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Drawn to Language Alexandra Grant Kate Ingold Susan Silton Holly Downing | David St. John Demiテ] flores | Lila Downs | Paul Cohen


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University of Southern California Fisher Museum Staff Selma Holo Director Kay Allen Associate Director Ariadni A. Liokatis Curator Stephanie Kowalick Registrar/Collections Manager Juan Rojas Chief Preparator Ralph Gatchalian PR and Administrative Assistant Catalogue Design Haven Lin-Kirk Printer TypeCraft Wood & Jones Issuu Fisher Museum Photography Alexandra Grant, Susan Silton and anonymous votivos by Brian Forrest Holly Downing’s work by Bob Stender Pecados y Milagros works by Centro Cultural La Curtiduria Kate Ingold’s work by Kate Ingold Scanned images of David St. John’s notebook and poems courtesy of Haven Lin-Kirk All works are reproduced with the permission of the artists, their represetatives and collectors.

© 2013 USC Fisher Museum University of Southern California University Park Campus Los Angeles, CA 90089-0292 ISBN: 978-0-945192-43-5 All rights reserved. No part of this catalogue may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or tranmitted in any form or means, electronical, mechanical, photcopy, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of The Fisher Museum exept by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in review.


table of contents

Drawn to Language director’s preface by Selma Holo page 04 elective affinities by Suzanne Hudson page 10 curator’s essay by Ariadni Liokatis page 14 Alexandra Grant page 40 Kate Ingold page 52 Susan Silton page 60 Holly Downing | David St. John page 72 Demián Flores | Lila Downs | Paul Cohen page 84 Exhibition Checklist page 96


Director’s preface | Selma Holo

Museums, contrary to conventional wisdom, are constantly

re-inventing themselves. Directors worry about whether their museums and galleries are too staid or too trendy; whether they are mounting too many or not enough blockbuster exhibitions; and whether there is true educational value to their programming and special events. They are always working to create compelling ways to bring in new visitors and then to bring them back as repeat visitors—and this is not just to the more glamorous temporary shows, but also to the quieter galleries that protect and display the permanent collections that essentially define museums as institutions indispensable to society. “Drawn to Language” is my attempt to combine the attraction and dynamism of a temporary exhibition with the more profound meaning associated with the building of a permanent collection and the establishment of longer-term relationships with contemporary artists.

director’s preface

Alexandra Grant, Susan Silton, Kate Ingold, Holly Downing, David St. John, Demián Flores, Lila Downs and Paul Cohen make up the key group of artists that comprises “Drawn to Language.” We are proud to have in Fisher’s permanent collection at least one work that represents some aspect of the creative production of these artists: painting, photography, sculpture, banners and artists’ books. In some cases, we have had a long relationship with the artist on display and want to memorialize that relationship with this exhibition; in others we have only recently become acquainted with the artist and want to celebrate a new acquisition he or she created. Thus, I consider “Drawn to Language” to be a riff on the idea of the permanent collection exhibition—a riff where we combine both physical works of art, sound, and music with the legacy of the human relationships we have built with the artists we are showing.


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And so, the idea of art and language defines this exhibition. It is not by accident that we chose this as a theme for the exhibition. Since I became Director of Fisher we have made a concerted point of honoring language and art when they work together transformationally. We have acquired or been given pieces that integrate language and art, including objects by, for example, Sarah Lucas, Peter Shire, Jesús Lugo, and Demián Flores. This definitive characteristic looms large in USC’s museum, perhaps most lastingly in Jenny Holzer’s great garden and installation, Blacklist (see page 7). A tribute to the first amendment, Blacklist was inaugurated at Fisher in 1999 and affirms that USC is an institution where academic freedom will be zealously protected. Holzer succeeded in communicating this by recalling the shadow that hovered over our country during the McCarthy years. To quickly review the depth and breadth of Fisher’s commitment to the intersection of art and language, I would summon up Someday a series of paintings by Robert Farber, an artist we showed in 1998 who had recently died from AIDS. Someday combines images and quotations underlining the artist’s trenchant commentary on civilizations destroyed by death and disease. From the Black Plague to the AIDS epidemics, Farber chronicled his own end and a tragedy of our own time. Fisher’s haunting installation of Buzz Spector’s “Bibliography” displayed dozens of books carefully placed on a lectern that lined the gallery’s walls. Left open, a pair of eyeglasses on top of each book, the array suggested interrupted reading. In part two, Spector compiled a list of all the books, their titles written on the walls, that he believed were read in the life of one person—his late mother. “Denouncing Violence Against Women,” our collaboration with the Shoah Foundation and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, combined pictorial exhortation and powerful words in posters aimed at calling attention to the decades long brutality against women the world over. Also of note, very recently at Fisher was Ofri Cnaani’s “Sota Project,” an immersive video installation based on a Talmudic text, exploring jealousy, betrayal, judgment, ritual humiliation, and ultimately death. On the other hand, Michael Mazur’s brilliant illustrations of Robert Pin-


Director’s preface | Selma Holo

sky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno and then, J.M.W. Turner’s Ut picture poesis prints brought to the fore a literary role that was special for both Mazur and Turner, but not as well known as other parts of their oeuvres. Fisher’s long commitment to Latino art and to art from Mexico, Spain, and throughout Latin America also sought out the intersections of art and language. In the groundbreaking 1984 “Aqui” exhibition of 26 Latin American artists living and working in the United States, examples of art and language characterized, for example, the memorable outdoor performance of Papo Colo marrying paper, bricks and poetry. In 1992, “Viperine Vanguard” by Tunga, from Brazil, introduced snakes to Fisher. But, surprisingly, alongside the snakes was a computer spewing thousands of papers, mock scientific documents, where the (fictive) written word created the feeling of both a laboratory and a strong critique of modern existence. Enrique Chagoya’s exhibition at Fisher in 1995 reflected the artist’s fascination with language in his encounter with Aztec codices and American comic books that he then transformed into his own “reverse anthropology.” “Intersecting Identities” in 1996 identified the Spanish language as a matter of varying interest in the backgrounds of a number of artists living in LA—artists who otherwise may have had nothing in common: Salomon Huerta, Alfredo de Batuc, Frank Gutierrez, Joey Krebs, Delilah Montoya, Ricardo Valverde, Cristina Fernandez, and Guillermo Bert were some of the artists included in that exhibition. And in 2003, Laurie Litowitz, long time resident of Oaxaca, Mexico, hung her hundreds of squares of white silk whereon each was stenciled (in hundreds of languages) with one fragile word: Peace. These few examples of Fisher’s much broader commitment to the infinite variations on the theme of art and language are significant because “Drawn to Language” is built on a solid foundation this museum’s institutional history. When I met Los Angeles based artist Alexandra Grant, I knew immediately that she was one of the most exciting young artists working in our midst. Ariadni Liokatis, Fisher’s curator, and I made


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Director’s preface | Selma Holo

a studio visit and quickly purchased Alexandra’s Century of the Self (1), knowing that it would profoundly enhance and influence our permanent collection. The series, Century of the Self—works on paper with encoded painted collages and a floor installation made from recycled industrial waste—inspired us to think of organizing a new exhibition, this one explicitly dedicated to artists we wanted for our collection who found the written word irresistible. We were already predisposed to follow that road because of the artworks of Kate Ingold, a Chicago based visual artist and poet, whose photographically based art we already owned in some depth. 21st Century Retablo, with its references to Mexico, Chicago, and the Virgin of Guadalupe, and her newer Thesaurus for Ceasing War were pieces of hers we had been looking forward to displaying. Ingold’s stunning poetry alongside her artwork on the walls adds another dimension to her sensitive lens on the world. We had already developed a history of working with Los Angeles multidisciplinary artist Susan Silton. Silton had participated generously with Fisher in the past, especially in a museum studies course I co-taught with Richard Meyer, then a Professor at USC, now a colleague at Stanford University. Fisher purchased the banner Silton created for that course and, now, once again we decided to commission a site-specific installation for “Drawn to Language.” In Susan Silton’s In everything there is the trace, we experience art that is part performative, part art-on-the-wall, and wholly about how words move us, stay with us, change us, and leave their traces on our consciousness. Peruvian Portals, A Cross-Cultural Hymn: A Collaboration by Holly Downing and David St. John is an artist’s book composed of both images and poetry. Holly Downing, from Sebastapol, California, invited David St. John, much-lauded USC poet, to work with her to create Peruvian Portals, now in our permanent collection. Based on traces of Peru’s ancient past, St. John’s poetry communicates an imaginary that in its present-day celebration of Latin America further deepens Fisher’s commitment to that part of the world. Being able to hear the poems translated into Quechua impresses a cultural continuity and unexpected complexity upon us. Pecados y Milagros (Sins and Miracles) is a folio created by Mexican artist and curator Demián


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Flores, Mexican singer Lila Downs and Paul Cohen that I purchased for Fisher in May of 2012 soon after it was created. Flores, Downs, and Cohen collaborated on a highly original project based on an old folk tradition of paintings known as votivos. These votivos are images offered in gratitude for miracles and forgiveness of sins. Fifteen well-known Mexican contemporary artists: Betsabeé Romero, Dr. Lakra, Demián Flores, Germán Venegas, Dulce Pinzón, Daniel Guzmán, Cisco Jiménez, Marcos Castro, José Luis Sanchez Rull, Patricia Soriano, Daniel Lezama, Marco Arce, CHema Skandal!, Enrique Ávila and Alfredo Vilchis each contributed a contemporary votivo to the project, and Lila Downs created a song for each. Pecados y Milagros is deeply enhanced by Downs’ songs, creating a multi-media installation that is both moving and provocative. And so I wish to acknowledge all of the artists who have allowed us to build this exhibition. Alexandra Grant, Susan Silton, Kate Ingold, Holly Downing and David St. John, Demián Flores, Lila Downs and Paul Cohen, plus the fifteen artists they commissioned for their project. All of these artists are all important to me both institutionally and personally. I also wish to thank Elena Pardo and SONY Music Mexico. I am deeply indebted to Dr. Suzanne Hudson, professor in USC’s Art History Department for the contribution of her enlightening essay to this catalogue. I am grateful to Ariadni Liokatis, curator of Fisher, who made this show that I dreamed of a reality. Her hard work with all of the artists as well as her commitment and dedication to them and to Fisher— and to “doing it right”—were indispensable to the curation of “Drawn to Language.” The Fisher Staff: Kay Allen, Stephanie Kowalick, Juan Rojas and Raphael Gatchalian took their responsibilities far beyond what was required. I treasure them all. And, last but not at all least, I thank USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett and President C. L. Max Nikias for their enduring support of the arts and for knowing why the arts make a difference in all of our lives. Selma Holo Director, USC Fisher Museum of Art Professor, Dornsife College of Letters Arts and Sciences, Art History


elective affinities | suzanne Hudson

“Drawn to Language” is a show about art and text, or more precisely the apposition thereof. While the artists brought together here foreground the act of reading within visuality, they likewise suggest the process by which this engagement comes to be—not so much assuming the apposition, then, as instantiating it anew, over and again. In this, they come close to conceptual orthodoxy. (In 1972, the critic Brian O’Doherty wrote of artist and theoretician Joseph Kosuth’s installation at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York: “It is not a looking room; it is a reading room.”1) Contra to the subjective remove of much historical conceptual art though, this work is prepossessing in its admission of being motivated in some determinant way by personal proclivities, politics, sentiments, desires, fears, or faiths. So we might say that the stress falls less on the language than on who is being drawn to it, on what grounds, and to what end. For being drawn to something means: to take up with something or to betake oneself to it. This implies action and even agency, on the part of not only the artist, as maker and first viewer, but also who follows.

elective affinities

Likewise, if conceptual art eschewed the aesthetic in its move into ideation apart from material actualization, Holly Downing and David St. John, the votivo painters selected by Demián Flores, Lila Downs, and Paul Cohen, Kate Ingold, Susan Silton, and Alexandra Grant each keep hold of the object, even as they admit as a group the capaciousness of invention. Of course, conceptual art, somewhat against itself, evidences an aesthetic—what Benjamin H.D. Buchloh indicted as the “aesthetic of administration”2—but the issue remains that this look was a byproduct of a category of projects coming to reveal something of their contextual character over time, not a desired, which is to say intentional or premeditated, stylistic end.This negative relation to picture-making, and the censoriousness to evaluative formal criteria more broadly, 1 2

Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube (Santa Monica: The Lapis Press, 1986), p. 64 Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, “Conceptual Art 1962–1969: From the Aesthetic of Administration to the Critique of Institutions,” October, vol. 55. (Winter, 1990), pp. 105–143.


