Pages from Theaster Gates's notebooks, 2016.
Known for his performances, his sculptures, and his large-scale, site-specific building reclamation projects in Chicago—such as the ambitious Stony Island Arts Bank, which serves to bolster culture in an underinvested neighborhood—Theaster Gates has also sustained a drawing practice throughout his career. Powerful works in their own right, his drawings are profoundly connected to every facet of Gates’s practice. He discusses that work here, as well as his way of conceiving exhibitions and his vision for a future art school. “Black Archive,” a solo exhibition of Gates’s work, is on view at Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria through June 26, 2016. He will also have two more solo exhibitions open this summer: at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, from July 8 through September 26, 2016, and at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, from July 21 through October 30, 2016.
I OFTEN HAVE a clear idea of the shape or structure of an artwork. I didn’t learn how to sketch; I didn’t learn how to draw. In a way, my notebook is just the place where I’m trying to communicate ideas to myself, almost recording them so I can remember that thought and can go back to it in three dimensions. What happens is a definitive stroke.
For instance, I initially saw the Stony Island Arts Bank as a drawing. Other people could see only the detritus and the water in the basement. But I can simply erase that stuff. Once it’s a drawing I can erase the detritus, erase the massing, because I feel like I have such a good sense of the three-dimensional. I am not overwhelmed by scale.
The blank page is a kind of metaphysics—a site where I can see whether I can reduce a project to the size of my page and whether it makes sense there. In a drawing I can work out the kinks of a work in micromaneuvers, and then it feels possible, in a way. I’m engaged in this process often; sometimes it takes a long time for me to work out something like the approach of a building or its facade or a six-thousand-square-foot gallery. Once I have that sense, then I can say to myself: Oh, if I put a line here, that divides the room in half. If I put a wall there, it divides it into one third and two thirds. If I put these two walls, it can create the eighths of a room, and then seven eighths of the room, and then I divide the seven eighths in half. Then all of a sudden I’m able to really create a world on the page. On paper I am already worlding. The page sets the parameters of the world, but one needs to decide the world’s scale, so as I am loading content into the page, I can visualize a block, or think about a building, or design a plinth, and they can all have the same amount of space on the page. Through drawing, one can imagine a city. I like that. Working it out on paper first makes me believe that I can do it.
I find it so interesting that painters use the phrase “mark-making” and world leaders ask what mark will you make on the world. Mark-making in both senses brings up the question of the relationship between one’s individual intentionality, and the context—say, a canvas and a brush—or a political office wherein one could make a mark on the world. An industrialist might make a mark on the world. Or a graffiti artist might make a mark on the world. So it depends on what kind of marks you’re invested in—what kind of mark-making you’re trying to do.
My future of art is different from what art is today. When I build my school, I’m going to teach people that whatever is taught at the MFA level is akin to elementary school. In elementary school students will learn replica, mise-en-scène, and representation. In middle school, they will learn about reflexivity, reproducibility, reaction, and reflection. In high school, students will learn to see the invisible, to understand the philosophies of the invisible, will learn physics and religion. As undergraduates, my future pupils will learn transgression, systems of power, how to be a system of power, and how to harness systems of power. They will learn how to mine for gold, dig for diamonds. They learn how to fish. In graduate school, students will learn how to levitate. Until we’re willing to think about the complexities, until we’re willing to think about the human capacity to understand complex symbols and thought forms and the invisible, we will think that murals alone can solve social problems. I would never make a mural to solve a social problem. It takes money to solve social problems; it takes hard conversations and political power—artists should also sculpt those things.
Janine Antoni’s exhibition “Ally,” which is on view at the Fabric Workshop and Museum through July 31, 2016, is a “retrospective,” redefined. This exhibition, occupying four floors of the museum, manifests as a series of performances, installation environments, videos, and sculptures. Conceived and performed by Antoni, this presentation is also a deeply collaborative enterprise, having been developed with the choreographer Stephen Petronio and movement artist Anna Halprin. A book about “Ally” will follow, edited by British performance scholar and writer Adrian Heathfield. Here, the artist talks about upending the notion of a single-person retrospective through her collaborations with Halprin and Petronio.
