Alexandre Singh is an artist and writer based in New York. For “The Pledge,” Singh has photocopied hundreds of drawings and found images, framing and connecting each across the gallery with lines of hand-drawn pencil dots. The exhibition is based on a series of interviews Singh conducted with scientists, artists, writers, curators, and filmmakers in 2011, each of which is included in Palais de Tokyo’s Palais Magazine #14, as part of a special issue created by Singh. “The Pledge” opens January 17, 2013, at the Drawing Center in New York and runs through March 13. It is Singh’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States.
AS AN ARTIST I HAVE THE LIBERTY TO CHEAT. Every interview is essentially a fiction—including this one you’re reading right now. Yet every editor, as they’re willfully jumbling up and rearranging their interviewee’s words, feels a constant compulsion to not stray too far from what was really said. I don’t have that. So much of this workbased on interviews with curator Marc-Olivier Wahler, filmmaker Michel Gondry, neurobiologist Leah Kelly, screenwriter Danny Rubin, artist Simon Fujiwara, theater director Alfredo Arias, and critic Donatien Grauis instead about trying to find a way to express the very essence of their ideas. Cheating makes this a whole lot easier—I can take Gondry and put him in a bizarre dream taking place on a TGV train with Pablo Picasso sitting right across from us. I can place my subject in a dozen different places all at once, the kind of magic you can’t do in real life. Everything in these phantasmagoric worlds exists only to amplify the interviewees’ own ideas.
The title of this exhibition is taken from a 1995 novel about two illusionists named The Prestige by the British science fiction author Christopher Priest, later adapted for film in 2006 by Christopher Nolan. In both the book and film, it’s explained that a magic trick consists of three parts: The Pledge, in which the magician presents you with an ordinary situation or object; The Turn, wherein the magician transforms that same object, or quite often makes it disappear; but the trick can’t end here—the viewer demands resolution—if you saw your assistant in half, you can’t just leave her like thathence the third part: The Prestige. It’s that pleasurable moment of resolution when the assistant is put back together again and the crowd roars: “Bravo!”
A lot of my work involves the mechanisms of storytelling. How is it that one comes to understand a world, be it real or fictional? What I like about the notion of The Pledge in a magic trick is that it implies an insidious corruption. One takes it as a given that the first things you see are true. The spectator then closely observes everything that follows, anticipating the trick. But they’ve already missed it. You see the whole premise was a lie.
The way we think isn’t linear; nor is it completely rhizomatic. I’d say it’s rhapsodic, which is to say that you have a story or a progression of multiple ideas with many little cul-de-sacs and digressions—and then there are digressions within the digressions. Eventually you always get back to the main thrust of the tale, even if that main thrust is made up of three of four concurrent ideas.
I grew up reading Time-Life encyclopedias. They had such a positive, almost naively utopian view of society, progress, and technological change that I think has completely disappeared in our time. Many of the images in the show are constructed out of photocopies from those same encyclopedias. There are also a lot of images derived from Flickr and Google Images, and books from the New York Public Library. My process involves a constant back and forth between analog and digital—photocopying and collaging, and then maybe scanning back in and further manipulating, reprinting and again drawing in or collaging. Everything is black-and-white, which serves to decontextualize each image from its original source and historical period.
I think throughout the twentieth century we tended to overvalue what’s new about modernity. In reality, we exist in all eras at the same time; we’re constantly interfacing with the past. There’s a short essay by Borges called “Kafka and His Precursors”: Rereading Kafka one day, Borges is struck by all these stories from the past that now seem so Kafkaesque. This is of course because now he has the lens of Kafka through which to reinterpret these writers. Borges implies that every new artist causes the past to become deeper and richer. The past isn’t a dead, fixed place but one to which we’re constantly looking back to, discovering things, seeing things anew. I think that’s liberating.
Left: Spread from LIFE Magazine Vol 56, no. 26 (June 1964). Paul Welch, “Homosexuality in America.” Photo: Bill Eppridge. Right: Nayland Blake installing “FREE!LOVE!TOOL!BOX!,” 2012–13.
Nayland Blake is an artist, teacher, activist, writer, and kink enthusiast who explores the ways in which artmaking and community construction can mutually inform each other. His latest show, “FREE!LOVE!TOOL!BOX!,” is on view at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco through January 27, 2013. Blake will also have a solo exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York from February 2 to April 19, 2013.
