87 , April 27, 2007
Getting Cozy: A Studio Visit: Heather Hart
When asked if I might contribute to this issue of …mbg, my initial response was to decline and declare that I just don’t care about feminism. For some of us, there always will be matters far more immediate. Though, obviously, I must retract from my early response of complete disinterest. I do care—a lot actually—to see the conversation move forward and outward to all that feminism and so-called “feminist art” was not, is not, cannot and should not be. Heather Hart’s visions, formal and conceptual, sculptural or performative, follow suit.
Hart’s crocheted sculptural installations might quickly be associated with feminist art making practices for no reason other than stereotypical association of craft and “women’s work.” However, Hart questions such heedless and finite labeling, as she is interested in the fluidity of self and race and the absurdity of categories. Seeing crochet as a metaphor for the complexity of identity—obsessive and banal, restricted and boundless—she subverts conventional notions of the cozy. A swaddled form suggests protection and comfort, though the objects she covers range from guns and combs to subway poles, books and fences.
A native of Seattle, Hart’s sculptural work was recently included in United Black Girls at Rush Arts Gallery and Black Now, curated by Fred Wilson at Longwood Art Gallery. In 2006, she was artist in residence at the Sante Fe Art Institute and recipient of Socrates Sculpture Park’s Emerging Artist Fellowship. For the latter, she used 94,000 feet of cord to crochet a "cozy" for the Park's fencing and benches.
Nicole J. Caruth: So let’s talk about the current show United Black Girls at Rush Arts Gallery and your installation there.
Heather Hart: It’s called Infinite Power and I was able to be the only three-dimensional artist, I think, there. So I installed the gun cozies that I’ve been doing in a kind of figure eight pattern.
NC: Are there actual guns inside?
HH: Yes. And there are [various] replicas so when a viewer walks through it they bump into and feel the weight of a water pistol that has nothing in it and is maybe florescent orange in comparison to a replica that’s a little heavier and more surprising.
What I found funny about [this installation] is its location in a non-profit space that has kids running in and out all the time, like teenage boys, and their reactions to it, which have been to identify what kinds of guns are covered. It’s nostalgic for me even, because I remember, you know, “drawing your favorite kind of gun” [as a kid] and it’s kind of twisted, but that’s our culture in a way. Infinite Power is kind of about that. It began as a piece about youth culture and my attempt to reclaim those kinds of icons, soften them and turn them into something that’s completely absurd and a toy. Something comforting—the gun and the cozy have connotations of safety, but they’re both completely absurd now.
I think as far as it being part of the United Black Girls show, I wanted to do something that was not an image of a black female body. I wanted to do something that I felt took on a new form. So working after both the feminist art movement of the seventies through the nineties and then the identity art movement of post-modernism, I was trying to find a voice for the next generation with both of those things combined. That’s kind of my goal.
NC: Are you using crochet intentionally to refer to women’s crafts or is yarn something that you’ve worked with for a long time?
HH: For two years I worked for a furniture designer doing upholstery work. [In my own work] I started to upholster and cover things with fabric and use fabrics that had some sort of cultural connotation, whether that is herringbone, denim or Kente cloth. I found crochet to be kind of like a cultural fabric of its own. And yeah it has a lot to do with a feminine craft tradition, but more so it has to do with the obsessive nature of repetition. It’s not like I’m making beautiful patterns. It’s not about the quality of the crochet to me as much as this repetition with something that’s soft and that [any] person on the street might have a frame of reference for. You know how you see women on the subway crocheting all the time, summer or winter? [I wanted to] bring that out of everyday life into the art world. I was really interested in that contrast. I mean all of my work has to do with creating something out of contrasting elements, which I see obviously as a metaphor for people—more multiplex and complicated than something that you can identify by visual perception right away.
NC: I read in your artist statement on your website that you think a lot about and even have a series about miscegenation. It seems that you are not thinking about things so much in terms of binaries, but are very much trying to pull out the gray areas in your work.
HH: Absolutely…The crocheted objects employ distinct and often unrelated materials, that don’t necessarily talk about identity or race alone. [It’s] when you put them together that it creates that third, absurd or complex idea, more so than something like a fence post or yarn could suggest as separate entities.
NC: It’s about contrast.
HH: Yeah, and you can apply that to a lot of things, but I think that’s how we process identity.
NC: So, how do the book installations fit or how do they read for you? What’s your intention for your audience?
HH: …For Double Booking Booking Room I took maybe 50 copies of [Eldrige Cleaver’s] Soul On Ice, the authentic book, and covered it in crocheted yarn. So you could come up to a bookshelf and pick up a book, but you couldn’t open it. It looked like a book cover, but the function of the book was taken away and it was protected, but completely dysfunctional.
The facing shelf had copies of European and white American authors, books like Moby Dick and Wuthering Heights, and they were recovered with the Soul On Ice book cover. You could take a book off the shelf thinking that you were going to read Soul on Ice and it would be Captain Ahab. The ideas of disguise, authenticity, counterfeiting all have to do with identity for me and, again, reclaiming identity and appropriated culture, feminine and masculine, and preserving— what kind of power I can take and give in that dynamic.
Soul on Ice is such a strong icon for me, as well as Eldridge Cleaver as a person. I’ve seen that book come up over and over in our generation of art, which is fascinating because it’s not really our generation who lived through that. It’s kind of our parents’ or between our parents’ generations and ours. I’m really curious about our need for that right now. Obviously, that political climate, but also strong characters like [Cleaver] who went through so much evolution in his lifetime, went through the Black Power movement watching his friends die for causes. We don’t have people like that around anymore. The idea of encouraging people to [know] that person is something I’m really attracted to.
NC: Doesn’t Double Booking Booking Room include a book titled something like "We Need a Leader?"
HH: We Have No Leaders. That’s the Black Book Collection that was in the Longwood show [Black Now]. Those were all books that were given to me by different people like my mother or friends…people whom I trusted. This piece is about the whole act of giving and receiving something about my culture from people that are not part of it. They all meant well and some [books] were really valuable, but there were also some I couldn’t relate to at all...These books are about black culture and were meant to sort of help me educate myself; most of them are books that I’ve never opened. So, in the Black Book Collection I’ve encased anything from like Moonwalker to We Have No Leaders in black yarn and put them on a shelf.
NC: Someone gave me a book that I think changed my whole perspective on life and that was The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I had been encouraged to read it by friends, but never did. Then a white guy that I hardly knew told me that he was reading it, the profound impact that it was making on his own life and how I absolutely had to read this book. I thought, “Of all people, why is he telling me that I have to read this book?” When he finished, he gave it to me; I started reading and hardly put it down until I was finished. I still have that book. Every time I look at it, it seems ironic to feel a sort of bond with the man that gave it to me considering that it’s a book about my culture that I feel some sort of ownership over.
HH: It’s a really interesting dynamic. A lot of times I should read the book that I’ve been handed, but the gage of offensiveness swings back and forth depending on context. I’m interested in that. Who are you? Why are you? Where are we? I feel like I fluctuate back and forth on that, probably because of my own visual appearance. That’s basically where all of my concepts come from. People assume that I’m Puerto Rican and once they find out that I’m not, that’s when that kind of access is given in their mind. They feel like they can relate to me on some level…
NC: If they can categorize you?
HH: Yeah, that’s the whole thing. People are much more comfortable with “the other” if they’re able to put them in a box. When you realize that no one can really be put into boxes, then what? That’s where all the work has to come from, in all of those in-between areas where we really exist…I’m not going to be all idealistic, but I’m just really fascinated by what we try to grasp completely.
NC: So your portrait series Alias in which you alter your own appearance reminds me of the various performative transformations of Cindy Sherman’s work, especially the Untitled Film Stills series. It’s interesting because I don’t think there’s ever been an artist of color with whom I’ve made this connection. I’ve always felt unable to relate to Sherman’s work and so I’ve been quick to dismiss it. Though Alias also makes me think of artists like Nikki Lee in her more racially- and culturally-based reinventions of self. Were you playing with similar ideas of visual perception and performing identity or are you influenced by these artists?
HH: I definitely was. When I was thinking about their work, I felt they were trying to say something that I live everyday. I was thinking about the subtleties within that. Just dressed as myself with very minimal changes, things that I do everyday, I’m able to assimilate almost anywhere for one reason or another. In Thailand, I was Southern Thai, in Seattle I’m Native American, and here [in New York], I’m Puerto Rican. It just depends on where I am, what I’m saying and how I’m dressed. With that, I wanted to keep it minimal and I just changed my make-up and changed my hair slightly [from one portrait to the next], but it wasn’t really manipulated at all. I wanted to see without any context and without any real theatre, how far I could push categories. In the end, what surprised me was that I just looked like myself. In all of them I looked Puerto Rican or Southern Thai or Native American. It was completely out of my control and realizing in a way you have no control over those kinds of boxes. It was a step [conceptually and as a collaboration] that lead me to the performance project that I’m doing tomorrow.