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served as a way to move beyond the modernist mandates of composition and medium-specific self-reflexivity that had come to seem a dead end by the mid-1960s. Without collapsing all of conceptual art into the figure of Joseph Kosuth, he is nonetheless an important precursor through which to make this case. Kosuth used language in his artwork as early as 1965, when he formulated One and Three Chairs, a tripartite work comprising a dictionary definition of “chair” alongside the real, wooden thing and a full-scale photographic representation of it. He was soon turning out enlarged Photostats—what he deemed “anti-paintings”—of dictionary definitions. In 1967 he founded an early exhibition space for conceptual art in New York, the short-lived Museum of Normal Art, with Christine Kozlov and others. He also published influential pieces of writing including his three-part manifesto, Art After Philosophy (1969). His interrogatory position upholds the superfluity of producing objects, instead arguing for artworks as analytic propositions, which are linguistic in nature precisely because they articulate a definition of art. Indeed, by 1969, Kosuth had turned decisively to the linguistic examination of the disciplinary, cultural, and economic contexts that define art as such. The gallery as a site of meaning production has proven a mainstay in the wake of such notions, and not just for Kosuth. So, too, has attention to the production of meaning frequently supplanted conveying meaning in itself. This obtains even as—as broached above—recourse to the more proximate circumstances of one’s life came to be equally pressing. Relative to this schematically narrated history, what is specific to “Drawn to Language” is the assembly of individuals who equally, if differently, insist upon a kind of transitivity whereby drawing oneself to language serves to draw one to one another. This is perhaps most obvious in the collaboration between Holly Downing and David St. John around the creation of a book, itself an homage to Andean culture, and a testament to their shared sympathy for the Quechua songs and poems collected in the anthology, Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg. More locally inspired by Arch, an artist’s book of labor-intensive mezzotints (picturing arched openings from locations in Italy) that Downing was working on with Jack Stauffacher, St. John—


elective affinities | suzanne Hudson

who had just taught a workshop on the idea of the aperture—proposed a project comprising his poetry and her images. This became Peruvian Portals, A Cross-Cultural Hymn, filled with Downing’s exquisite prints of light and shadow born of Peruvian portals and architectural shapes and St. John’s words rife with evocations of doorways and passages. Similarly predicated upon a mutuality of engagement, Demián Flores, Lila Downs, and Paul Cohen commissioned fifteen Mexican artists to paint contemporary expressions of traditional votivos, amalgams of picture and prayer that one offers to a saint as expiation or gratitude for the beneficence of salvation after surviving a trial.The project accompanies Downs’ music album, Pecados y Milagros (Sins and Miracles). Over the course of a year, the fifteen artists worked with the collection of the National Art Museum (MUNAL) in Mexico; given a metal sheet and texts from Flores, Downs, and Cohen, they appropriated whatever fragment resonated to achieve a painting based upon it. In this way, the project literally connects people through language, establishing a community predicated upon differences of interpretation, emphasis, and technique. The same might be said of Kate Ingold’s 21st Century Retablo, in which the artist documented the public response to a 2005 apparition—a water stain thought to resemble the Virgin of Guadalupe—manifest at a Chicago underpass. A spontaneous place of religious pilgrimage, the “underpass Virgin” came to mark a spot where faith was demonstrated through both performed emotion in the presence of the miracle and physical artifacts, whether flowers or graffiti, that the devotees left behind. Ingold photographed the communal acts, including the latter, scrawls of love, longing, and grief; she subjected the prints to marks (they are scraped and gouged in some places) and overlaid them with metal thread. By juxtaposing her own interventions with those made by the congregants, Ingold participates fully in the conversation the fugitive figure elicited. Susan Silton radicalizes this tendency in a site-specific installation that not only insists upon reading as something active, but as something that can be done in the context of a group. In a kind of type-in staged in the gallery, she invites visitors to share in the retyping of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, on a manual ribbon-less typewriter. While she commenced a


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like approach—typing in stencil mode, where the keys strike paper without accruing and depositing ink—in the context of the Iraq War in 2007, when Silton reread by retyping the entirety of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, this work marks the first occasion where she solicited the help of others. Through this gesture, Silton underlines the inherently political valence of reading and registers an ambition for this recognition to be forged among peers. In the course of translation, the project fosters opportunities for engagement within an open-source culture where language can be simultaneously produced and consumed. Finally, where Silton abets the airing of positions within the real-time dialogue of the exhibition, Alexandra Grant channels multiple voices, the collective unconscious subtending it. Her large-scale collages and paintings assembled from found texts (these range from Surrealist manifestos to Feminist philosophers like Hélène Cixous, or writers like Audre Lorde) and inkblot abstractions, Century of the Self, relate to a four-part documentary of the same name, directed by Adam Curtis. Like its namesake, which examines the applications of Sigmund Freud’s ideas about needs and wants within an advertising-industrial complex born of the 20th century’s great wars, Grant’s employ of psychological materials are diagnostic rather than curative. They show a subject’s anxieties to be radically depersonalized, even collective. Still the floor piece, Site/Self (projections), involves a Rorschach that Grant authored, and serves as a springboard for viewers’ projections. In aggregate, these artists embody—albeit dissimilarly, which is no doubt part of the point— the registers through which language assumes density within artwork of various formats. These platforms foster communication by means of and in excess of grammar and syntax. Neither does content become irrelevant, as clear in the reverence for Peruvian culture exemplified by Downing and St. John or the appropriation of Steinbeck’s hardscrabble testament to selfdetermination by Silton. Even so, they make equally patent their motivations for returning to materials—to being drawn to language, in the verbiage of the show—such that the crux becomes just what to do with these materials now. Suzanne Hudson


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

In the course of art history, visual artists have often turned to literature and text as a source of inspiration. Artists have incorporated language in their works from antiquity: from hieroglyphs enlightening paintings on Egyptian tombs; inscribed notations on funerary steles, vases and architecture in classical times, and Byzantine icons, where the written word elucidated and enhanced the understanding of visual art. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, altarpieces and illuminated manuscripts, where word and image enhanced each other, became other striking examples of this relationship. Literary sources, from classical literature and religious history, and writers such as Dante, Boccaccio, Shakespeare, and Milton, to name but a few, informed numerous paintings of the Renaissance, the Baroque era, to the 18th century— enduring well into the 19th century with pre-Raphaelite and Victorian narrative works relying upon literary references.

curator’s essay

The reactionary movement and spirit of experimentation that came to define the 20th century led artists to free themselves from academic and patronage constraints, and challenge institutional authority and established artistic conventions. Language came to play a prominent role as it opened up new possibilities for conceptual innovations, and its use became a characteristic aspect of visual art in the 20th and 21st centuries. George Braque’s 1911 introduction of stenciled letters and numerals in Cubist paintings, and the Cubists’ papiers collés helped radically


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transform the content and form of modern art. Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 Fountain and readymades irreverently pioneered the practice of appropriation and recontextualization. The use of typography was prevalent in the work of the Futurists. The Dada and Surrealist movements’ literary and artistic practices were intimately connected. René Magritte’s word-pictures, notably his 1929 The Treachery of Images: ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe,’ probed the nature of the relationship between word and image. Language became an important tool of self-expression for Conceptual artists in the 1960s beginning with artists such as Joseph Kosuth and Bruce Nauman. Pop Art protagonists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein famously used language in their works to reference popular culture. A range of influential artists in Western art have used language in their work and pushed the boundaries of what constitute art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, from Pablo Picasso, to Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha, Lawrence Weiner, Hans Haack, Barbara Kruger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jenny Holzer, John Baldessari, Glenn Ligon, Shirin Neshat, to name but a few. Artists use language for diverse purposes, ranging from formal purposes as an immediate means of artistic expression, as a reference to popular culture incorporating punning references and visual games, semiotics and linguistic form, to social and political commentary, etc. Drawn to Language offers a highly varied visual and intellectual repertoire. In their works, the artists featured in this exhibition present distinct and diverse relationships and creative interaction between image and language, art and text. In the long and dynamic history of artists being drawn to language, we hope to mark the continuity and underline the rich complementarities and affinities of art and the written word as we have chosen to highlight a number of artists with whom Fisher has developed a relationship over the years, and whom are represented in the museum’s permanent collection: Alexandra Grant, Kate Ingold, Susan Silton, Holly Downing and David St. John, and Demián Flores, Lila Downs and Paul Cohen.


