“I PREFER SEEING PRIVATE COLLECTIONS TO MUSEUMS,” said collector Wiyu Wahono. “They are like an enigma to decipher.” We were at a dinner at the home of another collector, Prasodjo Winarko, on the eve of the opening of Art Stage Jakarta, and Wahono’s opinion didn’t seem entirely unpopular, if only for the reason that visitors to his collection earlier that day were still in awe. The inaugural edition of the export of the Singaporean fair promised to be cheerful despite the city’s crippling traffic. “Hands down, they win!” muttered Singapore-based Filipino collector Lourdes Samson, comparing the challenge of navigating Jakarta with that of Manila.
Back at the Sheraton, the hotel’s owner, Alex Tedja, and collector Deddy Kusuma were warming up their voices to a live band in preparation for the next evening’s karaoke opening. Apparently many Indonesian high society gents practice weekly. At the back of the lounge, in a typically Indonesian cloud of clove-scented smoke, artist Agus Suwage, collector Dato M. Noor Azman, and curator Enin Supriyanto drank iced teas and beers. They were soon joined by a happy Jun Tirtadji, back from his gallery ROH Projects, where he had opened an exhibition in collaboration with Silverlens Galleries. Artist Jay Yao and collector Carlo Calma walked by holding a champagne flute: “This is my vacation!” It felt festive indeed.
The next day, Lorenzo and Maria Elena Rudolf, president and vice president of the fair, made a glam stop at collector Tom Tandio’s lunch with Yue Minjun. They were followed by former fair director of Bazaar Art Jakarta, now Art Stage Jakarta director, Leo Silitonga, donning a South Sulawesi ikat. “Maria Elena wanted all of us to wear something Indonesian,” he justified. The fair opened to exuberant crowds wondering what’s up with the two fairs in Jakarta this month (the eighth Bazaar Art opens this week), but heartedly welcoming the opportunity to mingle. “We are all friends,” I heard again and again, until I almost believed it. Art Stage gathers forty-nine galleries alongside a lavishly set presentation by the painter Affandi and a separate exhibition, the Collectors Show, featuring works from the collections of Rudy Akili, Deddy Kusuma, Melani Setiawan, Tom Tandio, Alex Tedja, and Wiyu Wahono in a bare shell floor of the hotel. “I got the roughest space to show the most expensive art,” joked Supriyanto. The fair provided plenty of socializing grounds, if not always the most groundbreaking works.
That evening, the opening party had collectors singing the Bee Gees poolside. “Never heard of them,” quipped a young millennial. “But it’s clear who the target audience is here.” The Platters’ “Only You” followed, and then some Temptations. Rudolf and gang did an earnest rendition of “Baila Morena.” “Can you imagine other fairs’ big players doing something like this?” I was asked. I could not, but it surely made me grin. Points for not taking yourselves too seriously, Art Stage.
After Heri Dono’s performance, I heard that collector Rudy Akili rapped, but I was already on my way to the young collectors’ party at the restaurant Sofia at the upscale Gunawarman Hotel. “You’ll see. Inside, you will feel like you’re in Budapest,” I was told by Tom Tandio as I set off with collector Natasha Sidharta, writer and filmmaker Patricia Chen, and a merry bunch including artists Dito Yuwono and Melati Suryodarmo and curator Mira Asriningtyas.
Left: Dealers Joseph Ng and Pearl Lam. Right: Photographer and collector Indra Leonardi, artist Yue Minjun, and collectors Lily Sajoto and Dr. Oei Hong Djien.
Saturday, I joined Mariles Gustilo, director of Manila’s private Ayala Museum, for a collections visit. We toured Akili’s space, where we were greeted by his adviser, Alia Swastika. At the fair I spotted collector Daisuke Miyatsu, curator Rifky Effendy, and artist FX Harsono, and caught up with the shy and usually studio-bound Eddy Susanto to talk about his painstaking canvases of historical narratives. That evening we stopped at Alex Tedja’s palatial house and were treated to a blue-chip wonderland. “I wish I had ceilings that high in my museum,” complimented Gustilo. We moved next door for what I had anticipated as a fun party at Deddy Kusuma’s, but after some customary singalong—“Imagine all the people…”—it turned into a midnight lecture on Indonesian art transmitted via multiple screens from the main stage to all the courtyards.
