What can the superhuman tell us about humanity? Jorge Rojas on curating superHUMAN at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art.
Dulce Pinzon’s photographs endow domestic workers and laborers with superhuman capabilities. Her subjects don the uniforms of superheroes like Spiderman or Superman, all while cleaning windows or babysitting children. A new group exhibition at Aljira Gallery in Newark, New Jersey called superHUMAN brings together work in the vein of Pinzon’s, that draws on fantasy or science fiction “speculative genres” to say something about the human condition. The show asks, how can superhero-type qualities cast light on desires and concerns that are genuinely human.
The artists, borrow from myths, comics, Hindu and Buddhist folklore, graphic novels, and popular TV shows like Lost or Star Trek, not to indulge in romanticized notions of the past or future, but to provide a new and original perspective on political and social life of today. Artist Jorge Rojas sat down with me at Aljira Gallery on a rainy Saturday afternoon to discuss the show he co-curated with David Hawkins.
Margaux Williamson on her performance piece How to Act in Real Life, her film Teenager Hamlet, and being a character in Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be?
Polymath only begins to describe Margaux Williamson, a Toronto-based painter, screenwriter, director, playwright, movie critic, and book character. When I imagine her, she seems to alight on genres as a butterfly might on flowers, pollinating each next one with the dust of the previous one.
Williamson first came to my attention as a character in Sheila Heti’s novel-play-biography How Should a Person Be. Through the snapshots of Williamson that instigate many parts of the plot, I was continually astonished that this woman was not a novelistic invention but an actual person. I was compelled to know more about her, and it turned out there was quite a lot to know.
Her paintings first impressed me with their radiant, opulent strokes that create spaces of indeterminate reality. They suggest a set of eyes capable of finding dream notes in the living environment, and to assemble scenes or still lifes in which to place the components of a dream; a skill also relevant to Williamson’s work as a filmmaker. I suppose technically her film Teenager Hamlet is a documentary (with full-on explanatory voiceover), but it seems an ill-fitting label for a work that has real-life friends and people become archetypal “Ophelias” or “Hamlets,” while e.g., Williamson interrogates a working actor on what it feels like to be in the mode of acting.
Recently, during her residency at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Williamson presented a piece How to Act in Real Life, a construction somewhere between an organic Happening, and a play that relies strictly on Method acting. Engaged in an episode of Williamson instructing Sheila (Heti, the author above), on the art of simply being—existing in life that happens to be in front of an audience—much of what the viewer experiences during its presentation is circumscribed in the written manifesto/pamphlet distributed beforehand.
As someone who so fluently shifts between the written word and the image, I wanted to interview Williamson about her bilingual gifts and her reasons for so often incorporating both into her works. Over the course of a few weeks, we emailed each other, and I had the pleasure of understanding more about this charming Renaissance woman through her (predictably) articulate words.
Megan McDonald Walsh In all your work, you seem to flexibly adopt the role of either artist/creator/viewer or subject/creation/viewed. Do you have a preference for one position over the other?
Margaux Williamson Artist. But true, I’m flexible.
In terms of being a subject—when I started making art, I worked very quietly and alone. I made paintings that, on the surface, weren’t about me at all, but came entirely from my inner world. Later on, I got a bit sicker of myself and more curious about things outside of my studio. The more curious I got, the more I just became a useful character to use in my own work alongside all the other things in the world that I can use, like my neighbor or a tree.
In any case, it always seems polite and honest to wave to the audience so they know where you’re standing—which you can do if you’re one of the subjects they’re looking at.
Barbara T. Smith takes us on a journey through her life—from 1950s housewife to 1970s radical feminist, and on to her current work at age 81.
I’ve known the work of Barbara T. Smith for decades. In 1978, she performed in my downtown LA loft as part of an evening of performance sponsored by the feminist organization Double X. Recently, she’s come back on the scene with a substantial show at Maccarone in NYC in 2008, an installation of videos included in the recent WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution show at PS1, and, as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time, a provocative show at UC Irvine called The Radicalization of a 50’s Housewife. The Getty show emphasized how inseparable Barbara’s work is from her life, and included family photos, taped interviews, reconstructed artworks, and documentation of previous pieces. The exhibition was incredibly moving, a wrenching portrait of the courage and evolution of a determined woman artist coming of age in the Los Angeles art scene of the 1960s.
The beauty of the young woman in the photographs at the Getty was startling. This was Barbara T. Smith, a self-described isolated Pasadena housewife with three children. Eager for adult conversation during the day, she had begun to volunteer at the local art museum in Pasadena, which just happened to be one of the world’s most avant-garde venues. Walter Hopps was at the helm, mounting a retrospective of Duchamp, and the first large-scale American pop art exhibition. Smith found herself flooded with ideas, and then began to realize them. These ideas were the genesis of ambitious, intellectual pieces that redefined the art of the time. Barbara trusted her instincts, her friends, and the resonance of a spiritual awakening that struck her suddenly and vibrantly in 1960.
None of this was easy; there were enormous and painful consequences to the changes Smith was making in her life. Her marriage ended in a scarring divorce, a nightmare scenario in which just the fact that she was a female performance artist was enough to malign her character and capacity for motherhood. Barbara lost custody and didn’t see her daughters again for 17 years. Still she moved forward, more deeply into her work.
Barbara is now 81. I interviewed her in her home in Venice, CA, which she has just sold. The place was full of positive vibes, bright colors, and young roommates who clearly look out for the artist.
Sculptor Alexej Meschtschanow doctors furniture and everyday objects. In this interview he talks about the Bauhaus, the Balkans, and life as an expat in Berlin.
