Gabriel Sierra, Untitled (o(op(ope(open)pen)en)n), 2015, MDF and burlap, dimensions variable. Installation view, SculptureCenter, New York. Photo: Kyle Knodell.
Gabriel Sierra is a Colombian-born artist whose site-specific installations and performances aim to create environmental “intrusions” within space. “Numbers in a Room,” a solo exhibition of his work, is on view at SculptureCenter in New York from September 20, 2015, through January 4, 2016. He will also have a solo show at the Kunsthalle Zurich from November 21, 2015, through February 7, 2016.
I’VE BECOME OBSESSED with how we experience the present. For example, I can’t help but think of how this interview is happening in real time, for something that will be transcribed and read at a later date on the Internet, which will ultimately describe an exhibition opening on the twentieth of September, and which someone might not read until years after the show has passed. We live in a complicated era in which time has become almost irrelevant. This is why my recent work experiments with the exact moment when a visitor enters the gallery. I’m interested in how a body moves through the space, and the idea that the work can become the space itself. So when I change the title of my exhibition every hour, as with my recent exhibition at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, I aim to focus on the moment in which the visitor steps into the show. Depending on the title at the time of your visit, you’ll have a different experience. I’d even go so far as to say that the title of the exhibition is more important than the show itself.
In “Numbers in a Room,” my exhibition in SculptureCenter’s lower-level galleries, I’m drawing attention to the particularities and physicality of the building’s architecture. While most galleries aim to be as neutral as possible, this space is unusual: It’s a catacomb-like warren of small rooms, dark narrow corridors, with no natural light. I’ve installed pieces that will act as intrusions, and which ask visitors to modify the way that they would normally navigate the space. Other works in the show are signs and numbers from the New York City subway, shown for varying times throughout the exhibition. These allude to the architecture of SculptureCenter, which was once a trolley repair shop. My work is very quiet. It’s not spectacular. What I’m thinking is that people will walk through the show and notice only a few changes.
For the project in Zurich, which opens in November, I’m re-creating a déjà vu experience, and I will materialize this phenomenon of how we perceive space, time, and memory. In the show, there will be three identical rooms with the same objects in the same places, repeated three times. The idea is to re-create a fake déjà vu; it could be completely boring, but just because a phenomenon is mundane does not mean it doesn't exist.
While in school I studied architecture and design, and my work reflects this training. However, I find that the responsibilities of an architect or designer are far more complex than those of the artist. There are, of course, many security reasons for this. There are safety concerns and restrictions in the more practical realms, while an artist is allowed the freedom to play and perhaps have a more imaginative approach. As an artist who trained in these fields, what I’m most interested in is how the environment affects you—how architecture controls your behavior, for instance, even if you are unaware of its effects.
The limestone cave in Guayanilla–Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, which houses Allora & Calzadilla's Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos), 2015.
Artist duo Allora & Calzadilla’s latest project, Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos), 2015, is the Dia Art Foundation’s first commission outside the continental United States since 1982. Here, the artists speak about the work, which incorporates one of Dan Flavin’s multicolored light sculptures and sets it in a prehistoric limestone cave located between the municipalities of Guayanilla and Peñuelas in Puerto Rico. The piece will be on view starting September 23, 2015.
THIS PROJECT BEGAN years ago when we first encountered Dan Flavin’s Puerto Rican Light (to Jeanie Blake) from 1965 in an art history book. We became interested in the conditions and possibilities of Flavin’s work; how the light fixtures need to be plugged into the wall of the space where they are on display, and how by doing so, they involve a larger network of power and electricity—an infrastructural grid that supports the place where the work is shown. For us, these conditions immediately opened up questions about the autonomy of the work versus its dependency on other material factors.
