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The Road to Opening Day: Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take

When you walk into any gallery at the Walker, you’re instantly offered entry points into an artist’s work — a Nástio Mosquito video installation or Dan Madsen and Forrest Wozniak’s hand-painted map of Tangier. This immersive experience is essential, but what is frequently not considered is the road that led to it. The day before […]

Senior Registration Technician David Bartley preparing to install Jim Hodges' Changing Things, 1997

Senior Registration Technician David Bartley preparing to install Jim Hodges’ Changing Things, 1997. Photo: Gene Pittman

When you walk into any gallery at the Walker, you’re instantly offered entry points into an artist’s work — a Nástio Mosquito video installation or Dan Madsen and Forrest Wozniak’s hand-painted map of Tangier. This immersive experience is essential, but what is frequently not considered is the road that led to it. The day before the opening of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take I spoke with one of the people who has spent the last four weeks installing everything from a 342-piece silk flower arrangement to a secondhand denim sky.

Senior Registration Technician David Bartley has been at the Walker installing every kind of art imaginable for the past 21 years. We walked around the galleries discussing how he assembled specific pieces in this exhibition and what it was like working with Hodges. Then he got back to the growing list of last-minute changes. Here, he recounts what it took to install some of the exhibition’s major works.

A Far Away Corner, 1997. Photo: Alex Lauer

A Far Away Corner, 1997. Photo: Paul Schmelzer

“First of all, we start by bringing the crates up and placing them in the galleries they’re going to be in. This particular gallery is very open as there are only these two works in here: A Far Away Corner and the massive denim Untitled (one day it all comes true). Untitled was the priority to hang on the wall so Jim could get an idea in terms of height and placement. At first it was hung too high so we had to lower it, which — as you can see — is quite a process.

“Dallas made a template of A Far Away Corner that fits on the wall. It took a long time to determine the height of it in relation to Untitled. Jim and Olga [Viso, exhibition co-curator and Walker director] were thinking of having it low, then thinking about having it really high, not too in the middle of the wall.

“Each web is pinned, each one is numbered, and each point where the web hits the wall is numbered — I had a set of elaborate instructions to read through. There are 13 webs that have to be hung in numerical order, but they don’t necessarily go from top to bottom because they overlap and intertwine.

“First I had to trim the pins down because they’re too long, and Jim likes them really, really tight to the wall so the webs don’t look like they’re hanging from pins. Then you, very gently with a fine hammer, hammer them to the wall. The webs are made of a really fine chain, like a necklace. They’re very fragile but surprisingly heavy. If you wore them like a necklace you would feel them. They have weight.”

Jim Hodges, Untitled (one day it all comes true), 2013. Photo courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

Jim Hodges, Untitled (one day it all comes true), 2013. Photo courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

“With the denim piece, there are 52 screws that hold it up. Since we had to lower it, and it took eight to ten people to move it, we now have to patch over the old holes before the show opens. It’s a long, involved process, whereas [A Far Away Corner] was just a one-person job, but it took me all day. Because of the nature of the artwork, if two people were working on it they would just get in each other’s way.”

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Jim Hodges, the dark gate, 2008. Photo: Alex Lauer

Jim’s work is interesting because it goes all the way from a very small piece that takes five minutes to install, if even, to something like the dark gate where the installation was part of the building’s architecture. When they were building and constructing walls for this exhibition, that’s when they were constructing the room it’s now in. The whole process of installing that artwork — tearing down old walls, building new walls, painting the insides and the ceiling black, putting in a black plastic floor, installing the art from three huge crates — took almost four weeks.

“For each show, generally, they’ll start with a teardown, because they already have the architecture predetermined for each show. If certain walls can remain they’ll keep them, but otherwise they completely get rid of the walls, open the gallery up, and then build all new walls.

“From my understanding, there are a lot of differences [between the layout here and the one in Dallas]. The room for the dark gate in Dallas was much smaller. Here it will be a totally different experience.”

Changing Things, 1997. Photo: Alex Lauer

Jim Hodges, Changing Things, 1997. Photo: Alex Lauer

“For this piece, I did the whole thing by myself. There are 342 individual flowers. As you can see, some are bigger than others, some are tiny little things. Jim outlined the flowers on the template, which helped identify the exact position for each, but it still took me half a day to place. This was one of the first works he wanted up in this gallery because it was going to determine a lot of the other works in the space — what’s in and what’s not.”

The wall sculpture Changing Things arrives in a box with each silk element pinned and labeled. Photo: Gene Pittman

The wall sculpture Changing Things arrives in a box with each silk element pinned and labeled. Photo: Gene Pittman

“Jim tends to not like things on-center, as you can see in the galleries. With this one being off-center, Jim and Olga would sit on the steps a lot and say, ‘Move it over. Move it here. Move it there.’ Once it was up it was similar to the spiderweb piece: you go through with a tack and put in all of the holes, but because the physical template is up against the wall you can’t put the flowers on. In Dallas they came up with this weird system of being underneath the template and someone handing you the flowers — it didn’t make much sense to me. So I put the template [on a wall to the side] and did it myself. Each flower or petal is numbered in the box with a pin so it makes it easy to look at the #1 hole and match it with the #1 flower. With a very fine pair of pliers you take each of the 342 pieces out of the box one-by-one and force them into the holes. At that point, Jim would just come by and joke with me.”

Jim Hodges, He and I (detail), 1998

Jim Hodges, He and I (detail), 1998. Photo: Paul Schmelzer

“Jim is a multitasker. For the wall drawing in the next gallery, he taught John Vogt how to do it and let him at it. But one morning Jim came in and felt like drawing, so he just took over immediately and started drawing on the wall. When he was done with that, John got back on and kept drawing again. That one piece took over a week to do, believe it or not.”

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Latin Rose, 1989. Photo: Alex Lauer

“For this in here, we worked closely together because this is very particular for Jim. We had to build an entirely new structure so we could adjust it—it was on tripods with wheels so we could move it in and out of the space and turn it until he decided where he wanted it. There are certain points where it hangs from and it is literally hanging from tape. The whole thing is made of tape. I’ve never hung an artwork from tape before, but it is Jim’s system, it’s how he’s done it, so we figured it out.

“It took us half a day, for sure, to get this hung up and in exactly the right place. So Jim focused on this, and once this was done, boom, off he went to do something else.”

Hodges discussing his work with members of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC). Photo: Gene Pittman

Hodges discussing his work with members of the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC). Photo: Gene Pittman

“In my experience working at the Walker, it’s always much different when you have the artist here for a full two weeks [before the exhibition opens]. You begin to develop a sense of not only who they are but where the artwork is coming from. You get a better understanding of their language. This is opposed to an artist who is no longer living or who just shows up for the opening and makes changes the day before the opening. [Laughs]

“A lot of the time I’m not really that familiar with the body of work of some of these artists, so when they’re here you get a much better understanding. The same could be said working with Thomas Hirschhorn. You understand why he is using tape. He’s got all this energy — he shows up, wraps his tape around himself to keep his pants up, then just dives into the work and starts ripping tape, which is why his work has that haphazard look. But you’d never know that about his process from simply looking. You get that extra little understanding by watching artists handle their work.”

