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.
View of “Sabina Ott: who cares for the sky?,” 2016. Photos: Tom Van Eynde.
Sabina Ott’s 2014 exhibition “Here and there pink melon joy” at the Chicago Cultural Center exploded her previously painterly work into a multidimensional journey through purgatory, heaven, and hell. As Jason Foumberg observed on artforum.com, “This dream is no escape from reality; Ott builds the type of world she wants us to live in.” Her new project, who cares for the sky?, is her most ambitious to date, featuring an eight-thousand-cubic-foot mountain that can be scaled on a series of stairs or burrowed into via a treasure-filled underground tunnel, presenting a lopsided monument to innocence, persistence, and wonder. The installation will be on view at Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago through May 1, 2016.
IT COULD BE THAT MOST ARTISTS have just one or two central ideas. In 1985, I painted a rose and a mountain. The oil paint was thick, and the material really became the subject. Then in 1990, after reading Gertrude Stein, I began a body of work with roses and wax. There’s something so beautiful and inexplicable about the way Stein takes an everyday object, removes it from its context, and then places it next to another familiar thing in the wrong way. The syntaxes switch, everything is thrown up in the air and falls down, and then you can experience it again in a fresh way. The image of the rose, and Stein’s technique, became important sources for me. Since beginning my work with foam in 2014, I’ve come to understand that the material was my way of expressing a desire to take painting into another dimension. The sculptures and videos in the exhibition achieve the kind of layering I sought in my paintings.
As soon as I walked into the gallery here, I knew I’d build a mountain. It fills this space—which is twenty-two feet tall, twenty feet wide, and seventy feet long—and it can be viewed on one side from a catwalk. It was built by a team of about ten people, mostly volunteers, over twenty-one days. The stairway that leads to the top of the installation is very steep, you don’t know what to expect when you get to the top, but instead of a solitary summit there is a play space with benches and beanbags and children’s chairs where people can interact, hang out, and watch one of the videos as an enormous projection. The great thing about mountains is that they position you in the middle. When you desire to get to the top of a mountain, you think you are going to the top of the world, but you end up between above and below. All three videos re-create the perspective shifts that occur by using aerial footage shot from a plane as well as footage shot of clouds from below. Individual letters float and then spin over the aerial landscapes, a letter becomes dislodged from a word, and then it becomes a frame for the landscape, a frame for movement. Language becomes a means of abstraction.
The tunnel represents, among other things, the community of artists that I joined when I moved to Chicago in 2005. I asked about seventy artists to each contribute a small, personal work that could be installed on the tunnel’s walls. It’s a very mixed batch of things from a very mixed batch of artists: There’s a photograph of a carrot-head character framed in rubber by Jeanne Dunning, a small conspiracy drawing by Deb Sokolow, a photograph by Meg T. Noe, an altered painter’s palette by Michelle Wasson, a drawing of an elf by teenager Zoe Gordon, a glittery piece by artist and critic Matt Morris, a painted entry buzzer by Kelly Loyd, a drawing of a backward American flag by six-year-old Naava Stein, and a small painting by Michelle Grabner. But it’s not always clear that most of these pieces were made by professional artists. There’s something that happens when you abstract a single piece from a body of work that renders it talismanic. Each piece, seen on its own, has an emotional power that is quite different than the experience you’d have in viewing it in the context of the artist’s larger body of work. The experience of the tunnel hovers somewhere between that of a shrine filled with offerings and that of a catacomb filled with bones.
I’ve always believed that my artworks offer a place where trauma can be transformed into something else by turning things inside out and dislodging them into a space of pure play. When I made paintings, I was experiencing that kind of play by myself and it was very personal. But here, in these spaces, it’s very public. I feel like this space is really an offering. I was not in total control of this project at all and I liked that feeling. Someone who came to the show compared it to writing a poem: You begin, but don’t know how it’s going to end. The mountain has an illusion of solidity, but it feels very temporary to me, perhaps even still growing, and in a way, that’s a beautiful thing.
Louise Fishman, Haggadah, 1988, oil on linen, 37 x 50". From the series “Remembrance and Renewal,” 1988.
The artist Louise Fishman, primarily known for her large-scale abstract paintings, is the subject of two forthcoming exhibitions: “Louise Fishman: A Retrospective,” a fifty-year survey show at the Neuberger Museum of Art at SUNY Purchase, opening on April 3, 2016, and running through July 31, 2016; and “Paper Louise Tiny Fishman Rock,” an idiosyncratic presentation of her miniature works at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia which opens April 29 and will be on view through August 14, 2016. Here, she talks about her beginnings as an artist and the evolution of her work.
WHILE IN GRADUATE SCHOOL in Champaign-Urbana, I took the Illinois Central Railroad to Chicago and saw a hard-edged Al Held painting in a show of Minimalism at the Art Institute of Chicago, which had a big impact on me. The earliest painting in my retrospective at the Neuberger, In and Out, 1968, was influenced by that Al Held work. When I moved to New York after graduate school, I thought I was going to meet the Abstract Expressionists. I found out very quickly that there was no place for me, though; I wasn’t going to be sleeping with Milton Resnick or any of those guys for passion, for love, or to become an artist. My involvement with the women’s movement started out as a strict practice of feminist consciousness-raising, and then I got involved in the lesbian movement, which really changed my life. I blossomed in a way I don’t think I would have without it. I’d watched my mother and my aunt, who is a well-known painter in Philadelphia, be isolated and stepped on. It was hard to imagine a career as a female artist then—but I loved painting.
I am a very formal painter; I have a classic art academy background. On nights off from Tyler School of Art and my shifts as a salesgirl, I went to a community center in Philadelphia called Fleisher Art Memorial. I loved that place, and it was free. I took a class where they had a model pose for three and a half hours and you used water-based clay to render their form, and then you’d tear it down and throw it away. It was OK because it was just about learning. Understanding the clay, the feel, had a lot to do with how I developed as a painter. Color also takes on a materiality that I feel. There are periods when I have taken cold wax and mixed it with paint so that it has a different surface, it is much more physical. The group of paintings I made when I came back from seeing the Auschwitz and Terezín concentration camps in 1988, “Remembrance and Renewal,” used beeswax that had ashes and little pebbles ground in with it. Works from this series are also included in the Neuberger exhibition.
Scale is as important to me as any other material is—the thickness of the stretchers, how far the painting sits from the wall, in addition to color and surface. It is a very interesting thing to go from a little painting to one that involves the whole body. A little painting is your eyes and your nose and a little bit of your hand; a great big horizontal painting involves walking. Once you’re beyond the reach of your hands, it’s less about the body than it is about moving in the studio. I found these tiny canvases in an art supply store in Berlin and thought, Oh my God—this is perfect; what an idea, to use canvases that are this tiny. At the ICA, we will decide how to install those paintings in the moment—the museum is set up for this kind of improvisation. It’s a good fit because my work is so erratic and it’s all rather unique but interconnected—the books, the little paintings, and sculptures. It’s very interesting that I didn’t know that Ti-Grace Atkinson was the first director of the ICA, in 1963, but I knew her from the women’s movement—she was a brilliant feminist theoretician. Ingrid Schaffner, the curator of my show, said that we had to have Angry Ti-Grace, 1973, in it, which is part of my “Angry Women” series of paintings.
In dealing with the Neuberger retrospective and looking back at all my work from different periods, I see now that I was fully formed in each stage. It’s not like I’ve hit the top of my abilities yet either. I’m a little different from some painters, probably, in that my work varies so much. But then, as artists, we’re always becoming.