Alex Da Corte is a Philadelphia-based artist, collector, and scavenger. His work in video, installation, and painting is invested in troubling and disseminating the notion of authorship while simultaneously tracing networks and communities. He speaks here about his solo exhibition “Fun Sponge,” on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art until August 4, 2013. Da Corte’s work is also featured in a two-person solo show with Borna Sammak at Oko Gallery in New York until September 12, 2013, and in a solo show at Joe Sheftel Gallery in New York from September 8 to October, 13, 2013.
“FUN SPONGE” IS LIKE A BEDROOM FLOOR, offering a palimpsest of experiences. What is there belongs to many people. I have included the work of John Roebas, Sean Fitzgerald, Andrew Gbur, Sascha Braunig, Nancy Lupo, Alex Ebstein, Seth Adelsberger, Brian Kokoska, Mitchell Kehe, Brendan Smith, and Gaby Wolodarski by embedding them in my paintings. Participants of the exhibition are invited to touch, sort, and rearrange these works and other props that are situated within a carpeted room in the gallery. The work then becomes alive in the hands of others, an open-source engagement. There is something strange about objects moving in a space—the way a balloon might move around an empty room—when you’re not there. It makes my hair stand up on my neck, but that’s a good thing.
The show is about the shuffling of space, the way someone might shuffle through CDs, records, or books. There are twenty-four Plastics Paintings referencing the twenty-four frames per second of animation. They are made by trapping assorted materials like cheese, shampoo, foil, and the other artists’ paintings behind adhesive sign vinyl and pressing them against the backside of the Plexiglas like a reverse glass painting. I studied animation at the School of Visual Arts, and I always go back to flattening space this way, or trying to access space in terms of time. We walk forward or backward in time, depending on who we are and when we’ve last been in the same place. I’m interested in the edges of these images and frames. It’s as if I tell you an anecdote, and then you tell me you told the same story to me already, that it’s your story and I forgot that it’s not mine. Therein lies the reverse side of an experience.
I think about how the objects I collect can be shared, or how they can cross race and gender but still reflect the flavor of a community by the way they are utilized. I think about what residue is left from person to person when they touch the same object. That’s where this aspect about networks comes up in my work. I absorb other people’s work in mine, embedding theirs in a larger framed image in order to undo what they might have had in their original frame.
Many of the artists I work with are painters. Painters can’t touch their own paintings once the work is behind glass. It’s like when one puts a Band-Aid on their hand; they can’t see the other side of the Band-Aid against their skin. But it might be neat if they did. I want to pull out the desire to touch in these artists’ work. Not just look at the glove—wear the glove.
Working with all these artists, I think of myself as a director. If a movie is a success, the actors will take the credit, but if it’s a failure, the actors can walk away as the director takes the fall. My projects hinge on the work of other people, but I’m creating a platform for them to engage in ways that they might not have been able to otherwise. I’m always trying to track and confuse where things come from.
View of Lucy Dodd’s studio, July 2013.
Lucy Dodd is an artist based in New York. Her latest exhibition, “Foss,” opens at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles on July 20 and remains on view until August 31, 2013. Here Dodd discusses the origins of the eight new paintings on view in the show, as well as a tale she cowrote in 2004—a chief source of inspiration for this project.
IN 2004, Jason Rhoades, Paul Theriault, and I began a project in LA called the Foss. It’s hard to explain how the project started or what it was because none of us knew at the time. Foss was the word to describe this dilemma and in the beginning it was also the acronym for our secret studio. But Foss became a word for many things, and it became many things, because all of us needed different things. Paul was the mastermind behind the Foss. His collages were brilliant and deserved a venue. These works inspired JRho. I had just finished my undergraduate degree at Art Center, and had no idea what I was in for.
Things are not as they were in 2004. We bought CDs at Tower Records—we listened to Alicia Keys on repeat. I took strange adventures into empty buildings while location scouting for the Foss around LA. The weirdest was at 1100 Wilshire, an empty triangular skyscraper on the edge of downtown; Fear Factor once shot there. Paul wanted a gallery. Jason wanted a garden. We ended up working in a storefront. There were a lot of towels and hot glue involved, plus a huge copper tube with a crystal skirt, a floss container with the L scraped off, rolls of elastic, and precious stones, among other things. But it became too much and we closed shop. When the physical Foss was taken away, it was replaced by the characters of the fablethe catfish who wanted velvet whiskers, the butterfly who wanted to fly in the rain, and a dove with a broken wingas well as a water plant that was found in the trash and that managed to revive, which became the Foss plant. Some of this was eventually taken out to Wonder Valley, California, where it was left to bake in the sun and disintegrate into the Mojave Desert floor in a corral on Jason’s property.
