William Pope.L, Trinket, 2008, American flag, flagpole, finial, industrial fans, lighting system, dimensions variable. Installation view, Grand Arts, Kansas City, 2008. © Pope.L Photo: E.G. Shempf.
A mainstay of performance and installation art since the 1970s, William Pope.L will open the largest museum show of his work to date at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, on March 20, 2015. Trinket, 2008, the centerpiece work, and also the title of the show, is a large-scale American flag that will be blown continuously during the museum’s public hours by a bank of industrial fans. Here, Pope.L discusses the show, which runs until June 28, 2015.
AN EXHIBITION TITLE can function in various ways: a prompt, pr, or a means to point at something far or near. A broken horizon the sentence incompletus . . . An unused title I entertained was: “Polis or the Garden or Human Nature in Action” . . .
Trinket. TRINKET. It’s the largest work in the show so . . . but the show ain’t about a flag, it’s about, about our mouse nature. How we blot out the sky with our paw and think we’ve vanquished the sun . . .
A Flag points a nation. A flag is an amulet—doo-rag symbol for national booty. Trinkets suggest a past time. The American flag suggests a past-time. It’s what we do when we are not thinking . . .
It’s an object that rifts. It’s a division of—. It’s a dissection of—. It cleaves desire into a design that masquerades as rationality. We call this symbolic capital . . .
A trinket is a bauble, a trifle, shiny and worthless to whom? The American flag is a kind of wampum into our favorite darkness . . .
An exhibition is a favorite darkness. A way of working out a set; an ensemble of effects, things, and circumstances. It’s a hinged thing, always a staged thing (Alas + shit . . .). It’s a perambulation where people witness, encounter, fabulate a world within a world. And that’s the rub I love to negotiate. This drive we have to perform our exhibition-wanking. We go to exhibitions so we can make something of them, so we can make something of ourselves. Use determines meaning . . .
In the show, there are twenty-four paintings, part of a project called “Skin Set” begun in 1997 as mostly drawings. Now painting and film and sculpture and ether . . . The current work is a series which bleats the word fuschia in refrain. For example, “Fuschia Negro,” “Fuschia Ebola,” “Fuschia Abracadabra,” etc etc. Writing is everywhere in my nerves, why not painting? Like performance, writing durates; an act of enduring; want to make it more physical, more ham-fisted lyrical—there are things to be done with words that have nothing to do with paint. It’s like crawling when you can walk . . .
I was a bit overwhelmed by being chosen to appear on the cover of Artforum recently. I was humbled, surprised, flattered, devastated being juxtaposed in an article with Eric Garner, our shame, his death. Apparently AF doesn’t disclose covers before they’re hatched. I realize something. I—I—this sort of thing always seems to happen outside of me. It’s as if someone is performing my blackness for me. All us Eric. Silly AF. It’s funny about smart people—they know a lot and they don’t know anything at all . . .
Tania Bruguera, El susurro de Tatlin #6 (Versión La Habana) (Tatlin's Whisper #6 [Havana Version]), 2009. Performance view.
Artist Tania Bruguera was detained in Havana on December 30, 2014, after announcing her intent to restage her 2009 work Tatlin’s Whisper (#6)—in which individuals are able to talk about freedom of speech at a public podium—in the city’s Plaza de la Revolución without being granted official approval. Here, Bruguera speaks from Cuba, her homeland, about the evolution of the project, which has now become, she says, an “endurance performance.” Bruguera cannot leave Cuba until her passport is released by Cuban authorities, which will not occur until after she stands trial for inciting public disorder and is proven not guilty. The prosecution on the case has just extended discovery from ten days to sixty and is capable, under Cuban law, to extend it up to six months.
I AM A PANGAEA-IST. I have never agreed with the categories of “expat,” “Cuban-American,” or “authentic Cuban” art; they were decided upon by politicians to create a false sense of superiority and by gallerists to profit from politics.
