San Francisco Art Institute 2013 Graduate Programs No Reservations Art ÂŠ 2013 San Francisco Art Institute San Francisco, CA 94133 COLLOQUY: An Exchange Project, Issue One COLLOQUY is a No Reservations Art publication. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher and founding editor. ISBN 978-0-930495-03-9 Master of Arts Scholars Founding Editor Jennifer Moreno Readers/Copyeditors Jessica Montgomery, Jennifer Moreno, Emily Reynolds, Monica Vazquez Institutional Support Project Mentor and Founding Director of No Reservations Art Zeina Barakeh, Director of Graduate Administration Art Director Janette Andrawes, Director of Marketing and Institutional Messaging Advisory Editor Vera Kachouh, Communications Specialist Faculty Support Claire Daigle, Chair, Master of Arts Department Nicole Archer, Chair, Bachelor of Arts Department Design Brett Elliott $20 www.sfai.edu
NO RESERVATIONS ART No Reservations Art is a platform that provides emerging artists at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) with opportunities to collaborate and gain professional experience outside of the classroom through interdisciplinary projects. No Reservations Art was founded by Zeina Barakeh, Director of Graduate Administration, and is funded in part by a generous grant from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation. The program is part of SFAIâ€™s professional practices initiatives for graduate students, which have also included the course Art Worlds: History, Theory, and Practice, co-taught by Jennifer Rissler, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, and Zeina Barakeh. From group exhibitions and international collaborations to student-led publications, No Reservations Art brings the creative work of SFAIâ€™s graduate students into the public arena.
COLLOQUY col路lo路quy [kol-uh-kwee] noun, plural col路lo路quies 1. a conversational exchange; dialogue 2. a conference
Letter from the Editor Jennifer Moreno
FORMS OF DIALOGUE Dialogues on the Practice of Art
Inherited Memories of the Holocaust: What Do We Leave Behind? Dara Rosenwasser and Noemi Szyller
Exhibiting Control/Processing Interpretation Elana Bernnard
Dialogues with a Fictional Bent XY
Javier Arbizu and Monica Vazquez
Dialogues with Artists in the Studio
Painting, Cutting, Collage, and Mimesis: A Creative Dialogue Missy Engelhardt and Sarah Nantais
The Archeology of Photography: Toni Gentilli Louis Vargas
Portrait of a Landscape Artist: Andréanne Michon Louis Vargas
The Two Most Interesting Artists in the World! Marshall Elliott and Elisabeth Ajtay Cléa Massiani
Subtle Choreographies: Shay Arick Ling Meng
Dialogues from Author to Reader
Sell Out or Subvert? The Politics of Money and Art Jessica Montgomery
Choppers, Crosses, and the American Dream: The Artwork of Alex Ziv Rachel Ralph
1 17 33 45 49 59 65 75 89 97
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR It is nothing short of astonishing that I am here introducing you to the first issue of COLLOQUY: An Exchange Project, especially considering the odds against us: money, time, and time. Did I mention time? Time is such an important and valuable tool for us graduate students at the San Francisco Art Institute. As this publication was coming together, graduating MFA students were preparing artwork for the MFA Exhibition, Currency, at the Old Mint, and graduating MA students were wrapping up their books — I mean thesis projects. Time was, essentially, not on COLLOQUY’s side, but the contributing authors and artists in this issue were more ambitious than ever and eager for an opportunity to expand upon their interests. COLLOQUY began with a simple desire for community. We sought closeness between the many wonderful thinkers at SFAI. More importantly, we wanted to think together, to collaborate, make, and exchange ideas. We asked MA students and MFA students to participate in a colloquial exchange in what came to produce a variety of dialogues in the form of interviews, collaborative projects, and essays. The results provided an intimate and critical look into the artists’ processes and investigations in their work. The writers and makers involved in this issue discussed a broad range of dynamic issues, such as: inherited memories of the Holocaust, alternative photographic processes, navigating the terrain between art and money, and even, Wildean fiction.
This first issue of COLLOQUY has allowed us, as students, to be experimental and adventurous in how we think together, and it has also provided us with invaluable professional experience. This publication would not have been possible without the audacious spirit of the second-year MA students, who have continuously thought outside of the box in exciting ways. The No Reservations Art program, the History and Theory of Contemporary Art program, the Graduate Office staff, and the Marketing Department at SFAI all provided enthusiastic, immeasurable support for COLLOQUY. With that said, we hope you enjoy this collection of writings and collaborations by graduate students of the San Francisco Art Institute because, essentially, it has been the only way to let us throw this little barrier called “time” out the window. – Jennifer Moreno MA Candidate in History and Theory of Contemporary Art
DIALOGUES ON THE PRACTICE OF ART
Inherited Memories of the Holocaust: What Do We Leave Behind? by Noemi Szyller
A dialogue between Dara Rosenwasser and Noemi Szyller ··· Our continual return to the Holocaust has been inspired by such traumas: Mom was ill with tuberculosis, but Bella told me that she wasn’t scared because she was with Hadassah and Mom. Mom had gotten close to the doctor in the camps but the doctor didn’t know that Hadassah was Mom’s daughter… poor sweetheart. That is why around August 2, 1942, they took Hadassah, they separated her from Mom, and she was deported. They pulled her violently away from Mom. How could she bare this? That very morning, Mom had washed her beautiful hair. Mom didn’t know where they were taking her. We never saw her again. Poor little girl. My poor Hadassah. What happened to her? How did she die? How much did she suffer? I keep asking myself all these questions. But there are no answers. We can’t think too much about this or we go crazy. It’s too sad. Sad…
Sonia had a friend, Eva. She had an ausweis1 saying she worked in the fur company, Reveillon. Sonia went to work for this company and also obtained an ausweis… When Hadassah’s liberation call arrived in Pithiviers, Hadassah wasn’t there anymore and for Bella, it didn’t work. Only Mom got to leave. How did she manage to get from Pithiviers to Paris? When we were waiting for Mom in the apartment, I heard someone go up the stairs. It was fast and I could hear the heels. I will never forget this sound… Bella was transferred to camp Drancy. She had been searched, her pockets emptied, ready to be deported. Sonia arrived just in time, with the ausweis, to get her out of Drancy. Lucky… In March 1943, we were back in our apartment. At night, around the 24th or 25th of March, someone knocked on our door… we didn’t want to open the door, but because we had locked it from inside, they saw that we were home. They managed to come in. I think I remember it was very late, around midnight. They said: Mr. Grynszpan. Yes. We are here to arrest you. Follow us…
Excerpted from the journal of Noemi Szyller’s grandmother, Lea Szyller
(born Lea Grynszpan in 1931). The journal was written following Szyller’s
request to learn more about what her grandmother remembered from the
Holocaust. Lea Szyller sent Noemi a series of letters and then this journal, which detailed an account of the loss of her sister and mother.
1 A German ID card
What do we want to leave behind in order to represent this traumatic event? How do we deal with the memory of the Holocaust? When I sat down with Dara in her studio for the first time, it was important to start by getting to know one another personally and to begin to understand why each of us had chosen to work with the Holocaust. I wanted to know about her connection to the event, as well as how she wanted to participate in preserving its memory. We both felt the need to leave something behind â€” like a generational legacy. It is difficult to explain the feelings behind this route that we now both desired to take together. Were we driven by emotions? Guilt? A sense of responsibility? The words in the journal, the research, and the testimonies we had both witnessed deserved illumination. We felt we were part of an ever-present conversation, and we needed to continue the dialogue. Because Dara is an artist and I am a writer, we discussed the importance of telling stories through words, images, and objects. I came in with questions that I wanted to ask, but soon enough Dara had just as many questions for me â€” what resulted was a genuine exchange of personal reflections, research, and creative processes. In the end, we both came away with new material: I wrote this piece, and Dara chose to include me and my grandmotherâ€™s journal in her photographic work.
3 I nherited Memories of the Holocaust
Dara Rosenwasser makes art and I write. We are two women with one connection: inherited memories of the Holocaust. This was how we came together, shared, and became an inspiration for one another, asking ourselves the questions:
Noemi Szyller: Can you tell me what your work means and what medium you work in? Dara Rosenwasser: I work with photography, textiles, video, and installation to look at the underlying tensions that exist in traumatic memory, and to find connections in the past that inform the present. This entails looking at historical trauma and the Holocaust as my main focus. How is traumatic memory passed down by way of an intergenerational legacy? What exists in the distance between the event and its effects, and how does the telling of this space inform how society deals with genocide, war, trauma, and cultural understanding in a larger context? What is required to answer these larger questions is to fully engage with what has been lost. We have to collectively and creatively move toward a healthier capacity for dealing with the social, political, and cultural forms of the Holocaust. Szyller: Where do you draw inspiration from? Rosenwasser: I am inspired by collaboration through common goals and interests â€” family stories and the telling of personal journeys that build community. I value the connections that are made when life puts people together who have shared an experience or who come together to create a new one. How about you? Szyller: When I was growing up, my grandmother would tell me stories of her childhood and would get emotional about the loss of her sister Hadassah and her mother Deborah. One day, I finally asked her to tell me what she remembered about the Holocaust and exactly what our family had gone through. She started writing letters to me and eventually wrote a journal that she offered to me about a year ago. The desire to share this part of history, and a story
What is your personal connection and reason for exploring the Holocaust? What kind of impact does it have on you? Rosenwasser: I have experienced traumatic memory as something that is carried through generations and what becomes important, then, is the affective weight of the re-inscription or re-telling of the traumatic event. Having been raised in the Jewish faith and culture, the history is handed down and, in this way, the event is generative. Ever since I was little, I have been aware of this presence — this un-named presence that has continued to come up for me. Recently, I have also come across the notion of guilt and how it relates to the archive. When I began to uncover family history, I somehow felt personally responsible… which led me down the wrong path. Now I am looking at how artifacts, objects, and interventions allow for a stronger narrative to emerge in how we establish traumatic memory. Through what has been established as an archive, I am trying to retrace a forgotten history. What is underneath it all? I’m looking at what remains and what the truth could be. Szyller: What is it about memory that drives your work?
5 I nherited Memories of the Holocaust
so personal and important to me, has inspired my research. Also, I always knew the effects that such a testimony could have on a survivor and his or her family (it becomes either a way to confront the pain, or a way to deny it), but I started wondering what the effects were on other people and how people felt when reading this kind of emotionally charged document. Because of my experience visiting places such as Yad Vashem in Israel or the Center of Documentation of the Shoah in Paris, I also started to question the work that memorials and Holocaust museums do in terms of remembering. What is their importance after the “living memory” is gone?
