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.
In the popular imagination, bookshops in Notting Hill may be where bumbling Englishmen meet Hollywood filmstars. Last night it was where a bumbling art writer, played by myself, got to meet some of the UK’s most successful bloggers.
The venue was Book and Kitchen, who deserve props for the bohemian setting, mean jazz soundtrack and fantastic three course meal. Since there’s no such thing as a free meal, we bloggers were encouraged, between mouthfuls, to discuss our medium of choice.
You can check out the results on @blog10, an enterprising venture by a PR agency called Marmalade. There was a lot of talent and success in the room: from a book blogger who’s landed a UK and US publishing deal (Ann Morgan) to a young vlogger who has the brands queueing up to feature on her profit-making lifestyle blog (Abisole Amole).
Thankfully, eclectic London blogger Katie Antoniou had plenty to say, recalling the time when blogs first emerged as the honest antidote to “bullshit” editorial. (Integrity, it seems, is still a blogger’s best friend, even in the current climate of bribery and gifting.) “I don’t have the ego for journalism,” she explained, which seemed to resonate around the table.
Rona Wheeldon has a niche even more obscure than contemporary art. She is a flower blogger, who waxed lyrical about the potential for filming posts and hosting a YouTube channel. “Vlogs can show emotion!” she insisted, even though last time I checked, the written word can sometimes do the same.
Things turned comic when book bloggers Morgan and Kim Forrester revealed statistical spikes from wayward web users who stumble upon their sites in search of resources for sex tourism. We laughed about it, but it was a reminder that despite its academic origins, the web is still not the best place for serious discussions. Nevertheless, with their literate audiences, both bloggers have built readership and communities within their crowded field.
Indeed it was widely reported that finding an audience and a network of peers could still be the number one reason for starting a blog. Even if in recent years comments are very hard to come by (“Who’s got time to comment?” we asked). Time is an increasing issue, as one faces the introduction of a two speed internet where large web corporations choke smaller players. Morgan raised fears of losing the level playing field bloggers now enjoy.
Several of us bemoaned the encroachment of social media ads and promoted posts. The latest platform to introduce ads appears to be Instagram. Starbucks and UK supermarket Waitrose had reached out to a couple of the photobloggers among us. Although to be fair, their presence wasn’t totally unwelcome. Amole revealed a thriving existence of the coffee giants’ #redcups hashtag. She is relaxed about it.
As the meal drew to a close we took questions about blogging from twitter. One eager user requested three tips from each of us in turn. Find a niche. Use social media. Build a brand. The wisdom was flowing by this point. But perhaps interiors blogger Kate Baxter had the last word. Don’t get into blogging to get free stuff or money. It probably won’t happen. You may however one day be invited to a West London blogging salon. Things could be worse.
November 5, 2014 · Print This Article
By Kevin Blake
“Four score and seven years ago,” is how my mind tells me to start every essay I sit down to write. This is my memory at work. I remember the tone of the words that follow in Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. I remember the cadence. I remember that it was taught as a triumph. As a novel speech from a novel man. I can see the address in a block quote in a semi-thick American history textbook. It was highlighted in blue with Lincoln’s portrait in the top right corner of the elongated box, at the right side of the page, and at the end of a chapter covering the Civil War. I was given the task of memorizing the words and reciting it to my classmates, but all that remains are the first words. The image of the words. The feeling of time passed.
When I am staring beyond my computer screen–perhaps out the window–searching for the right words to begin with, Lincoln’s words make up the phrase that my mind tells me to jot down. It seems as much a method of mocking myself for my own distrust in my ideas and the effectiveness of recording them in this way, as it is a natural beginning. A way to set the tone. A point of abstraction. Only now am I realizing that the attention I have paid to it–in this introduction–may either eradicate its insistence in my writing regiment, or forever disturb any ingenuity it may have had. Today, the words are there and I’m responding to them.
