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18 SHOW OF THE TIMES Night Fever at Vitra Design Museum 23 NOW SHOWING Cleveland Accra Naples Arles Zurich 30 NEW ESTABLISHMENT Urara Tsuchiya Tom Lovelace 40 ART MIX What’s the Worst That Could Happen? 10 Questions with JW Anderson Ben Eastham I’m Not OK (I Promise) Angst Underground Mel Byars Federico Florian Happy by Design 65
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Nightclubbing, Bright-Light Clubbing Where does the nightclub stand, in the age of clean living and tech-enabled hookups? An extensive exhibition at Germany’s Vitra Design Museum charts the development and ever-changing aesthetics of nightlife—from 1960s design experimentation, to the rise of disco in the 1970s and the role of the club in twenty-first-century life.
© CHEN WEI / COURTESY OF LEO XU PROJECTS, SHANGHAI
Words: Rosalind Duguid
Show of the Times
Opposite Chen Wei In the Waves #1, 2013 This page, from top Akoaki The Mothership Mobile DJ booth, Detroit, 2014
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Discotheque Flash Back Borgo San Dalmazzo, c 1972 Interior Design: Studio65
Nightclubbing, Bright-Light Clubbing
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Opposite page, from top Assemble Newcastle Stage at Horst Arts & Music Festival, Belgium, 2017 Gruppo UFO Night Shelter for the Beach Rescue Camels, Bamba Issa, 1969 This page Cerebrum, New York, 1968 Interior and media design by John Storyk
“The contemporary picture of clubbing is complex and contradictory,” explains Catherine Rossi, the co-curator of Night Fever: Designing Club Culture 1960–Today, a long-running exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, which continues through the summer. “Clubs have been replaced by festivals, bars and pubs, and changes in lifestyle and social behaviours have seen people swap the dancefloor for the gym and the dating app. Yet despite these closures, new spaces are still opening and raves and parties are continuing to appear.” The extensively researched exhibition, curated alongside Vitra’s chief curator Jochen Eisenbrand and Nina Serulus of ADAM in Brussels, serves to celebrate this “persistent impulse to go out at night, to carve out spaces for excess and escape” and position the nightclub as one of most important places of design innovation in contemporary culture. The show considers many different spaces—from Italy’s iconic 1960s Piper Club, through to New York’s famously hedonistic and star-studded Studio 54 and today’s Berlin favourites Tresor and Berghain—and takes in a host of
Nightclubbing, Bright-Light Clubbing
lesser-known, bizarre and much celebrated establishments along the way. It is not just the physical architecture and interiors of these spaces that is interrogated, but also the ephemera and music that brings them to life. Night Fever pays particular attention to those erring on the wacky side, for example Montreal’s 1964 club Le Drug: a meeting of pharmacy, gallery, restaurant, library and disco with a clinical white interior—the idea for the exhibition came about after Rossi’s own interest was sparked by an image of a vegetable garden planted in Florentine nightclub Space Electronic. While the exhibition surveys nightclub design in all its techy, sweaty glory from a range of countries including the US, UK, China and South Africa, Rossi acknowledges that it cannot tell the whole narrative. “There are hugely rich and diverse club cultures out there,” she explains, “and we hope that Night Fever serves as a platform for others to do their own research into these.” “Night Fever: Designing Club Culture 1960–Today” runs until 9 September at The Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany
CAITLIN LONEGAN June – August 2018
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AROUND THE WORLD IN FIVE ART CITIES
© COCO AMARDEIL
The art world is undeniably more fun when the sun comes out. This summer, take a trip to the classic holiday destinations of Arles and Naples, or head to less expected pastures for Cleveland’s triennial and Accra’s booming cultural scene.
Around the World in Five Art Cities
CLEVELAND If you ask the average tourist what brings them to Cleveland, Ohio, they will most likely cite the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a mammoth building on the waterfront which celebrates the artists who define the genre, from Chuck Berry to Black Sabbath. However, this Rust Belt city has much to experience beyond guitar music. The first edition of Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art (14 July–30 September) hopes to highlight the expanse of cultural options in the city, as the sticky summer heat sets in. The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA) serves as one of the event’s main sites, with solo shows from Cyprien Gaillard, Johnny Coleman, Lin Ke, Josh Kline and Martine Syms. Lin Ke presents a new augmented and virtual reality commission, while Syms shows her existing piece An Evening with Queen White. This multi-channel video installation has a fitting music-infused edge in the form of the fictional heroine: a Motown star. For Andria Hickey, senior curator at the museum, this signifies one of the many ways that the triennial embeds itself in the city’s legacy and the wider landscape of the once-prosperous region. “Cleveland is the perfect place to learn about the history of America,” she explains. “[You can] trace the way that people settled in the Great Lakes region
at different points of time––from the early Western Reserve settlers to those travelling during the decades of the Great Migration, to the settlements of steel mill workers and engineers from eastern Europe and beyond.” It is a sentiment shared by Felton Thomas, Jr, who is executive director and CEO of the Cleveland Public Library, “Cleveland was a leader among cities that welcomed immigrants, with nearly a third of the population being foreign born. These communities’ influence on our architecture and infrastructure can be found throughout the city.” Fittingly, the library has invited Yinka Shonibare to celebrate this legacy with The American Library, a new iteration of his batikfabric book collections which draw out immigrant narratives that are so often overlooked. The triennial extends far beyond the familiar waterfront. Over in Ohio City, the Transformer Station hosts Stephen Willats’s multimedia installation Human Right. It was originally conceived in
Middlesbrough, England, but grapples with universal concerns of community and social responsibility. Similarly, AK Burns unveils a new sculpture project that investigates divisions and conflicts in urban communities, informed by the regeneration of the local area. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that Ohio City has a new, booming craft beer scene. Top recommendations come from Fred Bidwell, executive director of the triennial; “If you are looking for a deep dive, favourites include Platform Brewing, Market Garden Brewery and Saucy Brew Works.” Even further afield, the Akron Art Museum presents a plethora of international artists who consider similar issues surrounding urban living, and the sociopolitical forces that define city existence. Walead Beshty presents his photographs of the abandoned Iraqi Embassy in former East Berlin; Woody De Othello exhibits his series of semi-anthropomorphic ceramics and Katrín Sigurdardóttir brings together architecture and archaeology by planting her sculptures made of Icelandic, volcanic clay around Akron and Cleveland. Placed directly in the earth, they will evolve with the natural fauna and become part of the Ohio landscape, as a permanent memento of this expansive festival’s inaugural edition. (Holly Black)
Previous pages Coco Amardeil Come Hell or High Water, 2017 This page, from top Woody De Othello Faceless Face Jug, 2016 Ceramic, underglaze, glaze and paint 122 × 79 × 40.6 cm Woody De Othello No Nose Knows, 2017 Ceramic, underglaze, glaze, latex 142 × 46 × 43 cm
ACCRA Accra is a city on the rise. The Ghanaian capital’s booming economy, bolstered by the country’s oil production and cocoa exports, has seen overseas investment, tech start-ups and a swathe of new cultural endeavours encompassing art, poetry, music, film and fashion in recent years.
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GALLERY 1957, PHOTO BY NII ODZENMA
This page Serge Attukwei Clottey and GoLokal My Mother's Wardrobe, performance at Gallery 1957, 6 March 2016
Gallery 1957 is a highlight in Accra, which was founded by collector and construction entrepreneur Marwan Zakhem in 2016. It is named after the year Ghana gained independence and focuses primarily on significant West African artists including Modupeola Fadugba, Serge Attukwei Clottey and Godfried Donkor. Although the gallery might be situated in the Kempinski Hotel, within the glitzy new development of Gold Coast City that presents itself as Accra’s new downtown, Zakhem encourages tourists to explore as much as they can. “The art scene continues to flourish and there is a strong atmosphere of citywide creativity with artist-led projects, performances and community events happening,” he explains. With this broad community in mind, Zakhem was keen to make sure his gallery was relevant to the existing infrastructure, and he can rattle off a long list of other influential institutions such as the renowned Artists
Alliance gallery in the beachside neighbourhood of Labadi and Accra [dot] Alt, a multifaceted organization which coordinates the annual Chale Wote Street Art Festival (20–26 August). This Jamestown event invites over 200 local and international artists to take part in producing murals, workshops, interactive installations, film screenings, fashion shows and a whole lot of partying. The area, once described by London-based chef Zoe Adjonyoh as “Hackney Wick on steroids”, is one of the city’s oldest districts and exemplifies the opposing sides of life in Accra, with remnants of a colonial past and one of the highest rates of poverty in the city. “You’ll see difficult memories of the past written in the architecture of places such as Ussher Fort in Jamestown,” says Zakhem. “To really experience it you have to embrace both parts, old and new. Accra is a forward-moving city and one that definitely knows how to have a
Around the World in Five Art Cities
good time.” With that in mind, be sure to sample as much as possible from the abundance of food stalls, and for drinks, recommendations include JamesTown Café or the JayNii beach bar. In nearby Osu, another energetic area known for its fashion boutiques and trendy eateries, you will find ANO, which is an ambitious new arts hub. It features exhibition spaces, a library and a screening and performance area, with a programme dedicated to showcasing established and emerging talent, as well as the region’s heritage and untold histories. Fittingly, it is only a few moments from Independence Square, built to commemorate the country’s emancipation. Also known as Black Star Square, due to the motif that sits above a huge ceremonial arch and Ghana’s attribution as the “Black Star of Africa”, it features enormous modernist viewing stands and the Eternal Flame of African Liberation, lit by Kwame Nkrumah, the country’s first president. (HB)
NAPLES Like its northern relative, Turin, Naples has a rapidly developing contemporary art scene, where the overwhelming opulence of Italy’s artistic past is not so loud as in Rome, Venice and Florence, and galleries offer handsome spaces and languid residency opportunities.
The city also has a wide range of museums, including the Madre Museum which sits in the city’s historic centre and was renovated by the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza. Expect to find Koons, LeWitt and Serra in the collection. You can also discover an unlikely celebration of plastic in Naples, at the Plart—a museum dedicated to the now rather controversial material. Here we see the creativity of the stuff, from bags and electronic devices to the works of Haim Steinbach and Tony Cragg, and there is a multimedia lab which explores the links between science, art and design.
Of course, you will want to eat to bursting point while you’re in the city. Thomas Dane’s Naples gallery director, Federica Sheehan recommends the Taverna dell’Arte, which has been somewhat of an institution for artists and intellectuals over the years, and which opened in 2017 following restoration. Expect dishes such as octopus and wild fennel spaghetti, and over-order massively, as you should in Italy. (Emily Steer) This page Glenn Ligon Study for Debris Field #7, 2018
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND THOMAS DANE GALLERY
For turisti around the world, Naples conjures visions of the nearby Sorrento and Amalfi Coast, straining under the weight of heaving sweaty bodies around summertime, come to gawp at the impossible natural and manmade beauty of the area which now finds itself packed with cruise ships and selfie sticks. More recently, an opposing yet no less uninviting vision of the third largest Italian city can be found in Matteo Garrone’s TV show Gommorrah, based on the 2006 non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Roberto Saviano, which delves into the cut-throat (quite literally) Neapolitan mafia. The reality of the place, for the majority of travellers, can be entirely different—best to avoid the tourist-trap of the crammed coastline in high season and head for the city, which shuns the grand romance of Rome and Florence, for something a little grittier (although, let’s be honest, by non-Italian standards it’s still pretty idyllic). “Naples is an Italian city, that is for sure, but it is one positioned between several worlds: east and west, north and south, a glorious past and a turbulent present. As an artist I find inspiration in places where worlds collide. There is a kind of truth there,” says Glenn Ligon. The American conceptual artist is showing in Naples until the end of July at Thomas Dane Gallery. The space opened in January of this year, on the first floor of the nineteenth-century Casa Ruffo in the Chiaia district. It operates not just as a gallery, but also a project and residency space, offering artists the opportunity to engage with the city and have a chance to slow down. This is Ligon’s first solo exhibition in Italy, which borrows its title, Tutto Poteva, Nella Poesia, Avere una Soluzione / In Poetry, a Solution to Everything, from a line in one of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s poems. He also shows two works which have taken their cue from “Stranger in the Village”—a 1953 essay by James Baldwin which incidentally was also an inspiration for Rashid Johnson during his residency at Somerset’s Hauser & Wirth.
There is a long artistic history in Arles which far surpasses the city’s links with Vincent van Gogh (the Dutch artist stayed in Arles following his self-inflicted aural autopsy and the city now has two art spaces in his name). Summer is the time to visit when the inimitable Rencontres de la Photographie floods the city with unbeatable photography exhibitions from 2 July until 23 September. Start the day with a coffee at the Place Paul Doumer (or a pastis depending upon the time you begin). From here you are spitting distance from the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles, a spectacular feat of recently refurbished architecture that doesn’t limit itself to idol worship of its namesake. Two exhibitions are running until 28 October—a Paul Nash solo show and a group show Soleil Chaud, Soleil Tardif. Les Modernes Indomptés featuring work by Giorgio de Chirico, Germaine Richier, Joan Mitchell, Etel Adnan and Sun Ra. Take a lunch break at L’épicerie du Cloître, nestled between the old Roman theatre and the main square, for the finest terrace boozing the south has to offer. It will soon become clear that Les Rencontres de la Photographie swallows up the entire city. This edition operates around the theme “Return to the Future”, traversing different time periods as a salient reminder of the role of photography in capturing recent history’s biggest upheavals. Highlights include Goddard & Picasso Collages, an exhibition which marries together two of the most iconic
© DANIEL TEPPER AND VITTORIA MENTASTI
Arles is a funny city, large swathes of it feel like you’re walking through a Hollywood set—painted shutters, blossom trees with deep boughs, shiny cobble stones, deserted streets. In other parts, visitors are reminded of its less polished industrial history. In summer, the Rencontres de la Photographie brings the French city’s cultural scene to life.
figures from the twentieth century, and Une Colonne de Fumée, a look at the contemporary Turkish photography scene. The Luma Foundation, still in a state of undress (due to be completed in 2019), is an inch removed from the tight nucleolus of the city. It hosts a number of satellite exhibitions attached to the festival throughout the summer. Apex by Arthur Jafa, a short film centred on questions of universalisms and Afro-American culture, will show for the first time in France at the foundation, while elsewhere in the sprawling complex Gilbert & George: The Great Exhibition is on display, with a provocative silliness that feels deliciously at odds with the prim provinciality of Arles. If you’re visiting during the month of July, don’t miss the LA Dance Project. The collective are in residence at the LUMA Foundation throughout the month, punctuating their stay with weekly late-night, open-air performances featuring new choreography by Benjamin Millepied. For those who have reached saturation point, dinner should be taken at Le Galoubet, with local produce, a
Around the World in Five Art Cities
vine-draped terrace and regional wines from the caviste next door. For those with higher endurance levels, hop on a train and head twenty minutes north to Avignon where the famed theatre festival is running from 6 until 24 July. Extra points if you make it to the Collection Lambert, home to the collection of the iconic eponymous gallerist where there are regular exhibitions staging a range of work from the broad corpus. It is well worth the detour. (Jessica Saxby)
This page Daniel Tepper and Vittoria Mentasti, from the series From Above, 2016
ZURICH Visitors to Art Basel would be well served to hop on the train to Zurich for a break from the madness, when a host of new exhibitions open in expectation of overflow from the art fair juggernaut. Switzerland may be characterized as a country full of order, but there are plenty of places in town to let your hair down too. There is also a nod to the things we wear upon our clothes, and for his solo exhibition at Galerie Maria Bernheim (9 June–28 July), Mitchell Anderson shows two metre-wide paintings of campaign badges for the various Kennedys who have run for office from 1957 to date. Look out too for major retrospectives: Imi Knoebel at the Museum Haus Konstruktiv (until 2 September) and Christo at the Galerie Gmurzynska (until 30 June). Both have strong Swiss connections: Knoebel’s ever-changing re-imagining of geometries operate in a tradition well appreciated in the country; and Christo and Jeanne-Claude (until her death in 2009) often developed their ideas in Switzerland—though the authorities turned down a proposal to wrap Lake Geneva’s famous fountain jet. Talking of lakes, the Swiss have a reputation for being almost too well behaved, yet they shake that off around Lake Zurich in the summer, when eighteen wooden pontoons fill up with sunand-water bathers who stay on into the night as the lidos become bars. If that makes you hungry, bear in mind that the cheese fondue was invented in Zurich: it may have a rather retro, 1970s image in the world at large, but can be a treat if done well. Another unusual dining option
arises from the trend towards pop-up restaurants, which run temporarily without committing to the high fixed costs the galleries suffer, leaving word of mouth and social media to ensure that the latest hot spots are well patronized. Is there an ace fondue pop-up? That’s your Zurich challenge! (Paul Carey-Kent)
This page Mitchell Anderson Fortunate Son, 2017 Acrylic on canvas 200 cm diameter
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND GALERIE MARIA BERNHEIM, ZURICH. PHOTO BY ANNIK WETTER
Zurich is ranked as one of the world’s most liveable cities, but that’s not because it’s cheap, and for all Switzerland’s reputation as an epicentre of the finance world, the art scene has felt the pinch in recent years. Look no further than the Löwenbräu Areal on Limmatstrasse, a former brewery which was refurbished as a prime location for galleries in 2014. The building has a somewhat muted air, having lost occupants recently. Nonetheless, there remain plenty of galleries in four main geographical groupings. All rely significantly on the business-critical week of the nearby Art Basel, prior to which many open new shows on the weekend of 9–10 June. One current theme is the dramatic intersection of art and fashion. Fifty artists from the Renaissance to the present day deal with such eccentricities as codpieces, crinolines and slashed clothes in Fashion Drive. Extreme Clothing in the Visual Arts at the Kunsthaus Zürich until 15 July. One of them is Jakob Lena Knebl, who once dressed as an iconic sofa. Young American fashion photographer Erik Madigan Heck has also crossed into the contemporary art scene with his distinctive treatment of patterning, as demonstrated by his solo show at Christophe Guye Galerie until 25 August.
HOT SUN, LATE SUN MODERNISM UNTAMED
MONTICELLI — VAN GOGH— PICASSO POLKE — DE CHIRICO — RICHIER CALDER — MITCHELL — ADNAN — SUN RA
21.04 — 28.10.2018 35ter RUE DU DOCTEUR-FANTON,13200 ARLES FONDATION-VINCENTVANGOGH-ARLES.ORG
Pablo Picasso, Landscape, 31 March 1972. Musée national Picasso-Paris. Dation Pablo Picasso, 1979. MP227 © Succession Picasso 2018. | Sigmar Polke, Moderne Kunst, 1968. Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart © e estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne / Adagp, Paris 2018. | Sun Ra, Sun Ra & His Intergalactic Myth Science Arkestra, e Lost Arkestra Series Vol 1 & 2, 2017 © Art Yard Ltd. DR. | Vincent van Gogh, Portrait of a young peasant, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, september 1889. Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome © Rome, National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art. | Paul Nash, Eclipse of the Sunflower, 1945. British Council Collection. © Courtesy British Council Collection
“I just find these dark things quite funny. It’s so uncomfortable for people to talk about, and people laugh because there’s nothing else they can do” Urara Tsuchiya’s soup-bowl-sized ceramic vessels are capable of inducing both laughter and revulsion. They are inhabited by groups of men, women and wild animals engaged in all kinds of lustful acts, tongues lolling, dusty and sweet as if fashioned from talcum powder and colouring chalks. Words: Rosalind Duguid
When and how did you begin to use ceramics? I did an evening class with Garnet McCulloch at the FireWorks studio in Glasgow in 2012 or 2011 to learn to throw; it was a six-week beginner’s course. I did the same course again three times. I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting any better, until I saw one of his studio holders painting their ceramics and realized you can actually paint and sculpt inside them... it took me eighteen weeks to work that out! I also went to the Ishoken ceramics school in Japan for two weeks this January, where I learned to make my own glazes, make moulds and use porcelain. The bowl has connotations of practicality, food and domesticity. Is that something you’re going for? When I first started I had this Japanese ceramic in mind, square, a bit smaller than my bowls, with a lid on top. When you flip it over, underneath is a pornographic
Previous pages Portrait by Benjamin McMahon Opposite page, clockwise Just Close Your Eyes and Imagine I Haven't Evolved, 2017–18 Glazed stoneware 16 × 15 × 14 cm, 11 × 7 × 4 cm, 14 × 14 × 13 cm Naturist Holiday, 2017 Glazed stoneware 16 × 16 × 10 cm
figure [a kind of ceramic makura-e]. My granny gave it to me; it was her stepdad’s from the 1920s. I decided to make my own version. The first one I did was with a dolphin, inspired by a news story from the seventies [Peter the dolphin who “fell in love” with research assistant Margaret Howe Lovatt “romantically and sexually”]. I was also reading this story Lucy: Growing Up Human: A Chimpanzee Daughter in a Psychotherapist’s Family by Maurice K Temerlin. This guy is trying to educate a chimpanzee, doing sign language, treating her like a daughter. But at the same time he’s thinking: “Maybe I should have sex with the chimpanzee” and his wife. It’s so wrong. I thought I should play around with that. Whenever I watch things about bestiality, because the animal can’t speak, it’s always about the projection of the person. I just find these dark things quite funny. It’s so uncomfortable for people to talk about, and people laugh because there’s nothing else they can do; it’s a way of coping. Then there’re also teddy bears and baby oil… I buy teddy bears from my mum’s shop in Japan which sells really chintzy European and British things. They’re such an English thing, it’s like selling a fantasy to the Japanese customer. I also go to antique fairs and it’s a bit sickening, it’s all about people being really nostalgic, so a lot of the people there are very conservative. Maybe I wanted to use the teddy bears to subvert that in my work. I like to make them pastel-toned and sweet, so that you have to look twice to see what’s going on. You do a lot of performances as well—are you working on one at the moment? I’m preparing something for Glasgow International this year, in the section Social Event which is curated by Love Unlimited at Platform. That’s going to be by the pool. I thought I’d make a floating board and have a fashion show on it, and use foam tubes to make a floating chair. Maybe I could have a floating bar, with the audience trying to get a drink.