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

Alexandra Grant Century of the Self “Language, reading, collaborating with writers I admire... this is what elevates my thoughts beyond the everyday in my head. Writers inspire me to paint. I think my work is a second or created “mother tongue” for me, meant to communicate something shared about the human condition.” —Alexandra Grant, 2013 Alexandra Grant’s mapping of language incorporates both an aesthetic and intellectual dimension. Text-based Los Angeles artist Alexandra Grant maps language in different media, from drawing, to painting and sculpture. In earlier work, she has probed ideas of translation (notably from language to language, text to image, and spoken language to written word), identity, and dis/location, often in collaboration with other artists and writers, such as author Michael Joyce, actor Keanu Reeves, artist Channing Hansen, and French philosopher Hélène Cixous. In her new series of work titled Century of the Self and premiering at the USC Fisher Museum of Art, Grant explores philosophical concepts of identity— psychology, the unconscious, and the construction of the Self. She examines how the creation of the self is influenced by psychology and marketing in the era


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curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

of modern consumerism. As she points out, “Psychological discourse is present everywhere— inside our heads, in marketing of consumer goods, in politics—and is artificial, not natural.” Century of the Self takes its name from a documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis that investigates how Freud’s theories of the unconscious shaped the development of public relations and advertising. Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew was the first to use his uncle’s ideas and psychological techniques in advertising. He is credited with the creation of many PR techniques used today. Grant’s large scale and vibrantly colored compositions are series of collages of layered inkblots and phrases from found texts presented in capital case and mirrored. Phrases used such as I love myself, I blame myself, I lost myself, I found myself, I laughed to myself, I see myself in him, I told myself I could refer to our internal monologue, internal voices populating our subconscious. They represent the multiple voices that define and shape the creation of our self, layer upon layer. The artist renders these diverse subconscious voices and our internal monologues visible. Other voices the artist channels come from texts expressing “self­consciousness or a fragmentary self, such as Walt Whitman’s “I contain multitudes” or Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true.” As the artist explains, “today we regularly use vague concepts such as “self­esteem” and “self­expression” without thinking what they really mean.” Some of the inkblots are reminiscent of the Rorschach inkblots devised by Freudian psychoanalyst Herman Rorschach. In her work, Grant explores the legacy of Freud and the influence of psychology on many artists, such as the Surrealists, Feminist philosophers (Hélène Cixous, for example), or writers like Audre Lorde and Clarice Lispector. In Self (I was born to love) after Antigone and Audre Lorde Grant features strong female voices such as politically engaged writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde “Caring for myself is not selfindulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” to Sophocles’ Antigone from ancient Greek tragedies “I was born to love not to hate.” The artist uses collage as a visual


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metaphor and a signifier for the construction of self and its many layers of selfhood. Layered inkblots, paint, writings from found texts, and X marks referring to the negating of the self are the various elements of her visual vocabulary. Grant’s floor installation probes ideas also found in her two dimensional works. Using recycled colorful plastic industrial discards, the artist created a visual and sculptural map of her own Rorschach: “a form where the audience could project onto the sculptural shapes, revealing more about their own perceptions in the process of doing so. People “see” such different things in the piece: from brains to candy to sexual organs to food”, as she explains, “a serial vocabulary or alphabet that references language without having literal words or letters in it.” As Grant points out: “Language is both the most banal thing and the most sacred too. “In the beginning was the word.”” The artist strikes a successful balance in her intellectual and aesthetic investigations into the role of language. Kate Ingold Thesaurus for Ceasing War “I have been drawn to language and visual images my whole life, which I guess is why I have ended up as this messy sort of artist that has a foot in both disciplines. My sources are varied and include everything from Google search items and overheard conversations to articles in scholarly journals, newspapers, dharma talks and lectures, to advertisements, graffiti, other found language fragments, and the work of writers I read…” —Kate Ingold, 2013 Kate Ingold is a Chicago based visual artist and poet. As a “research-oriented” artist, she finds inspiration and source materials for her work in the study of “histories, philosophies and problems,” which she mines to uncover hidden references, meanings and connections in an intellectually stimulating journey of discovery—an experience she tries to communicate to her viewers.


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

K a t e I n g o l d , 2 1 s t C e n t u ry R e ta b l o , 2 0 0 5 - 2 0 0 6


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Ingold explores philosophical themes and issues of global resonance. Recurring subjects in her work are war and ecological destruction, commodification, disturbance, reparation, and the ideas of mutual ascendency and collapse. As the artist points out, she is also interested in “memory, loss, and “nostalgia for the future,” or “nostalgia for what never came to pass.” Her work incorporates interrelated poetry and visual imagery. Thesaurus for Ceasing War, Ingold’s installation at Fisher, presents 2 distinct mixed media photography based bodies of work belonging in the permanent collection of the museum: 21st Century Retablo and Thesaurus for Ceasing War. Thesaurus for Ceasing War is also the overarching theme of this installation, which comments on the alliance of religion and politics, the use of the language of war and its impact on our ecosystems. In 21st Century Retablo (2005-2006), Ingold documented the public response to a 2005 apparition that occurred at a Chicago underpass. At that time a water stain vaguely shaped like the Virgin of Guadalupe became, over a short time, a spontaneous religious pilgrimage site. Ingold photographed the site, its evolution and final devolution, giving equal weight to the appearance of graffiti and floral offerings. She likened it to a “highway grotto”: “What I photographed most were the messages written on the cracked and damaged concrete wall surrounding her. The wall was a living palimpsest” as new messages, often written atop of the existing ones, were visible every time she returned to the shrine. She printed and altered


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

the surface of the photographs by scraping and gouging them with metal tools and sewing and adding metal thread—that recall gold and silver embroidery—and wire to “repair them,” adding her own layer to the photographed “palimpsest.” In a period marked by her husband’s deployment in Afghanistan and in response to each image, Ingold wrote poetry that questions the alliance of politics and religion she deems a source of much conflict in the world. In Ingold’s process, visual images and poems creatively fueled each other. Each of the fifteen images in the series is displayed in the exhibition with the corresponding poem. The first image and poem of the series, also titled 21st Century Retablo, are shown below.

21st century retablo

memory scares away the light
is to know the principle of sacrifice here she is: our 21st century
retablo made of spent water, concrete, cracks and splits expanse between stars constellation negatives the inverse of matter she, the prophecy of decay
what can be believed when all is formed of belief? made of bullet wounds to understand this found in the dark, infinite

In her later work, Thesaurus for Ceasing War (2009), Ingold combines contemporary digital photography with the traditional practice of embroidery in three silk screens to comment on her opposition to war and the often unsubstantial logic that guides the world’s politics. The image featured on the silk panels displays a tall edifice under construction enveloped in fog and rain in the Chicago skyline, which could easily be mistaken for a building in the process of being demolished. While the artist embroidered the panels, she wrote an accompanying poem that comprises multiple parts, “with each numbered section becoming another building jutting up into the fog. Taken together, I wanted the real buildings in the photo and the ‘buildings’ of


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the poem to be a ‘thesaurus.’ ” The poem references events, both historic and current, scientific explorations, and philosophical and religious texts, as the excerpt included below reveals. In her work, Ingold addresses ecological destruction, warfare motivations, and the “use of the language of war” in the context of climate change and disaster.

Thesaurus for Ceasing War

12. First, regard all dreams as rivers. Second, the wind and tide. Third, abandoned homes, transoms, satellite prisons. Fourth, fade and flow, black liquor, deracination. Fifth, collision, and therefore the sludge and slurry. Sixth, light-box and shadow, stern structures, perversely athwart. Seventh, front view made of two side views, or 3/4 views. Eighth, mountaintop removal. Twilight. Lightning, cloud-to-sea. Ninth, the luminosity of return strikes, limn the first night. Tenth, fulgurites or the fossilization of light. Eleventh, redoubt. The land rises as the ice retreats. Twelfth, regard all rivers as dreams.

Kate Ingold pairs visual imagery with poetry. Her sources of reference are Japanese haiga paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and modernist works incorporating image and text. As she states, “I intend to have the image and text come together to form a third work, one that is dependent on the two elements to exist.” She likens her works to drawings, as they involve the mark on the page, “which is not so different than writing, especially when you look at so-called “visual poetry” where the meaning of the words and letters is not as important as the visual excitement they create on the page.”


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

Susan Silton In everything there is the trace I’m most interested in the slippage of language, everything it communicates and everything it doesn’t. There is slippage across culture, across interests, across a dinner table, and slippage from the brain to the typing hand. Translation and transposition are often necessary even within one’s first language. It’s the tireless process of trying to make sense that is tirelessly engaging, both intellectually and aesthetically. —Susan Silton, 2013 In everything there is the trace is a phrase excerpted from a filmed and translated interview with French philosopher Jacques Derrida in which he says, “…in everything there is the trace, the experience of a return to something else, of being returned to another past, present, future, a different type of temporality that’s even older than the past and that is beyond the future.” The genesis of Los Angeles multidisciplinary artist Susan Silton’s installation at Fisher dates back 2007, when, in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq, the artist was compelled to reread Joseph Conrad’s 1902 seminal novel “Heart of Darkness,” and, in an act of active participation, retype the book on a manual typewriter from which she had removed


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S u sa n S i l t o n , I n e v e ry t h i n g t h e r e i s t h e t r ac e i n s ta l l at i o n , 2 0 1 3


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

the ribbon. She was drawn to the physicality required to type on a conventional typewriter, and to the residue or remains that are left by this approach to reading. The imprint of the act of reading, on 100 pages of white Crane’s crest paper, is presented in a striking black and red box in the installation: “Braille-like, each page is evidence of the author imprinted in the mind of the reader (myself), output again through the labor of my hands.” The focal point of Silton’s site-specific installation is a typing circle made of ten individual interlocking wood and steel typewriting stations, each one equipped with a conventional typewriter. The tables and chairs, designed and fabricated by Knowhow Shop (a fabrication laboratory and design studio in Los Angeles), are both functional and sculptural elements. This performative installation explores the process of a collaborative public reading as a potentially political act by engaging visitors in the retyping, in its entirety, of John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath on a manual ribbonless typewriter, enacted in “stencil” mode, which means that the typewriter keys strike only paper, not ink-on-paper. “Typing without ink leaves only the trace of the activity, which foregrounds the act of rereading even further.” The artist chose Steinbeck’s classic novel for its timeless resonance and its universal themes of class struggle and human rights. Silton’s type-in makes reference to the political and social possibilities of collectivity, but also underscores the individual’s unique relationship to a text. The questions of what (re)reading means, of what a book means, and what takes place internally and externally in the transfer between reading and(re)writing, is being asked as typewriter keys blindly impress the entirety of the novel on paper. As with much of her work, this performative installation highlights the complexity of interpretation as the artist engages community to look back and forward, both critically and creatively. Engaging and expanding on the same typing strategies, Silton created a new body of work titled Appraisals. The works consist of a series of altered and framed offset-lithographed pages culled from Phillips de Pury & Company auction catalogues. Emptied of images, the pages feature captions (artist name, appraised value, and provenance) for extremely high valued artworks. Over these


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texts, the artist typed, again in stencil mode, poems about labor and class struggle by established and less widely exposed literary figures including Philip Levine, Audre Lorde, and Terry Wolverton. These juxtapositions activate a provocative rereading of the original sourced captions. Below is a short poem by Terry Wolverton “WORK,” which is paired with a catalogue page bearing a caption for Richard Prince. WORK Woman on her knees before the big clock. Morning is no peach pie, no lemon sun. Light the new day with violet lanterns, she begs another sky, its coral roof.

Same story, the room always waiting; hot, its breezes sour, chemical. Day begins before the candle melts. Even the dog on the grounds remembers his zone of rope.

The schedule is turning in her brain, minutes hanging from dry, tired trees, doubting theories of twilight. Is she a person or an explosion in the factory? The wrong moon colors this night; all the birds in the green world cannot release her earth song. Time’s sad machine still starts and stops. Dinner in the shade of the flame lit universe.

