July 2014

Rachel Lord


Dem Passwords

5413 West Adams Blvd

Los Angeles

May 31 – July 5, 2014

Documental, the cleverly titled, debut, solo show of Los Angeles-based artist, Rachel Lord, features four large, colorful paintings that take on and manipulate the historical form of the document.  Furthermore, Lord has in fact made a work of the entire gallery, painting each wall from floor to ceiling in complimentary colors to create a vivid environment that feels a bit like a barn crossed with a church crossed with a children’s after school program.  The ongoing series of paintings began with what she and fellow RISD alum, collaborator Ryan Trecartin, refer to as a “conscious commission.”  The two had worked similarly on a series of “conceptual credit card paintings” that Lord made several years ago, which were used in some of the sets for Trecartin’s 2009 video series Any Ever, which went on to travel with the work in an installation titled Access Quad (2009).  In this instance, Trecartin, (whom it should be noted, originally conceived of this new project as part of a feature in China’s Modern Weekly Magazine), again gave Lord a set of verbal cues from which Lord created a new body of work that both complicates and celebrates various forms of documents; the missing poster, the stock certificate, the palimpsest and the blueprint.  Each of these paintings will be used as part of the sets in Trecartin’s forthcoming video project. 

Rachel Lord, Documental, installation view

While the four types of documents that Lord uses as her starting point are familiar enough to most, the formative tension that inspired their manifestations came from a somewhat surrealist dichotomy that Trecartin has used to shape his current video work, the abstract balance between “the Superposition” and “Timed Reality.”  “Timed Reality” being our current moment as we know it, and “Superposition,” which can be understood as taking place in the future, yet outside of our range of any tangible sense of a time-based reality.  From there Lord filled in the blanks with conceptual and aesthetic concerns that she has often taken up throughout her practice.  Clearly text plays a large role in each of the paintings, as it also does with regards to the specific kinds of documents she uses as templates.  However, it is made evident that here text, and a multitude of languages, are decidedly complicated through an intermingling with one another. 

In Missing Poster, we see that some of the words and signage conventions are authentically rendered to appear like those in a real poster of this nature, yet at the same time other words are painted (though made to look like they are printed), backwards, shadowing one another.  The French word for finish or end, “fin,” is transparently laid atop the more important word, “finding,” which in this case iterates the poster’s objective – to find a missing cat.  Not only are languages, syntax and typeface mixed together, it is clear that they have been carefully and deliberately layered one on top of the other.  In this way Lord has recreated, pass for pass, the Photoshop process with which she initially made the sketches for these elaborate images.  

Rachel Lord, Missing, 2014

The labor of layering is even there in the title of the exhibition, Documental conjures not only the obvious, governmental validity of certified documents, but it also harbors ‘mental,’ as in, of sound mind or otherwise, and elemental, as in, exemplary of part of something larger and multifarious – not to mention the glaring reference to the looming profundity of Documenta, perhaps a whole other can of art historical worms.  We see in Stock Certificate and Palimpsest as well that there are multiple points of reference at play, each ramming into one another in ways that produce as much linguistic confusion as they do visual delight.  The bright, glowing yellow, cartoonish scroll painted just to fit to the frame of Palimpsest lives up to its title by juxtaposing phrases in English, Chinese and Latin in various directions all over the canvas.  The English is painted in a light grey, Sans Seriff, a-personality-esque font that takes a back seat to the deep red of the Chinese characters and the pale turquoise Latin, which makes for the top layer of paint.  Underneath it all we can read, “It’s all Greek to me,” poking fun at the notion of even attempting to decipher something as fluid and overlaid as a palimpsest in the first place. 

Rachel Lord, Palimpsest, 2014

When standing in the middle of the gallery surrounded by each of these four takes on such documents the imagery and the referents begin to blend together just as quickly as they then separate from one another, causing the issue of legibility to rise to the fore in ways that relate not only to Lord’s work but also certainly to Trecartin’s and that of many other young artists who are attempting to navigate a vast sea of information without necessarily steering the course, or any course for that matter.  Nonetheless, Documental certainly points to the ways in which totems of social structures are becoming further and further extrapolated and reified from their original usages and well-trodden conventions.  To reimagine something as permanent and binding as a legal document into a painting that takes into account the histories of alphabets, idioms, currencies and diagrams (to name just a few of the referents that Lord has imbricated within these complex works), is an entirely new range for what has often been considered a dull or even decaying form of contractual agreement.  

May 2013

Dora Budor

New Lavoro

Palazzo Peckham, 54th Venice Bienniale

New York based Dora Budor’s commission for the Palazzo Peckham project at this year’s 55th Venice Biennale is a multi-functional and multi-faceted conglomeration of people and variables, titled “New Lavoro”.

Previously, Budor held a casting from which she chose a selection of contes­tants to partic­ipate in her show. The winner, Rachel Lord, a Los Angeles­-based artist, receives an all­-expenses paid trip to Venice to visit the exhib­ition and the rest of the Biennale’s events.

The reality show will be presented on the glass surfaces of the tables in the New Lavoro café within Palazzo Peckham, where visitors can watch the episodes unfold as they enjoy a snack in what is now the common tablet screen surfing manner.

Not only will the reality show be “on view,” but Budor has additionally invited a selection of artists (Debora Delmar Corporation, Janus Høm & Toke Lykkeberg / Generousability, Josh Kline and Brad Troemel) to create “recipes” for works that London-based art students hired to work as servers and staff of the New Lavoro café will create on site. Budor also commissioned 8 musicians, (nightcoregirl, Al Tariq, False Witness, Ilja Karilampi/h00dumentary, Daniel Keller (Aids-3d), Colin Self, Nick Weiss and Slava), Elena Michael (James Michael Shaeffer Jr. and Adriana Blidaru), to create a soundscape/mix-tape for the project based on re-using and re-mixing reality show music with contestants’ interviews, as well as inviting writers, (Harry Burke, Pablo Larios, Toke Lykkeberg, Courtney Malick, Elena Michael, Kari Rittenbach, and Agatha Wara) to contribute to a magazine that accompanies New Lavoro. Fashion duoEckhaus Latta was also incormporated into the project to make a New Lavoro collection – clothes that are used both in the reality show as costumes and as work uniforms worn by the bar staff in the installation of New Lavoro, which is produced by American Medium.