Cuba is an island. It is also a utopia—a place people have consistently looked to political inspiration. With the apparently imminent arrival of American tourists and capitalists, Cuba is now once again susceptible to change. This is a moment that strongly challenges the image we Cubans have had of our country for more than half a century. It could be an opportunity to transform Cuba into a global nation, with a government inclusive of people from many different countries—to become a beacon for global citizenship. But given the current situation, it appears that this reestablishment of Cuban-US relations will instead just be another exercise in formalism based in economic gain. I don’t want to see Jeff Koons in Cuba; I want to see the Guerrilla Girls, Hans Haacke, and Gulf Labor, as well as art that is not a product but that offers a space to generate justice.
#YoTambiénExijo (I Also Demand) is a collective effort that proposed restaging a previous artwork of mine—Tatlin’s Whisper #6—under new political circumstances. The work is part of a series, also called “Tatlin’s Whisper,” wherein I take a recurrent image or incident in the press and I bring it alive for an audience that has no direct relationship with the reported original event. I create a firsthand experience that can replace the anesthetization created by the media with a sense of responsibility, to call forth an emotional reaction to something that has not happened to you (solidarity) or that could happen to you one day (rehearsal). The work aims to transform audience members into active citizens.
#YoTambiénExijo has two simultaneous public spaces: For Cubans outside the country, the public space is online, on the Internet platforms I’ve used to promote the project; for Cubans in the country, it is the city streets. Both now share an inverted image of the Plaza de la Revolución, a site where Cubans have heard talks from government officials since 1959 and where they can now, through this performance, imagine themselves speaking while government officials listen.
There are various ways to approach politics in art. Most frequently, artists denounce or visualize problems, make art a tool to build small-scale prototypes of a different society, or directly challenge the status quo by generating a political situation. From my perspective, it is a misrepresentation when the mere use of an image of a politician or of a political event is automatically deemed “political art.” Political art is uncomfortable knowledge. It is not art of the past or of the present but of the future. I often appropriate power’s tools: a newspaper (information), a school (education), and now I’m working with political desire.
Power’s response to this proposed iteration of Tatlin’s Whisper #6 served as a way to show the world how the Cuban government operates against dissents and critiques it can’t control. The Cuban government has taken over the work, and the battle has now become about the government wanting to become the sole author of the work, while I try for it to have collective authorship. I call a piece that is conceived to be completed by its audience Arte de Conducta (Behavior Art). #YoTambiénExijo has now turned into an endurance performance. It is all about resistance.
Artist Martha Wilson and Franklin Furnace—a nonprofit she founded in 1976 dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of performance, artists’ books, and other ephemeral art forms—are being celebrated across New York this winter. Organized in collaboration with Independent Curators International, an exhibition at New York University’s Fales Library will focus on four decades of Wilson’s art, including performance, video, and photography, while the Pratt Manhattan Gallery will present thirty projects selected from Franklin Furnace’s archives. These shows, which run from February 19 to April 30, 2015, will also be complemented by a series of live performances and screenings, featuring works by Michael Smith, Coco Fusco, and Clifford Owens, at Participant Inc. from February 26 to March 1, 2015.
WHEN I GAVE MY PAPERS to the Fales, I expected the director, Marvin Taylor, to be wearing a three-piece suit, but instead he had a nose ring and tattoos! He’s completely my kind of guy. At the Fales, I’m showing my student work from Canada dating back to 1972, including a piece called Breast Forms Permutated, which is a spoof on Sol LeWitt and the Conceptual artists of the 1970s. They were permutating everything. After 1972, my beautiful artist boyfriend who looked like Marcel Duchamp dumped my ass and I moved to New York so I wouldn’t have to see his girlfriend driving the car around Halifax.