Eventually we escaped to join a group at Hide & Seek Swillhouse consisting of young Bandung and Jogja artists including Alin, Keni, Hahan, Titarubi, Zico, Wimo Ambala Bayang, Faisal Habibi, Agan Harahap, and Ruang Gerilya’s Wibi Rizqi Triadi. At last: dancing! A pleased Silitonga explained that the fair benefited from the recent government-issued tax amnesty that encouraged rich Indonesians to repatriate money home. “It went far beyond our expectations,” he said. I am constantly told the Indonesian art scene needs more international interest, but it certainly helps if the locals lead by example.
Left: Artist Heri Dono. Right: Lisson gallery's David Tung.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN Brazil and the Middle East meet in Japan? Artistic director Chihiro Minato conceived “Homo Faber: A Rainbow Caravan,” the third edition of the Aichi Triennale, as a journey, inviting curators Daniela Castro and Zeynep Öz—based respectively in São Paulo and Istanbul—along for the ride.
The trip was designed to take visitors, curators, and artists across the Aichi prefecture in central Japan from the bustling capital of Nagoya to the smaller, equidistant cities of Okazaki and Toyohashi—all located on the same train line. A new satellite venue, Toyohashi has a sizable Brazilian community, which is partly why Castro was drafted in.
At the press conference last Wednesday, Minato reminisced about how he traveled the world as a photographer in the 1980s, spending a year and a half in South America, near the Amazon. These formative experiences were meant to account for the triennial theme. Over a shandy at the Caravan Party thrown by the good people of Toyohashi the following night, he revealed his true inspiration: Santana’s 1972 album Caravanserail, featuring a giant blazing sun on the cover.
Left: Artists Nicholas Galanin and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. Right: Artist Jerry Gretzinger.
Colors in every shade of the rainbow dominated the agenda, starting with the boldly patterned shirt—nothing if not adventurous—Minato sported on the opening day of the triennial tour. Taking up an entire wall in the atrium of the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, which kept us busy for much of the morning, Jerry Gretzinger’s multipaneled aggregate of tiny colored maps set the tone. Shinji Ohmaki’s ephemeral floral patterns spreading out in concentric circles from a central pillar in Echoes-Infinity, 2012, were there for visitors to tread on, blending their pigments. The leftovers formed layers on layers of gorgeous color in a neat row of champagne flutes displayed next to the floor-based work.
In contrast to this chromatic orgy, the radiation-contaminated tree stumps from Fukushima and Hiroshima in artist Masao Okabe’s sobering series of black frottage drawings harked back to the previous triennial theme (“Awakening—Where Are We Standing? Earth, Memory, and Resurrection”), which responded to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant meltdown of 3/11.
The idea of the journey itself—from West to East—was conveyed chiefly through sonic means in British experimental musician Chris Watson’s twenty-channel surround-sound installation. Titled Great Circle, 2016, after the route airplanes generally take when traveling to Japan from the UK, the work charted the artist’s own travels from his home in Northumberland, UK, to the glaciers of Iceland, across Siberia and through the Gobi Desert all the way to Mount Horai-ji in the Aichi prefecture. As I lingered, the end of a rainstorm in Siberia’s tiger forests gave way to the eerie wailing sound of orcas captured with hydrophones beneath the Arctic Ocean.
Left: Artist Masao Okabe and curator Hiroyuki Hattori. Right: Artist Mai Ueda.
That afternoon, our human caravan wended its way from one art-filled venue to the next. With no time to spare, we had our packed lunch on the bus. “I’m so glad for this working experience,” Castro remarked. “The schedule for the opening is like a train table.”
The streets around Choja-machi, the heart of Nagoya’s once thriving textile district, were all but deserted in the midday heat. What used to be shopfronts now house art galleries. In one of those, the Jakarta-based collective ruangrupa set up a temporary school for the “citizens” of Nagoya, running workshops on “how to be disorganized” alongside karaoke sessions. Yoshio Shirakawa’s playful installation, stemming from his research into the city’s history, turned a nearby space into a camel-themed shop showcasing the decidedly unflattering LAKUDA underwear in a range of pale beiges.
By the time we reached the Nagoya City Art Museum, a combination of unrelenting heat and talk of deserts (Japan has its own, as Teshigahara Hiroshi’s 1964 black-and-white classic, Woman in the Dunes, attests) had me ready to devour Sharjah artist Abdullah Al Saadi’s lush red mountains in The Watermelon Series, 2014, exhibited inside. In front of the museum, adults and children extended the web made up of many-colored threads tied together in the latest iteration of Brazilian artist João Modé’s NET Project, spanning three venues in each of the triennial’s cities.
