Friday, December 16, 2011


...I wanted still to believe in the narrative and in the narrative’s intelligibility, but to know that one could change the sense with every cut was to begin to perceive the experience as rather more electrical than ethical.
—Joan Didion, The White Album 

It is debatable that ethics, per Didion, exist more cogently in a linear framework. Ethics are ineffable: the air we walk through more than the path we walk on. In The White Album, Didion’s meta-analysis of the summer of 1968, she postulates that the world, or her world at least, had derailed from the structured realm of stories to a chaos of senseless images depicting ever more senseless acts—“not a movie but a cutting-room experience.” Forty-three years later, I believe this experience has fragmented even further, and that the movie has cut itself, frame by frame, into an image onslaught. The linear, morally-inflective movie narrative of human existence was dying already in the ’60s, it is now dead, and we exist in both an ur-cutting-room, belonging to prehistory, and a post-history cutting-room belonging to a technologically determined world. As a writer, I believe that the ethical now must exist within the electrical. There is, for me, an ethics—or, perhaps more precisely, an ethos—in teasing out the meaning behind and inside this contemporary experience of perpetual montage, and building for these electrical encounters a temporary shelter in linear text.

To find meaning in a world filled with too much always resides in the individual: it is the writer who must drive writing toward its relevance. And that is what I love about writing. Its demand for inborn authenticity from its maker is what allows it to be animated to an autonomous existence, and to be determinable from the piles and piles of meaningless words looming, literally, everywhere. When I first started writing as a child, it was to escape, to give words to a world I found difficult to negotiate, and to create an identity where I felt one was lacking. I thought I could author myself braver and smarter and write my way out of a life that made me unhappy. After writing poorly, I realized that I had to do for myself all the things I wanted my writing to do for me, and that it was the writing that would follow me, not the other way around.You need to come to the truth of yourself to be a good writer, and you need to express that truth, without compromise, if you want to engage with your subject matter in a meaningful way.

That was Kerouac’s great discovery in On the Road.The kinds of things that he and Neal Cassady were talking about, he finally discovered were the subject matter for what he wanted to write down...You have many writers who have preconceived ideas about what literature is supposed to be, and their ideas seem to exclude that which makes them most charming in private conversation. Their faggishness, or their campiness, or their neurasthenia, or their solitude, or their goofiness, or their— even—masculinity, at times. ...There should be no distinction betweenwhatwewritedown,andwhatwereallyknow,tobegin with.
—Allen Ginsberg Interviewed by Thomas Clark in 1965 for The Paris Review

Kerouac embodied an ethos of compulsive creation— an ethics of reckless electrics. His genius was in his capacity to live completely within the world and within himself. His work illustrates, perhaps more than any other, the pure point of being a writer and writing. His truth is terrible and exciting; it’s the truth of a deeply irresponsible person. The ethics are in that. Perhaps only in that. He communes with the world but invests nothing toward it, and will take no accountability for it. Kerouac is rarely doing the right thing, but neither is he writing himself out of his own cage: he stays locked into the incessancy of his own experience. In doing so, he seems to be critiquing those writers who can’t be so unrelenting in their personal honesty.IfTruman Capote’s critique of Kerouac’s text was “typing, not writing,” one could imagine the implied counter-critique would be “lying, not living”—that Capote’s prose, even at its most critical, is essentially a paper castle crafted with sprinkles with fairy dust, exalting the author’s own dream worlds, false illusions and reinventions of self and fact.

But that is what makes Capote’s prose a work of art, and not an expression of personal truth. In its silk-flower beauty, Capote’s fiction (and even his non- fiction) holds a hyperbolic magnifying glass up to a world embalmed in inauthenticity and highlights the bizarre and very human search for authenticity in artifice. Similarly, Georg Lukács, in his 1910 essay “The Foundering of Form Against Life,” quotes Søren Kierkegaard proclaiming, “Kierkegaard made a poem of his relationship with Regine Olsen, and when Kierkegaard makes a poem of his life he does so not in order to conceal the truth but in order to be able to reveal it.” In Kierkegaard’s view, it was one gesture in his personal biography—the willful and insincere destruction of a love relationship—that would transcend his life into poem.The inherent lie of this renunciation of love was transformed into an impersonal, universal truth of human alienation.That is what great art does.
Kerouac did not need such grand, précising gestures, because he was nothing but gestures. He was a man made of poetry. I believe some people create their art and some people exist as their art.

Interviewed in 1977 for The Paris Review by Linda Kuehl, Didion makes the statement that “style is character.” You are how you write. A more prosaic formulation of Kerouac’s ecstatic line, but holding similar notes. In Didion’s The White Album, she talks about driving in a car and turning up Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” very loud to drown out an internal refrain: “petals on a wet black bough,” from Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” For her, the phrase “has no significance for me but which seemed that year to signal the onset of anxiety or fright.” 

I have a different phrase that, for different reasons, tracks me down. From Kerouac’s 1960 novella Tristessa: —Where miraculously, now, I see the little pink cat taking a little pee on piles of okra and chickenfeed—The p and k sounds jumping after each other and kicking each other. The cat is all cats—especially feminine, pink; especially feral and discreet. An animal—perhaps the only one—that makes its most base bodily functions and elemental existence elegant and sweet. It is miraculous. In Tristessa, Kerouac makes his reader understand his immediate love and joy of all living things, and his equal and necessary blindness toward all the things that destroy life. It’s so beautiful, in the same way that Pound’s petals on a bough—faces in the crowd—are beautiful. Unlike Didion, these words don’t register discomfort for me.The opposite: they are like prayer.They are words that follow me to make me think about the need for rhythm, composition and writing.To remember that I was and am no longer the daughter of a Massachusetts mill town French Canadian boy like Kerouac, who was in tune with his art and all out of step with life.To remember that I was and am no longer the daughter of an inquisitive girl enmeshed with existence like Didion, who didn’t know what to do with the summer of 1968 or many summers after that.

When I was a child, I used to obsessively put my hand on my chest to check if my heart was still beating—logical medical advice on this matter didn’t deter me. When I grew out of that, I used to tap out different rhythms using my fingers against my thumb, tapping out this same rhythm over and over again on each hand until I could end each phrase on an even beat. When I learned about poetry, I would do the same thing, tapping out each syllable: lit/tle/pee/on/ piles/of/ok/ra/and/chick/en/feed. Hearing a beat and tapping a rhythm made and make feel a sense of the world within myself. Now I tap on a keyboard and think about art.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Art in America online/Eva Rothschild

Green and Red and Black All Over: Eva Rothschild at 303

VIEW SLIDESHOW Eva Rothschild: Us Women (New York), 2011, polystyrene, modroc, glass beads, paint and steel, 140 inches tall. Courtesy 303.; Eva Rothschild: Tombstones, 2011, jesmonite, felt, aluminum and fiberglass, 137 inches tall. Courtesy 303.;

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011


Tuesday October 4th, 2011 at 7pm
133/141 West 21 Street, Room 101C

Is it possible to define a cogent code of ethics in art writing? In this panel discussion, four young contemporary art writers–Adam Kleinman, Quinn Latimer, Patricia Milder and Matthew Schum–will investigate the problem of ethics in relation to their own work and to criticism at large.

Adam Kleinman is a writer and curator and dOCUMENTA (13) Agent for Public Programming. Kleinman is a frequent contributor to multiple exhibition catalogs and magazines including Agenda, Artforum, e-flux journal, Frieze, Mousse and Texte zur Kunst.

Quinn Latimer is an American poet and critic based in Basel, Switzerland. Her criticism appears regularly in Artforum and Frieze, and she has also written for Art in America, ArtReview, Bookforum, East of Borneo, Interview, Kaleidoscope, and Modern Painters.

Patricia Milder (MFA Art Criticism and Writing, 2010) is an art and performance writer, and independent curator based in Brooklyn. She is the Managing Art Editor of The Brooklyn Rail; she also contributes regularly to Artcritical and PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art.

Matthew Schum studies modern and contemporary art in the Visual Arts Department at the University of California at San Diego. In 2011 he has been based between California and Italy, where he is serving as an editor for Flash Art International in Milan.

