View of “Igor Siddiqui: Protoplastic,” 2014.
Croatian-born architect and designer Igor Siddiqui identifies with the “not everything” approach to architecture—the notion that architects can make small, incisive contributions to larger projects rather than focusing solely on the big picture. Siddiqui speaks here about his latest innovation, the use of bioplastics in creating his architectural work, which is the focal point of his latest exhibition, “Igor Siddiqui: Protoplastic,” on view at TOPS Gallery, Memphis, from January 31 to March 29, 2014.
I COOK MY BIOPLASTICS at home, which might seem to be a domesticated way of producing work, but it’s more complicated than that. All the materials I use are edible. I have even licked the liquid bioplastic to see if it was cool enough to pour. That is one of the most enlightening parts of this practice—that you can use your sense of taste, employing your mouth rather than your hands to handle the material. Taste is perhaps the only sense that is ordinarily excluded from the experience of architecture. Although this work is not designed for consumption, the thought that a building is actually edible changes how we perceive the boundaries between our bodies and the surrounding built environment. You never think about tasting concrete when you are mixing it to cast a multistory structure.
The work in the exhibition is a result of research that considers the relationship between digital fabrication and made-from-scratch biodegradable plastics. A sculptural treelike volume made from tailored sheets of translucent bioplastic is suspended from the ceiling and serves as a proof of concept. Surrounding it are six sheets of double-sided acrylic formwork that I used to cast the homemade plastic. The acrylic is white to match the gallery’s floor and is supported by custom concrete blocks that reference the surrounding walls. The overall arrangement of the work in the gallery encourages an immersive experience rather than simply a didactic one.
I am aware that my bioplastic work exists in the same food-obsessed culture that has celebrated chefs like David Chang and the world of molecular gastronomy. Home-cooking my materials not only complicates the macho stereotype that comes with carpentry and construction; it effectively slows down the process of creation. Unlike most design production that relies heavily on digitally automated technologies, this work revisits some older, currently underexplored methods of making custom materials. Like cooking food, the process is a mixture of control and discovery. The bioplastic recipe is quite simple: Proportions of gelatin, water, glycerol, and starch are combined depending on the amount of pliability desired. Adding more glycerin, for instance, relaxes the plastic molecules and allows for more flexibility.
The goal for me was not to invent a new material; rather, it was to take something that already exists in the world and modify it enough that I could figure out the limits of its aesthetic behavior. Bioplastics have many of the same properties as synthetic plastics: fluidity and malleable transparency, for instance. They also have a similar look to their often-toxic predecessors. The amber glow of the latex sculptures of Eva Hesse, for example, is not unlike that of home-cooked bioplastics. This type of natural material resembles candy or aspic, and thus establishes a nourishing and mimetic rather than harmful relationship to the human body. The bioplastic architecture that I build, if composted, will degrade in six months—and with increased moisture, perhaps even faster.
A.L. Steiner, More Real than Reality Itself, 2014, multichannel video installation, color, sound, 54 minutes.
A. L. Steiner is an artist whose visual and curatorial work addresses the pluralities inherent within subjectivity, feminism, and queer herstory. Her most recent installation, More Real than Reality Itself/Cost-benefit analysis will be on view in the 2014 Whitney Biennial from March 7 to May 25, 2014. The work investigates sociocultural, biopolitical, and familial constructions through the lived practices of activists and artists Rita ‘Bo’ Brown, Carla Cloer, Ericka Huggins, Miya Masaoka, and Laurie Weeks. Here, Steiner discusses the piece and her ongoing radical practice.
DOCUMENTARIES ARE OBSERVATIONAL WORKS. The installation-based work More Real than Reality Itself began as an exploration of my biological family’s past history in the late 1960s and early ’70s, which eventually became a conduit to viewing other subjective histories. I began to focus on several artists and activists whose lives and work have been affected in different ways and degrees by what’s termed (canonically) as the cultural revolution of that era. These subjects’ interactions with racial, gender, and sexual liberation, as well as with social justice, labor, and environmental movements, and with emerging contemporary art forms, all had lasting effects on their life trajectories. These experiences are transmissible over a lifetime.
