Over the last month I have had the pleasure of peppering Jessica Stockholder with questions, each one sent with days or sometimes weeks between, so that the conversation itself extended through a peculiar duration. Unlike other interviews that happen either over three email exchanges or the course of a couple of recorded hours, this became more of a correspondence in which questions and answers hung, suspended and marinating for a while before getting shored up and integrated into a cohesive text. I’m not sure if the process is necessarily apparent to readers, but it had a tremendous impact on my own thought and I can’t help but situate it within my experience of Stockholder’s installations. While remaining deliberately outside of language, she often addresses an entire architectural site with a bundled installation—small groups of objects, materials, and paint that flow on or through walls and into space. These moments punctuate the environment, accumulating like constellations to map an area. As such it is impossible to have a single, objective perspective of a given work, for by entering the space of a Stockholder show one automatically becomes an interactive participant.
CP: Whenever I’m inhabiting one of your installations, I feel like my experience is tied to social, global, and economic networks out of which your assembled objects emerge. I wonder if your relationship to objects has changed over the years? What might be the difference, for instance, between a cooler you used in an early 2000 installation to a mounted freezer you used at Kavi Gupta gallery last year?
JS: I first came to, and still come to, using objects with an immediate and ahistorical attitude. Primarily I wish to orchestrate a collision between my own structure of thought and all that stuff out there in the world! It’s a way of ascertaining the nature of who I am and what it means to be human. At the outset the activity is akin to philosophy. Of course my thoughts and the stuff of the world are all inflected by this moment; I don’t exist outside the flow of time. As a result of paying attention to objects over the years I have become more attentive to their particularity, and engaged with the multiplicity of ways that stuff is meaningful. I care about where things are made, who makes and designs them, systems of fabrication, and nostalgia embedded in things. And over my lifetime there has been enormous change in the quality and quantity of objects streaming by. I notice that there is a kind of fashion in the color of plastics—the same colors will move through the marketplace showing up in many different kinds of objects. For the most part my work is not driven by verbal narrative—however in retrospect, I think that I’m drawn to refrigerators, freezers and coolers repeatedly as they are, like gallery spaces, cold and yet filled with a kind of love. They are also, like much of the stuff around us, participant in a rectangular geometric abstract and efficient structure of production that is resonant with architecture, framing, and thought.
CP: I never imagined that different eras of your work would reflect popular color schemes of the times. I’m reminded of the Martha Stewart’s robins egg blue and wonder if that color appealed to America at a given time because it matched some national mood…
JS: I’m attaching two images that might indicate a trend from 2011 and 2012. Though far from scientific, it seems clear to me that there are far fewer colors of plastic floating around than could be the case. (I imagine that people share recipes…) Around us, and inside of my own work, I’m always taken with my own complaisance with what is…I’m struggling to find a better way to say that. What is is irrevocable, but nevertheless runs seamlessly into imaginations of what could be—with fantasy life. It seems important to me to notice the constraints within which the actuality of our world exists Noticing the limits of color in plastic production, the limits of and quality of aesthetic choices around us allows for more freedom of thought.
CP: If certain colors appear in mass produced objects for limited periods of time, do you find that you start to rely on particular combinations? For instance, in the two images you shared, I see the lime green, yellow, mauve or peach, and navy blue—if that constellation of colors appears regularly, are you concerned about addressing them in new combinations always? And if not, if you come to enjoy a particular color relationship, what is your experience like when a color goes out of circulation?
JS: I have noticed that colors are shared in industry—but I don’t spend much time tracking that phenomenon—and I am fortunate that paint enables me to engage an endless array of colors. I am always trying to find something new in my use of color though I’m aware that I am at the same time wedded to a certain level of intensity. My process allows for great flexibility in relation to what I need—basically I need my own thoughts and some stuff in the world for them to collide with. And I need color! I don’t suffer over the exact supply of any of these things. Letting the thoughts/ ideas/ energy to make things flow is probably the greatest challenge; and so far I’ve been lucky to have flow!
