Mikala Dwyer, The Additions and Subtractions, 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.
In the past few years, work by the Sydney-based artist Mikala Dwyer has shifted away from its feminist, post-punk inclinations and toward a focus on the occult. Here, Dwyer discusses her two current exhibitions, “Panto Collapsar” at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, which is on view until March 31, and “Drawing Down the Moon” at Brisbane’s Institute of Modern Art (IMA). The latter is the first major survey of her “paranormal” works and can be visited until April 14, 2012.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED in exploring an “extra space,” something between two traditional spaces, like an extra dimension or an extra language. That’s why the objects in my installation are almost irrelevant, even though there seems to be a huge amount of attention placed on them. I always show a lot of stuff—I sent three truckloads of junk up to the IMA. It included works and precious things packaged in bubble wrap, but to me it’s all just material to start building another situation that aims to open up that extra space. I’m also interested in how memory functions in my work; subsequently I’ve used the same matter and materials again and again. Over time, those materials become possessed in a waylike a ghost possessing magnetic tape or an object.
There’s an organizational aspect to the occult that I don’t find in other things. Tarot cards, palm readings, and séances are all kinds of tools; they articulate or frame voids, and what occurs in those voids keeps me on edge—they offer the poetic possibility that just maybe something will appear. Those organizing systems often take the form of a circle, which is a tight form of geometry, a completely closed system—a psychic fortress that can hold together disparate thoughts and objects. I often use circles for exactly this reason, as holding patterns—ways of shaping thoughts, creating taxonomies of things that temporarily hold against loss. I make one or two circle works a year, and even though each one is always very different, they’re usually called The Additions and Subtractions. I always try to build them so they’re very specific to the time and space in which they sit.
A good example is the one I recently made in Dublin. I wanted to do something with gold and started with the idea of a kind of reverse alchemy—turning a precious material back into base matter. It was a play on gold’s recent economic power: As you watch the price of gold going up, you can sometimes see economies going down. While this has been the case in Ireland, I was also interested in the archaeology and mythology of gold in Dublin—the extraordinary collections found in the bogs and so on. It also relates to my mother’s background; she was a silversmith, and in a way, I was drawn to that material because of her.
I think there’s always been an inherent violence in my work, or at least a vulnerability that infers a kind of violence. In 2010, I had a residency on Sydney’s Cockatoo Island, which once housed a prison and later became a place where “wayward girls” were interned. I grew up near that island, and being there for six months made me more acutely aware of the history of violence in Australia. Australians are really the jailers and the jailed, the cops and the convicts, and that mentality is deep in our psyches—we’re haunted by it. Brisbane, for example, is a very edgy place: It’s a tropical wonderland, beautiful and fertile, but there’s also a down-and-out violence to it. Maybe it’s the heat that drives up the crime rate. So it’s an interesting place to have a survey show. I have so much junk, so much history, that sometimes I just want a can of petrol and a match. The IMA exhibition is a good way to process a lot of the stuff I’ve done recently, but also to get rid of it, so I can start something new.
Shady El Noshokaty, StammerA Lecture in Theory, 2009–10, multimedia installation, 14 minutes 7 seconds.
Stammer, an ongoing project by the Egyptian artist and professor Shady El Noshokaty, began as a teaching demonstration for students at the American University in Cairo, and is on view until March 17 in “Histories of Now: Six Artists from Cairo” at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. For the Egyptian pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale, El Noshokaty curated work by Ahmed Basiony, who was killed in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Here, El Noshokaty discusses the origins of Stammer.
MY PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL MEMORY of being a child with a stutter is the subject that forms the crux of this project. I began researching this particular speech disorder about four years ago as a way to get in touch with the self-awareness it accorded me from an early age. Since then, it has grown into a multifaceted project that utilizes multimedia, texts, drawings, videos, and installations that explore the relationship between pre- and postrevolutionary Egypt.
Stammer is an attempt to represent how the combination of time, distance, place, relations, names, situations, and actions creates an elaborate map of the human persona—it is through these elements that our existence gains meaning. A speech impediment like stammering enables one to see limitations within the virtual mental environment that exists within our heads.
