Lazar Lyutakov and Baba Vasa in Baba Vasa's Cellar, August 2011. Photo: Jan Machacek.
Located in Shabla, a small town near the Black Sea in northern Bulgaria, Baba Vasa’s Cellar is a small exhibition space that opened in 2002. Since then, the now eighty-seven-year-old Vasa Maneva has been running the space in her basement, with the help of an international group of artists. Every summer they plan an exhibition, which commences with a garden party. This year’s show is organized by the Vienna-based Dienstag Abend collective and will gather works by twenty-one artists, with many making their pieces on site. Here, artists Karine Fauchard and Lazar Lyutakov (Vasa’s grandson) speak about the venue. The show opens on August 8, and Baba Vasa will receive guests to the exhibition until the end of August.
BULGARIA IS not known for contemporary art. When you go to its forgotten parts you double that. Baba Vasa’s Cellar began as Lazar’s artwork, but it has evolved into a collaborative project. A collective is always in the shadow of this space, but only one person represents it and it belongs to one person: Baba Vasa.
Baba Vasa has very little personal costs, so she can afford to be generous with her guests. This project is important for her; running this space brings her energy and strength. People love the idea of her being in the center of this project since she is wise, friendly, and respected. It’s a bit romantic.
We asked Baba Vasa about contemporary art in Bulgaria, and she said (in Bulgarian): “I think about the success of Bulgarian contemporary art—I am sure it is going to happen soon. The most rewarding thing about having this exhibition space is to have you all around me and to enjoy the time with you.”
The openings have the character of a happening. A grandmother welcomes absolutely every guest personally. People come to celebrate something. Food and accommodation in Shabla are the cheapest on the Bulgarian seaside. So it is not a huge effort for our guests to make a personal investment, which is what creates dialogue. The right people are the ones who come just because they want to come. The neighbors are a part of it too. In the past, they have brought tomatoes or whatever they could to the openings. Artists see how this works and they want to share in this.
We turned down a proposal to exhibit this as a project in a museum in Bulgaria, because we are an alternative to that. We don’t need the most famous artists, and we don’t need a bigger space. We want the type of audience you can’t reach at Art Basel or when exhibiting in a commercial gallery. We are mainly interested in a local audience, like the small crew of kids in Shabla who come to the openings, but we know that this creates specific meaning that can be useful in a broader context.
The art world eats every interesting idea by repeating and developing it until it is no longer relevant. We don’t put too much value on the fact that this is a situation on the periphery. That’s just the way it happened and many qualities have emerged because of that. It could not happen in another way.
The cellar is nearly 130 square feet and six feet high, so most people can stand up in it, but tall people cannot. The house is falling apart because it is very old, but the space has a clean and neutral look when you come in so there is no compromise in what is offered. It is a white cube—a Bulgarian white cube. Last summer, Mladen Bizumic made an installation here that took the form of a library of collaborative works. This summer the Vienna-based collective Dienstag Abend have been invited. Twenty-one artists are coming, so Baba Vasa will need a lot of coffee.
The project is scaled to what is possible. It is a fine evening in the middle of nowhere.
View of “Nick Cave: Here Hear,” 2015, Cranbrook Art Museum.
Nick Cave’s solo exhibition at the Cranbrook Art Museum, “Here Hear,” highlights the range of his multidisciplinary practice, from his iconic Soundsuits to newer sculpture, and also marks the artist’s return to a city that fostered his early practice. Organized in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the Detroit School of Arts, and other community-engaged programs at the Ruth Ellis Center and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the exhibition is on view through October 11, 2015.
DETROIT GAVE ME THE SOUL. It was a critical part of my education. When I was a graduate student at Cranbrook Academy, I learned so much, but it was in the house music dance community here in 1987–88 where I found myself. During undergrad, I had taken summer classes with Alvin Ailey in New York and I learned to dance. Coming from that training, I then applied it to my work. I’ve always looked at dance as an artwork where you are drawing in 4-D. By the time I moved to Detroit, I adopted a more improvisational approach to movement, one that was structured but responsive to constant transformation. Lately, it has become less about dance and more about movement in my work.
