Cortney Lane Stell & Michal Novotny: A Curatorial Crossing

 

Devon Dikeou "Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973" installation view

 

Cortney Lane Stell is Executive Director and Chief Curator of Black Cube, a nomadic contemporary art museum based in Denver, Colorado. Michal Novotny is Director and Curator of FUTURA Center for Contemporary Art in Prague, Czech Republic. In their first collaboration, these two organizations have partnered to host Black Cube fellow Devon Dikeou as a FUTURA artist-in-residence in Prague. This resulting exhibition, “Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973” is on view at FUTURA through September 16, 2018, alongside concurrent exhibitions by Andrew Norman Wilson and Lenka Vitkovka.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

In collaborating to produce Devon Dikeou's “Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973”, each of you are coming from very different cultural and historical backgrounds. How do you see an exhibition focusing on late 20th-century American politics relating to its context of Prague, Czech Republic?

C: The collaboration is simple—it focuses on an exchange between two countries, two nationalities, two artists, and two curators. Part of the vision of the exchange is to create conversation and share in the act of giving one thing and receiving another. So, this exhibition is part of that larger project.

In relation to the exhibition, for me it is mostly about memory—Devon’s childhood recollection of two concurrent news stories . . . a gas crisis and another about Nixon’s daughter keeping a fire and air conditioner on in the White House during this time. For me, seeing the architecture in Prague oozes with historical memory, ranging from Baroque and Renaissance architecture to more contemporary additions coming from the country’s Communist era. 

This sense of the haunting of the past is very present in my experience of Prague and also these artworks. It reminds me of a text-based artwork by Anthony Discenza who produced parking signs that said “this is about something that happened a long time ago that continues to affect us today.” In many ways, I think these works also touch on ongoing global, social, and political issues.

Though the stories that Devon culled together are rather obscure – especially for a Czech audience – the air in the exhibition space is opulent (literally warm and cool). This thread roves through the exhibition and gently teases out concepts of ecological challenges, service, and personal comfort – all of which are concerns that traverse national borders.

Michal, I wonder how you read all of this . . . do you catch the same drift? Does the exhibition feel American to you?

M: It feels very American. But, if not the world, at least the society I live in, has been culturally colonized by the USA, so it doesn't feel incomprehensible. Also, American politics is very present here in the media, maybe even over-present, at least what comes to the real material, economical, locally-political impact, so for me the parallels with the current US political situation are somehow explicit. Maybe even more than they really are there.

However, I do consider the program locally, and what is important for me is that Devon's exhibition presents something artistically familiar but also uncanny. We have a long history of conceptual art, it is still the dominant discourse, but this exhibition shows something a bit different. Maybe it's the unnecessity to poeticize everything, there is something a bit more raw in the situation encountered. Even if it may seem narrative, it's ultimately not-so-narrative.

Andrew Norman Wilson "Andrew Norman Wilson" installation view

 

Going a step further, how do you see “Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973” interacting (nor not) with the other two concurrent exhibitions at Futura, Andrew Norman Wilson: Andrew Norman Wilson and Lenka Vitkova: Slope? Michal, is there an attempt by Futura to consider in advance how the artists/curators will align, or is this occurrence more happenstance?

M: Of course there is. It is not by chance the two American artists whose solo exhibitions we open this year open also at the same time. On the other hand, the togetherness goes also in contrast, as we hope that if people do not like one exhibition they may like the other. So Lenka's exhibition is on purpose unpolitical, meditative, intimate, and painterly. 

Between Andrew and Devon I see a lot of structural meeting points even though the formal expression may be very different. For example, in the Ode to Seekers video the image of an oil tower merging into a mosquito head piercing human skin and the two remixed pop songs one saying "if it makes you happy, it can't be that bad" second "I don't care, I love it" makes a nice echo to Devon for me.

C: I see the three exhibitions in a more complimentary and contrasting way, rather than the connections between them. Given that the three exhibitions are on three floors, they sit like a layer cake in my head, or perhaps like an upside-down body. Lenka, who is on the top floor, being the feet or the earthly sensibility. Her paintings have a materiality to them and are quiet, gentile, and careful (and some paintings are literally feet). Devon, who is on the middle floor, is the exterior senses —stomach, ears, and skin. Her exhibition is rooted in physical sensations and the interconnection with the sociopolitical world around us. And Andrew’s work, which is in the space Michal calls the dungeon, is rather philosophical in tone, residing in the head and projections of the world. For me the three exhibitions are lovely in their contrasts. The differences in materials and relation to the viewer are quite different. I also agree with Michal that Andrew and Devon’s works have more links between them—they are both immersive installations that share a sense of angst.

M: Yes, Cortney that’s definitely a good metaphor, also, in a way, all three exhibitions are about belonging or alienated body . . .

 

How did FUTURA and Black Cube get involved in this organizational exchange, and what is the next step?

C: Well, Michal and I first met at a curatorial intensive for Independent Curators International in New York. We have stayed in touch since then, Michal has visited Denver and helped install an exhibition back in the day when I was the gallery director at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. Since then, we have wanted to collaborate and this seemed to be the perfect moment to do so. Black Cube’s program allows for exchange to easily happen and Michal has been doing a lot of outside curating.

M: We meet seven years ago at curatorial program in New York sharing a certain healthy skepticism towards art world functioning and somehow a peripheric position. At that time we both hadn’t served the institutions we are at now, so maybe it turned out to be a good idea to decide to stay where we were.

 

Lenka Vitkova "Slope" installation view

 

Finally, Cortney can you speak to the current state of contemporary art in Denver and what you hope for in the future? And likewise, Michael can you speak to the same in Prague? 

C: Denver’s contemporary art scene is rather small, we have one art museum and one contemporary art museum—these institutions seem rather stable and have very prominent education departments. Since the 1980s the city has had a sales tax that helps fund the larger nonprofits in the area . . . because of this we have a rather top-heavy nonprofit scene and are skimpy on most other areas of the ecosystem. This has created a super small commercial gallery scene, and even fewer artist-run spaces. My favorite part of the scene is the artists, there are some truly amazing people here . . . ranging from those that are embedded in the global contemporary art scene such as Devon to outsider artists that take use of the freedom of the West. But this is all changing as the city is going through a huge growth spurt; I imagine these changes will affect the scene in many ways, currently it seems like the biggest sign of this change is that a lot of artists are feeling the rising rent costs and consequently are moving outside of the downtown area or leaving Denver altogether.

M: Prague's scene has changed entirely in the last 10-12 years and I dare to say FUTURA helped it. What used to be an entirely local scene operating via underground friend circle one-night event spaces is nowadays, along with Warsaw, the most developed scene in the former Eastern Block with maybe 40 subjects active in a city of 1.5 million. What I tried to create when I took over at FUTURA was a certain bridge for the international to come Prague but also for the Czech artist to get abroad. This slowly became more and more the export and also support to local artist. As the international presence becomes ordinary in Prague, we increasingly focus on supporting the local artists.

However, the scene has still one big problem and that is the absence of large functioning state institutions. There is still no museum of contemporary art in Prague and the sort of substitutes such as the National Gallery or the supposed to be Kunsthalle Rudolfinum do not replace this lack, and due to personal, political, and inner-logic reasoning, fail to be both locally and internationally respected institutions. This however also influences all the rest of an otherwise dynamic and developed commercial and non-profit scene. Artists in their 40s/50s/60s still exhibit in the alternative spaces, as there is no one to do them the proper catalog retrospective, commercial galleries have no sales to institutions, as institutions do not collect anything, and there are no coffee table books to show to collectors, as institutions do not publish anything. Non-profit spaces like FUTURA are competing in the style of low budget, often younger artist exhibitions, with museums that should be doing something else entirely on the hierarchy pyramid. On the other hand, all the scene, commercial galleries included, run on state support, which has maybe doubled over the last decade. It's not easy securing funding—we are still only two full-time people working at FUTURA, running two venues, residency program, and doing 30 something exhibitions per year. While in most other European countries in the Western direction the state funding towards alternative art spaces is disappearing, in Czech Republic it grows every year. But I also think that in the end it is not a bad deal for the state and the taxpayers. The effectivity of labor is much higher in the small-scale operating spaces than in large institutions. The amount and quality of content we all create is definitely very cheap comparatively.

 

 

Taking a Deep Breath with Sari Carel

 

 

Sari Carel was born in Israel and lives and works in Brooklyn. Her work has been exhibited internationally in galleries and venues such as Artists Space, Nicelle Beauchene, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise and Dumbo Arts Festival in New York, and Tavi Dresdner and The Heder Gallery in Tel Aviv. She has recently partnered on projects with More Art, a New York based nonprofit that supports collaborations between professional artists and communities to create public art and educational programs that inspire social justice. These projects include Borrowed Light at Sunset Park, Brooklyn, in 2015, and Out Of Thin Air currently at City Hall Park in Manhattan. Out Of Thin Air is a multi-channel immersive soundscape of recordings taken from breathing workshops conducted leading up to the installation, in which respiratory illness, air quality, and environmental injustice are at the forefront. Out of Thin Air is on view through July 8th.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

How did you become interested in the breath?

