Roy Brand

08.29.12

Left: Maayan Levin and Harel Schreiber, exhibition poster for “Experiments in the Techniques of Awakening,” 2012. Right: Ministry of Dub-Key performing during the opening of “Experiments in the Techniques of Awakening,” Yaffo 23, July 15, 2012. (Photo: Yael Sloma)


Yaffo 23/Jerusalem is a center for research, production, and presentation of contemporary art and culture. Founded by the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, the nonprofit space is situated just above Jerusalem’s main post office, near the Old City. Dr. Roy Brand, a philosopher and the director and chief curator of the space since its establishment in 2010, here discusses the goals and challenges of Yaffo 23 and what it takes to make contemporary art in a historical city.

I FEEL THAT YAFFO 23 is making a change by providing a space, both physical and mental, for more openness, experimentation, and curiosity in Jerusalem. This goes beyond the relatively small local scene. In this city, if you move a stone everyone will know about it; it is like an echo chamber for the world.

Our last show, “Experiments in the Techniques of Awakening,” just concluded and it was about the varieties of awakening: spiritual, sensual, individual, and collective. We invited Palestinian bands from Jaffa, Haifa, and East Jerusalem to the opening event; conducted workshops on “political curating”; and ended with a potluck party of the African refugee community in Jerusalem. We moved beyond the usual suspects for art and had many visitors from the mostly segregated local neighborhoods. Somehow we gained their interest and respect, which is not an easy feat in a city that is built on age-old suspicions and a delicate status quo.

A contemporary art space is somewhat of an anomaly in Jerusalem, as the competition here is not between the different art spaces but rather with religions and history. How can we compete against the Wailing Wall that promises a direct connection to God, the Dome of the Rock where Muhammad went to heaven, or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that is, according to trustworthy accounts, at the very center of the universe?

We will open the new season in October with a solo exhibit of Amnon Ben Ami, who just won the Bezalel Ilana Elovic prize for painting, followed by a short project by Larissa Aharoni on religious jokes in Jerusalem, titled “A Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian walk into a gallery . . . ” For 2013 we are planning a zeitgeist kind of show called “the new sensitivities,” referring to a current posttraumatic form of experience that is blunt, overexposed, and fragile. There is a new generation of artists working in the region who seem to reject pretense and ideology and adopt a matter-of-fact approach that is sober and engaged. Their work is clinically precise, intimate, and sharply critical. The title echoes the “New Objectivity” of the Weimer Republic, a time of relentless and disillusioned self-probing between wars.

Our projects are very local, but when successful, they open a larger context. The team here—including Sagit Mezamer, curator and program director, in addition to Eyal Vexler, gallery and production manager—like to mix academia and art, politics and creativity, and experiment with new ways of communicating knowledge. Our yearly conference, which is happening next in March 2013, will be about mythographies. We fused this term to capture the projection of mythic narratives onto concrete geographies. Mythographies follow the lines that connect collective fantasies and physical realities, and Jerusalem is a great place to start such mapping. Bill Drummond’s live vocal performance, for example, will challenge the usual physical boundaries and the city’s common paths by creating an audible circle composed of one hundred local residents making a two-note call from rooftops across the city. The conference will later evolve into an exhibition led by British-Israeli artist Karen Russo and other artists who work on the margins between fact and fiction. It’s the kind of art that helps us grasp truth in its concreteness by first re-fictionalizing the real.

— As told to Naomi Lev

Left to right: Chad Raines, Amanda Palmer, Michael McQuilken, Village Underground, New York City, 2012.


Last April former lead singer of the Dresden Dolls Amanda Palmer launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign to fund an album, a book, an art exhibition, and a live music tour. Here, the performer discusses the successes of the campaign, which raised over one million dollars, as well as the intersection between art and business. Palmer’s album, Theater Is Evil, will be released September 11 and her year-long, world-wide tour begins September 10.

