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To Poke, to Prod, to Flip, to Fold: Unpacking the Box

Installation view of Unpacking the Box. All photos: Gene Pittman Unpacking the Box is the first installation in the new Best Buy Aperture, where changing displays will highlight materials from the Walker’s collections, archives, and library. Here, Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung discuss the inaugural conceptualization of the space. Let’s start by unpacking what we […]

ex-bba2016ub Exhibitions, Visual Arts, Best Buy Aperture installation. Unpacking the Box August 30, 2016–February 19, 2017 Best Buy Aperture Walker Art Center Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Changing displays in the Best Buy Aperture highlight materials from the Walker collections and Archives & Library. Drawing on ephemera, books, press materials, photographic documentation, and other rarely seen materials, these installations foreground the Walker’s exhibition history and thematic strands in the collections. Integrating archival materials with moving image technology, the Best Buy Aperture encourages a media rich and innovative approach toward archival displays. The inaugural Best Buy Aperture display Unpacking the Box presents artist’s multiples—three-dimensional works produced in more than one copy—that take the form of a box. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en valise (Box in a Valise), a suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks, this presentation ranges from experimental and playful objects of the 1960s Fluxus movement to more contemporary productions, which in their multiplicity question the notion of the unique work of art. These containers act as single-artist portfolios or combine the works of several artists, functioning as “portable exhibitions” to be unpacked, ordered, and reordered by the viewer-turned-participant. Once folded, flipped, poked, prodded, or shuffled, the contents are no longer suited for physical manipulation as they have become fragile over time. Unpacking the Box embraces this emerging tension between implied interactivity and the often-cited “do not touch” policy at museums. How do we “unpack” the box we cannot touch? In lieu of engaging our tactile sense, the objects on view prompt us to imagine new modes of participation. Curators: Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung
Installation view of Unpacking the Box. All photos: Gene Pittman

Unpacking the Box is the first installation in the new Best Buy Aperture, where changing displays will highlight materials from the Walker’s collections, archives, and library. Here, Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung discuss the inaugural conceptualization of the space.

Let’s start by unpacking what we mean by the title Unpacking the Box. We are referring to, of course, the literal box (you’ll see that all of the objects on view take the form of a box or box-like container, whether that be a suitcase, a cabinet, or a backpack) but also the metaphorical box, meaning the museum as white cube or box. These objects throw into question the distinction between an artwork and its immediate frame, or container, and by extension, between the art object and the museum that houses it. The container is complicit, even critical to our understanding of the artwork; in fact, it is the artwork.

This type of so-called “institutional critique” has a relatively long history within the history of art. Perhaps the best place to begin would be Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise), the first edition of which was created between 1935 and 1941. A suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks (rendered at precisely 33 percent of their original size), the Boîte questioned the status of the unique work of art. What did it mean for an artist to reproduce at miniature scale objects from his own oeuvre? Are these “multiples” diminished as works of art? In reproducing and disseminating his artworks, Duchamp challenged not only the unique work of art but also the authority of the institutions that displayed them. Here, one could have a portable exhibition of one’s own outside of the museum apparatus.

ex-bba2016ub Exhibitions, Visual Arts, Best Buy Aperture installation. Unpacking the Box August 30, 2016–February 19, 2017 Best Buy Aperture Walker Art Center Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Changing displays in the Best Buy Aperture highlight materials from the Walker collections and Archives & Library. Drawing on ephemera, books, press materials, photographic documentation, and other rarely seen materials, these installations foreground the Walker’s exhibition history and thematic strands in the collections. Integrating archival materials with moving image technology, the Best Buy Aperture encourages a media rich and innovative approach toward archival displays. The inaugural Best Buy Aperture display Unpacking the Box presents artist’s multiples—three-dimensional works produced in more than one copy—that take the form of a box. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en valise (Box in a Valise), a suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks, this presentation ranges from experimental and playful objects of the 1960s Fluxus movement to more contemporary productions, which in their multiplicity question the notion of the unique work of art. These containers act as single-artist portfolios or combine the works of several artists, functioning as “portable exhibitions” to be unpacked, ordered, and reordered by the viewer-turned-participant. Once folded, flipped, poked, prodded, or shuffled, the contents are no longer suited for physical manipulation as they have become fragile over time. Unpacking the Box embraces this emerging tension between implied interactivity and the often-cited “do not touch” policy at museums. How do we “unpack” the box we cannot touch? In lieu of engaging our tactile sense, the objects on view prompt us to imagine new modes of participation. Curators: Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung

Installation view of Unpacking the Box

The Boîte en valise has been reproduced several times, thus embodying the spirit of the facsimile. The Walker’s red Boîte is from Series F, produced in Paris in 1966 in an edition of 75. It includes several intentional changes from the first production, including 12 additional reproductions. Most recently, the publisher Walther König produced a new, posthumous facsimile, edited by Mathieu Mercier under the supervision of Association Marcel Duchamp. It uses contemporary digital printing and production technologies to allow for a larger edition at a modest price. This new edition, released in 2015, makes it possible for the Boîte to be viewed, reimagined, and even purchased outside of the museum and gallery system, honoring Duchamp’s original democratic desire.

The intentional variations between the two Boîtes is one that we tried to highlight by placing them side by side. In addition to the obvious differences in color, material, and scale, there are more subtle changes that speak to Duchamp’s playful and irreverent sense of humor. If you look at the backsides of two of the elements on view, for example, you’ll see that the 2015 Boîte presents a two-dimensional trompe-l’oeil approximation of the three-dimensional wooden armature of the earlier Boîte. In other words, the structural function of this detail has been rendered purely decorative. Moreover, the proximity between the two editions and their linear sequencing mimics an assembly line of sorts, perhaps intimating the seriality of their production.

ex-bba2016ub Exhibitions, Visual Arts, Best Buy Aperture installation. Unpacking the Box August 30, 2016–February 19, 2017 Best Buy Aperture Walker Art Center Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Changing displays in the Best Buy Aperture highlight materials from the Walker collections and Archives & Library. Drawing on ephemera, books, press materials, photographic documentation, and other rarely seen materials, these installations foreground the Walker’s exhibition history and thematic strands in the collections. Integrating archival materials with moving image technology, the Best Buy Aperture encourages a media rich and innovative approach toward archival displays. The inaugural Best Buy Aperture display Unpacking the Box presents artist’s multiples—three-dimensional works produced in more than one copy—that take the form of a box. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en valise (Box in a Valise), a suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks, this presentation ranges from experimental and playful objects of the 1960s Fluxus movement to more contemporary productions, which in their multiplicity question the notion of the unique work of art. These containers act as single-artist portfolios or combine the works of several artists, functioning as “portable exhibitions” to be unpacked, ordered, and reordered by the viewer-turned-participant. Once folded, flipped, poked, prodded, or shuffled, the contents are no longer suited for physical manipulation as they have become fragile over time. Unpacking the Box embraces this emerging tension between implied interactivity and the often-cited “do not touch” policy at museums. How do we “unpack” the box we cannot touch? In lieu of engaging our tactile sense, the objects on view prompt us to imagine new modes of participation. Curators: Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung

Installation view of Unpacking the Box

Across the hall from the vitrine hosting the two Boîtes is a selection of Fluxus multiples that took their inspiration, in part, from Duchamp’s transgressive gesture of shrinking his life’s work into a portable container. On display are a number of Fluxus editions that take the form of a box, suitcase, or so-called “Fluxkits.” Fluxus was a movement of international artists active in the 1960s and 1970s founded by George Maciunas. In 1964, he established ©Fluxus Editions—a collection of affordable publications and multiples. ©Fluxus Editions allowed Maciunas to bring together concepts by a network of artists around the world, facilitating an ethos of collaboration through joint publication.