Alexej Meschtschanow studies the moment when everyday objects, no matter how functional or beautiful, lose their purpose and appeal. The young Ukrainian expat, now living and working in Berlin, is best known for sculptural interventions where he custom fits found furniture—chairs, dressers, buffets, doors—into metal fixtures. Steel piping may render these items useless, but it opens them to new signification that may not have been thought possible. Meschtschanow’s work is made with careful observation of the furniture’s forms and social functions: a crossbreed of dusty relics and prosthetic elements, as he reveals in this interview, allows viewers more “time and rigor” to handle history. After coming across his work, I was curious to know more about his process, his influences, and the city he calls home.
Harry Weil Your last name looks crazy for an English speaker to even attempt to pronounce.
Alexej Meschtschanow A single Cyrillic letter ‘щ’ is transliterated in German with ‘schtsch’. The Germans are very precise. So instead of a simple name I’ve got a password of ten consonants and three vowels. In the age of permanent research for digital information, it may be practical for the perfect attribution.
Belgian-American artist Cécile B. Evans delights and enchants with her provocative media installations.
I recently encountered the work of artist Cécile B. Evans in London at an open studio night at GasWorks—where Evans recently wrapped up a residency—which houses a gallery, studios, and an international residency program. I was drawn to her video work because it made use of a sort of Apple-computer-screen-saver infused visuality, existing somewhere in the realm between the seamless flash of an MTV music video and the fog of a digitized dream. These new media works in particular were a siren song; sampling selections of popular music that one might hear at the local laundromat, Evans is frequently weightless in the foreground, floating in the fabrics of a genre of celestial glitch that just might have made Steve Jobs proud. The work is flirtatious, nostalgic, and—odd as it may be to say—struck me as incredibly feminine, perhaps because the path through contemporary digital practice is often made craggy by the ticking testosterone of male art makers and their histories. Which is to say that Evans and the pronounced presence of a gendered aesthetic—soft, blurred, gentle—contrast sharply with, say, Fatima Al Quadiri’s hip-hop-laced and neon saturated geometries. Evans enters the digital via a different tear in the curtain, a white female body grappling with the limits of objects, language, expression, and, ultimately, intimacy. Her work is imbued with a presence of lady—is this poise? Or politic? Curious to learn more, I sat down with her to discuss, amongst other things, the weight of emotion, the role of the artist, and the impact of bodily fluids on contemporary popular culture.
Legacy Russell Tell me a bit about your recent project for Frieze, which won the Emdash Award.
Cécile Evans The piece was an audio guide to a selection of works in the fair—like what you would pick up in a museum—only the hard facts were replaced by subjective, emotionally-driven content, contributions from twelve non-art professionals and a host, the art historian Simon Schama. Simon also appeared throughout the fair as a 3D holographic projection, giving short monologues that further broke down ideas of subjectivity and authority within the fair.
In hindsight, the great joy in making this piece was the opportunity that Frieze gave me to insert an alternative value—emotion—alongside established values in the fair like material, theory, and money. It was amazing to work with [Frieze curator] Sarah McCrory, who from the beginning really understood that this wasn’t a critical piece, this wasn’t going against the other values. Ultimately, this was very productive in an environment with such a high volume of people (70,000 or so) that perhaps didn’t have access to the other factors[—material, theory, money—]or (let’s be fair) even an initial interest in them. That was the most exciting/surprising part, to see so many visitors coming with different levels of access to art all able to access an entry point through the guide.
In her new work, Laura Letinsky unites photography and sculpture to raise broad questions about how we see, how we live, and how time passes.
Since the late 1990’s, Laura Letinsky has created photographic still-lifes that address themes of materialism, domestic life, and melancholia. Her recent exhibition Ill Form and Void Full at Yancey Richardson in New York presented sculptural constructions that combine images cut from magazines with miscellaneous household objects. While Letinsky continues to investigate quotidian life, and how we view our world, these photographs clearly evolved from past work that dealt with loss and grief. Letinsky has a mid-career retrospective opening at the Denver Art Museum on October 28th.
Ashley McNelis The works in your new exhibition at Yancey Richardson, Ill Form and Void Full, are magazine cutouts and photographed objects made into constructions that are then rephotographed. They have a muted color palette, and carefully curated subject matter. However, they still exude the quiet power found in your earlier work. Why these color choices? Why this quieter mood?
Laura Letinsky The color palette is slightly muted but still within the range of what I have worked with over the past several years, dare I say, decades. I guess it’s less “natural” than the earlier still lifes, partly because I am picturing pictures, and in my studio. It’s a bit funny though as for years my color choices have been commented on, yet to me they simply feel natural. Isn’t this the way everyone sees?
Artist George Negroponte reflects on the under-appreciated work of Abstract Expressionist William Baziotes.
William Baziotes made quiet, idiosyncratic, glowing paintings and drawings of intense formal vitality and deep historical ambition. His tonal color was exquisitely pitched and turned material substance into enchantment. The paintings are scumbled, preconscious and blurred by fantasy; like living dreams. Very often the natural world is mentioned as the principle subject of this work: albeit an allusive and fictionalized one of shapes, color and line. The best work of Baziotes is delicate, almost hesitant, and evokes an otherworldliness captured, set apart and isolated.
William Baziotes was without question one of the most gifted artists of the New York School. He was 32 years old when his first exhibit opened at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century in October of 1944. His close friend Robert Motherwell helped him install the show; Jimmy Ernst designed the invitation. The show generated substantial attention, sales and very good reviews: no less an authority on Abstract Expressionism than Clement Greenberg declared in The Nation that Baziotes was “an unadulterated talent, a natural painter and all painter. He issues with a single jet, deflected by nothing extraneous to painting. Two or three of his larger oils may become masterpieces in several years, once they stop disturbing us by their nervousness.”
