Blogs Untitled (Blog)

2014: The Year According to Devrim Bayar

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from curator and architect Andreas Angelidakis and musician Grant Hart  to poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and artist Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year […]

Devrim Bayar

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from curator and architect Andreas Angelidakis and musician Grant Hart  to poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and artist Alejandro Cesarco—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

Devrim Bayar is curator at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, where she recently organized the exhibitions of Daan van Golden, Thomas Bayrle, Allen Ruppersberg, and Robert Heinecken, among other projects. In 2015 she will curate the first large survey exhibition of French artist Pierre Leguillon entitled The Museum of Mistakes: Contemporary Art and Class Struggle, which proposes an exhibition model that attempts to foil, or “de-class-ify”—to reprise the exhibition’s title—the hierarchies of art. She is the founder of the web platform Le Salon aimed at presenting, documenting and reflecting on the Brussels contemporary art scene.


 

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Belgium vs. USA at the World Cup

The FIFA World Cup means something different for every participating country. This year, the Belgian team’s efforts became a timely symbol of national pride and identity soon after local elections had seen separatist parties gain even more power. In this regard, the match of Belgium vs. USA was the most electrifying. I had never seen my city stand so still as all eyes were riveted to TV monitors. When Belgium finally won after a tough battle, the European capital literally exploded. People from all linguistic and ethnic communities descended on the streets to celebrate the victory of Belgium and this multicultural celebration was a wonderful sign of what Belgium really stands for, against the current right wing political mood.

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The adoption of the law allowing parents to choose the family name of their children

If, as Jeff Koons would claim, procreation is the way to eternity, why should eternity bear fathers’ names only? Under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, Belgian lawmakers have tried for 15 years to pass a law that allows parents to choose which last name they give their children. This year the law was finally adopted, allowing parents to choose between the father’s, the mother’s or both parent’s last name, marking a new step in the direction for more gender equality and allowing me to give my soon-to-be-born daughter my family name.

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Haim Steinbach, once again the world is flat. at Kunsthalle Zürich (curated by Beatrix Ruf)

This exhibition literally blew my mind. It not only offered the rare opportunity to discover early works by the artist and to retrace his evolution but also introduced a remarkable scenography created by the artist himself who thus reinterpreted his own works and played with the exhibition codes at its core. At once seducing, full of humor, and complex, this show allowed us to firmly grasp Steinbach’s reflection about art, display, and commerce and their interconnections.

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Jef Cornelis at the Liverpool Biennial (curated by Anthony Huberman and Mai Abu ElDahab)

Jef Cornelis is a TV director who is well known and respected in Belgium but much less recognized abroad. I was thus happily surprised to see an entire section of the Liverpool Biennial dedicated to his work. His documentaries from the early 1960’s until the end of the 1990’s exploded the conventions of television and provide a unique insight into the history of the arts of the time.

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Daan van Golden: Photo Book(s)

My former colleague Emiliano Battista accompanied me throughout my research on Daan van Golden for the retrospective exhibition that I curated at WIELS in 2012. Following this in-depth research, he developed a fascination for the photographic work of the artist and published a monograph entirely dedicated to this generally less documented part of van Golden’s practice. His book reproduces every page of every catalog on which van Golden published a photograph. The book thus reveals the people and the motives that keep coming back in the work of van Golden while playing with the notion of repetition so dear to the artist. Brilliant!

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Planningtorock, All Love’s Legal (released by Human Level)

Without hesitation the album I listened to the most this year. All Love’s Legal proves that artists can still create politically engaged songs that keep you dancing all night long. And it works at the gym too!

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Instagram accounts of K8 HARDY, Rob Pruitt, Jerry Saltz,…

I might be late on this one but it’s only this year that I signed onto Instagram thanks to NYC artist Megan Marrin, who lived at my place at the beginning of the year and convinced me to join the social network. I must admit that I have taken pleasure in following people who excel in appropriating new technologies for their social satire. Now I am looking for more of these fun yet provocative web persona.

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Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Die Schmutzigen Puppen von Pommern, Micheline Szwajcer Galerie (Antwerp) and Art Basel Unlimited

Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys are two of my favorite Belgian artists, whose work explore dark psychological states and spaces. Their recent series of scarecrows are characters “allergic to social positivism and utilitarianism, who abhor humans who aspire to physical health, labour, and reasonable material wealth.” Presented at Art Basel Unlimited, this installation provided a stark yet healthy contrast to the generally seducing and complaisant atmosphere of the fair.

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Joachim Olender, La collection qui n’existait pas

La collection qui n’existait pas premiered just a week ago and hasn’t been subtitled in English yet. This documentary about the conceptual art collection Herman and Nicole Daled built in the 70’s, and which the MoMA recently acquired, provides an authentic and rare insight into the life of these collectors, who considered collecting nothing less than a form of political engagement. A lesson from which many should learn today.

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Robert Heinecken: Lessons in Posing Subjects (co-published by WIELS & Triangle Books)

2014 has seen the publication of the entire series of Robert Heinecken’s Lessons in Posing Subjects which the American artist created in 1981-1982 and which was the centerpiece of the show of the same title I curated at WIELS over the summer. Thanks to the help of the artist’s estate, my partner Olivier Vandervliet of Triangle Books and I conceived this publication as a real artist book. It took us many long hours to work on the hundreds of Polaroid prints that are reproduced in this book in order to stay as true as possible to the analog original with our digital means. I am very proud of the result of our efforts and that it will leave a trace to this remarkable body of work.

2014: The Year According to Korakrit Arunanondchai

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from author Jeff Chang and composer Eyvind Kang to designer Eric Hu and filmmaker Sam Green—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to   […]

"The future" Performance for ICA London

Korakrit Arunanondchai (at center, with boychild) at ICA London following the October 2014 performance of The Future

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from author Jeff Chang and composer Eyvind Kang to designer Eric Hu and filmmaker Sam Green—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

Korakrit Arunanondchai is a New York– and Bangkok-based artist whose artistic discipline spans a wide range of media. Inspired by Rirkrit Tiravanija, he creates immersive installations that emphasize “social participation” and incorporates elements that allow the audience to discover themselves. Arunanondchai has had solo exhibitions at MoMA PS1, Long Island City (2014); The Mistake Room, Los Angeles (2014); the Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2014); and CLEARING gallery, New York and Brussels (2013). He has has been featured in major group exhibitions at ICA, London (2013); Jim Thompson House, Bangkok (2013); Sculpture Center, Long Island City (2012); and the Fisher Landau Center for Art, New York (2012).

 


 

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Bangkok StrikeHunger game strike, Bangkok

The three-fingers hand salute from the Hunger Games is now banned in Thailand due to the military takeover.

 

 

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Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory

 Polar Vortex

A happening of 2014, apparently coming back in 2015 as well.

