EDITION #24 – MEXICO, DF

February 17, 2014 · Print This Article

Good times in Mexico City.

WTT? Goes SoTB

MEXICO, D.F.– Last week art world snowbirds descended upon Mexico City for the biggest Latin American art fair outside of Art Basel Miami Beach. While ZONA Maco, now in it’s 11th year, is obviously the big fish, 2014 also saw the launch of MACO’s first satellite, the ambitious Material Art Fair. We couldn’t stand the idea of missing out, so WTT? headed down to Mexico City to experience the fair scene in DF first hand. Armed with recording equipment and having just watched an Anthony Bourdain program on Mexico City, we were off.

The colonia we stayed in, Condesa, was just west of the center of the city and felt like a way cooler Logan Square. Nice apartments, lots of cute cafes, tons of bars and restaurants. Everyone, including Bourdain, told us that tacos al pastor were the best. We ate like a million immediately at a place closest to our airbnb. We briefly made it to the opening of Material Art Fair and after a comically unsuccessful attempt to go to the after party we ended the night at a dank little bar with heavy red curtains for doors called Bósforo.

First up. MACO, the monolith, was just that. It featured all of the usual bells and whistles: a massive convention center, an artsy partnership, a myriad of sponsors and all of the regulars. MACO also wins the award for worst branding and website possibly ever.

Fancy seeing you here.

Finally, something that even I couldn’t kill in the design section at MACO.

To be fair to the fair, we did discover a couple of sweet Mexican galleries: O.M.R., Kurimanzutto, LABOR and House of Gaga. Apart from the local galleries, Nuevas Propuestas, the smaller single artist booths were the most interesting. Featuring younger artists and more comprehensive views, we spotted work by one of our fav Miamians, Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, at Alejandra von Hartz’s booth. Rodriguez-Cassanova’s precise assemblages of screens, 2×4′s and vertical blinds felt oddly appropriate in the setting of the hastily constructed booth partitions.

Work by Rodriguez-Casanova in the Alejandra von Hartz booth.

We also loved seeing new work by Leonor Antunes on view in the “curated” section, Zona MACO Sur, with Marc Foxx gallery. Attracting our attention through the labyrinth of drywall, her bronze hanging work based on Anni Albers’ textiles were just the right amounts delicate and gold. Bonus points for having the most impressive rigging in the fair. The scaffolding supporting the works were tied with thick black ropes around the convention center’s ceiling vents.

Work by Antunes in the Marc Foxx booth.

The Vázquez at Odabashian.

On the way out we met the charming father and son team at Odabashian, who were only the millionth people that day to advise us to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología. One of their rugs was even designed by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the architect of the museum. In retrospect, you can totally see the repetitive polygonal facade of the museum in the gold and silver geometric pattern of the rug.

Before leaving Condesa for downtown on Saturday morning we walked to House of Gaga in Condesa and then O.M.R. in La Roma just to the east. On the way we grabbed the most amazing cornbread I’ve ever eaten from a bakery/cafe called Maque. It was my favorite breakfast in DF and really cemented our love for our temporary home of Condesa. Over at House of Gaga, Emily Sunblad’s en plein air paintings of elephants and jaguars at the Santa Barbara Zoo were just as delightful as the cornbread. Less delightful were the various cuts of meat placed throughout the gallery, but I was really feeling the dresses and the casual floral still lifes in the back. We also heard that musician Matt Sweeney performed with her at the gallery and was spotted at Bósforo during the fair. If you’re interested, the performance audio (which was avaiable on USB’s throughout the gallery) is also on the gallery’s website. The exhibition was House of Gaga’s first in their new space, the paint was still fresh and made our head buzz.

Work by Sundblad at the House of Gaga gallery.

A wall of happiness at Maque.

Facing the Plaza de Rio de Janiero and a gigantic bronze David replica, O.M.R. is easily the most grandiose gallery space I’ve ever been inside. Mexico City is terraformed and like many of the old buildings in DF, the luxurious old house is sinking back into the swamp. From the moment you open the iron gate into the ornate white staircase it’s on. I’m convinced that the gigantic marble slabs rigged up by Jose Davila for his exhibition only enhanced the effect of the sloping floors and vise versa. Also on display were some wild old James Turrell work from his Mendota Hotel period in the early 1970s.

Can I just live here already!?

Cristobal Riestra in front of work by Jose Davila in the O.M.R. gallery.