Lea Szyllerâ€™s Journal (Grandmother of Noemi Szyller) 2013 Courtesy of Dara Rosenwasser
Dara Rosenwasserâ€™s Studio at SFAI 2013 Courtesy of Dara Rosenwasser
Rosenwasser: Memory allows me to look at what is beneath the surface, whether it is the moment of connection, a presence that lingers, or a means of embracing that which has been removed, lost, or left out of the telling. Your turn now: How important is memory to you? Szyller: It is definitely the main theme I am trying to explore. The generation that has lived and survived this traumatic past is sadly starting to fade away, and soon the memory of the Holocaust, its representations and documentations, is all we will have left. It is crucial to cherish and preserve this memory. It is crucial to remember. I believe our generation and future ones should take an interest in this significant past and embrace what memory leaves behind, in order to better understand our present knowledge and to cultivate empathy. Memory is history; history is culture; culture is life. Dara, how do you pick your titles? It is always a challenge for me personally. Rosenwasser: My titles often come from an idea that I have while considering the work, or they are in dialogue with the inspiration for the work. Lately, the titles serve as an extension or as a layered component. Iâ€™m heavily influenced by lyricism and poetry from my background in music. I also love literature, which inspires me. Often, I will use longer titles, sentencesâ€Ś it depends on the work. Szyller: Do you often find yourself having to further focus your work and ideas? Rosenwasser: I continually have to refocus my work, yes, because the work I create is process-driven. The pieces might be finished, but my work in general seems limitless. There are always additional layers, and I need to figure out how to reintegrate them into the work. I feel that memory and the
Do you also need to focus your research? Szyller: It is most definitely an issue that I constantly run into. I think because my topic is so close to me, and I feel so strongly about it, I am often not being very objective; I kind of go all over the place, and I want to learn and talk about everything. Because I have had to come up with a clear research question this semester, now I have to focus and accept that I won’t be able to touch on everything. It also helps to talk about it with you and other classmates or faculty, because I have to explain myself and make it accessible, understandable. Do you use sources — that is, read and conduct research — too? Rosenwasser: Proximity to text and research is part of my work. When a line of text pops out as significant it will spark new ideas that potentially turn into work or propel established connections further. Szyller: Can you give me an example of this kind of process? Rosenwasser: Right now I am inspired by Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters. In this work, Gordon speaks to the generative quality of historical events, wherein the structures, which remain in place, have allowed for the residue of violence and absence to haunt the sociological terrain. Szyller: How important are testimonies versus objects? Rosenwasser: Testimonies are extremely important because they are the accounts, the stories of the experience, met with the reflections of the individual or individuals who were
9 I nherited Memories of the Holocaust
repetition involved is performative to an extent, and I am acting as a conduit to seek out these interwoven connections.
affected. Objects are equally as important in the sense that they communicate the story as an artifact, or as evidence of the event. Szyller: I think you and I have a different relationship to objects and to their significance. I sometimes feel that objects are the more artificial way to connect to a memory because of the way they happen to be displayed in institutions. I often ask myself if it is about the victims or if it is about the absence of the victims? The objects seem to signify belonging to someone who is now gone. A picture or a letter have a deeper impact for me, I think because one can really connect it to who the person actually was; but I also understand that artifacts might be all we have left in some cases. Any type of archive seems crucial. Rosenwasser: I think there are objects in relation to absence and memory and objects in relation to the event. For me, I have an object-based family history. I think I became the familyâ€™s historian or the collector, if you will, of the objects. Because I was so interested in my lineage, my grandmother, aunt, and mother would give me objects that had been in the family and that were often attached to a story. My grandmother has since passed, and I have a collection of these significant artifacts. I still question whom they are significant for. For me, the story and the memory of the moment my family passed them on to me is what resonates the deepest. These objects are stories, memories â€” just like pictures and records. Szyller: Do you feel like a witness? Rosenwasser: Yes, in the sense that I have not only been witness to first-hand testimonies, but also in my research, and in the cultural environment of my upbringing. And you?
What projects are you currently working on? Rosenwasser: I am journeying toward a lyrical and poetic exchange distilled through the visual frameworks of film, photography, performance, sound, and installation. Right now, I’m working on the ways in which we consolidate memory and the shapes and forms that I might use to represent that visually. I’m playing with coating surfaces with emulsion and through that process rediscovering the photographic process that I first fell in love with. Szyller: What is your most significant or favorite work? Rosenwasser: I think my most significant work to date is the portrait and oral history project I did with the Jewish Family Service of Seattle, which is now a permanent installation in their new building. I spent four years on this project, spending time with survivors and sharing in their experiences of the war. It was a turning point for my work but also, to be involved with something that powerful was humbling — the capacity of people to find enlightened ways of dealing with horrific events is so important. ··· I then asked Dara to explain some of her pieces to me. She said that her photography installation Away represents what
11 I nherited Memories of the Holocaust
Szyller: Yes, I feel like a witness every time I learn more about the Holocaust. I also think everyone who reads about the Holocaust, goes to a museum, etc., becomes a witness. Educating people and preserving the memory of this event creates a larger community of individuals who will remember it. What is crazy to me is that the Holocaust was the Nazis’ way of erasing the memory of a certain people and exterminating as many witnesses as possible. By telling the world about it, we do exactly the contrary — we create more and more witnesses.
she sees as the distancing of memory over generations. Her soft sculpture Keriah is her way of exploring the woven histories of loss through material; and the photography-based installation Finding Father is an examination of a forgotten history. I am compelled by her use of photography to engage this subject matter, because photographs are often what we have left of the victims. They make the history and memories associated with the Holocaust more acutely felt and a more tangible part of our past.
Near the end of the interview, we touched upon two questions that we felt were important to answer together. What do we want to leave behind, both in this collaborative project and beyond? Szyller: Iâ€™m lucky to have the familial bond and this document (my grandmotherâ€™s journal), which is so precious. I was raised in the emotional context of the event, and to finally have the means to use this journal is powerful. I want to create a larger number of witnesses. I want to leave this behind so that future generations can have that shared lineage. I want to remember what my grandmother had to say, and I want other people to remember it. Iâ€™m so thankful that my grandmother trusted me with this. It feels like a responsibility for me to honor my grandmother and the people we lost, and to tell a different story. I want to leave behind a new story and a new take on Holocaust representations. It is definitely a generational issue; facing this traumatic past, different people will feel or react differently. As a third-generation granddaughter of a survivor, it becomes my generational legacy.
There is truly an intergenerational trauma from the event that can’t be ignored.
Lea Szyller’s Journal and Letter 2013 Courtesy of Dara Rosenwasser
Rosenwasser: It’s taken me a long time to figure out what I am here to do. It became more apparent when I started
13 I nherited Memories of the Holocaust
There are so many objects we can use to remember the event, but the words, something that simple, become so powerful, and the stories become the living memories that people can access and relate to. There’s something about stories that come from memory. We know that there is no such thing as truth, really, but memory makes the story significant. It’s not the story of the event as much as it is the story of the people going through the event and how they continue to live it. We will always be making a significant step by attempting to understand and communicate a little more of this history. Some have wanted to forget, deny out of a desire for selfpreservation, fear, or guilt, but I believe we have to fight and make sure the remembrance will live on.
working with the survivors, meeting them. This intimate dialogue about their history was something I couldn’t even name at first. It’s relational on a historical level. Covering histories or the telling of legacies is vital to any contemporary dialogue on how we live, relate to each other, and to the event. My grandmother gave me many family objects that were around during both world wars. The stories that she told about our family were very questionable, so I am still on the journey to uncovering my family’s history, and that is why these objects are so important. In my family, the stories are not really there. For you and me, our stories are different. I don’t know of any family members who died in the Holocaust, but I know there is something about the name Rosenwasser. The name is all over the lists and documents in Yad Vashem. I would like to believe that it never happened to any immediate members of my family, even though I think it happened to all of them. We face a different understanding of humanity. It is important for me to work alongside someone who has gone through something so personal in order to help me tell this story. The event is horrific but inspiring. It is empowering when I am able to share the histories surrounding the event and to have people learn and relate to the story. There is still so much that we don’t know. It is also essential to discover oneself through these truths. Because we are from the third generation of survivors, do we feel that we must take over this project of retelling and remembering stories that might otherwise be lost? Would we feel guilty not taking an interest in it? Could someone without a personal connection to the event explore what we are exploring? Rosenwasser: It has taken me all of my life to be where I am now — to feel that I am able to identify and focus on what it means to address the Holocaust and traumatic memory. The capacity for me to realize this artistically has emerged through
Szyller: I definitely felt that, yes, as part of the third generation, I was given this heritage and these memories that I simply could not ignore. Not everyone is gifted this authentic testimony or allowed to personally relive such a historic event. Of course, it is a very emotional route that I am taking, but it is also extremely meaningful and, I believe, not just to me. I want to — and have to — share my family’s story and hopefully transcribe it into a sort of message for anyone who would want to learn more about the experience. I believe anyone who is interested could take on such research, but I am not sure it would have the same kind of impact or level of dedication. Dara Rosenwasser was born in Panama and moved to the United States when she was four years old. Her work engages notions of history and intergenerational memory through photography. She holds a degree in Commercial Photography from the Seattle Central Creative Academy and owns a photography business. MFA Candidate in Photography Noemi Szyller conducts research on memories of the Holocaust, focusing on the central question: Do memorials and Holocaust museums have the power of memory or living testimony? Szyller was born in Paris and moved to the United States in 2006. She received her BA in Art History and Literature from St. Edward’s University. MA Candidate in Exhibition and Museum Studies
15 I nherited Memories of the Holocaust
our collaboration. It is something within me that needs to move outward through an embodied action. I think this subject finds resonance with anyone who has an interest in conversations on historical trauma, loss, and how we move creatively toward greater awareness on a global level.
Roundtable Discussion 2013 Courtesy of Jennifer Moreno
Exhibiting Control/Processing Interpretation by Elana Bernnard
A roundtable discussion with Sarah Ammons, Martin S. Gardea, David Lasley, Ashleigh E. Norman, and Stephanie Rohlfs ··· I hosted two conversations on February 27, 2013 and March 8, 2013 with a group of MFA students from the San Francisco Art Institute. The objective that I had for these conversations was to reflect on how an interpretation of an artist’s work can be skewed from the original intention of the artist. This project instantly evolved into a more meaningful search for what level of control the group of artists had over the intentions of their own artwork. The group raised excellent points regarding how artwork is received, and whether or not one can actually have control over a work’s interpretation at all. The group brought up concerns that may impact interpretation, such as geographic location, exhibition venue, and how mobile an artwork must be to accommodate each situation. My first question for the attendees was: Have you been to any shows where the accompanying interpretation (i.e., the wall text) has altered the way you look at a work of art? With this initial question, we entered into an important dialogue on location, context, and re-performance. These issues were evident in a recent exhibition at the Walter and McBean Galleries at SFAI, Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to
Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun: Gutai Historical Survey and Contemporary Response, February 8 – March 30, 2013. The Gutai movement originated in postwar Japan in 1954 and was founded by Yoshihara Jiro. Gutai set out to “do something that has never been done before.” The movement resonated across the globe, uniting not only artists and geographic locales, but also artists with their own artworks, literally. Gutai means “concreteness” or “embodiment” — two concepts that became the objectives of the movement. Kazuo Shiraga’s 1955 performance Challenging Mud is perhaps the best display of this idea of the embodiment of an artwork. In this work, Shiraga wrestles his way through a mud pit — his movements take on poetic dimension as Shiraga shapes and transforms the mud with his entire body. We questioned whether a re-performance of a Gutai artwork degraded the original intention of the movement, by performing what has been done in the name of something that has never been done. ··· Elana Bernnard: Were all of you at the Gutai opening? To create a contemporary response to the original performance of wrestling with mud, for the opening, there was an MC on a microphone chanting “are you ready for this?!” He pumped up the entire crowd, and then the artist, Jeremiah Jenkins, comes out in spandex, dressed in American Flags, and literally does WWF-style wrestling moves with the mud in the middle of the room. David Lasley: I thought that the original Gutai performance of Challenging Mud was more dynamic. There was not as much mud in the performance at the Walter and McBean opening as there was in the original. The original was a
··· The ideas raised here are imperative when considering how artwork is interpreted. First off, the style of the re-performance was different. The original was done in nature, with enough mud to engulf the entire body of the artist. The contemporary response was done with a considerably smaller amount of mud, with a crowd cheering on the WWF-style wrestling figure. The location of the movement and the re-performances are also important to the context of the interpretations. There were comments about a political context, but the show was meant to honor the founders of the Gutai movement. Were the political connotations mere oversights of the artists and the gallery interpreting these performances? I thought this was an interesting introduction to how interpretation can alter the original intention of an artwork, but I wanted to shift the focus onto the artists’ own processes. In the first group conversation, three major concerns emerged about the interpretation of each individual’s work: (1) location, (2) minimal textual references, and (3) the idea that an institution will interpret an artwork in any manner, irrespective of the original intention. As much as I do not want to agree with this defeatist attitude, I feel that these artists are right. It is rare that an artist remains in control of the interpretation of their artwork. I wanted to demonstrate this idea by posing a “first-impression” interpretation of their own work to them.
19 Exhibiting Control/Processing I nterpretation
mud pit — the guy came out bloody. The re-performance probably would have been better if it was in nature… the reperformance became kind of “redneck-y,” and I don’t know if that was intended to be as political as it came across. At the end of the night, two little American flags were in the pile of mud and then some comments were made about this being anti-patriotic.
··· Bernnard: To Stephanie Rohlfs: If I was looking at your work, and there wasn’t an explanation with it, I would think that it was about environmental issues. Stephanie Rohlfs: The interest that I have in my artwork is in the process in which each piece is made: the ideas of grafting objects biologically and taxonomically; the elements in the work have been organized, and I am reorganizing them. That, to me, is more the point. If I was writing my own invisible catalogue right now, I would say something like that and something regarding the nature of grafting/collaging live things.
