Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Last Magazine/Writing on the Edge

WRITING ON THE EDGE

BY AIMEE WALLESTON / MARCH 31ST, 2010

American war reporting is going through a strange phase at the moment. With soldier-produced images and text so easily and readily available—and, often, so poignant—the idea of journalists and photographers giving us in-the-thick-of-it reportage seems anachronistic. Aren’t all those pros just hanging out in some hotel in Baghdad drinking whiskey, forming alliances and cultivating throwback charisma? Aren’t the words and pictures given to us by soldiers far more authentic and honest? Nope: too simplistic. Encountering an amateur’s view of crisis it is a very different experience than encountering an interpretation of crisis made by an artist. When professional writers, painters, filmmakers and photographers, no matter their nationality or fidelity, produce artworks in response to their subject matter—war, crisis, or otherwise—the effect of this work, when done well, is to remove sentimentality and open the door for engaged analysis and discussion. These art works, in their complexity of thought, start conversations, whereas most non-professional images and texts have the more straightforward task of delivering “subjectified” information. This is why a book like Writing on the Edge: Great Contemporary Writers on the Front Line of Crisis, which was created by photographer Tom Craig in conjunction with Médecins Sans Frontières, is an important anthology. Through the words of contemporary writers like DBC Pierre (who writes on mental health in Armenia) and Martin Amis (who addresses gang violence in Columbia), one gets a sense of the problems of the world illuminated by art’s highest function, simply put by T.W. Adorno: “…it is now virtually in art alone that suffering can still find its own voice, its consolation, without immediately being betrayed by it.”


Friday, March 12, 2010

The Last Magazine/Lars Laumann





LARS LAUMANN


Text by Aimee Walleston

Photography by Adrian Gaut


Norwegian artist Lars Laumann’s videos, to the

uninitiated, seem the product of a super-savvy

child of pop culture with lots of free time. The twist

is that Laumann is one of the few young artists

successfully endeavoring, in his own quiet way,

to make truly renegade political art—and creating

works that address, with full engagement and

heavy eye contact, the times in which we live. And

rather than preaching from art’s ivory tower with

a jaded, didactic perspective, he’s creating from—

and speaking to—the very nexus of how people live

and learn now: solipsistic Internet surfing. Every

mouse click is a pat on the shoulder to our inner id.

Google has turned us all into research junkies. It has

lead to a different kind of indexing and exaltation of

information, one that does not place a primacy on

authority or veracity. The idea of the truth has now

been trumped by the draw of events and objects that

one finds interesting, “truthful” or otherwise. Now,

we premise our facts much more on the notion that

weird things exist out in the world, and for every errant

weirdness, there’s a weirdo who just can’t get

enough of it. People’s secrets are all there, spread

wide and free, under a blanket of anonymity. This is

the starting point for much of Laumann’s work. In

2006, Laumann made a video titled Morrissey Foretelling

the Death of Diana, and it is a plate-spinner

of the highest order. The narrative is a conspiracy

theory that Laumann found on a website which promotes

the notion that the Smiths’ album The Queen Is

Dead actually references, in code, events leading up

to the death of Princess Diana.

The video is comprised in part of black-and-white

British “kitchen sink dramas” from the ’50s and

’60s—films Morrissey himself found much inspiration

in (many Smiths lyrics are culled from the dialogue of

these films, including “I dreamt about you last night.

And I fell out of bed twice.”) Over this footage, a voice

details the many ways in which the Smiths’ lyrics

are actively “foretelling” Diana’s death. The genius

of this piece lies not in the mere shock and comedy

of all the many “links” found between the songs and

events of Diana’s death. The true sui generis beauty

of the video lies in the fact that it is almost a perfect

ideological map of how the human brain, logged on,

now desires and processes information. Information

no longer needs to have a universal factuality

in order to be useful. It must only be able to satisfy

the interest of the individual who desires it—thus the

rise of capricious, hearsay-okay Wikipedia. If one

desires a world wherein pop songs will help explain

why tragic celebrity deaths occur, the Internet has

granted us this wish.

Laumann can see this, and he can drive through it to

create even more intricately hewn pop culture narratives.

One of his latest as-yet-unfinished works, titled

Kari and Knut, uses footage from an Iranian television

movie based on J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. The

movie is banned in the United States due to copyright

infringement, and Laumann utilized the concept of

censorship and banning to redirect the film in an unexpected,

fascinating direction. Using a voiceover and

changing the subtitles, Laumann has constructed an alternate

narrative over the original images and dialogue.

While the real Salinger Franny carries her beloved The

Way of the Pilgrim, and the Iranian Franny carries the

Qur’an, Laumann’s Franny carries a book by Helen

Keller. Keller published two works (one titled “How I

Became a Socialist”) that were, unbelievably, banned.

