View of “Portland2012: A Biennial of Contemporary Art,” 2012.

Daniel Duford is a Portland, Oregon–based artist and writer. His latest ceramics, which he discusses below, are featured in the exhibition “Portland2012: A Biennial of Contemporary Art,” presented by Disjecta and curated by Prudence F. Roberts. Duford’s work is on view through May 19 at the White Box.

WHEN I MOVED TO PORTLAND from New Mexico in the late 1990s, I was creating sculptural clay vessels and drawings. The vessels referenced Northwest Coast feast bowls and burial canoes, earth architecture, and geology. The surfaces looked ripped, charred, and occasionally fleshy. In New Mexico, the integration of indigenous Hispanic and European histories, not to mention the geology—striped and splendid for all to see—really changed me. I worked for a while with Jicarilla Apache potter Felipe Ortega in La Madera, digging clay and living in his adobe house with no running water or electricity. It was magical.

The shape of a ceramic vessel is a form of embodied knowledge. I started using majolica because I could create such vivid, painterly contrasts between the white glaze and rough red clay. I was also interested in its roots in Renaissance ceramics. This rich tradition grew out of a European desire for Chinese porcelain, but lacking the technical knowledge to make porcelain themselves, European artists developed opaque white glazes. My recent body of work is influenced by this history, particularly Delftware and the Dutch trade empire in America. The inherent violence and uncertainty that accompany a nation’s manifestation in the world breeds an enormous amount of self-doubt. My vessels explore the contradictory states, such as uncertainty and arrogance, that arise from this process.

I’ve created vessels for years, but certain myths and stories have sparked my desire to breathe life into them. I read Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay while I was working at a residential treatment center for boys. I realized that I’d been making golems for a very long time, and that for me, they were a meditation on the relationship between strength and power. The myth of the golem became the guiding metaphor for an ongoing body of work. The many faces of masculinity are also very important to my output. What is a man? What is a hero?

Vessels, myth, the written word, and narrative are my foundations. Because of my work with comics, I learned the value of sequential imagery. I see comic cells like ceramic shards that possess a physical dimension—they can be manipulated and assembled, spatially, to enrich a narrative and connect it to other physical objects. I think this concept has been with me from my earliest days working with ceramics, and has shaped my relationship to narrative. The vessel represents the confluence of the domestic (storage jars), the temporal (the ashes of a loved one), and the eternal (ritual and ceremony).

Some of the vessels and pots I make I also use, and that’s when they come alive. The cake plate Pyrrhic Victory contains an image of one of General Custer’s horses; it adorns the object with a kind of stateliness. But when someone uses the plate for sticky buns or Bundt cake—then what? I want to reside in the interstices between fine art, craft, and comics, searching for ruptures and spillovers. It enlivens the whole field to let wild cultivars breed into the monoculture.

— As told to Stephanie Snyder

Farrah Karapetian, Riot Police, 2011, five chromogenic photograms, overall 8 x 13’.

Farrah Karapetian is an artist who works with cameraless photography and sculpture. She lives and works in Los Angeles, where her solo show “Representation3” opens on April 14 at Roberts & Tilton, and her ongoing project Student Body Politic will be shown at the Vincent Price Art Museum from May 22 through August 17. Here, Karapetian discusses her photogram process and the nature of the photographic signifier in her reenactments of pictures of current events.

I STOPPED USING CAMERAS IN 2002. Up to that point, I made pictures that emphasized the formal qualities of the photographic print through abstraction. I then went to Kosovo to photograph a story that my friend was writing for Metropolis on the politics of architecture within the city. When I came back, I spent hours in the darkroom trying to be faithful to the landscape of burned villages and UNMIK troops. I got really frustrated and slammed a small fan down on the enlarger table, accidentally hitting the button that turned on the light. That was my first photogram: a rocky cliff blocked by the shadow of a fan.

