from the editor
Everyone deserves a little break now and again. We here at ...might be good are no exception. This issue marks our last issue of the summer as we take a hiatus throughout the month of August. Don’t fret! We’ll be back on September 14 with our bi-monthly compendium of exhibition reviews, interviews, essays, artists' words, project spaces and recommendations from around Texas and the globe. Risking a little tooting of our own horn, we’ve been particularly excited about the quality and diversity of our content over the past seven months and invite you to peruse our archives to catch up on some of the great pieces of writing waiting for you there. But don’t be too hasty, we’ve got a substantial current issue for you to dive into first.
Austin is waiting patiently for the fall when Louis Grachos begins his tenure as Executive Director at AMOA-Arthouse. Writer Claire Ruud conducts a roadside interview with Grachos and deftly teases out just the sort of director he might turn out to be. A nod to Dave Hickey—a darling of the Austin art world from a bygone era—certainly helps him cement some of that Texas street cred. With new chairman Jack Risley finding his seat in The University of Texas at Austin’s Art Department, it looks to be an interesting few months on Austin’s horizon. Just up the road, Berlin-based artist Omer Fast currently has a project at the Dallas Museum of Art and artist and writer Noah Simblist catches up with him for an engaging conversation that ranges from his current projects to U.S. Israeli politics via drones and the current Documenta. In between these two excellent and substantial interviews, we recommend Los Angeles-based artist and writer Travis Diehl’s exceptional Long Read on the work of Liz Glynn and two of her recent projects in Los Angeles, III and Black Box. Diehl’s vantage point, as participant and spectator, provides him with a solid foundation on which to think about the party as a a form of art and the sense of ambivalence that pervades it.
Reviews are one of our cornerstones here at ...might be good and this issue is no different. From Dallas, University of Dallas Assistant Professor Catherine Caesar looks at artist and U.T. Austin faculty member Bogdan Perzyński’s current exhibition at Kirk Hopper Fine Art, I Will Have Gold. Perzyński’s video project and photographic diptych offers a powerful and ultimately seductive look into hostile language and identity. The moving image is also the subject of Austin-based filmmaker and writer Caroline Koebel’s review of Direct-er’s Cuts a 16mm film program that screened as part of the New Media Art and Sound Summit (NMASS) at Salvage Vanguard Theater this past June. Finally, staying put in Austin, writer Brian Fee reviews Christopher Eamon’s exhibition, Manscape, curated for Lora Reynolds Gallery. Our exhibiting partner here under the Fluent~Collaborative umbrella, testsite, is currently host to a stunning collaboration between Reynolds (who curated) and sound artist Stephen Vitiello. We certainly recommend a visit to the exhibition, extended through the end of August, and have put together a small list of sound art inspired books for you—just in time to get that summer reading in—that we find particularly exciting.
Like the broken record it is, we’d like to extend our ongoing invitation for your feedback. Email us at: email@example.com with what you’re reading, listening to, an idea for an interview or simply what’s gracing the grates of your grill. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @mbgEtc and Facebook, where we’ll still be active in spite of being on holiday. See you soon.
Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.
Added on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012
Salvage Vanguard Theater, Austin
June 15, 2012
By Caroline Koebel
Devon Damonte, 40.movm 2012, 16MM, Black & White, 0:40, Sound Photocopied rubbings & clear tape. Courtesy of the artist.
Direct-er’s Cuts, a touring 16mm film program curated and including work by Steve Cossman, centers around a clear organizing principle: the artist averts the camera’s dominion in the filmmaking process by exploring—and exhausting—all other means by which films might come into being.
One historical work anchors the otherwise contemporary program: Free Radicals (1958/1979)1 by Len Lye, the New Zealand-born pioneer of direct film. To make Free Radicals, Lye scratched the film emulsion, resulting in a microcosm of negative and positive space and polyphonic visual rhythm that together with a soundtrack of music by the Bagirmi tribe of Africa sculpts a transfixing experience. His actions exist in a time-space continuum evoking our cave-dwelling ancestors and extra-terrestrial communications. The simplicity of his ingenuity remains a beautiful thing. Tyler Cann, Len Lye Curator at Large, says of Lye’s work, “it’s full of energy, and it energizes you as a spectator.”2 Exactly.
A Joy (2005/2011)3 by Jodie Mack rivals Free Radicals in its ebullience. Because the two films are so markedly different—Mack works in explosive color using acetate, patterned contact paper and ink and the soundtrack is the electro-pop of Four Tet—while both achieving exalted states, there is a reciprocity between them that creates a third element. The excitement threshold of each, already maximal, is thereby elevated even higher. In terms of the abstract optical poetry evident in A Joy: ever-shifting composition teeming with intense color, relations between hard and round forms, pattern amidst chaos, occasional nods to representation (i.e., circles uniting in flower form), I am reminded of another historical antecedent: the awe-inspiring animation of Oskar Fischinger.
Although each work is made using direct film techniques (i.e., cameraless), Direct-ers Cuts is surprisingly varied and not a single title feels redundant or incidental; rather, there is much resonance between films (witness the Lye-Mack verve). While Gums (2012)4 by Aaron Vinton is on one hand nothing like Mack’s A Joy, there is nonetheless an engaging interplay between the two. In this panoply of digital imagery affixed to celluloid a hypnotic movement of color, shape, pattern, texture, abstraction and representation is all enveloping and once again I lose the sense of watching from without and instead find myself existing within.
Frenetic movement carries to Eric Stewart’s Fe (2010)5, a silent film comprised of hand-processed “photo-grams of magnets in a magnetic field”6 that out of constant flux conveys quietude. Devon Damonte’s 40.mov (2012)7 is an ingenuous tribute from the heart and the hand to one Moviola editing machine and its home in Portland at the Northwest Film Center, where a multitude of filmmakers have “lovingly cut” on the weathered yet invincible tool “millions of miles of film footage.”8 The filmmaker made rubbings of the Moviola which he then photocopied and taped onto 16mm film leader. For Pillager (2011) Joshua Lewis repurposed his talents as a film lab technician (at Negativland in Brooklyn) to perform photochemical sleights of hand through elaborate hand-processing and bleaching.
Ancestors (2012) by Douglas Urbank had its inception in “old photographs of unidentified ancestors”9 found upon his mother’s death. Scanning the images, he then altered and collaged his forebears together, along with other elements including excerpts from letters, onto hand-painted 16mm film leader. The result provokes reflection on the semiotics of images: the picture as conveyor of subjective (or personal) meaning v. the picture as picture—territory explored by the Pop artists, such as Warhol.
Cossman’s own film Tusslemuscle (2007-2009)10 is a rapid flow of single frames of flowers—7,000 distinct hand-spliced images collected and excised from stereoscopic View-Master reels. At 24 frames per second, 1,440 frames per minute, that’s a mania of visual stimulus to process even with the subject’s delimitation to “flower.” The challenge posed here to a type of spectatorial and cognitive endurance test (witness “muscle” in the title) reaps its own rewards, especially considering the voluminous labor necessitated by the making in the first place of the film, striking an accord between maker and recipient. The thrill of the viewing experience settles into a sense of failure to retain what was once present—granted, only momentarily—and it is in this awareness of loss that I can grasp the filmmaker’s point about Tusslemuscle conveying “impending disaster.”11 But not entirely: I’d have to see the projected 16mm print again to know better whether I ultimately find the film more condemnatory or celebratory.
