Welcome back to BOMB in the Building, where each week we are featuring a vintage BOMB interview relating to a Season 5 artist. This week, inspired by Cao Fei’s utopian vision as seen through her Second Life creations, we revisit an interview with the Dutch painter Constant Nieuwenhuys (a.k.a. “Constant”), whose New Babylon project from the ‘50s and ‘60s is perhaps more relevant today than ever. Recreated and featured prominently at Documenta in 2002, New Babylon presents itself as a series of questions in the artist’s own words: “Is it a social utopia? An urban architectural design? An artistic vision? A cultural revolution? A technical conquest? A solution of the practical problems of the industrial age?” Linda Boersma, who interviewed Constant for BOMB Issue 91, Spring 2005, suggests simply that “New Babylon is a design for future architectural structures, made for a society of creative people who are freed from stultifying everyday work.” Read the full interview here.
Linda Boersma: When I saw the New Babylon paintings again at Documenta, and when I looked at the photographs that were once taken of the models, then the interiors of New Babylon immediately made me think of the labyrinthine spaces that are now designed by computers and that you can enter virtually. In an interview that Rem Koolhaas conducted with you, you said you were building an enormous model that was intended to give a filmed impression of New Babylon. Has that ever taken place?
Constant: No, not really. There were some films made, by my son and by some other filmmakers. But a real film, such as I had in mind then, where I could show the aim of New Babylon with explanations, that never happened. That’s why I returned to painting: “illustrations” of New Babylon. What do you see when you walk through it? To show that, I had to return to painting. Plans for filming New Babylon always ended as a filmed interview with me. But I wanted someone to actually crawl inside those models with a camera. Because that’s what it’s about. What do you see when, once inside, you look around? The models are worked out in great detail. The whole project is now in the Municipal Museum in The Hague, and a filmmaker could quietly spend weeks or even months working there. I’m still waiting for someone to be able to do that. But of course, it can be done at any time, even after I’m dead, as the models are all available. I wouldn’t sell any of it, as I feel New Babylon should stay together. It was a project that I worked on for a decade and a half. This whole studio was one great workshop. It was full of models, and I had several assistants working with me. Making the models was very labor intensive, and without assistants I could never have managed it. I sold my paintings from the CoBrA period and used the proceeds to finance the New Babylon project. Later, because I had studied architecture, I lived partly on commissions for rebuilding playgrounds and the like.
Linda Boersma: You studied architecture?
Constant: Yes. For the New Babylon plan I naturally needed some architectural knowledge. Aldo van Eyck [a well-known Dutch architect and a friend of Constant’s] showed me a few tips. “I’ll give you my old course books, you can read those,” he said. And that’s what I did.
Linda Boersma: Did you ever get the urge to build a model that you yourself could walk into or to create an actual building or construction?
Constant: No. I’ve never felt a need to do that. New Babylon is an idea. I’ve always called it an illustration. An illustration to my story about another form of urban construction. I made some models for this, here, in this space, but also limited by the space.
Linda Boersma: You were and you still are a painter—you always emphasize this. But how did your interest in architecture come about?
Constant: That happened in Frankfurt at the beginning of the 1950s. I was alone with my son, who was seven at the time. It must have been 1951. Frankfurt was bombed flat during the war. I had been in Essen, Bochum. . . . The Ruhr was not nearly as bad. Frankfurt was indescribable. I’d borrowed a studio from a painter who was himself in Paris. I was working there for an exhibition in the Zimmergalerie Franck, and every morning I took my son to school. The walk to the school was across an enormous bombsite. A great heap of rubble, with here and there some places that had been flattened so you could walk over them like paths. There were some outer walls of houses still standing. A doorway, and some stretches of wall. It was a surreal landscape, and it inspired me enormously. If you walk through a town that lies in ruins, then the first thing you naturally think of is building. And then, as you rebuild such a town, you wonder whether life there will be just the same, or what will be different. Then you think about the influence of the surroundings.
Welcome back to BOMB in the Building, where each week weâ€™re featuring a vintage BOMB interview with a Season 5 artist. This week, we head back ten years to revisit a classic conversation with Mary Heilmann, conducted by Ross Bleckner. â€œHeilmannâ€™s style defies the fashionable,â€ Bleckner writes, â€œher paintings contain a joy so contagious one smiles upon seeing them…[they] sing with a life force hard to match.â€ In this interview excerpt from BOMB Issue 67, Spring 1999, these old friends and peers discuss memory, nostalgia, and a body of work that was 40 years in the making. Read the full interview here.
Ross Bleckner: What do you consider yourself?