I HAD BEEN READING the historian Gayle Rubin and I ran across these descriptions of the Tool Box, which was a San Francisco leather bar that opened in 1962. The Tool Box was not only San Francisco’s first gay-owned leather bar, but was also featured in a June 1964 article in LIFE titled “Homosexuality in America.” This was the first major magazine article to talk about homosexuals and depict leathermen in three cities: New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The story that the article tells about San Francisco concerns the Tool Box and the Mattachine Society—a homophile group that began in 1950 and worked for the acceptance of homosexuals within American society. That story in many ways was the start of a gay migration to San Francisco. It became a contributing factor to the queer culture in San Francisco becoming even more concentrated. The Tool Box was torn down in the late 1960s as part of San Francisco’s SoMa redevelopment plan. The Yerba Buena Center is part of the final portion of that redevelopment plan.
For my show at Yerba Buena, I wanted to look at the city in the early ’60s as well as a period in the early ’90s, a time when I lived in San Francisco, as eras in which there was an invention of a new kind of gay or queer identity based around spaces, bars, and clubs. The 1990s were a time of liberation––post–Queer Nation, but before there was investment in the gay marriage and the gay military model. That’s something that gained force in the late ’90s through the 2000s and, to my mind, hijacked the activist moment that was interesting and inventive about rethinking ideas around gender and sexuality. The idea was to take that space in Yerba Buena and reactivate it—to make it less of a showcase for my work and more of a platform for people to come together to think about these ideas of liberation by hosting workshops, lectures, and informal classes.
As an artist, I am most excited not by those moments of definition but by those moments that lack definition. To me the best thing about a movement like Occupy is the refusal of a narrative and a goal. That’s what these two previous moments felt like. I wanted to construct a space that is a great party celebrating creativity and also one that offers an examination of these previous eras, suggesting therein that institutions can learn from leather bars. Recently I have been spending a lot more time in the kink and BDSM worlds than I have been spending in the art world. This is in part because I feel there is a kind of creativity going on in those spheres that is coupled with the knowledge that there is never going to be a “valid” career in them. Furthermore, the audiences are also participants.
One of my pet theories is that there was a situation in the mid-’60s into the mid-’70s where there was a rise of bodily based performance art and at the same time there was an increase in consciousness raising, discussion, and organization among sexual minorities. These are two groups of people who were doing the same thing, often literally. And what happened was that an idea became popular, one stemming from people like Norman O. Brown who said that transformations in the consciousness of bodily expression could result in transformations in societal structures. The civil rights model that mainstream gay activism has been engaged with in recent years doesn’t buy into this notion, however. It doesn’t want to transform society. It just wants to ensure equal access to all of the benefits to the current society. To me, the amazing potential of art—and this is where I see my relationship to Beuys—is that transforming society and art consciousness can provide us with different sorts of models for social organization.
We continually need to ask ourselves what we mean by “success.” I feel like part of the interest that people have in this activist moment from the 1960s is tied to this index of success. If your index of success is finding romance, finding someone to be with, or just having someone excited about doing something, then you are fortunate. Throughout history, making art has been about visualizing and creating community. I suggest that if we are going to talk about activating spaces, let’s actually talk about it instead of these twee notions of interactivity.
Candice Breitz, The Rehearsal, 2012, six-channel video installation, color, sound.
Candice Breitz is an artist whose practice delves into the nature of identity production through the circuits of mass media. Here she discusses her video trilogy The Woods, which comprises The Audition, The Rehearsal, and The Interview, works that were shot respectively in Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Lagos in 2012. They are on view in “Candice Breitz: The Character” until March 11, 2013 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.
I HOPED THAT THE WOODS, as a title, might evoke the fictional space of fairy tales and folklore, a space in which morals and norms are passed on to children via entertaining stories. But the title also quite literally takes what the three film industries that were my point of focus—Hollywood, Bollywood, and Nollywood—nominally have in common, to hold the three works together as a trilogy. The three chapters in the trilogy all incorporate child actors or actors who are known for performing childhood.
