The London-based artist Rebecca Warren is well known for her clay and bronze sculptures, which have previously referenced the “masterful” output of a range of artists, including Auguste Rodin, Edgar Degas, Willem de Kooning, and cartoonist Robert Crumb. A pair of solo shows featuring her new works at the Renaissance Society and three monumental bronzes commissioned by the Art Institute of Chicago open on October 3.
THE BRONZES THAT WILL BE EXHIBITED at the Art Institute were first made in clay, the same size as you see them in bronze. That is, the bronzes weren’t made as maquettes to be scaled up later for casting. Instead, they are casts of things sculpted by hand to an immediate, real scale. This has a subtle influence on what you are looking at: It was always big, slabby, twisted, built up with wet malleable material under gravity, and that’s what has been fixed in bronze. The heights of the “plinth” part of the sculptures were, in part, determined by the heights of the glass parapets. I wanted the sculptures to peek over the lower parapet but to be shorter than the highest parapet. That way they serve as the binding force for the differing heights. Since they’re higher than one of the parapets, they also exceed, but just by a bit, the limit of that roof. It also means the feet of the sculptures are around face height. They are awkward to look at, or to look up at, so you have to make that bit of effort, bending your neck, adjusting your eyes to the sky.
The sculptures are also visible from vantage points outside the terrace. They act as a response to Chicago’s famous modernist architecture, inasmuch as they evoke maximalism or the extra-rational. But the sculptures face inward toward each other, giving themselves a solidarity separate from any context. It is this triangulation of their own dynamic that allows them to not necessarily have to adapt or assimilate to the city. And yet the surfaces are not harsh or reflective, so the sculptures can still roll with the city, with anything.
For the show at the Renaissance Society, I have made mainly new work––a combination of pieces in clay, steel, and bronze. I wanted areas of intense color concentration in the space. They are, in a way, an extension of similar, earlier sculptures that were smoother and sweeter. These new ones are uglier and more awkward, like chewed-up Meissen ware. For the earlier pieces, I had thought of Otto Dix and depictions of Weimar corruption and excess. For these, I kept thinking of an imagined modern Weimar––like The Hills. There’s also a backward sequencing for a few of the sculptures. The Other Brother 2 and A Culture look like family, with one seeming older, rustier, and more provisional than the other, although the one that appears to be the original was, in fact, made later and perversely is covered with a Perspex case. I have also made four steel sculptures. I like that the size of one of them was partly determined by the size of the lift––I had to reduce it by a couple of inches at an advanced stage of its development, so in a way the lift restriction became a deciding aesthetic factor.
The Renaissance Society is a bit baroque, which helped me to develop an idea of what could work in there. Similar to “Feelings” at Matthew Marks Gallery and my Serpentine exhibition last year, I wanted this show to work a bit like a vitrine, or one of my vitrines, where the separate items energize certain elements in one another. I also wanted the arrangement to enact those preparatory states that are a hallmark of such shows: where afterward, everything gets dispersed or housed in splinter groups. In this show, I wanted the viewer to see the moment when the relationships between the physical objects become like the relationships between the ideas being worked on. You can see families of memes and motifs in the work. The various materials start off contrasting along gender lines––in their qualities of durability, brittleness, rectilinearity, and crumbliness. But these qualities are never stable for long, and they start to invade one another in ways that I find interesting.
The New York–based choreographer Ishmael Houston-Jones has been a leader and educator in the field of contemporary dance for over thirty years. This year, the New Museum and Performance Space 122 are coproducing the twenty-fifth-anniversary version of Them, a controversial work that Houston-Jones made in collaboration with the musician Chris Cochrane and the writer Dennis Cooper. On September 30 and October 3, 7, and 10, audiences can view rehearsals for Them at the New Museum as part of a project called Them and Now. From October 21 to 30, PS 122 will present an updated version of Them. Here Houston-Jones discusses the work’s origins.
THE FIRST TIME I heard about Chris Cochrane was also the first time I saw him play, at a club called 8BC in a destroyed building on Eighth Street between avenues B and C. They had liquor there, but it was more of an arty club. I thought his music was incredible. It wasn’t so much punk rock but it was punk-influenced. There was a lot of musicianship.
When I first met Dennis Cooper he was reading at some club on the West Side. There was a buzz about him before his arrival in New York; people were really excited. I didn’t know him at all. He’d been publishing Little Caesar out in LA and there was a performance place called Beyond the Baroque out there that he was the leader of. When I heard him read, I was shocked that literature could upset me so much. It was something from Tenderness of the Wolves. And after I said, “Do you want to work with me?” And he said, “Sure,” even though he didn’t know who I was.
