The Runway and The Slaughterhouse: In Conversation with Artist Tamara Kostianovsky

Full Original Article in Spanish Available in Vice-Versa Magazine.

Born in Jerusalem and raised in Buenos Aires, Artist Tamara Kostianovsky was affected by the strong culture of animal consumption in Argentina during her upbringing so much so that it became a main focus of her artistic practice. During her youth, Kostianovsky became fixated on the ubiquity of animal carcasses around her city, and came to view them as tragic and sacrificial entities that possessed a certain melancholic beauty.

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What’s more is that Kostianovsky’s experience surrounded by carnage from a young age didn’t stop at animals; her father was a plastic surgeon, and in a recent conversation, Kostainovsky explained to me that not only did she have a stint working at his office, but medical images of surgeries and dissected human body parts were commonplace in her childhood home, laying around casually, even on her kitchen table.

As an artist, Kostianovsky transitioned her career from focusing on painting to sculpture, and felt compelled to creatively work with her memories of the torn body and themes of consumption. Her 2014 collection of sculptures, “Actus Reus,” comprised a series of hanging “meat” and “animal carcasses,” which she would meticulously assemble using only her own discarded clothing (sometimes working around an armature).

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Continuing to experiment with these themes, Kostianovsky began to diversify her subject matter when a friend of hers suggested that she begin to work with birds. Kostianovsky liked this idea, and she started experimenting with feathers, ordering them off of the Internet, studying them and replicating them with fabric using new techniques.

One day, she ordered what she thought were feathers online, but what arrived instead in the package was a full pheasant for taxidermy. She looked down at the deceased bird in the box, and thought that it shared this certain tragic beauty to it that she had always felt inspired to work with. This launched her 2016 collection of hanging dead bird sculptures titled “Relic,” which she recently exhibited as a part of a group show at Y Gallery called “Natural Resistance” that dealt with the tension between violence and nature.

To note, by working with nearly exclusively recycled clothing, towels and blankets to create works that highlight how we consume nature and animals, Kostianovsky continually makes a conscious and dynamic political statement of “anti-consumption.”

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In the following interview, Artifactoid sits down with Kostianovsky to discuss her artwork’s connections to art history, the inspiration that arose from working with clothing and dead animals, and the artist’s current participation in the exhibition, “Weave Wars” at the Indianapolis Arts Center from September 23rd through November 19th, 2016.

Artifactoid: Many people have compared your sculpture work to imagery present in Flemish still life paintings. Was the connection intentional, and what is most important about its influence on your work in your opinion?

TK: The connection between my work and Art Historical Still Life paintings is intentional. For years, I’ve been enamored by the way Flemish artists were able to turn images of dead animals and flesh into complex mirages of luxury and excess. I’m drawn to the expressive and dramatic character of this imagery and seduced by the issue of wealth that these works present. In the 17th Century, owning one of these works was a strong status symbol. They perpetuated a “full plate” on the walls of a house, while reassuring noblemen of their class, as hunting was only reserved for the nobility at the time.

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As for me, I’ve come to the world of flesh from a unique experience. While living in Argentina as a teenager, I worked at a surgeon’s office at the same time that I was going to art school. The transition between work and school became quite seamless and I was able to connect the sightings of blood, ligaments, and fat I saw at work with my early experiences as a young painter. Since then, I’ve been interested in looking at images of torn flesh from that perspective, so when I came across the Dutch Still Lives, I recognized that impulse to make the inside of the body appear luxurious and seductive, and I was transfixed…

Artifactoid: At a recent panel discussion at Y Gallery you mentioned the idea of links between a meat slaughterhouse and a fashion runway. Can you please expand on your ideas about this comparison and how it inspires you artistically to explore?

TK: In recent years, research for my work has made me take a close look at both slaughterhouses and the fashion world. On a first look we tend to see these systems as complete opposites: slaughterhouses hide the abject, the disgusting, and the cruel, while the fashion world is involved with beauty and perfection. In my view, strong resemblances between these two systems exist, particularly in the rhythmic, mechanical way that bodies circulate in choreographed way around a space, a topic that fascinates me because of its connection to sculpture, to architecture, and to our most primal experience of existing as physical beings in the world. Because of efficiency, optimization, and organization, direct connections can be established between the diverse systems that dominate the production of goods across different industries in today’s world. I am interested in making work that inhabits this intersection, artwork that on some level articulates the contemporary experience of consumption, industrialization, and that questions the modern ways in which we’ve become “modern predators.”

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Artifactoid: Who are some of the other talented artists working with fabric who inspire or influence you?

TK: Discussing textile art can be conflictive. From a Latin American perspective, fiber has a rich, ancient tradition that speaks of nobility, community and a spirit of collaboration with the animals of the Andes. From a contemporary Latin American art point of view, fiber is often a material of choice that can successfully articulate with sensibility and humbleness some of the sociopolitical and economic problems of the region. Within a more international contemporary art perspective, textile art is often linked to “craftiness”, “softness”, and the “feminine”. I reject the notion that I make “soft sculpture”– there isn’t anything “soft” in what I intend to say or the way I say it. In using fabric, I see an opportunity to expand the scope of what this material can do, but most mostly an opportunity to redefine the gender notions that still haunt women artists.

I came to fabric through surgery, and because I use mostly my own clothing to make art, I see this material as a second skin, a surrogate of my own body. Janine Antoni has been a big referent for me in the way she used her body to activate sculptural processes. Louise Bourgeois comes to mind as well, but mostly because of a kinship to a dramatic sensibility, not so much because of the material choice.

