The photographs in Gregory Crewdson’s first solo exhibition in New York City in six years are an extension of his hallmark depictions of eerie encounters in American homes and neighborhoods, yet the new works are set in more rural forest environs than before. Their soft glow results from his large-scale, cinematic-style productions and extensive postproduction. Here, Crewdson speaks about working on “Cathedral of the Pines,” which will be on view at Gagosian Gallery in New York from January 28 through March 5, 2016.
THIS BODY OF WORK is titled after a trail in the wilderness of Becket, Massachusetts. What caught my eye about Cathedral of the Pines was how beautiful it was and how it reconnected me to my past; it reminded me of my childhood and when I used to cross-country ski. There is definitely some spiritual endeavor in the pictures for me—of trying to reconnect with nature and myself. The relationship between solitary figures and nature plays a pivotal role in the pictures.
My axiom is that every artist has a story to tell and always winds up being concerned with the same core issue. My intention was to try and make the most enchanting pictures possible, but of course in the end they also have a sense of sorrow and disconnect. I can’t help that. That’s what I do. My practice is introverted; not much happens on the surface of things, intentionally. Yet there is always a sense of longing and desire, disconnection and quiet unease.
Gregory Crewdson discusses his show at Gagosian Gallery.
The pictures also entailed an extended process of postproduction. I printed them in my studio and have spent two years in postproduction, printing them again and again, painstakingly pushing pixels around until it feels like something nearly transparent and almost naked. The work also has a heightened quality. Everything is hyperfocused and the colors all create a kind of plasticity. You can’t really name it. It’s just an overall sensibility.
I find my pictures are returning back to the use of color, lighting, and the cinematic approach in my previous series “Beneath the Roses,” but in a much quieter way, and only on locations away from urban situations. Unlike my previous output, a hallmark of this new series is that we didn’t work on sound stages or on populated streets. The scale is also relatively intimate; they are not enormous pictures, they are more intimate, with a lot of bodies and a lot of flesh. I also always work with a team of people, including my longtime director of photography Rick Sands, among others, who are well versed in the conventions of cinematic production. But this time I’m trying to use color and light in a way that feels more painterly than cinematic.
In the end, though, it’s crucial that these are photographs and not paintings or movies. My first alliance is to the photograph. Unlike a painting, a photograph will always and forever have that connection to the real. No matter how manicured it is, it’s always rooted in a moment that actually occurred—as a trace, a document. I love that photographs have a connection to real life. And of course, unlike a movie, a picture is frozen and mute and has no beginning and no end. There is a privilege in trying to make that moment as beautiful and extraordinary as possible.
Left: Cover of Jennifer Tyburczy’s Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display (University of Chicago Press, 2016). Right: A view of the Leather Archives and Museum, Chicago.
Jennifer Tyburczy’s book Sex Museums: The Politics and Performance of Display (University of Chicago Press, January 2016) proposes that all museums have the potential to be sex museums—if a visitor approaches them right. An assistant professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Tyburczy was also the curator of “Irreverent: A Celebration of Censorship,” which was on view last year at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Here, she discusses the genesis of her research and some of the unexpected surprises that come with doing work in sex museums.
ONE OF THE MAJOR THINGS that queer theory has done for my personal and political life, as well as my intellectual life, is to make that which is background, foreground. All museums are already sex museums in the sense that if you walk in with a queer theoretical perspective, you will take note of all of the hidden-in-plain-sight messages. You can create a queer choreography in relationship to both the space and the objects the space holds. I’m interested in what happens when this constrained genre of experience we call a museum communicates a sexual experience beyond the visual. Sex happens to all of our senses.
While I was in graduate school in Chicago, I wanted to think about the relationship between objects, spaces, and people coming into their sexual identities and sexual repertoires. And so I started to think about sex museums, which gave me a way to be in the archives and deal with boxes of treasures and dust, and also granted me the opportunity to connect with museum staff and archivists. Someone said to me as I began this project, “Do you know we have a sex museum in Rogers Park?” They were talking about the Leather Archives and Museum (LA&M), which is dedicated to sadomasochism, fetish, and leather culture. So I went one day with my very vanilla-looking self, and showed up at the door of Rick and Jeffrey Storer—the museum’s executive director and director of operations. Over the course of six years I worked with them, first as a volunteer and then as director of programming, immersing myself in all of the fabulous and initially incomprehensible artifacts. I didn’t understand at first all the codes and symbols that gay leather culture is so rich with. As I became really involved with the LA&M and saw all the things that go into making a sex museum, that, more than anything, opened up the space for the book. At the LA&M I eventually settled on dealing with a particular kind of material that we call realia, which I like to think of as the grit of a culture, the everyday, banal things that usually don’t get saved. I focused on realia because it was kind of a metaphor for what the museum itself is—an archive for so many things that were thrown away, especially during the ’80s and ’90s as AIDS was ravaging our communities.