That was probably 1985, and at the time there was a whole community around PS 122. It was artist-run in those days. I would go to the Kitchen in SoHo, but PS 122 was in my neighborhood and it was sort of a clubhouse. The art and dance worlds then weren’t as geographically spread out, nor were they quite as professionalized. (Dancers today have much greater facility, I’ve noticed.) It was very downtown Manhattan–centric. We never went to Brooklyn. Now the scene is very dispersed. To see edgy or interesting stuff you really have to travel. It’s not terrible. It’s a different mode of relating, and thus a different kind of community today.
“Them” comes out of a long tradition of my one-word titles. I think it’s actually the name of a 1950s horror film about giant ants, which has nothing to do with the piece. The first line Dennis reads is, “I saw them once. I don’t know when, or who, they were.” Them evolved over time. There was a short version in 1985 at PS 122, essentially a work in progress. It was Chris, Dennis, myself, dancer Donald Fleming, and the actor Jonathan Walker; and the institution’s director, Mark Russell, asked us if we wanted to expand it.
Like many of my dance works, Them is a highly scored improvisation. The movements are not illustrative of any of the other elements: The music, the dance, and the text happen along three parallel tracks. Near the end there’s this looping section where two guys are on a mattress. They push each other up, then push each other down. After that they disappear and a dancer, who used to be me, is brought out by a figure in black and thrown blindfolded onto a mattress and an animal carcass is thrown on top of him and there’s this wrestling scene and then it ends.
The mattress and animal carcass were a sort of acknowledgment of AIDS. People were dying—friends, people we knew. There was panic. The carcass on the mattress came from a dream my friend had. In it he woke up and he was lying next to his own dead body; he would try to throw it out of bed, but it kept coming back on top of him. It’s also about my fear of death. I still can’t change a mousetrap. I’m really squeamish around dead things.
There was a time when the Meatpacking District used to be an actual meatpacking district. There were buildings filled with animal carcasses. I remember I had my mind set on having a goat, and I went around to all these places and none of them had one. There was this place that had mostly pigs, but there was one goat, really beautiful, with all its fur still on. I couldn’t go back to get it until 4 AM, so I brought one of my dancers with me and we put it in a bag—it looked like a human body. We took it in a cab back to my place on Suffolk Street. At the time the building was really hot and I tied it with an electric cord and hung it out the window overnight. The next day I put it around my shoulders and carried it to PS 122, just in time for the dress rehearsal. We’re not sure where we’re going to get the goat this time around.
Meditations: Eva Hesse, a play by Marcie Begleiter based upon the life, art, and writings of the eponymous German artist, premiered at Highways Performance Space in Los Angeles on September 24. Concurrently, the venue is presenting “Permissions,” an exhibition of new works by contemporary artists influenced by Hesse’s oeuvre. Also in LA, the Hammer Museum is exhibiting “Eva Hesse Spectres 1960,” a collection of the artist’s rarely seen early paintings. Here, Begleiter discusses her play and the artist who inspired it.
SEVERAL PIVOTAL STREAMS of twentieth-century experience came together in the short life of Eva Hesse. There was her escape from Germany on a kindertransport, as well as Minimalism, psychoanalysis, and feminism. For me, her premature death brings up some profound questions that touch upon more than mortality. When she died in 1970 (at age thirty-four of a brain tumor), her work was scheduled to appear in twenty forthcoming exhibitions. We developed Meditations with the following question in mind: What must it have felt like to be in your thirties, having connected with your deepest creative self, and then be forced to let go when you’ve just sunk your teeth in?
My interest in Hesse emanated from both her work and her personal life. I was first aware of her art. I had always been taken by the way she infused material-based processes with Minimalist sensibilities. She took off all the hard edges. Hesse spoke of herself not as a female artist but as an important artist. Yet, as a woman, I felt there was a certain gender specificity within her work. In Meditations we also explore Hesse’s personal relationships. She married an established sculptor ten years her senior and by time they split after four years of marriage, the essence of their relationship had changed. During the couple’s stay in Germany, Hesse went from being primarily a painter to also working in three dimensions, and this shift may have also contributed to their marital tensions.
The genesis of the work came in 2003, when I received a grant that allowed me to spend one week reading Hesse’s journals at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio. She was a wonderful writer. The diaries in that collection are tremendously personal and span from the artist’s teenage years to a few months before her death. She was quite prolific in her detailed descriptions of her process and personal life, especially during the time she spent in Germany with her then husband, Tom Doyle. It is interesting to note that it was there, in her problematic homeland, that Hesse began to create the work for which she would become most known. Once I had spent my time with these journals, I felt much clearer in terms of how I wanted to approach the script.