Artifactoid: What are you most excited about regarding your participation in the “Weave Wars” exhibition?

TK: I’ve recently discovered the artwork of Ben Venom, whose work is featured alongside my own at the new exhibition “Weave Wars” that opened on September 23rd at the Indianapolis Art Center. I’m excited about his very alternative and badass quilts but mostly about having my work featured within an incredible group of artists who are thinking of ways of pushing the limits of fabric as material. Because I am a little fatigued of media-specific exhibitions, I tend to not participate in fiber-art shows, but this one seems to be energized, radical, and original. I’m excited about what curator Kyle Herrington has put together.

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Tamara Kostianovsky was born in Jerusalem, Israel and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn. Her work has been widely exhibited internationally, as well as presented in solo and group shows at venues including: The Jewish Museum (NY, USA), El Museo del Barrio (NY, USA), Nevada Museum of Art (NV, USA), Socrates Sculpture Park (NY, USA), The Volta Show (NY, USA), Maison et Object (Paris, France), and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (MI, USA). Kostianovsky is the recipient of several grants and awards, including: The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, The New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, two Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grants, and a grant from The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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Vanitas and Explorations of Eroticism in Consumer Culture: In Conversation with David Baskin

The art scene in Bushwick is of the most thriving in New York, and it attracts artists that span the spectrum of early-career through well-established. David Baskin is an artist of the latter category. He is a conceptual sculptor who has exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, Sculpture Center, and NYC’s Grace Building lobby (commissioned by Arts Brookfield), among other recognized institutions both in the US and internationally. While Baskin’s sculptures range from structures as ornate as antique chandeliers to hyper-simplified monochromatic mold-like forms, they all share the common thread of being comprised of recognizable everyday objects.

Following a v cool studio visit to Baskin’s Bushwick creative space, Artifactoid sits down with the artist to discuss his work in connection with the 17th century Dutch artistic traditions that inspired it, as well as its relevance in contemporary society, problematizing the relationship between human beings and material possessions throughout the ages.

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What inspired you to work with the art historical idea of vanitas?

The Vanitas project began with the idea of using art historical models to address contemporary issues, specifically consumerism. Many of the Dutch vanitas paintings were made during the Dutch Golden Age, roughly spanning the 17th century. I saw a relevant connection between this period and our present day culture. The Dutch created the first modern market economy, which can be seen as a model for our capitalistic system. The East India Company was the first multinational corporation and was financed by shares that established the first modern stock exchange. To finance the growth of trade and the economy, the Bank of Amsterdam was established, a forerunner to the modern central bank.

Obviously, every work of art is a product of the time period in which it was created and I see the Vanitas paintings as having a particularly unique connection with the socio-economic climate of the Dutch Golden Age.

An abundance of commodities based on mercantile trade comprised much of the objects on display in these paintings. I saw this as having a direct relationship to our current consumer culture. One of the Flemish painters who exemplified this connection the most was Adriaen van Utrecht. His work depicted a sumptuous and abundant display of objects, ranging from exotic fruits, flowers, dead animals, glassware and foreign and local luxury items that were available in the 17th century Antwerp markets. These paintings, depicting a range of “consumer goods,” brought to mind retail stores and malls where a seemingly endless amount of products are on display to entice consumer desire. Clearly these historic works can be seen in a contemporary consumerist light.

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(Above: Still Life with Bouquet and Skull by Adriaen van Utrecht)

Describe the connection between consumerism and vanitas present in your work– ideas of vanitas in our contemporary culture. How did the intersection of these concepts lead you to develop your different series of works, including your still life pieces and fountain?

I initially became interested in the notion of the “still life” through my interest in consumer culture and retail display strategies. Abundance is a central theme to the historical still life and it seemed to me that the notion of the contemporary “still life” was more relevant in a retail context than solely in an art historical context.

I also saw the 17th Century Calvinistic message to renounce earthly possessions as a kind of early consumer critique. The historical vanitas paintings represented a moral lesson that would have been understood by early Dutch viewers. The message had religious overtones that emphasized the transience of life and the need for moderation and temperance, particularly when it came to amassing wealth and possessions. The irony here was that many of the paintings were commissioned by the merchant class and became commodified and highly prized as valuable possessions in themselves. A kind of meta-fetishization occurred, reinforcing the idea that an artwork isn’t separate from a market economy.

The “still life” sculptures that I make incorporate these ideas by bridging the historic model with our contemporary consumer culture. All of the objects in the sculptures were store bought and my active role, on one level, is as a consumer. I selected chromed objects to emphasis a false sense of desire and value, most items arranged in the sculptures are kitsch and ersatz products that are ubiquitous throughout the retail landscape.

The fountain sculpture is also an extension of the Vanitas project. Instead of chromed metal, all the objects on display are made of glass and crystal. I was thinking about the original purpose and function of a fountain as a source of drinking water for residents of villages and how now it can be seen as a symbol of personal and corporate wealth, power and excess.

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What is your selection process like for the different items/elements that go into each of your still lives?

Some items directly reference objects and symbols that one would find in the historical work… a skull, flowers, and animals. But mostly, I was looking for a cross section of consumer goods that everybody could identify and relate to. Some items create vignettes within the larger group of objects and all were made either in China, Mexico, South East Asia and India, reflecting the current international manufacturing hubs based on globalization and free trade policies.

