David Gordon

05.30.17

David Gordon, Live Archiveography, 2017. Performance view, Vincent Astor Gallery, New York, March 30, 2017. Photo: Paula Court.


David Gordon—longtime director, choreographer, actor, playwright, and cofounder of the Judson Dance Theater and the improvisational dance company Grand Union—is preparing to present Live Archiveography, 2017, a performative extension of “ARCHIVEOGRAPHY – Under Construction,” his massive retrospective that was recently presented at the Vincent Astor Gallery at the New York Public Library, as he discusses here. Live Archiveography runs from June 1 to June 3, 2017, at the Kitchen in New York as a part of the LUMBERYARD in the City Festival.

WHEN I WENT TO TALK WITH THE PEOPLE AT THE NYPL about them having my archive, they asked me if I would, at some point, want to do a public Q&A for it. I said no thank you. They asked why, and I said that I’d been to some of those events and that they weren’t very interesting. I said that if I were going to do something like that, I would want to, in some way, make it matter as a live performative situation, versus rehashing some events from a pile of press clippings. Well, the NYPL said they were interested, so I began trying to invent some way that an archival circumstance could be performative while, yes, answering some questions. And what we ended up doing was very well received, so we did two different versions of it. And then ODC/Dance in San Francisco wanted a version of it, and then the opportunity to develop it through the LUMBERYARD presented itself. So Live Archiveography is a collage happening in real time of things from different eras of my creative history. I’m making old new work. Or new old work.

Everything I did as an artist—or whatever you want to call me—surprised me as I was going through my archive. For the first three or so years of my career, I kept nothing . . . at all. It didn’t occur to me that it was important to do. It seemed foolish to keep bad reviews and it seemed immodest to keep great reviews. I just threw everything away. One afternoon at the Judson many years ago, Simone Forti was there, talking to somebody in the bleachers. And when the man she was chatting with left, she pulled a pad out of her pocket and began writing. I asked her what she was doing and she said, “I’m writing down what I just said. Someday, somebody’s going to want to know.” And I considered that and thought, Well, maybe I shouldn’t throw everything away. So I bought a used file cabinet and just started putting things into the drawers, with no rhyme or reason for what went where. I only started organizing it during the last three or four years, when people started talking to me about my archive.

David Gordon, Panel, 1986, video, color, sound, 4 minutes 25 seconds.

It’s interesting—I thought I had spent my life working to make each new concert very different from the last. But as I began to look at everything I did, I saw that I was making one concert, with many different parts, for fifty years. As I was going through the archive, I’d see a piece of material, or the subject of a piece of material, and then it would show up five or ten years later. I’d find something and think, “Wait a minute—that’s that, again!” It’s something I can’t get away from. I discovered early in my career that I was not an abstract artist. I’m a storyteller. I make things happen that are about something. It could be a clear narrative, it could be a disrupted narrative. But narrative supports everything I do. I never thought about all this until I began to go through my archive. There was continuity, even though I had tried very hard to avoid continuity. My archive also makes clear that I was working in the world among other artists. And all the television and movies I watched, the literature and headlines I read—those things, too, affected the kind of art I wanted to make. I don’t make things in some private “inspirational” world. My work is a reaction to the world. I’m always paying attention. Everything’s connected.

That sort of continuity has to do with my relationships, my family. My mother had four sisters—they all raised me. Their men were all working or in the army, so I was around a lot of women. And they referred to themselves with some frequency as my “other mothers.” And my grandmother, their mother, was never farther away than next door. And if you mouthed off to one of them, another one of them would say, “Don’t talk to her like that!” That was my life. There is something about those women and my grandmother and the stories that my grandmother told—I think it’s how I learned to hear stories. Somebody always had a story about something, frequently terrifying.

