View of “Jesse Aron Green: Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik,” 2015.


Jesse Aron Green’s 2008 multimedia installation Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik has been exhibited in parts at Tate Modern, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and ICA Boston, among other institutions. His current exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums, which runs through August 9, 2015, is the first time all sixty-five components—including photographs, prints, video, and sculpture—are being shown together.

ÄRZTLICHE ZIMMERGYMNASTIK is basically a workout video, so it’s no surprise that some people start to exercise in the gallery. Mirroring the thing in front of you—judging its scale and size against yourself—is fundamental to being with an artwork, or for that matter to being with other people. We’re all bodies. The exercises in the video component of this installation are drawn from an instructional book by a nineteenth-century German doctor, but the invisible center of my piece is really the doctor’s son, Daniel Paul Schreber, who lost his mind as a result of the abuse he suffered as a child. His experience of intense physical subjugation—being tied down in bed, strapped into a rigid chair to fix his posture, forced toward a bodily ideal—led him to reject the position he later held as a powerful lawyer and judge and instead identify with people who were considered powerless at that time whose bodies were believed to be different and inferior.

As a kid I was also subject to intense physical regimentation, although nothing close to what Schreber went through. I spent three hours a day, six days a week for ten years speeding in circles and hurling myself in the air as a figure skater. The real sticking point was the dissociation I felt competing in a context in which my worth was determined so externally to my self, and by such contradictory means. In figure skating, success is measured with two opposing metrics: a supposed objective one, in which points are given for the “cleanliness” with which you complete jumps and spins, and a subjective one, in which the “artistic merit” of your skating—its beauty—is adjudicated.

Thinking about achievement in this context—how bad it can feel to lose but also how ambivalent to win, how the capitalist concept of self-worth never matches up with the emotional complexity of being—became a useful analogue against which I could figure out how making art might be meaningful. It was in acquiring a language—both spoken and aesthetic—for describing difference that I began to see how ideologies of sickness and health were constructed, and how conceptions of care could apply to interpersonal and political relationships. Seeing the Guggenheim’s retrospective of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s work when I was fifteen was the start of this understanding.

Recently I’ve had to reevaluate my own health and fitness. I got a little bit of cancer, now gone, and I elected to start taking PrEP—Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis—which are prescription drugs that help prevent people from becoming infected with HIV even if they are exposed to it. At the moment, PrEP is underadvertised, underprescribed, and subject to misinformation about its risks (which are very few) and effectiveness (which is very high). The people who take it in this country are the ones with resources to know about and access it. African American, Hispanic, Latino, and prison populations along with all people living in poverty continue to disproportionally contract HIV.

I was asked recently if the recent shifts in my health care have made me think about Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik differently, but they really haven’t. For me the project was always about sickness as much as health, and about being excluded for your lack of fitness as much as for the value of being fit. If one thing has changed it’s that the project has proved itself to have legs—it’s being shown and being added to a few good collections, which means that it will be cared for. I guess that’s supposed to confer legitimacy on the work, but experiencing such symbolic gain is not necessarily a feeling I value or enjoy, and I don’t think I ever will.

— As told to Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer

Sarah Cain

06.26.15

View of “Sarah Cain: blue in your body, red when it hits the air,” 2015.


Sarah Cain is a Los Angeles–based artist whose work explores boundaries between painting, sculpture, and installation. “Bow Down,” her solo exhibition at Honor Fraser Gallery in Los Angeles, is on view through July 11, 2015. In tandem, her first solo museum show runs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, in La Jolla through July 19, 2015. The latter includes selections from the institution’s permanent collection as well as the artist’s personal collection, which Cain discusses below.

AT THE CORE of my work is a challenge to abstract painting—an attempt to expand it. It comes from a deep love, but also from an unsettled feeling. I never studied painting in school. I studied new genres at the San Francisco Art Institute and ended up painting for myself while at UC Berkeley in 2005–2006. It was very much my secret project. In the meantime, I was producing site-specific works. There is a freedom in the found object—for example, using an old dresser and transforming it, as I do in my current exhibition at Honor Fraser. Palm Afterlife, 2015, features a palm frond, which was in “freedom is a prime number,” my last show at the gallery, in 2012. There’s a constant recycling of materials in my work.

