Left: The site of Roger Hiorns's Seizure. Right: A detail view of copper sulfate crystals.
British artist Roger Hiorns is known for deploying salt, industrial-strength disinfectants, and, most consistently, copper sulfate crystals in his sculptures. A solo exhibition of new work opens next week at Corvi-Mora in London. It is timed to coincide with Seizure, a new, large-scale installation commissioned by Artangel and presented at 151–189 Harper Road, London, September 3–November 2.
WE DIDN'T HAVE ANY expectations for the site of Seizure when we began looking, and in fact we traversed every single borough of London in search of a suitable building to host the installation. It’s quite eye-opening to do that kind of research. At the time we were looking, the city was in the midst of its housing and property-development boom, which has now completely dissipated; London has become a different place quite quickly. What we eventually found was a very isolated, stand-alone, uninhabited small housing block from the 1970s. Its aspiration as a building has always been quite limited; it was mostly bedsits. In a way, I’m accentuating the last period of its use. The few buildings we found during our search were mostly social housing of this type, which are themselves another part of London’s history that is now being eclipsed. Interestingly, though, the building is right in the heart of the city; it’s in a pocket of isolation in the center of London, incredibly urban and yet very quiet.
Once we found the location, the production itself was conceptual: I wanted to introduce a material that was anathema to the building itself. Crystallization is always, for me, a kind of claiming—I say “claiming” because the process is so amplified here as to be a kind of obfuscation of the building. I’ve encouraged an alien aesthetic, one quite contrary to its vaguely modernist history (with its roots in Le Corbusier’s designs). The building has a certain sort of governing rationality; by introducing these crystals, I’ve introduced some irrationality. The process also allows me to remove myself from the equation; crystallization is an autogenesis, and its results are an auto-aesthetic. I get to become an objective viewer of my own processes, at least to the extent possible. It’s a psychological position to take, to try and obsolete myself within my own realm of activity.
To that end, it has been very interesting to observe the people with whom I’ve worked on this project. I’ve tried to understand the way they work and what their expectations are. Watching them meet this profound ambiguity—my detachment from my own artmaking process—has been fascinating. I don’t anticipate any artwork to be made. I just put structures into place, and something comes into existence. Will it actually happen? Will there be a failure because of contamination? I’m not going to be helpful and say what it’s going to look like. I prefer the massive loss of control.
The project itself has two phases. There is the site at present, with its crystallization taking place behind closed doors. It’s an unrelenting process, which has a certain purity, but not one I can predict. The second phase is to open the doors and tamper with that process—to fuck it up. People will enter into this crystallized environment—well, possibly crystallized, as we don’t know what kind of landscape will appear within the building—and their entry is part of its destruction. The viewer always has a role to play in my work.
How people will respond to the environment, how they will read it, is completely up to them. I don’t want to evoke a particular type of space; I don’t intend for this crystalline environment to seem spiritual or theatrical. I would probably call myself a kind of atheist in this respect: Processes are always for me a kind of compulsion, a psychological need, and not a spiritual yearning. I’m curious about one’s relationship to objects and to one’s own surroundings, rather than being interested in building superstitious links to the outside world. I’ve created an unnatural system to which one must respond; the thing is actually just the sum of its parts. That sum might lead toward something deemed transcendent, but that’s happening within you.
Sun Xun, New China, 2008. Installation view.
After studying printmaking at the China Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou-based artist Sun Xun started his own animation studio, Pi, in 2006. His work has been screened at numerous festivals, including the 2007 Torino Film Festival, and has been shown in exhibitions at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art and at ShanghART, among other venues. For his first show at an American museum, he inhabited the Vault Gallery at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles for over a week to develop the site-specific installation New China.