 

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Interstellar

In relationship to Polar Vortex, this is a movie of 2014 about a time when we have to leave Earth because we’ve destroyed it.

 

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1024px-CMS_Higgs-eventGod particle

No real-world impact yet, but the fact that the Higgs boson particle actually exists seems promising for quantum physics. It took them 40 years, including the building of Cern’s Hadron Collider, to discover the particle.

 

 

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PARK 5Park McArthur’s Ramps at Essex Street

One of my favorite exhibition I saw this year.

 

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Wu Tsang and Boychild at Stedelijk Museum

A very touching performance in a room filled with Dan Flavin. Part of a larger project, which is a feature film called A Day in the Life of Bliss.

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DC legalizing weed

420 at the capital of USA????? Not confirmed yet but still a possibility.

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The Lego Movie

I hope there are sequels.

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Pewdiepie on South Park

Without watching the final episodes of South Park this season, I would never have guessed that the most subscribed YouTube celebrity in the world is ………. Pewdiepie.

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ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Let’s not forget this happened in 2014. Most importantly, we have to remember that it was about raising awareness for ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).

2014: The Year According to Shahryar Nashat

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .  Shahryar Nashat […]

Nashat

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 . 

Shahryar Nashat was born in 1975 in Geneva, Switzerland, and lives and works in Berlin. Nashat uses a broad range of media including video, digital print, and photography. Recent solo exhibitions include Lauréat du prix Lafayette, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2014); Replay the Ruse, Silberkuppe, Berlin (2012); Stunt, Kunstverein Hamburger Bahnhof, Hamburg (2012); and Workbench, Studio Voltaire, London (2011). His work has also been shown as part of the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014); Catch as Catch Can, Locks Gallery, Philadelphia (2013); When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes, CCA Wattis, San Francisco (2012); ILLUMInations at the 54th International Venice Biennale (2011); and Frieze Projects, London (2010). Nashat has been awarded the Kunstpreis der Stadt Nordhorn (2013), the Swiss Exhibition Award (2009), and the Kiefer Hablitzel Prize (2000, 2001, 2002).

 


 

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bionic arm

Prosthetic devices can now restore a sense of feeling.

The fetish for the bionic limb, and the now artificial encroaching on the real fascinates me.

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Adam Linder

Some Proximity by Adam Linder

Adam‘s Some Proximity mediates criticism through the radical gestures of a gliding body. Presented with Silberkuppe during Frieze London, it did for me what every performance in a non-theatrical environment should do—it slowed down everything around it, allowing a focus on the bodies playing off of the critical statements that were fed directly from the environment.

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Under the Sign of [sic]: Sturtevant’s Volte-Face by Bruce Hainley

Published by the ever so thought provoking Semiotext(e), this monographic study is written with a variety of literary genres that mesh with each other to create a very singular piece of art criticism.

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Park McArthur

I first came across Park’s work earlier this year at her show at Essex Street. The interplay of sculptural, social, and bodily questions in her work are thoughtful and fresh. Can’t wait to see more.

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Jahresring 61

The everlasting tradition of one of Germany’s longest post-War annual journals for contemporary art and culture continues with this year’s iteration, masterfully edited by Dominic Eichler and Brigitte Oetker and published by Berlin’s Sternberg Press.

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Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

I really enjoyed reading this book that focuses on a single work by the late New York artist. A journalistic approach combined with art history and the author’s interpretative agency make an outstanding addition to Afterall’s One Work series.

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Spectrum Reverse Spectrum by Margaret Honda

I saw this 20 minute silent film at the Berlinale earlier this year. The film is a reproduction of the color spectrum captured in 70mm and made without a camera. The gradually changing array of color and light filling the screen confronted me with the sole performance of one most perfect medium.

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Transparent

Transparent by Jill Soloway

I totally binged on watching what became by far my favourite comedy-drama produced for the (internet) television this year. Set in Los Angeles, Transparent features Jeffrey Tambor, a father who comes out to his family as transgender. The writing is sharp, witty, sometimes even acerbic and the cast is flawless.

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National Gallery

National Gallery by Frederick Wiseman

It’s no secret I’m a sucker for the subject! Wiseman’s analytical camera lingering on the art, its spectators, and the backstage of one of Britain’s most famous museums is even more brilliant because he focuses on the museum guides that voice the discourse that accompanies the reception of art in an institutional context.

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Beyoncé at the Louvre

We’ve seen celebrities visiting museums (not to mention celebrities having private visiting hours in museums) and we’ve see celebrities posing in museums. However Bey and Jay’s photo-op at the Louvre, which comprised mimicked sculptural poses whilst making selfies, created complications that whether intentional or not, continue to intrigue me.

2014: The Year According to Kalup Linzy

Kalup Linzy. Photo: Daniel Trese To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and musician Grant Hart  to designer David Reinfurt and composer Eyvind Kang—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: […]

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Kalup Linzy. Photo: Daniel Trese

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs and musician Grant Hart  to designer David Reinfurt and composer Eyvind Kang—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2014. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

Kalup Linzy is a Brooklyn-based video and performance artist, whose work is featured in the Walker’s presentation of Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. Best known for his satirical soap opera–style narrative videos, Linzy is interested in exploring stereotypes, sexual identity, race, and gender. In 2010, he appeared alongside James Franco in the ABC soap opera General Hospital in an episode featuring performance art. More recently, he released an album for his multi-platform project Art Jobs and Lullabies, which can now be found on Spotify, iTunes, and other digital outlets. His videos can be viewed here. Linzy has held solo exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem (2009); MoMA, New York (2008); Prospect.1, New Orleans (2008); MoMA PS1, Long Island City (2006); and LAXART, Los Angeles (2006). He has been featured in group exhibitions at the Garage Center, Moscow (2010); Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C. (2008); The Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London (2008); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2007); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007); and Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2006). His work is held in the collections of MoMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Studio Museum in Harlem, among others.

 


 

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1. Protesters at Galleria photo Emanuele Berry

Photo: Emanuele Berry

Mass die-in, St. Louis Galleria on Black Friday

Demonstrators poignantly and peacefully protested Black Friday in response to Darren Wilson not being indicted for shooting and killing Michael Brown. Several malls in the area were shut down.

 

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2. The Brant Foundation Homeless Kids w Dan Colen

Dan Colen, The Brant Foundation, Free Arts NYC, and The Department of Homeless Services.

Wonderful to hang out, mentor, eat pizza, and appropriate, through the eyes of children, Colen’s work.

