View of “Readjusting my commitment to a greater legibility, or substance thinking and substance extended,” 2011. Justin Matherly, Matter asks no questions, expects no answers from us, it ignores us
(ordering crystals to assume another form of existence), 2011, ink-jet monoprint, spray paint, 21 1/2 x 15 1/2”.
The Brooklyn-based artist Justin Matherly has participated in numerous group shows, including the 2010 White Columns Annual and SculptureCenter’s In Practice Projects. He is known for his large-scale cast concrete sculptures and statues that often feature ambulatory walkers and other medical devices. Here he discusses his exhibition at Bureau, which is on view in New York until December 18.
READING IS FUNDAMENTAL to my process. There are other elements at play throughout, but text––thought––is the overall structuring element that permits entry for me in terms of the specificity of a project. How the ideas connect to one another, what sort of interaction is created, and how something affects another thing is the process, which is arrived at through a combination of inherently open intuitive reasoning and factual reasoning.
I am currently reading Malevich’s essays on Suprematism, Spinoza’s Ethics, and various texts from Johann Winckelmann through to German Romanticism. The cast of characters that informs my work is continually growing, and they are always ready to be of assistance when called upon. There is never really a final end to a project, just material points created along the way. Consequently, the engagement with the textual within my process is meant not as an illustration of this or that thought—or text—but as an intensive engagement designed to concretize the thought, so to speak, and to employ it as any other material for building––effectively subsuming the text, idea, line of reasoning, et cetera, within the work so that it is as inseparable from the object as its final material form is. And so the text doesn’t remain apart from the object; it is buried fully within the work and becomes part of its fabric.
I have begun to utilize a bulletin board as a mnemonic device with which to structure a project. I arrange images, notes, and more on the wall in such a way that things can easily be removed, covered, or added. This happens in conjunction with reading and manifests the first incarnation of the ideas for a work. Once the ideas and forms are clear and distinct (as much as is possible) in my mind, I usually create a “positive” form out of rigid foam, utilizing both additive and subtractive methods, from the chosen reference image. This foam “version” is only a further attempt at understanding and is how, at that point, I understand the original form. In other words, this “version” is now the original form that dictates the structure of the final object in that it will become the actual interior of the cast concrete form and will, finally, be discarded.
The materials used for casting this final object––a combination of Tree Gators, rigid foam, brush-on polyurethane rubber, and hot glue––are chosen for their flexibility and, as opposed to the idea of a traditional mold, which is to reproduce precisely a form, for their inherent inability to do exactly that. This requires me to rethink the form in its negative existence and to react appropriately to follow this or that line or curve, directing the object to a greater or lesser extent.
The material is then cast in concrete. I trust it will do what it will. The combination of concrete with the unpredictable mold is what ultimately determines the final form.
Carsten Höller’s first survey exhibition in New York, “Experience,” consists of merry-go-rounds, giant slides, sensory deprivation tanks, and spinning mobiles, among other experiential artworks. Here, the former scientist discusses his ambition to induce states of “madness” by creating immersive artistic environments that test the limits of human perception. The Stockholm-based artist has taken over the entire New Museum, and his show will be on view until January 15, 2012.
ARE SLIDES ONLY FOR CHILDREN? I really don’t think they are, and I can’t see any reason why adults only use stairs, elevators, and escalators. Sliding is a very safe thing to do—it’s very cost-effective, it’s very fast, and best of all it produces an incredible moment of madness. It’s hard to describe this specific feeling of madness in words—voluptous panic?—but I’m sure that if people used slides every day, it would change their lives. In some ways, my entire show is set up to make you mad.
Our culture tries to control everything we encounter in our lives—and we have learned to manage our surroundings quite well. The luxury we can afford ourselves now is to try and let go, which is exactly what I’m proposing to do in ”Experience.” I hope that people who visit the show are able to let go and to see what happens if they forget about these things that they think they need to predict their daily lives. In other words, I hope that people begin to just let experience happen the way it will and that this sense of madness arises from it. Our culture denies this possibility, maybe because the madness is too much or has been too much. In former times, the rise of consciousness produced the means to control madness, but now we can give it some space again.
