Brendan Fernandes, Hit Back, 2017. Performance view, Recess, New York, August 10, 2017. John Alix, Khadija Griffith, Oisín Monaghan. Photo: Wendy Ploger.

Brendan Fernandes’s practice straddles the intersection of art and dance, addressing questions of labor, queerness, colonialism, and the formation of identity. For the New York nonprofit Recess, Fernandes has produced Steady Pulse, a project which comprises Minimalist-inspired sculptural elements and a series of events that call to mind the Pulse massacre in Orlando and the vitality of the body in times of political precarity. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 6 PM, through August 26, 2017, dancers will hold open rehearsals of the collaborative dance piece Hit Back. On August 19, 2017, from 3 to 5 PM, Fernandes will be in discussion with Kavita S. Kulkarni. On August 25, 2017, from 7 to 9 PM, Recess will host Fernandes’s dance performance and party Free Fall, honoring the Pulse tragedy and the dance floor as a space of sanctuary, featuring DJ Thomas Ian Campbell. And on August 26, 2017, from 12 to 6 PM, visitors are invited to mark the dance floor in Make Your Mark, an event inspired by an AIDS memorial in California. Steady Pulse is on view until September 1, 2017.

TWO EVENTS that deeply affected me last year were the Pulse nightclub massacre and Trump’s win, which still is difficult to say out loud. I began to really think about my political agency and my responsibilities as an artist. The title of Steady Pulse at Recess references the Orlando massacre in June 2016, but it also comes out of the idea of the dance floor as a space of agency. The dance floor is a space of support—a physical, architectural support—but also a support system that questions the body’s relationship to it as it moves on it. I wanted to create a queer space—a space that is constantly in action, in flux, in a non-definitive moment. It’s always becoming something else. At Recess, there are dance parties, conversations, gatherings, moments when we’re performing, and moments in which the piece acts as a static art installation.

Dancers often speak about how the dance floor hits the body. There’s a sensation of penetration, pain, and pleasure, but also one of agency. At Recess there are panels painted in flesh tones. They have rubber spacers beneath them that create resistance—a little bit of a bounce, a little bit of give, so you are not hitting the body as hard when you are moving on it. For me, that question of the barrier is where the social and political aspect of agency comes in. The barrier of the rubber against the floor creates resistance, separating the body from the floor, but also giving the performer the ability to endure longer, to last longer in the action of dancing.

The panels within the installation are painted in flesh tones. Whether or not there are bodies moving within it, the panels act as indexes of bodies. When a dancer is lying on top of one of the panels, it creates an intimate moment as if they were lying on top of another body. It’s meant to be a reflection on the different ways a body can be present in space—presence is implied through shape, color, and index, and through the actual physical presence of bodies breathing, moving, or being still. There are also gray felt mats in the installation that become placeholders for the body; they create horizontal spaces where a body could fall, could be held, or could pray.

Excerpt from Brendan Fernandes’s interview for 500 Words.

Falling and the possibility of falling in this piece are really important because it’s read as a sociopolitical gesture. In dance, you can never fall. Falling on stage, unless it is choreographed, is a mistake. In my choreography, there are many moments of falling, of feeling the resistance of the floor. But in the end, there’s always that action of standing back up. We stand up even after we fall. So it’s never an ending. It becomes an action through which new possibilities for resistance and movement may be found.

The piece I'm currently working on at Recess is Hit Back. For me, hitting back is not always a violent gesture. I’m trying to find out: if something hits you, how do you hit back to regain your agency? And can this be done in a nonviolent way? In the piece, I work very collaboratively with the dancers to think about ways of playing with these floor panels that have resistance to them. The gestures have become very interesting. A lot of them have referenced resuscitation movements, where the body is pushing against the floor and the sprung floor panels are pushing back. They reference gestures of intimacy and care, of picking up, and of holding each other.

There are forty-nine coat hangers in the installation, and they reference the forty-nine victims of the Pulse massacre. The dancers wear jumpsuits made by the Rational Dress Society, but not all the dancers are there all the time, so a garment might just be hanging there, without a body. They will take the jumpsuits off the rack, and they will hold them. They will dance with them. They will fold them. I’m playing a lot with gestures of commodification and commercialization. These movements evoke how the body is commodified, even through the means of performing or in the club.

