Jason Dodge, A permanently open window. Photo: C. Dario Lasagni.
Jason Dodge’s first permanent installation is located in the tower of a former MaxMara electrical factory, adjacent to the Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, Italy. A permanently open window consists of a window that is perpetually ajar, two cedar doors, and a sculpture titled Alphabet. Dodge is known for works that poetically defy everyday perception, and here he discusses the specificities of transforming this window into a “beacon.”
FUNDAMENTALLY, I’m interested in abstraction, and presence. I was thinking about how I wanted to make an abstract body that is not obviously detectable but could potentially be present in exhibitions on a molecular level, an alphabet. Much of my work concentrates on the notion of how something means something as opposed to what something means, and this flexibility of perception drives the way a work is seen and experienced. I’m not dictating how it is experienced; I’m just dictating a realm of possible situations based on what is perceived.
A permanently open window began several years ago. I was considering the site of the work, the warehouse, as a place where Luigi Maramotti played as a child. I had a thought about making a beacon that could somehow be rooted in a memory of a place that someone has known for their entire life—a place that has been renovated and repurposed. I was interested in working with the tower, but also with the notion of air going through the window, and so I made, in a sense, a window that’s open forever—since it’s described as being permanently open. It blocks the building from being repurposed again.
If you were to visit the window, a staff member would give you a key and walk you over. Then you would open the door and go into the tower if you wanted. When you see the work from the outside, however, you don’t get the sense of it being even remotely accessible. You really get the sense that it’s not an accessible window—it has a reticent distance. It’s not a light leading you home or something like that; it’s not a window that seems to be open for a reason.
Yet once you’re inside, the work questions what it means to see something that changes depending on what time of day it is, what the weather’s like, what time of year it is, and so on. I’m interested in that movement of perception in terms of abstraction, but also I think it’s important to be able to recognize what something is. If you went in and there were a bird in there, which there very well could be, it would change the whole thing. The Maramotti staff agreed not to put any kind of netting or anything like that to keep animals from going in. It has to just be what it is.
I am not interested in overtly mystical or spiritual notions. I think there is just something about presence, though. The core of my interest in most of the art I look at, which is mostly centuries or millennia old, stems from the fact that the people making it didn’t necessarily care about the subject, which was already decided. And yet such art can tell you so much about presence, says something about what it means to be a human, what it means to be alive.
Kader Attia, The Debt, 2013, two-channel slide projection, color and black-and-white, silent, 9 minutes 33 seconds.
Kader Attia is a French artist of Algerian descent currently based in Berlin whose practice often investigates historical misunderstandings. His installation The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures, 2012, was a highlight of last year’s Documenta 13. He recently expanded the research he developed for that work into the exhibition “Repair. In Five Acts,” which is on view at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin through August 25, 2013. Here he discusses the intellectual framework of this project and how it evolved into its current presentation.
I HAVE BEEN EXPLORING what I call reappropriation for many years now. I borrow the term from the French anarchist thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who proclaimed that “Property is theft!” in the mid-1800s. Another source of inspiration is the Cannibal Manifesto, written by Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade in 1928, which theorizes that Brazil could only get rid of its European cultural legacy by “cannibalizing” it. The writings of Frantz Fanon, a psychiatrist from Martinique who took part in the Algerian Nationalist Movement, are pivotal as well for their examination of the psychology of the colonized subject and their path to liberation.
I believe that reappropriation is an endless exercise of exchange among cultures, and I have come to the conclusion that there can only be such a process when there has initially been a “dispossession.” For instance, I remember the 2008–2009 exhibition “Picasso and the Masters” at the Grand Palais in Paris, which traced Picasso’s works back to their artistic sources. I was appalled to see that there was not a single African artifact on display. In the West, one has to be conscious of this dispossession of the non-Western world, otherwise the cultural amnesia that currently dominates the Western mind-set will subsist.
When I was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the 1990s, I noticed a piece of fabric made by the Kuba peoples, with applications of French-style embroideries that covered holes made by insects—a gesture of repair rather than decoration. Elsewhere, in the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution, I saw a Congolese sculpture whose original shell-shaped eye had been replaced by an ordinary button. Integrating a Western element into an African object is an intentional act that represents the slave’s resistance to the master’s power.
It is through repair that I believe non-Western cultures begin to take back their liberties. For example, in the slide show Open Your Eyes—which I recently presented at MoMA as part of the “Performing Histories” series—I juxtapose photographs of African artifacts that have been repaired with images of wounded soldiers in World War I whose faces were subjected to rudimentary cosmetic surgery. My aim is to reveal that there is a cultural gap between the Western and non-Western worlds through different understandings of the aesthetics of the human body.