My life is full of many different families. My son was born two days before my first performance at the Judson! I remember being at the hospital, visiting my wife, the dancer Valda Setterfield, and our new baby. One evening I get up and say, “I’m sorry, I have to go because it’s the first night of the Judson.” And I take a taxi down to the Judson and walk in and say, “Okay, when do I go on?” And they say, “Now.” So I take off my shoes and walk on stage and do the first of the Judson solos. But I had just come from the hospital and held my tiny son in my arms and kissed Valda goodbye—all of that feels so inextricably linked. The Dunn Workshop, which spawned the Judson Dance Theater, which turned into the Yvonne Rainer Company, which then turned into the Grand Union—all are my family. And then there are all the presenters who brought my work to parts of the United States I had never been to before, who worked with me for years—they are my family too. And because of them, I have more families in Minneapolis through the Guthrie Theater and the Walker Art Center. So everywhere I go, everyone I work closely with, I develop a new family. But one of the things about getting to this age, and it’s really peculiar, is seeing an awful lot of your family die. Trisha Brown, who got me into the home I’ve had for many decades now, is gone. My family is disappearing, but I’m still sitting here, watching them go.

Extending the life of the archive into performances is a way of working against the idea of an archive being this stifling, overdetermining thing. My son, Ain, who is also an artist, says that history is quite often a single person’s estimation of what has happened, as opposed to another single person’s estimation of what happened, as opposed to somebody who lived through what happened, as opposed to what actually happened. I wanted to have a say in what I thought my history was. But, as I said to somebody once, in a so-called advisory or mentorship situation, half of what I say to you now I might not believe tomorrow. And I want the archive and everything inspired by it to say, “This happened. I thought it was happening for this reason. But I think now that it may have happened for this reason. And I may be wrong about both of those things.”

— As told to Alex Jovanovich

Martine Syms

05.22.17

Martine Syms, Incense Sweaters & Ice, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 70 minutes.


Martine Syms is a self-described “conceptual entrepreneur” based in Los Angeles. Her artistic practice spans publishing, performance, sculpture, photography, film, and more. Here Syms discusses the politics of migration, surveillance, and presentation as they appear in “Projects 106: Martine Syms,” her first solo museum exhibition in the US, which is organized by Jocelyn Miller and on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from May 27 through July 16, 2017.

THE CENTERPIECE OF THIS SHOW is my first feature-length film, Incense Sweaters & Ice. The title refers to goods that were originally manufactured in Altadena, a neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, which is where I’m from and also where one of the main characters, Girl, is from. She is a traveling nurse, and is basically making a reverse migration from the one that older women in her family made—she’s going from Los Angeles to Saint Louis to Clarksdale, Mississippi—to do a contract job, while voices narrate their own migrations in the other direction.

The idea of the Great Migration and its psychogeographies is of considerable interest to me. For a lot of blacks, that migration, which often involved their families’ migration into cities, changed the way that they presented and fashioned themselves. Two books have really informed my thinking: One is Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity by Jacqueline Stewart, in which she unpacks the parallel between the migration of blacks from the rural South to the urban North and their migration into the film industry, both behind and in front of the camera. They have similar time lines, which is roughly 1915 to 1970; by 1970 you start to see more of a black presence. The other is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, which pairs narratives of individual migrations with contemporaneous developments in photography and motion pictures. I’m interested in how that’s continued to happen, how your sense of self and the way you present yourself are forms of performance, and how this is tied to a knowledge of being seen or unseen.

Excerpt from Martine Syms’s interview for 500 Words.

For me, it’s hard to consider the imaging of black people outside of film’s ethnographic roots and its relationship to surveillance and cataloguing. Some of the earliest images of people of color were used for those purposes, and I see a lot of similarities between these earlier cinematic forms and present-day Web contexts, for instance. What if you were to assume that you’re being constantly recorded, which in our contemporary moment of widespread surveillance is more or less true? You could say that there’s just a giant film production happening at all times. What happens to you and your being or identity within that reality? How are we performing or acting in this context? There’s a link between the production of self or one’s identity and the mediated production of images, and I’m trying to tie them together both formally and conceptually. A primary reference for me is this idea I’ve been calling “ambient cinema”: ambient in the sense of expanded and environmental, that it’s always happening.

