Late Ramblings on Time

It has been three years of Beyond Art! My first post was published January 20, 2016. How far I’ve come since then…

And now: six months! Since my last post I have spent six months of time… On what? Finishing school; traveling. I’ve spent the time on seeing too much art to name (and writing about some of it other places). I’ve been to maybe 18 museums in that time…

After all that time away, I’m think about inertia. I’m not sure I’ve ever quite understood it like I do now, as I stare at the cursor flashing on my screen, leading letters along into words and sentences – into seconds becoming minutes. Into a post after a six month hiatus.

Over that time, I’ve been looking into this void. Maybe it’s something like the spin cycle on the washing machine, or watching fan blades spin, or the moment one’s eyes adjust the split-second when a room goes from light to dark. I know in that space, this strange cliff-side, there is so much potential – so much it looms like the monster under the bed: harmless, but intimidating nonetheless. It’s one big clock – big hand, little hand, second hand. One big hypnosis device.

The time-void. The clock. The Clock… I am sitting on the floor in the dark room. Bodies shift around me in the gallery-cum-movie theatre. The people are the sands in the hourglass, marking the passage of time that, even without the bodies, would be inescapable in this room. On the huge screen at the Tate Modern Christian Marclay’s immense, 24 hour long video plays. The Clock. Pulled from movies and beyond, the expertly-combined clips match the exact time in the “real world” outside of the video. I go in to the room at something like 5:15 pm. As I watch, the artwork reminds me that this little gallery-bubble is not so outside the world as it might feel: one clock shows 5:22, various scenes take place, then I am looking at 5:34. Time frames the actions that flash before me – people going in and out of buildings, children waiting for their father to come home. So much has happened in these 20 minutes in which I have sat on the hard floor in the darkness. So much has happened in these six neglected months.

Across town, earlier that day (Marclay’s video reading 11:30), 15 forty-something year old women gathered around a Rauschenberg at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.  There, then, they follow the guide like hummingbirds to a feeder – sucking down his sweet nothingness. If they dare to lift their bright plumage, dare to speak, their voices are cut off by that man with the clipboard. Obviously that can’t be, he says, looking down his beak over theirs. Why do they stay here, wasting their ideas on this man who won’t listen? Why do they stay here, wasting their time with him, when it could just be the art?

Intermission at the January 17 performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Macbeth. Featuring a pocket-sized copy of the play, in front of a prop clock that ran the duration of the show, reading 01:10:43.

Intermission at the January 17 performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth. In the background is a clock that ran the duration of the show, here reading 01:10:43.

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time…” (Shakespeare – Macbeth 5.5)

Macbeth comes tomorrow – the day after the Tate. The Scottish Play is all about time: when is the right time; what to do when time moves to fast; how to recover it when it is lost; how to beat it… The list goes on, reaching out for those very tomorrows, as if they could provide the answers. Those questions look to break Marclay’s time-frame, to make the video repeat over and over. A reset button at midnight. A clock chiming – calling Cinderella home. A cry to “sleep no more,” making one day bleed into the next. It is the seemingly-endless cycle of our world hurling through space. And among that rush all we feel is a little morning light on our eyelashes. Maybe the sound of a hummingbird’s buzzing wings.

In my neglected six months I have had so many adventures. Notebooks full of them – hard copy notebooks. Pages that will tear and fade and rip their bindings. My screen pages, resistant to dust, show no sign of their neglect. Time, even here, passes differently.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve figured something out. My cursor, I think, flashes once per second when I’m not typing. My pen, when I pause, just waits, hovering like some fourth clock hand – some bigger time than seconds or minutes or hours.

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Bewilderment, Unprepared: “Born, Never Asked”

As you ascend the stairs of Metro Pictures, the tangerine walls reflect on the glossy white gallery floors and bounce into your eyes. At the top of the stairs, an odd image of a green hairy monster embracing (or restraining) and fingering an orange woman welcomes you to the exhibition. The image makes you do a double take – what is happening here? – and sets the tone for the show.

henrot tender

In Thy Tender Care, 2015. Watercolor on paper mounted to dibond, 21 by 29 inches. Image: Metro Pictures, NYC.