Oh my god, the frustration! You could just stand at the side and cruelly laugh. I’m also putting together this fashion collection with Richard Dodwell for Glasgow International, as part of Girlz Club. It will be themed around an underwater dragon palace. Right now the ceramic and performative work is quite separate, but I want to bring them together more here. This is the introduction to the collection! [Reading from Tsuchiya’s phone screen] Dragon Palace Entertainment. My wife and I were on the plane in premium economy, crossing the Atlantic. Then there was turbulence; it was very scary. Then I thought “I will calm down if I have sex.” But my wife is too old now to have sex, so she asked the air stewardess to have sex with me. It didn’t help too much as the plane crashed into the ocean. When I was in Japan I went on Tinder for fun and met this Canadian porn actor—I thought if it was interesting I could use it for my work, but it didn’t go anywhere. He sent me five or six stills from his porn work, though, and one of them was similar to that story: him on the plane then there’s turbulence... they didn’t crash into the sea but I decided that was a good ending. In my version, the man and his old wife get rescued by a turtle and taken to this dragon palace to be entertained. That bit is from a Japanese folk tale. When you were studying, was your work much more based around performance and costume? Yeah. With the costumes and performances I got really good at sewing, so it became quite easy to just whip things up quickly if I stayed up really late. With ceramics you can’t rush it because it’ll break. I love that the medium can be quite therapeutic. Having regular studio days is good for me, because performances are for one or a few days, and so you’ll work really hard for that month in the build-up, and after you feel so down. Also with costume, if you can sew, people always ask you to do things. Really, I like ceramics because no one bothers me. No one asks me any favours, they just leave me alone.
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND UNION PACIFIC
“My encounter with the history of sculpture and performance, significantly via the photograph, greatly shaped my interest in pursuing a convergence between these mediums” Tom Lovelace operates at the junction of numerous areas. The natural and manmade meet and blend in his practice, as do the digital and tactile—and photography is celebrated for its ability to collaborate with its fellow artistic mediums. Words: Duncan Wooldridge
You exhibited at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in late 2017 after a short residency there. As part of the show “On The Heights” you made a response to the grounds and the history of the location. How did you begin that process? The process began with spending as much time as possible in the landscape. Walking in the landscape; touching the landscape; looking at the landscape; tracing and recording the landscape, with my eyes and with the eye of the camera. I felt that the exploration had to start with me and my reaction to Bretton Hall Estate, which is now the home of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I believe that I need to create a relationship with the physical and visual properties of a place and a time before I can attempt to respond in a meaningful way.
Your response to the grounds is collectively titled “Dazzle Site”, and you consistently pair and interlace two motifs: rippling water and the repetitive steel diamond plate patterns familiar from staircases and metal platforms and surfaces. What did you discover at the site that connected to or evoked the naval “dazzle” device? On day one of the residency I found myself at the edge of the two lakes which lie at the centre of the park. This water was the first place I walked to, the first surface and material I explored. The lakes transformed the surrounding landscape in a peculiar way. I became immersed and at the same time there was something that didn’t seem right. I later unearthed that the lakes were in fact manmade constructions. Large fake holes commissioned by successive generations of the previous owners of the estate. This was the trigger for me and I set about exploring the landscape as a product; a concealed construction site where nature and industry converged. Assemblages began to take form which explored the relationship between the architecture of the water with the materials of industry that I had encountered during the residency. These encounters happened in the park, in local DIY stores, and I found myself walking upon the steel diamond plate that you refer to at the National Coal Mining Museum for England which is a few miles away from YSP. It’s interesting to think that the histories of sculpture and mining are situated in close proximity to each other. It seems important that you perform an archaeology in this work, to reveal the manmade nature of the lake and the crossover between industry and culture. Your work has often drawn upon labour. What interests you in this subject? Labour and industry have been a constant in my life. My relationship with labour, materials and the land has been shaped in two significant ways. East Anglia, where I grew up, is in part defined by agriculture, cultivating the landscape and industry. Also, my father—who I now recognize as having a huge influence on my practice—worked with timber all of his life. He was a boat builder in the 1960s and then a furniture maker for thirty years. I spent a lot of my childhood watching him and helping him. I suppose something changed, in an exciting way, when fine art was introduced into my life in my early teens.
Does the dissemination of photographs have an effect on how you conceive of the art object? I think I probably have an obsession with the image and its effect in the world. How can photography be used in an influential way to create access points and moments of compelling encounter? I am constantly posing this question to myself. But also I must say that an encounter with a site-specific artwork cannot be underestimated. If one has ever sat in a womb-like sculpture by James Turrell for example and looked upwards, or bumped into a wandering animal in a Pierre Huyghe exhibition, then a strong argument can be formed against the image as an effective document and representation. There does seem to be, however much you use the photograph, a concern to find its weaknesses or limits. Does this come from an interest you had in early photo-conceptualism, and how artists worked with a variety of mediums, not just photography? The limits of the photograph are definitely a concern. Equally this is paired with a faith in the photographic image. It sings for itself, but it is also a messenger for and collaborator with many other mediums. Also, my encounter with the history of sculpture and performance, significantly via the photograph, greatly shaped my interest in pursuing a convergence between these mediums. Two encounters opened or swayed my mind. The first was the work of Robert Mapplethorpe. Secondly, I can recall travelling to London in 2002 to see an Ansel Adams exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Later that day I stumbled across a Dan Flavin work. I remember being knocked sideways by Flavin’s conceptual approach to the ordinary and the everyday, and I started to consider how my photography could operate with other media. It sounds like this is a moment where you realized that what Adams was capturing with the camera was also available in even the most humble fluorescent tube. Did this feel closer to your own lived experience somehow? Definitely. Completely. I also recall being a little uncomfortable at the time. Uncomfortable about a feeling of awe and connection that I felt to what in essence was the transformation of the workaday. The preceding ten years were spent with my head in Magnum books. I think as a young, graduating artist, at least in my case, one resists particular influences and histories. One of the challenges is to find and then to accept certain influences and interests and allow these to shape one’s practice, regardless of the perceived significance or insignificance.
Previous pages Portrait by Nina Manandhar This page, below Coastal Blocks, Eight, 2016 C-type Print Tom Lovelace studio photography by Nina Manandhar
What’s the Worst That Could Happen? In its purest form, angst is an apparently natural part of the human condition rather than the result of a specific cause. Try telling that to someone with a serious case of angst. Just as the threat of nuclear war loomed in the 1950s, we have plenty of potential contemporary triggers now—from data overload to terrorism, the CCTV state and global warming, as well as the unavoidable fact that life is just a slow and agonizing process of dying. Contemporary artists speak to many of our angst-ridden concerns…
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND RODOLPHE JANSSEN, BRUSSELS
By Paul Carey-Kent
COURTESY GALERIE FONS WELTERS, AMSTERDAM
Théophile Blandet Fountain of Knowledge, 2017
Thomas Lerooy Not Enough Brains to Survive, 2009 Belgian artist Thomas Lerooy is visibly inspired by the macabre humour of James Ensor. Here, the absurd conjunction of a colossal head with a body it is bound to immobilize undercuts the pomp of the public sculptures from which both elements could plausibly have come. The other implication seems to be that there’s more to survival than the mere size of your brain, it’s how you use it that counts. And surely that’s our present condition: despite our technological advancements and ever-growing understanding of the world, we seem to be bombing merrily (well, angstily more like) towards our own destruction.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
I suspect the contemporary equivalent of la nauseé is feeling overwhelmed by the constant stream of digital information by which we’re bombarded. Eindhovenbased French artist Théophile Blandet laboriously paints over the results of his own internet searches, so that the images are radically frozen on the screen in the same way we become frozen in the surfeit. Here, a painful-looking lip from a German tattoo fashion site and a building in Kiev seem threatened, rather than cosily warmed, by the changing background formed by the online live stream of a Christmassy fireplace.
© ENA SWANSEA, 2018. COURTESY BEN BROWN FINE ARTS, LONDON
Ena Swansea Get Out, 2017 Pathetic fallacy or not, it’s easy to read moods into landscapes. Here, the many branches, defined by the snow on them and some sort of black rain effect, trigger a troubled mood heightened by the title— from what threat does the rider have to escape? His unnaturally lurid outfit is worthy of a chemical spill. That said, the American painter may well see this as an upbeat vision of how wonderful it is to get out in the fresh air in the most fashionable cycling kit. But that’s the thing about angst, once it gets a grip...
COURTESY THE MODERN INSTITUTE
Monika Sosnowska Pavilion, 2016
Monika Sosnowka’s practice originated from photographing the architectural impact of the upheavals following on from the 1989 revolution in her native Poland: hasty and largely cosmetic, renovation alongside neglect, dereliction and demolition. She uses the original fabricators to make precise copies—in this case, the steel frame of a shopping pavilion in Lublin—then twists and squeezes the idealism out of them, just as history did in their functional lives. This leaves a slumped, animalistic form to do battle with the gallery’s clean space: tortured, for sure, yet oddly graceful.
Pieter Hugo Portrait #30, Rwanda, 2015, from the series 1994, 2014–16
© PIETER HUGO. COURTESY OF STEVENSON, CAPE TOWN AND JOHANNESBURG; YOSSI MILO, NEW YORK; AND PRISKA PASQUER, COLOGNE
South African artist Pieter Hugo has spent two decades photographing marginalized and unusual communities; most famously, Nigerians with hyenas in 2007. In his recent series 1994, images of children in bucolic settings, posed in adult clothes, invite the question: Can they escape the past to bring new hope and innocence, having been born after the end of apartheid and the Rwandan genocide, or will the history of these landscapes infect their lives now with residual angst?
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND LEHMANN MAUPIN, NEW YORK AND HONG KONG
COURTESY HERALD ST, LONDON; KOENIG GALERIE, BERLIN; AND DIANA STIGTER, AMSTERDAM
Amalia Pica and Rafael Ortega Music Para 429 Megaponeros, 2017
Tony Oursler Sec++, 2016 Tony Oursler is known for his talking portraits, which emit mesmerising whispers, often reflecting anguish or panic. A recent series presented videos of eyes and mouths moving creepily in isolation from the rest of the face, highlighting the divisions used by facial recognition technology. With that, says Oursler, “the computer that we created is now making a portrait of us. And it’s an intelligent machine—it’s not a passive machine like a camera. It’s making us, it’s rendering us and the cold eye of the computer is looking back at us.” Like many matters linked to security, it’s rather disturbing.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
London-based Argentine artist Amalia Pica and her film-maker partner, Rafael Ortega, have recently spent time in the Congo researching how chimpanzee societies operate. That’s where they made this film of ants. They give each an identifying number as it comes into view, questioning our presumption that ants fold naturally into the social organism with no sense of individual identity. How then might a larger beast or machine than ourselves view us?
10 Questions with JW Anderson JW Anderson, the Loewe designer and founder of his own fashion label, tells us about his love of British art, his favourite museum and his desire to dress David Hockney. Illustration by Rebecca Clarke
How has the fashion world changed since you established JW Anderson in 2008? Now it’s not just about luxury, it’s about how you take brands and make them more cultural. The days of selling product for the sake of selling product are over. How did it feel to curate your first exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield last year? I hesitated at first, but the idea of having the estate of Barbara Hepworth to work with drew me in. It was all about lines, volume, silhouette and form. There were correlations between the pieces brought together for the first time to talk to each other. Why was it important to establish the Loewe Craft Prize two years ago? Craft is incredibly important; sometimes underestimated in terms of contemporary art. I think it’s an incredible, tangible thing. And it’s something that could influence art a lot. It’s fundamental to the human being. Where does your love of modern British art come from? My grandfather was a collector of British ceramics and I became obsessed too.
Do you consider yourself a collector? Yes, I started ten years ago with John Ward and I also collect Sara Flynn, Ian Godfrey… I arrange compositions to try and work out what combinations of things turn me on.
What’s your favourite museum? Kettle’s Yard. I found out about it years ago when I became very interested in modern British art.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Never to compromise.
If you could dress any artist, who would it be? David Hockney.
What are you most afraid of? Not being relevant, or worse, thinking that you are relevant when you are not.
Where do you go to relax? Norfolk, I have a house there. It’s a small town with so much to see. I really like the Richard Scott Antiques shop and the Blickling Estate museum.
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BEN EASTHAM Elephants with Emotional Issues Is art criticism a morally responsible thing to be doing? Yes, hopes Ben Eastham, as he considers the Louvre’s nudes and Gauguin’s exoticized paintings in a world of #MeToo and refugee crises. Illustration by Lukas Weidinger On the morning it was announced that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union, I was in Paris to review an exhibition by a promising young artist whose new work described a parallel universe populated by highly evolved elephants, one of whom was named after a character in Anna Karenina. I woke early to find my phone laddered with missed calls and despairing text messages. That this was not going to be a good morning was confirmed by the slow emergence into my consciousness of what may have been a hangover but more closely resembled the fumbling attempts of two hedgehogs to make love in my right eye socket. The news ticker running along the foot of the television screen demanded immediate action: the UK had been taken over by old, white men who belonged in a tasteless 1970s sitcom; the far right was on the rise across the world; a brutal war in Syria dragged on; the refugee crisis was tearing communities apart. But I couldn’t take to the streets because in a little over an hour’s time I was due to meet a curator for a discussion on the conceptual groundings of a show about fictional elephants with emotional issues. Let us say that it was not clear to me, in the heavy light of that dark new dawn, that contemporary art (much less contemporary art criticism) was the morally responsible thing to be doing with my life. When my meeting about elephants had finished, I drifted down to the Louvre to take up an old argument with its ticket office. Once again denied free entry on a British press pass, albeit more understandably given the circumstances, I paid up and wandered through corridors lined by images of nude women painted for the benefit of rich men, dedications to the glory of a god in whom I don’t believe and celebrations of battlefield massacres. The visit caused me to reflect on the fact that art always expresses the social and political circumstances in which it is made, whether it intends to or not, and
transcends them only through a conscious effort on behalf of the viewer to imagine themselves into that context. I don’t spend time with a portrait of François I because I want to know what a rich person looked like—quite the opposite—but because I am fascinated by what Titian’s rendering of his subject tells us about the society that his art represents. I don’t want to tie art to aesthetics any more than I want to tie it to portraits of rich people, but that notions of beauty vary across eras and places is the most obvious example of how we can learn about different societies by paying close attention to their cultural artefacts. One wonders what the future will gather from ours. I was reminded of that day in Paris when speaking to a friend about her recent experience of teaching at an American art school, in the aftermath (or perhaps the midst) of recent controversies in the art world around #MeToo and the representation of black suffering. Her undergraduate students, she told me, couldn’t see the value in even talking about the work of canonical (white, male) artists including Paul Gauguin, whose exoticizing paintings of young Tahitian women they dismissed out-of-hand as exploitative and racist. It is hard to disagree—if you don’t accept the surprisingly ingrained assumption that paintings are for some reason exempt from seeming creepy, voyeuristic or pornographic—that Gauguin’s treatment of his models is objectionable, but it’s equally difficult to accept that this means we shouldn’t engage with his work, if only to understand the racist mindset that predominated in colonial-era Europe. To keep faith in the possibility of seeing things from another’s perspective through the appreciation of art can seem, in these times, at best like a quaint delusion and at worst entitled arrogance. But the present vogue in art for exploring issues around the
What We Talk About When We Talk About Art
natural environment, animal intelligence and unpredictable futures is no less tied to its moment and place than early cubism was tied to the technological revolutions of the early twentieth century, or impressionism to new ideas about visual perception and time. However obscurely, visual cultures are vehicles for the principles and concerns of the society from which they emerge. We continue to engage with works of art because they allow us to see through the eyes, and perhaps even fleetingly inhabit the minds and bodies, of individuals and communities distant from us in time, space or political affiliation. It is a basic principle of my fragile sense of self-esteem that looking at works of art made in my own time can serve the same purpose. At least that’s what I will continue to tell myself each time I wake up and wonder what in God’s good name it is that I’ve chosen to spend my life doing.
Angst Underground Subcultures are complex things. So many are tightly wound up with feelings of angst and disenfranchisement: simultaneous expressions of rebellion and solidarity. Underground scenes have been as heavily marketed as they have been parodied, and they are especially attractive to teenagers. Illustration by Amina Bouajila
Today, social media means that subcultures can no longer exist as they did when beatniks or punks first stormed the scene. In recent years, a spate of articles proclaiming the death of the subculture have swept across the internet. Trends are jumped on as soon as they enter the public domain now, as hungry stylists and fashion forecasters scan social media to find out “what the kids are up to these days”—subcultures like seapunk and vaporwave seemed pretty much DOA. An optimist might argue, though, that they continue to blossom, as the “kids” continue to develop their own worlds at odds with the mainstream. Any member of a subculture might shudder at the idea that theirs can be boiled down to a single object. But here, with hindsight, we attempt that, with a by-no-means-exhaustive list of the angstiest subcultures prominent in Britain, Europe and America from the 1950s to today (better make that yesterday).
MEL BYARS If You’re Anxious and You Know It, Clap Your Hands Why medicate when you can revel in your glorious angst and feel truly alive? Mel Byars finds hope in our ever-present, collective sense of doom. Illustration by Félix Decombat “I come from a working-class military family. We watch the news and read the paper and vote, so there’s always something to be upset about. I have a certain amount of angst in my back pocket.” —Pink A discussion about angst is the same as a discussion about life itself. Everyone has it unless they are dead or on a regime of tranquilizers. The question is: Why has the pharma industry developed this huge range of tranquilizers? The answer is: Because they know that you think your agita is undesirable. When someone knocks on my door, I have an angst attack. It seems real enough. I think: “Who is it? What do they want? Is it bad news? Leave me alone.” I have this reaction even when my neighbour knocks on my door, and she’s often just there to give me some cookies she’s baked. Could it be because each time a bill collector came to the front door when I was a child, my aunt, with whom I lived with my mother, would dispatch me? My instructions were to tell the collector that she wasn’t at home. They always became pissed off at me, when I had done nothing wrong. My stepfather claimed that my aunt was responsible for my being incapable of handling money wisely. What is the emotion expressed in Munch’s The Scream? If you didn’t know the name of the 1893 painting, perhaps you might think the emotion to be that of someone who has won $500 million in the lottery: sheer joy and ecstatic surprise. Robert Rosenblum, a Munch scholar, claims that a Peruvian mummy inspired the artist. The mummy’s hands held his face in a strikingly similar manner, and the item was shown at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1889. Incidentally, this was the fair that featured the new Eiffel Tower and celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Other scholars have suggested that the mummy also captured the imagination of Paul Gauguin, who realized it in
more than twenty paintings. Still others have proposed that the screaming figure and Munch himself have a mental disorder known as depersonalization, or a detachment from one’s self. The painting has made many appearances in wider culture, including episodes of Doctor Who and a novel by Philip K Dick, and has even been made into an action figure. Obviously, this gruesome image has captured the imagination of the public. Of course, the popularity of equally gruesome horror films is likewise a mystery, at least to me. People love to be frightened, especially children. Frank Baum’s Oz book series of fourteen novels calls on feelings of love and hate, one right after the other, no resting between them. The series became immensely popular after the first volume was published in 1900. I’ll provide one example from The Tin Woodman of Oz, one of the volumes. In the book, a woodman known as Nick Chopper is passionately in love with a young woman who has been captured by the Wicked Witch of the East. Every time the woodman finds her in the witch’s clutches and attempts to steal her away, the witch throws a bolt of lightning to chop off one of his body parts. The woodman takes each dismembered part to a handyman in the forest who replaces it with a tin part until his entire body has become metal. This is when Dorothy meets him. Being the feisty, can-do American, Dorothy Gale tells him that they will find his missing love, no matter what. They find that the young woman lives with a man in a cottage. The young woman’s companion has been created from all the body parts that the witch dismembered from the woodsman. The handyman saved them. And, sadly, the young woman refuses to leave. Thus, no happy ending. Children loved Frank Baum’s tales of angst. The writer of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat, said that he deliberately wanted to scare children and that his stories are
Can We Start Over Again?
“scary in the way a rollercoaster is scary… not scary like being trapped outside your house at night. It is fun scary. Kids like being scared of Doctor Who. It is just an enjoyable thrill. There is nothing wrong with a bit of adrenalin.” Angst is a good thing. Angst is in the genes of Germans, who worry much of the time. And they are disagreeable. Faust said: “Germans make everything difficult, both for themselves and everyone else.” Even today, the German economy strongly binds the good and bad. Scientists all over the place are measuring feelings. A study by psychologists at the University of California found that teenagers who worry the least are sick eight times more than those whose angst is much greater. This discovery explains my almost non-existent illnesses. However, I do game the odds with vaccines. If you don’t experience angst, then feelings are absent. It’s why taking tranquilizers is an undesirable practice. They kill your feelings, especially bad ones. Angst is part of your human beingness. It is certainly a large part of mine.
