Simone Forti, Platforms, 1961. Performance view, Loeb Student Center, New York University, 1961. Foreground: Robert Rauschenberg. (Photo: Peter Moore)
In this coda to artforum.com’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Judson Dance Theater, Robert Morris reflects on the group’s influence on twentieth-century art history as we know it (or perhaps as we don’t). Morris was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1931 and moved to New York in 1961. You can read his initial entry for the series here.
A JUDSON p.s.
Looking back half a century to the days of Judson Dance, it is difficult not to historicize a little. After all, the work that emerged from that time and place did not come out of nothing. In the larger sense it continued the project launched half a century before, when Marcel Duchamp christened that hulking hull of modernism with the fizzy champagne bottle of the readymade. John Cage’s subsequent explorations of chance and indeterminacy were well known by the early 1960s. The awe of 4'33" was part of the conversation. But perhaps the more significant precedent for the new dance seen at Judson was the work of Simone Forti. As part of a series of performances and events organized by La Monte Young at a loft on Chambers Street in 1961, Forti presented an evening of radical dance works that attacked the notion of dance as a format that required the trained body of the dancer. “Ordinary movement,” she called it. She presented large objects for the bodies of the performers to negotiate and taxing “rule games” for them to follow. The efforts required negated any possible presentation of the pulled-up, narcissistic dance persona. Athletic workers were required to crawl over her inclined boards while hanging on to ropes, or to climb over one another in an ever-renewing “huddle” of bodies scrambling up bodies. Forti did not participate in the later events at the Judson, but her work was quickly known and the changed premises she claimed for dance were influential.
A number of dancers who presented works at Judson had previously or were currently studying with Merce Cunningham. Here was a choreographer who utilized Cagean methods of chance to assemble his dances. Yet the classically trained ballet dancer was Cunningham’s instrument. Forti’s work challenged and rejected this classical requirement for dance. Though neither Cunningham nor Forti presented works at the Judson, their shadows hung over the works seen there. Some were influenced by Cunningham’s traditional methods; others exhibited the influence of Forti’s more radical premises; some combined the two.
A thread runs from Duchamp to Cage to Forti and is part of the larger story of modernism. All share a common strategy I can only name as “agency reduction.” It has to do with finding methods and procedures that either eliminate previously assumed premises or automate the process of artmaking by reflexive systems found within the medium itself. An early example is Cubism’s rejection of salience, which opened up a new type of space for two dimensions. The readymade’s substitution of choice for labor is so familiar as to go unnoticed today. And for the performative: The tactics of indeterminacy, chance, rule games, the interposition of barriers (objects), which redefine movement, all follow in the overarching strategy of agency reduction endemic to modernism. The poet Elizabeth Bishop called the twentieth century the “worst so far.” Dada celebrated the insane irrationality of the first Great War. Sixty million perished in the Second World War. Finally, in the widest sense, I think the strategy of agency reduction extends beyond aesthetic issues. Underlying it are ethical doubts about legitimacy itself, which poses the question: In the face of the nightmare that was the twentieth century, how is the agent to act, and what can justify and authorize his or her actions? It should come as no surprise that this skepticism of authority should reverberate in aesthetic practices.
I do not recall having seen at Judson any performers who were obese, lame, or old, and there were few nonwhite performers. Was there a slight sheen of forgivable narcissism glowing on those young, white, energetic types? Did the self-critical have much weight among the enthusiastic participants? Has a certain mythical ethos come to color those innocent evenings? Well, it was before careers were made, dance companies formed, professions assumed, individual styles patented, iconic images fixed, histories sorted out and laid claim to. But all things considered, a good time seems to have been had by all.
A Diaodui, A Project of Talking About After Life, 2012. Performance view, Ullens Center of Contemporary Art. (Photo: Peter Le)
Paula Tsai is curator of “SEE/SAW: Collective Practice in China Now,” an exhibition on view at the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art until December 30. “SEE/SAW” features fourteen different emerging Chinese collectives that are rotating their work in one-week durations in a dedicated UCCA gallery. The collectives have staged performances, interventions, and mini-exhibitions in the space.