The main galleries were impressive but I was most partial to Pia Camill‘s work in the project space adjoining the main gallery. Her bright abstract curtains with sumptuous blues hanging in front of windows and throughout the gallery were complemented by the large shapely ceramic works and painted walls. Despite the massive population of the city, the art world in Mexico DF feels roughly Chicago-sized, so we weren’t too surprised to discover that Francisco Cordero-Oceguera, the artist behind Lodos Contemporáneo also has a gig as Camill’s assistant. The bookstore downstairs was pretty cute too. We found a kids book designed by Niki de Saint Phalle called Malo Malo that I only wish I had as a toddler.

Pia Camill at O.M.R.

Our final stop before returning to Material was the oft recommended Museo Nacional de Antropología. Totes worth it. From the Vázquez building to the Sone of the Sun and the countless artifacts and displays, you could spent an entire vacation in the museum. It was all pretty spectacular, even if we could only decipher about half of the label text. After drooling over the elaborate marble and molar sacrificial jewelry we took a walk through Chapultepec Park where the Museo Rufino Tamayo is also located.

Antique artists pallets and tools.

Just some morning yoga at the museo.

Sacraficial teeth necklace!

Recreation of a mural inside of the pre-Colombian wing.

Bone instruments at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.

For the slightly more adventurous and internet savvy art enthusiast, Material Fair at the Hilton Reforma in El Centro was the place. The marked difference between the two fairs was palpable as soon as you made it to the entrance on the fourth floor. Far from a chore, Material felt like a hip family reunion with newly discovered extended cousins. Their signage was also way more to my liking. By invitation only, the fair was a tightly curated selection of 40 art galleries and alternative spaces from Mexico, the States and Europe. I like to think that this fair would have been Bourdain’s preference.

While some familiar veterans like Andrew Rafacz (Chicago), Kinman (London), Clifton Benevento (New York), Michael Jon (Miami) and Green Gallery (Milwaukee) were present, the inclusion of project spaces (aka alternative spaces, apartment galleries, pick your favorite) such as Queer Thoughts (Chicago), Regina Rex (Queens) and Important Projects (Oakland) galvanized fairgoers and established fraternal bonds amongst the visiting artists and galleries. The anchors of Material were absolutely the Mexican project spaces (Yautepec, Otras Obras, NO Space, Neter, Lodos Contemporáneo, and more) who also acted as generous hosts and guides for the artists and gallerists visiting from abroad.

Chelsea Culp’s work inside the QT booth.

QT booth on the opening night of Material.

The success was largely due to the personal touch and attention of fair organizers, Daniela Elbahara and Brett W. Schultz, who also run Yautepec in the neighborhood of San Rafael. Drawing on relationships they established through visiting other cities and fairs, and the observation of like-minded spaces on the internet, the fair felt like more of an authentic survey than whatever Hans Ulrich Obrist thought he was doing with 89plus.

I was feeling the crying payaso at NO Space’s booth.

The always easy to spot Birk and Delmar at the fair.

The project spaces, many showing outside of their own closet or living room for the first time, responded in a variety of ways. Some spaces, such as Important Projects, who’s own small residential Oakland space usually exhibits single artists, presented a group show which included DF locals and NO Space proprietors Debora Delmar Corp. and Andrew Birk. They also debuted print editions from Leisure Press, a project of Medium Cool’s Ria Roberts. Regina Rex’s booth was dominated by Black Beach, an impressive clay wall by Hugo Montoya, which was created on-site and continued to dry and crack throughout the duration of the fair. It paired particularly nicely with Michael Merck’s plaster casts of limited run fast food items and Alina Tenser’s jiggling vases in her Hip Openers video.

Schultz participating in a trust exercise at Otras Obras.

La_Compañía’s booth at Material Art Fair.

Other’s took a more experimental approach. Yautepec’s booth featuring Debora Delmar Corp. and Natalia Ibañez-Lario was installed with a mix of curtains, pillows fitted with printed bras, semi-household objects and brightly colored cut out legs that made it feel like the most fucked up living room in the best way. The unofficial faces of the fair, NO Space’s Birk and Delmar decided to show finished garments alongside the raw material of fashion designer Roberto Sanchez. Otras Obra’s use their booth as a studio and filmed many of the artists and attendees over the weekend. The resulting film, Dando y dando: pajarito volando is available to watch here

New blog idea…

The Regina Rex booth at Material.