The exhibition in San Diego is the first in a series of new projects at the museum in which the institutions invites artists to produce solo projects and also select works to be shown from the museum’s collection. There’s A Pythagorean Notebook Suite, 1965, a mystic vulva lithograph print by Alfred Jensen, and a goauche on paper work, Threaded Piece 4, 1973, from Regina Bogat, his widow. I really wanted a Beatrice Wood ceramic in this show, but the museum didn’t have her work in the collection. So I went to her foundation in Ojai, California, where she had lived, and bought an amazing little sculpture she made in 1968 and kept her whole life until she died. Andrea Zittel’s A-Z Aggregated Stack #11, 2012, was something I first saw in her house and it has always stuck in my brain. She, along with everyone else, is in the show because she relates to a specific point in the trajectory of my own practice. My work is very much my own, but I think it is important to show the context it comes out of. I included a John Divola photograph in the show because before I worked with galleries my studio practice was all in abandoned buildings on either coast—wherever I could find them. Ana Mendieta is also in the show—a photo of her body imprinted into sand. She was one of the first artists who resonated with me. Fred Sandback was a similar early inspiration. He did everything I am trying to do now honed into one gesture.

I put in seven paintings of my own, along with a suite of works on paper. These are important to me so it was great to assemble them. Also, there is a painting that I have always liked but feel like no one else likes it. Its title is the same as the show, “blue in your body, red when it hits the air.” It works incredibly with the Robert Irwin window piece in the museum.

— As told to Paige K. Bradley

Steffani Jemison, Promise Machine, 2015. Rehearsal view, June 7, 2015.


Responding to the Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Works,” Steffani Jemison’s recent commission for the museum, Promise Machine, includes multiple parts: a research phase, a reading group, and a semi-improvised composition that will be performed by several musicians traversing the institution’s galleries. The performances will run at MoMA on June 25, 27, and 28, 2015.

JACOB LAWRENCE studied art at a community center called Utopia Neighborhood House in Harlem, which provided a range of services for kids and their mothers—everything from dental care to summer camp. The proximity of the words utopia and neighborhood seemed like a really interesting point of departure from which to think through the political possibilities of Lawrence’s work. The alliance between utopia and abstraction, in particular, is critical to this project. In order to develop this work, I had to shift my focus from the historical content of the “Migration of the Negro” series panels to Lawrence’s formation as an artist, including the complicated system of patronage and support that enabled and restricted his work.

The Promise Machine commission for MoMA is rooted in research, writing, and dialogue, and the project’s many parts span the course of a year. I began by visiting Harlem-based organizations, facilitating a series of conversations around utopia, nostalgia, and the future. I used these discussions to develop a vocabulary that served as a foundation for the rest of my research. As a conceptual tool, utopia really incisively connects politics, distance, and desire. I learned so much from the rhetorical choices people make when they talk about the ideal and the possible. Some devices—simile, analogy—recurred constantly and were very clarifying for me as I tried to understand what political work “utopia” has done and can do, in Harlem especially. Another part of the project is a reading group at MoMA focused on historical accounts, advertisements, and descriptions of black intentional communities in the US and Canada, including real places such as Nicodemus, Kansas, and Soul City, North Carolina, as well as fictional accounts by authors such as George Schuyler.

The most publicly visible piece of the commission is a series of performances taking place in late June. I worked with the museum to create a temporary walking trajectory through the permanent collection. The path places a diverse group of paintings in conversation with Lawrence’s paintings, linking him to artists whose careers coincided with his, especially those who were considering issues of abstraction or undertaking utopian projects. The performances, which feature two vocalists and a saxophonist, process from the fifth-floor galleries—where there’s a large Basquiat painting—down to the fourth floor, passing works by Mondrian, Sam Gilliam, Jo Baer, and Barnett Newman, and conclude on the third floor, where Lawrence’s work is featured in “One-Way Ticket.”

