MBG Issue #196: Hearty Welcomes and Humble Pleas

Issue # 196

Hearty Welcomes and Humble Pleas

September 11, 2012

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Robert Kinmont, 127 Willow Forks (This is Who I Am), 2010, Willow, pine, birch plywood and maple, 84 x 153 x 45 inches. Courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. (detail)

from the editor

Welcome back! We hope you had a restful and productive month while we were away on hiatus. With the fall exhibition season already underway we’re thrilled to continue and provide you with bi-monthly coverage of exhibitions and art-world goings on from Texas and beyond. This falls list of upcoming events is immense, but to lead this issue off we’ve pared it down to a handful of exhibitions, books and lectures that we think deserve your attention. Think of it as a supplement to our Recommendations that we’ll continue to offer with each and every issue. As always, we welcome your own recommendations, suggestions and contributions to all aspects of our journal. Email us anytime at: askus@fluentcollab.org or post a comment on the site. In addition to our autumn picks, new and veteran contributors writing from Marfa, Austin and São Paulo round out this issuepicking up right where we left off in July.

This is a particularly exciting time for our small Texas-based organization. Each of our bi-monthly issues is produced by two staff members, myself, who relocated to Houston during the break, and ...mbg’s stalwart Production Associate Emily Ng. Our editorial office is now based in Houston, production in Los Angeles and publishing in Austin. In October we’ll publish our 200th issue, capping off nine years of interviews, criticism, essays, recommendations and project spaces. A quick look at our archives will give you a sense of the breadth of coverage ...mbg has brought to you under each editorship. None of this would have been possible without the invaluable contributions from our writers, volunteers, generous Austin supporter Mike Chesser, readership and founders.

We want to grow while continuing to provide you with a much needed source of critical writing and scholarship, but we need your help to do so. Without your assistance, the future of ...might be good is uncertain. Our writers are in dire need of a raise, our content levels are begging to be increased and it has proven increasingly difficult to raise funds for critical writing.

This is our plea. We are seeking a partner and major funder who is willing to support us with a significant donation for the coming years and are asking for your help. Please contact our publisher Laurence Miller at: lmiller@fluentcollab.org to discuss the possibilities of partnering with us here at ...might be good.

We’d like to reemphasize the tremendous value of ...might be good to you, not simply as a publication that supports the arts, but as a venue that contributes to the creation of scholarship that addresses the fundamental cultural issues of our time. We hope you’ll take that into account when considering a donation at any level, large or small. We are absolutely thrilled to be moving into the future with you, during this, a continued period of growth for ...might be good.

Thank you for your ongoing readership and support.

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

Added on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012


Cream of the Crop: Fall 2012, Our Picks

By ...mbg Staff

Documenta (13) Catalog 1/3, The Book of Books, Hatje Cantz, 2012.

‘Previews,’ ‘Picks,’ call them what you will, but no Fall issue of any publication would be complete without a version of these venerable lists. In addition to our Recommendations included in every issue, we here at ...might be good are happy to offer a handful of exhibitions, books and events that pinged our radar loudly as we prepared for the already underway exhibition season. No list can ever be comprehensive, nor completely divorced from the taste of its selector, but whether you’re traveling this fall or staying close to home we think you’ll find something worth your time amongst our choices.

Documenta (13) Catalog 1/3, The Book of Books, Hatje Cantz, 2012. Documenta (13)’s ambitious series of 100 notebooks is compiled here with introductory essays and other tidbits to compliment your summer trip to Kassel, or get you up to speed if you weren’t able to make the trans-atlantic journey.

BRUCE NAUMAN - Tuesday Evenings at The Modern, Fort Worth. Nov. 13, 7pm. Read that again: Bruce Nauman. This one writes itself. Curator of Education Terri Thornton continues to bring a range of established and emerging artists to The Modern’s outstanding free lecture series.

EMILY ROYSDON - Pause, Pose, Discompose, Visual Arts Center, Austin. Sept. 21 - Dec. 8, 2012. U.T.’s Visual Art Center continues to bring stellar contemporary artists to work in residence and mount an exhibition. One of Austin’s bright spots this Fall, Roysdon’s exhibition is a must-see.