Mary Heilmann: Sometimes Iâ€™m a light artist and sometimes Iâ€™m a heavy artist. Significantly, in the making of our work, we artists channel the artists that worked before us.
RB: Naturally, but I think youâ€™re a light artist. Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve always liked about your work, the casual attitude. Iâ€™ve known you for a long time but I donâ€™t know you that well. I think youâ€™re very serious and something of a formalist. But itâ€™s the character of your abstraction thatâ€™s always interested me. I canâ€™t really say whether itâ€™s backhandedâ€”but it seems to beâ€”which is now equated with ironic, but wasnâ€™t back when I first saw your work. Thatâ€™s what I mean by light. I donâ€™t mean that as good or badâ€”I actually think itâ€™s very interesting in your case. I remember seeing your paintings when I was a little pup.
MH: When you first showed up here in New York, you mean?
RB: Yeah. You were showing at Holly Solomon Gallery. And what was funny about your paintings is that they were simpleâ€”squares within squares, kind of quasi-minimalist, brightly coloredâ€”everything was slightly off register, even the shape of the canvas itself, right? The square would be lopsided.
MH: I donâ€™t think so, not on purpose anyway. The interior squareâ€”
RB: Well maybe the interior square set up a perception that made me think of it as being slightlyâ€¦goofy.
MH: Yeah, itâ€™s true. It had that.
RB: Youâ€™ve managed to maintain that character for 30 or more years and it always seems very fresh to me. Itâ€™s actually what younger artists respond to in your work. What comes around goes aroundâ€”that freshness, your approach to abstraction, seems very unencumbered. It gives the paintings a lightness. You could translate it emotionally or spiritually, but itâ€™s like air. The paintings have a lot of air in them.
Anyway, take us back and give us an idea of the book youâ€™ve been working on and what it means to you to go back over these 30 yearsâ€”finding yourself with some new popularity.
MH: The book goes back to when I was born; itâ€™s the story of my whole life. Itâ€™s to show that the paintings reflect events and visual events that I experienced ever since I was a little child. I put this book together because it was an opportunity to make something about my work that wasnâ€™t just another art catalog. I wanted to make my own biographical book. And in it Iâ€™ve told some stories from my life, some little anecdotes, and Iâ€™ve chosen things that the paintings recalled. The painting Rio Nido has little spots of lightâ€”in the â€˜40s we went to a summer vacation spot where it was common to put colored lights around the porches.
RB: Theyâ€™re very popular. Pool motif.
MH: This was a working-class resort where teachers, nurses and policemen went. The memory of this place is just fantastic to me and that picture reminds me of it; that happens all along.
Welcome back to BOMB in the Building, where each week we’re featuring a BOMB interview with a Season 5 artistâ€”or one that corresponds to the theme of the artistâ€™s work. Inspired by Doris Salcedoâ€™s discussion of witnessing, victimization, and the brutality of power, we dove back into our Archive and unearthed an interview with another Third World artist, Regina JosÃ© Galindo.
In this BOMB interview with novelist Francisco Goldman from Winter 2005, Galindo, winner of the 2005 Venice Biennale Golden Lion, discusses social action, inaction, karma, and her intensely personal performances that stem from her rage at the violence and corruption in Guatemala, then and now.
Suffering and Compassion: itâ€™s not just within Buddhism that these ideas interpenetrate and inform each other. Salcedo and Galindoâ€™s works share an inescapable truth: art is about experience.
Francisco Goldman: I imagine that we should begin with a few words about what is happening today in Guatemala. Hurricane Stan, the flooding, the terrible loss of lives, the general calamity that is going to sink people even deeper into lives of inescapable poverty. What did Guatemala do to deserve so much suffering?
Regina JosÃ© Galindo: To me this question feels too deep, too heartrending. As you say, my country has suffered an eternity of calamities of all shapes and sizes: a mortal conquest, the maltreatment of indigenous villages and the negation of their rights throughout our entire history, the Gringo intervention, an infernal 36-year war, evil governments, spine-chilling levels of corruption, a murderous army, histories of violence that are a daily nightmare of inequality, hunger, miseryâ€”and now this, which unlike the aforementioned things is a natural disaster. How is such karma even possible?
But you ask what Guatemala did to deserve all this. Perhaps the proper questions would be: What havenâ€™t we done? Why have we been so afraid, and tolerated so much fear? Why have we not woken up and taken action? When are we going to stop being so submissive?
I feel impotent, unable to change things, but this rage has sustained me, and Iâ€™ve watched it grow since I first became aware of what was happening. Itâ€™s like an engineâ€”a conflict inside me that never yields, never stops turning, ever.
