Terri Friedman: Rewire

Awe/ful, 2018, wool, acrylic, cotton, metallic fibers, 45 x 64 inches 

 

Terri Friedman’s “Rewire” at Cue Foundation (September 2–29, 2020) directly engages with the psychic reality of our strife-filled current times – but rather than critiquing the subjects at hand, her work delves into the tender drama at play within individual brains and bodies worldwide. Friedman’s woven paintings are abstract, colorful, and multi-textured cross-sections of brains under the spectrum of emotion, with a gentle suggestion to consciously alter the patterns and pathways away from a default of negativity, as she states: “cultivating elevated states and happy hormones is a political and personal weapon against indulging in despair.”

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

This body of work is both a sign of the times, and a suggested antidote – to “re-wire” the brain from the current default of angst and worry. Was there any specific event or spark that initiated this series, and over what period of time were the works made?

This series is part of a larger body of work that I have been working on since the last election. I think the national unrest and political volatility sparked my own personal anxiety. My work journals the world around me and my own inner world. I'm wired for worry, but between Climate Change, the national and global uncertainty, racial inequity, the fake news, our President . . . I could go on, I just started feeling despair. My weaving became my medicine. An antidote to all the heartbreak and grief. What if I made protest posters like Sister Corita Kent with words, color, and abstraction. Tapestries that were healing, life affirming, but also agitated yet affirmative screams. Brain and cognitive science has found that the brain, which we assumed was not plastic after childhood is actually able to be rewired. This is neuroplasticity. So rewiring which is actionable is about repair. It's optimistic.

 

The suggested connection between neural networks and weaving is made visceral through the variation of textures, sizes, and methods by which the materials are adhered—the end result being an expressive diagram seemingly composed of tissue, vessels, and other bodily matter. For this reason, did your process of weaving feeling extra charged either psychically or physically? How was it to make this works?

That's such a great question. No one ever asks how it was for me physically or psychically to make this work. It's actually a very important question. I am so interested in the somatic and psychological experiences of artists. Weaving can be back breaking. Such physical work. But, also immersive and meditative. Sometimes I just lose track of time. The repetition kind of puts me in a trance state. Psychically it was exhilarating. I just love working with so many textures, fiber, and colors. It is like a fiber orgy. I have accumulated so many clear tupperware boxes filled of colored fibers the past years. All kinds from naturally dyed wool to cotton piping which I paint with acrylic paint to metallic to acrylic to hemp and more. I draw out the piece ahead of time with diagrams of textures/fibers/colors/warp design and graph it out. Then I select all my fibers and begin. The pre-weaving process is lengthy.

 

You mentioned Sister Corita Kent as an influence in terms of subject, spirit, and presentation. Are there any specific artists or weaving traditions that have informed your work on a more material level?

I came to textiles late in my career, 2014. I painted and made kinetic sculptures before that. Though the connective thread though all my work has been color, body, breath, and brain. I am most informed by painters/artists (mostly women) who indulge in color and odd materials like Joanne Greenbaum, Sarah Cain, Shara Hughes, Judith Lynhares, Kathy Butterly, Rachel Harrison, Katharina Grosse, Katherine Bradford, Nick Cave, Polly Apfelbaum, Jeff Gibson, Franz West, and more. Textile artists that I look at are Sheila Hicks, Hannah Ryggen, Josep Grau-Garriga, Anni Albers, Magdalena Abakanwicz, and numerous younger living artists. On a material level, so many artists who stretch materials are interesting to me. I define craft as attention to detail. So, it's a broad interpretation. 

 

Enough, 2018, wool, cotton, hemp, acrylic, metallic fibers, 77 x 50 inches

 

Text also appears in these works in the form of single words or short phrases – often slanted toward the negative, such as AWE/FUL, E/NO/UGH, IF ONLY. Did these words arise in your mind organically (almost mirroring their presence in the artworks) or was there a process from which you arrived at them?

The words are more disbelief or antidotes to anxiety: like Pause, Awake, In/hale/ex, and more.  they can be either positive or negative. They are ambiguous. AWE-inspiring + awFUL (thus AWE/FUL). ENOUGH connotes 'stop! enough!' OR I am 'good enough' as I am. IF ONLY is regret, but also kind of romantic, living in the past, kind of naive because it's done. What good is regret? Just move on and take action now, in the present moment. Awake is a reminder to wake up to the volatility and it's a call to action. I like small benign or ambiguous words. Words that are spacious and give the viewer a roll in completing. I don't want to lecture, they are more of a suggestion or direction. They blend in and are almost camouflaged. The words arise at the same time as the drawing. They are like another color or shape. I don't illustrate the words, but I do try and have the piece emote with color and form what I am feeling. Like the burning pink, so hot and inflamed with 'Awake'. OR the eye chart and busy anxiety of E/NO/UGH. I like abstraction and words because they feel generous and not didactic. Immersive. 

 

Oxytocin, 2019, wool, acrylic, cotton, hemp, chenile, metallic fibers, 77 x 70 inches

 

One of my favorites is “Oxytocin” which is composed mainly of shades of gray, with a half-smile of rainbow drooping off the side in a way that is bleakly humorous. There is a certain messiness to these works that communicate a degree of confusion and stress, but the bright colors and titles such as “Looking for what is not wrong” indicate an underlying search for the bright side. Is perseverance part of the thesis of this exhibition?

Oxytocin is a happy hormone like serotonin and dopamine. My titles and palettes do reflect perseverance. Rewiring takes effort but is a positive action. In some ways, this work and the titles are my attempt to rewire my brain for positivity given how dark and bleak the world feels right now. And, they are remedies for the personal and national anxiety and grief. So much loss with COVID, the criminality of our government and more. Humor or delight are very important to me. I had an art history professor in college use the term 'sickly sweet' to talk about Chagall's work. He did not like the work and was disparaging. And, all I could think was 'I love sickly sweet'.

 

Devon Dikeou: Mid-Career Smear On Pause

Devon Dikeou, Do I Know You?, 1991 ongoing

 

Devon Dikeou’s retrospective “Mid-Career Smear” opened at the Dikeou Collection, Denver, in February 2020. Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic forced art venues around the world to close their doors and postpone their programs. With the exhibition on pause, we reflect on the background and ongoing context of the show and work included.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

What does the “Mid-Career Smear,” a retrospective, mean to you as an artist at this point in your career? 

Hmmmmmm well given the circumstances it’s hard to speak on MCS. My hope is sometime in the future we can all get out to see all the art that is out there on view (but closed at this time) and then enjoy, wonder, be inspired, because at this time it’s needed more than ever. We are living in our version of the bubonic plague . . . let’s try to think of how art influences us even if from centuries, generations before, or more currently . . . there’s Bruegel’s “The Triumph of Death”. . . which fills the well of what life might have been like. . . even as it was painted later than the actual pandemic. Other artworks in the 20th century offer a different take. Rothko’s chapel in De Menil Museum campus . . . Rothko’s architecture and paintings in the chapel reflect that along with the monumental Barnett Newman sculpture, “Broken Obelisk,” that flanks the chapel structure—all non-denominational places of solace, worship, meditation. And then there are Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post magazine covers during the Great Depression and WWII, a great example, “The Four Freedoms.” Another seminal piece is Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” made in 1967 during the Vietnam War. . . Much less Keith Haring’s AIDS awareness posters and paintings, during the AIDS epidemic: “IGNORANCE=FEAR.” Art fills a special place. A comfort, a critique, an illustration, a reflection of life’s strife, as well as moments of jubilation. My work of 30 years gets nowhere near all those aspirations but tries very hard to touch them.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death, c. 1562

 

 

Keith Haring, Ignorance = Fear, 1989

 

While you were born and raised in Colorado, most of your development and exhibiting as a visual artist has occurred elsewhere, with perhaps your most formative period being in New York City during the 1980s and 1990s. Can you speak about this and what it means to show a deep survey of your work in Denver to a mostly Coloradan audience?