I haven’t been to grad school until now. I’ve been out of college for about nine years and I finally decided that grad school was something I wanted to do, so I started this term. Our open studios at Rutgers are tomorrow and for that I’m doing a collaborative performance with Judith Hoffman. We have a two-person collective called Tooth and Comb Social Club. Our jumping off point was Charles Ray’s All of My Clothes, for which he took photographs of himself in all of his clothes, about 16 outfits. First, I’m bringing absolutely everything I own to school tomorrow and it will probably fill the entire studio and will probably take me all day to change in and out of everything. My collaborator is doing the same thing and we’re kind of mirroring each other, not pantomime, but we’re doing the same thing at the same time. We’re dumping our clothes out, sorting through them, segregating them by color, then picking an outfit and putting it on and evaluating each other, telling each other what kind of box we can be put in based on that outfit and visual perception. What type am I: construction worker, artist, etc.? Then we’re asking the audience to help us do that categorization. It’s also about demystifying the ritual that women go through almost everyday and that whole vulnerable part about wondering what kind of message we’re sending to the world.
It’s the same thing that Charlie Ray tried to do, but he was a white male. He went to Rutgers in the 1980s and it meant something different for him to be doing that work then, than us now. My collaborator is white, so I’m hoping that eventually the audience will peel back layers and not only talk about the clothing informing identity, but if we’re wearing the same thing, how are we are perceived differently?
NC: That sounds exciting!
HH: I’ve always been resistant to being labeled “feminist” and “black artist,” which is funny because it’s completely obvious that that’s a huge part of what I’m doing—crocheting [laughing].
NC: I was just going to ask you about that, because it’s so easy to put artists in the feminist box because they’re women and they choose to use a medium associated with craft, but that doesn’t necessarily make them, or you, a “feminist.” It doesn’t even mean that one is influenced by feminism or is influenced but doesn’t own up to it. I feel like that conversation is really going on right now with all the feminist exhibitions happening, but the question remains, what is feminism? It often seems that if one is a woman artist, she is by default a feminist artist? What’s your feeling? Where do you see yourself and your work within these frameworks?
HH: I hate that label and it might just be because I hate labels. I’m starting to accept the idea that feminism now is very broad and it can be anything that has to do with identity as a woman. But it just evokes so many images of like…very graphic…
HH: Yeah! Vaginas from the seventies that were all really necessary, but it’s not new anymore and I really want to try to find something new. That’s probably the biggest reason I’m resistant to that label, but I think in taking this class on Black Feminist thought at Princeton, I’m really interested in figuring out what I’ve been so resistant to.
It’s such a heavy label and I think that in general I don’t want people to look at my art and dismiss it because they can case it out so quickly. I want to be able to engage people on many different levels and I think by accepting that label I’d be dismissing a lot of what my work is about because of the history of feminist art. So, I react gingerly to that title. I definitely am interested in identity first and being a woman is part of my identity and therefore something that I explore.
NC: Was crochet something that you picked up from your family?
HH: When I was thinking about cultural connotations to fabric, weaving, knitting, crochet and beadwork came up over and over again. I was trying to think of a language and form that intrinsically talked about my identity and crochet was an obvious step for me since it was something I had been doing since childhood. It’s something that is passed down through physical interaction as well as oral tradition, which I was really interested in because of oral traditions in black history and in doing a collaborative project with my family in the future. Eventually I want to do a three- or four-generation project in which all of the women in my family work together. I think that crochet is trans-class or maybe trans-socio-economic and so my attraction is also in its accessibility.
NC: Moving to your public art installations using crochet, you say something really profound in your artist statement about involving people in the process of discovery so that they better understand and remember when they feel like they’re a key player in what’s taking place. So taking that notion to your public art “cozies,” whether in public or private space, gallery or subway train, are you attempting to blend with a space or “infiltrate” it?
HH: I think it’s definitely an infiltration. I’m really interested in formal art ad minimal art and formal concepts, but also in public space and something a general demographic can access. I think [crochet] is a pretty concise combination of those things for me. The idea that I can encase something and cozy it—a cozy is generally meant to protect you from bring burned, but also to protect an object from being scuffed. I like this whole interaction with people, usefulness and uselessness. When it’s in a public space, I just want people to be able to access the concept even if it’s basic. And I like the idea that something doesn’t belong.
NC: So do you start to crochet the subway pole cozies while you’re standing on the train?
HH: Yeah. I time train stops and lines so I can get things done by strategic points and kind of sit with a car for a ride or two and then let it go. Most of the time people ignore me. If I do a rush hour, I’ll usually get a few tourists initiating some sort of conversation about what I’m doing. They’re reaction is usually “that’s really neat.” What I really love is the reaction that I get from kids because they have fewer experiences and therefore fewer reservations, so they’ll shove their arm in side of it or try to put it on like a sweater, twist it around and really touch it. I like that. The funny thing about those is, if they did last for more than one night, if they weren’t taken down, they would get nasty.
NC: There’s a link to street art that we can talk about, but I wonder if you’re influenced by people like Christo and Jean Claude?
HH: I think that I have to be, but they were working with completely different concepts in a way, even though our treatment might be similar. ..I’m bringing my identity into the mix. How does that change when it’s an American black girl doing that kind of thing?
NC: So you just identified yourself as an “American Black Girl” and earlier you said that you never would have identified as a feminist Black artist. How have you identified up until now?
HH: [laughs] I think I always change, as people should. It depends on the context and what I’m trying to say. Sometimes it’s a political statement, sometimes it’s my mood...all things at all times. People can put labels on me and I can put labels on myself, but the fact is it’s just me, which is like everyone else—un-boxable.
WACK!: Art and The Feminist Revolution
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
On view through July 16
Walking into WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, it is immediately evident that this show cannot be breezed through. From the entrance, a visitor can survey the sprawl of walls and rooms that have been constructed to hold this show. Within these walls hang works by 120 artists, mostly made by women, mostly made between 1965 and 1980, the timeframe curator Connie Butler established to survey the art of the feminist revolution. The works range from small-framed drawings to films—over fifteen hours of film and video alone—to large-scale sculptural installations. Many of the works on the walls document performances and are accompanied by explanatory text.
It is important to note that WACK! is not contained within MOCA’s walls. It spills out and over into and onto all of Los Angeles. The MOCA Geffen serves as only one of twenty-three participating institutions in the area. There are nine other shows, both group and one-woman shows and forty-eight events, including lectures and performances, associated with this exhibition. This massive amount of information is coordinated by a very good website . This explosion of information and activity around feminism has provoked numerous, and of course, conflicting responses. Most agree that the show is a (long overdue) comprehensive history of the art that came out of the feminist revolution. And Los Angeles, as the original birthplace of projects such as the Feminist Art Program and Womanhouse, is the place to have it.
It seems fitting that the first major show on the feminist art movement should require multiple visits. Revisiting as a strategy for opening up discussion and demanding that complex issues surrounding difference—be it gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or class—be treated with, well, complexity, was a critical aspect of the feminist movement of the 70s. Somebody will probably disagree with something about that statement. Avoiding opinions on WACK! is pretty much impossible. The show has engaged the attention of the entire Los Angeles art community, a number of whose members are represented in the show. And Los Angeles represents only one part of a larger revival of interest in feminism across the country. A second major retrospective exhibition on feminist art just opened at the brand new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Publications are also participating by devoting issues to the subject.
The artists range from vocal feminists to a few who are quick to say they do not even consider themselves “feminists.” There are so many important works in the show that throwing out a few names here seems useless. Yet one critique that has been leveled against the show is that, despite the inclusion of 120 artists, many important women and works have been left out. This critique is probably unavoidable; any exhibition functions to some extent as an exclusion. But, it is also extremely important because shows such as this one, despite all intentions to the contrary, end up creating canons. Prior to my first visit, I had not heard of a number of the artists who are included in the show. Coming out of the show, I now know who they are and have seen some small sample of their work, which will forever be associated in my head with the feminist revolution. As someone born in 1980, the year this exhibition sites as the end of the revolution, I do not have a living memory of the time period that the show represents. WACK! succeeds in that it activates and revives a history that my high school textbooks and even my college art history textbooks for the most part left out. But inevitably, as the show fills in the gaps in my earlier knowledge, it also takes on a similar function to those very textbooks. And once again, I am not in a position to know who has been left out.
