Mexican-born electronics artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer creates installations that could not exist without the participation of the public. His art, fueled by human energy, ranges from one-room displays to city-square-scale manifestations. Commissions for his work have included the Millennium Celebrations in Mexico City (1999), the UN World Summit of Cities in Lyon (2003), the 50th Anniversary of the Guggenheim in NYC (2009) and the Vancouver Winter Olympics (2010). In 2007, he was the first artist to officially represent Mexico at the Venice Biennale. He has been awarded two BAFTA British Academy Awards for Interactive Art, as well as a Golden Nica at the Prix Ars Elextronica in Austria. I met with the internationally exhibiting artist at his busy office in Montreal where he works with a team who helps bring his concepts to life.
Stefan Zebrowski-Rubin: Tell me about your work.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: After working for twenty years at the intersection of performance, architecture, and critical studies, I’m very curious about creating platforms for self-representation and participation. My work is incomplete and experimental in nature. The platforms require people to participate, they require people to be aware of the events and then take the piece in a direction that suits them. I have two types of work, one that is more ephemeral – interventions in public space – and one that is more for galleries, museums, and collections. In the gallery-based work, we use technology, surveillance, biometric sensors, all sorts of robotics networks and projections to create environments where the content itself is crowd-sourced, where it is people who in fact are leaving behind a memory of the event. To alter Frank Stella’s minimalist quip “What you see is what you get,” we believe “what you give is what you get.”
Last week, Art21 treated Angelenos to the very first preview screening of William Kentridge: Anything is Possible at the Hammer Museum‘s Billy Wilder Theater. As Art21′s executive director Susan Sollins noted in her opening remarks, the Hammer was an ideal host, as the two organizations share a common vision. With innovative programming and impeccable curatorial focus, the Hammer has emerged, in recent years, as a leading supporter of 21st-century art.
Beginning in 2005, the Hammer Museum launched an initiative to build a strong permanent collection of contemporary art. The current exhibition of 42 works, Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection, emphasizes depth as well as breadth, highlighting many artists who have been featured in previous Hammer exhibitions. Indeed, there is notable overlap with the Hammer’s celebrated 2007 invitational exhibition, Eden’s Edge, with standouts such as Elliott Hundley, Mark Bradford (Season 4), and Monica Majoli. Of course we all know that the world has changed drastically in the past three years, and while the work in Eden had dark undertones, the vibe of the current Hammer exhibition is much closer to Revelation than Genesis.
In the second season of Art:21, Kara Walker characterizes the antebellum imagery in her work as an “illusion that [the work] is about past events. I tend to approach the complexities of my own life by distancing myself and finding a parallel in something prettier and more gentile, like the picture of the old South….”
Presented in Los Angeles for the first time, Walker’s suite of 20 gouache on paper works, entitled Every Painting is a Dead Nigger Waiting to Be Born (2009), boldly removes any of the aforementioned illusions of prettiness, presumably imploding the distance between Walker and the content of the work. Rather than shadowlike imagery, Walker leaves the viewer with a grouping of bold phrases, each scrawled on (mostly) abstract fields. Thickly painted letters reading “GO ANYWHERE SAY ANYTHING” are countered by a subtle footnote of smaller, almost spectral words: “WITHIN THE LIMITS OF OUR SHARED STRUGGLE.” Still far from literal, the phrases tease the viewer into speculating about the limits of identity, creativity, and individuality—perhaps ultimately revealing more about the audience than Walker herself. Dark humor scurries through other phrases and satirical titles of imagined red-tape organizations, such as the “BUREAU OF REVULSION FREEDOM FIGHTERS AND BOOTY CALLS.” The only discernible imagery is a loosely painted field of dark tree trunks, set against a luminous field with the haunting phrase, “THEY BURNED UP FATHER’S HOUSE” hovering on the surface. As disturbing as Walker’s silhouette scenes can be, the removal of those figures seems, in some sense, even more violent. It feels as though Walker’s narrative has become too dark to illustrate, even with shadow figures.
Adjacent to the Walker piece, Hirsch Perlman’s ominous photograph Operation Idiocracy Roll 3 Frames 3/4 greets viewers with a cadmium mushroom-shaped glow hovering in front of a glimmering nighttime cityscape. While the shape is reminiscent of an atomic bomb, the floating red flash—created by moving lights in front of a long exposure—mines the ever-rich conflation of aesthetic pleasure and violence.