I realized that the major institutions then were not taking seriously the work that was being created downtown. We were doing street works, posters on the curb for the rat population of New York, and inflammatory essays about capitalist pigs who were running the economy. I went up to the Museum of Modern Art and showed them an artist book that I had created and said, “Well, you had the ‘Information’ show here in 1970, could you distribute this?” And they said, “No, lady. Your book costs five dollars; it would cost us five dollars to do the bookkeeping if we sold this, so we’re not going to do this.” Performance was way far away from the discussion and that was all we were doing. Everyone was in three bands or doing work with film, so I thought, “We are going to start collecting this material and preserving it and exhibiting it.” The artist’s voice is seldom valued and recognized to the degree that it should be.
With Franklin Furnace, we recently digitized our first and second decades of event records and published them on our website to make this stuff available. As the new millennium appeared along with digital art, preservation became more complex. It’s not as simple as scanning slides and scanning press releases anymore, but it also led to bigger ideas, like what if we went back to the artists who are still alive and asked someone like Karen Finley what her intentions were when she took a bath in a suitcase and made love to a chair using Wesson cooking oil in 1983? We could get her feedback now. It maybe is different than what she was thinking in 1983, but that’s still valuable, and what if we could find somebody who was in the audience then, who has impressions now also? We could add that to our records. The problem is that many artists have an ephemeral practice and we do not know what their intentions were. We didn’t even write press releases in the early days; we got hip to that later. With ephemeral practices such as performance, we need to chase down the stories and the political and economic conditions or social forces at work around that time. There was the Vietnam War and the feminist movement, there were civil rights, AIDS appeared—there was a lot going on that informed all of this work and an element of craziness that went into its creation.
Some of the works on view at Pratt Manhattan Gallery show an artist making music with her eye movements. There’s a radio station on a shopping cart, and a detention center for artists who wish to live and work in the U.S. My goal for the next ten years is to try to figure out how we can capture the stories that relate to these historically neglected practices of the 1970s through the 2000s. Franklin Furnace made the decision to reside at Pratt Institute in order to undertake initiatives that would be impossible for us as a small, not-for-profit organization to mount on our own. Both institutions are at a critical point in their respective histories, and Franklin Furnace’s “nesting” at Pratt may also serve as a nationally visible demonstration to other art spaces nationwide of how an organization-in-residence arrangement may serve larger goals.
Janet Biggs, Can’t Find My Way Home, 2015, four-channel HD video installation, color, sound, 8 minutes 35 seconds. Installation view, Blaffer Art Museum.
The work of Janet Biggs often finds the New York–based artist traveling to the ends of the earth to research and record extreme geographic landscapes and the people who inhabit them. For her latest exhibition, “Echo of the Unknown,” Biggs has created an installation of sculpture, three video works, and a sound piece, all of which explore the relationship between intense conditions found in the exterior world and those in our interior selves. Curated by Janet Phelps, the show runs at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston through March 21, 2015. Biggs will also present a related multidisciplinary performance at Project Row Houses on April 16, 2015, titled If Ever I Would Leave You. Here, Biggs discusses Can’t Find My Way Home, 2015, the largest work on view.
THIS IMMERSIVE FOUR-CHANNEL VIDEO piece is about the idea of focus and disappearance and how they can coexist in one place, one being. It stems from my memories of family members who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. I also wanted this work to stand outside of my personal experience and to allow people to read it however they want. Part of my process is like collage, which is how we experience the world now: We get disparate pieces of information all the time and construct a narrative out of them. I’m trying to understand how all of us maintain a sense of who we are—how fragile that is, and how it constantly changes.
My grandfather was an avid collector, especially of minerals. Long after he couldn’t recognize family members, he could still describe specific samples in his collection: where and how they were extracted, their scientific names. These moments of presence in a vast sea of loss allowed me to feel I still knew him, setting me on this path to learn what his experience was like. As this four-year project developed, it became a meandering meditation on loss, but also on hope.
