Category Archives: Uncategorized

“(Re-) Cycles of Paradise,” ARTPULSE Magazine,Vol. 5 No 14,Winter 2013.

“(Re-) Cycles of Paradise,” ARTPULSE Magazine,Vol. 5 No 14,Winter 2013.

by Tucker Neel

“(Re-) Cycles of Paradise”, exhibition view. Photo: Joshua White. Courtesy LACE.

“(Re-) Cycles of Paradise”, exhibition view. Photo: Joshua White. Courtesy LACE.

“(Re-) Cycles of Paradise,” organized by the curatorial collective ARTPORT_making waves, presents visitors with works that address connections between conceptions of gender and climate change. At first glance the exhibition appears like a display room for inventive projects ready for prospective backers. Indeed, certain works use this to their advantage while calling attention to the fact that the structures of oppression and objectification that impact and shape conceptions of gender are related to the way climate change is equally enmeshed in ideology and modes of power which create or delay action.

One of the most engaging and visually impressive works on display is Insa Winkler’s [In] Dependency Water, EM (Effective Microorganism) from 2009, which highlights a rather ingenious water purification technology. The setup includes a silhouette of a figure holding a jug made from strings of ceramic beads hanging from the ceiling. As unpurified water flows over the beads, it eventually becomes potable. Visitors can take sample beads with them, with contact info about how to support the project. It is well known that in areas where water is scarce or polluted by chemical and human waste, women perform the tasks of carrying water, purifying it, and using it for household tasks. Winkler’s display gestures towards this fact while not simply casting the problem as aesthetic. Instead, the work expands the parameters of artistic experience, proposing that we value the work as inventive, sustainable, beautiful, and usable design.

A work occupying a very different kind of register is Roman Singer’s Tisch (Table) from 1986. Singer’s work consists of a simple wooden kitchen table, its legs planted in metal buckets, which in turn float inside larger water-filled buckets. How is one to interpret this work? In previous exhibitions the artist presented a version of Table in photographic form, with the work set adrift on a body of water in a field of small blue melting icebergs. This documentation contextualizes the piece in relation to specific environmental phenomena: the melting of ice into water. But here in the gallery the piece seeks to work on a more symbolic level; a connotative connection must be agreed upon in order to follow the work’s intended references. But does the end result of this serve to only lead one to seek “awareness” of a problem? After this, what happens? Catharsis? Fear? Action? Perhaps Singer’s Table leads us to a problem deep within a larger imagination of climate change as both concept and reality.

Climate change has for some time now taken on the character of a cancerous tumor growing inside a troubled patient mired in denial. The metastasized threat has grown too pervasive to ignore, yet the reality of its consequences-painful treatments, the loss of independence, possible death-are so dire the patient engages in a kind of disavowal, admitting knowledge of the immanent peril, yet acting as if oblivious, consciously doing nothing. The actions that do follow often seek to temper anxiety, turning confrontation into abstractions and self-conscious ironic poetics. This is why we seek to buy our way out of global catastrophe with fundraisers, green-washed products, and corporate-sponsored “awareness campaigns,” instead of demanding and enacting the drastic systemic change needed to stave off the ramifications of globally significant rising waters and warmer temperatures. Perhaps through examining how Table engages in this process of allowing us to project our fears instead of confront them, we might come away with a better understanding of how we think about climate change and its very real material impacts on humans and nature, with the growing knowledge that the two might not be separate, but one and the same.

 

Advertisements

Nicola Verlato at Merry Karnowsky Gallery

Nicola Verlato at Merry Karnowsky Gallery

by Tucker Neel

 

Nicola Verlato at Merry Karnowsky

Nicola Verlato
Take the Road to Nowhere
Oil on canvas
59” x 96”

 

Nicola Verlato is a masterful painter, as evidenced by the impressive technique in each of the grand paintings of disastrous automotive accidents in his most recent show, Zero Gravity at Merry Karnowsky Gallery. Through impressive scale and dramatic composition, each painting engages with the legacy of Baroque painting, harkening back to masters like Caravaggio and Rubens. But what does Verduto convey beyond recognizable virtuosity?

Three of five of Verlato’s painted car crashes are loaded with some form of illicit activity, either direct or implied. In Take The Road To Nowhere a cherry red car spills forth four beautiful women in various states of undress, their bodies frozen in mid-air alongside a jettisoned opened bottle of prescription pills and an open Sapporo can. In Car Crash 5 four similar women cascade from a hot rod along with hundred dollar bills, a handgun, and a knife. One cannot help but suppose the suspicious paraphernalia flying around played a role in the accident unfolding in the painting. In this way the work comes across as a moralizing allegory warning against the consequences of reckless behavior, something akin to a D.A.R.E. or a M.A.D.D. commercial. Yet the problematic politics underlying these works doesn’t end here.

