The Border #1: An Exhibition of Immigrant Art Curated by Jamie Martinez

By Jonathan Goodman

Jamie Martinez, an artist originally from Colombia and founder of Arte Fuse, the increasingly recognized art blog, has rented a small space on the first floor of the 56 Bogart gallery building in Bushwick. “The Border #1” is his first show there; it is composed of five artists, including Martinez himself. This show, and his project generally, comprises a comment on and support of the immigrant artists in New York; as everyone needs to recognize, and current politics is determined to evade, we are all from somewhere else–either recently or a few generations ago. This is obviously true in recent art, especially in New York; if we think of abstract expressionism’s importance, two of the artists making up its famous triumvirate, de Kooning and Gorky, were born outside America (the third, Pollock, of course was not).

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Installation view, The Border #1. © Jamie Martinez.

The infusion of work from artists new to our shores is nothing new, especially now, and Martinez is determined to offer space to and document the very good art being made by people recently established here. In this highly interesting show, five artists from elsewhere else offer works that do not necessarily look like they come from a geographical distance–an artist’s origins are no longer easily Identifiable at all, in a formal sense, in contemporary art. But the point needs to be made repeatedly that the current influx of artists globally to New York, who are attracted by the city’s history of international modernism and social freedoms (not by its high rents!), are contributing to the scene some of the best work being made today. This show demonstrates this high achievement extremely well.

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Installation view, The Border #1. © Jamie Martinez.

Martinez put himself into this small artists’ group deliberately, being that it is the first exhibition in the space he himself set up. His art consists of pages taken from The Book of the Dead, their individual hieroglyphs framed and emphasized by thin copper wire; a printed poem, “America” by Maya Angelou, treated the same way; and two abstract sculptures, made of triangles of metal and thin, pink neon-lit lines. If we think about it, the hieroglyphs describe, seemingly visually but indicating something readable, a voyage somewhere else, while Angelou’s poem presents the harsh but actual reality of many people’s experience here. Finally, Martinez explained in conversation that the triangles of metal in the two wall sculptures demonstrate the social process of tringulation, suggesting the meeting of people.

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Jamie Martinez, (L-R) Copper Mesh 1, modular sculpture with copper, plexiglass, paper, jump rings and rubber cement, approx 20 inches with fiber optic lights and battery. Flow, Steel and fiber optics and battery, approx 36 inches. © Jamie Martinez courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

The space is small, and so Martinez’s works are too; but he communicates the inevitability of an American world that is based on immigration–to say otherwise is lying! The artists in the show mostly make work that doesn’t directly address immigration, or New York, with the exception of the Peruvian-born woman artist C.J. Chueca, whose wall of whole and broken ceramic tiles, titled the Wall #1 (New York) (2016), clearly references our subway system. The piece is added to by a small black ceramic work on the floor, which partially represents a black plastic bag tied at the top. Called Shoes in a Trash Bag (2016), it combines with the tile wall to capture the physical decay and detritus that is so much a part of the New York experience, strange as that may be in so wealthy an urban place. Other artists’ efforts here are not so transparently illustrating New York life.

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C.J. Chueca, Wall #1 (New York), Ceramic tiles over wood, 2016. © C.J. Chueca courtesy Jamie Martinez. 

 

Peter Kaspar’s large, flat wooden piece (2018) must be activated by a small rock-shaped magnet that is placed on top of a rectangular box containing necessary machinery; when this is done, tiny lights, separated a bit from each other on the expanse of the wooden plane, come on. The effect is exquisite–a bit like stars flashing in a night sky (the pieces is best viewed in semi-darkness). On the other side of the panel, there is an intricate nest of wires used to activate the lights in front. There is no ostensible orientation toward the immigrant theme in this remarkable, low-tech but highly achieved work of art. But Kaspar comes from Slovakia, and that is far away. He participates in the intersection of technology and the sublime that is part of recent art history, and this work shows he is very good at it.

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Peter Kaspar, wood, aluminum, rocks and fiber optics with machine, 2018. © Peter Kaspar courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

Levan Mendiashvili’s suite of three small, plaster-and-wood building fronts and cloth-backed photo of what looks like a discarded building’s facade, both taken from his ongoing series “Urban Archeology,” feels like an abstracted treatment of homes and city fronts taken over by decay; it is impossible to specify the specific place of either the reliefs or the photographic image. Still, the point is made–we are living in a time when urban life is constantly being rearranged by the rebuilding of neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter where–this is happening all over the world. This Georgia-born artist creates work that documents the change without specifying where it comes from, so that it becomes a general feature of immigrant/urban experience.

The last artist to be mentioned, Aphrodite Desiree Navab, is of a mixed background: Iran and Greece. Her suite of eight small ink-on-paper works, titled “Love Labyrinth,” refers to the Minotaur myth, in which Ariadne gives Theseus the string to make his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull figure ruling the maze. According to Navab, after Ariadne betrays her father King Minos by giving Theseus the thread to escape, Theseus betrays her love for him. The artist makes it clear in notes that the drawings, beautiful improvisations on a maze-like form, are meant to illustrate the problem of such a story occurring regularly in real life. It is the theme of betrayal, referred to indirectly, which concerns the artist. As for the drawings, they are marvelous squared or circular treatments of a labyrinthian form. This is ancient mythology, treated in a contemporary fashion; we remember that the artist’s background is Iranian and Greek, sites of archaic stories.

