Dana Levy, The Wake, 2011, video, color, sound, 5 minutes 24 seconds.
New York–based Israeli artist Dana Levy is known for her poetic video and photographic works, which often investigate boundaries between the natural and man-made. Her first artist’s book, World Order, was published this month by the Center for Contemporary Arts Tel Aviv and Braverman Gallery in affiliation with Sternthal Books. Levy’s solo exhibition at Galerie Ron Mandos in Amsterdam is on view until November 24.
FOR THIS BOOK, I wanted to focus on nature and history. I’m very interested in how a story can give meaning to the most mundane objects. The monograph begins with an image of a path in woods that leads to the caves featured in my new video Refuge. I read a short article a few years ago in The Guardian about these caves in Caen, France, which is about an hour away from Le Havre, where I participated in a residency program last year. Thousands of people hid in them during the summer of 1944, protecting themselves from the bombing of the Allies. I was intrigued, so I contacted Laurent Dujardin, the historian mentioned in the article, and we went there to film. I ended up making a dual-channel video that documents the remains in the caves—everyday items such as a comb, a mirror, and a tin cigarette box. The work focuses on the few selected objects that the refugees brought with them—so here a shoe is no longer just a shoe; it becomes a symbol for man’s struggle to survive in the midst of war.
As you flip through the book you encounter my latest video work, Dead World Order, which was filmed at Maison de l’Armateur, one of the few houses in Le Havre that remained intact after the city was completely destroyed in the bombings of 1944. The house is filled with artifacts collected at the time: rare shells, a gun collection, old musical instruments, and taxidermy. In the film, the museum’s curator Elisabeth Leprętre walks through the space and organizes these artifacts; she too appears to be trapped in time. I’ve become fascinated with objects, perhaps because as a filmmaker I don’t make “objects” per se as painters and sculptors do. I’ve always been drawn to secretive places that I’m not supposed to be in. I’m really an explorer at heart. The book’s designers, Koby Barhad and Noa Schwartz, understood that aspect of my work and suggested to create a picture book with the texts as a separate insert. In the end, the texts are inside the book but separate from the images. I like the challenge of telling a dramatic story without a dialogue, and in a way that’s what happens in the book. I wanted the images to provoke curiosity and emotion without explaining too much.
Dana Levy, Dead World Order, 2012 (excerpt)
As an Israeli, you carry a past: biblical stories, the Holocaust, and wars. There is always a dualism between the past and the present. I also find that there usually is a dualism in my work: something whole, something broken; something wild, something tamed; nature and man; life and death. For The Wake, which I made in 2011, I searched for a location where I could find plenty of specimens of butterflies categorized in drawers, and brought one hundred live butterflies to fly in the Invertebrate Zoology Room at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. I remember when Dr. John Rawlins, head of the section where the work was filmed, asked me why I wanted to do this work. My answer to him was simple: “Why do poets write poems?” He approved and very generously permitted me to film there. I finished editing just as the Arab Spring had begun. It suddenly became clear that, for me, the work was about an awakening from an obedient slumber into a revolution.
View of “Wendell Castle: Wandering Forms, Works from 1959–79,” 2012. Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut. (Photo: Alyson Baker)
Over the past five decades Wendell Castle has created furniture works with organic forms in wood, plastic, and metal. An exhibition of his most celebrated pieces is on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut through February 20, 2013, and another exhibition at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville runs November 29–February 4, 2013. Two concurrent gallery shows at Barry Friedman Ltd. and Friedman Benda in New York can also be visited until February 9. Here, Castle discusses some of the ideas underpinning his prolific works.
I HAD SOME SLIGHT INTEREST, but never really considered furniture as a career. My breakthrough came in graduate school. I was using plywood to make a box with drawers, and my sculpture instructor made a derogatory comment about how I was wasting my time making furniture. It prompted me to think: Why isn’t furniture art? So in 1959 I made Stool Sculpture and never mentioned to my instructor that it could also be a piece of furniture. To test my success—that one couldn’t tell the difference between furniture and sculpture—I entered it in a juried show at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in 1960. It was accepted and exhibited as sculpture. Interestingly, I had the highest price of anything in the show.
Sculptors like Brancusi, Arp, Miró, Henry Moore, and architects like Gaudí influenced the vocabulary I began to use. I wanted to get volume into furniture, which typically didn’t really have volume. I was fortunate because I didn’t have any idea how to make furniture—I kind of invented a new technique that came from the sculpture world where you laminate, by gluing up blocks of wood, and then you carve. I didn’t really know how to make dovetail joints, how to veneer, or how to do parquetry. I didn’t know how to do any of these furniture things—but I knew how to do sculpture things.
When there were group exhibitions, I’d usually get the attention of the press—I was making something peculiar. We were the top people in the 1960s: Wharton Esherick (the elder statesman), Sam Maloof, George Nakashima, and Art Carpenter. But I was very different. Other furniture makers thought I was wasteful, that I was misusing wood. “You let the wood tell you what to do; you let the character of the wood influence the design.” I never felt it should. I thought of wood just like clay—I’d make it do whatever I wanted.
I wanted my work to be considered on an equal basis with fine arts. In the 1960s I thought, if I could just sell a table for $2000—since you could buy a piece of sculpture for $2000—then I’d be up there with the rest of the fine artists. I remember the day I sold a coffee table for $2000, and realized it didn’t mean anything. By virtue of its function, it wouldn’t ever be considered a work of art. I never thought I’d make nonfunctional furniture: I don’t make a chair that’s impossible to sit in or a cabinet impossible to get anything in. I believe in function, but it’s not the most important part. The form is most important. I like softer forms, some borrowing from nature, but I never wanted to do a literal figure; instead I wanted things to be bit more figurelike.
During the Pop period, color was very important. Initially, in 1968, I tried to paint wooden pieces, but that didn’t give me the surface quality I wanted, like automobile forms and surfaces. The only way to get that would be to go to fiberglass, and to keep the vocabulary simple. The first things I made were the Leotard Table in 1967 and the Molar Chair in 1968. George Beylerian asked me to expand the Molar line into an unlimited edition. But plastics are not pleasant to work with. In 1972, I went back to wood.
The works in the Aldrich show, which are from 1959–79, are valued highly on the secondary market. Right after, I moved to doing more trompe l’oeil wood pieces but realized that anyone can do that. No one else could do what I’m doing with the organic pieces. For instance, with Environment for Contemplation from 1969 or Library Sculpture from 1965—where two chairs hang on a treelike element with a lamp on top and a desk at the back—nobody’s made anything remotely like that. I own that vocabulary.
In my work today, there are real volumes. In December, at Friedman Benda, I’m going to have by far the biggest piece I’ve ever produced: forty-five feet long, and fifteen feet at the tallest part. My vocabulary is certainly organic still, using the same technique from the ’60s, bringing together wood and carving it by hand, but we’re joining the digital age: 3-D printing, laser cutting, a machining robot.
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?