This weekend I will be back with friends and colleagues at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) to facilitate a teacher workshop about working with Art21 education materials and teaching with El Anatsui’s gorgeous exhibition, When I Last Wrote To You About Africa. This being Art21’s second visit to UMMA, I am looking forward to once again working with Pam Reister, Jann Wesolek, and all of the participants joining us this weekend.
El Anastui, one of my favorite artists from Season 6, is in some ways an educator’s dream. His sculptures and installations reference history, culture and memory while simultaneously exploring the possibilities of found materials and different processes for making art. And while Anatsui is best known for his stunning, draped metal sculptures, there is more to the work with than meets the eye… and that’s quite a bit to begin with.
For example, if we step back four decades ago to Anatsui’s initial work in Ghana, the artist began using materials from his immediate surroundings—carving into wooden trays much like those sold in markets to display fruit and vegetables—and then creating works with adinkra-like symbols prominently featured. As Olu Oguibe describes in the magnificent catalogue that accompanies the show, Anastui has been guided by the following principles since this early work:
- Pay close attention to location and environment
- Learn whatever you can from local practitioners
- Use found objects and materials from your surroundings, especially your immediate surroundings
- Let the medium and materials suggest, even dictate, the form
- Acknowledge the potential for art to serve as a metaphor or visual allegory
Anatsui’s ceramic sculpture from 1978, Omen, explores how brokenness can somehow inspire new life and healing. From the small burst of an opening to the coating of manganese that speckles the surface formed from damaged ceramic pieces, Anatsui’s work can represent ideas about fragility and even political instability in Africa.
CERN, an exhibit of Jeremy Bolen’s documentary photographs, is on display at Andrew Rafacz Gallery until March 30. Here, Bolen presents a series of work that measures phenomena invisible to the human eye. Bolen has made a habit of such investigations. With a solid background in American landscape and survey photography, he has gone on to make the environment itself a lens for exposure, exposing film to bioluminescent plankton underwater by using the lake as a camera lens. He has buried film underground in order to capture traces of buried radioactivity on photographic paper, and exposed film in radioactive rivers.
In this latest series, Bolen spent a week at CERN, the site of the only Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the world, leaving film in different parts of the laboratory and surrounding landscape to measure the effects of particle acceleration. Bolen’s resulting photographs vary. In some cases we are givin only the ambient, abstract trace of invisible phenomena. In other instances, Bolen inserts a traditional landscape portrait—like a caption—into his ambient fields as a way of presenting another kind of image that explains where the film was exposed. In still other instances, the relationship is inverted: the traditional landscape image of Geneva’s pictueresque environment frames a black square in which we see a slight trace of color: a portrait of anti-matter. Although these images read like abstractions, they are entirely literal. One might even suggest that Bolen is trying to exhaust every mode of site documentation, incorporating different angles of the same location into one frame, while adding site specific materials. At CERN, 600 million collisions occur each second. These collisions are attempted reenactments of the Big Bang. Bolen is working to document the otherwise invisible effects of that staged, scientific reproduction.
Caroline Picard: The photographs in your recent exhibition were taken on site at CERN. I was wondering if you could talk about your residency there and how you spent your time. Was it easy working with scientists?
Jeremy Bolen: I guess it was sort of a residency, but certainly not an official one. Access to places like CERN is extremely complicated, and I am still somewhat shocked that it worked out so well. I stayed in what are essentially the CERN dorms and really felt out of place. Most days I had meetings with physicists and was taken around to control rooms, accelerators, data storage areas and what not. I rented a bike in Geneva (which must be the most expensive place in the world) to explore the massive CERN complex and the areas around France and Switzerland above the Large Hadron Collider, and Lake Geneva, exploring ways to document these areas where multiple realities are always in play.
At night I would take whatever scientists I could wrangle out for drinks and argue about ideas of absolutes, black holes, and time travel. Sometimes they made diagrams with butter packets and salt shakers like in the movies. The scientists that were willing to work with me were amazing.
Among the most complex of artworks that cultural institutions are asked to preserve today are those based on digital technologies and generally referred to as “time-based.” For a formal definition, I prefer the one developed by the Tate that summarizes time-based media as ”works of art which depend on technology and have duration as a dimension.”
