Jo Baer, Dusk (Bands and End-Points), 2012, oil on canvas, 87 x 118".
For the 31st São Paulo Bienal, Jo Baer is presenting “In the Land of the Giants,” 2009–13, a series that debuted at the Stedelijk Museum last year. Born in Seattle in 1929, Baer became associated with Minimalism in New York in the 1960s. In 1975—“due to Nixon”—she moved to the greener pastures of the Irish countryside, where she encountered the primary subjects of these works: ancient burial sites and Neolithic stones. Mapping and compressing various timelines and genealogies, Baer’s multifaceted, encoded canvases will be on view in the biennial from September 2 to December 7, 2014.
THESE PAINTINGS are inspired by my remembering of the Hurlstone, a large megalith set at a diagonal in a field in County Louth, Ireland, which was interesting to me for the enormous aperture set in it—a hole that, when I first looked south through it, seemed to suggest a path extending over the mountains all the way down to the huge earth-mound cemeteries of New Grange and Knowth. At the time it made me wonder: What have I stumbled on? Is this one of an ancient highway’s crossroads—sight through, and turn here? Only much later, in urban Amsterdam, after recalling and then thinking on this, did I put the hard edge down—set the ruler to the page—and that’s how these paintings began.
The Irish rural landscape had always struck me as odd. The castle I lived in from 1975 to 1982 was built in the twelfth century, and the ruins of a fifteenth-century church as well as part of a school for scribes sat at the top of one of my fields. In my neighborhood, you would also find standing megaliths and tractors in the same field, or a cottage next to a graveyard from 3000 BC—or 4000 BC even, with a horse there, chomping on grass—all of it just blatantly lying around with nobody noticing. I remember a farmer once bragging about one of my fields, “Oh yes, there used to be an earth mound here, but I plowed it away.” I told him that its ghosts must have been causing him a lot of bad luck.
In all, it was pretty remarkable to someone from the outside; in fact it hit me as close to surreal. Here were immense records of time, and as a history junkie, one of my evening pastimes was tracing ley lines on my local ordinance maps, which mark every megalith, ford, graveyard, and tomb. When I really began researching these old stones, I discovered that the Neolithic, mound-building North Atlantic maritime peoples who erected them were unique because they were the first farmers there, and landed in Ireland around 4500 BC. Their forebears had left Jericho around 7000 BC, colonizing as they sailed along the coasts of Iberia and Brittany and on to the British Isles. Two of the earliest court tombs in Ireland are still at their western landing point, sited on either side at the end of the aforementioned path—a ritual track. One finds other epic menhirs and lost henges clasping this line, and they surprised me into a full commitment to the entire Neolithic project.
These paintings are not about memories—mine or time’s—they are more about a variety of temporalities and their related forms. They are really abstract paintings made with images, as I believe that a painting ideally does not represent or illustrate a concept, but, rather—as it’s always been—is about its own very deep structure. I think it’s important that people are able to “read” these paintings like a map with lines that go from here to there.
The viewer will come to understand that I’m a magpie: For decades, I’ve collected photographs of odd things, pictures that seem to go together for me to make a subject. I used to look in second-hand bookstores for images I could use, and then I would trace them on a grid for my paintings. But as soon as I could use computers to grid up—circa 1995—I did. Typically, I compose some images on a field, print it all out in black and white, and then take colored pencils and change things around. I then scan the image back and play with it some more until I get what I think will look and be right. When it goes up onto the much larger surface of the canvas, more changes must be made. In these particular paintings, the process results in a sense of the compression of time and memory and imagery that is obvious: The paintings speak a digital language but the coding isn’t difficult to discern.
Right now I’m turning this series of six paintings into replicas—smaller pigment prints using oversize ink-jet printers and this beautiful Fabriano watercolor paper. The prints will have the feel and a sense of the paintings, if not the impact. Made for smaller exhibition spaces, they will be large enough to stand on their own in a room along with some of their smaller working drawings. Picasso got around an awful lot that way, didn’t he? I think I’m going to do this with all of my image output, at least with those of the past few years. I don’t see why paintings should just sit around in warehouses, never shown. Still, it took me nearly fifty years to get my so-called Minimalist work into the canon, and as this work is pretty much on the edge also, I’m not expecting an immediate popular response. However, perhaps pigment prints traveling about to today’s many available nonmuseum spaces might go some way towards abbreviating the process.