Caroline Koebel is a filmmaker and writer in Austin and is on faculty at Transart Institute.
1. The film is readily available online.
2. Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Web site: http://www.govettbrewster.com/LenLye/Centre/LenLyeCentre.aspx Tyler Cann is quoted from a promotional video about the planned Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth, New Zealand. These words appear at approximately 5:00 into the video, but the entire video is recommended.
3. The 2005 version is available on Jodie Mack’s Vimeo page: http://vimeo.com/8375376.
4. Available on the Mono No Aware Vimeo page: http://vimeo.com/40558398.
5. Available on Eric Stewart’s Vimeo page: http://vimeo.com/16110260.
6. Program notes.
7. Available on Devon Damonte’s Vimeo page: http://vimeo.com/36649017.
8. Devon Damonte, program notes.
9. Douglas Urbank, program notes.
10. An excerpt is available on Steve Cossman’s Web site: http://www.stevecossman.com/TM.
11. Steve Cossman, Q&A.
Manscape: Male as Subject and Object
Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin
Through August 11
By Brian Fee
Michele Abeles, Man, Shadow, Table, Fan, Rock, 2009, Archival pigment, 36 x 48 inches, Courtesy of the artist.
I questioned the omission of Mariah Robertson and Michele Abeles from The Anxiety of Photography at AMOA-Arthouse last year.1 These artists were spotlighted in MoMA PS1's Greater New York quinquennial, yet they were absent from an exhibition ostensibly about photography—though The Anxiety of Photography devoted wall-space to GNY peer David Benjamin Sherry's acid-toned self-portraits. I was pleased in Robertson and Abeles' inclusion in Manscape: Male as Subject and Object, a heavyweight summer group exhibition curated by Christopher Eamon for Lora Reynolds Gallery, but I wondered: Was Eamon consciously “taking male objectification to a new extreme?"2
Writing for Frieze, Chris Wiley noted that Robertson is among the most significant artists reengaging with lensless photography3, referencing her darkroom productions that frequently feature nude males under colorful layers of abstraction. Eamon bypasses these for Robertson's jewel-like prints of phalluses draped across vibrant Gestalt patterns. Robertson printed these in slightly reduced scale, articulating the exhibition's skewering of contemporary male identity, and though her own words create a more complicated picture. While asserting her position as a female photographer and role-model in an Art:21 documentary, Robertson's reliance on an internet-sourced nude suggests an approach of easygoing irreverence, rather than a blunt derision her subject's maleness.
Abeles' impenetrably titled Untitled_3_Bucket_IKB could represent the show's most pointed image. Here she eschews the nude—“canny rejoinders to the commonplace use of the anonymous female form as a prop for picture-making”4 —for bodily substitutes: a bucket, sponges and gloves, all soaked in deep ultramarine. It takes little stretch of the imagination to see Nouveau réalisme founder Yves Klein within this still-life, his hands and body relegated to painterly tools, recalling how he used nude female models covered in International Klein Blue as “living brushes.”
The New York-based Romanian artist and curator Adina Popescu's video Jeremiah5 presents an exception to the exhibition's otherwise still images. The smartly dressed actor smears French enunciation over terms like “keylogging software,” repeatedly dropping his eyes to read from a script, as we quickly become aware that it is not his words but Popescu's. At the film's conclusion, Popescu further dispels her actor's suave masculinity by having him quote from controversial French dramatist Jean Genet's The Thief's Journal:
“O let me be nothing but beauty alone! Quickly or slowly I will go, but I will dare what must be dared. I want to destroy appearances, the casings will be burnt off and will fall from me, and there will appear there, some evening, on the palm of your hand, calm and pure, like a statuette of glass."6
John Massey's inclusion provides a curious counterpoint: a Canadian male artist over a generation older than the women here, whose work treads the line between sculpture, video and photography. Massey's Studio Projections—newspaper images rephotographed as slides and projecting onto a maquette of his studio—operate within the image-appropriation ethos of Sherrie Levine, Robert Longo and others of “The Pictures Generation,” though Massey wasn't a “member,” By screening media clips like Sputnik into his space, Massey magnifies his personal reflections on newsworthy events of the late '70s. His suggestion of self (the bare studio) adds a sensitive tone to male imagery while manifesting his own male gaze.
What is the takeaway from Manscape? As far as Abeles and Robertson are concerned, I believe their intentions lie beyond subjugating the male gaze in art. Their rigorous dedication to analogue photography and their technical practices—injecting new vitality into classical tropes of darkroom manipulation and studio constructions, respectively— emphasize their roles in a larger contemporary artistic network. It is to Eamon's credit that this elegantly installed group exhibition encourages such insightful contemplation and deep returns.
Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee's List covers his three loves (art, film and live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).
1. The Anxiety of Photography originated at the Aspen Art Museum, Colorado, in May 2011 and was organized by Matthew Thompson, Associate Curator, before traveling to AMOA-Arthouse: http://www.aspenartmuseum.org/archive_anxiety_of_photography.html
2. Manscape: Lora Reynolds Gallery press release: http://www.lorareynolds.com/exhibitions/about/manscape_male_as_subject_and_object/
3. Chris Wiley, “Depth of Focus,” Frieze, November-December 2011: http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/depth-of-focus/
5. Jeremiah was originally performed at Galerie EIGEN + ART, Berlin, as part of Popescu's experimental play The Ethics of Pirating before his transfer to high-definition video: http://blog.frieze.com/the_ethics_of_pirating/
6. Jean Genet biography: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jgenet.htm
Kirk Hopper Fine Art, Dallas
Through July 21
By Catherine Caesar
Bogdan Perzynski, 2001 (One Pair...) (part of diptych), 1997, Inkjet print, 27" x 40." Courtesy of the artist and Kirk Hopper Fine Art, Dallas.
Bogdan Perzyński’s current exhibition at Kirk Hopper Fine Art, I Will Have Gold, consists of three works: two photographic diptychs and a video project bearing the same title as the exhibition. It is this 2012 video that first captures the viewer’s attention, as it is oriented toward the entrance of the gallery, and the fixed camera is focused on the torso of one of three beautiful women. If watched from the beginning, the viewer is privy to the scenario taking place: the artist, behind the camera, prompts each woman to feign anger and launch epithets toward the camera/ viewer. Ranging from the relatively benign (“LOSER”) to the more vitriolic (“FUCKING ASSHOLE”), the insults become the main communication of the video, yet we are not offended by the expletives, thanks to their hollow, artificial delivery. As the first woman filmed attests, she is not an actress, and thus we concentrate less on her words and more on her obvious discomfort at pronouncing them before the camera. At one point she even asks Perzyński to leave the room so that his presence stops distracting her from her task. Although the “actresses” become more adept as the video progresses, we are left to grapple with the disparity between the sometimes-shocking insults and their canned, fidgety delivery.