— As told to Wendy Vogel

Aman Mojadidi, Once Upon a Place, 2017, Times Square, New York. Photo: Brian William Waddell / FT SET for Times Square Arts.

Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi works largely on site-specific projects that combine qualitative research, traditional storytelling, postmodern narrative strategies, and mixed-media installations to approach themes such as belonging, identity politics, conflict, and migration. His latest installation, Once Upon a Place, 2017, comprises three phone booths that are wired to relay dozens of oral histories told by immigrants living throughout New York City. Mojadidi recorded the stories during his residency with Times Square Arts. The work will be on view in the heart of Times Square (Forty-Sixth Street and Seventh Avenue) until September 5, 2017.

I DON’T KNOW if I identify as an ethnographer or as an artist, to be honest. I feel like I straddle this position between the two. My process is ethnographic, but the product that I create is much more artistic.

My family comes from Afghanistan. They came to the US in the late 1960s. I was born in the US, so issues of migration, immigration, biculturalism, and identity play a role in the work that I’ve done from the beginning. For the past five or six years, my background in cultural anthropology has driven me to create site-specific projects that in some way involve communities and address particular environments.

In Cuba, I’ve done work that looks at Guantánamo Bay prisoners and detainees who are being released, and I’ve done projects on my own upbringing within two cultures. I currently live in France, where immigration is a huge issue, and I lived in Afghanistan for about twelve years, where I know a lot of people who are trying to leave. These artist friends of mine, and others who are looking for legal and illegal ways to get themselves to Europe or farther, made me want to look at the anti-immigrant hysteria that has been brewing in the US, Europe, and other places over the past couple of years. I wanted to make a work that dealt with the humanity of people leaving their homes, and I wanted to do it within an urban environment that is a flagship of immigration. I mean, New York, even globally, is seen as a model of how immigration builds a city.

As I was thinking about doing this project in 2014, I learned that phone booths were being removed from the streets of New York, and then the idea immediately hit me. The fact that so many people have used these booths in the past, and that so many stories have been told through these phones, made them a natural way to present new stories.

In terms of identifying communities, there was a lot of desk review. I reviewed reports through the census bureau, as well as though articles and reports on immigration in all the boroughs. I tried to reach people through community organizations and centers, I approached mosques and temples, and I spent a lot of time in neighborhoods. I met with people during the run-up to the election last year, so there was a lot of suspicion from them, which added an extra barrier to reaching people. They wanted to know why I was collecting information on immigrants. Many people who spoke with me were illegal and stayed anonymous. In the end, we were still able to get about seventy stories from immigrants from twenty-six countries.

There’s a young man who was carried over the Mexican border by his mom when he was three years old—she carried him on her back—and now he is an activist for immigrant rights and lobbies in Washington, DC. There’s a gentleman from Yemen, who worked as a cook in Windows on the World before the attack on the Twin Towers; he talks about how the politics around his identity as a Yemeni changed after the towers fell. There’s a woman from Puerto Rico who had been a drug addict and needed to make a change.

I’m hoping that other immigrants will listen and feel a connection with these people, and that within this climate of heightened xenophobia the project can help people see beyond all of the anti-immigration rhetoric being spouted by the Trump administration, as well as in other places in the world. Picking up that phone and listening to someone’s voice is an intimate experience; it’s different from hearing someone’s story on the news or through some other medium. In a way, the project just cuts out the politics; the person just tells their story.

— As told to Lauren Cavalli

Rey Akdogan


View of “Rey Akdogan,” 2017, Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles.

Rey Akdogan’s works touch on invisible standards and everyday objects, such as crash rails, in order to mine emotional reactions and systemic analysis. The latest exhibition of concise gestures by the New York–based artist is on view at Hannah Hoffman Gallery in Los Angeles through August 26, 2017.

I AM INTERESTED IN MOTION, our everyday lives, and how we move through space. Each of my works extracts elements from much larger systems. And usually they are standard systems that perform specific tasks in our everyday lives. A standard is something that—if it works well—we don’t usually register. It is not an evident part of our visual universe. For instance: You go into a supermarket. You just want to get a bag of carrots, and they look fantastically orange there. You bring them home. You unpack them. Then, all of a sudden, they are not so orange. The plastic they’re wrapped in is tinted, and the supermarket’s light had an effect; both of these layers react, and they become something—an environment.

