Christine Sun Kim, Face Opera II, 2015. Rehearsal view, November 25, 2015.
Artist Christine Sun Kim has deployed a range of media, from drawings to electronic devices, to explore sound as a medium, particularly from her perspective as a deaf artist. Her upcoming exhibition at Carroll / Fletcher in London will reprise a work currently on view at “Greater New York” in MoMA PS1, and will also include new pieces, which she discusses below. The show, which runs from November 27, 2015 to January 30, 2016, will also feature a performance, Face Opera: Thumbs Up, on Thursday, November 26, at 7:30 PM.
OVER TIME, I’ve found myself starting to understand the lingo of sound and music more and more, especially in terms of quantitative forms like decibel and hertz. I’m beginning to find music much more personal, mainly because of the musicians I’ve befriended in the past two years. My upcoming show will feature Game of Skill 1.0, 2015, which is actually an a predecessor of Game of Skill 2.0, which New York museumgoers can experience at MoMA PS1 right now.. I like how super analog 1.0 is, especially with its visible external speakers, as opposed to built-in ones. However, both versions offer the same or similar listening experience. Each piece was built by my technician Levy Lorenzo. I hope the Game of Skill 1.0 installation will encourage participants to listen like gamers, or human turntable needles. In it, you hold up a device that connects to a strip of Velcro with magnets above you, and then you physically walk around in order to listen to audio, which is controlled by the device and its responses to your movement The audio comes out in a way that’s affected by the way you move, walk, or hold the device. It takes practice to perfect; it might be laborious but it’s meant to make your listening feel unfamiliar and like you’re learning a skill. This partially came from my observation of how hearing people passively and mindlessly listen, which I think is something they often take for granted.
Face Opera, 2013/2015, is another piece I’ve already done twice with a group of deaf friends in New York. This upcoming performance will involve a group of deaf Brits, which I’m incredibly excited about. Two of them are my good friends and I know British Sign Language (entirely different from American Sign Language) enough to carry conversations. Those participants have helped me develop the score and will sing with their faces alone, rather than hands. In BSL, there is a strong use of thumbs to express everyday concepts like “good night” (thumb up, night), “my dinner is great" (dinner, thumb up), or “all right” (two thumbs up), hence the latest iteration’s title, Face Opera: Thumbs Up.
In terms of new work, I’ll be exhibiting a series of drawings that is mostly about my relationship with ASL interpreters, as well as Close Readings, a project that has a lot to do with how necessary it is to work with other voices in order to have one. This piece came from my experience of reading rather than watching a movie called Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014). Their captioner went overboard and captioned almost every single sound in it, in a way that made the captions seem imposing, specific, and abstract. I realized from this that sound can be incredibly multidimensional and how difficult it is to put them into a few words. It also made me understand that for many years I’ve been placing so much trust in captioners to decide which sounds are important. For example, if Rihanna’s “BBHMM” comes up in a scene, a captioner could easily describe it as a “song in background” instead of specifying which song, musician, instruments, or even lyrics. My perception of movies largely depends on those captioners, just like my perceptions of spoken conversations depend on my sign language interpreters. I invited four deaf friends to add their own sound cues to five movie scenes I selected that resonate with the theme of voice; they were asked to provide captions that were either literal, conceptual, or imagined.
Ultimately I think my main interest driving this show is the notion of going overboard: overreading movie captions, overlistening while playing games, overthinking about all the different voices I’ve worked with. Maybe it’s more about borrowing voices, and about how people perhaps overvalue voice as a sound rather than voice as a visual.
Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle, Tituba Siphons Up Her Spectators in Order to Feed Her Young, 2013, india ink and compressed charcoal, 48 x 48".
Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle is an artist and currently a Fulbright fellow in Lagos, Nigeria, where she is working with students and faculty from the University of Lagos on her Kentifrica Project, 2010–, an ongoing piece about a hybrid, contested geography. Her latest exhibition, which features this work and two more projects (the “Tituba” series, 2013–, and the “Uninvited” series, 2008–), is titled “Who Among Us… The Art of Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle” and is on view at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco through April 3, 2016.
I AM USING MY FIRST MONTHS IN NIGERIA to learn more about navigating Lagos, to cook Nigerian foods, and to learn the local mythologies. Over these past weeks I have met a few students who are excited about the Kentifrica Project and the potential for empowerment and the creative leadership that it brings. I have also been working closely with my host, Dr. Adepeju Layiwola—an artist, scholar, activist, and professor at the University of Lagos. I am learning so much about the effects of colonialism on Nigerian history and culture, specifically in relationship to Benin and royal court art that was taken from the royal palace in 1897 by the British. The clash between cultural ideas concerning what is considered art, and what has ritual and ancestral importance in relationship to power, display, and economic gain is astounding and informing my work immensely. I am also making connections between how I was raised in Kentucky and the foods in the American South that are influenced by the food I am eating here. The connections are so rich! Louisville is in Lagos, and vice versa.
