Lita Albuquerque, 20/20: Accelerando, 2016, three channel video, color, sound, 26 minutes 53 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and USC Fisher Museum of Art.
For decades, the Los Angeles–based artist Lita Albuquerque has blurred distinctions between Land art and Light and Space on increasingly grander scales, whether it be building installations surrounding the pyramids in Egypt or placing sculptures across Antarctica to mirror the formation of the stars. Her cosmic explorations continue with two new bodies of work that are currently being shown at Kohn Gallery in Hollywood, from January 9 through February 27, 2016, and at USC’s Fisher Museum of Art, from January 26 through April 10, 2016. The latter exhibition will feature an opening performance by Albuquerque on January 24.
IN THE MID-1970’s, I started doing projects out in the environment that were about placing objects on the ground in relation to the horizon line or the mountains or the moon, and then it became about the stars. I’m very much of my time; when man landed on the moon I was twenty-two and we had never seen an image of the Earth from space. It was a seminal moment for my generation. I started having visions of mapping the stars on the Earth, and I didn’t know why. When I found out that Yves Klein had dreamed of writing his name on the back of the sky and claiming it for his work, and that Arman had claimed plenitude, I decided in the mid-1990s to claim the relationship between the Earth and the sky. I picked the color ultramarine to unite the two because of the intensity of the color—it had a certain vibration to it.
In recent years, I had this feeling to move toward more of a rose or a reddish pink or mauve, which is a much different feeling. Blue is expansive and spiritual; pink is more about the body. At Kohn, I’m showing a new series of paintings titled “Embodiment” in these colors, and they are really about the relationship between the body, the earth, and the sky. It’s a totally different work, and yet it runs parallel to what I’ve always done. It’s about activation through a vibrating language of pigments, while the new film I’m exhibiting at USC is about activation through a tonal language and music.
The film came from a text I wrote in 2003 about a twenty-fifth-century female astronaut whose mission is to teach the inhabitants of planet Earth the language of the stars. She lands in the year 6000 BCE in Mali—the beginning of civilization, more or less—and when she comes through the Earth’s atmosphere, she forgets her mission. I worked with a young composer named Robbie C. Williamson and an artist named Cassandra Bickman, who developed a tonal language for the character. The work is called 20/20: Accelerando; 2020 is a year, but it’s also the measurement of perfect vision. Accelerando is a musical term, but it also conveys the idea of an acceleration of consciousness.
My main interest is always being conscious of where the planet and the body are in space-time. In my film about a body coming to Earth, there’s this idea of an interstellar consciousness, and there’s an aspect of me in the character as well. She talks about how the language of the stars is like playing notes on a piano, practicing until you become fluent. We are related to the stars, we all know that, but to be fluent in that language is to understand our connectivity and to open up the body to the sublime.
Left: Cover of Mario Gooden’s Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity (2015). Right: A view of Azurest South, St. Ettrick, Virginia.
“How does it feel to be a problem?” So begins a chapter titled “The Problem with African American Museums” in Mario Gooden’s new collection of essays, Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity. By repeating the question with which W. E. B. Du Bois launched The Souls of Black Folk, Gooden locates himself in an illustrious lineage while highlighting the stasis that lets the query resonate as profoundly now as it did over a century ago. What follows is a subtle reading of a number of African American cultural institutions, a consideration of the politics they spatialize (sometimes in literal mutations of Afrocentric iconography such as kente cloth or masks), and a call for “more critical design and discourse.” Gooden is an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and a partner in the firm Huff + Gooden Architects; below, he discusses the book and a chapter on the architect Amaza Lee Meredith. Dark Space was published this month by Columbia University Press.
THE TOPICS COVERED IN DARK SPACE are intimately related to my practice, and to how I and my colleagues approach our work in our architecture studio. But I specifically wanted the book to not be about my practice, in order to prompt a larger conversation that moves beyond the image of architecture, so to speak. It has always been my belief that architecture is about space and spatial experience. What it looks like in terms of pictorial representation, or its image, is secondary to its experience.
I first became aware of Amaza Lee Meredith two or three years ago. I had no idea that there had been a black woman architect practicing in Virginia as early as the 1920s and ’30s. And to be a modernist within that context! I thought that was quite extraordinary, considering what was going on culturally at that time. She had no formal architectural training; she had studied arts education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. While researching this book, I spent some time studying the house that she designed for herself and Edna Meade Colson, her lifelong female companion, in the mid-1930s. I started digging in to the way in which she constructed an identity through her own architecture. I read somewhere that she referred to a space in that house as her “lady’s boudoir.” I thought this might be a direct reference to Adolf Loos, who often included boudoirs in the modernist houses he designed. Then I became interested in looking at Azurest South, Meredith’s home in Virginia, in coordination with the house Loos designed for Josephine Baker, as the two women were essentially contemporaries: Meredith and Baker did not know each other, but they were being culturally productive at the same time.