APPARENTLY, THE ARCHITECTURE of the Vault Gallery was originally prepared to host the works of Leonardo da Vinci, but now it is a site for contemporary art exhibitions. The form of the space has a style of its own. Its unconventional design and domed ceiling allow for infinite imagination. I found it suitable for interpreting the idea of “New China,” because there are many forgotten stories in China. My installation draws inspiration from a small book titled New China, given to me by a friend. The book, probably published before World War II, was written by a missionary who lived in China for many years and who knew the culture well. The general thrust of this book is to instruct people in how to love their country, how to construct their country, and how to be a useful person, in addition to addressing China’s revolution at that time.
Everyone knows that China was called New China after 1949, but it is interesting to me that this appellation existed even before the war. After I read this book and examined China’s recent history, I found that the country actually runs around a circle, that history is round and infinitely recurrent. We are used to creating a boundary between the present and the past. But actually, history has no such boundary. All the wall texts in this exhibition are pulled from New China, but they also relate to the animation.
I established my own animation studio in 2006, but I don’t think animation needs to be my only medium. In my opinion, all things can be related to animation—it can connect to any other tool or genre. Animation is not in itself an important thing; in a way, it’s like history—it shows only the most external thing. In actuality, animation is always incomplete. Only by striving to break through other limitations in other media can I reach the most precious aspects of animation. I will try anything so long as I think it will yield interesting art. But I also think art is not the only culminating purpose; it is not an end in itself. Rather, it illuminates our history—not only the history of China but also the history of the world. There is culture behind art. So the artist plays an important role but will never play the primary role.
Discussing this subject, an artist’s self-judgment is vital. Today, Chinese artists are likely to be seen as representatives of China in the world. It’s good that China and Chinese artists are concerned about our role, but it is what we do that is important. Being concerned can’t be our purpose. It is obviously hard to create works about China, because the subject—the target you aim at—is powerful enough on its own. Art’s attempt to address such a large topic as China is like waging a revolution on civilization fought one by one. Success is always uncertain. Probably artists will fail again and again, because art is a dream that emerges from an accumulation of continuing failures. But this dream will have irreplaceable value forever.
Left: Lawrence English. Right: The cover of Kiri No Oto.
For over a decade, Lawrence English—a Brisbane, Australia–based musician, record-label owner, installation artist, and festival organizer—has served as a nodal point in the international network of experimental musicians and sound artists. His label, Room 40, has released more than fifty records by musicians from four continents, and he is increasingly busy as a record producer. Kiri No Oto, a new album of solo material that blends field and studio recordings, is available from Touch Music.
THE IDEA FOR Kiri No Oto gestated for about three years and finally came together last winter on a train ride from Berlin to Krakow. While gazing out the window through the early-morning mist, I realized that if you look through fog, you must focus on either one element in the landscape or the landscape as a whole; you can bring into relief one object or none at all. The fog interferes, and in creating the record, I tried to translate that visual effect into sound. A listener can attempt to absorb the sound mass or decide to focus in an effort to better connect with a particular frequency spectrum or texture.
I tried to achieve this complexity through the use of harmonic distortion. There are two kinds: First, there are mathematical relationships within a harmonic system that one can look at and exploit, and then there is a simultaneously looser and more conceptual version, in which you create a series of harmonically related elements that move in and out of sync with one another. Both create different types of clouds, or sound masses, that, properly manipulated, can signify a particular kind of experience. The great challenge in making a recording and sending it out into the world is that each person who experiences it does so in a different way. In fact, I just played the record for a friend from Germany, who said, “I understand this music so well because you’re from Australia.” He “heard” the broad swaths of sky visible here; of course, I made the album, in part, while thinking about his country.
That’s one of the great things and one of the limitations about sound as art: It’s not as encoded, as broadly sociologically constructed, as are visual objects. With only little more than a century of recorded audio, sound artists and their audiences haven’t consolidated the codes and languages for relating the experience of it as fully as have visual artists. This is in some way analogous to the situation of sound art within the institutional landscape in Australia, where there has been only one exhibition that could be considered a sound-art show. (There is a heritage—albeit a relativity short one—of this type of exhibition in the United States and Europe.) Therefore, a lot of the activity here still takes place in private gallery and performance spaces and more informally within the arts communities.