I wanted the exhibition to look like a set and to have elements from a film production. The space is monochromatic to hint at or conjure this, and there is a large wall painting with the word girl spelled different ways to convey inflection. There’s also a suite of twelve photographs printed on film posters targeted toward African American audiences, creating a double exposure of seeing the original poster as well as the image. And there is an augmented-reality iOS app [WYD RN] built in collaboration with Brent David Freaney and designed specifically for the exhibition, which, when held over these images, triggers another interactive video that uses facial-recognition technology to play audio and video through the app. I’m interested in using augmented reality to further connect the project to digital realms and bring this kind of simultaneity into the exhibition space itself.

My insistence on making my exhibition spaces also resemble sites of production is connected to two things: First is the idea that I don’t really think of things as ever being done, and so visually, I want it to be a space where something happens. Second, it connects to this idea of everyone’s ability to record everything, so the exhibition is already a space of production. People are going to be taking pictures and recording videos in there, and through the iOS app itself they can also produce images. What does this feedback loop do to the viewing experience? People are making images at the same time that they’re viewing them and feeling ambivalent about being in them; I’m invested in containing that ambivalence within the project itself and in my own imagemaking. 

— As told to Alex Fialho

Nazım Can Cihan and Aslıhan Demirtaş with Kaide (Plinth), 2016, at collectorspace, Istanbul. Photo: Ali Taptık.


Aslıhan Demirtaş is an Istanbul- and New York–based architect and designer whose practice often takes on unexpected, research-based projects. In Taksim Square, she is currently showing Kaide (Plinth), 2016: one and a half tons of earth rammed into a sixty-by-forty-inch rectangular prism, the dimensions of which are based on endangered, traditional urban gardening modules in the Yedikule neighborhood of Istanbul. A farmer, a composer, artists, and collectors have all been invited to contribute to Kaide for one week a piece in order to reflect on soil, memory, and displacement, as well as on the main premises of collecting. The show is on view at collectorspace through May 31, 2017.

THE WORK WAS BORN IN TURKEY, and its title, Kaide, has multiple meanings in the language: rules, ground, foundation, as well as a pedestal or a plinth. Pedestal has a Latin root that has to do with the foot, footing—it’s pie di stallo, “foot of a stall.” But when I looked up the Greek word for plinth, it was a pleasant surprise, because plinth means a piece of earth that has been baked. It’s a brick, so it felt appropriate given the physicality of the work to name it Plinth rather than Pedestal.

My collaborators and I debated about getting the soil from Yedikule Urban Gardens, which would involve dealing with bureaucracy and paperwork, since it’s a historic preservation site. And we did actually start this project by talking with the authorities. They were surprised and asked many questions about our planned excavation—where we’d want to take the soil, the shape of the excavation, and they basically required the submission of a drawing detailing the excavation. But we stopped there and did not take soil from the neighborhood, because, fortunately early on, I realized that we as activists in Yedikule have been fighting for a certain kind of conservation of the neighborhood: conserving by giving it a future.

Let me back up a bit and explain this. The Yedikule Urban Gardens have existed for sixteen hundred years. They date back to the Byzantine emperor Theodosius, who built the last land walls by the gardens. He was the one who originally bestowed basement spaces to the farmers. Over the centuries, there have been Greek farmers, Armenian farmers, and Albanian farmers; now, there are Black Sea farmers working there. The people change, but the soil remains, adapting itself to the different produce people want to grow. The activism around Yedikule is not geared toward freezing the gardens in time against the threat of real estate speculation. We do not want to keep the urban gardens as they are, as if they are artifacts from a bygone era. We want them to be free, and basically living. So if I take soil from Yedikule Gardens and put it in a gallery, I’ll be making it a nonliving art piece. That conflicted with our axis of activism and conservation.

With the framework of migration or leaving one’s homeland in mind, I asked myself this question: What is it to feel like a refugee in your own land, without having been displaced? The urban gardens have existed in Yedikule for hundreds of years; however, bulldozers are now waiting in front of them in anticipation of clearing space for mass housing projects or parks. Urban farming has a long tradition in Istanbul, but the city actually disowns that tradition now and is about to deport it as if it were an illegal alien. What if everything else changes around you—how do you become a refugee without even moving an inch? And I think this can be applied to anyone, not just to the bostans (urban gardens) but to any individual living in Turkey.

