Henry Flynt’s long career spans many roles: mathematician, musician, artist, and anti-art activist, as well as philosopher. In 1961, he coined the term “concept art” (not to be confused with Conceptual art), ushering in a new form of work that exploits and undermines the tautological structures of perceptual logic. “ ‘Concept art,’ ” he wrote in 1961, “is first of all an art of which the material is ‘concepts’. . . . Since ‘concepts’ are closely bound up with language, concept art is a kind of art of which the material is language.”
Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1940, Flynt began studying mathematics at Harvard University at the age of seventeen but later withdrew to pursue artmaking. He moved to New York in 1960, where he was introduced to the local avant-garde, and performed before such luminaries as John Cage and Marcel Duchamp. Flynt was also featured extensively in La Monte Young’s An Anthology of Chance Operations (1963). Flynt subsequently denounced the art world and demonstrated against “Serious Culture” at institutions including Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in 1963–64. In the 1970s he produced experiments in music composition with fellow artist-mathematician and close collaborator Catherine Christer Hennix. It was not until the late 1980s that Flynt resumed his role as a visual artist, consistently exhibiting his works at Emily Harvey Gallery in New York and subsequently at the 1990 Venice Biennale. Flynt’s retrospective, “Activities 1959–,” is his first museum exhibition. It is on view at the Kunstverein Düsseldorf from October 6, 2012 to January 20, 2013, and then travels to the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnolgie in Karlsruhe, Germany. Curated by Hans-Jürgen Hafner, the show tracks Flynt’s exhaustive development of concept art as a critical genre. Here he speaks about the exhibition, his new works, and the evolution of the genre over the past fifty years.
Henry Flynt interviewed at the Artforum offices in September 2012.
Left: Nedko Solakov, Knights (and other dreams), 2012. Installation view, Documenta 13, Brüder Grimm-Museum, Kassel. (Photo: Ela Bialkowska) Right: Nedko Solakov, Discussion (Property), 2007. Installation view, Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto, Portugal, 2012. (Photo: Dimitar Solakov)
The Sofia, Bulgaria–based artist Nedko Solakov is known for his narrative-driven installations that merge his biography with history and fiction. His unorthodox, multipart, touring survey exhibition “All in Order, with Exceptions” is on view at Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves in Porto, Portugal, until October 28; over the past year, it has been installed at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK; S.M.A.K. in Ghent, Belgium; and the Fondazione Galleria Civica in Trento, Italy.
I GRADUATED in mural painting at the Sofia Art Academy in the early 1980s and by then I was producing small paintings. It is in these works that I began incorporating stories. Later, when I began making installations, they continued to have tales in them, as I added text. Today, I can say that there has been a lot of writing in my work and that, frankly, sometimes I am kind of sick of it.
The stories that I tell are built in space and are very different from those laid out in a book. They need the viewer’s movement: The bending, the squatting, and the looking in the corners—all this completes the work. In the installations, almost everybody experiences the key narrative. Yet not everybody apprehends the subnarratives—and there are many sub-sub- and sub-sub-subnarratives as well—but I am OK with this.
Sometimes there is no fiction in my stories, although one might assume there is, given the untruthfulness of the narrative. For example, Discussion (Property), which was presented at the 2007 Venice Biennale, is inspired by the dispute between Bulgaria and Russia about the copyrights for producing the AK-47 assault rifle. There’s also no fiction in Top Secret—a work made in 1990 (after the fall of the Berlin Wall) that caught attention at Documenta 12—even though many people still think that I invented my youthful involvement with the Bulgarian Secret Service.
Documenta 13 asked me to produce a new work and I made Knights (and other dreams). Working at the Brothers Grimm Museum was unforgettable: For the first time, I had a suite of rooms, a natural path for my stories. I did my best not to be an intruder into the institution; for example, the way I showed the texts and all the other elements of the work matches its display techniques. More important, I tried to respect as much as possible its architecture. As my old professor from the Sofia Art Academy used to teach his students, “Architecture is always first; you—the artist—are the second!”