Jason described the Foss as a rebirth, and he ended up writing the fable. The Foss is my lost placenta, the perpetual generating force of the water plant, the cycles of my work. I don’t know if Paul ever believed in the Foss in the first place even though he was the one who made it all up. He moved to Chicago and started playing Ping-Pong with R. Kelly. I had no idea what the Foss was at the time, and they kept telling me, “The Foss is yours,” and I kept thinking, What the Foss is going on . . . ?
This year, as I began to work on this exhibition, I discovered the letter I wrote to Blum & Poe from back then asking if they'd like to discuss the possibility of showing the Foss. Then I came across a weirdly precise commercial from Tide that played during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. It set up a scenario that began to ripple inside me: Salsa spills and falls miraculously in the shape of Joe Montana on a fan’s football jersey, next there’s a nationwide frenzy to see the “miracle stain,” and at the end of the commercial, the fan’s wife—a Ravens fan—washes the stain out and pronounces: “No stain is sacred.”
With the vanishing Foss and Tide on my mind, I stretched and primed seven shaped canvases on the floor of my studio. Their sizes and shapes were determined by the studio’s unique architecture and by an equilateral triangle painting that holds them together as a unit. This painting is called the key; there are eight paintings, including the key. The lines of the floorboards determined the horizon lines on the wall. I kept going in and looking at them all stretched and taut and white and clean. They were the crispy ship sails you see on the horizon, but I had to take them through the storm. One day, I went into the studio and the first stain was there: my dog, Bubs, had peed. She had broken the seal for me, and with the odor remover Nature’s Miracle, I could begin again.
Left: Cover of Susan Silton, Who’s in a Name? (2013). Right: A screenshot from Who’s in a Name?
Susan Silton is a Los Angeles–based artist whose multidisciplinary practice engages photography, video, installation, performance, sound, and language. She speaks here about her latest work, Who’s in a Name?, 2013, a multi-platform project that primarily takes the form of a book and engages in the relationship between suicide and celebrity. Following the book's recent publication and performative launch event at LA MoCA in May, an afternoon of talks and readings will take place at LAXART on July 13, 2013.
THIS PROJECT BEGAN AS AN INTERVENTION into a work by John Baldessari titled Your Name in Lights, which was originally displayed on the facade of the Australia Museum in Sydney for three weeks in January 2011 and later, in its second iteration, on the facade of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. I discovered it purely by accident online. The work consisted of a large LED marquee designed to reference Hollywood theatrical signage. Viewers were invited in advance to register their name on a dedicated website and would later be informed when their name was going up in lights for a total of fifteen seconds. “Warhol is so yesterday,” said Baldessari about the abbreviated time span. The way in which we culturally exalt and even create celebrities one minute only to then tear them down and revel in their failure the next has always disturbed me.
A couple years prior to seeing Baldessari’s work, I found a Wikipedia site solely devoted to archiving artists who had committed suicide. I was greatly moved by it for many reasons, primarily because of its sheer existence and secondly because there were so many artists on the list that I didn’t recognize. When I stumbled on Baldessari’s project, it was a kind of perfect storm; the Wikipedia archive immediately sprang to mind the subjects his project was addressing—the illusion, promise, and acceleration of fame. Baldessari's platform seemed to me like the ideal venue to give life to the Wikipedia list.
The effect of looking at a sequence of letters flashing from however many miles away, as one would have in Baldessari’s work, is in a sense quite othering. It is a completely disembodied experience to see one’s name in that distanced context and think that is me. I look at suicide similarly, as an othering. It continues to be stigmatized which is so odd because we all die. Suicide is, in my mind, a very proactive decision about how we die.
It was important to me that the project addressed multiple communities of artists, including those living and non-living. I randomly assigned fifty-nine names from the Wikipedia archive to fifty-nine artists (including myself) who agreed to participate. A few people requested to register the name of an artist they had either worked with, been colleagues with, or studied under, but for the most part names were randomly assigned. For the three weeks Baldessari's piece was up in Australia, I was up at all hours of the day and night collecting screen grabs of all the names as they appeared live-streamed online. It was at that point, when I had all of the images physically in front of me, that I realized the project could be a book. Who’s in a Name? now physically exists not just to extend the lives of the suicide victims, but, I hope, as a testament to our community of artists—past, present, and future.