I think the exhibition at collectorspace is a refreshing gesture in terms of questioning what the word “collection” means, what a collector is, why people collect, and this issue as well: If something is in a collection, why does this make it more important than any other thing that is not in the collection? In my mind, it also underlines the artificially made distinction between the urban and the rural, since we place the Plinth at the heart of urban Istanbul, in Taksim. I’d like to say there is no urban without the rural, and there’s no rural without the urban. They coexist, which makes the loop back to the Yedikule Urban Gardens: If there’s no distinction between the rural and the urban, why would you not farm in the city?

Özge Ersoy of collectorspace and I have devised the program in an evolving scheme. We have left the programming flexible. We didn’t finalize who was going to be contributing at the beginning. We invited people, listened to them, and kept thinking about their gestures. So, in a way, like farming, it’s dependent on the seasons. There are cycles, and the climate changes. You could say it’s a way of cultivating collaborations, meanings, thoughts, and, most important, questions. Robert Smithson once said something like, “The city gives the impression that earth doesn’t exist.” Plinth is basically founded on this profound sentence. And this sentence always echoes in my mind.

— As told to Gökcan Demirkazik

View of “A Split During Laughter at the Rally,” 2017. Photo: Joerg Lohse.


New York–based artist, writer, and performer Juliana Huxtable brings her trenchant voice and #shockvalue flair to two new publications out this year: Mucus in My Pineal Gland, a book of her musings copublished by Wonder and Capricious, and Life, an apocalyptic sci-fi narrative cowritten with Hannah Black and published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König. Here, Huxtable discusses her writing style as well as her debut solo exhibition, “A Split During Laughter at the Rally,” which is on view at Reena Spaulings Fine Art in New York through June 4, 2017.

I AM FASCINATED with Emory Douglas, who is perhaps best known for his work as the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party. He came up with nearly all of the imagery for their posters and newspaper. For this show, in addition to other works, I’ve made paintings loosely based on the style of Douglas, and then I took photographs of those paintings and overlaid text onto them. There’s also a video on view about conspiracy surrounding political protests, looking at protest chants in connection with call-and-response, rhythm, co-optation, and the history of hip-hop.

The show departs from a point of inefficacy—or, to use a problematically gendered concept, political impotence. There is an eclipsed sense of possibility in the prevailing models for engaging political action. This past November I went back and forth, but in the end I voted, and it felt so absurd. Yet I think there’s an inherent desire to exercise political agency, and our ability to navigate spaces in which this should happen is in peril. How can we start the process of animating something that might ultimately be generative?

I’m interested in conspiracy as a way of thinking through forming community and its slippages—as a productive strategy for coalition building that might speak more directly to the conditions we’re in than the Democratic Party, for instance. I think conspiracy can be radical in the sense that it’s engaging or seeking out information. You’re actively questioning what’s going on around you. And even if there are some loopy links and you’re filling in the gaps, there’s something there that’s different from apathy or nihilism.

Juliana Huxtable speaks with artforum.com.

I wanted to get into the aesthetics of conspiracy and American paranoia. If you delve into it, recently there has been a lot of Illuminati and UFO imagery. But a lot of that symbolism and the way that those images are laid out is actually directly related to imagery distributed by leftist radicals from the 1960s and 1970s; the image of the worker kind of gets replaced by the image of an alien. It’s interesting to me the way that the symbols within a sort of conspiratorial mode have been used, co-opted, adapted, and sampled. There’s enough symbolic power in the residual imagery to carry something.

My style of writing—whether for my recent publications or my artwork—is directly informed and inspired by the notion of schizoanalysis. Schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, and bipolar disorder are different clinical designations of structures of thought that at this point are inherent to the social and epistemological conditions we’re in, which conspiracy is inherently linked to and carries the stigmas of. I don’t like to present things too directly. I err in the direction of ambiguity in a schizo way of processing. As opposed to the idea of what a single subject means, what a subject’s voice represents, and how that voice expresses itself as indicative or elucidating of the conditions that we’re in, I like the alternative idea of a schizophrenic voice: one that can’t reside with any stability in the first person, third person, and so on, and that doesn’t even permit a predictable relationship between subject and verb. You’re jumping between persons, switching characters and exploding history into a play place. Allowing myself space for that mode of writing and thinking to happen is a more honest and dynamic reflection of how I’m processing the world.

