The artist representing the inaugural Bahamas pavilion at the Fifty-Fifth Venice Biennale is Bahamian Tavares Strachan, who has had solo shows at the MIT List Visual Arts Center as well as at the Brooklyn Museum, where in 2009 he exhibited The Distance Between What We Have and What We Want (Arctic Ice Project), 2004–2008, a block of ice Strachan brought back from an expedition to the North Pole. Displacement is a theme that runs through his work, whether in the context of geographical distance and scientific measurement or in the context of cultural dislocation and loss. Here, he talks about his forays into research settings and how those experiences relate to his work for the Bahamas pavilion.
COSMONAUT TRAINING is a simulation of the physical and psychological conditions of space. You’re turned, spun around, submerged. At MIT, I spent some time in the microfabrication lab and optics lab, in their zero-gravity simulations, and working with infrared video. We also hung out with an amazing scientist, Deva Newman, who is designing a new space suit for NASA. This was all part of my investigation of orthostatic tolerance—the ability of the human body to withstand hypotension during gravitational stress.
Extreme physical and cultural discomfort, and the achievement of a goal in a hostile environment: In some sense my work at the Bahamas pavilion is an attempt to negotiate these ideas within an artmaking practice. You could say there’s a recurring theme of loss and invisibility in my work. With Robert Peary and Matthew Alexander Henson—the two explorers who are remembered for reaching the North Pole—they knew one another and collaborated on expeditions for over thirty years. But after making it to the pole, they were never as close again. Essentially, they stopped speaking to each other. Peary went on to win medals, while Henson went unrecognized and worked as a federal clerk for decades after their expedition. Success tends to change people’s relationships. I’m also reminded of that quote “There’s no food on the table, but whitey’s on the moon”. . . ? Or something like that.
On my last Arctic expedition, I found out that ayaya—an Inuit folk tradition—was starting to fade away, which I found discomforting but also interesting. Teaching it to children was the best way to ensure that it would continue to live in some way. We had children from Nassau, the Bahamas, learn an Inupiaq song that is virtually untranslatable to other languages. Its meaning relies heavily on contextual clues—speakers move and enunciate in a certain way, and gesture has an equal value to words. The project involved a big leap for the kids from Nassau—but kids are ready to take on complexity in a way that adults tend to resist.
I actually think the discourse on nations and nationalism is not that interesting. A real richness has evolved out of the dichotomy between this project and the national organization of the Venice Biennale. I didn’t come in thinking my project would relate to the context of Venice, but the work of bringing forty kids here has been an aesthetic encounter and a social experience that feels very fruitful.
Julie Mehretu, Invisible Line (collective), 2010-11, ink and acrylic on canvas, 11’ 2/5” x 24’ 9/10”.
For her first exhibition in a New York gallery in over a decade, Julie Mehretu has strategically installed her new paintings to mimic the curatorial approach taken in her current show at White Cube in London, which terminates in the expansive vista of Invisible Line, 2013. This will in effect create a dialogue between the two spaces, pitting in situ experience against a broader, globalized consciousness. “Liminal Squared” is on view at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, from May 11 to June 22 and at White Cube, London, from May 1 to July 7, 2013.
I’VE BEEN RECENTLY thinking a lot about algorithms as a medium (Amy Sillman got me on it). I work with a research assistant who is extremely meticulous in going through every image she can find of particular buildings in different public squares. My latest paintings come out of these images, which are mostly found on the Internet. They have a very different type of information because they’re not just from the news—the source of a lot of earlier work. We instead have to cull through this vast system to find them, personal photos of soldiers that come from Flickr or other such places, often posted directly from the center of the military presence.
Swarming elements coalesce and dissipate in the paintings that include these appropriated spaces, creating a shift in the image as it participates in the evolution of this other formthough it’s not even considered a “form”: I won’t call it that. I won’t give it a body. The architectural renderings rely on a certain wire-framed language. Maybe each work is actually a location in and of itself, a place to ponder experiential pressures.
