What Makes a “Keeper”? New Museum Curator Natalie Bell on Collecting as Art

Original article published in Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art

The New Museum’s current show The Keeper, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, pushes the boundaries of the definition of art by exploring practices of collecting and preserving objects as the subject of a museum exhibition.

The Keeper features expansive collections of items compiled by artists, scholars, collectors and hoarders over the past century which provide viewers with opportunities to muse on how the things that people amass and safeguard speak to their identities. How does what we decide to keep reflect upon who we are? Themes of memory, struggle, loss, the need for comfort, and the passing of time also pervade the four-story exhibition.

keeper2Installation view of The Keeper, featuring a sculptural installation by Carol Bove and Carlo Scarpa, and paintings by Hilma af Klint

Included are works like Canadian artist-curator Ydessa Hendele’sPartners “The Teddy Bear Project” (2002), which comprises more than 3,000 antique portraits of people and their teddy bears, Shinro Ohtake’s manic collaged scrapbooks (1979-2016), and Susan Hiller’s “The Last Silent Movie” (2007-2008), an audio work sounding the voices of the speakers of twenty-five extinct or dying languages.

While many of the collections of items included in the show are impressive and thought provoking, it’s not difficult, as a viewer, to wonder: Is simply compiling a quantity of something enough to call it art? Jose Falconi, postdoctoral fellow at the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University, critiques:

“Some of the pieces, most notably Ydessa Hendeles’s “Partners (The Teddy Bear Project)” are pieces which do not have much more merit than the mere act of collecting itself. An act that is, as we all know, one of the most basic tricks in the artist book: any object starts acquiring new meaning when they are collected — just as any object starts acquiring a new meaning when they are rendered in a different scale (very big, very small). In that way, The Keeper does very little to show that there is anything beyond putting into motion such a trick and conflating many different possible readings of the works gathered in it. What is, for example, the critical difference between hoarding and collecting? Is one simply the result of an impulse gone astray?

keeper3

 Installation view of Ydessa Hendele’s “Partners (The Teddy Bear Project)” (2002)

Supposedly the show is about showing that behind such repetitious acts there is something else lurking around, but I didn’t see it; the exhibition almost presents as mere celebration of collecting without any criticality. In other words: it suffers from what it is trying not to show.”

The answer to the question of the validity of collecting or amassing objects as art may certainly be up for debate, but one idea that seems to be paramount in understanding the value of a show like this, according to Writer and former New Museum Technician Matthew Blair, could be considering curating as the art form itself:

The Keeper either raises the status of curating to a form of art-making, or blurs the lines between collecting and creating; between curating and art-making. The curators at The New Museum have always had an interest in mounting shows that tend to [utilize] more than just content and juxtaposition. They organize shows that put more of the onus on the curators — changing the role of curating to being the dominant mode of exhibiting.”

Therefore, in part, it could be said that it is The New Museum’s commitment to allowing for experimental curatorial practices that is one of the elements most on display in The Keeper, more so than any individual work.

keeper4Shinro Ohtake, “Scrapbooks” (1979-2016)

keeper5Reproduction of drawing from “The Sketchbook from Auschwitz” (original drawing included in the collection of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum), (ca. 1943) 

In the following interview, New Museum Assistant Curator Natalie Bell, who collaborated on The Keeper with Mr. Gioni provides further insight on collecting, identity, and explorations of preserving and protecting as art.

Artifactoid: From your perspective, what do you think are some of the most important things that The Keeper reveals in regards to how collecting objects relates to our identity? Are there any works that you think make some of the biggest statements? Which ones and why?

Natalie Bell: Well, almost by definition, any collection is going to reflect its collector, whether it’s merely a matter of taste or representative of a unique philosophy or set of beliefs.  In this show, of course we were interested in collections that tell a story about someone’s beliefs, or an unlikely faith that certain objects and images could prove or validate an otherwise irrational or obscure idea, which is not true of everything in the exhibition, but is a significant recurring feature of many of its “keepers.” The first that comes to mind is Roger Caillois, a French theorist who collected rare stones because he believed they could reveal a shared cosmic history — which is not such a far-fetched thought if you think about the cosmic scope of geological formations. Or Wilson Bentley, who pioneered microphotography and amassed over five thousand negatives of snowflakes to prove his hypothesis that no two snowflakes are alike. But these are instances in which collecting relates to identity, if identity is understood as one’s beliefs, which is not always how we think about identity.

keeper6Oil on canvas paintings by Hilma af Klint (1914-1915)

Which works make the biggest statements? An important footnote to Hilma af Klint’s luminous abstract paintings from 1914-15 is that she had stipulated, at the time of her death, that they be withheld from the public, or basically kept secret until twenty years after her death. So essentially she believed that her work, which was not so well received in her lifetime, would only be truly appreciated in the future. But maybe the most powerful work for me is one that combines a belief in a future discovery and an enormous moral imperative to bear witness, which are the drawings from an author known by the initials “MM,” which were found hidden in a bottle in the barracks near the gas chambers at Auschwitz and are among very few images made in Auschwitz that actually depict the atrocities of abuse, torture, and mass extermination. Clearly, the artist who made these knew the severity of punishment he would encounter if he was caught making these images, and he took enormous risk to document what was so impossibly horrific and was otherwise being assiduously hidden by the Nazis.