The Guggenheim invites artists, philosophers, musicians, and curators to spend an evening contemplating the sound and silence of the city at stillspotting ( ) nyc: finale
Last Tuesday, October 9, was one of those impossible days on the subway: train after train screeched to a momentary standstill, doors opening to reveal cars crammed with people, faces flushed, bags clutched to their chests. After the third packed 6 train pulled away from the platform, I gave up and climbed the stairs to the street to hail a cab uptown.
When I entered the Peter B. Lewis Theater at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, I was greeted not with the silence and stillness I expected, but with a cacophony. Rhythmic drones, whirs, clucks, and shrieks swelled in the space, increasing in pitch, volume, and tempo. As guests trickled in to fill every seat in the living room-like theater, I closed my eyes and tried to distinguish each layer of the riot, to peel the organic from the mechanical sounds, until I felt dizzy from the sonic overload. The sound—the work of Brooklyn-based composer Sergei Tcherepnin—eventually receded, leaving the audience to their own quiet murmuring.
Curators Chelsea Haines and Eriola Pira, and artist Christopher K. Ho on what makes an art world real or imagined.
This conversation originated between curators Chelsea Haines and Eriola Pira and artist Christopher K. Ho in Ho’s Brooklyn studio this past July. Initial questions about Ho’s practice (i.e. Why did you move to the mountains in Colorado? Who is Hirsch E.P. Rothko? What is the relationship between painting, regionalism and fiction? Can storytelling build a more critical understanding of art history and the art world?) led to a broader conversation on regionalism, critical identities, and imagined art worlds.
In Beyonsense, Eurasian artist collective Slavs and Tatars channels its inner Zaum in a celebration of the twists of language across cultures, histories, and geographies.
“Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird?”
In Victory over the Sun, men from the future appear from out of nowhere and drag the bourgeois sun kicking and screaming from the sky, stuff it into a box, and replace it with a new energy source more appropriate for the times. A character called The Traveler Through Time declares that the future will be masculine and that all people will look happy, although happiness itself will no longer exist. Finally, an airplane crashes into the stage.
In 1913, the debut performance of this first Russian Futurist opera in St. Petersburg didn’t go over so well. Maybe it was Alexei Kruchenykh’s “nonsensical” libretto or Mikhail Matiushin’s chaotic music or the outlandish costumes and stage sets designed by Kazimir Malevich—or maybe the audience just didn’t expect a plane to crash into the stage. Whatever the case, they reacted violently. To be fair, Kruchenykh wrote much of the libretto in Zaum, an experimental, non-referential language he developed with fellow poet Velimir Khlebnikov, in which Russian was broken down into its fundamental sounds, the words stripped of meaning to expose the primal Slavic essence of the sounds themselves.
Kruchenykh himself described the new language as “wild paradise, fiery languages, blazing coal.” Khlebnikov, who contributed a prologue to the opera, called it the “language of the birds.” It’s no wonder members of the audience reacted as they did. Robbed of familiar contextual cues and cozy linguistic references, it was as though they too had been stuck in a box and pronounced dead alongside the bourgeois sun.
One hundred years later, audiences are still trying to make sense of Zaum, but if it continues to evade understanding, it is because by its nature Zaum resists translation. There are no word-to-word correlations. It doesn’t make sense, it is trans sense, beyond sense. Not caged by culture and geography, meaning surfaces from within the depths of a primordial forest of sounds, briefly flits about, then returns to the cacophony of its murky woods. In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Why not try to understand the song of a bird?”
From Bruce Nauman and Peter Halley to the blogosphere, Joshua Abelow discusses his influences and his unique approach to painting in the age of the Internet.
Joshua Abelow’s geometric abstractions can disorient the eye when they are placed together. Their alternating color theories have the habit of skipping along the meridian line of their fixed tablet size, creating hemispheres of white throughout a room. Some of the paintings make faces, smiling for the ensuing lens of cameras. They know quite well, in this digital age, that they’ll end up disregarding their physical bodies to reside somewhere online.
So they glow, even here, like runners’ neon, to attract attention. Upon closer inspection though, the rough burlap peaks through in bleeding texture as reminders of a material origin. Abelow equips painting for two realities—a human toiling with his displacing gadgets. The artist reflects here about being an apprentice during the dawn of the Internet and his current days as a self-deprecating “Famous Artist.”
Frank Expósito Do you remember a time when you weren’t using a computer?
Joshua Abelow I remember growing up in the ’80s with the first computer Apple put out. That was really exciting at the time. But, actually, I didn’t have one in college. I felt technologically unaware because I was so determined to be a good painter. I just didn’t have room for it in my head. I didn’t buy one for myself until I moved to New York in ’99 and started working for Ross Bleckner.
BOMB is pleased to present an exclusive clip from Mickalene Thomas’s new film Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman.
November 14 sees the opening of Mickalene Thomas’ new show, How To Organize A Room Around A Striking Piece of Art at Lehmann Maupin in New York. Split into two locations—Chelsea and the Lower East Side—the exhibition contains large-scale paintings, short films, and a tableau environment. The Chelsea location will screen her new documentary, Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, about her mother and muse, Sandra Bush.
Artist Tomashi Jackson explores the rhythms of labor and the poetic vernacular of popular culture and visuality in America.
