First take first take first.
Daniel Birnbaum on ANNIKA LARSSON
SOMETIMES A CIGAR IS JUST A CIGAR, BUT WHEN IT'S guillotined in a slick video by a young Swedish artist who used to be one of Vanessa Beecroft's videographers, it's no longer simply a plug of tobacco nor a mere symbol of masculinity. It has already become a kind of metacliche. Annika Larsson, who is based in Stockholm and Berlin, will have her first major solo show outside of Scandinavia, at London's Institute for Contemporary Art, in February. What's fascinating about her videos isn't so much their exploration of male stereotypes, which may be what first strikes the eye: men in dark suits and ties, men with impeccable haircuts and cigars, men with black leather gloves and, perhaps, a huge dog on a leash; serious-looking men, like stockbrokers playing a children's game with utter absorption, as if it were a matter of life and death. All of that may be interesting as an investigation of the social construction of masculinity, but what's really fascinating is something else altogether--something to do with the repetitiveness and pulse of her video loops, usually highlighted by a monotonous sound track. What I experience is a strange sense of time coming to a halt.
This peculiar temporal effect must be the result, at least in part, of the strict set of rules according to which the slight alterations and modifications of the same basic elements take place. In Perfect Game, 1999, nothing much happens apart from the young men's concentrated staring at a game of pick-up sticks. In Dog, 2001, an old man, a young man, and man's best friend are implicated in some kind of ritualistic power play (involving metal and leather) that seems almost a parody of fascist aesthetics. The combinations of significant positions and gestures are limited and worked through systematically. My favorite video, though, 40-15, 1999, is even sparer, showing nothing but two men playing tennis, or rather warming up, in front of a mirror in a sparsely furnished apartment. Years ago I remember being mesmerized by the music video for Air's "Kelly Watch the Stars": It simply recorded a Ping-Pong match and the audience who so solemnly followed the ball's movement back and forth. The effect of 40-15 is eve n more unnerving. One gets lulled into a soporific state in which time is clearly flowing but also standing still. Repetition can be torture, as in some of Bruce Nauman's work. It can also produce a feeling of lightness and joy. Through iteration Annika Larsson produces a kind of psychological slow motion (maybe it has something to do with hypnotic techniques), and her work becomes less about process and more about a state of mind. It's been called duree. Let's call it absolute flow.
Director of the Stadelschule art academy In Frankfurt, DANIEL BIRNBAUM also heads the institution's renowned Portikus gallery, where, in his first year as director, he has mounted shows of the work of Rirkrit Tiravanija, Jason Rhoades, Elmgreen + Dragset, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Archigram's Peter Cook, and Rivane Neuenschwander. The author of The Hospitality of Presence: Problems of Otherness in Husserl's Phenomenology (Almqvist & Wiksell, 1998), Birnbaum Is a contributing editor of Art forum and has written for these pages articles on a wide range of artists, including Gregor Schneider, Sam Taylor-Wood, Mark Dion, Thomas Ruff, Bruce Nauman, Darren Almond, Olafur Eilasson, Jason Rhoades, and Toblas Rehberger.
Dennis Cooper on AMY SARKISIAN
SOMETIMES ART CROSSES WIRES WITH THE WRONG politician--I'm sure I needn't name names--and winds up scandalizing the public. But art that offends the art world itself is so rare that it's hard to imagine what such a thing would entail. I don't mean the groans about this or that Yale grad's inflated reputation or the snickers that greet some YBA's cleverly executed "shocks." I'm talking about an artwork that could horrify or at least seriously flummox those in the know. As it happens, I may have witnessed just such an occurrence last February, when Los Angeles sculptor Amy Sarkisian all but wrecked an otherwise sedate group show at Roberts & Tilton gallery with a work so, well, wrong and weird that arguments continue to erupt around its memory.
The agent provocateur in question was Toy Skull Reconstructions: Dark Version, 2000-2001. Sarkisian had gathered together five fake human skulls and, using a technique employed by forensic artists to reconstruct the visages of long-dead John and Jane Does, molded the heads of five imaginary young men and women onto these noggin-shaped frameworks. The nauseatingly lifelike, psychologically challenged busts were given heavy metal/goth wigs and collars and placed on looming pedestals draped in Draculean black robes. Lined up firing squad style along one of the gallery's walls, they gazed with malevolent stupidity at passersby and at the gigantic, album cover-like portrait of themselves (White Queen, 2000) that hung on the opposite wall. The effect--a mixture of embarrassment, pity, disgust, laugh-out-loud amusement, and, finally, head-shaking respect--was so outrageous and unfamiliar that it turned even the world-weariest galleryhoppers into pre-apple Adams and Eves.