A LOT OF THE DRESDEN DOLLS BAND PHILOSOPHY was about inviting people on stage and getting them into the circus. It’s the same on the Internet— I like to use it to pull other people into the spotlight, to share energy, and to foster a community of people. This is a beautiful thing about Twitter and Tumblr: I can spill my ideas out into the world and have a constant, ongoing conversation. I ask my fans for advice and absorb their feedback all the time. There’s all this information coming at younger bands about communicating with their audience through social media, but if it’s done superficially, it’s almost worse than doing nothing at all. There’s nothing more painful than watching someone be disingenuous about connecting with people.

The Kickstarter campaign would never have been successful had I not genuinely connected with my fans for all of these years—they’ve support me in a way my music label never did. When I worked with a label, I became accustomed to being punished for having creative ideas. I’d have a wild idea and then immediately think: “No one’s going to want to do it, it’s going be a pain in the ass.” Now that I work independently my audience acts as scaffold and I get to test out all of my crazy thoughts.

One of the things I’m really grateful for is that I’ve never really ever felt any true backlash for not doing the same thing over and over again. I love the fact that I can do anything—write literal songs and non-literal songs, play a single ukelele, or perform with a gigantic orchestra. Though my audience might not love everything that I’m doing, they continue to follow the plot because of the relationship that has been formed over the past number of years. And that is the greatest blessing you can ask for as an artist— that people have an ongoing interest in your art and not just the one song that you made, so then if the next song that you make doesn't duplicate it, the interest just drops.

Part of my plight as an artist has been to figure out how to negotiate the relationship between art and business. It’s been beautiful watching the DIY approach grow its way weedlike to the top. Pop music used to be totally sterile and untouchable and now you’ve got artists like Lady Gaga who desperately want to show you everything while they’re trying to maintain a pop persona. Likewise, in the art world, redefining what it means to be an artist is a constant dilemma. I have my own personal way of attacking and approaching it—the Amanda Palmer way of expose all, discuss all, total transparency. But that also fits in with my style of music. I don’t think it’s for everybody.

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Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, “The Killing Type,” 2012. From their album Theatre Is Evil.

— As told to Miriam Katz

Marisa Jahn

08.22.12

El Bibliobandido and schoolchildren, La Muralla, Honduras, 2010.


Marisa Jahn is a New York–based artist, writer, and executive director of the arts organization REV-. Here, she discusses her 2010 project El Bibliobandido, which she created with the support of nonprofit Un Mundo for the largely illiterate village of El Pitál, Honduras. The work is on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem as part of “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World” through October 21.

I IDENTIFY AS AN ARTIST AND A WRITER. Sometimes in the past, I’ve identified as an activist, although I find the term activist a little problematic. The Bibliobandido work is one in which all of those habits come together.

El Bibliobandido began when I was teaching K-12 bookmaking to encourage literacy in San Francisco public schools, among other places. At the time, my friend Rachel McIntire, who’s also a cofounder of REV-, said, “You know, I’ve been doing development work in this place in Honduras. They have the biggest library in the region, and they have an illiteracy rate of 80 percent. You should go and do a project there, because those schools are really lacking. They would love for you to come and do something.”

I showed up in El Pitál, a village of about 450 people, and said, “I’ll teach a class on bookmaking.” They gave me all the kids—a hundred kids—to teach for the whole week. Pedagogy in Honduras is largely based on rote learning, so this sort of interactive, haptic, and artistic instruction was thrilling for the students. The question then became how to continue the bookmaking project—in neighboring villages as well as El Pitál—in a self-perpetuating way after I left.

Many of the neighboring villages were lesser-resourced and difficult to access, so I began looking at different types of bookmobiles. Historically, there have been bookmobiles on camels, on horses, on burros . . . I came to realize, however, that in order to make the bookmaking project stick, it needed a human element or a fantastical element.

I began thinking of various captivating, fantastical characters that I had previously encountered or researched. When I was an undergrad at Berkeley there was this character called Pink Man. He would “fly” through campus in a pink unitard riding a unicycle. There were different myths about where he came from. He just made everybody’s day. Or there’s Mr. Peanut: In 1974, an artist named Vincent Trasov ran for mayor dressed as a tap-dancing, larger-than-life Planter’s Peanut. Mr. Peanut used his campaign—which won 7 percent of the vote—to draw attention to the lack of good candidates, galvanizing an otherwise disenfranchised voter constituency. There was also Antanas Mockus, a Colombian mathematician, philosopher, and politician who became mayor of Bogotá in 1993. While mayor, he often dressed up as Super Citizen, a costumed superhero created to get the denizens of Bogotá excited about citizenship.


