Voices is a new publication dedicated to the world of wine, and I’ve been involved in helping form its editorial direction on behalf of Spinach Branding. Our client is Maze Row, a new brand in the fine wine scene. They represent a select group of artisan producers who craft wines that are made with passion, respect the environment and speak of a time and place.
As a print publication and digital platform, Voices fosters their work and shares their stories. We see it as a place, a space, for storytelling that involves the wider world of wine, one that includes arts and ideas, culture, design, travel.
And it’s been an extremely exciting adventure, rewarding in both subject matter and the people – winemakers, chefs, creatives, writers, photographers, artists, adventurers – encountered along this colourful journey.
What I’ve come to realise is that wine is a symbol of so much more than just a drink. Away from the supermarket sold soul-less produce, fine wine is a celebration of life, of this beautiful planet. It is a distillation of what it means to be human.
And at the core of our concept is to actively encourage diverse storytelling, multiple viewpoints. After all, inviting different voices is to be not only inclusive but also expansive and enriching. Maybe even change the direction of our gaze.
The Maze Row guiding philosophy is: In wine, we find life. It’s a lovely term coined in collaboration with Spinach Branding which defines everything we do with Voices. Ultimately, we’re looking at the world through the lens of wine.
‘I’m interested in space and the movement of people and objects within space. There is a certain magic to it. It is as if you are inventing an order of things. I believe there is a secret relationship between space, objects and perceptible and imperceptible movements. Every artist working in this field tries to interpret that relationship in his or her own way. It is the composition and balance of those elements that give rise to the essence of drama and – why not? – the essence of life itself.’ These are the words of Isamu Noguchi, one of the most lyrical artists of the last century.
Known today mostly for his much-copied 1944 Coffee Table (an early edition of which sits here before me) and Akari paper lights, Noguchi tirelessly pushed the boundaries of art and sculpture. Working across almost seven decades and with a multitude of materials and mediums, his carved stones, stage sets, paper lanterns, portrait busts, mobiles, and playgrounds were collectively designed to be tools for understanding our place in the cosmos, and our relationships to history, nature, and one another.
The Barbican gallery in London is hosting ‘Noguchi’, the first of a touring European exhibition which sets out to document the work of this visionary creative. Thematically organised and curated to feature only the words of the artist himself, the exhibition successfully immerses the viewer in the mind and the world of Noguchi. The stripped back béton brut halls of the brutalist Barbican and the advantage of the two levels, allow the 150 works to breathe freely, and with the absence of excessive curation, the viewer is left in an almost meditative state to observe and absorb.
Born in Los Angeles in 1904, Noguchi’s mother was an Irish American writer and his father a Japanese poet who had abandoned the family on his birth. At the age of two, his mother took him to Japan to reunite with his father, sending him back to the US and onto Indiana for schooling for fear that the biracial child would receive racism in Japan. Noguchi eventually settled in New York where he trained in traditional sculpture, but his real break came while on an internship at the Paris studio of Constantin Brancusi. Here Noguchi gained a seminal introduction to the modernist principles of abstraction and presumably met the international avant-garde who were gathered in Paris in the 1920s. It was thanks to Brancusi that he became passionate about materials and craft – elements that remained fundamental to his work throughout his career.
By the end of the decade Noguchi was back in New York sculpting portrait busts, mainly to make a living, many of which are on display at the Barbican. They are a curious mix of expressionist and whimsical. He later referred to them jokingly as ‘headbusting’ since it was a useful way to make money and meet people. It seemed to have worked as they attracted the attention of the pioneering choreographers Ruth Page and Martha Graham for whom Noguchi went on to design sets using an interplay of his sculptures. He also befriended the architect and theorist R. Buckminster Fuller, who he referred to as the ‘messiah of ideas’. The two shared a vision for shaping a more equitable world through technology, innovation and design, collaborated on several projects including a futuristic car.
By the 1940s, Noguchi was working with manufacturers Knoll and Herman Miller. He continued to explore the possibilities of material and form with his interlocking marble slab sculptures and Lunars lights, created after his devastating experience of ‘voluntary’ internment at a camp for Japanese Americans in Poston, Arizona in 1942. The Lunars went on to influence some of his best-known works, the sculptural and ethereal Akari light sculptures – a contemporary take on traditional chochin paper lanterns using washi paper and electric bulbs. After the war, Noguchi travelled to Europe and Asia to understand the different uses of sculpture in a spatial and cosmic sense. He wrote at the time, ‘I find myself a wanderer in a world rapidly growing smaller. Artist, American citizen, world citizen, belonging anywhere but nowhere.’
Noguchi went on to complete over twenty public works around the world – gardens, fountains, playgrounds, plazas – using space to challenge civic and social life and its intersections with nature and time. His final contribution was Moerenuma Park. Located on a reclaimed municipal dump outside of Sapporo in Japan, it included play sculptures, fields, and fountains, and a revised version of his first-ever play rejected concept, the monumental, stepped pyramid he called Play Mountain (1933). Moerenuma Park was realised two years after Noguchi’s death in 2000.
