Vadis Turner: Bedfellows at Zeitgeist Gallery

Vadis Turner,  Black and White Quilt Vessel and Leaning Cloud Quilt Vessel  (2018). Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Vadis Turner, Black and White Quilt Vessel and Leaning Cloud Quilt Vessel (2018). Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Vadis Turner opens at Zeitgeist Gallery in Nashville, TN with Bedfellows (through December 22, 2018), an exhibition of highly-formal sculptural works and wall reliefs that reframe materials and processes of labor often associated with domesticity. The Nashville-based artist is best known for her transformative use of gendered materials in abstract reliefs and sculptures about female experience(s). The latest body of work from Turner since her solo exhibition, Tempest, at the Frist Art Museum in 2017—which highlighted the artists expressive ribbon-drip reliefs and breast milk encaustics—Bedfellows is a continuation of Turner’s formal revision of archetypal domestic textiles. Yet, Bedfellows also denotes a new consideration by the artist for subtle experiences of object-duality; interior and exterior; intimate and enterable; hard and soft.

Installation view of Vadis Turner,  Red Gate  (2018) at Zeitgeist Gallery. Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Installation view of Vadis Turner, Red Gate (2018) at Zeitgeist Gallery. Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Vadis Turner,  Red Gate Study  (2018). Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Vadis Turner, Red Gate Study (2018). Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Bedfellows begins with Red Gate (2018), an immense wall relief structure made of thickly braided bedsheets dyed oxide red. Resembling the entrance of a cave or a melted waxen barrier, the relief’s heavy, fabric grille intermittently reveals the white wall it hangs on. Braids of thick bedsheets loop through the front of the gate’s lattice-like structure in haphazard ornament, forming a dense, drooping layer that reiterates the heaviness of the work’s materiality and simultaneously acts as a secondary barricade.

Provided both the intimate associations of the material, and the indexical references to an entryway or threshold, Red Gate gestures towards spaces of access and privacy, both physical and internalized. Accompanied by a small, acrylic sketch on paper that pointedly underscores the artists mark making process with a hairpin and fingers, Red Gate Study (2018) denotes a sense of visual entry into Turner’s physical and intellectual process. Indeed, encountering Red Gate, viewers are made conscious of the enormity of the work’s scale, but also of the tedious nature of it’s production. Irregularly thick, torn, and dyed various hues of crimson, the bed sheet braids that shroud the structure readily recall the artists hand at work.

Vadis Turner,  Horned Vessel  (2018). Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Vadis Turner, Horned Vessel (2018). Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Vadis Turner,  Quilt Vessels, Landscape  (2018). Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Vadis Turner, Quilt Vessels, Landscape (2018). Image by John Schweikert. Courtesy of Zeitgeist Gallery.

Turner extends her sculptural use of braided bedsheets to include gaping, abstract basins: smaller, rounded sculptures on pedestals such as Horned Vessel (2018) and Wedged Vessel (2018) resemble mythological artifacts or futurist ceremonial baskets—a formality that disguises their material origin. While the vessels reference utilitarian objects of domesticity, Turner’s treatment of surface and interiority sunders notions of functional use. As seen with Wedged Vessel, a blackened piece of charred wood extends laterally across the opening of the white vessel—a poetic form of barricade that echoes that of Red Gate. Horned Vessel proceeds as a binary inverse; coated in a slick of tar-like black paint and resin, the vessel’s deep and narrow opening invites a wary peering inward.

One of the more surprising and enthralling material investigations in Bedfellows is a series of three differently paired sculptures made from antique quilts, Quilt Vessels, Landscape (2018), Quilt Vessels, Flickering (2018), and Black and White Quilt Vessel and Leaning Cloud Quilt Vessel (2018). Sharply edged and folded into pairs of intricate, delicate forms, the quilt objects fully embody Turner's sculptural sensitivity to material transformations evocative of shared female narratives. Coated in a lustrous glaze of resin, fabric dye, and acrylic paint, the shell-like exterior of the quilt vessel(s) crusts around the untreated interior, a conversely soft and enterable fold of storied space. Exhibited adjacent to each other, the vaguely yonic vessel openings transpose one another; dually enterable and undisclosed; formal and cerebral. Engaging with Quilt Vessels posits an experience of antique forms of female labor and materiality contiguous with an expanded vision of gender—vacillating between related states of being.


Notes on Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at the High Museum of Art

Installation view of  Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors  at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017. [Left to right:  Accumulation  (1962 - 1964);  Red Stripes  (1965);  Arm Chair  (1963)] Photo by Cathy Carver. © Yayoi Kusama.

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017. [Left to right: Accumulation (1962 - 1964); Red Stripes (1965); Arm Chair (1963)] Photo by Cathy Carver. © Yayoi Kusama.

The Hirshhorn Museum’s (Washington, D.C.) blockbuster exhibition Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors, premieres at the High Museum of Art (through February 17, 2019) in Atlanta, Georgia with one of the most comprehensive exhibitions by the ultra-pop artist in North America in decades. Following the curatorial efforts initially organized by Hirshhorn associate curator Mika Yoshitake, Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors at the High Museum of Art is a sizable exhibition focused largely around the artists mirrored-room environments with critical paintings, works on paper, sculpture, performance, and video art interspersed throughout. The Japanese artist is definitively known for her Net Paintings and phallic Accumulation sculptures—compulsive, expressive works made during the 1960’s that employ repetitive use of circular motifs to generate expansive, optical fields. Alluding only parenthetically to Kusama’s contributions to Op Art and post-drip Abstract Expressionism, Infinity Mirrors keenly exploits the artists resurgent popularity as the producer of aesthetic environs consummate for social media, successfully commodifying the exhibition’s accessibility as a measure of import. 

Yayoi Kusama,  Infinity Nets  (2005) © Yayoi Kusama.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Nets (2005) © Yayoi Kusama.

When major museums capitalize on attention economy

1. Infinity Mirrors at the High Art Museum is the final location in the exhibitions two-year tour, and as such, follows the fervor of exclusivity initially garnered with its debut at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in February 2017. Advance ticketed admission to the exhibition, as seen with previous museum tour sites in Seattle, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Cleveland, was sold out immediately. Restrictive both for the immediacy of ticket sales, geographic exclusivity, and the reliance on internet-access to obtain tickets, the price of admission to view Infinity Mirrors is a prohibitive $29.00 per visitor—a fee that applies to children aged 6 and over. While the average ticket entry price for major museums has been a long-standing barrier to equitable arts access, the special costs attributed to the exhibition do not include on-site parking at the High Art Museum ($16.00) and admission to the rest of the museum galleries ($14.50). Among the reasons cited by the High Art Museum for charging a higher and separate ticket price, were “contractual obligations, complex installation and maintenance,” and, the "popularity of the artist and high audience demand.”  

