Judy Chicago is an artist, author, and educator whose long career has focused on women’s experiences and feminist critique. She speaks here about her upcoming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, “Chicago in L.A.: Judy Chicago’s Early Work 1963-74,” on view from April 4 to September 28, 2014, and her concurrent shows throughout the United States—including those at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City; the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania; the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, Cambridge; and the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe. The Monacelli Press has recently released her latest book, Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education, and will publish a study of her key work, The Dinner Party, 1979, on April 8, 2014.
EVEN THOUGH I ALWAYS FELT very grateful that The Dinner Party brought me so much attention, for a really long time I felt that it also blocked out all of my other work. I have a very prodigious production, something that was prominently illustrated in the recent “Pacific Standard Time” exhibition, which also kicked off this renewed interest in the range of my work. From 1963 to 1974, I went through a period of learning about women’s history, studying my predecessors, developing my own iconography. I studied china painting in order to make images more precise than was possible with an airbrush. My original plan was to make a hundred abstract images of historical women on plates—women consumed by history rather than acknowledged by it—titled The Great Ladies. The prevailing attitude back then was that women had no history. When I thought that the plates belonged on a table, that’s when my work on The Dinner Party began.
While I was a student at UCLA, my painting instructors hated my imagery and color sense. It took me a decade to forge my own vision and I can’t tell you how many women I have heard from over the years who have felt literally stranded in school because they weren’t being helped. In fact they were being actively discouraged from their own subject matter, as I had been. CalArts practically erased the history of my feminist art program. One graduate student there, Audrey Chan, decided to convene a symposium in 2007 about the program but could not find the necessary information about it in the school’s records. They wouldn’t provide it to her either. It made me furious because the job of institutions is to transmit culture and pass on the achievements of history so they can be built upon. When they don’t, it’s an institutional failure and it could be and should be part of institutional critique. This is why I wrote Institutional Time.
Institutional Time is about university studio art education and the gap between art school and the art world. In school, you are taught to develop technique and a certain formal vocabulary. But how are you then suddenly going to bring in your own personal content after moving away from what you had just learned, particularly when content-based artmaking is certainly not what’s emphasized in the art world? It also always amuses me when feminist theorists accuse my generation of not being sensitive to issues of race and ethnicity and sexual orientation. I guess they never saw my early Heaven Is for White Men Only. Those flesh bars are multi-colored; the work is about how many of us are barred from freedom.
I told the “Pacific Standard Time” curators that one of the reasons I was so glad for that group of shows, in terms of my own career and my own history, was that it rooted my work back in California. Once The Dinner Party was permanently housed in New York at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, my career turned eastward. My history in California was being overlooked. As macho as the Los Angeles scene was in the 1960s—and as completely inhospitable as it was to women—the spirit of self-invention that characterized Southern California art back then was extremely important to me in terms of my development as an artist. And even though there is probably not a major museum in the world that would accord enough space for a real retrospective of my work, I was just calculating the number of square feet of exhibition space I am currently occupying in what has sort of become my national retrospective, and it’s probably something like twenty thousand square feet across the country.
For my upcoming exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, I’ve been granted the opportunity to carry out a large-scale performance in Prospect Park. A Butterfly for Brooklyn is the first major fireworks piece I’ve ever done in the east. After I got out of graduate school, my first studio was with two other artists, Lloyd Hamrol and Llyn Foulkes. It was located on the corner where the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena passes by. One year, a number of us decided to do a performance for the people who camped out on the streets the night before the parade. I got fog machines and lined them up outside and built a color wheel like in the color studies I was doing then. The smoke came up and the color was liberated into the air. At the time I called these pieces “Atmospheres” because I wanted to feminize the atmosphere, to put the idea of femininity—one of my major goals—out into the air. But I had to stop working with fireworks in 1974 because I wanted them to get bigger and I couldn’t get the funding. I’ve waited forty years to work at the scale of A Butterfly for Brooklyn. How could I not be thrilled by all that is happening around my seventy-fifth birthday? You never know what will happen if you live long enough.
