View of “Christina Mackie: Color Drop,” 2014.
Christina Mackie is best known for her layered sculptural installations that evoke the natural world, often probing the relationship between the empirical and ephemeral. Her current exhibition at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, which runs through June 29, takes color and light as its central subject. On June 16, the London-based artist will present a installation at Basel Unlimited. A solo exhibition at the Tate Britain is slated for the spring of 2014.
WHEN MY LAST PROJECT CULMINATED in objects derived from ancient pestles and mortars for grinding pigments, I began to think about paint and color as a conceptual tool and archaic human device. We mine color from our surroundings to use for our magical purposes, and separate things out from the world, refine things, make of color a technology. Thinking about the history of the creation of colors led to my latest show where color is the explicit subject.
The works on tables and panels explore the process of dying, grinding, and evaporation. Panels with carved dips have been coated in chalk, and watercolor pooled in the indentations evaporated leaving sediment. In an allusion to alembics, dying, and sublimation, glass objects contain onionskins and bark held in place by paraffin. They describe the process of connecting the color of one material with the substance of another material. Pottery objects made of different clays with semiprecious rock grinders reference the process of making fine powder color from minerals.
I use these highly worked materials to talk about color as a substance and also the concept of color as a force, and the way that it is embodied in the behavior or qualities of objects in the material world. Force is something that can be deduced from observation and also can be represented. What sets things in motion? The world is in a transitory state of animation, the visible manifestation of invisible forces.
The second part of the project is the large filters. Light is filtered by objects to reveal specific colors, and a filter stands between us and the world. In the three large central filter objects, I wanted to capture the idea of filtering and also illustrate the insubstantiality of light. The height of the nets draws the eye up and simultaneously casts the viewer down in scale and to a level symbolic with the base, as though the net were trawling from a surface far higher than where we stand.
Everything has to be prepared beforehand, all details thought out in advance, and held in mind. The whole filter weighed just a few ounces. Ropes, swivels, and pulleys allowed the raw net to be dipped into large pans of dye and pulled back up the thirty feet to the ceiling. The show changed over time as the dyes dried differently in their large dishes, the black intensity ending up crystalline or lichen-like or pale as a salt pan. Around the pans, large polished shards of colored glass reflect and consolidate the dyes. Until I do the action, in this case dipping, I don’t know what effect will result; it’s not something specified beforehand, rather a suspicion and a curiosity about what that invented place might feel like.
The Los Angeles–based artist Caitlin Lonegan creates abstract paintings that are concerned with perception and illusion. In addition to participating in the “Made in LA 2014” biennial exhibition on view at the Hammer Museum from June 15 to September 7, where she will show a range of large- and small-scale work, Lonegan will also publish her first-ever artist’s book with Laxart later this year. Here, she talks about the new role of narration in her work, as well as the importance of her studio as a site for experiencing her paintings over time.
FOR “MADE IN LA,” the curators and I decided to do an installation—and to use the space in a way—that reflected what I was doing in the studio. What was interesting about the last year is that I shifted my working method and how I share the pieces. There’s been metallic paint that I used to work into the middle layer of my paintings to get a certain surface. When I moved into my new studio, the light bouncing off the metallic areas became so striking that I just started working with it. Almost out of indecision, I started making changes slowly, to the point where I’d make changes to each painting over the course of the day. Later, it became clear that process adds a durational component to the pieces, and I started to realize how important it was for people to experience the works durationally.
Over this past year, a lot of people have come by, and the studio just sort of became the site of the work. Friends would come over, and we would set up a little camp kitchen, and I would make food, and we’d have coffee, and they’d experience the paintings here with me as I was sitting with some finished works, thinking about what to do next on the works in progress. People started telling others to come over. It started with friends who were artists, and then it became artists and curators I didn’t know. Usually the studio visits end up lasting about two to three hours. Now that I had more down time between decisions, people would come over for a whole afternoon. I’ve been doing it that way for about a year now, talking with visitors about the thinking that went into the work, which in turn was usually influenced most by what I was reading.
Literature informed my earlier work in the sense that I used it to help me think and explain the work to others. Those paintings played with a combination of optical effects and honest mark-making (even though people often think of it as process oriented). That tension between fact and fiction in my work—particularly as I started to move more heavily into constructed illusions—is what led me to reading fiction. I’d previously been reading a lot of Virginia Woolf and a lot of essays, and when I reread one short story by Woolf, “The Mark on the Wall,” it struck me as a great parallel to what I was doing in the paintings. It’s a story in which a woman, sitting in a living room, stares at a scuff on the other side of the room—told as if the woman’s speaking, speculating on how the mark might have gotten there. Her imagination is elaborate, and she projects that a portrait must have hung there, and constructs a story of the woman in it, and keeps going until later she realizes the mark is a snail. I felt like this story spoke to my work because I’m often constructing illusions of processes, and I like the perceptual confusion of reading a fictional short story that mimics a first-person essay. I am attracted to this sort of rupture and simultaneity. This is also the seed of the durational element of my work: The paintings from that body of work look like facts of process, but if one spends time with them, one realizes it’s constructed, and it unfolds.
