December 10, 2014 · Print This Article
Three plywood boxes — each about the length of a coffin — sit atop wooden sawhorses, constructed simply and directly, the wood left unfinished or adorned. They look generic; like shipping crates for telescopes, homemade pummel horses — or better — low rent Donald Judd’s. A dig against Minimalism and Modernism’s consequence on societal aesthetics, where everything becomes bland geometry by accident. One end of each box excretes an electrical cord, snaking down to speakers which play a soundtrack of white noise. On the other end, a lens provides a window to the interior of the boxes. Displayed with the lens side forming a center, they create a performative space, demanding one viewer at a time to crouch down and peer through it. The objects in the installation create a sprawling mess shattering space, as power cords trail out towards the walls, between legs and in plain view, without apology.
Looking through the peepholes one discovers slender tunnels — colons made of tinfoil illuminated by red, blue and yellow lights. The experience is immediately underwhelming. All components are quickly transparent; as the emptiness from viewing the first interior gives way to boredom by the third. An acute awareness of time produced from the bodily act of viewing the work hurries one away. Channel #1, #2, #3 is undeniably bodily throughout, down to the material manipulation by Kelley. Crinkling and wringing the tin foil, tinkering, like a guy in his garage on a Saturday, searching for some truth within the solace of a project.
It is within bowing to peer into a peep show of glowing colons that something unexpectedly humbling can happen. Within three choices of primary color tunnels of light, one is able to be in the private audience of God: what only near death victims and alien abductees experience through trauma is offered up pain free. From the center of the installation begins the infinite within the finite, but like Being John Malkovich. (Rather, BJM takes its cue from Channel # 1, #2, #3.) One can approach these simple containers with expectations of beauty inside them, and find an honesty that deflates not just this experience, but perhaps the entirety of experience. That existence is merely a series of beautifully mundane moments possessing the amount of excitement that a prize from a novelty toy vending machine can generate. Is it blissful disappointment? Some abject loss tied to our subconscious? Maybe something this immediately disappointing can also be so gratifying.
The Armchair Critic is an attempt to consider works of art through their representation in photographs, while replacing what is lost in an imagined, portable experience.
At the end of September, Richard D. James released his first album as Aphex Twin in 13 years. The resulting work, Syro, makes up for the long wait between albums. It is rich and complex, as every past album of his has been. But where Drukqs and previous albums have pummelled the listeners ear, Syro allows for listening at the passive level (something that had become completely absent in his work) and easily allows for intensive listening at the same time. Each track stands alone as a complete work, yet effortlessly bleeds into the next. It is nothing short of a masterpiece.
A masterpiece is proof of one’s ability and rank within a creative system. It is a career benchmark, so one should suppose each subsequent masterpiece produced by a person must be of equal or greater value to the one before it. By definition, masterpieces are selective while contingent upon factors both fluctuating and rigid (an artist’s personal navigation of a media, rules, techniques, history, etc.). The masterpiece is a defining moment, and defining moments are encapsulations of the past and a clear break with the present. Information moves at such speeds that while defining moments are there they can easily get lost in a sea of lesser moments, all of which are digitally archived before most of them can be absorbed. We are constantly scrolling downward in news feeds, seeing the more recent posting mixing with that of a few days before. Anything else is unearthed through keyword searches. Time is not experienced in the same way as it once was. According to Boris Groys “The archive is the site where past and future become reversible.” 1
Consider a cell phone video posted on instagram as a legitimate artwork: it likely favors one specific idea or thought as opposed to consideration of everything available (how the shot is composed, camera angle, what is in the background, etc.) The lack of multiple edits means that it is one moment frozen in time, infinitely repeatable, and as in a gif, the format is the infinite repetition. It is a defined moment, but one that was chosen, specifically plucked out of the waves of information and content and chosen to become something new or reconfigured, sent out again into the sea of information.
