DIS

05.31.16

Promotional image created by DIS for the 9th Berlin Biennale. Photo: Natascha Goldenberg.


DIS are a collective whose activities flirt across many spheres of contemporary culture—art, fashion, publishing, and now curating, in which their first major outing is the ninth edition of the Berlin Biennale, “The Present in Drag.” The show opens on June 4 in various venues across the city and runs through September 18, 2016. Here the members of DIS discuss their new curatorial role, the process of putting together the exhibition, and a few projects one can expect to see.

THIS IS OUR FIRST AND ONLY BIENNIAL, and in a sense it is a materialization of concepts, themes, and aesthetic interests embedded in the last six years of the DIS magazine website. This biennial is not a DIS piece, but we think that the way to approach it is not dissimilar to the way you might approach our site—it’s a hyperlinked landscape in which artists have set about restructuring and twisting existing narratives in response to the contradictory nature of the present, and the unstoppable digital influence on the way we think and feel. It is grounded in the idea that you exist online, but your ass still hurts and grinds. The biennial artists probe how layered, conflicting ideologies manifest in society, where even one product, image, or work of art inhabits self-contradictory positions. In the context of the Berlin Biennale, it becomes very clear how even something as basic as juice can also embody the uncertainties of the moment. Mexican artist Débora Delmar’s geopolitical juice bar, named after emerging global economies—Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey—links green juice to labor, economic shifts, aspirational lifestyle, celebrity culture, wellness, greenwashing, eco-confusion, and environmental degradation.

One of our favorite projects for the biennial is an album of anthems produced by Ashland Mines, aka TOTAL FREEDOM, and published as twelve-inch records by Vinyl Factory. We liked the idea of a biennial you couldn’t get out of your head, and that had a component that could spread as a dispersed, viral extension of the show. Each song is a collaboration between artists and musicians: Kelela with Adrian Piper and Elysia Crampton, TOTAL FREEDOM and Isa Genzken, Fatima Al Qadiri and Juliana Huxtable with Hito Steyerl. Babak Radboy’s visual and textual communication strategy for the biennial itself includes an array of participants like Chris Kraus, Roe Ethridge, and Bjarne Melgaard, who are all in the part of the biennial called Not in the Berlin Biennale. They are not in the show but simply in front of it as a skin, the largest organ of all. Our idea of the body of the Berlin Biennale is about the relationship between its physical or social existence, and its online presence and outward communication. Who we are and what we project, our drag, our self as content—these are at once blurry and distinctly separate categories. Artists play with this performance and construction of personal identity, and we thought it was interesting to consider this in terms of a biennial, an entity swarmed by state and market, art and commerce.

When we got to Berlin and had to choose venues to use, we looked through all the venues that have been used for the Berlin Biennale since its first iteration, in 1998, and one by one we were told, “Now that’s a spa, that’s a hotel, that’s a gym, that’s a bank.” Every abandoned building here is available for event rentals—this had a profound influence on our relationship to the spaces we looked at, and ultimately to the themes and work in the show. In all of the venues, there’s a dichotomy between the hyperpersonal and the globally complex, from privatized public spaces, like the ESMT, a business school housed in the former and perfectly intact GDR State Council Building—which will host projects by GCC, Simon Denny, and Katja Novitskova, all of whose work addresses capitalist business, state ideology, and their aesthetic manifestations—to the residential. The KW Institute, for example, is in Mitte, a neighborhood of permalancers and Airbnb. It’s a domain that was once circumscribed as personal and residential and is now a gray zone of public/private profit.

