Thursday, May 6, 2010

Daddy Issues Done Right

EXHIBITION TITLE: Jennifer Locke: Video Action / Calvin Trezise: Love is Not Enough LOCATION: Queens Nails Projects 3191 Mission St. San Francisco, CA 94110
April 9 - May 8, 2010

In Calvin Trezise and Jennifer Lockes joint show at Queens Nails Project in the Mission, one is confronted with images and video that are recognizable but also performative. Although both the video work entitled Video Action and the performance based photographs entitled Love is Not Enough are equally powerfully and seem to work well with each other. I am choosing to focus on Calvin Trezise, as I was actually able to discuss each of his works with him. An SFAI graduate, Calvin is friendly and openly admits to having “daddy issues” which is quite obvious in much of the work on display. He is deeply influenced by Lacan and Freud and The Function of the Veil. This may relate to the picture he has of a woman from the torso down with a (45mm?) silver gun inserted, as if a penis into her hairless almost pubescent vagina. Partially disturbing and somewhat unimpressive to me, Calvin described it as one of his favorites. Up close and in your face the image is powerful but I wonder if it doesn’t play on the obvious shock value a little too much with offering more of a critique. Is it an obvious artistic trope? An interesting piece which seems to act out “the veil” is a full color photograph taken in a hotel bathroom with the artist standing naked facing the camera and a plastic (dare I say a large condom positioned over him covering his “head” and ending around his calves. His clothes are piled next to him and he is situated in the corner of a room with a door on one side and a blow dryer and mirror on the other. Both funny and bewildering, in the sense of play it required the artist to engage in and bewildering because the act of covering the naked body with a plastic bag and the implications, such as death, like a body bag, separation from other life, protection, suffocation, etc.

As a complement to the disturbing nature of the gun inserted into the vagina photograph (none of the pieces have labels or names placed near them), he has another print taken at the same motel except in this scene he is faced down on a polyester comforter on top of a bed naked except for his shorts which are pulled down right below his buttocks. He is curved so as to position his face down onto the bed and his back arched with his rear sticking out. His knees are bent towards his face and his feet are pushed behind his buttocks. A sword (a children’s toy) is inserted in to his ass hole. He says he felt the need to take that photograph as a counterpoint to the gun in the vagina shot. I’m glad he felt the need for balance, but I am not sure what they accomplish?

The most amazing work on view is a large photograph of a landscape, which has been carved into what looks like a vagina. It is actually a naturally made space carved into the hill by the cows that graze in that area. Where the hill ends it the perfect day blue sky begins. If one looks closer at the center of that crack or towards the center of the hill is a speck of white that when focused on appears to be the body of the artist spread with arms and legs stretched out and his face inside the natural crack or deepest exposed space on the hill.

To the right of the landscape photograph is for me what is the most problematic piece in the show. It is a picture taken in a hotel room of a naked transgendered woman with a mask and cape on and nothing else. Therefore, what are seen are the breasts very nice legs and stomach and a small penis that looks to be going through hormone therapy. I find this piece to be problematic because the clearest insight to a human sense of a soul in my opinion is the eyes and in this case the mask has bulging white circular bulbs in the place where eyes would be giving this woman no identity. Instead, she is used either to represent the shame that comes with the process of gender identification and the sexual arousal often associated with transvestite behavior. The more that we hide the eyes and faces of the transgendered the more alienation will be associated with those who make the brave choice to make that very difficult decision. Placing a cape and a mask could also be interpreted as someone that should be hiding from society and not allowed an identity. The fact that the mask is that of an alien further problematizes the issue because for those who already feel alienated why would you chose to alienate them further by representing her (the person in the picture) as a character that is not of this world and are often thought of as a threat. The fact that it is also taking place in a hotel room further situates this displacement.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Location: Here and There, Us and Them, You and Me

EXHIBITION TITLE: Hollywoodpedia by Artemio Narro
LOCATION: Galería de la Raza 2857 24th St. San Francisco, CA 94110
DATES: February 6 - April 4, 2010
CURATOR: Rachel de Anda

“El sueno americano empieza y termina en HOLLYWOOD, en esa montana que contiene los sueños y las pesadillas de una sociedad que nunca descansa en su búsqueda de reinventarse a punta de ilusión, de la imagen en movimiento y la recreación de un mundo siempre nuevo, pletórico de esperanzas pero también de dolor y terror interior...exportando al universo su saga de sangre” Danielangulor

How is the location important to address such a fine social and cultural critique?

Artemio Narro Hollywoodpedia (photo courtesy of Frida Cano)

Galería de la Raza, located in the Mission District, is a non-profit community-based arts organization whose mission is to foster public awareness and appreciation of Chicano/Latino art. The gallery, divided into different sections, functions as a great laboratory for investigating and exhibiting contemporary issues in art, culture, and society, mainly showing Latino artists. This time, in collaboration with Queens Nails Projects and during the Mission Arts and Performance Project night opening, Mexican artist Artemio Narro presented his Hollywoodpedia art piece. Indicated by the title, Hollywoodpedia is an encyclopedia of the most recurrent topics that the Hollywood film industry exports to the world. Dichotomies such as Love/Hate, Life/Death, Peace/War, Good/Evil, Happiness/Sadness, Success/Failure, were the 12 themes that the artist addressed in video installations. Because of the amount of equipment he used, Artemio had to completely change the gallery space from its usual set up. The work is the result of editing more than 15 thousand dialogs from scenes of 1,500 films, which constitutes 3,000 hours of watching the most “successful” films in Hollywood’s history. The gallery presented in twelve monitors the themes mentioned above, and in the back room, three edited films that, through splicing together different dialogues and images, pointed out the satirical relationship between the two. For example, a Marlon Brando monologue was visually acted out by Winnie the Pooh, who was frightened during a lightning storm.

Artemio Narro Hollywoodpedia (photo courtesy of Frida Cano)

The most significant connection Artemio emphasizes with this particular project is his use of mixed imagery tapping into popular memory of the emotions the films should evoke. What is most interesting about his work is that it touches on a symptom of the Latino condition that I call ‘mainsdream’. The mainsdream is a misunderstanding of so-called mainstream culture, which is usually felt by people who don’t live in or have limited access to conventional culture. In this case, Artemio talks about the exported imagery from Hollywood mainstream films that are reinterpreted, learned, and generally loved by Latino spectators of a litany of blockbuster celluloid. As a response to the close historical relationship in terms of power and domination between Mexico and the United States, Hollywoodpedia contains those exact mainstream film moments that mainsdream-film-lovers keep in their memories and hearts. Artemio’s Hollywoodpedia is a very unique and pertinent comment that makes a social and cultural critique of today’s mainstream/mainsdream condition; this is the imposition to see and live the world in one exclusive way: Hollywood’s way.