View of Nancy Lupo's backyard in LA. Photo: Jody Rogac.
Los Angeles–based artist Nancy Lupo is a participant in “Taster’s Choice” at MoMA PS1, a group show that examines the role of “choice” in art, both as process and as content. Below, Lupo ruminates on her new sculptures in the exhibition, and reflects on the location and circumstances of their production. “Taster’s Choice” is on view from March 23 to May 25, 2014.
THE TACTILITY OF MY WORK traffics in a kind of erotics whose wires have been crossed and confused. Food is used in many of the sculptures—real food and also fake food. Cherries are bright and sexy, while nutritional yeast might remind you of snot, fat, or the gum soles on some shoes. You aren’t sure whether they stir sensations of hunger or disgustwhether they make you horny or have stirred your decorative juices. The black and white “tuxedo” quinoa in the sculpture Tuxedo Feeder looks at once like upholstered furniture, granite, and a treat for a very large family of birds. Each of these connotations has a different tactile resonance and purpose. I push the sculpture further toward a reading as feeding station by embedding four cast aluminum dog bowls into the part of the sofa where your butt would go. The bowls are thick and heavy—they feel as though they could withstand the stresses of many generations of kenneled animals. In this context they are not transformed but rather maintain a clear connection to their function in the world.
There is already a lot going on with the objects and materials that I choose to work with before I ever get involved. I feel that these new works are collaborative, as the objects that I choose, or that choose me, reveal their latent meanings and associations through my intervention. The small Rubbermaid Brute containers in several of my sculptures are the same brand and shape as the big ones that you see in schools, churches, hospitals, and parks—often they are used for trash or recycling. These containers are so ubiquitous that they are almost invisible, and so a smaller version is suspicious. What is its purpose? The gray, yellow, and white versions all have food safe ratings and are used in commercial kitchens for the storage of foodstuffs. These smaller-scale bins present a disconcerting proposition. It would probably feel better if they were redesigned so that it didn’t seem like your food was being stored in a miniature garbage can.
Many of my works are scaled down. The containers are small and so are the furniture works. Small things are naturally endearing to us. Children are small and so are pets. Pet shops and baby stores always seem to be in questionably close proximity to one another as if one were a gateway drug for the other. The aesthetic experience of these stores is complicated and the visual properities of the objects they sell are enjoyed in distinct ways by a parent or pet owner and the child or pet. My sculptures sometimes feel that they are intended for these audiences. The textures seem like they might stimulate sensory cognation in children and there is the suggestion of pet feeders in many works. When searching for such items I often wonder what a dog cares about the way their toys and food dishes look? I wonder why is it that so many pet toys look so similar to sex toys? It seems that a lot of these decisions reflect at least as much on the buyer as they do on the pet or child.
Things aren’t neutral. The objects and materials that I bring into the studio retain the resonance and meaning that they have in the world. Similarly, my works have been shaped and haunted by the circumstances of their making. This group of pieces was made outdoors and was enabled in its production by a historic (though well-timed) period of drought in Los Angeles. It felt like nature had gone haywire. The squirrels in the yard were indifferent to the quinoa, nutritional yeast, and chia seeds but had a ravenous appetite for the Swheat Scoop kitty litter. The squirrel’s gastronomic transgression made me think of human beings who ingest bath salts as a means of transgressing reality. Of course the term “bath salts” is just language used to cloak an intoxicating compound, but then again, for the squirrels, so is Swheat Scoop.
Katrín Sigurðardóttir, Foundation (detail), 2013, wood and concrete, dimensions variable. Installation view.
Katrín Sigurðardóttir’s site-specific installations often address collective memory and architecture. For the Icelandic Pavilion at the Fifty-Fifth Venice Biennale, Sigurðardóttir debuted Foundation, 2013, a raised, decorative floor inserted into the former laundry of an eighteenth-century palazzo. The work is currently on view in her solo exhibition at the Reykjavik Art Museum until April 13, 2014, and will travel to New York’s SculptureCenter. She discusses the piece below.
