Ben Kinmont

05.07.14

Ben Kinmont, Sshhh, 2002–. Distribution of engravings at Centre National de l'édition et de l'art imprimé, Chatou, France, February 1, 2003.


Since 1988, Ben Kinmont’s work has often unfolded through real-time exchanges—over meals, in conversations, and through gestures. In 1996 he began his publishing project, Antinomian Press, which focuses on ephemera and archival material; he also has an ongoing antiquarian bookselling business, founded in 1998, that specializes in books and manuscripts about domestic economy and food. Here, Kinmont discusses the origins and evolution of Sshhh, which is currently on view in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. On Saturday, May 10, Kinmont will distribute part of this work to participants in the museum. He will also have a solo exhibition at Air de Paris from May 24 to July 8, 2014.

IN 2002, for Documenta 11, I went out onto the streets of Kassel and into strangers’ homes for ten days to ask people what was the most meaningful thing in their lives. I also asked whether that meaningfulness could (and should) be understood as art. Then, we talked about the difference between that meaningfulness and what they typically experience in the museum. Their responses were summarized into a flyer that was then printed on the sidewalk in front of their house and distributed in the neighborhood in which the conversation occurred. The project was called Moveable type, no Documenta.

A few months later, the flyers were again printed (with the same portable equipment and format) and distributed as a group show of ten conversations. At that time, I wondered about the difference between, on the one hand, writing conversations in a domestic setting and reading the text in the participants’ neighborhoods and, on the other hand, doing a similar thing in the context of the museum.

Then, a year later, I was invited to France to do a project with the Centre National de l'édition et de l'art imprimé (CNEAI) in Chatou, France. I proposed a new piece titled Sshhh, which was an invitation to families in Chatou to have a private conversation among themselves as an artwork. When the conversation was finished I asked them to tell me their family name and the date on which the conversation occurred. I also requested that they not tell me anything about the subject of the conversation or what it meant to them. Lastly, I explained that I would be making them an engraving and that they should pick the engraving’s ink color and size.

Once the conversation had occurred and the participants had sent me their information, I printed each engraving in an edition of four: one copy for the family; one for the project archive; one for CNEAI; and one for the Bibliotheque Nationale (which receives one copy of all printed works produced by CNEAI). The engraving is almost entirely blank. At the bottom of each sheet, however, are the name of the family and the date of their conversation in small letters.

The Sshhh engraving is an artwork that can circulate within the art world while referencing a conversation had by a family on a specific day. To all but the family, though, it is a closed door to a private, domestic moment, the subject and meaning of which was determined by the family. And to the family who participated, their engraving is an aide-memoire to a conversation once had. They can look at the sheet and remember what they said with their family members on a given day about a given subject. It is an artwork that remains private.

In this sense, the engraving functions within two different value structures: that of the art world and its discourse around engravings and participatory art as well as that of a family’s domestic life where conversations regularly occur with various levels of meaning and yet often pass by unnoticed or forgotten.

For the Whitney Biennial, I am displaying the archive for Sshhh and am also reactivating the project. I again invited visitors to send me a note containing their name and the date—but not the content—of a conversation they have had at home. The archive is out on a table for visitors to handle and the documents are available for free download on the Whitney’s website. The budget for the reactivation allows for one hundred family participants (in Chatou it was fifteen). This time each engraved sheet is printed with lead type in an edition of two: one for the participating family and one for the project archive. The sheets have just been made and their distribution to the participating families will occur in the room where the archive is on display: Whitney Museum, fourth floor, this Saturday, May 10, at 11 AM.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

View of “Tauba Auerbach: The New Ambidextrous Universe,” 2014. Photo: Paul Knight.


Tauba Auerbach is a New York–based artist whose debut solo exhibition in the UK will be at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London from April 16 to June 15, 2014. The show extends her interests in chirality and topology and takes up Martin Gardner’s book The New Ambidextrous Universe: Symmetry and Asymmetry from Mirror Reflection to Superstrings (2005) as a source for both the work on view and the exhibition’s title.