My Soundsuits are meant to be applied to the body. They evolved out of African ceremonial bodysuits, Haitian textiles, and carnival costumes from Trinidad. This exhibition is a city-wide intervention where I involved many collaborators as well as blurred the lines between audience and participant. For instance, I paired three dance companies with three musicians. In order to foster their involvement, I gave each dance company a box which held Soundsuits or other objects that could be used as attire. They had one week to develop a piece and the resulting works were then performed in nearby communities.
Once you are in a Soundsuit, you have to decide: What have I become wearing this coverlet that obscures my appearance as a human being? The first Soundsuit came out of a tragic event, the Rodney King beating. They became about opening oneself up to a change, an altercation, or transformation in dimension, form, scale, and weight. There is something there about allowing oneself to understand victimhood through masking and costume. After the Trayvon Martin incident, for instance, I finished a new piece titled TM13, which is in the exhibition at Cranbrook. Intended to keep the attention and conversation around race and equality going, the piece is of a boy—a black figure in a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers. He is surrounded by plastic molds of Santa Claus, the ones that are put out in people’s yards during Christmas. On his shoulder is a plastic angel figurine and the entire sculpture is covered in a beaded web. The boy is constricted, repressed, and limited in motion.
In preparation for the performances, I went into communities in Detroit that were hit hard by the recession, driving back there for the last four months and meeting with neighborhood committee members. I presented my intention to produce a wide range of cultural interventions that were meant to refuel and inspire the local population. For instance, in the Highland Park neighborhood, I worked at the Ruth Ellis Center. There, I involved dance groups to create Up Right Detroit, a performance in which LBGTQ youth don ritualistic costumes before entering the city as cloaked figures. Their anonymity allows them visibility without censure. The audience who became active participants in Up Right Detroit were split down the middle: Fifty percent came from the suburbs around the metropolitan area, and fifty percent from the neighborhood. Many were artists that are living in the city. Creative people have moved into these forbidden areas of city, off the beaten path, which has shifted the dynamics culturally. You can feel it; you can see it; it’s all happening.
There are so many people and even artists in this city that are disconnected from each other; they don’t cross paths. In conceiving of these creative performance jams, it becomes about reintroducing people to each other. The informal but planned artistic intervention into the fabric of city is very much like what house music did for me so many decades ago.
From the Genesis Breyer P-Orridge Archives.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has been making art, poetry, music, and magic for nearly fifty years. With the band Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge became one of the main progenitors of industrial music, and in 1981 P-Orridge with Alex Fergusson commenced Psychic TV, which released its thirty-sixth studio album, Snakes, in 2014.
In 1993, P-Orridge met and married dominatrix, registered nurse, performance artist, and musician Jacqueline Breyer— aka Lady Jaye (named after G.I. Joe’s sidekick). Shortly afterward they embarked on the project of Pandrogeny, a fusion of their souls and bodies as one through using the pronoun we, as well as various surgical procedures and shamanic rituals. They got matching breast implants on Valentine’s Day 2003. Lady Jaye died in 2007 but lives on through P-Orridge’s life and activities as the shared creators BREYER P-ORRIDGE.
In 2009, Tate Britain purchased the artist’s archive, and P-Orridge is currently at work on several projects: a collection of poetry that will be published through Heartworm Press; Bight of the Twin, a collaborative documentary made with filmmaker Hazel Hill McCarthy III on the Voudon religion in Ouidah, Benin; and a commissioned exhibition on the influences of Nepal and Benin, West Africa, on P-Orridge’s works at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York slated for March 2016, to run simultaneously with an exhibition of new works at Invisible-Exports.
WE WERE THREE YEARS AHEAD of the rest of our peers in school because we were bright. By the age of nine, we were in class with twelve-year-olds. We became so bored, out of our mind! My father had a policy: If you can read it, you can read it. He had a great library of books. First editions of Tristram Shandy and Robinson Crusoe, all that stuff. He also had a copy of Seven Years in Tibet, which he gave to us when we were ten. We read it and we were just mesmerized by it and that was that, Tibet was in our life and consciousness from then on, all due to our dad. It got us looking for all things Tibetan. In those days there wasn’t much information around, especially in the suburbs of England. Then, at some point during the 1960s, we managed to get an album of Tibetan sacred music, which was mind-bending. Of course, we were listening to the Velvet Underground at the time as well, and we managed to locate all sorts of commonalities between the two.
