Gabriel Orozco, Astroturf Constellation (detail), 2012, 1,188 found objects, including plastic, glass, paper, metal, and other materials, and thirteen photographic grids, framed, each comprising 99 chromogenic prints. Found objects: overall dimensions vary with installation; photographs: each print 4 x 6”, each grid 48 1/2 x 58 x 2”.
Gabriel Orozco’s “Asterisms,” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, presents two recent bodies of work that encapsulate several recurring ideas in his output: erosion, everyday materials, and a friction between the natural environment and society. Throughout, the exhibition emphasizes Orozco’s delicate observation of how we construct private and individual systems of categorization. The show runs through January 13, 2013.
IN 2008, I went to the Isla Arena in the bay of Guerrero Negro, Mexico, to collect whale skeletons for the National Library in Mexico. It’s an island, a national park, and a protected area—a sanctuary for all the whales that travel down to Baja from way up north. There’s a lagoon where they can swim in calm water and do their mating and procreating. But there is also a lot of death. Isla Arena has a sand bank, which is also a cemetery––a twenty-five-mile-long beach. It’s all sand, not even one palm tree. So you have all these animals landing on the shore from the currents there. But I also saw lot of interesting artifacts and remains washing up. It’s not a pool of pollution or anything like that––because it’s protected, there aren’t people collecting stuff or exploring. I wondered if there might be some very interesting, old, and untouched things coming ashore. These currents come from all over—China, Japan, Alaska—and they somehow manage to cross the Pacific.
We asked permission to collect this debris. We spent a week on-site, and had to hire two boats, three motorcycles, two trolleys, and a team of six people. We mapped the island out, divided it up, and did a kind of exploration, almost like an archaeological dig. After that, the trolleys were transported to Pennsylvania, because I have a studio there and a big barn. I catalogued all of the objects we found, making grids and photographs of them, in the barn.
Around the same time, I was working on a project for Pier 40 in Manhattan, which is the field where I play soccer with my team. At some point, I also started to throw my boomerangs there, usually when it’s empty at lunchtime or very early in the morning. Being alone in the field, searching for my boomerangs, I noticed all these little objects in the Astroturf, and I collected one or two because I found them interesting. I took them to my house and made macrophotographs of them. I decided to assemble a big collection of all the objects that I found on Pier 40—pieces of clothing or buttons or cleats, or other sports-related stuff. The Astroturf is a big carpet.
There are resonances between these two projects, and I found that using photography and setting up a grid seemed the best way to capture their echoes. The grid is useful in terms of quantifying accumulation. But as you know, you can cluster the world in so many ways. I decided to do so taxonomically, just to have this platform with all the objects on display grouped first by type then by color then by size. Obviously the idea of the boomerang as a cycle, as an elliptical and circular shape, is important to me, too. Circularity, movement, dynamics, symmetry, asymmetry, and awareness of the wind, landscape conditions: It’s all there in my work.
As for “asterisms,” I landed on this word after thinking about the grid and the constellation. When you put together a group of objects, regardless of their origin, you form a constellation: a group of associations that somehow belong to you. On the other hand, the landscape is always there. And when you start to look carefully, you begin to see all these little particles or encounters in the sand or turf. They become a little bit like stars. You start to see one star, and then another, and then you start to look for these stars and try to read the sky or the landscape. You make a grid in your mind in relation to the sky; that is your asterism. I think also it’s a technical term in astronomy, but it’s a good name for the way these objects are found, displayed, and how they relate to one another, across the two projects.
These are the asterisms I made from two recent explorations: one from a place a few blocks from my house, and the other one from a very remote area, very far away. But you can find asterisms everywhere. Right?
Simone Forti has been choreographing movement and sound since the age of twenty-one. Born in 1935, she immigrated to Los Angeles from Florence, Italy, while still young, and moved to San Francisco in 1956. There, she studied with choreographer and movement practitioner Anna Halprin for several years before leaving for New York and later becoming involved with the group that would be called the Judson Dance Theater. In this interview, which is part of artforum.com’s ongoing commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Judson, Forti recalls her transition from Halprin’s studio to Robert Dunn’s music composition class in 1959. Deeply inspired by Dunn and his Cageian influence, Forti continues to make work that incorporates everyday practices, improvisation, and chance procedures. Her latest piece, The Fish Is Broke, will premiere at Danspace Project in New York, November 8–10.
Interview with Simone Forti.