After the 2008 crash the so-called new normal is an economy of producing more work for less pay. A question that follows the most urgent concern of survival and subsistence living is how artists can address labor without getting bogged down by discourse. One answer is to exert the body. Another is to look to the changing topos of popular culture at how we produce cultural narratives about work in daily life, in all its shifting forms. Tomashi Jackson is an artist who does both, a hybridist who grounds questions of labor and civic space in an amorphous terrain of American “vernacular.” Her composite language consists of an omnivorous diet of sources and outputs: raw building materials that stand in for civic infrastructure and public space; popular imagery, from iconic photos of black poets to celebrities sourced from the Internet; R&B songs from the early 1990s; a digital screen space layered with Skype conversations, music, and cut-out images, then translated into video. Jackson metabolizes these materials and sources into, most often, an installation environment of sound, sculpture, projection and performance. The end result is neither interior nor exterior, but decidedly mixed. And it is palpably worked over with the artist’s labor, hand, and her affections. Her most recent works, made in her studio at MIT, while in the ACT (Art, Culture, and Technology) program, are, in multiple senses of the term, labor-intensive..
Cora Fisher In your recent work you have taken to singing while performing repetitive tasks like cleaning, mopping, and trowelling. What are some connections here between music and work—in the double sense of artwork and labor?
Tomashi Jackson Music, especially music that is lyrical, is often generative, inspiring repetitive mimicry. One night in 2011 I listened to “History Repeats Itself” by A.O.S. while cleaning the paint splattered floor of my studio. The song became intertwined with my labor as I sang it to myself over and over again until the floor was clean. I recognized a productive link between music, repetition, and my hands. I thought about how this sort of maintenance labor is meant to be unseen. I remembered that my Great Aunts worked informally as domestics in Texas and California from around 1920 until retirement.
Artist Harrell Fletcher reflects on a recent project at Tate and demonstrates the value of participatory engagement and social practice.
OK—so a couple of curators, Catherine Wood and Kathy Noble, from the Tate Modern in London sent me an email asking if I’d like to take part in a new online performance series that they are organizing. I said, “Sure.” The idea: they select five artists a year for four years to do performances that happen in a small gallery in the museum with just one camera to record what happens. The performances are live and unedited; the audience watches on the web.
As it happened, I only had a few days in London before the performance. Generally, I like to collaborate with local people in wherever I’m showing: I make the structure and organize the project, but local participants fill in the content. I recalled seeing some amazing buskers (musicians playing for money in public) in the Tube stations the last time I had been in London; there was even a small classical orchestra playing down there one time. So I told the Tate folks that I would wander around in the Tube for a few days and select several buskers to perform at the Tate if they were willing. I kind of had it worked out that there would be one performer in front of each wall of the gallery and that I’d turn the camera towards the middle of the room after each one completed a song—sort of a live mix tape curated from the subway.
Mary Carlson takes inspiration from religious iconography, demons, and snakes in her latest exhibition, Beautiful Beast.
Mary Carlson is a stealth artist. The power of her unassuming works and her deadpan humor sneak up on you. Her sculptures often take the form of familiar, homey objects—furniture, knick-knacks, flowers, ice cubes, the American flag. But on second take the familiar grows strange and nothing is quite what it seems. The chairs resist sitting, the flowers are porcelain, the ice is glass, and the flag has grown pale. Carlson places us in a realm of uncanny surrogates and slyly disrupts the security of casual assumptions.
I have been enjoying the evolution of Carlson’s work, visiting her studios and exhibitions for almost 20 years. When I stopped into Carlson’s upstate studio this summer for a quick visit I found myself entering an Alice In Wonderland world where the tiny demons from her last show had spawned enormous progeny towering over helpless embryonic ceramic saints. This shift and amplification of previously implicit narratives demanded exegesis, so I asked the usually reticent artist to sit for an interview. Her exhibition “Beautiful Beast” is on view until October 28, 2012 at Studio 10 in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Jane Dickson Let’s talk about your current show, Beautiful Beast at Studio 10 Gallery in Bushwick.
Mary Carlson I’ve been working with imagery of saints and demons, with the idea of the demonic also being beautiful.
JD This ceramic serpent in front of me is called Big Blue and it is 12 feet long.
JD Gigantic! It swallowed something?
Artists Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson make art a family matter.
Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen, along with their two-year-old son Calder, are a family art team who create works with a cool analytic aesthetic in a multitude of media, including photo-based indexes, textual mixed tapes, associative lectures, and mass mailings. Their work hinges on the linguistics of text and image, and contains a healthy dose of humor. Their latest exhibition, Maybe It Takes a Loud Noise at PDX Contemporary Art, considered themes nested in the rhetoric of belief and protest. We connected online while they traveled away from their home in Portland, Oregon soon after the close of their exhibition.
Mack McFarland You cite the texts you read as major influences for your work, in the way that French Impressionists found inspiration in the landscape. You also mention the structure of the book and I have heard, or maybe read, that you feel like your works translate well to the book form, which is lovely and kind of old-fashioned. Do you think your projects work well for tablet computers or smart phones?
Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen Maybe some of our work does. Some doesn’t. (We have been working slowly on making a collection of GIFs, but that is probably not exactly what you’re talking about.) We do think about how our works play out on screen, but still involuntarily find ourselves thinking about the final form of what we make as a book or publication.
We often make things in large series that are meant to function like swarms. Conceived as, and intended to be viewed as, one cumulative body, they are also designed to break apart and still hold meaning. (This comes less from thinking about the actual representational platforms i.e. tablet, phone and more from the way images and texts are viewed and aggregated on the Internet.) We accept the conditions of having an online presence, we want our work to be subsumed and re-articulated. We might even go so far as to say that people who want to forbid that kind of movement and transmission need to grow up.
Photographer Todd Hido redefines landscape and toys with perception, engaging viewers in a geography mysterious and misty.
Todd Hido is best known for his photographs of suburban houses at night, his Hopper-esque portraits of women in murky hotel rooms, and, more recently, cold, desolate landscapes framed by fogged windshields.