LUCY RAVEN - The Hammer, Los Angeles. Sept. 11, 2012 - January 20, 2013. Assistant Curator Corrina Peipon has organized this exhibition of Raven’s work, made during her 2011 Hammer Residency, that probes the interplay between still and moving images and the technology that enables it.

HAIM STEINBACH - The Artists Institute, New York. Sept. 2012 - January, 2013. One of our favorite models for exhibition programming, The Artists Institute's fifth season is dedicated to Haim Steinbach whose arrangement of everyday objects is as relevant today as when they appeared in the eighties.

STEVE MCQUEEN - The Art Institute of Chicago, Oct. 21, 2012 - January 6, 2013. McQueen’s 20-year career will be represented through 15 works at The Art Institute of Chicago in this first large-scale survey of his work. A screening of his feature films Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011) will occur on October 19.

EWAN GIBBS - Arlington National Cemetery, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Nov. 11, 2012 - Feb. 10, 2013. British artist Ewan Gibb’s presents his series of 16 drawings made from his photographs of the iconic cemetery. Fans of drawing would be remiss to not catch of glimpse of this exhibition.

ROBERT HASS - What Light Can Do: Essays on Art Imagination and the Natural World, Ecco, 2012. Nothing beats a good collection of essays and Hass’ new book fits the bill. Photography, writers, place and poetry all receive Hass’ attention and deservedly, ours.

Performing Histories (1) - The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Sept. 12, 2012 - March 11, 2013. A two-part exhibition from MoMA that looks at the way media artworks engage with and examine cultural, social and political histories. Artists include: Kader Attia, Andrea Fraser, Ion Grigorescu, Dorit Margreiter, Sharon Hayes, Deimantas Narkevicius and Martha Rosler.

The Journal of Sonic Studies - Not dependent on a season, JSS has taken up the study of our sonic environment and advocates for multidisciplinary research in a variety of fields. JSS is a welcome addition to the relatively new scholarship surrounding sound.

TRISHA BAGA - Plymouth Rock 2 - The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Nov. 7, 2012. Baga’s first solo show in the U.S., this two-channel video projection is based on the history of the Pilgrim landing site and its current state as a dilapidated tourist attraction.

I.A.R. 12.3 - Dor Guez, David Benjamin Sherry, Sarah Sudhoff, Artpace San Antonio, Nov. 15, 2012 - Jan. 13, 2013. Despite the recent volatility in their leadership position, Artpace consistently brings international artists to San Antonio to produce new and challenging work. We’re particularly looking forward to seeing David Benjamin Sherry’s efforts, whose photographs made a visit to Austin last year in The Anxiety of Photography.

BERNADETTE CORPORATION: 2000 Wasted Years - Artists Space, New York. Sept. 9 - Dec. 16, 2012. Made up of three principal members, Bernadette Van-Huy, John Kelsey and Antek Walczak, Bernadette Corporation has published magazines, made films and in the 90s developed a women’s fashion line. 2000 Wasted Years marks the first retrospective of their work.

Hybrid Forms
AMOA-Arthouse, Austin
Through September 16

By Thao Votang

Installation of Hybrid Forms, 2012. Courtesy of AMOA-Arthouse. Photo: Erica Nix.

The word “hybrid” accurately describes the idea behind this exhibition as well as the media of the works selected. As AMOA-Arthouse works through its own internal transitions, its achievements and challenges are reflected in Hybrid Forms. The ten artists included in the exhibition utilize technology as a medium. While they can all be neatly categorized as new media artists, Hybrid Forms displays works that consider conceptual, sculptural and cultural ideas. The medium is “new,” but the ideas explored are timeless.

Nam June Paik’s Zen for TV acts as the inspiration for Hybrid Forms. This quiet work, which sits on a grey, one inch tall pedestal in the middle of the gallery, represents new media’s emergence into the art world in the sixties. A single line breaks the black television screen. The juxtaposition of a simple line coupled with the silence from an object that customarily pours a constant stream of noise and imagery is pleasantly complex. Paik’s painterly manipulation of video to obscure the image and reveal another echoes the manipulation of light by a photographer.