I recently admitted to a habit of writing my articles the day before the deadline, and since then, I have been stewing over the probability of procrastination. I’ve been questioning my routine and routinely questioning the validity of the way I think, rationalize, and project my ideas. I am forever convincing myself that my ideas are valuable and that the time I have spent Not preparing this article, has been used to decompress the information that has consumed me in the month prior. I am often successful in my persuasion, however, there also exists an acute awareness that convincing is essential. Therein lies the paradox. Therein lies the necessity for crackerjack acumen–or the ability to form enterprise with intuition and memory despite one’s rational concerns that may encourage otherwise.
I’m constantly waiting for a bolt of lightning to electrify my thoughts–to send a signal from brain to stem which results in an action–in this case writing. Molly Zuckerman-Hartung revealed to me the genesis of the lightening bolt as Hans Hartung’s signature. He believed the lightning bolt was especially for him, and that its form (the zig-zag) represented spontaneity in a way that was true to the idea of what spontaneous action might look like–erratic pivot points descending from above a surface it will eventually contact. It will be surrounded by other bolts (they come in storms), and will offer the conscience a choice at every zig and every zag, eventually determining where the bolt will be grounded.
Last week I was struck at Devening Projects by the drawings of Monika Bartholomé. Before reading any literature about the work, I felt the drawings had allowed me to access very intimate spaces that were not only intimate in their portrayal of domestic interiors. Though there is ample information to suggest that these drawings are simple representations of the artist’s habitation, a closer look reveals imaginative brushwork, a keen understanding of light, and most importantly, an uncorrupted investigation of memory.
My memory of the Gettysburg Address and the application of it, is a corrupted memory in the way it has manifested in this piece of writing. It was stimuli that has since been captured, dismembered, and postulated as metaphoric reasoning. We reason from metaphors in our attempts to make sense of ourselves, our actions, other people, and the physical world around us. We engage in metaphoric thought processes simply because much of our experience is metaphorically structured, and it is from our experiences that we reason. It is through this type of reasoning that I have abstracted more rigid or formal strains of logical connections to perpetuate my ideas, and to understand Monika Bartholomé’s drawings through my own narrow framing device.
When I visited Devening Projects, Bartholomé’s drawings had the zigs and the zags of the lightning bolts. I could see choices being made. I could see the movement of the brushes as well as her hand, and I felt a connection to the impulses that drove those decisions. I envisioned the way the brushes moved across the drawing surface and quickly made jagged sloping turns to radiate in a resting place. In each conglomeration of intuitive marks, a space would emerge. These spaces are ultimately derived from memory, but are defined by the hand’s memory rather than metaphoric representations of existing places. The work seemed to be about the impulse to move the hand from one place to the next using a tool that makes a mark on paper and leaves a trace that creates a dilemma for the maker. This dilemma and the response to it, is how her images are made. Everything else is corruptible. Every attempt to create, rather than respond, would be a false step in the process of creation.
Looking at the drawings that materialize as living spaces, one can see how the hand’s memory is as familiar as the mind’s. Bartholomé makes repetitive decisions in similar situations. When she reaches an edge, one can see the pressure applied to the brush gradually subside. As the hand recognizes its place in space, it makes adjustments to the tool. The tool, in turn, responds with a trace of that impulse–a mark of muscle memory and the basis for the next drawing move.
Bartholomé has an incredibly efficient economy in her mark-making strategies. However intuitive it may be, it is also learned. The labor and reduction required to arrive at such simple, yet elegant, descriptions of space doesn’t occur on a whim. In her essay, “The Eyes Following the Hand,” Bartholomé describes the marks she makes: “…they do condense into pictorial language by means of abstract abbreviation…The lines bring something into the open that I once perceived, for the most part unconsciously and incidentally, and that is recorded here in whatever form. To be able to get what has been recorded, to the connections that the perceived thing entered into, and then create a place for it and be surprised by it–this is what interests me, among other things, in the medium of drawing.”
