Georgia Kotretsos: Perhaps Asian Contemporary Art Week, (ACAW) and The Taste of Others are the two projects that spell out your name in caps. You create projects that may conclude organically when they have to, and in the meantime you sustain them with great dedication. Is this a personal or a professional commitment?
Leeza Ahmady: Public education is a key component for both projects. It begins with self-education, which for me is a process of unlearning or making sense of all the “dead information” that one accumulates through conventional study. The task of maturity is to navigate through that jungle and that is what some people call “The School of Life.” I am not interested in positioning expertise, rather in creating both a personal and professional platform for inquiry and ways of confronting inertia and ignorance about very compelling, unexplored subjects in contemporary art practice and art history.
At the end of each ACAW edition, essentially a biennial event involving interaction with hundreds of artists and dozens of arts institutions, I vow never to do it again. Yet the very intense exercise in scoping, identifying, listening, framing, and channeling of artistic activity, which ACAW entails is a marathon I love to run. It is both exhausting and invigorating with many stones still left unturned. History, people, communities, creativity, conflict, entropy, and psychological and philosophical exploration are ongoing dimensions in the world. Which is why there seems to be no end to the projects. With every round, I arrive to new beginnings and approaches.
Gimme Shelter | Anti-Establishment in the Establishment: Dawn Kasper at the Whitney Biennial, Part 2
*Ed. Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part conversation between Marissa Perel and Dawn Kasper. To read Part 1, click here.
MP: So, this work [at the Whitney Biennial] is changing how you see yourself as a performer, and how you present yourself to an audience?
DK: Yes, definitely. As I said, before I would do an isolated performance, and then go home and collect myself, chill out, or whatever. And now it’s like I go home, but going to the Whitney is essentially a job. How is it different than anyone else working here on the fourth floor? I’m not really doing anything different. So with that in mind, this is a performance, and there are questions like “how am I not myself?” There was this group of teens, all hanging out here, chatting, looking at me, and one of the girls asked, “are you acting?” Teenagers that come to my piece end up asking me that. It stops me dead in my tracks, like “am I acting? I don’t know!” I think maybe I am, but I don’t know because I don’t feel like I am. Is it this environment? Is it the fact that there are people? The music? The art? Because this is, essentially, my stuff—my living space. But then right there, there are people coming, and there’s someone else’s artwork, and this is someone else’s establishment. No matter how hard I try to ignore the situation and do my thing, something will always dismantle it. Questions about art, my position in art, what I’m making come up daily.
MP: Does it make you think about re-contextualizing your work or your persona?
DK: That’s an incredible question. Yes, I’ve been thinking about my work in a different manner since being here. I feel like this is definitely a stepping stone, or really a milestone. In order to do the next work I want to do, I needed to do this. I’m interested in durational performance, and it’s a bit blurred that in fact this is durational performance. It does address issues with respect to performance art and its lineage. The mess, clutter, bits of text and images, the “work-in-progress” feel form a subtext about durational performance and its effect on artists in this day and age–on my generation. Everyone’s talking about the word “performance” in lights, but I don’t see a huge need to compartmentalize it. I think it’s interesting to explore the degrees of ability that performers have under the umbrella term of “performance art.” Obvious forms are theater and dance, but there are also other approaches to performance art. Even within those forms, there are subtexts or sublevels of interest. I’m fascinated with exploring performance art in the many facets of what it has to offer.
For this month’s column, I interviewed choreographer Sarah Michelson about Devotion Study #1, a performance that took place as part of her residency at the 2012 Whitney Biennial, March 1–11. Interview Date: March 30, 2012.
Marissa Perel: So, you’re just coming off the Whitney Biennial and you’re preparing for MoMA.
Sarah Michelson: Yes, it’s for this program, Some sweet day, curated by Ralph Lemon October 15-November 4. There will be three weeks of dance in the museum with Steve Paxton, Jérôme Bel, Faustin Linyekula, Dean Moss, Deborah Hay and me. Deborah and I share the last week of the program.
MP: Do you feel that you’re able to deal with the museum [setting] in a different way now because you worked at the Whitney?
