Cover of Xiu Xiu’s FORGET (2017).


Across thirteen albums and a handful of EPs, Xiu Xiu have remained a prickly, relentless force, inspiring loyalty, love, annoyance, and disgust in equal measure. Some people never get over their music, and some you couldn’t pay to even approach it. On the occasion of the release of their latest album, FORGET, the band’s mainstay Jamie Stewart discusses how he met Vaginal Davis (who performs on its last track), the band’s collaborations with Danh Vō, and the concept behind the record’s title. Polyvinyl will release FORGET on February 24, 2017.

HOW I MET VAGINAL DAVIS is actually a long story and initially a little bit unseemly. When I was very, very, young, I came across a fanzine called Ben Is Dead that was published in Los Angeles and there was an article about a band Vaginal Davis was in called Black Fag, and I had never before seen anything or heard anything that combined feminism with an aggressive punk rock masculinity and queer politics and racial identity all at the same time, and that really blew my mind. That moment really set me on the aesthetic trajectory that informed and guided a lot of the decisions I have made my entire adult life with regard to art and music. Several years later, a band I was in played at this now-defunct club in Los Angeles called Clubsucker where she used to host. She sort of introduced our band and part of her thing at the time was to tease the singer of the band, and it got to the point where she put a drumstick up my ass on the stage, which obviously was memorable. Then, many years after that, I was a guest lecturing at NYU, in Jonathan Berger’s class—he put together the 2015 production of The Magic Flute at the university—and he mentioned he was a close collaborator of Davis and I guess she remembered the drumstick incident as well. Doing the score for The Magic Flute was a huge delight, and that was also around the time when she recorded the poem featured at the end of “Faith, Torn Apart,” the last track on our new record.

The part of Los Angeles that I live in is not very far from a neighborhood where there is a lot of trafficking of underage prostitutes, and there is a notorious website called Backpage that is a facilitator of this. Probably about a year ago I began to explore the site and take screenshots of the young girls who are advertised there—to, in some way, empathize with their situation. I also found somebody on the site you can report things to, so I would do that, but I probably collected two hundred screenshots of these young women and young girls. I went through them one day and wrote one line based on my immediate impression of each of the photographs. They’re mostly just head shots, but these are of people who are obviously very young. They’re wearing clothes, but they’re clearly made up to look sexualized, and some are thirteen years old. What Vaginal Davis reads at the end of that song is made up of the one-line impressions I wrote looking at each of those photos.

Music video for Xiu Xiu’s “Get Up” (2017).

Danh Vō had been using some lyrics of a Xiu Xiu song, “Fabulous Muscles,” in some of his pieces long before we had met. But he didn’t ask us first, so then he sheepishly contacted me, asking if we were going to sue him, and of course I said no—I thought it was great and I felt honored that we had been inserted in there. He’s extraordinarily genuine, talented, and generous. He, by his own admission, doesn’t think about music a whole lot, but he can become obsessed by one or two songs, such as Nico’s version of the Doors song “The End” and her singing of the German national anthem. He asked me if I could score the latter for a boys’ choir for the Berlin Biennale in 2014. I was kind of mortified by their performance, but Danh, to his credit, was thrilled because it made people extraordinarily uncomfortable. We also did a residency at the Kitchen in New York called “Metal,” at the end of 2014, and that, to me, could not have gone any better. The people at the Kitchen were unfathomably supportive, considering that we structurally damaged the room we performed in quite a bit, and what we were doing was unbelievably loud and actually kind of dangerous. I couldn’t really ask for more, frankly.