Well Colorado and Denver, these places, were my first tutorial. Really the Denver Art Museum and Denver Public Library were the retreats I ran too, á la Claudia in the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler. The library is where I read that book, DAM is where I saw all the art I could—from Armand Hammer’s exquisite soup tureen collection to pop paintings in the DAM Bonfils Gallery including a mesmerizing drugstore window by Richard Estes. One show is about objects, soup tureens, which are magical in a Maurice Merleau-Ponty way, even if you don’t know phenomenology. The other drew me into a window, which paintings are, a painterly window, and as realistic as can be imagined in content. What are windows, of course they are also mirrors. Manet teaches us with that in “The Bar at the Folies Bergere” and the Velvet Underground with their song “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” inspired by Warhol, then appropriated by Nan Goldin’s ‘90s slide installation of the same title. These windows, mirrors, and objects: they are “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” given and exposed to just one among many youngsters in Denver in the only Gio Ponti building in America and in my case the Eugene Field Library. The Ponti BTW is where I first applied for a group show with “old school” slides. The curators were Deborah Butterfield, Peter Plagens, and Marcia Tucker. My piece “Security Secure” was selected for the show “Colorado 1990.” Weirdly, the best thing happened . . . during the opening the lighting staff left the cherry picker in front of my installation of gates and glass, not realizing my installation was a part of the exhibition. Inbetween that gate and glass installation . . . I also ended up with a few Encyclopedia Brown books . . . all overdue. Another inbetween.

 

Devon Dikeou, Security/Secure, 1989 ongoing

 

As a collector I know you value an individual's ability to view an artwork over a period of time and see how their relationship to the work changes—an essential notion to the Dikeou Collection. As an artist revisiting your own earlier artworks, did you find that you relate to them differently now? Any specific examples you can offer?

For sure. But also not simply because of MCS. As a publisher/editor of zingmagazine and by extension a collector with the Dikeou Collection, both kinda took over. My art practice lost its ummmph, just rested. I saw to those other two uses of my energy as part of my practice more thoroughly. And they were well-tended. So there were many zing projects that opened the way to viewing so many artists and other creatives. And the Dikeou Collection like zing was a platform to share and I hope we have . . . From time to time during this less productive period of my art practice, cause I’m such a weird archiver I’d look at some of my work from years past in the binders above the computer. Looking at images of work reminded me of my sometimes prescient ideas as a practicing artist then, all in hibernation. In those moments I was reacquainted with old friends and that re-immersed me in their boldness, i.e. the “Here Is New York” security gate series, most recently shown at James Fuentes, as well as many little bits that at the time I thought were supremely unmonumental . . . Surprisingly, little turns out to be big, just like in Alice in Wonderland. The Rolodexes are a crowd favorite . . . they almost were not included.

 

Do you identify primarily as an artist? If so, how do you believe this has affected your approach as a publisher and a collector?

Yes and no. It’s a trifecta, I think. As an artist in the mid-late ‘80s and early ‘90s I’d visit and do the gallery tour. Sometimes alone sometimes with others. Then you’d gobble up the Friday NYT and the Wednesday Village Voice. I remember a quote from VV somewhere along there, that went like this . . . “The Cindy Sherman show at Metro Pictures is like shopping at Bergdorf’s at Christmas. At Paula Cooper, the Jennifer Bartlet show which has orange painted chairs and other objects in front of the paintings, a collector was heard saying as the dealer left the room, ‘If we buy it, can we put the chair in the closet’”. It’s funny as an artist to hear or read those words. And then as always my thoughts kinda come from words, and my work didn’t really get much written attention so I started writing my own. You’d see all this amazing work of your contemporaries and why their work wasn’t being shown or collected, much less published. And that’s the genesis of both my publishing and collecting instincts. Hence both zingmagazine and the Dikeou Collection, which by the way, along with just being artist, editing is perhaps the most powerful tool one can possess in all three practices.

 

 

Devon Dikeou, Between the Acts, 2014 ongoing

 

Who/what have been your greatest influences over the course of your career? And how have they, if at all, influenced “Mid-Career Smear”?

I have a daily diet of 24-hour TV, but really it’s the same as everyone else. Learning, looking, curiosity, inspiration. No matter where these impulses come from . . . but most likely they come from close to home. For me that would be from my mother LSD and her friend Frank for decor and fashion, both of which are a huge part of my practice. Don’t think of decor and fashion as the frill but the set. It sets you inbetween you and the people you meet and see. My father—space and the relation to it, what a space like a parking lot could mean, and understanding what that represents . . . something inbetween big and small, commercial and other. Brother, it’s belonging and knowing you always will, cause often there are cracks. My fellow, who helps me execute, is out front when I hold back. There are many more: the homeless that pick you up off the street after tripping, other artists that feed you ideas and suggestions, edits you may not have considered. There are the teachers, Wendy Edwards, at Brown University, Ursula Von Rydingsvard at The School of Visual Arts, Mrs Emery’s after-school art at Graland, Mr Burrows at KDCD, all segues and that’s not all. . . There’s the professional curator who directs and guides and intuits your vision to fruition . . . not an easy task, and one that has taken over seven years and lots of different considerations, by Cortney Lane Stell, and she was the inbetween, behind the curtain . . . However, it’s always, always a new thing, an old thing each day . . . sometimes it’s just sleep. And sleep is something to try to look forward to . . . another inbetween space . . . be brightened because you’ve found it and surrendered if even in a small repetitive way, which is the inbetween of everyday . . . sleeping and waking.

 

Christian Schumann: The Spectacle of Repetition

Known for his signature expressionist paintings and drawings featuring cartoon-like imagery, Christian Schumann blends landscapes, still-lives, and figures in his artwork. Born in Rhode Island and raised in Texas, Schumann graduated with a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1992. With influences ranging from the underground art scene to the animation and video art realms, Schumann creates works that are at once imaginative, subversive and pop-culture infused. Schumann often combines text, abstraction, and figuration to create work that evokes a sense of imagination, and drips with an underlying political and social commentary.

Interview by Mauricio Rocha

 

What inspired you to transcribe traffic reports, as in your work “Obstacles” featured in zing #25?

I happened upon radio traffic reports on Los Angeles radio stations incidentally as I went about scanning the radio looking for anything interesting to listen to. While most stations were fairly unlistenable, the one thing that universally stood out was the distinctive obsession and personality of the Los Angeles driving experience that stood out in the traffic reports. There was an excited joy in reporting every turned-over trailer full of mangos or stray dog running along a highway. The incidents stood out so much I decided to record them as a list as I heard them. 


Do you view obstacles as a negative or positive experience?

Too many obstacles can be draining and I admit I find them to be a negative, although ideally one could take a Zen Panda approach to them, waiting to see if what at first seems to be a negative ends up having a positive effect somehow. The paths of our lives are directed by obstacles to varying degrees, depending upon one's luck and tenacity. 

 

Why did you want to focus on the text and language of the reports, with no visual representation?

I think reading text describes an image perfectly well in one's mind. I thought of writing the text as a form of poetry, not exactly concrete poetry but something akin to that. I never considered using visuals and thought of the lines and pages of text as a visual in itself.

 

I view this project as a form of poetry as well, and sort of an endless one at that. The obstacles in the traffic reveal something about the people of LA in the sense that what they carry with them, matters most to them. Do you think these "obstacles" reveal LA's personality?

Yes, as you suggest, what physically matters most to people is what they choose to carry with them from place to place as they move. Casualties of these moves constantly end up shattered along the pavement: family photos, clothes, and mementos scattered to the wind and possibly causing terrible accidents along the way and influencing the lives of others. 

In Hollywood fashion, I think there is an element of entertainment to the reports. In a city that revels in police chases that are televised as a sort of sporting event, any unusual activity that takes place on the highways constitutes a major element of everyone's daily lives is noticed and transformed into spectacle. With a general lack of weather to report on perhaps these unusual obstacles fill in as a replacement for "dangerous" weather systems that would ordinarily maintain the interest of listeners. 

 

I noticed many repeat obstacles in your work: varying types of debris (metal, plastic, wooden, glass), animals (dogs, a horse bench, a goose, a box of bees), unknown objects, furniture, and food (avocados, chocolate, carrots, grapes, red peppers, lemons). Do you think these objects are an accurate representation of Los Angeles?

