In Residence /

Constructive Gal

In the aftermath of organizing an unrealized exhibition at artist-run institution Odium Fati in San Francisco, K.r.m. Mooney offers a set of relations between figures. These six installments, contributed to Flash Art’s “In Residence” column, are a means for the artist to pursue the significance of each context-specific practice and the potential actions, kinships, and alignments between these figures.

The first twenty seconds of Yute Cine’s film consist of varying hues of green, gray, brown, and black. These tonal variants form squares, their skittish movement panning left and right across the frame. A digital camouflage slowly enrolls one’s recognition, initiating the film as a process of distillation observed by the viewer. The title of the video flashes entry while moving into the first frame depicting the sole human figure in the video, the titular Constructive Gal (2017). Although she is alone, various sonic events, including bio-acoustic participants such as birds and insects in vocal performance and the quiet cracking and shifting of twigs and soft earth underneath, are co-present. Constructive Gal takes place in a forest. In time, a quiescent voice initiates a soft and slightly metrical narration: I was never taught that putting things into perspective gives you a better grip on life. I was just always taught to gather irregular patterns and make them match up regardless of how hard it was, because that’s what real warriors were meant to do. Sharpening thoughts and making sense of each one always seemed to be a skill of mine. To be able to cipher the not sited, and constantly be on the edge waiting for it to finally come out of its hiding.

Like the pursuit of camouflage, various participants in Constructive Gal, human and nonhuman, lose their borders. The language and corporeal interfacing in Constructive Gal’s environment continues to oscillate between abstraction and conceptual schema — an intimation toward agency and space through an opening out of forms, and reflecting on the capillary and personal relations between that which is seen and that which is known. Constructive Gal is a modularization of Yute Cine’s larger practice, which sound frequency and vibration in particular illuminates. As Constructive Gal moves forward in its five-minute duration, the cinematic frame typically blurs and fractions off parts of the body. Only until she gathers materials and arranges them into a demarcation do we see her whole. Gently setting down three sections of wood on the forest floor, Constructive Gal gathers a structure just large enough for her body. She crosses her legs and folds them in before she sits. This is not to establish clear reciprocal terms but rather a kind of taking in: a will to blend into one’s surroundings, to be absorbed into space by performing one’s “distinction” from it.

Natural light filters in while various sonorous involvements play out; the score that accompanies Constructive Gal most dominantly includes an a concussive idiophone, a hollow steel instrument with a bell-like tone historically fashioned out of the concave end of a propane tank. Adopting a common practice while inhabiting the woods, there are two times when materials are ignited. The viewer witnesses tones plucked on an mbira, which behave like instances of combustion: both illuminate the beauty of the film while hinging on their dissipative status. The environment in which Constructive Gal makes her world requires an attention to various material and acoustic properties both found and produced within a set of given conditions. It is a meditation on relations between the body and the environment, subjectivity, and spatiality.

K.r.m. Mooney is an artist living and working in Oakland, California.

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Game State /

The Boundaries of Spatial Reasoning

Famously, the painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger (1533) displays an anamorphic image of a skull inviting viewers to shift their physical perspective — and the very idea of linear perspective itself as developed in Renaissance — in order to make the form familiar. It has been speculated that the piece was intended to be hung on a staircase so the descending viewer would always see the skull. More recently, a five-panel painting by Laura Owens (Untitled, 2015), on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art, could be wholly perceived only by fixing oneself to a specific spot in the gallery. Artists occasionally, but not very often, ask the viewer to work a little harder to see the whole picture. We, as human viewers, classically experience pictures straight on, a strict limitation of the possible affordances of both the canvas and of the viewer.

A unique attribute of the black box of computation is its ability to provide all possible perspectives of a 3-D environment simultaneously. In a video game the computer engine is always in possession of every conceivable viewpoint within the game, but must deliver it sequentially to the player via the “window” of the monitor or screen. Certain games have played with the fissures and tensions between the always-on-ness of the simulated space and the player’s fixed viewpoint of it by being both “flat” and “deep” at the same time.

Echochrome (Game Yarouze, 2008) is a striking example of this logic at work. It is a game about guiding an artist’s articulated mannequin through a series of impossible structures, but really Echochrome is very much “M. C. Escher: The Game.” (In fact, if the term “art game” has ever held any meaning, it’s here.) The goal of the game is achieved through carefully maneuvering a   3-D model of an impossible structure around until it presents itself to the player at such an angle that it makes some kind of physical and structural sense, allowing the mannequin to traverse the space in accordance with our own spatial understanding.