When I started graduate school at UCLA a few years later, the real space of my studio led me to consider how a photograph actually occupies space: The shadows I had been using to make imagery were in fact falling against walls and floors. I began to see pictorial space in sculptural space, sometimes recognizing this phenomenon in pictures from the news: A section of highway falls and the flat plane of asphalt with its painted stripes seems to be a picture dripping off of its frame; shadows are burnt into walls in Hiroshima; bodies of illegal immigrants register on backscatter scans of trucks crossing the border.

I admire strong documentary photography, but I also want to critique it: Does it really communicate what it was like to be under fire or in a hurricane? I began to try to re-create these scenarios, but without the conventional attitude towards the photograph’s role in history—that it is documentary, accurate, or evidence-oriented.

Many of the pictures I’ve worked with this year have been images of protest. I’ve long been attracted to the marks people make on architecture to express their concerns, in part because the marks I make through photogramming express mine. I now use sculpturally or digitally constructed elements to achieve pictorial and architectural effects that go beyond what found objects or light alone can do. My photograms are planned and constructed up until the moment of exposure, at which point chance intervenes. The resulting image is more of a provocative metaphor than a sober document.

What you see in the gallery is incredibly different from the thing I saw in the newspaper. I am remaking a picture of a child’s bedroom that was destroyed in a tornado. In the end, my picture of the destroyed bedroom is stripped of all personal affective associations. It is a structure, with some pictorial detail, and the structure itself suggests vulnerability. I would never pretend to have been through a tornado, but I have moved my family through foreclosure, helped a friend’s family climb through their garage to take the floorboards and furniture from their foreclosure, helped partners and friends through times of houselessness, and been nomadic myself. When I was a child, my family would get Realtors’ lists and visit houses we knew we couldn’t afford, projecting ourselves into rooms and lives we wouldn’t have. How much can I abstract an image, how much can I leave out, in order for viewers to have their own associations? I am betting on baggage, even as I’m eliminating it.

— As told to Megan Heuer

Zoe Leonard


Left: Zoe Leonard, Arkwright Road (detail), 2012, lens, darkened room, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Zoe Leonard has been producing photographic works and installations since the 1980s. Two years ago, she began transforming exhibition spaces into camera obscuras, turning interiors into darkened chambers that reflected the illuminated scenes outside. A new solo show by Leonard at the Camden Arts Centre in London, “Observation Point,” includes a new camera obscura, along with a series of “Sun Photographs” and an installation of postcards. The exhibition runs through June 24, 2012.

IN RECENT YEARS I’ve been asking myself basic questions about what photography is; what a photograph is and what it does. A couple of years ago I started teaching, and it seemed to me that the conversation around photography had gotten stuck in certain binaries: analog versus digital or subject versus material. I found myself trying to find a way to open up the conversation, to think about photography in a more expansive way. At the end of that first summer of teaching, I woke up one morning thinking: I want to make a camera obscura. And so I just did it for myself in my studio, and since then I’ve been working with them. I’m thinking about it not so much as a way to take a picture but as a way to create a public space where we can think about looking. Visitors enter a darkened room and see an image spilling into the room and covering the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. It is an image of what is happening across the street, right outside the gallery. It is in motion, ephemeral, constantly changing. You hear the sounds of the street, the traffic. In Camden, there is a building under construction directly across the way, so you can see the scaffolding, people working, the cranes moving. Over the course of the show, the view will change.

For the show at Camden I approach photographic seeing in three different ways, as experience, image, and object. In one space is the camera obscura installation, in another a group of new photographs I’ve taken of the sun, and in a third a sculpture using found postcards. The title of the show, “Observation Point,” comes from a diptych of postcards that are also in the show: Both depict a broad view over a canyon and a small stone hut labeled “Observation Point.” This piece encapsulates a lot for me about how we organize our looking. We privilege certain views over others, and this interests me not only within the realm of photography but also as a larger metaphor for the way certain viewpoints are privileged in our society and how dominant views are taken for granted.

