Alex Zafiris talks to artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe about their new installation and fourth collaboration, Stray Light Grey, presented at Marlborough Chelsea in New York.
Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe have been creating all-immersive sequences of abandoned rooms since their first project, Hello Meth Lab in the Sun, debuted at Ballroom Marfa in 2008. This evolved into Black Acid Co-op, shown by Jeffrey Deitch the following year, which then morphed into Bright White Underground, housed at Country Club in Los Angeles in 2010. The latest incarnation, Stray Light Grey, continues their reach into the recesses of the mind with spaces laden with excess, alienation, disconnect and darkness.
It is late August in the city. Freeman and Lowe are mid-installation at the Marlborough Chelsea for their opening on September 13. There is almost no natural light, the radio is playing, power drills are drowning out conversation. After this interview, conducted on the second floor in the gallery’s pristine offices, we go downstairs and they lead me through it. Stray Light Grey resembles a construction site, save for details that have begun to surface: a human-sized hole in the back of the gallery bathroom, which leads into a room papered with original 1970s wallpaper. A black-and-white checkerboard floor in an off-site betting shop. Standing still in a tight spot, Freeman says, “This is what we’re calling the Kowloon hallway.” I’m not familiar, and he explains about the Chinese Walled City, which was demolished in the early ’90s. “It was a slum that grew together into one interiorized building. All the alleyways were caved inside, everyone did their own plumbing and electricity. It had intense decay and disuse. This will look like that.” Around the corner is the almost completed Brain Room: an enclave of white, crystallized electronics. There is too much work going on nearby, so we take an alternate route. “Normally you’d go up the stairs,” he says, pointing upwards to another level. “That’s going to be our plastic surgery clinic. That will then come down into the Mexican hybridized retail environment, where we’ll have a cake shop, and a pharmacy.” This leads to what will become a mahogany library belonging to an eccentric aristocrat. I ask them what kind of books they’re planning to create for the shelves. “A lot of science fiction, psychedelic drugs, things about community ritual and group psychosis,” says Freeman. “And humor,” says Lowe. “A lot of comedy.”
Alex Zafiris talks to theater director, writer and media designer Jay Scheib about his recent play, World of Wires, which closes his trilogy, Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems.
In Jay Scheib’s new play, World of Wires, a computer simulation mirrors the world as we know it, prompting the question: are we the actual world, or an immaculate reproduction of one? Adapted from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 television series, Welt am Draht—itself adapted from Daniel F. Galouye’s 1962 science-fiction novel, Simulacron-3—Scheib creates, with live performance, a virtual consciousness to investigate what is, and what might not be.
World of Wires is the third part of a trilogy, Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems. First was 2008’s Untitled Mars (This Title May Change), based on real-life space simulator pods inhabited by hopeful Mars visitors, together with the ideas of Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem and Kurd Lasewitz; then last year’s Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, an adaptation of Samuel R. Delany’s overwhelming science-fiction novel, Dhalgren. All three were developed during Scheib’s current residency as Professor for Music and Theater Arts at MIT, where, in contact with a world completely different to that of his own, his perception of realities, and ways in which to think about them, was stretched. The plays are captivating. Fear, delirium, humor, sex, love and hate are magnified, like dream states. Meaning and context shift, and truth runs amok. Conflict thrashes itself out within this battleground, pushing and shoving between balance and tension. Throughout all of it, humanity persists. Cameras are positioned on stage to project live video, bringing more perspective to the set and ultimately, towards the final argument. For this new production, Scheib will be on stage, as director, with a handheld camera, capturing the action, even giving direction.
A stand-out at Sundance and Berlin this year, Braden King’s film HERE deals with themes of exploration in life, cinema, and map-making. Alex Zafiris talks to the filmmaker on his return from Sundance 2011.
Gwen Allen on her new book Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art.
Gwen Allen’s new book: Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art (MIT Press) examines a subculture of non-consumer art magazines; lovingly and laboriously made by artists, filmmakers, musicians, writers, and poets who believed in generating fresh dialogue and illuminating undiscovered talent. Although overlooked in relation to the progress of modern art, their existence was a direct response to an unsatisfying art world climate, stifled by its own mainstream press.