In order to get to Puerto Rican Light (Cueva Vientos), one has to drive along the southwest coast of the island and pass a large petrochemical complex that has been abandoned since the 1970s. It now stands as a modern ruin—polluting and haunting the landscape. Cueva Vientos, a few miles down the road, is part of a natural protected area conserving multiple species of endemic flora and fauna. The mouth of the cave where we installed Flavin’s work is nearly two hundred feet tall, and the domed vault where the work is installed is about 250 feet at its highest point. The eight-foot-tall vertical shafts of fluorescent light, however, are not diminished by the grandeur of the space; rather, they charge the immense volume with their magnificent glow. At the top of the dome are two openings. At noon, the sunlight comes through them and hits the ground close to the Flavin sculpture, slowly moving like a sundial around the floor and the walls in a play of light. Sunlight—the primary material of our work, which we collect through solar panels outside the cave and use to power the Flavin sculpture—dances around the glowing fluorescent lamps. Then, around 3:00 PM, the sun seeps in from the entrance of the cave. Shadows come in long over the floor. Variations of natural light, in contrast with the fluorescent lamps, alternately reveal different aspects of the cave’s stalactites, the walls, and its bats—making the space and its inhabitants comprehensible.
We’re using the original work by Flavin and showing it in a new context, as opposed to making a copy or replica of it. This is a historic object that we’re consciously presenting and protecting in a new context. We’re not appropriating it. Rather, in effect, we’re aligning the histories of the work and the site. During the period when the Flavin piece was made, Puerto Rico was being heavily industrialized as a result of a US government economic development initiative called Operation Bootstrap. Apart from bringing US corporations to Puerto Rico to enjoy lucrative tax benefits, the program also promoted the emigration of island residents stateside. By the mid-1960s, nearly a million people had left the island, and a great majority of them settled in New York City. The title of Flavin’s work, Puerto Rican Light (to Jeanie Blake), was actually inspired by a comment from Blake, who worked as an assistant at Flavin’s New York gallery at the time, after she’d attended a Puerto Rican Day parade—which was a fairly new expression of island cultural identity in the city. This colorful event seems to have left an impression and somehow Flavin’s three colored fluorescent lights triggered Blake’s chain of associations. For us, a larger set of relationships—related to the social, cultural, and political transformations that were happening in that period and are ongoing today—can enter that train of thought.
Our work ultimately is about trying to render physical the words Puerto Rican Light. For instance, the current Puerto Rican debt crisis mainly stems from the country’s largest electric company. There are energy transfers that occur within the photovoltaic cells of the solar panels and within the fluorescent lamps as well as within the ecosystem of the cave itself. Flavin’s piece is traditionally perceived as dependent on the institutional setting or white cube. Here, we are opening that gap between object and setting, examining their reciprocal influence, and exploring the overlapping of the prehistoric and the contemporary.
Jumana Manna, A magical substance flows into me, 2015, digital video, color, sound, 1 hour 10 minutes.
Jumana Manna is a Berlin- and Jerusalem-based artist whose work revolves around the body, national identity, and historical narratives. Her latest film, A magical substance flows into me, will be on view at Chisenhale Gallery in London as part of her first UK solo exhibition, which opens on September 18, 2015. Here, the artist speaks about her research into the career of Robert Lachmann, whose work as a musicologist served as an inspiration for her film and an impetus for her to delve into the musical traditions of the different ethnic groups of Palestine.
ROBERT LACHMANN was a German-Jewish ethnomusicologist. He moved from Berlin to Jerusalem in 1935 to establish a department of Oriental music at the Hebrew University. Judah Magnes, the first president of the university, invited Lachmann after he was dismissed from his position as a music librarian at the Berlin National Library following the Nazis’ rise to power. I first came across his story in the memoirs of Palestinian oud player Wasif Jawhariyyeh while doing research on the urban social life in Jerusalem before the Nakba—the exodus of Palestinians from their homes during the war of 1948. Jawhariyyeh wrote about his encounter with a certain Dr. Lachmann, whom he would meet to record and discuss Oriental music. He recounts an argument they had on one occasion about the future of Arabic music and the question of notation; Lachmann was against Arabic music’s adopting Western systems of notation. He thought Arabic music was too “emotional” and also that it would be difficult to notate because of the quarter-tone system. Lachmann wanted Arabic music to remain pure and free from Western influence. Jawhariyyeh was of the opposite opinion: He thought that the only way to preserve tradition was to write it down and that notation could be a tool for progress. For me, this disagreement encapsulated the dilemmas of modernity, and the bifurcated relationship of Palestine to the West.