2. Seven of Kusama’s mirrored environments are on exhibit at the High Art Museum, including the artists first Infinity Mirror Room, Phalli’s Field (1965), a brilliantly mirrored space whose 15-square-foot floor is crowded with hundreds of blunt tentacles covered in red and white polka-dot fabric, and Love Forever (1966), a hexagonal room of variously shifting lights and color which the viewer peers into through a small window. The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013) is the first mirrored room visitors encounter in the exhibition, and one of the more impactful environments. Dimly lit by tiny, blinking lights reflected on all sides by mirrors, the space gives the impression of being amidst a celestial expanse, or within a metropolitan skyline. Allotted thirty seconds to contemplate the environments, viewers rapidly preserve the illusionary expanse with a requisite selfie. 

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama,  Love Forever  (1966/1994) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017. Photo by Cathy Carver.

Installation view of Yayoi Kusama, Love Forever (1966/1994) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 2017. Photo by Cathy Carver.

3. Luminous and dazzling, Kusama’s mirrored environments act as the curatorial lynchpin upon which the framework of the exhibition is based, recalling in design the blockbuster sentiment with which the museum approached ticket sales—indeed, the gallery guide enumerates the titles and locations of the seven Infinity Rooms, but makes no mention of the many other artworks on display. Exhibited throughout the museum space—at times, irrespective of the chronology or content of the artworks which border the mirror environments—the Infinity Rooms are each installed before a series of queues. Docents are stationed before each of the Infinity Rooms, given the task of overseeing and timing each visitor’s thirty second experience. Visitors await their viewing time in the variously cordoned off lines, lending the experience an amusement-park sentiment where the anticipation of the forthcoming event largely exceeds the time of the experience itself. Kusama’s Infinity Rooms also reinforce this Disney-like effect in aesthetics and access; mirrored on all sides by illusionary lights, multitudes of color, and one’s own infinite image, the experience is as exceptional as it is to be in a fun-house; entered through a narrow, dark doorway and viewed from an equally narrow platform, the experience is relatively inaccessible to differently abled bodies, or those who do not fit the parameters of the threshold. 

4. Partial timelines of events from Kusama’s professional and personal life are installed on a series of circular wall vinyls and round stanchion signs within the queued artwork lines, enumerating the artist’s awards, partnerships with major fashion houses, and personal events. Irregularly displayed in the opposite direction from where the viewer stands in line, these timelines often recede chronologically backwards as the viewer progresses forward towards their viewing opportunity—a haphazard and atemporal design of information that errantly entertains English language reading visitors standing in line, rather than elucidating greater contextual knowledge about the artwork. 

5. The use of information as entertainment is a thematic which runs throughout the exhibition, attributing Infinity Mirrors a sort of informatic-mania where timelines, images, events, and stylistic influences collide in an orgiastic mess that lacks the psychedelic energy of Kusama’s own work, and more closely resembles a sanitized google search. 

6. Although expansive in it’s quest to highlight the various stylistic and material inquiries that Kusama makes across her diversified practice in performance, video, sculpture, collage, and installation from the late 1950’s forward, the inclusion of written ephemera, letters, personal New Years Eve invitations, tabloid photographs, artist quotes, and wall-didactic milestone “timelines” in Infinity Mirrors, denotes a biographical narrative to the exhibition disparate from Kusama's artwork.

Given the necessity of photographic documentation in Kusama’s work to assert herself and her body in performance and protest, and her reliance on the viewer to complete the work—through occupation and observation—the inclusion of photographic documentation in Infinity Mirrors is an expected and welcome curatorial element that calcifies the camera’s role in her practice. Photographs of herself with, and in, her pieces such as, Kusama’s Peep Show of Infinite Love from 1966, or in her frenetically erotic and wearisome film, Kusama’s Self Obliteration, point to the artists indulgence and understanding of being seen. The sporadic inclusion of archival materials and facts concerning Kusama’s social life and commercial engagements are extraneous supports of idolatry for viewers who, having already paid their prohibitive entry ticket, need no further convincing of her artistic achievement.

Press Release for  Naked Protest  at Wall Street, New York (1968)

Press Release for Naked Protest at Wall Street, New York (1968)

7. The social component of Infinity Mirrors is an interesting aspect of this exhibition that models an obliteration of self perhaps even more successfully than Kusama’s own work. Where Kusama’s work hypnotically makes use of mirrors and circular motifs to generate repetitive forms (often, the self) for contemplation, the encouraged use of cell phone cameras by viewers to document their experience (with the exhibition’s unofficial hashtags #Kusama and #InfiniteKusama) coupled with the viewer’s requisite compulsion to document their restrictive viewing time with a selfie, is conditional for generating a multiplicity of personal experiences, singular.

Kusama’s mirrored environments are exquisite illusions of light and technology but their intrigue capitalizes on a compellingly infinite expansion of the viewers reflection. The self is magnified in a way that narcissistically enforces the viewers existence and image outward. Given the reliance of these works on the viewer to complete them through observation, the economic and geographic exclusivity of the exhibition, the physical inaccessibility of the spaces, and the temporal restraints of viewing, there is an embedded sense of individual specialness in experiencing the Infinity Mirrors. Only when mediated and documented by the single-point perspective of the camera phone and shared on social media is the self in this situation truly obliterated. Infinitely similar, reproducible, and constrained by the same conditions, the photographic document of the self, shared online, and the event, are inevitable manifestations of commodified sameness. 

My Heart But Spare My Soul: Interview with Alison O’Daniel, César Leal, and Greg Pond

Chattanooga-based art space Stove Works in collaboration with Tennessee’s Locate Arts + Seed Space opened Melt My Heart But Spare My Soul (Oct. 12 - 28), a multi-modal exhibition of sculpture, dance, video, sound, and installation that sensorially engaged new modes of sonic conveyance.

Exhibiting selections from Los Angeles artist Alison O’Daniel’s two channel filmic work, The Tuba Thieves (2013-ongoing), with the interdisciplinary work(s) of Banning Bouldin, Greg Pond, César Leal, Jessica Usherwood, and New Dialect dancers Emma Morrison and Becca Hoback in guncotton (2018), Melt My Heart aggregated divergent cultural producers to form a dialogic experience beyond language. The first exhibition in Seed Space’s newly expanded statewide programming and the second collaborative satellite exhibition in Stove Works’ LAND AND SEA series, Melt My Heart underscored the generative qualities of unfettered exchange that frames their respective programming—highlighting artists whose work recursively engage movement, space, structure, and aurality as a novel form of being-in-the-world.

Alison O’Daniel’s The Tuba Thieves is an anachronistic two-channel film that presents historic and fictive events that engage aurality and transformative acts of listening. So named after a series of tuba thefts from high school marching bands in Los Angeles, O’Daniel engages the expanded field of film to sequentially and formally shift narrative and subjective value making through the lens of lost sound. Three specific concert scenes from The Tuba Thieves were exhibited in Melt My Heart; the premiere of John Cage’s performance of 4’33” (1952) in Woodstock, New York, the final punk concert at the Deaf Club in San Francisco (1979), and a fictional concert in Los Angeles featuring Deaf drummer Nyke Prince. Formally inventive in its visual representation of sound, O’Daniel’s film positions the viewer to experience listening with a sensitivity for the individual body.

