The conceptual fashion and design collaborative Bless was founded by Desiree Heiss and Ines Kaag in 1997. Their current exhibition at the Kunsthaus Graz, “N°41,” is an immersive installation that reprises a number of their previous “products.” Here, they talk about transforming the exhibition setting into an intimate and user-friendly environment for their interactive items. The show closes on August 29.
THE KUNSTHAUS GRAZ is an amorphous, gray space lit by massive neon-light spirals that demand a lot of attention. It’s quite different from the sort of venue we tend to like—yet it was tempting to work with. The museum’s third floor is so massive that even big objects look tiny there. It soon became clear that our products would become lost in this cavernous space, with so little of what you could call our ideal “home”—or even a place we would like to live in. Curiously, after having worked in the space for one week, we felt at home there.
Since the giant neon spirals on the ceiling are so dominant, from the beginning we had a strong desire to work with these lights, either by transforming them or by finding some way to counterbalance them, which is what we did in the end. We drew inspiration from the pattern of the electricity grid embedded in the floor, and imagined the exhibition to look like the equivalent of a giant flower carpet, in which lamps and products, arranged at regular distances, form a symmetric pattern when viewed from above. We found most of the lamps on display in local thrift stores. They are designed to be hung from the ceiling, so that placing them on the floor gives them something of a flowery quality.
Our exhibition includes the workoutcomputer, a computer with punching bags for keys. It’s our ultimate dream of a daily-life/office/working tool, if only it would function at the same speed as a normal computer. It’s not that we want to make life more comfortable—or to make bodies lazier and tools faster—but to set up working instruments that are able to reconnect body and brain in a modern setting. It would be fantastic to be not only mentally but also physically exhausted after having written, for instance, a long e-mail.
For the doubleplants, initially we wanted to create an alternative to the usual flowerpots one has at home, but instead of altering the pots’ shape, we created a socket for each plant that consisted of the plant’s artificial homologue, placed upside down. So below you find an artificial plant with the real plant above. Also on view is a hybrid chair that can seat people in four directions. In each direction there is an hourglass that can be set to five, fifteen, thirty, or sixty minutes. Users of the chair determine how much time they want to spend on it—or, applied in a private context, how much time they want to give to their conversational partner.
We don’t typically want to “exhibit” our work. All our objects and products are conceived to be functional and applicable to daily life. In a given exhibition context, therefore, we always aim to create scenery that resembles a private environment. It was very interesting for us to discover that it was actually possible to open the normally closed and hidden windows of the Kunsthaus Graz which, once opened, provided an interesting architectural contribution to the more homey feel of some parts of the space.
There were no specific themes to this show. The title of our first book is still quite relevant for our work on the whole: Ten Years of Themelessness. We are quite happy to work with neither theme nor style, and we hope to somehow remain open and unpredictable in whatever we do. However, even though we question displaying a larger context for our items, we accept the exhibition offers we do with several interests in mind: a challenge posed by the space, our attempt to bring the artificial context of an exhibition to real life, and the vivid desire to work on new ideas for products.
We’ve actually never ever lived in the same city, and the longest time we’ve spent together was sixteen days for a series of events in Japan. We’d also never collaborated with anyone else before we met. For us it’s so normal to live in two different cities. Of course we both can be affected by our environment and cultural differences in each country, which maybe helps in the long run to avoid getting too disconnected from the outside world and, above all, to remain two separate individuals in different environments who simply share similar values and a deep friendship.
New York–based video artist Mika Rottenberg is known for her large-scale installations and interest in labor as well as process. Her latest work, Squeeze, a twenty-minute video installation, combines documentary and fictional footage. The work is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art until October 3 and will be exhibited at Mary Boone Gallery in conjunction with Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery from October 30 to December 18. In February 2011, it will be on view at De Appel in Amsterdam and Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm.
