Paradox investigates the boundaries between abstraction and representation, fact and fiction, order and chaos. Creating juxtapositions that are at times disorienting, playful, and unexpected, these artists engage with the uncertain and plumb accepted assumptions of meaning in art. This film features the artists Allora & Calzadilla, Mark Bradford, Robert Ryman and Catherine Sullivan.
Collaborating since 1995, Allora & Calzadilla approach visual art as a set of experiments that test whether ideas such as authorship, nationality, borders, and democracy adequately describe today’s increasingly global and consumerist society. Their hybrid works – often a unique mix of sculpture, photography, performance, sound, and video – explore the physical and conceptual act of mark-making and its survival through traces.
Mark Bradford transforms materials scavenged from the street into wall-size collages and installations that respond to the impromptu networks – underground economies, migrant communities, or popular appropriation of abandoned public space – that emerge within a city. Drawing from the diverse cultural and geographic makeup of his southern Californian community, Bradford’s work is as informed by his personal background as a third-generation merchant there as it is by the tradition of abstract painting developed worldwide in the twentieth century.
Robert Ryman’s work explodes the classical distinctions between art as object and as surface – between sculpture and painting, between structure and ornament – emphasising instead the role that perception and context play in creating an aesthetic experience. Ryman isolates the most basic of components (material, scale, and support), enforcing limitations that allow the viewer to focus on the physical presence of the work in space. Since the 1950s, Ryman has used primarily white paint on a square surface – whether canvas, paper, metal, plastic, or wood – while harnessing the nuanced effects of light and shadow to animate his work.
Catherine Sullivan’s anxiety-inducing films and live performances reveal the degree to which everyday gestures and emotional states are scripted and performed, probing the border between innate and learned behaviour. Under Sullivan’s direction, actors perform seemingly erratic, seizure-like jumps between gestures and emotional states – all of which follow a rehearsed, numerically derived script. Unsettling and disorienting, Sullivan’s work oscillates between the uncanny and camp, eliciting a profound critique of ‘acceptable’ behaviour in today’s media-saturated society.
Art21: Art in the 21st Century is an award-winning series of 24 programmes in which 100 contemporary artists explain their creations, their creative processes, and their perceptions of art. Available for the first time on DVD in the UK, Art21 covers a wide range of artists and contemporary visual art.