Mika Tajima is a New York–based artist whose latest project, The Architect’s Garden, is on view until December 17 at the Visual Arts Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Tajima’s site-specific installation is accompanied by a program of events, including a conversation she had with Richard Linklater, director of the 1991 film Slacker. Her latest body of work continues to excavate the social implications of contemporary built environments, and the concomitant development of particular kinds of human performers, such as the flaneur, the slacker, and the good worker.
I DON’T GO TO HOME DEPOT A LOT, but I recently went to the paint section looking for two specific colors, a royal blue and a rusty brown. It’s an easy place for me to select industrialized mixed colors and coincidentally complements the idea behind The Architect’s Garden. The experience of picking colors is bound up in the brand’s dreamy affects—the Ralph Lauren Collection or the Martha Stewart Collection—and reading all the evocative, predetermined color names. One of my favorites was Soul Sister, which is a deep purple, and there’s one called Lion Heart, which is a soft yellow. The exhibition includes an ongoing series of spray-painted Perspex paintings linking visual abstractions to geographic locations—smoky gray and sunglow orange in Furniture Art (Malmo), or banana yellow and gold in Furniture Art (Belize City)—projections of those places, taking you there.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Richard Linklater’s Slacker, which was made in Austin twenty years ago. When I was growing up in Austin, the local resistant figure was, and maybe still is, the slacker. The slacker––not to be confused with involuntary underemployed––makes self-determined choices not to do something—to refuse or strike with little effort. For me, the psychogeography of the film is the polar opposite of an overtly structured environment, like Herman Miller’s Action Office, the first designed cubicle spaces in which work and social interaction were organized to control/produce life’s abstractions. The figure of the slacker is a critique of those systems that regulate bodies and space. It represents the potential possibilities around or at the edges of these regulated places and logics. Slacking is nonperformance in the face of post-Fordist total life.
In our discussion, Linklater talked about how slacking in the film was an aggressive response, a way to be a nonparticipant in a society you don’t see much point in. Perhaps we need the slacker now more than ever, as we hurtle toward an overbuilt negative utopia. The characters in Slacker are having this conversation in 1991, during a time when Austin was pretty removed from commercial development. There’s a character in the movie who says, “I have much more important things to do than work a day job, and when I have my true calling, I’ll know it.” Or the hitchhiker who says, “I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it.”
The characters’ conversations remain prescient. Big box stores, highways, overbearing condominiums and fancy hotels that, even if they are rapidly (and shoddily) built, remain half full or totally empty. There is a new luxury construction in Austin that opened last year. It’s been riddled with construction failures, including windows falling from balconies and crashing to the ground from above—and the building’s slogan? “Whatever/Whenever.”
By making space for nonprescribed functions in The Architect’s Garden, I’m trying to create a structure for slacking. Similarly, in my previous work a painting becomes a double-sided bulletin board, or another architectural element, skirting an object’s normal role or adding other purposes—productive or not. Slacking is a mode of refusal. Perhaps the best representation of the slacker painter is the monochrome.
For the past forty-five years, the influential photographer Robert Adams has chronicled the changing landscapes of the American West. The Yale University Art Gallery has organized “The Place We Live,” a traveling retrospective of more than two hundred of his images, which is on view at the Denver Art Museum September 25–January 1, 2012.
WHEN BUSTER KEATON was asked to analyze a film that he’d made, he answered, with every artist’s experience on his side, “I don’t feel qualified to talk about my work.” Amen. But . . . for what it is worth, here’s a little background and a thought or two.
I began not as a photographer but as a college English teacher. As a photographer I was just another unschooled amateur imitating Ansel Adams. My calling changed, though, when I visited Sweden, my wife’s place of birth, and I found there evidence of a respect for the landscape––all of it, urban and suburban and rural––that was more promising than anything I’d known as an American.