Aimee Walleston (MFA Art Criticism and Writing, 2009) is a writer based in New York City. She contributes regularly to Art in America online, Flash Art, V Magazine, The New York Times' the moment blog and The Last Magazine.

Free and Open to the Public

Thursday, September 1, 2011

V/Tehching Hsieh

“He has made the most radical performances in the world, and nobody has done it longer or better than he has,” says Marina Abramovic of her hero, Tehching Hsieh. “Because of the speed of life, young audiences have been trained to have a minimal attention span. His pace is an inspiration to them.” In speaking of Hsieh, Abramovic quite correctly lionizes an individual who has created work that beautifully articulates the limitless capacity for intellectual, emotional, and creative freedom that all human beings possess. The Taiwanese-born artist, who came to his current home of New York in 1974 as an illegal immigrant, is best known for the performance pieces of extreme duration that he began creating in the late ’70s. His first work, One Year Performance 1978–1979 (Cage Piece), consisted, infamously, of the artist enclosing himself in a cage in his Tribeca studio for one full year. For Hsieh, it was a situation indistinct from ordinary living, filled with the same raw emotions. In this case, however, those emotions remained contained within his eleven-by-nine-foot cell. “The joy I’ve had from doing art is not based on masochism, but on the transformation in which one turns his or her plight in a difficult situation to a positive state,” says Hsieh. “I haven’t denied my happiness and freedom. Instead, my work is based on free will and free choice.”
Hsieh’s seminal work concretized how the existential cages that we humans inhabit are the products of our own design. Far from using his performances to educate or entertain an audience, however, the artist kept them relatively private. “During the year-long performances, the days open to the public were limited,” he says. “This was intentional, because the quality of isolation was important for me. The audience had to use their own life experience and thinking to imagine the work.” The most important artifacts of his performance are the photographs, films, and writings that document it—as well as the memories of his audience. “Now I would use video,” he says, “as a method to witness the authenticity of the work. But I don’t think this will necessarily help others understand the work better.”
In 1983, Hsieh began his first and only collaborative piece, One Year Performance 1983–1984 (Rope Piece), with Linda Montano. For one full year, the two artists were attached by eight feet of rope. It was during this time that he met Marina Abramovic, who could in some ways be seen as Hsieh’s spiritual cohort. Simultaneously, Abramovic was creating, with her partner Ulay, pieces of a certain similarity to Hsieh and Montano’s, including a sixteen-day piece, part of the “Nightsea Crossing” series, wherein Abramovic and Ulay sat across from each other in a gallery for seven hours at a time. “Marina and I both use long duration to do performances,” Hsieh says. “In Marina’s work, the communication between her and her audience is important. In my work, I’ve tried to limit it, in order to remain isolated. We interact with the audience from different directions.”
Abramovic has pointed out another difference between her projects with Ulay and Hsieh and Montano’s Rope Piece: the pieces with Ulay were performed by two people in love. When Abramovic visited Hsieh and Montano during their performance, she noticed there were scratch marks on the headboard where they slept. Apparently, the two artists, who were not romantically involved and remained abstinent during the project, would claw at the bed in frustration at their chosen situation (Hsieh also used his fingernail scratches to create a makeshift calendar during Cage Piece). While lovers like Abramovic and Ulay quite often have a similar urge to destroy furniture, Hsieh and Montano’s Rope Piece exists more as an object lesson in the psychological confines of love: one finds freedom within the suffocation of attachment—until reaching the end of the rope. But, despite the difficulties involved, both artists stayed true to their course, and only separated after the full year was over. “The work consumed me physically and mentally, but I had to do it,” Hsieh recalls. “I’ve suffered while doing my work, but people suffer in life now and then.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Art in America online/Shannon Ebner

Installed in a disused lot in Culver City, California, artist Shannon Ebner's eight-foot-tall new plywood sculpture, and, per se and, which depicts an ampersand, is a perfect addition to the Hollywood sign—a larger-than-life symbol for communion and greed alike. This, the artist's first public work in Los Angeles, coincides with an exhibition at the Hammer Museum and inclusion in the 54th Annual Venice Biennale (which includes another and, per se and, overlooking the Grand Canal), and expands Ebner's ongoing interest in alternative forms of dialogue.

Ebner's show at the Hammer includes ASTER/SK R/SK R/SK (2011), a work consisting of four lightboxes, each depicting a photograph Ebner made of two letters. Together, the boxes flash at varying intervals and spell out the word "ASTERISK." "The lighting sequence draws our attention to the syllables of the word and their various meanings-at one point, the word ‘RISK' alone flashes," Anne Ellegood, senior curator at the Hammer, told A.i.A. "Like Saussure, Ebner is interested in the formal qualities of language and recognizes that it is a formal system, just like the visual arts are inherently formal."

Ebner's investigation of meaning and form in language corresponds to inquiries made by the avant-garde LANGUAGE poets of the '60s and '70s, who broke apart words and phrases to find new approaches to the sound, meaning, oration and aesthetics of language. The work Ebner created for the Hammer is part of an ongoing series, "The Electric Comma," which began as a poem that the artist herself calls a "photographic sentence."

Ebner's practice frequently involves her own poetic writings, which she renders as sculpture or traditional black-and-white photographs. "Ebner loves both language and photography, but she is also concerned with how both forms can easily become static," says Ellegood. "Her work is an attempt to create a sense of movement in both language and photography by embracing ambiguity and uncertainty and by allowing one form to inform the other." Ebner's unique process of making sculpture, particularly public art, forces her poetry into the realm of the object, and defies the same prosaic, sculptural and image formalism that Smithson's work contested.

"Ebner is always disrupting legibility," says Ellegood. "She is also interested in the structure of language and how it can operate as both an object and a signifier. The photographs that she takes out in the world and the language that she uses in the works remain open and unspecific; they resist being ‘understood' simply by an act of attempting to locate."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