Michael Hunter’s work at the Important Projects booth.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the closing party for Material, a showcase by Mexican label N.A.A.F.I. It more than made up for our first attempt at a Material Party. People were jammed packed into Bahia Bar, the music was good and loud and there was nothing else to do but dance. As you might expect, we spotted Schultz and Elbahara breaking it down right by the stage. The party was so fun we heard Sayre Gomez changed his flight back to the states just so he could stay at Bahia longer.

Yautepec’s booth at Material.

Artists Chelsea Culp, Leonardo Kaplan, Sarah & Michael Hunter and Ben Foch on their way to Bósforo.

Elbabara receives all the flowers on a night out in Plaza Girabaldi.

The Friday night Lodos opening for an exhibition by Important Projects’ Joel Dean and Jason Benson at their space in San Rafael only reinforced the camaraderie. On the corner across from the gallery I fulfilled my dream to eat blue masa tortillas like Anthony Bourdain did and it was divine. Back to the exhibition, it was based loosely on the last line of an Amiri Baraka poem, “Another Name for Liar,” and was crammed with the fanciful arrangements of the duos “post-studio” practice. Dean’s “Poster Boy,” a double sided takeaway featuring Elroy Jetson and Trayvon Martin on the back was the most singular and powerful work in the exhibition. Other arrangements seemed to rely on an inner narrative and possible a speaker set up that wasn’t audible over the din of the crowd. That night we also got a chance to see the NO Space space, located in the dining room of Delmar and Birk’s super sweet apartment on the top floor of a nearby building.

Delmar and Dean at the opening for “Another Name for Liar” at Lodos.

The holy grail.

“Poster Boy” by Dean at Lodos.

Artist Carson Fisk Vittori in front of work by Jason Benson at Lodos.

The point is that Anthony Bordain was right. Going to Material and seeing the impressive programming around the fair was like drinking a refreshing glass bottle of agua mineral. It also doesn’t hurt that Mexico, DF is probably the most captivating city in the Americas. It’s 100% nothing like people described it beforehand, except the water thing– that definitely seems real. Having visited though I’m not surprised to have met so many ex-pat artists living there. People are super nice and interesting, there’s an obscene amount of awesome wrought iron fences, brightly painted buildings, all kinds of old and new stuff smashed together, lots of trees and anything else you could ever want ever, and so much color. We left the way we arrvied, with tacos el pastor. Mexican food in Chicago is never going to be the same again.

So… Next year in Mexico City?


Hey! PS- Watch the podcast for my forthcoming interviews with Daniela Elbahara and Brett W. Schultz, Important Projects and Cristobal Riestra from O.M.R. for more on Material Fair, MACO and why you should move to Mexico City. Hasta luego!

Todos Juntos by Rirkrit Tiravanija at MACO.




EDITION #20

November 18, 2013 · Print This Article

Two buses, Two shows

The Central Techno Authority really came through this past Friday as perpetually late but perfectly on time for not one, but two rounds of seriously heady electronic music. First off, I just want to say that I had been excited for this Oneohtrix Point Never show at Constellation for-ever. I heard from a murky internet source that the show was to be opened by Chicago’s Brett Naucke. However, it later surfaced that Naucke was premiering a quadrophonic composition at Experimental Sound Studio. For this iteration of ESS’s Oscillations Series, Naucke was going cultural with a piece based on Richard Serra’s sculpture Reading Cones. Obviously, I had to go to both.

OPN at Constellation.

I headed off on the long journey north to ESS on first the 74 east and then the 50 northbound to wherever Edgewater is. Despite the two buses, I arrived right on time to get a seat for Naucke’s set. I closed my eyes and felt like my brain was unraveling, in a pleasant way. Naucke’s 30 minute set was distinctly metallic, and gave off the aural vibe of the sculpture, which itself appears to be some sort of Staregate-like vortex propelling industrial wavelengths into the atmosphere. The sounds were given life and movement through the quadrophonic experience, which immersed the audience who were also fully zoned. The piece culminated with a twinkly modulation that echoed into silence and eased the audience back to reality. My reality was that I needed to get to Oneohtrix Point Never stat!

Bootleg of Naucke’s Composition for Richard Serra’s Reading Cones.

I unfortunately had to skip out on Alex Barnett & Ken Camden as I boarded the 50 southbound to the 77 back west to Constellation. To be honest, I was a little panicked– I had spaced out and forgot to buy tickets. The show had sold out, but reality wasn’t going to get in the way of my destiny. After another endless bus ride, I arrived at the venue ready to scheme my way inside. Shout out to the slackers who bought tickets and didn’t show up cause I got into the shit no problem. Sat down three rows back, right in front of point never’s Daniel Lopatin right as he began to play.

