Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Work/Travail/Arbeid, 2015. Performance view, Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, April 8, 2015. Photo: Herman Sorgeloos.
Choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker has staged dance in museums before, including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2011 and the Tate Modern’s Tanks in London in 2012. With Work/Travail/Arbeid, 2015, which premiered at the Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels, and then traveled to the Centre Pompidou in Paris and to Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London, she has created a piece that is presented differently in each exhibition space. For six hours a day, March 29 through April 2, 2017, her dance company Rosas and the musicians from the ensemble Ictus will be performing the site-specific piece at the Museum of Modern Art. Workshops will be offered on the dance’s basic vocabulary and movement phrases.
WORK/TRAVAIL/ARBEID WAS FIRST PRESENTED as a nine-week exhibition at Wiels, which is literally down the street from where our company practices in Brussels. When the invitation came from Elena Filipovic and Dirk Snauwaert to create a new work, I was in full rehearsal for Vortex Temporum, a piece I choreographed in 2013 to the music of French spectralist composer Gérard Grisey. I began thinking about how this work would be perceived outside the condensed time and limited space of a codified theater performance, with dancers working during normal hours, in daylight. During rehearsal I don’t always sit in front but travel around the space in a circular way, watching and constructing sequences step by step, layer by layer. So before the black-box piece Vortex Temporum was made, I already had a desire to somehow include the audience. With Work/Travail/Arbeid, we literally shifted Vortex from black to white; from night to day; from artificial light to natural light; from distance to proximity; from fixity to fluidity.
One of the basic principles of Vortex Temporum, and of Work/Travail/Arbeid, is that each dancer is linked to a musician—there’s a piano player, a flute player, a clarinet player, and three string players. The visual counterpoint is built by following the music very closely, almost awkwardly so. That sort of close relationship is usually antithetical to contemporary dance: It is quite different from the Merce Cunningham and John Cage relationship, for example, where music and dance are completely independent, where chance decides which visual information coincides with which musical information. In this piece, the dance moves are an almost immediate kinetic response to the music. But the complexity of Grisey’s counterpoint approach seemed to avoid any old-fashioned redundancy. Most dance audiences and visual-art audiences perceive it as difficult music. It’s dense, there’s an absence of regular beat, and harmonically it’s extremely dissonant. This music is hard to categorize. Although it’s very structural, extremely layered, and complex, it’s still very natural and at moments even ritualistic. Based on his scientific research into sound, Grisey focused on the material attributes of sound, and eventually used procedures that are connected to Minimalism.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Work/Travail/Arbeid, 2015. Performance view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 28, 2017.
When the piece is performed you get a condensed version, highly contrapuntal, whereas in the white cube you get solos, duets, trios in different constellations, both musically and dance-wise. In the museum the audience are free to move and choose their places. Some people go to the side, some go right in the middle and sit in the vortex; they become part of the dance as soon as they move into the space, which is demarcated only by chalk lines. Children often start dancing. People perceive the energy and the labor that are being expended. In MoMA’s atrium there will be no art on the wall, just a clock and some ropes to draw circles on the ground, and these will be visible from the mezzanine. I’ve always been interested in circles. Spinning and turning are the most intuitive movements we execute when we dance. Circles also the most democratic geometric organization, with everyone the same distance from the middle.
The experience is in constant transformation. Over time there are different dancers, there are different combinations, and then of course the presence of the audience will have an effect. Even though the underlying geometry is precise and articulated, because of the physical presence of the audience it’s like water—it’s fluid, and the dancers adapt to the amount of mass and volume present in the space. There’s a nine-hour cycle that is choreographed, of roughly one-hour phases, and it shifts over the six hours that the museum is open. This means that if you come on Thursday at a specific time, the piece will look different than on Sunday at the same time.
Heide Hinrichs, On Some of the Birds of Nepal (Parting the Animal Kingdom of the East) (detail), 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.