I used to work with marks that were very small and were much more like little glyphs or characters; they would plot and move and journey through the canvas in very social ways. I think now my marks have become more notational and gestural—smudges that suggest or even register a trace of action, like the imprint of the towel I was using, my fingers, or my palm. It’s as if these marks now function from a place of retreat in order to reconstitute themselves. And that might be how one rebuilds what was once so seemingly whole.
There are moments when one can see what looks like a typical colonnade, though it may belong to a stadium in Kabul. As these different architectures become immersed in the mark, they create together what I refer to as a third place, a new possibility. The desire of trying to make sense of it plays with the idea of the algorithm, a tool predominantly utilized in science to predict a particular kind of ending.
But there are always breaks in predictability, always a return. The Atlantic historically separated and rejoined populations in a constant crossing—the slave trade, the evolution of the colonies, cultural, economic, and psychological imports. I’m interested in that liminal condition because of the present social moment that faces another threshold of being in between. In Cairo, the revolution was co-opted in some ways; in Syria, there is still a horrific war; in Libya, an incredible intervention has left complete disorder. Every revolution turns out differently and some end without a resolution, as with the dissolution and shift of Occupy Wall Street. The revolution in Ethiopia in 1974 shifted my life as a young child, relocating my family to an area previously unfamiliar to usEast Lansing, Michigan. It was a huge break that has forever left an imprint on me.
Within the revolutionary impulse there typically exists an idealism and a desire for the impossible. These core aspects are processed in my studio through a highly pressurized distillation system with loud music and beats. The hand marks, flings, percussive chops, and morphs build something entirely different: an unknown.
Tomás Saraceno, Poetic Cosmos of the Breath, 2013, translucent foil. Installation view, M+ Mobile Project, Hong Kong.
“Inflation!” surges as a continuation of the M+ Mobile project, an initiative started last year by M+, a museum for visual culture that is set to open in Hong Kong in 2017. The exhibition, featuring seven colossal inflatable sculptures from local and international artists, sits on the tip of the West Kowloon Culture District and has attracted an unprecedented number of local visitors. Tobias Berger, curator of the show, speaks here on the origins of the inflatable concept and the transformation of art awareness in Hong Kong. “Inflation!” is on view until June 9, 2013.
I NEVER THOUGHT I would curate an exhibition consisting of solely one medium. The medium specificity was inspired by certain conditions; we wanted something that could be temporary, sculptural, visible, and challenging all at once. One could say that all the works that were included fell under this same idea of the inflatable, but the approach taken by each artist varies. Liu Jiakun’s strategy in With the Wind, 2002/2009, is very different from Jeremy Deller’s taken in Sacrilege, 2012, which includes strong references to a bouncing castle. But this exhibition is not about research into the history of inflatable sculpture. It is more about this new space where the museum will be built.
The venue for this exhibition is the interface between the site of the future museum and its surrounding park. M+ will soon be responsible for all of the public art in West Kowloon Cultural District. For us, it was important to delve into the idea of public sculpture as well as to explore the parameters that apply when sculpture is installed in a natural setting. Public sculptures are made to be encountered without preparation; one often stumbles upon them in spaces such as plazas. But the term “public sculpture” in its normative sense doesn’t necessarily apply in this case. At the moment, the venue is not easily accessible via public transportation. It is disconnected from the city infrastructure. In this way, “Inflation!” is a very contained exhibition. Anyone who wants to see it has to intentionally go there.
The artists we invited are testament to M+’s mission toward a diverse visual culture, which at the built museum will include art, design, architecture, the moving image, and performance. Choi Jeong Hwa, for example, was initially known as an interior and shop designer; Jiakun is an architect. We also wanted to bring in iconic works from overseas, like Paul McCarthy’s Complex Pile, 2007, while supporting art from the Hong Kong region. That is how we hope to frame the entire M+ Mobile program and our future museum shows.
Seven years ago, there wasn’t much contemporary art in Hong Kong. People used to describe the city as a “cultural desert.” Now that has completely changed. This exhibition alone had one hundred thousand visitors in the first week. In the early days, the audience was evenly split between expats and locals; today we have ninety-five percent of visitors coming from Hong Kong. There is a huge local interest in art, especially challenging art set within the public domain.