The big surprise, though, was that as soon as I started to write about sex museums, they started to close. The latter part of my book is dedicated to an ethnography of these spaces. It was disconcerting when I would plan out a visit to Los Angeles to see an erotic museum that then closed mere months before I could make the trip. Part of the book became about the failure of these ventures, and I don’t mean in a Jack Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure kind of way. Ultimately, many of these museums could not provide what visitors wanted, which was a really raw experience with sex drawn from the archive and arranged in displays. A lot of the museums I discuss—whether in New York, Denmark, or Spain—had an ingrained idea of who their normative visitor was and where their threshold of shock was located. Without fail, they always set the bar too low. People wanted more! The demands of being a twenty-first-century museum taking on the onus to display sex overwhelmed a lot of the museum planners. Typically they censored themselves in some way that visitors noted. The heartening message here is that we shouldn’t assume that people will be shocked and turned off by displays of diverse sexual cultures and people. Museum visitors are smart and savvy, and ready and willing to have that experience. My work makes an argument for the emotional and sexual intelligence of a viewer.
Aura Satz, Between the Bullet and the Hole, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes 35 seconds.
Spanning film, sound, performance, and sculpture, Aura Satz’s historically anchored projects often celebrate the achievements and inventions of women. “Her Marks, a Measure,” Satz’s solo exhibition at Dallas Contemporary, presents two recent works—the dual slide projector installation Her Luminous Distance, 2014, and the film Between the Bullet and the Hole, 2015—which focus on women who compiled data as so-called human computers, enabling advances in astronomy and ballistics, respectively. The show is on view from January 17 through March 20, 2016.
ALL MY WORKS explore diagrams and traces; these become abstractions of presence. My previous projects looked at traces of voices, sound inscriptions, and writing techniques. I am primarily interested in traces that look nothing like their source and that give materiality to what is ultimately immaterial or imperceptible.
Between the Bullet and the Hole came about after I found some amazing images of bullet sound waves and early experiments in what’s called Schlieren photography in a book by Dayton Clarence Miller titled Sound Waves: Their Shape and Speed from 1937. As I started looking into ways in which ballistics are abstracted in diagrammatic form, I came across forensic examinations of microscopic scratches on bullets, markings made by the barrel of a gun, as well as other traces that can be read forensically.
The film takes as its starting point the role of women studying ballistics during World War II and their remarkable contribution to early computer programming. What they were doing was interpolating the trajectory between the bullet and its target based on data from firing tables. Between the Bullet and the Hole is in itself an act of interpolation between images of bullets and holes, punch cards and computer diagrams, rulers and sound waves of explosions featured in the film. The work challenges the viewer to question how one might decipher such data and take in the indigestible forensic aftermath of violence.
Her Luminous Distance is a companion piece about a group of women astronomers, also known as “human computers.” Beginning in the 1890s and well into the 1920s, they worked at Harvard University on painstaking astronomical observation and classification, mapping the stars and calculating their positions. Women who were good at math were brought in to do this work. But it was considered a somewhat tedious clerical job, and although some made significant scientific discoveries that led to publications, they were essentially conduits for data to be collected and stored.
The task of all these women was to measure. That was their primary role, their labor: measuring the distance of the stars to the earth, between a bullet’s starting point and end point. In doing so, they were also making their mark in history by contributing to astronomical discoveries as much as computer programming.
Many of the works I’ve made about women and technology are concerned with putting them on the map, making them visible. In Her Luminous Distance, I included slides of craters on the moon named after women astronomers, which are quite small and, for the most part, on the dark side of the moon. One of them is called Leavitt, after the deaf astronomer Henrietta Swan Leavitt who discovered that some stars have a variable light instead of a regular pulse. The fact that she was looking at variable stars and the idea of women’s names being associated with imperceptible craters on the moon seemed an apt metaphor for women having a moment of slight visibility and then receding in the distance of history.
For these two projects I wanted to use the language of a blink comparator to try to reenact the kind of looking that these women were doing. A blink comparator is a perceptual device that enabled astronomers to spot tiny differences between photographic plates by putting them on top of each other and making them blink. Her Luminous Distance is not quite a film; it’s two static frames flickering in a dual slide projector installation with a shutter that creates a blinking effect. Likewise, the images in the Between the Bullet and the Hole appear like a Ping-Pong game: They flash back and forth, side to side, making your eyes look harder. Similarly I wanted the sound (composed by Scanner) to be constantly rattling, like metal striking another metal, a ricochet sound.
The title of the show, “Her Marks, A Measure,” is a play on words. I think of the film on ballistics particularly as being about people whose job it was to measure, but for me it’s also a measure against a certain impulsive acceleration of violence. There needs to be a space for thinking about and measuring the impact of gun culture.
Stills from “Šejla Kamerić’s Ab uno disce omnes (From One, Learn All), 2015, digital video, color, sound.
Šejla Kamerić, who grew up in Sarajevo while the city was under siege during the Bosnian War in the first half of the 1990s, has in recent decades created films, photography, and installations that focus on her experiences and memories of the war. Her latest exhibition, “When the Heart Goes Bing Bam Boom,” is currently on display at Arter in Istanbul through February 28, 2016, and presents a wide selection of Kamerić’s work made over the past fifteen years.