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Aphrodite Désirée Navab, “The Love Labyrinth”, 2018, Ink on paper, 8” x 10.” © Aphrodite Désirée Navab courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

Despite their very old origins, the drawings feel quite new; they were executed this year. They are not relevant to the notion of immigration in a particular manner, but we know that an immigrant made them, and the myth originated in the Mediterranean’s venerable culture. Navab, like the rest of the artists in this very fine introductory show, is committed to making something new. But her inspiration here, like the visual materials made available by Martinez’s use of The Book of the Dead, is very, very old. The themes must be contrasted with art experience in New York City, where our vision is supposed to be utterly new. Novelty may not be possible visually anymore–we may have come to the end of the road, imagistically speaking (this can be argued about). But the real-life event of immigration provides a continuing newness to the art world in this city. One of the excellent things about “The Border #1” is its penchant for originality, as expressed by people who are recently established here. It doesn’t matter if the origins of the work are archaic or recent, but it is very important that we take notice of art made by people whose lives might, wrongfully, be considered too marginal, or too recently evident, to take part in our political and cultural life.

Take a tour of the show here courtesy of Jamie Martinez and © VTV:

 

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

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John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time at Lesley Heller Gallery

Above: John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time (installation view, Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, 2018). © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

By Jonathan Goodman

Now in his late seventies, painter and sculptor John Torreano has been well known as an artist for half a century. He is recognized particularly for his inclusion of acrylic gemstones in his art. His studios are set up in New York and Abu Dhabi, where he has been teaching in the last few years. In this show at Lesley Heller Gallery, Torreano is exhibiting both paintings and wall reliefs; he remains an unrepentant abstractionist, someone whose art connects with the well-established history of the New York School. His synthetic gemstones, though, add a bit of decorative play to his nonobjective language; because of their artificial character, the gems provide Torreano’s efforts with a partially ersatz character that undercuts the high romance of the abstraction. This is likely a good thing, late in the second decade of the twenty-first century, as we seem to have tired of the idea of noble motives alone. But, whatever the intentions behind the paintings and wall reliefs, we see that Torreano is not only a craftsperson of note, he is also an esthetician of considerable ambition. His works stand out both as examples of skill and as efforts meant to communicate a paramount belief in beauty. Perhaps his experience in the Middle East is leading him further in the direction of beauty; the long horizontal wooden panel painting, titled Sea Sky Gold (2018), feels like it owes its exquisite colors–dark blue and gold–to a geography we do not find here in New York.

JohnTorreano_SeaSkyGold_2018_300dpi (1)John Torreano, “Sea Sky Gold,” 2018. Acrylic paint and gold leaf on plywood 45 x 180 inches. © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

Sea Sky Gold is the major work of this excellent show. Its dimensions are more than considerable: 45 by 180 inches. The work consists of four panels of deep blue, with numerous oval gouges, clumped in groups and covered with gold. Its appearance begins with a surface of decorative flair, but then moves beyond that to a place of elegance and artistry (not that decoration always excludes such qualities!). Torreano appears to have learned something about the inherent attractiveness of well-appointed color–an insight evident throughout the exhibition. The danger exists that this painting, a genuine tour de force, would end up overwhelming the show, but this doesn’t happen; instead, it serves as an anchor for a body of works that cumulatively appeal to the audience. For example, DM’s & Hot Stars (2015), a large painting in a small space at the front of the gallery, works its effects seamlessly within an allover compositional field. The squared painting, consisting of four large panels, exists in a matrix of organically shaped contours–mostly tan and blue, with a bit of black. Although the work’s title skews it toward science, it very much exists within the established language of abstract expressionism. It can be easily argued that we have been revisiting this movement too often and too long, but, as still happens regularly in New York, Torreano’s painting establishes itself without bowing excessively to the past.

JohnTorreano_DarkMattersWithoutTime_2018_InstallView04_300dpiJohn Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time (installation view, Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, 2018). © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

The column wall sculptures–thin sticks of color studded with mock jewels–look at first like objects of deliberate desire (they range in dates from 2014 to 2017). And so they are, up to a point! These four works, arranged on a side wall, descend slightly in size from left to right. The acrylic gemstones stud all of them, adding to the surfaces’ sculptural intricacy and presenting an alluring, albeit entirely synthetic, exterior. They do enact a singular attractiveness, but that doesn’t really matter–what counts is the artist’s willingness to undercut the abstraction with an imagery that clearly is counterfeit. This is likely an attempt to remain resistant to the pull of something overly attractive. Even as the show refers to high culture, there is a healthy disregard for its imagistic excesses, driven as they are by ego here. But, at the same time, for the more seasoned among us, the use of such fakery causes some anxiety–at what point does the falsehood take over and make barren the eminent history that precedes it? This is a question for philosophers and art historians more than it is a query for the general public, composed as it is of artists and, usually, connected viewers who want the simple chance to enjoy what they see. Torreano’s art does this wonderfully well, providing admirers with the chance to lose themselves within a language both established and new. And his slight disregard for the fulsomeness of New York’s painterly past is a welcome reminder of its historical limitations.

View John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time at Lesley Heller Gallery through Sunday, April 8, 2018.

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Louise Bourgeois’ Legacy: Four Living Women Rocking Surrealism

Above: Installation View, “Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait” At MoMA. Image © Artifactoid. 

I love artwork by Louise Bourgeois. Her recent show at the MoMA was beautiful and you can see her sculptures in the permanent collection  at Dia: Beacon. Up to and following her death in 2010, her dark, sensuous surrealism (consciously or not) continues to influence a new generation of artists. While not always as heavy nor activist as Bourgeois in their subject matter, these artists each reference certain elements of her style in original ways. Here are four that are remarkable.

1. Rita Ponce de Leon (80m2 Livia Benavides)

Rita Ponce de Leon, image from the drawings on paper series, “Nuestros, Nosotros,” 2015. 25 x 25 cm each. Image © Rita Ponce de Leon courtesy 80m2 Livia Benavides.