Lachmann realized that from a scholarly perspective, the distinction between Arab and Jew, which was already ubiquitous in Jerusalem at that time, was false and detrimental to the study of Oriental music. His refusal to recognize this divide made it difficult for him to raise funds for his research. He proposed a radio program to the Palestine Broadcasting Service called “Oriental Music,” hoping to challenge this divide and to educate listeners, especially European listeners, about the diversity within Palestine and the importance of cross-cultural study. My film is based on this program, which was a failure in certain ways. I aim to question why it failed, and I ask what the stakes of such a project might be in the present. I made a conscious decision not to invite all the groups of people to one studio, as Lachmann did, but instead to visit them in their respective towns, villages, and cities. Although there is a kind of potentiality within the film, I’m also addressing the segregation of Israel and Palestine and the impossibility of reconstituting the space of Mandate Palestine in the present day. It does not idealize this time and the Mandate, but rather helps provide a space from which another Palestine can be imagined.
Since the home is the heart of any colonial struggle, I decided to shoot the film in people’s homes. It’s partly coincidental that a lot of conversations take place in the kitchen, but I also see an echo between the craft of music and the making of food, a kind of corporeal memory. The film is very much about proximity, the limitations of language, the limitations of these encounters, and a certain violence. But it is also about desiring, and seeking to constitute something anew.
Jibz Cameron is a Los Angeles–based artist who has been performing as her alter ego Dynasty Handbag for over a decade. In conjunction with a staging of her 2015 piece Good Morning Evening Feelings at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s TBA:15 festival on September 17, Cameron’s exhibition “Simply the Worst” is on view through October 18, 2015, at the Portland Museum of Modern Art in Portland, Oregon. Here Cameron discusses these shows in addition to the TV pilot she is developing.
GOOD MORNING EVENING FEELINGS is a one-woman show. It’s like a daytime, nighttime, children’s, and adults’ talk show. It stars me as the host, Dynasty Handbag, and then all the guest stars that come on the show are me too, or just different versions of Dynasty Handbag in other costumes. There’s a lesbian chef who creates a morning smoothie out of terrible childhood memories, a useless exercise routine by a very angry Broadway starlet, some headlines are read that are not very contemporary and basically just end up shaming me for all the things I don’t really know about. There’s also a musical guest, which is a version of Madonna doing not vogue, but vague, where the voguing is really imprecise, the opposite of voguing—vaguing. Which is what I feel like my life is—I’m not exactly sure a lot of the time. It’s based around the idea of helping you get through the day facing Fear, Anger, Guilt, and Shame—FAGS. You can make a lot of good jokes that way, like: “Beware of FAGS that pop out throughout the day” and “FAGS will follow you no matter where you go,” which is true. It’s kind of a play on “We are everywhere, us fags,” and also this idea that you can’t really escape yourself, your actual FAGS.
After my last show, Soggy Glasses, a one-woman show about Homer’s Odyssey that was really difficult to make, I wanted to do something fun with more room for improvisation. I was thinking about talk shows and how the morning ones are designed to help you have a good day, give you some of what’s going on in current events, maybe show you some helpful hints about how to live better. But that’s not the kind of morning show I need. I need one that will help me combat the terror of being alive more than giving me a new recipe for a buttermilk pancake. I was also thinking a lot about why women get to do the morning and men get to do the evening shows. There are a lot of reasons for this, I’m sure, and none of them really that good.
