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 .

 

Harmless Boundlessness: Andrew Cannon, Jasmine Little, & Emily Ludwig Shaffer at Gildar Gallery, Denver

Installation shot, courtesy of Gildar Gallery

A Harmless Exercise in Boundlessness… (or So Far I Haven’t Killed Myself or Killed Any Other Person) an exhibition at Gildar Gallery in Denver featuring the work of Andrew Cannon, Jasmine Little, and Emily Ludwig Shaffer uses the foil of mushroom foraging as its frame. An increasingly popular American pastime that would normally find little to do with contemporary visual art betrays its avant-garde history in the activities of John Cage, mushroom lover and reincarnator of the New York Mycological Society. At this crossroads of mycology and music theory, the idea of “chance” relates a multiplicity of meanings and purposes, from the I Ching to stumbling upon a flush of maitake in the woods. In a similar way, the work in this show revolves around this intellectual framework, with the work itself taking many forms including painting, sculpture, and multi-media assemblage.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

The exhibition's title is sourced from quotes by and about John Cage. Mushroom hunting involves identifying the conditions needed for one to be at the right place at the right time in order to find a bounty. How do you feel that your work does or does not engage with chance? And as an artist, do you ever feel that it's necessary to set the table for ideas or a vision of new work to arrive?

AC: I don’t think about chance really—or at least not in the emphasized sense that Cage did. In terms of setting the table, I try to just work and walk as much as possible. Stay in the right place long enough—the broken clock is right twice a day or whatever. It’s less elegant than only showing up when it’s productive, but it always works eventually. I go through a few miles of forest when I walk to my studio and see fungi or don’t, and I work in my studio and make progress or don’t. 

JL: Yes, I think my work involves chance, but maybe more in the sense Andrew described. It is always a surprise when something comes about in the studio—that makes painting very fun and exciting for me. And I spend lots of time trying to make all the conditions right in the studio for something to occur, but I consider this sort of cleaning, organizing, standing around, etc. as studio time even when the end result is not known. I don’t really plan my paintings, or actually, I make lots of plans for paintings and don't really follow them. Something typically occurs in the process that seems important or more interesting than the intention I set out with, so I allow that to become primary. I have to put forth a lot of effort and intentionality in mushroom hunting too—the best conditions to find what I am typically looking for are kind of distant from my studio, but this also does not manifest in the intended manner. It’s just the starting point and creates the space required for the event to play out however it happens to.

ELS: I generally agree with the old saying that chance favors a prepared mind, but like Jasmine and Andrew, I don't actively think about chance that much when I'm making work right now. I did a lot in the past, though, and a big part of art-making for me has been developing tools and parameters in my studio that allow space for the ideas that interest me to emerge in an organic way.  

 

The consumption of wild mushrooms involves risk—of gastric distress at a minimum, and death at the most drastic. What types of risk arise for you as an artist?

ELS: I have a lot of messy feelings and thoughts about the term “risk.” In short, though, I think some artists make powerful artwork that overtly engages risk, but it's usually by exposing threats that they or others already live with on a daily basis. Actively creating risk is an idea I more often associate with male hubris. So far, my relationship to making art is very different from artists whose work has literally killed themselves or others—even if by accident. I think anyone who puts their own time, body, emotions, effort, and resources into any endeavor is risking something, but it's a term I feel uncomfortable or uninterested in claiming as a key ingredient in my process.

JL: I agree with Em regarding the messiness of the term “risk.” When I was younger I really liked to gamble. Lately though, I feel like I have spent a lot of time and energy to create a safe environment in which I can make work.

AC: I’ve only poisoned myself once—I had a bad reaction to some imported aspen boletes I bought frozen from a Russian grocery store. I do eat a lot of mushrooms but only occasionally is there any lingering doubt I’ve misidentified what I’ve collected though, and if there is, it adds the smallest bit of friction to an otherwise quiet hobby. Emily is right and I agree my work does not engage in any serious or mortal risks, but I think hopefully there’s always a feeling you might embarrass yourself or the real fear you've financially overextended yourself.

  

In this show, each of your work engages with natural forms or the idea of nature—including mushrooms themselves—abstractly, representationally, and/or literally. What does the environment mean to your practice?

JL: I have always had a strong relationship with the environment, I grew up camping, rock hunting, spending time outside. My parents were both really good at identifying plants, minerals, rocks, and spent time describing the landscape and knew a lot of narrative history associated with different places. I really wasn’t terribly interested as a child in rock hunting in Death Valley in the summer, but I appreciate that I had that type of upbringing now. Where I currently live is a really rural community in Southern Colorado and I spent a lot of time hiking and being alone in nature. I am interested in this type of activity as an experiential thing. My paintings in this show are influenced by the season and depict the plants that were out right then such as berries and mushrooms. And they also depict things you find on the forest floor like skulls and branches. The work was influenced by Dutch still-lifes, illuminated manuscripts, pattern, decoration, etc.

