N I C O M U H LY F R A N K U N G E R D A N G O L D M A N PA U L A N D R E F O R T I E R S. A. A N D R E E M I C H A L A J VA Z M I C H A E L R E A K E L S E Y B R O O K E S V I C T O R I A J E N K I N S B R E N T G R E E N B R E N D A N C A N1 T Y
nico muhly symphonic variations - americaâ€™s newest classical composer is stuck in iceland
frank unger searching for beauty in the hideous - provacative photography explores the beauty of violence
dan goldman stroke of luck - journies in abstract expressionism with Los Angelesâ€™ native son
micah ganske industrial evolution - exploring modern manâ€™s technological aspirations
tim simmons ordinary magic - capturing moments of natural mysticism with an unnatural process
paul andre fortier meddlesome movements - a choreographer braves the streets for thirty performances
s. a. andree s.a. - the self-generating mythology of a failed polar expedition 4
michal ajvaz island living - a fictitious travelogue reveals what we are missing
micheal rea fortress of solitude - inside the creative lair of a fantastical fabricator
benjamin nicholas witness to rite - photographs of our gentle teachers
kelsey brookes extra sensory perception - what ultra aesthethic art says about what we really desire
victoria jenkins trump lâ€™oiel - a photographerâ€™s slight of hand teaches us to not believe our eyes
brent green and brendan canty burning down the house - two artists breathe new life into the dead
the barefoot bandit the new (anti) hero - an idol for the next generation 5
H O P E
F O R
T H E
F U T U R E
A R T
The New Heroes
WHERE HAVE ALL THE HEROES GONE ?
As a society we appear to have outgrown the desire for an archetypal hero. Our collective disillusionment has replaced our need for champions. As happens in the change from childhood to adolescence we no longer believe in the symbols we once looked up to. The difference between this chasm in our societal psyche and the gap created by the actual maturation we undergo is that
as a culture we do not seem interested in the need to believe in these heroes. What happened to the way we once viewed explorers, war heroes, athletes, and the pioneers of new technology? The by-product of our progress as a species seems to be the production of disillusionment. Our need for complete and inclusive information has created an obscene urge within us to strike down anything that seems too pure, too good. What we prefer are figures like ourselves. Flawed. Human. Or even negative exaggerations of us. This need is apparent in our consumption of all media types: the reality TV shows that mindlessly seduce us; our appetite for immersion in the lurid details of our film stars lives; our obsession with the transgressions of the athletes we follow. While we are watching a new star on the rise we are simultaneously anticipating their inevitable fall. How did we end up here? Are our heroes not the men and women they once were? No â€“ of course they are the same as they have always been. It is we who have evolved. But all is not lost. Perhaps we have been focusing our energy on the wrong things. Instead of looking to the individual we should be looking at their achievements. In issue number two of The New Heroes we have set out to examine this new cultural direction
2 H O P E
F O R
T H E
F U T U R E
A R T Fall 2010
and to provide hope in identifying what we often fail to see in our attempt to fill the void left by the absence of our champions. Within these pages the iconic symbols of heroism are reexamined through a contemporary lens as we hypothesize what the modern incarnations of our traditional heroes would look like today. These explorations are the outcomes of our conversations with the artists - reflections on the concepts and impact of their art. In effect, these artists are our New Heroes. We look to their work for inspiration; for something to which to aspire. We hope to share that feeling of wonder with you, our readers. This issue includes much new art; original photographs of artistâ€™s spaces, self â€“ portraits by the contributing artists, and an original screenplay, just to highlight a few. In this way we hope to democratize an art world that is too often inaccessible. Through your purchase of this magazine you also become part of the creative process. The material in this issue is original work in a limited edition. It will not be reproduced in any other form. You hold in your hands not only issue number two but a unique piece of artwork. This is something tangible that everyone can afford to be part of. And that is our humble attempt at heroism.
We prefer figures like ourselves. Flawed. Human. Thomas & Ben
N Nico Muhly is trapped in Iceland
nd with the EyjafjallajĂśkull volcano showing no signs of relenting he may be stuck there
for a while. This is actually not a terribly uncomfortable reality for the twenty-eight year
old composer. He is well acquainted with some of the locals here, including Bjork, with whom he often collaborates. His record label, Bedroom Community, where he has spent the last few weeks plugging away at a new opera for English National, is also located nearby. So as much as he might want to return to his NYC apartment, things could be worse.
Nico Muhly is not traditionally what one would expect from a classical composer. For
one, his age alone contradicts the paradigm commonly associated with this profession. But also it is the breadth of references that Nico draws from creatively that sets him apart. It takes about 30 seconds on the phone with him to realize this. He draws from a sprawling array of cultural flotsam in conversation; from Youtube videos, to cooking, to intellectual copywriting. This mercurial aspect of his personality is something that has come to define his music, which conveys a similar sense of curiosity.
His latest full album release, Mothertongue (2008) is the synthesis of pop and post-
contemporary classical music. The work slowly builds a narrative of thematic elements that consist of vocal murmurings and musical passages. It is challenging to say the least, but the kind of challenging that rewards the listener for completing the journey alongside the composer. Nico has also created a number of film scores, including The Reader and Drawing Restraint 9.