CP: I heard somewhere that washing machines and dryers from the 60s and 70s were often the same blue/gray/green-color because the US military had a lot of leftover paint. It had been originally mixed for WWII battle ships but went into circulation for popular use thereafter and was quickly co-opted by other appliances. It seems interesting because what you’re describing points out how complex my own sense of nostalgia and aesthetic appreciation might be for that color; suddenly my sentiment is connected not just to a fantasy of Modernist America, but also to a war. Does that kind of awareness influence you?
JS: Yes and no. What you describe makes sense to me, but when I’m working I’m not focused on any single narrative fleshed out as you have conveyed. I’m not focused on narratives at all—I’m interested in my peripheral vision, so to speak, in how a multitude of nostalgias, upsets, gleefulness, memories, or references to types of people, all fly at once from the myriad materials I’m working with. That kind of narrative information is not controlled in my work—it’s an appreciated backdrop for something else that I’m doing involving how my direct experience of stuff bumps up against the abstract contours of mind.
CP: How do you decide what kinds of materials and colors to work with when? Do you feel like that criteria changes depending on the peculiarities of the site you’re working with? Or are there periods of time when, looking back, you realize you were particularly drawn to a set of experiential concerns?
JS: That question just doesn’t resonate! I work with all kinds of stuff for all kinds of reasons—and sometimes for no reason.
CP: Maybe we can try this instead…I was reading your Elizabeth Murray at MOMA essay and was struck by you’re your interest in irritability. You write this “In addition to admiring Elizabeth’s work and making sure that I saw her exhibitions whenever I could, I have also found her work vaguely irritating. In front of the paintings I find myself always embattled, enjoying them and feeling irritable. Looking more closely at my irritability is rewarding. I find that these paintings embody a string of dualities sitting uncomfortably next to each other and exuding an irritable and provocative charge.” I wanted to pursue this idea of irritability, maybe because in some way I feel like I’m inadvertently asking you for some singular thesis about how you see and work with objects, even if that request is impossible. If information is not controlled in your work, how might irritability guide that process?
JS: Yes, irritability is a nice thing to look at. I think that question intersects with questions about beauty. I associate beauty, though a changeable category, with comfort and pleasure. I am interested in exploring the relationship between the two—irritability and beauty—alongside a back and forth between stasis and movement. Of course my work doesn’t often move—but the observer does move and the visual presented by the work is consequently always shifting. Art is a very good place for upset, unhappiness, anger, rage, violence, the obscene, and irritability. In the context of that sentence irritability sounds pretty mild! Your question brings my colleague Bill Brown’s work about “Thing Theory” to mind. He writes “We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us.” I don’t think that I’m focused on the duality between thing and object—rather I often orchestrate circumstances for the two categories to blend into each other seamlessly. I’m more often focused on ‘things’ or ‘stuff.’ That said—I also tend to the object nature of the stuff—their use rattles around with their thing nature. Perhaps some people find irritability in the movement between thing and object. I find that slippage elating. Irritability arises for me in the struggle to encompass enormous amounts of difference and invited chaos into a controlled and orchestrated beautiful unstable whole.
CP: The idea of slippage seems important, not only because the materials you use slip between thing-ness and object-ness, but also because (and I don’t know if you would agree with this) the viewer slips between being subject and object. I noticed that your latest show, The Guests All Crowded Into the Dining Room, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash includes two cat-walk-style structures, offering a visitor different views of the installation, while integrating them into the installation. You’ve done that in a number of different ways over the years (Color Jam seems like an especially pronounced example because of its broad scale-range), but I guess I’m starting to wonder if the idea of slippage might be especially integral to the way you are working? The objects you include invariably carry their own industrial, economic, and social histories, while nevertheless becoming unique, singular objects in the installation. I almost want to say that they become subjects, even if they carry their object-ness with them…
JS: Yes—slippage matters! I often use the word “blurred.” Boundaries are blurred. The viewer slips between audience and actor. The artwork is sculpture and pedestal. The work is both painting and sculpture. Where is the line between found and made? Is a 2×4 a found material? I don’t think it’s a “natural” material. Generally, I don’t think that the objects I use are distinct subjects in the work. I often like to use objects in ways that enable their edges and singularity to melt into other stuff around them. The thing that I’m making makes use of parts of them. In order to see my work, you have to let your vision blur so that you can at least for some moments forget the distinct outline of the objects used as building blocks.