FEDERICO FLORIAN Euphoria We often associate euphoria with the great outdoors; a return to abundant, joyful nature. But, writes Federico Florian, the Big Smoke holds just as much unfettered bliss—especially to unfamiliar eyes. Illustration by GRRRR “What a morning—fresh as if issued to children on a beach,” Mrs Dalloway thinks, as she opens the windows of her Westminster apartment in Virginia Woolf’s much-celebrated novel. That’s what I think too, almost a century later, as I observe London—its intricate fabric of low buildings and narrow streets, interrupted by the compressed mass of the skyscrapers in the City—from the top of Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. It’s a surprisingly clear late-summer morning and I have landed in town only twelve hours before. “What a lark! What a plunge!” Clarissa says to herself in front of the window, looking at the city rapidly waking up. “What a view!” I say euphorically to the tourist next to me, while we both contemplate from above the city I have just moved to. Any unforced relocation brings a certain amount of euphoria with it. Movement triggers anticipation; anticipation fuels excitement. Brand new latitudes and longitudes recalibrate, euphorically, our emotional topography. The thrill that I felt on top of that hill almost three years ago now has partly gone. London is not so new to me as it used to be; its cranefilled skyline and packed tight streets have become relatively familiar. Yet a different type of excitement remains: a daily urban euphoria, ignited by the city’s velocity and embedded in its ever-shifting configuration. In his Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture (1912) Umberto Boccioni wrote: “All the perceptible world must hurry toward us.” The city—Milan in the early twentieth century—was the epitome of the “hurry” and dynamism celebrated by Italian futurism. Specifically, what its members advocated was a precybernetic “amalgamation” of human beings and urban environment through a joyful, euphoric embrace. In The City Rises (1910), the first futurist painting by the Italian artist, galloping horses, athletic workers and the rising city with its buildings under construction meld together
The Emo Diaries
in a dynamic endeavour. The sense of euphoria emanated by their hyperbolic movements takes the shape of sharp splinters of colour, warming up the whole painted surface. The scaffoldings in the background of Boccioni’s painting remind me of the imperious cranes that mark the cityscape of London. Those noisy, iron monsters tower over the town as emblems of a certain urban euphoria (their relentless zeal also attests the psychotic drifts of an uncontrolled real estate exuberance). The city is the stage of acceleration: motorbikes and UberX cars whoosh past, armies of people march on the streets, crammed trains hurtle through underground tunnels. Daily doses of speed are offered to the metropolitan population as a promise of efficiency and productivity—velocity dictates the tempo of the urban choreography. In the eyes of Mrs Dalloway, the tireless dynamism of the city reflects her own (and its inhabitants’) love of life. But love in the city might get too visceral, and euphoria can take schizophrenic detours. The 2017 film Blade Runner 2049 depicts a smoky, dystopic Los Angeles full of replicants-turned-slaves: here, love is advertized on the skyscrapers’ walls through interactive holographic women who offer their virtual bodies to alienated citizens. In our contemporary cities, an endless stream of commercial images covers the surface of buildings, tempting the fast-paced crowds with offers that they cannot deny. As German philosopher Georg Simmel highlights in The Metropolis and Mental Life (1903), “The psychological foundation upon which the metropolitan individuality is erected is the intensification of emotional life due to the swift and continuous shift of external and internal stimuli.” Urban euphoria, enhanced by the accumulation of shimmering and conflicting impressions, can turn into neurosis. The skin of the city regenerates itself through the urban movement; here,
transit triggers euphoria. When transferred to a map, the city transforms into a circulatory system made of street-veins and road-arteries. In another work from 1912 Boccioni represents the pulsating body of the city as it enters the private space of a house. A woman on a balcony looks at a noisy, busy street, occupied by a bunch of workers lifting poles; yellow and purple houses lean into the road surrounding the construction site; a few horses (one of them pierced by a sharp triangular shape resembling a wing) leap over the balcony’s railing. In the artist’s words, “The main impression is the one you can have when you open a window: all the life, the noises from the street burst in at the same time as well as the movement and the reality of the objects outside.” The city, with all its anatomical components (the street, the buildings, the people), expands to the balcony, merging with the woman’s figure: one of the construction poles is incorporated in the shape of her head, while the outline of a staircase connects her shoulder to the urban environment as a sort of architectural prosthesis. A few years have passed since that sunny morning in Hampstead Heath. Funnily enough, the view on the city from my current flat (precisely from the window of the room where I am writing this article) is obstructed by the frame of a building under construction, just like the woman in Boccioni’s painting. Through the gaps in the scaffolding, though, I can glimpse in the distance the London skyline, punctuated by the cranes’ red lights. Despite the noise and the dust I still feel a certain euphoria any time I open the window and look outside. It’s not the same euphoria that I experienced on top of Parliament Hill almost three years ago (the freedom and the thrill for the new); it’s actually a different feeling, closer to the metropolitan enthusiasm of Mrs Dalloway: the awareness of being part of the city’s quivering body—of its daily euphoric reconfiguration.
Happy by Design The human hunt for happiness is eternal; we search for this slippery and elusive feeling in love, work, friends and family. But what about design? Robert Urquhart meets the people who are building joy into local communities, hospitals and detention centresâ€”and encountering a complicated range of emotions along the way.
Opposite page Stefan Sagmeister The Happy Film packaging, 2016 This page Stefan Sagmeister The Happy Show, Contemporary Arts (ICA), Philadelphia, 2012
We may marvel at and geek out over it, but can design really make us happy? I met a few who claim it can: London-based artist Lakwena, Brooklyn firm Karlssonwilker and designer Morag Myerscough. I also watched graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister’s 2016 movie release The Happy Film several times over on my quest for radiance and warmth. Despite its title, The Happy Film is one hour and thirty-three minutes of saturated angst. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Sagmeister stars in this honest, confessional love quest (for him, happiness is an affair of the heart). It starts with him unsuccessfully trying to take to the skies, tied to balloons, and ends with him reflecting that the film is, perhaps, a failure. In between he splits up with his long-term girlfriend of eleven years, his director Hillman Curtis dies, his mother dies and he briefly falls in love again. It’s an unravelling midlife crisis. Arguably more successful as an outcome was The Happy Show, at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art in 2012.
Happy by Design
The exhibition features in the film, and in this habitat, Sagmeister’s whimsy and sense of belonging come alive. I asked Jan Wilker, the cofounder of Karlssonwilker, about the impact of The Happy Film. He met Icelandic designer Hjalti Karlsson while working in Sagmeister’s New York studio, and the pair set up Karlssonwilker in 1999. “I think it was important in the way that a designer can do something like that,” he observes, “showing that it’s possible to make a film of this quality. When I see him it’s great entertainment, but in a bigger sense, for the happiness of the New York design scene? I think it would be putting too much on it.” I am speaking with Wilker in the agency’s new studio. They moved from a space above a Dunkin’ Donuts store in Lower Manhattan to a former knitting factory in Ridgewood, Brooklyn. It is a far cry from the former chaos. “Alcohol consumption was rampant; an important and integral part of it all,” says Wilker, “I don’t think we could have done it without it.
But then you just can’t anymore; you’re seeking other things. This [new studio] is all my wife’s doing, she found this building. Sitting here just looking at greenery has such a big impact now, I don’t think we all would’ve enjoyed this ten years ago. “In summer we leave the doors open, we just assume it’s safe. I live upstairs, above the shop like a tailor,” he says. The studio is keen to give something to the community; not to be a faceless interloper. They’ve designed a hatch in the façade and are thinking about running some kind of café from the premises. They have made firm friends with the local butcher. Since the move Karlssonwilker’s work has shifted from the piercing to the sublime. Remai Modern, a recent client, has a particularly calm and meditative essence. This new museum of modern and contemporary art is in Saskatoon, a small city in the remote wilderness of the Canadian Prairies. The agency has just finished the branding and identity.
Back in London, Morag Myerscough is discussing her Twitter-feed diary of emotions represented as colours in a recent project for the Linkoping University Hospital in Sweden. Explaining the rationale, she says “I was interested in Twitter back in 2012. I had this idea of using it as a diary. I would think of a colour that reflected how I felt in the morning and then again just before I went to sleep.” When it came to working on the Linkoping University Hospital project, Myerscough decided that the colour tweets might have found a permanent home. “Colour is something subjective and means different things to different people and cultures. To be in a hospital environment is always a journey through different emotional states. I always aim to make places where people feel they belong.” Over to Dalston where I meet with Lakwena. Colourful, bold, big and shouty, her work comes from a spiritually uplifting space. “[It] is inspired by messianic philosophy; the idea of a future-life god. It’s not just wishful thinking,” she says. “I’m interested in mythology and the overarching things that we believe, and in Afrofuturism. I guess Afrofuturism is idealized, but for me, there is more weight
in this work than just positive messages. To me, it’s an actual reality.” The messages that adorn Lakwena’s work have been picked up by commercial clients—she’s doing well on the circuit as an artist-director––but, rather like Myerscough, her work has led to large-scale building murals, most notably for Fort Smith Juvenile Detention Center, Arkansas, in 2017. Where does the “shout” come from? Lakwena explains, “[It stems from] growing up; my experience of feeling like a minority. I felt like I didn’t have a voice, like I didn’t have any power. I could relate to a lot of Afrofuturism thinking. The aesthetic is something that has always appealed to me, because of that sense of black power: beautiful and bold and strong. You’re compensating for a lack, but I think there is something powerful about that. Creativity is liberating. You can say what you want, even if you’ve got a quiet voice you can shout, you can scream.” Does she see her work as religious in some way? “I don’t like the word religion because it means binding––religare in Latin––for me it’s not about that. It’s about the opposite; it’s about a relationship and a connection with the Messiah.
That’s where the praying comes in. I see my paintings as very spiritual and I realize that people will see them how they want to, but…” Lakwena tails off. Are these works spreading gospels of some kind? “I want them to have something of the gospel in them,” she enthuses. “I want my life to have some good news in it. I’m interested in Roland Barthes’s theory that everyone is a mythologist. Adverts shout a mythology that if you buy a product your life will be complete, if I put a painting up then I’m doing the same. Everyone is putting out what they believe in. I identify with Barbara Kruger on this.” What label does Lakwena identify with? “I call myself an artist. Obviously you can call yourself what you want, I could call myself a wizard if I wanted to. This all goes back to the idea of a shaman, the person who connects with the spiritual world. Philosophy is so close to theology. The artist is a wizard.” If the artist is a wizard, then their tricks must beguile and radiate power from within. Much is made of graphic design’s surface power of aesthetic but the real affair must stem from the heart to make sense of this otherness: the calm before, during and after the storm.
Opposite page Karlssonwilker studio backyard, Brooklyn, New York, 2018 This page Lakwena Still I Rise, Fort Smith Juvenile Detention Center, Arkansas, 2017
Happy by Design
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LARGER THAN LIFE Painter, illustrator, comic strip artist, filmmaker: Wilhelm Sasnal wears many hats. The Polish artist’s work spans a dizzying range of mediums, and his more than twenty-year career has consistently been defined by an experimental and inquisitive relationship to representation and ways of seeing. His subjects are drawn from everyday life, the internet, history and pop culture, brought together in a free-wheeling exploration of personal expression and memory. He bears witness to contemporary life, and his delicate, sensual paintings appear as vignettes from a larger narrative, hovering somewhere between fantasy and reality. Sasnal first studied architecture, and the influence of the built environment can be seen in his shadowy cityscapes, while a series of cross-sections reveal his interest in deconstructing form through graphic line and monochromatic texture. Sasnal has a long-held fascination with the patterns that run through vision and experience, and his elongated lines and distinctive shapes echo this dreamlike series of connections. A recent exhibition of paintings at Sadie Coles weaves together these shifting perspectives, with nods to art history, personal encounters and half-remembered scenes, charging them anew with darkly mysterious possibilities.
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Atomic Explosion 2008 Mościce 2017 LA Downtown 2017 Space Launch 2017 Lightening II 2014 Europe – America 2014 Solar Panels I 2014 Untitled (Cross-Section, Ankles) 2014 Cross Section, Plant 2014 Shoah 2003 Untitled (Trap II) 2013
Courtesy the artist, Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photography Robert Glowacki
on’t D Worry, Be Angsty
Angst may have found its first expression in the pages of philosophy books, but it is the arts that have given it such a relatable aesthetic and experiential flourish. Without Munch’s The Scream, Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides and Radiohead’s, well… everything, how on earth could we delve into all that is unavoidably human and painful in such glorious splendour? While angst was historically understood to describe a feeling that exists without a single, definable reason, it has taken on many different forms over the years. Now we use the word to express
all manner of stresses, both trivial and earth shattering; it can describe anything from teenage gloom, writer’s block and imposter syndrome to our collective fear of World War III and the Big Rip. Here, we speak with six artists who explore angst from their point of view, variously discussing the postnatal state, fear of an unknown political future and, unexpectedly, the funny side of our mortal woes. Words: Louise Benson, Holly Black and Emily Steer
COURTESY THE ARTIST
Julie Curtiss WILD WOMEN & DARK HUMOUR “Balancing humour with darkness is a way of taming my fears by making fun of them.” Julie Curtiss’s works depict a collision of nightmarish hair, fingernails and fur, amidst which their subjects are characterful, but barely recognizable as human. Has historic surrealism been an inspiration for your practice? I’ve always felt a strong kinship with artists who work with the unconscious, psychology and metaphysical ideas. Magritte is a big influence, the archetypal quality of his images always stuck with me and I enjoy the repressed emotions in his works. But there are a lot of artists who have connections to surrealist imagery but don’t belong to the movement. Marcel Duchamp (especially his Étant Donnés), Louise Bourgeois or, more recently, Robert Gober; they are all very important to me. With the exception of Frida Kahlo, I wasn’t at all familiar with female surrealism until the Dreamers Awake show at White Cube Bermonsey [where I exhibited]. I was thrilled to read the curator Susanna Greeves’s catalogue essay. She shines a light on some of the female artists at the origins of the movement, and how they tackled the question of what a woman is in the times they lived in. There’s a subversive sexuality in your work; the ropes of hair, full fleshy bodies, hairy food and incredible manicures. Where do these motifs come from? The hair motif is connected to something deeply personal, but it’s also tied to universal symbols. Hair evokes something primordial, it’s a part of our body that grows relentlessly and that we can cut off without pain. It refers to something animalistic, like fur. My work deals with ideas of the wild and the tame; nature and culture in the female psyche. Hair is eventually combed and braided and nails manicured. Women transcend these physical attributes for seduction and status. As a woman, I am interested in the way we fashion our own image, to be seen, not only by men, but the world.
Your figures appear to be anonymous, with no facial features and presented from unusual angles. Are you creating a universal figure? You are absolutely right. I realized that painting faces made me feel very uncomfortable. I didn’t want my subjects to be portraits; too specific or personal. There is a satisfaction to painting—looking at facial traits and expressions—but I didn’t feel like giving in to that satisfaction. I felt that I could allude to my characters’ feelings or personalities by dropping visual clues here and there, and I leave it to the viewer to piece the image back together. The fragmentation of the self is a big theme in my work, so representing partially obscured faces became unavoidable. There seems to be something compellingly sinister, yet strangely humorous, lurking in your paintings. Is that balance something you are looking to convey? I am always attracted to the sinister and the dark. If I was a movie director I think I would make horror movies or thrillers! I am a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. Maybe balancing humour with darkness is a way of taming my fears by making fun of them; making them a little grotesque. I also like making something repulsive attractive, and vice versa. It’s like the alchemical process of transforming opposites. It’s also about reclaiming a symbolic power over what we can’t control in life. Are anxiety and angst-inducing emotions something you relate to in your practice? That question rekindles something I had completely pushed to the background. I initially started making art as a means of expressing my anxieties and my fear of death. But over time the practice
itself, which became a source of release, overtook my fears. I have made art on such a regular basis for most of my life that I almost forgot that it originally came from a place of existentialism. My angst still comes through in my themes, however the practice is meditative, fun and challenging now. Could you tell me a little bit about your colour palette? You often use very vibrant hues, sometimes juxtaposed against dramatic shadows. My husband used to say I must be colour blind, and I do think it took me some time to feel comfortable with colours. Now I enjoy purposely using awkward, clashing combinations. The dramatic shadow came later, helping to add a shallow depth to my compositions and making them look oddly staged, like the theatre of one’s mind. How did your time in Tokyo influence your practice? I lived there in my first year after graduating. It was very formative because I suddenly became aware that I could do whatever I wanted artistically. Somehow, I never felt that freedom at art school. France is a very academic country and I had many voices in my head: my teachers, other students and the weight of art history. In Japan, I came to understand that my strength lies where my pleasure is and that spending days drawing weird cartoons is totally fine. My year in Tokyo was very hard in many ways as I was extremely isolated and completely lacking in self-confidence. At the same time, it was there that I started to perceive a possible path for myself as an artist. (HB)
Opening pages Chemtrails, 2016 Gouache on paper 48 × 35.5 cm Previous pages, left Conversation, 2016 Acrylic washes, flash paint and gouache on paper 48 × 35.5 cm This page Smoking Turkey, 2016 Acrylic and oil on panel 18 × 24 inches Opposite page Appetizer, 2017 Gouache on paper 30.5 × 23 cm
Janet Currier MOTHERHOOD & MICROBIOLOGY
Clockwise from above Metastatis, 2016 Watercolour on paper 21 × 31 cm Vanguard, 2017 Acrylic on canvas 85 × 100 cm
COURTESY THE ARTIST
Strep Grin, 2018 Acrylic ink and pouring medium on paper 31 × 41 cm
“Part of our anxiety comes from trying to maintain a sense that we are separate entities in control of nature.” Neatness meets with chaos in the work of Janet Currier, as hospital curtains, kitchen aprons and human bodies are smeared with the debris of life, death and decay. Your graduate show at Goldsmiths dealt with the angst of motherhood. Do you think this is something that is whipped up by our culture, or quite a natural feeling? A lot has been written about maternal ambivalence or the way that mothers (and other primary caregivers) struggle with contradictory feelings that they have towards the infants in their care. Psychologists would say this is a natural and necessary part of “good enough mothering”, but it is the source of great angst for most of us, I think. A relationship with a developing child is one that is in continual flux, always altering and shifting. For most parents the emotional bond with a child is one of the most intense attachments in life, but woven in with the joy is a constant premonition of the loss that will come. I think that, especially in our society, the position of mother is economically, socially and politically contradictory at the deepest level. For a very long time now we have lived in a paradoxical situation where the work of social reproduction and caring for children (and adults), although essential for the continuation of life itself, is not valued at all. You told me before that humour plays a big role in the work. How do you think humour and angst play off against one another? Humour can be a really effective way to present difficult things like angst, so that we can actually bear to look at them. But it can also be a very good coercion strategy that helps to mask the cracks! I was thinking about how this is played out in popular representations of mothers in film and TV. I love the figure of Elastigirl from The Incredibles, for example. The joke that elasticity is the one superpower that I could really use as a mother is not
lost on me. But after a while it feels as if we are complicit in some kind of hypersexualized, neoliberal reworking of the perfect housewife. No one asks why we should be the ones who have to do all the stretching in the first place. So, it is great to see a trend towards representations of mothers that disrupt the maternal ideal and shed light on the frustration and anxiety we really feel. An example would be Sharon Horgan’s depictions of motherhood in Catastrophe and Motherland. Your more recent work looked at angst surrounding the body—illness, tumours and spreading biological forms—contrasted against the clean forms of the hospital… My interest in sick bodies and microbiology has been there for a while. Mostly, again, in relation to being a mother and the anxiety we feel about trying to keep our children healthy and caring for them when they are sick. On another level, I have been increasingly interested in the idea of the non-human—the way that we are in fact not one living thing, but a whole host of organisms that are proliferating and growing away. Part of our anxiety comes from trying to maintain a sense that we are separate entities in control of nature. We continually try to achieve some kind of sanitized, germ-free zone around ourselves. Another very significant influence has, of course, been my experience of cancer. I recently finished a year of cancer treatment and I think I was very much making sense of the trauma of that process during the residency. The contrast between the unyielding hardness of the hospital surfaces and the raw vulnerability of skin and bodily functions seemed to sum up something of how it feels to be in the treatment machine.
The experience of motherhood and battling cancer is quite clouded in our culture; we don’t tend to share all the details. Do you think, in suppressing openness around this, we allow for angst to build up? I don’t think that suppressing or holding things in ever relieves worry or anxiety. In the absence of another voice I think it’s our tendency to create our own fantasy (or nightmare) scenario and distort reality. In the case of cancer there is very good evidence to suggest that stress is a causal factor and then the process of diagnosis and treatment is hugely stressful. So, it seems crucial that we talk about the reality of cancer, especially since it’s such a common experience and because there are still so many myths and misunderstandings surrounding the condition. Your use of scale feels cinematic in some ways—it can be difficult to tell if you’re looking at something really big, or small in close-up. How do you feel this emphasizes the mood in your work? I think the scaling up sometimes has the effect of slowing things down or creating a kind of sense of suspension and stillness—or maybe unreality. I hope that it can sometimes create a sense of surprise or threat. I’m trying to get to a place where the viewer is not quite sure what they are looking at or is disconcerted in some way, and so my aim (for some of the work at least) is for it to oscillate between the micro and macro and also the abstract and the representational. In terms of content I also want to shine a light on the teeming life that is going on in plain sight all the time. I find that notion kind of horrific and destabilizing, but I also think it’s a really exciting paradigm shift—this thinking beyond the human. (ES)
Hong Chun Zhang HAIR & HAMBURGERS “The exaggerated scale really helps to achieve this imposing and surreal image.” Hong Chun Zhang’s depictions of hair—free-flowing from the human head; coiled inside wine glasses, fast food and sushi rolls—convey a spine-chilling sense of unease. You were born and raised in China. What are some of your earliest creative memories from your time there? I grew up in an artistic family during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Both of my parents are retired art professors. I also have two sisters, one older sister and an identical twin, who are also painters. We lived on the campus of an art academy where my parents taught for twenty years in the 1970s and 1980s. I remember watching them painting in their studios and teaching their students in the classrooms. At age six, my parents gave me paper, brushes, ink and watercolour to draw from my memories or from life. You have often worked with ink on rice paper, using a technique learned in China. What appeals to you about this process, and what are its challenges? I trained in Chinese fine-style ink painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing for four years. Traditional Chinese ink painting has many details and it is a time-consuming making process. Moreover, working with ink is unforgiving and you need to follow each step precisely. The tone of black and white is built up very slowly through many layers. After seven or eight layers, you apply colours. It is similar to a watercolour process, but it is very time-consuming. Still, I love the making process and enjoy seeing the finished work from beginning to the end. The downside is the lack of spontaneity, which is why I shift to charcoal to balance out my working style and technique. How did the restrictions on content in China, within the fine art context, affect the development of your work? When I was
an art student in China in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we all learned the same realistic style and painted safe subjects like flowers, birds, landscapes and human figures. We had limited access to Western contemporary art. Every student and artist only worked within a single medium, and other areas like mixed media, installation, video and performance art were not introduced at that time. Arriving as a Chinese artist to live in America, I felt it was necessary to release my feelings of being bound under the artistic restrictions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). I was thinking about my own identity when I developed the hair theme. Since then, I have kept going and moving from personal identity to a more universal idea of how women’s hair is viewed with their age, health, sexuality and power. In my recent work, I combine my identity (the long hair) with nature (my living environment) to create large-scale charcoal drawings and installations. What did these drawings of disembodied hair represent for you? The idea for my first long-hair drawings Twin Spirits came from my connection with my twin sister. Both of us have had long hair since high school and it has become one of our major characteristics. I wanted to use disembodied images of long, straight, black hair as a reference to our identity and as a metaphor to extend the meaning beyond the surface. Life Strands represents a shift from the personal to the more universal. This time, long hair is used to examine a woman’s complete life cycle from radiant, untangled youth to the turns of mid-life and the loosened white hair of the last stage.