My first interaction with Todd was in Philadelphia in early 2012 at a small photography conference where he gave the keynote address. He’d flown in from California with a book dummy filled with photos for his yet-to-be-titled new book. Seeing him shuffle photographs in and out of pages intrigued me. It was much like watching a squirrel bury nuts and dig them back up: his process was deliberate, yet it was hard to glean what could be going through his mind when he meticulously sequenced his photos. Todd would place two photos beside one another on a spread, then flip to what he had placed on the preceding and succeeding pages, all to get a sense of what worked together, to determine what pairings evoked the story he looked to tell.
In a subsequent meeting at a dinner party, Todd had with him stacks of little 2×2 inch color photographs of models he had photographed. They were snapshots of women who could have been from anyone’s past. They could be pictures of your mother from before you were born, or a shared moment between your sister and her boyfriend you were never supposed to see. These were the latest addition to his book, now carrying the title Excerpts From Silver Meadows (after the Ohio development where he grew up) and the glue that would hold together Hido’s eerie landscapes and desolate interiors.
Mesmerized by the unfurling of Todd’s creative process, by his constant reworking of materials, order, and presentation, I decided to call the artist to see what direction his book had taken since I’d last seen it.
Photographer Berenice Abbott brought motion into the still frame, and brings the visuality of movement to a new show at MIT.
Bodies fall at the same speed. The angle at which a ball hits a surface will be the same as the angle at which it rebounds. Nature is full of orderly progressions and predictable outcomes. Nature is never at rest. These are some of the things I learned from my visit to the Berenice Abbott show Photography and Science: An Essential Unity.
Abbott’s photographic work with the Physical Science Study Committee (PSSC) in the 1960s and ’70s, on display through December at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, MA, demonstrates her successful attempt to express what she called “the poetry of [science’s] own vast implications,” implications for all of us immersed in the minutiae of our lives. While Abbott is best known for her black and white architectural photographs of New York City, at the heart of this show are her later photographs of waves: periodic straight waves, reflected water waves, water waves changing direction, water waves producing shadows. Everything, it turns out, moves as a wave.
Lucio Pozzi discusses his multifaceted, multifarious solution to the problems of orthodoxies and rules that limit the artistic process.
Schools—or, for those who do not attend school, magazines, museums and galleries—teach us about the discoveries of the twentieth century. To “Discover” ought to mean that something was once covered, and then someone took off the shroud that concealed it to unveil a hitherto unacknowledged essence. However, many of the matrices “discovered” over the last century already existed as part of a larger whole in the artistic practices of various past cultures, such as geometric images or dream imagery, but because they had not been identified as separate linguistic entities, as such they were discovered by us.
When discoveries start to be taught in schools, it means that we have managed to extract some rules than can be explained. The moment this happens, they cease to be discoveries and become canons from which one can depart on new explorations. Canons can be used as open departure platforms or be guarded as closed criteria out of which one should not stray, confines a serious artist is expected not to trespass. The latter is an option that leads to artistic red tape. Today’s artists take the plunge, full of anticipation only to find themselves bogged down in a Byzantine labyrinth of reckoning and precaution, imposed by the bureaucratization of culture.
Ingredients for Keating Sherwin’s paintings? Canvas, brushes, paint, and, of course, cooking utensils.
Keating Sherwin paints large, sculptural oil paintings of women. Preferring cooking tools to paintbrushes, Sherwin’s process is one of the most fascinating aspects of her work. She seems to wander in and out of consciousness as she moves around—often hovering on top of her canvas, paint tool in hand. Other times, she sits up close to her paintings, inspecting each detail, completely unmoved.
Sherwin’s work reflects two of her favorite muses: lips and women. Her lip series features frames of lone impasto lips, formed by blends of indigo, violet, blue and pink or yellow against a thick, white, dripping background. The women are darker with softer edges, but thicker lines. These women, often cut off at the hip, seem both feminine and masculine, always confrontational, at times angry and absent. Many of these women have been painted with one, irisless eye. Man in Black features a figure with an almost feminine stance, a dotted eyeball, and a raised middle finger seemingly gesturing towards the viewer.
Sherwin’s handling of thick, impasto globs of oil paint results in a gritty, naturalistic outcome. These strokes (be it brushstrokes or spoon-strokes) dance to the rhythm of her emotional state, and reflect the characteristics of her subjects on the canvas. When I visited her studio in June, Keating Sherwin was been busy preparing for her first solo exhibition—You, Legend, which remains on view at Three Squares Studio—a gallery in West Chelsea that doubles as a hair salon—through the middle of September. The exhibition features a dozen works by Sherwin, all created in 2011 and 2012. The conversation below occurred in two stages, the first of which took place at her studio in downtown Brooklyn, the second of which occurred at the gallery in West Chelsea.
Eskor Johnson spends a day in the life of The Love Child.
Twenty-three hours in the life of The Love Child, one for each year he’s been alive and counting. Potentially twenty-four, had I not arrived an hour past our scheduled meeting time—a friend, Natalie, was baking me a lasagna—and had he been born earlier than January 11, 1989. To apologize I’ve brought along a piece for him in a Tupperware container and I’ve also brought Natalie, to redirect the blame. This is on Prince Street, at one of three locations The Love Child usually sets up shop. He likes the lasagna: “This is mad good,” he says after a bite. “This is mad good.”
Jay Michael Gittens: Grenadian born-and-raised until age ten, British Virgin Islands until fifteen, now New York; newly slim (“That’s why I wear the suspenders. These pants don’t fit me anymore.”) and wearing it well; aka The Love Child, street artist and starer into space. Media: acrylic, oil (once, accidentally), canvas, wood, cloth, paper, paraphernalia.