Hyperallergic’s Hrag Vartanian on Performance Art’s Crossover Year

In conjunction with our series 2013: The Year According to…, we invited Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the New York–based “art blogazine” Hyperallergic, to share his perspective on the year that was. He zeroes in on a key development he noticed last year: performance art blasting into the public consciousness in a new way. […]

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Pussy Riot. Photo: Igor Mukhin, Wikipedia

In conjunction with our series 2013: The Year According to…, we invited Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the New York–based “art blogazine” Hyperallergic, to share his perspective on the year that was. He zeroes in on a key development he noticed last year: performance art blasting into the public consciousness in a new way.

Many issues have been on my mind in 2013, including the vast destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, which only seems to be getting worse, the disrespect for Hopi and San Carlos Apaches Katsinam at auction, the rising cost of urban life for artists and cultural workers, and the massive (and frightening) role of state surveillance in the lives of every single person on the planet. All these are very serious issues impacting the creative community, even though it can often feel like there are no easy answers to any of these issues.

Yet 2013 was not only a year of serious challenges and many disasters. As an art critic and blogger, I feel it’s important to remark on one of the most fascinating developments for art in the last year: the evolving nature of performance art.

It has been a long time coming, but 2013 was the year when performance art not only crossed over to the mainstream but made waves around the world in a way it has never done before.

From the Free Pussy Riot movement that helped free the captive singers from a Russian gulag to Marina Abramović’s cult-like institute (not to mention the fact that she inspired JAY Z’s foray into gallery performance art), the terrain for performance art is a boom town of possibilities. Even the Museum of Modern Art’s proposed renovation appears to factor in a larger role for performance in the museum’s programming — something that, in my opinion, is sorely needed.

But this added attention raises some serious questions: will the marriage of celebrity and performance art simply be a way for Hollywood actors to parlay their pop culture fame into seemingly more affluent cache in art, or will it be more? Thankfully, along with the mainstreaming of performance there has been a swell of alternative and indie festivals, like the Brooklyn International Performance Art Festival, to fill the need for experimental projects that don’t require stars sleeping in museum lobbies or televised roasts masquerading as performance art.

No discussion of performance art today would be complete without mentioning Performa, RoseLee Goldberg’s biennial performance brainchild that has done more to develop the form than anything else in the last decade. Goldberg’s work as an art historian, curator, and champion has slowly raised the standards for performance over the course of the last four decades.

The exciting part is that the future is up for grabs in this evolving field.

2013: The Year According to Matt Connors

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from multimedia artist Ralph Lemon and photographer JoAnn Verburg to designer Martine Syms and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to       […]

UnknownTo commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from multimedia artist Ralph Lemon and photographer JoAnn Verburg to designer Martine Syms and musician Greg Tate — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 .

The last day of 2012 was also the last day of Matt Connors’ first solo museum exhibition, Impressionism at MoMA PS1. This momentum combined with his award-winning artist book A Bell is a Cup propelled him into 2013, a year when he participated in two important contemporary painting shows, Painter Painter at the Walker and Painting: A Love Story at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. The focus on painting in both show titles might obscure the rich influences that go into Connors’ work, as assistant curator Eric Crosby noted in his introduction of Connors at a recent Walker talk: “He freely borrows structures and ideas from design, poetry, writing, music, and the history of painting; but his marks aren’t derivative in any way. They’re removed, distilled, and recontextualized so that a poetic sense of things borrowed or overheard pervades the work.”

Reflecting on 2013, Connors shares some of these ideas in a top-10 list focused almost exclusively on musicians, from King Krule to Richard Youngs, and exhibitions, from Michel Auder to Ettore Sottsass. The only exception is a bookstore — where he gets his ephemera.

1

Marlow Moss

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Discovering the previously unknown to me work of  Marlow Moss (1889–1958) at the group exhibition last summer at Tate St. Ives. A queer/transgendered constructivist/neo plasticist Mondrian protégé? YES.

2

Ettore Sottsass: Important Works from a Private Collection | Christie’s Private Sales

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I stumbled upon this micro show because I found someone selling the catalog for it on eBay as I was conducting my daily Sottsass eBay search. I showed up on the opening day and received a private tour from the curator, who led me through an immaculate collection of ceramics, furniture, and printed ephemera from the collection of Sottsass’ wife. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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Franz Erhard Walther’s Die Modellierung des Innenraums Werkzeichnungen 1963–1974

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 10.30.12 AMGigantic cluster of these strange and compelling ideagrammatic drawings that I stumbled upon after seeing a small flyer advertising it on a tram in Basel. This exhibition in a bank lobby (ah, Europe!) was maybe better than anything I saw at the entire Art Basel.

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Mykki Blanco’s Instagram Feed

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Essentially, GOOD VIBES.

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Richard Youngs and Luke Fowler

Richard Youngs and Luke FowlerRichard Youngs and Luke Fowler at Cafe Oto in London. I could just as well add Cafe Oto to the list, as their schedule will inevitably induce glee if I happen to be in London or anguish if I’m not. But the rare synchronicity that occurred in order to allow me to be in London when one one of my heroes, Richard Youngs, was playing could not be beat.

6

Mast Books

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As I go through my receipts at tax time I inevitably come face to face with how important MAST BOOKS has become to me. Somehow or other my daily dog walks always end up bringing me here. Part of a larger, exciting trend that heralds the return of the independent book and record store (fingers crossed).

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The Emergence of King Krule

King Krule: His unannounced secret appearance at Mercury Lounge to an audience of 40 or so, his super great takeover of RINSEFM, as we well as his album released this year, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon. Chops and swagger!

8

Arp’s More

arp more

More an album that I find to be really undeniable, that felt like an instant classic on first listen — and “Golden Teacher” both burned serious holes in my brain this year.

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Michel Auder at Kunsthalle Basel

Michel Auder

I was already very familiar with Auder’s work as he was a teacher and became a friend, but knowing his work also means knowing that it is essentially inexhaustible, and this beautifully installed show felt like a succession of wormholes into the many different layers of this traveler’s past and future. I was obsessed with the exhibition design that finished in a dead-end, forcing visitors to reencounter, in reverse order, these multifaceted, durational pieces. Beautiful, gross, scary, embarrassing, sexy, stupid, fun, sad, joyous.

