from the editor
Since 2003 this space has been host to countless opinions, introductions and questions. A forum for the editorial voice, it is the place where I and each of my predecessors has had the freedom to advocate for the ideas most consequential to us without fear or censorship. While the form has shifted under each editorship these core ideas remain unchanged. A look back through our archives will give you a sense of the breadth of opinion and discussion that makes its home here. Yet this letter is only the tip of the spear. What consistently follows are reviews, interviews, essays, recommendations and projects penned by writers and artists from localities around the world. These are the heart of ...might be good and we would not be the publication we are without them. As we celebrate our 200th issue I cannot reiterate my gratitude to our many contributors enough. You live in different communities, have divergent opinions, backgrounds and tastes but together under our umbrella you are ...mbg. Thank you!
I also want to extend my heartfelt thanks to ...mbg’s tireless founder Laurence Miller whose commitment to this publication, artists, writers and curators is electrifying. When I was a cynical graduate student the conversation and vision I saw being hashed out on the pages of ...mbg and walls of testsite gave me hope for what Texas could be; likely keeping me, and others, in the Capital City. I’ve also had the absolute privilege of working with Emily Ng during my tenure, and without her tireless efforts ...mbg would only be a collection of Word documents and images on my hard drive. I'd also like to thank our donors, especially Mike Chesser whose bold and enlightened support of arts organizations and ideas is unparalleled in Austin. Mike gives from his heart and out of a genuine belief in the necessity of art and artists in our daily lives.
So here we are, issue #200. In celebration we’ve put together a substantial issue for you. Two outstanding interviews start things off. The first is from ...mbg founder, curator and writer Regine Basha who talks to artist Nina Katchadourian. Hot on the heels of Wendy Atwell’s review of her exhibition at the Linda Pace Foundation PhD candidate and writer Kate Green picks Shahzia Sikander’s brain, discovering insights into her practice and the performance that accompanied her animated video, The Last Post. A pair of Long Reads keep up the pace. Israeli-based artist Gilad Efrat currently has a stunning exhibition up at Inman Gallery in Houston and SMU professor, artist and writer Noah Simblist contributes an engaging essay on his work. Through the lens of archaeology, history and politics Simblist deftly examines Efrat’s current paintings. ‘Art Horoscopes’, by former ...mbg editor and writer Wendy Vogel, rounds out the section with a sign by sign look into the art world zodiac.
It wouldn’t be an issue of ...mbg without reviews and we’ve got two of them for you. From Houston, writer Rachel Hooper writes thoughtfully about Debra Barrera’s exhibition Kissing in Cars, Driving Alone at Moody Gallery. The Art Institute of Chicago is currently host to a retrospective of Steve McQueen’s work and writer Patrick Bobilin gets to the heart of its successes and failures in his review. Artist and writer Mary Walling Blackburncontributes to our Artists’ Words feature this issue with a humorous and biting story about the naming of a sandwich. We wrap up the issue back in Houston, with artist and filmmaker Kelly Sears providing our Project Space–a source list of references and inspiration for her films and thinking.
Before signing-off I would like to extend my sympathies to those effected by Hurricane Sandy. I encourage you to offer your support to the many institutions and individuals who suffered loses due to the storm. There are many outlets for your donation but those of us here at Fluent~Collaborative would like to humbly recommend two that are particularly close to our hearts. Project Space contributors Ghost of a Dream are residents at Smack Mellon, whose studios and galleries suffered major flooding and damage from the storm. Printed Matter, one of the absolute finest resources for artists’ publications in the world, was also swamped and could use some helping hands.
We’d love to hear about your favorite issues of ...mbg either by emailing us at: email@example.com, finding us on Facebook, posting a comment on the site, or reaching out on Twitter by following @mbgETC.
Thank you for your ongoing support and readership!
Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.
Debra Barrera: Kissing in Cars, Driving Alone
Moody Gallery, Houston
Through November 21
By Rachel Hooper
Debra Barrera, Disco Sun Shade, 2012, Automotive Sun Shade, Spotlight, Dimensions Variable. Courtesy of the artist and Moody Gallery, Houston, Texas.
Debra Barrera’s drawings have been haunting my dreams. They are nothing short of beautiful, with deep dark marks of graphite on barren white sheets of paper outlining automobiles that seem to be trapped behind the glass of the frames, frozen in suspended moments, and caught in a sort of cold, car purgatory. Their beauty is tinged with loneliness and longing as if the cars were containers for some sort of ineffable emotions. On the most practical level, cars get you from point A to point B. Barrera’s vehicles, mostly nostalgic models from the thirty or forty years ago, are up to something different. Driverless cars sit parked on the moon, suspended in free fall off the side of a cliff, or lined up next to each other as if in a race. They are not filling their typical function of driving, but still have some sense of personality and tinges of a soul.
The inspiration for Barrera’s series came from a trip to the junkyard, where the artist found various items left in discarded cars—a precious moments bible, melted deflated balloons, a tiara, and a Mr. Goodbar pencil. She photographed these items individually against white backgrounds and hung them as a set of small inkjet prints in white frames at the entrance to the exhibition. Without the materiality of seeing the actual objects on display, the things exist only as images, lose specificity, and have more cryptic meanings. The photographs are not explained in the context of the gallery, and only by asking the artist or reading her website does one learn the backstory of her retrieval of the items. For Barrera, these objects signify a “moment of surrender” when the car they were found in stopped carrying people or their memories, and only these artifacts remain to hint at a past life. Her study of this surrender has taken her in a number of directions: making drawings, writing poems, assembling sculptures from found objects, and reenacting a story of a car and its parallel life.
For the past two years, Barrera has shown mostly sculptural work. Given her past successes, it is curious that the three-dimensional objects in this exhibition mostly fall flat. A round suitcase painted with automotive paint and filled with mementos is too literal a simile for the idea of cars as containers of memories. Her plexiglass boxes filled with tree air fresheners are an interesting concept, as the little trees are deprived of their utility when their scent trapped in the boxes, but they lack visual appeal. The strongest sculptural works in this exhibition are two humble found objects that play with light—a silver windshield sunshade mounted on the ceiling under gallery lights to cast reflections in an aurora borealis pattern and a rearview mirror from a Pontiac firebird placed under a spotlight. The abstract shapes and patterns of light cast on the wall relate poignantly to what Barrera is getting at in her drawings and photographs—that physical objects can reflect and magnify the intangible. Just as light can only be seen when it hits a surface, so too can memories only be visible outside the body when they leave traces on things like bibles, balloons, and cars.
A video on a flat screen tucked away in the corner of the gallery shows a model rocket on a launch pad. By picking up a remote control launcher and pressing the ignition button the rocket sets off and flies into the air. The footage is a straightforward shot of a rocket being launched in a field, but it evokes a sense of play and excitement. A wall label explains that the video records an action by the artist where she drove to see the Saturn V rocket and then, at the Challenger Memorial Park, set off the model rocket in its memory. Barrera has a Blaffer Art Museum “Window into Houston” project that opens Wednesday November 7 that will also relate to this project. The installation, which will involve a 1986 Firebird, promises to be visually exciting, and one looks forward to seeing where this vector of the artist’s research will take her.
Rachel Hooper is a PhD student in art history at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Art Institute of Chicago
Through January 6, 2013
By Patrick Bobilin
Steve McQueen, Exodus, 1992/97. Photo courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York /Paris; and Thomas Dane Gallery, London.
To remain true to their donors and to keep a foot on the contemporary pedigreed institutions are forced to dance very delicately with the moving image. With Steve McQueen and his eponymous retrospective, The Art Institute of Chicago has found a fitting body of work to appease their various audiences from rigorous academics to casual visitors. The Art Institute attempted to softly conflate McQueen’s feature-length film work with his shorts and installation works by running free screenings of both films (2008’s Hunger and 2011’s Shame) for the sake of banking on his notoriety outside of the art world. Thankfully, the focus remains almost completely limited to McQueen’s film work for the gallery exhibition, with work shown across walls, on monitors, in individual rooms, running through film projectors and looped digital projections.
The museum, curator and McQueen have avoided the missteps of similarly spectacular installations by creating an exhibition that is measured and austere, highlighting McQueen’s modernist tendencies. Space is given to large-scale projections, including a massive triangular projection surface on which the trilogy of Bear, Five Easy Pieces, and Just Above My Head force the viewer back—pragmatically through projection placement and emotionally through the monumental object itself—onto the benches where one’s view is rarely obstructed by other works. The architecture of the installation is masterfully articulated. What the installation offers the work, which exhibitions of single objects never could have, is the kind of modernist power found in the installation of works from Donald Judd or Robert Morris. The literalist shape of the triangle upon which the trilogy is projected communicates the formidable power of the three films; rather than collapsing the three works onto one another for mutual support, the structure makes these films experientially and spatially monumental through a multi-directional inescapability rather than the unidirectional format of the screening rooms lining the perimeter of the exhibition.