V/Cindy Sherman

A cultural icon is defined by steadfast allegiance to an unchanging image—throw a brunette wig on Marilyn Monroe, and the illusion is destroyed. So how does the iconography of one of America’s most familiar contemporary artists, Cindy Sherman, defy this convention? Sherman’s portrait work first gained fame in 1977, via Untitled Film Stills, wherein the artist cast herself in images that seemed plucked from a lost Hitchcock thriller. Since that breakthrough series, her work has continued to be defined by its shape-shifting characteristics. In one image, she is the hopeful ingenue, in the next, a withered crone. Doll, saint, moll, cowgirl, boardroom exec: in Sherman’s frame, each identity is given its day, and held up for closer examination.
Time and again, we are inspired to find the woman within these portraits, but each inspection yields the same result. What Sherman captures with her physicality, costuming, and performance posing is a rendering of what it means to be a woman. And that means being everything a woman can be—with the constant fear of collapsing into nothing. Sherman’s work recalls Berlin’s 1982 song “Sex (I’m A…),” in which singer Terri Nunn’s refrain is an increasingly frantic plea declaring her überwomanhood: “I’m a slut, I’m a geisha, I’m your babe, I’m a dream divine.” The list goes on.
Though perfectly attuned to the cultural neoplasmic condition of modern femininity, Sherman transcends contemporaneity and pop—she is not on-trend. She is the Eucharist, eternally representing the fleshly form, the blood and body, of sacrifice. There is no person called Cindy Sherman in her works: her identity is surrendered in the creation of the characters she depicts. Those characters live on in their unresolved, two-dimensional forms, forever in search of a movie to star in, a party to crash—or, as in recent portraits recalling society’s grande dames, a charity luncheon to host. Here, we speak to the queen of transformation about her life’s work, and her life beyond work.
V What effect has the exploration of outer transformation had on your own inner transformation?
CINDY SHERMAN Initially, it was more of an escape to try on other personas, though I wasn’t trying to fulfill any fantasies. If I was working anything out, it was the conflict between my love of artifice, including the transformative power of makeup, and the feminist ideology of the 1970s, which was antithetical to this fascination. Ultimately, it’s taught me that the way we look at any given moment is a construct of how we want to be perceived. And how easy it is for anyone to go from looking like an Upper East Side matron to a party girl to a bag lady.
V Did the more aggressive imagery you produced in the early ’90s—the cut-up body parts, for example—come from a dark personal place? Does your work ever serve as a form of visual release?
CS The only time that really happened was with the cut-up dolls series I did right after my divorce. The earlier grotesque series was more a response to dealing with my early success: not wanting to make pretty pictures for collectors to color coordinate with their decor.
V The recent pieces you created exploring the visages of aging socialites recall the portraiture of royal families—and for Americans, wealthy socialites almost take the place of royals. What was your inspiration?
CS One of the inspirations for this series was Brenda Dickson, a soap-opera star from the ’80s, who made a very low-tech video of “how to be as fabulous as me,” which is just not to be believed. In the opening shot, she’s in her over-the-top living room and there’s a gigantic photo of her on the wall. It just made me think of how people want others to see them, what they want to show off or don’t, and what it means to make that kind of statement in your own home, as though it’s art.
V What is something people routinely misinterpret about your work?
CS That they’re self-portraits. I once almost got into an argument with someone interviewing me who was insisting that they are indeed self-portraits, however you look at them. And then I asked him if he thought that an actor on stage or in film is doing some sort of self-portraiture. No, they’re inhabiting a character through acting. Remembering this conversation freed me up while doing my most recent work—murals and a Chanel series that isn’t finished yet. In those two series, I have no makeup on at all. Though, thanks to digitization, I slightly tweaked the faces to distinguish each one, giving them similarities and differences that one finds in the facial features of members of the same family.
V Are there elements of your characters that are real aspects of yourself or people you know?
CS I’ve found that usually after I make a character, I see who they resemble or remind me of. I do use photos of strangers, copying the mouth or the shadows of the face, but then the final character never looks anything like that person.
V Have any fashion designers influenced your work?
CS No, but fashion photography has, or perhaps it’s the way fashion is styled that has been inspiring. If only they just got rid of the beautiful skinny model stereotypes—but then that’s exactly how it inspires someone like me.
V Whose personal style do you admire?
CS Anyone brave and clever enough to be daring and allow themselves to be defined as ugly by the mediocre standards of mass culture.
V How has your work affected you?
CS I’ve learned to look deeper, beyond the surface.
V How is transformation part of your daily life?
CS I do see a distinction between my day and evening selves. I’m boyish, with no makeup, during the day, and more dressed at night. I like wearing nice things, and never liked the “casualization” of New York City. I remember when no one but tourists would wear shorts and sneakers. In the country, it’s one thing, but we live in a sophisticated city.
V What is your idea of beauty?
CS It’s endless and there is no moment when you can define it, because it’s constantly evolving to incorporate every side, even the ugly, boring sides of the same beautiful face. We are all both beautiful and ugly at once; they are the same. We have to get beyond thinking that one is better than the other.
V Your MoMA retrospective opens early next year. What does it mean to an artist to be honored in such a way? How does it feel?
CS It’s one of the highest honors. I worry that after it opens I’ll feel completely dried up and spent. Like, what more is there to do?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Art in America online/Hans-Peter Feldmann

Hans-Peter Feldmann puts his money where his mouth is. The winner of the 2010 Hugo Boss prize, Feldmann has used his $100,000 award to cover the Guggenheim Museum's second-floor gallery with the entire sum realized in vertically hung one-dollar bills. "It was immediate," Feldmann told A.i.A. "When I received the prize, I knew I wanted to see what all that money would look like. And I told them right away: I wanted to show all the money."

The effect is a Scrooge McDuck-style fantasia that might say more about the mercenary nature of the viewer than the value of money itself. "I hope the piece will still be there in November. There are extra guards in the room, so it won't be worth it to try to steal any of the piece, just for one dollar," warns Feldmann. Or, he says, "You can just make a pinhole in the middle of any dollar and say it's from the wall." A DIY counterfeit artwork, created from real currency.

The 70-year-old Düsseldorf-based artist is perhaps best known for his 1994 artist's book Voyeur, an unassuming, text-free visual epic crowded with disparate black-and-white photographs. For Feldmann, it seems that it was the scarcity of images—not their contemporary ubiquity—the led to his compulsion to explore singular icons, as well as image tropes (the artist often unites a multitude of similarly themed images-he has, for example, made multiple assemblages of photos of women's knees). "After World War II, there were very, very few pictures in Germany. It was nothing like today. And it was actually the fact that there was such a small quantity of images around that made me so interested in them. The few I could get, I really wanted to see," says Feldmann of his initial interest in black-and-white photographs. As a child, the artist would snip out pictures from one book and paste them into another. In Voyeur, the artist pairs images intuitively, so that their assemblage forms a visual poem.

One also hears poetry in the Guggenheim installation. Where Feldmann's image juxtapositions seem lyrical, however, this piece seems more in line with the staccato of poet Charles Bernstein's 1969 poem "1–100," wherein the poet simply counts to one hundred. Feldmann also finds meaning, and emotion, in the superficially meaningless. "A dollar bill is only a piece of paper, but it makes people move. I hand you a dollar, and you get me a drink," says Feldmann, of his prize's—and his installation's—content. "And yet, in the end, it is only a promise. Even silver and gold—they are very heavy, and when they fall on your foot it's not good. But they are only a metal promise." The artist approaches exchange value as a social given, what makes the world go 'round-yet also as an event and object that crumbles when invited to unmask its true identity.

Feldmann himself is notoriously unwilling to call himself an artist, saying, "An artist has an idea or a concept: he sits in his studio and paints what he wants to paint. I don't do that. I just take things that already exist, and put them together." Presented with the sum of his prize, he simply did what he normally does. But, as with all artists, self-acknowledged or otherwise, his personal identity as both a creator and a German born during World War II permeate the work, and particularly the Guggenheim installation.

Says the artist, "A percentage of European gold [bullion], even today, is from the Jewish people who were killed in the war," the artist says, and, in fact, the legacy of Nazi gold bullion continues globally, if on a subconscious level. "We know this, people are aware of it and we live with it, but we don't talk about it. So it's important to talk about for me, because it gives some respect, and it helps people not to forget."

Feldmann's critique also addresses, circumstantially, the corporation that awarded him. "Hugo Boss is owned by a hedge fund in London today, but it used to be owned by a private family," says Feldmann. "They made the Nazi uniforms [. . .] So if I had won the prize from the original family, it would have meant something very different. But this is history—today's owners have nothing to do with that."

Feldmann did not create his installation as a direct response to Hugo Boss's past, but the piece asks that the past at least be acknowledged, since it cannot be undone. In the past century, German artists from Joseph Beuys to Jonathan Meese have created art that mourns the past atrocities of their countrymen. In the hands of Feldmann, the playfulness of a room covered in money becomes both a figure of memory and a metaphor for the amnesiac nature of currency, which becomes the possibility for something new the minute it changes hands.

Addendum [06/17/2011]: Dr. Hjoerdis Kettenbach, a spokesperson for Hugo Boss AG, responds,

"Hugo Ferdinand Boss was one of 75,000 tailors who produced workwear and uniforms by order from the Third Reich. By no means did Hugo Ferdinand Boss supply all the Nazis' uniforms, as the artist has implied. Nor did he design them. His company was small, known for creating bodywear, windbreakers, and workwear, and uniform manufacturing was not extensive."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Art in America online/Apichatpong Weerasethakul

With Primitive (2009), currently at the New Museum, Apichatpong Weerasethakul sends his native Thailand's rural countryside and forest his customary valentine-but this video installation has a specifically political undercurrent. "Every moment in Thailand, the appreciation of happiness and suffering is in my spirit and in the air," the artist told A.i.A. "And I'm always asking myself, 'how do I channel that?'"

The Bangkok-born Weerasethakul's practice of releasing narrative films to cinema and non-narrative work in fine art contexts is fairly unique. He's best known for the 2010 Palme d'Or-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and has released six internationally distributed features over the past decade, while showing multi-screen video and still photography installations in galleries.

In a museum setting, "The viewer has more freedom to view the individual films within the piece in the order they wish," says Weerasethakul. "This format expresses certain feelings that I cannot do in a feature, where the viewer is immobile in the theater in the dark." Primitive invites the audience to interact with the screen-one chooses the distance which one views the piece, and the order in which to view the individual videos that comprise the whole.