I started by looking at samples from my grandfather’s collection and researching where in the world giant crystal formations exist. I came across a crystal cavern in Merkers, Germany, and knew I had to film there. The cavern’s interior is shaped like a hollow negative of the hippocampus, the seat of memory in the brain. The crystals that adhere to the cavern’s wall have an uncanny resemblance to the tau tangles and amyloid proteins in a brain with Alzheimer’s. I was also intrigued to put myself into a geode, inside a potential object of my grandfather’s collection. The cavern is half a mile underground; it’s extremely warm, and it’s particulate, so I had to wear a respirator. I was submerged for eight hours a day and became completely disoriented; I had to be helped to find my way out.
This footage is intercut with scenes shot at the University of Houston’s neuroscience department, where they are researching seizures. When the brain is in seizure, it is in a hyperactive state, which is surprisingly like what happens to the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s. The piece also includes footage of an elderly collector at a gem and mineral show who has an intense focus and clarity when looking at crystals but becomes lost when trying to make his way through the overwhelming space.
Sound is important to my work. Part of the sound track of this piece draws from the country singer Glen Campbell, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. With his family’s support, he continued touring for as long as he could. I found a video online of one of his last performances. He’s singing “Wichita Lineman.” It’s heartbreaking; when singing he’s so present, and then he wanders away from the mic and he’s completely lost. I’ve worked with musicians and composers over the years, so I contacted some and asked if they knew that song. I asked that they not to look up the music, but just play it from memory.
Collaboration across disciplines has been central to my work, but never more so than here. I’m fascinated by science. I thought its methodology was so seductive because it seemed sterile and quantifiable, while my process is not. But now I know that’s absolutely false! To keep going forward in either field, you don’t need an answer; an answer closes a door. You want to learn what the next question is you should ask. I make art for that next question.
Screen grab of the stretched 3-D scan of the first rock that was milled for Alice Channer's R o c k f a l l, 2015.
Bodies, absent but for the imprints they’ve left on sensitive materials—above all, clothing—have been a recurrent concern for the London-based sculptor Alice Channer, but lately the imprints have begun to take on architectural scale. For her first museum show in the United States, at the Aspen Art Museum from February 13 to May 31, 2015, she presents a single large outdoor piece, R o c k f a l l, which will then travel to New York this summer for a group show organized by the Public Art Fund. A smaller, indoor version of R o c k f a l l will be shown at Pied-à-terre, San Francisco, February 15 to March 15, 2015.
FOR A FEW YEARS, I’ve been collecting lumps of concrete, dug up in the London streets outside my studio, by-products of the ongoing construction boom in the city. I’m interested in the relationship of these human-made rocks to weight and (de)materiality. For R o c k f a l l, which is at its simplest a sculptural work about weight, I made 3-D scans of some of these objects, none of them bigger than a human head (I had to be able to carry them back to the studio). I then stretched the 3-D scans until they were about six feet long. The stretched scans were then milled from foam, molds were taken from the foam, and I made casts from those in several very different materials: Corten steel, aluminum, and concrete—materials that I imagine as having different speeds, different weights, and different kinds of time.
Although the piece is not site specific (I would describe it as stretchy to a degree: responsive but not a response), it won’t be finished until it’s installed across the Aspen Art Museum’s Roof Deck Sculpture Garden. And though the stretched rocks that make up R o c k f a l l are cast in hard materials, I realized as I started to see them take shape that their surfaces are pleated. I’ve often used fabrics that have been pleated by a company that usually pleats fabric for clothing. Pleating is useful to me because it multiplies a flat surface to give it volume and body, changing its dimension and making it stretchy.