It seems to be within this space between language and identity that the bulk of Perzyński’s work lies. In a manner that reminds one of Warhol’s screen tests, Perzyński’s camera allows us to examine closely the details of each participant’s face, while her tentativeness and candid reactions to the artist’s instructions provide glimpses into her personality, but at the same time the language, seemingly so intimate in its vulgarity, becomes removed, lifeless and insipid; I began thinking with regret and embarrassment, have I launched such insults myself?
Perzyński, native of Poland and currently professor in the Transmedia program at U.T. Austin, has employed painting, installation and digital media to delve deeply into the nature of communication, researching various literary theorists and semioticians, seeming to relish in its gaps and fissures. Even if one remains unaware of the work’s philosophical underpinnings, the strangeness of language rises naggingly to the forefront. Across the wall from I Will Have Gold hang two diptychs from the artist’s 2001 series that juxtapose word and image. Each inkjet print includes a black and white photo of an individual lighting a cigarette: the top group, 2001 (One Pair…), features the artist himself, while the first “actress” cast in the video work appears in the lower pair, 2001 (Nothing Save…). Superimposed upon the photographs are quotations taken from a turn-of-the-century compendium of facts and data in the artist’s collection. The passages that Perzyński has chosen seem to be derived from the language of bitter estate wills aimed at depriving the author’s heirs of his possessions: “One pair of my trousers, free of duty and carriage paid, as a symbol of what she wanted to wear in my lifetime;” and “Nothing save a bag of sand to rub themselves with.” As in the video work, hostile language becomes syphoned of emotion, here by distance, anonymity and time. Perzyński deliberately fashions a tension between the impromptu nature of the photographic image, which consists of the fleeting, precarious moment of a match being struck and captured in one take, with the carefully-constructed text of a legal document. To me, the power of the work exhibited at Kirk Hopper stems from the shamed self-awareness that the language provokes: am I capable of such venom, such bitterness that extends immortally, beyond the grave? This shame, however, is mitigated by the seduction of Perzyński’s images, whether realized in the beauty of the women featured in I Will Have Gold or the clever trickery of the camera snapping the strike of a single match.
Catherine Caesar is an art historian specializing in American art of the 1960s and 70s, and Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Dallas.
On the Intoxication of Ruin (The Party Ends)
By Travis Diehl
Liz Glynn, Black Box, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Redling Fine Art, Los Angeles. Photo: Calvin Lee.
III. (The Pyramid Summer)
I was crashing with some friends in Lincoln Heights in July 2010 when Liz Glynn started building a pyramid in their backyard. In the right place at the right time, I became one of the only people to see the cycle of III from the grading of its foundation to its eventual decay and collapse two years later. I watched, helped, brought supplies and drank beer as Glynn marked out its footprint in the shimmering heat. I saw the sunburned men who unloaded the pallets that formed the pyramid's tiered walls. And, because I'd been sleeping on a couch, I was invited to sleep inside the pyramid (soundly dosed with Ambien) as part of a death-and-resurrection ceremony, the first performance of the series. Over an afternoon meal of bread, fruit and wine laced with tranquilizing herbs, nine of us—all friends and acquaintances of Glynn's—admitted our irrational fears: heart attack, death, incontinence. Expectations and inhibitions fell away as the sedatives took hold, and we slipped into stoned, restless sleep. Like guests at a costume party, we were not ourselves; we played the role of guests. Our deaths were chemically induced—but the fears we performed were our own, and those who performed honestly awoke renewed, shaken back to life at sunset by a procession of nine wakers.
The pyramid of III was the venue of a series of nine performances based loosely on the financial crisis and general climate of uncertainty. Among the events were a discussion with a cryonics expert, out-of-body attempts broadcast live on pirate radio, and a night of “gambling with other people's money.” While artworks in one sense, these performances were also carefully curated parties, decorated with ancient history and imminent collapse. Drinks and food were selected accordingly—a mixture of absinthe, Goldschlager and ginger beer paired with guided meditation, for example—adding to the air of intoxication. Ruin was the theme, yet this party remained insulated from encroaching financial realities; we feasted like Romans under siege.
Like a pyramid scheme, the guest list unfolded from a handful of friends, and by the final night over a hundred people had come to witness the pyramid's destruction, grilling “various fowl,” drinking champagne, chatting, perhaps piecing together the summer.1 We were invited to drop our burdens, in whatever form, into a pit within the pyramid. At dusk, Glynn read a passage from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, then set the pit on fire, sending a plume of smoke snaking above the neighborhood. She ascended the pyramid and pried off its wooden capstone. A handful of us joined in, tearing it down, pallet by pallet. Most guests, however, preferred to watch. They milled around with their drinks during the slow dismantling. Soon the fire department charged up the dry hill and doused the grill and pit. Their flashlights danced on the half-unbuilt ruin. Someone rushed the uncooked fowls down to the house and into the fridge.
And so, Glynn's III ended as it had transpired: sprawling, omnivorous: fueled by delirium and inequality: a convergence of conflicting references poised between transcendence and obscurity. The set was decorated with fallen empires, and through these resurrections we both re-imagined and forgot our own decline. Egos dissipated and grew; thoughts were exchanged and consumed. The party ended, leaving behind a trail of fractured histories that had at times freed us from fear, and at times confirmed our deepest cynicisms. This process, like history itself, transpired within a leveling, amnesic haze.
The skeletal frame of the pyramid would bleach and warp in the sun for over a year—an ambiguous ruin. The several hundred pallets had been worth around three dollars each. But now the recession had deepened, trans-Pacific trade and trucking were down, and it would be several months before Glynn and her gallery could find a company that would take them for free. An ad-hoc pallet yard took shape around the house downhill from the pyramid site. Meanwhile, the pyramid's hardware was scavenged and the lumber trashed by locals. The guests were long gone, the hilltop was quiet and overgrown, and no one had stayed to clean up.
II. (The Artist's Club)
Glynn's Black Box was a licensed speakeasy occupying a vacant warehouse and former bookstore in West Hollywood for eleven nights in January of 2012. Her bar was the official after-hours destination during the performance festival of Getty's Pacific Standard Time initiative. If PST was self-congratulatory and nostalgic as it resurrected important west-coast artworks from obscurity, Black Box seduced performers and audience alike through an illegible present. Canonical artists mixed with younger and less infamous ones who had yet to enter the club of history. Among an uncertain number of happenings: Charles Gaines played piano behind Terry Adkins in a jazz quintet; Barbara T. Smith and Paul McCarthy reminisced about the 1980 Public Spirit Festival; John Duncan remixed recordings of volunteers doing “whatever he asked”; and Karen Adelman belted out a song from a stack of shipping pallets on the bar's final night.