I’ve been thinking about these transmissions, the meanings and impacts of terms such as biography, autobiography, and documentary. It feels difficult to tell a personal story if one isn’t 100 percent certain of its veracity or validity: One has to address the difficult task of dealing with informational displacement and detachment while attempting engagement with the material.
I’m interested in the efforts my subjects made to effect change while grappling with the notion of radical—whether as a self-identification or an imposed moniker, or bothand the mutations of radicalism, justice, activism, and ethics that took place. I’m curious about the actuality of familial constructions determining one’s aesthetic and sociopsychic desires and sense of agency.
This project has become a platform for questioning intentionality and the relationship I have to documentary or archival forms—a fragile and precarious place for both the object and subject. Authenticating experiences through photographic documents quickly impresses a contemporary psychological form of recognition. Within these mediated forms of cognition, video establishes a further expanded dimensional presence. Ultimately, it’s challenging to understand this video work as a completed form or even as a record—it’s something that’s permeable and flexible. I was compelled to incorporate that structurally and strategically as part of the visual works. Within my own family, I’ve witnessed the discarding of a particular story or the information contained within a story, to be replaced by parts or details that were previously nonexistent or perhaps are just resurfacing. I believe in the multiplicity of possibilities or flexibilities of such narratives, more than I can believe in the stories themselves. As the late José Esteban Muñoz so eloquently noted, “Think of ephemera as trace, the remains, the things that are left, hanging in the air like a rumor.”
Rashaad Newsome, FIVE, 2010–. Performance view, Feast Projects, Hong Kong, May 18, 2012. From left: Prince Milan, Janovia Garçon, Scanz, Omari Mizrahi, Tia Ebony, and Alex Mugler.
In Rashaad Newsome’s work FIVE, 2010–, motion-tracking technology records the movements of performers as they enact the gestures and moves of vogue dance. FIVE premiered at the Whitney Biennial in 2010, and Newsome has elaborated on the work in iterations at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2011), the Miami Art Museum (2011), and Feast Projects in Hong Kong (2012). The latest edition of FIVE will open Newsome’s exhibition at the Drawing Center in New York on March 6. The exhibition, which is on view until March 11, 2014, will feature video documentation and line drawings produced from motion-tracking of the dancers in the Hong Kong performance.
FIVE initially began with my interests in vogue, which is part of the black and Latino gay diaspora that I feel was co-opted very early in its existence. Essentially, it’s a series of poses that communicate something to the viewer, to an opponent, and to the judges. An aspect I am very interested in with my work is the way the dance functions as a complex language that allows for a lot of room for abstraction within it—in its evolution and its preservation.
I began working with dancers in 2010 and created sequences based on the five elements of Vogue Femme. Vogue Femme is a very fluid dance style with exaggerated “feminine” movements influenced by ballet and modern dance. Styles of Vogue Femme range from dramatics style, which emphasizes stunts, tricks, and speed, to soft style, which emphasizes a slower and more graceful flow. There are five elements of Vogue Femme: hands, catwalk, floor performance, duck walk, and spin dips. Accordingly, I worked with five musicians who play instruments whose sounds mirror the dancers’ movements. I also enlisted Stefanos Koroneos to sing opera and Kevin Jz Prodigy to commentate.
Around the same time, I was developing a motion tracking patch, using Max/MSP&Jitter programming software. Max/MSP&Jitter is a visual programming language for music and multimedia. When the 2010 Whitney Biennial curators asked me to exhibit and perform for the show, I thought that would be a perfect way to incorporate this software into a performance. The patch allowed me to track the motion of color in real time using an external video camera connected to my laptop. The software maps the tracked color coordinates on a computer screen or projection, with a continuous line on the screen corresponding to the position of the color over time. After the performance, the data that’s captured is then printed and framed as a multicolored line drawing, with each color corresponding to one of the five elements of Vogue Femme.
