View of “Christine Rebet: Paysage Fautif,” 2015.
Christine Rebet is an artist who has worked across diverse media and with traditional animation for over ten years. Her debut solo gallery exhibition in New York, “Paysage Fautif,” features drawings made in Haiti as well as a new hand-drawn film, all of which she discusses below. The show is on view at Bureau until June 14, 2015.
I’VE BEEN MAKING ANIMATIONS since 2002, when I received a grant to study with a team of DDR-era animators in Berlin. There, I learned how to animate in 35 mm, and I have stayed faithful to this traditional technique, even as I’ve watched the medium obsolesce. I decided to work with this “minor” form because of its roots in social critique. I find within its anarchic and satirical subtext a suitable grammar to share my vision.
Around 2008, I decided to stop making animations—the process was too obsessive, too troubling—in order to concentrate on themes of collectivity through performance, sculpture, and film. When I returned to France from New York in 2012, I began to recognize how little France has processed its collective traumatic history, especially when it comes to its colonial past. My father served in the Algerian war and, like many in his generation, he was destroyed by it. At one point during the war, he got typhoid and ended up suffering from hallucinations in a remote hospital. I began to think about inventing machinery to rehearse the hallucinating mind—an organic machine, influenced both by Francis Picabia’s erotic machines and by the imagery of colonized nature, a machine simultaneously repairing and destroying itself. The cerebral freedom of hallucinations, it occurred to me, is a mirage, as deceptive as military deployment in the service of an imperial agenda.
The drawings in this show were made while I was in Haiti early this year. As it happened, I came down with tropical fever. Experiencing my own hallucinations while I was sick finally readied me to return to animation. After shooting all the drawings (about eight hundred, a number that is actually quite low for animations), I filmed them while submerging them in water, so that the images expanded and eventually dissolved. This secondary process both destroys the mirage of the animation and sets the images free. The animated film that resulted from this process is titled In the Soldier’s Head, 2015, and it is a meditation on directing cerebral fluids through orgasmic forms. The title of this New York show, “Paysage Fautif”—a nod to Marcel Duchamp’s semen on a piece of black satin—had been in my head for a while, but its significance was certainly reformulated by the animation.
Beyond these erotics, it was clear to me that I wanted to talk about mental disruption as a figure for the collective experience of colonization, and that I wanted to carry this out through the disruption of the animation itself. In short, my aim was to make a non-animation, something that interrupted the continuous cycle of images through a secondary process. The final moments of the animation return to the beginning of civilization, or the beginning of animation, in the cave, but the image is fleeting, ungraspable. After all, you can’t really get a hold of a mind in crisis.
View of “Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions,” 2015. Photo: Andy Keate.
Glenn Ligon is a New York–based artist whose work is currently on view in the Venice Biennale. His curatorial project “Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions,” which he discusses below, features his work alongside that of forty-five more contemporary artists, and runs from April 15 through June 14, 2015, at Nottingham Contemporary, and at the Tate Liverpool from June 30 through October 18, 2015.
THIS EXHIBITION IS as much for a public as it is for me. Often my work has been critically framed around issues of race and identity. There was some opportunity here to reposition my own work, to communicate to an audience that it has never been solely about race or identity, and that I have been simultaneously invested in issues around repetition, abstraction, and narrative.
It never occurred to me to curate an exhibition of this nature—it’s just not somewhere that my practice was ever going. But Alex Farquharson, the director at Nottingham, contacted me after he read Yourself in the World, a collection of my writings about other artists’ work, and said that he thought the book could serve as the basis for an interesting project. For me, those texts were deeply personal and by themselves they were enough, but over time I began to think an exhibition would be a great opportunity to work with the stellar collection of the Tate Modern and directly with other artists and collectors, and to juxtapose works that I have been thinking about for a long time.
Because I am deeply invested in Abstract Expressionism, which has been a touchstone for my painting practice, I was particularly excited to hang a Beauford Delaney next to a Franz Kline. Delaney and Kline were of the same generation and share many common interests, but such juxtapositions are rarely made, partially because Delaney's works are not in institutions the way they should be, but also because some people imagine they have nothing to say to each other, which clearly they do.
With my own work, it was an opportunity to imagine where things could go as well as consider the intersections between my practice and the work of my contemporaries. For instance, my multimedia drawing Study for Condition Report, 2000, incorporates Untitled (I Am A Man), 1988, a painting based on placards carried by protesters in a 1968 rally. The more recent work reproduces the 1988 piece and pairs it with an overlaid condition report of that painting by an art conservator. It “should be” in the section of the exhibition that also contains Charles Moore’s photographs of the Birmingham water protests or other representations of civil rights activism. But instead I decided to put it next to Lorna Simpson, Zoe Leonard, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye—artists whose work investigates the politics of representation and, in the case of Yiadom-Boakye, evinces a fascination with a fictive masculinity.