It is the indefinable aspect of Nico Muhlyâ€™s work that is most intriguing. He seems willing
to try anything, and so far he has produced exceptionally well-crafted music in a number of genres. It is possible to recognize some influences in his music. For example, he does share a common love of technical musings with his long-time mentor Phillip Glass, yet he allows himself to whimsically follow creative urges when they present themselves. If this type of openness to such a variety of stimulus continues in his music, Nico Muhly will surely be creating exciting work for many years to come. Nico took the time to speak with me from his studio in Iceland while he waited for the ash to clear.
Photographs by Samantha Wes and Michael Schmelling
THOMAS : So, you’re stuck in Iceland right now?
THOMAS : What’s it like working in that capacity, with dance.
NICO : Yeah a little bit. Well flights are leaving now, finally, so I think I’m
NICO : Ben’s amazing. He has that exact combination of intellect and
going to get home tomorrow.
instinct that I just love. I find him to be a fabulous mover as well as a wonderful creator of movement. So I really liked providing him things to
THOMAS : It’s nuts that it just flared up again. Who knows when its going
react against. If that makes sense. I would give him things that I knew
he would know what to do with. Ben and I have worked on a bunch of
NICO : Well what’s sort of crazy about it is it has just been going since
different projects for the Paris Opera Ballet and we’re doing another one
April. I have been kind of inconveniently on tour in Iceland for the last
for Het National Ballet in the Netherlands. It’s an ongoing conversation.
month. So everything has been completely nuts here. We have probably spent more time on the ash cloud detector than anything.
THOMAS : Dance is commonly such a visual representartion of music. Do you find that you have a narrative in mind when you create music
THOMAS : Yeah, I just looked at that. The plume is just incredible it’s
stretching all the way to Greenland and into the other hemisphere.
NICO : Actually no. In general the best thing I can do is give Benjamin
NICO : It’s all totally crazy. Literally last month I put myself on the waiting
sort of iconic things. Like I would give him something that suggests two
list for the Queen Mary.
people on stage and then something that suggests ten people on stage or sixty
THOMAS : I’ve always wanted to do a
people on stage and then he can kind of
Trans-Atlantic voyage like that though. I
figure out the narrative. But for me its more
have these romantic ideas about taking
important to create environments than
a steam ship….
stories. I think also I am not particularly
NICO : Yeah me too. I was going to go
interested in narrative ballet. For me it
with one of my friends that’s a counter
kind of stops at Petrouchka if I want to go
tenor, and was like “this is going to be the
see a story.
most heavenly thing.” THOMAS : So when you talk about creating THOMAS : Yeah like watching those
environments for dance - is that process
old Marx Brothers’ movies where they
the same when you compose strictly for
spontaneously break into song.
an orchestra as opposed to dance?
NICO : I had all of these outfits set aside
NICO : Well, no, but they sort of inform
for it but then they said I could fly.
just concept music, where there is no THOMAS : It’s a bummer. So Iceland is kind
additional stimulus for the audience, you
of a home away from home for you?
can play with things to a certain extent.
NICO : Yeah totally.
You can sort of drone or make space where you want. The inclination is to do a
THOMAS : Is it the landscape that you find
lot more work to make it engaging. That’s
attractive over there?
not to say that ballet music isn’t sonically
NICO : A lot of different things, I think it’s a combination of elements.
engaging but you can be more risky and outrageous in the turns you
What I particularly enjoy is that everyone here is a musician, so there is
make and the places the music goes if it stands by itself.
this real culture of music thinking. And the idea of being somewhere to make music isn’t this pitiable thing. It’s an actual job. It’s also a really
THOMAS : When you sit down to compose a piece of music do you find
small community it reminds me of being in Vermont, which is where I’m
that your process is always similar?
from. There’s that kind of sense that everyone knows everyone. And
NICO : Well different things at different moments inspire me. I find that
you know everyone’s business and everyone is involved in everyone
the mechanical process of actually writing it is almost always the same.
else’s projects. And there’s this great exchange. I mean you could find
But the process of “inspiration” is always different and has a lot to do with
something like that in New York but it’s not necessarily the natural state
where I am or what I’m interested in at the time. If it’s a collaborative
thing its totally different because you want to make sure that you and your collaborators have an agreement about what’s going on or have
THOMAS : What’s it like working with a kind of more popular musician,
agreed to disagree. But the mechanical process has remained pretty
like Bjork, as opposed to someone in the classical realm?
similar to me over the last couple of years. It’s the same thing whether
NICO : Well I guess my understanding of it is that good music is good
your doing a film or ballet. The actual act is the same.
music. So for me it’s just kind of natural. The music that I listen to is the music that I want to work on. I’ve always found that to be the case -
THOMAS : Where do you draw “inspiration” from?
that whether its folk music or whatever – if you can find a path in, your
NICO : Well it depends. I’ve been really interested of late in small
welcome to stay. In a lot of situations collaborations with people mean
mechanical processes. People that are experts at doing one thing.
that you’re sort of in the service of their project. Which is good because
Like making dumplings or making noodles or sort of weird handicrafts
it’s a collaboration, and also a form of doing your job.
or knitting. Sometimes I’ll see some video online of someone fixing a telescope or something and become completely obsessed with it for
THOMAS : I saw you recently collaborated with choreographer Ben
months and months and months.
Millipied for American Ballet Theater. NICO : Oh yeah. I am doing something else with him right now
THOMAS : How does that translate into the writing of music?