Nearby, Kurt Mueller’s interactive and proactive work American Dream feeds Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech through a karaoke machine. Even if you do not participate, watching the words silently move across the bottom of the screen and hearing the occasional outbursts of applause is captivating. Mueller’s desire for human participation compliments Jim Campbell’s two works across the room. Portrait of a Portrait of Claude Shannon and Street Scene both manipulate the the human form into something simultaneously familiar and strange. Both works test the viewer’s point of recognition of the human form by digitally abstracting features and shapes.

Like Mueller, Paul Pfeiffer’s Miss America uses the viewer’s social knowledge. Pfeiffer removes the human form from a video depicting a red carpet interview with Ms. America. The absence of a body leaves a crown bobbing in space. The arrangement of the equipment puts the viewer in the position of the camera person and focuses us on the movement of the crown as a conversational indicator. Our knowledge of social cues, i.e. head nods and tilts, fills the absence.

Having an opportunity to see Leo Villareal’s Horizon 24 was like making a date to see an old friend. I saw Horizon 24 for the first time during Drawn Toward Light at the Blanton Museum of Art in 2009-20101. As it was installed at the Blanton, I cherished sitting with the work in the room that was constructed for it. The silence of the parceled corner allowed me to listen to it (and only it) for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, as Horizon 24 is installed in Hybrid Forms, street sounds and sounds from other works in the exhibit make it more difficult to enjoy the subtle noises created by Villareal.

The video room holds work by Diana Thater, Jason Salavon and Susie J. Lee. Thater’s fours suns videowall displays the sun in four different colors. Through video, Thater gives the viewer an incredibly detailed view of the star’s undulating surface. The opportunity to see an image of the sun in such detail highlights the difference between how we see the quotidian sun versus what can be achieved digitally. Consummation by Lee provides a similarly rhythmic image of burning string accompanied with a slow Bach prelude. With a title like Consummation, one can’t help but think of sensuality and be gently lulled by the haltering classical music. When the music stops, the mechanical sounds of the projectors, DVD players and synchronizer in the room envelope the viewer. Salavon’s Catalogue of the Sun and Moon [sic]2 screens the slow metamorphosis of furnishings over one hour and 44 minutes as a commentary on the sameness of present-day furniture. At the speed of the sun, the items of the room morph into different materials and move about the room. The video is projected onto a screen leaned against the wall and is supposed to mimic a painting leaning against the wall. At AMOA-Arthouse, this illusion is broken as the video falls off the top left corner of the screen and onto the wall. Poor installation of Salavon’s work, the sound of interior fans cooling the two projectors as well as the high frequency buzzing of machines in close proximity make the video room uncomfortable and claustrophobic.

Hybrid Forms undoubtedly includes important works from artists in varying stages of their career. It is gratifying that collectors, museums and foundations in Central Texas have acquired these works and enabled AMOA-Arthouse to display them. However, the presentation of the exhibit on the first floor of the Jones Center seems hasty. Salavon’s work is not properly installed, wall labels had mistakes and no bench was provided for a video that is an hour and forty-four minutes long. As the museum reorganizes, I hope the curatorial staff will have the time and resources for more careful and considered installations.

Thao Votang writes fiction and helps organize Tiny Park in Austin, Texas.


1. http://blantonmuseum.org/exhibitions/details/teresita_fernandez_blind_landscape/
2. http://salavon.com/work/CatalogueSunAndMoon/image/254/

Ester Partegas
Chinati Foundation, Marfa
In residence June-September 2012

By Tanja Baudoin

Ester Partegàs, Images of artist's studio, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist, Foxy Production, NY and Christopher Grimes Gallery, Santa Monica, CA.

On the concrete floor of the Locker Plant building in downtown Marfa, a number of low formations are spread out. In the shape of rocks, they are made from crumpled paper and appear surprisingly sturdy. Printed in black and white, the blow-ups of photographed pebbles loom somewhat ominously in the front room. Slices of bread cast out of plaster are scattered and stacked near them in pink, green, blue and grey. The pastel shades lend a quality of softness to the fossilized bread slices and make them look like they are transposed from an Alice in Wonderland tea party. But this is not a cute work. What is going on here is a play with soft and hard textures, with organic and processed matter, in an unassuming and bold installation. As a product normally circumscribed by its expiration date, the bread has been granted a durable lifespan by the plaster at the cost of its organic essence. Next to it, the material properties of the stone-speckled paper formations reduce the rocks they depict to an expendable image that can be easily manipulated into new shapes. Ester Partegàs' sculptures provoke a perspective on some of the objects and products we encounter daily, revealing them as simultaneously volatile and monumental thanks to her treatment of materials.

