Beryl Korot


Beryl Korot, Text and Commentary (detail), 1976–77, weavings, drawings, five-channel video (black-and-white, sound, 30 minutes). Installation view.

Beryl Korot’s groundbreaking video installation Text and Commentary, 1976–77, inspired by the Jacquard loom and how it impacted engineer Charles Babbage’s invention of the punch card, was originally exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1977. As I wrote five years ago in the pages of this magazine, “An amalgamation of various genres—post-Minimalism, Process art, Pattern and Decoration—Text and Commentary has not yet been considered a key Conceptual work, though it should be, given its capacious reflection on the limits and capabilities of language and seriality.” The piece is included in “Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989,” which is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from November 13, 2017 to April 8, 2018. I’m happy to report the work has been given its due. —Lauren O’Neill-Butler

1974 WAS A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR ME. I found myself working in three communications media at the same time: in print (as an editor of the publication Radical Software), in video, and at the loom. It was a revelation to me that all three encode and decode information in lines. I was also drawn to the multichannel genre developing at that time because it most clearly challenged the traditional viewer-broadcaster relationship. The viewer had to leave the living room and go to a public space to view the work. And the loom—which was actually the first computer on the face of the earth, in that it programs patterns according to a numerical structure—was the most sophisticated technology I could find to understand the programming of multiples.

Conceiving of each monitor as a thread, I constructed the multichannel installation Dachau 1974 according to basic thread structures for binding a cloth, with channels one and three and channels two and four juxtaposing pairs of images as the work proceeded in time. In essence, I created a nonverbal narrative structure based on a visual, and not a literary, source. This distinction was very important to me. The visual structure of woven cloth, based on the buildup of lines, precedes human writing by thousands of years and holds a key to the organization of visual and textual information. The words text and weave share the same Latin root.

Text and Commentary is a handmade work created for the camera. Five weavings hang from a dowel facing five video monitors built into a freestanding wall. As I wove at the loom, I hung a camera from the ceiling to record the process at varying distances. The images became quite abstract. I edited the piece by drawing all the images I shot on three-by-five cards and spreading them out on the floor to come up with a sequence of images. The work produces a dialogue between an ancient technology and the then-new medium of video. When it is exhibited, there’s also a pictographic score for the five channels of video as well as five weavers’ notations. All elements of the work coexist and provide varying perspectives of virtually the same information, but within the limitations of each medium.

Currently I’m working on “Curves,” which is a series of abstract drawings on paper, made with ink, pencil, and thread, that reference the human torso. As these works develop, threads are sewn on the surface of the paper with a digital sewing machine. The relationship between the handmade and the machine-made is basic to this work. Instead of oil or watercolor, here the programmed structure of the threads allows the original drawn markings to be seen in a new way and adds texture, color, and depth to the surface of the work. The sewing machine is programmed to sew on the surface of the paper in pre-designated areas. The kind of stitching, with its shape and degrees of being open or closed to the surface beneath, is another example of the impact of the computer on something as basic as the sewing machine.

Timo Nasseri


View of “I Saw a Broken Labyrinth,” 2017, Ab-Anbar, Tehran.

Over the past decade, the Berlin-based artist Timo Nasseri has drawn on a diverse array of mathematical and philosophical influences in his work. His current exhibition at Ab-Anbar in Tehran, “I Saw a Broken Labyrinth,” runs until November 23, 2017 and marks a decisive moment in his career, as it is the first time he has had a solo exhibition in Iran. Nasseri will also have a major solo show at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah in early 2018.

I’VE ALWAYS HAD MIXED FEELINGS about being termed an Iranian or a Middle Eastern artist, mainly because I’ve never seen myself as localized to any one culture. My mother is German, and my father is from Iran. So, my name is an odd hybrid. When Ab-Anbar approached me about doing an exhibition, we decided to introduce my work, even though much of the audience in Tehran may already be familiar with it. It’s been interesting for me because suddenly I’m seeing different works together and new connections between them, and there’s a real fusion of Eastern geometrical motifs with constructivist elements from my German background, as well as this fantastic aspect of my interest in storytelling.

