Richard Maxwell and New York City Players, Untitled, 2012. Rehearsal view, Whitney Museum of American Art, April 24, 2012. Photo: Sascha van Riel.
Richard Maxwell is a New York–based playwright and theater director, and a recent recipient of a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. Maxwell wrote the text used in Sarah Michelson’s Devotion Study #1—The American Dancer, which recently won the Whitney Biennial’s Bucksbaum Award. His own contribution to the Whitney Biennial, a public rehearsal with his company, New York City Players, will run on the museum’s fourth floor from Wednesday, April 25 to Sunday, April 29.
WE DIDN’T WANT to just do a show on the Whitney’s fourth floor. It didn’t make sense to carry over the trappings of theater into a museum structure. It would be a forced fit. In my work, I embrace the environment and the circumstances. So you’ll see me working with four or five actors, a set designer, a costume designer, and some other folks. We’re rehearsing our next play. It’s a real work, not something we’re drumming up for the biennial.
Is this rehearsal process itself a piece? I’m not thinking about the esoteric aspects of it. At least I’m trying not to. It’s not my job, you know? Why not let the people who watch it make up their own minds about whether it belongs there or not? That’s the kind of contractual question my work poses to any audience. Do you think this is worthy of being here?
We were doing table work on the script this past week. And I’ve played around with some staging ideas. It’s something that I’m still writing. That’s one of the main features I think people will see: me working on the text with the actors. Changes on the fly, things like that. A lot of pencil and paper in hand, script pages flying.
One of the great tenets of theater—of any live performance I guess—is that anything can happen. I talk with actors about being in a place of readiness, to not deny or ignore the room. I think it’s a good frame of mind to get into. To troubleshoot what could happen ahead of time doesn’t make sense to me.
Rehearsal is getting used to the idea of repeating. I think if we only had to do this once—say the story was written and somehow we were able to present this as a one-time event—my shows would look a lot different. Not just because of the time factor, but because of the way that performers behave. There’s something to this fact that we have to repeat something. I don’t have a problem with realism—of trying to pretend you’re someone else, this character written on a page—if it’s only going to happen one time. I think that’s why I accept realism in acting in films. It fits the frame. But it feels more honest to say to the people that are going to watch a theatrical production, “Look, we know we’ve repeated this. We’re not going to put any energy into pretending that this is the first time it’s happened.” I think about rehearsal as a way of reckoning the fact that we’re going to repeat.
I feel like repetition also has something to do with being the best that you can be. Why are there lines, for example? Why have actors learn lines? It’s something tangible that you can master. In storytelling, it’s nicer to watch people who know their lines than those reading from a page. I don’t know if I can defend that. Maybe by saying, we can do it, so let’s do it, let’s master that.
The project we’re beginning here has no fixed deadlines, so we can take our time, but we are all working toward a final production that will happen . . . I don’t know when, maybe five years down the road. I think it’s good for the actors to experience working in public. That’s ultimately our goal. You know, we don’t do this for ourselves.
Jeremy Deller, Sacrilege, 2012, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.
The British artist Jeremy Deller is well known for his large-scale ambitious works that draw inspiration from social rituals and history. Sacrilege, his first public project in Scotland, will debut at the 2012 Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art on April 20 and will be on view until May 7 on Glasgow Green. The work will then travel to the Olympics in London this summer.
FOR SACRILEGE, I wanted to come up with a way for the public to interact with a very large work, and I also wanted to create something specifically about Stonehenge, and by association our ancestors. I had been thinking about how to do this for a long time and decided it would be best to create an inflatable replica of the prehistoric site. Visitors will be invited to jump and play inside of it.
Stonehenge is actually very big, but it’s hard to tell since it’s been roped off since 1977. You usually can’t get very close to it. I see that restriction as an opportunity. Glasgow Green is also very large. So making this plastic replica at life size—at one hundred and forty feet wide—in public space will give visitors an idea of how big Stonehenge really is. But the point is also for it to be a pleasant experience. The piece has an inflatable floor; otherwise you wouldn’t be able to bounce on it. I’m not going to be bouncing around in it all the time, though.
There are a lot of replicas of Stonehenge around the world, so it’s not unusual to make a replica of it. There’s a very good one in China, actually—at least the picture of it online looks amazing. What I’m doing is nothing new, except the inflatable part maybe. Anyway, Stonehenge is just one of those things that belongs to the world.
We’re still negotiating where it will be located during the Olympics, but for now the plan is for the work to go on a tour of the boroughs of London and around the UK. I’ve always thought that a good deal of public or community art is pompous and has too many lofty aims. I just wanted to make something that could be enjoyed and also be a bit silly. I think we elevate artists too much, to the point where they believe their own hype and think they are truly special and important. In the UK we especially suffer from this.