I read a poem with nu-age synth act Sneaky Snake on the venue's seventh night—so here, too, I had inside (but by no means total) access. But getting in the door was just the beginning; one night was not enough. The Black Box series compelled guests to plunge deeper and deeper (higher and higher) through its levels—and in the process, collect as much “experience” as possible—for this party was charged with the aura of history in the making. Yet much of this history unfolded behind closed doors or at other times. Certainty dissolved like each morning's hangover into another night's binge. As the party grew stranger (rumors of psychedelics and striptease) and more crowded, the subtly magnificent mingled with the horrifying. For the performers, wrapped up in the scene, it was not much different. A fog machine whited out the whole space during Sneaky Snake's second set; the management pulled the plug on their third. The smoke hung around until closing time.
Like the unfolding pyramid scheme of III, Black Box depended on a balance of insiders and outsiders: those on and those off the stage; those who were there and those who weren't; the sober and the drunk. A wall of pallets divided the building into an open performance space and a lounge complete with bar, low stage and a baby grand piano. Redacted Facebook invites advertised the series; each night's entertainment was a guarded secret. Ivette Solare mixed custom cocktails with names like “Keep Talking” and “Swoon.” Performers and other VIPs drank for free from a small edition of handmade ceramic mugs—proof of their status. Upstairs, a “green room” hosted more intimate invitation-only performances, as when Glynn buried one person at a time under a mound of soil. And within this, accessible only by a select few, was a bank of lockers stocked with liquor infusions, champagne mini-bottles, odd photographs and other favors.
The party factor of the Black Box suggested openness and abandon, yet was in fact bound by the expectations and desires of high-powered socializing. If you knew the right people, for example, it was possible to borrow a mug or find your way upstairs. You could wind up locked in conversation with dealers, gallerists and anonymous barflies.2 You could get blackout drunk, find a bump of coke, wake up somewhere strange—and it would not be enough. The collapse would come, as it always does: the next morning, in the parking lot or—as it happened for me—alone in a foggy arena, inching around on a mechanical horse as its batteries died, glad I hadn't taken those mushrooms.
I. (Receding Reality)
Like an orgone energy accumulator, the pyramid at III enfolded a facile nu-age spirituality. This unqualified mysticism mingled with the “hard facts” of the recession, rendering economics irrational in its own right. During a performance titled “On Not Seeing Corruption,” Glynn interviewed an anonymous college acquaintance regarding his time at Madoff Investment Securities. Predictably, he pleaded ignorance of his company's crimes, though in the nuances of his testimony—meeting Glynn at a New Years Eve party; making a drunken pass in a taxi cab; and the terms of his trip to LA, which included a ticket to Burning Man courtesy Glynn's gallery—the Madoff “Ponzi” scheme no longer seemed so alien to the culture that had produced III. Within the pyramid's interstitial zone of metaphor, these new connections were effective to the extent that you believed them. The pyramid provided a boundary between the rational and the irrational, as good art often does, by which our world was reconfigured and resolved. Dusk settling in, the skyline ablaze, augmented by the vulnerability of drunkenness or sleep, things like death and financial collapse fell into place within a sprawling system; relationships, for a time, masqueraded as beliefs.
But this blending also loosened the boundaries of ethics. III framed the recession through an ambivalent figuration that suspended rightness or wrongness. The economic underpinnings and social exploitations of Glynn's projects, though palpable, were never acknowledged. The builders of III and Black Box (surely not Glynn alone) remained anonymous and unseen. Glynn's pallet ziggurat, perched halfway up a valley in a hilly Hispanic neighborhood, quickly became a local landmark—yet one whose purpose was obscure, impenetrable—a monument whose audience lived elsewhere.
That the drinks and décor were so carefully arranged speaks to an awareness of the art-event as a social setting (indeed, often preeminently so). Yet the inequalities and inadequacies of the party in decline were naturalized, not critiqued. This aspect seemed incidental to or merely supportive of Glynn's interest in history, obscurity and ruin. In contrast, consider Cyprien Gaillard's The Recovery of Discovery, 2011, also known as the “beer pyramid.” Here, Gaillard imported a huge ziggurat's worth of Efes beer, a Turkish brand, from Turkey to Berlin, following the path of so many plundered artifacts. As visitors climbed and drank the beer, crushing boxes and breaking glass, the work took its final form. Yet if Glynn's two series also positioned inebriation as the basis of the experience, an agent of detachment and indulgence, it was not so brutal or clear—less a darkly humorous extension of the art world's alcoholism than another carefully groomed element within the party's larger spread. Drunkenness was atmospheric at the Black Box, ritualistic at III. In both cases, drinking did as much to erode preconceived boundaries as did Glynn's recession-chic sets and historical programming. It was, after all, a beery and familiar ungrounding. This drunkenness was real, hard, sloppy, freeing, damaging—part of a predictably unstable chemistry.3
Draped with historical references and flavored with systems of belief, Glynn's parties treated the outside (non-art) world with ambivalence. And as the work shirked responsibility in the name of experimentation, this ambivalence overpowered its complexity. The pyramid of III and the Black Box were frequented by rumors and avatars. In its way, this liminality restored a kind of control, a metaphorical agency. A banner draped in the pyramid interior on the final night echoed a slogan from the UC student protests earlier that year: “WE HAVE DECIDED NOT TO DIE.” Not yet. Not tonight. Yet these series embodied a cynicism about politics and political art, tending towards nostalgia and escapism, ultimately courting rather than confronting decline. A dis-ease persisted as the pyramid slowly came apart, its pallets carried, dragged, then tossed drunkenly down the hill against the house and yard below: the feeling that ruin was not only the theme of this party, but its chosen end.
Travis Diehl is an artist and writer based in Los Angeles.
1. “Each invitation stated 'you must bring a guest.' As pyramid schemes go, the audience doesn't necessarily grow exponentially; rather, it almost folds in on itself. Many who came frequently in the beginning were absent until the end, replaced by a new group. The audience grew far beyond the circle of people I see regularly. . .” Liz Glynn, in conversation with Corey Fogel, Public Fiction 2, Summer 2011.
2. Glynn hired a handful of people to sit at the bar and mingle with the guests; their mugs were red, the performers' black.
3. Elsewhere, in other artworks similarly primed for failure, Glynn has held a dance party on fragile plaster tiles (Smash the Solid State/Pick Up the Pieces, 2008) and has restaged an unsuccessful demonstration of R. Buckminster Fuller's tensegrity principle (Utopia or Oblivion, 2011).
By Claire Ruud
Louis Grachos. Photo credit: Jim Bush.
Louis Grachos is busy. Right now he has at least three full time jobs—the first at the Albright-Knox, where he is wrapping up a ten year stint as director of the venerable museum, the second at AMOA-Arthouse, where he has been named the first director of the recently merged arts organization, and the third preparing mentally and physically to move his life from upstate New York to central Texas and his work from a storied institution in the rust belt to a tabula rasa in America’s latest boom town. In the midst of all this, Louis and Claire Ruud made a mobile-to-Skype connection while he stretched his legs at a rest stop somewhere along I-90 on his way to a hockey game in Boston (his son’s). Before she had even posed a question, he launched right in to express his excitement.
