MARMCO May 2018 Toronto
CRISTIN TIERNEY GALLERY 540 WEST 28TH STREET, NEW YORK, NY 10001
Artist Statement Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins have practised sculpture, installation, and media art in Toronto as a collaboration since 2000
Jennifer Marman is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario. Daniel Borins is a graduate of McGill University. Both Marman and Borins also graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design. The work of Marman and Borins is often intervention basedâ€”situating the visual arts within the context of everyday life, while simultaneously referring to aspects of the history of twentieth century art. Their work also questions ideas pertaining to authenticity. By combining these threads, their projects identify tensions that arise in the politicization, historicization, and visuality of the artwork, often within the context of mass visual language, mass media, consumerism, and the way in which images circulate in the information age. Recent exhibitions of their work include their second solo show with Cristin Tierney Gallery in New York, and the final installment of a solo touring exhibition
entitled The Collaborationists in the spring of 2016. Produced by the Art Gallery of Hamilton and the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, the exhibition also toured to the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Art Gallery of Windsor. Some of their recent public projects include a recently installed sculpture for the new Humber River Regional Hospital, and multiple sculptures for a 1.2kilometer linear park in Vancouver. Marman and Borins regularly lecture at galleries and institutions, including recent engagements at Concordia University, the Tulane School of Architecture, and SOMA in Mexico City. Marman and Borinsâ€™ work is in the collections of organizations such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Art Gallery of Hamilton, the University of Toronto, the City of Toronto, and York University.
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Full Spectrum Shredded, 2017. acid free colored paper, acrylic. 45 x 90 x 3 inches (114.3 x 228.6 x 7.6 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Pixel Mist, 2017. acrylic on archival gesso board. 24 x 24 inches (61 x 61 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Expresso, 2017. acrylic on archival gesso board. 48 x 60 inches (121.9 x 152.4 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Ad Hoc, 2015. HD video. 7:36 minutes.
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Ad Havoc, 2016. HD video. 5:34 minutes.
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Person Place or Thing, 2017. HD video. 12:35 minutes.
Vanishing Point: A Brief Introduction to Marmco’s Vision of Vision By Tasman Richardson, with footnotes by Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins
Who serves? Who sees? Folding the relationship between the inanimate and the organic, the emotive hands of Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins elevate cold tools into virtual collaborators.1 Specifically, machine perception, designed to detect and relay optical inputs, operating at magnitudes beyond the complexity normally navigated by human perception.2 When Marman and Borins set out to create a new series of paintings, they began with a new way to paint. At first glance, the work might be mistaken for formalist color fields.3 However, it’s in the paintings’ mathematically rendered surfaces that a functioning performance is measured. Large surfaces of mechanically smooth, stroke-less color exist in
razor sharp segments, edge to edge; the result of a mosaic-style filtering that is unmistakably digital.4 Within seconds of congress with the surface, the eyes are radiated, as the colors coalesce. Have we seen this merging and feedback previously? Yes. With such aggression and persistence? Not likely, since these paintings have been bred and sorted into the strongest stock and boldest performers. The paintings are optical athletes, calculated by software as much as curated by the un-natural selection of Marman and Borins.5 The artists explain the need for this collaboration as the un-programmable quality of pleasing taste, which, for now, evades computers.6
In both series on view, Pixel Paintings and Frags, we compose our paintings on screens and use digital space as a precursor, thus contextualizing painting within the post-digital information age.
Do Androids See Electric Paintings? is positioned at the point in which digital technology has become familiar enough that its effects on vision can now be contemplated. With these works, we embark on a sci-fi-influenced line of inquiry. How has our vision been changed by the digital composition of images? How has color changed because of virtual color presented on digital computer screens? And if aura can be composed in the digital realm, can it be transmuted on to the canvas?
Referencing artistic forebears such as Josef Albers, Johannes Itten, and Ad Reinhardt, the paintings bring color theory into the 21st century by evoking compressed images, computer screens, and video game landscapes. The language of this abstraction originates in the visual particles of computer images: the pixel. The paintings are ambiguous in their resolution, leading us to question: is one section a pixel? If we were to zoom in or out, would the works still retain a visual vibrancy and energy?
As a result of laborious color mixing studies, the works exist in a realm between the digital and the real. Some viewers ask whether the paintings are made by machine, but of course this would be impossible. Machines cannot choose colors, and compositions, and then deploy them so subtly and with such uniform manner. By removing the chance gesture, we depart from romantic considerations of painting and art as being divided from the virtual world.