Bartholomé’s drawings seem to posit that metaphor is a pervasive, yet indispensable structure of reasoning that calls into question some deeply rooted views about the nature of knowledge and understanding. This balancing act is at the heart of her work. The artist is both visible and absent. The spaces are both intimate and ordinary. Recognizable and abstract. Reductive and chock full of imagery. These drawings are easy to get lost in, but only a few steps backwards will bring your eyes back to a reasonable place.
I’m at that place of reason right now after having written this piece. I’m standing in a place that is far enough from the image I have created, and it seems to make plenty of sense–at least to me. My distortions of Baratholomé’s work are my attempt to regurgitate her production schematic–letting memory serve as the metaphor that describes the process.
Well I’m traveling down the road
And I’m carrying that heavy load
I walk around in a stupor
Sleazy, I cant do the show
Last April, Dave Brockie, better known as Oderus Urungus, lead singer of the band GWAR, died of a heroin overdose. I wrote about his death in a previous article: http://badatsports.com/2014/i-hope-theres-drugs-in-heaven-rest-in-peace-dave-brockie/
Hanging out backstage
I’m in a homicidal rage
I signed a million dollar contract
I puked on every page
Slaughtered half the crew
Caused they ate the deli-tray
Oh Baby hey
Said I’d do the show but I canceled anyway
Many feared that the band would die with Brockie, but happily, this doesn’t seem to be the case. GWAR has endured, with a tour beginning at Riotfest in Chicago. After the initial performance, GWAR was reported to have a new, female lead singer by the name of Vulvatron. This was of course welcomed and hailed as a progressive step by the feminist (or at least pro-equality) press (and Internet chatter), but this early reports were quickly amended. A new character called Blóthar, a self-described berserker, performed many of the vocals formerly performed by Oderus, and was credited in subsequent reports as GWAR’s new lead singer, with Vulvatron’s role being amended to being “more mysterious.”
You were road kill baby
Til I scraped you in my arms
Just another wattle flapping
On the old turkey farm
I was of course still saddened by the loss of Brockie, but also intrigued and excited by the new lineup. Would GWAR still be GWAR without Oderus? I hoped so, and it was in this spirit of hope that I bought tickets to the Albuquerque performance on the so-called “Eternal Tour.” (They were also performing in Tempe, much closer to my new home of Flagstaff, but some friends were in Albuquerque, so we made a road trip of it.) I’d seen photos of Blóthar and Vulvatron, and heard some interviews, but I needed to see and hear them performing, with my own eyes and ears. So we headed out for Albuquerque, and arrived at the venue (Sunshine Theather) just in time to catch the last couple of songs by the second opening act, Decapitated. (They were excellent, by the way.)
And while the wheels keep rolling
And another milepost gone
All along the road behind
Oh can’t you hear me calling
Just like the sad whale song
I’m on the road behind
The show centered around a narrative that Oderus Urungus was missing. The band attempted to rescue him using a time machine, going into the past (before he went missing, presumably with Brockie’s death) to bring him into the present. After initially accidentally capturing a pizza delivery dude, who was suitably dismembered, this resulted in the band acquiring only Oderus’ penis, the “Cuttlefish of Cthulhu.” At first confused by this development, the band concluded that Oderus had mistaken the door-like “time portal” for a glory hole, and had stuck his dick through in hope that it would get sucked. (The band then complained (I’m paraphrasing), “What? This thing doesn’t suck your dick? You can get pizza, but you can’t get your dick sucked? Fuck the future!”)
Well there you have it baby I’m just a sensitive guy
Y’know I snuffed a million planets
But I still find time to cry
Because there’s more to life
Then making other people die
Like a little bloody tear baby
Running out my dirty little eye
The set list of this tour has been well described by previous reviews (http://www.heyreverb.com/blog/2014/11/02/gwar-summit-music-hall-denver-halloween-photos-review/96481/). A weird, turtle-like hobgoblin named Bonesnapper delivered a hip hop sort of track (I didn’t recognize it, but looking it up, it’s apparently called “I, Bonesnapper”) the way Sleazy P Martini, the band’s manager, formerly performed Think You Oughta Know This and Slaughterama. He was subsequently ridiculed by the rest of the band for his efforts.