The Kentifrica Project collapses my interests in social sculpture, museum studies, anthropology, and the problematics of ethnography into one. Kentifrica started out as a solely autoethnographic project, in which I used my personal narrative as a point of departure to talk about fissures of identity. At first it was simply a collage of Kentucky and parts of West Africa, but after digging deeper I realized that the project extended beyond this collage because these geographies are complex. I created the project as an opportunity to embrace the idea of what I do not know about my ancestral origins instead of being consumed by a story of trauma and loss. I began to invite people to give their own interpretations about Kentifrica through panel discussions and collaborations to re-create artifacts or to prepare Kentifrican food. Through these invitations Kentifrica began to morph into both a physical and theoretical place in which a living archive was developing.
The museum component of the Kentifrican Museum of Culture then came about when I was invited to participate in Project Row Houses’ “Round 36” exhibition in 2012 in Houston. During the two-week installation I had the idea that the museum should be diasporic. I traveled to various locations and communities, so instead of people having to travel far—to a space in which they may feel alienated—the museum came to them.
As a visiting artist for my solo show at the University of New Hampshire Museum of Art this fall, I had the opportunity to go to Salem, Massachusetts, and take the tour of all the sites that played pivotal roles in the witch trials there. It was a powerful confirmation for the research I have been doing, especially a discussion I had with the guide about new concrete information that Tituba was of South American Arawak descent. My “Tituba” series, like much of my work, is about how the body of the other is used as scapegoat onto which fears and imaginative exotic fantasies are projected.
My work dwells within the unknown instead of being limited by it. The postcard images in the “Uninvited” series are historical documents that were supposed to represent some type of captured truth about the subjects, even though they were staged. When the viewer sees white paint within this series, it is Wite-Out Correction Fluid, which one uses to conceal mistakes, erase, or amend. I use it as a tool to renegotiate the expressions of colonial power that the postcards represent.
The term the “historical present” to me signifies the residue of history and how we are all chained to each other through the past and present. This idea came to me in 2012 when I re-created The Double Noose: Nowannago for the Kentifrica Project. The Double Noose hangs horizontally, and the loops look like an infinity symbol, suggesting that until we face the residue of history and honestly question its role within our lives, this inheritance will continue on forever. Historically, several of us are literally masters and slaves within the same body, so navigating the historical present can be an ongoing lifelong performance and practice of renegotiating the terms of history.
Andrea Geyer, Revolt, They Said, 2015, ink-jet print on adhesive-backed fabric, 17 x 29”. Installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: John Wronn.
In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art invited New York–based artist Andrea Geyer to perform an Artist Research Residency in the museum’s archives. The residency was supported by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation. Two pieces from the resulting body of works are currently on view at the museum: The video Insistence, 2013, which is on view through November 15, 2015, and the mural Revolt, They Said, 2012–, which runs through November 29, 2015.
A CURIOUS BLIND SPOT exists in MoMA’s archives when it comes to women and modernism. I was intrigued by the fact that the alliance between the three women— Lillie P. Bliss, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and Mary Quinn Sullivan—who founded the museum in 1929 left no trace in the archives: no photographs, no correspondence. David Rockefeller, who was a teenager at the time, recounted to me that these women were close friends who met regularly at the Rockefeller home for tea and went to exhibitions together. An archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center informed me that relationships between women were not considered worth archiving until much later. Yet still today awareness around these women’s achievements remains sparse. I wondered: What are the systems and mechanisms that enable our continuous blindness and deafness around these histories? What does it take to disrupt this process? How to uncover our own patterns of nonrecognition?