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3. Jose Esteban Munoz The Whitney tribute

Celebrating the life and work of José Esteban Muñoz through performance: Take Ecstasy With Me, organized by Miguel Gutierrez and Alex Segade in conjunction with the 2014 Whitney Biennial

Muñoz cared, understood, and contextualized the work of many queer artists that most would not think twice about engaging with. Produced by the Whitney’s department of education and initiated by Gordon Hall, many of us took to the stage to perform. Included were myself, Nao Bustamante, Jorge Cortiñas, Juliana Huxtable, Miguel Gutierrez with I.n. Hafezi, My Barbarian, Kate Bush Dance Troupe, A.L. Steiner, and Jacolby Satterwhite. RIP, Jose. You are greatly missed.

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4. Blackish TraceeandThelma

Black-ish on ABC

A single-camera comedy that centers on an upper-middle-class African-American family. Many of the episodes focus on identity and cultural politics that contemporary art world types should find engaging. It stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, who is pictured above with Thelma Golden.

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Bethann Hardison’s Dance Party

Hosted by Iman, Naomi Campbell, and Tyson Beckford. This was the most fun I had had in a while. Congrats to Bethann and all her pioneering contributions to the fashion industry!

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Creative Time Presents Kara Walker’s A Subtlety or The Marvelous Sugar Baby

Viewing the exhibition, I remembered a summer hanging out in the pepper fields with my father, who was a farmer and overseer in migrant work. I don’t ever recall being in a sugar cane field with him, but I do remember them existing and playing in them with my cousins. One day I told my father I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He said, “No, I want you to have an office job, because farming is hard labor.” At the time I didn’t really understand. I was just a kid who loved and was always excited to be with his dad. I left Walker’s exhibition being grateful for evolution and parents who desire more, fight, and work hard for their children to have a better life.

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Chris Ofili: Night And Day at the New Museum

Inspiring, rejuvenating… fanning that desire within to produce work that continues to resonate over time.

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Takashi Murakami at Gagosian

A beast of a show with intimate moments of offspring dispersed throughout.

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Rachel Feinstein’s The Last Days of Folly at Madison Square Park

With her sculptures as a backdrop, a one-day performance festival was staged and brought together luminaries from art, fashion, film, television, dance, and theater. Had me wanting to do one of my own. Kudos, Rachel! Hoping there’s more to come!

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Sweet Liberty Censored

The muddled, confusing details sounded like a plot from my web series As Da Art World Might Turn. Because I am not a fan of mine or my collaborators’ artistic voices being shooshed, here is the censored billboard with our original intentions above it. A sweet beautiful narrative.

Brian J. Evans on Performing Costume Made of Nothing

Costume Made of Nothing is a performance created by the artist Pope.L and is featured in the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. It debuted at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) in 2012 and its most recent iteration at the Walker Art Center involved a weight-bearing structure and new movements. The performance takes […]

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Opening day performance of Costume Made of Nothing at the Walker Art Center, July 24, 2014. Photo: Gene Pittman

Costume Made of Nothing is a performance created by the artist Pope.L and is featured in the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art. It debuted at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) in 2012 and its most recent iteration at the Walker Art Center involved a weight-bearing structure and new movements. The performance takes place in the galleries, thirteen times over the course of the exhibition’s five-month run.

Prior to the final performance of Costume Made of Nothing, I sat down with the performer, Brian J. Evans, who worked with Pope.L to develop this new piece. Join us on January 4, 2015, at 2 pm for Evans’s final performance, which coincides with the closing of Radical Presence.

Tell me about your background and training.

I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, but I moved to Gaylord, Minnesota when I was seven. I went to Gustavus Adolphus College for liberal arts and left with a dance major. I didn’t find dance until I was a sophomore and studied abroad as a junior, so I only had three semesters and two classes of dance training before I got into the field. I had always done performance and I got super lucky when one of my professors, who was in Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, set me up with an audition. At the end of two rehearsals they asked me to come dance as an apprentice, and eight years later I’m a professional performer and teaching artist.

How did you find out about the opportunity to perform in Pope.L’s piece and what was your audition like?

I found out about the audition from a friend of a friend, and when opportunities like that come up, I take them. So I looked at the video of the performance at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and my first inclination was that I didn’t want to do it. In this iteration the performer just stood there and put his arm into a hole in the wall, so I wasn’t so sure about it. But I did a little research on Pope.L and was impressed by what I found on Google. So I auditioned and went through the poses, and what then really peaked my interest was having a Skype conversation with Pope.L directly afterward. I remember he gave me directions to try out different movements, and he told me to go away and come back after thinking about it, but I decided to try to incorporate those instructions right then, on the spot. That’s when the collaboration started. I thought, ‘Good, let me try to do something that would inevitably start us on a process of collaboration.’

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Pope.L at the opening day performance of Costume Made of Nothing at the Walker Art Center, July 24, 2014. Photo: Gene Pittman

What was it like to work with Pope.L for that brief time that he was here in July? What was the working process?

There were three rehearsals, two to three hours each. In the first one, he said right up front that he’s not a choreographer and he’s not going to try to choreograph anything. He said that he would need me to collaborate with him to figure out the movements. He didn’t want to do what he did the other two times. The structure at the Walker is three times as big and is weight bearing. Right away we talked about his influences: Bauhaus and the German stylistic movements. We talked about character, and I thought to myself, ‘why the structure, why the costume?’

In the second rehearsal we got into it and he had this image of me hanging from the pipe. How to I get up there? Do I jump or crawl? So I improvised and crawled up and he said, “Yes, keep that.” We decided that I would say “Well” three times at different pitches and volumes. There are headphones attached to the piece, so what am I listening to? There were terms like ‘step and fetch it,’ ‘the funky chicken,’ and butoh—that’s where the walk came from. He would then send me away with different assignments like, how does this character walk, how does this thing look, how does he interact, why is he traveling, what does he do every day, and why does he continue to go to this structure? In the third rehearsal we had a set of instructions and a character sketch, and for opening night that’s what I had to work with. Since then, the character has evolved into a more multi-dimensional entity.

How has the audience reacted to this piece?

Pope.L and I talked about how it’s unimportant that there’s an audience. The character will do the performance regardless of an audience. There have been a lot of people that want to imitate me or block me when I’m moving through the space. I remember on opening night after it was done, Pope.L told me that this character doesn’t want to be touched, doesn’t want to be messed with, isn’t really inviting. I have to fight the temptation of allowing people to influence me. I don’t think this character is human so I don’t feel like I’m being mean to anybody, but I do find myself thinking, ‘Don’t touch me, don’t come close to me. I don’t know how I would react if you did.’

So it’s been interesting how people interact with me, whether they move or not. Older people tend to have a slightly more reserved reaction. I know I’ve startled people. Teenagers are always running away, but kids are fascinated. It’s performance art in a gallery, which is very different from performance on a stage. As a performer you’re trained to think that if people leave early you’re not doing your job correctly, but because this is not that, it’s been fine that some people stay for five minutes. It’s a different way of thinking about performance art.

Tell me how the performance has changed over time.