Coming of age in Germany in the 1980s, Annette Weisser and her generation were caught between a genuine horror of fascism and disgust with the official national creed of repentance. Considering this almost-forgotten history is to ask oneself how, and by what turn of events, identities like “citizen” and “nation” that were once taken for granted have come to seem almost incredible. Weisser’s woodcuts, partly inspired by this history, can currently be seen in “Make Yourself Available,” the most extensive exhibition of her work to date in Germany, which is on view at the Heidelberger Kunstverein until September 1, 2013. Here she talks about the show and the genesis of these works.
THIS SHOW was partly triggered by The German Issue of Semiotext(e) that came out in 1982. It was republished in 2011, and I remain fascinated by its central idea, which seems even more apt right now: After 1989, the German situation changed so dramatically that the decade leading up to the reunification had been erased from collective memory. I strongly believe that in order to understand the present moment in Germany, you have to go back to the 1980s, to the decade leading up to German reunification.
While I was thinking about this more general, historical problem, I had a disagreement with my mother about three drawings I’d made in 1983, when I was fifteen. They show a little girl, obviously myself, saving the world from evil—very much like a comic strip. My favorite is one where the little girl stands on a bomb. There are two machine guns pointed at her from outside of the frame, and she is holding the world, stretched out between the two spheres, bomb and world. And, she’s holding this flower that she obviously walks around with. And she puts down the flower because holding up the world requires both hands.
So my mother had them framed and put up in my former room. Every time I went there to visit, I would see them and think, “I cannot stand these drawings!” They were an uncomfortable reminder of the good girl I have since tried so hard to leave behind. Whenever I visited I would take them off the wall, and then my mother would put them back up when I left. This went on for several years. At one point, I had to ask myself: “Why am I so embarrassed by these drawings?” During my last visit to my parents’ home I decided to go back to the mind-set of that time—to take the occasion of this solo show to pay a visit to my fifteen-year-old self up in her room under the roof.
There are twenty prints in the show, arranged on display elements that suggest the architecture of my childhood room. You look out at the world through false windows of an imaginary young girl’s room, or into her room, depending on your position. The pictures are of things like a girl playing the recorder; in another, she sets it on fire. Woodcuts seemed to me the right medium to deal with these issues of morality. There’s no tonality in the print; it’s a very binary world of just two colors. Plus there’s something very German about it, too. But I guess I had to move to LA to become aware of that!
The Unspecified Angst pieces are more abstract, but they relate to the global threats that were prevalent at the time. Acid rain was a big issue in Germany, especially in the Black Forest, where the firs were visibly affected. After Chernobyl, radioactivity was the next big fear. Chernobyl was the first global event that affected me in my little bubble, the first time that something happened so far away that changed the way we lived, in a very real way. My family decided to burn their whole crop that year; everything that was raised that year in our garden was burned. My family still wouldn’t pick mushrooms in the forest because of the long-term effects. I have vivid memories of the fight against the nuclear recycling plant in Wackersdorf, Bavaria. I went there with my Black Bloc buddies and the confrontation with the police was fierce. I remember this old Bavarian lady with a headscarf, coming toward us with a huge shopping bag. We thought she would bring food for the demonstrators who camped out on the construction site, but instead the bag was filled with stones for us to throw at the police!
When I talk to friends of mine who are a few years older, they would say the 1980s were the decade of cool cynicism, the seemingly never-ending Helmut Kohl era in which the lines of conflict were clearly cut and the world was going down the drain anyway. I guess I was just too young to participate in that general mood. I was protected by my na´vetÚ, by my good girl ideals. In a sense this show is about reclaiming my na´vetÚ as a valuable resource, because cool cynicism didn’t really get us anywhere, did it?
Michelle BoulÚ, WONDER, 2013, Rehearsal view, ISSUE Project Room, May 30, 2013. Photo: Wah Ming Chang.
Michelle BoulÚ is a New York–based dancer and choreographer. She will be performing BREAK>Urge>Imprint, 2013, a collaborative work with cellist Okkyung Lee, at Mount Tremper Arts Summer Festival in Mount Tremper, New York, on July 6, and a new duet with dancer Lindsay Clark at Movement Research at Judson Church in the fall of 2013. Here, BoulÚ talks about her choreographic debut, WONDER, a solo performance commissioned by ISSUE Project Room.
WATCHING DANCE RAISES questions about what we want to experience. How much of it should be about satisfaction? And what creates that satisfaction?