Courtney Malick: Can you tell me a bit about how you were initially invited to do begin this project? I’m wondering if people from Palazzo Peckham came to you with the idea of using the cafe, or if that was a space you particularly wanted to use?

Dora Budor: The inspiration for using the space as a bar came from the initial conversation with Palazzo Peckham, when they suggested that all the exhibition spaces could have a functional aspect – and asked if I would be interested in doing the bar and restaurant. I was not especially inclined, but as we continued speaking I was informed that the bar would employ young artists and art students from London and I immediately felt that this could be a good beginning to my story. Since the curatorial idea behind Palazzo Peckham was to create a space for conversation, participation and events, while engaging with various models of creative work balanced on gray areas in between art and entertainment, interior design, online television, modes of distribution and networking, I felt it would be appropriate to think about the functional space as a surface for behind-the-scenes production methods and engage with a set of activities that surround or make art production possible, but are not necessarily stated as being apart of it.

I had had a studio visit with a gallerist months ago and she asked me what my next project was going to be. Overwhelmed by the redundancy of studio visits becoming repetitious and telling the same story to everyone, I decided to delve into delusional answers – one of which was, “I’m shooting a reality show.” She responded that she didn’t think that was a good idea because art reality shows typically ruin people’s careers, both creators and participants. I realized the doomed reality of the unsuccessful was a great starting point and could possibly become interesting.

CM: I see. So, the people who manage the bar will be hiring young art students to work at it, but they will not really be involved in your piece?

DB: There are two different groups of participants – the cast of the reality show and the young art students whom the operator of the bar, Jackson Boxer, will be employing as staff. They will both be wearing the same clothes. The video content screened in the installation becomes sort of an advertisement, or promotional material for the lifestyle brand of New Lavoro.

CM: How did you work with the designers on the costumes? Were they taking into consideration the fact that the people wearing these uniforms in Venice will be working in a service/food setting, more so than thinking about the contestants of the reality show?

DB: From EckhausLatta’s side came a whole vision both for patterns, based on Thai fishing outfits and various uniform designs, and for the use of materials – ones that are reminiscent of kitchen use, holding burning pots and structures that have rough finishing. They managed to find a balance and create a universal type of ‘uniform’ that could be used for any type of laborious activity, and incorporate the specific branding.

CM: Can you explain more what you mean about how the relationship between the two groups of participants is branded? Do you mean because they will both be comprised of young art students?

DB: The relationship between the cast of the reality show and the staff that will work at the café in Venice is, lets say, ‘pseudo-historical’. The cast of the reality show is a dislocated predecessor/or successor of the staff in Venice. More simply put, ‘branded’ to be a part of a similar ‘invisible industry.’ The cast of the show wears ‘uniforms,’ that were designed by EckhausLatta, and the staff at the bar wears them as well. They start to form the branded entity of New Lavoro, or become subliminal employees of the same organization. At first glance the viewers may be unsure of exactly what these uniforms represent, but gradually the audience within the café will begin to see the connection between the reality show and the actual employees of the café/restaurant.

The costumes are visually recognizable, and also feature copywriting used within the branding, which is applied both in the space of the café and also served as titles of the T.V. episodes. They stem from idiomatic translations of old Italian proverbs that are related to work, laziness and boredom. Once translated to English they lose their proverbial meaning and become almost a weird form of haiku branding; such as Good Wine Needs No Bush or The Hurried she-cat has made Blind Kittens.

I also wanted to emphasize the connection between the two different locations, two different languages and activities that then connect into a completely new lifestyle — and to me, as a foreigner, these mistranslations sounded like a new form of language that I was interested in using as part of project identity.

CM: I also wanted to ask you about the ‘invisible industry’? Is “invisible industry” a term that you came up with, or something that is used a lot? I’ve never heard of that before, but it makes perfect sense…

DB: I just checked and it’s not googleable – usually I am always unsure which idea is actually mine because everything exists in similar forms somewhere in the world… To me the “invisible industry” refers to all the operational procedures and daily activities that run in the background of art-making… sort of like how the computer or a company operates, where there are all these activities that you are not really aware of that enable the whole structure to work flawlessly.

CM: I mean it makes sense because so much cultural production was about service in like the 80s and then there was a switch to the information industry in the 90s and the more integrated those things become into daily life (via technological devices) the less we even notice or think about them.

DB: Yes, for example, how many hours per day one has to invest in writing e-mails or do day jobs in order to make a sustainable career. I was more interested in the backend of the whole production than the front end… I feel like this is something that concerns every one of us on a day-to-day basis. The project, and my approach towards art in general, is trying to incorporate those backend behaviors/actions in art making. Not in the Beuysian sense that every sphere of human activity, even peeling a potato, can be a work of art as long as it is a conscious act — but along the lines of the Guattarian definition that when a certain social space is structured, dis/organized and then recuperated it can become a third, mediated object.

CM: Yes. I was going to say that you are subverting the biggest part of this project, the actual reality show, by not having it play on a T.V. channel or website somewhere, but instead using it as the sort of backdrop for a social space… so it will be the focus of the installation in one sense, but also not in the “normal” way that a video is projected on a wall.

