Throughout her nearly fifty-year career, Eleanor Antin has played many roles, from artist to filmmaker to author and beyond. Antin was born in the Bronx in 1935 and moved in June 1968 to Southern California, where she embarked on her early conceptual works and fictional personas, including the King of Solana Beach, Eleanor Nightingale, and Eleanora Antinova. “Multiple Occupancy: Eleanor Antin’s ‘Selves,’ ” a survey exhibition of her videos, photographs, performances, and films is on view at Columbia University’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery until December 7, 2013, and highlights these and other roles that Antin produced between 1972 and 1991. The show travels to the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston from March 19 to July 6, 2014.

Antin retired from twenty-seven years of teaching at the University of California at San Diego in 2002, but continued to work on her large-scale photographic series such as “The Last Days of Pompeii,” 2001; “Roman Allegories,” 2004; and “Helen’s Odyssey,” 2007. Her paperback coming-of-age memoir, Conversations with Stalin, was published this past September by Green Integer.

Interview with Eleanor Antin.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Pedro Reyes


The pUN delegates in the Queens Museum, November, 24, 2013. Photo: Ramiro Chavez.

Mexico City–based artist Pedro Reyes works within public contexts to address social and utopian concerns. At the Queens Museum in New York, Reyes will present “The People’s United Nations (pUN),” an exhibition of new sculpture, on view from November 9, 2013 through March 30, 2014, and a performance sharing the same title, which will be staged on November 23 and November 24, 2013. Here he speaks about the project, which simulates and dissolves the structure of the UN through various interactive and unconventional activities, such as games, jokes, and therapy, in order to reinvigorate person-to-person connectivity.

THE UNITED NATIONS is not a place where real decisions are made. It’s not the “world’s government,” but rather a symbolic entity that has only symbolic power. The failure of critical theory is that it spends too much time analyzing why things don’t work instead of determining new ways of making a pragmatic difference. Rather than creating a critique of the UN, The People’s United Nations is an experiment in using tools other than politicking to achieve resolution—for example, by capturing public imagination through humor. The real “world government” is really just a few guys having dinner somewhere in Zurich.

pUN is a gathering of a fictive organization made up of 195 delegates representing each of their respective governments. In the organization, they engage with each other in alternating groups, which become involved in different games or psychological scenarios. There are many techniques in this that come from theater-like improvisations, and the structure is akin to a large speed-dating session where people meet, shift seats, and meet another person. In one group, they could talk about something they dislike about how their country is run; in another, they could make a hilarious headline about their grievance in the style of The Onion as an exercise in radical optimism.

Another station will be structured as a couples-therapy session between two countries that have shared a complicated history. Take India and England, for example. The “psychologist” addresses the fact that England had exploited India for about a hundred years. As retribution, the Indian delegate could create a purely idealistic, itemized proposal of what their country could want as compensation, like an Oxford University franchise in every city in India with a population greater than one million. In this scenario, comedy is used as a pedagogical tool to bring up historical relations, the state of India’s educational system, and immigration. In another scenario, we invented the “grass-Whopper,” a burger made of ground grasshopper, which serves as a satirical way to solve the world’s reliance on oil; meat production wastes a lot of gas, using eleven times the amount of fuel it takes to harvest other types of protein.

Somehow we have lost new ways of associating because we exist so much online. Within technology, we’re always elsewhere. pUN creates exaggerations that serve as spectacles referencing the real issues around us in the present. But it also shows our current ineptitude at conversing in public—where we must tell sensational stories to get someone’s attention. I don’t see the point of being enthusiastic about that. Art is most useful when it allows for a certain group dynamic to exist that couldn’t in a different context.

— As told to Frank Expósito

Zhang Enli


View of “Zhang Enli: Space Painting,” 2013.

