Speaker, In conversation with Ivana Basic, Marlborough Gallery, New York
Marlborough Contemporary, New York
May 25 - June 24, 2017
Text by Courtney Malick
Dyad figures afloat,
Finally they are still, motionless
Their sedentary shells swath their sides,
The core it is tethered to appear further and further away, its arms, exceedingly outstretched, are cold and surely waning...
In this space
Feeble air falls rather than fills its gaps
As it sinks into softness — all movement stunts
turns to torpor.
Pressure surrounds and leaves me hardened, petrified
A sigh fills a slippage that wrings my bent neck
This vessel may shatter
or the next
Here I stand within the draining of the light
Uplifted, feet barely brush the ground below.
As if holding on to it.
Belay my light...
And the ground is gone.
....All that remains is a deafening hum, as bodies of dust slowly swirl.
Marlborough Contemporary is pleased to present its first solo exhibition of new work by Serbian born, New York-based artist, Ivana Bašić. Through the hum of black velvet sleep, furthers Bašic’s study of both the experiential and atmospheric aspects of the body as it dwindles and subsists in its fringe states. With forms that are as relatable as they are alien, this show builds upon the premise of dust as the absolute reduction of the world, a substance in which the world is anonymously contained, since the origin of each particle is unknowable. Similarly, the body’s reduction to dust renders it its composite, suggesting that the unknowable nature of the universe is conditioned upon the unknowable nature of the body and its alien alloy. With this in mind, Through the hum... mirrors the phases and effects of the body under pressure as it transitions from the states of being and porosity to pure density, stone, and ultimately a return to nameless fine matter.
Like nesting dolls, the individual works in the exhibition each embody the cyclical stages of becoming, being, declining, and ceasing to be. Upon one’s first step into the interior, the viewer encounters the central work, I will lull and rock the ailing light in my marble arms. The twin protagonist works on view are at first obstructed from sight. Only when circling around the space does one encounter the two hunched, pale, rigid forms projecting outwards, suspended seemingly in mid-air. In stark contrast to their bodily sensitivities, their vehicles, of sorts, are brutal, steel shells closely encapsulating them.
Their heads are engulfed by delicate glass vessels — like gas masks. In them their breathing dissipates as exhalations turn to dust. It is clear from the dangling limbs and bowed heads that these forms are facing imminent expiration. The metal shells that uphold them are as much an antiseptic container, such as one that a body may eventually end up within, as it is a cradle, where the body flourishes in its inception. As Bašic focuses on abstracted narratives of becoming and ceasing to be, time looms overhead with two instances of a work titled A thousand years ago 10 seconds of breath were 40 grams of dust. Like hourglasses, each of these mechanisms are paired with one of the suspended bodies, weighing the remaining time until their disappearance. Moments are measured by the brief respites in between the rhythmic impacts inflicted upon the surface of the blush colored alabaster. The force slowly crumbles the stones, turning them into fine dust that piles on the gallery floor and stirs into the very air that fills viewers’ lungs, tendering to the cycle.
—Text by Courtney Malick
Contributor, "Slicing Through the Middle: Ties that Bind the Future of Reliable U.S. Protein Sources, The Inherent Dichotomy of the Female Posture, and the Confrontational Sculpture of Ivana Baisc," "re: the FURIES," panel discussion organized by CASSANDRA press, Contemporary Artists' Book Conference, MOCA Geffen, Los Angeles
Moderator, "One Stop Shopping: Information in Social Media Today," panel discussion with Lucy Chinen, Aria Dean and Ryan Lincof, Photo LA Fair, Los Angeles
Moderator, "Out of Absentia: In response to Inauguration Day and the global Art and Culture Strike," organized by 501(c)3 Foundation, Los Angeles
Moderator, "Context in Flux: Contemporary art in space and online," panel discussion organized by ArtTable LA, with Jeff Baij, Ceci Moss, Gene McHugh, Ryder Ripps and Michael Staniak, Steve Turner Gallery, Los Angeles
Ivana Basic (catalog essay), Annka Kultys Gallery, London
Throat wanders down the blade...
Text by Courtney Malick
Illustrations by Ivana Basic
Annka Kultys Gallery is pleased to announce the first solo exhibition in the UK of New York-based artist, Ivana Basic. For her exhibition Throat wanders down the blade.. Basic features a new body of sculptural work and an accompanying book with original drawings by Ivana Basic and writing by Courtney Malick.
In Throat wanders down the blade Basic methodically constructs Bridle, the character that embodies the tension of both the fundamental fragility of life as well as the violent force behind its suffocation.
Throughout the exhibition and book, the character of Bridle is constituted on multiple levels. With Basic’s signature alien corporeality at the fore of her wax sculptures, Bridle gains physicality as she inhabits multiple pieces in the show, moving from one form to the other, the glass air vessels suspended on the walls show progression of Bridles breath, and lastly the written work that follows the exhibition, represents Bridle’s voice.
Bridle, is most precisely disseminated in Basic’s central sculpture in the show. The piece spans the width of the exhibition space with entities joisted against opposite walls by a long metal rod that pierces each at its core. In this way both forms are at once wounded yet simultaneously tenderly bonded andjoined. It is this same, turgid dichotomy found therein, that also characterizes Bridle’s internal tension as both pieces represent reflections of each other and of her being.
As one wanders through its uncanny interior, forms cushioned with wall padding and glass-blown baubles affixed to the walls like guiding sconces, one senses more and more the character of Bridle and the binary environment from which she is born. If in the written piece we can hear her voice, it is in this exhibition that we not only see glimpses of her ever-shifting and inverting physical form, but also feel her breath upon our face as it is trapped and released again and again from within the crumpled glass vessels on the walls. Her hair wisps past us as we turn to take in another sculpture, and ultimately trace her footsteps through her strange yet all too familiar journey.
Text by Courtney Malick
Guest Editor, Arts and Architecture, Fall Issue
"Sarah Oppenheimer's Unique Brand of Infrastructural Friction" at Perez Art Museum Miami
To intervene in the physical (and conceptual) space of the white cube is every artists' job. Their work can otherwise be thought of as a usually temporary imprint upon the structure or interior in question. In that sense, every exhibition is, to some extent, site-specific, even if it travels in the same formation to multiple venues. However, the notion of 'the white cube' and the mysteries or mysticism of what can happen therein, is a topic of artistic interest of which we have recently seen much less. In favor, instead, is work that has sprung from an artist's unique perspective, challenges, or agitations of systemic realities that exist and affect life outside of the white cube. In that way, the function of the exhibition space today more often takes on the role of the telescope rather than of the incubator.
Architecturally-minded artist, Sarah Oppenheimer, came of age in the late 1980s and early '90s when the agenda of the white cube was shifting from an introverted to an extroverted point of view, which began with the visual manifestations of social-centric theories like identity politics and relational aesthetics. Art of that time began to override the singular importance, primacy or preciousness of the art object that had prevailed throughout the 1960s and during most of the '70s with its focus on painting and sculpture, even as performance took off at that time. Placing Oppenheimer within this transitional context, we see that, aptly, her work often takes the structure of the exhibiting institution as both its intellectual jumping off point and its logistical parameters.
This fall Oppenheimer brings her sensitivity to the nuance that simultaneously define and differentiate individual and collective perspectives to the Perez Art Museum Miami, with a new, site-specific commission, rather blandly titled, S-281913. To be bland, it should in fairness be noted, is often to be institutional, and in this way Oppenheimer's project for PAMM is fittingly named. However, those fortunate enough to have visited the museum know that it appears much more like a tropical resort than an insular, hard-edged building that delineates between interior and exterior. When asked about her approach to this uniquely expansive environment, as opposed to the isolation of the traditional white cube, Oppenheimer made it clear that she understands how PAMM is special, noting, "the uniqueness of the [Perez] building largely results from its relationship to site." In turn, she also points out that, as she says, "the sameness of the building speaks to [its] less visible, but no less significant features: [for example], the un-contained air transfer in the floor plenum and the overhead lighting grid." Though we know that S-281913 will be singularly tailor-made to PAMM and therefore fits into its space somewhat seamlessly, (even as it may complicate or confuse the building's architectural framework or how visitors thus move within it), there is also a neutralizing factor at work that speaks not just individually to PAMM, but to the larger formulations, expectations and demands of all art institutions.
From this set-up, it is clear that there is an air of Institutional Critique lingering within Oppenheimer's project. Institutional Critique, we should remember, is now mostly considered an historical term, referring to a certain group of artists, such as Hans Haacke, Marcel Broodthaers, Martha Rosler and Andrea Fraser, to name only a few. These artists and many of their contemporaries' practices were jump-started in the late 1960s with somewhat unsavory or uninvited institutional interventions that questions or blatantly criticized the very forums within which they operated. When confronted with the harkening to Institutional Critique that one might likewise read into S-281913, Oppenheimer is somewhat reluctant, claiming, "I prefer the term 'infrastructional friction.' While [Institutional Critique] has greatly influenced my thinking, architectural and institutional strategies have changed [significantly] over time. These merit a new engagement and perhaps a new language." Nonetheless, there is a sociological aspect to any museum that cannot be denied, and within any sociological schema there is also a question of status; to this Oppenheimer continues, "Notably, the tools that generate these buildings, the developers that finance [them], and the mediums that represent [them], are increasingly the same in different urban centers. These shared design tools and distribution platforms have an effect. Given the proliferation of globally share spatial strategies, it may be possible to generate work that creates friction with these conditions."