DB: Yes, exactly. You will be putting your latte on the screen. From the viewer’s perspective it is more similar to one’s early morning reading on their computer or iPad with breakfast spread out on the table and breadcrumbs between keyboard keys than it is to a classic experience of viewing video art. I was really interested and found it appropriate to the whole story that ‘user-experience’ becomes more personalized and even physically connected to the object… and in a way messy.

CM: Also a bar/cafe is a place for conversations, nothing like a white cube, so there is a kind of messiness in the sense that their conversations and chatter will all be laid on top of your work. Can you tell me a bit about how you chose the contestants? Were you looking for them to all share certain qualities or did you want them to be very different from one another?

DB: I put out an open call for young artists and recent graduates to apply for a reality show in NYC. We did casting through various distribution channels – in art schools, DIS, Artfag City, Hyperallergic and by word of mouth — basically everywhere where our target audience could see it. I was looking for people who are either graduating or recently finished art school and aspire to become a part of the art world. During the casting we tried to find a good match of personalities that would represent or reinterpret reality-show stereotypes. There were 18 participants for the final interview and then we cast 13 for the show.

In New Lavoro I decided to use other people, whether they are participants in the show or collaborators, to interpret or react to my ideas – either the ones who had more skills or expertise in certain areas, or ones that had more ‘spectacular’ characters than mine in the case of the reality show. I wanted to be a bland host, or coordinator of the whole event wearing a gray suit and using a CEO style of communication… As in previous work, I was interested in the stages when things are not completely there yet, intentions to succeed or aspirations to become ideal or achieve excellence in a desired (in this case creative) sector in the future. And in a place like the Biennale, the Venetian setting makes a perfect fictitious backdrop.

CM: Tell me more about the whole process…

DB: I feel the whole approach to this show is channeling ideas of what Douglas Gordon coined as ‘promiscuity of collaborations’, which manifests these multiple shifts of production in where artists, musicians, fabricators, cinematographers and fashion designers replace the individual artist to create new collaborative forms.

Claire Bishop’s ‘Artificial Hells’ is relevant to the project as well, particularly the idea that, “the virtuosic contemporary artist has become the role model for the flexible, mobile, non-specialized laborer who can creatively adapt to multiple situations, and become his/ her own brand. What stands against this model is the collective: collaborative practice is perceived to offer an automatic counter-model of social unity, regardless of its actual politics…”

There were certain modes of production that I wanted to engage with – how to use outsourcing methods typical for within the workflow of a television production house or advertising agency in an art context — which is not a new idea — but I wanted to take it to the point where every element of the exhibition is approached in that way, and where everything is a modification or iteration of the previous state or idea. That is how I decided to have an ‘umbrella’ for everything, which became New Lavoro (Italian for New Labour or New Work) and from there it will expand to the soundscape, fashion collection, T.V. show, group show, restaurant/bar and a magazine. It was meant to be gesamtkunstwerk or total design, but in a way appropriate to how a production house or branding agency would approach it. The work will exist in its primary incarnation, which is a script of a reality TV show, after each step further it will take elements of previous iterations and remake or re-accommodate them to fit new contexts and new branding opportunities.

The questions of authorship become very blurred here, and the work expands through different levels of production and becomes molded within different hands. For example, the four artists I commissioned to provide recipes for the works that will be made in situ by the staff of New Lavoro in Venice, made variations of their previous work regarding site-specificity and a go-green-obsessive lifestyle. The curatorial framework for this part of the project was influenced by Whole Foods’ Mission Statement and Core Values, which I used as restraints and guidelines for the fabrication of work – everything needs to be produced ‘fresh’, ‘healthy’ and from local ingredients, modified according to the context of Venice. Therefore in the case of Generousability, which is a collaboration between Janus Høm and Toke Lykkeberg, the instruction was to make 3 new video works that are in some way engaging with food and consumption, according to the existing formula of their project, which presents cultural products as artistic products by treating them both with the same kind of intellectual generosity. For example. in one of the videos they apply Rirkrit Tiravanija’s press release from an exhibition at Gavin Brown Enterprise as a narrative to one of the most famous Youtube comedians, Remi Gaillard’s Chef video. Another example is Josh Kline, who re-framed his work, Share the Health (Assorted Probiotic Hand Gels), to include Venetian canal water in probiotic gels where different bacterial cultures collected from the spit of venetian street vendors, which will be growing in soap dispensers throughout the whole duration of the show.

Ideas of ‘Freshness’ of the re-made works came from dealing with issues of temporariness and trends in art, almost comparing them to computer software updates or new/cheaper spring/summer versions of fashion collections, which serves as a much needed vehicle to get or keep audiences interested. This theme was also impacted by the constant influence of online image circulation – where the similarity of ideas and formal expressions appear in different locations at almost the same time. A good example of this is a research Tumblr whoworeitbetter.info – curated by Alison Feldish and Derek Frech. This is a site that rips off People Magazin’es “Who Wore it Best” section, comparing common practices in contemporary art on a visual level of similarity. This is also present in recaps of biennials and art fairs that often express observations such as “I’ve been spotting neon works all over the place” (Armory Art Fair, 2013) or ‘identify several strange recurring trends (art made on or from mirrors, references to outdated technologies’) (Frieze Art Fair, NY, 2013.).

I was interested in fabricating ‘updated’ versions of these commissioned artists existing work and advocating for the production of the works by others, taking into account the idea of ‘context’ as a current trend and also re-enforcing it as such.

CM: Do you feel that this recipe concept is kind of carried over from the way that you had asked for specific things from the participants in the reality show — or how do you see the competition and these ‘recipe’ works speaking to one another?

DB: Yes, definitely. Doing an art reality show is always troublesome in relation to the ‘real world.” It seem unserious or game-like because it implies that the participants need to be pushed in certain directions or ‘instructed’ in order to create work – whereas working artists produce work without many restraints or instructions from the outside – or at least that is how it is presented to be. But more than that, I was interested in producing a script for a show as a recipe, which could be modified and interpreted by participants, and then in postproduction and editing re-framed yet again.