It’s risky to talk about motivation because the photographs so often don’t measure up, but what I’ve wanted to do is to make pictures that support a sense of consequence—and, where appropriate, a sense of gratitude. If I want to picture the contemporary world, why don’t I use up-to-date methods? Because I’m familiar with the film camera that I employ, and because the important thing is not the method but your command of the method and your commitment to the subject. If I were sufficiently gifted and trained, a crayon and paper, or a linoleum block, would do for me just as well as a camera of whatever sort.
I’ve been asked why I didn’t keep making pictures in the suburbs. I think the answer is that, at some level, I hoped early on that showing what was wrong, what was inhumane, might facilitate improvement. I think I’ve lost that hope. But having said that, I would add that in many ways the whole landscape still seems beautiful. It is inexplicably invulnerable to our bad behavior. Though I also believe that it will punish us for our disrespect. Or maybe a better way to say this is that we will punish ourselves.
Andrew Haigh is a filmmaker and writer based in Norwich, England. His second feature film, Weekend, tells the story of two men, Russel (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New), who share a chance romantic weekend and are forced to confront their own beliefs about themselves. Weekend screens Friday, September 23–Thursday, September 29 at the IFC Center in New York.
I ASPIRE TO honest, authentic, and simple films about characters. Not to mention British kitchen sink dramas from the 1950s like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning with Albert Finney. I wrote extensive backstories for the characters in this film, which I discussed with the actors. I remember writing a lot about Glen and what he would have been like in school, the kind of friends he would have had, and his family. Russel’s background, on the other hand, was quite a contrast because he is a foster child. I remember working out all the foster families that he would have stayed with, how they dealt with him and those kinds of things.
We shot the film completely in story order. Every night, the two actors and I would get together, and we’d just go through the next day and work out what was needed, especially in relation to what we’d shot the day before. Confining the time span to just two days is a very good way to get to the heart of two characters.
Andrew Haigh, Weekend (2011) (Trailer)
Your search for identity is really your search to be authentic as a person. So the characters are constantly trying to find a reconciliation of their public and private worlds. You can be open and be yourself at home, but how do you express that? Glen does it very loudly, whereas Russel just finds it hard to be the person he is in private, in public. It’s like both of them are trying to work out how they can be authentic to themselves and how they can create their public identity, whatever that is. Russel knows who he is, he’s not ashamed of being gay, but I think that for a lot of people there’s a weight that you carry around with you of historical prejudice and even historical hatred. Russel just carries that weight on his shoulders and he finds it very hard to get rid of that. Whereas Glen ignores it to some extent or uses it almost to be the type of person he is; he thrives on it. He is not just some two-dimensional angry queer; it’s more about his struggle for authenticity.
It’s hard to come out and think, “This is it now, I’m going to be around these people who understand me and like me.” Maybe you go to clubs and you wonder what you’ve bought in to. Maybe you see the ads in gay magazines and you think, “This is not who I am,” but somehow suddenly you become identified with it and it’s quite hard if you’re gay and you don’t want to be seen as that either. People like to put you in a box quickly.
Some people have been upset by my depiction of these two doing drugs over their weekend together. I understand why the gay community, especially the older community, is protective of their representation. But I am not making a film about every gay person; I am just making a film about two people.
Since the 1960s, Joseph Kosuth has pursued a language-based conceptual practice, which has taken the form of publications, exhibitions, and public art commissions. His latest exhibition is at Sprüth Magers in London, where he has subtly altered the Georgian and Victorian architecture of the gallery. The show is on view until October 1.
THE WORK JUST CAME TO ME, as it so often happens, while I was reading a book that was recommended to me by my partner. It had been a source for her own work these past months. The book is Architecture from the Outside by Elizabeth Grosz, and it discusses the relationship between architecture and philosophy. It is a brilliant book. This relationship has been an interest of mine for many years, and I’ve written about it in the context of my older installations such as Zero & Not and others since. For the series “The Mind’s Image of Itself,” I’m using a wallpapered and slightly off-centered one-to-one line drawing of a room itself as a basis for a field of discourse about architecture, with the concrete example being the room one is standing in. What gets constructed is a self-reflexive work, something experienced as “whole” even while you know it is made up of apparently contradictory statements going in various directions within the work’s textual field of play. This is along the way to a conversation about architecture and the mind.