Many worry aloud that WACK!, Global Feminisms and the many other current shows on feminist work merely evidence the incredible popularity of feminism as a topic in the art world right now. This possibly puts feminism in the category of trend, which will therefore, like all trends, have its moment in the sun and then fade back into invisibility. However, the most interesting and perhaps most optimistic response I heard to the question of “Why feminism now?” came from Los Angeles-based artist Andrea Bowers. As a panel participant at a symposium at CalArts she said perhaps we should look around at our current political situation. We are in the midst of a war that many people in our country did not think we should ever have entered into, and most people in our country now view as a disaster. Bowers proposes that we turn to models like feminism because we desparately need to remember and revive the methods for empowerment that were developed in the sixties and seventies. If this is so, then WACK! is not merely a backward-look at this moment, but is also, and perhaps more importantly, a starting point.
Brooklyn Museum of Art
On view through July 1
The F word is a dirty word, especially when discussed in relation to art. Now feminism is being discussed more than ever, shown by the number of recent exhibitions in both museums and galleries devoted to feminist art. Since its inception in the 1960s and 1970s, feminist art has resisted categorization by category, medium, method, etc. Why? Because there are many different versions of feminism. This is the strength of Global Feminisms, the exhibition organized by Maura Reilly and Linda Nochlin that launches the opening of the new Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. As the title of the exhibition suggests, feminism consists of a plurality of practices that take on many different forms, agendas and concerns.
Many exhibitions organized around feminist art tend to take a historical approach.
Connie Butler’s WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, for example, addresses the international foundations and legacy of feminist art during the period from 1965 to 1980. Global Feminisms, in distinction to WACK!, is forward-thinking in its conceptual framework; the exhibition looks to the present and the future of feminist art. There are 88 women artists from around the world included in the exhibition; all born after 1960 and considered young to mid-career artists. The artists in Global Feminisms are a generation younger than many of those included in Butler’s exhibition. And, while issues that feminist artists were dealing with in the 60s/70s, like war, rape, motherhood and domesticity will be found in Global Feminisms, there are indeed shifts in the way a younger generation addresses these issues.
Global Feminisms is an important marker in the history of feminist art exhibitions because it can be used as a model to address how to move forward and open up the discourse for feminist art. The curators themselves explain how they hope the exhibition “will provide a salutary precedent for future curatorial activisms with a global focus.” However, many of the artists in the show are extremely well-known and the works have a long exhibition history. In a way, the exhibition feels like the selection was limited to recognizable names, with a few emerging artists among them. The curators took a very safe approach and they seem to cater to an established canon of women artists with high profile careers, Kara Walker, Ghada Amer and Tania Bruguera, among others.
The exhibition is organized thematically around four fluid and overlapping themes: Life Cycles, Identities, Politics and Emotions. Some artists’ work is included in more than one category, and if not paying close attention, it is difficult to know when one has reached a new section. Wall text helps to provide context. Because of the global scope of the exhibition there are inherently many different types of feminist practices included, which is obvious through the range of media and focus of the work. In the Life Cycles section, which the curators intend as a non-traditional and subversive approach to issues like pregnancy, motherhood, marriage, old age and death, the Swedish artist Annika von Hausswolff’s photographs remind me of Ana Mendieta’s 1973 Rape series. Hausswolff’s Back to Nature series from 1993 appropriates some of the familiar locations, such as wooded areas, and poses that Mendieta used in her series. Made 30 years after Mendieta’s series, von Hausswolff’s photographs clearly indicate the influence of feminist art history on contemporary artists.
In the Identities section, the curators use a quotation from feminist theorist Donna Haraway as a point of departure. Haraway posits that identities are “contradictory, partial and strategic.” One of the more intriguing works in this section is Macedonian artist Iskra Dimitriva’s Thanatometamorphosis (1997/2007), a cast of the artist’s body in black wax accompanied by a recording of the artist’s voice. Installed in a room by itself, the work’s eerie nature references the process and visualization of individual mortality. In the next section of the exhibition, the curators include work that inverts the terms of the classic feminist mantra “the personal is political” and show how the political is also deeply personal. For example, for her Crossing Surda (a record of going to and from work), Emily Jacir crossed the Israeli/Palestinian border every day with a camera hidden in her handbag. Lastly, the curators discuss works included in the Emotions section as arising from specific social and political situations rather than “nature.” A captivating video by Australian Tracey Moffatt illustrates a number of scenes from films that show women in positions of love, lust, longing and revenge.
The exhibition is video heavy and each section includes long video programs that average about 45 minutes each. It would be impossible to visit this show in a few hours even, and definitely necessitates follow-up visits. This, unfortunately, poses other problems. The exhibition would have benefited from a much tighter and perhaps even more focused grouping of work. As it stands, the works are very crammed together and the space itself oddly laid out and constructed in such a way that a visitor must wind his/her way through the show. Disturbingly, the Museum’s store sits in between two of the sections, completely disrupting the flow with an absurd display of commerce. Sadly, it’s hard for larger museums not to market their exhibitions through the presentation of commercial goods, but such a blatant disregard for the exhibition’s installation plan was a little appalling. Even worse were exhibition t-shirts and mugs for sale, one of which featured a still image from Boryana Rossa’s single channel video Celebrating the Next Twinkling (Praznuvane na sledvascia mig), the image used to promote the exhibition.
An exhibition of this size would have benefited from a reading room. Instead, a small black binder with a selection of articles was the only reading material offered to the public, making it seem like a rather last minute decision. One of the articles was Jerry Saltz’s Village Voice article that blasts MoMA’s decision to only include four percent of women artists from their collection in the recently re-opened and re-installed galleries. Other articles in the binder were by Linda Nochlin, Lucy R. Lippard, bell hooks and the Guerilla Girls, and ranged in date from 1976 to 2005. No copy of the catalogue was available. The catalogue for the show includes texts by a variety of curators and scholars whose essays focus on artwork from Africa, India, Japan, Asia, Central America and Western, Eastern and Central Europe. The exhibition would have also benefited more from a variety of curatorial voices echoing the exhibition’s concept, and not just academics writing about these different geographic locations.
The most interesting aspect of the exhibition is its public programming component that hosts a range of scholars, curators, and artists discussing feminism. During the exhibition’s four-month run, the Museum will present a variety of artists’ talks, performances, dialogues, panels, lectures, films and symposia devoting three of their Target First Saturdays to the exhibition. A survey of the invited panelists shows a multi-generational approach. This is perhaps where the real dialogue around some of the issues at stake in contemporary feminism can take place. A topic of this scale requires much more than the presentation of artwork and the public programs undoubtedly offer something the exhibition cannot, discourse.
The exhibition’s global scope is timely as the international art world itself focuses on feminism, but it also points to the curators’ need to focus the discussion of feminism on a broader scale and not limit it to Western notions. Despite the intrinsic difficulties this exhibition presents, it is an ambitious and necessary move. It is high time that the “movement” and the word feminism be brought back into discussion and opened up for debate. Even if problematic, The Center and its exhibition programming are a welcome challenge; the thought of what happens next, an exciting prospect.
A month into Mike Osborne’s year-long fellowship in Taiwan, he sent an update over email that described how he had been spending his time:
I've generally promised myself not to get sidetracked with things beyond my work here, but the last few days have been more or less swallowed up preparing for a talk (given yesterday)… My talk was an odd experience. It was through the American Institute in Taiwan, which is the non-embassy that the US has here since we don't recognize Taiwan as fully independent. I wasn't really told who would be in the audience, except that they would all be "interested in America" and that they would "love me" no matter what. Anyway, since I couldn't assume any prior knowledge on their part, I spent the first ten minutes or so explaining that I don't just go around taking pictures of all the things in the world that we all know are beautiful—mountains, flowers, birds, etc. I think a couple of people in the audience wished they had gotten up and left at that point. (The talk was 2 hours long.) Then I talked about some of the work on my website. People seemed interested for the most part. I got a lot of questions, most of them from this 16 year-old whiz kid who afterwards came up to me and told me about the connections between her interest in theoretical physics and my motivations as a photographer. She also told me that, before my talk, she was pretty sure that photography was very boring, “a pastime for aristocratic assholes,” but now she was having to reconsider. All in all, reassuring feedback.
The eight images collected in this portfolio, most of which happen to have been made in Beijing, are our latest proof that: 1) Mike Osborne does not just take pictures of flowers and birds, and 2) photography might not be “a pastime for aristocratic assholes” after all. These new works extend Osborne’s related explorations of distortions of scale in urban settings and the ways that humans interact with environments under construction. The images also demonstrate a sustained consideration on the role of the wall as a photographic device, both as a divider of space and as a surface that holds text and reflects light. How the works relate to theoretical physics, I can’t say.