Brigid Berlin is an artist, actress, and one of the most memorable personalities to emerge from Andy Warhol’s coterie. In 2000, she was the subject of a documentary, Pie in the Sky: the Brigid Berlin Story, which was directed by Vincent Fremont. Berlin’s diaristic recordings of her life and milieu during the 1960s and ’70s—her Polaroids, audiotapes, and journals—recall much of early Conceptualism’s documentarian impulses, but include an acidity and dark wit that is entirely her own.
I GOT INTO POLAROIDS even before Andy got into them because of some pictures I saw in Vogue in the early ‘60s by Marie Cosindas. She was one of the first photographers to use Polaroids seriously. I wanted to take pictures like hers.
I used a Polaroid Electronic 360 camera with a diffuser and different lenses. The double-exposure works happened when I would take pictures of the Empire State Building from a plane at night leaving New York, on my way to Paris. I’d take just one shot, and I’d frame it in the right, and then when I got to Paris, I’d photograph the Eiffel Tower, but frame it in the left, and I’d leave the picture in the camera for both shots. I just loved that camera. And I was so hooked on buying the film!
A lot of the trip books I made in the 1960s were sold when I had a show with John McWhinnie in 2006. Very few people had actually seen the Cock Book—a book filled with pictures of cocks made by a wide range of artists, celebrities, and personalities, like Taylor Mead, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Leonard Cohen, Larry Rivers, and Peter Beard. For the longest time it was this mythical object that most people had really only heard of. When I used to go out late at night, I’d carry it around with me, and once in a while I would give it to somebody to do a drawing in. But I never really liked that, because most of the time I’d be absolutely stoned and doing things in it myself. It became so full I couldn’t even hold it anymore—it was huge. When I showed it at the Gramercy Hotel International Art Fair in 1995 it was in a vitrine, and Lou Reed came to see it, and then Brice Marden came to spend some time with it too. Richard Prince ended up buying the Cock Book, along with the Cock Book for Poets, and the one for Germans. They’re all in his collection, but the Cock Book is the centerpiece.
I’ve also been working for a couple of years now with somebody in my apartment building to digitize all of my audiotapes—and frankly, I don’t even really know what “digitizing” means. I have a lot of them, and when I made them, they were all catalogued, so I know what’s on every single tape. They’re in perfect condition, too! But I get into terrible bad moods when I listen to them, they’re so incredibly intense. At one point I just wanted to throw them all out, put them on the sidewalk. I just can’t listen to them anymore.
They capture an era of New York art culture from the late ’60s to the early ’70s. Of course, there are lots of recorded conversations with Andy, but there are also conversations with Larry Poons, John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg, and so many other people and characters from that time. And I had access to all these people because I was a peer, I was considered one of them. I was never a groupie.
Here’s something really funny: My very close friend Robert Vaczy, the audio engineer who’s working on digitizing my tapes, was waiting for me when I got out of my recent back surgery, which lasted about six and a half hours. He was right there when I came out of the operation, and I must’ve been stoned on morphine, but he said the first thing I started talking about, lying on the stretcher, was my filing system. Filing is an art. And cleaning is the best kind of art. But to call me an artist is ridiculous.
Holly Woodlawn during a photo shoot by the artists BillyBoy and Lala, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2008. (Photo: Robert Coddington)
Holly Woodlawn gained initial fame as one of the Warhol Superstars in the 1960s, and by the ’70s she had also earned a reputation as a gifted actress, singer, and cabaret performer. Now the subject of an in-process documentary, Woodlawn brings her latest work, The Holly Woodlawn Show, to the Laurie Beechman Theater in New York on Friday, May 17, and Monday, May 20. On Thursday, May 16, she will also appear at New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center to read from her 1992 memoir A Low Life in High Heels and screen her 1973 film, Broken Goddess.
I FELL INTO DOING CABARET. It was quite accidental. I fell into all of this accidentally—believe it or not. As the song goes: “Holly came from Miami FLA, hitchhiked her way across the USA.” When I first came to New York, a truck driver drove me in from Delaware or somewhere, dropped me on Forty-Second Street and Tenth Avenue and said, “This is it, honey.” At that time, in the 1950s, being a transgendered, transvestite, trans-this or trans-that was completely illegal. If you wore a mohair sweater and tight pants, and if you put on mascara and Vaseline—we didn’t have lip gloss—the police could arrest you for female impersonation. We had it really rough, but I was lucky because people never figured out that I was passing.