We were drawn to the aesthetics of transparency and glass facades, with their blatant visual similarity to airports and shopping malls, because of the paradox of transparency as architecture or ethic. This feeling of private spaces with public faces has been really important—our central venue, Akademie der Kunste in Pariser Platz, is surrounded by the US, French, and British embassies, the DZ and Commerz banks, and Lockheed Martin, among other buildings. But the Akademie and the Starbucks are the only two buildings the public is able to enter around there, which is a hard-core tourist zone. The biennial will be infiltrating the Akademie’s passageways and event rooms. These glass spaces emulate the surrounding corporate buildings, and they are actually rented out regularly for corporate and government events. We’re trying to make people forget they’re in a biennial—most of the installations there don’t initially connote art and many have adopted commercial formats. For instance, Christopher Kulendran Thomas has created an experience suite for his start-up New Eelam, which imagines the future of citizenship in an age of technologically accelerated dislocation by charting an alternative trajectory for Sri Lanka’s recent history. Trevor Paglen and Jacob Appelbaum’s Autonomy Cube is a usable sculpture that turns the space where it is installed into an open wireless Tor network, an anonymous relay router for Internet traffic, revealing the usually invisible mechanisms behind digital surveillance and how they can be eschewed. It’s especially relevant because this piece is directly across the street from the French embassy, at a moment when TOR has been particularly contentious in France.

The surreal used to be the domain of the future—but today it more accurately describes the present.

— As told to Paige K. Bradley

Terence Koh

05.27.16

View of Terence Koh, “bee chapel,” 2016. Photo: Olya Vysotskaya.


The mythmaker Terence Koh makes the most of big questions. For his show “bee chapel” at Andrew Edlin’s new space on the Bowery, the Beijing-born, Ontario-raised artist has brought upstate New York downtown, covering the gallery’s floors in topsoil, conjuring a living-dying apple tree, and building a wax shrine for a colony of bees. Acrylic tubes connect the “chapel” to the outside, allowing the little ciphers to come and go as they please. This is Koh’s first solo presentation in New York since nothingtoodoo, his memorable performance at Mary Boone Gallery in 2011.

I MOVED UPSTATE about two-and-a-half years ago. Maybe it’s a genetic calling that you have to go to nature for a while, and I started looking for different places. But when we finally found this mountaintop in the Catskills, me and my boyfriend Garrick knew that this was our home.

The first thing we did when we moved up there, we set up a tepee on top of the mountain. We just slept in the tepee and built a fire, looked at the stars and I guess questioned who we are—not just as yourself, but who we are as a species.

I thought that with all of these things going on, what can you do sitting on a mountaintop as an artist, as a human being, as a person that’s conscious about what’s happening today? I have been reading Krishnamurti, an Indian philosopher. “How do you change society?” he asks. And he goes, “You have to start at the present moment, with yourself and the spirit first, and once you start with the spirit of who we are, then everything takes care of itself.” I watched him on YouTube and the next day I was like, “You will build a bee chapel.” And I was like, “What’s a bee chapel?” Maybe build a place where humans and bees can come together as one, sitting in this room. And then maybe one person sitting here by themselves with their feet up would be one way to spread out the vibrations of what we can do.

At first, I didn’t know much about bees. One of the first configurations was a pyramid covered in honey. I just stupidly thought that if you covered a pyramid in honey, the bees would just automatically start doing that. I talked to an architecture consultant about how to build the shape and to bee consultants, and it all came about through different people excited about the project.

When we began to build the bee chapel, Garrick and I were walking on at length trying to find a site. And when we were walking, we saw an apple tree and… Oh, wow, apple tree. We walked around and we saw a second apple tree. It made sense to build the bee chapel in the middle and then it started becoming like a Garden of Eden. In the original version upstate, we called this installation O felix culpa, which means “O happy fall” in Latin. It’s a happy fall because Adam had to sin and bite the apple, and the happiness of being forgiven by God.

View of Terence Koh, “bee chapel,” 2016. Photo: Olya Vysotskaya.


You can talk to the bees as well. I tell them about what’s happening in the world today. “We’re going to build a new bee chapel in the city, so your sisters are going to have a little sister home.” You just tell them about Bernie Sanders, how Bernie Sanders and Hillary are doing and what’s happening with Syria and stuff like that. Because I think they want to know what’s happening in the world as well. You transmit a living, verbal thing to the bees and who knows? I really believe that we’re going to find all these mysteries that somehow maybe it’s all going to be channeled in a ripple into the world itself.

The whole front room of the gallery is a sine wave system. It’s covered in soil and there’s an apple tree in the middle and a speaker playing sounds. Where the apple tree is there’s a cone of… like a living “NOW” moment. So you are vibrating in the room and then you walk to the apple tree and suddenly you stop vibrating and you can sit around the apple tree. And then you walk away from it and it vibrates again.