The new work is a shift of sorts away from illusion and towards narrative. While making it, I was reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which has a crazy narrative shift of its own that really resonated. It portrays a totally convincing fictional world with amazing characters, told by an omniscient narrator—but every once and a while the form sort of breaks, and the narrator says “I,” which becomes really striking and disorienting. I think when we look at paintings, there’s often this assumption—against our better judgment—that the work is a stand-in for the artist. But for me, I think a lot about where the “I” is in the painting. What’s the position? What’s the voice? What’s the narration?
For fans of the Brooklyn–based graphic novelist Danica Novgorodoff, a long wait is finally paying off: Novgorodoff—author of Slow Storm, 2008, and Refresh, Refresh, 2009—recently published The Undertaking of Lily Chen, 2014, with First Second after working on the project for five years. Here, on the occasion of Artforum’s summer issue focus on graphic novels, Novgorodoff talks about her process, her references, and the challenges to creating a narrative that, in her words, is both “Eastern folklore and Western drama.”
THE BOOK revolves around an ancient Chinese tradition of ghost marriages, in which two single, dead people are wed so that they can be buried together and keep each other company in the afterlife. The earliest recorded practice of ghost marriages dates back to the second century AD, but in some rural parts of China (especially in mining towns, where many men die before marriageable age) the custom survives till this day. My story takes place in the mountains of northern China, where a young man named Deshi is sent by his parents to find a corpse bride for his older brother, who has just died in an accident. Deshi embarks on the mission with a grave robber, but many things go wrong, and he’s unable to find a suitable wife for his brother. He does, however, cross paths with Lily Chen, a strong-willed (living) girl who demands that he take her to the big city. She’s desperate to escape an arranged marriage and to make money fast and doesn’t realize that Deshi’s planning to murder her till they’ve fallen in love.
I was fascinated by the entanglement of love and death that this custom fosters. The practice of ghost marriages is both romantic and horrifying. No one wants to send a loved one into an eternity of loneliness, but to what extremes should a family go to appease a ghost? A shortage of females (dead and alive) due to the one child policy has led to a black market for dead women and, in some cases, murder. I started to wonder what kinds of people would engage in this trade. It seemed like the perfect recipe for a macabre western: family honor, murder, vengeance, an epic journey, the love of a woman.
It took me a long time to research and write the script. As I wrote, Deshi and Lily kept meeting strange people who altered their journey, so I kept writing new scenes for each encounter. I also adopted a new drawing process in which I would only plan out one chapter at a time without looking ahead in the script, and so it wasn’t until I had completed the project that I realized it was a 430-page graphic novel. I’m a slow drawer, and with one to six panels per page, it was just a hell of a lot of penciling, inking, painting and coloring.
I was nervous about setting the book in China—I’m a quarter Chinese, and my father was born in Shanghai, but I’ve never identified strongly with or deeply studied the culture. I worried that my work would feel fake to those who truly “know” my setting. I decided not to force it to be a strictly Chinese story, but rather to embrace it as a mash-up, a weird concoction of Eastern folklore and Western drama, Eastern landscapes and Western dialogue, the demands of ancient customs and those of the contemporary, capitalist world. So many of us are mash-ups now, anyway.
Paying homage to a variety of visual and cultural traditions, I studied Chinese brush painting as well as watercolors by artists like Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth. My villain, Mr. Song, is loosely based on Tang Dynasty paintings of horsemen. I watched spaghetti westerns, and films by Zhang Yimou. Some of my coloring techniques were influenced by Japanese animation, and the papercuts were copied from the beautiful patterns I found in little shops in China. I looked at portraits by Marlene Dumas, Sally Mann, and Francis Bacon as inspiration for the ghosts. I used my own photographs as source material for most of the images.
When I started this book, I said to myself, “Don’t feel limited, and don’t get bored.” I’m not sure I knew what that meant early on, but I think it opened me up to a different pace of storytelling. There is a very clear linear progression—the characters are moving from point A to point B over the course of one week—but at times the story jumps off that track and onto a dreamlike, ghostly, or mystical detour. As I was drawing, I didn’t rush to arrive at the conclusion, and tried to let myself be surprised by what came next—even though I had written the script, and knew the end of the story.
View of “Darren Bader,” 2014.