New for American audiences familiar with McQueen’s work are Queen and Country, exhibited for the first time outside of the UK, and End Credits, a 6-hour exhumation of documents and testimony gathered by the FBI (and obtained by McQueen through the Freedom of Information Act) during their 30 year long surveillance of activist, performer and anti-imperialist Paul Robeson.
In an interview with The Guardian, Adrian Serle claims it difficult to fit Queen and Country within the context of McQueen’s oeuvre1 without addressing how much of McQueen’s work pursues issues of formalism and portraiture throughout art history. What is contemporary about McQueen is his acknowledgement that his subjects will have identity forced upon them resulting in a degree of political agency missing in much contemporary work, making Queen and Country all the more potent.
Without the pathos found in Queen and Country, McQueen’s new work End Credits, with its fast scrolling page-after-page chronological illustration of data and dictation of information results in the exhaustion of information overload. Overly removed and uninvested, in a way unlike any of the other works on display, the work suffers from the problems of much research-based art from the last decade. Through curatorial text and even a quick Google search, the affective importance of the work is obvious, but without a motion capture apparatus, McQueen’s implicit commentary turns cold and administrative. Simply creating a work seems less an exercise in duration or comment on the FBI’s century long commitment to absurd amounts of surveillance and more of McQueen’s own exhaustion in beginning to contemplate the summit of this mountain of material.
Given America’s comparably heavier investment in the Iraq war and the profound changes in government surveillance in the last decade, both Queen and Country and End Credits can’t help but imply a lack of relevant political content and self-reflexivity in American contemporary art as compared to work in the UK. When the curatorial text forces a weak association between Western Deep/Caribs’ Leap and the images of defenestration from September 11, 2001, the absence of such commentary from U.S. artists seems glaringly obvious.
For McQueen, the body is a political site, a medium for transcendence, a corporeal and legislative vessel vulnerable to both literal and figurative invasion. In this respect, Static is an introduction to how all of the work functions throughout the exhibition. However, projected in the front of the exhibition and made into a massive object through its free-hanging 20-foot projection screen, it seems positioned to appease the rubbernecking tourists the museum caters to through its proximity to Millennium Park and the other must-visits of Michigan Avenue. While painting an expertly articulated portrait of the Statue of Liberty, the work has little of the pointed rumination of the other works and instead appeals to the inclination of tourists to encounter the familiar. Perhaps this is a highly calculated point of attraction to open audiences to McQueen’s work, or perhaps this is the sort of pandering that leads the already initiated art audience to feel condescended to. However, the low light of the exhibition allows the spectacle to balance with the solemnity of most of the subject matter. So rarely does a museum that caters (and even encourages in its advertising) to aggressive rubbernecking allow for meditative experiences. McQueen has forced the institution into a curious position where, in order to use his celebrity, they must build such a labyrinthine and solemn auratic experience.
Approaching difficult material with careful movements, institutions have so much at stake that curators in these institutions are often saddled with an unbecoming timidity toward social politics, not to mention the specter of wealth that haunts all major institutional projects. More often than not, McQueen is one of the few blue chip artists whose hands are clean. Support for the Royal Mail and Ministry of Defense challenging Queen and Country is coming from The Art Fund and much of Steve McQueen’s sponsorship coming from The Warhol Foundation and contemporary collectors Donna and Howard Stone. This collaboration between institution and subject is an example of the inspired ways in which an artist applies constructive institutional criticism on the boundaries of an institution’s conservatism while adopting models of presentation that are befitting of the inevitable canonization that such exhibitions invariably result in.
Patrick Bobilin is a Chicago-based artist, educator and director of Noble & Superior Projects.
By Regine Basha
Regine Basha [RB]: So to set the record straight, or to set it crooked where it should be.......I wanted to share with our readers your trajectory, as an artist and as a person with multiple interests.
First of all, for those readers and viewers new to your work (which is very well documented on ninakatchadourian.com), there very well might be a presumption- given your name - that you come directly from the Middle East - especially now since the increased visibility for artists circulating the international circuit (from Cairo, Beirut, Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dabi, and neighboring countries for instance). Let's start with this unruly question that nobody likes to be asked: Where are you from exactly? How do you identify your cultural background?
Nina Katchadourian [NK]: When I'm in New York and someone asks me where I'm from, I say "I'm from California, but I live in New York." I still feel somewhat adamant about making the point that I didn't grow up in New York. When I'm asked where my family is from, I say that my mother is Finnish and my father is Armenian, although that's really the short version of the much longer answer. In a way, the much longer answer is part of what motivated me to make a project in 2005 called Accent Elimination, where I worked with my parents and a speech coach to teach them to speak "Standard American English" and to teach me to speak with each of their accents.
I don't see my family story as very special, by the way; I think it's in fact a very American story, in fact. The ethnic ingredients in my family might just be a bit more odd or improbable, that's all. I'm certainly more American than anything else. I was born in suburban California and grew up there. I do also feel strong connections elsewhere, probably nowhere more so than Finland, where I've spent part of every year since I was a kid. There are many things about Finland specifically that have been influential or formative, and I could get into the details of the particular natural landscape or ways in which I've been encouraged to pay attention to those details. But the experience of distance, and of translations between places, even the disorientation that leads to a productive kind of confusion has informed my practice, I would say. Lately, I've even become keenly aware of how much all that time on planes as a kid has had its after-effects.
[RB]: I first learned about your work through InSite, a San Diego/Tijuana-based organization I worked for in 1997. At that time your project for them in 1994 CARPARK was still being hailed as one of the best that ever happened with InSite. I was kind of in awe of what you and your collaborators did, and I can say that it had a huge impact on my own curatorial work and interests from then on. Can you talk a bit about your early work and interests in Grad school and post grad school back in San Diego - who were you surrounded by? What or who made an impact on you at that time ? Did you feel at home as a 'West Coast artist' ?[NK]: I'm shocked to hear that! I never thought inSITE cared much for CARPARK, to tell you the truth. It's been interesting, in recent years, to think about how that piece might now be cast as a "social practice project." It did seem very much the result of many years of living and working in a community of artists, and in the climate of UCSD, that was informed by the art/life conversation, and the tradition of performance, as influenced by Kaprow and others who taught there. And perhaps the even more important part was the fact that it was a collaboration, with Steven Matheson and Mark Tribe. There was a lot of collaborating during those years, and it happened quite successfully. We also considered it important to try to work together with each other. I feel wistful about this at times, since part of the reason I think it was possible and fruitful was that we weren't so stuck in our own methods yet, or as dug into the identity of our individual practice. I barely knew what I was doing when I got to grad school. Collaborating was a way of learning from my peers, as well as trying to see where there might be combustion when you put them together with the ideas of others in a way that wouldn't happen working alone.
[RB]: Recently you mentioned finding the tapes to your grad school crits, which I would imagine being both fascinating and terrifying! Is there anything that stayed with you from that time? Any ideas, fears, aspirations that continue to resonate or reappear in your work since those dialogues?[NK]: It was a few years ago, yes. The conversation that had been recorded was my MFA review, for which we had to assemble a committee, and we were allowed to tape it. In the room were (as best I can remember) Helen and Newton Harrison, David Antin, and George Lewis (from the music department). One interesting detail here is that at the end of the conversation the student was asked to leave the room, which I did, but I left the tape player running. I remembered once I was outside, but I didn't exactly rush back in to turn it off. In the meantime, my faculty kept talking, until someone noticed, and turned it off. (There wasn't anything said that was shocking to hear, except for the absolute scrambling of facts that one of my advisers had about my life details, which comes back to your first question.) David Antin did have one comment that made a huge impression back then. When I heard it about a decade and a half after grad school, I was shocked at how insightful it was then, even how prescient it seemed.
