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K-HOLE and Martine Syms on New Museum Triennial / New York

The third New Museum Triennial, “Surround Audience,” curated by Lauren Cornell and Ryan Trecartin, opened at the end of February in New York.

Focused on early career artists around the world, the exhibition has a generational quality and is pitched as “predictive” rather than “retrospective,” this year extending from the curators’ shared interest in the social and psychological effects of digital technology. Artists have also been embedded in the process of creating the exhibition, effectively collaborating with the museum. Flash Art spoke to Martine Syms, who has been working with the institution’s archive, and Dena Yago, Greg Fong and Sean Monahan of K-HOLE, who created the brand identity and mascot “XR” — a friendly pharmaceutical character in the style of social media “stickers.”

 

Martine, can you describe the work that you have made for the New Museum Triennial?

Martine Syms: S1:E1 tells a story about language, symbol and narrative in American culture through a pilot episode, a print edition, an archive and two comic objects. The works use three key moments — the premiere of Mary Tyler Moore in 1970, the primetime schedule of 1988 and Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006 — to explore the privately felt public imagination.

 

K-HOLE has developed a branding identity for the Triennial featuring a pill character. How did you develop this?

Dena Yago: People are becoming more comfortable with ambiguity in language and using terms without fixed meaning. We’re communicating with image responses and emojis.

Greg Fong: We spent what feels like the first year of this project consulting directly with Lauren and Ryan about behaviors and trends swirling around the big themes they were interested in capturing through the exhibition. We were under the impression that artists would be taking over a lot of the institutional responsibilities of the museum for the show, so we thought it was only natural that we try to filter some of those ideas through an ad campaign. A lot of our early discussion was about generational targeting, surveillance and the state of evasive language — and speech laden with various context-dependent meaning. We also really liked the idea of our artwork commissioned for the Triennial existing entirely outside of the museum. The pill character is inspired by drawings popularized by the chat application LINE.

Sean Monahan: We wanted to develop a campaign that felt fresh and didn’t use the traditional “jpg of art” + “title of show” formula. We thought of the pill character as a sort of mascot for the show — something that could live on in the promotional materials and travel through social media. It took a little bit of time to settle on the pill. We wanted something anthropomorphic but also something that could represent everyone in the show. The pill seemed like a fun way to talk about the anxiety that surrounds high-profile generational surveys specifically and art in general. We wanted the campaign to speak to a broader public and frame the experience of seeing the exhibition as more variable than the traditional, quiet, quasi-spiritual contemplation of meaning.

 

How did your respective dialogues develop with the curators, and what has been valuable or interesting to you about those conversations?

MS: I originally began this project several years ago as a traditional documentary. It was on permanent hold when Lauren invited me to do a project that used the institution’s archive as its starting point. Television seemed like an appropriate subject as it directly maps language, style, news, etc.

GF: It was a completely iterative and natural process. They came to us with ideas and trends they saw at work in the art world, and we came back to them with mini reports deconstructing those trends culturally, technologically and socially. Working with them from an early point gave us a lot of insight into the spirit of the show, which I think allowed us to take the biggest risks with the advertising campaign. It was also super fun to work between them — Lauren and Ryan have completely different ways of seeing things, and completely different senses of humor.

 

What are your thoughts on the “Surround Audience” theme as you understand it, and how it responds to the present moment? The materials describe this exhibition as “future oriented.” Is this something that you have been thinking about in your own work?

MS: I’ve been thinking about the effects of the sitcom narrative in relation to social media. Sometimes it feels like we are all presenting uncomplicated, easily digestible episodes of life. So even as the dominance of the form wanes, the structure remains. I’m curious to see how the non-linear characteristics of the internet influence cultural stories in the future. I take a stab at imagining that in my video A Pilot for a Show about Nowhere.