Stephanie Rohlfs Wreath 2013 Collage on paper 10 x 7 inches Courtesy of the artist
Bernnard: David, if I was encountering your work for the first time, I might think you were dealing with questions of homosexuality. Lasley: My artist statement talks about idealization and the fetish for a certain type of masculinity and the way it comes off as desperate and sort of cartoonish at times, which I feel is valid, because I see that every day. I would consider it somewhat collage-based in that the figures don’t exist anywhere else except for in the paintings; I have to bring them together and have them make sense in that light. That frees me from being directly someone painting real people. I paint realistically — so art historically it goes to prove the sort of obsession with vanity… that there is a technique that you have to learn and get better at, which I think the characters want to do as well. As far as placing sexuality on them, it is difficult and it would be very hard to do. I certainly don’t do it, but I don’t think that the work needs me to point it out.
Exhibiting Control/Processing I nterpretation
David Lasley Young General 2012 Oil on canvas 28 x 34 inches Courtesy of the artist
··· I also wanted to address the work of another participant, Martin S. Gardea. His work, on first glance, appears to use arbitrary materials, such as a roll of toilet paper in a plexiglass case, or three receipt rolls hanging from the wall. It may be difficult to gather meaning from his work if you are not aware of his artistic intentions. ···
Martin S. Gardea Punch Line 2012 Marker on paper 96 x 36 inches Courtesy of the artist
Bernnard: To Martin S. Gardea: What about your receipt rolls — what is happening with that?
··· The work of Ashleigh E. Norman was also interesting to me. One would think that her work revolves around feminist issues. Earlier on in this conversation, she had stated that this was not the case in terms of her original artistic intentions. ··· Bernnard: To Ashleigh E. Norman: Since you previously mentioned wanting a short and sweet note to accompany your work, would you consider something like “this is not feminist artwork”? Ashleigh E. Norman: (Laughs.) That would be great. I have been thinking about it a lot and I have pages of writing that are just ranting. It is not about sex, it is not about gender — it is about the subconscious, and that is what it is. It is an exploration of that. I know nobody likes it, but that is what I want to say. It is something that all humans share and that hasn’t been explained or explored and it is “pretty.”
23 Exhibiting Control/Processing I nterpretation
Martin S. Gardea: I wanted to make three long line drawings. At a thrift store, I found three rolls of receipt tape, they are probably 300 feet put together. I was like “what is the longest line drawing ever?” (The group laughs.) So I just sat there acting out drawing and pulling on the receipt roll. It is about the act of anything that I do — it is not so much about the final piece. Well, it is about the final piece, but at first it is more about the act of naming it, the idea, and whatever materials I have on hand. I think I have more fun with that. The way the receipt rolls are displayed, it looks just like one continuous line on paper. Some people will probably get lost not knowing exactly what it is without a title. Then I say, “oh, this is my line drawing,” and it just clicks. Even one-liners — I’m a fan of those. I am kind of a comedian.
Ashleigh E. Norman A Confession (Flightless Bird) 2012 Oil on canvas 24 x 20 inches Courtesy of the artist
路路路 It was clear to me that the intention of these artists evolved in the process of making. To them, the technique, materials, and connections that they had built with their artwork was the intention of the work itself. The question became: If there is no control for an artist in the interpretation of the artwork,
I staged the next conversation differently. Things that were mentioned in the first conversation bothered me, such as the idea that an artist has no control over what is said about the artwork. I wondered, is this true? I was reading Daniel Buren’s 1971 article “The Function of the Studio.” His premise is that the studio is a “private and stationary” place where “portable objects” are produced. This is also a place where the artist hopes to release a piece of artwork from the pure and creational space out into the world. The idea of the mobility of an artwork is appealing to me, because of these concerns that the first group had regarding location and exhibition venue. The group felt that once they released their artwork from their own possession that it could no longer remain their own. Is this what happened with the Gutai show? The original Gutai movement has long passed, and the Walter and McBean Galleries took it on as their own movement to interpret. Buren further states that a museum’s arrangement of artworks is similar to that of a cemetery: “Whatever they say, wherever they came from, whatever their meanings may be, this is where they all arrive in the end, where they are lost.” Once the artwork leaves the purity of its studio, it is open to infinite interpretation. This is a curious concept: That the artist is like a parent giving birth to these creations, sending them off to galleries and shows, and in the end the museum becomes the final resting place. To compensate, Buren suggests that artists must consider that “the definitive place of the work must be the work itself.” In other words, the artwork must command the space on its own, or it will default to conforming to the space that it is in. I
25 Exhibiting Control/Processing I nterpretation
does control over the process itself then become central to the decisions of making?
pitched this idea to the group: artwork that commands space by transforming the viewer’s sense of their own body, as well as their surroundings, versus artwork that conforms to the space in which it is shown, so that the work can be displayed just about anywhere. I asked each participant about their work in terms of its ability to “command” or “conform,” as well as what they thought about this idea of the birth and death of an artwork. ··· Gardea: It depends on how the artwork got to the museum — if it was in a collector’s personal home for a while and then it went to a museum, I would feel okay about that. If it was just acquired and shown in the museum setting right away, it is like a cemetery really… then I feel like the artwork didn’t really have a life to live. If it went straight from the studio to the museum, then it never had its full life, I guess. Bernnard: Do you think that part of the life of the work would still be under your command or control if you were working with just a few DIY galleries? Gardea: I think so. There would be more control. One thing about museums is that they have a lot of storage space and they like to use that, because they don’t want to put everything out on view — they don’t want to pull all of their cards out at once. They will keep pieces that they want to save for a special show or something. With a gallery, they will have something in the office that they routinely change out, so they are a little bit more personal as opposed to the museum, where they might go years without showing something. Especially if they only have one piece of yours — there will be a long time without people seeing it. Rohlfs: I think there is a difference in that when you are in a gallery you are there for a different reason than when
Bernnard: Do you think that it makes more sense for galleries to be more experimental than museums? And should a museum be more straightforward and educational? Rohlfs: I do think that. I feel like the purpose of the museum is to contextualize what has already happened; to present it in a historical context — this ties into the graveyard reference. But I don’t think that it is the job of a museum necessarily to show contemporary art as much — “contemporary” is not the right word — I guess, experimental. Things that are not contextualized, and floating around, do not belong in a museum. It is weird sometimes when they do that. It also steps on the galleries’ toes. ··· I think this point is important to emphasize: Both Gardea and Rohlfs are stating that a museum is not only where artwork “goes to die,” but that it is also a place where artwork is encapsulated in history. Once a work of art has reached the destination of a museum, it becomes art historically categorized and impersonal to the viewer or the artist. Perhaps this is why Buren suggests that an artwork must continue to command space even after it has been contextualized as a part of history. ···
27 Exhibiting Control/Processing I nterpretation
you are in a museum. In a gallery, you are approaching art in a different way. When you are in a museum, it is an educational experience where you are going to learn about the pieces in a more historical way as far as information. If you want to learn about the 1950s, you go to the Abstract Expressionism room… If it is a solo show, then I think that wall text is a little out of place for me. I am not anti-information; I just think that it does not need to be as prominent as the pieces themselves.
Sarah Ammons: For my paintings, I would make a frame for each one that would enable them to be put anywhere. I think that artwork can conform to any space — it just takes a push and pull. The push in the artwork is not necessarily commanding, but it requires conforming — to a collector’s home, or to a museum’s collection.
Sarah Ammons My Boyfriend’s Shirt 2012 Oil on mylar 36 x 72 inches Courtesy of the artist
Bernnard: Do you think that the whole concept of selling work to a rich collector who is going to put it on a wall assumes that the artwork is going to conform? Gardea: There was this book I read… it talked about every artist aspiring to be a “bedroom artist” — you want someone to buy whatever you make and to hang it up in their bedroom, because it is the most intimate place. That is where the viewer can be one-on-one with it. I have always kept that in the back of my head. I like to buy little things here and there. If I buy it, it is because I want to be around it. So, I like to make things that people can have in their homes. ···
How does the “life expectancy” of an artwork tie into art criticism and art history then? Is it that the more an artwork is interpreted, the fuller a life it lives? Maybe Buren’s concept, which I interpreted as “commanding” verses “conforming,” operates in an alternate way than what I have been assuming. Perhaps an artwork that “commands,” might refer to its ability to command the discourse. The Gutai movement signifies one thing when on exhibition in Japan, and it signifies an entirely different thing when on exhibition in the United States. It is the same exhibition in many ways, but it is being shown in the context of very different discourses. In line with what Stephanie Rohlfs said about the museum or the gallery, an experimental performance evokes a different concept depending on the space in which it is shown. Perhaps Buren’s idea of an artwork “conforming” relates to the moment in which a work of art falls flat — that is, when there is nothing left to say, and no discussion to continue. I want to go back to the first conversation, in which the group stressed process. When Buren said, “the definitive place of the work must be the work itself,” maybe “process” is what he meant. If an artist cannot control the interpretations of their artwork, and if in order for an artwork to “command” a space it must generate extensive discourse to envelope a “full life,” then the definitive place of the artwork becomes the process of making itself. Decisions of material, technique, and content are what the artist controls — this is what they truly own.
29 Exhibiting Control/Processing I nterpretation
The idea of the life expectancy of an artwork is fascinating. The three participants associated this idea with a level of intimacy between artwork and buyer: the museum being like a cemetery where artwork will only be on view for a fraction of time, and the cherished connection that an artwork will have with a collector that can build a relationship during the work’s lifetime.
Sarah Ammons’s work takes an existential and psychoanalytical stance on the postmodern fragmented “self.” Through multiple self-portraits, she investigates a compulsive need to self-observe and analyze. She holds a BFA with honors from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. MFA Candidate in Painting Elana Bernnard’s research interests are focused on the relationships between art institutions, artworks, the public, and artists. She holds a BA in Art History and a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the State University of New York, New Paltz. MA Candidate in Exhibition and Museum Studies Martin S. Gardea’s work forms an impression of agency toward personal relationships with his use of abandoned objects and popular culture. His current body of work is comedic in nature. Gardea holds a BFA in Sculpture from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. MFA Candidate in New Genres David Lasley is a painter whose work explores stereotypes and fetishes of masculinity. Lasley creates his paintings through manipulating imagery extracted from art history, fashion blogs, and sports commentary. The performance of his work seeks to celebrate art history’s notions of an idealized manly beauty. He holds a BFA in Painting from Northern Illinois University. MFA Candidate in Painting Ashleigh E. Norman works primarily in oil on canvas to access the symbolic order through images presented by way of subconscious states. In her conscious life, she is fascinated by the persistence of myth, particularly in its relation to Western religion, and fashion as it pertains to the wearer and their role in society. She obtained a BA with a dual emphasis in Studio Art and Art History at California State University, Channel Islands. MFA Candidate in Painting Stephanie Rohlfs investigates the ways in which the natural world is parsed by humans and used to codify information, and the ways in which we use this language to store and transmit ideas about the world to ourselves. She received a BFA in Painting and Drawing from the Tyler School of Art and studied at Temple University in Rome. MFA Candidate in Painting REFERENCED WORK Daniel Buren, “The Function of the Studio,” October 10 (1979).
DIALOGUES WITH A FICTIONAL BENT
by Javier Arbizu and Monica Vazquez Yâ€Šâ€”â€ŠIt was noon. I remember it was hot and humid inside that military tent. At the beginning it was hard to breathe, the smell of old dust and paper was intense. It took me a while to get used to the lack of light and to begin to distinguish what was there. I concealed the fact that I had seen all of those buzzing insects and plants growing among the packs of paper and objects hoarded in the place. Time was transforming those documents into a tropical ecosystem. That provisional structure, a military tent given away by any international agency, had lost its meaning and its function a long time ago. The Archive of South Sudan, the youngest nation on earth, was a greenhouse where memories have the shape of anthills, roots, and sand piles, some of them are being dissolved and others are just disappearing.