“SEE/SAW” IS A SERIES OF CONFRONTATIONS. The six-week challenge of showing fourteen collectives in the same space was a rigorous exercise that required continuous dialogue with each group. The idea for the show came about during a research trip to meet with artists and collectives in Shanghai and Hangzhou. I was traveling with Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong, curators for the concurrent UCCA group show “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice.” I further developed the idea during an ICI Curatorial Intensive session at UCCA that focused on new exhibition formats within an institution.
We approached “SEE/SAW” by keeping in mind that UCCA itself is a collective that provides exhibitions and public programs. Although the institutional role did not change dramatically, the participating groups have certainly challenged and expanded the expectations of the museum staff: for example, when A Diaodui took a nap in the space, or when Double Fly Art Center wanted to paint in the space after the center closed, or when the Museum of Unknown proposed selling an artwork by another artist in our space.
There is not a single city or place where collectives are being formed in China. You have collectives who originally met in academia—such as Irrelevant Commission and Double Fly Art Center at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, or 8mg at Sichuan Fine Art Institute. Other collectives, like Guest, have members who met in different places and are working between two cities. The DNA of these groups are also very different—sometimes you have obvious leaders in the case of LVXIAO or Art Praxis Space, and sometimes you have groups like Hexie Baroque whose members prefer to remain anonymous. The gender ratio is very similar to the status quo of individual practice in China—there tend to be fewer female artists.
I never thought that we would have so many collectives agree to show their work in such a small space and for such short periods. To my surprise, every collective accepted our invitation and they have all been enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with an institution. I think it’s important for collectives that are based in other cities—such as Museum of Unknown and TOF, who are both from Shanghai, Art Praxis Space from Chengdu, and 8mg from Chongqing—to be visible in Beijing.
The collective movement has become more active lately in China because the artists have been more open to different projects initiated by several for-profit and nonprofit spaces, and various curators. In addition, many of the artists who were born during the reform generation now have access to an abundance of information, which requires a processing capacity beyond that of a single artist. Increased collective activity can also be attributed to the fact that more and more artists are seriously and openly questioning the problems within the ecosystem of the Chinese art community.
It is hard to say whether this trend will last or die in this country. Many of these artists have individual practices and it will always be difficult for them to coordinate the time spent on their own individual and a collective practice. More important, individuals within collectives producing collaborative works might question whether it is necessary to distance their individual practices from their collective work.
Tracey Emin, Reversable, 2012, gouache on paper, 40 x 54".
In simultaneous shows at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, White Cube São Paulo, and at Galleria Lorcan O’Neill in Rome, London-based artist Tracey Emin is exploring new territory, and she hasn’t been back home in over a month. One year from now, she will have her first US solo museum exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. Emin spoke with artforum.com in Miami during Art Basel, just after the opening of her solo exhibition at White Cube São Paulo, which inaugurated the space and closes February 23, 2013. Sitting poolside at the Soho Beach House, as bare models and celebrities strutted by, Emin related her thoughts about rising to the surface of things.
IT SOUNDS SIMPLE, but when I was young, I used to draw myself in the mirror. There was an immediate intimacy, a closeness that was visually touching when drawing from the reflection. Other times, I would just draw myself from my mind. But I’ve gone from being a girl to an old woman really fast. The middleman never existed for me. When you have children, you can identify your life in stages by viewing them outside of you. I never had that. In these new drawings, there’s this space. Photographs are first taken of me, then I draw what’s in them. When I’m being photographed, I try to feel how I want the drawing to look. I kept seeing myself in chairs, but from a long way above or on furniture or alone at a table. So they’re from the outside. I’m looking back at myself. I’m outside, looking back in.
Have you ever had a dream where the dream takes place in the room that you’re actually in? Last night, I dreamt that I was sitting at a table opposite my mum and someone else, though I didn’t know who that person was. They didn’t really have a face. My mum looked the same but a lot younger and she was telling me how great this new friend was. They had even gone and had fillers and Botox together. My mum is eighty-five, so it’s quite strange for anyone of that age to have had these things done. But she looked quite good. And then the phone rang in real life and it was her.