I’m committed to tracking these performance histories, so to speak. Drawing has always been a part of this work, so to show FIVE in an institution dedicated to the history and preservation of drawing is great. I see the drawings as the starting point for the project, but ultimately, I want to turn what they are doing into sculptural material. I have been rewriting the code, and I recently finished a new patch for my upcoming Drawing Center performance. With this patch, I am incorporating Xbox kinect cameras, which track movement in three dimensions. This allows me not only to track specific parts of the dancers’ bodies, but to do it to scale, and have the data that is captured be 3-D data rather than 2-D as before. Because I am working with vogue dancers and trying to accurately translate their movements into line drawings and sculptures, it is very important that I track specific areas of the dancers’ bodies—for instance, the hands, hips and feet—as there are many subtleties within the dance.
I feel like FIVE has really reached a new peak now. The software and cameras allow me to do what I ultimately wanted: turn movement into physical objects. The movement that you see tracked during the performance will later exist as a physical sculpture. FIVE has a score in terms of the way it is performed, but the resultant drawings and sculptures function like a score as well. Years from now, a dancer will be able to study one of my line drawings or the eventual sculptures and reperform the dance, because it literally is a replica of vogue movements.
I’ve been playing with this programming language in various ways, and it has become a tool that I use often in my performance work. It gives me more control in the pieces and allows me to do things in real time. In so much performance, artists perform for the viewer. My work changes that experience: It’s not about me standing and performing for you. It’s more about me creating a work and you being able to experience the process of its creation.
Born in 1932 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, the New York–based photographer Duane Michals is widely celebrated for his photo sequences—as exemplified in his 1970 book Sequences—as well as for writing messages and poems directly onto his images to collapse time, experience, and emotions. This year promises to be a significant one for Michals. From November 1, 2014 to February 16, 2015, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art will host a major retrospective of his work. “Storyteller: The Photographs of Duane Michals” will consider how the artist was primarily inspired in the 1960s by René Magritte, Balthus, and Giorgio de Chirico to broaden traditional notions of photography and put into motion his influential visual stories. Recently, Michals sat down in his home to discuss his early career in New York, his influences, and his partner, the architect Fred Gorree, with whom he has lived for more than fifty years.
Interview with Duane Michals.
View of “Yan Xing: Standard Exhibition,” 2014.
The Beijing- and Los Angeles–based artist Yan Xing is known for creating intricately staged installations, photographs, videos, and performances that play on registers of high camp, melodrama, and sincerity. For his recent solo exhibition at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing, he presented new works including The Collectress, 2013, which is based on the novels and paintings of Duan Jianyu. “Yan Xing: Standard Exhibition,” his first solo show in Switzerland, runs from February 14 to April 12, 2014 at Galerie Urs Meile in Lucerne.
THE PHYSICAL FRAMING of my work—the way it is presented to a public—is very specific. This is because I want to control the viewer’s experience. It’s an overt rejection of audience participation. You only see what I want you to see, and how I want you to see it. Sometimes the reference point for the work is broad—geographies, survival, humanity, or universal values, for instance. In other cases, the reference is a particular artist or artwork—Robert Mapplethorpe or Edward Hopper’s 1927 painting Drug Store. I think artists should be open to exploring all types of categories. For The Collectress I worked with the specific reference point of a contemporary artist and author: Duan Jianyu. This was new for me. The installation consists of twenty-one paintings of landscapes and two sculptures on the floor that resembled farm implements. For me, this work was a new direction: It has a modernist aesthetic that I’ve never used before.
I’m an avid reader of many of Duan Jianyu’s books. I’m probably among the foremost researchers of her paintings, too. Many of her stories and paintings are flooded with tacky aesthetics; she highlights this superficial phenomenon of building and rebuilding that can be seen all over China’s metropolises—it is common nearly to the point of almost being kitschy. For The Collectress, I attempted to find the places she has written about—typically in great detail—but in the end, I learned that they were all fictional. My installation is concerned with the complicated relationship between the stories that art tells and art in actuality. An aspect of the project that many people didn’t know about––but which was part of the conceptual imagining of the work from the beginning––was flying Duan Jianyu out to the opening at Galerie Urs Meile in Beijing. The gallery bought her a plane ticket, put her up in a luxury hotel, and gave her a private car and driver. I wanted to make it seem like a voyage, which added various layers of meaning to the work.
