Periodicals such as Esopus, BOMB and Aperture are some of my very favorite magazines to read and teach with. Between the fantastic artist-on-artist interviews in BOMB and the magazine-as-art quality of Esopus, there is plenty to work with. In the past, I have assigned readings for students to compare, interviews for students to build on, and even specific featured artists to use as a starting point when creating works of their own. But the recent spring edition of Aperture really makes me smile.
Aperture has re-envisioned what was already a high quality magazine and made some beautiful and exciting changes. Aside from the magazine looking even better (their new art directors, A2/SW/HK, have decided to make the magazine slightly larger, expand on the number of pages and use a different coated stock), each issue will, “cohere around an inquiry into a field or topic.”
The “relaunch” of Aperture is set up around “a broad set of concerns for photography today” and introduces “a range of vital questions with a view to animating—and reanimating—key ideas on photography.” Some of the questions and topics investigated this spring include What matters now in photography? and Are institutions ready for a new wave of photographic innovation?
As an educator who has a deep interest in the fact that so many students have access to photography and the ability to take pictures, Aperture’s decision to focus future issues on questions and specific thematic topics is a welcome change to a magazine that already had my vote as one of the best periodicals for art educators to teach with.
There are many ways to remember any given year: defining political or global events, sports championships or perhaps even where you were dating or where you were living at the time. The New Museum’s current exhibition NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star looks back to the art scene twenty years ago, presenting a time capsule of sorts of works made (or exhibited) in New York in 1993. The exhibition’s somewhat unwieldy title is taken from the album of the New York rock band Sonic Youth, which was recorded in 1993.
Personally, I usually look back at the recent past through the lens of film. It certainly doesn’t feel like twenty years have passed since Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood’s still-timely deconstruction of the genre of the Western, won Best Picture at the Oscars. Then again, looking at other Oscar winners from that year makes it seem quite distant: Marissa Tomei won for her supporting role in My Cousin Vinny, and in 1993 “Whoo-ah, Whoo-ah” was ushered into the popular cultural lexicon with Al Pacino’s winning lead performance in Scent of a Woman, unbelievably still his only Oscar win. Conjuring a very particular moment from the historical past can produce either a telescoping or a distancing effect, and while the New Museum’s time capsule exhibition includes some art that seem decidedly dated twenty years on, other works seem as relevant now in 2013 as they did in 1993.
NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star opens strong with a video by Alex Bag, who was student at Cooper Union in New York at the time. In her video Untitled (Spring 94) Bag performs for the camera in a work that seemingly anticipates more recent trends, including YouTube confessionals and Ryan Trecartin videos. Donning different wigs and wittily invoking a broad range of pop culture references, Bag takes aim at the banal forms of mass media, simultaneously revealing and mocking the thick layers of clichéd artifice that define the private universe of this girl performing before the video camera, and by extension the collective psyche of the MTV Generation. In the course of Bag’s thirty-minute video, the girl earnestly sings Salt-n-Pepa’s “Shoop,” talks about movies and rock stars with typical teenage delirium, and animatedly discusses everything from McDonald’s to Columbia House’s mail order CD club (remember that?) and other signs of mass commercialism. As she channels a pastiche of identity-defining fads, Bag offers a witty and captivating parody of angst-filled teenage hysteria, self-absorption, and shortening attention spans in a manner that uncannily anticipates the Internet age to come.
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.”
Michelle Obama now has bangs. When you mention this to people who have seen photos or footage from last week’s inauguration, they tend to have opinions. Maybe they say, “I like the bangs.” Or, “They’re severe but they show guts.” Or, “Clearly, she doesn’t care what other people think.” Probably, it is because of the First Lady’s inauguration hair cut that I noticed so many bangs in the artwork I saw this week, at the Art Los Angeles Contemporary fair and elsewhere, and began to attribute certain significance to them.