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Trisha Donnelly at Eva Presenhuber

Trisha-web

There was a video projected high up on the wall that consistently tricked my mind into thinking that it was actually a window, projecting daylight back into the space, and that somehow people were walking by outside despite the fact that we were on something like the fifth floor. Somehow I could not un-see it this way — even after finding the projector (I also continued to see this “image” in my head long after leaving the show). This belief inducing reversal seems to me somehow key in Trisha’s work and maybe in most artwork I respond to these days. Her reconstituting of the holdings of MOMA this same year will most likely end up on a lifetime top-ten list, but the experience of looking at it, and then afterwords, looking at the world through its/her lens, was an important event for me this year.

2013: The Year According to JoAnn Verburg

JoAnn Verburg. Photo: Jim Moore To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and writer Greg Allen — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the […]

Verburg

JoAnn Verburg. Photo: Jim Moore

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and writer Greg Allen — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 .

While the challenges of life can be difficult, JoAnn Verburg said on Twin Cities Public Television’s MN Original last May, we’re not alone: “Yet, at the same time, you’re the only one that looks at things the way you do. I think everything I’m doing comes out of that: the fact that we’re alone and we’re not alone.” As a photographer, Verburg has used her lens to examine this seeming paradox — of intimate connection and individual experience. As MoMA curator Susan Kismaric put it when Verburg’s MoMA-organized survey Present Tense came to the Walker in 2008, Verburg’s photos are “grounded in an attention to human interaction — between the people in her pictures, and between her work and its audience — which keeps both artist and viewers perpetually approaching a threshold between searching and finding.”

Verburg took time from her schedule — which includes preparing for a show this fall at Pace/MacGill Gallery of new work shot at Italy’s Fonti del Clitunno (see below) — to share some of her “searching and finding” from the past year in a best-of-2013 list. Many of her picks show an exploration of what connects us across geography, race, religion, and time — from the pages of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son to a predawn listening session overlooking Moroccan rooftops, an artistic mashup about loving kindness at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts  to a posthumous exhibition of works by Mike Kelley, her friend and studio neighbor when she first arrived in Minneapolis in 1981.

1

Best rehearsals and performances

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Robert Wilson, The Old Woman, 2013

One of my favorite moments of the year was experiencing Robert Wilson’s The Old Woman in a 17th-century theater in Spoleto, Italy (traveling to BAM this summer). When I see direction (“notes”) being given to an actor or the crew, it feels like an X-ray into the mind of the director. Of course, in theater, it is never as simple as one person — Bob Wilson, in this case.  Articulation is the word that comes to mind to describe how Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov — dressed alike, in matching white face paint, campy clothes, and plastic windblown wigs — used their bodies. Brilliantly. For us, the lucky audience. The story isn’t much more than a device that allows Wilson, via Dafoe and Baryshnikov, to stimulate and hold our attention with nonstop stunning visuals and weird sounds. By the way, why is Defoe’s tongue that color? From far up above the stage, on the ceiling of the theater, a super precisely focused red spotlight is shining on it.

2

Most surprising sound

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Rooftops in Fez

In Fez, Morocco, not really knowing why, I was obsessed with the idea of making sound and video recordings of the call to prayer. So one night, before the sun rose, I climbed up to a rooftop terrace above the city with my equipment. I can’t describe how beautiful it looked. I waited and recorded for about an hour, and finally I had to leave when my fingers were too cold to work. Here’s what I heard: I must have had the time wrong for the call to prayer, but as black night turned to the dark grays and browns of predawn, a lone rooster called out, sounding both ecstatic about life and and disappointed at not to be able to explain it. After many cock-a-doodle-dos, a second rooster cried out, then another, and another, etc., until countless invisible sound-points defined, almost visibly, the broad bowl shape of the ancient city below.

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Best architecture/installation combo

Inside the Institut du Monde Arabe

Next time you’re in Paris, head for the Institut du Monde Arabe, the sister-building of the Guthrie Theater, by architect Jean Nouvel. The exterior entrance wall sets the tone. It’s a grid of intricately patterned circles, apertures lauded for their photosensitive responsiveness, opening and closing with the sun. Inside, the installation of the exhibition is astonishing, especially the entry hall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors alternating with floor-to-ceiling video projections of daily life in various neighborhoods in the Arab world. Someone is buying spices in Cairo as you see yourself walking. It pulls you in confusingly, beautifully and instantly.

4

Best sacred space

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JoAnn Verburg, untitled proof (Ping at The Fonti) © JoAnn Verburg 2013

In July, I went back again to make pictures at the Fonti del Clitunno, sacred headwaters of the Clitunno, where it is said that Jove mated with a mermaid. I’ve been using the idea of the park as a point of departure for an installation of photos, sound, and videos. Parks and exhibitions are both places where strangers come, walk around, look at the sights, maybe feel inspired, maybe have a conversation, and leave. I wasn’t sure what direction to go next with my shooting, but Ping Chong was teaching nearby at La Mama, Umbria, and was willing to model. I guess I don’t have language for what happened next, but the connection between stories of past visitors and our present-tense hot summer day, and also the layered feeling of earth, blue sky, cold water, human nature, conversation, ducks quacking, swans floating, trees, and so on did feel magical, if not part of something sacred. There was something about the moment his toe touched the water, sending out ripples…

5

Best classic novel

200px-NativeSonRichard Wright’s Native Son (1940) was on the required reading list for one of my sociology classes in college, but I didn’t read it until 2013. It is a tragic and too too relevant story about America.

6

Best movie Q&A

McQueenSteve McQueen at the Walker. I’d been intrigued by comments made by the actors in 12 Years a Slave. For example, given how unmitigatingly horrific most of the film is, that McQueen says that for him, it is a film about love. Love? Love. Yes, and that the actors felt trust and support and safety, and thus, were able to go deeply – even into their darkest selves — to perform their roles. Seeing McQueen in person at the Walker was a glimpse into the mind — the man — who needed to create extreme and obsessive hate, desire, and shame in 12 Years a Slave (and his movie Shame) and who, as a visual artist, had developed the discipline and skill to do it. Thank you to the Walker and other Minnesota institutions for bringing our artists into town: our artists dealing with our ugly problems and the exquisite beauties, too, of this moment.

7

Best explanation

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Christmas present

In Destiny Disrupted, Muslim author Tamim Ansary walks his readers through the origins of two different world views: Western and Islamic. To oversimplify his simplification, what we Westerners think of as “world history” has remained remarkably distinct from Islamic versions of what’s been happening within the same boundaries during the same 1,500 or so years. While our seafaring, sea-trading ancestors were developing and spreading our religions and ideas from port to port, a second set of religions and attitudes was simultaneously developing along overland trade routes. Certainly, there were points of overlap, but the mountains and other geographical barriers to travel and trade were overwhelming enough that surprisingly distinct cultures have survived. When many of us woke up on 9/11 with the questions “Is this really happening?” and “Why?” it was without much understanding of Islam, Islamic governments, or Islamic attitudes about science, individualism, human rights, and so on. For a long time — for other reasons — I’ve wanted to travel to Turkey, and this book pushed me over the edge. Jim and I just got back from two trips to Istanbul and Morocco.