There are six sounds being played. The first is a livestream of the background cosmos, from a radio telescope in Hawaii. The second is from a mic in the bee chapel, while the third is a mic from a double-sided candle burning in another of the rooms. There’s one measuring anti-phase energies in the apple tree gallery. And then the tree’s connected and the ground is connected to an EEG monitor, which somehow detects life. It’s something about the voltage system. So any breath, any step, any touch of the tree—I really believe that even the synapses in our brains, the veins, the blood flowing in our system—is going to affect the vibrations in that room. There’s also the sound of two black holes colliding, the famous Chirp. It goes, “Voooo.” It’s 1.2 billion light years away. The existence proves Einstein’s theory that the whole universe is a vibration.

The tree in the front gallery is called Eve. She used to be called Harriett. Because we had the apple tree in the original bee chapel installation, I thought I should create a Garden of Eden in the gallery as well. But I said, “I don't want to kill a tree just to make a Garden of Eden.” So I started asking different people and came to Andy and Polly who own an apple tree farm in Wurtsboro, New York. And Andy goes, “We happen to be cutting down Harriett because she’s diseased and she would spread the disease to the other trees.” So it came out perfectly. He’s an artist as well so he understood I wasn’t crazy. I was going to move this tree and treat it like a living goddess, move her with as much care as we can to the gallery system and wrap her roots up and bandage her. We spritz her roots with water every day and we talk to her and we sing to her and everything.

That’s the story of Eve.

— As told to David Velasco

Simon Leung

05.24.16

Simon Leung, War After War, 2011, single-channel video, color, sound, 90 minutes.


Artist Simon Leung here speaks about War After War, 2011, his video portrait of writer and translator Warren Niesłuchowski. The ninety-minute video unravels Niesłuchowski as a perpetual guest, a nomad without a home, while exploring notions of hospitality, mortality, vulnerability, and resistance. Leung has been filming Niesłuchowski for decades; an earlier companion piece, Warren Piece, 1993, focused on his desertion from the US Army and his life as an exile. For another, Artist in Residence, 2011, Leung procured an artist residency for Niesłuchowski. War After War is currently featured in “Routine Pleasures,” which is curated by Michael Ned Holte and on view at MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Schindler House in LA from May 25 through August 14, 2016.

WAR AFTER WAR follows the rhythm of Warren’s life, of continually moving and looking for a place to rest; at one point in the film he compares himself to a migratory bird. I think about my work with him as a set of ethical propositions—how to be with the other, and how to come closer to someone while they remain essentially a stranger. It was not until I finished the film that I realized I had made it for him. I typically make works directed toward one person, or a few people. This is not so much in the sense of an ideal viewer, but in that the work is directed toward specific people so they will receive it in a deeply felt way. In other words, if you know Warren, you might understand this work differently from those who don’t.

I decided to focus on the general idea of Warren moving toward a bed. In a way, Warren poses an ethical challenge; we’re confronted not just with a person in need of a bed but with somebody who asks, “Who are you in relationship to the other?” There’s a passage in the film where he talks about the etymological reversibility of the words host and guest. In Derrida’s writing about hospitality, he proposes that the guest is the host for the host. Hospitality is an interruption of the self, and at the same time, true hospitality must ask nothing in return, except for that interruption. That’s a lot of work, and not just for Warren but for the other people as well. This is the undertone of the piece: Warren comes to you and you must ask yourself, What is my limit? That assumption of being able to give, of being a host, presupposes having something to give, having some version of home. But that’s not something one can take for granted—how far is anyone from Warren, from “war”? This is the ethical question we must always ask ourselves, but not just as individuals. I conceived this work with the thought that Kant’s essay “Perpetual Peace,” which is a foundational text for international law, would serve as a script. The “third definitive article” of it is recited several times over the course of the film—it’s about the obligation of nations to welcome the stranger.

