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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.