That exhibition may turn out to be a career break-though, having garnered this cultishly revered artist's artist her first widespread recognition. An alumna of UCLA's class of '97, which gave us rising art stars like Evan Holloway and Liz Craft, Sarkisian determinedly pursues her peers' shared interest in the physics of materiality and space, incorporating West Coast-brand post-Conceptualism into quasi novelty sculptures that filter cerebral thrills though black slapstick humor. Her crafty exploration of heavy metal and Halloween-related iconography has made her a hero to younger local artists if something of a problem child for market-driven gallerists. But thanks in part to the recent swell of horror-minded artists--from the evil Brooklyn-based Sue de Beer and Banks Violette to postgoth Angelenos Tom Allen and Cameron Jamie--Sarkisian may be reaching critical mass, with recent appearances in LA galleries like ACME and nibbles from dealers in New York and Europe.
Sarkisian's homely, emotionally bizarre work is the most nagging art I've seen of late. Her nerviness--coupled with the jangled nerves of LA's art aficionados--should ensure that her impeccably off-the-wall sculptures will cause an even bigger ruckus in the months to come.
Novelist and Art forum contributing editor DENNIS COOPER has written widely on art and popular culture. An impassioned advocate of new West Coast talent, he has organized a number of exhibitions of contemporary art, Including "The Temptations," at Marc Foxx gallery, Los Angeles, in 1999; "Smallish" at greengrassi, London, 2000; and "The Funeral Home," which appears this month at Marc Foxx. Cooper's sixth novel, My Loose Thread, is forthcoming from Canongate Books this May. A film based on his original screenplay Warm, to be directed by photographer Carter Smith, is currently in preproduction.
Kate Bush on SASKIA OLDE WOLBERS
"LET'S, IN OUR HEADS, GO FORWARD TO THE YEAR 2OI6, the year in which I will be conceived." So begins Kilowatt Dynasty, 2000, an extravagant story scripted by Dutch video artist Saskia Olde Wolbers, which involves a young Chinese girl, a huge dam, a teleshopping empire, a washing machine, and a vast subaqueous world. The narrator recounts the tale of her future conception, an event that arises when her father, an environmental activist who has spent years handcuffed to a fence in a bid to stop the dam, kidnaps her mother, a TV presenter on a teleshopping program and wearer of a "tangy-colored two-piece." As the unborn child talks, the camera floats over a breathtakingly strange, oneiric world-a shimmering mindscape of viscous liquids and translucent architectural forms. We could be in the womb with the fetus, underwater in a marine nature documentary, or--as you notice that this liquid habitat looks suspiciously like the inside of a plastic water bottle--someplace altogether more ordinary.
Olde Wolbers divides her time between London and Amsterdam, and her work has been seen in exhibitions across Europe, including, in the last year alone, the Tirana Biennale; "Casino" at SMAK, Ghent; and "Mindset," a solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. Her narrative videos are prompted by human dramas culled from the newspaper or radio. Mandy Allwood, for example, a British woman who became pregnant with octuplets and then notorious for selling her story to the tabloids, inspired the lead character in Octet, 1997; the building of the Three Gorges Dam and the imminent flooding of an entire province in China provides the backdrop for Kilowatt Dynasty. Onto these real-life events Olde Wolbers embroiders fantastical rambling stories, told in voiceovers set to bizarre scenographies that look as if they were computer generated but are in fact entirely handmade in the studio and shot in digital video (in one case with a miniature camera). Her protagonists hatch ambitiously creative schemes that t end to go horribly wrong: Take Sasha, a Russian girl looking for love, who wreaks havoc inside the Hotel Cosmos when she makes a foaming artwork in the bathroom to impress her blind date, an American gallerist (Cosmos, 1998). Or poor Luis Zarzuela, the star of Day-Glo, 1999, an Andalusian market gardener who, in a bid to make a fast buck, creates a virtual-reality theme park only to discover that his beloved wife is committing adultery-with a virtual version of his younger self.
Olde Wolbers's characters become victims of their excessive imaginations and end up unable to distinguish their dreams from reality. Funny and fresh, these stories of individual calamity are contemporary parables that warn of the dangers of confusing the virtual with the real--and of the hubris of creative enterprise in an ever more technologically determined world.
Critic and curator KATE BUSH has been senior programmer at the Photographers' Gallery, London, since 1998, where she has mounted shows of the work of Amy Adler, Corinne Day, Erwin Wurm, and Malerie Marder, among others. In 2001. she curated for Madrid's water tower-cumartist's space, Canal do Isabel II, "The Fantastic Recurrence of Certain Situations," a group exhibition that introduced London-based artists Shizuka Yokomizo, Sophy Rickett, Dryden Goodwin, and Julie Henry. Bush Is currently working on a large survey of recent developments in British photography and video. Her writing on artists such as Darren Almond, Juergen Teller, Joseph Grigely, and Jaki Irving has appeared in Frieze, European Photography, The Guardian, Parkett, Artforum, and other publications.