When I came up with the first tentative concept for the trilogy in 2008, I didn’t know exactly where I was headed. I was at the end of a very isolated editing process, having just completed Him + Her, a found-footage installation that kept me in editing quarantine for three years. Having spent more than a decade thinking about the affective resonance and social impact of mass entertainment—predominantly of the American variety—I was a little Hollywooded out. I was feeling fatigued by the standard blockbuster fare of the Western mainstream that had been my point of departure for quite some time, but also a little bored with my own circulation—as an artist traveling to install exhibitions or shoot new work—between a variety of predictable art contexts.
Along with considering new contexts, I was specifically interested in working with children. Children are always understudies in a sense, observing and aping adults—and the culture of adults—to model themselves into social beings. I’m interested in what might be understood, for example, about the mechanics of walking when you watch a young child put on a parent’s shoes and stumble across the room, or about the theatricality of self-presentation when you watch a young child apply makeup in imitation of an adult, or about the structure of language when you listen to a young child repeating phrases or sentences borrowed from an adult or older sibling: the thousands of tiny acts of mimicry that accumulate into selfhood.
In the case of The Audition and The Rehearsal, the idea was to let kids try on the kinds of voices and roles that would usually belong to adults. The fact that the kids are not always able to smoothly pull off the adult opinions that they parrot, not always able to convincingly master the nuances of a particular phrase or line, creates an opportunity, I think, to observe the labor that is involved in playing a role, the grinding of gears that occurs as an actor turns on for the camera, assuming a different posture or gaze to create a character, attempting to turn off his or her self. I wanted to capture these mechanics, the moments in which actors shift into and fall out of character, points of tension between the staged naturalism of a convincingly portrayed character and the supposed naturalism of the self that bleeds through as the character slips away. Adult actors would have been far more adept at masking this labor, at rendering it invisible. Whereas The Audition and The Rehearsal involve children trying on adulthood, the two Nollywood stars who appear in The Interview—Chinedu Ikedieze and Osita Iheme—are full-fledged professionals. This last chapter of the trilogy mimics the approach of an actual celebrity interview, the twist being that the showbiz success of the two adult interviewees is based on the pair having stripping away their adulthood to become children for the camera repeatedly over a decade.
The three works in the trilogy all in some way return to the interview scenario. The interview is assumed to be a platform that allows the self to reveal itself, to show its truth, which is why I was interested in threading interview conventions through the three chapters in the trilogy. An interview is expected to portray its subject without artifice, without contrivance, which is really not possible. The performance of a self is every bit as contrived and subject to the forces of convention, in my opinion, as an actor’s on-screen performance of a character. Maintaining a sense of selfhood means constantly reflecting or responding to other versions of selfhood that are being performed in close or distant proximity—in much the same way that actors must calibrate their performances in response to those of their on-screen counterparts. While for each of us—depending on the particular constraints of the context in which we enact individuality—there may be some conscious shaping of our roles, the role that any self plays is to a large extent shaped by forces that we can not steer, and to a large extent unfolds unconsciously.
Simone Forti, Platforms, 1961. Performance view, Loeb Student Center, New York University, 1961. Foreground: Robert Rauschenberg. (Photo: Peter Moore)
In this coda to artforum.com’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Judson Dance Theater, Robert Morris reflects on the group’s influence on twentieth-century art history as we know it (or perhaps as we don’t). Morris was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1931 and moved to New York in 1961. You can read his initial entry for the series here.
A JUDSON p.s.
Looking back half a century to the days of Judson Dance, it is difficult not to historicize a little. After all, the work that emerged from that time and place did not come out of nothing. In the larger sense it continued the project launched half a century before, when Marcel Duchamp christened that hulking hull of modernism with the fizzy champagne bottle of the readymade. John Cage’s subsequent explorations of chance and indeterminacy were well known by the early 1960s. The awe of 4'33" was part of the conversation. But perhaps the more significant precedent for the new dance seen at Judson was the work of Simone Forti. As part of a series of performances and events organized by La Monte Young at a loft on Chambers Street in 1961, Forti presented an evening of radical dance works that attacked the notion of dance as a format that required the trained body of the dancer. “Ordinary movement,” she called it. She presented large objects for the bodies of the performers to negotiate and taxing “rule games” for them to follow. The efforts required negated any possible presentation of the pulled-up, narcissistic dance persona. Athletic workers were required to crawl over her inclined boards while hanging on to ropes, or to climb over one another in an ever-renewing “huddle” of bodies scrambling up bodies. Forti did not participate in the later events at the Judson, but her work was quickly known and the changed premises she claimed for dance were influential.
