MBG Issue #180: Soft Packed For Infinity

Issue # 180

Soft Packed For Infinity

December 16, 2011

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Šejla Kamerić, 1395 Days Without Red: A film by Šejla Kamerić, From a project by Šejla Kamerić and Anri Sala in collaboration with Ari Benjamin Meyers, 2011, Vídeo, color, 60 min 24 seconds. © 2011, Artangel, Sejla Kameric, Anri Sala, SCCA/pro.ba. (detail)

from the editor

T'is the season for being in transit. Our familiarity with airports, car seats, buses and train stations increases this time of year as we make our way from one holiday engagement to the next. I happen to enjoy waiting in the airport. Once one comes to terms with the prodding at the hands of the TSA, the likelihood of delay, bland overpriced food options and the fruitless jockeying for position by fellow travelers, the airport can be a good place to get some thinking done. Airports are an in between place—neither here nor there—where we go to be jettisoned through space to our next destination. They are hubs, points in a perpetual middle, where we can see—in the red LED faces of scrolling signs—connections to places around the globe. When we’re at the airport, we’re at the airport, our behaviors rhythmic and repetitive as we await flight.1 Since airports facilitate travel, we have to be present within them, and maybe it is this concrete sense of presence coupled with the veneer of calm cool neutrality that they’re the perfect place for observation and thought.2

This notion of a hub, or point in space that is a host for all others, immediately conjures the spell of Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino in my brain. Reminded of Borges' The Aleph by a wonderful exhibition and publication at the Goethe-Institut New York (see, We would provide complete darkness in this issues ...mbg Recommends). I returned to the short story upon arriving home.3 Borges describes a ‘small iridescent sphere of almost unbearable lightness…The Aleph was probably two or three centimeters in diameter, but universal space was contained inside it, with no diminution in size,’ he says. ‘Each thing (the glass surface of a mirror, let us say) was infinite things, because I could clearly see it from every point in the cosmos.’ For Borges, the stories protagonist, The Aleph is an object that contains the whole of the world—spanning both time and space– revealing to him ‘the inconceivable universe.’ A poetic, albeit impossible and anxiety inducing thing, that speaks to our desire to distill the world’s knowledge and plurality into digestible instances and conceivable objects.4

While I would never argue that art objects show us the ‘inconceivable universe,’ they are nonetheless hubs of a certain kind. They are points of coming and going, of boundaries and expanses; thoughts, memories and experiences.5 In some sense they are places we can choose to go that, when meaningful, propel us towards another destination—be it an idea, a book, exhibition or conversation. Art objects are, in this sense, facilitators for travel.6 Might the same be said for publications such as this, whose texts and images connect readers to sources of conversation and knowledge? My opinion on this matter is certainly biased but remains a resounding ‘YES.’

As we travel towards 2012, it’s important to remember the tremendous value of hubs, art objects and publications, that simultaneously act as places for us to think, and by virtue of their content, points of departure. They ask little in return for their generosity, but cannot do it without you. As we close out the year I am indebted to ...mbg’s many contributors during my short time as editor. Their voices are the backbone of ...mbg, and their endeavors for this publication have made for many a fantastic read and gladly sent me off to the library or an exhibition on numerous occasions, an exciting and rewarding process that I anxiously look forward to continuing. As one of our valued readers, it is my hope that they have offered you the same thrilling experience, and that you’ll consider supporting us as we begin to lay the groundwork for our future in the coming weeks. Please consider making an end of the year donation to ...might be good by clicking the ‘Donate Now!’ button below the Table of Contents. We’d love to hear your feedback anytime by emailing us at info@fluentcollab.org and encourage you to subscribe to our mailing list if you haven’t already. Finally, we’ll be taking a few weeks off for the holidays, but will return to our bi-weekly schedule starting January 13, 2012 with more exciting artists projects and thoughtful writing from Texas and beyond. Happy Holidays, see you in the future!

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.

1. The power of skillfully handled repetition is the undercurrent in writer and curator Sarah Demeuse’s review of 1395 Days Of Red at MACBA in Barcelona.
2. See writer and curator Leora Morinis’s text on The Observers by Jackie Goss for an insightful look into the act of observation and its relationship to comprehending the objects within the world.
3. Borges, Jorge Luis. ‘The Aleph.’ Collected Fictions. Trans. Andrew Hurley. New York: Penguin Putnam ltd., 1998.
4. Artist and writer Mike Osborne’s review of The Anxiety of Photography at AMOA Arthouse finds evidence of that plurality within photographic practice and the desire to order it in curatorial practice.
5. Mark Bradford’s frustration with, and exploration of, boundaries and divisions within art making and the critical dialogue surrounding his work is the subject of SMU Professor, artist and writer Noah Simblist’s wide-ranging and thoughtful Long-Read.
6. This issue’s Project Space features curator Leslie Moody Castro and artist Armando Miguélez’s exploration of location, distribution and travel through the project Aqui Ahora. Be sure to follow the counterpart to this great project @mbgETC [http://twitter.com/mbgetc] for the remainder of December.

long read

Breaking the Binary: The Politics of Abstract Painting

By Noah Simblist

Mark Bradford, Mithra, 2008. Courtesy of Prospect New Orleans. © John d’Addario, photographer.

At a recent press preview for his exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art, Mark Bradford expressed his frustration with an all too common tension in contemporary art. He was frustrated with the tendency of some to categorize his work as either conceptual/political or formal/material. Bradford’s work is often talked about in terms of his use of a vernacular connected to his African American identity. On the other hand, it is also talked about in relation to the history of painting. What Bradford wanted was for his work to exist as both, without one compromising the other.

This tension is rooted in binaries that come out of the mid twentieth century: form/content and abstraction/representation. These terms grow out of a particular time when art was seen as a story working its way through a teleological progression. This narrative works under the assumption that we’re all marching towards utopia, paving the way with original inventions—the jewels of humanity’s genius. If we saw the history of pre-modern art as focused on the content of religion’s dogma or a monarch’s will to power, then a new focus on form could rise above the details of politics. Similarly, if representation was applied towards the power plays of church or government, then abstraction could potentially transcend the materialism of representation by creating an image of pure expression. This mythology of modernism, advocated by Clement Greenberg, was constructed to show that form and abstraction were the ultimate mode of progress.