With S-281913, Oppenheimer, not unlike some key artists to have employed Institutional Critique in the past, attempts to move the attention of PAMM visitors away from the skeletal or essential pillars of the museum's architecture, and instead highlights its underbelly of minuscule, often invisible inner-workings. For her, their invisibility and the lack of attention paid to them on a daily basis is key. In a text-based outline for the project, she breaks down her focus on the complex ballet of mechanics that are constantly at work within such a structure, bringing together thresholds (doors, hinges windows, latches and locks) and shifts (elevators, revolving doors, escalators, air conditioners, light dimmers, boilers and generators). All of these very small pieces make up the whole of the puzzle that manifests itself into tan enclosed space within which we interact with objects, programs and various forms of stimuli in general. These minute facets thus begin the cranking process of the whole system that allows for the movement of people, air, water, waste and electricity, all of which are intricately mediated by timers, triggers, sensors and logistics.
By utilizing and re-contextualizing PAMM's oft-under-appreciated systemic components, S-2819193 also becomes another example of what Oppenheimer's compendium text, "The Array," initially published in Art in America in the spring of 2014, claims. In this text the artist reiterates the fundamentals of architecture and the factual underpinnings that turn creativity into sustainable reality: namely that a built space is made up of physical (walls, doorways, stairs and floors), and immaterial (sight-lines, sunlight and crowding) components, and that variables such as distance, temperature, speed and direction quantify how such limits affect the people that inhabit a space. In this way, the work cleverly takes up the unseen air chamber space beneath the gallery's floor plane, in which S-281913 will essentially be hidden. Additionally, the insertion of a large beam positioned in between the concrete and the metal decking that supports the space's floor will complicate the viewer's point of view and their experiential orientation. Through this architectural reshuffling, the work creates the illusion of a binary at play, while the exhibition space remains technically undivided. From this perspective, S-281913 operates like a switch of sorts.
When discussing S-281913, she expands upon her conception of the social role of a building and therefore of The Array, stating, "I am interested in how the programmatic agenda of museums is intertwined with the political requirements of a city... In this context, architecture offers institutions a branding opportunity. The branding of the building seems to emphasize the significance of the architecture and the architect, while flattening the building both conceptually and spatially. My work aims to counteract the tendency towards spatial flattening and sameness."
With "sameness" in mind, PAMM itself describes Oppenheimer's intervention via S-281913 as one that, again, calls to action two implemental switches that rotate the glass elements that connote transparency in contrast to the lighting conditions within the exhibition space of the second floor of the museum. The result of this inversion alters and complicates one's viewing position and likewise his or her impressions of what other works of art are on view. While all of this seems deeply tethered to the museum itself, and the presence of the people that occupy it and make it a worthwhile endeavor, it is interesting to consider the language Oppenheimer uses in "The Array," in which she describes the aforementioned as, "simultaneous and suspended, continuous and discrete." Perhaps in her attempt to truly remain site-specific, Oppenheimer takes on not only the logistics of the PAMM building but more intuitively, its mood, which undeniably aims to blur distinctions, rendering the visitor more lost than found.
Petra Cortright, Casey Jane Ellison, Ann Hirsch, Yung Jake, Jason Musson, Ryder Ripps
6830 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
December 12 - 30, 2015
The Real World brings together six emerging artists– Petra Cortright, Casey Jane Ellison, Ann Hirsch, Jayson Musson, Ryder Ripps and Yung Jake. While each artist has a distinctive practice and body of work, they all share a common history of having developed their practices online. As their practices matured, they also began to create paintings, video, sculpture and performances for brick-and-mortar galleries. Their practices function both online and in real space and time, mirroring the dual nature of life as currently lived—we all spend more and more time online and would rather lose our wallets than our smartphones. As the Internet continues to become more incorporated into daily life, users not only go online to search, shop and surf the net, they also engage in all kinds of online-only social behavior. This includes the pursuit of friends, collaborators, dates and even spouses. Through the intimacy that builds as users insert so much personal information into their smartphones, their level of comfort with publicly broadcasting such private content broadens. We see it ALL—young women putting on make-up and pouting seductively as they would in their own mirrors; “belfies” where people jiggle and celebrate their asses; all kinds of inside jokes-turned-memes where catch phrases are attached to embarrassing images of celebrities or funny looking kittens; and the incessant looping of gifs overlaid with pop music.
These six artists, having come of age in the 2000s, take this type of reflective lifestyle as a given. As such, their work often includes various forms of self-portraiture that mimics the selfie-generation. Much like reality television, Instagram, Periscope and Youtube stars who use social media to gain an instant, vast audience, emerging artists are also using online platforms to appeal to mass audiences in similar fashion. However unlike Internet celebrities whose fame often stems merely from the sheer volume of content they post, these artists use irony and satire to critique the self-indulgence and senselessness rampant in online social networks.
In addition to their successes online, which are generally measured in numbers of followers and likes, these artists have simultaneously developed works for the physical space of the white cube. The Real World presents works from both realms. In so doing, the exhibition reveals how blurred the distinctions between the way we live in real life and the way we live online have become. At the same time, we see through each artist’s work, that viewing objects in space is still a significant way to understand art and culture that cannot be replaced by the Internet experience.
Los Angeles-based Petra Cortright began her online practice in 2008, when she posted her now famous YouTube videos that functioned as looping portraiture. Using default design tools popular at the time, Cortright both enhances and obscures her own image. In The Real World, Cortright will present a new short video that harkens back to her YouTube roots, utilizing a rainbow effect that showers colorful, abstract streams across the screen. Also on view will be one of Cortright’s paintings in which she eliminates her likeness while presenting the aesthetic of her videos onto a two-dimensional surface.
Casey Jane Ellison, also based in Los Angeles, works as an artist, stand-up comedian and talk show host. She often abstracts and roboticizes video footage of herself reciting comedy routines that she also performs at local clubs and in galleries. The Real World presents Part ll of Ellison’s single-channel video installation, It’s So Important to Seem Wonderful (2014), first exhibited earlier this year in the New Museum’s Triennial. Here Ellison has expanded the installation to include three channels that seem to be speaking to each other.
Los Angeles-based Ann Hirsch has made work about reality television and even appeared in a dating-themed VH1 show in 2010. Decidedly feminist, Hirsch’s videos, online performances and recent body of drawings, tackle the complexities of what it means to be a woman and an artist today. She will present two new drawings in The Real World that were first conceived during therapy sessions in early adolescence. Hirsch will also present a new video wherein she appears to be giving birth.
New York-based Jayson Musson is widely known for the character Hennessy Youngman whose series, Art Thoughtz, was first presented on YouTube in 2010. Hennessy is a cultural critic who humorously speaks directly to the Internet on art world topics including “How To Be A Successful Artist;” “How To Be A Successful Black Artist;” “On Beauty” and on “Relational Aesthetics.” In addition to presenting Art Thoughtz, Musson will also present one of his new Coogi Sweater paintings.
Ryder Ripps, also based in New York, has a diverse practice that incorporates a broad array of activities. A skilled programmer and self-proclaimed “Internet archeologist,” Ripps is the Creative Director of his web design company, OKFocus and has also co-founded several other online platforms including Dump.fm. Popularized in 2010, Dump.fm is known for its outrageous contributors and spontaneous, free-flowing format. The Real World will juxtapose Ripps’ work as both a programmer and artist by exhibiting a live feed of Dump.fm in its current state alongside a new series of digital prints based on face detection surveillance software systems.
Yung Jake is a Los Angeles-based artist who creates video, sculpture, painting, music and performance. His work often addresses the social environment of the Internet. In Datamosh, his 2011 rap video, his lyrics include a reference to another artist in The Real World “…makin’ gifs on the web like Ryder Ripps.” Yung Jake uses the visual language and style of the Internet across his diverse output. He cuts, copies, pastes, crops, edits and airbrushes imagery that floats freely throughout cyber networks. For The Real World, Yung Jake will present a new sculpture that features advertising imagery for the alcohol brands Cîroc and Hypnotq alongside a two-channel video installation of a recent music video.
Moderator, panel discussion with Sean Raspet, Encyclopedia Inc., and Lucy Chinen, In the Flesh Part l: Subliminal Substances, Martos Gallery, Los Angeles
The Miami Rail, Fall issue, 2015
My relationship with Miami’s contemporary art scene began not with Art Basel Miami Beach, but with a site-specific art project in which I participated, spending a week filming with my longtime friends Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. This was in 2009, and their house where most of the shoots took place was in Little Haiti. When I look back on that first trip to Miami now, it is shocking to me how little I knew about what was going on in contemporary art in the city. What’s more, when I look back at the video work that Trecartin and Fitch produced during the year that they spent in Little Haiti, it is surprising how little of the actual place itself seeps into the stories, characters, or even the sets and backdrops of the movies that they made there. Even more surprising today is that, with the exception of Art Basel and the satellite art fairs in early December, it seems that even still the depth and historical lineages of Miami’s relationship to contemporary art is lost on many.