This work was made while my survey exhibition was taking place. In the last room of Knights (and other dreams), I connect the two of them: The yellow folders, part of the “made-up young artist’s dream” section, come from the first venue of the retrospective, at the Ikon Gallery. Unlike most touring shows, the curators of the retrospective agreed to play a game with me: Rather than focus solely on my mature works, all from the past thirty years—even those made after I graduated in 1981—were to be considered. Also, at least one work per year had to be chosen. After two days of meetings, they came up with a checklist of “good” works for each year, a selection reached by consensus. Later, out of this checklist, each one of them chose only one work per year; some works overlapped, some didn’t. Nevertheless, for Trento, I selected thirty works rejected by the curators of the other three venues, the best of the “bad” ones. I called this selection “All in (My) Order, with Exceptions.”
Some of the choices were challenging to deal with. For example, both S.M.A.K. and the Serralves Museum selected Insolent Art for 2004. This installation consists of a wall or gallery where one or various of my works are supposed to be presented; instead, there is this handwritten sentence: YOU, VIEWER, ARE PART OF AN AUDIENCE WHICH IS NOT SO IMPORTANT TO MY CAREER; THEREFORE, IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR ME TO EXHIBIT SOMETHING MORE SUBSTANTIAL HERE. To make this installation properly would mean to present nothing, which was very tempting yet too uncomplicated—and I am all for complication! Luckily, the work chosen for 1999 was Quotations—stuffed black velvet quotation marks originally displayed around a huge, not-to-be-moved-from-a-Sofia-museum-wall painting that was disturbing a group show in which I was taking part. So, I “blocked” Insolent Art with Quotations . . .
DD Dorvillier and human future dance corps, Danza Permanente, 2012. Rehearsal view, May 1, 2012. From left: Fabian Barba, Walter Dundervill, Nuno Bizarro. Photo: Thomas Dunn.
DD Dorvillier is a choreographer, performer, and teacher. With her company, human future dance corps, she will be presenting a new work titled Danza Permanente on September 26–30 at The Kitchen in New York, copresented with the French Institute Alliance Française’s 2012 Crossing the Line Festival. Here, Dorvillier ruminates on the impetus behind this new work.
DANZA PERMANENTE is a transposition of Beethoven’s String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132, into movement for four dancers, each dancer taking the part of an instrument line. I wanted to investigate how music functions in relation to feelingness and thought, how it produces meaning and a sense of drama through its structure. I wanted to adopt operations that are from the domain of music, without producing more music to hear. Though making the music visible was the goal that produced our process, ultimately this was not the result, and that is a good thing. What was produced in the effort became a third and more interesting thing—not the original, not the replica, but a new dance, with an unusual set of tensions and ways of relating between dancers. The piece has become about labor: the labor of the dancer, the interpreter, the translator, the organizer—all roles that at some point a choreographer also takes on.
The performers operate in a zone where they fluctuate between captivating the viewer with their individual presences and captivating the viewer through their concentration and the complexity of the forms and patterns they move through space in time together. They are on an edge—they are very self-aware but also need to relinquish being alone. This is their intelligence and their grace.
The most powerful experience I have is when they are on this edge—when they are being very present but moving forward together without turning back. Once a move is made, it’s done—it has been seen, it’s over, there’s no sense in turning back, which would make the dance that is the music stop. But it’s not about momentum, necessarily. They could and might stop, but don’t. They decide to go forward, and this has to happen as an ensemble. One gets a sense of willfulness, of labor, rather than the illusion of momentum where something bigger is propelling the dance forward. These questions were significant in the dance’s development: Where does the energy come from? How is it that we are, or don’t manage to be, together?
I would like to go further in exploring the distance between the self and the figure that one becomes while dancing for an audience. What happens to the shape of a person? How is the figure reinvented, distorted, and seen again? How is this related to the way we look and what we see, in the theater and outside of it?