Clothes are strange, in-between, awkward things, flat and empty when disembodied, and partially contingent but impossible to objectify when embodied. They exist somewhere between the object and the subject, and my works seek to exist there too. In R o c k f a l l, the pleats in the metal and concrete are made by a tool path. The tool path was designed horizontally, at my request, by the machine operator, who programmed the CNC router to cut the stretched rocks from foam, before I made molds from them. The pleats in R o c k f a l l bring out its relation to other works of mine that are more explicit attempts to make objects that have the same status as clothing. As the work repeats in different locations with some elasticity, it will change slightly, expanding and contracting, but will remain recognizable as itself. The piece is a horizontal layer that will be stretched across several other pre-existing objects: the museum roof, the epic mountains around and underneath it, the vast human-made geological/commercial/social/economical/biological/political mesh that is the twenty-first century. And the body wearing it will be much, much bigger than in my previous work.
I don’t understand size, but I do understand scale. My works attempt to include radically and awkwardly different kinds of scale at the same time. I think that this awkwardness threads through my work, and speaks to my experience of materiality in the twenty-first century. What are all these vast new buildings that the concrete is being dug up for, what builds them, and who are they for?
Barbara Kasten, Architectural Site 17, August 29, 1988, 1988, color photograph, 60 x 50". High Museum of Art, Atlanta.
Barbara Kasten’s photographs are often discussed in relationship to Bauhaus aesthetics, particularly the work of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who advocated for Gesamtwerk, or, for working in multiple mediums, which has always been a critical part of her practice. “Barbara Kasten: Stages,” the first major survey of the Chicago-based artist’s work, presents a broad view of her oeuvre, including her early fiber sculptures, a video installation, and a selection of photographic works spanning throughout her career. Curated by Alex Klein, the exhibition will be on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia from February 4 to August 16, 2015.
LIGHT IS THE ESSENCE OF PHOTOGRAPHY, but it is not what I am after. The important thing about light, to me, is not how it falls on an object, but how the shadow is created. I am photographing the shadow, and not the object that is creating the shadow. I am after another form—one that defines reality, but it is not reality. I am after a phenomenological encounter.
Currently, the sculptural aspect of what I do engages the large-scale involvement of the body in space. My collaboration with Margaret Jenkins Dance Company for “Exact Seeing,” my 1985 Capp Street Project, gave me the initial impetus to work on an even more dramatic scale for my “Architectural Sites,” 1986–90, a photographic series that was made in grandiose lobbies of postmodern buildings with a single exposure and no digital intervention. I included mirrors to generate multiple views in one image. We all have a personal relationship with architecture. Architecture is about creating an environment that we respond to, that we connect with, and that affects us in some emotional way. Axis, 2015, the new site-specific projection I made for this survey exhibition, incorporates the architecture of a thirty-foot-high corner in one of the ICA’s galleries. The architecture becomes an integral element of the video as it is displaced and transformed into other objects.
In the 1980s and ’90s, when I showed at the John Weber Gallery in New York, I wasn’t looking at photography for inspiration. I wasn’t trying to break any of the “rules” of photography. I was just looking for a way to combine my interests in sculpture and photography—photography not as way of documenting sculpture but as a way to make a new work. For me, these media function side by side, not as cause and effect.
These days several photographers in their thirties and forties are working outside of the specificity of the medium. I have been fortunate to still be active, so I am not a mentor only to them. I can be part of the dialogue and in discussion with younger artists at the same time. The dialogue is really important. I am not giving advice; it is about an exchange.
Multigenerational artistic exchange was an early part of my career. Working in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, I recognized that the art scene was male-dominated, and the women's movement was having an impact on female artists. Although I was not an activist per se, I produced a video with the art historian Deborah Irmas, High Heels and Ground Glass, which documents five women photographers, then all in their eighties—Lisette Model, Gisele Freund, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Eiko Yamazawa, and Maurine Loomis. This was my feminist gesture and took a decade to complete (1980–90).
The current show is an opportunity for the viewer to see that I have long worked in a variety of forms. It is a reevaluation of my output, especially with regard to the relationship of my work to the body and to space. My photographs are really all that have ever been published. No one knows about my focus on spatial environments, even though they have been components of my work for a long time.