The opening reception at Nagoya Tokyu Hotel’s Banquet Room Versaille, which lived up to its name, was thronged—to put it mildly. “OMG—that’s more than the entire population of Palestine,” Beirut- and Ramallah-based artist Khalil Rabah exclaimed as he surveyed the palatial room where the whole Japanese art establishment, rubbing shoulders with local officials and their spouses, appeared to have converged.
“If all these people went to see the works, that would already be an achievement,” Rabah mused the next day, en route for Toyohashi City, where his work is exhibited. The densely wooded hills glimpsed from the bus offered some respite from the built-up industrial landscape around Nagoya and Okazaki.
The second city on our whirlwind tour of the Aichi Triennale served up some unusual locations in which to show contemporary art—from a disused set of rooms above a train station to an ordinary shopping mall that accommodated a new photography exhibition. After a stroll through a drab, dusty building overlooking the Okazaki castle that Mumbai native Shreyas Karle had transformed with subtle interventions, the traditional Edo period house and garden of the Ishihara family, in which several works by Japanese and international artists were presented, felt like an oasis.
When it came to seeing the works spread across several buildings at our final destination, only the most eye-catching pieces stood any chance of grabbing our attention. Laura Lima’s Flight (fuga, in Portuguese), 2008, a playground for birds complete with scaled-down landscape paintings and folded screens adapted to the avian viewer, was certainly among them. The tiny creatures—one hundred locally sourced Java sparrows and finches—didn’t appear to care much for the art. And who could blame them? As Lima put it, “Animals: We think we know about them. But they’re a total mystery.”
ON ENTRY TO THE SEATTLE ART FAIR this past weekend, initial impressions belied major underlying tech support (pun intended), given its backing by Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen and some artworks mentioned in the New York Times write-up—like Adam McEwen’s elegant/ominous graphite replicas of IBM supercomputers and Glenn Kaino’s live app tour, Aspiration.
But I was most compelled by artistic director Laura Fried’s whip-smart, weekend-long curatorial subversion of the robotic takeover. In her introduction to Kim Gordon and Branden Joseph’s brilliant chat at the CenturyLink Field Event Center last Saturday, Fried called for the “cross-pollination” of disciplines through her Projects & Talks meta-agenda. These events entertainingly addressed commodification through dance, performance, video, and conversations rooted in educating audiences about art-historical interventions relevant to grim economic changes (e.g., unaffordable housing; corporatization) akin to those currently sweeping American cities with ultra-alarming speed and feeding our collective artistic anxiety. Seattle as a site for this matrix of discussion felt apt given Amazon’s occupation a few blocks up. On that note, Gordon and Joseph launched their discussion with how Gordon’s recent 303 Gallery exhibition, “The City Is a Garden,” riffed on the gentrification of New York via her use of the gallery (in part) as a “showroom” for cubic Astroturf hedges roughly alluding to Chelsea’s High Line, and, in this, how her Design Office initiatives playfully “aim to please,” poking at the ways “artists are in service to galleries.” Check.
The fair’s intelligent Projects & Talks series also included Brendan Fowler’s “durational performance”: his group reading of a poetic chronicle of singular punk memories celebrated collectivity, especially performed in a raw and fabulous storefront that controversially (to developers, at least) inhabits high-rent real-estate space in Seattle’s Pioneer Square. Flora Wiegmann’s Halo of Consciousness was a meditative two-woman dance (with Rebecca Bruno) inspired by Antoinism, spiritual transcendence, and reincarnation, staged in Seattle’s gorgeously refurbished former train station. Dawn Kasper’s Star Formation, an interactive environment mapped by cymbals that chimed as passersby triggered sensors, was cacophonously relaxing since only ten people were allowed in at once. Wynne Greenwood’s foam furniture, In Loving Memory, installed in a neighboring park for public use, created welcomed cushioning: a soft offering to allay hard-edged booth labyrinth burnout. Compared with these engaging and fun Projects, the VIP party at the Seattle Art Museum felt unneeded and a wee bit boring—get us back into the art!