Artemio Narro Hollywoodpedia (photo courtesy of Frida Cano)

The project has been presented previously in Mexico (2005), Peru (2008), and this time in the United States (2010). This fact, however, makes me wonder about the impact that Hollywoodpedia has in the different locations of its display. The effect that this project achieves has to do with the kind of public that it refers to. In other words, Hollywoodpedia is designed to create dialog with mainsdream spectators, the reception of the work changes when the location of display is moved. For example, how would the work be received if shown in a theater in Hollywood itself? What if the audience did not consist of the neighbors from the Mission District but film lovers from Hollywood? Would the location change the reception of the art project? What kind of impact would this cause in the art world? Would Artemio’s piece have an effect on the film industry? Or better yet, would it distort the way in which Hollywood imposes its insidious point of view, telling the world outside the United States how to see and live? It is only a matter of time before Artemio disrupts the Hollywood film industry by presenting his project in a solo show in Hollywood, breaking down the “great wisdom” that has been disseminated by Hollywood films and that effects today’s mainsdream reality.

-- FRIDA CANO DOMINGUEZ, Fundación/Colección Jumex scholar

Re-imagining the Past

"Perhaps Zhang offers a new model for the wider Chinese art world; making Chinese culture new, not by abandoning the past, but by re-imagining it." - Philip Dodd

Zhang Huan Three Heads Six Arms 2008

As part of the Shanghai Celebration, Zhang Huan's sculpture Three Heads Six Arms, 2008 will premiere this May 2010 in San Francisco in the Civic Center across from City Hall. The sculpture weighing 15 tons and standing over 26 feet tall, is part of Zhang Huan's sculpture series depicting Buddha arms, legs, feet, hands, and heads. This monumental series is inspired by the artists’ experience of seeing remnants of religious sculptures destroyed during the Cultural Revolution for sale in a Tibetan market.

Zhang Huan (B. 1965) is known primarily as a performance artist of the Chinese Avant-Garde movement. He started his artistic training at the age of 14 in the Su style or Soviet style under the tutelage of Gu Xijiu. In college, he became fascinated with Millet due to the romantic notion of everyday ordinary life. At the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Zhang Huan also learned the Su style painting, which emphasized the texture and spatial quality of a painted object. Zhang Huan marks his shift away from oil paint to performance due to an occasion in which he found a discarded mannequin leg on the street proceeded to attempt to walk on three legs. The experience of using his body as an art medium was extremely moving to him and from then on he shifted his art practice towards performance.

The work of Zhang Huan can be divided into three phases. The first phase started in the 1990’s in the Beijing East Village. The second phase took place after Zhang Huan immigrated to New York in 1998, and the third phase is the creation of installations, sculptures, and ash paintings starting in 2005 after moving to Shanghai.

Three Heads Six Arms is representative of the third phase of his oeuvre in which he shifted his art away from his well-known performance art practice towards an object based art practice. In his work since 2005, Zhang Huan work deals with the themes of recollection and memory. Zhang Huan states that “Life is a process of transmigration, I want to express and record this process." Three Heads Six Arms exemplifies the shift in artistic practice of the Chinese Avant-Garde to a re-imagining of the Chinese past.

“Today the entire country of China is running forward, you can say that we are looking back to China.” – Zhang Huan


Sunday, April 25, 2010

BK Studio Visit with Damian Stamer

Damian Stamer is an artist I have always admired, though it is not easy for me to articulate why I am drawn to his work, besides the obvious that he is a very gifted painter and colorist who at a very young age has mastered his technical skill and has experimented with several styles and is finally coming into his own and creating a unique Damian elegance. Damian is not your typical artist, he doesn’t wear things to stand out and judging him on looks, you would assume he works an average job. He is incredibly humble and his muted intelligence and intuition takes you by complete surprise. Having spent a year in Germany and a year in Hungary, it is amazing to see the evolution of his painting and how all his experiences have embedded themselves into this work, especially after two years of living in New York and being surrounded by the center of the US art world. His Williamsburg studio is filled with light pouring in from the windows as well as the energy that can of the BQE that can be viewed from these windows.

Damian Stamer Haymaker

His paintings take hold of you and are hidden with meaning, the viewer discovers new elements at every, subtle turn. This hide-and-seek effect stems from the painting process. He enjoys adding images and then painting over them, so that only fragments of the original object/identity remain. Damian seeks to create a similar effect of layered billboards when the old posters are peeling away, a way of documenting time. I found myself looking and looking again at his paintings and as someone I have known for a while now, I still have the same reaction when I look at his paintings as I did the first time I saw them and when a new work in unveiled, even if it is not “finished”, I am speechless and find myself looking at the work for hours, revisiting different components and trying to dissect the canvas that truly seems alive. Stamer is able to capture movement, dynamism, ocean, still life, and landscapes (most widely used in his most recent works) and has clearly been influenced by Gerhard Richter, Neo Rauch, among many other East German artists, specifically of the Leipzig School. Damian often deals with the subject of twins and doubles since he has a twin brother who he is extremely close to and lives with, though they are very alike in some ways, Damian is a painter and Dylan is an investment banker, so Damian thinks about their relationship and the science behind being a twin and it often finds its way into his work.

Damian Stamer South Lowell Dusk

His most current paintings deal with the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate elements and painting techniques. In attempts to marry pastoral landscape with both abstracted and non-objective forms, he constructs a new space, unique to the medium of painting. In addition to providing an opportunity for more realistic rendering, the landscapes push the depth of the painting, and therefore give the abstracted forms more space to inhabit.

Damian’s current process involves a great deal of trial and error, as he is letting the painting work itself out on the canvas. Compositional thumbnail sketches are used only in the most initial phases of the painting, afterward he tries to allow the uncontrollable drips and more freely painted marks to inform his next moves or aesthetic decisions. The end results are paintings that create almost dream-like worlds where dichotomous elements can live together and explore the painted spaces of their own creation.

However abstracted, there exists a visual world in which someone or something could live. Instead of a house on a flattened picture plane, the house rests in an environment. Even the stroke of color or geometric forms are applied in such a way as one can imagine moving around them. The abstraction is grounded by the physical laws of the natural world, and therefore lends itself to the possibility that someone has navigated these unexplained surroundings.

Damian Stamer Barnyard Brawl

After leaving the studio, Damian was headed to North Carolina and Europe for the next month in hopes of travel, inspiration, adventure and completing his next series.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Desert Musical Oasis: Coachella 2010

EVENT: Coachella Music Festival
LOCATION: Palm Desert, CA
DATES: April 16 - 18, 2010

A recent festival junkie, I have traveled across the country to sample regional, rhythmic delicacies. From Rothbury in Michigan to Austin City Limits in Texas, each festival comes with their own breed of fan and their own breed of music. Though I was born and raised in California, AP testing schedules dissuaded me from attending Coachella in the past. However, with only the lurking doom of graduate finals, I manged to place responsibility on hold for the yearly event. And oh, what an event it was.