Many of the objects on view were acquired by the Walker in 1989, establishing one of the most comprehensive Fluxus collections in the United States, and were subsequently displayed in the Walker’s 1993 exhibition In the Spirit of Fluxus, curated by Elizabeth Armstrong and Joan Rothfuss. Although similar in packaging, each multiple is distinctive in terms of idea, the items they contain, and how artists intended audience interaction. These editions were performative, acting as “scores” or instructions, for exercises of the body and mind.

ex-bba2016ub Exhibitions, Visual Arts, Best Buy Aperture installation. Unpacking the Box August 30, 2016–February 19, 2017 Best Buy Aperture Walker Art Center Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Changing displays in the Best Buy Aperture highlight materials from the Walker collections and Archives & Library. Drawing on ephemera, books, press materials, photographic documentation, and other rarely seen materials, these installations foreground the Walker’s exhibition history and thematic strands in the collections. Integrating archival materials with moving image technology, the Best Buy Aperture encourages a media rich and innovative approach toward archival displays. The inaugural Best Buy Aperture display Unpacking the Box presents artist’s multiples—three-dimensional works produced in more than one copy—that take the form of a box. Beginning with Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte en valise (Box in a Valise), a suitcase housing miniature reproductions of his artworks, this presentation ranges from experimental and playful objects of the 1960s Fluxus movement to more contemporary productions, which in their multiplicity question the notion of the unique work of art. These containers act as single-artist portfolios or combine the works of several artists, functioning as “portable exhibitions” to be unpacked, ordered, and reordered by the viewer-turned-participant. Once folded, flipped, poked, prodded, or shuffled, the contents are no longer suited for physical manipulation as they have become fragile over time. Unpacking the Box embraces this emerging tension between implied interactivity and the often-cited “do not touch” policy at museums. How do we “unpack” the box we cannot touch? In lieu of engaging our tactile sense, the objects on view prompt us to imagine new modes of participation. Curators: Jordan Carter and Victoria Sung

Installation view of Unpacking the Box

While many of these Fluxus multiples were meant to be physically unpacked, poked, prodded, flipped, and folded, they—like Duchamp’s Boîte—have become fragile over time. Fluxus multiples posited play as practice and audience participation as fundamental to the full realization of the work, but these boxes now exist behind glass in a state of suspended animation. Unpacking the Box attempts to activate these works by prompting passersby to imagine new modes of interaction. Boxes and kits are propped open, the door to a cabinet is left slightly ajar, contents spill out of a backpack in a manner of what might be called orderly chaos. We’ve started the process of unpacking and leave it to you to use your imagination to unpack, arrange, and rearrange the objects on view.

Unpacking the Box is on view until February 19, 2017.

Like Bringing a Surgeon to a Knife Fight: A Metal Drummer Learns Hüsker Dü

“Heavy metal demands precision, while punk rock can be suspicious of it,” writes Jeff Severns Guntzel of the challenge Yousif Del Valle faced in learning the entirety of Grant Hart’s drum track for Hüsker Dü’s debut 1981 album. “Metal is cerebral; punk is all heart. Metal is Formula One racing; punk is a demolition derby.” In anticipation of […]

At an April 14, 2016 recording session at the 7th Street Entry, Yousif Del Valle plays the drum track for Hüsker Dü's Land Speed Record. Photo: Gene Pittman

At an April 14, 2016 recording session at the 7th Street Entry, Yousif Del Valle plays the drum track for Hüsker Dü’s Land Speed Record. Photo: Gene Pittman

“Heavy metal demands precision, while punk rock can be suspicious of it,” writes Jeff Severns Guntzel of the challenge Yousif Del Valle faced in learning the entirety of Grant Hart’s drum track for Hüsker Dü’s debut 1981 album. “Metal is cerebral; punk is all heart. Metal is Formula One racing; punk is a demolition derby.” In anticipation of Del Valle’s September 29 in-gallery performance and the release of the limited-edition Chris Larson: Land Speed Record LP that features his drumming, Severns Guntzel looked at the Hate Beast drummer’s process—from computer-visualized sound waves to practice, practice, practice. 

Sometimes an artist is as much a subcontractor as anything else—when the work requires some other person to do a thing. That thing might be a part of the art that nobody sees, or it might be the art itself.

For sculpture and video artist Chris Larson, that person-to-do-a-thing is occasionally Yousif Del Valle, a former grad student of his at the University of Minnesota.

Mostly, Del Valle has been called on for his welding skills—infrastructure work for an artist who creates pieces that fill large spaces; sedan-sized, even house-sized creations.

Chris Larson: Land Speed Record, the artist’s latest video installation, is something altogether different—and he called on Del Valle for a far more specialized skill set. He needed him to play drums. Very fast drums.

Specifically, he needed Del Valle to learn an album: the 26 minutes and 36 seconds—he had to play it precisely to time—of the first album by Twin Cities punk rock trio Hüsker Dü. That album, from which Larson’s project takes its name, is the recording of a 1981 live show at Minneapolis’ 7th Street Entry (a dungeon of a room barnacled on to the better known, and better ventilated First Avenue).

After learning the part, Larson needed Del Valle to perform it on stage at the 7th Street Entry, where he would be alone in the room except for a recording engineer, Larson himself, a few Walker staff, and Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart.

The recording, now complete and just released on clear vinyl along with the exhibition catalogue, is the gallery soundtrack for Larson’s video piece: a slow pan over and around an assemblage of Hart’s belongings salvaged from a house fire.

Hart is one of those early punk rock characters chased by words like “legend” and “pioneer.” Hüsker Dü is one of America’s punk rock pantheon bands. In the Twin Cities and beyond, there are disciples of this man and that band.

Yousif Del Valle, 30-years-old and reared on heavy metal, is not one of them. And that’s what makes this subsucontractor story so enchanting.

ex2016cl_7thStreetEntry Visula Arts, Exhibitions, Performing Arts. Recording session at 7th Street Entry—with Chris Larson, Grant Hart, and drums played by Yousef Davilia. April 14, 2016. Part of the exhibition, Chris Larson - Land Speed Record, June 9, 2016 - January 8, 2017, Medtronic Gallery. Curated by Siri Engberg and Doug Benidt. http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2016/chris-larson-land-speed-record

Del Valle with Chris Larson, his former art professor, at the 7th Street Entry. Photo: Gene Pittman

The El Paso–born sculpture artist was not even El Paso–born when Land Speed Record was recorded. In his entire life as a music fanatic, he has never voluntarily listened to a punk rock album. In a nearly two-hour interview at the practice space of his heavy metal band, Hate Beast, there was no reference to punk rock beyond Hüsker Dü (unless you count the band down the hall rehearsing a cover of Bad Brains’ “Re-Ignition”).

I am going to speak to you now as a retired heavy metal-turned-punk rock drummer—as somebody who has worshiped in both warring temples: You have to understand that asking a heavy metal drummer to learn Land Speed Record is musician comedy. Del Valle is the kind of metal drummer who can tell you how fast he can play his two bass drums (“My max is 280 beats per minute, and that’s maybe for 15 seconds.”). With songs as raw and chaotic as Hüsker Dü’s, it’s like bringing a surgeon to a knife fight.

At least it would be comedy, except that Larson conceived of and managed the project with a reverence that soaks every part of the project, and Del Valle took to the challenge earnestly and with military-like discipline. The end result is not funny at all, it’s perfection.

Playing the punk

Heavy metal demands precision, while punk rock can be suspicious of it. Metal is cerebral; punk is all heart. Metal is Formula One racing; punk is a demolition derby.

The laws of physics, at least the ones that apply to punk rock, should have rendered Del Valle inert in the face of the Land Speed Record challenge.

Instead, he learned every smack and thwack of that record—close-listening and playing it through hundreds of times. And in his performance of the piece he managed to telegraph the angst and abandon of the original—and precisely to time.

One of the wonders of art is how it can make rigorous processes invisible. Del Valle has done that here. And oh, the rigor.

It started slow, and probably with furrowed brow. In fact, the first step was just hearing the drums. Land Speed Record is less a collection of songs than it is a soundscape. That’s the word Hart himself used in an interview with the Walker. “The individual songs and the individual rhythms,” he said, “are just simply that, just different ripples from a different wind.”

In practical terms, that means that sometimes you can’t really hear the snare drum. Other times, you can’t really hear the bass drum. At all times, there is a wash of cymbals, as if Hart had subcontractors of his own with sticks constantly striking the cymbals creating a sort of wave that carries and simultaneously washes over everything else, from the first note to the last.

Image courtesy teh artist

The audio file of Hüsker Dü’s Land Speed Record. Image courtesy Yousif Del Valle

“Like my first contract kill”

So how do you teach yourself a soundscape?

First, you come to terms with it.

