The ‘Like’ Button Analyses, Part 4: My ‘Likeable’ Art Cards!

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

Last year in my quest for ‘likeable’ art I have discovered a forgotten gem, which I will attempt to burnish for your use here. In a box placed outside a used book store, I found a publication from the early 1960s titled A Place to Live. It was a government-funded, multi-author study on agriculture as part of American society. In slightly poor shape and obviously harking back to an era of what could be perceived as a dilapidated ‘institutional’ style, it did not find a buyer for years on end, the $2 price notwithstanding.


The cover of the book was a painted farm scene by an anonymous artist. Perhaps on account of the pervasively general, as opposed to an eminently personal style of the cover, the artist’s name was not provided for any special adoration. At first glance, the image makes one think of a primary school textbook, which is an association that unifies the institutional nature of the commission with the childlike nature of the image. If we adopted a critical stance, perhaps we would find in it a certain childishness, but isn’t it many influential adults who could be accused of not being grown up, both in the time of the book’s creation and in today’s contemporary culture? Certainly the country scene as a representation of simple living as well as the naturalistic utopia of the 60s (which mirrored the chemical utopia of the 50s) make us think of a certain immaturity of the times, but one of which an incarnation we would also do best to identify in the present.


However, a political interpretation must not be abused and I myself liked this book cover from the very moment I saw it. At the same time, the images needed a certain valorisation, and so I decided to transform the book cover into art cards. Accessible to the touch as separate entities to play with and juxtapose in a sort of child’s play, they gained even more in simplicity and were divorced from the scrutinizing eyes of the Brotherly Institution. Children engage in ‘liking’ and ‘unliking’ things in an especially vivacious manner, and what represents a positive value for a child is presented here in a quintessential concentration of 'free likeability'. In the cards we find images of happiness, lollipop colours, simple content, sunshine, and an underlying innocence, all brought together in a wholesome synthesis.

But what can become personally touching in the cards is accessible also through the slightly ‘negative’ aspects associated with the images. Such aspects are found in the resounding nostalgia for our individual childhood and collective past, both tinged with a hint of sadness and a feeling of loss. The dirt clinging to the cards from the old 1960s cover also makes accessible to our memory the reminiscence of a happy and slightly horrific image: the dirty children’s faces and knees, soiled from the rolling around on the ground and engaging in other forms of tactile enjoyment. The unification of the cards' positive aspects and the negative ones hopefully creates a ‘deep’ experience, one that doesn't negate any part of the human experience.


The most satisfying moment, artistically speaking, was when a young woman to whom I handed the cards started playing with them, trying to unsuccessfully fit the cards into one single image, and her face became a child’s face in an expression of ‘like’. I mentioned something about the mother instinct, but she said: “C’est petit comme art, mais ce n’est pas ça”. In reality she herself had become a child, fascinated with play in a moment of utter innocence.

In the photos, three of five cards sized 2 1/2'' x 3 1/2'' are shown.

Downright Thievery... For Art's Sake!

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

True Story #1


I will begin with a true story to get your mind going into some criminally artistic alleyways.

Two artists, let’s call them artist A and artist B, went on an escapade to a semi-forgotten, post-industrial part of Montreal. They walked into a junkyard with used mechanical parts: small and large metal and rubber wheels, wires of various thicknesses and colours, derelict parts of engines, convoluted contents of old telephones, and a multitude of unidentifiable, gutted factory devices, all piled up to the ceiling. In the centre there was a space with three chairs on which sat three old, drunken men. They called the shots regarding the visit, and by sipping some alcohol they ensured everything ran smoothly from their perspective. The two artists greeted the men and, with their permission, started rummaging through the junk. They finally picked out a handful of morsels of metal to use in their art.

The three drunken men then had a conference and called out the prices: “Twenty-five cents! Fifty cents! Two dollars!” But when the artists came out onto the street and started walked home, they observed that for just a handful of junk the total sum felt as if they made some large purchase, and they expressed his disappointment at the blatantly commercial aspect of the exchange. The old men had charged quite a bit! But for some reason, Artist A was less worried. Artist B showed him what he bought at the junkyard. Artist A in turn showed him a small screw, and said: “I stole this”. “That’s why yours is better than mine”, answered artist B.

An illustration of Artist A’s solution to the anti-creative commodification of art, the story shows how symbolic value used to liberate art was more important in his mind than the fact of committing an offence and--let us not forget--depriving several men of the means to buying a few more drops of alcohol. While he could afford to buy the screw, this would not allow him to knock out a brick from the Wall of Commerce. Not everyone would agree, naturally.