NICO : It’s more about an environment. Watching someone do something
So were you drawn to the story or was the script brought to you?
and then scoring that like it was a movie. And then you just forget about
NICO : I was drawn to the story. Operas are very composer driven so it
the video – delete it pretend it never happened, and then you have this
was my baby. It will premeire in exactly one year.
score for something that you can’t see. And that’s kind of fun… Or you can mimic it. You can establish the same kind of rules for writing as there
THOMAS : Wow! So is this considered early stages?
are for doing the particular thing. If the process is making a hundred little
NICO : No no no. That is like really soon in the opera world. It’s like right
strips of dough, you can make the music have a hundred little bars of
something. You can be literal or very abstract. THOMAS : What kind of involvement do you have once the piece is THOMAS : Was composing something you always wanted to do?
NICO : I started late. I started playing piano when I was 11 and I started
NICO : Well if you’ve done your job the page contains everything that
composing when I was 13 or 14. It never really occurred to me that I
you need to know, so as a composer you don’t need to say much. And
could do this for a living – I mean its still kind of shocking that I can do
that’s kind of it. That’s all there is. But obviously I’ll be there probably
this for a living.
making insane little adjustments that only I’ll notice right up until the last second.
THOMAS : What did you want to do instead?
THOMAS : Is it scary to let it go out into
NICO : I wasn’t really sure. I was sort of
obsessed with copyright law weirdly. I
NICO : Yes. It’s terrifying. It’s completely
loved the concept of copywriting an idea.
But I am glad I ended up having nothing to do with that. I also did a degree in
THOMAS : Do you ever go back after a
English and thought that I would become
period of time and hear an orchestra
some sort of academic with a big beard
perform one of your works and notice
something that irks you about the way their portrayal has evolved?
THOMAS : So you ended up at Julliard and
NICO : You know I feel like I have an
then happened to become employed by
incredible luxury because at least half of
Phillip Glass. How did that come about?
the music I write is music that I play with
NICO : Well weirdly in that New York sort
my friends. And that stuff is constantly
of way – a friend of a friend of a friend
evolving. I was just on tour, and when
needed someone to do this very specific
you’re on tour a piece can develop and
thing - which was entering music for a
change from night to night to night so I
film score into this piece of software.
sort of get all of my nit-picky urges out on
Once upon a time there was this really
that material, so if I write something for an
complicated thing that you needed to
orchestra and I hear it five years after the
know how to do to sequence music to film scores – now you can just do
fact I am pretty chill about letting it go. It’s kind of interesting to see all
it in garage band – but before it was this really complicated thing and
of the choices that I made when I was a 21 year old.
I weirdly knew how to do it. And I just sort of met him through someone that had an emergency need for someone to do this thing.
THOMAS : How has your writing evolved over the last few years? NICO : I mean the biggest difference is when you’re young and you’re
THOMAS : Other than Phillip do you find that many other composers have
in that academic setting in school you sort of are writing assignments.
a bearing on your work?
You’re writing things to sort of test out levels in your body. And once you
NICO : I mean I think the answer is always yes, of course. You always
get commissions you have very specific tasks as to who you are writing
have enormous debt to dead people. I listen to everything. There is
for. I think in terms of the way the music has developed, I have become
nothing I don’t like. It’s easier to like everything then start selectively
a lot simpler after graduating. I used to try to pack a lot of information
into a small space. I think of it kind of in the same way as packing for a trip. Now I am kind of mature enough to pack for a month and just
THOMAS : Tell me a little about this opera you have coming up?
bring like two pairs of pants, whereas it used to be if I was leaving for a
NICO : Yeah it’s sort of a murder mystery that unfolds on the Internet.
month I would bring like my entire life. If I was writing a five-minute piece
Its basically one of the first publicized incidents of something occurring
I would cram like 6,000 ideas into it and at a certain point you learn to
online that ends up becoming physical. Someone assumed multiple
identities with the intent of confusing a lot of other people. And the violence that ensues in make believe becomes real. It’s also sort of an
THOMAS : Well I will let you get back to finishing the opera. I have to say
old fashioned opera in the sense that it has this very operatic trope of
I am excited that I caught you right at the end.
disguise and masks, which you can see back to Handel and Monteverde.
NICO : Yes! I am in the last two pages of this thing. It will premiere in Britain
Someone is always actually the prince in disguise. Its very operatic. And
at The English National Opera and then make its way to the U.S. You’ll
now we do it on chatrouellete or wherever.
have to come and see it!
THOMAS : Chatroulette as a post-modern opera! Libretto coming soon.