My interest evolved from a few different directions that suddenly came together in this project. The first is actually a personal one. My sister, who I am very close with has been living with an incurable lung disease, lymphangioleiomyomatosis. She is also a philosopher and her diagnosis jolted her into thinking about illness as a philosophical tool. Her essays and books, as well as witnessing her harrowing experience of learning to live with a disabling and incurable illness have changed the way I think about the experience of being ill and more specifically feeling breathless, or gasping for air.  Her work has showed me how exquisite breath is, and how fragile. I also work a lot with sound and its relationship to other mediums. So from a sound practice perspective it was interesting for me to zoom in on these gaps and gasps that audio engineer painstakingly try remove to enhance a recording. For this project I wanted to remove everything else and just let us hear and think about breath as a rich and layered vocabulary that is largely invisible to our noisy lives.

 

You partnered with master teacher Jessica Wolf to conduct therapeutic breathing exercises with New Yorkers living with asthma and other breathing conditions. Recordings from these exercises were used to create the public sound installation. As an artist, do you feel a social responsibility beyond traditional notions of aesthetic beauty when creating public artworks?

I come from a hands-on studio practice and am very committed to the poetics and manifold meanings that can be generated from working with materiality and imagery, in the broadest sense of the word.  But over the last ten years I think there has been a steady move by me towards realms outside the art world and outside my world as well as an intense curiosity about other fields of inquiry and research.

This led to weaving other bodies of knowledge into my work, collaborating with scientists, musicians and mathematicians among others. In my exhibition Earth & Sky last year I collaborated with an ornithologist and commissioned work from a craft conservationist. These different kinds of knowledge entered the bloodstream of the work at a very early stage and present themselves very differently from each other throughout the development of the project.

My interest is not just in mining other worlds for materials but to make a series of connections and welcome a whole other set of priorities, principles and ways of thinking into the studio and into the exhibition space.

For this work I wanted to take it a step a further and to develop a work process that from the beginning is tuned into and relies on practices from other fields as well as partnerships with people outside the art world.  The workshops were amalgams of a few different things: Participants learned from Jessica Wolfe methods of breathing and exercises to help them breathe in a more sustainable way. We also talked about theories of Illness and ways of thinking about breathlessness.  We delved into the recording process both as participants as well as producers. Having all these different vantage points over a period of two hours and leaving with a new set of tools and new insights into breathing practices was an important part of this communal activity. The sounds generated from these actions accrued meaning and vitality in large part because they were the byproducts of doing something together, for real.

I am very occupied with the possibility of making things reverberate in more than one way. I try as an artist to push against the insularity that can sometimes run through contemporary art, and I am truly curious as to what aesthetic repercussions can be derived from and divined out of intersecting activities.

Out Of Thin Air, which was commissioned by More Art, also includes a diverse public engagement program for this very reason. Let art be the occasion for bringing together a variety practitioners, thinkers but also audiences. To have many conversations not just ones that revolve around art and to include activities that bring people together in an act of making and doing, not just talking and viewing.

 

 

 

The site of the installation is City Hall Park. Did being offered a platform in close proximity to the epicenter for New York City government have an influence on this project?

Finding a location that fit the aesthetics and themes of this piece was a journey in itself. When the opportunity to present it in City Hall Park I was very much tempted by exactly that, before actually doing a site visit to determine if it would be feasible and be a good physical context for the piece. Considering breath, breathlessness and air as a commons that belongs to all of us is at the end of the day inextricable from policy.

 

What was your process for arranging the breath recordings from the workshops into a cohesive, public-facing whole? Anything you valued specifically in the recordings, and any impact you wished the final product to have on visitors?

Editing the strands of sound that I gathered throughout our activities and workshops was mostly done in my quiet studio. playing around with the materials and trying out different sequences, types of layering and valuing how things come together but also the gaps that are created between different layers that don't quite align with each other.

I ended up making three vignettes with various gaps between them. the silence in between is just as active as the parts that are full of sonic action. it allowed for a play between foreground and background and I hope they encourage the listener to tune into the sonic environment around them in a different way. Not just hear all the sounds and noises around you but listen and take in the textures they create. The 10 minute breaks between the plays of the complete breath composition aim for a more egalitarian act of listening. Art and site mesh in a changing, open-ended way.

 

Past projects of yours have also engaged with environmental concerns. Would you consider it a foundational role of your practice to bring attention to the world around us, both natural and unnatural?

Humans have evolved within a certain context, that context is planet earth. The environment is not something outside of me. My senses, with which I perceive space, landscape, language and art would not exist as they are without it. This relational process between the human animal and all other animals in the world as well as the landscape, the air, the horizon line and even gravity itself is at the essence of who we are as sentient beings.

 

Summer of 2018: Devon Dikeou Exhibits in Prague

Install: Devon Dikeou, Ring My Bell, 2017-ongoing, working Milton Driveway Bell, Hose, and Anchor, variable dimensions; Devon Dikeou, Gas Shortage, 2018-ongoing, Google Image of 1973 Gas Shortage Etched in Wall Using the Sgrafitto technique, variable dimensions

 

For the past two months, Devon Dikeou has been in Prague, Czech Republic, an artist-in-residence at Centre for Contemporary Art FUTURA as part of Black Cube Nomadic Museum’s fellowship program. Curated by Black Cube’s Cortney Lane Stell, Dikeou’s exhibition Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973 captures the essence of America during the 1970s, while drawing parallels to present-day crises and politics in the U.S. Pulling from public record and personal memory of the era, Dikeou tells the backstories of the various elements that comprise the installation and how it echoes a time from decades past as well as reflects what is happening now in our current time. Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973 is on view at FUTURA through September 16, 2018.

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

This is your second artist residency, the first one being at Artpace in San Antonio in 2011. What do you value the most from the residency experience?

Well residencies often imply studio. My studio is wherever I am—be that a city, a country, a locale, a room, an exhibition space, and the atmosphere—music, TV, caf
és, bars, museums, other artists’ studios, and what you sense there . . . but I do come to all things—exhibitions, residencies, fairs, magazine projects, with my thoughts pretty worked out. The fun and beauty, and I guess value is when they—those thoughts—change . . . What happened in Prague is that once I got to Futura . . . There were extra exhibition spaces available, and the idea of commingling the spaces somehow became attractive, joining them in a way . . . And as my work is really about finding these pockets of in-between, the meandering spaces of Futura were just delicious . . . How could I make them more related beyond just ideas . . .

And beyond that initial response . . . I want to say . . . There’s this great story of Joan Rivers . . . She used to archive all her jokes in an old-fashioned library card catalogue manner. So, she had categories and alphabetized the jokes, and when she needed one, all she had to do was consult this card catalogue—and as time went on, this file became a massive archive . . . A whole room with the little wooden drawers, and 4” x 6” cards full of jokes for when she didn’t have one. And instead of a search engine, she searched her own search engine.

So, as I was arriving in Prague, I was looking at old legal pads which is my archive system of pieces, and I came across a piece which I thought fit really nicely with the “Tricia Nixon: Summer of 1973.” I found “Ring My Bell” (1991 Ongoing). It relates to the gas crisis of ‘73, the lines, the idea of full-service, consumption, and found object, relational aesthetics ideas of activation, and minimal ideas of composition, line, presence, and lack thereof. It seemed like a perfect pairing. And I began to connect the spaces in Futura, not just with ideas but with literal hoses, anchors, and bells—which is how “Ring My Bell” exits as a functioning gas station bell . . . Actually, back then we used to call them “Service Stations,” the attendants come to service you once the bell has rung.

Also, something happens when you get out of your element, in a residency . . . It’s why I love visiting all 17 curatorial departments of the MET . . . Or any encyclopedic museum . . . There is something inspiring about things you don’t know that well, but can appreciate, and if that can enter your practice, so much the better. In Prague, just wandering around I became reintroduced to an old technique called Sgrafitto. I just loved it, seeing it again . . . It’s wood block printing meets fresco, meets batik, meets decoration, meets architecture, the etymology of which produced the modern practice and word, graffiti. I thought why not reverse the process and use an old technique to create something nostalgic even in our contemporary mindset of 2018, from 1973, and convey something, not just technique or decor, that relates to our own encyclopedia of reference. So now we a have piece made in a residency that may or may not have ever come to fruition without the lovely coincidence/gift of Prague, Futura/Black Cube Residency.