— Caitlin Haskell
Fuse Box Festival
Stalemate of the Booze Fox: Scott Eastwood, Jules Buck Jones, Drew Liverman and Mike Phalan
Fuse box performance and installation: closed April 22
After penetrating the gigantic cardboard façade of Stalemate of the Boozefox, I instantly began sorting through cinematic references like Dune, Mad Max and even that ole’ George Lucas behemoth, Star Wars. But a little less expectedly, I was reminded of a wondrous place called Busch Gardens and a beloved reality simulator (that I think has since been dismantled) called “Questor.” This, my most thrilling of childhood adventures, involved an inconspicuous machine that allowed me to burrow deep below the earth’s surface looking for gold with an amiable elfish co-captain by my side. But even in my single-digit years, I didn’t completely believe that the gyrations erupting throughout the vehicle were the result of seismic vibrations from the earth’s core. And yet, the illusion was so fantastic that I was forced to shove aside my precocious childhood cynicism and suspend my disbelief.
Stalemate operates in the same way, as both reality simulator and reality suspender. Drew Liverman, Scott Eastwood, Mike Phalan and Jules Buck Jones transform the nondescript Mass Gallery into a really sweet space battle. It certainly doesn’t appear as a gallery any longer, and that alone is quite a feat. I don’t mean to imply that it appears as spaceship either. The wavy cardboard, cartoon-like rendering and homespun control panels don’t exactly purport to technological realism. But, in my opinion, that’s what makes this installation so compelling. Although the main “cabin” of the U.S.S. San Lucas is equipped with windows that look out at convincing stars, nebulae and constellations that give the impression of movement, we are not hurtling through space. Really, we are hurtling through someone else’s idea of space, one replete with crystalline structures and multi-eyed monsters.
This particular vehicle is locked in a never-ending battle with an oversized mechanical mutation known as the nefarious Boozefox. Between the two warring parties, there is a series of “Ka-pow” projections that imply absent exploits and foregone action. This intersection of moving image with stagnant figures results in a kind of temporal confusion that permeates the entire Stalemate installation. The artists apply a self-referential approach to the staging of their quirky space encounter, and a personal sense of anachronism becomes more important overall than sequential logic. Walking through the installation, I felt a heady excitement at the bad sci-fi rationale and my inability to decode it. For example, when I toggle this switch, it falls off. It doesn’t matter that the monster has a head. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t have to. Good (i.e. bad) sci-fi is full of unanswerable questions; I still don’t understand Tina Turner’s role in Mad Max. I don't have to, I just love it.
I can’t finish a review of Stalemate of the Boozefox without mentioning the idea of an eternal stalemate as it could be applied to our current cultural climate. While I know the artists involved did not specifically reference the war in Iraq, I found the idea of constant combat poignant at a time when war seems inevitable and also infinite. Stalemate masquerades as the faux document of a surreal battle, but its premise is not as absurd or as distant as it appears. Thankfully, this bleak idea is balanced by an installation that breathes with optimism, playfulness and the joy of making art collaboratively.
I/O: Joe Diebes and Phil Soltanoff
Austin Studios: Stage 5
Fuse Box performance: closed April 15
As part of Refraction Art’s Fusebox Festival, Phil Soltanoff (an experimental theater practitioner) and Joe Diebes (a New York-based sound artist), along with a troupe of a dozen or so performers, presented I/O, an investigation into the matrices of the organic and the technologic. The work was performed in a large warehouse belonging to Austin Film Studios (née Mueller Airport Hangar). The performers, dressed in their street clothes, appeared shortly after the large studio doors were opened to an anticipating crowd outside. Slowly and confidently, the performers lined up in the liminal space between indoors and outdoors. Then, they began to breathe. Traveling quickly through the wireless microphone headsets to a tangle of chord and computer existing in the middle of the warehouse, the sounds of the performers’ breath were transformed by Diebes via laptop into a fugue of human exhalation, and then broadcasted over the many speakers dotting the massive space.
I/O is a collaborative work in the purest sense. All of the sounds emanating from the multiple speakers during the three performances April 13, 14 and 15, were created in-house and in the moment. Thus, the improvised aural tapestries Diebes developed were interwoven with the task-oriented movement of Soltanoff’s troupe. The performers—I dare not call them strictly dancers for there were some very operatic moments—were no doubt given, as with any great improvisation, a set of rules. Rules are boundaries that exist, much like the liminal space between indoors and outdoors, to restrict and are only effective because they can broken. But the performers rarely seemed to break. In fact, their commitment to the ensemble was so strong that even the audience felt part of it. Circling like satellites, we moved freely in the large hangar, letting intuition and will guide our movement choices. It’s rare that an interactive artwork actually manages to involve the audience in a meaningful and entrancing way. It’s an astonishing effort, to be sure. And because I/O succeeds, it should be given credit as one of the premiere performance art events to grace this city in years.
The influences of I/O are multiple and the potential readings are multivalent. At one point, the performers run together as a clump around the massive soundstage, which called to my mind Kathy Duncan’s Running Out of Breath, in which Duncan, decked in street clothes, jogged until she literally ran out of breath. Such task-oriented performance is the backbone of I/O. Rather than resting on this premise, I/O takes it one step further. The ubiquitous speakers (raised on tripods) become principal performers as well; performers often treated the speakers as their analogue doppelganger. Although these stereophonic sentinels don’t have the convenience of a body that can move and articulate, the I/O performers make you aware of what incredibly expressive creatures speakers can be. The speaker often seems to be talking, or singing to us when we listen to the radio. But who ever talks back? The I/O performers do. The relationship between performer and speaker more emulates the relationship between an actor and a mask. A mask, once inhabited by an actor, works upon the actor and not the other way around. Here the speakers seem to be the prime mover, with the humans, occasionally, seeming incidental.
Soltanoff, Diebes and their collaborators (both analog and organic) presented an entranced audience something meditative and moving. It left the question “Technology, do we need it?” in the dust and asked a much more vital set of questions: “Technology, where do we take it? Where does it take us?”
Wireless-less: Written by David Modigliani and directed by Katie Pearl
The Blue Theatre
Fusebox performance: closed April 22
Wireless-less, written by David Modigliani and directed by Katie Pearl, borders on meta-narcissism, but manages to hold the reins. Sound and video occupy as much of the audience’s imagination as the actors, while the rapid, stylized set changes mimic a dance choreographed for an over-stimulated, cutting-edge iPod commercial. The play turns in on itself on occasion, acknowledging the DJ/narrator, as well as the audience, but never disrupts the continuous dream. Modigliani’s writing is touching, funny and well-rooted in the psychic disintegration of the tech/global/info age, as well as the older world of romance and relationships. He asks the same question that has been troubling humans since the industrial revolution—how do we live in a modern world?—but adapts this question for a digital age. How do we reconcile ourselves with warfare that resembles a video game and relationships contained in an IM session? How do we live in an era of infinite distraction and isolation? Modigliani, like a good romantic, places his bet on artistic creativity and love. The visual achievement of Wireless-less definitely resides in its use of multimedia to approach contemporary issues like constant technological distraction and the disconnection and fragmentation of life online. Music, video and edgy set design, along with strong writing, directing and acting, make Wireless-less a funny, fast-paced production that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
The play focuses on a young couple whose breakup is prompted by an internet addiction. Noah (Jason Newman) is a jingle writer/digital composer and Charlotte (Lee Eddy) is a librarian who specializes in the theatrical reading of children’s books. The addicted Noah stays at home and gets almost nothing done for days on end, seduced by wireless waves of bliss that give the “illusion of productivity.” He is eventually committed to a rehabilitation center, where he receives New Age counseling and a “safe-top,” to get him through the first delicate stages of withdrawal. Meanwhile, Charlotte, unable to deal with the arrival of a bunch of flashy computers, has been nudged out of the library and is now scanning books onto the web. While at her new job, she develops an addiction of her own. She begins to scan herself instead of the books, hoping that some part of her will reach her faceless audience. The interaction proves unsatisfactory and leads to compulsion and spiritual vacuity. She ends up in a worse place than Noah, who, at a minimum, was something of a happy addict.
There is a lot of poetry in the scanner’s gentle humming and the large images of Charlotte’s face, elbow and knee, as she runs the ghost light of an HP across her body, projected on the back wall of The Blue Theatre. Images and sounds are sensual, disembodied and human. The full sensory, technological aesthetic that is employed in the play is in dialogue with both Opera and the music video, as well as our own daily internet rituals.
Eventually, Noah, now fully recovered and able to use a computer without abusing it, comes to Charlotte’s rescue. He saves her and himself by writing a song that incorporates sound elements from both of their struggles. It is a digital meditation piece that seems both tongue-in-cheek and completely sincere. In the end, creativity reconnects the lovers and keeps the mechanized world humbled to the human spirit.
Michael Sieben: Smile Forever
On view through April 28
An aura of paranoia and constant scrutiny pervades Michael Sieben’s Smile Forever. Part terminal optimism, part philosophical advice, Smile Forever consists mostly of “portraits” of Sieben’s revolving cast of characters. Strange birds, fruits, plants and fur creatures pose portrait-like against bare wood panel. As expected, these creatures smile the time away, in a mix of dumb joy, emptiness, contempt and resignation.