The highlight, beyond the musicians? The fashion of course. Women sported uber-chic cutoff shorts paired with leather boots and vintage sunglasses. The look was monotone and drowned in a pool of Echo Park cliches. Thankfully, Dita von Teese and her disco-influenced posse silenced the crowd with her
vintage appeal. Men, conversely, ignored the skinny jean and plaid button-up fad. Instead, hairless, shirtless bodies ran wild in the desert heat. Excuse me as I place my judgments on hold. Let's talk music. Each day featured a definitive highlight. LCD Soundsystem enveloped the nighttime drowsiness with a constant stream of persistent danceable beats. Even the shyest of folk jumped wildly. James Murphy, LCD alum and founder of DFA records, is not the average indie man. He does not weigh 40 pounds nor does he advocate cynicism. Instead, James Murphy is a legend amongst the average fellow. His normalcy highlights his exuberant talent. Though most stayed for Jay-Z, I was not emotionally prepared to sacrifice perfection with fame. So, as LCD still lingered on the tongue, I traced back to my hotel.

Words cannot express Day 2 of Coachella. Ignore The Gossip, or
She & Him or Beyonce sightings backstage as she searched for snacks. Day 2 was dominated by Die Antwoord. Making their American debut, the part trip-hop, part performance artists from the slums of South Africa disturbed the ill-informed crowd with their emaciated bodies and their music videos featuring the terminally ill...while those of us who know the brilliance stood their with mouths ajar and eyes watering. The audience began with nearly 200 members and dwindled down to half as each song became increasingly more aggressive and each beat became increasingly more indirect.

And as the event progressed, the temperature rose, and soon even the A-list celebrities wilted in the midday sun. Florence and the Machine gave an energetic and solid performance, while Orbital whisked the tent back to the days of nineties house. All sinfully pleasurable, my one complaint is the heat and the twelve dollar drinks...both of which avoidable with the necessary precautions.

In correlation with the festival, I had the opportunity to interview the San Diego band The Soft Pack. Four guys with the simple desire to play rock n' roll, their newness in the musical realm has not dissuaded their fame. Already a festival favorite, these four simply boys who have a keen admiration for improv, prove that pretension and fame do not go hand-in-hand.

(interview courtesy of

Courtney Nichols: Let’s talk about your recording process. This might seem silly, but a lot of artists have revealed to drinking while in the studio. Do you guys drink while you write?
Matt Lamkin: We don’t drink really when we record.
Brian Hill: Ideally, you go in and you’re totally clear headed.
Matt: For us we always wanted to go in and get out and hammer it out.
Brian: It doesn’t really worth all that when you are drunk and you want to add something because then you end up deleting it because you know it sounds really terrible.

Do you brainstorm at your house or in the studio?
Matt: We brainstorm at Matty’s garage and all mess around.
Brian: On our own time we all have guitars lying around. We come up with ideas and bring that stuff to what we will start recording.
Matt: We have pretty much everything written by the time we go in. There’s not much left up to chance when we go into the studio.
Brian: There’s always a possibility when you don’t have that stuffed nailed down that once you go into the studio it will drive you crazy.

How do you name a song? Is it typically lyric based?
Matt: Yes, usually lyric based. I try to come up with the simplest, main thread that runs through the song - something catchy and easy to remember.

So then music is created first?
Matt: Basically how it works, someone will bring a guitar or Brian will put something together and play a little thing and we will try it out. We will play with the band for however long it takes to hammer it out and once we get the song done I will write lyrics—
Brian: Or sometimes, he writes lyrics on the spot.
Matt: We’ve done a couple of songs where we have switched instruments. We were bored and frustrated and everyone would play another instrument and we would record it with a couple songs. I made lyrics on the spot for a couple songs.
Brian: And they never changed.
Matt: It’s pretty cool.

And your genre, how would you define that?
Brian: I always just say rock n’ roll because that makes the most sense to me.
Matt: But we are also kind of indie, alternative. I call it party angst.
Brian: Matt come up with power conservative, which I like a lot.
Matt: It’s just a concept.

So are your audiences as diverse as the genres?
Matt: Actually yeah. You get a lot of men and women who come to our shows. You don’t want to be grouped.

Different ages, sexuality—
Matt: Yep!

Now, I’m not going to ask why you changed your name to The Muslims, but did your past audiences follow you? Or do many now know that you are the same band?
Brian: There are some people still do not know it is the same band and some people don’t know it’s the same people—well at least Matt and Matty are the same people—so they’ll say, “Oh I liked them better when they were The Muslims.” But it’s the same people! All the touring we’ve done by this point has been as us. It’s just a name.

You’re from San Diego originally. How has that affected your music?
Matt: Growing up in San Diego, following all the San Diego bands. There was a really great scene in the nineties. Three Mile Pilot….all these bands with a really cool and creative atmosphere. It definitely shaped us.

Do you still follow any San Diego bands?
Matt: Totally, we just did a tour with The Breeders who are a really cool San Diego band.
Brian: El Mania, their alter ego band, is really great. It’s nice to know what’s going on in your hometown.

You live in LA now right?
Brian: We do. It’s a lot better than I thought it would be. There’s a lot of good, random comedy to see.

You’re comedy fans?
Brian: When you’re home and you were on tour for a long time, it’s kind of more appealing to see stand-up. When you are in a band the last thing you want to do when you got off of touring is hear somebody play really loud.

Where do you go in LA?
Brian: The Upright Citizen’s Brigade is really good. Is there one in SF?

No, but I always wanted to go to the Facebook Night they have in LA.
Brian: Oh! I heard that’s really good.
Matt: Jeff Garlin has a weekly show there. Sometimes he’s not there because he’s working on a show, but he’s really good. He has great guests. Robin Williams was there. And it’s always a dollar. There’s also the Hollywood stuff like Laugh Factory.
Brian: Yeah, Hollywood Improv has this thing—I don’t know what to call it—with these bizarro comics.
Matt: There are a couple good guys. There’s Joe King who is a big name in LA, and Rick Shapiro.

I feel like I’ve heard the name Rick Shapiro before.
Brian: He’s been on a lot of shows. He was on HBO’s Louis C.K. Show. He was the neighbor. He’s really funny.
Matt: Yeah, he’s a really cool guy.

Do you practice improv at all?
Brian: I have completely respect for anybody who does it really well. I don’t think I could do it. No way. It’s so scary to just get up there in a theater, in front of a microphone, with a crowd.

What’s the difference between that and being in a band?
Brian: You can rely on other people. I’m a drummer so I have all this stuff around me. I have this physical barrier between the people and me. I’m not really giving anything of myself except how I am playing. I’m not making up good stories so that people are laughing.
Matt: It’s a real fucking skill. It’s amazing. Dave Chapelle is my muse. He’s such a genius.
Brian: He’s such a good storyteller.

I’m sure comedians think this of musicians as well.
Brian: Yeah, I’m sure. Like Belushi got Fear on Saturday Night Live. He tried to get Black Flag on there too.