Currently based in Shanghai, Zhang Enli grew up in the provincial town of Jilin, Manchuria, and is well known for his interest in the materiality of painting. His ongoing “Space Paintings” series, begun in 2010, consists of full-scale frescoes covering the floors and walls of whichever room he is working within. In 2012, for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kerala, India, he created a “Space Painting” that evoked the vivid colors of the Hindu festival of Holi. Enli speaks here about his most recent “Space Painting,” for the ICA London, which is on view until December 22, 2013.

WHEN I PAINT THESE SPACES, I paint them in order to invite people in—to let all people enter and become immersed in the atmosphere. I have used artificial light since the beginning, so that I can manipulate them and change how it affects the painting. But the real point of the “Space Painting” is not necessarily how it looks, or whether or not it is organic or manipulated, but how it ultimately makes you feel in your heart. Human beings are too concerned with notions of authenticity: what is real and what is fake—what makes something real in the first place.

As I begin each “Space Painting,” I think about how it relates to the city I’m in. I consider the city, or village, as well as the entire country. Cities in the world may be very similar in a lot of ways, but each has its own small differences. I think about the tiny details, and try to capture those. When I painted in Kochi, for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, I saw so many amazing colors just while going about my everyday life that I felt I had to translate those into my piece. So the Kochi work is vivid, capturing those colors specific to India. But even then they are nonspecific. People come into my paintings, and each individual has their own personal experience; everybody sees something different. The painting comes to reflect the viewer’s personal life and interact with their personal space.

Ancient Chinese frescoes have influenced me a lot. In traditional Chinese painting the artist does not have a plan, and this is something that I try to follow. Instead, they begin the work with nothing but an idea in their mind, and as they paint the composition takes shape. There are no corrections, no changes. The act of painting is remarkably slow; it may appear as though it was painted very quickly, but everything is done slowly and carefully. As an artist, all of your power is in how well you can control your hands. This is how I work. After you have completed the painting in this way, very delicately and very slowly, you can see that although the painting was very light, in that lightness is the work’s strength. You can see that it is very powerful.

In London, I commuted back and forth from my hotel to the ICA for nine days. I painted about one thousand square feet of the space each day until all nine thousand square feet of it were completed. When the viewer walks into this huge painting, I want them to feel its diversity: large areas of overall colors, the detailed brushstrokes, and traces of my previous motifs like iron wires and leather tubing. I felt the city every day during my commute to the space and I’m sure it left an impression on me, particularly the colors I saw. But as I was on the verge of painting each day, I forgot what I had conceived before. The action of painting superseded any concept I had of the city, though my memory of it was at the start of this daily process.

When I was younger, I used to paint objects I could find around me, just things that I found either outside or around my studio. I have become much more introspective now. As you grow older you find you don’t want to express what is happening externally as much; now I don’t work from found objects, but rather from memories, or thoughts I have. A lot of my paintings, although specific to their particular environment, also reflect the body itself; the “Space Paintings” mimic the body as it contains you, like a cocoon. But most of all, instead of what’s outside of myself, my paintings now reflect what’s in my heart.

— As told to Ashitha Nagesh

Agnieszka Kurant, Cutaways, 2013, HD video, color, sound, 21 minutes.

For “exformation,” Agnieszka Kurant’s debut solo museum exhibition in the US, she worked with editor Walter Murch to create Cutaways, 2013, which gathers together characters who were cut from feature-length Hollywood films. Also on view are several works that explore rumors and fictions and the ways in which these can infiltrate political and economic systems, becoming what Kurant terms “phantom capital.” The show is on view at SculptureCenter in New York through January 27, 2014.

CONTEMPORARY CAPITALISM TRADES IN NONEXISTENCE. Seventy percent of money in this world is phantom—it exists virtually, on computers—but still produces physical consequences. The only economics capable of capturing its nature is the same economics that theoreticians of culture refer to when they talk about specters, ghosts, and delusions: libidinous economics. Our entire political economy has shifted toward immaterial labor, a model no longer based on physical work in a factory but on the production of knowledge and conceptual products like copyrights, patents, and ideas. Late capitalism paradoxically realizes the ideas of dematerialization proposed by Conceptual art. One of cognitive capitalism’s agents is what I call “phantom capital,” redundant and potential material that despite its immaterial status acts as proxy of economic value and political meaning and can have substantial effects on day-to-day life. I am interested in how phantoms, fictions, and magic play into economics. Fiction always has reality effects.