You choose to present these drawings on scrolls, recalling the traditional format of Chinese painting. Why do you mix your media, using charcoal and scrolls at a larger-than-life scale? What do the individual elements build for you as a whole? In my long-hair series, the traditional scroll painting accentuates the length of the piece and the flow of long hair. My intention is to make large-scale work that occupies the wall and floor and give the two-dimensional work a threedimensional look. Therefore, viewers in the gallery space feel like they can walk in and around the pieces. The exaggerated scale really helps to achieve this imposing and surreal image with a sculptural effect. Much of your work confronts your dual identity as Chinese and American. What has your experience been of life as a US immigrant, and how has it influenced your identity as an artist? The duality in my work has a lot to do with being an identical twin. I always like to see the difference and similarity between the two, especially from my life experiences and observations in China and in America. Being an immigrant female artist in the USA has offered more opportunity to exhibit than in the male-dominant Chinese art world. I love the diversity here. I cannot deny my Chinese heritage and the cultural influence in my artwork, but my goal is to create artwork that is accessible and universal. I do not want to be categorized as a Chinese artist, rather an artist who happens to be Chinese. (LB)
COURTESY THE ARTIST
Three Graces (detail), 2012 Triptych charcoal drawings 91.44 Ã— 243.84 cm each
Hong Chun Zhang
COURTESY THE ARTIST
Sondra Perryâ€‚RESISTANCE & HUMAN MACHINES
“I’m really interested in efficiency culture and productivity.” Sondra Perry addresses the wrongs of the contemporary age: exploring the entanglement of identity and technology; upholding her commitment to net neutrality in the making of her work; and promoting the agility of blackness in the face of oppression and surveillance. How did you start out as an artist? Your work is very political, but you are not an activist. How do you navigate the two? I think that my initial interest in art was because I had no other choices. I wasn’t a good student and art kind of saved me. It was the only way I could get out of my home town. I feel like I’m highly productive in this space. I’m very interested in labour and what I can do and I think I’m useful in this way. I’m optimizing myself. I do consider myself a labour body. My mom has to go to work in a place that she hates and I’m interested in what I’m able to do in these spaces and with these types of resources. Do you ever feel anxious about your role as an artist, specifically having not entered the art world from a position of privilege? Always. Ugh, my god, all the time. It’s really important for me that my family see me as someone who labours, someone who’s doing work, because of my anxiety around being an artist. But also, because I think that if I can get folks who are in the same socioeconomic position as my family to understand that this is labour, that this is a part of the world not completely separated from you, there would be more people in schools who value an arts education. It teaches you how to critically think about images, which is what we’re surrounded by all of the time. My family aren’t just my test cases; they’re where I come from. They’re my switch that I go back and forth with. Then I guess more specifically with how I work with images—I use a lot of appropriation—and I’ve been really trying to think through that. What is it to bring images of protest into a gallery?
I think appropriation in general is highly problematic, especially when you’re working with marginalized—I hate the word marginalized— but when you’re dealing with black and brown subjects, how do you make work without it being an exploitation? And that’s essentially what I’ve always been interested in: what representation is, what it actually means and what form it takes. Yes, and your avatar and black faces appear again and again in your videos. Do you feel an urgency or responsibility to start to correct centuries of non and misrepresentation of blackness? I feel like at this point I have a bit of institutional privilege, when I’m in these white liberal spaces, that carries me through. When I go home, not so much. But it’s incredibly urgent to me because I think about the diaspora a lot, about the Middle Passage a lot. I’ve been thinking about them especially in connection with environmentalism; both the devastation of the bodies and the devastation of the landscape; how the South was completely destroyed in order to create this agricultural system and how that was intrinsically linked to the bodies of people being displaced and being killed. You have repeatedly included exercise bikes that don’t actually function in your exhibitions. To me, these suggest frustrated aims, misspent energy and contemporary obsession with the body. What do they represent for you? I’m really interested in efficiency culture and productivity. There is a lot of talk about blackness and queerness and black female queerness at the moment in general public dialogue, but as soon as you insert a fat body into that space
it just gets really complicated. People’s politics aren’t really aligned when it comes to that because of all these assumptions about what you’re doing with yourself and if it’s something you have control over. It’s not as differentiated or easily understandable as race and gender. Fatness and fat doesn’t feel as graspable. But as a fat-bodied person interacting with the internet, exercise bikes kept coming to me in my Amazon, like, “Hi, this is for you, you need this,” and I was just like, “Okay, interesting...” But those workstations, they have a long history, such as in Silicon Valley where it’s all about efficiency culture, making sure you’re not getting restless leg syndrome or something… Yeah, like standing desks. Exactly, and it’s so funny, my mom has one of those desks. But what I’m interested in is the physical object, this thing that is basically a machine to work a body: how is it going to figure out how to sustain its life? Because it knows it’s here to be used, and in relationship to the black diaspora—I’m interested in diaspora, but there are so many other peoples that exist in this way—we were literally machinery to be used. And so, what do you do with a body that is being used? How do you prolong its life? For these machines—and I’ve made others that I’ve done different modifications for—it’s trying to impede its own productivity in order to prolong its life. It’s all a form of resistance. (LB)
PHOTO BY HAYNES RILEY
PHOTO BY JASON MANDELLA
Previous pages Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation, 2016 Video still Opposite page, from top Resident Evil, 2016 Installation Netherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr 1.0.3, 2016
PHOTO BY JASON MANDELLA
This page Resident Evil, 2016 Installation
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND EDOUARD MALINGUE GALLERY
Portrait Study 1 (Meat) - R, 2017 Oil on canvas 121.1 Ã— 92 cm
Cui Xinming TOXIC LIGHT & EVERYDAY CALM “Everyone is frantically seeking a higher, faster and stronger state.” Cui Xinming’s paintings evoke the unsettled condition of his peers, who are growing up in a time of tremendous political shift and seemingly unchecked development. How does angst manifest in your work? My work does not manifest angst deliberately. Rather, it depicts a sense of the reality I feel, which may contain or make the audience sense the existence of angst. I always find the essence of everyday life very attractive. I hope my paintings have such essence and express themselves with the help of it. Whether the thing I’m expressing is mania or gloom, I hope it is first of all hidden beneath the essence that comes from my real-life experiences. Those strange images and scenes in the paintings actually comprise some common and well-known elements. The process from familiar to unfamiliar is the process of attempting to refine the truth of life. You focus on the younger generation in China—how would you describe their collective youth experience, and why is this a particularly unsettling time? The idea of progress is the main tone of our society today. From an individual level to our whole society, everyone is frantically seeking a higher, faster and stronger state. However, it seems that we lack in-depth reflection. What makes me more concerned is that this seems to be our only path to the future and there is no retreat—you need to progress constantly to avoid being excluded from society. Individuals, like grains of silt in the water, are being carried along without knowing their destination or where they belong. That is where I suppose the unsettling feeling comes from. Sometimes the group lends a sense of comfort to the otherwise tense scenes in your paintings, and at times it feels as though the individual is escaping into their own world. Can you tell me a bit more about
this? My paintings attempt to reflect a certain sense of reality. As such, the painting sometimes renders the image of an individual and sometimes the image of a group. Sometimes it depicts the people in front of us (a close-up shot), moving to or standing at the brightest place in the painting—a place full of glory—with their backs to us. Sometimes the paintings depict people fulfilling their daily activities (mid-shot) and thereby convey a certain meaning through a sense of everyday calm. How does your own experience feed into this? Is painting a cathartic exercise for you? My own experience is my original basis for the judgment and reflection in my work and I will always return to this point whenever I get confused or distracted. This is a common approach: building a stage for all living beings based on your flesh self. Although my paintings incorporate a lot of personal experiences and emotions, I try to avoid making painting a cathartic exercise for myself. I hope it is a rational and systematic process: from acquiring, classifying and storing information, to processing information and making material research. It is meanwhile a process of finding oneself and finding a perfect match with the outside world. Your stark use of light and dark lends a sense of doom or apocalypse to the works, yet overall your paintings seem to capture fear and hope at once. Does either emotion win out for you in the end, or do you see them as inherently linked? Classical Western paintings that represent religious themes and baroque portraits that emphasize the use of light interest me extremely: light as a medium and its
potential to represent sacredness, solemnity, silence and the beauty of time. I often use it as the basis to arrange a painting. What I particularly want to achieve is that under a generally calm-looking picture, a kind of unsettlement appears that comes close to the truth. When it comes to fear and hope, I think they always exist side by side. In life, we always wish people “good luck” and “all the best”, which means we expect that the development of things will lean towards the side of hope. Perhaps the reason for delineating and focusing on this paradox comes from my belief that people do not dare to live life at ease since they cannot get away from fear and hope. Personally, on this issue I am pessimistic. However, I still hope good will always accompany people in the future. There is a toxicity to some of the light in the work—it has a glow that feels unnatural and dangerous. Are your concerns environmental as well as social and political? Yes, many of my current works portray light and the scenes happening under such light. Meanwhile, the strangeness and angst of light is reinforced by the atmosphere of the picture and the combination of images. For me, this is a metaphorical approach. I do not intend to express concern about any specific issue. This said, every daily task that involves us contains environmental, social and political issues, as you have mentioned, or even the aftermath of them. Therefore, it is inevitable to talk about these issues if you are talking about everyday life, albeit in an indirect way. You talk about them metaphorically, about life that has been deeply influenced by them. (ES)
Ho Tzu Nyen TERROR & METAMORPHOSIS
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND EDOUARD MALINGUE GALLERY
“Clouds suggest elevation, yet the act of staring up at a cloud makes one feel the downward pull of gravity, of flesh and mortality.” Never has a wisp of condensed water contained more menace than in the work of Ho Tzu Nyen.
Ho Tzu Nyen
What does angst mean for you? For me it evokes the anxiety surrounding our deep uncertainty about the state of the world, which accompanies an anguish at being unable to grasp the causes, much less act on them. So much of my work is about dealing with uncertainty, or better yet, whether to do something about it.
starting point is rhythm. When I work with a palette of music that is close to heavy metal, like in The Cloud of Unknowing, what I am purely interested in is the intensity, or even religiosity of the musical form, detached from the imageries and ideologies that usually accompany the genre.
There is often an unknown or faceless presence in your work—the 2011 film “The Cloud of Unknowing” is a perfect example. Can you tell me a bit about how you develop this? I was fascinated by the changing representation of clouds in painting, specifically how they have the propensity to be turned into their opposite. For example, clouds indoors suggest divine presence, but also, quite easily, madness and hallucination. Painted clouds are rocks upon which the heavenly host stands. Clouds suggest elevation, yet the act of staring up at a cloud makes one feel the downward pull of gravity, of flesh and mortality. Clouds are vast, or amorphous, enough to contain contradictions. The art historian Hubert Damisch pointed out that the Chinese had an interesting way of dealing with clouds in their monochrome ink painting, which is to depict clouds by leaving the scroll unpainted, using emptiness to evoke its metamorphic and paradoxical qualities. The Cloud of Unknowing is a machine for working through these cloud metaphors, set in a block of low-income public housing in Singapore.
You address history quite often, not just historical art but political and social histories too. How do you think memories or tales from the past can fuel a feeling of angst and uncertainty in the present and future? The subjects from the past that interest me are almost always spectres haunting the present. We seem to live in a moment where we are not only uncertain about the state of things and the systems that we have abided by. Rather, we are slowly beginning to see that uncertainty itself is inherent within the cosmos, or in the human interface with it. And we are learning not only to come to terms with uncertainty, but more importantly, to work with uncertainty as a generative principle. I do not think it is possible to ever break from the past. The past persists, the future insists, we exist.
You work in film, which has a long history with angst. Why do you think this medium can capture it so well? I’ve never thought of film in this way, but this is an interesting perspective. Perhaps this is because angst is evoked primarily through the human figure. Film—no matter how sophisticated the narrative—has remained completely figurative and anthropocentric. I wonder if there is angst in images purely of landscapes, or nature? Film, with its sense of passing time, its ability to zoom in on the faces and the flesh of its human subjects, remains for us a powerful evocation of human presence. You work a lot with music—from punk, to metal and classical. How does this come together with the visual in your work, and are you quite led by the emotions present in a piece of music or soundtrack when working? For me, the aural and the visual are bundled up on a horizontal plane. The
Ho Tzu Nyen
Change and metamorphosis are ongoing themes for you—do you find security or fear in the unknown? For me, the unknown is beyond security and fear. It is somewhere between bliss and terror. You also address creative angst in your work, most obviously in “The Name”. Can you tell me about how this piece came to fruition? It refers to Gene Z Hanrahan, the first person to write a comprehensive historical account of the Malayan Communist Party, with access to special archives maintained by the police. But the oeuvre of Hanrahan, which consists of texts from a mindboggling array of genres, spanning from technical manuals to strategic studies, historical reports and quasi-literary endeavours, suggests that there was not just one but many authors folded into the name. The film has a voiceover, consisting of passages gleaned from the books and performed by three different American voice actors, over a sequence of images assembled from Anglo-American films about writers. In them, all the stereotypical depictions of literary labour, including creative angst, are played out. (ES)
Previous pages, left The Name, 2015 Single channel HD projection, surround sound 16 min 51 sec Previous pages, right; opposite page The Cloud of Unknowing, 2011 Single channel HD video, stereo sound 28 min 16 sec
COURTESY ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES AND THE ARTIST
The Age â€ŠWhen Nothing Fits
© RYAN TRECARTIN. COURTESY THE ARTIST, REGEN PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES, AND SPRÜTH MAGERS
The few years that we experience between childhood and adulthood are some of the most significant in our lives, as we scramble from innocence to experience and begin to form our independent selves. While it is easy to mock the emotional extremes and seeming triviality of teen angst, the most nuanced artistic responses tend to be sympathetic. Words: Louise Benson
In the first week of January 1945, The New York Times Magazine published “A Teen-Age Bill of Rights”: I. The right to let childhood be forgotten II. The right to a “say” about his own life III. The right to make mistakes, to find out for oneself IV. The right to have rules explained, not imposed V. The right to have fun and companions VI. The right to question ideas VII. The right to be at the romantic age VIII. The right to a fair chance and opportunity IX. The right to struggle toward his own philosophy in life X. The right to professional help whenever necessary Teenagers have long occupied a curious space between childhood and adulthood, aspirational but not yet fully empowered by society. There is an insatiable yearning attached to our experience of teenhood, as we demand the respect afforded to “grown-ups”,
while largely disregarding the responsibilities that come with it. As Jon Savage puts it in Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875–1945: “This sense of being lost is inevitably endemic to adolescence: adrift in a world made by adults, not for you.” The boldly laid out teen commandments in The New York Times Magazine demanded something different, and were the result of a serious study by the Jewish Board of Guardians which aimed to offer practical guidance to families. They perfectly evoke the frustration that arises when parents and guardians are unable to take their children seriously. After all, the family is often the first structure that we find ourselves confined by, as we take our first steps to encounter the world on our own terms. Of course, teen angst is more than just growing pains. Almost since its inception, the term “teenager” has been used as a marketing term by advertisers, manufacturers and brands to speak and sell directly to this newly empowered consumer group. It was in the 1940s that the shift from the term “adolescent” to
“teenager” first took place, initially often hyphenated as “teen-age”. Jon Savage explains: “The invention of the teenager coincided with America’s victory in the Second World War […] Indeed, the definition of youth as a consumer offered a golden opportunity to a devastated Europe. For the last sixty years, this postwar teen image has dominated the way that the West sees the young, and has been successfully exported around the world.” It is no surprise that teen angst has been similarly packaged over the years, from pop bands managed by much older executives to blockbusters chronicling the melodrama of the all-American high school. Beyond this mass-market approach, the pleasures and pains of teenhood have proved an endlessly rich subject for countless artists, writers, musicians and directors, who have sensitively reflected the nuances of what it means to grow up, and creatively expressed the true intensity of adolescence.
Previous pages Ed Templeton Teenage Smoker, Huntington Beach, 2015 Opposite page Ryan Trecartin CENTER JENNY, 2013 HD video; duration 53:15
The Age When Nothing Fits
CLIQUES AND GANGS The teenage gang can be as seductive as it is threatening, and the affirmation of belonging to a distinct group is frequently expressed through visual cues. Swiss photographer Karlheinz Weinberger documented an Elvis Presley-obsessed group on the streets of Zurich from the 1950s to 1970s, in a series of remarkable, provocative images that, until recently, were lost in obscurity. His subjects pose casually and relax unguardedly together, united in their obsession with the rock’n’roll idol, who is emblazoned on their denim clothing and oversized belt buckles. Ryan McGinley made a name for himself in New York in the early 2000s with his hedonistic photographs of (often nude) groups of teenagers. His first selfpublished book was titled The Kids Are Alright (1999), an upfront announcement
of his refusal to accept the negative associations of teen subculture, from underage sex to drugs and parties. Instead, his hazy, lo-fi snaps celebrate the freedom to be found in youthful experimentation. Céline Sciamma takes a more balanced view in her 2014 film Girlhood, in which a young black girl gang based in the outskirts of Paris grow in confidence through their collective friendship. It is memorably conveyed in a scene in a hotel room where they lip-sync their way through Rihanna’s “Diamonds”. It captures the fleeting escapism that a group can offer from the often difficult reality of teen life.
STILLS COURTESY OF PLAYTIME
“You can’t sit with us.” So goes the famous line from Mean Girls, the 2004 teen comedy which dissected the cliques that divide the high school canteen, classroom and beyond. The desire to fit in is perhaps strongest during those crucial years, when social rejection is felt most keenly and peer approval means everything. Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch’s film CENTER JENNY, part of a larger installation first shown during the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, attempts to conjure the context in which toxic group dynamics can develop. Futuristic and frenzied, it depicts a dystopian camp where all pupils are named Jenny, in a direct allusion to ultimate conformity. They scream instructions at one another, forcing a number of “Jennies” through a series of manic challenges and cruel rituals in order for them to ascend to “The University”.
COURTESY HAYWARD GALLERY AND THE ARTIST
This page Jeremy Deller Open Bedroom, Joy in People, Hayward Gallery, 2012 Installation Opposite page Céline Sciamma Girlhood, 2014
THE BEDROOM The teenage bedroom is an inner sanctuary which offers solace in our troubled teenage years. Assailed on all sides by the wilful demands of parents and siblings, the bedroom offers a moment of solitude and privacy within the family house. The use of a door lock to cement this privacy can be considered controversial, so those with their own room often claim their territory in a more creative fashion. Adrienne Salinger’s series of photographs In My Room, taken in the bedrooms of strangers who she met in malls and through friends in the early 1990s, reveals this act of deliberate personalization; Blu-tacked posters, cluttered surfaces and all. “Teenagers are on the edge of rapid change,” she writes in her introduction. “Their rooms contain all of their possessions, and yet these are the last moments that they will be living in their parents’ homes. The past is cramped together on the same shelf as the future.” American photographer Charlie White explores this adolescent transformation in The Cyrilla Strothers Project. He worked with the teenage Cyrilla from 2004 to
The Age When Nothing Fits
2007, documenting her life between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. White did not photograph her himself, but placed cameras into her familiar personal environment. Her parents, siblings and friends were asked to take pictures of her on a daily basis, resulting in an archive of more than 10,000 images. The most revealing portraits are taken candidly as she sleeps, while still lifes of details within the bedroom build a portrait of her desires and aspirations as she comes of age. Jeremy Deller went one step further with Open Bedroom (1993) and actually invited people into his own teenage bedroom while his parents were away, presenting his interior life as art. Joy in People, his 2012 retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London, mounted an extended reconstruction of that bedroom, filled with Polaroids and band posters. The parental voice lingers in large letters that read “You Treat This Place Like a Hotel”, while “I ♥ Melancholy” stands out in gloss on a black-painted wall, evoking the introspection of teen angst that is as personal as it is universal.
COURTESY THE ARTIST, STUDIO VOLTAIRE AND KOENIG BOOKS
TEEN IDOLS School notebooks have long been the canvas for teenage outpourings of hopes, fears and, of course, lusty daydreams. Idle fantasies of imagined lovers inevitably alight upon the stars of stage and screen. Glossier, older and so much cooler than fellow schoolmates, they are all charted in impassioned doodles and intricately sketched-out romantic scenes. Of course, no one is immune to the seductive charm of celebrity, but teenage longing is felt in its own extremes, with little room for nuance or reflection. British artist Dawn Mellor knows this well, having spent her lonely and troubled adolescent years in Manchester in the 1980s obsessively producing drawings and paintings of Michael Jackson. Drawn in detailed graphite and coloured pencil,
they linger upon glamorous press shots, posters and party pictures of the star. A collection of these teenage drawings was published in 2012, as a book titled Michael Jackson and Other Men, which offers an insight into her better-known, often violent and grotesque paintings of figures such as Britney Spears and Judy Garland. As Joe Scotland writes in his introduction, “There is something endearing, and somewhat pathetic, about the Jackson drawings—both as a reminder of a tragic cultural icon and the indication of the burgeoning sexuality and artistic ambition of the young artist.” Another artist well-known for her fascination with the famous is Elizabeth Peyton, whose intimate, small-scale portraits of rock stars, literary figures and
artists conjure the sensuous mystery of the celebrity. John Lydon, Jarvis Cocker, Stephen Malkmus and others are lightly sketched from newspaper clippings and photographs in coloured pencil or watercolour on paper. The blankness of the page can be seen between her tentative strokes, suggestive of that first school notebook of teen crushes. Her tender pictures capture the unattainability of her subjects, even when depicted in unguarded moments, and reveal that this elusiveness is integral to the timeless allure of stardom.
COURTESY ROBERTS PROJECTS, LOS ANGELES AND THE ARTIST
Opposite page Dawn Mellor Michael Jackson (36), 1986 Coloured pencil on paper 29.4 × 20.1 cm This page Ed Templeton Köln, Germany, 2007 Following pages, left Tobias Zielony Campfire Day from the series Curfew, 2001 C-print 41.6 × 62.4 cm Following pages, right Larry Clark Kids, 1994 C-prints from portfolio of 15 Each 21.59 × 27.94 cm
The Age When Nothing Fits
© TOBIAS ZIELONY. COURTESY TOBIAS ZIELONY AND KOW, BERLIN
ON THE STREETS When you’re a teenager, places to socialize can be scarce. You are below the legal drinking age and have little money (beyond parental handouts and Saturday job income), so restaurants, shops, bars and clubs are off limits, and even trips to the cinema or bowling alley are a rare occurrence. As a result, the streets and other transitory outdoor spaces have always been the teenage stomping ground, and it is not uncommon to see groups gathering in supermarket car parks, bus stops or the entrances to housing estates. German photographer Tobias Zielony has documented working class juvenile minorities in suburban areas for almost twenty years. His series Car Park (2000), Curfew (2001) and Quartiers Nord (2003), shot in Bristol, Liverpool and Marseilles respectively, follow listless teenagers as they congregate on benches and gather under the artificial glow of street lamps.