Also, a funny thing happened: I decided to include a Robert Morris felt piece—Untitled, 1967–68/2008—although I have never written about Morris. He isn’t an artist that I’ve thought about before in relationship to my own practice, but when I saw this specific piece I thought there was a certain synchronicity with my neon sculptures. These are the kinds of formal correspondences and strategies of representing the body—without showing the body—that might strike you as well in this exhibition. The ideas in my work are on a continuum, engaged with the issues of our time but also conceptually and formally evolving out of my earliest encounters with other artists.
Lydia Lunch, Collateral Damage, 2015, ink-jet print, 40 x 20".
Lydia Lunch is well known for her photography, writing, and music from the past three decades. Based in Barcelona, she recently released the new album Urge to Kill on Rustblade with her band RETROVIRUS; her 1990 spoken word work Conspiracy of Women (C.O.W.) will be rereleased this month on limited-edition vinyl by Nicholas Jaar’s label, Other People. Lunch will perform the piece on June 5, 2015, at 7 PM at Howl! Happening in New York, where an exhibition of new photography and selections from her archives are also on display through June 5. Here, she talks about her process, formative influences, and being an expat.
I’VE BEEN COMPILING MY ARCHIVES over the past two years. After so many spoken word and music shows, I have a ton of documentation—letters, live recordings, and boxes of photos that I’ve been taking since 1990. A lot of my photographic and video work happened after I left New York in 1990. I moved to New Orleans and began taking photos of rural decay, graveyards, crashed cars, and teenagers. I was trying to say to my subjects, “Look, this is you—don’t conform. This is your power, this is your beauty.” This exhibition is only my second photography show in the US; it highlights the work I could not do in this country, which is why I had to move.
I left America when Bush was reelected. I knew that the US was going to turn into a police state, so I went to Spain, a country that was thirty-five years out of fascism. There, I began visiting the ghost towns, investigating for my photography and video backdrops. An important one was the village of Belchite, which Franco bombed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, killing six thousand people. The place is now in a chronic state of decay; they just built a new town beside it. Nobody goes there, nobody cares, because amnesia is written into the constitution post Franco. They don’t talk about the civil war or the dead they can’t find. I wrote a spoken word piece called The Ghost of Spain, which is also about the ghost of Fallujah and Islamabad, Detroit and Trenton. I just connected the tissue of man’s insanity. That crumbling village is in some of my photos in the New York show. One is called Collateral Damage and it’s of this little boy at a German music festival. I took his picture and overlaid that with a piece of a destroyed wall in Belchite, which looks like a bloody smear of brick.
Spoken word has always been my priority—it’s intimate and hypnotic when done right. The word is what matters the most. One of the things I love to say from the stage is “Don’t be afraid to be ugly,” because we’re so indoctrinated to think, especially as females, that we’re not good enough. When I first started doing spoken word, there were more political artists doing it at the time, like Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, Exene Cervenka, and Wanda Coleman. I was called an exaggerator then but everything I was talking about is exactly what’s going on now. I’ve always felt we live in apocalyptic times, maybe because of what I was born into. In the show there’s an installation titled You are not safe in your own home, and nearby is “The War Is Never Over,” a series of photographic montages. The installation is an homage to relationships that are formed out of trauma bonds and the creativity that comes out of that. The show goes from the political trauma zone to the personal trauma zone, and the archival stuff on view is just to show how I managed to survive all that. The art is the proof of survival. I always turned the knife outward.
Left: Cover of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015). Right: The Arroyo Seco, Los Angeles.
Maggie Nelson is the author of Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (2007); Bluets (2009); and The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (2011), among other books. Her latest volume, The Argonauts (2015), pushes at the elasticity of language and form, family and identity, corporeality and social convention. It was published this month by Graywolf Press.
I HAVE always hated our almost rote propensity to shovel each other into premade life-shapes. I think that’s part of what’s made this book a little painful to see reflected back to me—I can sometimes palpably feel the tension in the reviewer or whomever between needing to create a life-shape and shovel me into it (“becoming a mother,” etc.) and allowing the text to perform its implosions and explosions of identity. People really worry about what will happen if you pull the plug on fixed identities in this way, but they shouldn’t worry so much—in my experience, that’s when good things start to happen.