Sacrilege is playful and cheeky. The title is a way is to ward off any criticism—some will think that it is just that, a sacrilege, so why not call it that? One intended outcome is laughter, perhaps a few tears, and certainly enjoyment, though not necessarily in that order. For me at least it is also a nod to what I would call the “freak out” tendency in UK culture: Hawkwind, Bruce Lacey, and Ken Russell being its best exponents.
Daniel Duford is a Portland, Oregon–based artist and writer. His latest ceramics, which he discusses below, are featured in the exhibition “Portland2012: A Biennial of Contemporary Art,” presented by Disjecta and curated by Prudence F. Roberts. Duford’s work is on view through May 19 at the White Box.
WHEN I MOVED TO PORTLAND from New Mexico in the late 1990s, I was creating sculptural clay vessels and drawings. The vessels referenced Northwest Coast feast bowls and burial canoes, earth architecture, and geology. The surfaces looked ripped, charred, and occasionally fleshy. In New Mexico, the integration of indigenous Hispanic and European histories, not to mention the geology—striped and splendid for all to see—really changed me. I worked for a while with Jicarilla Apache potter Felipe Ortega in La Madera, digging clay and living in his adobe house with no running water or electricity. It was magical.
The shape of a ceramic vessel is a form of embodied knowledge. I started using majolica because I could create such vivid, painterly contrasts between the white glaze and rough red clay. I was also interested in its roots in Renaissance ceramics. This rich tradition grew out of a European desire for Chinese porcelain, but lacking the technical knowledge to make porcelain themselves, European artists developed opaque white glazes. My recent body of work is influenced by this history, particularly Delftware and the Dutch trade empire in America. The inherent violence and uncertainty that accompany a nation’s manifestation in the world breeds an enormous amount of self-doubt. My vessels explore the contradictory states, such as uncertainty and arrogance, that arise from this process.
I’ve created vessels for years, but certain myths and stories have sparked my desire to breathe life into them. I read Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay while I was working at a residential treatment center for boys. I realized that I’d been making golems for a very long time, and that for me, they were a meditation on the relationship between strength and power. The myth of the golem became the guiding metaphor for an ongoing body of work. The many faces of masculinity are also very important to my output. What is a man? What is a hero?
Vessels, myth, the written word, and narrative are my foundations. Because of my work with comics, I learned the value of sequential imagery. I see comic cells like ceramic shards that possess a physical dimension—they can be manipulated and assembled, spatially, to enrich a narrative and connect it to other physical objects. I think this concept has been with me from my earliest days working with ceramics, and has shaped my relationship to narrative. The vessel represents the confluence of the domestic (storage jars), the temporal (the ashes of a loved one), and the eternal (ritual and ceremony).
Some of the vessels and pots I make I also use, and that’s when they come alive. The cake plate Pyrrhic Victory contains an image of one of General Custer’s horses; it adorns the object with a kind of stateliness. But when someone uses the plate for sticky buns or Bundt cake—then what? I want to reside in the interstices between fine art, craft, and comics, searching for ruptures and spillovers. It enlivens the whole field to let wild cultivars breed into the monoculture.
Farrah Karapetian, Riot Police, 2011, five chromogenic photograms, overall 8 x 13’.
Farrah Karapetian is an artist who works with cameraless photography and sculpture. She lives and works in Los Angeles, where her solo show “Representation3” opens on April 14 at Roberts & Tilton, and her ongoing project Student Body Politic will be shown at the Vincent Price Art Museum from May 22 through August 17. Here, Karapetian discusses her photogram process and the nature of the photographic signifier in her reenactments of pictures of current events.
I STOPPED USING CAMERAS IN 2002. Up to that point, I made pictures that emphasized the formal qualities of the photographic print through abstraction. I then went to Kosovo to photograph a story that my friend was writing for Metropolis on the politics of architecture within the city. When I came back, I spent hours in the darkroom trying to be faithful to the landscape of burned villages and UNMIK troops. I got really frustrated and slammed a small fan down on the enlarger table, accidentally hitting the button that turned on the light. That was my first photogram: a rocky cliff blocked by the shadow of a fan.
When I started graduate school at UCLA a few years later, the real space of my studio led me to consider how a photograph actually occupies space: The shadows I had been using to make imagery were in fact falling against walls and floors. I began to see pictorial space in sculptural space, sometimes recognizing this phenomenon in pictures from the news: A section of highway falls and the flat plane of asphalt with its painted stripes seems to be a picture dripping off of its frame; shadows are burnt into walls in Hiroshima; bodies of illegal immigrants register on backscatter scans of trucks crossing the border.
I admire strong documentary photography, but I also want to critique it: Does it really communicate what it was like to be under fire or in a hurricane? I began to try to re-create these scenarios, but without the conventional attitude towards the photograph’s role in historythat it is documentary, accurate, or evidence-oriented.