BY CONVENTIONAL LOGIC, you could say that floors don’t move. We think of the ground underneath our feet as the parameter of movement rather than a moving entity in itself. When we travel, it is the fact that there is a different territory under our feet that bears evidence of our journey. Foundation takes this truth and turns it upside down. People still move to see the work, but it represents a static place that does the impossible: It moves from one place to the next.
The work is comprised of pieces that are designed to exist in modules that come apart and reassemble seamlessly. It is a megapuzzle of close to nine thousand handmade tiles preserved in about 150 sections. When I was preparing this work, I researched decorative floors, focusing mostly on the eighteenth century. I looked at every floor plan I could get my hands on and composed the outline based on pavilions and other types of nonresidential structures in central Europe. Once I had the footprint of the piece, it became a mathematical task to figure out a pattern that works within the shape––it’s not a given. It was a sort of geometrical footnote to the process. Neither the outline nor the pattern is based on a specific place. I found the pattern that is most akin to what I came up with on a small, heavily retouched photograph of the interior of a building that had been destroyed. So you could say that the floor no longer exists; the building no longer exists; even the empire where the building was situated is gone. The floor derives itself completely from a constantly floating referent.
Working with a horizontal surface makes the implication of a moving locus even more dramatic because it is the floor that the viewer walks on; it is the very parameter that we use as evidence of our movement. As the work travels, I wanted the imprint of its past to be visiblenot only its fictional eighteenth-century origins but also its recent history, the way it develops as it moves from place to place. In Reykjavik the work is positioned both indoors and outdoors, similar to Venice. However, the difference is that now the outline of the laundry of the Palazzo Zenobio in Venice—where it was first located—is apparent on the surface and starts drawing out a new pattern, in stark contrast with the original rococo-inspired design. Because I had already decided the piece would travel, I wanted to work with its peripatetic nature. The floor is inserted in three different buildings, and I didn’t want to camouflage or ignore that.
What does it mean when a place moves? Can we imagine, while sitting in this room, that the room is now in a different country? No, we are in Paris, and Paris is in France. Or we are in New York, or we are in Reykjavik. Everywhere, we are bound to the laws of time and space. How can we break out of this truth?
View of “Igor Siddiqui: Protoplastic,” 2014.
Croatian-born architect and designer Igor Siddiqui identifies with the “not everything” approach to architecture—the notion that architects can make small, incisive contributions to larger projects rather than focusing solely on the big picture. Siddiqui speaks here about his latest innovation, the use of bioplastics in creating his architectural work, which is the focal point of his latest exhibition, “Igor Siddiqui: Protoplastic,” on view at TOPS Gallery, Memphis, from January 31 to March 29, 2014.
I COOK MY BIOPLASTICS at home, which might seem to be a domesticated way of producing work, but it’s more complicated than that. All the materials I use are edible. I have even licked the liquid bioplastic to see if it was cool enough to pour. That is one of the most enlightening parts of this practice—that you can use your sense of taste, employing your mouth rather than your hands to handle the material. Taste is perhaps the only sense that is ordinarily excluded from the experience of architecture. Although this work is not designed for consumption, the thought that a building is actually edible changes how we perceive the boundaries between our bodies and the surrounding built environment. You never think about tasting concrete when you are mixing it to cast a multistory structure.
The work in the exhibition is a result of research that considers the relationship between digital fabrication and made-from-scratch biodegradable plastics. A sculptural treelike volume made from tailored sheets of translucent bioplastic is suspended from the ceiling and serves as a proof of concept. Surrounding it are six sheets of double-sided acrylic formwork that I used to cast the homemade plastic. The acrylic is white to match the gallery’s floor and is supported by custom concrete blocks that reference the surrounding walls. The overall arrangement of the work in the gallery encourages an immersive experience rather than simply a didactic one.