The counter to this story, or what some have called postmodernism, is a rejection of genius and the autonomy of an art object’s aesthetic structure, replaced by anti-aesthetic and politically charged artworks. Artists like Adrian Piper or David Hammonds addressed race explicitly without the language of painted form. This tradition was highlighted by Double Consciousness, Black Conceptualism since 1970, a 2005 show at the Contemporary Art Museum in Houston curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver. While this work is of course important and now canonical, the rejection of painting and formalism plays into the same binary that so frusterated Bradford.

Katy Siegel recently gave a talk at the last Freize Art Fair called The Luxury of Incommensurability outlining this problem. She talked about the famous duck-rabbit diagram, in which one image provides the opportunity to see two things within it, as a way of describing the issue. For Siegel, the duck-rabbit is emblematic of a cold war paradigm, in which communism and capitalism, or the US and the Soviet Union, were divided and incommensurable. In Bush era parlance, this was expressed with the famous phrase, “You’re either with us or against us.” Siegel suggested that there was the potential for a tremendous amount of aesthetic and political agency if we could allow for the possibility to see both the duck and the rabbit at the same time.

The metaphor between competing aesthetic and political ideologies is apt since the art world of the past 50 years has tended to be divided along these lines., but the art world is much more pluralistic now than it was for most of the twentieth century. It’s now common for museums and galleries to show paintings and conceptually based installations.. In a post-post world we might think that we are beyond the tired battles between form and content or aesthetics and conceptualism, but Bradford’s frustration reminds us that these tensions still exist. Why are they still with us?

In illustrating his point, Bradford spoke about his experience as a student at Cal Arts in the 1990s. He said that painting was constantly maligned while performance or conceptual strategies were privileged. Art schools play a major role in the divisions of the art world. First, they often develop cultures based on the faculty that run them; so if Michael Asher or John Baldessari are running the show, you get one kind of program, but if Sam Messer or Gregory Amenoff are running the show, you get another. These cultures, which engage particular politics of aesthetics become formative for many artists. Secondly, art departments project a view of the world based on their structure. Many art departments are still divided based on medium. Even though the professional art world is overall pretty interdisciplinary, young artists begin their careers in school within identifications such as painting, sculpture, photography or in newer departments like transmedia, new media, social practice or performance.

These cultures of division are replicated in museum structures that are often divided based on medium. The Museum of Modern Art still has departments that are split between painting and sculpture, media and performance art and photography. How can we expect to get beyond binaries such as the one between conceptualism and materiality if materiality itself is segmented into various factions? Of course there are media specific concerns that must be considered when addressing artworks, but are they paramount to all others?

One of my favorite examples of a sophisticated turn away from these divisions is a small book put out by Art Resource Transfer that records a conversation between Amy Sillman and Gregg Bordowitz. On the surface, we might think that these two artists would have little in common. Sillman is an artist who makes gestural, colorful paintings that hover between abstraction and figuration. Bordowitz is an artist and writer who was an early member of ACT UP, an activist organization founded in the 1980s to combat the AIDS crisis. What’s remarkable about their conversation is their empathy and interest in the practice of the other. Through conversation they find a language to describe their mutual concerns, which at one point rests on a very open way of thinking about the word “queer.” For instance, Sillman talks about the slippage between representation and abstraction in her work as a queering of modes of making and perceptions of the body. Through their conversation there is a queering of the binary split between political conceptualism and the aesthetics of materiality in painting.

Sillman followed this up with an essay in the Summer 2011 issue of Art Forum entitled “Ab Ex and Disco Balls: In Defense of Abstract Expressionism.” She says, “I feel kind of bad for Ab-Ex. At sixty-something, the old bird’s gotten the gimlet eye from just about everybody: It’s vulgar, it’s the phallocracy, it’s nothing but an empty trophy, it celebrates bourgeois subjectivity, it’s a cold-war CIA front, and, well, basically, expression’s really embarrassing.” She cites Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” and disco as ways to propose a new mode where vulgarity is appreciated and embraced in terms of a messy, handmade painting that has just as much to do with the body as Jack Smith’s or Mary Kelly’s work. She also tells a story of giving a talk at an art school in America which self-identified as “content driven” that abhorred the “(supposed) emptiness of formalism.” It made her frame her work in terms of its form “taking a perverse pleasure” in describing herself as a formalist. The faculty hated the talk, but a couple of transgender students came up to her afterwards to say how much they loved it.

For Sillman the messy embodied nature of painting can be open to queering the binary of form and content, but what about hard edged minimal work? To borrow from one of the hegemonic progenitors of modernist binaries and die-hard believer in painting’s supremacy, Clement Greenberg—hot abstraction might be queer, but what about cool abstraction?

A couple of years ago, KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin presented, Political/Minimal, an exhibition predicated on artworks that blurred the boundaries between form and content. It included artists such as Mona Hatoum, whose sculptures use exquisitely reduced forms combined with political subtext. Her work Cube (9 x 9 x 9) (2008) uses a platonic form that we might associate more with Sol Lewitt or Tony Smith. Instead of an emptying of content, which many artists connected with Minimalism espoused, this three dimensional gridded work is made of barbed wire, alluding to Hatoum’s Palestinian identity. Another work included in the show was an unrealized proposal by Gregor Schneider to place a huge black cube in Piazza di San Marco for the 2005 Venice Biennale. The simple act of placing a black cube in a public space was rejected at the last minute because it seemed too political. The allusion that Schneider was after was to the Kaaba in Mecca, a large black cubic structure that is the holiest site in Islam.

In the catalog essay for Political/Minimal, the curator Klaus Biesenbach reminds us of early works by Hans Haacke that explored the relationships between minimal sculpture and the politics embedded in the practice of everyday life. Like the deep exploration of bodies through hot messy painting, the politics of minimal form can be found in the geometries of institutional structures. As much as it might seem that a queering of a binary might fracture the world into thousands of unmanageable parts, sometimes a complex engagement can be fluid and simple. This simplicity can be found in both materiality and the everyday.

