Lee Mingwei


Lee Mingwei, Luminous Depths (detail), 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable.

The New York–based Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei is known for his participatory installations that revolve around interpersonal exchanges during seemingly quotidian events, such as mending one’s clothes, having a meal, or sleeping. The artist speaks here about his latest project, Luminous Depths, which invites visitors to toss pots off a third-floor balcony of the Peranakan Museum in Singapore; the resulting shards will be collected and then used in the foundation of a new building for museum. The work is on view until September 22, 2013.

LUMINOUS DEPTHS BEGAN IN 2011, when Dr. Alan Chong, the director of the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore, invited me to make a project at the Peranakan Museum, which is under his administration. Once I began research on Peranakan culture, I found it quite fascinating, because it is a fusion, arising from Chinese businessmen who traveled south during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and married Indian, Malay, and other local women on the Malay Peninsula. I was also struck by the Peranakan Museum’s Victorian colonial architecture, particularly its atrium, which allows the sun to peer in. This reminded me of my maternal grandmother’s home in Puli, Taiwan, where she had a clinic on the ground floor and chickens on the fourth; it had an open ceiling and during typhoons, wind and water—even sometimes objects—came down together. That cascading of sound really struck me.

This project involves the entire museum. On the ground floor, participants purchase pots; on the third floor, where a platform faces a netted hoop within the light well, participants position themselves to toss the pots down. These pots, which look like disks or balls and are made of two cups or two dishes glued together, are based on five objects from the museum’s permanent collection. In this way, the work removes the functionality of these daily objects, making them more of what I think an art object is: something that doesn’t have an everyday purpose. When the participants toss one of these into the light well, the hope is that they will transform it into something useful.

Before approaching the platform, the participant is first invited to sit on a bench to take off their shoes and socks, creating what resembles a ceremony or ritual by shedding the familiar self. As one walks onto the platform, one of Schubert’s lieder, “Night and Dreams,” which has been playing throughout the atrium, stops. The resulting pure silence is the medium that signals the participant to toss the object into the light well. When finished, the participant walks off the platform and the song starts again, concluding the performance.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the work’s participants. She was holding onto the pot for the longest time and it seemed as if she couldn’t destroy it because she had formed a bond with the inanimate object. The project’s destructive act functioned against what she was perhaps taught in her upbringing—not to break things, let alone touch them, at a museum. But I also felt her urgency, her wanting to destroy it. The tension of this work embraces this sense of conflicted responsibility that becomes quite overwhelming.

Luminous Depths has changed my memory of my grandmother’s home. Now, I cannot think of it without thinking of this project. Memory is a volatile living thing; it is not set in a fixed space and time. Luminous Depths and my grandmother’s home are almost like twins, yet born in different places, mutually and consistently influencing each other.

— As told to Leslie J. Ureña

Julião Sarmento, Five Easy Pieces (with Alice Joana Gonçalves), 2013, performance view, Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas, Elvas, Portugal, June 22, 2013.

Julião Sarmento is a Lisbon-based artist well known for his critique of the male gaze. He recently had a retrospective at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves in Porto, Portugal. This summer he has exhibitions at the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil in Mexico City and at the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas in Elvas, Portugal. Here, he discusses his recent and current shows and his ongoing interests and experimentations in architecture and performance.

PERHAPS BECAUSE I’M GETTING OLDER, but the fact is that in the past nine months I have had a retrospective—my largest to date—and eight solo shows. Still, I don’t feel the need to look back; I’m always thinking about what I’ll do next. I’m already planning my next series of solo shows, which will take place over the next year at Sean Kelly Gallery in New York and the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain in Nice, France, among other venues.

