Guan Xiao, The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012, mixed media, 110 1/4 x 90 1/2 x 82 5/8". New Museum, New York.
Guan Xiao (关小), a Beijing-based artist, is known for her mixed-media works that incorporate images and videos sourced online. Her installation The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture, 2012, which juxtaposes camera and surveillance equipment with fake artifacts, is currently on view in third New Museum Triennial, “Surround Audience,” which is on view in New York through May 24, 2015. Here she discusses the evolution of this work.
SINCE MY FIRST SOLO SHOW at Magician Space in Beijing, my work has attempted to use various means of weaving to convey my comprehension of my surroundings—which could be economic, climatic, cinematic, or musical. The key point I am interested in is what kind of methods will convey my understanding of those surroundings. There is an understanding that my work is “post-Internet,” but I don’t love this term. When people are on the Internet, their sensations are compressed into only two dimensions: sight and hearing, that is, picture and voice. Many of my video works make use of the relation and combination of these two dimensions and pass along richer meaning.
In addition, I have developed a stubborn perspective on the “new” and the “old”: What we consider today as new or advanced things are actually things that are ancient or unknown. The incomprehension of the past and unknowns gives rise to intriguing discussion in the present. That’s why I have been prone to putting these extreme things together—the old and new—and making them work together.
I admit that my approach for making videos is quite different from how I make sculpture. For my videos, I have to have a clear idea before I start working; when I work on my sculptures, however, a random feeling always comes prior to the plan—a starting point could just be a subtle sense from an object. My working processes for these two media stride from two ends toward a balanced state in the middle. The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture was a remarkable turning point for me. I realized that, for example, I’d like to place something very new and something very old together. I chose to work with camera tripods. In the beginning I didn’t think about their meaning as objects. I began to think about their physical structures—apparently they are functional, industrial-designed structures, but for me they are a more traditional, classic form. Then I attempted to deal with these objects as if people touched them. This approach imbues the objects with a strong sense of individual existence. Finally, I placed a backdrop behind all these objects, which offers a correlation of seeing and being seen, like in a photo studio. This is also an important element of my sculptural practice: It should always have multiple layers.
I think I belong to the old school, even though I can easily take interest in new things. But only if these things offer me something “constant” that can stir up a kind of true feeling for me. I could not gain any understanding from new things if they lacked this constancy. From this point of view, I guess I am more like an observer: ready to betray this world, while always being loyal to it in my own way.
Translated from Chinese by Qianxi Liu (刘倩兮).
Left: Simon Dybbroe Møller, The Embrace, 2015, color photograph, dimensions variable. Right (foreground to background): Shame Shield (young Cultural producer smoking a cigarette & modern ceramics), 2015; Shame Shield (young Cultural producer smoking a cigarette & young Cultural producer smoking a cigarette), 2015; Shame Shield (young Cultural producer smoking a cigarette), 2015; all ceramic glaze on Phillip Starck–designed Duravit urinal divider, each 28 x 16 x 3 1/2".
Simon Dybbroe Møller is an artist currently based in New York whose work often takes up what he calls “the weighty architecture of the predigital” and, as he also notes below, “what we used to call nature.” His solo show at New York’s 83 Pitt Street will be on view on April 12, from 5 to 9 PM, and will feature ceramic “shame shields” found in men’s bathrooms, among other works. His upcoming exhibition “Buongiorno Signor Courbet” will run at Francesca Minini Gallery in Milan from May 3 to July 31, 2015.
ON A CROSS-ATLANTIC FLIGHT, I read Asta Olivia Nordenhof describing a woman taking off her top to press her breasts against the tiles of an Italian piazza on a hot, hot summer day, to milk the heat from the granite or marble, and then push her burning hot nipples against the closed eyelids of her lover. It made me want to be that woman, or be that lover. But it doesn’t end there. I want to be the sun and the tiles, the skin and the weather, architecture, seeing, and cultural history. In short, I want to inhabit that image, not obsess about terms like fluidity, liquidity, or the virtual. After all, our cities are still built on dirt and piping. Elaborate systems of drains and valves and pipes run through every bit of land we live on, transporting water to and bodily matter fro. When we look at these tubular arrangements today, they seem archaic. Are we really still relying on such dumb mechanisms? Don’t they seem weirdly outdated—the weighty architecture of the pre-digital? Or is it just symptomatic of our leap toward dematerialization that we instinctively think of these physical connections between our bodies and what we used to call nature as relics of an earlier type of civilization, the progress narrative of technology obscuring their undisputable and very contemporary significance?