The idea of vantage point and perspective has been in my work probably from the very start. For me these questions around the frame are not just aesthetic questions; they are connected to bigger issues that are political and social, questions around subjectivity. I’m interested in making my subjectivity apparent and transparent, keeping the frame right up front. So, rather than saying, “This is how the world is,” I’m saying, “This is how I see it.” When you admit that it’s just your point of view, there is a kind of implied question in turn: “Well, how do you see it?”

I think this is also a way of questioning authoritarian or monolithic constructions of reality, beauty, and truth. Photography has been in service to many different agendas since its inception. It is most often talked about in terms of its subject content, i.e., what a picture is of, rather than where it is from or what it actually looks like. Yet there is so much going on materially in photographs, and all of that plays into how we experience a picture and what it communicates to us. In this new work, I’ve taken pictures turning the camera directly toward the sun. The subject, the sun, is there but you can’t really see it. The prints are subtle and soft; there is barely an image at all. In these prints, I am trying to maintain a taut balance between the image of the sun and the various signs of process: the things that happen during shooting––the flare and glare on the lens––and then what happens in the darkroom later––the grain, the little pinpoints of hair or dust. These disruptions are there to keep you aware of it as a photograph, to keep you aware of your own looking.

In the third space, along with Observation Point/Observation Point, I’m showing a new sculpture. The piece comprises around six thousand found postcards of Niagara Falls in stacks on a table. Each stack is of a certain view onto the falls, and stacks are placed in relation to their vantage point of the falls, laid out in a way that mimics a map or an aerial view of the falls. Although all the photographs are of the same place, they do not resolve into one cohesive picture, but instead produce a kind of abstract topography. For me, this work brings up questions of cartography, organization, collecting, control, and surveying. Of course, the postcards are also familiar objects, cheap and readily available. Many of these cards are used, with postal marks visible; they vividly show how we communicate with each other through images, how we want to say: “This is where I am.”

— As told to Arthur Ou

Left: Cover of “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of Andy Warhol (2012). Right: Douglas Crimp in his office at the Guggenheim Museum with a poster of Ultra Violet, ca. 1970.

Curator and critic Douglas Crimp is a professor of art history at the University of Rochester. His latest book, “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of Andy Warhol, which has just been published by MIT Press, is a collection of essays about Andy Warhol’s films, and the first book-length study of Warhol’s cinematic corpus since the artist pulled his movies from distribution in the early 1970s. Here Crimp explains how Warhol’s films show us a different side of Warhol, and addresses the works’ relationship to queer culture. On April 2 at 7 PM, The Kitchen will present an evening of readings and screenings related to the book.

THROUGHOUT THE PERIOD that I was chiefly writing about AIDS and queer politics—between the special issue of October on AIDS in 1987 and the completion of my book Melancholia and Moralism in 2001—I was toying with the idea of writing a memoir of New York in the 1970s, encouraged by younger friends in the AIDS movement who felt that the radical queer culture prior to the onset of AIDS was being eclipsed by a reactionary “gay-liberation-led-to-AIDS” narrative. I arrived in New York in 1967, two years before the Stonewall rebellion, and the first queer culture I participated in was the one I found in the back room of Max’s Kansas City, the one made up of the Factory crowd and people from the Play-House of the Ridiculous. So I thought of beginning the memoir with a sort of archaeology of that world through interpretations of artworks, pieces by a range of underground filmmakers and playwrights. I began with Warhol’s Blow Job, for no other reason than that it is a work I love, and I quickly realized that his films would be my sole subject. I watched a number of them to write the essay; I immediately felt like I had found a queer treasure trove.