“White Nights” was my retrospective at the Serralves museum. I borrowed the title from a 1982 series of paintings—originally presented at Documenta 7 that year—which alluded to Dostoyevsky’s 1848 short story “White Nights” and also to a period of my life in which I had a day job and spent sleepless nights at the studio. “White Nights” featured 168 works, made from 1972 to 2013, in both the 1990s galleries designed by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza and the institution’s old villa in its sprawling park. The exhibition also focused on the architectural dimension of my output, a mostly neglected yet significant aspect. This organizing principle allowed me to revisit some of my early works that I hadn’t seen in decades. It is uncanny how everything made sense and fell into place after such a long time.

An Extreme Form of Privacy is a 2002 painting that lends its title to my current exhibition at the Carrillo Gil museum. Here, I’m presenting works made between 1995 and 2013. This selection addresses privacy, another key facet of my oeuvre. For instance, there are many depictions of the female body, which I employ as a way of examining the politics of desire. In a way, I feel like I’m always considering the same subject; it’s a bit like novelists who write the same story over and over. Nevertheless, I’m interested in so many things: literature, film, art, architecture, music, sex, nature, plants, and so on. As long as these challenge me, I dwell in them. Perhaps I’m always looking at the same stuff, but I don’t really know what that stuff is. If I knew, then it wouldn’t be interesting to me at all.

Performance and dance are currently catching my attention; I’m trying to explore the aesthetic potential of movement. Cometa (Comet), a work from 2011—which is on view currently in Mexico City, and was also presented in my retrospective—perhaps best encapsulates the questions that I am asking about these media, such as, What is the role of physical and mental space in the performative? It consists of a heterosexual couple in a room that act out a series of ritualistic gestures to the sound of the music of Portuguese singer and songwriter Legendary Tiger Man. The performers initially sit on chairs and then the woman starts walking—or dancing—while the man observes her; finally, the man meets her and they start touching each other in a subtle yet suggestive manner.

Five Easy Pieces (with Alice Joana Gonçalves) is my latest work of this genre. The Portuguese choreographer and dancer Alice Joana Gonçalves appears in a room with a chair, a closet, and a table. Slowly, she moves from sitting in the chair to the table. There, she imitates the pose of the mannequins in my sculptures Licking the Milk off Her Finger, 1998, and Milk and Honey (Under the Table), 2004. She slowly moves again, from the table to the closet, which she violently thrusts against the walls. The work is part of “Index,” my solo show at the Elvas museum. Since it echoes other works of mine, it might shed some unanticipated light on my practice, something that I am always looking forward to.

— As told to Miguel Amado

View of “Fun Sponge,” 2013. Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art.

Alex Da Corte is a Philadelphia-based artist, collector, and scavenger. His work in video, installation, and painting is invested in troubling and disseminating the notion of authorship while simultaneously tracing networks and communities. He speaks here about his solo exhibition “Fun Sponge,” on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art until August 4, 2013. Da Corte’s work is also featured in a two-person solo show with Borna Sammak at Oko Gallery in New York until September 12, 2013, and in a solo show at Joe Sheftel Gallery in New York from September 8 to October, 13, 2013.

“FUN SPONGE” IS LIKE A BEDROOM FLOOR, offering a palimpsest of experiences. What is there belongs to many people. I have included the work of John Roebas, Sean Fitzgerald, Andrew Gbur, Sascha Braunig, Nancy Lupo, Alex Ebstein, Seth Adelsberger, Brian Kokoska, Mitchell Kehe, Brendan Smith, and Gaby Wolodarski by embedding them in my paintings. Participants of the exhibition are invited to touch, sort, and rearrange these works and other props that are situated within a carpeted room in the gallery. The work then becomes alive in the hands of others, an open-source engagement. There is something strange about objects moving in a space—the way a balloon might move around an empty room—when you’re not there. It makes my hair stand up on my neck, but that’s a good thing.