In one example, a young group crouch beside a makeshift bonfire in a dustbin; disillusioned and disenfranchized, slouched with hands in pockets, they are resigned to their largely invisible status on the margins. In his 1999 cult photo book Teenage Smokers, Ed Templeton captures some of this frustration, presenting candid portraits of local teenagers lighting up in the skate parks of southern California. Fresh-faced boys and girls inhale with their cheeks sucked in, squinting and smiling at the camera, embodying all the posturing of adolescence. Both Zielony and Templeton critically engage with the inevitable fictions present in documentary photography, as even a casual gesture is made deliberate in front of the camera lens, and the street becomes a stage for these teenagers to strike a pose. The characters of Kids, Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s
iconic 1995 film, also assume personas older than their years. They roam the streets of New York in pursuit of alcohol, drugs and (notably unsafe) sex, with a powerful naivety influenced at least in part by their inexperience as actors: the cast, as well as Clark and Korine, had never worked on a film before. When Jennie, the protagonist, discovers that she is HIV positive, it sets a darker tone that infuses with the wild rebellion of the film. Kids captures the painful realizations of teenage years, as the harsh realities of the world begin to come into focus. The longed-for freedoms of adulthood are revealed to be anything but liberating. Coming of age is shown ultimately to be both a loss and gain, from the pleasures and pains of innocence, to those of experience.
The Age When Nothing Fits
Â© LARRY CLARK. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND LUHRING AUGUSTINE, NEW YORK
Harley Weir Jo Ann Callis
HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR BODY? There is something so familiar about the human form and yet, viewed close-up, it is easy to become lost in the intimate terrain of its creases, hairs, blotches and spots. The abstraction of the body can be liberating, offering a different way of seeing ourselves and others. This is particularly significant for the female body, which is so often co-opted as a site for the projected desires and demands of a hyper-sexualized society. Harley Weir (born in 1988) and Jo Ann Callis (born in 1940) are two photographers who enact this abstraction, and in doing so reclaim the autonomy of the female form. Weir’s work is characterized by an eye for the personal, the awkward and the intimate, and a sensitivity to the nuances of sexuality. The contrasting emotions of desire and disgust run through her practice, and her images frequently invite both responses. Jo Ann Callis takes her investigation of the human body in equally unsettling directions. Unlike Weir, her scenes are carefully staged in a studio, and their eroticism is implied through visual cues, from a delectable cream cake set on pink satin to the parted hair of a woman seen from behind. Many of her images were taken in the mid-1970s, and her work was resurfaced in a 2014 book and exhibition. They remain remarkably contemporary, as provocative as they are enigmatic, and reveal the psychological unease that underpins our relationship to the human body.
1–7 Harley Weir Function 2010–18 Courtesy the artist
8 9 10 11 12
Jo Ann Callis Strawberry Pie 1994 Jo Ann Callis Salt Pepper Fire 1980 Jo Ann Callis Woman with Blonde Hair 1977 Jo Ann Callis Lizards and Roses 1980 Jo Ann Callis Nude Facing Wall 1976
Courtesy the artist and Rose Gallery
Photograph taken at Kunsthalle Basel
Participating Galleries # 303 Gallery 47 Canal
dépendance Di Donna Dvir
A A Gentil Carioca Miguel Abreu Acquavella Air de Paris Juana de Aizpuru Helga de Alvear Andréhn-Schiptjenko Applicat-Prazan The Approach Art : Concept Alfonso Artiaco
E Ecart Eigen + Art
B von Bartha Guido W. Baudach elba benítez Bergamin & Gomide Berinson Bernier/Eliades Fondation Beyeler Daniel Blau Blum & Poe Marianne Boesky Tanya Bonakdar Bortolami Isabella Bortolozzi BQ Gavin Brown Buchholz Buchmann
G Gagosian Galerie 1900-2000 Galleria dello Scudo gb agency Annet Gelink Gladstone Gmurzynska Elvira González Goodman Gallery Marian Goodman Bärbel Grässlin Alexander Gray Richard Gray Howard Greenberg Greene Naftali greengrassi Karsten Greve Cristina Guerra
C Cabinet Campoli Presti Canada Gisela Capitain carlier gebauer Carzaniga Casas Riegner Pedro Cera Cheim & Read Chemould Prescott Road Mehdi Chouakri Sadie Coles HQ Contemporary Fine Arts Continua Paula Cooper Pilar Corrias Chantal Crousel D Thomas Dane Massimo De Carlo
F Konrad Fischer Foksal Fortes D‘Aloia & Gabriel Fraenkel Peter Freeman Stephen Friedman Frith Street
H Michael Haas Hauser & Wirth Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert Herald St Max Hetzler Hopkins Edwynn Houk Xavier Hufkens I i8 Invernizzi Taka Ishii J Bernard Jacobson Alison Jacques Martin Janda Catriona Jeffries Annely Juda
K Kadel Willborn Casey Kaplan Georg Kargl Karma International kaufmann repetto Sean Kelly Kerlin Anton Kern Kewenig Kicken Peter Kilchmann König Galerie David Kordansky KOW Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Andrew Kreps Krinzinger Nicolas Krupp Kukje / Tina Kim kurimanzutto
Stuart Shave/Modern Art The Modern Institute Jan Mot Vera Munro
L Lahumière Landau Simon Lee Lehmann Maupin Tanya Leighton Lelong Lévy Gorvy Gisèle Linder Lisson Long March Luhring Augustine Luxembourg & Dayan
P Pace Pace/MacGill Maureen Paley Alice Pauli Perrotin Petzel Francesca Pia Plan B Gregor Podnar Eva Presenhuber ProjecteSD
M Kate MacGarry Magazzino Mai 36 Gió Marconi Matthew Marks Marlborough Hans Mayer Mayor Fergus McCaffrey Greta Meert Anthony Meier Urs Meile Mendes Wood DM kamel mennour Metro Pictures Meyer Riegger Massimo Minini Victoria Miro Mitchell-Innes & Nash Mnuchin
N nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder Nagel Draxler Richard Nagy Edward Tyler Nahem Helly Nahmad Neu neugerriemschneider Franco Noero David Nolan Nordenhake Georg Nothelfer O Nathalie Obadia OMR
R Almine Rech Reena Spaulings Regen Projects Rodeo Thaddaeus Ropac S Salon 94 Esther Schipper Rüdiger Schöttle Thomas Schulte Natalie Seroussi Sfeir-Semler Jack Shainman ShanghART Sies + Höke Sikkema Jenkins Skarstedt SKE Skopia / P.-H. Jaccaud Sperone Westwater
Sprüth Magers St. Etienne Nils Stærk Stampa Standard (Oslo) Starmach Christian Stein Stevenson Luisa Strina T Take Ninagawa Tega Templon Tokyo Gallery + BTAP Tornabuoni Tschudi Tucci Russo V Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois Van de Weghe Annemarie Verna Susanne Vielmetter Vitamin W Waddington Custot Nicolai Wallner Washburn Barbara Weiss Michael Werner White Cube Barbara Wien Jocelyn Wolff Z Thomas Zander Zeno X ZERO... David Zwirner Feature Raquel Arnaud bitforms Bernard Bouche Bureau ChertLüdde James Cohan Monica De Cardenas Fonti Galerist Grimm Barbara Gross Hamiltons Hanart TZ Hollybush Gardens
hunt kastner Kalfayan Lange + Pult Emanuel Layr Löhrl Jörg Maass Max Mayer Lorcan O‘Neill P420 Franklin Parrasch Nara Roesler Richard Saltoun Pietro Spartà Supportico Lopez The Third Line Upstream Zlotowski Statements The Box Sandy Brown Carlos/Ishikawa Croy Nielsen Essex Street Experimenter Freedman Fitzpatrick JTT Jan Kaps Antoine Levi Madragoa Mary Mary mor charpentier Morán Morán One and J. Deborah Schamoni Stigter Van Doesburg White Space Beijing Edition Brooke Alexander Niels Borch Jensen Alan Cristea mfc - michèle didier Fanal Gemini G.E.L. Sabine Knust Lelong Editions Carolina Nitsch Paragon Polígrafa Susan Sheehan STPI Two Palms
Print, Paste, Protest
“It’s a referendum. If everyone says yes why should a man sitting in an office stop it happening? That’s why I do a lot of my work illegally.” Holly Black meets JR, the anonymous French artist whose huge-scale, human-driven work has taken him everywhere from the US-Mexican border to Rio’s favelas and the Academy Awards. 130
© COMITÉ INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIQUE, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL, 2016
JR has never been particularly worried about the legality of his work. Like most artists who began their career on the graffiti scene, he has always approached the idea of authoritarian permission with fairly casual regard, relying instead on the assurances of the local community and the understanding that most of his ventures are likely to go unchecked or even receive retroactive consent. This self-actualizing freedom has allowed him to create monumental paste-up portraits throughout the world, shining a light on marginalized communities, celebrating unsung heroes and producing poignant political commentary, in places as disparate as Brazil, Switzerland and Israel. That being said, JR understands the importance of maintaining a level of anonymity in order to carry on working, hence the abbreviated moniker and a steadfast devotion to wearing a hat and sunglasses. His disguise is firmly in place when I meet him at Lazinc’s recently opened Mayfair gallery, which is dutifully covered in scaffolding to support a cutout of an enormous pair of legs protruding from the second-floor windows. From the other side of the street, these limbs seem to correspond with a disembodied torso erected inside, and so the illusion of a man backflipping into the gallery is complete. This site-specific installation is part of Giants, an exhibition chronicling JR’s 2016 Rio Olympic Games commission. This hugely ambitious project presented gargantuan images of athletes jumping and diving, as if the city was their training ground. “They performed for the buildings,” he explains, as we tour his display of mock-ups, technical drawings and other collateral works. He is referring to the fact that each athlete posed for a specific building, creating a real synergy between the structures and their movement. “I have played with architecture before by pasting on walls, but suddenly I played with the city. I had someone jumping over it.” This government-sanctioned project was not the artist’s first intervention in Rio. In 2008 the Morro da Providência favela became one of the sites for his global Women Are Heroes series, where he plastered buildings with images of local women’s faces so that they appeared to stare out across the city. Photographs of the hillside gained international coverage, drawing attention to an urban area that many affluent Brazilians would rather ignore.
“Why would I go into the middle of Palestine and paste a giant image of a girl who has lost her parents in a bombing, when if the locals do it, it’s so much stronger?”
The process of enacting the project was fairly lawless even by JR’s standards, as local drug gangs control the area. He gained an audience with the leaders, explained his aims and was eventually granted access to paste throughout the community. It was the beginning of an ongoing dialogue, and the artist has since founded Casa Amarela, a cultural and education centre designed to support the favela’s youth. The latest addition is an enormous moon, elevated high above the property, with a reading room inside. The structure is so tall that a light was fitted to warn air traffic, “because we didn’t tell the authorities,” he adds, with a knowing grin. This permanent intervention is perhaps the most pointed example of JR’s investment into the communities he chooses to work in. Its permanence is a departure from his standard practice and has helped to foster new relationships within the local population, as well as with the various artists who have been invited to teach and collaborate on site. It also serves as a stark reminder that cultural outlets are almost non-existent in many of the areas that JR visits, which is why he is always keen to offer mementos so that the participants can have some ownership of the experience after the paste-ups are gone: “I always do books that I give to the community, that aren’t available to buy. I took a couple to the drug dealers, and the head of the gang said, ‘Where is that?’ and I replied, ‘What do you mean? It’s here!’ Now, he was born on the hill and knew it by heart, but I realized that he only knew it from the inside, because he doesn’t leave, so he had never seen this viewpoint.” Collaboration is central to JR’s practice and manifests itself in the most basic sense that his photographs are reliant on the subjects’ willingness to pose. This interaction allows the artist a certain peace of mind, as it is clear that he isn’t imposing his work on the residents. “It’s a referendum. If everyone says yes why should a man sitting in an office stop it happening? That’s why I do a lot of my work illegally. The Inside Out project has proved so much. People will make the work without me, I have nothing to do with it.” For this particular venture JR invited the public to shoot their own portraits (or visit one of the numerous photo trucks that were sent all over the world) and email them to the artist, who enlarged them, converted them to black and white, and sent them back. It was
© COMITÉ INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIQUE, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL, 2017
up to the individuals to decide on their next step and paste where they saw fit. To date, over 260,000 people have taken part in over a hundred countries. “Why would I go into the middle of Palestine and paste a giant image of a girl who has lost her parents in a bombing, when if the locals do it, it’s so much stronger?” JR argues. “That was a piece I had nothing to do with; they even printed it themselves. They just used my dots, to show it was part of the project and so they won’t be targeted for producing propaganda. That’s the best combination I could imagine.” Fraught geopolitical tensions have also served as key inspiration for some of JR’s latest works, which examine and unpick the unsavoury attitude towards immigrants held by the current US government. Earlier this year he presented So Close at The Armory’s Pier 94 in New York,
where archive photographs of migrants arriving on Ellis Island were doctored to include faces of contemporary Syrian refugees. It was something of a sequel to his 2014 piece that took place on the island itself, where he pasted historical imagery throughout the immigration facility’s abandoned hospital complex. In an even more overt critique of contemporary US policy, JR presented an unmistakably joyful image of a toddler looking over the Mexican border in September last year. At seventy feet, this young boy dwarfed the barrier dividing Tecate from San Diego County and made something that is normally associated with fear and anxiety seem faintly ludicrous. The public response was exceptional. Thousands of tourists came from both sides of the border to snap selfies with the structure (built on the Mexican side), with visitors even passing
their phones to one another through the barrier, in order to get a better shot. Despite using a digger, hiring scaffolding and creating this huge cutout, JR encountered little resistance from border control: “They could have arrested someone or caused trouble, but no one ever had any problems. Which means that they secretly endorse the project.” The piece culminated with a picnic on both sides of the wall, with guests sharing food through the fence and a band splitting up to perform on both sides. The event featured a custom tablecloth depicting the eyes of a Dreamer (the name afforded to undocumented people who came to the US as children). The act was a particularly poignant moment, considering the current perilous state of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) programme. In fact, the Dreamer in question attended
Opening pages Mohamed Younes Idriss from Sudan, Flamengo, from the series Giants Close-up Previous pages Portrait by Benjamin McMahon Opposite page Mohamed Younes Idriss from Sudan, Recherche #2, 2017, from the series Giants This page Cleuson Lima Do Rosario from Brazil, Recherche #2, 2017, from the series Giants Following pages Photo of Guy Bourdin in Faces Places directed by Agnès Varda and JR
the event with her mother, despite the very real danger that she might face deportation, as she felt it was too important and symbolic a moment to miss. “It gives me hope, about what is possible and what is not,” says JR. “You can think about how terrible this situation is… of course it is, and it’s very intense, but there are human beings behind this who understand the complexity of these situations. Only certain art projects like this can reflect that. It’s not just my response, it’s thousands of people, so I can’t just be getting lucky! Maybe people are a little more open-minded than we think.” This unquestionably positive attitude permeates JR’s work, and his exuberant storytelling around the people he has met has even manifested itself in documentaries. His latest endeavour, titled Faces Places, follows his journey with fellow French artist Agnès Varda (a prolific,
experimental filmmaker who was instrumental in 1960s New Wave cinema), as they travel around rural France, equipped with a camera and a large-format printer. They seek out “normal people”, listen to their stories and commemorate them with—no surprises here—huge paste-up portraits. The film was nominated for an Academy Award (making Varda, at eightynine, the joint oldest contender to date) and JR’s Instagram feed shows images of him posing with Hollywood A-listers on the night of the Oscars. He’s in the mandatory tuxedo, but his glasses and hat are still intact. At this point you have to wonder, can he really continue to sustain this level of anonymity for much longer? For the sake of his art, one must hope so. JR shows at Perrotin, New York from 27 June until 17 August
© COMITÉ INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIQUE, RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL, 2017
Chantal Joffe “If you look at a painting and it doesn’t make you feel something, if it doesn’t engage you in some way, there really is no point.” Chantal Joffe’s portraits of friends and acquaintances, as well as her many self-portraits, are intimate, honest and entirely human. Louise Benson meets the artist at her studio in London. 138
ALL IMAGES COURTESY THE ARTIST AND VICTORIA MIRO, LONDON / VENICE © CHANTAL JOFFE
Previous pages Self-Portrait Bending Over, 2015 Pastel on paper 47.6 × 37.8 × 3.8 cm This page Moll (Mermaid Girl), 2017 Oil on board 50.1 × 40 × 1.5 cm
“Documenting ageing is brilliant; the change in your own self is gripping and rich because you don’t have to worry about your own feelings”
I’m waiting in the sun for Chantal Joffe, leaning against an old brick wall on a north London street which hugs the canal as it snakes through Islington. The clang and clatter of construction work cuts through the air, and builders rush back and forth from surrounding sites soon to become tower blocks. London is a city undergoing endless renewal. I peer into the collection of old industrial warehouses, now used as studios, and Joffe appears from behind a corner, gesturing me towards her. Up the hard concrete stairs behind her and through a nondescript door, we are transported away from the bustle of the street below. Joffe’s studio is expansive, its walls lined with the figures and faces of her distinctive paintings, who seem momentarily to glance down from their canvases. These same walls show the residue of countless sittings, flecked with paint and marked casually with brushes as if to recall an alternate impression of the people who passed through here for these portraits.
Empty tubes of paint are kicked about the floor, where they meet forgotten mugs and stray pens. To enter this studio is to enter entirely into Joffe’s world. “Sorry about the mess,” she says, shyly. I shake my head and try to find the words to say that, on the contrary, there is something entirely inviting about this room, with its big windows and cluttered surfaces. Beyond the cliché of the artful disarray of the artist’s studio, Joffe’s space feels like an honest reflection of her life and work, which are so often intertwined. Her sensual yet unflinchingly candid self-portraits have traced the path of her own progression from young woman to pregnancy to motherhood. Since the birth of Joffe’s daughter, Esme, her development from newborn to adolescence has been depicted also, caught in the intimate moments of growing up that are familiar to us all. She blows out her birthday candles, or lingers by her mother’s bed in a nightie. Joffe has described her work as “confessional painting” in a nod
to the confessional poetry of the likes of Robert Lowell and John Berryman; both offer unashamed observations on the self. Looking around the studio’s crowded walls, I see many versions of Joffe and her daughter at various ages. How does it feel to look back on these highly personal paintings now? “I’m quite astonished by some of the self-portraits I did pregnant and with Esme new,” she begins. “Some of them, I’m amazed by my own vanity. Lately, I think some of my self-portraits have got a lot harder, in a way, and of course I’m older. With self-portraiture, you think you’re being as clear about yourself as you can be, but then you always see vanity when you look back at them.” She still paints her daughter occasionally, but is careful to avoid embarrassing her. “I’m always begging her to sit and she often says no. Now she’s thirteen, and it’s a very self-conscious age.” We reflect on our own teenage years, remembering the attendant awkwardness of that time. Joffe was born in Vermont,
and emigrated with her family to London when she was thirteen. “I feel lucky that I got here. I still can’t believe it. I grew up in a small town, which was very narrow and white and very boring to look at.” Her time as a teenager was spent immersed in the diversity of inner-city London, before she studied at the Glasgow School of Art, and later to the Royal College of Art. I suggest to Joffe that it is only in retrospect that we are able to recognize the endlessly shifting self-image that we each endure, moving from self-consciousness to acceptance. “Absolutely. I look at student photos and think ‘God, why did I feel so bad about myself? Why did I waste that time?’” she laughs. “And my daughter is doing that now. She has no idea of her own beauty. Youth in and of itself is so beautiful, and you don’t know that when you possess it. But then, the older you get, the more fascinating looking at yourself becomes. Documenting ageing is brilliant; the change in your own self is gripping and rich because you don’t have to worry about your own feelings.” It is an apt moment for Joffe to look back on her career. A major survey of her work is on show at The Lowry in Salford until September this year, following an exhibition of pastel works on paper at Victoria Miro’s Venice gallery which closed last month. Joffe’s first public artwork will also be unveiled in the new Elizabeth Line station at Whitechapel, in London’s East End, this December. In Salford, her paintings will be displayed alongside works by German artist Paula Modersohn-Becker, who died in 1907. One of the first women to paint a nude self-portrait, she also went on to paint herself during pregnancy. Her works challenge the traditional representation of the female body, depicting it exposed and at ease. This exhibition cements Joffe’s longstanding admiration of ModersohnBecker, and she selected the paintings to be displayed alongside her own: “She’s such an incredibly direct painter, and she’s often seen things very freshly.” She tells me that the title of the show, Personal Feeling is the Main Thing, is taken from Modersohn-Becker’s diaries. “She’s always laying out in her diaries what painting is, trying to work it out and asking what makes a good painting. I liked this quote because I thought, yeah, if you look at a painting and it doesn’t make you feel something, if it doesn’t engage you in some way, there really is no point. It just struck me that personal feeling really is the main thing. It’s the only reason I pick up a brush.”
We pause for a moment, and Joffe laughingly mentions that I am sat in the striped armchair that she usually asks her models to sit in. She sits opposite me, an easel alongside her. It is an exchange that seems strangely familiar. Even in her paintings of others, Joffe frequently feels extremely present; although she is sat opposite her subject and out of sight, she can be sensed in the line of their gaze, in a frown or hint of tiredness. The relationship between painter and subject is brought to the fore, with all the tensions that arise in the time that it takes to make a painting from life. Does she actively look to capture those moments of connection —that eye contact—between herself and her subjects? “It’s all there. Often I’m struggling to paint on the side of the encounter, and the painting just feels a bit like the ‘after-thing’. You have an exchange with someone, and then there happens to be a painting that’s a record of that,” she says. “I always think of it like when you go to clean the bath and there’s a rim round the edge. There’s the remnant of time spent...” Joffe has found it harder and harder not to paint people she knows, which is weird, she muses, because she also likes the anonymity of found images. Many of her earlier paintings are based on models seen in fashion magazines, discarded photographs or pornography. “I used to think I was giving life to fashion models, that I was somehow resuscitating them,” she remembers. “When I was younger, I was obsessed with and fascinated by beauty in a way that I’m less interested in now. I was trying to inhabit it, maybe I was trying to imagine my way into it.” Imagination is key, as the bold strokes of Joffe’s brush animate the women of her paintings, projecting their hopes, desires and all-too-human frustrations in the subtleties of their posture and expression. Has she always been interested in how we relate to one another, and in the lives of others? “There is so much joy in seeing, and I suppose painting allows you to imagine yourself into another person. I sometimes think my whole life as a painter is trying not to be me.” She describes the paper dolls she and her sisters used to create stories with as children: “For me, that was the most happy I’ve ever been in all my life, being in that narrative. Together, we were creating a fictional world that was completely immersive and all-consuming. You chase that experience through art or through writing. I think that people become artists to recapture some experience they had as a child.”