Because the show is so much about self-experimentation, I’ve used the museum as a body. When you are invited to create an exhibition like this, often what happens is that you come to a place where an architect has made a strong statement, as in this case. And then it’s this Moby Dick situation, because you are in the belly of the whale. In “Experience,” it’s as if you’re within a head and body but one that is not yours, that you invade like a parasite with your own thoughts and your own ideas about yourself and, of course, your own experiments. Many of the works in the show are tools that can be applied to your feeling of presence, to the concept of the self. It’s almost like you are exposing yourself. If you were a strip of film, for example, the show would be the light, producing an image that’s specific only to you and what is inside you and that only you can see. In some ways, it’s a show without any preconceived images.
My work is a proposition—because some of these pieces may not actually work on viewers, or, rather, participants. You always have to see them as artworks, and they have a practical side—you can interact with them—but they also provide something to consider. The way we perceive the world and ourselves is necessarily through the lens of culture, and because there are many different cultures existing at the same time on this earth, there is no reason to believe that our reality is the only reality. There must be something more. My work arises from a built-up frustration that this can’t be it, that daily experience can’t be this limited. In some ways, my work is about science fiction, trying to find the other, a culture of madness. I often don’t believe we’re ready for it, but still, it’s coming.
Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark is the first biography of the celebrated film critic, and the latest book by the New York–based writer and editor Brian Kellow. While he illuminates Kael’s rise penning many important film reviews for the New Yorker from 1968 to 1991, Kellow also pays close attention to her early years as the manager of the Berkeley Cinema Guild, a historic movie theater in California. The book is available this month from Viking Press. On November 11, Kellow will be interviewed by Polly Frost and Ray Sawhill at the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca.
FOR ME, the most exciting part of any biographical research is the interviewing process. I do a lot of interviews, and I’m puzzled by biographers who don’t make every effort to get hold of primary sources. I’ve found that my interviews often become a kind of scavenger hunt: If the person you’re talking with likes and trusts you, he may throw a lot of other phone numbers your way, leading you to people you hadn’t considered. After four books, I’ve also gotten pretty good at determining if someone I’m interviewing isn’t reliable. I think a lot of people don’t mean to mislead biographers, but they have memory lapses or they’ve been dining out on the same terrific story for so long that they’ve come to believe it’s true, which it may not be. For this book, I interviewed about 160 people from different chapters in Pauline’s life. I always do all of my research before I write one word; I have to have the strongest possible sense of where I’m going before I begin. Some people didn’t seem to want to talk about her: I was sorry to miss Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, and a few others. The biggest surprise I had in the interviewing process was getting the whole story from UCLA professor Howard Suber about how Pauline filched his research for her essay “Raising Kane.” That was kind of a shock, you know? I checked it very carefully, and there’s no question that she did it. Strange, because for the most part, she was quite aboveboard in her behavior. I guess we all have our moments.
I knew from the beginning that I desperately wanted to do this book, but I wasn’t sure it was going to work. Pauline herself made a point of the fact that her body of work constituted her autobiography. That was sort of a clue for me, actually: At a certain point, after she got to the New Yorker in 1968, going to the movies really was her life. And then I got to thinking about how I could make that work dramatically. And I figured out that I could trace the development of her taste through her early years, and then show how that all played out when she got the New Yorker job. I also thought it would be a good idea to interview a lot of the directors and screenwriters, even some of the actors, whose work she reviewed. I wanted to ask them about the repercussions of her reviews––when they thought she was on target and when they thought she was a mile off. I thought that would give the book added dimension. I wanted to include a real sense of what was going on in the movies during the 1960s and ’70s. Actually, I can’t imagine that the book would really work without that information.