The performers—Jade Hicks, Russell Taylor, and Darius Jones—draw from a vocabulary of musical tropes derived primarily from R&B vocal traditions. As I considered how to work with composer Courtney Bryan on the composition, I was interested in thinking about the tension in any form of vocalizing (including speech, but more dramatically singing) between language and excess. We fantasize about the possibility that “text” can present itself as information, when in fact language is only ever encountered in particular visual, narrative, performative contexts. Timbre, pitch, melody, even font all represent processes of abstraction, in the sense that “to abstract” means to pull away or divert. There’s a tension there, that abstraction can be an activity of reduction—in Lawrence’s process, turning figures into geometry, color, gesture, and symbols—and at the same time it can be an activity of inflection or ornamentation of the real, an activity of diversion.

I decided to focus on two specifically excessive strategies in R&B, melisma and falsetto. I was listening to songs by Al Green, Deniece Williams, Minnie Ripperton, Maxwell, and so on, that offered really beautiful instances of these. Bryan took these moments (and added some of her own), identifying the shape of each musical gesture to assemble a lexicon, the building blocks for the composition. Courtney also mapped this vocabulary onto my libretto in carefully considered sequences. Arranger and musical director Justin Hicks interpreted these sequences for our specific group of performers. Through a combination of composition and improvisation, these individual components yielded new melodies.

The vocalists interact with each other, drawing upon their own deep knowledge and intuition of the material. The saxophone provides both a harmonic framework and a structure for the vocalists, while also serving as an analogue for the voice. And because the music unfolds in a continuous iteration, drawing primarily from a vernacular musical heritage, it connects to a tradition of task-based performance that compiles “found” gestures. I’m thinking of Yvonne Rainer. And Lawrence’s work, too: He worked with mostly unmixed colors, almost as if they were found material, and he would make, say, sixty panels at once, laying down one color at a time on multiple canvases. So, even though his paintings are so often positioned in conversation with portraiture or picture, his process was extremely systematic.

— As told to Dawn Chan

Lee Ufan

06.17.15

Left: Lee Ufan. Right: Lee Ufan Space. Photos: Hyo Won Park.


On April 10, 2015, Space Lee Ufan opened at the Busan Museum of Art in Busan, South Korea. It is the second permanent venue dedicated to the artist (after the Lee Ufan Museum in Naoshima, Japan); for this project, Lee chose the site, conceived the initial design of the building, selected the works to display, supervised the installations, directed the size and location of the wall texts, and even designed the wooden chairs for the café. In sum, the space is a Gesamtkunstwerk, one of the most significant projects of the artist’s career.

I’VE ALWAYS been suspicious of any proposal to build a museum for my work, because a “museum” is fully charged with the preconceived idea as a privileged establishment. I am against the notion of the museum as a place for artworks to be presented and appreciated. Whether painting or sculpture, my work is meant to incorporate its surrounding space. Therefore, I don’t want my work to look like an independent artwork in a gallery. This is why I was initially against idea of Naoshima, but the architect, Tadao Ando, persuaded me by emphasizing that he would create a “space” for my work, instead of a “museum,” although it officially became a “museum.”

So, when Ilsang Cho, director of the Busan Museum of Art, offered this vacant lot within the museum campus, I thought an annex to the museum would be acceptable. As the relationship between the space and the works is crucial, I conceived the basic design of the building, and architect Yongdae Ahn took charge of the structure and construction at site, dealing with all the difficulties, including all the red tape.

This is a space for vibration: One can feel the vibration between the works and the space when strolling about. I am interested in relations and began using the word relation to refer to my art in the late 1960s. I was influenced by ancient Greek philosophy, which claims that every object originates not from things but from relations among things. These days, a lot of people are talking about such “relations,” and relational aesthetics. I am not sure whether those ideas are relevant to my work, but I think it’s also problematic to be restrained to “relation” too much. For I believe a relation should be concealed rather than exposed. My recent use of terms such as conversation and vibration all point to the existence of the surroundings beyond the scope of the art object. In short, my work always exists outside of itself.

Not all audience members understand or appreciate my work. For them, this is not a sculpture but a piece of stone. Some have even been angry. But I would ask those people to question at least once why an artist would place a simple stone in a gallery, and try to forget about any of their preconceptions and look differently. Still, I don’t want to force anyone to accept my intention. Contemporary art is a present progressive form. Its value is still under determination.