Heide Hinrichs is a Brussels-based artist whose work will be featured in the debut Kathmandu Triennale, “The City, My Studio / The City, My Life,” curated by Philippe van Cauteren. For On Some of the Birds of Nepal (Parting the Animal Kingdom of the East), 2017, Hinrichs is bringing a volume of original drawings commissioned by Brian Hodgson between 1825 and 1857 from the Natural History Museum in London back to the place of its origin. The triennial is on view from March 24 through April 9, 2017.
THE IDEA OF CONFINEMENT in Brian Hodgson’s twenty-three years of being enclosed within the Kathmandu Valley, from 1820 to 1843, is a point of departure for my project. Hodgson was a junior officer for the British East India Company, and later the British Resident to Kathmandu. He was also an eminent naturalist. While John James Audubon was identifying and painting species of birds in America, Hodgson did his work in Nepal, an almost inaccessible place for its geographic seclusion.
Hodgson kept an aviary; hunters brought birds to him. He wrote scientific descriptions of the birds and commissioned drawings of them, mostly by anonymous Nepali artists, with the idea of publishing an illustrated book on the birds of Nepal. Only one of the artists, Raj Man Singh Chitrakar, is named in the book. The 738 renderings of 563 species were bound in six never-published volumes and were housed in the Natural History Museum of Britain. Seven of the species Hodgson selected are now extinct in the region, and one is most likely extinct worldwide.
Hodgson’s project might have been inspired by the idea of completion, whereas mine addresses implied personal, institutional, and symbolic relationships. Hodgson’s opus on Nepali birds included two appendix volumes, and I am bringing the larger of these two to Kathmandu. The drawings in this book are more diverse in style and they range from drawings made earlier in the project, in which birds were isolated on a background, to late drawings, where a stylized natural environment appears. I am interested in how these drawings act as worksheets, carrying descriptions and measurements. They include not only Hodgson’s handwriting but also that of the draftsmen, some with side-by-side translations. The visible working process imparts a quality of lightness that goes beyond pure documentation and traces the collaborative relationships that made the drawings a kind of a collective work.
On the ground floor of the Siddhartha Arts Gallery, the volume of The Birds of Nepal will be shown in a display case, opened to a single visible page. The other drawings in the volume will be shown as a slide projection on a suspended sheet of Nepali paper hung close to the display case. I will also make visible, as a sculptural part of my work, the machines monitoring the exhibition conditions—temperature, humidity, and light—that were requested in the loan agreement. Additionally, I am making a wall-size drawing in pencil, with imagery sourced from the volume on passerines, but the birds will be shown as negative spaces. Finally, there will be an installation made of silk threads in shades of blue, to which feathers from Nepali birds will be attached. The threads will reach from floor to ceiling and will be anchored by different ornithological field guides to the Indian subcontinent and Nepal from the past fifty years. The feathers will be gathered from local streets and parks.
As I thought about how and what to do for an exhibition in a country I have never been to and have yet to make a connection with, the relationship between the locals and Hodgson’s outsider status was a way for me to begin. I cannot assume what this gesture of bringing the drawings back to Kathmandu, a historic exchange, will mean from a local perspective, but that is something I want to figure out, in creating a space for encounter, an in-between space of communication.
Porpentine Charity Heartscape, With Those We Love Alive (screenshot), 2014.
Porpentine Charity Heartscape is a writer, game designer, and self-described dead swamp milf. In addition, she is a 2016 Creative Capital Emerging Fields and 2016 Sundance Institute’s New Frontier Story Lab fellow, a 2017 Prix Net Art awardee, and a 2017 Whitney Biennial participant. Here she speaks about her work on view at the Whitney, and discusses the origins of her hypertext narratives.
THERE’S SORT OF A MINIRETROSPECTIVE of my Twine stories in the Whitney Biennial. With Those We Love Alive is projected on one wall of a room. People can play it on a computer and they can draw their responses to the game on a tablet. Flanking it are some other key works on laptops. So it’s kind of a little arcade, net-café, hell-portal zone. Some of the stories are better known, like Cyberqueen and Howling Dogs, but some are kind of deep cuts, like Begscape. We were going for a balance between stuff that was notable and popular and stuff that’s also good to play in person—because those aren’t always the same thing.