Portal (Valve, 2007) is a first-person perspective puzzle game that plays with ideas of dimensional comprehension. You play a voiceless protagonist named Chell, a test subject in the Aperture Science Lab’s test chambers designed by a malevolent AI named GLaDOS.

As Chell, your goal is to navigate through and escape from a series of increasingly complicated and challenging levels, using the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device or “portal gun.” The portal gun enables the player to make interdimensional portals between the physical planes of her 3-D surroundings. By placing portals on two flat surfaces, Chell creates an interspatial shortcut and can effortlessly pass through one portal and out the other. Using the portal gun to fold space in on itself, two distinct and separate places become either side of a single plane. Peering through one provides the view from the other.

Gorogoa (Jason Roberts/Buried Signal, 2017) takes an entirely different position. Mechanically, Gorogoa differs from these games in that it is neither first nor third person but is rather a point-and-click game. Perhaps more importantly, it is not experienced entirely sequentially.

The field of play is a two-by-two grid of pictorial squares that must be moved around, zoomed in and out of, and placed on top of one another in order to solve a series of puzzles. The images contained within each square are a fragment of a puzzle that serves to tell a larger, overarching narrative involving a mythical creature and an elderly man’s lifelong obsession with it. Episodes from the man’s life appear in fragments throughout the squares. The challenge is in putting them back together. Cryptozoology, mythology, and folklore provide the set dressing for the intricate time- and space-based problems that the player must guide the protagonist through. Much like Echochrome, the player must move and manipulate the environment rather than the avatar or sprite.

The squares in Gorogoa act as both window and picture frame, telescope, camera, and page. Working with them is like having multiple windows and tabs open on your desktop, or perhaps like moving, stacking, and rearranging a deck of picture cards.

The routes or paths the player must take to reach the puzzle’s solutions are not traversed spatially from point A to B but rather in the shuffle of the deck. Each square can be moved to either side, or under or above the other squares, so movement from one square to another can take place not only on the x and y, but also along the z axis. Certain time-based puzzles require the player to keep track not only of what congruent elements are taking place in each square, but also where and when they occur. This becomes an exercise in understanding the logic of how these squares can relate to each other in terms of scale and time.

It is precisely because the player has only one fixed position from which to view all of this that Gorogoa requires a stretching of spatial reasoning from human to something altogether alien.

Many aspects of Gorogoa run counter to our general understanding of games and their production. For one thing, it’s entirely hand drawn in a style reminiscent of the 1985 puzzle book Maze by Christopher Manson, and it was developed over seven years by its sole creator, Jason Roberts. Roberts understands exactly what a video game can be and what differentiates it from other mediums. Despite the game’s beguiling tactility and interactive, clockwork comic-book nature, it draws inspiration from the fantastical and incomprehensible nature of computation itself.

Game State is a column by artist Oliver Payne covering the mechanics, aesthetics and ideas of video games. 

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Interview /

Henning Strassburger Robert Blumenthal Gallery / New York

With their layers of scrubby brushstrokes, washes of color, and lively squiggles, the work of Henning Strassburger pulses with seeming chaos. “It’s not actually expressive; it’s very calculated,” says the Berlin-based artist, a 2009 graduate of Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (where he studied with Albert Oehlen). His “strategic” approach pays off, in constellations of skillfully suspended elements: controlled explosions masquerading as spontaneous combustion. Strassburger recently made time to discuss his anti-process process, the joy of printing paintings, and why Pierre Bonnard is not to be underestimated. Henning Strassburger: Fünf Bilder at Robert Blumenthal Gallery marks the artist’s first solo show in New York.

Stephanie Murg: When you’re starting a painting, are you looking at source material? Where do you begin?

Henning Strassburger: My way of painting is strategic. I try to have my tools ready, so I know what I can use. Last year, I challenged myself not to use certain techniques, just to see what would happen. For example, working without a grid in the painting or without spray paint. Sometimes I limit myself to a point where I have to find a solution in terms of color only. This is how I try to work. I’m not a process-based painter, so it’s never about what happens before.

SM: So you’re not a “process” painter, yet there are many steps and processes at play in your work. And usually these techniques are not readily apparent, as with works that you create using digital images of paintings. What role does reproduction play in your work?