CP: Can we talk more about periphery? Someone told me once that there are certain stars you can only see with peripheral vision. Somehow that type of seeing also feels tied to slippage, maybe in part because of something you wrote in “Peer Out to See,” a text reflecting on a 2010 site-specific work at the Crystal Palace. You say, “Looking back at my work from this rattled world, I can see the cracks in my imagination, cracks of inquietude, becoming real chasms in the world that I know.” What is it about peripheral sight that allows us to see differently? What is the benefit of the chasms that start to appear and take hold?
JS: That question can be understood literally and metaphorically. My work pivots around the ways in which actual physical phenomenon resonate metaphorically with thought and how we find meaning. Sight is blurred when the eye and body are moving and what we see is crisp and clear when our bodies are static. Our peripheral vision enters this continuum. Tending to the limits of our capacity lets us know more about what’s out there.
September 21, 2016 · Print This Article
An AirBNB Gallery? (what is up with that logo AirBNB?) The sculptor and super friend Erik L Peterson at Open House Contemporary with Matthew Kellen and Britt Skaathun
Holy smokes Expo 2016 is opening? And Joel Peter Witkin is lecturing in Chicago? It is going to be the best!
Holy SHIT! Janine Antoni!
From Amanda Browder…
This week: Amanda Browder chats with New York-based artist Janine Antoni about her latest exhibition, From the Vow Made, at Luhring Augustine. Exploring blurred lines between sculpture, performance, and choreography, we also discuss Antoni’s collaborations with the Stephen Petronio Company. A fusion of dance and the visual world, Antoni and Petronio’s Like Lazurus Did and Honey Baby exemplify her work’s relationship with process and transition. Antoni’s ideas are woven into a braided conversation between objects, the everyday and the body. For more information visit:
shamelessly lifted from Art 21…
Janine Antoni was born in Freeport, Bahamas, in 1964. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and earned her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1989. Antoni’s work blurs the distinction between performance art and sculpture. Transforming everyday activities such as eating, bathing, and sleeping into ways of making art, Antoni’s primary tool for making sculpture has always been her own body.
She has chiseled cubes of lard and chocolate with her teeth, washed away the faces of soap busts made in her own likeness, and used the brainwave signals recorded while she dreamed at night as a pattern for weaving a blanket the following morning. In the video, “Touch,” Antoni appears to perform the impossible act of walking on the surface of water. She accomplished this magician’s trick, however, not through divine intervention, but only after months of training to balance on a tightrope that she then strung at the exact height of the horizon line. Balance is a key component in the related piece, “Moor,” where the artist taught herself how to make a rope out of unusual and often personal materials donated by friends and relatives.
By learning to twist the materials together so that they formed a rope that was neither too loose nor too tight, Antoni created an enduring life-line that united a disparate group of people into a unified whole. Antoni has had major exhibitions of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; S.I.T.E. Santa Fe; and Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin. The recipient of several prestigious awards, including a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship in 1998 and the Larry Aldrich Foundation Award in 1999, Janine Antoni currently resides in New York.
Since 2009, The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee has sponsored a year-long Artist-in-Residence program. The selected artist sets up their studio in a glass-walled room on the ground floor of the luxury hotel, and guests are encouraged to observe and engage with the artist as they work. The 2014-2015 Pfister Artist-in-Residence was Niki Johnson, a multi-media sculptor and curator. The body of work Johnson developed during the residency was largely one of ceramic and mixed-media sculpture inspired by a selection of fairy tales. These drew from both from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, focusing on Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Princess and the Pea, Rapunzel, and Thumbelina.