Paradoxically, these seemingly disparate Projects & Talks enhanced the booth viewing by encouraging chance encounters. Public Fiction’s impressive Middle Grays, Color Bars, and the comma in between was the only video installation in the fair, blasting a corner of the building with eleven short videos on multiple screens from the glory days of public-access television art, when on-the-air oddities could unfurl without being immediately stamped with corporate logos (or censorship, as evidenced by Google’s recent erasure of Dennis Cooper’s blog). TVTV, Laurie Anderson, Muntadas, and The Medium Is the Message aired in front of John Baldessari’s Six Colorful Inside Jobs, the “set piece,” as Public Fiction’s Lauren Mackler called it in her insightful talk with Henry Museum curator Emily Zimmerman. At this event, Mackler Skyped in contributing artist Cally Spooner, who called for aggressively maintaining opportunities to “stumble across artwork” and “to meet artwork in unmediated ways,” for artwork that remains “marginal to main programming,” and for collectors to champion art that isn’t “overtly packaged.” Thank you, Cally.
Spooner’s message resounded as I wandered the fair’s eighty-some booths that sought to unite Pacific Northwest arts with the West Coast and Pacific Rim, which it did beautifully. LA had an impressive presence, and there were some fascinating, regionally specific booths like Kagedo Japanese Art Gallery from Orcas Islands, focusing on Iriyama Hakuo’s dry-lacquer paintings. Pacific Northwest landscape painting is going strong as always, represented most remarkably in PDX Contemporary’s booth by James Lavadour and Adam Sorensen, whose painting of cascading waterfalls, The Optimist, glowed psychedelically from afar. Portland’s tiny but mighty gallery, Adams and Ollman, had a fittingly miniscule booth to showcase Ellen Lesperance’s deconstructed sweater-pattern drawings, textiled landscape paintings in themselves. Even Zwirner’s slick space, red and black with a Kusama Infinty Net, two shiny John McCracken sculptures, and a suite of R. Crumb pen and inks, took a stony regional twist when eavesdropping on booth conversations. Two ladies chatting in front of Crumb’s immaculate Mystic Funnies No.1: Mr. Natural and Flakey Foont in “Look and See!” went like this:
“Remember this guy from the ’60s? The guy who was on your Keep on Truckin’ T-shirt?”
Blank stare at Mr. Natural…
“Well, that was before you left the dark side…”
Still, we might as well be honest: The hit was Carrie Brownstein’s conversation with Kyle MacLachlan, aka Twin Peaks’s AGENT COOPER. Yes, Agent Dale Cooper himself actually came to the fair to discuss such topics as Pacific Northwestern identity (“aw-shuckness-style humility,” as Brownstein called it), David Lynch’s belief in the pine forest’s dark side, and how Portlandia furthers regional myth, depicting this corner of the country as a place where nature and artists can still semi-blissfully unite in unmediated, unpackaged bliss (with the help of legalized marijuana?). Seeing Yakima-born MacLachlan in his home state, talking articulately and hilariously with Brownstein about loving the wheat fields and the wine in Walla Walla, while committing one’s life to being a serious artist, was classic.
Still, anxious undertones about cherished areas under siege filtered into their Q&A. “If Seattle is unaffordable for artists now,” one kid from the packed back row asked, “should we all move to Walla Walla where you are?” “No! Don’t!” MacLachlan replied, only half joking. Brownstein intercepted generously with her answer, heroically calling on older artists to continue to find ways to support emerging artists in cities, regardless of how tough it becomes. Hopefully this nascent fair, only in its second year, will survive to support such innovative programming in the future.
THE WAY TO THE AEOLIAN ISLAND OF STROMBOLI—little more than the cone of a volatile volcano emerging from the Sicilian sea—is fraught with uncertainty (and often nausea), and once there you feel tugged between extreme attraction and alienation. In this intimate and explosive context, Fiorucci Art Trust’s sixth Volcano Extravaganza, “I Will Go Where I Don’t Belong,” orchestrated by artist Camille Henrot and curator Milovan Farronato, offered a fertile framework for contemplating the depths of the soul (or at least a fun excuse to hang out in paradise).
The weeklong program of exhibitions, film screenings, participatory performances, and readings invoked a different theme every day, announced each morning by email to nurture an atmosphere of suspense and improvisation. The first communication read: “The naufrage is coming and the wild Aeolian seas are threatening chaos on Stromboli’s shores.” And so the theme of day one was “Naufrage” (“Shipwreck” in French).
Some of us played our parts even before arrival: I was stranded in Milazzo with newlyweds Ragnar Kjartansson and Ingibjörg Sigurjónsdóttir due to high winds, surely the doing of Aeolus, adversary of Homer’s Ulysses, who was run aground in the very same place. We had woken up at the Hotel Garibaldi to news of an approaching storm in the Adriatic and the slaughter in Nice. With no Cyclops to outsmart, the Icelandic artists rehearsed a musical performance on the steps of a church and then we repaired to the Trattoria Casalinga for a leisurely lunch.