ONE OF THE CONCEPTS that confounded me in Gardner’s The New Ambidextrous Universe is how, on a molecular level, asymmetry is a distinguishing feature of life. An asymmetric carbon compound, for instance, can be assembled from its constituent atoms in two ways which are mirror images of each other. Nearly all of the asymmetric compounds in living things appear as just one of their two mirror-image configurations, while the exact same compounds in nonliving material are made up of fifty percent of each configuration. How baffling is it that these materials are essentially the same, but the living matter is chiral and the nonliving matter is not?

Louis Pasteur—who passed polarized light through racemic and tartaric acids—discovered this fact. Light is polarized by passing it through a grating, the structure of which is present in a slatted wall I had built to separate the exhibition space from a neighboring corridor. You could also imagine that a grating or comb-like structure would have sliced the wood sculptures on the floor into their strips.

To make these pieces, I drew an irregular line on my computer tablet, which I copied, pasted, and water-jet cut across a four-by-eight-foot sheet of plywood. I laid the strips on the floor in reverse order, which yielded a rough mirror reflection of the original piece. The grain looks sort of continuous but jagged, and the overall shape of the wood is distorted by twice the amplitude of the original undulations in the wavy line.

In order to create the mirror image of an asymmetrical, physical 3-D object (like this piece of wood with its asymmetrical grain), one would have flip it over in four-dimensional space. To think about that more easily, you can go a dimension down and imagine a 2-D asymmetrical shape lying on a table. In order to turn it into its mirror image, you would have to pick it up off the 2-D table and flip it over in 3-D space. These wood pieces take a stab at circumventing the impossibility of turning a 3-D object into its mirror image without passing it through 4-D space. My hope is that there is something ghostly about this puddle of wood on the floor, like it left our universe, went into another space, and came back.

I’ve been thinking so much about four and more dimensions, and I guess that working in 3-D gets me a little closer to that than working flat, so I produced mainly sculptures for this show. Most of my paintings for the last few years have been weavings, so I’ve been doing a lot of textile research too. There is a sculpture based on the structure of a knit stitch and one on a hook and eye clasp. They each have different symmetry relationships that cause them to interlock.

In the show there is also one photograph, Prism Scan II (Cross Polarized Mesosiderite). This is an image from a book titled Color Atlas of Meteorites in Thin Section, of a piece of meteorite that was photographed with polarized light—such as Pasteur used—which I scanned through a piece of corrugated glass. The halftone of the source image is spread out and compressed periodically according to waves in the glass, and the orientation of the image flips backward and forward in each period of the wave.

I keep trying to train myself to be more ambidextrous. I am right-handed, and I’ve been using my computer’s mouse with my left hand. I’ve brushed my teeth with my left hand for the last few years. Sometimes I do a meditation on symmetry, and all kinds of other little things. There is an option on the iPhone where you can invert the colors, and though it’s not really a left/right reversal, it falls into in the same category of “exercise” for me: to use a familiar object in a flipped way. All of this has made me realize how handed the world is, how nonambidextrous it is—the more I try to engage with the world in a symmetrical way, the more I run up against its asymmetry.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Jeanine Oleson, The Rocky Horror Opera Show, 2014, still from two-channel video installation.


Jeanine Oleson is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York. This spring, the New Museum is hosting the first museum presentation of her work, which springs from her four-month residency at the institution and which will include an experimental opera, an exhibition, and a series of public programs and workshops. The exhibition, “Hear, Here,” is on view from April 23 to July 6, 2014.

I’VE BEEN THINKING about the importance of the audience, and more specifically about what constitutes an engaged audience member. Fran Lebowitz once made a comment about the loss of artists, cultural producers, and audiences of people with specific knowledge during the AIDS crisis, and that left a mark on my mind—this idea of a caring engagement that’s nonprofessionalized and more like a nineteenth-century connoisseur (as opposed to the ways in which late capitalism has made us all completely dependent on professionalism to drive, well, our drives). So I started to interview opera buffs, because I love people who hold such a vast and fascinating knowledge on this subject and I’m interested in how it is driven by a personal set of concerns. You can’t buy the knowledge of opera or of dance; you actually have to invest in it. That’s something that’s fascinating to me: There’s the accumulating information but then there’s also a bodily love that’s not about the information—it’s more of a passion. What drives people to love ideas?

