Pedro Zylbersztajn: brickwork at Americas Society

Above, L to R: Gabriela Rangel and Pedro Zylbersztajn at Americas Society.

This article was originally published in Arte Fuse.

I love to give a work of art the benefit of the doubt that I normally wouldn’t; when something seems so obscure that I can’t figure it out. It reminds me of my first post ever on Artifactoid, and my initial purpose for art writing: to break boundaries, expand thought, contribute to the active dialogue of the field, and hone taste and values upon which to better understand both art and humanity. I recently experienced a work of performance art at Americas Society that returned me to this original idea. The performance was brickwork (2017) by Pedro Zylbersztajn, a Brazilian artist who works with technology, sound, publishing, and other media. brickwork is defined as “a physical record of the process of re/construction of language.”

When I first arrived at Americas Society for the performance, I was handed a four-page pamphlet with sections of ambiguous poetic text printed in black ink on black pages. It was difficult both to visually read and comprehend.

I then walked to the room in which the performance was being held. The performance was unintelligible, like the pamphlet. It entailed the artist sitting at a desk in the center of a room. Viewers lined the surrounding walls, looking in. There was a record player placed upon the desk, and for about 15 minutes, the artist deejayed transparent, white records on it, playing the sound of words being spoken with extremely low sound quality, almost as if the voice being sounded aloud was under water.

Witnessing this was a perplexing and frustrating experience. The words sounded aloud on the records were the artist inaudibly vocalizing the illegible text written on the pamphlet.

Zylbersztajn continued to swap out one record disc for the next in silence, until all the text had been sounded aloud in scratchy, low quality. When he placed the final disc on the player, it played the first line that the audience could hear: “this will not be my last sentence,” over and over again, until it stopped. The performance had ended. My reaction was a hope that the Q & A to follow would provide a thorough explanation, because I didn’t know how to feel after witnessing it.

Thankfully the Q & A, led by Americas Society Chief Curator and Director of Visual Arts Gabriela Rangel, revealed many intricacies of Zylbersztajn’s brickwork and contextualized it within his body of work as a whole. Rangel shared that she discovered his work while conducting studio visits at the MIT Art, Culture and Technology program, from which Zylbersztajn commenced the following day.

brickwork has to do with the process of re/construction of language. For Zylbersztajn, this relates to his “interest in the perpetual shifts and slippages in the use of language, an object [he assumes] to be individually and socially constructed and reconstructed with every new utterance, which is where this metaphor of language as a permanent building site comes from.”  Words are like bricks, which can be both building blocks and political weapons. Zylbersztajn also notes that “the text references the Tower of Babel quite a lot, and this relationship of building, bricks, mortar, and language is very present in this story.”

Zylbersztajn’s idea of the black pamphlets printed with black ink as difficult to read, and his idea of the bad quality of the records as difficult to audibly process, were intentional choices. These step-by-step blockages of comprehension, via different media, each in relation to distinct senses, were part of a structured process created by the artist.

This structure (order, reception, method, execution) and texture (printing quality, recording quality) in each part of the performance were two of brickworks‘s core elements. Zylbersztajn noted that the Brazilian poet João Cabral de Mello Neto once said, “we’re people of much texture and little structure” (referring to Brazilians). It is interesting that this quote was a factor that inspired Zylbersztajn to create an equivocal artwork that isolates structure and texture.

Additionally, the audience’s discomfort, related to both the inability to read the text and the inability to hear the recorded sound well, is representative of the artist’s emphasis on the idea of opacity, another central element of the piece. Opacity has a tradition in poetry, and it is also a political concept. It was the element that created a tension in the performance. Zylbersztajn notes, “opacity, illegibility, and the borders/limits of language are very much in the center of this work and my practice in general.” Conceptually, brickwork confronts the importance of opacity in an age of transparency, in which we are all publishing our lives via data sharing. We are accustomed to living transparently in 2018, and brickwork demands another type of interaction.

An unexpected note that Rangel’s Q & A revealed was, that the final repetition of the last line of the text, “this will not be my last sentence,” was a much more profound choice for the artist than initially perceptible. This line was inspired by a poem that the artist read following 9/11 about the tragedy’s victims, by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, called “Photograph from September 11,” which ends with the stanza:

I can do only two things for them—

describe this flight
and not add a last line.

According to Zylbersztajn, “this sense of impossibility and futility in that statement, which is technically a paralipsis, was something I was thinking about when I wrote my own ‘not-last-line’ or ‘not-last-sentence.’”

