The Los Angeles–based artist Emilie Halpern incorporates subtle explorations of time, memory, and longing into her films, photographs, drawings, and sculptures. Here she speaks about the new works that will debut at her solo exhibition at Project Row Houses in Houston on May 2 and the process of preparing for the show.
I WAS VERY AWARE of the various parameters at Project Row Houses when putting together this exhibition. For example, the work typically isn’t for sale and the space is left unattended. It seemed like an opportunity to shift the way I was working, and the timing was ideal: I was asked to do the show shortly after my gallery in Los Angeles [Anna Helwing] had closed and while I was questioning how my work had evolved in recent years. Things that might have seemed like potential limitations went into fueling the exhibition and helped me return to making work that is more ephemeral.
I didn’t want it to be a problem if someone took or touched something in the gallery. Several pieces began as photographic ideas but then became photocopies. Lost Weekend is a stack of 540 sheets of paper. The top image, which is the clearest one, is a picture of John Lennon’s mouth. I photocopied the image over and over again, until it became lighter and lighter, so that in its final reproduction, it’s just a faded blur, a little smudge. The idea is that when people come into the exhibition they’ll take a photocopy from the stack, and as more and more are taken away, the mouth will begin to disappear.
I recently watched Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (1969), a sci-fi film about the discovery of a planet in the same orbit as Earth, but located on the exact opposite side of the sun and invisible to us. The film depicts a world that mirrors Earth, wherein everything looks the same but is backward. I liked this idea that there was a counterpart to Houston on the opposite side of the Earth. Western Siberia occupies the time zone twelve hours away from Houston, and the largest city in this zone is called Omsk. So, Houston and Omsk, and their relative investments in space travel during the cold war—as well as the idea of coupling—inspired the show. The title of the exhibition is “Zvezda” or “Star” in Russian. The show includes a sculpture titled Apollo that is made of the same material used to wrap the lunar modules during the American moon missions. Originally developed by NASA in 1964, the metal-coated plastic is sold today in the form of first-aid blankets used in emergency situations to prevent body-heat loss. The slightly translucent gold film floats in the space, hung from the ceiling, and a halogen spotlight shines through it from behind, like a tiny sun.
Andres Janacua and Julie Spielman, who organize the nomadic project Galería Perdida (originally based in Mexico), are curating the show. It feels different to work with artists; it’s almost like collaboration. For the press release they selected an excerpt from Dostoyevsky’s short story “White Nights” (1848), which was part of the inspiration for the show. The last story Dostoyevsky wrote before he was deported and imprisoned in Omsk, it inspired several films including Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer (1971), which will be screened in conjunction with the exhibition.
When I was looking for Houston’s geographic antipode I thought it was going to be a tropical island in the Indian Ocean, or an atoll in the Maldives with turquoise water and white sand, or some other kind of idealized escapist fantasy. Finding out it was Siberia took me in a completely different direction––from the Dostoyevsky connection to my grandfather and his deportation to Siberia during the czar’s anti-Semitic purges in the early 1900s. The only framed photograph in the exhibition, sunrisesunset, started as a reference to the sun rising in Houston and setting in Omsk, but it also recalls the 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof, which concludes with the deportation of Jewish families in pre-revolutionary Russia.
On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his dance company, choreographer Stephen Petronio has created a new work. I Drink the Air Before Me, featuring costumes by Adam Kimmel and Cindy Sherman and a musical score by Nico Muhly, premieres at the Joyce Theater in New York from April 28 to May 3. Here Petronio discusses the foundation of his company and the development of his latest piece.
I MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY IN 1978. In my first year, I lived in thirteen different places. I finally landed in an apartment on Saint Mark’s Place, where I lived through the 1980s and ’90s—until about six years ago, when I was evicted for subletting. Now I live in Putnam County. The charm of the East Village wore off.
I started my company because I needed a social construct and responsibility. I wanted to create something where people would expect me to show up every day—and indeed I have shown up almost every day for twenty-five years.
Dance is a social form—that’s the best thing about it; it’s why I like to collaborate. For me, it’s all about multidisciplinary collaborations: There always has to be a new composer, visual artist, or fashion designer. The more variety, the better: in the audience, on the stage, and at the party afterward. Otherwise, in the theater, dance becomes a very esoteric thing that no one really cares about—including me. When dance only exists in reference to itself, it is diminished in some way. I like to mess it up with lots of different kinds of people.
I began dancing quite late, in college. I thought I wasn’t good enough because most of the girls had started at, like, age three. I took an improvisation class to relax. I met Steve Paxton and fell head over heels in love with contact improvisation. I followed him around, then met Trisha Brown, who introduced me to the whole New York art world.