The notion of the quality of taste can be explained more by looking at our sculptures. Similar to the way that the paintings question whether we can attribute aura to the virtual realm, the sculptures blur the lines between real and representation. In science fiction narratives like Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the construction of simulated reality is sometimes interrupted by a symbol of the real world to remind the character of his or her humanity. In the case of this exhibition, this simulation takes the shape of the 3D printed cacti that sparsely populate the gallery. The cacti interrupt the space, adding a peculiarity that inserts the question of the un-programmable quality of taste into our understanding of what these works are. Taste, after all, is not a quality that can be programmed into a computer; it requires human input.
As a public, we have grown fairly accustomed to these systems, from the innocuous to the fatal. A grocery door gapes wide at our approach. Eyes without a face circle and scan the landscape until a target is acquired and destroyed. Marshal McLuhan described art that repurposed these technologies as an “early warning system”— a tremor that hints at the great quake to come.
You use a tool. A machine uses you. Marman and Borins present the evidence of this ongoing cross-pollination that softens the lines, blurs the edges, and allows us to peer into the coalescing future of possibilities.9
As far as technology is concerned, art is often at the bottom of the food chain. A breakthrough arrives, so novel that its strangeness overpowers the need for content entirely. With prolonged exposure, the novelty wanes, giving way to nuance. Reuse, overuse, and, eventually, decadence follows, until every expression is reduced to homogeny.7 At last, tempered by the cycle of consumption, the husk is handed down to the artist. Finally, it can be misused, reinterpreted, and re-contextualized until it yields a cultural value.8
Published on the occasion of the artists’ exhibition Do Androids See Electric Paintings? at Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York, on May 6–June 11, 2016.
Most artworks today are transformed via digital media—recorded, or scanned—from the real to the digitized. In contrast, Do Androids See Electric Paintings? takes as its premise the reversal of painting; these paintings pre-exist in the virtual and then they are painted. Here they question the technical, asking: is the technical excellence? Or is it mechanical prowess? Are the artists performing as machines? These works invite us to question whose contribution to their creation—human artists or computerized machine—ultimately lends more to their exalted status as artworks.
With these recent works, we have found a metaphor for our collaboration and vision. They simulate a vision without mind, or a sort of computational form of observation, and we combine it with (a simulation) of an emotionally potent gaze.
While we first began the basis for this series several years ago with installation and electronic works, the exhibition Do Androids See Electric Paintings? represents the culmination of our ideas about technology and the divide between objectivity and subjectivity. In this exhibition, the works are positioned to allow for contemplative viewing, optical effects, and visual phenomena caused by the eye. The paintings oscillate and are atmospheric; they fade and recede. In many cases the paintings show signs of defined sectors, planes, and fields, only to merge and combine into a single whole. The exhibition asks: is there something universal in the works and the visuality they possess, or is there something detached and mechanical that makes them function in our human visual realm?
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Blue Green Window, 2016. acrylic on archival gesso board. 24 x 24 inches (61 x 61 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Green Shade, 2016. acrylic on canvas. 60 x 72 inches (152.4 x 182.9 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Orange Wave, 2015. acrylic on canvas. 60 x 48 inches (152.4 x 121.9 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Stella Blue, 2016. acrylic on canvas. 72 x 60 inches (182.9 x 152.4 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Video Tron Opuntia, 2016. 3D print (sandstone, acrylic plastic), lacquer coated fiberglass cylinder, Japanese sand. 39 Â˝ x 18 Â˝ x 10 inches (100.3 x 47 x 25.4 cm).
The Collaborationists: To Avant-Garde or Not To Avant-Garde By Christian Viveros-Fauné
Some day it will have to be told how anti-Stalinism, which started out more or less as Trotskyism turned into art for art’s sake and thereby cleared the way, heroically, for what was to come.1 —Clement Greenberg, “The Late Thirties in New York” (1960)
A specter is haunting art today—the specter of the avant-garde. All the powers of postmodern art and industry have entered into a holy alliance to enthrone this specter: Art Basel and the Frieze art fair, October and Artforum, the mass media and newangled global financial powers, as well as several generations of artists, curators, gallerists and museum directors for whom facile market ironies routinely prove an uncritical pole star. The avant-garde today remains one of the least understood, most easily accepted verities in a vast sea of received cultural assumptions. The truth, of course, is that there has long been little agreement amongst cultural theorists as to its actual meaning. At its most essential, the avant-garde is a military metaphor, a vanguard—the shock troops of art making. Groundbreakers, pioneers, progressives, the cutting edge: whatever its euphemistic replacement, the avant-garde is expected to lead the way from the past into the future of art. Yet the very idea of the avant-garde has been in flux for 1
more than a century. A term commonly used to refer to people or works that are experimental, innovative or even bizarre—particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics—the avant-garde also refers quite early and explicitly to the promotion of radical social reforms. This, in any case, was the primary meaning invoked by the phrase’s inventor, the Saint Simonian Socialist Benjamin Olinde Rodrigues. Writing in his 1825 essay, “L’artiste, le savant et l’industriel,” (“The artist, the scientist and the industrialist”), Rodrigues utilized a then familiar term of revolutionary politics to speak to what was a primarily literary-artistic context. Let the artists “serve as [the people’s] avant-garde,”2 he wrote, arguing further that “the power of the arts is indeed the most immediate and fastest way”3 to social, political, and economic reform. Since then, assorted authors like Renato Poggioli, Clement Greenberg, and the German literary critic Peter Burger have dissected the ways in which the avantgarde has slowly but actively ditched the ideal of social reform—first for aesthetics and, more recently, for a
Clement Greenberg, “Avant Garde and Kitsch,” in Art and Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965), 3.