Do you guys have any other hobbies or do you just stick with the music realm?
Matt: Brian’s a record collector.
Brian: I haven’t done anything productive with it like turning it into a night where I get free drinks. I’m going to work on that. That’s the next step. I don’t want my records to just sit there.

Do you have a prized record?
Brian: Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Nightmares in Wax – Pete Burns’ pre-Dead of Alive disco-punk band. I found the 12-inch. I’ve been looking for it for years. It’s all these homoerotic songs. The title track is Black Leather. So awesome!

Did you find it at a garage sale? Or online?
Brian: I found it on Ebay. I’ve been looking for it for years but it’s always really expensive. I found a torn up copy where the record was perfect and the sleeve was really torn up. I didn’t care. I had to have this record. That was Holy Grail record and now I don’t really know what I need. I go to record stores and I guess I don’t need anymore records because I don’t need anything that I have to tear through the rack to find.

Are there any record stores in LA you can recommend?
Brian: Of course there is Amoeba, which is great. There’s a really cool little one called Territory that used to a BBQ place / record story but I think the BBQ side of it is closed now. Territory is in Silverlake and in Los Feliz there is Vacation Vinyl.
Matt: All around awesome place.
Brian: The people that run that are really cool.

So you are signed to Kemado Records. They are very community oriented. How did you get involved with them? Their ideas behind co-op music shops are so utterly unique.
Brian: We just met the guy. A friend of ours, Paul introduced us to the guys who do the label and we just hit it off with them. We thought they were really cool. A few months went by and we did CMJ and they still wanted to work with us.
Matt: They were the first to give us a deal. They were the longest to maintain interest.

Have you met the other bands on the label?
Matt: Dungeon is really cool.
Brian: They’re putting out a record by this girl named Cameron and her backing band is really cool. A hardcore band. They got them reunited to be her backup band. It’s really cool music—kind of indie-ish and current.
Matt: The Sword.

I ask because many bands haven’t met or even heard of the bands on their record label.
Brian: Sometimes bands put out such a variety that they wouldn’t get a chance to play together.
Matt: Children are pretty good.
Brian: They are cool. Kind of like Metallica.

Old Metallica or new Metallica?
Brian: Old! Like Master of Puppets.

Well, let’s finish off with a question of sexuality. Brian, you are out and proud. Do you think that is necessary in the music world?
Brian: I wouldn’t put it on anyone else to handle it any one way. Whatever is right for you. It’s definitely more beneficial the more people that come out and are public figures or are in any kind of media position. It helps anyone who is younger or people like me who didn’t have a gay role model while growing up and didn’t know what it meant to be gay and be an adult and function in a cool way, not living this life that was less then what you wanted. Not like it was that hard when I grew up.

So did you create the name of The Soft Pack. It has gay written all over it!
Brian: You’re only the third person who has gotten it! I’ve been saying it a lot more. I don’t think it hurts anybody. But then again, I wouldn’t tell anybody about how to discuss their homosexuality. For me, now that I’ve been out, I never want to be closeted. Why? I feel so much better about myself.

And that has affected your confidence on stage?
Brian: Totally! I don’t think I could do this if I was doing two things at once. I would probably work in an office and not talk to anybody.

Soft Pack tour dates and awesome polaroids can be found here:


The Hole as a Whole

EXHIBITION TITLE: MOMENTS (Bringing Back the Now) Moment 1 of 3: 100 Performances from the Hole – Take Two
LOCATION: SOMArts Cultural Center’s Main Gallery 934 Brannan St San Francisco, CA 94103 DATES: March 6 - March 20, 2010
CURATORIAL TEAM: Kevin Chen, Jackie Im, Lex Leifheint, Lucy Kalyani Lin, Peter Foucault, Justin Hoover and Jennifer Locke

"This soil and the space extending above it shall not be a part of any nation and shall not be subject to any entity's jurisdiction." Mark Brest Van Kempen's text from the Free Speech Monument, Berkeley.

How can a hole function as a depiction of completeness and freedom? An interesting show at SOMArts featured a hole as main character for creativity, freedom, and craziness throughout live performances. Artist and curator Justin Hoover originally conceived the idea of honoring a hole. The show was based on Hoover’s short lived Garage Biennial, in which he first invited people to use a hole as a performance venue. Inspired by a (w)hole and expressed alive in front of the audience, the 100 performances’ exhibition featured professional artists and amateurs in the same stage, where singers, rock stars, and dancers play with the hole’s emptiness and bring completion within their acts. Over the course of six hours, participants created a multitude of two minute performances. To me, the event was more like a theatrical play in which the audience got bored as well as amused at certain moments, so minutes of climax and tension along with ones of calm and boring-ness were staged. Based on what I saw, San Francisco could be identified as a key place to experience live art. If so performance may be the Bay Area's primary medium of visual art. What does this claim suggest about San Francisco’s temperature in contemporary art?

Regarding the main character: what was a hole doing in the floor of a gallery space? Located in the west corner of SOMArts main gallery, a 5' by 6' by 3' hole, previously used as a mechanic's pit, has participated in art installations since Justin Hoover came on board as the gallery director. Instead of hiding or fixing the hole, curators at SOMArts made it evident as a submerged stage for anyone who had something to express. (This hole reminds me of the one that exists in the University Museum of Science and Arts in Mexico City MUCA Campus, where the only time the hole was shown was in Helen Escobedo’s solo exhibition in 2000. Escobedo knew about the hole since she was the director of that museum for several years. The artist broke the floor of the gallery and made the hole a part of her installation for a specific artwork. The audience was amused by the fact that the solid floor of the gallery where they were standing was actually full of emptiness.) SOMArts’ hole gathered more than 100 performance artists who made a variety of work ranging from fantastic to failed. Since there were 100 options on the menu, audience members were able to find something they liked. However, this makes me wonder about the parameters of a successful performance. Is a positive response and participation from the audience what determines success? Or is it the content of the work shown there the only aspect that determines good work? What if the performance did not shock the audience? Instead, if boring-ness ruled, was the performance good? What if nobody claps at the end of it? In this questioning, I want to focus on one performance that went beyond these limited questions and audience’s expectations: Third Hole by performance artist Kathryn Wiliamson, an MFA candidate at SFAI. Kathryn uses her body to perform in everyday situations, from falling down on the street to drinking an excess of water. She states, "I believe art happens everywhere." Kathryn has developed a very interesting body of work that emerges from what she observes from her environment.