I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THIS RETROSPECTIVE FOR SIX YEARS, trying to address the idea why, from my perspective, I should have one. I’ve been avoiding a retrospective for quite a few years because I’m not interested in looking back—I want to move forward. But this show at the Fabric Workshop allows me to do both, and it makes the work remain alive for me. When someone gives you the opportunity to historicize yourself, that, in and of itself, is an act of creativity. You think you’ve made work, but really, the work made you.
I’ve always cherished my previous collaborations with choreographer Stephen Petronio—we’ve a great deal of history together. But when I saw Breath Made Visible (2009), a film by Ruedi Gerber on Anna Halprin’s life and work—she is a pioneer of postmodern dance—I was blown away, and I wanted to know who this woman was. Anna and I had a very deep connection when we met. As we were thinking about the retrospective, I asked her to look at a body of my work, wondering if she’d be willing to make a dance out of it. But she wanted me to be the dancer! And of course, anyone could be a dancer to her! She knew immediately what she wanted me to do: “You have to work with paper. And maybe you’d like to take off your clothes.” She wanted me to improvise a movement performance using rolls of brown paper like the ones originally employed in her seminal 1965 work Parades and Changes. Then she called all her friends and invited them onto her famous outdoor deck to show them what we were doing. She wanted me to experience an audience, because I’m not a seasoned performer. But she was intrigued by the fact that I move innocently, not self-consciously. I don’t move like a dancer. There’s nudity in this piece, and that’s a challenge for me. When she performed Parades and Changes in New York in 1967, she was arrested for doing it in the nude. But this piece was made to humble and honor the body. It’s an interesting negotiation because of an unclothed body’s relationship to sex. How do I take people past the sexualization of my body to another space? I don’t necessarily want to remove any of the sexuality—it needs to be acknowledged—but it should evolve into other sorts of meanings.
Once a week for fourteen weeks at the Fabric Workshop, I will perform my own paper dance surrounded by thirty-six crates that contain my works—they’ll be laid out as audience seating. Each time I start the performance, I will open a crate and bring the work out to sit with the viewers, so that my works can witness the dance too. Twenty-two rolls of paper will be leaning against the wall, and each time I perform I’ll take a roll and transform it through the dance. The paper’s endlessly malleable, always producing images—it directs me. When I perform, one of my pieces will be out at the same time. I will treat each instance of this like a small show by creating a narrative line throughout all the performances, accentuating various aspects of my pieces and how they relate to the dance. But I do have to say, there’s something incredibly significant for me while my works are in their crates. They’re still alive for me without being seen, and it’s comforting to be surrounded by my history. But they have an uncomfortable presence too—a burdensome weight. I can feel them in the room, like people standing there. The work can still support me when crated and “invisible.” The paper is alive and the past work is still alive—absence and presence coalesce, exist at the same time. During the time between every performance, there will be a film fragment from a fifty-one-year-old recording of Anna’s Parades and Changes playing among the crates, to make the show feel “in process,” in flux, unfinished. It’s the first time I’ll truly be working with the notion of duration, and how meaning evolves over time. Creative work isn’t linear—it’s more of a spiral.
Janine Antoni speaks with artforum.com.
For Rope Dance, 2014, Stephen and I won’t do a lot of dancing. We do enough for people to absorb, and then we immediately invite people in, handing them the titular prop as a tool to connect and draw lines in space. Anna was very interested in Stephen’s ability to direct, so she asked him to guide. She likes the way he has a kind of command that makes participation comfortable. This is the brilliance of Anna’s intuition: being able to look at you and make the most of your perspective. Stephen and I were struck by the quality of Anna’s attention while we were dancing, and we wanted to capture that. When the performance is not taking place, a video of Anna looking at us performing will be shown. An audience member will be able to see the whole dance expressed on Anna’s face.