The work process begins when I start selecting quotations from a large collection I already have, given that I use such texts often in my work and have for a long time. In fact, appropriation of this kind––along with other kinds––has been part of my work since the beginning in the ’60s. I go through hundreds of these amassed quotes from my own research and that of my staff, make my choices, and then continually add them in relation to the quotes I already have selected. The surplus meaning that is constructed by using the words of others in conjunction with each other, which is my goal, is a far more delicate operation than it may seem.
The first version of this project was a result of my taking advantage, very late, of an invitation to participate in the group show “Personal Structures” at the Palazzo Bembo in the Venice Biennale. I had had an exhausting spring, with shows in New York at Sean Kelly, in Madrid at Juana de Aizpuru, and a large museum show at the Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich, the installation of which finished only days before I would need to install in Venice. But I had the idea for this work, and the small room––the last one left at that late date––at the Palazzo Bembo was an opportunity to test it in a limited way and on short notice within an interesting architecture context. But it is really with this version at Sprüth Magers that the full-scale work will stand on its own within a complete architectural setting.
The room (two rooms are used but only one is experienced at a time) is made present, and not naturalized in the usual way we often experience architecture, both through the physical articulation of the architecture of the room you are in and through the discursive field on architecture in general. But that field is also a physical one, and its physicality is hard to ignore since one is also standing in a drawing of the room itself. Its borders and contours, ends and beginnings, are literally drawn out in black and white. And then one is drawn into a sea of words that simultaneously connect and disconnect with each other, flowing from one direction to another and doing so in a way that also physically articulates the room. The citations and references bring up many associations and thoughts that one has about that room as a reference to other rooms one has been in and will, perhaps, be in. In this way, one is forced to contemplate more than that room alone. Architecture is very psychological, even when the walls are empty. Here one confronts a hall of mirrors, reflecting both what is on your mind concerning such spaces, and your reflections on the thoughts of others as well.
Left: Cover of Christopher Bollen’s Lightning People (2011). Right: Bollen and his cottage in the West Village.
Christopher Bollen is a New York–based writer and the editor-at-large of Interview magazine. His first novel, Lightning People, is published this month by Soft Skull Press. Bollen will read from the book at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York, with music by Eleanor Friedberger, on September 22. He will also read at Pace Gallery in Chelsea on September 27.
THE BEST PART about writing your first novel is that you never have to do it again. You can write your second or third or maybe, God willing, your fourteenth, but you don’t have to write that first one more than once. I say this not only as a warning to those who might be considering such a rash creative act but also as a consolation. The reason that the first one is so hard is that, unless you are blessed with an early book deal or some sort of beneficent mentor, you pretty much have to write it alone into the darkness, confident in your every move that you know where you are going and where you are leading the reader, while you are entirely unsure if what you are doing makes any sense or if it will ever see the light of day. I had neither a book deal nor a mentor—I didn’t even have a solid outline—when I wrote this book. But now that it’s done and printed and staring at me occasionally from bookshelves in stores, I now know how to make it through to the other side.
Many people have asked me about the title of the book, which stems from the novel’s preface. In it, I describe a series of deaths due to erratic lightning strikes on rooftops of downtown Manhattan. The reason for this meteorological event is that the World Trade Center used to serve as the island’s chief lightning conductor. When the towers went down, lightning could no longer be safely routed and was now capable of striking anywhere or anyone in the city. Sadly, this phenomenon isn’t entirely the work of fiction. After 9/11, a member of the New York band Gang Gang Dance named Nathan Maddox was struck and killed by lightning on a Lower East Side rooftop during a storm. I barely knew Nathan but was close with his bandmates. In fact, it was band member Brian DeGraw’s artworks in 2002 that first alerted me to this connection between 9/11 and lightning.