When you become a Tibetan monk, one of the older monks will tell you which instrument to play. It’s not based on skill and aptitude; it’s based on what they think will work for you spiritually, in the long term. So we thought, What a brilliant way of approaching music. Skill is the least important part; devotion and revelation are the real reason for making sound. And then we came across a copy of Silence by John Cage, and then we came across Karlheinz Stockhausen. All of it made sense to us. It all came from the same jigsaw puzzle. Anything that can be heard is potentially music, every sound. And whenever you have a second sound, it’s a rhythm, no matter how many millions of years separate the sounds are, that makes it rhythm. That’s basically the rules of music. If it makes a noise, it’s music; if there are two noises, it’s a rhythm, end of story. And so we made our first album in 1967 based on that. We wrote by hand on the front cover, on the one copy we could afford to make, quotes from John Cage. The front functioned as the sleeve notes. On the back of it we wrote, “We have nothing to say, and we’re saying it.”
Of course, we’ve been accused of saying a lot, oftentimes offensive, Satanic, or pure evil—of being gratuitously “shocking.” We’ve been so pissed off at the hypocrisy and bigotry of the overriding culture, particularly in Britain where the class system infects everything. We were not just wanting to shock so much as to say, “Fuck you, you hypocritical, privileged bastards. We’ve seen you, we’ve been at your fucking school. We’re on to you.”
So they labeled us shocking when, really, we were just trying to communicate something about society that society couldn’t see, or didn’t want to see. We did this with music, of course, but we did it visually as well, in our artwork, collages, album art, and performances. We’d use the concept of the cut-up, ŕ la Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, to combine images from real life with totally conflicting images, confusing people. It was coming from Fluxus more than punk. One time, when we were performing with COUM Transmissions, one of our members looked profoundly wounded, even disemboweled, when really she was just covered in crushed fruit. People were horrified by it, even though she smelled incredible! It looked real, but we’d be performing right next to her, our body covered in a profusion of small cuts that would be bleeding so much by the end of the performance that we were nearly unconscious. No one would be bothered by it because my wounds didn’t look as “real” as hers. So the question arises as to what are you really looking at, if you’re drawn to fake drama, not “reality,” and what are you really upset by? Oh, the pretty girl who looks like she’s been mangled—look at her and take pictures of her, be appalled! But we’re the ones who’re actually injured, and you’re ignoring us because we were just some skinny little naked thing.
You know, we never said to ourselves, “Aren’t we genius that we came up with the idea of industrial music?” As a cultural engineer, we believe certain radical shifts in popular culture are inevitable. If we didn’t do it, we think someone, somewhere down the road, would have been astute enough to apply the lessons of John Cage and classical electronic music to popular music to give it renewed authenticity and content in terms of sounds and lyrics. Bob Dylan liberated lyrical content at one point; Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground liberated the lyric at one point; and then we feel we took lyrics as far as they could go within Throbbing Gristle. Psychic TV, on the other hand, was my reaction to the way Throbbing Gristle was constantly being misunderstood—everyone just thought T.G. was making a lot of noise, screaming about murder. And that’s not what we were doing! An artist has a right, an absolute right, to discuss any subject he or she chooses. Why is it that a journalist can discuss brutality, nihilism, suppression of ideas, and other unsavory things, but if artists do, we’re irresponsible, labeled evil? It’s absurd. The dominant media makes money from humanE suffering, while we’re doing it to ask why human beings are the way they are. Surely this should change—MUST change.
Stanley Whitney, Dance the Orange, 2013, oil on linen, 48 x 48".
The New York–based artist Stanley Whitney’s first solo museum exhibition in New York, “Dance the Orange,” at the Studio Museum in Harlem will feature recent work made between 2008 and 2015. Here, he unpacks the formal and structural ramifications of the colors in his paintings. The show opens July 16 and will run through October 25, 2015.
I ALWAYS HAD THE COLOR. I don’t know where it came from. My influences are many, from Titian to Edvard Munch to textiles, and the color comes from all kinds of places. Sometimes I go for a walk and I am looking for a yellow but I can’t find it in the world so I go back to my studio with a specific hue in mind. For a long time, my difficulty was how to make color the subject because the way we were taught is that color supports content.