Formative in my thinking as I was writing this essay was a seminar that I had taken with Beatriz Colomina when I was a student at Columbia. It was a seminar on Loos, and around the same time Beatriz was working on her book Sexuality & Space. Upon reading certain scholarly critiques that suggest the house Loos designed for Baker epitomizes a European white male—and possibly Loos’s own—masculinist and primitivist racial and sexual desires, I wanted to offer a slightly different reading of the Baker house and how publicity, sexuality, and the gaze were working in that project. The house can be seen to contain ambiguities that blur the lines between viewer and view, and between subject and object. Features of the house point toward not only the objectification of Baker but also her elusiveness and the illusiveness of her image—for instance, I see connections to the racialized and sexualized dance performances Baker created as part of La Revue Nègre in Paris in the late ’20s.
In a way, Azurest South is much more private, but it's private in public. For that time and that context, the house was radically different from anything else around it—it doesn’t fade into its surroundings. It’s also interesting that Meredith did not necessarily hide her relationship with her partner, who was the head of the education department at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute, which subsequently became the Virginia State College for Negroes in the ’30s and is now known as Virginia State University. I believe their colleagues were aware that they were “roommates.” So, from the exterior of Azurest South, their privacy is, let's say, veiled or cloaked, but it’s veiled and cloaked in public while recoding the masculinist guises of modernism.
Reena Saini Kallat, Hyphenated Lives, 2013–15, gouache, charcoal, ink, electrical wire on handmade paper, black boards, wooden vitrines, unfired clay, postcards, dimensions variable.
The language in Reena Saini Kallat’s art is fluid, shifting, unstable. Text is written with salt on sand, only to disappear moments later. Her use of material is simultaneously timely and timeless. She connects politically divided terrain by interrogating various national identities and their symbols through sculpture, photography, drawing, and video. Kallat has had solo exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery in British Columbia, Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and Primo Marella Gallery in Milan. Here, Kallat talks about her current exhibition, “Porous Passages,” on view at Nature Morte in New Delhi through January 9, 2016.
“POROUS PASSAGES” REFLECTS ON DIFFERING WORLDVIEWS. For this exhibition, I brought together older works so that I could set them in dialogue with ideas that currently preoccupy me. I use text in a variety of ways throughout the exhibition. For instance, in Walls of the Womb, 2007, words from my mother’s recipe books become inscrutable as they are rendered in braille on hand-dyed saris, hung as scrolls. And my video Synapse, 2011, features the preamble of the Indian constitution. The constitution’s text, appearing on an eye chart, is being deciphered by the hesitant voices of patients in an optometrist’s clinic. It is an ironic play on legibility.
I’m interested in thinking of the thing I make as language itself—where meaning is lodged in the material. In Saline Notations (Echoes), 2015, the soliloquies inscribed on a beach using salt evaporate with the tides. For a moment an idea is made visible, then suddenly lost. My photographs remain as the only evidence of these salt stories before they dissolve. This piece came from researching tidal calendars and times of sunset. I often think of our relationship to the sea and the salinity levels of the body, and our evolution from the Precambrian seas.
Electrical cable is a primary motif and material within the exhibition. I would spend days weaving these conduits of contact that transmit ideas and information, bringing people together, across barbed wires and fences. Ruled Paper (red, blue, white), 2015, mimics the design of a school notebook by replacing the ink lines with cables, each sheet appearing like blank pages awaiting inscription.
At the center of the exhibition is Hyphenated Lives, 2013–15, which has a relationship to 2 degrees from 2010, a piece I made as part of the River Project at the Campbelltown Art Centre in Sydney. 2 degrees emerged out of my long-standing interest in the relationship between countries politically split but historically related. The use and ownership of natural resources is often the cause of conflict between these divided countries. I felt the need to think about how our planet is shared, and how the survival of one species is inextricably linked to another. Hyphenated Lives is an imagining of mutations within the natural world, where new hybridized species of birds, animals, trees, and flowers are made from the national symbols of politically divided countries. These made-up beings defy “nature,” specifically, man’s ingrained desire to fight, conquer, and divide. I envision these works as propositions for a future when this sort of hybridization, or reunification, might be possible.