Fresh from opening a show at the Barbican, Kjartansson had not yet had time to take a honeymoon, but Henrot had requested his presence: “If another artist asks you to do something, you must,” he declared. They got news that Vinyl Factory was on a private boat nearby that was setting off for Stromboli and decided to take their chances with them on the high seas: “Maybe this will be our honeymoon!” I returned to the port to learn that a boat we missed had crashed and turned around.
Starting off on the wrong foot proved felicitous: Although we missed the inaugural dinner—served on Odyssey-themed plates designed by Henrot and fired on the island of the fabled sirens, Li Galli, owned by Nicoletta Fiorucci’s partner, hotelier Giovanni Russo—our circumstances seemed part of the program, ordained by the evening’s screening of Jean Epstein’s Le Tempestaire, in turn a reference to Homer’s tale. (At dinner a couple of Turkish guests learned of the failed coup and decided they would not return to their country, choosing exile over possible persecution.) The next morning I maneuvered a ticket to Stromboli and then ran like hell to get my valise. Scheduled to perform that night, Juliana Huxtable and the Tempers’ Jasmine Golestaneh and Eddie Cooper were on my ferry, but Kjartansson’s entourage was still missing at sea.
The theme of day two was “Isolation,” and on arrival I ascended the steep slope of the volcano to the Fiorucci Art Trust House, formerly owned by Marina Abramović, host of the title group exhibition, curated by Henrot. YouTube footage of “Crossing the Line Ceremonies,” for which sailors dress in drag and strut before Neptune’s court to commemorate their first Equator crossing, was accompanied by a jarring, repetitive sound track. Henrot had covered the walls with frescoes depicting animals and humans, and hybrids of both, carrying out transgressive acts on one another, recalling ancient erotic cave drawings. In other rooms, historic paintings of sunken ships and drawings of vaguely unsavory situations by Walter Sutin were accompanied by sculptures evoking instruments for survival, such as a campfire of wood and plastic, Diyagram (Amnesiac beach fire), by Mike Nelson, and Giulio Delvè’s Moonshining, a distillery made of plumbing pipes, plastic tubes, and bottles that resembled a hospital infusion stand. Identical twins Alberto and Francesco Zenere alternately manned the exhibition and booking office for nightly film screenings hosted by local residents, one embodying good and the other evil. Artist Maria Loboda’s spell of the day, plastered mysteriously on the exterior wall: “A person could become an animal if he or she wanted to and an animal could become a human being.” You understand that in the time of Ulysses one could change form and identity depending on circumstances and necessity.
“I’ve got to stop wearing high heels in Stromboli,” Farronato said as we groped our way along the unlit narrow lanes after imbibing dream-inducing infusions by artist David Horvitz and chanting to the waves lapping the giant black rocks of the beach next to Fiorucci’s villa La Lunatica. Finding the home of our host, former fisherman Giuseppe Sgroi, we feasted in his vast fruit and vegetable garden and then watched Ben Rivers’s There Is a Happy Land Further Away. The meandering documentary footage portrays the languid inhabitants and landscapes of the isolated volcanic islands of Vanuatu, since destroyed by Cyclone Pam, while a gentle, faltering female voice recites a poem by Henri Michaux: “I am writing to you from the end of the world. You have to realize this.” The camera lingers on a black sow feeding three greedy piglets. We were told to send Horvitz our dreams, and that night I dreamt of two writhing rats nibbling my toes.
“Milovan says all volcanoes are connected,” curator Diana Campbell Betancourt explained. Later everyone convened at the Club Megà for Kjartansson’s delayed performance: “We left from Messina last night, but the boat started taking on water, as they say, and people were getting sick. The descent into Iceland’s Snæfellsjökull and up through the Stromboli volcano would have been more direct!” Dressed in a seersucker suit, he proceeded to sing romantic and bitter songs, bantering in between and ending with the Louvin Brothers’ “While You’re Cheating on Me.”