Ultimately his was a life dedicated to sculpting the world he wished to inhabit. With a deeply humanist perspective, heightened by his prison experience, Noguchi understood the power of art and artists to make sense of the world. His work was political art. Wandering the exhibition, immersed from above and below in his delicate paper lanterns, colourful furniture, architectural playgrounds, and expressive and often funny abstract and figurative sculptures, you get the sense that in life and work, Noguchi remained an explorer with a philosophical and playful eye. In his own words: ‘Art for me is something which teaches human beings how to become more human.’
Media artist Refik Anadol is using data from the color of every Rolls-Royce motor car built in the last decade to create an LED canvas to explore the challenges and the possibilities we face in the digital age. Presented during Frieze Los Angeles, ‘Art of Perfection: Data Painting’ is the latest commission in the Rolls-Royce “Muse” program, the initiative designed to help advance the medium of the moving image, explore materials and support arts and ideas. Take a closer look at his textural work here, and watch the artist in conversation here.
Needless to say, it has been a turbulent introductory decade to the new millennium with so much profound change and so many challenges ahead. Yet, even as dark as it is politically around the world, and hopeless as it feels with our planet’s health and our people’s happiness, we may have climbed the steepest part. Joan Didion wrote, ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means.’ Great words. I’ve been writing most of my life, and the decade gone has been the most challenging and possibly exciting. In particular, the last twelve months have pushed me to explore beyond my comfort zone and to stay focused despite the chaos that surrounds us. It is equally terrifying and thrilling visiting new people and places, discovering new ideas and worlds that shift the mindset – question the dogmas.
So, what have I learned? Our lives may not look quite the dystopian vision pictured by the 1980s films ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Running Man’. Many of us live in homes with doors and windows and refrigerators, and still, drive rectangular cars with four wheels and a conventional engine. But our homes and refrigerators and cars talk to one another and with bigger forces. And, in the way these plots predicted, corrupt elites around the world are gaining power over hopeless populations through media manipulation. The films all have happy endings though.
This year I met visionary artists, architects, designers, scientists, musicians who are collectively pushing their creative forces to find better solutions for how we live, drive, learn, wear, eat. I drove some conventional motor cars, relics of a bygone era, almost dinosaurs unwilling to give up pleasure when it is clearly killing our planet. I met self-congratulating architects and designers reluctant to part with their egos, still creating work with little social relevance. But then, I also experienced hugely progressive design – community-building, socially-engaged housing projects, and transport ideas envisaged and created by generations embracing change.
Look beyond the headlines and there is much progress out these. Women in art and design are finally getting noticed – as was evident in the number of powerful exhibitions dedicated to lost females of creativity. Vehicles coming off production lines are cleaner, safer and smarter. They may not conjure up the immediate visceral joy of the motor car in its golden age, but why should that matter? Why can’t they instead have their own language to express the new era of clean transport – this brighter future ahead of us. There is huge visceral joy in that. Likewise, with the global population expected to increase to 9.8 billion by 2050, we have to rethink urban planning, architecture, and design, examine health (physical and mental), produce and food, work towards a green economy. And there is excitement in all this. We need to step outside the nostalgia lane and shift our attitudes.
Which brings me to another subject which will increasingly shape the world in this coming decade: movement and migration. Kwame Anthony Appiah writes, ‘cultures are made of continuities and changes, and the identity of a society can survive through these changes. Societies without change aren’t authentic; they’re just dead.’ Towards the final days of the 2010s, I met with a visual artist concerned with the narrative given to the refugee. I am always amazed at how a term, a simple word, can alter the image of a displaced people: émigré, migrant, immigrant, refugee – the first carries such romantic notions, the last such demons. Émeric Lhuisset’s work is a critique of a global culture where facts and truths are in danger of losing all meaning. He offers an alternative story to media photography of war and migrants, with its immediate yet temporary digital age shock value. His is about the power of a photograph, of art to influence humanity’s collective consciousness.
My predictions for 2020? There are huge challenges ahead of us as we figure out how to balance the physical and digital world – how much of our privacy and freedom to give away for security, how to shift our attitude and lifestyle to help better this world, how to be more generous with ourselves and our skills, and towards our planet. And we all need to be involved and be held accountable. Too many rely on others to make things happen. And we need a certain amount of optimism. I am convinced more than ever that, to borrow from the words of another great female Louise bourgeois, ‘art is the guarantee of sanity’. Here’s to a new decade of possibilities.
In 1972, Associated Press photographer Nick Ut snapped a nine-year-old naked girl fleeing the Napalm bombing with a group of children. In a single frame, ‘The Terror of War’ captured the horrors and human loss of the Vietnam war. The Pulitzer Prize-winning image helped change the course of history, sparking public outrage around the world. Shortly after the image was published, the war came to an end.
The power of a photograph to influence humanity’s collective consciousness cannot be understated. And, Émeric Lhuisset’s work is a critique of a global culture where fact and truth are in danger of losing all meaning. The French visual artist would like to tell an alternative story to contemporary photojournalism and its often sensationalized images of war and migrants, shocking at first yet quickly vanishing from memory. He wants to use the medium of photography to tell real stories of people – displaced people, the migrant, the refugee, the immigrant, the émigré.