This layering is key for me and I am beginning to see that The Collectress was a springboard for the work I am planning to make in the future. For my current show in Lucerne, I am not making any new work, but rather exhibiting work I’ve shown before. I am still in the planning stages of a new body of work, which has a lot to do with moving to Los Angeles. I’ll have the opportunity to reassess a lot of the hardware and tools I use in my practice. I’ve been living in Beijing for four years, and my ideas have melded with the fabric of the city. I want to make change that is more significant than a residency or a trip—a life change. To stay would merely be to continue realizing my currently ongoing projects and ideas on a bigger scale, and this is not of interest to me.
Translated from Chinese by Lee Ambrozy.
Mel Chin, Diagram for The Fundreds of America Presentation Pallet, 2013.
“Mel Chin: Rematch,” a traveling retrospective organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art and curated by NOMA’s Miranda Lash, presents more than seventy works and documents related to Chin’s collective interventions. Chin is perhaps best known for Operation Paydirt, 2006–, a project that supports solutions to end childhood lead poisoning. As part of the endeavor’s ongoing efforts, in 2014 Operation Paydirt will host a “Make It Real” meeting, convening at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Community Innovators Lab (CoLab), which will bring together leaders in the effort against lead poisoning to review evidence, directives, and potential solutions. “Rematch” is on view at NOMA from February 21 to May 25, 2014.
I USED TO TELL PEOPLE that instead of being an “emerging” artist, I’m really a “submerging” artist—a disappearance artist—and likewise this exhibition is more of a nonretrospective. Take GALA Committee, a project that inserted 200 different props into the TV series Melrose Place during productionit was a collaboration I did with a team of artists from CalArts in Los Angeles and the University of Georgia, as well as the show’s producers and writers. As a joint effort, GALA Committee was meant to examine the one-dimensional surface of commercial, primetime television that we all know so well. We tried to understand that surface as something that wants you to feel a little less psychologically secure about yourself—you’re never going to look good enough, be thin enough. We didn’t want to subvert TV per se—popular culture had already been critiqued for so many years—but instead we wanted to enter it as a collaboration, to insert something viral in its viral life, as of course these shows repeat, with reruns that show our virus still airing today.
The exhibition will also highlight The Fundred Dollar Bill Project and Operation Paydirt. Each represents hundreds of thousands—millions, even—of individuals who decided to make counterfeit money and sent it to me with the idea of an eventual exchange for real capital to support a process of eradicating childhood lead poisoning. Studies have shown that a person who has been compromised by lead poisoning has a propensity for violence. If we all looked closely at the relationship between acts of violence and environmental toxins, overlaying that information with statistics regarding incarceration and homicide, it would be shocking. Presentation Pallet for the Fundreds of America is gilded oak pallet designed to display the thousands of Fundreds collected over the years by Operation Paydirt. The project continues to generate thousands of children’s drawings of these Fundreds; each represents the value of an individual’s expression as a “vote” for a solution to childhood lead poisoning. It’s an opportunity to give a child a voice in the matter, to encourage lawmakers to accept the evidence of what’s happening as well as physically transform the environment they represent. With Presentation Pallet for the Fundreds, a pallet of open bonds for this show, we’re making a gift that will support this eventual donation.
These are not heroic acts but rather demonstrations to gather meaning so that we can solve problems together. It’s not about creating something that will be a final solution to a problem; rather, we want to examine the various layers of action that are necessary to respond to a child who may be compromised this very minute in the city of New Orleans or Cleveland or St. Louis. My small part is to catalyze this action and put it in a framework that bears some possibility for response.
A retrospective is interesting because it presents a moment for introspective thinking: It’s an opportunity to think more about what I can become. It’s an opportunity to view things critically instead of through the excited, celebratory view. In a way, this show is a call to say, Well, that’s just not enough.