I wanted to be a movie star, but I got no money for doing Paul Morrissey’s Trash and all those other movies. A good friend of mine, Elda Gentile, was dating one of the New York Dolls at the time and she wanted to start her own band. She asked me if I would be a backup girl. I had always wanted to be a backup girl! I idolized the Ronettes, the Supremes, and all those girl groups from the ’60s. Elda called us the Stilettos, and Debbie Harry joined. We auditioned for Reno Sweeney’s, which was the big cabaret club at the time, and the owner, Louis Friedman, said, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is I can’t take the band because this is not that kind of club.” The Stilettos were doing punk rock, but I was into singing songs from the ’30s and ’40s. “We’re more a supper club,” he said, “so I’ll take Holly.” So he took me under his wing, and I started rehearsing with him and that’s when I started doing cabaret.
At that time in New York we could get a loft, even if it was in a seedy part of town, and three or four artists could live there. We could all pool our resources to get by. Now it costs a fortune for a dump in this town. These young artists now, they can’t afford it. They have to get jobs, waiting on tables. No big deal—I’ve done everything—but when do they have time to create? That’s the sad part. You know the song from Cabaret, “Money Makes the World Go Round?” Well, no, just two things make the world go round—art and music. Without that, we’re dead. Civilization cannot live. New York City, the center of creativity, and now everything is so expensive.
I moved to Los Angeles in the late ’80s. Studio 54 was raided, Andy died, and New York just crumbled. All our friends, because of HIV . . . I haven’t been back to New York in eight years. I’ve seen many cities and many countries in the interim, just in case you thought I was lying around doing nothing. My new cabaret show is going to play in a space on Forty-Second Street and Ninth Avenuejust a block from where I first got dropped off all those years ago. I’ve come full circle, but my second entrance at Times Square will definitely surpass my first. Both shows are sold out. The club called to tell me that it’s the first time in history that’s ever happened—and Joan Rivers works there! I’ll be singing and telling stories. I’m working with a piano player and two girls as my backup singers. There’s a set, but the audience always requests their favorite songs, like my version of “You’re the Top,” which I rewrote to make the last verse filthy. Of course, I’ll be wearing sequins and I’ll be resplendent. (I love that word).
I’m so happy—well we don’t know about happiness, do we?—but I’m so content that I’ve not only survived, but that I’m going to go on because of the love that I’ve gotten from everyone. I have no intention of filling a plot in a cemetery in the near future, and I’m looking forward to coming to New York because I feel like this city is really my home.
Nancy Rubins, Monochrome for Paris, 2013, stainless steel and aluminum, 40 x 50 x 40’. Photo: Erich Koyama.
Just steps from the Seine, a tangled mass of aluminum rowboats, kayaks, and canoes arches across a typically busy courtyard on l’Université Paris Diderot’s campus. Echoing the steely gray Parisian skies under which it was unveiled this spring, Nancy Rubins’s largest public project in France is also her first permanent commission for the capital. While directing the crane-maneuvered installation, Rubins spoke about how Monochrome for Paris, 2013, came to be.
ALMOST FOUR YEARS AGO, I was approached by the city of Paris through curators tasked with commissioning public sculptures to honor the city’s new tramline. With these kinds of projects, there are always many ideas about how the art should be approached. It was important for me not to let the work get diluted by all the different cooks in the kitchen; this piece in particular can be built in umpteen million configurations to yield to the situation. But, ultimately, it needs to relate to the environment it will live in.
It was a fortunate accident that I ended up at Paris Diderot University and not along the tram route; it’s far more beautiful and I like the university atmosphere. Physically, the location is better because the boats can cantilever over the outdoor walkways, which are really the corridors to and from the classrooms. Students, professors, and other people involved in the university walk through there every day. When I first saw the site, I knew immediately that I wanted to make a cascading form over the plaza, but when we started to install, it became a bit more improvisational. We had to situate it against markers like a tree or a door and think about how the shape would be viewed from a particular angle.