Louis Grachos [LG]: We—my family and I—are really thrilled about this. It’s a unique opportunity in the museum world. Austin is such an exciting place and AMOA-Arthouse has such potential. The Jones Center and Laguna Gloria are two terrific and very different places, where different kinds of exhibitions can be generated. I’m up for the challenge of creating a unique program that will not only excite folks in Austin, but also get people to travel to Austin to look at contemporary art. The city is growing and thriving, and there’s a creative underpinning in Austin that is very attractive for artists from all parts of the world. It’s also very fluid. All the arts flow into one another—music, performance, the visual arts—obviously the activities at the University of Texas are also very inspiring and will hopefully provide opportunities for many collaborations. Austin’s a great place.
[CR]: I think we’re all excited that you feel that way about Austin. You mention about the growth here; I’ve been thinking a lot about Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point lately, because when the Blanton opened back in 2002 people were talking about this idea, hoping that a critical mass might have been reached. It seems in retrospect that we weren’t at some sort of singular tipping point then. Rather, it seems things are more cyclical with small cities, expansion-contraction-expansion-contraction. Still, I wonder whether we may be at some higher order “tipping point” than we’ve seen before.[LG]: I hope so. The city has all the ingredients: a great intellectual community, a very spirited and engaged cultural community around music, film and technology; a great entrepreneurial spirit. In terms of working with Austin’s community and our artists, I want to be very strategic in bringing projects, ideas and artists that would be meaningful there. That’s something that I think about almost every minute now as I start connecting with the team in Austin to program and to think about exhibitions.
I’m committed to the idea that our organization can essentially operate as a museum without walls. We have these two really terrific locations. Laguna Gloria would be a great spot for site-specific work while at the Jones Center we can present exhibitions within the heart of the city itself. Art in public spaces, private buildings, parks and across the urban landscape, which is going through a real renaissance.
In many ways, I’m going to rely on my experiences in the past. SITE Sante Fe was essentially a clean slate when I moved there. The challenge was to create a mission and a program that were international in ambition but also completely relevant to Santa Fe. Context is really important to me, so I’m already working hard to learn as much as I can about Austin itself. I’m talking to colleagues about not only the visual arts but the live music scene and the tech industry. Before I start proposing specific programs, it’s really important to understand the history, the tone and texture of the city. I love what you’re saying about the tipping point. I believe AMOA-Arthouse can be a force.
[CR]: Louis, I’m going to challenge a couple of the things you’re saying to see where it takes us. First, I’m thinking about the festival model, the SITE Santa Fe example, the “museum without walls” idea. This model has been hugely popular over the past decade or two, but does it really make sense for museums—with large investments in physical buildings and land—to try to take up this model? AMOA-Arthouse has the overhead of the downtown location and Laguna Gloria that burdens a more integrated, mobile, or festival-like model.[LG]: I think any institution, even if it’s a museum without walls, needs a home base, a starting point, the germ of a place. The Jones Center building has incredible potential and has been used in very interesting ways in the past. Say we were thinking about a major international exhibition of site-specific projects that would sprawl out into the city. The Jones Center then becomes a very important starting point. The content, the educational components, the premise of what we would be doing could be located there. You start from there and then spread out. That style of exhibition is a challenge, but Austin seems to be equipped for looser boundaries, as in festival programming. It seems to enjoy that role, and people from the outside want to come to Austin for that reason. Our programming can build on that.
I’ve lived in places where it could be really hard to get an audience to show up. People show up in Austin. There’s a constant influx of new people, new things, new organizations, new businesses. That always creates a dynamic that is really rich. In a much smaller way, Santa Fe in the 90’s had that dynamic. When we did the international biennial, we’d get visitors from Norway, we’d get visitors from Korea—it was almost startling. I’m not talking about great numbers of people, but those who were really engaged with art. People who travel to see contemporary art would make the effort to come to Santa Fe. The conditions in Austin offer that same potential.
It’s also important for me to understand Texas and its long history with contemporary art--- the Menil family in Houston, the museum and collecting culture in Dallas and Fort Worth, the great project in Marfa with Chinati and the Judd Foundation. Unique and ambitious visual art institutions, architecture and projects have been brewing in the state for a long time. People interested in contemporary art already travel to Texas. It’ll be important for us to create a reason for them to stop in Austin. In this sense, it’ll be important to talk to the Blanton about their programming and their philosophies so we can dovetail with them and other smaller organizations in Austin.
[CR]: Can you talk a little more about that—fitting into the visual arts landscape here? The Blanton has a strong curatorial team, especially with Simone’s new hires, and some areas of real strength in the collection. It seems like the VAC at UT is angling to fill the role that Arthouse used to fill in the community by supporting emerging curators, young artists and leaning toward an artists-in-residence approach. I’m interested in how you see AMOA-Arthouse fitting into that.[LG]: One of the things that I really enjoyed here in Buffalo was building collaboration. We took a very dry and unloved model—a biennial dealing with regional artists. I invited all of my colleagues in the area for a meeting and I asked if we could work together on curating a major regional show that would expand the notion of what the region means. It gave us the opportunity to cross the border and include southern Ontario, to capture some very exciting young Canadian artists. All in all, twelve organizations curated this much bigger show with twelve venues, and it was very successful. It’s happened three times so far, in ’05, ’07 and ’10. This is the methodology that I like to use. I’m excited by that kind of collaborative potential with my colleagues at The University of Texas and the ones I haven’t met yet. I’m interested in meeting artists that are already working hard in Austin. I know there’s a whole East Side movement, and I want to understand that and engage that community as well. I want to find good ways to collaborate with colleagues and the art community and I’m hoping to make that a priority.
[CR]: I’d say that the two biggest areas of creativity here in Austin are tech and music. How do you see AMOA-Arthouse fitting in there?[LG]: I’m so happy you said that because we’ve entered an era, since the 90’s on, in which artists are utilizing and exploring technology in exciting ways. I’ve worked with many artists that are engaged in technology. Music is something I’ve always tried to integrate into my programs, as well. In Buffalo we have a jazz series, a real cutting-edge program that we’re very proud of. I’ve also integrated, not just in programmatic ways but also in fundraising, working with musical acts to build audience and show a cross-fertilization between art and new music. In Buffalo I’ve worked with Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Feist, Atlas Sound and The National. In Santa Fe I worked with Sonic Youth and Patti Smith. To me all of these artists and musicians are relevant to contemporary thinking and contemporary creativity. So I’m hoping I can create a meaningful program that would integrate music into the visual arts. Patti Smith is a terrific painter, she makes wonderful drawings and she does great photography. That’s an example of someone that crosses the line between music and visual arts in a very fluid way.
[CR]: What I’m hearing about the way you see AMOA-Arthouse fitting into the cultural landscape is that if the Blanton is the more academic space and the VAC has got the experimental, emerging art focus, AMOA-Arthouse could be more of a cultural hub, interdisciplinary collaborator and cultural producer.[LG]: I do see us being involved in creating new work, commissioning work. Front and center will be the visual arts, but I think in today’s world, that means a lot in terms of cross-disciplinary planning.