The mannequin-like women in Verlato’s works come across as beautiful objects in a composition; like the cars they are falling from, they are something to be looked at and not representations of real individualized people. We rarely see any of the women’s faces because they are covered by hair and flailing limbs, yet we are given ample views of their pert breasts, bared mid-drifts and long legs sprouting from tiny cut-offs shorts and skirts. To see these works as simply evidence of masterful brushwork, dramatic composition, and perhaps commentary on the unfortunate consequences of contemporary decadence is to brush aside the overt sexism at play. The problematic and regressively conservative politics embedded in these works fixes the women on display as objectified, absent any agency, marked as undesirable and dangerous by their weapons and intoxication, the creators of their own undoing, tumbling to their inevitable and death. Perhaps even more disturbing is that this violence is intentionally rendered beautifully without ever indicting the viewer as complicit or culpable.

Nicola Verlato
Car Crash 4
Oil on canvas
48” x 36”

However, Car Crash 4 works to rescue Verlato’s women as active participants in a kind of urban warfare. In this work a purple convertible careens out of control as its driver struggles to hold the wheel and her machine gun at the same time, her face contorted in a mixture of pain and concentration. The front passenger glances aghast at unseen pursuers. A third topless accomplice holds tight to the trunk as the car speeds away. But the primary figure stands firm and strong, her back to us as she deftly fires a single missile from a rocket-launcher in the direction of the Hollywood sign. While their actions may appear outside of the law, these women’s assertiveness, as evidenced by determined postures, facial expressions, and badass accoutrements, thankfully mark them as makers of their own story, creators of their own meaning, and not merely props manipulated to sell a tired ideology.

 

 

 

“Seth Weiner,” Artillery Magazine, June/July.Vol. 7 Issue 2.

“Seth Weiner,” Artillery Magazine, June/July.Vol. 7 Issue 2.

by Tucker Neel

A GROUP OF HOMING PIGEONS HAVE TAKEN UP RESIDENCE AT Venice 6114, an experimental exhibition space in Culver City. These birds, housed in a wooden coop built into the façade of the gallery, play a key role in the artist Seth Weiner’s recent project, “Twitter Carrier Pigeons,” curated by Sergio Bromberg. For this work Weiner affixed each pigeon with a custom-built device linked to specific twitter accounts primarily tweeting news from places of conflict and revolt, most often in the Middle East. Weiner then followed these pigeons as they made their journey from the Pacific Coast Highway along the 10 Freeway towards a coop in Alhambra, passing six electronic highway signs along the way. When the pigeons flew within 10 to 15 feet of an electronic freeway sign the most recent tweet on their assigned twitter account appeared in “amber alert” capital letters, for everyone to see.

The resulting documentation of Weiner’s intervention appears as large framed photographs in the gallery, each mounted on singular walls erected specifically for this exhibition. One particularly quizzical photo captures a sign stating: TO MEDIA: PLEASE CONTACT YOUR SOURCES IN #DAMASCUS. As if to literalize the pigeons’ journey, the artist has divided the gallery down the middle with a narrow waist-high wall holding a topographical rendering of the 10 Freeway, complete with miniature freeway signs. Additionally, the backside of each small wall holds vinyl text and archival photos about the history of messenger pigeons, along with photos of people who appear to be smuggling objects and information. One text tells of a North African caliph who had pigeons bring him single cherries in silk bags from Lebanon, creating the first “parcel post.” The exhibition’s design resembles a didactic museum display, something intended to educate and inspire further investigation.

While Weiner’s process itself inspires “how’d he do that” interest, the work is much more than a tech gimmick. People have hacked electronic road signs before; the instructions are available on the web, and a simple search reveals signs altered to display funny messages like “ZOMBIES AHEAD.” But Weiner’s intervention is different. The fact that the artist had no control over which specific tweets would appear on the highway signs helps to bypass discussions of individual wittiness, and instead allows the work to engage with the urgency of its site, the freeway sign itself. In placing politically engaged twitter feeds into a very public setting on the relay mechanisms designed to alert us to emergencies, accidents and crimes in our immediate vicinity, Weiner’s project directs our attention to larger more pressing questions of how and where news and information reaches us, and calls attention to voices that are often ignored or dismissed in favor of more “authoritative” sources. With Weiner’s work we see a critical investigation into the fragility and urgency of communication, and the desire to share pressing and important information. If truly revolutionary art has engaged with politicizing the overlooked and mundane as well as meeting people where they least expect it, then Weiner’s work succeeds to great effect.