Artifactoid: In what ways is the idea of collecting and quantity important in art? When we call a collection of things art, what, in your opinion, are the effects or significances of that?

NB: Personally I don’t think quantity or collecting are virtues in themselves, but one way to think about how collecting or quantity have importance in art is that a dedicated accumulation of anything reflects someone’s passion, and maybe at times, their obsession — and alongside that, we tend to regard an artist’s zealousness or compulsiveness as a creative virtue. In a sense, this exhibition is maybe guilty of exploiting the legacy of romanticism, but the effect is perhaps visitors come away from the show with a new way of thinking about what it means to be creative. But it wasn’t a particular agenda of ours to anoint these bodies of work or collections as “art,” but rather to reflect on what is essential and universal about our emotional attachment to things, and how forming bonds with things helps us cope with our mortality.

keeper762 consecutive annual studio portraits of Ye Jinglu, collected by photography collector Tong Bingxue, (1901-1963)

Artifactoid: When considering the compiling of objects as art (which I was speaking about with Jose Falconi about), are there some important distinctions in your opinion about the practice of collecting versus hoarding?

NB: There are important distinctions, some of them arguable, but first of all I think you could call collecting a practice in the sense that it’s intentional and a collector might have to make decisions about what to acquire and what not to acquire, what’s worth keeping and what’s not worth keeping. Hoarding, on the other hand, is regarded as a pathological condition, and people who hoard have a compulsion to keep everything and suffer enormous anxiety about parting with anything. In other words, it comes down to being judicious about what you surround yourself with and having a capacity to refine one’s collection, rather than just keeping everything.

But in the framework of our thinking about the show, maybe the matter of preserving and protecting opens up something more contentious — which is that people who hoard often believe that they’re preserving the things that they keep for some future opportunity, and that their guardianship is essential. And there’s also maybe a shared psychological impulse in which amassing things can be a way of coping. But the arguable difference in my mind is that if you hoard, you’re constantly compromising your capacity to actually take good care of the things you have. That, and the fact that no one wants to become a hoarder. It’s considered a condition for good reason!

Artifactoid: There was a connection of several of the works to World War II and the Holocaust. Who decided to include multiple of those works, and why do you think that the idea of “collecting” is important related to that period in history?

NB: There are a few works that may stand out because of their relationship to the Holocaust, but I don’t think the idea of “collecting” is more related to that period in history than to others. Of course, it’s interesting generally to think about people’s relationship to material culture vis-a-vis larger historical events. It can manifest as a pragmatic approach, like how many Americans who came of age during the depression and remember the rationing of WWII have a tendency to reuse and salvage things that we might otherwise consider disposable. But this is more a trauma of poverty or scarcity that spurs collecting as a preventative measure. In other words, is my grandpa’s drawer full of golf pencils the product of his emotional attachment to these objects? Not really, considering that he has the same attitude toward saving ketchup packets from fast food restaurants.

keeper8Detail from Henrik Olesen’s “Some Gay-Lesbian Artists and/or Artists relevant to Homo-Social Culture Born between c. 1300–1870″ (2007)

keeper9The 387 Houses of Peter Fritz (1916-1992), Insurance Clerk from Vienna, preserved by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser (1993-2008)

But, that said, in this exhibition we weren’t so interested in the idea of collecting in a broad sense, but in something quite specific, which is a desire to preserve and protect and care for certain objects and images, so rather looking for instances where there’s a certain desire or love that’s motivating someone to action. This is a very different sort of mandate — and one that’s as subjective as it is emotional. But to return to the parts of the show that touch on the Holocaust, I think that there are potentially a lot of connections to collecting. Obviously, collecting as a form of bearing witness takes on a real urgency when there is a genocide that attempted to leave no evidence of mass exterminations, but on an emotional and psychological level, forging emotional attachments to objects is a common way of coping with the trauma, so it should be no surprise that WWII and the Holocaust stand out as something of a focal point in a show whose historical scope includes the last century.

Floors 1-3 of The Keeper will be on view at The New Museum (235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002) through Sunday, October 2nd, 2016. The fourth floor of the exhibit will be open through Sunday September 25th.

Reflections on Manus X Machina at the MET: Fashion and Technology, Couture to RTW

While Yves Saint Laurent once quoted, “Art is a very big word for couture. It’s a métier like any other, but a poetic métier,” it was difficult for me to look at the pieces on display at the MET’s Manus x Machina exhibit and not see many of them as wearable sculptures.

img_3268-1Dress featuring both hand-embroidered and 3D-printed elements, by threeASFOUR, 2014

If you didn’t get a chance to check out the recent fashion and technology exhibit before it closed this Labor Day weekend, I wanted to give you an opportunity to see some of the beautiful pieces that were featured, and consider the topic of fashion and technology.

dressIris van Herpen dress including polyurethane resin and iron fillings hand-sculpted with magnets, Autumn/Winter 2014

One thing that really struck me about this Apple-sponsored, Andrew Bolton-organized exhibit was that, for a fashion and technology exhibit, it didn’t feel very high-tech. It was more like a retrospective of how high fashion has kept up with and experimented with the tech of its time over the last century. For instance, many of the 3D-printed pieces which were presented as some of the more technologically advanced of the show were created several years back. I’d even previously seen the Iris van Herpen 3D-printed corset in early 2014 the Bass Museum in Miami.