Violence. At first there is whimsy – playful, cartoon-like watercolor and ink images in pastel tones; flowing lines that at a glance seem fitting of a children’s book.

Whimsy. On closer inspection the forms are grotesque and the cheerful lines are violent: hands and mouths on unsatisfied erections, distorted animals and women, twisted familial and romantic relationships, blood smear-splatters as in afterbirth or menstruation or pain.

The show is possessive, primal, impulsive. Romance is reduced to strange intimate encounters, portrayed as if in a dream (or perhaps a nightmare). The delicacy and almost-minimalism of the images remains figurative and graphically narrative, clear but confusing.

henrot nothing

Nothing to Wear to Work 2, 2015. Watercolor on paper mounted to dibond, 29 by 21 inches. Image: Metro Pictures, NYC.

The sex acts – entering and exiting of mingling forms – feel invasive rather than loving as heads are pushed to the side and limbs splay out, and yet there remains a careful curiosity within the images that intrigues and almost endears. Consent seems almost forgotten, and yet none of the molten figures appears to feel out of control – there is a balance in the lustful vulnerability. Born, Never Asked: is this about the result or the act of creation?

Turning from wall to wall, you are unsure how to feel, and you embrace the multiplicity and ambiguity – these orange womb-like walls have you tucked in, surrounded by images that are buoyant at first sight, but leave a heavy pull at the back of your mind as you turn to the next one. Color, line, and order – each of the systems by which humans organize and orient themselves – are all unsettled and re-mixed in an offbeat phantasmagoria.

You look down, and find that your hands have taken on an unfamiliar hue as the walls project themselves onto you.

Henrot installation

Born, Never Asked installation view, 2018. Image courtesy of Metro Pictures, New York.

Camille Henrot, Born, Never Asked, is at Metro Pictures ( 519 W. 24th St., NYC) through June 9, 2018

 

Arthur Jafa: Message Received

 

 

November 25, 2017 I saw Arthur Jafa’s Love is the Message, the Message Is Death (2016) at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC. At the time I was struck, wordless, unable to formulate a coherent thought about the video. Three weeks later I returned to the Hirshhorn and sat in the gallery for a long while, watching the seven minute video over and over. The gallery was a black cube – dark, with a few benches set back from the wall-sized screen.

The video was second-to-last in the Hirshhorn’s “The Message: New Media Works” exhibition, and when I eventually stood up and walked out I wished it were last. I wished there were a decompress room, a fainting couch, a net on which to fall and be caught for a moment – Kanye’s lyrics still echoing in my head, the tear-streaked face of a little black boy practicing putting his arms up for the cops burned onto my eyes like the sun flare image interspliced in the video.

But there was no pause except for a breath before the video started again.

Just like real life.

That day, when I had sat stationary and let the video play on loop before me, I found that even though it was the same artwork, I noticed different parts. It was like some clips had been taken out and others added – a trick of my mind as I noticed different things and tried to absorb as much of the content as I could. Before my eyes flashed images of love and dancing and pain and comedy and power and destruction and kids and icons… Joy and violence alternated, my processing was truncated.  I was breathless. I had chills. Time warped within the video, becoming syncopated with the rhythms of the song. Time warped between the videos, as other sound from the artworks before and after – separated by thin walls – bled into the room, seeping in under doorways like gas. Multiple voices rang out, then silence. Pause. Movement. A change of viewers around me – the group of men who had been standing in the corner left, the person who had been sitting next to me was replaced with another, a guard from the exhibition eagerly ushered in visitors and hurriedly told them about what he thought of the artwork. Play.