The French cleats used in the exhibition typically exist between an artwork and a wall. Yet, they have a strange quality when you extract them from their normal function. They become visible. French cleats have a specific shape. They have two parts, with standard interlocking angles and types of wood. It’s all very specific. Usually the visible edges of a French cleat are painted to match the color of the artwork it supports, to make the cleat less visible. In the “Faction” works at Hannah Hoffman, I wanted to reverse the application of the paint, by placing it on the angles and surfaces of the cleat that are usually unexposed. But there are actually functional cleats behind the “Faction” works too; there are cleats holding the cleats in a stack. That’s how they are.

On one of the long walls at Hannah Hoffman I replaced the gallery’s usual matte white paint with a high-gloss commercial paint typically used for machinery or architectural facades. The visibility of the wall was alienated; it became mirrorlike. This type of paint also yellows over time if it is not exposed to sunlight. The standard UV-filtering properties of the gallery will set this process in motion.

There was a period when I had to spend a lot of time at the hospital, sitting in waiting rooms for hours and hours. They are such strange environments. I was looking around and saw these odd things projected slightly from the wall, almost like trompe l’oeil objects. I thought, What is this? Then, I started noticing them everywhere. They’re in corridors; they’re in elevators; they’re found throughout public buildings and institutions—universities, post offices, you name it.

Some of the works in the show are these objects called “crash rails,” fixtures with specific measurements that protect walls from scratches and marks. They usually have to be approved through all sorts of administrative offices. They also have to be sturdy in a specific way. I’m interested in how their varying physical appearances are largely determined by how they operate. That sort of operational abstraction is what holds together the construction of ambience.

— As told to David Muenzer

John Giorno


View of “Ugo Rondinone: I ♥ John Giorno,” Sky Art, 2017. Photo: Daniel Pérez.

Ugo Rondinone’s massive project “I ♥ John Giorno” is a love letter to the titular poet—and Rondinone’s husband—which originally opened in 2015 at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris before coming to New York this summer. The exhibition, a major retrospective of John Giorno’s work, is also a homage, with contributions from artists such as Billy Sullivan, Verne Dawson, Elizabeth Peyton, Anne Collier, and Judith Eisler. “I ♥ John Giorno” is spread across twelve institutions throughout the city, including the Swiss Institute, Red Bull Arts New York, New York University’s 80WSE Gallery, the Kitchen, High Line Art, the New Museum, Artists Space, and White Columns. Here, Giorno talks about the making of the show.

I LEARNED EARLY ON FROM THE BEATS, such as Allen Ginsburg and William Burroughs—and the Pop artists too—that archives were very important. This was around the late 1950s, or the beginning of the ’60s. So, I just saved all of my work. My parents had a house in Roslyn Heights, Long Island, and for fifty years I brought everything I made there for safekeeping. After my parents died, Ugo surveyed what I’d stored—he wanted to turn it into a project. This was around 2000. And then in 2003 we saw the Jean Cocteau retrospective at the Centre Pompidou—which was so brilliant and totally great. Ugo questioned what an archive for public consumption could look like, and his idea for the show developed over the course of fifteen years. It’s shocking the way that everything sort of miraculously happened. Every element managed to come together and flourish.

The New York show is different from the one in Paris simply because there’s more room here. Some really important things get to see the light of day, like the AIDS Treatment Project—at Hunter College’s 205 Hudson Street Gallery—which I started in 1984 to help people sick with the disease pay for their rent, medicine, transportation, anything they needed. Musicians like Debbie Harry, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and Hüsker Dü performed at the Beacon Theater to raise funds for the project. All the posters explaining what the AIDS Treatment Project did, to encourage people to help, are there on display. Peter Ungerleider’s great film Loving Kindness is playing there as well. It’s a movie about the project and the absolute horror of that time. My personal Tibetan Buddhist shrine is also on display at Hudson Street, in a shrine room with twenty ancient thangkas borrowed from the Rubin Museum of Art. For the Palais de Tokyo show, we borrowed twenty ancient thangkas from the Musée Guimet.

Excerpt from John Giorno’s interview for 500 Words.