vanherpenIris van Herpen, 3D-Printed Dress (far right, 2010)

The lower-tech vibe of the show, on the positive side, can be viewed as a testament to how well some of the show’s participating haute couture designers have been integrating new technologies into fashion – allowing couture to retain its handmade look while keeping up with some of the latest technologies available. According to The New York Times, this has always been the case, i.e., with the invention of “the sewing machine (used to make a Paul Poiret coat in 1919) and machine-made lace (Coco Chanel, in the late ’30s).”

diorGowns, Dior (left, center) and Alexander McQueen (right)

There also seems to be a limiting factor in regards to the marriage of high-tech and haute couture: since a lot of technology is created to be utilitarian, and by its nature haute couture seems to be the antithesis of utilitarian, will the applications of technology in haute couture be limited to purely the aesthetic?

Even when considering Hussein Chalayan, whose fashion designs have included robotic, LED, and remote controlled technologies, the tech provides a visual wow-factor but no practical benefits for the wearer. Then again, no one ever looked to haute couture for its practicality.

Has it been frowned upon in the fashion world for couture to incorporate practical technology? Is there this consensus that the wearer of couture wouldn’t need high-tech life hacks woven into her ensemble at the moment of wearing it because its presence might reveal her earthly needs in her moment of being a goddess? I wonder if any designers right now are experimenting with pushing what those limits seem to have been.

chalayan“Kaikoku” Floating dress, Hussein Chalayan, 2011-12

Breaking from those limitations, the ready-to-wear fashion industry on the other hand is using technology to transform clothing itself into wearable tech smart devices. For instance, Google’s “Project Jacquard” recently debuted a partnership with Levi’s for a smart commuter jacket made of tech-connective denim that you can swipe like a smartphone screen to answer calls, control your music, and more, while remaining alert riding a bike. Antonio Cerruto, an engineer working on Project Jacquard, notes, “What I find exciting is that the people working on fashion tech now are the people who will be defining a vocabulary and mode of interaction for this area.”

It’s interesting that while tech is being integrated into both haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion in different ways, the core principles of the two categories – one as essentially wearable art and the other as utilitarian – seem to remain the same. And, the most “cutting edge” of the tech seems to be applied to the most common of the clothing: a denim jacket.

Culture Beach: There’s More to See at Fort Tilden than Katharina Grosse’s Painted House

The Rockaways: Your friends might all be going to The Hamptons or Fire Island – hey, maybe you are too! But you might also be stuck thinking (like I am many times), the only way I’m getting to the beach this weekend is by taking the subway and bus. And you know what? I’ve learned it’s pretty darn awesome. Especially when your day can be filled as filled with arts and culture as it is with seashells and waves. And that’s what brought me to Fort Tilden.

Fort Tilden is an historic district next to Jacob Riis Park. Its initial building was constructed during the War of 1812 as a part of the “2nd system” of defense to protect the area from the possibility of British attacks coming from the ocean. The fort wasn’t expanded and reactivated again until World War II, and remained active during the Cold War, but was officially deactivated in 1974 when it became an official national recreation area.

While Jacob Riis Park is now a lot of fun with eclectic food stands, live music, a bar or two, and a diverse family-oriented crowd, Fort Tilden beach is more like a quiet, hipster, adult beach where (ladies) you can freely go topless without anyone bothering you as if you’re in Europe, and check out a variety of artistic interventions thanks to MoMA PS1’s Rockaway!, the Rockaway Artists Alliance, the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, the Central Park Conservancy, NYC Parks & Recreation and Rockaway Beach Surf Club.

MoMA PS1’s Rockaway! has become a known program in New York City over the past couple of years since its inception in 2014, and deservedly so. It came to life as a collaboration between MoMA PS1 Director Klaus Bisenbach and Patti Smith, a Rockaway resident who has been visiting Fort Tilden beach since the 1970s with Robert Mapplethorpe. Rockaway! celebrates bringing the area back to life after it suffered destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, two weeks prior to which Smith had bought a house there (queue Alanis). The debut of Rockaway! included a large-scale, site-specific work by Smith titled, “Resilience of the Dreamer,” along with projects by Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas, Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, and a Walt Whitman poetry reading performed by Smith together with James Franco (a friend of Bisenbach).

Warehouse

This year’s main attraction is the site-specific project created by Katharina Grosse, a mid-career German artist with a hefty CV whose painted post-Hurricane Sandy ruin is generating ubiquitous buzz this 2016 summer season. So much so, that it appears to have sealed the deal making her the latest addition to the Gagosian Gallery‘s roster (which looks like it could be confused with a hall of fame of sorts but could seriously use a few more female artists in the mix). Grosse’s Rockaway! exhibition will be on view through November 30th, 2016, and her first commercial solo show with Gagosian is expected for early 2017.

TLDN1

If you aren’t yet aware, Grosse painted a similar dilapidated house in New Orleans’ 9th Ward following Hurricane Katrina as a part of their 2008 biennial, so this Fort Tilden installation following Hurricane Sandy can be viewed as the second in a series. According to the New York Times, Grosse’s 2008 project actually humiliated one of the hurricane’s survivors. I have yet to find more details on that story, but learning that that happened piqued my interest. I wonder how that individual felt about the art, and what his or her perspective was.