We take the opportunity to zoom out and reflect upon Joffe’s life as an artist, from childhood to art student in the nineties to the forty-eight-year-old she is today. I point out that, over the years that she has been a painter, much has changed around her. Technology has transformed, and social media has made the type of intimate exposure and self-portraiture that she has long practised commonplace. I am curious to hear her thoughts on this modern-day phenomenon. “I totally understand selfies, and I think it’s quite nice that everybody has access to that aspect of being an artist, of being able to say, ‘Here I am.’ It strikes me that all any of us wants is to be seen. To feel that people recognize and understand us.” Our conversation is coming to a close, and we stand amidst the tubes of paint and discarded brushes. “Photos are amazing but paintings are other. In a much stronger way, painting holds time. All those thoughts that you have while you do it go into the painting,” she finishes. “It’s like it listens to the people and holds all that emotion.” “Personal Feeling Is the Main Thing” runs until 2 September at The Lowry, Salford; a book of the same title is being published with Victoria Miro and Elephant
Previous pages Vita Reclining, 2016 Pastel on paper 37.8 × 47.6 × 3.8 cm Opposite page Herb at Sixteen, 2018 Oil on canvas 100 × 70 × 2 cm
This page Esme with a Striped Blanket, 2008 Oil on canvas 30 Ă— 30 cm Opposite page Portrait and studio photography by Isabelle Young
Mobilizing the Masses
Nick Cave “There’s always optimism in my work. It’s about bringing things to light through colour. Through movement. It’s about activation. That’s when the healing process begins.” Margaret Carrigan heads to Chicago to meet Nick Cave, whose powerfully affirmative work cuts straight to the heart of its often hefty political subject matter. 148
Previous pages Arm Piece, 2018 Cast bronze and vintage tole flowers Opposite page Nick Cave: Heard NY (detail), Grand Central Station, New York, 2013 Installation view This page Portrait by Assaf Evron
It’s mid-January when I meet with Nick Cave to talk about what’s on the horizon for him this year, with two major gallery shows and a new performance commission debuting in New York in the summer and autumn. The bright morning Chicago air feels brittle and I’m blue with cold as I huff my way to his studio. I’m running an embarrassing twenty-five minutes late because I got off the L at the wrong stop, forcing me to hoof it over the Cermak Road Bridge, which rattles with the kind of bone-chilling breeze I have only ever experienced in the Windy City. When I finally arrive, Bob Faust, the artist’s studio manager and partner, graciously ushers me—by this point just a popsicle in a puffer coat —into their Pilsen warehouse. “This used to be the Motor Row District back in the day; our building was an old tyre factory,” Faust tells me as we ride the large steel-encased elevator up to their living quarters. “We’re going to move in August, though, we need more space.” We stride into Cave’s spacious, sun-spattered, open-plan apartment, which is filled with large plants, some
small trees even. It feels like walking into a jungle oasis after roving the frigid factory tundra outside. Cave is sitting at an expansive dark wood dining table, waiting patiently for my late ass. As I sit down, bumbling with apologies, he casually waves his hand to the side in a gesture of absolution, telling me he doesn’t mind having a few extra minutes to himself. “I try to find time to sit in silence every day, it makes you present, brings you closer to your truth. Just imagine if we each had one hour of silence every day! I think we’d be a different people,” he says, his eyes twinkling and clearly a bit bemused by my flustered hurriedness as I pull out my notebook and Faust takes my coat. Because of the lushness of the loft, it takes a minute to register all of the art held within it—a Kehinde Wiley painting over there, a Barkley L Hendricks to my right. Everywhere I look there are sculptures, tapestries and fantastic furniture from all around the globe, blending to create a roomscape that vibrates with warmth and eclecticism. Cave explains that he’s been collecting all manner of
objects for many years. “I may be pretty rooted here,” he tells me. He has lived in Chicago since 1980, when he began teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, “but I’m operating in the world”, he says, gesticulating in an arc. “I like being reminded that I’m out in it, part of it, even when I’m inside.” Certainly, Cave’s work has always revealed him as having a global world view and even a penchant for collecting. Although perhaps best known for his performances in “soundsuits”—sculptural assemblages used as a surrealist armour to guard against preconceived notions relating to the race and gender of their wearers—the artist’s multimedia installations are even more of a potpourri of found objects exploring class, skin colour and cultural identities. He has two major shows this year at his New York gallery, Jack Shainman, one that opened in May and another that will open in October, both of which attempt to quantify the historical and contemporary psychological condition of black lived experience in America, and have him scouring flea markets and eBay for very specific items.
“The mobilization of bodies can be just as powerful a force as the weather if we want it to be” “I’ve got a whole room full of these carved wooden heads of bald eagles and black people,” he tells me, which are to be used in his autumn show at Jack Shainman. “We’re all told this is the land of the free and the home of the brave. But who gets to be free, who gets to be brave? These little wooden sculptures, they look similar but they represent different things. What happens when you mix them all together?” He tells me that his whole process of collection is a political act in and of itself, since as he culls these effigies from random sources, he tries to track down and record the maker and year it was made. “It’s like a reclaiming; a rewriting of history.” There are all sorts of data collection now, all the time, but what about all the information that got left out before now, the names and lives and facts that got lost? “I want to track these things,” he says, “analyse them. There’s power in statistics; it’s a kind of material, too.” Data analysis is at the centre of some of his latest fabric “paintings” too, which are featured in Cave’s summer show, Weather or Not. The large tondos are first bejewelled with a target pattern made out of bugle beads before a sweep of colourful fur-like fabric is applied on top in various swirling trajectories. “I was looking at some studies that explore the post-traumatic stress of black-on-black crime,” he says. It is worth noting that such analysis is vastly overlooked in the mainstream political dialogue around gun violence in the United States. “I was struck by how much the brain scans from these studies looked like Doppler maps of severe weather. And that got me thinking about all these
devastating hurricanes lately in places like Haiti and Puerto Rico, and how little was done to help these communities,” Cave says, his voice rising a bit. These forces —one natural, one social, but equally damaging nonetheless—are affecting areas that contain a majority of people of colour while much of America turns a blind eye. The physical and psychological trauma that ensues among these communities are precisely what Cave says he’s trying to convey. Despite the hard-hitting topics that are present in Cave’s work, there is joy too. “There’s always optimism in my work,” he says. “It’s about bringing things to light through colour. Through movement. It’s about activation. That’s when the healing process begins.” Indeed, in his site-specific commission for New York’s Park Avenue Armory this summer, The Let Go, Cave is turning the historic building’s Wade Thompson Drill Hall into a rainbow-coloured dance floor enlivened by nearly one hundred choir members and performers. “We’re in a moment of huge political activation right now—there are huge marches happening in cities across the nation. There are these town halls popping up all over the country and hundreds of people are at them. So I’m taking this idea of the town hall and making it into a dance hall,” he says, explaining that dance is a form of catharsis. “The mobilization of bodies can be just as powerful a force as the weather if we want it to be.” “I always work with big groups of people these days, it seems to be what the institutions who commission me want,” Cave says, when I ask if it’s difficult to coordinate mini-movements all the time.
“May I chime in?” Faust ventures. “I think you might be being too humble. There’s a definite strategy in your work, because when you think of affect, and making a mark, and creating opportunities for people to be seen and heard, the more people you enlist, the more impact your work can have. Your work is about participating in something that’s bigger than the individual. That’s the point about mobilization.” Cave smiles at me coyly as Faust finishes his sentence. “He’s right. But it sounds better when he says it.” Speaking of mobilizing the masses, the artist checks his watch. “It’s time for me to go to class! I have students to teach.” Within minutes I’m back outside, the heatless sun and chilly air once again shocking my senses. Faust and Cave wave to me from the door. “It’ll be warmer out when we meet again,” the artist says, always the optimist. “Weather or Not” runs until 23 June at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
Previous pages, left and right Tondo, 2018 Mixed media including metal, wire, bugle beads, sequinned fabric and wood Approx 183 cm diameter Opposite page Soundsuit, 2017 Mixed media including buttons, wire, bugle beads, metal and mannequin Approx 236 × 122 × 38 cm
Â© NICK CAVE. PHOTO BY JAMES PRINZ PHOTOGRAPHY. ALL ARTWORK COURTESY THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK
AA Bronson “We’d all get stoned, sit around on the floor and put it together—it was a quilting bee approach to publishing.” AA Bronson, aka the “Grandfather of Zines”, discusses magazine-making, eighties New York and his love of printed matter with Madeleine Morley. 156
It’s early in the morning when I visit AA Bronson at his apartment just off Berlin’s busy Kurfürstendamm. He moved to the city with his husband—the architect and designer Mark Jan Krayenhoff van de Leur—and set up near Galerie Buchholz, which represented Bronson’s infamous art collective General Idea (GI) in the 1980s. Opening the large, ornate wooden door to his home, Bronson is unmistakable: impressive white beard, rounded glasses and kind eyes. I regularly see him from afar at Berlin’s art book fairs, carrying tote bags loaded with printed material. In fact, Bronson is often referred to as the “Grandfather of Zines”, as Van de Leur points out, while I browse the artist books stacked neatly on the living room table. After participating in the early days of Canada’s radical underground publishing scene, Bronson lent his knowledge of publishing networks to GI’s mischievous foray into magazine-making and later to New York’s Printed Matter bookstore, where he was director and subsequent founder of the New York and LA Art Book Fairs. Today he publishes regularly under his own imprint, Media Guru—he’s currently got three zines at the printer, he tells me. With my interest in publishing piqued, Bronson dashes past his cluttered white desk, covered in mail, to grab a stack of GI’s File magazine. Van de Leur brings us coffee—lots of it—and Bronson starts at the beginning.
Born Michael Tims in Vancouver in 1946, Bronson’s first move into independent publishing was in Winnipeg after a stint studying architecture. During the early sixties he founded a commune with a group of fellow dropouts; together they edited an underground newspaper in a distinctly un-hierarchical way. “We’d all get stoned, sit around on the floor and put it together—it was a quilting bee approach to publishing,” remembers Bronson. “Although the word ‘network’ didn’t really start being used until the seventies, that’s what this was: the underground papers were people outside mainstream society, all in touch with one another and sending each other work. It meant that in this little city in Canada we had contact with the International Situationists.” In 1968 Bronson moved to Toronto to participate in the Rochdale College experiment, a notorious commune that functioned as a student-run free school. He also began an apprenticeship at the experimental publisher Coach House Press, where he acquired skills for letterpress and book design. “In the meantime,” he explains, “General Idea started with all of us moving in together.” In their home at 78 Gerrard Street, Bronson and fellow General Idea founders Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal sent chainletter mail art projects out into the world and in 1972, they started publishing a magazine to document it all. According to Bronson, File wasn’t simply a magazine but an artwork by GI, integral to its project as a whole. They appropriated Life magazine’s red and white logo and reordered its name, a decision that spurred Time Inc to threaten to sue. “That was great publicity for us,” he chuckles. File was parody and performance, but perhaps most vitally, a Trojan horse. It flaunted its glossy, colourful cover on the newsstands, artfully disguising the cheap newsprint inside. “It was a parasitic thing,” says Bronson. “It could go into a certain system, into the distribution network of bookstores and so on. Because of that cover, it could go where smaller magazines from the time might just disappear.” File took the form of mass media, but queered the content, parodying the stereotypes of gender with camp bravado. The “megazine”—as they often called it—reported on the group’s ever-evolving activities, beginning with mail art and then antics such as a “fake” beauty contest—the Miss General Idea Pageant. Bronson shows me the penultimate issue of the pageant, which the magazine had fervently promoted for years: the cover
features an illustration of the pyjama’d trio together in a bed, eyes wide open to greet the morning. GI would set up “shops” in galleries to sell File along with other multiples, circumventing art-world economics much like the Fluxus artists. Myth-making was central to File. It satirized commercial conventions and the role of publicity, its cynicism coupled with a deep-felt optimism about the form’s untapped egalitarian possibilities. Especially during its early years publishing mail art, GI would use the magazine as a vessel, distributing its work and that of other unknown artists to a wider public. “The poor mailman would come in with this huge pile of submissions every morning,” remembers Bronson. “That’s how we’d start every day. By opening the mail.” These days, his routine involves sharing photos of his legs in floral pyjama bottoms with social media followers—another network of sorts.
“The underground papers were people outside mainstream society, all in touch with one another and sending each other work”
Previous pages Portrait Kristin Krause Opposite page, above and below General Idea The Inside of Your Refrigerator, 1972 Offset on card 14 × 19 cm
IMAGES COURTESY GENERAL IDEA, AA BRONSON AND ESTHER SCHIPPER BERLIN
This page General Idea How Do You Slice Your Pie?, 1972 Offset on card 8.9 × 21.6 cm Published by Art Official Inc Toronto
Opposite page, this page and following pages Studio photography by Kristin Krause
“I thought we were in an important moment in history. There was this extremely lively and very egalitarian, horizontal movement through the art world and society”
Publishing File spurred new connections, generating new iterations and inspirations. Famously, its first subscribers were Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol; Bronson would hand deliver the magazine to the latter. “When I gave Andy his first copy, he turned to Glenn O’Brien —the editor of Interview at the time—and said, ‘We’re going to put a colour cover on ours and leave it flat like File.’ They’d been folding it like a newspaper.” The following issue of Interview did just that. During this moment in the seventies, a new kind of publication rose from the gritty ink newspaper print of the underground: the independent magazine. File was crucial in extending GI’s network across the ocean as well. For the collective’s first UK exhibition at Canada House on Trafalgar Square (“Who would want to go to an opening there?”), Bronson recalls only a few people turned up: Gilbert & George, Richard Hamilton, Derek Jarman and Gensis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle—all avid File readers. “We went dancing afterwards in a little basement gay club. Gilbert & George started insisting we get up, twirling us around and throwing us into a bank of tables. That was our introduction to London. The magazine was partly what started that network.” Meanwhile, back in Toronto, the sacks hauled in by the mailman were growing incessantly, leaving mail art, underground papers, multiples and collaged ephemera spilling from every surface. Countless letters arrived from artists asking for advice on distribution. From all this chaos, the idea for Art Metropole emerged in 1974: GI’s library, archive and bookstore located in an abandoned space over a Greek restaurant
downtown. Increasingly, it facilitated distribution for other artists’ publications. “I thought we were in an important moment in history,” Bronson determines. “There was this extremely lively and very egalitarian, horizontal movement through the art world and society. It’s quite unlike what it’s become today.” The group quickly discovered that the museum shops were useless at selling File. Instead, in every mid-sized city in Northern America they looked for the one shop that had “a weird mixture of clothes, furniture and art books”, the precursors to the Dover Street Markets of today. There the publications would fly off the shelves. In New York during the seventies and eighties, that place was Fiorucci. “I think that one store got the word out about File just about as much as everything else combined. The contemporary art and culture magazine—things like Elephant—is very much a product of that history.” In the eighties the group stopped publishing File altogether: the critical distance from the art world weakened, as GI found itself increasingly enmeshed in its very centre. The group had also begun to focus their attention on the Aids crisis —its best-known work, Aids Project (1987– 1994), appropriated Robert Indiana’s Love with the word “Aids”. In a media strategy similar to that of File, “Aids” postage stamps, posters and magazine covers distributed the image into the public —another “parasite” entering mainstream systems. All the while Partz’s and Zontal’s own Aids diagnoses worsened, and in the early nineties GI relocated to Toronto for the healthcare system. Both Zontal and Partz died there in 1994. Bronson’s art production since has dealt intimately with the themes of trauma, loss, death and healing. In working through his grief, he trained as a professional healer, entwining this new identity with his solo artistic one. Then, in 1998, after moving back to New York with Van de Leur, Bronson became a board member at Printed Matter, the notorious artist-run bookstore originally founded by Sol LeWitt, Lucy Lippard and a consortium of other critics and artists in the seventies. “After 9/11 happened, as the shop was near the site, business came to a complete halt,” he remembers. “Nothing was selling for months and months. The board asked if I was willing to be the director, to see if I could come up with a plan to try and save it.” Bronson, always the optimist, believed that the answer lay with the staff. Printed Matter’s focus had been on rare
artist books with hefty price tags, so their first decision was to take everything that was submitted—all the mini hand-scrawled zines. This egalitarian attitude stemmed very much from Art Metropole. Next, they started hosting small launches to activate the place, which “opened the door to the world of the zinesters”. When the store moved to the corner of 10th Avenue, Van de Leur designed the shop’s counters to look as if they were a bar, further emphasizing the idea of a gathering place. “Meanwhile, there was this phenomenon going on where because of the internet, bookstores were closing. Books were clearly dying. We tried to think if there was any way we could participate in improving the situation,” says Bronson. “Somebody came up with the idea of having a book fair.” The Dia Art Foundation lent Printed Matter a gallery to host the New York Art Book Fair—Bronson expected a few hundred people to turn up, but in the end there were 5,000. “We realized we had to do it every year. At the last one, 35,000 people came. I told them to stop doing music—just make it a little bit more boring!” During April’s Gallery Weekend Berlin, an exhibition at Esther Schipper entitled Catch Me If You Can! juxtaposed works by GI with that of its surviving member, placing Bronson’s current artistic practice in conversation with the spirits of the collective. A pop-up bookstore featured catalogues, rare books, editions and zines by both, as well as adding contemporary stock to those mischievous gallery “shops” once constructed by the trio. Walking over to his desk, Bronson spills today’s newly opened post across the table: queer zines, independent mags, handstapled photo books and artist ephemera abound. “I get these in the mail every morning from the zinesters,” he says affectionately. “It seems to me that there are these art-intellectual clusters in zine publishing right now that are going to be important, but it’s still a little early to tell what they’re all about. There’s something going on though, another version of what happened, taking form as we speak.”