In a utilitarian sense, yes, the city is revealed by its highway detritus. It almost feels like an engineering problem, a side effect of daily use which must be constantly dealt with. Los Angeles is an overburdened hub of transit for international shipping and food transport which results in the occasionally overturned vegetable trailers. Additionally, I omitted many entries in order to avoid too much repetition of the most popular items: gardening equipment, ladders, mattresses and furniture. Lawn care workers are pretty ubiquitous and there is generally a lot of mobility in people's lives so a combination of flux and upkeep pervades the transit routes. Patterns, habit, entropy at the edges. 

 

Do you have a personal connection to Los Angeles?

I lived there for six years or so with my family and our daughter was born there. I don't currently have a great personal bond with LA apart from friends that live there. 

 

Do you think the early 2000s were a different time than now? 

Not really. I think all the elements that comprise our current state of affairs were in play in the early 2000s as well. If anything I am disappointed in the lack of long term change in our global societies over the past 50 years, let alone the past decade. The patterns of our world are older than we think, its obstacles presented as a spectacle of repetition and entertainment while simultaneously hindering our progress. 

 

That is interesting you find the repetition of society as hindering our progress. That is true because if we keep doing the same things, how will we ever evolve into something different, or better? Do you think that our US society is too comfortable with the familiar and afraid of change?

The structures built by previous generations to inhabit provide for maximum convenience and minimum effort (providing one has funds to support it). Stepping out of these pre-existing paths requires effort, learning and a willingness to discard old things. Those are all very challenging barriers to breaking the system of patterns we all function in. It's as though a collective neurosis is directing the continuation of increasingly pyrrhic habits of our societies in order to hide us from the reality of what lies ahead. 

Take the most common element of highway debris for example: lawn care equipment. These devices are used expressly for the relentless maintenance of a centuries-old European tradition meant to imitate bourgeoise status which exploded across 20th Century American real estate development. Here we are now in the 21st Century maintaining an outmoded status ideal, which apart from being completely detached from necessary to a home environment, also creates a huge economic and environmental burden. Fertilization chemical run off, the burning of fossil fuels to power lawn mowers and their transport, the slow-moving lawn care vehicles also clogging freeways with debris. I believe that the removal of the traditional grass front lawn would have positive repercussions. The benefits would be limited but we are faced with the fact that most aspects of our lives are similarly outdated and the structures built to maintain this toxic civilization are at a breaking point. Human civilization is trapped on the global 405 of its own making. 

 

What sort of obstacles do you see in society's way in 2020?

We are our own worst obstacle. 

 

 

Neck Lotion & Nihilism: The Fiction of Rachel Cole Dalamangas

 

After growing up between Denver, Colorado and the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, Rachel Cole Dalamangas earned her MFA in literary arts from Brown University in 2011. She is an author who specializes in creating short works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry and is currently based out of New York City. Her work has been featured in BOMB Magazine, Bookslut, zingmagazine, among others, and explores humans’ different states of consciousness. We spoke with her to discover more about her writing process, inspirations, and the future.

Interview by Mauricio Rocha

 

Your short story in zingmagazine #25, “The Leftovers,” is centered on two elderly couples coming to accept and comprehend the final phase in their life cycle. What do you think the afterlife holds for your characters? 

I was writing this story around the time my father was succumbing to terminal cancer. He and I used to go hiking all over Colorado when I was a kid and we would have lengthy, winding, abstract, unlikely conversations about the nature of existence. So I was thinking a lot about what consciousness is and what happens after we die. I think the way the four characters examine the possibilities of the great unknown reflects my agnostic worldview. I've always been fixated on death and dying and states of consciousness. 

That said, I think reincarnation is my favorite answer. I can imagine Rose becoming an asocial small mammal, perhaps a hedgehog or a mole. Maybe Debbie is freed from the cycle of life and death and transcends into a state of being some sort of otherworldly figure. The Roberts are clearly soul mates, so I think they will have a great love affair in the next life. 

 

I enjoy the philosophical aspect to the story, it has a very stream of conscious feel to it, the way the characters converse with each other and contemplate the end of the world by way of robots, UFOs, global warming or an "orange blast." It is scary stuff but told in a light-hearted way. Do you like to play with tone and voice in your work, or is something that happens organically? 

It happens organically and then I notice myself doing it so I start to do it even more. 

 

Your story takes place near a dog-food factory. Being from Denver, I know that neighborhood as Swansea. Was this one of your inspirations for the setting?

It pleases me so much that you saw the Swansea neighborhood of Denver in the landscape of the story. I was imagining a nameless, nowhere-in-particular place that was an amalgamation of "left behind" places in America I've passed through, many of them in Colorado.

 

I noticed many uses of the color green throughout the story: turtles, a frog, a stegosaurus, teal eyes, turquoise, and even aliens. What does the color green represent for you?

Are all those things actually green? I think aliens are gray, right? Aren't turtles really more like a bunch of different earthy brown tones? I don't think green is symbolic of anything for me, at least not consciously. I think all that color is just what my mind's eye conjures when I think of Colorado. 

 

 

Photo: Levi Mandel

 

Time seems to be a prominent theme in the story, the passage of it on Earth and the generational gap between the young and old. Do you think time is something to fear or embrace?

Both. Personally, my life always feels like it's going so slowly, but for some reason it still seems like I'm getting old incredibly fast. But there's no choice other than to fear and embrace the passing of time. While I don't look forward to getting older per se, I'm excited about (hopefully) being really old someday because I think I will be great at being a weird old lady. When I'm walking to work on the Upper East Side, I pass these little old ladies in their leopard print berets and big sunglasses and fuchsia lipstick and am taking notes because I'm secretly planning a fabulous wardrobe for when I'm old. 

 

I love that you are already planning your future wardrobe. I look forward to being (hopefully) wiser, and more refined. Is that something you are looking forward to as well? Or do you think that’s something we can start doing today, in our younger years? 

I think what's important specifically in terms of aging well is to drink more water and don't forget to put lotion on your neck. 

 

The squirrel in the story is funny and it pivots some of the characters against nature. How do you feel about animals and nature? 

That's an excellent question and now that you mention it, I think the squirrel is actually the personification of my own pathetic, toothless misanthropy. When I was writing this story, I was going through a phase where I was trying out nihilism a little bit because cancer is a relevant occasion for nihilism. You can't stop cancer. You can't control it. It's this slow-moving, unstoppable, gruesome, unfair, profane, meaningless disaster that happens. There's no point and no good reason and no silver lining.

But, there's also the realization that no matter how big or dramatic your problems feel to you personally, they are of equal relevance to a squirrel's in the greater order of the cosmos. That sounds so negative, but it's actually humbling and awe-inspiring to remember how small your existence really is. So for me, it's important to be emotionally honest about difficult circumstances because sometimes life is just shit and the only way through it is feeling however you feel. 

 

Your story contains moments of magical realism, where dreams and visions blur into real life. Moments like when Rob sees his brother hatch from an egg with egg beater hands, or the light Bert sees at the end of the tunnel. Do you view everyday life as magical, or extraordinary?

I think I'm interested in how the surface texture of reality has changed rapidly as a result of technology. I'm interested in how literary realism attempts to respond to an accelerated, interconnected, image-driven world. I'm also interested in how consciousness works and how the human mind constructs reality especially as technology improves at replicating the human mind and the human mind changes in response to technology. 

So I like to explore states of consciousness, and I like to write narrative circumstances where alternate interpretations of what is happening are all equally possibly true and where there isn't necessarily any need to resolve the truth. 

 

How has the novel, The End of Vandalism by Thomas Drury, influenced your writing? 

Well, it's an extraordinary work of literary realism because of how Drury cannily toys with style. The End of Vandalism isn't a book I'm sure how to approach critically. It's a book I keep near my desk and read a little of at random to get the prose in my ear before I start writing. There's something very lively in the beats of wry, easy humor. It's the kind of book that wakes me up and reminds me of how much is possible in fiction. Also, it's one of the most hilarious books I've ever read. 

 

Are there any upcoming projects you are working on that our audience can look forward to?

I've been working on a short story all year long and it's still not done. I am probably the slowest writer in the world.

 

Romana Drdova: Filtering the Data Smog

Photo by Tomas Soucek

 

Romana Drdova is a visual artist from Prague, Czech Republic and has traveled to Seoul, China, Paris, New York and beyond studying and perfecting her craft. Her work explores different modes of communication, expression, and transparency in a “data smog” filled modern world. Using her 2D and 3D art installations, photography, fashion design, assemblage and mixed media, Drdova questions what it means to live in this day and age, how we interact with our environment, and how our surroundings impact our personal experiences.