One of the things Warren and I talk about is askesis, which means discipline, a way of training, but also a care of the self. Warren is always in training; he’s always getting ready because he is always moving. I’m trying to reflect back to him the rigor of his life—the particular care he takes in leading his life—and to think with him the way that his life is also work. In a way, Warren asks us to think about what work is. It takes a lot of work to be Warren; it requires constant care and constant negotiations. Warren studied with Jerzy Grotowski, so he learned the exercises that are shown in the film when he was a young person involved in theater. The exercises for me signify not only a way of getting ready or of training, but an attitude of thrownness—giving up resistance.

Simon Leung talks about his working relationship with Warren Niesłuchowski for 500 Words.

When I met Warren in 1992 I was an artist-in-residence at PS1, and he had a steady job and an apartment. Back then I focused on his life as a deserter from the US Army. A decade later I discovered that he had lost both his job and a place to live, and was perpetually in need of being taken in. It was as if one war story displaced another. Warren was in fact born in, and spent the first few years of his life in, a displaced persons camp in Germany after World War II—it was as if he atavistically returned to the state of being a refugee.

The art world is an apparatus that allows Warren to seem like a refugee from the 1960s. It accepts him on terms that a more conventional milieu would not. He’s able to lead a life that looks a bit like bare life, on the edges of the art world, but it isn’t really, since the art world is a particular kind of stage. In order for him to find people who would put him up, for example, he needs the art world as a receiver for the type of signal that he sends. Some people ascribe a sort of spiritual dimension to the way Warren lives. Perhaps they understand guest plus host equals ghost.

Some of the piece was shot in a two-story freestanding library. The first floor is filled with books; the second floor is a work area with desks, a couch, and a lot of space. Between the two floors there are old boards with holes in them which the architect had filled in with resin, so that when you are upstairs at night and the lights are on downstairs, it’s as if the room is illuminated by stars, celestial points of light from below. I knew that’s where I wanted to shoot because at the beginning of “Perpetual Peace” there is a description of a cemetery. So these points of light were for me both the reversal of sky and earth and the illuminated speech of the dead. I told Warren he can think of this freestanding library in the countryside as a version of his brain, as a place of rest, and as a slower idealized view of himself—an image of what he doesn’t have time for in his continual movement.

— As told to Laura Hoffmann

Kim Brandt

05.17.16

Kim Brandt, Clear Night, 2016. Rehearsal view, April 22, 2016, Pioneer Works, Brooklyn. Photo: Kate Enman.


Kim Brandt’s smart, affecting, weird-form dances never take for granted the bodily habits or functional protocols of modern choreography and its users. Here she talks about her latest work, Clear Night, 2016, commissioned by Issue Project Room, comprising eight unique, daily performances from Friday May 20th to Friday May 27th at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn.

I LEARNED TO DANCE from a former Rockette in rural New Hampshire. She had a studio that was in the middle of a parking lot that separated two trailer parks. I loved it, and I was in love with her. At some point in my teens I was ready to branch out. In high school I found modern dance, and I was like, here are my people. 

At the same time that I was learning how to dance I was surrounded by other bodies in pain, bodies struggling, bodies giving up, bodies trying to escape themselves. I felt my body was at risk a lot of the time. I watched a man nodding out on the subway platform yesterday and I almost had an anxiety attack. I saw that on a nightly basis as a child. I went through a long period of being dissociated from my body. And I’m still wading through how much that has influenced my adult approach to dance, which is very much from the outside-in. 

So I’m coming to dance right now as a maker, through my eyeballs. It’s not a physical exploration for me—I’m asking the dancers to explore through movement while I explore through sight, hearing. Each day of Clear Night there will be a different performance; there are many ways to move from here to there (wherever there is) and I wanted to explore a variety. Sometimes that journey is fast and sometimes it takes a long time. Sometimes there is a clear ending and sometimes there isn’t. I’m trying to make decisions that are in service of the work, that aren’t driven by what I think is a good idea. 

There’s no sound and no lighting—no artificial lighting and no constructed sound, I should say. There are beautiful windows in Pioneer Works, and the shows are at different times of day to make use of variations in natural light. It’s also a multiuse space, so the sound of the works could include public radio played from a resident artist’s studio, or tugboats nearby in the river. It begins at 8 PM on Friday and ends at 8 PM the following Friday, and the discrete performances add up to this experience of one thing. One show.