Bob Nickas on KELLY WALKER
MOST OF A SWIMMING POOL AND PART OF A HOUSE dangle off a cliff, while the owner, Buster Keaton-like, stares stonily into the wreckage wondering where all the water went. Another perfect day in paradise (somewhere in '70s California) interrupted by a 6.5 jolt on the scale, aftershocks courtesy of Kelley Walker. At the bottom of the picture/cliff, computer-generated forms, all sunny yellow-gold, appear to have tumbled into a pile as so much psychedelic rubble. Up in the trees, a slogan has been laid in: FIGHT CAPITALISM, set over a slightly larger REAPPROPRIATE. Walker amplifies the absurdity by way of the title, probably spoken by the homeowner himself: Then we joked about how we had always wanted a sunken living room, 2001. As if that weren't enough, it turns out that the picture we're looking at isn't exactly the artwork.
Walker refers to this object simply as a poster and directs our attention to the CD on which the image is stored. In a text accompanying the disc, we're told: "The disc and the image it contains can be reproduced and disseminated as often as the holder desires. Whoever receives a copy of the disc or image can likewise reproduce/disseminate either as desired and so on. Furthermore, anyone with a disc or reproduction can manipulate the image and reproduce/disseminate it in its altered state. All forms of reproduction/deviation derived from the image on the disc signed Kelley Walker perpetuate a continuum correlating to the artwork..."
Talk about revising copyright laws--not to mention the auteur theory. Those must be down at the bottom of the cliff with all that pretty rubble. Despite the fact that Walker's interventions occur in what is for some rather old-fashioned media--collage, handmade sculpture, cameraless photography (he makes no attempt to conceal this image's once seamless life in a book)--his work couldn't be more here and now. The sense of fair use, portability, and mutation he embraces is wholly within the current of artists who, thanks to home-computer editing systems, look on a car commercial or the latest Star Wars extravaganza as raw material. Walker's art partakes of both conceptual and populist strategies, sober and comic reflection, and is often propelled by his belief in the complexity of something as everyday as a walk in the street--well aware of what Jeff Wall refers to-as "the anonymous poetry of the world."
Within a given installation, Walker may take you from a design object to a political poster to a travel advertisement ("Visit the Bermuda Triangle"), so that "the viewer is forced to shift gears in thought." This is, after all, an artist who has made everything from a mirrored Rorschach test (I see a butterfly shaped thing, 2001) to a movable wall on a serpentine ceiling track. Now he's threatening to build-full-scale, mind you--that semidestroyed pool. I can see the water rushing down as we speak.
BOB NICKAS, a longtime champion of the work of emerging artists, has curated nearly forty shows of contemporary art in the United States and Europe over the past decade and a half. A frequent contributor to Artforum and Dutch, he also writes a regular column for Purple, the Paris-based journal of art and culture. This past fall, Nickas taught "Critical Issues," a seminar in the MFA program at Columbia University in New York, and he is currently organizing "From the Observatory," a group show that will open at Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, in March.
Robert Storr On JERALD IEANS
JERALD JEANS ISN'T A NOVICE, BUT HE'S PRETTY MUCH new to New York. I first saw his work almost a decade ago in several private collections in his hometown of Saint Louis and at the local gallery that represented him. There, in 1993, he appeared in a group show alongside Julian Lethbridge, Glenn Ligon, and Christopher Wool, among others. His closest affinities were with the elegant Johnsian painterliness of Lethbridge--and, by association, that of Richmond Burton and Terry Winters--rather than the grittiness of Ligon and Wool. Back then, Ieans's paintings came in two basic varieties, both insistently material, both exquisite in their fashion. The first and larger body of work consisted of tinted waxen canvases covered with subtly tonal ellipses in loose but even distribution. The more surprising paintings--the second type--were plywood reliefs coated with translucent, seemingly still-gooey layers of Elmer's glue over which were stenciled similar ellipses in cake-frosting-rich oil pigment. The former were delib erate, nuanced, and lovely, but I liked the latter best because of the pronounced discrepancy between optical allure and slightly repellent tactility.
Ieans's most recent work is all suavity, all optical seduction, but it has paid off its debts to Johns, Lethbridge, et al. and assumed a more expansive aspect. Seen last season in Thelma Golden's "Freestyle" exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, these large-format abstractions are made up of looping biomorphs superimposed one on another as if Silly Putty in drop-dead shades of blue, green, salmon, beige, and brown had been shot out of a pump-action splatter gun. In fact, leans draws fatty paint across the picture plane in brush-grained sheets whose outward spread is contained by hard-edged French curves. Visible under each of these layers is the contour and grain of the layer that preceded it, so that the whole composition shivers not only where the edge of one monochrome blob skirts or overlaps the edge of another, but in the silken abrasion that takes place, so to speak, "between the sheets." Meanwhile colors have their history, and if Ieans's forms recall the Surrealist-influenced work of Elizabeth M urray or Carl Ostendarp, the moody hues he currently favors are closer to those of Jazz Age muralist Aaron Douglas--muted chromatic echoes emblematic of Ieans's sophistication.