Around the same time, I began to work on Photo Requests from Solitary, a project in which we asked people held in solitary confinement to request an image of something they wanted to see, since they are blocked from seeing most images, and in some ways it felt like a polar opposite to the kind of work I’ve been planning for the New Museum. But in the end, I think that both of these projects are mostly about access, and how one cares for another or for the external, and also how one does something that isn’t necessarily connected to them directly or doesn’t benefit them, as well as the need for connection or outlet.

I’ve also been thinking about how to hold two incompatible ideas and produce something new from them, and so in the show and its public performances there will be objects that grapple with this—for instance there’s a brass instrument based on the shape of the inner ear, and there’s a light that is based on an eyeball, but instead of collecting light it actually emits light. We will have a series of nine public programs as a part of the exhibition, including talks, protest karaoke, séances, letters from solitary, and performances with objects in the show like Kelly Pratt playing the horn.

Everything I make ends up filtered through humor and absurdity. For instance: We had a two-act program at the museum in the beginning of March—The Rocky Horror Opera Show—which was based on a traditional opera performance situation, where singers performed a normal repertoire of beloved arias. For the audience, we invited opera aficionados—because they have a set relationship to performance—as well as a wider art crowd. It turned out to be really funny, and a two-channel video of the event will be in the exhibition, along with the eighty-plus costumes we made for it. I also asked the museum to bring in Cori Ellison, a dramaturge, as the music curator for the season and as a collaborator on the Rocky Horror Opera Show. It’s been so inspiring to see her passion for opera and the voice, and that’s something I really hope to share. With all the public programs and events, there will be a multitude of voices. There will probably be no dream of a common language—apologies to Adrienne Rich.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Michael Moshe Dahan, Two Points of Failure (2014), color, sound, 13 minutes.


Michael Moshe Dahan is an artist and filmmaker based in Southern California. His film Two Points of Failure (2014) was included in the International Film Festival Rotterdam in January 2014 and will have its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival with screenings on April 23, 25, 26, and 27, 2014. Composed of only two shots with a combined run time of thirteen minutes, the film observes the chemical dissolution and then reconstitution of two negative transparencies.

IN THE FIRST SHOT WE SEE AN IMAGE OF JEAN-LUC GODARD on the day he received a prototype for a camera that he had had designed by Jean Pierre Beauviala. Godard’s idea, which he first expressed to Beauviala in 1976, was to make a high-resolution 35-mm camera that was compact enough to fit into a glove box. You’re actually seeing a film negative that I inverted digitally so that when processed, it would come out as a positive image. What Godard is holding to his eye is a prototype, which means that it’s still silver and unpainted. The magazine is missing; it’s just the motor and the viewfinder. Because of the backstory of the camera itself, I thought it was a really potent image. It is all about Godard’s desire to see through this device—a desire that falls short.

At the beginning of the film, I drop a sheet of film negative into a chemical solution of household bleach that immediately begins dissolving the emulsion. Of course there is a long tradition of distressing celluloid, especially in structural film, but what I was trying to do was make the image disappear. I rigged a fixed camera pointing downwards above an eight-by-ten-inch container that is made of clear Plexiglas and has a light projecting from beneath. The camera doesn’t move. The film negative moves within the bath, and the bath is small enough so that you can always stay with the image. And then what happens is that the color binders literally start to leech off of the film, meaning that you get magnificent yellows, magentas, cyans coming off of it. I tried shooting this with a digital camera and I tried doing it with a film camera, and operationally I realized that it really had to be a film camera. There are values that aren’t fully rendered in digital.

The camera I used was an Arri BL, which is a more recent version of the camera Godard had used when filming with a larger crew. He conceived of a compact 35-mm camera—the Aaton 35-8—out of a frustration that he needed three people to operate the larger 35-mm machines available in the 1970s; the new device was commissioned by putting aside portions of the budgets of three different projects. The negative image that we see at the end of my film is from Passion, the first film for which Godard used his new camera. It’s the opening shot of the film, which involves an airplane flying with smoke trails behind it. I took a photograph off a screen that I was watching it on and used that. It’s the only index that I have here of the actual Aaton 35-8 camera in use.