 

Interview by Mauricio Rocha

 

 

Your work in zing #25, "Mapo Tofu Masks: An Asian Love Story," explores people's relationship with technology, food, beauty, fashion, and more. How has your time in Korea and Prague influenced your work?

 

I went to Seoul as a student with a scholarship and spent an absolutely exceptional time there. I learned how Korean people take care of themselves in the terms of how they eat, how they care about their skin, how important is for them to spend time together, among other things. I couldn't have imagined how much it would influence me to stay in Korea. When I came back to Prague, where I am based, I started to understand that my destiny is to cultivate my work through this fascination and emotions that I have from Asian culture. I would say that I work like a translator of these emotions to my own language or maybe a better explanation is that in my soul is a recorded hardware with information which matches with those Asian memories. Someone might call it karma.

 

I enjoy seeing the inspiration from your environment in your work. What are some of your favorite places to visit and work in around the world? 

I like the contrast of places I’ve had an opportunity to visit. I have a special bond to China. I consider this place to be the beginning of our civilization and it will probably be associated with our demise... but perhaps it should be like the natural circulation of everything, life and death. In Asia I feel as my real self and calm. On the other hand, I love the hustle and bustle of New York and the openness in communicating with people, the freedom they show on the streets. This makes it extremely unique and inspiring to me.

 

Photo by Tomas Soucek 

 

 

The face masks you designed are an extension of your work in the magazine, provide a 3D element, and can even be categorized as an art installation. Does your artwork usually feature a combination of art and fashion?

 

I had to find my own way of expressing myself as a necessity. The combination of art and wearable objects that are fashionable has certainly defined me since my childhood. I am not someone who speaks loudly and is confident in verbal expression. With pictures and text I can say what I can't verbalize and if I can wear it as clothing, then it is easier to express who I am. This is self-confidence. I always get drawn to a more complicated approach to creation, using layered meanings, but I believe it's very similar to learning a different language. You meet, fall in love and learn from each other. During my practice I have met so many interesting people and stimuli with similar feelings and I can give them a new insight into the matter. And that's why I do it. I want people to wear my clothes, to see it in surplus value and to be happy with them. I don't want to exhibit only in galleries where you feel a distance to objects. I want people to have a real experience when they buy my product.

 

 

Do you usually take the photos in your projects yourself or weave them together as a collage?

 

It depends on topic. Usually I spend days to find visual material that fits to my ideas. Actually I prefer both. My favorite discipline is assemblage; it is more combination 2D with 3D objects in the space or on fabric. After that I am able to sew clothes with clearly given motives or to cut fabrics freely and the result is intuitive improvisation. Now for example I collaborate with French performer Arianne Foks on a series of coats, we are writing texts and taking photos as daily memories. The topic of our work is current and alarming subjects such a global warming, women’s rights, breaking social values, false and true, transparency etc.

 

 

You mention a "data smog" in our recent climate, what do you mean by this? 

 

"Data smog" is more metaphor than literal expression. I use this phrase as an explanation for an endless number of stimuli overloading our organs under the weight of everyday pressure that society creates. I first used this term in work from 2015 when I created protective shields against the bustle of city. They are made of plastic with headdress and you can decide if you tilt the shield down or allow people to see your face. It has a purpose: you can see people, but others can't see you. I was confronted with controversial views from passerby. But I believe we all have the right to privacy and rest when we want it and no one can complain because I look differently than others.

 

 

Your work features several foods: sushi, rice cakes, popcorn, rice, gummy sharks, and marshmallows. How do you view food in this "love story" you've created?

 

Eating is very important for every culture regardless of which content it is. I used these fancy motives thanks to their easygoing narrative. There is an immediate link to Japan, infantile style or kind of perversity. I started with masks as my diploma work 2017 as a part of a bigger project with trash recycling. I spent a few months in Beijing before that, and my work was inspired by the inability to keep this incredible amount of newly made things and that which we throw away on this planet. I rented the space and opened "shop" with trash I collected for 5 months. This trash contained plastic bottles, polystyrene, all kinds of weird plastic materials... and I installed them at the shop. Customers could come in freely and buy it, take it, and discuss its problems. And of course, part of this project was cooking and preparing of sushi, because it's easiest and effective. Now I am preparing my second collection of masks as a continuation of this "love story".

 

 

Photo by Julie Hrncirova

 

What are some of your favorite foods?

I prefer Asian food preparation. My kitchen looks that way too. Haha. I like to discover new tastes, for example, I am currently fascinated by varieties of flavors from Laos, which I first tasted at the Lao Siam restaurant in Paris. They offer banana salads and such delicious tapioca desserts; it was an absolutely excellent experience for my taste buds.

 

I think a universality in your work is that we are all looking for love, and for food, as both are essential to our survival as humans. Would you say that fashion and art are just as essential for humans? 

I would not say that fashion and art are essential for humans. I would say that they are surplus value that we can enrich our lives and minds with. It is a nourishment for our spirit and inner world that each of us can cultivate.

 

What projects are you currently working on and what can readers expect to see from you in the future? 

I started new mask designs for 2020, now I'm preparing cuts for coats with a similar theme. In spring I have a big project based on the circulation of materials supported by the National Gallery in Prague. A great inspiration for this exhibition was staying in New York and my own work from materials that I had the opportunity to obtain at Materials for the Arts. I would like masks and clothing to be brought to the attention of as many people as possible and to make them happy and enjoyable.

 

Craig Dykers: In the Eye of the Observer

 

 

Since 1989, Craig Dykers has established architectural offices in Norway, Egypt, England, and the United States. His interest in design as a promoter of social and physical well-being is supported by ongoing observation and development of an innovative and sustainable design process. As one of the Found Partners of Snøhetta, Craig has led many of Snøhetta’s prominent projects internationally, including the Alexandria Library in Egypt, the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, Norway, the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York City, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Expansion in California, and the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre in Toronto, Canada. Recently Craig has led the design of the new pedestrian plazas in Times Square and The French Laundry Kitchen Expansion and Garden Renovation in Yountville.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

  

Your work as an architect is well-known. But your project "Observationalist" in zingmagazine #25 features your photography. What sparked your interest in this medium?

Photography in and of itself is not a standalone technology for observation. I use multiple methods of observing people, activity, and things. Sometimes I sketch, sometimes I commit things to memory, I might be listening to sounds around me so I have recorded audio in the past. And the way I use photography is to capture a very quick snapshot of something. If I need to move quickly, the camera can capture something that I see and allows me to continue moving. Whereas sketching and other types of technology take up more time. I would say that it's more about capturing moments in very quick succession. It's a form of note-taking. I don't see these photographs as a form of artwork or a representation of the photographic medium. It's the content that is driving it. I am not much of a photographer otherwise. It's very important to have the right kind of camera. So as cameras became digitalized, to a certain extent it became easier to take these types of photographs. You can be walking and a take a photograph in a different direction, so you never need to hold the camera to your eyes. It's just more relaxing. Not only for me, but also for people on the street. As soon as you put a camera to your eye it changes the context. I'm trying to capture things as much as possible exactly as they are in that moment in time without preconceptions. Free of the distraction of the camera to the subject or my own artistic intent. When you're walking with a camera at your waist, it's very hard to control. You're not thinking about how to frame the photo. You just snap it. With a couple of those photographs it does amaze me sometimes when you look back at them after you've taken them that you're able to capture an image that seems well-balanced or seems to be as if it were posed or at least framed in some way. I think that's an interesting point. You can use a quick response technique to create something aesthetically appealing. There's something about intuition, and not just of the mind but of the body.

 

"Observationalist" gathers your conceptual yet casual photos of people and things, organized in loose, and often humorous or absurd, association. Had these associations crossed your mind previously, or did it materialize more as you organized this project?