Oneohtrix Point Never’s encore at Constellation.

Lopatin’s sound has noticeably evolved with his most recent release on Warp Records and I was really curious to see how his new sound would translate live. Oneohtrix Point Never was initially known for the mellow post-apocalyptic feel he achieved by looping his Juno 60 and pitched down samples. His set reflected this change. Instead of his trusty Juno 60 dominating his rig, Lopatin’s faced glowed angelically under the ambient light of his Mac laptop. Although the method has changed, the vibe remains the same. The audience was treated to a series of electronic compositions incorporating many of his new techniques including melodious chopped up vocal samples and pulsing synthesizers and a surprising amount of bass and percussion. The pulsating live visuals played off the hyper modern digital Wabi-sabi design of his most recent album covers. The pairing of music and visuals created a polysensorial glimpse into our inevitable cold futures wandering aimlessly in small pods across space time into nothingness. As the set came to close, I felt uplifted. That night the impossible became possible.

On the CTA, time is not linear. Manifest your own reality.

Brandon Warren Alvendia (Chicago, IL) 36 y.o. male Filipino-American is a suspect in the petty theft of 2.5 sentences of a press release text from an undisclosed New York City Art Gallery. The perpetrator attempted to invoke Fair Use Doctrine and thus waived the use of the cryptomnesia defense. The victims will remain unidentified to protect the privacy of their families. Alvendia is expected to plead guilty and accept his sentence of a lifetime of community service.

Installation at Women Weed & Weather.

The Weatherman Report

Gerhard Richter, Rain, 1988 (oil on canvas, 67 cm x 92 cm).

Cement Obstacle Foils Cyclists on Damen

Tired of the conventional potholes and run-of-the-mill cracks that dot and line every block of the city? Bike commuters were no doubt asking for a new kind of obstacle, and Chicago has answered the call. Introducing an impressive, and hopefully temporary, cement addition to the already difficult cycling conditions at Damen and Walnut.

It’s existed long enough to earn some traffic cones and warning signs, though the majority of the safety equipment has fallen over and drifted into the bike lane. Other rough-riding winners of the week include the nearly bike-proof eastbound stretch of Grand, between Pulaski and Central Park, and the viaduct on 23rd street, between Western and Rockwell, which last month featured a white loveseat that was perfectly situated in the middle of the craggy westbound lane. Keep reading the Traffic Report for more roadway gossip and Chicago street surprises in the future!

From Emerald City to blue painted beans, Saturday Night Openings Pop

A gem by Annie Strachan. at LVL3′s Emerald City.

LVL3 directors, Vincent Uribe and Anna Mort showing emerald solidarity at the exhibition’s opening.

Cutris Mann’s new cutout images of his studio are to die for.

A detail of Daniel Luedtke’s large scale mixed media sculptural work at the opening for Secound Primary at 3433.

Carson Fisk-Vittori and Derek Fretch during their triumphiant return to Chicago for the opening of Women Weed & Weather at Carrie Secrist Gallery.

WTT? visits New York, Gets Killer Mani

SO, here’s the T. Last week I was in NY for a wedding at Bryant Park.* The affair was black tie and I arrived in NY in desperate need of a manicure. In an usually unusual turn of events, I ended up in the East Village apartment of Miss Pop Nails, fashion manicurist to all my favorite drag queens, celebrities and designers. Being the So Fla yentas that we both are we totes hit it off, and Miss Pop gave me the most to die for manicure I’ve ever had.

Photo by Spencer J. LaFrandré.

Since I can’t keep anything to myself, here are some masterpieces nails that Ms. P created for the Guggenheim before the project was unfortunately scraped due to some “other” museums nail salon.

Masterpieces of nail couture.

If you’re like me, and can’t get enough of fly nails, follow Miss Pop Nails on tumblr/instagram and check out her tutorials. Here’s how to do my wedding nails on Cosmo. Living for her Warhol-inspired flower mani and the project with KAWS!

I died.

*A shooting went down on the ice rink the same night as the wedding! That was it’s whole own crazy story.




