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Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui cover photo

Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui 2011

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Prince Street Pictures
Directed by Susan Vogel
DVD, color, 88 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
Biography, Art, Environmental Studies, African Studies

Date Entered: 12/21/2011

Reviewed by Barbara J. Walter, Longmont Public Library, Longmont, CO

“One thing that I have grown into is working with things which have have been used before—things which link people together. I don’t know about DNA, but if you touch something, you leave a charge on it and anybody else touching it connects with you in a way—and the fact that anything that has been used by humans has a history, so those properties I think help whatever I do to gain some meaning.” El Anatsui

With the humblest of cast-off materials—aluminum tops from empty liquor bottles—El Anatsui crafts stunningly opulent works of art on a grand scale, works that blur the lines between painting, sculpture and tapestry. Filmed over three years, Susan Vogel’s Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui provides an intriguing look into the artist’s life and work, as well as the forces shaping his approach to art.

The film opens in Venice in 2007, where Anatsui’s works—especially his “Fresh and Fading Memories,” installed on the façade of the Palazzo Fortuny—were the hit of the Biennale and garnered well-deserved international attention. We follow the artist as he directs the installation of his massive “sheets,” takes in the sights of Venice and the Biennale exhibitions.

Gray-haired and soft-spoken, Anatsui explains that he doesn’t believe in art works as fixed objects. Seeking to create something ethereal, his initial idea was to devise a type of sculpture that can be shaped in any way. The result is, as he describes it, “a marriage between painting and sculpture.” Successful as this marriage is, however, Anatsui contends that his expectations are not yet met. People wonder at his works, but he wants to move them—to create works about life itself, reflecting the very mystery of life.

The second portion of Fold Crumple Crush centers on Nsukka, Nigeria, where Anatsui has taught art since 1975. Colleagues at the university describe him as a champion of radical post-modernism in art, whose influence has caused the boundaries between various art media to disappear. And they speak of a private man without wife, children or extended family, a Ghanaian living in Nigeria, for whom the art school is more home than any other place in the world. Students see him as modest and focused, one who advises using a cheap medium because it allows freer expression. And he models his advice to “do art with what’s at hand” by visiting local distilleries and recyclers to bargain for the raw materials of his art.

Next, Vogel takes us “Into the Studio” to observe Anatsui’s army of assistants who fold, crumple and crush recycled bottle tops, then link them together with wire rings to create flexible components for a new “sheet.” The assistants help arrange and rearrange components on the floor of his studio, cutting pieces to fit at the artist’s direction. With no drawings to guide him, Anatsui simply enjoys the freedom of shifting things around until it feels right. Once he’s satisfied, the final joining begins. A typical work may take three months to complete.

“Looking Inward” delves into the circumstances of Anatsui’s life: one of 32 children (his father had five wives), he was sent at a very young age to live with an uncle who was a Presbyterian minister. Only when his uncle died did he learn that the woman who had raised him was not his mother. Shaken by this revelation, he chose a new name for himself; he also chose to leave Ghana, which he says helped him to develop a nomadic mentality. Geography doesn’t count for much, according to Anatsui—what does is the ability to reach out and communicate with others.

The DVD includes the bonus, Anatsui at Work: 8 Short Films, a set of shorts designed for classroom and museum use that show the artist in his element, discussing various art media and theories (26 minutes).

An excellent resource for the school media center, academic, public or museum library, Fold Crumple Crush is a finely crafted, thoroughly engaging portrait of Africa’s most celebrated living artist.