And some things baby
They don’t make no sense
Does it really matter if it bugs your parents?
Beefcake the Mighty and Vulvatron performed a duet of Hate Love Songs. The band did a few other GWAR classics: Saddam a Go-Go, and Horror of Yig. The band did prove that they could perform the standard repertoire. It was by any standard a good show. Throughout, the narrative of the absence of Oderus served as a memorial to Brockie. The show hit its climax with a battle with Mr. Perfect, a giant, Dr. Manhattan-like being from the future, with a cracked lava skin texture and, after sustaining some battle damage, tentacles for arms. This was all standard GWAR fare, and certainly the band showed that, for all the sadnass at Brockie’s death, the show would go on.
You were road kill baby
Til I scraped you in my arms
Just another wattle flapping
On the old turkey farm
The concert had, from its beginning, acted as a memorial for Dave Brockie. Towards its conclusion, this element was brought to the forefront. A metal rendition of Danny Boy accompanied a funeral procession in which the band carried Oderus’ giant, two-handed sword, Unt Lick. The sword was propped up as a monument, and the band proceeded to perform GWAR’s one classic sad song: The Road Behind. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UyqDIaFCos
Now baby quit yer crying
Put those clown britches on
Blóthar sang these lyrics in the third person: “You know he snuffed a million planets, but he still found time to cry,” and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind about whom they were singing. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house; each and every one of us sported “a bloody little tear, baby, running out my dirty little eye.” It felt and sounded like the entire audience was singing along with every word; I know I was. And then, without skipping a beat, they refused to descend too far into the maudlin, and instead performed a rendition of the Pet Shop Boys (whom they decried as “the worst band of all time”) song West End Girls, mashed up with Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.”
Well the wheels keep rolling
And another signpost gone
Baby can’t you hear me calling
Like a sad whale song
Sad whale baby
There was no encore. They played what they came to play, following a set plan, an when they were done, they cleared the stage. The night was over. (Well, actually we went to a burlesque show at a bar afterwards, but the band was done.) And we were left to reflect on the night’s performance. The absence of Dave Brockie, a.k.a. Oderus Urungus, was not merely felt, but central to the show. In every moment was a tribute, whether overt or unspoken, to his contributions to the band. The question of his legacy, of who would take the place as lead singer of GWAR, was similarly central. While Blóthar sang most of the vocals that Oderus would have performed, he deftly avoided the role of Brockie’s replacement. In small moments, the idea that Brockie was irreplaceable ran as a consistent thread throughtout the show. The suggestion, “What do you think, Bonesnapper for lead singer of GWAR?” rang not merely as a throwaway line, but as a reminder, that GWAR’s lead singer was and would always be Oderus Urungus, a.k.a. Dave Brockie. The singing of “The Road Behind” in the third person underscored his absence. Vulvatron asserted herself even more powerfully than Sylmensta Hymen, GWAR’s most recent female member, had done, which was no mean feat. Sawborg Destructo struggled against Bonesnapper but neither was a serious contender.
The concert was the perfect tribute to Brockie. It showed two things: firstly, that Oderus was irreplaceable, and nobody would be stupid enough to try to take his place. Secondly, we saw that despite this, the band could and would continue to perform without him. GWAR has seen other members come and go, and if they can survive, as it seems, the loss of their lead singer, then the band could in theory endure indefinitely. However, the concert-as-wake was such a memorial, the late Brockie and missing Oderus so central that the performance, it left one question lingering in the air. As we spilled out into the night, I wondered what their next tour would look like. What would GWAR look like once Oderus’ shade no longer hung over the stage in absentia?