I like to think that some things invent themselves. Or come into being for reasons so complex or suppressed or unarticulated that it seems better to see these objects as almost entirely independent from us. They have slipped into the world or been hushed into existence. These objects, then, are nonverbal articulations of our collective subconscious. One such cloudy object can be found in men’s public restrooms. It is called a partition, a divider, a splash screen, and—with more drama—a shame shield. In the US they are often made of steel—how fitting. In Europe they tend to be ceramic, and therefore when isolated seem like more delicate, worthy objects. Ceramics, as our Sunday museum visits tell us, is what survives from a civilization.
The industrially formed and fired ceramic is cold, seamless, and easy to clean, but its surface is also almost milky in its opacity. It has depth. Working these modern-day fig leaves with a brush has put me in mind of ancient Greek vases, Picasso’s summers spent painting ceramics, hygiene, white boards, toilet scribbles, pages of a book. Just saying.
I had a novel experience last week. A John Chamberlain metal cluster sculpture installed on a flexible wooden floor changed my understanding of the character of these classic pieces. I think forever, but what do I know, maybe it is just a passing feeling. The rather unspectacular congenial clatter they produced as I moved around them still resonates in my ears—like when you perform a physical activity you have never performed before and become aware of muscles you didn’t even know you had. It feels different to be in your body afterward.
Experiencing the weight of another person’s body is one of the most essential, emotional things I can think of. On airplanes it is the overall load that is important, not the heaviness of each individual. Still, even before we board we engage in that activity so specific to flying: the constant shifting around of mass. If our suitcase is too heavy when we weigh in, we move a book to our carry-on. Then we board, and drinks are served and everybody eats, and then lines start forming in front of the toilets, and out-of-sight bodily matter starts sliding through the high-tech tubing of this incredible machine. It all doesn’t change anything, though. This is where weight is constant, where dieting won't save us. What a great experimental model it is.
Natalie Frank, an artist whose latest drawings investigate the Grimms’ fairy tales, will have an exhibition of these works at the Drawing Center in New York from April 10 through June 28, 2015, which will then travel to the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin. The work will also be the subject of a reading and panel discussion on April 30, 2015, at the Brooklyn Museum, and in May it will be published as a book by Damiani.
I BEGAN THESE WORKS, which are based on the unsanitized version of the Grimms’ fairy tales, about four years ago. I picked up a copy of Jack Zipes’s The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm after the artist Paula Rego suggested I look at it—she’s done a lot of work illustrating fairy tales and mentioned that no one had illustrated the Grimms’ stories en masse. Arthur Rackham did them, Gustave Doré did some, and Walter Crane, David Hockney, and Maurice Sendak have all done illustrations, but no fine artist has ever tackled a large group of them. When I started to read these fairy tales, I was so taken by them. I’d never read anything like it—they’re so dark, sexual, and violent, and yet I sensed that there were such incredible roles for women in these stories, which I’ve never noticed in most fairy tales.
Originally the Grimm brothers fibbed about why they were doing this project and made it seem like it was a tool of nationalism—that the tales were collected from German peasants—but actually they were taken from the bourgeoisie. I learned that many of these were actually told and collected by women. Through the mutation of oral tales, women were creating these roles for themselves that were unprecedented in literature. Here, women play the evil, the divine; every single role is accessible to them, whereas at the time, because of the church and state, they wouldn’t have been allowed to inhabit those positions. All the Grimms’ stories borrowed from Shakespeare, Indian mythology, Ovid, Giovanni Francesco Straparola, and so many other sources from preceding centuries. In these tales you can find everything: sex, violence, magic, animals, transformations. Also, because they were oral tales, many of them contain elements of each other. For instance, Cinderella appears within many other tales as a subset of that story, as in “All Fur”—one of two stories about incest. I wanted to show some of the well-known tales, such as “Snow White,” and “Briar Rose,” which is “Sleeping Beauty,” but I also wanted to include some of the more obscure ones like “The Ungrateful Son.” In it, a man who doesn’t care for his father well is cursed to live with a toad on his head, and if he doesn’t feed the toad, like he didn’t feed his father, it eats his face. When I read stories like that, visual images came to mind so clearly that I just sat down and in a very short period of time made the drawing. I used gouache and pastel for all the drawings; twenty-nine will be in the Drawing Center show, and a few more will be in the show at the Blanton Museum when it travels there.
