Ha Za Vu Zu is an artist collective, comprised of seven members, which has been working together since 2005. While the group’s practice ranges from installations to videos to all manner of objects—books, flags, banners, mutated disco balls, assorted ephemera—in my view, Ha Za Vu Zu’s particular specialty is performances that play on the thin boundary between performer and audience. Many of their projects, such as “Cut the Flow,” “Crying Performance,” and their performances as a musical ensemble, utilize seemingly simple tools and techniques that almost any audience member could also use, so that viewers can enter and participate in the performance. For example, in “Crying Performance,” the group provides stimulus for tears—onions, lemons, sad, sappy music—and invites audience members to join them in a group cry. In “Cut the Flow,” the group walks down a street arm-in-arm with members of the public, temporarily cutting off the flow of traffic. And when the group performs together as a musical ensemble, they bring their own songs or fragments of songs, but after an hour or so of performing they vacate the stage and turn their instruments over to the audience. For the rest of the performance (which in my experience lasts much longer than the initial ‘set’), the group members move back and forth between audience and stage, chatting with friends and relaxing for a while before returning to the stage to jam with whomever is playing. By instigating the spontaneous formation of new modes of collective action and experience, such performances offer audience members the opportunity to imagine new social orders, new roles for themselves, and alternative modes of political engagement.
The heat and humidity of New York City summers make walking into a cool gallery all the sweeter. When you’re ready to come inside, here are six local exhibits on which to feast your eyes:
Our Haus @ Austrian Cultural Forum
On view through August 26
Rainer Prohaska’s latest culinary project Cuisine à tous les étages (Kitchen on every floor) winds from the top to the bottom of this multi-floor group exhibition. A series of cooking stations, set up between each flight of stairs, provide food items, a cutting board, cooking utensils and instructions. At the opening reception, Prohaska led guests through the preparation of vegan beef tartare. An empty dinner table remains in the basement as a remnant of the communal dinner and continues to encourage conviviality. Visitors can make use of the table when partaking of Mathias Kessler’s interactive beverage installation Das Eismeer. Die gescheiterte Hoffnung (2012). Kessler invites visitors to remove and enjoy a cold Budweiser from a small refrigerator, and in so doing help him to create another object. The repeated opening and closing of the door adds layers of ice to a small sculpture behind the freezer flap–a replica of Caspar David Friedrich’s icy landscape of the same title. Curated by former Eyebeam director Amanda McDonald Crowley, Our Haus commemorates the ten-year anniversary of the building and the Forum’s ongoing efforts to be a space for cross-cultural exchange. Crowley writes, “With a kitchen in place, we will surely celebrate with food, as many of the finest conversations begin over good food.”
Made in L.A., the Hammer Museum’s innaugural biennial of Los Angeles art, features work from 60 artists working in the city. Artist Vishal Jugdeo’s installation, Goods Carrier, pairs mechanical, TV set-like sculptures with an emotionally fraught 20-minute video set and shot in Mumbai, India. We spoke about transplanting his Los Angeles-centric art practice to a new, charged place, and the themes–new and old–that emerged as a result.
Lily Simonson: As with much of your work, the five characters in Goods Carrier enact a sort of nonlinear dialogue that evokes the domestic tension of familial or romantic relationships. Often, your dialogue seems to represent complex interpersonal dynamics while operating as a metaphor for global and political issues. Were you thinking about this consciously when writing Goods Carrier?
Vishal Jugdeo: When I’m writing the scripts for my videos, I think what I’m doing is experimenting with dialogic language rather than properly writing dialogue. I try to have the actors act things out in a realistic way, so that they’re transmitting real emotional states and putting themselves into tense exchanges with one another. At the same time, the words that they are saying is often, as you say, operating in a metaphorical or symbolic way. I’m interested in how the language itself breaks away from what is being acted out, and the words then take on a meaning of their own, unhinged from the drama that’s unfolding, but juxtaposed against it.