Darren Bader’s multivalent practice includes writing, artist books, videos, and sculptures of found objects that have ranged from live kittens (to be adopted), to fruit and vegetables on pedestals (to be replaced as soon as they go bad), to people modeling their own body parts with objects (a breast with a camera), among other configurations. The New York–based artist speaks here about his latest exhibition, on view at Andrew Kreps Gallery from May 15 to June 21, 2014, which comprises a show on the wall, “Photographs I Like,” a show on the floor, “To Have and to Hold,” and a show on a piece of paper, available at the gallery’s front desk. Bader’s work was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and he is the recipient of the 2013 Calder Prize.
MY EXHIBITION is made up of three shows that don’t have a whole lot to do with each other. The first show has to do with current image circulation seen through an art-historical lens. The second has to do with objects and what they can and might not be. The third has to do with nouns, I think. They’re up simultaneously, but any “conversation” between them is fortuitous, with a couple exceptions.
I wanted this exhibition to be a way to address three ideas I’d been otherwise unable to resolve in a way I found meaningful enough. I don’t know if they’re fitting resolutions. I didn’t make much of anything for the shows. I often don’t make things, and if I do, it’s likely a fabricator’s hand at play. I usually just think about language and immediate optical experience and where piquant impressions and illusions can take you. A lot of this rests on objects and images. I embrace any thing that seems to make sense in a given situation—this is happily just an embrace of an embrace sometimes. The world is enormous, and I’m looking for some convention, however necessarily temporary, to address that in some conscientious and generous way.
I’m often puzzled by what the art world wants of its content, and I try to find a means of questioning this without compromising the above-mentioned impressions and illusions. There can be an exceptional visual, conceptual, and aesthetic merit to so many things in the world, whether in products of nonrarefied production and distribution, or through the lens of happenstance. TV programming, advertising, gaming, software design, interactive design, social media, industrial design, packaging design, etc.—all these are possibilities of what and how art might be, and they continue to be carefully ghettoized by art institutions, if registered at all. A worse curse than being called “folk art” is being called “entertainment.” Things that often appear or sound or feel formally resonant are kept apart by categories. However potent, playful, or poignant a product of human creation might be, it’s unlikely to be let into the museum as art.
I continually find this troublesome. Not so much because there’s a limited amount of room for the “magic” of art to work, which there inevitably is, rather that unresolved and meretricious shit gains outsized currency as art. For instance, do stretcher bars, in and of themselves, improve content? Does Professor XYZ have the mutant ability to turn all of his students into gifted artists? Is the exhumation of this or that neglected oeuvre an act of faith or an act of fashion? Should the doorman be fired for letting me into the club?
How will art history continue to have meaning short of blithe redundancy? It often seems like any bit of amnesiac, opportunistic homage will do. I don’t trust that the art world and its (infra)structures, however enthusiastic and inclusive they might at times be, are qualified to discern what today’s art might be. I might be a pathological romantic, but beauty still means something to me. I too rarely see powerful beauty in the products churned out for the art world. I know mediocrity is normal, but complacency is something else.
Let me spin it this way . . . art is commonly intuited as a home for the poetic. There is enough evidence of technical-cum-aesthetic skill in a wide variety of fields to safely say that there are some good “poets” out there. Mediocrity is normal, but good poetry is what matters.
Song-Ming Ang’s “Guilty Pleasures” listening party with artists Nadim Abbas and Magdalen Wong at Spring Workshop, Hong Kong, August 18, 2013. Photo: Ken Fung.
Singapore-based artist Heman Chong makes work that often dissolves boundaries between literature, performing arts, and graphic design. Moderation(s), his latest project, is a two-year experimental platform that involves collaborative institutional programming between artists, curators, and writers. It is being held at the Spring Workshop in Hong Kong and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, and it concludes this month at the latter venue with “The Part in the Story Where a Part Becomes a Part of Something Else,” a group show on view from May 22 to August 17, 2014.
MODERATIONS(S) occurs between two very different institutions. Spring Workshop, a very new space, provides artists with a residency program in which to think and reflect on their work; Witte de With, on the other hand, is a twenty-year-old institution that has dedicated itself to making rigorous content-driven exhibitions. Each part of Moderation(s) is designed to use the strengths of each institution and to suggest new ways of engaging between these two models.
The entire program hinges on perceiving artwork as a selection process. It allows the participants to do what they want within a given structure, which is designed around a series of encounters or situations. There is often an open-ended “task.” For example, the participants may be given the task to write a short story in a week or to produce a presentation at a conference. But the content within these tasks is not predetermined; the participants must arrive at that themselves.