A number of dancers who presented works at Judson had previously or were currently studying with Merce Cunningham. Here was a choreographer who utilized Cagean methods of chance to assemble his dances. Yet the classically trained ballet dancer was Cunningham’s instrument. Forti’s work challenged and rejected this classical requirement for dance. Though neither Cunningham nor Forti presented works at the Judson, their shadows hung over the works seen there. Some were influenced by Cunningham’s traditional methods; others exhibited the influence of Forti’s more radical premises; some combined the two.
A thread runs from Duchamp to Cage to Forti and is part of the larger story of modernism. All share a common strategy I can only name as “agency reduction.” It has to do with finding methods and procedures that either eliminate previously assumed premises or automate the process of artmaking by reflexive systems found within the medium itself. An early example is Cubism’s rejection of salience, which opened up a new type of space for two dimensions. The readymade’s substitution of choice for labor is so familiar as to go unnoticed today. And for the performative: The tactics of indeterminacy, chance, rule games, the interposition of barriers (objects), which redefine movement, all follow in the overarching strategy of agency reduction endemic to modernism. The poet Elizabeth Bishop called the twentieth century the “worst so far.” Dada celebrated the insane irrationality of the first Great War. Sixty million perished in the Second World War. Finally, in the widest sense, I think the strategy of agency reduction extends beyond aesthetic issues. Underlying it are ethical doubts about legitimacy itself, which poses the question: In the face of the nightmare that was the twentieth century, how is the agent to act, and what can justify and authorize his or her actions? It should come as no surprise that this skepticism of authority should reverberate in aesthetic practices.
I do not recall having seen at Judson any performers who were obese, lame, or old, and there were few nonwhite performers. Was there a slight sheen of forgivable narcissism glowing on those young, white, energetic types? Did the self-critical have much weight among the enthusiastic participants? Has a certain mythical ethos come to color those innocent evenings? Well, it was before careers were made, dance companies formed, professions assumed, individual styles patented, iconic images fixed, histories sorted out and laid claim to. But all things considered, a good time seems to have been had by all.
A Diaodui, A Project of Talking About After Life, 2012. Performance view, Ullens Center of Contemporary Art. (Photo: Peter Le)
Paula Tsai is curator of “SEE/SAW: Collective Practice in China Now,” an exhibition on view at the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art until December 30. “SEE/SAW” features fourteen different emerging Chinese collectives that are rotating their work in one-week durations in a dedicated UCCA gallery. The collectives have staged performances, interventions, and mini-exhibitions in the space.
“SEE/SAW” IS A SERIES OF CONFRONTATIONS. The six-week challenge of showing fourteen collectives in the same space was a rigorous exercise that required continuous dialogue with each group. The idea for the show came about during a research trip to meet with artists and collectives in Shanghai and Hangzhou. I was traveling with Bao Dong and Sun Dongdong, curators for the concurrent UCCA group show “ON | OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice.” I further developed the idea during an ICI Curatorial Intensive session at UCCA that focused on new exhibition formats within an institution.
We approached “SEE/SAW” by keeping in mind that UCCA itself is a collective that provides exhibitions and public programs. Although the institutional role did not change dramatically, the participating groups have certainly challenged and expanded the expectations of the museum staff: for example, when A Diaodui took a nap in the space, or when Double Fly Art Center wanted to paint in the space after the center closed, or when the Museum of Unknown proposed selling an artwork by another artist in our space.
There is not a single city or place where collectives are being formed in China. You have collectives who originally met in academia—such as Irrelevant Commission and Double Fly Art Center at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, or 8mg at Sichuan Fine Art Institute. Other collectives, like Guest, have members who met in different places and are working between two cities. The DNA of these groups are also very different—sometimes you have obvious leaders in the case of LVXIAO or Art Praxis Space, and sometimes you have groups like Hexie Baroque whose members prefer to remain anonymous. The gender ratio is very similar to the status quo of individual practice in China—there tend to be fewer female artists.
I never thought that we would have so many collectives agree to show their work in such a small space and for such short periods. To my surprise, every collective accepted our invitation and they have all been enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with an institution. I think it’s important for collectives that are based in other cities—such as Museum of Unknown and TOF, who are both from Shanghai, Art Praxis Space from Chengdu, and 8mg from Chongqing—to be visible in Beijing.