Smokey (2003) is a cool, dark, monochrome abstract painting by Bradford made by pasting permanent-wave end papers across the canvas. While the painting resists narrative, building on abstract traditions of reduction, it also calls up images of the body, race and the social space of a hair salon. It is duck and rabbit at the same time. Similarly Niagara (2005), a small video of Bradford’s, is a simple structure laden with complex social codes. Like 60s’ structuralist performances based on walking by artists such as Bruce Nauman or Trisha Brown, the video consists of a single figure walking in a straight line. In this case it’s a young black man walking down the street in South Central Los Angeles. He has a little swish, emphasized by Bradford slowing down his gait, making a pockmarked sidewalk into a runway. Bradford has talked about this video in terms of protest. He has given a queer act both power and agency.

In a recent lecture at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, the art historian Frances Colpitt talked about contemporary abstract painting as having a particular relationship to our current socio-economic condition. Today, we live in a world that is defined by globalization and interconnectivity and, for her, can best be represented through abstract forms. This in itself is an argument against modernist notions of abstraction’s autonomy from politics and for the kind of queering of boundaries that Sillman and Siegel have advocated. But one question that I have about this notion is whether this model of connectivity and fluidity really exists everywhere. We might think that we live in a rhizomatic, post-Fordist, neoliberal, information economy defined by multinational capitalism, but there are segments of society, most often defined by race and class, that remain marginalized in a very literal way.

This phenomenon is pictured quite clearly in our cities, like Los Angeles, the city pictured in many of Bradford’s paintings. When Bradford talks about a black man walking down the street in South Central Los Angeles, he is referencing the borders that resist queering. It is precisely for this reason that he thinks of Niagara as a protest, not of some past injustice but of a current condition. This probably is also why he’s so aware and frustrated by the divisions that exist within the art world, be they rooted in museums, academia or the limitations of contemporary criticism. This articulation of the tension between a promise of progress and its limitation is the root of a solution. Perhaps we’ll only see the multifarious nature of artworks and the artists that make them once we allow for a complex and pluralistic view of our social spaces. In places like Los Angeles and New Orleans, it often takes a crisis to elicit this model of looking. Unlike the mainstream media, artists can sustain their gaze for longer than an instant, finding and reframing the detritus of our divisions.

Noah Simblist is an Associate Professor of Art at SMU and a PhD student in art history at the University of Texas, Austin.


The Anxiety of Photography
AMOA Arthouse, Austin
Through December 30

By Mike Osborne

Miriam Böhm, Areal V, 2009, Chromogenic color print, 19 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches, Edition 2 of 2, 2 APs. Courtesy of Ratio 3, San Francisco.

The Anxiety of Photography, curated by Matthew Thompson of the Aspen Art Museum and currently on view at Arthouse, is a survey of trends in recent photographic practice. The exhibition includes roughly 40 works by 18 artists who are loosely linked in generational terms—all were born between 1966 and 1981; most live in the US and Germany.

The exhibition’s title, while provocative, feels like a misnomer. Rather than highlighting anxieties produced by the medium, the show revolves around the artists’ pluralistic explorations of photography’s fluid nature at a moment of upheaval in the medium’s history.

As Anne Ellegood writes in a catalog essay, the artists in the show “utilize a range of familiar genres and categories of the medium—the commercial setup, the scouted on-site fashion shoot, portraiture, still life, appropriation, collage, abstraction—and employ just about every technical process invented for the medium, from its earliest forms, such as photograms, to the latest digital tools.” In other words, the show is a photographic smörgåsbord, with a handful of curatorial concepts providing a sense of order.

One central theme is the materiality of photographs and photographic processes, which have become increasingly noticeable as a consequence of analog photography’s displacement by its comparatively de-materialized digital cousin. This strain of work—long-explored by James Welling, who is cited in the catalog as an important influence—is represented by a range of artists, including Matt Saunders, Liz Deschenes, Anthony Pearson and several others who work on or with photographic materials while forgoing any attempt at conventional, camera-based representation.

Other artists address the materiality of photography not via technical processes but through blunt physical gestures. Brendan Fowler impales stacks of banal, conventionally framed photographs on one another in what one imagines is a wry skewering of photography’s typically precious modes of gallery presentation. Matt Keegan’s subtly comical Untitled (Light Leak) (2005-2009) is a Matta-Clark-lite incision in a sheetrock wall, which reveals a photograph of sunlight flaring through foliage. His small New Windows collages, which fragment the view from a domestic interior, are understated and also effective.

Another theme involves the use of commercial photographic tropes. Roe Ethridge and Elad Lassry deploy these to sometimes-humorous effect. Ethridge—whose practice is more diverse, complicated, and interesting than the exhibition’s commercial-ironist characterization allows—is represented by two takes on the “seasonal image.” The first is a photograph of a pumpkin sticker, enlarged to a roughly 30” square. The second, Thanksgiving, 1984 (2009) is a highly stylized picture of a model seated in front of a meaty holiday spread, dreamily staring off into space. It has a Blue Velvet-y strangeness to its mid-80s evocation and is probably the most memorable photograph in the show. Lassry’s three photographs—Silk Rope (2010), Wolf (Blue) (2008) and Pink Bar (2009)—are similarly absurd and display all the trademarks of his photographic practice: precise technique; nonsensical, non sequitur imagery; Baldessarian appropriations and interventions; modest print sizes; and color coordinated frames.

Annette Kelm’s photographs echo Lassry’s themes—the still life and the animal picture—in a quieter, less wry fashion. Venice, Zurich, Brussels (2009) is a lush still life of glass cherries on two vibrant swatches of patterned fabric. Turning into a Parrot (2003) depicts a bright red bird in profile against a backdrop of deep green foliage. Given the picture’s title and the lens-like quality of the bird’s visible eye, it also suggests a metaphor for one kind of photographic anxiety: that the camera’s representations, for all their exactitude, might be as vacant as a parrot’s utterances.

