Neo-Traditionalism and the Movement of Momentous Materials By: Felipe Lopez With Contributions and Edited By: Meghan Hendley Lopez
This new wave of sculpture and contemporary art work, entitled Neo-Traditionalism, builds off the design concept of Human Factors: a notion interchangeable with ‘ergonomics’, human factors related to consideration of users in the design of a particular product and its environment. Some make a distinction that ergonomics specifically relates to the physical association between people and products. Artists who inspired this movement Ruth Asawa, Sheila Hicks, and Jesús Bautista Moroles.
Artists within this new movement often offer shimmering replicas become clarified within the ephemeral nature of the moment created within the common object but also harboring the traditional understanding of the usage of said object. There is a traditional aspect to the actual making of the work, honoring centuries of methods and mediums, while igniting a new form of construction especially through sculpture. This emerging movement and the work within it often circulates around the word “readymade”. Interestingly, the term chosen by Duchamp to describe his new approach to art making is in itself one that is “readymade”.
By the end of the nineteenth century the term “ready-made” was being used to describe objects that were manufactured as opposed to being handmade. Due to over manufacturing people are wanting a more personalized product. And want to regain the emphasis of human touch with an awareness and ethical treatment towards natural resources. Thus the construction and concept within the art created in the Neo-Traditionalism movement focus on the work of the hand while often echoing imagery of mass produced products. Some artists have also taken it within their work to offer commentary on the current art market where some sculptures are fetching the highest prices yet are so prefabricated that they lose their sense of humanity such as Jeff Koons “Rabbit” (which takes on more of a superficial reality like our perceptions of each other on social media).
The mass produced products and overall materialism is shown through work that is hand crafted by the artist yet in real life mass produced cheaply in places such as China or Mexico often where working conditions are poor and man is subjected to unethical atmospheres. In addition, many artists within the Neo-Traditionalism are also highlighting the damage of plastic and non-recyclable products that harm nature. These two aspects are interconnected and vibrate between man and nature, noting that change must be made on both fronts to honor both entities.
Some of the examples of artists utilizing these concepts within their work in this newly named movement include Ai Wei Wei, Peter Glenn Oakley, Hirotoshi Ito, Rafael Gomez Barros, Casey Baden, Kaori Kurihara, Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, Seulgi Kwon, Alex Isreal, Felipe Lopez, Rachel Gardner, James Turrell, Colin Roberts, and Daniel Arsham.
Variations of common objects are distilled down to their meaning to only set the conceptual morphing of the artist’s new interpretation. This gives the common object, used directly or simply referenced, a chance at a new life within the contemporary work. With this being said you have real world examples to model and shape the art movement (truly capturing the ideal that art models life). Some of the concepts and philosophies that are being explored, augments, and/or revived include:
Ex. 1: A human’s well being, this is an understanding that scientific and technological advancements benefit humanity with the natural world as the forefront of these medicinal and technological advancements. Nature and natural processes do not come second when modern science has not even been in existence for 500 years vs the existence of humanity. We still lack full understanding of science versus the natural. This understanding does not denounce any of the benefits of modern science. It is simply a consciousness that there is an organic answer before the "I'll take a pill for that" mentality defaults. Some waves of this are being seen in beauty products and the push towards being ethical (not using them on animals for example) with a materialistic awareness of how products are made and sourced (same can be said about food and nutrition).
Ex. 2: Ethnic cleansing and a distrust towards the government due to the poisoning of our natural resources, i.e: food and water. It is hard to trust the government’s mandatory societal pushes on humans of modern science when areas are still being developed and due to the monetary benefits of corporations humans are being treated as test subjects for gains, for example: Sanofi's Dengue Vaccination in the Philippines (even after scientists, who have 50 years of research, advised not to administer the shots due to a lack of understanding and severe consequences), Obama denouncing the toxicity of the lead in Flint (even after the tests showed the high levels of lead in ALL the children), brainwashing Latin and African Diaspora that breastfeeding isn't healthy (even when a mothers milk changes to benefit their baby on the daily basis along with providing results in a lower frequency of infections in the infant, not only developing countries, but also in societies like Canada and USA).
Ex. 3: A generation’s lack of wealth and solutions: In regards to families, we are witnessing the resurgence of midwifery and natural births for healthy mothers due to a lack of monetary backing in younger families and yielding a safer birth for both mother and child with more positive outcomes in both the mental and physical health of both.