On the third day, “Maison Absolue (Ideal Home),” we gathered on the stunning terrace of La Lunatica for sunset drinks, and poet Jacob Bromberg read incantations before leading everyone in a game of telephone haiku. I sat between Egyptian-Armenian artist Anna Boghiguian, who is at once inscrutable and delightfully ingenuous, and curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, making a sphinxlike pair. Inside, a pop-up exhibition displayed postcards Henrot had sent to Yona Friedman, who superimposed mythical dogs and unicorns on scenic Stromboli backdrops. “I’ve always tried to promote improvisation as something necessary because planning is impossible,” Friedman says in Henrot’s 2007 Spatial Film, screening in a corner. “In the long term it is an illusion.” And that was just as well here. “Milo likes to tread the line [in stilettos, naturally] between improvisation and structure, never letting things go into complete chaos,” Henrot explained. “He is a magician.” I could not agree more.
“Bring goggles, a flashlight, and jellyfish sting gel,” Linda Yablonsky had advised. “It is camp in every sense.” The film nights at local homes were a version of sitting around the campfire telling ghost stories, and after dark you needed a flashlight to find your way back in the pitch dark. One night we all took part in collective storytelling at an outdoor amphitheater, voting on alternative twists and turns in the tale “Buffalo Head,” adapted by Henrot, Farronato, Bromberg, Horvitz, and Loboda from a story by Italo Calvino and performed by Amira Ghazalla. The next evening we ascended the volcano guided by artist Joana Escoval and Stefano Oliva, a native Strombolian who runs up to the top and down every day. They had forged a wild descent for us through the bushes that we could choose to take once we had gathered metal energy conductors created by Escoval, but a few of us decided to head to a lookout point to watch lava sliding into the sea and decode the volcano’s smoke signals.
Artist Amira Ghazalla.
We want to stay away from the literal, if not the littoral. We were like strangers thrown together in an unpredictable plot against the stark, dramatic backdrop of bougainvillea, black sand, and shimmering white villas—a smoldering crater looming above. And we were implicated in the narrative. Detective Poirot would have loved it. Far from the relentless daily bad news, “moving to an active volcano feels like the safest place to be for a while,” curator Tim Goossens posted on Facebook one day. Yet as Abramović had put it: “I had to leave: 326 people and so much hate.” Ingrid Bergman’s desperate character in Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli: Land of God felt similarly, preferring to risk the wrath of the volcano than endure its society—finally recognizing, at the end of her rope, the light at the far side of darkness (with every hair in place): “Oh God, what mystery, how beautiful!”
The final day was “Exile,” and I saw my fellow campers off at the Scari dock, left to my own devices with the fuming volcano. The ferry headed straight into the bloodred moon toward Naples, leaving a luminous puddle on the serene surface of the sea. The party would throw Horvitz’s glass vessels, In the atmosphere where our mouths meet, 2016, each shaped by a breath of air, overboard to meet their destinies. And thus the denizens of the Volcano Extravaganza had encountered the fundamental beat of existence, the perfect chaos for a collective orgasmic dance—primeval and fatalistic, exhilarating and enervating all at once.
IT’S ALWAYS A DELICATE NEGOTIATION to arrive in a place and to participate without seeming an interloper, an outsider foisting ideas.
The five curators of SITE Santa Fe’s biennial, “SITElines: much wider than a line”––Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Kathleen Ash-Milby, Pip Day, Pablo León de la Barra, and Kiki Mazzucchelli—have clearly made an effort to avoid simply parachuting into a region and imposing their values onto local communities. During the two days I spent at “ SITElines’s” opening events, a particular image kept recurring to me: a central, almost monstrous figure with a strength that amounts to a sort of gravitational pull, bringing all the artists and the regions they represent into the same orbit, with all of the pieces, at all times, threatening to fly back out into the vacuum of space.
The afternoon of Thursday of July 14, preparators were putting the finishing touches on some of the installations as the curators and artists guided the press through the spacious galleries of SITE Santa Fe, where the exhibition is held. Keeping all the components together and in communication is a constant challenge. The curators for this show had two years to think and collaborate, and this involved Skype calls, meetings, and studio visits across multiple countries. The show, which uses local architecture and print culture as its anchors, still feels like a convocation of far-flung individuals. And so it feels like a community—something that has been constructed but that makes its own meaning out of that constructedness.
Left: Artist Jorge Gonzalez. Right: Curator Rocío Aranda-Albarado and artist Marta Minujín.