Opposite page General Idea File megazine, Vol 4, No 3, Summer 1980 Web offset periodical 35.5 × 28 cm Edition of 3000
This page General Idea, Paolini Project, 1978/2017 Chromogenic print 71.9 × 51 cm (unframed) 87.8 × 67.2 × 4.2 cm (framed) Edition of 5 Opposite page General Idea, Sandy Stagg and the Miss General Idea Shoe (Shadow), 1975 Gelatin silver print 25.3 × 20.3 cm
When the Sun Sets, We’ll Shine Together
“The assumption that your phone isn’t something vital is a privileged presumption because it assumes that you get to be close to everything that matters to you.” Holly Black speaks with Miranda July—filmmaker, artist and writer, among many other things—about a recent collaboration with Oumarou Idrissa, her one-time Uber driver and subsequent friend. 168
“We both felt really excited; as if we were about to be Rihanna’s best friend but, in fact, we ended up being friends with each other instead”
Previous pages and this page Somebody, 2014 App Opposite page Miranda July and Oumarou Idrissa by Mike Mills
The chance of befriending your Uber driver—for any reason other than the mutual desire for a five-star rating––isn’t overly likely for most people, and it is even less likely to lead to a collaborative piece of responsive installation art. But that was the case for Miranda July, the creative polymath (she counts filmmaker, actor, author and artist among her occupations) who struck up a conversation with Oumarou Idrissa during a drive to Malibu, where she was due to interview Rihanna. To her surprise, Idrissa had met the singer too, and after he provided photographic proof, they discussed their mutual fandom. “We talked about her, but we also talked about him and his life story,” she tells me over the phone from Los Angeles. “We both felt really excited; as if we were about to be Rihanna’s best friend but, in fact, we ended up being friends with each other instead.” After their chance encounter, the pair kept in contact and July came to know more and more about Idrissa’s former life in Niger; his struggle as an illegal immigrant following problems with his student visa; and his subsequent US citizenship. During his undocumented stay he lived in constant fear of being discovered, which has left him plagued with perpetual anxiety and insomnia. As July puts it, “It’s like any kind of PTSD that lives with you [long term]. I think we can all relate to the things that haunt us and keep us awake. Those things that prevent us from being able to let go and relax.” At one point, Idrissa’s precarious living situation led to a house-sharing arrangement with July. She offered him the use of her studio from 5pm to 9am, while she maintained her daytime working schedule. “It’s not like he was living with me and I was thinking ‘How could I make art out of this?’” she assures me. “It was a relationship with all of the ups and downs. We fought sometimes; it wasn’t perfect in and of itself.” Whether or not it was planned, their atypical friendship ended up being the resolution to nascent ideas for a project commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London as part of The Future Starts Here, a major new exhibition exploring hightech innovation. July began investigating the technology behind “smart curtains”, a catch-all term for automated drapes that
are controlled by smartphone apps, voice control or sensor systems. “I had this idea that real people could trigger smart curtains and create a different meaning than they were engineered for,” she explains. “For a long while, I thought they would be activated by people in London because the piece is about real time, but I thought that was too far away if something went wrong.” In her quest for someone closer to her LA home, she was faced with the fact that most participants would be asleep when the show was open. Idrissa was the exception. “We’d already talked a lot about his insomnia and I realized that this was a way for me to understand his experience and convey how [emotionally] everything doesn’t just end up clean and tidy once you have citizenship.” The resulting installation features four pairs of luxurious velvet curtains in different colours, which are activated by Idrissa’s activity, obtained through a range of data capture devices. His sleep cycle is represented in blue; his WhatsApp usage in brown; Instagram in green and Uber activation in pink. For July, there are some instant similarities. “To see the recognizable movement of waking up and checking Instagram right away, on a physical level that’s such a familiar action to me.” But she is also under no illusion that their lives share anything more than a passing resemblance. For one, he still suffers from an overwhelming sense of isolation. In the explanatory text that accompanies the installation he states simply: “I don’t have any close friends in America, so my phone is my everything.” He exchanges messages and photos with his twenty-one siblings every evening and used to speak to his mother nightly, before she passed away two years ago. The idea of constant surveillance, however well-meaning, is somewhat unsettling, so it seemed impossible not to ask July about her ethical concerns around the piece, not to mention Idrissa’s initial response to the prospect of such an unorthodox collaboration. July assures me he was extremely enthusiastic. “The truth is that Oumarou wants his story told any which way it can be. He’d be psyched if I was also writing a book and making a movie about him. He said that is why he told me his story on the
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND MIU MIU
This spread Somebody, 2014 Stills, featuring Miranda July Directed by Miranda July
way to meet Rihanna, he was like, ‘Ok well, why don’t you interview me too,’ so that is part of his interest.” July also stresses that the piece can run on a preprogrammed script, so he does not have to worry about constantly performing or trying to stay awake. If anything, Idrissa is the one pushing for authenticity. “He gets it, but he says, ‘It’s so much better when it’s live! That’s how everything is these days!’” This notion of compiling data in what July refers to as an “emotional portrait” serves as something of an antidote to the covert processes used by social media and third-party apps to form consumer profiles of their users. It’s a pertinent subject, especially considering that many of us have signed away our privacy rights without really understanding the risks. Idrissa’s active participation moves a step beyond this quotidian compliance and instead serves as a vehicle for him to tell his personal story, albeit in an abstract, yet strangely intimate manner. This commission is certainly not the first time that July has investigated unorthodox modes of communication in her practice. For instance, her short-lived app Somebody (created with Miu Miu) straddled the worlds of messaging and performance art by inviting individuals to send notes through the interface, which would be relayed to another user who was near the desired recipient at that point in time. They would then operate as a “stand in” for the author, thus creating a strange triangular system that connects virtual and IRL communication. Her interactive sculpture series Eleven Heavy Things also relies on human interaction in order to be activated. These simple, white structures incorporate specific messages that invite onlookers to embody them through basic actions, such as sticking a finger through a hole or standing on a plinth. Over a decade ago July also wryly encapsulated the shortcomings of early internet communication in her 2005 feature film Me, You and Everyone We Know. In one of multiple plots, a middle-aged woman is horrified to discover that she has been conducting a chat-room romance with a young boy, after being seduced by his seemingly kinky obsession with “poop”. His creative use of a bespoke emoticon ))<>(( known as the “back and forth” gained cult status among fans. It is hard not to be nostalgic when thinking about these archaic forms of online interaction, back when dial-up and desktop sites reigned supreme. It seems a world away from our powerful,
all-knowing smartphones and an almost incessant need to digest global information. Given the futuristic premise of the V&A show, I tentatively ask July whether her installation also approaches concerns around frenetic millennial phone usage and the anxiety it can induce, but it’s not an interpretation that she strongly aligns with. “It’s easy for that conversation to become about guilt; a sort of a selfobsession concept. That I have to get off my phone because I’m so important. The assumption that your phone isn’t something vital is a privileged presumption because it assumes that you get to be close to everything that matters to you. Oumarou explained that before smartphones you had to rely on very expensive charge cards, but he spent that money because he would do everything possible to stay connected to his family.” This cements the point that this work of art is, rather critically, about Idrissa as an individual. His friendship with July is authentic, and any opinion to the contrary is disproved when he calls her for a catch up during our phone conversation: “Oh my god, he’s calling right now — that’s so weird!” He also had his moment in the spotlight during a testing exercise over in LA. “Everyone was starstruck by him,” July says, with an air of pride. “He’s extremely well dressed and very tall, with a real presence. He enjoyed getting to be a part of the piece in person, because he won’t get to see it when it’s running.” In the same vein, there’s one final question I have to ask concerning the work’s title: I’m the President, Baby. Where does it come from? Apparently, it is a direct quote from Idrissa’s Instagram, dated 10 November 2016, two days after the presidential election result. Again, it relates to their friendship. “Our relationship overlapped in this very pointed way because he was registered to vote at my house, and it was so meaningful for him to participate. I was sort of nervous; I couldn’t imagine he was voting for Trump, but at that point people were doing weird things. So, I said, ‘Do you know who you’re voting for?’ and he replied ‘Oh, I’m with her,’ and I loved that, especially as not a lot of men in my life were saying it at that point.” The title also anchors the piece in time, a concept July was eager to communicate. “It isn’t just any immigrant story, at any time —it’s now.” “The Future Starts Here” runs until 4 November at the V&A Museum, London
Opposite page Sculpture from the Eleven Heavy Things series, installed at Union Square Park in New York, 2010
COURTESY THE ARTIST. PHOTO BRIAN PAUL LAMOTTE
THE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
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---------------------------------------------A N G S T W I T H A C A P I T A L A In a world full of neurotics, the word “angst” has lost much of its former gravitas — employed to describe everything from the melancholic ramblings of artistes to the most trivial fears of everyday life. When, asks Henry Hitchings, did we lose the pure meaning of the term, in its most dreadful form? Illustrations: Suds McKenna ----------------------------------------------
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The word “angst” is beloved of journalists and skittish cultural commentators. It suggests the confused malaise of the intellectually restless — the apprehension that something important is missing from life, and the disquiet caused by that awareness. We’re used to reading and hearing about millennial angst, teenage angst and the special kinds of angst felt by artists or songwriters. Among artists, Edvard Munch is the quintessential angst-monger, a troubled documentarist of the inner life — hence the “infinite scream of nature” in his most famous work. There’s also Vincent van Gogh, of course, wrenching himself towards his extraordinary understanding of colour, or for that matter Mark Rothko, whose style was one of total immersion and self-sacrifice. A more droll and less painterly example is Woody Allen, or rather the prolific writer-director’s numerous on-screen alter egos. Sample line: “I was walking through the woods, thinking about Christ. If he was a carpenter, I wondered what he charged for bookshelves.” Originally the word “angst” had a more specific application. It entered English from German, and its immediate source was the works of Sigmund Freud. For Freud, Angst (with a capital A, as is the norm for German nouns) had connotations of congestion. Its root was the Latin “angustia” — usually found in its plural form “angustiae”, meaning “difficulties” or “the narrows”, a place where one is hemmed in — and when he wrote of Angst, he was picturing an oppressive anxiety that had no particular object. If the object was identifiable, he preferred to use a different word, Furcht. Freud explained this difference in his essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), where he also used the term Schreck to signify the feelings we have when danger takes us by surprise. Yet the distinction he drew was not a conventional one in German, and it was not even something to which he strictly adhered. Freud liked to establish precise terminology, which he hoped wouldn’t be smudged by words’ past associations, and it was this that led him to coin specialized terms — such as the German words that were later rendered in English as fore-pleasure, superego, abreaction and counter-
Angst with a Capital A
transference, as well as psychoanalysis itself. But Angst came with baggage. For instance, in the sixteenth century the theologian Martin Luther had linked it to the experience of childbirth, death and hellfire, and it appeared frequently in the works of Goethe, though his preferred term was Sorge. Although Freud published many of his major works before the First World War, it was in the 1920s that he became a household name. “I am considered a celebrity,” he wrote to his nephew Samuel in 1925. His feelings about this were mixed, but one of the consequences was that his terminology was adopted — by languages other than German, and in contexts often remote from the original ones. His friend Stefan Zweig was an especially ardent popularizer of his ideas, and tended to represent them in enthusiastically simplistic terms. It feels apt, then, that when Zweig in 1925 published a short fictional portrait of the paralyzing nausea caused by the guilt of adultery he gave it the title Angst. An interesting sidelight: it was Zweig who introduced Freud to Salvador Dalí, so much of whose work looks as if it was designed to illustrate Freud’s ideas. The first reference to angst in a published work in English seems to have been in Caroline Hubback’s 1922 translation of “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”. (The novelist George Eliot had used it in a letter in 1849, but was slipping for a moment into German, rather than seeking to introduce the word into English.) Starting in the 1940s, angst was often mentioned in English publications to do with philosophy and psychology, though it was only in the 1960s that writers began to use it without self-consciousness.
Begrebet Angest, a book that dealt with the relationship between the emotions and creativity (and was later read with interest by Edvard Munch). It is now generally known in English as The Concept of Anxiety, although the first English translation had the title The Concept of Dread. At the heart of Kierkegaard’s writing lies the question of what it is to stare into the gulf of the unknown. The sensation, he thinks, is akin to dizziness; the freedom to choose one’s course is bewildering. If you are standing on a cliff, you are afraid that you may fall, yet there is also a nagging urge to throw yourself over the edge. Kierkegaard articulated the fundamental agonies of existentialism, but it was another hundred years until it transformed from a philosophical and literary preoccupation into a cultural movement — prompting a media frenzy that made its proponents, notably Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, international figures. Angst then became a convenient term with which to convey the texture of existentialism; it summed up the purgatorial nature of humankind’s search for meaning and fear of insignificance, and eventually it would be a handy instrument for those looking to parody such afflictions. The transition is evident in the attitude about whether or not the word should be printed in italics and/or with a capital A. By the 1960s there was an inconsistency about this that suggested it was widely though not universally regarded as part of English vocabulary; in the 1970s it was common not only to eschew both the capital letter and italics, but also to use
The term gained currency through its association with existentialism. The angstiness of this school of thought could be traced back to its founding figure, the Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855). In 1844 he published
Angst with a Capital A
the word playfully, in compounds such as newsangst or (during the Vietnam War) Viet-angst. The adjective angst-ridden, which emerged in the 1960s, rocketed in popularity in the eighties and nineties, while angsty, apparently first used in 1956, surged in the run-up to the millennium. The result was a greater emphasis on the vagueness of angst, instead of the true horrors of being choked by it. It could be punningly dismissed as a symptom of perpetual adolescence — fashion victims had angst in their pants — or as middle-class boredom masquerading as pensiveness. This reflected a wider trend in which the language of psychoanalysis became the professional jargon of other kinds of therapists; soon enough it was part of the standard vocabulary of emotion and relationships, as documented endlessly in self-help books and popular magazines. Amateur scholars of those subjects (so, pretty much everyone) have come to speak blithely about the unconscious and about trauma, repression, projection and transference. People who have done no psychoanalytic reading, let alone had any relevant training, casually refer to the ego and the id, the pleasure principle, sibling rivalry, totemism, the latent content of dreams, group psychology and free association. The most pedestrian discussion of relationships and personality can involve talk of defence mechanisms, narcissism, complexes, the libido and being anally retentive. All of these are terms popularized by the profession of psychoanalysis — mainly Freud and his acolytes,
even if many in fact originated with other thinkers such as Carl Jung or Freud’s friend Wilhelm Fliess. More to the point, all of them have specialized meanings that aren’t commonly understood. Used with the latitude of the non-specialist, this vocabulary can seem like fashionable tinsel rather than being helpfully diagnostic. Meanwhile the contemporary infatuation with irony makes angst an object of amusement: after all, it is an unironic response to a thoroughly ironic subject, namely life’s incomprehensibility. Schooled in the comedy of detachment, we scoff at the legions of adolescent diarists who fret about whether their friendships are illusory, along with every overhyped band that’s struggled to come up with appropriately self-aware material for its “difficult” second album. We laugh, too, at the miserabilism of the Smiths (and forget about their more flamboyant songs). We groan at the bedsit ballads of countless pale-faced imitators of David Bowie and at the ostentatious desolation of nu metal. We wince at the tightly wound wallflowers who populate Wes Anderson films. We shudder at the self-lacerating selfinspection of a certain kind of stand-up comic — Simon Amstell is an obvious British example. Or maybe we don’t, because we discern in Amstell or Anderson a knowingness that transmutes their particular angst into wisdom. Yet when The Lego Batman Movie, of all things, rips into the image of the angst-ridden artist, it’s clear how much of a cliché it has become. The word itself has been blunted by overuse and by frequent association with artistic self-indulgence rather than powerful art. Today angst seems almost quaint, at once overblown and inert — arguably an accessory of the more corrosive forms of masculinity, and certainly inadequate as a response to the problems of the world.
Angst with a Capital A
---------------------------------------------A L A R G E B A L L O O N R E A D Y T O B U R S T How do we visualize terror? Thanks to newspaper front pages and TV reporting, the aftermath of violent acts such as the IRA bombings and 9/11 tend to become etched in our minds, as specific images illustrate the often overwhelming emotional response we experience in the following days, weeks and years. This has become rich ground for artists, who look to untangle and investigate modern atrocities, Holly Black discovers. ----------------------------------------------
“Where were you when…” is a question that rarely leads to something positive. More often the association is with catastrophic world events, which ricochet through news broadcasts and front-page stories, crystallizing in the mind’s eye and acting as morbid pegs on which other memories can hang. In recent history, acts of terrorism have dominated, with the cataclysmic events of 9/11 looming largest. When asked about my personal recollections, I remember frantically scanning the car radio during the home school run (the news hit the UK in the afternoon) in a futile search for further intel. It is strange to recall that 2001 was a time before social media, smartphones and instantaneous reporting, so we were left glued to our televisions, rapt by a blurry image of the Twin Towers enveloped in smoke and flames, as breaking updates crawled across the foot of the screen. Few could have imagined how devastating and enduring the day’s events would be. The following morning, panic flooded newspapers from around the globe, with headlines like “Guerra”, “Terror” and “Apocalypse Now”. The German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann captured this international clamour by collecting as many papers from as many different countries as possible, forming a disturbing archive of 151 titles. The resulting installation, known as 9/12 Front Page, went on show as part of a recent exhibition called Age of Terror: Art since 9/11 at London’s Imperial War Museum. Reading this collection of international coverage, conflicting reports, unconfirmed death tolls and variations of a few haunting images, offers a reminder of just how unprecedented the attack was. Feldmann’s newspapers seem strangely divorced from our current reality, as the steadfast impact of the front page becomes more of an archaic notion. Some of the static, yellowing newsprint from 12 September depicts a singular, full-page image; reminiscent of some kind of horrifying collector’s edition. It is a far cry from the way we digest information now, and it is no wonder that I feel every printed picture in this installation has been etched on my brain for the last fifteen years.
Tim Shaw Installation view of Soul Snatcher Possession at The Exchange, Penzance
Tony Oursler’s first-hand account of the attacks and their aftermath also strikes a particularly visceral chord. He began filming in his Lower Manhattan apartment after the first tower was hit, before taking to the streets in the ensuing days to film New Yorkers and tourists as they peered through makeshift barricades to gaze at the gaunt, twisted remnants of the former World Trade Center. This on-the-ground footage moves beyond the fixed media narrative that we have become accustomed to, showing a raw and all-too-human mix of distress, anger and morbid curiosity.
A Large Balloon Ready to Burst
Opposite page, from top Tim Shaw Installation view of Mother, The Air Is Blue, The Air Is Dangerous
Â© THE ARTIST, COURTESY THE EXCHANGE
A Large Balloon Ready to Burst
Beyond the London exhibition, another disturbing account recently went on show at Eva International, the Irish biennial held in Limerick. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s short film 11'09''01 was one of a group of international contributions commissioned by Studio Canal to encapsulate myriad viewpoints on the attack. In this piece, chanting voices emanate from a black screen, accompanied by an occasional chilling thud. These vocals are overtaken by news broadcasts that begin by describing a “fine September day” before descending into violent panic. The roar of aeroplane engines is interspersed with guttural screams, when suddenly, brief flashes of footage show people jumping from the towers to their deaths. You might be familiar with the photograph known as the Falling Man, which captures an upturned vertical figure that appears solid and calmly inert as it aligns with the skyscraper’s façade, but Iñárritu’s film tells a different story. He shows footage of bodies flailing uncontrollably, in a manner that seems entirely at odds with the idea that in one’s final moments, clarity and peace overcome. The source of the unknown thuds soon becomes clear. This gruelling film fully embodies the notion of “terror” in its most basic form; encapsulating the varying reactions the emotion can induce. Its power is unmistakable, but when watching you are never in doubt that you are situated as an empathetic viewer. Conversely, in Tim Shaw’s brutal installations (recently on show at the Exchange in Penzance, Cornwall), imminent threat seems all too real. His pair of immersive works titled Soul Snatcher Possession and Mother, The Air Is Blue, The Air Is Dangerous convey his own trauma from Belfast’s Bloody Friday bombings, back in 1972. In the span of only eighty minutes, nineteen of twenty-six IRA bombs were detonated across a three-mile area. Eleven people were killed and over a hundred injured. In Mother, Shaw recreates his childhood experience in a department store as several firebombs explode on the floor below: “Sitting in the restaurant with my mother, two bombs explode one after the other, followed by a third with a deafening bang. Everything vibrated, then there was a momentary silence just before the panic set in. The dense pressured air that rose from the stairs appeared to turn petrol blue and expanded like a large balloon ready to burst.” Shaw distils the moment of unreal panic, capturing the instant when the force of the blast sent furniture, food trays and other paraphernalia flying. Each item is suspended in a moment of action like a terrifying freeze frame, while the room itself is cast in that chilling “petrol blue”. The only element of motion comes from a ghostly film of scurrying, terrified people that runs in a never-ending loop around the gallery’s perimeter. Shaw couples these visual 182
cues with a deafening drone, as if the bomb’s subsequent sound waves are beyond comprehension. In his second piece, “disturbing” does not begin to cover it. Shaw deliberately leaves the door to this installation ajar, so each viewer has to peer inside like an unwelcome visitor into this dank, derelict room. Inside, humanoid figures that have been stitched together from coarse remnants of industrial fabric and discarded garments huddle in a group. They appear to be plotting, and their slightly larger-than-life proportions give them truly threatening menace. To one side, a cowering figure kneels on the floor, while a distinctly female form recoils against a wall as another body approaches her. The entire room has a feeling of blood-curdling horror, the kind that inhabits the darkest recesses of your nightmares. Shaw refers to his work as delving into “the nature of the human psyche and has elements that are political, metaphysical and mythological. Themes of ritual and conflict reoccur.” In this piece, one could easily interpret it as presenting the grim actualities that occur before an act of terror, or another unknown form of cruel execution. Either way, the unnerving, all-encompassing fear that it induces is unmistakable. While Shaw invokes a distinctly visceral reaction in his work, Erkan Özgen employs something more akin to documentary filmmaking in his account of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, titled Wonderland. The piece garnered significant attention at the 15th Istanbul Biennial, not least because the Turkish capital is caught up in the global politics and refugee influx that the conflict has created. Özgen uses a fixed camera angle to focus solely on a thirteen-year-old boy named Mohammed, who fled his home in Kobani after Isis attacked. As he is both deaf and mute, he can only use hand gestures and bodily movements to convey the devastation he has witnessed. He uses universal symbols including salutes and the motion of shooting a rifle, explaining the chaos and murder by clutching his chest or mimicking a bullet to the back of the head. He also grabs a bottle of water, before wildly gesticulating — it is clear there was nothing to drink in the city. It is heartbreaking to watch as he grimaces and twists his body to demonstrate the atrocities he has encountered. It is a horrifying game of charades that no child should have to play out. In Wonderland, Mohammed attempts to express the inexpressible, but one must ask whether the ability to speak would render his trauma any more tangible. For acts of terror, it is clear that there are often no words.
A Large Balloon Ready to Burst
T H I S
M O D E R N
L I F E
I’ve been trying to open the same bag of nuts for the past year that’s what I thought they were before this wrapping wore away I can’t get what I’m getting at but I’m open to reflections what a hall of mirages I must be loopy from how cut and dry things have become here there’s not a clown in the sky and where’s that rustling coming from what is it I dreamed of alone candescent pillows and a desire to dream better — Alex MacDonald
© THE ARTIST, COURTESY THE EXCHANGE
All images from Michael Webb: Two Journeys, Lars Müller Publishers, Zurich 2018 Edited by Ashley Simone
---------------------------------------------B O O K R E V I E W Michael Webb: Two Journeys (Lars Müller) By Felix Bazalgette ---------------------------------------------In 1960 an exhibition called Visionary Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York featured a series of drawings by a twenty-three-year-old student from London. The plans, depicting a globular, futuristic proposal for a furniture manufacturer’s headquarters in London, were one of the last things resembling a viable building that Michael Webb would ever design. Regent Street Polytechnic, where he was studying, refused to accept his next project, an “entertainment centre” called Sin Palace with no doors or windows and no discernible “entertainments”. He was finally allowed to graduate almost a decade later — by which time he’d already moved to California. Webb was part of a new wave of rebellion against the architectural establishment in Britain in the sixties. His early success at MoMA led to him being invited to join a nascent group called Archigram who, through an irregular publication and numerous influential exhibitions, proposed a series of speculative and mostly impossible architectural projects; one, Instant City, involved a number of touring cultural spaces drifting, by balloon, through different underdeveloped towns like a travelling circus. The way they chose to present these ideas was perhaps as influential as the projects themselves — often built up out of collaged adverts and photographs, their drawings and designs played wildly with clashing perspectives, injecting surrealism, futurism and pop art into the staid form of the architectural plan. The group eventually crumbled under internal tensions, yet echoes of its aesthetics can be seen in, among many other things, Richard Rogers’s outlandish design for the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1971 and a whole raft of post-modern architecture that followed in the later decades of the twentieth century. Yet while Rogers absorbed the most commercially viable ideas of the sixties and followed them, like Bill Gates, into a comfortable and wellremunerated place in the establishment, Michael Webb has charted an altogether stranger path. After leaving the UK, Webb took up a series of teaching posts in the United States, and he has spent the last fifty years gradually reworking and adding to a series of projects, many of which had their genesis in his work with Archigram. This book samples many plans and drawings produced over six decades, and packages them up along with some short essays of varying quality from some of Webb’s friends 185
and associates. Some of these writings threaten at times to tip into chummy hagiography — “Mike Webb’s great and authentic genius is both technical and conceptual,” claims one — but luckily the work is weird and interesting enough on its own terms not to be overwhelmed by these grand and sometimes slightly vague praises. Webb’s best might be the sprawling project Temple Island, sampled in depth for Two Journeys, which seems to chart a strange middle ground between romanticism and forensic paranoia, trying to reconstruct a swelteringly hot day of the Henley Royal Regatta boat race from Webb’s youth in 1947. This could tip into solipsistic sentimentality (add to this the fact that the Henley Royal Regatta is one of the less cool topics for art), yet Webb’s psychedelic investigations into the atmosphere of the day, painted in oils and slyly mimicking traditional landscape imagery, gradually become a surreal deconstruction of the traditional perspectival relationships that we unthinkingly bring to photographic images and spatial data in general. Just like Archigram’s early work, Webb brings an exhilarating array of styles, sources and approaches to bear on these speculative investigations — his plan projection of the Regatta, completed in 1992, is like a happy childhood memory reconstructed as a crime scene, transformed into an anamorphic map and rendered in the smooth style of a Beryl Cook painting. Webb’s obsessions with the organizational principles of visual perception, the vagaries of colour tables, the geometric angles of light and the possibilities and limits of sensory reconstruction all, as Mark Wrigley identifies in his accompanying essay, seem very contemporary. Webb’s sprawling and ultimately pyrrhic crusade of memory in Temple Island would not be out of place in a Tom McCarthy novel, and many of his theoretical implications for architectural thinking have been refined into driving principles by groups like Forensic Architecture. But Webb also belongs to a very different past, and this historical element makes some of the work collected in Two Journeys strangely poignant. Ultimately his projects, many of them obsessed with cars as a personal unit of architecture or the wasteful grandeur of sixties space programmes, are a bittersweet reminder of a time when impending environmental catastrophe didn’t seem to most people inevitable, or even likely. They are architectural projects predicated on a suffusion of resources, building materials and fuel for cars, and an ecology capacious and flexible enough to absorb their infinite emissions — assumptions which now seem increasingly deranged and dreamlike.