I am aware that my bioplastic work exists in the same food-obsessed culture that has celebrated chefs like David Chang and the world of molecular gastronomy. Home-cooking my materials not only complicates the macho stereotype that comes with carpentry and construction; it effectively slows down the process of creation. Unlike most design production that relies heavily on digitally automated technologies, this work revisits some older, currently underexplored methods of making custom materials. Like cooking food, the process is a mixture of control and discovery. The bioplastic recipe is quite simple: Proportions of gelatin, water, glycerol, and starch are combined depending on the amount of pliability desired. Adding more glycerin, for instance, relaxes the plastic molecules and allows for more flexibility.
The goal for me was not to invent a new material; rather, it was to take something that already exists in the world and modify it enough that I could figure out the limits of its aesthetic behavior. Bioplastics have many of the same properties as synthetic plastics: fluidity and malleable transparency, for instance. They also have a similar look to their often-toxic predecessors. The amber glow of the latex sculptures of Eva Hesse, for example, is not unlike that of home-cooked bioplastics. This type of natural material resembles candy or aspic, and thus establishes a nourishing and mimetic rather than harmful relationship to the human body. The bioplastic architecture that I build, if composted, will degrade in six months—and with increased moisture, perhaps even faster.
A.L. Steiner, More Real than Reality Itself, 2014, multichannel video installation, color, sound, 54 minutes.
A. L. Steiner is an artist whose visual and curatorial work addresses the pluralities inherent within subjectivity, feminism, and queer herstory. Her most recent installation, More Real than Reality Itself/Cost-benefit analysis will be on view in the 2014 Whitney Biennial from March 7 to May 25, 2014. The work investigates sociocultural, biopolitical, and familial constructions through the lived practices of activists and artists Rita ‘Bo’ Brown, Carla Cloer, Ericka Huggins, Miya Masaoka, and Laurie Weeks. Here, Steiner discusses the piece and her ongoing radical practice.
DOCUMENTARIES ARE OBSERVATIONAL WORKS. The installation-based work More Real than Reality Itself began as an exploration of my biological family’s past history in the late 1960s and early ’70s, which eventually became a conduit to viewing other subjective histories. I began to focus on several artists and activists whose lives and work have been affected in different ways and degrees by what’s termed (canonically) as the cultural revolution of that era. These subjects’ interactions with racial, gender, and sexual liberation, as well as with social justice, labor, and environmental movements, and with emerging contemporary art forms, all had lasting effects on their life trajectories. These experiences are transmissible over a lifetime.
I’ve been thinking about these transmissions, the meanings and impacts of terms such as biography, autobiography, and documentary. It feels difficult to tell a personal story if one isn’t 100 percent certain of its veracity or validity: One has to address the difficult task of dealing with informational displacement and detachment while attempting engagement with the material.
I’m interested in the efforts my subjects made to effect change while grappling with the notion of radical—whether as a self-identification or an imposed moniker, or bothand the mutations of radicalism, justice, activism, and ethics that took place. I’m curious about the actuality of familial constructions determining one’s aesthetic and sociopsychic desires and sense of agency.
This project has become a platform for questioning intentionality and the relationship I have to documentary or archival forms—a fragile and precarious place for both the object and subject. Authenticating experiences through photographic documents quickly impresses a contemporary psychological form of recognition. Within these mediated forms of cognition, video establishes a further expanded dimensional presence. Ultimately, it’s challenging to understand this video work as a completed form or even as a record—it’s something that’s permeable and flexible. I was compelled to incorporate that structurally and strategically as part of the visual works. Within my own family, I’ve witnessed the discarding of a particular story or the information contained within a story, to be replaced by parts or details that were previously nonexistent or perhaps are just resurfacing. I believe in the multiplicity of possibilities or flexibilities of such narratives, more than I can believe in the stories themselves. As the late José Esteban Muñoz so eloquently noted, “Think of ephemera as trace, the remains, the things that are left, hanging in the air like a rumor.”