Stephen will do a solo performance of Anna’s The Courtesan and the Crone, 1999, where she was seducing the audience with sexual gestures, slowly revealing her body. Stephen’s been dealing with gender issues in his dance since the early 1980s, and for him to do that performance as a man adds a whole different twist. It’ll allow us to really bring theatre into the gallery space.
This retrospective of my artmaking, told through dance with Anna, Stephen, and myself, has evolved into an interpenetrating partnership that allows me—allows us—despite the onus of the past, to continue reinventing and making new work.
View of William Kentridge's Triumphs and Laments: A Project for Rome, 2016, along the embankment of the Tiber River. Photo: Luciano Sebastiano
William Kentridge had the audacity, in 2012, to propose an 1,804-foot-long drawing along the banks of the Tiber River, the largest public art project in Europe. It has recently come to life with the help of Kristin Jones, a New York–based artist who strongly believes in the notion of collaboration and acted as the artistic director of the whole project. Jones has worked with Kentridge for many years, against all manner of bureaucratic obstacle, to make Triumphs and Laments: A Project for Rome—an epic frieze with ninety figures, some as high as thirty-two feet—possible. This gargantuan work explores the contradictions of the Eternal City, from its myth-laden past to the present. (Preparatory sketches and other materials for the frieze can be seen at Galleria Lia Rumma in Milan for the artist’s solo exhibition there, “Triumphs, Laments, and other Processions,” on view through May 24, 2016.) The frieze will be inaugurated with a performance, conceived by Kentridge and the composer Philip Miller, on April 21, 2016, Rome’s 2,769th birthday; a second iteration of the performance will occur on April 22. This piece, a thirty-minute-long procession along the banks of the Tiber, will feature two bands with a mix of African and Italian musicians, along with two hundred volunteers. Here, Kentridge talks about this massive undertaking.
THE PROJECT STARTED IN 2002 WHEN KRISTIN JONES, who has worked in Rome for many years, took me to the site. In 2007 we considered a large-scale projection of images on the embankment, but the costs for that would’ve been crazy. In 2011 the first drawings were made. After that, the search for permissions began. In 2015 it became clear that we would get approval, so the final images became more solidified. The process started out with sketches, then charcoal drawings on paper, then ink drawings. And from the ink drawings, stencils were made. It was important to keep the sketchy feeling of the drawings, yet have them clear and simple enough for the cutting of the stencils. And then there’s erasure, the washing of the travertine walls along the Tiber (with warm water and magnesium bicarbonate—very ecological) where decades of graffiti and pollution have accumulated. Just imagine, from that darkness, where thousands and thousands of drawings were made on top of one other, and us, erasing and cleaning the dark away, until ninety figures managed to emerge. In a few years, the images will fade, so that a new history can be drawn again. It will be sad, but poignant, to watch it dissolve over time.
At first, I was very interested in this tension between the Jewish ghetto and the Vatican, because the site for the work is right between them. We did our research, but the series of figures we came up with were terrible, so the project shifted. We dove headfirst into the histories of Rome, investigating all of its triumphs and tragedies, all throughout time. Then the art historian and professor Lila Yawn and her wonderful team of students came into the picture—they did the enormous job of researching the images I needed, which took about three years. They pulled together 150 images of Rome’s triumphs and 150 images of Rome’s tragedies. But then we fell into a trap: How do we choose? What do we choose? Who’s writing the history here? Those questions became the heart of this project.
What we’ve come up with is a provisional history, of course. It’s syncretic, too. It’s a South African perspective on Roman history that takes into account contradiction, vainglory, utopian idealism, loss. This is not an exhibition where people are coming to see “good” pictures. It’s an illustrated guidebook that shifts the viewer back and forth in time. For instance, we see an image of a boat and think of the Roman galleys full of slaves being shipped across the Mediterranean. But it’s also a “contemporary” boat with migrants coming in to Lampedusa. We’re spanning centuries.
