tear of being folded, it tells the story of its circulation as a medium; this is in turn translated into a drawing.

Still Life with Screen, Cutout and Chicken Legs (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 56 x 50.5cm


Still Life with Screen, Cutouts and Heart (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 60 x 56cm

A further series of still life drawings, this time with  iPads, screens, cutouts, meat and bones takes this abstraction further. This is not a formal abstraction – in the sense that they divert from realistic depiction or break down into simple forms – but rather they invite us to read images of ‘real things’ on different registers: as things in ‘real space,’ as reflections of those things, as two dimensional cut-outs nested within a prospective three dimensional space.

Composition with Screen, Cutout, Hand and Plastic Bottle (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 39.5 x 38cm

Still Life with iPad, Cutout and Celeriac (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 33 x 33 cm

In the two large drawings Meatboy and Bob Starr  and Your Fluffer  the moiré pattern (the matrix of the printed image) slips between the register of dots and the register of an image. This is set against figures of a much finer definition where graphite and the grain of the paper tangle in a tight net of information. (2)

Meatboy and Bob Starr ( 2016). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 201 x 140 cm


Your Fluffer (2017). Graphite and nero pencil on paper 205 x 184cm

As we travel through the different levels of abstraction the subject is mediated and remediated. Of course, the image is not the thing it depicts, any more than the menu can be mistaken for the meal, or the map mistaken for the territory it charts.

In Haines’ work every medium reflects another but this does not leave us abandoned in a hall of mirrors because we are grounded in the materiality of the drawings, we are drawn to the specificity of the medium – this particular sheet of paper, these specific particles of graphite.If every image draws us to a receding horizon, beyond which the ‘real thing’ is situated, in Haines’ work we comprehend the different levels of abstraction that allow us to negotiate with the reflection of ourselves that is always fugitive, always extensive: a projection, a reflection, an image in process.

Steve Rushton

Steve Rushton’s Masters of Reality is published by Stemberg Press

(1) Charlie Brooker on his TV show Black Mirror: “If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects?” The Guardian 1/12/2011

(2) Here I use ‘abstraction’ in the sense Gregory Bateson’s used it in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) and Mind and Nature (1980). Bateson’s notion of abstraction provides the basis for a holistic aesthetic and ecological epistemology. Bateson identifies Alfred Korzybski as the originator of the phrase the map is not the territory.


Facing faces

David Haines, when I gaze at his works and, more often than not, covet them, remains a strange artist. There is really no point in going into his methods and techniques, into their enigmatic virtuosity and untiring capacity to present so much complex and, I guess, labour-intensive surface treatment as a true sight, or a bewildering delight. The relation between what must have been his absorption in the finding and then the making of the images and our oh-so rapid absorption of them and by them is unsettling in its asymmetry. It generates both turbulence and desire in turbulence, crafting each time a singular enigma of our own desiring.

Dylan’s Reflection (2017). Graphite on paper 16 x 17.5cm

But in these drawings of faces and torsos something new has appeared before us, befallen our look. Until now Haines work has presented a recognisable iconography, hermetic, secretive, as unyielding in its private use of the plethora of public images from the internet, their fragments or their apparent stories, as it was relentless in its extreme exploitation of what we trivially call representation or realism, alluring in the ways that it made precision itself into a near delirium. You could then think, at the same time, of the Signorelli of his Last Judgement or the arcane assemblage of a cabinet of curiosities;

Arnold’s Reflection (2017). Graphite on paper 18.5 x 20.5cm


But here the single figure or body or face, albeit adorned with textures and tattoos, comes to the fore to fill its space, to front it; and even as it does so it goes out of focus and blurs; the unsettled outlines behave like, but remain distinct from the smudgy backgrounds, and this blur itself outstares us as something other than the immediate presence of the ‘subject’. Now I think of another artist of the high Renaissance, of the uncanny and ever so slightly unfocussed figures of Dosso Dossi, sometimes conventional, sometimes hermetic, but ever withdrawing from view in the very substance of their presentness. With Haines, as with Dossi, there is a peculiar movement in which the image, even as it draws us to it and then stares us down, does so by staring down itself.

Dosso Dossi: Apollo, fragment

Circe, fragment.

In Haines’ new work precision is lavished on the indistinct. In defeating our gaze, in despite of its promise of a fleeting sexual encounter, the commodity of flesh so freely offered, the image does so through self-defeat, through the startling contradiction of seeing within the image its own precisely controlled desire for invisibility. And they, the whoever within, fragile enough, ripped from the half infinity of the electronic, at what now might they be looking?