SQUEEZE IS ABOUT CAPTURING energy and the way things are made. So much basic activity is just expansion and contraction, the logic of the body and planetary movement. In this work, I portrayed Trixxter Bombshell, the big woman, meditating, and Bunny Glamazon, the strong woman, getting hot and cold. These actions are connected to a tongue flickering. This three-point energy moves the whole room. Both a very explicit production line and an immaterial process cause the architectural structure to move. The expansion and contraction of the structure is a way of expressing an internal state in cinematic language. Pornography also tries to do that. Like in the money shot: the moment where inner feelings become a material.
I began the work by visiting a rubber plant in India and an iceberg lettuce farm in Arizona. Then I designed a telekinetic machine. We built a set in my Harlem studio and used “movie magic” to create visual slippage between the three locations. In Squeeze, there are portals to the rubber plant and the lettuce farm, which allow workers to collaborate on the production of “an object.” The telekinetic machine produces a compressed cube from globally sourced rubber, lettuce, and makeup. I wanted this piece to be self-referential and since it will be shown at Mary Boone Gallery, I wanted to somehow bring in the fascinating way in which the art market assigns value to objects.
Bonnie is cast as the manager, but in real life she is also very powerful and managerial. She is a fetish fantasy worker. She has sessions with clients that are not explicitly sexual; it is still a mystery to me what exactly goes on. Once a year, she attends a convention for amazon women, which is where I met her. Her work is not dissimilar from that of an artist or an actress. When you’re making creative work, you in some ways commodify your soul and your emotions. Raqui, the star of Dough, is beautiful. She has so much pride in the way she carries herself and it is very inspiring to me. She is a size-acceptance activist, and she wrote about my 2006 video Dough on her website. People accuse me of basically hiring women’s bodies, but I don’t. These women own their own means of production.
Actually, before Bonnie was in the video, she told me that we could make money together because I was the perfect size. She is 6’ 4“ and I am 5’ 2”. She knows a guy who gets a kick out of big women and very small women together. It’s nothing sexual. I’d meet them at a hotel. She told me I would slide on her shoulder, she would lift me up and throw me gently. I mean, four hundred dollars an hour—I could use that. I chickened out in the end. I was way too busy, but I wouldn’t be opposed to actually being her employee. It would be an interesting shift for us. She could sell my videos on her website and I could sell hers on mine.
As the initiator of HomeShop, a tiny storefront collaborative art space in central Beijing, Elaine W. Ho has recently designed and published the second edition of WEAR, a journal stemming from the activities of the local community. HomeShop is an evolving open platform for community-based art practice, and it is located within one of Beijing’s unique urban alleyways, the hutongs, whose compact, ancient design often naturally blurs the boundaries between public and private. The second and latest edition of the journal examines the broad question, what is cultural exchange?
HOMESHOP IS AN ALTERNATIVE SPACE, and most of the things we are doing here are event- or time-based. Although I initiated HomeShop, the work is collaborative. It is small-scale, and even though not many people are able to take part, it requires participation and is based upon the varying publics in the area: neighbors, passersby, and other artists.
I’ve been living in this space for three years, but HomeShop’s activities only started two years ago. I was looking for a storefront space in a hutong, but beyond that, I wasn’t sure how to approach the project. The first year was spent just being here, residing here, seeing what the space could offer, and learning about the community. Everything is built upon relationships––how I relate to the neighbors, how they relate to me––so that year was a gestation period.
Of course, the Olympics in 2008 seemed like a perfect opportunity to begin our sort of participation in the public sphere. After that, it was a natural progression to want to document the events we were doing. But we also wanted to carry the conversation forward and see what others had to say, so we started WEAR as a platform to invite other kinds of input and contributions. A very important question for us is, How are daily routines manifested on a social or even political level?
Even though I live there, HomeShop was never intended to be an autobiographical project. Of course it’s coming from me, and the effort and the time and the intentions in the journal are my personal reactions to things that are happening here. I didn’t want it to be about my life, though, and that’s why WEAR is not a personal narrative but a collaborative effort. Yet the things you see on the HomeShop blog are actually quite subjective, perhaps more about the day-to-day. The journal is meant to bring that day-to-day aspect into another range of reflection and dialogue with the contributors and our readers.