“It’s a really abrasive record. It’s like angry, aggressive kids. It’s not something that you want to listen to constantly,” Del Valle said. “Listening really became a discipline. I’m getting in my car, and I have to listen to this. I want to listen to something else. I want to listen to the news; I want to listen to anything else but this. But I have to listen to this. I’m going to the grocery store, I’m going to listen to this. I’m going to work, I’m going to listen to this. It just didn’t emotionally capture me. It was sort of like my first contract kill or something. I agreed to this project willingly, but it was hard because I didn’t have that emotional connection, whereas now I do—I absolutely do.”

The next step for learning an “angry, aggressive” soundscape? Computers.

Del Valle opened the album in audio editing software on his computer. That allowed him to see the sound. He’d get cues from the rise and fall of the sound waves now visualized before him, and he’d annotate the waves. “I had written notes on the peaks of the waves,” he explained. “So I had sort of a cheat sheet for spots I was having trouble with.”

Having grasped the contours of the piece, he had to get the details. That meant deciphering the drum fills—rather, it meant excavating the drum fills from wall of sound. “It was trying to listen through that noise. That’s what became exhausting.”

In at least one case, listening wasn’t enough.

“There’s a particular spot,” Del Valle explained. “Grant starts doing this one-two-three-four with his bass drum, and then you just hear a couple of tom hits, then a roll, and then the song starts again. In my head, I was like, ‘He dropped one of his sticks,’ because that’s a really weird fill to do.” Ultimately it was a YouTube clip of Husker Du in 1981 that cleared it up: it was a fill, not a flub.

Chris Larson, still from Land Speed Record, 2016. Installation with color digital video, black-and-white Super 16mm film (each 26:35), sound, and sculpture. Photo courtesy the artist.

A multimedia installation, the video at the center of Chris Larson: Land Speed Record (2016) slowly pans over Grant Hart’s possessions retrieved from a house fire, set to a soundtrack of Del Valle’s drumming. Photo courtesy the artist

Hubris, shattered

Del Valle’s affect is kind and earnest, but he admits that he signed on for this project with a bit of hubris. There may be punk rock drummers who would balk at keeping up with Hart’s velocity, but velocity was a non-issue for Del Valle. And, in theory at least, the length of the piece he had to memorize was a non-issue, too.

“I’ve learned 40-minute death metal epic songs that I love,” Del Valle said, “and I know them. It doesn’t take me that long.”

But this was different. “It took me longer to learn this, just because there’s so much information crammed into those 26-and-a-half minutes. I came into it arrogantly, not because I think I’m great, but because it’s punk. I was just like, ‘There’s nothing challenging about punk. It’s just like, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2.’ But there are not a lot of repeating patterns, and that’s what makes it hard. You get into a groove and you’re like, ‘Okay, I get the pattern that he’s doing,’ and the song’s over. A minute-and-a-half. Next song. And now it’s a whole new pattern. I started really appreciating that Grant had something unique, even that young. So yeah, it certainly shut me up.”

The thing that gets lost in all this technical stuff is the same thing that has this project walking a line between tribute and trifle: The music Hüsker Dü was making in 1981 was not meant to be picked apart like this. It certainly wasn’t meant for the kind of close-listening Del Valle had to do. Land Speed Record is pure life force, performed by kids whose mindset, as Hart described it, was that “the outcome of the rest of our life is dependent upon this set that we’re going to play now.”

That mindset was not immediately obvious to Del Valle, but through this work of intensive audio exegesis, it eventually came through. “To kids back then, I can’t imagine what that must have sounded like. It’s just them going for it. They don’t give a shit about anything. They’re just there to do their thing, and I really respect that.”


Yousif Del Valle performs the Land Speed Record soundtrack at 7 pm on Thursday, September 29, 2016. A set by his thrash metal band Hate Beast follows.

Unsuturing the Self: On Less Than One

The 16 artists in Less Than One each enact a self that functions as a dynamic ecosystem rather than a unitary form. While it has become almost common contemporary practice to disavow artistic selfhood, often this is enacted either at the level of the individual artwork or through the exhibition. Contemporary art is full of […]

Installation view Less Than One. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center.

The 16 artists in Less Than One each enact a self that functions as a dynamic ecosystem rather than a unitary form. While it has become almost common contemporary practice to disavow artistic selfhood, often this is enacted either at the level of the individual artwork or through the exhibition. Contemporary art is full of forms of disruption against the suturing gesture of the solo exhibition or its related practice of the retrospective. While many of the artists in the exhibition disrupt these historic forms, they also frequently investigate the wider set of practices that serve to buttress the sense of a whole, complete artistic self. These sets of related, often interpretive practices include—to name a few—artist talks, interviews, and artist writings. They are often seen as peripheral to an artist’s practice, but are fundamental to understanding several of the artists in Less Than One. For the artists in the exhibition, it is frequently through this set of interpretive practices, more particularly this hermeneutics of the self[1], which is fundamentally called into question. At issue is the artists’ responses when they are asked to perform a self[2]—that is, how they relate to those terms of engagement—and how openly they risk the possibility of being incomprehensible in that engagement.[3] (more…)

Installing Ernesto Neto’s otheranimal Decor

In early fall 2004, Merce Cunningham, then 85 years old and still actively looking for a new creative challenge, began working on an adaptation for the proscenium stage of Views on Camera, an existing dance for camera he had developed that summer with collaborator Charles Atlas. The new work for stage, aptly titled Views on Stage, consisted of […]

Ernesto Neto otheranimal decor for Views on Stage, 2001, Walker Art Center, Gift of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York, 2012. Photo: Gene Pittman

In early fall 2004, Merce Cunningham, then 85 years old and still actively looking for a new creative challenge, began working on an adaptation for the proscenium stage of Views on Camera, an existing dance for camera he had developed that summer with collaborator Charles AtlasThe new work for stage, aptly titled Views on Stage, consisted of a similar choreographic structure, but was visually redesigned by costume designer James Hall and Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto. Upon the invitation of Merce Cunningham Dance Company manager Trevor Carlson and Cunningham, Neto was given the opportunity to expand his design into a wholistic environmental experience, complete with theatrical lights and an eerie score of two John Cage compositions, ASAP (As Slow as Possible) (1985) and Music for Two (1984). Entitled otheranimal, Neto reconsidered a form he had imitated for his contribution to the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001, a horizontal nylon scrim stretched loosely over the ceiling from which hung “socks” of glass beads, rice and pellets. For Neto, the fabric was the skin of a body, the porous barrier between inside and outside, and at once the inside of a living body. Biomorphic, malleable and amoebic, otheranimal appears to be a organism as much as a set design, one that could melt, drip, fall, or embrace the dancers beneath it. Neto’s sculpture is at once foreboding and playful, suggestive of a primordial cave, and bringing to mind the soft sculptures of artists such as Claes Oldenburg.

Ernesto Neto, É O BICHO, 2001,

Ernesto Neto, É O BICHO, Venice Biennale, Arsenale, 2001

In preparation for the February 2017 opening of Merce Cunningham: Common Time, we installed the complete work earlier this month in order to share notes on how to adapt this stage décor into a gallery installation. (It was last on view in the 2012 research exhibition, Dance Works II: Merce Cunningham/Ernesto Neto.) Joining our registration and theater technical crew was Rebecca Fuller Jensen, an expert lighting designer who set to work on re-programming the lighting plot based on the dimensions and light pollution concerns of the gallery space, where otheranimal will be exhibited. Jenson and the stage crew carefully plotted the exact dimensions of the gallery onto the McGuire Theater stage floor, and determined the exact location for each point of the hanging décor. Otheranimal was intended to hang from theatrical line sets, and its installation is determined by a plan in relation to lights that traverse the ceiling above, allowing light to shine directly down into the center of the decor, permeating the material.

Working with registration to carefully unpack the ephemeral decor from its box Photo: Anna Gallagher-Ross

Working with registration to carefully unpack the ephemeral decor from its box Photo: Anna Gallagher-Ross

 

 The décor is tied to the line sets of the McGuire Theater by registration staff before being hoisted 11 feet off the ground


The décor is tied to the line sets of the McGuire Theater by registration staff before being hoisted 11 feet off the ground. Photo: Anna Gallagher-Ross

Once in place, Jensen went to work, translating the relationship of Neto’s original design onto the more compact installation. The artist’s lighting plot makes the installation appear to change color from pink to orange, to white, blue, and green. Over 11 minutes, the lights gradually change color, generating a calming glow. Neto’s “egg”—a soft sculpture of lightweight pellets—sits at the center of the piece, and constitutes an orientation point for the dancers during the performance Views on Stage.