The idea of framing things or commissioning them was important for me and kind of interesting as a procedure — and also the aspect that it can fail, because I am basically creating the framework, but it depends on the participants whether or not they will make something out of it. It quickly became about taking and giving control to others as well

CM: Do you think the contestants were resentful of some of the challenges?

DB: Definitely — the assignments that seemed kind of easy or didn’t involve risk or a certain element of excitement were not taken seriously. What pushed them the most, I think, was if they had to do something they would otherwise not be comfortable with doing, which is a typical ‘T.V. reality psychology’. Some time the contestants began directing themselves in a manner other than how people on reality shows typically behave. They wanted to make it more interesting, and their initial behavior dramatically changed from day 1 to day 4. They all wanted to be ‘the character.’ My approach of not forcing them to act in any drastic or extreme way allowed them to reflect their personalities after the images they already had of reality show characters…

CM: So were they just kind of following a system that was already set in place for them?

DB: Not exactly, but there were elements of that. That is something I’m always interested in. Similarly I’ve explored this in previous collaborative work with D+M, for example when we worked with aspirational MMA fighters, or in BodySurfing or when we worked with wannabe models.

CM: I see. Do you mean is that the contestants seemed to be filling a pre-prescribed role? It’s funny that even with artists — who are thought to be kind of operating outside of that typical social structure — you still see the same kinds of behaviors as you see of other reality T.V. participants. In a way it kind of nullifies the act of making art as being any different than cooking or singing, or modeling or whatever all the other reality T.V. competitions are.

DB: We saw that non-actors know how to behave in certain situations. Again, I was aware that I had to pick characters that are ready to give in in a certain way, and I had to pick a mix of people that would be willing to work. I mean the show is not extreme, and I was not interested in gossip material of blowjobs under night vision cameras or stuff like that…

CM: How did you decide on the winner? Did you give the judges any criteria upon which you wanted them to base their decisions?

DB: Each episode had a different judge, and they were all very different from each other: Xavier Cha, Andrew Norman Wilson, Keren Cytter, Brian Droitcour, Frank Benson, Brad Troemel, Jamie Sterns, and Korakrit Arunanondchai. They made the final decisions about who should be eliminated for each challenge — although we did discuss the contestants’ previous work, etc. At the end, I think Rachel won because of a combination of circumstances and planning – she made her character correspond and amplify a conceptual approach to her work and she took risks in everything she was doing – the overall feeling was that she was willing to go until the end or until she won. In her mind, losing was not an option.

CM: It seems that since the contestants resources were rather limited you were kind of pushing them to make immaterial work. Will any of their work will be featured in the exhibit or will they only be seen in the video? Did keep the work that they made?

DB: Some of the work will be shown in the videos but basically everything that was made was temporary – I wasn’t interested in giving them $1000 for supplies from Blick like they do on Bravo, but in fact exactly the opposite. It was more about ideas than perfect execution, and I wanted them to deal with impossible situations, limited budgets or spaces they usually would not be able to participate with, such as MoMA or the Apple Store. Some of the contestants’ work exists in documentation on Vine or on Instagram, but some just exists as a coat-check number from MoMA, like Nick DeMarco’s.

Nick took flyers from MoMA and wrote on them ‘TILDA SWINTON WHATS UP’ and checked them in at coat check. He’ll never go back to get them, so it is, in an ironic way, a permanent piece.

CM: It is a real show in one sense, but in another, it is your work. It could almost be interpreted as a performance in some way.

DB: I think my involvement was most present in pre- and post-production, where I had the most control to make it into a piece that corresponded with my concept. The importance of reality television, although it has been considered lowbrow, vulgar, or “unworldly,” cannot be ignored because of its global success, and in the eyes of some analysts, it is an important political phenomenon. In some authoritarian and orthodox countries, reality television voting has been the first time citizens have voted in free and fair wide-scale elections, or spoken openly about taboos. It is important to recognize worldwide how it became a beloved substitute for a scripted drama, (although most of them are actually scripted), and probably the reason for it is that it wasn’t afraid to give a current vision of the world and engage with hot-button topics of class, sex and race.

For me, one of the most interesting art projects or social experiments ever done in that field is still “the Warhol of the Internet,” Josh Harris’ “Quiet: We Live in Public” an Orwellian, Big Brother type concept developed in the late ’90s that placed more than 100 volunteers in underground bunker pods under 353 Broadway in New York City. Many of these volunteers were artists and they each had webcams that followed them, capturing every move they made. The weird thing that happened 5 years ago was that the day after seeing the documentary about Harris, I saw him smoking a cigarillo in the Bedford subway station, quite unexpected after the ending of the film that states he fled to Ethiopia to escape his creditors. Reality always has an alternate ending to a movie I guess…

October 2012

Parker Ito

The Agony and the Ecstasy

548 W. 28th St. Suite 636
New York, NY 10001
September 6 – October 6, 2012

Parker Ito, as many of you already know, is a multi-media and Internet artist based in the Bay Area. Over the past few years he has become known for his uses and manipulations of found and stock imagery as well as continually re-configuring and jumbling all kinds of online identities, communities, systems and paths of communication. His current solo exhibition at Stadium in New York City titled The Agony and the Ecstasy, features new paintings and sculptures that defy the conventional binary between viewership in the gallery and documentation as it is presented online.

Courtney Malick: I have to start off by asking about the title of the exhibition, The Agony and
the Ecstasy, which of course conjures certain distinct references such as the novel (1961) of the same title about the life of Michelangelo and the subsequent film (1965) based on the book starring Charlton Heston.  Then there of also the famous song by Smoky Robinson.  Were any of these works in your mind in any way when deciding on a title for this show?