“Darling Zackary:An Interview With Zackary Drucker,” ARTPULSE Magazine,Vol. 3 No. 12, Summer 2012.

“Darling Zackary : An Interview With Zackary Drucker,” ARTPULSE Magazine,Vol. 3 No. 12, Summer 2012.

by Tucker Neel

Zackary Drucker is a dynamo, who, at the young age of twenty-nine, has created an insightful body of films, photographs, and performances challenging gender normativity. Her work, which always intersects with her own trans identity, postulates queer alternatives to the status quo. She has staged performances inviting audience members to perform depilatory actions on her body. She has created gorgeous and inquisitive photographs and films that document her life, her personality and image, but also interrogate larger questions of gendered performance, fashion, class, historical lineage, and bodies that resist codification. Recently she was invited to take part in the 2012 Hammer Biennial, presenting She Gone Rogue, an opulent and fractured narrative film with existential leanings. In this interview she was kind enough to answer some questions about collaboration, language, family, and her recent works.

Zackary Drucker. The Inability to be Looked at the the Horror of Nothing to See, 2009-10, performance, Los Angeles, CA. All images are courtesy of the artist and Luis De Jesus, Los Angeles.

Zackary Drucker. The Inability to be Looked at the the Horror of Nothing to See, 2009-10, performance, Los Angeles, CA. All images are courtesy of the artist and Luis De Jesus, Los Angeles.

Tucker Neel: Your most recent work is an experimental film titled She Gone Rogue, which you made with director Rhys Ernst for the Made In LA 2012 Hammer Biennial. I know that the film features queer legends like Vaginal Davis and Holly Woodlawn. Can you say a little about this film? What inspired it and how do you see it relating to past work?

Zackary Drucker: Though the film is abstract, and is situated in a fantasy / dream world, it is also autobiographical. I have relationships with all of the people in the film, whom disparately assembled, represent my chosen family. All of the spaces we shot were on location, in the actor’s home’s, including my parent’s cottage in Crystal Lake, Pennsylvania, and the hundred-year-old house in Silverlake that Rhys and I live in. We also shot with Vaginal Davis in Berlin, Flawless Sabrina in New York City, Holly Woodlawn in Los Angeles, and there was an additional shoot in the Mojave desert. Rhys and I were taking a break from our relationship and he had moved out when the piece (that became SHE GONE ROGUE) started to form. I was alone in this house and the walls were literally falling down around me, the ancient plaster crumbling. I fixated on this for months and it began to fuse with my psychological state, it somehow seemed symbolic or an actualization of my internal world. Rhys and I never actually split, and the film was made as a reconciliation of sorts; we wrote and produced it together. Over the year it took to make the film, he had moved back in, and it felt as though it was an afterlife of a relationship; restored, rebuilt, and we fixed the walls too.

Zackary Drucker, You will Never Be a Woman. You Must Live the Rest of your Days Entirely as a Man and Will Only Grow More Masculine with Every Passing Year. There is no Way Out (still). In collaboration with Van Barnes, Mariah Garnett, and A.L. Steiner, 2008, digital video, color, 8:45.

Zackary Drucker, You will Never Be a Woman. You Must Live the Rest of your Days Entirely as a Man and Will Only Grow More Masculine with Every Passing Year. There is no Way Out (still). In collaboration with Van Barnes, Mariah Garnett, and A.L. Steiner, 2008, digital video, color, 8:45.

My character, who is only ever referred to as DARLING, has a break with reality that leads her to her parents and archetypes, but as they may exist in the future or in a parallel dimension. Reality as it’s reprocessed in dream-state. It’s about so many things, and honestly is so fresh, I think we need some time and distance to adequately unpack what we did. Speaking for myself, I was thinking about how our bodies age and we go through time existing in any number of spaces and as constantly morphing forms. I think it’s also about mortality. About disappearing into one’s mind, about locating and reconciling my history (personal / cultural), while situating myself, now, within it. I think it’s a pretty deep Saturn Returns existential question mark – who am I, and how did I arrive here? Where am I going? What does my future look like? The people I look to in real life are the people I find in the film. Even if their characters are, at times, nebulous and confounding, providing more questions than answers. It was exciting to have an excuse to make art with these brilliant performers and loved ones that I have always looked to as monuments of strength and perseverance.

TN: The film itself is quite beautiful, with decadent set decoration and some fantastic costuming. Did you style your actors, specifically Vaginal Davis and Flawless Sabrina, or was the construction of these characters more of a collaboration between you and these legendary performers?