Pictures from Haile Selassie, planes and protests in Khartoum, portraits of Gaafar al-Nimeiry, school records, exams, documents of the Democratic Republic of Sudanâ€Ś piled, unorganized, tied in bundles, scattered on the floor, in metal shelves and sacks. Unintentionally I recalled that war has an aesthetic of its own, that the human being needs to transform their traumatic experiences into images in order to assimilate them. Images from El Prado during the war of 1936 came to my mindâ€Ś an empty museum. I tried to erase those images from my mind as soon as I could, and get back to work. It is my tendency to blush, but why am I so anxious? All the archives, including this military tent, work the same way, but still I do not understand how they survive, even more, how do they flourish despite the catastrophes and the horror? There is no choice I guess. Time is active, memory fragile, and oblivion an inevitable force; yet we are addicted, we are collectors.
Don’t misunderstand me. This does not mean that we have lost memory, on the contrary — today more than ever we evoke images as effortlessly (easily) as I will replace my glass during my next visit to Ikea — I question our capacity to produce it. How many voices have been mediated, re-designed and packaged to meet the occasion, festive or mournful, so our senses may recognize them as their own while the experience is silently buried. We replace the space full of the present with the emptiness of the past, and
X — One by one my fingers let loose the glass, time stops, I do not even know in which moment the crystal hit the floor and scattered, leaving uneven fragments in the space. The object is transformed into a potential danger for the being made of flesh and blood, which P. Radin either for instinct or convention makes me react. The time starts running again while I gather and dispose of the translucent remains marked by trauma. Neither the vessel nor the fragments belong to me — they are as alien as memory is for the individual in our times.
at the end none of them truly belong to us. I never considered myself pessimistic, but it is inevitable to think about memory and time as a destructive agent, because when I look around me, I recognize that we did not learn the lesson. Y — When that glass broke, I found near Jebel Barkal a stone ball; it was heavy, about five centimeters in diameter. After several days in the desert, the possibility that the wind could have rolled that stone until it became spherical posed no challenge to my logic. After a while, I realized that what I was holding in my hand was in fact the seed fossil from a tree; therefore, that desert in a different era was a forest. I also acknowledged that if that seed had developed, it would have become a colossal tree; however, I will never see the shadow of that tree. For the Oglala, the circle and the sphere are sacred because the Great Spirit decided that everything in the natural order should be circular, except the stone. The stone is then the consummation of destruction; the beginning and the
end. There is nothing we can do, although I can claim that the seed is mine, it belongs to me, as it’s rolling in the dessert and the shadow of that tree I will never see. Maybe it’s me, that seed. X — Let’s make things clear: a stone is a stone, a circle is a circle, and none of them is you. However, I must say that the circle deserves a manifesto, with the same violence with which Marinetti defended speed, there should be written a manifesto about the geometric figure. In the contemporary world, the legitimization of the form is a matter of
J. L. Borges
good redaction, a reference to the past and impeccable personality. The “judge” and the creator has never been this close. In my quest to achieve this ambitious closeness, I keep my path, stone by stone. Around me a structure arises: hexagonal galleries, intermittent lights, endless stairs and vacuums, 32 books and 25 orthographic symbols. The air becomes heavier with every step while the vertigo is threatening to blur my memory. I do not know if every tread on my way inside
this universe relieves or burdens me; however, the chance of immortality as a reward, at the end of this labyrinth, comforts me. I am ready to breathe the sun and open my eyes to a meaningful world. False promises! My smile vanishes as the loneliness floods the empty space. 122 steps away from my destination, I find myself helpless, questioning the purpose of carrying on. The walls murmur that the rope will throw a rope around my neck: a never-ending walk where knowledge is limited. The ability to raise meaning is a delusion fading under my feet. You keep thinking whatever you want; believe that the stones are mirrors. Y — We are circles, we are a vicious circle, we are smoke. There is no way out. Ivona, beautiful creature of abrupt movements, of sluggish muscles hidden under pieces of robes; she crawls across the floor breaking every norm of conduct. A princess who confronts and conquers the kingdom of Burgundia with her act of silence. A subversive silence foretells her death and opened up my eyes.
Javier Arbizu National Archive of South Sudan 2011 Photograph Courtesy of the artist
Ignorant is she who doesn’t recognize that silence accentuates, unleashes anxiety, and administers power. Silence is instinct, it breaches every convention. Only silence is capable of eluding structured language. Silence is a glade of light where I am the only one. A monologue where I choose when to speak out loud and when to remain in silence. All my ghosts are fog; if I cease picturing them, they will eventually disappear. And if they will to return, it won’t depend on me.
X — “Kneel before his eyes!” my mother used to tell me every Sunday at the church. It was not the nudity of his exposed body, not even the marks on his skin or the bloody stain that made me fear him and provoked me to drop my eyes to the ground. It was the image itself exercising its power on me. An image concocted years ago as a gift to the masses by the same structures of power that will keep it alive until the end of days. Layers and layers of meaning make it work so well it no longer recognizes language or edge, and even in the remotest desert a thought is keen to feel the urge of kneeling.
Its autonomy is disturbing. An indelible and evolving representation that has displaced the form from the back, making its holy will with the former one. Still, the most haphazard marks will be enough to call it to mind, abstract hints working systematically to restrict perception. There is no way out. So, is it an indestructible form? Yâ€Šâ€” â€ŠIts meaning might be, not the image, I believe. Who builds a wall, has the ability to destroy it. Every wall on earth is symbolic; each has a
different and erratic function. Their meanings transform and cicatrize indicating that no stone will be left unturned. A ray of light will slip through the cement, and the wall that once destroyed families, separated lovers, divided nations, and strikes the world, will fall into pieces. Collars will be made with its remains, witnesses of power and pain; and the fortitude embodied in its days of glory will be past, evidencing the limits of the human being.
It does not take more than one of its qualities to evoke the whole picture, to carry the weight of a tradition, of an institution, of a concept, of its iconic strength. So ubiquitous that it is available to all; regardless, it is not worshiped by all. I received an education that forced me to pay tribute, although today its function is limited to offer relief in case of emergency. A figure that might be better hidden in social events; a figure that you may try to refute; but by denying it, I would only confirm its existence and enhance its value.
Who has power to build, has the capacity to overthrow, but if he is blinded by vanity, others will come to take his place. There will always be someone willing to hold a hammer and open the way to reunion, to break a wall, willing to use a brush to reconcile a nation with its past. There will always be someone willing to die against a wall, as there will always be someone crying these marks. Interests, as walls, are vile and ruthless, but not unbreakable. Their image will turn into a dĂŠjĂ vu that will inhabit the limb between what we should remember and what we must forget. The wall, its image, has lost its power, has migrated from one system to another. And in this multidirectional transition, I recognize that I am not by myself, I am not the only one with the capacity to engage with what I perceived through my senses. There is someone in front of me, someone behind me, someone to my right, and someone to my left.
MFA Candidate in Painting Monica Vazquez’s research interests are focused on public fascinations with art with cultural heritage. She is originally from Mexico, and her educational background is in communications. MA Candidate in History and Theory of Contemporary Art
Javier Arbizu analyzes the function of images and the process of perception in his work. Originally from Spain, Arbizu considers himself a flâneur and traveler who is chronically addicted to archives, apocalyptic dreams, hypochondriac attacks, and sublime déjà vu. He makes large-format paintings at SFAI.
DIALOGUES WITH ARTISTS IN THE STUDIO
Painting, Cutting, Collage, and Mimesis: A Creative Dialogue
Artists: Missy Engelhardt and Sarah Nantais ··· Sarah Nantais and Missy Engelhardt approach their creative practices with formal and conceptual intentions focused on color, texture, and humor. Realizing their similarities in approaching the task of making, and appreciating each other’s aesthetic style, the artists forged this collaboration as a means to instigate dialogue and foster experimentation. For this debut issue of COLLOQUY, Nantais and Engelhardt have created a piece that lives in the space between painting and sculpture, their respective disciplines. In continuity with Engelhardt’s large paper wall sculptures, Nantais has incorporated materials and imagery that are apparent in her most recent body of sculptural installations. On their own, both Nantais and Engelhardt challenge notions of the wall and the floor as relative to the disciplines of painting and sculpture. Together, in this piece, through cutting, folding, and pasting, the artists play with architectural imagery loosely suggestive of the aerial mapping of rooftops. Through this collaboration, Engelhardt and Nantais debated where painting, cutting, collage, and mimesis belong and how these elements may come together — or create tension — in a piece like this. The resulting work is a form of creative and intellectual dialogue that may be explored visually.
Missy Engelhardt and Sarah Nantais Untitled (Collaboration) 2013 Paper, contact paper, and nails 42 x 150 inches Courtesy of the artists
47 Painting, Cutting, Collage, and Mimesis
Missy Engelhardtâ€™s studio work focuses on materiality and how to transform materials by using different mark-making techniques, such as folding, scoring, and cutting. She received a BFA in Studio Arts with an emphasis in Sculpture and a minor in Art History from the University of Sonoma State. MFA in Sculpture, 2013 Sarah Nantaisâ€™s academic work and studio research centers on issues surrounding suburban materials and design. She investigates the compulsion suburban dwellers have to respond to their banal overregulated spaces in creative ways. Nantais received a BFA in Studio Arts from the University of Western Ontario, where she also majored in English Language and Literature. Dual Degree MA/MFA in History and Theory of Contemporary Art/Painting, 2013
Toni Gentilli Ouroboros (Detail) 2013 Camera-less copper-toned silver gelatin photograph on rag board and wood panel 4.5 x 4.5 inches Courtesy of the artist
The Archeology of Photography: Toni Gentilli by Louis Vargas
··· Toni Gentilli is a visual artist, educator, and curator whose work incorporates historic and experimental photographic processes with printmaking, illustration, installation, and handmade books. Drawing on her career as an archaeologist, and her experience as a Type 1 diabetic, she combines anachronistic materials and techniques with contemporary sensibilities to explore the interrelationships between science, technology, nature, history, and identity. Gentilli may now be a photographer and artist, but she hasn’t abandoned her archeological instincts. In many ways, she could be perceived as an archeologist of the photographic medium. While most photographers are experimenting with more technologically advanced methods, Gentilli is embracing the older photographic methods. In fact, she prefers them, and this is strongly reflected in her work. Louis Vargas: What can you tell us about yourself in terms of where you are from and your educational background? Toni Gentilli: I am originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I spent the first 25 years of my life there. I attended the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. I also worked for the University for a little while doing archeology there and for the state historical society in Madison, Wisconsin. After a couple of years of doing that, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and spent 10
years working as an archeologist for a private environmental planning firm. During that time, and after establishing my residency there, I went to graduate school and got my master’s degree. Then the economy went south, and I decided to switch gears a little bit. So, I came out to San Francisco to study photography and work toward my second master’s. Vargas: When did you first begin making art? With such an extensive background in archeology, what inspired you to focus on photography as your medium? Gentilli: It wasn’t until my mid-twenties, when I moved to Arizona, that I really started to use photography as a tool for creative expression. I had spent most of my life in the same town in Wisconsin, and now I found myself in a new place that was so utterly different. I started going on really long walks and taking my camera with me. At the time, my archeological instinct just kicked in, and so I was sort of doing a visual survey of the city of Phoenix. I also became interested in the visual manifestations of cultural differences between the Midwestern town I grew up in and the Southwestern town where I was living that had a certain type of population, climate, and architecture. I was partly using the camera as a tool for creative expression, but also as an investigative tool for social sciences. Photography was utilized as a part of my job as an archeologist documenting sites. One benefit from that career was that I was often visiting landscapes in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. So, whenever I had a little daylight left, I would go out and explore and take pictures. Vargas: Since beginning your studies at the San Francisco Art Institute, how have you progressed as an artist, and how is this reflected in your work? Gentilli: My approach to making work is extremely different, but there are threads of commonality that go through the beginning of when I first used my camera until now. After
From the series Cabinet of Curiosities Toni Gentilli Untitled 2011 Silver gelatin print 11 x 17 inches Courtesy of the artist
Vargas: Could you describe your process to us? Because you talk about working with photography, but you have also mentioned printing.
51 The Archeology of Photography
I received my masterâ€™s degree in Arizona, I took a couple of workshops in historic photographic processes at a place called Tilt Gallery in Phoenix. I learned processes like cyanotype, platinum palladium, and Van Dyke brown printing. I was already very interested in the history of photography, but Tilt Gallery provided me with tools that were more expressive and let me move past the limitations of just using a digital camera or other traditional photographic means. Since I have been at SFAI, I have had the ability to really explore those methods a lot more.Â It has been this reciprocity between having new techniques, and time to utilize them, and seeing how they can best express my ideas and emotions.