Matei Calinescu, The Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987), 103.
love of the market. Burger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974), for example, speaks to one of art’s last attempts to justify progressive art on the grounds of an extremely limited idea of social activism: namely, institutional critique. Arguing that the cultural establishment’s embrace of socially critical artworks suggests an active complicity with late capitalism, Burger wrote simply that “art as an institution neutralizes the political content of the individual work.”4 Harold Rosenberg, writing at about the same time as Burger, proved even more final when he quite correctly observed that by the 1960s so-called progressive culture had ceased to fulfill its former adversarial role. Flanked by what he called “avant-garde ghosts” on one side, and a rapidly evolving mass culture on the other, art in his words had instead become “a profession one of whose aspects is the pretense of overthrowing it.”5 Fast forward five decades. At a time when the global state of the arts is best described by the phrase “the commercialization of the avant-garde,”6 few artists or artist collaboratives would seem better prepared to deal with the past ideals, present day fictions, and future possibilities of the avant-garde than a Canadian duo with the oddly officious handle of Marman & Borins (they sound at once like a law firm and a Las Vegas lounge act). A pair of artists who have outright decided to title this exhibition The Collaborationists, they embody what Robert Storr—in a discussion about the merits of certain artist careers vis a vis the market and mass culture—has characterized as the elusive position of the necessarily wily, autonomous contemporary artist. Referring to what the critic and curator has termed the working paradigm of “being a fox within your own aesthetic,”7 Storr has characterized the shifting stances of artists like Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Dave Hammons as belonging to a creative type he has christened “Mr. Inside-Outside.”8 In the case of Marman & Borins, this exhibition presents the cagy case of a savvy Canadian duo offering a collaborative variant of Storr’s famously self-directing exemplars: Mr. and Ms. Inside-Outside.
But let’s start by taking Marman & Borins at their word. “As the title suggests,” the artists asserted in one communication to this writer, “The Collaborationists combines the artistic act of collaborating with the narrative insinuations and overtones of collaborating with the enemy. A series of confrontations ensues: the artists position works that face and efface each other; connote and quote each other; all through an extended set of art platforms acting as thematic references… in the context of these symbiotic relationships.”9 I have quoted at length here because the idea of symbiosis among critically discursive art works in a single exhibition is key to understanding Marman & Borins’ method—especially if one considers the possibility of expanding that metaphor of critical symbiosis beyond the exhibition to art and its institutions, institutions in general, and finally to the social field itself. The result easily turns both maddening and exhilarating: per Rosenberg’s diagnosis, Marman & Borins relegate the act of critique to an “effect,”10 enacting the tropes and figures of the avant-garde while displaying a studied historical skepticism in the process. For the duo, art and politics at the start of the 21st century is not merely “post-revolutionary,”11 it is elusively post-political—at least in the sense in which orthodox North American conceptualism and political art continues to propound the illusion of activism through mere art world critique (for it’s opposite, consider the current politics of a contemporary artist like Ai Weiwei, or the 1960s artistic interventions of Uruguay’s Tupamaros guerrillas). According to Marman & Borins “art is a project, and we are project artists, working within our own vocabulary,”12 which for them means, essentially, that they treat art as a generative process, an evolving practice of problem-solving that in turn gives way to a daisychain of visual and critical confrontations. Within that practice, one thing stays steady: their desire to bring the unquestioned ideological tenets of contemporary visual art and visuality into full visibility.
Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Manchester University Press, 1984), 90.
Harold Rosenberg, The De-definition of Art (University of Chicago Press, 1983), 6.