Pauline’s friends seem to like the early part of the book most of all––I think because she compartmentalized her life. Even for people she knew well, her early years were a mystery. It’s strange: Pauline was exceptionally tight-lipped about her growing up and her beginnings in San Francisco, her marriage. I remember reading an interview somewhere with Jacqueline Susann where she was asked her age and she said something very Jacqueline Susann–ish like, “Just say I was born when my first book published.” I think Pauline kind of thought that she was born when I Lost It at the Movies was published—that is, in 1965. I always work hard on my books, but I think I worked harder than ever on this one, because I knew she didn’t like the idea of having a biography written and I wanted it to be as complete and detailed––and also as fair––as possible. In her personal library, which is now at Hampshire College, she often writes hilarious comments in pencil in the margins of books—things like “bullshit” or “What a pontificating old poseur”—I think that one was in Frank Capra’s autobiography. I don’t know what she’d write in the margins of my book. She’d probably be horrified that it even exists.
Few artists have contributed so deeply to so many fields as the choreographer, dancer, writer, and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer. Born in 1934 in San Francisco, Rainer moved to New York City in the 1950s and began to make her own dances in 1960, cofounding the Judson Dance Theater in 1962. The Mind Is a Muscle, arguably her most celebrated work, was first performed in full at the Anderson Theater in 1968, and included in its program her signature dance, “Trio A” (1966). Since 1972, she has completed seven critically acclaimed, feature-length films. Rainer is the recipient of numerous awards, among them a MacArthur Fellowship (1990–95), two Guggenheim Fellowships (1969, 1988), and a Wexner Prize (1995).
Rainer’s written works include A Woman Who . . . Essays, Interviews, Scripts (1999) and Feelings Are Facts: A Life (2006); her first book of poems was recently published by Paul Chan’s Badlands Unlimited press. Over the course of three weekends—in October 2011, and February and May 2012—the Dia Art Foundation is presenting a series of her early and recent dance works at Dia:Beacon. The first performances run Saturday and Sunday, October 22–23. Here she discusses how she came to New York City and the path that took her from dance to film and back again.
Yvonne Rainer interviewed at the Artforum offices on October 17, 2011.
Judith Halberstam’s latest book, The Queer Art of Failure, is published this month by Duke University Press. She is a professor of English, American studies and ethnicity, and gender studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Here Halberstam discusses her methodological interest in the “silly archive,” a phrase borrowed from literary theorist Lauren Berlant, which Halberstam uses to denote the importance of seeking knowledge in all the wrong places: cartoons for children, horror films, Spongebob Squarepants, offbeat manifestos, and other low-cultural sites.
MOST OF MY WRITING EMPHASIZES RANGE: I try to show that when we clump work together in whatever way, we’re making associations that don’t organically belong. There is a difference between arguing that artists belong together in a generic way on the one hand and finding surprising connections between people’s work on the other. In my work, I think thematically and try to use a range of examples in order to track an idea across a wide field. Academia tends to favor generic association, and it relies mostly on modes of argumentation that are logical and sustained. I am less captivated by this style of knowledge production and more drawn to speedier forms of thinking. Obviously this shows in my work and may be both its appeal and its limitation.
In my estimation, the production of art is never as neat as it may seem in a disciplinary study. In my new book I associate unlikely projects with one another in order to examine how an idea or a structure like failure, forgetting, or stupidity might crop up in different places to different effect. I combine fine art with animation; Finding Nemo with pieces by Judie Bamber and Monica Majoli; mainstream film with avant-garde productions. I wanted to find connections between the queerest corners of the mainstream and the most mainstream corners of the queer world. I think it is fruitful to think about the places where these corners spark each other. Queer artists might be very preoccupied with failing and losing precisely because they have symbolically been associated with these things by virtue of their status as nonnormative.
And so queer art tells one story about failure. But we find other equally queer narratives about failure in mainstream animated films for children. Animation studios, it turns out, are peopled and staffed by queer types too––quirky artists and dreamers, people interested in creating other worlds and populating them with wacky and offbeat characters. By digging through both queer art projects and popular animation, oddly enough, we find many of the same tropes about clumsiness, limitation, human fallibility, and utopian longing.
Of course, animated films have a nonnormative audience: children. Think about it! As I say in the book, if children were already normative then we would not have to “train” them. Kids are hailed by the quirkiness of animation and seduced by the thematics of loneliness, oddity, outsider status, tyranny, struggle, and rebellion. Kids are unsentimental, amoral, and antiteleological viewers––they watch movies for something other than what adults watch for. They watch repeatedly and they watch fetishistically.