—Terry Wolverton

(reprinted with permission by the author)


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

Two other works in the installation expand on Silton’s engagement with the concept of the trace and remains. REMAINS, originally shown in 2007 as a large wall painting of words executed in the same color as the wall but with a slightly different finish, is presented here more ephemerally in talcum powder given the specific context of this installation. The only photographic image included in the installation is a gelatin silver print titled In everything there is a trace, shot in 1999 and printed for this installation. Silton sees the black and white photograph that shows remains of foundational structure as “having multiple allusions temporally and texturally, and then refers back more specifically to the textural quality of the textual typed, inkless pages.” As Silton points out, the works in this installation, while existing individually and conceived at different times, bring attention, individually and collectively, “to the common tension between the tangibility and intangibility of language, and share a concern for the sculptural qualities of text.” Holly Downing and David St. John Peruvian Portals, A Cross-Cultural Hymn I am drawn to imagery and art forms like poetry, that struggle to make sense of ourselves, our surroundings and our world. I also find beautifully printed lettering on fine paper beautiful and sensuous. —Holly Downing, 2013 ...for me [it] is like asking a fish what draws it to water. —David St. John, 2013


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Peruvian Portals, A Cross-Cultural Hymn is an artist book of images and poetry that celebrate the people and the culture of the Andes. To celebrate this rich and outstanding heritage and generate cross-cultural empathy, Northern California based painter and printmaker Holly Downing created a series of mezzotint engravings depicting Peruvian portals or architectural apertures from this remarkable ancient culture dating from the Middle Ages and predating the Inca empire. Los Angeles based poet and USC faculty member David St. John worked with traditional Quechua texts and the huayano, folksongs of the indigenous peoples of the Andes, and wrote poems to accompany these haunting images of light and shadow. The artist book includes seven mezzotint engravings by Downing and six poems by St. John, with a Quechua (or Kichwa) translation of the poems, presented in a box inspired by Inca stone walls. Downing visited the Peruvian Andes in 2006. As a member of a society technologically sophisticated, Downing found the experience of spending time in an intact non-technological oriented culture transformative. She turned her attention to the wisdom of this ancient civilization who was ”truly sustainable and may well hold answers to some of the problems of our era, from our diminishing biological diversity, to the weakening of family ties, to our dependence upon non-renewable resources.”The images of portals came to her gradually over several years and in response to the invitation of a collaboration by St. John. “The architectural forms of the various ‘portals’ are beautiful formally, and seemed to embody both the spiritual and earthly qualities of the place and the culture.” Downing chose the mezzotint, an archaic engraving technique, to be a perfect technique and medium to render their light and shadows, and a symbolic reference to the handwork so omnipresent in the Andean culture. Her rich textural effects, sensuous and rich blacks, her masterful articulation of light and darkness and subtle tonal gradations create a mysterious atmospheric quality. She delves into the artistic and metaphoric aspects of the architectural elements, exploring and transforming archways and passageways in Machu Picchu and on the island of Taquile in Lake Titicaca into images of timeless beauty—metaphors of universal journeys into one’s soul.


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

St. John has been interested in the Andean culture, notably the music and folksongs, from an early age. In 1968, he discovered a remarkable sequence of Quechua songs/poems in the anthology, Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg, and later on, he came across versions of Quechua poems that had been brought into English by the poet Mark Strand. St. John’s sensual and transporting poetry echoes Holly’s sensuous and intimate images. A decorated and accomplished poet, St. John is known for his poems of love and desire exploring the complex relationship between women and men. “For me, that’s the topos, that’s the locale of the most interesting and complicated psychological reckonings with all aspects of one’s life,” St. John says. “That’s the lens through which all kinds of experiences can be seen and understood. Tracing the psychological dramas of that relationship is to me the most compelling way to talk about faith, desire, loss and hope.” Peruvian Portals represents both a literal description and a metaphor for the images. Portals are openings—to another space, another consciousness, another historic period, another culture. The project emphasizes both artists’ respect for and honoring of this quite different, yet similarly human, ancient culture known for its wisdom and beauty. Both artists also share the fulfillment of working with one’s hand. As St. John eschews the use of the computer to write his poetry by hand, Downing chooses the mezzotint, a highly laborious and archaic form of engraving dating from the seventeenth century, that yields subtle and soft gradations of tone. “Mezzotint is a form of engraving, whose subtle


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H o l l y D o w n i n g , P e r u v i a n P o rta l IV , 2 0 0 8


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

qualities are achieved with tone rather than line… This extraordinarily time consuming process, while laborious to some, is meditative and highly satisfying to me. Using only the pressure of my hand on the scraping tool, I can imbue simple still life objects—drapery, tools, a shell—with a reserved strength and beauty that I obtain in no other medium. Light and shadow have the power to transform the seemingly immutable. Somewhere along the way psychological states of mind reveal themselves, and our outer and inner worlds connect.” This excerpt of St. John’s Songs of Love & Desire (I) and The Last Portal give a hint of the rich conversation between images and poems:

Da v i d S t . J o h n , n ot e b o o k pa g e s f o r P e r u v i a n P o rta l s , 2 0 1 1


Da v i d S t . J o h n , P e r u v i a n P o rta l s , # # # # #

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H o l l y D o w n i n g a n d Da v i d S t . J o h n , P e r u v i a n P o rta l s : A C r o s s C u lt u r a l H y m n , 2 0 1 3


curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis

H o l l y D o w n i n g a n d Da v i d S t . J o h n , P e r u v i a n P o rta l s : A C r o s s C u lt u r a l H y m n , 2 0 1 3


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Demián Flores, Lila Downs and Paul Cohen Pecados y Milagros Pecados y Milagros is a series of 15 contemporary narrative ex voto works created by fifteen well-known Mexican artists: Betsabeé Romero, Dr. Lakra, Demián Flores, Germán Venegas, Dulce Pinzón, Daniel Guzmán, Cisco Jiménez, Marcos Castro, José Luis Sanchez Rull, Patricia Soriano, Daniel Lezama, Marco Arce, CHema Skandal!, Enrique Ávila and Alfredo Vilchis. Mexican artist and curator Demián Flores, Mexican singer Lila Downs, and American saxophonist and producer Paul Cohen, collaborated on this exhibition project commissioned of these specially commissioned votive paintings, making possible a striking visual interpretation of the contemporary ex voto. The exhibition Pecados y Milagros debuted in 2011 at the El Museo Nacional De Arte in Mexico City. Lila Downs’ music album of the same title was released in 2011, and was awarded a Latin Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. Each track of the album shares a similar title and corresponds to one of the works included in the series. Her musical vision speaks of social justice and the human condition. The contemporary images in Pecados y Milagros on display here spring from the folk tradition of narrative votive paintings in Mexico referred to as ‘ex voto,’ ‘retablo’, or ‘votivo’. A traditional votivo is a two-level small-scaled artwork, often on tin, with an image, usually at the top, and a prayer band of accompanying text below that expresses requests of the saints or extravagant gratitude for promises fulfilled. Three examples of these ex votos can be seen in the display case. They give thanks for the intercession of some saint or divinity through the energetic exercise of faith, and are personalized representations of sins, miracles, fulfilled promises and apparitions. These traditional votivos, painted by non-professional artists, are characterized by their directness and by the heartfelt juxtaposition of word and image. The ex votos stand out in the rich history of Mexican culture and these works, many of them pictorial, bring together religious beliefs, imagination, and art.


U n k n o w n a r t is t , S a n M i g u e l A r c a n g e l ‌ , undated

curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis


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Although a long and universal tradition, the painting of religious images to give thanks for a miracle or favor received is especially relevant in Mexican culture. The form that most votive paintings take from the colonial period to the present was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. They evolved from static images of saints or other religious figures donated to a church to narrative images telling the personal story of a miracle or favor. These paintings were first produced by the wealthy and often on canvas; however, as sheets of tin became affordable, lower classes began to have these painted on this medium. Many older votive paintings have found their way into public and private collections.The collecting of these was begun by Diego Rivera, whose work, along with those of a number of other painters past and present, has been influenced by them. The contemporary artists included in Pecados y Milagros have preserved the expressive nature of the traditional form, thus extending this very old tradition into the here and now. A number of traditional ex votos upon which this contemporary series was based are included in the exhibition to demonstrate the vital and creative connection between ancient times and the present that still exists in parts of Mexico today and that this project seeks to encourage in a multitude of ways. Some of the works in the series refer stylistically to the European painting tradition while other works speak to printmaking and lithograph techniques used by artists in Mexico City. Each contemporary ex voto represents a different situation explained by its title and its imagery. The contemporary votivos on the wall are somewhat more individualistic than the older votivos representing as they do the style and attitude of each artist, rather than emerging from a communal understanding and agreement of the nature of faith as was typical of the older images. In Fallaste corazón, a contemporary ex voto on the theme of vanity, artist CHema Skandal! included an image of the Virgin Mary displaying on her chest the McDonald logo. The language the artist incorporated at the top and bottom of the artwork is in an abbreviated format— Magdalen is shown as Mgdln for instance—similar to the one used to communicate with instant messages.


C h e m a S ka n d a l ! , F a l l a s t e c o r a z ó n , 2 0 1 1

curator’s essay | ariadni A. liokatis


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Conclusion: The relationship between art and text has never been more dynamic than in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with artists constantly pushing the envelope and artistic possibilities. As the conceptual orientation of visual art intensified since the modernist era, the relationship and the balance of the weight between image and text has shifted, wherein ideas and words have become the primary focus over visual form, to the extent that idea became art and the imagistic form became irrelevant. In the course of the last century, from an aesthetic product to be looked at, visual art gradually has become an intellectual activity, to be read, as Dave Beech points out: “Contemporary text art finds itself located at the intersection of contemporary philosophy, contemporary thinking on art and contemporary theories of language.” (Dave Beech, in Art and Text, 2009). However, the artists featured in Drawn to Language have not eschewed the image altogether, or favoring linguistic over visual form. As they explore the aesthetic and intellectual dimension of language, they also use text in an explicit visual form in their works, incorporating written and spoken words, in addition to references to literary sources. Grant and Silton, are especially engaged with the “visuality and form of language,” as in the words of Michael R. Leaman, “As artists became interested in words, so poets and writers became fascinated by the visuality and form of language.” (p13, Michael R. Leaman in Art, Word and Image. Two Thousand Years of Visual/Textual Interaction, 2011) Grant’s visual explorations of language go hand in hand with her intellectual investigations, and Silton engages with the sculptural qualities of text and the performative aspect and activation of the act of reading. Kate Ingold engages in visual poetry, while the Peruvian Portals and the Pecados y Milagros projects are dialogical collaborations exploring the affinities of image and word. Ariadni A. Liokatis


alexandra grant

alexandra grant A Conversation with the artist

What are the new directions or interests in your new body of work Century of the Self premiering at Fisher? One departure for me in Century of the Self was the permission to let go of the “word bubble” format I had used for many years, where each word was circled and connected to the next in a phrase. In my earlier work, sentences cascaded across the surface or the paper or canvas in these biological and concatenated forms. This style exemplifies my collaboration with the writer and hypertext fiction pioneer Michael Joyce. In Century of the Self I’m not working with a single writer or voice, but rather multiple voices in found text and so I’m presented the text in a different way, mostly in capitals and mirrored. Can you elaborate on your work Self (I was born to love), after Antigone and Audre Lorde, 2012? This painting, like the other two-dimensional works in the series, is based on two ideas: collage and mirroring. I used collage as a way of organizing materials and thoughts, hoping to replicate they way that we as living, psychological beings try on and over time layer our ideas about our selves. Each piece of paper or fabric (in this case) is collaged on to the surface of the work, adjacent to and covering older surfaces and ideas. Mirroring is present in both the text being mirrored along a central axis as well as my use of the inkblot as a form. (I’m calling them inkblots as they aren’t strictly Rorscachs, a set of ten images developed as a psychological test by Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s.) Self (I was born to love), after Antigone and Audre Lorde, 2012, is based around one large ink­blot that is collaged on to the surface of the canvas and sewn into place with yarn. Around the ink­blot are two texts, both strong feminine—and female—voices. One is Antigone, who in Sophocles’s play confronts her uncle Creon by saying: “I was born to love not to hate.” It is the voice of a woman standing