Being an artist is a lonely path. You basically do everything by yourself. But when you delve to the bottom of art, you see it is connected to society. No matter how lyrical or surreal, all artworks engage the world. An artist’s job is to challenge everything. Therefore, an artist cannot justify reality or conform to it. In other words, an artist by nature is anti-institutional, and to participate with certain social movements or political activities is not within art’s dimension. That is more of a civil dimension. As an artist, I’m always trying to reduce my ego. When people see my works, such as From Winds or From Dots, they frequently ask, “To where?” For me, there is no end, but only beginning.

— Translated from Korean and as told to Jung-Ah Woo

Philippe Parreno, The Crowd, 2015, digital video, color, sound, 24 minutes.


Paris-based artist Philippe Parreno’s installation H{N)YPN(Y}OSIS, 2015, is a fluid and infinitely variable composition of audio and visual elements that the artist can individually manipulate using an iPad. Parreno will be on site for the duration of the show, choreographing an ongoing, ever-changing dance featuring videos, sculptures, and live performances. H{N)YPN(Y}OSIS opens at the Park Avenue Armory on June 11 and will run through August 2, 2015.

UNTIL THIS PROJECT, the tools I had at my disposal to visualize a show were basically computer programs designed for positioning objects within a space. There wasn’t really a way to deal with the element of time. I was particularly interested in the Armory’s emptiness—there’s not much to contend with in terms of architecture—and I wanted to see how I could create blocks of time, or variable durations, within this vast open space. I was thinking about how I could get people to spend a couple of hours there. Instead of intervening in the infrastructure, like I did for my show at the Palais de Tokyo in 2013, H{N)YPN(Y}OSIS explores temporality by introducing time into architecture. Nothing I’m doing at the Armory is integrated into the architecture, so nothing is permanent or fixed.

The Armory takes up almost an entire New York city block, and I wanted the exhibition inside to be a reflection of the city outside. For instance, I’m showing twenty-six marquees in reference to Broadway. The films of mine that I am presenting are all tied to New York one way or another. Marilyn, 2012, is set at the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue, just a few blocks away from the Armory; Invisibleboy, 2010, which I’ve only shown once before, was shot in Chinatown; June 8, 1968, 2009, describes the day JFK’s body was brought from NYC to Washington, DC, by train; and then Crowd, 2015, was shot in the Armory this past winter. This new film focuses on three hundred New Yorkers who were invited to the Armory, where they were hypnotized and I played some music for them and showed them my films. The camera is only on the viewers looking at my work, and the result is a weird parallel universe. In a way they saw the show before the show happened, but now they are part of the show. There will also be a live feed of the sounds of Lexington Avenue pumped into the space, making the architecture seem a bit transparent. The Armory has these beautiful skylights, so maybe sometimes we’ll screen the films in the daylight, which could look nice and ghostly. All of these elements bring the outside in and make the show a mirror reflecting New York and New Yorkers.

All of the elements in the exhibition—the videos, music recordings, and marquees—can be controlled from a master keyboard that looks like a piano but conceptually is more like a gamelan, with diverse instruments that can be played together. The control room is not a visible part of the exhibition, but we’ve developed an interface so that everything can also be run off an iPad. This way I can be in the exhibition while manipulating the various elements—I can turn on the lights of the marquees, activate the player pianos, play with the sounds, and so on. I will be at the Armory for the run of the exhibition, and most of the time it will be me playing the show, creating a live, changing choreography. It’ll never be the same. I want to experiment, see what happens, learn, be there with the viewers, and play around. I will also be inviting other artists and friends to animate the exhibition. Pianist Mikhail Rudy will play every day, and Tino Sehgal is composing a piece of music especially for the show. Collaboration and social situations are very important to my work. I come from a place where an exhibition is also a studio—a place for experimentation. For this show, what’s new is the idea that everything is live. People who come see H{N)YPN(Y}OSIS multiple times will have a different experience with each visit, and I hope people come back again and again.

— As told to Mara Hoberman

View of “Christine Rebet: Paysage Fautif,” 2015.