The interest in connecting all these scattershot dots

seems, for Laumann, as humanistic as it does witty and

intriguing. “Helen Keller was such a nice person, why

should she have her books banned?” he asks.

This thread of the underdog also finds its way into

more a more straightforward documentary he made in

2008, titled Berlinmuren and scored by Dan-Ola Persson,

guitarist for the Swedish black metal band Pagan

Rites. In this work, Laumann tells the story of Eija-

Riita Berliner-Mauer, a woman who married the Berlin

Wall. It is filled with humorous quotes from Berliner-

Mauer, including, “I used to work in a pharmacy…My

husband’s job is to divide East and West Berlin.” For

all its humorous moments, however, Laumann did not

create this work as a jab. His goal is seemingly to try

to give people like Mrs. Berliner-Mauer (and her friend

Erika La Tour Eiffel, also featured in the film—and

you can guess who she’s involved with) an identity

other than the “freak show” tag so many want to place

on anyone different. “When my films began getting

accepted at gay and lesbian film festivals, I was so

proud,” says the artist, and it is clear in this work that

he is trying to explicate unconventional notions of love

to a broader audience.

He is also, fascinatingly, challenging his own art-world

audience to explain to themselves their own notion of a

love of objects. As everyone who has ever stood in front

of an artwork, and been paralyzed with awe, love, something,

knows, objects do hold a power and a fascination

to us, even if we preferred they didn’t. While it may be

easier to simply laugh off women like Mrs. Berliner-

Mauer, perhaps the tact Laumann demonstrates—understanding

and empathy, met with intriguing art-making—

could be the path much more worth traveling.

The Last Magazine/Hannah Whitaker




HANNAH WHITAKER


Text by Aimee Walleston

Photography by Adrian Gaut


Photographer Hannah Whitaker’s conceptual practice

turns aesthetic answers back into perceptual questions.

Her color photographs take familiar objects

and invite readers to remap their own ways of seeing,

mostly by means of contrast and coincidence. Her

recent show, which opened at New York’s Kumukumu

Gallery in February, is a meditation on the idea of

“blackness.” The diverse images within the show play

with the theoretical premise of the tone of black to

ends that are both evident and metaphoric. An image

depicting a swatch of fabric adorned with shimmering

black sequins (onto which a beetle has been placed)

allows the viewer to contemplate how shine and light,

particularly when refracted from a consistently black

surface, somehow evoke a feeling—almost a belief—of

whiteness without ever being essentially white. One

can almost imagine this image rendered as a painting,

with the glimmering reflection of the light found on the

sequins approximated by shiny white oil paint. Other

images seem to evoke equally painterly thoughts: a

photograph of two jellyfish locked in a silky, tendril

embrace hearkens almost equally toward both Impressionism

and classic underwater photography, the

shapes of the animals like elegant, gestural brushstrokes

made on a canvas of turquoise seawater.

Whitaker, who grew up outside of Washington, D.C.,

originally majored in biology as an undergraduate at

Yale before switching to fine art. After spending time

in Paris, she came back to the States to attend the International

Center of Photography-Bard MFA program

in New York City. Intriguingly, the artist says she found

her photography practice evolving when she gave up

the notion of trying to produce a body of photographs

in the form of a “project.” Yale—particularly in the

late ’90s and early ’00s—was known for producing a

group of photographers, Katy Grannan and Justine

Kurland among them, who rose to prominence under

a particular stylistic umbrella. Many of these artists

became known for their eerie recalibrations of figurative

photography. The images they produced seemed

very much a part of an extensive, conceptually-honed

project—if not a lifetime body of work. Their photographs,

in look and content, were (and are, for the

photographers still working in this system) rigorously

thought-out and often included highly constructed

situations, and they were driven by the premise of a

project-based initiative, a form which falls very much in

line with the history of photography writ large. The idea

that single photographs must come tied up together

prettily in the form of a project, devoid of autonomy, is

nothing new—it has its roots in Life magazine–style

photo essays, among other things. But a nascent group

of art photographers—Whitaker and the New York–

based Michele Abeles among them, with a godfather in

the form of Roe Ethridge—now seems to be questioning

the ubiquity of this practice in new and interesting

ways. We have always accepted the idea of a one-off

sculpture or painting. Why has photography, with a few

notable exceptions—like Irving Penn, though his images

did always adhere to a strict formal and stylistic

agenda—been so slow to recognize the single image?

While Whitaker’s compositions may be treading

new ground in this direction, she is also extremely

interested in creating images that play against each

other as what she calls a “nonverbal language.” A

previous series of images created by Whitaker explored,

as she puts it, things that were “scientifically

explicable but experientially inexplicable”—including

images of sword swallowers and fire eaters. Her

newer works have an even more intangible conceptual

bent and further examine the artist’s interest in

creating “meaning out of juxtapositions.” This interest

has guided her, in one instance, to place a fourpaneled

photograph of the moon (culled ingeniously

from a print resource and lit to emulate the moon’s

phases) in line with another four-panel image of a

professional hula-hooper in various stages of hooping.