I too am guilty of this offense, usually coming to Miami during that one week in December when much of the artwork that one takes in has nothing to do with Miami itself and is only temporarily implanted there from more international “art cities” like New York, Berlin, London, Paris, and more recently, Los Angeles. However, having been given the opportunity to spend more time there this summer—in the off-season, no less—and meet with a handful of artists, gallerists, curators, and writers, it is amazing to me that Miami remains somewhat of a contemporary art secret, or even haven. Perhaps it’s best this way, but nonetheless, the more I learned, the more impressive the area’s connections to an art historical past shone through.
One of the best examples of this that I saw is the exhibition GucciVuitton, curated by the artist-run gallery of the same name, which is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Miami (ICA) through September. The exhibition itself is unique for many reasons, presenting content in ways I have never seen or heard of elsewhere. For one thing, it is ultimately a retrospective of a gallery’s history, a rather strange endeavor in and of itself. Secondly, the exhibition design cleverly utilizes the lack of proper exhibition space the museum currently has available in its temporary building as its permanent home is being constructed. The directors of GucciVuitton, each of whom maintains his own independent artistic and design practice, decided to activate the interior of the lobby space, not only on the ground floor, but by installing a transparent, cage-like scaffolding all the way up to the top, fourth floor. In this way, viewers do not enter a gallery to see works installed on its walls or in its white cube space, but instead can only access the works from behind the glass through which one would normally peer downward from the second, third, and fourth floors to see the atrium-like lobby below. Each of these windows now acts as a secondary frame, detaching viewer from artwork, creating the sensation of window-shopping. Moreover, visitors are afforded the rare viewpoint of seeing nearly the
entire show all at once, including the backs of works installed on the opposite side of the building.
While the exhibition design is also unusual in its ability to drastically alter the perspective of the viewer in ways I have never before experienced, GucciVuitton, which has taken works from each of the gallery’s past twelve shows, also serves as an important history lesson. Here attention is called to a wide range of artistic traditions, cultures, and figures throughout the entire southeastern region and its neighboring countries. This includes little-known and longstanding trajectories throughout Floridian history, such as Florida landscape painting, seminal figures and constructs in organic architecture, and sculptures and paintings directly related to the felt prevalence and mythologies of Haitian Vodou. This thus expands and reinforces these lesser-known artists and the cultural lineages from which they draw. Certain artists featured in the exhibition were especially revelatory. For example, organic architect and sculptor, Chayo Frank, whose career began in the mid-1960s in Miami when he designed the unusual AmerTec Building, which is today considered a cultlike architectural
Though trained as an architect, during the construction of the AmerTec Building, which favors bulbous, curved forms that emulate those naturally found in plant and sea life, Frank also became interested in creating similarly organic sculptural forms with clay. Some of these small-scale sculptures, which made up his solo show at GucciVuitton in the summer of 2014, are on view at ICA and clearly recall the colorful, sci-fi, and otherworldly aesthetic popular in the 1970s. While relationships can easily be made between Frank’s work and that of other ceramic sculptors like Ken Price, most notably, his is clearly rooted in the natural imagery, colors, and forms found in the tropical Floridian landscape.
Another great example of an artist whose work may be lesser known, but undoubtedly holds deep significance in Miami, the greater South Florida area, and especially throughout its Haitian subcultures, is Port-au-Prince-based sculptor Guyodo. Guyodo’s artist group, Atis Rezistans, uses items found in junkyards and other household detritus to create “idols,” as they are known—miniature figurines that represent various Haitian Vodou deities. Though the intricacies of the specific traditions to which each figure relates may be lost on some viewers, it is apparent in their installation that they all have a relationship to one another as well as to the viewer gazing in on them through the glass.
Again the sincerity of the idea of place—along with the stories that make up a place—comes to the fore and shapes the work of the individual artist and the overall exhibition as one that is less about the kinds of questions we often see exhibitions attempting to answer, such as, “What does contemporary art look like, or how does it function, today?” or “How are artists’ methodologies shifting in an ever increasingly technologized digital world?” Instead, the exhibition looks inward, which is not to say backward.GucciVuitton seems to be asking viewers to consider where they are in space and time, perhaps how they got there, and how what they see around them in the city of Miami is informed by such histories as those being revisited and recontextualized by the participating artists. This is certainly not to say that Miami has no stake in the larger and broader conversations that perpetuate the überglobalism of contemporary art, nor is it to say that such an expansive and all-encompassing conversation is of no relevance. But rather that perhaps a city like Miami,which continues to dip its toe deeper and deeper into contemporary art’s murky waters—so much so that it is now apparent it will be swimming laps in the years to come—can render itself apart from other major art cities through its less global attributes and selling points.
It is an intriguing contradiction central to the draw of today’s most prominent brand of contemporary art that it tends to champion the universalism of work that speaks to many people in many places all at once and yet applauds those able to reveal the underbelly of the stone unturned, usually found in the geographical and cultural peripheries. The latter point may account, at least in part, for the wafting return of the popularity of abstract painting over approximately the last five years, particularly within the United States. However, to interrogate the peripheral often does not yield to the uncovering of universality. Whether or not this is to be celebrated or critically dissected ought to be taken on a case-bycase basis. However, it should by now be apparent that at least one of the reasons that too much contemporary art looks like a carbon copy of an object or image made in the image of a pre-existing image, is precisely due to this kind of “global” mandate.
Though artists need not consistently approach their work from a site-based perspective, it is not difficult to see that Miami and South Florida represent an unusual part of the United States that
remains somewhat detached in ways that are far divergent from most other “major” art cities. While every year in December Miami invites the global art world onto its beautiful beaches and into its lavish hotels to celebrate another year in nonstop city-hopping for most art professionals and patrons, I hope as its contemporary art institutions and communities continue to grow, it will nonetheless look further inward at what separates it from other places rather than blend more and more seamlessly in with what characterizes the general milieu of contemporary art overall.
Courtney Malick is a contemporary art curator and writer whose practice focuses on intersections among video, sculpture, performance, and installation. She has curated a group exhibition that deals with inorganic ingestible matter and its potential long-term effects on the human body, which opens at Martos Gallery, Los Angeles, in October.
Speaker, “In the Flesh,” Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami
"Thank you all so much for coming!
I will be speaking to you today about an exhibition that I have been piecing together for over a year now, which is tentatively titled, In the Flesh – which is an apropos term, and yes, also the title of one of my favorite Blondie songs, but I am not really set on that title -- I find coming up with titles of exhibitions to be difficult for me in that I usually come up with one right away at the onset of a new idea or project and then even if I know I could probably think of a better one I become strangely married to it and have a hard time thinking of any others as being more fitting
In any case, for the purposes of this talk I will just refer to the show as, In the Flesh, which will take place this fall in Los Angeles at Martos Gallery (whose main space is in NY in Chelsea, and just last summer they opened a new space in LA as well).
The show will include artists whose work relates to inorganic, ingestible elements found in products that include food, beverages, beauty and health items, and also technological devices that emit certain chemicals and radioactivity that are absorbed into our bodies through our skin. These inorganic, potentially harmful, ingestibles include things like GMOs, hormones, pesticides, radiation, plastics and bacteria, all of which are more and more consistently seeping into our bodies, especially as the term “organic” becomes more commonplace and its regulations decrease.
In fact, in doing research for this upcoming show I've learned that the U.S. is one of the only major countries left in the world in which food companies are not obligated to disclose whether or not their products include GMOs or not, and that Whole Foods has a goal of being able to assure their customers that by 2018 no food products that they carry will include GMOs, but that at this time some of them do.
The show will explore the ways in which our bodies are potentially and obviously very slowly adapting and therefore also morphing as a result of this increasing seamlessness between what we think of as purely organic or natural matter, such as skin and flesh (both of humans and animals), and inorganic ingestibles, such as those that I have just mentioned -- and, how such a seamlessness will eventually, over time, alter the forms that human bodies take and the ways that they function.
This project, overall, will be broken into two parts, and thus two exhibitions, so In the Flesh will be the first, and the second will take up issues that are related, but have more to do with the ways that some people are exteriorizing (and in some cases accelerating), this morphing process on their own, through practices like self-body-modifications, bio-hacking, transhumanism, chronic plastic surgery, extreme body building and the use of steroids and other performance enhancement practices like self-doping, "fashion" trends like "bagel-head," (which was popular in Asia a few years ago) or anime or doll face (like the Russian woman known as Fukkacumi), and a general shift towards the more and more plausible reality of human cyborgs, such as new trends like fingertip magnet implants, and an artist named Neil Harbisson who is considered to be the first real cyborg, due to the fact that he is the first person to have implanted an antennae into his skull, which allows him to perceive visible and invisible colors like infrareds and ultraviolets through audible vibrations as well as receive images, and even phone calls directly into his head without the use of a hand held device.
These ideas that I have been mulling over and researching for the past year, were first sparked by the work of an artist named Ivana Basic, who was born in Belgrade and now lives and works in New York. I first came across Basic’s work while looking at the website for the Brooklyn project space 319 Scholes, in which Basic’s piece, Automata was included in a 2012 group show titled, Not Spring, Not Winter that she actually co-curated with Jack Kalish and Kate Watson.