Another notion of parroting is explored by artists who engage in appropriation, or “post-appropriation,” as it is called in a catalog essay. The source images are almost uniformly retro. (For a show that feels very of-the-moment, there is little imagery that is visually evocative of the present or near-past.) Colby Bird shows a photograph and video that pinpoint tropes from early color photography and 80s dust jacket author portraits. Sara Greenberger Rafferty re-photographs water-damaged pictures of 70s actresses and comediennes. Mark Wyse juxtaposes two appropriated images—an Eliot Porter tree and an 80s surfer girl—with one of his own—the photographer James Welling at work in a wintry landscape—in a brief but compelling reflection on California’s mythologies and photography’s role in their construction.

A final focal point of the show consists of artists who mesh sculpture and photographic practice in interesting ways. Sara VanDerBeek is represented by two relatively straightforward interior pictures of decontextualized sculptural objects: an ambiguous semi-transparent block of material and a line of streamers dangling from a pole. Neither picture approaches the complexity of the four-part Composition for Detroit (2009) that she showed in MoMA’s New Photography 2009 which involved a compelling fusion of sculpture and montage with studio-based and “documentary style” photography. Still, Streamers (2010), with its allusion to used-car lot tactics, does something that is similar and rare in the context of this exhibition: it points to the world outside of the picture, outside of the artist’s studio, and outside of the gallery space. Leslie Hewitt’s three photographs—interior images that document temporary sculptures constructed along the baseboard of a presumably domestic space—involve a similar interior/exterior dynamic. Through their use of materials—plywood, an orange, snapshots, and paperback books and DVDs pertaining to race and social justice movements—the pictures read as meditations on public and private space, memory, activism and cultural history. In touching on these types of issues, which are otherwise absent from the exhibition, her pictures make the show’s parameters feel paradoxically pluralistic and narrow, open to anything so long as it is sufficiently, coolly self-reflexive. The directness of Hewitt’s pictures and their intimation of a public world outside the artist’s studio seem, in their own modest way, revelatory.

Mike Osborne is an artist based in Austin, Texas.

1395 Days Without Red
Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Through September 1, 2012

By Sarah Demeuse

Šejla Kamerić i Anri Sala, 1395 Days Without Red, Production stills from 1395 Days without Red, photo by Milomir Kovačevic Strašni, A project by Šejla Kamerić and Anri Sala in collaboration with Ari Benjamin Meyers, 2011. © 2011, Artangel, Sejla Kameric, Anri Sala, SCCA/pro.ba.

Tucked away on the upper levels at Barcelona’s MACBA are two cinema-like screening rooms. Both show 1395 Days Without Red (2011) and announce it with the same signage. If the building were more labyrinthine, visitors would probably walk out, believing they took a wrong turn and ended up at the same place they were before. Within the straightforward floor plan of MACBA, though, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a rare case of two films made at the same time, carrying the same title, featuring the same protagonist in the same setting, consisting of the same sequences, differing only in the editing and postproduction. One hour-long version carries the authorial imprint of Šejla Kamerić while the other, 40 minutes long, is signed Anri Sala; the latter is shown every hour whereas the former is on continuous loop.

Purposeful and well-thought out repetition, especially within the same institution, is something to be appreciated, as it is a quick remedy against the lure of the new so often associated with, or expected from, large 'contemporary' museums. The simultaneity of the two films certainly jolt the museum visitor in this sense. Beyond that, both versions of 1395 Days without Red also heavily depend on repetition and sas a result provide a strange mixture of monotony and suspense. Making clear reference to the nearly four years-long siege of Sarajevo and its impact on the simplest things in life (crossing a street, in particular), the narrative follows a woman (Maribel Verdú) whose parcours through the city leads from an undetermined point A to an undetermined point B in a housing block. Each street intersection repeats the drama of the previous crossing: waiting to initiate the run across the street, watching others race and duck down for their lives and making a quick, though short-lived sigh of relief when arriving at the other side. It's a simple point-counterpoint structure of regular walking, abrupt halts and stressed racing, whose bottom line is sheer survival.

This rhythm of retakes is furthered in the musical interludes that interrupt the outdoor scenes. Here, a camera observes a symphonic orchestra (led by Ari Benjamin Meyers) rehearsing Tchaichovsky's Pathétique. Musical passages are repeated just as the woman on the streets enacts a similar scene over and over again. It’s as if the orchestra’s director also tells her to do it again and not give up. In both cases, then, repetition means productivity: for the woman it's the condition (and assurance) of life in the public space; for the orchestra it's the road to eventual public perfection.

Verdú’s movements recall CNN imagery of the infamous ‘Sniper Alley,’ which now seem to be transposed to a symbolical level. A skeptic would call Sala, a foreign male director on his projection of the drama onto an attractive female protagonist (perhaps herself la pathétique?),but the story is a bit more complex. 1395 Days without Red came about with another director, Šejla Kamerić, who lived through the events. Not insignificantly, both films end in the place where Kamerić’s own father was killed. The simultaneous presentation of Sala’s condensed and rhythmic version with Kamerić’s more drawn out focus on the protagonist is primordial, as it allows viewers to focus on the importance of multiple viewpoints. In this way, a perceptual and interpretive specificity makes it into the symbolics of the overall drama.

Nearly twenty years after the first day of the siege, this non-commensurate collaboration between Sala and Kamerić comments on the possibilities of working together and even on the notion of community. Whereas each film represents a harmonious collaboration between the respective directors and Ari Benjamin Meyers, who took charge of the musical components in the films, each is also an homage to individual focus, showing us that, no matter how similar a story may seem from the outside, its inner structure depends on individual approach. . Seen from this angle, the side-by-side-ness of the two films, highlighting difference within sameness, also tells a tale that transcends the past experience and that speaks to the present conditions within the region.

Sarah Demeuse reads, translates, edits, writes and makes exhibitions. Together with Manuela Moscoso, she founded rivet, a curatorial office that currently focuses on object-oriented approaches in philosophy and contemporary art.

Measure for Measure: The Portrait of a Mountain
The Observers

By Leora Morinis

The Observers (film still).