More often, the works that may have only lived in the artist’s studio in the past are coming out to the gallery — physical or virtual. Sometimes they gnaw at us, as we try to understand why we are so attracted to their roughness or incompleteness. Like any content on the internet, hierarchies in the art can be made, but are open to interpretation, as for everything seen there are at least three things missed. There is always more, and the more we see the more aware we are of how much we miss. Smaller artworks in this way will still define moments, but as the moments get smaller, or more compressed, they begin to reach the actuality of the present. In this way, artworks become possibilities for the future, not just manifestos. As possibilities have a more approachable conversational tone to them, a more casual art going experience that also allows for more works, more choice emerges and is less prohibitive because there is more available. Art becomes more democratic this way, while still remaining part of a market structure, playing at a more inclusive level.
So with more content being produced and disseminated, more masterpieces are being produced as well. Some of them we won’t realize thats what they are for a few months or years. We are likely to look back at many of these more intuitive and immediate works and one day see them as masterpieces in their own right. So often, they are more arresting than the planned works that undergo revision after revision.
Earlier this week, Richard D. James released 30 modular synth tracks and unreleased material for free on soundcloud, calling it “a fucking racket”. It is more noise than defined compositions, but what results are fragments, and reinterpretations of Syro’s tracks, spontaneous recordings and serendipity. They are a small part of the whole of James’ work, and more than providing an insight into his process, inform the whole by isolating individual ideas that have carried on throughout his career, as well as providing gems we would have never knew existed otherwise. Sometimes, a masterpiece can only happen through the seemngly cast off, the incremental, the undefined, the immediate or the unfinished.
- Groys, Boris, “The Loneliness of the Project”, New York Magazine of Contemporary Art and Theory, Issue 1.1, 2002
Many thanks to the artists who generously provided images for this essay, and apologies to those that I could not include. Thanks also to Haynes Riley via Ron Ewert for bringing the Groys article to my attention.
The second installment of a curatorial project by Jens Hoffmann and Harrell Fletcher, the People’s Biennial 2014 takes a stronger approach to its mission than the first. In 2010, the idea was to highlight five cities in the US that are not art centers and showcase the work of artists working within contemporary art frameworks. This year, selected established artists from all over the US invited a creative person whom they personally know but are outside of the art world to collaborate on an installation within the refurbished Woodward Gallery of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit. From a brilliant autistic child, to blind woodworker, activists, collectors and outsider artists, the exhibition highlights the value of individual expression, ability and passion of all humans, why that can be artistic and is beautiful as art. So a child’s imagination can be on the same playing field as a celebrated photographer, just as an upholsterer can be exhibited nearby the 2011 Venice Biennale’s US artists.
Each collaboration is framed by a simple wood shed painted a solid color, equalizing all that is within. Drawings of the duo or collaborative by Studio Stripe accompanies some biographic info and an interview or introduction to the lesser known’s work. The collaborations vary, but in most cases, the established artist tends to take a back seat, marveling at the non artist or marginalized artist’s creative process.
Scott Reeder and Xav Lepae create a playful booth that evokes a bit of Gary Panter and Wayne White while showcasing the 24/7 radio station Lepae runs. Lee Walton & Harriet Hoover lovingly tell the story of Mr Coppers, a caring man who runs a small upholstery business. The resulting display augments the rich life that he has. Cary Loren and Jimbo Easter, having collaborated before, create a seamless installation that relishes in underwhelming Halloween effects, primitive paper mache and abject piles of junk as pen and ink drawings cover the walls. Dara Friedman chronicles Ishmael Golden Eagle, an amateur archeologist, who serendipitously discovered a significant spiritual well in LA, and whose dedication to preserving it is heroic.
Mounting an exhibition of non artists collaborating with established artists will likely yield different results, and not all of them may be visually engaging. This proves to be the exhibition’s only shortcomings, and as it is somewhat expected due to the nature of the exhibition, is minor. Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla and Robert Rabin’s work, as well as Hank Willis Thomas and Baz Dreisinger’s collaborations suffer from this condition; the latter of each group’s direct activism visually nullified by bland documentation. Some stories are not easily translated visually, especially within regimented structures, but it appears to be through the fault of the established artists collaborating that this has happened.