Toni Gentilli The Photograph: Considered as an Imprint, an Analog, and a Facsimile 2012 Van Dyke prints from hand-drawn negatives 9.75 inches diameter (each) Courtesy of the artist
Gentilli: Yes, the printmaking is a little bit more of a recent addition. My most recent work consists mostly of the historic photographic processes that I was talking to you about earlier: the cyanotype and the Van Dyke print. There is also a strong kinship between the early forms of photography and printmaking. I actually just took my first lithography class this semester and one of the images I made is from a drawing recreating the first permanent photograph by Nicéphore Niépce. He was originally a lithographer, but because he was frustrated by his inability to draw well, he began trying to create these techniques where he would reproduce imagery photomechanically. Personally, I had the opposite reaction to the easily reproducible image in the digital age that we live in now. I started to backlash against that by experimenting with early photographic processes that were more manually involved and related to printmaking, such as drawing my own negatives and printing them directly with hand-mixed emulsions that are light sensitive. Vargas: Are you now focusing more on printing? Have you abandoned the camera? Gentilli: Yeah, for the meantime, for sure. In fact, every single image that is currently in my studio, I have not used a camera to produce. I am really enjoying that liberation and exploration. I feel that there are a lot of unknowns when using these camera-less processes. There are things about them that you can’t really control, or have any idea how they are going to turn out, which sort of reminds me of the trial and error of the scientific method. Printmaking and manual and digital means allow me to introduce illustrative elements as well as text into my work. Since I have been at SFAI, I have gotten into handmade books as a way to bring together words and images all in one place. Vargas: Your photographs in the series Cabinet of Curiosities seem to do that as well. Could you tell us what inspired you to produce this series? Does it also inspire your work
Gentilli: That work was really inspired by my background as an archeologist and my utilization of different tools for looking, whether it was a microscope or a magnifying glass. The interest in using those instruments and looking at the world in those ways was instilled in me at a very young age by my grandfather who was a biologist. He even gave me a microscope when I was eight years old, which sits on my desk in my studio. My grandfather also gave me a prism to teach me about the spectrum of light. Cabinet of Curiosities was an homage to my grandfather, but it was also infused with my background and interest in material culture. I never use people directly as subjects in my work, regardless of how the work looks. It is typically focused on a built environment or inanimate objects. That project was my first foray into still life, where I was taking objects and setting them up in front my camera rather than going out into the world and photographing things as they were. Cabinet of Curiosities deals with thinking about vision and perspective and what the instrument’s roles are in allowing us to see things that aren’t necessarily visible to the human eye. Vargas: Which artists are you most influenced by? Gentilli: I am a big fan of Hiroshi Sugimoto. I love his Seascapes and Lightning Fields series and the fact that he works in a way that utilizes analogue and traditional photographic processes. I also love that he combines his scientific methods and interests in the way he works, which is something that I am interested in doing in my own work. Susan Derges is also someone who I feel influenced by. Her cameraless photographs are direct imprints from nature, which I find breathtaking and beautiful. They are linked to early
55 The Archeology of Photography
as a whole, or does it vary with each different series you produce? In many ways, it reminds me of another photographer named Abelardo Morrell. Some of his work deals with photographing inanimate objects at close range, which monumentalizes them.
photographic methods that illustrate the spirit of experimentation that was once there. After all, the early photographers weren’t just photographers, they were scientists and engineers — they had a variety of interests. Vargas: Is there anything you are working on next? Gentilli: I have a couple of projects that are offshoots of this larger project that I have been working on regarding my experiences as a Type I diabetic. For the first project, I am in the process of putting together a wall installation of 75 to 100 wooden panels (all 4 x 5 inches) that have copper-toned silver gelatin photographs made from slides that contain my blood, insulin, and different photochemistry crystalized through exposure to light and heat. To me, they are reminiscent of Martian landscapes, and they have a fleshy color. I plan to install them loosely in the shape of a chemical structure. The second project that is in the works is one in which I am attempting to make living chlorophyll prints by placing negatives onto live plants. After the negative has transferred the image, I take them off, and over the course of a few days, the images will fade out back to the living plant. This idea stems from trying to work through all the processes that John Herschel invented, including anthotypes — a process in which Herschel took plant matter, such as petals or leaves, and created an emulsion by mashing the plant matter up and mixing it with distilled water; he then coated paper with it, placed objects or negatives on the paper, and exposed it to the sun. The result was an impermanent image — a concept I am enjoying working with. The images that I intend to transfer onto the plants are microscopic images of the cell bodies within the pancreas that create insulin. You could say that I am sort of growing organs onto these plants and using photosynthesis as a proxy for my body’s inability to break down sugar.
MFA in Photography, 2013 Louis Vargasâ€™s research interests are in the history of international exhibitions in California, as well as the curatorial practice of photography exhibitions. Vargas holds a BA from the University of San Diego in History and Visual Arts. MA Candidate in Exhibition and Museum Studies
57 The Archeology of Photography
Toni Gentilli is a visual artist, educator, and curator whose work incorporates historic and experimental photographic processes with printmaking, illustration, installation, and handmade books. Drawing on her career as an archaeologist and her experience as a Type 1 diabetic, she combines anachronistic materials and techniques with contemporary sensibilities to explore the interrelationships between science, technology, nature, history, and identity. Gentilli has a BA in Art History and Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and an MA in Anthropology with an emphasis in Museum Studies from Arizona State University.
From the series La Présentation of the Fractured Dura Mater Andréanne Michon 2012–2013 Archival inkjet print Courtesy of the artist
Portrait of a Landscape Artist: Andréanne Michon by Louis Vargas
··· Andréanne Michon’s artistic practice is based in the expression of human experience through photographic portraiture, landscape, and video. Her work reflects the human ability to inhabit the inner self in the vast outer world, both physically and psychologically. In 2012, the Magenta Foundation named her as a Flash Forward Emerging Photographer. Michon’s choice of medium may be traditional, but her approach to capturing images is unique. Unlike most landscape photographers, Michon doesn’t view her landscapes merely as natural environments, but rather as individuals in and of themselves. Inspired by her concerns for the future of the precious land on this planet, Michon’s work dedicates itself not only to documenting the landscape, but also to capturing it as a form of portraiture. As a result, Michon is able to portray the intimate relationship she has with the environment to her viewers. Louis Vargas: Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from, and when did you first begin taking photographs? Andréanne Michon: I am from Québec. I am actually from a small town near Montréal. I started photographing when I was about twelve years old. I was given a very small camera, which I took everywhere and I took a lot of portraits with it of my friends and family. When I was fifteen, I took my very first
black-and-white darkroom photography class. Since then, I fell in love with the medium and the materiality of it. Vargas: What kind of process do you go through when you begin a new series? More specifically, with each photograph? Michon: Often, my ideas come from a concern or deep emotion. I also work with the idea of the inner and outer world of the human experience and what shapes it. I then use different strategies to experiment with these ideas, which is evident in one of my most recent series entitled La Présentation of the Fractured Dura Mater. This series started with the concern for the hydraulic fracking to extract shale gas that was happening in La Présentation, which is the small village where I am from. It was really the first time I worked in such a personal manner. With La Présentation, I was trying to map an emotional landscape with the use of images from my personal archive, as well as portraits of my family, landscapes, and videos of the environment in which I evolved. Together, the images would address the urgent problems caused by fracking in the village and the continuity of the community. Vargas: A lot of your work involves landscapes and portraiture. In many ways, one could say that your approach to photography is traditional. Do you agree with this statement, or, if not, how would you describe your work? Michon: I would say yes, it is traditional. I work with largeformat photography and my choice to use that medium is important, because it slows me down a great deal. It also gives me the opportunity to really look around and have my subjects, human or landscape, become part of the translation from reality to the negative. Large-format photography provides a different pace for creating portraits, especially when today people are used to being photographed in the form of a snapshot. They don’t necessarily realize the exact moment in which the image is captured. Photographing in
Vargas: Could you name a few artists who influence your work? Michon: I am very much influenced by German Romanticism, which at first started with literature, but then I discovered Caspar David Friedrich. I was astonished by the different imagery he used in his paintings and how they reflected the sublime quality of the mind. There were also photographers that I discovered along the way, such as David Hilliard, whose work I felt an affinity to. Actually, it wasn’t until after the first series I did with diptychs and triptychs that I noticed how similar our work was formally. Vargas: Your most recent series Quiet Anger is dominated by natural/environmental landscapes and lacks the human and urban presence that one of your earlier series Constance had. What can you tell us about this evolution in your work? Michon: After Constance, I stopped using urban settings as my subjects and followed up with nude portraits in the series To Have Thin Skin. It was then that I realized how crucial it was for me to show my experience with the natural environment — and the importance of the issues that surround it — in the work that I produce. Vargas: Did your experience and studies at the San Francisco Art Institute help expand your choice of subject matter? Michon: Of course! The students and faculty that I have met at SFAI have provided me with invaluable feedback. For me, the critiques that I have received were quite enlightening. No matter what you decide to do with the critiques in relation to your work, to hear the feedback is still very important in terms of moving forward with your own work; and to see so
61 Portrait of a Landscape Artist
this manner is like another space of being, which becomes the subject of the photograph.
many different types of art is very important as a means to nourish creativity. Vargas: Lastly, what are you working on now? Are there any upcoming shows in the near future? Michon: I am in phase two of the Quiet Anger series. It is a series that is going to be developed more throughout the years in conjunction with the idea of being in a landscape and the sort of rupture that can happen within a particular landscape or place. I am currently working on a project that focuses on a lake melting during the last winter solstice day in Québec. That process is going to be translated into a video, as well as in two photographs. As for the series La Présentation of the Fractured Dura Mater, it appeared in the Swell Gallery at SFAI in March 2013. One of my Quiet Anger photographs will also be exhibited in Culver City for the Off the Clock show curated by Anne Lyden (Associate Curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).
Andréanne Michon in Her Studio at SFAI 2013 Courtesy of Andréanne Michon and Louis Vargas
MFA in Photography, 2013 Louis Vargas’s research interests are in the history of international exhibitions in California, as well as the curatorial practice of photography exhibitions. Vargas holds a BA from the University of San Diego in History and Visual Arts. MA Candidate in Exhibition and Museum Studies
63 Portrait of a Landscape Artist
Andréanne Michon’s artistic practice is based on the expression of human experience through photographic portraiture, landscape, and video. Her work reflects the human ability to inhabit the inner self in the vast outer world, both physically and psychically. She holds a BFA with distinction in Photography from Concordia University, Montreal. She has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions internationally. In 2012, she was awarded a Flash Forward Emerging Photographer Award by the Magenta Foundation.
Marshall Elliott Passage Through 2013 Redwood log, drywall, wood, paper, and acrylic Approximately 96 x 140 x 86 inches Courtesy of the artist
The Two Most Interesting Artists in the World! Marshall Elliott and Elisabeth Ajtay by Cléa Massiani ··· As an MA student in Exhibition and Museum Studies at SFAI, I write about, assemble, curate, look for, put together, and collect ideas in the art world. Artists, well, they actually make things when they create. The gap between “them” and me will always be there, because at the end of the day: I’m still not an artist. So who are they? What are they thinking? Do they function as we do? Because yes, from the outside, they look (almost) like us, but is it the same on the inside? The following interview was conducted with Marshall Elliott and Elisabeth Ajtay, MFA candidates at SFAI. Elliot is in the Sculpture Department, and Ajtay is in the Photography Department.