RAA1

To me, something that was important while visiting was to pay attention to the fact that PS1’s Rockaway! is not the only cultural attraction to participate in in the Fort Tilden beach area. There are additional cultural centers and installations to check out that have a beautiful local vibe and help you feel the soul of the community and more intimately connect with it.

RAAG2

These include The Rockaway Artist Alliance gallery, and The Rockaway Theatre Company, a thriving center for the performing arts which was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this June.

RTC2

Dan Guarino, president of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, was kind enough to give me a great tour of the space and a special peek into a rehearsal for “La Cage aux Folles,” which opened at the theater last weekend to great success.

RTC1

John Gilleece, Artistic Director of the Rockaway Theatre Company and Director of “La Cage aux Folles,” notes:

“Rockaway Beach, New York is a beach community with a summertime feel. Sun and surf take precedence over many other pursuits.  But, what makes the Rockaway arts community unique is that the art does not begin on Memorial Day and stop after Labor Day.  The two major arts groups, the Rockaway Theatre Company and the Rockaway Artists Alliance, offer year-round shows, exhibits and events. Nineteen years ago, when the RTC started, Rockaway Beach was very much underserved in the area of local, live theater.  But endurance and hard work bore fruit. Today, our reputation for Broadway-quality musicals has enlarged our audience base so that we have people coming from all over the New York area.”

At the Rockaway Artists Alliance art gallery, you can currently enjoy an indoor/outdoor art show including a display of sizable paintings from the exhibit, “Forbidden Fruit: Street Art in a National Park,” and enter the large abandoned locomotive repair space where Patti Smith’s 2014 project was staged. At the theater, “La Cage aux Folles” has three upcoming performances on August 19th, 20th, and 21st, and you can get tickets here.

RAA5

The Austrian Cultural Forum New York: A Hidden Treasure near the MoMA

For the first time, I recently visited the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City’s midtown. Situated on 52nd Street and 5th Avenue, it is close to the MoMA and is a special cultural site in an area filled with mainly retail stores and corporate offices. If you are in the area shopping, visiting the MoMA, or the south side of Central Park, I would recommend stopping in at ACFNY.

ACFNY1

The ACFNY is a multi-faceted destination that offers many more than one reason to visit. First of all, the physical building stands at 24 stories and is a unique and known architectural achievement in the city. It is a very deep yet narrow building that soars high with walls of windows that provide a sweeping view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which will remain, because the air rights between the two structures are privately owned by a prominent New York family. To note, the building was originally a smaller, townhouse-style structure but was eventually re-done. Co-curator Prem Krishnamurthy of current ACFNY show “DIS – PLAY / RE – PLAY” comments,

“The ACFNY is a sliver of Austria inscribed within the complex real estate relations of Manhattan. The building is significant architecturally, as it negotiates a narrow 25-foot wide site and multi-tiered program. It’s the particularities of this architecture — both positive and challenging alike — that inspired the specific approach of the show I worked on there.”

Secondly, the ACFNY was founded in 1942 by Austrian Jewish families who fled Austria during World War II and were seeking to establish an institution to preserve Austrian culture in a place where it could flourish. In addition, there are a network of Austrian Cultural Forums globally, and the one in New York is a member of this group. I personally feel strongly about the survival of the arts during World War II, specifically the perseverance of Jewish artists who were persecuted or the recuperation of artworks seized by Nazis, like Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s “Woman in Gold” which I mentioned in my previous article about Jewish Czech artist and concentration camp survivor Jan de Ruth, of whom I own a work titled “Daydream.”

ACFNY3

But, the ACFNY is anything but a cultural relic from the 1940s. The institute is currently showcasing two contemporary art exhibitions, including Ulrike Königshofer, “Sense and Record,” on view until 7/28, and the previously mentioned “DIS – PLAY / RE – PLAY” put together by internationally revered curators including Krishnamurthy (of P! and Project Projects) and Walter Seidl, on view through 9/5. And, believe it or not, the next concert being held in the ACFNY’s petite, clean and modern theater will be a house music performance in September.

ACFNY4

Additional features of the ACFNY institution include a full library filled with preserved Austrian literature (if you are a lover of “old book scent” like I am, this is the place for you!), and a friendly, engaging and passionate staff led by ACFNY Director Christine Moser. For a free guided tour of the space and current exhibits, stop by on a Wednesday at 4PM.

Marks of Permanence on Paper and Skin: In Conversation with David Sena

In NYC’s Little Italy, nestled into the west side of Centre Street near Grand Street, you’ll find one of the neighborhood’s cultural gems: David Sena’s tattoo parlor and art gallery, Senaspace. Sena, a world famous tattoo artist and fine artist known for using pyrotechnic techniques to create large-scale wall pieces, recently invited Artifactoid to his workshop at Brooklyn Art Studios to catch a glimpse of some of his latest projects and techniques. Check out our Q&A with exclusive video footage below, and stop by Senaspace for the latest show or some fresh ink.
 Sena2

Artifactoid: Tell me about your background using pyrotechnic techniques in your art. How did they evolve and lead to “Colored Smoke?”