SM: The Whitney was a very singular experience. I did work at the Walker Arts Center in the museum part of it as well as the theater, but being in the Whitney was my first true experience of placing dance into a museum. I can’t imagine that it means I’m equipped to deal with a museum. I think it was a very singular experience because it was for the Biennial and it was the dream of the curators [Elizabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders] to make this thing happen. Nobody was prepared for it. I wasn’t prepared for the machine of the museum and what they didn’t have. They certainly weren’t prepared for a performance. Of course, I was first so it was a lot of discovery, and arriving at an understanding of it by the final performance. I don’t think it’s made me equipped for anything except to go first [laughs].
MP: Did you originally intend to bring something from [your previous work] Devotion [that took place at the Kitchen, Janurary 2011] into the museum? Where did your idea for the performance begin?
SM: At first, I had a lot of different ideas for what I wanted to do after Devotion. After my initial meeting with the curators, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to create something completely new in 6 months. I’ve become kind of a slow craftsperson, and I knew I had to stay where I was. So, working from that place became quite quickly intentional.
MP: In talking about your work at the Walker [Arts Center] and the Whitney [Museum], I’m fascinated with the way institutional critique works its way into what you do. It becomes part of your vision, and at the same time makes it a challenge to execute. It informs the dance audience about how the dance is being made. In this case, it informs a visual art audience about how live performance is being made. I wanted to know more about your choices in deciding to have Jay Sanders perform with you, and use the blueprint of the Whitney as the dance floor.
SM: It seemed unavoidable. I think the blueprint of the Whitney, for this dance, was the starting point in the room. I wanted the fourth floor and I knew I had to make a floor because what we were doing was going to be rigorous. When I had my first meeting with the curators, Jay was clearly interested in my relationship to context. He gave me a lot of information, sent me a lot of books. He gave me a photocopied handout of [architect] Marcel Breuer’s treatment for the Whitney within which were some copies of the architectural blueprints. That was very formative. It somehow started these thoughts or feelings about faith. My connection to the Whitney began there.
Abdellah Karroum is a Moroccan independent art researcher and curator based in Paris, France and Rabat, Morocco. Karroum founded L’appartement 22 in 2002, the first independent experimental space in Rabat, which inspired the formation of a number of artist-run spaces in Morocco. Nationally as well as internationally acclaimed artists, writers, and filmmakers, including Adel Bdessemed, Doa Aly, Hamdi Attia, Fouad Bellamine, Faouzi Laatiris, Cécile Bourne-Farrell and others have left their mark on L’appartment 22. In addition, Radioapartment22, an experimental online radio, provided the space with a platform for hosting equally significant projects over the past decade.
Between 1993 and 1996, Karroum served as the assistant curator at the CAPC Musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux in France. In 2006 he was appointed associate curator of the DAK’ART Biennial for African Contemporary Art in Senegal; later in 2008 he became co-curator of the Position Papers program for the Gwangju Biennale, and in 2009, the curator of the 3rd AiM International Biennale in Marrakesh, followed by the curatorial project “Sentences on the Banks and other activities” in Darat Al-Funun in Amman, in 2010.
This past summer, Karroum curated the Working for Change project for the Moroccan Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale. This research and action-based project focused on producing artworks and sharing documents. After a research period in the Rif (Morocco), the project continues in Venice with the aim of proposing and studying connections between artistic production and social contexts. Morocco’s example proved significant here at the artistic and political levels, as seen in each of the proposed artworks. This curatorial project’s “practive” approach–which involves the joining of the practice of art as research to its appearance as active production (practice + active)–seeks to activate projects, including several collaborations in Morocco with feminists and other activists.
Canceled: Exhibiting Experimental Art in China, presented at The Smart Museum of Art in Chicago in 2000, was a metaphorical representation of It’s Me, a 1998 Chinese experimental art exhibition that was canceled by the Chinese government the day before its opening, not just because of its contents but also for fear of the public gathering and seeing it together. With hundreds of protesters being arrested across the US, it is important to ask, what is the danger in peacefully assembling and associating? Could it be that it leads to conversations, debate, and dialogue?