GF: Obviously the New Museum Triennial is focused on “emerging artists,” so it’s intuitive to align the different practices represented at the show with emerging behaviors and trends. But what I think is cool about this show is that Ryan and Lauren have seemed really focused on the intersection between contemporary art and contemporary communication strategies. Which is to say that there are a lot more people looking at art on the Internet, and a lot more artists looking at each other’s art. And that’s definitely the present moment. For our contribution, we just wanted to make something that felt right for K-HOLE — something characterized by our awareness of media, sense of humor and belief that idea and language (and marketing) are progressive forms for artistic output.

SM: Our practice has always been about distribution to some extent. When we began making our PDF reports, that gesture was less about commenting on print and more about wanting to reach the widest audience possible. K-HOLE’s work has always had trouble living in a museum or a gallery because we’ve always wanted our work to be as fungible as possible. Making the campaign a piece was a chance to negotiate working with an institution and making something that could live outside/online/in a signature cocktail/anywhere.

 

As this is a generational exhibition of sorts, what seems most urgent or important to you here, collectively, among your generation of artists?

SM: I think a unifying feature among artists of our generation is a rethinking of what it means to have an artistic practice. There’s a little bleed between different creative disciplines. I don’t think there’s a meta-conversation about “What is art?” going on, but there is a more personal evaluation of what parts of your life are included in the tent of “your practice.”

MS: I went to see Samuel Delany speak last year and he said: “Poetry is everything. Poetry is nothing.” That’s how I feel.

by Laura McLean-Ferris

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Los Angeles, year zero

Winter in America

I land at LAX from Paris in a hazy mid-January 2014 afternoon with some summer clothes, many books on Los Angeles, a few vinyls, Flaubert, Polish poetry and my dad’s Leica.

I haven’t slept; I’m haunted by the somber sparkle inside my mom’s eye at Roissy Airport as I was waving goodbye. I am here to start a new life with Fahrenheit, a 2,500-square-foot exhibition space and artist residency in the industrial part of downtown. I barely know the city, and still confuse the 101 Freeway with the 110 and the 10 when driving from Highland Park — where I settled down in a little house surrounded by Mexican families — to downtown, where Fahrenheit is opening its doors. Our neighbors from Night Gallery were the first audacious ladies to move to this area located at the intersection of Boyle Heights, Vernon and the Fashion District. Today galleries, spaces and artist studios are extensively developing in the neighborhood.

The paint is still wet and the Internet barely working when on January 30 we open Fahrenheit’s first exhibition, “Far and High,” presenting the works of Felix Gonzales-Torres, Laure Prouvost, David Douard and Tamara Henderson, among others. It’s the art fair weekend, thousands of visitors from out of town show up for the first edition of Paramount Ranch, and ultimately to our opening. The crowd is so thick and the tequila so tasty that two of my friends have to save me from passing out from emotion. Later we drive around town blasting the new Beyoncé and local DJs Nguzunguzu in a white convertible Volvo. Yes, Paris seems strangely far away.

Spring was never waiting for us, dear

Fahrenheit’s first artist-in-residence, Julien Prévieux, has arrived for a two-month stay to produce a performance starring local dancers and a musician. It is about time to make new friends. The Mountain School of Art students are spreading around town, and I decide to hit the road with one of them, French sculptor Caroline Mesquita. We drive through the dusty southwest, run on mesmerizing white sand dunes and observe triumphant yet lonely cactuses. We end up in Marfa, where I presented a film series at Fieldwork, and head back to LA blasting Dory Previn’s Hollywood-inspired depressing folk and admiring Frank Lloyd Wright’s angled buildings.

From May to July Fahrenheit devotes its program to performances, screenings and talks. Julien Prévieux’s dance piece gathers a large and very diverse audience. It also starts to get hotter and hotter, and my Polish blood demands a rest. I flee north to The Banff Centre, a charming retreat nestled in the Canadian Rockies, where the gallery’s curator whispers with a fashionably unimpressed smile: “Don’t worry, it will only take you about two years to get used to the West Coast.” When I return to LA, I learn that Fahrenheit’s benefit auction has raised enough to finance the entire upcoming program for the year. In June I fly to Europe and while sitting at a terrace in Berlin I overhear a young man chatting with his friend: “It seems like everyone is moving to LA! Have you checked this new space, Fahrenheit?” I smile to myself. I feel proud, I guess. Later this month, a glimpse of doubt darkens my Los Angeles blue sky — and what if I am not made for this Californian life, its individualistic culture and social isolation? What if my French-Polish soul will always win over my work ambitions?