Christian Viveros-Fauné, “Artmaggedon: How Uptown Money Kills Downtown Art,” The Village Voice, February 6, 2013.
Robert Storr, conversation with the author, January 24, 2013.
Marman & Borins, communication with the author, February 12, 2013.
Ben Portis, “Finders Keepers: Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins’s Post Revolutionary Take on the Vernacular,” Canadian Art, 116-120.
Marman & Borins, communication with the author, February 12, 2013.
“On a thematic level,” Marman & Borins have declared, “we wish to express an underlying tension in the exhibition of ideas surrounding anti-capitalism/ imperialism and our discomfort with the indifference that broad sections of the art world has with issues of power and subordination. Yet we have been critical of anti-capitalism, and anti-form as a way of critiquing globalization, capitalism, and marketization in an indirect manner—by continuing to produce art with a style that is somewhat peculiar to our practice.”13 That style is often playful, accessible, object-centered and mercifully free of the sort of radical pretense that accompanies work with orthodox avant-garde pretensions. (Greenberg’s quote regarding the lineage of Trotskyism, through art for art’s sake, and onto socalled advanced art is particularly germane here.) Consider, for example, a work like Google, a kinetic interactive sculpture whose cartoon eyes follow people around the room the way the gaze of the Mona Lisa is supposed to mysteriously track a viewer’s movement. A work that makes a capacious, humorous metaphor of current notions of surveillance, the invasiveness of data mining, and even of the illusions of renaissance perspective, Google provides what Marman & Borins call a “mechanized scenario that works,”14 while drawing age-old connections between art and technology that remain relevant to this day (consider, for example, the connections between gaming and drone technology). The end result is “a critique of a critique,”15 where the utopia of total information access itself engenders the purportedly friendly pop-eyes of total surveillance. A second work to confront the ideas of the artistic avant-garde with technology’s expanding real life control is Black Boxes—a room-sized installation containing six humming, metallic black boxes fenced off by wire mesh and set under bright fluorescents. Equal parts mock computer terminal and minimalist death star, the work alludes to the necessary hermetism shared by both avant-garde art and technology in an environment increasingly pitched away from radical social thought and toward capitalist instrumentalization. A potent visual metaphor for an inversion of values in both science and art, a work like Black Boxes represents, above all else, the latent possibilities inherent in any human advance to engender its opposite.
An argument made even more literal in Shredded Rectangles—redacted and shredded data in paper form encased inside clear plastic rectangles—Marman & Borins’ work make actively explicit the connection between the official repression of knowledge by governments to the once elite codifications of Jackson Pollock’s allover paintings. Marman & Borins go so far as to suggest that the latter’s paintings, created during the heyday of the American avant-garde, contain the authoritarian kernel of the former. Both argue physically and virtually for control of access over knowledge— a position that may be avoided only by the constantly refreshed lesson that, in art as well as in life, extremes meet and, in so doing, radically change their respective natures. An artistic position remarkable for its flexibility and continuous self-scrutiny, Marman & Borins’ artistic practice at once seriously questions and advances the age-old avant-garde project. No so much privileged as selectively interrogated for inevitable gaffes and inconsistencies, their extension of artistic and social critique proves mobile, open-ended and constructively skeptical. As conditional as any other kind of knowledge, the revelations this duo arrive at on a project by project basis establish a shifting position that constantly questions its own radical premises. Few evolving artists projects establish better footing for a reflexive, cleareyed adoption of a forward-looking, historically astute, 21st century avant-garde.
Published on the occasion of the artists’ exhibition The Collaborationists at Art Gallery of Hamilton (June 12–September 29, 2013); The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (November 16, 2013–January 26, 2014); Southern Alberta Art Gallery (February 15–April 13, 2014); and Art Gallery of Windsor (April 22–June 5, 2016).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Pavilion of the Blind Painting 12, 2013. acrylic on linen. 18 x 22 inches (45.7 x 55.9 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Pavilion of the Blind Painting 09, 2013. acrylic on linen. 18 x 22 inches (45.7 x 55.9 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Blinds 06, 2013. acrylic on canvas. 48 x 48 inches (121.9 x 121.9 cm).
Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Input Output 02, 2013. acrylic on canvas. 36 x 36 inches (91.4 x 91.4 cm).
Photography credits: Etienne Frossard – pp. 20-21, 26-27, 32-33 John Muggenborg– pp. 38-39 Rafael Goldchain – pp. 44-45, 48-49, 52-53
Cristin Tierney Gallery 540 West 28th Street New York, NY 10001 212.594.0550 www.cristintierney.com