If the concept of place in photography has shifted throughout history, “A Sense of Place” examines these shifts in rich detail through the work of more than forty artists from the past two centuries. Beginning in the 1840s, a scientific approach to the medium gave rise to photographic “documents” such as topographical ordinance survey studies—like the one on view here by Carleton E. Watkins, The Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point, ca. 1883. Later, in the post–World War II period, photographers suggested metaphoric meaning embedded in photographed sites, such as the socially charged American landscapes of Stephen Shore’s “Uncommon Places,” 1973–81, an iconic series included in the exhibition. Another recent development has been the use of photographs to express place through material manifestations, as when a physical accumulation of images functions as a sculptural installation: For Erik Kessels’s 24-HRS in Photos, 2013, for example, he printed every digital image uploaded to Flickr during a twenty-four-hour period. Installed in floor-to-ceiling piles, as if sand dunes had been poured into the gallery, the prints of 1.4 million vernacular images reflect—both as individual images and as aggregate heaps—the overabundance and barrage of photographic reproduction we face in daily life.
Other series reflect on content through their modes of installation. Lee Friedlander’s “America by Car,” 1992–2009, is hung uniformly in three rows, but with tight irregular gaps between images, as if to echo the constricted space of the automobile that is used as a framing device in each image. In another gallery, nineteenth-century landscape photographs are installed along a single meandering horizontal line that undulates up and down as if re-creating, in the overall viewing experience, the rolling landscape seen by the photographers. Such unconventional hangs highlight sensibilities pertaining to place both historically and within the framework of contemporary display—sensibilities that are complicated by the digital nature of photographic imagery as it inescapably shapes our perceptions of place both inside and outside the gallery.
Vishal Jugdeo’s installation A Weight Dangles Above Your Head / A Shaky Picture Has No Weight, 2014, is captivating and as elusive as its subject: the instability of representation and of arriving at truth. The project’s twenty-three-minute video, a version of which was presented at Performa 13, features the artist and his boyfriend performing a script loosely revolving around Guyana, where in the 1800s Jugdeo’s family was brought from India as indentured laborers. Slipping from staged scenes and dialogue between the couple in Los Angeles to footage and sound Jugdeo shot in Guyana, the project proves that this young artist, like Harun Farocki and Omer Fast, is capable of pushing cinematic tropes—self-reflexivity, documentary—to reflect on the impossibility of historical and personal certainty.
Jugdeo mixes the film’s diegesis with the viewer’s real-time existence to productive effect. The footage plays on a screen suspended above a platform dotted with symbolic objects (a video camera and globe among them). Painted like props, they extend the filmic artifice into physical reality, as when we first hear dialogue between the boyfriend, whose voice comes from a speaker in the globe, and Jugdeo, whose voice comes from one in the camera, while sound captured in Guyana plays from speakers visible at the bottom of the screen. Jugdeo is asked to describe what he sees, and he struggles: “An ocean trapped behind a wall.” Later in the video, Guyanese field workers preen as Jugdeo talks about his discomfort filming them. Often, the artist appears withdrawn behind closed eyes; this, along with the couple’s discussions about the difficulties of getting to the center—“What is at the core?” “I wish I could show you a clearer image”—make it clear that the project is about far more than Guyana. To his credit, Jugdeo does not push for resolution. In a final scene, a man and woman flirt at a bar while Jugdeo says: “The fastest route to empathy is just pressing your body against someone else’s…we are all just a field of undefined signs…waiting to wash ashore.”
I AM HOPING TO SEE THE DAY reads the text spelled out in fist-size, chalk-white rocks on the floor of Juan Capistran’s two-part exhibition “What We Want, What We Believe: Towards a Higher Fidelity” at the Visual Arts Center. Nearby, a tidy stack of offset prints of a craggily textured surface is available for viewers to take and crumple, forming an ad hoc rock. This replica, which intimates revolution but materially lacks the heft, is an apt summa of the thin line that Capistran walks with aplomb. How to suggest revolutionary potential without controlling the conversation? How to find a model that honors collective and individual contributions to social change?
Thoughtful about his archival material as well as the formal progression of his works, Capistran here caps off a few years’ worth of investigation on the subjects of insurrection, violence, and protest with a disarmingly quiet, monochromatic palette. Tellingly, Capistran’s archive is collaged from the existential texts of Albert Camus and the revolutionary rhetoric of Black Panther Huey P. Newton (with a note found in Timothy McVeigh’s car thrown in for good measure). These source materials appear here as photographs of isolated and redacted texts, and the artist’s renderings are bitingly open. One reads, MAYBE NOW, [REDACTED] LIBERTY!
