After five months of intense preparation, the Taipei Contemporary Art Center, an independent initiative founded by artists, curators, critics, and cultural activists, opened on February 27. Here, two of the founders, curator Manray Hsu and artist Jun Yang, speak about the project’s beginnings and aspirations.
THE IDEA FOR THE SPACE stems from Jun’s work that was in the 2008 Taipei Biennial. He proposed a project that provoked questions about the conditions of exhibiting contemporary art. It began with the wall––whose wall is that? Who is paying for it? Is it a private space, a governmental space, an alternative space, or an apartment? The project focused on Taipei, so the first step was to talk with the Taiwanese art community.
That work functioned like an office in a way; we put a flag on the top of a building that we occupied during the biennial, which read A CONTEMPORARY ART CENTER TAIPEI—A PROPOSAL. There was also a conference that brought together local art professionals to discuss what is going on today in Taiwan. Jun’s solo project grew into a collective project that tried to fulfill the hopes and wishes of everyone involved, but it also took seriously claims of how it could act as a broader platform for discussion that would be independent of political or economic influences.
The Taipei Contemporary Art Center is a more focused attempt by artists, curators, and critics who are really trying to think of how a space can be run and programmed. For the first phase of the project, we were given a space last summer from a real estate developer who had bought many buildings in the Ximen area in downtown Taipei. The developer gave us two connected four-story buildings. Of course we needed to raise funds for renovations, so our first show, which opened on February 27, features donated works by prominent Taiwanese artists––including Michael Lin, Chen Chieh-Jen, and Wu Mali––that will help generate operational funds for the space.
We want to do more discursive events like talks, lectures, or artist presentations. We’ll also have film screenings and performances. You can compare it to any alternative artist-run space, but you can also compare it to any museum. This project is trying to reflect these different models while also trying to come up with its own model. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel but we are trying to speak to the specific local conditions in Taipei.
The first thing is that museums in Taiwan now respond less and less to the needs of the local art community. In this age of neoliberalism everything is regulated––even a museum will organize a show to pump up visitation. We are creating a situation where the art community itself can produce its own exhibitions and can create its own discursive space. This is what museums should do, but in Taiwan, in general, the art community does not have this kind of solidarity. Second, there’s a lot of bureaucracy here. And the museums won’t organize conferences about this. These conversations about rules and regulations usually happen at small dinners or in a bar. But creating platforms for discourse is one of the main things we want the new space to do. We will hold forums to talk about the production, distribution, reception, and politics of cultural production.
The third thing is that contemporary art from Taiwan is very marginalized. To counteract this, we are building an archive for artists and curators who have worked in the past few years on an international level and we have invited them to continuously update their files. Anyone can come and do research here.
Left: Digital rendering for Lever House installation. Right: Studio image of Lever House maquette. (Images courtesy Karl Haendel)
The Los Angeles–based artist Karl Haendel has exhibited his precise graphite drawings, which often touch on American production, nationally and internationally over the past half decade. Here he talks about the conditions surrounding a recent commission by the Lever House Art Collection in New York and his show at the quintessential modernist skyscraper that opens on March 25.
THE LEVER HOUSE IS A GLASS BOX, and glass boxes don’t really do very well with two-dimensional art. There’s an obvious reason: no walls to hang work on. Other artists who have had exhibitions here have built walls at predictable locations inside the lobby, but I thought that that would feel too stale and normalized. I wanted the space to activate my work, but I also had to keep in mind that these are drawings; the medium itself has conditions that must be met.
To deal with this problem, I first thought to tape the drawings to the glass walls of the lobby, facing out. This seemed like an elegant solution because I wouldn’t have to build any interior walls, and in effect the building would become a frame for the drawings. (The pedestrians outside would be the viewers, instead of those inside the lobby, so it would also be more legitimately “public.”) But this presented an archival problem. Every paper conservator I talked to said it wouldn’t work and told me not to do it. There would be problems with adhesion, condensation, light, temperature, etc. I did some tests on the windows of my house and they were right. And since the drawings ultimately had to enter the Lever House’s collection, I couldn’t destroy them in the process of mounting the show. I’m not the kind of artist who wears white gloves while working, and though I don’t mind rips or stains in my work, that kind of premeditated destruction seemed too nihilistic and depressing.
Working drawing for Karl Haendel's Lever House press release.
The other option was to simply build walls, but just not where you would expect them. I decided this would be an opportunity to introduce diagonals, as the Lever House is a strongly rectilinear building; there isn’t a non-ninety-degree angle in the place. The walls I built are intrusive; they interrupt the way people move through the lobby and force them to take a different path. People will have to navigate around the work. The walls obstruct the view through the building, which will challenge its transparency, both literally and metaphorically.