How much hedonism can painting take these days? Dave Hickey's answer seems to be "All it can get"-- and leans would have been a prime candidate for a place in Hickey's Santa Fe pleasure dome, "Beau Monde." However, given the almost ickiness of his Glue-All reliefs and the increasing ambivalence of his color, Ieans's pleasures have their disconcerting dimensions, and his good art manners barely contain youthful energies of more restless and eccentric kinds. Surely there are things to look forward to, but right now these tensions make for very handsome pictures.
ROBERT STORR is senior curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he has organized numerous shows, including retrospectives of the work of Tony Smith and Chuck Close. His much anticipated "Gerhard Richter: Forty Years of Painting" opens at MOMA next month (see our interview with Storr on page 104). Throughout the '90s Storr coordinated MOMA's "Projects," an ongoing program devoted to exhibiting the work of contemporary artists. Among the shows organized by Storr In this series were projects by Tom Friedman, Ann Hamilton, and Franz West. A frequent contributor to Artforum, Storr Is the author of the monographs Philip Guston (Abbeville, 1986) and Chuck Close (Rizzoli, 1987).
Hans-Ulrich Obrist on MIRCEA CANTOR
BEFORE HE SHOWED UP IN FRANCE, MIRCHA CANTOR spent several years hitchhiking around Eastern Europe. Holding up a blank sign, he cadged rides from his native Transylvania to Cluj, Bucharest, Sibiu, Budapest. Throughout this peripatetic twenty-four-year-old Romanian artist's work (he's currently based in Nantes), travel emerges as a complex nexus of experience enabling a range of possibilities for resistance and innovation within--and against--encroaching global determinations.
In the exhibition "Traversees/Crossings," which I organized with Laurence Bosse at the Musee d' Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Cantor presents two recent works. Nulle part ailleurs (Nowhere else), 2000, is a dizzying video projection based on purloined images of tourism facilities (surreptitiously lifted from travel-agency websites): generic hotels, swimming pools, country clubs, holiday villages. These sites-like the shopping malls and airport lounges that anthropologist Marc Auge has called "non-places"-tend to be interchangeable despite their disparate locations and reduce the multifaceted subject to a monadic entity: a passenger, a user, a customer. As Cantor shows, these non-places aren't sites of communalism and daily life but tourist sites devoid of life, spaces of solitary contractuality. Rem Koolhaas calls these "postexistential" dead zones "junkspaces," the quintessence of a "regime of engineered disorientation." Whereas non-places, as mere spaces of accommodation, are void of particularity and history, the alternative models of "ArTchitecture"--that is, (global) city planning in service of the art of living-that Cantor takes a stand for (or, should I say, dreams of?) are relational, interactive, collective. The very basis of Cantor's artistic practice (which is still in its early stages) is to inject these alternative models into whatever city he happens to be living in or visiting--and into the contemporary art world itself.
For example, in his second project for "Traversees/Crossings," titled Anxious Utility Vehicles, 2001, Cantor plastered images of Eastern European automobiles--all shrouded by homemade car covers--on billboards throughout Paris. Cleverly playing on the formal vocabulary of advertising, these eye-catching images of cars under wraps (are they part of a campaign for road safety? or a tease for some new model soon to be unveiled?) take the very engine of urban acceleration out of circulation.
Working in a variety of media, Cantor is always looking for-and his interventions often trigger-new collaborations, not just with other artists but with practitioners of such diverse disciplines as philosophy, natural science, sociology, and music. This is best reflected in his cofounding of Version, a collectively fashioned, transdisciplinary, and transgenerational journal of culture. In Version no less than in his various investigations of and interventions in cities, Cantor maps out relationships among heterogeneous elements and practices, individuals, ways of life, cultural products in motion--traveling, mixing, colliding, struggling for expression.
Swiss-born, Paris-based curator HANS-ULRICH OBRIST heads the Programme Migrateurs at the Musee d'Art Mod. erne de la Ville de Paris, where he is currently co-organizing an exhibition titled "Urgent Painting." Over the past decade, Obrist has had a hand in such shows as "Cities on the Move," 1997-99, which traveled to venues in France, England, Finland, and Thailand after debuting at the Vienna Secession; "Le Jardin, la ville, la memoire," 1998-2000, at Villa Medici, Rome; and "Media_City Seoul," 2000, in South Korea. Obrist is currently collaborating with Molly Nesbit on a book about utopia.