It is also, probably, because I listened to last week’s Double X Gabfest—the Slate.com podcast where women whose loosely defined feminism is a point of pride—talk about “women’s issues” in pop culture and politics. Michelle’s bangs were their main topic. “Women are always either cutting their bangs or growing them out and it really does have something to do with identity,” observed Noreen Malone, who writes for the New Republic. Later, Slate editor Hannah Rosen wondered, “So, if we think of a woman who can own her own style in such a powerful way as a woman of substance—and you know this ties into the concept of British economist Catherine Hakim of erotic capital—this idea that women can now use their sexuality and charisma in a way that buys them value in the marketplace…Does that mean that a woman without a look is a weak woman?”
Of course, all the gabfesters hated that idea, as they should have. (It was a matter of seconds before they were discussing Hillary. Does she have “a look”? What about that bad dress she wore in 1997?). But in art you have more freedom to equate, or try to equate, looks and strength without sounding as stodgily reductive.
Heather Rasmussen’s obsession with portrayals of disaster on film corresponds with the unwieldy region of her birth–the greater Los Angeles area—which has blown up, slid into the ocean, had its freeways rumpled by earthquakes, and provoked citizens’ uprisings across newsreels and fictional features more than most land masses of its size. Rasmussen grew up on the southern end of the sprawl, in the North Orange County city of Placentia. She has come of age in a time when aerial photography and global satellite surveillance have made it possible for cameras to capture the destruction of entire towns by big weather or war. (We can even see ships before they sink in previously un-surveilled parts of the ocean.) These cameras also allow images to be rapidly distributed and to increasingly catastro-phillic audiences. These last four years, Rasmussen has been photographing, to scale, paper models based on online images of shipping container disasters.
Happy New Year!
First, just to update last week’s column regarding some of the most teachable moments in 2012, it was brought to my attention that I missed a few:
Rineke Dijkstra’s retrospective at the Guggenheim, along with Zoe Strauss at the Philadelphia Museum, taught us that portraiture most certainly can go beyond appearances and telling stories. It can even teach us about ourselves.
A new teaching assignment at NYU, which included supervising the Saturday Visionary Studios program for high school students taught me that thematic courses, not just units of study, can be exciting for teachers and students alike.
Scaling back the more traditional format for TASK and using very few supplies taught us that you don’t need a ton of materials to achieve the goals intended, as we did with Oliver Herring this past July to kick off our 4th year of Art21 Educators in New York City.
Finally, revisiting Richard Long’s “A Line Made By Walking” was another teachable moment that has become, for me, a metaphor of sorts when it comes to teaching with contemporary art.
Now, getting back to Speak About What’s Unspeakable, which was written just after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Ct, I want to share an update on some next steps for my own classroom….
I am in the midst of writing a unit of study for the 2nd semester titled That’s Entertainment?? Students in my high school foundations classes will be doing research into children’s games, video games, films and television shows that in some way make the act of harming or killing other people the main objective. I believe that one way to construct a dialogue about what has happened at twenty-one K-12 schools since 2000 is to begin having frank discussions in the classroom about America’s obsession with violence. Continue reading »
Two years ago, writers Megan Fizell of Feasting on Art and Andrew Russeth of the New York Observer helped me compile the first year-end roundup of food-art. That is, food inspired by art and art inspired by or involving food. They’ve kindly returned to the blog to do it again. Together, we’ve come up with a list of some of this year’s best, from museum feasts and baking performances to mobile farm stands and guacamole sculpture. Bon appétit.
Best Non-Edible Exhibition: Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art
Considering the ritualized act of eating, the exhibition Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art at the Smart Museum in Chicago presents “the work of more than thirty artists…who have transformed the shared meal into a compelling artistic medium.” FEAST brings together artists concerned with the act of consumption with performance pieces by Lee Mingwei, who shared a one-on-one meal with a guest selected by lottery, and Mella Jaarsma’s I Eat You Eat Me, where participants feed one another over a table supported on their lap. Alongside the exhibition, performances and political food truck, the Smart Museum hosted symposiums and children’s programming to further encourage conversation and sharing–both components necessary for a successful feast. —M.F.