[RB]: Testsite, the project initiated by Fluent~Collaborative was actually inspired by a story you told me long ago about having the opportunity to make a work in your friend's house early on - and how that project became, in many ways, a gestation period for so many works to come. I don't know if it was the charge of the domestic setting per se, or the freedom to experiment in a more casual setting outside the studio or gallery, what would you say about it? i.e; Could you recount for us here what that project was and how it may have had this effect on your thinking or future projects?[NK]: The project you're remembering was called The Half Moon Bay Experiment and it was a six of us in grad school who hatched the idea to live together in a house for week and make work with what we found there. We had an undergraduate friend interested in curating, and she convinced her parents to host us for a week. They kindly agreed. They were not art collector types, or particularly engaged in contemporary art—they were nice and generous people who wanted to support their daughter and her friends. I remember that the woman was a real estate agent in the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay. We holed up in the house for a week and set to work. It was a very interesting and formative project, yes, for the way it involved improvisation and making use of limited materials. There was a nice, loose camaraderie among our group, and quite an age span (I was the youngest, at 23, and the oldest was 45). I got interested in working with the books in their library, and my project in that house became the first iteration of a project now known, twenty years later, as the Sorted Books project.
This approach to the everyday (as something of value and full of potential) and a methodology that at best links rigor with play were really important lessons learned through that project.
Regine Basha, ever your independent curator and writer.
By Kate Green
Shahzia Sikander, The Last Post (still), 2010. Courtesy of the Artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., NY.
Artist Shahzia Sikander, best known for her contemporary take on the Indo-Persian tradition of miniature painting, was born in Pakistan and is based in New York City but has several Texas connections. Shortly after completing her MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1995, she was a Core Fellow at the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and in 2001 she was a resident artist at Artpace San Antonio. Currently, her animated video The Last Post is on view, along with several drawings, at the Linda Pace Foundation. Recently, via email, she fielded my questions about her process, work, and a performance that was presented in conjunction with The Last Post during its opening in San Antonio.
Kate Green [KG]: What kind of satisfaction do you get from working with animation versus works on paper?
Shahzia Sikander [SS]: Animations are to a great degree dependent on the drawings, especially successful drawings, since all nuances and marks are magnified in HD format. Ideas housed on paper are put into motion to create disruption. They suspend the idea of narrative inherent in the illustrative nature of miniature painting and present it as a multi faceted interpretation, open to contamination. Sound too aides navigation, creating an immersive environment. Both forms are important to my practice. I develop and test ideas by moving between the two formats.
[KG]: How does layering play into your work within each format?[SS]: Layering is a concept running throughout my practice. It can be seen in literal and metaphorical ways in all of my work.
In terms of drawing, there are the small detailed ones done on a single sheet of paper. They are constructed through the build up of ink and gouache with lots of burnishing between the layers. The dense surface thus gains tension by trapping and reflecting light. Then there are the large wall/room installations created with vertical scroll-like drawings hung in multiple layers. The paper used here is thin and layered at times in extreme depth so as to allow a viewer to literally walk into the piece. The papers are hung from the ceiling and move about emphasizing the physicality of the material. One can hear the paper create its presence. This type of work is also theatrical and ephemeral in nature. Site-specific and temporary direction in my work came about from a desire to break out of the preciousness of the small detailed works while embracing the conflict of scale and labor.
[KG]: Can you say more about what you mean by “conflict of scale and labor?”[SS]: Detailed miniature drawings can swallow large amounts of time, months at end. The process is very structured. The work is built in layers till it is completed. On the other hand, large-scaled works painted directly on the wall may take a few weeks or less. Early in my practice I became interested in shifting scale to test impact. Certain images became much more charged and confrontational moving from 10 inches to 30 feet. Also, tensions were built by juxtaposing precision and exactitude with gestural mark-making and uncertainty.
Scale and labor are intrinsically interwoven in my practice. Animations can take a long time to create but they can exist simultaneously in multiple locations and in varying dimensions via technology.
Compression of scale is not about compression of time either. Small-scale can become much more elaborate as it requires a certain condensing of ideas. The suggestion of space may be small in size but heroic in depth and dimension. The pursuit of detail—not the decorative kind but of the nano—is an engagement with time. Digging deep to find the minutest of detail tends to make one see things differently. Intensive labor is also one of the facets of time. Shifting between scales is also an exercise in determining a site, location, the in-between space or maybe a gap between two positions.
[KG]: Back to layering, how does function in an animation such as The Last Post?[SS]: The first few animations came about by layering separate drawings and images in photoshop and then re-arranging them in varying sequences as well as varying opacities. The process was intuitive and to a certain degree, the multi-layered large-scale drawing installations naturally led to the direction of making animations. In the making of The Last Post, there was a specific direction, sequence, and structuring, though the layers continue to be assembled via photoshop and special effects.
[KG]: What about text? How does the content of texts or its form—traditions of calligraphic writing—play into your work?[SS]: Text can loosely be put in two categories, one that informs me (literature, contemporary writing, journals, newspapers etc) and one that takes shape in the work. Text in my work is a tool to explore ideas about translation.
How is translation related to the original? Is original just a concept? What is the distance between the original and its translation and at what point does the translation become an original? I find myself interested in pondering such ideas, especially in light of certain texts that shift between east and west or say between Arabic and Hebrew translations in transmitting stories. To some extent I am engaging the formal aspects of writing too, as I am interested in its extension into design.
Then there is also the segregation of text from image, especially in the Indo-Persian miniature painting tradition. The paintings were often torn out of their original book context—and inter-play of image and text. This created a disjuncture and a visual unfamiliarity with the Arabic /Persian script accompanying the paintings. Whether removed voluntarily or by force, the dislocation was set in motion. Often the use of writing for me draws upon all such implications as I think about translation’s relationship to a tradition, and tradition with all its inherent redactions.
[KG]: Do you story-board a major work like The Last Post or does it develop more intuitively from formal experimentation?[SS]: It happens simultaneously. Drawing is quite a fundamental activity for me and its nature does dictate a certain intuitive approach. I will have an idea that initiates the work. Usually I will do some simple diagrammatic drawings focusing on aspects that seem clear from the start. Once I gain momentum, I will go back and forth, elaborating and editing. At this stage I will also engage the composer about the music.
I often make changes till the very end. I don't think I can work in a linear manner. I tend to dwell on multiple aspects, all at once, sometimes not the best strategy to employ.
[KG]: Does the key figure in The Last Post—you have referred to him as the ‘Company Man’—have a back-story for you? Is he both a character and a vehicle for abstraction?[SS]: The ‘Company Man’ is a play on the word ‘Company,’ as in the East India Company. In part, it comes out of my interest in the colonial history of the sub-continent. The Last Post uses, as a point of departure, the oscillating trade relations between East India Company and China over opium. The protagonist is an East India Company man who appears in various guises throughout the piece, often as a lurking threat in the imperial rooms of the Mughal Empire, which once ruled much of South Asia. As he disintegrates, he also becomes a metaphor for the collapse of the Anglo-Saxon hegemony over China.
In developing this piece, I was also looking for a visual space in which to create a series of drawings which would link my interest in miniature painting and the school of painting I refer to as the Company School: a style of painting whose visual language developed in eighteenth-century India as Europeans sought documentation of the country’s exotic plants, animals, and architecture.
I am always seeking elements with ‘possibilities’—whether they exist as symbols and motifs in my surroundings or from historical sources—with the intent to alter or cultivate new associations. In this instance, the ‘company man’ also functions as a vehicle for abstraction jostling for domination with other stylized forms.
[KG]: Can you talk about your collaboration with composer and performer Du Yun?[SS]: The nature of our collaboration is quite fluid. In response to my drawings, she composed the music for The Last Post in her own sensibility and style. Du Yun is very gestural as a composer and there is an overlap in terms of my use of movement to disrupt static space. I often use a gestural relationship to materials—like ink—to draft out a series of images. She also writes linearly to compose a non-linear event. She is able to work well with the rhythm and transitions I employ in the animations and has often spoken about her approach as if she were writing an opera or creating a musical universe or a stage.
The collaboration really started when I invited her to participate with me for Hou Hanru’s inaugural exhibition By Day, By Night, or Some (Special) Things a Museum Can Do, at the Rockbund Museum in Shanghai in 2010. Apart from requesting her to compose music for my animation work, we started throwing ideas about doing a multi-media project for Shanghai as well. Du Yun is from Shanghai and I had never been there so I was very interested in the idea of Shanghai as a site of imagination or fantasy. Du Yun was quite comfortable in front of the camera playing out different personas and we ended up filming her in two distinct personalities. The resulting work, Gossamer, was shown in Shanghai alongside The Last Post.
As I reflect on it now, Gossamer has an interesting parallel to a painting I did decades ago (The Scroll , 1990-92) where I depicted myself as a diaphanous form that moves freely between a tightly represented interior space which could be a frozen moment in time. In the video Gossamer, Du Yun travels freely between two positions or locations, the contemporary and historical, New York and Shanghai, the US and China, the personal and the psychological space.