Across the university campus at the ISESE Gallery, Capistran’s series of 2012 photographs featuring white revolutionary objects (a Molotov cocktail, a fist, a flag) photographed against a white studio background hang alongside the work of Austin-based photographer Ricky Yanas. Geographically split apart, Capistran’s two bodies of work are poetically distant even when their meanings are so intimately bound. Strains of Daniel Joseph Martinez’s white-on-white paintings and Black Panther marble works are present in both exhibitions of Capistran’s work, but in a generative rather than derivative sense. It was Martinez who once told a San Antonio blog, “I think we’re at the end of ideology. I think both the right and the left have failed. Utopian visions don’t work.” We’re hoping we never see the day, and we’re hoping Capistran doesn’t either.
Panning over a seductive canopy of tropical trees toward a dense metropolis, a sound track of helicopters provides a seismic calibration for the coming narrative. Focusing first on the gathering of a joyful crowd of intergenerational, multiracial celebrants at an altar, a tone of reverence descends, which before long is ruptured by an apocalyptic rapture. Demonstrating Yael Bartana’s recurrent interest in the concepts of return and belief, the exquisite ritual staged in Inferno, 2013, engages with the strange confluence of Evangelism and neo-Pentecostalism in present day Brazil and their connections to the Holy Land and Judaic traditions.
Commissioned by the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the Israeli artist’s luscious and provocative eighteen-minute film addresses the current construction of the third Temple of Solomon by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in São Paulo. Based as much on fact as fiction, Bartana’s project emerged from a research residency initiated by curators Eyal Danon and Benjamin Seroussi devoted to considering the rise of “new religious movements.” Built to biblical specifications, this new temple includes material directly from Israel and intends to replicate the first temple in Jerusalem, the violent destruction of which signaled the first diaspora of the Jewish people in the sixth century BCE.
Displacement is of course another theme Bartana cyclically revisits. The characters in Inferno are anachronistically dressed in white linen tunics and fruit headdresses, conflating Biblical times with hippie bohemia and socialist uniforms. By the time the fire and brimstone begin, the sheer beauty of Bartana’s tableau has already mesmerized the viewer. At once ancient and futuristic, using an evocative combination of prophesy and imagination, Bartana’s “historical pre-enactment” echoes the epics of blockbuster cinema with a twist of tropical kitsch. The bizarre transposition of the Wailing Wall to Latin America as a site for pilgrims to worship as well as for tourists to sip from menorah-emblazoned coconuts exemplifies the insufficiency of concepts such as hybridity to address the complex intermixing of influences in either contemporary culture or religion.
For their latest exhibition, Aziz + Cucher present a video installation based on bombed-out buildings in Sarajevo and throughout Bosnia. Originally commissioned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2012, this version of the work has been re-configured by curator Tami Katz-Freiman so that seven vertical flat-screen panels are suspended from the ceiling at eye level. The room is nearly entirely darkthe only light coming from the stark white background of the plasma screens, on which endless loops of digitally animated buildings rhythmically rise and fall. The work’s title, Time of the Empress, is partially an oblique reference to a passage in Marguerite Yourcenar’s 1951 fictionalized autobiography Memories of Hadrian, in which the dying emperor reflects broadly on cycles of progress and regression as well as on chaos and order in history.
The video installation is backed by nondescript electronic white noise composed by Larry Buksbaum that has a nearly physical reverberation—visitors can almost feel the pulse of frequency in their body. As such, the work takes on a multisensorial quality, amplifying the scope of a piece that might otherwise lean toward a disembodied Minimalism. Stripped down to modular forms, the black-and-white animations are reminiscent of modernist international style architecture.
Though Time of the Empress was inspired by the artists’ journey through the Middle East and the Balkans in 2009, Aziz + Cucher have carefully removed any sense of place. Robert Smithson’s 1967 description of ruins of a different kind—the dilapidated industrial buildings of the suburb of Passaic, New Jersey—seem appropriate to invoke here. Smithson writes that they “don’t fall into ruin after they are built, but rather rise into ruin after they are built.” As such, Aziz + Cucher present ruins with a sense of lost promise as much as the possibility for future reclamation.
The Abstract Expressionist-era haunt Cedar Street Tavern is enlivened with nearly two-dozen of its notorious patrons in Red Grooms’s Cedar Bar, 1986: Lee Krasner coolly holds court with Elaine de Kooning and Aristodimos Kaldis; further over, Norman Bluhm pins John Chamberlain to the floor. On view as part of “Red Grooms: Larger Than Life,” the work can be seen before one even enters the exhibition, which rollicks in scenery that the artist has observed over the past six decades and animated through his quintessentially comic style. Part parody yet largely reverential, Grooms’s works playfully beckon to his artistic ancestors, and the show, which consists of punchy large paintings and a series of crayon and pen studies, pictorializes their creative interplay.