At that time, Automata was titled, Solid, and has since changed form. But in that show, the piece consisted of a white, plaster blob on a table, inside of which small hammer-like devices called “solenoids” tapped away at the blob’s interior. At the same time, a live feed of the inside of the blob was projected on the wall behind it, and tiny microphones placed inside the blob amplified the sound of its slow, internal breaking. To further anthropomorphize this blob, which resembled to some extent some kind of organic matter or possibly the head of a penis, it was also outfitted with motion sensors, so any time a viewer came too close to it, the tapping would stop. Depending on how often the tapping was stopped by the intrusion of viewers, Automata (then called Solid) would take approximately 3 days to break apart.
I became intrigued by this work, as it related directly to a project I was working on at the time that was about the very gradual and incremental destruction of all forms of convention, belief and rhetoric, which I postulated began with an obliteration of all religion. I had planned that this project, titled To Be Announced, would take the form of an exhibition, but it ended up becoming a long-format essay that I was commissioned to write by Tom Leeser, (head of the MFA New Media Dept at CalArts) for an online journal that he co-founded in association with the school called Viralnet.net.
During the time that I was writing the essay I got in touch with Ivana and then finally had a studio visit with her in New York in the spring of 2014. There I saw these very realistic, fleshy, meat-like sculptures that sometimes incorporated soft materials like pillows and blankets...
Basic's sculptures were so grotesque and even congenital that I could not get them out of my mind for weeks after our visit. They seemed almost to breath and pulsate (aspects of which she is currently working on making possible). I began to think of them especially while looking at all the raw meat in the butcher’s counters at the grocery store, or whenever I thought of preparing meat at home, seeing commercials for it, etc…
[slide 3 and 4]
And this then lead me to pick up an older obsession that I had thought a lot about a few years ago, which is an alleged and controversial disease called Morgellons. This is a disorder in which victims claim that they experience persistent painful and itchy sores on their skin underneath which they find various kinds of stringy, plastic fibers that are suspected to be the results of their bodies rejecting plastics they have ingested, but it is debatable within the medical community whether this is the real cause or if their symptoms are actually the result of mental illnesses known as “delusion parasitosis.”
So these questions about what is really going into the human body and how that is being translated through the body, so to speak, became more and more intriguing to me. At the same time, throughout most of last year, while these ideas were all kind of swimming around in my mind, I was also writing a lot of art criticism, reviewing solo and group shows as well as several art fairs. By the time I got to Miami Basel last December, it became very apparent to me that food in various forms and extensions was becoming more and more prevalent in a lot of the contemporary art that I was seeing across all media, whether it be sculpture, photography, video, painting, installation, ceramics, etc...
I first walked through NADA and then Basel with my friends from Dis Magazine, making my case for my food-art hypothesis and finding that in booth after booth there was another work to back up my claim. So, I wanted to show just a few examples of this, all of which were included in my reviews of NADA and Basel. The first 2 images are from NADA and the others are from Basel.
[slides 5 - 9]
One of the many paintings in Mike Bouchet’s series of close-ups of hamburgers which deals with the health issues and economic stability of the fast food industry
After this trip to Miami and writing the reviews of these fairs, I realized that this connection between art, particularly within sculpture, and the origins and practices surrounding food and consumption, were at the core of my interest in Ivana’s work and that that would in turn create the backbone for this group show at Martos Gallery in LA.
It was in the summer of 2014 that I had been invited by Martos Gallery Director, Taylor Trabulus, to propose a concept for a group show for their new LA space, but it took me until the end of last year to solidify how all of these various elements and the work of several artists that I had continued to explore, (including, Ivana as well as Josh Kline and Sean Raspet) came together.
Josh is someone whose work I had known of since 2011, when I graduated from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College and pieces from one of the installations in my thesis show, by the New York-based collective, Yemenwed (who had a large show of their performances here in Miami at PAMM last year), were brought directly from CCS to a group show in Soho that Josh had curated titled, Skin So Soft, at Gresham’s Ghost (a curatorial project taking place at the time initiated, coincidentally, by Ajay Kurian). The show included Kline’s 2011 installation, Share the Health (Assorted Probiotic Hand Gels).
Here, Kline installed 3 hand sanitizer dispensers on the wall, each of which contained different liquids that were not hand sanitizer (the first contained acidophilus, which was set in mango and coconut flavored nutrient gel, the second contained cultures taken from New York’s G Train that were set in nutrient gel and the third contained cultures from a New York Chase Bank ATM machine set in nutrient gel). This work immediately caught my eye, after which point I began to follow his practice.
Since then Josh has been making really incredible work that gets at the sort of spliced together nature of much of pop culture’s and mass produced commodities’ creepy underbelly. His 2013 new York solo show titled QUALITY OF LIFE at 47 Canal (which, incidentally, was also the gallery where I curated my very first project in 2009), included many works that have informed my thinking for In the Flesh, some of which will (hopefully) also be included in the show.
As In the Flesh will aim to decipher, imagine and evoke the act of ingestion, I am very interested in Josh’s series of medical drip IV bags filled with different combinations of substances, similar to his hand sanitizer piece.
Kline also used medical plastic bags and coolers for a piece made with human blood doped with Wellbutrin, titled, Think Strong
[slides 12 and 13]
In an earlier solo show at 47 Canal in 2011, titled, Dignity and Self Respect, Kline made a series of casts in flesh colored silicone that made up the installation, Creative Hands (an image of one of such works that was used for the invitation for this very talk!)
This piece is one of Kline’s that particularly resonated with me and that I am really excited to exhibit in In the Flesh, because, although rather subtly, the longer I look at it and think about it, the more it gets at the core of this idea of seamlessness that I keep coming back to in terms of the ways that both our bodies and brains are changing as a result of the ways that we assimilate our technological - and especially mobile devices like our smartphones - with our bodies and skin. Im sure Im not the only one who has a knee jerk reaction to assume that my iphone is already in my hand sometimes when I am talking about something and want to either reference a photo or forget a word or name and literally, instinctually turn straight to the palm of my hand to find the information that I am looking for.
I think this phenomenon was well summed up in an essay titled “Digital Handwork,” published last summer on Rhizome, written by Kerry Doran and Lizzie Homersham, in which they reflect on this series by Kline by saying, “In contrast with the machinery of large scale industry, the devices we use for immaterial labor are sleek and pocket-sized, ergonomically built and anthropomorphized. Yet they reshape the hand in crippling fashion, limiting its activities to a set of patented gestures.”
For me that quote really begins to get at the way that our familiarity and dependence on such devices effects certain parts of our bodies, but we also see that they have equal effects on the ways that our minds work, and how we sort, store and configure information. There have also been recent studies that show that the function and ability of humans' short term “working” memory, has decreased significantly as the need to store singular or incremental information like names, dates recent events, etc. has become somewhat obsolete.
In that sense I think of works like Creative Hands as a way to visualize the bridge between the 1st and 2nd parts of this show that intend to demonstrate, in abstracted ways of course, the trajectory from interior to exterior effects of the impetuses and manifestations of the increasing levels of artificiality that we are accepting, not just into our daily lives, but physically into our bodies themselves, and furthermore into our actual genetic make up.
Another informative work of Josh’s is his 2014 series, Skittles, first produced for a public project titled, Archeo, on the NY High Line and which has since taken many different forms, and consists of different combinations of food or other products and items being bottled and displayed in large quantities like they would be in a grocery store.
[slides 15 and 16]
Thinking about this project made me realize how strange it actually is that what is mass produced, cheapest and most easy to obtain are products that are made primarily with artificial and chemical components, and that what has become more and more of a rarified luxury is the ability and funds to obtain food and other personal products that are made primarily of natural and truly organic ingredients.
That thought lead me directly to Sean Raspet’s work, with which I have been somewhat familiar for years, as he was represented by Daniel Reich Gallery back in 2007, when I worked there as Assistant Director as my very first job out of college. At that time some of Raspet’s work involved products like hair gel, but I only considered them as aesthetic materials, not as real life elements with attached meanings and economies. However, seven years later, when I reconnected with Sean after seeing his incredible, large-scale installation in the Societe Berlin gallery booth at Miami Basel last year, (and subsequently writing about his work in my review of the fair), his work has evolved and extended far beyond his jiggly hair gel sculptures.
For the past few years he has been working, essentially as a chemist, creating work that ultimately exists only as liquids that he creates in his studio by manipulating and altering molecular compositions in order to make an array of artificial tastes and scents. The liquids, which often take on alarming colors and viscosities, are then sealed into scientific canisters of varying types, best suited for each.
Since developing this artistic practice, Raspet has also recently been hired by the LA-based company Soylent (reference to the 1960s sci-fi classic, Soylent Green, definitely intended), which manufactures and promotes a lifestyle that asks, “What if you never had to worry about food again?” It describes itself as a food product NOT as a supplement, a distinction made official by the FDA, which offers “maximum nutrition with minimum effort.” Right now it is just a tasteless powder that one can add to water and drink instead of eating a meal, but now Raspet has been hired to create flavors as well, at least one of which will be available to taste at the opening of In the Flesh, which is especially exciting as it will be the first time he has actually let audiences taste his work.
Allowing for his work, in the form of liquid, to be smelled and tasted is a new direction for Raspet, who thinks of the actual work as the liquid alone, not editioned, but priced in terms of numbers of liters. When asked about the issue of an edition for a particular work he responds by asking “does Coca-Cola come in an edition?”