Of the two negatives in my film, there’s one image dissolving, and the second image is reversed so that it comes out of the dissolve. There are several inversions happening in the piece. One is an inversion of the photographic process. Instead of having the solution render the image, the image dissolves into the solution. Adding another inversion continues that process. In the middle of my film, there is a passage where we see a flat field of reddish solution. In this field, an indiscernible transition occurs in which one shot dissolves into the second, after which the liquid slowly begins to reconstitute as an image. The first shot happens in real, “forward” time. The second shot happens in real time, but we watch it in reverse. The reverse is the only manipulation I created through editing; otherwise, the process that liquefies the first image and then seems to reconstitute the second image in the film is purely chemical in nature.

Sound is also a key element. What you hear is the sound of the celluloid going through the gate and also the sound of stacked magazines, in which the celluloid doesn’t stack perfectly straight so you’re hearing modulations of film rubbing against the steel magazine. There are really harmonic tones that come out of it. We did some modulations of the sound to bring out certain tones at certain times, and there’s one synthesized sound of bubbles, but everything else is inherent to the process. That fact that this sound takes on a bodily, organic quality is a fantastic accident of production. Two Points of Failure really has to do with the body of the camera itself, and the death of the body of film as an indexical medium.

The very notion of the Aaton 35-8 that Godard commissioned came out of his use of a video camera, the Sony Portapak, which suggests that he knew the end was near and that there must be some way to prolong the life of the film camera. This is my interest in returning to the primal scene. We are watching the body dissolve into a cosmic, organic scene. It’s almost bloodlike. In the darkened space of the theater, which is a kind of sacred space, this is strange—there are moments of drama and moments of resolution, but this is not a narrative film. It’s a performance of the cinema’s death.

— As told to James Nisbet

Sam Pulitzer

04.16.14

View of “Sam Pulitzer: A Colony for ‘Them’ ” 2014.


Sam Pulitzer is an artist and writer based in New York who works with a wide array of materials, from hand-drawn vinyl transfers to ear gauges. His current exhibition, “A Colony for ‘Them,’ ” features a complex architectural warren and numerous vinyl transfers of commissioned texts, signs, and slogans. The show is on view at Artists Space in New York from March 16 to May 18, 2014.

LET’S START with the title, “A Colony for ‘Them.’ ” This is the third occasion that I have opted for a title that includes these cumbersome scare quotes—the first was in 2011 at Real Fine Arts in Brooklyn, with “Gauges for ‘Them,’ ” and the second was in 2013 at Lars Friedrich in Berlin, where the title was the fanciful “Nine Scarlet Eclipses for ‘Them.’ ” Some reasoning for this is to lessen the forceful opposition that the word them conjures, as well as to pay homage to a musician whose name I’d like to keep concealed for the time being, who classed all things spectral under a similar heading. This is not to say I believe in ghosts—I’m not personally that invested in psychically discharging life where it doesn’t belong.

The same quotes around this word also appear in more highbrow sources that probe the relationality of things ecstatic—of alterity, otherness, etc. My use of “them” began with works that theatrically weaponized artistic goods—faux-tensile constructions built from tactical laser sights that are a cheap hazard to the eye—against the expectation that they perform for an endless series of spectators through the lens of a camera. I am not certain what “them” identifies for this exhibition, though I imagine the most common identification would target the small community of producers responsible for the exhibition—a group that happens be all heteronormative men. So that might as well be the “them,” magically sent away now to a colony. This is no direct statement but rather a condition that determined itself through months of recruitment, a determination built upon the brokerage of an affective look that was to be presented for this show—images that privilege an antique atmosphere of interiority—and was later woven into the exhibition’s narrative presentation.