After two days of work, the decor was re-folded in its box (always considering the constant touring and mobility of the company, Cunningham’s instruction to Neto was that the décor be able to fit into a small packing crate). Even with the walls of the theater exposed, and without Cage’s score, otheranimal had transformed the theater into an alien landscape. The stage is a place constantly under transformation, shifting from one world to the next. Bringing this aspect of fantastical transformation and illusion into the gallery an important element to all the preparations for Merce Cunningham: Common Time. 

Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Views on Stage, 2004 . Photo: Tony Dougherty

Ernesto Neto’s otheranimal décor for Views on Stage will be on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s presentation of Merce Cunningham: Common Timeopening February 11, 2017.

A Reflection on Dinner with Andrea Büttner & Friends

Recently I was recalling a dinner party that was held on the occasion of the opening of Andrea Büttner’s first solo museum presentation in the United States. Like many dinner parties, the November 2015 event was a convivial situation staged to celebrate an occasion (the exhibition launch), but also to provide a social platform for connection and […]

ex2015ab_ins Visual Arts, Exhibitions, installation views. Andrea Büttner, November 21, 2015 – April 10, 2016, Burnet Gallery. The Walker presents the first US solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), including a newly commissioned installation. Büttner’s work often creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, value, and vulnerability, exploring and challenging the belief systems that underpin them. Curator: Fionn Meade

Installation view Andrea Büttner. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Recently I was recalling a dinner party that was held on the occasion of the opening of Andrea Büttner’s first solo museum presentation in the United States. Like many dinner parties, the November 2015 event was a convivial situation staged to celebrate an occasion (the exhibition launch), but also to provide a social platform for connection and understanding. Each course was punctuated by remarks—presented in their entirety in the following posts—delivered by curator Lars Bang Larsen, Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, exhibition curator Fionn Meade, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.

The dinner was open to anyone—which informed a motley crew of gallerists, curators, academics, out of town visitors, artists, and the public (both the committed and curious). This echoed Büttner’s co-mingling of “high” and “low,” where she pulls her images and references from a range of sources, from anonymous content found on the internet to the categorically “in”—validated by academia or aesthetic theory.

A half year on, I contacted Andrea to find out what has stayed with her from that moment.

On 22 November 2015, the Walker staged a public dinner connected to the launch of your solo exhibition. What do you recall from that evening?

It was the third day of the private views, the third evening, the third dinner. It was beautiful because it was a response to the exhibition on so many levels. Lars Bang Larsen, Fionn Meade, Keren Gorodeisky, and Elijah Ferrian each gave thoughtful speeches on my practice: Elijah spoke about foraging, Keren gave a paper on my illustration of Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment, a work on display in the show. Lars spoke about appropriation, and Fionn finished the evening with a jubilatory speech on JA/Yes, on affirmation as a mode of criticality and being. What I recall most is the joy of the response to a show—a very silent cultural form in the end—a gestalt. A form of feast and reflection that served as a way of holding the exhibition and overcoming the strangeness of the private view. As a cultural form, the private view can be pretty awkward for artists: the work is already completed, nothing much happens, nothing is performed to channel anxiety and concentration and give a meaning to the temporality and the sociality of the gathering.

This is not the first time that programming connected to a showing of your work has taken the form of a dinner. What were those other events, and did they differ in format or content?

At Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt I organized a dinner with speeches for a solo exhibition in 2013. It was the first time that I have done this. At MMK the dinner was an integral part of the exhibition, which dealt with notions of poverty in art history and centered on an installation of tables. These tables were both real tables, for the dinner, which was a symposion like in Plato’s texts: drinks, food, philosophy. At the same time they were display furniture for research I have done on the iconography of poverty.

At the MMK, the dinner was an integral part of the exhibition and shaped the installation, allowing me to think about display. At the Walker, the dinner was part of the programming, and it complemented the exhibition in a meaningful way. It allowed one to think of private views as a specific type of durational performance.

Noting that in your work you have explored notions of vulnerability and shame, interestingly—perhaps also ironically—you allowed yourself to be subject to a moment that awkwardly combined both the dynamics of invitation and display… 

You are right, it is important to think about the sociality of art as a moment of display and thus vulnerability at the same time. There is still much to discover within this potential. And it is important that vulnerability is contagious: both the person delivering the speech and the person the speech is about are exposed. But they share this moment in friendship.

I love speeches for that reason. If they are good speeches—if they are generous and if they have something to say—the exposure is mitigated. In this regard the generous and meaningful speeches are like art. They transmit a vulnerable moment and hold it, while at the same time giving form to it. I think the Russian toast is exemplary in that way.

Remarks: Lars Bang Larsen on Andrea Büttner (1 + 1: a simple premise, or an idiotic riff)

The following remarks were delivered by art historian, independent curator, and writer Lars Bang Larsen at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: exhibition curator Fionn Meade, Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, and forager and nature enthusiast […]

The following remarks were delivered by art historian, independent curator, and writer Lars Bang Larsen at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: exhibition curator Fionn Meade, Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.

Andrea once told me how the Swiss artist Dieter Roth at some point in the 20th century defined the work of art: One makes a work of art, Roth said, by putting one thing on top of another. An object on top of a pedestal, color on a canvas, figure on ground.

(Parenthetically, Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil (1968) was originally was originally titled One Plus One, but that is another story.)

An example of this one thing plus another in the work of Andrea would be Diamantenstuhl (Diamond chair), (2011) that consists of a rough brown diamond that sits on top of a plastic chair. Diamond on chair: art work.

Optimized-Diamond Chair 2011

Andrea Büttner, Diamentenstuhl (Diamond Chair), 2011. Image courtesy Artspace San Antonio

In her show at the Walker we can also think of the two versions of moss presented there, one digital and one natural. Or the way that Büttner the artist places her work on top of that of Kant the philosopher.

But of course things don’t add up that easily. To talk about the art work as one thing plus another is also way of saying that things are never just 1:1. This is definitely the case with Andrea’s work. It always looks pretty simple and straightforward, no bull—ohne Scheisse, as they say—but there is always more to her work than meets the eye. And what’s so wonderful about it is how it makes us see with our own two eyes again.

Some aspects of Andrea’s work—her woodcuts for instance—spell tradition and craftsmanship but she is not that kind of maker. In fact she doesn’t “do” a lot in the conventional sense that artists do. As much as a doer, really, she is a borrower, a channeling medium, somebody who makes versions of existing images, recombines art history, and employs the voices of other people.

You can call her an appropriation artist. All of culture is the palette of the appropriation artist, who also works in the 1+1 way by taking over objects and introducing them into works of art. These objects can be pre-existing ones, or even existing works of art that are treated as things. We can think of Sherrie Levine’s wonderful piece over at the Walker, Fountain (after Marcel Duchamp: A.P), 1991 in which she has remade Duchamp’s urinal as a contemporary urinal cast in bronze. Here Levine in a sense puts her 1991 remake on top of Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain, as a layering of versions of an art work that lacks an original.

The appropriation artist isn’t committed to any single medium, but picks and chooses between things that culture has already produced, and she moves them around between different contexts and frameworks. The appropriation artist is concerned with art as a sign, and she traffics in difference. The appropriationist is a ventriloquist: she lets an existing object talk, but with a voice that she lends to it.

The appropriation art from the 1980s and’90s was impersonal, de-subjectified. There is nobody “behind” Sherrie Levine’s urinal. When we see a work by Levine or Jeff Koons we don’t go, “Oh, this is just so Jeff. I hear Jeff’s voice so clearly in this. What Jeff wants to express here is this and that.” There’s none of that. In this sense appropriation is not 1+1, it is 0+1; because the artist here takes a certain pleasure in being a nobody, a blank. In the work of Koons or Levine, it is in a sense a question of who has chosen who; is it the artist who chose the object, or in fact the object that chose the artist and thereby makes the artist become someone?