Over the years on this column, I’ve had and shared conversations about approaches to caring for time-based art, including interviews with Jeffrey Martin, Glenn Wharton, and Hugh Shockey, art conservators at major institutions. Though those discussions have provided a good framework, what I’ve really wanted to do is create a discussion around digital art that involves, at once, an artist, a conservator, a curator, and a technologist, so that folks might better understand the complexities associated with caring for this kind of artwork.
Late last year, at the annual meeting of the Museum Computer Network (MCN), I was finally able to pull together this kind of discussion. The panel turned out better than I imagined and I’m thrilled to share it here on Art21′s Blog:
In addition to myself, the lineup included:
- Anne Collins Goodyear, Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Portrait Gallery. She is also president of the College Art Association. In May, she will join her husband, Frank Goodyear, as co-director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
- Penelope Umbrico, an artist and photographer whose practice often involves interactions with digital media from the Internet.
- Koven Smith, Director of Technology at the Denver Art Museum. He is also on the program committee for MCN and a member of the steering committee of the ConservationSpace project.
- Jeffrey Martin, time-based art conservator and moving image archivist, helped develop the panel. He was scheduled to participate but had to cancel due to unforeseen circumstances.
When Stacia Yeapanis finished graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006, she did what many MFA grads do: moved her studio into her home. But soon thereafter Yeapanis found herself overwhelmed by an inability to separate her art practice from other areas of her life. Instead of fretting about it, she applied for the Chicago Artist Coalition’s first ever BOLT Residency, a program begun in 2011 to help local artists make solid, professional inroads in their practice.*
Yeapanis explores the emotional and existential experience of repetition in our daily lives. For instance, in her project My Life as a Sim (2005–2007), she mused on the idea of “winning” in a virtual reality that positioned life as a game. And in her series Everybody Hurts (2004–ongoing), she captures moments of heightened emotion in television shows, meticulously, obsessively, and meditatively creating cross stitches of them until what was fleeting becomes embroidered in time. She confronts and then transforms these moments in mass media into something nearly spiritual. Embracing emptiness in mediated culture, Yeapanis’s work transcends humdrum acts to create meaningful experiences out of what are otherwise empty signifiers.
Before starting the BOLT Residency, Yeapanis departed from video and cross stitching, transitioning into collage, though retaining the thread of remix culture already observable in her practice. In the following interview, Yeapanis and I discuss the process of applying for BOLT, how it changed her work, and why it’s essential for artists to do residencies both locally and nationally.
Alicia Eler: You participated in the BOLT Residency during its first year—what was that like?
Stacia Yeapanis: The program consists of a communal studio space in the basement of the Chicago Artists’ Coalition (there are nine studios) and offers studio visits with Chicago arts professionals, like curators, writers, other artists, and teachers. Although it doesn’t start immediately, you are getting to meet with these people at least once a month, maybe more, so you have at least twelve studio visits. Everyone gets a solo exhibition in the BOLT project space upstairs, so you’re preparing for that throughout the year.
Over the past four years there have been many success stories from a what-still-feels-like-new Art21 Educators program. And while the experiences within and beyond Art21 Educators vary wildly from teacher to teacher, many of the educators we have worked with- in a range of disciplines and not just art- have provided us with specific comments and reflective narratives that often make smiles touch the back of our heads.
As we continue to accept applications over the next month for Year 5 of Art21 Educators (applications are due March 17, before you celebrate St. Patty’s, hopefully) I would love to share a few quotes this week from some of the final reflections, case studies and program evaluations we have received during the first four years, in order to give you a firsthand account of what some teachers have experienced participating in the program with us.
