This summer, the New York–based artist Aura Rosenberg is participating in four group exhibitions in various cities across the US. The shows will present works made over the past twenty-five years, from her investigations into pornography to her photographs with children. Here Rosenberg discusses the evolution of these practices.
SOME OF MY WORK has been inspired by a curiously dated source: “The Afronomical Ways,” a black-light poster from 1972, which features fluorescent silhouettes of men and women posed in various sexual positions. Each position is supposed to represent a different sign of the zodiac, and each figure has an Afro. In the late 1980s, I made several body imprint paintings referencing that poster. I’ve recently returned to this work, but instead of using my own body, I’ve asked couples to make the imprints. Last spring, during the opening of my show at Sassa Trülzsch Gallery in Berlin, two dancers made one of these paintings that became part of the installation. This summer, Seth Kelly has included Sagittarius, a new work from the series, in “These Transitional Spaces,” the show he curated at Franklin Street Works in Stamford, Connecticut.
In 1988 I began to work primarily with photography and sculpture. I was sharing a summer house in the Catskills with some friends, and, with the woods nearby, I wanted to make something overtly fetishistic from the natural materials at hand. My friend Mike Ballou was dividing his time between making his own work––sculptures with porn images––and fishing for trout in a stream on the property. One day I noticed the way light hitting the rocks in this stream brought images to mind. So as a practical joke, I glued his porn clippings onto the rocks, covered them in resin, and put them back in the water for him to find. Struck by the contrast between the altered rocks and their natural setting, I started to photograph them. Robert Smithson’s essay “The Dialectical Landscape” inspired the title of this series: “The Dialectical Porn Rock.” Back in Manhattan, I started to see the rocks as things in themselves and arranged them indoors in a variety of configurations. When I moved to Berlin in 1991, this city—filled with monuments to its sometimes troubled past—became a new context for my rock works. The connection of sexuality and nature, however mediated, gave way to a sense of opposition vis-à-vis the body and its control by the state. This summer, I’ll be showing outdoor installations of “The Dialectical Porn Rock” for the first time, in “Creature from the Blue Lagoon,” the show that Bob Nickas curated at Martos Gallery in Bridgehampton, New York.
In 1989 my daughter Carmen was born, and two long-term projects involving childhood overtook my work with porn. I titled the first Berlin Childhood, after Walter Benjamin’s allegorical memoir of the same name, a collection of forty-two texts written when he was in exile from the Third Reich. For this work, I shot photos of contemporary Berlin to match Benjamin’s entries from half a century earlier. The subtext to this work was my own family’s flight from Germany and my return to raise my daughter there. The second project, “Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I?” is a series of photo portraits of children. As a gift, I had brought face paints for Carmen’s kindergarten in Berlin. Her teacher, Marie Schmitz, and the class had a lot of fun with them. For an exhibition at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, I chose to collaborate with Marie on portraits of the painted children. Back in New York, I wondered what it would look like if I asked artists to make these paintings, which I would again photograph. Of course, the artists I invited often approached portraiture via their own practices. The children, however, were not merely blank slates. Together, the artist, the child, and I shaped images that reflected us all. The series to date includes over eighty collaborations. Because this work questioned normative relations between adults and children, it was regarded as more transgressive than my porn work. For example, some saw Mike Kelley’s stylization of my daughter as a goth, or Laurie Simmons’s portrayal of her daughter Lena as a marionette, as abusive. Ironically, in the latter case, the idea was Lena’s. Three of these portraits will be included in “Too Old for Toys, Too Young for Boys,” a show at LA’s OHWOW gallery this summer, curated by Alex Gartenfeld.
With Carmen now grown up, I’ve gone back to working with pornography, to renegotiate aspects of this work that weren’t fully explored. The terms, however, have changed. Just as my work with childhood spans a period of changing attitudes toward images of children, so too is my focus on pornography tied to a period shift. When I googled some of the actors whose images I used before, a website called The Golden Age of Porn came up. My old source material has become a relic. Nevertheless, the sense of lost time intrigues me, and I titled a new series of paintings, drawn from the same material, “The Golden Age.”