The grand-scale and vibrant painting Picasso Goes to Heaven, 1973, was inspired by Picasso’s death that year. A bustling parade of Picasso’s literary and artistic influences welcomes him to the afterlife alongside clusters of Picassoan imagery: a portrait of Dora Maar, Cubist still-life spreads, a bacchanalian nude feeding herself grapes from a bowl wedged in her pelvis. Sketchily developed over a persimmon ground, the painting has the crowded, vibrating quality of Groom’s well-known tridimensional “sculpto-pictoramas.”
Despite the art-historical movements that have run parallel to his career, Grooms has maintained his distinctive style. The works here suggest that he envisions himself less as a participant and more as dedicated observer. The two bartenders in Cedar Bar are both self-portraits of Grooms at different agesa discrete witness to the raucous sceneand the towering pictures in “Larger than Life” are in ways works of satire: Meta portraits of cultural giants. At the same time, the visual immediacy and comic stylization of Grooms’s works concede a deeper earnestness—a celebratory incantation of his canonical heroes—while manifesting his own spot at the bar, as though fulfilling the Irish drinking toast, “May your home always be too small to host all of your friends.”
Befitting its dyadic title, Sarah Pierce’s exhibition “Lost Illusions/Illusions Perdue” prompts two possible interpretations: one based in denotation and the other in connotation—although trying to untangle one from the other is not so simple. Forming something akin to an institutional memory-based scatter piece, Pierce’s recent work taps into the Banff Center’s varied history, with its assortment of ceramics from former artists-in-residence, kept by instructor Ed Bamiling, and a four-channel video displaying students participating in Brecht-like learning plays. Meanwhile, copies of archival material, placed casually throughout the space, track correspondences between artist Mark Lewis and the institution following the vandalization of his photograph in 1989. The unearthing of the imbroglio over Lewis’s piece, which was allegedly attacked by a group of women because of its perceived pornographic contact, is almost institutional critique; it implicates the center in political discourse, countering its image as an idyllic alpine retreat, removed from the art world.
While looking at the exhibition as a literal portrait of an institution raises rewarding questions, this perspective alone hazards reducing the show to a litany of overt references while failing to account for its aesthetic presence. It might be precisely what Susan Sontag, in her 1964 essay “Against Interpretation,” deemed “the revenge of the intellect upon art.” More rewarding is when viewers take in the exhibition as a mixture of seemingly unrelated materials, discourses, and ambiences. The totality becomes an ephemeral landscape of form and content that provides space for viewers to experience place in its rich complexity, where meaning is not prescribed by the artist, but becomes an active agent—unsettled and unsettling.
One of the largest works in this group exhibition, Abbas Akhavan’s Study for Blue Shield, 2011, is only visible by aerial surveillance. A piece of the gallery’s drywall has been cut out and painted in a pattern of blue and white diamonds. Located on the roof of the gallery, the shield, which replicates a crest designed by UNESCO to identify and protect sites of cultural heritage during armed conflict, is invisible to viewers but is on display for passing helicopters or drones.
Akhavan’s gesture—an incisive commentary on the threats posed by, and to, art in a surveillance state—is a fitting introduction to this show, organized by artist Charles Stankievech, which brings together nearly one hundred objects that examine the confluence of artistic and military intelligences: from Vorticist Edward Wadsworth’s invention of “Razzle Dazzle” camouflage for World War I warships in A Ship Being Painted with Dazzle Camouflage, 1918; to Fluxus artist Tamás St. Turba’s fake-brick “radio” (used by Czech residents as a symbol of protest against Soviet censorship), Czechoslovakian Radio 1968, 1968–2014; to Sang Mun’s ZXX Typeface, 2012, a “disruptive” font that is unreadable by text-scanning software, which Stankievech cunningly adopts for his didactic panels. While many of these projects are direct responses to government protocols, other works—such as Bill Burns’s Guard Tower Plans, Prison Cell Plans and the Songs of Guantanamo Bay, 2010, which includes a limited-edition vinyl record of songs used for torture—use appropriation to demonstrate how readily innocuous objects, such as a copy of the Sesame Street theme song, can be transformed into tools of state violence.
Though the premise of the exhibition sounds like it could devolve into an episode of the 1960s television show Get Smart, Stankievech’s careful archival research prevents it from succumbing to comedic shtick. Instead, the exhibition encourages viewers to wander among the competing visual codes as they try to discern which are products of insidious government surveillance and which are merely artworks. Confusing the two has provocative implications, suggesting both the complicity of artists in acts of state deception and the possibility they are double agents, performing political subterfuge from within.
Nina Canell’s four-piece exhibition charges this one-room gallery with the kind of ionic imbalance sensed seconds before static electricity discharges—a phenomenon often only recognized after the fact. Canell’s aim, it seems, is not in release or neutralization, but rather in the suspension within this tension. In this sense, the exhibition echoes the semantic structure of its title, “(Near Here),” which floats its core within uncertain parentheses.