The studio space, in addition to functioning as both an artist’s studio and a fishbowl for observers, also serves as a small gallery space, displaying finished works alongside those in-process. A series of images, black and white illustrations framed in gold, showed designs for six sculptural tubs created in response to each of the fairy tales. Two of the tubs, Tether (inspired by Snow White) and Lather (Cinderella), were present in the studio during my visit. Each Artist-in-Residence at The Pfister leaves an artwork behind as a contribution to The Pfister’s permanent collection, and Tether was Johnson’s legacy piece. It is a small tub—about the size that would accommodate a young child being read fairy tales— hand-pressed in terra cotta clay. The outside is a vivid red with gold patterning, and lined in places with cracks of gold reminiscent of kintsugi, the Japanese practice of fixing broken pottery with metallic lacquer. The interior is lined with feathers, fur, and snakeskin. The various colors, textures, and patterns evoke a certain sumptuous that feels appropriate for a luxury hotel.
Also on display were Nest Egg, a series of altered commemorative plates making extensive use of gold leaf to create the silhouettes of birds in various natural settings, and Drop/Let, an arrangement of porcelain balloons painted in pink, white, and gold, created for the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s The Pink Balloon Project. Somewhat of an outlier is the piece Laid Bare, a found late-19th-century chaise lounge elaborately reupholstered with expired French condoms.
Johnson’s body of work, however, was not exactly what brought me to Milwaukee from Chicago for a weekend this spring. In lieu of a standard wine-and-cheese reception or exhibition, Johnson chose instead to close out her residency with a day-long symposium. (There is somewhat of a precedent for putting a twist on the closing reception; fiber artist Timothy Westbrook turned his Pfister reception into a runway fashion show in 2013.) The event was called MarKEt/FORWARD and designed as the first act of MarKEt, a new non-profit she is developing with Kayle Karbowski. MarKEt (a blend of the Milwaukee abbreviation MKE and the art market) is described in its mission statement as follows:
“MarKEt is a Milwaukee based non-profit that fosters growth in the Milwaukee art scene by establishing a platform for new opportunities, education and professional development for the self-made artist. Sparked by the Midwestern DIY ethic, MarKEt aims to connect Milwaukee’s institutional, entrepreneurial, and financial communities, by working with established non-profits and commercial entities to create grassroots alliances.”
This text is largely aspirational, as MarKEt has only just come into existence, but having spoken with Niki Johnson I find it unsurprising that she wants to take on this kind of community organizing. One gets the impression that there is a parallel universe in which she is some kind of guru: a motivational speaker, a cult leader, a brilliant military captain. She speaks articulately, giving thorough, thought-out answers to spontaneous questions as if she had some vast internal text she could draw on at any moment. “I’m not trying to run this town,” she said at one point. She was smiling, but her voice was serious.
After arriving in Milwaukee the night before the symposium, I spoke with both Johnson and fellow arts writers in town for the event (James Pepper Kelly for ArtSlant and Kate Sierzputowski for Newcity). The conversation was lively, but by the end of the night I was very still very unsure what to expect; there was a lot of enthusiasm, but not a lot of specificity. Unfortunately as the symposium itself got underway, I found myself underwhelmed. Overall I was far more interested in Johnson’s artworks and personal conversation than in the content of the symposium. I found myself wondering, fairly ungenerously, how someone who makes such compelling objects and speaks so charismatically could create an event I found mostly tedious.
Over the course of the day, however, I kept reaching the same realization: I was somewhat disinterested because this event was not for me, which is not necessarily a negative. As a glance at the event’s graphic design or the Power Point styles of its presenters could tell you, this symposium was not slick, and its contents not especially groundbreaking, but it was serving its intended audience. It’s right there in the mission statement: MarKEt is for the Milwaukee-based, self-made artist. As someone with a couple of art degrees and a life entirely lived in the orbit of the three largest American cities, this symposium was not designed with me in mind. And that’s fine: perhaps too much of the art world is designed for someone (well, a man) coming to it with that perspective.
“Grant Writing Unmasked” with Melissa Dorn Richards, the first presentation after introductory remarks, was particularly unexciting to me, not because what she was saying was off the mark, but because it all seemed so obvious. Talking points included many basics: look at where a granting organization gets their funding and what projects they have funded previously; have someone else look at your application; imagine being on the other side of the table. But when I looked around the room, I saw an audience of people listening carefully and diligently taking notes. It was heartening. I’d been under the misapprehension that most people were in the same boat as me: I know what I need to do to apply for a grant, because resources about that information are all around me, but I’m disorganized, or lazy, or afraid of failure. But here is an artistic community that seems really eager for this kind of information, especially when it comes to Wisconsin-based resources like the Funding Information Center at Marquette University.