Parker Ito: I like movies, but only bad movies. And I don´t ever read books, only Wikipedia entries.  So my knowledge of these things is very superficial.  The Agony and the Ecstasy seemed to be a good title for an art show because it kind of encapsulates artistic struggle.  My artistic struggles are not so much about, ‘Oh, making art is really hard,’ but more like, ‘I need more money to go online shopping,’ ‘I have a crush on this girl, how do I get her attention on twitter?’ or ‘Do I look hot in this Facebook photo?!’ Online romances are sort of my thing and that´s probably the main theme of this show.  When I say “online romances” I don´t just mean girls either, I´m talking about romantic relationships with art via the Internet as well.  

CM: Can you tell me a bit more about what you mean by ‘romantic relationships with art’?

PI:  Like people artworks seem to exist in some sort of in-between state. Sometimes people take really good photos and sometimes people look hotter offline. I heard a rumor that I’m hotter in person. More so now than ever things exist in multiple versions and one is not truer than the other. Most artworks seem to look better online and lots of art objects can be underwhelming and unromantic in person.

CM: Yes, that is definitely true for photos and other two-dimensional work. I am also really interested in the idea of the exhibition trailer that was included as a link in the press release that I received via e-mail.  This is a PR technique that I have never seen before.  Is it something that you conceived of as a preemptive extension of the exhibition or is it something that the gallery has done in the past?  Also, what was it that you wanted to convey in the trailer that you felt would intrigue people to come see the show in person?

PI: Maybe not in a blue chip sense, but more so with a lot of younger artists exhibition trailers seem to be pretty common now.  Mark Leckey made some pretty cool trailers for his exhibitions.  Hopefully people will get excited about coming to my show when they see the trailer.  That’s probably what I was thinking about most.  We live in a day in age of TL;DR though, so who wants to read a whole press release when you can watch a video and get more of a sense of what the show is about?  You do´t even have to watch the whole trailer, which is cool too, you can just scrub through it.

CM: I guess that is true to an extent, but I actually found a lot of things in the press release that intrigued me that I doubt I would have understood about the show based solely on the trailer. Most importantly the press release describes a lot about the conceptual background for this body of work, but I would really like to hear from you how it came about, especially as it relates or diverts from your previous work?

PI: Twenty-twelve was all about making beautiful things – my motto this year is ‘be pretty, make pretty things.’  That was the genesis of this body of work.  Then I got this idea to try and create artworks that were un-documentable, and then this basically shifted into trying to make art objects where the content of the work was the documentation and that had multiple, unique viewing experiences.  Reflective material offered all of these qualities and I just jumped into that head-first.  The timing was so perfect, as reflective material seems to be really trending in fashion right now. This makes me feel like I´m the artistic equivalent to hypebeast or something.

CM: I love the idea of documentation as content too and it is clearly foregrounded in this project. Can you say a bit about why you have chosen to set it up in this way?

PI: Yes this is the most important thing.  When buying a painting or a sculpture collectors always ask “which is the artists favorite?”  My answer would be that my favorite is all the of the paintings and sculptures together, with multiple documentation of each object collected on my website, then a link to my website posted on Facebook with at least 50 likes.  I think that´s probably most simple way to explain my reasoning.

CM: From what you have told me so far I am curious to know if you consider this project to be a formal one or if you see it as being rooted in the conceptual?  Perhaps in this case we cannot distinguish between the two?

PI: I´m not a conceptual artist, but I think this work is rooted in “konceptualism” and this is similar to when people spell the word “cool”, “kewl”, or “kool”.  I am passionate about the Internet and making work about the effects that Internet has had on traditional art objects is the most honest thing I can do, even if sometimes I do that under another name.  These paintings and sculptures are made flat, un-stretched.  Water and paint is sprayed on to the reflective material, which leads to very randomized results.  This reduces the whole process into something very systematic, which yields a very formal result.  But the qualities specific to the materials make the experience of viewing these works in person and in documented form very unique, and this is the more “konceptual” side of the project.

CM:  Wow, I’ve never thought of a kind of renewed or “off-brand” version of conceptualism.  It is interesting that you mentioned wanting to achieve a certain beauty with these works yet on the other hand you would be most pleased to see them reduced to a popular link on your Facebook page.  Again, the tension between agony and ecstasy or form and concept seems to arise.  Do you feel it is that dichotomy that the works embody that will continue to make them compelling in a non-visual sense once the gallery show is over?

PI: Most conceptual artists claim to be intellectuals. I am either a super anti-intellectual or a fake pseudo-intellectual. Just in the same way that my life is more conceptual than any art, therefore I do not need to make conceptual art. Multiplicity is an important part to the project – a gallery viewer could see these objects in person and think “wow these are extremely beautiful” and the works would just be reduced to pretty things on a wall. Someone could see a low res cell phone pic on Facebook that is extremely blown out and actually have no understanding at all of the formal characteristics of these works. So these objects both reject and accept their own beauty. The most interesting way to experience them is to live with them because one can view them in every lighting condition. 

CM: Clearly one of the problemics your show addresses is the dichotomy that exists between experiences that take place online as opposed to offline.  Offline, in terms of an art exhibition, would traditionally mean the ‘separate-ness’ of the white cube of the commercial or museum gallery.  However, I am beginning to wonder if we can even make such a distinction any longer, as most of us spend each day with a smart phone in our hand at all times, through which we are continuously connected to the internet and various social media networks.  It is this perpetually connected condition that makes me wonder if the “unaffected”, (as it is referred to in the show’s press release), space of the gallery can any longer actually be considered as such?  Do you think that virtual and physical space necessarily operate differently?  And if so, do you think that there will eventually be a time when they will merge completely?

PI: Yea I mean this is already happening.  The best way to understand this is if you think about the new Apple OS and how the default track pad settings actually function in reverse from the previous settings.  This is because people are getting so used to being on smart phones all the time and scrolling the opposite way is actually more natural.  Or things like how Instagram filters just look like Instagram filters and don´t even reference film anymore.