One of the first signs of life in Jacqueline Goss’s The Observers is a close up of an ear. We are thus introduced to the protagonist of the film’s first half, named in the credits simply as “winter observer” (and played by Dani Rosenthal). The 16mm camera follows as she goes about her day’s work, the rhythm of which centers on an hourly trip outside to take measure of windswept Mount Washington’s volatile weather. The camera is similarly tasked in the second part of the film—an inflected and seasonally distinct echo of the first—wherein it tracks the summer observer (Katya Gorker) as she moves through similar choreography.

The winter observer’s other activities include logging her measurements. Back in the observatory, she records the data onto charts that look as though they easily could have remained unchanged since the monitoring began in 1932 (the film occurs in 2010). Pencil in hand, she seems to draw or trace—as opposed to write—these collected numbers. In one shot, she erases a ‘21’ only to re-enter this same number in the same square. Based on her apparently dogged attention to duties and details (her face and body rarely belie affect save for intense focus), it seems doubtful that the erasure has to do with a second-guessing of measurements. More likely what needed correcting was the curvature of the ‘2.’

The focus on, and the curvature of, the ‘2,’ not to mention the exaggerated scratchy noise of its drawing, remind me to return here to the introductory ear (which looks quite like the ‘2’ Rosenthal draws and redraws, and is likewise a moment of piqued attention). This ear cues us to the dominant role that sound plays in The Observers. Working with Holland Hopson, Goss produced a Musique Concrète score.1 The mountain calls for such treatment. Any attempt either to force its sound into prescribed orchestration or to map a supplementary score on top of the extant racket would have felt extraneous, if not somewhat ludicrous. Indeed, Mt. Washington is one of the windiest mountains in North America, and its voice in the film rivals visual effect and displaces human dialogue (there is none, aside from two radio weather reports).

Cohabiting in close quarters as I write this, I am struck by the boldness of this silencing (the people I know aren’t capable of such quiet). In point of fact, I think I mischaracterize these observers slightly by calling them protagonists; there is very little agonism or conflict induced at their hands. The effect of the silence, compounded by remarkably flat affects on the part of both women,2 feels like magical realism: Goss transfigures the observers into a landscape of sorts, and, in turn, she highlights the almost-anthropomorphic character of the mountain (by turns icily stoic and fiercely temperamental). The mountain becomes the figure to the observer’s ground, and, indeed, the observers seem involved in an ongoing act of descriptive figuration, or a protracted portraiture—in sum, 79 years of sittings thus far—through which the shifting subtleties of the mountain’s character come to the fore.

One is made to feel this underlying descriptive thrust clearly when it is thrown into relief by a moment of stark contrast: after taking measurements, the winter observer sits down on a snowy precipice to draw the mountains. At least I think that was her aim -- the drawing does not at all line up with what ranges we’re able to see, and suddenly, the act of description feels riven. The dissonance between the observed and the represented makes pronounced the concerted effort to minimize human intervention and maximize fidelity in the rest of the film. We’re shown just how easy it is to take liberties, to lose focus, to assume knowledge, and thus, to sever connections with another subject (in this case, the mountain). In other words, no sooner do we think we know something, than it slips away from view. By contrast, the hourly measures are a statement of perpetual unknowing, of a type of relation that doesn’t reach for mastery. There is no attempt to fully comprehend the mountain, but there is the suggestion that through constant and close attention, one might learn and share something of its perpetual present.

Ultimately, Goss seems to be after something similar in her filmmaking. The camera work, largely consisting of steady, unusually long shots (some extending beyond the three-minute mark), lets things unfold without intervention. These shots, not unlike Musique Concrete, are as unpredictable as they are beautiful. Sometimes lasting long after the observer has exited the frame, I couldn’t anticipate their total composition or their end. In keeping with the mountain, the film thus becomes not an object for us to grasp, but a ceaselessly surprising subject.

Watching The Observers is, on the one hand, a humbling hour-long reckoning with the limits of comprehension, but it is by no means an exercise in futility. Rather, it grants an opportunity to differently approach and experience the world—a world full not of comprehensible objects, but of unknowable, endlessly interesting and sometimes volatile subjects.

Leora Morinis is a writer and curator living in Upstate New York.

1. Composer and theoretician Pierre Schaeffer describes Musique Concrète as an inverse mode to western compositional order: “to collect concrete sounds, wherever they came from, and to abstract the musical values they were potentially containing.” Reydellet, Jean de, "Pierre Schaeffer, 1910-1995: The Founder of 'Musique Concrete'," Computer Music Journal 20, no. 2 (Summer): 10-11. 1996. (Also see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9pOq8u6-bA)
2. This softening or silencing of subjecthood is further enhanced by the outdoor clothing, which occasionally renders the observers indistinguishable from one another. On her production blog, Goss has listed the articles involved in braving the wind and cold, and they amount to a simultaneously warming and claustrophobic poetry: “silk socks, wool socks, boots, crampons, long johns, fleece pants, ski pants, undershirt, wool sweater, down jacket, shell, jacket silk gloves, mittens, mitten shells, balacava [sic], goggles, hat.” She continues: “We won’t be able to tell each other apart.”

project space

Armando Miguélez and Leslie Moody Castro

I met Armando for the first time at the ARCO art far in Madrid in 2005 and we were insta-friends. However, even with a few years under our belts, it is always difficult for me to keep his story straight and he keeps it that way. Born in Arizona, he was raised in Alicante, Spain where he started high school. After transferring to the United States for one year of school, he finished in Pune, India. He graduated with his BFA from UDLA in Puebla, Mexico after beginning his university degree in Venice at Ca'Foscari. In 2005 he moved to Mexico City then migrated to San Francisco in 2008 for his MFA from Stanford. Since graduating he has worked on projects, exhibitions and in artist in residency programs all over the world. He hails from two countries separated by an ocean, speaks English, Spanish, Italian and Hindi, and is constantly on the move. To say he is hard to keep up with is an understatement.