From the first time to today’s, and this was the twelfth time, it’s gone from more of a hollow character sketch of making sure I did all of the instructions right, to allowing myself to let the character interpret those instructions. That usually always changes because I, myself, as Brian, come to it differently everyday, because something’s happened or I’m thinking about something, or I’m totally focused, or I’m trying to reach a goal.

There were some performances where no one moved except for leaving and coming, and there were others where the audience would surround me and circle the structure. It’s different every time. When nobody is here I’m usually hoping that I don’t perform too quickly because there’s no one to feed off of. This was new today: when I was approaching the exhibition, I felt totally alone, so I thought, ‘I’m going to do my solo and no one’s going to see it and that’s fine.’ So that was a different mindset. I recognized people were watching me after a while, but my way into it was a solitary one.

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Opening day performance of Costume Made of Nothing at the Walker Art Center, July 24, 2014. Photo: Gene Pittman

The structure is like a prop or a second performer. How does its presence affect your performance?

I haven’t yet (maybe it will happen in the thirteenth performance) attached an identity to the structure. I will say that the structure does feel different. And that’s partly because of my physical stamina and how I’m able to approach it. The structure is the thing that keeps me grounded in what I’m doing. I always go back to it and everything is about that interaction, so I don’t ever really feel like I’m alone. Then it doesn’t really matter if anyone is watching, because this structure is consistent, unlike most things in my life [laughs]. Once we bolstered the structure, the thing became unbreakable. It’s always going to be there to support me.

Have you done any other performances that are like this—in the contemporary art realm, as opposed to performing arts, on a stage with a seated audience?

No, I’ve never performed when it’s called contemporary visual art. I’ve done things that are more along the lines of visual architecture or improvisations that had minimalistic movement parameters. This is something more in-depth. This performance has been different in that it’s just me and that structure. Every time I’ve done it, it’s gotten a bit more involved. Most of the time you don’t get to dive into a piece, you just have your weekend of performances.

Have you ever had to do something multiple times over the course of many months?

I’m part of a dance company, Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, so we do a lot of touring. There are three or four full-length works that I’ve done anywhere from 30 to 50 times over the span of five months on tour. Costume Made of Nothing is different because it’s the same space, the same apparatus, the same lighting, the same area, and we’re shooting for the same duration. In the work I do with Stuart Pimsler we really want to know what the audience is thinking and feeling, and in this piece, I feel very autonomous. I wonder how many people saw me perform and what they felt and thought—and I’ll never know.

Pope.L asked me to record one of your recent performances with the idea that he would send you feedback and ask you to change aspects of the piece. I wonder how Pope.L envisions the final performance.

The little I interacted with him, I got the impression that he was very respectful of my process. The last thing he said to me, which has really influenced me, was that he was going to come by at some point. In the back of my mind I didn’t think he was actually going to, but because he said that, I always perform it like maybe he will that time. I think it was part of his plan.

 

 

Brian J Evans - Head Shot

Brian J. Evans of Gaylord, MN is currently in his seventh season with Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater. In addition to performing, he serves as the company’s Musical Director. He is a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College, where he earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts with an emphasis in dance. In 2009, he was recognized by the Star Tribune and the following year received a SAGE Award for Outstanding Performer. He also teaches at the Saint Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts and Young Dance, and served as Dance Program Administrator for SPDT at FAIR School Downtown. Evans has also worked with numerous directors and choreographers on productions throughout the Midwest and performed as a singer/dancer at Valley Fair, as well as appearing in a feature film.

Light & Space: Liz Deschenes’s Gallery 7

Since the early 1990s, New York–based artist Liz Deschenes has produced a singular and influential body of work that has done much to advance photography’s material potential and critical scope. Making use of the medium’s most elemental aspects, namely paper, light, and chemicals, she has recently worked without a camera to produce mirrored photograms that […]

Installation view

Installation view of the exhibition Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, Walker Art Center, 2014

Since the early 1990s, New York–based artist Liz Deschenes has produced a singular and influential body of work that has done much to advance photography’s material potential and critical scope. Making use of the medium’s most elemental aspects, namely paper, light, and chemicals, she has recently worked without a camera to produce mirrored photograms that reflect viewers’ movements in time and space. Her carefully calibrated installations of these pieces have probed disparate histories of image production, abstraction, and exhibition-making while also responding to a given site’s unique features.

On November 22, the Walker Art Center opens its newest exhibition, Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, with a gallery talk and reception at 2 pm co-hosted by mnartists.org. For this yearlong installation, Deschenes has transformed the space of the Walker’s seventh-floor gallery with a photographic intervention. Eliminating the room’s temporary architecture to reveal its east-facing windows, she has allowed natural light into the space and installed a series of free-standing rectangular panels. These large-scale abstractions, which occupy the space of the viewer more than the conventional space of the photograph, result from the artist’s distinctive silver-toned photogram process as well as her new experiments in digital pigment printing on acrylic.

Installation view

Installation view of the exhibition Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, Walker Art Center, 2014

Deschenes produces her photograms by exposing sheets of photosensitive paper to the ambient light of night before washing them with silver toner—a process contingent on temperature and humidity. The resulting images offer a foggy, mirrored cast, reflecting the viewers who encounter them as well as the spatial context of their display. Since these materials are prone to oxidation, her photograms “develop” slowly over time, changing color and sheen.

More recently, Deschenes has begun to employ digital pigment printing on acrylic to produce large blue monochromes that can be viewed in the round. Her chosen colors are derived from the printing industry’s Blue Wool Scale, a professional standard used by conservators to gauge the lightfastness of pigments ranging from textile dyes to oil paint. With a surface not unlike the texture of ground glass, these new pieces capture and refract incidental light, suggesting a photographic calibration of the gallery’s space.

Installation view of Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7

Installation view of the exhibition Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, Walker Art Center, 2014

The temporal and spatial implications of these two imaging processes—one alchemical and reflective, the other digital and absorptive—find a particular context within the history of the Walker and its seventh-floor gallery. Her title for the exhibition, Gallery 7, which is the former name for the current Medtronic Gallery, orients us toward the past. Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes’s original designs for the Walker’s 1971 building and curator Lucy Lippard’s 1973 group show c. 7,500, featuring work by an all-women roster of conceptual artists, were important points of departure for Deschenes’s intervention here. Finally, the artist has chosen to fit the space of her installation with a picture-hanging rail system reminiscent of the one used in the Walker’s now demolished 1927 building, further collapsing the institution’s spatial histories of site and display.