Generally, I don’t think of Lightning People as a 9/11 book. It is, nevertheless, about the city that was left in that shadow and about the people who live there who first came to New York as a place of dreams only to find it a crowded town of nightmares. This is, for me, the real New York of the last decade, even though so many films, books, and television shows have tried to express it as a place of people endlessly falling in love, shopping, going out, and basically living in a designer fantasy. For me New York is a place where its residents are in a constant state of worry and continually finding a means of survival.
No one in the book has a real-life corollary. That said, my novel’s still based on a world I know somewhat well—characters trying to be actors and artists. I probably gravitated to artists because of my love of the art world. In all my experience interviewing various artists and writers for magazines, certain ideas have definitely developed. But I didn’t want to glamorize it or make fun of the art world. That seemed too easy, too much a cliché. For instance, there’s a scene toward the end of the book where one of the main characters, a photographer, creates a violent insect installation that is supposed to serve as something of a memorial for another character who doesn’t survive the turns of the plot. I’m certainly not a visual artist myself, and I did worry that this installation I conceived was the best––or worst––piece of art I could come up with. I remember casually describing the piece to a few artist friends, including Nate Lowman. Nate didn’t really respond to it; he just shrugged and shook his head. And I remember thinking, “I was really half expecting you to steal that idea from me.” He didn’t. Although he did do a bedbug show at Gavin Brown with Rob Pruitt, but I can’t claim my book as an inspiration.
I wrote the entire first draft in my apartment cottage in the West Village. It’s a small, Hansel-and-Gretel-size house hidden from the street by the apartment building in front of it, and while the outside seems enchanting, the inside is tiny, cold, and falling apart. Nevertheless, it proved an ideal place for me to check the city at the door and write in peace and quiet. It even has a cameo in the novel as the apartment of the older, ailing, gay New Yorker Brutus Quinn.
To be honest, the kind of book that Lightning People became surprised me. Before I wrote it, I imagined I was going to be a different kind of writer—much cooler and aloof and much less character-driven or emotional. I, like so many my age, was fascinated by Less than Zero in high school, and I also love Joan Didion and her clean, hard prose. I adore her writing, but it didn’t help me—well, it helped me in the larger sense, but it didn’t help me when it came time to find my own style for telling a story.
I find I write very much based on sound. Poetry is really the way I’ve learned how to write, more so than journalism. There’s some sort of secret rhythm or beat or measure that I’m following in my sentences like I’m trying to follow a meter. Sometimes I look at something I have just written and it sounds like it needs another beat. It’s not as though the subject hasn’t been described well enough; the cadence just isn’t right.
John Outterbridge, The Rag Factory (detail), 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.
For “Pacific Standard Time,” the multisite initiative that runs from October 2011 to April 2012 and celebrates art made in Southern California between 1945 and 1980, the artist John Outterbridge has created a site-specific installation at LAXART made almost entirely out of rags collected from the streets of Los Angeles and from a downtown factory. Widely known as a teacher, mentor, and community organizer, and as the director of the Watts Towers Arts Center from 1975 to 1992, Outterbridge has made work for the past forty years that is widely associated with the California Assemblage movement. The show is on view from September 10 to October 22.
I SEE A RAG AS AN OBJECT OF MANY VIBRATIONS. You wear clothes, and after you’re tired of them, they’re just rags. But you can’t escape the importance of the rag, no matter where you go or what you do. We use them to wrap around our bodies, but we also hide in them. Because of the colors, because of their previous lives and their histories, rags are pretty much a statement about our social position in the world and the importance of the cast-off. I like using metal a great deal too, or really any material that has a voice. Rag is not as cold as metal, and you can fold it up and put it in your pocket, you can put it in a bundle, you can hang it from the ceiling, you can decorate with it, it becomes a pillow you can lay your head down on. And that’s why I chose not to use anything for this show but piles of rags.