For a long time, this book wore an epigraph from Roland Barthes. In it, Barthes says that in his own writing, there are always two different texts—Text I, “reactive,” paranoid; and Text II, “active, moved by pleasure.” I put it at the book’s opening to remind myself, each time I opened the document, that it was OK to write in both a reactive and active mode. Because often I would judge my reactive mode as simply grumpy, defensive, combative, unpleasant to read. I would cajole myself: Get to Text II, get to the pleasure! But Barthes then goes on to say that as his work gets “written, corrected, accommodated to the fiction of Style, Text I becomes active too, whereupon it loses its reactive skin, which subsists only in patches (mere parentheses).” I really wanted that to happen here—I really wanted Text I to bleed into Text II, so that whatever warlike aspect was present, it wouldn’t fight with the “pleasure” part; their skin would conjoin, like a Mobius strip.
There’s a corollary here to Eve Sedgwick’s interest in the relation between paranoia and reparative practice; The Argonauts quotes her line about how often it is “the most paranoid-tending people who are able to, and need to, develop and disseminate the richest reparative practices.” This book is rich in action and reaction, in paranoia and reparation. I wouldn’t even say it vacillates between them—it’s almost performing them in a strobe.
The interweaving of my partner Harry’s words into the text at first was just kind of a whim, or a problem solver—I wanted to tell the story of his mother’s death, and I knew he had written it more beautifully than I could ever paraphrase, so why not just use his. But once it occurred to me to weave his words in, it suddenly seemed utterly necessary. It performs a kind of endgame interpenetration of the text that the book’s wagers about interdependency and intersubjectivity seemed to invite, or even demand. It suddenly felt necessary, in a text that talks to and about him so much, to pause for a moment and let the reader feel the force of his own words, not his represented words or represented self as utilized by me.
Of course I’m still utilizing his narrative in service of my own, but I think the power of his words acts like a breeze (or a wind, really) in the room—a reminder of the separateness, the specificity, of others, as well as our conjoinedness. It’s the part of the book that makes me cry every time I read it aloud, probably because the words aren’t mine. He’s testifying to something I have never experienced—watching his mother die—but he’s also testifying to something he didn’t experience, death. It made sense to me to pair that with my own testimony of something he witnessed but didn’t literally experience—my labor with our son. We are deeply with each other, perhaps we even are each other, in some material or spiritual way, but we also stand apart. Whether that apartness is illusion or reality I cannot say. But I wanted to get at the question, the wonder of it, the tragedy of it, and so on.
I do believe in incantation. My account of taking walks in the Arroyo Seco during late pregnancy while listing aloud the names of everyone who was waiting on earth to love my son as a means of luring him out is a primary example of how we might perform a spiritual reverence for the word, for names, even while understanding deeply how fucked up or limiting words or names can be. This brings us to the book’s opening wager, from Wittgenstein, that the inexpressible is contained, albeit inexpressibly, in the expressed. Skilled as one may be as a writer or artist, I don’t really believe one can ever be in total control of that inexpressible thing. You’re in charge of the expressed. As Wittgenstein noted, when we try to control or directly express the inexpressible, we get into trouble. We might not literally be able to call something into being. But we can always sing.
Andrew Bujalski’s fifth feature film, Results (2015), is a romantic comedy about personal fitness that unfolds primarily in Austin. As in Bujalski’s previous works, such as Beeswax (2009) and Computer Chess (2013), humor arises from how the characters’ carefully made plans lead to unpredictable ends. Results opens in New York and Austin on May 29, 2015. Here, Bujalski discusses the ways in which the film is a continuation of his “kicking away [his] crutches.”
RESULTS is my version of romantic comedy, a genre that has fallen into ill repute. Romantic comedies are fun to write, but they also tend to be challenging on a technical level. They’re typically Rube Goldberg machines of unlikely causes and outsize effects—signals perpetually misinterpreted, situations exposing the heroes’ flaws, and neat illustrations of how yin and yang must complete each other.
When I started writing Results, I knew that I wanted to bring a looser, stranger form to the genre. The movie is essentially structured in thirds. The first part focuses on the relationship between the strong-willed personal fitness trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders) and the newly wealthy, divorced, and out-of-shape stoner Danny (Kevin Corrigan). The story then shifts gears to Danny’s unlikely friendship with the Australian fitness guru Trevor (Guy Pearce), and, finally, we wind up with amorous outcomes between Kat and Trevor. I felt at times like I was in Bergman’s Persona territory, with my male leads gradually morphing into each other. The overlap between them was much of this movie’s raison d’etre.
Every film that I’ve made has been an experiment in kicking away my crutches. Results is my most “mainstream” film and it had the biggest budget. I had to throw out most of what I thought I knew. The main shift was from working with nonprofessional actors to highly experienced veterans—the two groups communicate differently, both on-screen and off. As always, I aimed to build a story that would accommodate its performers’ talents. Something that Kevin and Guy have in common is that they’re both very inward, hard-to-read people, and so I put Cobie between them to create something like a constant human explosion; they’re all such strong and seasoned performers, but with three distinctive flavors.