Cléa Massiani: Is graduate school a productive and convenient time to work? Marshall Elliott: School is probably the most convenient time I will have in my life to make work. It can be illuminating, because one of the things that I see is the degree to which I avoid being in the studio — as a result of having so much
access and time, I see my initiative and the power of my preference to work more clearly. Elisabeth Ajtay: Yes, I also think it is convenient for me right now. This school is very productive for me, because it is really good to have an exchange with the other students; they can push you and influence your work. One the one hand, it is good because it will get you ready for a professional career as an artist, but on the other, I’m more of a long-term producer. The thinking process for me can take some time, maybe two or three years in certain cases, until I really get to the point mentally where I know how to phrase what I mean visually. My failures also get me closer to the core of who I am or what I want to say. SFAI, compared to what I experienced before, in Germany, is really helpful. You feel freer and you can create whatever you want. You can break from your medium, and that is why I’m here: I wanted to break radically. Massiani: Do you feel obligated to produce? Do you produce only when you want to, or do you produce only when you have the impulse to? Ajtay: I don’t feel obligated to produce, because I have so much inside of me that I want to say, and I feel like I’m running out of time. I’m always one idea ahead, so I always have three or four projects that I’m working on. It is also good for me because I don’t get stuck in my practice. I work on very different themes and I hate repeating myself. That is why school is good for me, because I have to always be producing. I’m quite disciplined and once I get an idea, I try to keep up with it. Actually, I’m producing all the time. The trigger for me is interior — that’s when I reach a point inside of myself, where I’m getting to this nervous state, I
Elliott: Both — it changes day by day, and there are certain motivating factors, like a show or critiques, that can help me to finish a piece that I’m working on, or to get started on a piece that I was thinking about doing. Sometimes, I will postpone a piece because it does not seem quite right in my head; I can think about something for a long time and it will never be completed enough in my mind to start. If I know that I have to complete the work, then I start making it anyway, even though it might not be coherent. In the process of making, I might end up with something different that’s better than what I had in mind in the first place.
I I . C R E AT I V I T Y A N D I M AG I N AT I O N
Massiani: Do you consider yourself imaginative? Elliott: I don’t know if I think of myself as being more imaginative than anybody else, but I might have more of a tendency to take my imagination and bring it into some sort of form. I indulge my imagination to produce a reflection. It is almost a sense of responsibility. I think that most people are quite imaginative on a daily basis but nothing visible comes out of it. Ajtay: The simple answer would be, yes I do! When I was a child, I was able to sit with a tiny flower for at least an hour, just dissecting that flower. I just wanted to see what was in there. I think my imagination comes from my curiosity. That’s a credo in my life: to never stop being curious. When you dissect something, in the end it is only material energy, so if you can imagine that, you can get into really abstract spheres, and that kind of keeps you going creatively.
67 The Two Most I nteresting Artists in the World
start to move and I feel like “alright it is soon, it is going to be there,” and then I just act on the idea. But I need a long time to get to that point.
Elisabeth Ajtay Me and My Childhood Friend Courtesy of the artist
Massiani: Where do you find your creativity? Ajtay: I’m always doing research about everything; that is really important. I’ve been traveling a lot, and I always feel like I’m coming out of one system to go into another, and then again, when I visit a new place. So I’ve always tried to have this overview with my work, it helps my creativity. I also grew up in Romania where everyone was talking about the West and America being the top of the top, the King. That was a huge driving force in my creativity, but it was a dream for a long time. Some dreams collapse, while some dreams happen. For me, pain and sorrow are also related to creativity. If I hadn’t lived the life that I had, I probably wouldn’t be able to say anything. All those fights will make you more mature and more self-reflective. Death had been coming up in my life, not only physical but also mentally. You decompose by the age of 25, so every day you die a little bit more and I’m very aware of that. This daily loss is important, so I need to take advantage of this little time we have here. If we were supposed to live forever, that would be so boring! So, I feel like I have to be creative.
I I I . CO N T I N U I T Y A N D P E R M A N E N C E
Massiani: Do you feel that what you do matters to you or to others? Elliott: Yes and no. There are so many people on the planet that one individual person is really insignificant. Whatever one person is doing is such a small part of the whole that it is lost in the immensity… and at the same time, it absolutely matters because even though we are such a small part, we do add something. So whatever I do, I try to do it as well as I can, if only for my own sake. I don’t know that what I’m doing is going to change the world to some significant degree that people in history books will write about it, but sometimes people are genuinely moved by what I’m doing and express it to me, which can be very satisfying. Massiani: How do you think about your practice in relation to time passing? Do you think your art is going to survive you? Elliott: It is definitely going to survive me, I just don’t know for how long. The things that I’m making are made with materials that are more durable than I am. But the question is: Will people in the next generation think that it is worth keeping? If I make enough things, some of them will be kept. It is harder when it comes to something like a sculpture or an installation because to preserve something like that requires a great deal more effort; it usually takes the protection of some kind of institution or a committed collector, which makes it much more doubtful that it will be preserved.
69 The Two Most I nteresting Artists in the World
Elliott: I think that creativity is a habit that can be developed. In a way, creativity is a kind of permission that I give myself to trust my imagination and to let myself think in different ways — to be impractical and make decisions that will encounter my impulse, making decisions that aren’t routine.
At a certain point, the idea of art being durable is closely tied to the human desire for immortality. I had a good friend who once told me that scientists are uncertain whether the growing sun will become so large that it will vaporize the planet completely, or whether in four billion years it will only grow to a size that’s hot enough to burn every single thing off of Earth and turn it into a rock in space. She said, “Nothing that anybody makes will survive. So given that, what is it that you really want to do?” Well, that put it into perspective! I would just like people to preserve things that they think are important for them to make them happy, and if what I make is included, that’s great.
Marshall Elliott in His Studio at SFAI
Ajtay: I think it is every artist’s hope that their art is going to survive them, but that is not the reason I do it. I make my art because I have to, otherwise I’ll go nuts! There is something I have to say, and I just put it out in the world. I hope it survives, but that should not be the reason why you do something. In the end, it is more about the process and getting to the point of what you are exploring, but of course I’ll be
I V. I D E N T I T Y
Massiani: Do you consider yourself an artist? Ajtay: I always wanted to be a doctor, and to help people, but at some point it changed. I always painted a lot, and then I thought, “Okay, I want to make art, I want to be an artist.” I went to Budapest and I studied design under the pressure of my parents, but that wasn’t right for me. I was really unhappy. After this, I started doing my “free work,” or art, if you want to call it that, but I needed to figure out if it was art or not. I have a lot of trouble saying: “Hey, I’m an artist.” The word “art” is actually based on the old English “thou art,” (or, “you are”), so according to this theory, everything we do is art. I like the term “conceptual artist.” Being an artist is a job, and it is a tough one. Elliott: Josef Albers claimed that: “when you’re in school, you’re not an artist, you’re a student.” I think that when you are going through the process of studying art, you should be extending yourself beyond the limits of what you think an artist is supposed to be doing, or what you think an artist is. But when I think about it that way, I think that this is how an artist should think all the time, so in a way, an artist will
71 The Two Most I nteresting Artists in the World
happy if someone likes it (or not). I always like having people come to me at an exhibition telling me that they appreciate my art, but I also like it when people tell me, “that’s a piece of shit”; I would say “thank you” as well. If it touches people in any way, it’s great! Time is important in order to see how you are evolving as an artist. I always have to step back and look, but I’m not worried about having bodies of work. It is more about continuity. Each work somehow relates to the other: They make sense in time.
always be an art student. Artists should always try to reimagine their practice and do things that make them feel alive. How I introduce myself depends on the day. Often, when I tell somebody that I am an artist, they have all kinds of associations in their mind, so it is almost less helpful to use a term like that. I could be more specific and say, “I’m a sculptor,” but at this point, I usually just say that I’m a graduate student. Massiani: Does art satisfy you? Why? Elliott: Satisfaction is a fleeting sensation, and I think I am caught up in a struggle to return constantly to that feeling. Many artists I know, the moment they finish something, they are dissatisfied with it, and they want to do something else. Often, I feel that my satisfaction with the work comes before it is finished, maybe it comes when I have a clear idea of what I want to do, or maybe it never comes: I might never feel satisfied. In many ways, feeling satisfied can be a choice, a kind of orientation toward the world that is available to us anytime. Art provides me with unlimited challenges. It is access to a kind of completely unresolvable problem that is really engaging. Even if I escape from my problems to a cabin in the woods, the problems will follow me. At some point, I have to make art to resolve them. I don’t know if art is necessarily the best thing for everyone to do as a way of being happy. It is the only thing that keeps me interested in any enduring way. At some point you have to do something that gets you out of bed in the morning, something that gives you a vision of the future, so this is the best thing I’ve found so far for myself. Ajtay: Oh yes, totally! For the first time in a long, long time, I felt like, “I could do that forever!”
Paul Kos said, “Sometimes I will have years without any ideas, so I just need to sweep the floor for two or three years.” That might happen to me, but I think it is better to sweep the floor than to try to go look for pictures on the Internet. It is a rhythm. You can’t have output if you don’t have input. But once you get the input, you need time to reflect. I need that time, and that, to me, is production as well. I think I will always go on like this. Cléa Massiani is interested in nontraditional museums, curating, and art preservation. Originally from France, she received her BA in Art History from the Sorbonne University, Paris. MA Candidate in Exhibition and Museum Studies Elisabeth Ajtay’s work deals with topics such as mobility, inner/outer communication, and the exhaustion of the individual in light of new technologies. She approaches concepts related to human beings’ sensitivity to a dialogue with the broader world through a photography-based practice. She holds a Diploma from the University for Applied Sciences and Art in Dortmund, Germany. MFA in Photography, 2013 Marshall Elliott is an artist interested in the entropy of environmental systems, tracing material lineage, and representations of the void. Through a diverse array of mediums, he investigates and critiques the place of being in artmaking through tangible forms. He graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a BA in Film Studies and a BA in English Literature. MFA Candidate in Sculpture
73 The Two Most I nteresting Artists in the World
Because I have experienced so much in life, I needed an outlet for that. For me, it is the paradox of life that is my main topic. Life is beautiful and ugly and it is disgusting, calm, and crazy… It is all of this. It is obsessive. I think I’ll be satisfied for a long time.
Shay Arickâ€™s Studio at SFAI 2013 Courtesy of Ling Meng
Subtle Choreographies: Shay Arick by Ling Meng
··· In Arick’s studio, there are many objects spread out on the floor or hung on the wall, waiting to be turned into artwork or to be discarded forever. I remembered seeing a stone and a blue velvet cloth in the right corner of a photograph in his new installation 2.5D in the Diego Rivera Gallery at SFAI. I could tell he had a sort of “click” for these objects. In 2.5D, one sees hair in a glass, a banana leaning against a frame, and a mechanical collage of a stone. These are elements pulled out of his previous work that now exist in a rearranged relationship. It seems that Arick wants to play with — or forge a dialogue between — these objects, and he enjoys expressing subtle meanings within each piece. I found it interesting that the viewer is not able to see everything in his work all at once, but rather, elements of each work are unveiled in fragments. The objects operate within their own language in different pieces. As Shay told me: “I’m interested in the way my objects have their own lives, and not only what I want them to do.” The alluring beauty of the work brings the inner meaning outward toward the viewer, making the audience think about the maverick ideas that might be behind each piece. Or perhaps Arick is just kidding around and playing with his viewers, as he often does. When I met Shay on a Thursday afternoon for this interview, he was cutting a wooden stick in the woodshop at the
San Francisco Art Instituteâ€™s Graduate Center. He carried the two pieces of the wood he had just cut back into his studio and hammered a few screws into them to fix a lock and chain onto each piece. Then, he put the two pieces into bases and placed them on the ground. He kept adjusting the distance between the two. Our conversation started from there.
Shay Arick Doubt 2013 Wood, chain, lock, and wallpaper Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist
I . D O U BT A N D N A M I N G
Ling Meng: So distance is important in this piece (titled Doubt), because you really care about the relationship between these two pieces of wood. It cannot be too close or
Shay Arick: Yes. There is a gap that makes a kind of tension, and this tension is very important to me. The chain cannot reach the lock. But I like to change it during the exhibition. In this way, maybe one audience comes to see the show, and they will see it unlocked, but the next one will see it locked. I’m very interested in changeable situations where you don’t know what’s going to happen next. Meng: Do you expect some audience members to try to play with the lock and chain? Arick: It could be nice if the audience thinks about it and feels free to move it. I like the relationship between these two objects and the relationship between the object and the audience. I like to think of how each one of the audiences would come and see the work differently. The audience should do whatever they want to the work — it is part of the experience to try to play with everything. Meng: Have you named this piece? Arick: Not yet, although names are very important. Meng: Yes! I noticed all of your works have brilliant names that are different from many other artists. Assuming it’s someone else who creates installations like yours, half of them would name the pieces “Untitled.” I like the titles of your works, and I consider the titles to be a very important component, because they are often direct and implicit at the same time. Arick: Yes, it is very important. I think of the name as another part of the work, because I can give the audience more layered information about the work through its title. Another thing is, if a work is called “Untitled,” everyone can give their
77 Su btle C horeographies
too far away. You retain a distance that the door chain cannot reach here (points to the hole in the lock).
own meanings to it. I like different meanings for a work, but I also like it to be specific, in a clear direction, and not very abstract. I like the names themselves to be sometimes funny, sometimes with a double meaning… I like to play with my artwork, but also with the names.