A Plant as Familiar: The Use of Plants in Contemporary Art

May 7, 2013 · Print This Article

Guest Post by Faye Kahn¹

Originally Composed 12/2012

plantsheader

LFT: Carson Fisk-Vittori , Untitled (Gerber) (2011), Little Paper Planes Gallery
RT: Ikebana Arrangement, Yasuhito Sasaki (2010), Ikenobo Society of Floral Art, Kyoto

 

Contemporary society occurs within a system of objects: toasters, cars, latch hooks, extension cords, hair pins, keys, cards, bunk beds, and so on. It is this very system (see also: pile, archive, collection, etc.) that contemporary artists have assimilated & reappropriated as a catalogue of their raw material. In a statement from Cincinnati’s U·turn Art Space’s 2010 “Stuff Art” group show of contemporary assemblage artists, an uncredited author defines the tactic as follows:

 ”These artists use spatial relationships and juxtaposition to increase our awareness of the common by approaching a free-for-all of range of materials as freed form …The evolution of these art practices is also in dialogue with “truth to materials” philosophies that began in the International Style of Modernist architecture…”²

Not only through Modernist Architecture but more popularly recognized at the advent of the readymade by Duchamp in 1917 & carrying through such evolutionary checkpoints as Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes, Mike Kelly’s stuffed animal agglomerations, the Etsy object sculptures of Brad Troemel, & the composited image collages of dump.fm users. The assemblage artist today is in an active & influential position, albeit one that pushes objects across the gallery floor, cutouts across the photocopier bed, & gifs around the checkerboard transparency field rather than paint across a canvas.

If this is the language in which we are speaking now, a lexicon containing stuffed animals, sign-my-guestbook gifs, Vitamin water, urinals, emoticons, taxidermy, etc. etc. & onward into infinity, it is worth noting the popularity of the term “plant” or “houseplant” & occasionally “office plant” which can be found repeatedly throughout digital & physical gallery dialogue.

The houseplant’s original intention was for the interior decorator, whose profession hinges on the art of arrangement. Houseplants usually function as decoration in the home to soften our transition from nature to domestic space. It freshens the air, appeals to our aesthetic senses, & reminds us of idealized places we aren’t (outside). This relationship to interior decorating is recognized by many plant-wielding artists, including & exemplified by Claire Fontaine in her Interior Design for Bastards show (2009) whose statement immediately admits its awareness of  “[t]he close and ambiguous relationship between art and decoration.”³

In a matryoshka-like way, the art of arrangement is repeated on a smaller scale within the houseplant’s own container, & even institutionalized by the practice in Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. According to the Ikebana International website, “In principle, ikebana aims not at bringing a finite piece of nature into the house, but rather at suggesting the whole of nature, by creating a link between the indoors and the outdoors.”⁴ Assemblage artist Carson Fisk-Vittori discusses her Ikebana-like exploration of this link in a 2011 interview with Claudine Ise of contemporary art blog Bad at Sports:

 ”…a soda can thrown in a flower pot is a gesture, because it is intentionally placed whether or not the person was aware of it… It’s really a natural gesture, like eating a cherry and spitting out the core, but in our world we are dealing with these man-made objects that are specially designed and branded. The contrast of man-made object and plant life really shows how far away we are from living with nature. I basically started looking closer at these casual arrangements and creating my own with elements of plants and man-made objects…I view these arrangements as microcosms for our relationship with nature.”⁵

This approach also addresses the current heightened cultural awareness of environmental issues, which has pushed plants into the socio-political spotlight that provides the creative fodder of cultural critics & artists. There is also an undeniable escapist aspect of the houseplant, as it is kept inside as a reminder of the outside, natural world. This adds to the plant’s ability to represent tropical & indigenous cultures that have more intimate relationships with nature.

However prescient these decorative & potentially escapist implications of plants, they cannot completely explain their rise in popularity in contemporary art. Though these qualities may influence the artist’s decisions on a conscious level, the houseplant has taken on more complex implications than a simple symbol of nature. Through its living presence & familiarity, it has transitioned into a subject that can go as far as acting as a stand in for a human being.

The movement of the plant from the exterior natural space to the interior  gallery necessarily devolves the specimen into the tamed version of itself: a house plant. Consequently, this conversion is also the first step in transforming the creature into an entity better capable of relating to humans. Unlike other found props from the system of objects catalogue, a plant is living & needs to be maintained-a quality uniquely expeditious in its importance to living things (in fact the lifespan of the plant determines the duration of visual moments in the work in which it resides). Furthermore, in many cases the plants in use occupy space in an analogous way to how a person would, with similar height & life presence. In an article discussing the sculptural work of Claes Oldenburg, Julian Rose describes the effective use of scale in relation to the minimalist work of Tony Smith:

“The primary objective in scaling the work roughly to the human body was to establish a connection between viewer & object. Objects that are too small or too large…tend to isolate themselves from the observer. A small object is perceived all at once, in a glance; it demands no participation. A similar problem arises with much larger objects, which are unintelligible at a short distance and fully legible only from distances so great that the viewer no longer feels that he or she is sharing space with it. A human-sized sculpture, neither too small nor too large, invites the viewer to move around it, gaining a full understanding through exploration of a shared space.”⁶

Coming upon a plant in a gallery space has a similar effect, if not more pronounced with the added dimension of life. In fact, this dimension & our a priori participatory relationship with plants lessens the problem of the small object Rose describes; we are accustomed to getting close to small plants to take care of them which extends our personal, shared space relationship with them.

Plants serve as a unique stand-in for a person because they have no emotive face. The exploitation of emotion & drama through pop culture, capitalism, & consumer arts has caused passion to become a subject that borders on guaranteed cliché & is territory that must be broached with extreme caution & tact. Plants therefore have a heightened utility to the artist as a subject more ambiguous than a portrait, mannequin, or cartoon character. Domesticated houseplants appear innocent, attractive, & defenseless, making them sympathetic individuals, while not fostering any theatrics or relying on sonic communication as an animal does. As a result of this, installations including plants do not always necessarily feel softened by the presence of plant life but can in fact occasionally alienate the viewer as though she were walking into a room of emotionless people. Still, they are more responsive & decisive than a mineral & their anthropomorphic qualities are obscure enough to free us from any social judgement of character from either subject or object.

This anthropomorphic phenomenon in the fine art world can be exemplified by a blog post found on the Walker Art Center website written by gallery photographer Gene Pittman. In the post, Pittman discusses archival photos from the center pre-1971, a time when plants were commonplace in the museum & gallery setting performing a decorative role:

 ”In these images [plants] seem to act as the stand-ins for the patrons, sometimes aloof and in the background or congregating around the radiator as if in discussion. And then there are those that are really into the work, standing in front of a sculpture’s light, their shadows enveloping the work.”⁷

Following the text there is an extensive image collection featuring examples of the gallery patron plant in its natural habitat. Looking at these photos today out of context, one might easily confuse them for photos of a contemporary exhibition incorporating plants in an installation. Compare, for example, the following two images:

 

Untitled archival photo from the Walker Art Center taken by in house photographer Gene Pittman

Untitled archival photo from the Walker Art Center taken by in house photographer Gene Pittman

 

Parrots (installation view), Jacopo Miliani (2008),  Frutta Gallery

Parrots (installation view), Jacopo Miliani (2008), Frutta Gallery

 

The top image, from 1959 at the Walker Art Center & the bottom from Jacopo Miliani’s 2008 installation Parrots at the Frutta gallery in Rome. Both situations involve tall, frond bearing plants observing framed 2D artwork hung on nearby walls with no obvious distinguishing feature illuminating the arranger’s identity as artist, as in Miliani’s installation, or as interior decorator, as in Pittman’s archival photo.

A similar effect is achieved by the Tumblr hosted image collection Mise en Green assembled by Brooklyn based curator, exhibition producer, and writer Arden Sherman (www.miseengreen.com) that intuitively documents the plant’s evolution from decorative gallery constituent to chosen member of the art piece. Amongst archival museum & gallery photos like those described above appear photos from contemporary gallery shows without any obvious distinguishing feature. For example, a long cluster of potted greens from the Dormitorio Publico 2012 show at the Campoli Presti Gallery can be found between archival photos from the Guggenheim & the MoMA in the 1950s. A selection of hanging & floor-dwelling plants in ceramic containers at Paul Wacker’s Wait & Watch a While Go By show at the Alice Gallery in Brussels (also from 2012) is displayed unobtrusively between documentation of the MoMA & Manchester Art Galleries from the 70s & 80s.

Viewing the plant as a human stand in allows us to obtain a more insightful reading of contemporary artworks that utilize them. Wait & Watch a While Go By now appears to reference what the group of hanging & potted plants in the exhibit are doing. The gallery is hung with paintings by Wacker & Maya Hayuk done in an unpretentious graphic style, many of which include images of wild plants & houseplants alike. The resulting situation is one of a kind of plant hangout- a place for them to relax & enjoy each others company with pictures of family members decking the halls.

 

Plants hanging out & looking at a picture of plants at the A.L.I.C.E. gallery.

Plants hanging out & looking at a picture of plants at the A.L.I.C.E. gallery.