This led me to work on a series of projects, two of which are up at MoMA now: the mural Revolt, They Said and the video Insistence. The former began with a wild energy I sensed emanating from my research. I had to find a way to diagrammatically to keep track of these lost cross-cultural, cross-class, and cross-generational histories. Revolt, They Said weaves together an intricate score of relationships between women and is also a blueprint of how social, cultural, political change did and can happen. The crisscrossing lines connect labor organizers, such Mabel Dodge; artists such as Katherine S. Dreier, Nancy Prophet, Hilma Af Klimt, Friedl Dicker, and Romaine Brooks; gallerists such as Edith Halpert and Katherine Kuh; social entrepreneurs such as Fay Jackson Robinson; and cultural revolutionaries such as Lucy Gwynne Branham, among others. Salons held by affluent women as informal social gatherings brought women of diverse social classes together to exchange ideas, strategies, and resources. This form of organizing, of studying together, should be of vital importance for us in our own socially conservative era, as there are current systems that render certain voices more audible while others continue to be misheard and misjudged. To mount this drawing at MoMA is an invitation to look at this history through the lens of women’s work as a road map or passage and envision how change happens. What alliances do we need to create and maintain today?
The second, related work, Insistence, features an overhead shot of a table in which a hand stacks black-and-white photographs of women along with some interjections of color reproductions of modern artworks. The voice-over is a monologue based on the early stages of my research. This work argues that we must persist in our utterances of the women’s histories and not fail to remember them. For me, following their narrative is akin to cutting across the grass instead of walking on the paved path. Across such passages, such desire lines made by people like you and me, insistence opens new trajectories, perspectives are shifted and through repetition new associations are made possible.
I differentiate between remembering this history and insistence. This idea comes out of Gertrude Stein’s lecture on “Portraits and Repetition,” one of four speeches she gave when she toured the US in 1935. The conundrum she brings forward is that in portraiture lies a danger of arresting a person in a fixed image and taking away their agency. The task she proposes instead is to find modes of representation that allow individuals and ideas represented to remain alive. I find insistence appropriate in the context of a history and institutions that would not exist as such without the work of women. It also invites us to face the work that needs to get done.
I started this project looking for what was not there; I saw my research residency as an opportunity to use MoMA as a resource rather than solely as a display for exhibition. I wanted to understand the logic of cultural ecologies that connect midtown New York to Mexico City, the Southwest to Rome, Harlem to Paris and so on. And I was encouraged by how resilient some of these histories are in the face of collective amnesia, how their power is never finite, but insistently continues to operate in an ever-evolving present.
View of “Lior Shvil: PROTOCOLS,” 2015.
“PROTOCOLS,” Lior Shvil’s exhibition in New York, features a large-scale installation inspired by military counterinsurgency training courses as well as two performances. As part of by Performa 15, events will be held on November 14 and November 21, 2015, which are the product of ongoing workshops in which Shvil invites nonprofessional performers to play an active role in improvisational combat procedures. “PROTOCOLS” opened on September 12 and is on view at Art in General in New York through November 21, 2015.
I FIRST LEARNED OF TWENTYNINE PALMS, a city in Southern California that houses a vast Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, in 2011 when I went to shoot a video in nearby Joshua Tree. The base holds incredible training facilities, including seven mock city districts for urban combat that simulate Afghan villages. I am familiar with similar facilities from my own experience in the Israeli army, but what caught my attention and astonished me is the fact that at other bases the US army hires Iraqi civilians who fled their country to play the role of villagers while soldiers train—including at a nearby center in Fort Irwin, California.
Since then, I’ve been investigating different counterinsurgency theories and strategies that are at the base of these training exercises. Counterinsurgency Operations (also known as COIN) are defined by the 2009 US Government Counterinsurgency Guide as political strategies designed to protect the population from insurgent violence and to strengthen the capacity of governments. The guide functions as a manual for the army and contains detailed protocols for soldiers serving in the field. These describe how a soldier should perform with “minimum damage” while conducting various procedures, such as a “Search and Control” exercise, which refers to what the soldier should say and do if he stumbles upon villagers. What I found truly amazing was how these protocols are often racist and devoid of humanity, while they also are detailed instructions for forceful violent actions.
As an artist and former architect, I explore a range of visual languages and base my work on different storytelling forms. For this show, I chose to reread the guide as a poetic text in order to stage a scene that I could experiment with and observe. The text becomes a subversive tool that allows me to reactivate it with new psychological meaning.
Early in the project, which I initially conceived and realized as PROTOCOL X at High Desert Test Sites in May 2015, I began collaborating with actress and improv director Hollis Witherspoon, who has been my improv instructor for the past year and a half. Hollis adds an important layer to the work: While I am looking at the project from a sculptural point of view, Hollis adds an experienced theatrical perspective. I’m using nonprofessional performers, and the cast changes from one presentation to another, so do the scripts and actions. This is why I refer to the performances as “exercises.” For the exercises in “PROTOCOLS,” I sampled some of the archetypes the guide introduces: an old man with a stroller; a preacher or leader; a hysterical woman; a widow; and an orphan. Each of these characters represents a code for particular army maneuvers and routines. In addition to these villagers, a few of the participants play the role of US Army soldiers, thus simulating a real life encounter.