Rita Ponce de Leon‘s  (b. Lima, 1982) work comprises surreal drawings and sculptures that gain power from their delicate intimacy. She works with pen on ink, clay, and Papier-mâché among other media. Last year I saw her beautiful installation at Proyecto AMIL in Lima that showcased many of her techniques, including heated sculptures to hold in your hands and drawings directly on the wall that scaled from floor to ceiling in the ample exhibition salon. Ponce de Leon is represented by Galeria 80m2 Livia Benavides based in Lima, Peru.

2. Geng Xue (Klein Sun Gallery)

Geng Xue, “Oceans Roar,” 2016. Porcelain and sound installation. 39 3/8 x 13 3/4 x 7 7/8 in. Image © Geng Xue, courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Geng Xue‘s (b. China, 1983) visceral ceramics captivate the imagination and bring us closer to our humanness. Attuned to sensory experience, Geng Xue often incorporates elements such as sound into the works, as in the above pictured piece, “Oceans Roar.” Geng Xue also creates animations that bring the pieces to life.

3. C.J. Chueca (Y Gallery)

Ceramic,  9 1/4 × 3 1/2 × 2 in, 23.5 × 8.9 × 5.1 cm, Unique. Image © C.J. Chueca and Artsy.

C.J. Chueca (b. Lima, 1977) grew up moving nomadically between Perú and México, where she frequently came into contact with homeless people, nursing home residents, and psychiatric patients. According to a 2016 exhibition essay on her work authored by critic Eleanor Heartney, these experiences “stoked a deep sympathy for the dispossessed” in Chueca. Chueca’s porcelain wall reliefs are portraits of homeless men and women from her memory, modeled after assemblages of found objects.

4. Jasmine Little (Johannes Vogt Gallery)

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Installation view, “Hoodoos,” at Johannes Vogt Gallery. Image © Johannes Vogt Gallery.

Jasmine Little (b. Virginia, 1984) is a technically gifted surrealist painter and sculptor whose works draw from emotion, memory and nostalgia rather than physicality. While most often related to Chagall or Matisse, there is something about the visual style and sensitivity of the pieces that recalls Bourgeois for me. Little is currently having a solo show, Hoodoos, at Johannes Vogt Gallery on the Lower East Side through April 28th, 2018.

Tabaimo Transforms Ancient Artifacts into Surreal Animated Worlds at James Cohan

Above: Installation view, “Tabaimo: Clue to Utsushi,” James Cohan, New York, 2018. Photo: Phoebe d’Heurle.

James Cohan Gallery on the Lower East Side is known for transforming its space for interesting installations that create an environment. You may remember Omer Fast: August, a recent controversial exhibit where the street-facing portion of the gallery was transformed to simulate a rundown Chinatown storefront, revealing video art in the back. James Cohan’s current museum-quality installation, Clue to Utsushi, comprises surreal animations by Japanese artist Tabaimo. Each animation is projected onto a wall (or custom structure) in its own shape and size relating to an ancient artifact from the Seattle Art Museum. The gallery space is transformed into an unfamiliar, austere world that invites viewers to lurk around its dark corners and discover that there is more to unfold in each animation than first meets the eye.

2018_01_15_JamesCohan_004v1E.jpgInstallation view, “Tabaimo: Clue to Utsushi,” James Cohan, New York, 2018. Photo: Phoebe d’Heurle.

Each of Tabaimo’s video projections allures with symbols of beauty, like a woman’s silhouette, a butterfly, a bird, or a set of armoires, yet leaves hints to the viewer that cohabiting with this beauty might be something sinister, and that watching and following the beautiful thing can lead you to a darker unknown place. Tabaimo creates an “Alice in Wonderland”-like universe where we are unfamiliar with where our curiosities will take us as we are drawn into the bizarre visual settings she imagined.

Utsushi1.pngStill from “Shinju Trail” by Tabaimo at James Cohan, New York, 2018. Image © Tabaimo. Photo: Artifactoid.

Clue to Utsushi is directly connected with Tabaimo’s 2016 exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), Utsusushi Utsushi. At SAM, Tabaimo discovered that ancient artifacts around the Seattle Art Museum were calling to her with different energies, leading her to create works of video art that brought the antiques to life and opened them up to reveal new narratives. Four of the resulting videos are now on display in Clue to Utsushi, plus Shinju Trail, pictured above, which was created specifically for this show.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 12.03.23 PM.pngRound-corner wood-hinged Cabinets (GUI), 16th Century, Chinese, that inspired the work “Two” by Tabaimo. Image © Seattle Art Museum.

Clip from “Two” by Tabaimo at James Cohan Gallery. Video © Tabaimo. Footage: Artifactoid.

Carrying the ancient to the present, Tabaimo, an artist known for critiquing Japanese culture, speaks to the concept of Utsushi, or, emulating artwork by masters of the past. Instead of physically copying the art of the masters, Utsushi refers to keeping the same “energy” of the master’s artwork while simultaneously bringing it into a new contemporary form. Though we don’t necessarily have this exact word in English, I believe that a lot of the best contemporary artwork from around the world demonstrates Utsushi by being original while maintaining a strong dialogue with the past and ultimately connecting it with the present and future.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 5.19.27 PM.pngImage of an artifact that inspired the below animation, “Crow” by Tabaimo. © Seattle Art Museum.

Clip from “Crow” by Tabaimo at James Cohan Gallery. Video © Tabaimo. Footage: Artifactoid.

James Cohan Gallery is located at 191 Grand Street in Manhattan. Today is the final day to view this exhibition.