HS: I recently had a show in Moscow [at Osnova Gallery], and half of the paintings were printed. I took some smaller paintings and works on paper, and we scanned and printed them as large as the original paintings. I want to have a quality of surface that relates to other images in my paintings. So it can happen that one painting is printed and another is painted, but I don’t want this to add something to the work.

Henning Strassburger: Fünf Bilder, March 10 – April 15, 2018, installation view at Robert Blumenthal Gallery
Henning Strassburger: Fünf Bilder, March 10 – April 15, 2018, installation view at Robert Blumenthal Gallery. Courtesy of the artist and Robert Blumenthal Gallery, New York.

SM: How do you decide when a work is finished?

HS: I think it’s like being the singer in a band. If the band stops, you don’t keep singing. It’s the same thing with painting. The painting tells you pretty clearly when it’s ready. There’s a certain quality, which could be the content, the painted quality — it changes from painting to painting — and if a painting has it, it’s able to survive.

SM: “Air Conditioner” was the title of your Moscow exhibition, and this term also appeared in the titles of paintings shown at Blumenthal Gallery in New York. Where does that come from?

HS: I had a studio in New York, and it was so hot I was dying, so I started drawing air conditioners. In the New York show, there were smaller paintings based on those drawings. In the Moscow show, the printed paintings were the drawings I did in New York, so one thing led to another. And I just liked the strange idea of air conditioners — this system that hides behind the wall, that connects the rooms to each other and also to other apartments. It’s a weird thing, an air conditioner.

SM: I never thought about the fact that air conditioners are often invisible.

HS: Now that I think about it, I should tell you that my whole family is in the air conditioner business! My father and my two uncles are all in the cooling industry. I never thought about this before, but that’s probably where it comes from.

SM: Bonnard has also popped up in the titles of your work. What do you think of Bonnard?

HS: I’m a huge Bonnard fan. When you’re at a museum and there’s a huge Matisse and a tiny Bonnard, everybody just takes pictures of the Matisse and looks past the Bonnard. But I think the angles he chose for his paintings, and the way he cut figures was way ahead of his time — beautiful, ugly, muddy.

Henning Strassburger, JANE, September 8 – October 8, 2017 at Sies + Höke, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf.

SM: “Beautiful,” “ugly,” and “muddy” all feel relevant to your work as well. Just when I think I see glimmers of antecedents — the work of Oehlen or of Julie Mehretu, for example — I think twice, especially in light of how you play with digital culture. Are there other artists that you find yourself especially drawn to?

HS: The only consistent one is Bonnard. I recently discovered later works by Roy Lichtenstein that are much more painterly, almost like a de Kooning. I liked Lichtenstein as a teenager because everybody did, but now I see that he’s better than I thought.

SM: You’ve described what you create as “a painting that’s not a painting.” What do you mean by that?

HS: You see lots of paint drips in my work, but they never happen by accident. I drip onto cardboard, which then drips onto the painting, so it’s composed dripping. The drips have no visible source. It’s not actually expressive; it’s very calculated.

SM: What are you working on now?

HS: I’m working on a fall exhibition with Blain|Southern. It’s based around works on paper, so I have some series going on in the studio. I wanted to go back to the “Pool” paintings that I did in 2014. I thought it would be fun to see what happened if I started that series again, after a four-year break. It’s a good challenge.

by Stephanie Murg

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Review /

Marta Riniker-Radich / Kunsthaus Glarus

Marta Riniker-Radich’s survey inside the modernist setting of Kunsthaus Glarus is flooded by light filtered through skylights and garden windows. Known for her small-scale colored-pencil renderings, the artist responds, using the odd formal qualities of her graphic works to mirror the gallery architecture. A large white cube in the center of one drawing houses a video rendering of a rotating ring, Strength resides in the hearts of the weak (2018). The text around its digital jewel spells out the title, but it visually references the rings of Texas A&M University, the public American university with a deep connection to oil and its finances. It’s like a symbol of a loaded symbol.

These signifiers pop up elsewhere: a group of three ethereal swords, A highly sophisticated security blanket (2015); a room hung with a variety of locks, The enemy within (2017), the shading and shadows drawn so obsessively they seem to warp with toxicity. Anyone who’s put together an IKEA product knows that technical drawings tend toward the surreal on their own, but Riniker-Radich somehow squeezes out more with her mechanical talent.