I titled my latest exhibition “exformation,” a term which was originally coined by the Danish science writer Tor Nørretranders to refer to explicitly discarded information—immaterial data that are crucial in shaping contemporary narratives. The unknown unknowns of knowledge. I wanted to bring up the notion of negative information, because the field of information is constituted by what is excluded from it, by deliberately discarded information. History is dependent on its cutouts. Complexity science has coined a term for this: “silent heroes.” A silent hero is someone who is integral to the discovery of some great thing but is never credited. The machine of the art world is contingent on the millions that never made it—writers with unpublished novels, artists with unseen work, curators without platforms. These are the people who are buying magazines, museum memberships, attending screenings and openings. They are essential for the industry to exist—without them there would be no Venice Biennale artists, no Oscar-winning filmmakers.

I find myself lured toward the realm of phantom characters—an invisible universe of actors who have been completely deleted from the final cut of feature films, leaving no apparent traces yet strangely belonging to them. That’s how my film Cutaways began. With the generous collaboration of Walter Murch, I interviewed directors, editors, and producers, collecting close to two hundred characters that had been cut out from film history. I selected three—a hitchhiker played by Charlotte Rampling, who was originally cast in a substantial supporting role in Vanishing Point; a role played by Abe Vigoda, who was to be the lawyer and best friend of Harry Caul, portrayed by Gene Hackman, in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation; and Monster Joe, the owner of the junkyard in Pulp Fiction, who was played by Dick Miller. And then I wrote a script that allows the three of them to meet.

The extinction of singular authorship looms over our epoch. Knowledge and labor are increasingly produced by a self-organized complex system of collective intelligence based on millions of microcontributions. Of course, cultural products without authors have existed forever—just think of the Bible, mythology, and fairy tales. Artistic creativity and value production in art undergo a mystification. They operate via one of the major common myths surrounding art: the idea of creativity as an individual process. In my work I am trying to draw attention to creativity as a product of collective intelligence and complex, nonlinear processes.

I am interested in the hybrid status, aura, value, and authorship of objects. Much of my practice takes up objects and places capable of transformation and inversion—works which can always be unmade or are reversible. It is interesting, for example, to watch a meme circulate, change, and grow exponentially. I think of artworks as living organisms with their own agency and agenda.

— As told to Allese Thomson

James Bridle


James Bridle, Occupy the Cloud, 2013, vinyl. Installation view.

James Bridle is a writer and an artist who often makes work about virtual and material networked culture. Here, Bridle speaks about a newly commissioned work, Occupy the Cloud, which is currently on view in “Open Heart Surgery,” an exhibition organized by the itinerant Moving Museum. The show is on view at the Vinyl Factory in London until December 13, 2013.

OCCUPY THE CLOUD comes from many things, but primarily it stems from my interest in architectural renderings. I became intrigued with a certain kind of technodeterminism, which is shaping architecture through design software that can produce three-dimensional images of buildings. Those visualizations stand in for the immediate future, a technologically augmented future, which is constantly on the point of arriving but never does, as it is swept away by what we actually build, which is not always what we intended.

I thought I would make a work that would mark that impossible future as a place. I was reflecting on a recent experience with my work Drone Shadows, which I was meant to exhibit in Australia but couldn’t because the local government prevented me from carrying out an installation, even though I had been commissioned to do so. In Occupy the Cloud, I wanted to draw attention to spatial censorship, particularly in London where we’ve had a different experience of Occupy. When the city of London found out where Occupy London was going to set up, the government physically filled the intended space with metal barriers. They didn’t just bring the police force; they filled the space with actual stuff so as to make it impossible to camp out there. The UK government also just criminalized squatting, which was previously possible under common law. There used to be a potential for negotiation but now it’s simply criminalized.