I often think of consciousness as bound within three parallel planes—the mind, physical existence, and imagination. The moment when one stammers is the moment when consciousness is disrupted and the mind loses control—one is unable to chose which plane will be presented to interact with the outside world. In Stammer, I try to move consciously through those planes to other areas of extreme subjectivity derived from my personal memories and subjective history through a virtual conceptual logic.
I began experimenting with these ideas through a lecture in which I tried to create an illustration of philosopher John R. Searle’s book Mind: A Brief Introduction. One of the chapters explains the relationship between the physical mind, the emotional mind, mathematics, and the measurement of feeling and emotions. I wanted to question the dual relationship between the body as material and the mind as a control system, testing the way our bodies supposedly have freedom to move but where the mind is the ultimate controller. Stammering reverses this process—it is the state of interference: The body conflicts with the mind, asking for another thing than what the mind has directed.
In the performance, I develop this idea through drawing, attempting to create a symmetrical drawing that comes from the center and formulates a pattern that is centralized around that point. I wanted explore the way our brain could control the borders of ourselves. The mind might be the central control system, but with stammering that control is very cracked; that symmetrical pattern could be destroyed because there is power coming out of the body that breaks the symmetry. There is a crash that happens, but within the work, before the crash, is this perfect symmetrical drawing—and just as I am finishing, you begin to see the destruction: The line itself destroys the pattern and control it worked to create.
Josephine Meckseper, Manhattan Oil Project, 2012, steel, plastic, hardware, paint, 25 x 23 x 6'.
For the Manhattan Oil Project, the German-born, New York–based artist Josephine Meckseper has installed two twenty-five-foot-tall sculptures inspired by mid-twentieth-century oil pump jacks in The Last Lot, a project space in Times Square organized by Art Production Fund. The project is on view from March 5 to May 6, 2012.
THIS IS technically my first large-scale public sculpture. In the 1990s I produced a conceptual magazine, FAT, which was kind of like public art because it was distributed at local newsstands. Similar to the magazine, the oil pumps are art disguised as something real. Both projects use recognizable generic forms to subvert an elitist art vocabulary, one typically not accessible to a broad audience.
My main motivation for installing oil pumps in the middle of Manhattan was to use forms that were already ingrained in people’s consciousness and therefore inherently understandable. I wanted to make a conceptual monument representing what was going on in 2012, and the pumps signify various current sociopolitical issues—from war to the world economy to the exploitation of natural resources.
The oil pumps are made out of three tons of steel each. The familiar forms appear jarring when juxtaposed with throngs of tourists, harried office workers, and a sea of advertising. In this area of diversion and commercialism, the sculptures become the hard-edged reality of a culture that is defined by its control of supplies of natural resources.
The surrounding theaters provide a distraction and escape from such real-world issues. But the nearby Port Authority, on the other hand, defines the neighborhood more realistically. For many immigrants, this terminal is a launch pad for their hopes and dreams. Picking up on this notion, the pumps can be seen as symbolic of the quintessential American dream, left over from the frontier days: striking it rich.
A New York metal shop called Pabst Enterprises, which typically makes large metal specialty parts for big telecommunications networks, fabricated the sculptures. There are very few plants like this still working on the East Coast, since this type of production is now largely outsourced to China and elsewhere. It was important to me to work with a company that makes industrial products, not art sculptures. Fifty years ago this plant built giant parts for the US Navy. There are still old train tracks on the factory floor there, which reminded me of the giant steam train my father bought in the ’70s and installed on nineteenth-century tracks next to the train station in my hometown, Worpswede, Germany. The similarly anachronistic look of the oil pumps echoes the more innocent beginnings of the industrial revolution, now escalated to a tenuous reality defined by our dependency on oil.
Paul Graham, East Broadway, 7th April 2010, 4.03.42 pm, 2009, pigment print mounted on Dibond, each 56 x 74 1/4".
Paul Graham is a British artist based in New York and a recipient of a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship in the category of photography. His latest body of work is on view in “The Present” at the Pace Gallery until March 24. In conjunction with the exhibition, MACK will publish a monograph of his new work. Here, Graham discusses the sixteen diptychs and two triptych photographs in the show.