Opening up dialogue not just about what is art, but what is artful, the exhibition gives equal weight to the pursuits of non artists and marginalized artists. What may draw us to the show are the names of Alec Soth, Cary Loren or Dara Friedman, but what keeps us there is Jimbo Easter, Ishmael Golden Eagle and Mr Coppers. A simple, beautiful message about civilized life, where everyone is equal, every vision is unique and everyone has a story to be told. What we are left with is a more inclusive and open proposal for what the contemporary art world could be.
The People’s Biennial is co-curated by Jens Hoffmann and Harrell Fletcher and is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MoCAD) from September 12, 2014 – January 4, 2015.
I’m typing this on my phone, the only possible way at the moment, so apologizes for its brutish nature. Apologizes because I’m in the middle of the woods, 30 + miles from even a small town, and it seems like I’ve left it all behind but the clicky clack on the LED screen tells me otherwise. Some people are getting ready for school, to attend or teach, but my partner and I are trying to enjoy the last bit of summer away from our jobs
and society. So we’ve got ourselves on a small lake in the woods with a one room cabin and water that smells like farts, and everything is nice and comfy. On the walls are prints from the direct category of hotel art: bleeding kitsch, soft pastel colors to brighten the room, even the meta print of what you are doing hanging near the door in case you would forget that you are not at home afraid of life, you are out here afraid of life.
“Majestic Lion” by Sylvia Duran is a loose, blobby portrait of a male lion, culled from both French Impressionism and supermarket romance novels. The subject stands hesitant with mane and fur waving in the breeze, either dusk in the plains of Africa or the set of a shampoo commercial. The lion’s legs taper to the ground with the delicacy of tree trunks. From his perch of slab rock he surveys his kingdom – a vague smear of gray and umber barely established on the canvas. And so with its uncertainty, it becomes an apocalyptic wasteland. The resulting carnage of light paint splatters completely engulfing the scene, bathing the lion in a snowstorm of ash. Or dandruff, since it really may be an ad for shampoo.
To to the left of this, the big cat theme continues with “Bengal Tiger” by Don Balke. Surrounded by tall grass and immersive reflecting water, Balke’s portrait is a highly skilled colored pencil meets water color portrayal of one of the worlds fiercest predators doing an impression of Falcor, the Luck Dragon. To note is Balke’s use of abstraction, taking full advantage of the tigers stripes and how they map the water while melting in it. The aspiring indie band should seek this image out, rotate the tiger and his reflection 90•, so his orientation is vertical and they would have a sweet album cover to go with their sweet, sweet sound.
Theres also also a cartoon of some mice bathing in a tea cup hanging above the toilet which is far cuter than the act of me peeing while viewing it. A small painting of fat geese, painstakingly rendered, standing in a bombed out green and straw colored nowhere. A total mind game while washing your hands, this unassuming meditation ties Duran’s apocalyptic scene with Balke’s “Never Ending Story” reference, as we must all confront The Nothing.
The most impoverished of all is the small print mounted on wood near a couple bunkbeds, which everyone, from the artist, to the mall sales clerk, to the Innkeeper / curator had the intelligence to see that glass and a frame would be wasted. Here, a panther suffering from a belly ache is trying to shit in the trees amidst Renaissance laser light shows from the sun.
Shooting fish is a barrel, you say. It’s not fair to discuss this work in the context of an art blog, nor is it right to hold the innkeeper to the same task as the curator, of course. But I don’t just write for the sheer pleasure of destroying. The print I haven’t mentioned yet is my favorite. In it, two decoy ducks sit on a table with a jug and a small jewelry box. The wood grain of the box allow the wooden ducks a place of hiding. While the jug itself pushes the sense of country home, the bird painted on the jug speaks with the decoy facing it, crafting humor within the frame. Kathleen Cope Ruoss loses mastery over the jug, which flattens to the point of uncertainty, becoming a bluish gray mass without distinction. But the wood stays true, and looks tangible. The hard smooth surface reflecting the craft store heart plank wood, stained a light amber at home, or here in the cabin.