Warhol never pretended that he was the sole author of his work; on the contrary, he insisted that he adopted others’ ideas, depended on others’ talent, made his work in the company of others—hence the our of “Our Kind of Movie.” His engagement with a wide array of people has been, I think, too simply characterized as exploitative. Certainly Warhol could be exploitative, but he was also genuinely open to and interested in others. One of my chapters, “Coming Together to Stay Apart,” is about Warhol’s collaboration with Theatre of the Ridiculous playwright Ronald Tavel, who wrote the scenarios for a number of Warhol’s films in 1965–66, among them Screen Test No. 2, The Life of Juanita Castro, Horse, Kitchen, Vinyl, and Hedy. These are among Warhol’s best-known and most acclaimed films, and yet many people have never heard of Tavel. One of my goals is to recuperate the importance of Tavel’s participation, but more important, I contend that the quality of these films is a result of Warhol and Tavel deliberately working at cross-purposes, which allows both of them to be present simultaneously in the films, “misfitting together.”

Warhol always talked about being interested in “the kids,” what “the kids” were doing. He seems not to have been particularly interested in predecessors. There are a couple of exceptions: Duchamp, Dalí. Paul Swan is one of the very few old people in Warhol’s films, and I think it was Swan’s odd defiance of his actual old age that intrigued Warhol. An eighty-two-year-old who is happy to appear on camera in a G-string makes for a pretty good subject. Of course, it’s impossible to define Warhol’s aesthetic because it kept shifting. Between an early silent film such as Blow Job, which is a static close-up of a face for some forty minutes, and a sound film like Hedy, where Warhol’s camera hardly ever stops moving; between a simple conceptual idea like filming the Empire State Building from dusk until 2 AM and a complex experiment like the twelve-reel, double-screen, multiple-story, black-and-white and color Chelsea Girls, it’s hard to find a single aesthetic impulse except that of experimentation. Yes, the films tell a different story than do the classic Pop paintings, but by now this should hardly surprise us. The “Ladies and Gentlemen” paintings and prints tell yet another story, as does a, A Novel, or the 1950s shoe portraits, or the collection of photographs of cocks. Warhol was a protean artist—in filmmaking alone he was a protean artist.

I am as interested in the queerness of Warhol’s formal experimentation as I am in the queerness of the social world he represented—or rather I should say that, for me, a queer social world comes into view as a result of Warhol’s formal experimentation. I began this book because I wanted to combat the conservative turn in gay politics by returning to the radically queer culture I “grew up” in at the end of the 1960s. That conservative turn has in the meantime completely eclipsed the idea of queerness, if by queerness we mean new forms of relationality. I’m sure marriage is not what Warhol meant by “misfitting together.” The conservative turn began quite explicitly as a repudiation of sexual liberation and queer theory. “Our Kind of Movie” grows out of my involvement with queer theory, but it also returns me to a primary focus on aesthetics. From the essay on Blow Job forward, I have sought to show the relationship between queer ethics and queer aesthetics.

— As told to Chelsea Weathers

Left: Dennis Cooper, material from “The George Miles Cycle.” Courtesy of the artist and Fales Library at New York University. Right: View of “Closer—The Dennis Cooper Papers.”

Dennis Cooper is an American writer and artist based in Paris. In 1987 he moved from New York to Amsterdam, where he wrote his novel Closer (1989), the first book in his celebrated pentalogy, “The George Miles Cycle” (1989–2000). “Closer—The Dennis Cooper Papers,” an exhibition based on the cycle and incorporating works by Vincent Fecteau and Falke Pisano as well as a new commission by Trisha Donnelly, is on view at the Kunstverein in Amsterdam through June 23, 2012.

WELL, YOU PROBABLY KNOW that George Miles was very troubled. When we met I was fifteen, and he was twelve. I was taking care of him and he was kind of schizophrenic. I knew at that age that I wanted to write this big work or something, and it slowly became the cycle. I planned the structure of the books in advance. I wanted to write about disorientation and acts of sex and cruelty, and try to articulate things that are impossible to articulate in language, like desire and the incoherence of violence and love.