Given the interdisciplinary focus of the educators program, I hoped to learn ways to meaningfully engage students in interdisciplinary content, where art and academic subjects intertwine and elevate each other. Contemporary art, which is by nature pluralistic, self-reflective and multi-faceted, is the perfect lens through which to view interdisciplinary content. I expected to learn strategies for making this happen, but what I didn’t expect was the depth of analysis and reflection that the collaborative atmosphere of the Art21 Educators Program afforded. We workshopped ideas, discussed countless contemporary artist examples (Art21 and otherwise), and talked about our work formally, informally and in video reflections. The program modeled the kind of working relationship I hoped to establish with my students, and I learned as much from the ways we talked about our ideas, as I did the ideas themselves. —Jack Watson, Art and Art History teacher at Chapel Hill High School, Durham, NC
I have reflected on my teaching practice more intensely than ever before. I have a totally different viewpoint on what it means to be an art teacher than I had prior to Art21 Educators. I have learned a lot about technology and how to use it in meaningful ways – not just some “gimmicky” art project, but how to truly integrate it into my teaching practice. I’ve also gained new resources (and friends!) where I can now turn to ask questions or get feedback. —Anna Dean, Grades 5-8 Art teacher at Sterling School/ Charles Townes Center, Simpsonville, SC
When the film Kids, about NYC’s skateboard culture, came out the summer of 1995, I was 20. I found it incredibly hard to watch—too familiar and yet an alien viewing experience. No one had seen anything like what Larry Clark was doing with our generation on screen—the drugs, and unprotected sex, that New York preternatural streetwise hustle mixed with alarming stupidness—it was intense and disturbing. Seventeen years went by. Then, last week, I re-watched it. It’s a remarkable film—how it reflected a range of generational reactions and experiences, how accurately it took the temperature of the moment. It made me hungry to see the ’90s again: the expressions we used, the parties at N.A.S.A., the fleets of skateboarders, the sound of them scraping decks and grinding cement curbs. The film is how I remember the city itself to look, saturated in primary colors. To know that this New York once existed, to have lived through it, feels powerfully sad and strange. Even with the appropriate twenty-year distance, that time is still amorphous, emotionally complicated, hard to pin down. Still overwhelming in a sensory way—the indie music, and the skate t-shirts, those short haircuts we had.
What seemed like the entirety of early ’90s culture to me was perhaps just one small, influential subset. The New Museum’s five-floor retrospective of one year in New York, NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, opened last Wednesday, and it’s just as richly compelling, cohesive, and yet evasive an experience.
The fourth floor is arranged to deliver a sensory hit, or perhaps provoke the memory of one. Rudolf Stingel’s lush orange carpet, in a particularly reminiscent shade, is set off by a string of light bulbs suspended from the ceiling, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Couple) (1993). The two artists would begin collaborating that year. Into the darkened room, Kristin Oppenheim wistfully intones Sail on Sailor in the haunting vocal lineage of Portishead and Mazzy Star. Related, high up on the wall in the alcove, is a piece by Robert Gober, whose work never fails to be enchantingly strange—Prison Window (1992) is a small barred window, behind which sits a beguiling, beautiful little piece of sky.
The first ever Los Angeles Art Book Fair, presented by Printed Matter, Inc. at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary space, from January 31 though February 3, was an unexpected raging success. “Completely overwhelming” was the most commonly heard descriptor when talking about the high-energy fair, which featured over 200 exhibitors from all over the world, showcasing a broad range of zines, artists’ books, journals, periodicals, catalogues, monographs and various other projects, exhibits and artifacts to an enthusiastic crowd that totaled over 15,000 by fair’s end.
It was amazing and heartening to me that a museum filled with publications could be the impetus, in this day of digital overload and rampant cultural illiteracy, to what felt like the hottest party of the year. The fair was consistently packed, with a lively and diverse crowd that included art connoisseurs, zine hounds of every stripe, and culture lovers in general. Even with the Geffen’s abundance of space, it was often difficult to maneuver, and at some of the more popular tables, I had to wait my turn before I could even see the offerings. Numerous celebrities—including James Franco, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Lena Dunham—were spotted in the crowds, happily shopping along with everyone else.
I could have easily camped out there all weekend, immersing myself not only in the endless collections of cool books, but also the many talks, panels, readings, screenings and performances; the tea/yoga/knitting/reading lounge hosted by Sundown Schoolhouse; and the live, interactive KCHUNG Radio broadcasts. As it was, my schedule only permitted me to attend the intensely social opening night and after-party (the latter of which was held at the new 356 Mission space, home to a suite of large paintings by Laura Owens as well as the just-opened Ooga Booga 2 bookstore), and the last few hours of the fair, which I spent diligently going through as many booths as I could. Like many people, I spent too much money, but I was blissfully happy with my findings.