[CR]: People sometimes talk about the music scene in Austin being an asset to the contemporary art world. I totally get that in terms of creative energy. But I'm starting to wonder whether it isn't also a liability because of competition for audience. My 30-something friends go out to hear live music all the time. People come here to hear music from all over the world. You've suggested that this culture of "showing up" for events that could translate into the visual arts. But with the quality and quantity of music so high, and the cost of attendance so low, how can visual arts compete for the attention of this audience?[LG]: Good question, I think the tie-in needs to be absolutely authentic, for example musician-artists who engage and, in some cases, create visual art themselves. I have also met many musicians who get inspiration from art. Bradford Cox was very excited by the Albright-Knox’s Mirrored Room, by Lucas Samaras, and he photographed it. I also hope to introduce artists who use sound. I have just commissioned Susan Philipsz to create a new work for the Albright-Knox. I think there may be some good crossover with music lovers in Austin, especially those who are interested in new or "advanced music."
[CR]: I want to let you get back on the road. You have a game to catch! But first, two more questions about yourself. You’ve been at Albright-Knox for ten years, you have been very successful there, I’m sure you’ve had colleagues and headhunters calling you for a really long time, offering other opportunities. Why was this the right one?[LG]: There are many reasons, but first of all the whole idea of potentially inventing a new model for the community through the merger of AMOA and Arthouse was very energizing to me. It was, and remains, a unique opportunity. It felt like this was a merger that people really wanted to make work and there’s a readiness to explore new ideas. That’s something that you just don’t have that often. For ten years now, I’ve run an institution that is 150 years old and has an incredible collection; it was such an honor and a privilege to do it and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But I love the fact that this opportunity is not quite, but almost, like a start-up. That to me is thrilling.
[CR]: Now to wrap up I’m going to ask a more creative question. If I wanted to read a book, or watch film, or visit a cultural space, or talk to someone who has really shaped who you are as a director, where would you send me?[LG]: Great question. In terms of international thinking about the world and how things are changing, I would say Robert D. Kaplan. That’s not in a cultural arena, but more geopolitical. But in terms of looking at art, the most influential writing in the last twenty years, I would say, is Dave Hickey, who wrote The Invisible Dragon, and Air Guitar. I love the way Dave Hickey thinks about art. I love the openness. It’s almost like he creates a context for us as viewers to keep our eyes wide open.
As far who first interested me in contemporary art, it really goes way back to my high art school teacher, Stuart Aikman. He introduced us to the potential of engaging with art, even if you weren’t an artist. He taught us about great collections and traveled with us, a kind of unique experience when I look back. He was the one who brought our class to the Albright-Knox for the first time when we were thirteen years old. I had a chance to see the great Jackson Pollock in our collection. I had never seen a Pollock before then. He took us to all the regional museums in Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Ottawa and Washington.
But the turning point for me was when I was interning at the Whitney. The curator Patterson Sims was working on an Ellsworth Kelly show. He invited me to walk through the installation with him and Kelly while they were still working on it. I was able to listen to the artist and curator make decisions—that was when I said, this is what I want to do, I want to work with artists in a very direct way. It was a transformative moment for me. Before then, I had no idea where I wanted to go in my career. But after that experience I said yes, this is it, I want to work as a curator, but I want to work with living artists. And, to this day, I still love providing a platform for artists to create.
Claire Ruud has an M.A. in art history from The University of Texas at Austin and an M.B.A. at The Yale University School of Management. She thinks a lot about feminism, queer theory and financing contemporary art production.
By Noah Simblist
Omer Fast, 5000 Feet Is the Best (digital film still), 2011. Dallas Museum of Art, DMA/amfAR Benefit Auction Fund, 2011.41. © Omer Fast.
Omer Fast’s video installation 5000 Feet is Best (2011) was recently purchased by the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) and is on view through September 30. After a lecture at the DMA by Fast, he talked with Noah Simblist about his work.
Noah Simblist [NS]: I’ve been looking over some press about you and there was a piece in Texte zur Kunst where Mark Godfrey talks about how your character in The Casting (2007) says that you’re not so interested in politics per se and more interested in the way that memories lead to stories and stories themselves are broadcast. I’m wondering how you feel about that and how politics function in your work.
Omer Fast [OF]: Let me address what specifically happens in The Casting. This work actually started as research trip for what I was hoping would be more of a standard documentary work to be shot in Fort Irwin in the Mohave Desert in California. In this military base they had built simulations of Iraqi villages and towns in which soldiers were trained prior to being sent to Iraq during the war. While waiting for my film permit from the Army, I went to Fort Hood in Texas to speak with soldiers who had undergone the training and then experienced their first tour in Iraq subsequently. The Casting kind of grew out of that. When I came back from Fort Hood and realized that no definitive answer would be forthcoming from my contact at the Army’s Department of Public Affairs, I decided to focus on the interviews instead. At that point, I didn't think it would be enough to cull and edit the interviews into something compelling about the soldiers' first-hand experience. I wanted to include a measure of the mediation that happens to their stories and the kind of forces and interests and desires that act upon them as they become a public narrative art piece. So I decided to add myself—or rather to project aspects of myself as a semi-fictional character—to the work. I thought this would function as a kind of self-critique of the role of the artist/interview, but also as a critique of what the work set about to do, namely to report someone's war experience. So the statement Mark Godfrey references should be understood in that light. It is not a definitive statement about who I am and what I believe in as a person. But within the dynamics of the work and the characters that are spun out in it, you have an unsympathetic artist who concludes an interview rather inconclusively by saying, “Thanks for your time. Your story is really interesting but... I’ll give you a call.” In a way, the work is being coy about its politics and about its subject.
[NS]: In terms of the impetus, what attracted you in the first place of going to Fort Irwin and the notion of the simulated Iraqi villages?[OF]: I had done a couple of works beforehand, which dealt with historical events that had some kind of later reincarnation as part of a spectacle or a performance. One of them is called Spielberg’s List (2003). It dealt with the extras who appeared and performed in Steven Spielberg's film Shindler’s List. The other work was called Godville (2005) and was shot in Colonial Williamsburg. This is an open-air museum in Virginia, which is located in the actual colonial town center of Williamsburg. So the town is a strange hybrid, being a historical site but also a reenactment or contemporary performance of that historical site. The same way with the Spielberg extras, you had people who could talk in first-person about an experience that was historically resonant and at times for them also historically palpable. Some of the extras had actually experienced the events depicted in the movie in their early lives. But then they also took part in a big re-presentation of that event as extras in the filming of a Hollywood movie. Both pieces preceded The Casting and the idea of going out to this US military base called Fort Irwin. I suppose I was trying to see how this logic of reenactment applied to a very contemporary issue, namely the training of soldiers in preparation for a foreign mission: how that logic of simulation, of reenactment, performance, was being put into practice in this particular military base. But as I said, that plan didn’t pan out.