THESE ARE NEW YORK STREET PHOTOGRAPHS, that unique genre of photography where you dance with the Brownian motion of life. To photographers, street photography is a Himalayan range that the foolhardy pit themselves against. Or maybe it’s a shibboleth, a mystical visual code that only the indoctrinated members of our cult speak and revere. Take your pick.
But this isn’t regular street photography: It’s not black-and-white or 35-mm; it’s not deep focus, not close or confrontational, not wide angle, and there’s little drama. I use a normal lens, color, and shallow focus. Nothing is staged. Instead of a single picture, it embraces the before and after moments, so you see the people switching positions across a diptych: Life and its doppelgänger arrive and depart, as you quietly shift your awareness.
Normally, photography offers these frozen shards of time where the world is ossified into a singular moment. I’ve struggled to get away from that brittle, crystalline notion by inviting time into the work, making it a quality that you feel and experience. You see how events unfold, not only externally but also internally, from the consciousness-flow as we go about our lives.
Photographs usually have this false democracy of deep focus, where everything is sharp and equally detailed. That reading is denied in these pictures by the shallow focus. This is actually truer to how we see: in shallow spot focus. Try it for yourself. So there was a conscious decision to render these images in this way, how we alight upon this detail, and then, a fraction later, this one . . . and so forth.
There is one surprising diptych of a woman falling over. I don’t seek out moments like that, but they do happen, as with life. I do not set up situations or create a tableau vivant––the late 1990s were dominated by that kind of work, so it’s interesting to me that there’s again space for photographic artists to work in the world, but this time with full awareness of the developments in art photography over the past twenty years. It’s great to bring that knowledge into play with life-as-it-is, and close the circle.
Time is present not only in the fractions of a moment contained in the images, but also long term, as decades from now we’ll look at this work with the same distance with which we regard vintage street photography today—like the wonderful images by Garry Winogrand or Lee Friedlander from the ’60s and ’70s. The signage, the cars, the clothing, they will be dated to us. We can’t see it now as the glass is too foggy at this point, but it will clear. Hence the title: “The Present.” In a way that speaks to how photography works, where every picture you take is of the present but immediately becomes the past. So the title is a reminder of these unique qualities of the medium, and its struggle to deal with time and life. Sometimes I think those are our materials. Not film, not paper, not prints: time and life.
The Texas-born and Los Angeles–based artist Richard Hawkins makes work that probes the connections, juxtapositions, and slippages among classical sculpture, French literature, the abject, and the teenage dreamboat. His 2010 midcareer survey “Richard Hawkins: Third Mind” was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago. Hawkins is showing his new “Ankoku” series, a work partially inspired by Butoh, in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, which runs March 1–May 27.
I AM NOT A STUDENT OF DANCE––or even much of a fan––but there is something about Tatsumi Hijikata, at least on film, that I really like. Reading everything I could on Butoh for the past year or so, I got kind of fed up with the classic Western idea that Butoh is simply an articulation of the trauma of Japan’s destruction during World War II. Through subsequent research online, I found Hijikata’s Butoh-fu scrapbooks. In the mid-1960s and early ’70s, the dancer would go through Japanese monthly art magazines and cut out pictures that he “liked.” He would then tape them into scrapbooks and annotate in pencil anything that came to mind.
He cut up Picasso’s Guernica, for instance, and taped it down in this interesting, unartful-artful way with hardly any faithfulness to the artist, the Spanish civil war, the original picture, or . . . anything really. Hijikata’s Guernica, according to his scribbled annotations, consists of an old prostitute trapped in a room where the walls are made of pus with a dead baby on her lap that propels itself through its own farts all the way up to the ceiling. To me it’s a super interesting example of ekphrasis, of expansion over description, a kind of betrayal, actually, in keeping with his interest in Jean Genet.
Using Hijikata’s Butoh-fu as a perverse guide through postwar works that many of us know so incredibly well was really the foundation of my project. But I also liked the idea of rereading Genet––an author I’ve had love affairs with in the past––through Hijikata’s eyes. Despite the fact that historians of Butoh always mention that Hijikata was influenced by Our Lady of the Flowers, there’s hardly anything in the novel that describes movement, for example, or that would seem to be an obvious influence on the dancer. There’s lice and filth, obviously, dark things that Hijikata would’ve loved, but amazingly––to me at least––the novel begins with the author cutting out pictures of criminals from magazines and pasting them to his wall. By the end he claims that the whole novel has just been a masturbatory fantasy compelled by these chopped-up images of handsome faces and heads. That, to me, is the ultimate connection between Hijikata’s Butoh-fu and Genet. And, obviously, an important thing to understand for an artist (me) who has a history of cutting out pictures of cute guys and building fantasies around them.