LS: I am specifically riveted by the way your work addresses arguing, and its surrounding awkwardness. At the same time, sweetness pervades. Do you see the conflict in your videos as being about increasing distance, or about resolving dissonance and becoming closer?
VJ: That’s a really interesting question. In my work I always see conflicts as intense acts of love. The characters never hate each other, they’re simply frustrated. And the words they are saying to one another often come from a place of deep fear, but also from a place of deep familiarity and intimacy. I’ve always thought of the works as “power plays” in a sense, and I think both words – power and play are key to understanding what I’m doing. It’s almost like practicing S&M through language alone or something, testing out what it is to say violent things, and to have violent things said to you. I hope that the charge that is transmitted to the viewer does have a kind of sweetness or warmth, which is why I use a lot of humor. I don’t want for someone to walk away feeling alienated, I want for them to feel an intense connection and even closeness to the work, even if that connection is uncomfortable or disconcerting.
July marks the one year anniversary of “Gimme Shelter: Performance Now.” When I started writing it, I was preparing to move from Chicago to New York, thinking about performance as a genre at the intersection of studio art and “the performing arts.” I arrived at my particular perspective as an artist working somewhere between dance, theater, fine art, video, and literature, whatever a post-studio discipline might look like. I sought to discuss and critique current work that goes beyond easy categorization, but where the central experience of the work is live, real time, and relies on the presence of the performer and audience.
Once in New York, I hit the ground running with both Prelude 11, CUNY’s performance festival, and Performa 11, that beast of a performance biennial. As if these marathon events weren’t consuming enough, I then attended P.S. 122′s COIL Festival, the American Realness Festival, The Whitney Biennial, and proceeded to co-curate the Movement Research Festival Spring 2012. Throw in performances at P.S.1, The Kitchen, BAM, Danspace Project, and The Chocolate Factory, and I can safely say that it has been an eye-opening year of performance, especially here on “Gimme Shelter.”
Buried at the bottom of Danielle Adair’s online selection of performances and works is a video titled Oh—Say Can You See (2003), which was done as a response to President Bush’s controversial “Mission Accomplished” banner and speech during the Iraq War. In it, the artist walks into a nondescript industrial setting with a stack of handwritten placards, each one containing a prepositional phrase from our country’s national anthem, such as “by the” and “what so.” In imitation of Bob Dylan’s well-known video for the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Adair proceeds to peel away the placards one by one. There is no music in the video, just the whistle of wind as Adair throws the cards to the ground while puffing on a cigarette. Two random passersby exit the door behind her before the video is over.
Adair laughs at the video now and says it’s on her website for comic effect. It is one of the works that got her into the graduate fine arts program at Cal Arts in 2005, and as such, it serves as a significant marker on what some would see as an unconventional career path. As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, Adair was majoring in Comparative Human Development, a unique interdisciplinary concentration that looks at multiple facets of human social life, before she stumbled upon a class in early video art, taught by artist Helen Mirra. The possibilities opened up by that class inspired her to complete a second major in Visual Arts, and to this day, Adair thinks of video as “the forum through which I think.”
This year, to begin the fourth annual Art21 Educators Institute, we will start our nine days with Oliver Herring and TASK at Luhring Augustine Gallery in Brooklyn. Each of our sixteen teachers, as well as Jessica, Flossie and myself participate in this free-form installation that takes place over hours, all the while using the interaction as our unofficial introduction to one another.
For those of you familiar with TASK, especially those who have had the experience to participate in large TASK events like the recent one at NAEA in New York, the possibilities are huge, the space is often large and the materials available are varied, to say the least. Works of art and performances are documented, and in some cases works of art are taken from the space to live on in other places. But the fact remains that stuff gets thrown away or isn’t recyclable. Sometimes a LOT of stuff gets thrown away.
This time, in a year that has in some ways been about “restraints” inspired by Matthew Barney, we will be running TASK with three materials: pencil, paper and string. Tasks for TASK will have to be interpreted with stripped-down media vs. five kinds of metallic mylar, four thousand colored markers and three boxes of fake jewelry. Even if the task is, “Start a revolution,” one of Oliver’s favorite examples, it has to be carried out with the simplest stuff we could come up with (full discloure… we included scissors in the mix to facilitate easier access through the afternoon. You hate to see people chewing string in order to make art).
