Jesse Jones, The Struggle Against Ourselves, 2011, color film in Super 16 mm transferred to video, 21 minutes. Production still. (Photo: Chiara Giovando)
Jesse Jones is a Dublin-based artist whose work was featured in the 11th International Istanbul Biennale in 2009. In tandem with the premiere of her 16-mm film Against the Realm of the Absolute at the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh, Jones’s US debut opens at REDCAT in Los Angeles on June 30. That evening at REDCAT, there will also be an artists’ talk between Jones and Andrea Bowers at 6:30 PM.
THE REDCAT SHOW BRINGS TOGETHER TWO FILMS: The Spectre and the Sphere, and a newly commissioned work, The Struggle Against Ourselves. The latter film is based on a collaborative project I made this past April with a group of CalArts students. When I was invited to exhibit in LA, I really wanted to host a workshop in the theatrical idea of biomechanics and the series of theatrical études created by Vsevolod Meyerhold in the 1920s. These blend Taylorism with the historic, theatrical devices of commedia dell’arte and Kabuki. The études have an incredibly fascinating history and formally resemble the mass spectacles found in Busby Berkeley’s films. But the études have a very different ideological intension, of course. They emerged from a postrevolutionary Russian period in which the idea of the mass still held some idea of historical agency.
Meyerhold’s workshops were very influential during the postrevolutionary period and featured participants such as Igor Ilinsky and Sergey Eisenstein. Konstantin Stanislavsky was also a big fan of Meyerhold, and he believed that they were going to create the theater of the twentieth century. But because Meyerhold became persona non grata under Stalin, none of his ideas were exported to America. He fell out of history; in America, he is virtually unknown. Rather than stage a reenactment of the workshops, I’m instead attempting to stage this kind of event that was historically impossible; it’s presenting a possibility for a different version of mass culture. The performance I made with the students is based on series of photographs of the Meyerhold workshops that were taken in late 1930s by Alexander Grinberg. While looking at Grinberg’s images it is impossible not to draw comparisons to the high Hollywood spectacles of the ’20s and ’30s.
Chi-wang Yang of the Cloud Eye Control theater company facilitated the workshops at CalArts. He brought a huge amount of experience to the project and built the performance with the students during three initial workshops to prepare for the film, which was made over a weekend at CalArts. The film appears at first as an observational documentary, but then it shifts into a dream sequence that echoes the Hollywood style of the Berkeley films. In this way, The Struggle Against Ourselves is a scramble between two vastly different historical impulses––communism and capitalism––and it questions the ways in which that narrative can be played out through the body.
The other film in the show, The Spectre and the Sphere, was made in 2008 in Dublin and Ghent. Both take something from the culture of early-1920s Russia as a starting point––the etudes for The Struggle Against Ourselves, and the theremin in The Spectre and the Sphere. There is an attempt within both of these works to excavate these things, which came out of the ether of the postrevolutionary period and at the time operated as a form of popular culture. The theremin itself has these incredibly interesting origins. It was invented in 1919 by Leon Theremin, who upon its creation brought it to Lenin. I learned that Lenin was very impressed with the instrument and had wanted to learn how to play “The Internationale” on it, although for various historical reasons that didn’t happen. I asked Theremin’s great-niece, Lydia Kavina, to play the song for The Spectre and the Sphere.
The two films are installed so that there is a dialogue created between them; they are projected on opposing walls and sequenced to play at intervals with a specially designed computer program. I’m also showing a new light installation, which plays two sound tracks at interval points within the sequence, so the audience’s vantage point is shifted constantly through the duration of the two works. It is my hope that this light installation draws attention to our spectatorial role within the space of cinema.
Merce Cunningham, Event, 2010. Performance view, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, June 10, 2011. Merce Cunningham Dance Company. (Photo: Barak Aharon.)
The inaugural Jerusalem Season of Culture, a multidisciplinary cultural celebration that began in May with a philosophy festival and will feature performances by Steve Reich and Renée Fleming in addition to several other events, runs through the end of July. Here, Itay Mautner, the artistic director, and Naomi Bloch Fortis, codirector, discuss the scope of the project.
JERUSALEM IS an exceedingly distinct city, given its complexity and everyday reality. When we decided to create this season three years ago, we wanted to highlight the very vibrant and dynamic cultural scene that enlivens this place, since you cannot find anything like it anywhere else in the world. Of course, when you think of the word Jerusalem, two things come to mind first: religion and conflict. Culture might seem irrelevant. And yet art, dance, film, and theater are important here. Our aim is to show art made in Jerusalem and Israel alongside art by international artists who are now coming to look at this beautiful place and translating it into their work.
