Polish artist Karczmarczyk on desire in a post-Communist country, why the Catholic church needs modern art and being mistaken for Lady Gaga.
After seeing Ada Karczmarczyk’s work on the website of the Center for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, I was enticed (if not seduced) to know more about the colorful imagery that illustrates her spiritual journey. At the heart of this quest, as she so adamantly discusses in this interview, is the search for deeper meaning in a world dominated by superficial desires. Much of her work is a reinvention of centuries-old Christian motifs, ones that are now canonical in the history of art, which she uses to attract the attention of viewers who may otherwise be idling away on their smartphones. She is not prostelytizing, but rather creating “attractive bait” that conveys the “important messages connected to the Gospels.” In a long email exchange over the course of two months, Karczmarczyk explained her work in the recent exhibition Testimony (at CCA), the road to conversion, the role of religion in today’s society, and how others have interpreted (and often misinterpreted) her message.
Harry Weil In a brief explanatory text for Testimony, the curator Monika Szewczyk asked if the Catholic Church needs modern art, and if so, for what purpose? What do you think the church would do with modern art?
Ada Karczmarczyk Modern art would be much more appealing to a wider audience and not evoke such negative feelings. It is the mission of the Church to sustain and disseminate the Christian faith, but the problem is that the manner in which it wishes to reach the potential contemporary recipient is not a very effective one. The mentality of our times has changed so much that, in order to encourage someone who is young to believe and deepen his or her faith, it is not sufficient to use traditional methods.
In order to understand the most important notions in this religion, one ought to, first and foremost, activate their faculty of abstract thinking. The first associations that young people have with Catholicism are often statues of saints with funny halos, nails in hands, and a woman in a blue shawl. In order to understand certain transcendent matters, one ought to be able to imagine them. Illustrating motifs from the Bible are important, but what is needed is a new way to visually convey them, a way that is closer to the minds of young people. Think of the films on YouTube, where, when you hear or see suffering or pain, you can automatically escape by turning off your computer. For that very reason, my proposal of accessible and colorful aesthetics for sacred art in Testimony is a model of “attractive bait,” which is to make young people interested in faith, while simultaneously conveying the most important messages connected with the Gospel and the ethics disseminated by the Church.
Paper Clip is a weekly compilation of online articles, artifacts and other—old, new, and sometimes BOMB-related.
Memoirist Royal Young on misbehavior, the nice Jewish boy inside him, and seeking fame after a stint on the casting couch.
One night, I encountered Royal Young at the top of a narrow staircase, standing beside a woman who introduced herself as “Royal’s mom.” She offered me a tangerine and a glass of fruit juice. The disarming gathering was a literary salon, held in what I later discovered was the setting for Young’s memoir: the art-laden living room of his parents’ rambling Lower East Side apartment. The bohemian dream home to a certain species of New Yorker, its trove of handmade objects reminded me of how I grew up—gazing at tribal talismans, masks, and weapons. Young and I were raised in similar circles, centered on art and film, but two decades apart. Our fathers led parallel lives. His is a painter with an outsider’s flair, edge, and verve. Mine was the pioneering documentary filmmaker and explorer, Robert E. Dierbeck, now dead. We’d been raised by a pair of men who’d achieved prominence in their respective fields yet had been set mysteriously adrift for a time, like two isolated desert wanderers. Though I knew little about Royal Young, I became curious and then beguiled that night as he took the stage—a stretch of carpet between the sofa and the table—and began to read.
Young’s memoir, Fame Shark, unfolds in a seamier, dingier New York—a city whose sidewalks glitter with broken glass. Brooklyn attracts more drug dealers than poseurs. Manhattan is populated by rich foot fetishists, poor artists, and seedy modeling agents who prey upon bright young things while thinly disguising their pedophilia. Darkly comic, this harrowing coming-of-age story chronicles a teenager’s desperate hunt for stardom. It exposes its narrator’s naked ambition, sad yearnings, and bad decisions with such self-deprecating wit that we can’t help but like him, even if his own father locks the door against him and his mother tearfully admits she hates him.
The book is Young’s first. At the end of the summer, we made a date to talk it over.
Royal Young It’s hard being back in New York. When you’re away, you’re surrounded by trees and you don’t see fifty shitheads when you get out your door.
Lisa Dierbeck It’s like the first day of school. Everyone’s scurrying around. I had so much anxiety with all my meetings and deadlines, then realized they were largely imaginary.
Sound artist Christine Sun Kim and multidisciplinary artist Thomas Benno Mader collaborate on Recording Contract, documenting the audio signals as a digital recorder travelled from Berlin to New York. After the file arrived in New York, Kim—who is deaf—edited the piece. See their contract and listen to excerpts from the project as well as the full 24 hour version exclusively on BOMB.
Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read “Yachts” by Mark Baumer.
At breakfast, before he ate his single slice of dry toast, my father would sometimes try to pray, but more often he turned to talking to his reflection in the chrome toaster. One morning I heard him ask his own reflection if I would grow into anything more than an ugly prince, a cripple, and a balled-up photograph in a stained t-shirt.
When he talked about me, my childhood, and my lack of genitalia he struggled to say the words. I was seven weeks old and my dick had left for South America. At the time, my young brain could not understand this. My dick did not say or wave goodbye. The morning after he left I found a scrap of yellow legal pad taped to my groin. It read, “I want to be a fascist dictator. I want it all.” I envisioned a figure shouting, ordering the unarmed shot dead, and it felt like my dick was responsible for every atrocity in the modern world.
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.
Paper Clip is a weekly compilation of online articles, artifacts and other—old, new, and sometimes BOMB-related.