WE DO EXIST ONLY IN MEMORY. Just after the war, and at the beginning of my career, I was very much focused on what had just happened to me. I needed to understand and reflect immediately on what was going on, which led to works such as Bosnian Girl, 2003, but also later films such as Glück, 2010, and 1395 Days Without Red, 2011, which engage with the war in a sublimated way, starting from my personal memories. Ab uno disce omnes (From One, Learn All), 2015, which is included in this exhibition, has a completely different approach. I wanted to instead use forensic methods. It began as an academic data-gathering mission: a meticulous process much like the methodology of medical research, where information is comprehensively collected, cross-checked, analyzed, and systematically categorized. Other steps included gathering the evidence: going to the sites where atrocities happened, morgues, DNA labs; studying satellite images or maps; retrieving lists of missing persons; and collecting testimonies. The work is conceived as a continually evolving open source database that exists both as a multimedia installation and as an online project. I imagine it as a living memorial, made out of data.
This piece is a never-ending process. The footage is presented in the installation through randomly selected and reshuffled short videos. At the moment there are more than thirty-three thousand clips included—this means it is nearly impossible to see the same thing over again. It is about how a society that was responsible for archiving this time and making the information available to the public completely failed. Not providing access to information is a political strategy; it is a policy of forgetting rather than remembering. There are two very different modes in Bosnia: people who wish to ignore everything about the war, and people who are completely obsessed with it. Those two sides sometimes clash, but more often they exist in parallel, and both are paralyzing our society.
Media, including television, were helpful during the war, with reporters carrying cameras on the front lines. It was a special moment in the history of journalism, as for the first time it was twenty-four-hour coverage—a live war. CNN, BBC, and other networks did not know how to handle the images of massacre on the streets; at first they only played the sounds without showing the images. Things have changed a lot since then. Nothing is sacred, nothing is shocking anymore. We get to see every possible horrible image, all through the media. But this doesn’t make the world a better place; it does not mean that we are more engaged just because we see more. In a way, just hearing the sound of the massacres created more horror than seeing the beheadings or executions broadcast does nowadays. Even if you are able to process all the data, it is still a question whether and how you can understand it. That is why for Ab uno disce omnes I had to create a new way to perceive this information. The vast data collected needed to be summarized in a way that would lead one to get more deeply and emotionally involved with the subject in a short period, but at the same time get a sense of what it would be like to experience the war personally. This is the first and biggest step toward engaging with a subject: feeling empathy.
Lita Albuquerque, 20/20: Accelerando, 2016, three channel video, color, sound, 26 minutes 53 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and USC Fisher Museum of Art.
For decades, the Los Angeles–based artist Lita Albuquerque has blurred distinctions between Land art and Light and Space on increasingly grander scales, whether it be building installations surrounding the pyramids in Egypt or placing sculptures across Antarctica to mirror the formation of the stars. Her cosmic explorations continue with two new bodies of work that are currently being shown at Kohn Gallery in Hollywood, from January 9 through February 27, 2016, and at USC’s Fisher Museum of Art, from January 26 through April 10, 2016. The latter exhibition will feature an opening performance by Albuquerque on January 24.
IN THE MID-1970’s, I started doing projects out in the environment that were about placing objects on the ground in relation to the horizon line or the mountains or the moon, and then it became about the stars. I’m very much of my time; when man landed on the moon I was twenty-two and we had never seen an image of the Earth from space. It was a seminal moment for my generation. I started having visions of mapping the stars on the Earth, and I didn’t know why. When I found out that Yves Klein had dreamed of writing his name on the back of the sky and claiming it for his work, and that Arman had claimed plenitude, I decided in the mid-1990s to claim the relationship between the Earth and the sky. I picked the color ultramarine to unite the two because of the intensity of the color—it had a certain vibration to it.
In recent years, I had this feeling to move toward more of a rose or a reddish pink or mauve, which is a much different feeling. Blue is expansive and spiritual; pink is more about the body. At Kohn, I’m showing a new series of paintings titled “Embodiment” in these colors, and they are really about the relationship between the body, the earth, and the sky. It’s a totally different work, and yet it runs parallel to what I’ve always done. It’s about activation through a vibrating language of pigments, while the new film I’m exhibiting at USC is about activation through a tonal language and music.
The film came from a text I wrote in 2003 about a twenty-fifth-century female astronaut whose mission is to teach the inhabitants of planet Earth the language of the stars. She lands in the year 6000 BCE in Mali—the beginning of civilization, more or less—and when she comes through the Earth’s atmosphere, she forgets her mission. I worked with a young composer named Robbie C. Williamson and an artist named Cassandra Bickman, who developed a tonal language for the character. The work is called 20/20: Accelerando; 2020 is a year, but it’s also the measurement of perfect vision. Accelerando is a musical term, but it also conveys the idea of an acceleration of consciousness.
My main interest is always being conscious of where the planet and the body are in space-time. In my film about a body coming to Earth, there’s this idea of an interstellar consciousness, and there’s an aspect of me in the character as well. She talks about how the language of the stars is like playing notes on a piano, practicing until you become fluent. We are related to the stars, we all know that, but to be fluent in that language is to understand our connectivity and to open up the body to the sublime.