THOMAS : I will. I should probably leave on a steam ship soon…
S E A R C H I N G
F O R
B E A U T Y I N
T H E
H I D E O U S
Text by Thomas Nicholas
Fr a n k U n g e r d o e s n ’ t g i v e h i m s e l f e n o u g h c r e d i t. B y h i s o w n d e s c r i p t i o n h e i s an “aesthetic bastard”, and while his confrontational, often disturbing photos d o f i t t h i s d e s c r i p t i o n, h e i s c o n c e r n e d w i t h f a r m o r e t h a n j u s t v i s u a l c o n t e n t. His subject matter is challenging and strikingly well rendered, visually reminiscent at times of David LaChapelle or Terry Richardson. These photographers do share a similar aesthetic and a sense of humor concerning their subjects but where Unger diverges from this group is in his tact. His photographs retain a Scandinavian minimalist sensibility (which would make sense seeing as he hails from Finland) and it’s this simplicity in composition that allows the focus to not fall on aesthetics alone. His work at this point in his career seems to fall into two distinct categories; the mercurial, candid pictures and the more measured, fully composed thoughts. Frank Unger is still fresh out of University and the nature of his photographs do exhibit youth and mischief in abundance, but you can tell that there is much more going on than what he will admit to at first. It is this underlying layer to his work that first put him on the
radar during his final year at Novia University, when he began work on an ambitious final project – a study about the search for beauty in situations commonly defined by their cruelty. Electro-shock therapy, torture, racism, and religious persecution all fell within the realm of possibility for this series. What was created was not only a mature perspective on the extremes of human suffering but a set of quite beautiful photographs that challenge the conscience of the audience. Frank might not admit to the bravery involved in tackling a project like this (he is quite modest) but he surely cannot deny that it is about more than just aesthetics. The New Heroes caught up with Frank to talk about his series entitled Ars Amandi Violence, (The Art to Love Violence), how he reconciles his principals with the subject matter in his photos and how he persuades people to drop their pants.
To take away
someone’s suffering and make it into
can be considered
lack in judgment
THE NEW HEROES : How did it all start off for you? Have you always felt like an artist?
Can you tell me a little bit about the series you did exploring human cruelty? What sources did you draw from?
FRANK UNGER : I have always been a restless soul, and always had the ambition to create. Photography came in some way naturally to me, because my father is an amateur photographer and had his own darkroom at home when I was young. And if like me, you have problems creating beauty with your hands it’s easy to let the camera do the job for you.
Ars Amandi Violence (The Art to Love Violence) was my final work from Novia University of Applied Sciences. The work was an experiment about finding beauty where you thought it was impossible to find. The idea came to me when I was watching a TV-show about the pictures from the prison in Abu Ghraib. I started to think about one picture that showed a man in a hood standing on a box like a Jesus statue. I caught myself thinking that if you would take away the cruelty in this situation it would be possible to find some beauty in it. This was in many ways a struggle with my conscience. What I did in this work is in many ways cruel too. To take away someone’s suffering and make it into art can be considered a lack in judgment. But after some thinking about how the society is built by the film industry and other media, and making millions of dollars/euro on peoples suffering and also glorifying violence, I decided to complete the series.
Well that seems to be a bit modest. What was the first thing you remember capturing with your camera? My first “real” photo project was called “Therapeutic Exposures” and was built around me as a shy person that had problems photographing people, so I started out with no people in the pictures and gradually increased the social confrontation and ended up asking a guy if I could take a picture of his dick. With the persuasion that one-day this picture of your dick may be famous. That is powerfully persuasive. Do you think there is a similar theme to all of your work or something that you are always concerned with? I always have one constantly recurring rule when I make pictures or anything else “artsy” and that is beauty. I am a sucker for aesthetics. That is always the main thing, the idea always comes in second. And therefor I also call myself an “Aesthetic Bastard”. What artists would you credit in influencing your work? It seems in a contemporary sense there appear to be traces of Terry Richardson’s candid and confrontational aesthetic to what you are doing… Actually everything can in some way inspire or influence me to make pictures. Several times a really good hangover has turned into some good photos. Most of my friends are professionals in some kind of art: music, theatre, video, photography. I am convinced that we are all influenced by who we spend time with, it is good to hang around talented people. Talking about photographers who have influenced me in general, the Swedish photographer Anders Petersen is worth mentioning. I met him during my studies and he was the first one to have a real effect on me. In some way that meeting put me on a path somewhere.
Previous pages Frank Unger Self Portrait Abu Ghraib Facing Page From top left Dassadasd Sonja Self Portrait #2
I got some inspiration from war pictures, pictures based on historical events and even from comic books. The hard thing was to see past the suffering, being aware that it could be misinterpreted. But I think that people who see the pictures without knowing about the back-story, probably can enjoy the pictures more. That is the main aim of my pictures; to invite viewers to take part of the beauty I try to create. You mentioned being surrounded by artists in your homeland of Finland. Do you collaborate often with these artists? I am together with a small group planning and working on a exhibition in Helsinki (opening in August) We mostly make video art and installations. The subjects are about the small things in life. The last exhibition we made together was about “contact”. One piece we showed at the gallery was a video about a guy talking about the advantages of touching other people. The only way you could start the video was if you held hands with another person that was in the room. By transferring a small amount of electricity through our bodies the video started. Another work showed when we hit people in the stomach while we where filming their faces. This new exhibition we are working on will, in an ironic way, debate all the insurmountable difficulties people in industrialized countries have to cope with.
by thomas nicholas
an Goldmanâ€™s work as an artist is defined by a single stroke. A gestural record of his own unique experience with a piece that defines the work viscerally and contextually. This stroke is sometimes exhibited in its simplest form, in sumi ink, as the quintessential action
encompassing all that comes before it. Other times, the gesture is repeated over and over as it slowly morphs and reveals the saga of the painting. Dan works with a number of seemingly different mediums; ink, stencil and his own engineered paints, but for him the intent remains the same regardless of what tools he is using. His work is about the quest to solve an equation that presents itself during the outset of each process. Dan is an abstract expressionist painter. He creates expansive pieces that form their own topography through the simultaneously natural and self-inflicted manner with which Dan works. He describes each experience with a work as a problem that he sets out to solve.