So much of my color resembles music, something that is intrinsically difficult to address in language. Jazz is misunderstood in the United States, but a friend expressed it best when he said, “When Charlie Parker came to Stockholm, he liberated the city.” We take jazz for granted as an American expression, but the intellect in music is hard to discern, because the fluidity of improvisation in, say, Ornette Coleman’s work conveys an ease. Similarly, African American art is typically understood as depictions of the body and not the intellect. Even today, it is a fight to be an abstract artist. A fight to be outside of blackness not in a postracial way, or as in Du Bois’s postulations about double consciousness, but almost in a class way, moving beyond demographics. Skin color remains, culture remains, but what does that look like—being outside of blackness as an artist, not being white and just being human?
Over the years, I have become more comfortable with how I approach the canvas, how the red is laid on, and how things feel. When I was a student, if you weren’t drawing the figure, then what were you drawing? Drawing became the structure for my paintings, though. I still draw in black and white, without the vibrancy of color. The way the 4 x 4 grid came about in my work is I wanted the composition to be simple and have the color be magical. Color has always been about space for me. You have the Claudian space of the landscape painting—a central field framed on either side by trees—or the vast allover space in a Jackson Pollock, but how could one create space in the color on a grid? How could I lay two colors so close to each other and not trap them but rather allow air for the canvas to breathe? This became a sort of preoccupation for me. Creating space within color involves experiments with density, vibrancy, saturation, and even with matteness. It is not just formal for me—color has great depth; it can bring up great emotion and immense feeling. I studied with Philip Guston whose paintings always had luxurious skins, and I thought I wanted to paint like him. But in Florence I once saw a Botticelli that was saturated and matte at the same time, and in northern Egypt the architecture held up the color, so solutions to color handling are sometimes unexpected.
I want everything in the paintings—the complexity of the world. I am often reading while I am working on a body of work, so the titles are snippets from poetry, literature, and music. “Dance the Orange,” for instance, is from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus: “Dance the flavor of this fruit as we experience it!” All the senses are engaged in the poem. I sit with the work after it is finished, waiting to name the paintings, and I won’t let them out of the studio until they have fitting titles.
Jimmie Durham is an American sculptor, essayist, and poet based in Europe, where he has lived since 1994. Durham spent most of the 1970s as a political organizer with the American Indian Movement, serving as director of the International Indian Treaty Council. “Here at the Center,” his latest solo exhibition, is on view at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (NBK) in Berlin through August 2, 2015. Additionally, his work can be seen in the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale through November 22, 2015.
IN 1963, I was just out of the military and started my real adult life doing art and politics together. I’ve never been able to separate the two. Art is a thing one does socially, and if it seems politically loaded it’s because the object just gets so loaded with life. When you make things, the result is always a kind of self-portrait, so art ends up telling you whatever politics you have. I began as a poet, and then moved from poetry into theater, then into politics and the writing that came with public life, which turned to objects. I have a feeling, when you read, when anyone reads, you read publicly—though one likes to be private when within a book, it is a social act. You read to join the world, which is similar to the act of looking.
For the show at the NBK, I was just going to show non-art, different objects in my studio so the work would just look like interesting things in progress. But a friend suggested exhibiting a video I had made of myself this past February singing songs from childhood—American country music that children had to learn in the 1940s dealing with things like the blood of Jesus and children getting lost in the woods. To this day, I cannot escape this music. I wake every morning with these horrible, horrible songs in my head, a bad echo of a American childhood in Arkansas, the most racist state in America. Once it was decided to exhibit the video, the non-art idea didn't work and I started looking though old pieces I had in storage that would fit around it. The show builds on a long series of output dedicated to the idea of the euro or Europe as a whole—it’s like a twenty-year report to the Continent, almost everything in it is related to the predicament of Europe.
Artmaking always starts from the love of the materials—trying to see how I can enter the material and leave with that material in some way. For Venice: Objects, Work and Tourism, my project at the Venice Biennale, for example, I was thinking about objects for tourists. I love Venice, I love the crowds, I love the Biennales, and I hate the tourists because we’re so stupid when we’re tourists. And we don’t mean to be stupid, we mean to see everything, but we don’t even know what we mean by seeing everything. People take photos of pigeons and pizzas and they never look at any reality, which is themselves—they are the biggest part of the Venice reality. There is no Venice without these tourists, without us. And, as a tourist, you can’t go to Venice without buying some souvenir—you bring it back and treasure it mostly because you probably won’t ever go back. These are magic things that may be perceived as stupid, but the craft is always good, though the design often bad. I love the glasswork and wood tchotchkes: This is my biggest weakness. It’s not objects I love, but material. There are never conscious decisions about this sort of thing; that’s one of the things I don’t know how to do in art.