Kathryn Williamson Third Hole

For MOMENTS, Wiliamson prepared what I interpret as a summary of the whole evening's event: one action followed by another that could not be easily predicted. Kathryn entered the hole in a very focused mood. Once there, she started to get undressed and people grew quiet when they saw that she was stripping. However, Wiliamson stopped undressing when she got to the layer of her skin tight black suit. This time, she took the scissors and cut a hole in the fabric around her crotch. One might have expected the performance to continue along the lines of Yoko Ono's Cut Piece. But instead, Kathryn again changed direction when she took a rod and inserted it inside of her vagina. Was it a dildo? No. Kathryn lit the cylinder, assumed a yoga position with her legs in the air, and sparks started to fly out of her vagina. Was it going to explode? Would she be hurt? The sparks subsided and for the next few minutes colored gas came out and invaded the whole gallery. (At this point, Justin asked the crowd to exit the site since it was difficult to breath.) Was there any clapping at the end? Did the performance fulfill peoples’ expectations? Did the element of shock force people to like or dislike this performance? Interesting questions are the ones that I keep asking myself regarding this specific performance. One last question is the one that could abstract them all: Is a great work of art one that clarifies a process of internal questioning? The artworks, the great ones, are the ones that take you somewhere else, that does not shock you but instead awes you, where the like and dislike are mixed together without distinctions, and when you find yourself so astonished that your hands cannot move, so there is no clap at all. (Could this also be a sense of human completion? Is this the goal of art?) Thanks to this show, the hole at SOMArts showed us a whole range of possibilities regarding art.

-- FRIDA CANO DOMINGUEZ, Fundación/Coleccion Jumex scholar

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Janus at Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure 3030 20th Street San Francisco, CA 94110
DATES: March 12 - April 24, 2010

Sarah Smith, the curator of
Alchemy, describes the show as "new work by artists who act on schemes of transformation and whose investigations are imbued with metaphor and poetry. By using basic and humble materials and processes, they create work that revives, transforms and restores our sense of wonder."

The piece that struck me from
Alchemy was Adam Hathaway's Janus: an interactive sculpture that is playful, and very much restores my sense of wonder, as Smith intended with the show. The question with this piece is the interesting play with communication, and how one may contribute to the sculpture by talking on the phone that in turn records your voice as you can hear someone else's voice talking to you. I find interesting that you cannot communicate with the voice at the end of the line, since it is a ghost that has only left its mark on a maze-like tape that runs through the insides of the sculpture. Is it fake communication? Is it miscommunication?

Adam Hathaway Janus

To me, it was simply a special experience. As I approached the sculpture, it seemed rather curious, like an antique marvel. There was an instruction next to the sculpture that read: PLEASE PICK UP THE PHONE. TALK AND LISTEN. And so I did. I Picked up the phone, uttering the typical "Hello?", and what the ghost at the end of the line did was emit a soft laughter that made me smile. Maybe the piece attempts to have the public converse with ghosts that have left their voices and laughter behind, strangers that converse and scratch a guilty pleasure of overhearing someone's thoughts or touching intimate fibers of one's soul by simple laughter.

The final aspect of the piece is the playfulness with time, where the voice one hears lies in the past, and the one the viewer produces is in the present but will lie in the past when the next user encounters it. But, the precondition that exists with this sculpture in order for it to work is the participation of the viewer, engaging him in this exchange where if you leave nothing in return, the following viewer will have nothing to experience.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

How The Rape of the Wild Wild West Was Not Depicted

EXHIBITION TITLE: Beautiful Possibility
LOCATION: Southern Exposure 3030 20th Street San Francisco, CA 94110
DATES: March 10 - April 24, 2010

Bischoff tag reveals that the photography in question is located in the Branson Caves. It reminds me somewhat of the caves near the California shoreline some distance from Eureka.

Is there smoke? What material makes this pyramidal shape of a seemingly rainbow mystical image? Portable fan and parachute silk? Is this some sort of steam release from a chemical concoction? It does seem more like an object judging only from this photograph in the front of the gallery. It is more likely to be prompted or set up to depict motion.

In photography it is crazy what is possible, limitless; there is however an explanation we cannot know certainly.

His work is about 3’ x 4.25’, and they are C-Prints. The daylight reflection is horrid. This entrance piece would otherwise seem quite serene. The stillness of the foreground puddle suggests no wind, and a slight delay of exposure by way of a closer sight investigation of said puddle therefore makes me wonder since I see no strings, how the colorful blurriness which is otherwise to greet the viewer upon entrance to the gallery should juxtaposition the caves back entrance, which is also triangular.

Best viewed during day light hours within one meter to the left of the front entrance, I recommend Venetian blinds. Burning camping gear? Is this imagery some sort of temporal aberration warning us not to construct tunnels? Nature’s ghost warning against our raping the earth perhaps?

More cloudy and refractory in the following four frames disappearing perpendicular down the next wall. It seems to be at least a fifty year old mining shaft. I’m more in tune with the repeating triangle of the first piece, and the third on the left of the perpendicular wall from the entrance. This third from left strikes me as a super-imposed or multi-colored superimposed rainbow cloud or clouds which are shown in a side of the cave, or one of them, darkness receding to the upper-right.

He might well be using a refraction device and simply be manually burning it in, there might be dozens of possibilities, and this would seem to be the easiest. Looking at the foggy rainbow in the first from right seems more like a multi-color steam bath; again, however there is nothing solid about the images on the north facing wall. The entrance print could have been an object; this is not entirely realistic in any of the other prints. The first from the left however is without a doubt a gel process of some kind, multi-colored squares receding into the darkness of the cave mouth which touches on the top and left of the frame.

It kind of drives one mad, trying to figure out the magician’s secret, well Mr. Bischoff, what is it?

As photography is my exception I have to say the Pebworth installation at Southern Exposure will probably be my favorite for the year. Previous entitlements in my mind have gone to Bruce Conner, Trevor Paglen, and Enrique Chagoya, all previously exhibited at the University Of California Museum in Berkeley. One exception here would be the Emile Rose Garcia exhibition at the San Jose Modern.

Unlike Bruce Conner we have no sense of the counter culture other than a subtle political statement against the Bush administration. George Bush isn’t really responsible for the mass genocide in this country, although he could have been reincarnated from King George, if that were true then we really could blame George Bush. Gods save the King, the King is dead, long live the king.

With a forward and backwards by Rebecca Solnit in the illustrated book or gallery catalog of $15 plus tax we are treated with one whose words form an anti-capitalist tapestry of the formation most sublime, we can see a sense, or rather read a sense of political history into Pebworth’s body of work, albeit literally. With Pebworth, It’s already there figuratively at least, I shall address that.

Unlike Mr. Paglen (who is my sister’s age, and visited us at the Berkeley tree sit during his doctorial) there is little here to expose other than the little known fact of Americanitis which in today’s trans-nationalism seems like a combination of a sixty year late health care reform bill, opposed by half of the country, and gingivitis, in the form of latent racism, sexism, and homophobia, to say nothing of the wage slavery system and immigrant exploitation. Thank you for choosing McDonald’s King George, and please enjoy your death burger.

Of course in the Americanitis Elixer questionnaire without any doubt I cite capitalism as the most prominent figure in post-modern Amerikkkanitis. Unlike Paglen I’ve yet to receive a PhD in anything, and I’m no longer certified in first aid, yet you seem to have the gist of my diagnosis.

