The British filmmaker Joanna Hogg has made three intimate, sympathetic features in which vulnerable friends and family members attempt to hide secrets from each other within large houses and open frames. Exhibition (2013) is currently playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, through July 3, and Unrelated (2007) and Archipelago (2009) will also screen there from June 27 to July 3, 2014.
I MAKE FILMS BUT DON’T LOOK AT THEM AFTERWARD, which means I haven’t seen Unrelated or Archipelago for some time. I feel strong connections between the three films, though. They form a chain, each one linked to the next, maybe because I have difficulties with saying good-bye. After Unrelated I was hanging onto the theme of childlessness, which I had explored through the relationship between the middle-aged character of Anna (played by Kathryn Worth) and her friend’s teenage children. Anna’s dynamic with her offscreen husband had been suggested primarily through telephone conversations between them, and the image of a childless couple still floated around in my mind while I was conceiving Exhibition. When I made Archipelago, I chose to only superficially consider the sexuality of the family’s prodigal son, Edward (played by Tom Hiddleston). The absence from that film of carefully explored sex lives inspired me to develop the erotic life of the female artist D (played by Viv Albertine) in Exhibition and to blur the different roles she plays in her relationship with her husband, H (played by Liam Gillick).
I dealt with the members of an extended family in Unrelated, and then looked at a smaller family unit’s dynamics in Archipelago. It was a challenge for me to reduce a film’s number of central characters to two for Exhibition, and especially challenging for me to turn the focus on myself while doing so. I feel Exhibition to be the most personal of the three films. It forced me to look at my own marriage to another artist, and to deal with my anxieties connected to it, such as the fear I often feel of being at sea in a noisy city without feeling in control of my loved ones.
For instance, there is a scene in Exhibition in which D is working in her study and listens to the sounds of H leaving his office above her to go out into the street. She then hears something close to what I’m currently hearing outside this Midtown Manhattan window—siren wails and people shouting. I’m interested in film sound, even more so than image, because of how sound can engage the imagination. I worry sometimes when I catch sounds I can’t place. I invent dramatic and violent scenarios for them. My fears (much like D’s) usually don’t come true, but in the immediate moment they overtake me. The power of such imagined angsts was one reason why I made Exhibition.
Having said this, I’m also interested in actually observing ways in which people live, and not just imagining them. Even when I am watching films, I look for some version of life that I recognize. I’m not expecting other filmmakers to depict exactly how I see life, but I do want to be struck by some truth in what they’re showing, even if it seems mundane.
We spend much of our lives inside buildings, and the cinema that I like often uses architecture in ways that excite me. The depiction of architectural space is fundamental to my feature films, each of which essentially unfolds within one house. For Unrelated it is a converted eighteenth-century Tuscan farmhouse, for Archipelago a former missionary home on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, and for Exhibition a 1969 postmodernist home in London, very angular like a perfectly square doll’s house, that contrasts with its residents’ chaotic lives. In each case, you can feel a tension growing between what is inside the buildings and everything that has been left out.
I think a lot about architecture, partly because of how I form deep relationships to the places in which I live; they become part of my body and my memory bank. There’s a safety of being within their walls, even as I risk being trapped there. These feelings are hard for me to articulate, so the stories I tell try to do so.
View of “Gabriel Kuri,” 2014.
Mexican artist Gabriel Kuri is known for sculptures that mobilize contrasting dualities. Here he speaks about his current exhibitions in Los Angeles: a solo show at Regen Projects, which is on view until June 28, 2014, and the pieces he produced for the Hammer Museum’s “Made in LA 2014” biennial, which closes on September 7, 2014.
WE LIVE IN A GLOBAL WORLD where it seems like everything is available at the click of a button, yet that’s not exactly the case. Everything that I made for these exhibitions I created in Los Angeles, where I currently reside. That is how I make sense of my life. I adjust my work to fit my surroundings because I want it to have that feeling of actuality, of presentness.
Every place comes together by violent contradictions. This is a cue I’ve taken for the Regen exhibition, which includes my “soft metal” pieces, which are made of silver insulation material, and my “hard metal” pieces, which are made of stainless steel. The pairing of hard and soft has been an ongoing and important aspect in my work. It’s not just in the tactile sense, but also because I like to think of some of the sources of my work as being “hard,” as in hard facts, and others as being “soft,” as in being contingent. For instance, in the sculptural series “Stop Start Exponential Growth,” you could also describe this relationship as fast and slow. There is something about the work’s volcanic rock that is really fast. You can almost see the way it was formed, like the results when pouring polyurethane resin. But the inflated condoms placed in between the rocks are fragile. They have to be replaced every few days because they slowly deflate. While finding a place is relevant to my work, I also think that finding the moment is integral to my understanding of sculpture.