Nuria Ibáñez, The Naked Room, 2013, digital video, color, sound, 67 minutes.
The Spanish documentarian Nuria Ibáñez’s most recent film, The Naked Room (2013), was recorded entirely inside a pediatric therapist’s office in a Mexico City children’s hospital and is composed primarily of close-ups of the young patients’ faces during consultations. The film will screen at Anthology Film Archives from August 29 to September 4, 2014 in its New York theatrical premiere run.
WITH THE NAKED ROOM I wanted to show something that is often treated as though it were invisible. There is no real and sincere media reflection today on the wounds of childhood and adolescence. Filming children’s psychological consultations in Mexico City, where I live, helped me understand things that I had not previously seen or heard about. More than case studies, I found through the collective faces of the children another, more primal face—that of our social reality.
I chose a children’s hospital because I wanted to deal with first wounds—the initial pains that stick with us and accompany us throughout our lives. The youth in the film possessed the eloquence and transparency to address this. Our filming was divided into two distinct periods of about three months in total, which allowed my crew and I to familiarize ourselves with the daily routines of the hospital’s doctors and other members of its medical staff and for them, in turn, to grow accustomed to us.
By contrast, I met the children and their family members only on the days that I filmed them. I believe in the “direct cinema” tradition of observing more than interfering and never learned in advance who would enter the hospital, which problems they would bring, or how they would be treated. Before the youth began their consultations, I would approach them and their families to explain the nature of our documentary, making clear that the project came from my personal interest without sponsorship from the local Department of Health, and that it was their choice whether to participate. Only if they agreed to do so could I enter the consultation room with them.
The film’s title refers to a naked room because of the clear, dignified, and unprejudiced way that the children have of telling their life stories. I didn’t have to do anything to gain their confidence other than to be present listening to them, though the naturalness that they exhibit comes a bit from how we worked together. I felt it important to stay in front of them, at their eye level and without moving much, which would have disrupted their speeches and sacrificed gestures and silences. I filmed their faces within very tight frames that allowed me to get close and feel their wounds as my own, thus preventing judgment or pity.
I learned that they had a great need to speak and to be heard and decided that the parents and doctors would remain largely offscreen, since the family environment as well as adult society had hurt them. Through the course of their consultations, they discuss and we can see the effects of different forms of violence: physical, verbal, psychological; violence committed against others and against oneself; institutionalized violence.
I was never interested in making a morbid study, though, since the scars are not important in and of themselves. They interest me only when they can lead us to something beneath the surface. Selecting the children that appear in the film had nothing to do with the hardness of their stories, but rather with my ability to transmit, through the sum of them, things not explicitly described by any one of them—for instance, human frailty.
Rokni Haerizadeh, Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase, 2014, gesso, watercolor, and ink on printed paper, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4". From the series “Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase,” 2014.
Works by the Iranian-born, UAE-based artist Rokni Haerizadeh, including paintings from the series “Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase” and the animated video Letter! (both 2014), are currently on view at the New Museum as part of “Here and Elsewhere,” a major exhibition of contemporary art from and about the Arab world, which is on view through September 28, 2014. Here Haerizadeh discusses these works and his process.
GROWING UP IN TEHRAN DURING THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR had a big impact on my generation. Thinking about life and death as a kid makes you serious. The TV programs at that time mostly depicted Islamic propaganda of the war, martyrs, and religion, but sometimes during the weekends they showed movies by directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Akira Kurosawa, and Sergei Eisenstein, as well as the Eastern European school of animated cartoons. When I was a kid and a teenager, these films were the only things around that inspired questions about art. Seeing, for example, a beautiful landscape with a man silently walking around for ten minutes moved me, and I wondered: Is that a movie? Is that art? It felt like a privilege to grow up with this kind of cinema as well as Abbas Kiarostami’s films, which were screened in movie theaters in Tehran. It was an escape, a way to survive and to think more imaginatively.