The goal for us in the band at all times is that someone will interpret something we make in a personal way. But at least for me, my entire psychology is fraught with negative obsessiveness. It’s very difficult for me to remove a negative thought from my mind; it will sort of loop around in there—a very boring symptom of depression I think a lot of people deal with. Only recently has it occurred to me that I can put some effort into literally trying to forget something that is plaguing me. It’s almost the opposite tactic that Xiu Xiu usually takes, which is to really spell things out and be extraordinarily clear about specific events that have occurred in the lives of people in the band, or in politics, or the lives of people we care about. We approached this record in a completely nonlinear, nonspecific way. The intent of what each song is supposed to feel like is there on the record, but I couldn’t necessarily describe those feelings—which is different from every other record and song we’ve done before. Part of the reasoning behind that is a psychological necessity. It’s not at all about caring less—it’s about caring in a different way, a way that maybe lets go instead of holding on tightly. Both have their value. The point of the band is to realize that being embarrassed is just the way everyone who has ever been in the band was made to feel, and to not be afraid of that, but to understand that that is what it means to be a person.

— As told to Paige K. Bradley

Peter Nadin

02.16.17

Peter Nadin, The Delivery, 2017, Super 8, 16 mm, and HD video, sound, color, 20 minutes.


British artist Peter Nadin arrived in New York in the late 1970s as a painter, and he then went on to undertake a series of key conceptual collaborations with other artists, including the Offices of Fend, Fitzgibbon, Holzer, Nadin, Prince, and Winters. By the 1990s, he had begun to merge his farming practice in upstate New York with his artwork. Here, he discusses The Delivery, 2017, a twenty-minute film premiering in his exhibition “Third Mark,” which is scheduled to travel around Cuba for two years, giving rise to collaborations with local artists, cooks, and farmers along the way. The show’s first stop is at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales in Havana, where it will be on view from February 17 through March 17, 2016.

I WAS TRYING TO MAKE A MOVIE about the reality of taking the pig to the city. It’s a very common thing that I do: We have the pig, we put him in the van, and we take the van down to the city. I suppose it started out almost like a documentary, just showing the pig; the pig going to the city; the pig being butchered; and then the pig being served. But as I thought about it, I realized that the reality of it was much more complex. The delivery was not just an external event; it was also an internal event, of thoughts, ideas, memories, and in including those, I realized the film would become a more realistic representation of that experience. Once I started thinking about what encompassed this experience, all kinds of things started to appear, mainly the idea that you’re not always conscious of the activity you’re engaged in—as in the moving in and out of dreams, thoughts, songs, musings.

I didn’t know when I started using the relationship of myself with the pig, about ten years ago for my project “The First Mark,” that it’s a fairly common subject throughout art history: It was a decorative motif on fifth-century Greek vases; there’s Giovanni Bologna’s sculpture at the Wallace Collection in London, of Hercules carrying the boar; and of course Saint Anthony, to whom the devil appeared as a pig. It’s fascinating. The beginning point for me was simply the relationship of myself to Abe, the pig, but that proved to be like a stone thrown in the water, rippling out in different ways.

Trailer for Peter Nadin’s The Delivery, 2017.

The script of this movie is part of a longer prose poem and diary that’s going to be published by Edgewise, who also published my book Taxonomy Transplanted in 2013, on the occasion of my show at the Horticultural Society in New York. The new book is going to be called Third Mark, Me and Abe, Hercules and the Erymanthian Boar. All of the projects I’ve done have had an element of poetry in them. It’s the way I write, it’s how my thoughts occur. The film started off, like all of my films, with having the camera around like a paintbrush. It was put together the way I make paintings: I start with a set of intentions or ideas, and as I put one mark on the canvas, that suggests something back to me. There’s a continual response and dialogue as we move toward completion. We didn’t start with a script or a poem and then make the movie; the script or the poem evolved as we were filming. There are a lot of different elements in the work, shot by myself and various other people, my daughter included, in Super 8, 16 mm, and HD video. Rebecca Fourteau, a talented friend of my daughter’s, was the main cinematographer, and the sound was designed by Alex Wernquest, who set up a recording studio in Cairo down the road from us.