Around the corner, Jacob Yanes‘s delicate sculpture, Sara, occupies a similar space within that intersection. Painstakingly crafted from cotton rice paper and papyrus, the female figure bears adult signifiers in her dress and proportions, but is slightly littler-than-life. The figure’s posture is demure, slightly hunched with her hands held protectively in front of her hips. Yanes was my classmate in the MFA program at UCLA, and in a recent email exchange about the piece, he described an overarching theme:
“A major concern in all my work is how individuals deal with exposure to violence (sexual and otherwise), and must translate that experience into their everyday lives, self-conception, relationships…”
While Yanes’s focus is not solely on sexual violence, the intersection of brutality with eroticism, sex, and gender pops up throughout the show. Monica Majoli’s Hanging Rubberman—from a decade-long series of works inspired by a specific underground fetish culture centered on rubber and asphyxiation—reads almost like an image of lynching, set wistfully against a background of misty mountains inspired by ancient Asian landscapes. Hundley’s mammoth Pentheus, like many of his chaotically multidimensional collages, references Greek mythology. In this case, the inspiration is Eurpides’ The Bacchae, in which Pentheus is killed and dismembered by his own mother. The work itself involves Hundley doing what he does best — creating a chaotically intricate and erotically tumultuous scene of tiny bodies, letters, and images skewered like insects against a lush backdrop of magnified bodies. Meanwhile, Paul Chan’s Sade for Sade’s Sake and Evan Holloway’s 35-39 both pit the abstract world of geometry and numbers against the pain and messiness of sexuality, procreation, and relationships. Part of a long series of 101 editioned sculptures, the Holloway piece is based on doomsday-esque theories about population growth, with each sculpture bearing the number of rods delegated by the digit in the title. Each rod is punctuated by a small, crudely-formed face, and peppered with visceral silver droplets, reminiscent of breasts or testicles. Like a giant industrial cactus, the work is at once disarmingly prickly and invitingly intricate.
While much of the art in Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection references violence and decay, each piece is tempered by a certain handmade quality that is intimate, nuanced, contemplative, and pleasurable. In Anything is Possible, Kentridge discusses the notion that both optimistic and pessimistic ideas arrive simultaneously. While dark leitmotifs permeate Selections, each artist also finds a way to imbue his or her work with pleasure, comedy, or even hope.
Vida Simon enters her work. The Montreal-based artist creates gentle, introspective drawing installation/performances where we witness her artistic process live and in progress. She literally embodies her own art, working with practices of drawing, writing, object making, movement, and sound. Her often contemplative creations have been shared through performances and residencies across Canada, in the US, Italy, Mexico City, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Chile, Slovakia and Switzerland over the past sixteen years. Simon has recently been working with the enactment of projected drawings, wanting to bring the drawing process to life. Her resulting performances, while loosely improvisational, are thoughtfully considered, material and time-based installation works that breathe life, depth, and wonder.
For Simon, the canvas always felt too limiting. While finishing her degree at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, she began building 3D installations extending from her paintings, creating layers, becoming immersed, digging deeper. One of her most meaningful projects was Excavation Drawings (2006), a performance-installation in a hotel in Montreal as part of VIVA! Art Action (a showcase of international inter-disciplinary performance art organized by six artist-run centers in Montreal). Over a week, a pyjama-ed Simon drew for 4 hours a day before a vagrant audience, the evolution of drawing unfolded as a means of communication, intensely exploring ideas of rootedness and rootlessness, solitude and community, cleanliness and the mess of process. The poetically visual, site-specific work inspired Simon to reconsider her home city through the locale of the hotel room. The immersive process of drawing also best illustrates the completeness Simon has been striving towards in her work. In its direct and simple execution, the drawing installation manifests as an extension of Simon’s self and her psyche.
“I have to say that my work actually started from my interest in the notion of space, particularly this notion of personal space or individual space. And that’s actually the result of contemplation on the idea of how much space one person can carry.” – Do-Ho Suh
Creating a series of work- a collection of works around a big idea or question- is different than working with a singular assignment, notion, idea, or source of inspiration. Those of us who teach students how to work thematically face the challenge of getting them to think beyond cliches and “topics”. I mean, how many times can you hear, “I want to do a series of work about emotions,” before completely losing it??
Teaching students to explore their passions and the things they wonder about in a series of works is a worthwhile endeavor, though. Anyone who teaches an advanced placement class, for example, whether you love the College Board or not, knows this (and believe me, I side with those who feel the College Board desperately needs to catch up with the 21st century, particularly with regard to their visual arts portfolio offerings).