The performance takes place within two levels of conceptual space. One explores the last day of Hesse’s life. This arc is inhabited and embodied by the character “Dying Eva.” About forty percent of the performance centers on this space. The rest of the show resides in memory and concentrates on selections from her own recollection of the years 1945 to 1970. My main collaborator, director David Watkins, has also been central to the development of this concept.
Meditations is a theatrically interdisciplinary performance with nine performers, three video channels, and a soundscape. We are currently planning for a longer run in Los Angeles, and I would very much like to take the show to both New York and Germany. I have already visited a venue in the German city of Essen, which is near Kettwig—where Tom and Eva worked during their residency in 1964. To be able to present it there would really fulfill all of my intentions for this work.
In Leaving Art: Writings on Performance, Politics, and Publics 1974–2007, the renowned artist Suzanne Lacy considers the changing politics of public space. Lacy resides in Los Angeles, where she is founding chair of the graduate public practice program at Otis College of Art and Design. The book is available from Duke University Press.
LEAVING ART seemed like an ironic, maybe humorous title for this collection of essays stretching over thirty years. Throughout my career there have been people who have left the art world to continue a trajectory of ideas and concerns within other disciplines. Today, some of the earlier aesthetic investigations are becoming more interesting again. The notion of actually leaving the art world, or metaphorically leaving through a break with conventional art markets and media, was established in the 1970s. The permeability between “art” and “life” is one of a series of concerns resurfacing now.
In one early work, for example, I practiced carpentry as art. I actually was a carpenter, and I decided to frame that “making” process as a performative artwork. People came by and watched me build walls. The actual product of the activity was not important; rather we focused on the fabric of the relationships among the artist, activity, and (in this case occasional) audience. One could say that a significant project of the ’70s was to rethink “audience,” or “participant.”
While politically America suffers from historical amnesia, it is not unusual for artists to revisit past working strategies as a result of perhaps similar social conditions. The Iraq war has some parallels to Vietnam. Now is an interesting time to reconsider the aesthetic and ethical concerns of the ’70s because, to put it plainly, the “horses’ mouths” are still around. My students are interested in public artistic practices from that era, and many of these artists are still alive, and working, although sadly people like Allan Kaprow (to whom this book is dedicated) are no longer with us.
People seem to have problems categorizing my work and writing. Having been trained during the rise of performance and Conceptual art, I have a diverse output, and the essays in this book, which were originally published between 1974 and 2007, are also quite varied. It seemed useful to organize the book according to decades, although some do fall out of sequence. A project that I am working on with the Reina Sofía museum and the Spanish Ministry of Equality, for example, echoes the subject of violence against women, one central to my work in the ’70s. How that project is like, and different from, earlier works is an interesting problem within the artwork itself. How it responds to other contemporary projects on this and different subjects is of great interest to me as a conceptually oriented artist as well as a writer.
I address changing conventions of critique in Leaving Art. When I was an art student, the art world and the performance scene were very small. Relationships were crucial to our practice and there were not so many people to know. Most of us traveled internationally, and our knowledge of one another’s work was achieved directly. Now the art world is larger, and the marketplace dominates. Before, art historians would investigate and report dutifully on the artist’s works and concerns, but now the critic-historian inserts him or herself more centrally into the writing. There are blurrings between curatorial and artistic practices where before lines were more clearly drawn.
One of my contributions to the upcoming Getty-sponsored series of exhibitions “Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945–1980” is an essay I am writing with Jennifer Flores Sternad for the exhibition “Los Angeles Goes Live,” sponsored by Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions. We worked with scholars and students to interview about fifty Southern California performance artists to examine linkages among various groups between 1970 and 1982––including feminists, Marxists, African-American and Chicano artists. We asked each artist to sketch a map of influences during the emergence of his or her performance work. From these we will construct webs of relationality. Unknown artists are going to emerge through this naming; surprising new influences might also appear as a result of an interrogation of that vastly interdisciplinary moment.
Nina Beier is a Berlin-based artist whose polymorphous works consider the visible and invisible aspects of making and exhibiting art. Here she discusses the ideas behind her first solo exhibition in London, at Laura Bartlett Gallery, which opens on September 16. Beier will have a show at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco this November.
I BELIEVE MY FATHER invented Google Maps. Or at least a map of what could have eventually become Google Maps. He never fully realized this project, though. The roads of his psyche, to use a fitting metaphor, were perhaps not made for opposing traffic. People say that every map is a portrait of its maker, a picture of his knowledge, perspective, and interpretation. One thing is certain: My father loves Google Maps.
This exhibition is a survey of portrayals and depictions; several are to-scale and some are blown out of proportion. Each image bears a direct relationship to the thing it refers to, but at the same time they all take over and display their own reality, turning into objects in their own right.