The installation at Art in General is based on a 1950s UN proposal scheme for Palestinian refugee camps—a model that consists of an endless grid of eight-foot-square cubicles that house displaced families. These cubicles become theatrical units that accommodate the different characters. The participants decide how they will portray the characters and what their actions will be within the defined protocols. In the work of Augusto Boal, to whom I owe a lot of this open-ended approach, he eliminates the audience by giving them active parts in the play. Inspired by his work, I introduce questions to the audience during the exercise, which enables them to make decisions regarding the development of the performance. The audience, referred to as “Public Opinion” in the show, may choose to take the side of the villagers by defending them from the soldiers, or may choose to support the soldiers. For example, the audience might be asked to actively assist in physically detaining a suspect. They will do so if they feel there is enough evidence to take this person into custody for further debriefing. Their decision is based on what they have witnessed in the chain of events in the performance up to that point. By giving their response, they can drastically change the course of action, right up to the end of the performance, and may feel responsible for the consequences.
Props from Shana Lutker's The Average Mysterious and the Shirt off Its Back, 2015. Pérez Art Museum Miami. Photo: Devin Christopher.
Los Angeles–based artist and 2014 Smithsonian artist research fellow Shana Lutker here speaks about “Le ‘NEW’ Monocle: Chapters 1–3,” her exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, which runs from October 29, 2015, to February 15, 2016. The show includes a performance, The Average Mysterious and the Shirt off Its Back, 2015, on Thursday, October 29, at 6:30 PM.
OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS I’ve been creating a body of work titled Le “NEW” Monocle. There will be eight chapters when it is complete. At the Hirshhorn, chapters one to three will be on view. The subject of all of the chapters is the history of the fistfights of the Surrealists—a story that hasn’t been written yet, as such. Not long ago, when reading Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton, by Mark Polizzotti, I kept stumbling across these fistfights instigated by Breton and his compatriots. They were always somewhat theatrical and very content-driven—they were fistfights about art and ideas.
I’m interested in this moment someone’s fist hits someone else’s face—when ideas exceed the limits of the body. The Surrealist fistfights I study were all recorded in the papers and the literary journals of the time. They were . . . let’s not say staged media events, but they were covered in the news, and they were strategic. The aim was to establish Surrealism as the premier art movement of the time.
Each chapter of Le “NEW” Monocle includes a piece of writing, a group of sculptures, and a performance. These three modes are parallel; they don’t depend on one another. At the Hirshhorn, there will also be three research tables. Each one is associated with one of the chapters, and each shows images and objects I’ve collected and attached to each fistfight and that, in some cases, were the sources of the artworks in the adjacent gallery—for example, a picture of a wall grate on the building that used to be the Bureau of Surrealism I saw walking around Paris, or a photo of a discarded ladder on the street. There are also pictures of archival materials I sought out in DC and Paris. The Library of Congress holds the amazing personal archives of Bronislava Nijinska, who was a longtime primary dancer and choreographer at the Ballets Russes. That material relates to chapter two, which concerns the collision between the Surrealists and the Ballets Russes in 1926, when the Russes was no longer the radical Russes of Rite of Spring in 1913. By 1926, it was more like the Ringling Brothers, and the Surrealists thought it was commercial sellout bullshit, which they didn’t want associated with their avant-garde brand.
The performance I will stage at the Hirshhorn—which premiered in May at Pérez Art Museum Miami—is associated with chapter three. It collages together pieces of the story of a fistfight at a lecture about literature by Robert Aron (who was not a Surrealist), which was to be followed by a play by Louis Aragon (who was a Surrealist)—Au Pied du mur (Backs to the Wall)—directed by Antonin Artaud and starring Artaud and Génica Athanasiou. There is some mystery as to what ignited this fistfight, but based on my research I think it’s a collision of factors including the Surrealist play slotted to follow a lecture on mediocre literature and Artaud’s recent ousting from the group. But I’m drawn to the bigger picture, how Breton was establishing a new philosophy for art and politics and revolution and gathering a team of people around him. Of course, the Surrealists were also childish, impetuous, authoritarian, macho, remarkably sensitive, and overreacting to most everything.
For the performance, I’ve rehearsed with actors in Los Angeles to present three scenes from the play that I believe were performed on the night of this fistfight. I’ve also included contemporaneous piano music by Arthur Honegger and scenes from Germaine Dulac’s La Coquille et le clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman), a 1926 proto-Surrealist film, originally written by Artaud.