Another example is found with the benefits of architectural designs, tech, and reusing resources people are turning towards organic, hydroponic gardening to benefit their families vs the need for a freshly mowed lawn.
This lack of generational wealth is also pushing people to want to take back their control as functional members of society with a conscientiousness around materialistic uses such as the push for hemp and hemp byproducts (the history has shown us from years before modern science (documented as early as the 1500's) its many uses paper, building materials, clothing, food, etc). Many are also finding sustainable solutions for the day to day such as in women's health and hygiene products being that much more expensive than of a fellow man, offering solutions both ecofriendly and functionally friendly.
Also on the mental health front, we have science reviving the use of psilocybin mushrooms (noted as a solution historically 4000-7000 BCE) to a more modern understanding with an emphasis around mental health care (they have been considered to be the safest "drug" (alternative medicine) to consume.
Ex. 4: It is important to note the international cultural and societal push to share knowledge and understanding or as we dub it the "Open Source" Movement. This movement not only pushes the boundaries of freedom of speech but heightens awareness about alternative methods in accomplishing any goals to benefit humanities development. This push towards "Open Source" is also an effect of a generational lack of wealth and the affordability of continued education let alone the governmental control and defunding of public education which is predominately in minority-majority areas globally.
Ex. 5: A main focus of this movement also concerns itself with the examination of materialism today and in the future: To date there has been a push towards not only the hand made but also the reclaimed along with the sustainability of how a product is made and its intent. If the said product is intended for a 1 time use (single use plastic), there is a push for hemp based plastic which can be manufactured and disposed with little to no harm towards our natural world. The fashion industry is also recognizing its abundant waste and society realizing the need to consume better quality and longer lasting materials even if the cost reflects on a well made product. Another is food industry and waste.
This may seem like natural world vs natural world but it isn't. Reason being how we use our food when it’s ready to be disposed of and its benefits towards humanity with regards to the affordability and sustainability of our environment. So much energy goes towards producing food with a waste percentage being nearly 40% and with growing rates of homelessness it would seem like the logical thing to do is to give away this unused nourishment vs use a single use non-decomposable bag to throw away food while people are starving. Artists who define this movement also use petrochemical byproducts such as plastic or resin to make a point and also heighten the awareness, yes this has a level of irony, but it is no different than artists using arsenic or lead in their paints or sculptures such as Anselm Kiefer. Arsenic or lead is not harmful to nature but its harmful to humankind and humans are products of nature. In regards to history artists are creating works that will stand the test of time.
These are some of the reasons why this Neo-Traditionalism Movement in sculpture and installation is occurring. Artists have these and many more awarenesses which push the boundaries for these conceptual backed works. Of course you wouldn't have a pro without a con and vise-versa but the point is not to cancel out one or the other but to find-out what works best for the individual with an understanding that humans are products of nature not scientific discovery. Going beyond visual art, it should also be noted that this same movement is occurring within music, film, and other genres. For instance, in music many have the opportunity to bypass the established recording studios and record labels to capture and distribute their music. Home studios, independent record labels, and online sharing platforms have made it possible for musicians to close the gap between funds and fans.
Many musicians are producing work based on the same examples as noted above, lyrically and conceptually, along with crossing over into stage design and installation work. We have the foundation work of musicians such as Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, and Björk. These particular multi-faceted musicians who also engage in other forms of art have have found a harmony between music and progressive thought, work has frequently exploring the relationship between nature and technology. These particular musicians have also engaged in artpop within performances but off the stage also use their platform to advocate for conservation of the natural world.
They are also working with filmmakers, who also are also on the forefront of self produced and directed works that are captured with phones and affordable film equipment. The representation of the ideals within the Neo-Traditionalism movement are echoed in their day to day notation and observation in film from the more surreal to the direct documentaries. Movements in society that are reckoning with political and external forces disintegrating life, nature, and progress are now presenting films and videos that are accessible by the general community, offering a positive motion towards sustainable and ecological initiatives.
That being said Neo-Traditionalism notes that there needs to always be a healthy balance with a push to develop the natural world and how we scientifically interact with it. Having an appreciation for the natural world is having an appreciation for life while respecting death as an ethical and an inevitable aspect of life within this natural world.