CM: I know what you mean, particularly about Instagram’s self referential filter aesthetic.  It is clear to me that it is this condition that your show references, what I am wondering is whether you feel that by presenting something (these paintings) that cannot as easily transition from the real to the virtual realms, does this project represents a critical perspective on this hyper way of interacting via new technologies?

PI: No. I think I’m just being honest about the impact of the Internet on contemporary culture. I mean right now I’m writing this on my iPhone on an abbreviated version of gmail because my laptop is broken and I’m traveling. it takes me longer to type and the experience of handwriting my responses would be very different but it’s still “me.”

CM:Right, of course. I guess my last question would be if other than the documentation existing as the final state of this show that will be accessible on your website, do you have other plans for ways to extend or re-use the documentation “works” that will be the result of The Agony and the Ecstasy?

PI: I don’t really see an end because this work could be re-blogged forever and each time the work is photographed it is reactivated. 

 January 2012

In Response to Cat Kron’s One Side of the Coin: An Extended View of Curating

I’d like to preface this text by saying that it is not meant to be read as a criticism of Cat Kron’s article, “Ain’t Miscuratin’: Everyone’s a curator!” In fact I would like to congratulate Kron on a piece well written, a topic undeniably in need of more dialogue, and lastly on her ability to rouse my interest enough to get me to sit down and write this somewhat lengthy response. While I found there to be many interesting points made in her article, I was nonetheless compelled to bring to the attention of DIS readers my alternate views on some of the ideas brought up. Most importantly, I hope that my response can help to broaden our view of the role of the curator within an art and cultural context and all of the many aspects involved in the profession that are not necessarily bound to exhibition making. Of course in the spirit of dialogue, I welcome Kron to let me know, via DIS, whether she finds these comments useful, incorrect, or otherwise.

I appreciate the motivation for Kron’s essay and I agree with her conclusion that squabbling over terms and their meanings in search for institutional hierarchy is ultimately futile. However, as a recent graduate of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, (not that I’m in any way bragging, honestly that school has a lot it still ought to teach about curating in my opinion…), I have to say that the definition of art curating portrayed in this text is altogether lacking. The problem that actual art curators have with everyone going around saying that they’re curating their spice racks is that it gives the impression, which this essay only confirms, that curating is solely about arranging objects in some sort of grouping. This is simply not the case. It is one of so many aspects involved in curating. In fact, I would say that the foremost skill of a good curator is one’s impeccable ability to do and consider about 50 interlocking constituents of varying natures all at once.

Perhaps the largest and most pressing of these constituents left completely unmentioned in Kron’s essay is research. No curator does anything at all without a relative amount of extensive research (oxy-moron intended). First of all, I believe that to be a good curator, one must also be an avid and ever-growing art historian as well—which of course means even more research. The product of said research is not only an exhibition with some works in well-composed juxtaposition to one another. It is an entire body of work and can take many forms; sometimes including an exhibition, often including multiple texts, some written by the curator and others commissioned or edited by the curator, all of which is then compiled and published via the curator’s oversight. In addition to this, curators program talks, screenings and other forms of public mediation that connect the ideas within an artists work to a larger cultural context in (hopefully) unusual and interesting ways. Perhaps most importantly to me, curators must diligently oversee how all of this work, (both curatorial and artistic), will be documented, and therefore how it will continue to be represented and studied by future historians, artists, curators, patrons, and others.

In regard to Kron’s referencing Dia Chief Curator, Lynne Cook’s curatorial methodologies, (for whom, by the way, I having nothing but the utmost respect), I have several questions. Kron begins, “Outsourcing the physical labor of production to assistants, the artist as producer arguably negates the need for a curatorial presence”—lets first stop here. Is this to say that before artists had assistants, (which basically means maybe in the 1940s or ’50s at the latest), that artists were not the producers of their own work in the same way that they might be now that they may employ assistants? Is it to say that prior to artists working with assistants that the curator was somehow a stand-in for these assistants, fabricating artists’ work for them? If the resolution at the end of Kron’s essay is that we ought to eliminate institutional and literary hierarchies, then why should she assert that there can be only one producer within this scenario? In any case, the artist continues to be the producer of their own work, regardless of whether or not they employ the help of assistants; and the curator, in turn, produces research, exhibitions, texts and ultimately a collective dialogue that surrounds that work. Kron goes on to equate the dissipating need for the curator as a producer that apparently used to exist as she continues her thought, “… in much the same way that the curator attempts to carve a space for him/herself from the artist’s territory.” This is a really harsh thing to say, if I understand correctly. It seems unfair and sorely short-sighted to align this “hands off” approach to curating in a general sense to the particular practice of Lynne Cook, a woman whose work at Dia, (though she has many other projects), has long been engaged in the specific and now historical context of Minimalism. Should curating stay stiffly as it was in the past, when was to intervene in any way with a work of art or space—for there to be any dialogue between artist(s) and curator—it considered to be wrongly stepping into the artists’ “territory”? I should hope we are more open-minded by this point, particularly when so many artists are utilizing networks, applications, user-generated information, and other interactive nebulae as their medium.

As it is the case for many of the most forward-thinking contemporary artists working today, it also seems strange and old-fashioned to turn to the outdated metaphor of curators as tastemakers. This is not to say that I don’t believe it to be true to some extent, but to describe contemporary curating as “[the] practice of selecting finely crafted objects for display” is rather offensive. Practically everything is, or could be, finely crafted. Not many serious or experimental curators are looking at craft and material quality FIRST as a priority for what makes exciting and meaningful work. That’s what collectors do! The connections that Kron draws between cabinets of curiosities, collectors and museums is clear enough, and while I certainly enjoy visiting museums, and even aspire to work in one, I would have to say that if you are judging the entire scope of what curating can do by the confines of what takes place within the museum you are really missing out. Innovative curating takes place on all kinds of platforms, it is no longer exhibition-based whatsoever.