The presentation highlight for me was “Manufacturing Creativity” with Reginald Baylor, a Milwaukee-based artist working in a variety of media, and the 2009-2010 Pfister Artist-in-Residence. He spoke about how he turns to the music industry, the tech industry, and the sports industry, rather than the traditional fine art market, for inspiration in doing business. The art world, he asserted, should take a lesson from hip-hop; we can be more like Russell Simmons. “Suburban homes,” Baylor told us, are “the best museums,” urging us to acknowledge that there is a larger art market than that of exclusive galleries and collectors. He is interested in 200,000 buyers of his work, not 5—“I don’t think I love my work enough if I only want five people to have it.” In service to this kind of accessibility, Baylor sells his work out of his open studio, seeking to create an experience for his audience that is inviting rather than intimidating, more garage sale than gallery auction. His talk was an enjoyable reminder that there are infinite options when it comes to structuring the business of being an artist, and that it’s wise to assess those choices in light of your audience and goals, rather than pursuing one standard prescribed model of artistic “success.”
Overall, while MarKEt may not be as compelling to a Wisconsin outsider as Johnson’s personal artistic practice, it seems to have the potential to be a valuable addition to the Milwaukee art scene. Smaller American cities are often undersold, with the talented and ambitious encouraged to emigrate to the nearest hub and join the fierce competition for big city resources if they wish to succeed. But Milwaukee is, of course, not merely a satellite of Chicago (which is itself often [mis-]represented as dwelling under the shadows of New York and Los Angeles), but its own site of cultural production, with its own aesthetics and values. If the receptive audience of MarKEt is any indication, the Milwaukee art community is one hungry for passionate, locally-focused organization.
Atlanta has been experiencing growth in its art community, particularly within the past few years. Organizations like Dashboard Co-Op look to the abandoned and uninhabited spaces of the city as sites to host exhibitions. Efforts to expand gallery spaces to downtown are underway; note the addition of Mammal Gallery to Broad St., Eyedrum to MLK and its attempts to expand into another building downtown. The newly created Low Museum by students and former BFA students at Georgia State University. In one way, this particular development is specifically Atlantan; in another way, maybe this work could be in any other city. Maybe not.
Lucy Lippard claims in her 1997 book The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society that she had been “lured to the subject of the local by its absence or rather by the absence of value attached to specific place in contemporary cultural life, in the “art world,” and in postmoderns paradoxes and paradigms.”
Symptomatic of this clinging to a postmodern fragmentation is the 2012 book Noplaceness: Art in a Post-Urban Landscape, published by Possible Futures which inaugurated Atlanta Art Now, a print biennial that examines contemporary art in Atlanta. Yes, we could comment on Lippard’s incredible privilege that enables her to easily live in multiple places either diachronically or synchronically. This does not mean, though, that we should throw out “place” entirely. The introduction to Noplaceness states that the book is “a study of Atlanta artists’ responses to an urban condition now made global” (3). Further, the book proposes “noplaceness” as “an attempt to describe the quality of space rendered abstract by the conditions of postindustrial capitalism and global information flows” (3). The introduction ends with a question: “Where is our common ground when the space we occupy doesn’t add up to a place we can define?”(5). I’d like to address this question and the problem of the local and the global as it maps onto the city of Atlanta.
My last article addressed the cave as both a literal and figurative site for artistic practice and examined the conditions which produced this specific project’s way of creating, maintaining, and navigating its art world. What I’d like to do in the space of this piece is address a few artists’ sculptural practices that evoke/provoke reflection on the state of affairs. Mind you, these works are not meant to be specifically about Atlanta as place or its development as an art hub. Rather, I am interested in how these works because of their complexity in terms of materiality and conceptuality, enable us to point to our present condition and begin to pose it questions. These works, though not tied explicitly to Atlanta, all make manifest the material and social conditions of this place. Indeed, this is a place.