I was born in 1933, a long time ago. When I was a kid growing up in North Carolina, I had a mother and a father who had a lot of faith in cast-offs, the beauty and the aesthetics of what is not of use anymore, and that has always excited me because I saw old fences, degraded buildings, and scrub rags not as foreign objects but as being of a piece in the language of life, each with a lot of kinship between them. When you grow up the way I did, the way most African Americans did, separation was the law, and there were certain things––many things––that you just couldn’t do. We don’t talk about race in the way that we should, because it’s not popular anymore. We think that everything has been done before––even though nothing has been done before.
You bring that in your studio with you, that anger, whatever knowledge you gain from it. You don’t just do art; art becomes your life. The creative expression, whatever you’re doing—the fact that you have to go on the sidewalk and protest, and sometimes you have to break a glass window—it becomes part of your creative gesture, and it becomes part of your art. There is a little time to separate the act of doing art and act of going into life. And sometimes you’re not capable or able to speak of it, simply because you choke up, when you have to get into the past.
I feel good about the use of rag as an expressive element, but I don’t see it as different from other aspects of my life, or the way I think about a general population, a world population. Rags have always been in and around the environments I’ve been a part of. With me, art has the audacity to be anything it needs to be at a given time. Anything. Because the creative process is the beginning of all things, no matter what we’re doing or where we are going. You just can’t get away from rag; even when you throw it away it comes back to you. It’s like water, nourishing to your character, to the character of the cast-off, and to the way we practice living.
Amy Yao is a New York–based artist whose practice includes stints as a sculptor, zine publisher, and umbrella maker. For her latest project, ANOTHER MASTERPIECE!!, she has collaborated with the design studio and storefront space JF & SON and Travis Boyer’s MFT to design a collection of clothing based on the chance encounter of a sewing machine and a banana on a kitchen table. Yao will stage a performance–runway show at the store featuring her work on September 8.
I’M INTERESTED in combinations that trigger something in our minds where suddenly there is a joke where there wasn’t before. It’s exciting that some people are going to think this is funny and others will find it to be made in poor taste.
The presentation of these works will be a performance in and of itself. As part of the presentation, a sequined runway and curtains will be on display, which represents a continuation of my work in “The Real Housewives” exhibition at New Jerseyy in Basel from last winter. The dimensions of the curtains are based on the windows of my previous home in Phoenix. That home was a single-family unit track home designed by midcentury modern architect Ralph Haver, whose work is somewhat obscure in the architecture world but is trendy and sought-after in Phoenix. Like the myth of Mies’s Farnsworth house, some occupants desired privacy in a house that was designed to be transparent, privileging the open floor plan. To address this problem, many homeowners installed curtains and vertical blinds, which seemed at odds with the owners’ fetishistic desire for modern design. My curtains look like they might have been made by a glamorous Arizonan housewife.
I prefer work that can expand into the environment or relate to utilitarian objects––a kind of reversed discrepancy. In the same way that my art can become activated in relation to its context, the clothing that I made in collaboration with JF & SON is activated as it is worn. I don’t see the garments as interpretations of my sculpture but rather as artworks themselves in a different form. For instance, the dress is an object to be looked at, but it can be funny when worn, because the hair falls just below the waistline, resembling overgrowth of pubic hair. The titles for the garments are also important––YYSL, Whore Moans, Mother-in-Law . . .
I’m interested in going over the top and being excessive in using signs and identity codes. Over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of music with an Orientalist theme, songs featuring so-called Oriental sounds in them, such as the gong that becomes a grotesque marker of Western/Eastern difference. There’s an Alex Chilton song called “Bangkok” where he talks about “making love the Japanese way.” Or there’s the David Bowie song “China Girl.” And then there’s Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Hong Kong Gardens.” All of those songs reference Western views on the Asian through a flagrant, shameless use of extra instruments and overconnoted melodies. I thought it would be funny to play with that format and have all Asian models and this particular music at the presentation. Plus, it’s a fashion show, so you always have to have free stuff. That’s the number one reason to go—for the tote bag.
A view of Sarah Crowner’s studio and her new work.
