Hans Holbein

This image is one that features in the A Very Short Introduction to the Renaissance by Jeremy Brotton. He states that this image can be seen as a typical examples of the ‘Renaissance man’ along with objects which signify what was important current issues.

First time I saw this I thought that the skull at the bottom was some sort of mistake in the printing of the book, or if someone had photoshopped it over the top of the original painting. Apparently it was put in to show of the artists ability when it came to perspective.


Pawel Althamer

Love this guy

Paweł Althamer

Sculptor and performance artist working in video, installation and action art. Born on May 12, 1967 in Warsaw and resides in Warsaw

Paweł Althamer studied at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts between 1988-1993, earning a degree in sculpture under Prof Grzegorz Kowalski. In 1991, he began exhibiting his works, along with colleagues from the Kowalski studio, including Katarzyna Kozyra, Jacek Markiewicz and Jacek Adamas. He was a co-founder of the Kowalnia (“Smithy”) group, a leading collective of young Polish artists in the 1990s. In 2004, Althamer received the prestigious Vincent Van Gogh Biannual Award, founded by the Broere Charitable Foundation of the Netherlands.

From the beginning of his artistic career, Althamer worked in various media, from classic performance techniques, happenings and “action” art to the discipline he founded his education on: sculpture. A number of his installations have used sculpture as an element of the piece, such as the self-portrait he submitted as his Master’s project at the Academy (Paweł Althamer, 1993) to the balloon likeness of the author suspended above the city of Milan (Balloon, 2007). The materials he employs may often be atypical for the medium, but there is often a reference to the roots of his art education. Sculpture in the hands of Althamer carries a totemic or fetishistic quality – it is no accident that a 1991 trip to Africa played a major role in shaping the artist’s creative personality. His early figures in grass, straw, animal hides and innards are a testament to this influence ( Standing Figure, 1991; Nature Study, 1991 – see photos), particularly the hyper-realist portrait of the artist that was part of his Master’s project. The work itself carries a double message, referring to both the age-old academic requirement to demonstrate the artist’s artistic ability to create mimetic representations of reality, but also serving as a literal substitute for the author at the defence. The figure was to stand in for Althamer before the committee of professors while the artist himself left the room. A video was played showing the artist leaving the academy, heading towards the woods to strip off his clothes and “commune with nature” while the figure remained. A similar technique was used in the depiction of Althamer’s family members, e.g. Paweł and Monika (2002) and Weronika (2001), a figure of a girl standing in a barn in an Alpine village, a girl’s skull inside the figure’s head. In 2006, he also created a small-scale sculpture of his newborn son, along with several miniature models of reality that resemble doll houses in the years following, including a replica of the Foksal Gallery Foundation office, employees included). For a few years, he and his wife earned their living making rag dolls which they sold through souvenir and toy stores. Today, he continues to teach ceramics workshops for Grupa Nowolipie, a group of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis and other diseases.

Paweł and Monika 2002; Weronika Amden 2001

Althamer’s sculptures emphasise the organic nature and physicality of the human body, along with its impermanence and the temporary nature of man’s existence. His technique counterbalances his search for alternative ways of experiencing reality, discovering an “inner life” and “altered states of being” mostly through ascetic isolation, but also with the help of narcotics or hallucinogenic substances. As a second year student, he and fellow student Mikołaj Miodowski attempted to play a telepathic game of chess (Connection of Two Points, academic year 1989/1990 – see photos). In the 1990s, especially during his student days, Althamer conducted numerous (often lengthy) performances that involved radical sensory deprivation.

In a 1993 interview given to fellow artist Artur Żmijewski, Althamer said,

When the rehearsal takes place in public, it becomes a spectacle, a means of communicating one’s exploration and that weakens the experience. I lose sight of the question and start to transmit a response. My most powerful experiences occur beyond art, beyond creation, and they are utterly spontaneous events.

In 1991, in the presence of his fellow students from the Kowalski studio, Althamer smoked marijuana while sitting in a tin washtub filled with water and a purple solution of papier-mâché as a record of religious music played (The Cardinal). Outdoors in Dłużew later that year, he dressed in a white suit and became a “snowman”, sitting outside for two hours in freezing temperatures (Self-Portrait). He later recounted,

The sound of people riding in a horse-drawn wagon comes to my ears. I recognise them, these are people from here, from the village. I hear they’ve noticed something and are intrigued. They think I’m a snowman made by the students. (…) Pain in my spine and limb numbness (the cold doesn’t bother me so much) cause me to stop.