I I . A E ST H E T I C S, WO R K I N G P R O C E S S, A N D T H E “C L I C K ”
Meng: Formal beauty is a very crucial component that contributes to my love of your work. I really appreciate artists who pursue simplicity. Formal beauty, for me, is the highest form of beauty. Arick: I’m very interested in formal objects. And I’m very interested in beauty, because the aesthetic allures people. Viewers want to see a beautiful object. This is my way of making the audience come see my work. Then I’m going to add some “hidden meanings” for them to find and slowly realize… maybe get into their unconscious, or they’ll get it while they are looking at the title. Meng: What is your way of dealing with materials? Arick: I have two directions in the way that I work: One situation is that I have an idea, and then I’m searching for the material that would be right for that idea. The other way of working is being in the studio and just looking at the materials and whatever I find… I’m playing with everything I can, with whatever I find in my studio or outside of it. Meng: When did you get the idea for the work Doubt? Arick: Yesterday. I got this lock and chain in a sale for free. So I found this and played with it: I put it on the wall, hung it. In the end I put it in this installation and then I felt a “click.” Meng: What do you feel in the moment you get the “click”?
Meng: Is there such a moment of “click” in every work? Arick: Yes, every work.
Shay Arick Choreographing a Goldfish 2012 PVC tube and a goldfish Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist
III. AN ANIMAL’S PERFORMANCE
Meng: In the piece Choreographing a Goldfish what was the “click”? Arick: For me, the “click” was the moment I put the fish inside the water of the tube.
79 Su btle C horeographies
Arick: It’s a moment that I can’t explain. But I know there is something visually and conceptually correct at that moment.
Meng: When I saw that work, I felt like I was the little fish in the tube. I also thought of the idea of a “return” when I was in front of the piece — returning to the same point endlessly in circle. Arick: What I love in this piece is how everyone is explaining to themselves the idea of the fish, but what I’m really interested in, as the title suggests, is to make a constrained dance for the fish. Although here the fish danced in circles, it has its own choreography. Sometimes it goes back and forth, sometimes it goes in loops, and sometimes it stays in the same spot. I’m happy when things happen in a way that I didn’t necessarily mean them to. The fish performed during the exhibition. For me, it was about the performance of the fish. Today, performance is only for human beings; I feel that animals can perform much better than humans can. Meng: I could tell simply from the title Choreographing a Goldfish that there was something interesting happening without even seeing the piece. Arick: True. I gave the piece a name, but it’s only a tube, a fish, and water. These are the only things that were there. So giving it a name is giving it a meaning that’s all in our heads in the end. This is art. Meng: How did you get the idea of using creatures in your work? Is this the first time you used a living animal in your work? Arick: Yes. I’m interested in animals and the ways in which they can relate to humans — the relationships between animals and how we give them emotions or project ourselves onto the animals. I don’t remember where I got this idea, but I know I was thinking of a way to constrain movement, so I thought of many kinds of animals that I can constrain without harming them, or at least I think I’m not harming them.
Meng: Another animal you tried to play with was a bird. Like the foot of a bird, you used it here (points to a painting in Arick’s studio) and in Reminiscent of a Bird Call. Is it important in your work? Arick: What is important in my work is having the formal and figurative together. This tension between the organic and inorganic, straight line and curved line, and the body, form a strong relationship and a very intense opposition. It becomes something else. Meng: The piece Reminiscent of a Bird Call is in balance, but the bleach in the blue bottle is dripping, which interferes with a sense of peace within the work. Arick: The bleach in the bottle drips, so it becomes less and less. It drips in a circle, which is why there is a pattern of the sun on the black cotton cloth. When a drop of bleach reaches the cloth fabric, the cloth immediately changes from black to red, to yellow, to white, and then it crumbles. Meng: There is also a wall there, and you broke the lower part of the wall? Arick: This is the idea. I was interested in how people would walk into the corridor before they entered the show. For them to think “is this a construction site? what’s the mess about?” Then, when they come across the broken wall and enter the gallery, they would be looking at something different, which is the other part of the work: fine sculptures, beautiful scenery, a Japanese garden, the foot of a black bird. Meng: I think the audience saw the bird claw as part of the scenery before they noticed the background collage on the wall. Although it’s a three-dimensional work, it blended into the two-dimensional space.
Su btle C horeographies
I V. L A N G UAG E B E T W E E N O B J E C T S
Shay Arick Reminiscent of a Birdcall 2011 Mixed media Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist
Arick: Yes, I like playing with the notion of three dimensions versus two dimensions — playing with our perceptions of how we think about the space of an installation. Meng: This is a kind of visual play. Richard Artschwager is playing with this notion of the switch between three dimensions and two dimensions as well. Arick: Yes! He played with sculpture as a way to play with perception. It’s all three dimensional, but it looks two dimensional. I’m interested in that as well. There is a relationship between each object when I do this, and I choose each object and image intentionally. Meng: Is the specific bleach that you used in this work important to you? Arick: Yes. It came very quickly to my mind. This is the cheapest bottle you can get in Israel. My mother uses it for cleaning. When I thought about what kind of bleach I wanted to use, aesthetically I wanted to use this bleach because of its blue bottle. The blue and yellow colors are visually very interesting to me. The white swan on the bleach bottle is opposite to the black bird foot. It is alluring for me. I hoped it would be alluring for other people, too. Meng: It is indeed alluring. Arick: And the bleach of this bottle represents something pure. Like the white swan — it is royalty. It is the most elegant bird for us. But it does something else. It’s talking about destruction and burning, which is the opposite of what we think it represents. For me, the smell immediately reminds me of home, my home. This installation is a lot about home and my inner home. Meng: Where does the drop come from?
Meng: You like jokes! Arick: Yes, and I like to create a specific language between the objects — like the way they talk to each other through this idea of a dead bird, or the representation of a bird. Meng: What does the representation of the dead bird mean to you? Arick: If you look at the representation of the foot, it is all about the void. It is only one foot. There is a lot of space around the foot — all the mass stands here, and the mass is the void.
V. H A I R A N D /O R H E I R
Meng: When did you start to make art? You majored in biotechnology when you were an undergraduate student, right? Arick: I always made art. From an early age I made paintings. I like science very much, and biotechnology is very interesting. I also worked in product development in the food business for several years — it’s like making sculpture, but with food. Meng: I didn’t see any food included in your work. Arick: I did a self-portrait with food — with bananas. In the picture, it’s just like, I am Jesus. Jesus had a wound on his chest and Thomas the Apostle touched it to see if it was really a wound. He put his fingers inside of Jesus’s wound. So for me, the banana is the wound, and I’m putting my fingers inside of the banana.
85 Su btle C horeographies
Arick: There’s a hole in the bottom of the bottle, beneath the swan. For me, this is like a joke. The swan is peeing all the way down to the cloth.
Meng: You are Jesus and Thomas at the same time. Arick: Yes! I called that work Poking a Banana. Meng: In front of Poking a Banana, there is also some hair that is framed. Arick: I call it “heir.” “Hair” and “heir” sound the same, but “heir” means a person inheriting and continuing the legacy of a predecessor. So if there’s a king, I’m the next king. So I made the structure of a king with my hair. Meng: Do the pieces usually take a very short time to finish? Arick: The idea and thinking process of the work often takes a long time. Finding the right place for each object, making meanings for me first and then for the audience. It’s all about trial and error. So it can be a very quick process, but it can take a long time to realize something: what is not right, which objects should be removed or added. So the installation is a crucial step in my works. I like doing installations, because for me it is the most interesting and engaging experience. It makes the world like a Japanese garden for people to walk through and to discover new things each time they enter. Shay Arick is an artist who makes mixed-media sculptures and installations. He received a BFA with honors from Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, where he was awarded the Eileen Cooper Award for Creativity and the America-Israel Award for Excellence in Sculpture. While at Bezalel Academy, he was selected for the exchange program for merit students to study at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York. MFA Candidate in Sculpture Ling Meng’s research is focused on minimalism. She is also interested in exhibition forms that resemble poetic language in their focus and representation of works of art. Meng received a BA in Sociology from Zhejiang University, China. MA Candidate in Exhibition and Museum Studies
DIALOGUES FROM AUTHOR TO READER
Sell Out or Subvert? The Politics of Money and Art by Jessica Montgomery
··· In the world of art, particularly in the present moment, it is inevitable that one will, at some point, come up against the question of economics. There is an enduring myth that art must somehow exist at a stage of removal from the general sphere of economics; the stereotype of artist as bohemian misfit persists — that “artist” is somehow synonymous with anti-establishment; that the great freedom of the artist is an escape from the confines of a sedentary life. This myth is worth exploring. Like most stereotypes, the implications are not arbitrary; there may, however, be some use in rethinking the social pressures placed upon artists, and how these expectations can help, or hinder, their practice. A great majority of the art that we are familiar with in the canon of Western art history was created under a system of patronage. The Industrial Revolution brought with it the rise of the middle class, and the (imagined) end of the aristocracy; in this arena of free enterprise, artists were expected to make their way like any other producer of consumable goods. As such, artists were placed in a position of opposition to the Victorian bourgeoisie, upon whom their livelihood was dependent. As Elizabeth Wilson notes: Once the artist was identified as an antagonist of the dominant groups in society he was transformed into a symbolic figure, who carried a weight of
ideological meaning. He not only personified the changed and uncertain status of art in the industrial age, but became the opponent of every aspect of bourgeois society, and acted out a wholesale critique of the social, political and moral values of modernity — or rather their absence. Here Wilson quite eloquently points to the complexity of the perceived role of the artist; an image, it can be noted, that persists today. The artist, it is imagined, must speak for us all. But who is this “us”? To complicate things further, what is at stake in placing the responsibility of voice (of being heard) upon some “other” (i.e., the artist)? There is an assumption of economics in the perceived role of artist as cultural critic — the artist produces, the audience consumes. This creates a divide, placing maker and viewer on opposite sides of some great abyss, which is responded to with a call for reconciliation (consider all of the work done by museums to communicate with their audiences, or the artists whose great desire is to implicate their viewership). So why create this divide if the immediate reaction is to cast out lifelines in an attempt to bridge it? On a personal level, as someone who thinks and writes about art, as someone who makes thoughts rather than things, I feel consistently perplexed by and conflicted about this divide. On the one hand, I am prone to understand art — the objects produced by artists that are then deemed Art — as yet another thing that can be bought and sold. And so what? Why not sell and buy something of substance? On the other hand, I am consumed by the proposition that the thing that is art — this intangible, intransient thing that is beyond consumption — can allow respite from the buy – sell model, and in so doing, create a new kind of space. The issue comes down to whether one is operating within (and potentially critiquing) the hegemony of capitalism, or whether one is trying to create an entirely new system.
All three artists have established different means of contending with these issues. Both Voogel and Smira have worked as photographers in a professional capacity. Voogel, whose commercial work was primarily in fashion, hopes to appropriate fashion aesthetics and modes of production (particularly the collaborative aspects) into a fine art arena; furthermore, he is concerned with the transformative power of art, and as a result places great emphasis on accessibility. Smira defines her practice as dualistic to the extent that she supports two websites: one for money, and one for art. As a way of expanding and evolving her artistic practice, Smira has moved into video work. Although this transition has come out of a desire to move away from the more “documentary” tendencies of photography (as well as the profusion of cameras in everyday contemporary life), she is quick to note that this shift removes the question of economic viability — video art is rarely bought by individual collectors, thus rendering the intention to sell obsolete. All three artists are allowing themselves the freedom presented by graduate school in which there is room for experimentation, missteps, and potentially exponential personal (and professional) growth.