[KG]: Can you talk about the Du Yun performance that accompanied the opening of The Last Post at the Linda Pace Foundation. Does it further your animation?[SS]: Having Du Yun perform live to The Last Post came about after making Gossamer, which includes Du Yun performing but silent. For The Last Post performance, I invited Du Yun to create sound in response to my visual language. I did not dictate what I wanted and her improvisation is very much at the core of the collaboration. The performance is theatrical and the process of live synthesizing lends raw energy to the experience. In other performances, other musicians have been invited to participate also. The score remains fixed but is delivered in varying ways, often highlighting the more dramatic points in The Last Post.
[KG]: How have audiences responded to these live performances with The Last Post?[SS]: The reception to the work has varied dramatically. Some people love the unexpected nature of seeing the composer take on the stage with her very strong presence. Others have told me that the live performance was a distraction from the visual beauty of the animation. I am open to all types of feedback. I like the tension created in the live performances. I have often aimed to create a subversive attitude towards beauty, one which is open to contamination. While for me The Last Post exists primarily as a work in itself intact with the music composed for it, placing it alongside the live performance can lend it a certain vulnerability. This is intentional.
Kate Green is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Texas at Austin, with a dissertation focusing on Vito Acconci’s performative work from the early 1970s. She has written art criticism for publications such as Artforum.com, ArtPapers and Modern Painters.
Gilad Efrat: Imagined Histories of an Archaic Past
By Noah Simblist
Gilad Efrat, Tamarisk, 2012, Oil on linen, 51 x 86-1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Inman Gallery, Houston, Texas.
The Israeli artist Gilad Efrat has worked with imagery that includes aerial shots of Europe during WWII, desert landscapes, an Israeli prison named Ansar and portraits of apes. His work is currently on view at Inman Gallery in Houston, including paintings that depict salt cedars, moonscapes, and the tattered shells of Bedouin encampments. Much of the imagery relates in some way to the Negev desert in the south of Israel.
Efrat has said, “I’m not a figurative artist, I’m always involved with fragments.”1 His process involves gridding out the source photograph and working slowly, cell by cell, to produce a painted analog. In this sense, the paintings are made like an archaeological site, which is often gridded to keep track of objects and structures found in the dig.2 If a fragment is found it is mapped and catalogued as a point in a larger system that includes objects and architecture, which serve as the props and the stage in which social histories are acted out.
His use of aerial photographs might promise the pleasures of an omniscient point of view by resisting discrete fragments and instead focusing on the whole. The use of the “big picture” as opposed to individual details could also suggest grand narratives that provide answers to the contradictions found on the ground. Michel de Certeau asks “To what erotics of knowledge does the ecstasy of reading such a cosmos belong?...I wonder what is the source of this pleasure in “seeing the whole.”3 He answers that in the voyeuristic embrace of a totalizing view, we mistakenly believe that we possess the true knowledge about what we are looking at. This sense of power in relation to perception is at the center of Efrat’s aerial images.
“I am looking at something very far in order to see what’s closest to me. I am talking about my own body, processing the same destruction I find in the other,” Efrat has said.4 In this statement he is comparing the practice of painting and the practice of archaeology as paradoxical exercises. He makes his paintings by starting with a solid color and rubbing away like “rummaging in an open wound.”5 Similarly, archaeological digs begin with a single flat plane of space and are conducted through a process of digging through layers to reveal an image. The difference between the two practices is that archaeology is supposedly objective, while art making is a subjective enterprise.
Efrat explicitly says that he needs to go to something far away in order to get to something close. But what does this spatial analogy refer to? In one sense the scale of the original photographs depicts an image from a considerable distance. These photographs were taken from a plane hundreds of meters in the sky in order to get at an overview image. This seems to give us (and Efrat) a perspective that is more omniscient and less subjective than a viewpoint from the ground. We can see both the grid of the urban plan and the archaeological grid that creates a cognitive distance. But when we look at the paintings in person, like Avdat (1998), we see faint traces of the painted grid as well. Contrary to the distance of the aerial photographs, this grid is concurrent with the flatness of the picture plane. It signifies the absence of distance. When we see the subtle gestures left behind from the paint wiped away, we also get a sense of the materiality of paint on the surface of the image.
Efrat has said that “they feel like no place or every place…they belong to us but don’t. They are distant but incredibly close.”6 What would this statement mean if he wasn’t talking as a painter of archaeological images but rather as an archaeologist working within the Israeli paradigm? Would the dualities of nationalism, historical perspective and ownership apply? The archaeological sites in the Judean desert serve as an example.
In 1993, Israel was scheduled to withdraw from the West Bank in accordance with the Oslo accords. The area around Jericho was to be turned over to the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Antiquities Authority launched “Operation Scroll.” This emergency set of excavations involved sixteen teams of archaeologists who combed a sixty-mile stretch of the Jordanian valley, looking for Jewish scrolls or other remnants of the Second Temple period.7
This operation sparked a fierce debate between Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists about who had rightful ownership of archaeological finds in a territory with ambiguous sovereignty. This issue was put on the agenda for peace negotiations regarding the final status of Israel-Palestine after the temporary solution outlined by the Oslo agreements. There was a legal dimension to these negotiations that was raised by the Palestinians. The Hague Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring cultural artifacts out of an occupied territory. This was to prevent one nation from plundering the cultural property of another. But the Israeli argument was that it is not clear who owns the cultural property from sites like Jericho. If a city or area like Jericho has been governed and inhabited by many cultures then who is its rightful owner? Does Israel have the right to claim any examples of Jewish inhabitants in order to preserve its own cultural history?
These debates about the ownership of both territory and cultural artifacts haunt images such as Efrat’s Jericho Winter Palaces (1999). This black and white painting is once again an aerial shot of archaeological sites in Jericho. We can see a light gray ground with rectangular dark gray shadowed indentations. It seems as if the excavations are not complete and as a result we see only a glimpse of a city plan. It’s as if a city were slowly rising from the earth, pushing against the upper membrane of the earth’s crust.
This particular area of Jericho depicted in the painting references the Winter Palaces of the Hasmonean Kingdom (140-37 BCE), the last Jewish sovereign power until the modern State of Israel. Thus, the painting frames and highlights the Jewish historical presence in the Jericho area. In that sense, it acts as a document of the Israeli position behind “Operation Scroll” as well as any other claims to Jewish rights to the land of Israel. But on the other hand, the painting could also highlight Israel’s ideological investment in linking archaeology with nationalism. Or perhaps the painting presents the archaeological site as an example of the fragility of sovereignty. Efrat painted this image while Jericho was within the Palestinian Authority’s control. As the civilizational layers can attest, no one culture can maintain power forever. After all, it took two thousand years for Jews to reclaim sovereignty in the area and if we follow this line of thinking, they will inevitable have to relinquish it one day.
Another painting of Efrat’s, Tel Sheva (1998) reinstates this point. It is again, a black and white image, with a city plan that is based on concentric circles that radiate from the canvas’s center. A Tel is a plateau created through centuries of cycles of cities being destroyed and rebuilt on top of its own ruins. This Tel is in the south of Israel, not far from the Israeli city Be’er Sheva. The earliest evidence of inhabitants dates back to the forth millennium BCE with a continuous presence through the eighth century CE. It contains layers of civilizations that include Persian, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Early Arab remains.
Tel Sheva (officially Tel Be’er Sheva) is also at the entrance to a Bedouin town of the same name. This Tel Sheva was established in 1967 as a part of a project by the Israeli government to sedentarize the traditionally semi-nomadic Bedouins of the Negev desert.8 These Bedouin are Israeli citizens but they are socially quite separate. Their first language is Arabic and they are relatively poor. This is in stark contrast to the wealthy Jewish suburb of Omer that is adjacent to Tel Sheva, whose red terra-cotta roofs and verdant green lawns stand in stark contrast to the dilapidated look of its neighbor. Tel Sheva has a high crime rate and in recent years, some members of the community have increasingly identified themselves as Palestinian.
There are two competing narratives that Tel Sheva represents. On the one hand it can be seen as an enclave of an ancient tribal Bedouin culture that is timeless.9 But on the other hand, its present conditions reflect the complex political, social, and economic situation of a community that has been deeply affected by the State of Israel.