The basis and success of Riniker-Radich’s work has been her drawings of bizarrely bourgeois rooms. Glenn McCarthy Goes to Sea (2010) is kind of like Captain Nemo for the disco era (green shag, built-in aquariums). The title again references a classic oil tycoon ego, and the giant set of teeth depicted inside a glass vitrine speaks to her interest in playing with scale. A basement room is empty save for a set of speakers and pink carpeting, the color and kind one associates with mid-range banquet halls. Visually it’s like walking into one of the drawings upstairs, minimal yet excessive. A spoken text echoes around, A life by default (2018), charting a quick synopsis of a character and his empire. Riniker-Radich lulls us into the tempting and wild ways of the rich, but never lets us know if we’re to critique or celebrate, or if any of it is real at all. It’s not an issue. The work is sensuous, and in the backs of our minds we all know that public institutions are the party rooms of the wealthy to begin with.

by Piper Marshall

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Report /

Earning from Athens?

Last year Art Athina, the more-than-forty-year-old fair of the Hellenic Art Dealers Association, got a last-minute overhaul: two months before the opening, in the midst of an institutional crisis and with the pitter-patter of global art feet crisscrossing Athens in search of Documenta sites, a new director was brought in and tasked with making the fair a bit more cosmopolitan. If the import from Kassel got a generally mixed reception, the city of Athens managed to seduce art-world pilgrims as a chaotic bohemia where rent is cheap and things are happening. The second iteration of Art Athina under its new leadership opened on June 18; now part of a week of openings and events in and around the city, the fair appeared poised to capitalize on the allure of Athens as the latest New Berlin.

The previous Sunday, the always-delightful Rodeo Gallery of London (formerly of Istanbul) inaugurated an outpost down by the port of Piraeus in a renovated warehouse — old pale stone walls, new pale wood floors — with an exhibition of paintings by Leidy Churchman. That afternoon visitors and locals alike had been bussed out to the leafy suburb of Filothei, to the home — or a home — of construction magnate and collector Dakis Joannou. They shuffled through a warren of windowless rooms containing highlights from his collection, acknowledged the many works by Roberto Cuoghi, and emerged upstairs to cruise the spread of kabob and salads and flag down trays of white wine. In the evening shows were opening: Chris Dorland at the project space Aetopoulos; Malvina Panagiotidi at Despoina Damaskou’s space You Cannot Hide for More than Seven Years. The parties went late — as parties do — and then the whole thing spilled out into the Saronic Gulf and slithered up again onto the shores of the island of Hydra.     

There, Dakis’s Deste Foundation was throwing its annual early summer party, for which an artist makes use of the former slaughterhouse perched up on the cliffs outside of town. This year it was David Shrigley, who showed a video of bleating goats. That night the food was vegetarian — a delicious faux souvlaki served in a pita — appropriate given the affection Shrigley clearly has for goats, though I suspect a Peter Singer–reading animal-liberation ethicist would still have found the whole thing barbaric. A trio in all black and sunglasses with vintage Rickenbacker guitars took to the roof of the slaughterhouse and banged out some vaguely Spacemen 3-ish droning rock ‘n’ roll repetitions in front a projection of the goat video. The playing would come to an abrupt stop, a goat would bleat, and then the band would jump back in. Again the festivities went on into the early morning. Some people went for a cold swim; most drank at the Pirate Bar.   

Back in Athens, Art Athina was taking place in a new venue, perhaps the biggest change from the previous year: it had moved from a stadium in Piraeus to the Athens Conservatoire, a long, low, concrete structure from the 1970s designed by the Bauhaus-trained Jan Despo. The building, which had remained unfinished for more than forty years after funding ran out — and which is itself the only completed piece of a cultural complex planned in late 1950s — is elegant and linear from outside, set back from the street and raised up on pillars. Inside, the lower level — where the fair was set up — unfolds in a meandering labyrinth of windowless rooms. The give-and-take between the International Style and local realities and particularities embodied in Despo’s building is, in some sense, updated in Art Athina itself: however much the organizers have worked to transform the fair into a node of globality, it remains, at the same time, rooted in localisms. Indeed, for those of us who are not buyers or sellers of art, who in fact have no stake at all in whether any art gets bought or sold, the simple premise of the art fair — out-of-town collectors buying art from local dealers, and local collectors from out-of-town dealers — works best when the traversal of commercial and stylistic distances produces some interesting vertigo.