Although this anthropomorphization goes largely unrecognized (at least publicly) by the artists that implement it, at the beginning of his 2008 performance piece Este Cuerpo Que Me Ocupa, João Fiadero directly confronts us with an unadorned plant as subject:

“…Fiadero walks into the stage coming from the audience, crosses it, opens a door on the back wall, and brings in a tall plant in a vase. With care, he lays the vase down on the stage floor and returns to his place among the audience. At the center of the stage, the plant executes a beautiful solo with living creature, inert matter, and imperceptible motions.”⁸

In this example, a potted plant takes on the role of the choreographed dancer. The rest of the performance introduces a cast of other domestic objects (mostly furniture) and a few people, but the first physically present subject is a plant. In internal activity it is between a human and a non-living object. It is transitional, a pathway between identification from a person to a thing.

Photo from “Esta Cuerpo Que Me Ocupa” by João Fiadeiro

Photo from “Esta Cuerpo Que Me Ocupa” by João Fiadeiro

Buffalo based artist Ethan Breckenridge places his plant subjects in undersized transparent prisms & cubes that emphasize the plant as a sympathetic creature. In his Too Soon installations in Bolivia (2009) & New York (2010), potted plants are crammed into carpeted cubes. The viewer empathizes with the plants, leaves pressed uncomfortably against the walls of the cube, & we may reflect upon our own domesticated & carpeted glass cubes. Breckinridge more specifically articulates the relationship between human & plant in Plants Have No Backs (2008)- another plant (or two in some iterations) in carpeted windowed structure- but this time furnished with a folding chair. The title & the presence of the chair immediately allow the viewer to compare herself to a plant, in particularly those in front of her, humanoid in height. Without any need to sit down or rest its non-existent back, the chair remains empty. If a person were to sit in the chair, she would be in intimate conversation with the plant. One wall of the box is constructed out of a mirrored surface depicting infinite clones of plants with unoccupied chairs. The plant stands tall & unaffected, neither suffering nor lavishing its solitary existence.

Plants Have No Backs Ethan Breckenridge, 2008

Plants Have No Backs Ethan Breckenridge, 2008

In tandem with the plant in the gallery space, the proliferation of the houseplant in artistic practice continues in the internet medium- work that is without 3D physical manifestation. In particularly in the work of younger artists on social communities like dump.fm & the TightArtistNetGang, found plant imagery is common in the composited moments that function as their incessently morphing artistic economy. The plant’s ubiquity here probably has more to do with the large quantity of plant based gifs & clipart used in early web design (much of contemporary net art aesthetics is based in early web/PC nostalgia) than with an anthropomorphic presence. Because web design began by imitating tactile textures, objects & actions in order to make itself more user friendly, it is for the same aesthetic reasons that appears in interior decoration that it finds its way onto the web as design elements. Furthermore, net art of this kind, which seems to seek to create a surreal version of the physical world, would be incomplete without common objects & textures, making plants an obvious & indispensable tool. Like in physical presence, plants here too remind us of an exotic outside world, or, in the case of a potted plant, the physical world immediately outside of the computer.

A very small clipart plant.

A very small clipart plant.

There are examples of plants in net art at every turn, but 24 year old net artist Douglas Schatz (dump.fm username guccisoflosy), who repeatedly incorporates plant imagery in his work, summarized the trend in posting an animated gif of a potted plant against a grey checkerboard transparency background above the text “Digital Office Plants Are the New Aesthetic.”⁹ 

Screenshot from Schatz’ untitled gif.

Screenshot from Schatz’ untitled gif.

Unfortunately there is not enough room here to document a full up-to-date survey of contemporary artwork utilizing houseplants, but perhaps acknowledging this mania will allow us to look at this work with added dimension & intellect, rather than relegating it to simple appropriation. Surely plants will continue to aesthetically enchant all kinds of humans until further notice. Worldwide ethnic traditions document the symbolic meanings of various species, but the houseplant as readymade has mobilized the plant image into the 21st century. It has matured out of trite decorative & expired folkloric identities into advanced contemporary symbolic territory. Although the houseplant’s current definition is unstable (as anything contemporaneous), its qualities as an emotionally ambiguous living subject that is aesthetically pleasing make it a versatile object that will continue to take on meaning as its use continues.

 

H. FAYE KAHN is a freelance animator in NYC &  a free-format radio DJ at listener-sponsored WFMU in Jersey City, NJ. She resides in Brooklyn, NY & holds a BFA in Film/Animation/Video from Rhode Island School of Design. 