It is windy today, enough to disturb some of the smaller pieces Jay has taped down to the concrete ledge he uses both as seating and showcase. The passers-by are a mix of New York everything, though they mostly have in common the sartorial sense it seems is requisite to walk around Soho. Jay is in red sneakers and blue jeans and blue polo, and cool snapback cap with New York graffitied on the front (the “O” is an eyeball). He is tall. Though he smiles often, when he is not his face falls into a haze-eyed stare that seems morose and bored. Perhaps this is a necessary symptom after entire days spent in the throng of so many people in transit, a near-overdose of temporary audiences. His laugh requires his whole body and goes Kee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee, like Ernie from Sesame Street. There is paint on his hands and when he gives me back the Tupperware there are little dots of yellow on the lid. Jays leaves these traces most places he goes.
His setup today is of eighteen pieces, eleven of which are on paper, two on wide planks of wood, two much larger than the rest, three framed, one that is his first oil piece (accidentally) and one on a rough-edged section of brown paper that looks torn from a gift-wrapping roll. For those of you counting, there’s some overlap going on here so the math doesn’t quite add up. One of the two larger ones, for example, is also the one in oil and also framed. The frame Jay found somewhere and is made of metal and does not really match the pell-mell of color within its boundaries. To dry this painting Jay left it out on top of a phone booth overnight—it was neither rained on nor stolen. “I have another frame on top a phone booth,” he adds. “Just like a big wooden joint.” While Jay and I talk about his beginnings in photography and drawing, Natalie snaps pictures and inspects the paintings. So do some of the pedestrians who pause mid-stroll to look at whatever has caught their eye.
Holding a Peach, Storm Tharp’s exhibition of new paintings and sculptures, is a study in intimacy.
September 24—29th is the final week of Holding a Peach, an exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by Storm Tharp at PDX Contemporary in Portland, Oregon. At a glance, the new work by Mr. Tharp hardly looks to be a radical departure from the old. Upon entering the first room of the gallery, which is hung with 16 paintings, you can see plenty of his trademark ink spills and spidery lines, his light watercolor palette with occasional hints of gold leaf.
In place of the usual portraits, though, one finds paintings filled with an abstract jumble of legs, butts, and chests, with inky hairs and lumpy love handles hanging out. By and large the forms are masculine, the body hair abundant. Wide ribbons of paint allude to boxer and brief waists, sharp blue corners evoke gentlemen’s shirt collars, black bands resembling cod-pieces wrap around fatty flesh. The mish-mash of these elements in paintings like Spring Picture: Athlete could represent an act of love-making (or at least vigorous wrestling), but the parts also adhere together to make a callipygian whole.
Kevin Kinsella discusses the current exhibition on view at the Radiator Gallery, This Is How My Brain Works, which offers a keen curatorial selection of collage art by various artists.
Bells and whistles aside, early slot machines were simple gambling devices with reels that spun when a lever was pulled, resulting in a pattern of symbols when they stopped spinning—and hopefully the clatter of a few coins dropping into the till. Over time, they got a bit more sophisticated. Nowadays, slots are high stakes affairs. And while the bells and whistles remain, the rules of chance have long been refined.
In most 20th century slot machines, numbers representing symbols are assigned to stopping positions and entered into a random number generator to control the payout odds of each position. While the owner could tweak the odds a bit, Lady Luck was still either with the player or against him. Today, computers inside the machines allow their owners to assign a different probability to each symbol on every reel allowing any odds to be set. While you might think that you just missed a jackpot, odds are, you weren’t even close. The inherent randomness of chance and risk is mitigated by deliberate checks—or filters. Still, you were this close to beating the house. Sure you were.
Now, at Radiator Gallery in Long Island City, Queens, the stakes just got higher. In “SLOTS,” multimedia artist Maximus Clarke employs the metaphor of the slot machine to consider randomness in the life of the artist, only the payout isn’t anything like a deluge of coins; rather, it’s Western culture itself. The piece, a projection-mapped video installation, is a part of This Is How My Brain Works, a group exhibition organized by first-time curator Michael Lee that examines the practice of collage in media ranging from works on paper to artist books, photographs, sculpture, textiles, and video. According to Clarke, collage is a practice that can extend across any and all media and “SLOTS,” which questions whether there’s a set of steps that the artist can credibly climb to achieve significance, or if it’s just a game of chance, a “digital, multimedia embodiment of that practice.”
Gillian Sagansky talks with gallerist Jack Chiles and curator Pati Hertling about their collaborative project on the Bowery, which features artist-designed signs.
The Jack Chiles Gallery occupies the top two floors of a three-story federal townhouse which dates back to the 1790s, making it one of the oldest buildings on the Bowery. Jack Chiles, who is British-born, has teamed up with curator Pati Hertling to present the most recent edition of the 208 Bowery Sign Residency project at his gallery. Every few months the pair chooses a different artist or group of artists to take over the advertising space which consists of one large sign that spans the width of the building (measuring 16 by 4.5 feet) and a light box sign that projects at a right angle from the building (measuring 5 by 3 feet).
The duo launched their sign residency project in July with a dinner catered by famed Mission Chinese, and chose the New York-based collectives United Brothers (consisting of Ei and Tomoo Arakawa) and Rirkrit Tiravanija (German artists Kerstin Brätsch and Adele Röder) to kickstart the project with two original signs. The collectives wrote a haiku on the large sign in commemoration of the Fukishima catastrophe (“B Personal/Sun in the Sky Blocked/Radiants Cost. A Tanning Haiku by Das Institut & United Brothers”), and used the lightbox to advertise their upcoming shows in Japan. The current artist in residence is the highly acclaimed Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravinija who has transcribed the English words “Freedom cannot be simulated” across the larger sign and “Time not waiting” (which translates into “Don’t waste time”) in traditional Chinese characters on one side of the lightbox and in contemporary characters on the other side.