So what does this dialectic in Tel Sheva tell us about Tel Be’er Sheva? Both are examples of physical spaces that simultaneously represent a tension between the past and the present. Tel Be’er Sheva is used by Israel as proof of biblical “facts on the ground” that justify Jewish claims to the land. While at the same time, it represents thousands of years of history that contain multiple claims to sovereignty. Tel Sheva is a present condition that is also framed by the needs of the Israeli state. Bedouins from the Negev desert were sedentarized in order to control desert space for many reasons, most importantly military purposes. But the result of this rupture of tradition and forced form of modern living has been a social rupture, creating a wound that still festers. Israelis like to think of the romantic cliché of the Bedouin as an image of their biblical past. In this sense, Tel Sheva might seem to be a living example of the archaeological site down the road. But the city is also a living example of the price that is paid by this kind of Orientalist imperialism.
In an essay for Gilad Efrat’s mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Art, Ein Harod, the curator Michelle White speaks about Efrat’s relationship to history. She reminds us of Walter Benjamin’s discussion of Paul Klee’s 1920 drawing Angelus Novus. She quotes Benjamin saying, “The Storm drives [the angel] irresistibly toward the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble heap before him grows sky high. That which we call progress is this storm.”10 White says that Efrat often cites this text in relation to his work. He knows the Klee drawing well since it is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. He is determined to make work that exists in a similar interstitial space, caught between past and present. But the image also speaks powerfully to the multiple ways in which time restlessly clashes against itself in a living monument such as Tel (Be’er) Sheva.
Susan Buck Morse has pointed out that this angel is a great example of the ways that truth and collective memory work and the inextricable relation between knowledge and power. “History is layered. But the layers are not stacked neatly. The disrupting force of the present puts pressure on the past, scattering pieces of it forward into unanticipated locations.”11 Buck Morse unravels the story of Benjamin’s comments about the Klee painting of an angel, noting that the caption of his words has overtaken the image itself. She notes that the painting hangs in the Israel Museum as a testament to this famous Jew who committed suicide rather than be captured by the Nazis. But Buck Morse suggests that this gesture to pin down the meaning of Angelus Novus, can be disrupted by looking more deeply at both Benjamin’s and Klee’s attitudes towards angels. Citing the Talmud, Benjamin was interested in the idea of an angel that was created only to utter praise to God and in that very instant would cease to exist. Buck Morse states, “This is how he understood the relationship between image and caption. The latter was erasable, replaceable and ephemeral, like the songs of Talmudic angels.”12
Buck Morse reminds us that archives, museums, libraries and archaeological sites are the mechanisms with which we store the past and construct a collective memory. Those in power construct the systems of this achieve to reflect their ideology.13
'When legends are appropriated by power and fixed to objects, lifting these objects out of history and preserving them within a nimbus of absoluteness – good and evil, right and wrong, redeemed and damned – legends become orthodoxy, setting the parameters of right belief.
Such legends are formed out of irreducible, unchanging elements that refer to mythic constructs: “the nation,” “the West,” “the terrorist,” the Muslim,” “the Jew.” These constructs reassembled in various ways police how the past is to be read.'14
If we turn now to Efrat’s current work in the Inman exhibition, we can see that the Bedouin encampment in images such as Negev (Bedouin) (2012) is much more politically loaded than we might think. In fact, the Netanyahu administration has recently accelerated efforts to demolish all temporary Bedouin encampments and move them to sedentarized cities like Tel Sheva.15 The once romanticized desert dweller is now a pariah in an increasingly Judaized and militarized nation.
But more importantly, there is another notable shift from the images of archaeological sites and Ansaar prison. Those works were dominated by geometry, a perceived sense of order. The newer works like Tamarinsk (salt cedar) (2012) or Negev II (2012) are roiling with disorder. They don’t have the distance of an aerial shot or the careful grid of an urban plan. Like the Tamarinsk trees that he looks at, the paintings depict chaotic intersecting networks in which light and shadow are shattered.
Perhaps this imagery reflects an attitude in line with Buck Morse’s reading of the angel’s view on an ever-increasing heap of history and the fleeting power of interpretation. Despite our best efforts to categorize and archive, through archaeology, photography and even painting, our grasp on history is contingent and ephemeral. The desert landscape and even the moonscape has had flags planted on it in an attempt to nationalize a territory whose very geology is older than humanity itself. These attempts to name, and by naming to own, a space are in vain. We all fall into the rubble of history. But Efrat has given us angel eyes, and the ability to gain a new perspective on the colliding politics of a collective past that is always already our present.
Noah Simblist is Associate Professor of Art at SMU, Meadows School of the Arts. He is currently working on a dissertation about art and politics in Israel-Palestine.
1. Michal Lando, “Perpetual Perspective: In the Studio with Gilad Efrat” The Jerusalem Post Jan 1, 2009.
2. This comparison has been made by Efrat himself, as noted by Galia Bar On in Gilad Efrat: Ape Scape (Ein Harod: Museum of Art Ein Harod, 2010)
3. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: The University of California, 1984) p92
4. Lando, 2009
5. Lando, 2009
6. Lando, 2009
7. Nadia Abu El-Haj, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self Fashioning in Israeli Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001) p240
8. Smadar Lavie, The Poetics of Military Occupation (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990)
9. See Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979)
10. Michelle White, “Neither Here Nor There” Gilad Efrat: Ape Scape (Ein Harod: Museum of Art Ein Harod, 2010), p87
11. Susan Buck Morse, “ No. 004: Emily Jacir & Susan Buck Morse (Hatje Cantz, 2012), p32 - published in conjunction with Documenta 13
12. ibid, p37
13. Buck Morse was meditating on Benjamin’s text as a way to respond to the Palestinian-American artist Emily Jacir’s photographic project for Documenta 13. Jacir photographed a former Benedictine monastery near Kassel that had been a prison camp under the Nazi era and a girl’s reformatory school after World War II. The images were combined with selections from Jacir’s diary entries, which become captions to the images. Many of the images question the construction of collective memory through the archive.
14. ibid, p44
By Wendy Vogel
Limbourg Brothers, Anatomical Man, Tempera on vellum, between 1411 and 1416.
As a self-identified feminist well versed in deconstructionist theories, I know how damaging essentialist discourse can be. I believe that biology is not destiny. And yet, the zodiac fascinates me. I’ve spent many hours contemplating the effects of planets on relationships, creative output, and success — so much that an artist friend once pleaded with me to write a horoscope column for …might be good under my editorship. So in honor of …mbg’s 200th issue, I bring you an amateur reading of each Sun sign’s artistic personality with examples of famous artists. Of course, my personal taste and astrological make-up account for any subjective slant or historical gaps in the following analysis. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Gemini born on May 31 with Aquarius rising and my moon in Capricorn or Capricorn-Aquarius cusp, depending on the reading. Judge me as you wish.)
Dates: March 21-April 19
Symbol: The Ram
Artists with Sun in Aries: Daniel Buren (March 25, 1938), Dan Graham (March 31, 1942), John Chamberlain (April 16, 1927), Sherrie Levine (April 17, 1947)
Aries is the infant sign of the zodiac. People born under this sign are likely to possess both the positive and negative qualities of babies: curiosity, warmth, emotional openness, vitality, impulsiveness, impatience and aggression. For artists, the Aries ability to trust one’s instincts and connect to the depths of Fiery emotion while avoiding the hang-ups of Water signs can prove to be a powerful combination. John Chamberlain’s colorful muscular constructions made from bent car parts, for instance, reflect the exuberance and physical energy of Aries natives. Dan Graham (a famous astrological devotee) exemplifies Aries’ restlessness throughout his diverse conceptual projects, from cultural histories of rock music to architectural pavilions. With the confidence bestowed by Aries’ ruling planet Mars, Sherrie Levine defied traditional notions of authorship in her series of appropriated photographs and paintings.
Advice: If your Sun sign is Aries, you’re likely a natural leader and a good athlete. Stuck in a creative rut? Consider starting an artist collective and/or organizing pick-up softball games for your creative industry friends.
Dates: April 20-May 20
Symbol: The Bull
Artists with Sun in Taurus: Willem de Kooning (April 24, 1904), Yves Klein (April 28, 1928), Hanne Darboven (April 29, 1941), Joseph Beuys (May 12, 1921), Frank Stella (May 12, 1936)
Taurean bulls uphold the earthy values of practicality, patience, and dependability. They have a knack for teaching and any profession that involves numbers. It stands to reason that artists like Hanne Darboven and Frank Stella, who made their marks respectively through systems of algorithmic notations and a “deductive structure” of painting on shaped canvases, would be born under this sign. Willem de Kooning’s heavily reworked abstract canvases intone Taurus’s stubborn tenaciousness, as does Yves Klein’s patenting of his International Klein Blue for his pristine monochromes. Few teachers loom as large in art-historical consciousness as the mythical German social sculptor Joseph Beuys, who once said, “To be a teacher is my greatest work of art.” From his time at the Düsseldorf Art Academy to his founding of the Free International University, Beuys sought to bring a radical sense of democracy to education. (Speaking of radical political philosophy and economics, Karl Marx was also a Taurean.)