The paintings actually give a sense of hope and trans genesis of the ancient Americans and that of our colonial, and Victorian ancestry without revealing any actual factors about how this might be done other than perhaps a suggestion of green engineering inspired in part by the political renderings of the Obama administration. This is depicted with a greenbelt surrounding an industrial windmill, and a solar panel next to an aluminum watering hole for Bison, to suggest free range beasts of yesteryear. The depiction here suggests a return to the wilderness after our initial re-terra formation. Yet aren’t we still doomed to repeat our past? The paintings do not do so without spilling the blood of the past vis a vis the Industrial Genocide (Revolution), a depiction of the wild wild west with an oil derrick here and a factory with smoke stacks there. To Native Americans each of white man’s ages in this country was only a red man’s age of genocide, so I must relate this sad fact to you. I appreciate a message of hope, yet my integrity demands for a sharper intake of events as it were.

The paintings are so painterly in the most recent realist stylization; I hate to say there was no bloodshed, no sense of admonishment, and no sense of atonement, no demand for justice or liberty (although in all honesty these are only Christian ideologies,) more importantly no rage against the machine as it were. Why is there no realization of the Terminator in our state capital for example? Do not the tools of McCarthyism also reach beyond Reagan the actor to our own puppet regime? The outrage however is all ours, the guilt inherited by our fore fathers. It is no surprise that the paintings are cast in the bread and circus in the political circus like Barnum or Bailey, or Buffalo Bills public spectacle? Hello, remember Diane Arbus? If I had your talents, I’m sure I would depict something in a much stronger standard of political awareness. However it would seem our own political history is our own freak show. Sadly Rome was not burned in a day; if the subtlety of these paintings does not rally the left of left here in Northern California one must assume it does ratify the right of center in more conservative gallery locations. No mention of KKK rallies, lynching, deforestation, toxic residue, (one oil derrick and vague icons of industrialism not with standing,) or other demonstrative examples of our nation’s history, this is all in our mind according to this glorification of hope in the new democratic regime. Illustriously rendered, morally and politically motivating, yet Enrique Chagoya she is not.

This installation is too subtle, not shocking enough, not provocative enough, although sadly, it is more than most conservatives can handle. Why attempt to placate the new Reich? I left feeling indignant that she did not slap them squarely. I realize however that I am putting the cart before the mule, or rather the politics before the art, well forgive me Ms. Pebworth, wasn’t that your intention?

Strangely enough she is mostly like Camille Rose Garcia. Rather than expose a grotesque metaphor for the life we pretend doesn’t surround us, like Brice Bischoff she merely refracts the mirror image just slightly enough to expose our own frightening reality.

This was written with apologies to Camille Rose Garcia, Enrique Chagoya, Trevor Paglen, and Bruce Conner. I wanted to speak with Ms. Pebworth about the metaphysical aspects of her paintings today, but her entourage appointee interrupted me and I could not speak to her of her sense of her own dream scape, so I had to use my instincts based on feel, sight, and my sense of dystopianism as it is given to me by the new republic. Gods save the King, the King is dead, long live the King. Next time give the interview.


Look at Kim Cook's Work at Upcoming SFAI Vernissage

EXHIBITION TITLE: San Francisco Art Institute Vernissage
LOCATION: Herbst Theater 401 Van Ness San Francisco, CA 94102
Friday May 14, 2010 6pm - 8pm

Kim Cook, a second year New Genre's focus at the San Francisco Art Institute is currently working on a project entitled, Resource Exchange, a commentary on restricted access to our global water supply. Water, a natural resource that should be within reach to the global community, unfortunately is not. With more than 95% of the world's water supply owned by powerhouse corporations, business becomes the middle-man, thereby hindering our free access to water and restricting not only who the reserve reaches, but how we obtain it. In preparation for Vernissage, SFAI's final showcase of graduating MFA practices, Kim asked myself and four other volunteers to participate in modeling her take on the quite literal handicapping society faces in their struggle for water access.

Photo courtesy of Kim Cook

Kim designed a garment that serves as both a hybrid life vest and straight jacket. A harness on the back holds in place a one gallon container of water making it inaccessible for the person carrying it to drink from it themselves. Hand made and crafted with impeccable artistry, the garb had all the characteristics of both a life preserver (the polished detail of hand sewn plush materials) and a straight jacket (arm restraints and belted clasps). Both of these things working against one another dissolved the garment's individual functionality and actually hindering out mobility and ability to interact with the other participants. The garment's dichotomy between a life preserver and a restraint was a conceptually created a metaphor for the global water crisis. On one hand, water should be within reach for consumption at any point to anyone, yet corporate control of the circulation of fresh drinking water limits millions on a daily basis.

As models, we acted out this restriction first hand. Our group was challenged by Kim to situate our bodies in various ways that allowed everyone could drink from the jugs of water resting on each of our backs. No outside props could be used, and each arrangement was no a success unless everyone could drink, thus stressing the interdependence of global water access. Kim's design to implement a straight jacket impeded any movement of the arms, obstructing us as models from using our hands for anything.

The reliance we all felt on one another to gain access to the water on the backs of each other was a punctilious, meticulous commentary on the global water crisis. Having to contort our bodies in various positions and focus our energy on the whole group drinking rather than our individual parts proved to be a severe challenge with only five people, let alone that proposed on the global scale.

Photo courtesy of Kim Cook

Kim documented our efforts and plans to create sketches of some of the images, voiding each model of recognizable facial features, thereby universalizing us as representations of all those effected by the fresh water crisis. Having seen a basic sample of the drawn work, the sketches are extremely poetic in their forms and aesthetically subdued despite the intense nature of the commentary at hand.


ODDSAC: A Visual Album by Animal Collective and Danny Perez

A couple weeks ago I went to a screening of Oddsac, the visual album just released by the band Animal Collective. Following the screening there was a short question and answer session, which proved to be more confusing than the film itself (intoxicated 18 year olds don’t always ask the best questions!). Animal Collective is a band known for its experimental music and more so its presentation of said music. The band’s live shows are consistently full of color, chaos, and craziness. I went into the film knowing that I was about to view an array confusing and dizzying images and my gut feelings were correct!

The film in its entirety is fifty three minutes, however we only saw about twenty five to thirty minutes of it. While at times highly amusing, I found the portion we saw to be completely unoriginal. Every scene seemed to rip off of someone else's idea. For example, for many scenes in the movie, one of the band members is dressed up in an outfit that was screaming Matthew Barney’s Cremaster loud and clear. The films as a whole has a very dark feel to it. It starts with a woman trying desperately to stop a wall that seems to be gushing out tar from it, followed by several scenes featuring vampires, and a family camping trip gone awry when the family members mouths turn into marshmallows and all is doomed. If you like Animal Collective, like I do, I would suggest closing your eyes for the middle part of the film in which a series of unrecognizable images are mashed and mixed together for ten minutes with an after affect of nausea and confusion. There is a lot of struggle amongst the characters that gives the film some sense of cohesiveness and as Perez said in the question and answer session after in which he revealed he wanted the viewer to feel extreme discomfort, you definitely had a sense of frustration as you viewed certain scenes.