Installation of Alison O’Daniel,  The Tuba Thieves: Nyke and the New York Kite Enthusiasts  (2015) in  Melt My Heart But Spare My Soul . Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

Installation of Alison O’Daniel, The Tuba Thieves: Nyke and the New York Kite Enthusiasts (2015) in Melt My Heart But Spare My Soul. Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

guncotton (2018) echoes a similar physicality. Applying the methodologies of contemporary architectural theory found in The Atlas of Novel Tectonics by Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto, and principles of computational thinking as parameters for investigating novel forms of spatial interactions, choreographer Banning Bouldin generated dances that were then 3D scanned and video recorded by Greg Pond to produce composite sculptural forms of movement. Working with musicologist César Leal and vocalist Jessica Usherwood, the collective produced a sonic composition that—like the sculptures and 3D scans—translated the continuity of the dancer’s movements.

I sat down with artists Greg Pond, Alison O’Daniel, and César Leal to discuss their work in context of Melt My Heart, active listening, and the current political landscape:

AM: I wanted to start this conversation talking about sound as an object. To me, this seems like the unifying factor across all your works [Greg, Cesar, and Alison]. As I experience your works in Melt My Heart, sound seems to be the object I am encountering.

Greg: We were just talking about how our works don’t seem to have much visually in common until you consider the role of sound in each. What you just articulated is what I think makes this very interesting as a conceptual premise for curating this exhibition.

AM: I agree, I think there is a huge overlap in both works. Not in terms of specific formal qualities, but this interaction with the body that both works necessitate, as well as the experience of them. I think it is difficult to talk about these aural experiences and pose questions about a conceptual and physical interaction that is beyond a normal lexicon of language.

Alison: I have been articulating this in a specific way recently. Because I am hard of hearing and I am collaborating with so many people who are hard of hearing and Deaf, one of the things that has really inspired me is how to move sound away from being this space of entry or refusal, and into a malleable space. Using sound as a thing that I am actively participating in that malleability of, and making it into this object, or putting sculptural language on it. Messing with the elements of control with it so that, on some level, I let it be totally out of my control. I will dictate things to a certain degree and then completely give them up. Sometimes I am micromanaging [sound] to a degree of moving it out of an aural space and into a space of it being an object. I think there are many words you could use here outside of sound or outside of aurality

Greg: This is about rethinking the sonic experience. I think we are probably all taking advantage of the fact that culturally we have a very poor vocabulary for describing our sonic experience compared to what we have linguistically for describing our visual experience. Without that the same degree of sophistication, we really don’t think about sound in the same way we think about image. It is, just as you said, strange to try to put words and I think that’s what, in part, fuels shared approaches to our work. My engagement with sound has transformed the ways in which I think about my production of sculpture, video, and other images. In many ways, such engagement has liberated me from the constraints I experienced before I started really working with sound as a primary material.

Installation of: Greg Pond,  Intensive Extension  (2018) in  Melt My Heart But Spare My Soul . Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

Installation of: Greg Pond, Intensive Extension (2018) in Melt My Heart But Spare My Soul. Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

Alison: I find that very interesting because when I think of when I first embarked on this project, and the limitations of language around it, I started in a way that we have historical precedence for. In visual art, we go back to Kandinsky where there is this Modernist attempt to represent a sound experience through a visual experience; through color, through composition. That was how I started out trying to work through this and—quite quickly—I realized how unsatisfying it was. I don’t think I’ve completely figured out how to articulate this, but it is much more satisfying and interesting to me now to honor it outside of a visual space, while constantly referring to concrete realities.

For instance, in The Tuba Thieves there is a scene of the main character, the drummer, who is Deaf, watching YouTube videos of someone else drumming. The sound is quite different if she’s watching someone else drum vs. just playing without a visual reference. Sometimes visualizing sound is practical and sometimes it is abstract and hard to articulate.

Alison O’Daniel, video still from  The Tuba Thieves: Nyke and the New York Kite Enthusiasts  (2015)

Alison O’Daniel, video still from The Tuba Thieves: Nyke and the New York Kite Enthusiasts (2015)

César: There has always been a reluctance to objectify sound, culturally speaking. This is why I think we have failed to come up with an effective vocabulary to describe sonic phenomena. As a result, we borrow the lexicon from visual arts. Music appreciation always talk about elements of music such as “texture” and “dynamics”, and these are words that do not relate directly to our experience of sound. As artists continue to work with sound, words like “soundscapes” or “acoustic ecology” have emerged. Those are new words that explain better our experience with the sonic phenomena.

As a performer, doing this type of work also poses an interesting question about the relation between physical gesture and sound. The borrowed language I just described, filters the experience of what we hear, and connects it (and makes it codependent) to the experience of what we see. If you go to a performance, every time you see a big gesture you anticipate something loud. There is something about physicality and volume, physicality and character, physicality and strength. When you see a person with a mic and a big speaker next to you, a likely first response would be to cover your ears. Deconstructing such cultural associations to sound—that physicality and all those filters through which we approach the sonic object, including our language choices—allows the listener to just experience it, to decipher how and what it is.

AM: To physically walk in the experience of sound, actively.

César: Yes, and as you see, [in the sonic composition of guncotton (2018)], we used those filters because we were very deliberate in forming those connections and create the expectations I just described. It is kind of upsetting and revealing, for you can hear a sound that seems to come from above, and it makes you lift your head. It elicits a physical reaction. Deceiving those kinds of expectations and preconceived notions of how we experience the sonic phenomenon is what creates an awareness, one that helps us deconstructing reality and our expectations of sound vis a vis the world we live in.

Installation image of  guncotton  (2018), mixed media sound installation;  The Judo of Cold Combustion  (2018), video. Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

Installation image of guncotton (2018), mixed media sound installation; The Judo of Cold Combustion (2018), video. Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

Greg: My work is rooted in ideas I wanted to pursue years ago concerning cultural attitudes towards landscape and how those impact the way we engage with the world. I wanted to create experiences within my work to encourage a reorientation of how we perceive the reality around us. Over time I’ve come to understand that sound is one of the most effective ways to achieve this because, even though there are no clear visual signifiers for us to convey this messaging, it’s possible to change, for instance, one’s perception of how big or small the room is or, perhaps, its density when it’s filled with specific sounds. I want to create an experience that is denser and more fundamental to our perceptual orientation—find what grounds us in the world rather than create something intended to be read as a sort of text. Hoping that, when you step out of the space of the work, you walk into the world with fresh eyes and fresh ears. It’s that perspective shift that I want to impart. That seems more important to me than creating objects that are signifiers of specific cultural references.

I did this project at the Hunter Museum of American Art with Jesse Cahn-Thompson where we turned the building’s 60x40’ glass wall in the large atrium into a multichannel speaker with audio transducers. There was no immediate indication of where the sound was coming from but it filled the entire space and spread out to create a sort of sonic lattice. It created this novel sonic space, which you were able to transform by moving through the room and passing through different sound waves. That project was based on the Flammarion Engraving—an image of medieval cosmology—a flat earth at center of the universe enclosed in a bubble. The image depicts this man poking his head through that bubble—we were thinking about that glass wall in the museum and how to transform the vantage it provides high above the river. Sonic experience was very much bound to visual experience in our thinking about that project.