Letter! is part of “Fictionville,” an ongoing project of drawings and videos, or moving paintings. In 2009, when I began creating this series of works, I was inspired by stories that feature animals as narrators, such as the ancient Indian story Panchatantra, as well as Shahr-e qesseh, a play written by Iranian actor Bijan Mofid. In my work, I am depicting people as animals not to dehumanize them, but rather to emphasize the dear beast inside all human beings. I examine violence as it is used in the media, but I do this without being judgmental or offering a moral lesson.
To make these works, I collect frames from YouTube and TV news broadcasts, print them on letter-size office paper, and then prime them. I’ll spread a group of “frames”—usually around forty sheets—on my studio table and move across the group, painting on each sheet individually like in an assembly line. The process takes place in stages; the first is a geometric abstraction in which I attempt to equate the background and the foreground in each frame. For example, I might find a rhombus-like form in the image made up of a policeman’s hand in the foreground, holding a protester’s body, combined with the shape of a spectator’s leg and a passing car in the background. Then I repeatedly draw over and across these images until the geometric shapes are embedded within the image and lose their sharp edges and become more organic. Through repetition, the image slowly morphs into identifiable objects and shapes, and creates a narrative of its own that is unfaithful to the original image of protest. My moving images are like drawings with the added element of time. They trace experiences in real time, just like action painting. The individual dots shifting around the image are like a pulse—they leave with you the sense of the work as a living, breathing thing.
The title of my recent group of paintings, “Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase,” takes its name from a line in Allen Ginsberg’s poem I Beg You Come Back & Be Cheerful. For me, the salami in the title refers to the protester and represents sweat and a salty body. The ragged suitcase made sense to me as well because I am displaying these paintings horizontally in a glass display case instead of putting them vertically. It is as if the paintings are looking for the sun.
Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 13 minutes 18 seconds.
As Ed Atkins sees it, high-definition video is nightmarish if not deathlike because of the way its technology inherently privileges representation and image over character, narrative, and human emotion. His three-channel video Ribbons, 2014, which is currently on view at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until August 25, 2014, as well as at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris until September 7, 2014, presents a premonitory picture of a late-capitalist societypart horror, part musical, and part melodramavia the story of a CGI avatar called Dave. Here, on the occasion of Artforum’s summer issue focusing on animation, the London-based artist discusses this work.
RIBBONS is still something I’m not entirely sure how to talk about. It’s a particularly complex and horrible film—what it seems to propose or diagnose or perform is very, very sad, I think. One of my prevailing thoughts was to pursue those excessive echelons of capitalist aesthetics to a properly toxic level, employing a swathe of images, devices, and tics that are clearly violent and obscene. Imagine a film of capitalism, but exceeding its gestures, sprinting ahead of its forms and dictates, to a place where they’re denuded—where you can see them for what they are while being nostalgically drawn to their familiar manipulations, too.
And of course, the protagonist would have to be Dave, a white, straight, Western man: the protagonist of capitalism. Dave is pathetic and repulsive but also deeply, wrenchingly empathetic. He should be recognizable to most people who’ll see the show. His appeal for sympathy is one I might make at my lowest, most mindlessly fulfilling my type: how helpless he is in his determined privilege, and how that’s recuperated as a kind of outrage, terribly. It’s complicated: He is romantic, as if that solves anything. He is manically depressive, as if that were solely symptomatic. He self-loathes, harms and pleads, too. He drinks and smokes and sings and emotes—and it’s all so obscene, excessive, and artificial.
Mortality isn’t in the video. It’s everything and everywhere outside of it, and thankfully so. The videos viscerally address it through their technology. But precisely because they are so totally disembodied themselves, they act as excessive illustrations of bodily and material stuff: from Dave and his drinkingto sex, physics, lens flares, focus pulling, dust motes. The videos demonstrate their limit. Ribbons is, really, like some unholy demo for an occult videogame.
