Looking at art over an extended period of time builds a mental repertoire of potential subject matter and the means – styles and materials – with which artists express their ideas. That process often produces wonderful coincidences. One picks up on the ways artists have influenced each other or suddenly discover the opposite : Artists who know nothing of each other’s work, yet share an interest in exploring a particular theme or issue.
Here’s a representative example, which is followed by images that also reveal historical influences and an alternate context.
Human pyramids are very much about cooperation. I first encountered this image and idea when I saw the sculpture The Table Meeting (2012) by Belgian Ruben Bellinkx . It combines human strength with a terrifying sense of precariousness.
A few weeks later I came across Arquitectura Humana, an image produced by the Portuguese artist Carlos Bunga that is being used to promote his upcoming exhibition CAPELLA at MACBA (30 OCT 2015 – 7 FEB 2016). The work will be an architectural-sculptural installation that borrows from the human pyramid – a Catalan tradition.
Curious, I looked into the history of Catalan human pyramids (or castells, meaning castles) and found it had been discussed in With Human Pyramids, Catalans Reach For Independence, a broadcast aired on NPR in November 2014. The activity is also practised in Valencia, so it is not unique to the region. It, in fact, has a long history. Although proof is lacking, some believe the activity pre-dates the Romans’ arrival in the Iberian Peninsula.
Then there is this final example: the Grease Pole initiation ritual, performed on an annual basis by first year engineering students at Canada’s Queen’s University. Surrounded by upper year students hurling abuse and other stuff, the new students wade through murky water and other disgusting materials to retrieve a cap perched atop a grease coated pole. The students’ mandate: To triumph over many kinds of adversity.
Ruben Bellinkx, The Table Meeting (2012), Gallery Maskara
Carlos Bunga, Arquitectura Humana, MACBA
Runner-up team performing in Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain, NPR
Queen’s University Grease Pole, Philip Corey