The term abstract art can commonly illicit aversion for many people. Sometimes they
are misdirected by the simplistic nature and assume that the work is devoid of content. But
on following page
abstract work is simply devoid of a traditional narrative structure. Instead it presents a story of something more elusive. A study of the material itself, or a process, or in Danâ€™s case a physical record of his own journey with a work. Seen in this light abstract painting is extremely emotional and personal. His most recent paintings (what he refers to as cairns) are created through the painstakingly slow process of pouring paint and created textural layers through the combination of chance and his own assertion. The New Heroes spoke with Dan about these works and his upcoming show at L2kontemporary gallery in Los Angeles.
growing up in Ithaca, NY. I have spoken to a lot of artists for the past two issues that share this hometown, or some experience with it. I know that you are particularly fond of your current locale, Los Angeles. What is it about L.A. that inspires your work? It is a much more massive city than Ithaca.
from left untitled cairn #7 untitled cairn #4
THOMAS : I noticed that we have something in common. We both spent a large part of our youth
DAN : That’s what means so much to me about L.A. It’s the sense of randomness. Not being able to avoid surprises. As I keep moving through my career I always have this thought in the back of my mind about the appeal of living in a small town. If I could just get a house there and make stuff in the back it would be so cheap. Everyone around would be so lovely. But whenever I really go there, whenever I really go anywhere that’s not L.A. my creative impulses seem to dry up and I forget what the thing is I was going to make in the back of my house. THOMAS : It seems like L.A. is kind of in a class all its own. In terms of people it’s comparable to NYC or London but it’s a much more sprawling city than either of those. What do you get from L.A. in particular? DAN : It’s funny actually. It’s qualitatively different from any other city because all other cities are much more centralized. I don’t experience the sprawl the way other people do. Both of my parents were originally from here and I would come out a lot as a kid. So I have had meaningful experiences in every neighborhood in the city. When I drive from the
The thing is a
Burial Mound It literally lays someone to rest.
West to the East side it’s not like I’m driving through a bunch of suburbs of the one place that I know. I just feel like everywhere I go I’m still at home. I’ve lived in San Francisco and New York City but after I went to grad school I made a conscious decision to come to L.A. When I get off the airplane and I drive down into the flats of L.A. there is just something that instantly inspires me. All of a sudden I can remember all of those things I was going to make. I don’t know why, I just vibrate Los Angeles.
THOMAS : When I look at your body of work there seems to be a strong
the piece. And that was what “action” painting was all about, and Pol-
element of street art influence, a culture which is particularly prevalent
lack, who was a big influence for me. There’s something for me about
in L.A. in a way unique from other cities.
all art; whether it’s something visual or music or writing, where you have this sort of synesthetic experience, where what you’re reading or looking
DAN : Yeah I don’t spurn the “street art” label at all. I think what I do is an
at feels exactly like what it is. Where the audience’s experience crosses
amalgam of street art, graffiti, and extremely slow abstract expression-
over between the senses. You know what I’m talking about? When you
ism. It’s funny. When you visit New York you know where you’re going to
read a passage in a book and the language used sounds exactly like
see graffiti. When I was going there as a kid in the 80’s that was on the
what the writer is describing.
sides of the trains – these big beautiful pieces. You pretty much know the neighborhoods where people still write
THOMAS : Yeah, I know exactly. Last
– which ones are safe and which ones
week I was speaking to the composer
don’t allow you enough time to put up
Nico Muhly and he talked about how he
a piece. In L.A. because it’s so spread
writes music in a similar way sometimes.
out people are writing everywhere. It
He’ll take a person doing a really repeti-
creates that experience of turning the
tive thing, like a machinist or a baker
corner one day and seeing this large
that bakes the same thing 100 times a
piece and thinking, ‘You know what,
day in exactly the same way, and he’ll
when I was asleep someone wrote that
score their physical movement – the ac-
right down the street from me.’
tual motions they’re going through.
THOMAS : Something just dawned on me
DAN : Yeah! They refer to Hemmingway
while you were saying that. I remember
a lot as a synesthetic writer. That his prose
seeing the last gallery show that you did
is like the thock of a well hit golf ball. I
when you took over the whole space
think a lot of artists try to do that, kind
and were painting the entire space in-
of force empathy on their audience. For
side and outside the gallery, even on the
me, with the Cairns paintings, the thing
planters. You utilize not just the tradition-
that the paintings are abstracted from
al area associated with painting but the
and the process of making each work
space between those areas. Your can-
is exactly the same. The thing is a burial
vases are often connected by the wall
mound. It lays someone or something to
space in the gallery. Your work never
rest. I think a lot of abstract expression-
seems to be confined. That’s very similar
ism is about problem solving, and once
to the way that you describe L.A. – with-
you’ve made it to the end you’ve laid
out boundaries. The lack of confinement
the problem to rest. If you’re a mathe-
in your work mimics the feelings you
matician you write Q.E.D. at the bottom
have about your city.