Technology is always pushing to be construed as magic, right? Ribbons is so much a caricature of analogue things—capital in particular, at that point where commodities insinuate and confuse themselves with subjects. Most technical devices are made to fake the prior analogue, material things—and in so doing annulling the possibility of those things ever actually being mistaken for their analogue. CGI in particular can’t help reveal its fallacy by demonstrating its capability to its limit. In multiplex cinema, the camera swings impossibly around its subject; robots deconstruct themselves—fucking robots! Forensic fucking detail, pushing the envelope until, invariably, the edge is found and the whole thing comes unstuck, is seen. It’s uncanny only if you spot that hem, that edge where reality falls away and you’re left with verisimilitude, believability, life-likeness—all words predicated on their obverse being sufficiently noted to the point of aborting their aspirations.
This is all horror, I suppose—horror being the most discernible, legible genre. I can really fucking read horror—and I know exactly how to respond correctly—like nothing else. And the horror, as above, of these kinds of capital aesthetics of advertising, lifestyle, fix and pummeling is played out to its voided end—hopefully, to the voided end of those aesthetics and their shitty assurances.
Moyna Flannigan, Maman, 2014, oil on linen, 76 x 102”.
Edinburgh-based artist Moyna Flannigan is known for her dark and humorous tableaus that reflect her keen wit. “Stare,” her latest body of work, is currently featured at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow as part of “Generation: 25 Years of Contemporary Scottish Art,” which is on view through November 2, 2014. Here Flannigan discusses her new pieces and the mysterious female figures that occupy her canvases and works on paper.
EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH DRAWING. For me, this is a fundamental stage of exploration, one about looking and taking a position from that. When I begin a new body of work, I draw until I’ve drawn all the drawings I’ve finished before, arriving at an unpremeditated, unpredicted image. These aren’t preparations for specific paintings. They are an independent activity that has more to do with engaging my imagination and critical faculties so that I can then go on to paint.
The real subject of my paintings is space, both physical and psychological. The psychological space in these paintings is associated with film; it’s a mixture of different states—dream, memory, and an imagined reality. It’s a state of being, too, and the women I depict are evolving within it. Space in a painting is not simply an environment for action; it’s a place with formal relationships that have inherent hidden meaning.
I try to resist linear narratives, as there’s an inherent danger of heading toward what Francis Bacon called “illustration.” What you want, he said, is the sensation of something happening without the boredom of its conveyance. The visual language I’ve developed is probably a result of a great fluidity between the form in the painting and the paint itself—a sense of physicality, where the paint is on the move the whole time. I’m also looking for simplicity and unity, where the painting can’t be separated into parts. That includes the way the figures are constructedthere's no hierarchy in the overall structure.
Memory, the passage of time, the effect of experience and how that transfigures the image interests me. Bringing together images from a multitude of reference points is an act I call re-remembering, a reprocessing and reconfiguration in paint. I’ve portrayed the fragmentary nature of memory in the women’s disjointed bodies, their expanded limbs, and their exaggerated forms. Extended in nonnaturalistic poses, they inhabit a familiar space, yet one that is still ambiguous, which contributes to a sense of uncertainty, of something shifting.
Classical themes have resonance at times of crisis: The past is in the present. The archetype Eve, through her banishment, became an independent woman—less idealized, more potent. I alighted on this view early on, after seeing Masaccio’s Expulsion from the Garden of Eden in Florence. These figures were naturalistic—they had movement, expressing their difficult situation through their faces and bodies—which seemed curiously modern. There are so many constructed images of Eve embedded in our culture that they almost seem natural. I feel that I’m trying to present an alternative—one that is complicated, like the world today. The subjects of my work occupy the past and the future at the same time, in a reflection of the circular nature of history.
View of “Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything,” 2014.