Right after reconnecting with Sean here in Miami last December and discussing this show with him, I was asked to interview Miami-based artist, Nicolas Lobo, with whom I am sure most of you are familiar… I did not know anything about Nick’s practice before our interview, but quickly realized how fortuitous it was that I had been given this assignment, as his work also related directly to these ideas for my show and particularly fell in line with Sean’s work, in that they have both used and manipulated mass produced products like beverages and perfumes in various ways.
[slides 18 and 19]
So, while the first half of this overall concept for In the Flesh, which will manifest with an exhibition in LA this fall, is looking at ways that various products that we consume are subliminally ingrained with potentially bodily altering substances, the second half of the project, which will take place at Gallery Diet here in Miami in the following spring of 2016, will conversely look at ways that individuals and sub-cultural groups are activating that body-altering process on their own. Some of the artists that I am considering to work with for that show are making work that incorporates robots, virtual bodies and identity systems, synthetic forms of skin and bodily forms, such as Hannah Black and Cecile B. Evans.
Yet even with this return or emphasis on the human body, whether in a “natural” or “organic” state or otherwise, its important to me to make the distinction that this is not the same kind of body that may have been present or prevalent in video and performance work from the 70s and 80s. In that sense, I am veering more towards work that is body-centric but not body-specific, and will be looking at artists whose work utilizes a bodily form in some way, but does not personalize that body and instead uses it to say something about collectivity and also in that sense, the ways that all bodies – physically are being somewhat neutralized and desensitized through our increasingly internet-driven lives."
NADA Art Fair, New York
Perhaps one of the most difficult merges to successfully forge within contemporary art is between the curatorial and the commercial. Often when we seek to place what, from a curatorial perspective, seem to be productive frameworks around a grouping of artists, their work, and the ideas that they share, we lose the quality of broad universalism and “timelessness” that collectors may seek in new acquisitions to the margins of site-specificity and the binds of “context.” What makes malleable and unique projects such as Daata Editions stand out in their attempt at the pairing of these two supposedly adverse spectrums, that of the curatorial and that of the commercial, is its specific interest in artists whose work yields to the diverse but nonetheless pre-framed, non-site of the Internet. Furthermore, as both a curatorial and commercial project that is presenting new and commissioned works in video, new media and sound, Daata Editions is able to set certain guidelines beforehand, which allows visitors to the site and potential collectors of the works available there, a leveled playing field. In this way the sometimes fussy issue of context, from a curatorial standpoint, can be seen as a benefit rather than a constraint, which thus furthers the meaning of the works in question.
This platform is particularly exciting to see emerging right now, as so many younger artists, including all of those whose work appears in the first iteration of Daata Editions that launched at NADA New York in May 2015, are working in ways that resist traditional modes of exhibition, reception and therefore of collecting as well. It is important that while we continue to find new artists whose work pushes the definition of contemporary art, that there are also ever developing formats through which such work can be accessed and best understood. Older, conventional formats often found within the white cube, in which paintings are still hung on white walls and sculptures still meticulously placed on white pedestals, need not be replaced, so long as alternate avenues through which to engage with art and the complex ideas that it generates, continues to expand along with the work itself – such is clearly the admirable aim of Daata Editions. Contrary to the well trodden paths canonized by the white cube, artists such as Ed Fornieles, Jon Rafman, Amalia Ullman and the many others that Daata Editions commissioned work from, all of whom are still in relatively early stages of their practices, are specifically trouble-shooting, so to speak, in order to produce work that operates on other levels that exist in various realms including on the internet, within mobile social media systems, as apps, and generally as circuit-driven pieces of a much larger whole, as opposed to creating singular, physically tangible works that stand on their own or make one digestible statement. For example, Ullman’s video, White Flag Emoji 1 (2015), utilizes Youtube clips and a security camera system called Dropcam and is set in various Airbnb apartments. In this way, while the work itself manifests as a singular video, its contents are fragmented and reference the online world, in its similarly fractured and link-driven nature. Such complex work still finds itself in galleries and museums, but it is most at home online, where it exists within a broader milieu and where its potential audience and collector-base cancontinue to grow and grow over time. Daata Editions also allows for a new generation of collectors, by commission works that exist within a larger edition range and are thus more affordable than most work of any media that is found and acquired through commercial galleries.
It is clear that Daata Editions allows for many new ways to think about collecting video, sound and new media art, and this exciting turn is also extended with the project’s intermittent interjections into art fairs, such as their recent collaboration with NADA New York. Though Daata Editions home base will remain online, where it has the ability to seep most easily into more and more visual and discursive outlets where its commissioned works can be seen, partnering with other commercial organizations such as NADA and Frieze among others, continues to promote their curatorial agenda and at the same time allows more potential collectors to consider new strategies for collecting editioned and digitized artworks. The more Daata Editions spreads this new methodology both online and through ongoing collaboration with various exhibition and commercially oriented organizations, the more the project’s core model will mirror the nature of the work it presents, which functions on various levels simultaneously. It is this through-line between work and methodology that makes the project especially compelling to watch as it continues to unfold.
Editor, Man Ray and Sherrie Levine: A Dialog Through Objects, Images and Ideas, exhibition catalog
Curated by Larry List
Jablonka Maruani Mercier, Brussles
Editor, Science in Surrealism, exhibition catalog
Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco
Nanu Al-Hamad is an artist and furniture designer based in New York, whose hybrid practice is comprised of several interlocking facets: Al-Hamad Design, which produces furniture and 3D-printed accessories, the art collective GCC that has had exhibitions in Kuwait, London, Berlin and New York in the past year, and another collaborative project, POWERHOUSE, with designer, Max Ketant, which debuted their design exhibition, IVAN: The Reconstruction of Narcissism this year in Kuwait. Al-Hamad explains, “IVAN uses concepts of disciplinary architecture to create a deep relationship with the surface of things in the hope that the surface extends to the depth of its [being.] While there is a designer’s touch to everything that Al-Hamad creates, it is clear that the conceptual and the functional, the content and the form, are melding together into his signature, polished and complex visual language.
Design was not Al-Hamad’s initial aim, which explains why his work often feels more comfortable in galleries and museums. The venture began in 2011 when an installation piece of an oversized blackberry cell phone that was in a group show at Sultan Gallery in Kuwait lead to a furniture-making opportunity, thus spawning a new outlet for the young artist. Of this transition, Al-Hamad says, “It was a work of art that transformed into a design piece. Much of my work straddles that boundary and doesn’t necessarily have the kind of artistic integrity that is often associated with contemporary art. My work can be opportunistic, it forces itself into existence.”
Then, in 2013 Al-Hamad, along with seven colleagues, all originally from the Arabian Gulf region, formed a new collective, cheekily named GCC (directly referencing the Gulf Cooperation Council). He says one of the best things about GCC is that everything goes through eight heads before being realized. He, Alqatami and fellow Kuwaiti Khalid Al Gharaballi come from design and architectural perspectives, so they maintain a high standard for materials and production. Engaging in cultural and political discourse through GCC’s glossy, sardonic videos and installations has continued to push Al-Hamad’s practice into new, content-driven realms that question just where the line between art and design is – or can – be drawn.
STILETTO Magazine, Paris
Courtney Malick in Conversation with Bill Viola and Kira Perov
Today, most people who follow contemporary art are very familiar with the work of Bill Viola. They may not know the whole history of video art, but they are aware that he has been involved in it from its inception. However, what some people may not know is, first of all, that he has been collaborating with his wife, Kira Perov, throughout most of his career. Upon hearing his name, some may think first of his arresting images of bodies in water, but in fact Viola has also delved into narrative, if abstracted, story-telling, producing highly conceptual “poems” that touch on the frailty of life. For all of the beautiful, at times painful imagery that he contributes to what is today often an information-centric art discourse, it is not surprising that the Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais in Paris has chosen to celebrate his long and productive career with the largest exhibition of his work to date, Bill Viola, which opens March 5, 2014.
Arriving in Long Beach, California to discuss this exhibition with Viola and Perov they explain that this, though their largest grouping of works, with twenty installations altogether, is less a retrospective and more a journey. Viola is confident that despite the show’s non-chronological design, “audiences will come away with an all-encompassing sense of the scope of my practice. Twenty works is really not enough to represent everything that we have done. Instead, we have conceived of this show as a journey. Each of the twenty works connect, [taking] viewers from one place to another. There are however a few instances in which the viewer will have to go backwards past something that they have already seen in order to get to the next part of the exhibition.”
A proper retrospective of Viola’s expansive career would be difficult to comprise. Not only has he continued to develop more and more complex productions, he has also been involved in writing, experimental music and sound art. When asked if these concurrent parts of his practice will be represented at the Grand Palais, Perov notes that, as always, Viola will write descriptions for each work in the exhibition’s catalog, which will give audiences, and particularly those not fortunate enough to visit the exhibition, a better understanding of where each piece comes from pragmatically as well as emotionally. There will also be a sound piece that bridges the upper gallery, in which the first half of the show is installed, with the lower gallery, and the show will feature aversion of one of the original projections from the Tristan Project, the production of which, fortuitously, will be reprised at the Opera nationale du Paris during the run of the exhibition.