S e l f ( I w a s b o r n to l ov e ) , a f t e r A n t i g o n e a n d Au d r e L o r d e , 2 0 1 2

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alexandra grant

up to the Law with her own ethics. The Audre Lorde quote is similarly powerful, from a poet of our own time who links the concept of Self to a greater political agency: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

S i t e / S e l f ( p r o j e c t i o n s ) [ d e ta i l ] , 2 0 1 2

Who are your spiritual and philosophical heroes? The first that comes to mind is a heroine: Hélène Cixous, the French writer, philosopher and playwright, for her writing as a role model of écriture féminine, of giving voice and form to a feminine self each one of us contains. Her essay “The Last Painting or the Portrait of God” changed my life path and I became a textbased artist because of it. The second person that I think of is Ismar Schorsch. I worked as his assistant in a rather accidental way—a temp agency placement—when he was Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He introduced me to a different side of the work of Walter Benjamin, his correspondence and friendship with Gershom Scholem (a philosopher and historian who researched Jewish mysticism). Before leaving to go to art


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school Dr. Schorsch shook my hand and said “Great artists are religious leaders.” Both examples are of incredibly gracious people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Who are the figures in cultural history that contributed to your work? It is difficult to know where to start. Again, with the first people who come to mind: Tom Stoppard, for example, a playwright who, depending on the play, is an expert communicator about mathematics, Russian history, music history, and Shakespeare. Then I think about my childhood, and the years spent in the southern neighborhood of Mexico City, Coyoacan, surrounded by Mexican colonial architecture, the house where Trotsky was shot, the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. My mother, in many ways was the cultural historian who most influenced me—her ideas about international communication, civic society, and making the world your home deeply affected me. On my father’s side, I was influenced by his being a geologist and an Anthroposophist (a follower of Rudolph Steiner’s philosophy). Can you elaborate on the floor piece, Site/Self (projections), 2012? How connected is this work to the paintings? The floor pieces are a meeting of several ideas found in the two-dimensional work. First, I was searching for a way to make my own Rorschach—a form where the audience could project onto the sculptural shapes, revealing more about their own perceptions in the process of doing so. People “see” such different things in the piece: from brains to candy to sexual organs to food.The second idea was to make a sculpture about the materiality of paint itself. Colorful and viscous, the shapes look like they’ve been freshly squeezed out of a tube. The third thought was to come up with a serial vocabulary or alphabet that references language without having literal words or letters in it. And the last thought was about making my work more ecological. This piece is made from recycled plastic.


alexandra grant

What would you like museum visitors to take from the experience of seeing your work? I have no specific agenda—I’ve always hoped that my work is stimulating and intellectual at the same time as being accessible. I want people to think about how thinking works, and find something discursive in the work whether they come to it with or without an arts background. How do you hope to bridge or communicate your cultural and literary sources with your visual works? I once overheard a young boy say that my work was about the “difference between seeing or perceiving.” What’s unusual about text as image is that someone who can’t read can still look at it and understand that it is a language. When you’re traveling, for example, in a country where you don’t speak Japanese, for example, you can decode whether graffiti was written angrily or in jest. The context of language can be


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C e n t u ry o f t h e S e l f i n s ta l l at i o n , 2 0 1 3


C e n t u ry o f t h e S e l f ( 2 ) , 2 0 1 3

alexandra grant


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“read”—as a sale sign or a restroom marker. I think the meat of my work—what you call the cultural and literary sources—can be both read and perceived. If I’m making a work about depression, for example, then the colors and mark-making choices I’m making with reflect that thematic too.

Isn’t that dance how thinking works? Language is both the most banal thing and the most sacred too. “In the beginning was the word.” Can you discuss the heroic scale of your works? I’m interested in how the brain processes an encounter with written or painted language at the scale of the body, the scale of architecture.

C e n t u ry o f t h e S e l f ( 3 ) [ d e ta i l ] , 2 0 1 3

One can observe in your work a dance between ancient codices, between common phrases and almost cliché statements placed on a very large page. Can you comment of this?


alexandra grant

alexandra grant Can you talk about your love of color? Is your palette a kind of language? I love color. It is in large part my native tongue—and it comes from the joys of having grown up traveling and living in other cultures that are fearless about color, from my Mexican childhood to my father’s belief in Anthroposophic ideas of color. My love of color also comes from a love of discrete math—the science, for example, of painting a world map with different colors for each country. I’m a big fan of the book “Chromophobia” by David Batchelor, and his arguments about how color signifies the Other, be it feminine, superficial, or homosexual. As an artist I want to make art that is concept­driven and in a rainbow palette. The idea that “serious” art needs to be monochromatic is a fashion rather than a truth.


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S e l f a n d Ot h e r ( 1 & 2 ) , 2 0 1 3


A l e x a n d r a G r a n t , C e n t u ry o f t h e S e l f ( 1 ) [ d e ta i l ] , 2 0 1 2

alexandra grant


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BIOGRAPHY Alexandra Grant is a text­-based artist who uses language and networks of words as the basis for her work in painting, drawing and sculpture. Grant is known as a ‘radical collaborator’—it is collaborating that shapes what she does outside of the studio as much as within it. Grant has worked with writers as diverse as hypertext pioneer Michael Joyce, actor Keanu Reeves, artist Channing Hansen, and philosopher Hélène Cixous. Grant’s first solo exhibition at a museum was in 2007, organized by curator Alma Ruiz, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). Numerous other shows at museums and galleries have included Grant’s work, including the 2010 California Biennial of Art at the Orange County Museum of Art, the Artists’ Museum at MOCA in 2010­1, Human Nature: Contemporary Art from the Collection at LACMA in 2011, and Drawing Surrealism, also at LACMA in 2012. Grant is also recognized for her philanthropic grantLOVE project, where she has raised money for arts’ non­profit through sales of her LOVE symbol works. Beneficiaries include the Watts House Project (and the “Love House” project), Project Angel Food, Heart of LA (HOLA), the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and 18th Street Arts Center. Grant is currently working with Cixous on two­city exhibition called Forêt Intérieure/ Interior Forest, which was inspired by Cixous’s book Philippines.This multi­dimensional project, which includes a residency component and contributions by both Los Angeles­based and Paris­based artists, is presented from April 15 to June 28, 2013 at 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, CA and from September 6 to October 20, 2013 at Mains d’Oeuvres in Saint­Ouen, France.


Kate Ingold

kate ingold

A Conversation with the artist What is the relation of poetry to the image in your work? Does one take precedence? Are art and text inseparable? 

 Ideally, one is not dominant over the other, but rather they collaborate to make a third piece. That’s what I strive for at least. I want both the visual work and the poem to be strong on their own, but I want them to create new insights and open up new questions when they’re put together that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.The coming together is important to me. I find it incredibly challenging to make image/text work because of this insistence I have that the image and text be better (or perhaps more challenging) together than apart. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes the visual pieces are stronger without the poetry and vice versa. And sometimes it’s not what I’m looking for to begin with. I write poems that I don’t intend to pair with visual work, just as sometimes I make visual work without text. However, I often find myself drawn to the collaboration despite myself. I’ll write a poem and remember a photo or visual image that I think would work with it and then I try that out. It’s interesting, too, when I notice that I’m being drawn to the same ideas in both my poetry and visual art, even when I’m not intentionally doing so. For instance, a couple of years ago I started photographing what I call “tumble-down architecture,” buildings that have patches on their facades or are in other ways in the process of being repaired, barely held up by scaffolding or other temporary armatures. A few months into the project, I read an essay by archaeologist Shannon Lee Dawdy called “Clockpunk Archaeology and the Ruins of Modernity.” I found the language rather interesting in the essay, so I cut it up and made patchwork poems from the essay’s sections. After I finished with the poems, I started envisioning them being interspersed with the photographs in a book or an online collection. I haven’t put the collection together yet, but I definitely


C at e c h i s m o f D e c ay ( f r o m 2 1 s t C e n t u ry R e ta b l o s e r i e s ) , 2 0 0 5 - 2 0 0 6

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realize that the poems and the photos came out of the same inquiry and therefore they might be made more interesting if they’re brought together. 

 In terms of your creative process, does the poetry inspire the images or vice versa? It depends on the piece. For Thesaurus for Ceasing War, I began with the title. I was researching Japanese embroidery and braiding techniques online when I found a reference to a manuscript housed at Basho Manor called “Thesaurus for Ceasing War,” written by a 17th century Japanese lord, Masunari Ozeki. The title struck me and I knew I wanted to use it for something. Soon after I took a series of photos of the Chicago skyline shrouded in fog and rain. One of the photos featured a high-rise under construction that behind the fog could be mistaken for a building in the first stages of


kate ingold

T h e s au r u s f o r C e a s i n g W a r , 2 0 0 9


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demolition. I knew immediately that this was the image I wanted with that title, and that the photo should be printed on silk. I had the photo printed in panels and ordered skeins of silk embroidery thread from a master dyer in the Northwest who uses only natural plant dyes. I began taking notes for the poem while I embroidered the panels. I wanted the poem to have multiple parts, with each numbered section becoming another building jutting up into the fog.Taken together, I wanted the real buildings in the photo and the “buildings” of the poem to be a “thesaurus.” 

I was thinking about war and ecological destruction and our language around both, so I started doing research into everything from war strategy to geoengineering. Throughout the poem are references and allusions to historic and current events, scientific explorations, and philosophical/religious texts. In section 7, I write about the ortolan, a songbird prized for its beauty and smallness, eaten by French monarchs and also the first Socialist president of France, Francois Mitterrand, who chose to eat the ortolan for his last meal. Mitterand refused all food and drinks after eating the songbird and died 11 days later. I felt that the image of this beautiful, precious creature being eaten in shame (traditionally the monarchs shrouded their heads when they ate the bird, both to better smell the meal but also to shield themselves from God’s disapproval) needed to be next to stories of conquest and war making. Then there are the examples of geoengineering that researchers and entrepreneurs have either suggested or are actively pursuing to slow down climate change, including blanketing the world’s deserts with plastic sheeting to reflect the sun and seeding clouds to produce rain in drought areas. Many of these proposals I found horrifying when I first read about them—what sort of ecological disaster might our technologies create, technologies meant to correct disasters/errors caused by our technolo-


Kate Ingold

gies in the first place?—and I wanted them in the thesaurus. I don’t know if viewers/ readers of the work see all of this, but perhaps some viewers will see some of it, and others may be interested in researching more. 


 What are your literary sources and who are your literary heroes? 

 I’m drawn to artists like Walter Benjamin (Arcade Projects), Lawrence Weschler (Everything That Rises), WB Sebald, T.S. Eliot, and Breton/Miro’s Constellations, or more recently CD Wright and Deborah Lester’s collaboration, One Big Self. I love fragments, extractions, mash-ups and collage. In some ways, my work that isn’t collage actually is—the mix of image and texts, the layering of materials and processes, the intermingling of approaches. Some of my favorite contemporary writers are Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian (who I’d been reading pretty exclusively in the months before writing the Retablo poems, though you’d never guess that by reading the poems!), Brenda Hillman, Dan Beachy-Quick, and Timothy Donnelley. Other writers who have influenced me include Bishop, Stein, Stevens, (insert a long list of other Modernists and Surrealists here), along with writers and thinkers as varied as Melville, Bachelard, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the self-proclaimed “spiritual entertainer” Alan Watts. When I was younger I devoured every book written by Joseph Campbell, which explains why snippets of ancient ritual and myth enter into my work occasionally. 