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Best auditing

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American and Moroccan students presenting their report on Sidi Moumen at CCCL (مركز تواصل الثقافات or Center for Cross Cultural Learning)

Mary Stucky’s journalism class in Rabat, Morocco. Fifteen American journalism students partnered with as many English speaking Moroccan journalism students. After weeks of immersion and training, each pair ferreted out a story idea and interviewed Moroccans ranging from a 21-year-old man with AIDS to a sub-Saharan woman trying to escape the sexual slave trade, not to mention the only woman competing as a break dancer in a hajib (scarf). It’s thrilling to see hopeful brave optimistic American kids open themselves up to the big world, bonding with their new Moroccan partners, stumbling through language barriers, absolutely game. And lucky me, I got to listen.

9

Best saddest exhibition

WITH MICHAEL AND JOHN IN MN_(c)1983Verburg

JoAnn Verburg, With Michael and John in Minnesota, 1983. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

Mike Kelley’s retrospective at PS1. Mike and I both moved to Minnesota in 1981 for one-year positions as visiting artists at MCAD, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. For that year, we had side-by-side classroom/studios and spent a lot of time looking at each other’s work, photo-ing (me), creating performances (him), going to see visiting filmmakers at Film in the Cities, and taking day trips to funny Minnesota places in my car. Mike’s performances were unique and ugly and powerful. In 2013, I kind of had to drag myself to Queens to see his post-suicide retrospective. It is worse than painful that Mike got himself into a corner he couldn’t gracefully exit, and it was impossible for me to see his exhibition without that filter. The drawings and videos from our shared year in Minnesota held such promise. He established his voice and his career. He was so dear and funny and ironic and pissed and sad, and I’m glad all those qualities live on in the work, but what a waste. Oh, and we had done a collaboration, a triptych of him as the Banana Man, but I’d never seen the finished video, which for about an hour, wonderfully brought him back to me.

10

Best re-mix

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Jan Estep, Are You There, Guanyin? 2013, as installed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

At the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a beautiful large wood sculpture of a bodhisattva is the only visible artwork (although it wasn’t originally made as art) in a darkened room. There are benches, so it is possible to sit and contemplate this beautiful transporting figure. And there’s more. Local artist Jan Estep has created an audio piece of voices reciting the loving kindness meditation. It’s an extraordinarily effective example of putting two artworks together in such harmony that neither one detracts or distracts from the experience of the other. In fact, for me, the sculpture focuses my seeing, and the rhythmic sound keeps my mind from wandering. I can’t wait to go back.

For more on the artist, read the September 2012 interview “JoAnn Verburg on Newspapers as Portals to the Political.”

2013: The Year According to Greg Allen

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from conceptual painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and photographer JoAnn Verburg — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year […]

Greg Allen. Photo:

Greg Allen. Photo:

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from conceptual painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and photographer JoAnn Verburg — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 .

Artworld polymath Greg Allen is best known to many of us as the man behind the blog greg.org: the making of, published since 2001. But the Washington-based writer wears many other hats: filmmaker, author (he’s been published in Cabinet, the New York Times and WALKER magazine, for which he profiled Minneapolis-based furniture making, blogging, and landscape design team ROLU), and exhibiting artist (last year he showed at apexarts and 601Artspace). And he’s also found himself serving the role as experimental publisher.

In 2011, after blogging regularly about the Prince v. Cariou copyright infringement case, he realized that Richard Prince’s seven-hour grilling on the stand — under oath — was probably the longest interview the artist’s ever done — and that many people were interested in reading it. He compiled and printed a volume filled with transcripts, affidavits, artwork, and related images, and made it available for sale. It’s since been expanded in a new, 375-page version. Its full title: Canal Zone Richard Prince YES RASTA: Selected Court Documents from Cariou v. Prince et al, including the Videotaped Deposition of Richard Prince, the Affidavit of Richard Prince, Competing Memoranda of Law in Support of Summary Judgment, Exhibits Pertaining to Paintings and Collages of Richard Prince and the Use of Reproductions of Patrick Cariou’s YES RASTA Photographs Therein, and the Summary Ass-Whooping Prince Received at the Hand of The Hon. Judge Deborah A. Batts, as compiled and revised by Greg Allen for greg.org: the making of in April 2011. In 2013, he published a book of documents related to the case’s appeal, as well as the Standard Operating Procedure, which includes the force-feeding protocols used by military doctors at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Here’s the ideas, moments, and events that most stood out for him in 2013.

1

The Embroidery Trouble Shooting Guide

Screen grab from http://sewingandembroiderywarehouse.com.

Screen grab from sewingandembroiderywarehouse.com.

At the Sewing & Embroidery Warehouse, an error in the web page’s HTML code, invisible to Microsoft users, causes the text to grow so big the letters become illegible abstractions.

2

America Over There

call me maybe marinesEven without getting on its gender rollercoaster, US military contractors in Afghanistan making a shot-for-shot remake of the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders’ cover version of Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me, Maybe” reminds me those forward operating bases are America, too.

3

Rob Pruitt’s Flea Market eBay Shop

panda glassI have no idea if including an autographed photo ["Perfect for framing."] of each item transforms the junk Rob Pruitt’s selling into art. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the panda tchotchkes — which look most like his trademark paintings — consistently go for ten times more than anything else.

4

The stuff Jayson Musson sold online

instagram_sculpture_henrock_3Musson’s stuff, meanwhile, wasn’t even his. He threw himself on the capitalist mercies of his social media followers last spring by creating found-object sculptures on the streets of New York City, photographing them, and putting them up for sale on Instagram. Then he was stuck waiting until someone showed up to close the deal. [DISCLOSURE: I bought the first one after six hours, for $20.]

5

Picasso, Baby

picasso-babyWhen it was unfolding in real time on Twitter as a piece of durational performance art, Jay Z’s “Picasso, Baby” gallery stunt sounded like the shallowest, most obvious celebrity-worshipping trap imaginable. It turned out to be a music video, and a depressing percentage of the New York art world walked right into it.

6

Forged Masterworks

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Screen grab of Greg.org.

From the documents produced in the growing flurry of lawsuits from disgruntled buyers, it appears that the last decade of its 165-year existence, the primary source of profits for New York’s Knoedler Gallery was derived from the sale of forged Abstract Expressionist masterpieces. As prosecutors unwind the case, I now find myself looking at every Pollock, Kline, and Motherwell with a bit of suspicion.