At another time the artist deprived his body of sensory stimuli by encasing himself in a plastic bag slowly filled up with cold water (Water, Time, Space, 1991). A material manifestation of those experiments were, for instance, the Boat and the Spacesuit (1991), sculptures that were meant to serve as meditative tools. According to the artist, these objects were intended to

present the body and soul in a tangible, physical manner. You could also perceive them as instruments for practicing dying. The boat would be an equivalent of the coffin, and the spacesuit – of the body.

Ten years later, Althamer built a Tree House (2001) in the centre of Warsaw (in the immediate vicinity of the Foksal Gallery Foundation office). For him, this was a place of solitude and “wildness” located in the very heart of the urban agglomeration and it functioned there for a few months. Althamer’s happening in Berlin in 2002 was also characterised by a metaphorical, even a romantic detachment from the overwhelming burden of civilisation, as he arrived at a fountain near the “white-collar” Sony Centre dressed in a formal suit and equipped with all the props of a businessman and proceeded to remove his clothes, discarding all these symbols – the suit, mobile phone, briefcase. The resulting image was that of a white collar worker who has abandoned his identity (Self-Portrait as Businessman, 2002).

The So Called Waves and Other Phenomena of the Mind (2003-2004) is a series of films recorded with fellow artist Artur Żmijewski that recalls Althamer’s student-era work. The films document Althamer exploring various ways of non-rational cognition, which he deems to be a means of broadening human perception, using mind-altering substances (LSD, peyote, hashish, the truth serum) or hypnosis. During one of the hypnosis sessions shown in the film, the artist returns to one of his earlier incarnations, becoming Abram, a small boy wandering around the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto with his dog, Burek. Althamer represented the vision in the sculpture Abram and Buruś (2007), made of bronze and meant to be displayed outdoors. The boy figure holds a real-life wooden stick that dog walkers can use to play with their own pets.

One of the films of the So Called Waves… series is Weronika (2004), showing the artist “discover the world anew” during a walk with his daughter. In many of his works and actions, Althamer tries to persuade the viewers to perceive the world around them more creatively. Another manifestation of this idea is the Observer (1995), a figure sculpted out of wire mesh which surveys the world through a camera. An attempt to perceive the world with a “fresh eye” was the premise for the artist’s 1995 action in Bydgoszcz, where he played an Astronaut exploring a new planet. The artist walked around the city dressed in a homemade spacesuit, recording what he saw with a video camera. The recorded image was shown live on a monitor mounted on the artist’s back.

Foksal Gallery

Althamer has often challenged stereotypical notions of a particular place by completely redesigning the gallery space or manipulating the viewer’s perception of it. During his first solo exhibition (titled, somewhat perversely, The Exhibition, 1991), he restored Płock’s Galeria a.r.t., run by fellow student Jacek Markiewicz, to its original function. He cleaned the place, washed the floor, scraped the white paint off the tile stove, and brought in the necessary pieces of furniture so that the gallery became once again the apartment it used to be. The artist spent several days there, recording the neighbours’ daily life onto video. In 1996, Althamer transformed the cramped space of Foksal Gallery into a kind of waiting room, covering the floor with white linoleum, mounting white bus seats and adding an extra glass door. When you entered the space, you found out that it led you outside, to a small garden, through a hole knocked out in the wall in the area usually reserved for exhibitions. The installation was later likened to a decompression chamber or a meditation room. Three years later, in 1999, the artist created a frame for viewing a fragment of the park and courtyard adjoining the Foksal Gallery building by covering them with a large white tent. Remaining there for two early-spring months, the tent interrupted natural plant growth. At another time, Althamer transformed the space of the prestigious Berlin gallery, the Neugerriemschneider, into a picturesque ruin (2003). The gallery remained open (or rather desolate) 24 hours a day, which was interpreted as a vanitas theme, or even a pessimistic forecast for the “art world”. Another “discovery” project was the Path set down through a field by the artist during the Skulptur Projekte in Münster in 2007.

Althamer’s video projects were his broadest attempt at a “creative” perception of reality on the basis of illusion. The artist made use of this method for the first time in 2000 during the “Manifesta” in Ljubljana. Every day for three weeks ten hired actors were paid to “enact reality” to the accompaniment of music played on oboe by a street busker ( Motion Picture – see photos).