We’re back! Keep your eye on this column in the months to come as BOMB Magazine highlights Season 5 artists and themes, with excerpts of new and vintage interviews from our Archive. This week, read an excerpt from an interview with Carrie Mae Weems conducted by fellow photographer Dawoud Bey. Then check out thier full conversation in the Summer 2009 issue of BOMB, on newsstands now and online here:
Dawoud Bey: Your work has had a very grand sweep since we first met in 1976. I would say you began in a kind of documentary mode, turning your camera on aspects of your surrounding world that allowed you to visually talk about the things that you were seeing and the things that had value or meaning for you. Your Family Pictures and Stories brought those observations closer to home in an autobiographical way and also began to bring a shift through the introduction of a textual voice into your work. Since that work you have deployed a range of strategies in realizing your ideas. Iâ€™m wondering if you could go back for a minute and just talk briefly about where you were in 1976 when you had decided that the camera was going to be your voice. What influenced you and who were your models at that point?
Carrie Mae Weems: We were young. (laughter) Itâ€™s wonderful to have the benefit of hindsight. I think often about planning retrospectivesâ€”Iâ€™ve got one coming up this fall in Seville at the Contemporary and one at the Frist Center for Contemporary Art in Nashville in 2011. They give me the chance to look back over the work, over my history. The thing that surprises me most about the early work is that itâ€™s not particularly different from the work Iâ€™m making now. Of course I was trying to find a unique voice, but beyond that, from the very beginning, Iâ€™ve been interested in the idea of power and the consequences of power; relationships are made and articulated through power. Another thing thatâ€™s interesting about the early work is that even though Iâ€™ve been engaged in the idea of autobiography, other ideas have been more important: the role of narrative, the social levels of humor, the deconstruction of documentary, the construction of history, the use of text, storytelling, performance, and the role of memory have all been more central to my thinking than autobiography. Itâ€™s assumed that autobiography is key, because I so often use myself, my own of experienceâ€”limited as it is at timesâ€”as the starting point. But I use myself simply as a vehicle for approaching the question of power, and following where that leads me to and through. Itâ€™s never about me; itâ€™s always about something larger.
In Family Pictures and Stories, I was thinking not only of my family, but was trying to explore the movement of black families out of the South and into the North. My family becomes the representational vehicle that allows me to enter the larger discussion of race, class, and historical migration. So, the Family series operates in this way, as does the Kitchen Table series. I use my own constructed image as a vehicle for questioning ideas about the role of tradition, the nature of family, monogamy, polygamy, relationships between men and women, between women and their children, and between women and other womenâ€”underscoring the critical problems and the possible resolves. In one way or another, my work endlessly explodes the limits of tradition. Iâ€™m determined to find new models to live by. Arenâ€™t you?
After a hiatus, we (the folks from BOMB Magazine) are back to resume our fun and educational guest blogging. We’ll be chiming in once a month with some cool stuff that we hope you’ll like.
For those of you in New York, Rhys Chatham will be performing “Guitar Trio” tonight (April 24th) at 6pm as part of the exhibition The Pictures Generation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here’s a video of a past performance if you’re not aware of, or haven’t witnessed, the awesome glory of “Guitar Trio”:
The Pictures Generation exhibition is a massive survey of a group of artists who were using photography in their work between 1974 and 1984, and includes BOMB interviewees: Richard Prince, Sarah Charlesworth, Laurie Simmons, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, and James Casebere. Kruger and Simmons have also been covered by our lovely hosts, Art21.
There’s a good explanation of who exactly the pictures generation is/was here. Also, Charlesworth and Kruger made a piece called Glossolalia specifically for BOMB’s issue 5 that includes images from many members of this group.
The new generation is shaped by its exposure to YouTube, and Kalup Linzy is one of their leaders. His show at the Studio Museum in Harlem is up until June 28th. If you’re not familiar with Linzy, here’s one of his original video pieces:
And in the spirit of torture, sometimes things are just better in song:
In closing, we want to encourage you to get out there and buy magazines, lots of magazines! Shockingly, even in the age of the internets, people are still starting new ones! Here are two that caught our eye: Gigantic (co-founded by intrepid former BOMB intern and current BOMBlogger Annie DeWitt), and Meatpaper (as you’d expectâ€”a magazine dedicated to meat in all its glory).
Since Art21 rotted our little brains with their Audio Visual edition last week, we decided to retaliate with some literary mind-expanding material.
Writers who write a lot.
Literary blogger The Old Hag (Elizabeth Skurnick) has her poetry animated:
On that note, things we WISH would come back from the dead: RIP New Yorker Films!