An artist who ties into this is Monet—I like Monet very much. Monet looked at the world with love and he tried to represent it. He tried to use camel hair, pigs’ hair, squirrels’ hair, stuck on the end of sticks. He put together some linseed oil and pigment to make oil paint and tried to represent the world with this stuff. It’s so naive and so childish and so beautiful. He wanted to depict the world with this goofy stuff that humans use, thinking that we can represent the world, which is at once silly and brave. In contrast, Picasso looked at himself and his talent, and to me, this is against art. If you have a good talent at art, you shouldn’t do that kind of art that your talent is good at; you should do anything but that.
Yoshua Okón, Oracle, 2015, four-channel video installation, color, sound, 24 minutes.
Earlier this year, Mexican artist Yoshua Okón travelled to Oracle, a small Arizona border town, to record the AZ Border Protectors. Oracle, 2015, the resulting four-channel video installation, includes footage Okón shot of the group reenacting a protest it had staged in 2014 against unaccompanied minors who crossed the border in record numbers that summer. The work will be on view in a show curated by Julio Cesar Morales at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe from July 4 through August 22, 2015.
ORACLE includes a chorus of nine Guatemalan kids from the approximately sixty thousand unaccompanied minors who migrated to the US last year. They sing a song based on a US Marines’ Hymn that narrates a history of US invasions beginning with the invasion of Mexico in the nineteenth century (“From the halls of Montezuma...”). In this version, the kids sing about the invasion of their own land—beginning with a CIA-led coup in 1954—with specific emphasis on the complicity of the CIA and the United Fruit Company. The second section of the work is a two-channel diptych in which we see one of the protesters driving in circles—a metaphor for nationalism—in a white truck with a huge US flag. He is shooting his guns out the window.
Last year, I learned about the protests when I saw a picture of a lady in Oracle holding a sign that read, “Stop Invasion.” Knowing the history of the US invasion of Guatemala, I found this image incredibly ironic and revealing of the nationalist bubble in which most people in the US live. The arrival of these kids to the US is a direct result of US foreign policy, but the root causes are almost never brought into the immigration debate, be it in conservative or progressive circles. The right-wing media tries to make the anti-immigration groups look like heroes who are defending America, while the media on the left tries to make them look like dehumanized, racist, and fanatic savages, and tries to portray them as the source of the problem. Some people from the counterprotest in Oracle even compared them to the KKK, which is a big distortion. Many of the people involved in these groups are mixed-race and they openly acknowledge it. This is not about race. These people are angry because they feel the national pact has been broken; they feel betrayed and frustrated by the complicity between the government and transnational corporations. But holding on to nationalism is making matters worse and generating a lot of hatred against immigrants who are victims of the same forces the protesters are ultimately opposing.
I titled this piece Oracle as a reference to the town as well as to the Oracle corporation, which has strong ties to the CIA and also symbolizes our current geopolitical paradigm, where it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between governments and corporations.
Oracle is a very small town. It wasn’t long before I was able to interview the leaders of the protest. I presented myself as an artist who uses video and told them that my goal was to put their issue on the table and then let people make up their own minds. I told them that I am not pro or against them—which is true. I assumed they liked attention and cameras, so I decided not to interfere much and to let them do their thing. The protesters even offered to perform what they call “Camouflage Operations” for my camera.
You have to remember that most members in these militias are ex-cops or ex-military. These secret activities mimic special-ops missions. For instance, they mentioned to me that they did some camouflage operations to monitor the Sycamore Canyon Academy, where the Central American kids were taken. But, as tends to happen with these kinds of works, after a few days they began to feel exposed, so they canceled the extra shoot.
I wouldn’t say that the protesters completely take control of their own image in Oracle, but I would say that the portrayal I am constructing gives a wider perspective and is more nuanced than the mainstream media. To me, as a symptom both of the disastrous effects of neoliberal capitalism and of the inadequacy of nationalism to counteract these effects, the anger of the Oracle protesters should be taken seriously.