I’ve also used iconic images from Italian cinema and conflated them with historical events. For instance, there’s a picture of Anna Magnani getting shot, taken from Roma Città Aperta (Rome, Open City), 1945. Magnani’s a stand-in for Giorgiana Masi, a young woman killed during a 1977 demonstration by the bridge in Trastevere. I also thought of including the revered Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi, but instead I put in his wife, Anita—an image I took from the statue of her on the Gianicolo—so that we have a representation of woman as both hero and victim. There’s also the death of Remus, culled from a Renaissance engraving, and a depiction of the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini. There is a skeletal she-wolf, burdened by history and expectation. The image of Mussolini on his horse is taken from a mural I saw in Naples. The mural has bullet holes—they could’ve been made during the German occupation. There are images from the Fosse Ardeatine massacre in 1943; images of ousted Jews; and three figures taken from the Arch of Titus, carrying the treasure of Jerusalem. There’s a figure depicting the collapse of history that combines Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, 1647–52, with barbarian fighters from the Great Ludovisi sarcophagus, 250–60, as well as the Renault car where the corpse of Aldo Moro, the secretary of the Christian Democratic Party, who was killed by the Red Brigades in 1978, was found. There are spots of ironic humor, too: King Vittorio Emmanuel II sitting on a mock horse, and Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg from La Dolce Vita (1960), bathing in a tub instead of the Trevi Fountain.
There will be a procession composed of two parts and led by two different bands. One band will sing of victories; the other, laments. The bands will be placed at either side of the frieze and gradually move toward each other, meeting in the center. Two hundred people will carry lights and painted figures, like saints’ relics—they will be projected as shadows on the wall. The music, composed by Philip Miller, is a multilayered and technically challenging piece, with canons and repetitions, based on the madrigals by Salamone Rossi, a Jewish composer from Mantua—he was a contemporary of Claudio Monteverdi’s. The score will integrate Italian popular music, like tammuriata and pizzica, played by a multiethnic group of musicians. And, during a more meditative moment, we will hear a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke, recited like a prayer: “That is the longing: to dwell amidst the waves / and have no homeland in time.”
View of “Maria Eichhorn: 5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours,” 2016. Photo: Andy Keate, Chisenhale Gallery
Maria Eichhorn makes exceptionally subtle works—minuscule gestures with magnificent reach, and consequences—that highlight the limits of institutions, and perhaps even art itself. Here, the artist discusses the preparation involved for her solo exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery, her first in the United Kingdom, titled “5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours,” which opens April 23 and runs through May 29, 2016. By closing down the gallery completely for the duration of the show and stipulating that no staff be available during this period, Eichhorn upsets notions surrounding time and labor connected with artistic production and capitalism.
RESEARCH, EXPERIENCES, AND VARIOUS KINDS OF REFLECTION lead me to ideas. In this case, my engagement with time and the way it’s defined in relation to labor led me to the creation of this piece. My show at the Chisenhale Gallery is a way of giving time back to the staff who work there. When they accept this offering, without their wages being suspended, the work will emerge. Jacques Derrida states in his book Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money (1991) that “to give time, the day, or life is to give nothing, nothing determinate, even if it is to give the giving of any possible giving, even if it gives the condition of giving.” Proceeding from this thought experiment of Derrida’s, I want to interrogate the possibility of suspending the capitalist logic surrounding the notion of exchange and try to make a space in life sans labor a reality, by returning time to those who lack it, or who need it.
The Maria Eichhorn Aktiengesellschaft (Maria Eichhorn Public Limited Company), 2002, which I established on the occasion of Documenta 11 and is still in existence, relates especially well to this current project. It is an entity that possesses its own stocks and belongs to no one—the money originally invested in it, a little over $56,000, is not allowed to accrue in value. My Chisenhale piece has been conceived in a similar spirit—again, underscoring that “time” belongs to no one and should somehow be reevaluated, or even extricated from contemporary economies.
