Saturday, October 21, 2017


Thinking today about my two early teen crushes and how together they still constitute the perfect person to me. Ian MacKaye put his hands on my shoulders at a show when I was fourteen and I think it might be the best thing that ever happened to me. And I still have a google alert for Matt Johnson because I need to be kept in the loop at all times, lol. I LOVE YOU BOTH! Sincerity, masculinity, radicalism, passion, intellect, talent, concern for society, and emotional truth.


Monday, October 16, 2017



 triennial spotlight 55




Josephine Meckseper’s richly
coded conceptual works reveal
the artist’s unflinching analysis
of political aesthetics. Writer
Aimee Walleston interrogates
the art of the German-born,
American-based artist, and
discovers a continuous
dialogue of opposing dogmas.

The work of Josephine Meckseper is foregrounded
in an examination of society’s penchant for
consuming itself through its own objects, images
and ideas. Meckseper grew up in Germany but
moved to the United States to attend graduate
school at the California Institute of the Arts
(CalArts), and currently resides in New York.
As a European artist who is in, but not of, the
United States, Meckseper utilises her doubled
identity – possessing both inside knowledge
and outside perspective – to create a discursive
practice that ping-pongs from coolly detached
social and cultural criticism to hotly invested
political provocation. The artist employs a broad
range of media using painting, sculpture, print
publishing and film to create individual works and
installations hallmarked by an arch appropriation
of the seductive surfaces of retail display. By
creating sculptures that often read like a shopper’s
paradise – as seen through a one-way mirrored
lens of commodity fetishism – Meckseper instructs
her audience to step back and reconsider not
the commodity itself, but the formal vessels of
commerce (mirrored display cases, glass vitrines)
that underpin the idiom of commercial transaction.

For the NGV Triennial, Meckseper has
created an installation that expands upon her
previous inquiries, in part by reckoning with
the contrasting ideologies of Neoclassism and
Modernism. Taking dynamic form in the space is
Las Meninas (2Xist), 2013, a sculpture consisting
of a tall glass vitrine containing several objects
and images. Meckseper first began making her
sculptural vitrines around the year 2000. These
works often showcase meaning-laden objects
and images that allude to ostensibly opposing
dogmata. For example, a 2004 window display,
titled Selling out, juxtaposed the collected
documents of the left-wing revolutionary group
the Angry Brigade with pantyhose packaging,
menswear and cologne bottles. Las Meninas
(2Xist) includes within it an oversized image
appropriated from men’s underwear packaging
featuring a bare-chested male model with the

same muscled physique found in classical Greek
and Roman statuary, its price tag attached
with a wink. The model is Neoclassical, and his
heroic pose and polished torso resemble the
images of youthful vigour celebrated during the
Third Reich – denoting an idea of the human
form as locus for a politics of suppression and
objectification. This image is countered with a
replica of Constantin Brancusi’s 1938 sculpture
Endless column, one of three sculptures
created by the artist to honour Romanian First
World War soldiers who had defended the city
of Târgu Jiu against the Central Powers.

Meckseper’s sculpture creates a space
where one can meditate upon the tendency
for art and aesthetics to be adopted – and
exploited – by regimes both commercial and
political. Complementing this vitrine, and central
to Meckseper’s NGV Triennial installation,
is a narrative film tilted PELLEA[S], 2016–17,
which takes its core narrative and dialogue
from the Flemish Symbolist playwright Maurice
Maeterlinck’s 1892 play Pelléas et Mélisande.
Made into an opera in 1902 by Claude Debussy,
the original narrative of Pelléas et Mélisande is a
classic love triangle, where Mélisande marries
Prince Golaud but falls in love with his brother,
Pelléas. In Meckseper’s re-imagining, gender roles
are inverted and subverted: Pellea[s] becomes a
stand-in for Melisande, and Golaud[e] is reborn as
a feminine character.

Like the world of traditional opera, the world
of popular narrative film has not often expressed
awareness of the normative gender expressions
that dominate its characterisations and storylines.
The term ‘male gaze’ originated in the 1975 essay
by Laura Mulvey ‘Visual pleasure and narrative
cinema’, although its origin – a feminist critique of
popular film – is rarely cited. In her essay, Mulvey
employed the lens of psychoanalysis to explore
the idea that, ‘Unchallenged, mainstream film
coded the erotic into the language of the dominant
patriarchal order … The determining male gaze
projects its phantasy onto the female figure which
is styled accordingly’. While the male gaze remains
the dominant perspective in popular film to this
day, in PELLEA[S], this gaze and these narrative
modalities are probed and upended, bringing
about new questions related to storytelling, gender
and objectification. Of the film, Meckseper says:

PELLEA[S] speaks Melisande’s lines,
and becomes a soft, fragile figure.
And Golaud[e] becomes more of an
authority figure, so the narrative of the
film pushes against the traditional gender
roles in opera, where women are usually
portrayed as vulnerable. Traditional
opera has very few empowered
female characters. I’m interested in
creating an alternative perspective,
something that looks at opera and film
– these overdetermined forms – from a
completely different angle.