Just this past week, with a little questioning, exploring and brainstorming, a few students I am working with transformed their recent thematic work from topics such as “portraits” and “landscapes”, to themes and big questions such as , “How do our lifestyles affect evolution?” and “What IS normal?”
Spending the time to do what I call “front-end work”, which I have written about in this column on more than one occasion and involves students working with their teachers to craft good quality ideas, is always worth the effort. Students who spend days or even weeks working with ideas they aren’t invested in inevitably leads to mediocre art. On the other hand, if students do a little research, get inspired by different approaches to making art, and truly reflect on what is important to them, themes and big questions rise to the surface and ultimately lead to higher quality work. The challenge lies in getting students to slow down enough to GET big ideas and be inspired to go beyond first responses. Let’s face it, a good, juicy question always leads to multiple answers….
Adad Hannah’s videos are moving pieces of work. And they move, just barely. What started as a curiosity to see what happens to video when you strip it of all its defining characteristics – more closely reverting back to photography – has inspired a career full of artistic exploration. Featured in the Quebec Triennale in 2008 (curated and hosted every 3 years by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal) and longlisted this year for the Sobey Award (a pre-eminent award for Canadian contemporary art), Hannah has been no stranger to accolades and attention. The Montreal-based artist’s work is created in a sensitive and poignant way. The result captivates, mining ideas of time, performance, and the role of mediation in artistic practice.
For his Prado Project, featured at the Quebec Triennale, Hannah explored the idea of viewing through videos and photographs. His videos, all filmed at the Prado, place two cloaked figures in front of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, a man and a woman close to kissing a double statue of Eros and Aphrodite, and two men staring into a mirror in front of Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas. All played with the implied double representation of observing viewers. Particularly astute is the insertion of another mirror to draw attention to the one painted by Velazquez in his original composition (portraying the King and Queen); the viewers thus mire themselves in multiple levels of observation and interpretation.
In 2003, I left NYC and started a graduate fellowship at the Indianapolis Museum of Art; at the same time my classmate and friend, John Campbell, started a graduate fellowship at MoMA. He worked there for three years during the time when the museum was transitioning from its temporary space in Queens. He also worked at Christian Scheidemann’s studio, Contemporary Conservation, for two years before becoming the head of conservation at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, TX.
Richard McCoy: How many outdoor sculptures are currently on view at your museum?
John Campbell: Well, that’s kind of a moving target because a lot of our works can be displayed indoors or out.
Right now we have 24 works featured in our sculpture garden. We recently had the installation Boolean Valley, a collaboration between potter Adam Silverman and architect Nader Tehrani, installed in our ponds.
And we also have an installation of four works outside of the international terminal at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport. These works are Anthony Caro’s Fanshoal (1971-72), John Newman’s Torus Orbicularis (1988), Mac Whitney’s Chicota (2001), and Isaac Witkin’s Hawthorne Tree, Variation III (1990).
Trying to explain GAMMA is kind of like trying to describe Burning Man. The members of Kokoromi Collective best described their annual showcase for game creation and art as a “curated live game event organized in a party-like atmosphere complete with music, DJs, and VJs.”
It all began because of a request for an interactive game by the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) for their event at Nuit Blanche (both events mentioned in my post, Augmenting Reality: Paul Warne). Game designer Heather Kelley took her hit game experiment Lapis (an innocent game for Nintendo DS console modeled on patterns of female orgasm, which won the sex-themed 2005 Game Design Challenge in Montreal) and adapted it for local artist Luc Courchesne’s Panoscope (a semi-sphere projector that becomes an immersive environment) with the help of fellow game designer Phil Fish and programmer Damien Di Fede.
The infectious enthusiasm of first-time game-players teaching others how to play Lapis inspired Kelley and Fish to recreate this energy. And thus GAMMA was born. Game designers Kelley, Fish, and Di Fede were joined by digital media creator and curator Cindy Poremba to form The Kokoromi Collective. The collective has devoted itself to promoting video games as an art form and expressive medium. In 2009, the collective was featured in the BNL MTL (Montreal’s biennial spearheaded by the Centre International d’Art Contemporain de Montreal).