I got interested in new CGI after watching Finding Nemo on a friend’s recommendation. I was immediately hooked, and at first I would just take little episodes from animated films to punctuate a lecture with a funny lesson or a kooky narrative. But I was quickly drawn into the world of CGI and wanted to write more directly about it. We tend to associate Disney with pathetic, heteronormative parables, and that’s what I expected to find when I started watching animated films, but that was not at all what I found: I realized that these films abounded in alternative narratives, stories that looked a lot like socialist revolt engineered by queers––this was not Occupy Wall Street, perhaps, but it was Occupy the Ocean in Finding Nemo, Occupy Monstropolis in Monsters Inc., and Occupy Robot City in Robots. These were definitely anarchistic fables of mutuality, queerness, and social upheaval, and these films were in open defiance of corporate greed long before it became fashionable. That they are also massive moneymakers is of course contradictory but not fatal!
My book identifies fables to live and die by in queer art and animation; and, like Nemo and Dory, the book argues that finding and being found is only one part of the story. The other part, the queer part, is about losing and getting lost.
Thirty years have passed since the inimitable French artist Sophie Calle worked as a chambermaid while making The Hotel, a piece about the tenants of a Venetian inn. For the 2011 Crossing the Line festival, presented by the French Institute Alliance Française, Calle will present Room, an installation of autobiographical work in the Lowell Hotel on New York’s Upper East Side. Room is on view from midnight on Thursday, October 13 until midnight on Sunday, October 16.
THE HOTEL ROOM will have forty or so objects, all from my True Stories project, which is an ongoing work about important events in my life. Parts of this project have been previously published in two books. Depending on the story, visitors will see either the actual object in the hotel room—for instance, my wedding dress—or something that could be evoked from the story, such as a coffee cup.
This project can be exhibited anywhere. It’s been shown before at the Pompidou and the Freud Museum, among other places. But this is the first time I’ve installed it in a hotel. It’s not a specific hotel, but I think that speaks to the way the work can adapt to any setting and how, perhaps, it’s not quite a show or a performance but something in between. It’s more like a roving installation. More like life.
I recently added a new story. It’s about the view from my house in the south of France, a vista I’ve looked at for the past thirty years but one that I only just decided to write about. In the hotel room there will be a text by a window in which I describe the view from my house, but there won’t be an accompanying object, since I’m just speaking about a landscape.
It’s very hard to know how many people will visit. In 2003, when I spent the night in a room set up for me at the top of the Eiffel Tower, for Room with a View, I thought at most one hundred people would come, to tell me a story and to keep me awake. But something like sixteen thousand visited. So suddenly the project was very different than what I imagined. But since this hotel room will be open to the public twenty-four hours a day for three days, and since it is also free, it will be interesting to see what happens. Yes, Christian Marclay’s The Clock was visited all night, but it is a masterpiece and the result of three years’ work. This “room” is not as ambitious! Personally, I would wait ten hours to watch that work, but probably not to see my Room!
This is a long-term project with no definite end. So many of the stories have just popped into my mind after being lost for many years. I’ll keep adding stories until I have nothing left to say, or nothing left to remember.
Lucy Skaer, Film for an Abandoned Projector, 2011, still from a color film in 35 mm, 20 minutes. Installation view. (Photo: Simon Warner)
A new site-specific work by Lucy Skaer that revives an old Kalee film projector is currently on view at the Lyric Picture House in Leeds, England. Commissioned by Pavilion, the piece is on view until December 15. The artist will discuss the work on Thursday, October 6, at 7 PM.
MAKING A WORK FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE PROJECTOR is a way of escaping my own imagination. It’s an attempt to create the memory of the machine. Film for an Abandoned Projector began with finding such an object, which wasn’t easy. The projector didn’t necessarily have to be inside a cinema; it could have been in a warehouse or in a storage room. My only parameter was that I didn’t want it to be in a working cinema. Once we found it, we had to refurbish it. While that was happening I started to shoot a site-specific film that would be meaningful to the particular place in which the projector had been found.