 Can you elaborate on the importance of community in relation to the 21st Century Retablo series? 
 I recently read an interview with the artist/activist Chris Jordan and this quote jumped out at me: “I came to discover that grief is not sadness. Grief is love. Grief is a felt experience of love for something lost or that we are losing.” Visiting the site of the “underpass Virgin” I was a witness to, and a participant in, a communal act of grief. I found myself drawn to the messages people were writing on the wall around the


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T h e P r i n c i p l e o f D e c ay ( f r o m 2 1 s t C e n t u ry R e ta b l o s e r i e s ) , 2 0 0 5 - 2 0 0 6


Kate Ingold

R e m e m b e r ( f r o m 2 1 s t C e n t u ry R e ta b l o s e r i e s ) , 2 0 0 5 - 2 0 0 6


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water stain, messages of longing, love, and desire. When I printed the photographs I was compelled to add my own layer to the images, to contribute to the conversation in my own way, so I started to tear into the paper, further destroying the wall, and to sew into the paper with metal wire, essentially repairing the wall. My attempts at destruction and reparation were futile, yet the acts were important to me. 
  Can you elaborate your practice of merging digital photography and the traditional practice of embroidery? 

 The advantages of photography—and even more so with digital photography—are that photographic images are simple and inexpensive to reproduce. You can create an infinite number of copies of an image digitally. So I take this medium that is prized for being easily reproduced and I transform it into a substrate for unique, one-of-a-kind drawings by printing each image only once and sewing into the paper or textile. Embroidering over digital photographs is not anachronistic exactly, but it does seem contradictory, and I’m drawn to contradictions. I’m also interested in how paper becomes closer to textile when I embroider into it. 


 Who is your audience? 
 I try to make art that I like, so I suppose I’m making work for people like me. I want to be challenged by art. I enjoy looking deeper into a piece to find other layers of meaning. I want to make work that is aesthetically and intellectually interesting, and also emotionally moving. 

 What do you want museum visitors to take away from 21st Century Retablo and Thesaurus for Ceasing War after viewing your works? 

 When a work or art has a profound effect on me, I suddenly see echoes of it everywhere.That’s what I hope happens to viewers after seeing these two pieces. If they leave and are reminded of the pieces again, perhaps weeks or even months later, then the work will have been successful.




Kate Ingold

kate ingold

BIOGRAPHY Kate Ingold is a visual artist and poet. She received her BA in English-Rhetoric with a minor in Visual Art from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and her MFA in Studio Writing (Image/Text) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ingold was awarded an Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship Finalist Award in 2009, the Poetry Society of America’s National Chapbook Fellowship in 2007, and a CAAP Grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs in 2001. Ingold’s poetry chapbook, “Dream of Water,” was published by the Poetry Society of America in 2008. Her work is the permanent collections of the USC Fisher Museum of Art and the Illinois State Museum. She is represented by the Roy Boyd Gallery in Chicago. A research-oriented artist and poet, she references a wide range of philosophical and emotional questions in her work. In her current image/text series, Dream of Water, she examines issues of war, ecological destruction, commodification, disturbance, reparation, mutual ascendancy and collapse. In much of the work, Ingold melds the 21st century practice of digital photography with the traditional practice of embroidery. She stitches into paper with metal wire and works to disturb and destruct the surface with metal tools.


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C a r e f u l N ot to D i s t u r b t h e W o u n d ( f r o m 2 1 s t C e n t u ry R e ta b l o s e r i e s ) , 2 0 0 5 - 2 0 0 6


Susan silton

A Conversation with the artist Can you explain the title of your installation In everything there is the trace? In everything there is the trace is a phrase translated from an interview with French philosopher Jacques Derrida. His ideas about the trace have been widely interpreted and reinterpreted. But I came across a wonderful excerpt from an interview with him on YouTube whose source I’ve not been able to identify; I believe it was uploaded in 2004, but have no idea of its origin. In the excerpt he describes, “ in everything there is the trace, the experience of a return to something else, of being returned to another past, present, future, a different type of temporality that’s even older than the past and that is beyond the future.”

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Derrida’s notions of the trace extend beyond his own explanation here, but his pithy description coheres in the works I’m presenting at the Fisher, both formally and temporally. How does the Steinbeck ‘s novel The Grapes of Wrath relate to the typing circle? Why did you choose this particular novel? I chose a well-known literary work that resonates on multiple levels. Steinbeck’s novel, unfolding during the Great Depression in California, consistently appears on lists of the greatest works of fiction. It has also been banned, burned, censored or challenged on numerous occasions, as recently as the early nineties. This duality of reception to the book demonstrates its timeless impact; its universal themes of class struggle and human rights reverberate as profoundly in 2013 as they did in 1939. I’ve done a number of typed works on my own, but this first collective retyping of this specific novel speaks to simultaneous futility and promise, the enigmatic coupling that could also be one of many ways to refer to class struggle.


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I n e v e ry t h i n g t h e r e i s t h e t r ac e i n s ta l l at i o n [ d e ta i l ] , 2 0 1 3


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J o s e p h C o n r a d ’ s H e a rt o f D a r k n e s s , 2 0 0 7


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Steinbeck was attacked as a propagandist from both ends of the political spectrum when he published his novel. Can you elaborate on your interest in political propaganda, and reading as a potentially political act? Propaganda is similarly dualistic in nature. What is presented on the surface so often contradicts what exists beyond it. I’ve always struggled with the chasm between these two spaces—whether that space is politically or personally charged—but the conflict has fueled a lifelong artistic practice. And yes, as you point out reading is absolutely linked to propaganda, which relies on the power of language and image to confuse and persuade. As such I regard reading as being inherently political, whether what’s being read is leaflet propaganda dropped from a plane (the subject of my 2006 postcard project By power of suggestion, which in favorable circumstances becomes instruction), a paid political advertisement, a manifesto, People magazine, or any written work of one’s own choosing. I don’t regard change as the criteria for an action to be political. Can you elaborate on your typewriting concept and your typewriter-based works? All of my typewriter-based works are typed in what is called “stencil” mode, which means that the typewriter keys strike only paper, not ink-on-paper. I began this approach in 2007. I was trying to make sense of the Iraq War and decided to do so by rereading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but I wanted to reread it—again, another classic—in a more active way. I was drawn to typing the entirety of the book on a manual typewriter, which requires more physicality than simply reading or even typing on a computer. Typing without ink leaves only the trace of the activity, which foregrounds the act of rereading even further. The impact of this process is beautifully summarized in this quote by educator/theorist Paulo Freire in his essay from 1982, “The Importance of the Act of Reading”: “Reading the world always precedes reading the word, and reading the word implies


susan silton

continually reading the world…this movement from the world to the word and from the word to the world is always present; even the spoken word flows from our reading of the world. In a way, however, we can go further, and say that reading the word is not preceded merely by reading the world, but by a certain form of writing it or re-writing it, that is, of transforming it by means of conscious practical work...reading always involves critical perception, interpretation, and re-writing what is read.” Can you discuss the typewriting piece in relation to Appraisals? Appraisals adopts the same typing strategies but in a slightly extended way. Rather than retyping only an existing piece of writing, each piece is a typed poem over an offset-lithographed page torn from a lavishly produced auction catalogue. The printed pages I’ve torn out bear only a caption to a work of art, not a reproduction of the work being described. The texts are familiar descriptives (name of artist, value of work, provenance), which have become potent substitutes for the work itself in the contemporary art market. I’ve chosen to activate texts by throwing them into dialogue with poems by Audre Lorde, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Levine, and other known poets whose work addresses social struggle in diverse ways; these juxtapositions intend to impact one’s reading of the original captions. All of my typewriter-based works are typed in what is called “stencil” mode, which means that the typewriter keys strike only paper, not ink-on-paper. I began this approach in 2007. I was


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I n e v e ry t h i n g t h e r e i s t h e t r ac e i n s ta l l at i o n , 2 0 1 3


R i c h a r d P r i n c e w i t h “ W o r k � b y T e r ry W o lv e rto n ( f r o m App r a i s a l s s e r i e s ) , 2 0 1 3

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trying to make sense of the Iraq War and decided to do so by rereading Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but I wanted to reread—again, another classic—in a more active way. I was drawn to typing the entirety of the book on a manual typewriter, which requires more physicality than simply reading or even typing on a computer. Typing without ink leaves only the trace of the activity, which foregrounds the act of rereading even further. Can you talk about your piece REMAINS and how does this piece relate to the other components of your installation? REMAINS is the second in a series of works begun in 2005 that are large wall paintings of words painted in the same color as the wall but with a slightly different finish. The words as well as the form they take are read from multiple perspectives. For this installation I’ve treated the word REMAINS, which was originally presented in 2007, slightly differently. Typically, to paint a word, a sign painter will use a template that is perforated with tiny holes. The word is “transferred” to the wall as an outline by dusting the holes with either powder or charcoal depending on the wall color. Given the specific context of this installation, and for a number of other reasons, I found it more interesting to foreground the process of this transference, and the residue left on the wall. Even though all of the works in the installation exist individually, there’s a common tension between the tangibility and intangibility of language, an interest in what one readily sees and what one works to see. And while they’re conceived at different times, the works share a regard for the sculptural qualities of text. This was more directly and architecturally explored by collaborating with Los Angeles-based Knowhow Shop, which fabricated the modular typing table and chairs. What would like the public to take away from viewing your installation? There are many publics. I’m not sure which ones will be coming to this installation, but I’ll be pleased if the takeaway is experiential on whatever level. What are the new directions or interests in this body of work?


susan silton

I don’t necessarily see new directions in this work, so much as a continuation or expansion of interests. In 2009 I typed in public for the first time—again, in stencil mode—Susan Sontag’s essay, “Against Interpretation.” As soon as I created that work I felt compelled to organize a collective typing. Several years later, I’m grateful for the opportunity to realize this idea. Can you talk about your photograph also titled In everything there is the trace in relation to the other components of the installation?

I n e v e ry t h i n g t h e r e i s t h e t r ac e , 1 9 9 9 - 2 0 1 3

I wanted to include one image in the installation that could speak to “trace” photographically, even if abstractly. So I chose an image I had originally taken in 1999 but didn’t print until now. I see the image as having multiple allusions temporally and texturally, and then refers back more specifically to the textural quality of the textual typed, inkless pages. The image is also quite literally evidence of foundational structure, another kind of trace beyond the surface.


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BIOGRAPHY Susan Silton resides in Los Angeles. Her practice engages multiple aesthetic strategies to mine the complexity of perception and to interrupt—through combinations of humor, discomfort, and subterfuge—the “othering” that often results from distorted perception. She works across diverse media including photography/video, installation, performance, text, audio, offset lithography, and internet technologies, and within diverse contexts, such as public sites, social network platforms, and traditional galleries and institutions. Silton’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at Feigen Contemporary, New York; Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles; SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico; SFMOMA, San Francisco; Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; bank gallery, Los Angeles; Natural History Museum, Los Angeles; Angles Gallery, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; ICA/Philadelphia; Hammer Museum; and Allianz Zeigniederlassung, Berlin, Germany, among others. In 2010 she was one of twenty-one artists commissioned by the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles to conceive a billboard for the large-scale exhibition, How Many Billboards? Art in Stead. Silton has received fellowships and awards from the Getty/California Community Foundation, Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Los Angeles, The MacDowell Colony, Banff Centre for the Arts, Durfee Foundation and Clockshop Foundation. Silton’s work has been featured in Artforum, Art in America, X-TRA, ArtLies, Flash Art, Cabinet, and in Self/Image by noted art historian Amelia Jones. Silton’s women’s whistling group, the CROWING HENS, launched performatively at LA><ART, Los Angeles, in 2010. Most recently, she has been awarded grants from Art Matters Foundation and Center for Cultural Innovation in support of a related whistling project in the Canary Islands that combines a centuries old whistling language and writing by Gertrude Stein.