I don’t know how this interest in contrasts began. It most likely has something to do with finding my voice as an individual. The soft gesture could be seen as what comes most from me and the hard element could be what comes from society. There are a few hard geometric abstract forms also in this show. The piece Credit Becomes Retail, which includes eight multicolored, circular disks, addresses society most directly. The disks themselves come from the logos of credit institutions such as Mastercard and Maestro. The disks are placed in a physical act of balancing on each other, with padded blankets wedged in between. The metaphor is not one I have to force upon anyone. The idea for this work came from a piece I made for the 2008 Berlin Biennale—at the time of the economic downturn. The disks were placed in the coat check area of the Neue Nationalgalerie and the audience would check in their garments by hanging them on top of or in between these metal forms. By no means was I expressing that what artists create are mere commercial products or commodity goods. Rather, there is a direct parallel between the way that meaning in art is constructed and the way that value is socially constructed. But in order to see it, one must take it apart or see it upside down.
In “Made in LA,” there is a piece titled Donation Fountain, which is composed of a bent pipe, bird spikes, and a shower of coins. There is another work that is made with Carrara marble slabs, the same marble that is used for the skirting boards and doorway frames in the Hammer. Here, the slabs are placed outdoors on the museum’s terraces with small cigarette butts inserted in between them. There is also a variant of Regen’s piece, Thank You, which includes fireproof waste bins. The contrast in this exhibition is more in the works’ displacement. There is often a bubble of protection that forms around the gallery; in a public institution, my sculptures are forced to cohabitate with the museum’s signage, benches, exit signs, and even fire extinguishers. From this juxtaposition, the work acquires a different accent.
View of “Christina Mackie: Color Drop,” 2014.
Christina Mackie is best known for her layered sculptural installations that evoke the natural world, often probing the relationship between the empirical and ephemeral. Her current exhibition at the Renaissance Society in Chicago, which runs through June 29, takes color and light as its central subject. On June 16, the London-based artist will present a installation at Basel Unlimited. A solo exhibition at the Tate Britain is slated for the spring of 2014.
WHEN MY LAST PROJECT CULMINATED in objects derived from ancient pestles and mortars for grinding pigments, I began to think about paint and color as a conceptual tool and archaic human device. We mine color from our surroundings to use for our magical purposes, and separate things out from the world, refine things, make of color a technology. Thinking about the history of the creation of colors led to my latest show where color is the explicit subject.
The works on tables and panels explore the process of dying, grinding, and evaporation. Panels with carved dips have been coated in chalk, and watercolor pooled in the indentations evaporated leaving sediment. In an allusion to alembics, dying, and sublimation, glass objects contain onionskins and bark held in place by paraffin. They describe the process of connecting the color of one material with the substance of another material. Pottery objects made of different clays with semiprecious rock grinders reference the process of making fine powder color from minerals.
I use these highly worked materials to talk about color as a substance and also the concept of color as a force, and the way that it is embodied in the behavior or qualities of objects in the material world. Force is something that can be deduced from observation and also can be represented. What sets things in motion? The world is in a transitory state of animation, the visible manifestation of invisible forces.
The second part of the project is the large filters. Light is filtered by objects to reveal specific colors, and a filter stands between us and the world. In the three large central filter objects, I wanted to capture the idea of filtering and also illustrate the insubstantiality of light. The height of the nets draws the eye up and simultaneously casts the viewer down in scale and to a level symbolic with the base, as though the net were trawling from a surface far higher than where we stand.
Everything has to be prepared beforehand, all details thought out in advance, and held in mind. The whole filter weighed just a few ounces. Ropes, swivels, and pulleys allowed the raw net to be dipped into large pans of dye and pulled back up the thirty feet to the ceiling. The show changed over time as the dyes dried differently in their large dishes, the black intensity ending up crystalline or lichen-like or pale as a salt pan. Around the pans, large polished shards of colored glass reflect and consolidate the dyes. Until I do the action, in this case dipping, I don’t know what effect will result; it’s not something specified beforehand, rather a suspicion and a curiosity about what that invented place might feel like.
The Los Angeles–based artist Caitlin Lonegan creates abstract paintings that are concerned with perception and illusion. In addition to participating in the “Made in LA 2014” biennial exhibition on view at the Hammer Museum from June 15 to September 7, where she will show a range of large- and small-scale work, Lonegan will also publish her first-ever artist’s book with Laxart later this year. Here, she talks about the new role of narration in her work, as well as the importance of her studio as a site for experiencing her paintings over time.
FOR “MADE IN LA,” the curators and I decided to do an installation—and to use the space in a way—that reflected what I was doing in the studio. What was interesting about the last year is that I shifted my working method and how I share the pieces. There’s been metallic paint that I used to work into the middle layer of my paintings to get a certain surface. When I moved into my new studio, the light bouncing off the metallic areas became so striking that I just started working with it. Almost out of indecision, I started making changes slowly, to the point where I’d make changes to each painting over the course of the day. Later, it became clear that process adds a durational component to the pieces, and I started to realize how important it was for people to experience the works durationally.