That the exhibition space and gallery offices are closed is just a spatial consequence of this gesture—these are, after all, the areas where the staff pursues its labor. The institution itself and the actual exhibition are not closed, but rather displaced into the public sphere and society. A sign will be affixed to the Chisenhale gate explaining all of this, and additional information will be made available on the gallery’s website, its social media, an so on. An automatic e-mail reply written specifically for this exhibition will also include a message stating that all incoming e-mail will be automatically deleted and that said recipient cannot be reached until after the close of the exhibition. When the gallery’s employees come back to work, there will not be a great deal of e-mails waiting to be dealt with, thankfully.
The first reaction to my proposal? Hearty laughter. Then the Chisenhale’s director, Polly Staple, and I met one on one and discussed the project intensively for about three hours. After that, Katie Guggenheim, the curator of exhibitions and events, got involved. The three of us went back and forth for a long time, analyzing and reanalyzing every single facet of this work. I am entirely grateful to both of them for making this project possible.
Translated from German by Diana Reese.
View of “Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible,” 2016. Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans. Photo: Traviesa Studio.
Adam Pendleton is an artist based in New York whose work disrupts the burden of representation in images and texts through two-dimensional objects and installations. Here he talks about the link between education and language in the context of his forthcoming book, Black Dada Reader, to be released later this year by Mousse Publishing, and his current exhibition, “Becoming Imperceptible,” which is on view at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans through June 16 and will also travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver from July 15 through September 25, 2016.
I’M NOT A PARTICULARLY DIDACTIC ARTIST—I follow questions that lead to other sets of questions. I didn’t set out to respond to the location of New Orleans for this show, but more to address how artwork can change or be changed by the space it happens to reside in at any given moment. Some language in the exhibition takes on a specific resonance because it’s installed in New Orleans, and of course that language would mean something different in Stockholm or Tel Aviv.
The phrase “Black Lives Matter,” for example, I abstracted, then pulled apart and collaged. What interests me about it as an articulation of political ideals, as well as a movement, is that the utterance of these three words means something very different depending on who says it, where, and when. Like all language, its projection is seldom linear. It may speak to and come out of a response to police brutality in the US, but it incidentally carries meaning and political weight in countries where the experience for black or brown people is as particular and subjective as it is universal. “Black Lives Matter” drafts a provisional space within which others can perceive themselves. It resonates for an African kid in the Paris banlieues, but the gesture might also inspire a queer person in Turkey, or an undocumented migrant in the US.
For my video portrait of David Hilliard from 2011 to 2014, I drove around Oakland for hours to visit various sites significant to the Black Panthers’ history, while David talked about how he had initially become a Panther. I foregrounded his education because it was one, according to him, rooted in conversation among friends about how to make sense of the world around them and committed to articulating an alternative. At one point in the piece, David relates an anecdote in which he asked Huey Newton, “How do you define politics?” and Newton responded, “It starts with a hungry stomach.” It’s fascinating to think that these seventeen-year-old guys were reading Frantz Fanon, listening to Malcolm X, and making sense of it with each other from an intellectual and also aesthetic standpoint. The Black Panthers had an impact that shifted the conversations around race and justice not just in the US but all over the world, and set a precedent for the impact Black Lives Matter has had as well.