Sieben has enough creativity to go around. Somehow he manages to be the creative director for Bueno Skateboards, a staff illustrator and writer for Thrasher Magazine, a freelance illustrator for clients ranging from alternative weeklies to band posters to skateboarding companies, while also being a partner and co-owner of Austin’s Okay Mountain. Like any budding mini-mogul, he seems well aware of the importance of branding. He also posesses a very distinct style he has dubbed “soft-core gore,” equal parts children’s illustration, 80s skateboard graphics, Ed Roth’s Rat Fink graphics and the Krofft Brothers’ puppet creations.
Smile Forever has the allure of narrative without the need for a messy storyline. Text in the form of sentences without context or one-off words plays an important role in his style and points to some hidden and personal meaning that we’re not privy to, but can intuit from Sieben’s encryptions. There’s travel between cities because many of his characters share the same prison-style tattoo of an anchor underneath or over the name of a place. Someone is watching and giving commentary; whether this commentary is being given by the character or its maker is unclear. Knives are everywhere: in character’s necks, in poor imitations of ears, in hands, like extra pointy thumbs. We get the feeling we’re intruding somehow, that these Siebenites don’t know we’re watching them too. Just out of their view, but well within ours, closed-circuit security cameras seem to scrutinize and observe everyone, smirking like the subjects of their gaze in a menacing loop of smiles. The grinning imperative works like the touch of Midas, leveling all emotions into a smug, optimistic and highly ironic sense of dread and lost innocence.
Find Something Beautiful in the Trash and Find Something Beautiful in the Trash Part 2 are a very refreshing shift in style for Sieben. Instead of skewed portraiture, these two paintings are concentric psychedelic clouds of tiny elements working together like cells in an organism. “Lately, I’ve been getting into the paragraph,” writes Sieben on one of them. Perhaps, beyond the humor present in that highly pretentious sentence, this is an indication of where Sieben’s noncommercial work is headed. This new style, while a logical extension of his previous work, also ties him to other artists working in unfocused psychedelia and agglomeration, like Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Hisham Bharoocha or Paper Rad.
Another highly unexpected move for an artist so identified with two-dimensional work is the near-diorama consisting of Simon, a giant blue sculpture/rag-doll and Security Camera, an anthropomorphized cardboard closed-circuit camera. It is here more than anywhere that the similarity between Sieben’s characters with Sid and Marty Krofft’s puppet shows are most obvious. Simon looks like an unused model from H.R. Pufnstuf; Security Camera, his zany nemesis, or perhaps best friend. It’s nice to see that adding a dimension hasn’t dulled his gift for invisible narrative. Other than a wonderfully realized excursion into new modes of production, these two sculptural works break the planar monotony of the rest of the show by turning Smile Forever into a concise body of work and a great debut gallery solo show for Sieben.
Eastern European Painting Now
Lora Reynolds Gallery
On view through May 5
Let’s start with a speculative color theory. It’s a safe bet that prior to the collapse of the Soviet Block, the color most Americans associated with Eastern Europe was red. Since that time, throughout the nineties and up to today, I’d wager that the color of Eastern Europe has been gray. A Romanian folk dance might be motley, but Eastern Europe, as a concept, is ashen colored. Haven’t you ever seen a “failed utopia”? (Curse that term.) They’re dusty, decrepit and have bland concrete high-rises. The sun never shines through the cloud cover.
Slawomir Elsner’s paintings have a lot of gray in them. His three works in Eastern European Painting Now, all made in 2006, picture thirty year-old covers of Panorama, a Polish periodical, in a palette of black and white and gray. Panorama 90 (Lenin Anniversary) has a beautiful thinly-painted uneven-gray sky that bears the texture of the brush that applied it. This sky occupies about three-quarters of the 20-x-24 inch canvas. The non-sky parts of the painting show a prototypical statue of Lenin in profile to which virtually faceless Poles bring flowers. There is so much white in the painting that it appears to give off (and hold back) a great deal of light. This vague brightness contributes to the painting's sense of aimlessness and futility. It may seem odd that the longhaired male figure in the foreground, seemingly unenamored with the status quo, would repeat Lenin’s form, but this suggests that the newest crop of Polish malcontents circa 1976 still found their origin in Father Lenin. Quoting this image in 2006, Elsner posits the rebel as an interchangeable figure who could make a difference, but might also effect little substantive change from one generation to the next.
Elsner’s other canvas of this size, Panorama 93 (All Saints Day), has a much thicker impasto than its counterpart. In this work, as in Elsner’s more thinly painted canvases, a viewer has the sense that the shift in mediums from a faded photograph to oil paint, combined with the increase in scale that accompanied this translation, has interfered with and dulled the image’s clarity. Though the works are obviously derived from photographs, the painted images are hazy and partially unresolved, which leaves their source imagery beyond a viewer’s grasp. Curator Jane Neal explains this quality as Elsner’s method of representing scenes that have become memories. This may be part of it, but there is also the implication that one’s experience of life at the time these photographs were published does not register with life today. Finally, in Panorama 91, Elsner’s largest painting, we see the backs of a dozen students looking at a map. In this work in particular, one senses the ironic distance between the light of a “bright future” and the washed out tones of a fading exposure.
Serban Savu’s works hang on the opposite side of the gallery from Elsner’s. The Romanian artist’s delicate paintings in oil on linen are quite something from a technical standpoint. His three untitled images from 2006 show workers unaware that they are being observed. Soft and subtle, these paintings, too, are rendered in tones of gray, though they also bear other hues. In one of the finest paintings in the exhibition, two male laborers peer outside from behind a propped-open window. The building they occupy is shown cropped on the 13-x-19 ¾ inch painting and its facade appears like a detail from a neoplasticist picture. A related work shows a woman in a red work apron washing the windows of a large modern building. We only see one complete floor of this building, whose windows frame the working woman, divide the painting’s surface and extend an overall flattening effect across the image. One suspects that the meaning of work has changed very little for these people from when they were Communists to now.
Paintings by Savu’s countryman Adrian Ghenie impressed me less. They are, however, almost entirely gray. The works seemingly want to haunt, but they don’t quite pull it off. The resulting effects vary—some, like The Ballroom (2006) strike a viewer as surreal with their odd juxtapositions of imagery, while others like If You Open It You Get Dirty (2006) read strictly in formal terms because their iconographic elements are too difficult to decipher.
Wojciech Zasasni, a Polish artist, is the odd man out in Eastern European Painting Now. First, Zasasni is the only artist who works in three-dimensions. He makes low-relief woodcarvings of covers of popular magazines and books, which he paints in vibrant colors of acrylic and enamel. Second, if the paintings we have considered up to this point could be described as subtle, contemplative and psychologically rich, Zasasni’s work are loud and unabashedly the products of an unthinking consumer culture. Neal’s catalogue essay argues that these reliefs ask us to imagine a world in which “everything designed to have a short shelf life remained with us.” Let’s not forget that Slawomir Elsner’s Panorama series also preserves disposable material. Zasasni’s ironic reliefs, however, seem to say that Eastern Europeans, now at home in the culture of western consumption, need to learn what to do with throw-away goods. These objects no longer represent scarce western commodities, but they may symbolize something Eastern Europe once showed little hope of achieving—a strong economy, built on discretionary spending and an inexplicable valuation of the new.
While it’s a luxury to have a publication of the works in Eastern European Painting Now, Neal’s catalogue essay keeps the artist too far at bay. In the seven-page essay that covers the work of four artists there is but one instance when an artist’s voice comes through in the form of a quotation or as a reference to an artist’s statement. Surely the language barrier is not so difficult to surmount. By not bringing the artists’ voices into the essay, their culture remains unnecessarily disjointed from ours. Neal provides a very readable interpretation of these artists’ works, but it lacks historical context and its approach is insufficiently critical. Bringing such interesting, well-made paintings from Poland and Romania to Austin marks an important step. But writing founded merely upon one interpreter’s perspective makes these multi-toned gray paintings unnecessarily monochromatic.
Katie Pell: The Best That I Can Give You...
Gallery 4 at Blue Star Art Space
On view through May 8
In The Best That I Can Give You and Less Than Half of What You Deserve, Katie Pell transforms Blue Star Art Space’s Gallery 4 into a small chapel. But Pell honors neither God, nor art; instead the viewer gets to be the recipient of Pell’s praise. In a statement on the wall, Pell posts a cheerful dedication to the anonymous viewer, which includes, “I could never afford to treat you the way your accomplishments deserve. I mean didn’t you turn over—that’s right, turn over! when you were in your mother’s womb, for God’s sake, all on your own—and get your head jammed in just the right position to come out with a push? How did you even know to do that? And that’s just for starters—you weren’t even born yet!”