The philosopher Alfred Korzybski famously stated that “the map is not the territory,” supposedly meaning that one should not confuse the representation of something with the actual thing. But there is a lot to be said for confusion. These are confused works, pictures that are both map and territory. What is a poster for an exhibition of posters, or what should we call a representation of dust made of dust-colored pigment dispersed over a room? Or a work that frames the clothes the framer was wearing when he made the frames? After all, isn’t the best way to describe a story to tell one?
I have repeatedly come across a Lewis Carroll story about a country that, after several attempts at making an accurate map, makes a map the size of the country itself. But when using it, the citizens run into a number of problems and, following complaints from the farmers who argue that using the map would harm crops, they decide to use the country itself as its own map, a solution they conclude is nearly as good. Here, the represented almost succeeds in becoming its own image, like the story, as I just told it, is almost the same as it was the first time around.
When one attempts to light a sculpture fully, its shadows unfold on the floor around it. The sculpture practically appears overshadowed by the repeated figures. But if one would present the shadows as the work of art on display, would we see the sculpture as the portrayed?
I have found pictures of body parts belonging to giant statues. These statues are constructed in fragments and will inevitably end in fragments again. They are a puzzle and we know the pieces; even when looking at the full figure, its own reality shines through. As an image torn to pieces and reassembled, it displays the scars of its own history while competing with the story it depicts.
The pictures argue within and among themselves, as their surfaces struggle with their content for domination. When a published representation of a work of art is framed and presented as a work again, the weight of the frame might initially outshine its content, which again, if the reflective UV filter makes it survive long enough, might gain enough importance to be appreciated on its own terms and perhaps even be freed from its frame again.
The viewer will see her own image mixed in with this story, and any future photographic documentation is likely to include the reflection of its maker. Appositionally, a framed poster that has been sandblasted, obscuring the image and exposing the frame, has become a thing in itself, no longer a representation, and will never again reflect anything.
The Brooklyn-based artist Martha Friedman often examines quotidian objects in her sculptures, manipulating the scale and material of waffles, rubber bands, and nails, for instance, to emphasize the surreal aspects of average and familiar items. This fall, Friedman’s work will be featured in two solo exhibitions: “RUB” opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit on September 10; “RUBBERS” is on view at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, Massachusetts, from September 18, 2010 to January 9, 2011.
I WAS BORN IN DETROIT. My mother was a doctor and my father was a molecular geneticist. Sometimes I would go to my dad’s lab and sort fruit flies and, because of my mother’s work, I was surrounded by strange imagery of the body sliced up or covered in weird growths. My parents would talk about which diseases were curable, which were inherited, and which were congenital. This was a constant conversation. Early on, I developed a sense that what goes on in your body is controlled by invisible forces––chemicals, genes, microorganisms. There is a whole ecosystem inside of a person that is invisible but that reveals itself in how you live and how you die, or how you receive pain and pleasure.
In general, I am interested in the processes and the materials of sculpture that seem to be in conversation with or make reference to the systems and materials of the body. I make things that might remind the viewer of corporeal forms and various body functions. For example, something as common as a rubber band can look like or at least evoke sensations of fleshiness or some fold of the body. I am always interested in this strange divide between what you know and recognize, and what you don’t. I try to play with that through the objects, materials, and forms I use.
The show in Detroit has two installations that take up one gallery. The first work that you encounter comprises a forest of 108 hand-cast giant rubber bands that are different variations of beige. The ceilings of the space are twenty feet high, so the bands are knotted together to make thirty-six floor-to-ceiling lines and are laid out in a six-by-six grid. They are knotted together in simple looped knots. At the far end of the space there is a large black rubber flap that is screwed into the wall about eight feet up and which slumps down onto the floor. Right in front of it, there is an almost four-foot-long rubber tongue attached to the floor, the tip of which is holding up the edge of the rubber flap. It is sort of probing into and under the black sheet––peeking into this dark and mysterious place.
The tongue was inspired by a conversation I was having with someone about a meal they had had at a Chinese restaurant. They ordered something, and what arrived was this little pile of . . . duck tongues. I thought, who is tasting whom? Who is eating or kissing whom? I began obsessing about the tongue. It is something that lies smack in the middle of the continuum between the body’s inside and outside. It is very much about exploring pleasure and decadence, it pulls the outside in but it is also what you need to talk and communicate with the outside world. It is one of the strongest muscles in the body and yet we see it fleetingly. When it is blown out of scale it takes on a life of its own and can seem like a self-contained living being and a disconnected gnarly meat muscle that is a reminder of what is in our own mouths.
Martha Friedman discusses her show at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park. (2:59)