I grew up with the tradition of storytelling; my father would invent fairy tales for me. On the one hand, my works refer to real stories about real people, but, on the other, they are abstracted. It’s like a conversation, a transportation of ideas from one person to the next. That’s what makes it so interesting to me. Every time you retell a story, something new gets added to it. I want certain narratives to unfold within the viewer, but it’s up to you to take the time to really look at a work and think about it. They are personal—there are tons of stories there. It’s just about which one finds you.

In general, I think my works are becoming more narrative. There was one point when I felt like I was done with all the mathematical aspects of my muqarnas, all that geometry, and it was hard to wrap my head around the ever-increasingly complex equations I was dealing with, so I decided to invent my own mathematical language instead, kind of like how kids invent fantasy languages. This is where my love of Jorge Luis Borges and, in particular, his story “The Library of Babel” comes in. For me, this story connects with so many different aspects of my work—it’s a fantasy about infinity, mathematics, quantum mechanics, and legibility. In it, there is an infinite library with an infinite number of books comprising the twenty-six letters of the alphabet in all possible combinations. Yet, these combinations of letters don’t make any sense, to us they are unreadable. However, in one book, on one page, there is the phrase “O time thy pyramids.” Maybe it’s the key. Maybe everything is legible if you hold the right key.

I am intrigued by this idea that a slight twist on reality can make something illegible, yet can retain a sense of inner logic, a truth that may not be immediately obvious. For example, for my series “O Time Thy Pyramids,” as well as the accompanying drawings, “Nine Firmaments,” I invented a language—there are letters but they don’t necessarily build words, just like in the Borges story.

Think of our Latin alphabet—you can kind of read French if you know the letters, but you won’t understand the words. It’s the same with my mathematics; I use familiar numbers and symbols, but you can’t understand the combination I’m using them in within my little sketches. Yet, if you stand in front of them, you have the impression that there’s something going on, that there’s a story there, a map to some hidden treasure, maybe an explanation of something like gravity in a different universe—it could be anything, if only you held that key.

This also builds on my interest in translating the two-dimensional into the three-dimensional and vice versa, as if my drawings were notations for my sculptures. My muqarnas were born out of the ornamental drawings I made for the “One and One” series, which became blueprints for those mirrored cupolas. Now I’ve added the elements of time and music. My new video work Expansions, which I made especially for this show, takes the elements of my drawings and deconstructs and rebuilds them. Drawings already have a certain rhythm of their own, so I thought perhaps this could be reflected in a musical rhythm, in this case, that of stars. I took materials from NASA—recordings of the rotations of planets, the rhythm of pulsars, and the explosions of stars—and put them into single tones to build a soundtrack. You can layer these tones rather like the way you can layer words to make a poem, or images to make a collage. It’s still just a beginning. It’ll never be complete, because it’s a fragment of an infinite library.

— As told to Anna Wallace-Thompson

Xavier Cha


Xavier Cha, Buffer, 2017. Performance view, Brooklyn Academy of Music, November 1, 2017. Cassandra Freeman and Babs Olusanmokun. Photo: Rebecca Smeyne.

Xavier Cha is a New York–based artist. Her latest work, Buffer, 2017, was made during her Harkness Foundation for Dance residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) this year, as part of Performa 17. The piece is on view at BAM through Saturday, November 4, 2017.

IN A STRUCTURAL SENSE, Buffer is an analog representation of consuming digital media, but it doesn’t have to be that specific. That’s just the surface structure of how it’s built. It alternates between three channels, or switches between tabs on a viewing device, and some of the scenes buffer or pause or loop or freeze. Then it alternates between the different scenes.

When I got asked to do this piece, I immediately thought about the proscenium format. Because usually in my pieces people can just enter and leave as they please, the work is often non-narrative. So, I thought about the experience of sitting and viewing a work for an hour and how that’s pretty unusual now. When do people do that? Usually it’s when they’re in front of a screen. So, I really wanted to superimpose and conflate those moments of viewing into one—the attention spans that we have for viewing privately and publicly, and the thresholds that we have for certain things.