Marisa Jahn, The Legend of El Bibliobandido, 2012

It took about two years, from 2008 to 2010, to come up with a culturally relevant, funny, and slightly threatening character that could perpetuate bookmaking in El Pitál. The resulting figure was El Bibliobandido: a brightly costumed, book-hungry villain on the back of a burro. He came into town one Sunday and left a note on the library door: “My name is El Bibliobandido. I’m ravenous for stories, and stories give me sustenance. Those who don’t feed me, beware.” The police even showed up at the El Pitál library to inspect the note and look for suspects, and the police never show up for anything! The note still circulates around in the community, and people can still recount that mantra, rote.

After El Bibliobandido left his note, we turned to the kids and said, “You know, this guy was a real terror. We don’t want him to come back, so we’d better start making books to appease him.” We then taught the children how to write or illustrate stories and turn them into books. The next month, El Bibliobandido would return to collect them. The whole thing kind of magically worked.

In 2011 I found out that two children from the village had continued the project after I left. They had been doing it every month for the past year with the support of Un Mundo, a local group of community organizers that I had worked with to get the project started. The children had it ritualized so that the third week of every month is Bibliobandido week, during which fifteen or so adults and kids get together to plan a new drama and sometimes invent new characters. They select a village for a “visit” from the story-hungry villain, which always afterward prompts a bookmaking workshop to produce stories that could slake El Bibliobandido’s insatiable appetite. Now there are eighteen participating villages and five hundred kids involved in this whole charade.

— As told to Chloé Rossetti

Steve Roden

08.20.12

Left: Steve Roden, tacet permutations, 2012, oil and acrylic on linen, 6' x 9“. Right: Steve Roden, 866 (silence and light), 2011, bass wood, wire, plaster, cloth, Plexiglas, 33 1/2” x 21“ x 35”.


Steve Roden is a Los Angeles–based sound and visual artist. His recent work can be seen in the group exhibition “Silence” at the Menil Collection in Houston, which runs through October 21; it will be on view at the Berkeley Art Museum January 30 to April 28, 2013. Here, Roden discusses the process of incorporating the works of John Cage and Walter Benjamin into his own art.

LAST YEAR, I PERFORMED John Cage’s 4'33" every day, privately––never announcing it to anybody else. It was an exercise in both writing and listening, but also an activity to see how the score could be opened up to offer activities beyond listening. By performing it daily, I explored how the piece might change through repetition, and investigated what kind of experiences it might it suggest over time. In this sense, Cage was on my mind every day.

My first true “system painting” was done about thirteen years ago and was based on one of the scores for 4'33", which consists of a paragraph of text describing the premiere of the piece. Last year I was researching the piece and realized there are at least three distinct variations of the score, so I worked with my earlier graphic system, as well as several new systems, to generate these recent paintings.

There’s a large-scale painting in the Menil exhibition where all of the color decisions are related to various permutations of the word tacet, which is Cage’s only real musical instruction in the score. It’s interesting how tacet works, because it is essentially telling the musician to be silent, and in this case to let the surroundings speak as music. The idea of the tacet as both action and nonaction offered me the idea of a painting as both a visual experience and a site for listening.

Coincidentally, while working on the Cage performances, I was invited to Berlin to research Walter Benjamin’s notebooks, and I thought, how could I not bring these two together? I performed 4'33" in the Benjamin archives as well as in Paris, where I used one of Benjamin’s notebooks as my instrument. At some point, I felt that my conversations––one with Cage and one with Benjamin––were more interesting together than separately.