Most of these efforts were hand-made, and their production became art itself. Form, function, and process was scrutinized and re-purposed, re-inventing the magazine page as a vehicle—in other words, a tangible, portable exhibition space—for new expression and ideas. Allen focuses on the 1960s through the 1980s, examining the motives and ideas behind creating these magazines which, by definition, evaporate from one issue to the next, engage in a love/hate relationship with media and advertising, accrue financial despair, and take up enormous amounts of personal time, often imploding the circle of friends who started them in the first place. Allen is an assistant professor of art history at San Francisco State University, and her depth of research and discussion is academic. But her devotion to the subject has an empathy that reveals the real undercurrent of why people want to start these magazines, and the reasons that others love to read them. From beginning to end, an art magazine is the physical reality—and therefore, snapshot archive—of a communal, creative urge that functions on reaching towards new light.
In her new column Rocks and Gravel, Alex Zafiris investigates creative relationships. In her inaugural entry, she talks to author Ivan Vartanian about his new book Art Work: Seeing Inside the Creative Process.
Ivan Vartanian’s new book, Art Work: Seeing Inside the Creative Process (Chronicle) is an in-depth study of the process by which artists arrive at original thought, and the means by which they make it reality. Vartanian has collected and photographed the notes, scribbles, post-its, chalkboards, sketches, trinkets, journals, spaces and studios of 25 different artists. Analytical text, with interviews—occasionally written by the subject themselves—accompanies each section. Where the artist was not present, a relevant critic, or friend, stepped in to write a second-hand experience.
The result is a handbook of sorts. As we’re accustomed to seeing only the finished product, the evidence of creative machination is intriguing and deeply personal. The walls of Will Self’s writing room are covered with hundreds of strategically placed yellow Post-it notes. Louise Bourgeois’s insomnia drawings are static and angry. Shahzia Sikander’s ink gestures are contained dreamscapes. Yohji Yamamoto writes, “To single out the moment of waking something that was asleep: All creation is a repetition of that moment. A repetition of fragments.” Merce Cunningham’s notebooks disclose the choreographer’s system of stick-figure notations to set down his dances. Carsten Nicolai’s preparatory drawings for his sculpture Anti-Reflex look at the exchange between form and sound. Richard Hell presents his journals, complete with an early 1970s Blimpie wrapper, a sketch of Jean-Luc Godard and a list of song titles, and declares that the entries “are meditations and manifestos rejecting the concept of rigid identity.”
Alex Zafiris You had certain ideas about how to format the book. And then, Richard Serra upped your game.
Ivan Vartanian It was a great moment. As we were talking about it, I told him that we had done a shoot at Doug and Mike Starn’s studio at Beacon. I had commissioned a photographer to capture the work as it was being developed. He took that as a launch pad. That room in his studio became a metaphor for his larger artistic process. He brought his nephew, Ivory Serra, to do the photography. Ivory shoots a lot of Serra’s sculptures for catalogues and stuff, so it was this organic coming-together of ideas.
In late March, I went to the Whitney Biennial to see a screening of Nathaniel Dorsky’s films: 2010’s Compline, Aubade, and last year’s The Return. Dorsky was present, and watched his work with a packed audience, sitting down afterwards with Halter for a deeply thoughtful and humorous Q&A. The filmmaker referenced many of the ideas he wrote about in his book, Devotional Cinema, specifically, the alchemy that occurs when light on film is aligned with a subject matter of true purpose. Dorsky recalled his early, pre-internet days in 1960s New York with longtime partner and contemporary Jerome Hiller—“everyone existed in actual sunlight and space, went to places and met each other”—and how very quickly he realized that Hiller was “making the screen into something sculptural. The screen itself became something through the image projected on it. It had shape, it had weight.” He then asked: “Do you think its possible to make a film that opens up for it’s own needs? It’s not describing some space other than itself—but it itself becomes the place?”