The YES! Association/Föreningen JA! is an institution, an art worker, and a group of people working to overthrow heteronormative, patriarchal, racist, and capitalist power structures by redistributing access to financial resources, space, and time within the art world. The collective’s first aim was to help Sweden’s public art organizations tackle their inequality problems by offering the chance to sign an Equal Opportunities Agreement. Their new multipart work SMOKING AREA is on view through December 21 in the exhibition “Anti-Establishment,” at the CCS Bard Hessel Museum in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
WE WANTED THE BREEZE THAT PASSES BY HANNAH ARENDT’S GRAVE, which is located on Bard’s campus, to enter the exhibition. We wanted to connect the collection, the gallery space, and the grave through her nonvisible presenceto have smoke that would linger. It was a physical reflection. We installed a sixty-square-foot Smoking Area inside the Hessel Museum of Art, which shows a possibility for changing, or disrupting, the legal structure within an institution. The floor is painted with solid yellow lines the color of traffic signs and the cordoned-off space (modeled after such areas in train stations and other semi-outside public spaces across Europe) boldly reads SMOKING AREA in large font, complete with graphics of two lit cigarettes. The museum had to reevaluate. “Do you actually intend to have people smoking in there? Or is it just a painting?” There’s no way to really answer that. Visitors are activated; they are asked to make a choice: to smoke or to not smoke. We borrow from Hannah Arendt when we say: There is no doubt that the ability to act is the most dangerous of our abilities and possibilities.
We used a large part of our exhibition budget to bring Swedish writer and translator Annika Ruth Persson to Bard for one month so that she could research documents in the college’s Hannah Arendt Collection for her literary project on Arendt in the 1940s. We titled her monthlong stay, which continues into November, Invitation. It’s a performance that you have to imagine.
Another work in the show, Hostilities/Events/Inclusion/Assimilation/Disruptions and Beginnings, is a thirty-minute-long performance which took place on June 23 when we entered the Smoking Area floor-painting, pushing a trolley with four bags of soil, thirty satchels of yellow onions, a small white pyramid, a knife, and a clipboard with text—greetings from letters between Arendt and the novelist Mary McCarthy—to be read among the gathering audience. A microphone on a stand was placed in the upper right corner of the square. Next to it, a music stand with the other text—fragments culled from Arendt’s writings—that was to be read out loud as well. Three of us began to move systematically around and within the audience. We took turns reading, distributing onions, and bringing objects into the painted space. One of us read: “Whatever occurs in this space of appearance is political by definition. Everything that appears carries a degree of reality. Each choice of material is in some sense an intervention in history. In art, we shouldn’t linger too long.” We bit into onions and some audience members followed suit. While chewing and crying we heard Arendt’s words: “The reason why we are never able to foretell with certainty the outcome and end of any action is simply that action has no end.”
Robert Rauschenberg and Deborah Hay at a loft party in New York, 1966. © Bob Adelman/Corbis © Corbis.
Deborah Hay is a pioneering choreographer in the field of experimental dance and one of the founding members of the Judson Dance Theater. As part of artforum.com’s commemoration of Judson’s fiftieth anniversary, here Hay describes her work in the 1960s with the Cunningham Dance Company as well as with Judson—a moment that signaled for her both a departure from her formal training and a movement toward what would later become her signature practice. Hay’s new work, Blues, will be performed November 2–4 at MoMA as part of Ralph Lemon’s series Some Sweet Day.
WHEN I WAS EIGHTEEN, I went to the American Dance Festival in New London, Connecticut. Merce Cunningham was there that year and I used to sneak into his rehearsals at night. I would lie on the balcony of the theater where he worked with his company, watching them in silence. I was reconfigured on the floor of that balcony. I didn’t know exactly what was happening but it felt cataclysmic. After that summer I devoted myself to studying with Merce.
I studied with him from the age of eighteen to twenty-two. In 1964, I danced with the Cunningham Dance Company during a six-month tour through Europe and Asia. My husband at the time, Alex Hay, was the artistic assistant to Bob Rauschenberg, helping him with the company’s set production and design. Bob, Steve Paxton, myself, and Alex were very close then—we hung out a lot together. Before that tour it was proposed that I join the company as an understudy so I could travel with them. Fortunately or unfortunately, one of the company members left very early on, so I got to perform with the company during those six months, specifically in two pieces. After that tour ended in Japan, I never stepped into a dance studio again. I knew very clearly that I did not want to live that way—under the pressures that being in the company demanded. Merce was not an easy choreographer to work with and I think I agonized the whole time working with them—mainly because I couldn’t even get close to being as great as Carolyn Brown or Viola Farber, and I think wanting to be like them almost undid me. I was also working with Judson then. I knew that I wanted to do my own work—not necessarily that I had a strong aesthetic developed at that time, but I knew that my preference was to make my own pieces outside of the company structure.