But, as Blóthar put it, that’s enough sad shit, enough feeling sorry for ourselves. Here’s the Pet Shop Boys cover.
Guest post by Jessica Cochran
Since it opened nearly two weeks ago, many of the nation’s foremost critics have weighed in on the successes and failures of Prospect 3: Notes for Now, New Orleans’ third international biennial of contemporary art, curated by Franklin Sirmans. But, as these things go, the jury is always out. Beaten to death in assessments of the most recent “love to hate” Whitney Biennial, were the assertions that the biennial itself is kind of a “tired situation.”[i] As Helen Molesworth pointed out in Artforum, “in today’s hyper-mediated art scene, no one actually expects to be bowled over by anything new.” A successful biennial is something of an oxymoron.
This year’s modest Prospect Biennial slogan, Notes for Now, is meant to imply, as Sirmans told Flash Art this summer, “transition” and “translation,” and “the idea that I was merely taking notes.” And so P3, one of the only stateside international biennials to operate on a citywide scale, diverges curatorially from the more overtly dramatic thematic tendencies in global biennials, which often operate under the banner of slogans like “All the World’s Futures” or “Burning Down the House.” Some projects in this biennial, which was inspired by the meandering existentialist novel The Moviegoer, do feel akin to a sort of information gathering: Sophie T. Lvoff’s color photographs of street corners, cars, doorways and urban flora mine an idiosyncratic visual language native only to New Orleans neighborhoods. Improbable, harmonious color combinations emerge from humdrum corners of this world amplifying something about the sociology and history of these as purposeful spaces put together with love and care.
And perhaps this “modesty” is a first move forward in what will be Prospect’s long evolution from its post-Hurricane Katrina origins. As it approaches its first decade, the biennial has traded the specific urgency of Katrina, as Sirmans suggests, for a broader sense of “celebration” considered in relation to complex themes of geography, cultural diversity, “crime and punishment,” the aftermath of slavery and the “brutal legacy” of the South.[ii] Laced throughout the biennial, projects about the New Orleans experience situate a “flagrantly visible”[iii] city within a global patchwork of ideas, traditions and aesthetics. On view at the UNO St. Claude Gallery, The Propeller Group’s film The Living Need Light and the Dead Need Music connects funeral ceremonies of Saigon and New Orleans, both cities of the Global South, through a visually rich narrative following several ambiguous, charismatic protagonists through markets, swamps, rituals and processions. The film is complemented with body of photographs and drawings of brass band musicians shown alongside costumes, and sculptures (film props) of drums and trombones by Christopher Meyers. The entire project, based on the idea of the “butterfly effect” theory of “non-locality whereby two distinct phenomena affect one another across a vast expanse of space and time,”[iv] is ambitious, memorable and deeply affecting.
Within the biennial’s context of “the global” other works move from the syncretic to the poly-cultural and diasporic in modes that range from wrenching to optimistic: Yun Fei Ji’s meticulous water color scroll paintings at the Contemporary Art Center depict Chinese migration and displacement unfolding horizontally in scenes emerging from drawn folds and valleys; David Zink Yi’s two channel video Horror Vacui documents, through vignettes, his Afro-Cuban band’s rehearsal and ritual engagement. Shot from myriad odd spatial perspectives in Havana, the music is presented as the tangible, historically loaded manifestation of particular human relations in a specific time and place; and, elegantly, at the Newcomb Art Gallery, Monir Farmanfarmanaian’s glass and mirror sculptural mosaics “marry traditional Persian design motifs with elements of Western modernism.”[v]
As I moved through New Orleans on foot, bike, van, and trolley, I observed inimitable Green Bay Packers super-fans infiltrate the city in advance of a Sunday night football game that coincided with the biennial’s opening weekend. As a tourist moving through crowds of green and gold garb (an experience that recalled my own freezing youth as a “cheesehead” growing up in the shadows of Lambeau Field and Vince Lombardi), I couldn’t help but consider how the impact of professional sports in this city’s post-Katrina climb relates to the efforts of the art world.