Everything was Scotch-taped together in the beginning, and everybody worked for free. We’d perform in basements, advertise with stencils on the streets of SoHo, it was all fun, hands-on, and by the seat of the pants. Not much has changed: I still carry my boom box to rehearsal sometimes. A lot of it is still about the generosity of friends, favors.
With this twenty-five-year-anniversary piece, I wanted to include Cindy Sherman, so I asked her if she would be up for creating a “look” for me—I’m making a comeback for this piece. It’s our third collaboration. The beauty about my career is that I can ask people to do things. Rufus Wainwright did his first choral score for me, and I’m so proud of that I can’t even tell you.
Excerpt from Nico Muhly’s musical score for I Drink the Air Before Me. (3:48)
Nico Muhly did the score for this one. There was this period a couple of summers ago where I was obsessed with his music, which I’d come to via Lou Reed and the musician Antony. I walked into the gym one day and there was a guy who looked an awful lot like Nico Muhly half-undressed. Of course I charged up to him—I’m not shy—and asked, “Are you Nico Muhly?” He was totally shocked. Apparently, I was very aggressive. I was just this crazy man accosting him at the gym, after all. I told him about my anniversary, and he told me to call him, and it all came together. These cold calls still work—it just depends on whom you’re calling.
This new piece was inspired by extreme weather. It’s a natural topic for dance. Movement is a temporal medium; it’s ephemeral. You think you can count on something, and you can’t. The title, I Drink the Air Before Me, comes from The Tempest (“I drink the air before me, and return / Or e’er your pulse twice beat”). The idea of moving quickly through space, between two beats of a heart, sounds like something to which to aspire. I’ve been in love with speed since the beginning, so it seemed very appropriate to move with “gusto” through a space.
I know what to expect when I go into the studio to make a piece. After twenty-five years, the “impossibility” of investigating undiscovered movements becomes like a friend; you get used to the stress and the tension and grow comfortable with that feeling.
There is definitely a “Petronio Technique.” It has to do with the flow of energy through your body out into space: There’s lots of sequencing, spiraling, figure-eights. To discover movement, I set up problems for myself. I have a wicked eye. I’m very sympathetic, so I can absorb people very quickly, whether on the street, at a party, or in the studio. I’m a “trash collector” when it comes to gathering information and ideas. Anything I see that moves—and some things that don’t—is fair game. I don’t have classical training, but I can quickly absorb classical vocabulary (though not the syntax). I’m a thief, always squirreling away movement.
Carol Bove is a Brooklyn-based artist known for incorporating made and found objects, primarily from the 1960s, into her works. Her solo exhibition at The Horticultural Society of New York opens on April 15 and features an accordion-fold book, which she discusses here. Her exhibition at the Tate Saint Ives will open on May 15.
TWENTIETH-CENTURY NARCISSUS is a project that Janine Lariviere began in 2002 through her research on flower bulbs and their hybridization and registration. It is essentially a collection of daffodils (cut from catalogs) that are arranged on a time line according to their registration dates. It’s about twelve feet long, and each page represents one year. Although Janine finished the book in 2005, she never published it. When I learned that I had the opportunity to have an exhibition at the Horticultural Society of New York this spring, I wanted to include it since it had introduced an important set of ideas to my thinking about “period eye,” a term that refers to what seems to look good at a particular moment in time. The book will be shown alongside my new abstract sculptures and a collage.
A fair amount of research went into making the book. Janine investigated the hybridization and registration processes for daffodils (i.e., Narcissus), as well as the system for their classification. The appendix to her book contains a clear introduction to a lot of this material.
On one hand, the book is a response to the catalogs that arrived at Janine’s door, which offered a view of commercially available and popular bulbs. But on the other hand, it’s a reflection of commerce itself, which plays a decisive role in the creation, distribution, and persistence of particular flowers.
Janine was working on the book during my 2003 exhibition at Team Gallery in New York. Around that time, she got me thinking about bulb flowers as beautiful but dismissible objects that act as a richly encoded index of culture. In that show, I focused on the late 1960s and ’70s, and I invited Janine to exhibit flowers that were registered during those years to investigate the ways that taste could be perceptible through flowers, or whether period eye manifested through these flowers. Janine planned it so that the flowers would continuously bloom throughout the run of the show, which was a real feat since it was six weeks long. The weather cooperated, thankfully, and we were able to bring flowers to the show nearly every day. If all goes well, the flowers will be at this exhibition, too.