While this is the artist’s first time delving
into narrative film, she identifies an unexpected
precursor to her work in the form of a serialised
publication she created in the mid 1990s,
FAT (1994–2000). Framed as a ‘commercial’
publication, FAT was designed in what Meckseper
has described as a ‘tabloid style’, and was
distributed internationally in retail stores. While
playfully reproducing ‘mass’ cultural tastes, the
publication also featured the writing and work of
avant-garde artists and thinkers, such as Dara
Birnbaum and Sylvère Lotringer. ‘In some ways,
this film is connected to FAT’, says Meckseper. ‘I
am interested in taking mainstream media, like film
and publishing, and making it into artwork.’

This conceptual approach is common in
Meckseper’s realm. Although PELLEA[S] derives
its narrative and characters from a well-known
historical work, critical discourse around the
contemporary political climate in the United States
is very much at its centre. The film opens with
high-contrast black-and-white footage Meckseper
shot during the inauguration of President Trump in
early 2017. The artist focuses on the architecture
of Washington D.C., revealing its odd mashup
of Neoclassical ‘wedding cake’ architecture and
statuary (including the iconic Jefferson Memorial)
set against modernist structures, such as the
Brutalist architecture of the Hirshhorn Museum and
Sculpture Garden. ‘It’s a conversation between
modernism and the Neoclassical, played out
through architecture’, says Meckseper.

In her examination of these forms, the artist
also makes reference to the study of sexuality and
space: in the film, for example, the hyper-phallic
Washington Monument is depicted opposing the
circular edifices of the Hirshhorn Museum. By
creating subtle comparisons that reveal gender
codes implicit in architectural forms, the artist calls
to mind architecture historian Beatriz Colomina’s
seminal 1992 essay, ‘The split wall: domestic
voyeurism’, wherein the author stated: ‘Architecture
is not simply a platform that accommodates
the viewing subject. It is a viewing mechanism
that produces the subject’. Colomina’s point, in
essence, is that there is no objectivity –
or asexuality – in architecture, as the voice of its
creators influences the people who reside in and
around it.

Meckseper’s film delves into the layers
of overt and covert political machinations that
define the United States’ contemporary political
climate, lingering on images of protest during the
inauguration that recall an earlier video piece by
the artist, 4.30.92, 1992. In this work, Meckseper
filmed five CalArts students on a rooftop in
Los Angeles who were preparing to document
a performance. The piece was unexpectedly
reframed by the Rodney King protest. Says the
artist, ‘I created a 24-hour performance piece
that was loosely based on Situationism. The
Rodney King riots occurred while the performance was taking
place, and they became a part of the piece – it was a minimal
performance taken over by reality, becoming theatrical’. From
an overhead point-of-view, the video traces police cars and
billowing smoke, noting the aesthetics of traumatic disorder
that emerged spontaneously in the face of gross injustice.

Perhaps the most enticing element in PELLEA[S] is
Meckseper’s documentation of the ‘grand pageant’ of the
inauguration proper, which features stark images of soldiers in
formation marching down the National Mall. This footage – often
filmed from an aerial perspective – bears resemblance to the
Third Reich’s propaganda films, making Meckseper’s implied
critique of the United States’ new regime all the more damning.
‘This election is the contemporary drama of our time’, she says. ‘I
wanted to make work that recognised both the private space and
the public space. And I wanted to create an original narrative, not
just a reaction.’

The soundtrack that accompanies the footage is a rendition
of German avant-garde composer Arnold Schoenberg’s 1903
‘symphonic poem’ Pelleas und Melisande, which adds another
layer of political meaning to the work (Schoenberg, who was
Jewish, moved to the United States in 1934 after the Nazi
party labelled his work ‘degenerated music’). ‘The footage
in Washington D.C. looks timeless, but of course the event is
already historicised. And opera itself exists as a mythical space
– it’s always in its own time and place, so the juxtaposition of the
two starts to fictionalise reality’, says Meckseper. By creating a
film that intertwines history and the present-day, masculine and
feminine, reaction and revolution, Meckseper reveals the many
complexities that underscore the one question that arguably
defines the United States in 2017: How did we get here? In
true Meckseper fashion, the artist allows the answer to remain
permanently, and radically, in flux.