I also found it interesting that Hijikata hardly ever used Japanese artists or figures in his scrapbooks. Rather, he was always exoticizing French and American culture. It’s Orientalism in reverse. Maybe through all this I’ll finally figure out why my objects of desire hardly ever come from my own damn culture.
Left: Cover of Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment (2012). Right: A view of the layout of Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment with Trixie.
Dushko Petrovich is a New Haven–based writer and painter and an editor of Paper Monument. The magazine’s second publication, Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment, debuted at the 2012 CAA conference and is available to order online. Petrovich and coeditor Roger White have an exhibition of their work opening at the Suburban in Chicago on March 4.
PAPER MONUMENT’S FIRST BOOK, I Like Your Work: Art and Etiquette, ended up being kind of a sleeper hit, so we wanted to follow it up with something similar—but better. As Roger White, my coeditor, and I get older, we find ourselves in more teaching situations than strictly social ones, so an art-school book seemed like a natural progression. But unlike art-world manners—which almost nobody had talked about publicly—art pedagogy is a hot topic, so we had to find our own take on the subject.
There were a lot of informative books on the theory and history of art school, but we wanted to make something more practical and candid, a document that maintained the texture of the everyday experience but also served as an intervention. So we had a quixotic vision, but no structure. The more we thought about it, the more overwhelming it seemed, until we suddenly remembered how you efficiently solve complex group problems while teaching—you come up with a killer assignment. The beauty of the assignment is that it crystallizes and condenses various questions in the form of a shared experience, often yielding a surprising result. That was exactly what we wanted our book to do, so we came up with a simple prompt asking people to tell us about assignments.
We sent a note out to people who we thought were good teachers, or good storytellers, and told them to forward it along to people they knew. We initially got a lot of submissions from thirty-somethings on the East Coast, so in the second round we tried to reach out a bit, both generationally and geographically. We also solicited assignments from the self-taught, and from people that had been educated in other kinds of schools. A lot of people politely declined our invitation, but nobody who submitted was turned away. In the end we didn’t really get what we expected, which seemed appropriate for a book of art assignments.
Now we’re working on building a website that will be an interactive archive, which will hopefully make the project more useful and comprehensive. People will be able to search for assignments on different topics at different levels, and they’ll be able to add their own experiences with each assignment.
One good thing about art school is that it’s incredibly compact and pressurized, but that’s also the bad thing: It’s only available to certain people in certain times and places. (Plus, you can only do it once, it goes by in a flash, and the debt can last for decades.) The overall organization of art school, its tremendous expense, its questionable interactions with the outside world—these are all things we would like to improve and reform, and maybe this book is a step in that direction.
Obviously it makes a huge difference whether you’re given a John Baldessari assignment by the man himself or someone else, so we’re not pretending his typewritten pages are any kind of substitute for being his student. At the same time, the vast majority of artists can’t be Baldessari’s students, so this is what he can offer. If art school is a restaurant—perhaps a very expensive restaurant, where it’s often hard to get a reservation—then what we’ve put together is more of a cookbook.
Some of the more famous assignments, like those in Paul Thek’s “Teaching Notes,” are already widely available, but the rest of what we collected gets passed on directly from teacher to student—or after the fact, in stories and rumors. In writing down a largely oral tradition, we’re definitely taking things out of context, but we hope it’s only temporary. The idea is that these assignments will quickly reenter different studios and classrooms, and thrive in their new surroundings.
We started this project before Occupy Wall Street emerged, but, like most people, we’ve been really glad to see the movement take hold, partly because it encourages everyone to come together and make a change in the spaces where they live and work. Art school happens to be where a lot of artists live and work, so we do feel like it’s important for us to look at what goes on there, and to see how we can make it better. Focusing on the assignments is just one way to do that, and I hope a lot of these individual assignments are pointing to that bigger, never-ending assignment.