The way that music relates to perception is unique to music alone, yet there are operations in music—between relations of dynamics, rhythm, and pitch—that we are working on transposing in both abstract and representational ways. There are also musical operations between instruments and between musicians that we adopt as well. So the dancers operate as musicians, but have the added difference that they are the dance.
In Danza Permanente the first thing you see is four dancers, their bodies, and the colors of their clothing. It is visual. There will always be the visible actual presence of the dancers to contend with, no matter how musical the structure of this dance is, because without it, there is no dance.
Whatever the dancer gives off as visual information—in effect, as their own instrument—this will color some kind of meaning. Gender, age, energy level, perceivable differences in training, effort, etc.: This all creates its own regime of significance, regardless of Beethoven’s structure, or I should say, this aspect is part of the structure of the transposed work. In fact, I think that it’s the very presence of these nonmusical variables that makes the absolute difference and kinship between music and dance visible. There is a texture of realness and artificiality at the same time, which makes it possible to get involved with an idea, as much as with a dance, and maybe even reflect a bit on musicality in so doing.
View of “Est-il possible d’être révolutionnaire et d’aimer les fleurs?” (Is it possible to be a revolutionary and love flowers?”), 2012.
Camille Henrot’s latest exhibition, “Est-il possible d’être révolutionnaire et d’aimer les fleurs?” (Is it possible to be a revolutionary and love flowers?”), is on view at Kamel Mennour Gallery in Paris until October 6. Here she discusses the ikebana-inspired sculptures in the show, the first of which premiered in “Intense Proximity,” the 2012 triennial at the Palais de Tokyo. Work by the Paris-based artist is also currently on view in “A Disagreeable Object” at SculptureCenter in New York, and will be included in the Biennale Benin from November 8, 2012 to January 13, 2013, and at Philadephia’s Slought Foundation this November.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN SUSPICIOUS OF FLOWERS. Two years ago, a member of my family died and I found myself making bouquets for the funeral. The truly consoling power of this deed allowed me to understand why I had been so prejudiced against flowers: They are compensation, and, as such, they’re presumably an impediment to rebellion—to action. In Marcel Liebman’s book Leninism Under Lenin, one of Lenin’s lieutenants asks: “Is it possible to be a true revolutionary and love flowers?”
Around the same time as the funeral, I became interested in ikebana. I had just moved to New York and ikebana seemed a way I might pay homage toor, rather, synthetically and visually give form tothe books from my personal library still in Paris. It took up so much of my headspace that I decided it was incompatible with all my other artistic practices, and most especially with the production of material objects.
Over the summer of 2011, I composed 150 ikebana arrangements in tribute to the books that make up my personal library. I decided to devote the next two years to continuing this project. The relationship between literature and flowers revealed itself as all the more pertinent when I reread the lieutenant’s response to his own question further on: “You start by loving flowers and soon you want to live like a landowner, who, stretched out lazily in a hammock, in the midst of his magnificent garden, reads French novels and is waited on by obsequious footmen.”
What spoke to me most about ikebana was its vocation to create a “privileged space” that offers a remedy to the discontinuity produced by life’s upheavals. For me, this privileged space relates directly to Michel Foucault’s idea of heterotopia—the best example of which is a library, where the variety of thoughts and genres constitutes an area of freedom, a reservoir of pleasures that remains impervious to external events. It also made me think of Michel Leiris’s definition of art as a “set of privileged situations.”
Obviously, my practice of ikebana, even though it belongs to something that is itself nontraditional (the Sogetsu school), is based on certain naiveties and even some misinterpretations of the fundamentals of this art. The presence of such errors, though, is perfectly integrated into my approach—it’s one of the themes of this project and more generally of my output as a whole. I like to remove segments of culture in partial and unfinished manners in order to grow them in the fertilizer of my work.
