I am happy to be back after a busy summer. Fresh off of a plane from Germany, I am sharing a few text sightings I had while at dOCMENTA(13). This was my first time attending a Documenta exhibition, and it was a great experience. For this post, I want to share a few photos of works I saw at dOCUMENTA(13) along with the texts that were referenced by the artists or artworks that incorporated books and magazines.
100 Notes—100 Thoughts
One major component of curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s exhibition actually began in 2011 with a publication series called 100 Notes—100 Thoughts, and extends through the exhibition with an event series called “Readers’ Circle.” Authors from a range of disciplines—art, science, psychology, political theory, and many others contributed to the notebooks that were meant to explore ways of thinking about the contemporary world. During the “Readers’ Circle” events, visitors are invited to listen to a reading of a notebook by a scholar, researcher or cultural practitioner.
First of all, thanks to those who participated in sharing a few titles from their bookshelves last month! Now, I am happy to share with you the selections of British artist Richard T. Walker. In his videos, performances and photographs, Richard appears alone, speaking or singing in the midst of vast landscapes. The works seem to reveal an internal dialogue, shaped and contextualized through the dominant visual of the landscape. You can view Richard’s work on his website: http://richardtwalker.net.
Richard is premiering a work this week at the Loop art fair in Barcelona with Christopher Grimes Gallery. He will be doing performances at SFMOMA on August 30, September 1 and September 2, 2012 as part of the exhibition, “Stage Presence,” and is currently working on a commission for Arthouse in Austin, Texas for 2013. He is also preparing for his solo show at Carroll/Fletcher gallery in London, set for January 2013.
Here is a selection of texts Richard chose to highlight as influential to his practice:
Jeanette Bicknell, Why Music Moves Us (2010)
Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar (1983)
Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle (1976)
William Carlos Williams, The Descent (1948)
Rachael Ziady DeLue and James Elkins, Landscape Theory (2008)
Richard’s comments on these texts follows:
Kelly Huang: Jeanette Bicknell, Walker Percy and Italo Calvino’s books all struck me as ruminations on what it means to be a person in this world, taking in experiences of all kinds–be it visual, written, or aural. Your works include all of these elements and, in some ways, function similarly to these texts. Can you describe your process? At what point in your process do these texts play a role?
Richard T. Walker: My process is one of attempting to articulate or speak of a certain type of articulation, or comprehension. So it is in a way an act of attempting to comprehend something, even if that something is a lack of comprehension—understanding what it is to not understand. It seems to me that music, text and dialogue are three of the main instruments we have to determine our existence in the world. I suppose this is why they are present in my work, as they are tools, along with the visual, that we use to come to understand things, and arguably these are the tools that enable things to exist, including ourselves.
Inspired Reading started with my own interest in building a library and dedicating more time to reading. In talking to artists and curators over the years about their current projects, I have found that influential books and other texts always become part of the conversation. I would always note them for myself, but rarely went back and actually read the books. Through the process I have created with this column, I have now read a wide range of texts that I may not have known of previously. This column has been rewarding in many ways, and the best part is always the conversation that happens with the artist or curator about their reading lists.
This month, I thought I would talk about my own reading habits. As an art advisor, I have the privilege of looking at art all the time. Keeping up with my reading is part of the job—it continues to inform my eye. One thing this column has proven to me is that artists and curators are influenced by a diverse range of texts—from novels to textbooks to cultural theory. They may have encountered these texts as a child, yet are just now seeing the influence of it in their work, or perhaps they were seeking out specific technical texts to help inform their making.
Because the influences can come from so many sources, I feel obligated to be continually reading and observing. Outside of the wonderful array of texts I read for this column, on an everyday level, I am reading press releases, catalogue essays, and magazine articles. For critical essays, some of my favorite resources are, e-flux Journal, May Revue, Artforum and Frieze Magazine. I am also a New York Times junkie, and am so happy when I have a long flight and can read The New Yorker or The Atlantic cover-to-cover. Another great resource for me is Arts & Letters Daily.
One of my favorite art spaces in San Francisco is the Kadist Art Foundation, a non-profit organization based in both Paris and San Francisco whose mission is to “… participate[s] in the development of society through contemporary art …”. Kadist SF offers a diverse range of programming, including their ever-popular Wednesday evening program that brings in writers, curators and artists to speak or present work, a gallery, a magazine residency program, and a Reading Shop.
Kadist’s dedication to critical discourse is what drew me to feature them here. Each year, Kadist SF hosts one or two magazine residencies. The primary editorial team from the magazine in residence is invited to SF for one-month, with the goal to produce an issue based on their research conducted in the city. To date, Kadist SF has hosted May Revue (Paris), Nero (Rome), and Fillip (Vancouver).
Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking to Kadist SF Program Manager, Devon Bella, about the Reading Shop, which is open every Saturday and during their Wednesday evening programs. Devon’s thoughtful curation of the space and available publications creates the perfect atmosphere for both casual browsing and research.
This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with a former colleague, Anthony Elms, who recently joined the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia as Associate Curator. Anthony, more than anyone I know, is always looking, reading and listening, and is interested in a wide range of topics and genres. His first exhibition at the ICA will open February 1, 2013. The concept of the exhibition is still developing, but his thoughts begin with a quote from JG Ballard that has stayed with him for over ten years: “Fashion: A recognition that nature has endowed us with one skin too few, and that a fully sentient being should wear its nervous system externally.” The interest lies in fashion as much as it does in the pose—how does one reveal or project an idea of self into the world? Anthony’s approach is nuanced. He refers to a quote from Wayne Koestenbaum’s foreword for Roland Barthes’ The Lover’s Discourse: “Banish the message. Preserve the exaltation that surrounds it. Investigate the perfume that the message leaves behind.” Anthony describes his thoughts around the quote as follows:
That is a quality I keep coming back to. You might have a message, you might have a thought, but what is the perfume in the air with what you do? I am looking at artwork that is really good at capturing the perfume around however you’ve posed yourself, so you can actually see the pose as opposed to where the pose might be coming from. It’s a slippery thought, but I think I am getting close.
The following is a list of texts that have been floating around Anthony’s head, “possibly in order of importance,” as he prepares for his upcoming show at the ICA:
Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (1920/1921)
Hilton Als, The Women (1996)
Merlin Carpenter, “Fashion is Fun: An interview with Stefano Pilati by Merlin Carpenter,” Texte zur Kunst Vol. 20 No. 78 (2010)
Diedrich Diederichsen, “Radicalism as Ego Ideal: Oedipus and Narcissus,” e-flux (2011)
Wayne Koestenbaum, “Foreword: In Defense of Nuance” from Roland Barthes’ The Lover’s Discourse (1978)
Kelly Huang: You mentioned to me previously that Proust’s The Guermantes Way is the most important of the texts provided. How has this text proved most influential?
Anthony Elms: Probably two-thirds of that book is made up of gossipy dinner conversation—complaining about who’s not at the table, or who could be at the table, or even the people who are at the table or dismissing people for how they are dressed at the table. I was stunned at how much can happen in just those quick glances that we discard. And I can’t think of a better way that that happens than in fashion. I can’t think of a better way that that happens than in clothing. In the Proust, there is a brief little description when the narrator says,
Ahead of me there was simply a gentleman in evening dress walking away from me; but around him, as if I were playing with a clumsy reflector which I was unable to focus accurately upon him, I projected the idea that he was the Prince de Saxe on his way to join the Duchesse de Guermantes. And although he was alone, this idea, external to him, impalpable, immense, and as unsteady as a searchlight, seemed to go before him as a guide, like the deity who stands beside Greek warriors in battle but is invisible to others.
This month, I had the pleasure of speaking with San Francisco-based artist Mauricio Ancalmo. It is difficult to label Mauricio’s practice, as his work includes sculptural installations, performance, video and works on paper. The concept that Mauricio’s works all seem to speak to is the relationship between humans and machines. His work A Lover’s Discourse is currently featured in the SFMOMA 2010 SECA Art Award exhibition, and he has a solo show at Eli Ridgway Gallery in San Francisco. His work, Dualing Pianos: Agapé Agape in D Minor was featured prominently at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts triennial, Bay Area Now 6 in 2011.
The centerpiece at Eli Ridgway Gallery is a sculptural installation, Monolithoscope, which consists of a 16mm film projector, a turntable and record, stereo amplifiers and speakers, a bio chart reader, and black film leader that runs through these connected devices. On the projected film, one can see a series of moving white lines that are created by the needle of the bio chart reader as it interprets the sound vibrations. From the scratched film, Mauricio created a series of silver gelatin prints.
Descriptions and videos of Mauricio’s work can be found on the Eli Ridgway Gallery website.