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holly downing & david st. john

holly downing & A Conversation with the artistS Can you elaborate on the title of the project: what are the “Peruvian Portals” and what does “Cross-Cultural Hymn” refer to? HOLLY: Well, I think of “Peruvian Portals” as a literal description of these images, but also a metaphor. Portals are openings—to another space, another consciousness, another historic period, another culture. And “Cross-Cultural Hymn” emphasizes David’s and my respect for and honoring of this quite different, yet similarly human, culture. DAVID: We were very aware that we were engaging an ancient culture known for its wisdom and beauty. As members of a society that is so technologically sophisticated, we know we still have much to learn from the peoples of the Andes who have always been, in the words of the poet Jerome Rothenberg, “technicians of the sacred.” H o l l y D o w n i n g , P e r u v i a n P o rta l I , 2 0 0 8


david st. john

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H o l l y D o w n i n g , P e r u v i a n P o rta l V , 2 0 0 8

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H o l l y D o w n i n g , P e r u v i a n P o rta l II , 2 0 0 8

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Holly, how and why did you become interested in the Andean culture and architecture, and more specifically the portals? I took a trip to the Peruvian Andes with my family in 2006 and spent time in some very small villages, including one on an island on Lake Titicaca and a few days among the tiny communities deep in the Coca Canyon. These were remarkable experiences, way beyond anything I’d experienced on trips to Central America. To spend time in an intact non-technological society is transformative. I wanted to express and share my astonishment and admiration for this ancient culture that values family and community, grows most of its own food, including 3,000 kinds of potatoes, and has incorporated into daily life an intense reverence for the Earth—Pachamama. The images of portals came to me gradually over several years and in response to the invitation by David to do a book together. The architectural forms of the various “portals” are beautiful formally, and seemed to embody both the spiritual and earthly qualities of the place and the culture. With their light and shadows, I thought they would work well as Mezzotints. The Mezzotint is an archaic engraving technique that is both labor and time- intensive. The making of the images is all by hand, and in my mind reflects the handwork so omnipresent Andean culture—like the hand spinning, dying and weaving of Peruvian textiles. I also find this handwork very satisfying and important to maintain in a society as technological as ours. David, did Holly introduce you to the Andean culture or did you have a prior interest or knowledge of it? Can you talk about your response to these cultural elements?


holly downing & david st. john

DAVID: I will confess here that my interest began in the second grade, when I did my “country report” on Peru, and I was hooked. I’ve never been to Peru, but as a teenager I began buying obscure tapes of Andean music from Peru and Ecuador, which is how I first heard the culture’s music and folksongs. Then, in 1968, I came across a remarkable sequence of Quechua songs/poems in the anthology, Technicians of the Sacred, edited by Jerome Rothenberg. This was at the beginning of the “ethno-poetics” movement. Later, I discovered some gorgeous versions of Quechua poems that had been brought into English by the poet Mark Strand. I happened to be visiting Holly and her husband Michael not long after their trip to Peru, and the photographic images she showed me were dazzling, but Holly was also beginning the “Portals” series of Mezzotints, and they absolutely knocked-me out. HOLLY: I also read and loved Technicians of the Sacred, so we connected to that, as well as to the Peruvian poet Jose Maria Arquedas, whose haunting novel Deep Rivers, about the Quechua speaking people around Cusco, Peru, had an impact on me. And, as David said, the music, which totally embodies the hardships, yet the strength and beauty of these people. How did the two of you come together to work on this project? What prompted and what attracted you in this collaboration? Why was it important to do it? HOLLY: As I remember the sequence, David was visiting us (he and my husband grew up together) and I showed him “Arch” an artist’s book I was working on with Jack Stauffacher, an esteemed San Francisco printer/ typographer. This book had mezzotints of arched openings from Italy. Da-


H o l l y D o w n i n g , P e r u v i a n P o rta l VII , 2 0 1 1

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holly downing & david st. john

H o l l y D o w n i n g , P e r u v i a n P o rta l III , 2 0 0 8


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vid had just been teaching a workshop at the Napa Writers Conference on the idea of “aperture”, so we were on the same wavelength. David said “Let’s do a book, and I’ll write a poem for each of your images” and I said, “Yes” and immediately started thinking of more images. Invitations do generate creativity.

n ot e b o o k pa g e s f o r P e r u v i a n P o rta l s III , . 2 0 # # # #

DAVID: Yes, in fact, we’d talked about collaborating even before “Arch,” but the timing was finally right with “Peruvian Portals.” Holly, can you talk about the collaboration process and how long it took to complete? I find collaborating very satisfying. It enlarges me; not to mention this project wouldn’t have come about without David. And no one could be easier to work with. He has left designing ideas pretty much up to me, giving his input from time to time. I have been pretty astonished that he could pick up the voice and spirit of these Quechua (and


holly downing & david st. john

Kichwa) speaking people so well, and I expect David was pretty pleased to hear from our translator, Margot Cifuentes, a native speaker, that his poems spoke to the heart of the culture. It has taken about forever to complete this project. Making the Mezzotints and editioning them was time consuming, but we also spent a lot of time trying to come up with funding sources. Finally we decided to publish it ourselves, in a very small edition and with the collaborative help of the typesetter and printer Eric Johnson of Iota Press, who was a major collaborator. We worked very closely on the layout design and the wording (and punctuation!) of the colophon/dedication and Eric sensitively chose the type, Poliphilus, for the body of the text. I think we both learned a lot by working together. Kathleen Watson, who is a very fine intaglio printer, did most of the editioning in my studio, and Juliayn Coleman of Book Island Bindery in San Francisco, did the box bookbinding. Finding a Quechua (or Kichwa) translator was a real challenge. Finally a friend connected us to, Margot Cifuentes, who is from a small village in Ecuador, and it has been another special connection to have her involvement. And then there is the collaboration with the Fisher, Ariadni Liokatis and Selma Holo! So there are many pieces and people to a project such as this, quite beyond David and me. What challenges did you encounter with the project and do you work often with collaborators? HOLLY: Working on a collaborative project such as this, as opposed to painting by myself in my studio, is very time-consuming, and challenging at times. I canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t imagine how anyone manages to make a movie! But each person brings something and enriches and expands me. And I get ideas for other collaborations. There were absolutely no problems or conflicts for me working with David. I have done just one


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other collaboration, and that was more challenging, as my partner was 89—but he was, and is, so amazing and it was a real honor to work with him. DAVID: Working with Holly was simply pure pleasure for me, from beginning to end. Like most solitary poets, the idea of collaboration is both delicious and terrifying. I’ve done previous collaborations in the visual arts with the printmaker Wendy Mark, the architect and artist Antoine Predock, and the photographer Lance Patigian. I’ve also written a libretto for the composer Donald Crockett and a sequence of lyrical texts for a choral piece by composer Frank Ticheli, both of whom teach at USC. In all of these cases, as with Holly, I have found the process of collaboration exceptionally liberating, perhaps because these are all first-rate artists who put the project first at all times. How does this collaboration enhance your respective creativity? Does 1 + 1 add up to more than 2? HOLLY: Yes! DAVID: I am always stunned by the dedication, determination, and fierce artistic visions in the artists I’ve worked with. Their values, in turn, often help me to clarify what I value in my own poetry. Yet working with someone who is also an old and close friend, like Holly, makes it all even more meaningful. David, why is it important for this project to be shown at USC? I’m always delighted when my colleagues and friends in the USC community have a chance to see what I do outside of the classroom. To have this work part of an exhibition at the Fisher Museum of Art helps, I hope, to remind us all of the essential place of the arts in the life and culture of any university.


holly downing & david st. john

BIOGRAPHIES Holly Downing studied art at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Royal College of Art, London and received a MA in Fine Arts from Goddard College, Graduate Program in Europe. She taught art for 28 years at art colleges in the U.K., including Brighton University, and in California at UC Santa Cruz, San Francisco State University and Santa Rosa Jr. College. Downing’s paintings and mezzotint engravings have been exhibited in solo exhibitions in London; Edinburgh, Scotland; Manila, Philippines; Medford, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; San Francisco; Berkeley, Santa Cruz, San Jose and Santa Rosa, California, and in group exhibitions across the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, Korea, Brazil, China, Russia and Kenya. She is a recipient of fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Greenshields Foundation, Canada; the Arts Council of Great Britain, the Graham Foundation, Chicago and the San Francisco Phelan Foundation, and is an elected member of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, London. Her work is in many museum collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Ashmoleon Museum, Oxford, U.K.; Scottish National Art Gallery, Edinburgh; Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris; Chi-ba Art Museum and Nakasatsunai Art Museum, Japan; Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco, Stanford University Art Museum; Boise Art Museum; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Hawaii Art Museum, Hilo and the New York Public Library. Downing’s mezzotints are included in a number of publications, including The Mezzotint, History and Technique; by Carol Wax, Abrams, New York 1990; Holly Downing, 25 Years of Mezzotints, a 2001 catalogue raisonné, 2001; Printmakers’ Secrets edited by Tony Dyson; A&C Black, London, 2009; and Holly Downing, Penumbrae: Paintings and Mezzotints, the catalogue for a Fresno Art Museum exhibition, 2010.


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David St. John is the author of ten collections of poetry (including Study for the Worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Body, nominated for The National Book Award in Poetry), most recently The Auroras, as well as a volume of essays, interviews and reviews entitled Where the Angels Come Toward Us. He is also the co-editor, with Cole Swensen, of American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry. David St. John has been honored with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, both the Rome Prize Fellowship and an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the O. B. Hardison Prize (a career award for teaching and poetic achievement) from The Folger Shakespeare Library. He lives in Venice Beach, California.


Pecados y milagros

demián flores lila downs paul cohen A Conversation with the Demián Flores

How did this project come about and how did you decide to work with Lila Downs and Paul Cohen?

The original project was an initiative of Lila and Paul’s. They invited me to propose a project for their new album “Pecados y Milagros,” referring to the popular Mexican ex votos. With this invitation from them I proposed inviting fifteen artist friends to create an exvoto, or votivo. Each of their ex votos would correspond to a set of lyrics and songs that would be on the disc. They would thereby participate in creating a contemporary approach to the exvoto painting practice. How did you select these fifteen artists?

Together with the Curtiduría team we selected fifteen artists whose primary artistic practice is painting. Each of them was given a metal sheet, and Lila and Paul gave us the texts. Every one of the artists had the creative freedom to choose to use the full text or fragments of the text so as to create a personal relationship between text and image. Can you comment on the title Pecados y Milagros (Sins and Miracles)? The authorship of the title is Lila and Paul’s, and makes reference to those traditional votivo or ex voto offerings given and for the favor received. The point is that there is a miracle that has occurred, but the miracle is also the result of a sin.