It’s always been tricky to think about all this being exhibited. I do a lot of different work: I do a lot of visual work, I do graphical games—little critters plonking around a zone. But hypertext has always been extra tricky, because I always envision someone playing a hypertext game alone in their shitty apartment, on their computer in the dark, holed up and reclusive. But I’ve been lucky that a lot of people I’ve worked with have been very sensitive to my concerns, and done a good job setting up the works. I definitely hope people will check out my work at home in a more introspective way after bumping up against it in the museum setting. But I’ve also always been very interested in having words that are splintered up, so you see screens where there’s just a sentence or two of big text. I feel very claustrophobic when I’m stuck on a page full of words. So my hypertexts probably have an evolutionary advantage over other forms of text in that setting: People can walk by and see visceral, brief sentences.
One of the elements of With Those We Love Alive is that it asks players to draw things on themselves throughout the story in response to prompts—you’re instructed to draw sigils representing how you feel about what’s going on. Usually, a lot of the people encountering With Those We Love Alive choose to draw on their arms. That’s a very classic spot. I think that’s because the arm is a very convenient place, but also because it’s very expressive and powerful—and weaponized, in a way. Though I also really appreciate when people have drawn on their thighs, their feet, all over their body. Anyway, it’s not the preference of museum spaces to have pens and markers that can be used to draw on the environments. So having people draw on tablets was our compromise. I think it’ll be interesting to have these tablets create a communal drawing space as opposed to a personal one. A hundred thousand people have already experienced With Those We Love Alive online, so this will be your chance to play it and have other people be scrutinizing your every move, and also to have your decisions left behind, like graffiti.
I was just a little kid when I started making my first games. I would play console games, like Nintendo 64, and then I’d take index cards and make my own cargo cult versions of them. I’d draw little levels with pen, and then go to other kids, and I would tell them to play, while making decisions and telling them what happened.
I guess I later got into making hypertext narratives on Twine around when I was going through a lot of heavy stuff—a decade and a half of solid homelessness or displacement, and extremely bad shit. These games represented the simplest, most energy-efficient way I could transmute my feelings into something people could put inside their word hole.
I don’t know if video games are even the right framing. It’s confusing because, based on who’s looking at my stuff, they come away with a totally different impression of me and what format my Twines are. And they are kind of a patchwork of literature and game elements, but I’m most interested in the textural aspect of those formats rather than some idealized payload. I do love games. I think about them all the time, and they inform a huge part of my aesthetic. But the game industry tries to make something that someone can play forever. What they’re manufacturing is the promise that you will not have to consider the ruinous passage of time, if you just lock yourself inside a game.
A lot of what I make is so janky and short, pretty directly about being trapped as time passes, marking away the days, so those pieces kind of invert and unsettle that structure. It’s an unstable fantasy, it spits you back out and hopefully you had an interesting ecological interaction with it. Most of my emotions come from dreams, so I guess what I make is handmade dreams.
You could say there are a few reasons I make things. The frequency of thoughts I experience is so intense I have to lance them out somehow. It’s just this art-pus that’s constantly oozing up. And there’s so much poison I have to convert, have to turn into an atmosphere I can breathe, because I can’t breathe here on earth. It’s how I make space for myself. I’m like those insects that eat shit and secrete nectar.
Another reason is I need to pay for health care and my friends’ health care and other costs of being happy—so people should give me money, definitely.
View of “Cary Leibowitz: Museum Show,” Contemporary Jewish Museum, 2017.
There’s a ceramic piece by Cary Leibowitz from 1993 that reads: FUCKED UP HOMO BAR-MITZVAH GAY BOY WORRIES TOO MUCH ABOUT WHAT HIS MOTHER WILL WEAR. “Museum Show,” which runs through June 25, 2017, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, is Leibowitz’s first-ever solo museum exhibition and midcareer survey, covering nearly thirty years of the artist’s identity-centric, bummer-rich comedy via paintings, drawings, sculptures, texts, and more. Here, Leibowitz talks about his work, organizing his show, and Fran Drescher.