The artist’s choice to study at MIT also had a specific influence on brickwork. The artist custom created the records using a laser cutting technique developed by fellow MIT student, Amanda Ghassaei. Zylbersztajn explains that “regular records are made by cutting the grooves onto a wax plate, in an analog process of translating the sound to movement. Zylbersztajn explains that “regular records are made by cutting the grooves onto a wax plate, in an analog process of translating the sound to movement. This plate is then used as a matrix to create vinyl copies that have the same grooves which can be ‘read’ by the player’s needle. The process that I used, which was developed by Ghassaei, converts digital audio into lines that simulate the movements of the analog grooves, and these lines are then laser etched into a surface. The needle reads it in the same way, but the material, the definition and the digital-analog conversion don’t allow for hi-fidelity, and there are some other interesting quirks, such as the fact I explored of the decaying sound quality in function of the radial dimension of the record.” Zylbersztajn decided to utilize Ghassaei’s records for this performance piece as the vehicle to play his own voice recording of the text in the pamphlet in an indecipherable and degenerative way. This comments on the materiality of the records, and presents them as objects that mediate communication. Also a professional publisher in Brazil for many years, Zylbersztajn is interested in abstract forms of publishing, and the giving and receiving of information through the manipulation of various media.

brickwork conveys Zylbersztajn as thinker, publisher, DJ, poet, and researcher. This performance piece comprehensively showcased the artist’s ability to create something unique and challenging. Regarding his future endeavors, Zylbersztajn also mentioned that he is particularly interested in the concept of “art as research” and “research as art,” which is emphasized in his MIT program.

Advertisements

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

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

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

Brev5

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

BRev2

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

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

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

BRev3

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

BRev4.jpg

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

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

BRev6

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

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

Interview with Theresa Byrnes, Painter and Performance Artist

Australian-born and New York-based Painter and Performance Artist Theresa Byrnes talks with Artifactoid about inspiration, a return to her roots as a painter, and her most recent performance, “Mudbird,” created in collaboration with her 20-month-old son. 

Artifactoid: How did you get started as an artist?

TB: At age 16 in 1985, my studio was the family lounge and dining area. I would start to paint every night after dinner while everyone watched TV.  By the time everyone went off to bed one by one, I would get more and more on a roll. I would paint through the night. Soon I outgrew the family room, no longer able to pack all my canvases neatly every night without disrupting my process or running the risk of wet work being trodden on when the the family awoke. I scoured the classifieds to find a studio. I found part of a warehouse to rent cheaply, so I did. 29 years ago, at age 17 in 1986, I began to paint full-time in my very own studio!

I had already been included in minor group shows from 14 years of age and on. While in high school I did life drawing classes at night, and some of my drawings were selected for a group show. I went out on a limb and contacted a curator who included my work in a rotating VIP lounge, and my work began to sell. My first solo exhibition was at 17, but I consider being an artist about making art more than about exhibiting or selling it.

Paints

Mistakes in painting are like an angel pushed your hand, changing your direction to somewhere you never would have gone

Artifactoid: Who are your biggest influences in performance art and why? Who inspires you?

TB: I did my first performance when I was 19 in 1989 in Sydney Australia’s Chinatown. The piece, titled “China Crisis,” was my response to the Tiananmen Square Massacre. My entrance into doing performance art was not inspired by an artist, but by heroic dissent. The cry out for freedom and justice inspires me. In “China Crisis,” I laid in front of a large red painting. For me, performance is a natural spill-over from painting: paint is my language, I just commit my body to performance. “TRACE” (2007) was inspired by a dying bird in an oil spill. In “DUST TO DUST” (2011), dirt was my inspiration – the transformative power of mulch.

TRACE-2

In 2002, I met Carolee Schneemann; we read each other’s books (mine The Divine Mistake, her’s More Than Meat Joy). I learned a lot about her work, and felt connected to her even more once I learned that she is also a painter whose performance flows from that.

DusttoDust-2

Artifactoid: What are some of your biggest day-to-day influences as an artist?

TB: Stains on the sidewalks, streaks with random marks on windows – I made a short  film about sidewalk markings titled, CARELESS in 2000. Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio) helped me shoot and edit it (he is now my son’s godfather). It was screened at MONA (Detroit) in 2001.

Old, decaying wood also inspires me, I have done several painting series on aged wood 2001 and 2010. When I paint on aging wood, I feel like I am collaborating with nature, not trying to capture it.

IHateRosesandtheSeaAteMe copy

Artifactoid: How has your perspective as an artist changed over time?

TB: That nothing is permanent. Earlier in my career, well, pre-September 11th, I cared greatly about paintings lasting forever. Now I feel “archival” materials are pitched to artists who believe this civilization will survive another 500-1000 years. I am into showing who we are now, because now is real: all we have, vulnerable, avoided, denied, unnoticed. Art materials are everywhere; they’re not limited to an art store. I love to work with mud and hair and other ingredients as well as ink and oil paint.