DS: I began using the pyrotechnic techniques in my art work about 20 years ago… I was in art school at The Cooper Union and one day was at a gallery in SoHo where I saw an artist that had done some “paintings” or drawings on canvas with candle soot.  For one of my 2D Design assignments we were to do a self portrait using the grid system to breakdown the image into small squares and then assign a value to each square. Then, the portrait was made with the collection of values in the grid, similar to a Chuck Close painting.  Remembering the candle soot drawings, I thought to use a lighter to burn in different values from light to dark on the grid layout.  This was my first experience using fire to make art.
 Sena3

The following year I was in a drawing course, and was looking for new ways to make marks on paper.  Traditional mediums such as pencil, charcoal, and ink weren’t giving me the look or aesthetic I was looking for and my thoughts went back the lighter portrait.  As a child I had a big fascination with fire and always loved lighting off fireworks.  I remembered from experiences how the fireworks would sometimes leave behind burnt marks on the concrete or wooden surfaces I would light them off on.  So I had an idea to get some fireworks, light them off on a sheet of paper and see what happened.  I acquired some fireworks in Chinatown, did some experiments, and right away had found what I was looking for.  Since then I have built a large selection of techniques using fireworks and other volatile materials to make my art.

Sena4

Artifactoid: Describe how you created the mechanism you developed to make the “Colored Smoke” pieces. 

DS: The “Colored Smoke” pieces  were created by using a few different tools, i.e, a compass, which the colored smoke bombs can be mounted on, then used to draw lines on the paper with.  The smoke bombs emit colored smoke and saturate the paper when directed at the surface.

Artifactoid: What are some of the biggest challenges that come along with making this type of art, and how did you overcome them?

DS: I would say constantly being cautious and safe with using fire in a controlled environment is one of the biggest challenges.

This is constantly on my mind – to be aware of what I’m doing and not let any particular process or fire get out of hand to where an unwanted fire is started. Fire can obviously be dangerous, so I rigorously remain alert to any prevent any accidents.

Artistically, the challenge is to make art and not wind up with simply a burnt piece of paper. I am exerting different amounts of control over the process but not everything can be foreseen so I have to be open to the marks the fireworks make and use them to best accomplish the desired design and composition.  The process builds upon itself and I am always finding new techniques as I work with different pyrotechnics and tools.

Artifactoid: How does your career as a tattoo artist influence your additional artistic practices?

DS: My career as a tattoo artist has coexisted well with my studio work. I feel they are very similar in their very direct and permanent means of making marks on paper or skin,  just as I cannot erase a tattooed line, I cannot undo a burnt line on paper.  The tattoo imagery I work with has also come to be included in some of the more illustrative subjects of my fire drawings.  Luckily my career as a tattoo artist has provided me with the time and resources to keep making my fine art, all the while keeping my hand and mind in creative practice.

Artifactoid: What are some other ideas and techniques for pyrotechnic art you’re looking forward to testing out in the future?

DS: I would like to start doing larger-scale projects and installations with my pyrotechnic techniques.  I would also like to incorporate light and video projections as I did in some early work.

Tonight, Thursday, July 14th 2015 from 6PM-9PM, is the opening reception for “New Amsterdam, Photographs by Richard Koek” at Senaspace, 229 Centre Street, New York, NY. Look forward to seeing you there!

Interview with Eduardo Navarro: Instructions from the Sky at Frieze New York 2016

This year at Frieze New  York, a select handful of renowned artists executed unique live performances as a part of the fair’s special projects series. One of those artists was Eduardo Navarro, a talent I follow from Buenos Aires, Argentina. You may remember him from the article I wrote in January that explored his work with the Guagua Pichincha volcano in Ecuador.

Returning to work with natural forces, Navarro exhibited a piece at Frieze titled, “Instructions from the Sky,” which focused on the unpredictable movement of clouds. The meditative, eye-opening project featured a troop of dancers dressed in sculptural mirrored discs, enacting choreography that reflected the behavior of the sky floating above Randall’s Island during the fair. In this interview, Artifactoid sits down with Navarro to talk inspiration, vulnerability, and what he liked best at Frieze this year.

Artifactoid: What inspired you to create “Instructions from the Sky?” 

EN: Reading a meteorology book my dad has, called, “Learning to Read Clouds.”

Artifactoid: Does “Instructions from the Sky” relate to any of the other great projects you’ve done that involve nature?

EN: Not really; this work is a mixture of different approaches I’ve had in other projects; it’s between sculpture and performance. It’s about connecting with something much larger than us and not having control.

Artifactoid: How did the way that the sky behaved during Frieze New York affect how these iterations of the performance turned out?

EN: Since the sky was telling us what to do, we had to adjust, and in many cases we were not able to go outside and perform. When it rained, we played and experimented with the reflections of the mirrors inside.

Artifactoid: What are some of the most important things that you learned from creating this project?

EN: It was great to delegate control, but it has a price; that price is anxiety. It was great to learn to not pay attention to the anxiety of the audience, and to feel free to improvise. I tricked myself into thinking it was always a rehearsal, and it was somehow.

Artifactoid: What are some of the key differences you’ve noticed between presenting a work at an art fair versus a gallery or museum?

EN: Well, for example, this project was perfect for a fair; if the weather was bad, people still had something to see!

Artifactoid: Aside from your own work of course, what were some highlights of Frieze New York 2016 for you?