Canny, imaginative, and leaning into a new way

of regarding images, Whitaker is endeavoring toward

an exciting place within the nebulous structure of

contemporary art photography. Within her work, one

finds images at their most nakedly plausible. And it is

perhaps within that place of simplicity that the most

progressive questions can arise.

The Last Magazine/Zipora Fried




ZIPORA FRIED


Text by Aimee Walleston

Photography by Adrian Gaut


Genius, for better or for worse, is not an opt-in

plan. There are people born into the world who are

simply different. Joseph Beuys was not your average

Joe—that’s why we’re still talking about him. The

work created by New York–based artist Zipora Fried

has a quality that makes the air around each piece

feel a little icy, heightened, and somewhat unreal.

Like a sorceress, her sculptures, photographs,

and drawings (she is a creator who is wholly

unconstrained by specific media) take known entities

and metamorphose them into images and objects

imbued with that most elusive of qualities: aura.

Aimee Walleston How did you start making art?

Were you a child who drew a lot, were you interested

in literature?

Zipora Fried As soon as I could hold a pencil I started

to draw, and I was known as “the girl who doesn’t talk

and doesn’t smile.” I would ignore people’s questions

and not answer. I could hear them perfectly, but did

not see the significance of answering. Every school

that I went to had tested my hearing because the

teachers were convinced that I had a hearing problem.

My schoolbooks were full of drawings and I drew on

the walls of my room. I was a mute and observant

child, hungry for visual stimulation, not interested

in words. Drawing was my world, and became a way

for me to avoid communication. When my mother

read stories to me from children’s books, I couldn’t

remember the stories but in my mind I would often go

back to the illustrations in the books, remembering

every detail, lines and colors.

My first experience with sculpture was at twelve

years old. One day I had to go on a school trip to

a forest near Vienna, causing high anxiety for me

because there was no way to escape talking to my

classmates. But even there I was able to fall back

into my usual mannerisms. Someone had a Swiss

Army knife. I borrowed it, collected tree branches

and pieces of wood, and spent the whole trip carving.

This started an obsession with woodcarving. For a

long time many wooden objects at my parents’ house

were transformed into elaborately carved art pieces.

My mother was not really sure what to think of her

“ornamental” broomsticks and brush handles.

I studied at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.

The first two years I learned the craft of painting by

copying Old Masters paintings. I was able to make a

flawless copy of an Old Master but I was not interested

in being a painter and I switched to a master class

for Conceptual art. My most important friend during

these years was Martin Hodel, a Swiss artist. We

spent every hour of the day talking about the meaning

of art, pseudo-conceptual movements, questioning

everything anyone had to say about art. This friendship

was a very important part of my development as an

artist. Martin has taught me the difference between

philosophical knowledge and poetic thinking.

AW Many of your pieces involve a transformation of

ordinary objects. An armoire is stabbed in the back

with many knives, a table is knitted with a “sweater,”

a baseball bat is multiplied. What is your interest in

transformation?

ZF The predisposition of objects and their manipulation

fascinates me. In my world objects have patterns of

behavior—they are created with certain characteristics,

and depending on where they are placed or how they

are treated, they change. I like to deprive objects of

their functionality and by doing so, I give them a new,

beautifully dysfunctional existence. The process of

making these objects is complicated. I don’t sit at my

worktable and decide to do something with baseball

bats or tables. It is a process that takes weeks. There

is a search engine constantly running in my mind,

searching for a match. And then there is the fantastic

moment of the machine coming to a halt, all the

details of the piece come together and from there the

process is unstoppable.

AW Your drawings seem, in part, to be a meditation

on the act of drawing itself. By creating a textured

surface, you are making an abstraction that brings

the viewer into the act of drawing. The final result

is a surface that seems almost anti-emotional—the

texture becomes so perfectly repetitive, it’s almost as

though a machine could’ve made it. How do you see

this work in relation to your practice, and in relation

to the act of drawing?

ZF These are compositions made by hand. The

drawings are dense with strong and powerful

markings repeated over the entire surface. There

are no emphasized areas—all areas are treated

equally. There are minimal value contrasts. I have

a clear image of the composition before I start;

then I concentrate on the scale and proportions.

The image I create seems to be woven. There is an

organic sense of shifting and growth in the work, of

changing rhythms. I am leaving a trace that appears

to be heavy and strong, but it is extremely vulnerable.

Over the years the forms became less important, the

rhythm in each drawing and the stroke much more

so. The beauty of the line, the eloquence of the mark,

was my dominating motivation.