7

Salvaging Costa Concordia

Costa Concordia salvage operation in progress. Photo: Wikipedia

Costa Concordia salvage operation in progress. Photo: Wikipedia

On September 16, Titan Salvage uprighted the scuttled cruise ship Costa Concordia in the largest parbuckling effort in history. Reuters livestreamed the entire 19+ hour process, and it was incredible. GiglioNews, a local Italian media outlet, has preserved the feed in four-hour chunks on YouTube.

8

Double Disaster

Andy Warhol's Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1962, as presented for sale by Sotheby's

Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), 1962, as presented for sale by Sotheby’s

I get chills every single time I hear former Sotheby’s auctioneer Tobias Meyer’s 24-second rumination on Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster), which he would soon sell for $105 million.

9

Turnkey Tyranny

Trevor Paglen, They Watch the Moon, 2010, via Guernica Magazine

Trevor Paglen, They Watch the Moon, 2010, via Guernica

Trevor Paglen has an uncanny ability to understand and present the invisible. Which is why his essay on the NSA and “Turnkey Tyranny” felt so urgent and outraging.

10

Courtroom Sketches

Molly Crabapple's courtroom sketch from PFC Manning's trial

Molly Crabapple’s courtroom sketch from PFC Manning’s trial

Cameras and other recording devices were banned from the military courtroom for PFC Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s trial, which makes Molly Crabapple’s eyewitness sketch reportage for The Paris Review all the more important. She also drew her report on the inmate hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay.

2013: The Year According to Chris Larson

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According […]

Chris Larson. Photo courtesy the artist

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from painter Matt Connors and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 . 

To many, Chris Larson’s best known for torching a modernist home last summer. In Celebration/Love/Loss (2013), a sculpture and performance work created for the all-night Northern Spark festival, Larson built and then burned to the ground a full-scale replica of a Marcel Breuer–designed house built on a St. Paul bluff in 1962. But before that high-profile project, Larson was well known in the Twin Cities for a range of art projects — many equally large in scale and vision. Part of the Walker’s 1998 exhibition Sculpture on Site, the St. Paul–based artist and musician created a wooden, fort-like structure in the Walker’s Cargill Lounge for a 2011 show, and a pair of mini-golf holes he made with students in his University of Minnesota class were part of last year’s Artist-Designed Mini Golf course. His works of Insecure Architecture were featured in the 2012/2013 McKnight Visual Arts Fellowship Exhibition at MCAD, and his video work, Heavy Rotation, will be included in 2014 Whitney Biennial.

As part of our series reflection on the year 2013, Larson offers this list of “ten top things that kept me. In order of appearance.”

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Cyclone Haruna

Tropical Cyclone Haruna. Image: NASA

In my continued interest in rotating, spinning and revolving, images of Cyclone Haruna in February of 2013 held my attention for some time. This cyclone produced widespread flooding, which produced perfect conditions for a catastrophic locust infestation in Madagascar. Tragic.

3

Sinkholes

The sinkhole in Assumption Parish, via assumptionla.com.

As above, so below. In 2013, an extraordinary video of a sinkhole was caught in action by a park emergency official in Assumption Parish Louisiana.
(Images of the 2010 sinkhole in Guatemala continue to hold my attention and still tops my personal top-10 list for 2011.)

4

Unrequested

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2013, the first year no one asked for a friend request.

5

Cooking with acorns

acorn

Free, easy to gather and a great source of protein. Acorns are bitter; make sure to bake and boil out the tannins before eating. Check for worm holes: avoid these or black acorns.  White oak is the best source. I eat acorn pancakes with birch syrup: delicious.

6

Sumac

Sumac. Photo: Flickr user damozeljane, used under Creative Commons license

This summer at the Poor Farm in Wisconsin, I learned how to make tea and lemonade from sumac. Another free and easy way to eat and drink off the earth. Gather the sumac berries in mid-August, before the heavy rains (rain will wash away the flavor and acid). Berries should be ripe with a sharp lemon flavor and have a deep red color. Harvest the berries, soak them in water for an hour or so, strain the liquid with cheesecloth to get rid of the tiny hair and berries. Serve over ice.

7

Circle Farming

Circular irrigated agricultural plots near the the Al Jawf oasis in Libya, as seen from Japan's ALOS satellite. Image: European Space Agency

Also known as Heavy Rotation-Center Pivot Irrigation, circle farming is an irrigation process in which a watering systems rotates around the crops. One rotation usually takes three full days. The central pivot farms in Kansas are captured in some incredible images, thanks to map images on the worldwide web. In September 2013, Japan’s ALOS satellite shot some beautiful photos of crop circles in southeastern Libya.

8

“Art 665b Unraveling”

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Jim Hodges’ 2013 MFA sculpture course at Yale University School of Art. I would go back to school to take this class.

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9 Artists

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The Dancing Museum: A Manifesto/Checklist by Boris Charmatz

Many contemporary dancers are tired of the conventional theater space with its divided stage-audience structure. They seem eager to enter a shared space where audience and the objects on view coexist. In a performance, the objects, usually permanent and material, become time-based and immaterial — to the great interest of the museums. Since the early […]

Maria Hassabi, Intermission, Lithuanian-Cypriot Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

Maria Hassabi, Intermission, Lithuanian-Cypriot Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale

Many contemporary dancers are tired of the conventional theater space with its divided stage-audience structure. They seem eager to enter a shared space where audience and the objects on view coexist. In a performance, the objects, usually permanent and material, become time-based and immaterial — to the great interest of the museums.

Since the early 2000s, an increasing number of museums have incorporated performance into their structures, envisioning a looser, more vibrant ambiance. The New York nonprofit Performa embraced this trend and in 2005 created the first New Visual Art Performance Biennial, based on moving bodies and images instead of still objects. However, the predominant focus of museums and Performa has been on performances in the realm of visual art, conceived by visual artists, not dancers. Until recently.

In recent years, a new generation of dancers, above all the French choreographer and dancer Boris Charmatz, have attempted to redefine the role of the dancer as well as the time and space of dance performances in general. As part of the Performa 13, held in New York November 1–24, the Museum of Modern Art presented Charmatz’s project Musée de la Danse: Three collective Gestures. I saw the last part of the three-week-program called Flip Book. The first two parts, 20 Dancers for the XX Century (2012/2013) and Levée des conflits extended/Suspension of Conflicts Extended (2010), dispersed more than 20 dancers throughout the museum where they reinterpreted movements of past and contemporary choreographies while interacting with the audience.

Charmatz, the French contemporary equivalent of, let’s say, William Forsythe, has long been well-known to European audiences. He became director of the Centre chorégraphique national de Rennes, Brittany, in 2009, and as one of his first actions in that post, he renamed the center the Musée de la danse (Dancing Museum). Critical of a dance education that only required him to read one book, Charmatz made it a priority to establish an archive for dance in Rennes that can be continuously rearranged, rethought, and revisited.

