Mario Gooden

12.29.15

Left: Cover of Mario Gooden’s Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity (2015). Right: A view of Azurest South, St. Ettrick, Virginia.


“How does it feel to be a problem?” So begins a chapter titled “The Problem with African American Museums” in Mario Gooden’s new collection of essays, Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity. By repeating the question with which W. E. B. Du Bois launched The Souls of Black Folk, Gooden locates himself in an illustrious lineage while highlighting the stasis that lets the query resonate as profoundly now as it did over a century ago. What follows is a subtle reading of a number of African American cultural institutions, a consideration of the politics they spatialize (sometimes in literal mutations of Afrocentric iconography such as kente cloth or masks), and a call for “more critical design and discourse.” Gooden is an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and a partner in the firm Huff + Gooden Architects; below, he discusses the book and a chapter on the architect Amaza Lee Meredith. Dark Space was published this month by Columbia University Press.

THE TOPICS COVERED IN DARK SPACE are intimately related to my practice, and to how I and my colleagues approach our work in our architecture studio. But I specifically wanted the book to not be about my practice, in order to prompt a larger conversation that moves beyond the image of architecture, so to speak. It has always been my belief that architecture is about space and spatial experience. What it looks like in terms of pictorial representation, or its image, is secondary to its experience.

I first became aware of Amaza Lee Meredith two or three years ago. I had no idea that there had been a black woman architect practicing in Virginia as early as the 1920s and ’30s. And to be a modernist within that context! I thought that was quite extraordinary, considering what was going on culturally at that time. She had no formal architectural training; she had studied arts education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. While researching this book, I spent some time studying the house that she designed for herself and Edna Meade Colson, her lifelong female companion, in the mid-1930s. I started digging in to the way in which she constructed an identity through her own architecture. I read somewhere that she referred to a space in that house as her “lady’s boudoir.” I thought this might be a direct reference to Adolf Loos, who often included boudoirs in the modernist houses he designed. Then I became interested in looking at Azurest South, Meredith’s home in Virginia, in coordination with the house Loos designed for Josephine Baker, as the two women were essentially contemporaries: Meredith and Baker did not know each other, but they were being culturally productive at the same time.

Formative in my thinking as I was writing this essay was a seminar that I had taken with Beatriz Colomina when I was a student at Columbia. It was a seminar on Loos, and around the same time Beatriz was working on her book Sexuality & Space. Upon reading certain scholarly critiques that suggest the house Loos designed for Baker epitomizes a European white male—and possibly Loos’s own—masculinist and primitivist racial and sexual desires, I wanted to offer a slightly different reading of the Baker house and how publicity, sexuality, and the gaze were working in that project. The house can be seen to contain ambiguities that blur the lines between viewer and view, and between subject and object. Features of the house point toward not only the objectification of Baker but also her elusiveness and the illusiveness of her image—for instance, I see connections to the racialized and sexualized dance performances Baker created as part of La Revue Nègre in Paris in the late ’20s.

In a way, Azurest South is much more private, but it's private in public. For that time and that context, the house was radically different from anything else around it—it doesn’t fade into its surroundings. It’s also interesting that Meredith did not necessarily hide her relationship with her partner, who was the head of the education department at the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute, which subsequently became the Virginia State College for Negroes in the ’30s and is now known as Virginia State University. I believe their colleagues were aware that they were “roommates.” So, from the exterior of Azurest South, their privacy is, let's say, veiled or cloaked, but it’s veiled and cloaked in public while recoding the masculinist guises of modernism.

— As told to Andy Campbell

Reena Saini Kallat, Hyphenated Lives, 2013–15, gouache, charcoal, ink, electrical wire on handmade paper, black boards, wooden vitrines, unfired clay, postcards, dimensions variable.


The language in Reena Saini Kallat’s art is fluid, shifting, unstable. Text is written with salt on sand, only to disappear moments later. Her use of material is simultaneously timely and timeless. She connects politically divided terrain by interrogating various national identities and their symbols through sculpture, photography, drawing, and video. Kallat has had solo exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery in British Columbia, Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai, the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and Primo Marella Gallery in Milan. Here, Kallat talks about her current exhibition, “Porous Passages,” on view at Nature Morte in New Delhi through January 9, 2016.

