December 12, 2011 · Print This Article
Guest Post by Michael Milano
Among the many forms conceptual art of the 60’s and 70’s took, two major threads can be identified. The first, following Sol Lewitt’s definition of conceptual art in which the “idea becomes the machine that makes the art,”# is characterized by developing a set of rules or instructions that are then slavishly followed in the production of the artwork. The goal of this method of working is to limit or eliminate the subjectivity of the author by dividing the production of a work into two phases: a mental phase, which consists of planning, designing, and constructing a set of rules or system that will produce the work; and a second, manual phase, the physical construction of the art [object], in which the “execution is a perfunctory affair,” and where the “fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work, the better.”# The second major thread of conceptual art follows Joseph Kosuth’s definition that art should question the nature of art. This thread, characterized by its use and reliance on language, accepts the imperative that art ought to interrogate the foundations of its own being.
Karen Reimer’s work has explored both of these threads of conceptual art, albeit through the use of traditional craft methods and materials. In 2008 Reimer exhibited “Endless Set” at Monique Meloche Gallery. Following Lewitt’s definition, it is a highly systematic work that obeys a pre-established set of rules. The work is a set of pillowcases, pieced together from scraps of fabric, with a prime number appliqued onto it. “Each pillowcase is made of the same number of fabric scraps as the prime number decorating it, i.e. prime number 3 is appliqued onto a pillowcase made of 3 scraps of fabric. The white fabric prime number is the same inches high as itself, i.e., prime number 3 is 3 inches high. As the prime numbers get larger than the pillowcases, the excess white fabric is folded back and layered over. As the prime numbers get increasingly larger, there is more and more layering and they more completely obscure the pillowcase made of increasingly smaller scraps.”# The pillowcases retain their conventional dimensions (20 x 32 in.), but as the white appliqued prime number grows in size and increasingly obscures the multi-color fabric fragments, the excess material folded back upon itself gives the works increasing thickness and the appearance of mere stack of white fabric. The work is theoretically open ended, running off to infinity as the prime numbers do. However “Endless Set” will inevitably come to an end at the point in which the fabric scraps that make up the pillowcase support become too many and too small to physically stitch together. “Endless Set” also fruitfully disrupts the goal of working systematically, as defined by Lewitt, which sought to eliminate expressive content and problematize authorship. Rather than eliminating the subject, the author reappears in the form of handicraft, complicating the delineation between mental and manual labor. In “Endless Set” the hand returns devoid of expressionism, and the author returns equipped with an ambivalence about authorship. Because it is important that the work is hand-made, but irrelevant whether the artist’s own hand made the work, Reimer has converted the author from a who to a what: an author is present, but their specific identity is negligible. In this way, Reimer allows conceptual art to be embodied as well as abstract. While the idea is still the engine, it is a hand that is the machine which makes the art.
On the other hand, Reimer’s current show at Monique Meloche Gallery follows Kosuth’s definition. The work again consists of a number of standard size pillow cases hand embroidered/embellished with either text or image. The majority of the works are text based, consisting of quotes from poet Emily Dickinson, scientist Richard Feynman, art historian John Ruskin, and author Mark Twain, among others. A central motif, whether pictorial or textual, is the flower–a quintessential form of domestic embellishment. Some of the of the quoted texts warn against using flowers or flowery language, consistent with early modernism’s negative assessment of ornament. For example, in the embroidered Mark Twain quote, “Don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. An adjective habit, a wordy, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice,” the words flower and flowery are highlighted in red and struck through. It is this floweriness that is at the heart of the work, revealing its logic and its relationship to Kosuth’s definition of conceptual art. Because it is non-utilitarian and decorative, embroidery is inherently flowery; it is a useless, lyrical embellishment upon a utilitarian form. Reimer, however, by her choice of texts creates work that is simultaneously an embellishment (embroidery on cloth, that is not structurally integral), and an interrogation of embellishment (texts that question the function or justification of embellishment itself). Likewise, the treatment of the texts is not overly flowery, and yet their existence on the pillowcases can be described as nothing other than a flowery embellishment. In this context, the few works which actually picture flowers must be understood as tongue-and-cheek gestures, or at least “Sarcastic Flowers” as another pillowcase states.
Reimer’s work would be central to working out what a conceptual craft might mean. In this context, conceptual would merely mean that the idea is the most important aspect of the work; i.e. “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art,” or that craft, like art, must questions its own grounds for being. And by craft we would not necessarily mean craftsmanship, skill, specialization, or a fetishism of the handmade. We merely mean that labor (both mental and physical) can not be ignored; i.e. that it is integral to the content of the work. This is one of the things that a conceptual craft would have to offer the historical category of conceptual art: labor, whether mental or manual, is not negligible. The pillowcase embroidered with the Ruskin quote states: “I believe the right question to ask, respecting all ornament, is simply this; was the maker happy while he was about it?” Conceptual craft, however, would ask: was the maker rigorous and systematic in their making? did the maker interrogate or problematize the methods and materials they are employing? is the maker’s labor part of the content of the work? Reimer’s art answers yes to all these questions. Whether working systematically within a set of rules or using traditional craft techniques to question themselves, the work of Karen Reimer is a conceptual craft.
Karen Reimer’s exhibition at Monique Meloche Gallery is titled The Domestic Partnership of Heaven and Hell and runs from November 19 – December 31, 2011 (however, please note that the gallery is temporarily closed for repairs).
Guest Post by Jeriah Hildwine
Stephanie and I took the Metra to Hammond, Indiana, where Linda Dorman and Tom Torluemke picked us up at the station, and brought us back to their place. We ate pizza around their dining room table and then drank beer around a campfire in their backyard. (Linda drank Coke, Tom O’Doul’s.) Tom had built a perfect teepee fire, abashedly using compressed firestarters (which he called “cheating”) to light the fire.
They took us to Sidecar Gallery to see “Water,” a show of work by Tom Burtonwood, Holly Holmes, and James Jankowiak. Tom Burtonwood created a wallpaper of a computer-generated alphabet consisting of isomorphic perspective renderings of three-dimensional blocks (like Tetris pieces), each rendered in a different, simple pattern of marks. It looked like a 1980s visualization of some kind of data set, but in fact represented an alphabet or code. Apparently it incorporated QR codes which stored a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for a website that would decode the alphabet for you…but, lacking a smartphone, we didn’t try it. Burtonwood also created some small wooden sculptures that mimicked the form of the wallpaper.
James Jankowiak also created a wallpaper of sorts, covering several walls of the gallery with parallel strips of brightly colored plastic tape. But his major works are small, square, incredibly precise paintings of minutely varying shades of color. The works in this exhibition consisted of concentric circles. In one, each circle was a slightly different shade of blue. In another, a green torus vibrates electrically against a red field. In a third, blues, browns, and whites alternate on a beige field. One’s first thought is of course of sectioned Jawbreaker candies but a moment’s thought links them more closely with Josef Albers’ color studies.
Both Jankowiak’s and Burtonwood’s wallpapers served as backdrops for their own, and each other’s, small paintings and sculptures, turning the exhibition into more of a collaboration than a group show. In the front room was one of Holly Holmes’ recent wooden sculptures, in which thin strips of wooden lathe are bent into a complex, looping form, like a diagram of the flight of a bumblebee, or a crazy zero-gravity roller-coaster. I’ve seen a previous work of this type by Holmes, at Chicago Urban Arts Society, as part of Wood Worked, in which the material of the piece was left raw and unfinished. In Water, it was painted in blue and white. In each case the color and surface seemed an homage to the theme of the exhibition.
We had tickets for the 11:10pm South Shore Line Metra train home, but Sidecar was shutting down at 10pm, so instead of waiting around the train station in the cold for an hour after the show, Linda hooked us up with her friend Erik, who agreed to bring us back to Chicago. But, he said, we had to make what he assured us would be a brief stop at a friend’s birthday party. That’s how we ended up at Cisa Studio.
The birthday boy is this kid Flex, one of the guys who runs Cisa Studio in Hammond Indiana. I call him a kid because he’s full of youthful energy, but in fact this is the eve of his 40th Birthday. The vibe is like a house party or maybe like the office Christmas party for a tattoo parlor. Erik introduces us as we walk in the door, and everybody is so nice, welcoming us with warm handshakes and cold beer. The bathroom is immaculately clean, and the main space is stylishly decorated, with mood lighting and music befitting the occasion. We meet Flex, see some of his work (a portrait, in spraypaint on canvas, very realistically executed), and then he shows us the backyard.
This involves three layers: first, downstairs to an indoor, basement-like space where people gather to smoke around a big plywood table covered in drawings and graffiti writing. A massive digital printer sits against one wall. Signs advertise various services: fine art paintings, signs, and airbrushed images for your motorcycle helmet, gas tank, leather jackets, and cars. There’s a motorcycle helmet with an absolutely flawless airbrushed rendering of the comic book character Venom on it: more of Flex’s work.
From there we moved into the garage, where a classic car sat, grind marks showing bare metal through the primer: a work in progress, speaking of infinite potential. In the back corner, a motorcycle sported a Minigun-type cluster of barrels emerging from its exhaust pipes. I don’t know, but I imagine that they spin and belch fire when the motorcycle is running. I sat there, spinning the barrels by hand, entranced.
The backyard itself hosted a bench that had been airbrushed by some of Flex’s friends as part of a public art commission. I looked around, and admired the facilities: an absolutely gorgeous, spacious workspace. What’s more, Flex told me, their rent is less than what Steph and I pay for our bedroom-and-a-half apartment in Ravenswood! “This is why Indiana is the shit,” Flex explained. It’s hard to argue with that.
We smoked cigarettes, talked to the Cisa crew, and drank more beer. Then we were gathered, slowly and chaotically, into a rough herd, with the purpose of ambling down the alley to the studio’s exhibition space, a separate building a block down, to see Arte Muerte 2011, the 4th annual occurrence of this “Day Of The Dead” themed exhibition. On the way I met the crew’s photographer, the most heavily-tattooed guy there, long-haired, with a rock-and-roll aesthetic that goes some way towards explaining his nickname, “Tommy Lee.” To look at him you’d expect him to be biting the head off a bat or something, and turns out to be an incredibly sweet and super righteous dude.
Arte Muerte consisted of Day of the Dead altars and two-dimensional wall art, all encompassing themes of death, family, ancestry, tradition, ritual, and a Latino or Mexican cultural heritage. The aesthetic of the work ranged from psychedelic and graffiti to Aztec and Maya glyphic writing, Catholic saints, and plenty of skulls. What struck me most immediately about the show was that not a single thing in it felt ironic, exploitative, or appropriated: there weren’t sculptures of altars, they weren’t about altars, they were genuine and sincere embodiments of this tradition.
After checking out the exhibition we made our way back to the studios where some of the guys were breakdancing, and we all did tequila shots in celebration of Flex’s birthday. The Cisa studio crew talked to be about growing up together, and about how they hung out with Keith Haring when he was in Chicago. They showed me a picture of them all, years ago, hanging out with Haring. Erik mentioned working at Genesis Art Supply back in the day, and I asked him if he’d known Wesley Willis. They guys all started telling stories about hanging out with him back in the day, of setting him up in the store to sit there and draw. One of the guys proudly told me that Wesley had given him a drawing, which he still had. Another had Willis’ old Casio keyboard from when he was growing up.
Many hours, many stories, and many beers later, we were all feeling pretty ready to head out. Another couple was catching a ride with us as well. Erik DeBat, our ride, had made sure to moderate his consumption and was quite sober and fit to drive. The rest of us were all pretty sauced, but I was still pretty lucid, and due to my long-leggedness our fellow passengers had afforded me the front seat, so I had much opportunity for conversation with Erik. We talked about his work, and he gave me a copy of the catalog from a recent exhibition he’d had: Risk & Reward, at The Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, in August of 2011. I open it up, and I see this painting of The Hulk, and something looks familiar about it. The catalog essay is by Tony Fitzpatrick and it all falls into place: I’ve seen Erik’s work, and probably Erik himself, at Tony Fitzpatrick’s place. He gave me a card for an upcoming exhibition (Recursion, at 2612 Space) featuring Erik’s work as well as James Jankowiak, Mario Gonzalez Jr., Victor Lopez, and William Weyna. I wasn’t able to make it to that one, but he also told me that he’s got a show coming up at Firecat Projects, in May 2012. I generally make it to all of the openings at Firecat, but I’m looking forward to this one in particular.
Guest Post by Pamela Fraser
Two shows up simultaneously this month in New York seemed ripe for comparison, both having text at the heart of theatrical approaches to exhibition making. Great titles to both exhibitions, Matthew Brannon’s Gentlemen’s Relish and Michael Krebber’s C-A-N-V-A-S, Uhutrust, Jerry Magoo and guardian.co.uk Painting.
Matthew Brannon, installation shots, Casey Kaplan Gallery, Gentlemen’s Relish, 2011
Brannon’s show is a gallery-as-stage. Unlike the work of Karen Kilimnik, whose period-sets buttress the paintings that are always clearly the main event, Brannon’s set doesn’t read as way to situate or enhance objects, but as the work itself. The paintings and sculptural objects are props and backdrops in a scenario, playing subordinate to a whole, with the text perhaps, playing the leading role. The paintings are not approached as individual arenas of activity, but are more akin to decorative screens. As paintings, the gray-scale floral print patterns seem intentionally mild, so it’s not painting as object that sparks excitement here, but the refusal to be paintings in the customary sense.
The text in Brannon’s letterpress prints, drawings, and sculptures place the viewer inside of a plot involving a sexual frustration and deviancy. Bits of text can make one gasp (made me gasp) with their raw vulnerability, which is heightened by being packaged-not just within the pretenses of the well-mannered Noir-ish and WASPy worlds conjured, but by popping out of constraints in unexpected ways, amidst self-conscious play with forms of signification. The third-person narrative allows a psychological and emotional content to co-mingle with the pleasure and wit of the high-style artifice.
Krebber’s show, a few blocks north, is comprised up of tight rows of many uniformly sized canvasses on which the artist sketchily copied art blog pages from specific sources. The press release informs that he sees this activity as the following: “By parasitizing the negative socio-pedagogical influence networked painting, Krebber agency to hasten collapse.” Hard to tell if this is an awkward translation, art-speak, or poetic form, but it does let us know that the paintings intend to be parasitic, dependent creatures related to Brannon’s parts-of-a-whole; a curious and provocative approach.
selections from Michael Krebber, C-A-N-V-A-S, Uhutrust, Jerry Magoo and guardian.co.uk Painting, Greene Naftali, 2011
While the particular art-blog source material is made quite clear, Krebber’s signature light touch in this case renders things vague. I’m a fan of his sleight-of-hand approach to painting, and his self-described ‘empty appropriation’ strategy, but I began to wish the artist had been as trenchant and trashy as some of what he reproduced here. The artist as neutral copyist worked to great power and effect in Richter’s 18th October 1977, but with the art-world content, things feel a bit parochial and insider-y. Even after institutional critique, the subject of art world machinations and dialogues may be ripe for scrutinizing, but viewing these paintings apes the passivity of trolling the internet.
Dead (Tote), 1988, oil on canvas, 62×73 cm
Perhaps this is the point. Viewers leave the exhibition with the same diffused series of under-developed thoughts that we usually get from these sorts of dialogues. Krebber’s show is alternatively as engaging, and un-engaging, as blog posts are (acknowledging that this is a blog post). Alternatively, Brannon’s show is an immersive set-up that places the viewer inside of the production. In it, aridity and restraint work toward the making of an elegant, gripping thriller where everything is over-stylized, where plaintive characters are completely over the top. Yet one leaves the show with a convincing and forceful sense of haunting peculiarity.
Casey Kaplan Gallery
525 W21 St
Thru December 17th
C-A-N-V-A-S, Uhutrust, Jerry Magoo and guardian.co.uk Painting
508 W26 St, 8 fl
Thru November 19
Pamela Fraser is an artist represented by Casey Kaplan in New York and Galerie Schmidt Maczollek in Cologne, Germany. She lives in Charlotte, Vermont.
GUEST POST BY RACHEL MASON
Note: this is the last in a series of three posts guest-blogged by artist Rachel Mason centering on fellow artists, makers and exhibitors in NYC.
A few years ago I came across Cleopatra’s (or the idea of it anyway) because of a project that Lisa Cooley was organizing with the artist Frank Haines. (An incredible artist) She talked to me about doing a performance, which I thought would have been a lot of fun, but for one reason or other it didn’t end up happening and I ended up thinking that Cleopatra’s was a rock club or maybe a theater. I had no idea it was a gallery.
I started hearing more and more about this gallery space run by several women in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. When I finally ventured over to 110 Meserole Avenue, I experienced the reality of Cleopatra’s. It’s about 15 x 35 square feet and in addition to having a space in Greenpoint, earlier this year they expanded to a space in Berlin. There’s something about Cleopatra’s that I found instinctively exciting. I haven’t met Erin yet, as she lives in Berlin and runs the space there, but if she’s anything like the two Bridgets (Finn and Donahue) and Kate McNamara, who are the original women of Cleo’s, then I have complete confidence in what she must be doing too.
First off, the fact that they can do all this using a collective approach is a feat. My experience with collaborations is limited to playing in bands. Its a miracle when it functions and flourishes. Theirs is a story of early commitment–apparently they took on a 10 year lease never having met in person! Kate and Erin met at the lease-signing!
Even though all three women come out of the art world, and still are very much employed by it, their own approach really seems to me to be to try out a variety of ideas with regard to what it means to create an exhibit, as revealed by their recently closed exhibition by Montserrat Albores, Lynne Cook: Three Shows, which, as they state on their website, “aims to unravel the curatorial practice of Lynne Cooke.”
At first I didn’t understand what I was looking at when I went to the gallery, but then Bridget Finn opened up a black folder with pages and pages of emails and handwritten notes, markings on slide sheets, invoices, catalog essays, personal letters. These are the inner-workings of a museum curator’s world. This is how huge retrospective shows happen. The project, organized by curator Montserrat Albores, presents the archive of materials that Lynne Cooke amassed in presenting “Three Shows” from the years 1993, 1999, and 2007.
There was a moment when I thought that the most fascinating thing about the gallery was how many projects seemed to negate the gallery, like Tyler Coburn’s show, which after three years of existing in several other forms finally became a gallery show. Published as a short story and then made into a radio episode, and then finally, and lastly, landing as a gallery show.
But then I realized with this show, that you can’t just look at anything online really- the gallery has hard copies there for you to peruse, like an old-fashioned library. There isn’t any way to document it and put it online, even though its information ultimately came through the internet (like emails and airplane ticket records). You have to go to the gallery to see printouts if you want to see how much On Kawara’s artist fee is, or the original artist’s proposal to the museum director. How do these things happen? What gets the ball rolling? (Chantal Ackerman’s proposal was over 10 pages long!).
Alberes’s show is about a show, which is about a show, which will travel and become another show- and maybe a catalog, a book, or who knows. Its layers of meta- make perfect sense for a space like Cleopatra’s and I’m excited to see how they continue to play with the idea of being a gallery.
This summer I had the chance to work with them- which is what led me to write this piece. The two events they invited me to participate in were FLOAT, a curated show of performances at Socrates Sculpture Park and Eye In The Sky at the Re-Institute upstate in Millerton, NY.
Most people that perform have to check and cross check about 4 times all of the tedious technical details and the smallest thing can completely derail a show…and I was a little nervous heading out to the Re-Institute that there could be problems at this huge outdoor barn with multiple on-going performances happening all at once, but when they said “the PA is going to function and it will work and there will be someone there when you get there”, they meant it. They made these things happen. Even if that meant one Bridget (Finn or Donahue) hoisted an extension chord over a barn door while another directed 50 people over to a campground and somehow all the pieces come together including a gigantic yurt, by Chris Verene, who is presenting it again at Postmasters Gallery in NY.
I just want to express an appreciation of what I’ve seen as incredible and genuine teamwork… and how rare that is… and I feel like the artists and art which get created within Cleopatra’s reflects this thrilling spirit of excitement and comeraderie.
I think its why the gallery is a success and will continue to be one, and has been an incredible launchpad for artists and artists love them. I also think that they are redefining what a gallery is. And I think it is the future.
GUEST POST BY RACHEL MASON
Note: this is the second in a series of three posts guest-blogged by artist Rachel Mason centering on fellow artists, makers and exhibitors in NYC.
I ran into Mary Boom! at one of Louis V.E.S.P.’s Live TV Tapings in New York. Little did I know that Mary, or Bradford Nordeen, was about to be someone I would see a lot more of in the coming year- endlessly curating and creating events through Dirty Looks, his monthly platform for queer experimental film and video. Many of which I couldn’t attend, because… there were simply too many! He is an obsessive devotee of cinema made by gay, lesbian and trans artists- and he works tirelessly, to exhibit titles by those practitioners that he finds essential, to gaining a greater understanding of the queer canon – at least that’s how I see it – and we are the wealthier for it. I am so delighted to have seen some of the film and video work that I might have never seen otherwise, had it not been for Bradford knocking on doors, picking up reels and loading projectors, hosting rooftop screenings of Marie Menken, the Kuchar brothers, Joseph Cornell and Matthias Müller, and having galleries like Participant and PPOW Gallery get on board and offer their spaces as forums for this amazing and under-screened work.
I wanted to ask Bradford how he came to celebrate this work, do what he does and share more insights into Dirty Looks.
Rachel Mason: How did the idea for Dirty Looks come about ?
Bradford Nordeen: Dirty Looks was born out of my academic research. I had been writing at great length on the filmmaker Luther Price and, at first, I recreated his installation, Meat, 1990, at the Brooklyn alternative space, Louis V E.S.P. in order to gauge audience responses. Then I got my hands on another one of Price’s films, all of which are difficult to find, A, 1995, and incorporated that into a West Coast program that toured Los Angeles and San Francisco. I was invited by Robert Smith – almost immediately when the screenings hit Facebook – to present the program at the gallery that had just transitioned from Envoy Enterprises to NP Contemporary Art Center, and in talking with Robert to prepare for that screening, I guess we sort of realized that there was no regular, New York city programming to focus exclusively on queer experimental film – a film form that I think epitomizes queer subjectivity directly, as a structural counterpoint to more dominant methods narrative filmmaking. So I said, “then I’ll do it!” But everything really came together when I started working with Lia Gangitano at Participant Inc, who hosted Dirty Looks first and has been instrumental in every step of the process
RM: What did you envision it to be and how has it been manifested- or changed from that vision?
BN: From the start, Dirty Looks has always been conceived in very organic terms. I wanted the series to develop its own model and not force my ideas on it too greatly. It’s about the audience engaging with the work. Initially that meant folks laughing and having uncanny flashbacks for our first program, where we pitted the early short films of Curtis Harrington (Fragment of Seeking, On the Edge) alongside one of his Dynasty episodes. Dirty Looks’ mission, from the get-go, was to position historical artists or texts alongside more contemporary output, to showcase a lineage of queer aesthetic or narrative experience. And people REALLY embraced that – I think there’s a lot of really passionate people in New York right now who are trying to excavate these legacies – from the organizers and enthusiasts of the Queer/Art/Film program at IFC to the Que(e)ry Librarian Dance Parties. Like them, I’ve really taken to working with the artists and co-hosts in a very collaborative capacity. Co-organizing events with TRANSLADY FANZINE, Little Joe Magazine, [ 2nd floor projects ], SF and Queer Text reading series at Dixon Place, we’re all engaged in queer education and these creative legacies and we bring our own experience to the table, which is really thrilling – and audiences pick up on that too. It’s really so rewarding.
RM: What are a few memorable Dirty Looks Moments!?
BN: So far it’s been a really great year. Our first ever screening (this January) took place in the thick of a blizzard, and still, we ran out of chairs. When we were at Participant, during f. p. boué’s show, Infinite Instant, he had constructed this tiered pyramid that you could climb on and 20 or so folks used it for seating, first for the very architectural lesbian pirate epic, Madame X, and then for our mash-up program of Michael Robinson and Jack Smith. For the latter screening, an seemingly horrible circumstance turned wonderful when the soundtrack for the film turned up missing – which is how Jack really intended these works, to be layered with a live mix of records that he would basically DJ in the back of the room. Of course, Jack is not with us anymore, so I frantically contacted Jerry Tartaglia who restored the films in the 90s for some musical suggestions and the result was shocking and uncanny. Whole sound cues carried through from this random sound assemblage – I really felt like Jack was in the room. More recently, we successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign in which nearly 100 supporters helped us raise funds to continue the series. On the heels of that success, we hosted a terrific screening – our biggest yet – on the rooftop at Silvershed, showing films by the Kuchar brothers. Though it had been on the schedule for sometime, I got a call from the brothers’ SF gallerist (with whom we were collaborating on the event publication) and she informed me that the screening was scheduled for their 69th birthday! So, as befits their sensibility, we got ice cream cake and friend and filmmaker, Marie Losier, phoned them up so the entire rooftop could wish them a happy birthday. That was magical, especially since George passed away the following week.
RM: Tell us about Mary Boom….
BN: Mary Boom!, actually. Mary was a character that I developed as a joke for Scott Kiernan and Ethan Miller’s Manhattan Neighborhood Network variety show E.S.P. TV. Scott needed a host and I came back at him – in what I thought would be a joke. I said, “well, I’ll do it, if I can host it as Robin Byrd.” Byrd is this New York icon, probably on par with Los Angeles’ Angelyne. She’s been hosting this cable access sex show since the early 80s. Well, in truth, they’re still running the same programs shot from like 83 -87, or something, so it’s this strange time capsule you stumble upon when you’re flipping through channels, where this druggy sex maven is interviewing dated porn stars and fondling them. My lark had the justification of being “medium-specific,” since this was cable access being shot on VHS, and I felt that she was a snarky metaphor for the contemporary art market. So, of course, Scott’s response was, “COOL!” I called her Mary Boom!, a play on Mary Boone with a little bit of Joseph Losey’s trashy Tennessee Williams adaptation Boom!, starring Elizabeth Taylor, thrown in for good measure. So she’s kind of this messy, horrible power gallerist who takes stabs at dated art terms like “Identity Politics” without really bothering to understand them. And people really love her. She’s got FANS. Though Ms. Boom!’s kind of hit hard times now. She used to have a big Soho gallery and one of her recurring jokes addresses her “downgrade” to the Lower East Side. There’s talk – with Mary’s assistant, Coco – of doing a spin-off show that’s more structurally based on Byrd’s interview format, called ArtBoom!
RM: What do you think are some of the differences between more contemporary queer work and that of older generations – working in film.. and maybe we should be specific about eras here.. film, video, and now digital video…
BN: Well, I would say, first and foremost, the gallery factors SO much more into contemporary film/video/DV than it has in the past. It’s always been there, of course, but I think there’s currently a greater opportunity for moving image work to get out there, to get seen, to even make a couple dollars off of this format – and here I’m speaking to the avant-garde or experimental film, not feature-length Queer cinema á la Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, Rose Troche, etc. – which, in the past was not as readily the case. Also, academia and the internet have left really indelible imprints on contemporary queer output, and that, I think, is important to acknowledge. I mean, Ryan Trecartin is a youtube artist. I can’t see someone like Michael Robinson making his films without the kaleidoscopic format of internet, either, however nostalgically his works hark back to recently-outmoded media formats like video and, let’s face it, film. Someone like Ming Wong or even Conrad Ventur – whose work we exhibited in the Female Trouble program – takes a very academic approach to documentation and historiography – Ventur is presently refilming the surviving subjects of Andy Warhol’s screen tests, and Wong re-enacts classically melodramatic or “feminine” film scenes with racial hitches to these otherwise white sources. Both of these artists work in crisp video, so that medium tends to aesthetically pique their critiques. I think that many of the adept “older generations” are nimble and are, if not adjusting to the times, altogether, allowing their historical perspectives to inform their current work. Someone like Luther Price is never going to pick up a RED camera and start editing in Final Cut, but Luther is mining archival 16mm footage, re-editing it as he always has, but also immolating it in even more profound ways: burying it, marring it, handpainting it, so this already nostalgic format becomes fecund in its ability to evoke a distant or psychic past. That said, George Kuchar picked up a video camera when he was 45 and changed the game as far as video art was concerned – long after his early film works. Recently, he was excited to start working with digital 3D cameras, so it’s a really case-by-case basis!
Rachel Mason’s work has been shown at the Detroit Museum of Contemporary Art; the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle; the James Gallery at CUNY; the University Art Museum in Buffalo; the Sculpture Center in New York; Andrew Rafacz Gallery; Marginal Utility Gallery; The Hessel Museum of Art at CCS Bard and at Occidental College. She has performed at venues that include the Kunsthalle Zurich; the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit; The New Museum; Park Avenue Armory; Club Tonic; Art in General; La Mama; Galapagos; Dixon Place; and Empac Center for Performance in Troy. She has written and recorded hundreds of original songs and performs large scale experimental plays involving dancers, musicians and other artists with her band and theater troupe Little Band of Sailors. Rachel has been featured in publications that include the New York Times; the Village Voice; the Los Angeles Times; Flash Art; Art in America; Art News; and Artforum.