Andrea’s style of appropriation, on the other hand, is anything but blank or smooth. It is dirty and sticky. Her question seems to be: “Well, do I have a choice? Do I have a choice—given who I am, which is not my mistake—do I have a choice to make art about something else than German philosophy, about my fascination with nuns, about my mobile phone and the other mundane stuff that surrounds me?”

In her work Andrea in a sense is more than she does. She gives us small clues about who she is: She is a German woman. She is a sister and a daughter. She has some kind of affiliation with Catholicism. She likes to do things with her hands. She has certain political ideas. She is a contrarian who likes to swim upstream and go against the grain. At the same time, as we never really get to know who she is, her biography is leaking a bit into her work, always just enough to introduce opacity. She would of course never present herself as the full-bodied artistic genius, as the chosen one. Instead, the version of Andrea that we get to know through her work is always half a person—half artist and half amateur, half part professional and half part laywoman, half part private person, half part public persona.

So when an artist makes work by putting one thing on top of another, the one thing plus another never equals two. Instead you break open each of the things as they previously existed. When they are together they form a conspicuous ensemble, a combination that is new but at the same time stands out as suspended or even broken—because it breaks down functions, rules, conventions, and so on. To add one thing to another to break things down, split them into fractions in order to try and get the proportions right.

One makes a work of art by putting one thing on top of another. We can speculate that there was a dirty joke in there for Dieter Roth, the old womanizer. To beget art. I seem to remember that Andrea also knows a good one about a nun, a Wurst, and the holy ghost.

In any case, the two constituent parts of the art work can also indicate a becoming-many, a multitude. This concerns how Andrea’s work, apart from being aware of itself as art, also has a strong social dimension. Not in the sense that she sets out to fashion utopia from whole cloth, but that she shows ways of being together that arises out of the gaps that divide people from one another in everyday life. We can think of how the Rastafarians define their community; they never say “we,” but “I and I” – “I and I,” 1+1….+1+1+1+1. This idea of a collective existence that takes difference into account, and whose qualities are up to us to define, is something that I think resonates strongly in the work of Andrea—and the special way that it is self-effacing and performative, radical and gestural, fundamental and elusive.

I and I: raise our glasses—cheers to Andrea!

Remarks: In Praise of “JA!”

The following remarks were delivered by Fionn Meade, artistic director at the Walker Art Center, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen,Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah […]

ex2015ab_ins Visual Arts, Exhibitions, installation views. Andrea Büttner, November 21, 2015 – April 10, 2016, Burnet Gallery. The Walker presents the first US solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner (b. 1972), including a newly commissioned installation. Büttner’s work often creates connections between art history and social or ethical issues, with a particular interest in notions of poverty, shame, value, and vulnerability, exploring and challenging the belief systems that underpin them. Curator: Fionn Meade

Installation view of Andrea Büttner. Photo: Gene Pittman

The following remarks were delivered by Fionn Meade, artistic director at the Walker Art Center, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen,Auburn University associate philosophy professor Keren Gorodeisky, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.

To start off my toast this evening, I want to acknowledge the moss garden that we’ve brought into being over the past months and that now marks the entry to Andrea’s exhibition. I’d like to offer a tribute to its “bold little beauty” as written by the American poet Emily Dickinson within a poem sequence dedicated to Nature and published as it were almost 120 years ago in 1896.

Nature

Pink, small, and punctual,
Aromatic, low,
Covert in April,
Candid in May,

Dear to the moss,
Known by the knoll,
Next to the robin,
In every human soul.

Bold little beauty,
Bedecked with thee,
Nature foreswears
Antiquity.

—Emily Dickinson

 

It is fittingly a leap year that we are in as we gather on a cold November night to celebrate Andrea’s exhibition at the Walker, her first solo exhibition in the United States. More specifically, on February 29, 2016, in what will still feel like winter, we will have our leap year moment, a punctual hole in the calendar during the run of the show. As we are here together, I invite us to think through this addition beyond the usual calendar and toast to this “pink, small, and punctual” fact of the year ahead, time that leaps from the earth askew and revitalizing, just the right imbalance to remind us to keep meaning and direct communication at the fore over the upcoming seasons.

Let us toast to this extra time that keeps us seasonal, that keeps us with and close to what Emily Dickinson aptly describes as the bold little beauty we should all hope to be bedecked with!

And so these remarks on “JA” take permission from Andrea’s embrace of the word “JA (YES)” at regular moments in her work. The “JA” of this evening asks us to leap from one thing to another and celebrate the linking with such permission, allowing a space in between, the kind of in between permission that Andrea asks of each of us regularly in her work, the permission to leap and connect, to encounter both difficult and warm things, and to accept both.

Andrea is not afraid of history and brings a readiness equally to both the tactile surface of her material choices, sharp and reduced compositions, and to the concentric rings of research and questioning that characterize many of her projects. I can readily attest that Andrea is not afraid of being and experience, and to be at large in the world. To be ‘at large’ is a phrase I’ve been thinking about during Andrea’s presence over the past two weeks leading up to the opening of her exhibition. From the enfolding gesture of the blue fabric walls that now ring Burnet Gallery, to the enlarged smear and stain of “desire/search/knowledge” within her new enlarged smartphone etchings, to the exposed gesture of the moss garden to the white walls and terrazzo floors of the Walker galleries,  a garden with no space for withdrawal, no moisture. Throughout the exhibition, the arms of each work are open to and facing each other with clear lines and difference.

And yet these ‘”at large” confident gestures also remind of the equally strange word “largesse,” the state of giving away, divestment, and a willing letting go. I would say that the largesse of Andrea’s work is in its imprinted overlaps, gaps, and in between spaces and low conversations. Moments of true respite meet moments of real doubt, emerging forms of order and index meet gestures of release and falling down. In between there is “largesse.” And so a further fragment of poetry, as we need to be reminded of the largesse of the pebble that Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert writes of when he proclaims:

Pebbles cannot be tamed
To the end they will look at us
With a calm and clear eye.

And of the stone that Herbert’s compatriot the poet Czeslaw Milosz gives for us to consider as a counterpoint and host, “known by the knoll,” as Dickinson says:

“We should not think of our past as definitely settled, for we are not a stone or a tree. My past changes every minute according to the meaning given it now, in this moment.”

And this response to the stone and pebble that cannot be tamed by the human eye is the “JA” of life that Andrea so regularly reminds us of. This is the “JA” of being and experience, and the threaded connection that exists and must be traced between forms of life, forms of thinking, and forms of feeling. When Andrea herself writes that: “Shame marks the threshold of visual representation and might at the same time be impossible to represent. Shame means that we resist what we desire,” she puts us squarely in experience, and challenges us to respond with a series of “JA” moments, acceptance and acuity, the specificity demanded of living and thinking as equal demands, the enigmatic move around negation toward something more affirming that approaches an admixture of divestment and acceptance.

Indeed, as Milosz continues in his musing: “What is this enigmatic impulse that does not allow one to settle down in the achieved, the finished? It is a quest for reality.” For reality does not leave us with a no, but with something else, with the “JA” sequence of being and experience. Andrea challenges us to pay attention and be present with what we show and what we hide, what we expose and what we veil, to be ventriloquist, and adopt other voices, other genders, other life forms in our quest for reality. Indeed, to bring these into close contact with each other, to allow for shared experience and research to be imprinted by each other. And so I hope you will indulge one more ventriloquist gesture as I read part of a passage from one of the great “JA” detours in all of literature, the close of Irish novelist James Joyce’s Ulysses, also invoked by a leap year and the skip and jump of divestment, and the breathing in and exhale of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy.

“… yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that  was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him  because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I  gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer  first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of  Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all  birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of  the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish  girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and  the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street  and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep  and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts  of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white  and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old  windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops  half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman  going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson  sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the  queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine  and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I  put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me  under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my  eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I  put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Untitled (JA), 2012 Woodcut on paper from Kabul Portfolio (detail), 2012 © Andrea Büttner, VG

Andrea Büttner, Untitled (JA), 2012
Woodcut on paper from Kabul Portfolio (detail), 2012 © Andrea Büttner, VG

Remarks: Keren Gorodeisky on Andrea Büttner and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment

The following remarks were delivered by Keren Gorodeisky, associate professor of philosophy at Auburn University, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen, exhibition curator Fionn Meade, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian. […]

Bilder in der Kritik der Urteilskraft (Images in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement)” (2014

Visitor’s to Andrea Büttner (Nov. 21, 2015–April 10, 2016) view Bilder in der Kritik der Urteilskraft (Images in Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement), 2014. Photo: Gene Pittman

The following remarks were delivered by Keren Gorodeisky, associate professor of philosophy at Auburn University, at a program taking the form of a dinner that coincided with the exhibition Andrea Büttner. It is presented along with remarks by fellow speakers at the dinner: curator Lars Bang Larsen, exhibition curator Fionn Meade, and forager and nature enthusiast Elijah Ferrian.