Since meeting Miguélez I have had the pleasure of collaborating with him multiple times. I have been inspired and awed by his work and the perspective he has on the world. He approaches his work with a time-stamp, and oftentimes a project is never totally finished; but he is okay with that. It is a conscious and rogue move where one project informs another into an array of narratives that tumble into and build upon each other. A simple idea can easily turn into a mushroom-cloud of time, place and circumstance. I’ve also been interested in Miguélez’s elusiveness. He doesn’t have a website; he rarely posts on Facebook; and he is very new to Twitterland, yet somehow he is accessible as he bounces around the globe experiencing the intersections of culture clashes.

Given the digital nature of …mbg and @mbgETC I wanted to explore Miguélez’s ongoing project Aqui Ahora which has accompanied many exhibitions he has done throughout the years and the world. Aqui Ahora consists of a simple photo that Miguélez takes of his own face that is then printed en masse with a date and title of the project. The prints are then distributed widely in the city hosting the exhibition and take on a life of their own. I have stumbled upon them in coffee shops and bars in Austin, found them on the subway in Mexico City, and they have accompanied us at parties and exhibition openings. However, as a conceptual move, Aqui Ahora is more than just Miguélez’s personal insertion into the subtle areas of everyday life, it is also his own documentation. Placed in order by date you can see the physical changes he undergoes, his aging process, and his style choices. Each print serves as his quiet and subtle interjection of time and place; they assert his presence, and simultaneously act as his own scrapbook of location.

For ...mbg‘s project space, we proposed a digital fusion of @mbgETC with Miguélez’s ongoing Aqui Ahora. We decided to extend an interview over the month of December via Twitter and open the conversation to everyone we know while the pair of us travel (more him than myself). Thus far it has taken us between three countries, two languages, and has completely disrupted our lives. We are playing with communication in live feed, albeit in short 140 characters and the poor quality this implies. The end result remains to be seen, #aquiahora is inevitably experimental and by nature will remain unfinished, evolving based on the outcome of our lives, the lives of those who become involved, and our personal trajectories as they intersect digitally across the globe.

mbgETC: ...mbg

Aqui Ahora is an ongoing project that Armando Miguélez began in 2006. Literally translated as "I am here right now," the piece acts as a visual time stamp of his location as he travels the world and produces exhibition upon exhibition. As an extension of this ongoing project for ...mbg, Miguélez and myself, Leslie Moody Castro, will be tweeting for the month of December while we are both traveling and enjoying the holidays in a project we are calling #aquiahora. Modeled after an interview format, we have decided to open the dialogue and engage the countries, cities, colleagues and friends who have intersected our lives and careers over the past six years, engaging our histories and losing control of the dialogue, while continuously providing a virtual time stamp of our locations and intersections.

An extension of might be good’s project space, @mbgETC, provides artists with a chance to engage with Twitter as an online platform for intervention and experimentation. Participants are given a month for the realization of their projects and can be followed online at Twitter.com/mbgETC or in the feed located within each issues table of contents.

...mbg recommends

Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored
The Harry Ransom Center, Austin
September 6, 2012 - January 22, 2012

This 1942 poster reminded Americans of the widespread 1933 Nazi book burnings and presented books as playing a fundamental role in the fight against tyranny. Image courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center.

Lost in the numerical mist of of e-readers, lousy digital copyright legislation and tiresome debates over the merits of paper versus screen is often the issue and history of censorship. With relatively easy access to information of all sorts, it’s easy to forget both how far we’ve come and that censorship continues to rear its ugly head in unexpected places and at startling times. The Harry Ransom Center, one of Austin’s cultural jewels, provides a glimpse into the period of censorship’s history between the two world wars—a time when government agencies and puritanical organizations actively pursued and persecuted texts and authors they deemed ‘obscene’ or ‘objectionable.’ On display is a trove of original letters, documents and books that were at the center of these efforts. James Joyce, Upton Sinclair, Henry Miller and John Steinbeck are just a few of the authors singled out in this history that the exhibition so thoroughly explores. This visitor was shocked to learn that the New York City Police Department sponsored an annual book burning that in 1935 sent up in smoke $150,000 worth of confiscated magazines, postcards, pamphlets and books (ironic in light of their recent handling/destruction of OWS’s Peoples Library). While we’ve certainly come a long way since, a glimpse into this history clearly reminds us of the real danger unmitigated censorship continues to pose. Although attitudes and media may have changed, awareness is critical so that this history is one that never gets a chance at repetition.

We would provide complete darkness
Goethe-Institut, Wyoming building, New York City
December 1 - December 22, 2011

Frequent ...mbg contributor and curator, Sarah Demeuse, has helped realize this exhibition—originating at the Goethe-Institut Rio de Janeiro and now in New York City. Using Jorge Luis Borges as a leaping off point, the exhibition conceived by Alfons Hug, features a small library and a group of three-artworks: an installation by Kitty Kraus, a film by Carsten Nicolai and a video by Heike Baranowksy. Enveloped in the theme of complete darkness, and the subsequent shuttering out of light, viewers are invited into poetic meditations on celestial stasis, the reflection of light and the immersion within a sensorial world devoid of clear points of reference and symbol. The small ‘twilight library,’ as it’s called, acts as a framing mechanism for the exhibition and is the distribution point for a smart and lovely take away publication, Never Odd or Even, edited by Demeuse. While Borges' Aleph acts indirectly as the catalyst for the exhibition, the seven contributions to the publication (by Alejandro Cesarco, Sarah Hromack, Angie Keefer, Christoph Keller, Adam Kleinman, E.R. Langen and Jorge Méndez Blake) offer personal rumination’s on the organization of knowledge via libraries, archives or even objects meant to contain the world. The publication itself becomes a point of concise organization and infinite distribution—at once framing the works on exhibit while compounding and expanding upon their themes well beyond the confines of the Wyoming building. Borges, like me, and you after a visit, would be thrilled.

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.

Announcements: exhibitions

Austin Openings

Laurie Frick
Women and Their Work
Opening reception: January 14, 7-9pm

Laurie Frick draws from neuroscience to construct intricately hand-built work and installations that explore the nature of pattern and the mind. Using her background in engineering and technology she explores self-tracking and compulsive organization. She creates life's most basic patterns as color coded charts. Steps walked, calories expended, weight, sleep, time-online, gps location, daily mood as color, micro-journal of food ingested are all part of her daily tracking. She collects personal data using gadgets that point toward a time where complete self-surveillance will be the norm.