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What led you to create the works, “Still Life (Cosmetic Bottles),” and “Dove Bottles?” What did you learn about consumer culture from creating this project, and in which ways was the result of the piece either different from or similar to your original imagining of the work?

The sculpture “Still Life”(Cosmetic Bottles) was the first work of art I made that addressed the still life as subject. It comprises a selection of store bought cosmetic bottles that were cast in pigmented urethane rubber. A mold was made directly off of the original manufactured forms. By re-contextualizing the products in a fleshy colored rubber and by stripping them of their brand recognition, logos, or semiotic labeling, one begins to see the high aesthetic quality of these objects and what was once a latent eroticism now becomes quite overt. By revealing the “naked” forms of the bottles one can see the strategies and narratives designers incorporate to sell products and act upon the subconscious desires of consumers.

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Similarly, the Dove Bottle piece follows the same strategies as “Still Life” (Cosmetic Bottles). A variety of colored cast resin Dove bottles were installed in the window of the gallery, Carriage Trade, NY, NY, for the exhibition: Market Forces, Consumer Confidence. As with retail shelving and window displays, the objects on view were meant to engage the viewer on a purely visual level. Referencing planned obsolescence and the endless quantity of consumer products the bottles also become stand-ins for minimalist sculptural strategies. The window installation inside the gallery intentionally set up a dialog with the external retail environment in Soho, once the center of New York City’s art world.

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How did you decide to show your works inside display cases? How does this decision affect the experience of the work?

Once I began making the sculpture I was confronted with the issue of presentation. The objects in a traditional still life were always on a table or some sort of substrate and there was a great deal of attention paid to the arrangement and relationship between each item on display. It was a type of stage setting, a mise-en-scene that created a space of intentionality. I brought these ideas into my sculptures and decided a vitrine would be the best framing and display device. On one level, the pieces are a kind of Wunderkrammer or Cabinet of Curiosities. The vitrine creates a literal and conceptual border for the objects and artifacts. I also was very much aware of the role of the vitrine in institutional museum display and it’s relationship to retail window display. Each serve to heighten the intrinsic or aesthetic value of the object and can be seen to have a direct relationship to the shop window in the rise of commodity culture going as far back as Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace and the Parisian Arcades in Walter Benjamin’s theoretical writings.

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If you are in the US, see Baskin’s work this fall in Brooklyn at Smack Mellon, “20yrs,” from November 12 -December 31, 2016, and if you are in Europe, at the MU Museum, “For Play,” from October 7th – November 30th in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

About David Baskin:

David Baskin received a BFA from The Cooper Union in 1987. Solo exhibitions include Arts Brookfield, Grace Building Lobby, NYC,  Freight+Volume Gallery, NY, NY; Sculpture Center, NY, NY; Ingalls & Assoc., Miami, Fl and Black and White Gallery,  Brooklyn, NY. Selected group exhibitions include the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY; Marianne Boesky Gallery, NY; Carolina Nitsch, NY, NY; Pavel Zoubok Gallery, NY,NY; Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, NY; Triennale Design Museum, Milan, Italy; Musée de Design et d’arts Appliqués Contemporains, Lausanne, Switzerland; Carriage Trade, NY, NY; Galerie Erna Hecey; Brussels, Belgium; Lesile Heller Gallery, NY, NY; Rudolf Budja Gallery, Vienna, Austria; Flag Art Foundation, NY, NY. Honors and awards include McDowell Fellowship, NH; Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Yaddo Fellowship, NY; Commission through Brookfield Properties for a lobby installation at the Grace Building, NY, NY. He has taught at the Cooper Union School of Art, New York Institute of Technology and was a visiting critic at the School of Visual and Arts, NY, NY; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, and the University of Buffalo, NY. David Baskin was one of the original members of the Brooklyn based non-profit art organization Smack Mellon and he lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

The Redefined Gallery Opening: There’s No Art on the Walls and Everyone is Staring at their Phones (+ Bonus Interview with a Feminist Sex Worker)

When Artifactoid first launched, I wrote an article about a work of art by artist Joel Holmberg at the New Museum, in which Holmberg worked with the concept of privacy in the digital age. The piece transcribed a telephone conversation between Holmberg (the artist) and a customer service representative, during which Holmberg expressed security concerns related to possibly publicly having overshared (in a published interview) answers to his private security questions that granted access to his bank account. According to the New Museum,

Holmberg’s work questions how we ‘secure’ ourselves amid a proliferation of consumer identities that are subject to collection, monetization, and surveillance by an indiscernible number of forces, from private companies to third-party marketers to the government.”  

While the topic of cybersecurity might be difficult for some to digest as “art,” it makes sense that more and more artists are working with the idea, as it is such an integrated and controversial, growing part of our daily lives. In Chelsea, REVERSE (an experimental gallery run by artist Andrea Wolf) recently opened a unique art show titled, BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX, curated by Helena Acosta and Miyö Van Stenis, that takes an original approach to the topic of online privacy. 

Unlike most gallery openings where the art is displayed on the walls (or is at least plainly visible or audible), at BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX, I entered the REVERSE space only to see attendees sitting on beanbag chairs or standing around, all staring down at their cell phones, privately absorbed in works of art displayed on their personal screens.