Jafa has been in the news a lot recently, from exhibition reviews to articles about his work and background to interviews in sources like artnews and Frieze (that one was my favorite). Each time one of these popped up over the months following my experience at the Hirshhorn I would sit down and think about writing something about the object, about Jafa, about anything even tangentially related to this gorgeous artwork. Every time I felt like my computer was staring at me rather than the other way around. The memory of the object would play in my mind, still catching me off guard and unprepared to say something. I looked and looked for the video online or in museum collections, but it doesn’t currently exist in the public domain; for now only shooting around the gallery and museum circuit like some kind of anti-morphine: amplifying, challenging, making you feel everything harder. Yet somehow still comforting.

Now, listening to “Ultralight Beam” on repeat as I write, I’m still not really sure what I have to say. With this piece, I don’t know if I’ll ever be. This one might be more about the feeling – the goose bumps racing up arms and down legs; the flash of images threatening to drive you into overload as they flash in a dark room; Kanye’s rich voice unsettling you like seasickness or love; other bodies scattered in the gallery, faceless but full to the brim with humanity, engaged with seven minutes of knife-sharp clarity.

 

The Message: New Media Works is on view at the Hirshhorn in Washington DC through September 30, 2018

Arthur Jafa: Love is the Message, the Message Is Death runs June 27 – September 30, 2018 at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston

A review of the Jafa artwork (and more) on view at the MCA Denver through May 13.

Wood, Metal, Paper: Danh Vo at the Guggenheim

In an exhibition whose title highlights breath, I found myself drawn to the concept of touch. Not simply touch as a sense, but as a concept, because of the implications of such a thing: the pressure of stone on wood, the force of a pen tip scarring paper, the impact one life has on another.

Danh Vo (born in Vietnam and now working between Berlin and Mexico City) appropriates, alters, and re-purposes found materials and objects to create new meaning, often merging the personal and the political with a deft hand. His artwork, while on the surface sparse and approachable, sits with you the more you sit with it.

With a light touch, a case containing a watch, lighter, and ring becomes a meditation on perceived masculinity, ownership, and inheritance. These objects – once belonging to Vo’s father – are at once minuscule and monolithic. Touch: a metal clock against soft skin.

The Unabomber’s typewriter is dethroned, sitting innocently on the floor, small and unassuming – non-mythical without a label shoving away the subtlety. Fingerprints on letter keys, one tapping against the other.

Further along, Beauty Queen is unassuming on the floor – a 400 year old wooden torso of crucified Jesus, separated from the rest of the body, placed in a box to the perfect fit. Above, dismembered pieces of a copy Statue of Liberty (We The People) strewn across the floor – a thumb as big as a child; the curve of a wrist large enough that I could tuck myself into it; a sheen on the horizon becoming a shine against the white of a gallery floor. People step among the story of Vo’s connection to immigration, and the repeating motif of “an iconoclastic approach” (as described in one of the exhibition’s labels); these ideas are simultaneously evident and nuanced – like the light reflecting off of the installation.

Vo’s work is dense, but it never feels too heavy.

In an exhibition filled with mighty materials, stone, wood, and metal aged to earthy musty richness and worn nostalgic metallics, I was most drawn to the delicacy and intimacy of paper.

2.2.1861 – one in an ongoing series of letters – is understated among the range of materials and physical dimensionality of the other works in the exhibition. Where other objects are gold and brown and slick and woody, this one is smooth and quiet. Phung Vo, Danh Vo’s father, has copied this letter numerous times over the past nine years. Each time, it is the same – a correspondence from Théophane Vénard to his father before his decapitation in 1861; each time it is different, featuring nuances of the hand at work – a letter with a slightly steeper slant, a bolder dot where pen first met paper before skimming off into a looping letter turning word. The letter is in French – a language that Phung does not know – and he copies it in a beautiful, swooping calligraphic script that he has mastered. He can touch and sculpt the words, but cannot feel the language. The letter echoes – father to son/ father to son, copy/ copy/ copy/ copy, ink flowing from pen tip, border crossings between writer and artist and receiver.

danh vo

2.2.1861 (2009- ongoing)

When I returned home from the exhibition, I wrote a postcard to my family, not thinking about my purple marker or the crispness of my penmanship – and not writing about an impending decapitation. As I wrote, my pen made little scratching noises against the fiber of the paper, pressing ink and color against the substrate.