I wrote a lot of the text for my show, but I also found a lot of text that I repurposed: comments on YouTube videos about the destruction of the black family, and a quote from conservative right-wing radio talking about the infiltration of trans people, for instance. That’s one of the things that excites me about text. It’s slippery, but you can try and condition the space in which that slippage occurs. I would like to think that my practice is about conditioning a productive space for thinking and processing, so you’re getting spontaneous fragments and they’re settling in different ways.

— As told to Alex Fialho

Doug Wheeler

05.02.17

Doug Wheeler, PSAD Synthetic Desert III (detail), 1971, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.


Doug Wheeler is an American artist based in New Mexico. In the 1960s he began working in Los Angeles, where he was one of the pioneering figures exploring how light and space could be used to establish experiential situations. At the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Wheeler is currently showing PSAD Synthetic Desert III, 1971, the first realization of a semi-anechoic chamber he originally conceived as a plan in 1968. The work is on view through August 2, 2017.

TO ME, A WORKING DRAWING is about experimental spaces or thoughts. I used to do what I called “equation drawings,” which I started making because I felt they allowed me to map space objectively. With my current show at the Guggenheim, I saw the original drawing I made in 1968, which is part of the Panza Collection there, and I realized what I wanted from the piece. I’ve since done about ten more drawings based on that one. Every time I do a drawing, I learn more about what I’m doing. I almost don’t need to actually realize a physical piece because I’ve been through the whole idea so much that I know it’ll work.

To make the Guggenheim space do what I’d drawn, the sound-reflecting areas had to be shaped in such a way that what sound does get generated will flow away, rather than bounce at you. In the space, which is off of the rotunda, the decibel level is usually quite high, but I wanted to get it down to ten decibels. The Guggenheim ended up calling up a sound lab called ARUP to help. The space has sound, but it’s a kind of sound that I’ve experienced when I would fly alone. There have been a few times when I landed on a dry lakebed a hundred miles from any road. When you’re in a place like that, where you don’t hear the motor anymore, the ticking of the metal cooling, or anything like that, you just listen while you’re looking into the distance and you hear sound come to you. I’m not talking just about the wind over the ground. You’re hearing sound that’s generated miles away, so it becomes disembodied, and it’s an incredible experience. That’s why I call these works Synthetic Deserts, because I’m trying to make a sensate experience. I’m not trying to duplicate it, or make a diorama of it, or anything like that. I’m just trying to create a place where you’ll have that kind of experience, and it will feel like the experience, but very obviously not be it.

This work has neon, like in the original plan, and the pyramidal absorbers. In the original drawing, they had a base of a two-foot square. These have an eighteen-inch base, and they’re skinnier than in my original drawing. I’m doing that to create more areas where sound will get trapped. The way I originally drew it, it wouldn’t work as well. So pyramid forms surround you. When you walk in, everything is sound-absorbing: the floor, the walls, the ceiling, and it’s all due to these pyramidal absorbers. And then there’s a platform that you walk out onto that’s in the middle of these absorbers. And then there is a wall that curves around you—not totally curving, but it’s got an eight-foot radius in the corners—and feels like my light walls feel.

Whatever sound people who come in will generate won’t do much because it doesn’t go anywhere. In the space I’ll be generating pink noise primarily. Pink noise is a frequency that is much more palatable than white noise. I had to shield the entire space, floor, walls, and ceiling—everything—with a sound envelope so that vibrations and all the things that the museum is generating won’t be able to get through. However, if it’s anything too low then what you would be hearing, which is very disconcerting, is your own body. You’d be hearing your heart and all these other things in yourself, and that could be very uncomfortable, and I don’t want that. I don’t want you to feel claustrophobic or anything. I want a sense of expansion to take place. Hopefully the viewer can become sensitive enough so that the space feels alive.

— As told to Alex Bacon