However, he says, "Film and art audiences are not so different. With the spread of video and technology, people accept moving images as art."

Primitive is comprised of multi-screen projections in the darkened third floor of the museum. The main gallery loops individual films on three walls, and four smaller chambers each with a single film.

Much of the atmospheric footage is shot in the dark, illuminated only by moonlight, with a chorus of crickets. Viewers with a rural upbringing will recall the primordial stillness of a bonfire in the woods. In these settings, a gang of young, unnamed men frolic variously and exuberantly. Scenes recall Weerasethakul's 2004 feature Tropical Malady, which focused on a burgeoning love affair between two young men. In Primitive, the relations stay platonic, though the director's interest in the complexities of male interactions is evident.

One segment, which gets its own mini-theater, features young men kicking around a flaming soccer ball, a poetic refrain that even the most innocent games can culminate in destruction.

Another film features a group of young men dancing to pop music on the open bed of a moving truck. But sunny bliss is bothered slightly by the fact that one boy has a red shirt wrapped around his head, referencing Thailand's "red shirts," the anti-government faction of urban and rural poor in conflict with Bangkok's royalist elite. A violent protest in May 2010 attracted world attention to these historically significant conflicts, which remain a part of Thailand's political and social culture.

Where Uncle Boonmee, in which the title character is visited by deceased, estranged and other past relations while awaiting death, was a sweet, intense reckoning with the finite nature of existence, Primitive is topical. The work was shot in the Northeast Thai village of Nabua, which in 1965 was devastated by a brutal occupation by the Thai totalitarian army. The psychological legacy of occupation remains today, says the artist.

"[Primitive] is not obviously political," says Weerasethakul. "You're not going to come out knowing everything about Nabua. But what happened a long time ago is still happening in Thailand. It's a cycle." It was, in fact, the escalating dimension of the contemporary conflict between the red shirts and royalist elite (a tension that speaks globally to disenfranchised populations) that inspired the piece. "One angle of Primitive is a direct criticism of the primitiveness of society-how, politically, we rarely evolve," says the artist. "At the same time, it's about going back to the root, to the region I totally love and that I grew up in, but never totally explored."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Art in America online/Paul Sietsema

Paul Sietsema's solo exhibition of sculpture, films and drawings at MoMA last year was organized by the museum's department of drawings. Indeed, the artist's dexterity as a draftsman—evident in a current show of exquisitely complex drawings and paintings at Matthew Marks—is remarkable. But while Sietsema can make trompe l'oeil images to rival the "perfect" naturalism of photographs, his intention is to excavate sites of image production.

Perfection in each mark reveals not simply a craftsman's talent, but the contemporary terms of artistic creation and image reproduction. What does it mean for a human hand to painstakingly reproduce an image that could be more economically rendered by a color printer?

In a 16mm film work from early in this decade, Empire (2002), the artist compared American critic Clement Greenberg's apartment to an 18th-century rococo dwelling, constructing miniature models of each environment and filming a tour through each—à la Robin Leach's "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." The piece shows the roots of Sietsema's interrogative odes to art-making and art culture, and his methodical devotion to minute detail. His newer work—including photo-perfect ink drawings of the front and back of a photograph of a boat (Boat Drawing, 2010) and enamel paintings on paper of various museum coat check plaques (Collection 3, 2010)—is equally inquisitive but far less straightforwardly diagrammatical. A.i.A. speaks to Sietsema about the escalating intricacies of his current work.

AIMEE WALLESTON: The content of your ink drawing, Painter's Mussel 4 (2011), is a framed photograph pried apart—suggesting an aggressive rejection of photography. By producing, by hand, images so technically perfect as to confound the viewer into believing a human made them, are you are trying to beat printers and photographic techniques at their own game?
PAUL SIETSEMA: I see hand- and machine-made things as existing in a continuum; one is not better or inherently more interesting than the other. Who made the machines, anyway? I guess much of my work is developing the right machine, the right process, in order to make the work. And if I confuse what a hand or what a machine should be doing, or thinking, maybe something will come out of that.

I guess my feeling about hand versus machine is ambivalence-which is probably how the machine feels about it, too.

WALLESTON: In Boat Drawing (2010), you copy the front and back of a photograph of a boat, replicating in ink the aging and crumpling of photographic paper. It's almost as though these effects were equal to, or perhaps more important than, the actual content of the image—the boat, people, waves and so forth.

SIETSEMA: Boat Drawing was built up in layers, with equal attention paid to every small piece of real estate, so the equalizing of the paper the boat is on with the boat itself is pretty inevitable. I was interested in layering or couching various aspects of different mediums. I use watery acrylic inks, and I like the parallel of the brush in ink and the boat in water. I like the match-up of the flat white topographical field of the sails, the portrayed photograph and the paper the drawing is on. So it's a boat captured in the ocean, captured in a photograph, the photograph captured in photographic paper, and the photographic paper captured in the paper of the drawing. The overall combine of esthetics ends up consisting of the residual physical aspects of each.

Eight or ten years ago I remember watching one of the Star Wars movies that had just come out, and noticing that Lucas had decided that in order for computer generated images to look right, he needed to add back the errant, random, unseemly aspects of materials. Robots needed dust and rust and dents to look right. These formal qualities were a natural byproduct of [traditional] photography, but this aspect of [traditional] photography and objects had to be reproduced in a newer [digital] medium.

With the boat I like the way the antiquated layers intersect with the antiquated image of sea travel. On the boat, one of the figures is waving-maybe as a farewell to photography?

WALLESTON: The two Untitled ink drawings (2011) are both completely abstraction-one is a dark abyss that gives the illusion of refracting light, the other a light square edged with blotches. What are you trying to say about working with ink?

SIETSEMA: I wanted to make images of ink. Maybe one way to think of them is as homage. The larger one would be an homage to the brush, the smaller and lighter one to the hand. I suppose it's a way for the materiality of the ink to take center stage, along with its delivery device.

When I was making these I also liked to think of them as portals: the larger and darker one as an actual portal, a kind of dark cave, the smaller and lighter one as an image of a portal (the shape made positive with finger and hand prints). I originally put the darker one next to the doorway into the gallery, but that seemed a little too literal or maybe redundant. Where it is now, across from the entry, I like to think of walking straight ahead (bypassing the show) and into the drawing, into whatever is across its threshold—which in this case wouldn't necessarily just be Metro Pictures, the gallery next door.

WALLESTON: You've made two enamel drawings based on the plaques you received from museum coat checks around the world, Collection 2 (2009) and Collection 3 (2010). They recall passports plastered with travel stamps-a traveler's memento. Was that the point?

SIETSEMA: When I was in New York in 2002 in preparation for my show at the Whitney I had a large parka with me. I wasn't so familiar with the weather in New York, and fearing an un-Californian climate I wore the parka for a meeting with my curator at the museum. I checked the coat and got a nice little plastic plaque with a number on it in return. It had become far too warm for the parka by the time I was leaving the museum so I decided I'd leave the jacket at the Whitney and come back for it later. I ended up uptown past the Whitney's closing time and had a plane to catch back to LA early the next morning. There was no point trying to get the coat back and I didn't really feel like the little plaque was such a bad trade.

I realized that as a matter of fact I felt pretty good that something of mine, even if it was just a coat, was now in the collection of the Whitney, even if that meant, in this case, that it was just in the building. I began to leave personal belongings in coat checks at other museums and began to assemble my collection of plaques. My drawings of them are my way of showing different parts of this collection.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Art in America online/Rebecca Chamberlain

In her small East Williamsburg studio, artist Rebecca Chamberlain puts the finishing touches on her first solo show in New York, ". . . Wouldn't it be sublime . . ." [opens May 14 at DODGE gallery]. Chamberlain will fill the large, two-story space with her delicately executed lithographic ink paintings. Several works willfully complicate high-modernist 2-D abstraction and architecture; the artist will present two paintings made directly on the wall ("in homage to Sol LeWitt," the artist told A.i.A.) and four painted plinths, which feature interiors painted on the front and back sides.