Katsutoshi Yuasa’s first solo exhibition in the US (at the ISE Cultural Foundation, New York, through January 4) demonstrates an utterly fresh approach to relief printing, grounded in the wider dialogue of contemporary art and culture. The artist’s meticulous translations of photographs into woodcut offer meditations on humankind’s relationship the natural world, while simultaneously provoking questions of cultural amnesia, memory, and perception. His ongoing Pseudo Mythology series, which explores both natural and man-made disasters/forces, feels particularly relevant in the wake of recent events in the US and Japan.
Yuasa’s source photographs range from the mundane (trees) to the sensational (an overturned tanker) and are culled from his own digital camera as well as the internet. Through the process of converting these images to black-and-white, enlarging, transferring, carving, and finally printing the block in a single tone, Yuasa transforms them from the “fact” of a snapshot into a more subjective representation of how such images are understood and processed by the mind. The final product is recognizable but distorted and flattened, as if through a haze. The works, which range in scale from medium to outsized, are mounted directly to the wall without mediation between viewer and sheet. This allows for a total immersion in the image, as well as a palpable immediacy to the pristinely printed surface, calling attention to its illusionistic qualities.
This week, the U.S. Department of State celebrates the 50th anniversary of Art in Embassies (AIE), a program that facilitates the Department of State’s public diplomacy through the power of the visual arts.
As part of the celebration, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will honor five artists—Cai Guo-Qiang, Jeff Koons, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems—by awarding each artist with the U.S. Department of State’s inaugural Medal of Arts. The Medal of Arts is given in recognition of each artist’s outstanding commitment to the AIE program and international cultural exchange.
Over the last decade, Art21 has worked closely with all five honorees, each of whom has extended their relationship with our organization beyond their initial filming sessions for the Art in the Twenty-First Century series. We have experienced first-hand each artist’s passionate commitment to facilitating dialogue through visual art, across many cultures. Through our own international screening programs, we have witnessed conversations generated by the work and words of these artists in communities around the world.
Art21 is proud to support these artists in their commitment to cross-cultural dialogue, and we congratulate each artist—Cai Guo-Qiang, Jeff Koons, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems—for receiving this very special recognition for their efforts from the U.S. Department of State.
Watch highlights from each of the artists’ Art in the Twenty-First Century segments below.
Students came to class yesterday with works in progress that were inspired by our recent visit to see Visual Conversations at the Fisher Landau Center for Art. In my previous post two weeks ago I said that I was interested in encouraging students to draw relationships between works of art and to think about how context affects what we see. Can works of art “speak” to the viewer or have “conversations” with other works? If so, how? Today was the day, after a long Thanksgiving weekend, for the group to share works in progress and get some feedback from one another.
What initially impressed me as we took a look at the works was that students were inspired by a variety of pieces in the show, rather than choosing a popular few, and many began with both ideas and techniques featured in the exhibition. Mark Tansey’s monochromatic works inspired a very different approach to rendering forms with one student while Andy Warhol’s self portraits gave way to new considerations around what can be a “portrait”. I saw students who chose Ed Ruscha’s billboard-like paintings and created works of delicate beauty in response to the large, imposing pieces featured in Visual Conversations.
As students spoke about their work and got feedback from each other, I began to realize that the “conversation” was not so much about what they created after seeing the show, it was about the kind of conversation these works inspired within the students themselves. For example, one student was enamored with a portrait of Emily Fisher Landau and spent almost a full hour with the work sketching and making notes. As she reflected on the painting, she was able to begin articulating an interest in both beauty and power, which may or may not become her focus for a series of works this year.
One of the biggest reasons to get students to see Visual Conversations with me was simply to see works of art in person. Teaching about particular forms and approaches to art making without the actual experience of seeing the work firsthand is extremely difficult and it’s why, whenever I can, that I encourage colleagues to take students OUT of the building to engage directly with works of art. You don’t always need a big museum, either. Sometimes the best works to teach with are within our own communities. It’s amazing, really, that we spend so much time with our students making things and not nearly enough time looking at and discussing art in order to create work that is more meaningful, informed, driven by big ideas, and of course, well designed.