Over this past year, a lot of people have come by, and the studio just sort of became the site of the work. Friends would come over, and we would set up a little camp kitchen, and I would make food, and we’d have coffee, and they’d experience the paintings here with me as I was sitting with some finished works, thinking about what to do next on the works in progress. People started telling others to come over. It started with friends who were artists, and then it became artists and curators I didn’t know. Usually the studio visits end up lasting about two to three hours. Now that I had more down time between decisions, people would come over for a whole afternoon. I’ve been doing it that way for about a year now, talking with visitors about the thinking that went into the work, which in turn was usually influenced most by what I was reading.
Literature informed my earlier work in the sense that I used it to help me think and explain the work to others. Those paintings played with a combination of optical effects and honest mark-making (even though people often think of it as process oriented). That tension between fact and fiction in my work—particularly as I started to move more heavily into constructed illusions—is what led me to reading fiction. I’d previously been reading a lot of Virginia Woolf and a lot of essays, and when I reread one short story by Woolf, “The Mark on the Wall,” it struck me as a great parallel to what I was doing in the paintings. It’s a story in which a woman, sitting in a living room, stares at a scuff on the other side of the room—told as if the woman’s speaking, speculating on how the mark might have gotten there. Her imagination is elaborate, and she projects that a portrait must have hung there, and constructs a story of the woman in it, and keeps going until later she realizes the mark is a snail. I felt like this story spoke to my work because I’m often constructing illusions of processes, and I like the perceptual confusion of reading a fictional short story that mimics a first-person essay. I am attracted to this sort of rupture and simultaneity. This is also the seed of the durational element of my work: The paintings from that body of work look like facts of process, but if one spends time with them, one realizes it’s constructed, and it unfolds.
The new work is a shift of sorts away from illusion and towards narrative. While making it, I was reading George Eliot’s Middlemarch, which has a crazy narrative shift of its own that really resonated. It portrays a totally convincing fictional world with amazing characters, told by an omniscient narrator—but every once and a while the form sort of breaks, and the narrator says “I,” which becomes really striking and disorienting. I think when we look at paintings, there’s often this assumption—against our better judgment—that the work is a stand-in for the artist. But for me, I think a lot about where the “I” is in the painting. What’s the position? What’s the voice? What’s the narration?
For fans of the Brooklyn–based graphic novelist Danica Novgorodoff, a long wait is finally paying off: Novgorodoff—author of Slow Storm, 2008, and Refresh, Refresh, 2009—recently published The Undertaking of Lily Chen, 2014, with First Second after working on the project for five years. Here, on the occasion of Artforum’s summer issue focus on graphic novels, Novgorodoff talks about her process, her references, and the challenges to creating a narrative that, in her words, is both “Eastern folklore and Western drama.”
THE BOOK revolves around an ancient Chinese tradition of ghost marriages, in which two single, dead people are wed so that they can be buried together and keep each other company in the afterlife. The earliest recorded practice of ghost marriages dates back to the second century AD, but in some rural parts of China (especially in mining towns, where many men die before marriageable age) the custom survives till this day. My story takes place in the mountains of northern China, where a young man named Deshi is sent by his parents to find a corpse bride for his older brother, who has just died in an accident. Deshi embarks on the mission with a grave robber, but many things go wrong, and he’s unable to find a suitable wife for his brother. He does, however, cross paths with Lily Chen, a strong-willed (living) girl who demands that he take her to the big city. She’s desperate to escape an arranged marriage and to make money fast and doesn’t realize that Deshi’s planning to murder her till they’ve fallen in love.
I was fascinated by the entanglement of love and death that this custom fosters. The practice of ghost marriages is both romantic and horrifying. No one wants to send a loved one into an eternity of loneliness, but to what extremes should a family go to appease a ghost? A shortage of females (dead and alive) due to the one child policy has led to a black market for dead women and, in some cases, murder. I started to wonder what kinds of people would engage in this trade. It seemed like the perfect recipe for a macabre western: family honor, murder, vengeance, an epic journey, the love of a woman.
It took me a long time to research and write the script. As I wrote, Deshi and Lily kept meeting strange people who altered their journey, so I kept writing new scenes for each encounter. I also adopted a new drawing process in which I would only plan out one chapter at a time without looking ahead in the script, and so it wasn’t until I had completed the project that I realized it was a 430-page graphic novel. I’m a slow drawer, and with one to six panels per page, it was just a hell of a lot of penciling, inking, painting and coloring.