There was also the need to respond to the invitation from Artists Space to produce a solo exhibition, along with my memories of its galleries before its significant overhaul into something more culturally efficient within contemporary art’s value agendas, as well as memories of its previous labyrinthine space that served to couch multiple exhibitions, filling as many CVs as possible—I’m thinking of roughly 2004 to 2006. So, this is a solo show for the sake of social efficiency. It was made in extreme collaboration with Bill Hayden—following conversations that came out of our collaborative exhibition “War Pickles,” in which we tried to exploit the same interest in clusters of promising individuated careers as an infantile step in communizing this style of production. It then began to include Jeff Nagy, who had drafted the press text for my Lars Friedrich show as part of his ongoing project “The Trojans,” which was also continued for this exhibition. Nagy’s text provided a narrative glue to cement the show’s varied aspects into a continuous user interface, and elaborated it into a presentational gag in line with one of its other influences: MUDs, or multiuser dungeons. Naturally, it is just one dungeon, but one that hopefully contains a well-considered variety of branching paths and scripted encounters, where the work’s superannuated hardware hopefully immerses the exhibition’s visitors in an environment that is for the most part excruciation free. We also commissioned work from more artists via prompts drafted by the three of us: Matthew Adis, Joshua Brettel, Killian Eng, Simon Fowler, Denis Forkas Kostromitin, Steven Vallot, Viral Graphics, and Vania Zouravliov.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Roger Ballen

04.10.14

Roger Ballen, Alter Ego, 2010, archival pigment print, 23 5/8 x 23 5/8”. From the series “Asylum of the Birds,” 2010.


Johannesburg-based artist Roger Ballen is well known for his photographic mise-en-scènes of marginal communities. Here, he speaks about his latest publication, Asylum of the Birds, which Thames and Hudson published this month. The book captures scenes in a suburban house outside of Johannesburg, South Africa—images that will be exhibited throughout 2014: at KuK, Aachen, Germany, from May 11 to June 22; at Musée Nicéphore Niépce, Chalon-sur-Saône, France, from June 21 to September 21; and at Circa Gallery, Johannesburg, from July 31 to August 20. Ballen also produced a film on this work, which can be viewed here.

YOU HAVE TO KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN IN THESE PLACES. You can’t pretend nothing is happening. I found the house where I photographed Asylum of the Birds while I was working on an earlier project, Shadow Chamber, between 2002 and 2003. When I first saw the site, I knew it was unique: an extraordinary environment where people and birds were living together in a claustrophobic arrangement; a place that had an incredible atmosphere—surreal, poetic, and psychological. Its inhabitants included people from various walks of society: Somali refugees, people running from the law, suspected murderers, and insane asylum escapees.

I always call myself an “orderer of visual chaos.” That was my job at the asylum; I transformed one version of reality into “Roger Ballen’s world.” But I never go in and think, “I want to make something happy” or, “I want to make something about people living on the fringe.” I lead all aspects of the production—for instance, I would ask the house’s inhabitants to draw some pictures. It’s collaborative to an extent, but at the end of the day, I’m the horse that pulls the sled.

Now, a good way to get people to work with you is to have them hold an animal, because then they feel that the animal is being photographed and not them. This is the case with Alter Ego. For that image in particular, there was this one guy at the asylum who wasn’t too keen having his picture taken. He always carried a desiccated, somewhat flattened, dead owl with him. I asked him if I could photograph him with the owl, and that seemed to strike something in him. He decided to stand behind a paper mask hanging from the ceiling, gripping a dove in each hand. In this room, the walls were covered in drawings left by other inhabitants. I started taking pictures and at some point, I guess he got bored, and he peered out from behind the mask. For me, there’s this discontinuity when you look at that picture—between his body and the mask—which gives you a shocked sense of dislocation.

When you get older you begin to deal with the act of disappearance, and of dying. It becomes more difficult to say that you know where the end and the beginning of something really is. Some of the parts of my personality have opened up and other parts have disappeared, and when I take photographs I feel as though I’m mirroring this process. Perhaps the only thing I can draw from all this work is that, at the age of sixty-three, I don’t really have any hopes of getting to the end of it.

— As told to Joseph Akel