In the current exhibition in Berlin, I take my reflection on repair a step further. The exhibition aims to demonstrate how, across both culture and nature, any system of life is rooted in a continuum of repairs. The exhibition is divided into five parts, each devoted to a topic: “Culture,” “Politics,” “Science,” “Nature,” and “Repair in Continuity.” Within “Culture,” for example, there is a video of LP covers, for which the sound track is a musical selection drawn from the records that elucidates how genres such as blues, jazz, salsa, or meringue were developed by the descendants of slaves in North and South America. They were blended with African styles during the post–World War II period of independencies, although Western musicologists claimed that they were being copied rather then returned to their original context.
The key issue behind the exhibition is the debt that European colonial powers owe to the African men who fought on their side, both in Europe and in Africa, during World War I. This moral question is set against current European immigration policies, which intend to close Europe’s borders to the peoples of its former African colonies. The Debt is a slide show featured in the “Politics” section of the exhibition that addresses this theme. The work focuses on the tirailleurs, the soldiers recruited in the French African colonies, and the sans papiers, the so-called illegal immigrants that one could consider the grandsons and granddaughters of the tirailleurs. One of the images included in the work encapsulates its raison d’être. It depicts a tirailleur demonstrating in front of the Palais de la Porte Dorée, which was inaugurated as a museum of the colonies in 1931 and which later became, I would say ironically, a museum of immigration. He holds a sign saying “Our ancestors died for France in 1914–18 and 1939–45. Did they have documentation?”
Social Kitchen is a small but industrious social and cultural center in Kyoto. Founded in September 2010, the center has initiated a variety of participatory projects, often involving local communities—from supporting emerging artists to selling rice, and from engaging citizens to participate in a mayoral election and raising awareness about nuclear energy to reading books on relational art. Here Social Kitchen cofounder Sakiko Sugawa talks about the origins of the project and some of its work.
SOCIAL KITCHEN BEGAN after five successful years of working on the project Kissahanare, a weekly underground café that we held on Monday nights at my home in Kyoto. Kissahanare was a social project rooted in sharing our everyday experiences, and after we felt that we achieved our goals—for example, to initiate a network of people across broad walks of life—we realized that we needed to tackle more universal issues. Social Kitchen is a place where people bring their own ideas to the table, and it differs from cultural institutions because there is no fixed relationship between those who organize/curate programs and those who participate in them. The results have all been pretty organic, and perhaps that’s because when a project starts, one person takes the initiative and other people simply back them up. Leaders change depending on the project.
We were, and still are, very frustrated with the lack of a public sphere in Japan in which individuals can come together to freely identify and talk about social problems and, in turn, create political action. Some Japanese people argue that the idea of a “public sphere” is merely a Western concept, and that Japanese society is better off without this direct, confrontational attitude. They say that Japanese culture has a different way of bringing individual, personal concerns to a political level. Perhaps this argument comes from an illusion or nostalgia for the formerly tight-knit communities that could be seen in Japan, even in urban cities. Today, in rural areas, this type of community still exists and “Japanese ways” of doing things could work. But in an urban environment like Kyoto, we don’t have that kind of community anymore; all we have are fragmented, isolated individuals, just like in any other globalized city. So, despite a wide range of criticism toward our somewhat utopian concept of public sphere, we still thought creating a public space was urgent and necessary in Kyoto. In this sense there is nothing unique about Social Kitchen as a public place. The ambitions behind its origins are very fundamental as well as traditional.
The activities of “Working Group 1: Earthquake and Nuclear Power Plant” in 2011 were really inspiring. But again, while Social Kitchen’s organizers made an open call to gather participants, the beautiful and complex results—the success of the project—should be credited to each member, and not to us. In the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster, a loose collective of citizens gathered at Social Kitchen to form the first “working group.” Participating members proposed and discussed ideas and put actions into practice over a one-year period. They have carried out activities with refugees from the Tōhoku region and volunteered at restaurants in the disaster area, among other things. They discussed, tried, failed, and succeeded with help from Social Kitchen staff members.
These activities eventually led to Working Group 1’s February 2012 exhibition about the Kyoto mayoral election, which conveyed critical issues including voters’ concerns about nuclear energy and set up opportunities to discuss how citizens are involved in the making of the city, and the meaning of democracy itself. While this leap from helping evacuees to organizing an exhibition on the city’s mayoral elections seems to be big, it made perfect sense to the group. With the help of a graphic designer, Takuya Matsumi, they gathered information in more critical detail than any Kyoto-based journalist, learned election-related laws, and created informational graphics, which presented important information to voters.
This is not a success story, but a story of the social and cultural center struggling very hard to exist and serve people in this world.