 

The exhibition centers around the U.S. oil crisis of 1973, specifically the then-president’s daughter Tricia Nixon’s frivolous behavior during this time when the rest of the nation was subjected to rationing and conservation of resources. The installation “Summer of 1973: Tricia Nixon” features a faux fire element with marble fireplace, a modern-day air conditioner, and vintage Mickey Mouse clock radio among other objects reminiscent of that time and now. What are the backstories to the different elements of the exhibition?

I live in a loft where the heat is super old school. It’s steam, no control, can’t turn it up, can’t turn it down. When it’s hot you’re in a Russian bath, if it’s freezing, then of course it doesn’t work, and there’s no adjustment available either way. And it screams literally every time it fires up . . . Sounds like someone is breaking in . . . Nothing to be done. There is this tiny room in the loft that I like to go to and just think . . . Virginia Woolf, “Room of One’s Own” style, and sort out the start of the day . . . There I am in this blank white room with a somewhat modern window air conditioner with an old-fashioned steam heater painted silver below it. The heater starts its initial wheezing, graduates to clanking, and bangs out what sounds like Beethoven No. 9. As I was sitting there, in this tiny room, with these two elements of heat and coolness, I was reminded of that 1973 summer—old enough then to comprehend what was happening—and bling: Tricia Nixon. Which brings us to this story that I recall of Tricia turning up the air conditioner in the White House so high so that she could have a fire in one of those over-the-top fireplaces, all in the heat of a D.C. summer. Maybe it’s urban myth, but the craziness of the gesture has somehow stuck with me. And in the spirit of “if these rooms could speak,” from the cranky old loft that spoke to me that morning and reminded me of what may or may not have happened in the White House, this installation germinated . . . So we have a bricolage of White House rooms with replication of different elements from several, essentially a working fireplace, a modern air conditioner, and a clock radio from 1973, which is the radio I listened to every night before going to sleep and woke up to get ready for school. It was a Disney clock radio, and I just a bit too old to really have it, but the dial was a 3-D Mickey, and even though he’s not even my favorite character, I love it dearly both then and today plus it functions! That analog clock radio in the installation serves as the platform from which I learned about Tricia Nixon’s fireplace/air conditioner misstep, and now in our digital age plays CBS news clips from the summer in '73, including those clips reporting on Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, the sounds of the summer in rock -n- roll, and advertisements. These elements pull the viewer into a new, in-between space, the hallway in fact, and hopefully remind/poke them to think about the relationship of the gesture of combining air conditioning and fire, as well as crisis, privilege, corruption, information, culture, time, much less space, and its value, and any art historical stuff they might have archived in their own memory.

 

Do you feel “Summer of 1973: Tricia Nixon” takes on a different meaning being exhibited in Eastern Europe compared to the United States?

Well, people say context is everything . . . I hope the three pieces speak universally to a host of different things we can all appreciate. Naturally, that appreciation will fluctuate between cultures, politics, gender, age, geography, history—art or otherwise. They say Prague is the Paris of the East, but I’ve learned from a very reputable source that Paris is the Prague of the West. Let’s see how East reads West, or is it the other way around . . .

 

 

SITTING IN ON A CHAT WITH KRISTEN DODGE

 

Kristen Dodge is curator and owner of SEPTEMBER Gallery in Hudson NY. Previously operating DODGEgallery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side from 2010-2014, she decided to leave the New York City art scene and focus on building an inclusive artist community in Hudson. SEPTEMBER was founded in 2016 with a missions to serve as “an evolving platform for artists of diverse disciplines…committed to engaging the surrounding community, while hosting artists predominantly from Upstate to Brooklyn to Boston.” SEPTEMBER’s latest exhibition Sit-In is on view through May 27th.

Interview by Natasha Przedborski

  

Sit-In looks into the shift of function on "familiar form." You left the Lower East Side art scene to join that of Hudson, NY. I can imagine there must be a feeling of shifting familiarity. Was your inspiration for the show rooted in any particular shifts of familiar form?

I’m committed to the idea that change is good and necessary, not just inevitable. The theme of the show is definitely reverberating the ethos of the gallery, starting with our name and branding. September is a season of change, of an impending shift. Creativity is contingent upon change—to create is to make something new. This means shifting into the unfamiliar, possibly terrifying, but definitely exciting space of not knowing. In speaking of the art “world”, this goes for artists, gallerists, curators, writers etc. And so, like the algorithm that adjusts the positioning of the letters in SEPTEMBER every time you refresh or shift pages on our website, the gallery is in a conscious state of movement and change. And yes, my life itself went through a major rejection of familiarity four years ago. And so, to answer your question, this show absolutely reflects an internal interest and approach I have to life both personally and professionally. 

 

It seems that creativity blooms in that exciting space of not knowing. In the case of your show, you force the mind to go against the utilitarian view of seats and discover new functions.  As a curator, do you feel yourself more drawn towards an object’s aesthetics rather than utility?

Dysfunctional is my friend. It turns out that the people I willingly surround myself with are unusually functional but see themselves as especially dysfunctional. I appreciate opposites, contradictions, subversions. So, to start with the most functional of forms and make it something elsesubtly or violently sois starting with banal and ending with exceptional. The works in the show have undergone that transformation. I am absolutely attracted to the spectrum of aesthetics from elegant to raw. That range is present in Sit-In, from Jane Bustin, Hannah Levy, and Mary Heilmann on one end to Kate Gilmore, Kianja Strobert, and Jessica Jackson Hutchins on the other end. The question of utility is raised in the context of this show, but importantly these are all artists, mostly sculptors, not designers. An inquiry into the line between design and art is an interesting topic, but not of importance in the curation of this show for me.

 

The title of the show “Sit-In” appears in a moment in time marked with protests and activist art. In a traditional sit-in, it is human bodies occupying space yet here it is the chairs occupy space. Have aesthetics and composition commodified the “Sit-in” protest and other acts of revolt?

Sit-In is a quietly organized protest against discrimination. Addressing the list of artists, there's a point of commonality that’s in contrast to the operative, dominant call of the art “world” and our culture at large. There is a word play, yes, and a deeper injection here. In terms of the notion of a seat...a seat takes up space and creates a space within itself. What happens when we make room for those who haven’t found any, or enough?

Figures and figurative references are present in the works, and present by notice of absence...place-cards. The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago comes to mind. The exception is Barbara Gallucci’s works, which have literally hosted and held willing bodies. Her pieces have created a joyful social space and added the content of participation in the show.

 

Women are stereotypically seen as submissive and the same could said about a chair. They are both silent and even inanimate yet supportive. With the show, you put chairs and seats at the forefront. Was it in the same vein that you chose to make it an all-women group show?

Who I am, and the women I know and work with are so far from the stereotypes of what it means to be a woman. Submissive, silent, inanimate and supportive are terms from an outmoded power structure that is inevitably dying and being replaced. Creating space and putting underrepresented people in the forefront has been a priority or us and is finally becoming a wider-spreading reality. One by one.  

I’d like to add that the content of individual works is not political, but perhaps the accumulation of them, and the purposeful direction of the installation offers underlying content. 

 

SEPTEMBER aims to be different from other galleries. You use the terms “always” and “sometimes” instead of “represent” and “exhibited”. You seem to focus on breaking the frameworks in which concepts and objects lie. Was this always a focal point of yours?

Always ;)

 

The Magic Mirrors of Melanie Flood

 

 Untitled, 2017, archival pigment print, 20 x 16 inches

 

Melanie Flood is an artist and curator working out of Portland, OR. Her work is photography-based and finds an affinity with other contemporary conceptual photographers such as Anne Collier, Annette Kelm, Sara VanDerBeek, and Eileen Quinlan. Flood’s solo exhibition “Mirror Mirror at Fourteen30 Contemporary in Portland features a body of new work using studio still-life photography to examine modern femininity and the female body.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

The show's title Mirror Mirror references a famous line from the Brothers Grimm's "Snow White," in which the Evil Queen asks her magic mirror each morning: "who's the fairest of them all?" What does this question mean to you? And could the works in this show be considered answers?

I wake up to my reflection in a mirrored dresser and I look at my face. I am getting older and have fewer photos of myself now than I did a decade ago. I am less vain. I see beyond my physical appearance, unlike when I was in my twenties. For me, there’s no looking in the mirror and not having an inner dialogue about aging. Youth is paramount in our culture and is celebrated. It’s impossible for me to separate myself from growing up within the constraints of traditional feminine roles. These experiences have defined my life. It is only now as I approach 40, that the distractions of being young, fecund and beautiful have fallen to the wayside that I can see the world more clearly. It is finally a world I can attempt to make my own, I get to redefine my value.