Adrian Rifkin



David Haines forthcoming exhibition will be opening in Amsterdam on March 28 2020 at Upstream Gallery. Info here:


All images copyright and courtesy of David Haines

All images are made by Ger-Jan van Rooij

The post David Haines and the Black Mirror/Facing faces appeared first on Interalia Magazine.

The human condition and the question of personal identity

Blood Head, monoprint

Richard Bright: Can we begin by saying something about your background?

Shelly Tregoning: I was born in Mauritius, spent most of my early childhood in the West Indies and have been living in Cornwall for over 30 years. My father is English and my mother Jamaican. My dad’s work with Cable and Wireless meant that we lived in many countries – the ones that probably had the most impact on me in terms of my art practice were Barbados and Bahrain.

From the West Indies, the use of the silhouette in traditional West Indian art has seeped into my work, the ‘cartoon-ness’ and immediacy of simple drawing, the use of primary, bright colour, the sense of humour, and a sense of the naive. From Bahrain, the strangeness of it all; the fact that people are ‘wrapped’ in cloth – completely (so very different from the comfortable show of flesh in the west indies), the stark nature of the light, the emptiness of the landscape, the simplicity of the lines in the architecture, the exotic nature of pattern, the embellishment, the intricate filigree and repetition pressed into material, copper and stone. And from both, the recognition of the ‘otherness’ of human features (other meaning other than the European features). And perhaps because I experienced these anthropological forms early on, they are written onto my retina, and as I get older I seem to be drawn in by the physical differences in facial structures between three cultures.

I moved to The Lizard, in Cornwall, in 1989 and have been here “every since”, as the Barbadians say. Although I studied Art at A level, it took a while to get back to it, completing a degree in Fine Art at Falmouth University in 2011.

Pete, charcoal on paper, 150 x 122cm

  RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?

ST: Big Paintings. As part of my Degree at Falmouth we travelled to Berlin, New York, Amsterdam and Istanbul. I got the opportunity to stand in front of many paintings I had only read about. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop. The very large paintings….. and the very tiny paintings ….. left their mark. The drama of them, the physicality of them; the immersive nature of them. Rothko, Kline, Jackson Pollock (somehow you have to use both his names), Rothenburg, Oliveira; Kentridge and Keifer; Rembrandt, Vermeer, Dumas, Klee. Mama Anderson, Chantelle Joffe, Rose Wiley. The sweep of brush strokes, black and white, drips, scribbles, scratches. Colours that hum.

Paintings …… because I like the fact that the work has been touched by the artists’ hands. Of course, there’s also the smell of turpentine and oil.

The Printing press. The large presses in the print room at college, the very physical nature of winding the press, sticky ink, the plate, the touch of paper. The endless possibilities.

A sense of the modern – fashion, social media, the now.

Dance – the performative observation and portrayal of physical form and gesture.

I did a lot of dance when I was younger – got a place at Laban – never went. I was constantly in and out of dance classes. So the body and how it moved was very important. Looking at form continually, trying to understand and copy the smallest movement, the tiniest gesture, hones your curiosity – something not lost through the years.

Finally, Cornwall itself has had an influence on my work. Living on The Lizard means you cannot escape the elements. You walk amongst them on a daily basis – the rain, the mizzle, damp defuse light; the horizon that worms its way into your consciousness. The monochromatic nature of the greys that make up the ‘horizontals’ in this daily view. The colour of gorse – a rich, English mustard yellow. Granite. 

Mellow Yellow, 2020, monoprint,

 RB: What is the underlying focus of your work?

ST: Probably the human condition and the question of personal identity. Life happens to all of us, those familiar human things, love, happiness, disappointment, pain, fear – they are experiences that are played out in all cultures. These things are base, primal, if I can call them that. I am drawn in by the physicality of the human form and how this physicality, despite our best efforts otherwise, can betray our emotional state.

Phone Check, monoprint, 38 x 53.5 cm


Frequent Visitor, monoprint, 38 x 53.5cm


Second Chance, monoprint, 38 x 53.5 cm


Tentative Steps, Oil on Linen, 76 x 91 cm

I am interested in the way in which people hold themselves, and how they decide to portray themselves to the world – in the way they stand, or sit, how they dress, how they enter a room, the angle of their head, how close (or far apart) they stand in a group, how they engage with each other.