Imagine a city with workers drawing kilometers

of these drawings on indestructible paper. Other

workers refill the graphite pencils; others clean the

piles of dust. When they retire, the drawings are

hung up from the sky. They would be monuments,

curtains of time. You could look back at the work

you produced and have a visible result, through

drawing, of your effort through time.

The Last Magazine/Scott Hug




SCOTT HUG


Text by Aimee Walleston

Photography by Adrian Gaut


In Robert Musil’s fin-de-siècle novel The Man Without

Qualities, the protagonist, Ulrich, is a mathematician

whose belief in evaluating human existence

through quantitative information psychically predicts

our culture’s current dependence on statistical data

to define our own needs, interests, and desires.

Musil wrote, “Every answer [Ulrich] gives is only a

partial answer, every feeling only an opinion, and

he never cares what something is, only ‘how’ it is.”

With the current primacy of technology and science

over sociology, philosophy, and non-pharmaceutical

psychology, we have, in essence, become a society

without qualities. Every nuance of individual human

existence—most particularly human happiness—is

calculated as a zero-sum game: one looks at where

one falls on the chart to assess whether one is successful,

healthy, interesting, wealthy, ad infinitum.

This is just the type of zombie groupthink that

begs to be poked at with a large stick, since we are

in essence letting non-human methods of cognition

stand in for honest thought, emotion, and passion.

Enter New York–based artist Scott Hug, carrying said

stick. Raised all-American in rural Missouri, Hug was

trained in painting as a boy by a man he describes

as “Bob Ross–esque,” as well as a traditional Tole

painter. Hug’s artistic proclivities were sweetly

nurtured by his family, and he studied at the Art Institute

of Chicago and worked as a printmaker in Paris

before making his way to New York, where he earned

a master’s degree from Pratt. Here, Hug has, since

the early ’00s, been a man-about-town, producing the

inventive and much-adored magazine K48 and gaining

acclaim in late 2002 for Teenage Rebel: The Bedroom

Show, a lived-in installation the artist created at

John Connelly Presents before taking it to agnès b.’s

Galerie du jour in Paris. He has also curated several

well-received shows, the most recent being a group

show, “Out of Order,” which dealt with themes of disarrangement,

mysticism, and internal logic.

In recent years, Hug has produced a body of work

that repurposes pop culture visuals and texts, inviting

his viewers to look a little more closely at the celebrity-

driven news that consumes print and Internet

media. His Page Six Heads, shown in 2006, are a sly

revamping of Andy Warhol’s well-known celebrity silk

screens. In Hug’s cheeky images, monochrome popcolor

canvases are screened with halftone images of

celebrities and their original accompanying headlines,

all culled from the notorious Post gossip column.

Ripped from their traditional home, the pairings of

words and images (a photo of Jake Gyllenhaal is

matched with the headline “Tight scrutiny”) strike one

as arbitrary and strange. The pieces work together

to push lovers of these mindless gossip columns

to examine their love of celebrity with a little more

conscious thought. What are we doing when we gaze

endlessly at these stars, so much so that images and

information about our media darlings is often more

important than actual news events? Whose life are we

really trying to live when we seek to look at people we

don’t know rather than those we love and hold dear?

In his latest body of work, Million Dollar Spit in the

Ocean, Hug deviates from his earlier focus on celebrity

to take on the formal elegance of the pie chart.

On sheets torn from vintage National Geographic

magazines, the artist paints one single chart, in hues

that offset the found image. The statistics each one

depicts are unclear, bringing to mind an important

ideological query: do statistics even matter? And

what do statistics really tell us? Quantitative analysts

are becoming aesthetic masterminds, and we are

so under their sway that we can barely do anything

autonomous. At times, it seems as though this type

of information is gathered with such fiat and force—

particularly when it relates to individual experience—

solely to make those who don’t fit comfortably in the

biggest slice of the pie feel even more out of place.

The phrase “know thyself” becomes more about

knowing one’s cholesterol level and number of sex

partners than it does about analyzing—or actually

feeling—the things that make you an individual (or the

things that make you want to have sex or eat triplecrème

cheeses). And therefore the artwork that Hug

is making right now, beyond its pleasing aesthetic, is

important because it asks us to question what these

statistical analytics are really telling us. If eighty percent

of people wish for a “better body,” say, what does

that really indicate? Is it our incessant need to find amelioration

in self-loathing, our devotion to the superficial,

our need to define ourselves from the outside in, or the

fact that the quasi-qualitative appellation of “better”

has no real meaning at all? This frustrating obfuscation

is precisely what makes Hug’s repurposing of statistical

data akin to Toto throwing open the curtain on the

Wizard of Oz. Perhaps all those endless percentages

are really nothing more than another roadmap toward

a life less known and less knowing.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Art in America/Martin Kersels