Astronaut 2, Documenta X, Kassel, 1997

In 2001, Althamer invited the audience of a lecture he was to deliver at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw for a short Walk (see photos). At its end, participants were handed itineraries which revealed that some of the reality they had passed on their way was orchestrated, played out by hired actors. The concept’s subsequent realisations provided for well-known actors to participate. And so in Pittsburgh in 2004, Peter Fonda played a passer-by, while in 2005 Mirosław Baka and Agnieszka Grochowska were featured in Warsaw (Film) and in 2007 Jude Law played a man buying a fish at a London market (Real Time Movie). In all three films, the “film” screened in reality was announced by trailers, which anticipated reality, as it were, because the films they advertised simply did not exist. Thus the “real” reality was mixed with an orchestrated one whilst proving itself just as interesting. In effect, every participant in the event had become a filmmaker “shooting” a movie from his own point of view.

Many of Althamer’s projects mixed reality with art, making art part of reality or using it as a pretext for action. That was the case in 2000 when the artist asked the residents of a large tower block in Warsaw’s Bródno district to turn the lights in each apartment either on or off so that they formed the pattern of numbers “2000” ( Bródno 2000 – see photos), turning a happening into a sort of local community event.
Althamer has often hired people unconnected in any way with the art world to participate in his action pieces. As early as in 1992, he hired homeless people to stand on the street as “observers” as part of a promotional campaign for the daily newspaper “Obserwator codzienny”. For his happening/installation Astronaut 2 at “Documenta X” in Kassel, Althamer hired a man to live for the duration of the show in a trailer that had been converted into a living space. The man, as the alter ego of the artist, was also an “alien” in the sense of being an immigrant. During Althamer’s exhibition in Chicago in 2001 featured the artist’s friend from high school, another Polish immigrant living in the US who earned his living as a wall painter. For this work, he painted d the gallery’s walls a different colour every day for several days. Another time, Althamer invited immigrants dressed up as curators for the opening of the show “Neue Welt” in Frankfurt in 2001. For his show at New York’s Wrong Gallery in 2003, he hired couple of illegal immigrants first to ruin and then repair the gallery’s main door and a composition arranged by the artist. British theoretician and curator Claire Bishop counts Althamer in the company of artists, such as Artur Żmijewski, Santiago Sierra or Phil Collins, who operate through other people, involving them in their actions on the basis of collaboration or mediation, which Bishops terms “delegated performance”. What separates Althamer’s works from those of, for instance, Sierra, is that he focuses his efforts on the aspects of cooperation, pleasure, and fun rather than on an a potentially ambiguous situation in which a person is either assisted or exploited. For the Award Ceremony for the Van Gogh Prize in Maastricht, for instance, Althamer brought along a group of teenage “homeboys” from Bródno. He has also carried out numerous projects together with Grupa Nowolipie, where he teaches ceramics workshops. Among their joint projects was “Double Agent”, curated by Claire Bishop. The exhibition featured ceramic pieces created by Althamer’s students, along with two films made during the workshop: Do It Yourself (2004), a collaboration with Artur Żmijewski, and Flight (2007), which showed the Grupa Nowolipie members take a sightseeing tour over Warsaw aboard an old biplane. In certain instances, Althamer withdraws from his works to create room for others. He turned his solo show at Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2006 (Au Centre Pompidou) into a group show featuring eleven young artists based in France who were given equal space for exhibiting their works. The show was preceded by workshops in Poland and France. By challenging the notion of the “art-world celebrity”, Althamer was able to make it possible for a number of young artists to debut in France’s leading exhibition space. Similarly, in 2006, Althamer and Żmijewski turned down invitations for solo shows at CCA Ujazdowski Castle in Warsaw on behalf of a project called “Elections.pl” and invited the former Kowalnia students to participate. The project was built on Kowalnia’s flagship exercise known as “Common Space – Private Space”, an exercise in non-verbal communication. This time it was carried out outside of the academic context in cooperation with members of the Grupa Nowolipie and some pre-schoolers.

Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, June 2008.

Photos courtesy of the Foksal Gallery Foundation

Standing Figure 1991 and Nature Study 1991
Connection of Two Points 1989/1990
Motion Picture, Manifesta 3, Ljubljana, 2000
Bródno 2000, Warsaw

Scott Snibbe

Other examples of interactive wall works, the first one records the shadow of the viewer and the second is a projection that can be manipulated.

Camille Utterback

These works are interactive sort of paintings where the image is developed through the movement of the viewer.