I started working with large groups of people for a piece at the Kitchen, part of the 2014 Dance and Process series. The instructions for that score were for twenty-four people to construct a large pile, and to hold the form as long as possible. When they can’t hold it anymore, they dissolve it across the space. It established a movement vocabulary I wanted to continue exploring. And if I can explore what the criteria is to execute that vocabulary, there’s a huge range of how those materials (space, bodies, time, light, etc.) affect the viewing and performing experience. The range of experience between the performer in the work and the viewer seeing the work is vast. I’m always talking with the dancers about the ocean of difference between what it feels like for them and what it looks like to me. I like communicating in this liminal space.

During a residency last year at Issue Project Room, I worked with a core group of ten dancers and brought in more as performance opportunities arose. Some of the scores in the show I’ve done in the past; some are modified. Most are new. The space at Pioneer Works is huge, with two balconies, and I’m taking advantage of looking at movement on both a micro and macro level—cellular and galactic. 

I’m thinking about the viewer, trying to make a more open experience for them. They can sit wherever they want, come and leave whenever. There’s no cleverness to this, no surprises. It’s an invitation to bear witness to the process of performing this work. Maybe I approached it as, like, my own group show. A group show of just Kim.

— As told to David Velasco

teamLab

05.05.16

teamLab, Blossoming Life II – A Whole Year per Hour, Dark, 2015, four-channel digital projection, color, 60 minutes, looped. Photo: teamLab and and Pace Gallery.


On December 15, 2015, the Tokyo-based artist Takashi Kudo came to Silicon Valley to begin preparations for an installation at Pace Art + Technology, Pace Gallery’s new project space in Menlo Park. Kudo is one of three spokespeople representing the over four hundred collaborators in teamLab, an art collective that rethinks the idea of the art installation by allowing it to take numerous forms as evanescent, immersive digital environments, such as gardens, towns, aquariums, or even fields of fire. Here, Kudo discusses the collective’s new artwork/exhibition, “Living Digital Space and Future Parks,” on view at Pace Art + Technology through July 1, 2016.

WE DESIRE MAGIC. We are not interested in illusionism per se, but we want to create otherworldly environments. Digital technology can allow us to access other realms. It’s shamanistic. It has the power to pull us far back in time, when the boundaries between art and life, or the “real” and the “imaginary,” were considerably more fluid.

For our installation at Pace Art + Technology, we have been focusing on elemental themes: energy waves, the universe, flowers, fire. It’s all so basic, yet utterly integral. Plato’s allegory of the cave is a nice way to understand how real the digital can be in our lives. Our artworks shouldn’t be viewed as “information.” Information can act like imagination when it’s freed from its more “pragmatic” uses. It can be fantastic—a digital interface can be a portal to another dimension.

Flowers and People – Dark, 2015, is an artwork that algorithmically unfolds in real time. It never repeats or happens in the same way. The flowers depicted within it are continually growing. If there are too many people near the work, or you move too close or too fast, you kill the flowers—they disappear. Another new piece in the show, Blossoming Life II – A Whole Year per Hour, Dark, 2015, reacts to the idea of duration, and the changing of time. We’ve created an experience that makes one hour equivalent to one year (which means that approximately five minutes is the length of one month). Different flowers will shoot up or wither according to the seasons, in rapid succession.

In Sketch Town, 2014– , gallerygoers interact with a barren, sketched-out municipality. People come in and draw, on paper, an element of the place, like a car, a house, or some other sort of building. The drawing gets scanned and then immediately becomes part of a 3-D hamlet. Within the town there are helicopters outfitted with cameras to give viewers a bird’s-eye view of the ever-developing landscape.

The idea for Sketch Town came out of our Sketch Aquariums. We came up with the Sketch Aquariums about three years ago. We made our first aquarium in Okinawa. Families came and rendered, from memory, different kinds of aquatic plants and animals, and created these voluminous, beautiful, florid environments. Compared with the one we would do later in Tokyo, this work looked very different, as the local flora and fauna were more tropical. Everything was much brighter, much more colorful. It’s a good reminder that in a world full of corporate farming and mass consumption, there are still local cultures, memories, and perceptions that can alter the landscape.