Five From the Whitney Biennial: Martin Kersels

"This is a funny guy"-- this unsolicited comment offered to me by a visitor to the Whitney Biennial as he contemplated 5 Songs, the sculpture-cum-performance set by Martin Kersels, installed in the museum's lobby. A miniature stage composed of five orange, black and white movable modules, the piece emanates a sense of hedonist pleasure realized through glam-on-a-budget fantasy. The modules include a Laugh-In worthy dance cage replete with a few hanging beads, and a performance platform with a built in prop room, stocked with all manner of rock accoutrements, including fright wigs and (should the need arise) a lint roller. The overall effect is Minimalist sculpture hijacked by a 1980s heavy metal cover band—artistic paternity in the hands of someone who can take a joke.


Which is not to discount Kersels' objects as mere sight gags: the stage pieces are not just gestures to the mere notions of performance. Kersels has created a performance program, Live on 5 Songs (with the help of Renwick Gallery's Leslie Fritz, who assisted Kersels in devising a list of artists, musicians and choreogrpahers), which is an integral aspect of the artwork. Last Friday, Live on 5 Songs hosted Melinda Ring, who performed with Kersels in his 2001 video piecePink Constellation. Ring held "auditions for a fully imagined but never to be performed work specifically designed for Martin Kersels's sculpture," as she calls it The next performance, on March 12 at 6:30pm, will feature choreographer Milka Djordevich and composer Chris Peck, who have made the rounds this season with lo-fi, contemplative explorations on the relationship between music and dance. Lo-fi is key here: "I warned [the performers] that it's not a theatrical space," says the artist. "I said, 'you're not going to have a dress rehearsal, lighting designer or a sound engineer. This is all shoestring: you just go out there and do your thing.'" LEFT: SKETCH FOR 5 SONGS. COURTESY THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART.

The work is mobile, and the pieces re-emerge in distinctly new configurations for each performance. Every time a performer goes on, the sculptures are rearranged (by art handlers) according to the guest artist's whims. "If the next performer wants to switch it around, [the stage components] can go together in a different way," says Kersels. "And then it stays that way until the next performer comes in." In this way, Kersels problematizes the notion that this artwork's precous gestalt that takes on a different life at the hands of the performers who use it.

The piece is about sharing the spotlight, although Kersels is quick to point out that it wasn't created out of sheer beneficence. "I wanted to bring the body back into the gallery. And rather than do some kind of extended performance, I wanted to bring in the prosthetics of performance—a stage or a prop. And I wanted to make those things sculptural and performative, to be activated by live bodies."

Kersels is a Biennial veteran, having previously participant in the 1997 edition. A Los Angeles resident and co-director of the Program of Art at Cal Arts, Kersels' work was exhibited in a 2008 retrospective exhibition,Heavyweight Champion, which was shown in the Santa Monica Museum of Art and at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. For the past few decades, the artist has created works that often explored the body and performance, with an agenda that feels both personal and pop-cultural.

In works like Fat Iggy (2009), the artist, who possesses a generous frame, photographed himself as the performer Iggy Pop, on a mutually grander (physically) and smaller (fame-wise) scale. The work introduces the idea that, in the culture of performance, one's corporeality is one's reality. Tossing a Friend (1996), a series of color photographs featuring the artist hurling his smaller pals toward the sky, explore the ways that humans negotiate their bodies, and the ways in which one's size dictates one's effect on people. With Live on 5 Songs, Kersels seems, in part, to transcend the notion of a personal body entirely. By suggesting the idea that a performance can be given by someone else, yet still belong, in part, to an artwork, Kersels has produced a distinctive and timely investigation of ownership and authenticity in performance art.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Art in America online/Jesse Aron Green

Five From the Whitney Biennial: Jesse Aron Green

How does a young artist without gallery representation show work in the Whitney Biennial? Visitors to the show certainly love an unknown pleasure—Ryan Trecartin's inclusion in the 2006 Biennial was lauded for its Lana Turner in a drugstore-style story of discovery. Jesse Aron Green's artwork couldn't be less similar, in look or concept, to Trecartin's. Having been given a solo show at the Tate Modern in 2008, Green isn't exactly the exhibition's dark horse—if there is such a thing. Nevertheless, by producing a formally and conceptually rigorous video piece that interrogates art history, psychoanalysis, and structural film he could be one of the Biennial's more ambitious inclusions—and a find for those who aren't familiar with his work.


ARZTLICHE ZIMMERGYMNASTIK, FROM THE 2008 INSTALLATION AT THE TATE. COURTESY TATE PHOTOGRAPHY.