Installation view of the exhibition 92 Artists, Walker Art Center, June 1943 (Long & Thorshov, architects, 1927)

Installation view of the exhibition 92 Artists, Walker Art Center, June 1943 (Long & Thorshov, architects, 1927)

Cross-sectional drawing of the Walker Art Center auditorium and galleries, circa 1969 (Edward Larrabee Barnes, architect, 1971)

Cross-sectional drawing of the Walker Art Center auditorium and galleries, circa 1969 (Edward Larrabee Barnes, architect, 1971)

Exterior view, Walker Art Center terraces, circa May 1971 (Edward Larrabee Barnes, architect, 1971)

Exterior view, Walker Art Center terraces, circa May 1971 (Edward Larrabee Barnes, architect, 1971)

Installation view of the exhibition c. 7,500, curated by Lucy Lippard, Gallery 7, Walker Art Center, November 1973

Installation view of the exhibition c. 7,500, curated by Lucy Lippard, Gallery 7, Walker Art Center, November 1973

Installation view

Installation view of the exhibition Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, Walker Art Center, 2014

Installation view of the exhibition Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, Walker Art Center, November 2014

Installation view of the exhibition Liz Deschenes: Gallery 7, Walker Art Center, 2014

Recently described by the New York Times as “one of the quiet giants of post-conceptual photography,” Liz Deschenes has exhibited her work regularly since receiving her BFA in 1988 from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. She has recently mounted exhibitions at Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York; Campoli Presti, London and Paris; Secession, Vienna; and Sutton Lane, Paris and Brussels. Featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, she is most recently the recipient of the 2014 Rappaport Prize awarded by the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Her work is represented in the collections of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Art Institute of Chicago; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Since 2006, she has been a member of the faculty of Bennington College in Bennington, Vermont.

Winding Up Toy Frogs with Benjamin Patterson

We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Benjamin Patterson to the Twin Cities. Patterson is participating in the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art and, at age 80, is the oldest exhibiting artist. Born in Pittsburgh and living and working out of Wiesbaden, Germany, Patterson is a founding member of Fluxus, and his […]

We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Benjamin Patterson to the Twin Cities. Patterson is participating in the exhibition Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art and, at age 80, is the oldest exhibiting artist. Born in Pittsburgh and living and working out of Wiesbaden, Germany, Patterson is a founding member of Fluxus, and his practice has incorporated music, visual arts, and performance—challenging traditional art-making modes. His oeuvre has been widely influential for generations of artists, including many in Radical Presence such as Clifford Owens.

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Benjamin Patterson, Pond (1962). Photo: Erin Smith

Throughout his career, Patterson has explored the notion of systems in art, music, and text. Like many of his Fluxus peers such as Robert Filliou, Ben Vautier, and Daniel Spoerri, Patterson has also complicated and enriched the interaction between audience and performer, imposing situations that encourage direct engagement. Included in the exhibition, Pond is a performance that Patterson first executed in 1962, and it invokes game-playing, chance operations, and musical components. The piece consists of an 8-foot grid taped directly on the floor, a score created by the artist, wind-up toy frogs, and eight participants that stand around the grid and make corresponding sounds as the frogs hop from one quadrant to the next. The performance escalates into a cacophony of sound as more and more frogs are released, evoking the “ribbeting” of an active frog pond. Eight students from the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC) performed the piece twice for an audience of 250 people, engaging in this dynamic Fluxus work and having fun while doing so. Patterson noted that this was the youngest group ever to perform Pond and did so with great success.

The following day, Patterson generously agreed to sit down with the public for a conversation at Theaster Gates’s table within Radical Presence. Gates’s See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court is an installation made up of tables, chairs, and chalkboards salvaged from Crispus Attucks, a now-closed public school on Chicago’s South Side. The classroom setting encourages a democratic, roundtable approach to learning for and by the people assembled around it. The Walker has been hosting a number of programs over the past few months including conversations with artists Ralph Lemon and Coco Fusco, events and tours led by community members such as Andrea Jenkins and Amoke Kubat, and forthcoming discussions with Congressman Keith Ellison and Theaster Gates.

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Holding Court with Benjamin Patterson. Photo: Erin Smith

In his Holding Court talk, Patterson weaved through a number of topics, from his early classical training in double bass to his interest in natural sciences (cleaning alligator cages at the Pittsburgh Zoo) to his years in the army playing internationally in its orchestra. He has a sharp memory and a keen ability to recount stories, so this talk was a truly special moment for those who were present. (For those who weren’t, please find clips from the talk below.) One of the central topics was Patterson’s position as an African American musician in the mid-1950s, before the Civil Rights Movement. Patterson explained that he auditioned over twenty times for orchestras in places such as Portland, Maine, and San Francisco, always being told, “we have a problem,” when conductors faced him in person. Patterson dealt with this racial inequality with aplomb, never compromising his ethics, and finally moving to Canada to play with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, and later spending the majority of his life in Wiesbaden.

Patterson recounted his first meeting with Karlheinz Stockhausen, a prominent German composer, and his subsequent encounter with John Cage the following day in Cologne. He explained that Cage invited him (as a wide-eyed 22-year-old) to perform with musicians such as David Tudor, Christian Wolff, and La Monte Young the next night. Patterson’s relationship with these artists grew over the next few years, and soon he was living in the Gate Hill Co-op in Stony Brook, NY with the likes of Cage, David Behrman, and Stan VanDerBeek—playing poker and sitting down for weekly suppers together. For Patterson these years were incredibly influential in shaping his thinking and his outlook on life. It was after this that he adopted an interest in indeterminacy and chance operations in artistic practice, “preparing” his double bass by attaching clothespins and other objects onto the strings, and eventually becoming even more theatrical by turning the instrument upside down.

When he lived in Paris in 1962, Patterson befriended Robert Filliou and Daniel Spoerri, two key figures in the Fluxus movement, who collaborated on various projects such as Filliou’s gallery in a hat. The idea came from Filliou’s exposure to his Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, where a gentleman’s hat seemed the perfect venue for an exhibition. Patterson and Filliou created a mobile exhibition in a hat, moving through Paris by foot, subway, and bus for twelve hours, selling each of Patterson’s Puzzle Poems for 5 francs. Patterson claimed it to be his most successful vernissage, having nearly sold out the entire show.

Patterson took part in the first Fluxus festival of new music in Wiesbaden in 1963, during which time George Maciunas (founding father of Fluxus) released his first Fluxus magazine. Patterson revealed that the festival took place there because Maciunas was ducking the debt he accrued at his gallery in New York, and enrolled as a civilian draftsman for the U.S. army in Wiesbaden. For Patterson, Fluxus cannot be conclusively defined; it was more than an art movement—it was a new way of thinking. At the time there were no categories such as performance art, intermedia art, or interdisciplinary art, so he rather cunningly compared Fluxus to a circus. There were many performers with various talents—the lion tamer, the acrobat, the musician, the tightrope walker, and Maciunas as the ringleader cracking a whip—all under one big tent, arriving in town, performing, and packing up and moving on. The group was truly international, with a wide scope of interests and backgrounds: Filliou was an economist and wrote the recovery plan for South Korea after the war (and he was also a Coca Cola salesman), George Brecht was a chemist and invented Tampax, and Robert Watts was an electrical engineer. Patterson has led an inspiring life. He is a generous storyteller, and one of the few Fluxus members still alive today, making this event truly invaluable.