The show is about the shuffling of space, the way someone might shuffle through CDs, records, or books. There are twenty-four Plastics Paintings referencing the twenty-four frames per second of animation. They are made by trapping assorted materials like cheese, shampoo, foil, and the other artists’ paintings behind adhesive sign vinyl and pressing them against the backside of the Plexiglas like a reverse glass painting. I studied animation at the School of Visual Arts, and I always go back to flattening space this way, or trying to access space in terms of time. We walk forward or backward in time, depending on who we are and when we’ve last been in the same place. I’m interested in the edges of these images and frames. It’s as if I tell you an anecdote, and then you tell me you told the same story to me already, that it’s your story and I forgot that it’s not mine. Therein lies the reverse side of an experience.

I think about how the objects I collect can be shared, or how they can cross race and gender but still reflect the flavor of a community by the way they are utilized. I think about what residue is left from person to person when they touch the same object. That’s where this aspect about networks comes up in my work. I absorb other people’s work in mine, embedding theirs in a larger framed image in order to undo what they might have had in their original frame.

Many of the artists I work with are painters. Painters can’t touch their own paintings once the work is behind glass. It’s like when one puts a Band-Aid on their hand; they can’t see the other side of the Band-Aid against their skin. But it might be neat if they did. I want to pull out the desire to touch in these artists’ work. Not just look at the glove—wear the glove.

Working with all these artists, I think of myself as a director. If a movie is a success, the actors will take the credit, but if it’s a failure, the actors can walk away as the director takes the fall. My projects hinge on the work of other people, but I’m creating a platform for them to engage in ways that they might not have been able to otherwise. I’m always trying to track and confuse where things come from.

— As told to Annie Godfrey Larmon

Lucy Dodd


View of Lucy Dodd’s studio, July 2013.

Lucy Dodd is an artist based in New York. Her latest exhibition, “Foss,” opens at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles on July 20 and remains on view until August 31, 2013. Here Dodd discusses the origins of the eight new paintings on view in the show, as well as a tale she cowrote in 2004—a chief source of inspiration for this project.

IN 2004, Jason Rhoades, Paul Theriault, and I began a project in LA called the Foss. It’s hard to explain how the project started or what it was because none of us knew at the time. Foss was the word to describe this dilemma and in the beginning it was also the acronym for our secret studio. But Foss became a word for many things, and it became many things, because all of us needed different things. Paul was the mastermind behind the Foss. His collages were brilliant and deserved a venue. These works inspired JRho. I had just finished my undergraduate degree at Art Center, and had no idea what I was in for.

Things are not as they were in 2004. We bought CDs at Tower Records—we listened to Alicia Keys on repeat. I took strange adventures into empty buildings while location scouting for the Foss around LA. The weirdest was at 1100 Wilshire, an empty triangular skyscraper on the edge of downtown; Fear Factor once shot there. Paul wanted a gallery. Jason wanted a garden. We ended up working in a storefront. There were a lot of towels and hot glue involved, plus a huge copper tube with a crystal skirt, a floss container with the L scraped off, rolls of elastic, and precious stones, among other things. But it became too much and we closed shop. When the physical Foss was taken away, it was replaced by the characters of the fable—the catfish who wanted velvet whiskers, the butterfly who wanted to fly in the rain, and a dove with a broken wing—as well as a water plant that was found in the trash and that managed to revive, which became the Foss plant. Some of this was eventually taken out to Wonder Valley, California, where it was left to bake in the sun and disintegrate into the Mojave Desert floor in a corral on Jason’s property.

Jason described the Foss as a rebirth, and he ended up writing the fable. The Foss is my lost placenta, the perpetual generating force of the water plant, the cycles of my work. I don’t know if Paul ever believed in the Foss in the first place even though he was the one who made it all up. He moved to Chicago and started playing Ping-Pong with R. Kelly. I had no idea what the Foss was at the time, and they kept telling me, “The Foss is yours,” and I kept thinking, What the Foss is going on . . . ?