Drew Conrad‘s 2013 solo show at Get This Gallery, Backwater Blues, consists of assemblage-esque sculptures that show themselves as burnt remnants of a home that once stood. However, the materials making up his works are not salvaged, like the other artists I will be discussing in this piece. Rather, Conrad uses raw materials that he distresses by hand. It would be too easy to jump to questions about authenticity, here. Rather, what this process of ruination prompts us to question concerns our own involvement in degradation and destruction in our world.
Being a native Midwesterner, it is difficult not to envision images of Detroit when viewing architectural char and when thinking about urban decay and renewal. Photo books and photo essays abound that use Detroit’s ruins as subject. This unconscious association of mine inflects works I see here in the South that address similar issues of degradation. Upon seeing these remnants that appear charred, though in fact are not, I am reminded of the industrial-soot-blackened facades of the Motor City. Or, I could instead see these ruins as products of time and erosion, either the gentle wind and water forces that inhabit the Bayou State, or the aggressive inundations that occur (i.e., Hurricane Katrina). Or, considering Conrad’s being New-York-based, Hurricane Sandy. Particularly with the artist’s references to Christian Boltanski’s work (i.e., the lights and hanging electrical cords), the works scream a trauma; it is difficult to view these ruins as products of mere time and weather. Though Conrad only uses dirt, rust, and stains – no fire of any kind – these ruins take on a violent past, one that involved Ku Klux Klan instigated arson and murder. This reading may not be the artist’s intention, but when situated within particular conditions of geography, history, materiality, society, etc. the artist’s decision to destroy becomes a powerful reminder of what we have destroyed, what we are currently destroying, and what we will destroy in the future. In an email interview Conrad states: “I would claim that works of art do not exist anywhere or that their histories do not have a direct route. I want the sculptures to be a jumping off point where the viewer completes the missing pieces and writes their history of the object’s past. So the sculptures, which fall in the titled series of Dwellings, hopefully exist somewhere in the in between.” This in-between is a poignant place. I would argue with Conrad though about where this in-between is situated; it is somewhere.
I spin through the glass revolving door and enter the lobby of Midtown Plaza, a nondescript office building located in the liminal space between Atlanta’s Midtown and Buckhead. I am told to use the elevator to go to level M where the exhibition COSMS is located. After stepping off the elevator, I turn into a whole level gutted interior of this office building. Dashboard Co-Op, a non-profit art organization, looks for spaces such as this to host their exhibitions. Dashboard’s mission is to curate shows in these “forgotten haunts,” these spaces devoid of people and purpose. The works in the show are supposed to respond to the site of this vacant space, and one work in particular stood out as a potent intervention into this concrete, barren place.
Chris Chambers‘ untitled (powder room) is a daunting sculptural installation, a bathroom jacked up on cinder blocks, perilously titling off kilter. The viewer walks into this confined space to find a 1/2 bathroom complete with toilet, sink, cabinet, mirror, ceiling with a skylight, closet, tiles, carpet, and potted plant. Standing inside this powder room, orientation becomes confused. Exiting becomes treacherous. The floor seems to slip away from its usual groundedness as a perpendicular plane. Seeing this powder room, which is nonfunctional and eerie made me hyperaware of this particular office building’s infrastructure: so, if I’m not to use this bathroom, where might and what might the usable one be like? This room, reminiscent of installations by Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller, takes on a sinister quality, pointing towards the infrastructures of public and domestic spaces and their demise. Important to the sculpture is the source of these materials. Chambers, who also works as a builder and remodeler of homes, finds his materials through what people discard. The wallpaper is a horrendous 1990s pattern that you might have experienced in homes or medical offices growing up during that time. It covers these powder room walls in a “skin” (Chambers’ term) of the old, what is gotten rid of in order to update, to become more hip to contemporary interior design.
Chambers’ other installation work incorporates CRT (cathode ray tube) televisions and collected VHS and the environment builds around the technology. Speaking with Chambers in his studio, he describes how his installation work grew out of the video work; the installations ground the video work in a certain place in which the viewer can situate herself and watch. His installation Untitled (Kevin) creates a living room situation complete with rugs, house plants, lamps, and television, though for this piece there were over 40 TVS, all playing videos made from footage of Kevin Costner. As a child of the 80s, I can connect to the aesthetic of the decor coupled with Costner’s face (Robin Hood Prince of Thieves was both terrifying and awesome to me growing up). In a way, this creates an inter-geographical relation. However, this work does not lead to a privileging of supposedly immaterial telecommunicative space. Rather, in this world of televisions and globally recognized faces, this work grounds itself in the place of the living room, which maybe significantly is here.