The title made sense to me because it refers to the literal buffer that happens when you’re viewing things online and they freeze. You have the patience for it, for some reason, at home—I guess because you can go and do something else, like check your phone. I began thinking about how that would feel in a public viewing experience. But then buffer, to me, also implies this weird alien space between humans. I think of it like this puffy sac between us, like we’re negotiating these weird buffers between humanity.

There’s a very lonely theme that runs through the piece. Even when you’re really intimate with someone, in the scripted conversations and the dance, there’s still this alienation that you feel, this loneliness. You’re trying to make connections, but somehow they are just barely missed, even when they are right in front of you. That is just addressing what it is to be human. What are real, authentic feelings, anyway, when capitalism and all these other things manipulate everything? Even the idea of following a single narrative thread doesn’t really exist anymore; everything is so fractured. It’s hard to identify what is actually you.

I wanted to include this almost banal conversation between a couple. Well, not banal, but when the woman’s sharing her dreams—that’s the kind of thing that doesn’t usually translate. When you tell someone about a dream it never really matches up to what you experienced. So that kind of conversation usually only happens with someone you feel really intimate with. Otherwise it just sounds dumb or flat. So, there’s this conversation that really pulls the viewer into a private world. And there’s always a sense of searching that the performer has. And they never physically touch, but you do feel this intimacy between them; that’s the kind of energy I wanted to create there. And then the dance-opera scene, to me, is like the subconscious dream world. There’s a detached feeling in the dances that’s almost heart-wrenching. The love scene is supposed to be a relief, to make you feel like these people are truly connected and sharing their love. It’s supposed to be a transcendent, beautiful moment that gives you a relief from viewing, like, “Ah! I’m not trying to unpack this other stuff.” That’s a reason for that channel, and then you get to switch back between the three.

It was all kind of conceived simultaneously. I knew I wanted to choreograph, and I knew I wanted there to be channels that it switches between—it just felt pretty clear what they were going to be from the start. I wanted a movement scene. I wanted a private conversation. I guess it was fulfilling a desire I had of wanting to delve into the process of writing the script. I was really excited about doing that, and I knew I wanted to choreograph movement with opera, so I guess I decided on things I wanted to work with. I built those into Buffer pretty immediately.

I don’t know that I would say that this alienation is a technological problem—that I’m anti-internet or that we’re all losing touch. That’s not the conversation I’m trying to have. I wanted this work to come from a sincere, vulnerable, and emotional place, and that’s definitely an emerging necessity with creative voices. Irony doesn’t have a place now.

— As told to Grant Johnson

Jimmy Robert


Jimmy Robert, Imitation of Lives, 2017. Rehearsal view, Glass House, 2017. NIC Kay and Quenton Stuckey.

The work of Guadeloupe-born, Bucharest-based artist Jimmy Robert spans photography, film, video, sculpture, and performance, but collage is its mainstay. For his latest piece, titled Imitation of Lives, 2017, and staged at Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, Robert mines the architect’s infamous life and historical influence to create an exquisite montage interspersed with divergent references and foreign objects, including music, mirrors, bits of poetry, and a marble trompe-l’oeil painting by Lucy McKenzie, among other things. The work is co-curated by Cole Akers and Charles Aubin as part of Performa 17 and will take place November 3–5, 2017.

TRAVELING OUT OF MANHATTAN TO GO TO THE GLASS HOUSE, there are many, many different disjunctions. Gender and class and race—you feel very much all of this as you progress through the landscape. And then once you are in the house, there is a different atmosphere: one of privateness and coziness, almost, which you don’t expect because you feel like you are always outside. It’s a complex space. It was very clear to me that the house was a stage and that the performance had to be thought through as a series of images that could be read, as in cinema.

The narrative of Imitation of Lives is mostly constructed through the costumes. The first section is what I call “the security section,” because of the security outfits. The second part is “the hoodie section,” and the third part is “the robes section.” In the first section, we’re wearing all black clothing; in the second, the hoodies are all gray; and in the third, the robes are white and silky and semi-transparent. So there is a gradation. I was thinking also of mirrors and reflections and the possibility of black bodies being within this space—what they could represent, through what they’ve represented before. If you have a security outfit, it’s a question of power; if you have a hooded figure, it’s a question of anxiety. And then there is something totally different and much more mannered, decadent, and superfluous with the robes.