Austin on View

Mads Lynnerup
Lora Reynolds Gallery
Through February 4, 2012

New York based artist Mads Lynnerup will be performing at the gallery on December 3rd followed b a public talk that evening. Lynnerup's work wryly engages and analyzes built environments and the widely accepted social behavior inherent in them in order to get at larger issues of alienation and perversity.

Buster Graybill
AMOA Arthouse
Through February 19, 2012

The southern colloquial term “tush hog” is a name for a tusked feral hog, and sometimes for tough people who behave like them. Graybill’s Tush Hog is a breed of sculptures that retains some Minimalist formal traits while also functioning as wild game feeders. It is as if the contemporary aesthetics of a Donald Judd sculpture escaped Marfa, TX and crossbred with the rural functionality of a deer feeder in the nearby rural landscape.

Lauren Fensterstock and Steve Wiman
AMOA Arthouse
Through February 19, 2012

Responding to the unique natural, architectural, and historical features of Laguna Gloria, sculptors Lauren Fensterstock and Steve Wiman create site-specific installations throughout the Driscoll Villa.

Austin Closings

grayduck Gallery
Through December 18

In honor of the upcoming holiday season, grayDUCK is throwing a Wapatui! If you're not from the Mid-west, you might know this under another name: Trash Can Punch, Suicide Punch, or maybe even a Hairy Buffalo; It's a drink created by the community. In that same spirit, I've asked fifteen fabulous artists from Austin and beyond to mix up a visual Wapatui.

Austin on View

Jonathan Faber
Through December 22

The solo exhibition Idle by Austin artist Jonathan Faber involves the paradox of memory and observation, intentionally seeking out subjects that co-exist between the expansive and the intimate, the recognizable and the ambiguous. Subjects are drawn from domestic and landscape settings as they manifest from memories of places or things observed, lived with, or passed through.

Dornith Doherty
Holly Johnson Gallery
Through December 23

In this new body of work, stockpile, Doherty explores the role of seed banks and their preservation efforts in the face of climate change, the extinction of natural species and decreased agricultural diversity.

Ragnar Kjartansson
AMOA Arthouse
Through December 30

Ragnar Kjartansson’s work ranges from the use of traditional media such as painting, drawing, and video to the explorative practice of durational performance, for which he is primarily known. Throughout his practice, the concepts of theatricality, repetition, and identity serve as ever-recurring themes as he taps into nostalgic imagery from bygone eras of theatre, television, music, and art.

The Anxiety of Photography
AMOA Arthouse
Through December 30

Many of the works in The Anxiety of Photography reflect on the changing nature of our relationship to the materiality of images, as artists produce photographic prints from hand-painted negatives, violently collide framed pictures, arrange photographs and objects in uncanny still lives, or otherwise destabilize the photographic object. “They use the confusion that photographs can produce to create a more careful state of looking, a more open dive into pictures.”

Storied Past
Blanton Museum of Art
Through December 31

Storied Past explores the expressive and technical range of French drawing through preliminary sketches, compositional studies, figure studies, and finished drawings from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. Drawn primarily from the museum's renowned Suida-Manning Collection, the exhibition includes works by Jacques Callot, François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Louis Forain, and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen.

Jasmyne Graybill
Women and Their Work
Through January 5, 2012

Jasmyne Graybill draws from the familiar forms of fungus, lichen, and mold to create installations and sculptures that are inspired by the innate logic of natural growth and decay. Her work reflects the intrinsic beauty of these processes and intimate ecosystems. She invents and sculpts fictional organisms that graft onto manufactured domestic objects and infest the nooks and crannies of their "host" architectural spaces.

Lose Yourself (Remix)
AMOA Arthouse
Through January 8, 2012

In Lose Yourself (Remix), a driving disco beat demands that the viewer nod his or her head while an ever-shifting sunset doles out questionable advice culled from the top of the pop charts. As the beat drives on, the out of context quotes solicit the viewer to “Give me everything tonight,” “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment,” “Keep on dancing till the world ends,” and finally “Dance, just dance.”

Mai Yamashita and Naoto Kobayashi
AMOA Arthouse
Through January 8, 2012

To produce Infinity, video art duo Yamashita and Kobayashi jogged for eight days in the pattern of an infinity sign until their footsteps inscribed the symbol in the flattened grass. Descended from artists who experiment with combinations of endurance and Land Art, such as Richard Long, Yamashita and Kobayashi employ nature as both the subject and medium of their work.

Sam Prekop and Michael Sieben
Tiny Park
Through January 14, 2012

Sam Prekop, part of the widely acclaimed band, The Sea and Cake, will feature drawings, paintings and photographs. Like his music, his visual art demonstrates a strategic restraint and focus on the subtle qualities of mood and atmosphere. Michael Sieben is a founding member of Okay Mountain Gallery/Collective. The characters populating Sieben's work seem to bear the weight of (some very heavy) experience, but maintain an almost ridiculous optimism in the face of disaster and absurdity.

El Anatsui
Blanton Museum of Art
Through January 22, 2012

When I Last Wrote to You about Africa is a major retrospective of internationally renowned artist El Anatsui organized by the Museum for African Art in New York City. On view September 25, 2011 – January 22, 2012, the exhibition spans four decades and includes approximately 60 works drawn from public and private collections internationally.

Henry Horenstein
B. Hollyman Gallery
Through January 31, 2012

In collaboration with Austin Center for Photography (ACP), B. Hollyman Gallery will be exhibiting Henry Horenstein’s series Animalia, a collection of intimate and intriguing portraits of land and sea creatures made between 1995 and 2001. These portraits are at once abstract and telling. Horenstein shoots with a balanced uniqueness, experimenting with view, angle, and perspective

San Antonio on View

Albert Alvarez
Sala Diaz
Through January 15, 2012

“The painting itself is painted at the brink of death, it won't be long til that shockwave hits.” (from the artist)

Mas Rudas
Unit B Gallery
Through January 7, 2012

Mas Triste San Antonio will explore the effects of a city that caters to tourism rather than its home grown residents.