Men don’t look at me anymore. They don’t look at me sexually. My body is like a barrel and it’s on two spindly things. On top of the barrel is a kind of mop. And I really hate my breasts. It would be so easy for me to be with women. Women find me really attractive. And of course I find some of them attractive, but in the end I want a really hard fuck. I’m looking to get what I want. I might meet a woman some day and fall in love and it works. But I doubt it, because after a certain amount of time I’ll probably start staring at men’s crotches. It would have been different if I was married or had a partner to grow old with. But if you don’t, and you’ve been alone for a long time, the only person looking at you is yourself in that mirror.
In the Bering Sea, there are waves that are a hundred feet high but come from nowhere. They come up like a giant tongue. Boats and ships simply go missing. Where I grew up, we have gale force eight winds, just below hurricane. Margate is one of the windiest places in the world. When we were in school, I would ride the bus and would have to hold on to the stop while I waited. You would be blown away. We also have twenty- to thirty-foot waves. Not like those long waves that have all of that power, but a wave that was lifted up in the wind.
I don’t want to see what’s below that water. I have a boat too but I’m still not keen to know what’s underneath. Knowing my work, you’d think that’s all I’d be interested in: Tracey’s myopic point of view. But it’s not. I want to be on the surface now. I think it has to do with getting old and looking the way that I do, trying to understand and accept time. Whereas before I would have gone up and down and swam for a kilometer, now I don’t swim much either. It’s like every time I go for a deep plunge, I just end up drowning. If I were to keep drawing myself from my mind, I would still be drawing this spindly little figure with her legs wide open. Life isn’t like that anymore. It really isn’t. No one had sex on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the last time I had sex the person came so quickly. The thing about being fifty is that I’m no longer biological. The surface really becomes what’s around me. And that isn’t vanity; it’s sensitivity.
Composite image consisting of multiple views of “If What They Say Is True,” 2012-13, Centre for Contemporary Art Derry~Londonderry.
Dublin-based artist Lee Welch’s exhibition “If What They Say Is True,” is on view at the Centre for Contemporary Art Derry~Londonderry through January 13, 2013. He is the first recipient of “Production Ireland,” the debut edition of an annual commissions series that inaugurated the organization’s new venue. Here, Welch discusses the various aspects of the exhibition, which is based on motifs that have been recurrent in his practice over the last few years.
96 PERCENT OF ALL TELEPHONE CONVERSATIONS consist of just 737 words—and there are around half a million words in the English language. This retreat into stock phrases is a cause for real concern: One is talking more and saying less. Recently, I began considering a form of storytelling that investigates language’s ability to allow different perceptions of reality to coexist. In this sense, I speak through the voice of others, creating a ventriloquist position situated in the present but composed of fragments of narratives from the past. These sources are enacted in stylized acts of speaking which become signs of an idiom traversing or shortcutting multiple histories.
To Be Re(a)d, a performance I presented at the opening of the exhibition, emerged from this set of questions. I read from a book and asked visitors: “What is the combination of words, given the inherent weight of each word, going to add up to?” At that point one might be asking oneself if what they say is true, which is an expression that has something to do with the magic of a set of words or even of a single word—and also, of course, is the title of the exhibition. If one can talk brilliantly about a problem, this can provoke the consoling illusion that it has been mastered.
The performative is a key element of “If What They Say Is True.” On the last day of the exhibition, there will be a “closing act”: a guided tour event which will engage the community of Derry/Londonderry in a celebration of sorts. This dimension is also present in Assembly Room 1, a film made in collaboration with Mike Crane, involving five actors who, seated around a table, exchange arguments about language while interacting with an array of objects. As one of the characters says, “I think your idea suggests that objects might constitute a separate system whose interrelations might follow laws like those of language.”