Conceptualizing this sensorial journey, Viola and Perov, who has also taken on the role of co-curator alongside Jerome Neutres, have structured the exhibition by posing three important questions; ‘Who Am I?’ ‘Where Am I?’ and, ‘Where Am I Going?’ In response to the first, Viola presents videos that deal explicitly with corporeality, “Here we were really trying to get at ‘what is this body that I have? How does it work?” He describes one such video, Four Hands (2001), of particular importance to him, as it was made just following the passing of his mother. The four channel, black and white video shows a series of common gestures repeated by various sets of hands, including Viola’s own, Perov’s and a close family friend who stood in for his mother. Though there is an immediate impulse to interpret the shapes made with these hands as somehow linguistic, Viola prefers to keep things much more open-ended.
For Viola, the question ‘Where Am I?’ relates to his childhood in Queens, New York, and the most impacting trauma of his life, which took place one summer at Jones Beach where he nearly drown in the ocean. This, he says had a profound effect, “It allowed me to see things in a totally different way. Before I saw things as being outside of myself, but that experience allowed me to find a place that I could access that was within me, and that idea is still very important to me.”
‘Where Am I?’ also relates to the place where so many of Viola’s incredible meditations on the surreal have been created. He and Perov have lived in Long Beach for over thirty years, where their practice now has strong roots. Viola describes moving from the East to the West Coast as being rather inevitable, “I have always loved landscapes – I was always sort of riffing off of Giotto. I knew that eventually I would move to California. It was an important transition. We certainly felt a shift. Suddenly there was quiet, water, air, the desert, there are less distractions here and more room to work.” What then, links Viola’s “riffing” on the long-romanticized California landscape to this large exhibition in Paris? Perov points out, “We have been consistently showing work in Paris almost since the beginning. We did a lot of projects at the American Center, which later became the Cartier Building. This was back when video was still new and people in Paris were especially receptive to us.”
Having gained a sense of where Viola and Perov are in their intertwined careers, the question of ‘Where Am I Going?’ seems only natural. This last section features some of Viola’s more recent work, which “confronts issues of death, disillusion and aging – but also rebirth – which is a special gift that the cosmos gives us,” he explains. This includes Man Searching for Immortality/Woman Searching for Eternity (2013), where we see the naked bodies of an older man and woman, whom Viola and Perov describe as, “going through their morning ritual of checking for new signs of death, melanoma, indications of aging, by shining small flashlights over their skin.” Less morbid, but still haunting is Three Women (2008), in which a grandmother, mother and daughter cross a threshold represented by each of them walking through a perfectly flat water “wall,” and The Dreamers (2013), where performers float in tanks of water, their eyes closed, holding their breath for as long as they can, creating an eerie state somewhere between sleep and death.
Sense perception has clearly been at the crux of much of Viola’s work. When asked how it has progressed, he begins with a quote from William Blake, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” He continues, “The cosmos are a vast field around us. The point is not to interact with it frontally, but instead to bring it into your self, that is where the physical body and the soul meet. This represents a balancing of opposites that always comes into my work at some point, even if I don’t always know when or how beforehand.” It seems that this Cageian interjection of chance must also present its challenges, to which he and Perov both agree, “The challenge is that you have to trust in what you are doing. Sometimes things don’t come together until they finally come together. Sometimes pieces tell you what they need in order to be completed. Sometimes you are working on something even when you don’t know it.” Viola smiles and adds, “You have to try not to control everything and allow everything outside of yourself to not be your thing.”
Commissioned by Viralnet.net in association with California Insitute of the Arts
As we venture into the second decade of the 21st century, it is at times difficult to reconcile the tensions between what remains standard from the past with the complex nuances in thought and technology that complicate contemporary life. Perhaps reconciliation is in fact not desirable after all. If we were to imagine westernized cultures as inhabiting one collective body, whose many limbs are arguably more connected today than ever before by way of the Internet, it seems that that body would be reaching a breaking point, beyond which imminent rebirth awaits.
Through performance, video and new media there continues to emerge a widening selection of contemporary artists whose work addresses the transitions, dismantling and ultimate regeneration of such a social body. While a long lineage of artists exploring this kind of social destruction can undeniably be traced back all the way to Dada if not further, It is the artists, Ivana Basic, Mircea Cantor, Xavier Cha, Brody Condon, Joshua Hagler and collaborators Miri Segal and Or Even Tov, whose work will be examined here, in tandem with a proposed trajectory of a gradual process of social erosion and its subsequent re-germination.
We may envision such an impending break as following an arc, along which this text posits us as currently being in the midst. That is to say that a damaging crack has already struck this social body’s façade, the exacerbation of which has now burrowed deep into its many layers and produced an unfixable rupture. It is at this point in time that we find ourselves as we prepare for—even look forward to—the deconstructing and eventual abstaining from what has been as a form of protest, and a cleaning of the slate that is not unlike the clearing of a forest fire. These seven artists’ work explores ways in which such a breakdown is not only a necessary and recurring part of life, but furthermore how it allows for new systems of communication and identities to function as precarious test sites rather than well-trodden paths relied upon solely for the tenure of their longevity.
The slew of interpersonal, political, economic and ecological disasters that have taken place over the past ten years in particular, along with theories of prominent philosophical and psychological thinkers such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Georges Bataille and Walter Benjamin, certainly inform this nihilistic reading of our current moment. Freud’s “death drive”, with which we are by now rather familiar, again relates to the natural example of the forest fire; a disaster that while deadening for individuals, is in fact generative for the future of a larger whole. For insomuch as Freud states that tension is that thing that ruptures the pleasure principle, (originally derived from the principle of constancy, and the antithesis of the death drive, sustained by an unjarring state of predictability and stability), it is, however, precisely an unpleasurable tension, or as he often refers to it, an excitation, that allows for the direction or course of one’s psychic well-being to shift so as to return to a state of pleasure. This is further exemplified in Freud’s reality principle, with which the Ego replaces the pleasure principle for purposes of self-preservation. As Freud states, the reality principle, contending between pleasure and displeasure, “does not abandon the intention of ultimately obtaining pleasure, but it nevertheless demands and carries into effect the postponement of satisfaction, the abandonment of a number of possibilities of gaining satisfaction and the temporary toleration of unpleasure as a step on the long, indirect road to pleasure.”
Jung’s theory of the mid-life crisis is similar to Freud’s, though perhaps more drastic, as he concludes that, “The transition from morning to afternoon means a revaluation of earlier values. There comes the need to appreciate the value of the opposite of our former ideals, to perceive the errors in our former convictions, to recognize the untruth in our former truth, and to feel how much antagonism and even hatred lies in what, until now, had passed for love.” Humanizing and individualizing the destruction of a collective consciousness in this way allows us to more easily see the underlying cyclicality of such a breakdown. For in the same way that we turn to hate what we once loved in our first phase of life, so too we will surely build new monuments around what we come to believe in and love in the second phase, only to later find the untruths that in fact exist therein.
Consideration of Jung’s theory of the mid-life crisis in relation to the destruction of outmoded ways of life also places such a shift within a generational context. In this sense, it becomes all the more obvious that younger generations whose first and most foundational experiences have taken place by way of the Internet, inter-communicative smart-phones and tablets, drastically alters one’s initial understanding of the world at large. Does today’s world appear bigger because we are able to see and know so much more of it, or does our immediate access to it actually render it smaller?
Unlike Jung, Bataille’s theory of unproductive expenditure focuses less on the emotional or atmospheric transitions that lead to such drastic shifts in perspective, but instead on the inherent value of such a loss. In this sense we see a link between Freud and Bataille, who find destruction and waste to be not only necessary and inevitable, but also productive. This is made evident in Bataille’s description of the great individual and collective losses that are accepted as a given within games and sports. As Bataille points out, the similarity to the passions brought about through the relinquishing of conservatism in the playing and participation of sports speaks directly to every individual’s instinctual, if libidinal, death drive, “As much energy as possible is squandered in order to produce a feeling of stupefaction—in any case with an intensity infinitely greater than in productive enterprises. The danger of death is not avoided; on the contrary, it is the object of a strong unconscious attraction."
With regard to Benjamin and his pre-Marxist exploration of cultural and governmental violence in “Critique of Violence,” it is less important that we understand precisely the differences between his concepts of “mythic” as opposed to “divine violence.” Instead, what is most blatant in his early work is the fact that violence exists in many forms and at all times, and therefore must be contended with and used constructively rather than always attempting its avoidance. Similar to Jung’s inverting of love and hate during a state of transitory mid-life crisis, Benjamin describes the two sides of violence as performing opposing functions, but through the same basic methods, “If mythic violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them.” Here we see that while the dichotomy of Benjamin’s forms of violence on the one hand uphold standards for standard’s sake and on the other hand negate them for precisely the same reason, they are nonetheless equally acrimonious.
The work of Ivana Basic, Mircea Cantor, Xavier Cha, Brody Condon, Joshua Hagler and Miri Segal and Or Even Tov, take on various aesthetic and physical dimensions. However, the basis for their work shares an implementation of hypothetical guidelines and limits onto a particular cast of actants. By setting such fabricated boundaries into motion, they point to the more tangible and applicable social conditions within which their work is made, received and disseminated. These artists have at times also found unusual presentations for the infiltration of their ideas such as online platforms and relatively new organizations whose missions collapse art and theater, science, technology and social media, and other extensions of communication, information and daily life. Their formal, conceptual and professional choices in and of themselves are thus prime examples of an attempt to break down and re-define the role that contemporary art can have throughout the many networks that underlay all cultural production. In this sense we may read integration as a common denominator throughout these artists’ work, and against which destruction thrives.