I didn’t originally think I would write the books for George. That was a later development. I decided that if I made him the mutating main character of this series, that it would have a kind of heart. If I used him, I would let myself go to extremes. But in some way the books would always be on his side, would always protect him because that was the way I felt about him as a person. And I talked to him about it and I asked him if I could use him as the model character and he said yeah. He thought it was fine. You know, he was pleased.

There used to be this big annual literary festival in Holland called the One World Poetry Festival. I came over to read in the early 1980s, and I met this person and, you know, things developed as they do with people, and then long story short I ended up following him to Amsterdam. We started fighting within a week and it didn’t last, and then I was just here on my own for two and a half years.

I just needed to get away from New York. One, I was doing too many drugs. Going to Amsterdam to get away from drugs is such a dumb idea, and it didn’t work. And then honestly I didn’t have much money and even then the rents in New York were not great, and I really like the city but two years is about all I can take. Plus AIDS was happening and all my friends were dying and sick so it was just a horrible time. So I’d kind of had it. I wanted to be someplace really foreign. I didn’t have any friends; I was sort of bored and lonely. It wasn’t like I specifically came to write a book, but I was pretty much ready to do it.

While I was in Holland I wrote George a bunch of letters. I didn’t have a telephone or anything. He never wrote me back. But that was like him because he was kind of a mess. I went back to the US and I tried to get in touch with him and I never could. It turns out he killed himself in 1987, and I didn’t finish the first novel until maybe 1988, so he never read any of it. I still feel close to him. I continue to write about him, I just don’t use his name. He ended up being kind of my muse.

Outside of fiction I write these theater pieces with Gisèle Vienne, like that thing in the Whitney Biennial. The last piece we did, This is how you will disappear, has a whole forest and a forty-minute fog sculpture by the artist Fujiko Nakaya, which requires this huge system of pipes over the stage. It’s very expensive to bring overseas. There’s been a lot of interest, but nobody has any money for that in the States. I also do this blog, which is really time consuming. I sit down and write these “P.S.’s” where I talk to all the responders for like three or four hours. And it’s just like “blah blah blah”—it’s really different from my prose. But it’s actually useful. In my last novel, The Marbled Swarm, there is a little bit of the tempo of that kind of writing. But to me they are really separate. A blog is just writing letters. In some ways doing the blog made me want to make the prose in my novels even more difficult, more of a trick or game or challenge. If anything, I wanted to get away from the blog while I was writing that book, get as far away from it as I possibly could.

The Fales Library at New York University has all my stuff. I wrote “The George Miles Cycle” in scrapbooks and I wrote everything by hand. There’s so much analog printed material and weird things that I made as part of my investigation. So that’s fun for them to have, because it’s a goofy collection. The blog is just a bunch of stored information. I mean, they want everything. I am supposed to keep sending them things until I croak or whatever. I guess I should start backing up the blog.

— As told to David Velasco

  • Dennis Cooper, manuscript pages from early drafts of Wrong (1994). Courtesy of the Fales Library.

  • Dennis Cooper, manuscript pages from early drafts of Wrong (1994). Courtesy of the Fales Library.

  • Dennis Cooper, manuscript pages from early drafts of Try (1995). Courtesy of the Fales Library.

  • Dennis Cooper, manuscript pages from early drafts of Try (1995). Courtesy of the Fales Library.

Henry David Thoreau Cabin, constructed July 2007–January 2008.

Several years ago, filmmaker James Benning built first one, then another small cabin on property he owns in California. Modeled on the redoubts constructed by Henry David Thoreau and Ted Kaczynski (aka the Unabomber), Benning’s cabins are the subjects of Two Cabins, a new book edited by Julie Ault and published by A.R.T. Press.