Orthodox site-specificity, especially those iterations that fell under institutional critique, was on my mind, but I realized that the terms of that debate aren’t applicable. This is a corporate lobby. A corporation isn’t masquerading as a cultural institution here, it’s just a corporation, and there is nothing for me to “reveal.” The glass in the building is clear, just as the tenants’ profit motivation is clear. Sometimes museums make halfhearted efforts at transparency, but still the machinations of the institution remain relatively obfuscated, because we prefer our culture pure, unsoiled by capital. So there is a degree of honesty in this show because there are no illusions. I wanted to make this honesty formally salient; thus the drawings, which are unframed, will be stapled to the walls, and all my marks, tears, and jottings are visible. Thematically, I wanted to challenge the unity of the modernist structure and its principal, so a number of the works depict cracks in different ideal forms–for example, there are cracked eggs and fractured square mirrors. As well, there are a number of text-based works that play around with inherited wisdom, such as “Happy Though Married?,” “Lull Before Drinking,” and “The Joys of Discontent.” These are images of societal and formal fragmentation and dissolution.
I realize that there are new terms now. The issue is not one of site-specificity but one of situational awareness. It becomes about audience. Who is walking around midtown Manhattan? Who is passing through the lobby? What are their expectations for lobby art? Where are my viewers in their day––mentally, physically, and temporally? I realized that this work is not just “for” the Lever House Art Collection; it is also “for” a great number of people who might not often or ever take the time to see art in a museum or gallery. The Lever House offers a form of address that is very different from a museum or a gallery, and perhaps I shouldn’t privilege these more rarefied forms of viewership. It’s not very democratic or honest.
Left: View of Stick 'em Up: The Sticker Club at La Galería de Comercio, March 11, 2010. Right: Fred Alvarado.
Abraham Cruzvillegas, known for using handmade and found objects in his sculptures, inaugurated La Galería de Comercio last month in Mexico City. This nonprofit temporary “street space” will present several one-evening events over the course of this year, which will be documented on a blog. Here Cruzvillegas discusses the project and his focus on public space and collaboration.
I DECIDED TO CREATE La Galería de Comercio to answer a personal question: I wanted to know what was going on in Mexico City after a few years of being away. Its name is based on where it is located––on the northeast corner of Comercio and Martí streets in the district of Escandón, the neighborhood where I currently live. Nuria Montiel, who is the director of La Galería de Comercio, is providing her talent, energy, and opinions as an artist, as is Sofía Olascoaga, who is also an artist and an art educator.
I began by inviting younger artists to do various projects on the street, but I’ll invite some friends from abroad, too. It’ll be a place to meet and work freely, and it won’t have any of the dynamics that burden commercial galleries and institutions. The gallery will present one-night events. It will not deal with commodities, but instead with experiences.
Most of my work is informed by my experience of growing up in Ajusco, which is in the rocky lands south of Mexico City. Ajusco started off as a shantytown. Immigrants from the abandoned fields in the countryside eventually moved to the city or began to live on the outskirts. It was during the very festive but slow process of building my own house with my parents, relatives, and neighbors, sharing time, enjoying, and working together, that I understood that the word community is at the epicenter of my work and ideas about art.
Fighting for basic services––like water, sewage, and electricity, in addition to gaining the legal property of the land––was a strong educational stage in my life. So the importance of neighborhoods has affected my perception of life, work, friendship, and celebration. Through the autoconstrucción [self-construction] of my house I learned how to deal with myself as a part of something, as a fragment of a whole that must be seen as organic, chaotic, delirious, and political.
The gallery is near a popular market, behind a primary school and a skateboarding park, and it faces a bar named El Fuerte de la Colonia––so it’s a very alive and effervescent place. I like this area very much because it’s so real. It’s an old neighborhood, with many stores, churches, restaurants, and schools, and it’s the best location because my main goal is to approach ordinary people in the street, to interact with everyday life, and not to pretend or to add or change anything besides what is already there.
Left: Eliie Ga, November 1, 83°21'N, 2°28'E, 2008, black-and-white photograph, 24 x 20“. Right: Ellie Ga, Walk Around Tara, Storm, 2008, black-and-white photograph, 24 x 20”.
After an eighteen-month residency in the archives of the Explorers Club in New York, Ellie Ga became the sole artist-in-residence from 2007 to 2008 aboard The Tara––a research vessel lodged in the ice of the Arctic Ocean––and sent occasional reports to Dispatch. Here she discusses three of the Arctic Booklets, which were made as the boat was drifting and during the continuous polar night. The booklets are available this month from Ugly Duckling Presse; Ga will perform a new work based on the booklets at PPOW on April 15.