Near Here, 2014, offers a small clear acrylic cube, embedded with a cross section of a thick cable wire, the silver pearls of its innards splayed in beautiful ruin. The surprising prettiness of the object (it could be mistaken for a Venetian glass paperweight) hardly acknowledges the violence necessary to cleave the cable. It rests like a trophy atop a weathered wooden pedestal in the center of the room. In contrast to this gesture toward monumentality, Forgotten Curve, 2014, consists of little more than a single thread, whose few inches are delineated by a gradation in color: from lime-green to lemon, orange, and, finally, a soft sour cherry. One end is unraveled into a yawning Y, which is pressed in place between two sheets of glass and framed. On a similar scale, Another Mender, 2014, presents a chain of calcified nails, dangling end to end in deference to the pull of a magnet planted behind the wall. The pale, slender stick of Halfway Between Opposite Ends, 2010, is scarred with dark capillaries, seemingly seared into its surface. The almost inconceivable delicacy of this “drawing” is the product of an impossibly brutal act: The artist has doused the wood in salt water and then shot 5,000 volts of electricity from one end to the other.
In the exhibition text, Canell quotes Steven Connor: “Infinite force moving through near infinite littleness.” It is this nod toward the infinite that transforms these objects into exquisite monsters, rather than just precious souvenirs.
For “A Place in Two Dimensions”—the inaugural exhibition at the institution’s new space—Patrick Charpenel has juxtaposed fifty works from the collection of Eugenio López Alonso with eight works by Fred Sandback. The topics that run through the exhibition bind the works in an elusive yet unwavering fashion. In Francis Alÿs’s drawings “In a Given Situation,” 2010, geometric forms and language rendered in soft colors evoke displacement and fragmentation, while Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s series “Equilibres,” 1984–86, probe issues of balance and time. Other topics that are addressed include how intentions can, surprisingly, be akin despite the “corporal condition” of the work (for example, the relationship between works such as John McCracken’s Shadow, 2002, and Rosemarie Trockel’s Untitled (What If Could Be), 1990); as well as how traces of individual existence can constitute a shared memory within their own solitude (Teresa Margolles’s Debris, 2008).
The show brings to mind the saying “life hangs by a thread.” Its acrobatic displacement of ideas and genres conveys temporality as a palpable process of spatialization–a condition evoked especially in Sandback’s work. What ultimately holds the show together is the viewers corporeal experience: each visitor is an intermittent and vital recipient of a series of phenomenological, conceptual, and figurative situations that are manifested via the artworks when posited in relationship to one another. As we circulate through the show, these brief and essential instants are triggered, allowing us to grasp our own duration between various dimensions and states.
Sandback’s architectural interventions set the hopeful pace of the exhibition, a latent and eternal rhythm that is as capable of being materialized as it is incorporeal. In real and imaginary physical spaces, the body engages in a one-on-one dialogue with the works, which, as if summoned by Sandback’s deliberate voids, epitomizes the (in)visibility of their own matter, now shifted into a shared state of being.
Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.
Centered within the grounds of the Jumex juice factory, Superflex’s retrospective is broken into two parts, one of which encompasses a number of public presentations set for the exhibition’s closing weekend, including discussion panels on emerging economies and economical speculation as well as the unveiling of a prototype system for biogas-based energy production called Supergas.
Grounding the public program is the work presented within the factory. Titled “The Corrupt Show,” the exhibition acts as a career survey, highlighting the Danish collective’s seductive, commercially spirited critique of late-capitalist corporatism in which bankruptcy, corruption, and facsimile are colored with strategically glossy design. Within the museum’s central gallery, Copy Light/Factory, 2008, provides materials for copying designer lamp designs without permission from the objects’ respective copyright holders. Viewers are invited to assemble cube-shaped lamps from wood, glue, and papers that are printed with motifs copied from familiar lamp designs, and to use a large copy machine and desktop PC for scanning and printing various patterns. As today’s cognitive laborers briefly join a physical assembly line, their output originates from work of the creative class itself.
Opposite the workstations, a row of large cotton banners successively drapes outward from the wall (“Bankrupt Banks,” 2012). The series renders large-scale logos of bankrupt or acquired banks from around the world, visually charting the failure and collapse of financial institutions. More than a vivid tribute to failed economic policies, the banners evince the flat abstraction of contemporary corporate logo design: Polygonal home roofs float within negative white cloud space (Fanny Mae), a white palm tree outlined against orange and blue visualizes a coastal sunset (BankUnited FSB). The imagery, more subtly than Superflex’s own projects, often centers on motifs within a consumer’s daily life. This critical connection marks the core of the collective’s logic: to extract the insidious from a corporatized everyday, with a playful activism that engages invention and appropriation harmoniously.