Artifactoid: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned through your art?

TB: That nothing is a mistake. Mistakes in painting are like an angel pushed your hand, changing your direction to somewhere you never would have gone. In my entire 30-year career, painting still genuinely astounds me – the unguessable moment it resolves.

Artifactoid: What is the best advice you’ve ever received in your career?

TB: Be humble.

Artifactoid: In what direction would you like to take your art moving forward?

TB: I am at a turning point. I am returning to my roots as a painter, where I first discovered my talent and lost my identity/sense of separation from art in the process: painting portraits. For the next two years, I will only paint portraits. Abstraction and performance art lent to my feeling immortal, but now, I am a mother and I feel human, more grounded and more vulnerable than ever. I am pulled to dive in in this direction.

Portraits

Artifactoid: What advice would you give to other artists?

TB: Know when to stop. As long as you are making art, “you’ve made it.”

Artifactoid: Please describe your inspiration behind “Mudbird,” and some of the most important things about the piece (to you).

TB: “Mudbird” is the second performance I have done with my son, Sparrow, (now 20 months old). In “Mudbird” I play with my baby in the mud thinking of the cycle of all beings – to live and die. We come from the earth and end up in it. Mud; earth, is a uniting and dividing force between mother and child. I gave my life for his to begin. Okay, I am not dead yet, but a part of me has died – my life as a single artist.

MudbirdRainerHosch copy

At the time of performance, I felt a sense of my immanent death. I have Friedrich’s Ataxia (FA). It is a chronic and fatal genetic disorder of the nervous system. I have been wheelchair-mobile for 20 years. My voice slurring, mundane things slowly getting harder, and recently I tore my right rotator cuff. I have never felt disabled, as I have always fulfilled my aims and called the shots, but post-birth and with injury, I felt unusualły hopeless. Sure I cannot walk, but now I can’t fly; wings clipped. Much of the “Mudbird” series is about my burial and Sparrow’s flight. It has been a burial of several parts of myself. And now I again recreate myself, or return to who I am.

TheresaMeStudio

Theresa Byrnes has had over 25 solo shows at spaces including Saatchi & Saatchi in New York and Sydney, and the Australian Embassy in Washington D.C. In 1996, she was awarded Young Australian of the Year. To keep up with Theresa and her latest works, visit her website and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and FacebookStop by her gallery space, TBG (616 East 9th street between Avenues B&C), for her next opening on December 9th, 2015 . 

Theresa Byrnes, TBG

I’m privileged to have spontaneously met Australian performance artist Theresa Byrnes a few weeks ago while strolling down East 9th Street. What a remarkable person. I was walking home from an estate auction in Greenwich Village, and popped my head into what appeared to be an open gallery space called TBG (Theresa Byrnes Gallery). I entered the bright, colorful room, filled floor to ceiling with an abundance of kinetic paintings created by Theresa Byrnes and her mother and fellow artist Lorraine Byrnes.

Lorraine warmly welcomed me into the gallery. I felt like she was my mother, too! She and Theresa had recently debuted “Offspring,” their joint exhibition, with an opening reception that took place at TBG on July 30th.

Tbyrnes1

It wasn’t until I’d made my way to the back of the gallery that I met Theresa. She told me that the back portion of the space was her studio.

Theresa was one of the coolest-dressed people I’d seen all day. I immediately fell in love with her style and arresting smile. She was wearing a funky black hat, a pale pink punk-rocker style T-shirt, black jeans, and a set of badass red high-top kicks. Finally, there was her most unique accessory: her wheelchair.

Theresa and I spoke for close to an hour, getting to know each other. After reading more about her following our meeting, I found out that she has a degenerative disease called Friedrich’s ataxia, that causes progressive damage to the nervous system. I am incredibly inspired by how clear it is, from both meeting Theresa and reading about her, that she doesn’t allow the disease she lives with to define her or control her. She finds freedom in her work and nothing seems to hold her back from being her full, powerfully talented creative self. This fascinating article from The Villager can tell you a bit more about her story. I’m in awe of her.

IMG_7192

Theresa’s infant son, Sparrow, was with her in the gallery space. I loved the way her passion came through so clearly when speaking about art, creating, and her son. Her palpable joy and refreshing attitude toward life and art made me feel happy.

I am pleased to share a preview of her piece, “Being Two,” shown below.  I also invite you to watch this video interview, conducted with Theresa last year on ABC (Australia). It will give you a sneak peek of the amazing person and artist that I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face. Finally, I hope that if you’re planning to visit Alphabet City any time soon, you take a moment to stop by TBG at 616 East 9th St. between Avenues B & C to check out her work.

Tbyrnes3