Fissures: Joshua Hagler, Ivana Basic and Xavier Cha
These seven artists mostly operate independently from one another and are based in various places around the world. When considered in juxtaposition to each other, their work can be understood as marking significant points along our demonstrative arc of collective destruction. This arc begins with the slow breaking down of hundreds of years of cultural and even spiritual conventions and rhetoric. Such an abrasive deterioration is literally conjured in some of the works of the first grouping of these artists, which includes San Francisco based Joshua Hagler’s two-channel video installation, The Evangelists (2012), Belgrade born and New York based Ivana Basic’s performative object and two-channel projection installation, Automata (2011), and New York based Xavier Cha’s performance Body Drama (2011).
Joshua Hagler’s initial ideas for The Evangelists actually sprung from a traumatic incident in which his neighbor started a fire and his apartment building burned down. This disaster caused an inevitable shift in his life, and after a few years of living with the effects, Hagler sought out the neighbor and was eventually able to interview him. After interviewing his neighbor, in which the man described the mental pressure and disease that had caused him to start the fire, Hagler resolved to interview three other men with similar stories as the basis for a new video project.
The four men, each of whom suffered a psychotic breakdown that was brought on by, or coincided with, a religious or spiritual belief or vision, are presented in the video as 3D rendered and animated busts. Their appearance takes on virtual, sculptural forms, which masks their individual differences and the details of their human frailties. They tell their stories in short phrases and then abruptly pause, their eyes suddenly shutting like a robot whose batteries have run out, while another man picks up where the other left off. Between the four of them they sketch a singular and visceral, yet fractured, portrait of a psychic beak. Although each man’s individual story is woven into another’s, the viewer is able to follow their four, separate recollections while at the same time reading their experiences as a correlative episode. The melding of these individual’s breaking points reflects the initial, corrosive stages of the arc of cultural destruction, in whose wake we are by now entrenched.
Where Hagler’s work intimately explores personal schisms that we may perceive as symptomatic of a wider reaching and underlying social boiling point, Ivana Basicʼs multi-faceted installation, Automata, carves open the space for total obliteration. Basic describes Automata as a performative object created to be self-destroying through the process of slow breaking. The work focuses on human physicality and its limitations, as they are perceived through various social contexts. Automata is constructed of eight solenoids that are implanted inside a white, blob-like object made of plaster, which pound at the inside of its walls in order to break it open. At the same time, a microscopic camera, also placed inside the blob, records the breaking. The live-feed of this process is then projected on a nearby wall.
This animate object can be seen as a stand-in for consciousness en masse due to its lack of distinct form and its undeniable corporeality as it conjures the form of the head of the penis. Further personifying the blob, it also contains sensors that alert it when anyone approaches too closely, stopping the pounding of the solenoids temporarily, while the video projection automatically switches from the interior of the blob to a shot of its exterior, which includes a projection of the lurking viewer. Once the viewer moves away, the pounding continues and the projected feed returns to the tapping of the solenoids. The total destruction of the blob, which takes approximately three days to complete, results in its crumbling to pieces. Automata exemplifies a kind of reflexive destruction that comes from within. In fact, when outside forces weigh too heavily upon it, the destructive process is paused. This aspect of the work is crucial in that it renders the blob conscious, and even more importantly, independent.
Xavier Cha’s three month performance, Body Drama took place in the lobby gallery at The Whitney Museum of American Art in the summer of 2011. During that time, performers cast by Cha appeared to be losing their minds. The performers, who are also actors and performance artists themselves, were instructed by Cha to ignore visitors to the museum and focus on expressing an indescribable and acutely intense fear or anxiety. The catch was that while producing this uncomfortable bodily reaction, alone in the gallery, each performer was fashioned with a cumbersome and rather large camera strapped to their body and pointed directly in their face. This contraption is often how close-up, edgy camera work in horror movies is achieved. Yet, the imposing camera-harness created a palpable divide between the performerʼs incredible ability to remain fully enveloped in their fear, and the inability of the viewer to abandon their disbelief when peering in on them during one of their freak-outs. Further complicating this refractive work, once the performance has run its course, the footage captured is immediately projected onto a floating wall that divides the gallery into two halves.
Not so unlike Basic, with Body Drama, Cha allows us to see ways in which we collectively self-destruct through our obsessive and compulsive role as simultaneous voyeur and performer. Perhaps in Cha’s work the destruction at hand is not as directly inflicted on the self as is blatantly the case with Basic’s Automata, but regardless, Body Drama alludes to the ways in which we submit ourselves to all kinds of scrutiny. As a result we impose more and more pressure on our own culture and its standards. Senior Curatorial Assistant of the Whitney at the time, Diana Kamin, accurately describes ways in which this incessancy plays out on a wide social scale in her essay, “Xavier Cha: Body Drama,” which accompanied the performance, “With Body Drama, Cha has created a situation that reflects fractured contemporary life, in which virtual interactions via social media and a seemingly infinite flow of information, mediated through myriad screens and channels, continually offers portals into previously inaccessible viewpoints. [The work] disorients us because it feeds into the conflict between our powerful instinct to understand the world more fully through multiple perspectives and the anxiety produced by the constant stream of options.”
Body Drama clearly raises all kinds of questions about the motivations of the role of performers as well as those of audiences in all social situations. However, it is especially important to recognize that this work also calls drastic attention to an oxymoronic condition similar to those brought up in the work of feminists such as Judy Chicago and Hannah Wilke, among many others, when they revealed that the beautifying products and rituals that claim to breed confidence, in fact often contribute to emotional pain, embarrassment and a splintered sense of self. With Body Drama, Cha brings these frustrations—a backlash of the fulfillment of our own unhealthy desires, which are by no means limited to women or feminist issues—to the fore.
Void-Making: Mircea Cantor
Later phases of destruction that retract from obstructive violence and turn to abstinence, lead to an eventual state of blankness. This state is ever present and intoxicatingly so, in much of the work by Paris based Mircea Cantor. His videoTracking Happiness (2009) is one of many of his works that leaves viewers craving less rather than more. Cantor’s work often refers to something that is coming next, or the negation of something common or familiar. Again, integration proves to be the nemesis of an axiomatic decimation. His ability to turn something familiar on its ear, so to speak, often produces a pluralizing that alone changes its meaning. His project Double Heads Matches (2002) does precisely that. The basis of the work is a simple documentary-style video investigation of a match making factory in the artists’ native Romania, but then in a twist, Cantor commissioned the factory to create 20,000 boxes of double headed matches that can burn at both ends—the old “candle” idiom clearly referencing factory conditions more generally—while at the same time doubling something that is so ordinary a product that we take it entirely for granted.
In an essay written in accompaniment to a screening of video works by Cantor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007, art critic and University College London Art History Professor, T.J. Demos sees Double Heads Matches and other of Cantor’s videos as the inverse of a political protest, which challenges even the very language and practice of resistance itself. Demos writes on another of Cantor’s videos, Nulle part ailleurs (Nowhere, Elsewhere), which stitches together a vast array of commercial footage for vacation resorts culled from the Internet, “Nulle part ailleurs shows one aspect of our current system of socio-political reality, according to which the whole social body—down to every individual and its biological and corporeal existence—is comprised of power’s machine; that is, of the diffusions of diverse and subtle technologies of social control, such as architectural design and the patterns of commercialized leisure that regulate and discipline life.” 
However, unlike the work of Hagler, Basic and Cha, Cantor’s installations and videos leave audiences with a sensation of retreat rather than attack or expulsion. Tracking Happiness is a prime example of just this sort of muted protest. The performance that the video captures takes place in a conceptual vacuum, furnished only with a white background and white sand. The video depicts a kind of cleansing ritual carried out by six dark-haired, bare footed women, all dressed in the same white skirts and shirts. They form a circle and slowly pace clockwise. Each woman carries a broom and sweeps away the footprint left by the woman in front of her. Accompanied by a celestial soundscape, the work evokes a sense of serenity that can come with total negation, as the women form a sort of mechanism that exists without leaving any visible trace. It is also significant that the performer’s act of deletion does not include men, emphasizing the feminine reclusion to that of the masculine protrusion and denying this fictional scene any chance for reproduction.
Test Sites: Miri Segal and Or Even Tov and Brody Condon
Lastly, a regenerative period in which experimental new forms of thought are tested within microcosmic, ephemeral frameworks are brought to our consideration in the collaborative project Future Perfect (2010) by Tel Aviv based Miri Segal and Or Even Tov that includes the video Sergey B., an accompanying 3-D printed sculptural object, Gmind and a video advertisement titled Gmind Mobile, and New York based Brody Condon’s performance and video Future Gestalt(2012). Both Segal/Tov and Condon postulate the context of their work, and therefore of their audience as well, into a time that does not necessarily have to be understood as the future, but rather as simply ulterior. Though it plays out in very different ways, these artists share an interest in gaming structures. For Condon these include Live Action Role Playing (LARP-ing), while Segal’s work, much like that of Chinese artist Cao Fei, has explored, among other realms, the virtual realities of Second Life. In this sense their work, more so than Hagler’s, Basic’s, Cha’s and Cantor’s, asserts our current culture’s heightened value of the template. Curiously, inasmuch as the concept of the template is at work here,both Segal/Tov and Condon complicate the issue by using it as a productive means to express their ideas, while at the same time its inherent rigidity exposes the very socially imposed limits that their work often aims to thwart.