All of this is to say that it certainly does not bother me, as a curator, when people use the term lightly to refer to any number of projects unrelated to art. However, it is important to remember that were curating only about tastemaking and distinguishing works of art based solely on aesthetics and groupings, we would not need educational programs for curators, we would find far less competitiveness within the field, and we would definitely not learn nearly as much from curatorial projects as we potentially can, should we be willing to take the time to examine them.

October 2011

Interview with MPA

Directing Light onto Fist of Father

Co-Curated by  Alhena Katsof and Dean Daderko

Leo Koenig

459 W. 19th st., New York

September 15 - November 12, 2011

MPA is a New York based performance artist who has been presenting challenging and visceral work that includes drawing, photography, installation and collaborations throughout New York and abroad for the past seven years. She is currently in the middle of her first solo exhibition at Leo Koenig Gallery in NYC entitled Directing Light Onto Fist of Father, which opened on September 15th and runs through November 12th.

The exhibition is comprised of many performances and live interventions within the gallery space that unfold in a narrative chain that resembles the flow of give and take within conversational exchange. Like many of MPA’s previous projects, Directing Light… explores the personal and political potential of the presence of the body (or bodies) in space. In this case the body is first and most boldly represented by the symbol of the fist, which she has caste in plaster and stands for Father. For MPA the Father is both a personal as well as a universal figure and thus manifests as a physical embodiment upon which to consider power, as it is obtained, possessed and wielded.

I had the pleasure of interviewing MPA to find out more about this project and what is in store for the second half of the show, as she moves through its three stages, Initiation, The Act and The Invitation.

CM: I am wondering about the order of the “phases” of this show and the titles for each. The first is called Initiation, which makes sense. Can you say something first about this performance, since I wasn’t there to experience it?

MPA: Part I: Initiation happened Sept 15th 6–8p. I stood next to a glass shelf with my eyes shut holding a plaster cast of my father’s fist as the public passed in and out of the space. I wore the jeans I wear everyday and a white ribbed tank-top. I remained still for 2.5 hours. Over this time the room shifted from quiet to loud and crowded. From my position, I went in and out of my body. I meditated, thought about the fist, thought about power. I felt rendered – colored in — by the presence of the audience, and although my eyes were closed I knew when someone was close or when there was space. Occasionally a familiar laugh or voice would bring me back into the room to listen more literally – details to an audio picture I was forming. An active composition.

At 8pm the curators whispered into my ear that it was 8. I continued to stand and intended to keep standing. The room was noisy and full. A silence grew. A silence grew, the silence felt like a request. I felt a very strong energy – a focus. And this energy met my stationary, still body and had me open my eyes. A silence that acted as a calling.

I opened my eyes to a room full of staring people. My eyes didn’t quite work, and my mouth was parched. I remember blinking — almost loudly. I turned my head and looked into the eyes of each person looking at me. Some eyes were wet. One person was crying. The moment, now past, I can say was surreal. The energy and focus in the room still feels to me as if it was a dream. Perhaps a kind of waking. A beginning. An initiation.

I said “Thank you for standing with me” and I walked slowly into the back room of the gallery.

My standing felt layered – a form of protest. A demonstration. A meditation. A room composed of energy generated by the audience, I felt active without visible movement.

I wrote a friend afterward:

‘I thought about holding power and about ‘em bodies meant of power. I listened.

I felt potential

to direct light

onto the fist
onto each other”

Two days later Occupy Wall Street began, and I joined in ever enthusiastically.

CM: The second “phase” is called The Act and the third, The Invitation. This I find interesting and kind of surprising — that the ‘invitation’ would come at the end, rather than the beginning… Are these performances meant to be understood as some kind of a narrative that builds over the course of the show and if so is there a specific reason you had in mind for ending that “narrative” with an invitation?

MPA: The three phases do suggest a narrative or timing to a conversation with light and the/a fist of father. Past, present, and future are considered in the three parts and the installation of the space. In the back corner, a 16mm film of directed light tracing the contours of the fist behaves like an object of the past. It is a projection of past moment. Time is pulled behind and pushed forward in this moment and in the arrangement of this projection (bouncing off a mirror to spread across the wall). Also, in this corner is a pile of ground yellow Tumeric on a glass shelf. The placement of the Tumeric draws an immediate line to the yellow painting(s) at the front of the space. Tumeric is a root, (it looks like a ginger root), with many cleansing properties. The ground Tumeric echoes the dry yellow pigment at the root of paints and painting. I view that back corner as a dissection of what is happening at the front of the space. The back corner is dimly lit and moody. The front of the space is appropriately lit and cleanly accented. The entire space is very minimal, and I experience it as a site, remnants in a trail that can lead the viewer to investigate the power dynamics represented in “the fist of father”. The fist of father is symbolic of and connotes many themes, amongst them are master/mastery, rule of law, and patriarchy.

Specific to Initiation, The Act, and Invitation, the considerations for past, present and future continue. Initiation implies the beginning but it also relied on ingredients of the past. I stood in meditation in a present moment but my mind went in and out of memories of family and experiences with power. “Initiation” is also intended to infuse the site and the plaster fist with energy from the viewers that is then carried into the next act. Each part informs the next.

The Act is directing light onto the fist and happens any sunny day. To direct light I stand outside the gallery in between the sun and the fist, two objects with associations to the HERO, and hold a mirror directing the sunlight into the space. The mirror is a bridge to the light but also a SIGNAL. I am sending a signal between two sources of power. It is also taking a signal from nature (the sun) and sending it into what is man-made (the gallery, the plaster fist, art).

The Act relies on the weather and makes this action very immediate. The passing of a cloud or a rainy day informs this conversation, and so it is not predetermined. It is very Present.