“If What They Say Is True” also includes objects and images that pertain to ropes, curtains, seats, music, stages, and props—all motifs that I have been exploring for quite some time. Ropes, for example, appear in different parts of the gallery. However, it is on a symbolic level that these motifs best manifest themselves. For example, I’m Not Sentimental If That’s What You is a production still from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 movie Rope superimposed by Johannes Itten’s color wheel. This mix of references is typical of my practice, and the rest of the works on view somehow play on this tone.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, a black linen Japanese print hangs from the ceiling, signifying a doorway; there is an aluminum circle on top of a tripod, which frames a formless clay male head. On top of a pedestal in the middle of the gallery are books, a record player, LPs, a cassette player, and cassettes, among other items. This pedestal stands out for its design, which suggests a seat. My intention is to create a situation that indexes the social world, through which I necessitate not only adjusting one’s sense of one’s surroundings but also one’s awareness of others. Events framed within this context ignite potential for unforeseen participation from audience members. Indeed, if the pedestal becomes a seating apparatus, each viewer becomes not just a spectator but also the object being displayed for the next viewer who comes into the gallery.
Lucinda Childs, DANCE, 1979. Performance view, 2009. Photo: Sally Cohn.
The dancer and choreographer Lucinda Childs is one of the constitutive members of the group that came to be known as Judson Dance Theater in the early 1960s. Her extensive body of work as a choreographer includes such celebrated pieces as Einstein on the Beach, 1976, (directed by Robert Wilson and scored by Philip Glass) and DANCE, 1979, (with film/decor by Sol LeWitt and music by Glass). She is currently collaborating on a new piece with Glass, scheduled to debut in 2014. Here, Childs reflects on her involvement with Judson and the ongoing shifts in her work.
WHEN I WAS at Sarah Lawrence in the early-1960s, one of our teachers was a member of the Cunningham Company. She told me about the Judson group and about Yvonne Rainer. I would go into the city when I could, usually on holidays. Merce would do a June course and a Christmas course, and he was also teaching in New London, Connecticut. And we would go, some of us, to New London to study with him in the summers.
I was interested in acting, and I still am. But I was mostly just interested in the performing arts. Cunningham was completely different from anything else we’d had. Up until then I’d been studying modern dance with people like Hanya Holm. And when Cunningham came in, it was completely different and totally exciting. It was part of the truly contemporary world, of everything—you know, painting, music, drama. At the studio there was Jasper Johns and John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg. It was such an alive time in that particular part of the world.
My first performance for Judson was Pastime, 1963, and I’m performing it still now. I was interested in the tubular jersey—by then it was already famous because of Graham’s Lamentation. It was also in all this Alwin Nikolai material that I had looked at over the years, and which, actually, I loved. I don’t know what Pastime is. It’s abstract. I got involved with the material and used it in a way that I thought was the complete opposite of how it was used in terms of the dramatic intention of Lamentation, or the effects of Nikolai. It turned into kind of a little bathtub that I manipulated in different ways. All of the work in Judson, once you pick your materials and start to work with them, they sort of dictate their own journey and you just follow it in an intuitive way.
I was very lucky, coming from college. It was the perfect place for me; it was a little bit like a laboratory. You went in there with ideas, and you got to work with all these other people. That went on for approximately five years. I was involved with the Judson Group, on and off, up until the Theatre and Engineering project in 1966, and then we sort of all went off on our own.
The period of Untitled Trio, which showed at the Whitney Museum, wasn’t until the early 1970s. By then I had a very small group; there were five of us. After working mostly solo, I wanted to be able to step outside my work, to see it on other people, and I wanted to go back to very simple sorts of pedestrian movement and change of direction. I mean people went off in different directions and I went back to a more minimalist approach. No more objects, no more dialogue, not so conceptual—just working with very basic, fundamental movement ideas. And I really needed a group to deal with it because the possibilities in space—even with simple directions and movement patterns—can get very complex. I needed to see it in three dimensions, and not just drawing it on paper.
Judson drew a certain kind of audience, mostly other artists and the art community—the contemporary art community, anyway. That was true of my work for a long time, when I performed in churches and outdoors and on rooftops and plazas. When I met Robert Wilson in 1974, I started to think differently about the whole idea of the proscenium space and what could be done with it. I don’t think he uses the stage in a traditional way. First of all, he didn’t think of it as a drawback; he felt it was a way to extend his vision. He would adapt the space. In many ways, you don’t even know where you are.
Wilson’s imagery is so powerful and extraordinary. He uses all of the technology in that kind of space totally to his advantage. It was a big step for me. It started me off on the whole idea of collaboration. Because working in an alternative space, you bring in your lights, you bring in everything that you need, and it’s very limited with what you can do in terms of production values. Wilson just opened up a whole new world for me in terms of all of those powerful possibilities.