As for the relationship of farming to artistic endeavors, I would say that in farming the value is to create a state of equilibrium between the different species. The farm exists in equilibrium with the farming practice. The artistic practice is, if you like, the revelation from that equilibrium, or the possibility of revelation from that equilibrium. It’s not about wanting to call digging a field a piece of art. It might be art, who knows! But it has an aspect of revelation that then takes you into all these ten thousand years we’ve been working on the fields, or we’ve been making images of the pig, or we’ve been cooking the pig, or we’ve been thinking about the pig. All this layering of experience over what we still do is for me a very fertile area to be working artistically, and also agriculturally.

— As told to Laura Hoffmann

Spread in Francis Al’s’s notebook from his embedment in Mosul, 2016, pencil on paper, 6 x 16”.


Following an invitation from the Ruya Foundation, artist Francis Al’s spent nine days in October and November 2016 embedded with the Kurdish Army, or Peshmerga, on the Mosul front line during their campaign to liberate the second-largest city of Iraq from ISIS. Here, Al’s shares some of the notes he took during his embedment, as he grappled with questions of the artist’s role in war and the reality of nomadism and terror. The paintings produced in Mosul will be on view at the Iraqi pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, as part of the show “Archaic,” which runs from May 13 through November 26, 2017.

I AM AFRAID IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT to give a coherent account of my embedment with the Peshmerga, for it was anything but coherent. I arrived in Iraq on October 28 with the intention of documenting the displacements caused by the Mosul offensive against ISIS. Yet, for a series of tactical reasons, I instead found myself dropped somewhere along the fourteen-mile Iraqi Kurdistan military Peshmerga’s front line on the eastern flank of Mosul, with a small bag and no plan of action. At first, the stupefying reality of combat and the smell of terror nearby numbed me and frustrated any proper creative process. However, as I had to somehow make contact with my Peshmerga guardian angels, drawing turned out to be a providential way of communicating, plus it gave me the illusion of being part of the scene. Images started filling my notebook and words soon followed.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fighting the jetlag, breaking the ice, waiting for the subjects to forgive my presence. Early night / foreground sound track of mobile phones playing Arab rap with background music of the US-led coalition bombardment.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Earthworks. The Peshmerga offensive is a massive engineering enterprise, a monumental Land art operation. Behind each platoon there is a bulldozer waiting. Every hundred meters of gained territory results in hundreds of tons of dry earth pushed forward, all in order to move the front line ever closer to the suburbs of Mosul. Landscape is refashioned daily by the shelling, ISIS’s tunnels are behind, under, and beyond our mobile front line; the dunes are scarred by the infinite lines of trenches while on the Syrian-Iraqi border ISIS’s bulldozers breach a passage through a hill to erase the Sykes–Picot Agreement’s fatal design.

The desert is no longer an exotic escape. It’s pure naked exposure. The closest to protection from the snipers is by running from one shadow to another.

Peshmerga gained territory in Mosul. Photo: Francis Al’s, October 2016.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

In an era when any insignificant event is instantly public online—and governments are tapping millions of cell phones—how on earth is it possible that no intelligence whatsoever can tell us how many ISIS fighters are left in Mosul? There lies the power of terror.

Heard among the Peshmerga returning from a village they just freed: “This morning they were shooting at us; this afternoon they receive us with open arms, as if nothing had happened.”

Thinking of the Yazidi kids of the refugee camp near Dohuk I visited in February 2016. What can we tell to a child in the face of terror? In a child’s imagination, what is the image of terror? How can one make sense of terror to a child? How can one integrate the un-acceptable? Can a human tragedy be testified to by way of a fictional work?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In the midst of gunfire the rain caught us all by surprise. What could the ISIS fighters possibly make of the rain? Strangely it brought us closer, we shared that moment. Did I film the rain?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Second day of trying to match on small canvases the colors of the scenes I’m witnessing in an attempt to coincide with the moment I am living—this is the abstraction of war within the spectacle of combat. Meanwhile, I watch a Peshmerga rushing to take a selfie on the background of an exploding rocket. The smiles of this war will be well kept in cell phones, in between photos of sweethearts and motorcycles. What happens in Mosul stays in Mosul.