In the November 2015 issue of Artforum, Kate Nesin says of artist Diane Simpson: “[She] realizes the singularity of each sculpture through assiduous refinements of deformation, material selection, and construction. That is, each sculpture stands on its own, marked by her attentiveness.” And attentiveness is the word one would use to describe Simpson, a scrupulous maker of body-conscious forms that call to mind the intricate details of period costumes, Art Deco design, and various kinds of ceremonial and fetish objects. Simpson lives and works in Chicago and has had numerous exhibitions. Her first museum retrospective, curated by Dan Byers at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, will include fifteen sculptures and twelve drawings made between 1980 and 2014. The exhibition opens December 16, 2015, and runs through March 27, 2016.
I GREW UP IN THE MIDWEST. Never really left it. Virtually all of my working life was spent in the Chicago area. Directly out of high school I majored in art for two years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I got married at that point and soon afterward was pregnant with my first child. I continued to attend classes until my ninth month but missed the last quarter for my BFA. Ten years later, in the late 1960s, when the youngest of my three children entered first grade, I returned to SAIC and completed that final quarter.
By the time I went to grad school in 1977, two children were in high school and one was entering college. I was in my forties. It was great. I had been so isolated from other artists and the art world in general, though I never stopped making art on my own. In grad school, also at SAIC, I was in the painting department, but I never actually painted. I was primarily making drawings of utilitarian objects on large sheets of graph paper. I developed my own spatial system using forty-five-degree angles to visualize three-dimensional forms. Toward the end of graduate career, I was encouraged to start building these forms. With these first sculptures, I was curious to see what would happen if I applied the same rules of perspective—the forty-five-degree angles I was using in my drawings—to actual space. For these early works I used Tri-Wall, a triple-layer corrugated cardboard. It was the perfect material for someone who had never had a sculpture class. The material was cheap and only required a jigsaw and knife-edge blade to cut. For several years I worked with only corrugated cardboard; later, I ventured out to MDF and other materials.
Being an artist in the Midwest versus, say, New York, has advantages and disadvantages. Midwestern artists seem more likely to develop their own individual and idiosyncratic ways, less influenced by current trends. The disadvantage is limited exposure and less critical press.
Throughout the years, I always had opportunities to exhibit my work in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. This exposure was all the motivation I needed to continue developing as an artist. Now I am amazed by all the attention my work is suddenly receiving beyond the Midwest. It's really strange and I don't quite understand it. I'm honored and thrilled, but, you know, I've been working for a long time. Making art is what is most important to me. All the rest is a bonus. The most gratifying part of all this is that young people seem to be relating to my work. Maybe it's the craft that appeals to them? There is a lot of sculptural work that is not carefully made, and maybe seeing the care I put into details and my materials speaks to them.
Julien Prévieux, winner of the 2014 Marcel Duchamp prize, here discusses his current solo exhibition at Espace 315 at the Centre Pompidou in the context of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Focusing on a particular body of work included in the show, “Atelier de dessin - B.A.C. du 14e arrondissement de Paris” (Drawing Workshop: Anti-crime Police Officers from Paris’s Fourteenth Arrondissement), 2011–, a collaboration with Parisian police officers, Prévieux addresses the unintended political implications of this series. The exhibition is on view through February 1, 2016.
AMONG MY WORKS currently on view at the Pompidou is a series of drawings by Parisian police officers, an ongoing project I began in 2011. These pieces are the result of a workshop I set up with four officers in the anti-crime division of the police precinct in Paris’s fourteenth arrondissement. I gave these officers an assignment: to draw, by hand, Voronoi diagrams and heat maps, which are typically generated very rapidly using cartographic computer software. The diagrams and maps are important police tools—they detect crime patterns and indicate where forces should be deployed. But they also measure the officers’ own activity in the field, which creates an atmosphere of competition and intense pressure.
By collaborating with people who use these diagrams and maps vocationally, I wanted explore the efficacy of these tools and find new meaning in the resulting images. I went to police officers’ homes in Paris to work with them on the Voronoi drawings, which are quite complicated to plot and construct by hand. For the heat maps, the police officers learned to paint with an airbrush at my studio. Aesthetically, the results are quite beautiful: Voronoi diagrams look like geometric, irregular spiderwebs, and the heat maps are colorful biomorphic shapes. Over the course of many sessions, the officers learned new drawing techniques and new ways of looking.