Photo courtesy of Animal Collective

The final scene of the film was my favorite and definitely the most playful and exciting portion. The music at this point moving from a slow and steady beat moved into typical Animal Collective overdrive as unrecognizable sounds shot through the theater and you could sense a jump in audience energy. The scene features a monster like creature and four girls who are baking, the baking soon turns into a massive food fight, while a new animal collective song in the background sings, “I just want you to dance”. The camera slowly pans away as the music slows down but the food fight commences and the film ends on a positive and upbeat note.

The idea of a visual album I think is an interesting one. Surely not all bands interpretation of visual album would be quite the visual explosion that animal collective produced for its fans. In terms of representing music with images it reminded me of Kandinsky’s insistence of linking colors to music and sounds. Without the music the film would just seem like an experimental flop, but the music coinciding with the film makes for an interesting experience, one I am glad I was able to be a part of.

As for the name of the film, Oddsac, the members of Animal Collective revealed the deep meaning behind it. Apparently a discussion was had in which there was no name for when you get a pack of gummy bears and the majority of bears are stuck together in a clumpy mass. So there you have it, Oddsac.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Shanghai at an Angle

A couple of weeks ago, we visited the Shanghai exhibition held at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Although some of my classmates have already written about this exhibition on the blog, I wanted to write about my own experience.

Two days before our fieldtrip I injured my back. Needless to say, I was in a lot of pain and could barely walk. So, the day we went to visit the museum I was offered to be pushed around the exhibition on a wheelchair.

It was a very interesting experience looking at an exhibition from a wheelchair, when it’s designed for people of normal stature. Most of the artwork hanging on the walls I could appreciate, but some were too high, so I had to be pushed back to be able to see them. Some pieces were on display encased over tables, where it was very difficult for me to actually see what was in there because of the angle I could look from. What was very delighting to see on a wheelchair was the section in the exhibition where the museum was showing contemporary videos. The video exhibition is designed for people to sit and watch, as I can assess by all the chairs placed in auditorium mode in front of the screen. There, I felt comfortable appreciating the exhibition that was designed to be looked at from my angle.

Although I'm aware that most exhibition designs are created with the average walking person in mind, it got me thinking about all the people who cannot walk around a show as I did that day. Can we really design exhibitions that will accommodate both the walking viewer and the public in wheelchairs? Perhaps we should reconsider alternative angles of viewing artwork that are not necessarily in an upright standing position. We build museums and gallery spaces that are wheelchair accessible, but what about the exhibitions? I hope we can integrate all public into exhibition making, no matter from which physical position they may view artworks.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

What We Want Is Free, or is it?

Published in 2005 by State University of New York Press

Five years ago, when the book What We Want is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art was published, its goal by the editor Ted Purves was to start a conversation about particular practices that began emerging in the late 90s; the act of giving, or gifting that began disrupting the cult of commodity that had dominated the art world for-almost-ever. Having come across this book now, in 2010, the material is not dated at all. The continued move by many artists to explore the ideas in this book continue to expand into even more defined practices. However, one irony that I found was that the cover price for this thin hardback was $50.

Artists have been dabbling in alternate ways to interact or engage with their audience, but the somewhat lofty notions of a roving audience that was eager for a chance to eat for free or get a free poster was in some ways a fantasy that was never realized in the same way that the artists dreamed. Not to dismiss the success or ambition by any projects like this, but there is an expectation that people will want something, and be grateful when they get it. I recall stories of one of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) works that was at the American Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007; the series of stacked posters that were free to roll up and take with you. Patrons who had rolled them up and had them sticking out of backpacks and back pockets like cumbersome fishing poles were either asked to not bring them into other pavilions because they might harm the works by accident, or they simply got tired of carrying them around. People that I talked to said that it was kind of funny to see them littered around the Biennale grounds, or stuffed into garbage cans haphazardly.

I mention this because there seems to be a difference in the intention of the artists, and the outcome that is a result of a kind of naive artist ego; where they never meet expectations. This being said, there are some projects that do truly connect and fulfill the hopes that the artists had when they began to dream them up. Mary Jane Jacob, former cheif curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the MOCA in Los Angeles, starts the book off with the essay 'Reciprocal Generosity' that truly addresses many of my concerns when thinking about generosity as a mode of operating in the art world. For her starting point–once getting beyond some of the historical trend setters in the field, going as far back as the early 70s with artists like Gordon Matta-Clark–she admits, " engagement with this concept is a critique of the arts institution's relationship to its audience." If, as I would assume we all agree, that an arts institution–and more than that of a school, but rather that of a museum–operates from a position of privilege and power, Jacobs recognizes the essential equation that must be negotiated. If these privileged institutions,"'Charged with giving, the receiver–their audiences–is seen as being in need, lacking, or deficient," than what Jacobs so perfectly acknowledged is that for the act of generosity to perhaps be most successful, it must enter into public space and away from an institutional setting that constructs scarcity. Later in the book, what I see to be the most inventive works by the many artists that this book covers take place in the most non-art environments imaginable, giving the works the greatest chance at having an impact and living up to the concept of generosity.

Other essays really dial in a deeper critical engagement with the concepts of exchange and generosity. The idea of surplus and the construction of scarcity get addressed by Kate Fowle and Lars Bang Larsen. Tackling the notion of public space by unpacking the planning codes in San Francisco–which implement mandatory public space–is revealed to be what is described as 'institutionalized generosity.' Now, in the past few years after San Francisco re-fashioned Union Square–once an epi-center for assembly, where such legendary anarchist voices in labor and immigrant rights movements like Emma Goldman spoke to crowds–Union Square has been turned into a corporate staging grounds. On any given day if you try and cut through the square, or attempt to go have lunch and people watch, you are confronted by steel barricades at all entry points as teams of workers take down or put up massive climate controlled tents for corporate pow-wows. The 'institutionalized generosity' that is spoken of in this section of the book is directed at individual entities like the CNET building, which even though it is open to the public, it is still controlled by access and surveillance. The 'exchange' of space here is far from free. The farther we get from the urban center, we start to see that darlings of the 'relational aesthetics' brood like Rirkrit Tiravanija and his free curry lunches provided at Jack Hanley gallery back in the day get eclipsed by larger projects like THE LAND (1998-ongoing), where Tiravanija along with the collective Superflex and many local artists in Thailand initiated a project that developed artist residencies and also a kind of free open space where people could come and live, experiment and work the rice fields (this was not mentioned in the book.)