A person’s physicality betrays so many things, and I find this eternally fascinating. No matter how a person tries to ‘be’ there will always inherently be that telling physical moment when they reveal what’s going on beneath the surface; perhaps in the way that they stand, or turn or even sit, a vulnerability behind the eyes. I am interested in how a person holds themselves, the angle of their head, the curve of their body, the way they rest their hand or arm in that moment.

So gesture plays an important part in what I am trying to get to. The figure in my drawings and paintings stand for an inherent communality between all human beings.

Simon, Charcoal on Paper, 152 x 122 cm

 RB: What inspires and ‘informs’ your work?

ST: Everyday things. Family. Friends. Magazines. Fashion. Social Media. Books. Visiting Galleries. Film.

The need to illustrate my observation of the world and how we behave in it.

RB: Can you say something about the variety of processes that you use and how they inform one another?

ST: There are three main elements to my practice – drawing, painting and printmaking. The most important of which is drawing. Source material can come from a variety of places – my own photographs, magazines, newspapers, film.

Everything starts with drawing for me. If I have an idea, I need to draw it out. I will make many drawings of a particular image or gesture that has caught my eye or that I need to investigate. The first drawings are ‘learning’ the form. Subsequent iterations are about paring things down to the essence – which few strokes will sufficiently describe a particular gesture or emotion?

Drawings can be made in so many ways, in a linear fashion, blocks of light and shade, marks and scribbles and spills. All these methods will give the drawing different ‘lives’, different senses of emotion. The stillness of a simple pencil line, the agitation of scribbled marks and scratches on a printed plate; the richness and drama of blocks of light and shade in charcoal.

I will then usually then move onto printmaking.

Out of Silence, monoprint, 38 x 53.5cm


Ice Shadows, monoprint, 44 x 32 cm

I think people still see print as a secondary art form, a way to sketch up work before you do the bigger, more important painting. But I use monoprinting as another way to express my ideas and the process satisfies me enormously – the wiping away of ink from the plate, of the subtly different, fading versions that can be lifted from one printing plate to another – the journey between ‘ghost’ copies – the making of a different image every time. It’s almost like a film strip. I enjoy the painterly quality of mono prints – it can get you away from ‘line’, the ability to layer paint up, plate by plate, and retain the ability to draw onto it. The joy of printmaking, for me, is that it breaks down the accuracy of the work and therefore broadens its potential. It is in these accidents that things can start to get interesting. It takes away the coordinated hand/eye control of a pencil on paper and leaves instead the ‘wrongness’ of the bleed of ink or pattern that can occur through pressure, adding something for the eye and the brain to ‘worry’ at in a final image.

From a selection of experimental prints, ideas for paintings occur.  My painting process has become more successful the closer I try and replicate the printing process. ’Mistakes’ in the printing process can be taken into the final painting working in layers rather than working paint into paint on the canvas.  I still try and draw the figure with the edge of my brush. I like brevity, a line that suggest the form, a moment captured in a very few descriptive lines.

Quiet Revolution, Oil on Linen, 152 x 183 cm


The Game, Oil on Linen, 122 x 152cm

RB: What can you say about the concept of space in your drawings?

ST: So for me it is important to focus on the figure, the gesture. Making the figure the main focus is a way of exploring the inner self in order to talk about things we cannot express. The human figure resonates across time and space to connect with everyone and images of the body allow us to project ourselves into other worlds and find our common humanity.

I feel compelled to get rid of everything else because I want the focus to be on the emotional state. I do not want the distraction of place or time – the gestures I am attempting to capture are universal and the human eye understands the slump of the hip, the tension in raised shoulders, the melancholy of a downturned head.

Space keeps everything still, it suspends time.

Space invites the viewer to fill in the blanks. It lets you paint your own story. The lack of narrative leaves you with a sense of ‘feeling’ – almost fixing emotions in space and time.

Space invites reflection and contemplation and gives the solitary figures a universality and symbolic quality that alludes to the human condition.

Simple horizons creep into the picture plane – the influence of living on the coast, I guess.  The space seems eternal, and the things I am trying to convey are also eternal.