I first saw Benjamin’s notebooks with a friend in 2006. In one of the notebooks, Benjamin used a series of small colored symbols to arrange his ideas. The stream of symbols looked like the kind of graphic notation explored by composers such as Morton Feldman and Cornelius Cardew in the early 1960s. These symbols floored me, and so I wanted to generate a series of scores from these notebooks. Furthermore, Benjamin was very visual in his notetaking, especially how he crossed things out as well as the ways he connected thoughts. I noticed that he didn’t scratch things out with any consistency, and from that I found thirty-seven different ways that he would cross out mistakes. I classified each of the forms and created a lexicon of all the ways Benjamin silenced his mistakes.

The exhibition in Berlin is the first group of works to come out of this body of research. It’s not about reverence for the source, the biography, or someone else’s work. It’s about conversing with these sources, developing a connection between things through a process that is less logical and more intuitive. I’ll be working with this material for the next couple of years; these first few exhibitions feel more like a beginning than an endpoint.

— As told to Courtney Yoshimura


Left: Elaine Summers, Fantastic Gardens, 1964. Performance view: Judson Memorial Church, February 17, 1964. Sally Gross, Carla Blanc, Ruth Emerson, Tony Holder, Sandra Neals. Right: Elaine Summers rehearsing in her studio at 50 Third Street, New York, 1966. Photo: Dan Budnik.


Elaine Summers was born in 1925 in Perth and was raised in Boston. In 1952 she moved to New York and attended workshops led by Robert Ellis Dunn, a musician for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The workshop group later formed the Judson Dance Theater. A choreographer, filmmaker, and pioneer of intermedia performance, Summers is also known for developing the Kinetic Awareness movement practice. On September 6th and 7th her 1976 work Windows in the Kitchen will be presented as part of the American Dance Guild Performance Festival at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater.

As part of artforum.com’s ongoing interview series celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first concerts at Judson, Summers here recounts her experiences with the group and the “friendships that were based on finding out how to work.”

BEFORE JUDSON, I was in the very first Robert Ellis Dunn choreography class in 1960, which was based on John Cage’s teaching. Of course, at that time we were all working with Merce Cunningham and Carolyn Brown, who was lovely. I met most everybody at Juilliard, which gave me a good way to choose where to go and try to dance. One of the things that convinced me that I really wanted to be a choreographer happened during the first class. I was working on my first film with Eugene Friedman and I made a dance for it based on the legend of Ondine. Steve Paxton said very kindly—not unkindly—to me, “Well, I didn’t like that much,” which was very unusual. It was my first dance. I got puzzled, so I went home and thought about how I could change it. I thought: I like it, and I like what I’m thinking about in this piece. So, I did it again—fixing a little but not much. When I finished, Steve said, “Well, I don’t like the dance any better, but you sure danced the hell out of it.” Wasn’t that a lovely thing to say?

In that class there was a space for all the strange structures we were making. Trisha Brown did a dance where the sounds from the street cause you to cross your legs or raise your arm. That whole class—it wasn’t like people came and all we did was Cage—they were all people who had ballet training. We were highly trained dancers choosing not to use a certain formula for being creative—that made a big difference at Judson. There were just these fresh minds and the works of people exploring things. That’s what the Cage thing gives you: It’s a way to break through all that you’ve been taught.

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Elaine Summers, Windows in the Kitchen, 1976 (excerpt)

They were all very sophisticated, really. And they were in their twenties. (I was in my thirties and didn’t know that was too old then.) At that age in your life, you and your friends push one another in new directions and open doors. I used to feel that way about Merce’s concerts: You go there and it’s like he opens this garden door, but he doesn’t go very far—you have to look in—and then next dance he’s over here. That was his way of living, because he had so many things that he was curious about. He was a very curious man.

I was working over a stretch of time with everybody at Judson. That was one of the great things—the friendships. Friendships that were based on finding out how to work, and the important thing about work was the ideas. Judson was like this wild field of things, of people, and they’re all weeping and jumping and thinking and reading and going to the movies and everybody’s concerts. It would be very funny when a whole busload of very serious Baptists would come through the main part of the church and we were all rolling on the floor. It was so accepting and non-interfering. Now of course there’s a lot of difficulty because of the fire laws.