I never thought of these as illustrations—I think of them as drawings. I read through and picked key scenes that I felt were important to represent. To highlight their dark nature, I used bright, obnoxious colors, but mixed with some earth tones to create an unnatural look. For references, I used a combination of photographs of people I lit and dressed for elements of the pictures, and then pulled ideas from some interior architecture magazines and historical photos as well. I think the subject matter of the Grimms’ tales, especially with women trying out these roles with all of this carnivalesque slippage, really appealed to me, so I started to make drawings with an eye toward gathering a group that would read well together. Doing a book of them seemed like a natural extension. Marian Bantjes designed it, and it was so incredible working with her. For a contemporary and feminist take on the Grimms, having Linda Nochlin and Julie Taymor write essays for the book was also important to me. I thought a lot not only about making these stories contemporary from a feminist and personal perspective, but also about some of my favorite artists like Mike Kelley and Robert Gober, who engage with ideas of corporeal transformation, magic, and the everyday, while also bringing in the grittiness and violence of the banal.
Anish Kapoor’s sculptures and installations use pioneering technology to address absence and void as sites of potential. Here Kapoor discusses his use of Vantablack, the blackest pigment known to date, which is being developed by the British engineering firm Surrey Nanosystems. A new series of paintings is on view at Gladstone Gallery in Brussels through April 17, 2015, and he will also have an installation of work at the Palace of Versailles that opens June 9 and runs through November 1, 2015.
VANTABLACK IS A PIGMENT currently under development. I described my idea for a project incorporating the substance to Ben Jensen, who runs Surrey Nanosystems in East Sussex. The paint made from it is so black that when you hold a bit of it in your hand, if it has a fold in it, you literally cannot perceive the crease. It absorbs 98 percent of all light, so it effectively becomes two-dimensional. It’s the blackest material in the universe after black holes. I’ve worked with an idea of non-material objects since my void works from the mid-’80s, and Vantablack seems to me to be a proper non-material. The nanostructure of Vantablack is so small that it virtually has no materiality. It’s thinner than a coat of paint and rests on the liminal edge between an imagined thing and an actual one. It’s a physical thing that you cannot see, giving it a transcendent or even transcendental dimension, which I think is very compelling.
To me, the possibilities of pigment are fascinating: how it exists between materiality and illusion. Outside of my project, Vantablack is being developed for military stealth and technologies where one needs to restrict the use of light, such as inside a telescope where you want the light to focus just on the mirror without having wandering light particles around, in order to see distant stars.
I’m absolutely sure that to make new art, you have to make new space. Malevich’s black square doesn’t just make a proposition about non-images or black as an image; it suggests that space works in a different way than previously conceived. Whether it is literal space or poetic space, I’m sure that this equation is correct. Imagine walking into a room where you literally have no sense of the walls—where the walls are or that there are any walls at all. It’s not an empty dark room, but a space full of darkness. When we imagine our own interiors, we have a sense that each of us carries a dark, inner, and quiet, or not so quiet, place within ourselves. To have that out there phenomenologically in the world is quite unnerving. This has haunted us through literature, science, and art—the invisible, the non-space, or the non-object. This is very dangerous territory, but I find the aspiration toward the Freudian womb to reach a lost self—which I think is implied in any spiritualism—interesting in terms of its relation to the sublime. Loss of self and fear go hand in hand. Inevitably, we bump into fear, death, and all the human realities of an emotional world—as an artist especially, but always as a human being.
Ari Marcopoulos, 31000001, 2015, color photograph, 8 x 10".
Underlying a new body of work by the New York–based artist Ari Marcopoulos is a wintry restraint that adds new depth to his more than forty-year career as a documentarian of subculture. His upcoming exhibition at Marlborough Chelsea, “L1032015,” is as much about the everyday compulsion to make images as it is about the currents of art history that steer it. The show is on view from April 4 through May 9, 2015.
CERTAIN THINGS INVITE YOU TO TAKE THEIR PHOTOGRAPH. They trigger an emotion or chemical in your brain that compels you to make an image. I wanted to get away from that, to work more automatically, and I did it in a few ways; I began printing images multiple times on top of one another to create black rectangles. I also started photographing things that were abstract or that became abstract the more I photographed them. For example, I would photograph undercover cop cars every time I saw them—Crown Victorias and Chevy Impalas from the side with no low or high angles, no interpretation. As I take the photo over and over again, the car loses its significance. It becomes a repetition. The single silver gelatin print of an Impala in my exhibition may talk about authority or misuse of authority, but it is also just a shape, an outline. Most of the time my photographs are flat and boring.
The title of this show—and of most of the works in it—is based on a number that refers to either my archiving system or the number that the digital camera assigned to the photograph. I’ve made a lot of books and exhibitions and I think about titles a lot. For this show, I’m offering less of a poetic exchange through the titles. Of course, the image of my brother, I felt, could only have the title of his name because I didn’t want to give him a number; that’s emotional matter. The photograph is from 1992 and it emphasizes some of the abstract aspects of the show. In the installation, he’s paired with a large gray rectangle that has a date stamp from the particular camera that I use. The date stamp is basically the only clue that it is a photograph; I made it as big as I could, but the printing machine dictates its size. It’s just a gray rectangle, whatever that means to you.