How do you respond to state-sanctioned physical and intellectual brutality? How do you respond collectively? The reply of artists to these questions after World War I was called Dada. In my own work, I tend to put an idea out there, and then I deliberately delay its being represented in any physical manner. With the Black Dada Reader, it went from rumor-language to an object with very limited distribution, and after several years few people still have seen the actual reader, even if many have encountered the visual shadows of it in posters Marc Hollenstein and I made based on pages from the Reader for the installation that I did for the Belgian pavilion at the Venice Biennale last year. By culling together writing from such authors as W.E.B. Du Bois, Gilles Deleuze, Gertrude Stein, and Harryette Mullen, along with texts by and about artists ranging from Joan Jonas to William Pope.L, among other critical texts from curators and writers who have engaged with related concepts, the Reader forms a comprehensive entry point into thinking about the theoretical and aesthetic implications of this idea of Black Dada. I am asking myself: “What can Black Dada do and what does Black Dada look like?” Amiri Baraka first articulated the language of Black Dada in 1964 with his poem “Black Dada Nilhilismus.” I had the chance to briefly meet Baraka not too long before he passed away, and I told him I made Black Dada paintings. He looked at me with bewilderment, as though to say, What the hell is that? That space between us in that moment is in many ways what Black Dada is and could be.
View of “Rodney McMillian: Views of Main Street,” 2016. Photo: Adam Reich, Studio Museum in Harlem
Rodney McMillian is having a moment. The artist currently has three solo exhibitions on view at East Coast museums: “Views of Main Street” at the Studio Museum in Harlem, through June 26, 2016; “The Black Show” at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, through August 14, 2016; and “Landscape Paintings” at MoMA PS1, through August 29, 2016. McMillian’s artworks—made from “postconsumer objects” like junked chairs, sofas, and wall-to-wall carpeting—reflect the myriad lived experiences of class and capital. And McMillian’s performance-based videos often recast significant events—from Nat Turner’s slave rebellion to Ronald Reagan’s Neshoba County Fair speech—as playful, disconcerting parodies that upend essentialist readings of history. Here, McMillian discusses his trio of concurrent exhibitions.
THE EXHIBITION AT THE STUDIO MUSEUM IN HARLEM is a survey that focuses on the politics of the domestic, which speaks to what one does for shelter and comfort within specific sites. With the exhibition title “Views of Main Street,” I was thinking about how “Main Street,” as opposed to Wall Street, is a phrase that is used in politics that’s supposed to speak to middle-class America. Yet whenever I’ve heard that phrase, I never think of it as addressing me as an African American. There are many different Main Streets in this country, and I wanted to contextualize this work within an African American Main Street, like 125th Street in Harlem, a major thoroughfare. The exhibition includes carpet paintings, chair sculptures, and other kinds of artworks made from postconsumer objects: goods that are designed, produced, sold, used until they’re thoroughly worn, then discarded. Things generated for a particular class of people—like high-end knockoffs, for instance. I choose these materials because of what they signify: a home. Postconsumer objects also imply an absented body. I want to insert them into different economies—relocating them from a pedestrian location to a studio, gallery, or institutional space.
I created most of the work in the “The Black Show” at the ICA Philadelphia while thinking about the alternative histories and social constructs that are offered through science-fiction. I’ve been really hooked on Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and others, in thinking about the black body as a kind of portal, or black hole. Philosopher Michele Faith Wallace speaks of this space as a site of potentiality as opposed to a space of absence or negation. There are a lot of performative videos in this show, with all kinds of personae and characters. At the Studio Museum, the works have a materialist-based, nuts-and-bolts pragmatism, but “The Black Show” deals with how one lives within that reality. How does one construct one’s sense of self and place in this reality? Are there other possibilities of living within these constructs?
“Landscape Paintings” at MoMA PS1 includes paintings on bedsheets, which offer a different way of looking at American landscape paintings. Paintings by Albert Bierstadt or Thomas Cole are all so aspirational, colonialist. My paintings are about the real in the sense that they are actual surfaces where we sleep, make love, relax, read books, nurse children, live life, and sometimes die. There’s a visceral quality to the work, a suggestion of body parts, but there are also allusions to space, the cosmos. I view these paintings as the landscapes not depicted within Bill Traylor’s work.
The three shows present different modes of engagement within my practice. I’ll work with still life painting in relation to a postconsumer object, which might relate to a video I’m doing. I often think about the histories each medium carries, and how to navigate through them and not “define” myself by them. The strategies I employ with disparate materials and modes of working have been about locating the content of the work, not me.