Christine Rebet is an artist who has worked across diverse media and with traditional animation for over ten years. Her debut solo gallery exhibition in New York, “Paysage Fautif,” features drawings made in Haiti as well as a new hand-drawn film, all of which she discusses below. The show is on view at Bureau until June 14, 2015.

I’VE BEEN MAKING ANIMATIONS since 2002, when I received a grant to study with a team of DDR-era animators in Berlin. There, I learned how to animate in 35 mm, and I have stayed faithful to this traditional technique, even as I’ve watched the medium obsolesce. I decided to work with this “minor” form because of its roots in social critique. I find within its anarchic and satirical subtext a suitable grammar to share my vision.

Around 2008, I decided to stop making animations—the process was too obsessive, too troubling—in order to concentrate on themes of collectivity through performance, sculpture, and film. When I returned to France from New York in 2012, I began to recognize how little France has processed its collective traumatic history, especially when it comes to its colonial past. My father served in the Algerian war and, like many in his generation, he was destroyed by it. At one point during the war, he got typhoid and ended up suffering from hallucinations in a remote hospital. I began to think about inventing machinery to rehearse the hallucinating mind—an organic machine, influenced both by Francis Picabia’s erotic machines and by the imagery of colonized nature, a machine simultaneously repairing and destroying itself. The cerebral freedom of hallucinations, it occurred to me, is a mirage, as deceptive as military deployment in the service of an imperial agenda.

The drawings in this show were made while I was in Haiti early this year. As it happened, I came down with tropical fever. Experiencing my own hallucinations while I was sick finally readied me to return to animation. After shooting all the drawings (about eight hundred, a number that is actually quite low for animations), I filmed them while submerging them in water, so that the images expanded and eventually dissolved. This secondary process both destroys the mirage of the animation and sets the images free. The animated film that resulted from this process is titled In the Soldier’s Head, 2015, and it is a meditation on directing cerebral fluids through orgasmic forms. The title of this New York show, “Paysage Fautif”—a nod to Marcel Duchamp’s semen on a piece of black satin—had been in my head for a while, but its significance was certainly reformulated by the animation.

Beyond these erotics, it was clear to me that I wanted to talk about mental disruption as a figure for the collective experience of colonization, and that I wanted to carry this out through the disruption of the animation itself. In short, my aim was to make a non-animation, something that interrupted the continuous cycle of images through a secondary process. The final moments of the animation return to the beginning of civilization, or the beginning of animation, in the cave, but the image is fleeting, ungraspable. After all, you can’t really get a hold of a mind in crisis.

— As told to Joanna Fiduccia

Glenn Ligon

06.05.15

View of “Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions,” 2015. Photo: Andy Keate.


Glenn Ligon is a New York–based artist whose work is currently on view in the Venice Biennale. His curatorial project “Glenn Ligon: Encounters and Collisions,” which he discusses below, features his work alongside that of forty-five more contemporary artists, and runs from April 15 through June 14, 2015, at Nottingham Contemporary, and at the Tate Liverpool from June 30 through October 18, 2015.

THIS EXHIBITION IS as much for a public as it is for me. Often my work has been critically framed around issues of race and identity. There was some opportunity here to reposition my own work, to communicate to an audience that it has never been solely about race or identity, and that I have been simultaneously invested in issues around repetition, abstraction, and narrative.

It never occurred to me to curate an exhibition of this nature—it’s just not somewhere that my practice was ever going. But Alex Farquharson, the director at Nottingham, contacted me after he read Yourself in the World, a collection of my writings about other artists’ work, and said that he thought the book could serve as the basis for an interesting project. For me, those texts were deeply personal and by themselves they were enough, but over time I began to think an exhibition would be a great opportunity to work with the stellar collection of the Tate Modern and directly with other artists and collectors, and to juxtapose works that I have been thinking about for a long time.

Because I am deeply invested in Abstract Expressionism, which has been a touchstone for my painting practice, I was particularly excited to hang a Beauford Delaney next to a Franz Kline. Delaney and Kline were of the same generation and share many common interests, but such juxtapositions are rarely made, partially because Delaney's works are not in institutions the way they should be, but also because some people imagine they have nothing to say to each other, which clearly they do.