Zackary Drucker with Flawless Sabrina, At Least You Know You Exist, 2011, 16mm film transferred to digital medium, color, sound, 15 minutes.

ZD: There was a lot of collaboration involved with set design and costuming, but much of th aesthetic was already built-in to the character’s spaces and personas. Vag and Flawless’ apartments were pretty much left as is, though we brought select props into Flawless’ place (the alter, the wind-up toys, the record player which we secured through one of Flawless’ friends). Flawless is her own brilliant stylist and always knows how to push the envelope with her look. Since Vaginal Davis was playing the Whoracle of Delphi, which called for more of a specific costume, my friend Marcus Pontello created her look for the television infomercial scenes. My friend Taylor Lorentz embellished Holly’s place for her scenes, and otherwise, Rhys and I filled in the gaps and made many of the decisions with art direction.

Zackary Drucker, You will Never Be a Woman. You Must Live the Rest of your Days Entirely as a Man and Will Only Grow More Masculine with Every Passing Year. There is no Way Out (stills). In collaboration with Van Barnes, Mariah Garnett, and A.L. Steiner, 2008, digital video, color, 8:45.

Zackary Drucker, You will Never Be a Woman. You Must Live the Rest of your Days Entirely as a Man and Will Only Grow More Masculine with Every Passing Year. There is no Way Out (stills). In collaboration with Van Barnes, Mariah Garnett, and A.L. Steiner, 2008, digital video, color, 8:45.

TN: One of my favorite recent works of yours was a doormat with your face on it emblazoned with the word “WELCOME.” The work turns self-deprecation on its head, a kind of preemptive way of “throwing shade.” I know you’re interested in the history of queer languages and that you’re inspired by the book The Queen’s Vernacular by Bruce Rodgers, which specifically addresses the art or reading. Your work often uses “reading” as a device to talk about what is not talked about, especially in videos like You Will Never, Ever Be A Woman… where you and Van Barnes trade loving chains of insults and a kind of Craigslist personal ad banter while lounging around in a domestic setting in various states of undress. I’ve always thought that the way you incorporate “reading” into your work relates in some way to how the fine art world “reads” work, with all the accompanying criticism, gossip, and social accoutrements that inform the reception of artist and artwork. Does understanding the dialectics of insult and “reading” ever influence how you see the art world, how you take or give criticism?

Zackary Drucker, Distance is Where the Heart is, Home is Where You Hang Your Heart, # 5, 2011. In collaboration with Amos Mac, digital C-print.

Zackary Drucker, Distance is Where the Heart is, Home is Where You Hang Your Heart, # 5, 2011. In collaboration with Amos Mac, digital C-print.

ZD: Absolutely. “Reading” is about inoculating or preparing a person for a larger culture of intolerance. If we can articulate the most hurtful things we can imagine, than the words will have less power when being inflicted on us from the external world. It’s also a form of verbal self-defense; anyone who has been bullied or ostracized understands the power of words, it’s all we have to utilize in our uphill battle for self-respect. Especially when your physical power or agency is constantly being compromised and dominated. I’m interested in the Queen’s Vernacular because it’s about identifying and putting names to things that didn’t have a name in the American lexicon, we’re talking between the 1920’s and 1972 when the book was published. How do we understand our bodies, our genders, our desire, with the limited tools of language? We have to create a new language to define ourselves. I think of the possibilities of gender expression as color 3-D to hetero-normative culture’s black and white 1950’s television set. All of these things are changing, and it’s up to those of us living in the future to define a new vision for the rest of society.

TN: In your films and performances you establish a relationship with the spectator that confronts him with your genre, your sexuality and your body. In works such as “The Inability To Be Looked At and the Horror of Nothing to See,” the viewer is involved in the work and feel a variety of emotions that go from admiration, desire, judgment, to voyeuristic shame. Can you share with us how this resource challenges the viewer and impacts in the interpretation of your work?