of the page – you’ve solved the equation. That’s what the end product of each one of these paintings is like
DAN : Ha! It’s funny that you say that. I think that realization about my
for me and that’s what they mimic, or abstract. Something that literally
own work took me much longer to arrive at. I kind of just came to it last
lays to rest a person.
year. Until then I felt that I had these multiple strands of work. I do some pieces in sumi ink and I do some graffiti work and then also the pours,
THOMAS : Do you have a definitive moment when you feel this happen,
the poured paint on canvas. What I realized though is that these aren’t
when you know it’s done?
different at all. I feel exactly the same doing one as I do the other. What it really is is just a repetition of this single gesture. It’s the single gesture
DAN : Yes. It’s unbelievable. Actually my experience with my own work
essentially that becomes the whole piece. The sumi ink works are one
is the same as my experience with other peoples’ work. If something
gesture; usually you don’t go over it again. And with the canvas and
works, I feel like I can breathe when I’m looking at it and when it doesn’t,
paint it’s just the repetition of that one gesture. The fact that on canvas
I feel like I can’t. It’s a feeing I get right in my breastbone. I get it most
I’ve done that gesture so may times doesn’t change that it’s still just the
acutely with my own work, because I am more critical and obsessive
single gesture. It’s just done over and over again.
with my own painting but if I’m in a gallery and I’m having trouble with a painting I literally have the same feeling. It jams up my breath.
THOMAS : What is it about the gesture? Is it the physical movement? Or is the care that you take with each stroke?
THOMAS : Can you take me through the actual process you use in making these works?
DAN : I think the meaning of the gesture is that it’s a record. That passes to the surface of the work, whether it’s a canvas or paper or the wall. It’s
DAN : The beginning of the process for me is the blank canvas, and
a record of my movement. A record for me of what it was like to make
like I said, it’s all problem solving. This makes it sound colder or more
feeling I get right in my breastbone When something works I feel like I can
calculated than it actually is for me, but from step one I have a
THOMAS : So essentially the painting is about your struggle with the
problem. I start with layering black paint on the canvas in alter-
medium. And in the end it’s an acceptance of the painting’s as-
nating sections, but because I’m using a brush and because I’m
sertion back toward you.
human there is still a record of my brush strokes in the background. background and I decide what part of it needs covering up. Every
ing is a record of my experience. I make my own paints and ma-
time there will be a dimple or pull somewhere and that’s where
terials and I make them purposefully difficult to work with. They
I’ll start pouring. Each repetition is one pour and then I let that dry
have varying viscosity and they have more or less succeptibility
before going back in and filling the negative space, creating this
to cracking. There’s an artist named Carle Andre that uses these
topography. So where the paint once ran flat at the beginning it
beautiful tiles in a very minimalist way. According to him he had
now doesn’t do anything of the sort, and that creates more ur-
only one talent and that was that he chose the most wonderful
gent problems. I am left with a dwindling amount of time before
materials to work with and then he got out of the way. I feel like
the painting becomes overworked. I want to control as much as I
my process is the exact opposite. I choose difficult materials and
can. I’m a big opponent of the term “happy accident.” I think it’s
then I fight with them the whole time. Eventually, we reach this
used as an excuse for someone not knowing what they’re doing
kind of understanding where I’ve exerted enough of my person
or not being firm enough with their idea. But on the flip side there
on this piece and the materials have had their say also. I want the
really is a level of happenstance that I have to release myself to. It
element of human error.
makes me let go of this perfect idea that I had at the beginning. I’m forced to push and pull. I push in with my initial idea and then I’m pulled by what actually happens.
DAN : Exactly. And that’s what I mean by saying that the paint-
cairn #14 diptych #1
That’s the last time I use a brush in the process. I look at the black
M I C A H G A N S K E i n d u s tr i a l e v o l u t i o n Photos and Text by Ben Nicholas Interview by Thomas and Ben Nicholas
ome people never make it to their dream destination
vicariously through Internet photos and page
spreads in Atlas books. Even if we are lucky enough
Micah & Thomas at his L.I. City Studio
to find our feet planted at our coveted latitude/
Work in progress
longitude, chances are we’ll forget to take a deep
from the series
breath and let the moment sink in. We scramble
for devices deemed necessary to the imprinting of memories
e n j o y m e n t . Te c h n o l o g y o f t e n re s u l t s i n e x p e r i e n t i a l
Micah tacks a gigantic new painting to his
dislocation, so predominant in our culture that we
studio wall in Long Island City. He’s very excited
could ask the question, ‘Can we base the worth of
about his new work. Past themes undeniably take
a prospective experience on its potential for pho-
togenic moments?’ Picture travel agents, on the
w h o m M r. G a n s k e i s i n s i d e . H e a s t u t e l y o b s e r v e s
brink of obsolescence, selling framed pictures of
Yo s e m i t e Va l l e y t o s u p p l e m e n t a c t u a l v a c a t i o n s t o
but this time dramatically changes the perspective
from where we view it, so much so that my 50mm
Honeymoons.com lists Hawaii, where Micah
lens is unable to fit his entire painting into one
was born and raised, as the top vacation desti-
frame no matter where I stand in the studio. We’re
nation in the United States, (tourist concentration
situated a few thousand feet in the air at a bird’s
and natural beauty exist, inevitably intertwined).
eye point of view.
