Francesco Clemente, Sixteen Amulets for the Road (IX), 2012-2013, watercolor on paper, 19 3/5 x 22 2/5".
Francesco Clemente’s longstanding love of India is at the core of “Francesco Clemente: Inspired by India,” an exhibition that opens at the Rubin Museum in New York on September 5, 2014. The show melds past and present, encompassing a range of styles and media. Throughout the works—which engage traditional Indian techniques and frequently investigate spirituality—Clemente’s respect for Indian culture is palpable. The show is on view until February 2, 2015.
THIS EXHIBITION presents a panorama of work I’ve made in India. The layout of the show is designed like a temple, and both physically and metaphorically it will feel like the viewer is exploring a sanctuary from outside to inside, progressing past its niches to the inner sanctum. There is a frontal area where five large paintings from 1980 are displayed, and around the central staircase there will be four cells with four cenotaphs—sculptures I am showing for the first time, which I made this year in Rajasthan—commemorative monuments of my nostalgia for India. A side room will contain the The Black Book, erotic watercolors I painted in Orissa in 1989, and watercolors from 2012 and 2013, which incorporate miniature techniques.
In recent years I have been obsessed with discontinuous surfaces, and this is something that comes to light in the new watercolors. Years ago I saw a fashion show by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons—she combined jersey with felt, so a nonabsorbent fabric sewn next to the most absorbent fabric that exists. These textures stayed with me for years, and I developed a desire to achieve the same types of contrasts in painting. I believe there are two ways of getting dressed: consonance or contrast—matching everything or mismatching everything. There are painters like this: those who aspire to or are slaves to have everything harmonize, and others who play with contrast. I always have seen myself as someone who tends to harmonize, and so I wanted to challenge this, and try to do the opposite.
The four sculptures exhibited in four niches echo the five paintings from 1980, which hang nearby and were conceived in relation to the five senses. Always returning to the ancient esoteric precept, “As it is above, so it is below,” the vase is the body, the body is the vase, the wind is the flag, the flag is the wind. At the beginning of the exhibition there is a resonance between these bodies of work. There is a moon, a vase, and a lock. The box is a box that cannot be opened but it has a lock. For the fourth sculpture, I made a cast of a cassette player, which to me evokes the Hindu concept of akasha, sound space.
Everything I do is handmade, and for me even sculpture cannot be delegated to others. I need to be absolutely certain, so every stain, every burn is my own. I worked in Jodhpur to create both the sculptures and textile works with stitching and embroidering. For instance, in the show there is a flag with an Ouroburos and a phrase from Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, his prophetic book from 1967: “The spectator feels at home nowhere because the spectacle is everywhere.” I like thinking about his neo-Marxist reflection from the viewpoint of Indian culture, which is supremely visual. In India, the image is pervasive, from the most ancient culture to the most modern. Human need, not the logic of domination, imposes the image. Without the image, there is no life. And so the question is not to liberate humanity from the image, but to direct humanity toward an image that heals, instead of an image that weakens.
I never went to India thinking I would dive into the past; for me India was an alternative contemporaneity. In Hindi, the word kal refers to both yesterday and tomorrow—they are just brackets that surround the present moment. So much intellectual effort there is directed toward connecting to the now, as exemplified by all the great Indian thinkers, up to our own time. This focus also helps to rescue an experience vaster than oneself from religious narrow-mindedness and bring it back to the religious experience, not to religious fundamentals. I find this kind of thought very generative for what I do, and it is often the reason for what I do—to indicate a possibility for entering the present, a present without attributes.
For me, it is also important to relativize the value of the image. I have no interest in dogmatic icons; I have no pretense of imposing yet another dogma on the world. I simply would like to offer this observation: What we are taught to regard as experience is incomplete, and it is normal to have a vaster and more direct, more unmediated experience of ourselves and of the world. Almost everything presented to us is a convention, and I would like to produce images that avoid this. The fundamental convention is that everything modern is new, and everything traditional is static. In contemporary traditional contexts, politeness requires saying, “I have not invented anything, what I do is not new, everything comes from my masters.” But it is a convention, for as soon as one becomes familiar, close up, with even the rural tradition of painting in India, one realizes that every artist there has invented something absolutely new. In the Western art world, every artist, following accepted etiquette, says “It is all new, I invented everything.” But if one lives for more than a generation, one realizes this is not true.