This is a room in the studio space of Partegàs in Marfa. For a period of two and a half months, Partegàs worked here as part of the Chinati Foundation's Artist-in-Residence program. Her work can be viewed the coming weeks on appointment and all through the Chinati Weekend of 5-7 October.

In one of the rooms, work-in-progress is presented alongside her research. There are two arrangements of found objects placed on a table that include tamarind pods, pine cones and paper scraps. The work is an act of salvaging waste materials in the tradition of Arte Povera and assemblage. This type of work is also suggestive of a fetishistic approach to organizing ordinary items, a practice that an artist like Mark Dion has mastered. The main attraction of such work typically lies in the aestheticization of the humble object that reveals its potential as extraordinary and beautiful. In this respect, the work is certainly successful, yet it lacks a distinctiveness that would make it stand apart from other practices of this kind.

Partegàs’ paintings are more provocative and mystifying. They lean against the wall and jump out at you with their brightly colored beams, appearing like background illustrations for candy wrappers. They fit well with printed images of food products based on bizarre concepts such as "grapplesapples with the natural and artificial flavor of grapes." It is precisely the awkward combination of nature and artifice that seems to have captured Partegàs' fascination for such foods. Along with a collection of product labels stuck to a pedestal in the center of the room, these works explore the degree of artificiality that consumer products employ to foster a kind of fantasy-experience, apparently necessary to appeal to us as consumers. Instead of critically dismissing the mechanisms of consumerism, Partegàs exercises an inquisitive attitude that produces work that is considerably more interesting thanks to its flirtations with such mechanisms.

Another work involving a food product again takes the form of an arrangement of items, but this time of a single product, potato chips. They bring to mind Partegàs' earlier work, Organized Fries (2007-2010). As in these previous photographs, the placement of each chip next to the other scrutinizes their individual color, form and curvature, highlighting the differences contained in the mass-produced snack.

The final room consolidates the foregrounding of the disposable object in Partegàs' work. A collection of paper coffee cups, flower pots and buckets have been petrified in plaster, forever disengaged from their function as containers. They sit in constellations on the floor with one or two paper cigarette butts around them at three times their usual size. A couple of delicate small wooden growths are placed on top of the cups. They are spray-painted as if covered in radioactive moss, the fluorescent colors belying their natural origins. In the context of the plaster cups and pots, these strangely incongruous natural shapes introduce an esoteric element to the scene. This installation, more than the others, appears as what we typically consider 'finished' or 'installed work,' and yet is hardest to probe, making it most attractive for open readings and further projections.

Tanja Baudoin is a researcher-in-residence at Fieldwork: Marfa, and works at If I Can't Dance, I Don't Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

30th São Paulo Biennial: The Imminence of Poetics
São Paulo, Brazil
Through December 9

By Sarah Demeuse

30th São Paulo Biennial, 2012.

A biennial typically stands for density: we expect it to feature a lot of work and, due to its cyclicity and short lifespan, to create momentum. It also aims to say something about the now, usually resulting in a difficult relation between theme-based curating and a sheer interest in representing the present tout court. Biennials used to be all about national representation, and while they still proudly publish quota based on the participating artists' nationality, they've found a way to work around this prerequisite and have come to play a slicker global game.

The 30th São Paulo Biennial, curated by Luís Pérez-Oramas with associate curators Tobi Maier and André Severo and assistant curator Isabella Villanueva, certainly overwhelms in sheer numbers. It counts within the participation of 111 artistsa fifth of whom are from Brazil and about half from Latin-Americaand it features at least five times more artwork which, again, can be broken up into numerous items. A day-long visit to the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion hardly suffices to see the entire show.