Boris Charmatz, Flip Book. MoMA.

Boris Charmatz, Flip Book, performed at MoMA

In Charmatz’s view, a museum should be dancing.

Charmatz is not alone in taking inspiration from dance history. Many of his fellow contemporary dancers and choreographers are basing their works on archival material — offering evidence that the “archive fever” prevalent in the visual arts has also reached the dance world. But it still remains difficult to find historical material on dance. Charmatz’s museum is one step into the right direction.

The other main concern of contemporary dancers, the audience, is also a focus of the Dancing Museum, which aims to activate its visitors and present different contemporary notions of dance and choreography in an immediate setting. The goal: to be more vivid and responsive than museums for visual art.

The performance at MoMA, an institution still predominantly known for  showing “dead” objects (they do have a very established and ambitious film program), gave Charmatz his first opportunity to test his explorations outside of his own museum in Rennes.

Parallel to the establishment of the museum, Charmatz wrote a “Manifesto for the Dancing Museum.”  Like the museum itself, it is an invitation to fellow dancers, performers, curators, and, above all, the audience to rethink predetermined definitions of dance and to enter new grounds of experimentation and adventure.

The manifesto is based on Charmatz’s claim that dance centers are outdated since the idea that the body itself has a center belongs to the past. He urges the dance community to think outside of the conventional choreographer-interpreter-company framework and to create a more profound content for dance that is able to interact with other forms of contemporary art as well as with the audience.

The manifesto lists ten commandments dance-makers might consider when developing a museum-based performance intent upon creating a space of exchange, exuberance, and critical response. These points could be used as a checklist for dancers and museums alike when faced with the dance-in-a-museum-situation.

I picked five of Charmatz’s ten commandments and applied them to three different performances that I’ve seen in the past few years and that, in my view, represent the recent development of dancers dancing in museums: Charmatz, mainly active in Europe; Maria Hassabi, originally from Cyprus but based in New York and greatly acclaimed; and Ryan McNamara, a New York–based artist who incorporates dance into his practice.

Ryan McNamara, Make Ryan a Dancer, Greater Than New York, P.S.1.

Ryan McNamara, Make Ryan a Dancer, Greater Than New York, PS1

Five of Charmatz’s commandments:

eccentric

(“It intends to be an introduction, an appetizer, a place for enhancing public awareness of dance and choreographic culture in the broadest sense, of the history of the body and its representations (…) stimulating the desire for knowledge.”)

provocative

(“It approaches dance and its history through a resolutely contemporary vision, questioning the ingenuous knowledge and conventions everyone has about dancing, inducing unlikely links and confrontations.”)

transgressive

(“It fully acknowledging the fact that its activity does not limit itself to the quest for and the representation of the ‘authentic’ object, encouraging artists and visitors to make works of their own, while stimulating plagiarism”)

cooperative

(“It is independent, but working in connection with a network of partners, building a relationships with individuals, whether they be artists of international fame, or passionate amateurs.”)

immediate

(“It exists as soon as the first gesture has been performed.”)

And now, applying them to my three performances:

Boris Charmatz, Flip Book. MoMA.

Boris Charmatz, Flip Book, MoMA

1. Boris Charmatz, Flip Book (2008/2013), MoMA

Charmatz’s performance Flip Book (2008/2013), part of Charmatz’s three-week series Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures at MoMA, interprets the images of Merce Cunningham’s choreography in David Vaughan’s 1997 book Fifty Years. This piece reveals Charmatz’s interest in documentation, archives, and scores, which is extremely relevant to today’s performance landscape.

The eccentric colorful full-body tights widely associated with Cunningham caught the museum’s audience eye, made it stop and watch possibly bringing back memories of dance performances seen in the past.

Six dancers warmed up, rehearsed, and interacted with the audience in the provocatively central Marron Atrium of MoMA. Usually, the warm-up is never public. It happens behind the scenes. At MoMA, behind-the-scenes became on-stage.

For the second part, the performers embodied the poses shown in the images of Vaughan’s book on stage in front of the audience in accordance with a Charmatz collaborator placed in between the stage and the audience who flipped through the pages of the book.

Charmatz and the dancers worked for four days on the reinterpretation of the images. The process was fast. A few minutes per images. Bang. Bang. Image after image. The associative use of the images proves transgressive and shows Charmatz’s interest in opening up a space for experimentation, whilst escaping conventions; reinventing himself over and over again, inspiring others whilst being inspired by others.

Since 2008, several iterations of Flip Book have been performed by students, amateurs, and trained dancers with no Cunningham experience and as well as by former Cunningham dancers. For Flip Book (2008/2013), Charmatz cooperated not only with the other five dancers but also with a light and sound designer, as well as with former Cunningham dancer Valda Setterfield.

They all were concerned with giving immediate access to their bodies during the MoMA performance.

“What makes a dance should go well beyond the restricted circle of those who structure it in everyday life, and open itself up to an anthropological dimension that joyfully explodes the limits induced by the strictly choreographic field,” wrote Charmatz in his “Manifesto for a National Choreographic Centre.”

Maria Hassabi, Intermission, with Gabriel Lester, Lithuanian-Cypriot Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale.

Maria Hassabi, Intermission, with Gabriel Lester, Lithuanian-Cypriot Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale

2. Maria Hassabi, Intermission #1&#2, Lithuanian-Cypriot Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale

On the stairs of a brutalist gymnasium near the Arsenale, amid works by fellow representatives of the Lithuanian-Cypriot Pavilion, Maria Hassabi and her dancers performed during the four opening days of the biennale. Intermission #1 was presented by professional dancers, Intermission #2 by volunteers and artists.

The performers drew the attention to the eccentric space. They crawled up and down the public gallery, stopped next to or passed visitors on their way, directing their gaze towards the modernist clear architecture.

Movements were provocatively slow, as in all of Hassabi’s pieces. Suddenly, a dancer appeared next to me, touched my hand. An immediate experience, however not focused on interaction. The dancers were wrapped in thoughts. However, their movements felt like an invitation to move the body, transgressively, sideways, up and down, activating bones and limbs. We are in a gym after all.

Hassabi cooperatively integrated her piece into the Gesamtkunstwerk of the Lithuanian-Cypriot Pavilion, in dialogue with the other works on show. She often collaborates with fellow dancers and choreographers (Hristoula Harakas), with fashion designers (threeASFOUR), as well as with light & sound designers. Jeans outfits have become her trademark.

Ryan McNamara, Make Ryan a Dancer, Greater Than New York, P.S.1.