Additionally, in the past I’d shot with throwback cameras—16 mm and Super 16 for the first three features, outmoded video for Computer Chess. Here we worked with up-to-date color digital equipment to make the film look and feel as contemporary as possible. I figured I’d try participating in the twenty-first century, rather than denying it (my natural inclination).
Trailer for Andrew Bujalski’s Results, 2015
I wondered if my voice could survive “going with the flow.” The reviews I’ve seen so far—both complimentary and unflattering—suggest that it has, which is nice for my ego, if a tad worrisome for my pocketbook. Working this way feels different to me, but then again, life feels different now. If you gave me the same materials with which I made my debut feature, Funny Ha Ha (2002), there is no way that the present-day me could come up with the movie that the twenty-four-year-old me did. This notion that every cell in the human body regenerates over the course of seven years has always resonated with me, so I figure I’m literally a different person at least twice over since then.
The processes of building your body and building a relationship have some things in common. In both cases you’re sold on this idea that if you go and work at something, and play through the pain, then there’ll be a reward awaiting you at the end. I think that this is, or at least can be, true. However, it’s also human nature to let yourself slip and conflate reaching a goal with solving all of your problems.
People get addicted when they latch on to that kind of metaphor. There are certain things at the core of you that no amount of external build-out can change. No matter how much you work on yourself, there’s always going to be a lot of you with which you’re simply stuck. You can—and should!—do your best possible work, but when unrealistic expectations creep in, as they usually do, we make ourselves miserable. That misery is a great vein for comedy to tap.
Lyle Ashton Harris, Jenny and Cathy, Sunset Junction Street Fair, Los Angeles, Circa Early 1990s, 2015, chromogenic print, 15 x 20 1/2".
Lyle Ashton Harris’s current solo exhibition at Miami’s David Castillo Gallery features a series of unstaged pictures from his archive of Ektachrome slides from the past twenty-five years. As a curator, he recently cocurated—with Robert Storr and Peter Benson Miller—the group show “Nero su Bianco” (Black on White), which examines radical shifts in perceptions of African identity, subjectivity, and agency. It will be on view at the American Academy in Rome from May 25, 2015, through July 19, 2015. The exhibition at David Castillo Gallery, which Harris discusses below, is on view through May 30, 2015.
IN LATE 2012, I received a Facebook message from my longtime friend Isaac Julien asking to use some of my photographs in his autobiography, Riot (2013), a book that was published on the occasion of his MoMA exhibition. This inquiry reconnected me to an archive of 35-mm Ektachrome reversal slides that I had stored in my mother’s basement in the Bronx before moving to Rome in 2000. I hadn’t given these slides much thought over the past fifteen years and was surprised that I had amassed at least three thousand of them, dating from between the late 1980s and 2000. I dived into this archive—in hindsight, this was partly due to the ending of a seven-year relationship. The experience of editing was cathartic and helped me to reengage with the pulse of New York City after having split my time between Accra and New York from 2005 to 2012.
The exhibition at David Castillo includes a concise distillation of images from that archive. There are candid portraits and snapshots of friends and acquaintances, such as the late Marlon Riggs taking AZT while on break from shooting his last film, Black Is, Black Ain’t (1994); bell hooks in repose at home in New York; Nan Goldin applying eyeliner in Berlin; and Catherine Opie in an embrace. Also included are photos of family, boyfriends, and lovers, plus self-portraits, landscapes, and interiors of bedrooms and now-closed nightclubs. It is the quotidian quality of these images, which captured people, places, and moments long—and often tragically—gone, that most intrigues me and stands in stark contrast to the theatricality of the more iconic works that have become a hallmark of my practice.
This show is the first time I am showing prints of the slides. Last year, Visual AIDS commissioned me to produce a video version of the archive for “Day With(out) Art.” Also, as part of Carrie Mae Weems’s “Live Past/Future Tense” retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum last April I staged a performative lecture with projected images from the archive accompanied by a mash-up of Grace Jones’s Nightclubbing album. This presentation functioned as a memento mori of sorts for several of the audience members who were intimately familiar with the subjects and the texture of that period.
Lyle Ashton Harris, Selections from the Ektachrome Archive, 2014
In contrast to that audience, I recently showed this work to photography students at Yale. They were equally engaged, but they focused on the more formal aspects of the work. In this way, the title of the exhibition, “Lyle Ashton Harris: Ektachrome Archive 1986-96: Part I – Recovering Identity and Desire,” is a red herring—I see the archive not as a repository of things past to be unearthed but as something that shapes the now and the near future in ways that I am just beginning to understand and which has a relevance beyond me.