Sarah Crowner is a Brooklyn-based artist whose vibrant sewn paintings have been based on specific compositions from the past, such as early works by Victor Vasarely and Lygia Clark. In two concurrent shows this fall, Crowner presents new work that amplifies her previous methods while setting them on a new course. “Acrobat” opens at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery in New York on September 7 and “Ballet Plastique” opens at Galerie Catherine Bastide in Brussels on September 11.
FOR SEVERAL YEARS, I painted with a certain impatience about painting. Its flatness, its weight and slowness, irritated me somehow. So I turned my back on it for a time and started to explore ceramic sculpture. As it happened, there was something about using my hands and manipulating clay that led me back to painting, but in a different way. I realized that I wasn’t interested in the conventional fixity of these media; I didn’t want to wait for a line of paint or some clay to dry. I wanted more immediacy and spontaneity, and I realized that I could just treat a painting like a collage: Cut up forms, arrange them on the ground, rearrange them, and sew them up again. The physicality of this approach, using paint, canvas, and a stretcher, as if to make an object rather than a picture, made sense to me.
I’ve been occupied with making sewn and shaped geometric canvases since then. Each new work contributes to this project. An encounter with one piece––a symmetrical diptych with bright, sharp, red triangles on either side––led to the new bodies of work I’m showing this fall. Between the red triangles there is an exposed center of raw linen, an unfolding square of white paint, and, below this, black rectangles. It struck me as theatrical curtains opening onto an empty stage––a proscenium painting. The image of the stage was the result of the collaging process, and my interest––in this case––to play with symmetry. I spent time looking at the work alone, and with people standing in front of it, yet still couldn’t shake the idea that it was a backdrop with an open curtain.
I’m curious about the impact of time on our experience of painting: What does time do to an abstract collection of static forms? If you walk into a gallery or museum you might experience a painting for as little as one minute––but what if that same painting is hanging in your living (or work) space for thirty-five years? Or what if you were seated in an auditorium “watching” that painting––perhaps with dancers moving in front of it––for, say, forty-five minutes? What is that experience? How can its quality and contours change inside the frame of a minute, forty-five minutes, or thirty-five years? These hypothetical propositions are compelling to me as I manipulate the materials that come together in my work. I hope that somehow they translate, such that the exhibitions could be read as proposals to choreographers and theater directors.
The paintings thus materialize as backdrops, or proposals for backdrops, for an undefined performance or theatrical event. In Brussels, I’m showing a series of paintings on three walls. Hung tightly together, they will appear as one continual painting with various compositions and forms colliding. I’m building a stage in the gallery, a simple low plywood platform. To encounter the paintings, viewers will have to step up onto the stage and assume the position of performers.
In New York, a similarly tight row of canvases will cover the walls like a frieze. To accompany the paintings, I’m working on a group of small wooden sculptures, about thirty inches tall, with flat geometric-shaped fronts and curved and linear backings. I see these as tabletop maquettes for stage props. Together, they recast my questions around painting; they offer the idea that a painting or a sculpture might function as a proposal for something else. If a painting can suddenly read as a huge backdrop, could a small sculpture be a model for something larger than life? Rather than qualifying the status of painting or sculpture, it retools these forms, giving them a new feeling and a new function in space, one that invites movement, interaction even.
I’m always using art history as a medium, cutting it up and trying to reengage it. In these new bodies of work I’m thinking about moments in the early twentieth century when the avant-gardes were collaborating freely and cross-pollinating from music to theater to painting to poetry (think of Hannah Höch’s Dada dolls, Sophie Taeuber-Arp’s sculptural puppets and set decorations, Maria Jarema’s abstract theatrical backdrops, or Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus theater workshop). This is a departure from my previous work employing specific compositions, and this wider conceptual field has also added a new dimension, perhaps somehow historicizing the physicality and material immediacy that has entered my process. The mediation on “medium” has expanded the sense of that word, for me. If wood or clay or paint acts as one kind of medium, supporting and materializing thought at the level of intimate engagement, then the scale and dynamics of performance and the metaphysics of stagecraft might conduct another kind of channeling.