Online there is also an increasing restriction of potential public spaces. The Internet bohemian dream of freedom has totally collapsed in the face of government surveillance and corporate activity. The whole space is being controlled and monetized. “The Cloud,” a marketing term intended to make Internet storage seem fluffy and easygoing, is in fact very closed and highly politicized. What we’ve learned in physical space we must bring back online to reassert the Internet as a commons. The idea is to extend digital modes of protest; data centers have physical locations and infrastructures that we could occupy.

My work is an attempt to renew the connection between public space and its curtailment and the curtailment that is happening online. The banners in the work are based on ones hanging outside squatted buildings—bedsheets hung out of windows, painted flags, and protest signage. That’s the look I was going for. But the banners themselves are quite glossy and include symbols—a circle with a lightning bolt through it (a symbol for squatting), an at sign, and a cloud—that together create a sentence. These are both a marker of occupation and an appeal to action—to occupy and transform the notion of the ethereal cloud.

— As told to Julie Solovyeva

Monika Baer


View of “Monika Baer,” 2013.

Monika Baer lives and works in Berlin. Her first US museum solo exhibition runs through January 26, 2014, at the Art Institute of Chicago. The show includes nearly thirty paintings spanning the past twenty-some years of Baer’s career, from 1990 to 2013. The exhibition travels to the Williams College Museum of Art in 2014.

I USUALLY think about my work in terms of themes and nearly all of my paintings are made in series. Most of the larger ones are a series of four, though I maybe only need three or five and sometimes it’s more, as in the so-called “Breast” paintings—of them there are quite a lot. I’ve been working this way since the 1980s. I’m dealing with small changes within a set frame. I tend to think of these kinds of works cinematically. In this exhibition, which mostly displays singular paintings rather than entire groups, each work stands for a series of works, or frames, which are invisibly behind them.

It’s as though a painting could be dismantled and put together again, like there are parts of possible paintings moving through them all. New formal elements come in and others get shed. It’s a sort of machinery. Sometimes the painting may look rather pathetic or exalted, but in time that’s taken apart again and put together again in another often opposing way. It’s a process: from meat to metal, from meat to money, from coins to chains, from chains to glass, from ashes and then back to paint again. Here come the playing cards. What’s the little keyhole doing? I employ very common symbols that vulgarize the notion of the high-artness of painting.

I want the pink paintings to be seductive. I want the paint not to be descriptive, but to be the subject of the painting itself. An untitled canvas from 2012 is built up by very pink and creamy paint, like strawberry cream, which is applied thickly, leaving gaps. You want to put a finger into it. You know that kind of cream that you want to touch? At the bottom of the painting there’s a little keyhole, a black keyhole of paint right on top of all this, and for me the keyhole slaps that painting out of a region of serious elegance. It’s a loaded symbol. It functions through being a cliché, or having the potential of cliché. The representational element I put in a painting—spiderwebs or coins—is able to de-class the painting, or pull it down, which is something I want. I mean, I’m not going to trash it; I just often want this component in a painting.

The real perversity occurs when it’s painted in a certain way. To paint these chains is such a drag. I’m not good at painting chains and I have no method with which to paint them, no formula to follow. So I’m actually laboring over each link. The process has a fetishistic aspect—to want to give the depicted object that kind of intense attention.

My interest in constructing scenarios—be it in the studio or in a painting—is about configurations, often as symbolic or metaphoric confined spaces. Usually there’s a getaway or an escape painting where things break down or fall apart. That’s what I mean about putting together and dismantling. It’s all set together in a certain way and then it falls apart, then new elements come in; then it’s set together in another mode. It’s like trying out different ways of how a painting could be, how it could really be.

— As told to Jason Foumberg