 

The Beauty of Others: An Interview with Photographer Teresa Bracamonte

View the interview in Spanish on Revista Jennifer

When I traveled to Lima for the PARC art fair, I met interesting artists and explored key sites of Peru’s contemporary art world. I visited galleries like RevolverLucia de la Puente and Y Gallery Lima, as well as institutions like Proyecto AMIL.

A project I discovered that interested me in particular was Lima Intrarrosa, a documentary photography series created by artist Teresa Bracamonte.

Before becoming a photographer Bracamonte was a painter, but her main career was as a high fashion model who also participant in numerous beauty pageants. During breakfast at her oceanside Barranco apartment, she told me that, one day a few years prior, she was watching TV and by chance saw a report of a transgender beauty pageant being broadcast. Upon seeing it, she had a strong, unexpected reaction of connectedness to the trans women: she saw herself reflected in them.

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Drawn in by this experience, she embarked on a two-year-long documentary project during which she lived within the trans community in Lima. Instead of viewing the women through the lens as if they were from one world and she another, she became a member of their community and a part of the intimate family of the trans beauty pageant participants. Through this devoted technique she established her relationship with the subjects of her imagery.

Bracamonte’s work interested me because her choice to radically change her lifestyle from modeling for the sake of this first-time documentation of a different yet parallel world to hers is something I viewed as unusual and remarkable. Her work also interested me because as a novice to the medium, she dedicated herself fully to exposing a sensitive otherness with a high degree of respect in both her process and the result, instead of hastily approaching the theme in a voyeuristic manner.

In the following interview, Bracamonte sits down with Artifactoid to discuss her inspiration for the project, insights she learned in the process, and future projects she has in store.

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Artifactoid: How did the project Lima Intrarrosa begin?

Teresa Bracamonte (TB): What initiated the project Lima Intrarrosa in 2012 was my discovery of the existence of the beauty pageants that were organized by the transgender community. This strongly called my attention because at that time I was dedicated to high fashion modeling, and had been called to participate in the Miss Perú pageant and other feminine beauty events.

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I discovered these (transgender) competitions on a television report, where a journalist was interviewing the winner of that night’s contest, who later went on to show the conditions in which she was living and they were extremely humble.

Artifactoid: How did you see your own experiences within those of the people you documented?

TB: Lima Intrarrosa covers diverse aspects of the transgender community in Lima. I think that one aspect I most identified with were the beauty pageants. When I photographed all that was happening during the show, and backstage, there was the same euphoria that I experienced in backstages of fashion shows, just before heading out to walk on the runway. At that time my main source of income was coming from high fashion runway shows.

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I believe that an artist always sees herself reflected, in one way or another, in that which she chooses to create a portrait of. Many times it is something unconscious; that the artist feels attracted toward a certain reality without being certain of why.

In my case, at the start, it was the beauty pageants and everything that they implied (the production of beautification, performance, etc). Later it became something deeper; I felt identified with the search for self-affirmation and the fight for being who you deeply want to be.

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I am a fan of Pedro Almódovar, and in is film “Todo sobre mi madre” (“All About my Mother”), there is a line spoken by the character Agrado, played by Antonia San Juan, that goes, “The more one resembles what she has dreamt of herself, the more authentic she is.”

There is also an element of rebellion: during a time in my life, I questioned a lot about the culturally established binary roles. I wasn’t fully understanding them; they made me feel uncomfortable. It bothered me – the idea of having to comply with certain expectations or attitudes just because I was a woman. I felt that men had certain “permissions” that women didn’t have, and that I wanted to have those permissions, too. This made me question my own feminine role.

Artifactoid: What were the most important things you learned living within Lima’s trans community?

TB: The most important thing I learned while living for two years with the transgender community in Lima, was the survival system that they had developed to be able to move forward in their daily lives. One aspect that interested me deeply was the recreation of family ties: the majority, upon suffering exclusion from their nuclear families, constructed a new family amongst themselves. The links that they create are even stronger than blood. Another interesting characteristic is the resilience and the will to be. That force to dare to exteriorize who they feel that they are, despite prejudgements and exclusion (above all in a male chauvinist country like Peru), is what I admire in all of the transgender people. There is also the sad side, which is the reality that they face each day, of exclusion and extreme violence. Life expectancy is low, and access to basic rights is null.

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Artifactoid: How does this project fit within your body of artistic work as a whole?

TB: Lima Intrarrosa was my first photographic project. I produced it over the course of 2012 and 2013. It marked the beginning of my trajectory as a photographer. Before that I generally used painting as my mode of expression. It was also the beginning of my line of work: I search to make visible groups of people and themes that our society hides, negates, disguises or masks. All of my projects can be viewed on my website. My starting point, as a visual artist, is to search for the beauty in what is considered grotesque, unacceptable or unchaste, and show it through images. My inspiration lies in awakening sensations through themes that we tend to reject or that make us feel uncomfortable.

All of my work revolves around this duality – the contrasts – of both concepts: the horrendous, and the beautiful, and the multifarious shades of each. I am on a constant search to provoke the spectator, and induce her to observe and question herself, but above all to submerge herself into realities that she might consider foreign to her.

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Through my work I constantly take on the challenge to overthrow prejudices, ideas, and stereotypes that we have deeply rooted.

Artifactoid: Are you aware of other artists in Peru working with the theme of transgender life, like Giuseppe Campuzano? Were you influenced by them, and how?

TB: When I was developing Lima Intrarrosa, in 2012, the only Peruvian artist I knew at that time, and whose work affected me, was Giuseppe Campuzano. I met with him when I was beginning the project. I remember that I bought his book, El Museo Travesti del Perú. He advised me to visit the exhibition that he carried out at the gallery 80m2 Livia Benavides that year, where he created an installation based on newspaper cutouts that showed, over the longterm, how the media were treating the trans community in a denigrating and scandalous way.