To emboss is to stamp or carve onto a surface so that the pressed portions become raised. If you look at it that way, while of course the letter coincides with Vo’s conceptual oeuvre, it also feels like a tactile companion to the other works. If you were to draw that link in the air between each artwork, what would it feel like to touch?

 

Danh Vo: Take My Breath Away is on view at the Guggenheim in New York City through May 9, 2018. 

 

Cleaning Lesson II

Participants' shoes outside Sacerdote Gallery at SCMA

You step into the gallery, shoeless but not barefoot. Your socked feet slide and pad across the wooden floor. There is movement, but a semicircle is slowly forming, settling the gathered crowd. In front of you a woman in red and blue looks around the exhibition. No one gets closer – people go about their not-quite-bare-footed business, with an invisible line. Border.

The crowd is gathered. Quietly, feet move and tip-toe and push into place, they lift a body up for viewing.

Below: a rustle of fabric against skin against floor against fabric again passes across the gallery. She is wearing so many skirts, layered over her like smooth armor.

A Korean mother, UMMA, cleans the floor, occasionally saying something in Korean that hardly anyone understands. Her white rags sweep back and forth and back and forth and back and forth… She cleans for peace. For hope. For unification. For luck. For this museum and for the college.

UMMA cleaning

She step-slides across the floor. Slowly she hunches more and more over. Breathless. With each motion and moment her white towel (like your white socks) dirties, each little violent sweep gathering and moving the gallery grime. More words in Korean. Unknown. Border.

There she is, the good Korean mother, UMMA, on her knees. Take your shoes off when you come in, when you come home, when it is time for a change. Respect. You watch this woman bend and work before you, offering no help, barely making a noise except your toes screaming to push you higher so you can have a better view of the spectacle.

She pulls herself up. She bows. Her border speech is musical and rhythmic and meaningless to you.

Behind her, she leaves a small pile of dirt and dust, two once-white towels, and a unification flag.

IMG_5972

 

Cleaning Lesson II was a performance by Korean-American artist Mina Cheon as her persona UMMA (“Mommy” in Korean). Cheon is a performance, new media, painting, and sculpture artist who divides her time between Korea and the United States. This event took place on Friday, March 2, 2018 at the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, MA as part of the special exhibition 体  Modern Images of the Body from East Asia, on view through August 26, 2018. 

On Witnessing Nonlinear Creation

You enter the industrial space with your hands still shoved in your pockets, desperately trying to keep your fingers warm against the chill of waiting in line outside, wondering where you’re about to be.

As your hands adjust to the indoor warmth, your eyes adjust to the near-darkness. In the center of the room, a glowing half-sphere is filled with some gel – glue, Jell-o, opaque alien ooze? The light from the orb diffuses around the room, illuminating the audience – a well-packed group of about 100 viewers – as well as the three performers, all masked, all dressed almost fully in black. On one side of the orb, a woman lies on the ground, feet up on a mirrored chrome cube. On the other, another figure is seated, Buddha-like, with a circle cape encompassing their body. Attending the vat of goo is a lanky man. He reaches in, smoothing and testing, dipping his hand in and out.

Slowly, he reaches in and pulls out a submerged net, he shakes the goo off, and walks away, between the crowd, which fully encircles the performance. The two dancers stay behind, their bodies cranking and bending mechanically, twisting and writhing in unnatural ways. You are enthralled and confused.

Upon return, the man moves between the goo and an iPad – bee-like in his attention. Slowly, a device is lowered into the gel, a syringe pumps out blue-back something, trekking around and in the half-circle.

Around you, a mechanical soundtrack, loud and rhythmic, is punctuated by the hiss of an air compressor, determined to be acknowledged.