The idea of perspective was a subject that underwent major developments as part of the Renaissance and has continued to develop in several directions since. Further developments in science and maths influenced artists in how they depicted subjects in their works and in turn a wide range of more realistic works were produced. From researching this subject I have tried write down some comparisons between the Renaissance and art in the 21st century. (Don’t have any quotes just now but will try to add them when i get home)

I’m trying to relate this back to the body in art as much as possible because I still want to go down that route. What I’ve been finding is subjects like anatomy and the adoption of mathematic principles enabled artists to represented the body more realistically on the 2D canvas, one trait was that they acted as if they were look through a window into the scene they were painting. Aspects such as one character standing in front of another, or the shadow of a person reflecting on the environment were all issues that artists worked on and developed, the use of grid systems mixed with directed light sources and a knowledge of the anatomy allowed for these works to be created. This was opposed to works by the egyptians who painted bigger figures depending on their importance or the greeks who supposedly thought that perspective was a trick and was not needed for art to serve its purpose (quotes)

In relation to modern times, the role of perspective has differed greatly as artists began to move into abstract painting and sculpture. To continue into contemporary art, the computer has become a vital tool for the creation of new perspectives that exist with the screen in digital environments or through art created with the use of hardware and software. Anne Friedburg discusses this in her book “The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft” which I have yet to read but imagine it will become and integral book to research this topic fully. Alberti was one of the earliest people to study perpective and regarded mathematics as a fundamental element of the subject. He saw in nature patterns which developed his theory and stated that “all steps of learning should be sought from nature” and the that the role of the artist was to imitate it.

My comparison with contemporary practice is that if digital technologies have the ability to develop new perspectives within artistic fields then maths again plays a crucial role through its part in computer science and algorithms that define the functions for computer programmes to run. These elements also take the idea of perspective in 2D one step further by allowing different manipulations and movement within space, different parts of an image can be created and moved into position depending on the thoughts of the artist. To further this, the development of the 3D environment provides us with the ability to build and manoeuvre round 3D objects on a 2D screen, interaction is also a new theme in relation to virtual worlds like Second Life. The idea of mathematics coming from nature has now turned on itself by using the computer to build environments in order to mimic nature in virtual worlds.

Progression with Digital Renaissance

The term itself meaning ‘re-birth’ seems a fitting title for the artwork being created in the 21st century; the rise of digital technology has caused the world to go through major transformations, a whole new world when compared to say the 19th century or even the early 20th century. The speed of technological development at points seems to be an unconscious progression, new gadgets and devices are constantly streaming onto the market that we hardly have time to realise their importance before they are upgraded and considered old and dated. The world just now is going through a digital rebirth as we constantly rely on technologies functioning in order to keep everything running smoothly, to communicate and increasingly to buy and share with each other.

The Digital Renaissance however, unlike its predecessors, exists globally and not within a certain location. Like the old Renaissance painters developing perspective and other issues within painting sculpture etc. I see a comparison with the artists of the 21st century created a new ‘perspective’ of things with the use of digital technologies. It also continues to be a fluid and ever changing re birth of art into the digital era as a result of the rapid development of technology, meaning that there are no distinct characteristics as yet of what digital artworks look like.

It’s something I need to think about more but these are my initial thoughts on the Digital Renaissance

Above was my post “My idea of the Digital Renaissance” where i tried to write down some of the comparisons I was developing between the Italian Renaissance and contemporary society. Since then I have read a number of things online including articles based around the introduction of printing techniques into society at that time; the ideas of Plato and other greek and ancient texts became popular as the Renaissance grew, this could be in part to the fact that printing became more widely used, providing literature for everyone living in Renaissance times as opposed to books mainly being owned by the rich and instituions like the church. With this access to literature a gradual shift in the attitude of the general public could be argued to have occurred, I’m not suggesting that people around that time were stupid in any way, but a broader awareness of other ideas, concepts and knowledge of a wide range of subjects would have grown as more people read and had access to books.

The rediscovery of ancient texts and the invention of printing democratized learning and allowed a faster propagation of ideas. (i’ll get quote info when wikipedia comes out this blackout.)

If we look at the world in the 21st century, the wide spread use of the computer and the creation of the Internet draws parallels with the Renaissance printers. With the access to vast amount of knowledge on almost every subject at the click of a button, an increased awareness of our world and the cultures and things that exist within it has grown. Each person has the ability to research subjects and learn so long as there is an internet connection, making the screen of the computer a far more advanced and complex digital book. There is also the ability to interact and learn from the direct experiences of other through blogs and how-to websites etc. providing that additional element that not only is the internet one big book, but also has the ability to teach.

Taryn Simon

I really like this project by Taryn Simon who travelled to different locations around the globe and documented blood lines of different families. In some case certain members of the family had been declared dead for various reason and the photographs served as evidence of them existing, other bloodlines were strange as member of certain families believe that their sons were reincarnations of older family member who had passed away.