Zackary Drucker, Don’t Look at Me Like That (in collaboration with Manuel Vason), 2010, duratrans on LED light box, 36 x 24 inches

ZD: My work in performance coincided with my decision to transition my gender from male to female. I started to become more aware of how often my body was being evaluated and scrutinized by the external world. I know this is consistent with a universal truth of being female, continually being seen and assessed, but there is something particularly awkward and vulnerable about going through puberty a second time as a fully-formed adult, and towards a more visible gender at that. And eventually, the men who used to call you a faggot are suddenly licking their lips when you walk by and women who were sympathetic become threatened or competitive. It takes a lot of energy to reconcile and overcome this inner voice that is constantly wondering if the people you come across in your daily life are reading you as a man, as a woman, as transgender, or as a non-person. If they are sympathetic, laughing at you, or shit-talking you in another language. The concept of “triple consciousness” is at play here, and again, is not unique to gender, so much as to any group of marginalized people who are visibly different than the dominant power group. Those works where I’m directly incriminating the viewer, their potential assumptions or judgements, are perhaps more of my own projection of what some of those voices of evaluation might sound like. As well as a verbalizing of my own internal process, an exorcizing of internalized shame, or self-doubt. There’s also a nod towards the relentless fetishizing of trans bodies, which is something of a sub-culture amongst a group of disenfranchised straight men; the underbelly of heterosexuality. The language of that particular style of sexual objectification seemed especially brutal and without boundaries. Performing for me, is also about collectivity, about tapping into the truth that we are all trapped in bodies that we didn’t choose and nobody makes it out alive.

TN:  Last February, you participated in the symposium “Shares and Stakeholders” as part of The Feminist Art Project 2012 conference. You participated in a panel titled ‘Destabilizing a Destabilized Existence’ with artist A.L. Steiner. As the promotional materials for this panel stated, through this discussion ‘you reflected on “outsider” identities, and how potential future without gender binaries could situate feminism into uncharted territory.’ Can you share with us your thoughts about this discussion?

WELCOME Doormat
Zackary Drucker and Amos Mac
Los Angeles, CA: Zackary Drucker and Amos Mac,

ZD: Steiner and I always have a really fun and productive time when we join forces. We took the opportunity to share our histories as feminists and aligning our identification as feminists within a larger goal to obliterate the gender binary system, which though a radical idea, is what we should all be aiming for. Patriarchy, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, couldn’t exist without a binary. One group is always on top if there is a clear delineation between two categories of people, and quite honestly it doesn’t serve any of us very effectively, straight cisgender men included. As our definitions expand of what men and women are, we should strive for a more inclusive politic where nobody is defined by the genitals they are born with, how they decide to use or share them with. This is what the future looks like.

TN: For many trans identifying people the concept of family and home can be a troubling or frustrating thing, with parents often not understanding the complexity of gender and identity. Many parents end up being outwardly hostile towards their trans children. You returned to your childhood home in to make work for the recent show at Luis de Jesus. Your parents are in your upcoming video for the Hammer Biennial. How has having supportive parents impacted your work and what thoughts do you have about the notion of family, both drag and trans families and biological families?

ZD: I am incredibly fortunate. My parents are my role models and I believe that they are role models of good parenting, which is one of the primary reasons I include them in my work. The world needs to see that there is an alternative to parents rejecting and marginalizing their transgender children. The child-parent relationship is so much about reciprocal learning, and I think I’ve taught them as much as they’ve taught me. They never took a strict authoritarian position with me, so I think they have a less-defined sense of hierarchy and have always been open to learning. No parents are free of expectations or dreams of who their children may become, I’m sure it takes a lot of adjustment to reconcile who your children become as adults, but I think it’s narcissistic to expect your children to reproduce your projection, or align with your ideology and values. Above all, my parents are invested in my happiness, and they realize that it took me becoming an artist, a woman, a Californian, etc, to get there. I’m fortunate because they are progressive-minded and educated and in most ways I am a pretty direct descendent of their ideals. Millennium version. Many parents are probably too invested in their own antiquated values to accept their children’s autonomy, but mine are cool, and they’re fun to be around too.

The confidence my parents’ support has given me has been really instrumental in enabling me to present myself as a subject / object without feeling shamed or disempowered as a trans person. And some of it comes from my ancestors I’m sure, and queens, and trans people, past and future. As queers, we’re lucky to have the advantage of assembling a chosen family too, which has been crucial to my development and my manifestation of self. (Aunt) Holly, (Mom) Vag, (Dad) Ron Athey, (Grandma) Flawless, and my (Sister) Van – and that’s just a start, as I have a handful of other siblings – have all been incredibly influential and powerful figures in my life.

TN: You are extremely busy these days, gearing up for more museum exhibitions. Can you talk a little about what you have planned for future work?

ZD: My last film, At Least you know: you exist, will be installed for the duration of the summer at both the Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, and MOMA’s PS1 in New York. It is also screening at the Hammer Museum, alongside Flawless Sabrina’s 1968 film The Queen, and Holly Woodlawn’s 1972 B+W silent film, Broken Goddess. That’s on Wednesday, August 22nd in the Billy Wilder Theater, and all three of us will have a conversation following the screening. I can’t wait for that. Holly and Flawless love each other dearly and together they are explosive and magical and like 2 timeless children. I’ve got a few things up my sleeve following those shows, but I’d rather surprise you with them in the near future!