A friend of mine who was working with a textile worker in Kutch, Gujarat, asked him how much red he was putting in the mix, and the worker replied, “I have no idea, I taste the color.” That’s it. My ambition is to be able to do something where all my senses are involved and have the same cognitive dignity, passing through scent, sound, touch.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Trajal Harrell, Used, Abused, and Hung Out to Dry, 2013. Performance view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 13, 2013. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu.
Trajal Harrell’s Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church, 2009–2013, seven works investigating a speculative collision between the traditions of voguing and postmodern dance, has become one of the most influential dance series of the past five years. From September 14–20 at the Kitchen, as part of FIAF’s Crossing the Line festival, the seven performances will be done in order, at the same theater, one work each day, beginning with (XS) on the 14th and ending with (M2M) Judson Church Is Ringing in Harlem on the 20th.
But before then, on September 4-5, Harrell kicks off “In one step are a thousand animals,” his two-year Annenberg Research Commission Residency at the Museum of Modern Art, with The Practice, an open-ended generation of dance material. Here, Harrell speaks about his research residency and the consequences of Twenty Looks.
FOR FIFTEEN YEARS I’ve been looking at how to use voguing as a theoretical lens. It’s like ballet training, this investigation. For the past five, the foreground of my work has solely been about the relationship between early postmodern dance and the voguing tradition. This exploration was prompted by a question—“What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ballroom scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?”—which grew into the group of works known as Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church.
The seven performances that make up the series will be shown in order over a course of a week, one each day, at the Kitchen. It was shown in its entirety once before, in Vienna, but in different theaters, and not in order. I never thought that anyone would be able to put the whole thing on here in New York. The production aspect of it is huge. The casts are different for each version. The Kitchen and Crossing the Line are crazier than I am. I call it my grand slam, like I'm getting ready to do my US Open.
But for my work now, this idea of what would have happened in 1963 is done. Today I’m looking at Butoh through the theoretical lens of voguing. My residency at MoMA, titled “In one step are a thousand animals,” developed out of a work I did at the Museum of Modern Art last year called Used, Abused, and Hung Out to Dry. The question there was, “How do you vogue Hijikata?”
It began with me looking at how the appropriation of the fashion spectacle through voguing has influenced my work. I was thinking about when the Japanese came to the Paris fashion shows in 1981. If you read the way people spoke about that, the way it’s mythologized, it’s very similar to the way people speak about Butoh, as part of this violent, post-atomic aesthetic.
I wondered if there was any relationship between those fashion designers—Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto—and Butoh. I began doing research in Japan, trying to draw a map between Comme des Garçons and Butoh. I played six-degrees-of-separation with people I met, to see if I could meet Rei Kawakubo, to ask her personally. Of course, Kawakubo is reclusive, and the idea was not necessarily that I would meet her. It was more that this would be a great way to encounter people in Japan and research dance.
I had a Fellowship for the Saison Foundation in Tokyo. They asked, “Why don’t you go to the archives of [Butoh pioneer Tatsumi] Hijikata?” And I said, “I don’t want to go to the archives of Hijikata. It’s too conventional. I want to play this weird game and meet people and have strange and interesting conversations.” But one day, I relented, I said, “Okay.” I went, and when I put in the first tape, which was of his last piece, I was so blown away by the work.
I thought, “How is it possible that I missed this?” His main muse, Yoko Ashikawa, came to perform in Paris, but in the West, we only saw the second generation, really. We saw people like Sankai Juku, Dairakudakan, Min Tanaka. We saw people who worked with him, but Hijikata never actually left Japan.
This became a historical context for me to go into my imagination with, and then Ana Janevski at MoMA heard about that, and MoMA commissioned Used, Abused, and Hung Out to Dry, and this idea evolved to form a residency around this research.
As you know there’s this intense dialogue about dance and the visual arts. This residency is an opportunity for me to rethink dance within a different regime. They didn’t say I had to perform, but that was the first thing I wanted to do. It was really important to me, also, that there be openness to it. That I get to discover things in it, and things can change. I want to have an opportunity to learn from what happens.
There’s a process that I use in the studio to generate material with the performers, and it’s something that I’ve never shown in public. The Practice is what we’re calling it, and it’s just an early part of the residency. It’s not a show. It’s not a performance, necessarily. I wouldn’t even call it an experiment. It’s really an open studio. People will get to see us work, and I don’t know what will happen. I’m trying to stay very sincere with that, with myself, and trying not to get all jacked up about it. It’s a way of being in the work, really, without having to make something.