Philip Nobel on BEN RUBIN
IN OUR DREAMS NEW YORK CITY IS A PLACE OF unbridled cultural ferment, a place where the habits of thought that would elsewhere be pigeonholed-- as art, science, design--are somewhere, all the time, colliding and remaking themselves, profiting from their propinquity to emerge as that signal product of urban life: something new. When we wake up we find that the lesser angels of the human ego have built a world in which adjacent practices are too often sundered by every sort of petty barrier--the academy, the narrow-gauge journal, the trainspotting curator-- all those institutions that would seem to defy the very point of congregating in cities: to bounce ideas off the people who hold the key to completing them and making them real.
Ben Rubin is one of those people. Quietly, he bridges fields as generally uninterested in one another as architecture, interface design, and Minimalist music. As an artist or designer--he does business as Electronic Arts Research (EAR) Studio--his ambit is anywhere digital information takes physical form.
To ask Rubin what he does is to invite equivocation. I've heard him describe himself as a video artist, a sound artist, a sound designer, a lonely champion of "sonics," a professor of physical computing at NYU, a developer of audio information systems. "Different people can think of me as one thing or another," he says in his understated way. Wearing one or another of his hats, he's collaborated with Laurie Anderson (most recently on Songs and Stories from Moby Dick), Diller + Scofidio ("brain coats," robotic spiders), Donna Karan (a tuned-in, turned-on runway), Steve Reich and Beryl Korot (The Cave), Ann Hamilton (the 1999 Venice Biennale installation), and Arto Lindsay (surround-sound performances). He is an adept at the black arts of electronica (he studied at the MIT Media Lab), but he doesn't let that slow him down; in Rubin's work you get the brains without the box.
Which isn't to say there are no blinking lights. His most recent project, a collaboration with Bell Labs statistician Mark Hansen, opened last month in a dark attic gallery at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The focal point of Listening Post is an array of LED screens that scroll text fed in by data-mining agents capable of lurking simultaneously in thousands of Internet chat rooms. As postings are trapped and rerouted live, a synthesized voice reads out each line and a sonic "pad" evolves under it all in response to traffic volume and other baseline dynamics. The intention, in Hansen s words, is to "make a place where people can connect to this weird stream of data."
"Technology isn't the topic," Rubin says in what might be a blanket disclaimer for his work. "It's a lens on human social behavior. Listening Post is not about the Internet." No, it's about realizing that, if you can hear it all at once, the Internet sounds like the dream of a city.
An architecture and design critic who lives in Brooklyn, PHILIP NOBEL is a contributing editor of Metropolis magazine, where his outspoken if not curmudgeonly "Far Corner" column appears monthly, addressing everything from the rebuilding of the Twin Towers to the design of a twenty-one-and-a-half-foot-high stool. He has written for the New York Times, Vogue, Architectural Digest, and Architecture d'Aujourd'hui, among other publications. A trio of his essays on the New York architecture firm LOT/EK will be featured in a monograph forthcoming from Princeton Architectural Press next month.
Matthew Higgs on SCOTT KING
SCOTT KING, ARTIST, DESIGNER, AND SELF-CONFESSED Joy Division fan--his forearm bears the tattooed legend LOVE WILL TEAR US APART--operates unashamedly from within the mainstream. An award-winning graphic designer and former art director of i-D magazine, King still holds a day job, as creative director of the upstart lifestyle rag Sleazenation, and that affords him access to a broader audience than most artists could even dream of. Yet in the rarefied microcosm that is the art world, it is King's nefarious activities as a coconspirator behind the occasional journal Crash!--a self-styled "parasitical tool for critical interventions"-- for which he is best known. Since 1997 King and long-term collaborator Matt Worley have waged a two-man attack on the perceived mediocrity at the heart of British cultural life, and in the inaugural issue of Crash! they proclaimed "DEATH TO THE NEW." Colliding the hectoring UPPER CASE polemics of Wyndham Lewis's magazine Blast with a pop psychology borrowed from R.D. Laing and man gled by way of Sex Pistols album designer Jamie Reid's graphic sloganeering, Crash! takes no prisoners. The introductory essay to the publication that accompanied the 1999 exhibition "CRASH!" at London's ICA began: "Compromise is the devil talking." It continued, "CRASH! is both a reflection and a condemnation of life at the end of the twentieth century. . . the century. . . that succeeded in turning creativity into product, idealism into irony, dissent into consent, hope into hopelessness, aspiration into careerism, work into alienation, desire into consumption, progress into profit.. ." and so on for another four pages. If all this feels a bit familiar, that's probably because it is. King and Worley liberally recycle whatever material comes to hand, misappropriating quotes or simply making them up. They are the bastard offspring of Guy Debord: Where King and Crash! have succeeded--and where so many wanna-be media subversives failed--is in their apparent willingness to cooperate with the very culture they co ndemn. In biting the hand that feeds them, King and Worley have been unusually successful at getting their message--whatever it may be--into the public domain.