In an interview, Treme creator David Simon once said simply “New Orleans still makes something. It makes moments.” That this city of Mardis Gras is a generative place, hospitable to sports revelry and the creative chaos of the eponymous Jazz Fest is obvious. One of the biennial’s most essential works addressed the city’s history of festivalism directly. Andrea Fraser’s Not Just a Few of Us, performed in a packed auditorium at the New Orleans Museum of Art, was one-person re-enactment of a “marathon” 1991 New Orleans City Council meeting debating a “proposed ordinance requiring the integration of private clubs and carnival krewes.”[vi] Moving fluidly and subtly across the positions of 19 individuals, Fraser’s incredibly nuanced performance amplified the language of both nuts and bolts policy and familial banter, exposing deeply embedded bias, discomfort and aggression. It was a mesmerizing articulation of economic, social and racial divisions. I loved this as a nod to not only the city but to the biennial itself, which as is been dogged with infighting, politics, and budget woes as recently reported by the Art Newspaper. If in Prospect 1, Paul Chan’s production of Waiting for Godot “could be read at least partially as an allegory for the endless waiting of citizens in the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly neighborhoods for federal government help in the aftermath of Katrina,”[vii] Fraser’s deep dive into history of Mardi Gras in relation to city politics provides a similar opportunity for allegorical reading and, in this case, institutional critique.
With over 50 artists, the biennial stretches out over 15 venues. Although I tried, I did not see everything, unfortunately missing both Terry Adkins’ lauded drum sculptures at Dillard University and Tavares Strachan floating neon sculpture You Belong Here, which was allegedly floating up and down the Mississippi River: it was nowhere in sight when I tried to see it during what I thought was a designated time. Do failed attempts make the biennial experience richer, I wondered existentially as I soaked in the warm pink and brown palette of sunset on the Mississippi. Nope.
Fortunately for the weary, time-poor traveler alone, this biennial isn’t as embedded into the neighborhoods as the inaugural version, which was emblematized by Mark Bradford’s monumental ark and Wangechi Mutu’s Miss Sarah’s House installation in the lower 9th ward. It does, however reach from large institutions to small cultural centers, and into public space. As Christine K. Kim asserts in her essay for the catalog, “Instead of two rigid possibilities of, on the one hand, an outsider object’s coming into a mainstream art institution or, on the other, an established artist’s going out into the landscape and creating a site-specific installation, a loosening, obscuring and mixing up of modes, strategies and media is integral to Prospect 3.”[viii] A distinctly less binary, though perhaps not totally hybrid curatorial strategy is felt mobilized in installations such as Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick’s Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex (c. 1980–2014) at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Mary Ellen Caroll’s, Preparations for Public Utility 2.0 at AIA New Orleans (a long term project poised to bring Internet access to areas of New Orleans neglected by Internet providers) , Kerry James Marshall’s The Manifold Pleasures, and such… window installation of Plexiglas tables and gift boxes, bows and greeting cards at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, and, finally, Lisa Sigal’s Home Court Crawl which sited poetic text culled from a play by Suzan-Lori Parks onto vacant homes throughout New Orleans.
In a move that puzzled or annoyed some critics, Sirmans integrated into the biennial as touchstones the paintings Under the Pandanus (I Raro te Oviri) by Paul Gauguin and igura feminina e pássaros by Tarsila do Amaral. On view in permanent collection galleries at the New Orleans Museum of Art, they required a bit of a hunt—however the deep consideration of “the Other” from the perspective of the colonizer alongside the colonized provided provocative context and an important empathetic lens. Curatorial strategy, however, seemed to disappear elsewhere. For example, I made the journey (which required an epic walk along Greenwood Cemetery and humble jaunt around the periphery of the New Orleans Country Club with my goddamn suitcase in tow) to the impeccable Longue Vue Gardens expecting to find site-specific works that engaged or disrupted the lush, manicured environs. Instead I found fantastic projects shoved into small, almost makeshift galleries. Jose Antonio Vega Macotela’s Time Divisa, a selection of artworks realized by inmates in exchange for favors seemed over-stuffed into a small space, and Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue video, an exploration of the origin of the world by way of the Smithsonian, screensavers and spoken word, is too curious and wonderful to exist at such a distant margin.