On some level, the things we’re doing here are not that special, and certainly not new. Working on event- or time-based projects and thinking about community—these are issues that are already out there. If anything is unique about this, it’s the juxtaposition of all of these elements, and how they happen to come together at this moment in time, in China, within the art scene, or within the hutong.
Jo Baer has been painting since the early 1960s and is known for her inimitable hard-edge abstractions as well as figurative works. Her book Broadsides & Belles Lettres: Selected Writings and Interviews 1965–2010 is available this month from Roma Publications; an event for the collection will be held at 192 Books in New York on July 7. Matthew Marks Gallery will open an exhibition of her and John Wesley’s paintings from the ’60s, curated by her son Josh Baer, on July 6.
I WROTE THESE ESSAYS when I had something to say. But it was always clear that I’m a much better painter. I never thought of myself as a writer. When the opportunity for this book came along a few years ago, I knew exactly what I wanted in it. After everything was Xeroxed and digitized, I worked with Roel Arkesteijn, whom Roma brought on as the editor, to refine it. In the process, I realized that one of the most important things to include was the “dialogues” I made with other artists from 1966–67, especially since these pieces had never been published before.
In 1967, Carl Andre gave me a poem, and I created a graphic analysis of it, which he in turn commented on; Mel Bochner wrote out the entries for existence and nonexistence from Roget’s Thesaurus; Sol LeWitt gave me a plan for his exhibition at Dwan Gallery in April of 1967; and so on. These are works I own and, of course, they’re very valuable to me. Most of them began with just sitting around at Max’s Kansas City and having drinks at night. I knew many of the Minimalists, and the Pop artists as well. At the time, I was also taking dance classes. I really admired Trisha Brown; also Yvonne Rainer, whose classes I took because I needed exercise. The picture in the book of me in Yvonne’s Trio A performance is funny: I have this pimp walk, one shoulder down, very aggressive!
While all of this was happening, I was trying to work in the studio and also tending house, taking care of my child, getting the groceries, and such. I remember it was a very busy time. In 1975, when my son went off to college, I moved to Ireland. But after six months there I realized what a truly strange person I am––I don’t do whimsical things, I didn’t intend to live in a castle, but that’s what I found, with fireplaces, no heat, one plug and light socket in every room, and I adored it. I felt very much at home. I still owe the coal man three hundred pounds.
This is my first hardcover book, and after living in Amsterdam for twenty-two years, I’ve noticed that I’ve had to struggle to remain a painter and not try to become a graphic artist. Collaborating on the layout was very interesting. The Dutch are the best graphic designers in the world. My work on the cover, Untitled (White Star), looks totally different; the designer took all the painterly stuff out of it. Happily, it still would never have occurred to me to do something like that. It looks very forceful, nearly sinister. When I was painting it in 1961, I was trying to do something subtle and ambiguous, but this cover is like BAM!
The book and the process of doing it has made me think a lot about control, which I’ve realized is very central to my work. I’ve always asked questions about control and who is controlling whom and so forth. I don’t see how you can be a woman and not have to think about control. I think it’s a very natural subject if you have your wits about you. Some of my drawings allude to brown rats displacing the black rats, or depict horse bridles and saddles. Revisioning the Parthenon, which will be produced as a booklet with the selected writings and interviews, is also about control.
Revisioning the Parthenon is still a work very much in progress. It is now about eighty pages long and explores and illustrates how Athens used the Parthenon as a propaganda machine. It was partially inspired by the first time I saw the Elgin Marbles in London at the British Museum. I was afraid to say this out loud, but I thought they were really fussy and funky, and I didn’t like them. It wasn’t until ten years later that I began to read about what was going on in Athens at the time, and the fact that they were the first institutional slave society in the world—not to mention how they disdained and treated women. It was no wonder I hated those marbles!