Jo Baer, Dusk (Bands and End-Points), 2012, oil on canvas, 87 x 118".
For the 31st São Paulo Bienal, Jo Baer is presenting “In the Land of the Giants,” 2009–13, a series that debuted at the Stedelijk Museum last year. Born in Seattle in 1929, Baer became associated with Minimalism in New York in the 1960s. In 1975—“due to Nixon”—she moved to the greener pastures of the Irish countryside, where she encountered the primary subjects of these works: ancient burial sites and Neolithic stones. Mapping and compressing various timelines and genealogies, Baer’s multifaceted, encoded canvases will be on view in the biennial from September 2 to December 7, 2014.
THESE PAINTINGS are inspired by my remembering of the Hurlstone, a large megalith set at a diagonal in a field in County Louth, Ireland, which was interesting to me for the enormous aperture set in it—a hole that, when I first looked south through it, seemed to suggest a path extending over the mountains all the way down to the huge earth-mound cemeteries of New Grange and Knowth. At the time it made me wonder: What have I stumbled on? Is this one of an ancient highway’s crossroads—sight through, and turn here? Only much later, in urban Amsterdam, after recalling and then thinking on this, did I put the hard edge down—set the ruler to the page—and that’s how these paintings began.
The Irish rural landscape had always struck me as odd. The castle I lived in from 1975 to 1982 was built in the twelfth century, and the ruins of a fifteenth-century church as well as part of a school for scribes sat at the top of one of my fields. In my neighborhood, you would also find standing megaliths and tractors in the same field, or a cottage next to a graveyard from 3000 BC—or 4000 BC even, with a horse there, chomping on grass—all of it just blatantly lying around with nobody noticing. I remember a farmer once bragging about one of my fields, “Oh yes, there used to be an earth mound here, but I plowed it away.” I told him that its ghosts must have been causing him a lot of bad luck.
In all, it was pretty remarkable to someone from the outside; in fact it hit me as close to surreal. Here were immense records of time, and as a history junkie, one of my evening pastimes was tracing ley lines on my local ordinance maps, which mark every megalith, ford, graveyard, and tomb. When I really began researching these old stones, I discovered that the Neolithic, mound-building North Atlantic maritime peoples who erected them were unique because they were the first farmers there, and landed in Ireland around 4500 BC. Their forebears had left Jericho around 7000 BC, colonizing as they sailed along the coasts of Iberia and Brittany and on to the British Isles. Two of the earliest court tombs in Ireland are still at their western landing point, sited on either side at the end of the aforementioned path—a ritual track. One finds other epic menhirs and lost henges clasping this line, and they surprised me into a full commitment to the entire Neolithic project.
These paintings are not about memories—mine or time’s—they are more about a variety of temporalities and their related forms. They are really abstract paintings made with images, as I believe that a painting ideally does not represent or illustrate a concept, but, rather—as it’s always been—is about its own very deep structure. I think it’s important that people are able to “read” these paintings like a map with lines that go from here to there.
The viewer will come to understand that I’m a magpie: For decades, I’ve collected photographs of odd things, pictures that seem to go together for me to make a subject. I used to look in second-hand bookstores for images I could use, and then I would trace them on a grid for my paintings. But as soon as I could use computers to grid up—circa 1995—I did. Typically, I compose some images on a field, print it all out in black and white, and then take colored pencils and change things around. I then scan the image back and play with it some more until I get what I think will look and be right. When it goes up onto the much larger surface of the canvas, more changes must be made. In these particular paintings, the process results in a sense of the compression of time and memory and imagery that is obvious: The paintings speak a digital language but the coding isn’t difficult to discern.
Right now I’m turning this series of six paintings into replicas—smaller pigment prints using oversize ink-jet printers and this beautiful Fabriano watercolor paper. The prints will have the feel and a sense of the paintings, if not the impact. Made for smaller exhibition spaces, they will be large enough to stand on their own in a room along with some of their smaller working drawings. Picasso got around an awful lot that way, didn’t he? I think I’m going to do this with all of my image output, at least with those of the past few years. I don’t see why paintings should just sit around in warehouses, never shown. Still, it took me nearly fifty years to get my so-called Minimalist work into the canon, and as this work is pretty much on the edge also, I’m not expecting an immediate popular response. However, perhaps pigment prints traveling about to today’s many available nonmuseum spaces might go some way towards abbreviating the process.
Nuria Ibáñez, The Naked Room, 2013, digital video, color, sound, 67 minutes.