I was also really obsessed with smoking when I made these paintings, and my teeth, I was having all these dental problems. Anyways, I was quitting smoking so there is like this literal deterioration of my body going on, how that feels, etc. I think this sort of obsession with my physical body and death is really present in the work. And the way I paint and sculpt is always very physical, bodily. One of my favorite ceramics in the show sunk into its current mushroom-like shape naturally from being built to quickly so there is also this very literal, natural aspect that is material in my work.

ELS: When I invoke natural forms, I'm pulling from a lot of traditions like landscape and still-life paintings, but also working within common metaphors: leaves can be fingers, legs, vulvae, phalluses; potted plants are domestication, cultivation, artifice.  Most of what I'm painting now is from my imagination, so when I paint plants they're usually stiff or plasticy and end up more like an idea or the fantasy of a plant rather than something that is observed and actually living. The garden and the greenhouse are also potent spaces for me. These feel daunting because of the amount of control and care they require, but I also see them as tender, as an exercise in nurturing or cultivating a craft and aesthetics. I think gardening/plant keeping traditions express a lot about a person or a culture, and I sometimes think about them as symbolic of desires for some prelapsarian utopia.

AC: I’d just say “yes” since my thinking about nature isn’t particularly organized and the question is too sprawling. I think a lot about nature and the image of nature, how flora get woven and encoded into culture. But I also think about painting, and fireplaces, and airplanes. I’ll look at mushrooms in Central Park and then walk into The Met and look at lacquer boxes and I try to think about it as one continuous system. One afternoon feeling.

 

Mushroom hunting calls to mind pastoral utopia. Does your work engage in the utopian? 

AC: It doesn’t, or at least I don’t throw that word around much. I do like the utopian novel. News from Nowhere, Herland, etc. I had a professor that would say every artwork is, for better or worse, a vision of the artist’s perfect world. That makes sense to me. I try to keep each work self-contained, its own trial world.

ELS: My mom was an architect so I grew up running around architecture firms, flipping through all the modernist starchitect coffee table books, and seeing architecture periodicals every month. I was obsessed with the different ways the architects and designers would add people, plants, and dappled light to their drawings and models for buildings yet-to-be-made. I thought they were both beautiful and creepy. These scenes were supposed to be utopian and inspire the imagination, but they were mostly stiff, unnatural, and read like a faulty promise. I don't always think about the spaces in my paintings along these terms, but I've definitely explored it in some—especially from a little over a year ago when my old studio had a huge Renzo Piano building being erected outside of it.

JL: I don’t think my work is overtly concerned with utopian ideas. There is conflict, tension, and the materiality of the paint is pretty present. I have always been sort of an immediate painter and have a hard time with illusion. I think there is something utopic philosophically in my work. I am contented with a lot of different types of “successes” in individual works, like how Andrew reference earlier embarrassing yourself in the work—that is defiantly something I enjoy. I am not afraid to make something bad. Basically, I think being able to paint full-time is a crazy luxury, sort of an utopic dreamlife and political act in itself. 

 

Here Is Devon Dikeou's New York

Devon Dikeou, Rush Hour, Grand Central Station, black and white photograph, 1988

 

Devon Dikeou’s second solo presentation at James Fuentes, “Here Is New York (E.B. White)” features what are among her earliest artworks made as a young artist in New York City. There are two security gates paired with other security-oriented materials—glass blocks and acrylic sheeting—and an enclosed kiosk, all of which one would regularly find on the streets of New York (depending on the hour). These works set a seminal precedent exploring spaces and objects of transition, which would later find other forms and subjects as her career progressed. So with this exhibition we return to the root of things, to revisit where it all started got Devon and an era of heavy analog materiality that is changing with the sleekness of this post-digital era. “Here is New York (E.B. White)” is on view September 8th – October 7th, 2018.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

These security gates represent to you the "in-between." Other works of yours also engage in this realm. What is it about the "in-between" that appeals to you?

John Baldessari said, “Instead of looking at things, look between things.” I ran across this quote only in the last year, which was in a book of collected quotes by artists under the table of contents’ moniker of “Advice.” And it made a lot of sense to me. Many of the series in my practice touch on this “in-between.” The curtain behind the comedian, the flower that accompanies the big picture, the chair that seats the Pope, the minimalist donation box soliciting funding, the plant in the mall that is between decoration and commerce, the jazz musician (like they often are) forgotten, the directory board announcing the exhibition. I’m interested in those spaces that are shared by all those transactional viewing experiences . . . the viewer, the artists, the gallerist, the critic. And more. What they all signify is something that I’ve always reflected on, and done and it comes down to this, which is very similar to the Baldessari directive. Look at the space between the leaves of tree, not the leaves themselves.