Leslie Hewitt is an artist based in New York whose work engages with the ways in which photographs encode time and mediate historical understanding. Her dual-channel video installation Untitled (Structures), 2012, is a collaborative project with cinematographer Bradford Young, developed from the Adelaide de Menil Carpenter and Edmund Carpenter photography collection, which comprises documentary images of the civil rights era captured by artists such as Elliott Erwitt and Bruce Davidson. The work is on view at the Des Moines Art Center through January 27, 2013, when it will travel to the Menil Collection in Houston and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
I WANT TO PUSH AGAINST NOSTALGIA. Whenever you deal with historical materials, that’s the emotion you can easily find yourself struggling with. Though the civil rights movement is often understood in the time frame of the 1950s and ’60s, history does not enclose itself within brackets. Episodes from America’s past reach far into its present, and we always have a connection to them, even if our understanding is full of breaks and disjunctures.
The sites recorded in Untitled (Structures), located in Chicago, Memphis, and parts of Arkansas, were all palpably transformed by the Great Migration and the civil rights movement that ensued. The fact that many appear abandoned, evacuated, or awkward in our context is telling. The feel of these now vacant, transitional spaces seems, disturbingly, to mirror the way that we perceive this moment in the present. Like others who grew up in the 1980s, well after the movement’s height, I have a sense of malaise, a dual feeling of connection to and disconnection from that period in time. Feelings of distance coincide with a deep-seated desire for closeness. This collaborative project allowed us to isolate these complex emotions and represent our generation’s relationship to that moment cinematically.
Much of my work creates relationships between images and objects whose connection is not necessarily apparent. Elements that seem dissimilar, when paired in a formal space, reveal unexpected affinities. In film space, this effect could be achieved through a jump cut, where two shots are abruptly juxtaposed. Moving between outdoor and indoor scenes—from, for example, a yellow wheat field to a yellow door centered in a wall—enables one to access in-between spaces that are otherwise invisible. I’m drawn to these moments of compression where experiences with different senses of space and time collide.
In Untitled (Structures), the two video channels project onto perpendicular walls. You can decide to look at one or the other, but your eyes have to contend with both. Juxtaposing these image streams is a way of slowing down perception and expanding our sense of interiority and exteriority. You don’t just see through my eyes or the camera’s lens: The scenes become yours as they blur in your peripheral vision. Obscured, indistinct figures appear in some of the vignettes, but the camera is not merely looking at them: It’s participating with them, imagining what scenes they hold in their own peripheral views. Both your viewpoint and theirs are embedded in the installation’s form.
When you take a photograph, there’s a decisive moment, an instant when you choose what to frame and when to trigger the shutter. The point of view is yours, and it’s necessarily singular. My projects point to the structure of photography to put pressure on this idea of a singular perspective and remind the viewer that every act of perception is an act of translation. In Untitled (Structures), the dissonant moments when the still images shift and begin to move gesture toward this frame within the frame. They’re moments when we become aware of our position as viewers. Without this awareness, the images fall into convention and ensure a comfortable sort of spectatorship, where one needs to neither reflect on their stance nor question the images presented. It’s important to remind ourselves that photographic meaning isn’t something that’s produced by the artist or inherent in the subject. We’re all actively involved in its negotiation, all the time.
View of “The View Through the Bull of a Manual Laborer of Menagerie Gussied over White Ground: Twenty Years of Self-Loathing and Intestinal Mishaps,” 2012, Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York.
Philippines-born artist Manuel Ocampo is currently based in Manila, where he runs the gallery Dept. of Avant-Garde Cliches and is about to launch an alternative art school called Bureau of Artistic Rehab. Ocampo’s curatorial project “Bastards of Misrepresentation,” a multivenue survey of current art from Manila, recently opened in New York and will continue at Topaz Arts in Queens until December 30. A solo exhibition of his recent work is on view at Tyler Rollins Fine Art in Manhattan until December 22.