This summer I’m also presenting a corner installation of porn rocks in “Buy My Bananas,” Julia Trotta’s selection of women artists working with sex and comedy, at Kate Werble Gallery’s Annex Space in New York. Together these various shows offer a sampling of my oeuvre in different contexts. Hopefully, the connections will register how my work has grown organically out of lived experience and how it mirrors changes in our culture at large concerning the intersection of childhood and sexuality. At the very least, they are encouraging me to reflect on these questions.
Aura Rosenberg, Skuta Helgason/Theodora, 2008, C-print, 40 x 30". From the series “Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I?,” 1996–2009.
Aura Rosenberg, Matt Keegan/Ben, 2007, C-print, 30 x 40". From the series “Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I?,” 1996–2009.
Aura Rosenberg, Leigh Ledare/Carmen, 2008, C-print, 30 x 40". From the series “Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I?,” 1996–2009.
Aura Rosenberg, John Miller/Joey, 1996–98, C-print, 40 x 30". From the series “Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I?,” 1996–2009.
Aura Rosenberg, James Siena/Joe/Carmen, 1996–98, C-print, 40 x 30". From the series “Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I?,” 1996–2009.
Aura Rosenberg, Fred Tomaselli/Desi, 2007, C-print, 40 x 30". From the series “Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I?,” 1996–2009.
Aura Rosenberg, Christopher William/Bram, 1996–98, C-print, 40 x 30". From the series “Who Am I? What Am I? Where Am I?,” 1996–2009.
The singular American artist Carolee Schneemann is perhaps best known for her expressive paintings, installations, films, and videos from the past five decades and their unwavering focus on identity, subjectivity, and sexuality. Born in 1939 in Fox Chase, Pennsylvania, she received her B.A. from Bard College and an M.F.A. from the University of Illinois. After moving to New York in 1961 with James Tenney, who was then a composer-in-residence at Bell Telephone Labs in New Jersey, Schneemann was introduced (via composers Philip Corner and Malcolm Goldstein) to the cofounders of the Judson Dance Theater. In the mid-1960s she produced some of her earliest performances with the group at Judson Church, including Newspaper Event, 1962; Lateral Splay, 1963; Chromelodeon, 1963; and Meat Joy, 1964, and played as Manet’s Olympia in Robert Morris’s Site, 1964.
As part of artforum.com’s interview series to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the first concerts at Judson, Schneemann here discusses her “love affair” with her collaborators and “the startling erotic ritual” that was Meat Joy.
Carolee Schneemann interviewed at her home in upstate New York on June 13, 2012.
To accompany her interview, Schneemann provided the following performance sketches from her personal archives.
Left and right: William Wegman, untitled, 1993, silver gelatin print, 20 x 16”.
Throughout his career, William Wegman has consistently created drawings, paintings, photographs, and videos about and within the natural world. From July 13 to October 21, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art will present “Hello Nature,” an exhibition featuring some thirty years of work inspired by Maine, where the artist spends his summers. Here Wegman discusses his long-standing relationship with nature and how it has influenced his work.
I GREW UP IN RURAL WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS in the 1940s and ’50s in an era when parental supervision wasn’t so important. We didn’t have play dates. We were on our own. In the summer I rarely slept inside—I was always in a hut I built or on some adventurous camping trip with buddies. You could just take a thirty-mile bike trip and maybe come home that night, maybe not. People didn’t worry about kidnapping. You could even hitchhike. I’m sure it was dangerous, but no one really knew that. It was a great time to be a kid. I played baseball and hockey and swam in the sandstone quarries that were in everyone’s backyard. I had a paper route. I mowed lawns. I wished I was an Indian, having read about them in the Book of Knowledge. I painted pictures of Indians using pigment made from berries. Some of my friends hunted. I fished. I knew every pond and brook you could bike or walk to. Waters beyond beckoned.
I probably first heard of Rangeley, Maine, in an issue of Field and Stream circa l955. President Eisenhower had famously fished a stream there around that time. My best fishing buddy Donald, the first of us to turn sixteen and therefore the first to drive legally, got his driver’s license and we drove there with two other teenagers. I was fourteen. It was an all-day trip from our town in Massachusetts. On the twelve-mile dirt road to Kennebago Lake, the most alluring of the Rangeley Lakes, we hit a rock and disabled our car. Bud Russell put us up at his camp, the Kennebago Lake Club, and treated us royally. He even had our car fixed. We were shown incredible fishing spots. It was a memorable eight days in l957.