I was nervous about setting the book in China—I’m a quarter Chinese, and my father was born in Shanghai, but I’ve never identified strongly with or deeply studied the culture. I worried that my work would feel fake to those who truly “know” my setting. I decided not to force it to be a strictly Chinese story, but rather to embrace it as a mash-up, a weird concoction of Eastern folklore and Western drama, Eastern landscapes and Western dialogue, the demands of ancient customs and those of the contemporary, capitalist world. So many of us are mash-ups now, anyway.
Paying homage to a variety of visual and cultural traditions, I studied Chinese brush painting as well as watercolors by artists like Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth. My villain, Mr. Song, is loosely based on Tang Dynasty paintings of horsemen. I watched spaghetti westerns, and films by Zhang Yimou. Some of my coloring techniques were influenced by Japanese animation, and the papercuts were copied from the beautiful patterns I found in little shops in China. I looked at portraits by Marlene Dumas, Sally Mann, and Francis Bacon as inspiration for the ghosts. I used my own photographs as source material for most of the images.
When I started this book, I said to myself, “Don’t feel limited, and don’t get bored.” I’m not sure I knew what that meant early on, but I think it opened me up to a different pace of storytelling. There is a very clear linear progression—the characters are moving from point A to point B over the course of one week—but at times the story jumps off that track and onto a dreamlike, ghostly, or mystical detour. As I was drawing, I didn’t rush to arrive at the conclusion, and tried to let myself be surprised by what came next—even though I had written the script, and knew the end of the story.
View of “Darren Bader,” 2014.
Darren Bader’s multivalent practice includes writing, artist books, videos, and sculptures of found objects that have ranged from live kittens (to be adopted), to fruit and vegetables on pedestals (to be replaced as soon as they go bad), to people modeling their own body parts with objects (a breast with a camera), among other configurations. The New York–based artist speaks here about his latest exhibition, on view at Andrew Kreps Gallery from May 15 to June 21, 2014, which comprises a show on the wall, “Photographs I Like,” a show on the floor, “To Have and to Hold,” and a show on a piece of paper, available at the gallery’s front desk. Bader’s work was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and he is the recipient of the 2013 Calder Prize.
MY EXHIBITION is made up of three shows that don’t have a whole lot to do with each other. The first show has to do with current image circulation seen through an art-historical lens. The second has to do with objects and what they can and might not be. The third has to do with nouns, I think. They’re up simultaneously, but any “conversation” between them is fortuitous, with a couple exceptions.
I wanted this exhibition to be a way to address three ideas I’d been otherwise unable to resolve in a way I found meaningful enough. I don’t know if they’re fitting resolutions. I didn’t make much of anything for the shows. I often don’t make things, and if I do, it’s likely a fabricator’s hand at play. I usually just think about language and immediate optical experience and where piquant impressions and illusions can take you. A lot of this rests on objects and images. I embrace any thing that seems to make sense in a given situation—this is happily just an embrace of an embrace sometimes. The world is enormous, and I’m looking for some convention, however necessarily temporary, to address that in some conscientious and generous way.
I’m often puzzled by what the art world wants of its content, and I try to find a means of questioning this without compromising the above-mentioned impressions and illusions. There can be an exceptional visual, conceptual, and aesthetic merit to so many things in the world, whether in products of nonrarefied production and distribution, or through the lens of happenstance. TV programming, advertising, gaming, software design, interactive design, social media, industrial design, packaging design, etc.—all these are possibilities of what and how art might be, and they continue to be carefully ghettoized by art institutions, if registered at all. A worse curse than being called “folk art” is being called “entertainment.” Things that often appear or sound or feel formally resonant are kept apart by categories. However potent, playful, or poignant a product of human creation might be, it’s unlikely to be let into the museum as art.
I continually find this troublesome. Not so much because there’s a limited amount of room for the “magic” of art to work, which there inevitably is, rather that unresolved and meretricious shit gains outsized currency as art. For instance, do stretcher bars, in and of themselves, improve content? Does Professor XYZ have the mutant ability to turn all of his students into gifted artists? Is the exhumation of this or that neglected oeuvre an act of faith or an act of fashion? Should the doorman be fired for letting me into the club?
How will art history continue to have meaning short of blithe redundancy? It often seems like any bit of amnesiac, opportunistic homage will do. I don’t trust that the art world and its (infra)structures, however enthusiastic and inclusive they might at times be, are qualified to discern what today’s art might be. I might be a pathological romantic, but beauty still means something to me. I too rarely see powerful beauty in the products churned out for the art world. I know mediocrity is normal, but complacency is something else.
Let me spin it this way . . . art is commonly intuited as a home for the poetic. There is enough evidence of technical-cum-aesthetic skill in a wide variety of fields to safely say that there are some good “poets” out there. Mediocrity is normal, but good poetry is what matters.