The pulse of feminism reverberated throughout the biennial, which has been praised for its diversity—for example, it features 44 artists of color, out of 58 total. Performative still portraits by Pushpamela N. made visible “oppressive ideals” projected by representations of polytheistic deities, documentary photography and popular culture” exposing the “patriarchal” “colonial gaze.”[ix] At the George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art, Carrie Mae Weems’ video installation, Lincoln, Lonnie and Me – A Story in 5 parts (commissioned for the Feminist and… exhibition at the Mattress Factory) featured holographic characters on a period stage performing difference against a hypnotic backdrop of jazz and sound. Moving through references to boxing, activism, the Playboy bunny and the Kennedy assassination, scenes reveal women briefly in ghostlike hologram, yet they emerge as immense, deeply drawn characters. Also memorable was a video at May Gallery & Residency by Tameka Norris. Meka Jean: How She Got Good, a four channel semi-fictional story of the young artist returning home to New Orleans was flanked in another gallery by documentation of the artist’s process of working with the community. The documentation was illuminating but nonessential—and definitely unnecessary if meant as a preemptive defense against an assertion of artistic parachuting, a common critique of biennialism.
Finally, some of the most wonderful works were those that slowed you down, that offered a space to reflect or think about histories in the face of potentials.
Lucia Koch’s installation in the Contemporary Art Center, Mood Disorder, featured gradient color printed on Plexiglas and glass placed in the firsts floor gallery along windows and corners. Zarouhie Abdalian intervened throughout the grounds of the New Orleans Museum of African American History and Culture, replacing fence posts and portions of siding with mirrors. Combined with spoken word sound, a man’s voice reciting language related to labor, emanating from deep within the historic plantation structures, the work felt present and directional, guiding the viewer across the property in a heightened state of awareness. Gary Simmons’ large stage, fabricated out of reclaimed wood and speakers, sits within the stark interior of the Treme Market Branch, a former bank in the early stages of renovation. A platform waiting for its party, the humble work is not wholly inert, but also not as compelling in situ as the fantastic structure in which it sits.
Sirmans wrote in his catalog essay that New Orleans has both a “brutal legacy” and a “glorious and celebratory flip side.” In finding works to embody the politics, history, and aesthetics of this contradiction, he was guided by intuition rather than strict methodology—and this is a curatorial strategy I appreciate as much for its moments of triumph as for its moments of failure. Because to expect perfection from a biennial forecloses its status as a site for experimentation, pedagogy, ferment and progress. Fortunately, most of works in this biennial occupy meaningful territory—getting yourself there is the hard part.
Jessica Cochran is a writer and curator in Chicago.
[ii] Franklin Sirmans, “Somewhere and not Anywhere,” in Prospect 3: Notes for Now, exh. cat. (New York: Delmonico Books, 2014), p. 28.
[iv] Excerpted from the wall text
[v] Elizabeth Sorenson, “Monir Farmanfarmaian,” in Prospect 3: Notes for Now, exh. cat. (New York: Delmonico Books, 2014), p. 72.
[vi] artist statement
[vii] Joshua Dector, “Preamble: a Flood of Questions,” Afterall, no. 22 (Autumn/Winter 2009) p. 34.
[viii] Christine Y. Kim, “Deposing Dualities in Prospect 3,” in Prospect 3: Notes for Now, exh. cat. (New York: Delmonico Books, 2014), p. 158.
[ix] Martabel Wasserman, “Pushpamala N. with Clare Arni, in Prospect 3: Notes for Now, exh. cat. (New York: Delmonico Books, 2014), 120.