Brandon Shimoda dives into travel, dragon’s whiskers, the poetry of decision-making, spirits-within-spirits, and city versus country.
Poetry books often become artifacts through personal experience or reputation. They demonstrate why we hunger for labyrinths of beauty and reason. They, like Brandon Shimoda’s newest full-length Portuguese, are otherworldly, intensely present, and unmistakable in their singularity.
Portuguese—the inaugural collection published jointly by Octopus Books and Tin House Books—epitomizes that class of timeless art. It can be found in bookstores or buried in the Southwestern desert. It bears the complicated history of a true artifact: ghostly yet grounded. Its poems glide down a staircase with steps of different sizes. We swoon and jerk. We’re convinced the speaker’s family is our own.
Shimoda’s poems manage a clarity that Sappho would employ in 2013, an empirical exactness, and potency. The reader stands on a wooded island stacked on top of other islands. A whisper grows with the timbre of a boom, and one carries the echo for good luck.
On the jacket of Portuguese, twenty-six blurbs speak in awe of Brandon Shimoda—and rightfully so. I emailed with him over the course of several months, spanning a handful of continents.
Daniel Moysaenko You explain in the epilogue to Portuguese that as a young child an older kid on the school bus called you Portuguese, though to your knowledge you aren’t ethnically Portuguese. You go on to investigate the relationship between your Japanese ancestry and that boy’s insistence on a different identity. A number of poems in Portuguese call to mind this doubleness: hermaphrodites, androgyny, “two wives with one body,” “a face bulging out of another face,” “the possibility of being / In two places simultaneously.” Could you talk a little about that? The liminal space, a bridge between two identified categories—is it obliteration of borders, compassion, complication of self-image, something else?
Brandon Shimoda I’ve experienced the sensation that I am my sister many times—not that I am both myself and the sister of myself, but that I am only one self, my sister, my actual sister: Kelly Shimoda. It’s been awhile since I’ve experienced this, but I remember it well. It was a sensation, both physical and mental, and transitory, of course. In those moments, I had a brother: Brandon Shimoda. I was not Brandon. Brandon was someone else: my brother. It’s possible I was slipping into the body and mind of a third sibling, mostly sister, but not, a sibling neither sister nor brother. I don’t know where I have felt at home, if anywhere. I am half of many things, though do and do not know when to undertake or operate a hyphen.
Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska of Nature Theater of Oklahoma on their series Life & Times, new episodes of which will be presented this September by FIAF as a part of its Crossing the Line festival.
Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska, the directors of Nature Theater of Oklahoma, have charged themselves with the task of transforming material that by most standards would be deemed insignificant—16 hours of phone conversations during which Kristin Worrall tells the story of her life—into an epic performance that will eventually consist of ten episodes spanning 24 hours. The show is Life & Times and this September, FIAF will present Episodes 4.5 & 5 as a part of its Crossing the Line festival. Each episode of Life & Times has its own distinct context, but these two in particular mark a shift in the show’s trajectory. For these episodes, Copper and Liska used older forms of animation and bookmaking to create performances without actors. Always diving into unknown forms and challenges, Copper and Liska’s dedication to seeing the potential for performance in everything intrigued me. So what happens when you take an ordinary life and, as Kelly said, “claim more spectacle [for it] than you have a right to?” Well, it’s the Life & Times experiment—an invitation to reconsider what and how we value. In the conversation that follows, we discuss the impact of scale, the art of rotoscopy, and dealing with the middle.
Lauren Bakst I was re-reading the interview that Young Jean Lee did with you guys for BOMB a few years ago, and one of the things that you spoke about, Kelly, was this question of, “When does something become theatre?” or, “What’s the least thing we can do and have it be a show?” . . . In working with animation, drawing, and bookmaking for Episodes 4.5 & 5, do you find that those questions are still relevant for you? Are you approaching these mediums as theatre?
Kelly Copper Yeah, we are approaching them as theatre but also thinking about where these are in relation to the other episodes, because we’re always thinking about performing them consecutively. For instance, episodes one through four are always actors on stage, dancing, singing, acting, but always actors in front of an audience. We’re thinking about what it needs to become at this point. The audience has built up this relationship with the actors, but we needed to make a turn here—as artists. And we also needed the audience to make a turn here.
BURNAWAY Magazine’s Rachel Reese visits Steven L. Anderson’s studio to discuss the Deleuzian escape nature offers, and the ethical guidelines to channeling power through art.
Steven L. Anderson wants to both fight against and harness power. He recently relocated to Atlanta from LA, and brings his West Coast “woo-woo” and ideologies into a new Southern context. Anderson’s first institutional solo exhibition, Energy Strategies, opens at the Atlanta Contemporary Center next month. We met in his studio to talk about leftist leanings, the line between art and activism, starting new religions, working with or against the establishment, and Anderson’s spirit plant, the Agave americana.
Rachel Reese You recently moved here to Atlanta from LA, and before that you were in Chicago?
Steven L. Anderson We were in LA for 11 years and Chicago before that. . .
RR So what brought you to LA from Chicago?
SLA In Chicago, I was a part of a magazine called Cakewalk with my wife Liz Anderson and our friends from that whole scene. That’s the thing about Chicago, people just get up and move and they go to the coasts. Two of the founders moved to LA—Mari Eastman, and then Karl Erickson went go to Cal Arts, and Gretchen Larsen came with him. So we eventually followed.
We did three [Cakewalk] issues in Chicago and three issues in LA.
RR And it is an arts publication, with reviews, interviews and the like?