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Benjamin Patterson, A Penny for Your Thoughts (2011). Photo: Erin Smith

Following the talk, Patterson performed his recent piece, A Penny for Your Thoughts (2011), which promotes an exchange of ideas between artist and viewer. Patterson invited participants to care for their minds by getting rid of excess thoughts, writing them down, and selling each for a penny. Through this humorous and interactive Fluxus work in which shredded newspaper is attached to one’s head, Patterson encourages his audience to reframe how they think while investigating the commodification of the transfer of ideas. Patterson is still making work to this day, and is one of the most active artists I know. His travel itinerary includes Seattle, Nanjing, Brno, Siegen, Blois, and Karlsruhe—all before the end of 2014. We are grateful that he took time from his impressive schedule to visit us and share his stories with audiences in Minneapolis.

A History of Revisionism: Contemporary Art and Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day

Performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Peña, image courtesy Walker Archives
Performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Peña, image courtesy Walker Archives

Performance artist Guillermo Gomez-Peña. Image courtesy Walker Archives

This week marks the City of Minneapolis’ first recognition of Indigenous People’s Day, as decreed last April by City Council “to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwa and other indigenous nations add to our city.” Although the city still recognizes the federal holiday of Columbus Day for legal purposes, the Twin Cities have one of the largest and most diverse urban American Indian populations and government recognition of Indigenous People’s Day acknowledges both the importance of retelling American history and the need to address the social and political issues that native people face today.

Nationally, the movement to reconsider Columbus Day gained steam in the late 1980s and early 1990s as preparations began for the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas. As numerous grandiose events were proposed in conjunction with the quincentennial, including a World’s Fair that never transpired, Native Americans and indigenous rights groups were engaged in an ongoing critique of Columbus’ legacy. They sought ways to educate the public pushed for the amplification of a revisionist history that forced reexamination of colonialism and privileged indigenous rights and marginalized perspectives. New terminology emerged in academic literature to describe Columbus’s expedition, with “encounter” becoming the preferred noun for what was otherwise referred to as “discovery” or “conquest.”Although popular history maintained the image of Christopher Columbus as a European hero who changed the course of history, an increasingly large group sought to critique his legacy and assign 1492 as the beginning of an indigenous genocide.

Contemporary artists have been engaged in many of the conversations around postcolonialism and revisionist history, as evident in the projects described below. Through pointed juxtaposition with images of oppression, corruption, and conquest they recast the notion of the hero, subvert the monumental and mythic, and suggest alternative narratives that grant agency to formerly marginalized peoples.

Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Coco Fusco, Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West, 1992

Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Coco Fusco inside the cage

Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Coco Fusco perform inside a gilded cage in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1992. Image courtesy Walker Archives

In 1992 Guillermo Gomez-Peña and Coco Fusco performed Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit the West as part of the exhibition The Year of the White Bear at the Walker. As a response to widespread commemoration of the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’s arrival to the Americas, The Year of the White Bear sought to make visible the legacy of colonialism in the wake of the Columbian encounter, especially in regards to the captivity, exploitation, and abuse of indigenous people. Though conquest and genocide were at the forefront of revisionist histories of Columbus’s encounter, his legacy as it pertains to human display remains often overlooked. In 1493 Columbus returned to Spain and brought back with him several Arawaks, one of whom was left on display at the Spanish court for two years. Like centuries of indigenous people that followed, he was intended to perform both an educational and entertainment function within the court, by providing opportunity for aesthetic contemplation and scientific analysis. Two years after his arrival to Spain he died, purportedly of sadness.

Dissatisfied with the level of public discourse around Columbus’s legacy, Gomez-Peña and Fusco created a performance that recreated and critiqued centuries of human display and objectification under the guise of science and entertainment. Rather than revisit historical records of human exhibitions authored by observers and anthropologists, Fusco and Gomez-Peña sought to create an account of these ethnographic displays from the perspective of the performer. During the performance Gomez-Peña and Fusco presented themselves as members of the fictional Guatinaui tribe, inhabitants of an uncolonized island in the Gulf of Mexico. Wearing leopard print loincloths and artificial feathers while contained in a gilded cage, the artists told stories in a made up language, performed fictionalized ritual dances, and ate bananas fed to them by docents/zookeepers. Despite exaggerated theatrics and outlandish costumes and props, many museum visitors believed the performance to be authentic and reacted accordingly. Over its two-year run in venues ranging from natural history museums to biennials, the performance was largely met with confusion and anger from critics, museums, patrons, and visitors. (The Walker was one of only two venues where the work was contextualized as art.) Within the cage, the artists were subjected to racist taunts, violent attacks, and aggressive heckling, yet never broke character or ended the performance.

Allora & Calzadilla Chalk Monuments

Allora & Calzadilla, Chalk Monuments. Image via Gladstone Gallery

Allora & Calzadilla, Chalk Monuments, 1998

Artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla create socially engaged art that is not constrained to any medium or style. Instead, the Puerto Rico–based artists address themes such as history, science, politics, and economics in subversive, conceptual works that blur distinctions of art and activism. They began to develop Chalk Monuments while working with educators in San Juan in 1988. The small sculptures are made after larger monuments, then miniaturized and recast in chalk. The first iteration of the project included well-known public statues of Christopher Columbus and Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer and first governor of Puerto Rico. Allora and Calzadilla play with monumentality and ephemerality through scale and use of materials, rendering objects that once seemed permanent and behemoth small and fragile. The chalk monuments are intended for classroom use so as to spur conversation with students about the history of Puerto Rico, sociopolitical issues, and colonialism. (Read our 2004 interview with the artists, conducted during their Walker residency.)

James Luna performing Take a Picture With a Real Indian

James Luna poses with an audience member while performing Take a Picture With a Real Indian . Image via willardstnw.files.wordpress.com

James Luna, Take a Picture with a Real Indian

Luiseño artist James Luna performed Take a Picture with a Real Indian on Columbus Day 2010 in Washington, D.C., as part of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian’s exhibition Vantage Point: The Contemporary Native Art Collection. Since the 1980s Luna has created performances and installations that present pointed critiques of the representation and objectification of Native American cultures in the United States. Often using his own body in his work, the artist is perhaps best known for the 1985–1987 installation Artifact Piece, wherein he wore a loincloth and lay still inside a glass vitrine beside a label; nearby cases contain personal effects displayed with similar museum conventions. The work sought to critique the tendency of museum exhibitions to portray Native American peoples as frozen in time, if not extinct, rather than as contemporary people navigating modern culture.