THE ART SCENE IN MANILA is very dynamic and in 2003, I decided to move back here from Los Angeles. The galleries were small, often located in shopping malls—but there were openings almost every day and prices were low. I started to collect local artists. About five years later, dealers started opening spaces in warehouses—it was almost like the migration from SoHo to Chelsea in New York during the ’90s. With this transition, galleries became very market-focused, and a contingent of artists began to gear their work toward collectors.
Last year I opened a gallery devoted to prints and multiples in order to stimulate a market for cheaper works that can support an artist’s major output. I also became active in organizing exhibitions here and in cities including Berlin, Hamburg, Bangkok, and New York, featuring artists working within the cultural context of Manila, which is visceral, in-your-face, and anti-Conceptual. The three exhibitions that are part of “Bastards of Misrepresentation” are all in Queens, which may be peripheral in terms of the New York art world but I thought it crucial to mount such an exhibition now. The art world in Manila is gaining prominence in New Yorklargely due to dealers such as Tyler Rollins and Emmanuel Perrotinand I wanted to showcase the artists we work with. These are not just Philippine artists but others based in Manila: There is a German in the show and an Australian, and others are based in Paris and Berlin but active locally. The artists I work with are not necessarily market-friendly. Take Robert Langenegger, who creates intelligent yet perverse and vulgar paintings, or Lena Cobangbang and her work with graffiti artists. One of the reasons I use the mantle “Bastards of Misrepresentation” is because Manila artists can be misrepresented by a certain kind of art typical of the auction scene—I wanted to present a different view.
In Manila there are no government institutions to support artists. As a result, we raise money ourselves by raffling works and collaborating with designers to make T-shirts and bags. This helps us finance shipping and catalogues, and allows us to produce exhibitions internationally. We don’t want to wait for somebody to invite us to have a show in Berlin or New York. We do it ourselves.
I don’t really know if there is a great difference between my paintings now and earlier. While I’ve mostly left behind colonial Catholic imagery, it continues to come in and out whenever the occasion strikes me. When I returned to Manila my paintings were like large drawings and I also started to work in monochrome. But my current show at Tyler Rollins reintroduces color. I am interested in the ambiguities of certain symbols or motifs like vultures, the American eagle or how a chicken drumstick can look like a fetus. These motifs also carry a comic vulgarity. Are my works nihilistic? I don’t know. In the Philippines, nothing is ever seriouseveryone makes fun of each other. It’s surprising how serious people are in New York.
Adrian Wong is an American artist based in Hong Kong. His works typically engage with superstitions, urban myths, and folktales, through a humorous aesthetic treatment. Here he talks about the role that live animals played in his latest solo exhibition, “Rodentia in Absentia,” which is on view at Saamlung in Hong Kong until December 29.
STORYTELLING has always played an important role in my work. But straightforward narrative doesn’t tap all the potentials that objects can communicate. In my last solo exhibition, “In Search of a Primordial Idiolect IV,” I dealt with language—how it mediates our experience, and how that ultimately buys us a view of ourselves and what a story is. I recorded myself for thirty days, and then I erased all the words, in order to test how much content could be gleaned from vocalizations that are not linguistically oriented. Another work, a short play that I wrote, was based on people’s conversations with their pets, and it really got me thinking about animals—for instance, the fact that a dog can be talked at necessarily colors his internal experience in a profound way.
I approached “Rodentia in Absentia” with an open perspective, and the animals I worked with were totally incorporated in the creative process. I lived with a rabbit, two hamsters, and a team of rats for six weeks. I grasped their natural behaviors and instincts, while I situated myself as the observer. Each of the sculptures in the show was built sequentially in conjunction with the behavior of the animals. The general structure was built first, and then, as the animals chewed, scratched, and played with the objects, I made changes accordingly—such as adding additional layers of coating or paint. I organized the animals with each object depending on their physical behavior: For instance, as rats tend to chew inorganic materials, they lived with plastic decor and faux leather upholstery.
There is a fair amount of literature suggesting that animals have an inability to mentally time travel—their perception of the past is mediated by instinct. These works are a way of tracking time. I played with the idea of telling a story without the potential of looking linearly, without a beginning or an end. Most of the aesthetic decisions draw from the context that I observed every day with the animals. The patterns and decorative objects were taken from my apartment—so that the spaces that I was physically in to create this work were completely overlaid. The elements in this show were heavily influenced by my daily routines.