Years ago, I was making these kinetic sculptures, and the soundscape that they created together became really interesting to me. Around the same time, I was finding limitations of the video frame to convey much of my experience in the Sonoran Desert and Death Valley. Although the desert is relatively quiet, sound, without images, provided me a way to convey my experience of being out there—the expanse, the space, the density of the air; much of what I could do spatially with sound seemed to correlate to what I wanted to convey. Around that same time, I encountered the work of Stephen Vitiello and Maryanne Amacher. Through them, I started understanding sound as a sculptural object—thinking more about how it is a physical thing. All sound is, is pulses of energy moving through the medium of air. Below 20 hertz, sound becomes touch—you don’t hear it, you feel it.

Installation of: Greg Pond,  Diagram Deployment 2  (2018) in  Melt My Heart But Spare My Soul.  Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

Installation of: Greg Pond, Diagram Deployment 2 (2018) in Melt My Heart But Spare My Soul. Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

AM: Alison, this sort of thinking about the physical contact we might have with sound recalls a scene from one of your videos. In 4’33” we see this man leave the performance to walk in the woods and he takes his shoes off. It’s a sort of pause in the narrative where he connects bodily to feeling the source of the sound he is creating as he walks through this space. The shoes no longer mediate his interaction. I found it to be a very poetic and decisive pointing-to this idea of physicality.

Alison: Yeah, I really started out this whole project thinking about Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening Project— which is funny Greg, because you just mentioned that to me—I was thinking about her Deep Listening Project and about adopting Deep Listening as a method for writing narrative, but removing this process from the ears; trying to explore what deep listening meant without it being an aural space.

Alison O’Daniel, video still from  The Tuba Thieves: Hearing 4’33”  (2014)

Alison O’Daniel, video still from The Tuba Thieves: Hearing 4’33” (2014)

Greg: In many ways, the way in which we organized the sound [in guncotton (2018)] and the specific devices we used to deliver sound, are very much trying to recreate the same concepts of the dance; bodies interacting and moving in space. I think the best way for this work to be viewed is with the dance in a separate room, completely silent, with the sound in another room. The experience of both would happen adjacent to one another but would be more focused around the core elements.

AM: That makes sense. When I first talked with you about this work last year, the sound component didn’t even exist. Experiencing the work now, it is such a fuller interaction.

Greg: At that point César and Jessica hadn’t joined the project yet. I was generating all these objects and images that I was approaching as a lexicon, or a new alphabet of objects, to try to translate movement into sculpture.

AM: I was talking with [Melt My Heart curators] Brian Jobe and Mike Calway-Fagen about the thematic of this exhibition, from a curatorial perspective, being about communication and non-verbal communication. Not to politicize your work, but while being conscious of our current political climate, both your works are completed by the viewers interaction with it—the format of the work is open-ended until the viewer watches, feels, interacts with it. What are your thoughts about the compassion that exists in creating a space or experience that must be completed by the viewer? What does that necessitate?

Alison: I have a very specific goal with my project, for the very end of this work. A lot of times I set up these experiments; in the 4’33” piece of Tuba Thieves, the experiment in that scene is to see if I could switch the role of camera movement into a space of soundtrack. Soundtrack usually dictates your emotion, so I was trying to see if camera movement could do that.

The largest goal of this project—and it’s quite simple actually—is to see if I can use a huge range of volume and sonic experiences to leave the audience feeling quiet. And, to unpack what it means to feel quiet. For me, when you ask about a space of compassion, I haven’t articulated this idea with the word “compassion” at all, but I do think that the feeling of being quiet is in the realm of peace and something related to that.

On some level, politically, this is a hard moment. It’s a hard experience and I don’t think that it’s going to end for a while. Film narrative always relies on this prioritizing of conflict. If you pick up any random screenwriting, especially in American screenwriting books, it’s all about the value of conflict to even have a film. If you don’t have conflict you don’t have a film. I am always wondering, who wrote this? The same person who is writing that rule is writing capitalism and politics. That is a very patriarchal value system. I’m interested in changing the value system to a Deaf or hard of hearing value system, to a feminist value system, to the many value systems that are not in the dominant space and which come from a place of kindness and value-shifting. This thinking does come from a lineage of [John Cage’s] 4’33” where all the details are transformed as prominent rather than a narrative hitting you over the head. However, I don’t want to shy away from punk shows and loud sonic experiences. I’m drawing from that feeling, like when you go to a punk show but in the end feel a release of some sort.

Alison O’Daniel, video still from  The Tuba Thieves: The Deaf Club  (2014)

Alison O’Daniel, video still from The Tuba Thieves: The Deaf Club (2014)

Greg: I am interested in getting us to step outside of ourselves, to have a fundamental reorientation. Because of this world we are in right now, we can easily lose sight of ourselves and let the narratives that are presented to us to distract us from what is valuable. Essentially, trying to get us to a point of not knowing—almost to where the coordinates of your reality starts to fracture—and finding that the way you have grounded yourself in the world is not there anymore. I am interested in that space of uncertainty- very similar to what Alison just described. Hearing the world in a different way; experiencing it differently.

César: I think it’s a quite simple intellectual exercise. There is something very close to a parallel dimension that is sound. Just think about the idea of people coming to a gallery with the purpose of hearing something that it’s not what we call music. It’s interesting because sound becomes an art object which uses our ability to listen (something we do 24/7) but removed from the quotidian, from the daily activities. That awareness of the act of listening—the possibility of experiencing reality in a different way—is a way to open the possibility of perceiving the world through our listening abilities. This could change drastically the way we interact with the world. It’s quite incredible that something that is so embedded, that is part of our every day, can be so ignored. Just asking the fundamental question of different ways to approach reality has been a very valuable process for me.

Installation detail of  guncotton  (2018), mixed media sound installation. Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

Installation detail of guncotton (2018), mixed media sound installation. Image by Sarah-Anne Wagoner. Courtesy of Stove Works.

Greg: It seems, in your work Alison, that the awareness that César is talking about is an important part of your work because of the aural experience that you have. Sharing that plays a large role in what happens in this exhibition and informs our work.

Alison: I really do think of it as offering that as a value system. It’s very interesting, I was just re-reading the curatorial statement as we were all talking, and nowhere in there is the word “listening” used. That’s fascinating because we have all talked so much about the act of listening, it’s so engaged, it’s so active, it’s so important—clearly—to the three of us.

Melt My Heart But Spare My Soul: Curatorial Brief

“Communication isn’t always, or even mostly, achieved by words and mouths. Plateaus of understanding are found when gestures project meaning through fingertips and form, translating what was dark into something less so. Language takes many shapes, some more stable than others. Similarly, silence bears equal significance to sound, with its effect, at times, deafening. This claim is substantiated in Colin Kaepernick’s kneel, Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ 1968 Olympic podium appearance, Tiananmen Square, and also every gap between every utterance. Absolute silence is also a state that many of us have never experienced but some hear indefinitely. And still further, may not exist at all.” 

AM: In writing my thoughts and responding to this exhibition, I have also been phrasing my comments using those same active words— “hearing”, “listening”. Reading that statement, it is so passive in its divergence from our conversation which has centered on a reception of communication.