The paintings in this show use reproductions of mid-20th-century interiors as source material. Planning a painting, Chamberlain typically crops the source image, concentrating on a staircase or a hallway arch rather than the entire image, and giving the final piece a more abstract and unknowable mien. The method in which these interiors were shot inspires the artist—the shadows, soft lighting and moody points-of-view favored in midcentury interior photography gives her source material a cinematic feeling.

"I've tried to do work from film stills," Chamberlain says. "But then it just becomes something else, a piece of art created from a film still, and that's not really what I'm interested in." Rather, the artist's painted reinterpretations of interiors seem to become the stage for a scene yet to be played out-not one having already occurred.

A series of triptychs unite formal interior studies with reinterpretations of Josef Albers's geometric abstractions. For Albers Rooms, Strand Palace Hotel and Gayfere House, 1928–1931 (2010), Chamberlain created a central panel that reproduces Albers's Steps (1932). Installed in the "middle ground" between two opulent stairway interiors, the panel quietly addresses the continuum between design, decoration and fine art, using the Albers painting almost as a stand-in for the German artist's identity as both a Bauhaus master and abstract painter. The image recalls the impossible puzzle of the endless staircase, created by L.S. and Roger Penrose in 1958, giving the work a feeling of being precisely designed, yet impracticable. Favoring spatial enigmas, Chamberlain seems most drawn to the way a place feels: the unspoken psychological and emotional implications inherent to architecture and interior design.

"I'm interested in stairways and hallways as interstitial spaces," the artist says. "I'm also thinking about the points of anticipation in an interior or an image. The performative places, like a staircase, where one ascends and descends, as well as the places where one could hide and watch from behind the scenes."

Chamberlain began studying ballet at age four. She auditioned for Joffrey and the School of American Ballet, until injuries became debilitating. She says, "My frustration grew bigger than my pleasure and I wanted to work alone basically—not in front of mirrors, not in front of audiences, not beside anyone." Balletic references infuse Chamberlain's work, in her interest in sweeping arches and refined curves that give well-designed interiors their sense of life and movement.

Chamberlain says that her earlier works focused on women in fashion, and how women presented themselves when they first began working in offices. A 2004 single-panel piece, Reception, Chicago 1935–1936, is painted in ballpoint pen ink (the artist developed a technique of draining Bic pens overnight and using the ink as paint, before moving on to her current lithographic ink following a dissatisfying encounter with Bic's red ink). The work depicts an office interior with a slickness and luxury (lots of abstract art on the walls, sleek furnishings seemingly carved from glossy ebony), which appears like some silent prayer for the industrial age.

"I was working in an office at the time, and I became obsessed more and more with office supplies, like the printed interiors of envelopes," says the artist. "Then I started to look less at the women in offices, and more [carefully at] the offices they were working in."

This latest body of work sees the artist addressing increasingly complicated issues. The art is an unadulterated exaltation of Modernism—yet its absence of figures induces viewers to wonder: did fantastic things really happen here? Or are the interiors Chamberlain investigates sites for a magnificent moment that could never really be?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Art in America online/Nate Lowman

Trash, Treasure: Nate Lowman's Selective Memory
by aimee walleston 05/06/11
New York artist Nate Lowman's iconophilic paintings, sculpture and bricolage have a story of cultural alienation to tell. "I love language, and I love the failure of language," Lowman told A.i.A. "To me, a drop of oil paint or a xerographic dot are the same thing—they're all just language." Just as well: all the works for this upcoming show are still nameless, as titles are the last step.

Late last week, Lowman and his assistants were spread over two large studios (one the artist's own, in Tribeca; the other a Chinatown loaner from his dealer), preparing work for a behemoth, painting-heavy exhibition, "Trash Landing," opening May 7 at Maccarone and Gavin Brown's Enterprise. The two-gallery premise is a gambit by the two dealers that last fall featured Rob Pruitt.

The 32-year-old Lowman has shown consistently for the past decade, and makes work that hails from the twin temples of pop-culture atrocity and political disaster, with detours into environmental destruction. These have included Xerox collages examining Serena Williams's "sweet stalker," Albrecht Stromeyer (Why I Love Serena, 2003), and sculpture consisting of rusted gas station pumps that acts as a metaphor for the war in Iraq (The Never Ending Story, 2007).

Less obviously, the artist has used the language of mediation to create a vocabulary of recurring images—continually playing from his own picture deck to build an alternative iconography. Recalling artist Nancy Spero, whose invented dictionary of hieroglyphs substituted for semiotics, Lowman's catalogue of images suggests a desire to say something, repeatedly, about culture that goes beyond words. Since 2001, for example, he has reused the same image of a topless Nicole Brown Simpson (derived from a topless image that was allegedly sold to a tabloid by Brown Simpson's own sister). Several paintings based on this image will be included in "Trash Landing."

"I make paintings of certain images because I want people to remember them," says Lowman. "That's when I make a painting of someone like Oliver North [the infamous Iran-Contra conspirator and Marine, whose portrait Lowman exhibited in 2004 at Ritter/Zamet in London]. I wanted to be like: Remember him?"

This show features a herd of images from Lowman's recent popular series of variously sized, nearly indistinguishable paintings that reinterpret de Kooning's Marilyn Monroe (1954). Lowman's Marilyns come to life on unprimed linen, the figure rendered with lush daubs of oil in '80s surfboard hues. On top of the figure, Lowman paints a layer of striated high-gloss black alkyd paint, giving the image the look of a multiple-generation photocopy (i.e., the "Xerox of a Xerox" esthetic of punk show flyers and zines).

Lowman has used alkyd—a dense, shiny paint that, in Lowman's hands, mimics a glossier version of newsprint and Xerox—consistently for the last decade, and his use of the medium has often made visual analogies between antique copiers and skin. This series also riffs on de Kooning's famous statement: "Flesh was the reason oil paint was invented." Lowman's alkyd application gives each painting a machine-made, reproduced appearance, suggesting that, in contemporary culture, the way we see skin appears less like oil and more like inkjet.

If Marilyn is the 20th century's iconic blonde, doomed to live eternally in an image, she's also a woman estranged from her born identity. Lowman says he came to the subject more as a meditation on a culture of violence and began using this specific image almost by chance. Marilyn, whose image represents a suggestively acquiescent sexual conquest maddeningly out of reach, has equally become a prized fetish object for collectors (everything from her chest X-rays to the couch from her psychiatrist's office have been put up for sale, purportedly in honor of her legend). "I don't have a connoisseur's interest [in this material]," says Lowman. He's never read a biography of Monroe, "and the only films I saw of hers were The Misfits and her singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr. President.' I'm more interested in other peoples' interest in these [people]."

Lowman will also show landscape paintings, mostly depicting disaster imagery—both man-made and natural, including Iceland's erupting volcano and a house in Brazil floating away in a flood. These are made with a technique he developed by spraying oil paint through an automotive paint gun, and subsequently layering alkyd on top. The artist proposes a different sublime, one in which nature does not prevail—his images of catastrophe seem quotidian rather than heartbreaking. Lowman's sublime is a horror at the hand of man-the guilt of creating Frankenstein mixed with a keen sense of banality. "With that volcano, all anyone ever talks about is inconvenience," says Lowman.

Lowman will light the gallery with fluorescent gels, to create the effect of the Magic Hour, the first and last hour of sunlight in the day. "I talked to a lot of cinematographers about how to get the light to look perfect, but then I decided to do it in a more ghetto way," he explains. "A gesture like that has to be straightforward, or it dissolves into the decorative."