The back wall of the gallery features an idyllic blue sky spotted with white clouds, a focal area historically reserved for deities and other idealized beings. The blank aqua sky remains open for gallery visitors to stand against and have their photo taken. On opening night, Pell gave the first 100 visitors small Polaroids of themselves. An intensely patterned archway of black-and-white charcoal drawings adorns the room’s back wall. Monkeys, elephants, cherubs and other creatures arch up and around the sky. The playful, but sarcastic imagery appears nearly alive and the drawings appear to break into the formally framed “heaven.” A monkey offers a wilting bouquet of flowers out into the sky; flowers fall from above. In front of this scene, drawings—paper cutouts mounted onto MDF—of rabbits, a turtle and other wildlife sit on the floor. On the opposite wall, Pell casually posted many photographs of viewers.
At a recent show at ArtPace, Pell featured Bitchen, a humorous comic book filled with women who win a class action lawsuit against “All-Mart.” At Blue Star, Pell’s drawing slips into a near-Baroque style, but her decorative, curvilinear lines belie the sardonic imagery. Pell’s mermaid features the threatening bumps of an alligator’s tail. Cupid bodies are topped with animal’s heads. Cheerful and farcical, Pell’s flora and fauna blur the lines between baroque, cartoon and tattoo styles. The sublimely uplifting, heady air of Pell’s drawings seems to mock the glibness of its art historical references. In this installation, which Pell calls a diorama, “you are the star—and then—you are an exotic gift to the world!” Pell’s graciousness and generosity may or may not be sincere, but in this act of exuberance, Pell demonstrates the process of getting carried away and brings theatrics into daily life.
Jasper Johns: An Allegory of Paintings , 1955-1965
The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
On view through April 29
Opening in June at Kunstmuseum Basel
The National Gallery of Art in Washington is currently showing a selective overview of the first ten years of Jasper Johns’ work. Curator Jeffery Weiss aims to de-familiarize Johns’ instantly recognizable images of bright bull’s eyes and American flags, the latter of which he leaves out of the show altogether. Over-familiarity stops at the level of the image and obscures critical assessment of underlying questions and messages, the show rightly argues. Weiss wants viewers to reassess the “instant” quality of Johns’ work, to bring into conversation that which is not immediately clear and to incite thinking that might bring us closer to the complex ways in which artists worked from 1955 to 1965, in the wake of Abstract Expressionism’s dominance of the art world. The exhibition approaches its task by organizing 80 works into four motifs: the target, the “device” (a wooden slat Johns used as a scraper), stenciled color words and imprints of body parts.
First, the show anchors the motif of the target. In now-iconic works Target with Plaster Casts and Target with Four Faces, both from 1955, a large painted target in bright blue and yellow concentric bands appears on a red ground. Accompanying these familiar works are more than a dozen abstract experiments like Green Target (1959), in which Johns scrapes and sculpts an impasto of pale greens into concentric rings that suggest a target. The treatment renders the represented object difficult to make out and blocking the direct relation of sign to referent: this heightens the idea that Johns is targeting a subject that is not entirely clear. The motif of the body trace presents plaster casts of body parts or smudged imprints of face and hands on paper. Like the targets, Johns’ brand of self-portrait is fragmented and legible in part. Proper to Modernism, it displays only an imprint: the body an artist leaves behind in the process of creating a work. This, like his other strategies, subverts conventional ideas of “artist” and “artwork” for the period, in defiance of conventions for “high art." The “device” appears in many finished works, including Device (1962), a field-style painting with a wood tracing tool affixed to the canvas to inscribe arcs in wet paint. A fourth motif, stencils of color words, works in two ways, sometimes as an index, where “blue” signals blue, and sometimes with more opaque significance—thereby changing the word’s function as a sign—for example, when “red” is stenciled in yellow. The most evocative “word” picture, No (1962), is not a play on a color word. It is a brush-and-drip mélange of blunt greys from which a steel wire hangs. From the wire dangles the word “NO”, die-cut from metal.
Johns’ succinct rejections parody Abstract Expressionism, but this work can’t be taken only literally. Weiss’ title for the show, An Allegory of Painting, argues that Johns’ strategy is explicitly narrative, and that the terms of that narrative are the motifs the show identifies, terms Weiss argues signal “the mechanics of process alone.” But Johns’ patent illegibility—the extreme level of difference between the recognizability of his material signs and the opaqueness of their underlying meanings—is an argument against narrative. Johns certainly acknowledges a historical narrative, and the place of Modern painting within it, but his art signals the viewer to stop narrative thinking. Weiss’ motif approach adheres to the prevailing aesthetic of the time, set by New York critic Greenberg’s pervasive emphasis on formalism, with Abstract Expressionism as the leading currency, and Weiss is unable to wrench Johns’ work from its time-bound status.
The evidence this show mounts counters its thesis. The exhibition does not de-familiarize as much as it broadens the general viewer’s experience of Johns’ works within the purview of the four “motifs” and the familiar Abstract Expressionism/ Modernism polemic. Instead of seeing only one or two targets in primary colors, we see dozens that receive a more subtle technical treatment, expanding our experience of Johns’ visual repertoire. The show hints at, but does not engage fully with the primary problem in Johns’ work: the conceptual problem of surface and depth.
Misaki Kawai: Space House
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
On view through July 8
H. David Waddell
The party is practically built into Misaki Kawai’s installation at the Institute of Contemporary Art [ICA] Boston. Playful, fun and full of energy, the construction of papier-mâché pods, aircraft and rooms is suspended from the ceiling by filament and connected by wooden dowels that act as a monorail. Among the spaces were a karaoke lounge, men’s bathroom complete with urinal, a cat room, an art studio and an indoor hot tub.
Kawai invites the viewer into these tiny worlds through her use of small televisions, blinking lights and looping sounds. The karaoke room has a screen with music videos while the home gymnasium features a workout tape with various exercises. Kawai’s characters—sloppy, handcrafted dolls—are given the faces of her friends, or even The Beatles, by transferring photographs onto cloth.
The most fascinating room is the central spacecraft. Dolls relax in the nude around a hot tub while watching the large screen television. Just when you think that Kawai’s electronics are limited (lights blink and sounds loop), she presents an unexpected series of video. Kawai roughly edits homemade footage of puppets playing hide-and-seek, presenting weather reports and reading the nightly news. She does not hide the fact that these are puppets. You can see human hands manipulating these dolls, allowing you to imagine the absurdity of four adults playing dolls in a public park.
In the video, Japanese audio alienates an American audience. But, Kawai uses simple devices such as the mimicry of everyday life to connect with her audience. We relate to the dumb, monotonous nightly news, the drone of fitness videos and soft, cuddly animals. One room is dedicated to resuscitating a robot as he undergoes surgery. Kawai somehow makes us feel empathy for this object. She has the power to connect emotions to objects, the way a child does to a stuffed animal. My favorite detail is a sticker that Kawai places on a miniature dresser drawer. It perfectly captures the feeling of a child.
Kimbell Art Foundation Selects Architect Renzo Piano for New Building
The Kimbell Art Foundation has selected the Renzo Piano Building Workshop as the architect for an addition to the Kimbell Art Museum. Renzo Piano is the winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Gold Medal from Britain and Italy and many other awards. The addition will comprise a separate building located across the street from the current Museum, on land acquired in 1998.
Artist Sol LeWitt Passes Away
Sol LeWitt died from complications of cancer on April 8. He was 78. His wife Carol and two daughters, Sofia and Eva, survive him.
AMoA Museum Official Faces Art Theft Charges
The finance and operations director of the Austin Museum of Art has been charged with trying to steal paintings from a park festival. Nathan Sheppard, 37, was arrested early Sunday and charged with burglary of a building and evading arrest. His 33-year-old wife, Alexandra Sheppard, also was charged with burglary of a building.
Fuse Box Festival: Fetish and other dances
TONIGHT! April 27, 2007 - 8:00 pm
Off Center/ Rude Mechanicals
Fetish is clad in some fantastic boots. Fetish is a dance about the 2002 World Taxidermy Championships. Fetish builds a pipe bomb. Fetish is a wartime piece. Fetish is obsessed with pneumonic devices. What is remembered and what is forgotten can be revealing. We are slaves to the music of Schubert, Chopin, Ligetti and Manilow. Fetish shut down the Philadelphia airport. HIJACK is the Minneapolis-based choreographic collaboration of Kristin Van Loon & Arwen Wilder. Specializing in the inappropriate, they insert dance where it is least expected. HIJACK is best known for “short-shorts”: pop song-length miniatures designed to deliver a sharp shock and football field-scaled spectacles for 15-50 performers. The duo has taught and performed in Japan, Russia, Central America, Ottawa, Chicago, Colorado, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Maine. They were just part of the Nothing Festival, curated by Tere O’Connor, at DTW. They were voted best choreographers by City Pages, Minneapolis 2004 and their show at PS122 with Scott Heron was listed in the New York Times Best of Dance in 2006.