I’M STILL SURPRISED THAT THIS EXHIBITION MADE IT INTO EXISTENCE. The curator of the show, Anastasia James, is about the same age as some of my work! Putting the show together was nerve-racking, but exciting. I was kind of happy with some of the older pieces. But there was another part of me that kept thinking, Oh my god, I barely changed in thirty years. Admittedly, I was embarrassed about looking at all my old work. I was also embarrassed at how badly I treated a lot of it. I had so much art shoved into the basement of my house from a million years ago. Then all of a sudden, when I needed to excavate and get it all out of there, it’s moldy and crapped-up. I was like, “Oh well, I guess this thing and that thing are going into the garbage.” Thankfully I didn’t need to get anything fixed or cleaned up—I make multiples and often have massive quantities of a single piece.
For the exhibition catalogue, I did an interview with Fran Drescher, the star of the 1990s CBS comedy The Nanny. I did this piece in 2007 called Tondo Schmondo, and it’s a circular painting surrounded by a halo of pink ski caps, and on each cap is a logo reading FRAN DRESCHER FAN CLUB—the “A” in the word “Fran” is a yellow Star of David. Anastasia was able to put me in touch with her because she has a friend of a friend who knows her. So we made a phone appointment, but Fran’s people kept rescheduling it, which, frankly, felt really glamorous. Finally we got around to having our conversation but I didn’t know what to do, what to say. Was she supposed to be asking me questions? I think she knew my work before we spoke—someone gave her one of the fan club caps years ago. But I did get to meet her before our phone date, around the time I made Tondo Schmondo. Doug and Mike Starn introduced me to her—she collected their work. But I could barely say anything to her because I was so shy.
Excerpt from Cary Leibowitz’s interview for 500 Words.
Am I an activist? HA HA. There were probably a lot of gay men in the early ’90s who weren’t fond of my work because it wasn’t overtly political. It certainly didn’t look “strong,” like something a guy who belonged to ACT UP would’ve made. And it didn’t participate in the larger dialogue about identity or gay rights in any direct way. I was such a weird loner—I was just creating pieces that felt right and honest to me. I have a couple of things that I would say are AIDS-related, one of which is a little teddy bear wearing a T-shirt that says, “Some day I’ll make a Cubist painting, but right now it’s not important.” My work looks really palatable and approachable, but I always throw in something to disturb people. I need that—I feel like it’s my responsibility to make the viewer uncomfortable. I made some new mugs about this horrible election, too. One says, “PARIS IS BURNING AND I’M STILL LEARNING / THE COUNTRY SAYS BOOO AND I LOOK TO YOU / WHERE DID YOU GO? / CAN I COME TOO / PRETTY PLEASE / Ye olde Candyass Fashion Victim Dictum copyright – on! 2016ish.”
Things are so terrifying now. The country’s being run by six-year-olds who’ve been taught the only way to “win” is to lie, cheat, and steal. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump need to be held to a higher standard for their behavior. Wouldn’t it be incredible if Bernie Sanders ran again in 2020, and won? A seventy-nine-year-old Jewish man saving the United States—how beautiful is that?
In her slyly personal, obsessively researched work, Brooklyn-based artist Becca Albee uses photography, video, sculpture, and scent to evoke overlooked historical figures and cultural moments. Her current solo show, “prismataria,” curated by Jeanne Gerrity, employs a custom rotating light fixture to bathe an enigmatic suite of photographs, many depicting feminist books, in cyan, magenta, and yellow while an energizing blend of essential oils is diffused in the space. The show is on view at Et al. in San Francisco through March 11, 2017.