The writer, designer, and artist Douglas Coupland hit the ground running in 1991, when his first novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, became an international best seller. In 2000, after much acclaim for his novels and nonfiction, Coupland made a decisive return to visual art, which he’d studied at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, among other places. Here he discusses his first major survey exhibition, “everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything,” which is curated by Daina Augaitis and is on view through September 1, 2014 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
BY FAR THE MOST COMMON REMARK I get from people seeing my VAG survey is, “I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting that.” People know me from writing, but when confronted with fifteen years of visual work covering ten thousand square feet, they may have to rethink who I might be as a creator. Younger people find the show sexy and dense and something that offers hope; older people find it confusing and sort of homeworky and wish it would go away because life would somehow be easier if it didn’t exist. Also, because I’m from Vancouver people assume I’m part of its Photoconceptual orthodoxy, but I’m not.
There’s an enormous amount of stuff in the show. Density and strategies for accumulation are very important to me. I largely try to locate an area of the world halfway between words and objects, and Pop artists and their legacy are profound, as are (and this surprised me) Minimalist artists of the 1970s. I began art school in 1980 and immediately gravitated to the installation as my preferred art form; I was too green to realize that as an art form it was barely a decade old. So in the show there are canvases, pieces of theoretical furniture, radioactive tsunami debris, ultraslick Pop works, and assemblages that feel almost Dalíesque.
I guess I began to feel disaffected from the literary world around 2000 because it’s largely full of nonvisual thinkers—I mean these are people who clinically, medically are unable to think visually. For ten years I had people saying, “Doug, your writing is so… visual.” But what they were really saying is, “Doug, I’m not a visual thinker.” But then the opposite thing happens in the art world: You have visual people who can’t verbalize. Honestly, I think only about one human being in five is both visual and verbal, which is maybe why Apple only has a 20 percent market share.
Lately I’m following a number of intellectual threads, such as the rise of nonhumanist atheism in France. There’s a remarkable book on the subject by Stephanos Geroulanos. It chillingly describes the rise of nihilism as though it were a virus ravaging Matt Damon’s America. Yet there’s also a tiny afterbite of, How hard can it possibly be to be even just a tiny bit better than we already are? I think Geroulanos would be appalled to think someone registered something sentimental in his writing.
I’m also interested in revisiting Institutional critique. Joshua Decter’s Art Is a Problem is a seminal text on the topic, but it’s Infinite Jest in length, and a real time commitment. I think reading about institutional critique can feel sort of like being on a one-way trip to Mars: incredibly expensive, fantastically time-consuming, and difficult, and then once you get there you’re (quite possibly) marooned—but I think that the Internet is reinventing criticism, and even recent critical texts, viewed in a rearview mirror, can offer clues to criticism’s future. The only writing that feels truly alive to me right now is work that confronts previous critical hegemonies head-on from the Internet point of view. I’ve read Omar Kholeif’s compilation called You Are Here: Art After the Internet. It’s the smartest book I’ve yet read on this topic.
I grew up being told I’d have six different careers in my lifetime. We all did, and the media got that right, but the thing is, we now have all of our six careers at once. We all do a bit of everything to get along. That’s partially what the show’s title references: the hyperdemocracy of information access; the ongoing seesawing war between the Enlightenment’s individual and the mob of McLuhan’s global village; the secular versus the numinous; skill versus charisma; shocking financial and power imbalances. I’ve always been deeply concerned with documenting what I call the “extreme present tense”: What is it like to be alive on earth right now. For five years Shumon Basar and Hans Ulrich Obrist have been pushing me to take this to some sort of extreme. I think that’s evident in a body of works in the show.
People ask me what the biggest difference is between the art world and the literary world and I think it’s probably this: In the literary world, if you take on someone’s style, it’s called plagiarism and it’s discouraged. In the art world, if you do this, it’s called referencing and it’s expected, if not demanded, behavior. But both the literary and visual realms seem equally clubbed by the Internet and its systematic depletion of various modes of analysis. There’s a whistling in the dark thing going on right now along the lines of, Maybe things won’t change too, too much, and if everyone can just continue being politically correct à la 1995, maybe we can ride out this Internet thing. Young people must look at the art world as this grim, puritanistic prison where everyone receives a daily tin cup of ideological smoothie. I think there are so many new ways of seeing and being awaiting discovery. We live in a very exciting time that’s somehow been disguised as a coma.