TONIGHT though April 28, 9:00 pm
The Blue Theatre
Mankind has always dreamed of traveling to the stars. But this dream has always been limited by the burden of the human body. With this experiment, Neo Arcadia aims to lift that weight. They have constructed a Transfiguration Temple that makes the human body obsolete by creating a purely digital consciousness embodied in computer code, and then sends that consciousness to Alpha Centauri at the speed of light using radio transmissions. A towering bricolage of foliage and pixels will act as a beacon of light for the maddened, frothy public starved for transcendence. In this time, the age of spiritual machines, a metamorphosis this dramatic is nothing short of god-like. Therefore, all the ritual and respect of a religious ceremony will be present as they suck the brains of their human sacrifices, concoct the neon neural gruel, feed the hungry temple guardians and transfer their massive material mass into weightless wi-fi accessible software. The future is now, dear child! Can you taste the glory?
ARTMATTERS 11: Lynda Benglis
McNay Museum of Art
Opening: May 2
Best known as a prominent sculptor who exhibits internationally and whose public works dot sites across the United States, Lynda Benglis has also worked extensively in video, printmaking, painting, drawing and ceramics. Two- and three-dimensional works by Benglis are presented as part of the McNay’s ARTMATTERS series of exhibitions of work by living artists. An illustrated gallery guide accompanies the exhibition.
Opening and Ongoing Exhibitions
Gallery 3 at the Co-op
Opening Reception: April 26, 5-7 pm
Artist talk: 5:30 pm
Organized by graduate student Kurt Mueller, Distant Relative presents new work by undergraduate sculpture students at UT. Don’t be surprised though if it hardly resembles the standard definition of the medium. Includes artists Sun Young Park, Josh Price, Neela Reed and Hans Zimmerman.
Agent on the Road
Opening: May 5
Agent on the Road is the first part of Art Palace’s two part collaboration with Dallas gallery Road Agent. Three of Road Agent’s artists—Lizzy Wentzel (Dallas) , Bradly Brown (New York) and Edward Setina (Denton) are featured in this exhibiton. Art Palace artists will show at Road Agent in the fall.
Identity Theft!!: Gustav Gustafsson, Sean Gaulager, tetheredtothesun and Sean Ripple
Else Madsen Gallery
On view through May 25, 2007
Identity theft is the most prevalent crime in recent history and the sharp rise of this crime is a direct outcome of the digital age. Most if not all your personal information floats out there as little ones and zeros. The work presented at the Else Madsen Gallery includes international photography and video installation dealing with the idea of stealing you without ever seeing you.
Tom Molloy: Lone Star
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Opening Reception: Friday, May 11, 6-8 pm with an artist talk at 6:30 pm
Lora Reynolds Gallery brings Irish artist, Tom Molloy, for his first solo exhibition in the United States. Throughout his practice, Molloy employs repetition of subtle and often understated imagery as a means to encourage a powerful dialogue. In this exhibition, issues of both personal and political freedom, gun culture, democracy and peace are considered; however, Molloy is careful to avoid overt arguments, describing his work as humanist rather than political.
No American Talent 3: The Common Deceit of Reality: Basim Magdy
On view through May 26
The Common Deceit of Reality, produced in conjunction with independent curator, Regine Basha, is Cairo-based artist Basim Magdy’s first solo exhibition in Texas and includes an installation, Med Pools and How We Got Ourselves to Look for Big Foot Heaven, made especially for Okay Mountain. Magdy’s creatures and half-breeds run amok and re-appear throughout his highly colored works on paper and immersive sculptural installations. In many ways they are counterfeit stand-ins for dangerous alter-egos, proxy heroes and fallen heroes and the failed dreams of progress and civility. The exhibition expands into a series of disseminated images called, A Cunning Plan inserted into three different publications this spring: Artl!es, Art Papers and The Okay Mountain Reader.
CTRL group one
Opening Reception: Friday, April, 27, 6-8 pm
CTRL Gallery presents its inaugural exhibition of painting and sculpture from the United States and beyond. Artists include: Beau Chamberlain, Anders Oinonen, Jane South and Dan Kopp.
Free to Be…You and Me Invitational
Aurora Picture Show
Friday, May 4 and Saturday, May 5
Inspired by a Brooklyn film artist's recent discovery that his 16mm collection contained multiple copies of the celebrated 1974 film (for television) Marlo Thomas's Free To Be...You and Me, the media arts organization Ocularis devised a scheme to put his reels to good use. More than twenty film and video artists were invited to rework, restage, respond to, satirize, criticize or in their own way create short works inspired by the original's all-too-memorable segments. Admission is $6.
Chiho Aoshima: City Glow
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
On view through September 9, 2007
Using the computer as a compositional tool, Chiho Aoshima realizes her images freely in various media, including sculpture, mural design, prints, clothing and, in collaboration with animator Bruce Ferguson, video. Her imagery draws upon traditional Japanese scroll paintings as well as contemporary sources, blending landscape and narrative to create a vision of our planet´s potential for both creation and chaos. City Glow is both monumental and playfully engaging. Spanning five monitors, it opens in a garden, filled with fantastic foliage and creatures.
Enrique Martinez and Chris Turbuck: Drawing Frenzy
Opening Reception: Friday, April 27, 7-11 pm
This project is seventh in a series of two artist exhibitions built on the idea of a duplex, as exemplified by the double room layout of the gallery space, which is also half of a duplex.
Opening: May 3
Power Play marks the Texas debut of Paris-based artists Adel Abdessemed, Mircea Cantor and duo Claire Fontaine. Featuring videos, photographs, and sculpture created during the past few years amidst the volatile political climate of France, Power Play employs dark humor and strategic play to question and resist traditional power structures and relationships that underpin the global artworld.
New Works: 07.1
On view through May 13
The most recent incarnation of Artpace’s international artist-in-residence program features Katja Strunz, Berlin, Germany; Glenn Kaino, Los Angeles, CA; and Robert Pruitt, Houston, TX. All artists create works that question the differences between past and present, sacred and profane and high and low.
The Thing with Joe McPhee
Friday, April 27, 2007, 8:00 PM
The Thing (Stockholm) blends the spontaneity and imagination of classic free jazz with the emotional immediacy of underground garage rock. With acoustic traditional jazz instrumentation, the three young Scandinavians can match the power of the fiercest rock band. The Thing's repertoire consists of 60s era new-jazz (Don Cherry, Ayler, James Blood Ulmer, David Murray) and reinterpretations of underground rock classics (PJ Harvey, White Stripes, Sonics, Lighting Bolt). This is no watered down jazz-rock. The Thing take the most uncompromising aspects of both genres and turn up the heat. The Thing are joined by living legend Joe McPhee only for the Texas and Chicago dates.
5x7 Art Splurge & Exhibition
Arthouse at The Jones Center
Saturday, May 19, 2007; 7:30 - 10 pm
Hundreds of contemporary artists with strong Texas ties generously create unique works of art measuring 5" x 7".
Each piece is only $100. Collectors' Special: $25 discount for each group of 4 you purchase! All pieces are displayed anonymously —only when you purchase the work of art will you discover the creator. This is your chance to start—or add to—your art collection while supporting contemporary art and artists in Texas. 5x7 benefits Arthouse's exhibitions and educational programs.
20th Century Modern Market
Lawndale Art Center
April 27-29: Benefit Preview Party, Friday, April 27, 6-9 pm; Market Sale, Saturday, April 28-29, 10 am-5 pm
Lawndale Art Center will host its twelfth annual art market, exclusively presenting wares of 20th century design. This year’s Market will feature a dozen specialist dealers from around the country, offering a variety of media including furniture, glass, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, objects d’art and fashion. Benefit Preview Party admission is $30/person for members and $40 for non-members and Market Sale General admission is $5 for the public events from 10 am-5 pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Glasstire Happy Hour
Wednesday, May 2, 6-8 pm
Raise your glass (tire?) at this Happy Hour event benefiting Glasstire.
BALLROOM MARFA courtyard
April 28, 2007
A master of the push-button accordion and one of norteno's living legends, Mingo Saldivar has long stretched the music's conventions as much as he's upheld them, mixing elements of pop, rhythm & blues and country music with the traditional dance rhythms of the Texas-Mexico borderlands.
New York City
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace Open Studio Weekend
120 Broadway, 8th Floor, 200 Hudson Street, 4th Floor
Starting with a party from 6-10PM on Friday, April 27, the Council will open both studio spaces to the public for only the second time since the session began in September. The 30 artists and writers will show work created while in-residence through open hours at the studios, a Saturday night screening and a Sunday night “Open Texts” reading and performance. A complete list of events, as well as the RSVP form (all events are RSVP only) is available online.