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Top 5 Weekend Picks! (8/11-8/13)

August 10, 2012 · Print This Article

1. Group Exhibition at Alderman Exhibitions

Work by Caroline Carlsmith, Alex Chitty, New Hands (Carson Fisk-Vittori & Michael Hunter), and Kristina Paabus.

Alderman Exhibitions is located at 1338 W. Randolph St. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

2. 2nd Annual Mini Film Festival at The Milk Factory

Work by Cameron Gibson, Eduardo Fernández, Marine de Contes, Julian Dalrymple, Meghan Johnson, Nathan Meltz, Miguel Guzman, Jennifer Baker, and Rob Frye.

The Milk Factory is located at 907 N. Winchester Ave., Rear Apt. Reception Saturday, 7-11pm.

3. The Vacancy at LivingRoom

Work by Tony Fitzpatrick, Duncan Robert Anderson, Daniel Bruttig and Chris Hefner.

LivingRoom is located at 1530 W Superior St. Reception Friday, 7-10pm.

4. Painting Background at Beverly Arts Center

Work by Alberto Aguilar and Jorge Lucero.

Beverly Arts Center is located at 2407 W. 111th St. Reception Saturday, 7-9pm.

5. 21st Evanston and Vicinity Biennial at Evanston Art Center

Work by Mark Adkins, Alberto Aguilar, Jane Fulton Alt, Marissa Benedict, Daniel Bruttig, Robert Burnier, Tom Burtonwood, Scott Carter, Stephen Cartwright, Andrew Copper Smith, Margaret Crowley, Matt Davis, Michael Dinges, Diana Gabriel, David Giordano, Emily Hermant, Alexander Herzog, Matt Irie, Elk Grove Village; Barbara Jeanne Jenkins, Evanston; Stacee Kalmanovsky, Buffalo Grove; Julia Klein, Barbara Koenen, Morgan Krehbiel, Katie Loomis, Ivan Lozano, Jorge Lucero, Bobbi Meier, Jackie Melissas, Holly Murkerson, Julie Oh, Joel Parsons, Karen Perl, Cole Pierce, Melissa Ann Pinney, Wolfie Rawk, Todd Reed, Patricia Rieger, Nicole Seisler, Lindsay Sherman, Soo Shin, Geoffry Smalley, Alex Tam, Xavier Toubes, Rafael E. Vera, Sarah Williams, Robin Woodsome, and Kaylee Wyant.

Evanston Art Center is located at 2603 Sheridan Rd., Evanston. Reception Sunday, 1-4pm.




Top 5 Weekend Picks (6/29 & 6/30) -

June 28, 2012 · Print This Article

1. The Dragon is the Frame at Gallery 400

Work by Mark Aguhar, Claire Arctander, Nina Barnett, Jeremy Bolen, Elijah Burgher, Edie Fake, Pamela Fraser, Tiffany Funk, R. E. H. Gordon, Steve Hnilicka, Kasia Houlihan, Mark Kent, Young Joon Kwak, Andrew Mausert-Mooney, Marianna Milhorat, Tim Nickodemus, Aay Preston-Myint, Juana Peralta, Macon Reed, Colin Self, Michael Sirianni, Nathan Thomas, Neal Vandenbergh, Xina Xurner and Isaac Fosl-Van Wyke, Allison Yasukawa, Gwendolyn Zabicki, and Latham Zearfoss.

Gallery 400 is located at 400 S. Peoria St. Reception Friday, 5-8pm.

2. Show Room at Threewalls

Curated by Shannon Stratton, with work by Laura Davis, Carson Fisk-Vittori and Julia Klein.

Threewalls is located at 119 N. Peoria St. #2C. Reception Friday, 6-9pm.

3. KLOSS/STOLTMANN at New Capital

Work by Mike Kloss and Kirsten Stoltmann.

New Capital is located at 3114 W. Carroll St. Reception Saturday, 7-10pm.

4. Inner Self at Prak Sis Gallery

Work by Juyeon Kim.

Prak Sis Gallery is located at 1917 W. Irving Park Rd. Reception Saturday, 5-8pm.

5. Bowling Alone at Andrew Rafacz Gallery

Work by Brandon Anschultz, Daniel Baird, Benjamin Funke, Sarah Mosk, Eileen Mueller, Aay Preston-Myint, and Min Song.

Andrew Rafacz Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington Blvd. Reception Saturday, 4-7pm.