Pérez-Oramas and his team went for an enigmatic and sufficiently broad title, "The Imminence of Poetics," that allowed them to link contemporary practices with earlier ones (such as Gego, Robert Filliou or even the "outsider" Arthur Bispo do Rosário). Refusing to propose a definitive narrative or statement about the now, the curators suggested four constellations that primarily highlight artistic method and material: survival, alterforms, voices and drifts. Despite the intention to draw multiple trajectories, this biennial mostly stands out for its slowed-down attention to individual artists (its success is certainly due in part to the clever museography). All in all, this biennial feels like an exhibition made up of about 100 separate small-sized solo shows, each of which aim to tell a precise story about a specific artist rather than a particular work or its connections to a piece made by someone else. While large-scale shows often err towards instrumentalizing work by fitting it into a curatorial straightjacket, this exhibition certainly didn't, yet in so doing it sacrificed coherence and lost its propositive appeal.

The highlight of this year's biennial was the ground floor, where connections between works were well-explored (for instance, in the relation between Daniel Steegmann's film contribution and Fernando Ortega's project, or between Steegmann's watercolors and Sheila Hick's mesmerizing "notebook" tapestries). Going up to the second and third floors of the pavilion, works became increasingly accumulative in tenor: using archival strategies (from Iñaki Bonillas to Fréderic Bruly Bouabré or Horst Ademeit) and often focusing on photography or the found object. Though such works stand strongly on their own, this multiplicity created, at least in my case, a decrease in attention and flattened out perception. Towards the end, I felt as if walking through an immense, materialized Google image or Youtube space. Within such a visual overload emerged a focus on a more literal "poetic," that of the written and spoken word, which oddly complemented the approach to the image or object as primary source information.

As longest-running and largest biennial in Latin America, the São Paulo Biennial continues to maintain its original educational calling; seeing these efforts at connecting art with a larger field of knowledge is always invigorating. As in previous editions, the amount of materials prepared for schools, educators, facilitators and even the attention to extended wall-labels is impressive and experimental. This year's expansion of the biennial into several venues across the city further extends this purpose to connect the thematics of the exhibition with life in the city. What's more, it relieves the biennial, at least in part, of the vision and specter of architect Oscar Niemeyer, which are ubiquitous and indeed confining in the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion.

Surely, this educational ambition stems from a time when arts accessibility was more restricted. An iconic moment for this biennial was, after all, the inclusion of Picasso's Guernica in the 1951 edition. This idea of bringing important art that hasn't been seen in South America continues to direct choices. While it's hard to judge the value or relevance of such international exposure, it did seem at times that recent highlights of the New York exhibition circuit (Mark Morrisroe, Franz Erhard Walther, Jutta Koether, Ei Arakawa) had been brought straight to São Paulo. That said, this biennial also led me to Brazilian and Latin-American artists (for instance, Thiago Rocha Pitta and Ícaro Zorbar) whose work will doubtlessly hit the North-American circuit soon. And perhaps this is what the 30th biennial eventually achieved: to plant the seeds of curiosity while being freed from the burden of an overarching discourse.

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.

Long Read

Letter to Donald Judd

By Josh Franco

To Donald Judd:

You never knew during your life that you were a part of mine. Frankly, neither did I for the first twenty odd years. My grandfather, Hipolito Hernandez, spent his childhood in Marfa, where your permanent collection and the foundations you began are thriving. When not traveling west as a farmworker, Hipolito grew up in the small house that shares the traffic circle with the entrance to the Chinati Foundation you renovated from a US Army base. He has memories of the German POW’s housed there taunting him and his childhood friends from over the walls. (These are the same POW’s whose wall drawings you have conscientiously preserved behind plexiglass.) In his adult life, he moved to Odessa, a town you are also familiar with. I know this from interviewing “Pepper” Parsons at Metal Fab Products in Odessa just last month. He now owns the shop, but when he was an employee there in the 1980s, it was he who convinced the then-owner to take on your odd commissions. He was involved in developing the esoteric techniques for producing your particular designs in Core-Ten and aluminum using machinery usually reserved for fabricating parts for the oil industry. (His nephew is also my oldest friend; we seem connected in quite a few odd, little ways.)