Seeing the work of the artists who were involved with Judson really made me see dance in another way, especially in terms of working with untrained dancers. I think the artists were the ones who were bringing them in—Alex Hay and Bob Rauschenberg—and that was very attractive to me. It really shaped the beginning of my aesthetic in the second half of the ’60s. When I was at Judson, I feel like I was in the right place at the right time in a very democratic situation. I got to be in a lot of people’s work and present my own work and it was always accepted. I was very fortunate to be there.
I hadn’t really developed an artistic point of view yet. At Judson, I just did what I was told. I followed Robert Dunn’s weekly assignments like a dog. I mean I followed them, I did them, but I never really understood their aesthetic implications. My own aesthetic didn’t come to light until I left New York in 1970. It began to develop actually in the second half of the ’60s. I was making large group pieces, and I loved that if you put twenty people in front of an audience there’s so much to look at—you don’t have to even think about choreography much—you’ve got humanity before your eyes. It was so fascinating to me to see large groups of untrained dancers performing fairly complex arrangements of simple movement. There was nothing to hide behind—it was humanity unfolding before your eyes. I continued working primarily with large groups until 1996, figuring out what language I needed to develop and cultivate in order to “teach” dance without telling anybody what to do. That was sort of my goal during those years: How do you get a group of people dancing without telling them what to do?
Loris Gréaud, The Snorks: A Concert for Creatures, 2012, 35 mm, color, 28 minutes.
The Snorks: A Concert for Creatures is a new twenty-eight-minute film by French artist Loris Gréaud, starring David Lynch and Charlotte Rampling. The film is currently playing on several screens in Paris and will be shown as part of an international concert tour with Anti-Pop Consortium (who created the film’s subaquatic sound track) this fall and winter. Here Gréaud discusses how he came to make a movie about deep sea creatures’ glowing reaction to an underwater hip-hop concert.
MAKING A HIP-HOP CONCERT FOR SEA CREATURES was an incredible challenge—not least of all I had to explain to my parents that this is what I wanted to do! But it really became an obsession for me. My fascination with deep seas and the organisms living in them began when I saw a report on TV, which likened bioluminescent activity to “underwater fireworks.” The images of these creatures lighting up the dark water, creating so-called blooms, was so fascinatingly beautiful and also raised many questions for me. Without having a specific project in mind, I began to do a lot research. I found out, for instance, that bioluminescence is the most common form of communication on our planet and that we know more about the surface of the moon (where there is no life) than we do about the bottom of the ocean. My inquiries eventually led to meetings and collaborations with various experts—scientists, pyrotechnicians, and musicians. I met with researchers at MIT’s Sea Grant College whose experiments using certain frequencies to stimulate unicellular organisms had triggered bioluminescent blooms. They showed me grainy, low-res images and I was inspired. My quest became to find a way to diffuse music deep underwater. But it wasn’t until later that I decided to make a movie about the process and the results.
When I was considering what music to play to for the creatures, I immediately thought of Anti-Pop Consortium. I first heard the band as an art student and I remember feeling like I was listening to music from the future. Their arrhythmic beats and unique lyrics—a combination of philosophy, poetry, and hip-hop—was initially described as “Abstract Hip Hop.” So I met the band and explained my project, and they signed on to write all new music. I gave them carte blanche as long as they imagined that they were making music specifically for the underwater creatures.
Trailer for The Snorks: A Concert for Creatures, 2012
To make the concert, last March we launched a hydrophone from a submarine research station called Antares, which is one and a half miles below the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Toulon in France. This was the most difficult moment, but also the most beautiful. The underwater microphone was so powerful that we could actually hear the music from the boat. We didn’t have any live-feed images from below, but then suddenly all of the computers started blinking. This meant the creatures were blooming and we knew the experiment was working. The scenes you see at the end of the movie—the underwater fireworks!—represent the actual bioluminescent response to the broadcast of APC’s music.
I’m really excited by how this project—the film and the concert tour—can reach many different audiences. People interested in music, science, cinema, and art will all get something different out of it. The Antares researchers, for example, were game to do the experiment with me, but they didn’t necessarily think we would get a reaction. Now they are working on a scientific publication based on what happened during the “Concert for Creatures.”