Important to the work is the disposability of technology. Televisions, the big boxy ones of the 80s and 90s, are on the outs. With the change from CRT televisions to LCD and LED screens, the shapes have changed.Â With the rise of digital cable, the use of analog broadcast technologies for television have faded; out with the TV antenna, in with the satellite dish. We are led to believe that telecommunications technologies is where our “place” is; we can believe that because we have these technologies, we don’t need to actually exist anywhere. The idea of the “cloud” furthers this sentiment. It allows us to so easily forget the material conditions that contribute to and make possible this ethereal networked space.
The Goat Farm Arts Center is a 12-acre complex of artist studios (some live/work), performance/exhibition spaces, a coffee shop, a local agricultrual endeavor Fresh Roots Farm, and goat pen. The particular history of this site is important. The place was an industrial cotton gin at the turn of the 19/20th century and then a munitions manufacturing site during WWII. This is a pretty gruesome history that comes with the site which has served as an artist compound of sorts since the 1970s when the complex was bought by Robert Haywood, who died in 2009. Since his death, the site was bought by Hallister Development, headed by Anthony Harper and Chris Melhouse, and artist studios continue to live there and grow.
In 2013, Justin Rabideau installed his works Echo and The Distance of the Moon at The Goat Farm, both of which create a certain kind of environment and landscape in this place they are installed. As part of the culmination show for the 2011-13 artists-in-residence for The Creatives Project Momentum: Exit to the Future, The Distance of the Moon situates itself within the context of Atlanta’s fiscal, material, and social histories. What does it mean to install a work that gives the viewer a staircase to the moon, which cannot be walked up?
Justin Rabideau’s use of found materials to construct his sculptures alludes to the material conditions of the production of art and where it is made. Speaking with Rabideau in his studio, he described to me that his practice changed dramatically when he moved to Atlanta a few years ago. Since his practice involves gathering materials, mainly natural elements, he finds in his surroundings, he noticed that what he was finding most was discarded building materials and detritus left over from collapsed and disintegrating structures in this urban environment. One of Rabideau’s works made shortly after his move to Atlanta titled, An Illusion of Stability, which was installed in his exhibition with James Bridges Waste Not, speaks to a possible art historical trajectory of the Surrealist found object to land art, Anarchitecture, and site-specific art. What do we find when we go searching for something in a certain place? Drew Conrad mentioned that these sorts of materials are not easy to come by in New York, so why are they in Atlanta?
These materials including the TV antenna find their way into The Zuckerman Museum of Art at Kenessaw State University, just north of Atlanta, by way of the exhibition See Through Walls, which instates the museum’s recently opened expansion. The show examines the physical infrastructures that undergird architecture and art display.
Casey McGuire‘s piece in the show, Terrestrial Apparatus Poised for Lights Out (2010), presents the viewer with a wooden structure positioned in a precarious situation. Made of salvaged materialsfrom abandoned homes and foreclosure renovations in her local surroundings, including a TV antenna, the structure is described as a “box trap.” Propped up on a stick and connected to a rope, the viewer is “lured” in closer in hopes to “trap” her in this strange housing situation. The strategy used for trapping the viewer is soft playback, soft enough that the viewer has to lean her head up inside the box, of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” for McGuire a “tongue-in-cheek” response to the nostalgia that she references – “American dreams based on structure and home and the decaying reality of these ideals.”
The inclusion of the antenna on the roof of this “box trap” points to the disposability of technologies. In a time when all things globalized promote telecommunications as a way to secure one’s place everywhere and nowhere, this antenna forces us to consider our communication choices.