In the next twenty years everything will be connected to digital technology. The difference between developed and developing countries will be because of developed and developing companies. How do we keep beauty in a world that, more and more, seems to exist solely for the cultivation of information? The most important thing for the evolution of future generations is the idea of cocreation. Our Sketch Towns cannot be made by one person. If they were, they’d be homogeneous, boring. The Sketch Towns are vibrant because of all the different people participating in making them. We are excited to install this exhibition here in Menlo Park, as it’s a hotbed of technological innovation that’s also deeply connected to nature and the “flower power” movement of the 1960s and ’70s. It feels like the future, and the future is being made right here, right now.

— As told to Andrianna Campbell

Pages from Theaster Gates's notebooks, 2016.


Known for his performances, his sculptures, and his large-scale, site-specific building reclamation projects in Chicago—such as the ambitious Stony Island Arts Bank, which serves to bolster culture in an underinvested neighborhood—Theaster Gates has also sustained a drawing practice throughout his career. Powerful works in their own right, his drawings are profoundly connected to every facet of Gates’s practice. He discusses that work here, as well as his way of conceiving exhibitions and his vision for a future art school. “Black Archive,” a solo exhibition of Gates’s work, is on view at Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria through June 26, 2016. He will also have two more solo exhibitions open this summer: at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, from July 8 through September 26, 2016, and at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, from July 21 through October 30, 2016.

I OFTEN HAVE a clear idea of the shape or structure of an artwork. I didn’t learn how to sketch; I didn’t learn how to draw. In a way, my notebook is just the place where I’m trying to communicate ideas to myself, almost recording them so I can remember that thought and can go back to it in three dimensions. What happens is a definitive stroke.

For instance, I initially saw the Stony Island Arts Bank as a drawing. Other people could see only the detritus and the water in the basement. But I can simply erase that stuff. Once it’s a drawing I can erase the detritus, erase the massing, because I feel like I have such a good sense of the three-dimensional. I am not overwhelmed by scale.

The blank page is a kind of metaphysics—a site where I can see whether I can reduce a project to the size of my page and whether it makes sense there. In a drawing I can work out the kinks of a work in micromaneuvers, and then it feels possible, in a way. I’m engaged in this process often; sometimes it takes a long time for me to work out something like the approach of a building or its facade or a six-thousand-square-foot gallery. Once I have that sense, then I can say to myself: Oh, if I put a line here, that divides the room in half. If I put a wall there, it divides it into one third and two thirds. If I put these two walls, it can create the eighths of a room, and then seven eighths of the room, and then I divide the seven eighths in half. Then all of a sudden I’m able to really create a world on the page. On paper I am already worlding. The page sets the parameters of the world, but one needs to decide the world’s scale, so as I am loading content into the page, I can visualize a block, or think about a building, or design a plinth, and they can all have the same amount of space on the page. Through drawing, one can imagine a city. I like that. Working it out on paper first makes me believe that I can do it.

I find it so interesting that painters use the phrase “mark-making” and world leaders ask what mark will you make on the world. Mark-making in both senses brings up the question of the relationship between one’s individual intentionality, and the context—say, a canvas and a brush—or a political office wherein one could make a mark on the world. An industrialist might make a mark on the world. Or a graffiti artist might make a mark on the world. So it depends on what kind of marks you’re invested in—what kind of mark-making you’re trying to do.

My future of art is different from what art is today. When I build my school, I’m going to teach people that whatever is taught at the MFA level is akin to elementary school. In elementary school students will learn replica, mise-en-scčne, and representation. In middle school, they will learn about reflexivity, reproducibility, reaction, and reflection. In high school, students will learn to see the invisible, to understand the philosophies of the invisible, will learn physics and religion. As undergraduates, my future pupils will learn transgression, systems of power, how to be a system of power, and how to harness systems of power. They will learn how to mine for gold, dig for diamonds. They learn how to fish. In graduate school, students will learn how to levitate. Until we’re willing to think about the complexities, until we’re willing to think about the human capacity to understand complex symbols and thought forms and the invisible, we will think that murals alone can solve social problems. I would never make a mural to solve a social problem. It takes money to solve social problems; it takes hard conversations and political power—artists should also sculpt those things.

— As told to Zachary Cahill