With my own work, it was an opportunity to imagine where things could go as well as consider the intersections between my practice and the work of my contemporaries. For instance, my multimedia drawing Study for Condition Report, 2000, incorporates Untitled (I Am A Man), 1988, a painting based on placards carried by protesters in a 1968 rally. The more recent work reproduces the 1988 piece and pairs it with an overlaid condition report of that painting by an art conservator. It “should be” in the section of the exhibition that also contains Charles Moore’s photographs of the Birmingham water protests or other representations of civil rights activism. But instead I decided to put it next to Lorna Simpson, Zoe Leonard, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye—artists whose work investigates the politics of representation and, in the case of Yiadom-Boakye, evinces a fascination with a fictive masculinity.

Also, a funny thing happened: I decided to include a Robert Morris felt piece—Untitled, 1967–68/2008—although I have never written about Morris. He isn’t an artist that I’ve thought about before in relationship to my own practice, but when I saw this specific piece I thought there was a certain synchronicity with my neon sculptures. These are the kinds of formal correspondences and strategies of representing the body—without showing the body—that might strike you as well in this exhibition. The ideas in my work are on a continuum, engaged with the issues of our time but also conceptually and formally evolving out of my earliest encounters with other artists.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell

Lydia Lunch

06.02.15

Lydia Lunch, Collateral Damage, 2015, ink-jet print, 40 x 20".


Lydia Lunch is well known for her photography, writing, and music from the past three decades. Based in Barcelona, she recently released the new album Urge to Kill on Rustblade with her band RETROVIRUS; her 1990 spoken word work Conspiracy of Women (C.O.W.) will be rereleased this month on limited-edition vinyl by Nicholas Jaar’s label, Other People. Lunch will perform the piece on June 5, 2015, at 7 PM at Howl! Happening in New York, where an exhibition of new photography and selections from her archives are also on display through June 5. Here, she talks about her process, formative influences, and being an expat.

I’VE BEEN COMPILING MY ARCHIVES over the past two years. After so many spoken word and music shows, I have a ton of documentation—letters, live recordings, and boxes of photos that I’ve been taking since 1990. A lot of my photographic and video work happened after I left New York in 1990. I moved to New Orleans and began taking photos of rural decay, graveyards, crashed cars, and teenagers. I was trying to say to my subjects, “Look, this is you—don’t conform. This is your power, this is your beauty.” This exhibition is only my second photography show in the US; it highlights the work I could not do in this country, which is why I had to move.

I left America when Bush was reelected. I knew that the US was going to turn into a police state, so I went to Spain, a country that was thirty-five years out of fascism. There, I began visiting the ghost towns, investigating for my photography and video backdrops. An important one was the village of Belchite, which Franco bombed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, killing six thousand people. The place is now in a chronic state of decay; they just built a new town beside it. Nobody goes there, nobody cares, because amnesia is written into the constitution post Franco. They don’t talk about the civil war or the dead they can’t find. I wrote a spoken word piece called The Ghost of Spain, which is also about the ghost of Fallujah and Islamabad, Detroit and Trenton. I just connected the tissue of man’s insanity. That crumbling village is in some of my photos in the New York show. One is called Collateral Damage and it’s of this little boy at a German music festival. I took his picture and overlaid that with a piece of a destroyed wall in Belchite, which looks like a bloody smear of brick.

Spoken word has always been my priority—it’s intimate and hypnotic when done right. The word is what matters the most. One of the things I love to say from the stage is “Don’t be afraid to be ugly,” because we’re so indoctrinated to think, especially as females, that we’re not good enough. When I first started doing spoken word, there were more political artists doing it at the time, like Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, Exene Cervenka, and Wanda Coleman. I was called an exaggerator then but everything I was talking about is exactly what’s going on now. I’ve always felt we live in apocalyptic times, maybe because of what I was born into. In the show there’s an installation titled You are not safe in your own home, and nearby is “The War Is Never Over,” a series of photographic montages. The installation is an homage to relationships that are formed out of trauma bonds and the creativity that comes out of that. The show goes from the political trauma zone to the personal trauma zone, and the archival stuff on view is just to show how I managed to survive all that. The art is the proof of survival. I always turned the knife outward.

— As told to Paige K. Bradley