Green has spent much of his post-graduate life (he received his MFA from UCLA in 2008) creating work in fellowship programs abroad. A yearlong residency as a Henry Luce Foundation Scholar at the CCA Kitakyushu in Japan in 08/09 proved auspicious in that, among other opportunities, it was the site of his first meeting with Whitney Biennial curator Francesco Bonami, who happened to be traveling in Japan while Green was there. Hence his inclusion, or so indicates the artist. Green is one of four former students from the Interdisciplinary Studio program at UCLA (which was established by artist Mary Kelly) included in the Biennial this year (Sharon Hayes, Emily Roysdon and Kerry Tribe) and his art practice follows from this academic background. Green grew up in the suburbs outside Boston, and studied as undergraduate in Harvard's Visual and Environmental Studies program, a non-traditional art program that the artist describes as more an "investigation through making." At the time, Green says, "I was interested in histories of violence, representations of violence, relationships to trauma," says Green. "I made a piece, when I was 19 or so, that was based on the Argentine Dirty Wars."

Green's piece for the Whitney Biennial, Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik (2008), is an 80-minute video wherein 16 men act out holistiic therapeutic exercises devised by Dr. Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber as recorded in his 19th Century book. "The person who invented the exercises that I'm using is simply the father of this other person, Daniel Paul Schreber, who is a famous lunatic," say Green. "[Schreber's] memoirs were a primary influence on much of Freud's early work on paranoia and sexuality. So [the piece] is simply that: tracing a legacy, tracing a history. Pointing to a prehistory," says the artist. "There is a relationship between the ideologies of mid-19th Century German physical culture, ideologies of the mind and the body, to not only early Modernism and early influences of psychoanalysis, but in a way all of Modernism." Beyond his conceptual and historical agendas, however, Green's focus is on this work as it stands in conversation with other works of art. "There's a real formal attention in the work to contemporary and historical practices of performance, video and sculpture. The piece very self-consciously deals with Minimalism—the grid—and Structural film. But these are not just formal decisions, they are also referential decisions."

A new work, The Allies, which the artist just completed filming while in residency at CCA Ujazdowski in Warsaw, Poland, deals in part with the methodologies and personal biography of psychoanalyst Wilfred Ruprecht Bion, a well-known psychoanalyst who analyzed Samuel Beckett among others. "Bion fought in the of Battle of Cambrai in France in the Great War," says Green. "I was excited to make this project in Poland, because of its deep history in relationship to world events of the 20th Century, especially events regarding trauma. The project takes as its subject the psychotherapeutic legacies of group dynamics and group psychotherapy, especially related to Bion." In the work, Green puts his performers through their paces as though he were a military sergeant in reverse: instead of preparing them for battle, he's recreating the trauma, in a way, using historical movements. Looking back is more than looking forward.

V Magazine/Paul Wunderlich

SURREALIST PAINTER PAUL WUNDERLICH WAS TOO WEIRD FOR THE ART WORLD, BUT JUST BEAUTIFULLY TWISTED ENOUGH FOR FASHION. HIS LIQUID FORMS AND ACID COLORS HAVE INSPIRED SOME OF THE MOST ICONIC IMAGERY OF THE LAST FIFTEEN YEARS

The finest feathers fall from the strangest birds. Not often does one stumble upon an internationally shown artist whose name turns eyebrows into question marks, yet whose images have inspired countless reinterpretations in fashion, design, and pop culture. Paul Wunderlich (a name that literally means “strange”) is a man whose artistic presence has eluded significant recognition in the international art world, or perhaps any world outside his native Germany. Yet his creative influence and aesthetic lineage can be seen in the work of such iconic image makers as Peter Saville, Nick Knight, Brett Anderson, and Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin; and he continues to be a source of inspiration for younger creators, including Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler.

Wunderlich’s aesthetic is an interesting match for fashion. In his paintings and lithographs, his figures project an undaunted metasexuality and the sinuous, alien profiles of supermodels—so they translate easily to fashion photography. Yet the work often strikes odd notes: a devotion to ochre can be mesmerizing in one image (such as in the 1973 lithograph Mit Federhut und schwarzem Mantel, which depicts a green young lady in a feathered hat) and plainly unattractive—avocado refrigerator ugly, in fact—in others. His creative sensibilities led him to firmly ground his work, from the 1960s onward, in the moribund genre of surrealism. However, where the early surrealists dealt in the aesthetics of dream imagery and used the tenets of Freudian psychoanalysis to explore hidden desire, Wunderlich’s take on surrealism seemed to follow a very personal, individuated conceptual code. He would often combine art nouveau–esque figurations with curious elements of postmodern pastiche, reimagining classic works, including Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, to rather unsatisfying ends. But when he gets it right, his unique recalibration of physical form and otherworldly color sense can produce fantastical images ripe for interpretive plucking.