There are many prima facie reasons to think that Andrea Büttner’s work is as far from Immanuel Kant’s philosophy as can be. For one thing, Kant has for many years been regarded as interested mainly in natural beauty and its judgment, while discussing art and its criticism merely as an afterthought. Why should an artist, particularly one who is so versed and interested in the history of art as Büttner is, turn to Kant? Why not engage with, say, Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics, given that they are standardly considered to contain as much art criticism as they contain philosophy? Moreover, one of the characteristic marks of Kant’s oeuvre is systematicity. Not only did he propose a systematic philosophy that claims to unify diverse aspects of human life—the knowledge-seeking, the practical and the aesthetic spheres of human life—but he also instilled the very idea that systematicity is a value. One might think that this is precisely one of the values that are put in question in Andrea’s work, by her use of diverse media and techniques such as woodcut printing, video, photography, fabrics, clay, borrowing, and commenting, among others, and by reflecting on diverse contents such as the organic life of a moss, shame, art, philosophy, convent life, and poverty. Rather than a systematic system, this multiplicity may constitute what the German Romantic philosopher and critic Friedrich Schlegel sympathetically called a “system without a system”: a system that challenges the ambition to systematize as much as it complicates conventional dualities and distinctions.

One may wonder, then, how a systematic philosopher who—it is widely thought—merely pays a lip service to art can meet the artist whose work often devotes itself to humility and to the unassuming life of such organisms as a moss; and if they can meet, where would the meeting point be? Since actuality entails possibility, the two clearly can meet because they actually do. Andrea Büttner meets Immanuel Kant in the gorgeous book, Immanuel Kant, The Critique of the Power of Judgment, a book compiled, indeed made by, Büttner (and thus authored by whom? By Büttner? By Kant?)[1] They meet in this book that, rather than merely questions, also displays love, attentiveness and great efforts at understanding Kant’s work, word, and world; a world, which through the lens of Büttner’s work, is seen to be both his and ours, alien and familiar all at once.

Perhaps, then, first impressions are just that—impressions or mere seemings. Perhaps the dualities with which I opened these remarks—dualities between art and natural beauty, systematicity and the lack thereof—are to be suspended or overcome, just like the many dualities that Büttner’s work challenges. Here is one way of thinking about their suspension. In recent years, more and more philosophers have acknowledged that art and art criticism may be as important to Kant as natural beauty and its judgment. There is a growing consensus that the order of his “Critique of the Aesthetic Power of Judgment”—an order that starts with a discussion of natural beauty and its judgment and only then moves to art—is merely an order of exposition rather than an order of priority, an order required for a perspicuous grasp of the phenomena but one that does not privilege natural over artistic beauty.

There is also no reason to think that the systematic ambitions of Kant’s philosophy leave no room for disruption, heterogeneity, and conflict—for a system without a system; nor that they come at the price of humility. The core of Kant’s critical turn in philosophy—roughly, the view that knowledge and science are possible only insofar as we keep them within the bounds of human reason—can only be viewed as a call for humility. The inclusion of art and aesthetic appreciation within his overall system, as a central aspect of human life alongside knowledge, science, morality and religion, suggests that, not unlike Büttner’s work, his system also includes heterogeneity and even conflict. It may be seen as posing a challenge to the long philosophical tradition, stemming from Plato, of thinking of aesthetics and art as marginal, as an outcast, particularly in comparison to knowledge and morality.

A challenge to conventional dualities is also part of Kant’s picture of aesthetics, his view of art and his understanding of judgment. On Kant’s view, aesthetic appreciation includes a necessary tension and duality. It is based on a paradox inasmuch as it is both subjective and universal. On the one hand, aesthetic appreciation is subjective insofar as it is based on feeling. To properly judge a work to be great or an object beautiful, one must express one’s liking for it. When it comes to art and beauty, Kant tells us, judgment, approval, and responsiveness to value are a matter of feeling. At the same time, unlike judgments based on sensory feelings—for example, judgments about pains or the taste of the palate—aesthetic appreciation is also universal. It makes a claim on the agreement of others. When I make an aesthetic judgment—for example, when I evaluate a work as poor or great—I demand that others appreciate the object just as I do and share my feeling for it. Though based on feeling, aesthetic appreciation is never fully passive or merely sensory, but is itself a form of judgment: a feeling judgment or a judging feeling. This is not only Kant’s way of poking at the alleged opposition between subjectivity and universality, but also Kant’s challenge to a conventional picture of judgment. If Kant is right, judgment could not be understood as the act of applying a concept to a sensory given or as the expression of a belief about a fact. Judgment, he suggests, may be as affective as it may be intellectual and imaginative. While some judgments articulate beliefs, and some articulate intentions to act, other judgments—particularly, aesthetic judgments—express feelings. The feeling expressed by aesthetic appreciation—the feeling that is aesthetic judgment—is not merely sensory, brute, or passively drawn from us, but a feeling that always already involves understanding. As many of Büttner’s works suggest, aesthetic judgment, as Kant understands it, requires an attempt to understand, even though no concept, assumption or knowledge with which the judge comes to the work can constitute proper understanding. Judging beauty and art requires attentiveness, slowing down, and willingness to be challenged, and even confused by the work.

Making art, like appreciating it, is also paradoxical, according to Kant: it is both free and lawful. Making art never merely follows principles of production, never merely applies the laws of a tradition or a genre and is never fully governed by the concept of what a thing is supposed to be. (For what concept would that be? Of a work of art? A painting? A realistic painting? Or the concept of a specific artist, such as Andrea Büttner?) And yet, art is not lawless, arbitrary, devoid of any connection to (or a break with) traditions, genres, and concepts. Art is active and skillful and yet receptive and accepting. It is, or should be, Kant holds, open to surprises, to nature beyond individual agency.

Like Kant’s aesthetic theory, Büttner’s Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment—or as we, Kantians, like to call it, Kant’s third Critique—is also a kind of system without a system, a heterogeneous unity of challenged dualities. Introducing the beautiful book, Büttner claims that the pictures she placed alongside the text have always been there. They belong to the text, invoked by Kant himself, by the very language that he uses. And they are. These pictures are Kant’s as they are Buttner’s. And yet, many of them would have been inconceivable to Kant: scenes of food street culture in Asia taken from the internet; a 2014 photograph of a living room, furnished by mid-century modern furniture pieces that are mainly covered by sheets and blankets, taken from a personal blog; a 2004 DreamHack LAN party taken from Wikimedia Commons; 2014 drawings by Andea Büttner; and many more. The pictures, unified indeed as they are as pictures that belong to the Critique of the Power of Judgment, come from diverse sources—from Kant’s archives and books, from other artists, like Goya, Diego Rivera, Rosellini, and the contemporary artist David Raymond Conroy, as well as from the internet, from Wikimedia Commons, from personal blogs and more. They are made, they are borrowed, they are reproduced. But they are pictures of the text—“of” in the sense of belonging, not in the sense of being about it. These images emerge from the text, comment on it, bring it to light, make it explicit, while, as Büttner once said about criticism, also cover it.

In the same preface to the book, Büttner endorses yet another duality. Some of the pictures, she says, support the text, the passages that they are paired with, while others disturb or disrupt it. She offers no further explanation of the support or the disruption, but the pictures do; more precisely, they offer one explanation of this duality and then challenge it. Or so I will claim in what follows.

At least on the surface, finding the disruptive pictures is a challenging task. You might think that pictures like the 2004 DreamHack LAN party—a party of video games from Wikimedia Commons—and of a food street vendor in Asia taken from the internet can only disrupt a philosophical text from the 18th century. But do they?  Büttner pairs the picture of the video game party to, or rather she finds it in Kant’s discussion of, “games that involve no interest beyond that of making time pass unnoticed” (Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 5:306).[2] The Asian food street vendors are invoked by Kant’s recollection of an anecdote in a book about France, an anecdote about “the Iroquois sachem that nothing in Paris pleased him better than the cook-shops” (CPJ, 5:204). Are these examples of supporting or disturbing pictures?