I recently made this platform private for a little while. I sometimes feel that my thoughts and ideas are too outside the realm of political appropriateness to be considered safe for me. I began to worry that someone might read something, take it the wrong way, and I would then have problems with my life as an educator. I don’t feel this way because I am paranoid. Most conversations I engage in with people follow such a codified engagement with “politics” that I am constantly reining in my true thoughts and feelings because I know they are way outside the realm of comprehension (or even consideration) for my conversation partner. We are not, today, a society of avant garde thinkers. We are a society of separatist haters.

And I realized that, no matter the social or fiscal consequence, I am far less safe as a human being if I keep my thoughts hidden and quiet.

I can say one overarching thing about contemporary society: we live incredibly complicated lives, yet we have entirely lost our ability to embrace complexity in thoughts, ideas, experiences and emotions.

Today, as I was walking a dog I am currently somewhat in charge of, I felt a deep, almost unbearable hopelessness and sadness. It settled inside my heart like a piece of polished obsidian. And I felt like the only thing that would make me feel better, to make this stone feel lighter and less sharp, would be to write and “publish” a piece on this whole thing with Harvey Weinstein.

To be honest: I am very much outside the realm of contemporary cinema and TV and that kind of stuff. So scandal and intrigue in those realms might as well be happening in a far-off galaxy. I just don’t care. I think, when you look at the stuff being produced in those realms (aside from Mad Men which was totally about consciousness and to my mind a complete aberration from popular film and TV), you see society at its most retrograde. All of it is just mind garbage to temporarily keep people from thinking about how they are going to die one day. It’s all just filler. It’s like mental cigarettes.

So this Weinstein thing, as a cultural phenomenon, is not interesting to me. I’ve recently been dragged into conversations about “believing the woman,” which is also not interesting to me from an ideological standpoint. People lie, people tell the truth. About everything. Placing an ideology on one group of people is to deny that basic fact of life. That doesn’t make sense from a logical standpoint, so it isn’t interesting to me. I know that this ideology was created in response to women’s accusations of abuse being discounted for so long. But creating an abstract ideology to make up for that is cold comfort. That is why I hate all ideology. It’s like having a friend who fucks you over, but then vows to never fuck ANYONE ELSE over ever again. Fix the problem with the person you actually fucked over. Do the hard work, the one-to-one.

So I’m not interested in this Weinstein thing from a standpoint of who said and did what to whom. As with all suffering, I simply wish it didn’t exist.

What is interesting to me about this is something that goes beyond the famous names and the specific details of the accusations. I think this incident cuts to the very heart of the way in which men and women relate to each other. I think men and women have come to absolutely hate each other. And this is what causes me the intense, overwhelming sadness I felt today walking this cutely obnoxious dog. I felt that so much. And I thought that even if all the schools I teach at fire me, I still need to write and post my thoughts. Because I don’t know what else to do about my feelings anymore.

When I was a child, the behavior of men toward me made me feel like I was prey, and they were predators. I subconsciously developed a solution, which was to make myself unattractive via gaining weight. Since then, I have literally not found any better solution to this problem, which has never gone away. I’ve simply scaled up the beauty factor so that 5-10 pounds overweight makes me “undesirable,” instead of 100 pounds. Every time I’ve worked “under” straight men, I’ve felt like their desire was to make “work” into a power struggle. Instead of engaging with that, which only made me feel uncomfortable, I unconsciously became someone who basically only works with women and gay men.

In my “romantic” life, I have constantly felt that the men who liked me were serving a higher master than their own longings and desires: they were serving their friends’ judgments of their longings and desires. When I think of Harvey Weinstein, I do not see a man who was entrapping young women into abusive sexual relations to satisfy his own sexual desires. I see a man who was coercing famous women into rape/sex in order to feel like a powerful man to his friends and business colleagues. The women were merely disposable characters used to further his own autobiographical script, which was being executive produced by the other men in his life.

There is a power dynamic between men that turns women into nothing more than status objects. And heterosexual women either choose to play into this, or they choose to be alone. And you can be in a relationship and still be alone, FYI. There are many loveless relationships of convenience out there.

Because of this power dynamic—which is the dominant if not universal sexual dynamic between men and women—men enter sexual situations with women as predators, and women enter sexual situations with men as prey. Both sexes dehumanize each other and dehumanize themselves, with no conscious awareness of this.