Someone once asked me to write my bio, and I said that my biography is my choreography. They didn’t like that at all. I think everybody’s got amazing paths: All of the beautifulness of all those scattered people. One day, I was walking down Cornelia Street where I was living and along came Meredith Monk—oh, Meredith!—and she said, “How are you doing?” And I said, “Oh! It’s just wonderful—I’m not working, I’m just making a concert.” And she said, “What do you mean you’re not working?” I said, “Well, I’m not. I’m taking the year off, and it’s costing $3,000.” She said, “Oh, Elaine! That’s working!”

— As told to Samara Davis

David Reed

08.10.12

View of “Heart of Glass,” 2012. Photo: Mark Golamco.


The California-born, New York–based painter David Reed is a colorist known for his vibrant oil and alkyd paintings of endless ribbons and folds—a daily practice that is both biographical and conceptual. “Heart of Glass,” a retrospective of the past forty-five years of Reed’s output, is on view at the Kunstmuseum Bonn until October 7.

THE EXHIBITION IS in a big, sprawling space. It terrified me at first. Since I had once seen a Blinky Palermo show in the same galleries, I felt especially nervous. It’s on the second floor and there are skylights in every room; it’s the first place where I’ve installed my paintings in so much daylight, and it was exciting to be able to do that. The paintings seem animated, an effect of your eyes having to adjust to changing levels of brightness from the skylights.

The layout of the rooms is a classical style, with a big central gallery and a number of adjacent galleries. I decided that I wanted each room to have a very particular feeling: When visitors walk in, they feel an atmosphere, a mood, so the entry into the paintings is through emotion rather than my history or the formal history of painting. Too often in museums you have to work hard to get to that feeling. There’s no good way to enter. But if you can get through all of that and finally get to the painting, something else happens. I want a catalyst so people can participate and have particular experiences rather than conventional ones. All of my attempts at making these different kinds of installations are a way to help to get to those more intimate, personal experiences with painting.

Originally I thought the central gallery would have a lot of drawings and that it would be like a big crazy studio, but the show’s curator Christoph Schreier thought that was a bad idea and in the end he was right, so there are large paintings in the first, central room and all of them are on white grounds. The idea was that everything here would float, that all the marks would seem to travel around the room, and you wouldn’t know where the paintings began or ended—you’d wonder, how far can a painting go?

I call these my “vampire paintings.” It’s this idea that a vampire doesn’t see himself reflected in a mirror, and perhaps that’s also what it is to look at an abstract painting. What do you see reflected? Not yourself, but something else, something strange. It’s like swimming or any other experience when you lose the contours of your body, and you don’t know where you are.

The installation in the central room is filmic, in the sense that in film boundary edges aren’t the end, instead implying continuation. I wanted the show to do that. We hung one painting into the only corner, and some of the other paintings are hung all the way to the edges of the walls. You can look through into the next room and it’s as if the painting is going through into that space. Fabian Marcaccio called it a traffic intersection for painting, which I liked.

Another, smaller room, toward the back, is full of works I made in 1967 in the desert around Monument Valley. There are four sunset drawings that follow the course of the sun as it sets. I tried to finish each drawing as the sun sank below the horizon. I’ve never shown them before. I was a twenty-one-year-old with a Volkswagen Beetle and I would nail an easel to the side of it, and go out and paint in the desert. One day I noticed a cave on one of the mesas, and I thought I’d go there and rest and get out of the sun and have lunch. When I got there, looking out of the cave’s opening, it seemed very familiar to me. There was a spring on the side, and I cupped my hands and drank from the spring, and it all seemed so known to me that I decided I had a special connection to this landscape in the Southwest—maybe I had been reincarnated from a Navajo who had been there. It wasn’t until years later when I saw The Searchers by John Ford that I realized this same cave is in the film. I thought of it as a kind of media baptism, to realize how much I had been affected by the media and how much it had informed me, and how I had to pay attention to that.

After we installed, my assistants and I had a chance to do some tracings of marks in the paintings. So now we can do stencils of some of the marks and use them again in new paintings. I like this idea of the same mark being able to continue through the years.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler