Tokyo-based architects Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima founded Atelier Bow-Wow in 1992; the firm is well known for its domestic and cultural architecture and its research exploring the urban conditions of multifunctional, ad hoc (or “pet”) architecture. Small Case Study House, a new work commissioned by REDCAT following a three-month residency, explores the postwar Case Study House program in Los Angeles. The exhibition, which opens on January 30, is their first solo show in the United States. Here Tsukamoto speaks about their latest project.
THE CASE STUDY HOUSE movement influenced many Japanese architects in the 1950s. Although it is referred to and talked about often in Japan, we found that in the United States it seemed to have been forgotten. Houses in the US are quite big compared with those in Japan. This speaks to something unique about the characteristics or behavior of people in the US. There is a tendency to buy, buy, buy, and then there is the need for space to put everything in the house, and the housing must have more space to store all of the goods and furniture.
Small Case Study House is our response to the size of homes in the United States. The question is, How can we make small houses important? In the sixteenth century, Sen-no Rikyu invented the teahouse. This is a very small, specialized building we can use today as a framework and translate to other types of activities. At REDCAT, we will exhibit three small case-study houses. We are focusing on three discrete, archetypal behaviors of people in Southern California. The first involves the use of the barbecue, the second the hammock, and the third is viewing the sunset.
The BBQ-house is in the shape of a stadium or coliseum; it has three barbecues in the middle. The purpose of the shape is to harness the heat from the barbecue and the heat of the people gathering around. Barbecue parties in California have a performative aspect. I did this once with a friend; he was like a performer in front of the barbecue! It’s very different from how we barbecue in Japan. I wanted to enhance the performative aspect of barbecue in this coliseum.
Hammock-house is a house without a floor; instead of standing in the house, you can hang from the branches of a tree! The space is roughly twenty-six feet wide by thirteen feet high. It consists of two hammocks, each hung on one side of the roof truss, which functions as a balance. For the piece to hold, there need to be sleepers on both ends of the truss beams, like a set of scales. It’s a building that plays with gravity.
In LA, every part of the city affords a beautiful sunset view. Twilight lasts very long there; I think it is one of the most beautiful moments. Sunsets involve a physical interaction between two spherical forms, the sun and the earth, and Sunset-house plays with these spherical forms. A half-spherical form catches the human body and the horizontal light from the sunset, and inside this concave shelter an orange light from the sunset reflects and concentrates on the viewer.
The original Case Study House was inspired by new construction techniques, especially steel-welding techniques, that were developed during the wars. For this exhibition, we used salvaged wood. I’m interested in recycling from old houses and reusing materials. Perhaps after the exhibition, the same wood will return again to the timber yard.
One of the premises that we established in our design studio at UCLA was densification of the urban environment. The Small Case Study House could be another house in your backyard garden or along the alley. It could be an added element in LA’s dispersed landscape, a powerful element to make the city denser than today. Then the city would become more walkable.
Passive participation in public space is something that needs to be discussed. I want to stimulate a sense of practice in public space through art exhibitions and by proposing mobile structures or huge furniture that is functional for local people. We visit the site of our exhibitions and observe the types of behavior that are unique to each city, and we explore which types of devices or tools help support certain modes of behavior. However, we aim to transform this existing behavior by mixing and deforming these devices and tools. I would really like to put the barbecue house in a park or on the corner of a street, for example, or the sunset house on the beach or the top of a hill. People could gather there, spend some time together, and make it a very small piece of public space.
Taiwanese-American artist Tehching Hsieh is well known for his durational performances. An installation of his first One Year Performance 1978–1979, commonly known as “Cage Piece,” debuted at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on January 21, inaugurating MoMA’s new “Performance” series. His second One Year Performance 1980–1981, or “Time Clock Piece,” will be included in the Guggenheim Museum exhibition “The Third Mind,” opening on January 30. A comprehensive monograph of his oeuvre, Out of Now, is slated to be published by MIT Press and Live Art Development Agency in March.
IT’S COINCIDENTAL THAT “Cage Piece” and “Time Clock Piece” will be exhibited in January in New York, along with the publication of the book. “Cage Piece” is, for me, my most important work. Reinstalling the cage brought back memories of the year that I lived inside the cage and also memories of the following years, in which I struggled to return to normal life. The installation of the original cage at the museum is somewhat hidden: There will be a separate room built inside the gallery space that contains the cage, and the audience will see documents of this piece before they approach the room. The cage is the same size as the original and includes the same source of light––a one-hundred-watt bulb.
“Time Clock Piece” has never been shown in its complete form, with all the original documents, which include still and moving images, a 16-mm film camera, and a 16-mm projector to run the film loop. For me, these documents are important, but they are secondary, because they offer only traces. There are elements that are invisible and can only be approached through the viewer’s own experience and imagination. As an artist, after having finished my work, I am separated from the artwork; as a witness, I can provide original thoughts that will help the artworks to be better understood.
The book, two years in the making, is authored with Adrian Heathfield. Before we started working on the book, I had spent a lot of time digitizing my extensive archives. I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with language. I’m accustomed to asking questions and answering them in my mind without using any verbal or written tactics, so I found it hard to transform my thoughts into language. Adrian is a good listener and a keen thinker, and he was cautious to not categorize my work in any way that was not true to my original concepts. There have also been other important artists and writers who have responded to my artworks in deep and beautiful ways.
Superflex, Flooded McDonald’s, 2008, stills from a color film, 20 minutes.
The international projects by the Danish collective Superflex engage alternative-energy production, community organizing, and what they commonly term “countereconomic strategies.” For their first solo exhibition in London, opening January 16 at South London Gallery, they will present a new film, Flooded McDonald’s.
THIS WORK IS one of our first forays into filmmaking. Although we’ve previously used film and photography to document our projects, Flooded McDonald’s incorporates a more general cinematic approach. It may at times seem like a documentary, because it follows the actual flooding of a replica of a generic McDonald’s, but it might also feel like a television commercial or disaster movie in slow motion.
Burning Car  was our first film; it captures a car on fire in a single long take. We consider it a response to a series of recent activities in Western Europe––riots that looked like small civil wars, during which many cars were burned. In France, these riots were mostly in the suburbs, where the youth were reacting to specific situations based on domestic policies, the changing constellations of people living in their country, and immigration issues. At the time, there were multiple news reports about the cars, but the media would never really discuss the reasons behind these actions. Instead, there was just a widespread public fascination surrounding the cars’ burning and how wild it was to see it all over. There have been similar situations in Copenhagen; we have had burning cars outside our office here in the center of the city. The film is, in a sense, a comment on these activities, but it’s also part of a larger project of “symbolic” films we’re working on, which uses cinematic models and tries not to emphasize anything too specific.
Flooded McDonald’s is our second film, and among the issues that it examines are the consequences of consumerism on an individual level. Often, society likes to locate a scapegoat for the negative effects of consumerism, such as multinational companies or politicians who are not able to deal with, say, carbon-dioxide emissions. For this film, we wanted to create an understanding of its effects on a more private register. The film is not a direct critique of McDonald’s. Consumers want to eat the chain’s products, and they become addicted to products and ideologies. McDonald’s is really an icon for the type of consumerism that has wide-ranging environmental, social, and economic consequences.
The film will travel to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in September. We are in the process of proposing different models for circulating the work, as standard channels for film and visual-art distribution can be very difficult in terms of public accessibility and rights. We’re trying to see if these films can be disseminated in visual-art as well as film markets.
Left: Rirkrit Tiravanija, JG Reads, 2008, still from a black-and-white film in 16 mm, 10 hours 6 minutes. Right: John Giorno, LIFE IS A KILLER, 2008, pencil on paper, 6 1/2 x 6 1/2".
For over forty years, the poet John Giorno has explored the media through which poetry is disseminated. In 1963, Giorno was the subject of Andy Warhol’s Sleep, and recently Giorno collaborated with Rirkrit Tiravanija on the latter’s work JG Reads, 2008, which was shown at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise November 22–December 20. An exhibition of Giorno’s artwork is on view at Almine Rech gallery in Paris January 10–February 25, 2009.
THE NAME OF THE SHOW IS “Life Is a Killer,” which is also the title of a poem of mine from 1982. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but Ugo [Rondinone] liked it. I was going to name it after one of several new poems—“Thanks for Nothing” or “It Doesn’t Get Better.” I gave Ugo a 1986 painting I did of Life Is a Killer; it’s in his loft, he sees it every day, and I think he’s fixed on it. I’m very permissive when it comes to the people I work with. I just put out a new book of poems selected from 1962 to 2007 called Subduing Demons in America. The idea for the title, taken from a poem I did in 1974, belonged to my editor, Marcus Boone. I said, “Marcus, I would never choose that title now, in 2008.” And he said, “No, John, that’s a great title for a life’s work.” The thing is, when people suggest things, you know why. You trust the people you work with.
There will be fifty-two drawings and eighteen paintings and eleven huge wall stencils in the show at Almine Rech. I’ll also be performing at the opening. I can perform endlessly. For Rirkrit [Tiravanija]’s piece JG Reads at Gavin Brown, Rirkrit wanted me to perform for forty hours. I said, “What a great idea!” The film is black-and-white and 16 mm, so of course it evoked Andy Warhol. One of Rirkrit’s ideas—not his first, but one of the more prominent ones—was to remake Empire, which is twenty-four hours long. In the end, he decided that duration was too much, though, so we did what we did—eleven hours.
It takes me months and months to write a poem; as I work with it, I see how it sounds, and I say the words live, and I begin to memorize it as I write it. Do you know how you remember a pop song? You’re not thinking about it: The words are in the sound. It comes from an inexplicable place; every time you perform, you’re doing it for the first time! When I did Rirkrit’s piece, there were poems I hadn’t performed for twenty-five years, poems from the early ’80s, like “Exiled in Domestic Life,” that are really angry punk poems. When I’d rehearse, at 8 or 9 AM, everything would come back. Whoosh! Anger included.
My various projects—the poem paintings, LPs and CDs, Dial-a-Poem, and the written poems—all have the same purpose: to connect to an audience. A poem is wisdom in a few words. I’m not sure where the words originate, but sometimes it does feel very much like one’s a vehicle, that they’re coming out so fast that you’re not even thinking about them. From emptiness, form arises. I have this theory about when a poem works. When you perform a poem and the audience is enraptured, you just feel it. It’s not necessarily that it’s a great poem; the audience thinks that they’re hearing these words, but in my mind that’s not so. What they’re hearing is the reflection of something in their mind. Any great poem—any great work—is just a mirror held up to someone else’s mind.
The greatness of the poet is to get the audience to connect with a poem. As poems grow older and enter the museum of history—the Modern Museum of Poetry, or what have you—they lose it. Take Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Being a gay man reading it the year it was written, 1956, he blew me away; it was the first time anyone had said words that related to my mind. Now, at every university across the country, I hear these kids say, “John, I’m glad it did it for you, but . . . ”
If you look back over the past thousand years, there were often never more than a hundred people who heard your poem. With Baudelaire, they’d only print his poems in one hundred books, and maybe three hundred people read them, and yet he was the most famous poet in France. Our generation changed things. Years ago, a young woman came up to Patti Smith and said, “Patti, I’m a poet. What should I do?” And Patti said, “If you want to have more than twenty people in the audience, get yourself a rock band.” The young woman turned out to be Chan Marshall of Cat Power. I think that’s happened to countless people: Jim Carroll, Lou Reed, Tom Waits; it’s that Pop thing of connecting to a large audience.
I just have one bottom line: no compromise in terms of content. In my case, I’m a gay man, so gay and political content always finds its way into my work. I’ve always felt very strongly about it. I was there with Andy Warhol in 1962–63, with Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper [Johns], and it just drove me crazy that you could not be gay in their work. There we were, Andy and I were in love, and Bob and Jasper—each of them were lovers of mine at one point during the ’60s—and gay content could not enter their work. They were artists who were poor, and they needed to sell paintings, and they could not be labeled as a gay artist at that time. In 1962, all those abstract painters hated Andy Warhol. Phil Pearlstein tried to champion him, but they all hated him because he was just a fag and he did that “appalling” art. And here I was coming out of the world with Burroughs and Ginsberg, who had championed being gay. Poetry never made any money, so there was nothing to lose! That’s why I thought it was so heroic for Keith [Haring] to put these dicks in his paintings. Keith compromised himself a bit; he broke those rules, and Andy didn’t. Andy pushed the envelope as far as he could, but he never crossed over. And we know why—because then he wouldn’t be Andy.
Right: Alex Bag, Mickey Mother, 2002, color photograph, 33 x 41".
Since the mid-1990s, the New York–based artist Alex Bag has created a wide array of acerbic video art––by turns hilarious and horrific––that frequently features Bag herself. Her latest commission opens on January 9 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Coinciding with the exhibition, Electronic Arts Intermix is expanding its catalogue to include all of Bag’s videos for distribution.
MY MOTHER STARRED in two children’s television programs: In the mid-to-late ’60s she hosted The Carol Corbett Show on WPIX in New York City, and in the ’70s, in the tristate area, she had a show on WCBS called The Patchwork Family. Each show follows a conventional format: My mother sits behind a desk with a puppet and is joined by various guests. A music guy sings a song with a small studio audience of children, someone paints with the kids, somebody comes on with animals, and another person brings a moon rock, to name a few examples.
My new work is based on preexisting footage of both of these shows. Using Chroma-key technology, I’ll be appropriating whole segments. Chroma key is my new best friend. I only recently began to work with it. Nothing is ever high-tech in my work, and I like Chroma key for its DIY aspect. If anyone is inspired by my work, or simply thinks that they could do it better, then that’s the greatest thing. In theory, but also in practice, I prefer not to seduce the viewer with technology.
In this new work, instead of being happy, smiley, and full of song, the hostess will be prone to depression, maybe a cutter—I don’t know yet. I’m working with actors who are my friends. I give them some direction; in this project, for example, I instructed them to act as though they are writing a suicide note to the youth of today. If they can only tell them about one thing, what will it be? If you’re going to have a studio audience full of children, don’t think about entertaining them. Instead, think about where you can derive some degree of earnestness. I don’t think my work has to be age-appropriate, but it does need to have a sense of urgency.
I’m a writer, and I consider that to be my primary strength. I’m really not an actress. Even though my videos look improvised, much of it is typically scripted. Since no one is a professional actor, we always use cue cards. When you’re shooting on video, you can keep doing it until you have it right. The whole thing is planned out, and then I leave room for . . . magic!
The Whitney show is new for me in terms of the size and scope of the audience. Anyone can walk in and see the piece in the lobby—you don’t even have to pay to see it, which I really like. It’s nice to have this kind of challenge. I like being given assignments. It’s easier than simply pulling things out of the air. The fact that there are set parameters based on the space and its accessibility produces its own set of complications and joys.
I was a guest on The Patchwork Family when I was a child. Once there was a guy from a zoo, and because it was my mother’s show, I had a monkey to myself all day. I pushed the monkey around in a doll stroller. It was the greatest day of my life––and it's been all downhill since then! Reruns of my mother’s shows were on rotation through the early ’90s, and I recall watching them Saturday mornings when I was in college. My clearest memories of the shows are from that period. If I stayed up all night on a Friday, as I was wont to do, there she was in the morning, standing before a psychedelic background sporting a big collar and singing songs to a puppet; it was great footage to fall asleep to. When I was really young, I found the shows disturbing; there was always an audience full of children with whom she’d share stories that she had already told to me, which could get very confusing. It was only in reruns that I really began to enjoy them.