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.