A voracious reader and an academic, Mauricio’s practice is heavily informed by texts of all kinds, from magazine articles to philosophy to textbooks. The following is a list of books that Mauricio Ancalmo has found particularly influential and thought-provoking:
Henri Bergson, Laughter, trans. Cloudesley Brereton (1913)
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (1988)
Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. & trans. Hoare/Smith (1971)
John Boslough, Masters of Time (1992)
Ritter/Kochel/Miller, Process Geomorphology (1978)
In the spirit of year-end lists, I have compiled a short list of my favorite literary-related things from this year. As you will see, the list spans from books, to magazine articles, to events that give one great access to literary dialogue. For me, this year has been a great year of reading. I am not attempting to list out all the texts that I have read this year, but thought I would point out two that I was introduced to through this column. Each artist or curator that I have interviewed has been vastly different in their interests, leading to unique reading lists that cover a wide range of subjects. Reading through each artist or curator’s list always feels a bit too ambitious, but it is always more than worthwhile at the end. I hope you have enjoyed reading some of the titles presented through this column over the past six months!
1. Kadist Art Foundation San Francisco-hosted launch of Fillip Issue No. 15, October 12, 2011
Instead of a traditional issue launch party, the editors and writers who did a residency in San Francisco decided to host a quiz night—writers vs. writers. When presented with a (sometimes random) image, the teams would buzz in to give their “answer”—some explanation of how the image related back to one of the essays in Fillip Issue No. 15. None of the brilliant contributors took themselves too seriously, so it was an evening filled with laughs, which was unexpected, given the titles of some of the essays (examples: Curating in the time of Algorithms or Apparatus, Capture, Trace).
2. The photography of Juliette Tang at www.juliettetang.com
Juliette is an old friend of mine from high school. She has always been fiercely smart and a beautiful person. We reunited in San Francisco this year and she has been behind the photos that appear within my column here. She has an obsession with all things literary, and she has a knack for taking photos of books with a unique style that suggest the romanticism of reading the classics, walking through dusty library stacks, or curling up with a book in bed.
3. “Theoretically Speaking,” Critchley, Simon; Power, Nina; and Vermeulen, Timotheus; Frieze Magazine, September 2011
This is a first-person history of philosophical movements from the 1990s through today in relation to art, with each author taking on a decade. This serves as a summary of the major philosophical movements.
4. Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means (2003) by William T. Vollmann
This book appeared on Geof Oppenheimer’s reading list, and I am grateful because it was my first time reading a text by William T. Vollmann. Although Vollmann’s approach to research and writing is less than conventional (at least in the contemporary moment), I found it to be absolutely engaging. Vollmann seems to evaluate his subjects through both a historical and anthropological lens.
This memoir appeared on Jens Hoffmann’s reading list for the Istanbul Biennial. It served as my introduction to Pamuk’s writing, and I have been hooked ever since. This memoir reads more like a great novel and Pamuk paints the city of Istanbul in a melancholy light.
Nancy Holt, perhaps best known for her Sun Tunnels installed the Utah desert, is currently the subject of a traveling exhibition, Nancy Holt: Sightlines, curated by Alena Williams. The exhibition originated at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, and then traveled to Badischer Kunstverein in Karlsruhe, Germany. It is currently on view at the Graham Foundation in Chicago through December 17. The show will then continue on to Tufts University, Santa Fe Arts Institute, and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City. Accompanying the exhibition is the publication, Nancy Holt: Sightlines, which serves as a retrospective on Holt’s 45-year career.
This month, I spoke to Alena Williams about her curatorial process and, of course, the texts that influenced her the most in conceptualizing this exhibition. Williams was familiar with Holt’s earthworks, but became intrigued with learning more about the artist when she came across her video work in the archives of Video Data Bank and Electronic Arts Intermix in 2004. In thinking about ways to present Holt’s career, Williams kept returning to film, video and works on paper. In many ways, Williams’s approach is a study of the archive—what comprises an archive, what is needed to tell a story, what emerges through the process of uncovering material?
The following is Alena Williams’s reading list for Nancy Holt: Sightlines:
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space [La Poétique de l'Espace] (1958)
Mikhail Bakhtin, Discourse in the Novel (1935)
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Conceptual Art 1962–1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions (1990)
Eugen Gomringer, From Line to Constellation [vom vers zur konstellation] (1954)
Nancy Holt, Hometown (1969)
Nancy Holt, Ransacked (1980)
Lucy Lippard, c. 7,500 (1973)
Ann Reynolds, Robert Smithson: Learning From New Jersey and Elsewhere (2003)
Kelly Huang: What led you to the texts you listed above? Which were you familiar with prior to organizing the exhibition, and which were you led to through the process of looking at Nancy Holt’s practice?