My name is Joshua T Franco. I am writing to you because I am participating in a summer course in Middelburg, Netherlands with professor Walter Mignolo. The course is titled “The New World (Dis)Order and the Challenge of Social Justice: Ethics and the Decolonial Option.” Phrases like “new world (dis)order” and “social justice” may ring as paranoid and conspiratorial or dated and overly-idealistic, but I cannot help how they land on your ears; I only know from experience how they often sound to others when I describe my research. My own work is particularly invested in one field in the network of those exploring the decolonial option, the possibility of a “decolonial aesthetics.” I will discuss this concept further, but first, I will explain why I am writing to you in particular following some additional background.

Though my grandfather moved, we still had (and have) family members, both living and dead, to visit in Marfa. My childhood was punctuated with these visits. I remember waking up early in the morning, stopping for pre-made burritos at any of the combo gas station/cafecitos scattered throughout West Texas, and setting off on the two and a half hour drive to Marfa. You’ve likely had your own fair share of chile verde, asado and frijoles tightly wrapped in warm tortillas. If it was summer, we might stop at the natural springs in Balmorhea. I was born in 1985. By that time, you were an established presence in town, in the midst of work on the fifteen works in concrete, I would later learn. But through all of those trips, I never heard your name. My family never spoke it; not by choice, nor ignorance, but something like a benign indifference. When we were in Marfa, it was in Spanish, with family and on a budget—quite a different way to inhabit Marfa than that practiced by the ten thousand plus pilgrims who visit your collections every year. Despite Marfa’s isolated smallness, where nothing in town is more than a ten-minute walk away, including your works, our inhabitation rarely acknowledged your own. After four years of focused dwelling on our multiple Marfa’s, I still am given pause by this fact.

I began to see and move in your Marfa as a result of my ongoing training as an art historian. By the time I entered college, your work had become canonical to the discipline, and as young, art-conscious Texans, it was nearly compulsory for my classmates and I to visit your Marfa. This is when it began to be mine also. How odd it was to go there not with my family, but with mostly white, mostly affluent friends from exclusively English-speaking homes. Their identities over-coded mine, as did my shifting stylized embodiment, and suddenly waiters, people in the streets and others in Marfa were reading me as another art-goer from elsewhere, and no longer a Chicano West Texan—a local. Now I am working on my dissertation, and the vibration resulting from having multiple Marfas beneath my feet provides both the energy and subject of that work.

What does it have to do with words like “decolonial option,” “decolonial aesthetics” and others from Mignolo and his peers I have yet to introduce but are related, like “colonial difference,” “border gnosis” and “de-linking”? Let’s imagine taking a walk through town together, and I will explain along the way.

As we leave the Chinati Foundation, my grandfather’s house is on the left at the traffic circle. Completing the circle are the public housing complex and the US Border Patrol office. The Border Patrol tower shines its light down on the area. Behind Hipolito’s former home there is an altar housing a statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe. The main structure of the altar is a discarded bathtub turned on its end and partially buried in largest tree in the yard. I tell you how the altar is there to mark an apparition of Guadalupe in 1994, coincidentally, the year of your passing. The apparition appeared at night for two weeks as a white shadow in the tree trunk. There is film footage of this phenomenon on a single decaying VHS tape. She appeared to Hector Sanchez, whose family lives in the house now. He passed shortly after completing the altar in 1997. He is survived by his wife, Ester, who has no difficulty maintaining both her belief in the auspiciousness of the apparition as well as her hypothesis that it was “caused” by the light from the Border Patrol tower coming through the tree’s leaves. I put “caused” in quotations because causality per se falters if one attempts to make a certain sense of her simultaneous faith and observation of the event’s phenomenological conditions of possibility. Perhaps you have never noticed the altar before. It has also drawn pilgrims for years, from Mexico, New Mexico and the local area, but these pilgrims are different from those who visit your works, and likely they have never taken notice of one another either.