I would say more intriguing to me is not one image in itself, but the comparison of the images to each other. Many of the photographs are of humans. And many of the photographs are of objects that humans make or acquire. The artificial world and the human world being compared to one another. There are invisible strings of meanings between them. Sometimes I try to make those connections more obvious. It tells us something about intimacy, which is a challenging subject. For those of us that live in cities, intimacy is a luxury. That's part of the thinking for those images being next to each other. Again, I don't see these entirely as works of art or photograph. I see them as fictional narratives. I don't very often show them. The last time I did that, by framing them and sticking them on the wall, would make it seem like a photograph, which isn't necessarily what they are meant to be. So I printed them very, very small, about the size of a thumbnail, and in a strip, like a ribbon. From a distance it just looked like a thin colored line, but when you got closer could see they were photographs. In order to actually view them I gave people prescription glasses that I found at a junk sale. The prescriptions would different, so you would need to stand closer or further accordingly. Then you could go along and see these images magnified. There were a couple different kinds of frames. Some were horn-rimmed, and others 19th-century wire-framed. You could test out a couple different pairs. In any case, you had to get very close to see the pictures. But the point was that it was a different experience than seeing them in a gallery on a wall.

 

I can see why this would work given their sequential nature. And I can see why it worked so well for our format as a magazine, which is also sequential in nature. Each photo has its own story as well.

I love that fact that you flip through the project one after the other, and there isn't a clear description telling you what each one is. The size of the magazine is very nice as it allowed us to use white space in the layout, which I thought was important. There's a lot of air. And the photos obviously have stories for me. Each is quite special. One photo is of a young woman I met in Guinea, West Africa. I had been traveling through in the countryside, and part of the reason I was there was to understand better what drove people in countries like Guinea and around the world to leave the countryside for cities. We like to talk about how the majority of people of the world live in cities, over 50 percent, but I was trying to understand that statistic, because many people say it with great pride, but I thought there was something strange about that. I went out into the countryside of this place that was just stunningly beautiful, and yet so many people were leaving their villages for the capital Conakry. I was interviewing people and talked to her and she said most of the young men had moved away due to the idea of economic improvement. When I asked what this meant, she didn't really have an answer. They go to the city looking for money, and in fact don't find it. It is a complex situation. And all of this beauty and contradiction I read when I look at this image. These stories in my mind are not anywhere in text form, but I feel is embedded in the images somehow.

 

 

 

Your account from Guinea brings me to how the act of observation is integral to your design process, social interactions and how people live. As busy as you might be overseeing a big architectural office, and with other distractions vying for attention, do you make a point to set aside time for observation?

I try to as much as possible. It gets harder and harder as time goes by, but I do. And I've even done very unusual things. For example, I'll fly into a place and instead of taking ground transportation of any kind from the airport to where I have to go, and I have a lot of time, I'll walk instead. You sense a place in a very different way walking through parking lots, the leftover spaces in between parking lots, through loading docks of some strange big box building to get to another street. Crossing into some forgotten about residential district near the airport, and continuing to walk along larger roads trying to avoid dangerous situations with cars, along the side of the freeway. I've spent sometimes five hours walking. I've never had a rolling suitcase, only a shoulder bag. It allows me to be pretty mobile when I need to be. So that also allows me to observe things in a very different way. The problem these days is like many I held off on using my phone as a camera for so long, and unfortunately now am using it more and more. I liked holding a camera in my hand. It was heavier and you could feel its purpose. The phone has so many purposes, it's just watering everything down. Furthermore, the reason you take pictures is so broad now—some for yourself, some for your friends, some for social media, some to record something you need to give someone. It's now harder to remove the images from your phone/camera. I haven't been carrying my camera as much as I used to and am a little sad about that.

 

An object with a single purpose infers more intention?

I want to get a typewriter too. I'm a really good typist. I learned at school at a very young age. And I learned on a typewriter. But that's another example of an object with a single purpose. You can only write things. You can't stop, push a key, and then browse the internet, like a computer does. So I'm thinking about reintroducing that to my life. A typewriter and getting my camera back out. This, by the way, doesn't mean I don't like computers and other technology, I just find that balance is important. And some of the photographs are talking about that—the difference between a handmade or authentic situation versus an artificial one.

 

During our initial meeting for this project, you told us about your collections of tchotchkes. In your essay, you say that "looking at man-made objects reveals our deeply seated motivations." I'm curious as to how these two things might relate—collections of small, decorative objects as manifesting something deeper, and how might this relate to the photos in the project?

Well I think one of the reasons that we occupy our minds with art on all of its levels is that we want to learn something about ourselves and the people around us somehow. We want to dig deeper into our minds. Some people have dug into their mind for a long time, so they have to dig deeper. And that type of art can be more conceptual, and harder to envision what it is. But many people don't have the luxury of digging into their minds every day, trying to understand their existence. They have to work like hell to put dinner on the table. Those people see art as something that is just letting them understand who they are and that they have some kind of significance. They don't like to be alienated. It's not art the way most of us would think of it, but to them it's a form of art. An object, something that was made by someone or something else, and it tells them a little story that they can imagine. A lot of these things that I photograph, the kitsch objects that a large percentage of the world buys. And I say that, because everywhere I go, anywhere in the world, there are these things. Not just in Philadelphia, or Hamburg, or Venice. They’re in the most remote places. Clearly, they have significance for us. They tell stories of fantasy and romanticism, how we project our own desires, our own view of ourselves, into the objects that that fill our spaces. These are very inauthentic things that still are authentic, in a way. The trolls kissing on the bench are only objects, but similarly, all of us want to have that moment to have that kiss and not care if anyone is staring at us. Or it's the ceramic dancers next to the women with similar make-up. They have the same eyes. Or the pictures of the graduates in Mexico City next to the glass figures from Krakow, Poland. The people are dressed the same, but each feels very different and special, just like all the glass animals. There's something they are desiring, and if that doesn't happen then maybe they will go out and buy these glass animals and fill their shelf.

 

Ultimately the meaning of these objects only comes in relation to people and the meaning these people impart on them?

That's correct. And then the question is whether this is true for anything—conceptual art, vernacular architecture, contemporary architecture. It's true for everything. But we just pretend there's a civilized way of seeing things and a less civilized way of seeing things, but that's in my opinion an artificial distinction.

 


Photo: Michael Grimm

 

In other publishing news, Snøhetta has just released a new monograph with Phaidon, covering 24 projects from the last decade and their evolution over time. Can you tell us more about that?

These are all built projects and furthermore all documented in their final forms, more so than the design process. As much as possible we try to capture images of our work with people involved. And this happens after building is completed and in operation. The emphasis is with trying to connect people with the building. And you need to think about all the levels of being, the way we exist in the world, in order to create the right environment. That is partially why I take all these pictures of ordinary people; there is value in observing ourselves doing seemingly simple things.

The projects in our book are from throughout our history and are divided into three themes to give further insight. The reason for this is that if we tried to unpack every project and all of its themes it would be hard to read. So we singled out some of the themes, for example politics in the space of society and civilization and how you negotiate that. Another is about generosity, and how if we are to socialize as creatures in larger civilization, there has to be generosity in order to survive. We try to create places that allow for that and collective ownership. The last has to do with our transdisciplinary process and how having multiple groups working together in a studio, as a collective, impacts the work. Many architects think they can do everything themselves and only need other people to tell them they're right. We don't do that. For instance, we have landscape architects working alongside architects, informing each other, arguing with each other, pushing the limits of what we do. We have branding and graphic design, we have product design and interior architects, all working together in a collective manner.

  

How important is publishing to Snøhetta’s practice? And did the office learn anything from the process of putting together this book that might benefit current or future architectural projects?

We have a history of not publishing. For a long time, we said, why should we publish? We design buildings. Other people can publish if they want. We didn't want to self-author it. This was part of our feeling that we didn't need a manifesto, but that was at the very beginning when we were younger. As we got older we realized that publishing was an important part of the process, not only for sharing our work with others, but also learning it ourselves. Because in making a book, when you are forced to put the work into words, and choose images to accompany these words, it allows you to look deeper into your motivations and the consequences of what you do. So we have started to publish more books recently. For example, two years ago we did a book on our work on the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. That book is different from our monograph because it focuses on only one type of project and our thinking behind making a museum. So we publish in part because there’s been greater demand, and the practical matter of more people wanting to understand our work. The books allow us to give them a certain degree of information. But the real value in publishing is about writing and words. Getting used to an editor, having a collaborative engagement with someone outside of the studio or our life, that pushes our thinking in many ways.