The man lays a trap: in his frat house, in his dorm room, in his luxury hotel suite. The woman paints her eyes like a wide-eyed baby animal, and tentatively enters the trap (wait, it’s a trap? It doesn’t say it’s a trap) on her wobbly newborn stiletto heels. She cannot run—she is too scared—a deer in headlights—and her skirt is too tight. He cannot resist. He must attack: he pounces on his prey, and brings the story of his conquest back to his fellow hunters.

Both sexes are complicit in this dynamic. We feel badly for the woman, as we feel badly for the zebra who is attacked and killed by the lion. The prey elicits our sympathy; the predator receives our scorn. Both are empty gestures, when no one can see past the dynamic itself.

I want nothing to do with this dynamic. I hate it. While I think it is fun and exciting to dress erotically, I want to be able to do that in a relationship that is safe and loving (not stable and boring). I want to do it for myself and for my partner. I want to be my normal weight (not my chunky-is-safety weight), and feel like someone wants me to live on this earth badly enough to protect me. I don’t want to feel “fuckable” to a vast quantity of men—apparently I have been fuckable since childhood, and it has never made me feel very good about myself. I want to feel loveable. I want to be viewed as neither predator nor prey, but as someone fully invested in her humanity, with a humanity others want to invest in as well.

AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO WANTS THIS? Seriously. Am I the only one? Are we so invested in the ideology of this dynamic, and the mutual hatred that it inspires, that we cannot see beyond it? And why, when I try to broach this topic, am I always shot down? Why do I have to live inside the feminine role of this dynamic, rather than aspire to a better role? Why is the only appropriate response to this current situation to demand the head of Harvey Weinstein, in the service of “all women”?

Why can’t we interrogate the very nature of male/female sexual dynamics, and explore the state they are in right now?

I have never felt sexual desire for women. I WISH TO GOD I DID. I WISH TO GOD THAT THIS WAS MY “PROBLEM.” Desiring men, and constantly having to deal not with the one-to-one relationship (problematic enough), but with their “friends” and how I might increase or decrease their social value, is deeply painful to me. It makes me feel like a product or an acquisition, not a person. If there is anything that really makes me question how we are going to survive as a species, it is this.

We need to begin to look at our values as a society. We need to begin to look at the roles we play, and how subconsciously invested we are in these roles. EVERYONE IS INVOLVED IN THESE ROLES. Even if you are in a “healthy” monogamous relationship—guess what? You are not exempt, just as I am not exempt because I choose abstinence in the present moment. I don’t WANT to be abstinent. I simply know of no better choice, when it feels as though literally NO ONE IS CAPABLE OF IMAGINING MALE/FEMALE EROTIC CONNECTION BEYOND THE PREDATOR/PREY DYNAMIC.


ARAS (The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism) presents

Featuring poetry readings by Alina Gregorian, Aldrin Valdez and Aimee Walleston
and music by Rachel Brotman & Brooke Herr

Tuesday, October 24th, 7pm
Admission: $12 collected at the door


ARAS is pleased to announce an evening of ekphrastic poetry and music. Coming from the Greek ek, "out," and phrasis, "speak," the verb ekphrazein means to call a visual object by name. It is the description of one artwork by another medium, thus allowing each form to illuminate and enhance the other. Come see what new forms arise as three poets and a musical duo perform works in response to the archetype of the Mirror.

The performances will be followed by a wine reception in the archive.

The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism)  is a pictorial and written archive of mythological, ritualistic, and symbolic images from all over the world and from all epochs of human history. The collection probes the universality of archetypal themes and provides a testament to the deep and abiding connections that unite the disparate factions of the human family.



RACHEL BROTMAN & BROOKE HERR have been working collaboratively since 2016. They make multimedia compositions using two voices, live sampling and manipulation, and video-visual performance elements. Pulling from very different backgrounds, their process of creation is contingent upon a hybrid approach—a fidelity to holding the polished and the unpolished in the same space. Their previous works include "I Live in Symbols" (premiered at Not Art Presents, at BKSD, December 2016), "Helpless" (premiered at Brackish, March 2016) and "Dead Snake" (premiered at Brackish, March 2016).

ALINA GREGORIAN is a writer and artist whose chapbooks include Flags for Adjectives (Diez) and Navigational Clouds (Monk Books). Alina hosts a video poetry series on HuffPost and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

ALDRIN VALDEZ is a Pinoy writer and visual artist. They grew up in Manila and Long Island and currently live in Brooklyn. Aldrin studied at Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts. They have been awarded fellowships from Queer/Art/Mentorship and Poets House. Their work has appeared in Art21 Magazine, ArtSlant, The Cortland Review, Nat Brut, Poor Claudia, the Poetry Project's The Recluse, and elsewhere. Aldrin's first book of poetry will be published by Nightboat Books in 2018.

