888

by Brenda Zlamany

NY

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I seek your help as I work to complete part 1 of my ongoing project, The Itinerant Portraitist. In this project, I travel to regions of the globe marked by conflict or by a need for cultural preservation. My goal is to explore the constructive effects of portraiture in such settings.

Part 1 of this project is “888: Creating a Portraiture of the Indigenous Inhabitants of Taiwan.” From July 1 to September 30, 2011, supported by a Fulbright grant, I traveled in Taiwan, primarily to aboriginal villages. I made watercolors of the people, using the camera lucida, a device for drawing that dates back to the Renaissance and that promotes a two-way exchange between artist and subject. The paintings took around ten minutes apiece, and I aimed to make ten a day. Each subject enjoyed signing his or her portrait and being photographed with it. The signature, an important part of the image, stamps the work as a collaboration. As word of the project spread on the island, it unified those I met. People were introduced to one another by flipping through the sketchbooks and following events on my blog and Facebook page. I chose 888 as the final number of paintings because of its significance in Chinese culture.

Each excursion in The Itinerant Portraitist will incorporate aspects of traditional artwork (portraiture; watercolor), performance art (living the production of the work; enlisting strangers to participate; ritually photographing them with the finished portrait), and conceptual art (production according to arbitrary quotas and timetables; the recursive inclusion of the painted portrait in a new portrait when the subject is photographed holding it).

At the end of each excursion, I produce a public work that documents the ambiguities and discoveries of the trip. “888” will be documented with an exhibition in MOCA/Studio, part of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei. Each sketchbook will be displayed on-screen, and viewers will turn pages by swiping the screen. As they leaf through a book, they will use their cell phones to scan a number on a portrait and then listen to a story about the image. A slide show of the 888 photos of subjects posing with their paintings will run in a loop. The original fifteen sketchbooks will be displayed, open, in a long case.

My minimum goal, $3,500, will enable me to travel to Taiwan to create and install the digital portion of the exhibition. If the funds allow, I will remain there during the first week, holding a daily performance workshop in which I make portraits of visitors, which will eventually fill a wall. If the donations reach $8,888.88, I will use the extra amount to finance a short documentary film about “888” by Paul H-O, director of “Guest of Cindy Sherman.”

In part 2 of The Itinerant Portraitist, titled “Portraits for Peace,” I will travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. All the portraits I make in The Itinerant Portraitist are respectful and dignifying. By combining painting, performance, a conceptual frame, and a digital presentation, this project challenges schisms in artistic as well as social understanding.

 

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