The Mosul offensive is like the making of a movie: 90 percent waiting, 10 percent action. With tea and Turkish biscuits served in the intermezzo.

The white flags waved on the Mosul rooftops against the sky blacked out by the smoke provoked by the bombings.

In the absence of language, I miss the way in which talking helps to materialize an idea.

Furat (Iraqi friend filmmaker), referring to European ISIS volunteers: “The young Europeans did not live a war. All they know is through video games. They come here because they live war as a fiction.”

Figures
50,000 euros = classic bomb GBU-US
200,000 euros = missile AASM
600,000 euros = cruise missile SCALP
500 to 750 USD = daily pay of a private security contractor in Iraq
435 USD = monthly pay of a Peshmerga fighter

The disturbing beauty of counter-light explosions at dusk.

Francis Al’s, untitled, Mosul (selfie), 2016, pencil and photo on canvas, 5 x 6”.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Quel est l’enjeu? What’s more absurd? When the Big Friendly General fires his cannon into the suburbs of Mosul to entertain the accompanying press, or when I play my commedia dell’arte in the face of terror? What does it mean to make art while Nimrud and Palmyra are being destroyed? If ISIS’s logic is “destroy to exist,” does it mean we ought to create in order to survive? Is art is just a means of survival through the catastrophe of war? Do we live because we narrate? In classic Arab literature, poetry fixes things and fractures the past from the present. Within a situation of continuous conflict, does memory allow us to reinvent/reset ourselves and escape the vicious circle in which violence calls for more violence? “It’s not about turning your back, it’s about how you turn your back.” (Elias Khoury, Beirut, November 2015)

I against my brothers,
I and my brothers against my cousins,
I and my brothers and my cousins against the stranger.
(Arab saying)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

What did I see yesterday? What really happened? What role does fear play in my memories? What part does fantasy play? Where do I stand in between those two forces?

Symptomatology of Embedment:

Intellectual and neurological arousal, all senses on alert / urge to register the moment no matter how / hyperactive mental space where the most disparate elements can be connected / acute 360 degrees perception / state of total submission to the events, I absorb them like a sponge / sleeping like a log in spite of the constant bombings

Sunday, November 6, 2016

There is something peculiar about the times we live in, and with them, a different expectation of the artist’s role. When the structure of a society collapses, when politicians and media have lost credit and terror invades daily life, society turns toward culture in pursuit of answers. The painter is expected to look at its reality without any filters; the writer is asked to produce stories that will help make sense of the madness going on; the musician is urged to transcend his present; the poet is invited to translate social tensions into verses. Even Hollywood actors are meant to have a cause! Yet, is the artist able to assume those roles from a moral, intellectual, and emotional point of view? Artists have their own agendas and their own subjective view of facts. When does witnessing become denouncing? When does denouncing become accusing? Is the artist’s role to reveal the hidden reality of things without naming them, like Akram once told me? Or is our job just to open up a different perspective on a given situation—rather than change the world, to challenge it? Art can open a space of hope in the midst of hopelessness. Paradoxically it sometimes takes the absurdity of the artistic operation to introduce a measure of meaning in a situation that seems to have stopped making any sense.

-Why the Middle East?

Because it’s the nest of civilization, the heart of all human conflicts.

-This particular war?

Because it is local, tribal, and religious conflicts that have had extraordinary repercussions on more than half the planet. It’s medieval barbarism perpetrated and spread with the most modern of technologies.

An existential war.

-And art in all this?

Back in Afghanistan a friend told me: “If you do, you’re wrong; and if you don’t do, you’re wrong.” Otherwise said: Doing something is the right thing to do, but do I have the right to do it? That’s the impossible equation one has to deal with.

  • Francis Al’s, untitled, Mosul (shadow to shadow), 2016, oil on linen, 7 x 5 1/2”.

  • Francis Al’s, untitled, Mosul (surrendering IS), 2016, oil on linen, 5 1/2 x 7”.