The website suggests visiting the Polynesian Cul-
ture Center before or after you shop at Hilo Hat-
ries of paintings from what a location means to
His commentary has evolved in this new se-
us, to what effect we have on a location. Micah
waiian fashion and gifts. In areas constipated by
is creating a series of massive paintings about our
tourists we often see historic artifacts share equal
importance with gift shop knick-knackery. Not only
be rendered as a sprawling aerial view, compiled
through the use of Google Maps, of an area where
also we refuse to leave empty-handed. Travelers
human-kind has had a disasterous impact. These
use the land for brief stints of pleasure and then
abandoned towns, ruined landscapes and pollut-
s a i l o f f , t h e i r r e t e n t i o n o f ‘ S u m m e r Va c a t i o n 2 0 1 0 ’
ed cities are all examples of industrialization gone
determined quantitatively by a thousand jpegs of
awry. Overlayed on these canvases will be mon-
strous shadows of what Micah calls “aspirational
and the half-dozen hot pink tank tops for friends of
technology”, the future hopes held by our society
that now loom over the wastelands.
BEN : I just showed our grandpa Google Maps. He’s about to be 90. It was an afternoon of pure fun. He went to all his aunts’ places. And he would go to all of their houses and they weren’t ever as big as they had boasted they were. It was an optical leap he wasn’t aware that the Internet could provide. MICAH : Did you show him Google Earth also? BEN : I haven’t shown him Google Earth. MICAH : Baby steps. This series is about locations that have been recently abandoned due to
catastrophes. This one is Centralia, Pennsylvan i a , t h i s o n e i s P i t c h e r, O h i o a n d t h i s o n e i s L o v e C a n a l , N Y. E v e r s i n c e I r e a d a b o u t C e n t r a l i a I have wanted to do a work about it. Until Beta maps started having birds eye photography I couldn’t get these images. Centralia in the early 60’s was a mining town. They had this huge coal vein that was accidentally lit on fire and experts at the time said it would cost about 2 million dollars to put the fire out, which by today’s standards is 15 million. So they asked, “well how long will it burn for?” and they said, “80 years”, and they thought, “oh well we’ll all be dead by then.” So it’s still burning. In the 80’s sinkholes started opening up in peoples backyards and then they unincorporated it from the state and everyone was bought out and they started bulldozing. But the crazy thing is that people still live there. The mayor still lives there and refuses to move. I love these images because you can see the remnants of where the houses used to be. It’s funny because all the houses are gone but the tombstones in the cemeteries a r e s t i l l t h e r e . P i t c h e r, O h i o w a s m o r e r e c e n t l y abandoned and you can tell because a lot of the houses haven’t been bulldozed. They had these mining deposits for decades and all of a sudden people realized,”Hey, we’re all getting sick because we are breathing all this shit downwind.” So that’s the same story. They were unincorporated and bought out.
And Love Ca-
n a l , N e w Yo r k i n t h e 2 0 ’ s w a s o w n e d b y o n e g u y who allowed a bunch of different corporations to dump their waste underground. Then, in the 80’s, the playground of the local school caved in. They kind of just let the kids keep playing in the rain and waste water because the dumping had happened so long ago that no one even remembered that it had happened. So everything got bulldozed. Greenpoint, Brooklyn is the only one that doesn’t fall into the abandoned category. But at the same time it’s so polluted that if it were anywhere else it probably would have been bulldozed a long time ago. There was one major oil spill but it was a constant and gradual contamination over decades. It’s so disgusting and extreme now that it seeps
one thing that art can still do
is inspire people w ith the w ork of one individual 32
into Williamsburg. And any time they make a new
MICAH : Right, its like rush Limbaugh said the day
building they have to put what amounts to a gi-
a f t e r, “ I w o u l d n ’ t b e s u r p r i s e d i f t h i s w a s p e r p e -
ant condom over the foundation because if they
don’t toxic fumes will seep up from the foundation.
ing.” It’s so crazy.
All these old buildings have families with kids that have neurological disorders. So this whole series
THOMAS : So, even before this series did you al-
will be called Tommorrowland. I love that 60’s idea
ways paint on muslin?
of the future. Now its 2010, and if you had asked them back then if this type of shit could happen
M I C A H : Ye a h . S o m e t i m e s I f o r g e t t o t a l k a b o u t t h e
people would say, “No, of course not.” That’s why
process. I’m a stain painter and I use all watered
the shadows that will be projected are what I would
down acrylic paint. I started developing the pro-
consider signifiers of aspirational technology, like
cess I use now in college and at the time I was
a satellite or radio tower or a N.A.S.A. launch pad.
painting on canvas. I wanted a finer tooth to it,
This one will have
and without priming a surface you can’t get as
the shadow of Captain Kirk.
smooth as muslin. So when I stretch the muslin it BEN : “Since then we’ve built bigger”
also lets me do more things because it absorbs the washes so much more than canvas. When I pres-
M I C A H : Ye a h . T h e i d e a f i r s t c a m e t o m e w h e n I
ent work I varnish the front and then I flip them
was watching a N.A.S.A documentary called For All
and gesso them. It makes them much more durable.
There was this one shot that someone
Once that happens they’re almost indestructible.
had taken from the top of a launch pad and the
I like the aesthetic it creates but also it would be
shadow of the launch pad was projected across
logistically impossible to make a painting this size
the landscape. So I thought, “Hey I could put that
without doing that. So right now is the first step in
a long process.