Jens Hanning Foreigners Free

In the second half of the book we are introduced to dozens of amazing artist projects that take on different facets of generosity and exchange. A favorite of mine was Danish artist Jens Haaning and his work FOREIGNERS FREE (1997-2001), where he simply placed text at the window of the museums that had invited him, reading-Foreigners Free, allowing any individual who was not a local in the country in question free admittance.

Michael Swaine Reap What You Sew

Other great projects that utilized the urban terrain were Michael Swaine's REAP WHAT YOU SEW (2002), where the artist walked the streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin district with a cart that had a sewing machine, offering to mend the clothes of anyone that needed his service. I was privileged enough to have seen Michael on many occasions doing this, and the way this work transformed the people on the streets was remarkable. Small crowds would hang out, socializing and having a moment that would brighten their day. Occasionally, I hear that Michael still rolls out his cart when he feels the need to. Jon Rubin, who is mentioned more then once in the book, has done such amazing works like The Hillman City FREEmobile in 2003, where a modified ice cream truck, of which Jon did all the modifications himself, was tricked out and offered to the community of a residential neighborhood in Seattle for the summer. Individuals, groups and families used the truck to distribute free goods and services to their fellow community members. Everything from homemade candle giveaways, free bicycle repair and line-dancing lessons were given out that summer. Jon Rubin is also the founder of the now legendary, but defunct Independent School of Art (ISA) which was a free art school started in San Francisco after an ambivalent stint as a teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute. He now teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania.

Jon Rubin The Hillman City FREEmobile

New practices have emerged in the years after this book came out, and new projects have been inspired by some classic works, like Joseph Beuys 700 Oaks project at Documenta 7 in 1982, where the process or sowing oak trees continues till this day under the auspices of the FIU (Free International University). Artist Pedro Reyes developed the project PARA POR PISTOLAS (Guns for Spades) in 2007, where, through a campaign of television commercials and public outreach, had members of one of the most gun totting communities in Mexico trade in guns for credit at local businesses for food or appliances. The guns were then crushed, melted down and turned into shovels at a local fabrication site, then distributed all over the city so that school children could plant trees with them. The project was, more than just steeped in an inventive strategy of exchange, but also became a kind of artist initiated alchemy. In the post-relational aesthetics art world, almost like the art worlds own little Post-Fordist moment, many artists are now involved in what is being called 'service-aesthetics', " the Whitney Biennial in New York [...] artist Bert Rodriguez presented In the Beginning . . . , 2008. The piece consisted of a simulacrum of a generic psychologist’s office—complete with de rigueur stuffed leather chairs and potted plant—in which the artist (although he is not a trained therapist) held forty-five-minute personal consultations."*

Exchange is now becoming an activity that, although still largely run by gallerist bloated events like Art Basel in Miami, or by auction houses all over Europe and Asia (Hong Kong is home to a new branch of Sotheby's which is becoming a huge player in the art market in Asia of the works of artists from the west) – yet the work covered in this book, as well as the other works I have mentioned, are harder to weave into the traditional methods of economic exchange embedded in the art worlds mechanisms. There are still ways that these artists mentioned above make money, but they survive more so off of grants, and funds earned through becoming educators as well as getting involved in social concerns in a variety of locales. The idea of the artist as commodity maker is starting to fade as we move into the twenty-first century, and as far as I am concerned, this has been a long time coming.

Stay tuned to this blog for my look at the published exhibition series CHARLEY by curators Massimiliano Gioni, Ali Subotnick and artist Maurizio Cattelan.

*From the Steven Henry Madoff article on Personal Transactions in Art, September 2008 issue of ARTFORUM.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Searching For Feminist Traces Within SFAI MFA Performance

The artist Anna Mendieta who was born and raised in Cuba came to the United States in her early teens. Her work involved her body in ritual acts (often with the body absent) and is documented by photographs that exhibited the impression of her body on the landscape, reminiscent of ancient sculpture.

Anna Mendieta (Photo courtesy of Whitney Museum of American Art)

She has said, “My art is the way I re-establish bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. Through my earth/ body sculptures I become one with the earth… I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body.”
Ana Mendieta’s Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, 1972–1985, were rigorous projects that included tough performances, which often responded to feminist concerns. In Mexico she made the first of her Siluetas (1973–80), symbolic and strange works in which she cut, burnt, drew or otherwise shaped a human silhouette, often her own, in the outdoors. In Cuba, she produced her Rupestrian Sculptures (1981), carving anthropomorphic shapes into ancient limestone grottoes. Terming her work as Earth Body to describe her ephemeral interventions. She drew heavily on research about indigenous beliefs and later tried to distance herself from her work’s association with feminist goddess cults, but did not completely succeed.

Taking this into consideration, I present you with a work I viewed as part of the performance exhibition in the Swell Gallery a few weeks back. Our colleague, Mick Larusso performed a piece he titled
Breathing Landscape. He described the piece with the following text, “I will be laying nude on the ground with three cross-sections from a felled tree covering my body for an hour…. The piece relates to Ana Mendieta, since my body becomes a landscape. At the same time I address the guilt of deforestation in the ideology of environmentalism, since I am struggling under the weight of the tree stumps. I'm calling it Breathing Landscape.” The card that was placed on the wall to the right of where Mick was performing proposed,” The reclining body has often been related to the landscape. Can the weight of a freshly felled tree be sensed ion the body as remorse for an imagined lost relationship; with an ideal of wilderness?”

Mick Larusso Breathing Landscapes (Photo taken by Frida Cano)

Taking into consideration Mick’s intentions, as well as his reference to Anna Mendieta, I ask myself can a work so deeply invested in referencing goddess culture be seen in a performance by a white male in the space of a gallery? Is the effect of these “living sculptures” the same for the observer?

Mendieta’s ritualistic emphasis and the spiritual value attached to the female body in its absence and presence is key to her work. However the ritualistic emphasis in Mendieta’s work doesn’t seem as applicable to Larusso’s performance. It may be that his spectacle of pain provides him with a purifying effect in that it exemplifies the pain he feels as a result of the destruction of nature. Instead of humans destroying nature, nature is weighing heavy on humans. Rather than the symbiotic appearance seen in Mendietta's work, Larusso’s performance is much more of a confrontation and disruption. Like Ana, his body is his material and his performance is emotive and produces a human sculptural form that is deeply referential of form in it.

Mick Larusso Breathing Landscapes (Photo taken by Frida Cano)

A concern for many performance artists is the opportunity to “re-site” art outside of standard art appreciation systems, often as a protest against the objectification and commercialization of artwork, and as a way to provide for more of an exchange between artist and viewer. The denial of hierarchy of form and acceptance of artifice can be seen in Larusso’s piece however the effect of his work is unlike that of Mendieta’s, partially because of its lack of specific ritual, its disrupting nature and the fact that he is performing within a gallery space in an academic institution with an audience that is very exclusive and makes up only a small part of the general public. Had he performed his work in a more public space with somewhat of a reference to history or culture there may be more of a link to his indented historical reference and stronger social critique. What do you think?