The exhibition is really Ugo’s creation. We’ve been together for twenty years. We sleep together every night—when you’ve been sleeping with somebody for that long, you know their mind. He’s taken everything that I’ve done and turned it into one massive work of art, and he’s allowed everything I’ve made to take another step forward. All of the people who’ve contributed to it have transformed it as well—Rirkrit Tiravanija, Michael Stipe, Matthew Higgs, Pierre Huyghe, and Angela Bulloch, among others. The show has evolved since it was in Paris, as it’s being presented across multiple New York venues that are collaborating together for the first time, and that’s extraordinarily wonderful. I have the good fortune to watch it all take shape.

I’m not really overly cautious about what I think my story is. It’s silly to be overprotective of one’s own history, isn’t it? If you go and try changing something, it always backfires. Ugo’s presented my life, but not in a way that’s nailed down. Things are still changing—it’s always shifting. Though, it was extraordinary to see all these images, books, and other things I haven’t thought about or looked at in ages as the show was being put together. The photographs of my family I hadn’t seen since I was fifteen years old! Taking all that in can make it feel like your life’s a slide show, or a stop-frame movie that’s eighty years long.

But I have written a take on my own life—everyone has a take on their own life, right? It’s almost done, at about 680 pages. I’ve been working on it for more than twenty years. The last chapter is going to be about Ugo and the Paris and New York shows, but I haven’t written it yet. The reason the book’s taken so long is that I never kept diaries. I’ve kept appointment journals, and those can be useful for placing certain events. It’s all just memory. I can remember conversations from fifty years ago. It is a long process that involves allowing the memory to come back. It generally begins by remembering what I said, and over the course of some days I remember what was said between myself and someone else. Whenever there is an important event I want to remember, this is the process. Then I embellish the dialogue with descriptions of that moment. There are eighty-page chapters on Andy Warhol; Bob Rauschenberg; Jasper Johns; William Burroughs; Ugo; being a Tibetan Buddhist in the Nyingma Tradition; and being a poet and artist. The book is going to be called Great Demon Kings.

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Kishio Suga


Kishio Suga, Law of Halted Space, 2016, wood, metal. Installation view, Dia:Chelsea, New York, 2016.

A founding member of the Japanese art movement Mono-ha, Kishio Suga was born in Morioka, Japan, in 1944 and currently lives and works in Ito City, Japan. Suga’s first solo museum show in the United States, which he discusses below, is on view at Dia:Chelsea in New York through July 29, 2017.

AT FIRST, Dia requested a past work, but when I saw the space, a former marble-cutting factory, I felt that I wanted to do something new. I imagined a show of work that would contend with the height of the tall ceiling—something not flat, but three-dimensional and solid. I think there is a profound difference between the conditions of something at rest versus something that is upright, even if it is the same object.

For instance, when a tree in a meadow stands upright, there is no upper limit. Trees are directed toward a limitless place. I’m interested in this natural condition. If I were to set a limit to it, I would suppress this verticality with something horizontal—with pressure. This pressure is something I explored in this show.

I am also very conscious of how things are connected through some kind of ground. The things above possess a certain system in some form, even if it happens to not be visible. One can imagine such a system, even if it is not perceptible. My work attempts to make this system visible.

I don’t usually think of symbolic things when I’m working. I think more literally of things concretely piling up, one on top of another. When they are piled into this kind of space, there is a limit, especially since natural stones I used in this show are uneven. In order to have them stand up, it was necessary to secure them, so the wall of the building and many other things started to become necessary.

Of course, I could have worked with rope or a softer material. For example, I could have tied ropes, and I could continue to tie them. However, for this show, I wanted to work with variously sized objects. When things are uneven, that needs to be made evident. There is also the problem of size. So, I thought about how to unify the unevenness as a whole and make it one.

As told to and translated from Japanese by Mika Yoshitake

Trevor Paglen, Sight Machine, 2017. Performance view, Pier 70, San Francisco, January 14, 2017. Kronos Quartet. Photo: Joshua Brott, Obscura Digital.