Following up on my last blog, where I asked the question “what is to be done?,” I now look to curator Naomi Beckwith’s Art 21 Blog post Lily Ledbetter*Art, and the ability of the 3R’s of the green revolution– reduce, reuse, and recycle–to affect change. To these I add the 3C’s–conversation, commerce, and collaboration.
While Chicago’s Experimental Station on the South side and Mess Hall on the North side for years have fostered communal space encouraging conversation and critical thinking, increasingly more artists, galleries, and institutions are initiating conversations. Artist Jason Lazarus’s recent exhibition The Search invited a cross section of strangers to engage in an hour-long conversation within a ziggurat that they ascended and descended together. From Green Drinks to the upcoming Motiroti pot-luck by Columbia College Chicago, to reading groups organized by Alderman Exhibitions or Brian Holmes’s Slow-Motion Action/Research Collective at Mess Hall–which helps explain and analyze the current economic and political situation–artists are gathering together.
For me, the opportunity for public discussion within the public realm and open to all is one of the unique opportunities created by Occupy Wall Street. All types of people are engaging in debates touching on topics ranging from questioning short sales, to founding a third political party in the US, to asking if given the opportunity would the 99% become the 1%? Amidst this is the People’s Library–donated books for people to become educated on a number of issues–as well as a Food Station, a Media Station, a First Aid Station, a PR Station, a Silk Screening Station, and an Empathy Station. When I asked a woman named Susan who was working at the Empathy booth how she defined empathy, she said empathy starts with sharing a common ground–which reminds me of my favorite poster: 99% + 1% = 100%. If we are all in this together, what should we do together?
Fluxus, an international counter-culture collective of artists, musicians, and designers, was formed 50 years ago in 1961/2. Its goals were laid out in the 1963 offset lithograph Fluxus Manifesto (on view at The Museum of Modern Art), which denounces the “bourgeois” preciousness and exclusivity that surrounds art, promotes art “for all peoples,” and calls “cultural, social, and political revolutionaries to united front and action.” Fluxus artists and musicians–who hailed from all over the US, Europe, and Japan–felt that art should be affordable, participatory, and closely tied to everyday experience. In addition to artists who are known primarily for their involvement with this collective–such as George Maciunas, its founder and leader, Robert Filliou, and Ben Vautier (Ben)–a number of artists who began their careers as participants in Fluxus moved on to become influential in the wider scope of Contemporary art, including Christo, Nam Jun Paik, Deiter Roth, Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, and Claes Oldenburg.
This fall, two survey exhibitions in New York celebrate the birth of this radical art movement: Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University through December 3; and Thing/Thought: Fluxus Editions, 1962-1978, at The Museum of Modern Art through January 16. The exhibition at the Grey Art Gallery, which was organized by the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue and will travel to the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor early next year. In addition, a number of focus exhibitions are on view at university and non-profit galleries in the greater New York area. Fluxus at NYU: Before and Beyond in the Grey’s Lower Level Gallery and at/around/beyond: Fluxus at Rutgers, at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University (through April 1, 2012) highlight the significant role faculty members of both universities played in Fluxus. Artists Space, Creative Time, and the Staller Center for the Arts, Stony Brook University, are also all showing related work this fall. In keeping with the spirit of the movement, many of these exhibitions are supplemented by a roster of events, including gallery tours by the curators and artists, walking tours, performances, and panel discussions (please see exhibition websites for details). Finally, the biennial performance art festival Performa, November 11-13, will include a number of Fluxus events.