Tucker Neel is an artist, writer, curator, and gallery director based in Los Angeles. Neel runs 323 Projects, a telephone-based art gallery accessible any time by simply calling (323) 843-4652. For more info visit 323projects.com.

“Present Absence: Soo Kim,” Artillery Magazine,Vol. 6 Issue 8. 2012.

“Present Absence: Soo Kim,” Artillery Magazine,Vol. 6 Issue 8. 2012.

by Tucker Neel

Soo Kim’s photographs always demand a closer look, not just because of formal engagement, but because the more time you invest in them, the more they reveal about what you don’t see, which, if you’re paying attention, extends to how you view the everyday. Since the early aughts Soo’s made photographs of beautiful but banal images – wooded dead-ends, cities asleep, unassuming hotel rooms – which she prints then cuts into. These delicately excised drawings create a second image through their absence.  On a cloudless afternoon Soo and I sat down to chat about her work and Los Angeles, the city she has called home for most of her life.

Soo Kim
Untitled, Superheavies, 2008
Hand-cut C-print
25 x 25 ” (63.5 x 63.5 cm)

Artillery: In keeping with the theme of this issue I’d like to ask you about L.A. What thoughts do you have about the city?

Soo Kim: Having lived here for such a long time – I went to high school, undergrad, and grad school here – I can see how the art world has changed and stayed the same. There are certain things that people always say about LA: that it’s a great city for artists, that it’s a place that can give you a lot of time to work in the studio without distractions, unlike in busier cities. I think a lot of that is true. But for me I think the thing that makes LA interesting is there are so many artists all connected not just through cultural production, but also through the schools. And I think it’s a lot easier to make artists friends in LA than in New York. Maybe it’s a little less competitive here. If you just drop into LA it’s hard to make friends, but if you come here as an artist I think the art world really provides a structure for social grouping.

Artillery: Moving to your work, how and why did you decide to start cutting into photographs?

SK: First of all, I never really studied photography ‘properly’ and I think this let me come at it from a different perspective. I always thought there were problems with the regular conventions of ‘art photography,’ like you have to have a small edition, and it has to be clean – you can’t touch or breathe on anything. I got tired of these constraints, and so I just started thinking about removing information by drawing.

I thought, “I’m not the Bechers. So why do I have to make more than one image of this thing? If there is a diversity of images in one body of work why does it have to talk about just one thing?” There had to be a way to talk about photography and the indexical and referential things that photography does without referring to these established models.

Artillery: What was the first foray into this new way of making work?

SK: The first piece that I kept was shot in a room at the Maritime hotel. I photographed my partner at the time on the bed – just his hand – my idea of a portrait. There was this fabric wallpaper behind him – blue with white butterflies. I went back and printed the photo, re-drew and reconfigured the butterflies and cut them out. I wanted to take something that was banal, like wallpaper, and use it to enliven the space of the photograph as a way to elongate the time we read the image. I did this because I knew people were going to look at not just the image, but also the thing that was excised, especially if it was something that was a referential shape.

So I did that and then I took nine months to figure out the framing.

It took a lot of trial and error. I wanted the work to be site-sensitive. So the frame has a plexi border instead of a paper border, so that when you hang it, you can see through to the wall behind the work. And the cuts cast shadows, creating a dimensionality to the piece as well.

Soo Kim
Midnight Reykjavik, 12, 2007
Layered hand-cut C-prints
49 3/4 x 47 1/8 ” (126.4 x 119.7 cm

Artillery: What about banal spaces interests you?

SK: I’m interested in transitional spaces and how difficult it is to measure a kind of tentativeness they have. For example, the Reykjavik series is photographed at midnight but it looks like noon. So although Reykjavik is a solid and understandable city, I’m photographing it in a way that what you see is not what you get. I’ve also photographed in Istanbul, which has another duality; it’s part East and West, part Europe and Asia. While it’s not the primary subject, I always gravitate to these locations that have mutability. I’m drawn to the liminal.

………………

Though it wasn’t said, it seems LA is the perfect place to inspire Soo’s work. After all, this is a city of in-betweens. We are defined by transitory states and the rapidity with which people and places to transform into something else. Though Soo may not take LA as a “subject,” I feel her work embodies an Angeleno way of looking at the world that seeks out the ineffable that is right there in front of you, surrounding you, just waiting for you to see it.