 

Sarah Staton & The Internet of Trees

 

Sarah Staton is an artist working with the social potentials for sculpture, and balances public commissions with studio work and occasional iterations of her ongoing SupaStore project. Her project in zingmagazine “Mycology and Dendrology” celebrates the newly identified wondrous hidden underground communication networks that researchers such as Suzanne Simard are identifying through careful study in recent years. Sarah Staton lives and works in London, and is Senior Tutor in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

How did you first learn about mycorrhizal networks, and what about them sparked your interest as a subject for art?

Around four or five years ago I came across a text that talked about the ways trees send nutrients and water to each other through their root networks and via the nets that fungi make under the forest. This fascinated me. I looked for more information and found the work of the ecologist Suzanne Simard who has been mapping and researching this area for 30 years—her Ted Talk is excellent. As for taking this knowledge as the subject for watercolor and ink drawings, I have enjoyed the visual correspondence between the forms of mycorrhizal networks and the diagrammatic networks that I doodle in academic meetings, which also correspond to the nets that spiders make when they have been fed various drugs. These "Spiders on Drugs" nets provided subject matter for an early set of watercolor and ink drawings. Mycorrhizal networks are a vehicle for me to go forward while go backwards as it were to revisit a visual form that resonates with me, and to do it in a slightly new way.

 

So would you say your recent drawing practice is about representing interconnection?

I would describe these drawings as pictorial representations, and a vehicle with which to enjoy the play of color and line on paper. In this particular set of drawings interconnectedness is represented, and they are a visual note for speculations on non-sapiens sentience.

 

How does this fit in with your other work?

Drawing as a way of thinking—I use drawing in a number of ways, sometimes to develop ideas and methods for making sculpture, sometimes as a kind of pictorial diary/note-making, and sometimes in small series to explore ideas. The mycorrhizal networks drawings are one such small series. I see a link with the notion of interconnection with the series "Spiders on Drugs" from 2001. The mycorrhizal network drawings also connect to an exhibition that I made in 2007, "In Situ Ex Situ," at Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute, in which I thought about the journey living wood takes from forest to home. For this exhibition, I created sculpture from pine furniture, manipulated with digital cutting (CNC), alongside Alpine style furniture that is essentially wood dust held together with resin, tracing a kind of timeline from majestic living wood to abject reject domestic furniture.

 

It's interesting to think of something as simultaneously a living thing and material. A transformation takes place where organism becomes commodity, not only in name from tree to wood, but also a separation in the mind where these somehow are two distinct things where origin is lost. The essay in your project expands upon this subject. Are you advocating here for sustainability or at least a consciousness surrounding the consumption of natural resources?

To take your last point first, one might say that we the humans suffer from exponential entitlement issues: our destructive domination of the animal kingdom and our planet's resources is taking us to the point of no return. How might we step back from the brink? Considering these nascent understandings of communication networks that clearly exist between living organic matter and between living creatures whose languages we don’t understand and sometimes can’t even hear, is helping me rethink consciousness in terms of consumption of natural resources. I find these areas of discovery incredibly exciting in terms of their potential for us to change our behaviors going forward.

In terms of considering the relation between organism and commodity, I am very interested in Peter Linebaugh's writings in which he studies historic processing of natural resources, along with the labor issues involved in these processes. His writing reveals in some detail the specifics of working with material and in the main he looks at the time before oil transformed our range of material options so exponentially. The pernicious effect of adding oil, petrol, and their by-products to our material register has been and continues to be corrosive on a devastating scale.

 

Your project in zing uses a rainbow spectrum of color that bring to mind a utopian visual aesthetic associated with the hippie culture of the 1960s. Was this in any way an influence here?

Absolutely this is a direct associative reference, the aesthetics of hippie culture, that point toward content, to name a few examples—in the UK, Oz Magazine, IT and Spare Rib, in the US Bijoux Funnies, the Whole Earth Catalog—this explosive  moment post-WW2 for western counter-culture. For Millennials and Gen X-Z, the rainbow spectrum may have a different reference, signifying LGBTQIA+, the double-edged sword of identity politics?

 

What projects are you engaged with currently?

I've been thinking recently about the Bauhaus education model which taught through material knowledge. As we all slip behind screens, how can retain the value of this way of thinking, in education and in the wider world too? In terms of art making, I am primarily creating commissioned public artwork, which I see as a form of applied art that I approach through the filter of material in relation to site. My tendency is to create useful sculpture for the public realm, useful places for doing nothing, that can be enjoyed bodily, structures that can be sat on, or walked on or under. I am particularly interested in inherent material attributes and how they can add enjoyment, bring pleasure, for example I am working with heat retaining terra-cotta on sculpture—making spaces that can be enjoyed into the evening, when the retained heat releases back into the bodies of those who linger and languish late in the evening.

 

Variations of a Dream: Elmgreen & Dragset and Heidi Zuckerman in Discussion

Installation view: Elmgreen & Dragset, It's Never Too Late to Say Sorry, Aspen Museum, 2018.
Photo: Tony Prikyl

Here we speak with two contributors to zing #25 who currently share an additional curatorial crossing—Elmgreen & Dragset’s installation It’s Never Too Late to Say Sorry at Aspen Art Museum (on view through May 19th, 2019), where Heidi Zuckerman serves as CEO and Director. The work itself is a display case containing a polished aluminum megaphone on a granite pedestal, which is used daily at noon by a man to shout the phrase: "It’s never too late to say sorry!" This installation and their zing project “Variations of Blue” exemplify the combination of sculpture, installation, and performance characterizing the practice of Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset, who have worked together under the name Elmgreen & Dragset since 1995. Heidi Zuckerman joined Aspen Art Museum as Nancy and Bob Magoon CEO and Director in 2005 and as Aspen Art Museum celebrates its 5th anniversary in the current Shigeru Ban building, the Crown Commons have become an architectural platform for public engagement—a context in which Elmgreen & Dragset thrive. With her zing project “…some fragment of a dream” we gain insight into what may be the beginnings of Zuckerman’s curatorial impetus, or at the least, an activation and step along the way.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

It’s Never Too Late to Say Sorry is a simple yet powerful relational gesture occurring in a public forum. How do you – both the artists and curator – feel that this work relates to its current context of Aspen, Colorado?

HZ: I am interested in Ho'oponopono, a Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. There is nothing more powerful than accepting an apology that you have not, and likely will not, receive. The placement and performance of this work in front of the Aspen Art Museum, as we approach the fifth anniversary of our building, is connected to this notion. 

E&D: Guilt is global – everyone has something to say sorry for. We’ve previously shown this work in cities ranging from Rotterdam to New York to Munich, and now, Aspen. A lot of influential people visit Aspen, and we hope the work prompts everyone to reflect on the potential power of an apology, whether it be related to civic issues, personal relationships, or something else entirely.

 

A megaphone is a very analog method of amplifying one’s voice. There are not many town criers these days. Why choose this method of communication in our contemporary context?

E&D: Today, we are bombarded by a constant stream of disembodied messages that appear on various screens in the form of tweets, text messages, news reports, emails, notifications, comments, etc. The megaphone allows the physicality of an actual human body and the sound of an actual human voice to come together and be amplified in this real-time performative action, asserting the body in space and underlining the significance of the phrase that is shouted. As you mentioned, the town crier is an extremely outdated method of communication; it starkly contrasts with all the instantaneous options we now have at our fingertips. The work harkens back to this old way of transmitting information and suggests that even though certain methods have been eclipsed by new ones, there are still some messages that endure. As an object, the megaphone is closely associated with concepts like protest, authority, disruption, and control – using it in this context hopefully brings these layered associations to the artwork as well.

HZ:  I am really interested in punctuation, and the megaphone is an incredibly elegant exclamation point!!

 

Heidi, when did you first encounter the work of Elmgreen & Dragset, and what appealed about their practice as a curator? 

HZ: While I can’t recall the first time I came across their work, two significant experiences were my visits to Prada Marfa (2005) in Texas and their Danish Pavilion installation, The Collectors, at the Venice Biennale in 2009. I am drawn to work that feels timely and relevant, and both of these installations took familiar things and offered new, surprising perspectives.

 

Elmgreen & Dragset’s project in zingmagazine #25 “Variations of Blue,” curated by Maureen Sullivan, focuses on the motif of a swimming pool in as documented in various installations of your work going back to 1997. What is it about pools that has kept you engaging with this subject over the years?