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Artifactoid: Tell me about the idea of “double perception,” related to trans women who migrate from Peru to Europe. Why is it important to reveal this concept in your photography?

TB: One aspect that called my attention upon creating Lima Intrarrosa, was the desire of almost all of the women in the transgender community to migrate to Europe. Those who achieve this are called triunfadoras (“winners”).

Apparently, the triunfadoras experience a complex situation once they live in Europe. The term “winner” becomes contradictory, and we find ourselves facing a paradox between the concept of what it means to be a triunfadora, connected with the idea of success and the positive, versus the difficult reality that the triunfadoras live once they arrive in Europe. At the same time, the population that surrounds them abroad doesn’t know what it means to be a Latin American transgender woman migrant in Europe, and above all they don’t know that that they left their country perceived as winners.

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Therefore exists the “double perception:” they are two imaginaries of the same existence that are culturally opposite and contradict each other. Roland Barthes stated that, “The photo portrait is a palisade of forces.  The imaginaries intersect, face each other, and deform.” I view this theory in relationship to the triunfadoras.

I presently live in Paris, where I am producing a photographic project comprised of portraits of transgender women migrants from Peru, and/or South Americans who live in the French capital.

It’s not a “documentary” project, as I seek to translate my subjective point of view about beauty onto it. I am doing this to show the protagonists of my series as impregnable and glorious, in a manner contrary to how they are generally represented.

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Artifactoid: How did you arrive at your fascination for the objects of the people you documented, and why were they an important area of focus for this project?

TB: I realized that, through objects, I could show important aspects of the person I was developing a portrait of. I discovered that personal items give us information that is not evident when we only focus on the person. These things can communicate as much, or even more, than the physical body in and of  itself. I believe that a portrait can be made through objects alone.

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Artifactoid: Do you plan to explore working with the masculine transgender community in Peru?

TB: For now it doesn’t form a part of my plans, since I am developing other projects, but it seems interesting to me. I may explore it in another moment; an artist should always be open to different and diverse possibilities.

Artifactoid: What are some of your goals for this project?

TB: I have finished a photographic book of Lima Intrarrosa, curated by Jorge Villacorta, including some testimonials and reviews. My goal is to publish it in the near future, and I am currently seeking support to do that. The book can be viewed here

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Artifactoid: What do you plan to do next?

TB: Currently as mentioned I live in Paris. I came to do a Masters in Photography and Contemporary art at the University of Paris 8. I am developing artistic projects within my line of work, questioning stereotypes, and using codes of representation that interest me about certain themes and distorting them through art.

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About the artist:

Teresa Bracamonte is a visual artist who was born in Lima, Peru, in 1989. She completed two years of General Art Studies at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. She finished her studies of Plastic Arts in the Alternating Current School, where she graduated. She obtained the title of Complementary Baccalaureate in Arts at the National University of San Marcos. Then she studied Photography at the Center of the Image, where she obtained the first prize of her group.

Teresa, at age 25, had her first solo show curated by Jorge Villacorta at the II Lima Photography Biennial: Lima Intrarrosa. Her second individual show was in the city of Trujillo (2016). Bracamonte has participated in several group exhibitions in different places of his country, such as Ricardo Palma Cultural Center; The Museum of the Nation; The Inka Garcilazo Cultural Center; Gallery of the French Alliance, Euroidiomas Foundation, Cultural Center of the University of Lima, among others. She has also had the opportunity to exhibit twice in Dubai, in 2016.

She currently resides in Paris, France, where she is studying a Masters of Photography and Contemporary Art at Paris 8, La Sorbonne.

When 1960s Sci-Fi and Surveillance Collide in 21st Century Sculpture: Björn Schülke Vision Instruments at bitforms gallery

Above: Björn Schülke, Beam Engine #1, 2016, Brass, mirror, paint, electronics, solar cells, motors, laser, 7.1 x 15 x 9.9 in / 18 x 38 x 25 cm

This article was originally published in Whitehot Magazine

Would there be world peace if aliens attacked Earth? After all, doesn’t everyone get along better once they share an enemy?

In the divisive global political environment confronting us, I find myself wishing for the aliens to appear.

I started thinking about this after learning about Raumpatrouille Orion, or, “Space Patrol Orion,” (1966), the first ever German science fiction TV series, which inspired Vision Instruments, a collection of sculptures by Björn Schülke currently on view at bitforms gallery on NYC’s Lower East Side. According to bitforms gallery, Raumpatrouille Orion reflected a certain Cold-War era global attitude of idealistic utopianism, and the mentality of conquest and emphasis on space travel, which is also present in a lot of Schülke’s work.

Schülke was born in Cologne, Germany in 1967. Perhaps as an artist he was drawn to exploring the collective psychology of the environment into which he was born, utilizing Raumpatrouille Orion as his case study. But, what can we learn from Raumpatrouille Orion now? I think that some of the answers might lie in what else Björn Schülke focuses on in his sculptures.

Björn Schülke, Vision Machine #8 , 2016, Brass, steel, wood, mirrors, paint, camera, display, sensor, electronics, 15.75 x 11.8 x 14.2 in / 40 x 30 x 36 cm, Edition of 3, 1 AP (variant)

The other central theme of much of Schülke’s work is questioning the ways in which we interact with technology. To us in 2017, the “technological frontier,” its own universe without borders, can be compared to the physical universe within which exploration was idolized during the Cold War. At that time, we worshipped astronauts like rock stars. Today, we worship tech innovators like rock stars. That is absolutely not to say that we have stopped revering our astronauts, but rather to say that when it comes to astronauts versus tech innovators, the media has switched their “it girl” over the decades and the technologists are their latest sweetheart.