I love TASK, but my awkward moment always comes when we’re cleaning up a lot of plastic and odd supplies that were donated for the events only to be thrown away at the end of the day. This time, I am ESPECIALLY excited about not having that particular concern and eager to see how we interpret the tasks differently with essentially the same few materials.
More to come. Happy 4th to all!
Transmission | An Interview with Nader Sadek: the Lexicon of “In the Flesh”: Petroleum, Death Metal, Masks, Hair, and Sulpher
Since 2009, conceptual artist Nader Sadek has been directing and producing an epic undertaking. The first phase of this project was the album In the Flesh released in 2011 (the band, a Death Metal supergroup brought together by Nader), the second phase involves videos based on the album’s tracks (of which two are currently available), and the final phase is a type of Metal opera—a magnum opus, if you will—which promises to be a spectacular fusion of art and music including sculptures, installations, and performances.
Born in Cairo, Nader draws upon his direct experience with the use of Metal and art as a form of political protest, which he has written about here. He is currently based in New York City and has established an international reputation in the Metal community for his artistic collaborations with Attila Csihar, which have produced costumes and stage designs.
Previous articles and interviews with Nader conducted by Invisible Oranges, NPR, and Vice have largely focused on his collaborations with iconic Metal musicians (whose mythic careers Nader has also deliberately folded into his concept for the In the Flesh project) and his masks for Attila’s stage performances. Although Nader uses music as a medium, he does not describe himself as a musician. (Nader directed the sound of In the Flesh, but his actual part in writing the compositions was minimal.) Furthermore, his work with Attila is only part of his ongoing mask projects. In order to emphasize and contextualize Nader’s artistic decisions, I’ve decided to focus here on the virtual lexicon that he is building as he infuses objects—such as petroleum, the guitar, hair, and sulpher crystals—with new meanings, values, and ritualistic powers. So, without further ado:
Have today’s politicians become bad method actors? In this film, artist Liz Magic Laser directs the premiere of “I Feel Your Pain” (2011), a Performa 11 Commission, at the SVA Theater in Chelsea, Manhattan. Transforming interviews between politicians and journalists into dramatic scenes performed by actors, Laser examines how emotive theatrical techniques are being used on America’s political stage to engineer public opinion. Exchanges between public figures such as Governor Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, House Speaker John Boehner and Lesley Stahl, President Barack Obama and Bill O’Reilly—as well as a press conference by Representative Anthony Weiner—are recast as intimate conversations between couples in romantic relationships, played with tragicomic effect by the actors Annie Fox and Rafael Jordan, Ryan Shams and Liz Micek, Ray Field and Kathryn Grody. Throughout the four act performance, Laser adopts agitprop theater tactics drawn from the tradition of the “living newspaper” including a mischievous clown played by Audrey Crabtree, who interacts with the performers and audience, and a commanding voice-over played by Lynn Berg, who provides live commentary and sound effects. Performed, filmed, and edited in real-time as a continuous live feed in the midst of an audience in a movie theater, both the actors and viewers are projected onto the cinema screen, heightening the emotional resonance of the performances while implicating audience members’ reactions.
Liz Magic Laser (b. 1981, New York City, NY, USA) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
CREDITS | “New York Close Up” Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Brad Kimbrough. Cinematography: Rafael Moreno Salazar, Andrew David Watson & Ava Wiland. Sound: Scott Fernjack & Ian Forster. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Production Assistant: Amanda Long. Design & Graphics: Crux Studio & Open. Artwork: Liz Magic Laser. Additional Camera & Sound: Will Chu, David Guinan, Alex Hadjiloukas, Collin Kornfeind, Liz Magic Laser, Matthew Nauser, Brandon Polanco, Polemic Media, Irwin Seow & Tristan Shepherd. Thanks: Lynn Berg, Audrey Crabtree, Ray Field, Annie Fox, Roselee Goldberg, Kathryn Grody, Tom Huhn, Rafael Jordan, Liz Micek, Esa Nickle, Performa, Ryan Shams & SVA Theater. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2012. All rights reserved.