Summer in the city

Fahrenheit’s second exhibition,“The Space Between Us,” opens mid-July and explores how the line extends beyond flatness into physical space through the construction of fluid and indefinite movement. It presents the work of Caroline Mesquita, Polish artist Piotr Łakomy and Los Angeles-based Aaron Garber-Maikovska. French writer and curator Dorothée Dupuis arrives in town for a two-month sojourn as a critic-in-residence and Fahrenheit helps her develop her blog Terremoto. That summer in LA, it seems like everyone I know comes to visit, and Fahrenheit does not even close for a holiday. Swiss curator Tenzing Barshee spends a few weeks here. He notes everything he experiences in his diary: our drives to Malibu blasting FKA Twigs’ Two Weeks, dancing to the purple moonlight and watching MacArthur Park melting in the dark. We take him to the legendary cocktail bar Musso & Frank, where I once interviewed Kenneth Anger and where the founders of Freedman Fitzpatrick and Château Shatto are waiting for us with some Europeans and locals. “I am standing in the sun,” sings French singer Amanda Lear. And what if LA’s fading golden light was in fact the ultimate backdrop for artistic encounters and interactions in 2014?

Autumn leaves

From freeways to highways, from east to west, through hills and canyons, I can’t stop driving. The epic iPod is blasting Randy Crawford’s Street Life, the song that is featured in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and the 1984 Canadian documentary Hookers on Davie. It inspires Fahrenheit’s fall exhibition that features street films by two avant-garde filmmakers, Michel Auder and Józef Robakowski. I’m under the impression that the show is weirdly received, and I realize that LA, with its visual culture shaped by Hollywood and television, is a complex ground for the reception of avant-garde filmmaking. While shadows of doubt are breaking over my head, Andrew Berardini (whom I tease by calling him the voice of our generation) finds the exact words to appease my intellectual fears, and his ongoing support feels priceless.

October means FIAC time in Paris and the Marcel Duchamp Prize awards, for which Julien Prévieux has been preselected with the performance work we produced at Fahrenheit. Not one woman is nominated for the prize, so I decide to boycott the ceremony and stay in bed when I receive a text message from Elisabeth Forney, the impressive woman who is behind Fahrenheit and the FLAX Foundation: “C’est Julien.” He just won the Prize.

Back to LA,  artist-in-residence David Douard starts his large-scale production for an exhibition to open at the end of January 2015, with Liz Craft and Jesse Stecklow. Meanwhile it’s already Thanksgiving and Jesse McKee, the Canadian curator, is back in town. We hop into my car and drive straight to Death Valley. Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for The Sicilian Clan plays full volume just as we enter Zabriskie Point, and I recall Thom Andersen’s beautiful documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, which begins with the words: “This is the city: Los Angeles, California. They make movies here. I live here.”

by Martha Kirszenbaum

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Tobias Spichtig Michael Thibault Gallery / Los Angeles

Amid an organized geography of minimal abstract elements leaving no hope for the presence of human beings (a few large paintings on the wall lightly touch the floor; a basic sculptural totem made of found speakers diffuses electronic music; and a primordial fire is fueled by propane), there are two identical photographs hung in the two rooms of the gallery, portraying a close-up of an unknown female’s face, possibly a model or an actress from the early 1990s, a forgotten starlet, like many others.

The artist found the two ready-made posters in a salon during a recent stay in Morocco. For the show, he added a resin crystal tear below her left eye, forcing the figure to endure a nostalgic burden, experiencing pain — for herself and for us. The image projects an uncanny, profane beauty, reminiscent of the creepy fascination of a weeping holy statue shedding oily tears.

