Next month, Brooklyn-based Aisha Cousins begins her four-month tenure as one of three Artists-in-Residence for the non-profit organization The Laundromat Project. As part of the initiative’s Create Change Program, Cousins will temporarily transform a Brooklyn laundromat into a community art center. Marmy’s Laundromat, situated on the corner of Malcom X Boulevard and Putnam Avenue in Bed-Stuy, will continue as a fully-functioning laundromat, while doubling as the base for Cousin’s community-based practice. The residency will culminate with a site-specific, socially-minded work that will commemorate the life of the human rights activist Malcolm X.
Before next November, Cousins will draft and execute a “performance score”—an open-ended set of instructions for a live art project. Her next score, called Mapping Soulville, draws inspiration from the book Soul City, written by the American writer and critic Touré. The setting for this allegorical tale is an unknown town where black culture, especially music, is exalted. Cousins will likewise entreat Bed-Stuy residents to envision a neighborhood in which an icon is celebrated. Together, Cousins and the community will select new names for the streets that bisect Malcolm X Boulevard, having reflected on the events and significance of Malcolm X’s life. Cousins will then petition for the renaming of the streets, resulting in a peripatetic meditation and homage to the life of Malcolm Little.
A few weeks ago, artist Summer Wheat invited me to her studio near the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood to a spot where Brooklyn uncomfortably abuts Queens. From the over-sized industrial windows in Wheat’s studio, a sunset panorama of Manhattan was tinged magenta. The vibe inside Wheat’s studio was likewise colorful: bold, tactile paintings were scattered about the walls and the tables were littered with pre-mixed monochromatic palettes, Tupperware containers of muddy hues, soiled latex gloves, and cake decorator nibs filled with pungent oil paints. Wheat herself had worn subdued tones, tawny browns and earthy olives, layering abstract floral prints over opaque navy tights. We sat at a table that had been set for the occasion with a bottle of white wine and a spread of snacks. Over the next two hours, Wheat, nibbling and sipping occasionally, talked openly about her work and life.
A native of Oklahoma, Wheat blushed faintly as she recounted her “wholesome” childhood in the suburbs of Oklahoma City. She described her hometown’s mishmash of Native American mysticism and Western Americana as otherworldly, densely populated with “cowboy space gangsters.” Wheat was a different breed of alien, though she was not alone. There were other like-minded oddballs, including her grandparents, who decorated their home exclusively with green furniture and cruised the town in a canary yellow convertible. Exotic gifts from their travels around Asia aroused her curiosity about the world beyond the Midwestern state. From a young age Wheat was keen to leave.
At eighteen Wheat headed eastward to Georgia to embark on her studies as the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Wheat eventually finished her college degree several years later, in 2001, at the University of Central Oklahoma, spacing out her schooling to shuffle around this country and nine others for nearly a decade. All the while she stayed active by sketching and writing on the road.
In 2005, a 64-foot-tall billboard in Lower Manhattan showed a van driving down a mountain against a psychedelic sky. The display was a giant reproduction of the painting Tie-Dye in the Wilderness by artist Lisa Sanditz. The cosmic landscape, composed of real and synthetic elements, was a cuckoo complement to its urban environs in New York City, where, to my chagrin, tie-dye has fallen out of favor. Sanditz likes to travel, see faraway places, and then paint these places in far out ways. She holds an MFA from Pratt Institute and was a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow. Currently, she teaches at Bard College.
The following interview took place via email on March 7, 2013.
Jacquelyn Gleisner: In recent years, your work has evolved from imaginative landscapes, high on a hippie/new age sensibility, to more recent depictions of factories and cityscapes. Brilliantly colored tie-dye skies have cleared and murky interior/urban landscapes have become more prominent in your paintings. Can you describe what prompted this shift?
Lisa Sanditz: None of the paintings are strictly imaginative. They are often exaggerated, pushing either a formal or narrative element, generally of a place I have visited or seen. The tie-dye painting for example, was my way of updating the epic technicolor skies of Hudson River School paintings, like Frederick Church’s Twilight in the Wilderness with a more modern psychedelic trope. I painted this after seeing an informal roadside tie-dye sales tent.