Then I went to high school, college, and grad school. In l970 I moved to LA, got a dog, fished the Sierras and rivers near by. My dog Man Ray, besides being an amazing photo and video subject, was a great fishing companion. He was very respectful of the water, never disturbing the pools. A few years later I moved to New York City and fished the classic Long Island, Catskill, and Adirondack streams.
In l978, after a spell of exploring nearly every lake and river in the Northeast, I found myself in Rangeley again. I ended up buying a cabin on a small lake in the Rangeley region and ten years later an old lodge across from it, which, seven dogs later, I continue to work on and in.
Left: Yvonne Rainer, The Mind Is a Muscle (first version), 1966. Performance view, Judson Church, New York, NY, May 24, 1966. Right: Yvonne Rainer, Parts of Some Sextets, 1965. Performance view, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, March 6, 1965. Robert Morris, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, Tony Holder, Sally Gross, Robert Rauschenberg, Judith Dunn, and Joseph Schlichter. Photos: Peter Moore © Estate of Peter Moore / VAGA.
The choreographer, dancer, writer, and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer was born in San Francisco in 1934 and moved to New York in the 1950s, where she helped cofound the Judson Dance Theater in 1962. This summer marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first concerts at Judson Church, and to commemorate the occasion, artforum.com is presenting a series of interviews with key participants in the group.
JUDSON’S IN MY GENES! I mean probably more than for the others. It was such a defining period for me. I came to New York in 1956 to study at the Herbert Berghof School of Acting. I studied with Lee Grant, who at that time was blacklisted because of her leftist politics. (Sandy Dennis, then seventeen, was in the same class.) I was in my early twenties, and I was no good. Objectively speaking, I never had a talent for mimesis.
A musician friend of mine was going to a dance class. She said it would be good for my acting, and I went to this class in the Village taught by Edith Stephen. She had studied African dance and Humphrey-Weidman technique, so it was very eclectic. After the first class, I asked her for an evaluation. She said, “Well, you’re not very turned out, but you’re very strong.” I loved it. I loved jumping around. I had a huge amount of energy, strong legs, and I luckily had no idea how structurally ill-adapted I was for traditional dance of any kind. I was ignorant of that until relatively recently.
At that time, Merce Cunningham didn’t have a studio of his own, and he would rent space from Edith. I would go there early and peek through the curtains, and he would be rehearsing by himself. It was like he was on ice. It was so beautiful. So when I began to use running in my early work, I made a comparison to that freedom, that pleasure in movement that I attributed to him when I first saw him—it was like the feeling I had when I ran.
After Edith, I studied for a year with Martha Graham. I slowly gravitated toward John Cage and Cunningham, and I studied with Merce for eight years and took ballet classes. But very early, I knew that I would not be accepted in any professional dance company, and that if I wanted to continue dancing, I’d have to make my own work, despite the fact that, unexpectedly, James Waring, that great choreographer of mismatched dancers, invited me into his company. I worked with him from 1961 to 1963.
In 1960, Robert Dunn, who was a kind of acolyte of Cage, was playing the piano for Merce’s classes. I think Cage induced him to teach some kind of workshop in Merce’s studio. There were five of us in the workshop that first year, including Simone Forti and Steve Paxton—Steve was already dancing with Cunningham. The initial basis of the class was analyzing Cage’s chance procedures for Fontana Mix. We all began to make work. In the following year, four more people came in. Then in 1962, some of us tried out for this annual dance concert that took place at the 92nd Street Y. We auditioned before a jury of three choreographers, and we were all turned down: Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown, Steve, and I. None of us made the grade.