I HAD BOUGHT A “TURNKEY” PROPERTY IN THE MOUNTAINS, and as soon as I got my hands on it I worked for months to make it mine. I got addicted to construction, to solving the problems inherent in taking something apart and putting it back together again. I added a guest room. When I was finished, I was confronted with the anxiety of needing something to work on. I began copying Bill Traylor paintings, at first because I couldn’t afford them, but then because the process was teaching me a lot about painting and composition. Yet I still had a bug in me to do more construction. I thought, “I’ve never built a house, why don’t I build a house?” Recognizing that as too ambitious, I settled upon building a small one—and Thoreau’s cabin, the quintessential small house, came to mind. I learned what I could about its details, built it, and began filling it with my copies of paintings by obsessive artists—Traylor, Mose Tolliver, Henry Darger, Martín Ramírez.

It seemed too cute, though, like a miniature art gallery; it needed a counterpoint. When I decided to build another cabin, I immediately thought of Ted Kaczynski’s. I realized building a second cabin would be akin to what I had done when I made the film American Dreams in 1984. I had started that film with images of baseball cards, with Henry Aaron, to which I added political speeches and popular music. At the time that also seemed too cute, which is why I added excerpts from the diaries of Arthur Bremer, who wanted to shoot Nixon and who did shoot George Wallace. This gave the film a counterpoint, crossed the wires between good and bad. As I was building the Kaczynski cabin I imagined it as a kind of sculptural version of American Dreams. But as I did more research about Kaczynski I found him to be much more complicated than Bremer. Bremer’s diary does show that he had a political side (though he often contradicts himself), but the diary made it clear that his main desire was to become infamous. Kaczynski may have started his bombing campaign from pure anger, but from the very start he also had a goal, that is, to destroy the technological society before it destroys us. And here he makes arguments we should pay attention to.

The project is still growing; this book, though an important labor of love with my friends Julie Ault and Dick Hebdige, isn’t the end of it. I added a library, and this summer I’m considering building furniture of the type Thoreau and Kaczynski utilized. I’ve also made a number of films. Two Cabins pairs views out of my cabins’ windows with field recordings taken in Lincoln, Montana, and at Walden Pond—sites of the original constructions. Nightfall was made nearby, a little higher up in the mountains, and is a ninety-seven-minute study of changing light, from daytime to complete darkness. It’s a portrait of solitude. Nothing happens—no wind, no movement, just changing light. I’ve shown it in Berlin and Newcastle, UK, so far, and both audiences were very gracious. Now I’ve just finished a third film, which is two hours long, consisting of four shots off of my porch in spring, fall, winter, and summer—in that order. It’s a grand view of the mountain, the valley, and trees, and in the corner of the image you can just see part of the Kaczynski cabin. Each shot is thirty minutes long, and for half of that time I read text from Kaczynski’s unpublished journals, and some other diverse sources including the Manifesto, and a prison interview from 2001, and some unpublished pages that the FBI confiscated at the time of his arrest and auctioned off last May. An artist friend bought them for $43,000 and gave them to Julie, who had been a big influence on that artist’s work. He knew she and I were working together on this book, and because of his generosity we had access to unpublished writings. It’s the first time I’ve made a text/image film in twelve or fifteen years. I should add that Julie takes the ownership of Kaczynski’s journals very seriously. She believes they should be archived properly and not misused. My intension is not to exploit, but rather to show how complex Kaczynski’s thinking is. I believe his warnings are just. Of course I find his methods wrong, but then again I pay taxes, which have been used to kill lots of innocent people over the past fifty years, so I guess I’m not so innocent myself.

This whole project will keep evolving as I get a better handle on what it says politically. I want to understand solitude, and relating to nature, as both of these men wrote about it. I want to know how one’s senses become more attuned to what is around us. We don’t practice paying attention anymore; we’re bombarded with too many things, we have too much to do. Being in the cabins helps me retain an attention span that allows me to look, listen, and feel deeply. When you’re in the woods, everything is important—whether a track on the ground or a noise in the distance. You have an entirely different way of relating to your environment.

— As told to Brian Sholis