“New York Close Up” is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; Toby Devan Lewis; Lambent Foundation of Tides Foundation; the Dedalus Foundation, Inc.; and the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc. Additional support provided by The 1896 Studios & Stages, and by individual contributors.
Concluding my guest blogging residency at Art 21, where I’ve looked at the processes of artists who both produce significant bodies of work without a team of studio assistants, and dedicate themselves completely to their artistic visions, performance artist Martha Wilson not only concerns herself with the creation of her own work, but also the preservation and support of other avant-garde artists, as the founding director of the not-for-profit alternative space and organization, Franklin Furnace.
More widely recognized through her work with Franklin Furnace, Martha Wilson’s art has steadfastly focused on women’s subjectivity and the performance of gender. From early photo-text pieces, where Wilson dressed as a man who is impersonating a woman, to her performances as First Ladies Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush, to her most recent works, in which Wilson revisited the framework of her early photo-texts to investigate the role of a woman over 60, Wilson stands as an artist whose strong and humorous voice has endured and remained current through many waves of feminism. With 2011′s I Have Become My Own Worst Fear, her first exhibition as an artist represented by a commercial gallery (PPOW Gallery), and a recently-published monograph, The Martha Wilson Sourcebook, Wilson’s art is currently receiving the critical attention it deserves.
I spoke to Martha Wilson at the Franklin Furnace office in Brooklyn about the evolution of her art, her relationship to feminism, absurdity in art, and the Culture Wars.
Emily Colucci: For these past two weeks on the Art21 Blog, I’ve been focusing on artists who I find inspiring both in their refusal to use a team of assistants to create their large bodies of work, and their unquestionable devotion to their art–as with your work, both as an artist and as the founding director of Franklin Furnace, the not-for-profit organization concerned with the support and preservation of avant-garde art. What is your artistic process?
Martha Wilson: A year ago, I was invited to join the PPOW gallery and as part of that process, Jamie Sterns, who was the director at that time, wanted a photograph of my studio, which set me back because I don’t have a studio. So instead, I took a picture of my desk. That’s where all the magic happens, where I sit and think.
Watching artist Kenny Scharf paint a monumental, public mural entirely by himself on a very cold November night in New York City, I was astonished not only at Scharf’s free-hand skill, but also his artistic drive, painting character after character, to create a bright, smiling beacon of fun on the Bowery.
After witnessing Scharf painting tirelessly, there was no question in my mind that Scharf not only refuses to use a team of assistants to make his art but also, devotes himself completely to his art-making process, fitting perfectly with the theme of my two week residency at Art 21.
Working continuously since the early 1980s in New York, Scharf is only beginning to receive the critical recognition that he deserves for his long and varied career. Often lumped together with his friends and fellow artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Scharf’s work has progressed past the art of the 1980′s to become a testament to his own enduring aesthetic, marked by happy characters, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, customized appliances and futuristic outer-space scenes.
With art ranging from paintings to sculptures to murals to Cosmic Cavern installations, the largest being his basement space in Brooklyn, which he turned completely into a black-lit, day-glo world where he holds dance parties and performances, Scharf’s body of work stands as an example not only of long-term artistic creation but also, proof that art can and should be fun.
I spoke to Scharf about his artistic process, the role of spontaneity in art, the B52′s and how he feels about the legacy of art of the 1980s.
Emily Colucci: For these two weeks at Art 21, I’ve been focusing on the artistic processes of artists who do their own work and devote themselves entirely to art-making. What is your artistic process?
Kenny Scharf: I believe in doing the work myself. I don’t have anyone helping me other than stretching and gessoing the canvases. The actual art-making, I do all myself. It’s not that I don’t think anyone else could do a good job. It’s what I love to do.