Advice: You’re at your best when you’re pontificating, Taurus, but don’t forget to keep an open mind to new ideas. Go for that tenure track teaching position, but be humble with your students. Also try some Judo.
Dates: May 21-June 21
Symbol: The Twins
Artists with Sun in Gemini: Benjamin Patterson (May 29, 1934), Robert Ryman (May 30, 1930), Ellsworth Kelly (May 31, 1923), Laurie Anderson (June 5, 1947), Damien Hirst (June 7, 1965), John Baldessari (June 17, 1931)
As a Gem, I can affirm that we Twins rarely find ourselves at a loss for words. Adaptable, poised and communicative, Geminians are the best people to bring to a cocktail party full of strangers, and often make great writers. (Pats self on back.) We can wax cerebral, in witty sound bytes, on topics from celebrity gossip to politics to science. Unfortunately, the ease by which we Mercury-ruled chameleons can fly by the seat of our pants can also be expressed, in its negative aspect, as dilettantism, superficiality and duplicitousness. See, for example, Damien Hirst’s personal branding-as-art. Other artists, like Laurie Anderson and John Baldessari, funnel Gemini’s natural charm into complex responses to media culture. Still other Gems — as different from one another as each Twin is from him or herself — work best when they impose rules on their creative innovation, like Robert Ryman’s white-on-white paintings.
Advice: Even though you work best when you don’t have a routine, Gemini, make sure to schedule some time for yourself. And set deadlines, no matter how absurd they seem. Trust me.
Dates: June 22-July 22
Symbol: The Crab
Artists with Sun in Cancer: Gordon Matta-Clark (June 22, 1943), Philip Guston (June 27, 1913), Tracey Emin (July 3, 1963), Judy Chicago (July 20, 1939)
Like Geminians, Moon children born under the sign of Cancer possess a dual nature, subject to mood swings governed by their ruling lunar planet. No-nonsense on the surface, Cancerians are deeply creative and sensitive beings who retreat into their shells when emotionally injured. These innate nurturers crave a comfortable home life. They make wonderful parents and romantic partners who intuitively create rich domestic settings. It’s no surprise, then, that Gordon Matta-Clark, born on the Gemini-Cancer cusp, became the proprietor of the 1970s SoHo co-op FOOD. Judy Chicago embraced the lunar nature of Cancer in her search for a distinct feminist iconography, particularly in her tour de force installation The Dinner Party (1974-79). And Tracey Emin’s flavor of shock art exposes her messy personal life to public scrutiny — the ultimate Cancerian expression of intense emotionality.
Advice: Cancer, you have a tendency for self-pity. Try channeling some of that nurturing energy outwards — have you considered a social practice project? Scandinavia and the West Coast await you.
Dates: July 23-August 22
Symbol: The Lion
Artists with Sun in Leo: Marcel Duchamp (July 28, 1887), Jenny Holzer (July 29, 1950), Paul McCarthy (August 4, 1945), Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928), Richard Prince (August 6, 1949)
Leos are easy to spot in a crowd. Regal and gregarious, often with exceptional personal style, they command attention. Provocateurs and master media manipulators like Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp and Richard Prince channeled the Lion’s roar into their convention-defying work — see Prince’s appropriated photo of a sexualized pre-adolescent Brooke Shields Spiritual America (1983), Warhol’s celebrity obsession, and Duchamp’s chess tournaments with a nude woman in the 1960s. These kings and queens of the jungle understand how to infiltrate public consciousness through their words, as well. Take Jenny Holzer’s piercing language-based pieces, which first took the form of LED lights on a Times Square billboard during a Public Art Fund commission in 1982. Paul McCarthy, however, channels the fragile ego and tyrannical nature of Leo in his neurotic performances like The Painter (1995) and inflatable sculptures of dog shit.
Advice: Your need for attention and spendthrift habits can be crippling, Leo. Perhaps you should find a studio assistant — preferably a Water or Earth sign — to give you some reassurance and help you with your budget.
Dates: August 23-September 22
Symbol: The Virgin
Artists with Sun in Leo: John Cage (September 5, 1912), Sol LeWitt (September 9, 1938), Carl Andre (September 16, 1935), Adrian Piper (September 20, 1948)
An Earth sign ruled by the energetic planet of Mercury, Virgo is the most intellectual sign of the zodiac. Discerning, analytical and loyal, Virgos have an eye for detail and very high ideals. On the other hand, this sign leans toward criticism and insecurity. The quintessential Virgo may be Sol LeWitt, the artist who penned the Sentences on Conceptual Art in 1968. (Baldessari, a Geminian also ruled by Mercury, would sing these sentences in 1972.) Artists like Carl Andre and Adrian Piper fused their Conceptual work with political and social content — Andre in his activism as part of the Art Workers’ Coalition, and Piper’s probing work on identity, from her Catalysis performances in public (1970-71) to her videos and newspaper drawings. (Piper has a second intellectual life as a Kantian philosophy scholar.) John Cage blended the tenets of modernism with Zen-inflected chance-based operations in his exciting compositions.
Advice: Virgo, you’re probably already a Conceptual art superstar. If you’re not, your tendency for self-criticism is likely bringing you down. Break your routine for a weekend to put things in perspective. And if you have nervous energy to spare, this Gem could sure use your organizational help.
Dates: September 23-October 23
Symbol: The Scales
Artists with Sun in Libra: Mark Rothko (September 25, 1903), Sophie Calle (October 9, 1953), Carolee Schneemann (October 12, 1939), Brice Marden (October 15, 1938)
Librans simply emanate charm; their refined tastes, emotional balance and intellect draw others to them. This Air sign, ruled by Venus, also has a knack for romance. But their ability to weigh every side of the situation has a downside — they can be plagued by indecision and lack of ambition. Artists like Brice Marden channel Libra’s aesthetic sensibility into a painting practice informed by minimalism, Eastern philosophy and an intuitive grasp of color theory. Mark Rothko’s vibrating palette may also be attributed to a Libran’s gift for color. Sophie Calle, on the other hand, combines romanticism with the detachment of Conceptual art in her highly personal projects. And Carolee Schneemann’s singular performance practice, boldly charting the discourse surrounding the body and sexuality, reacted to the highly rational structuralist film community with which she was once personally and romantically entwined (as her Interior Scroll text explains.)
Advice: Libra, your natural sense of aesthetic balance is unrivalled. Why don’t you try amassing a collection of attractive objects in your studio and see where that leads? You could always present that collection as a work itself — a huge trend right now.
Dates: October 24-November 21
Symbol: Scorpion or Eagle
Artists with Sun in Scorpio: Pablo Picasso (October 25, 1881), Mike Kelley (October 27, 1954), Paul Thek (November 2, 1933), Lee Lozano (November 5, 1930), Ana Mendieta (November 18, 1948)
Natives of Scorpio inspire awe, fear and desire. This dark, sensual Water sign can be ruthless and magnetic at the same time. In business and pleasure, they pursue their goals single-mindedly and can be vindictive to people who put obstacles in their way. At the same time, they are extremely committed to their friends, family and lovers — though the road with a Scorpion rarely runs smooth. The passionate, tumultuous personal life of modern master Pablo Picasso often found its way onto the canvas. Lee Lozano made her obstinate mark by her overriding conceptual project to withdraw from the art world permanently. Sadly, the lives of many brilliant Scorpio-born artists like Mike Kelley, Paul Thek and Ana Mendieta, who explored topics of sexual violence, repression and death in their work, ended tragically. (Though Mendieta’s husband Carl Andre was acquitted of her murder, the cause of her mysterious fall from the window of their high-rise apartment remains open to speculation.)