Perhaps better candidates for disruption are a picture of the facade of a Dior store, from a fashion blog, and the 2011 work of the artist David Raymond Conroy, titled Sometimes I Wish I Could just Disappear—a picture of a gilded, decorated mirror, leaning on a pile of cushions and reflecting a high wooden ceiling and a camera held by a lone hand, as if dismembered from the whole body of the unseen photographer. The relation of the former—the Dior picture—to the passage with which it is paired is at best oblique, for the passage argues, “The highest model, the archetype of taste, is a mere idea, which everyone must produce in himself, and in accordance with which he must judge everything that is an object of taste” (CPJ, 5:232). Perhaps the picture of Dior is meant to disrupt Kant’s discussion of what he regards as the highest archetype of beauty, the beauty of a human being as the only beautiful object who is completely free, determining its own ends through reason? But perhaps it is meant to support Kant’s thought here, the thought that genuine taste requires that each person judge on her own, independently of accepted cultural and social archetypes of taste, like Dior? Conroy’s work too might disturb Kant’s way of connecting art with spirit, but it might also support the passage where Büttner finds it—a passage about objects presented as artworks that are lacking in spirit, if spirit might stand here for the artist’s own agency, the agency that is both in and lacking from Conroy’s work, the agency that Conroy both wishes to remove from his own work and is incapable of removing. (Think here too about Andrea’s wish to let the work fall down.)

On the surface, the placement of a photograph of a horse where Kant speaks about the beauty of a horse, a photograph of a roman sculpture of Doryphoros where Kant speaks of the beauty of the human figure and diagram of a flower from a 1763 book where Kant speaks of the beauty of a rose seem representative of the supporting group of pictures. But are they? Many of the pictures in the book seem to function similarly with relation to the parts of the text with which they are paired—pictures of birds where Kant speaks of beautiful birds and of palaces where he speaks of beautiful palaces. These pictures are literal, perhaps overly literal. In their literalness, they are, I believe, disrupting as much as they are supporting. They disrupt in a myriad ways. For one, most of the pictures in the book are pictures of Kant’s visual examples, not of his arguments, disrupting his main claims, pausing the process of reconstructing the argument for the sake of visually imagining. Does a diagram of a rose support Kant’s claim that the beauty of a rose makes a claim on everyone’s own satisfaction? Does it bring to light this complex thought about the value of art and beauty, its difference from other values, like goodness and truth, the demand it makes on its appreciator and the kind of responsiveness that it calls for?

In one respect, it is exactly in their literalness, in their visual insistence, that these pictures disturb more than support the passages they display. And yet it is exactly in their disruption that they also support those passages, discussions, and arguments. For they slow us down just as required for judgment. They do not allow us to go on. They force us to dwell on the arguments as well as on the pictures and the examples, to explore their connections. These pictures prevent us from taking these examples, the pictures, to be mere examples, mere visual decorations or instruments in the service of promoting the arguments. They challenge the distinction between a claim and an image, between reason and perceptual imagination. They suggest that Kant’s arguments are not made merely in the service of establishing conclusions, philosophical views, ideas. Rather, when we slow down and dwell—when we judge—we see how these arguments and their conclusions are part of a complete world, which is both rational and visual, just as it is both Kant’s and ours.

As in her other works, and as in Kant’s aesthetics, here too, then, in the Critique of the Power of Judgment she made, Andrea Büttner invokes a duality—between supporting and disrupting—in order both to reinforce and to challenge it. Displaying Kant’s pictures both to support and to disrupt the text—to support by means of disrupting and to disrupt by mean of supporting—Büttner’s work, once again, challenges her audience, slowing it down. And insofar as she makes us more reflective by making us more visually perceptive and more imaginative, she is doing philosophy by means of making art and making art by means of doing philosophy. For that, we should all thank her.

Notes

[1] Andrea Büttner, Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (Hamburg: Felix Meiner/Museum Ludwig, 2014).

[2] Citations from Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment will appear with the abbreviation CPJ, followed by the volume and page number of the Akademie Ausgabe: Kants gesammelte Schriften, hrsg. von der Königlisch Preußischen Akademie der Wissenschaften [Ak] (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1902-).

A Radical Presence: Remembering Benjamin Patterson (1934–2016)

What struck me most about the artist Benjamin Patterson was his lightness of spirit, and his playful way of approaching just about everything. I met Patterson in 2014 when he visited us at the Walker to present several performances as part of the exhibition, Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. I was amazed by […]

va2014po_patterson Portrait of Benjamin Patterson, October 10, 2014. Photo by Erin Smith.

Portrait of Benjamin Patterson, October 10, 2014. Photo: Erin Smith

What struck me most about the artist Benjamin Patterson was his lightness of spirit, and his playful way of approaching just about everything. I met Patterson in 2014 when he visited us at the Walker to present several performances as part of the exhibition, Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. I was amazed by his generosity, his fierce memory, and his remarkable ability to tell stories, especially at the noble age of 80. Patterson, who passed away June 25, was a founding member of Fluxus, an international, postwar art movement that challenged traditional art-making modes by combining visual art, music, and performance. Like his Fluxus peers, Patterson created instruction-based works—what he called “compositions for actions”—that encouraged situations allowing for direct engagement with participants or the audience, often through humorous actions. Fluxus unlocked the potential of art to be fun, engaging, and accessible to all people, making it perhaps the most influential and significant experiments in the history of art. (more…)

Magazine as Storehouse: Merce Cunningham and Aspen 5+6 (1967)

“In calling it a ‘magazine’ we are harking back to the original meaning of the word as a ‘storehouse, a cache, a ship laden with stores.’”[1] ―Phyllis Johnson It was while attending the Aspen International Design conference in 1964 in Aspen, Colorado, that editor Phyllis Glick (1926–2001) came up with a groundbreaking idea for an art […]

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Issue 5+6 of Aspen. Rosemary Furtak Collection, Walker Art Center Library

“In calling it a ‘magazine’ we are harking back to the original meaning of the word as a ‘storehouse, a cache, a ship laden with stores.’”[1]

―Phyllis Johnson

It was while attending the Aspen International Design conference in 1964 in Aspen, Colorado, that editor Phyllis Glick (1926–2001) came up with a groundbreaking idea for an art magazine. Named after the town where it was conceived, Aspen would not resemble a run-of-the mill publication, but rather, as Glick wrote in the inaugural editorial note, a “storehouse,” a multimedia magazine in a box that would house artist projects, writings, and objects, all of which demanded a new kind of reader—an active participant. Instead of a fixed format, each issue, of ten produced between 1965 and 1971, reflected the conceptual concerns of different guest editors and designers invited by Glick, who, under the nom de plume Phyllis Johnson, oversaw all aspects of the magazine’s production.[2]

Aspen’s innovative and shape-shifting format defied the very notion of the mainstream magazine. It stymied many, including the US Postal Service, but was welcomed by the American art community who craved an alternative platform for experimental work.[3] The mass-produced, ephemeral magazine format was well-suited to the conceptual art practices of the time, which eschewed the elitism of the art world gallery system in favor of reproducible, photographic, and text-based works.[4]  With its expansive reach through the mail delivery system and price of $8 an issue, Aspen enabled greater access to art and ideas in the United States and abroad.

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Issue 5+6 of Aspen. Rosemary Furtak Collection, Walker Art Center Library

Edited by artist Brian O’Doherty (1928–) and designed by Lynn Letterman and David Dalton, number 5+6, “The Minimalism Issue,” remains one of Aspen’s most ambitious efforts. O’Doherty, in his editorial note, referred to the double issue as a “miniature museum,” which had indeed replaced the white cube of the gallery with a small off-white box.[5] Secured by a string and button, the box enclosed an abundance of diverse media that provided a curated selection of 1960s conceptual practices out of New York[6]: artist projects by O’Doherty, Dan Graham (1942–), Sol LeWitt (1928–2007), Mel Bochner (1940–), Tony Smith (1912–1980); reams of art films by Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), Robert Morris (1931–), László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), and Hans Richter (1888–1976); five flexi-disc records that included music by John Cage (1912–1992) and Morton Feldman (1926–1987), and recordings of Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968), Samuel Beckett (1906–1989), Richard Huelsenbeck (1892–1974), William S. Burroughs (1914–1997), and Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922–2008); as well as musical scores and advertisements. It also included three staple-bound essays by Susan Sontag (1933–2004), George Kubler (1912–1996), and Roland Barthes (1915–1980). Incidentally, this was the first publication of Barthes’ famous essay in which he pronounced the death of the author, a claim that subsequently launched an entire field of literary criticism.