Alison: It’s funny, I always get nervous when hearing people write about my work. Even this line from the curatorial statement, “Similarly, silence bears equal significance to sound, with its effects, at times, deafening”; the understanding for that use of “deafening” as a verb or an action that happens is maybe pejorative. It’s strange when people say things like, “this falls on deaf ears”, because Deaf people are more sensitive than most hearing people to sound in certain ways. I think these kinds of unexamined conventions are fascinating because, culturally, we are sensitive to many identity politics, but ability is still rarely recognized.

AM: Why do you think that is?

Alison: I think it’s just such marginalized communities.

Greg: It may be that active listening is something most of us don’t put at the fore of our descriptions of experiences because we aren’t necessitated to be as sensitive to it— we don’t really think it about it.

AM: I think that goes back to what you were saying about your work Alison, this need for a change in our value systems.

Alison: Yeah, not a deficit, not an impairment. Not a “wrong” that needs to be righted. It’s fascinating because—and this is a bit of an aside—but parents of Hard of Hearing children are more often than not encouraged to integrate them into the hearing world and not necessarily encouraged to introduce them to the deaf community. It’s assumed you move into the space of hearing. There’s a lot of people that have grown up in the hearing world and—if we even do interact with the deaf world—we may have a feeling about Deaf culture that this is my other half. I have had that experience. We have the language to talk about interracial identities and trans identities, but we don’t talk about between-ability.

César: In that respect, I am very happy that the gallery decided to publish the accompanying curatorial text also in Spanish Language. It recognized and provides visibility to a minority group that is definitely present and wishes to connect with the art scene at a more personal level. This also resonates, I think, with your earlier question about our current political times.


Art, Democracy, and Justice: Holland Cotter @ The Frist Art Museum

On November 14th, 2018 the Frist Art Museum hosted the inaugural Art, Democracy, and Justice lecture series organized by artist and Cornelius Vanderbilt Endowed Chair and Professor of Art María Magdalena Campos-Pons. Featuring The New York Times Co-Chief Art Critic Holland Cotter, artist and author Olu Oguibe, and curator and artistic director Adam Szymczyk, the three-part lecture addressed contemporary and resurgent political digressions from democracy and art’s collective responsivity to such realities. Largely centered around Olu Oguibe’s permanent public sculpture in Kassel, Germany, Monument for Strangers and Refugees (2017)—created for Documenta 14, and which was subsequently removed due to right-wing German political indignation—the conversation that emerged across the three lectures posed a consideration of how power, division, politics, and recursive oppression are reflected in the landscape.   

Below is the full transcription of Holland Cotter’s lecture for Art, Democracy, and Justice at the Frist Art Museum. All words are his own, save for inline clarifications.  


Holland Cotter: Good evening everybody. I’m very glad to be here. First of all, I want to thank Magda for inviting me to Nashville. And let me just say that this city and Vanderbilt university and its students—who are always the most important people in the room—are all hugely fortunate to have her as an artist and as a person; an artist and a person of her brilliance and energy and just plain through and through goodness, which counts more than anything. You are very lucky to have her in residence.  

As you heard, Magda and Olu Oguibe both participated in Documenta 14 which was conceived and directed by Adam Szymczyk and took place last year in two locations, Athens, Greece and Kassel, Germany. I reported on the Kassel presentation for The New York Times and I reviewed it very positively—it was a wonderful show. A few months later I made a mention of it again in an end of year list of outstanding art season events, by which time the exhibition had encountered political blowback.

I wrote in that capsule review: “Ambitiously diffuse, the exhibition took off in more directions than any single event even twice its size could handle. Anti-fascist and pro-immigrant, it attracted fury from Germany’s right-wing press as being too “political”, and it was hit with accusations of over spending. Had the show been lighter, brighter, less political, and a big tourist draw, not to mention a box-office hit, would its budgetary overdraw have been grounds for disgrace? My guess is, no.” 

Among the exhibition’s high points, along with a fantastic performance by Magda that explored the effluent sources of Cuban culture, was Olu Oguibe’s sculpture, Monument for Strangers and Refugees (2017) which was installed on the Königsplatz [King’s Square] at the very center of the city near the main Documenta campus. It was a fifty-four-foot-tall concrete obelisk inscribed on four sides with the phrase taken from the Mathew gospel of the New Testament [25:35], “I was a stranger, and you took me in”. The words were written with gold letter in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish.  

Olu Oguibe,  Das Fremdlinge und Flüchtlinge Monument  ( Monument for Strangers and Refugees ), (2017). Photo by Michael Nast.

Olu Oguibe, Das Fremdlinge und Flüchtlinge Monument (Monument for Strangers and Refugees), (2017). Photo by Michael Nast.

When I first saw this piece, I was overcome with emotion. I was moved both by the work itself and by the context it appeared in. Adam and his team of curators had designed an exhibition that, unusually for Documenta in my experience, encompassed the whole city of Kassel—reaching into sections of the city that were largely home to non-German immigrants.  

Monument for Strangers and Refugees became the geographic and conceptual lynchpin of the entire exhibition; a great radiant beacon that symbolically brought urban populations together and encapsulated the exhibitions spirit of generosity. I was also moved because this work of art stood in such contrast to the cultural climate that I knew as a young person in the United States.  

I was born in the years just after World War II. I grew up in the late 1940’s and 1950’s in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up in the Cold War era of “the red scare”, when a republican senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy, who served in Congress from 1947-1957, claimed that the United States was infested with malevolent aliens, including Communist spies, and he conducted a public campaign to root them out. He circulated his accusations—which were often based on fabricated evidence—through what was then the most up to date of social media, television. His attacks were anti-foreigner, anti-Semitic, and anti-gay. And I should mention that at this time, every state in the union had sodomy laws on the books, which would effectively charge a consensual sex between gay men and could result in up to thirty years in prison, depending on the state.  

During these years, much of the American public seemed to buy McCarthy’s message. Many elected politicians either cheered him on or were silent. Art too, was for the most part silent, or spoke only in highly coded terms. It was, I think, no coincidence that abstraction was the painting and sculptural mode favored by the market at that time.  

Because I was very young during this time, I wasn’t fully aware what was happening. I only picked up on the mood of paranoia that poisoned the air. What I was more aware of—though I would not have been able to put a name to it—was that the America that I pledged allegiance to in my class rooms was an apartheid state. When I was very young racial segregation in public schools was still legal and was enforced. Technically, this changed with the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954, but in the schools I went to, de facto segregation continued unchanged.  

I could have read racial politics just by looking around me. As it was, I absorbed it through the main stream news media. The same media that had given McCarthy his platform was also broadcasting or printing images of civil rights demonstrators being attacked by police, of African-American churches being wrecked by white terrorists and bombs, and what had every appearance of being a race war in progress across the country. Again, I saw no reflection of this in art. Most of the new art I encountered in magazines that my parents had around the house was abstract—I wasn’t aware of the work and figurative work that was being done by politically minded artists or of Andy Warhol, whose torn from the tabloid silk screens were being shown in New York but had not reached Boston. What I was getting though, was interesting political instruction in traditional art museums which I had started to frequent very early.  