Rashaad Newsome, FIVE, 2010–. Performance view, Feast Projects, Hong Kong, May 18, 2012. From left: Prince Milan, Janovia Garçon, Scanz, Omari Mizrahi, Tia Ebony, and Alex Mugler.
In Rashaad Newsome’s work FIVE, 2010–, motion-tracking technology records the movements of performers as they enact the gestures and moves of vogue dance. FIVE premiered at the Whitney Biennial in 2010, and Newsome has elaborated on the work in iterations at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2011), the Miami Art Museum (2011), and Feast Projects in Hong Kong (2012). The latest edition of FIVE will open Newsome’s exhibition at the Drawing Center in New York on March 6. The exhibition, which is on view until March 11, 2014, will feature video documentation and line drawings produced from motion-tracking of the dancers in the Hong Kong performance.
FIVE initially began with my interests in vogue, which is part of the black and Latino gay diaspora that I feel was co-opted very early in its existence. Essentially, it’s a series of poses that communicate something to the viewer, to an opponent, and to the judges. An aspect I am very interested in with my work is the way the dance functions as a complex language that allows for a lot of room for abstraction within it—in its evolution and its preservation.
I began working with dancers in 2010 and created sequences based on the five elements of Vogue Femme. Vogue Femme is a very fluid dance style with exaggerated “feminine” movements influenced by ballet and modern dance. Styles of Vogue Femme range from dramatics style, which emphasizes stunts, tricks, and speed, to soft style, which emphasizes a slower and more graceful flow. There are five elements of Vogue Femme: hands, catwalk, floor performance, duck walk, and spin dips. Accordingly, I worked with five musicians who play instruments whose sounds mirror the dancers’ movements. I also enlisted Stefanos Koroneos to sing opera and Kevin Jz Prodigy to commentate.
Around the same time, I was developing a motion tracking patch, using Max/MSP&Jitter programming software. Max/MSP&Jitter is a visual programming language for music and multimedia. When the 2010 Whitney Biennial curators asked me to exhibit and perform for the show, I thought that would be a perfect way to incorporate this software into a performance. The patch allowed me to track the motion of color in real time using an external video camera connected to my laptop. The software maps the tracked color coordinates on a computer screen or projection, with a continuous line on the screen corresponding to the position of the color over time. After the performance, the data that’s captured is then printed and framed as a multicolored line drawing, with each color corresponding to one of the five elements of Vogue Femme.
I’m committed to tracking these performance histories, so to speak. Drawing has always been a part of this work, so to show FIVE in an institution dedicated to the history and preservation of drawing is great. I see the drawings as the starting point for the project, but ultimately, I want to turn what they are doing into sculptural material. I have been rewriting the code, and I recently finished a new patch for my upcoming Drawing Center performance. With this patch, I am incorporating Xbox kinect cameras, which track movement in three dimensions. This allows me not only to track specific parts of the dancers’ bodies, but to do it to scale, and have the data that is captured be 3-D data rather than 2-D as before. Because I am working with vogue dancers and trying to accurately translate their movements into line drawings and sculptures, it is very important that I track specific areas of the dancers’ bodies—for instance, the hands, hips and feet—as there are many subtleties within the dance.
I feel like FIVE has really reached a new peak now. The software and cameras allow me to do what I ultimately wanted: turn movement into physical objects. The movement that you see tracked during the performance will later exist as a physical sculpture. FIVE has a score in terms of the way it is performed, but the resultant drawings and sculptures function like a score as well. Years from now, a dancer will be able to study one of my line drawings or the eventual sculptures and reperform the dance, because it literally is a replica of vogue movements.
I’ve been playing with this programming language in various ways, and it has become a tool that I use often in my performance work. It gives me more control in the pieces and allows me to do things in real time. In so much performance, artists perform for the viewer. My work changes that experience: It’s not about me standing and performing for you. It’s more about me creating a work and you being able to experience the process of its creation.