Lowman has consistently employed text in his work. On a large, unprimed canvas, the artist has copied the poetic phrase: "He's running on a treadmill in front of the mirror in his gym. She's coming home from work behind the wheel of her Smartcar. Will they meet?" The text comes from The Coming Insurrection, a call-to-arms (and Glenn Beck's bête noire) written by anonymous political collective the Invisible Committee in the wake of Paris's 2005 banlieue riots. Written as though the group comprised the philosophical grandchildren of Adorno and Horkheimer and the Weather Underground coming home to roost, the text "really describes contemporary alienation in the best way," says Lowman.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Flash Art/Ryan Trecartin

“Ryan is so ahead, Ryan is so fast, that I sometimes think that the past and the future collapse into the speed of stillness in his work.” Speaking about the work of Ryan Trecartin, Klaus Biesenbach, Director of MoMA PS1, hints at not only what makes the artist a barometer of contemporary success, but also what makes Trecartin, who turns 30 this year, like no other young artist — producing manically paced videos with characters and narratives that encapsulate l’air du temps of current Western culture in all its insistent, schizophrenic exhibitionism. Two larger-scale exhibitions of his most recent series, a seven-piece film series titled “Any Ever” (2008-2010), will be on view simultaneously this summer, at MoMA PS1 and MOCA Miami (the exhibition began at The Power Plant in Toronto).

As with almost all of Trecartin’s work, the movies from “Any Ever” — which are imbued with a psychoactive narrative that ex- plores careerism and market research, to name just a few themes — exist, in some form, online, which elicits the question of how a traveling museum exhibition allows these pieces to be born anew. “When a viewer navigates the movies online, the frame of the computer imposes itself on the actual reading of the works’ content,” says Trecartin. “In the museum setting, it’s an opportunity for us to create a much more poetic frame.” At PS1, the artist will collaborate once again with artist Lizzie Fitch (she is also a prominent performer in the films) to create “sculptural theaters.” As the artist says, they “are almost like a package for the person to sit inside of and experience the movies. It’s a frame that the person inhabits, and it creates a hum with the information that’s in the movies.”

As Trecartin first became widely known only five years ago (acquainted to many at the 2006 Whitney Biennial), these exhibitions almost seem like mid-career mini-retrospectives, mirroring the accelerated growth that seems to have determined the velocity of his career. Instead of distilling information to its finer points and alchemizing it into artistic product, Trecartin’s explorations convert information into logarithms; on his watch, the constant assault of image and advertising faced by contemporary humanity becomes even more complicated and cross-sectioned, not less. Trecartin’s dialogue contains a degree of social critique: In Roamie View: History Enhancement (from the four-film cycle Re’Search Wait’S), 2009-10, a character played by Trecartin evaluates a work of art by stating: “It’s about how there once was a time when cute people had to do very real things to make their situation work out.” Presumably, we are no longer existing in that time, and Trecartin acknowledges this by casting, in another film within the series (The Re’Search), many young actors from Orlando’s dollar- and-a-dream gene pool of Disney child-star hopefuls. In future works, Trecartin hopes to spread even more tendrils into popular culture, including the possible use of reality television stars. “I want people to be attracted to riding the movies on the first read,” says Trecartin adding, “Inserting handles of accessibility is something I push purposefully.”

Any Ever was filmed over the course of two years in Miami, which makes its homecoming this summer significant. “In Miami, we were living in the sets that we were making. There were really no personal items in the house, just art movie props,” says Trecartin. “All the rooms were being repainted, transformed and redressed weekly. It was a strange two years of living in a state of concentrated prop, set and script.” The works highlight and mirror the changing face of Miami, which over the past ten years has added the identity of an art playground to its discursive character. “It was incredible to see what Trecartin produced in Miami over this time period, and how the house he used also transformed and adapted,” says MOCA’s Ruba Katrib. “I often drive by the house and can’t help but wonder if the people who live there now have any idea what took place there before.”
“Any Ever” opens June 19 at MoMA PS1 and June 24 at MOCA Miami.

Friday, April 22, 2011

V Magazine/Liu Bolin

At first, the trompe l’oeil self-portraiture of Beijing-based artist Liu Bolin’s “Hiding in the City” series seems like a profoundly more sophisticated version of Where’s Waldo? But as you look beneath the intricately camouflaged surface—each image features the artist painted from head to toe, blending seamlessly into backgrounds ranging from a bulldozer to a wall of graffiti—you’re drawn into a deeper appreciation of the work’s political critique. Liu began making the series in 2005, after the International Arts Camp at Beijing’s Suo Jia Village, the largest artists’ community in Asia, was demolished by the Chinese government. “I was there at the time, and I started to do this series [to protest] the government’s atrocities,” says Liu. “I wanted to use my work to show the state of artists in our society, and to call attention to the fact that their living spaces had not been protected.”
While the political content of his work lends it conceptual gravitas, Liu’s aesthetic is imbued with a wry humor that serves as the spoonful of sugar that helps it go down. As demonstrated by the anonymous Tank Man, who remained defiantly stationary in the face of an army tank during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, merely standing still can be an act of revolution. “Investigation of social politics has always been the main theme of my work,” Liu explains. “The stillness of my body during the production of the work is a silent protest. I’m fighting for freedom, for the social status of the artist, with my body.”
Fighting with the body is something Liu does with aplomb. The photographs from the series are so bewitchingly well-crafted that one assumes the magic hand of a retoucher must have been involved. But this is far from the case. “Before we shoot the photo, I stand still, and my assistants apply the paint on me and try their best to paint me in the same color as the background,” Liu explains. “Then we use the camera to record it. I need very strong willpower to steady myself. I feel like I am fighting against my nature, fighting with life, and I have to stand in stillness for my faith and ideals.”
The recent art boom that has made many of China’s artists increasingly well-known in the global art market has only intensified Liu’s devotion to flipping the pretty, polished coin of commerce to reveal its tarnished underside. “The individual is still experiencing the history of our politics,” he says. “China has experienced tremendous fortune and global attention in the past thirty years, but our political atmosphere has not changed.”

The Last Magazine/David Lieske

“You might want to ask me now why it is that I want to be an artist,” says David Lieske. “And I can only answer that there is probably not any other professional field (besides perhaps organized crime, which I happen to feel very drawn to) that would tolerate an existence like mine. Which, for me, is reason enough to insist on being an artist.”
Beneath its hyper-chic exterior, Lieske’s work is troubled by the contemporary tension between the public and private personae, and what it means to live as an artist. The black-and-white photographs that comprise the collages pictured here were originally used as advertising images (and published in several art magazines) for the artist’s 2008 exhibition at Berlin’s Contemporary Fine Arts. Glossily presenting themselves as placeholders for hedonism-laced opulence, the works directly addressed the fanciful idealization of artists as creatures immune to commercialization.
The newer iteration of this series tampers with this idealization even further by carving a place for Lieske’s childhood into these tools of blatant self-promotion. By literally housing images of himself as a child within the ads, Lieske brings forth a question that’s as relevant as it ever was: What is the difference between the real self and the person one offers up—via Facebook, one’s career, etc.—for public consumption?
“Most people I know, that I’m friends with, or that I have love relationships with also play a role in the art world. The borders between personal and private matters are simply not distinguish- able anymore,” says the Berlin-based Lieske. “Nevertheless there is a public demand for an artist to keep some kind of mysteriously charged aura, though this exists in a double bind with a 24/7 per- formative imperative of professionalism.” Meaning, quite simply,
that if you want to be an artist, you’d better play the part if you want to be taken seriously; and you’d better play it consistently if you want to be thought of as authentic. And if this persona is in fact genuine, you’d better be willing to give up any degree of privacy in favor of professional success.
So what’s an artist, or simply, a person, to do? Disconnect and guard your privacy like a lion (risking social isolation)? Or let the world know your deepest intimacies (which then obviously cease to be intimate and become more like peer entertainment)? These are issues that every social being faces—this question is the absolute modern problem, for which an answer is impossible. But like any true artist, one who is adept at both creating arresting images and imbu- ing them with a larger-than-life cultural meaning, Lieske makes the unanswerable transcendental.

The Last Magazine/Alexandre Singh

“It is very easy for an artist to be cool,” says the multi- media Alexandre Singh. “The coolest thing you could do is wear sunglasses and sit in the lobby of the MoMA for a month and not say anything. Because you’ll look cool, and you’ll never say anything you regret. The same is true of [the current crop of] Youtube-ish art videos, where people are just talking nonstop: whatever it is they’re saying, they’re actually not saying anything, because they’re just making noise.” In opposition to this paper-thin coolness, Singh creates dialogue and rhetoric-driven performances and installations that climb inside culture and call it out on its laziness and disingenuousness, often at the expense of the artist’s own cool factor. “When you create a universe using dia- logue, it feels like standing up naked in the gallery and saying, ‘I did this!’ Every word that you say lives and breathes out there, and reflects you. It is not cool.”
A Singh-crafted installation in this mold, titled The School for Objects Criticized, was included in the New Museum’s “Free” exhibition last fall. Composed of a group of vocally-animated household objects, (a neo- Marxist bleach bottle named Sergei, for example), the piece reminds one of a dialogue-driven radio play, while the conversation between the hilariously animistic objects centers on a take-down of what Singh views as the New York art world’s Hatfields and McCoys.
“In New York, one half of the art world believes in
the artist as a wild child and a rebel, like a contempo- rary version of Basquiat. This artist is cool, he smokes cigarettes and is in touch with a primeval sensuality. He is deliberately anti-intellectual: a Sarah Palin of the art world, and he [embodies] a 19th-century idea of the artist: that he’s beyond language, almost primitive,” says Singh. “This is contrasted with the other half of the art world, which is very serious and reads a lot of Frankfurt School, and is very interested in the conse- quences of Marxism—their work deals with capital and labor. Both of these groups are talking about 19th- century concerns, and this is how New York operates: never getting beyond the antagonism between the two worlds, and [never realizing they could be more than one or the other].” The School for Objects Criticized is the artist’s witty retort, inviting artists and critics to stand up for something more authentic than juvenile disobedience or ideology.
Singh is perhaps best known for his spoken perfor- mances, titled Assembly Instructions, where he lectures, tangentially, for more than three hours—nattily attired, stationed in front of an old-school overhead projector, illuminating images on a screen behind him. These pieces have also been reinterpreted into gallery installa- tions of Byzantinely complex conglomerations of black- and-white images that visually narrate the interlocking thoughts of the artist. Black-and-white is a key aesthetic
theme that travels through much of the artist’s work, and he views it as something of a branding tool: “I’m in- terested in creating work that’s seductive on the visual level, so it hopefully draws people in to spend a little bit of time with it.”
In connection to his sleek aesthetic, Singh’s thoughts and writings are tightly-honed treasures of pith and wisdom. Many of his ruminations return to what seems to be both a bête noire and a source of tremendous in- spiration: 19th-century literature and theoretical motifs. One tangent (of so many) from the Assembly Instruc- tions “is about the television programs Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy,” says Singh. “The protagonists of both shows, rather than being strong, modern women, are actually channeling the ideology of the 19th-century Romantic poets: that sort of dark, brooding person who doesn’t know what she wants, and rejects happiness.”
As it illuminates realities of contemporary culture that can go unexplored, Singh’s work is closely tied to literature. “[Prior to contemporary times] in a lot of the history of culture and art, people were able to talk about their context,” explains Singh. “I am a big fan of Diderot. He talked about things that were happening in Paris during his time and he took real people and put them into fictional works, which perhaps only happens now in South Park, which I adore.” To this point, Singh’s most ambitious work to date is a book,
titled The Marque of the Third Stripe. The artist views the piece as “The first mature piece I did—it’s based on Adidas.” The Marque opens into a fictional gothic novella that recharacterizes Adidas founder Adolf Dassler as its meta-hero. It includes an invented syn- esthetic language, consisting of fluctuating patterns of pixels, meant to morph “concrete meaning into abstract, its equivalent,” says Singh.
This is a rather complex set of influences and agen- das for art viewers to work through. Once inside Singh’s world, however, one navigates a totally unique universe architected by someone who is both in step with his time and able to transcend time; Singh’s thoughts often feel as though they belong to artists and writers from different centuries. It is this originality that has garnered Singh a great deal of success in the past few years, including a recent acquisition of his work by MoMA—of which, the artist says, “Suddenly all these edifices that seem very imposing when you’re outside of them become very normal when you step behind the curtain. The illusion is totally gone.”
Few younger artists experience this lucky turn of events, becoming, authentically, the thing they always longed to be. But one gets the feeling that Singh fig- ured out his genuine self and craft quite a while ago— and now he’s simply inviting the rest of his contemporaries to follow suit.

The Last Magazine/Alix Lambert

Text by Aimee Walleston / Portrait by Adrian Gaut
Crime lies on the surface of everyone’s life—if not nabbing a starring role, at least making disquieting cameo appearances—and yet one can easily make oneself blind to it. “It’s funny, when I was interviewing people for my Crime book, so many people initially said, ‘Oh, I don’t have any relationship with crime,’” says American artist Alix Lambert. “And then I
would ask, say, what their parents did for a living. For someone like director David Cronenberg, his father edited the local true-crime magazine. So yes, maybe they were never a victim or perpetrator, but there are so many other ways that crime affects someone.”
Perhaps best known for The Mark of Cain, her documentary film on Russian criminal tattoos, Lambert is a jack-of-all-media artist who has authored a book (the aforementioned Crime, which also features Lambert’s exceptional black-and-white photographs), wrote for the television series Deadwood, created conceptual artworks including marrying and divorcing four people in the span of six months and shaving her head to emulate male pattern baldness—the list goes on and on. Her work as a whole has something to do with getting to the truth of humanity that lies beyond a clever façade, or a criminal intention, which is perhaps why Lambert has chosen to house many of her truths within the premise of crime. And why her artwork often leans toward documentation and true accounts.
It’s the job of an art-documentary film to illuminate the speculative space between your perception of an event, or a person, and the reality. Lambert’s latest project is such a meditation: she has recently wrapped filming a documentary feature that focuses on the recorded confessions of American serial killer Ronald Dominique—a relatively unknown murderer who lacks the cruel mystique of a Bundy or a Dahmer—who confessed to the rape and murder of twenty-three men over the last decade. He is, according to Lambert, “One of the most prolific serial killers in American history. He raped and killed so many people, and yet no one knows about the case.”
Co-directed by David McMahon, and titled Bayou Blue for the district in Houma, Louisiana, where Dominique lived, Lambert has chosen not to depict the accused murderer himself, offering rather an alternative narrative that focuses on the recorded confessions
and links them to the different sites where Dominique disposed of his victims. The landscape where these murders took place is literally eroding, and Lambert sees parallels of degradation between land and man, linking the crimes of Dominique to wider themes that recall poet
Gregory Corso’s ode to Jack Kerouac, “Elegiac Feelings American”: How inseparable you and the America you saw yet was never there to see; you and America, like the tree and the ground, are one the same...
“All the people involved in the case that I interviewed, all of the lawyers and whomever, all they wanted to talk about was how the land in Louisiana was disappearing under their feet,” explains Lambert. “They were much more passionate about that than the case itself.” Lambert thus became inspired to cast Dominique as not a unique social anomaly, but as a creature whose symbiotic environment is literally poisoned at its core.
Lambert’s artistic portrayals of criminals disturb the idea of what criminality should look like: there is no classic mug-shot documentation, no moralizing, no easy villains to hate. To this point, Lambert describes a disturbing anecdote about the Louisiana murders. Dominique apparently lured some of his victims with the promise that they could have sex with his “wife,” and flashed a picture of her to them. The photograph, however, was a portrait of a girl, not a woman. “She looked about twelve to fourteen years old, and she was all done up—like a JonBenét Ramsey type,” says Lambert. It is just this type of nuance that makes the ideas around crime—who is the criminal and who is the victim, and are those two categories always so easy to distinguish?— so riveting. “People always ask why I’m so obsessed with crime, and I don’t think I am. I think I’m interested in people,” says Lambert. To this point, she has also made films like Box of Birds, a portrait of the Malloy brothers, well-known pro surfers, and their relationship with their little sister, who was born blind, deaf, and with cerebral palsy. “I was just as interested in the Malloy brothers, and their relationship with their sister, as I was in any of the crime material I worked with,” says Lambert.
This chameleon ease the artist has in fitting into virtually any situation is a hallmark of much of her work, particularly Mark of Cain. The film was reportedly used as a reference for Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, and on viewing it, one wonders how the artist was able to get such direct and unflinching access to the brutal Russian prison system, which doesn’t bear a huge dissimilarity from the gulag system of past.
“I only spent about a month with the Russian prisoners, and I actually really liked most of them,” says Lambert. “I think my experiences are pretty easy, compared to someone like Bill Buford, who wrote Among the Thugs. He was with his subjects [English football hooligans] for years. I think three weeks with the Manchester United fans and I would be ready to leave.” I’m not so sure.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Brooklyn Rail/Stephen Irwin

Dark Star: STEPHEN IRWIN, 1959–2010
by Aimee Walleston
It could only have happened where it happened—on the periphery.” In speaking about the life and work of Louisville artist Stephen Irwin, curator Julien Robson invites the idea that there remains a type of art-making that is not only deaf to the siren song of New York, but in fact flourishes for being so.