Whether it was Tony Smith’s build-it-yourself model of his minimalist sculpture The Maze (1967) or the many films and audio recordings that required hours of attention, in the wake of the death of the author, issue 5+6 championed the birth of the reader, foregrounding his or her role in participating in the production of art and ideas. Therefore, the same year that art critic Michael Fried (1939–) published the iconic essay in which he declared himself against theater, specifically the theatricality of minimalism, which existed only for its audience, Aspen 5+6 was producing minimalist art on a mass level, disseminating the magazine to a reading audience located across the country, who were cast as active participants.

Among the many treasures of issue number 5+6 is a flexi-disc of two recordings by Merce Cunningham. Side “A” features Cunningham reading his seminal 1952 essay “Space, Time, Dance,” in which he expresses the views that initiated a “choreographic turn,” in modern American dance while Side B labeled simply “Further Thoughts” includes an interview with Cunningham from 1967 in which he expands upon his theory of dance fifteen years later.

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Issue 5+6 of Aspen. Rosemary Furtak Collection, Walker Art Center Library

Cunningham’s measured, but conversational reading of “Space, Time, Dance” comes through surprisingly clearly on the warm, crackling flexi-disc recording. This essay touches on many key artistic strategies that would characterize his dance career. His discussion revolves around the equal importance of space and time in the dance, and he describes his innovative “formal structure based on time,”[7] as well as his commitment to using chance operations to create indeterminate choreographies that objectify everyday movement, blurring the boundaries between art and life. Just a year earlier, John Cage had begun experimenting with chance operations in his music. Cage created extensive charts that catalogued different musical elements and used the structure of time to determine the order of those elements by way of chance procedures. This method had a profound influence on Cunningham, who sought to use the devices of chance and indeterminacy in his dances, which he experimented with for the first time in Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three (1951).[8]

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Jasper Johns’ décor for MCDC’s Walkaround Time, which consisted of seven inflatable plastic “pillows,” each displaying a different image from Duchamp’s masterwork The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1928. Collection Walker Art Center

Reacting to American modern dance that sought to express the “new” but could not shirk the expressionist and narrative forms of ballet, Cunningham saw chance operations as offering a new kind of freedom from the old forms, in which dance could be “a space in which anything can happen.”[9] Using the formal structure of time measured by a stopwatch as brackets that enclosed the dance, Cunningham would precisely choreograph a sequence of movements and then allow chance, the toss of a coin for example, to determine their arrangement. Cunningham insisted that all parts of his dances—choreography, scenography, music—be independently created and only come together afterwards, all corresponding in the same way to space and time. All of the elements of the performance on stage are thus “autonomous” but “connected at structural points.”[10] He describes his artistic process as “man-made” though “the final synthesis” has a “natural result.”[11] As a consequence, the “dance is free to act as it chooses, as is the music.”[12] Instead of being subordinate to one or the other, dance and music are free agents that only conform to the predetermined formal structure of time. In doing so, Cunningham was constantly challenging himself and his dancers. They would learn the choreographies in silence, using timed notation and often only hear the accompanying music for the first time in performance. Most of all, his dances challenged audiences who were accustomed to a linear progression of familiar, synchronized movement that took place center stage and in concert with the music. In Cunningham’s dances, audiences was presented with simultaneous but disparate choreographies occurring all over the stage that were independent from the music—a landscape of space and time they could navigate on their own terms.[13]

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For his 1969 décor design for MCDC, Robert Morris created a mobile column complete with airplane runway lights. During the performance, the column traversed the stage from left to right and back, shining the bright lights against a reflective scrim hung upstage and the dancers’ costumes, which were covered in reflective paint. Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Canfield. Brooklyn Academy of Music, 1969. Photo: James Klosty

Rather than the expressive or symbolic movement, Cunningham’s interest lay in creating “pure movement,” performed simply as a thing in itself such that “what is seen is what it is.”[14] At the core of his fascination with chance is Cunningham’s embracing of the beauty of the randomness and the logic of everyday life. In a stunning turn of phrase, Cunningham asks the listener to consider an hour of their day, and all of the occurrences that naturally fill that hour, and how “each thing […] succeeds each thing.”[15] Cunningham wanted his dances to have a similar effect, of a set of seemingly natural occurrences taking place over the course of a period of time. Similar to Duchamp’s readymades, Cunningham saw everything in life as eventful and everyday movement—whether riding a bicycle onstage, getting rained on, running out to get a cup of coffee, or simply standing—as worthy in and of itself of a place on the stage. “Dancing,” as he explains, “is a visible action of life.”[16]

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Mobile enough to take on MCDC’s first world tour in 1964, Robert Rauschenberg’s free-standing stage décor for MCDC’s Minutiae prompted interaction by the dancers who moved around and through itRobert Rauschenberg  décor for Minutiae, 1954/1976,  oil, paper, fabric, newsprint, wood, metal, and plastic with mirror and string, on wood. Collection Walker Art Center, Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection

Issue 5+6 is dedicated to the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–1898), who famously declared that “things exist, we do not need to create them; we only need to seize the relationships between them.”[17] However, it might as well have been dedicated to Cunningham, whose dances grasped the rare and beautiful indeterminate choreographies derived from chance operations. Aspen 5 +6, in many ways, reflects Cunningham’s philosophy of dance. It also maps a network of influential artists and composers with whom he had collaborated or would do so in the future: Cage, his partner in life and art; Rauschenberg, who met and began working with Cunningham at Black Mountain College, served as artistic director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and designed more than 20 costumes and stage decors for Cunningham; Feldman, who composed music for multiple productions; Morris whose work greatly influenced Cunningham and Cage, and who would design the stage décor for Cunningham’s Canfield in 1969; Stan VanDerBeek (1927–1984), whose film projections would illuminate the stage in Cunningham’s Variations V (and who filmed Morris’s performance Site (1964), which was included in the issue); and finally, Duchamp, whose experimental work with chance, the everyday, and the boundaries between art and life inspired and shaped the practices of Cunningham, Cage, and many fellow artists in their circle. A sustained look at Aspen 5 + 6 provides just a glimpse of the vast constellations of art practices grouped around Cunningham that will be on view in the forthcoming Merce Cunningham: Common Time exhibition in February 2017.

Peruse all ten issues of Aspen at Ubu Web.

 

Footnotes

[1] Phyllis Johnson, “Letter from the Editor,” Aspen, no. 1 (1965): n.p.

[2] Allen, Gwen. 2011. Artists’ Magazines: an alternative space for art. (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press), 43.

[3] Ibid, 49.

[4] Ibid, 52.

[5] Ibid, 49.

[6] Ibid, 49.

[7] Cunningham, Merce. 1952 “Space, Time, Dance” Aspen no. 5+6 (1967), flexi disc recording.

[8] Vaughan, David, and Melissa Harris. 1997. Merce Cunningham: fifty years. (New York, NY: Aperture), 58.

[9] Cunningham, Merce. 1952 “Space, Time, Dance” Aspen no. 5+6 (1967), flexi disc recording.

[10] Cunningham, Merce. 1952 “Space, Time, Dance” Aspen no. 5+6 (1967), flexi disc recording.

[11] Cunningham, Merce. 1951 “The function and technique of dance.” 1997. Merce Cunningham: fifty years. (New York, NY: Aperture), 60.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Vaughan, David, and Melissa Harris. 1997. Merce Cunningham: fifty years. (New York, NY: Aperture), 276.

[14] Cunningham, Merce. 1952 “Space, Time, Dance” Aspen no. 5+6 (1967), flexi disc recording.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Edson, Laurie. 2000. Reading relationally: postmodern perspectives on literature and art. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), 63.

 

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