Advice: You are capable of emotional devastation. It may be best to avoid relationships with other artists and art professionals. But who am I kidding? You won’t listen to me. In fact, you’ll probably try to seduce me as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Dates: November 22-December 21
Symbol: The Archer
Artists with Sun in Sagittarius: Kara Walker (November 26, 1969), Félix González-Torres (November 26, 1957), Marina Abramović (November 30, 1946) and Ulay (November 30, 1943), Ed Ruscha (December 16, 1937), Alighiero e Boetti (December 16, 1940)
Half-man, half-horse, Sagittarius embodies the mind-body duality that afflicts human consciousness. This highly energetic Fire sign, fiercely intellectual, identifies with the proletariat and the downtrodden. For this reason, politicized content often makes its way into the work of Sagittarians. The Sag tendency for blunt expression can equally inform the direct, piercing output of these artists’ oeuvres. Marina Abramović and Ulay, Sagittarians born on the same date (November 30), “twinned” themselves in confrontational, durational performance work throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Twinning also became an important theme in the work of Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti (Alighiero AND Boetti), while Boetti’s world maps created by workers in Pakistan and other developing nations expressed political content in a provocative way. Even after identity politics became a dirty word (again), artists like Kara Walker and Félix González-Torres, whose works dissect the trauma of American slavery and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, invoke lasting emotional impact.
Advice: Sagittarius, you have a tendency to think without speaking. Try to temper this candidness in your everyday interactions. Consider putting that impassioned speech to good use in a political cause of your choice. I’m sure OWS could use your voice.
Dates: December 22-January 19
Symbol: The Goat
Element: EarthArtists with Sun in Capricorn: Louise Bourgeois (December 25, 1911), Henri Matisse (December 31, 1869), Robert Smithson (January 2, 1938), Eva Hesse (January 11, 1936), Kiki Smith (January 18, 1954), Cindy Sherman (January 19, 1954)
“The accountants of the zodiac,” the Goats have a bad rap in creative circles for being miserly and emotionally detached. Allow me to defend you, Caps. This arguably most earthy of Earth signs exhibits the values of practical thinking, logistic know-how and organizational ability without the outward insecurity or bullheadedness of Virgo and Taurus. It’s no coincidence that Robert Smithson, one of the most famous figures of the Land Art movement, is a Capricorn. I suspect that if you probed more deeply, you would discover a lot of sculptors born under this sign — Eva Hesse and Kiki Smith, however, are excellent examples to begin. The wide range of artistic personalities and styles grouped under this sign, from Matisse to Cindy Sherman, suggest that the Sun in Capricorn may be easily overpowered by other ruling planets’ influence. Maybe a follow-up article is in order.
Advice: Capricorn, while you’re busy plotting world domination, don’t forget to have fun once in a while. Leave the studio and attend an opening occasionally. It could help your career and your personal life.
Dates: January 20-February 18
Symbol: The Water Bearer
Artists with Sun in Aquarius: Barbara Kruger (January 26, 1945), Jackson Pollock (January 28, 1912), Robert Morris (February 9, 1931), Gerhard Richter (February 9, 1932), Miranda July (February 15, 1974), Yoko Ono (February 18, 1933)
Iconoclasts and eccentrics, Aquarians love to shock. They associate with fringe personalities — just think of Yoko Ono’s forays into countercultural exploration, from rock n’ roll to experimental noise — and embrace humanitarian political ideals. Curiously, however, they maintain a distanced attitude from the people closest to them. Like their fellow Air signs, Gemini and Libra, Aquarians have a great facility for language. Consider Miranda July’s Fluxus-inspired instruction-based piece Learning to Love You More, Ono’s Grapefruit poems and Barbara Kruger’s jolting collages. Lightning rods for cultural change, Aquarians truly connect with the spirit of the avant-garde. Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism, Gerhard Richter’s Capitalist Realism, and Robert Morris’s first Green Gallery exhibition of six-foot-tall rectangular boxes provided the touchstone imagery for entire movements.
Advice: Aquarius, you’re an uncompromising dynamo and everyone knows it. But think about the impact of your trailblazing individualism. Are you freezing out everyone around you? If so, consider collaborative work. Join a punk band? It worked for fellow Aquarians John Lydon and Henry Rollins.
Dates: February 19-March 20
Symbol: The Fish
Artists with Sun in Pisces: Martin Kippenberger (February 25, 1953), Eleanor Antin (February 27, 1935), Hannah Wilke (March 7, 1940), David Smith (March 9, 1906)
The two fish that represent Pisces swim in opposite directions, symbolizing the dual nature of this sign that drowns in emotion. Pisces are mystic healers and “old souls” that often attract damaged personalities to them. For a popular culture example, let me offer Kurt Cobain as the penultimate Fish (think about the opening lines of the ode to Courtney Love’s “Heart-Shaped Box”: “She has me like a Pisces when I am weak.”) Unfortunately, the extreme sensitivity of Pisces often leads them to escapism. While this urge can often be satiated by a rigorous creative practice, it sometimes leads to madness, drug and alcohol addiction. Such was the case of Martin Kippenberger, as well known for his hard-partying attitude as his prolific career encompassing sculpture, painting, prints and performance. Hannah Wilke and Eleanor Antin also embraced Pisces’ twinned nature in their performance-based work. While Wilke challenged gender norms by using her own naked, sexualized body as an avatar or cipher for discussion, Antin created highly theatrical characters, such as the homeless King of Solana Beach and the black ballerina Eleanor Antinova from Diaghilev’s company.
Advice: Pisces, use your sensitivity to explore what other artists cannot. We’ve all been affected this week by the awesome power of nature in your element, Water. Without being crass, take this experience and allow it to inform your creative instincts.
Wendy Vogel is a New York-based critic, editor and occasional curator.
By Mary Walling Blackburn
Hana Food Menu Board.
J. comes to me full. I ask J. where he got that sandwich. I got it on Metropolitan, J. says. Did you get it at that place where they name their sandwiches, I ask. Yes, I did. Next, I ask: Did you order, “My Girlfriend is a Whore”? J. answers: “I ordered it without naming it. I listed the ingredients without saying the name.” It’s a technique. It’s avoidance. It’s clean hands.
And what did the guy behind the counter say when you order it by listing the ingredients? “You want “My Girlfriend is a Whore?” J. nods because J. doesn’t want to die. J. must eat. The sandwich stands between him and death. It tastes incredible, asserts J.
Later, we are driving to Maine. J. asks me what I would like for my birthday in August. I say that I would like the name of that sandwich changed. Can J. rename the sandwich? J. agrees to this birthday present. J. asks me what I would like to rename the sandwich. Green mountains are around us. Trees flash. The car is driving fast. I recall giving a talk. I said to the audience: Vagina is not a lovely word in itself to pronounce but how bout we never separate it from the word Beautiful. What if it can only be said prefaced by the descriptor beautiful. Two lovers exchange:
-Will you touch my Beautiful Vagina? -I love your beautiful vagina!
A month later, a woman who attended the lecture comes up to me: I wanted to tell you that we only refer to it as “Beautiful Vagina” since that night! In a flash, I remember all 50 people in the room and I pretend their vocabulary is forever altered. I tell J. that the sandwich has a new name: My Beautiful Vagina. I imagine the transaction. Consumer and Cook:
-I’ll have my Beautiful Vagina.-My Beautiful Vagina! You got it.…
-HEY! MY BEAUTIFUL VAGINA!
The beauty is that the cook yells it; its some whitmanesque Brooklyn yawp traveling through time. He doesn’t mean the consumer’s vagina or maybe, cock. It is his and it is lovely. He knows what is female about himself and he likes it. A deli fantasy.
I am dropped off in Maine. By a lake. The rental car disappears down the dirt road. J. emails:
I have good news and bad, or should I say great news with a caveat. There has been a partial agreement that I can name a sandwich after an extended period of eating sandwiches. However, I cannot replace the name of the woman-hating sandwich. This was, according to the girl I talked to, not an option. Still, pretty great news, I just hope they follow through after I eat 40 sandwiches and surprise them with the name. I will still aim to rename the death sandwich, maybe they will reconsider after a month of getting to know their new regular customer with the large order.
“I will still aim to rename the death sandwich.” I think J. is referring to another sandwich: “Who Killed Gertrude Stein?” Perhaps J. wants to be a Brooklyn Isis/ Alice, suturing the fragmented scraps of Osiris/Stein back together again. If J. recollects the ancient Egyptian story, J. will remember that Isis forges a phallus out of gold to replace the cock, the only part of the dismembered Osiris she cannot find.
Gertrude Stein is not dead. I’d like a Golden Phallus. Hold the sprouts.
J. is a studio assistant in Brooklyn. Part of the agreement is that the Artist pays for the employees lunch. Part of J.’s job is to order lunch for the 4 or 5 who paint canvases all day, every day. The employees are limited to this deli, Hana Food on Metropolitan, until the deal is sealed. They are instrumentalized. They tire of eating Drunk’n Asshole, Black Panther, Party Upstairs, Munch My Box, Cocaine, My Girlfriend is a Whore, Avatar, Who Killed Gertrude Stein? But they sup it up.