“POROUS PASSAGES” REFLECTS ON DIFFERING WORLDVIEWS. For this exhibition, I brought together older works so that I could set them in dialogue with ideas that currently preoccupy me. I use text in a variety of ways throughout the exhibition. For instance, in Walls of the Womb, 2007, words from my mother’s recipe books become inscrutable as they are rendered in braille on hand-dyed saris, hung as scrolls. And my video Synapse, 2011, features the preamble of the Indian constitution. The constitution’s text, appearing on an eye chart, is being deciphered by the hesitant voices of patients in an optometrist’s clinic. It is an ironic play on legibility.

I’m interested in thinking of the thing I make as language itself—where meaning is lodged in the material. In Saline Notations (Echoes), 2015, the soliloquies inscribed on a beach using salt evaporate with the tides. For a moment an idea is made visible, then suddenly lost. My photographs remain as the only evidence of these salt stories before they dissolve. This piece came from researching tidal calendars and times of sunset. I often think of our relationship to the sea and the salinity levels of the body, and our evolution from the Precambrian seas.

Electrical cable is a primary motif and material within the exhibition. I would spend days weaving these conduits of contact that transmit ideas and information, bringing people together, across barbed wires and fences. Ruled Paper (red, blue, white), 2015, mimics the design of a school notebook by replacing the ink lines with cables, each sheet appearing like blank pages awaiting inscription.

At the center of the exhibition is Hyphenated Lives, 2013–15, which has a relationship to 2 degrees from 2010, a piece I made as part of the River Project at the Campbelltown Art Centre in Sydney. 2 degrees emerged out of my long-standing interest in the relationship between countries politically split but historically related. The use and ownership of natural resources is often the cause of conflict between these divided countries. I felt the need to think about how our planet is shared, and how the survival of one species is inextricably linked to another. Hyphenated Lives is an imagining of mutations within the natural world, where new hybridized species of birds, animals, trees, and flowers are made from the national symbols of politically divided countries. These made-up beings defy “nature,” specifically, man’s ingrained desire to fight, conquer, and divide. I envision these works as propositions for a future when this sort of hybridization, or reunification, might be possible.

— As told to Himali Singh Soin

View of “Diane Simpson: Sculpture + Drawing 1978–2009,” Chicago Cultural Center, 2010. Photo: Diane Simpson.


In the November 2015 issue of Artforum, Kate Nesin says of artist Diane Simpson: “[She] realizes the singularity of each sculpture through assiduous refinements of deformation, material selection, and construction. That is, each sculpture stands on its own, marked by her attentiveness.” And attentiveness is the word one would use to describe Simpson, a scrupulous maker of body-conscious forms that call to mind the intricate details of period costumes, Art Deco design, and various kinds of ceremonial and fetish objects. Simpson lives and works in Chicago and has had numerous exhibitions. Her first museum retrospective, curated by Dan Byers at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, will include fifteen sculptures and twelve drawings made between 1980 and 2014. The exhibition opens December 16, 2015, and runs through March 27, 2016.

I GREW UP IN THE MIDWEST. Never really left it. Virtually all of my working life was spent in the Chicago area. Directly out of high school I majored in art for two years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I got married at that point and soon afterward was pregnant with my first child. I continued to attend classes until my ninth month but missed the last quarter for my BFA. Ten years later, in the late 1960s, when the youngest of my three children entered first grade, I returned to SAIC and completed that final quarter.

By the time I went to grad school in 1977, two children were in high school and one was entering college. I was in my forties. It was great. I had been so isolated from other artists and the art world in general, though I never stopped making art on my own. In grad school, also at SAIC, I was in the painting department, but I never actually painted. I was primarily making drawings of utilitarian objects on large sheets of graph paper. I developed my own spatial system using forty-five-degree angles to visualize three-dimensional forms. Toward the end of graduate career, I was encouraged to start building these forms. With these first sculptures, I was curious to see what would happen if I applied the same rules of perspective—the forty-five-degree angles I was using in my drawings—to actual space. For these early works I used Tri-Wall, a triple-layer corrugated cardboard. It was the perfect material for someone who had never had a sculpture class. The material was cheap and only required a jigsaw and knife-edge blade to cut. For several years I worked with only corrugated cardboard; later, I ventured out to MDF and other materials.