New York–based artist Ross Bleckner is known for painting a spectrum of subjects—from pulsating lines in his resurrection of Op art in the 1980s to the magnified cellular structures of autoimmune diseases in the 1990s. In his new exhibition, “Birds & Brains & Flowers,” which is on view until December 15 at Jablonka Galerie in Cologne, natural memes dissipate in auratic light from deep within their figurative skins. Bleckner speaks here about homosexuality as a conceptual model for the correlative conditions of exterior familiarity and interior determinacy.
OBVIOUSLY, THERE ARE A LOT OF GAY ARTISTS, especially the younger ones from my generation, like Felix González-Torres, who addressed this feeling of being marginalized romantically and sexually, through longing and despair, joy, and generosity. There was a whole conceptual element to it. But when you look at his work, there’s something that’s really heartbreaking. The way those candy piles twinkle, it’s incredibly beautiful—the awe of something that’s distant.
I was thirty-two when it happened. I was scared that I would be dead within ten years. There were no tests back then so I had just assumed. AIDS brought a total paradigm shift in consciousness, a rupture. I was lucky. I was going through my needlessly monogamous phase, not because I believed in it but because it just happened. I’m glad I had a boyfriend.
For a long time, I was falling in love with straight male artists and it was a nightmare. It was so much about yearning. What became logical for me in the ’80s was this sense of loss and its commemoration in a rupture between representation and abstraction, between my stripe and figurative paintings. How do you keep yourself engaged when everything that passes, from experience to memory, always constitutes a loss? It’s like a photograph. This thinking led to paintings that have a distant, near, real, and literal light—a landscape light. I made them and then I would ask myself what they were about. Were they stripes? Were they optical?
The experience of making a painting is very important to me—its physicality and its visceral connection to an engaged truth, which is determined by the reference to how an idea accords. I became an artist at a time when painting was “dead”; this was really the predominant ideological discourse in art back then. So much of postmodernism has to do with what is skill-less. Naturally, that was good for me because I already felt a little marginal to begin with. I didn’t feel like I was part of the neo-expressionists that came right before me, even though they were my friends. Julian Schnabel was kind of a big father-bear type. I always used to kid around and say we were like the two sides of a coin. He was the security and I was the insecurity; he was the self-assurance and I was the self-doubt. I found his ability to project inspiring. But much of the neo-expressionist work is heterosexual; there’s a bravura ethos about its masculinity. It got to be too much because it was repetitive. They were trying to subvert representation from within but couldn’t.
My work is more elliptical. I think it’s more sensitive to being open to different kinds of relationships, all the various routes that are possible to find a solution. Admittedly, there’s a hardness in some of the work too, and if I were heterosexual, that would be it. But then a softness arises that even repulses me sometimes because I think it might be too decorative. I know that’s kind of a pejorative term in the art world, but the idea of beauty has always been fascinating to me, because it can be like skin with its different levels of decor—a jewel, a piercing, a tattoo. But once I do something on the outside, I must investigate the image from the inside. Sometimes that can be frightening, like the overexpression of cells that mutate and become something they’re not supposed to be. It’s necessary to have X-rays done to see if everything is working internally.
So I did paintings of blood cells and the AIDS virus and cancer cells. I never said they were realist, but they totally were. I wouldn’t have done it if my paintings, which I make in a contemplative arena, didn’t point out to me that the world of our parents and of progress was broken. The can-do ethos of industrial optimism had been replaced by fears of early mortality.
Since then, I’ve really internalized that sense of mortality. I don’t want my paintings to be alike. Even in this show, there are flowers, brains, and birds. I begrudgingly call some of these my “flower paintings” even though they’re not really flower paintings. They were flower paintings. I first paint them really carefully, like a still life. Then I scrape off all that paint with a palette knife. A flower has such a short life span; it blooms and it is so majestic at its height but then it just falls away. I find pleasure in painting them and then seeing what happens when they become just a trace of something left. I’ve always been amazed by what’s not there anymore.
I’ve also always been obsessed with obituaries. Everybody worships something, but you can choose what it is you worship. Actually, David Foster Wallace said that, not I. Your artwork looks like your personality in the end. I’ve always said that. I’ve tried to develop a signature style. Perhaps some of the paintings have been more about real life than anything else.
Ross Bleckner, untitled, 2011, oil on linen, 18 x 18”.
Ross Bleckner, untitled, 2011, oil on linen, 18 x 12”.
Ross Bleckner, untitled, 2012, oil on linen, 84 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, My Sister’s Brain, 2012, oil on linen, 84 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, Overhead and Below, 2012, oil on linen, 72 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, untitled, 2012, oil on linen, 72 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, Handful after Handful, 2012, oil on linen, 72 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, Created Things Have Ways, 2012, oil on linen, 84 x 72”.