THE FIRST TIME I VISITED HILAIRE HILER’S PRISMATARIUM, an immersive mural made in 1939 that covers the ceilings and walls of a former “ladies’ lounge” in the Aquatic Park Bathhouse, now the San Francisco Maritime Museum, the circular room was being used by a senior center for classes. There was a group dancing there, and someone doing a puzzle in the corner; and when I came back to see the mural again, the glee club was rehearsing. I loved how active it was, and I was fascinated by the history of the strange room. On that second visit I lucked out and found a very knowledgeable park ranger there to tell me about it. Hiler was an artist as well as a color theorist and a psychologist, and for this WPA commission he created a color wheel on the ceiling, with around two hundred different colors. He had rather half-baked, essentialist ideas about color and gender, believing, for instance, that women would be uniquely sensitive to—and soothed by—this environment. He also thought that in order to properly see color, your vision had to be primed with gray. So the walls of the lounge are covered in bands of different grays. The ranger told me that Hiler had intended for a rotating light fixture in the center of the ceiling to project cyan, magenta, and yellow in the room, which I found intriguing. But, by all accounts, this fixture was never made. I decided to make one for my show two years ago at the Los Angeles gallery 356 S. Mission Rd. And then, this show, at Et al. is a second iteration of the concept.
Hiler didn’t quite make it into the color-theory canon, and that got me thinking about other color systems—especially their underlying gender ideologies. I remembered a Color Me Beautiful swatch book from my childhood, and how I found it so compelling as an object. In the ’80s a number of color-analysis systems emerged, several marketed to women, to determine what colors you should wear—to be more successful, to be happy, and, of course, to look good. You were supposed to carry a swatch book around in your purse, and match it to potential clothing purchases. So I bought one of these on eBay, and it was tacked to my studio wall for some time. During that same period, I was carrying around my marked-up copy of the 1992 book Radical Feminist Therapy: Working in the Context of Violence by Bonnie Burstow, which was an assigned text for a class I took in the early ’90s at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. I had underlined the text with a number of colored pens, in an idiosyncratic color-coding system. The class was called “Women’s Health and Healing,” and its emphasis on grassroots activism and practical self-knowledge had a profound impact on me, as I was studying feminist history and was very involved with the Riot Grrrl milieu of Olympia at that time. So these are the elements I researched intensely, and entwined to create “prismataria.”
Half of the photographs I’m showing—installed in a gallery located in a basement below a dry cleaner’s, with the walls painted in homage to Hiler’s grayscale walls, and illuminated by the light fixture he never made—focus on these feminist texts. One image, for example, is of the dedication page of the book A New View of a Woman’s Body. It reads as a poem of women’s names. There’s also a page from an anthology, The Black Women’s Health Book, which lists some of its source articles. I photographed the books with colored gels placed directly on them; I found that by eliminating black, white, and gray, I could maximize the transformational effect of the light fixture’s moving, colored lights. One page that I photographed includes an illustration of a women’s self-help group doing a pelvic exam with a speculum, and it is only visible in the cyan or yellow light.
Printing the final images for this show and installing them right after the inauguration was incredibly difficult. I think many artists shared this feeling of numb futility, like, “What is the relevance of my work in this unanticipated and unfathomably terrible climate?” I had also just learned that my mom was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. So these emergencies—the political catastrophe and my family’s more specific panic—colored the experience of installing this show and shifted the meaning of everything for me. Ultimately, there was some solace in revisiting this radical source material—feminist health-care information that was so fresh and pertinent in its day—and looking at it anew. The distancing strategies I chose to reframe this content, both visually and ideologically, brought me much closer to it. And one thing I didn’t anticipate was the sound of the rotating light. The motor’s hum is really soothing. In this moment of urgent resistance it’s a comforting place to stand and talk with friends, which feels like one of the most important things to do right now.
Across thirteen albums and a handful of EPs, Xiu Xiu have remained a prickly, relentless force, inspiring loyalty, love, annoyance, and disgust in equal measure. Some people never get over their music, and some you couldn’t pay to even approach it. On the occasion of the release of their latest album, FORGET, the band’s mainstay Jamie Stewart discusses how he met Vaginal Davis (who performs on its last track), the band’s collaborations with Danh Vō, and the concept behind the record’s title. Polyvinyl will release FORGET on February 24, 2017.