When you work with photography as a medium for a long period of time, you think about it every day; it’s always there. I am mostly occupied with images I make in the moment, and the images in this show were all taken within a few days of one another, with a few exceptions that still reflect present concerns. In the end, the show is about being in the world now and knowing what it was like to be in the world a decade before that, and a decade before that. I visited the On Kawara show at the Guggenheim and I remembered many of the events that were in the newspapers on view—not just the moon landing and Patty Hearst, but also buildings bombed, permanent war, and fear of terrorism, which have all returned now, or rather, remained the same.
In this show there is a work that refers specifically to my past. It’s a photograph of my studio floor as I was working on a zine, and it almost looks like a collage. All of the elements relate to my memory, to how I was educated with a socialist touch in a Dutch school. There’s a picture of Karl Marx, abstractions that refer to art history and work I saw at the Stedelijk as a teenager, and there’s a Baader-Meinhof reference. I wanted to talk about being in the studio, thinking, reading, working, and the time that takes. The composition could also be read as a reference to Bruce Nauman, even though that’s aiming quite high, but it could be aiming quite low. The image is about elevating the commonplace. It also relates to the video in the exhibition, which I shot out of my studio window. Proximity is very important to me. It took me eight months to finally decide to film, but it’s only fifty seconds long. It’s very simple, but nothing comes easily. Everything is a process of thought and doubt.
Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Cain and Abel, 2013, ink-jet print, 39 1/2 x 49".
Philip-Lorca diCorcia is a celebrated American photographer whose well-known images blur the distinctions between documentary and staged tableaux. Here, diCorcia discusses his ongoing project “East of Eden,” 2008—, a series of fictional scenarios dealing with disenchantment and loss that will be on view at David Zwirner in New York from April 2 to May 2, 2015, and he offers his own perspective on the ever-shifting climate of contemporary photography.
I WAS STUCK IN A RUT AS A YOUNG ADULT. Not even of age—and I think I had been drafted already for the Vietnam War, since I was kicked out of high school. But I wound up studying with Jan Groover; I’m from Hartford, Connecticut, and she was teaching at the college there. She basically threw everything out the window for me. It was like, “OK, you’re in a photography class. Want to know how to develop film? Read the fucking instructions that come with it.” I think that established something for me, and I dearly respect her as an influence. She died a few years ago, but she was important to me, as at that point I had no real desire to follow an art career. I really didn’t.
I didn’t care much about anything then; it was a time of decadence, if one could afford decadence, which frankly I couldn’t. I was like a pauper in the world of decadence and I always have been. Even when I came to New York in the early 1980s, I just couldn’t afford to be a freak. I think of freaks as somewhat self-indulgent. It’s like a block party: You have no money and you get together and make spaghetti and pretend you’re rich, or you really are rich and you pretend that you’re not.
To some degree, the “East of Eden” series was generated by anger. Which is not an unusual emotion for me, but it has a weird place within the realm of art. The project has been ongoing for seven years now, and the motivation was at first generated by the financial collapse that occurred at the end of the Bush era. It had to do with disillusionment, promise, expectations, and jealousy. This is the primal soap opera of people’s imagination. East of Eden is the place where Adam and Eve were cast after the loss of innocence, which is represented by the apple. I was looking for my muse, and it turned out that I just didn’t have one. Or maybe it could have just been the anger. I was angry when I started this thing and I still am.
But I’m older now, too, and I can see the expectations of people who are ambitious and how those ambitions begin to reflect the art market. Take photography, for instance: Everything now is abstract, conceptual, identity-based, ignorant of history, and theory-driven to a degree that’s nauseatingly boring. But that doesn’t stop people from making it because they see other people succeed doing it. I hate talking about the idea that there’s actually a creative process that can be learned, but there’s a lot of a creative process that can be unlearned. Regarding that, I would say that you’re never really in control. A lot of the work I see now that bothers me the most is by the people who have it so absolutely figured out. Why is it that the pleasure principle has been so completely denied?
Art is not a career for me, it never really was, and I pity the people who follow me. If they think they’re going to be this romantic vision of an artist, the one that I grew up with in which you follow a sort of strange sensibility or your heart, mind, or muse, they’ll learn that there is no such thing anymore. In some ways I think certain people establish the paradigm, and other people follow it. And most of the people who have established that paradigm are dead—or close to it. I know that there are clichés about who has established those new paradigms—Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Andreas Gursky—these are living people doing good work. But whether or not they’ve established a new paradigm or just elaborated on an old one is left for history to decide.