In early June we had the “Under the Mountain” section, a festival dedicated to the alternative scene in Jerusalem. Even though it’s the capital, this has never been a mainstream place, and some of the most radical art has emerged from this city; it’s been an active playground for experimental thinking. A local collective has curated a show in the Natural History Museum where many artists have responded to the land and are also performing in a very transdisciplinary way. These are the alternative stakeholders in Jerusalem, who would work without the season’s initiative, as they’ve done for years before. At the same time, we have the Merce Cunningham Dance Company here performing their “events” in the galleries of the Israel Museum, which is the last time they will ever perform in a museum. There’s also the Merce Campus, a series of talks with the dancers and their crew, at the local nonprofit gallery space Yaffo 23.
On July 14, we will have “Contact Point” at the museum, which aims to help visitors reimagine what a visit to a museum can be, as well as the role of the institution. Usually you go to a museum, you walk quietly, and you stand in front of an object . . . and that’s it. You have feelings, and then you keep on going. This part of the season will serve as a natural extension of some of the ideas percolating during “Under the Mountain”––in essence, that art isn’t a dead object: It’s still living.
Eight months ago, we invited artists from various different artistic fields––including dancers, actors, musicians, and poets––to pick their favorite object in the museum and to try to find a contact point between them and the object. The resultant work will be shown live for only one special night when the museum is open until 2 AM. Visitors will walk around and view the Israel Museum in a totally different way. They will see a new work that has been produced from the combination from an object and an artist, who might be singing or dancing or reading aloud.
We hope that visitors to the season’s events will come away with the knowledge that Jerusalem is not a small city that needs to be revitalized by culture. As the locals already know, it’s a big place and culture already exists here. The only problem is the way it was known until now. It was a bit hidden, and most people were not familiar with it. But we don’t need to invent; we just need to reinforce what’s already going on. What is important now is brushing off some of the dust that hides the beautiful cultural scene that’s already here––and thriving.
Left: Rina Banerjee, Upon civilizing home an absurd and foreign fruit grew ripened, made food for the others, grew snout, tail and appendage like no other, 2010, mixed media, 40 x 30 x 40". Right: Rina Banerjee, Take me, Take me . . . to the Palace of Love (detail), 2003, mixed media, 13 x 13 x 22'.
Rina Banerjee’s iridescent sculptural installations––full of silky fabric, feathers, beads, and tiny, tinkling shells––as well as fragile drawings of birds, beasts, and floating demigods, are about journeys, real and imagined. Her offerings weave their way around ancient Asian artifacts in “Chimeras of India and the West,” her latest exhibition, which is on view at the Musée Guimet in Paris until September 26.
MY MOTHER TOLD ME that my first name is special because it is not typical in India––it is spelled differently. Hence, I was free to be what I wanted, or so I presumed. I was born in Calcutta, but I grew up in London and, then, New York, where I now live. Growing up abroad [as we called it] was a strange experience in the 1960s; there were so few Indians in the West. My parents saw themselves as international citizens. Maybe they imagined a future that we are just beginning to glimpse. I dream of this willingness to close the gaps between cultures, communities, and places. I think of identity as inherently foreign; of heritage as something that leaks away from the concept of home––as happens when one first migrates. Even my interest in science embodies an awareness of other worlds, worlds that coexist with us, but which we cannot experience or know. The sky, the stars, and the earth contain so much more than we think. This is why, when I finished my degree in polymer engineering at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, in 1993, I quietly moved toward art.
I could never be a Minimalist artist: I am interested in corrupting fine art with everything I wish for. I want adventure and to feel the same sense of command that I imagine an explorer or a scientist would––like a visitor trespassing. My art is about the value of our desire to travel. I am not interested in being wrapped around any country or community so tightly that it cannot allow this; the need to travel is psychological, intellectual, and emotional, Freedom is the most expensive commodity; nature the most dangerous beauty. My work examines both. My art depicts a delicate world that is also aggressive, tangled, manipulated, fragile, and very, very dense. My first installations were made between 1997 and 1999 for exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Queens Museum of Art, and the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Like my early paintings, they contained pigment, shells, feathers, textiles, saris, lightbulbs, suitcases, umbrellas, and eyelashes. The point was that these objects could be remade each time, could traverse language and be massaged into new meanings.