The Spanish documentarian Nuria Ibáñez’s most recent film, The Naked Room (2013), was recorded entirely inside a pediatric therapist’s office in a Mexico City children’s hospital and is composed primarily of close-ups of the young patients’ faces during consultations. The film will screen at Anthology Film Archives from August 29 to September 4, 2014 in its New York theatrical premiere run.
WITH THE NAKED ROOM I wanted to show something that is often treated as though it were invisible. There is no real and sincere media reflection today on the wounds of childhood and adolescence. Filming children’s psychological consultations in Mexico City, where I live, helped me understand things that I had not previously seen or heard about. More than case studies, I found through the collective faces of the children another, more primal face—that of our social reality.
I chose a children’s hospital because I wanted to deal with first wounds—the initial pains that stick with us and accompany us throughout our lives. The youth in the film possessed the eloquence and transparency to address this. Our filming was divided into two distinct periods of about three months in total, which allowed my crew and I to familiarize ourselves with the daily routines of the hospital’s doctors and other members of its medical staff and for them, in turn, to grow accustomed to us.
By contrast, I met the children and their family members only on the days that I filmed them. I believe in the “direct cinema” tradition of observing more than interfering and never learned in advance who would enter the hospital, which problems they would bring, or how they would be treated. Before the youth began their consultations, I would approach them and their families to explain the nature of our documentary, making clear that the project came from my personal interest without sponsorship from the local Department of Health, and that it was their choice whether to participate. Only if they agreed to do so could I enter the consultation room with them.
The film’s title refers to a naked room because of the clear, dignified, and unprejudiced way that the children have of telling their life stories. I didn’t have to do anything to gain their confidence other than to be present listening to them, though the naturalness that they exhibit comes a bit from how we worked together. I felt it important to stay in front of them, at their eye level and without moving much, which would have disrupted their speeches and sacrificed gestures and silences. I filmed their faces within very tight frames that allowed me to get close and feel their wounds as my own, thus preventing judgment or pity.
I learned that they had a great need to speak and to be heard and decided that the parents and doctors would remain largely offscreen, since the family environment as well as adult society had hurt them. Through the course of their consultations, they discuss and we can see the effects of different forms of violence: physical, verbal, psychological; violence committed against others and against oneself; institutionalized violence.
I was never interested in making a morbid study, though, since the scars are not important in and of themselves. They interest me only when they can lead us to something beneath the surface. Selecting the children that appear in the film had nothing to do with the hardness of their stories, but rather with my ability to transmit, through the sum of them, things not explicitly described by any one of them—for instance, human frailty.
Rokni Haerizadeh, Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase, 2014, gesso, watercolor, and ink on printed paper, 11 3/4 x 15 3/4". From the series “Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase,” 2014.
Works by the Iranian-born, UAE-based artist Rokni Haerizadeh, including paintings from the series “Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase” and the animated video Letter! (both 2014), are currently on view at the New Museum as part of “Here and Elsewhere,” a major exhibition of contemporary art from and about the Arab world, which is on view through September 28, 2014. Here Haerizadeh discusses these works and his process.
GROWING UP IN TEHRAN DURING THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR had a big impact on my generation. Thinking about life and death as a kid makes you serious. The TV programs at that time mostly depicted Islamic propaganda of the war, martyrs, and religion, but sometimes during the weekends they showed movies by directors such as Andrei Tarkovsky, Akira Kurosawa, and Sergei Eisenstein, as well as the Eastern European school of animated cartoons. When I was a kid and a teenager, these films were the only things around that inspired questions about art. Seeing, for example, a beautiful landscape with a man silently walking around for ten minutes moved me, and I wondered: Is that a movie? Is that art? It felt like a privilege to grow up with this kind of cinema as well as Abbas Kiarostami’s films, which were screened in movie theaters in Tehran. It was an escape, a way to survive and to think more imaginatively.
Letter! is part of “Fictionville,” an ongoing project of drawings and videos, or moving paintings. In 2009, when I began creating this series of works, I was inspired by stories that feature animals as narrators, such as the ancient Indian story Panchatantra, as well as Shahr-e qesseh, a play written by Iranian actor Bijan Mofid. In my work, I am depicting people as animals not to dehumanize them, but rather to emphasize the dear beast inside all human beings. I examine violence as it is used in the media, but I do this without being judgmental or offering a moral lesson.