It’s easy to argue that my subjects—Feng Shui consultants, exorcists, energy readers, and animal psychics, to name a few—are absurd. But I’m not taking sides. The people who do believe in such ideas fascinate me. When I interact with someone with defined expertise, without a shadow of doubt, I’m in no position to judge.
I trained in psychology, and one of the things that ultimately drove me away from that discipline is the limitation of research methodology, which is crucial—you have to follow rules. The things I ultimately became interested in extended far beyond the boundaries of what I was supposed to be researching. I’m not looking for universal facts; I’m looking for more subjective and affective entry points.
“Two Films,” Anri Sala’s current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit, features Dammi I Colori (Give Me the Colors), 2003, which is set in Tiriana, Albania, and documents the way color shapes a city devastated by decades of political, social, and economic upheaval, and the Long Sorrow, 2005, which features a saxophone player suspended from a window in Berlin, improvising various compositions over a vast urban landscape. The Berlin-based Albanian artist will represent France at the 2013 Venice Biennale. His Detroit exhibition is on view through December 30.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A FILM AND WHAT HAPPENS OUTSIDE OF IT, the relation of the foreground to the background, is of great interest to me. The moment people step into the projection space, they bring the background of their particular city, within its specific moment, to the work. As a work can be exhibited many times, as the two films here have, the historical context of each is in constant fluxits time stamp is always moving.
What I like about free jazz, a central part of the Long Sorrow, is that it’s constantly trying to escape its time stampwhen a piece is scored you know in advance that there is a specific composition of time and music. Here, there is a free jazz, which is to say that the musician, Jemeel Moondoc, is responding to the situation with his saxophone, each moment guessing and inventing the moment after. In a way, then, there is a conceptual contradictionthis is the essence of the filmin recording and by definition time-coding the music that is actually surfacing, whose tempo, melody, or structure, blowing within this instrument, are impossible to anticipate.
The saxophone is a very beautiful instrument, especially its body with its keys and the bell; in the film, however, I wanted to focus on where the mouthpiece meets the lips, where breathing becomes music before music becomes air. The relation of time and tempo to one’s breath is fundamentalthese come together to create syntax, a structure that exists before music but which has to take music into account. I’m very interested in this idea of what is in the breath and what is in the score. For example, in 1395 Days Without Red, a film I made in collaboration with Liria Begeja, based on a project I did with Šejla Kamerić and Ari Benjamin Meyers, we hear the breath of a woman, a musician on her way to rehearsal. The film takes place during the siege of Sarajevo. As she runs across major crossings of the city, which was extremely dangerous as people were constantly being shot by snipers in these places, she rehearses Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony in her head and the running impacts her breath, which impacts the music she is humming. Here, breathing connects to both time and spaceit gives us air and time, which brings us further in space. The danger within the city influences the way she moves and breathes, which influences the way she hums music. When contemporary, dramatic events crisscross with the city’s architecture, they influence the tempo of Tchaikovsky’s last symphony. This is how different forms of syntax correlate and break within a filmthe splintering of one layer of syntax leads to the splintering of the next.
In Tirana, where I filmed Dammi i colori, the system of values in the city changed dramatically after going from a communist regime and a dictatorship to a democracy. For example, everyone wanted to expand their homes because during the communist period, they had to make do with whatever quarters they were given. Common space reminded them too much of the past; people reacted to the former government’s premium on community by focusing on improving their private spaces, often without care to how changes of the interior affected the exterior—it was like a city was imploding. Walls were pushed out from the inside of apartments to turn balconies into extra rooms. Additional balconies were often constructed for these new rooms, and then suddenly the lampposts of the city were shooting through the balcony—the city was expanding in a kind of full anarchy. As the political system broke down, the syntax of architecture ruptured.
When what constructs an ideological message changes so suddenly that language and physical spaces do not have the capacity to hide or evolve with the transformation, the syntax breaks. In Detroit, syntax has broken in an almost opposite way—due to economic crisis, people are leaving the city, and homes have been and still are being foreclosed upon. The houses are still there but there is a shrinking force happening.