Spichtig is concerned with images and their meaning as informed by Foucault’s theory. He creates tight, conceptual bodies of work, which sometimes deliver a hint of narrative. Considering contemporary history and social conditions, he attempts to explain our world without despising it. For this show, the artist uses ink almost like watercolor, in a process that allows for a wide range of accidents, and whose result emphasizes his desire to lose control. He creates what he calls backdrops for primitives, delivering to us, the primitives, an environment in which colors combine with organic shapes, evoking at times soothing elements like water and air or sinister, romantic skies that nourish illusions.

Like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Spichtig is a true seeker; his research, surrounded by a certain darkness, is hauntingly generous. No matter how evolved we are in our thoughts or attempts to build a social organization, in his eyes we remain primitives grounded to a network of shared failure, moving forward one uncertain step at time. All that remains are just a few backdrops against which we survive.

by Patrick Steffen

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American Producers Between Bridges / Berlin

Artist Wolfgang Tillmans’s off-space Between Bridges moved to Berlin in January 2014 after five years in Bethnal Green, London. Its new home is a domestic space on Keithstraße that has most recently been devoted to exhibitions that, in Tillmans’s words, “aim to provide a dedicated space for the playback of recorded music.”

Unlike the first installment — a survey of the limelight-shirking band Colourbox, including records, printed posters and a mix CD — “American Producers” consists solely of an hour-and-a-half-long audio program. Chosen with the input of DJs, producers and artists whose e-mail correspondences with Tillmans are excerpted in the show’s press materials, some selections are major hits — Michael Jackson, Beyoncé — while others have experienced their own moments of ubiquity within certain circles, particularly the show’slikely audience. Producers with art-world cache who have been catapulted into mainstream fame — Arca, Kingdom and Nguzunguzu — are included. An ancillary qualification seems to be a sonic range wide enough to take full advantage of the astounding Bowers & Wilkins stereo sound system, which, at the risk of writing advertising copy, isn’t heard so much as it is felt.

Production, reproduction and presentation are longstanding fixations for Tillmans, which helped fostered his early refusal to frame his photographs; his pioneering experimentation in the darkroom; and, despite initial reluctance, his more recent teasing of the technological boundaries of the digital camera. Whether eliminating the glass between viewer and photograph or imaging the interior of a chromogenic printer, Tillmans has consistently sought to reveal something about how media is created and consumed. “American Producers” is in Tillmans’s eyes an art show — he decries the division between art and music in the show’s press text, along with the miserable, clipped-quality audio that we all seem to accept from YouTube and our laptop speakers. Whatever “American Producers” is, it’s supremely satisfying. When seen as another tributary of Tillmans’s research into fidelity and mediation, the show does take on the quality of art: a fugue-like refrain of the artist over the past twenty years: that reproducible things are still experienced singularly.

by Patrick Armstrong

 

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Zona Maco 2015 / Mexico City

Ranked the eighth richest city in the world despite a 45.5% national poverty rate, it may be no surprise that Mexico City is the center of a thriving and well-funded contemporary art scene. Its galleries and cultural institutions put on compelling exhibitions that support Mexican artists as well as introduce the local public to important work from abroad.

The city also is host to a prominent contemporary art fair, Zona Maco, which has just concluded its 12th edition. This year’s program featured over two hundred galleries separated into five sections: General, New Proposals, Modern Art, Design and Sur [south] — the latter, curated by João Mourão and Luis Silva, featured solo projects that attempted to highlight artists rather than galleries.

If international art fairs give any indication of the state of contemporary art in an advanced global market, the commercial darlings on display at some of the blue chip establishments at Zona Maco suggest a rather bleak indication of the imminent lateralization of art’s distribution and consumption. Will contemporary art collections all over the world someday consist of the same gallery-branded canons?

While everyone seems to agree that fair booths amount to little more than weeklong show rooms, one likes to believe that art can still produce evocative, if not demanding, experiences despite this limited context. Whether thoughtful presentations are for the sake of consumer interest or the benefit of artworks and artists, the local Mexican galleries offered the most in this regard. At Labor, the elusive and controversial works of Santiago Sierra formed a challenging presentation that, at the very least, posed questions about how the artist’s more social-based practices could be translated into art objects. At House of Gaga, Mexican artist Juan Jose Gurrola’s 1971 work Monoblock was on view in the form of an American monobloc engine housed inside an industrial refrigerator. The piece was being sold not as a singular sculpture but as a comprehensive performance: a fleeting event manifested in the work’s archive of photography, documentation and poetry, as well as the objects on display — which were included on the stage set of the original 1971 performance in which Gurrola presented Poemas y Textos Sin Elocuencia: Monoblock [Poems and Texts without Eloquence: Monoblock]. To purchase Monoblock is also to commit to the posterity of the artwork and its maker — a commitment far exceeding the speculative market and one usually reserved for institutional collections rather than private ones. Perhaps none of this is news, but the commercialization of historically significant performance art is a relatively recent endeavor, and the ways in which galleries control artist estates hold significant implications for the preservation of contemporary art and the writing of its history.

Elsewhere, outside Zona Maco’s walls, one could experience inspiring exhibitions all over the city. At Museo Tamayo, Pablo Vargas Lugo’s exhibition micromegas presented a diverse group of video, sculpture and installation works that felt distinctly local while also engaging with histories of Minimalism and Land Art. Circulationismo [Circulationism], Hito Steyerl’s show at El Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, further engaged with “circulationism” — a compelling theory articulated elsewhere in her e-flux writings and lectures.¹ These three recent video installations seemed to continue the legacy of Harun Farocki into our current technological moment with nuanced criticality and insight.

Between Polanco and Coyoacán — in Roma Sur — Chris Sharp and Martin Soto Climent’s project space Lulu inaugurated the first of a three-part exhibition titled Lulennial: A Slight Gestuary. Part one featured a formally restrained yet concise group of works from Zarouhie Abdalian, Gabriel Orozco, Tania Perez Cordova and others. At the opening one could hear cycles of laughing and shouting from Christian Falsnaes’s participatory performance, or witness Susanne Winterling quietly attaching men’s ties to neighborhood trees. As guacamole and agua frescas were served on the sun-drenched sidewalk, that ever-obscure boundary between art and the everyday seemed momentarily suspended.

by Olivian Cha

¹ www.e-flux.com/journal/too-much-world-is-the-internet-dead

 

 

 

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Zhan Wang Long March Space / Beijing

Chinese artist Zhan Wang is famous for his ongoing project of stainless-steel taihu rocks, which imitate the temporal traces of weathering on the porous stones — a protagonist in ancient Chinese gardening culture — with an artificial metal produced for perpetuity.

Therefore, on my way to his exhibition “Morph” at Long March Gallery, everything in my imagination was colored silver.

I was wrong. Apart from one metal rock, all the works in the show are a non-reflective, milky white. This is Zhan’s new sculptural series “Silhouette” (2014). The five gigantic objects — with heights between three to four meters — look like splashes of thick white paint that has frozen in the air before reaching the ground. On closer examination, there are uncanny, fleshy textures in the folds, accentuated by spotlight-generated shadows. I even recognized the shapes of human parts in them.

The exhibition opened at a time when a couple of sci-fi movies were topics around every dinner table in the Chinese art world. The formal fluidity of Zhan’s “Silhouette” evokes the post-human bodies of our dystopian technological fantasies, in which transcendent mental and physical infinitude changes everything — for better or worse. It turns out that Zhan’s series is not about the human of the future, but of the present. The works are self-portraits; the artist stood in front of his stainless-steel rocks and captured his twisted reflection with a camera. Then, with the help of computer processing, he turned them into sculptures with resin and marble. Reflection is still present, but it is veiled by the matte white surface of the sculptures. The artist holds up the mirror to himself and to the country’s capitalist-industrial production, while at the same time exploring the materiality of his sculptural medium by forcing the concept of reflection on it.

by Venus Lau

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