The Evil Queen believes that power lies in beauty. As Snow White grows from a child into a young woman, she will one day replace the Evil Queen, rendering her powerless. As women age, our fertility declines, stereotypically we become almost invisible to the opposite sex, at times we are replaced. Our value is questioned. The word “fairest” as used in Snow White has a triple meaning, referencing beauty, age, and race. Being young, white, and physically attractive is a currency in Western culture. These ideals have been built on patriarchal, white supremacist foundations. I believe this is shifting, but the burden of gender roles is ingrained in female experience and further exacerbated by male expectations of how women should look and behave. It is unpopular to say, but men are also victims of this antiquated misogynist paradigm.

I see the photographs in my show as reflections, not answers. I borrow my exhibition title from a book I’ve been reading Mirror, mirror: Images of Women Reflected in Popular Culture by Kathryn Weibel written in 1977. Fashion and personal adornment are a major influence in my work as it’s such an integral part of my everyday life.

 

How has your relationship to fashion changed over the years, and what has this meant for your work?

My relationship to fashion has remained quite steady. I’ve always seen clothing as a way to express myself, to assert my individuality or later, my femininity. What has changed is what I express. I had a lot more interaction with clothes and fashion growing up than I did art. Clothing was a way to fit in with the groups of people I related to. I was very into grunge, hardcore, alternative music scenes in the early ‘90s and dressed in x-girl and Todd Oldham. Then there were raves at Limelight and Twilo and that changed my wardrobe.  As I approached my early 20’s, I began dating regularly and wanted to attract men. Sadly it seemed very normal to me to attract partners this way. Living in Manhattan during the years of Sex and the City, stilettos and form fitting dresses became my uniform. My clothes are still about expression, but also about function and comfort while supporting independent female designers/shopkeepers. My awareness of how clothing is used to reinforce ideals that minimize and attempt to control how women should present themselves has grown so has its prevalence in my work.

 

Outside of the exhibition’s title, how much influence has Kathryn Weibel’s book, or any other books, had on the work you make?

I read a lot of art theory, feminist history, and am a political junkie. Some favorites I’ve read recently include Gender Trouble: Judith Butler, I revisited Femininity: Susan Brownmiller. Consuming the news everyday, was fueling the way I had been contemplating my own experiences of dating, assault, aging, and marriage. The feeling of conservative overlords poisoning the whole planet and trying to control my body, my potential and my future was in the forefront of my mind when in the studio. I had gone back to books I read as an undergrad that were especially formative. Reading second wave feminists Betty Friedan, Kate Millet, Gloria Steinem, validated how I was feeling–this patriarchal garbage has been going on for a very long time. As much as I related to the words, they were leaving out a huge story. White feminism is problematic as it can only view the world from its own narrow perspective, it is my purview too as a white woman. I began to seek out more diverse voices. Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies Out of Place: Nirmal Puwar had the largest effect on me, solidly introducing me to intersectional feminism bridging race, gender, and economics. I also love to read everything in regards to photography particularly from 2005-present. I’m currently obsessed with Sarah Charlesworth: Doubleworld from her New Museum exhibition and have been looking at more sculptors like Sarah Lucas: After 2005, Before 2012.

  

How do you feel your art practice has evolved since moving to the Pacific Northwest, and Portland specifically?

I was focused on my curatorial practice in New York more than my art practice. But, the curatorial practice was totally inspired by my not knowing how to have an art practice. I didn’t know what kind of work I wanted to make, but knew what I liked to look at and think about. When I started Melanie Flood Projects in Brooklyn in 2008, it was an effort to join a flourishing community I interacted with online. The emerging photography scene was really growing, but I wasn’t meeting a lot of people in person. Opening my home to host exhibitions was a way to bridge that gap, and in turn learn what it meant to be an artist. When I moved to Portland in 2010, the art scene appeared tighter knit and difficult to enter as an outsider. I lived my entire life in New York, so friends and a support system were built in. I had none of that when I relocated, it was challenging.

Everyone I met here was an artist, it was like moving to an arts commune. Everyone had a studio, they were cheap then so I moved into one too. Living outside of a commercial art hub has its advantages. The worries of competition and being visible were less important. I didn’t need a full time job because it was more affordable. I wasn’t partying anymore. I had a lot of free time on my hands and spent most of it making work that was inspired by the artists I admired: Annette Kelm, Shirana Shahbazi, Christopher Williams, Eileen Quinlan, Michele Abeles. There wasn’t much contemporary photo being exhibited or made in Portland at the time so when I showed it to be people it sparked a dialogue. I eventually met a few like-minded artists and started a crit group, and put shows together. I curated an exhibition at Worksound, a gallery started by Modou Dieng who I met through prior zingmagazine Managing Editor Sari Carel. The artists came from New York and Texas, we got a write up in The Oregonian, I felt momentum and energy again. It was different from the frenetic party/networking feeling of the shows I organized and went to in New York. Discourse and conversation are valued. The DIY spirit is so prevalent, it’s held in high regard and supported. In 2014, I reopened Melanie Flood Projects in a third floor space of a building downtown. The set-up of the building is a doppelgänger of The Dikeou Collection. I feel incredible gratitude for the community I am a part of and am deeply invested in it being recognized for its contributions to the national arts dialogue.

 

  Untitled, 2017, archival pigment print, 20 x 16 inches

 

Returning to the work in the show, the staging of these objects involves a sculptural sensibility. Could you walk us through your process in creating these works?

I choose things for their formal qualities and potential referents—girly, crafty, feminine, figurative. I’m drawn to objects that are marketed toward women by their color or intended use. Exercise devices, bedazzled belts, anti-aging gadgets, pantyhose, bra inserts are a few things I used in making this new work. I never have a clear idea of what I want things to look like, but there are parameters. I made these photographs in my studio on a table top with mixed daylight from my windows and two large softboxes. The subtle lights shifts cast different color hues in each photograph that I really enjoy. After lighting, the tabletop and backdrop has to be determined before I can start working. I used the same backdrop material, a white buckram in each image whether it’s obvious or not.  It’s a starched millinery fabric used to make hat forms. The material is a subtle grid, allowing me to place fabric underneath it to let color through, or when I use plexi the buckram reflects a subtle  texture to an otherwise slick material. I have all of my props and materials everywhere. I move things around until I see something. The work is really about me seeing it more than it is about me arranging it. Usually the arrangements that are really planned out fail. I embrace chance and I’m always waiting for that moment when the chaos of making tons of combinations clicks.

What makes photography such a compelling medium for me, is how objects can be transformed when they are recorded by film or a digital sensor. The image of the toilet brush holder and silicone lips looks barely like anything in real life, it’s clumsy. When photographed the surface of the plastic and rubber become refined, slick, the reflections of light add a symmetry that makes the arrangement look vaginal and flowery. The styrofoam torso with its Paint Me sticker is highlighted on one side with a purple colored gel, again the photograph transforms the thing itself into a strangely elegant form. I see parallels between photography and how I transform myself through garments, hair styling, make up and other adornments. Eyelash extensions, brow tinting, hair dying. It’s all an attempt to highlight or hide a physical attribute, manipulate the way others see us, and how we see ourselves.

 

Finally, one photo features a book called Natural Bust Enlargement With Total Mind Power by Donald L Wilson which represents the type of dated (albeit never relevant) patriarchal mentality and form of bamboozling that got Donald Trump elected for president. How much or little have recent developments of political and social dissent, from the 2017 Women’s March to #MeToo, informed your practice?

The book was a gift from my good friend, artist Stephen Slappe who is incredible at finding oddities at estate sales. He text me a photo of the cover, “Do you want it? Yes! I do!” I was mostly curious about how Total Mind Power could enlarge my breasts and as I read I started to see the absurd side of male sexuality and its effect on mass culture. There’s a nostalgic 1970s kitsch in that book also found in Weibel’s Mirror, mirror; it made me want to add humor and awkwardness to some of the work. My mother-in-law posted that picture on her Facebook proud to share the news of my show to her friends. Then she saw that it also said “Same Penis Forever” and got a little embarrassed (she didn’t delete it).

As far back as I remember I have identified as a feminist and my work always had to do with femininity/female experiences. Prior to this exhibition, I was more reserved when it came to revealing the content in my work. I was focused mostly on my experience of the female gender as it related to memories surrounding my Mother and stereotypical rites of passage (first bra, prom, wedding dress shopping). I didn’t want to be labeled a female artist making work about being female. The assemblages were more abstract, materials and arrangements were coded. The recent public events have absolutely informed this work. Last summer I felt it really bubbling over. I was constantly feeling stressed by the stories I heard of sexual assault and harassment in the media and by my friends. Knowing that women in my life who I loved and respected voted in a man who is so clearly a predator left me furious. Replaying my own experiences left me exhausted and angry everyday. I went into this show thinking that I didn’t want my feelings to be quiet. There is still a layer of abstraction in a few of the pieces, but generally the ideas are obvious, front, and center. It’s opened up my life to have frank conversations with other women, and men for that matter that I wasn’t otherwise having on the same scale. I don’t care about being labeled anymore, they’re all constructed by a male art canon anyway. And, artists can be so narcissistic. Who is labeling me, other than myself?