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On one hand, this style of opening seemed like the anti-social dystopia of the future of the digital age that I’m afraid of, and at the same time, it was intriguing, because presenting an art show in this way was a bold choice. All of the artwork in the show lives on five hacked routers, accessible in the gallery space only through viewers’ smart phones or tablets, and all of the artwork is related to the central concept of “The Privacy Paradox.”

If you’re not familiar with The Privacy Paradox, it is the idea that when it comes to privacy in the digital age, internet users’ concerns about privacy don’t reflect their online behavior. For instance, while many people may agree that privacy is important, those same people are over-sharing their data online.

Not only were the artists’ individual works related to this theme, but the art show as a whole embodied the idea of exploring the digital public vs. private by way of hacking the routers: the powerful data sharing devices were transformed (by occupy.here) into limited devices offering private experiences.

The way that the show works is that visitors are able to access the artwork by following a simple list of instructions available at the entrance to the gallery. The instructions essentially boil down to: open your device’s browser and visit the proprietary website designated for the BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX exhibition. Then, in your phone’s wi-fi settings, connect your phone to one of the hacked routers at a time, each named for a specific artist. Then, go back to the website, which changes to feature the artist’s work whose router you’re currently connected to, and offers each viewer a private experience of that artwork.

From bizarre to taboo, featured projects included Electronic Graveyard No. 2 by Carla Gannis, Stranger Visions by Heather Dewey Hagborg, I am a data slave and so are you by Jennifer Lyn Morone, ID by LaTurbo Avedon, and Hooker Meditation Exercise by Annie Rose Malamet.

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I particularly liked the work by Annie Rose Malamet, which examines anonymity, fear, and visibility in relation to sex work. For the project, Annie used her own advertisements, client voicemails, and original footage to create a narrative of her time spent “in exile to the fringes of polite society.” It is a piece about “the anxiety of being discovered and a reflection on [her] own identity as a feminist whore.”

It was a brave project that exposed her a lot. Literally, Annie Rose was wearing sheer lingerie and talking about getting kicked out of her apartment once her roommate found out that she was a sex worker, then moving back into her parents’ house and trying to center herself through her own guided meditation exercise.

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Her original perspective, sense of humor, and unconventional imagery were the perfect recipe for a transfixing piece. I’m excited to share that Ms. Malamet agreed to sit down with me for a brief Q&A about her project and her participation in BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX, featured below:

Artifactoid: What do you think of the style of the show and how it affects the way art is experienced?

ARM: I never really understood the gallery format of viewing art as a concept, especially in the context of an exhibition opening. I find it particularly hard to absorb video/new media work in this setting. What I like about the Beautiful Interfaces show is that viewing the work is a private experience that you don’t have to share with other viewers. I’m very greedy and I prefer to look at art by myself through my headphones. This is part of why I make net/video art; it is a democratic art form in that sense that anyone can look at a website or watch a video from the comfort and privacy of their bedroom. I like to imagine people watching my work in bed with their headphones. I have never had a life-changing experience looking at art in a gallery setting. When I saw the Pieta in Rome, I was extremely disappointed because it was jam packed with people and situated in such a way that the intimacy of that sculpture was lost. All of my best viewing experiences have been in my own home. I love that Beautiful Interfaces kind of replicates that by making the experience one you share intimately with your personal device. I think it’s a great format for my piece in particular because the video is all about privacy and isolation. I honestly feel it replicates the existence of being a sex worker; we are in very isolated, controlling, and private relationships with our phones.

Artifactoid: What was it like participating in a show like Beautiful Interfaces? 

ARM: Participating in this show was frankly, a scary experience. Being in a room with a large group of people watching a video showing you completely naked and talking about sex work is an indescribable experience. I felt vulnerable and exposed. I was initially quite scared to “come out” in this way, to reveal so much of who I am and how I process the world. Perhaps this is my own anxiety and insecurity, but I could feel people watching the video, eyes falling on me and thinking, “ok that’s the girl who made the video about escorting.” Whenever I come out to someone I can almost hear them wondering how much it costs to spend time with me. I mean, who wouldn’t wonder that? To have that happen on a large scale is overwhelming. Overall, I’m incredibly proud of what I produced and what Helena, Miyo, and Andrea created. I think the concept of this show is genius and premonitory vision of how art will be viewed in the years to come.

Artifactoid: How did you go about creating your project with this unique style in mind?

ARM: I created this video during a period of turmoil in my life. When your life is chaotic and you are struggling, your phone becomes your lifeline. So when I was making the video I was always thinking about what it would look like on my phone. After all, most of it was filmed on my phone. The piece was made with this always in mind. I wanted to create something kind of quiet and intimate that is best experienced through headphones. 

BEAUTIFUL INTERFACES: THE PRIVACY PARADOX is on view at REVERSE (516 W 25TH Street, Suite #306) through May 14th. It is truly an amazing, original gallery experience that I recommend checking out for yourself! To note, in order to see the work, you’ll need to go to REVERSE on a Tuesday or Thursday, any time between 1PM and 7PM, and bring your own device with headphones.

In addition, today, May 4th, REVERSE will be hosting a panel at Creative Tech Week called, Post Privacy: Is privacy becoming a thing of the past? at 3:45 PM at the Clemente Center (116 Suffolk St, New York, NY). Hope to see you there!