So, how are we interacting with technology, this thing that we worship? I think that one thing that Schülke is trying to say with his art is that we are giving it too much power.

His shiny, white, mechanical, stick bug shaped kinetic sculptures range from about the size of a football to the size of a refrigerator, and are mounted on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the gallery, surrounding viewers from all sides. They each have unique sleek, futuristic designs, but are futile in function, clearly separating them from the product design prototypes of the tech world and setting them firmly in the art category.

Although futile, they each beckon us to interact with them. For example, we look to find our reflections in the tiny circular mirrors that some of them have, and look to see our images picked up by their cameras, even though their cameras are operating in connection with a surveillance system. This evokes the Privacy Paradox, in which we are tempted to upload mass quantities of information about ourselves onto the Internet, almost like a mirror of ourselves, even if it is at the risk of our own security – which we then express simultaneous concern about.

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Björn Schülke, Drone #9, 2016, Fiberglass and epoxide, wood, mirrors, aluminum, display, camera, electronics, sensors, video transmitter, 43.4 in / 110 cm, height, 118.2 in / 300 cm, diameter

In addition, many of the sculptures are equipped with small solar panels that take in light and charge the small batteries within them. Once the charge of the battery reaches a certain level of fullness, the sculpture moves, and is brought to life, like a little anthropomorphic creature that we created, but that now has a mind of its own and operates without our assistance, catching us off guard.

This is not the first time I have seen the issue of surveillance explored in art. In fact I have seen it utilized many times, and have written about it on several occasions as I consider it one of the interesting current themes that the global creative community is having an active discourse about. You can see some of my prior explorations of this topic in my articles about The Privacy Paradox 2016 group show at Reverse Gallery, the artist Joel Holmberg at New Museum, the artist Lorraine Oades and her project TV Tracker (a part of a 2015 group show of artists from Quebec at Knockdown Center). To note, there is also a radio show on NPR right now called The Privacy Paradox.

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Björn Schülke, Supersonic #3, 2008, Fiberglass, plywood, steel, motion sensors, theremin, woofer, tweeter, amplifier, paint 22 x 46 x 15 in / 56 x 117 x 38 cm

So, back to my original question, what can we learn today from Schülke’s revival of ideas from Raumpatrouille Orion? I think that the obvious conclusion is that while it was the first German sci-fi television show, from over fifty years ago, those same issues in the show apply now. Today it seems that it might still require this threatening, alien outside force to attack for all of us humans to band together to achieve peace on earth. What shape and form would that “force” take if the show were remade today? Could it be something like climate change, or related to technology?

Björn Schülke, Drone #9, 2016, Fiberglass and epoxide, wood, mirrors, aluminum, display, camera, electronics, sensors, video transmitter, 43.4 in / 110 cm, height, 118.2 in / 300 cm, diameter

Finally, it is this issue of surveillance resurfacing in both the outer space universe and the technology universe. During the Cold War era of Raumpatrouille Orion, sci-fi fear of aliens was this major allegory for xenophobia, fear of other countries, and fear of apocalyptic nuclear disaster. Sound familiar? At that time, a person might have asked, who are the aliens from outer space who are watching us, spying on us, maybe ready to attack? Today, we could think in those same terms, but digitally. Who is watching us, spying on us, maybe ready to attack, replete with our data?

Women Photographers in Exile: A Conversation With Curators Christina De León and Michel Otayek

Images by Kati Horna, “Bombed! Shelled! Besieged for two years – but Life goes on!,” The Weekly Illustrated, December 3, 1938 [author unknown]. Private collection, New York.

This article was originally published in Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art.

I had had this event on my calendar for weeks, looking forward to unofficially celebrating the election of our first woman president at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts, coinciding with this wonderful panel discussion on the topic of women photographers in exile. When the night of November 8th turned into the morning of November 9th , and election results were in, there was a different somber attitude across New York City than I’d ever seen before. As shocked and devastated as I was about the results of the election, I decided that I needed to go to the event that I had been looking forward to for so long. When I headed toward the subway to go uptown, the weather outside was grey, drizzly, and dark, and then the energy inside the subway car felt like that of a funeral. But when I got to this panel event put on by Americas Society in the gorgeous ornate colonial building of the NYU Institute of Fine Arts on 5th Avenue, celebrating the work and accomplishments of these incredibly powerful women photographers during wartime during the earlier parts of the 20th century, I was absolutely uplifted and inspired again in a way that I really needed to be at that moment. It was a night of applauding courageous and creative women who broke boundaries, fought for what they believed in and revealed acute insights on dark times with their art and activism.

In the following interview, I sat down with the curators of both the panel discussion and the exhibition, Michel Otayek and Christina De León, to speak about their motivation and inspiration behind shining the spotlight on incredible talents Kati Horna (Hungary), Lee Miller (United States), Grete Stern (Germany), and Margaret Michaelis (Austria-Hungary; Poland), among others. Each have such an incredible story that I have linked to their Wikipedia pages, but in short, from what I’ve gathered, all of these women, in face of the political turmoil of Europe mostly in the 1930s including the rise of Nazi-ism and the Spanish Civil War, fled from and moved between different countries, in regions including Europe, Latin America, Africa, Australia and the U.S., to take action photographing in often treacherous zones. They produced images for everything from mass publications like Vogue, to activist anarchist propaganda in Spain, to art photography which also sometimes included shared common interests in both surrealism and architecture.

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Kati Horna, Helen Escobedo, 1960; gelatin silver print, 8 x 8 in. Private collection, Mexico City.  © 2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández.