 

UBU TRUMP, or How 19th-century French literature predicted Donald Trump’s retro-autocratic futurism

 

On Friday, December 1st, 2017 Rainer Ganahl’s new play Ubu Trump premiered at the unlikely locale of Daniels Wilhelmina Funeral Home in central Harlem. Inspired by the life and writings of Alfred Jarry and following up on Ganahl’s previous text Ubu Lenin, his new work Ubu Trump is a postmodern blend of original text and derivation set in Warsaw/Washington D.C. and starring Donald Trump in the role of Jarry’s King Ubu, along with appearances by Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Vladimir Putin. The performance can be watched in full here.  

Interview by Linda Norden

 

Tell me a little bit about Alfred Jarry’s Ubu. Why did you chose to rewrite him?

Alfred Jarry was a tragi-comic modernist figure, the quintessential poet-artist who was also a self-destructive loser and died at just 34 in 1907. Yet he managed to influence literature and art for a century to come. Jarry did not really leave any oeuvre, but a bunch of writings, text fragments, plays and graphic works that were all embedded in a drug and alcohol-driven universe of crazy anecdotes, love stories, including with Oscar Wilde, and personal recklessness. His Ubu Roi (King Ubu) was not even written by him alone, but co-written with two high school friends who thought of it as a literary diatribe against an annoying teacher. Jarry ran with it from his native little French town and made it into a literary scandal in Paris. He kept changing it and changing it and produced numerous versions. Jarry clearly stylized himself as an Ubu-esque character, took on weird linguistic and behavioral mannerisms and didn’t refrain even from threatening and shooting at his critics with a pistol he carried with him called “bulldog.” King Ubu, Papa Ubu, Ubu Cocu (Ubu Cuckolded), Ubu Enchaîné (Ubu in Chains) and other versions produced by Jarry symbolized a narcistically damaged, insecure dictator who accumulated as much power as he could by any means and terrorized everybody. This all happened just before the WWI, which was essentially a colonialist war. During that war, in Zurich, Jarry’s Ubu Roi was presented at Cabaret Voltaire, which inspired me to revist this piece for my Dada Lenin project, since it can be assumed that Lenin himself – who lived opposite the Cabaret at Spiegelgasse – attended the performance. So after having already rewritten this theater play for a Ubu Lenin, it became quickly clear that I also must rewrite it as Ubu Trump, since this president resembles Ubu King in many many ways: vulgar, loud, insecure, narcissistic, brutal, and with disastrous judgment that will bring defeat upon his people and himself.

 

Why stage the Ubu Lenin play in a funeral home in Harlem? 

This play is independent of any particular presentation or site. It could be read or presented between friends at a dinner table, in bed with a lover or at a theater. 

But given the fact that I’ve been living in central Harlem for more than two decades, and that I’m surrounded by morgues and churches, I started to take this option of presentation into account. I also enjoy finding locations myself. Thanks to my notary public, who runs an actual funeral home, I started to become more curious and familiar with these somehow scary, taboo places. We do not want to have anything to do with a morgue since that represents the last transitory stop on our journeys and when we enter it’s usually for a sad, tragic last moment.  

I realized this funeral home could not only house a public that is mourning a private loss, but also a frustrated public that's suffering a collective political loss. Better than churches, funeral parlors do not relate to any religious belief system. Ubu Trump as a play is very bloody with themes of murder, torture and war that build on a core struggle for power.

 

I feel like there's a large part of the community your re-purposing—your “enterprising” use of the funeral home—might offend. People who believe in the sanctity of death. But I was very taken by this performance in that space. I’m often suspicious when a spontaneous, inspired idea becomes fetishized or over-extended. But one of the things I like best in your work is the way you find such inspired sites for each project, as something takes form in response to the very specific circumstances you respond to so keenly in your day-to-day life. Your sites always feel integrally bound up in the issues and questions they assert, because you look at the neighborhoods and communities you live in so topologically. I like thinking of your Ubu Trump project as having something to do with the way war takes form.

I owe the entire structure to Alfred Jarry’s original Ubu King, which brilliantly anticipated the series of dictators we had to endure during the 20th century, when war was omnipresent. It is stunning how this current president has representatives tell troops in the field that war is imminent while he simultaneously shrinks his diplomatic core down to almost nothing. After all, diplomacy’s function is to use means other than war.

 

How did you decide on characters, besides Trump. And did you know where you wanted play to end before you began?

There is a given textual structure that I respected and did not change the positioning of certain material, which itself seems to have elements lifted from Shakespeare and others. The main characters in Jarry’s version are King Ubu; his scheming wife, mostly referred to as Mama Ubu; and King Wenceslas on the other side. Therefore, Ubu Trump is repopulated with Ubu Trump, Ubu Ivanka, the King and Queen Wenceslas and their daughter Chelsea. We also have Putin, Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and other figures from the current administration. I also give prominence to contemporary sexual predators such as Anthony Weiner and Roy Moore.

 

Were you modeling your text closely or broadly on Jarry or did you do a lot of the writing yourself?

Many of the newly replaced and introduced protagonists come with lines I modified and adapted for the scenes. It is remarkable how the current president and his advisers are jamming the media stream with vulgarities and falsehoods. We are currently witnessing how public discourse that was once mediated by mainstream news sources has been replaced by social media and fake news sites. Therefore it’s not very difficult to scan for material worthy of Ubu. Jarry’s premonitory brilliance becomes more and more apparent through these boundless autocratic, proto-fascist, self-propagating revolutionaries and their rampaging disregard for the world. Make America Ubu Again. Somehow I had the feeling that I didn’t write anything at all, but merely updated it, resynchronized it with our current presidential tropes and tuned it to our attention economy of followers, sharers and likers.

 

 

 

I’d really love to hear what you were after in each of the characters you shaped for Ubu Trump. Would be great to hear how a certain comment or speech conveyed your sense of behavior and character.

Ubu Trump is here really a combination of Jarry’s madman Ubu King and Donald Trump’s publicly displayed idiosyncrasies, which my particular exaggerations and usage render slightly more farcical. I wanted to really decontextualize our president’s shameless, partisan, and self-serving political actionism by placing into literary-political satire. After all, reading the New York Times on Trump’s spontaneous, chaotic decision making and sloganeering already reads like Jarry. And sometimes the reality of our political time seems more authentically captured by comedians than by theory.

 

I was struck on the night of the Ubu Trump performance by the difference between the performance of the play, which felt more like a declaration, or demonstration, than a question, and by the terrifically curated gathering of art, by so many of your friends and peers, in your home, which you seemed to share as if asking “How about this?” In both cases, you seemed genuinely surprised by the size of the audience or attending group, as if these were both projects you did for yourself. But I’m genuinely curious: who do you think you do the work you do for?

I fully agree with you. Repurposing sensitive spaces can be highly problematic and easily go wrong. I try to be very sensitive and was choosing this site also because of its precarious and meaningful role in society. In Austria, where I grew up, they keep death out of view and when I first saw an actual friend on her final open display in Brooklyn, after a suicide, I was traumatized—even more so since I had never seen a dead person before. Now, death in Harlem is pervasive, given the explosive mix of racism, the high concentration of poor people in sometimes substandard living conditions, police bias, and more. But that already makes us enter the very essence of Ubu Trump, a play where horrific governance creates misery and war.

I think in both cases—my friends’ artworks in my house and this performance—I do it for myself as part of a public and imagined community. Some of my circle of friends and imagined friends are not even alive, and I might have missed them by a decade or a century or a continent. I count myself as part of my own community and I sometimes project myself onto others who are there or who I wish would be there.

 

Are there any more Ubu Trump presentations planned?  

Yes. A similar version will be staged in Berlin in January 2018 and another one in Mexico City in April. That one will appear exactly 50 years after the famously problematic Mexican Olympic games of 1968, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of street protesters. Mexicans, Trump's wall and the ghost of the student massacre will all be making guest appearances in that iteration of Ubu Trump. I am also working on yet another version to present in London, where curator Saim Demican and I will reorient ourselves with Werner Fassbinder’s version of Ubu Roi, which he presented at the Anti-Theater in August of 1968.