True Story # 2


For an interesting comparison, I will continue with a second true story about the same thieving Artist A and another, heretofore unmentioned artist--let’s call him Artist C.

Artist C, a true, sensitive idealist, was once violtently accosted by his mafioso landlord, who got him into a chokehold and threatened him verbally. Later in the day, Artist A, a friend of the victim, lent him some funds to escape the apartment and execute a “midnight move”. He let him sleep on his couch while he looked for a new place, and he fed him cereal in the morning and beer in the evening--the celebrated staples of many a serious artistic activity. They had plenty of time to catch up and even shed a few tears of close camaraderie. Artist C (the sensitive idealist) noticed in passing that in contrast to himself, Artist A (who stole the screw for art’s sake) hadn’t been working much on his art lately. When Artist C finally left for a new, safe home, Artist A noticed that the former had connivingly stolen his digital camera. Months later, he found his idealistic friend’s new artistic website, which he made with the camera. The major theme of the website was the sensitive relationship of Art and Love.


Conclusions: Your Turn


Since the artist who stole the junkyard screw for art’s sake also got a piece of his property stolen in the name of art, and the thievery was committed by another artist, several complex ethical and philosophical questions naturally arise. I’m sure your mind is teeming with them. But I will not help, lest I spoil your fun! A philosophical cliffhanger is often most effective.


My Project


To commemorate and problematize the theme of thievery and art I am making small pieces made out of cut-outs of the Robin Hood logo from packages of Quick Oats. The image of Robin Hood, the beloved hero of good-will thievery, is commented upon by a title-quotation: The Price of Myths. This title-quotation comes from a chapter of a 1948 book by D. Ewen Cameron. As backing for the art I am using recuperated book covers that provide a handsome, colourful, and sturdy background. I am using different colours and sizes for the backings, and two different sizes of the logo (as present on the original packages) for smaller and larger versions of the pieces. The works are available framed and unframed.

My Early Paper Works

by Maksymilian Kapelanski

I. Original Communion (pour Véronique)


I made my first large piece of paper in 2001 from rejected materials. The creative process was of an organic-spiritual nature, from the careful choice and recuperation of the materials for recycling, to the dramatic transformative process including ripping the paper by hand and soaking it, and finally the slow emergence and drying of the end result. But this “original communion” was to suffer a tragic end. Due to a heartfelt misunderstanding as if taken straight from a Shrek movie, the sheet of paper got destroyed, literally ripped to pieces. Later in the night of the event I had a dream in which I could see the many pieces suspended in the air by an internal positive force, each morsel spiritually luminous and emanating a healing warmth. I was transported. Over the years, I realized the significance of this first work, which received its title - Original Communion (pour Véronique) - "posthumously".


II. Paper for the Canadian artist Adrian Williams


In 2002 I came into contact with a Canadian artist who was looking for handmade paper to use as material in his works. I was living in an apartment formerly occupied by a Japanese crafts artist who had been assiduously making soap and paper. Though all the fuses in the stove kept burning out from its former overuse in boiling the soapy concoctions, and the walls in the kitchen were covered in a greasy, soapy substance, the place had a special air of inspiration to it. I got right down to making recycled handmade paper for Adrian, and delivering it in batches by rackety bicycle to his apartment. Always spying on me from the apartment below was an old, very colourful woman with expressionistic make-up and a flair for early 20th-century fashion from Paris. She was more than curious, and I admit the paper making activity was a little suspicious.


III. The Character Tablet (for the Hospitalized Woman)


The craftswoman that formerly occupied my apartment had left behind some Japanese books, along with some wet cotton in Mason jars for making paper. As I myself was already producing paper for Adrian, I had the idea of turning the books into pulp. When I attempted this, I intentionally made the first sheet extremely thick and did not press the water out of the pulp. While initially the problems were molding of the pulp and folding of the drying paper, I finally achieved an interesting result: a very large, superbly thick paper, pretty much an off-white board, with an uneven texture and aleatorically distributed portions of Japanese characters.

However, this was the only paper that Adrian rejected, saying it was too specific to Eastern culture for his artistic use. When I left his apartment a little disappointed, I bumped into a photographer friend who immediately got interested in what I was carrying. He was inspired by what he saw, and bought the thick sheet, saying he would make a gift of it to a hospitalized female friend. I always wondered what she thought of it, and I hoped she felt the healthy, sturdy energy of Japanese ethos emanating from it.