Dorsky’s sublime, immersive works were chosen alongside filmmakers who also engage with the medium on such levels: Charles Atlas, George Kuchar, Laura Poitras, Kelly Reichardt and Michael Robinson. While this list might appear disparate, the connection is their immediacy. With their encyclopaedic and effervescent love of cinema, Ed Halter and Thomas Beard’s curation reinforces a focus on the moving image as experience, from the filmmaker all the way round to the viewer.
Alex Zafiris Light Industry is the perfect name. How did you two come together?
Thomas Beard I was working at a film festival in Austin—Cinematexas—which is now defunct. Ed would come out there, and people from Austin would go to New York Underground; in 2004, they sent me. We met in the lobby of Anthology Film Archives. Light Industry grows out of all of the work that we’ve done up to that point with film exhibition: whether it was showing movies in the back of a bar, or at MoMA. When I first moved to New York, I had this ‘if you show it, they will come’ attitude. I was 21 years old. I thought: if I show this incredible Werner Schroeter film that hasn’t been seen in New York in over a decade, people will flock to it! J. Hoberman wrote a little thing about it in the Voice, saying Schroeter was the missing link between Fassbinder and Jack Smith. J. Hoberman was one of my heroes—I was so thrilled. Five people showed up.
Alex Zafiris meets with Ian Szydlowski of Chilean art collective Instituto Divoriciado to discuss their new multimedia work, Love and Other Hallucinations.
Instituto Divorciado creates work based on exchange and transformation, with ideas that observe group thinking rather than the individual. Love & Other Hallucinations, a piece that examines art and life as one and the same, began as a single word, “mother,” and was leveraged into the atmosphere via performance (both in New York and in Mexico), live and pre-recorded radio, vintage and new film footage, food, stories of the supernatural, silk screens, plastic sculptures, indigenous holy rituals, peyote, an unpublished novel, and dreams. The work unfolded, and continues, through a series of exhibits and events. Sound, colors and taste act as directives, and experience is the story. Feeling replaces narrative, and this expands through the artists, the audience, friends, families, and now, you the reader. In their hands, art is community. The three members of the collective are Diego Fernandez, Iván Navarro and Ian Szydlowski. Fernandez and Navarro were born and raised in Santiago, Chile, while Szydlowski was born in New York to Chilean parents, moving back to his hometown capital in 1989. They became friends while attending the city’s Pontificia Universidad Católica art school in the 1990s, when the country was still blinking in the light after years of suppression, fear and violence under Pinochet’s dictatorship. By 2000, all three had moved to New York to pursue lives as artists, encountering varying and fluctuating levels of success. In response to these tides, they founded the collective to produce work unconnected to the art system.
Early last year, Karin Schneider of Cage invited them to produce a project. The second-level Chinatown space is a hub for discussion and alternative art practice, rejecting art market codes as we know them, thereby producing work and events free from the stressful restrictions that accompany such an unpredictable and emotional career. Beginning in November last year, and still continuing, Love & Other Hallucinations has held sessions both at Cage and in their Williamsburg studio; in Mexico with the Huichol (an indigenous Mexican tribe who still live by a mystical logic that pervades their every thought and action, deeply in tune with the earth and the elements, unchanged for centuries); and discussion with artists, critics, curators who have entered their sphere through curiosity, friendship and instinct. The work developed with the intent to examine how meaning and connection arise collectively, how it grows into public consciousness, and evolves into the cultures and systems of modern life.
Alex Zafiris For me, the most important part of this piece is your belief in primal thinking.
Ian Szydlowski Yes. It wasn’t absolutely clear when we set out. Then we realized that this primacy was around storytelling. It became a part of our belief in redemptive values of art practice, and also a central rite to the role of the artist in human societies throughout the centuries.
AZ What was your original intent?
IS We were working in collaboration with Cage, looking for ways to explore new formats. The idea of the mother was central, as was building a discussion-based working language that might help bridge a long-term social and cultural engagement with the Wirrarika (Huichol) tribe in Mexico. Cage’s focus is on future formats, with a clear guiding principle to eradicate, or at the very least, to skirt existing dominant ideologies and power in art presentation. We wanted to learn about alternative models, and bring these ideas into our community.