Being an artist in the Midwest versus, say, New York, has advantages and disadvantages. Midwestern artists seem more likely to develop their own individual and idiosyncratic ways, less influenced by current trends. The disadvantage is limited exposure and less critical press.

Throughout the years, I always had opportunities to exhibit my work in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. This exposure was all the motivation I needed to continue developing as an artist. Now I am amazed by all the attention my work is suddenly receiving beyond the Midwest. It's really strange and I don't quite understand it. I'm honored and thrilled, but, you know, I've been working for a long time. Making art is what is most important to me. All the rest is a bonus. The most gratifying part of all this is that young people seem to be relating to my work. Maybe it's the craft that appeals to them? There is a lot of sculptural work that is not carefully made, and maybe seeing the care I put into details and my materials speaks to them.

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

View of “Julien Prévieux, Schematic Bodies,” 2015–16. Photo: Julien Prévieux. Courtesy Galerie Jousse Entreprise, Paris.


Julien Prévieux, winner of the 2014 Marcel Duchamp prize, here discusses his current solo exhibition at Espace 315 at the Centre Pompidou in the context of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Focusing on a particular body of work included in the show, “Atelier de dessin - B.A.C. du 14e arrondissement de Paris” (Drawing Workshop: Anti-crime Police Officers from Paris’s Fourteenth Arrondissement), 2011–, a collaboration with Parisian police officers, Prévieux addresses the unintended political implications of this series. The exhibition is on view through February 1, 2016.

AMONG MY WORKS currently on view at the Pompidou is a series of drawings by Parisian police officers, an ongoing project I began in 2011. These pieces are the result of a workshop I set up with four officers in the anti-crime division of the police precinct in Paris’s fourteenth arrondissement. I gave these officers an assignment: to draw, by hand, Voronoi diagrams and heat maps, which are typically generated very rapidly using cartographic computer software. The diagrams and maps are important police tools—they detect crime patterns and indicate where forces should be deployed. But they also measure the officers’ own activity in the field, which creates an atmosphere of competition and intense pressure.

By collaborating with people who use these diagrams and maps vocationally, I wanted explore the efficacy of these tools and find new meaning in the resulting images. I went to police officers’ homes in Paris to work with them on the Voronoi drawings, which are quite complicated to plot and construct by hand. For the heat maps, the police officers learned to paint with an airbrush at my studio. Aesthetically, the results are quite beautiful: Voronoi diagrams look like geometric, irregular spiderwebs, and the heat maps are colorful biomorphic shapes. Over the course of many sessions, the officers learned new drawing techniques and new ways of looking.

To be valuable crime-fighting tools, Voronoi diagrams and heat maps must be generated very quickly. The hand-drawn versions, therefore, are technically useless because they take so long to create. Crimes used to be discrete dots scattered across a map, but thanks to algorithms the police can more easily spot patterns and trends. By contrast, the drawings, which no longer function as effective tools, are like ghosts: They offer a disturbing detachment between form and function.

I also did this exercise with police officers in Houston last month. That was a very different experience; the climate was quite hostile toward the police. There had recently been numerous unwarranted shootings and arrests throughout the US. In that environment, I got the feeling some people interpreted my workshop and the resulting drawings as some kind of propolice political statement.

After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the drawings take on yet another unexpected dimension; they raise the issue of whether these visualization and data-mining tools are efficient and effective. As the French government has declared a state of emergency for three months, we have new laws and less freedom: Demonstrations are forbidden and the police are everywhere, even in my drawings! What began as a commentary on how technology changes police work and public services now appears as a portrait of a city caught between its fear of terrorism and its loss of freedom: Paris under siege.

— Translated from French and as told to Mara Hoberman