Lisa Anne Auerbach, Photomural for Nottingham Contemporary Window Installation, 2009, color photograph, 22 x 11'.
In the months leading up to the public opening of Nottingham Contemporary on November 14, a series of projects have been commissioned throughout the city and, more recently, in the street-level windows of the Caruso St John–designed kunsthalle. Here, the Los Angeles–based artist Lisa Anne Auerbach discusses her installation, which premiered on September 12.
I’VE INSTALLED SWEATERS with matching skirts in the windows of Nottingham Contemporary, and a photomural of me wearing each of them. These works are influenced by the radical history of Nottingham, specifically the Luddite rebellion, during which workers broke their framework-knitting machines in protest of automation and poor working conditions. I sympathize: Sometimes I just want to take an ax to my knitting machine.
During my research, I investigated ways to engage with Nottingham that might resonate with my own practice and ideas. The sweaters—all are my size and have slogans on them—offer my standpoint on events as they’re unfolding. The phrases needed to feel comfortable to me, since I’m wearing them. These sweaters contain a lot of layers: the knitting and radical histories, old Luddite song lyrics, and more contemporary ideas that I thought would work with the old ones.
I threw Robin Hood into the mix even though it’s a cliché. Conversations about wealth redistribution, taxes, and health care are very current. I was interested in turning the Robin Hood narrative into something feminist, anarchist, and communal, transforming the troupe of Merry Men into a gang of miniskirt-clad ladies, and breaking any ties to royalty and the church. Statelessness and socialism are polar opposites, but I think both are very compelling utopian models. In my fantasy of him, Robin Hood has this conundrum between affecting wealth distribution on a grand scale and a do-it-yourself, squatter, live-off-the-land, survivalist approach.
One sweater bears a quote from Diderot: STRANGLE THE LAST KING WITH THE ENTRAILS OF THE LAST PRIEST. It is a visceral and brilliant slur. I depicted entrails as a motif in the sweater, and the skirt has intestines running around the bottom of it. It is important that the work has a lighthearted component. I use humor to bring people into the work and to temper what otherwise might be didactic, angry, or bitter sentiments. I like an uncomfortable edginess, but I also want the sweaters to have a subtlety even when they are confrontational.
There is the sense with the sweaters that they are of the time in which they were made. It has always been really interesting to me to think about how they will endure. I wonder how I can make something historical seem alive and how these texts will be relevant in the future. Another sweater references the book The Coming Insurrection , and the idea that a revolution is on the way. When I read it, though, I found the bombastic language and strident, manifesto-like tone to be so familiar. It seemed just the current, fashionable revolutionary text of the moment. Ten years down the line we’ll have next decade’s version, whatever it is.
Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Enough Tiranny, 1972, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation views, Serpentine Gallery, London.
The artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz, based in London and Burgundy, France, is well known for numerous works made during the 1960s and ’70s that collapse distinctions between performance and installation, as well as art and life. For the reopening of Artists Space in New York on September 26, Chaimowicz will present Enough Tiranny Recalled, 1972–2009. Here he discusses the work.
I WASN’T FAMILIAR with Artists Space. I don’t know too much about the contemporary New York art scene at all, really. My decision to do this show had everything to do with the institution’s new director, Stefan Kalmár, who I’ve worked with before in Munich and London. When he called me with a request to exhibit this piece, I felt as though I couldn’t turn him down, even though this particular work takes a while to put into place.
This exhibition is as much about me showing this work as it is about Artists Space inaugurating a new era. It was when we agreed on the show that we also realized that Enough Tiranny originated in 1972, the year Artists Space opened. It was last shown in 2007 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, in the context of “The Secret Public,” and there it had a dedicated space upstairs. At Artists Space, it will appear in a room that is much more open, as there is now a certain transparency to the gallery.
I never imagined that I’d have to deal with issues of storage or longevity. Everything I made back then was based on the ephemeral. Who would want to revisit all of their earlier work? But in a sense, this show concurs with my skepticism of the forced presumption that time is linear. Perhaps time operates in a different way––a warping that can fold in on itself. Hopefully, given the specificity of the venue, it’s like a new work. But it also has a shared protocol, a footprint that returns to its origin.
This exhibition will provide a nice foil to my forthcoming show at the Secession in Vienna, which will comprise new work. There’s a comfort in dealing with the known at Artists Space, and it frees me to deal with the unknown at Secession. It’s a reversal of George W. Bush’s comment in which he said something like “There’s new work happening in the old world, and old work happening in the new world.”
Enough Tiranny was first shown in the west gallery of the Serpentine in London, which at the time seemed like a posh establishment to young artists. Only weeks before I had exhibited Celebration? Real Life at Gallery House. These venues were located close to each other in Kensington, so it felt like I was easily transferring issues and sensibilities from one venue to the other, although that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Gallery House was a much darker, clublike environment compared with Serpentine, which had traditional hours, a regular staff, and daylight filtering in. But they were opposite sides of the same coin, really. I compensated for the middle-class values inherent in the Serpentine’s program. It was tougher, but I had to pare my ideas down.
In terms of reception, the way I was working was alien to an audience that was still presuming to see work on the walls to be negotiated at eye level. Mine was floor-based, scattered. At the Serpentine on a sunny day, people walking through the park might stop by, and they were bemused, shocked, by the work.
In many ways, the young hippie crowd was the most relaxed. They would linger. The drug culture then was charming, more gentle. They spoke to their friends about the work and came back. It became a haven, which I was courting. I was critical of the alienating distance between the work and the viewer, and this is a gap I’ve continued to review.
One thing I wonder about is whether the work still has a degree of radicality. It was shown several years ago in Zurich, where no one had heard of me. It was interesting because art students were asking about this “new young artist.” They presumed youth behind the work, which implies, perhaps, that there is still a critical urgency.
Emmet Gowin is known for his compelling photographs of landscapes altered by nuclear testing, as well as his recent details of nature at its smallest scales. To mark his retirement from Princeton, the exhibition “Emmet Gowin: A Collective Portrait,” featuring his own work and that of students from the past thirty-six years, opens at the university’s art museum on October 24.
IN 1997, I PHOTOGRAPHED the Nevada test site from the air. I was elated to be able to see it, because of the power it had over our lives. I had been trying to get permission for at least eight years, since the sudden end of the cold war. Some people from Princeton University—Bill Bradley, John McPhee, even the president of the university at the time, Harold Shapiro—were a great help, although when I finally did get permission, I couldn’t help but think it was probably a mistake on the part of the Department of Energy. I asked an employee from the department: “Am I the first individual to photograph the test site?” And his reply seemed so enlightened: “You’re not an individual, you’re a university.” I now think that if Princeton had not been part of the equation, my series would never have happened.
I experienced a sequence of feelings––from elation to sadness––while visiting these sites. I remember enduring one of the darkest moods of my life. At one point, a friend said to me, “Why don’t you come with us to Ecuador?” That, strangely, turned out to be a breakthrough and a way back to a moment in my own history. In 1976, I had made a photograph of insects sprinkled lightly on a decayed nineteenth-century book of history and rhetoric. It was clear that much of the damage to that book had been done by insects—suggesting, I suppose, their almost-eternal status. Even then I felt a connection between the importance and the staying power of insects and the small scale of our individual lives.
That first trip to the tropics led to discoveries I would never have imagined. I learned to use a certain mercury-vapor lamp that scientists use. When you look at this light, it seems to remain at a constant brightness, but in fact it flashes sixty times a second. The swollen points you see in the moths’ flight paths are wing strokes. This bit of line, all these intricate curlicues and spirals, is about one-tenth of a second—whoop! When photographed, it reveals this beautiful tracery of flight.
With rare exceptions, all the insects were alive when I photographed them; they could have easily flown away. They were in a natural, resting posture. At first, I only photographed moths where they landed. I liked the feeling that I was being visited. Most of them could have left, but there was one that had been paralyzed, entangled in a spiderweb. Gradually, I learned that I could gently urge the insects to move without really disturbing them. That opened up possibilities.
At the time, I had five index sheets; now I have twenty-seven, and I’d like to make one hundred. Each sheet represents a real time and a real place, a moment that was particular and miraculous. One insect was trapped in water and was spinning on its own world axis. It was a totality encapsulated in that moment—life, death, everything.
Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, Last Meadow, 2009. Performance view, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, Portland, Oregon, 2009. Michelle Boulé. Photo: Alex Escalante.
In 2002, the choreographer Miguel Gutierrez received his first Bessie Award, as a performer in John Jasperse’s company; by 2006, Gutierrez had won a Bessie in the category of choreography for his works Retrospective Exhibitionist and Difficult Bodies. His latest piece, Last Meadow, which Gutierrez refers to as a “noir opera,” had its world premiere earlier this month at the TBA festival in Portland, Oregon; its New York debut continues this week, September 15–19, at Dance Theater Workshop. Here Gutierrez talks about the gestation of this work.
LAST YEAR, MY DAD HAD A STROKE—or what seemed to be a stroke. Later they termed it a “cerebral incident.” It was an intense, strange moment between my dad and me. I began doing research and came across this phenomenon called “last meadow.” The term comes from agriculture: It’s a reference to the last meadow in the farm to receive water. In neurology, they use it to describe a kind of stroke in which the heart is so weak that it can’t pump enough blood to the brain. I’ve only found this on Wikipedia, so perhaps it’s not even true. But I love that it’s a very pretty-sounding term to describe something terrible.
I’ve traveled a lot in the past couple of years, which has resulted in a lot of disorientation and isolation. I’m so acutely aware of my aloneness within this large, strange, moving context. I became interested in misinterpretation, in the idea of being in this situation that’s kind of happening but you’re not really inside of it—or it’s not really reaching you. I found myself riffing off that idea, finding congruities with the idea of dance, this medium that people often see as an incoherent language.
I began to think of that as dance’s strength rather than its weakness. This incoherence is a really beautiful thing. It’s not really meant to be a language—this is something that Tere O’Conner talks about, too: It’s not about the absence of words, and it’s not the representation of words.
My pieces have often been received as this hyper-emotional honesty. I do like using an idea of revelation and honesty as a kind of texture. It’s an element, a basic component of something, and I often find myself trafficking in these tropes of sincerity and fiction.
Before I even started, I knew I wanted to push on these ideas, but I was still lacking a platform. Recently, when leaving for France, I borrowed my friend Liz’s DVD of East of Eden . It was a two-DVD set, and when I arrived I found that the disc with the movie was missing, so I just watched the special features. I became particularly interested in the wardrobe tests. I was intrigued by the sight of James Dean—not to mention Julie Harris and Dick Davalos and Lois Smith—just wearing the different costume ideas for the movie. They’re these beautiful short little films of them standing around, waiting.
James Dean’s always hyper-conscious about how he’s being seen, and he’s always fucking with that. I found myself projecting all these ideas I had about misinterpretation and dance onto him, as well as ideas about America as a myth. It was a handy structuring mechanism. He made three movies, and all three are love triangles. This worked out well because there are three of us in the piece. (I had known before I even began that I wanted to make something with Michelle Boulé and Tarek Halaby.)
Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People, Last Meadow, 2009. Performance view, Portland Center for the Performing Arts, Portland, Oregon, 2009. Tarek Halaby. Photo: Alex Escalante.
We watched the movies together in rehearsal. I had seen Giant  a couple years ago. I’d never seen Rebel Without a Cause  in its entirety, and I hadn’t seen East of Eden yet. In East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, Dean’s also this prodigal son, which was interesting to me, too. I kept gravitating toward those scenes in the movies in which there were discussions of the father. That’s become a large theme for me in the piece, though I don’t know how visible that is.
These things are gut. In general, I’m not really systematic as an artmaker. I just go with a feeling about things. I’m not one to lay out a structure and then fill in the blanks. I feel more of an affinity with collage.
Dance is this enormous frame through which I organize my experience: It’s the marriage I’ve been in for, like, thirty years. It will never give you everything you want, but somehow you’re bound to it. It’s this pygmy when I want it to be a giant. But I’ve given enough of my life to it that I can claim some level of authority—maybe—inside it.
In 2002 I made my first evening-length piece, Enter the Scene, and in 2005 I made my solo Retrospective Exhibitionist. That piece is about me digging into the center of myself to find this universal largeness of “What is it to be alive?”