  • Francis Al’s, untitled, Mosul (the return), 2016, oil on linen, 7 x 5 1/2”.

  • Francis Al’s, untitled, Mosul (dead IS), 2016, oil on linen, 5 1/2 x 7”.

— As told to Laura Hoffmann

Raśl de Nieves and Colin Self, The Fool, 2014. Performance view, ISSUE Project Room, New York, November 11, 2014. Billy Fortini and Lisa Kori Chung. Photo: Whitney Mallett.


Scored for a chorus and string ensemble, Raśl de Nieves and Colin Self’s chamber opera The Fool rises up with an ethos that feels equally majestic and DIY. After a 2014 premiere at ISSUE Project Room, The Fool returns with an elevated production at the Kitchen from February 9 through 11, 2017. Here, de Nieves and Self discuss the piece’s catharsis and community.

IN EARLY IMAGININGS FOR THE FOOL, we both started identifying with the trickster archetype, a cultural figure that often uses magic or some kind of transformation to reveal or teach something. The trickster or jester is a character that can inadvertently create social or political change, usually through the process of transforming either themselves or a group of people. The Fool is all of us, it’s the beginning and the end, the neither and the otherwise, the betwixt and the between.

We assembled an intimate group at ISSUE Project Room in 2014 while Raśl had a residency there. The production became about our relationships, and the way we organically came together as people who have creative vocal practices. All of a sudden, while having a collective to sing with, a group of voices to experiment with, we started realizing we could actually do an opera. What came from this production was the question of, How can we make a proposal for what future operas could be, in both their conception and their process? To have it be less about virtuosity or “doing it right,” and more about togetherness and elation—how, in this time of one catastrophe after the next, do we find elation, together?

We felt like opera could be a way to represent a narrative focus of care, whether in our art practices or in our day-to-day lives. Opera for us is this idea of a huge collaborative system in which people get energy or walk away from rehearsal or the show itself thinking, “I feel so much better than when I walked in this room.” We are looking out for each other—through art, experience, and through the joy of singing. If we had more of these environments, on so many different social and political levels, to just devote time to making and doing things this way, there would be a lot less pain.

Excerpt from Colin Self and Raśl de Nieves’ interview for 500 Words.

Inevitably, the people involved in The Fool are invested in not letting a current social or political conundrum dictate the possibility of finding a way out or problem solving. These people genuinely see joy and beauty in everyday experiences and are bringing that to the production. There were these collaborative moments while rehearsing when it became very much coauthored; it’s a porous compositional process. Everyone has a voice. That’s the thing about collaborating with each other: We look into each other’s world and see a landscape and think, “That’s the world that I’m from.” A sense of home comes from collectivity.

In this iteration, there is a chorus of twenty-two people; that feels important. It is much larger than in the original production, and the chorus is a fitting metaphor for the way we are talking about this community coming together. The collective voice now is so much richer and everyone has their own layer of where they belong. There is a soaring nature to their togetherness—a group of people trying to create a moment in time when it is difficult to do so. For us and our lives, and the people that are in our immediate surroundings in a creative community, this is what we know how to do and this is who we are in our capacity to create some kind of resistance. The Fool character carries a little bag of tricks, and every other character in this opera is one of the tricks. We can’t do everything by ourselves. We needed to reach out to the people among us to put all these crazy things into one idea, which isn't even cohesive—it’s still developing. It overflows with expressivity and emotional release. In 2014 the doors closed on the initial production, and we can still hear the voices, and now it’s 2017 and the door is going to open once again. We’re all coming together to make this happen—this isn’t the end; this is the beginning for us.

— As told to Alex Fialho

Tom Burr

02.03.17

Marcel Breuer, Pirelli Building, 1969, New Haven.