THOMAS : There are so many implications to that.
THOMAS : How big were your previous works?
The concept is so complex. MICAH : Well I decided a little while ago I’m just BEN ; I was flying to Vegas and they have all these
n o t a s m a l l p a i n t i n g p a i n t e r. I ’ v e r e c o m m i t t e d m y -
new planned residences where they have already
self to only making massive, monster size paintings.
And my process is designed to only make monster
there are no trees and no water and its like, “Come
size paintings, so why not. I also realized that I
Live Here!” There’s nothing good about those plac-
w a n t t o m a k e w o r k t h a t c a n r e a l l y i n s p i r e a v i e w e r,
s o s i z e d o e s m a t t e r. A l s o I t r y t o t h i n k a b o u t t h e
function of art and how fine art can be a catalyst THOMAS
for change in culture. But now I think it has kind
They built the framework of the houses and after
of been absorbed by pop culture and it seems like
the housing bubble burst they realized that no one
f i n e a r t i s j u s t a f a c e t o f p o p c u l t u r e . Yo u c a n g o t o
would end up living there. They just cut their losses
Gawker (the website) and one post can be about
and moved on.
Lindsey Lohan’s shaved beaver and the next post can be about the show at the New Museum. What
MICAH : That would be a good extension of this
does that say about art?
series. I want to apply for some grant money to do a road trip. There are a few locations that I
BEN : Well ever since Ashley Olson began dating
c o u l d n ’ t f i n d i m a g e s f o r. I t w o u l d b e n e a t t o v i s i t
some abandoned site. MICAH : Right... Who’s she dating? THOMAS : Well now there will probably be a whole area of Louisiana that will be rendered unusable
BEN : Ahh……ummmmm…. *** *****.
from the oil spill. MICAH : I thought Lindsey Lohan was dating **** MICAH : I still don’t really understand why it’s so
hard to plug a hole. BEN : Wait! That’s a good quote because that’s not BEN : Well its so far down and its so cold. If any-
exactly right. I don’t know who is dating *** ****.
thing it takes a disaster like this to create skepti-
I know its not Lindsey Lohan… but it doesn’t really
cism when deciding to do these things in the future.
But then again in a week they’ll probably say, “We have to keep drilling!”
MICAH : It’s some variation of that.
THOMAS : So when art is absorbed by pop culture does it dilute the power of it? MICAH : I don’t know it dilutes the power of it… but e v e r s i n c e Wa r h o l y o u s e e a r t i s t s t h a t h a v e a n
dustrialized studio practice. But that’s just like the Wa l - M a r t o f a r t m a k i n g . I t ’ s l i k e w h a t w e e x p e c t from any other type of pop culture. A lot more artists are adopting that type of studio practice. And a lot of them are not up front about it. BEN : Jeff Koons’ stuff is all outsourced. I went to Rockland, NY and saw people making these million dollar balloons out of metal. There are amazing craftsmen making these works. THOMAS
All the dot paintings are outsourced.
There is one girl that’s his best dot painter. MICAH : The place I came to in my thinking about art is that the one thing that art can still do that other things can’t in this commercialized popular culture, is inspire people with the work of one individual. The power of that individual to do something that’s just crazy and obsessive. Obviously, I don’t think painting is the only valid art form but I do believe now we should support and look up to art that is done by individuals instead of a factory. BEN : Well in the end I think people are going to be standing in front of this painting longer than they will be standing in front of a can of beans and sau-
F ro m t o p : Exi t St r a t e g y , Pi c t u r e s L a s t L on g er , Th e Fu l l Pi ct u r e
sage painting. People are going to look at this for a while because they are amazed by the concept of it or because they are picking out all the minute
your work is this interactive element that has ex-
details in the painting.
isted in your photographs and paintings of tourists where the viewer is viewing it through a camera
MICAH : I hope so. I mean I know I’m guilty of not
lens and now with this painting where the audience
spending time in front of art because most of the
finds landmarks and places they know.
time there is not a lot to see. M I C A H : Ye a h d e f i n i t e l y . O n e o f t h e t h i n g s t h a t y o u THOMAS : I walk through exhibits all the time.
can play with as a painter is the relationship of the viewer with the space you are creating through il-
MICAH : When my wife and I go to see a muse-
lusion. That’s always the first thing I think about
um show with her parents they stop and read EV-
when I am designing a painting. What does a viewer
looking at this mean for the concept of the paint-
And we’re just running
through like, “I know that, I’ve seen that…”
ing? A lot of my old work involved cameras and the tourism motif. That was because, to me, being
THOMAS : Our Dad reads everything…
on vacation is the main time when we purposefully interact with nature. The perversity is that we usu-
MICAH : Because people want to understand. I think
ally go out there with a camera and we’re medi-
there is this misconception about art that people
ating the whole thing.
For this series the idea is
And I don’t think that’s true. I just
that if you are actually experiencing this view your
think that they don’t care about work that seems
viewpoint makes it seem like you’re escaping these
to them to be purposefully difficult or work that
locations. When I do have a complete show I want
talks down to them.
to present them so that the viewer is three or four f e e t h i g h e r. M a y b e t h a t w o u l d g i v e t h e m a m o r e
THOMAS : It seems that the common thread to all