Aspen Mays has been a busy woman with both a 12×12 show at the MCA (February 6-28) and an installation at the Hyde Park Art Center (January 24-April 25). She was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer some of my questions about both exhibitions, her process, and her plans for her Fulbright Grant to Chile.
Recently you spoke at threewallsSALON in a discussion called The Doctoral Artist: Research & Practice. What role does research play in your practice? How do you typically begin a series/piece?
Research is often the catalyst for my work. I studied Anthropology as an Undergraduate student- that’s what my degree is in, and I think that sort of academic training has found its way into my practice mostly because I enjoy it so much. I’ve always been a really curious person, and I try to channel that as an artist. I love spending time in the library chasing down ideas, and I also try to get out and do a lot of hands-on research. Perhaps its my background in another field, but I read a lot of books about science and astronomy, and as an artist, I love speaking to folks in different research areas. A lot of projects start by tracking down experts in different fields that I’m interested in. I enjoy that interaction and these sort of “field trips” can be a great source of inspiration and potential collaboration. The video piece Larry, for example, was made with the help of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. I contacted them after I’d been looking into weather ballooning, and I just started visiting the planetarium speaking to several of the astronomers that launch research balloons as part of the Astro Science Workshop each summer for high school students. I started attending the Workshop – for pleasure really because I thought it was all so interesting….one thing lead to another and I struck up a friendship with Mark Hammergren (an Astronomer there) and the video piece I ended up making sort of evolved out of all of that. That process is a pretty good example of my practice- I love seeking out that interaction. It makes making art feel a lot less solitary to me.
For this week’s pick we bring you Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978-79. Birnbaum will be screening and speaking about her work at the Gene Siskel’s Conversations at the Edge on February 11th.
via Art Torents:
“In her video Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, Dara Birnbaum created one of the first examples of appropriation imagery from mainstream television, something that is now quite common. Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, features, as one might expect, Wonder Woman, the main character of the prime-time television program of the same name which was based on an action-adventure comic book. Using actual sceans from the series, Birnbaum ‘plung[es] the viewer headlong into the ver experience of TV- unveiling TV’s stereotypical gestures of power and submission, of male and female egos.”
Ah, I’ve been wanting to bring back this little Rant of the Week column for awhile now, but have been stymied by either a) lack of good material or b) lack of time to scour the internet in search of good material. But today’s rant is a two-fer, or a three-fer, or something…anyway it’s good, it’s still sorta fresh, and although it’s easy enough to find on your own via the art twit- and blogosphere I present the following, for those of you who are not already aware of the Jerry Saltz vs. John Yau smackdown.
Here’s some quick background: Last December Jerry Saltz wrote a column in New York magazine praising Jeff Koons’ Puppy as the art work of the aughts–or the naughts–or the whatevers!– and Koons himself as “the emblematic artist of the decade-its thumping, thumping heart.” Saltz goes on to argue that
All of Koons’s best art-the encased vacuum cleaners, the stainless-steel Rabbit (the late-twentieth century’s signature work of Simulationist sculpture), the amazing gleaming Balloon Dog, and the cast-iron re-creation of a Civil War mortar exhibited last month at the Armory-has simultaneously flaunted extreme realism, idealism, and fantasy. Puppy adds to that: It is a virtual history of art, recalling the mottled surfaces of Delacroix (albeit on ‘shrooms), the fantastical fairy-tale beings of Redon, a mutant Frankenstein canine from Seurat’s La Grande Jatte, and the eye-buzzing Ben-Day dots of Roy Lichtenstein. As it emits the swirling amorphousness of Tiepolo and the pathos of Watteau, it is also a magnified, misshapen abstraction of Duchamp’s urinal-a similarly deliberate gesture of antic outlandishness, and one that, of course, was signed “R. Mutt.”
Koons’ work has always stood apart for its one-at-a-time perfection, epic theatricality, a corrupted, almost sick drive for purification, and an obsession with traditional artistic values. His work embodies our time and our America: It’s big, bright, shiny, colorful, crowd-pleasing, heat-seeking, impeccably produced, polished, popular, expensive, and extroverted-while also being abrasive, creepily sexualized, fussy, twisted, and, let’s face it, ditzy. He doesn’t go in for the savvy art-about-art gestures that occupy so many current artists. And his work retains the essential ingredient that, to my mind, is necessary to all great art: strangeness.”
And so on. A few weeks later, critic John Yau responds to Saltz’s piece with an essay of his own in The Brooklyn Rail (where Yau serves as art editor), titled “The Difference Between Jerry Saltz’s America and Mine.” Yau starts out with a reference to a bit by the late comedian Bill Hicks, one in which Hicks rips on Jay Leno for shilling Doritos, despite the gazillions of dollars Leno already has; the implied question being how much more cash does this bloated gazillionaire need that he has to sell us junk food, too? Yau says, of Hicks,
He believed that there are some things that you just shouldn’t do, and one of them was to be a spokesperson for bad or unhealthy products. I was reminded of Hicks’ routine when I read Jerry Saltz’s paean to Jeff Koons’ Puppy, which ‘assumed the form of a West Highland white terrier constructed of stainless steel and 23 tons of soil, swathed in more than 70,000 flowers that were kept alive by an internal irrigation system.'”
Adam Ekberg has a lovely exhibition of new photographs up at Thomas Robertello Gallery that closes Saturday, February 6th — that’s tomorrow people! — so if you haven’t seen it, you should do the proverbial rush right out and see it thing before it closes. After that, get yourself over to the MCA, where Adam’s work can be seen in the group show Elements of Photography, up through April 6th. I had a brief virtual chat with the very busy Mr. Ekberg this week, and am most appreciative of him for taking the time to answer my questions.
CI: In the brief statement that accompanies the portfolio of images on your website, you mention ‘lens fallibility’ as one of the means by which you activate otherwise ordinary environments. Could you elaborate a bit on how the notion of fallibility operates in your process?
AE: These pictures have been discussed as referential to spirit photography but I like to think of them more in terms of the camera malfunctioning due to misuse. Pointing the camera at the sun is generally recognized as a bad idea on the level of putting balled up tinfoil in the microwave. If you are to go to a camera shop you can even purchase a variety of lens shades that prevent this effect from happening. I love the mistakes within images, Diane Arbus had a tendency to have vignetting in her prints and Nan Goldin always used flash in an elementary way which made her work feel even more personal and intimate.
Congratulations to Hamza Walker, curator at The Renaissance Society — it has just been announced that he’s won the Ordway Prize from Creative Link for the Arts and the New Museum! Walker, along with artist Artur Zmijewski, will receive an unrestricted award of $100,000. Here’s the text of the announcement in full:
“Creative Link for the Arts and the New Museum have announced Hamza Walker, the Director of Education and Associate Curator at Chicago’s Renaissance Society, and Polish artist Artur Zmijewski, as the recipients of the Ordway Prize. An international panel of Nominators and a Jury of leading arts world figures-led by Jennifer McSweeney, Director of Creative Link for the Arts, and Richard Flood, Chief Curator at the New Museum-selected the Ordway Prize recipients from a global pool of nominees. Walker and Zmijewski will each receive an unrestricted cash prize of $100,000.
“Working with artists is a reward in itself, and I feel privileged at being so generously honored for my passion. I wish I had a grand vision for the award, but as it stands, the bricks and mortar of my life are in severe need of tuckpointing,” said Hamza Walker.