The Situational Drive: Complexities of Public Sphere Engagement
The Great Hall, Cooper Union
May 12-13, 10 am-7 pm
inSite San Diego/Tijuana and Creative Time, in collaboration with The Cooper Union School of Art, present a free weekend conference organized by Joshua Decter. This 2-day multidisciplinary conference presents a sequence of panel discussions, conversations and art projects rethinking the challenges of artistic, curatorial, architectural and theoretical engagement in urban and other public spheres. For a complete schedule of events, go to www.creativetime.org.
CALL FOR ENTRIES
NURTUREart Gallery is currently accepting curatorial proposals for the
2007-2008 season. Curators are invited to submit proposals for group exhibitions of 6 artists or more, with a minimum of 50% of the proposed artists being current members of the NURTUREart Artists' Registry. Preference will be given to proposals containing NURTUREart Registry Artists who have not yet had the opportunity to exhibit in our gallery. The registry of over 1,000 artists is available for viewing at the NURTUREart Gallery. If interested, please download the application form at www.nurtureart.org. In order to submit a proposal, send six copies of the following: application, one page description of the show’s concept, resume from the curator, resume from each artist and slide/image information list with two to four slides for each artist, including the name of artist, title of work, medium, size and date for each image presented. Mail or deliver to:
Exhibition Proposal Committee, NURTUREart Gallery, 910 Grand Street,
Williamsburg, NY 11211 by Monday, June 25 at 6 pm.
The Austin Museum of Art (AMOA) is currently accepting artists’ submissions for New Art in Austin which will be on view at AMOA-Downtown, February 15-May 11, 2008. The third in a triennial showcase, the exhibition spotlights emerging artists in Austin. A statewide curatorial team will evaluate the work of local artists who have been watched by AMOA staff and Central Texas art professionals over the past three years. As a statewide, traveling exhibition accompanied by a full-color scholarly catalogue, the exhibition will bring cutting edge work in a variety of media to a broad audience. Eligible artists must live within fifty miles of the Capitol and have never had a solo show in a mainstream exhibition venue in the area. Artists of any age may apply. Only work made since 2005 will be considered. For eligibility and submission information, please go to www.amoa.org/artist_submission. Submissions will only be accepted online. Deadline is July 16, 2007.
Junior/Senior Prom: 500X Gallery’s Annual Open Invitational is an ideal opportunity for artists to exhibit their work in one of Texas’ oldest alternative galleries. Run by a co-operative of artists, 500X Gallery is a high profile environment for emerging artists. As the show’s title suggests, this open invitational attracts artists from all areas of experience, from absolute beginners to seasoned professionals. Artwork of any media will be accepted at the gallery on Saturday and Sunday, May 5-6 from 8 am - 8 pm. Selected works will be on view from May 12-June 2. Please visit http://www.500x.org/JunioSeniorProm500XFlyer.pdf for more information on how to enter.
CALL FOR PAPERS and PROJECTS
Invisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture is a peer-reviewed journal dedicated to explorations of the material and political dimensions of cultural practices. The peer-reviewed journal invites papers and projects concerned with contemporary (post-1960s) curatorial and museum practice for the Fall 2007 issue. Submissions in the form of 2,500-6,000 word papers from all disciplines, as well as digital projects (virtual museums, online art exhibitions and internet-based endeavors, for example) are welcome. Entries may include but are not limited to investigations of the following topics: the relevance and changing role of the curator, alternative exhibition sites and developments in institutional critique. Submissions and inquiries should be directed to Mara Gladstone, Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deadline for the Fall 2007 issue is May 20, 2007.
Workspace is the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s flagship artist residency program. We provide artists and writers working in diverse mediums and genres with free studio workspace for nine months, as well as access to a community of artists, professional development opportunities and a modest stipend for materials. The residency culminates in an Open Studio Weekend when studios are open to the public. We currently offer Workspace in 2 locations: 120 Broadway, 8th Floor in the Financial District and 200 Hudson Street, 4th Floor in Tribeca. Like its first location in the World Trade Center, this program continues the mission to place artists in studios just blocks from Wall Street, changing what it means to “work” downtown. This program is dedicated to serving up-and-coming artists, individuals without current commercial gallery representation and artists currently without studios. To submit an application, please visit: http://www.lmcc.net/art/residencies/index.html. Deadline for applications is Thursday, May 10, 2007 at 5 pm.
Best Art Practices: International Award for Young Curators
The Italian Cultural Office of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano, South Tyrol will assign monetary prizes to curators of contemporary art. The theme of the first edition of this prize will focus on projects in non-conventional spaces. The Award accepts projects that have been completed in the last five years and therefore inaugurated after March 1, 2002. The Award is open to all curators of all nationalities born on or after March 2, 1967. The prize will be awarded by an international jury. Entries must arrive by 12 noon on September 3, 2007 by post, courier or hand delivery at the Award secretary's office. Application information is available at online.
JOBS and INTERNSHIPS
Tacoma Art Museum seeks an innovative, creative, and energetic individual to fill the newly created position of Curator of Collections and Special Exhibitions. The successful candidate is expected to focus on the research and presentation of the permanent collection (the European and American collections in particular), and on the planning, development and presentation of internationally and nationally touring special exhibitions as well as scholarly publications. S/he will have demonstrated expertise in European and American art and broad knowledge of art history. The curator will work closely with other curatorial staff on upgrading the collection management and digital imaging system, exhibition design and strategic planning. Master's degree in art history with a PhD preferred. Three years of museum experience with a wide museum and academic network. Foreign language skills desirable. Send resume, letter of interest and salary history to: Stephanie A. Stebich, Director, Tacoma
Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma, WA, 98402 or email to jobs@TacomaArtMuseum.org.
The Print Center, founded in 1915, a nonprofit organization exhibiting contemporary prints and photographs, seeks a Curator. The curator is responsible for initiating, developing, implementing and interpreting a schedule of temporary exhibitions with accompanying publications and educational programs as appropriate. Central to the job is the ability to cultivate and maintain relationships with an active community of artists, collectors, curators and patrons. Works closely with a small, dedicated team of co-workers and volunteers. Graduate degree in art history or an allied field preferred, curatorial experience required. Salary: $31,500/year plus health and dental benefits. Please send letter, c.v., three references and writing samples to The Print Center, 1614 Latimer Street, Philadelphia, PA , 19103 or to email@example.com. No phone or in-person inquiries. Deadline is June 1, 2007.
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is searching for a Senior Curator. S/he is responsible for multiple exhibitions for each season, including all aspects of planning, implementation and publication. The curator will aim to craft original exhibitions of the highest quality in accordance with the curatorial mission of the Museum. It is the mission of the Aldrich's curatorial department to present innovative, exciting and diverse contemporary art exhibitions and programs that focus on emerging and mid-career artists. We strive to offer exhibitions of the highest quality and provide opportunities for collaborative, artistic and curatorial risk taking that respect both artist and audience. Please submit a cover letter and resume to the attention of: Maureen Shanahan , Assistant to the Director & Board of Trustees, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 258 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT, 06877 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org with CURATOR as the subject line.
Artpace San Antonio seeks an Assistant/Associate Curator to coordinate its exhibition and artist residency programs. The position requires an academic and professional background in contemporary art and art history, with at least three years prior museum and/or gallery experience. A strong interest in education and outreach is required. Excellent oral and written communication skills and the ability to develop programs and cultivate new audiences are essential. Proficiency in at least one language other than English is required (Spanish preferred). Letters of application accompanied by a current resume and three writing samples should be postmarked by MAY 18, 2007 and sent to: Curator Search, Artpace San Antonio, 445 N. Main Ave., San Antonio, TX, 78205, Attn: Matthew Drutt, Director.
The Museum of Modern Art is offering a new twelve-month, paid Curatorial Internship that seeks to encourage candidates who will provide greater diversity within the museum field. The purpose of this internship is to give dedicated individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds the knowledge, experience and preparation that they will need to begin a professional career in the arts, whether at The Museum of Modern Art, other museums or related cultural institutions. The Museum's Internship Program combines several essential components for professional development. The term for the full-time internship is twelve months, five days a week. The internship begins in mid-September 2007, and concludes in mid-September 2008. In addition to a $21,000 stipend and full health and employee benefits, each intern will receive two weeks vacation and $1,000 for travel and other expenses so that he/she may attend a professional conference. Eligible students must be recent graduates of bachelor's or master's degree programs and should visit the Museum's internship site, for further information about how to apply. Applications must be postmarked by May 18, 2007.
Wanted: An art or design student that would be interested in designing a robot costume. The robot is going to be entered in a home assistant robot competition. The appropriate costume will anthropomorphize the robot while acknowledging the robot’s purpose. The robot can be seen in video online. Send inquiries to email@example.com.
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