I’ve been talking to a lot of music improvisers lately who usually show up unrehearsed to perform. Their framework for creating and experiencing is in this history of improvisation. Lately, I’ve loved watching their body language as they play. I’ve been interested in what radiates outward from their actions. It becomes almost distracting to me. I keep watching how they move to make music, and even what kinds of clothing they wear. I have to close my eyes sometimes; otherwise I’m just too distracted.
Dance is physical, but it’s also about energetic perception. I’ve been taking that into consideration for the duet I’m doing at Mount Tremper. How can we toss something across space that is affecting and resonant? In general, I feel like I start with this base question about what is held in the body and what it conveys. Then, I go forward.
For WONDER, I knew that I wanted to work with Authentic Movement, which is a movement therapy. There is a mover and a witness in the space. The mover closes her eyes and follows her “authentic” movement impulses, while the witness keeps the mover safe from running into anything. It’s about wondering and perceiving in a subtle sense. This practice permeates into simple observational moments. When I am looking at a plank of wood, for instance, I’m perceiving much more than its flatness. What we see and how we see is always filtered through so much memory and past experience.
Having worked as a performer for so long and going through different injuries, I began assessing what was happening in my body, gathering sometimes esoteric information like the consciousness states of organs and body parts. I became interested in the body as a conduit. But when we talk about value in our market-driven culture, what becomes the currency of this information? We’re defined by the structures that surround us, even those of funding. In New York, one can only get money as a choreographer, not as a dancer, which is ridiculous. But I think that’s starting to shift, especially with David Thomson getting the USA Ford Fellowship last year. He applied as a dance artist, rather than solely as a choreographer—because he really is a complete artist! And he’s interested in shifting that paradigm. I’m ready to shift my belief systems around so that doing this work doesn’t have to be so hard—and that’s called flexibility.
Ryan Gander is an artist based in London and Suffolk, UK. Over the past decade, he has gained international acclaim for his works that question the limits of language and knowledge. He speaks here about an artist residency he has founded with Simon Turnbull named Fairfield International, which is set to open in 2014.
AFTER I GRADUATED ART SCHOOL IN 1999, I worked at a carpet shop in Chester for some time. It was only by going to the Jan Van Eyck Academy later that year that I was prevented from the possibility of working at that shop the rest of my life. It really saved me. But there aren’t many funded programs like that in Britain, programs where students from all over the world receive a significant grant and a surplus of facilities (studio, library, workshops, etc.) to build their practice. I now feel incredibly lucky to be able to produce work without having another job to fund it, even though I guess I still have what you could call working-class guilt.
Obviously, there already are art schools where one gets “proper” qualifications, where students do coursework, are marked for them, are placed in a situation of competition, and put on final shows. But when one works toward qualification, qualification becomes the objective and making great art becomes secondary. I think there are artists who come from situations that hold no other prerogative than to practice art. That sort of freedom is rare. My idea for an art school is something between an art academy and a residency, entirely free to the students who are also provided with a living stipend. I think that when one is in a situation in which they don’t have to worry about time and space—two of the greatest denominators in an artist’s ability to practice—that’s when someone starts acting like a real artist.
I live in the small town of Saxmundham, which is by the sea and two hours from London. One day, walking around with my wife Rebecca, we saw an old Victorian school that had been derelict for sixteen years. She asked me—sort of jokingly—why I didn’t do that art school I always wanted to do here. When I went up to go see it, I thought I actually could, not all at once, but in stages like when someone buys a house; instead of buying all the furniture at the same time, one should live in it a bit and buy things as one needs them.
The academy will be called Fairfield International and the plan is simple: When you give young brilliant artists some time and space, everything else becomes contributing factors to their work. At Fairfield International, there will be a sense of retreat because it’s by the sea; all the art world distractions that don’t help an artist work—an opening one night, a party the other, applications for money from the arts council, random teaching jobs, going into a share or living in their parents’ spare room, then having only a week in a studio—won’t be available. All of those have the potential to turn an artist into an idiot, rather than a savant of their own practice who learns by making mistakes.
Looking at photographs of the Bauhaus or of Black Mountain, I always think they should have taken more documentation. The teachers and students probably wish they had some better way to commemorate their time there; perhaps they should have had everyone make a drawing at the beginning and keep an archive. For Fairfield, I thought it would be essential to have an ongoing collection of art, one representative work done by each participant. But it would be logistically difficult and costly to care for over 120 works. So instead we will establish the Fairfield Legacy, an exchange program between the school’s initial investor and its students. In return for what it takes to start a new history, the patron will receive a composed collection of what is in fact a self-built history.