During the members’ preview on Friday, I walked around with artist and curator Noah Simblist. We talked about how tactile and understated the exhibition seemed, in spite of its size and scale. Simblist contrasted “SITElines’s” minimal wall text and the general lack of high-tech multimedia installation with biennials of the early 2000s, where flash and splash seemed de rigueur. This biennial, while not short on stimuli—there’s plenty of digital video, music, and film—remains quiet, putting craft front and center, including Xenobia Bailey’s homage to her homemaker mother and grandmother, a crocheted installation modeled after a church revival tent, and Benvenuto Chavajay’s ceramic guns, which look delicate until you realize they are casts of actual weapons that the US sent to Guatemala in the 1950s.
Many of the works invited the viewers to touch or use them. Carla Fernandez’s gorgeous capes, which she made using Mexican Indigenous techniques and embroidery, were installed on hangers and near a full-length mirror to encourage visitors to put them on. No journalist in the room could resist taking photos of the artists and curators posing in them. Jorge Gonzalez worked with craftspeople in his native Puerto Rico to learn how to make folding stools with woven seats. Visitors carried them from work to work so they could sit and look for a while.
At the opening, I sat in Gonzalez’s chair for a long time in front of the copies of El Corno Emplumado/The Plumed Horn, an Albuquerque-based literary magazine that Margaret Randall produced from 1961–68, featuring art and poetry from New Mexico, Latin America, and elsewhere. Actual issues, not facsimiles, were out for viewers to peruse, which as a former archivist I found thrilling. Randall, who must be in her seventies, was also there. She told me she has five books being published this year, one of which is an anthology of Cuban poetry.
Left: Artists Paolo Nazareth and Benvenuto Chavajay. Right: Artist Xenobia Bailey with her work Sistah Paradise's Great Walls of Fire Revival Tent.
Even Maria Hupfield’s performance during the exhibition preview felt intimate, though it was packed with people and incorporated recorded music, participation by other “SITElines” artists, and, at one point, a bullhorn. Hupfield donned heavy felt mittens and boots, her Canadian-ness looking intentionally absurd in the context of the New Mexico high desert. A colleague repeated a refrain:
This is a place
A place where one needs to practice good relations
Good relations with neighboring nations
Presence is required
Presence is required to maintain those good relationships
Communication is required
Required to jointly caretake this region
During the members’ party, I got a sense from Hupfield, as well as from Jonathas de Andrade, whose reworking of UNESCO’s Race and Class in Rural Brazil foregrounded the flawed methodology of mid-twentieth-century anthropology, of a true investment in the people who live and work here. Personal histories are integral to each of their practices in very different ways, but a respect for those histories is what drives them.
Toward the end of the preview, I made my way out back, where plates of hors d’oeuvres lay atop a large table, on a bed of living grass. I grabbed the night’s signature cocktail, a delicious vodka concoction, and spotted artist Harmony Hammond speaking animatedly to her friend Juliet Myers. Though we don’t know each other, the seventy-two-year-old Hammond grabbed my hand and started talking to me like we were old friends. I told her about how I decided to move here with my girlfriend after we drove through on our way to the Spiral Jetty and an unsuccessful search for Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels. She told me a story about traveling across Utah and New Mexico with a van full of friends, visiting Holt’s favorite sites after she had died. After the long day of thinking about traversing geographies and the relationships that tie the disparate elements of a community together, this was a pinnacle. I knew I had come to the right place.
Participants in the Experimental Education Protocol. (Except where noted, all photos: Agnieszka Gratza)
CAN EDUCATION BE SEXY? I didn’t used to think so. Twelve days in the company of twelve near-strangers on the volcanic Dodecanese island of Nisyros made me reconsider.
What brought us there—from Athens, Stockholm, Berlin, Brussels, Kassel, Hamburg, and Vancouver—was the Experimental Education Protocol, admittedly not the sexiest of banners. Drafted by artist Angelo Plessas, EEP or #exedupro—in its snappier, Instagrammable version—proposes “an alternative educational model” based on “experiential and communal learning.” For Plessas, whose Eternal Internet Brotherhood has been meeting every year since 2012 in far-flung places around the world, you stand a better chance to learn something from people you’ve not met before, particularly if you’re gathering in “extreme places.”
Sepake Angiama led the way with her flag project. “Desire lines” or “desire paths,” we learned, are shortcuts made in defiance of urban planning. “One person may forge it but others follow it,” Angiama told me as we pored over the “lines of desire” others had drawn onto a piece of cloth for her to embroider with threads of their choosing. Each came with a story, told and retold. (In time, the sewing became a collective endeavor as Angiama struggled to keep up with our storytelling.) Nisyros-devotee Greg Haji Joannides, who has been coming to the island since he was a child and was our point of contact with the islanders, related how he first paddled there with his father from the nearby island of Kos after the engine of their boat went off.