Celebrated for her deeply influential and interwoven work—as author, activist, and curator—Lucy R. Lippard is recognized as one of contemporary art’s most significant critics and as a founder of Conceptual art. Born in New York in 1937, Lippard began her career as a writer in 1962 and subsequently produced numerous groundbreaking exhibitions and books throughout the 1960s and ’70s; she was also a cofounder of the Art Workers Coalition, Printed Matter, and the Heresies journal, among other seminal organizations and publications. Over the decades she has received several awards and fellowships, in addition to an honorary doctorate from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
Plucked from her twenty-one published books, her seminal tome Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, an annotated record of Conceptualism’s rapid international growth, will be the subject of an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Organized by Catherine Morris and Vincent Bonin, the show is on view from September 14, 2012 to February 3, 2013 and will survey the impact of Lippard’s work alongside the rise of the women’s rights, civil rights, and antiwar movements.
Artforum.com visited Lippard at her summer home in Maine. Here she reflects on her life then and now, the Brooklyn Museum show, and her recent work about Galisteo, New Mexico—a small town where she has lived for nearly twenty years.
Lucy R. Lippard interviewed at her summer home in Maine.
Left: Bernadette Corporation, Get Rid of Yourself, 2003, digital video, color, 60 minutes. Right: Bernadette Corporation, Creation of a False Feeling, 2000, color photograph, dimensions variable. Photo: Cris Moor.
Bernadette Corporation is a New York–based collaborative with three principal members: Bernadette Van-Huy, John Kelsey, and Antek Walczak. Since the early 1990s, the collaborative has explored processes of production from event planning to fashion design and from publishing to filmmaking. Artists Space will host a retrospective of the group's work, titled “2000 Wasted Years,” which opens on September 9 and runs through December 16.
ARTISTS SPACE CAME TO US with the idea of a retrospective and were very flexible in framing the idea. They weren’t there to pin us down. Our immediate reaction was, “But we have nothing to show,” followed by, “What’s the budget?” While collecting works for this retrospective, we noticed that our sloppiness in the past had prevented us from maintaining an archive. In a way, we had nothing to show for all these years. The implication, if there is any, is in our indifference toward black/white dichotomies around the notions of the original/the copy or the reboot/the new. What matters is the complexity of the method and not really the clarity of the intent, which relates to our need to abandon the right/left straitjackets of political identity in favor of something like a direct politics.
In regard to the pros and cons of a retrospective, there are only positives now. This has to do with the particularly transitional nature of this historical moment. All around the globe, those who are in a certain privileged position are grabbing all the money, resources, publicity, attention, and glory that they can, while not giving a fuck about tomorrow. These are the final days of contemporary art and we’re happy to have a seat at the table. The signs are everywhere: apostasy, the sacrifice of sacred cow(s), a 200 million strong army of art school grads, cheering the dead prophets, the gospel preached around the world, the mark of the blue-chip primetime Basel gallery, and the general godlessness of art discourse (lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth). Also, personally, there was the “getting old” sentimentality and pleasure in digging up again those old photos and remnants of the past.
For us, irony is not a by-product of slippage but a product of complaisance, denial, and delusion. No way is it a strategy! It’s the self-congratulatory coping mechanism of those who have all but given up hope. By this we mean anyone the least bit professional in the cultural and academic fields. We count ourselves as a part of that sorry lot that’s attempting to reform itself. The question of irony is far more relevant today than ever, because it is an untenable stance.
What we’ve discovered is that fashion, at least in the way seen by ourselves and many others who were in it at the time, had a kind of underground viability. What does that mean to us? Well, as opposed to art back then, it was still possible to perform classic scenarios of transgression and antiestablishment competitiveness. In the years since, fashion has ballooned into something completely different, and we’ve barely been able to keep up with it. Its relevance to us in terms of vehicle or means of expression or medium has diminished, while its potential for communication is staggering. It cuts across social boundaries in unheard-of ways; it’s like Esperanto, a successful Esperanto. We are doing our best to catch up with this state of things in order to become fluent with today and still be on top of our game.