Another thing that is interesting about the house is the absence of walls. There isn’t one perspective from which to see the performance. Who is looking at whom, and how? I integrated Jeff Wall’s book Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel into another performance I did called The mirror is on stage, which also involved some movements from Trio A by Yvonne Rainer. For most of the piece, Rainer never looks at the audience. The gaze is averted. So, I placed mirrors on my hands and my face, and I performed these specific sections of Trio A, reversing the gaze of the audience members onto themselves rather than onto the performer, while they obviously are looking at the performance. And I recited a text that contains some quotations from the Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel, which is a long reflection on the idea of transparency and visibility. Wall makes these kinds of relations between the mirror cross section of Graham’s Alteration to a Suburban House—which was never built—and the Glass House.

There are some sections of the book in which Wall talks about anxiety, and those, to me, were the most interesting parts. It’s very interesting that somebody like Philip Johnson, who had an openly gay life, could live in a totally transparent house at a time when there was no transparency about sexuality. It says a lot about the anxiety that can be generated by looking and the possibility of looking through someone’s private life.

I have mostly worked in white cubes, and sometimes in theaters. This is the first time I’ve worked in a house. It becomes a stage because we will be in this space with this audience and the audience will have to negotiate its own space at the same time. You cannot get away from the fact that it is a domestic space.

— As told to David Huber

View of “Barbara Chase-Riboud: Malcolm X: Complete,” 2017.

In addition to her work as an artist, Barbara Chase-Riboud is an acclaimed poet and novelist, recognized for her historical novel Sally Hemings (1979), which challenged official American history. In 1969, Chase-Riboud began her series of twenty “Malcolm X” stelae, monumental sculptures made up of metal and fibers such as silk, rayon, and cotton. She completed the series in 2016. Fourteen of those works are currently on view in her solo show at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York through November 4, 2017.

BY THE TIME I began the first four “Malcolm X” stelae in 1969, I was already past my Giacometti stage. I was living in Paris and looking for a way to get rid of a sculpture’s legs and anything that had to do with naturalism. I remember telling my friend and fellow artist Sheila Hicks, “I’m trying to get the legs off of these sculptures and the sculptures off the base.” Finally, we came up with the idea of covering up the legs so that the sculptures seemed to be hovering. She said, “OK Barbara, I’ll show you one knot, and then you’re on your own.” So that’s what she did: she showed me one knot, and I found the material that seemed to work.

I began using silk like you would use clay, sculpting it, which is exactly the opposite of what Sheila does. From that, the other skirts of the works evolved. Sometimes they’re more baroque than others. I had decided that the first ones would be silk because silk is such a strong material and it’s practically indestructible, like bronze is indestructible.

When I finished those first skirts I realized something extraordinary had happened between the metal and the fiber. I hadn’t planned it that way. The fiber became the heavy, strong element, and the bronze became the liquid, flowing, moving material. It was a miracle, and then it began to happen over and over again. I thought, “This is an accident. This is never going to happen again,” but it did. You have motion with the bronze, and you have stability with the silk, but it’s really the silk that’s moving—the threads move all the time no matter what you do. They’re powerful. Yet, it’s the combination of the two textures that makes works even more imposing than if they had been all bronze. The light also transforms the metal. There is a metamorphosis that takes place; this is the magic of these objects.

I was going in my own direction toward abstraction, and I decided to dedicate these stelae to Malcolm X because he was dead. It was a matter of memory, of doing a monument—not to his philosophy, but in the Latin sense of memoria. The work is pure abstraction, pure beauty—that’s the only thing I’m really interested in. Most activism sacrifices the aesthetic part of making art for the message. I never do that. For me, the message is the message.