For nearly three decades, Tom Burr’s sculptures, writings, collages, and photographs have tended to focus on access, site-specificity, the confluence of public and private environments, and the constructed persona. Here, he discusses his yearlong project Tom Burr / New Haven”—conceived as part of Bortolami Gallery’s “Artist / City” initiative—for which Burr will occupy and activate the ground floor of the IKEA-owned, Marcel Breuer–designed Pirelli building in New Haven, beginning in March 2017. Also in New Haven, Burr will participate in a talk about the project on February 22 at 5:30 PM at the Yale University Art Gallery. Additionally, in 2017, he will present solo exhibitions at Maureen Paley in London from June 2 through July 22; the Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster from June 10 through October 1; and Galerie Neu in Berlin from October 26 through November 30, 2017.

WHEN THE POSSIBILITY TO DO THIS PROJECT AROSE, I thought about the Dia Art Foundation in an earlier era: It was all about going outside, creating an exoticism through location and geography. I wanted to do something more banal than those Dia projects though, something that wasn’t utopian. And then I thought, “Well, New Haven.” Its such a banal city in some ways but it also has an autobiographical fold for me.

I was born there a handful of years before the Pirelli building was built, so it was always in my mind while I was growing up. Armstrong Rubber commissioned the building in 1968 for its factory and executive offices, and it became an iconic emblem as the entrance to the city off Interstate 95, particularly at a time when the city was gaining attention for its urban renewal and restructuring. I’m interested in how this type of Brutalist architecture in New Haven, and elsewhere, came to represent failure, as its progressive utopian strategy and sense of optimism against the economic and racial problems of the inner city quickly dissipated. It failed to produce the results it promised. That is the New Haven that left an impression on me.

About fifteen years ago, the Pirelli building was purchased by IKEA with the intention to use the site for a new store. The building originally had a horizontal warehouse extension that was then amputated (in my mind, it became a body that was dismembered), in order to make room for the IKEA parking lot. The rest of the existing building was left standing, abandoned, as we know it today.

Excerpt from Tom Burr’s interview for 500 Words.

Leasing the building from IKEA was not a problem. But complications of access, and how to adhere to local codes—fire codes, capacity issues—became problematic and therefore became a real part of the project and part of how I think about what I’m creating there. There are all sorts of issues with the use and rehabilitation of this building––this concrete corpse––that inspire me. I think of it as an object to be activated, and I want to treat these activations as a series of swipes, iterations, or phases.

I always feel I walk within structures that have preceded me, conditions already produced. Marcel Breuer designed the building based on a six-by-six modular, which is my height. I’m working on a series of images depicting the surface of the walls of the house that I grew up in: rough plaster walls that feel like concrete––they resemble a sidewalk. They were never painted. It’s an enigmatic surface that was strangely productive for me as a child. I would find patterns in it and scrape myself against it––a very sensual and sensory experience that feeds into my relationship with the materiality of the Breuer building, which has concrete as its skin, as its envelope. I want to conflate that domestic space with this other space, a former factory and executive office: one skin onto, or into, another.

I often wonder whether my works are decoys: Am I telling anything about myself when I make references to my own name, my own body? I’m aware that these things are constructed and possibly leading you nowhere. But at the same time, there is something. There really are these specific walls, and I’m concerned with how to construct something out of that materiality while always having this distance that I find meaningful. I’m often suspicious of anything that smacks of truth-saying in artmaking, maybe because of the mythology that we’re always trudging through, so much bullshit about what it is to be an artist, and about authenticity––with the art object or with the artist––that we’re trying to navigate. However, there are things to be said; there are stories to be told.

So much of my specificity as an author, as an artist, has to do with being a queer subject. And yet I’m other things beyond that. We’re multiple things simultaneously. I’m also white, and male. I became interested in throwing these things into the foreground, not letting them exist in an anonymous vessel. I’m interested in this project being a culmination of these facets, these problems/masquerades/privileges/disappointments, of both this particular building and my own body. All of these conditions that operate both metaphorically and actually, manifest in the presence of the building and in the hopes and dreams and expectations and all the disappointments and abandonments as well. Whether or not these subjectivities are “meaningful”? I don’t know. They’re materials that are there to use, like the building itself.

— As told to Julian Elias Bronner