WHEN I ARRIVED on the boat, a handful of people were already there. Two had been there for more than a year, five had been there for six months, and three of us were going on as new crew. Before I left for the expedition, I was told I should prepare to be aboard for at least six months. On arrival, predictions were that we would drift so fast that we would only be out on the ice for little more than a month. It felt like I was getting to the party too late. Everyone already had a memory and a relationship with the ice. So the first thing I decided to do was to become the ship’s archivist.
In individual meetings, I asked the crew to draw a map of our “world”; this project eventually became “Ten Till Two (10:10).” They had given these strange names to the locations outside the boat because they needed to agree, through language, how to get to particular destinations, to collect data, to check equipment, and so on. They would say to one another, “We’re going to Helsinki today, and you go to Tartu, and you go to Charles de Gaulle Airport.” But it was really all just snow and ice. These places had no meaning to me back then.
I recorded my crewmates speaking while they drew their maps. Sometimes they would just describe what they were charting, and in other cases they would make up a narrative. For example, the mechanic was also a diver. He and the chief would dive under the boat to check the propellers. He drew an ice floe in the shape of a mushroom and called it le champignon. No one had seen it but him. Another person wrote SILENCE on his map near the area he labeled SOUTH. I often thought of the south as silence, too, because the south was the future and therefore the unknown: Mystery made it silent. One day, though, the captain saw this map and said, “No, that’s completely wrong, the south is not silent.” He said that the south is a return to chaos, to civilization, and he crossed out the word SILENCE on the area I had labeled SOUTH.
The most poignant parts of this series are the last entries, where it all actually did become chaos. Toward the end of the journey, everything had changed so much that no one knew where we were anymore. At some point, the boat had turned around in the middle of the night and what used to be east was west and vice versa. We lost all our reference points. Helsinki disappeared; Charles de Gaulle Airport broke up and drifted away.
The “Drift Drawings” began as an attempt to document where we were going. We were never able to see our boat moving, but we could chart our movements through the GPS. As you can imagine, in the old days explorers spent most of their energy just figuring out where they were. We knew where we were every moment, so that wasn’t our obsession; instead, we were most concerned with where we were going to be next.
This feeling permeated every aspect of life on the boat, because we organized our life based on weather predictions. Having no control over our course, all we could do was react to those predictions. Every morning we would wake up, go down to the office, look at the GPS, and then chart the course of our drift. This was our morning newspaper. I would trace the little drift based on the computer screen, because I wanted to have a record since our path was constantly changing. So in the drawings you can see where we were––here’s September 24, October 1, October 22––and you see how we are going up and down and back and forth. We would have a storm that would push us north and then a storm that would push us south again. In a way, the drawings are fractals of meanderings.
The “Log of Limits (Snow Walks)” are based on hikes I took around the boat, since we were essentially lodged in a giant ice block most of the time. But slowly, as we moved more and more south, we began to see small fractures in the ice and then we would have these major breaks and everything would completely change. Some weeks we could walk completely around the boat, other days only a few footsteps, sometimes not at all. Our world expanded and contracted, and like the “Drift Drawings,” this expansion and contraction of space over time was not a straight line. The lines are going back and forth, up and down, east and west, like a yo-yo. Even still, we were beginning to see the limits of our little “world.”
Ellie Ga, Map #10, 2008, marker on paper, 12 x 16 1/2".
Left and right: Rachel Foullon, The Abacus, 2010, canvas, Western red cedar, dye, stain, hardware, 56 x 114 x 96”. Installation views.
The Brooklyn-based artist Rachel Foullon has participated in numerous group shows and was a founding member of the curatorial initiative Public Holiday Projects. Here she talks about her first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, which opens on March 11 at ltd.
THIS EXHIBITION IS TITLED “AN ACCOUNTING,” and the twofold definition (with references to economics and narrative) applies. At ltd, a sizable new gallery founded by Los Angeles collector Shirley Morales, I’ll be showing my largest sculptures to date. The scale will provide an atmospheric contrast to my show last fall in New York at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, where I maximized the use of a smaller space by creating a dense, workshoplike environment that fostered an appropriate sense of intimacy. My work of the past couple of years has referenced specific types of barns and rural dwellings wherein living quarters for humans, livestock, and work animals are all combined under one roof that also houses tools and food storage: It’s an original live-work scenario of potentially the most grueling and imagery-rich kind. I’m dealing with the same thematic locale in this show, but it’s almost as if we step outside the barn (there’s a little more fresh air out here, no?) and begin to refer to a few more of the players on this landscape of self-reliance.