Maybe people have caught up with me. I think that’s the case. I don’t use the word expatriate—I think it’s absolutely insane to use expatriate in the twenty-first century. I’ve never used it, and I don’t answer to that label. That’s just one more label added onto all the other labels that are slapped on me. I reject labels; creative artists don’t deserve them. It’s the last thing that we need, and since art has absolutely nothing to do with most labels it’s insane to talk about us in terms of movements, politics, aesthetics, race, age, beauty, or whatever. But I’ve been out here for a long time. This isn’t something I discovered the day before yesterday. It’s only because of the suppression of our history of America that we have arrived at a boiling point. It’s like an ulcer; it just exploded. We have to deal with something that should have been dealt with in 1865.

— As told to Grant Johnson

Cosey Fanni Tutti, exhibition poster for “Prostitution,” 1976.

In 1976, British performance artist and musician Cosey Fanni Tutti (Christine Newby) cofounded Throbbing Gristle from the art collective COUM Transmissions along with Chris Carter, Peter Christopherson, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. As she details in her autobiography Art Sex Music (Faber & Faber, 2017), their debut gig occurred, rather appropriately, on the opening night of COUM Transmissions’ “Prostitution” show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. On the occasions of the fortieth-anniversary reissue of Throbbing Gristle’s album The Second Annual Report (Mute, 2017) and the COUM Transmissions retrospective at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull, England, earlier this year, she reflects on the band’s mission, its radical roots, and the significance of her own pseudonym.

MY NAME CHANGED FROM Cosmosis to Cosey Fanni Tutti. A friend had sent me a postcard and addressed it to Cosey Fanni Tutti. It seemed rather apt, because at the time I was doing mail art and collaging a lot of sex magazines, Cosey Fanni Tutti was fine with me. I don’t regard myself as having an alter ego. I’ve just always been who I am. But there was a point later on when I went places, and my name preceded me. I think that’s when I realized that the name itself had traction. The name does have a life of its own, people build something about me around it.

The north of England in the 1960s was just waking up to progressive music and art. We had the art college, university, and technical college, so people were travelling in from the outskirts of Hull. And the record companies had begun to send artists from their labels around the country, artists like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. In Hull and Yorkshire, the people are tough, and it’s tough to convince them to change. I was amongst that social group of working-class families who worked bloody hard and didn’t need any disruption from their children and daily lives. Within that culture you were expected to follow form. I was born at the right time, just as the whole hippie culture and Beat generation came through. We knew there was an alternative lifestyle out there—we’d seen it, we’d read about it, and we wanted it. It wasn’t long after that I left Hull, or I was politely asked to leave.

In COUM, people would mess around playing acoustic guitar or bongos in different people’s flats. Then it shifted from that, to using anything that could make sound that was more interesting. It wasn’t based on any formula as such—it was about being creative with sound. We were breaking down rock ’n’ roll with toy instruments and basically being annoying. Then we realized it would be good to be a little bit more constructive about it. We got to know different people through COUM, and they brought different things, like the possibilities of amplification. Then we moved down to London and met the musician and engineer John Lacey, who was very technically competent. And through him we met Chris Carter who was able to build synthesizers. It was Chris building equipment that brought me to a different kind of sound. I thought it gave us the possibility to create sounds that we hadn’t heard before—or the sounds we could hear in our heads. It was Chris’s information and ideas and innovative approach to it all that made Industrial music possible.

Throbbing Gristle performs “Discipline” in San Francisco, 1981.

I see Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records as satellites of what was going on in punk. Throbbing Gristle came out of Brion Gysin, International Times, and all those experimental groups of the ’60s. Out of that came Industrial music. We had nothing to do with punk. Punk came from Malcolm McLaren and John Krivine. They didn’t do it themselves, they formed bands to do it for them. That’s the big difference between us and them. We did it ourselves. Bands like Cabaret Voltaire did it themselves.

By the 1980s what was labelled “Industrial” music was nothing like the original. Throbbing Gristle had finished by ’81—the project was over. It had been a product of the late-’60s generation speaking out about the ’70s. It was a really tough time in England in the ’70s. There were a lot of power cuts and struggles with the National Health Service. It’s getting like that again now. I think when we get Brexit, it will be like what we had in the ’70s—it’ll be very desperate. People are going to find it difficult. I’m not looking forward to it myself.

— As told to Erik Morse