Irwin, who passed away this winter at the age of 51, was born in Vine Grove, Kentucky, and spent most of his adult life in Louisville. Not an outsider artist in any traditional sense—he was represented and shown in New York by the Lower East Side gallery Invisible-Exports, and his work has been shown internationally—he is, anachronistically, one of the very few artists in his generation whose success never spawned a big career move to a big art city. Irwin’s pieces beat with the kind of tender heart that recalls a sad, sublime lyricism embedded most notably in Southern writing and music, and in thinking of the work of another Louisville resident, musician Will Oldham, one feels a certain psychic similarity. There is, within each artist, the sense that they could only exist in this strange world, each turning inward toward their own creative capacity, and outward toward the particularities of the American South’s artifact and landscape.

“In Louisville, Irwin had the space and time to think about what he was doing,” says Robson. “You don’t have that in New York.” Robson, who is the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, met Stephen in 2000 when he moved to Louisville to become the first Curator of Contemporary Art at the Speed Art Museum. “I was met by a community of Louisville artists waiting with bated breath for a contemporary curator,” says Robson of his arrival. “Stephen was very interested in having critical discussions about art. He was doing work that was very decorative, almost designed. I tried to toughen him up a little bit.” Chris Radtke, a Louisville artist and studio mate of Irwin’s, recalls these conversations as catalytic entities that allowed Irwin to progress to more difficult work. “When we first encountered Julien, he was very direct with us. I remember, in one of his conversations with Stephen, he said: ‘you make beautiful drawings, but you need to push this further. Use your materials to push past this.’ It was a turning point for both of us.”

One of the hallmark pieces indicative of this change in Irwin’s work is “Skin Diary”(2004). Irwin suffered from heart problems and had many surgeries before he passed. A visual treatise on the aesthetic logic of the human body, the installation, which consists predominantly of 31 abstract ink drawings made on Sekishu Japanese paper, was started after Irwin had open heart surgery. “When he started drawing, he was just covered with bruises all over his body,” says Dean Holdiman, who was Irwin’s boyfriend up until his death. “So he started drawing his bruises. When he installed the drawings, he hung each of them, layered, on long, thin pins. And he installed a ceiling fan that was reversed to blow up instead of down. As you walked into the room, the motion your body created would cause the drawings to lift and pull away form the wall.” An analogue to the mechanized complexities of the human from, the work recalls the act of assisted breathing, and delves into the idea of bruises and wounds as the paint our bodies use to both remember and reify pain.

Irwin’s most enchanting body of work is arguably a series of images culled from vintage porn magazines, which the artist carefully abraded with steel wool until the figures within each image became a ghostly apparition. If pornography becomes a garish cartoon of sex, Irwin’s works stripped away the falsity and brutality of the genre, and brought out the semblance of true connection in which significant sex conjures. “Pornography lacks desire because it’s very crude and material, and very literal,” says Robson. “There’s nothing explicit at all in Irwin’s work, yet he was somehow capable of extracting desire out of images that have nothing to do with desire. As he touched on the emptiness within pornography, and removed certain elements from it, he was able to reinvest these works with a real sense of longing.” Aesthetically, says Robson, “They make you think of Robert Ryman’s paintings. Until you realize that Ryman was building it all up, and Stephen was taking it all away.”

The most difficult thing about beauty is not its rarity or its presumed elitism—it’s the fact that one has to first look into the belly of the beast to find it, and then look again, even harder, to create it. Irwin was an artist whose compelling body of work mirrored his own magnetism, according to those who knew him. “When we were putting together our first group show at Invisible-Exports, Stephen’s boyfriend Dean was like, ‘you have to put Stephen in. He is amazing,’” says gallerist Benjamin Tischer. “Truth be told, I think fucking someone can sometimes alter one’s perception of his or her art, but then I met Stephen, and he was incredible. Smart, vibrant, slightly acerbic, and very sincere.” Irwin’s increasingly brittle health also seemed to bring out something otherworldly in his mien.

“He had been orphaned by the time he was 20,” says Holdiman, “and had a very traumatic and fragile life. He was very punk rock.”

“He knew he was walking a fine line with his health,” says Radtke. “That constant nearness to death made him embrace the moment, and you always felt that you were a part of that embrace.”

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Art in America/Heinz Mack

Following its own 2008 group survey, New York gallery Sperone Westwater continues to propose reevaluation of the post-war German group Zero with its latest show, a solo presentation of artist Heinz Mack's silvery "Early Metal Reliefs," dating from 1957–1967. The works are made of aluminum, stainless steel, wood, glass and other industrial materials, which the Zero bunch used for their simplicity and commonness. The artist turns 80 next year.

With artist Otto Piene, Mack founded the Dusseldorf-based Zero Group in 1957, responding to Germany's post-war rubble, economic miracle, and creative vacuum. On the occasion of this solo show, the artist told Art in America of his discussions with American counterpart Barnett Newman, about Adorno's pronouncement of the end of lyrics poetry after Auschwitz: "That statement impressed me, but we wondered: Is beauty allowed?"

Mack's works use reflection to manifest the artist's search for immaterial essence in the formal principles of light. Box of Light Spirals (1966), for instance, is a playful sculpture that uses the form of the vessel to explorelight and motion.

One of the most elemental works is Lamellen-Relief (1967–1968), a wall piece comprising short strips of shiny aluminum on a wood base, illustraingt the efficient transcendence of this work.

The other works here are kinetic, a hallmark of the ZERO crowd and a testament to the period's hyper-industrialization and interest in dynamism. Silber-Rotor (1956–1960) rotates an aluminum disk with simple, direct precision. It's a clear influence on artists like Olafur Eliasson and Janet Cardiff. The divide between Mack's stationery pieces and his kinetic sculptures is gossamer-thin, however: Viewing these works together, the motion of the motors is replicated by the catalytic motion of the viewer in the still sculptures.

Mack cites Moholy-Nagy as the originator of electric artworks, but recalls when Yves Klein first invited him to visit the Paris workshop of Jean Tingueley. The latter had built up a very powerful object of iron rods welded together with a small, fast motor, to which Klein had added some signature blue paper. The collboration made a lasting impact, says Mack: "Tingueley pushed me-before I began making kinetic sculpture, he said, 'What you're doing with your art is completely all right, but you really should work with motors.'"

More than 100 artists have exhibited in ZERO-themed shows, and the group has been cited, notably by Valerie L. Hillings, as a loose artistic tendency that was trans-national and, in some ways, trans-generational. Lucio Fontana was integral; he was nearly three decades older than Mack and Piene. Close associates like Tingueley, Klein, Günther Uecker and Piero Manzoni produced pieces that effectively distill the foundational principles of the group: fundamentally, a desire to reinstate the analysis of materiality in the wake of Europe's pan-destruction.
At the time there were only two galleries in Dusseldorf, and the ZERO artists first exhibited with Alfred Schmela gallery. Says Mack, "There were no collectors, and because of this we felt a wonderful freedom. We could do what we wanted to do. This freedom was really powerful." The current show coincides with an increased market value for this work, and a scholarly interest that continues to lag. However, this spring, the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn hosts a career retrospective, "Light-Space-Colour," and follows the artist's progress after ZERO disbanded in 1967.

Indeed, Mack's reliefs are just one segment of his output, which is unique because many Zero artists stuck to signature media. He's also painted, drawn, and made works of public and land art. "There are some artists who create one flower, and, with all due respect, they just take care of that one..." says Mack. "In my case, it's not one flower and it's not one garden: it's a landscape and it's very large and diverse."