EN: I completely fell in love with “Gabriel,” the donkey that performed for Maurizio Cattelan’s work.

ENavarro2

(Above: Eduardo Navarro)

To experience Navarro’s work currently in NYC, head over to P! (334 Broome St.) for their show titled, “For Every Purpose,” which features his project, Títulos (2007-2015), through June 26th, 2016.

2009 Art Activism in Buenos Aires Combats Bathroom Discrimination: More Relevant Now than Ever

In 2009, a group of artists and activists in Buenos Aires, Argentina transformed the gender-segregated bathrooms at the University of Buenos Aires’s Social Science Faculty into universal, gender-neutral bathrooms with a project called “Baño Revolution” (Restroom Revolution).

Led by artist and sociologist Dr. Syd Krochmalny and lead member of the well-known Argentine rock band “Ahora,” Nacho Marciano, a group of about 50 participants linked to the national university’s sociology department took action to both draw attention to and combat the discrimination against the LGBT community inherent in the gender binary bathroom system.

Brev5

During the Baño Revolution happening, participating activists concealed the men’s and women’s signs on all the bathrooms in the national university’s social sciences building by covering them with universal, genderless bathroom signs (shown below). Each bathroom that used to be designated as “men’s” or “women’s” was then open to anyone who chose to identify as either gender, or anyone who fell anywhere along the gender identity or sexuality spectra, regardless of the gender indicated on his or her birth certificate.

BRev2

Also during the happening, participants were invited to express any gender they identified with, and freely enter any of the new, universal bathrooms. There was even a discotheque set up inside one of the new universal bathrooms, where participants were invited to dance, observe, interact, and celebrate.

Expanding beyond the one-time happening, performance ephemera from the Baño Revolution project includes universal Baño Revolution bathroom signs, Baño Revolution T-shirts, an eponymous original song and music video composed by Ahora specifically for the project, plus a music video, unique still images, and more.

In Argentina, Baño Revolution generated press in newspapers and drew significant attention. To note, the project was executed in 2009, which was a very important and charged year for gender and sexuality rights activism in the country. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America and the second country in the Americas to legalize gay marriage.

BRev3

A considerable amount of time has passed since I last thought about this project. But, given recent current events happening here in the United States like the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (HB2), it returned to my radar in a new way. It makes an impact when artistic interventions are carried out in order to address societal problems and work toward sparking positive change. It is an awesome use of art and creativity which we could use here, now.

BRev4.jpg

I think it could be interesting to look into what creative or artistic action might currently be being taken, and even keep our eye out for future projects, aimed at combatting the problem of bathroom-oriented (and other) discrimination due to new laws in North Carolina, Mississippi and other U.S. states.

While this isn’t quite the same thing as Baño Revolution, some celebrity creatives in the U.S. are protesting the laws in their own way. According to this article, Sharon Stone refused to film a movie in Mississippi and musicians including Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelled concerts in North Carolina in reaction to the new discriminatory laws. Other prominent art world figures are also taking a stand, such as the director of the Andy Warhol Museum boycotting the laws by declining an invitation to serve as the visiting critic for UNC Chapel Hill’s 2016 MFA class.

BRev6

It is at least somewhat settling to see President Obama speak out against these laws in a recent visit to the UK, but it is still shameful that the laws are even able to exist. I agree with British PM David Cameron, who according to the New York Times recently stated that the British “view on any of these things is that we believe that we should be trying to use law to end discrimination rather than to embed it or enhance it.”

If you are aware of any artistic intervention against HB2 or other similar discriminatory laws, I invite you to comment on this post and share your thoughts.

Wynne Greenwood Spent Seven Years as All Three Band Members of the Activist Punk Rock Trio, “Tracy and the Plastics”

Many of you might have seen Jim Shaw’s recent multi-floor show, “The End is Near” at the New Museum, but what I’m hoping you had the chance to check out was queer feminist artist Wynne Greenwood’s smaller exhibit, “Kelly” which was open simultaneously on the fifth floor. Greenwood is an inspiring and unique creative talent who works with performance, video, object-making and music to practice what she calls “culture-healing.” From what I gathered at the exhibition, the idea of “culture healing” has to do with disrupting/debunking harmful, commonly held cultural beliefs that divide or misrepresent people, with the goal of healing relationships between different types of people.

Specifically, “Kelly” (which was also a 6 month artist residency for Greenwood at the New Museum) comprised Greenwood’s works from 1999 to 2015, during which time she concepted and acted out a variety of distinct characters for live performances and video recordings. To execute this, Greenwood would create partially improvised/partially scripted dialogues for these characters, generating profound conversations that questioned common beliefs and behaviors related to identity, gender and sexuality, and were frequently set to original music.

Greenwood’s main three works included in “Kelly” were Tracy and the Plastics (1999-2006), Strap-On TVs (2010), and her most recent project, More Heads, which she is still working on. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to shine the spotlight on the fascinating Tracy and the Plastics.

Tracy and the Plastics  is a three-member punk girl band, created by Greenwood in her basement in 1999 in Olympia, Washington (birthplace of the Riot Grrrl movement). The Tracy and the Plastics project was presented at the New Museum in the form of a series of music videos displayed across about 20 individual TV screens.  In terms of the band members, Greenwood would play all three of them herself (she would pre-record two of the band members and display them to either side of her on television screens – or project them onto the walls next to her – during performances). You can check out some official Tracy and the Plastics videos here and below to get a real idea of some of the interesting themes Greenwood brings up in the project and see it in action.