I like thinking of a machine as a kind of “animal eye,” like a cat’s eye, as in my previous work Rachel, Peter, Caitlin, John, which attempts to see outside of the human experience or viewpoint. Perhaps it’s a backward way of thinking about film, because the medium itself is made to play on any projector and intended to transport the viewer from a physical place into a new state of mind. This work walks a line between escaping into another reality and being very firmly located in the space.
The film is made up of small “episodes” that are related not by content so much as by movement or contrasting shots—pairing very shallow shots with very deep shots. Some are colored panels I filmed in the studio as they moved backward and forward, toward and away from the camera. Some of the episodes make it hard to determine what’s been filmed, while others point toward a narrative. I’ve also been trying to connect things that happen in a frame, like a movement or a change in light, as a way to stitch the film together. I’m thinking a lot about how the projector itself will light the interior of the cinema, using either clear or color film leader so some parts will be a kind of an imageless return to the space itself.
There’s a feeling of the film being made as you’re watching it, because some of the shots are of the projector firing up. There are also shots of the building itself and the church group that uses it. I think this feeling of being grounded or escaping is going to be a bipolar thing that keeps working its way out as the show goes on.
People will also be able to walk into the projection booth and see it running. When we first got there, it’d been sealed up since the 1980s and there was film all over the floor––it was very romantic, dusty, and intriguing. Originally we wanted to keep it like that, but because the projectionist has to work, it’s been cleared out. I want the booth to be open for people to see the mechanics of it, to get a feel for the history and for the archaic sense of the projector itself.
Left: Phyllida Barlow, RIG: untitled; blocks, 2011, polystyrene, fabric, timber, cement, 23 x 39 x 34'. Right: Phyllida Barlow, RIG: untitled; hive 2 and RIG: untitled; hive 3, 2011, plywood, polystyrene, felt, foam, plasterboard, linoleum, cardboard, chipboard, wadding, 38 5/8 x 49 1/4 x 27 1/2“ (hive 2); 39 3/8 x 47 1/4 x 26” (hive 3).
Phyllida Barlow is an artist based in London and long-standing doyenne of the British sculpture scene. Here she discusses the large-scale sculptures she created in situ for “Rig,” her first exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in London. The show is on view until October 22.
IMAGE AND THE PICTORIAL ARE MY ENEMIES. They are what I always want to escape, but I clearly fail to do so. Sculpture will always fail at this task. It has too much competition from the world around it. My desire to overwhelm a space has to do with crowding. I want the work to change depending on where it is viewed from so its image and pictorial identity are constantly dissolved.
It’s an adventure to stretch the dimensions of a work beyond my own physical size and to reach into spaces that are inaccessible. I try to challenge myself by asking: “What can I get away with?” “How far can I go?” I love height and all that it signifies: vertigo, gravity, weight, and impossibility. Dimension––size––is a stimulus.
I’m not certain that my art has anything to do with the “unmonumental.” Ruins, natural disasters, road works, building sites, theme parks, and war zones are both monumental and antimonumental. The cusp between the grandiose, theatricality, spectacle, and catastrophe seems difficult to gauge as our daily lives are increasingly besieged with images of events that are caught between these. My large-scale works are intended to capture an uncertain identity that places itself between monumentality and antimonumentality. The perilous stance of the pieces, their rough assemblage, everyday materials, absurd size––all of these qualities interest me as contentions both in sculptural terms and also as a confrontation of monumentality, and what that might be.
The sense of “touch” in these works is artifice. A swipe of the hand across the surface is the last action to be applied to the work. It is an attempt to keep the process alive, to beg the question of whether the work is finished or not. The “touch” is not precious and, with the large works, is not done by me but by assistants who are given specific instructions. With the smaller works, which are made in the studio where I live, it is a different matter. These are experimental in every sense, and made in private without assistants. They are the resource for larger works. Actions of making and touch become symbiotic within these pieces as with the drawings that accompany all stages of making and production. Accidents are always welcome. Surprise is crucial.
But when to stop? Would another layer make any difference? These actions give me permission to keep the work restless and unfinished. An “unfinished” state is open and rebellious. It asks me questions about the status of an object. “Unfinishedness” has the potential to be defiant, and an unfinished object is useless. And then sculpture is useless . . . I like that.