Last week, I placed a sign on the door:

Invitation extends the conversation with the fist, a symbol of power outside of myself, and invites Amapola Prada to join me in the discussion. We will present the piece, “Revolution: Two Marks in Rotation”, on November 8th in the space. Our work tends to rely on energy associated with future notions of time, or psychic impulses. Another word might be Projections.

CM: What can you tell me about Amapola Prada? I know the two of you have worked together for the past six years. What kinds of similarities or differences do you see between your work and hers? Why have you decided after working together privately for the past six years to use this show as an opportunity to present your collaborative work publicly?

MPA: Amapola and I first met in 2007 in Oaxaca, Mexico. We were both there to work with Guillermo Gomez-Pena in a performance workshop. At that time the Governor of Oaxaca had fled the city as the result of protests initiated by the student and teacher movement that extended to farmers and the Zapatistas in the neighboring hills. This is where our friendship began and over the years I have visited Amapola in Mexico and Peru (her home). She is now here in New York via a grant from Franklin Furnace, working on a piece that will show at the AC Institute.

We both use performance to exercise or put action to thought/theory. There is a strong commitment from us both for endurance and confronting limitations, both physically and conceptually. For this piece, we are looking at the power dynamics within our own relationship. I invited Amapola to join me in “Directing Light Onto Fist of Father” and she asked me, “Where is the fist in you?”

That question is an address. It speaks to the power that I inherit. To the power, violence and prprivilegehat I practice. In other words, everyone has a “fist of their father”. The caste fist acts as a symbol of dominating power, (i.e. the rule of law, master and mastery, patriarchy). But that it is familial — that it is my own father’s fist — extends the idea in order to ask, ‘How do we each embody power?’ If we are talking about power, we are also talking about oppression. How do we embody systemic oppression? Or, how do we become beholders of power that endures both seen and unseen acts of oppression on others, on ourselves?

Amapola and I are interested in both the didactic discussion for this theme but also the ENERGETIC. Enter Light!

CM: Having known you for about a year and discussing your past work with you more generally, can you tell me a bit about how this project fits into the larger schema of your practice?

MPA: The entire piece initiated with me having the caste fist in my studio and letting light pour on to this object from the window with a sense of adding light to my relationship with my father. When approached for the show at Leo Koenig by Dean and Alhena, I had to answer, ‘Why take this private act into the public?’ I recognized that the directing of light could be a signaling of light, and began to observe the space in between the sun and the object that receives its light. This space in between had me looking at how a path of light (a signaling) may travel…direct and fragmented.

I have done performances that aggressively confront similar themes. The practice with light and the length of the show opened the possibility to elongate the conversation with “the fist”. In other words, I am not just smashing the fist. I am tracing light over its contours and making projections of its shadow. I held it for 2.5 hours at the opening “Initiation”. This feels like a study. An exercise. A ritual.

Ritual. (to do a series of actions to allow for a desire to manifest).

These acts are a way of knowing. To share this with a public is a manner of demonstration.

CM: How do you hope to see this show and the series of performances of which it is comprised understood through documentation after it has closed? Will there be any video documentation of any of the performances, and if not, do you have certain shots of your actions, for example, that you plan to get?

MPA: I have thought loads about documentation!! Thank you for asking. It has become increasingly important to me that the document of performance does not become an artifact of the event but that it has the opportunity to become an artwork itself. I have struggled with the often cold and distanced video recordings of my performances for several years due in large part to working with videographers that I don’t know and that don’t know my work. Myself along with the co-curators Alhena Katsof and Dean Daderko made a great effort to invite other artists and friends to video and photograph the activities as part of the exhibition. Sadie Benning video recorded the opening night “Initiation” and Emily Roysdon took photographs of a group of us last Sunday in “The Act”. I consider each of these to be collaborations and I feel very invested in their eye collecting the live material present in Directing Light Onto Fist of Father.

For me it is about sharing a process or a way of looking. I had not worked with Sadie before, but I had an intuitive feeling about her. She is a really good observer both visually and sonically. When we sat down in the studio to talk about Directing Light… I wanted her to shoot 16mm. I was super focused on film because film is projected light, the life of film itself, that it deteriorates and gets scratched. Sadie asked me questions about why video or why film in relationship to the whole piece? She said she wasn’t interested in shooting film but was really into these tube cams. The tube cams are one of the first video cameras and have a distinct character with light. They burn an image into a light bulb. Often, when the camera looks at an image for over a minute it will keep that image in the frame when you move it to something else, overlaying the two. You might say it has a memory that happens in its mechanics, not just storing memory onto a tape. One thing I have been thinking about is what does it mean to have this tool that burns images and carries that image over into the next, especially when you are talking about something live. Perhaps, as Sadie suggested, the tube cams can show a way of capturing what is live in a way that is similar to the experience of looking at performance due to this blurring and fluidity of images between moments that occur inside the camera.

I have known Emily for nearly 8 years and I have found myself in front of her camera many times. Emily has a mind that is deep at work looking at the relationships that make up the social. She looks at the energy and politics alive in the spaces in between established and what she might call “imagined” relationships that are composed of individuals and groups. (She says this best, look at “Ecstatic Resistance”). Having been in Emily’s work but also having seen a lot of her work from a viewer’s perspective, I know Emily’s eye and also her joy when she is taking pictures. Specific to “Directing Light…” I mentioned to Emily the 16mm film project, “Desert Film”, that I directed in 2007 in the Mojave Desert. For that project she took incredible photos of light reflecting off jeweled masks worn by the performers. I expressed that I hoped we could get some of the same effects from the mirrors and sun in “The Act” of “Directing Light Onto Fist of Father”, and did we ever!!

In terms of your question about where these materials go after the show, that is still in discussion. But yes, sharing them publicly is part of the intention.