In Take a Picture with a Real Indian Luna stands in front of the Columbus Fountain outside of DC’s Union Station. Inspired by tourist vendors who sell photo-ops with cardboard cutouts of the President in front of the White House, the artist announces his presence by stating, “Take a picture with a real Indian. Take a picture here, in Washington, D.C., on this beautiful Monday morning, on this holiday called Columbus Day. America loves to say ‘her Indians.’ America loves to see us dance for them. America likes our arts and crafts. America likes to name cars and trucks after our tribes. Take a picture with a real Indian. Take a picture here today, on this sunny day here in Washington, D.C.” Passerby are eventually drawn in and pose for photographs, with crowds building upon themselves and mass participation absolving any shyness or anxiety. The artist views his audience as participants in the performance and describes their shared experience as a dual humiliation. After enduring uncomfortable posing, culturally insensitive remarks, and racist insults, the performance concludes when the artist has become too angry or humiliated to continue.

Colón Washes Whiter, Luzinterruptus, Madrid. Gif by Gutavo Sanabria

Luzinterruptus, Colón Washes Whiter

Madrid art collective Luzinterruptus has used Columbus and his effigy as symbols for government corruption. In 2013, the anonymous group, known for using recyclable material in ephemeral installations, staged a public art intervention at the former site of a monument to Christopher Columbus that had been mysteriously moved several blocks away. The piece, titled Colón Washes Whiter, was a tower composed of containers of Colón laundry detergent and made use of the platform where the sculpture had originally stood. (In Spanish, Christopher Columbus is known as Cristóbal Colón.) Although the use of laundry detergent was meant as an allegorical reference to dirty money and the $5.3 million cost of relocating the monument to a more prominent location, its titular reference to the product’s slogan belies the notion of whiter as better, an ideological thread of colonial thought still pervasive in much of Spain and Latin America. The duplicitous message of the work serves to question the intentions of the Spanish government, both for incurring exorbitant costs in the middle of a financial crisis but also for continuing to perpetuate the idolatry of a much maligned figure from the era of the conquistadores.

Low and Warped: A Playlist Inspired by Destroy All Monsters

The RISD Museum in Rhode Island recently asked me to create a playlist as an online compliment to their current exhibition, What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present. My relationship to RISD’s project hinges on my avid appreciation for the proto-punk art collective, Destroy All Monsters, which is included among the exhibition’s […]

Cary Loren, God's Oasis, 1974. Copyright the artist.

Cary Loren, John Reed, Jim Shaw, Mike Kelley, Basement, God’s Oasis, 1975/2011. Copyright the artist. Collection the artist.

The RISD Museum in Rhode Island recently asked me to create a playlist as an online compliment to their current exhibition, What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present. My relationship to RISD’s project hinges on my avid appreciation for the proto-punk art collective, Destroy All Monsters, which is included among the exhibition’s artists and groups. Founded in 1973 in suburban Detroit, where three of its four members were attending the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Destroy All Monsters has since taken on many forms. In the beginning, it was a collaboration between Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Cary Loren, and Niagara. Embracing Hollywood trash, amateur noise and sound, theatrical antics borrowed from Dada and the seminal Jack Smith, and the cut-and-paste aesthetic of zine culture, Destroy All Monsters created for themselves their own low and warped gesamtkunstwerk, an inverted utopia that celebrated the morbid and irreverent. After a few years, members cycled in and out, and Destroy All Monsters became more of an official “band,” taking on members of the legendary Detroit bands the MC5 and the Stooges. Beginning in the 1990s, the original line-up came back together, producing new visual pieces for exhibitions, performing at galleries and museums, and releasing their music, videos, and zines—most of which had never been widely available before that time. Below is the playlist commissioned by the RISD Museum, and a very brief introduction to the many characters that populate it.

The part-time punk band, part-time art collective Destroy All Monsters was a collage in and of itself—an odd mix of oddball characters, each of whom brought in unique points of view, aesthetics, and capabilities. Manifesting in what its members felt was a vacuum of culture, Destroy All Monsters momentarily created a burst of weird, erratic, trash-obsessed, monster-movie creativity that took form through audio recordings, bits and scraps of film, zines, and lost performances. Idiosyncratic and in some ways out-of-time with their surroundings, the members of Destroy All Monsters created their own vernacular culture.

The sorts of sound, language, and aesthetic they created are linked to many others—from the noisy drones of 1960s minimal music to the punk rock that would rush into existence in the years after their formation, from the level deadness of New York No Wave music to various other art-rock innovators, past and future. As a compliment to the exhibition What Nerve!, this playlist hovers momentarily amidst this and other analogous clusters of creative energy wherein art crossed over with music, high culture crossed over with low, new crossed over with out-of-date, and things generally got weird.

This playlist starts off, naturally, with a track from Destroy All Monsters—though at the time of this song’s release, group members Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw had been lost to the West Coast. The lyrics of “November 22, 1963,” written by Cary Loren, reflect on the assassination of John F. Kennedy while the music approaches punk rock with a more straightforward song structure than the band’s earlier, noise-based recordings. It then skips around at will to tracks by pioneers like Alan Vega and his band Suicide—the first band to use the word “punk” as a self-imposed descriptor; poet, drummer, and phenom Angus MacLise, who was associated with New York’s avant-garde of the 1960s, participating in the invention of early minimalist music as well as the original lineup of the Velvet Underground; and iconoclast Charlemagne Palestine, equally known for his “sonorities” on piano as for his ritually inspired performance routines, which invariably include Cognac and a host of stuffed animals.

The playlist tracks briefly through the New York No Wave scene, with selections from Lydia Lunch and her band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and veers off into the strange, industrial, neo-dada world of Cosey Fanni Tuttie and Genesis P-Orridge with tracks by COUM Transmissions and their later outfit, Throbbing Gristle. Included here are several pieces by the musician, philosopher, and anti-artist Henry Flynt and his friend and sometimes-collaborator, the filmmaker, violinist, and mathematician Tony Conrad. Both of these men occupied a place among the New York avant-garde in the 1960s but left the strictures of Fluxus and musical minimalism behind in favor of other paths. Flynt pursued what he calls “hillbilly” music—a form that he felt was more egalitarian and politically open than the closed-off experiments of Stockhausen, Cage, and other lauded musical innovators of the time; and Conrad (who was also involved in the VU precursor, the Primitives) diverted his energy into filmmaking, though he continues to produce drone-based musical compositions that shed light on the musical innovations of the 1960s. Closing out the set is, again, Destroy All Monsters, whose noisy fusion of anti-music and basement-rock draws these other musical innovators and misfits into their orbit.

Trajal Harrell, Antigone Sr.