Alena Williams: There are a handful of these that I was already aware of before the show started—Michel Bakhtin’s writings on the dialogic imagination, Benjamin Buchloh’s analysis of authorship in conceptual art, Ann Reynolds’ monograph on Robert Smithson—and then as I started working on this exhibition, these other things began sifting in. Of course, Nancy Holt’s artist’s book, Ransacked, I also knew before the exhibition. My relationship with those texts changed as I worked on the exhibition because I started to see things relevant for her work that I would not have otherwise assumed.
Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven is an artist based in Antwerp, Belgium. Her work is currently being featured in a solo exhibition, In a Saturnian World, at the Renaissance Society (on view through December 18). The exhibition includes an interactive animation along with numerous works on paper and digitally-produced prints. Her mixed media works often include images from vintage soft pornography magazines along with excerpts of text and bright, bold planes of color. Her works point to the contemporary issues around technology and sexuality while sourcing material from the past.
In viewing van Kerckhoven’s works, it is clear that texts play a significant role in their conceptualization, as well as have a presence in the final object; however, these texts are not often the same. When I ask van Kerckhoven about her process and how texts play into her thinking, she tells me about how strongly the written word has influenced her from the time she was a young child listening to her grandmother’s fairy tales. Her continuing interest in linguistics began when a young, male ingénue, Luc Steels, began telling her about his research while she was a student herself, and the interest is stirred each time she travels to a new place. She tells me that her first exposure to a naked human body was through viewing an image from a concentration camp, spurring her to read the works of the Marquis de Sade. Here, van Kerckhoven tells me of how she began making objects:
In 1976, I was studying texts and was working in a Plexiglas factory. I started writing all these things on plexi sheets and gave them to young scientists I knew as presents. The first shows that I did were in bookshops, because I could not make exhibitions in other places. In those times, it was absolutely not done that you could exhibit just text on the walls as art. The first show I ever did with these works was in Amsterdam in a bookstore run by an American woman. It was in the back of the bookshop, which only sold Fluxus free-press. You have to see my work from that perspective–Fluxus free-press, mail-art. That is really my origin and why texts at all levels have such an importance for me.
Trevor Paglen is an artist, researcher, and writer based in New York and San Francisco. His art practice centers around making what is typically invisible visible—specifically, covert military and intelligence operations in the United States. Paglen travels to remote desert sites to capture reconnoissance satellites in the night sky or hidden military installations. As a result, Paglen’s photographs are aesthetic explorations of his interest in “black sites”—attempts to grasp the abstract questions that these sites pose about the socio-political moment.
Paglen’s visual work has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Tate Modern, London; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams; the Istanbul Biennial 2009, and numerous other solo and group exhibitions. Most recently, he was featured in a solo exhibition at the Vienna Secession in 2011.
The following is Trevor Paglen’s reading list, along with his commentary.
Dan Falk, In Search of Time (2008)
I picked this up at a bookstore in Reno and read it during long exposures shooting dead spacecraft in night skies over the Eastern Sierra.
Graham Harman, Towards Speculative Realism (2010) and Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude (2008)
It seems like all the kids these days are into the speculative realism thing so I am trying to catch up.
George Lakoff and Rafael Núñez, Where Mathematics Comes From (2000)
I have been reading this for about a year. It has taken me that long to start understanding their argument. I was always terrible at math and had to learn a lot about calculus and set theory to even begin understanding this book. Fortunately, Rafael Núñez is a great guy who is best friends with Teddy Cruz and has become my personal math tutor over Skype and on a recent visit to his lab at UCSD. I love my job.
Kevin Mitnick, Ghost in the Wires (2011)
This is a fun book I read on an airplane last month. It is really interesting to see the depth of Mitnick’s understanding of telecommunication infrastructures.
Carl Sagan, et. al., Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record (1978)
The book for the Voyager “golden records”—something like “The Family of Man” meets ET.
Paglen and I spoke over the phone on September 24, 2011 to discuss his reading list and process.
Kelly Huang: It is evident that you have a research-based practice, as your photographs often reveal drones, satellite, and other “secret” military and intelligence operations. Can you share with me your artistic process? Specifically, where do some of these texts fit into your process?
Trevor Paglen: It’s different from project to project. One project always leads to another, for the most part. For example, the CIA creates various infrastructures, and I wanted to understand what those kinds of landscapes look like and how they were put together. Over the course of doing that, I got really interested in how aviation infrastructures work. As a result, I ended up talking to hobbyists who track airplanes. As a part of doing that work, I realized there is another hobby that even fewer people did that was tracking satellites and different types of spy satellites. I kind of put that in the back of my mind and later came back to it and learned how that worked.