There are flowers that look, to my eyes, very ’60s or ’70s. For the 2003 show, Janine grew a daffodil called Beige Beauty, which is a sweet little mini with a flattened profile and creamy beige color––so ’60s looking. We wanted to get Suede––a brown daffodil from the early ’70s––but she didn’t find it until the ground froze and it was too late to plant. A brown daffodil from 1973 in this time line really seems like evidence of the history of taste! One feature of the book is that it shows not just which flowers were registered or popular during the century but which ones were continually grown. Daffodils are all clones of one another; each cultivar (or variety) is genetically identical, so you can’t renew a variety once it’s faltered. Flowers need to be continually in circulation and nurtured to persist, which always strikes me as such a clear metaphor for the history of ideas.
Wynne Greenwood, Sister Taking Nap (work in progress), 2009. Performance view.
Infused with a solid dose of humor and feminist theory, Wynne Greenwood’s sculptures, videos, and live performances collapse sonic, linguistic, and visual hierarchies in an effort to incite personal and political transformation. Here the artist talks about her latest project, Sister Taking Nap, a performance presented from April 15 to 19 as part of the thirtieth anniversary of Seattle’s On the Boards.
THE DIFFERENT ELEMENTS OF SISTER TAKING NAP––sculptural set pieces, prerecorded sound and video, and live performance––interact with one another to tell the story of hearing one’s instinct and making a choice. The set includes a huge and heavy, almost immovable suitcase that’s plastered shut (and gets chipped open), a TV, a sculpture of a “sister” taking a nap, a crow that gets painted black, an animal cage, a sword, and a ceiling. I use the word sister for its layers of identity and knowing. Is it a sister in the women’s-movement sense of the word or a sister in the family sense? I like how it can be both. I’m interested in language as object. To see what’s under it, behind it.
I’m interested in sculptures as sites of performance and interaction, and sculptures as performers. The suitcase, the TV, the animal cage, and the sleeping sister are set pieces that are to be stood on––I see them as personal stages. I started making the sculptural set pieces before I began to conceive the narrative of the performance. I wanted to make objects that had an objective and that had a role in determining how and even why someone interacted with them, moved around them, and had a relationship with them. The set pieces and narrative developed together, informing each other. The language that I use to talk about (and to) these pieces also helps determine their worlds. This is a sister taking a nap. Not just a woman taking a nap, or a person taking a nap, or a person sleeping. To me, a nap offers different, possibly conflicting realities. It suggests having time for a nap, but also need for one. A privilege and a right. Escape and renewal. A place between deep sleep and awake. Where dream and reality can get confused.
The surface narrative, which the performers will speak live, is the story of a sister (played by me), visiting her sister after a long period of not seeing her. The sister that’s being visited, the napping sister, was really punk growing up, radical, on the edge, underground. And she was a poet. The sister who’s coming to visit had always mimicked her life. So she goes and visits her sister, who’s taking a nap. She’s looking around the apartment and begins to notice all these elements of comfort––pillows on furniture, pillows to the ceiling, jars and jars of jam––that her sister never had before. And she interprets this new comfort as a sign that something has changed. She starts to see what’s in her sister’s world that didn’t used to be. And she looks for what isn’t there that did use to be there. What has this comfort replaced? The napping sister was a poet and was always writing. On napkins, newspapers, envelopes, clothes, everything. There were pens everywhere. Now the visiting sister (me) can’t find a pen anywhere. Or any writing. There’s a question present not only about whether choices have been made, but what kind and why. These elements, the indications of change, do not exist as set pieces––they are either described through gestures or spoken by me or the other performers or are heard in prerecorded sound. This prerecorded sound, and the live interaction with it, is a place where the layers of narrative meet.
The narrative under the surface, what I call the structural narrative, is the story of instinct and something like self-knowledge. This includes the more emotional, nonverbal sounds underneath the surface: Sometimes it’s screaming, sometimes it’s talking, sometimes it’s almost music––the sister’s deeper response and feelings, her instinct. The visiting sister begins to hear her structural voices and sounds, and her surfaces become affected, interrupted, changed. When her structural voice begins to offer commands, such as “Run . . . run now,” she is presented with a choice. And then she must make some choices.
Left: Mary Mattingly, Inflatable Home, 2008, color photograph, 40 x 50“. Right: James Halverson/Lux Visual Effects, The Waterpod, 2009, three-dimensional rendering, 30 x 40”.