I met with Jack and Pati on the first floor of the gallery. Their personalities complemented one another—Jack is bubbly and witty with a charming British accent, while Pati is more contemplative and soft-spoken. We discussed the motivation for the sign residency and explored the relation between their site-specific project and the environment in which it resides.
South Africa-based painter Richard Hart brings a recipe for immortality to the canvas with fresh perspectives on a globalized neo-primitivism.
Here is what I notice about artist Richard Hart when we first meet in Dumbo: the dude comes prepared. He greets me with a winning smile and a firm handshake. As we talk, he looks at me dead-on—never wavering, never missing a beat, consistent eye contact. Hart doesn’t play around. Conversation comes with ease. When I ask if he has brought any samples of new work with him, he passes me a small black booklet. Inside: How to Live. Forever., a collection of his most recent series, gorgeous compositions printed in full color, laid out with the astounding precision and obsessive aesthetic found only with the best sort of art design. “I run a design studio,” he says simply as I flip through the pages. Go figure, Hart. The booklet is, in itself, a work of art.
Later on, as I go back through I realize that this new body of work is actually somewhat an illustration of a larger narrative. Within the cover, Hart has printed:
“After years of turmoil, brutality, corruption and war, a new Pan-African power base emerges. It is less a form of government than a transformation in consciousness, a sea change driven by the new values of a digitally empowered youth. Determined to right the wrongs of their forebears, and suspicious of Western political systems and failed economic models, the emergent leaders look inwards for counsel. They turn to their ancestors. To the Nature Spirit. They meld traditional notions of mysticism, magic and muti with technology and science. They forge new mythologies and rituals. Weapons become adornments. Music, poetry and rhythm are restored as portals to the divine. Animal spirits are called upon and revered. It is the dawn of a new primitivism. Though the dark soul of the continent remains, it is a warm, enveloping blackness that holds at its core love, optimism, healing and trust.”
I get it. Hart is molding new worlds, fresh possibilities, and a plan for eternity. And no wonder: each painting and sculpture presents faces, bodies, and objects with brave sight and new understanding. The work is all at once surrealist and stimulating, bemusing and beatific. Hart’s universe is one unknown, the geographies unmapped; there is so much to explore. The act of discovery is tantamount to the act of looking with each piece; to find is to see, and vice versa. Figures and structures unfold with a lyricism that excites and astounds. This is a novel direction and it is clear that Hart is in it for the long haul. With four international solo shows under his belt in locations ranging from Berlin to Cape Town, Hart is poised and ready to make his U.S. debut. Watching him hard at work, I can’t help but agree—this is, indeed, how to live forever.
After our first meeting, Hart and I continued to correspond, recording the artist’s first-ever interview about his creative practice for American press. I am honored to present it here.
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.”
Sabrina Ratté. Faceless Kiss. Music by Jeffre Cantu-Ledesma. Digital and analog video. 2012. All video courtesy of the artist.
Sabrina Ratté talks to Ari Spool about her films and the organic nature of the inorganic artifice. Sabrina Ratté’s films are usually set to music made by machines. Out of the 20 or so videos she’s made that I’ve seen, only two had a human figure, and every single one had music made by digital or analog synthetic means—in Sabrina’s work, no one is ever playing the violin. Synthesizers of all types are the soundtrack to her films, and they are almost uniformly lush, ambient, and beautiful. To talk about the music before addressing the visual elements of the films themselves is necessary: in order to understand the imagery presented one must know that the music is inorganic. A viewer must also engage with the colors, drawn from nature—an aqueous palette of purples and blues, sometimes veering into a heat-map red, sometimes working with beige-inflected oranges and greens. Once familiarized with the music and the colors, all that remains to approach are the shapes. Depending on the music used, the shapes follow different rules. Sometimes they are anthropomorphic daubs, sometimes skittering matrices. In each of these works, the viewer enters into worlds of Sabrina’s making. A view of these artificial settings is washed with a fuzz, as if the lens has been scrubbed with a scratchy sponge. Nothing stands still—the view out the windows, the floors, and the walls all appear to vibrate, either with the flicker characteristic of a VHS, or with an even, steady glide across other panes of the image. In the presence of these environments the sensation is all-encompassing; the artificiality is, at times, almost overwhelming. Sabrina lives in Montreal. I live in Queens. Over a month’s time, we corresponded via email to build out this exchange.
Sabrina Ratté talks to Ari Spool about her films and the organic nature of the inorganic artifice.
Sabrina Ratté’s films are usually set to music made by machines. Out of the 20 or so videos she’s made that I’ve seen, only two had a human figure, and every single one had music made by digital or analog synthetic means—in Sabrina’s work, no one is ever playing the violin. Synthesizers of all types are the soundtrack to her films, and they are almost uniformly lush, ambient, and beautiful.
To talk about the music before addressing the visual elements of the films themselves is necessary: in order to understand the imagery presented one must know that the music is inorganic. A viewer must also engage with the colors, drawn from nature—an aqueous palette of purples and blues, sometimes veering into a heat-map red, sometimes working with beige-inflected oranges and greens. Once familiarized with the music and the colors, all that remains to approach are the shapes. Depending on the music used, the shapes follow different rules. Sometimes they are anthropomorphic daubs, sometimes skittering matrices.
In each of these works, the viewer enters into worlds of Sabrina’s making. A view of these artificial settings is washed with a fuzz, as if the lens has been scrubbed with a scratchy sponge. Nothing stands still—the view out the windows, the floors, and the walls all appear to vibrate, either with the flicker characteristic of a VHS, or with an even, steady glide across other panes of the image. In the presence of these environments the sensation is all-encompassing; the artificiality is, at times, almost overwhelming.