You are braver now. You have adjusted to the strangeness and are moving – skirting the perimeter, watching the dancers, whispering to those around you as you all wonder what is going on. The artist statement clutched in your now-warm hands is useless in the dark, more of a security blanket than a sword to fight whatever masked-monster may separate itself from the shadows, or whatever alien may be birthed from the centerpiece of the performance.

As you move you discover a fourth performer inside a large black fabric cylinder, which has been slowly creeping its way around. A tall body is visible, back lit by the gel depository. It moves deliberately, winding something up and slapping it to the ground, moving in a circle like a trapped animal in a cage.

In a heartbeat, the lights go off. The music stops. The air compressor is silent. The dancers stop moving and the vat-attendant has dematerialized. There is a collective pause. Do you clap, or wait? Is this a pause, an accident, or the end of the performance?

In the back of the room, the lights come on. A slow, careful curiosity draws people toward strange objects, hanging like fabric on a clothesline, and a shallow pool of water on the floor. The walls feel too white to have been so dark the moment before.

There is some kind of collective relaxing as people decide to touch – feel those blue-black umbilical cords and stick their hand gingerly in the slime.

What you have just witnessed was a birth, of sorts, printing in three dimensions; not layer by layer, but as a line pulled through space, in reverse.

Terre Mécanique, a performance by Kelly Nipper in association with the MIT Self Assembly Lab, was presented as a commission at Performa 17 Biennial (November 1 – 19, 2017) in New York City on November 9th, 10th, and 11th (this performance on the 11th). More information on the event can be found here. More information on Performa can be found here. Note: “line pulled through space” is a phrase used by Nipper at her artist talk on November 12, 2017.

 

Magnetic Fields

Magnetic FieldsMildred Thompson 1990, oil on canvas, 70.5 x 150” (triptych)

Magnet: something which can repel or attract. An object which enacts a force. Gravity, pull, push. Order. Field: openness, nature, space. Breath.

Magnetic Fields: tension.

The title object for Magnetic Fields, a large painting by Mildred Thomas, is unabashed. Color and energy force viewing. Look! Look at me! I am red and yellow and sunlight and confetti. I am energy trapped in a medium that will never truly dry. I am heat. Attracting. Come closer – feel it? Look into my vortex and see how light looks to its source. This is a brilliant blanket, hung on a wall, wrapping you up.

Color to color. Red becomes purple. A tornado of dashes becomes a performance on canvas. Graffiti has peeled itself off walls and run away. Movement upon movement – brushstrokes meet squiggles meet loops meet drips that would impress Jack the Dripper himself. Despite the chaos and the frothing noise of the painting – the composition threatening to whirl itself into oblivion (attracting, repelling) – there is an undoubtedly elegant element to the work of art.

Whirlwind Dancer, Shinique Smith, 2014-2017, Acrylic, ink, fabric, and collage on canvas over wood panel, 96 x 96 x 3″ (diptych)

This is what it would look like to give a paint bucket to a ballerina in full costume, and let the paint and the tutu and makeup and the hair accessories and all of the love work itself up into a twirl and a launch and a landing, all with haphazard grace. The canvas can always be trusted to lift and catch its partner.

Pointed and pressured toes lead to feet on fire. Then not a fire, but only whispering embers. Near by a canvas sputters and steams. A bucket of water has been thrown on a neon fire. Multicolored sparks ignore gravity, repelling, and escape into the breath of the viewer, attracting. Ash and light and time are suspended as the paint bleeds and blossoms. Here we have the the definitive record of a dying gasp – systematic and explosive all at once. Study it.

Are you attracted or repelled?

YARDGUARD, Brenna Youngblood, 2015, Mixed media on canvas, 72 × 60″

Downstairs, beneath the push and pull and color of Magnetic Fields, Fanny Sanín’s geometric abstractions are so clean and sharp that you could cut yourself on them.

 

“Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction 1960s to Today” is on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC until January 21, 2018.