Nathan Oliveira was a big influence on me when I started out. He was the youngest of the Bay Figurative artists – a group of artists who shied away from the the Abstract Expressionistic style that gripped their time in the late 40s. I used to have a copy of Oliveira’s ‘Manolette’’ 1958 on my wall. It is a painting of a solitary figure that appears to be frozen, slightly off-balance, light emanating from it. He chose to use the solitary figure to express a sense of spirituality. Maybe I am trying to express this too.

RB: Can you say something about your recent works on paper, Twisty Feet and The Wall? 

Twisty Feet, monoprint


The Wall, monoprint

ST: ‘Twisty Feet’ is an image of a girl, hands in pocket, who stands alone. I made this for an exhibition called ‘Fragile” and at a time when my own two daughters were about to leave home. The figure in this image is placed at the edge of the picture plane, as if she is about to step off the paper into the unknown. Hands firmly in her pockets, hesitant. The tension in this image lies in her feet – the gesture harks back to childhood and a familiar pose taken up by the very young when they are unsure of what to do next – they stand, toes facing inwards and feet rolling onto their outside edges – uncertain.

The picture is very flat and the yellow background alludes to the colour of gorse which comes out in the Spring and is the reminder of new possibilities. The figure itself is a silhouette described in two tones of grey and is pared down to the bare essentials. The title reinforces our focus and the point of tension in the piece.

In ‘The Wall’ , a young girl sits alone on an imaginary wall, legs dangling loosely as she stares at something off to the right. The space that surrounds her, keeps her suspended in time, in quiet and in stillness. It’s a curious piece, emphasized by the curious marks that make up her body – the process of happy accident in the printing process that works to the image’s advantage (purpose). The title gives you a starting point – a jumping off point – if you will – for her story. The rest you have to come up with yourself.  The only clues are the subtle leaning forward of her body – she moves towards whatever is catching her attention, and the loose nature of her legs. She is relaxed. 

Faith and Folly, Oil on Linen, 122 x 152cm

RB: Your recent exhibition, In Search of Our Perfect Selves (Arusha Gallery, Edinburgh), explored both the presented and perceived self. Can you say more about this exhibition?

ST: This exhibition included paintings – large and small, and a number of monoprints, set together closely, one against the other.  I explore physicality and the interpretation of gesture. I was very interested in the modern phenomena of social media and the way in which we need to ‘present’ our best self – or rather, a constructed self to the world. But it seems to me, that the very nature of how we decide to present this construction, gives away the very truth of our nature.  Subtle physical clues lead us to that truth.

The packaging and presentation of this carefully constructed ‘hyper-self’ seems to me a very real social expectation, but at what cost?

Selfies, oil on prepared paper

Selfies, oil on prepared paper

Selfies, oil on prepared paper

Selfies, oil on prepared paper

RB: In terms of the viewer, what are you trying to communication with this exhibition?

ST: In this series of paintings and prints, I present moments frozen in time, and try to pose a variety of possibilities in the reading of these gestures. One denim be-decked man sits, sprawled across the canvas, filling the entire space – the lines of his legs lead us to his crotch where his hands rest. He is stares at you – daring you. He looks very self-satisfied. This contrasts with another image of a man perched on a narrow stool, hands clasped between his knees, a tension in his legs which are pressed firmly together. These two paintings are set before you – it is left to you to interpret their physical gestures to get at the truth of the sitter. In a series of tiny monochromatic paintings, I started looking at how my daughters and their friends used social media; how they create their ‘perfect lives’. These small paintings were presented in a clear acrylic box-like frames – possibly alluding to the mobile phone cameras on which the images were originally taken. But it didn’t escape me that, in these bold, over-sexualised pouting self-portraits, their vulnerability screamed out.

The collection of work sets one physical gesture up against a contrasting one – perhaps like a set of cards. I guess I am hoping that by seeing a variety of possibilities, the viewer may recognise themselves, or at least, recognise humanity.

RB: What projects are you currently working on or have coming up in the future?

ST: I have been filming and drawing in the performing arts department at University of the South West College here in Cornwall. I would like to make a series of drawings, following the continual flow of movement of a body across a space – still very much looking at the physicality of human gesture, but instead of taking a frozen moment in time, tracing this movement across a space.

I would like to work in collaboration with performers, focusing on the interpretation of physical gesture, and out of this study, to create a number of large scale drawings and mono prints and perhaps present them in the form of an installation – a space combining live performance and drawing.  These ideas are very much in their infancy, but watch this space.


All images copyright and courtesy of Shelly Tregoning

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