Adding another layer of complexity to this work is the context surrounding it, both histrocially and art historically (i.e., Gordon Matta-Clark’s 1974 Splitting). Atlanta-based artist Ruth Stanford’s (of particular interest for this article too is her 2006 exhibition at The Mattress Factory In the Dwelling-House)Â commissioned work A Walk in the Valley, which responded to Kennesaw State’s acquisitioned property that had belonged to Corra Harris, was removed from the exhibition by the University’s administration. (The administration has since agreed to re-install the work.) Harris’ prominence as a writer solidified with her 1899 letter to the editor of The Independent, “A Southern Woman’s View,” which argued to uphold lynching as a practice. This history and the subsequent censored artist-commissioned response to it further solidifies the importance of place and our recognition of it. Yes, we live in a globalized world, but that does not mean that we exist nowhere within it and that the specificities of where we live, work, and surf the net don’t inform our ways of navigating this international telecommunicative system.
What Can We Still Say About Place?
Writing about the evolution of site-specific art, from land works to public art, Miwon Kwon states in her 2002 book One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity:
“In this sense the chance to conceive the site as something more than a place – as repressed ethnic history, a political cause, a disenfranchised social group – is an important conceptual leap in redefining the public role of art and artists.
But the enthusiastic support for these salutary goals needs to be checked by a serious critical examination of the problems and contradictions that attend all forms of site-specific and site-oriented art today, which are visible now as the art work is becoming more and more unhinged from the actuality of the site once again – “unhinged” both in a literal sense of a physical separation of the art work from the location of its initial installation, and in a metaphorical sense as a performed in the discursive mobilization of the site in emergent forms of site-oriented work. This unhinging, however, does not indicate a reversion to the modernist autonomy of the siteless, nomadic art object, although such an ideology is still predominant. Rather, the current unhinging of site specificity indicates new pressures upon its practice today – pressures engendered by both aesthetic imperatives and external historical determinantsâ€ (Kwon, 30-1).
What is this “unhinging” and what does it mean? If taken in a certain positive sense, a utopian-inflected sense, this unhinging leads to Noplaceness and its commitment to the celebration of a supposed postmodern fragmentation. Arguably, this functions as a re-uptake of the autonomous, siteless, and nomadic art object Kwon urges us to put pressure on. The works addressed here are certainly “unhinged” to a certain extent. They are certainly not installed in the places where their materials originated, but they are, in a sense, still tied to them. This could be said for many of the works Noplaceness uses to underpin its ideology. The work of the idea collection John Q for example: their work cannot be thought in terms of noplace. In their work Memory Flash, discussed in the book, the collective created a performative experience for the viewer of specific locations chosen for specific reasons.
Displacement and unhinging do not necessarily lead us to noplace. It is unclear to me how Noplaceness situates itself in relation to the concept of non-place, re: Marc Auge’s Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. This could make for a different conversation altogether. Sure, we are “no longer secure in our identity or sense of home,” (Noplaceness, 53) but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep considering what place is.
Kwon writes that the “drive toward a rationalized universal civilization, engendering the homogenization of places and the erasure of culture” is what has led to critical regionalism, a postmodern architectural practice developed by Kenneth Frampton and included in the seminal postmodern text The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, which proposes to cultivate :diverse local particularities” (157). Kwon is quick to point to the problem of nostalgia for place, however, and I would agree.
Many of the artists mentioned in this article use the word “nostalgia” in talking about their work. It is not always clear how they approach the term at times. In taking Kwon’s suggestion to consider the dialectics of place, a la Henri Lefebvre, maybe the works here serve as one pole of the dialectic. These works force us to consider the multiple layers of place: space, location, culture, environment, inhabitants, etc. We have to struggle with our own dialectical battles of nostalgia and futurity; location and dislocation; loss and gain. In regards to this dialectic, it would be too easy to get caught up in a circular conversation concerning authenticity; a conversation that I think undergirds the claims made in Noplaceness; paradoxically it has to rely on an originary authenticity in order to dislocate it. If we start from a fundamental sense of unhinging, however, we are able to traverse the notions of the definite and locatable with all their complexities. If a generic Starbucks in Atlanta “which is indistinguishable from a Starbucks in Singapore or Paris,”(Noplaceness, 3) for whatever reason seems liberating, I think we’ve found ourselves in a very strange place indeed.