Andy Warhol,  Black and White Disaster , (1962) Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art Collection

Andy Warhol, Black and White Disaster, (1962) Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art Collection

I grew up in a museum going family. Our main museum was the Boston Museum of Fine Arts—the MFA. Art museums in the 1950’s, which was when I started going, were not like museums today. This was before blockbusters and before museums became primary social spaces. Back then, they were almost always empty and as quiet as libraries. On Saturdays in winter, beginning when I was about ten years old, my parents would drop me off at the MFA and leave me there and go about their city business. I was in the protective custody of the guards who all knew me, and because I was a shy but together kid, they let me go where wherever I wanted to go—and I went everywhere in the museum. I got to know pretty much the whole collection, very early, and very well. Egyptian mummies, John Singleton Copley portraits, Netherlandish altar pieces, and Monet landscapes, along with a handful of life size Japanese carved wood buddhas, and bronze figures of Hindu deities in the South Asian collection. 

I see in retrospect how valuable those self-guided tours of the museum were—no one was saying to me “Look at this because it’s great, but never mind that”. I looked at everything. Right from the start, I got a sense of a side-by-side existence of all kinds of art from different era’s and cultures. And most important, I got a sense of the equal value of those cultures. I think because of that immersion no art has ever felt foreign to me in the sense of being alien and unapproachable. At the same time, there was also a lot I was not seeing.  

The MFA was what we now call an encyclopedic museum—in those days we called it a universal museum—but it was an encyclopedia missing major volumes. There was no art from Africa apart from Egypt which, at that time, wasn’t really considered to be Africa; there was no art from Columbian and Central South America, or the Caribbean, or Australia; there was no native North-American art. For all that, and most art by people of color, you had to go to ethnological museums or natural history museums where that art wasn’t art—it was science, some kind of other lesser thing—and it was segregated from “real art”, “high art”, in a way that exactly replicated American racial politics at that time.  

Of course, I couldn’t have articulated any of this, positive or negative, then. But gradually, and almost by accident, I was forming a social consciousness through the politics of personal experience.  

In the summer of 1964, when I was in high school, I went AWOL from home. A friend had been sent to a reform school in Texas for committing petty crimes and I thought I would go and visit to give him some moral support. He was breaking into homes in our hometown, including my parent’s home, and it was kind of performance art—he would break in, he didn’t take anything—the whole point was to get in and get out without being caught. He succeeded for a very long time before he was nabbed. So, I went and visited him that summer. I scraped together some money— borrowed from friends actually—I bought a one hundred dollar good-for-a-year go-anywhere Greyhound bus ticket, got on a bus, and headed south. I had some clothes in a backpack and books in a shopping bag. I had Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentals to Walden, Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days—which was his account of his experiences as the equivalent of a psychiatric nurse during the Civil War in Washington D.C.—I had Emily Dickinson’s collected poems in one volume—the 1951 Jonathan edition—and I had Jack Kerouac's On the Road.  

Robert Frank,  Main Street–Savannah, Georgia , from  The Americans  (1955). © Robert Frank

Robert Frank, Main Street–Savannah, Georgia, from The Americans (1955). © Robert Frank

Buses were at that time, a relatively cheap mode of interstate travel; most of my fellow travelers were working class, many were African-American. When I crashed for a few nights with my cousin John Elliot, who was then a young English professor at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I learned that that summer was “Mississippi Freedom Summer”, when northern college students were coming to Mississippi to register people to vote. Three civil rights workers had disappeared and were feared murdered by the Ku Klux Klan or other white nationalists. John warned me to be careful and to keep my eyes open, and I did.  

I got a view of America that did not seem at all transcendental. As I traveled, I saw “White’s Only” signs at public water coolers, and “Blacks Served Here” signs at the side windows of restaurants. The message of exclusion was one I was familiar with in Boston, but here it was spelled out in signs. Then, in an indoor concert at a park in Washington, D.C.I encountered something glorious—a performance by the singer Miriam Makeba, who was in political exile from South Africa. At that concert, with the first racially integrated audience I had ever been part of, I learned what the word “apartheid” meant, and I had what I consider my first experience of activist art, and it was an art of both protest and embrace.  

It took more experiences like that one, and reading James Baldwin, and coming out as a gay, and meeting my first partner, who was my college roommate and a student of African history, and moving to New York City during the class wars of the 1970’s, when hip hop and graffiti were blooming in the Bronx, and traveling to North Africa, and spending time in India, and constantly looking at art, old and new, and finally seeing the art that had been invisible to me when I was young. Through all these experiences my eyes gradually opened to the political necessity of art and political utility of beauty in all its many forms.  

I joined the New York Times in 1991 when the intensely political art associated with multiculturalism was cresting. Multiculturalism was proved to be a problematic concept, but for me, back then and now still, it meant one main thing; everybody coming to the table, with all their colors, languages, genders, attitudes, and desires. At that table, we wouldn’t just break bread, we cooked up whole new cuisines, new kinds of nourishment, and everyone would get to tell their story, write their own histories.  

You probably needed to have been there to understand the sense of optimism then, but the social and political climate were not on art’s side. This was a time of terrible danger and alas, with the spread of AIDS, friends and lovers, artists among them, with whom we expected to share the rest of our lives, were suddenly going and gone. Extraordinary art emerged in response to the reality at that time, but so did the repressive culture wars that began in reaction to that art.  

I sense that those culture wars are with us again now. I would say to anyone who imagines that America has achieved a state of post-feminist, post-racial, post-class, post-colonial, post-fear grace, that you are wrong. Just listen to the international news, fundamental work of adversity and resistance in every area remains to be done. Can art do that work? I go back and forth in my thoughts about this.  

The market has become so adept at neutralizing everything it touches, and we live in a culture of infinite distraction. But I think of the work that Act Up AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power did in the 1990’s, using images and public performances to succeed in getting drug companies to release medications that saved lives—that was huge. I think of Olu Oguibe’s Monument for Strangers and Refugees, which brought the realities of otherness and exclusion out into the open and went further to pose an alternative to them—a prescription for civic health—and did so in a language that was both straightforward and compassionate.  

Olu Oguibe, detail of  Monument for Stranger and Refugees  (2017)   Photo by Ferenc Eln

Olu Oguibe, detail of Monument for Stranger and Refugees (2017) Photo by Ferenc Eln

Gran Fury,  Art is Not Enough , (1988) International Center for Photography archive

Gran Fury, Art is Not Enough, (1988) International Center for Photography archive

I hold on to the idea of art as a kind of moral empowerment zone; a set aside place where new, different, improved, corrected versions of reality can be proposed and even maybe sometimes realized. I like to think that just by occupying that zone, artists form a crucial force of resistance. As the filmmaker Luis Buñuel once said that artists “keep an essential margin of nonconformity alive. Thanks to them the powerful can never affirm that everyone agrees with their acts.”  

What the politically powerful can do, or try to do, is suppress art that they find threatening. This has been true in the case of Monument for Strangers and Refugees, a sculpture that, as a gesture of cultural embrace, was created to permanently occupy its central site in Kassel, under far-right pressure in Germany has been dismantled and removed from that site with the assurance that it will be reinstated elsewhere. When it will be returned to visibility however, is uncertain. Not at all uncertain however, is the reality that the reactionary, bullying, other-fearing, political forces of my youth are back. A significant difference is that artists and curators like Olu, Adam, and Magda, are consistently, variously, and collectively, speaking out.  