Miri Segal and Or Even Tov
Miri Segal, who, not surprisingly, received her Ph.D. in Mathematics before becoming an artist, uses her video and new media installations as an opportunity to force viewers to question their reliance on their own modes of perception. The instability produced therein purports unsettling environments. However, in Segal’s collaborative project with Tov, Future Perfect, which includes the video installation Sergey B., (admittedly named after Sergey Brin, inventor of the Google Glasses), a 3-D printed template for the wearable computer headpiece, Gmind, and a video advertisement for the product titled, Gmind Mobile, they are not questioning perception, but rather inevitable technological interventions that lay merely in the distance. Sergey B. takes the form of an online, interactive live commercial with a man named Sergey B. as its host, who presents Gmind, a new wearable headpiece computer from the company Gooble, (in exactly the same font and primary colors as the Google logo, no less). Gmind is entirely activated by the user’s thoughts, its screen can instantaneously be turned on and off and is displayed across the surface of the user’s retina. The accompanying advertisement, Gmind Mobile, demonstrates how the computer works by showing audiences the perspective of the user.
Here Segal/Tov make direct reference to technologies that are being integrated with brain function, which are already beginning to emerge today (see this Ted Talk lecture and demonstration by Emotiv Lifescience Founder and CEO, Tan Le).
In one sense this kind of brainwave-guided technology may be considered a glimpse into our plausible future that would drastically change interpersonal communication indefinitely. In another way, this work and the fact that this hypothetical device is already being developed, may be seen as a potential threat to humanity as we know it, and in this way, Future Perfect complicates the linear trajectory of the arc that connects destruction and metamorphosis. Indeed, the believability of Sergey B., particularly in relation to the Youtube commercials for Google’s new computerized glasses is perhaps what is most intriguing about the work.
The installation of the sculpture/prototype for Gmind also calls important attention to the current flourishing of 3-D printing in all aspects of design, medicine and architecture, which is being discussed as a revolution in technology as significant as the advent of the printing press in 1440. With such evocative and yet haunting glimpses of what life could potentially be like with the integration of these kinds of immersive technologies, Segal/Tov seem to be teasing their viewers. Similar to Cha’s work, with Sergey B., Segal/Tov force us to ask ourselves if we are embarking on an exciting new world of convenience and ultimate connectivity, or if the work represents the false hopes of a culture collapsing under the weight of its own dependency on materiality and its relentless need for speed, the devastating effects of which are palpably felt by our natural resources as they continue to weaken in retaliation against us.
Brody Condon’s practice explores fantasy and LARP-ing, in which performers are at times referred to as “players” and wherein Condon takes on the role of the ringleader or Director. In this way, his work inhabits an undeterminable time and place that follows a hypothetical breakage, which thus allows for new forms of relationships and communities to thrive. More so than Segal, Condon is operating outside of an even conceivable notion of what life might look like any time soon. Instead performers are given sets of specific yet abstract confines and objectives within which to interact, not so unlike those that Allan Kaprow imposed upon participants in his workshop-like happenings in the late 1970s. Certainly we can see the influence of the group therapy boom that took place in the 70s throughout much of Condon’s performance-based work. In fact, Condon himself has described Future Gestalt as “a 70s group encounter session set in the far future.”
Set beneath Tony Smith’s overarching permanent sculpture Smoke (1967) at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Future Gestalt’s cast of six performers, each swathed in the same colorful, draping robes, slither, swarm and spin amongst one another in response to heavily vo-coded instructions being given by the group’s leader, Condon, sitting just outside the frame of action. At times they interact intently with Smith’s sculpture, whispering barely recognizable confessions of some sort into its smooth black surfaces. Moaning, reverberation and clickings of the tongue are laid over the dialog, complicating the viewer’s ability to distinguish between what passes as verbal communication as opposed to atmospheric affectation.
In Future Gestalt we can certainly see applications of Jung’s theory of the psyche’s mid-life crisis at play. As viewers, we have little if anything at all to bring with us from our previous experiences to use as referents to help us situate this work. It reminds us of the kind of break with reality experienced by the men in The Evangelists, and it could only possibly take place after the kind of explosion of concrete “truths” that we see in Automata and the resulting blankness found inTracking Happiness. Like Segal/Tov, Future Gestalt seems to be more an advertisement of sorts, featuring potentialities for ways of life, rather than anything resembling an immediate reality. Nonetheless, more so today than ever before, the future and its template-inspired projections represent our current state and this in turn allows us to respond to them with increasing ease.
Condon’s work is, at its core, most often about the formation and navigation of boundaries. However, by primarily presenting his ideas via performance, rather than sculpture or installation, such boundaries are able to remain not only relatively fluid by way of individual interpretation, but also temporal and impermanent. In this way, while Future Gestaltcertainly connotes a sense of the nature of human communication perhaps 100 years from now, the work itself functions much more like a frame within which this particular performative iteration has manifested with performers behaving in a certain manner, rather than a prescription to be followed precisely.
While it may seem pessimistic to diagnose the well being of our culture as currently crumbling before our eyes, as we see through these artists’ practices and in the works of Bataille, Benjamin, Freud and Jung, there is something liberating about one’s own demise, particularly when it is self-inflicted. What is important to take note of with regards to Basic, Cantor, Cha, Condon, Hagler and Segal is that their work, in part due to its performative underpinnings, resists definities, circumscription, and belief systems altogether. Though a viewer’s interpretation comprises a large part of the meaning of any work of art, a painting or a sculpture is definite in a certain sense—it is unchangeable. In these artists’ works, even something as resolute as a video, (particularly in the cases of Segal and Condon), conveys meanings beyond its material form, thus signifying one of an infinite number of potential expressions of a foundational set of intersecting questions and postulations that in fact make up the very essence of the work.
We need not deny the fact that to believe in the rejection of something we have come to know as being as primal as the formation of beliefs, is in itself the creation of a new belief system. However, we can see a distinct dichotomy between religious beliefs, for example, and those of someone like Cantor, whose work promotes, in a certain extremist sense, nothing at all. The shifty quality of these artists’ works clearly speaks to the subliminal, DIY kinds of environments and formats, whether physical, virtual or mental, in which so many people today not only choose to work and communicate, but in which they are often expected, even forced, to do so. The benefit of such demands on our daily modes of life is that complex technological forms of communication are inclined to multiplicity and hybridity—words that in their most traditional sense directly contradict the steadfastness associated with belief systems and the exclusive communities that they often form.
While some of these artists’ works have here been aligned with the beginnings of an immense annihilation, others the cleansing state that ensues, and still others with the tinkering of unprecedented structures, each of these works allows for various interjections of chance. In part these allowances are made possible by the composite anatomy of the works themselves. Rather than representing one thing and being made mostly of one thing, these works are both formed by many, at times inharmonious parts, and also point to multiple, at times diverging modes of thinking and being. This can be no accident. Instead, it is likely that this kind of propensity for indecision is the result of an incurring age in which the present is endlessly tripping over the impatient feet of the future, whose M.O. is the ever intensifying precision of simultaneity.
Whereas hundreds of years ago what we may have desired was concise, definite answers and proven paths to follow, believe in and pass down to others, today our lives demand more and more malleability, making the notion of a strong belief or conviction almost obsolete. We see this even in the “faith” that we put into the technological devices that we severely rely upon and arguably form physical attachments to, which we all know are regularly tossed aside for upgraded and new versions. These drastic transitions in the ways that we interact with one another and document and organize our lives are designed to speed up the general pace of life, and with that speed comes a slipperiness and lack of accountability that must be examined. It is in this spirit that these works of art are presented here. In this sense, these artists’ work, if they stand at all, intentionally stand on the most unstable of legs, professing little if any definitive claims. Yet in their fragility, they put forth a new kind of artwork, one that can be slipped into many different contexts, hopefully even some that we cannot yet envision.
1. Freud, Sigmund, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Hogarth Press Limited, Toronto, 1922, pp. 7.
2 Ibid, pp.10
3. Jung, Carl Gustav, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 7, 1972
4 Bataille, Georges, The Notion of Expenditure, 1933
6 Benjamin, Walter, Critique of Violence, 1921
7 ibid, pp. 249
8 Kamin, Diana, Xavier Cha: Body Drama, The Whitney Museum of American Art, 2011,
9 Demos, T.J., Mircea Cantor: The Title is the Last Thing, Philadelphia Museum of Art, February 2007
10 Kaprow, Allan, “Some Recent Happenings,” Great Bear Pamphlet, Something Else Press, 1966. “A Happening is an assemblage of events performed or perceived in more than one time and place. Its material environments may be constructed, taken over directly from what is available, or altered slightly; just as its activities may be invented or commonplace. A Happening, unlike a stage play, may occur at a supermarket, driving along a highway, under a pile of rags, and in a friendʼs kitchen, either at once or sequentially. If sequentially, time may extend to more than a year. The Happening is performed according to plan but without rehearsal, audience or repetition. It is art but seems closer to life.”
Author, “Dora Budor: New Lavoro,” Palazzo Peckham, (exh. cat.), 55th Venice Biennale