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From the Executive Director: Investigating the Mutable Human Body

As dreams of human gatherings begin to re-emerge in our mind, the brutality of two atrocious mass shootings pulls us back. Our hearts go out to the families and communities, especially Asian American communities subject to unlawful violence and discrimination. Thinking of the limitations of human experiences and exchange right now, many of us are despairing to find the vessels for inspiration. And yet, there appears one source of investigation that artists return to again and again in times of crisis: themselves.

How one invents the limits of oneself is the subject of this week’s reflection with artist Chloë Bass. She notes that “our life is made up of very small moments.” “How we see other people not only shapes how we see ourselves, but much bigger things that we don’t think of as personal.” Bass’s recent text-laden Instagram projects distribute in parts—on the one hand mundane and poignant like this one from last December: “Lack of curiosity is its own form of control.”

Bass’s musings cross over with some of the themes resonant in our latest playlist, From Head to Toe—an exploration of the mutable human body as agent and tool. Kicking off the list is our recent film with Firelei Báez, who says: “In having bodies in constant transition, it leaves it open for the viewer to shift ideas of power. In that process, you shift the world around you.”

While the world around you might feel stifling, it is in constant transition. The vantage points provide us with ceaseless ways to define our boundaries. Be curious.

Tina Kukielski
Susan Sollins Executive Director and Chief Curator
March 24, 2021

Deepen your connection to Art21

16 artists who engage the human body

Catherine Opie in her studio photographing long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad, 2011. Production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” episode, “Change.” © Art21, Inc. 2012.

Since the earliest forms of creative expression, artists have employed the human body as muses, tools, and vessels for setting about their vision. From figurative representation to trials of endurance, artists have established the body to be a reliably protean material.

“The viewer has a body too,” said Janine Antoni, “and can empathize with what I’ve put myself through to make the artwork.” Embracing an inherent empathy, the artists in our From Head to Toe playlist utilize the human body through explorations of appearance, identity, and social concerns.

Watch the playlist.

How are boundaries drawn in relationships?

Artist Chloë Bass. Courtesy of the artist.

Referencing her recent Instagram-enabled projects, Chloë Bass examines modes of intimacy in online and offline relationships in a new interview with Art21.

“My new understanding of intimacy is non-linear,” says the artist. “In coming to understand what is truly intimate, it’s understanding that our life is made up of very, very small moments, but that some of them hold these extremely resonant connections, whether we’re willing to acknowledge that or not.”

Read the full interview.

Educator workshop on cultivating community

Join us from anywhere tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET for “When Love Leads,” a workshop for educators facilitated by educator Stacey Abramson.

Art holds the power to inspire change and empathy, but how do we teach students about empathy through the art and artists we share? How can shifting the starting point from materials to meaning bring about a radical shift in thinking about what is possible for both student learning and teaching practice?

Abramson will share personal experiences to explore ways of creating and cultivating community in the classroom.

Registration is free, but space is limited.

Conversation with Shaun Leonardo & Clifford Owens

Join us from anywhere on Tuesday, March 30, at 1:00 p.m. ET for a screening and conversation with artist Shaun Leonardo.

Recently featured in our New York Close Up series, Leonardo’s multidisciplinary work explores the constraints of masculinity and the ways that systems of oppression and violence have crafted and contorted societal expectations of Black and Brown bodies.

Leonardo will be joined by artist Clifford Owens for a conversation on concepts of preparation, commitment, failure, and love at the center of Leonardo’s performance work.

The program is free and will take place via Zoom. Advance registration is required. Details will be sent with registration.

Register now.

Thank you for supporting our work

More than ever, online access to the lives and stories of artists is crucial, and Art21 is proud to share them with an ever-growing number of visitors including students, teachers, parents, and art enthusiasts alike from around the globe. If you are able at this time, please consider supporting the work of Art21. Every dollar makes a difference.