Out of Easy Reach: Allison Glenn @ Lipscomb

Allison M. Glenn, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, gave a talk at Lipscomb University on November 8, 2018 as part of part Seed Space + Locate Arts Insight Program. Discussing her curatorial project, Out of Easy Reach—an intergenerational exhibition of female-identifying artists that was on view simultaneously at DePaul Art Museum, Stony Island Arts Bank, and Gallery 400 through August 2018, and is currently showing at Grunwald Gallery at Indiana University—Glenn outlined the curatorial strategies, notes on abstractions, and conceptual relationships between artists central to the exhibition’s narrative.

Below is a transcription from a portion of that talk. All words contained in this transcription are Allison Glenn’s, save for in-line comments in regards to artwork descriptions.

Allison Glenn: Thank you all for coming tonight.

I want to talk about a few different projects. I’ve been at Crystal Bridges for about nine months, and it’s been a huge transition. I moved from New Orleans, Louisiana to Bentonville, Arkansas which is basically in the north-west corner of the state. There’s about 35,000 people in the town I live in, which I think is about twice the size of this university. 

I’m going to walk you through a few projects that are really near and dear to me. One of them is Out of Easy Reach which is an exhibition that is on view now at Indiana University in Bloomington. With this exhibition, I remain super grateful for everything that’s happened around it. The genesis of the project came out of frustrations in graduate school with a lack of representation and a lack of diversity in classes I was taking. It was always week seven or week nine in the class [when there was a discussion] about women, artists of color, and queer identifying artists. It became super exhausting to be set up in this framework that was one dimensional.

This exhibition works really hard to push against these seemingly siloed art histories and to think about—in particular—abstraction. While it’s doing the work to push against siloed art histories, it also does classify artists based on gender, identity, and race. What I was really thinking about in this exhibition is abstraction. 

There are two particular places that I started. One is the artist Adrian Piper. She has this wonderful book that is basically her notes on contemporary art [Adrian Piper: Reflections 1967-1987]. There is this really beautiful quote that I’m going to share with you: 

“Abstraction is flying. Abstraction is ascending to higher and higher levels of conceptual generalization; soaring back and forth, reflectively circling around and above the specificity and immediacy of things and events in space and time, from a perspective that embeds them in a conceptual framework of increasing breadth and depth…[Abstraction is also flight.] It is freedom from the immediate spatiotemporal events of the moment; freedom to plan the future, recall the past, comprehend the present from a reflective perspective that incorporates all three…Freedom to survey the real as a resource for embodying the impossible.” 

A second note on abstraction that I’ve been looking at recently is by the artist Zachary Cahill, who just put out a book through Mousse Magazine called the Black Flame of Paradise:

Sometimes I feel like people get too hung up on the 20th Century’s shape(s) of abstraction. Which can be a superficial take on abstract form; devoid of the content that many abstract pioneers were surveying. Abstraction may have the “look” of abstraction but not the abstraction of abstraction, if that makes any sense. That abstract-looking art could actually be abstract in the substantive way in which the old pioneers were after, but I think it’s important not to lose sight of the verb and the idea that abstraction is a process; to pull something out of something. Abstracting gold from the ground = a form of abstraction.” 

I want to leave you with those two positions as notes.

In his 2008 essay “Toward an Ethics of the Double Entendre” Thomas J. Lax considers the oscillation between familiarity and distance in photographer Leslie Hewitt’s body of work, Riffs on Real Time (2002-2008); “Pushed back by the severing perspective, the objects and the memories they reference are out of easy reach.” End quote. 

From traditional approaches to broader more challenging usage of the term, Out of Easy Reach explores the conceptual expansion of abstraction by American female-identifying artists from the black and Latinx diasporas. This exhibition is an argument for an expansive approach to the limited conversation around abstraction in contemporary art, and uses language as an avenue to navigate this discourse. 

Often, the language used to discuss abstraction is primarily focused on formal concerns such as “painterly” and “gestural”, that point to the application of paint, the rendering of imagery, and the relationship between artists and their canvas. These descriptors have historically been used in reference to the practices and processes of a canon of predominantly male artists while often leaving the contributions made by women—particularly women of color—outside of the dominant narrative of art history. 

This exhibition enthusiastically moves beyond a highly restrictive space of art history and beyond the terms that I mentioned by identifying themes in shared aesthetic and conceptual concerns, emerging across three generations of artists.

This exhibition originated in Chicago and it opened simultaneously at Gallery 400 at UIC Chicago, DePaul Art Museum, and Stony Island Arts Bank. The artists were grouped based on conceptual, material, and process affinities, but there were definitely connections across the groupings. I’m going to walk you through that process. 

The curatorial process began with four artists that I consider anchors; Candida Alvarez, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Maren Hassinger, and Howardena Pindell. Ten of the artists were born as part of Generation X and ten were born as part of the millennial generation. A really important thing, to me, was to introduce these intergenerational dialogues. 

Out of Easy Reach addresses a crisis of visibility of female identifying artists of color within the narrative of abstraction’s history by connecting multiple generations through a wide temporal framework. The exhibition is thus structured to incorporate the four artists [Candida Alvarez, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Maren Hassinger, and Howardena Pindell] whose work has influenced generations of artists who have followed them. For example, Candida Alvarez’s consideration of the landscape and the impact of history and culture on place has directly or indirectly informed the work of younger artists like Caroline Kent, Shinique Smith, and Kellie Romany

Spatial Politics, Mapping, and Migration at Gallery 400

At Gallery 400 the grouping was on Spatial Politics, Mapping, and Migration. This is the statement that grouped these artists together:

Amidst a current global turn towards nationalism and the United States’ ever-increasingly exclusionary international relations, artists who explore spatial politics and their bodies in relation to borders and the built environment are opening avenues for re-thinking narratives about ownership and access. As a country comprised of indigenous populations and individuals who, at one point or another, were brought here by force or came here by choice, the U.S. will always face infrastructural biases based related to immigration, land use, and policy making. In this section, abstraction is employed as a tool to consider issues related to the mapping of race and gender onto the body, southern migration to the north west, and borders—this is one of those intergenerational exchanges that I mentioned. 

Howardena Pindell,  Free, White, and 21  (1980)

Howardena Pindell, Free, White, and 21 (1980)

The image on the left is by Howardena Pindell and it’s from a film called Free, White, and 21. It was made in 1980. What Pindell is doing is employing the theatricality of performance through costuming, storytelling, and changing mise en scène. Though this film is unique in Pindell’s oeuvre, it is integral to the exhibition for several reasons. It’s the oldest work, and it acts as an anchor, bridging the performance practices of the seventies and eighties with those of younger artists such as Juliana Huxtable, whose work is shown here on the right [below]. 

In this film, Howardena switches between recounting micro-agressions that she and her mother experienced and the role of the aggressor. She adds material to her body and to her face to shift the way that she is presenting herself, and it creates this dialogue between the aggressor and the aggressed that identifies and further elucidates exactly what Howardena was experiencing at this time. 