It is not important for me that the results of these situations be legible or that they produce a coherent vehicle. I consider the structure of Moderation(s) itself to be the artwork, not what’s happening within it. I do not claim authorship for the project at all; I instead take on the role of a specter. Letting go is part of the work. That is what makes Moderation(s) different from relational aesthetics: The output is not merely an exhibition but a series of situations that involves elements that are not normally dealt with in an exhibition.
The work mostly involves enabling people by finding out what they do best. This comes from my background, when I first started working as an artist in Singapore in 1999. My generation of artists—Matthew Ngui, Chun Kaifeng, Ming Wong, Song-Ming Ang, Michael Lee, Genevieve Chua, and Charles Lim—is a loose network of individuals concerned with looking at each other’s work and discussing what it is we are making. We began projects by acting like what we know curators to be today. We wrote the proposals, spoke to the funders, dealt with the institutions directly. We all performed this two-as-one role simply because there were no professional freelance curators doing it back then. Now, it has become more interesting for me to try and understand the skins that lie between these porous roles, producing ideas in a more fluid manner with less bureaucracy.
Much of art history concerns description; but having said that, a lot of its failings have come from the inability to describe a work using its critical language. Still, I do feel more comfortable talking about Moderation(s) nowadays. I still haven’t found a better way to document it.
Susanne M. Winterling is an artist based in Berlin and Oslo. “Complicity,” her project at Amsterdam’s Kunstverein, gathers works by painter Romaine Brooks, architect and designer Eileen Gray, and the writers Carson McCullers and Annemarie Schwarzenbach and will also encompass film screenings, dialogues, as well as the launch of The Correspondence Book, which comprises newly published correspondence between McCullers and Schwarzenbach. The show is on view from May 21 to July 5, 2014. Here, Winterling discusses the project and her recent work.
THIS EXHIBITION continues on from other projects I began in 2008 around Eileen Gray’s life and influence. For me, she always represented the “other” modernism—a more human approach to design practiced by her and her contemporaries. It’s a part of early-twentieth-century architectural history that’s been largely ignored. Brooks, Gray, McCullers, and Schwarzenbach all brought a body-consciousness to their work that now seems very contemporary. The sensibility of these women was informed by empathy, and that is what makes them seem so fresh.
One of the shortcomings of classical modernism is its neglect of the visceral. The more mundane, bodily aspects of living had to be sacrificed to achieve an idealized cleanness. These women engaged with some of the same design issues as their modernist contemporaries, but came to different conclusions. I think this is largely because their engagement with formal questions was never wholly divorced from their own lives, their consciousness of how they were living. These are some of the ideas that contributed to Eileen Gray, The Jewel and Troubled Water, the installation I made for the 2008 Berlin Biennale. In “Complicity,” I concentrate more on the aesthetic “community” and friendships that existed between Gray and her contemporaries while looking at what has been transformed from the domestic to the public realm. Art history thrives on singularity. I prefer to focus on the relations themselves and the dynamic between these iconic figures. Their connections, rather than their individual personas, become the exhibition’s unifying visual, sensual marker.
All of the projects I’ve worked on during the past decade have been at least laterally related. In 2008, I invited girls who worked in a manufacturing/assembly plant to perform a traditional Chinese childhood game as part of my exhibition at the Shenzhen Biennial. This was to be the most important part of the exhibition, but the performance never took place, because it was censored. Clearly, the biennial’s administrative committee recognized the implicit cruelty of this gesture when they forbade it: I was asking fourteen-year-old girls to perform scenes from a childhood they’ve been deprived of. Since then, the misery of Chinese migrant workers has become more internationally visible: Strikes and riots erupted in 2013 in response to the mass suicides of Shenzhen workers manufacturing iPhones under appalling conditions. Yet this hasn’t stopped most of us from using iPhones. Still, my idea for that piece was at primarily architectural, driven by ecological and urban observations. Considering Shenzhen, I was struck by how the new city had been conceived without any provision for games, play, or informal entertainment. There is no public space: just corporate glass cubes, with security guards or military everywhere, even in places where play might be possible. In a cruel vision a la Hunger Games or Snowpiercer, all the teenagers are inside the factory.
I did another project that year in Berlin, a performance called On the displays of light, inside and outside – there might be no victory over the sun, which featured four girls dancing with light projections in Le Corbusier’s 1957 Unité d’Habitation in West Berlin. The house is famous largely for the number of youth suicides committed there. During the 1980s, I think it had the highest number of suicides committed in Germany.
I believe this focus on the entanglement between architecture and communication informs “Complicity,” which is organized around correspondence between Schwarzenbach and McCullers—a fragmented but tender exchange of letters written after their unhappy romance. There’s also an amazing, early self-portrait by the Brooks. The room is arranged so that viewers can immerse themselves in the art works, letters, drawings, furniture and thoughts of these artists, and experience the connections between them. It’s a kind of asylum for friendship and solidarity.