As I write, I'm wearing a red T-shirt that at first glance appears to feature the image of every student's favorite revolutionary, Che Guevara. Closer inspection, however, reveals not the iconic features of the Latin American legend but those of born-again pop diva Cher. Che(r) Guevara, 2000, is a classic King creation, its method exemplary of his working process. In the collision of one cultural given with its opposite, a complex hybrid is created. Skeptical of the status quo that is Tony Blair's "New Britain," King, like fellow British artists Mark Leckey, Lucy McKenzie, Oliver Payne & Nick Relph, Inventory, Stewart Home, and Jeremy Deller, is ultimately involved in a collective reexamination of our recent past--in turn creating a kind of "history painting" for the unfolding millennium.
Londoner MATTHEW HIGGS recently relocated to the West Coast, after being named associate director of the CCAC Wattis Institute at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco. He will continue as associate director of exhibitions at London's ICA, where he organized, among other shows, "City Racing 1988-1998," a look back at the eponymous South London artist-run space. His most recent project at ICA was last summer's "Sound and Vision," featuring the work of Andy Warhol, Jack Goldstein, Mark Leckey, and Oliver Payne & Nick Reiph. An artist in his own right, Higgs has produced artist's editions for Chris Ofili, Frances Stark, and Elizabeth Peyton under his Imprint 93.
Tom Holert on KATJA DAVAR
IT'S A SIMPLE ENOUGH PROPOSAL TO USE A BALLOON to get ideas off the ground. The rainbow-striped craft in Katja Davar's computer animation Remote Host, 2001, does just that--although it's not obvious at first sight. Touching down in a landscape of meticulously penciled ugliness, her vessel bounces from valley to valley and becomes enveloped by hovering banderoles that read IS IT TOMORROW YET? or UNKNOWN ECHO. Eventually leaving the grim, Tolkienesque planet, the unmanned ship floats off into deepest space, recalling the proto-Surrealistic visions of Gustave Dore or Jules Verne.
Davar's short, silent documentary of an imaginary stopover by the "remote host" is almost sickeningly cute. In fact, it can give you the creeps. But that's where the trip really starts. The London-born Davar, who studied at St. Martin's, the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, and the Kunsthochschule fur Medien in Cologne (her current home), throws the complex history of her balloon into the mix. Its "happy" design cites the logo of Smalltalk, an object-oriented programming language developed by Alan Kay at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in the early '70s. The intuitive graphic interface later became a major source of inspiration for both Apple's OS and Microsoft's Windows, not to mention the CIA, which bought a large situation-analysis system.
When illustrator Robert Tinney was asked to draw a cover for a 1981 issue of Byte magazine dedicated to Smalltalk, he used the image of a colorful balloon departing from the ivory tower of hermitlike programming and ascending to what he described as the "heights of popular appeal." Translating the nerdy optimism of this future past into her own system of references, Davar exposes the disproportionate relation between the program's enormous impact on the global transformation of computer-related labor and the posthippie, fairy-tale mode of its PR aesthetic.
The artist's reconstruction doesn't end with this reflection on the representation of techno-social power by a certain iconography of cuteness. Looking closely at the balloon's basket, one finds the features of the world's first commercial communications satellite, called "Early Bird"-another telling euphemism.
Davar is interested in the narratives of progress and their attendant packaging. She travels the paths of forgotten or failed projects once set up to invent the future while remaining wary of the twined fascinations of nostalgia and futurism. In her own idiosyncratic way, she is embracing the "skillful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life," as Donna Haraway once put it--with the slight difference that Davar's version of the "interrelation" between technology and the body balks at promising any liberatory effects. Her work, which ranges from elaborate embroidery "paintings" of 3-D wire-frame computer drawings to sci-fi- and fantasy-inspired illustrations of impossible creatures stuck in repetitive, robotic actions, promises other stuff-not least the criticism of an aesthetics of promise and seduction.
TOM HOLERT, who elsewhere in this issue interviews curator Robert Storr on the occasion of MOMA'S Gerhard Richter retrospective, is a Cologne-based writer and former editor of the pop-culture magazine Spex and the journal Texte zur Kunst. He coedited Mainstream der Minderheiten: Pop in der Kontrollgesellschaft (Mainstream of minorities: Pop in the control society, 1996) with Mark Terkessidis, with whom he cofounded the Institute for Studies in Visual Culture. Currently he is collaborating on another title with Terkessidis on "war as mass culture," scheduled for publication in fall 2002 by Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne.