Catalog essay for Nancy Baker Cahill’s fascinomas

 

Catalog essay for Nancy Baker Cahill’s fascinomas

Pasadena Museum of California Art

Jan 21 – May 20, 2012

 

 

Nancy Baker Cahill’s recent paintings and videos of undulating, evocative, and sinewy forms against velvety expanses, compel one to ask, “Just what am I looking at?” A telescopic photo of a distant planet’s surface? Electron microscope renderings of epidermal abrasions enlarged to human-size? An ultrasound populated with disembodied bones and organs? While these Rorschach-like viewing experiences provide unbounded free associations, it’s their eerie familiarity that unravels, and complicates, how we see, and what we know. Cahill’s work explores how we are constituted by representations, how exploratory technologies, like microscopes, telescopes, and ultrasounds, inform understandings of ourselves, and the inner and outer worlds we inhabit.

 

 

The peculiar title of this exhibition, fascinomas, a medical term meaning an unusual case or diagnosis, addresses a problem of not knowing. Elusive and undefined, set outside of normal and knowable phenomena, the “unusual” maintains a proximal relationship to the unknown. Additionally, fascinoma springs from the etymological mixture of the prefix fascination, and suffix oma, a pathological reference to both morbidity and the growth of multiple tumors. This title, and its attendant allusions to an alien growth inhabiting, and perhaps killing, its host, places Cahill’s work in quite an unsettling position, something akin to the first explorations into the unseen depths of the human body.

 

 

 

While discussing early microscopic studies from the eighteenth century, art historian and artist Barbara Stafford notes that this new technology profoundly changed western perceptions of embodied existence: “Under the remorseless lens, a well-behaved anthropomorphic unity was pulverized into tiny and teeming minima. Not only were individuals overwhelmed by their corpuscles, but animals seemed to dissolve into the strangeness and indescribability of irregular polyps and multitentacled hydras”. Innovations in seeing, from the electron microscope to the Hubble Telescope, change human subjectivity, and in doing so shift previously coherent bodies into particles of an expanding infinite. This observation, and Stafford’s description of what it must have been like to look into a new interior world for the first time, a world brimming with fantastically descriptive language, intersects with Cahill’s arresting compositions.

 

 

Cahill’s conglomerations of attenuated cuts of and folds created by dense and light veils of pigment, are undeniably sumptuous and abject at the same time. We are drawn in by their subtle gradients, reminiscent of fabric or classical chiaroscuro. Yet buried within the forms is an analogous relation to eviscerated bodies and ghost-like fragments that haunt our own sense of mortality. This evidence of a presence marked by its absence is a direct result of the artist’s process.

 

 

Cahill creates her paintings with an airbrush, spraying layers of pigment over disparate objects, ranging from wires to dried kelp. She then removes these objects, leaving only the trace of their presence. This process charts its antecedence back to prehistoric instances of self-representation, the Upper Paleolithic cave paintings of France and Spain, with their walls of hands silhouetted by earthen pigments. One can only infer that such early paintings were meant to assert physical presence in the face of a precarious and perilous existence defined by danger and confusion. With their ghostly references, Cahill’s fascinomas signify a similar register of presence within absence. In her work we see a reflection of ourselves, how we wrestle with unsettling, unstable bodies within a world of endless unknowns.

 

 

 

-Tucker Neel

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Art in the Streets at Museum of Contemporary Art – Los Angeles

Originally published in Artpulse Magazine Vol. 2 No. 4 Summer 2011

 

It’s hard to see MOCA’s blockbuster exhibition, Art In The Streets apart from its surrounding controversies. The show’s problems began back in 2010 when MOCA’s new Director and Art In The Streets’ chief curator, Jeffery Deitch, had the artist Blu’s mural of dollar bill-draped coffins on the side of the museum painted over, so as not, according to Deitch, to offend the surrounding community and those who regularly come to commemorate Japanese American veterans at the nearby Go For Broke memorial. Given Blu’s worldwide reputation as a politically engaged artist, and the fact that no one from the community had actually complained about the mural’s content, Deitch’s deletion of the work comes across as directorial and curatorial ineptitude (if his concerns were genuine, he should have stepped in before the mural was completed). For many concerned with MOCA’s future, the entire incident labeled the museum’s new regime as unsupportive of opinionated artistic expression. The mural’s replacement, an undulating scene by Lee Quinones portraying a fractal-emitting railroad train engine soaring over the US Constitution towards a female Native American in a headdress, is so embarrassingly awkward and slapdash as to betray the hastiness of its construction and the anxieties underpinning its role as a secondary ameliorative white-washing, doubling Deitch’s precedent-setting act of censorship.