The centerpiece of the show is a ceiling-mounted sculpture called The Abacus. Built from Western red cedar four-by-fours, the piece is milled, finished, and assembled with a sensibility akin to furniture making. The abacus’s familiar horizontal bars are oriented in relation to the ceiling, so the viewer passes underneath it like a short-lived arcade. Its structure is derived from the Hallenhaus—Saxon farmhouses that conjoined the house and barn functions in one and made their way to North America in the 1600s. These barns share the same architectural origins as churches. In the abacus’s design, the supporting diagonal braces have been turned outward, like a ballet plié, making room for the traditional counting beads.
The beads are cut and sewn from canvas, each as a Möbius strip with a hole in its center. I came on the Möbius strip lurking within functional design in England in 2005, when I purchased a bundle of household rags from an agricultural fair. They were made from rectangular pieces of fabric that, when given a half twist and folded before being seamed together, created an endless surface with an enigmatic sense of volume, excellent for cleaning, as well as for accessing ideas of infinity. This form’s usage in The Abacus relates to the cyclical passage of seasons, harvests, generations, and an iteration of time as a stretchable shape. It’s like Mark Twain’s idiom “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes,” or a dog chasing its own tail.
Each bead is individually dyed using cold-process fiber-reactive dyes and a low-water immersion technique, which yields a random marbling effect. As the viewer passes beneath the abacus, the color progression of the beads is like that of pale flesh being slowly cooked, browning and then burning black, then bursting open as something red is exposed, revealed and visually intense. The rawness subsides and scars pink. This color event is an abstract idea, but it serves as a methodology to create an experience that is visually explosive and saturated in relation to ideas of something graphic and full of life, desirable albeit painful. Such is the seduction and intensity of living close to animals and the land. I’m interested in a contemporary relationship to that desire, as well as the parallel of the farm to an artist’s studio. While this room-size abacus is not interactive (it doesn’t hang low enough for a viewer to “use”), the experience is one that is definitely bodily.
The Abacus is an accounting device that tells the story of how something sustains or survives. Its economy belongs to collective cultural memory. An abacus doesn’t record or store historical data like a computer can, but counts and takes stock of the present moment. Much like the all-in-one space of the Hallenhaus barn, it looks both backward and forward and, in this way, is a reckoning of past, present, and future time.
Emily Wardill, Game Keepers Without Game, 2009, stills from a 16-mm film transfered to DVD, 76 minutes.
Emily Wardill’s films are known for their historical and intellectual appetites, as well as their stylistic restlessness. Her most recent, feature-length film, Game Keepers Without Game is currently on view at the Showroom in London, where she is also at work on her newest project, Fulll Firearms. Selections from this work in progress, which Wardill discusses here, will be screened at the gallery on March 13.
I’VE BEEN WORKSHOPPING A FILM based on Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House. It reimagines her today as the inheritor of an arms dealer’s fortune––a business that, like Winchester’s, is predicated on violence but legitimated through being a business. The daughter, Imelda, feels guilty about the source of her inheritance, so she uses her family’s funds to build a house for the ghosts of those who have been killed by the guns. Once the house has been built, however, it becomes inhabited by squatters whom she misidentifies as ghosts.
A theme of trickery and misidentification runs through Fulll Firearms. The characters are constantly deceiving one another, encouraging a kind of delusion that distracts them from a concrete reality. For instance, Imelda seems to be deluded, and her architect must submit to her delusions because he is financially supported by her. The film confronts expectations of what might happen with what actually does happen. Thus the woman expects to see ghosts; she has a definite idea of who they might be, but then she is faced with who they actually are. Her expectation and material reality are made to happen in the same space––that of the house or the film.
The project comes out of a longing to set up a group of people for whom the process of discussing the film becomes part of the final product. The process of workshopping films in this way, parallel to the story line, is one where we are confronted with our own ideas, which are pretty different from what we imagined they might be. When this is done collaboratively, it becomes a way of communicating, which is distinct from a commercial mode of production where one is encouraged to be individual and to create products. Fassbinder once said that his films were like the walls to his house. There’s something beautiful about this idea, in part because it goes against the comfortable notion that one should buy a house, move into it, and make it into a shelter, but also because a film, as opposed to a house, can’t be just yours; it is implicitly social.
I’m interested in the way melodrama is used to make difficult things more palatable. The original meaning of melodrama is a conjunction of melody and drama, whereby the musical element communicates to you in a way that somehow bypasses cerebral understanding. To speak of this melody more figuratively, there is a sense of a ghostly presence in this project. The work is developing a very sensual quality, and yet the audience will have the feeling that characters are very distant from their own bodies––that is, their bodies keep doing things that their brains must then catch up with. The actions that are performed in the space stay there. By inhabiting a space, they imply a kind of repetition, an echo of history.