The collective movement has become more active lately in China because the artists have been more open to different projects initiated by several for-profit and nonprofit spaces, and various curators. In addition, many of the artists who were born during the reform generation now have access to an abundance of information, which requires a processing capacity beyond that of a single artist. Increased collective activity can also be attributed to the fact that more and more artists are seriously and openly questioning the problems within the ecosystem of the Chinese art community.
It is hard to say whether this trend will last or die in this country. Many of these artists have individual practices and it will always be difficult for them to coordinate the time spent on their own individual and a collective practice. More important, individuals within collectives producing collaborative works might question whether it is necessary to distance their individual practices from their collective work.
Tracey Emin, Reversable, 2012, gouache on paper, 40 x 54".
In simultaneous shows at the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, White Cube São Paulo, and at Galleria Lorcan O’Neill in Rome, London-based artist Tracey Emin is exploring new territory, and she hasn’t been back home in over a month. One year from now, she will have her first US solo museum exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami. Emin spoke with artforum.com in Miami during Art Basel, just after the opening of her solo exhibition at White Cube São Paulo, which inaugurated the space and closes February 23, 2013. Sitting poolside at the Soho Beach House, as bare models and celebrities strutted by, Emin related her thoughts about rising to the surface of things.
IT SOUNDS SIMPLE, but when I was young, I used to draw myself in the mirror. There was an immediate intimacy, a closeness that was visually touching when drawing from the reflection. Other times, I would just draw myself from my mind. But I’ve gone from being a girl to an old woman really fast. The middleman never existed for me. When you have children, you can identify your life in stages by viewing them outside of you. I never had that. In these new drawings, there’s this space. Photographs are first taken of me, then I draw what’s in them. When I’m being photographed, I try to feel how I want the drawing to look. I kept seeing myself in chairs, but from a long way above or on furniture or alone at a table. So they’re from the outside. I’m looking back at myself. I’m outside, looking back in.
Have you ever had a dream where the dream takes place in the room that you’re actually in? Last night, I dreamt that I was sitting at a table opposite my mum and someone else, though I didn’t know who that person was. They didn’t really have a face. My mum looked the same but a lot younger and she was telling me how great this new friend was. They had even gone and had fillers and Botox together. My mum is eighty-five, so it’s quite strange for anyone of that age to have had these things done. But she looked quite good. And then the phone rang in real life and it was her.
Men don’t look at me anymore. They don’t look at me sexually. My body is like a barrel and it’s on two spindly things. On top of the barrel is a kind of mop. And I really hate my breasts. It would be so easy for me to be with women. Women find me really attractive. And of course I find some of them attractive, but in the end I want a really hard fuck. I’m looking to get what I want. I might meet a woman some day and fall in love and it works. But I doubt it, because after a certain amount of time I’ll probably start staring at men’s crotches. It would have been different if I was married or had a partner to grow old with. But if you don’t, and you’ve been alone for a long time, the only person looking at you is yourself in that mirror.
In the Bering Sea, there are waves that are a hundred feet high but come from nowhere. They come up like a giant tongue. Boats and ships simply go missing. Where I grew up, we have gale force eight winds, just below hurricane. Margate is one of the windiest places in the world. When we were in school, I would ride the bus and would have to hold on to the stop while I waited. You would be blown away. We also have twenty- to thirty-foot waves. Not like those long waves that have all of that power, but a wave that was lifted up in the wind.
I don’t want to see what’s below that water. I have a boat too but I’m still not keen to know what’s underneath. Knowing my work, you’d think that’s all I’d be interested in: Tracey’s myopic point of view. But it’s not. I want to be on the surface now. I think it has to do with getting old and looking the way that I do, trying to understand and accept time. Whereas before I would have gone up and down and swam for a kilometer, now I don’t swim much either. It’s like every time I go for a deep plunge, I just end up drowning. If I were to keep drawing myself from my mind, I would still be drawing this spindly little figure with her legs wide open. Life isn’t like that anymore. It really isn’t. No one had sex on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the last time I had sex the person came so quickly. The thing about being fifty is that I’m no longer biological. The surface really becomes what’s around me. And that isn’t vanity; it’s sensitivity.