Artifactoid: What led to your focus on Kati Horna? What most intrigued you about her work at the onset, and what were some of the most interesting things you discovered about her through your research putting this show and panel together?

Michel Otayek: Kati Horna’s work during the Spanish Civil War was the subject of my master’s thesis at Hunter College a few years ago. My doctoral dissertation at New York University, currently in progress, takes a more expansive view at her trajectory by means of a comparative analysis between her work, before and after exile, and that of Grete Stern. Early on in my research about Horna, it became clear to me that the meaning of her images was inextricable from their circulation in print. Throughout her career, she produced work specifically for the press. In a way, the true medium of her practice was the printed page, rather than the photographic print. In the pages of print materials, text and design bring to bear on what we are to make of photographic images. At the same time, one must also consider of the specificity of the audience (for whom is this magazine crafted?) when thinking about the sense-making power of images. Our exhibition at Americas Society stays close to these ideas. By presenting a rather eclectic array of print materials in dialogue with a selection of vintage prints, we argue that Horna was keenly aware of how circulation determines meaning—a circumstance she was sometimes able to exploit to great effect.

Christina De León: I was familiar with photographs by Kati Horna’s that were mostly taken in Mexico, however I was not aware of her earlier career in Spain with anarchist publications and through research for this exhibition I came to discover the story of a deeply complex and fascinating photographer. What most intrigued me about Horna’s work were her portraits, specifically of women, because she never relied on sensationalism or angst.  Her photographs invited viewers to look deeper into their own reality and served as a reflection of human conditions that encompass all of us. She also displayed an extraordinary depth of field for real-life phenomena generally viewed as banal or otherwise routinely overlooked, which she often captured with a clever sense of humor. Our archival research uncovered an incredibly diverse amount of photographic work, much of which will probably never be seen, because it is not associated with her formal production, but it’s an interesting insight into her practice and how she maintained herself financially. For instance she took wedding photographs, society portraits, images for popular photo-novela magazines, and she took innumerable picture of animals—there are many amazing photographs of cats.

Artifactoid: For the panel presentation, you discussed Horna’s work in the context of several other female photographers from the perspective of mobility and exile, including Lee Miller, Grete Stern, Margaret Michaelis, Marianne (Gast) Goeritz. What would you say is the single most outstanding quality about each of these artists, and what would you characterize as some of the most important threads between them that connect and amplify each of their bodies of work?

MO: I try not to reduce a photographer’s practice to a single, characteristic trait. I think there’s more to Henri Cartier-Bresson, for example, than the decisive moment, or to Robert Capa than battlefront intrepidness. As a remarkably versatile craft, photography gave women such as Kati Horna and Grete Stern a great deal of mobility—across national borders, most obviously, but also across communities of artists, intellectuals, and political activists. There are significant commonalities in the work of these two Jewish women, including the fact that both learned their craft from photographers specializing in advertising work (József Pécsi and Walter Peterhans), which I think gave them a sense of photography as a tool to construct images rather than just document reality. Having lived in Berlin in the final years of the Weimar Republic, both were led to exile by the rise of National Socialism. But whereas Stern left Europe for Argentina in 1936 and was celebrated early on as a pioneer of modernist photography in her adopted country, Horna’s involvement with the anarchist fringe of the Spanish Civil War resulted in a much more precarious exile to Mexico, where she arrived in late 1939—and into which culture she struggled to assimilate for a long time. For a variety of reasons, while Stern has long been part of the canon of modern Argentine photography, Horna’s work continues to be, in my opinion, unfairly underappreciated, even in Mexico.

CDL: It’s difficult to point to a single outstanding quality for each of these photographers, because there are so many! But an interesting commonality among all of them was their ability to seize the opportunities offered by the growing field of photography as a means for personal, political, economic, and artistic emancipation.

Artifactoid: Since you focus on foreign female photographers active in Latin America during the postwar period, I wanted to ask you, what are some of the biggest risks and dangers that these women faced in doing what they were doing, during the time they were doing it? What were some of the biggest challenges they had to overcome that may not be obvious at first glance?

MO: In addition to Horna and Stern, I am also currently researching the work of Bárbara Brändli and Thea Segall, both of whom arrived in Venezuela in the late 1950s. Though a generation younger and having arrived in Latin America two decades later than Horna and Stern, Brändli and Segall also had to carve out their own spaces, as émigrés, in an occupational field still largely dominated by men. Something I find in common among all four is somewhat of an inclination towards the countercurrent. What I mean is that in their trajectories one notices either an engagement with themes ignored by the greater culture or, conversely, a disinterest in some of the topics most conspicuous in the work of other photographers in their adoptive countries. For example, between 1958 and 1964, Grete Stern committed herself to the production of an extensive photographic record of the indigenous communities of the Argentine Great Chaco. Driven to photograph the living conditions of these communities by a personal desire to help improve them, Stern was later greatly disappointed by she perceived as a generalized indifference towards the plight of Argentina’s indigenous cultures by the country’s elites. Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that in Mexico, a country with a robust tradition of folklorist photography, Horna should have remained largely unconcerned with popular and indigenous traditions—themes that have fascinated generations of photographers there, from Hugo Brehme to Graciela Iturbide.

12d_-un-mariage-chez-les-oeufs-a-marriage-of-eggs-1936

Kati Horna, Un mariage chez les œufs [A Marriage of Eggs], 1936; gelatin silver print. Private collection, Mexico City. ©2005 Ana María Norah Horna y Fernández.

Artifactoid: What are some of the most surprising photographs taken by any of these artists?