So the motivations have stayed the same, but the places I have visited have varied. In the industrial areas I visited in China in 2007 and 2009, the skies were often filled with heavy smog, which I thought of as a polluted extension of the fog often used in Chinese court paintings. Though skies were at times dim in China, the colors there were often saturated as well, with a booming consumer economy and a dizzying array of lights, shops and economic optimism.
New Kids on the Block | Angela Dufresne: Self-Confessed Storyteller, Punk, Image Maker, and Feminist
As a student in junior high in the suburbs of Kansas City, artist Angela Dufresne wrote a short story in which the young Dufresne allowed a band of “dude bullies” to torture her in order to protect an intimate friend from a similar fate. The sense of urgency in this fictional and moralistic fantasy world still registers in Dufresne’s paintings. The landscapes are murky and the portraits brooding. With a deft hand, Dufresne melds the incongruous, for example, contemporary cinema courts French Baroque painting. Her wont is to revel in the muddle that results from the mash-up of disparate cultural clippings, which are most sincerely, if self-consciously, re-enacted. Dufresne, who lives and works in Brooklyn, is an Assistant Professor of Painting at the Rhode Island School of Design.
The following interview took place via email between January 31 and February 5, 2013.
Jacquelyn Gleisner: I read that you grew up in Kansas. Can you paint a picture for me of your childhood in the heartland?
Angela Dufresne: Just like all difficult situations, it was alienating and simultaneously the driving force behind much of what I do in a very positive way. Yesterday, I was listening to an old recording of James Baldwin. To paraphrase, he basically said by putting a group of people, Afro Americans, in a cultural jail, two things happen: the power group imprisons another group and the flip side of that relationship is that the power group instantly makes a prisoner of itself by having to service the prison and maintain the structure of the relationship. Some profit from the situation, but in general the whole thing is a great expense to the community and progress.
Let me compare my situation as a woman to Baldwin’s points regarding oppression; however, in my case, it was a sexual divide. I experienced restrictions in my own family while my brother had none. As a result, we both suffered from this preferential treatment. Our identities were fixed in traps at age four, basically, our life script on the table. In Kansas, I saw people being limited in their behavior and thinking on profound levels all around me. I recognized this at a very young age and was quite a morose, depressive child. I was realizing that the social structure was malicious, and also, that I was a budding lesbian. There was no space for either realization in Kansas in the 1980s or in my Catholic-light family, to be clear.
Though many things have changed, on both fronts, there had to be a moment where I reached the point of realizing that the society had nothing to offer me, and thus I had nothing to lose. Very empowering. That is Baldwin’s point: groups with nothing to gain have nothing to lose and that’s where unexpected forms of agency emerge. I learned that nothing I did mattered, so I could do anything I wanted.
This month, I didn’t even have to leave my block to interview “new kid” Nyssa Frank. She is owner of The Living Gallery, an alternative art space and community outreach venue located in Brooklyn. Frank, who hunkered down in Bushwick four years ago, has been working with local parents and teachers to cover cracks left by recent budget cuts to public schools in the neighborhood. The Living Gallery hosts a variety of regular events and classes, from drawing to drama to cooking. The Living Gallery will remain at its current location on Flushing Avenue until this coming April; Frank is currently searching for a new storefront in Bushwick.
Name: Nyssa means the goal and the beginning in Greek
Date of birth: December 15, 1984
Favorite color: Blue
Favorite band: Cum Blood
Favorite artist: Wassily Kandinsky
Last dream: ”Ummmm, something involving my kitten, I’m sure.”
Artist Pilvi Takala describes her practice, which includes performance, video and the related ephemera, as “intervention.” Takala, who was born in Helsinki and is now based in Istanbul, embeds perverse characters – often enacted by the artist – into otherwise ordinary scenarios and environments. The ensuing (in)actions strive to intervene and re-channel the invisible streams of social convention.
For example, in The Trainee (2008), exhibited in The Ungovernables, the New Museum’s Triennial show last spring, Takala played the part of an indolent intern named Johanna at the real-life international financial consulting firm Deloitte. While her co-workers enthusiastically went about their business, Johanna did nothing. At an empty desk, she wanly explained that she preferred to do her “brain work” in her head rather than on a computer.