In hotel art, is it honesty or escape that we look for more? Wall accents or inspiration? To be noticed but unseen, the innocuous predators of tranquility. Even the shame-crapping panther knows he is just a bit player in your experience. His humility is hard to find in the art fair art we are about to be inundated with at Expo or Detroit Design week. Anyone who may be showing in the rooms and hallways in the hotels rooms at (e)merge take note. It is easy to surpass the quality of the art found on the wood grain paneling of B&B’s, or the sterile pastel walls of the Days Inns, HoJos and Hilton Expresses around the country. What hotel art offers us is our own level of kitsch. Comfort within the sterile and alien. A sense of peace even when the very work threatens our sensibilities of good taste. It is not meant to be looked at for long. But there are much worse things we see everyday.
It must have been some late summer day, when there was finally enough to eat and most of the larger predators were sleeping in the shade still digesting lunch, that some enterprising neanderthal looking for a new hovel chanced upon something exciting and new, yet strangely familiar, the whole of which stopped him cold. It was this image, stained on a cave wall and linked to his life and the place, in his position in the neanderthal community and relation to larger game that held him captive. It was not the realism, as at this time realism was a bit too frightening. Instead it was the sensitivity, the unconscious awareness that touched his soul made him even consider such a thing as soul, Not just any painting, but the best painting ever to grace a cave wall, better than the Lascaux ones 100 times over. Stuck with such beauty from human hands, an instinct for ownership kicked in. Surely he could convince the artist to move to a smaller cave in the ever increasing slums of the neanderthal community, perhaps something in its commercial farming district? Filled with views of majestic mastodons being felled by hunters, or images of open fields, which will surely inspire generations of painters, from madness of Van Gogh to the rigidity of Grant Wood. A few days after the Studio was born, so was the Art Collector. (Although, at this time, they were referred to as Art Gatherers.)
In the Middle Ages, an abundance of artists meant specialization had to happen. Credibility already became more important than style, and as Lane Relyea said in regards to artists of the 21st century, the studio “gives the artist a mailing address and a doorstep”1, enabling apprentices to find him as “master” and patrons to buy the work by the stacks. His vision of art could proliferate and survive and later mutate, thanks to the studio. During the Renaissance these spaces became an integral part in the life and production of art and artists. Before the ateliers were replaced by the academy, EVERYTHING was linked to the place of creation.
Despite what any “studiobased” program may claim, the academy and the studio have always been at odds. Strict adherence within the art world to keeping the academy intact is important for the survival of so many within it. The academy takes the studio’s place for learning in order to continue some pedagogy and profit from an unending and ever increasing line of hopefuls. These schools usually advertise the amenities of space and equipment at hand for the learning artist. But the student is always aware that upon graduating, that studio will no longer be available to him or her. Artists working in their studios are romanticized, and the elusive space becomes mythologized.
To create work inside the institution walls provides the kind of affirmation most artists struggle for, so to work on projects as the venue and funding becomes available as opposed to paying monthly rent hoping for an exhibition solves a lot of problems. Post Studio approaches also allow the artist a certain nomadic ability, able to shed the baggage of their own halfwrought and failed art cluttering their studio. Able to constantly see with fresh eyes, artists working in this way can potentially advance their own work further than if they were tethered to one location, surrounded by the last works they made. The post studio is also at home in the digital age, where physical space seems to shrink while at the same time we experience an expanding of virtual space. In the real world, this virtual space can take place as flexible real estate: a space that is available not as a permanent residence but as a temporary space. One that is not specialized but an open floor plan to accommodate many uses. Pop up, mobile, nomadic, freelancer, etc., all seem to correlate to this approach, yet within a post studio practice one is quite likely to have a permanent studio of some sort, and the idea of working within the public or real world as opposed to the isolation and comfort of a fabricated world is what often separates the two. They are not at odds as much as they seems as they still hinge upon 1) having or taking the time to think about art’s creation, and 2) the execution of an artwork(s) for display and/or sale.
In 1971, Daniel Buren wrote “The Function of the Studio” a polemical essay which not only defined his practice since, but has influenced many artists to move away from the traditional studio. Perhaps its worth the read, but contains holes. If, as Buren seems to say, that the work of art loses “its ‘truth’, its relationship to its creator and place of creation”2 when it leaves the studio, than photography would be nothing but lies unless the photograph was always and only shown where it was taken; film would be nothing but a series of lies, reinforcing each shot as a deeper falsification, and that the art collector merely enables the artist to justify stripping their work of any truth or “essence”.