This year, as I began to work on this exhibition, I discovered the letter I wrote to Blum & Poe from back then asking if they'd like to discuss the possibility of showing the Foss. Then I came across a weirdly precise commercial from Tide that played during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. It set up a scenario that began to ripple inside me: Salsa spills and falls miraculously in the shape of Joe Montana on a fan’s football jersey, next there’s a nationwide frenzy to see the “miracle stain,” and at the end of the commercial, the fan’s wife—a Ravens fan—washes the stain out and pronounces: “No stain is sacred.”

With the vanishing Foss and Tide on my mind, I stretched and primed seven shaped canvases on the floor of my studio. Their sizes and shapes were determined by the studio’s unique architecture and by an equilateral triangle painting that holds them together as a unit. This painting is called the key; there are eight paintings, including the key. The lines of the floorboards determined the horizon lines on the wall. I kept going in and looking at them all stretched and taut and white and clean. They were the crispy ship sails you see on the horizon, but I had to take them through the storm. One day, I went into the studio and the first stain was there: my dog, Bubs, had peed. She had broken the seal for me, and with the odor remover Nature’s Miracle, I could begin again.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Susan Silton


Left: Cover of Susan Silton, Who’s in a Name? (2013). Right: A screenshot from Who’s in a Name?

Susan Silton is a Los Angeles–based artist whose multidisciplinary practice engages photography, video, installation, performance, sound, and language. She speaks here about her latest work, Who’s in a Name?, 2013, a multi-platform project that primarily takes the form of a book and engages in the relationship between suicide and celebrity. Following the book's recent publication and performative launch event at LA MoCA in May, an afternoon of talks and readings will take place at LAXART on July 13, 2013.

THIS PROJECT BEGAN AS AN INTERVENTION into a work by John Baldessari titled Your Name in Lights, which was originally displayed on the facade of the Australia Museum in Sydney for three weeks in January 2011 and later, in its second iteration, on the facade of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. I discovered it purely by accident online. The work consisted of a large LED marquee designed to reference Hollywood theatrical signage. Viewers were invited in advance to register their name on a dedicated website and would later be informed when their name was going up in lights for a total of fifteen seconds. “Warhol is so yesterday,” said Baldessari about the abbreviated time span. The way in which we culturally exalt and even create celebrities one minute only to then tear them down and revel in their failure the next has always disturbed me.

A couple years prior to seeing Baldessari’s work, I found a Wikipedia site solely devoted to archiving artists who had committed suicide. I was greatly moved by it for many reasons, primarily because of its sheer existence and secondly because there were so many artists on the list that I didn’t recognize. When I stumbled on Baldessari’s project, it was a kind of perfect storm; the Wikipedia archive immediately sprang to mind the subjects his project was addressing—the illusion, promise, and acceleration of fame. Baldessari's platform seemed to me like the ideal venue to give life to the Wikipedia list.

The effect of looking at a sequence of letters flashing from however many miles away, as one would have in Baldessari’s work, is in a sense quite othering. It is a completely disembodied experience to see one’s name in that distanced context and think that is me. I look at suicide similarly, as an othering. It continues to be stigmatized which is so odd because we all die. Suicide is, in my mind, a very proactive decision about how we die.

It was important to me that the project addressed multiple communities of artists, including those living and non-living. I randomly assigned fifty-nine names from the Wikipedia archive to fifty-nine artists (including myself) who agreed to participate. A few people requested to register the name of an artist they had either worked with, been colleagues with, or studied under, but for the most part names were randomly assigned. For the three weeks Baldessari's piece was up in Australia, I was up at all hours of the day and night collecting screen grabs of all the names as they appeared live-streamed online. It was at that point, when I had all of the images physically in front of me, that I realized the project could be a book. Who’s in a Name? now physically exists not just to extend the lives of the suicide victims, but, I hope, as a testament to our community of artists—past, present, and future.