To make these works, I collect frames from YouTube and TV news broadcasts, print them on letter-size office paper, and then prime them. I’ll spread a group of “frames”—usually around forty sheets—on my studio table and move across the group, painting on each sheet individually like in an assembly line. The process takes place in stages; the first is a geometric abstraction in which I attempt to equate the background and the foreground in each frame. For example, I might find a rhombus-like form in the image made up of a policeman’s hand in the foreground, holding a protester’s body, combined with the shape of a spectator’s leg and a passing car in the background. Then I repeatedly draw over and across these images until the geometric shapes are embedded within the image and lose their sharp edges and become more organic. Through repetition, the image slowly morphs into identifiable objects and shapes, and creates a narrative of its own that is unfaithful to the original image of protest. My moving images are like drawings with the added element of time. They trace experiences in real time, just like action painting. The individual dots shifting around the image are like a pulse—they leave with you the sense of the work as a living, breathing thing.
The title of my recent group of paintings, “Subversive Salami in a Ragged Briefcase,” takes its name from a line in Allen Ginsberg’s poem I Beg You Come Back & Be Cheerful. For me, the salami in the title refers to the protester and represents sweat and a salty body. The ragged suitcase made sense to me as well because I am displaying these paintings horizontally in a glass display case instead of putting them vertically. It is as if the paintings are looking for the sun.
Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014, three-channel HD video, color, sound, 13 minutes 18 seconds.
As Ed Atkins sees it, high-definition video is nightmarish if not deathlike because of the way its technology inherently privileges representation and image over character, narrative, and human emotion. His three-channel video Ribbons, 2014, which is currently on view at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until August 25, 2014, as well as at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris until September 7, 2014, presents a premonitory picture of a late-capitalist societypart horror, part musical, and part melodramavia the story of a CGI avatar called Dave. Here, on the occasion of Artforum’s summer issue focusing on animation, the London-based artist discusses this work.
RIBBONS is still something I’m not entirely sure how to talk about. It’s a particularly complex and horrible film—what it seems to propose or diagnose or perform is very, very sad, I think. One of my prevailing thoughts was to pursue those excessive echelons of capitalist aesthetics to a properly toxic level, employing a swathe of images, devices, and tics that are clearly violent and obscene. Imagine a film of capitalism, but exceeding its gestures, sprinting ahead of its forms and dictates, to a place where they’re denuded—where you can see them for what they are while being nostalgically drawn to their familiar manipulations, too.
And of course, the protagonist would have to be Dave, a white, straight, Western man: the protagonist of capitalism. Dave is pathetic and repulsive but also deeply, wrenchingly empathetic. He should be recognizable to most people who’ll see the show. His appeal for sympathy is one I might make at my lowest, most mindlessly fulfilling my type: how helpless he is in his determined privilege, and how that’s recuperated as a kind of outrage, terribly. It’s complicated: He is romantic, as if that solves anything. He is manically depressive, as if that were solely symptomatic. He self-loathes, harms and pleads, too. He drinks and smokes and sings and emotes—and it’s all so obscene, excessive, and artificial.
Mortality isn’t in the video. It’s everything and everywhere outside of it, and thankfully so. The videos viscerally address it through their technology. But precisely because they are so totally disembodied themselves, they act as excessive illustrations of bodily and material stuff: from Dave and his drinkingto sex, physics, lens flares, focus pulling, dust motes. The videos demonstrate their limit. Ribbons is, really, like some unholy demo for an occult videogame.
Technology is always pushing to be construed as magic, right? Ribbons is so much a caricature of analogue things—capital in particular, at that point where commodities insinuate and confuse themselves with subjects. Most technical devices are made to fake the prior analogue, material things—and in so doing annulling the possibility of those things ever actually being mistaken for their analogue. CGI in particular can’t help reveal its fallacy by demonstrating its capability to its limit. In multiplex cinema, the camera swings impossibly around its subject; robots deconstruct themselves—fucking robots! Forensic fucking detail, pushing the envelope until, invariably, the edge is found and the whole thing comes unstuck, is seen. It’s uncanny only if you spot that hem, that edge where reality falls away and you’re left with verisimilitude, believability, life-likeness—all words predicated on their obverse being sufficiently noted to the point of aborting their aspirations.
This is all horror, I suppose—horror being the most discernible, legible genre. I can really fucking read horror—and I know exactly how to respond correctly—like nothing else. And the horror, as above, of these kinds of capital aesthetics of advertising, lifestyle, fix and pummeling is played out to its voided end—hopefully, to the voided end of those aesthetics and their shitty assurances.