To note, Tracy and the Plastics went on tour in 2000, was featured at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and joined forces with other bands and artists including Le Tigre, Bangs, and Fawn Krieger for a variety of shows, before it later “broke up” in 2006.

One of my personal favorite things about Tracy and the Plastics is that Greenwood developed complex relationships between each of the band members, Tracy (vocals), Nikki (keyboard), and Cola (drums), which resulted in potent conversations brought about in often subtle and unexpected ways regarding identity, perception, sexuality, and more. In addition, the dynamic between Tracy, Nikki, and Cola was never boring: like any rock band, the three members often had disagreements or misunderstandings, and would sometimes hurt each other’s feelings. For example, per written materials authored by New Museum curators Johanna Burton, Stephanie Snyder and Sara O’Keefe:

…while setting up for a show, Cola spray-paints the name of the band on a wall and then asks, “Hey Tracy, does that look straight?” When Tracy confirms that it does, Cola, concerned rather than reassured, spray-paints two women’s symbols beside it, in an attempt to make it look “less straight” after all.

In 2013, seven years after Tracy and the Plastics’ 2006 dissolution, Greenwood realized that she’d wished she’d documented all of their performances, so both privately and over the course of an artist residency, she completed recreating and documenting the majority of all of the Tracy and the Plastics performances so that they could be shown as they are in exhibits like “Kelly.”

A final point that I found interesting was that at the New Museum, “Kelly” was situated within the context of a larger exhibit called “Histories of Sexuality.” This was an interesting and enriching curatorial choice because the museum placed Greenwood’s work among that of other artists in the past who had worked with similar ideas about sexuality and gender, ultimately providing viewers with the possibility of a more full-circle experience of Greenwood’s work.

The two former New Museum programs that “Histories of Sexuality” focused on included: “Homo Video: Where Are We Now” (1986-87) curated by William Olander, and New Museum Founder Marcia Tucker’s “Bad Girls” exhibition (1994) curated by Cheryl Dunye. According to the New Museum’s archives, these programs:

…attempted to redress the reductive representation of homosexuality and gendered subjects that their curators perceived in art as well as in culture at large. Both were characterized by works concerned with the texture of individual subjects and communities rather than celebrating some uniform, idealized fantasy of either gay or female liberation.

In other words, with works like those featured in “Kelly,” Greenwood carries on the conversation about these critical ideas that Olander, Tucker and Dunye focused on in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Greenwood’s additions amplify and electrify the full conversation when compiled in one unified exhibit with the other artists’ works.

For more information about Greenwood, I encourage you to check out her official website. For more information about current exhibitions at the New Museum, click here.

Interview: Founder, Designer, Director and Curator Prem Krishnamurthy

Whenever you go to an art show, it is not only important to consider the art itself, but the space and context within which it is presented. These are all factors that exhibition designers, curators, and artists consider when working to bring an exhibition to life. At a recent, engaging panel at Americas Society, Prem Krishnamurthy and Shannon Harvey of Project Projects shared expert insight on many key elements of putting together an art show from start to finish. In this exclusive interview, Artifactoid sits down with Krishnamurthy, designer and founder of Project Projects, an award-winning graphic design studio, as well as the director and curator of P!, a critically-acclaimed exhibition space in New York’s Chinatown, to chat about curation and exhibition design, his eight-year dedicated study of East German graphic designer Klaus Wittkugel, a new experimental artist residency onboard commercial cargo ships, and more.

Artifactoid: What are some of the most important elements of curation and exhibition design to pay attention to when viewing an art show?

PK: I find that the most important thing to consider when viewing an exhibition is: what is the exhibition’s intention? What is it trying to persuade you of? How is it mobilizing the entire exhibition apparatus (or “exhibition prosthetics,” to use artist Joseph Grigely‘s term) starting from the press release (both text and design), checklist, display mechanisms, placement, lighting, contextual information, etc. in order to make a point or sell something? If you can understand the context and polemics of any given exhibition — especially in so-called “white cube” exhibitions, which make a claim to objectivity — then you have a better sense of where you, as the viewer, are being asked to stand.

Artifactoid: At a gallery show, museum exhibit, or art fair, what are the roles of the curator, the exhibition designer, and the artist? How do their roles differ, and on which aspects do they collaborate or exchange/interchange roles?

PK: Typically, these roles are intertwined — and thankfully so. Even though exhibition credits panels like to simplify and separate these roles, in the best exhibitions, there is a healthy overlap and intersect between content, mediation, and display. Not every exhibition has all three roles explicitly, but they are implicit in the work of making exhibitions.

Artifactoid: What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a curator, and how did you overcome them?

PK: I don’t come from a curatorial background; rather, I studied art, focusing on photography and graphic design, and was drawn to organizing exhibitions and programs early on. Although I’ve always had ideas for projects, as I began over the past 8 or so years to focus more rigorously on curating, I discovered I had a lot about the professional practice of the field to figure out. However, I’ve had the great advantage of having worked as a designer with many of the most talented and thoughtful curators and artists in the field, from whom I’ve learned a lot.