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U n k n o w n a r t is t , S a n t i c i m a v i r g e n c i ta d e G u a d a l u p e â&#x20AC;Ś , unknown date


Pecados y milagros

J o s ĂŠ L u is S ĂĄ n ch e z R u l l , J a r a b e E j u t e c o , 2 0 1 1


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Why do you think this project is important? “Pecados y Milagros” is important because it brings a contemporary artistic vision to this popular tradition. Can you talk about the collaboration process? What challenges did you encounter with this project? The project took one year of work. We commissioned the artists to create the ex votos, and in parallel we worked with the Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL) and curator Lluvia Sepulveda in Mexico City. We worked in dialogue with their own collection. The result can be seen in the book “Pecados y Milagros” designed by Alejandro Magallanes. What critical reception did the project receive in Mexico? The show was a success when it opened and it generated a lot of interest in its cultural aspect and its employment of new visual languages. What are you hoping this Angeles presentation of Pecados y Milagros will accomplish? First, the opportunity to show to Los Angeles audiences a contemporary project based on an ancient genre rooted in Mexico. Second, to show fifteen contemporary Mexican artists whose primary practice is painting and to bring them to a new public. Third, we want to feature the dialogue between the arts, that is between music and visual art. And finally, we want to communicate the energy that Lila Downs and Paul Cohen are capable of transmitting with their music and lyrics by means of their imaginary and imaginative narratives. 


Da n i e l L e z a m a , P a l o m o d e l c o m a l i to , 2 0 1 1

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Ma r c o A r c e , S o l a m e n t e u n d Ă­ a : S a n M i g u e l A r c ĂĄ n g e l y d o n B e n i to J u ĂĄ r e z , 2 0 1 1


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C isc o J i m e n e z , C u c u r r u c u c u , 2 0 1 1


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D e m iĂĄ n F l o r e s i n c o l l a b o r a t i o n w i t h E n r i q u e Ă v i l a , C r u z d e o lv i d o , S a n to N i Ăą o d e N u n d i c h e , 2 0 1 1


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Da n i e l G u z m 谩 n , P e c a d o S a n t i a g o Ap 贸 s to l , 2 0 1 1


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Dulce Pinz贸n, La c alle de milagros, 2011


Pecados y milagros

BIOGRAPHIES Demián Flores is a Mexican contemporary artist. Flores received his BA in Visual Arts from the Escuala Nacional de Artes Plásticas. Working in a variety of mediums including graphic arts, painting, and serigraphy, Flores is known for mixing images of contemporary Mexico City with those of his rural hometown of Juchitàn and relating themes of traditional Mexico to contemporary pop art icons and symbols. Flores has also explored the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca through his work. Flores founded two workshops, La Curtiduría and the Taller Gráfica Actual, both located in Oaxaca, to serve as experimental spaces for contemporary artists to explore the possibilities of traditional mediums such as lithography and etching. Flores is well established in Mexico and has exhibited extensively there, as well as in Europe, Guatemala, and Cuba. Flores currently lives and works in Mexico City and Oaxaca. Lila Downs is a Mexican singer. The daughter of Mixtec cabaret singer, Anita Sanchez, and Scottish-American art professor and filmmaker Allen Downs, Downs grew up both in California and Mexico. She studied anthropology at the University of Minnesota before moving back to Mexico to pursue her career as a singer. Her seventh, most recent album is titled “Pecados y Milagros” (Sins and Miracles). This album, inspired by themes of traditional Mexican votive paintings, was the first to win the Grammy Award for “Best Regional Mexican or Tejano Album” and the Latin Grammy Award for “Best Folk Album”. Downs also received a Latin Grammy in 2004 for her album “Una Sangre.” Downs often explores the indigenous origins of peoples, as well as political and social issues such as immigration, transformation and the human condition in her music. She has performed at numerous major festivals including Carnegie Hall’s Sacred Music Festival and the Latino Inaugural Ball for president Barack Obama. Other notable accomplishments include her appearance in the film Frida, and her Oscar nominated soundtrack song “Burn It Blue.” Lila Downs currently lives and works in New York. Paul Cohen is an American saxophonist, producer, and collaborator with singer Lila Downs. He met Lila Downs in Oaxaca in 1994, the two later married and collaborated on numerous albums. Paul Cohen currently lives and works in New York.


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P a t r icia S o r ia n o , X o c h i p i t z a h u ac , 2 0 1 1


exhibition checklist

Exhibition checklist:

Dimensions are inches; height precedes width. ALEXANDRA GRANT Century of the Self (1), 2012 mixed media on paper, 72 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2013.01.01 Century of the Self (2), 2013 mixed media on paper, 72 x 12 Loan courtesy of the artist Century of the Self (3), 2013 mixed media on paper, 72 x 12 Loan courtesy of the artist Self (I was born to love not to hate) 2012 oil on linen, two panels, each 48 x 72 Loan courtesy of the artist

KATE INGOLD Thesaurus for Ceasing War, 2009 embroidered silk and photographic panels 84 x 84 - 72 x 48 installed (panels + poem)

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2010.05.01 From the 21st Century Retablo series: 21st Century Retablo, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel , 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.01a Half the Day, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.02a Catechism of Decay, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.03a

Site/Self (projections), 2012 recycled plastic dimensions variable Loan courtesy of the artist Self (I was born to love), after Antigone and Audre Lorde, 2012 mixed media on canvas, 96 x 72 Loan courtesy of the artist Self and Other (1), 2013 mixed media on paper, 129 x 72 Loan courtesy of the artist Self and Other (2), 2013 mixed media on paper, 129 x 72 Loan courtesy of the artist

Properties of X, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.04a Careful Not to Disturb the Wound, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.05a It was the Darkest Night, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.06a Retrograde, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.07a


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KATE INGOLD (continued) The End of History, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.08a Make it Work, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.09a Sacrifice Time, How To, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.10a Arsenic, The Cure for Sleeping Sickness, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.11a Having Never Seen the Night Sky, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel,17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.12a Remember, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.13a The Inverse of Matter, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.14a The Principle of Decay, 2005-2006 archival ink, archival paper with steel, 17 x 21 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2006.03.15a

SUSAN SILTON Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, 2007 novel retyped in stencil mode (without ribbon) on Crane’s cotton rag paper in silk clamshell box, 12 x 9 x 1-1/2 Loan courtesy of the artist REMAINS, 2007 wall painting in acrylic dimensions variable Loan courtesy of the artist In everything there is a trace, 1999-2013 gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 Loan courtesy of the artist Appraisals, 2013 series of 20 framed auction catalog pages, 13-3/4 x 8-1/2 Ribbonless typing over twenty torn pages from Phillips de Pury auction catalogues Loan courtesy of the artist

Damien Hirst with “What Work Is” by Philip Levine Joan Mitchell with “Buying Power” by Jen Hofer Alexander Calder with “A Red Palm” by Gary Soto Jeff Koons with “A Song for Many Movements” by Audre Lorde Roy Lichtenstein with “My Alba” by Allen Ginsberg Andy Warhol with “Ballade of the Poverties” by Adrienne Rich Robert Indiana with “Cannery Town in August” by Lorna Dee Cervantes Richard Prince with “Work” by Terry Wolverton Donald Judd with “When Father Came Home for Lunch” by James Masao Mitsui Cady Noland with “[His father carved umbrella handles…]” by Charles Reznikoff Mark Rothko with “WHERE I COME FROM” by Eloise Klein Healy Christopher Wool with “Eddie Priest’s Barbershop & Notary” by Kevin Young Ed Ruscha with “Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100” by Martín Espada Willem deKooning with “The Unwearing: A Benediction” by Barbara Presnell Ellsworth Kelly with “The Second Sermon on the Warpland” by Gwendolyn Brooks Jean-Michel Basquiat with “Shirt” by Robert Pinsky Richard Serra with “The Rosehead Nail” by A. E. Stallings Cy Twombly with “In the Cannery the Porpoise Soul” by Juan Felipe Herrera Georgia O’Keefe with “Eden, Then and Now” by Ruth Stone Gerhard Richter with “On Pickiness” by Rodney Jones


exhibition checklist

HOLLY DOWNING and DAVID ST. JOHN Holly Downing Peruvian Portal I, 2008 mezzotint engraving, 13 x 14 1/2 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing Holly Downing Peruvian Portal II, 2008 mezzotint engraving, 13 x 14 1/2 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing Holly Downing Peruvian Portal III, 2008 mezzotint engraving, 13 x 14 1/2 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing Holly Downing Peruvian Portal IV, 2008 mezzotint engraving, 14 1/4 x 12 1/4 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing Holly Downing Peruvian Portal V, 2009 mezzotint engraving, 14 1/4 x 12 1/4 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing

Holly Downing Peruvian Portal VI, 2009 mezzotint engraving, 14 1/4 x 12 1/4 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing Holly Downing Peruvian Portal VII, 2011 mezzotint engraving, 14 1/4 x 12 1/4 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing David St. John Doorway Song (with Kichwa translation), 2012 ink on paper, 23 x 13 1/2 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing David St. John The Last Portal, 2012 ink on paper, 23 x 13 1/2 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing Songs of Love and Desire (II), 2012 ink on paper, 23 x 13 1/2 Loan courtesy of Holly Downing

PECADOS Y MILAGROS José Luis Sánchez Rull Jarabe Ejuteco, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Enrique Ávila Vámanos, Virgen de la Perpetua, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Museum Purchase 2012.02.01 Patrick Soriano Xochipitzahuac, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Museum Purchase 2012.02.04 Demián Flores in collaboration with Enrique Ávila Cruz de olvido, Santo Niño de Nundiche, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.02 Daniel Lezama Palomo del comalito, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.03

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.05


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PECADOS Y MILAGROS (continued) Germán Venegas Mezcalito: Virgen de los Remedios, Santa Patrona de Matatlpan, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Alfredo Vilchis Misa oaxaqueña, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Museum Purchase 2012.02.06 Daniel Guzmán Pecado Santiago Apóstol, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Museum Purchase 2012.02.13 Dr. Lakra Dios nunca muere: Virgen de la Soledad, Virgen de Juquila, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.07 Dulce Pinzón La calle de milagros, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.08 Betsabeé Romero Tu cárcel, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.09 Cisco Jiménez Cucurrucucú paloma, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.10 Marcos Castro Reyna del inframundo, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.11 Marco Arce Solamente un día: San Miguel Arcángel y don Benito Juárez, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12 Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.14 CHema Skandal! Fallaste corazón, 2011 ink on cardboard, 9 x 12

Collection of USC Fisher Museum of Art

Museum Purchase 2012.02.15 Unknown Santicima virgencita de Guadalupe…, undated paint on tin, 7 7/8 x 6 7/8 Anonymous loan Unknown En el ano de 1920…, undated paint on tin, 8 3/8 x 7 7/8 Anonymous loan Unknown San Miguel Arcangel…, undated paint on tin, 8 x 6 7/8 Anonymous loan Enrique Ávila Untitled, 2013 enamel on metal plate, 6 x 8 1/2 Gift of Mr. Demián Flores 2013.03.01 Enrique Ávila Untitled, 2013 enamel on metal plate, 6 x 10 Gift of Mr. Demián Flores 2013.03.02



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