Born in 1927, Wunderlich began his career in art as a painter before moving toward lithography, which he devoted himself to assiduously and mastered. In 1966, he began to collaborate with his wife, photographer Karin Székessy, on a series of works that reinterpreted her black-and-white photographs, often reconfiguring the figures into brilliantly hued paintings of succubus-esque characters bereft of clumsy corporality. These works, which extended into the ’70s, have an almost outsider-art feel. They hearken back to the erotic tension, psychedelic visuals, and devotion to design and color that defined much of the well-known art of the late ’60s. Yet they are also devoted to his recherché surrealist motifs, which, while garnering him a certain level of fame (including a commission to design porcelain for Versace), also placed him firmly out of step with the avant-garde.

Maybe Wunderlich wasn’t attending all the right art parties in the 1970s, but when his alien images actually do their trick, they’re the mother’s milk of inspiration. The most instantly recognizable derivation is the 1996 album cover for Coming Up by the London Suede. Designed by Peter Saville, the artistic mind behind Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover, and photographed by Nick Knight, Coming Up is an example of fine art colliding with fashion, pop, and design-world savvy to create a stunningly powerful image. “I encountered Wunderlich’s collaborations with Székessy from the ’70s in 1989,” explains Saville. “What I saw was a kind of late surrealism—a sort of ’60s into ’70s variation on surrealism, with an airbrushed flatness to it. It was so wrong it was right. I could see there was a hybrid look inherent in the work whose moment would perhaps come. In 1989, I kind of felt, Well, we’re not here yet, but we may be someday.”

That day came approximately six years later, when Saville met Brett Anderson from the London Suede, hot on the heels of the band’s rise to prominence following its sophomore album, Dog Man Star. Says Saville: “I’d moved back to London in 1995 from Los Angeles, and I was living out some version of the film Casino. Brett Anderson contacted me, and I was quite touched by that. I was 40 and feeling past my sell-by date in the context of pop. I met with Brett and he asked me if I would do their record cover. I said no. I was loath to be the old guy who didn’t really get it at the end of the day. But eventually I agreed. On my second or third preparation, I saw the Wunderlich book on my shelf, and I was one hundred percent certain it was right. Brett came around the next day, I showed him, and he said ‘Fantastic, that’s it.’ I then knew we would do the image photographically, and we could do all the abstract things that Nick and I had learned on Paintbox, which was the precursor to Photoshop. It would be half photo, half painting, it would be positive, it would be negative, it would be realistic, it would be psychedelic, and it would be sexy and fucked up and drugged up and everything that Brett’s songs were about.”

For Nick Knight, who would go on to shoot the cover, the collaboration between Wunderlich and Székessy unearthed a creative desire he hopes to fulfill. “Their relationship has often made me wish for a similar way of collaborating with an artist from a different field of image making than my own,” he says. “I keep wanting to approach the painter Lisa Yuskavage, but haven’t quite plucked up the courage just yet.” The famous photographer couple Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin also derive a great deal of continuing inspiration from Wunderlich and Székessy’s artistic process (including a 2008 Self Service fashion story loosely based on some of Wunderlich and Székessy’s images). Of the Wunderlich/Székessy collaboration, says van Lamsweerde: “Seeing her photographs and his paintings pushed us to do a new series in which every image was carefully constructed and brought reality into dreams and vice versa. The freedom, distortions, and colors of his paintings opened up a realm of new techniques and ideas.”

Perhaps this is where Wunderlich’s foremost influence lies—in his willingness to transcend boundaries by creating work outside the normative structures of art history and artistic practice. And though, unlike more celebrated artists of the ’70s, he may never be credited for creating an astute visual mirror of his own time period, his images are products of true visual genius. His works illuminate the insignificance of trend in great image making—they can never come into, nor go out of, time. Aimee Walleston

V Magazine/Adrian Piper

HUMOR HAS ALWAYS BEEN A KEY INGREDIENT IN THE WORK OF PERFORMANCE ARTIST ADRIAN PIPER. SHE KNEW DECADES AGO THAT THE WAY TO GET PEOPLE THINKING ABOUT RACE, SEX, MISOGYNY, AND BIAS WAS TO GET THEM LAUGHING FIRST

Text Aimee Walleston

A beautiful intruder in the predominantly white-male world of American conceptual art in the late ’60s and ’70s, Adrian Piper used her physicality, visage, and kinetic, uncompromising intellect to pose trenchant questions about race, gender, and identity. Before artists like Chris Burden became renowned for creating performances that used the self and corporeality to produce shocking, explicit, and sometimes violent artworks, New York–born Piper was dousing herself in wet paint and walking through Macy’s department store, or riding the D train while drenched in fetid eggs, milk, vinegar, and fish oil. Piper used her being as a lightning rod for on-the-spot audience engagement. Her works often seemed to explore her own discomfort with society’s view of her as a light-skinned Black woman by reversing this uneasiness and putting viewers in the crosshairs. But, however confrontational these works may be, they’re equally possessed of a wry, energized vitality that employs humor to test the boundaries of her audience’s internalized racism and misogyny.