We realized that we had to do something on our own if we wanted to show our work publicly. I was already going down to Judson Church to see productions by the Poet’s Theater there. Judson had an art gallery, too, where Claes Oldenburg and Robert Whitman and Allan Kaprow were showing work. The director was Howard Moody, this ex-marine who was the chief minister of the place—a very progressive guy. Al Carmine was the artistic director. I arranged for some of us to show Al what we were doing, and he invited us in. Later, he would say, “I didn’t quite know what I was looking at, but I sensed that it was important.” That’s how the first concert of dance at Judson took place, on July 6 of 1962. And we were launched!
I think Steve’s work was the most far-out—and kind of arcane—of everything that went on there. His stuff was the most resistant to pleasureful expectations. He was physically so gifted but absolutely refused to exploit these gifts. I can describe a dance that kind of demonstrates this. It was called Afternoon (1963). Six of us rehearsed this very difficult, Cunningham-esque movement. Remember: I had to work very hard against the strictures of my body to master this technique. And I worked my ass off to learn these steps. The dance was to be shown in a forest in New Jersey, and the audience was bused out. It took place after a rain on very mushy ground, so it was impossible to keep your balance and to do the steps as he had taught them in the studio. I was outraged. But of course it was totally deliberate on his part. He knew that the surface would affect the quality of the movement. And that’s what he was interested in, this destruction of virtuosic movement. That was his mentality, and it was very hard for a lot of people to take. Some people might say this was the spirit of Judson, but Steve was definitely in the vanguard of all the multifaceted work that emerged from the Judson cauldron.
Katie Holten is an Irish-born, New York–based multimedia artist whose work explores the relationship between human beings and the natural environment. She represented Ireland at the 2003 Venice Biennale and in 2009 created Tree Museum, a public artwork celebrating the centennial of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. She was recently selected by the New Orleans Museum of Art to create a site-specific installation for the institution’s Great Hall Project series. “Drawn to the Edge” opened June 15 and will be on view through September 9.
I LOVE MAPS. I’m drawn to the macro and micro view of things—self-similar patterns found on different scales, across the physical landscape as well as through time. The shape of river deltas is found to repeat at scales all the way down to cracks in the mud. We see this in man-made as well as organic structures—a simple underlying mathematics to it all.
When I was invited to create a work for New Orleans, I immediately began thinking of those “edges” where the man-made meets the organic; where today meets yesterday, ten thousand years ago, and tomorrow; and where solid meets liquid meets air. I met locals who work with land and water and I went on expeditions to places like Cocodrie and Venice, Louisiana. I saw the extent of the problems inherent in this landscape, which is literally disappearing. Much of this is due to oil and gas prospectors who cut channels through the wetlands, allowing salt water in. As the salt water spreads, the land dies. I kept finding myself standing at the edge of the land, looking at where the water and earth touch. Silence was all around and I felt a palpable sense of foreboding.
Because I couldn’t place anything on the floor or walls of the Great Hall—as they often hold events there—I proposed suspending massive drawings from the ceiling that could be lowered to ground level, acting as walls within the space. The double-sided drawings, made on canvas, are twelve feet tall and range from sixteen to thirty-six feet long. They became sculptural in their scale. I used simple materials—graphite, charcoal, chalk, black oil stick, and sediment.
Getting up in the air to see everything from above was essential. I took hundreds of aerial photographs. Zooming in on New Orleans and flying south with Google Earth, it’s easy to spot man-made channels—all the straight lines. I used this as an aesthetic strategy—hanging the drawings to form straight lines and channels that confront visitors as soon as they enter the museum. When you walk into the Great Hall, a thirty-six-foot canvas blocks your path. It changes how you enter and navigate the museum. In this sense it’s also an architectural project.
It was important to give titles that could place the viewer within a narrative. For example, one drawing looks like a night sky, but the title is Constellations (maps of Louisiana oil and gas wells), so you realize that each of the many thousands of little dots is a well—the seemingly cosmic turns out to be a human-made manifestation of the underlying geology. I made the drawing using chalk from the Cretaceous era, which I collected from the former ocean floor in Kansas—a place intrinsically linked to southern Louisiana. Water from half of the US finds its way down the Mississippi River, carrying sediment from as far away as Pennsylvania and Montana—the same sediment that actually formed the land that is now New Orleans.