[NS]: It’s funny, this notion of a village to simulate a kind of Arab architectural structure reminds me of these pieces by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin and also Amir Yatsiv that have made artworks about these American designed fake cities for military training in Israel for similar purposes but instead of it being sited in Iraq, their fictional siting is supposed to be in Gaza or the West Bank. I know you don’t like to talk about your biography in general, but one thing I was interested in was the way that often in references to you, there are these descriptors of the ‘Israeli-born artist’ and I’m wondering about how you feel that nationality functions in your work in different ways.[OF]: I grew up moving between two cultures and two countries with two languages and two very different modes of being. I think that made me very highly aware of how much one’s identity is a construction, very much a performance, at a very young age. I sort of had a crash course in that starting at the age of three. We moved a couple of times between Israel and the US and so I was very aware of assuming little bits and pieces of identity depending on where I was. I think that distrust and playfulness and the pleasure and awkwardness of it all – for me they have become the stuff that I use and exploit and address in my work.
[NS]: I was thinking about this connection between the US and Israel in your biography in relation to 5000 Feet is the Best just because the phenomenon of drones as a technology and drones in a legalistic sense is something that has a very intertwined relationship between Israel and the US. If I’m not mistaken, the tactic of using drones for assassinations was developed by Israel and continued by the US. I’m wondering if that’s something that you’ve thought about with 5000 Feet Is the Best or if you’ve thought about it exclusively within the American context.[OF]: While researching drones I happened on a few details connecting Israeli engineering to the prototypes of the more recent drone models that are being used. But for me the notion of the drone as an image, as an idea, was very much more contemporary and therefore something I think as more “late term American” than anything to do with Israel. I think you could talk about drones in many different ways but what appeals to me is the inherent contradiction in being there and not being there: Being endowed with these almost superhuman powers of perception, of surveillance, of being able to control someone’s life, being able to be that proverbial “fly on the wall,” while, at the same time, being very far away and engaging in combat activities that are extremely violent and extremely graphic and difficult for the people doing them, let alone the people on the receiving end of the drones’ strike. This machine is a system. Because it’s not just a plane—it’s the transmission of data, it’s the satellites, it’s the remote stations that are located just outside of Las Vegas, it’s the people who drive there to work. This epitomizes globalization. It tries to ram through all these contradictions about precision warfare and targeted assassinations and is continually celebrated by these rather pithy statements about “another successful drone strike” and the fact that no American lives, of course, have been lost or been in danger at all. In many respects, the drone program really does embody some of the main contradictions of our age and it is therefore an interesting subject matter.
[NS]: It seems like the main character that is continuously being re-interviewed is popping these pills and it seems to be implied that he is a casualty, that there’s some kind of PTSD or something happening even though he’s not on the battlefield.[OF]: That character is a bit of a screen, a bit of a chimera and a bit of a cliché almost. It’s very clear that the whole mock interview situation has been staged. For example, the interview keeps repeating with slight variations. There are quite a few heavy-handed movie tropes that are being used. There's a fictional character who’s being elusive and tries to spin the yarn, as it were. He ends up going out to a hotel corridor to smoke during breaks in his interview. That’s when he has a sort of trip and the film dips into documentary form when the voice of the real drone pilot speaks. So the work is as much about the drone program as it is about layers and screens and not being able to know exactly what’s happening. The work does try to present its subject in a way that is at least structurally elusive and multivalent.
[NS]: So that is the actual interview with the pilot and his face is sort of digitally obscured, right?[OF]: Yes, he’s blurred and his voice is also disguised when he appears in the film. The whole thing was quite difficult to set up and so by the time we were able to sit in Las Vegas at the hotel, I realized that this person was way too nervous and it was quite difficult to get information from him. That’s the reason why the images and voice have been blurred. Of course, this is also a media cliché and it’s also so much a part of the drone program itself: this whole obscuring, the blurring, the presentation of the very very small tips of very very large icebergs of facts. So for good or for bad, I ended up reproducing that.
[NS]: I’m wondering about the setting. Was it premiered at Venice?[OF]: Yes.
[NS]: Did you conceive of the piece thinking that it would be presented in that situation?[OF]: That’s pretty much how it works. The pieces are relatively expensive so I have to wait for the phone to ring to get an invitation to do something and that’s what allows me to make my work. It doesn’t have to be that way and I hope it isn’t always that way, but for the last couple of years it’s been commission-based and so I very much know at the beginning what the deadline is and where it’s going to be shown. In this case it was Venice.
[NS]: I was thinking about Venice with all these national pavilions, that there’s this sense of nationalism and a kind of internationalism or a relationship between various nations that’s very self-conscious.[OF]: I think it’s very retro. It’s an almost ridiculously retro ideal, that whole Venice scenario with nations building their little embassies and competing for best-in-show. It’s really a World’s Fair. Someone should really just lump it altogether and burn it. (laughs) My friend Jennifer Allen wrote about this and I wholeheartedly agree. I think in some respects the Documenta model acts as a counterpoint to Venice with its attempt at post-national politics. In this Documenta that I’m participating in, the artists aren’t even mentioned with birth countries or national tags attached to their names. We can argue about whether that’s good or not. Sometimes it helps to provide a context for where someone is coming. But not having that information frees people up to deal with the work without throwing it into some kind of very closed context.
[NS]: What piece is part of Documenta?[OF]: It’s called Continuity.
[NS]: It’s interesting to me thinking about this continuity, even in this piece, which is about an enigmatic narrative of soldiers coming home from war. I’m thinking about the thread of the military in your work. The drone program seems to domesticate militarism and here the soldier and the home are rejoined. Even with Her Face is Covered (2011), a film of yours about the bombing of a truck convoy and one anonymous woman, there’s obviously the military scenario. It seems to recur again and again and I’m wondering about your attraction to these themes.[OF]: I wonder about it too. I guess at some point attraction becomes a sort of compulsion and compulsion becomes an obsession and obsession becomes boring—or highly interesting (if you're lucky or if your name is Henry Darger.) To begin with, I think these subjects offer a vicariousness and a voyeurism. Then, if it starts with an encounter, there’s an element of sharing something, a therapeutic element. On the other hand, there’s also this playing with forms that I alluded to before when I was talking about biography. For example, looking at how a traumatic experience travels, the way that it ripples out from its ground zero and its point of origin and how it passes through different bodies and different layers of bodies in a particular community. In this new work Continuity, the trauma is completely bracketed. There's actually no documentary subject and it's highly doubtful that the characters who appear have actually lost their son in the end. What we have instead are aftershocks and an examination of the aftershocks… This idea of trauma, its presence and absence, the way it reverberates in time and in a community, is something that I grew up with on both sides of that ocean.
[NS]: It’s interesting talking about this notion of the continuity of trauma thinking about Spielberg’s List that you mentioned earlier because in some ways your approach to it didn’t take on the usual tropes of veneration that are common, certainly in America. I think that there are other artists in Israel and Europe like Artur Zmijewsky, Roee Rosen or Yael Bartana that are more comfortable with playing with the way that the Holocaust is represented. I wonder if you think of how the reception Spielberg’s List was different in different communities.[OF]: I don’t have access to that. I have, at the most, two different ways of accessing reactions to the work. I have my friends and family, the people that I’m in touch with and most of the time they’re supportive—or they’re lying. And then I have the press that’s written. And this is a very specific, pointed, small category of press where we’ve all studied and read the same canon of texts and we all trade in the same language and ideas. I know that this work sometimes had a bigger audience because it played at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, for example. So there must have been a few people, at least ten of them, who have seen the work who are not either my friends or family. But I rarely get a chance to hear what these people have to say. We're pretty sequestered...