“Chimeras of India and the West” was the brainchild of Jacques Gies, the director of the Guimet. Globalization means that we no longer need to go on “expeditions” the way Victorian explorers did. The East has arrived. I think Gies believes that the Guimet should reflect this. My exhibition is one of the projects in “The Manufactory of Contemporary Art in Asia” series, which explores the interaction between heritage and contemporary creativity. The show offers works made between 2005 and 2011. Curator Caroline Arhuero orchestrated a dialogue between them and the museum’s permanent collection. One of my favorite sections is the library, which houses the elephant chair, as we call it. I love it. The chair is a symbol of power, and a peculiar growth emerges from it like a trunk––as if it were giving birth to the Hindu elephant-headed god, Ganesha. It represents the violence that is involved in transformation. This is very apt, given that the library is a place where knowledge is kept and controlled and representations of the other are formulated.
In many ways, the show is about examining cultural production. I get a real charge from ancient Tibetan, Himalayan, and Indian art. I am obsessed by the clouds in Chinese and Tibetan paintings and their representation of strange creatures and mystical worlds, where protagonists enact battles and falter in ways that lead to horrific tragedies. In my drawings, red trees grow upside down and bear dark fruit, and beasts with multiple heads walk or swim [rather than fly] in the sky, spilling fruit like tears. At the Guimet, one of my sculptures conjures a figure with a ram’s head, wearing a red dress and a nose ring. I have also included black buffalo horns, from America, and Kenyan gourds. Both Eastern and Western references are deposited in this work.
Where you live impacts who you are. I am a Non-Resident Indian, living in New York. I think it is important to ask what this means.
Clifford Owens in his studio at MoMA PS1.
Clifford Owens’s upcoming exhibition at MoMA PS1 comes out of his long-standing interest in what he considers to be underacknowledged histories of performance art. Rather than reperforming works or simply exhibiting documentation, Owens will interpret and embody twenty-five scores provided by contemporary African-American artists. Public performances at the museum throughout the summer (including events on June 19, June 25, and July 29) will generate the raw material for the works on view in “Anthology,” which opens November 13.
I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT THIS PROJECT since my graduate studies in 1999. I was trying to research the history of African-American performance art and had a very difficult time finding material. I realized that there was no compendium of this work—it’s an underrecognized, underrepresented practice—and that I would have to create it. Initially I had thought that I would compile a book or put together an exhibition. But eventually it hit me that I didn’t want this to be an academic project; I wanted to do this project as an artist. I wanted to create the work, but at the same time, I wanted my art to be informed by and through other voices. So for this show I’ve asked an intergenerational group of African-American artists, including Ben Patterson, Dave McKenzie, and Senga Nengudi, to create a series of performance scores—descriptions of actions for me to perform.
It’s challenging because as of now, there’s no work––nothing exists––it’s all coming out of the performances we’re doing this summer. And in a sense, so much of the show will be about people’s specific experiences of the performances, which will of course be different from what one will experience in the show itself. The question also comes up about how one can organize an exhibition like this. It’s a large job for the curator, Christopher Lew, in terms of choosing what photographs, videos, audio files, and ephemera to include. It’s his first exhibition in his new role as curator at the museum, and it’s also my first solo museum show in New York. So there’s a lot of great energy going into the project. I’m optimistic.
It’s important that I am the one interpreting these scores. I’m bringing my own attitude and interests to make this a living project. Obviously, it’s a big responsibility to bring these scores to life and to present them to the public in a powerful way, because they are someone else’s intellectual labor. It’s an interesting gift economy. The artists gift these scores to me and I internalize and process them. Then I place them back in the public realm with my own energy in the work. I don’t know if all the artists will be happy with the decisions I make in terms of interpreting their scores. I think that by the end, the identity of the author of the score could be lost, which is fine. I know that whatever comes out of the original scores will by uniquely my own, unique to my own way of making art and thinking about making art.
William Pope.L’s score for me was: “Be African American. Be very African American.” For the one performance I’ve done with it, I asked two African-American boys and a young adult to repeat the Black Panther chant for children: “Black is beautiful, free Huey, said I want him free,” replacing “Huey” with “Mumia.” It’s perhaps didactic, but I thought it would be a gesture and action from the mouths of children that spoke to a past that is still present, that relates to beauty as well as representations of African Americans. I’m going to do other things with that score as well. I could shave my head—I could do anything. So far it’s my favorite. In a sense I could perform that score every day, just by waking up and walking out the door.
Kate Forde is a London-based curator and critic. She co-organized the exhibition “Dirt: The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life,” which mixes historical artifacts and contemporary artworks to consider the mercurial role of one of the world’s most common materials. The show is on view at the Wellcome Collection in London until August 31.
DIRT IS REALLY DIFFICULT TO DEFINE. On the one hand, it’s the stuff we spend a great deal of time and energy avoiding or cleaning away––it’s bacteria, excrement, filth. On the other hand, it’s the ground beneath our feet, the soil in which we grow our food, the stuff that supports and sustains us.