Mary Reid Kelley with Patrick Kelley, Priapus Agonistes, 2013, HD video, sound.
Mary Reid Kelley works primarily with film, creating narrative videos that pun on historical and myth-based spiels in a sharp black-and-white aesthetic. Her latest exhibition, at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, presents four films, created between 2008 and 2013, that all deal with moments of historical change for women—in one a Parisian prostitute quips on the French Revolution and cosmetics before being sent to an asylum; in another, Kelley takes up a Greek Minotaur myth, casting a fertility god as a volleyball player. The exhibition is on view through October 27, 2013.
I HOPE FOR MY FILMS to be experienced not on an individual level but on a group level, as this dynamic affects the meaning of the work. People often don’t trust themselves to recognize what they see or what they hear. We’re constantly on the lookout for each other’s opinions to guide our own, especially in the realm of language. This is most obvious in wordplay: People may not have the confidence to believe that a certain phrase is actually a joke, but when one person starts giggling, then other people do as well, and it starts to clue even more people into what is happening.
Installation is then crucial—here I’ve put these films together to facilitate a collective experience. My hope is that people will be not just listening to my script but also listening to each other; sharing the experience with a wider audience makes the work vastly richer. It’s just like history—a group undertaking that, like language, we author together, under each other’s watchful eyes. This is why I am drawn over and over again to an aesthetic that is two-dimensional, cartoonlike, a cardboard cutout—both visually and politically. This departure from naturalism allows a greater number of people to identify with it. In my work, I am always looking for collective elements of recognition, so people can see themselves in the characters I create. I think that’s a primary impulse that people have when encountering anything new—relating it first and foremost back to themselves. There are always worn-out grooves between the individual and the group; these are what I look for when creating my own work, which is why I aim to create characters that are not individuals but archetypes or even clichés.
The other day I was listening to one of my favorite rap artists, Lil’ Kim—I think she’s a genius—and I was really admiring how she rhymes complex brand names with other words. If you make a really complex rhyme on Louis Vuitton or Gucci—a double or triple rhyme—you’re drawing that status to yourself. You’re owning it. So, not only is she listing things that she owns, or that she wears, by rhyming it, but she’s intimately linking it to her own self. This is similar to the rhetoric of Beowulf and the Iliad—two works I have drawn on in my own practice. In these texts, characters give their origin myth, their origin speech, talk about where they’re from, the specific neighborhood, and then—in these two cases—kills someone else and takes his high-status goods, like gold or armor. We still create and depend on origin myths. Every time someone runs for public office, they make their debut by at least one or two biographies that establish a heroic origin myth—Obama’s Dreams from My Father, for instance. This happens not only in the case of individuals but also nations, which is one of the reasons I am continually drawn to war and conflict, which formulate origin mythology like few other events do. Chris Hedges says that war is a force that gives us meaning, and I come back to this a lot, though it’s an extremely troubling thought.
Hong-Kai Wang, The Musical Condition of Reasonable Conspiracy, 2012. Performance view, Museo Pietro Canonica, Rome, May 24, 2012. From left: Michael Fitzpatrick, Matteo Nasini, Daniele Del Monaco, Gaby Ford, Fabio Rizzi, Fabio Cifariello Ciardi.
Hong-Kai Wang is a Taiwanese artist primarily working with sound. Two of her projects are concurrently on view in New York this August. For “Soundings: A Contemporary Score,” MoMA’s first major exhibition of sound art, which is curated by Barbara London, Wang is presenting Music While We Work, 2011, a two-channel video and multichannel audio installation that will be on view from August 10 to November 3, 2013. For “The String and the Mirror,” a group show organized by Justin Luke and Lawrence Kumpf at Lisa Cooley, Wang is contributing the performance The Musical Condition of Reasonable Conspiracy on Saturday, August 10, at 5 PM.
FOR MUSIC WHILE WE WORK, I invited five couples—retired men who had worked in a sugar factory and their wives—to return to the century-old plant where they were once employed and make audio recordings. The factory is in Huwei, a small town in central Taiwan where I was born. My parents still live there and my father’s former colleague introduced me to this particular group of people. The factory played a key role in my life: We lived a few minutes away from it; I went to the schools associated with it; I even had my first tooth pulled at a dental clinic managed by it. Sugar used to be one of Taiwan’s most important exports—there were fifty factories, but now there are only two, and the goods Huwei produces are only for local supply.
Before making the recordings, I organized a series of workshops where the group discussed how they understood and related to the sounds in the factory, while Bo-Wei Chen, a Taiwanese activist and composer, moderated and coached them on how to use the microphones and recorders. They listened to the industrial sounds in so many ways that were different from what I would or could access myself; for instance, they knew what a particular sound meant, whereas I needed a visual reference to identify it. They said they could close their eyes but never shut their ears. The factory seemed to encompass so much sonic information, or codes, that these workers knew by heart. It helped me further understand how sound can dictate or inform our relationships and vice versa, and how specific social, political, and even economic meanings are inscribed in our listening.