Also in the essay, he asserts that the studio, mimicking the shape, lighting and proportions of the gallery and museum, attempts to ready or position the art to be produced for this framework. As the neutralized space of the institution is completely sterile, the work that is produced with it in mind is reduced to the same banality and sterility. The artist is forced to go to this generic space in their mind while creating the work to allow it to occupy just about any space. A residency is one example of a studio that challenges his assertions. It is a transient space for the artist, aligned with the workings of a post studio approach, but often incorporates the artist’s modes of production through a proposal to attend. It is by nature also linked to the incubation network of the academy, often connected to the art world through curatorial scouts or exhibition opportunities. Artwork made at a residency may stay at the space through lack of resources to move it or as a site specific piece to mark one’s time in the place. The work may return with the artist, or it may have been produced for an exhibition already in the works. Depending on the residency, the studios an artist may encounter may be the sterile imitations of the exhibition spaces Buren derides. They can easily be more adhoc spaces with as much charm as function. They may be the woods, the desert, the ocean, etc., so that while Buren could be right that the work takes its form from the spaces in which it is made, these spaces need not be sterile or banal at all. Everything is STILL connected to its place of creation, but we understand that place is experiential and movable.
Studios are a place for quiet contemplation, where artists can escape the pressures of everyday life to create and dream, become or forge something new; a bourgeois space for leisure time. Historically, we find master artists working with many assistants, apprentices and journeymen in order to meet the demand of their collectors and patrons. Buren states that the studio is a place for the production of art as a commodity, as a “convenience to the organizer”3 and a “boutique where we find readytowear art.”4 These functions are both linked to functioning within, or aspiring to the middle class. Ben Davis clarifies class distinctions quite brilliantly in “9.5 Theses on Art and Class”: “class position relates not to how much one happens to be paid but to the kind of labor [sic] one does and how this labor relates to the economy”5. The Middle Class would then include people whose labor gives them authority over others and themselves. It is the desire of the Middle class to “maintain [sic] their autonomy”6. This desire is not linked to monetary gain but to a set of ideals within the execution and formation of their labor. It is by creating or developing a certain product or output that is unique that this autonomy can be best sustained, allowing one to be the sole keeper of his or her commodifiable talent. The artist is part of the middle class by creating work that is to have a life outside of their studio in a collection or exhibition that affirms their uniqueness and position as well as (hopefully) feeding them. When their leisure time (perhaps as members of the working class as an employee of someone else) is manifests itself in consumable works, they enter the middle class. The studio then could be an entryway into the middle class.
A studio and formal education are similar, in that they confer authority on those who have them. As artists we use each for our desire to be taken seriously, just as we hope they will help us make the work we want to make. We take on the studio in transient forms from the start of our education, because it doesn’t matter as much to where we are, but that we are. Responding to a set of circumstances or constructed parameters like rules in a game, we negotiate our lives with our art, looking for ease of movement between the concerns of our stomachs and the desires of our spirit. No surprise, then, that we will move between classes multiple times. We’ll get kicked out of studios just as we got booted from that cave 40,000 years ago, but we can also build again.
If some dank cave dimly lit by a fire served as the first studio, future studios may be strictly digital, the art illuminated by LED pixels created not in a “space” at all but between two or more computers communicating together. A world will be reflected, and in the flickering of the light, the incompleteness of awareness, mixed with the details of contemplation and discovery, the reflected world will be totally new, yet familiar. The objects of that world will work together to create a language around everything vital to it, what is known and what is not. In the reflection we find ourselves, and in the transmutation of matter, or light, whatever, we discover more about ourselves and existence as reality. Regardless of form, the studio is an opportunity we allow ourselves to reflect on an ever present, fluid, wholly immersed, infinite reality transcending time, matter and consciousness.
1 Lane Relyea, “Studio Unbound” in The Studio Reader: On the space of Artists ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner, (University of Chicago Press, 2010) 349
2 Daniel Buren, “The Function of a Studio”, first published in October (Fall 1979), 57
3 Ibid, 52
4 Ibid, 52
5 Ben Davis, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, (Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2013), 13
6 Ibid, 14