The exhibition moves from microbial to environmental concerns, from the tiniest germs of life first observed in seventeenth-century Delft to an immersive film installation in which the visitor “travels” through the largest landfill in the world. In the latter, Mierle Laderman Ukeles compels us to think personally about the relationship we have to the things we throw away and the way in which our actions shape our landscape. She is currently working with the developers on the plans for Fresh Kills on Staten Island [the world’s largest municipal landfill until it closed in 2001], for which she has conceived a piece to be titled Public Offerings Made by All, Redeemed by All. The idea is that one million people will select something of great personal value to be donated and captured in glass blocks that will be displayed at the site.
I visited Fresh Kills last summer. There was a faint whiff of sulfur in the air and the odd goose-necked gas pipe here and there, but it wasn’t immediately obvious that I was standing on millions of tons of garbage; it was actually quite lush, green, and fertile, and with a view of its maker, Manhattan.
Dirt in an everyday sense is central to the exhibition. Much like Michel de Certeau’s theory in The Practice of Everyday Life that consumers can individualize and appropriate mass culture, the scavengers of nineteenth-century London recycled apparently worthless materials. Igor Eskinja’s Untitled is a carpet made from dust, which is intended to disintegrate over the course of the exhibition. People seem to be almost magnetically drawn to examine it, walk over it, and destroy it.
Artists can be astute at finding hidden meanings in the mundane practices that keep our cities alive: the labor of sanitation workers, housewives, and cleaners who prevent us from drowning in our own filth; the subterranean systems that remove and transport our waste; the micro-organisms recycling and transforming our dirt. For her piece Laid to Rest, Serena Korda researched the great dust heaps at Kings Cross, which in the nineteenth century were recycled by local craftsmen who mixed it with clay to produce fine quality bricks. She fabricated a stack of five hundred bricks using dust donations sent to her by individuals and organizations as well as samples she collected from cultural institutions including the British Museum. The aesthetic of the piece references Minimalism, but it is also a memorial to the overlooked, highlighting an alchemy of dirt and inviting us to reexamine our attitudes toward the things we forget, cast off, or leave for others to find.
Left: Cover of Zin Taylor’s Growth (2011). Right: A spread from Growth.
Zin Taylor’s latest exhibition, titled “The Units,” examines how he approaches information as a material to produce “units” of thought. Presenting work from the past six years, the show is on view at the Ursula Blickle Stiftung, a private foundation in southern Germany, until July 10.
I USE THE TERM UNITS to describe the translation of ideas about a subject into a form about a subject. Units are what exist in physical space after the thinking and abstracting settles into shape. They are a way of handling information. The insinuation is that a thing, like a narrative, is made of many units—like how letters are used to produce words, words are used to produce a sentence, and then a statement.
Within the three floors of the show, I visually “talk” about a garden, a street corner in Antwerp, an underground tunnel in Scotland, knives, hands, and a derelict bakery––relatively public subjects, nothing too rarified. My responses translated into a series of sculptural forms––examples of a working language displayed in space. Throughout the hallways and in the staircase there are drawings, photographs, and small objects that suggest a structural origin for the individual works contained within each of the five rooms. They are rules yet to inherit a subject, and they are floating––like a ghost in a room. It’s as if these smaller, more formal works, are watching their larger cousins installed within the spaces, observing what they will eventually grow into. I like to think about growth as describing the additive qualities that occur when a subject is addressed with intent. It’s what happens as the by-product of intentionality, a kind of phenomenological authorship. Address a subject, and that subject grows. It takes up more space, occupies new areas, speaks to things it didn’t before.
On the third floor of the building, a lofty attic houses the central work for this show, an artist’s book titled Growth. Published by Sternberg Press and the Ursula Blickle Stiftung, and designed by Boy Vereecken of Slavs and Tatars, the book consists of writings by Dan Adler, Dieter Roelstraete, Esperanza Rosales, Mark von Schlegell, and myself, independently addressing growth in a way relative to what this term could mean. Five types of narrative writing are employed: art-historical analysis, philosophic prose, narrative nonfiction, science fiction, and abstract whimsy. The Stiftung typically produces a catalogue for each of the four exhibitions it mounts per year. I felt that to make a catalogue at this point would be akin to producing a tombstone for myself, with texts eulogizing what I had done. I wanted to produce a book that could potentially do something, which someone would want to read regardless of who it was about––a book where the intention is a projection forward, not a recount of the past. The book just “is,” the way many of my other sources just “are.” There are no rules to follow here. It’s a book of material, designed to be material, to be used, consumed, et cetera . . . it’s a unit.