Last Meadow is really different. It’s really a dance. It’s a piece that’s aware of itself as a construction. It’s a piece where, theoretically, I don’t need to receive the love that I needed for that solo. Retrospective Exhibitionist was so much about “Where am I going to get the love from? Who’s going to give it to me? How is it going to come?” Last Meadow talks about that in relationship to fathers and home—those questions are there—but there’s also this darkness.
As an American artist, in order to survive and continue you have to become an institution unto yourself—if not physically, then certainly conceptually. I have a lot of ambivalence about that. I don’t have a problem with the realities of making work here. I get it—it takes a lot of people to put this shit together. I’m just noticing these mythologies that we construct around ourselves.
Michael Kaiser wrote a piece recently for the Huffington Post, called “Why I Worry About Modern Dance,” in which he bemoans the death of great artists like Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch. He asks who’s going to take up the mantle. I thought, “Why are you looking for Mommy and Daddy? What is your attachment to modernism and the great white hero? Why are you incapable of seeing multiplicity and diversity in the field?” So many people are addressing these questions and in so many different ways—that’s what it’s about now. I’m drawn to the hero myth, too. But c’mon, whatever. It’s not about identifying one.
Tell Me Something Good, a collaboration between Rita McBride and Kim Schoenstadt, is loosely based on “Art by Telephone,” an exhibition the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, organized in 1969. Departing from the conceptual premise of that show, McBride and Schoenstadt are making works from instructions they’ve exchanged over the phone. The project premiered at Alexander and Bonin Gallery last May; the latest installment, which Schoenstadt discusses here, opens at the Santa Monica Museum of Art on September 11.
THIS COLLABORATION BEGAN with a misunderstanding. Thankfully, there were more to come. In early 2008, I had a few curators from the Santa Monica Museum over to my studio to see a new project (just released from customs) that I had made for the Van Abbemuseum. At some point, the curators asked what else I’d been working on. At the time, I was still toying with the idea for Tell Me Something Good, so it was all pretty vague and based more on a telephone game. Whereas “Art by Telephone” had artists phone into an institution for installers to make their works via instructions, I wanted this collaboration to include artists calling in their directions directly to each other and asserting their own aesthetic choices. It was the sort of half-baked idea one brings up in idle chitchat, but the next thing I knew the museum was interested in doing that show.
After several meetings, it seemed that the scope was too large, and I decided to narrow it down it to a single collaboration. I suggested Rita because she is a sculptor based in Düsseldorf, and it seemed better to combine artists with geographic distance and different modes of working.
When I called to ask her about working together, she had just returned to Germany from LA to find that all the pictures she had taken for a publication due the following week had been inexplicably compromised. Since I was pitching this “phone-in” concept, she indeed felt like I was telling her something good, as I could retake her photographs (in this case, of all the service stations from Point Dome to LAX). However, with an extended deadline, she ended up retaking her own pictures the following month.
For our first show at Alexander and Bonin, I instructed Rita to execute a new piece in my ongoing “Fax Drawing” series. These works originated when I unintentionally loaded my fax machine with a recycled drawing while receiving floor plans from a gallery. The resultant combination of the drawing and floor plan created a hybrid, which I ultimately installed as a wall drawing in the gallery that had sent me the fax. So Rita made a piece that combined one of her drawings for a sculpture and the floor plan of the gallery. For our new exhibition, she’s using the same wall drawing, but she instructed the museum to create the work with black glossy lines on a prefabricated door that is painted hot pink. I installed her service-station photographs along the gallery walls, and she’s leaned the door against some of the photos, thereby obscuring the view.
We decided to make our works based on instructions given to each other during a single phone call––like the original MCA show––and to record the calls to vinyl as the museum did in 1969. Since our exhibition will be much smaller in scope, we thought it would be appropriate to create a 45-rpm single rather than a full twelve-inch album.
The logic of Tell Me Something Good relies heavily on chance, miscommunication, and phone lines, and so conceptually it fell together nicely. One part I like best about the collaboration is the question: Who made it? I’m still not sure whether either of us can claim to be the single creator for either piece. Perhaps the project gains strength by putting itself in that area between misunderstandings.