Katy Siegel on JAMES SHEEHAN
JAMES SHEEHAN MAKES TEENY TINY PAINTINGS, some less than one inch square. While his novel skill wows, the artist, of course, would prefer not to be associated with the distinguished grain-of-rice school of image-making. Sheehan paints small for some of the same reasons others paint big--to put the viewer into another space. If, say, Barnett Newman wants to surround you physically, Sheehan wants to pull you close, drawing you visually and imaginatively into a universe both bounded and replete. Two paintings from 1999, [sic] and STET, take us into such a closed world: They show the artist and his computer-programmer buddy smoking pot in the friend's Silicon Valley garage workshop--for Sheehan, the creative soul of the now soulless computer boom.
Other paintings explore how distance relates to scale. Manifest Disappointment, 2000, the size of a postage stamp, zooms in on the artist's face, fore-grounded against a remote landscape. Jim, 2000, about six by seven inches, depicts the same scene, but the image blurs, as if Sheehan had blown up the earlier painting. Brushstrokes clump and swirl, the paint rising off the surface as if the image were losing resolution and revealing its materiality. The abstract Prongs Outside Prongs, 2000, furthers the idea that, like digital imagery or halftone prints, painting has an atomic structure: Its craggy peaks of multicolored paint resemble a fantastic magnified detail of a monochrome painting.
Considerations of resolution and scale, near and far figured in the work Sheehan did during a 2000-2001 residency at the World Trade Center; in his ninety-first-floor work space, he painted three views of his studio desk--his inside world--as well as two northward views of Manhattan, the vista from his studio window. For Halcyon Days, 2000, featuring the Empire State Building at the center of a cityscape, he constructed a silicone surface over which he layered the image; the technique both coordinates and separates support, image, and surface. The bumpy, packed work reiterates the compressed feel of urban space; like Sheehan's paintings of crowds, Halcyon Days matches representational density with literal, material density.
Sheehan's only other subject during his WTC residency was, strangely, the Pentagon. In Pentagon, 2000, he painted the building on a one-inch circle with a voided center (not unlike a button). The aerial view of the five-sided building flattens out the image, an investigation of the picture plane as well as a funny take on the shaped canvas: Pinprick-size trucks and trees swirl out from the geometric figure marked by a central hole. The Pentagon itself represents a single structure whose concentrated social power stretches vastly, for better or worse. Similarly, Sheehan's spaces--the Pentagon, the studio, the garage, abstract painting itself--radically contract and expand as we move in and out of them, looking big and small, sharp and blurry, like everything and nothing much.
A frequent contributor to Art forum, KATY SIEGEL is assistant professor of contemporary art history and criticism at Hunter College, City University of New York. She has recently published essays on Rineke Dijkstra and David Reed and has written about New York art in the '90s for the catalogues accompanying the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition "Public Offerings" and the Barbican's "The Americans: New Art." Her recent curatorial effort, "Everybody Now," at the Hunter College! Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Art Gallery, looked at all manner of human groupings--the crowd, the collective, the masses--in contemporary art.
Hamza Walker on JOHN BANKSTON
WHO KNEW MORE ABOUT CHILDREN, FREUD OR DISNEY? If Steven Spielberg's AI: Artificial Intelligence is any indication, the question is less polemical than it may seem. Clearly the oedipal complex has established itself as acceptable family fare at the multiplex. Indeed, the libidinal forces at work in children, the power of the forbidden wish, and the mechanics of repression have long been acknowledged within fine art and popular culture--which is why, I suspect, an artist like John Bankston, whose coloring-book motifs deftly and delightfully blur the hard edges of race and sexuality, is nevertheless able to paint between the lines.
Based in San Francisco, Bankston was featured in last year's "Freestyle" at the Studio Museum in Harlem, which cast him as a post-civil rights "child"--which he is in more ways than one, given his disposition for crayonlike scribbling. Cloaked in the nostalgia of childhood, Bankston's work defers to some imaginary time when race and sexuality were free of sociopolitical angst. For all the black children (myself included) who had trouble deciding how characters in coloring books ought to be colored, Bankston's images dispel the anxiety associated with race-based identification as it was enforced in preschool and later internalized. Yet, as his watercolor drawing Oh, That It Could Be Like This Forever, 2001, indicates, there's a residual, wistful yearning for an alternate universe that never came to be. Comforted by his rabbit friend-a wiser and decidedly more dapper Brer, perhaps-the black male figure, well beyond childhood, has already overstayed his welcome in the land of make-believe.