 

Now that the show is up, MOCA is actively working to paint over any actual unsanctioned street art in the nearby Little Tokyo area, has hired guards to patrol the streets around the museum on bikes, and is using its security cameras to find street artists vandalizing the surrounding property. How does this increased surveillance and the removal of in situ street art frame the creative energy, political and community engagement, and communicative power of art from the streets? Perhaps the most troublesome problem of the exhibition is that the art in “Art In The Streets” is, in fact, not in the streets. So what happens when this art enters MOCA and becomes art in the museum?

 

One answer to this question comes with Bansky’s crowded installation consisting of life-size figures wearing hazmat suits posed in a post-apocalyptic golf-game, as well as a dozen or so paintings, one of a still from The Rodney King beating video, with the brutalized King replaced by a piñata. Unlike how Banksky’s street art communicates out in the real world, where it takes the element of surprise to inspire its audience to rethink power dynamics and question authority, in MOCA this work comes across as tame, an exhibition of the “Banksy style.” Many of the other works in the exhibition fall into the same trap, sterilized by their surroundings. If I came across RETNA‘s expansive mural painted on the outside of the MOCA gift shop on, say, a stucco wall on Western Ave., I would have no choice but to stop and stare and think about how its Rococo calligraphic intensity intervenes in to an otherwise unexceptional pedestrian experience.  But in the museum, the piece registers as the simulacra of, rather than a consequential engagement with, a critique of who can put up words and imagery in public.

 

One major institutional problem with the exhibition is that it is saturated by heavy-handed sponsorship from the Levi’s and Nike corporations. The multi-national clothing and lifestyle brand Levi’s occupies an entire wing of the museum with an interactive video installation, and Nike has a skate park near the entrance that only their corporate-sponsored skateboard team can ride. The two corporations have also executed a near complete takeover of the museum’s gift shop, selling limited edition jackets, shoes, and apparel, donating the proceeds to “the museum and it’s community programs,” while at the same time saturating the consciousness of their target market consumers. Such in-your-face corporate branding colors all the work in the show. One wonders what Malcom X would think of Shepard Fariey’s use of his likeness to wallpaper the MOCA gift shop, given that, according to a 2011 report released by the US. International Textile Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation, Levi’s and Nike are still using subsidiary companies that routinely engage in union-busting and create sweatshop factory conditions around the world. Unfortunately, many visitors to the museum will ignore this hypocrisy, as well as Fairey’s perpetual unauthorized use of grass-roots revolutionary imagery, employed without compensating the original artist, to promote his own Obey brand (and likewise the brand of whatever corporation hires him to promote their products), in favor of the visual enchantment his signature graphic formalism has become known for.

 

As it is in the streets, the most successful works in the show successfully construct display strategies that claim their own space, by establishing dedicated viewing environments that don’t just mimic the street, but instead pose alternative realities for viewers to reconsider the very notion of “street art”. In this sense, customized cars by artists like Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring, and a mind-bendingly sumptuous ice cream truck by Mr. Cartoon, festooned with airbrushed scenes, some of them unfortunately highly misogynist, maintain the fresh intensity of their intended location, since, after all, a motor vehicle is still a motor vehicle even if it’s not on the street.

 

Additionally, Todd James, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, Devin Flynn, Josh Lazcano, Dan Murphy, and Alexis Ross’ Street, 2011, is a world unto itself, a Disneylandesque miniaturized urban city block overtaken by ironic posters, considered dedicated wall pieces, surreal installations of body parts holding spray cans, a church festooned with beer cans, and a non-functioning bathroom and attendant wall markings, and all manner of “street art”. This space proposes an alternate universe from what happens outside of the museum, a free-for-all world of decriminalized graffiti, with no mark buffed, no piece removed. Such an over-the-top street art paradise would seem far too idealized, like wishful thinking, were it not for a video installation on the roof of the entire complex playing a brief, looping, comedic advertisement for the fictional, “Style Wars: The Musical,” which features cheesy songs, pirouetting taggers, and a dancing spray can. This video, and its complimentary street scene, self-reflexively critique how the commoditization of street art, its absorption into mainstream corporate culture, might threaten its iconoclastic potential. At the same time, the presentation of this yet-to-come musical skewers the self-congratulatory spectacle that frames the entire exhibition, as if to point out something very present in the exhibition as a whole: the problem of trying to move the energy of Broadway Blvd. indoors.

 

Tucker Neel is an artist, writer, and curator in Los Angeles. He is also the director of 323 Projects, a telephone-based gallery that can be reached anytime by calling (323) 843-4652.