Initially, the city of Paris wanted me to use French boats for the sculpture, but I realized that there were no aluminum boats produced in France. In the end, the boats came from Northern California and some from Canada. They are so beautifully worn, the surface and its resulting patina. Though the sculpture is close to the Seine, that’s not really what’s important in terms of the work and the site. It’s much more about the architecture of the plaza than the river environment. One could even put this sculpture in the middle of the desert because it’s not really about boats; it’s only about using them.
I often get asked how many boats make up the sculptures. From my point of view, asking this is like trying to embrace and perceive a Cézanne landscape by analyzing how many strokes of paint are in the painting, providing some finite yet no real understanding of the actual work of art. I’m always thinking about macro things, how something micro like molecules can make up crystals in the way they grow. I’m a person who handles large things comfortably, and that quality can lend itself well to these public commissions. Still, I don’t really think of myself as a “public art artist.” These are more just my giant sculptures.
View of “Linda Mary Montano: Always Creative.” (Photo: Eric Swanson)
Linda Mary Montano is perhaps best known for her endurance-based performances. She sang for seven hours in a scissor lift; wore monochromatic garments for fourteen years; was blindfolded for a week; and spent a year bound by a length of rope to the artist Tehching Hsieh during his ART/LIFE: ONE YEAR PERFORMANCE, 1983–84. Montano’s art, which borrows from her life, has been dedicated to living with patience and empathy. Her current retrospective of videos, installations, drawings, and performances, titled “Linda Mary Montano: Always Creative,” is on view at SITE Santa Fe until May 19, 2013.
IT WOULD TAKE pages to remember and unravel my past traumas: near death from anorexia, PTSD, the Catholic Church’s failings . . . but needless to say, my art cured and continues to heal my life.
Janet Dees of SITE Santa Fe perused my personal archives in Kingston and Saugerties, New York, and then sat for hours at the Video Data Bank in Chicago, viewing their archive of my work and later choosing ten videos that articulate themes of persona, endurance, death, spiritual seeking, collaboration, and humorous impersonation.
For the SITE show, I also made a new version of a past video titled Hi!, which was installed, years ago, in the Broadway-facing window of the old New Museum building. There it was: my face, hanging from the ceiling at eye level. Across from my face was a chair for the visitor to sit in and watch this tableau. They came in, sat down at the table, and had a faux conversation with me. I repeated greetings such as, “Hi, you look so good!,” and “Your hair is fab!” I waited for their answers that were to match my happy greetings and the communicated “care” for and about them—a comment on both the need for happiness and the inanities of small talk.
In the Santa Fe version, the monitor is fitted with a glamorous wig. My face and voice are inviting, welcoming the visitor to what I call the “art/life counseling room.” The piece is a parody of social graces and a comment on my own inability to consistently smile, be open, and respond with generosity. To take this idea a step further, I held four live sessions during the exhibition, offering one-on-one counseling in the room, twice face-to-face and twice by Skype, resurrecting my seven-year-long practice, from 1984 to 1991, where I came to the New Museum once a month and counseled people in another window installation.
To make the gallery even more accessible at SITE, I hung my 100 Chicken Paintings banner-like around the edges of the room. All four walls are painted in chalkboard paint. There’s colored chalk for visitors to draw their dreams, write manifestos, leave messages, and erase whatever was in the way of their creative vision. Play Art.
I’m in my seventies. I’ve been there, done that, garnered years and years of good attention from viewers who have given me energy, breathed life back into me, and woken me up. So this show is a chance for me to encourage, teach, inspire, and give back. I’ve made sure that the viewer might feel empowered to interact and play creator on the sacred walls of the museum. There aren’t any “do not touch” signs here. SITE also published an interactive workbook, You Too Are a Performance Artist. It chronicles forty-five performances and offers suggestions for the reader to reinvent my journey to fit their needs. This is my message: Creation is our human right and we all are exactly that, creators!
Gratitude to all of my inspirational and encouraging teachers and may our life always be art.