Sabrina lives in Montreal. I live in Queens. Over a month’s time, we corresponded via email to build out this exchange.
Simon Dinnerstein on the power of sychronicity, the idea of the “masterpiece,” and art that defies strategy, taxonomy, and possibly even the artist.
I learned about Simon Dinnerstein through a bizarre series of sychronicities. First, I encountered an image of Dinnerstein’s epic Fulbright Triptych on the cover of a book of essays at Strand Book Store. Hailing from the eerily poetic world of Alice Neel, Alfred Leslie, Kerry James Marshall, or David Hockney, the image stopped me dead in my tracks. I was startled that I had not seen the painting before. I thumbed through the book to find that the collection of essays, written by a motley array of prominent writers, poets, psychologists, and actors, were all devoted precisely to the mystery and heft of this singular painting. I learned that the painting was housed in Penn State’s Palmer Collection and I vowed to go see it as soon as I could.
Before doing so, however, my second encounter with the work took place: a sighting of the painting on a poster at the home of a family friend, who, it turns out, had been a student of Simon Dinnerstein’s at the New School/Parsons in the ’70s. She had just gotten back in touch with Dinnerstein after learning from an article in the New York Times by Roberta Smith that the Triptych had made its way to the German Consulate, where it is—and will be—on view for the next two years.
My third encounter with the Triptych took place much sooner and more locally than I expected. It was just a few days later that I stood before its fourteen-foot glory, beside Dinnerstein, who had agreed to come walk me through his work. We looked together for hours at this paean to the tools, forms, and genres of art-making—a haunting homage to those objects, people, and ideas that inspire artists to make art.
As he lead me through the marks and methods of the Triptych that day, Dinnerstein spoke with a peculiar detachment, as if the work was so great, so interwoven and dense, that it existed entirely on its own, beyond him. This first encounter with Dinnerstein left me wanting to know more about this man whose creation seemed almost to eclipse his entire being—where does an artist go from here? At his Park Slope studio and home of over 40 years, I met the world of a curious and engaged mind, whose walls boasted sustained and varied lines of inquiry both stemming and diverging from those in the Triptych. As we spoke about the piece, I saw that Dinnerstein lacks nostalgia or complacency and has avoided succumbing to an art market-driven aesthetic in his work. I left with the sensation that I had just been in the presence of a bygone—or perhaps just rare—breed of artist, for whom the greatest accomplishment and potential of work is its ability not only to astound viewers, but to beguile and awe its own maker.
Bellatrix Hubert talks with Legacy Russell about the state of the arts, not being a curator, and the buzz of her recent Hummingbird.
When Bellatrix Hubert and I first meet, we firmly shake hands.
“Legacy,” I say.
“Bella,” she offers.
I had arrived at Chelsea’s David Zwirner to check out the summer exhibition, a showing of twenty-two artists lyrically dubbed Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, an homage to Henry Miller’s potent book of the same name, first published in 1962.
Miller—a writer and a painter—built a career suspended between two identities, a life that enacted itself as both a bridge and a hybrid between the literary and art worlds. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that the work for this particular exhibit at Zwirner seems to toy with perception: nothing is quite what it seems, everything is not at second glance what it postures to be at first. This is why it strikes me as a prime plot twist to discover that Bella—though curator of this particular show—is not, in fact, a curator. Partner and Director of the David Zwirner gallery in New York, Bella’s Stand Still Like the Hummingbird is a new direction for her and therefore somewhat of an experiment. Traditionally she spends her days with art, but not curating it; rather, she is a liaison between the gallery and the creative energies that fuel its existence: artists themselves. Thus, Bella-as-curator brings to Zwirner’s summer calendar a unique perspective, one that is not trained, trimmed, tailored, or edited, but rather visceral, immediate, and palpating with gut instinct.
In his Sexus, Miller noted, “Every day we slaughter our finest impulses.” For Bella’s Hummingbird, however, no blood was shed. With impassioned spontaneity alive and kicking, we sat down after the show to discuss how it got its wings and to meditate on the East, the West, and everything that flies between.
Artist Emily Roysdon on the many facets of “queer,” playing with language, activism through aesthetics, and making the audience happy.
“Clock! Block! Block!”
Shouting this loudly and in quick succession with over one hundred other bodies in Emily Roysdon’s I Am a Helicopter, Camera, Queen (2012), I found myself inevitably shouting “Cock! Block!” I tried to remember clock, but I could not quite get the cock out of my clock. This linguistic stickiness is just one of the many sideways promises of the score Roysdon set out for her Tate Live Performance Room piece. In fact, this is a staple of Roysdon’s work: the persistence of an idea that rolls around in your head and on your tongue, an idea which slowly works its way up through your feet to percolate, finally finding an unforeseen home inside of you.
Emily Roysdon’s practice is the concept, the idea that comes to life in the form of bodies that take shape through photography, collaboration, or correspondence. Her work is the quiet choreography of language through simple and provocative images. A founding member of the feminist genderqueer artist collective, LTTR, Roysdon’s work has its roots in the language of community and conversation. Since her days with the collective, Roysdon has shown artistic works internationally from New York to Madrid to Prague, and was just shortlisted for the Victor Pinchuk Foundation’s Future Generation Art Prize in Kiev. In addition to art objects, images, and multimedia works, Roysdon also creates event scenarios that bring artists together in response to a specific challenge such as in 2011’s A Gay Bar Called Everywhere (With Costumes and No Practice) at The Kitchen in New York City. Roysdon and I connected online between London and Stockholm—Roysdon’s other home away from New York.