In “Simply the Worst,” the retrospective of Dynasty Handbag costumes at the PMOMA, they all have drawings that abstractly explain the origin story of the outfit. For example, I have one outfit that’s a disgusting collage of just animal prints. I like thinking about the significations of animal print culturally; images of tourism and the invention of the long airplane ride to another country, colonialism, the jungle, sexualizing so-called savages—deep, weird racism. When a woman is wearing animal print, like a ’50s pinup model, there are so many things that go into what we register when we see it. And there isn’t just any old version of animal print; there are all kinds of subdivisions of the patterns as well. The outfit drawings are a little bit like trying to figure out the terrorist complex in Homeland, lots of string and Post-it notes on the wall.
I’ve always wanted to perform at TBA, and it’ll be a break from working on the TV pilot that I’m developing with Amanda Verwey, my writing partner for Good Morning Evening Feelings. The pilot is about a performance artist who goes to Los Angeles to try to make a TV show and high jinks ensue. The character has a really crazy mother who lives in LA, so she’s sort of forced to deal with all of these outer and inner demons as well as a sister. There are also flashbacks to how she grew up in a really dysfunctional hippie commune. Not that dissimilar to my life.
Thomas Lawson, Displacement, 2015, oil on canvas, 30 x 40”.
Disconnected, Disastrous, Displacement, Disillusionment—many of the titles of Thomas Lawson’s new paintings begin with the prefix dis-. Together, they denote a realm of negation, reversal, removal, and intensification, pulling imagery from common media sources to address questions of attraction and desire that the well-known Los Angeles–based artist discusses below. An exhibition of these uncanny works will run at New York’s Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery from September 12 to October 18, 2015.
THE SPOOKINESS of representational art always attracts me—pictures that cast a spell on the unwary. I’m interested in various kinds of dislocation and disorientation, a visual disabling that makes people pause to reconsider what they are looking at.
I begin any new series of paintings by collecting images that share a theme or a look. My sources have always been kind of the same: newspapers, magazines, mass media of all sorts, as well as more esoteric art worlds. I love mining the lesser-known byways of art history. I’m interested in what’s already circulating in the collective unconscious, and trying to make some sense of that at any given moment. Typically I’ll see something that strikes a chord and I’ll clip it, download it, or whatever needs to be done to it, and then I’ll pin it on a wall. A few other pictures will gather around it and then they begin to migrate into a folder, and then back to the wall, and finally into drawings and paintings.
I began this series of paintings by gathering images that telegraphed an idea of distress. As the pictures started to stack up, I noticed an affinity for words beginning with “dis-”—maybe I was in a state of distraction. At a certain point I began digging into the dictionary and was particularly happy to discover that the etymology of the word disaster is rooted in astrum, the Latin for “star,” and that Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers were a disaster waiting to happen. The idea that an overused, common word has such a rich context, with hints of astrology and fate, is fabulous. It gave me a bit more of a leg up in thinking about the titles and that in turn fed into helping to edit the pictures.
Displacement uses an image of Conchita Wurst performing a gesture that signals vanity, pulling back a veil of hair in a self-conscious preening for the camera—which is what’s attractive about the picture, I suppose. The idea of the painting then becomes a series of explorations of the reveal, of what is shown and what is displaced. Issues of gender have been in the zeitgeist for a while now and emerge as an aspect in these paintings, playing into the shifting uncertainties that I’ve always thought about regarding representation—how we present to the public, and how we make a face. In Dislocation the starting point was the mask-like face of the Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno, which allowed me to delve into questions that are also pertinent to formal issues, such as the basic problem of beauty and how it’s framed—how attraction, desire, and ugliness play out, and how they relate to notions of imperfection and perfection. I think paint is a particularly rich medium for investigating these kinds of things. As you are painting, you are making incremental decisions that move in a counterclockwise way to the initial idea. There is always a curious back and forth between intentionality and execution.