“What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ball scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?” This is the guiding proposition of The Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (2008-2013), a seven-part, seminal body of work by New York City-based choreographer Trajal […]

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Photo: Miana Jun

“What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ball scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?” This is the guiding proposition of The Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (2008-2013), a seven-part, seminal body of work by New York City-based choreographer Trajal Harrell. The piece is a response to the invisible history of 1960s voguing in Harlem that was overshadowed by the postmodern Judson school. The title, Twenty Looks, refers to both the “looks” of voguing—and its documentation in the revolutionary film Paris is Burning (1990)and the conflation of this history with that of the downtown Judson dance scene.

From September 14 to 20 at The Kitchen, Harrell presented his seven performances in succession for the first time in the U.S. In his introduction to Antigone Sr. (the second longest in the series), Harrell explained that the work was not intended to be a historical fiction or some kind of fusion of voguing and postmodern dance, but rather that the forms of movement tease each other and coexist in this space for this moment, which could not have happened in the past. Twenty Looks imagines an encounter between the Judson experimentalists, who pared down theatricality to emphasize ordinary movement, and Harlem voguers, who suggested, with their exhibitionist balls, that authenticity is itself a theatrical notion.

For Antigone Sr., which I had the good fortune of seeing while in New York last weekend, The Kitchen’s black box theater was outfitted with minimal props and staging that included several intersecting walkways that resembled a runway (and perhaps a Greek procession route), a mattress placed directly on the floor, and three white square stages on which the dancers performed. On these catwalk runways, Harrell and his four male dancers explored the spectrum of motion from frenzied flailing to precise runway striding. The sonic experience ranged from house DJ mixes to singalongs to absolute silence. And dance was equally balanced by narration in the form of theoretical musings, partial recountings of the myth of Antigone, snarky outbursts, and repetitive commands.

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Photo: Paula Court

Antigone Sr. was structured around reinscribing the relationship between audience and performers. The nearly three-hour-long (sans intermission), highly ambitious staging was introduced by the artist, who explained that the performance is “a Greek tragedy… we have to go all the way.” From there the audience was asked to stand and pledge, with hand over heart, to the house anthem of Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time, which was recited as prose by one of Harrell’s four dance collaborators, Thibault Lac, a statuesque and regal dancer. This set the participatory tone for the rest of the evening. We were the imagined spectators of this constructed history; we were creating, adapting, and reassigning new relations between the dancers and ourselves.

Trajal_Harrel4_Photo_ Bengt Gustafsson

Photo: Bengt Gustafsson

Harrell then addressed the crowd, provoking us to define the term “realness.” In a recent interview with The Kitchen’s chief curator, Tim Griffin, Harrell explained that he was exploring authenticity, and how aspects of non-dominant cultures migrate into other more dominant cultural spaces. Reflecting on appropriation across time and art forms (e.g., Jazz into Rock ‘n’ Roll), Harrell shaped his practice around the idea of how to take advantage of and restructure this migration. The shifting of forms, replacement of ideas, and multiplicity of products got him thinking about David Hammons’ iconic Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983), in which he sold different-sized snowballs on the streets of New York. This led Harrell to create and name the Twenty Looks series by various sizes: (XS), (S), (M)imosa, (jr) Antigone Jr., (Plus) Antigone Jr. ++, (L) Antigone Sr., and (M2M Made-to-Measure) Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem—each standalone performance successively longer and more elaborate in terms of costuming, choreography, music, and lighting.

Throughout Antigone Sr. Harrell set up a number of diametrics—a key trope in this dualistic performance: comedy and tragedy, excess and minimalism, and authenticity and appropriation. In one scene on the bed, Harrell and Lac were seated next to each other and embodying duality in their monochromatic, draped garb—one in grey and one in black. They took turns stating, in monotone voices: “We are… Beyoncé and Solange. We are… William and Henry. We are… Mary Kate and Ashley.” The performers listed countless pairs and opposites—some funny and others breaking with the binary pattern: “We are… Deleuze and Guattari. We are… unhappy.”

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Photo: Whitney Browne

In another bed scene, we were told the fateful myth (read: soap opera) of Antigone, recounted with immediacy in a first-person narrative. We learned that Antigone was unwittingly born of the incestuous union of Oedipus and his mother. After Oedipus learned of this tragedy, he blinded and exiled himself from Thebes. Both brothers of Antigone quarreled over the rule of the city, and were killed; the younger was condemned a traitor, to be left unburied. Convinced of the injustice of the command, Antigone buried her brother in secret, and for this, was executed.

The details of this myth were not acted out in this performance, but rather, overlapping forms, migration of shape, and the inevitability of death were themes throughout Harrell’s performance. The lyrics and statements, “When I die,” “murder she wrote,” and “I am safe from life, I’m already dead” indicate such preoccupations. As Harrell is singing, Lac crawls through the audience onto our chairs, tying blue thread from Harrell’s hand to those of individuals in the crowd. The thread is better associated with the myth of Ariadne than that of Antigone, but the notions of interconnectedness and impermanence ran strong, and the thread was a stunning yet minimal visual prop.

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Photo: Paula Court

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Photo: Lars Persson

The highlight of the three-hour performance was the fashion show parody, which was separated into two sections: “The King’s Speech” and “Mother of the House.” Each of the dancers strutted out from the back curtain, wearing an absurd combination of clothing—leather jacket as cape, glittering headdresses, 1970s knit blanket as shawl, and pantless ensembles, while Harrell called out the names of the major fashion houses—Comme des Garçons, Yamamoto, and Hermes. Instead of directly quoting the voguers at the infamous Harlem balls with their sharp, competitive, and angular movements (vogue was a form of non-violent gang warfare between drag houses or families), the performers were elegant and sleek. In the second part, the dancers posed as women and Harrell took a seat in the audience, wittily commenting on the archetypes of females that strutted out: avant-garde Asian, African American with full derriere, etc. The voguing tradition is a performance of archetypal social and gender identities through fashion, and movement, practiced primarily by African-American and Latino gays, transvestites, and transsexuals.

The fashion show led to the crescendo of a dance party with performers free-styling, Harrell riling up the crowd, and at one point, plucking an audience member from the front row and, with him, leading a prayer that we release our inhibitions and dance. Perhaps this part was improvised, or Harrell just wanted us to assume so. Just as reluctant New Yorkers were finally brought to their feet and joined the party, the strobe lights slowly dimmed, the blaring music waned, and we were quickly taking our seats. In the final moments of Antigone Sr., the house was brought to complete blinding darkness and except for the barely perceptible movements of the dancers on stage. Antigone Sr. took the audience to extremes and sharply retreated to minimalism; it was exuberant and ethereal, sad and funny, and ultimately an authentic experience. At a vogue ball, a “look” (as in the title, Twenty Looks) is a chance to embody a dream, and that is just what happened—we explored icon-making, ultimately becoming part of a new history.

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Photo: Paula Court

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