 

The show is titled "Here Is New York (E.B. White)". You often use literary references to support and deepen your conceptual installations, adding a dimension of the human condition to cerebral artworks. In this instance, a quote from E.B. White. What do these titles mean to you?

There is this great bookstore called Three Lives in the Village near an apartment on Christopher where I once lived. It was and is spectacularly curated so to speak, and I maybe learned something about curating from that bookstore. It is tiny, not like the Strand—which is all inclusive, and where you can go for miles and days browsing. Three Lives had to strategically choose what to shelve, much less select or highlight. I’ve found some of my most beloved and cherished tomes there directed by the Three Lives curation, one being the slight thin paperback booklet that can be read in an hour called, Here is New York. It’s by E.B. White, who I only knew from Some Pig! and Charlotte’s Web fame. I quickly absorbed his adult message—and learned of his great, underrated legacy as a non-fiction writer—and re-examined the childhood tales I so loved. What is Charlotte, a spider, who weaves a web. What is New York, a web us flies have to navigate.

 

Security gates have come to represent a low-key quintessential part of New York street life. How else does this show find its groove in the Big Apple?

When I came to New York, it felt like a world of possibility. But it was equally dangerous as was it was joyful. Lots of artists have explored this, from Nan Goldin to the Ramones, Blondie to Robert Mapplethorpe. They had all the stages covered, so I worked on the background . . . The gates were as ubiquitous then as they are now, but a universal signifier of urban environments worldwide. The gates seemed like the perfect segue.

 

The industrial nature of the gates is representative of an engagement with functional ready-made materials positioned within a conceptual framework that characterizes some of your early works. What was the draw of these materials and subjects for you at the time?

New York. Of course, that was the platform, and I’ve been discussing this with Cortney. . . The difference between platform and medium. . . But I think the gates are the medium. And nothing can be done without Duchamp. So those gates are the Duchampian gesture/medium in and on the platform of New York.

 

Being some of your first works made as an artist in New York, what does it mean to show this work in a contemporary context—over 25 years after they first premiered?

I remember going to an exhibition at the Whitney (Breuer Building) in the ‘80s of Vija Celmins and Dan Graham. I just loved it. The wall texts kept touting a phrase which I thought odd at the time . . . “An Artist’s Artist.” I thought it was a slight in a way, because the work was incredible, those dense drawings of oceans, surface images of housing—both reflecting something immeasurable, and perfectly and specifically dated. Now these artists are larger than life as they should be, I would only be so happy to be called an artist’s artist even if it’s 25 years or more, later.

 

Finally, in revisiting older works, can you see any ways in which your work has changed? And ways in which it has stayed the same?

I am an archivist by nature, save everything, never know when you’re gonna need it . . . All things everything, a page from Warhol. But funnily enough, the gate works physically disappeared. Gone, and yet always felt like that friend you see again and pick up with as if no time has passed . . . Or a time capsule you open and greet with abandon. I’d look at the photos of the gates and long for the youth and early conviction of that other time. So it’s nice, a lovely present to see them again, to visit with these old friends, and see what as a young person and thinker I was aiming for and then as a more mature artist now, how I picked up those threads . . . And the ability to make a relation “between” them, there we go again. And so their being made again, these gates, makes me smile. Archive that, Devon.

 

The One, the Only, Ladies and Gentlemen, Kenny Schachter

 

Kenny Schachter, Kenny Mostquito, 2016, Digital c-print on plexiglas, 10 x 6.5 in

Kenny Schachter, art world bad-boy, bares it all in his deep-diving retrospective exhibition at Rental Gallery in East Hampton, on view through October 31st, 2018. We catch up with Kenny via text to discuss the big show, what led up to this moment, and what is to follow . . .

Interview by Devon Dikeou

 

You started curating in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s . . . I particularly remember the German show and stuff in your 1st Avenue flat. But also stuff at BACA Downtown, above 303 in the vacant Massimo Audiello Gallery on Greene St. And despite your Eulogy . . . the shows were amazing, not “a mess,” giving so many artists the platform to show at a time when there were so few. Give us the “best of” of those early shows . . . 

My second show, “Decorous Beliefs,” highlighted the worst attributes of humans: racist, sexist, and generally prejudicial behavior. You serving up blood-rare sandwiches to be devoured by the derelicts of the early ‘90s emerging art scene we called friends. Then I clocked Roberta Smith in the space one day and couldn’t believe my luck—to this day I am enamored of every word from her keyboard. When I approached her and began explaining the intent of my show, she reprimanded me in no uncertain terms without expressing an emotion: “If I needed art explained to me, I’d never leave my house.” Ouch. I’ll admit to a few tears when she departed.