Fluxus was primarily about ideas, and the goal was to reach the largest possible audience. In a time before internet and email, prints and multiples in the form of artists’ books, ephemera, and mail art played an important role in disseminating the artists’ work, which were often group publications. They also organized festivals, participatory events, happenings, and performances, and created mail art, film, and unique works. Fluxus Editions were primarily produced and hand-assembled by Maciunas in unlimited editions and offered at low prices, distributed at artist-run Fluxshops or by mail-order. The first Fluxus group publication, An Anthology of Chance Operations…, 1961/3, (on view at The Grey Art Gallery), was compiled and edited by the Minimalist composer La Monte Young and designed by Maciunas. In 1962, Maciunas and Robert Watts came up with the idea of “an ever-expanding universe of events” (as quoted by curator Jacquelynn Baas in the introductory text at the Grey Art Gallery exhibition) that could be performed by anyone at any time. Open-ended and minimal instructions for specific actions using everyday objects, to be performed by a single person or by a group, were “composed” by Watts, Young, George Brecht, and others. These were mailed via postcard to colleagues, and a festival of performances was organized the following year, to take place throughout the month of May in the greater New York area. It was called “The Yam Festival” (May spelled in reverse). Maciunas also organized similar events throughout Europe, called Fluxfestivals.
Siemon Allen is a South African artist who currently lives and works in the United States. He received his MFA from Natal Technikon (now Durban Institute of Technology) and was a founding member of FLAT gallery, an artist’s initiative in Durban, South Africa. In 2010, he was invited by the gordonschachatcollection as the featured artist at the Johannesburg Art Fair. That same year, he presented Imaging South Africa, a survey of work from the last ten years at the Anderson Gallery in Richmond, Virginia. Allen’s concurrent solo exhibitions took place at The Durban Art Gallery and Bank Gallery in 2009. His work has also been shown at Artists Space, The Whitney Museum, and Momenta in New York City, The Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis, The Renaissance Society in Chicago, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery. His work was included in the 2nd Johannesburg Biennale at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town. Allen is a visiting artist and adjunct professor in the Department of Sculpture and Extended Media at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. His most recent project is an ongoing web-based visual archive of South African audio.
For the past ten years, Siemon Allen has been exploring the image of South Africa through a series of collection projects.
In his own words he tells me:
Ironically, most of my work is the result of my being in the United States, where I find myself looking at the image of South Africa as I might reconstruct it—through historical artifacts (stamps), through current media (newspapers) or through received audio (sampled sound works). To some extent, it speaks to what I feel is a kind of separation from the source, and leads me to consider how much of this work is, at its core, an investigation into notions of branding and identity through displacement.
He is currently showing two works at the South African Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennial.
The most current collection, an archive of South African audio, is made up of over 2500 items, including 650 rare shellac discs. Records is a series of twelve large format prints (78” x 78” x 3”) on Hahnemühle Museum etching paper selected and scanned from the larger audio collection. Allen is presenting five prints from the series for the South African pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale—these include Better, His Master’s Voice, Rave, Tempo, and Zonophone. The scans of the records produce remarkable detail capturing not only the grooves but also the accumulated historic traces of scratches and damage that speak to the memory of the object. It is significant that though these prints are considered by Allen to be part of his audio collection and speak to the primacy of music in South African cultural history, they are silent.
Walking into the Venice Biennale is like traversing into an art-induced headlock set in a labyrinthian wonderland. Slather on enough Vaperetto excursions and optical trickery, and you’ve got a fabricated case of vertigo. Upping the ante are the sumptuous parties and enough celeb sightings to make LA look dull. Want Courtney Love to cuddle with another grunge rock boy, this time Salem style? Head to the Brauer and you’ve got it. Need a mega-sized yacht owned by Forbes‘s 53rd richest man in the world (sorry Abromovich, but this is the 54th edition), take a walk near the Giardini. This year’s rich ‘n famous lineup was so absurd it looked like Cannes on high-qual crack. As a long-time attendees put it, the Biennale used to be about seeing the exhibition, attending the afterparty, and heading back to the hotel to sleep it off and do it all over again. But this year, unless one had the willpower of a health-conscious pregnant woman or the iron tolerance of an English coal worker, it was a sure thing that full coverage was mitigated by Alka-Seltzer.
Having just clicked the send button on final papers, my attendance to last week’s preview checked out under the pleasure category. So while my strongsuit is probably the gossip (shoes, aristos, amorous journalists, and even hotter artists all trotting around at 4am deliciously inebriated), the recently interpolated student in me is going to abstain from discussing what happened after I fell asleep in front of Christian Marclay’s Golden Lion winning 24-hour film The Clock. For saucier coverage, tune-in to the usual suspects.