E&D: We’re fascinated by both the aesthetics and the social significance of pools. The idea of a private pool has in our post-war Western culture been a symbol of social status for those living in the suburbs. We first challenged this narrative at the Venice Biennale in 2009 with our work Death of a Collector, which depicted a wealthy art collector floating face-down in his pool in front of the Nordic Pavilion. More recently, our exhibition This Is How We Bite Our Tongue at the Whitechapel Gallery (2018–19) marked the first time we used a public pool in our work. That installation, entitled The Whitechapel Pool, dealt with the loss of civic space and shared values through the portrayal of an abandoned pool. We created a fictional history to accompany the pool, detailing its rise as a famed public amenity that later lost government funding and then got sold off to a private developer, who was about to turn it into a membership spa. Through our research for that show, we learned more about how the decline of public pools in the UK mirrors other cultural shifts in the past decade.

Back in 1997, one of our first sculptural works, Powerless Structures, Fig. 11, was a diving board that penetrated a panoramic windowpane at the Louisiana Museum, which is located by the sea north of Copenhagen. Inspired by David Hockney’s famous painting A Bigger Splash, the work also addressed the discourses of the late 1990s around the inclusion and exclusion of queer identities and minorities within established (art) institutions – the diving board being stuck midway between the inside and the outside of the museum. Nearly two decades later, in 2016, we began making a series of diving boards that are presented vertically and engage with the tradition of Minimal sculpture and stripe paintings. That same year, Public Art Fund presented Van Gogh’s Ear, our public sculpture of a garden pool – also displayed vertically – at Rockefeller Center in New York. It looked like the pool had been taken out of the showroom and put in this unfamiliar, urban context. The pool theme appeared again in Zero, our work for the 2018 Bangkok Art Biennale, which is a schematic interpretation of a pool reduced to its essential components, a hollow oval outline of the pool shape with a diving board and a ladder. We keep working with pools because we find them to be endlessly interesting subjects to consider on many different levels.

 

Spread from Heidi Zuckerman's ". . . some fragment of a dream," zingmagazine #25

 

Heidi your project in zingmagazine #25 “. . . some fragment of a dream” is centered around a collection of paperweights your grandmother gifted to you. This collection became more significant after a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, where objects like these were presented in the context of fine art. Can you further describe this satori at the Art Institute? And how have your views on collections and collecting evolved over the years (if at all)? Finally, do you still collect paperweights?

HZ: The event you are referencing happened when I was a senior in college and visiting Chicago for the first time. The satori there were linked to a much broader awakening tied to my realization that I wanted to pursue a career in art. A conversation ensued soon thereafter with my parents when I informed them of my new path. Using Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey terminology, I now understand that time as my “burning of the boats” moment.

Once one catches the collecting bug, it’s virtually impossible to shake. So, yes, I still collect paperweights and, interestingly, in the last few years, people have started to gift me them as well. I also collect chairs, blue-and-white ceramics, books, shells, and, not surprisingly, contemporary art.

 

Finally, any forthcoming projects in the works you are particularly excited about?

HZ: The next installation on the Aspen Art Museum Commons (where Elmgreen & Dragset’s work is currently installed) is by Erika Verzutti. Verzutti will create a large-scale bronze Venus—an extension of her recent smaller sculptures incorporating organic forms that depict the Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility. Her Venus will be inverted in a headstand. As an almost daily practitioner of yoga and a committed headstander, I am particularly excited about this upcoming project! 

E&D: We have several exhibitions opening in March in Asia: two gallery solo shows and a project at Art Basel Hong Kong. We’re having our first-ever show at Kukje Gallery in Seoul, entitled Adaptations, and we’ll be presenting new works in two sections of the gallery. One section will house works that incorporate familiar elements from the public sphere, while the other will display works that focus on the human body, from abstract to semi-abstract to figurative representations of the body and some of its intimate spheres. At Massimo De Carlo Gallery in Hong Kong, our exhibition Overheated will transform the gallery into an abandoned, underground boiler room with industrial tubes of various colors and sizes crisscrossing throughout the space, along with a number of sculptural works within this basement-like environment. And at Art Basel Hong Kong, we’ll be presenting City in the Sky in the Encounters sector. It’s an imaginary city in a scaled model, installed upside-down. 

After that, we’re curating a group show inspired by our favorite painter of domestic interiors, Wilhelm Hammershøi, opening at the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen in April. We’re also planning a big show at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas that will focus on our sculptural works, and that opens in September.

 

Maria Antelman is Disassembling Notions of Tech & Self

 

Video Still from “Disassembler”, 2018 HD video with sound

Video co-commissioned by Pioneer Works and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens (EMST)

 

Maria Antelman is a New York-based Greek video artist and photographer. Her work focuses primarily on the relationship between humans and technology. Her project “The Spacesaver,” curated by Melanie Flood, appears in zing #25. Antelman’s solo show “Disassembler” is on view at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn until February 10th.

Interview by Natasha Przedborski

 

Your project “The Spacesaver” in zingmagazine uses similar imagery of eyes and hands as your current show “Disassembler” on view at Pioneer Works. What is the significance of using eyes and hands in your work?

Spacesaver” is a series of photomontages, showing hands moving in and out of screens, touching information, specifically microfilm which is what big data used to be. In the video Disassembler, hands become one with a central system that controls them, like puppet hands. Here, rural workers hands are guided by the technical specifications of a wristband that Amazon patented for their warehouse pickers. I am thinking of hands as body parts but also as tools and as extensions of our technology How do the functions of the hand change, based on the technological evolutions? One example is how digital technology requires touching a lot of screens but at the same time touching becomes a less tactile experience as all media is digital. One touches to command rather than hold a physical object or medium like film, vinyl, printed books, etc.

In terms of the eye, we live in a panopticon economy. Surveillance and data collection are the hottest industry. At the same time, our eyes have become cameras, and we desire to capture and “share” everything we see (our social personas are the accumulation of what we have captured and shared). In my eyes, the “I” is an eye and how timeless the slicing of the eye scene from Buñuel’s film Un Chien Andalou! Our eyes or cameras produce and transmit images while at the same time these functions are recorded and analyzed by other, technical cameras and eyes. Technical vision creates this new awareness. Things and objects become smart and intelligent and their gaze is upon us. We create our technology in our image and in our likeness, and then it feels uncanny when we discover ourselves in it.

 

The title "Disassembler" stems from the name of the software used to transform code into a language that humans can understand. There seems to be a similar transformation that occurs when verbalizing visuals. As a non-American artist, do you feel that describing your work or translating it into English is also part of a process similar to “disassembler”?

I grew up in Athens and at the age of 18 I went to study in Madrid where nobody spoke English or any Greek. I was fully immersed and after a few years my thinking process was in Spanish, which at that moment felt like an incredible realization. Now, I have been living and working in the US for 18 years and I think of my work only in English. English is easy to work with because it has an administrative simplicity while Spanish is emotional and Greek is complex, wise, and sculptural. I am trying to maintain a multilingual situation, switching between the three languages and their different glossological idiosyncrasies.

Disassembling a language is understanding its syntax. To understand the syntax, one has to learn the grammar. When we were taught ancient Greek in school, we were given a text which we had to translate by conveying its sense (sense for sense). The syntax of ancient Greek is very dense and precise. The grammar has many rules and more exceptions, anomalous tenses, intense archaic roots and crazy compound words. Interpreting a small phrase was like deciphering a code and then magically it’s meaning made perfect sense. That process was similar to a “disassembler.” Future projects always include taking lessons of ancient Greek again.

 

“Disassembler” also raises important questions about how far technology can go in controlling and automating our behaviors. How do you consolidate this wish for a more organic world with the use of more technologically advanced animation methods? 

Technology interprets and learns to predict our behaviors, functions and ideas. The word “organic” refers to something that has an organ (tool) that supports a living system but since synthetic organs are becoming available from biological materials, the traditional organic concept is challenged. The technological is the new nature and we are adapting organically. One of my video works in the show, The Wild West, talks about rewilding the American West by reintroducing extinct species from the distant past. It shows interiors of futuristic tech and scientific laboratories. The screen is sometimes superimposed by computer vision programming graphs, guiding the viewer’s vision and referencing machine-learning algorithms. The question is how something can be wild and designed, and how something can be controlled and become wild.