Talk about the segue from younger artists to mid-career or older artists and the importance of working with some of the major architectural thinkers of our time.

For a good long time, say close to ten years, I couldn’t tolerate a conversation with an emerging artist. I felt they were literally sucking the breath out of my mouth; then, so emboldened and strengthened, they’d walk all over me. No joy. So first I launched personal and professional relationships with Vito Acconci and Zaha Hadid; I am in awe of talented, brilliant people and was, like a fan, simply in thrall of their company and accomplishments. Not to mention I commissioned many projects and did countless curatorial and writing projects dedicated to both. I thought maybe some of the stardust might be catching. After getting soul-sucked by young artists for decades, then as an acolyte of the greats, I needed money and began secondary dealing. I was a bad lawyer, a bad tie salesman, and a worse art dealer. 

Who are your mentors. . . Who are your enemies ;)

My mentors or rather the people that inspired me (I didn’t get much help from anyone) are Vito Acconci, Zaha, Paul Thek, who was an example of the notion that sometimes, being too good is too bad—he was a brilliant master of many media but was simply too far ahead of his time and lived too much of the time abroad and lost support after an early career spurt. He failed miserably in life and work, only to be celebrated in death with retros at the Whitney and Reina Sofia (I advised on both and wrote regularly on his work). My enemies are anyone hypocritical, not forthright or transparent. I’m often contradicting myself so sometimes I can’t stand myself either.

Speak about the relationship you have with your work to the market—be it visual, critical, or otherwise. . . 

I love the market. Sure it could be ruthless, hideous, disingenuous, reductive . . . but really those characteristics apply to the players. Art and money have been sexing it up for centuries, from Durer to Rembrandt to the private plane flying the handful of today’s artrepreneurs. I don’t care—I need art and I need money to make and pursue it. My writing chronicles the misfits and general commercial activity at fairs and auctions so it gives depth and meaning beyond just recording sales. I am after the behavioral dynamic of social, political, and economic interaction as it applies to art. When it comes to selling my own work, I am a nervous insecure wreck and run from the dialogue.

What’s the thing that surprised you about playing all these roles in the art world and how it affected all these roles, in terms of practice in general, and the retro?

I stuck to it for thirty years. It’s a miracle I never compromised and that I even have an audience. I am so humbled and surprised I can’t believe anyone reads me or looks at other stuff I’ve been up to. I always thought I was kind of unlucky, stuck in the margins, and though by nature I will always be located outside the norm somewhere, I just can’t believe how things have gone in the past five years. Now I’m an old emerging artist that is selling. At a small gallery when they are said to be under siege. I am pinching myself now.

You were involved from the beginning of zingmagazine . . . And have done two books with us. . . How do you go about doing a retro or exhibition vs a printed project?

For me it’s all an organic mush. It just comes out of me and I don’t differentiate from any of my pursuits, be they as far afield as selling a Picasso and making a video or curating my kids into shows and supporting their work. I have a very democratic outlook on life and relish that I’ve never had a repeating day in my life. Though sometimes I feel like I’m merely treading water and stuck in the film Groundhog Day. I must say of all the disparate things I’ve done, having this art show transformed my life, for the first time I almost think of myself a real artist. Scary—for me and you. 

Basically, how did you get a show at Rental and what made you want it to reflect the idea of a retrospective. . . .in terms of you as a curator, gallerist, artist, collector, dealer, critic, writer, person extraordinaire of the 90’s art scene. How much is real how much fiction?

No fake news here, what you get is what you get: me stripped bare, naked, humiliated, walking down main street with strangers looking at my . . . oh never mind. Making art so publicly for the first time in more than 15 years has been an extraordinary experience. I can’t even recall how Joel Mesler and I met a few years ago, but he is a younger version of me, namely a jack of all (art) trades—making, curating, dealing and gallery-ing. He’s hilarious, supportive, talented and fun, as an anti-religionist, it’s not an easy to mouth, but I’ve been blessed.

What’s on deck?

Family Guy, the fourth installment of exhibits I’ve curated incorporating my family (though I mostly can’t stand any of them), and works we’ve all lived with for decades, at Simon Lee Gallery in London, then another one-person show in LA in Feb at Niels Kantor during Frieze/Felix art fairs in town and then . . . more of the same. I can’t temper my crazy love and passion for looking at, thinking about, and writing on art. And now, I am afraid to disclose, making it seems to be the next area to apply myself even further. I just can’t help myself baring it and sharing it. Sorry folks!

 

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 . . .