The piece debuted in Venice and has traveled to Canada, Japan, and Taiwan. It means a lot to me that it’s going to New York, now since it’s the city where I established my creative identity. Music While We Work was also one of my first attempts at collaborating and investigating how listening can be shared, and how people listen together. It helped me think more critically about nonlinguistic sound, and how language can provide a different form of agency and can be a tool to explore the process and conditions of how we listen. This, in turn, prompted me to develop a series of performances that largely use speech as a medium.
From our two-year-long conversation about sound and art, Justin Luke invited me to do a performance at Lisa Cooley, which is actually a restaging of a project I produced last year in Rome. The Musical Condition of Reasonable Conspiracy began with a phone interview I conducted with my mentor Chris Mann. He is an Australian composer and poet based in New York, and our conversation focused on what it means to be a composer—culturally, politically, and even ideologically. In the performance, two seated actors reenact the transcription while local composers intervene and contribute. For this specific performance, Jim Fletcher and Rosie Goldensohn will dialogue in real time, while Marina Rosenfeld and C. Spencer Yeh will pretty much have to fill in the gaps. They will listen to the two actors performing the transcription and wait for a moment to intervene, while the two actors have to try to respond to all the unexpected inputs.
My academic training was in political science. I think my interest in sound actually stems from my own social alienation in New York as a foreigner, while trying to learn English. To try to understand, or even speculate about, all of the confusing sound and information around me became very important to me. It became a form of agency, a daily existence. This is why the idea of listening as a form of organization is pivotal to me. We all understand that listening is a very private and personal thing, but I’m actually interested in how it can be shared, and how we relate to one another and negotiate understandings and misunderstandings—and also how we don’t.
Lee Mingwei, Luminous Depths (detail), 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable.
The New York–based Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei is known for his participatory installations that revolve around interpersonal exchanges during seemingly quotidian events, such as mending one’s clothes, having a meal, or sleeping. The artist speaks here about his latest project, Luminous Depths, which invites visitors to toss pots off a third-floor balcony of the Peranakan Museum in Singapore; the resulting shards will be collected and then used in the foundation of a new building for museum. The work is on view until September 22, 2013.
LUMINOUS DEPTHS BEGAN IN 2011, when Dr. Alan Chong, the director of the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore, invited me to make a project at the Peranakan Museum, which is under his administration. Once I began research on Peranakan culture, I found it quite fascinating, because it is a fusion, arising from Chinese businessmen who traveled south during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and married Indian, Malay, and other local women on the Malay Peninsula. I was also struck by the Peranakan Museum’s Victorian colonial architecture, particularly its atrium, which allows the sun to peer in. This reminded me of my maternal grandmother’s home in Puli, Taiwan, where she had a clinic on the ground floor and chickens on the fourth; it had an open ceiling and during typhoons, wind and water—even sometimes objects—came down together. That cascading of sound really struck me.
This project involves the entire museum. On the ground floor, participants purchase pots; on the third floor, where a platform faces a netted hoop within the light well, participants position themselves to toss the pots down. These pots, which look like disks or balls and are made of two cups or two dishes glued together, are based on five objects from the museum’s permanent collection. In this way, the work removes the functionality of these daily objects, making them more of what I think an art object is: something that doesn’t have an everyday purpose. When the participants toss one of these into the light well, the hope is that they will transform it into something useful.
Before approaching the platform, the participant is first invited to sit on a bench to take off their shoes and socks, creating what resembles a ceremony or ritual by shedding the familiar self. As one walks onto the platform, one of Schubert’s lieder, “Night and Dreams,” which has been playing throughout the atrium, stops. The resulting pure silence is the medium that signals the participant to toss the object into the light well. When finished, the participant walks off the platform and the song starts again, concluding the performance.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the work’s participants. She was holding onto the pot for the longest time and it seemed as if she couldn’t destroy it because she had formed a bond with the inanimate object. The project’s destructive act functioned against what she was perhaps taught in her upbringing—not to break things, let alone touch them, at a museum. But I also felt her urgency, her wanting to destroy it. The tension of this work embraces this sense of conflicted responsibility that becomes quite overwhelming.
Luminous Depths has changed my memory of my grandmother’s home. Now, I cannot think of it without thinking of this project. Memory is a volatile living thing; it is not set in a fixed space and time. Luminous Depths and my grandmother’s home are almost like twins, yet born in different places, mutually and consistently influencing each other.