Grounded by the foundation in research, ideas come to me about what I want to make. I allow myself to intuitively make decisions about materials, using shapes and forms from the archive of images. In one way, the things that I produce are straightforward; I work with solid, often singular, materials like lead or felt, that I shape into seemingly familiar objects that are literally or associatively linked to the research, like a sculpture of a foot or a cone of sand. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know that the pile of sand is a reference to a Joan Miró drawing, you can make your own interpretation.
Jack Whitten, Apps for Obama, 2011, acrylic on hollow core door, 84 x 91".
Jack Whitten is a painter who lives and works in New York. Here, he reflects on how he developed as an artist, his cross-generational exchanges, and three paintings from very different moments in his life, all on the occasion of his retrospective “Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting,” which was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, and is currently on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis until January 24, 2016.
SUN RA WAS RIGHT ON THE MONEY; humans came here from outer space as minerals and chemicals. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, everyone began looking for their roots. This was when Afrocentrism was blossoming; I was just getting started as a painter with an interest in our intergalactic roots. I wanted to activate human perception, both from the micro and macro dimensions, with paint as a means to transmit the content. I wanted a narrative, but one that was built into the materiality of paint. When I was an art student at Cooper Union, the world was in chaos. In 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, the atmosphere was intense. My early paintings came out of such heightened experiences surrounded by the politics of race, territorial geography, surveillance, and technology.
My heroes were artists Norman Lewis and Willem de Kooning, who were dealing with gesture. Norman took me under his wing, and as a student I got an invite from a friend to a party at Bill de Kooning's studio. I had to get around these artists because their influence was so great; it forced me to get rid of the brush. In 1970, I started making paintings with Afro combs and serrated tools. That was effective, so I built larger versions. The concept was pure systemic painting where the plane was compressed into a single gesture. After several experiments, I built what I called the Developer, an analogy to photography, which was meant to rebuke the notion of touch. At first it was a piece of two-by-four wood and later I attached a piece of thick neoprene rubber, which made it operate like a big squeegee, after which came a piece of sixteen-gauge sheet metal. When it got to be over twelve feet wide, I rigged it with wheels. Then with additional five- to ten-pound weighted metal rods, I could calculate pressure and figure out how much paint I wanted to remove. An early important painting in the show, Prime Mover, 1974, was made with the Developer. The marks in this work came from objects or pieces of wire, which I tacked beneath the canvas. When the Developer came across the surface of the canvas, it revealed the drawing underneath, very much like a wet frottage. The paintings from this period and before I called my slab paintings, which referred not only to the way they were made but also to the fact that the skein of paint measured 1/4 to 3⁄8 of an inch thick.
Slab could also have topographical connotations. My first trip to Crete was in 1969, and I met a young French geologist who explained the rock formations in the surrounding hills of my village. One can see the temporality of human existence in the rocks and the soil: fossils that came from the sea ending up in the mountains, for instance. Those kinds of experiences led me to the idea of molecular perception in art, and they also spurred my reading of philosophy: the writings of Husserl, Hegel, Heidegger, and more recently Édouard Glissant. The narrative, meaning, content, subject matter, and location of symbols are all compressed into my paintings.
Black Monolith III for Barbara Jordan, 1998, which is also in the show, is from my “Black Monolith” series—my way of saying thank you to black artists, writers, thinkers, and poets. It is a way to honor our own and to grieve our own. When you look at the surface of Black Monolith III, it is not by accident that the tessellation looks topographical. The painting is the reproduction of a concept. It appears to be Xeroxed or scanned from a satellite photograph, but it is all acrylic paint. In the paint there is the suggestion of mica, ore, iridescent rock, and mineral deposits: things that have been dug up from the ground or spun off from a meteorite. Geologic remains are like that, artifacts, which carry with them the psychic and physical data of our existence.
In our world, capitalism is in a cannibalistic cycle, which can lead to the loss of hope. In Crete they have a local word for this, φάωόλα or fataoula, to “eat it all,” which is from the verb φάω or na fao, which means “to eat.” Capitalism is an extreme form of greediness, because it works by eating and digesting everything. In Greece now, people have lost hope, and that is a scary thing. I still think about technology, about fracture, and about racial politics. My Apps for Obama, 2011, is a bright and cheerful painting that nonetheless features the debris of our age as attractive on a digital screen: an interface that fluctuates between imaging and materiality, but above all else is paint.
View Whitten's 2012 portfolio for Artforum here.