We continue walking north and east. A few blocks and we are at the Blackwell School. Now a mostly inactive landmark, the school was historically where students of color in the area gained their education. Small and isolated as it is, Marfa experienced the same racial segregation in public education as did the rest of the country in the last century. Now it is a quasi-museum, and in large letters across the east facing exterior wall we see a quote in black florid script: “Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar.” Beneath that a name: Gloria E. Anzaldúa. You know enough Spanish to understand the idea. Addressing the walker, the author tells us there are no bridges, but that we make them in our moving. And who is Anzaldúa? I inform you there are conferences built around her work that take place in San Antonio. There is a society dedicated to the study of her work and legacies as a theorist, artist and an altogether new kind of protean being, the “new mestiza,” to use her term. Furthermore, she is a Tejana, from the border near the Gulf of Mexico. You wonder why you have never heard of her and why her words are writ large on a Marfa institution. I explain that you do not know for the same reasons I grew up not knowing your work, despite our proximity, that is, because of the “colonial difference.” This is a term I take from Walter Mignolo and the Modernity/Coloniality Collective, a group that has been in conversation for some years now developing a body of work committed to understanding our current global conditions as marked at every level by what they call the coloniality of race, gender, nature and power. Decoloniality observes that people still live lives affected by the religious and scientific formations of race and human/non-human distinctions deployed during the fifteenth century explorations of the new world and the Renaissance as part of the inception of a universalized system of capitalism. The “colonial difference” is how I understand that we are in different fields of vision and knowing even when we stand together in the same physical space. But perhaps this is too heavy for our pleasant walk through Marfa, and I recommend a couple of books you might check out. You’re an avid reader. I have seen your library, and am particularly jealous of your collection of books on indigenous North Americans.

Anzaldúa is also a part of the Modernity/Coloniality conversation. She was not part of the group directly—though Chicano/a thought and Decolonial thought lie near one another in many ways, there are key differences and different genealogies—but has been brought in as an important source of thinking for at least two participants, Walter Mignolo and María Lugones. Mignolo has taken her up in his articulation of “border gnosis” or “border thinking.” For him, this way of thinking is requisite in negotiating the colonial difference, if we are to do so in a way that is not nostalgic for a pre-colonized past, nor ignorant of the conditions of colonization that impact our lives daily at multiple registers. Rather than rehearse the examples from her work that Mignolo uses to illustrate border thinking however, let me attempt an example that might be more meaningful for you and me, as artists, philosophers, Texans.

Within Anzaldúa’s writing, there are passages that, as an art historian, I have identified as part of what might be called her aesthetic philosophy. In her book Borderlands/La Frontera, there is a subsection titled ‘Invoking Art.’ In it she distinguishes the dominant “Western aesthetic” by its operations of setting up rigorous systematicities, then demonstrating a virtuosic mastery of those systems. I understand this as aptly describing most work canonized in the discipline of art history, from geometrically driven Renaissance painting to your own impulse toward seriality, con-structed ratio-systems and pristine materiality. The most powerful experience through which I can recall my own sensation of the “virtuous Western aesthetic” is walking amongst your 100 works in milled aluminum. It is newly engaging every time I visit. The prisms capture the light and produce the space in their forceful way, and it is all I can do to push back with my walking in and around, taking them in one by one attempting to understand their simultaneous wholeness and singularities.

Against this, Anzaldúa poses the work of her “people, the shamans” for whom art is inseparable from everyday life. This work is immediately spiritual and political, in that spirituality is a source for political (read communal) action for them and for her. Here, an example we both now know might be the altar to Guadalupe’s apparition in Marfa. The motivations behind its construction are wholly different from your own. They come from a Mexican American Catholicism that carries traces of pre-Colombian figuration manifest in colonially imposed forms and mythologies. It was constructed to mark a site not by meticulously manipulating light and physical space but by alluding to the supernatural, the sacred that is invisible most of the time but markedly auspicious when present. There is nothing invisible about your work. It defies allusion. The binary Anzaldúa constructed is not satisfactory for me, and I understand border thinking as a method by which to address my dissatisfaction. Speaking solely from the example of your work, the first half of the binary allows no space for understanding the political, philosophical work moving through the manipulation of metal, concrete and plexiglass. It makes no space for investigating the large body of writing and activism you left behind. You have thought importantly and much about the conditions of the country where we live, and been critical even of its critics. As your own writing and the work of scholars like David Raskin have demonstrated, you rigorously investigated anarchism, the politics of space and the problems of centralized government, and investigation is inextricable from the ratios and systems that guided your pen and hand in designing the works and spaces you have left us in Marfa and elsewhere.