91 Sell Out or Su bvert?
Because I am, at best, an invested bystander, I approached three MFA candidates at the San Francisco Art Institute in order to gain a sense of how artists themselves grapple with these issues. My collaborators in this conversation were Andrew Voogel, a photography major, Marshall Elliott, a sculpture major, and Maya Smira, also a photography major. Each participant was unfailingly thoughtful, and though their responses ranged in scope, what was unilaterally agreed upon was that the space of an art school allows them the freedom to experiment without having to worry about economic repercussions. Moreover, there was an awareness that out there in the “real world” artists must contend with their ideas of success, the nature of the choices that must be made to keep one’s practice in line with these notions of success, and how these choices will be received.
Although Elliott has clear ideas regarding the function of art, he also acknowledges discrepancies in opinion, and issues of subjectivity. He recognizes that success, and the means of achieving success, are inevitably subjective, and thus difficult to critique. Applied to the many grey areas where art and market merge, this can be understood as exemplary of the art world’s inability to define a set of standards. Voogel similarly speaks to this issue, explaining that as a student, the profusion of conflicting opinion can be confusing. The “culture of critique” (the prerogative in the art world to meet each new offering with critiques of intention, method, and relevance with the perceived aim of setting a certain standard of art that functions) can be contradictory, particularly when it comes to notions of “selling out” or the role of the artist as a contributor to the ever-expanding canon of art history. This has allowed Voogel to experiment, but it has also allowed him to realize that perhaps the most productive thing that he can do is remain true to his own aesthetic and sense of purpose. The difficulty in assessing artistic work alongside, or in conjunction with, an economy-based market perhaps arises out of the idea of being an “artist” as less of a job title than it is a vocation. As Smira admits, she always has a camera with her, and is always taking pictures: “This is how my friends know me.” At issue, in a sense, is what is for sale. According to Smira, “When you are an artist you sell yourself in a way, you sell your art, your work.” For Smira, working in the mediums of both photography and video allows her to sidestep the issue of economics by dividing her practice into commercial work and fine art work. She hopes to show her video work in museums someday — the primary ambition is not to sell. Though this division is frustrating to her, she feels that it is essential to her reputation as a serious artist.
93 Sell Out or Su bvert?
Maya Smira Living Organism (Detail) 2012 Video stills from the multimedia installation Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist Andrew Voogel Destroyed Negative 1 2013 Archival inkjet print 17 x 59 inches Courtesy of the artist
Maya Smira Living Organism 2012 Multimedia installation with eight televisions Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist
For Elliott, though he believes that an artist should receive an income from his or her art practice, he feels that when the sole intention of the artist is to make money, the purpose of the art becomes questionable. “If the purpose is just to make money then there is no difference between an artwork and most any other consumer good. That, I think, is something that artwork has always struggled against — trying to be a conversation, a dialogue, an idea, a critical point of view that is hopefully independent of those needs that the commercial, consumer market has.” In Elliott’s view, therefore, to choose to be an artist does carry a certain weight of responsibility. And though this can potentially be read as a limitation, or an unfair expectation, he chooses to approach this expectation as an opportunity. Though Elliott is leery of overcommercialization, he is adamant that for art to function, it must be seen. In other words, there must be a viewing public, but from Elliott’s perspective it is not essential that this be a paying public. Voogel, in his desire for accessibility, is adamant that commercial work not be written off. “I don’t have the luxury to sell out or not sell out. I have to take work where I can get it.” If working commercially means that he can make a living producing creative work, that he can utilize a fine arts aesthetic (and the capacity for imbuing a photograph with a message beyond pure product placement), and reach as broad an audience as possible (and thus educate or initiate a greater range of viewers), this, he feels, is equivalent to a successful life as an artist. In other words, rather than undertake two simultaneous careers like Smira, Voogel is more interested in blurring the line between commercial art and fine art. Following my conversations with Voogel, Elliott, and Smira, I feel no closer to reconciling my own understanding of art as a product of consumption versus a product of reflection. Because it is something that these artists must contend with, I believe that the economic position of art should not be taken lightly, or sidestepped as a complicated question
Jessica Montgomery is interested in fashion and the performing arts, and the opportunities within these mediums to blur the lines between fantasy and reality. Her research is invested in critical theory and the impact of globalization upon cultures and cultural production. She received a BFA with distinction from Concordia University, Montreal. MA Candidate in History and Theory of Contemporary Art Marshall Elliott is an artist interested in the entropy of environmental systems, tracing material lineage, and representations of the void. Through a diverse array of mediums, he investigates and critiques the place of being in artmaking through tangible forms. He graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a BA in Film Studies and a BA in English Literature. MFA Candidate in Sculpture Maya Smira is an artist interested in video and new media installations. She was born in Israel and received a BA from The Open University and a BFA from Minshar for Art, both in Tel Aviv. MFA Candidate in Photography Andrew Ananda Voogelâ€™s work explores the dialogue between materiality and content within the object of the photograph. Voogel received a BA from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he studied Postcolonial Literature. MFA Candidate in Photography REFERENCED WORK Elizabeth Wilson, Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 18.
95 Sell Out or Su bvert?
with no discernible answers. Rather, the complexity of the question, and the myriad responses, speaks to the creation of the myth of the artist that Elizabeth Wilson describes. It is in this unique ability to exist as all things, while simultaneously suggesting new modes of being, that the power of art lies. Perhaps rather than attempting to reconcile the contradictions inherent in the art world, it would be of greater use to learn from a field in which diversity flourishes.
Alex Ziv Unknowable Icon 2013 Pen and ink on paper 9 x 4.75 inches Courtesy of the artist
Choppers, Crosses, and the American Dream: The Artwork of Alex Ziv by Rachel Ralph
··· The subject matter of Alex Ziv’s paintings is accessible and represented through recognizable iconography, seemingly guiding the viewer in and out of his paintings in one swift motion. He really doesn’t, however, give the viewer enough to connect all of the pieces. One may understand the flag in relation to the cross, but why the motorcycle vest? Why the swastika? Just below the surface of his technically skilled paintings is something more, but it’s up to the viewer to find out. Ziv’s work is alluring and invites the viewer in through recognizable objects, but after observing the highly skilled execution, one has to spend time with the work in order to be able to arrive at a sense of coherence. Ziv doesn’t give the viewer a smooth path, but that’s just what he wants. Instead, he offers what he refers to as a “corral of shit,” which invites viewers in before spitting them back out again — leaving one questioning his or her own assumptions.
A CO R R A L O F S H I T A N D CO M M E R C I A L S U CC E S S
Ziv’s “corral of shit” functions metonymically by associating parts without explaining the relationships between them. Figuring that out is all on the viewer. He doesn’t want us to simply understand the kitschy metaphors of Americana, but to instead question this culture in a more critical way by making complex connections that are not immediately apparent. The artist is not trying to tell us what Americana is, because his work seems to suggest that
an encompassing definition is futile. Instead, he implies meaning through both easily accepted subject matter and more challenging symbols. In Unknowable Icon, we see a cross, Mickey Mouse’s hand, and Bob’s Big Boy as quintessentially American, but these tropes are complicated by an iron cross and a swastika. All five elements are part of Americana and, therefore, American culture, but some are obviously easier to accept than others. He doesn’t smooth them over with a clean varnish, sealing his concepts into an inaccessible historical bubble. Instead, he metaphorically sands down a culture we want to accept in its entirety to reveal the problematic issues lingering just below the surface. The unease created by the work through nostalgic figures and political strife is what, in his terms, “corrals” all of this “shit” together. An inviting surface and a unique depth of meaning is the perfect tight rope with which to walk between highbrow fine art and lowbrow commercial art; and the work participates in both worlds with fervor. Ziv has been asked by Beck’s beer to design a label and by national galleries and museums to show his work. These circumstances locate him and his work in an utterly contemporary moment in which the divisions of design and art are not entirely clear. One may see the same image on one’s beer bottle that one might also encounter during a museum excursion, but the imagery seems to be appropriate for both. Ziv somehow manages to give us intricate and deep meaning, but initially, the work appears to just be really fun to look at.
99 C hoppers, C rosses, and the American Dream
Alex Ziv The Black Faced Finches 2013 Pen and ink on paper 14 x 9 inches Courtesy of the artist
T H E LOW B R OW A N D M OTO R C YC L E G A N G S
Ziv is able to occupy this uneasy position through his illuminating knowledge of both high- and lowbrow art, as well as his background with choppers. Any viewer would notice his allusions to motorcycle culture, a foundational aspect of the lowbrow. Finding its origin in the Maywood Emporium of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth in the 1950s and ’60s, car and motorcycle culture helped to define the lowbrow as a subversive attack on traditional high art mediums. After all, a motorcycle is not a painted canvas — you won’t see an airbrushed frame gracing the Louvre with its presence. However, unlike his predecessors who have stuck to alternative media like bikes themselves, Ziv brings motorcycle culture back to the medium of painting, much like legendary chopper artist David Mann. Unlike Mann, though, who creates large-scale narratives surrounding a specific motorcycle, Ziv rips apart this culture to bring it back together in a way that doesn’t fit quite so easily. His fusion of art and motorcycles grew organically through personal influences (his uncle built motorcycles in his garage), and they seem to be naturally incorporated into his work as well. Maybe in the renegade spirit of Hunter S. Thompson, Ziv is trying to find his own American dream, without the fear or the loathing. Like Thompson, he finds himself as a critical examiner of American ideals and subculture. Instead of taking the mind-altering route (although you might think that he does when looking at some of his work), he sees his work clearly as it functions within the contemporary moment. Examining the same subculture as Thompson did in his novel Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Ziv is a creative and critical source. Instead of adopting controversial symbols like the swastika for a shock from viewers, he creates subtle suggestions into reading his work, often with incorporations of text. Unlike Thompson, this is not meant to attack their sensibilities (just their expectations), but rather to leave viewers with
O N TO T H E N E XT
Besides attending SFAI together, Ziv and I have shared a connection through our involvement with Fecal Face.com and their gallery on Mission Street. Ziv has been showing with Fecal Face for years, and he will be one of two SFAI students showing at the gallery in April 2013 — an accomplishment for a young artist. We were both drawn to Fecal Face because of our artistically subversive attitudes, and the gallery stands in a space operating within the fine art world, but also just outside of it. (Let’s just say we serve Tecate, not champagne.) It also seems to fill the gap between high and low art — where both Ziv and I prefer to be situated — in a very precarious balance. In addition to the gallery show, Ziv will be participating in Brilliant Optics, opening at the Indiana Museum of Art at Fort Wayne — a show of emerging American artists that will travel to other locations in the United States in 2013. His work has drawn national attention, and I believe it will continue to do so. He takes this seriously; it’s his life, not a joke or a fun pastime. It would be much easier for Ziv to simply adopt the traditions of motorcycle gangs and forget about his moral problems with various aspects of it, but he complicates his own relationship to them by creating a different system in which to examine this cultural phenomena. Again looking to Hunter S. Thompson, maybe Ziv is trying to recapture this sort of Americana in his work, without the brutality of living it in real life. In Hell’s Angels, Thompson wrote: The hard core, the outlaw elite, were the Hell’s Angels... wearing the winged death’s-head on the back of their sleeveless jackets and packing their
101 C hoppers, C rosses, and the American Dream
the understanding that the culture we adopt may not be as simple as apple pie.
“mamas” behind them on big “chopped hogs.” They rode with a fine unwashed arrogance, secure in their reputation as the rottenest motorcycle gang in the whole history of Christendom. While Ziv may not perpetuate this reputation, he visualizes aspects of it so that his viewers can’t whitewash it so easily; he has sanded it down to the cracks, revealing structural rather than superficial issues. Both violence and racism are part of the American dream, and Ziv has the courage to introduce that controversy to his audiences — just don’t expect him to solve it for you. Rachel Ralph’s research focuses on lowbrow art and cultural hierarchy. She currently writes for Fecal Face.com and is involved with Fecal Face Gallery in the Mission District of San Francisco. She received a BA from Colorado State University. MA Candidate in History and Theory of Contemporary Art REFERENCED WORK Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (New York: Random House, 1967).
Issue One, Fall 2013 // COLLOQUY is a graduate student–led publication that explores the generative potential of creative exchange. Through...
Published on Nov 1, 2013
Issue One, Fall 2013 // COLLOQUY is a graduate student–led publication that explores the generative potential of creative exchange. Through...