These paintings are modest in scale, but the faces and hands are large and a little threatening. Many of the faces are larger than life, and often there is a tension between them and the hands. In a painting like Disembodiment it may not even be clear to whom these hands belong; they could be coming in from somewhere else in the larger scheme of things—the internal spatial logic of that painting is very hard to read. Throughout, a sense of disarticulation is built into each painting’s formal structure.
James Crump’s latest film, Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art, focuses on the lives and works of Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria, and Robert Smithson between 1968 and 1973. Here, the filmmaker and art historian talks about the process of making the film. The documentary premieres in Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel (copresented with LA MoCA) on September 29, 2015, and will then play the New York Film Festival on October 1 and 4, 2015.
I HAD BEEN THINKING ABOUT THIS FILM for more than ten years, but the actual production took only thirteen months. The title comes from a comment Germano Celant made about the Land artists: “They were troublemakers, confusing the marketing. In fact, they didn’t have any market. Not only because they were difficult, but also because people were not able to grasp them.”
A lot of the principal characters are sadly no longer around. I wanted to focus on artists who were supported by Virginia Dwan and Heiner Friedrich. At one point I was interested in going beyond the formative period and telling the story of the construction of Michael Heizer’s City, 1972–, but I quickly realized that might be too antagonizing to Heizer. If you’re an artist trying to complete a work, the last thing you want is to reveal it prematurely. I chose not to interview so-called experts, as I wanted to make it a film about the people who were present then and doing the heavy lifting—Dwan, Carl Andre, Lawrence Weiner. I met with Friedrich twice but he would never agree to go on camera or to even have a microphone. I would have interviewed Willoughby Sharp had he been around. Dennis Oppenheim and Nancy Holt play a role in the film as well. These three artists who ended up coming across most forcefully were indeed the true titans of this new genre.
I wanted it to be a cinematic journey, using original 16-mm and 8-mm footage, early Portapak video, and stills, but also recasting some of the works with technology available to us today. We used vintage footage of [Smithson’s] Spiral Jetty and we did a principal shoot of [Heizer’s] Double Negative. Both bring in the notion of photography’s role in Land art. Smithson embraced photography more than other Land artists, and he used it to disseminate his work. Heizer and De Maria were more in favor of having people experience the works by walking through them and negotiating the scale of the body in the open landscape. Double Negative is an extraordinary maze. Our new footage shows that you can actually make an immersive and experiential recording of that site. Smithson had a relatively negative view of museums. In 1967 he said, “The whole idea of the museum seems to be tending more towards a specialized kind of entertainment.” Heizer remarked in 1969: “The museums and collections are stuffed, the floors are sagging. But real space still exists.” These are things one could still say about museums today, within the hyperspeculative, highly commodified art world.
Trailer for James Crump's Troublemakers (2015)
There’s a connection to Europe that I wanted to put forth, as there were intellectual affinities. Some of the Land artists were more or less adopted by influential curators like Germano and Harald Szeemann. There was also a rebellion there against bourgeois culture and postindustrial capitalism. The body counts that were delivered on television during the Vietnam War were likewise part of the zeitgeist, which is why I included footage of that. You can’t say they are what the Land artists were responding to, but it’s part of the oppressive system they were rejecting, as Oppenheim mentions. Andre talks about Smithson’s fascination with science fiction, books like Brian Aldiss’s Earthworks from 1965. There’s this interest in decay, entropy, the ruin, and how that connects to the apocalypse, although not so much to ecological disaster.
Some of these sites are overlooked, and that was part of my interest. Double Negative, near Overton, Nevada, is an important early Heizer work about which a lot will be written and said in the future. LA MoCA owns it and never paid any attention to it until the recent hire of director Philippe Vergne. I believe that the museum will eventually see it as a kind of satellite, much like how Dia views Spiral Jetty and The Lightning Field as part of its mission. If the film contributes to this, I will be very pleased.