Juliana Huxtable,  Nuwaub Chair , (2012)

Juliana Huxtable, Nuwaub Chair, (2012)

Juliana is a female identifying trans artist who relies on some of the similar tactics of performance that Howardena does in this particular film and also that other artists, like Adrian Piper. She expands this big race binary that Howardena is looking at to include gender. By putting these two artists together, one of the biggest questions that I have had is; how is representation abstraction? How is a body abstraction? 

From the onset, this was really about making an argument that abstraction is—as Zachary Cahill said—abstracting from something; abstraction is a process. It is not necessarily tied to what we commonly understand as a very formal painterly approach. It’s interesting, a lot of people asked me questions about this in talks and in gallery walk-throughs because it was difficult for many people to understand how abstraction can be a form of representation. I stand by it. 

Installation view of Torkwase Dyson's  Untitled (Hypershape ) (2017) at Gallery 400

Installation view of Torkwase Dyson's Untitled (Hypershape) (2017) at Gallery 400

There were these really interesting moments that popped up within Spatial Politics, Mapping, and Migration. The image of the left [above] is by Torkwase Dyson’s installation, and on the right, [below] is another work by Juliana Huxtable that I included in the exhibition.

Torkwase’s ever evolving practice examines how geometry and the language of shapes pull history and meaning. This work is entitled, Untitled (Hypershape) (2017) and it continues the production of painting and works on paper that investigate power with specific relationships to land, history, and natural resources. The title is influenced by ecological theorist Timothy Morton’s concept of “hyperobejcts”; objects that are so diffused that they are not easy to study and understand directly, such as global warming. Dyson’s hypershape practice builds formal improvisation on proximity, habitation, and motion, as they relate to the material zones of industrial abstraction and capital exploitation. 

I juxtaposed the two of these works together because they’re really landscapes for me, and they are abstractions of landscapes. So, for Torkwase on the left—thinking about the impossibility of site—she is looking at land that may have been traumatized by drilling or fracking, or water that was contaminated. On the right, Juliana is—I would argue of all the works in the exhibition this is probably the most autobiographical—she has created this digital landscape where she is taking on this first person narrative, talking about desire through the lens of video games. 

Juliana Huxtable,  Untitled (for Stewart) , (2012)

Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (for Stewart), (2012)

What is interesting about Juliana’s work is that often she creates these chat space works which arguably could be considered performance scripts, and the images also. The text and the image work together to create a narrative, but the text is also the image, so it too is the work itself. The intimacy of this narrative invites the reader into a recollection of longing that is rooted in a digital landscape. Juliana explores alienation through the lens of video games, specifically, how her desire to play video games as a female avatar stood in contrast to her male counterparts. The artist recounts an affinity with what is shared in official womanhood that both she and the avatars possessed, using the artifice of video game culture as an opportunity to explore the landscape of gender identity. 

A sentence from this work; “My womanhood was entirely artificial, save my mind and a tingling sensation in my spine present at the revelation of a new level, especially one unlocked as a secret”. 

Landscape, Body, and the Archive at DePaul Art Museum

At DePaul Art Museum we looked at Landscape, Body, and the Archive. For this section I feel that many of the artists could have easily fit into Landscape, Body, and the Archive, but I was really interested in considering artists that were thinking about either reframing archives that already existed or reconsidering landscape through their subject position. It includes a group of artists that mine histories of abstraction and modernism, relating them to representation of the self and the environment. 

Print media has a particular resonance and many works in this section explore how artists employ mark making and translation in order to re-situate, shift, and reconsider the archive. Architectures of power and protest appear alongside intimate considerations of the body, and material explorations collide with shared philosophical relationships to nonlinear time. 

Xaviera Simmons,  On   Sculpture # 2  (2011)

Xaviera Simmons, On Sculpture # 2 (2011)

The object on the left [above] is Xaviera Simmons On Sculpture # 2 (2011), and it was created after she did a walk with a group of Buddhist's. She traced the transatlantic slave trade and immigrant migration from north to south. What’s interesting is that she has mapped this image that she has torn from a magazine and in the corner you can read that it says, “backstage”, and there are all of these bodies jumping and diving off the boat. It seems playful but you wonder about that site. 

Ariel Jackson,  The Origin of Blues , 2015

Ariel Jackson, The Origin of Blues, 2015

The image on the right Ariel Jackson [above] created from various different sources. She created it post-Katrina as a way to talk her experience with the aftermath of the storm and how people—her classmates in New York—accepted her position and her understanding of that event. 

Process, Time, and Material Culture at the Stony Island Arts Bank.

Installation view of Shinique Smith's,  Forgiving Strands  (2014–present) at  Out of Easy Reach , Stony Island Arts Bank

Installation view of Shinique Smith's, Forgiving Strands (2014–present) at Out of Easy Reach, Stony Island Arts Bank

There were three artists in this portion of the exhibition. Shinique Smith is the artist on the left [above]. I was very much struck by Shinique’s choices to drape Forgiving Strands, I actually had a chance to see it Hauser and Wirth in L.A. in 2015 and I was just set on having this in the exhibition. It is a work that has so many challenges in regard to shipping and installation but I was really quite struck with the way that her draping really mirrors Barbara Chase-Riboud’s work.

Barbara is the oldest artist in the exhibition; she was the first and only artist to be on the cover of Ebony Magazine; she has had multiple moments in her career. Through the exhibition, while I was planning it, Shinique shared with me that while she was working at the Walters Art Museum, Barbara was having an exhibition there. So there was this moment of reciprocity and Shinique was very much impacted by Barbara’s work. 

Installation view of Barbara Chase Riboud's  Little Gold Flag  (1985)

Installation view of Barbara Chase Riboud's Little Gold Flag (1985)

Sheree Hovsepian,  Sway  (2017) in Out of Easy Reach at Stony Island Arts Bank

Sheree Hovsepian, Sway (2017) in Out of Easy Reach at Stony Island Arts Bank

The work on the right [above] is by Sheree Hovsepian. Again, I had to make an argument for this because this exhibition is really focused on black and latino diasporas so the question is; how is an Iranian artist part of this? It was through the material connections. The etymology of macrame is rooted in the French language, but it also has roots in Arabic. If you trace the movement of this material, it moves from Egypt and East Africa into Iran—that was the connection.

For each site [in this exhibition] it was important to have a site-specific work. This is [below] Edra Soto’s installation at DePaul Art Museum on the facade. Edra’s work often looks at architecture as a power. There are these ornate fences in Puerto Rico called rejas and they’re primarily middle class architecture, but they definitely have this dual purpose of designating who is allowed inside. 


Edra Soto installation at DePaul Art Museum


Adam Shulman: Paint it White

On March 17th, 2017 Dana Schutz’s painting Open Casket (2016) was unveiled at the Whitney Biennial and was, simultaneously, the impetus for heated international discourse concerning the validity of visual censorship and historic ownership over subjective content—it garnered protests and incited urgent reflection on the socio-political role of contemporary art, and artists, in the current political climate. Can a white artist make artwork about the black experience? Should artwork be censored?