Comedy asks people to change their minds, and it refuses to ask politely. When humor infiltrates high art, it usually doesn’t—in the immortal words of Rodney Dangerfield—get any respect. In the work of Piper, who currently teaches philosophy in addition to practicing art, heady intellectualism was never antithetical to belly laughs—both were and are legitimate responses. “Piper’s really smart—there’s a fierce intelligence around the work, which I love, but there’s also the humor,” says artist and Piper contemporary Carolee Schneemann. (In her legendary 1975 performance piece Interior Scroll, Schneemann removed a letter to a film critic from her vagina and read its contents to her audience.) “She’s very funny. She’s got an unexpected, almost sly aspect around the forms she’s developing.” In Piper’s art, built-in sight gags, including cartoon bubbles, make use of comedic tropes to engage her audience in deeper questions. In her 1980 work It’s Just Art, Piper questioned her audience’s “moral lassitude” in the face of depictions of the Khmer Rouge catastrophe while disco dancing to “Do You Love What You Feel” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. A later work, Funk Lessons, was a series of collaborative performances in which Piper gave lessons on dancing to funk, entreating her art-world audience to a literal interpretation of “fuck art, let’s dance.” The concept played with internalized and externalized racial preconceptions, and her audiences responded at times in anger at its just-below-the-surface implications.

Vito Acconci, infamous for his seminal 1972 work Seedbed, in which he sequestered himself under the floorboards of the Sonnabend Gallery and masturbated while vocalizing his fantasies to the gallery-goers above, makes the claim that in many performances from the ’70s humor is often afoot—yet never fully enjoyed. While humor could be viewed as the foot in the door to these intellectually rigorous works, Acconci says, “People who have a resistance to conceptual art seem to think exactly the opposite.” Performance art has been endlessly spoofed in mass culture because it is often seen as pretentious and trying to impose an obtuse intellectualism on its audience. As Acconci says, “I thought the performances in the ’70s were funnier than other people did. They were funny with some kind of purpose: humor means that you’re not so channeled on something that other things can’t come in. It allows for second thoughts and constant reconsiderations.” Because Piper’s works are tinged with honest attempts to reconcile her identity with the racist and sexist mindsets that challenged her, recognition of her humor can, mistakenly, seem counterintuitive to the gravity of the work. This walking on eggshells is the unavoidable legacy of comedy’s cruelty, especially as humanity works toward a universal ethics. Minstrelsy was once considered humorous. It is now seen in its truer form: abject racism, the echoes of which continue to haunt us.

It is this fear that disturbs artworks that explore race. Kalup Linzy, a younger artist creating performance-based films, is also balancing on this tightrope, and cites Piper as a source of inspiration. In one of his most well-known pieces, a 2003 video titled All My Churen, Linzy plays several male and female characters all engaged in various family and romantic dramas, with a subtext of racial, gender, and sexual stereotyping. Because Linzy is a Black man depicting Black characters, one could perceive a connection to Piper’s work, based on their shared inquiries into race. But Linzy sees a different connection: “The gay child, in most families, doesn’t have a huge voice. People don’t want to deal with that sexuality. They’d rather sweep it under the rug. In Cornered [a 1988 video performance in which Piper questions her audience’s discomfort with her stating that she is Black], a lot of the things Piper says are how I feel about being gay. She can pass as white if she wanted to, I could pass as straight if I wanted to. It’s different, but it’s the same, you know?”

Piper continues to make work, and her performance pieces from the late ’60s onward have left a legacy that touches a wider audience than the art world from which it arose. Piper’s inspection of her own identity in relation to stereotypical perceptions of young Black men informed her famous Mythic Being series, in which she took on the persona and perceived agenda of a Black man, placing photographs of herself in the gallery section of the Village Voice (the images often included a thought bubble, one of which read: I Embody Everything You Most Hate and Fear).

These pieces were at once funny and serious, and one can see echoes of this work in contexts far broader than the art world. When the comedian Dave Chappelle, in one of his final sketches for Chappelle’s Show, wore whiteface and demonstrated how his taste in food and culture would change if he were white, he was challenging not just his audience’s preconceived notions of racial identity but also his own. This is a slippery and challenging slope. As Linzy explains, “People don’t want you to sugarcoat things. But people don’t want to be told what to think or what to do—you have to see humor as a way to get people to open up. The journey through tragedy often ends at the humorous and the ridiculous.” In the hands of Piper, these journeys show us the way ahead. They clear a path for humorous—and humanist—recalibrations of thought.

Image © Adrian Piper Research Archive, Berlin