MO: Much of Kati Horna’s work speaks to her refined sense of humor. The more of it one looks at, the more sensitive ones becomes to her penchant for infusing even the soberest or most mundane series with an understated layer of comicality. Oftentimes, the humorous streak of her work is not immediately apparent. But on occasion, she produced series that were downright hilarious. Such is the case of a delightful photo essay about city fashions such as bulky mini-skirts, published in July 1962 in the Mexican weekly Tiempo, in which every photograph is taken from the ground looking up, monumentalizing the subjects’ rears while keeping most of their upper bodies invisible. We were not able to include this series in our exhibition at Americas Society but it is certainly one of my favorites. While we are in the subject of personal preferences, one of the works by Bárbara Brändli I like the most is her 1981 book Los páramos se van quedando solos, in which photographs and interview transcripts document the vanishing rural communities and linguistic patterns of the Venezuelan Andes. While not a bold statement of design such as the celebrated 1975 photobook Sistema Nervioso (produced collaboratively by Brändli, John Lange and Roman Chalbaud), Los páramos se van quedando solos manages to convey the melancholic allure of agrarian life in the highlands of Western Venezuela. It is a visually austere but surprisingly sublime photographic pastoral.

CDL: I think I would say I was more inspired than surprised by the photographs taken by these artists.  In viewing these images it’s obvious that they did not hold back and you can see the urge to push further and go beyond conventionality. Their work reflects a raw individuality and a complexity that mirrored their lives.

Artifactoid: What were some of the biggest curatorial challenges that you faced when putting this presentation together, and how did you overcome them?

CDL: When organizing an exhibition it’s always a challenge conveying a person’s life’s work through a small and subjective selection of pieces. The goal is always to highlight key moments in a manner that is both engaging and thoughtful, but when you enter an artist’s archive the decision process can be daunting. While our exhibition is focused on Kati Horna’s relationship with the illustrated press, it was important for us to show her professional and personal transitions, as well as her vast networks in Europe and in Mexico, which was something we kept in mind throughout the entire process. Conveying Horna’s images within a framework that spoke to her political ideas, artistic curiosities, and deft eye was crucial to understanding the work we selected. In addition, it was essential to show the circulation of her images and their ever-changing contexts. For us the exhibition design and the display devices played a paramount role in helping to create a dialogue among the images and publications on view. The design was especially important because many of the images were printed in a small format and we wanted visitors to engage with its intimate nature. In many museum and gallery settings there is a tendency to keep a distance from the work, but in this case our intention was for the public to get close and become familiar with Horna’s images and her photographic practice.

Artifactoid: What new meaning, if any, is added to how you view these photographers and their work, in the context of our current, intense global political situation right now? Is there anything about their work that you see in a new light, due to current events? And, which current artists, if any, would you say could be considered modern equivalents of the photographers you focused on in this exhibit/panel?

MO: Perhaps we should put it the other way around. Thinking about what a handful of truly remarkable women were able to do with their cameras as they traversed some of the great upheavals of the 20th century has given me solace as we wake up to a global state of affairs in which, suddenly, it seems acceptable again to disparage minorities, and influential figures feel emboldened to express their contempt for the equal dignity of women. As you know, our panel at the Institute of Fine Arts about women photographers in exile was held the day after the presidential election in the United States. Many of us in attendance were shocked and deeply pained by the election’s results. The timing could not have been more apt for an evening of serene, almost therapeutic conversation about talented, courageous women and the challenges they had to overcome in their own times. Their careers can be looked at from so many different angles that one could establish pertinent comparisons with numerous artists working today. Someone that comes to mind in regards to Kati Horna is Zoe Leonard, whose phantasmagoric photographs were recently on view at an exquisite show at Hauser & Wirth, just a few blocks from Americas Society. Although conceived to operate within very different parameters of public display and circulation, Leonard’s work is concerned with preoccupations that come through in some of Horna’s most personal series: the condition of statelessness and the need to reconstruct personal history.

CDL: In light of the current political unrest, I think its clear that although there has been significant progress, women continue to face many of the same challenges and prejudices they did seventy or eight years ago. Nevertheless, women are still pushing ahead and working to defy stereotypical notions about what kind of work they should or shouldn’t be doing. This defiance has been happening throughout centuries and endures today. The objective for us as a society is to continue to shed light on their work and integrate these women within a greater canonical narrative and not refer to them just as historical anomalies.

View the exhibition of works by Kati Horna, “Told and Untold,” at Americas Society through December 17th, 2016.

About Christina De León and Michel Otayek:

Christina L. De León is a doctoral candidate at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture. From 2010 to 2016 she was the associate curator at Americas Society where she worked on modern and contemporary art exhibitions and publications. She co-curated the shows For Rent: Marc Latamie (2012), Cristóbal Lehyt: Iris Sheets (2013), and Told and Untold: The Photo Stories of Kati Horna in the Illustrated Press (2016). She contributed to the catalogue Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela 1940–1978 and has written articles for Review and Americas Quarterly periodicals. De León held previous positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters Museum and Gardens. She holds an M.A. from New York University and a B.A. from Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Michel Otayek is an art historian and doctoral candidate at New York University’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. He holds a degree in Law from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in Caracas, and an M.A. in art history from Hunter College in New York. Otayek’s research addresses the role of practices of visual culture, including photography, in the articulation of discourse. His work is particularly concerned with collaboratively produced cultural artifacts such as illustrated periodicals and photobooks. Currently in progress, Mr. Otayek’s dissertation undertakes a comparative analysis of the work in exile of photographers Kati Horna in Mexico and Grete Stern in Argentina. As part of his interest in foreign female photographers active in Latin America during the postwar period, he is also at work in research projects pertaining the work of Bárbara Brändli and Thea Segall in Venezuela.