Knockdown Center: Why You Should Go to Queens for Art That’s Not at PS1

Strangely enough, I had no idea that I was going to Knockdown Center until I arrived. A talented friend of mine (artist Serban Ionescu) let me know that he was having an opening on a Saturday afternoon around Halloween. I love to support him and check out his work whenever I can, so I decided to trek to whichever address he’d provided me with. I was up for an adventure!

From Manhattan, I took the L to the Graham stop, where I got on the Q54 bus and headed about 10 stops toward Queens.*

I got off the bus in a deserted suburban area and walked down a few blocks of broken sidewalk until I reached an industrial archway hovering over the entrance to an expansive parking lot. I had arrived! But where was I?

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The art show I’d traveled to see that day was playfully titled Things With Claws, and featured unique works created by Serban and a group of 5 other sought-after contemporary artists including, J McDonald, Carlos LittleOlga Sophie Kauppinen, John Furgason and Jonah Emerson-Bell.

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The gallery space for Things With Claws was a simulated living room inside a one-of-a-kind mobile trailer parked in a corner of the parking lot. The trailer is a work of art in and of itself, created by J McDonald for his project, A Way From Home. McDonald constructed the trailer using “an industrial steel tank from a local defunct furniture finishing factory, and pre-fab cheap housing materials like fake brick and engineered siding.”

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McDonald also added details like a sculptural doorway, flower boxes filled with a curious mixture of live and plastic plants, and a hearth. Not exclusively constructed for Things With Claws, the A Way From Home trailer was intended to house multiple art installations, and even has its own residency at Knockdown Center.**

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While I’d planned to visit for only an hour, I ended up staying for four. Not only was Things With Claws worth the journey to Queens, but I discovered the actual Knockdown Center event space which was the large, anonymous, low-rise brick structure that the parking lot belonged to.***

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Inside Knockdown Center that day, there was another incredible exhibit going on called Sous Observation/Spaces Under Scrutiny, created in partnership with Quebec Digital Arts, NYC, which featured noteworthy pieces by eight Quebec artists: Free-Fall of Possibilities (2009-2010) by Catherine Béchard, & Sabin HudonTourner de l’œil [Spin-Off] (2014) by Martine CrispoObjets de cris et de vents [Objects of Cries and Winds] (2014) by Manon LabrecqueTV Tracker (2015) by Lorraine OadesDérive (2010-2015) by François Quévillon, and Coincidence Engine One: Universal People’s Republic Time (2008) by [THE USER] Thomas McIntosh & Emmanuel Madan. I highly recommend clicking your way through the above links if you’d like a fuller idea of some of the fascinating work coming out of the Quebec Digital Arts, NYC group.

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One memorable highlight of my day included experiencing [THE USER]’s Coincidence Engine One: Universal People’s Republic Time, and later discussing it with J McDonald. According to [THE USER], this project:

consists of a precisely fabricated expanded polystyrene foam construction whose form evokes an amphitheatre. Within this structure, twelve hundred clocks of identical design are arrayed in concentric arcs. These battery-powered timekeeping devices are among the most generic mass-produced analog clocks available, purchased in wholesale quantity from their manufacturer in Fuzhou, China. A single spectator/auditor participates most fully in the work by standing at its centre, entirely surrounded by the clocks and immersed in their sound.

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After viewing the piece, I spoke with J, who noted that with Coincidence Engine One, [THE USER] is “dematerializing time.” I don’t recall the exact words of our conversation, but they were along the lines of: “even if all of the clocks are set to be the correct time, they are all slightly different. Therefore, time disappears; it becomes superfluous.” What an amazing thought!

I didn’t think that my day could get any better, but then, I got to experience art via Oculus Rift for the first time (thanks to François Quévillon’s Dérive). Petite Mort.

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Moral of the story? Don’t only go to Queens for art at PS1. Knockdown Center is currently showing the tail ends of BLOCH and Temporary Allegiance, as well as Suspended Forest by artist Michael Neff (on view through January 31, 2016). I wouldn’t hesitate to return repeatedly to this hidden gem of a culture hub, and after you make your first visit, I don’t doubt you’ll feel the same!Knockdown12

Notes:

*If you’re a Brooklyn neophyte planning to check out Knockdown Center via public transit, be aware that the trip is worth it but it’s not glamorous.

**The “A Way From Home” trailer is on view at Knockdown Center through January 13th, 2016, now featuring Nick Normal’s Temporary Allegiance flag workshop for the Autonomous Nation of THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU.

***As you may be able to tell from the photos in this post, the inside of Knockdown Center is a gorgeous industrial-style loft space.

Full Film For View and Director Q&A with Argentine Conceptual Artist Syd Krochmalny

On September 22nd, 2015, Argentine Conceptual Artist and Director Syd Krochmalny debuted his 42-minute short film, “Blanchot en Buenos Aires” (or, The Writing to Come). Artifactoid is excited to announce that the unique and poetic art film, related to the theory of French writer, philosopher, and literary theorist Maurice Blanchot, is available for your view right on our site following the below trailer and exclusive Director Q&A.

Artifactoid: What inspired you to create a film about Blanchot?

SK: Having worked with the theme of “the community” in some of my previous works, the director of the masters program in “Interdisciplinary Studies of Subjectivity” at the University of Buenos Aires wrote to me to put me in touch me with Dr. Noelia Billi, who was organizing a series of conferences on Maurice Blanchot at the National Library. Blanchot is known for working with the idea of the community, so this connection made sense.