— As told to Natilee Harren

Left: Annette Weisser, Blockflötenmädchen 1 (Recorder Girl 1), 2012, woodcut on paper, 59 x 34”. Right: Annette Weisser, Recommendations (Ask for Help but Make It Sound like a Privilege), 2011, woodcut on paper, 37 x 25”.

Coming of age in Germany in the 1980s, Annette Weisser and her generation were caught between a genuine horror of fascism and disgust with the official national creed of repentance. Considering this almost-forgotten history is to ask oneself how, and by what turn of events, identities like “citizen” and “nation” that were once taken for granted have come to seem almost incredible. Weisser’s woodcuts, partly inspired by this history, can currently be seen in “Make Yourself Available,” the most extensive exhibition of her work to date in Germany, which is on view at the Heidelberger Kunstverein until September 1, 2013. Here she talks about the show and the genesis of these works.

THIS SHOW was partly triggered by The German Issue of Semiotext(e) that came out in 1982. It was republished in 2011, and I remain fascinated by its central idea, which seems even more apt right now: After 1989, the German situation changed so dramatically that the decade leading up to the reunification had been erased from collective memory. I strongly believe that in order to understand the present moment in Germany, you have to go back to the 1980s, to the decade leading up to German reunification.

While I was thinking about this more general, historical problem, I had a disagreement with my mother about three drawings I’d made in 1983, when I was fifteen. They show a little girl, obviously myself, saving the world from evil—very much like a comic strip. My favorite is one where the little girl stands on a bomb. There are two machine guns pointed at her from outside of the frame, and she is holding the world, stretched out between the two spheres, bomb and world. And, she’s holding this flower that she obviously walks around with. And she puts down the flower because holding up the world requires both hands.

So my mother had them framed and put up in my former room. Every time I went there to visit, I would see them and think, “I cannot stand these drawings!” They were an uncomfortable reminder of the good girl I have since tried so hard to leave behind. Whenever I visited I would take them off the wall, and then my mother would put them back up when I left. This went on for several years. At one point, I had to ask myself: “Why am I so embarrassed by these drawings?” During my last visit to my parents’ home I decided to go back to the mind-set of that time—to take the occasion of this solo show to pay a visit to my fifteen-year-old self up in her room under the roof.

There are twenty prints in the show, arranged on display elements that suggest the architecture of my childhood room. You look out at the world through false windows of an imaginary young girl’s room, or into her room, depending on your position. The pictures are of things like a girl playing the recorder; in another, she sets it on fire. Woodcuts seemed to me the right medium to deal with these issues of morality. There’s no tonality in the print; it’s a very binary world of just two colors. Plus there’s something very German about it, too. But I guess I had to move to LA to become aware of that!

The Unspecified Angst pieces are more abstract, but they relate to the global threats that were prevalent at the time. Acid rain was a big issue in Germany, especially in the Black Forest, where the firs were visibly affected. After Chernobyl, radioactivity was the next big fear. Chernobyl was the first global event that affected me in my little bubble, the first time that something happened so far away that changed the way we lived, in a very real way. My family decided to burn their whole crop that year; everything that was raised that year in our garden was burned. My family still wouldn’t pick mushrooms in the forest because of the long-term effects. I have vivid memories of the fight against the nuclear recycling plant in Wackersdorf, Bavaria. I went there with my Black Bloc buddies and the confrontation with the police was fierce. I remember this old Bavarian lady with a headscarf, coming toward us with a huge shopping bag. We thought she would bring food for the demonstrators who camped out on the construction site, but instead the bag was filled with stones for us to throw at the police!

When I talk to friends of mine who are a few years older, they would say the 1980s were the decade of cool cynicism, the seemingly never-ending Helmut Kohl era in which the lines of conflict were clearly cut and the world was going down the drain anyway. I guess I was just too young to participate in that general mood. I was protected by my naïveté, by my good girl ideals. In a sense this show is about reclaiming my naïveté as a valuable resource, because cool cynicism didn’t really get us anywhere, did it?

— As told to Chris Kraus