Trevor Paglen is the first artist-in-residence at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. The exhibition “The Eye and the Sky: Trevor Paglen in the Cantor Collection” places his photographic series of predator drones, “Time Study (Predator; Indian Springs, NV),” 2010, alongside photographs by artists such as Eadweard Muybridge, Edward Steichen, and Eve Sonneman from the Cantor’s permanent collection. Earlier this year, the Cantor also commissioned Paglen’s multimedia performance Sight Machine. Below, he discusses issues of surveillance in the show, which is on view through July 31, 2017, as well as in the performance. On July 25, 2017, Paglen will participate in a panel discussion on civil liberties in the age of hacking at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. His exhibition “A Study of Invisible Images” opens at Metro Pictures in New York on September 8, 2017.

MY TIME AT STANFORD has centered around a development in imagemaking that I think is more significant than the invention of photography. Over the last ten years or so, powerful algorithms and artificial intelligence networks have enabled computers to “see” autonomously. What does it mean that “seeing” no longer requires a human “seer” in the loop?

This past January, the Cantor commissioned Sight Machine, which I produced in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet. While the musicians performed selections by Bach, Raymond Scott, Laurie Anderson, and Terry Riley, among other composers, they were surrounded by cameras that all fed video into a rack of computers. The computers were programmed to run a large range of computer-vision algorithms, such as those used in self-driving cars, guided missiles, face detection and recognition software, and artificial intelligence networks used by Facebook, Google, and other companies to interpret images. While the Kronos Quartet played music, a projection behind them showed them as they looked to the array of algorithms watching them.

At one time, to surveil implied “to watch over,” and to survey was basically “to look.” Between these two definitions we get a sense of how photographs can be manipulated for multiple aims. Eadweard Muybridge’s Sunset over Mount Tamalpais, 1872, which gives you a vantage point to look at the Northern California landscape, is also a document of the move toward geopolitical dominance. That work is in “The Eye and the Sky,” and Muybridge has been on my mind for some time. My photographic series in the show, “Time Study (Predator; Indian Springs, NV),” is made up of albumen prints of predator drones. They relate to Muybridge because they deal with conventions that we take for granted in landscape photography. During the residency, I worked with computer-vision and artificial intelligence students and researchers to further explore the largely invisible world of machine-to-machine seeing. We not only developed software that allowed us to see what various computer-vision algorithms see when they look at a landscape, but also were able to implement software that could be used in conjunction with artificial intelligence to “evolve” recognizable images from random noise—almost like a hallucination or the phenomenon of pareidolia, in which one sees faces in shapes such as clouds.

To “teach” AI software how to see various objects, you have to use enormous training sets of data. For example, if you want to build an AI program that can recognize pencils, keyboards, and cups, you need to give it thousands of pictures of each object. The AI technology teaches itself how to see the differences between these objects during a training phase of the software development. The libraries of the thousands of images you use to train an AI project are called training sets.

The implicit biases and values built into various training sets can have enormous consequences, and there are numerous examples of training sets creating AIs that reflect the unacknowledged forms of racism, patriarchy, and class division that characterize so much of society. A Google AI program described an African American couple as “a pair of gorillas,” while other AIs technologies routinely assume that doctors are male and nurses are female. Indeed, in AI-based gender-recognition algorithms, subjects are invariably described as either “male” or “female”—the concept of nonbinary gender identities is utterly alien.

This brings me to what I am really fascinated by: a panoramic looking, or bird’s-eye view, that you get with nineteenth-century landscape photography and that you begin to see manifested in the twentieth century as surveillance by machines. In the twenty-first century it involves total machine capture. At Stanford, we started developing training sets based on taxonomies from literature, psychoanalysis, political economy, and poetry. We built an AI program that can only see scenes from Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams and another that can only see monsters associated with metaphors of capital such as vampires and zombies. Another one is trained to see “American predators,” from Venus flytraps to predator drones. With this body of work, I wanted to point to some of the potential dangers associated with the widespread deployment of AI and other optimization technologies.

In AI there are enforcement mechanisms that are even harder to discern. We are training machines in patriarchal histories or racist histories, etc. We know gender is fluid and race is a construct, but that is not the case with machine categorization. There is an assumption that the technology is unbiased, but it is not. These are not merely representational systems or optimization systems; they are set up as normative systems and therefore they become enforcement systems. The project to redefine the normal human is a political project. The contestation of those categories is essential before they become hard-coded into infrastructure. Sight Machine and my photographs included in “Time Study” address machine vision and the invisibility of these repressive visual regimes.

Read Trevor Paglen’s 1000 Words in the March 2009 issue of Artforum here.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell