Guest post by Mark Sheerin
It is more than 1,000 miles from Luton, England, to Reykjavik, Iceland. But Dominic from the UK town appears to love a good caper. Why else would he put together a group show on very little money in one of the most far flung and expensive cities in Europe?
â€œIt was done on a wing and a prayer,â€ he tells me on the phone from his Luton studio. â€œThe art was just really, really ambitious considering we didnâ€™t have much money to play with. Itâ€™s amazing what you can do with a cardboard tube and a delivery van.â€
Five artists took part. And the show has just run for a month at gallery Kling & Bang. Along with Dominic, the full bill included Gavin Turk, Mark Titchner, Laura White and Peter Lamb. The show went by the name London Utd. â€œIt’s kind of doing what it says on the tin,â€ says Dominic, whose eponymous town is just a twenty minute train ride from the UK capital.
Not that he is the first to cross the Atlantic to the artist led space. He tells me that Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades have also shown at the dynamic and co-operative venue. And Dominic takes the opportunity to recount the tale of Kling & Bangâ€™s legendary appearance at Frieze Art Fair.
â€œThey did a Frieze Project in London in 2008 called Sirkus. Itâ€™s an incredible story,â€ says the artist, telling me that Sirkus was the name of a Reykyavik bar: â€œThis place was the hub, the heartbeat of the arts communityâ€. But after nine years of business, Sirkus closed down, leaving Kling & Bang free to turn the faÃ§ade and fixtures into a temporary installation for the art fair.
Dominic warms to his tale: â€œThey arrived at Heathrow in October 2008 and basically all their credit cards had been stopped because the [Icelandic] crash had suddenly happened overnight and so this bar, which was a mirror of good times and place to meet, became that again in London.â€ Word soon went round about the penniless Icelanders with the reconstructed bar.
Things are a bit better in Reykjavik now and in its way London Utd has become another bridge between the art scenes in both cities. Mark Titchnerâ€™s piece was a piece of text in Icelandic, which read The World Isnâ€™t Working. (Perhaps the UK crash is yet to come.)
Gavin Turk meanwhile offered a twelve and a half metre diptych inspired by Andy Warholâ€™s Death and Disaster series and featuring the four wheeled emblem of working class Britain the Ford Transit. Laura White produced no less than 54 drawings of photos of sculptures which she herself had made. And Peter Lamb translated the shifting detritus on his studio floor into two large abstract canvases.
Asked about one of his own works in the show, Dominic is ready with another yarn. â€œThat photo was done as a tribute to Paul Young,â€ he tells me. Like the artist, the singer came from Luton. â€œHe used to work at Vauxhall [car plant] in the early 80s and he told someone I know in the canteen once that he was going to be a global pop star and then literally 18 months later he was, with Everytime You Go Away.â€
The track resonates with many a Lutonian and inspired a Dominic from Luton performance at an event called CafÃ© Almanac organised by Bedford Creative Arts. This involved sourcing an 80s wig from Luton Indoor Market, posing for a portrait artist in the shopping centre and getting 5,000 badges made to cover a cheap suit. â€œI just stood up in front of about 50 people in this Working Menâ€™s Club on a Saturday afternoon and sung my heart out,â€ recalls the artist.
This took place under a net filled with 200 balloons in the colours of the local soccer team, intended for release in the final verse. However â€œThe net got caught in all of my badges so I had 200 balloons attached to me and I panicked and – it wasn’t scripted at all – I basically ended up having a fight with these balloons and stamping on them and stuff and it brought the house down actually.â€
But despite the hazardous stagecraft, Dominicâ€™s â€œbiggest challengeâ€ is a self-proclaimed inability to sing. So it comes as no surprise that the artist thinks most performance art is too earnest. â€œPeople would argue with this, but I think there’s a duty to entertain,â€ he says, â€œThat’s just my take on it. That’s my little mantra.â€ Even the anecdotes which relate to each of his gigs are compelling experiences.
As a final aside, itâ€™s worth pointing out that the artist formerly known as Dominic Allan comes from one of the most derided towns in the UK. His â€œfrom Lutonâ€ tag is a sticky piece of cultural baggage. Dominic tells me that the name just came about through being easy to remember when he ordered materials.
Now, he claims, â€œItâ€™s just a very glorious vehicle for the idea of the underdog and also to shove it back in peopleâ€™s faces now because Lutonâ€™s one of those towns which people laugh about . . . The more I go on, the more I realise that it is serious, and it is seriousâ€.
So thatâ€™s Dominic, from Luton, easy to laugh with, hard to laugh at. Prepare to be entertained if he ever comes to your town.
Mark Sheerin is an art writer from Brighton, UK. He can also be found on Culture24, Hyperallergic, Frame & Reference and his own blog criticismism.com
Greetings from Indianapolis, friends!
July is a lovely time here. One of my favorite things about July is the 4th. Here in Indy the thing to do is to watch the fireworks display that is set off from atop the Regions building downtown. The best place to do it is from a rooftop with a bunch of friendsphoto by Benjamin Bernthal
In the way of Art, July brought to an end a lengthy and large exhibition of work by Ai Wei Wei at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This was an interesting exhibition to get to see. It included a series of photographs, pieces of modified ancient art (such as the image below), and a few pieces related to measuring the tragic earthquake that took place in China in 2008. This is a traveling exhibition and I highly recommend seeing it if it comes to your town. I went on the very last day that it was open, and the gallery was buzzing with conversation and lots of people moving around the space.
Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
The 100 Acres park at the IMA (a 100 acre sculpture park that deserves its own blog entry) has a new installation called Flock of Signs by Kim Beck. Some of the signs are blank, others point to the air and state “Bug.” others list scientific names for plants. All I know is that they are beautiful.
A few weeks later I finally made it to one of the Listen Local concerts put on by Musical Family Tree and Indy Parks. This is a “pay what you want” fundraiser for the Park consisting of live performances by local bands. This installment included Amo Joy, Vacation Club and United States Three. The Set Design was so cool! It is a cardboard and acrylic piece by BrainTwins that can be arranged in a variety of ways to create different color patterns.Â BrainTwins is an Indianapolis art duo composed of Jessica Dunn and Justin Shimp. They create a variety of 2D, 3D and 4D based works of art.
Later in the month I was lucky to be able to visit the studio of one of my favorite Indianapolis artists Kyle Herrington. Kyle has several shows coming up in September, so there was plenty of new work to see. One show is called Backyard Phenomena and chronicles Herrington’s struggle with being thrust into new found adulthood, which culminated in him turning thirty and buying a house. His anxieties about something catastrophic happening to his house has translated into sculptural pieces as well as paintings. We talked for quite a long time. I admire Kyle’s commitment to making everysingleideathathehas. I think it is what has allowed him to make such a large body of work with what I see as having very consistent and complete conceptual ideas in relatively short time frame (just one year). Kyle’s work makes reference to sci-fi logic, modern obsessions with the apocalypse and celebrity and mashes them altogether into a funny, but kind of scary reality.
For August First Friday I went to the Harrison Center for the Arts to see the Spineless book arts exhibition. This yearly exhibit features work from bookmakers in the region. The IUPUI libraries also curate a selection on display from their collection of artist’s books.
First Friday at the Harrison Center for the Arts
Cyanotype book by Indianapolis Artist Tasha Lewis
While on the subject of Cyanotype, and given the fact that I saw him shortly after taking this photo, I think I should mention another mind blowing artist here in Indy who uses it as his primary material for art making- Casey Roberts.
Until next month!
Wendy Lee Spacek is a poet who lives and works in Indianapolis, Indiana. She likes her city veryÂ much. She is a core volunteer of the Indianapolis Publishing Cooperative (Indy Pub Co-Op), publishes small editions of handmade books under the name Soft River and is an arts administrator at the Indianapolis Art Center. She will be posting monthlyÂ all summer long about her encounters with art, culture, creative experiences and resources in her city.
After losing his job and apartment on the same day a couple of years ago, Los Angeles-based street artist Gune Monster says he contemplated a suicide. Instead, he picked up a marker and begin drawing the toothy, ghoulish figures that would eventually become the hallmark of his Â alter ego.
First, he drew about 50 stickers a day. The number quickly climbed to upwards of 350 hand drawn, colored and cut stickers , many of which would eventually make their way onto the poles, benches and other public spaces scattered around Los Angeles. Larger murals would eventually follow as the street artistâ€™s ambitions grew.
â€œMurals change peopleâ€™s livesâ€ he says. â€œThey change your opinion of the wall. It changes it from being some ratty wall thatâ€™s got some tag or some weird penis thatâ€™s got some hair to an amazing, beautiful mural thatâ€™s got a hummingbird flying through the sky with birds and mountains.â€
Gune Monster also feels that creating murals offers developing graffiti artists an opportunity to mature by forcing them to openly confront the public with their work in a more much more personal and direct way.
â€œYouâ€™ve no longer going out at nightâ€ he says. â€œYouâ€™re no longer hiding in a gallery. Youâ€™re no longer putting up stickers. You are now in daylight, in the public, being judged by everybody that sees you. And thatâ€™s when youâ€™re at that point where youâ€™re confident enough to spread your art.â€
Gune Monster returned to his hometown of Kansas City this past June to live mural at the City Ice Arts Building — a converted warehouse in the cityâ€™s arts district that houses a collective of local artists and artisans. Though he wasn’t able to paint at the Kansrocksas Music Festival (the event was cancelled), his new clothing line and projects in Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Las Vegas continue to keep this elusive artist fully occupied.
Check out his website for more great images of his work.
Words by Carolyn Okomo, a Kansas City, MO-based writer.Â
Images by Dave Dumay of City Ice Arts and Carolyn Okomo.
Barbie and La Nouvelle Vague (part 3)
Iâ€™m on the porch rifling through Barbie posters and notes on what she would prefer when running away to a deserted island. I know Barbie would want to be with Ken. The way â€œMarianne,â€ played by Anna Karina in â€œPierrot le fouâ€ (â€œPete the madmanâ€), ran away with â€œFerdinand,â€ played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, to live in the French Riviera. The couple ran away for two different reasons, and their fears kept them together. At the end of the film, I like to reinvent different outcomes. Perhaps they should have stayed in town.
This argument applies to play with Barbie as well. I take her outside of the box, adjust her arms and legs, and am free to imagine Barbie in a variety of ways. She is Kenâ€™s girlfriend getting ready for date night when I put black high heels on her. She is Midgeâ€™s friend getting ready for brunch when I put strappy sandals on her. She is Skipperâ€™s sister getting ready for a yogurt run when I put sparkly flats on her. I assign Barbie various identities, and each time the fictional truths may be compared to real-world cultural representations.
My adjustments to Barbieâ€™s identity are necessary. For many she seems such a frivolous thing. Questions about her importance reinforce the idea that Barbie encourages the creative interpretation of identity. I cannot escape her. I have spent so much time alone with her. Some have not understood, but many have been supportiveâ€”my man included. (I say â€œmanâ€ because after a certain age â€œboyfriendâ€ just doesnâ€™t seem to be able to sustain the weight of an adult relationship.) Things changed along the way. I changed when I got close to the essence of Barbie. I got close to myself. I learned to trust myself. I learned about the superficial sting.
I also know that Barbie is â€œplasticâ€ and â€œanatomically incorrectâ€â€”like some â€œrealâ€ women that I know. But, sheâ€™s gotten a â€œbad rap.â€ I know that I â€œjust canâ€™t changeâ€ the opinion of some. That sometimes it just â€œis what it is.â€ That Barbie is made for â€œartâ€™s sakeâ€ and that some â€œartâ€ is inspired by Barbie. That Barbie â€œinspiredâ€ the long list of female characters of La Nouvelle Vague. Consider Artist Nickolay Lammâ€™s â€œcomparison of bodies.â€ Lamm suggests that the â€œaverageâ€ womanâ€™s body is â€œno match.â€ In fact, Lamm found â€œunrealistic measurements of 36-18-33, compared to the typical 19-year old girlâ€™s 32-31-33â€ (Revealed: What Barbie would look like as a Real Woman). This explains why Barbie canâ€™t stand-up on her own.
Iâ€™ll admit, I â€œagree.â€ She sends the â€œwrong messageâ€ to â€œimpressionableâ€ girls. Barbie is not for the â€œweak.â€ I learned this my â€œfirst yearâ€ in Chicago. We went to some â€œpop-upâ€ art gallery on a Friday night and there was Barbieâ€”â€œdecapitated,â€ lying in the â€œmiddleâ€ of the room, on the â€œfloor.â€ I asked the artist â€œwhyâ€ heâ€™d done this. He calmly, â€œsippedâ€ red wine out of a mason jar, said â€œI used to do this to my older sisterâ€™s Barbie when I was a kid.â€ He then joked about Barbieâ€™s â€œpowerâ€ to revert him to â€œchildhood.â€ This has always stayed with me. Barbie brings out the angry adolescent in every adult.
Who is not disappointed, enchanted, or tempted by Barbie? Most days, in the world of Barbie, the view from the porch provides a narrow balconyscape which hosts the angular silhouettes of red-tipped bricks. Sometimes we have company and they join us on the porch. In these moments the table is cluttered with wine glasses, water crackers, cheese platters, Barbie, Midge, and Skipper. On an eventful evening, Barbie is a kaleidoscope twirling from hand to hand. Soon we are scampering. There arenâ€™t enough hours. There is never enough time, just the way time ran out for â€œFerdinand.â€
Soon, I feel the twin twinkle of goodbye kisses. Itâ€™s just me at the door. At the heart of La Nouvelle Vague is a breathless, powerful glance because it is difficult to turn away from the beautiful tragedy. It is difficult to answer and dispute the fullness that Barbie deserves. I only rarely come close to completing the lanky jigsaw puzzle. I cannot really see the end. The journey is mine, this Barbie pink path that leads to the unknown, the pink purgatory.
Jamie Kazay teachesÂ in the English DepartmentÂ at Columbia College. A California native, she holds a BA in English from California State University, Northridge and an MFAÂ in Creative Writing, Poetry from Columbia College. She co-curates the Revolving Door Reading Series and is currently reading of a lot of Camus, Derrida, and Dorothy Allison. Her collection,Â Small Hollering, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2011.
Guest Post by Faye Kahn
Every Sternberg/Semiotext(e)/Verso volume with Yale Design School layout is an impenetrable brick of ostensible magic that’s going to save the human race. I really think this for a range of 10 minutes to 10 years per book. Yet even though I have been reading October every day for three years on every NYC Transit route there was only one time I was ever confronted about it & the guy was laughing! Â Still, the mystery of the text is irresistible, though after chatting with other arts writers, there seems to be a concern about the future of art criticism; that it’s not as integral a part of the structure & motivational force of the art world as it used to be, & furthermore, there is confusion in identifying an audience. The source of this anxiety is varied & not everyone subscribes to it. Still, through my personal experience with theory I can understand why a frustration exists, both for authors & audience.
It’s difficult to read art theory & criticism. It’s impossible for me to know how other people interpret text, but as an a person of average intelligence I can describe a sensation of mental aimlessness & meandering when trying to parse an uphill paragraph. Putting on blinders & focusing intently on the words the I gradually collect rewarding instances of realization & perspective. This is enough of a carrot to keep me reading. Still, the going is slow. Theory is slow, the contemporary is fast: it’s entirely possible that this is the final conclusion. Like most professional fields, the barrier of slowness is a mental hazing method but the rewards here don’t seem to pay off enough for large-scale generation-defying fraternities. However, if it’s true that it’s losing connection or usefulness to its own field, the effort can start to seem myopic.
Barnett Newman famously said that “aesthetics is to the artist as ornithology is to the birds.” Birds are not only not interested in ornithology but they are incapable of being interested in it. Such a terse reading of that quote might be a little unforgiving, but it’s interesting to revisit this notion from late-Modernist times today in regards to the perceived identity crisis of art writing. All artists are certainly not unaware of it, but it is easier today to be an artist without a knowledge or involvement in traditional art theoretical discourse. Faster modes of communication than text (images) are more conducive to conversation today. Â The image response, as the most expedient & accurate modes of communicating quickly, is a much more handy tool. ASCII, Unicode, & Emoji: day to day communication is condensed (& the phrase “hard to follow” now refers to twitter), alienating the dry over-enunciated walls of text that make up theoretical contributions.
As Hal Foster points out, during ArtForum’s heyday in the 60s & 70s,”late-modernist criticism made fine distinctions on which the fate of art was thought to dependâ€”the difference, say, between a ‘deductive structure’ by Frank Stella and a â€œspecific objectâ€ by Donald Juddâ€”and often it presented these differences as absolute.” This necessity for theoretical discussion is not totally absent today- but art dependent on by critical analysis has become a genre of sorts. Boris Groys says that
“A work of art is traditionally understood as something that wholly embodies art[â€¦]When we go to an art exhibition we generally assume that whatever is there on display–paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, videos, readymades, or installations, must be art. The individual artworks can of course in one way or another make reference to things that they are not, maybe to real-world objects or to certain political issues, but they are not thought to refer to art itself, because they themselves are art. However, this traditional assumption has proven to be increasingly misleading. Besides finding works of art, present-day art spaces also confront us with the documentation of art.” 
Although Groys is referring to the position of the artwork in the exhibition space as the documentation of the art itself, the statement is haunted by the situation of an exhibition space with placeholder artworks that function solely as referents to outside documentation & unstable explanations to be determined by later analysis. Movement away from aesthetic to conceptual merit is now common practice, though certainly more in some cases than others. Aesthetic attractiveness is more often seen now as a measure or capability of capitalist valuation of the object rather than an agent for a deeper social commentary or revolution. Thus, birds interested in ornithology & birds uninterested.
Lately I have found art theory exhaustingly cynical. I suppose the word “criticism” has a lot to do with this, however much of it seems to only a self-serving end. Often as a reader I approach the text with wonder & leave it feeling like a fluorescent light has been turned on to reveal all pleasant things have poisonous blemishes. A person can only take so much of this before becoming fed up or hopeless or annoyed that something prescient about how to live life is being ignored because the art community is busy circle-jerking to their exclusive & privileged (negative) perspectives on the world. That said, art theory ensconces beautiful ideas within its heavy labyrinthine walls of referential grandiloquent & excessively punctuated & footnoted jargon (“International Art English”?), & somehow this keeps me (us?) going. However, more & more, it has been exceedingly reassuring to go to the exhibition & realize that art has been growing & still grows around you when you & intellectuals aren’t looking.
H. FAYE KAHNÂ is a freelance animator in NYC & Â a free-format radio DJ at listener-sponsoredÂ WFMUÂ in Jersey City, NJ. She resides in Brooklyn, NY & holds a BFA in Film/Animation/Video from Rhode Island School of Design.Â
1.Â Â Foster,Â Hal. “Critical Condition,”Â Artforum International, Sep2012, Vol. 51 Issue 1, p147-148
2.Â Groys,Â Boris. e-flux, December 2009, Issue 11, p1-11