 

 

Under the Eye of Minerva: Sarah Staton's SupaStore

 

Photo: Susan Froyd

 

Sarah Staton is an artist based in London, England, whose diverse practice melds sculpture, painting, architecture, design, publishing, fashion, and technology to create objects and spaces that are simultaneously aesthetic and utilitarian. Initiated in 1993, Sarah Staton’s SupaStore started as a DIY art sale experiment that has transpired at dozens of museums, galleries, and alternative venues over the years. Over three hundred artists, ranging from up-and-coming contemporaries, unknowns, and established artists have had a piece they created for sale at the SupaStore. Her most recent installment, SupaStore Human- We are the Product, reflects how technology and automation has impacted social interaction, commerce, and manufacturing. Supastore Human- We are the Product is currently featured at Dikeou Pop-Up: Colfax in Denver, Colorado and will remain open to the public through the end of February 2018.

Interview by Hannah Cole

 

In the artist talk you gave for the opening of SupaStore Human- We are the Product, you stated that your intentions for SupaStore Human stems from the reality that technology has caused people to less frequently perform the act of going to the store–and you aim to bring it back. Could you further expand on this intention?

Within the UK at least, in recent years there has been a significant expansion in online shopping, and with this has come a shutting down of all sorts of shops from small independents to branches of national and international chains. Clearly much of this is to do with the convenience of internet shopping and home delivery negating the need for buyers to make physical journeys to the store. I would also attribute some of this phenomena to retail boredom, with cookie cutter shops selling predictable products, repeating in every shopping constellation. Other factors playing into the UK’s current slowdown might be contributed to austerity, and along with that a growing desire to tread lightly on the planet. I see all these factors coming into play and contributing to the demise of our collective desire for objects. As a human race we are clearly investing heavily in tech, but not so much in stuff. SupaStore supports the shift to build lives rich in experience over acquisition but laments the coming together of people that these simple acts of shopping facilitate.

 

There is an interesting parallel of politics, economy, and social climate between Ancient Greece and Western society today. While this observation may be considered a grim prophecy of war and collapse, political scientists such as Graham Allison have pointed out that trade and other ties between countries (such as America and China) help counteract conflict. Would you argue that SupaStore behaves as a microcosm and more inter-personal example of this theory?

I don’t know Graham Allison’s work, but I am fascinated in the history of trade, and specifically in the centuries old relation between art and diplomacy—the use of art as symbolic object to generate dialogue. And yes SupaStore as a microcosm for building networks between people has been a preoccupation since I began the project.

 

While SupaStore is your creation and features your own artwork, many other artists from around the world also have their work featured; there is an inherently collaborative and global element. How did you come in contact with these artists to participate in SupaStore? How does diversity of artists and the mediums they use as opposed to artists exclusive to one region, one art practice, etc. affect the concept behind SupaStore?

The store has traveled extensively and when logistically possible people living in the hosting cities have been invited and have got involved, this is often facilitated by the hosts at each venue. In Denver this happened with the casting workshop, in which the plaster life casts of our workshop participants’ body parts, are displayed in the store, and will then revert to their owners when the SupaStore leaves Denver.

To date, the concept for each SupaStore becomes the umbrella under which participating artists contribute, often by responding to the theme of each store. The structure of the SupaStore allows for diversity in terms of artists and their mediums, however so far the concept and the invitation precedes the participation of invited artists. Artists like any other group of humans are involved in a meta conversation and it is this meta-conversation that provides inspiration for the SupaStore subtitles. Recent preoccupations, reflected in the titles include SupaStore Air, considering the impact of cheap airlines and the consequential expansion of migrant workers crossing countries to give their labor to markets at every increasing distance from home and family. In SupaStore Human – We are the Product, we note the shift towards AI, and away from the production of objects in favor of the supply of services. 

 

  Mr Blobby

 

Minerva, the Greek goddess of trade, art, wisdom, and war serves as the mascot (or rather the goddess) of SupaStore. The multidisciplinary nature of Minerva is a quality integrated in your own art practice. Does this resonate with any of the participating artists featured in SupaStore Human? 

This might be a question for the participating artists as they may know more than I do! However, it is clear that Minerva was rather an exponential multi-tasker, and most of the artists that I know are also very capable in more than one area of activity, often successfully combining the creation of artworks, with a variety of jobs and sometimes also managing care and responsibility for others. Could artists be said to be the role model for the neo-liberal worker in the gig economy?

 

Many artworks featured in SupaStore Human are utilitarian in the form of blankets, pillows, scarves, bars of soap, t-shirts, and books. Why does practicality appeal to you as the artist and as the creator of SupaStore?

Yes, this is interesting, because some definitions of art negate the functional. I have always liked applied arts and the utilitarian and I think this is reflected in the objects that I choose for the store. 

 

Lastly, who is Mr. Blobby and what is his relationship with SupaStore?

Mr Blobby is a dubious character from 1990’s British TV, he appeared on a show called Noel Edmunds House Party, and he is pretty on the boundary between funny and grotesque. Mr Blobby emerged at the same time as the SupaStore, and he has been the store mascot for all these years. I sense that he is near retirement and it could be time he plans for his future away from the SupaStore. Our Mr Blobby was recently renamed last year as ‘Gustav’ by Asja Inzule Kaspar who is 5 years old. Asja kept amused during our install at Midway Contemporary by dancing wildly every day with Gustav Blobby and it was absolutely the most fun he has had in years.

 

Xavier Veilhan's Recording Studio of Our Dreams

Photo: Giacomo Cosua

 

Xavier Veilhan is a French artist born in 1963, living and working in Paris, whose work is mostly based in sculpture and installation. Parisians discovered him in the ‘90s when he was exhibited by Jennifer Flay. Today, he is represented by Andréhn-Schiptjenko (Stockholm), Galerie Perrotin (Paris, Hong Kong, New York, Seoul), Galeria Nara Roesler (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, New York) & 313 Art Project (Seoul). His body of work now brings him to attend Venice, where he was invited by the French Pavilion for the Biennale to present his installation “Studio Venizia,” a musical space in which professional musicians from around the world create new recordings.

Interview by Geraldine Postel 

  

In your installation for the French Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, you created a studio platform and curatorial program inviting other artists to participate. What motivates the artist to escape from this irresistible desire to be the only voice in such a manifestation?

It is not generosity, nor the wish to take a step back, but the logical result of the initial concept of the project: to create a situation that involves several actors. My stimulation and inspiration came from musicians and the whole creative process around music. “Studio Venezia” has become a mix between an exhibition space and a creative lab where people come to work one after the other.

 

Usually, in your creative process, do you like to share ideas with your curators or gallery owners?

When I have the idea of new work, I start to talk about it with the people from my studio. I refine the idea by exchanging with them, and once it is defined, I begin to work on it concretely. It is only then that I share it with galleries or curators.

 

The studio has very interesting architecture. Between visual arts, architecture, and music, your installation brings together the greatest aesthetic forms of creation. What did you seek to provoke?

I did not want to compete in terms of quantity of shapes, but rather to create something soft, with almost a domestic feel to it. I want people to feel good when they enter the French Pavilion, with all their senses: from the smell of the wood to the light and acoustic design. It is very important to inform the visitors about what is going on and how they should behave inside “Studio Venezia”. The fact that wood is used almost everywhere—floor, ceiling and walls—gives the impression of being in a closed environment, like a cave, which adds to this softness.

 

You have built a studio that hides a Neo-Classical building under panels of plywood in Okoumé, wood of the tropical regions. Does this choice of material have a relationship with its musical purposes?

Traditionally, wood has always been used to build acoustic spaces, like Renaissance theatres for example. It is also linked to the fact that theatre halls and philharmonics, just like recording studios, are similar to the inside of an instrument. And last but not least, wood is cheap and very easy to handle, especially plywood. All these different reasons explain why we chose wood as the main material of the installation.

 

Have you studied composition? Do you play an instrument?

No, unfortunately not. However, if I were a musician, I would probably just be playing the music. Instead, I have created an environment to simply listen, which is a dream situation for any music lover: I invite people I am a fan of, to create new pieces right in front of me, making it possible to live exceptional moments.

 

There is a real opening of artistic practice with the integration of the musicians and an acoustic chamber where the world is invited—a very beautiful idea, this collective energy, the team spirit that invites musicians and composers of great talent and renown. Do the visitors also participate in the musical process or do they remain spectators?

Visitors cannot participate in the sense that they cannot play the music, but they are definitely participating by having an effect on musicians, which I actually had underestimated. At first, I thought visitors would have been affected by being confronted to new kinds of music, but most of them are in fact open to new experiences thanks to the context of the Biennale. On the other hand, musicians are very much affected by the presence of spectators. There is a pressure—an empathic pressure, but a pressure nonetheless—that comes from the people in the room, which turns every moment into a performance. It is very interesting because it creates a new situation where recording becomes live recording, which changes the typology of the experience inside the pavilion into something new and hybrid, between performance and studio reflexion.