After several meetings with Dr. Billi, I formulated the following question: What can I do beyond merely interpreting Blanchot and his literary theory? I immediately thought of a double hermeneutic:  I wanted to not only interpret Blanchot, but to interpret the interpretations of Blanchot created by his readers. Then, I started to think of a possible action I could take to accompany this idea: How can I build a bridge that connects Blanchot and his readers in Buenos Aires on one side, and the poets of Buenos Aires on the other side? This problem led to the creation of the film.

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Artifactoid: How did you decide upon the unique style and format of this film?

SK: I thought the best way to work with these questions would be a film, but not a conventional documentary. I was not interested in preexisting connections, but rather in making a film that could create its own connections. The majority of documentaries expose something existing, either past or present — something that preexisted the documentary. What I aimed to do with this film was create a documentary about something possible or imaginary, that doesn’t yet exist. In other words, the idea wasn’t to do research on the reception of Blanchot in Buenos Aires, but instead, imagine a poetic of Blanchot (a style of Blanchot-like thinking), imagine the possible connections between Blanchot, literary theory, and local poetry.

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Artifactoid: Once you had the original concept and format in mind, how did you bring the film to life?

SK: The next step was to figure out how to make this concept visible. I chose to represent it as two axes hinged together. The first axis was to work with a site-specific dimension (within the limits of Buenos Aires). The second axis consisted in transforming the concept into a narrative story.

For the first axis (the site-specific dimension) I decided to work with the geographic space and human resources I had at hand. For the first location, I chose the National Library, where the final video would eventually be projected, and where the intellectual capital of Buenos Aires and Argentina is stored.

Second, I chose the UBA’s Philosophy campus as a “resonant space” of Blanchot’s thought. Finally, I chose the artistic research center called, “Canal de Interferencias Artísticas,” as a space that crosses between “the poetic” and “thought,” — a space that ties together the library and university.

In addition, I decided to include Dr. Noelia Billi, who was finishing her doctoral thesis on materialism and language on Blanchot philosophy. Her research team also participated in the project, not only with the philosophical content of the project itself, but with technical operations, either as assistants, producers, cameramen or sound engineers.

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For the second axis (transforming the concept into a story), my idea was to articulate the concept in the following narrative sequence (synopsis):

Just before submitting her doctoral thesis on materialism and language, a Philosophy student comes across “The Blanchot Box” in the National Library: an unpublished project commissioned by Alberto Greco in a letter to the poet Ricardo Carreira. In the hands of the student, this unfinished work will [start to] take on a life of its own, tracing a/constructing a strange path/space out of the voices of philosophers and poets reflecting on the possible resonances of Maurice Blanchot’s thought in Argentine theory and poetry.

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Artifactoid: What is the reasoning behind the narrative structure of this film?

SK: For this film I was interested in using a poetic structure typical of Blanchot when telling the story: an open and undefined structure (as opposed to an Aristotelian poetic; a poetic of representation with a beginning, middle and end, typical of Hollywood movies).

The goal of the film is to demonstrate the ability to attach and detach the visible from its meaning, the words from their effects; attribution to reconfigure the distribution of certain provisions of the visible and thinkable. In this case, an imaginary system of a philosophical and poetic community that bring Blanchot to life through their words and sentences.

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Artifactoid: How did you select the different philosophers and poets that you chose to include in the film?

SK: The video references different poets that can be aggregated in two groups. The first one contains writers that Blanchot wrote about in his books: Borges, René Char, Beckett and Mallarmé. The second contains  the writers that I believe have possible connections with Blanchot’s topics and poetics. For example, Ricardo Carreira and his lyric materialism, where the writing is outside the will of the representational, and the words are how things work. These two ideas are also part of Leónidas Lamborghini‘s rewritings. Then, the others poets are connected with different topics that are part of the Blanchot Literary Theory: Vanna Andreini and “language,” Marina Mariasch and “the everyday life,” Francisco Garamona and Claudia Masín and “the aestethics of rocks.”

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Artifactoid: Why did you decide to work with the idea of the “Blanchot Box?”

SK: I worked with the idea of the Blanchot Box to give an image to the concept of the words and how things work. In other words, I transformed the image of the book into a box, and the idea of words into objects. If we think about artists who work with boxes, the first who comes to mind is Marcel Duchamp. And, a possible connection linking this idea to Buenos Aires is Alberto Greco: the first conceptual artist from Buenos Aires (and an artist who did different art-box projects). In addition, the role of Carreira in this film has to do with that he is a conceptual artist and writer who never had contact with Blanchot, but from my point of view, the literary theory and poetic of Blanchot resonates in Carreira’s poems: the writing is outside the will of representation, and words are how things work.

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Artifactoid: How can this film be interpreted?

SK: On one hand, “Blanchot en Buenos Aires” can be interpreted as creative research, because for this film I didn’t research the literary thought of Blanchot nor his reception in Buenos Aires, but instead, I researched his possible and imaginary connections with his readers and the poets of Buenos Aires. In turn, the working methodology was flexible rather than circumscribed to conventional or tested methods of scientific and humanistic research.

On the other hand, one might think of this work within the framework of “non-creative writing.” I wove poems together with other analysis, without the need to ascribe signs to each participant indicating their names and professions. In a way, it was an appropriation.

Finally, both dimensions, creative and non-creative, were articulated by a fictional story that the viewer can investigate on his or her own. I am interested in the freedom of the viewer, or to quote a famous French philosopher: “the emancipated spectator.”