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in the news.
Forensic Architecture: Counter Investigations at the ICA, London By Matthew Turner ---------------------------------------------Are the architect and the detective the same thing? The two certainly come close to merging in the case of Forensic Architecture, an “independent research agency” who are based at Goldsmiths University in London, and were recently nominated for a Turner Prize. They move between the fields of investigative journalism, law, politics and architecture. The detective, who operates much like the Forensic Architecture group, is someone who sees what others do not, and sometimes even what the eye cannot perceive; the detective catches the guilty glances between clandestine accomplices and reveals the inconsistencies in a person’s statement. The detective sees the links between minor events and connects them to reveal a greater truth. Likewise, the architect notices circulation routes, urban relationships and hidden meanings that the usual inhabitant of the street does not.
There is, however, a crucial difference between the architect and the detective. The events, gestures and inconsistencies that the detective observes don’t exist without their context — the situations they occur in — whereas architects, despite the illusions they might pull, often abstract and compartmentalize reality as they examine it, meaning that they are looking at a symbol of the world instead of the territory itself. Forensic Architecture do not fall victim to this; their work is about the gritty terrain of the real world, and they bring moral accountability to those detached, grainy, pixelated and sterile images that we often see 186
Technology turns us all into detectives to a certain extent; it makes us feel as though we can see everything. But really, new technology does not allow us to see clearly — modern perception is unresolved. There is so much free-floating information in the world today that things get lost and events muddy as the massive sandbanks of data they form start to clog and conceal crucial details. It is important to pick through such disarray, as it is the control system of the times we live in. Social media and other information networks give the illusion of seamless, perfect and infinite connection, yet everything is really in a tumult of shapeshifting flux. The spatial detective — or forensic architect — is extremely relevant in this situation. Forensic Architecture pick through this wreckage; they see what we cannot see, and they filter the forged data from the truth. They do this by gathering the information left behind in the deconstructed flesh of bombed and damaged buildings, from the ghost buildings that no longer exist or were never officially documented, or spaces that have been wiped clean of their illicit fingerprints. They give geometry and form to the blind spots of CCTV cameras and the multiplicity of phone imagery poised on one event; they bring clarity to blurred pictures and traumatic memories. They expand the contracted seconds of a bomb blast to examine its every split second, while also exploding minor events of destruction and criminality to delineate their connection to major events and entire states. They form this information into diagrams and physical space as evidence that can then be brought to bear upon court proceedings and contradict the corrupt grand narratives preached by political authorities. It is not usually an individual criminal that is found using the reconstructed debris of a bomb blast, but Exhibition Review
intricate webs of corrupt state control. There is a certain voyeuristic detachment when we experience events through the media. Artists such as Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans have both attempted to rescue images from the rush of media and pay them due attention, but their images are still annexed from reality in the realm of art, and they reject any attempt to bring their subject matter into focus along the lines of ideology or pathos. But in the first room of “Counter Investigations”, Forensic Architecture stepped towards doing this, transposing visitors into the floor plan of the Kassel internet café where its Turkish owner, Halit Yozgat, was murdered by a member of the German neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground. It’s extremely powerful to see an obscured and pixelated event from the media reconstructed at full scale, where visitors can walk the route of the killer, stand where his victim sat, and inhabit the space where Andreas Temme — the German intelligence agent who claimed he didn’t see the murder take place — happened to be seated. By reconstructing the scene and using an actor to plot out his movements, Forensic Architecture concluded that Temme was a witness and that all the events took place in his field of vision, which he has always denied. At many points throughout the exhibition the viewer was uncomfortably confronted with a spatial pathos through the experience of corruption, torture, systems of control and the consequently labyrinthine nature of the legal processes that accompany them. The space of a court of law is as detached from
the real world as images in a newspaper. The architecture and experience of a law court is often one of stability and reassurance, it doesn’t reveal the true imbalance of legal processes and the fine overlapping line between innocence and guilt. The visual chaos of the infographic murals that accompanied most of the case studies in the exhibition — but particularly the diagram showing the case of Halit Yozgat — allowed viewers to experience the true tumultuous and tangled psychological ordeal of legal processes. But on closer inspection, it’s possible to see that the work of Forensic Architecture has been a reflux in endless feedback loops of the legal process — a new weapon against this serpentine machine of control. Not all the spaces reconstructed by Forensic Architecture are true to life; instead they adhere to the perception of space after trauma, and these warped visions are evidence too. In 2016 the group reconstructed Saydnaya prison from the memories and observations — both aural and visual — of those who were detained there. They discovered that the prison had a linear configuration, but one prisoner, after years of beatings and living in these harsh conditions, was convinced that the prison was circular. There is something very violent about the disjunction between the perception of linear and circular space in this case. Perhaps misperceptions, and the corrupted geometries of our traumas — which Forensic Architecture has managed to capture — are just as condemning as the things we see clearly.
Opposite page, from top Photogrammetry and 3D modelling were used to reconstruct the scene of a 2017 lethal police raid at the illegalized Bedouin village Umm alHiran in order to track the movement of the car and location of policemen and to calculate the terrain slope, speed and distances at each moment of the event The process of positioning the actors and car in Forensic Architecture’s reenactment of the events of 17 January 2018, according to police helicopter video footage This page At Iguala’s Palacio de Justicia in 2014, between twelve and fourteen students (red) were beaten up and loaded into the back of multiple police vehicles (turquoise)
---------------------------------------------L O N D O N, M Y L O V E Collaboration is at the heart of Fatoş Üstek’s curatorial outlook. For many, in London and beyond, her name is now synonymous with the ambitious Fig-2, for which she staged fifty exhibitions in fifty weeks at the ICA in 2015. She has recently been announced as the new director of DRAF in London. Words: Louise Benson Illustrations: Clara Lacy ----------------------------------------------
For Fig-2, at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, Fatoş Üstek brought together names including Anne Hardy, Tom McCarthy, Oreet Ashery and Broomberg & Chanarin — spanning sculpture, painting, performance, video and a whole host of other mediums — for one-week-long shows. She was also appointed as the curator of London’s Art Night for 2017. The annual festival is a unique undertaking, claiming historic locations and iconic buildings as exhibition venues for one night only. Earlier this year, Ustek was appointed director at David Roberts Art Foundation (DRAF), the non-profit organization well known for its experimental programme and collaborative relationship with a dizzying number of contemporary artists. I spoke with the curator. You were recently announced as the new director of DRAF. What are your plans for the programme there, and is there a particular focus that you will be pursuing in your new role? “Collaboration will be key for our new phase, and I will be exploring what the next phase is and the new possible realms for institutions. How can institutions be more caring and catering for art? To what extent can we formalize institutions and foundations to be shaped by the content they invite in or showcase, rather than shaping the content they choose to display?” DRAF has a strong performance-led programme, which is something that you previously explored at Fig-2 and Art Night. What is it about performance (in the gallery and beyond) that really engages and excites you? “I am excited about art in general, and performance is a way to channel some of those urgencies. It is perhaps also a more fitting medium that is reflective of the cultural currency we live in, in an event-oriented, experience-obsessed reality. We as publics are prone to look, see, feel and grasp the situation into another one. I may be guilty of fast-paced curating, and compiling layers on top of one another when working with artists or generating exhibitions. However, I do also take a critical stance. This may all be a long way of saying, yes performance has been a significant medium that I work with; however, it is not only that medium. Regarding DRAF, I will continue their Performance Evening series and will curate an evening of performances at KOKO, Camden, on 2 October. The DRAF programme will, however, not only concentrate on performance. I aim to flourish an extensive network of collaborations to activate and signify the importance of cross-learning, listening and attending to one another.”
Am I correct in thinking that you first studied maths and film in Istanbul, before coming to Goldsmiths in London to pursue art theory? “Yes, I studied abstract maths. I wanted to be a mathematician and to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem when I was in my teens. However, I was devastated when British mathematician Andrew Wiles published his proof in 1995, drowning my dreams. I was quite a nerdy teenager, I would say, playing chess in tournaments and attending maths olympics as the only girl alongside all the boys. I was also in a basketball gang. I continued my love of maths and got accepted to quite a privileged public college in Turkey. I was interested in literature, and an avid reader of twentieth-century European literature. I was visiting the Istanbul Art Gallery in my teenage years and when I moved to Istanbul to study, life started expanding.” We met during your year at Fig-2, where you staged an immense fifty exhibitions in fifty weeks. Looking back at that experience now, is there anything that you would change about it? “I do not think I would like to change anything about Fig-2. With all the excitements, successes, stresses, tensions, crises and problem-solving it was a ginormous learning curve. If I did not make the mistakes I did, I would not become who I can become.” That is a very good way to reflect on it. It is how I try to reflect on my life! All mistakes lead to growth, and so they were not truly mistakes in the bigger picture. Genuine conviction, honest engagement and few regrets are the way forward. “I could not agree more. We live in a controlled society and especially in the arts where the outside world thinks we let feelings loose, ideas float... it is the contrary, I find. I think we control ourselves the most. Being able to take risks and controlling less was an amazing experience with Fig-2, which I could carry onto Art Night. I might have challenged some people along the way, but the end results have always been uplifting.”
I loved the freedom, in every sense of it: from programming to selecting artists, researching, discussing and sharing. I could bring what I wanted to, and this freedom or carte blanche makes me even more proactive. Recently I was referred to as a hyperactive curator. I am aware that I demand a lot from the people I work with and from my audiences. But I try to make the experience always worthwhile.” You always have so much energy: “the hyperactive curator”! Where does that energy come from? “That is true! I do have energy or rather a positive drive. I love making things happen and I get a kick out of working, thinking, feeling a lot. I think stimulation gives me energy. I do not think I have the same level of energy when I do not have a giant project to work on. I also love reading, discovering... And with many curiosities on hand, I get even more active and excited.” Yes, and it is an immense privilege to live in London, a city where there is so much to endlessly discover and see. It is also a place that has been such an important part of your curatorial engagement in recent years, most evidently with Art Night. What is your relationship to London, and how has it shaped your work? “London is very special for me. It is where I feel allowed to become myself, and allowed to unleash my deep desires and how I aspire to be in the world. Every context informs you and how your identity is shaped, and how much you feel free in it, and how much you want to escape. I feel London has allowed me an access to myself and to nurture feelings of freedom. And yet it was not easy. London pushes you so far out until you surrender.”
What did you learn over the course of Fig-2, and what did you enjoy the most? “I loved having a close-knit team to work with. We did become a family in many ways, spending long hours together, eating collectively and carrying sandbags around the room. We have an incredible database for behind the scenes where I cherish and celebrate every moment, even though at times it did not feel cherishable. I also loved working closely with artists and being included in their world.
---------------------------------------------1 0 A N X I O U S D R E A M S By Emily Steer ---------------------------------------------1. T H E T O I L E T D O O R I S T O O S M A L L You are desperate for the toilet. You track one down in a mouldy, crowded changing room, but the cubicle door isn’t wide enough to cover you. You attempt to prop the tiny door in place, perhaps with one outstretched foot or a hand, while you fold your upper body onto your thighs in a desperate bid to preserve your modesty. Still, people crowd around the door, shoving their faces against the crack to take a peek. When your ablutions are over, you walk out of the cubicle to wash your hands. As you look in the mirror, you see that you’ve left the house wearing only a tiny wet bath towel. 2. B A C K T O S C H O O L You’ve gone back to school to resit one of your exams, but you didn’t know you were supposed to go to classes for the past two years so you know sweet FA about anything on the paper. You also find out that you must resit all of your other exams, and you are obliged to accept the new marks, even if they are lower than before. You ultimately conclude that you are far more stupid than you were at school. 3. A F F A I R W I T H B E S T F R I E N D ’S B O Y F R I E N D How, on God’s green earth, did this happen again? You find yourself lying next to your best friend’s boyfriend, with whom you have just had impassioned sex. You must once more discuss how you’re going to tell everyone involved. For now, you think it is best to pretend to be asleep. 4. I T ’S Y O U R W E D D I N G D A Y ! It’s your wedding day! You forgot it was today and half the guests haven’t been invited, but the other half have arrived and apparently you’ve paid for the venue, so you decide you should go ahead and bloody do it. You tear through your wardrobe to find an outfit. It’s electric blue and as you walk into the wedding you realize there’s a massive hole in the front and everyone can see your genitals. No one knows which song to sing and no caterers have turned up. Everyone goes home hungry and you can’t find your new spouse at the end of the night. 5. S O M A N Y C H A I R S There’s a clanging at your bedroom door. You open it and a flurry of wooden chairs, flying legs first, whizz into the room. You begin fighting them away, ripping off parts of some to fight others. You finally become overwhelmed and fall onto the bed, crushed under the weight of it all. 190
6. S T U C K O N H O L I D A Y You’ve just had a terrific holiday, but you have lost your return ticket and must pay the equivalent of three months’ rent for a flight home. You run from airline to airline, begging, and end up emptying your life savings to get home in time for work. When you eventually get to your plane you see it is made of cardboard, but that’s OK, because you’ve flown on lots of cardboard planes in your dreams before and they always land just fine. 7. C H I L D B U R G L A R S You wake within your dream to the sound of intruders in your room. They are all young boys, and they’ve almost emptied the house. You spot one of their parents in the garden and tell them you’ll kill their child if they don’t give you your stuff back. They tell you that you don’t have the guts, so you beat the intruders close to death one by one. Their parents run to save them and drag them away crying. You wake for real this time, very concerned for your sanity. 8. E S C A P I N G C A P T I V I T Y You’ve been held for years in a cross between a prisoner-of-war camp and the Red Center in the Republic of Gilead. One day you realize that you can escape, and that because this is a dream no one can catch you. You run from a high-up window, which looks like that of your childhood bedroom, and scale down a five-storey wall. You run and run through the grounds and out into the woods, where you are reunited with all of your escaped companions. But there is one who has been left behind and you know that you will never be able to go back for them. 9. T I N Y H A M S T E R S E V E R Y W H E R E You thought your hamster died years ago, but, surprise! Here he is. And he is a she, and she’s had loads of babies. You search the attic for boxes to hold them in but they keep spreading out over the floor and getting stuck in the carpet, and your cat keeps coming in and eating them. You are filled with guilt and decide it’s easier to leave the room and try to return to the blissful belief that s/he has already died. 10. T H E M A N F L A Y E R You’re in a small sweaty bar, dancing. You look up through the crowd and there he is: The Man Who Skins People Alive. He looks like Roark Junior, aka “That Yellow Bastard” from Sin City. You used to date him and you understand that he isn’t going to skin you, but the next moment your friend has disappeared, and you know she isn’t coming back. When you eventually find his hiding place he has gone: your friend is physically beyond recognition but still alive. She is surrounded by other people’s body parts and you have to force yourself to walk away to escape going any further into your insufferable mind.
---------------------------------------------D I R T Y M O N E Y A N D B L O O D S U C K I N G A S S I S T A N T S The confessions of an angst-ridden artist. ---------------------------------------------I found some sort of foreign currency on the sidewalk yesterday morning, between where I buy my coffee and where I buy my antacids. I couldn’t tell where the coins were from, nor which side was their top or bottom, and therefore did not know whether pocketing the coins or leaving them untouched was the necessary course of action for better luck. Probably, I did the wrong thing by leaving them, because my productivity has been low since then and the work I’ve made has been shit. I think so even after a friend gave me positive feedback. Something superficial, like, “It’s great!” or whatever. Besides: “friend” in quotation marks. The fault is mine. I know better than to show work in progress. Why can’t I resist the urge? The other fault is also mine. I am so naïve of foreign currency. I must not travel enough or exchange enough currency worldwide. I need to pay attention, not least to the global diversity of coins available and the good-luck rituals specific to their countries of origin. I am problematic to begin with, but the coins have cursed me with even lower self-esteem. Every time someone’s mouth opens to offer positive commentary about my work, I have to discretely knock on wood. What I’d like to do is violently knock on their teeth. Knock a few out, you know? But I’m a pacifist; another one of my many mistakes. Being a pacifist with violent thoughts is a mistake, but so is vice versa. I’ve counted two additional mistakes in total. My very conception was a mistake. I’ve worked that into a few of my pieces. They’re semi-autobiographical. I am not confident about my decisions to make work that’s semiautobiographical, but it’s the only work that gets positive feedback. I had an opening last night. My work is labour intensive. I do a lot of the labour myself, but when I do hire people, I pay them proper wages. I hired a lumberjack to chop wood for me. He said he was an original lumberjack, born in 1810. He didn’t look much older than twenty-five — a strapping figure. I asked again about his DOB (I said it was for a tax form) and he repeated “1810 thereabouts”, which made me wonder privately about his status as a vampire or some sort of member of the occult. Has he been wandering this earth for 208 years? Have his views evolved in that time? I know vampires are contagious, so I worried about my workplace safety a little bit, but my primary concern was whether or not I would make the cut as a vampire 191
contestant and what I would do should I acquire that new identity. First of all: Would it be good for my art? Do I even want to live forever? I’m really more of a morning person — could I deal with the eternal change in schedule? Unrequited worries, in the end. Maybe luck is on my side, after all, though I can’t shake the feeling of inadequacy. As a pacifist, I found disturbing that the lumberjack carried an axe. “Calm down, it’s part of his craft,” I told myself. But when I voiced my concerns to him, he was dismissive. I felt like demonstratively refusing his services right then, but he charged me an 1830s rate and did whatever I asked of him quickly, so I decided it was okay to put my work ahead of my feelings. I think that was modern of me. I asked the lumberjack if he had recently lost any foreign currency. My use of the word “foreign” was enough to spike his blood pressure, so I dropped the subject. I haven’t abandoned the idea that the coins I found were his, from the 1830s. Maybe they were acorns. That’s what they used for currency back then. My mixed-media palette includes chopped wood, minced meat, fragrant flowers and antibacterial soaps. The most intensive labour I put into my work is showing up at my own openings. Before every private view, I practise my response to criticism. For example, I stand in front of the mirror and say: “The antibacterial soap is a comment on the absurdity of humans pitting themselves against life forms they find threatening. The idea that we can ever subjugate bacteria — whose sole purpose on our shared earth is to exist — is self-defeating. In our attempts to eradicate bacteria, we’ve only made bacteria more resilient. We need to find ways in which we can coexist to serve one another’s best interests. Our best interests happen to be the same: to live. And maybe that is a metaphor, but if I tell you what for, then I’ll have failed as an artist.” I never end up saying anything close to that. I wonder if I should take a masterclass in public speaking. I hate it when people cough or sneeze around my works. That’s why antibacterial soap is part of my mixed-media palette. Currency is also very dirty. That’s why I would prefer to leave it on the ground, unless the promise of a better day is overwhelming. — Katya Tylevich
Dirty Money and Blood-Sucking Assistants
---------------------------------------------S O M E T H I N G I S T E R R I B L Y W R O N G ---------------------------------------------I once watched a film director on a characteristically melodramatic Hollywood round table announcing that his job had been voted the third most stressful in the world. Poor you! I thought. Then I thought, I wonder if it’s as stressful as working for a magazine? Things to keep editorial staff awake at night include: printing the page numbers in the wrong order; misspelling the season on the front cover; accidentally publishing a draft article online. The third example happened last year when the UK’s Telegraph newspaper hit the publish button on a draft piece about Prince Philip’s death, complete except for certain key bits of information (fill in: time of death, cause of death, heartfelt quote from the Queen). This will most certainly have caused the person responsible to suffer a serious anxiety bout which has no doubt returned every time they’ve published an article since, but it was a cathartic moment for online editors the world over. It probably gave Prince Philip a dose of anxiety too — it was published on the day of his retirement from public service, which many may see as the inevitable onset of death. The fact is, most of us believe that our jobs are highly stressful because we spend most of our lives occupied by them and being alive is stressful. Stress, dread and uncertainty are a natural part of life; uncomfortable feelings that we desperately try to blame on the people, places and activities that we engage with. But if we reduce this sense of being unsettled to its purest form, the natural, human feeling of angst, it is something we can never be rid of. After all, it has very little to do with individual circumstance and everything to do with being a human. Mind you, Kierkegaard, who philosophized that angst is intrinsically linked with our human beingness, probably didn’t have a pet. My cat, for instance, likes to spend his days staring out of the window at the pouring rain, hiding under the dining table and getting truly freaked out when the furniture has been rearranged. He has definitely not come to terms with life’s uncertainties. Pets seem intimately related to homo sapiens in their emotional make-up: luxuriating in warmth, love and comfort, the perfect mix for a case of “Is there actually something very wrong here? There probably is. Better to freak out just in case rather than enjoy the wondrous beauty of being alive.”
The real mystery is not how to rid ourselves of the soul-destroying, gut-wrenching fear that we are in charge and therefore ultimately the maker or breaker of our own lives, but how to live with it, embrace it and learn to love it. This is sort of like being told to love your body, “because you may as well, it’s the only one you’ll ever have”. It certainly makes sense as a concept, but putting it into practice can be a little harder. Like our relationship with our bodies, our relationship with angst is fuelled and stoked by our internal voice, which tells us it isn’t enough to experience the apparently irrational fears that play on a loop inside our heads, we must also berate ourselves for having these thoughts, and then berate ourselves for berating ourselves and so on, until the simple loathing we have for our bodies, or for our unplaceable sense that things are just a bit wrong, turns into something far uglier. If we accept that angst is a natural part of being alive, and accept that we will always experience it, we don’t lose the angst, but we do lose all of the voices that tell us to lose it. That surely simplifies things a little. While angst can be rather difficult to embrace as an ongoing internal state, we have many artistic interpretations of the feeling that can help us to have some understanding or cathartic response. We know that angst sounds a bit like Placebo. We know it looks like the work of Louise Bourgeois. We recognize it in the films of Darren Aronofsky and Michael Haneke. We don’t want art about shiny happy people without a care in the world — we want to see people struggling with that same, slightly unnameable discomfort that we feel ourselves every day. When we experience angst in film, literature, music and art we can at least feel a sense of belonging in our human trappings. We might be falling apart at the seams and doing our best to hold it all together, but so is everybody else. And that, at least, means we aren’t alone. — Emily Steer
LIFE THROUGH ART
SUMMERTIME ANGST Art in the Age of Uncertainty Interviews with AA Bronson Chantal Joffe Miranda July ISSUE 35 £10 €12