One week later, the new intern spent an entire workday inside an elevator. To her bedevilled co-workers, Johanna compared the movement of the elevator to a train, a place conducive to deep thought. Understandably, employees dithered over the trainee’s behavior. Meanwhile their reactions were recorded and their email correspondence was collected as part of Takala’s month-long intervention, of which few people at the company were aware.
What lured me to Sean Joseph Patrick Carney’s work? Beer. Cheap beer, to be exact.
I spied a cooler of free PBR inside Printed Matter’s Chelsea store on Tenth Avenue after an evening of openings last April. Bombarded by flashy media, I gravitated to the most basic book I could spot in the store: a black and white, stapled pamphlet printed on cheap paper. The bold, sans seraph font of the title was in all caps. It was Walter Benjamin’s “Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), or rather, it was Sean Joseph Patrick Carney’s reproduction of that text, translated from English to American.
Critical theory such as Benjamin’s essay can be dense. Carney’s translations, I assure you, are anything but. Like Carney’s diverse practice, which includes a detailed narrative of a bad acid trip and a performance in which strangers were invited to wax his chest hair, his texts intend to amuse and arouse an audience.
Carney’s work might sometimes inform an audience, too. When I caught up with Sean last month at the MoMA PS1 Book Fair, an onlooker glanced at his newest book, “The Precession of Simulacra” (a translation of a chapter of Simulations and Simulacra written by Jean Baudrillard in 1981), and casually asked, “So if I read this, I will, like, understand this stuff?”
“Totally,” said Sean, without even a hint of sarcasm.
I can see it in your walk
Tell ’em when you talk
See it in everything you do
Even in your thoughts
You got the right stuff, baby
Love the way you turn me on
You got the right stuff, baby
You’re the reason why I sing this song
Boy Meets Girl
Paris, 1893. A boy sees a pretty girl on a train. Then he follows her to work. He is 26; she’s 24 but having recently run away from home, she lies about her age and name. “Marthe,” who claims to be 16, will only reveal her true name, Maria Boursin, to her husband, painter Pierre Bonnard, after the couple is eventually married in 1925.
Boy Meets Boys
About a century later, music producer Maurice Starr and his business partner Mary Alford discover the rapping and dancing teenage sensation Donnie Wahlberg in Boston. Donning his signature black bandana and baggy pants, this 15 year-old boy helps select the other guys – namely, Jordan and Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, and Danny Wood – who would jointly comprise the American boy band, New Kids on the Block.
Girl Meets Boys and Girls
Maybe Bonnard was a creep. Or maybe, to quote NKOTB, Marthe had “the right stuff.” My new column, its title an homage to the New Kids on the Block, is about the right stuff.
To be frank, I don’t know what the right stuff is. I have been studying and making art for over a decade. Yet the longer I work, the more I question what good art is. The mission of this column is to figure that out by talking to people who are making (or trying to make) good work.
Focusing on artists – both new and those who have been around the proverbial block – I will work each month to portray a personal account of a professional artist. I am especially (but not exclusively) interested in artists who have generated some kind of buzz. I will interview and write about artists in the now and in the know to amass a variety of intimate depictions of successful – sometimes burgeoning — contemporary artists.
I am very interested to hear your suggestions! Please feel free to send me your recommendations on artists you think have “the right stuff.”
Illustrations by Patrick Gantert, www.patrickgantert.com.
The Art21 Blog is pleased to announce the launch of a new column — New Kids on the Block, written by longtime Art21 contributor Jacquelyn Gleisner.
New Kids on the Block is the third Art21 column to which Jacquelyn Gleisner has contributed–previous to this, she wrote for Open Enrollment and co-founded Praxis Makes Perfect with Jeffrey Songco. Her new column will feature interviews with up-and-coming artists who work in different media and cover a range of social and political interests. It will offer a firsthand examination of the work and experiences of contemporary artists with a focus on the fresh and fledgling.
Jacquelyn Gleisner is a visual artist and writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a BFA in studio art from Boston University and an MFA in painting from Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has also studied at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, Italy and at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland as a Fulbright scholar. A regular contributor for the Art21 blog since 2011, Gleisner has been published in print as well as a handful of online publications, including the United States Embassy of Finland’s blog, Beat of America and Wow/Huh. She has exhibited her work in the United States and Europe.
New Kids on the Block posts on the second Monday of each month. You can learn more about Jacquelyn and her work by visiting www.jacquelyngleisner.com.