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To what extent do the artworks of contemporary artists extend the boundaries of conventional art?

For many years very specific creations were considered art. There was a strict rulebook on what an artwork could consist of, including rules on medium, theme and technique. This idea was completely reconstructed with the Contemporary Art Movement in the 1950s. Contemporary Art is a very hard movement to define but has been categorized as any art made in our lifetime, in the late 20th and early 21st century, following the Modern and Postmodern Art Movements. These artists have fought to redefine what is considered art. I strive as an artist to break the molds of what people consider art and push myself past the point of traditional ideas. To a large extent, artists such as Guillermo Vargas Jimenez and Park Ki Pyung are pertinent examples of Contemporary Artists that broke the conventional mold of what is considered art and inspire artists like myself.

Guillermo Vargas Jimenez became infamous through his artwork, Eres Lo Que Lees (you are what you read) (Image A). This artwork caused international outcry due to the medium he used. Vargas took a homeless dog named ‘Natividad’ and placed him in an art gallery. The dog was roped to a fixed wire against the walls of one corner of the gallery. The title of the artwork (Eres LO Que Lees) was spelled out in dog biscuits next to the dog but just out of its reach. It was later revealed to the press that the dog died in the gallery. Vargas’ artwork highlights how hypocritical people are. They don’t spare a thought for millions of dogs dying in the streets, however, when they are confronted with the reality of what they have been trying so hard to ignore, they need to blame someone. The artwork invaded their personal space, thus forcing them to address the issue of animal neglect in the plight of starving animals in Central America. Later, when questioned if the dog actually died, he refused to give comment. However, the director of the gallery insisted that the dog had been fed and released by Vargas right after the exhibition.

He is a proclaimed ‘self-taught’ artist which becomes evident in his unusual artworks. He uses garish methods to attract attention. However, he sees that it is the only way people will actually start acknowledging issues that they prefer to ignore. When analysing my own Contemporary Artwork it is evident that I was inspired by the idea of taking a taboo issue, as Vargas did and creating an artwork out of it by bringing it into people’s ‘private space’. Vargas chose to push the idea of animal cruelty onto the wealthy, upper class member of society. I chose to push the issue of poverty into the space of my classmates that have never suffered through it. In my drawing When South Africans Meet (Image B and C), I not only force the viewer to acknowledge their prejudices but in the same light I was also forced to see beyond the pseudo status of this man in society. By presenting two images of equal size and with the portraits in proportion I was equating myself to the beggar and showing him as a worthy subject matter. Portraying someone living in poverty as art, I altered the connotations of poverty. Therefore, similarly to Vargas my artwork was controversial by defying stereotypes of our society. He fought against traditional ideas of art by completely destroying the idea of creating something beautiful to look at and instead creating something brutal to acknowledge. He was successful in creating awareness around this issue and his artwork became internationally known. Therefore, to a large extent he shattered the ideas of conventional art and was more successful in communicating his message than traditional art because of the shock factor he created around the issue.

A lesser known artist by the name of Park Ki Pyung was the primary guiding force behind my artwork. The foundation for the artwork was Park Ki Pyung’s sculptures Empty Room (Image D) and Amphitheater (Image E). I came across his work on instagram and was instantly transfixed by his life-sized sculptures made out of resin and steel. The viewer goes through an emotional journey as each sculpture has its own narrative. The artworks evoked such powerful emotion through the rough, expressive nature of his sculpting technique. They seem hollowed out, some even lacking a face. He does this to eradicate the uniqueness of each figure. You can read the torment in the end result as the final piece almost seems unfinished. The bowed heads and contorted poses define this aspect of his work. Each piece looks worn and weathered, depicted through the frayed edges. The sculpture reflects his own inner turmoil and the human condition of emptiness and loneliness. The unique manner in which he portrays these sculptures, in comparison to the traditional contrapposto sculptures of the Greek and Roman Art, is what makes the viewer reconsider the depth in the artwork.

Traditional definitions of sculpture involved a solid, clay or plaster sculpture portrayal of royalty or the gods. Usually these sculptures were created with the intent of pleasing the eye, creating beauty above all else. They would have an angelic, soft feeling. Each muscle and tendon would be sculpted to exude strength. Pyung has obliterated this strict guideline and has opted for a ‘shell’ form instead of a solid form. He has chosen to work in a completely unconventional medium: resin and steel. His medium is not even the most curious aspect of the artwork as he has chosen anonymous figures, devoid of individualism. “I also use shape of human body with excluded front face so that I can delete unique characteristics of each person” (Anna Dorothea Ker, 2017). I even ended up using resin, although in a completely unique way to how he used the medium. This is where I began the building blocks for my artwork The Shallow Woman (Image F and G). I chose to portray poverty, thus making poverty itself a worthy subject matter. His personal style was the main point of inspiration and I leant on it heavily in choosing the overall look and feel of the sculpture. The artwork needed that same hollow, weathered and unfinished aspect of the work to accurately portray how people in poverty lived. The appearance of the sculpture symbolized how poverty sappes the souls from people. In the limited knowledge I had of sculpting he was a powerful reference in pushing me to move beyond my traditional preconceptions of sculpture. To a large extent he defied the tight boundaries of sculpture that history restricted him to and in doing so he created an overall superior artwork.

In conclusion, for many centuries artworks were restricted by explicit rules on what could be considered art. The purpose of these artworks was to entertain the elite. The medium, theme and technique of these artworks aimed to create a two-dimensional beauty, often with no deeper element. Contemporary artist such as Guillermo Vargas Jimenez have flipped this preconception on its head by basing their artwork on horrifying their viewers through creating a conceptual artwork. Vargas shattered the ideas of conventional art and was more successful in communicating his message than traditional art. Similarly, artists such as Park Ki Pyung have a completely new outlook on how to use different mediums and create completely unique works. He defied the tight boundaries of sculpture that history restricted him to and in doing so he created an overall superior artwork. Therefore, to a large extent the artworks of Contemporary Artists do extend the boundaries of conventional art to a completely new level.

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