Time feeds the entire project, and in many ways the drawings are an attempt to capture it. The drawing Found Islands depicts, on one side, an island that existed 4,500 years ago where New Orleans is today, while the other side features a contemporary island formed by the combined processes of man-made events, sediment accumulation, and encroaching salt water. City (New Orleans) is an animated drawing that shows the city expanding and contracting back to its origins in an endless loop. The speed is synced to mimic the pace of a human breath—the course of several centuries is condensed to seven seconds.
Last year, independent curator and writer Jessamyn Fiore organized the exhibition “112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970–1974)” at David Zwirner Gallery, which brought together many of the key works shown in the landmark noncommercial venue. A new book copublished this month by Zwirner and Radius Books shares the title of that exhibition and features extensive interviews with many of the participating artists. On Thursday, July 26, Fiore will discuss her research at 192 Books.
AFTER RUNNING THISISNOTASHOP, a small alternative art space in Ireland, I found myself yearning for a few historic examples of similar independent exhibition venues for inspiration, and that’s when I began investigating 112 Greene Street. I was already quite familiar with one of its founders, Gordon Matta-Clark; my mother, Jane Crawford, is his widow, and I basically grew up with his estate. But I was surprised to discover a scarcity of published articles about the history of the venue. There is one lovely book by Robyn Brentano, which she compiled between 1978 and 1980, when the organization left Greene Street and became White Columns. Unfortunately today that text is out of print. I ended up writing my master’s thesis at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin on 112 Greene Street, and in doing so I discovered a treasure trove of fascinating stories from interviews with the original artists, which made me I realize how important these primary resources are. It only made sense to have this book take the form of an oral history.
Today 112 Greene Street exists mainly as legend, since so much of the art that was shown there was ephemeral or destroyed. There are some incredible documentary images, but the bulk of the information about the space really comes from the recollections of the vibrant artistic community who worked, lived, ate, and partied there. They used the building as their own creative laboratory, as a site to experiment with multidisciplinary forms of practice. It’s really their stories that capture the essence of that moment. It was important for me to make a primary resource of those narratives for future curators and researchers to take from and use for their own projects. But this book is really just scratching the surface. It would be exciting to see it inspire more exploration about not only 112 Greene Street but other spaces like it, particularly in connection to those that exist now, since they play an essential role in supporting artists and deserve recognition.
The amount and diversity of work that happened at 112 Greene Street in such a short time is truly humbling, and that’s one reason I wanted to include the time line in the book. In the four years I focus on—its earliest years—you can see that hundreds of artists passed through the space. So many of the great stories in the book about these artists are centered around Jeffrey Lew. He was like the ringleader of a circus there, making it a place where really interesting things could happen. For instance, he did not care about having a pristine space; he left it rough so you could dig holes in the basement and carve holes in the walls. George Trakas did a piece in 1970 where he actually had a sculpture come up through the floor from the basement to the first floor. Though Jeffery was irked at first, he grew to love that work, and many said that piece was a key moment in the venue’s history.
Another important point is that 112 Greene Street was just one in a constellation of alternative venues. Nearby, at Chatham Square, Tina Girouard, Mary Heilmann, and Richard Landry were renting a building where they hosted large dinner parties with music and dance performance. Simultaneously, Carol Goodden, Matta-Clark, and Girouard were organizing the restaurant Food. The latter became a gathering place for the community while also giving employment to those who needed it and providing a venue for food performance. When it came to artmaking and exhibitions, they would help each other out and critique each other’s work. It becomes clear in the book how essential that networking and peer review was to some of the artists in strengthening their practice and helping them pursue successful careers.
Another aspect that stood out to me during my research was the important role that women played at 112 Greene Street, in not only producing so many shows there but also contributing greatly to the running of the space. Rachel Wood was Jeffery’s wife and she was involved in the day-to-day operations, as was the artist Suzanne Harris, who also lived in the building with her husband, Paul. I think her work is some of the most exciting from that era, but sadly it has been largely ignored by art history. I tried to push Girouard’s and Harris’s art to the forefront in the show at David Zwirner, and I hope that through this book art historians will become more interested in their output. One of my most sincere wishes is that these two artists get a second look. They are both among the great, but unfortunately often forgotten, artists of that generation.