Jayne Lawrence
David Shelton Gallery
Through January 7, 2012

In her new drawings and sculptural works, San Antonio-based artist Jayne Lawrence continues her examination of the social and cultural inconsistencies she finds in the paradigms we live by that affect identity and behavior, and applies them to our sense of place and the relationship between ourselves and our surroundings.

Houston Openings

Jade Walker, This Weird Place, TJ Hunt and Carlos Rosales-Silva
Lawndale Art Center
Opening Reception: January 20, 2012, 6:30 - 8:30pm

Lawndale Art Center presents five exhibitions opening January 20, 2012, 6:30 - 8:30 PM, with artist talks beginning at 6 PM.

Houston on View

Pat Colville
Moody Gallery
Through January 14, 2012

Moody Gallery is pleased to announce a new exhibition of paintings by Pat Colville. The exhibition New Works marks her forth exhibition at Moody Gallery, following the exhibition Ways and Means that was on view in 2009. Pat's work holds a commitment to abstraction and the two dimensional surface. Influenced by landscape design history of early Chinese and Japanese landscapes from the 13th and 14th century as well as Isometric drawing, Pat explores the allusion of space in her work.

Dutch invasiON
Box 13
Through January 7, 2012

Dutch invasiON presents the work of six artists living and working in the Netherlands. They are Christine Bittremieux, Anna Bolten, Hans de Bruijn, Demiak (Maarten Demmink) and Jessica Muller. In the variety of their artistic approach one can find one common subject: it is all about space. Every one of them appropriates space in a different way, the outside space, interior space and conceptual space translated into two or three dimensions. This preoccupation with space in and around us is typically Dutch.

Box 13
Through January 7, 2012

Omitted is a new work within Timothy Harding's on-going series of constructed drawings that explores scribbling and how it is used to omit information.

Related Clues
Inman Gallery
Through January 8, 2012

Related Clues is a group exhibition which explores a slippage between 2D and 3D, between object and image and between concept and form. The artists in the exhibition, Jillian Conrad, Claire Falkenberg, Ian Pedigo and Brion Nuda Rosch, use a wide variety of media in works that display a sensitivity to edges, intersections and material quality.

Spirit of Modernism
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
Through January 29, 2012

The Spirit of Modernism pays tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit of businessman and art collector John R. Eckel, Jr. The friendship between John Eckel and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, lasted only five years before his untimely death in 2009. His art collection, now known as the John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation Gift, lives on at the MFAH as an enduring legacy comprising 75 examples of Modernist American painting and sculpture, photography, and contemporary arts and design.

Houston Closings

Daily Dance
Domy Books
Through January 26, 2012

Daily Dance is a free dance-based exhibition curated by Sebastian Forray which features Helene Jeudy, Mara Caffarone, Maike Hemmers, Maureen Guiba and Maria Mantella.

Dallas on View

Rebecca Carter, Terri Thornton and Sally Warren
Free Museum of Dallas

A text, a photograph, a rock, a narrative, a person, a memory, a place, a trauma: any number of things may enter within close proximity, coming close enough to be "held," intimately handled and unquestioned, preserved without understanding. The act of holding bears testament to their meaning. Things Held and Never Understood.

Wimberly on View

Lance Letscher
d berman gallery
Through January 28, 2012

D Berman Gallery is pleased to present Lance Letscher: Work from the middle ages, a collection of new collages. Fresh from his successful exhibition in Paris (France), now in Wimberley (Texas), Letscher continues to utilize the paper scraps of our culture to create his particular worlds.

Announcements: opportunities

Call for Entries

EMDASH Award 2012
Deadline: Monday, January 9, 2012

The Emdash Award is open to artists living outside of the UK, up to five years from graduating from an undergraduate or postgraduate degree or under 35 years of age. The Emdash Award is part of the Frieze Projects programme, produced by Frieze Foundation, supported by the Emdash Foundation and presented in collaboration with Gasworks. For more information, click here.

Residency Opportunities

Andrea Zittel’s Indianapolis Island
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Deadline: Friday, January 13, 2012

The IMA is issuing a call for proposals for a summer 2012 six-week residency on Andrea Zittel’s Indianapolis Island within the IMA’s 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art and Nature Park. Graduate and undergraduate students and emerging professionals in the fields of art, design, architecture and performing arts are encouraged to apply to customize and reside on Indianapolis Island. Click here for more information.

Rijksakademie Residency 2013
Deadline: February 1, 2012

The Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam (est. 1870) aims to develop top talent in the international visual art world and promotes the position of art and artists in today’s society. By offering artistic, theoretical and technical support the Rijksakademie creates an environment in which about 50 emerging professional artists from all over the world can, for a maximum of two years, work on deepening, broadening and accelerating their profession – individually and socially. For more information click here.

Fellowship Opportunities

Curatorial Fellowship at Bass Museum of Art
Bass Museum of Art
Deadline: January 15, 2012

The Bass Museum of Art share this Call for applications: One-year curatorial fellowship at Bass Museum of Art. This Fellowship offers one emerging curator experience in working in a mid-sized art museum while performing curatorial tasks, working alongside other museum departments and dialoguing with artists, collectors and arts professionals in the Miami arts community. Among other responsibilities, the Fellow will conduct studio visits in Miami and assist in developing public programming to engage the art community. He/she will assist in the coordination of exhibition programming and contemporary artists' projects, and facilitate educational programs for museum members. For more information, click here.

Employment Opportunities

Assistant Professor of Art and Urbanism
Southern Methodist University
Position Begins August 2012

The Division of Art in the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University (SMU) seeks a tenure-track candidate to join a department located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. This position is an opportunity to mentor and challenge the imagination and creativity of the next generation of artists through engagement with art and urbanism. Teaching responsibilities will include introductory, advanced and graduate courses in an emerging field of art practices that focus on this dialogue with the physical, social or culturalfabric of the city, working across media or engaging with diverse populations. All application materials should be submitted via https://smu.slideroom.com/. Contact Associate Professor of Art Noah Simblist, nsimblis@smu.edu, with any questions.

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