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Here at the Deviant Mentor program, we pair newer artists up with seasoned ones to give advice, critique, and encouragement. We're here to support new or growing artists of the deviantART community and to make a difference in their art lives.
Founded 6 Years ago
Jan 10, 2010


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Mortality in Abject Art

Thu May 14, 2015, 6:54 AM

Contemporary artist Chris Burden passed away just a few days ago, and as we reflect on his influential (and often controversial) career as an artist I'd like to include other artists for a broader perspective of Burden's use of abjection in his work. As defined by Julia Kristeva in the Powers of Horror, the abject is not simply defined by the abhorrence of bodily fluids or excrement, but a lack of order and control. Anything which deviates from the established norm. Death is certainly the most abject that we as humans must face, but the very idea of death, the realization of one’s mortality, is even more frightening. The spilling of bodily fluids and disease are two of the most obvious displays of abjection from a living body, and this is seen in the works of Chris Burden, Otto Dix, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

Chris Burden

burden-Doorway-to-Heaven-1973 by Xadrea
"It’s about trying to frame something. And draw attention to it and say, “Here’s the beauty in this. I’m going to put a frame around it, and I think this is beautiful.” That’s what artists do. It’s really a pointing activity." - Chris Burden

Burden used his body to make his early artwork. He did acts of violence upon himself and acts of endurance. In Kunst Kick Burden had someone kick him down the stairs. Burden had a friend shoot him through the arm in Shoot (the actual shot was meant to graze him, but his friend missed and the bullet was lodged in Burden's arm). After 1964, violence became more and more commonplace on television because of the video and photographic coverage of the conflict in both Vietnam and violent racial tension in the US. In Transfixed (1974) Burden had his hands nailed to a Volkswagon Beetle, it was rolled out to a driveway, had photos taken, then released. In Through the Night Softy (1973) Burden had his hands tied behind his back and wore nothing but a bathing suit crawling across 50 ft. of broken glass. Burden, rightly, feared that the American public was becoming desensitized to images of violence. 

It is important to remember that the aforementioned pieces are simply a sampling of Burden's work throughout his entire career. A sampling of his large body of work can be viewed here:…

Otto Dix

Dix-skat-players-1920 by Xadrea
Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time." - Otto Dix

Otto Dix’s work depicted combat soldiers who had survived WWII but had returned to society horrifically maimed. Beyond the maiming, which in itself is an abject thought, these veterans were each outfitted with mechanical prosthetics. The bodies of these men which were already violated were manipulated to even more grotesque proportions with metal jaws, leg that stuck out at awkward angles, and missing appendages (sometimes even cut off at the torso). These depictions of maimed soldiers were meant to make a social and political statement about the treatment of wounded soldiers.

370132 by Xadrea

Often there is “glory” in either living through war completely unscathed or never returning alive. Society would rather not accept a gruesomely maimed man, regardless of the fact he sacrificed so much to defend those very people. These paintings also objected to the practice of redeploying terribly injured troops up to three times after suffering severe injuries.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Felix-baci by Xadrea

In a way...this refusal to make a static form, a monolithic sculpture, in favor of a disappearing, changing, unstable, and fragile form was an attempt on my part to rehearse my fears of having Ross disappear day by day right in front of my eyes. —Felix Gonzalez-Torres

By contrast, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ piece A Corner of Baci spoke of the profound loss of his partner Ross to AIDS (a virtual death sentence in the 1980s). This piece handles several abject ideas. The very first being love between two gay men. The second is the notion of coming into close contact with a gay man and accepting something from him (in this case a chocolate kiss, which is “baci…” a double entendre). Third, and the nail in coffin, is AIDS. Combined together, all three were a massively frightening monster to 1980s America. HIV and AIDS were widely believed to be a “homosexual disease” at that time. Additionally, anything having to do with anyone LGTBQ was taboo and highly suspect if not outright feared because so many people were dying shortly after diagnosis. Viewers are invited to take and eat as many of the Baci as they like. The chocolates were Ross’ favorite candy, but also represents the wasting of his body as the candies are removed from the exhibit and consumed. Exactly 42 lbs. of chocolate completes the installation, the weight of Ross at his death.

What counter-balances this piece so excellently is the fact that it is portrayed as a loving memorial, and not a grotesque and loathsome reminder of death. This piece is completely non-threatening in this way, and made wholly accessible to everyone. This is supremely important to its themes. Everyone will experience loss (if not the death of a loved one), and to a degree love as well. This piece demonstrates the obvious sameness and humanity of the couple in the adversity of a rejecting culture and destructive disease.

All three artist's effectively tapped into social and political problems of their times by addressing their subjects from the ultimate abject thought: mortality. 


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LittleChmura Featured By Owner 1 day ago  Student Digital Artist
Hi there :) Thank you for having me!

I applied for a mentor list but my name isn't listed - is it an error or smth ?
smallproblem Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2015  Student General Artist

I'd love to end up both a mentor and mentee- I'm pretty good at certain things, like anatomy, and I have a lot of time, so I can teach the basics. But the more professional side I'm the one who needs help on. 

Would it be possible to arrange that?
PageOHaraWriter Featured By Owner Apr 19, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Many of our mentors have mentors themselves in other areas of art, this is a group for learning all the way around and we welcome members like that! Just apply to the group as a mentor and explain your situation in the application, and say what you would like to mentor and mentee in respectively.
HiroYuuyra Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2015
Can i be a mentor
bunnipowerz Featured By Owner Feb 4, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
is this group still active?
TheCreativeJenn Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
I've been fairly quiet on this end as Staff, however I'm thinking up ways and projects to bring this group back to it's resourceful roots.

I apologize for any inconvenience. :heart:
bunnipowerz Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
no it's ok. thank you for the reply. :)
RosietheEchidna Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Hi!  I willing to learn as much as I can here!
exewon Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2014
Okay, this might sound a little bit stupid. I've read the submitting rules. Which told me where to submit which pieces of art and how many times you can submit art to this group.. but how do you actually submit something to a group? I've never done that before.
PageOHaraWriter Featured By Owner Oct 17, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Go to the gallery tab and scroll down to the "mentee work" section. There should be a + sign on the header opposite the title. Click that. Select "Contribute an Existing Deviation..." and choose from there which piece you want in the gallery! Let me know if you need any more help. :D

((I believe mentors can then go to their deviation in the mentee work gallery and move it to the correct gallery by clicking and dragging it or clicking the "edit" button in the top corner.))
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