Ryan McNamara, Make Ryan a Dancer, Greater Than New York, PS1

3. Ryan McNamara, Make Ryan a Dancer (2010), Greater New York, PS1

McNamara’s MEƎM: A STORY BALLET ABOUT THE INTERNET at Performa 13 was one of the highlights of the first few biennial days. To understand McNamara’s relationship with dance, it’s useful to look at his first dance piece for the Greater in New York show (2010) at PS1 because this is when performance artist Ryan became a dancer.

In the hallways, in the gallery space, outside of the PS1 building. Dance lessons everywhere. An immediate learning experience. Every day. Free of charge. All levels accepted.

For five months, McNamara trained with professional dancers 18 different dance styles, in and outside of the PS1 gallery space. These different dance styles eccentrically revealed different cultures, times, and trends. The body responds to each one in a different way. In fact, every body calls for a different style. McNamara learned them all. An amateur dancer himself, he put himself provocatively, shamelessly in the spotlight next to his professional teachers. His artistic ego accepted to be the amateur in this relationship and to cooperatively be turned into a dancer.

This public display of dance lessons made the dance profession all of a sudden seem more transparent, more vulnerable, over all more graspable to the audience. If everyone can be an artist, everyone can be a dancer, McNamara transgressively claims.

While I’m writing this, Performa 13 is continuing (until 24 November) and further dance performances are taking place in art spaces and museums. If you happen to see one, in New York or, of course, in Minneapolis, keep Charmatz’s manifesto in mind.

But most important, next time you enter a museum, be prepared to put on your dancing shoes. Museums are beginning to dance.

Rosy Keyser: Medusa Backstory

In Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here artist Rosy Keyser presents a new video documenting her life and work in Medusa, New York. Rosy Keyser was born 1974 in Baltimore, Maryland, and lives and works in Brooklyn […]


va_2012_painterpainter_bug_alphaIn Studio Sessions, our ongoing web series, the 15 artists in the Walker-organized exhibition Painter Painter respond to an open-ended query about their practices. Here artist Rosy Keyser presents a new video documenting her life and work in Medusa, New York.

Rosy Keyser was born 1974 in Baltimore, Maryland, and lives and works in Brooklyn and Medusa, New York. She received her BFA from Cornell University and her MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recent exhibitions include Medusa Pie Country, Peter Blum Gallery, NY (2013); Pink Caviar, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark (2012); Science on the back end, curated by Matthew Day Jackson, Hauser and Wirth, NY (2012); Immaterial, Ballroom Marfa, TX (2011); and Promethean Dub, Peter Blum Gallery, NY (2011).

Bring Your Smartphone: Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s performance/audience/file

“A photograph that one has taken of oneself” is the definition that the Oxford Online Dictionary recently bestowed upon the ubiquitous selfie. Simple enough. But perhaps a bit too simple. On October 26, as part of the Walker’s 9 Artists exhibition, Natascha Sadr Haghighian will go beyond the surface reading of the prolific selfie during […]

Natascha Sadr Haghighian de paso 2011 sound installation, carry-­‐on suitcase, plastic bottle, paper, straw, photograph, text dimensions variable Photo courtesy the artist; Johann König Gallery, Berlin; and Carroll/Fletcher

Natascha Sadr Haghighian, de paso, 2011

“A photograph that one has taken of oneself” is the definition that the Oxford Online Dictionary recently bestowed upon the ubiquitous selfie. Simple enough. But perhaps a bit too simple. On October 26, as part of the Walker’s 9 Artists exhibition, Natascha Sadr Haghighian will go beyond the surface reading of the prolific selfie during her performance performance/audience/file. Diving into the growing reality of the image as a purely digital file and the subsequent dissolution of the object, Haghighian asks, who or what has agency in the cloud?

Haghighian has long been concerned with both self-representation and the agency of the object. She has deliberately suppressed and thwarted readings of her own identity as the center of her work favoring instead the stories of the objects she uses in her installations. In de paso, Haghighian begins with a rolling suitcase and a water bottle, and through these two seemingly banal objects she goes on to convey urbanization and the “growing pains” of progressive modernization. Having traveled internationally, de paso comes to the Walker with an accumulation of regional contexts. Installed in 9 Artists, the work’s newest additions — images of the industrialization of St. Anthony Falls — will appear alongside images of Barcelona, Norway, and England, demonstrating a continuity that is at once overwhelming and aesthetically cohesive. Stemming from these two objects and the places they inhabit, Haghighian follows a story illustrated by “footnotes” found in local archives.

However, performance/audience/file derives from Haghighian’s growing disquiet with agency in the digital universe. It was no longer satisfactory to follow the story and representation of objects; she had to confront the way in which the selfie convolutes the subject/object relationship while also reckoning with the fact that taking a picture with a smartphone has become a serious ritual act in this new age. Capturing a picture at an event has become the motivation for taking part in the event itself.

Haghighian’s performance/audience/file references Dan Graham’s Performer/Audience/Mirror (1975). Graham’s audience sat facing a wall-sized mirror while the artist stood in front of them and delivered an impromptu commentary on his real-time observations, prompting both literal and figurative reflection on the relationship between audience and performer as well as subject and object. Haghighian will explore these issues of sharing and materiality through a multi-step performance involving audience participation, live drawing, and a Cyclone Hoover, which will act as the bridge both from technologies past to present and from artist to audience. Expect to learn something about centrifugal technology, a leftover of the methodology of modernity according to Haghighian.

As an artist who has consciously tried to subvert representations of herself by creating alternative biographies, Haghighian is evidently reticent to participate the normalization of the selfie, but as she said she “can’t run away from this reality.” So, as might be expected, Haghighian encourages audience members to bring their own phones for a selfie with the artist after the performance.

In Sickness and in Art: Obamacare, General Idea, and a Kleenex Box

Access to affordable healthcare is not the most glamorous subject. Unsurprisingly, it has also not proven to be the most fertile ground for artists. With the insurance mandate coming upon us soon, it seems that, regardless of where we stand on the new law, insurance will continue to dictate what we choose to do with […]

General Idea, AIDS Wallpaper (1989), Installation view of This Will Have Been: Art, Love and Politics in the 1980’s at the Walker Art Center

General Idea, AIDS Wallpaper (1989), installation view of This Will Have Been: Art, Love and Politics in the 1980s at the Walker Art Center

Access to affordable healthcare is not the most glamorous subject. Unsurprisingly, it has also not proven to be the most fertile ground for artists. With the insurance mandate coming upon us soon, it seems that, regardless of where we stand on the new law, insurance will continue to dictate what we choose to do with our lives. For me, the topic scarcely leaves my mind. I am on the precipice of turning 26, a graduate student, an intern, and sometimes food service employee. I am both the reason the mandate exists — to get healthy young people to buy insurance — and on somewhat unsure footing financially. In spite of the interminable discussions of the new healthcare law, there seems to have been a failure, among many, to unite around the simple truth that at some point we all get sick. The healthcare mandate pushes this inevitability to the forefront in a way that seems new and provocative. The art world may appear aloof to these everyday struggles with common bureaucracy, monthly budgeting, and automated voice-messaging systems, however, I believe that certain works from the late 1980s and early 90s made in response to the AIDS crisis can serve as a model for how artists and the art world can tackle these very personal, but not very glamorous, issues. Perhaps the result of reflecting on these works done at a time when health was also a passionate political issue — in admittedly a very different way — could be projects that have the potential to speak to a broader audience united around something as simple as the common cold.