AIMEE WALLESTON is a New York City-based essayist and editor who has contributed writing to Art in America, CR Fashion Book, T Magazine, Flash Art and The Brooklyn Rail, among many other publications. She teaches at Sotheby’s Institute of Art and the International Center of Photography.

Friday, October 13, 2017


Exclusive Interview: Ai Weiwei Fences Himself In

Ai Weiwei's multipartite new public project for New York ruffled feathers even in its planning stages. Does the just-unveiled suite of works, which takes the security fence as a central motif, break down any barriers?

"Mending one's fences"—an odd colloquialism for repairing damaged relationships—suggests that the failure of humanity to align with peace and unity might directly mirror our need to constantly erect and patrol boundaries. Through his sprawling new 300-plus work site-specific public enterprise, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, Ai Weiwei would seem to agree. Opening across New York City on October 12, Ai's project—which eschews idiomatic brevity in favor of a sprawling citywide takeover—is composed of three grandiose installations and several sculptural interventions, alongside 200 individual lamppost banners featuring the portraits of historic and contemporary immigrants. And as has become customary for the artist, the project attracted controversy from the get-go, in particular from Washington Square locals who saw it as an unwarranted political intervention in a supposedly agenda-free public space (it didn't help matters that the work will displace the square's traditional Christmas tree). 
The overarching image of the security fence is also, of course, hardly a neutral one. Ai told GARAGE: "The Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989. At that time, there were only [about] eleven fences worldwide. Now there are over 70. So fences as territory [markers] always relate to our understanding of ourselves, and our attitudes toward others, both economic and political. It's an urgent topic for everyone to be conscious of, especially in the US, which is limiting refugees from entering, and also pushing away the people who [already] live and work here." While the work is unequivocally "about" forced migration and the refugee crisis, it is also very much about the artist himself—his experiences as an immigrant coming to New York from China, his work as a human rights advocate, and his biography as one of the most visible cultural irritants of his time. 
Ai Weiwei, Circle Fence, 2017. Powder coated mild steel, polypropylene netting. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Timothy Schenck, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY
The logistical details of Good Fences Make Good Neighbors are of a magnitude that gives serious pause; this is a vast and, literally, exhaustive undertaking. The actual experience of the artworks as installed is more refreshing—albeit inconsistent. At the World's Fair Unisphere behind the Queens Museum in Flushing, the artist riffs on the fence with a winsome interactive installation, Circle Fence, composed of a 1,000-foot hammock that completely encircles the landmark metal globe. The sculpture, made of mesh hammock fabric connected by dozens of metal stanchions, provides visitors with endless opportunities to recline and Instagram.
Gilded Cage, another large sculpture on the southeast corner of Central Park, is essentially a human-sized metal birdcage enclosing old-school "metal tooth" security turnstiles of the kind still found in NYC subway stations. Of the work's golden surface, Ai claims, with implied sarcasm, "I made the sculpture gold to please [Trump]—it's very friendly." But while it may do our leader right, the sculpture feels contrived. Along with the installations, Ai is displaying 98 of his own documentary images detailing his "research" at refugee camps, including the Shariya Camp in Iraq. These images and portraits appear across the five boroughs on bus shelters, lamppost banners and kiosks. And in a few days, the artist's new documentary on the refugee crisis, Human Flow, will open in New York and Washington, D.C.
Ai Weiwei, Gilded Cage, 2017. Mild steel, paint. Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio/ Frahm & Frahm. Photo: Ai Weiwei Studio, Courtesy Public Art Fund, NY 
Ai's is the type of artwork that has recently become, in a certain sense, beyond criticism, because its content is human suffering itself. Whether or not one questions the artist's sincerity—and many have—the exhibition signals an acutely didactic emphasis, one particularly notable in an artist demonstrably capable of subtle poetic nuance. For example, his June 1994 photograph of artist Lu Qing lifting her skirt to expose her white panties at the gate of the Forbidden City on the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen demonstrations is a work that expresses politics with wit and sensuality. And the artist's more recent exhibition at Deitch Projects in New York, Laundromat—wherein he displayed the belongings of 15,000 evicted Syrian refugees—delivered "show don't tell" refinement. Clearly the nature of public political art now is that the "message" must be more immediately readable to a large audience. If that's the case, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors succeeds—though it's a lengthy read, and rendered in bold type.
Aimee Walleston is a New York-based essayist and editor. Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, presented by Public Art Fund, is on view at various locations in New York City through February 11, 2018.