To conclude, Artifactoid is pleased to present the full film, “Blanchot en Buenos Aires:”

Alone for the Holidays? Conceptual Photographer Suzanne Heintz has a Remedy for That

Sometimes when you walk into an art gallery opening, there’s a lot of craziness. The space can be packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people sipping booze and chatting loudly, and it can be difficult to actually get a good idea of the art you’re looking at through the sea of bright red lips and thick-rimmed glasses. While these aren’t ideal conditions for someone aiming to write an article about the art (like myself), having a glowing room of excited and supportive patrons is both a great sign for the artist showing her work, and fun!

The aforementioned describes the scene where I met Conceptual Artist Suzanne Heintz: the bustling opening night of her show “Playing House” in Chelsea at the JoAnne Artman Gallery. While I couldn’t get a thorough grasp of the story behind her work at the opening, the striking, absurd, brightly colored photographs depicting Heintz with her husband and daughter in Paris, among other settings, stuck with me. This is because I learned that unlike my family and most likely yours, Heintz’s husband and daughter are actually life-sized fiberglass mannequins, or as she lovingly dubs them, “familyquins.”

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With this in mind I decided to dive further into researching Heintz and her work, and what I found was, unexpectedly, a perfect story for the holidays — a time when for some singles, it can feel like there is added pressure from either society, family or self to be in a relationship.

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Heintz, a conceptual artist, 20-year veteran art director at Starz, and self-proclaimed spinster among other things, recalls sitting around with her mom one day having a conversation that, per Heintz’s entry in the Huffington Post Blog, went along the lines of: “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to PICK somebody, if you’re going to settle down.” [Heintz] snapped back, “Mom! It’s not like I can go out and BUY a family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!”

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Then, one day shortly following this conversation, Heintz was walking around and passed by a shop that happened to have a “family” of mannequins for sale in the window. She had an “aha!” moment, and decided to literally “buy” herself a family: a husband, who she calls Chauncey, and an “eight year old” daughter, who she named Mary Margaret. Starting at that moment, Heintz set out on a fourteen year journey carrying Chauncey and Mary Margaret around to various locations, filled with countless family photo and video ops including holidays, European vacations and even a wedding.

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Heintz does an incredible job of adding a dose of smart humor (plus what is now likely upwards of a decade and a half of mind blowing dedication) to her critical examination of an important topic. On one hand, with this project Heintz comments on normative role expectations for women, encouraging them to embrace their lives regardless of whether or not they have an “Mrs., PhD, or Esq. attached to their name.” On another, according to the JoAnne Artman Gallery, Heintz also comments on “The American Dream and the pressure to conform.” To note, I found the tie to The American Dream interesting because in 2015, that phrase, in its original sense, can seem antiquated. Stemming off of that, I think it could be an interesting follow-up study to examine Heintz’s work in the context of other artists who work with the idea of The American Dream, both currently and throughout art history.

Finally, Heintz’s work is really interesting to look at within the context of today’s era of social media (especially since Heintz began her “family life” with Chauncey and Mary Margaret before social networks really took off in a mainstream way). Specifically, people frequently post photos across various social channels that seem to demonstrate that they are fulfilling ideals of happiness, but for all anyone really knows, they may as well be posing with mannequins. Per the JoAnne Artman Gallery, Heintz’s use of “radioactive color and expressionless characters hint at the darker side of conformity, namely what is lost when the image, or illusion, of happiness is confused with happiness itself.”

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Suzanne Heintz’s “Playing House” is showing at the JoAnne Artman Gallery through December 31st, 2015. Check it out in person if you’re in Chelsea this holiday season, and feel free to bring along your significant other. All shapes, sizes and materials are welocme.

Marta Minujín, MINUCODE at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts

The NYU Institute of Fine Arts, The Americas Society, and The Institute for Studies on Latin American Art recently hosted a panel discussion and book signing featuring renowned Argentinian conceptual and performance artist, Marta Minujín. The event focused on Minujín’s  1968 work, MINUCODE. The MINUCODE project comprised a publicly answered questionnaire followed by four cocktail parties with a sociological twist, and performance ephemera of various media including video, light and sound.

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While MINUCODE may seem like a work of performance art, it is a part of a genre of artwork that has usually been connected with Minujín since the mid-1960s, called “happenings.” Minujín described happenings as similar to performance art, but was exigent about distinguishing  the two. She noted at the panel:

No one else really did happenings. A happening is like a work that the people appropriate and decide: the work belongs to the people. Then, that word in the art world changed to “performance,” but I don’t believe in performance. With a happening, you never do it twice. For example, you can only do it for five minutes and never more. Conversely, with performance, you can do it 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 times. It’s a very different work, a happening versus a performance. Happenings are much more interesting than performance because you can use bits of time and space that are very short. You can live much more intense things in five to ten minutes than you can in eight days–you can be jumping out of a helicopter in Uruguay throwing chickens: in only eight  minutes!

I had first gone to see Minujín’s work exhibited at MALBA in 2010 in Buenos Aires, and then met her face to face in 2012 at a gala at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.  So, I thought it would be amazing to see this incredible artist again, in person, and in my home town!

When I initially inquired about Minujín in 2012, she was explained to me as the “Andy Warhol of Argentina.” I am not sure how she feels about this comparison, but I do know that the two were friends, and used to collaborate. For example, the below is a 1985 performance project that Marta invited Andy to collaborate on, which symbolized the paying off of Argentina’s external debt using corn, or “the gold of Latin America.” Per the Henrique Faria Gallery:

Surrounded by 1,000 ears of corn, spray painted gold, Warhol and Minujín acted out the negotiation of the debt, symbolizing not only the interchange of merchandise, but also of artistic and cultural experiences…this piece has become a symbol of the cultural relations between the United States and Latin America, undertaken by the greatest Pop Art exponents of each country.

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With this background information about Minujín’s reputation as an artist in mind, I’d like to turn your attention back toward MINUCODE, where Marta set up four cocktail parties in 1968 NYC for a social experiment that was considered itself the work of art.

To introduce MINUCODE at the panel, scholar Alexander Alberro contextualized the work as follows:

The normality of traditional artistic media came to be seen as a myth in the 1960s. For those pursuing innovation in the arts, the task at hand became not so much one of changing the contents and the formats of artworks, but one of taking a more radical approach to media as such. Many began to argue in favor of considering mass communications media as a valid aesthetic form: the media itself could be aesthetic form. Mediated images of objects and events could be transmitted simultaneously to widely dispersed audiences, and had the benefit of at once collapsing the hierarchy between popular culture and deep culture, and eliminating the need for original objects and performances around which the public had previously gathered to experience art. This is the context in which Minujin’s non-matrixed social environment, MINUCODE, was exhibited at New York’s Center for Inter-American Relations in the late spring of 1968.

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To execute MINUCODE, Minujín created a questionnaire for the public to fill out, and said, “if you want to come to a cocktail party, fill out this questionnaire and return it to this art galley.” While the questionnaire was more complex than this, the boiled-down explanation is that responses to the questionnaire divided people into four categories/social groups (decided upon by Minujín), based mostly upon occupation: Business, Art, Fashion or Politics. Each individual’s questionnaire results determined which of the four cocktail parties they would attend.

Minujín received over 1,000 responses to the questionnaire, which she divided with a machine into the four designated social groups: Business, Art, Fashion or Politics.

Each participant then went to his or her respective party happening. This first part of MINUCODE (a social-scientific environment) was essentially a sociological study on the identities of each cocktail party, and how the guests represented themselves, acting out their roles in real life through dress and behavior.

The second part involved different ways of recording the four experiences and working with various intellectual and artistic concepts of media and viewer vs. viewed. For example, the first 10 minutes of each party were filmed by Minujín’s 6-member camera crew, and the footage was edited together into one reel. Over the course of the project, Minujín continued to document the parties with different styles of video, sound and light representations. She also showed the video footage and other media interpretations of the party to the party guests themselves as well as to the public, adding an additional layer to the work.

There is so much to this project: the light shows were created in collaboration with Tony Martin, an artist and lighting expert  from The Electric Circus, there were side performances, constructed electronic environments, there was the act of showing the videos of the parties to both the attendees of the parties and the public (reversing/questioning roles of viewer and viewed), strong ties to Marshall McLuhan‘s media theory (specifically about media and technology’s effects on the social environment) and more — so many facets and layers that I could go on endlessly!

In any case, one of the most special things about attending the talk was not necessarily learning the academic explanation of MINUCODE (while that is fascinating), but seeing and hearing such a legend present her own work while sitting three feet away from her. Therefore, I’d like to close the post with some highlights from the post-discussion Q&A.

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Audience: You were so young; how did you know you could pull that off?

Minujín: Everybody was young then! Like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. We were representing our generation. We were very very young and had such a powerful belief, we were like a revolution, and we were all young. When you were 30, you were out! 22, 23 okay but 30 years old is the end! I was living my dream. I did not have a real life.

Audience:  We are aware, that constantly and unfortunately, in Argentina, there were dictatorships, changing governments, etc. – issues! Given that, how was your art received? By the government, etc? Did you have any problems with that? Were you free enough to expose your artwork?

Minujín: They were not intelligent enough to know what I was doing! It’s true! Like when I did the project at the Obelisk calling it “the military’s erection,” they passed by and didn’t understand at all that the work was talking about them, to the military. So you see, I was too far out for them.

Audience: So basically, you were free to do your own thing?

Minujín: Yes, I could do it because they would never understand what I was doing! But, what we were doing was political, and our concentration was powerful.

Audience: How did you connect with the scene of Howard Wise, and the people who were involved in experimenting with art and technology?

Minujín: The art world was very small. I arrived in New York and got to a gallery with Al Hansen. I was greeted at the gallery, and showed there. Lichtenstein’s wife was the secretary at the gallery and invited Warhol, and others. That’s how I met Warhol, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Umberto Eco…and we would go to Kansas City. We would meet, and discuss–everything was together: music, literature, art– it was my time. Every day something happened. We were all together, doing happenings every day.

Audience: What do you think of the return of a great interest in your work 45 years later?

Minujín: I believe that maybe I am like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I’m more like a rock star than a visual artist. I am not modest!

To conclude, beyond MINUCODE and other stimulating happenings, Minujín is known internationally as a pioneer in art movements including “el arte de los medios,” (media as art), pop art, conceptual art, visual art, psychedelia, video art, “the art of action” and more. She is also famous for being the person responsible for “importing” hippie culture to Argentina with her 1968 work, “Importación/Exportación.”

Her artistic practice is influenced by thinkers like Marshall McLuhan, Roland Barthes, Ferdinand de Sausseure, Federico Fellini and more.