 

It’s a top playlist of guest musicians, from Chassol to DJ Chloé. Many of them are French but it also includes a bunch of international artists from Lee Scratch Perry to Thurston Moore, it goes far ... Why give an international dimension to the French pavilion?

It was not planned, it came naturally, but I am happy it occurred. Nevertheless, I think music is by essence international. The music you find in nightclubs all around the world, just like the music on Deezer, Spotify or iTunes is music before it is international music. Music transcends national boundaries, and even though musicians have their own nationality, their music is stateless.

 

Today while the show is underway, what are the highlights for you?

The other day, I was looking at Pietro, one of the mediators of Studio Venezia, moving stuff around and I realized the studio has been operational for 5 months already. It reminded me of how far we’ve come since the beginning of the project. To me every moment we live here is special in its own way. And there is always something happening, making the project emotionally very intense. I try to share a lot of these emotions on my Instagram stories.

 

The Venice Biennale is already one of the most important events of art, it is something between the Olympic Games and the World’s Fair. It is a principle of inviting a large number of countries to be represented by an elected artist / winner of a national competition that symbolizes the top of contemporary national creation. You are the gifted/chosen one of this edition and you chose to implement an installation that involves creating or performing other art pieces, an echo effect of creation in a studio. Does the art created by other artists in your studio becomes part of your work?

Yes and no. No, because the music created inside the French Pavilion remains the musicians’ property. And yes, because this music has been created and played for the first time here, which makes it belong in a way to the history of the place and the work. I am more interested in being able to share moments of creativity with musicians than in owning their creations.

 

Nietzsche has widely demonstrated that we are born from multiplicity, that the centre is everywhere. Do you think that this work shares this sentiment?

It is related in a way. “Studio Venezia” is born from a multiplicity of spaces and times. On one hand, there is the space of the installation in itself - the envelop – and the space for musical creation—the studio. On the other hand, there is the time of the exhibition—7 months—the time of each residency—a few days—and the time of the musical creation—the chronology of music in regards to its creation in the studio. These different spaces and times collide and intertwine to end up changing our perspective on music and on the format of the exhibition.

 

Marina Abramovic: In Residence in Australia and Urs Fisher at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles both invited other artists to create major exhibitions Similar to these two recent examples, your guest artists are not paid but fed, housed, washed, and in addition, they share the fabulous life experience of artists who work in community in a prestigious space. If they want to, and if the opportunity arises, they can also leave with their own musical creations to use as they choose. During a live recording for example, is there a clause that recommends attribution of production as coming from the studio Xavier Veilhan?

An important part for me is that the invited musicians are not paid. Our agreement includes the possibility to make new recordings, with the simple constraint of having an audience present inside the studio, but it is based on an invitation. There is no money involved, which I find interesting since it is different from nearly all other situations involving music. When one listens to music on streaming applications, when one buys a concert ticket, even with ads one can find on YouTube while watching music videos, there is always money involved. I want musicians to come to “Studio Venezia” with a blank page and no pressure related to money. That way they can take the creative direction they choose, without any financial obligation.

 

Here do you also play the role of producer, patron, or both?

I think I am more like a host who creates the situation. It is like being in your own house and inviting people over, which can lead to many types of exchange and creativity.

 

Do you have the feeling of multiplying yourself?

Not really. Actually, it is difficult for me to imagine what will be the result of this experience that has obviously and quite deeply changed me as a person. However, I have the feeling that it centers me more than it dislocates me.

 

You would of course prefer that the artists leave with the best memories of this magnificent experience. As a result, would you wish for them to get a mega-contract with an international producer, the creation in situ of a future chart-topping hit, or finding a soul mate? 

I would like this experience to create a link between all the musicians that have participated in “Studio Venezia”, like a community. I always give the example of universities and some art schools, like Sciences Po Paris or the Black Mountain College, that manage to make strong connections between students or former students. Twenty years after leaving school, one can connect or reconnect with people that one has never physically met but who have once studied at the same school. However, my goal is not to end up with this or that result. It would be more akin to a scientific experiment: putting two things in the same place and observing what happens.

 

Florence Müller Curates Fashion with Style

Florence Müller’s curatorial vision was introduced to the city of Denver in 2012 when she presented Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building. As the first exhibition to highlight all forty years of the designer’s output, and Denver being the only US venue, it was an absolute showstopper that had people lining up throughout its duration, even during extended evening hours. In 2015, the DAM announced Müller as the institution’s Avenir Foundation Curator of Textile Art and Fashion. The following year she presented Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s-90s, the first exhibition curated “in house” by Müller, with special focus turned to Denver’s local fashion collectors.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Müller and her curatorial assistant, Jane Burke, at the DAM offices where we discussed the future of the museum’s textile and fashion department, the recent boom in popularity of fashion exhibitions, and the landmark trends that put the United States on the fashion culture map.

-Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

The Denver Art Museum’s collection of textile art encompasses over 5,000 objects from Asia, Europe, North and South America, and range from archeological textiles to contemporary works of art in fiber. Under your curatorship this department now includes fashion and costume. Can you please talk about what it has been like to take this department in a new direction?

The museum had a huge fashion collection at one time, but it was deaccessioned about over a decade ago, so the idea now is to rebuild this area. It is challenging to acquire a collection that can illustrate the great couturiers and designers of the 20th century, but there is a lot to explore in the decades of the 1970s through the 2000s when you can still find very good examples of interesting designers. My goal is to make sure that the pieces acquired into the collection are seen by the public, so I coordinate acquisitions around the theme of exhibitions. For example, I acquired about 35 pieces for the Shock Wave exhibition, so they were able to be exhibited to the public right away and are now part of the permanent collection.

My curatorial assistant, Jane Burke, is currently working on an exhibition about a fashion illustrator named Jim Howard. Howard was active in New York in the 1950s through the 1980s, and did a lot of illustration for department store advertising. His archive is an excellent example of a coherent body of work with an artistic point of view on the history of fashion over the span of four decades. We hope to acquire some of his work as the museum has only a few engravings and fashion plates, so this will mark the beginning of a fashion illustration collection. I am very happy about this because fashion illustration is something that is rarely collected among fashion museums and it’s a shame because many of these items have already disappeared. Fashion illustrators were not seen as important as fashion photographers, which is one of the reasons their work was not acquired for museums. Right now, we have this opportunity to save one collection at the DAM and it’s great!

 

You have presented two exhibitions at Denver Art Museum: Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective and, as you just mentioned, Shock Wave: Japanese Fashion Design, 1980s-90s. The YSL exhibition featured environments that took the viewer inside the designer’s home and studio, or the closets of his patrons, and Shock Wave incorporated a variety of media like furniture design, photography, video, and more archival ephemera. Your curation goes beyond exhibiting clothing, it’s more about immersing the viewer within the place and time specific to the theme of the show.

Jane Burke: I think that’s a trend among museums these days, to do cross-departmental exhibitions. With fashion, you’re showing not only the garment but the person’s life, whether they’re a famous designer or a socialite, or the provenance of where the piece came from. You’re showing the lifestyle, or the era. You have to illustrate the bigger picture.

Florence Müller: When you have several types of objects belonging to different areas, whether it’s fashion, photography, artwork, and furniture like it was in Shock Wave, it’s an opportunity to catch the attention of more people. Some people may enter the exhibition who know a lot about design, but not so much about fashion. They will be attracted by the things that they understand, and then learn about new ideas related to fashion and other components of the exhibition. You can show that some movements, aesthetics, and new phenomena are not isolated. It is a way to show that fashion designers achieved great things, and were able to do so by maintaining connections with people in other fields. Shock Wave was the first fashion exhibition in the department, and it was meant to send a message that fashion is a form of art, and the Japanese designers were the best example to send that message clearly.

Jane: Florence illustrated, with the Japanese designers, that their work in fashion is so interrelated with other design concepts. Some were artists before becoming designers and their connection to the art world is strong. Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garçons also designed  furniture at one point, and is really involved in the artistic direction of her brand from print media to photography. Issey Miyaki also operates this way. He now has a whole home line. I think fashion just intersects and overlaps naturally with a variety of mediums.

Florence: And Issey Miyaki has never called his company a couture house or fashion house. He’s always called it a studio, a design studio. He was looking, and is still looking at fashion not as just garments. For him, it is about designing ‘things,’ making ‘things.’ 

 

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, which you co-curated with Olivier Gabet, opened at Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris this July. It is the largest exhibition dedicated to the designer. In an article for The Guardian, author Hannah Marriot states, “The golden age of haute couture may be decades past, but we are now living in the golden age of the blockbuster fashion exhibition.” What are your thoughts about this statement?