New York–based photographer and sculptor Mary Mattingly has designed The Waterpod, a floating eco-habitat that recalls the work of Buckminster Fuller, Andrea Zittel, and Constant Nieuwenhuis and that will launch this May in the East River. Here she discusses the evolution of the project. Mattingly’s second solo exhibition at Robert Mann Gallery in New York, titled “Nomadographies,” will open on April 2.
THE WATERPOD is three years in the making. Prior to this project, I made wearable homes with three layers, fit for mobile people in different environmental conditions (arctic, desert/tundra, and water). I began to design these as I was traveling often and as I became increasingly worried that government and corporate agencies were largely ignoring problems caused by pollution and climate change. I wanted to respond to the growing instability of cultures and the political unrest arising from inattention to these issues.
After my first show at Robert Mann in 2006, someone asked me what I was going to do next. I responded that I wanted to create a live/work capsule in the East River, perhaps in the Newtown Creek, since at the time New York City was doing very little to prepare for rising sea levels. The Waterpod project began with preliminary sketches; it was a translucent sphere with two levels. One was a sleep and study area underwater, essentially an aquarium, a quiet and contemplative space. The top level would be for work; it would feature a garden space and would resemble a small autonomous system. An infrastructure of soil connected to a wire framework would keep the pod upright.
It was interesting to learn how to create this kind of system, one that the inhabitants would not necessarily need to leave and that could exist as a mobile space. Finding sustainable solutions for living made me question the design, as well as the role of community in the space. I thought about the relationship between individuals and utopian spaces and kept in mind future possibilities. The Waterpod also developed from my series of photographs of abandoned utopian spaces, titled the “Anatomy of Melancholy,” and conversations I had with Eve K. Tremblay, a future Waterpod inhabitant, which forced me to consider why most attempts at utopian systems fail. I began to focus on creating a fluid space with spheres for inhabitants that draw together many different communities. I wanted it to be mutable in design, concept, integration, and autonomy.
At first, I designed it as a personal space, but as the idea evolved, it became clear that it needed community to be sustainable and to benefit from multiple inputs and interpretations. I became more interested in the benefits that could be gained from a diverse community living on and interacting with the pod. I started to form a group of people who were interested in the project, either from an artistic, infrastructural, or technological point of view. Artist Mira Hunter was one of the first people I approached. Mira was raised in a famous floating house in Vancouver designed by her father. Eventually, we formed a democratic group, a meritocracy, and developed a set of guidelines. Right now, there are five people who will be living on The Waterpod. One guideline is that as a resident you don’t need to stay on board; but while on board and off, residents are encouraged to catalog their activities, so we can have a record of what’s coming and going. Everyone will have to help out with repairs, gardening, cooking, and composting. Basically, everyone will learn how to take care of everything. I think this is really important––as the first industrial and technological age in the developed world is drawing to a close, people need to relearn how to do a lot of things.
Many elements of the project are currently under way. Derek Hunter and Alison Ward are building a modular superstructure in a warehouse in Long Island City while the barge platform is docked in Bayonne, New Jersey. We’re in the process of finalizing insurance before we move to Pier 35 in Manhattan. Once that’s ready, we’ll have a month to build there, and we should launch and move in by the end of May. Even though this is a project that I imagined having a very long life span, here in New York it’s going to be abbreviated. Due to various environmental guidelines, we need to move the pod every two weeks. We also have to secure a sufficient number of piers to be able to move it and still have a long enough time to live on board.
Engineering students are building some of the technological elements. Artist Stephanie Dedes is coordinating a barter system with local greenmarkets, while Carissa Carman has designed the on-board living system. Carissa is creating a greenhouse and an outdoor garden space, which is based on companion planting. Through open calls, groups and individuals in New York have started to grow specific vegetables on behalf of the project, and we’ll transplant them to the barge’s garden space in early May. People have been sending us pictures of the vertical gardens in their apartments; it’s one of my favorite parts of the project right now.
As with The Waterpod, many of the images in “Nomadographies” are about autonomous mobile systems of living that are low-tech, ad hoc, and adaptable. The Waterpod embodies these ideas and responds to their present uses, while “Nomadographies” projects into the future in a performative and metaphoric way. Some of the photographs follow artist (and Waterpod inhabitant) Veronica Flores and me as we travel through Mexico toward Mexcaltitan, using bicycles piled high with boxes to carry our belongings. This journey forced me to reconsider notions of ownership, harsh climate conditions, scarcity of clean water, and conflicts between the state and warring cartels. While “Nomadographies” embodies future histories, the “Anatomy of Melancholy” revisits the past, and The Waterpod enters the present, blending fiction and autobiography with different ideologies.
More information about The Waterpod can be found here.