Many of the pictures I’ve worked with this year have been images of protest. I’ve long been attracted to the marks people make on architecture to express their concerns, in part because the marks I make through photogramming express mine. I now use sculpturally or digitally constructed elements to achieve pictorial and architectural effects that go beyond what found objects or light alone can do. My photograms are planned and constructed up until the moment of exposure, at which point chance intervenes. The resulting image is more of a provocative metaphor than a sober document.
What you see in the gallery is incredibly different from the thing I saw in the newspaper. I am remaking a picture of a child’s bedroom that was destroyed in a tornado. In the end, my picture of the destroyed bedroom is stripped of all personal affective associations. It is a structure, with some pictorial detail, and the structure itself suggests vulnerability. I would never pretend to have been through a tornado, but I have moved my family through foreclosure, helped a friend’s family climb through their garage to take the floorboards and furniture from their foreclosure, helped partners and friends through times of houselessness, and been nomadic myself. When I was a child, my family would get Realtors’ lists and visit houses we knew we couldn’t afford, projecting ourselves into rooms and lives we wouldn’t have. How much can I abstract an image, how much can I leave out, in order for viewers to have their own associations? I am betting on baggage, even as I’m eliminating it.
Left: Zoe Leonard, Arkwright Road (detail), 2012, lens, darkened room, dimensions variable. Installation view.
Zoe Leonard has been producing photographic works and installations since the 1980s. Two years ago, she began transforming exhibition spaces into camera obscuras, turning interiors into darkened chambers that reflected the illuminated scenes outside. A new solo show by Leonard at the Camden Arts Centre in London, “Observation Point,” includes a new camera obscura, along with a series of “Sun Photographs” and an installation of postcards. The exhibition runs through June 24, 2012.
IN RECENT YEARS I’ve been asking myself basic questions about what photography is; what a photograph is and what it does. A couple of years ago I started teaching, and it seemed to me that the conversation around photography had gotten stuck in certain binaries: analog versus digital or subject versus material. I found myself trying to find a way to open up the conversation, to think about photography in a more expansive way. At the end of that first summer of teaching, I woke up one morning thinking: I want to make a camera obscura. And so I just did it for myself in my studio, and since then I’ve been working with them. I’m thinking about it not so much as a way to take a picture but as a way to create a public space where we can think about looking. Visitors enter a darkened room and see an image spilling into the room and covering the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. It is an image of what is happening across the street, right outside the gallery. It is in motion, ephemeral, constantly changing. You hear the sounds of the street, the traffic. In Camden, there is a building under construction directly across the way, so you can see the scaffolding, people working, the cranes moving. Over the course of the show, the view will change.
For the show at Camden I approach photographic seeing in three different ways, as experience, image, and object. In one space is the camera obscura installation, in another a group of new photographs I’ve taken of the sun, and in a third a sculpture using found postcards. The title of the show, “Observation Point,” comes from a diptych of postcards that are also in the show: Both depict a broad view over a canyon and a small stone hut labeled “Observation Point.” This piece encapsulates a lot for me about how we organize our looking. We privilege certain views over others, and this interests me not only within the realm of photography but also as a larger metaphor for the way certain viewpoints are privileged in our society and how dominant views are taken for granted.
The idea of vantage point and perspective has been in my work probably from the very start. For me these questions around the frame are not just aesthetic questions; they are connected to bigger issues that are political and social, questions around subjectivity. I’m interested in making my subjectivity apparent and transparent, keeping the frame right up front. So, rather than saying, “This is how the world is,” I’m saying, “This is how I see it.” When you admit that it’s just your point of view, there is a kind of implied question in turn: “Well, how do you see it?”
I think this is also a way of questioning authoritarian or monolithic constructions of reality, beauty, and truth. Photography has been in service to many different agendas since its inception. It is most often talked about in terms of its subject content, i.e., what a picture is of, rather than where it is from or what it actually looks like. Yet there is so much going on materially in photographs, and all of that plays into how we experience a picture and what it communicates to us. In this new work, I’ve taken pictures turning the camera directly toward the sun. The subject, the sun, is there but you can’t really see it. The prints are subtle and soft; there is barely an image at all. In these prints, I am trying to maintain a taut balance between the image of the sun and the various signs of process: the things that happen during shooting––the flare and glare on the lens––and then what happens in the darkroom later––the grain, the little pinpoints of hair or dust. These disruptions are there to keep you aware of it as a photograph, to keep you aware of your own looking.
In the third space, along with Observation Point/Observation Point, I’m showing a new sculpture. The piece comprises around six thousand found postcards of Niagara Falls in stacks on a table. Each stack is of a certain view onto the falls, and stacks are placed in relation to their vantage point of the falls, laid out in a way that mimics a map or an aerial view of the falls. Although all the photographs are of the same place, they do not resolve into one cohesive picture, but instead produce a kind of abstract topography. For me, this work brings up questions of cartography, organization, collecting, control, and surveying. Of course, the postcards are also familiar objects, cheap and readily available. Many of these cards are used, with postal marks visible; they vividly show how we communicate with each other through images, how we want to say: “This is where I am.”