[NS]: Another piece that I was wondering about is Take a Deep Breath. Could you tell me a little bit about the project and how it started?[OF]: I read a short article in an Israeli newspaper in 2002, written by the guy I eventually met and talked to for the piece. In the article, the guy describes going out for lunch and watching as the restaurant he intended to visit blow up just before he enters it. He then ran inside and discovered a young man whom he tried to resuscitate. The young man dies in his arms and the guy realizes later that he was the failed suicide bomber. A few months after reading the article, I was in Jerusalem and met with the guy. The idea was to force his story into a sitcom format. It’s kind of a movie within a movie in which an artist called Omer Fast is trying to dramatically film the suicide bomber's story. Of course things go wrong and so the conversations that emerge as the film within a film collapses are meant to talk about the ethical questions involved, aesthetic questions and so on and so forth. It’s kind of an attempt to have your cake and eat it too, but sometimes these attempts don’t work out so well.
[NS]: What was it about it that you didn’t think worked out so well?[OF]: Comedy is a very hard genre and I’m not a gifted comic writer. I think the piece could have been better had it been written by someone who is a somewhat better at comedy. I think the piece is fine and it does what it’s meant to do. Inevitably, the shock of what happens when you pull away from a story and get behind the camera, behind the curtains, that shock fizzles away and what you’re left with is a kind of—what’s that movie? Living in Oblivion—you get this kind of ranting that really substitutes for comedy.
[NS]: At one point there’s this bit of dialogue where someone says, “Have you read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others?” Were you thinking about her struggle with representations of violence for this piece or with your work in general?[OF]: Of course my work and this particular piece deals with witnessing and the sublimation that happens when a traumatic event is experienced and then passed along. It deals with the wider collective responsibility for understanding the event, accounting for it, and remembering it. These are issues that my work deals with and that book was important for me. Probably that’s why it was able to worm its way into the work.
[NS]: Speaking if witnessing, I wonder about your use of subtitles in A Tank Translated (2002) and also in a book published about your work, In Memory, where you used footnotes like subtitles. The subtitles are less reliable than we might expect and as a result the source of truth is less reliable. I’m wondering if you find that the authority of truth is unreliable through things like journalism or the documentary format?[OF]: I don’t. This is a major strain of talk about my work. I understand that way of looking at it, but I don’t particularly find it interesting. I don’t look at things in terms of truth and untruth, especially not when making my work. Of course we have important concepts like journalistic truth and a legal burden of proof that are necessary in order to function as a society but I think in my work I’m much more interested in different sorts of narrative strands and finding ways of weaving them together. Very often the work presents the story and the response to the story at the same time, rather than the truth and a fiction next to it. The response does not have to be a knee-jerk reaction. It can be something that is carefully constructed so that the dynamic between the story and the response to it might be more productive, more interesting, more dynamic... But I resist this binary categorization between truth and non-truth. I think that’s just not interesting.
[NS]: Is this because of your role as an artist as opposed to being a journalist or working in a legal framework? There’s a certain amount of freedom that that allows for without having to be burdened by that binary.[OF]: Yes, of course we have the freedom to do that in the arts, whereas in journalism you have to do fact-checking and you have a legal accountability of what you’re saying in terms of libel... So there are obviously more restrictions on what you can do. But let’s not be naïve and say that what journalists write and what lawyers argue in court is the truth.
[NS]: In the lecture at the DMA, someone was asking you about this issue in relation to documentaries and you talked about these two terms, performance and index, as two ways of describing it. Can you say a little bit about what you meant by those terms?[OF]: At the lecture in Dallas, I began with this piece Glendive Foley. In that piece the index is simply using a camera for recording time, recording events and spaces in time, people in time, etc. Attached to that function of the camera is a quite a complicated set of expectations regarding what it’s doing and its truth function. The indexical in that sense is simply turning the camera on and pointing it at a subject and recording it for a length of time. That recording creates a document. The document is very important for me because it does not only portray something in space and time but it actually has built into it that set of expectations that we talk about when we talk about the truth. After all, we do use cameras in order to establish the truth. That’s why cameras are used for surveillance, that’s why we use cameras in court, that’s why we use them for documentaries, that’s why we use them for mug shots. Let's call that the indexical. The performance is about taking those recorded documents and beginning to play around with their valences: those things that are attached to the pixels, the bits, the grain, the kind of set of expectations that I am talking about, the truth and whatnot... It’s not inherently in the material. It’s obviously accompanying the material very closely in how we read it. And so beginning to untangle those things and to put them into flux and to put them into motion with respect to various issues like aesthetics or ethics is really what I find interesting. That’s what motivates my work.
Noah Simblist is an Associate Professor of Art at SMU and a PhD student in art history at the University of Texas, Austin.
Volumes of Sound: A Sonic Reading List
Stephen Vitiello’s current project for testsite,* facilitated by Austin-based gallerist and curator Lora Reynolds, sent me to the books, so to speak. Sound art has a rich and complex history that intersects with the visual and musical world in striking ways. Perhaps an unintended consequence of occupying—and often dematerializing—a place between media, sound art often perplexes listeners; whose ears are accustomed to familiar sonic escapades, yet aural experiences are some of the most rewarding and contain a resonance that rouses each of us profoundly. In this spirit, and with a month-long August hiatus at hand, I’d like to recommend a few books about sound for you to wrap up with your summer.
✦ David Toop, Haunted Weather: Music, Silence And Memory, Serpents Tail, 2004. Toop is one of the most engaging contemporary writers on sound. He mixes personal anecdotes and listening experiences with a keen intellect and eye towards modern experimental music.
✦ Seth Kim-Cohen, In The Blink Of An Ear: Toward a Non-Cochlear Sonic Art, Continuum, 2009. Kim-Cohen’s book looks at sound arts short history through the lens of post-structuralism, the visual arts and deconstruction. Intersections between sound and the social, linguistic, philosophical, political and technology emerge in this enjoyable read.
✦Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner (Ed.), Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music, Continuum, 2007. Every reading list needs a collection of writings from the fields luminaries and this is that book. Improvisation, techno, dub reggae, experimental music, hip-hop—you name it, this book addresses it.
✦Douglas Kahn, Noise, Water, Meat: A History Of The Sound Arts, The MIT Press, 1999. One of the seminal histories of sound art that focuses on Europe in the first half of the century and the United States in the postwar years. With a title like this, how could you not crack this one?
✦David Toop, Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship Of The Listener, Continuum, 2010. Do you get the sense that I’m a Toop fan-boy? You’re right. Sinister Resonance constructs the history of listening through the narratives of painting, architecture and literature and the way in which sound functions as a metaphor for instability, desire and the unknown within them.
* Full disclosure. testsite is the right arm of ...might be good’s umbrella organization Fluent~Collaborative.
Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.
Added on 2012-07-25 16:22:21