Visual cues often play a role in my work, and one of the first catalysts for the development of this record was Kiri [Mist], a short 1971 film by Hagiwara Sakumi in which a gentle scrim of white mist slowly dissolves to reveal a mountain in the distance. A later visit to Oamaru, in New Zealand, consolidated the idea of masking and visual distortion as central to this album as a whole. While no one who listens to the record will necessarily think about Hagiwara’s film or about Oamaru (which manifests itself in the final track), the transcription of visual or embodied experience into the auditory realm is important. The record, itself a condensed version of my experience, opens out into the listener’s world and creates new experiences of its own.
In a way, I’ve replicated that process in the recent live shows in which I’ve performed this material. I use no visuals; the venue is almost entirely dark. But since I’m playing through quadraphonic and sometimes octophonic sound systems, I’m able to fill the space with sound, condense it down to one small object (the snare drum, which I use alongside an oscillator and a speaker), and then expand it once again.
Collier Schorr was born and raised in Queens, but for many years, she has made a second home in Schwäbisch Gmünd, a town in southern Germany where, partially inspired by August Sander, she has set about making informal studies of the population. Last month, Schorr’s project “Freeway Balconies” opened at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, and on July 21, she opened an exhibition at the Villa Romana in Florence, primarily featuring works from a new series titled “Blumen.”
I'VE COME TO Schwäbish Gmünd every summer for eighteen years. How I first got here is sort of uninteresting. I was traveling with a friend from New York and just ended up here. It was an escape from New York, an escape from the art world. I was really interested in German photography, because at the time Lisa Spellman, the owner of 303 Gallery, was showing a lot of it—Andreas Gursky and also Thomas Ruff. Being intrigued by that work, and then going to Germany and actually looking at the landscape, I imagined the position of an entitled outsider, a character who does not belong but who has assumed some kind of ownership. The fact that the US Army had two bases in the town had a lot to do with this feeling of surveyorship.
There’s something illicit about the “Blumen” photos, a literal trespassing. In order to get the flowers, I have to go into strangers’ gardens and yards to steal them. Then I have to go someplace that’s not my place and build this thing; within minutes, the flowers begin to wilt, changing shape and color. And inevitably, the wind blows them down. It takes about six minutes to construct a structure. It’s the perfect illustration of the term deracinated. I like that about it, the clarity of its purpose. It’s the opposite of arranging a still life in a studio with a table—and unlimited time. Here, you tie a flower to two or three sticks and hope it stays up. After I take the picture, I take a step back and look at this little theater or shrine to nothing that I’ve built and then tear it down. The picture is a document of a public sculpture or an act of vandalism.
So much of my portraiture involves small props or costumes, things like skulls or keys or canes, or relatively obvious iconic objects. But the people are essentially being arranged between these objects and references. I wanted to make pictures of nature that also felt arranged and compromised. To take the most passive, feminine object of beauty and cut it loose, bind it, and then animate it with a heightened sense of emotion.
I made the first “Blumen” picture after looking at Robert Mapplethorpe’s Pictures book. I was struck by how much freedom Mapplethorpe was able to extract from his model’s restraint—that in tying up and cropping his models, he appears to be able to work with people as forms. I never thought about my flowers as related to his (which I saw as annoyingly erotic); I thought of them in relationship to bondage. I wanted to make the flowers more aggressive and ironic and less docile and sensual.
If you limit yourself to one place, it only changes so much; I found it necessary to start altering the landscape a little bit. I used to think in terms of comparative literature, where one interrogates a text by posing it against another. More and more, I am drawn to something less fictive or poetic and more concrete and descriptive. In the field of archaeology, discoveries can be used to prove ethnic mythologies—ownership is determined by artifacts. Imagine that something buried could be attributed to a culture, proving that one tribe arrived before another. And could interpretations manipulate history? I’ve always taken things from underneath and put them on top, so it would make sense that I would pull all the flowers out and try to see them better by contrasting them against the sky.