 

This duality between wild and controlled is eternally present in the art world. It poses the question of how something can be genuine if it is curated. As an artist, how does it feel to be making a piece with a specific audience in mind such as “Disassembler” which was commissioned by Pioneer Works?

I made my first video work (New Horizons) in 2002, without knowing what I was doing. It was wild and it still is the best video I have ever made. Ever since, I am fighting with myself not to control my process, but instead to recreate the feeling, the power and the result of the first creation. It was a genuine instinctive moment, almost mythological. With my practice, I am trying to get out of my comfort zone and take myself somewhere I have never been before. It is also a health exercise or mental workout with interesting ideas against existential anxiety and boredom. Then the work finds its audience, or the audience finds the work. 

 

For your two pieces Darth Vader and I/Eye, what made you chose to use vintage monitors to display your work?

I think of myself as a sculptor who works with film photography and who makes electronic art works. The vintage square monitors have a body or depth as three-dimensional objects; they create a different viewing experience from the high definition flat screens with their liquid surfaces; they use an analogue aspect ratio (4/3), squarer and less widescreen.  In the I/Eye, the monitor becomes the organ which supports the eye, while Darth Vader is a monolith with a head and a body. I am interested in anthropomorphic structures and representations and analogue technology is more humanoid. 

 

Your work brings us to a different time. One that is part of the past but also deeply rooted in the future. Archives and memory are the foundation for teaching us the history of the past. In what ways do you feel like memory comes into play with your work?

During my childhood in Greece, I was only exposed to antiquities. My mother was a teacher of ancient Greek and Latin and we often visited archaeological sites. I was conceived in Delphoi. Sometimes we travelled to European cities and saw Renaissance and Baroque art and architecture. The first time I saw contemporary art was as a History and Art History student in Madrid at the Reina Sofia Museum. Years later, I landed in Silicon Valley which is a science fiction experience. I was in a new planet without any old history, or reference to the past as I understood it. It was marble versus circuits and chips. Always interested in technical things, I discovered techno archeology in an old space exploration center (AMES) and the history of Silicon Valley’s first companies with their early information systems along with other local cultural oddities. The technological memory is still exciting for me, in all forms and mediums, conceptually, historically, as digital information or analogue data and becomes a point of reference. My work is the result of all these experiences, along with the memory of my grandmother’s smell, a Greek refugee from Asia Minor.

 

The Back Alleys of Denver's Contemporary Artscape

Carlos Fresquez, Alley Freshener, 2018. Photo: Third Dune Productions. Image courtesy of the Downtown Denver Partnership and Black Cube.

 

Black Cube Nomadic Museum is a non-profit experimental art museum based in Denver, Colorado, that supports artists’ projects occurring outside traditional exhibition spaces. Their current exhibition, Between Us: The Downtown Denver Alleyway Project, partners with Downtown Denver Partnership and Downtown Denver Business Improvement District to transform alleyways in the downtown Denver area with installations by five artists curated by Black Cube: Carlos Fresquez’s Alley Freshener, Kelley Monico’s Alley Cats, Stuart Semple’s I should be crying but I just can’t let it show, Joel Swanson’s Y/OURS, and Frankie Toan’s Public Body. Each installation was created for its specific site and delivers its own meaning and context. Earlier this month Black Cube’s Executive Director and Chief Curator Cortney Lane Stell took me on a walking tour on a sunny Denver day . . .

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

This group of installations are situated within alleys in downtown Denver. How was the idea to position artwork in alleys conceived? Were there any historical precedents for this type of site that you're aware of?

The idea started by an opportunity that a friend, Castle Searcy, was working on. She had proposed a mural project to the Downtown Denver Partnership, the nonprofit organization that activates Denver's 16th Street Mall. Her proposal was to commission muralists to create "3d murals" of Colorado's attractions and pitched them as selfie opportunities. At the same time, Castle and I were involved in another project. She raised the opportunity to have Black Cube curate the project. I felt that with the funding and interesting sites, we could do something more engaging and dynamic than murals . . . (Denver has been in a major mural Renaissance lately). That’s basically how we got started, practically speaking.

In regards to your question about historical president, I am not aware of a specific history in fine art . . . but I do know the spaces have a long history with graffiti and mural art. Denver and other cities have seen a lot of growth in this area since the ‘80s, as it has become a tool for developers and real estate owners to add a youthful funk, at a relatively affordable price tag.

 

How was this group of artists chosen? Did individuals submit proposals or were artists invited to create site specific works?

The intent was to mostly focus on a local artists approach. As the curator, we selected the artists and, after a studio visit, invited them to come up with a few ideas we could explore together.

 

The 16th Street Mall is known as a major tourist thoroughfare in Denver. During our walkthrough we encountered a family from Tennessee admiring Kelly Monico's Alley Cats installation. How did the expected audience factor into what artists and works were chosen?

I approached the project looking for works that would be accessible to a wide audience, from those within the field of contemporary art and to passersby. Many of the works are intended to draw people in. I did this by selecting artworks that could be recognizable at first glance and also elicit a candid response such as amusement or surprise. My hope is that this method encourages viewers to think more deeply about the works in relation to public space. However, I am not sure if that is happening outside of the art community. 

The public reaction to Kelly Monico's Alley Cats installation has been very interesting to experience. Cat-lovers are literally coming out of surrounding offices and businesses to comment or ask questions. Families also love to hunt for all of the 300+ cat tchotchkes—it's almost become a game. This installation has really shown me how wonderful it is to make public space a place for curiosity. Though, I have to say, I'm not sure that people are thinking about the work more deeply. I have yet to hear anyone question the line the artist is walking by calling attention to our desire to anthropomorphize cats by turning them into doe-eyed garden sculptures or the reference to an infestation. Another work that has garnered a lot of attention is Carlos Fresquez's large-scale tree freshener sculpture that dangles above a line of dumpsters in a particularly pungent alley. The work regularly makes passersby laugh, but it also speaks to a deeper level as to how we care for the city and the ways we perceive alleys as dark, often overlooked, public spaces. I also love the art historical connection to other provocative public works such as Paul McCarthy's inflatable sculpture, Tree, which references an anal plug.

 

Exhibition tour led by the Montbello Drumline. Photo: From the Hip Photography. Image courtesy of the Downtown Denver Partnership and Black Cube.

 

Interesting to hear that you feel the general populace may not be engaging with the work on a deeper level. What leads you to draw this conclusion? Contemporary art often relies on explanation to reveal its meaning, and there are placards on site to assist viewers with accessing the artists’ thought processes…

I have to say, though, that I don't expect everyone to have a deep contemplative experience. It's perfectly fine for people to not even see these interventions as artworks. For me the priority is to disrupt space, challenge the mural statuesque, and offer artists unique opportunities that are both supportive and challenging. With that said, the most common response I have seen with these works is watching people stop to snap a photo, then move on. From that I've inferred that most people are simply amused by the image, but that is a huge assumption. Some folks do pause to read the text panels, but it’s far more rare (maybe 1 in 30 people). I guess all of this is the beauty and challenge of showing "art in the wild" so to say. I should also mention that expecting some would desire more interaction (mostly the artists and locals who follow Black Cube), we programmed tours and artist talks. The first tour was super fun—it was led by the Montbello drumline—it felt more like a parade . . . we had such high attendance that we had to use a bullhorn to talk at each alley!

 

Given the challenge of competing with the constant information flow and demand for attention from smart phones, I’d say that someone even stopping to take a photo means something. You never know how that image sinks in or resurfaces in their mind. But the drumline-led tour seems like a great idea and successful in deepening the engagement level. Any other programming for this project and/or other upcoming Black Cube projects that people can look out for?

There are no further programs scheduled for this particular project at the moment, but the works will be on view through (at least) May of 2019. However, we have several other projects in the works. The next project to open will be in Mexico, during the first quarter of 2019 with Alejandro Almanza Pereda. He has been amazing to work with— a lot of his work tests the limits of materials (both physical and/or perceptional). We are currently exploring a few of his ideas, so it's a little early for me to speak on the details of the project. The best way to keep up on all things Black Cube related is by signing up for our mailing list on our website blackcube.art .