To be valuable crime-fighting tools, Voronoi diagrams and heat maps must be generated very quickly. The hand-drawn versions, therefore, are technically useless because they take so long to create. Crimes used to be discrete dots scattered across a map, but thanks to algorithms the police can more easily spot patterns and trends. By contrast, the drawings, which no longer function as effective tools, are like ghosts: They offer a disturbing detachment between form and function.
I also did this exercise with police officers in Houston last month. That was a very different experience; the climate was quite hostile toward the police. There had recently been numerous unwarranted shootings and arrests throughout the US. In that environment, I got the feeling some people interpreted my workshop and the resulting drawings as some kind of propolice political statement.
After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the drawings take on yet another unexpected dimension; they raise the issue of whether these visualization and data-mining tools are efficient and effective. As the French government has declared a state of emergency for three months, we have new laws and less freedom: Demonstrations are forbidden and the police are everywhere, even in my drawings! What began as a commentary on how technology changes police work and public services now appears as a portrait of a city caught between its fear of terrorism and its loss of freedom: Paris under siege.
Nari Ward is a Jamaican-born artist who lives and works in New York City. Here he discusses the extensive survey of twenty years of his practice, “Sun Splashed,” which opened this month at the Pérez Art Museum Miami and is on view through February 21, 2016.
SOUND IS LIKE A SPIRIT. It is in everything. When you write a rhythm you are acknowledging the sound that is already here and simply amplifying it. My work is visual; however, I also make sonic space, and even when there is no sound component the surrounding air has an aural quality. Happy Smilers, 1996, was an early artwork that that was first shown at Deitch Projects, and I am thrilled to see it up in Miami, because it hasn’t been shown since then. For that piece, I was inspired by a numbers runner who lived in my old apartment building and ran a candy shop downstairs where no one bought candy—I was drawn to how he set up a false expectation. Similarly, I created a fake storefront in order to disrupt the expectation produced by the white cube. In those days working with Jeffrey Deitch in New York, you had the space to make installations that commented on the social texture of the city. I learned something then that I still value today: that art isn’t about making products for a gallery.
In the piece, a bright yellow atrium opens onto a room containing home goods and furnishings, which are wrapped in fire hose. Happy Smilers was also the name of my uncle’s band; he sang mento—early Jamaican folk songs. We play his music in the installation, accompanied by the sound of heavy rain on a zinc roof. The fire hose material buffers the noise of the rain and simultaneously emulates the tone of sparks from flickering flames. This is one of those unintentional but powerful moments that happen in installation, the elements of chance.
The Pérez show is divided into two bodies of work, but for me there is little demarcation between art derived from a Caribbean sensibility and work that the curators consider to be more American. Bringing a social issue into the work depends on where I am when I am producing. Vertical Hold, 1996, showcases the meticulous labor of collecting as intensity imbued with irreverence. I made it during a residency with the Shakers in Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I wanted to find cultural material from the original communities. One of the Shakers, Brother Arnold, showed me an old dump site where I found nothing, but I kept looking. Eventually I saw unbroken bottles sticking out of the ground, and I picked them up. I tied these bottles together and made a kind of quilt. It is suspended in a circular configuration in the show. When you move around the work, the light striking the bottles along with the intense tying and knotting of the yarn begins to emanate a certain power.
Seeing these early works up next to my latest series makes sense here. Miami is a gateway to the Caribbean, but it also has pathways leading back to New York. A few years ago, a naive collector said my work did not seem Jamaican because it was not happy. Everywhere I looked, I saw this myth of the happy Jamaican. The collector’s words haunted me, triggered me to collect smiles. Piero Manzoni questioned ideas of value with his shit cans, so, alluding to his irreverence, I made a series of cans with mirrors in them, Canned Smiles, 2013; I captured people’s smiles and closed the cans. They were labeled “Black Smiles” and “Jamaican Smiles.” This was the rich absurdity that led me back to the early Happy Smilers piece, and thus to the “Sun Splashed” photos that give this show its title.
For that series I went to different homes, stood next to their houseplants, and plastered a big smile on my face. I co-opted my uncle’s happy persona from his Happy Smilers album cover, but my photographs never worked; I looked like a fool. It was only when I stopped smiling and looked at the camera that my focus held. Then the confounding nature of the image, about not belonging, being an introvert, a victim, or even perhaps a worker that is walking away with a plant, all came to the fore. Like my installations, these photographs are activations of memory through a found cultural artifact, showcasing my impertinence in the face of found assumptions.