It was a fair of two halves: one section contained the booths of the old-school — not to say provincial — Greek galleries, the other the mostly young spaces from Europe and the United States as well as those Greek galleries more at home among the international set. You had to go upstairs, outside, and cross a little plaza to get from the former to the latter. There were highlights on both sides, though I found it all worked best if you just wandered back and forth between the two, ascending and descending stairways, letting strange harmonies and discordances wash over you: Alexandros Psychoulis at a.antonopoulou.art, Hamish Pearch at London’s Soft Opening, Chryssa at Mihalarias Art, Mario Ayala at Sade out of LA.

Valina Svoronou, "Therapist office," High Tide Planetary Pull excerpt
Valina Svoronou, “Therapist office,” High Tide Planetary Pull excerpt, Comic book sketch, 2018. Courtesy of Hot Wheels Project, Athens.

Syndicate put together a thoughtful booth with Chrysanthi Koumianaki’s playful invention of a new language in a wall of colorful vinyl scribbles and powder-coated steel punctuations, set to the tune of a sound piece by Steffani Jemison based on a rediscovered utopian language. Andreas Angelidakis had a superb installation of his foam ruins, presented by the Breeder in a room shared with a new Athens space, Hot Wheels Projects, which, for its part, offered up work by Valinia Svoronou, sculpture and drawings spun off from her sci-fi graphic novel High Tide Planetary Pull. A curated section, helmed by Artemis Baltoyanni under the title “Pseudomorphs,” included works by Nik Greene showing with Bonny Poon from Paris: a loose typology of Greek magazines — overlapping, thematically arranged, and arrayed on the floor — with motion-activated cameras snapping pics of the shoes of those curious enough to stop and look. Rodeo installed kinetic sculptures by Liliane Lijn in a small, inaccessible courtyard. Viewable through the windows, they were four slowly turning white cones — she calls them “koans” — made in fiberglass and resin and ringed with thin fluorescent tubing.

It was getting steadily hotter as the crowds continued descending into the opening. I went off in search of the VIP bar. It was in a small room down a hallway and remarkably difficult to find; even when you’d found it, it was no easier to relocate the next time. After a few circles and dead ends I managed to locate it, only to be informed by a guard that the room had been commandeered by the president of the Hellenic Republic. I guess Prokopios Pavlopoulos likes to drink alone.

by Eli Diner

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Review /

Jack Smith Artists Space / New York

Anarchism and availabilism were the main rules of the singular utopia Jack Smith built throughout his life, a place for radical freedom. Decaying tropicalism and a sensational escapism were the main inspirations. Oneiric and erotic characters starred in his public film-performances, presided over by queer and syncretic goddesses, often after midnight in downtown Manhattan.

People still celebrate the artist’s latest myths. As the father of American underground cinema and performance art, Smith shaped his oeuvre as a political statement: he defied the capitalist nature of the art market by choosing performance art, a discipline in essence ethereal and ephemeral.

Smith started his performances in a two-floor loft space at 36 Greene Street, which he called The Plaster Foundation of Atlantis. He got evicted two years later because he refused to pay rent (rent was a capitalistic “fear ritual,” as he coined it), and moved to live on Mercer Street followed by an apartment in the East Village. It was after his eviction from Greene Street that he performed a couple of times at Artists Space and various clandestine locations. The exhibition at Artists Space, “Art Crust of Spiritual Oasis,” presents a string of byproducts from his various performances: props, photographs, flyers, notes, and of course films (all courtesy of Gladstone Gallery). Wandering through the show, it is not immediately evident that this is the same space Smith and his theater company performed in some forty years ago. If the aura persists, the material isn’t sharing its secrets. Smith’s art is almost like a civilization: if you didn’t live it, good luck spending your entire life deciphering its meaning and fantasizing the profundity of its originality. Part celestial tramp, part Dadaist, Smith used myriads of cheap props and lush metaphors to shower the audience with his exotic visions and frenetic jubilations. His goal was to merge art and life to the point where one couldn’t tell the difference, like a trance session. If it’s life, it’s a political statement (“escape far away from capitalism”); if it’s art, it’s the dream of a liberated life filled with infinite wealth, freely pouring from a mind without boundaries.

by Alexandre Stipanovich

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