HOW I MET VAGINAL DAVIS is actually a long story and initially a little bit unseemly. When I was very, very, young, I came across a fanzine called Ben Is Dead that was published in Los Angeles and there was an article about a band Vaginal Davis was in called Black Fag, and I had never before seen anything or heard anything that combined feminism with an aggressive punk rock masculinity and queer politics and racial identity all at the same time, and that really blew my mind. That moment really set me on the aesthetic trajectory that informed and guided a lot of the decisions I have made my entire adult life with regard to art and music. Several years later, a band I was in played at this now-defunct club in Los Angeles called Clubsucker where she used to host. She sort of introduced our band and part of her thing at the time was to tease the singer of the band, and it got to the point where she put a drumstick up my ass on the stage, which obviously was memorable. Then, many years after that, I was a guest lecturing at NYU, in Jonathan Berger’s class—he put together the 2015 production of The Magic Flute at the university—and he mentioned he was a close collaborator of Davis and I guess she remembered the drumstick incident as well. Doing the score for The Magic Flute was a huge delight, and that was also around the time when she recorded the poem featured at the end of “Faith, Torn Apart,” the last track on our new record.
The part of Los Angeles that I live in is not very far from a neighborhood where there is a lot of trafficking of underage prostitutes, and there is a notorious website called Backpage that is a facilitator of this. Probably about a year ago I began to explore the site and take screenshots of the young girls who are advertised there—to, in some way, empathize with their situation. I also found somebody on the site you can report things to, so I would do that, but I probably collected two hundred screenshots of these young women and young girls. I went through them one day and wrote one line based on my immediate impression of each of the photographs. They’re mostly just head shots, but these are of people who are obviously very young. They’re wearing clothes, but they’re clearly made up to look sexualized, and some are thirteen years old. What Vaginal Davis reads at the end of that song is made up of the one-line impressions I wrote looking at each of those photos.
Music video for Xiu Xiu’s “Get Up” (2017).
Danh Vō had been using some lyrics of a Xiu Xiu song, “Fabulous Muscles,” in some of his pieces long before we had met. But he didn’t ask us first, so then he sheepishly contacted me, asking if we were going to sue him, and of course I said no—I thought it was great and I felt honored that we had been inserted in there. He’s extraordinarily genuine, talented, and generous. He, by his own admission, doesn’t think about music a whole lot, but he can become obsessed by one or two songs, such as Nico’s version of the Doors song “The End” and her singing of the German national anthem. He asked me if I could score the latter for a boys’ choir for the Berlin Biennale in 2014. I was kind of mortified by their performance, but Danh, to his credit, was thrilled because it made people extraordinarily uncomfortable. We also did a residency at the Kitchen in New York called “Metal,” at the end of 2014, and that, to me, could not have gone any better. The people at the Kitchen were unfathomably supportive, considering that we structurally damaged the room we performed in quite a bit, and what we were doing was unbelievably loud and actually kind of dangerous. I couldn’t really ask for more, frankly.
The goal for us in the band at all times is that someone will interpret something we make in a personal way. But at least for me, my entire psychology is fraught with negative obsessiveness. It’s very difficult for me to remove a negative thought from my mind; it will sort of loop around in there—a very boring symptom of depression I think a lot of people deal with. Only recently has it occurred to me that I can put some effort into literally trying to forget something that is plaguing me. It’s almost the opposite tactic that Xiu Xiu usually takes, which is to really spell things out and be extraordinarily clear about specific events that have occurred in the lives of people in the band, or in politics, or the lives of people we care about. We approached this record in a completely nonlinear, nonspecific way. The intent of what each song is supposed to feel like is there on the record, but I couldn’t necessarily describe those feelings—which is different from every other record and song we’ve done before. Part of the reasoning behind that is a psychological necessity. It’s not at all about caring less—it’s about caring in a different way, a way that maybe lets go instead of holding on tightly. Both have their value. The point of the band is to realize that being embarrassed is just the way everyone who has ever been in the band was made to feel, and to not be afraid of that, but to understand that that is what it means to be a person.