The latter part of the binary leaves no room for investigating the form of an object like the altar. Giving primacy to its allusiveness to the supernatural beyond disallows, or makes difficult, a reading of the object as congealed labor. How are we to discuss the Mexican factory from which the statue was sourced and its complicity with racist capitalism? Or the local Marfa hands who painted it as imbricated in the discourse of scarcity, labor and resources in West Texas?

These are just the questions. The process of border thinking would be a rigorous attempt to form more in the blind spots of Anzaldúa’s binary, for me, and an attempt to think through them together, reaching across the colonial difference, making a bridge as we walk, where one has not been provided for us. Each step of this process might then be identified as a “de-linking,” another term central for the Modernity/Coloniality group. De-linking is not abandonment, but precisely this inhabitation of spaces produced by the inhabitation of them. It’s difficult, but worthwhile work, or so I believe. I wonder what you would say.

“Decolonial aesthetics” then would be a way to name, say, a project you and I might take on in the studio as a result of these conversations. Or better, a project we might take on not isolated in the studio, but with other Marfans. I wonder, for instance, if we might identify a decolonial aesthetic in your daughter’s film work. In Rainer’s still roughly edited film, or so she herself notes—which she has generously shared anyway—Marfa Voices, there is a serious attempt to pay equal attention to voices from the contradictory sites that feed Marfa’s production, from Paula Cooper, ensconced well within the New York ‘arterati,’ to the assistants and groundskeepers who were your company in Marfa, locals who still speak highly of you, following their reticence at your first appearance in our small, West Texas town. But there I go, perhaps setting up another binary against my own critique of such a construction…de-linking requires a new vocabulary, or perhaps we might start from materials first and worry about the words later. I think that is our privilege as artists. At least we have a few words, which I hope I have convincingly presented to you here. I wonder what you might have thought of all of this…

From the Netherlands where I sit, from West Texas where we think, Josh T Franco

Josh T Franco is currently in the PhD program in Art History at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York. He is a researcher in the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture. A native Texan, he returns as often as possible.


Recommended Readings:

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 4th ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 2012.

Judd, Donald. Complete Writings 1959-1975. Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975.

Lugones, María. Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

Mignolo, Walter. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

Raskin, David. Donald Judd. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Stockebrand, Marianne. Chinati: The Vision of Donald Judd. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Announcements: ...MBG Recommends

where is the power
Forth Worth Contemporary Arts
August 25 - October 27, 2012

Liam Gillick, It’s a poor sort of memory that only runs backwards, 2010, Vinyl text, .75 x 10.5 inches. Courtesy of Terri Thornton.

Curated by artist and Curator of Education at The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Terri Thornton, where is the power, is the bright spot in Fort Worth’s current exhibition offerings. Works by Liam Gillick, Mona Hatoum, Glenn Ligon and Cornelia Parker are just a few of the offerings Thornton has skillfully grouped together under the auspices of thinking about the notion of ‘power.’ Beautifully nuanced and complex, the works in the exhibition diverge and rub up against our typical definitions for the word. Power is located in place, love, politics and abstraction to name only a few of the many examples. Gillick’s text, taken from Lewis Carroll’s Alice: Through The Looking Glass, is both the jumping off point for the exhibition and the piece that greeted me upon entering the space. ‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only runs backwards’ read the small vinyl letters, first in English and mirrored in Spanish directly below. Centrally located and floating on a large white wall the phrase echoes throughout the show, occupying the largest amount of ‘space’ with the smallest of gestures. Provocative and evasive, qualities familiar to those fans of Gillick’s work, the piece dovetails nicely with Alejandro Cesarco’s film Zeide Issac and Josiah McElheny’s Three Historical Mirrors, to name a few. There’s the hook. Power comes in and out of focus as you move through each work, recalling a previous piece or catching a glimpse of one not yet seen. The permutations become increasingly expansive making a visit, or two, most assuredly worth your time.

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

Added on 2012-09-12 21:14:49

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