While Bankston's drawings and paintings each stand on their own, they also have recurring settings and characters, which allows for extended story lines, as in Bath Time and Into the Bubbles, both from 2001. In the former, a black man sits in a suggestively effusive mound of foaming bubbles. His head hung low, race and sexuality are burdens precluding any joy his body might otherwise know. This stage of melancholy (or is it the blues?) is beyond loss. The libido has been spent, the lost love object internalized, and the sell castigated. Is Into the Bubbles an escapist fantasy, with its exuberant palette and paint handling? Or has the character from Bath Time submerged himself? An attempt to be cleansed of shame and self-hatred? A baptism from whence the "new Negro" will reemerge--for what, the fourth or fifth time? (I've lost count.) Or is it a suicide, a young Negro stricken with the Ophelia syndrome who, unable to be whisked away by Calgon, just couldn't take it any more?
Open-ended, Bankston's narratives are also unabashedly personal, and reversion to childhood is ultimately a ruse for denying loss. Bankston's longing and nostalgia are no doubt telling of a generation weaned on the liberal fantasy of a color-blind, bias-free society where accommodation of difference has become synonymous with its repression. Hush, children! "Don't ask, don't tell." Black, gay, whatever! Let's just color quietly.
HAMZA WALKER has been director of education at the Renaissance Society in Chicago since 1994. The organizer last year of "Spec: An Electra-Acoustic Investigation" and "Detourism," a group show featuring the work of fifteen American and European artists engaged with issues of globalization, Walker is currently at work on a Michel Auder retrospective slated to open at the Renaissance Society in March. The author of catalogue essays on Thomas Hirschhom, Raymond Pettibon, and Giovanni Anselmo, Walker has also published essays and reviews in the pages of Parkett, New Art Examiner, and Dialogue.
Herbert Muschamp on CALLAS SHORTRIDGE ARCHITECTS
IF I GET ONLY ONE DREAM HOUSE TO LIVE IN, LET IT be a waterfront cottage on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, designed by Steven Shortridge and Barbara Callas. I would happily live there all year round. These Los Angeles-based architects design houses you could serve up in a crystal goblet with raspberry sauce. I'd ask them for sweetness and light--hold the irony--and I'd want the light warm, in a big picture window that I could gaze back at from the beach after a late afternoon hour with waves, when the surface of the Atlantic becomes metallic.
Callas Shortridge Architects has an important lineage. The two principals inherited the firm from Frank Israel when that brave and beloved figure died at the age of fifty, from AIDS, in 1996. It was a natural transition. Israel did not gain full use of his architectural voice until the last years of his life, and Steven Shortridge had supported Israel's growing confidence. Those who tracked Israel's career closely over the years saw Shortridge's hand at work in two of Israel's last and finest projects, the Dan House in Malibu and the Jupiter House in Jupiter, Florida (both were completed in 1997). These waterfront projects, executed in keeping with Israel's personal brand of deconstruction, became the basis of the vocabulary that Shortridge and Callas have developed since.
It is an abstract vocabulary, undisturbed by the historical references that Israel typically incorporated into his designs. His late work had more in common with German Expressionist film sets than with the buildings of his Deconstructionist peers. Shortridge and Callas have domesticated elements of this vocabulary: weighty, asymmetrical roofs; splayed columns; and canted walls. But these forms are secondary to the light and space they manipulate.
Shortridge's own house is a glorified beach shack in Venice. He has customized its rectangular forms with additions of sharply angled contour: a glass canopy over the patio stair; a driveway and carport; a front deck of wood--forms that, though derived from Expressionism, are used to sunny and serene effect.
Many of Callas Shortridge's projects to date are transformative remodelings. These include the Kitaj Art Studio (1998), Rochman House (2000), Phay House (2001), and residential buildings in London and Tel Aviv. The firm has also recently completed the offices of the Norton Family Foundation in Los Angeles.
These projects bring to mind the work of Charles Voysey, a British architect whose most productive period extended from 1888 to World War I. Voysey purged his work of the period styles associated with Ruskin and Morris, just as Shortridge has eliminated the stylistic allusions in Israel's work. And Voysey was sympathetic to the rural vernacular, just as Callas and Shortridge are uncommonly sensitive to landscape. They do good seascapes too. Their particular affinity for water derives from their relaxation of form, releasing it from the grip of style.
HERBERT MUSCHAMP, chief architecture critic for the New York Times and a contributing editor of Artforum, has long championed adventurous design. The author of File under Architecture (1974) and Man about Town: Frank Lloyd Wright in New York City (1983), both published by MIT Press, he has received numerous honors for his critical writing on architecture, including the National Endowment for the Arts' Art Criticism Award in 1973, the Educational Facilities Laboratories' Architecture Fellowship in 1979, and the National Endowment for the Arts' Design Arts Award in 1986.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2002|
|Previous Article:||Home in the world: The art of Do-Ho Suh.|
|Next Article:||Alfred Jensen: Dia Center for the Arts, New York.|
|Island in the Sun.|
|Rubber injection unit. (Equipment).|
|LIM injection molding. (Equipment).|
|Vacuum injection molding systems for the rubber industry are featured.|