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.
“I come from a place where you have a lot of sky. The sky starts from almost ground level and goes up. But over here you have to really look up to realize that there is eventually sky somewhere. That’s almost the experience of most people who live in open country and they come to New York—sky is not a common commodity.”
In today’s Exclusive episode, Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui discusses his large-scale sculpture Broken Bridge II (2012) and the importance of its location on an east-facing wall above the High Line, a relatively new park located on once-abandoned, elevated railroad tracks on Manhattan’s west side. By incorporating mirrors into Broken Bridge II, a new material for the artist, Anatsui is able to reflect and point out characteristics of New York that he considers iconic.
Having now produced three Exclusive videos featuring Anatsui, in addition to his Art in the Twenty-First Century segment, Art21 has thoroughly documented his exhibitions and evolving studio practice. In my opinion, we have been able to cover his work so comprehensively because Anatsui himself is very engaged with and curious about the process of documentary filmmaking.
When Art21 was unable to visit the artist’s studio in Nsukka, Nigeria, due to high travel costs, he took it upon himself to purchase a video camera and ask a friend to film him and his assistants at work. Anatsui consulted with our director of production, Nick Ravich, on what camera to purchase, and stayed in touch with our executive producer, Susan Sollins, about the best footage to capture. Although we have worked closely with all 100 artists featured in Art in the Twenty-First Century, having Anatsui this involved with the production process meant reconsidering the distinctions between filmmaker and subject while still being able to take our audience behind-the-scenes.
Anatsui’s interest in filmmaking is, perhaps, because cameras are already such an integral part of his creative process. He explains in an earlier Exclusive episode: ”For days, I can keep shifting [bottle caps] around, taking photographs of them, and putting them in the computer…I need to have a large bank of images, effects, textures that I can always refer to. They can trigger off new ideas.”
Christopher Meerdo Experiences the Icelandic Landscape Through the Body of a Decomposing Sperm Whale
Christopher Meerdo’s deep interest in Icelandic culture and geography led him to apply for the three-month SIM International Artist Residency in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was based from February to April 2012. Now back in Chicago, Meerdo says the residency has changed his practice, jolting him out of the fast pace of his MFA program, and back into the natural landscape and rhythms of art making. “Iceland had such a natural draw for my practice, both ideologically and aesthetically speaking,” says Meerdo. “During my stay, I visited places, from the columnar basalt formations of the black sand beaches at Reynisfjara to Verne Global’s state-of-the-art carbon neutral data center housed in the post-military outpost at Keflavik.”
Before Meerdo left for Iceland, he was working on a project based on Wikileaks data—a perfect tie-in to Iceland, where individuals involved with Wikileaks were working to make the country an international, legal safe haven for corporate and governmental whistle-blowers. Meerdo was already researching the topic and making work about it before setting up his studio in Iceland.
In Cipher (2011) he utilizes data from a 1.5 GB file that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange released mid-2010, via website, to just a few people. Assange declared the site a “thermo-nuclear device” that would detonate and release the file’s passwords, if anything happened to him or the Wikileaks organization. The contents of the document are still unknown. Meerdo visualizes the file through a script, translating the raw binary data into pure black-and-white pixels, and then prints it onto one 350-inch-wide sheet of paper. This project was followed up by Meerdo’s multi-part piece Chinga La Migra (Fuck The Border Patrol) (2011), images based on data visualization of classified documents from the Arizona Border Patrol, supplied by an unnamed hacktivist group. Meerdo converted each file into a RGB visualization based on, again, its binary data. Through these images (available on the artist’s Tumblr blog chinga-la-migra.tumblr.com), Meerdo questions notions of illicit data.
These projects, and the culmination of grad school too, were at the forefront of Meerdo’s mind as he traveled to Iceland. But the ideas he brought with him were gone almost as soon as he set foot on this surreal island country. “Going abroad after completing my MFA was a really good move—like hitting some kind of reset button on my thought processes and creative outlook,” says Meerdo. “Being in the Icelandic landscape gave me a renewed sense of self, space and materiality.”