Back in 2007, Robert Storr curated a highly political biennale, and while this edition’s title, ILLUMInations, may sound like it, Bice Curiger’s edition places little emphasis on titular italicization. Curiger’s exhibition plays it safe, piecing together curating’s current top 40: a high number of strapping young artists born post-1975, artists curating artists, and the inclusion of a very deceased art star, in this case Italian Mannerist painter Jacopo Tintoretto.
There’s nothing quite like the graduate critique seminar – a visit to a classmate’s studio where ten to fifteen artists are hopefully hopped up on enough caffeine that they’ll engage with the artwork hanging on the walls. Otherwise, the forty-five minute critique can seem like an eternity and everyone is left projecting the weirdest things onto the artist’s incredibly vulnerable and passionate ideas. When the rare and unexpected critique does occur, the room is filled with a lively conversation between multiple voices regarding wonderful random issues that affect us in particular ways – all started because of a work of art. This past month, I attempted to get my peers at San Francisco Art Institute to engage in a fervent chatter, and to do that, I organized two group shows at two separate galleries on campus – The Prize and The Biennial.
Under the name of a fictional organization I created years ago, I organized two group shows: The Society of 23 Prize and The Society of 23 Biennial. Like the silly comedian I am, I poked serious fun at highly esteemed art events like the Turner Prize and Whitney Biennial. In my reality, these events are an everyday aspiration, so The Society of 23 Prize and Biennial were kitschy artworks in and of themselves. I asked 10 of my graduating classmates to join me in the journey that was The Prize, where I referred to them as nominees throughout the process. I also asked 23 other classmates, comprised of first and second-year students, to participate in The Biennial. At SFAI, there are two student-run galleries: the Swell Gallery at the Graduate Center and the Diego Rivera Gallery at the historic undergraduate campus that also houses a mural by Diego Rivera. When I learned that my show proposals to each gallery were accepted and were to occur during the same week, I was thrilled and scared.
I first experienced the California Biennial in 2008 as a participant in Mary Kelly’s Flashing Nipple Happening. Kelly had recruited around five dozen young women to gear-up in black clothing and, using elaborate harnesses, strap blinking bicycle lights in front of our crotches and breasts. At the opening reception, we crouched behind walls and bushes and when Kelly gave the command, we ambushed the crowd from all sides. We were twinkling Matryoshka dolls, restaging our own restaging (from several days prior) of a 2007 restaging… of a 2005 restaging… of The Flashing Nipple Show street theater staged in protest of the 1971 Miss World pageant. Are you caught up yet? At the risk of sounding cliché, I have to invoke the “e” word. I cannot begin to describe how shockingly and profoundly empowering it was to careen, glowing-breast-and-crotch-first, through a museum courtyard of Campari-drinking art “insiders.” Yet the happening was more about solidarity and galvanization less about mischievous upheaval. We were simultaneously tying ourselves to this activist lineage, while warmly destabilizing the staid contemporary tradition of biennials.
Though the 2008 California Biennial focused loosely on politically oriented and socially engaged practices, Kelly’s was one of the only participatory works that it featured. But in the current California Biennial, curated by Sarah Bancroft, collectives, collaborations, and interactive (a sometime taboo label) installations pop up throughout the exhibition. While Bancroft avoids the type of overarching curatorial themes that usually get Biennial organizers into trouble, the inclusion of numerous participatory practices is noteworthy. Perhaps the number of artists working in this way has remained steady, but they are proliferating within the walls of more traditional institutions.
Immediately after entering the museum, viewers can climb directly into Brian Dick & Christen Sperry-Garcia‘s Glowfittie Room, which looks like a giant piñata, and make their own “light paintings” along its walls. If they are lucky, they will also be greeted by a giant neon papier-mâché Museum Mascot, inhabited by one of the artists. Dick and Sperry-Garcia have made a number of these usually uncommissioned mascots for various museums throughout the country. The articulated impulse of the work is inclusiveness as opposed to institutional critique. But then again, the only thing more stressful and fraught than walking into a museum is walking into a giant Muppet-like creature.