Artifactoid: Tell us a bit about some of the unique elements and processes that went into putting together the most recent show that is on display at P!, from a curation/design perspective.

PK: The most recent show at P!, OST UND oder WEST: Klaus Wittkugel and Anton Stankowski was an unusual show for us on a number of levels: typically, we focus on mixing together different media, approaches, and historical periods, but this exhibition, in contrast, is truly about graphic design. This stems from the fact that I have been researching the subject of the exhibition, East German graphic designer Klaus Wittkugel (1910–1985) for over eight years. So in this case, it’s an exhibition that I have researched, organized, curated, and designed from start to finish. I’ve even acted as collector, since I’ve had to track down his work over the years! This wholesale collapse of roles almost makes it feel more like an artist project than a curatorial one. Yet in this case it’s also quite appropriate, since Wittkugel himself worked in this holistic manner, and sought, within the East German context, to broaden the role and reach of graphic design.

Ost

Artifactoid: Are there any exciting upcoming projects you’re looking forward to executing this year? 

PK: There are so many projects this year! It’s a really exciting time, actually, where it seems like I’ll be able to integrate the work I’m doing in design and curating to an even greater degree. A partial list of projects includes curating and designing an exhibition called Dis-Play/Re-Play at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York in collaboration with curator Walter Seidl; curating, organizing, and designing a new and experimental artist residency onboard commercial cargo ships called Container Artist Residency 01, with project founder and artist Maayan Strauss; a new website for Ballroom Marfa; curatorial consultation and permanent exhibition design for The Bass in Miami Beach; and identity, print, and web design for Zarigüeya, a new contemporary art project in Quito, Ecuador. Plus, I’ve got a whole slew of writing and publishing projects, in addition a full exhibition program at P! — so it should be a productive “Year of the Monkey”!

For more from P!, don’t miss the upcoming show, “Maryam Jafri: Economy Corner,” artist Maryam Jafri‘s first US solo exhibition, opening this Thusrday, February 25th with a reception from 6-8PM.

Jafri1

Meet the Artist Who is Setting Off Fireworks with Your Tweets at the MET Today for Chinese New Year

It may be Super Bowl weekend, but it’s also Chinese New Year, and contemporary artist ChiKa has something exciting in store for those visiting the MET this Saturday to celebrate the Year of the Monkey. Artifactoid sits down with the Japan-born New York-based talent to talk projection mapping, LED light installations, and the fireworks she is setting off at the MET today with your tweets.

Artifactoid: What inspired you to work with projection mapping and LED light as mediums? How did you get your start with them and what drew you in?

ChiKa: For projection mapping, it was a natural progression of interest from working with live visuals and VJing; I was working with experimental composers, festivals and clubs. The organic next step for me was projection mapping. I wanted to explore. I got out of doing ordinary projection surfaces in dark spaces (2D screens) and moved toward doing projection mapping onto 3D surfaces and objects. As for how I got my start, I was working as a graphic designer at a big corporation and wanted to do something artsy. So, I started going out to anywhere that would let me perform live visuals and VJ every weekend.

Then, my interest in LED light installation stemmed from the projection mapping. When the software I used for projection mapping, “MadMapper,” released its new feature, MadLight, that allowed me to control LED lights from video content, I decided that I wanted to shift from projection to an LED light installation.The stage set made during Mapping Festival in Geneva also inspired me to get into LED light installations. To get started, a good friend of mine (who is one of the founders of MadMapper) gave me a jump-start technical session. I love to make the geometric structures with led lights!

Artifactoid: What are some of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on with each medium?

ChiKa: For projection mapping, it was projection mapping in Mexico during MOD Festival, and for LED light installations, it was my first large public installation, SEI02 at the Dumbo Arts Festival 2014.

Artifactoid: What was your most challenging art installation to pull off and how did you do it?

ChiKa: Every installation is a challenge. I think it is a nature of the technology. No matter how much I prepare before the installation, you never know what will happen. Be patient, organized and just clear problems one by one. Always works in the end anyway.

Artifactoid: Who are some other talented artists working  in the spaces of LED and projection mapping who inspire you?

ChiKa: AntiVJ, 1024 Architecture, Nonotak, and James Turrell.

Artifactoid: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career as an artist?

ChiKa: Follow your dream.

Artifactoid: How does teaching projection mapping and theater affect the way you approach your own art?

ChiKa: I can alway learn from my students. I need to be very flexible in order to be able to teach. I also teach differently every time I teach. There is no one way to teach. Art is the same; there is no one way.

Artifactoid: What are your additional artistic influences?

ChiKa: My background: being Japanese. Also, my ethicality. That always shows in my artwork. A third influence of mine is good music.

Artifactoid: Tell me a bit about your exciting project at the MET for Chinese New Year.

ChiKa: For this project, I am working with my partner in crime, Calli Higgins, who I have been working with since graduate school at NYU ITP. We are creating digital fireworks triggered by the Twitter hashtag “#metfest” during the Chinese New Year event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can check it out today, here!

Artifactoid: Anything else you’d like to add?

ChiKa: I’m also installing a new artwork at Ramapo College in NJ right now. The opening is this coming Wednesday, February 10th and the installation will be on view for one month.