To me, this tension between the glamor of art and the common experience of illness seems to manifest through the later projects by the Canadian art collective General Idea. Formed in 1969 in Toronto, General Idea was a collective of three artists, under the pseudonyms AA Bronson, Jorge Zontal, and Felix Partz. Their first 15 years revolved around “Miss General Idea,” a concocted fantasy, both woman and muse. They staged beauty pageants, set up boutiques, and created cocktail lounges, languishing in artifice and deifying glamor. From 1972 to 1984 they theoretically constructed the labyrinthine Miss General Idea 1984 Pavilion, which was then destroyed and carefully excavated and presented through relics and remnants of a mythical disaster. Much of their work was created in editions or multiples to be sold in the various boutiques and lounges accompanying their gallery installations. Within the Walker’s collection, both the Nazi Milk Glass (1980) and The Getting into the Spirits Cocktail Book (1980) are representative of this period. For years they created and constructed, piling layer upon layer cultivating their image, until, as has been noted by others, Miss General Idea and glamor, her faithful companion, were practically members of the group.

    Partial grouping of General Idea’s Editions in the Walker Art Center’s collection

Partial grouping of General Idea’s Editions in the Walker Art Center’s collection

In the 1980’s two of the group’s members, Jorge Zontal and Felix Partz, contracted HIV. Their work took a definite turn and became more overtly political, particularly with the inauguration of the AIDS Project. Through various public commissions, this project, also known as Imagevirus, involved plastering billboards, buses, and subways with a distortion of Robert Indiana’s LOVE design manipulated to read AIDS. Later, in the early 1990s, General Idea began integrating pharmaceutical imagery, in the form of large multi-colored pills in a series of exhibitions titled PLA©EBO and Pharma©opia. In the installation Magi© Bullet (1994) the ceiling in a sparse white gallery was filled with silver Mylar balloons resembling both some sort of sterile fungal infestation and a thick cloud of pills. Although these installations seem to take an unsentimental view at the medical industry and illness itself, they mark an attempt to work through overwhelming personal trauma while maintaining their illusive image. While General Idea raised awareness of the proliferation of AIDS, they also, I think, forced an objective confrontation with the inevitable fact that we all get sick.

Wolfgang Tillmans, Aids, General Idea 1991

Wolfgang Tillmans, Aids, General Idea, 1991

During this later period General Idea continued to create the editions that were sold alongside the installations. They made AIDS Stamps (1988) and AIDS Wallpaper (1989), recently on view at the Walker during This Will Have Been: Art Love and Politics in the 1980s, and small PLA©EBO pins. They also stayed true to their “image”-centered practice; they referenced heroes of the European avant-garde, purportedly in an attempt to gain recognition for European artists in North America, which they saw as lacking. These playful nods can be seen in the edition Infe©ted Rietveld (1994), a reproduction of Gerrit Rietveld’s quintessentially Modern Red/Blue Chair (1918), painted in the colors of the AIDS logo, thus “infected” with the disease. In the Walker’s collection of General Idea’s editions, I was drawn to what appeared to be a simple object with an apparently heady title, Gesundheit: Why not sneeze Lucio Fontana? (1991), partly because it seems a perfect combination of these two impulses I just described, the ethereal presence of the avant-garde and the earthly reality of illness, and also because “Gesundheit” is just an excellent word.

The edition is itself a familiar object to anyone who has spent time in a wintry classroom — a distant memory which gets closer by the day — the constant sound of sniffles, sneezing, and maybe a quiet uncontrollable cough, and the constant movement towards the necessary box of tissues in the back of the class. It is a small box, usefully clear, so you can see the short stack of tissues conveniently pulled through the top, ready to grab at a moment’s notice. This box of tissues, however, is rather different than those to which we have become accustom. Although stamped with corporate label of our regular brand, Kleenex, this box has three slits cut into the top with three tissues tufting through them. These two extra slits reference what are now iconic triumphs of the avant-garde, informally known as Lucio Fontana’s cut pieces. Atop and below the small stack of tissues are two postcards picturing two of Fontana’s green pieces with three gashes from the collection at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.

General Idea, Gesundheit: Why Not Sneeze Lucio Fontana? (1991). Two found post cards, one cut, Kleenex-brand packaged tissue, in plastic box, 4.3 x 5.9 x .78 inches. Photo: Blackwood Gallery

General Idea, Gesundheit: Why Not Sneeze Lucio Fontana? (1991). Two found post cards, one cut, Kleenex-brand packaged tissue, in plastic box. Photo: Blackwood Gallery

Fontana’s cut pieces are monochromatic paintings with thin gashes cutting through the surface exposing the supporting wall, many such works were exhibited at the Walker’s landmark exhibition in 1966, Fontana’s first solo show in the United States. Dated to 1964-65, the piece Concetta-Spaziale: Attessa or Spatial-Concept: Expectation in the Walker’s collection is a great example. Painted in white, the canvas has just one long cut right down the middle. This piece in particular, with its white surface mimicking the “pure” white standard of the gallery wall, plays with the painting’s relationship to its environmental space. The cut, a seemingly violent act, serves to both distinguish the canvas from the blank white walls while purporting to offer a small view into the institutional supports.

Fontana 1998.113

Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale – Attesa (1964-65)

General Idea’s Kleenex box manipulates the voids created by Fontana’s cuts by filling them with soft white tufts of tissues, certainly more comforting and banal than the dramatic gesture from which they originated. The reproduction of Fontana’s work in the edition is both an homage to his almost industrial creation of the cut pieces and a mocking jab at the high-minded principles with which they are associated. The title seems to ask Fontana to perhaps take a break, perhaps falter, at least stop to sneeze for heaven’s sake. Although the relation to health and illness is subtler than if the box had been covered with word AIDS or red, blue, and green pills, the simplicity of the Kleenex box is possibly the best reminder of the inevitability of illness. We carry them with us even when we don’t need them, and there is nothing worse than being caught without them in a time of nasal need. So, in these discussions of who’s to pay for whose medicine, who should take care of whom, it is important to be open and honest with yourself: someday at some point, you will be sick, it’s why there should always be a box of Kleenexes at the back of the class.

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