Yes, that is exactly what is happening right now. The day the exhibition opened in Paris, there was a line around the building of people who waited all morning to get in. As for the idea that the golden age of haute couture has passed, in the 1950s, couture was meant to dress very elegant women for the café society who lived a jet-set lifestyle and attended many events and parties. It was a lifestyle very special and specific to that time and it doesn’t exist today. You don’t have the opportunity of being dressed in a very exquisite manner because there aren’t any more of these big balls or private parties in people’s homes.

The phenomenon of today, though, is this obsession with selfies and having photos shared on the internet. There is the need of doing portraits or self-portraits at every moment of your life, and everyone is concerned with their own image. You could go to a party and be photographed and suddenly your photo is spread all over the world.

In regard to fashion exhibitions, people envision what they could look like in these garments when they enter the museum. During the opening of the Dior exhibition, I did the official visit with France’s First Lady, Brigitte Macron, and afterward I did a walk-through with a famous American fashion model. I think people have a very personal relationship with a fashion exhibition, and the first thought they have is, “What would I look like if I wore this?” Then they will read the exhibition text and learn something about what they see, who made it, and what was happening in the world. People are able to relate to fashion exhibitions because they can imagine themselves wearing the clothes and being part of the story.

Jane: At the show in Paris, there was a guestbook people could sign at the end of exhibition, and Florence tells this great story about it, about how people want to dream, which was the whole point of the exhibition. . .

Florence: There was a little girl who wrote in the book, ‘I love the exhibition, so beautiful. I am 10 years old and my grandmother promised to buy me a Dior dress when I turn 18 years old.’

[Florence then quotes the visitors book.]

Florence: ‘Thank you for this magnificent travel in the universe of elegance and absolute femininity. This exhibition is wonderful. [signed] The Parisian’

‘Where is Mr. Dior to thank him for all this beauty?’

‘The dream and grace for the service of women. Thank you for this beautiful moment. Very elegant.’

It’s funny because the word I put in the title is everywhere throughout the guests’ notes in the book. Dream. It is what we see in the first collection of Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior. It was like a dream ball in an enchanted forest. This idea that, in moments of crisis, you have to use beauty and dreams to work through difficult situations. I like to play on this paradox of ideas.

The other great thing about this exhibition is that we now are in a world where everyday clothes are becoming so simple and relaxed and sometimes not very aesthetic. I think it is great to show the opposite of this, just as an example, that you can think about and create dreams in the minds of little girls.

 

Cities like Paris, Milan, London, and Tokyo are epicenters of the fashion world, each with distinct styles and histories. What would you say are the defining traits or major contributions of fashion and style from the United States?

One of the United States’ biggest contributions to fashion is the development of sportswear. It began in the 1930s through the 1960s, and was something really new for its time. People in Europe were slow to accept sportswear as fashion because they were so ingrained in the tradition of elegance and couture, and sportswear is the total opposite. In America, sportswear expressed a new way of living that is more relaxed and connected with nature, and eventually designers in Europe started to incorporate sportswear into their collections. It was fashion designed for yourself and less for show, but was still developed in a very elaborate manner. American designer Claire McCardell was an important contributor to this idea of creating sportswear that could also be elegant by mixing simple materials like cotton but with elaborate cuts, forms, and shapes.

Another other important contribution is the phenomenon of the jeans and T-shirt style, which is distinctively American. Same with motorbike jackets and everything connected with the counterculture. When this style reached Europe by the end of the 1960s it was very desirable and influential. It totally changed the way Europeans dressed.

Today I think we are in a place between the two forces of T-shirt and jeans and sportswear, yoga clothes in particular, and designer clothes and cocktail dresses. There is a road in the middle of these two extremes, which is high-end street wear, street couture, which has been a huge trend over the past several years. Girls like Rihanna flaunt this style which has an interesting mix of the two extremes.   

 

In addition to being a curator, art and fashion historian, and writer, I understand that you also have created work as an artist and participated in artistic collaborations. Can you share more about this side of what you do?

A long time ago I worked in theater doing costume, makeup, and hair. Then I did photography but not for very long. I also did paintings and drawings. More recently I’ve worked with my husband Goran Vejvoda. We’ve done a lot of happenings and performances using video, choreography, costume, spoken word, and text. Really mixed medium. We did performances in Italy, France, Belgium, and England, but not in the US.

Most people in the fashion world do not know about these other things I have done. I don’t want to create confusion between my work in fashion and my work as an artist. But I use many of the elements and feelings I have from the fashion world in the happenings. The language of body, dress, the way you behave and move around a space and the way you speak, these are all different forms of communication, and by bringing them together I can create a great effect on the mind of the viewer. I did performances with Goran where I choreographed the dancers to change costumes in various sequences on stage, he did the music, and we both created the videos.

Goran and I are also working on a movie documentary about the history of sound art. We started with interviews while we traveled around the world, and accumulated all these videos and documentation. Goran is now working on the final edits and clarifying author rights.

Tim Gentles Sees Into The Mere Future

 

Tim Gentles is a New Zealand born writer and curator based in New York. He completed his MA at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He has written for Art-Agenda, Art in America, e-flux, Frieze, XLR8R and many other publications. Last summer, Tim was one of the six curators selected for U:L:O: at Interstate Projects in Brooklyn for his show Back Seat Driver. His dystopic show The Mere Future is on view at American Medium through August 6, 2017.

Interview by Natasha Przedborski

 

The Mere Future engages with the themes of urban progress and "erosion of the public sphere". Was there any one moment, object, or person that specifically inspired the idea for this show?

There was no particular revelation or moment of inspiration for the exhibition. Developing the show was actually quite a natural process evolving from certain things I had been thinking about the art world and its relationship to various publics, as well as the work of certain artists who engage with these ideas. One catalyst for thinking about these issues was the ongoing dilemma of the art world's intimate relationship with a culture industry that has increasingly made a city like New York unlivable for most people. From most artists' point of view this is unsustainable too, and I was interested in the ways in which artistic practice has sought to be critical of art as an institution, and the ways that it has failed to live up to its promise and ideals in almost every respect.

 

I feel like bringing up the recent presidential election is inevitable these days when speaking about critiquing institutions and the failure to live up to promises and ideals. The works in the show were nearly all made prior to the most recent presidential election. Have you noticed any effect the current political climate has had on the production of work since?

In many ways Devon Dikeou's piece in the show, Cajole, which was made in 1992 and is a replica of one of the planters that could at the time be found in the lobby of Trump Tower, was the starting point for thinking about the present day political implications of these ideas. The piece invites a cool examination of how political power is coded and assimilated into one's environment as innocuous and embedded. The effect of last year's election and the resulting political climate in the art world has largely been disheartening. Many rightfully feel that a renewed sense of political urgency is essential in combating the current regime and their socially destructive policies, but looking to art and one's position in the art world to provide a platform for a leftist politics is in my opinion misguided and at worst totally hypocritical.

 

The title of the show is borrowed from Sarah Schulman's dystopic novel in which New York’s problems have all been solved and liberalism reigns. Interestingly, the main critique in the media this year was that part of the country lived in a “liberal bubble”. Do you think that art is enabling this liberal elitism?

Art's relationship to liberalism is complex, and it's only been within the past couple of decades that the art world has identified with liberalism in its virtual entirety. Only relatively recently, various forms of illiberalism were firmly entrenched within art world power structures – think for instance of the impetus of much early institutional critique work, e.g. Hans Haacke's Shapolsky et al., or the extreme backlash to the 1993 Whitney Biennial in contrast to the reception of this year's. That's not to say that the art world is now politically homogenous—it is not—but a presumed liberalism is mandated more than ever before. I think that this liberalism is often used, quite defensively, as a way of eliding a deeper interrogation of the complicity of well-meaning art institutions with inequality and injustice, as well as the class and race privilege of many of the art world's participants.

 

If I’m not mistaken you're not originally from the United States. What effect, if any, do you feel this had on organizing an exhibition that comments on American politics and space?

I feel pretty well assimilated into the New York City art community, and this exhibition largely reflects the concerns, as well as the cynicism and disaffection, of that world, which of course reflect in turn the political context of the United States. But to answer your question more directly, in my experience non-Americans tend to have less patience with the pieties of American liberalism.

 

Your show The Mere Future took place at American Medium. I think that the location of the gallery in the heart of Bed-Stuy is noteworthy. What do you make of having a socially engaged show on urban space and gentrification in a neighborhood undergoing gentrification itself?

A large part of the exhibition was to examine how art falls short of its utopic promise. Marc Kokopeli's piece in the show offers the most succinct distillation of this to me, where in appropriating Yoko Ono's Wish Tree he not only critiques a certain form of counter-cultural hippie sentimentalism, but its participatory aspect raises questions about precisely the kinds of publics that artworks actually engender. Sitting side-by-side on the tree are wishes made by children from the church next door, and name-dropping and art scene in-jokes.