There’s a new display at the Imperial War Museum, London, orchestrated by the artist Jeremy Deller, which consists of a burnt-out, red-brown car, mangled in an an explosion in Baghdad in 2007. Note that cagey indefiniteness, the tiptoeing choice of words. Deller’s project is as much an examination of the real cost of war, surrounded as it is by displays of warplanes and warheads, as it is of the language we use to describe it. It’s not an “installation,” it hasn’t been “curated,” and it’s not (according to the artist himself), even an “artwork.” It’s not, in other words, “by” someone, and what it’s about is, in part, the idea of authorship, and the meaning of authorship in a context of modern warfare. Deller’s disavowal of the word “art” to describe the car – which does have a title (5 March 2007), and was displayed in Deller’s show It Is What It Is at the New Museum, New York, last year, so has all the hallmarks of being a work of art – has parallels with the perhaps apocryphal story of the Gestapo officer stalking through Picasso’s studio, chancing across a postcard of Guernica, and asking the artist “Did you do that?” “No,” replies the artist, “you did.”
The car is recognizably itself, though bucked downwards as though crushed by an invisible weight, scorched and rusted beyond individual recognition. Time has stripped it of a personality it must have had, its stickers and detritus suggesting that it’s a “car” now, not “the car” and it has slipped, in this way, into a symbolic afterlife. The wreckage was salvaged after a bomb blast in Baghdad’s principal intellectual and cultural nucleus, the Al-Mutanabbi book market in the city’s old quarter. A witness, Naeem al-Daraji, describes the scene on the museum’s website: “Papers from the book market were floating through the air like leaflets dropped from a plane… Pieces of flesh and the remains of books were scattered everywhere.” The exact number of victims cannot be definitively quantified, but it is believed that around 38 people were killed.
This week’s roundup includes art that is about being social: Cindy Sherman poses in Balenciaga, Carrie Mae Weems teaches about art and social engagement, Barbara Kruger displays art about social life, Cai Guo-Qiang wants volunteers, and more.
- Check out the series of photographs by Cindy Sherman, who captured herself posing as various fashion hangers-on, including the aging doyenne, fashion victim, and best friends forever, dressed entirely in Balenciaga.
- Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is publishing Berlin Singers, a suite of ten new print collages by Arturo Herrera. This work features printed librettos from the ’50s. Herrera uses these portraits as a “basis to create an entirely new image” in which the faces are almost completely covered by multiple layers of collage.
- With David A. Ross, Carrie Mae Weems is team teaching Art and Civic Dialogue: the Seminar on the Future of Art and Education, a year-long seminar and lecture series at Syracuse University that explores the intersection of contemporary art and social engagement.
The Museum of Modern Art could not have picked a better moment to mount Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen, an exhibition about the changing aesthetics and politics of this domestic space. The kitchen, once considered woman’s domain and the bane of her existence, is still, after all these waves of feminism, a hotbed for contention. This year, the blogosphere has been abuzz with talk of sexism in the culinary arts; a rising “feminist food revolution” in the United States; and heated debate about whether second-wave American feminism ruined the family meal by “denigrating foodwork” and encouraging women to leave the kitchen. Counter Space has clear feminist leanings, but rather than regurgitate the usual rhetoric or play up the trope of the kitchen as domestic prison, the curators have elegantly balanced metaphorical apron strings with objects of unbridled creativity.
Counter Space is drawn entirely from the museum’s collection, and organized in conjunction with their newest publication Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art. The show recognizes women’s contributions to the kitchen as domestic workers, as well as disciplined artists, architects and designers. The icing on the cake, so to speak, is the diverse selection of works by women and men, contemporary and historical. In Martha Rosler’s iconic video Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975), an “anti-Julia Child” names and demonstrates the tools of her oppression. At one point, she jabs her knife in the air with more anger than finesse. Two aprons by Fluxus artist George Maciunas hang overhead: one is a cropped photograph of a nude woman’s backside, and the other is a drawing of human intestines. Clips from popular films that portray the kitchen as warm and welcoming run counter to a set of darkly comedic photographs by Philip-Lorca diCorcia in which the space appears nightmarish and his subjects like zombies.
Clean Formica surfaces and neatly stacked Tupperware could have easily sealed this exhibition’s demise; design shows seem to live and die by severe simplicity. Yet Counter Space feels as varied as Bed, Bath & Beyond and in some ways as functional as my own kitchen. There’s a sense from the crowded walls and shelves that everything you need to prepare a meal is right at your fingertips. It helps that the museum’s café is located just outside. Continue reading »