Half way through August, the night before my birth, meteor showers come like clockwork. J.’s email arrives then, as well.
You are 39. I talked to the owner and he agreed to have My Beautiful Vagina made into a permanent sandwich on the board. He might even get rid of the other, less classy one.
It is delicious.
Have a nice day.
Included is a picture of J. taken by a person working at the deli or the owner. J. is next to the counter and J. is beaming. In one hand J. holds a sizable sandwich and in the other a sandwich sign. It reads: “My Beautiful Vagina: sopressata, olives, and balsamic vinaigrette $9”
Ecstatic, I skype.J. cautions that it won’t be up immediately. They have to wait until they are ready to rewrite the board.
I return to Brooklyn in September and I return to Hana. I say, Where is My Beautiful Vagina?They offer to make the sandwich if I can tell them what is in it. I offer to purchase the sandwich if it is written on the board. The cashier and the cook assure me it will be written on the board. I return and ask again. I’m looking for my beautiful vagina. They never have it.
My inquiry is a humiliation that reaches both ways. I ask politely and they refuse politely. We are embarrassed together- suffused with secret anger and invisible laughter. A year passes.
Perhaps there are a couple options. One is crude and vague. This text “goes viral”. Gawker. Gawked. Men and women rush to Hana demanding their Beautiful Vagina loudly and clearly, all day, for hours. The owner caves. The owner erases. People eat.
Another is where I invite the owner to dinner. We sit down. I offer a list of new names for his sexist and racist sandwiches. I understand his shock strategy and with his consent, the re-christenings would adhere to his dedication to sex and pop culture and would be implemented slowly over time in order to retain his misogynist fan base. I tell him that I will run a Kickstarter campaign to cover his losses in the transition or maybe United Artists if I am nominated. I tell him I will offer the donors sandwiches with new names and the highest donors will be allowed to rename a sandwich of their choice. In my fantasy, he is really into it.
The fantasies go dead at the end. I get joyless about sandwiches and dashed subversions.I conjure one last fiction:
Me and the owner of Hana Foods:
- The vulva in Mohawk, it translates to ‘a nice canoe’. - You want the sandwich to be called "Nice Canoe"?- No. I would hate that. Maybe I even I hate sandwiches. When I read 'Nice Canoe' I realized that it could change everything (regarding sexual exchange) if that is how all conceived of female genitalia. I read it in an interview with Katsi Cook, an Akwesane Mohawk midwife. She said: it’s perfect: when you think about [it] — you know, as a woman’s healthcare provider, it does, it’s in the shape of a canoe and it’s a brilliant interpretation of that part of the woman’s body, “a nice canoe,” (laughs), on top of all the other meanings you can draw from that explanation.
The owner watches a man in very tight denim jeans walk by: "He has a Beautiful Oar, no?"
Mary Walling Blackburn, Dallas/Brooklyn, was recently included in the Paper Monument anthology, Draw It With Your Eyes Closed, Curiosity and Method: Ten Years of Cabinet Magazine, and Architectural Inventions: Visionary Drawing of Buildings. Her pedagogical experiment, Radical Citizenship/Anhoek School is currently on view at the Tate Modern's Project Room as part of the Silent University. She has written for E-Flux Journal, Cabinet, Triple Canopy and Afterall Journal.
I make animations out of appropriated photos, films and graphics. I think of these images as devices to open up larger cultural histories and narratives. One recent film, Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise, began when I picked up a high school yearbook from 1974 in a thrift store. As I flipped through the pages, I noticed that the students looked intensely on edge in the candid photos. When I’m working on a piece, I delve into a lot of amateur pursuits–media archeologist, science fiction wordsmith, cultural anthropologist, and psychoanalyst. I take in a lot of films and writing to help inform the psychic ballast of the images I’m working with. Looking at the material through these different perspectives helps me figure out what other kinds of stories could surround these images. What follows is a bibliography of some texts I looked at while making this film.
Charles Burns, Black Hole, New York: Pantheon, 2008.
A surreal comic book collection, set in the mid 1970s featuring high school students that contract a virus that results in physical mutations and spreads among teenagers. It reads like cinema, with graphic transitions between scenes, incredible attention to lighting, and intimate point of view framing. The virus can read as other sexually transmitted viruses in our recent history but also a metaphor of the alienation and anxiety of adolescence.
Jeffery Eugenides, Virgin Suicides, New York: Bloomsbury, 2002.
Disaster befalls five teenage daughters from a conservative family in 1970s suburban Michigan. The story is narrated from the present day by a male, who as a child, had lived across the street from the girls. He looks back at the tragic events and tries to piece together a sense of what happened.
Tom Wolfe, “The Me Decade.” New York Magazine. August 23, 1976.
If the counter culture of the late 1960s could be generalized by a collective sensibility, the 1970s could be said to have shaped the identity of the individual. Tom Wolfe’s 1976, The Me Decade is a look at the small steps we took as we retreated from community and realigned ourselves with personal fulfillment.
Francis Wheen, Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia, New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.
A tour de force of tales about paranoid leaders on the verge of breakdowns, with extreme anxiety about not only the enemies out there, but also the enemies within their own administration. This book creates a great psychic mapping of this decade and is a nice companion for the surge of psychological conspiracy thrillers from this time.
Parallax View, dir. Alan J. Pakula, Double Day, 1974.
A reporter goes undercover at the Parallax Corporation – An evil organization that manufactures assassins that are used to manipulate American politics. This film contains an epic montage scene that a serves as the Parallax Corporation’s tests for future assassins. A sequence of images start out depiction of a normative and idealized male psyche and slowly descends to a place where the sense of self is more and more destabilized.
The Conversation, dir. Francis Coppola, Paramount Pictures, 1974.
Paranoid surveillance detective Harry Caul, is hired to spy on a couple he believes may be murdered, and in the process, uncovers an even more sinister plot. Caul becomes obsessed that he is being bugged as well and it starts his downfall as the watcher may be the one who is watched.
All the President’s Men, dir. Alan J. Pakula, Warner Brothers, 1976.
Based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s 1974 book about their investigation of the Watergate Scandal, this film renders the story soaked in conspiracy and implies there is more covered up than meets the eye. These and other investigative journalist uncover wiretapping and election headquarters plots hatched by the Nixon officials. As Deep Throat says, “Follow the money.” Pakula also addresses the anxiety of this era, with another film, from 1971 titled Klute, which became the first installment of his “paranoia trilogy.”
Three Days of the Condor, dir. Sydney Pollack, Paramount Pictures, 1975.
A CIA research office is taken out in a mass-assassination. One researcher, code name Condor, escapes the attack because he was out of the office picking up lunch. There’s a plot within the CIA, to control information at any length, even killing their own team. Condor hopes to expose the story through the press to the American people.
Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise, dir. Kelly Sears, 2011.
I was drawn to the freaked out looking photos I found in the yearbooks and the images began to function as surrogates for me to project my political and cultural concerns onto. Looking at this anxiety through a temporal distance helped me think about how our own cultural history and legacy is manifesting today.
Kelly Sears is an animator and filmmaker living in Houston, TX. She received a B.A. from Hampshire College and an M.F.A. from the University of California, San Diego.
Added on 2012-11-05 07:00:47
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Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment
Edited by Paper Monument
Paper Monument, 2012
Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment
In a past life I was an Assistant Professor in the Art Department at a small liberal arts college. Designing and doling out assignments made up a significant portion of my pedagogical life. After-all, they were the platform by which concepts were imparted, discussions started and skills learned. Yet I was often tempted to discard assignments all together–my skepticism of the traditional notion that ‘art‘ can be administered and skills acquired through the completion of a series of tasks was always creeping in through the side door. A collection of exercises from over 100 contributors (Liam Gillick, Bob Nickas, Harry Roseman, John Baldessari, Mira Schor and Amy Sillman just to name a few) this anthology presents a cross-section of the art assignment and in doing so encapsulates the concepts and pedagogical trends of not only the assignment, but art school itself. With studio programs occupying an increasing complex role and responsibility in the education of artists‘, breaking down these ideas through one of its foundational elements is a perfect entrée into thinking more deeply about what art school actually is. The Art of the Art Assignment is a rich and at times combative look into the practice of artist-teachers and the myriad ways in which they’re approaching their classrooms. It works as both a handbook and voyeuristic window into art education. Teacher or not, grab a copy of this book while you can.