“Sparks is the best band EVAR and if you’re gonna talk ish then you can’t be my friend anymore!!!” KCRW’s Bookworm conducts an endearing interview with his favorite band.
And lastly, a creepy Sparks video you can annoy your friends with!
This week we find BOMB artists all over the Internets:
- If you haven’t yet it’s about time you checked out Paul Chan’s National Philistine.
- Bruce Mau will curate the first Denver Biennial of the Americas.
- Vito Acconci bubbled up on VVORK.
- Cristina Peri Rossi became the first woman to ever win the Loewe Poetry Prize.
Here’s a double bonus, both a preview of some of the folks who’ll be in the next issue of BOMB, and some links to what they’ve been up to:
- Mickalene Thomas has a show opening March 26 at Lehmann Maupin.
- Jacqueline Humphries has one as well at Greene Naftali.
- Adam Bartos has a new book out: The Yard Sale Photographs.
- And finally the new Yes Men movie won the Audience Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Last weekend the BOMB folks cut a swath through the NYC cultural scene, so we thought we would share a sampling of what we found.
We started off at Terminal 5 for the Black Keys show.Â None of our faces were intact by the end of the night.Â For a two piece band the Keys produce an enormous and mind boggling amount of sound.Â Every once in a while its nice to escape into some good old fashioned American blues rock. (Really tried to find a good interview with them, but they seem to be resistant to the form, so went with this interview they did with GZA)
Saturday night we saw the insanely young and wildly talented Beirut at Brooklyn Academy of Music.Â They’re amazing, but you have to think this performance would have killed if place in Vienna during the 17th Century.
Saturday afternoon we went to the Lower East Side, stopping in at galleries along our walk.Â It was a pretty stark contrast to the Chelsea trudge, and refreshing to pass things other than galleries along the way (and even places to go to the bathroom!).
- The Brand New Heavies, a show curated by Mickalene Thomas
- Francesca Dimattio’s incredible paintings at Salon 94 Freemans
- Ibn Kendall’s intriguing “Coon Alchemy” at NYSG
- We got “got” by the press release for James J. Williams show at Envoy
Finally, since the Atlantic-Pacific subway stop is right next door to us, we’ve been thinking a lot about the MOMA installation there.Â Our first impression was that we loved the idea of blanketing this large public space in art, but didn’t think the show in the end was ambitious enough (and a little awkwardly curated).
Showing only reproductions of works makes us go straight to Walter Benjamin.Â The translation of 3-d works into subway ads really raises the issue of how reproduction influences our experience of the work of art.Â In light of this issue, some of the curatorial choices struck us as really strange.
The image ofÂ Pipolotti Rists’ installation seemed completely incomprehensible, and was among several works which can only be understood in their 3-d state (a fur teacup comes to mind). MoMA does itself (and the kinds of art that people think of as non-traditional) no favors by showing it in a reproduction that gives little to no sense of the impact of the work .
In the end we wondered why one would show a picture of a readymade when you could just as easily make a fake one and leave it in the middle of the station somewhere? (How much could a stool and bicycle wheel really cost anyway? They could have made hundreds.)Â Has anyone else walked through this?Â What did you think?
Not as incendiary as you thought, just the friendly folks from BOMB magazine here for the first round of our Friday column.
In case you didn’t know, BOMB—like Art21—is a non-profit organization based in New York City. We produce an arts and culture magazine that’s been around since 1981, featuring interviews of artists, writers, poets, architects, actors, playwrights…. We’ve just fired up our own blog type web product where you can come by to check out our podcast, weekly poetry and video art features, and a Friday column by the friendly folks here at Art21. We’ll be here every Friday as well.
BOMBlog will continue to expand the scope of our work even further. We’d like to see it go far enough to include both Cunninghams (but that might be a little too far):
For this week we pointed our eclectic eye at the Internets and found some stuff to keep you warm this weekend:
- If you’re around New York, the Ontological is getting Hysteric again with Richard Foreman’s new play…show…opera?…performance.
- Came across this art “magazine” that’s starting up on the web. Who knows where they’ll end up, but the words/website are cool.
- One of BOMB’s favorites, Antony Hegarty, was on Fresh Air this week; you can listen to him here.
- It’s probably not been Rahm’s favorite week ever, but here’s an essay he wrote about beating Republicans back in ’88.
- In other political news, there’s been some controversy about the insanely small amount of money that might go to the NEA from the stimulus package.
- A pretty neat collaboration of art blog/websites called 7 by 7.
- Thinking about a trip to Austin? Better watch out for zombies…
- And this weekend, if you’re tired from Googling all week check out Doogle.