Curator and critic Douglas Crimp is a professor of art history at the University of Rochester. His latest book, “Our Kind of Movie”: The Films of Andy Warhol, which has just been published by MIT Press, is a collection of essays about Andy Warhol’s films, and the first book-length study of Warhol’s cinematic corpus since the artist pulled his movies from distribution in the early 1970s. Here Crimp explains how Warhol’s films show us a different side of Warhol, and addresses the works’ relationship to queer culture. On April 2 at 7 PM, The Kitchen will present an evening of readings and screenings related to the book.
THROUGHOUT THE PERIOD that I was chiefly writing about AIDS and queer politics—between the special issue of October on AIDS in 1987 and the completion of my book Melancholia and Moralism in 2001—I was toying with the idea of writing a memoir of New York in the 1970s, encouraged by younger friends in the AIDS movement who felt that the radical queer culture prior to the onset of AIDS was being eclipsed by a reactionary “gay-liberation-led-to-AIDS” narrative. I arrived in New York in 1967, two years before the Stonewall rebellion, and the first queer culture I participated in was the one I found in the back room of Max’s Kansas City, the one made up of the Factory crowd and people from the Play-House of the Ridiculous. So I thought of beginning the memoir with a sort of archaeology of that world through interpretations of artworks, pieces by a range of underground filmmakers and playwrights. I began with Warhol’s Blow Job, for no other reason than that it is a work I love, and I quickly realized that his films would be my sole subject. I watched a number of them to write the essay; I immediately felt like I had found a queer treasure trove.
Warhol never pretended that he was the sole author of his work; on the contrary, he insisted that he adopted others’ ideas, depended on others’ talent, made his work in the company of others—hence the our of “Our Kind of Movie.” His engagement with a wide array of people has been, I think, too simply characterized as exploitative. Certainly Warhol could be exploitative, but he was also genuinely open to and interested in others. One of my chapters, “Coming Together to Stay Apart,” is about Warhol’s collaboration with Theatre of the Ridiculous playwright Ronald Tavel, who wrote the scenarios for a number of Warhol’s films in 1965–66, among them Screen Test No. 2, The Life of Juanita Castro, Horse, Kitchen, Vinyl, and Hedy. These are among Warhol’s best-known and most acclaimed films, and yet many people have never heard of Tavel. One of my goals is to recuperate the importance of Tavel’s participation, but more important, I contend that the quality of these films is a result of Warhol and Tavel deliberately working at cross-purposes, which allows both of them to be present simultaneously in the films, “misfitting together.”
Warhol always talked about being interested in “the kids,” what “the kids” were doing. He seems not to have been particularly interested in predecessors. There are a couple of exceptions: Duchamp, Dalí. Paul Swan is one of the very few old people in Warhol’s films, and I think it was Swan’s odd defiance of his actual old age that intrigued Warhol. An eighty-two-year-old who is happy to appear on camera in a G-string makes for a pretty good subject. Of course, it’s impossible to define Warhol’s aesthetic because it kept shifting. Between an early silent film such as Blow Job, which is a static close-up of a face for some forty minutes, and a sound film like Hedy, where Warhol’s camera hardly ever stops moving; between a simple conceptual idea like filming the Empire State Building from dusk until 2 AM and a complex experiment like the twelve-reel, double-screen, multiple-story, black-and-white and color Chelsea Girls, it’s hard to find a single aesthetic impulse except that of experimentation. Yes, the films tell a different story than do the classic Pop paintings, but by now this should hardly surprise us. The “Ladies and Gentlemen” paintings and prints tell yet another story, as does a, A Novel, or the 1950s shoe portraits, or the collection of photographs of cocks. Warhol was a protean artist—in filmmaking alone he was a protean artist.
I am as interested in the queerness of Warhol’s formal experimentation as I am in the queerness of the social world he represented—or rather I should say that, for me, a queer social world comes into view as a result of Warhol’s formal experimentation. I began this book because I wanted to combat the conservative turn in gay politics by returning to the radically queer culture I “grew up” in at the end of the 1960s. That conservative turn has in the meantime completely eclipsed the idea of queerness, if by queerness we mean new forms of relationality. I’m sure marriage is not what Warhol meant by “misfitting together.” The conservative turn began quite explicitly as a repudiation of sexual liberation and queer theory. “Our Kind of Movie” grows out of my involvement with queer theory, but it also returns me to a primary focus on aesthetics. From the essay on Blow Job forward, I have sought to show the relationship between queer ethics and queer aesthetics.