For the third summer running, Joannides’s Sterna Art Project set up camp in an old-fashioned spa hotel located next to the crumbling Baths of Mandraki in Loutra, which were to house the exhibition at the outcome of our residency. These twin buildings, facing a small fishing harbor and backing onto a whitewashed former desalination factory, became the center of our activities.
Poet Quinn Latimer used the thermal baths, fueled by hot springs, for daily, twenty-minute one-on-one reading sessions staged in adjoining cubicles. That way the reading partners could (just about) hear without seeing one another “taking the waters” in their respective bathtubs. The acoustic or acousmatic potential of the baths was not lost on her partner, sound artist Paolo Thorsen-Nagel. “It’s like the Pythagorean veil,” he noted, alluding to pupils of Pythagoras who absorbed the philosopher’s teachings in silence from behind a veil-like partition.
By day three we had settled into something of a routine, if not exactly a schedule. Before the daily 11 AM meetings, everyone occupied themselves as they pleased. Angiama was busy embroidering the flag at the crack of dawn. Led by Andreas Angelidakis, toenail-painting “workshops” were on offer. The Greek island seemed to bring out the athletes in us. There were those who ran or swam a mile first thing. Watching topless artists Oliver Laric and Garrett Nelson doing their pushups in the baking sun one morning, Angiama sighed: “I’m just so glad I wasn’t born a boy.”
More structured learning activities, such as Plessas’s own talisman-making workshop or Angelidakis’s anger-release exercises drawing on educational toy volcano molds, took place in a common room overlooking the Kos caldera with the volcanic islet of Strongili—the Round One—in its midst. This was as close to a classroom as it came.
On Bastille Day, the room was transformed as if by magic into a banqueting hall in one of the more spontaneous and enjoyable events the first week held in store for us. Orchestrated by Nelson, the evening began with cocktails and dakos (the Greek take on bruschetta) inspired by Pierre Balmain’s Vent Vert salad from Alice B. Toklas’s Cook Book. Following Nelson’s readings of Mary Oliver’s poems as well as one of his own, we feasted on Oliver’s July 14 salad, stuffed cucumbers, Greek eggplant gazpacho, and fried fish that Nelson had spent much of the day preparing with the artist Dora Economou.
Then came the party inside the ruined Baths lit up at night with sepia-colored street light, which melded beautifully with the designer gold suits Nelson (and some of us) sported for the catwalk for which we had been collectively recruited. And the group night skinny dip under the stars, once we were exhausted from dancing and Laric’s DJing.
Much of the learning from one another happened at the beach. Although opinions were divided as to which is the best on the island, Pachia Ammos, a nude beach with a fine stretch of dark brown volcanic sand—too hot to walk on barefoot—was the default option for afternoon outings. It was there that Thorsen-Nagel got us to listen to the sea with a hydrophone by sticking two microphones into the wet sand.
The beach is also where we were all, one by one, initiated into the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu by Laric, who sees its mechanics as the perfect antidote to the “ambivalence” (or did he mean ambiguity?) of his life as an artist. “I’ve seen him do it so many times I don’t even find it erotic any more,” Latimer pronounced as we saw from a little distance Laric teaching moves that could easily be mistaken for sex positions to Swedish urbanist Mia Lundstrom.
At the Bastille Day–themed dinner, Plessas reminisced about how he and Angelidakis—aka Pale Blue—met online and then, that very same day, IRL. This was on July 17, almost exactly seventeen years ago. A numerology workshop seemed in order. Instead, we marked the anniversary date with uncoordinated yet strangely consonant efforts, from flower garlands and bracelets to custom-made T-shirts and ice cream flavors named after Angelo (watermelon) and Andreas (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups) at our favorite ice cream place—an inspired idea by Arvo Leo, who was full of them.
The Experimental Educational Protocol evinced “the desire for broader regional feedback” from local residents and tourists alike. In some ways we got more than we’d bargained for. Just as we were getting ready for the opening at the Baths of Mandraki—bringing together material and immaterial traces of our activities—a spoof poster came to our attention. Modeled on the Sterna Art Project 2016 announcement posted around the island, the mock “Manifest of Abstract Engagement” listed Martin Kippenberger, Cheese Burger, and Anish Kapoor among the participants.
That taught us.