New Wave /

L’origine du monde-Selfies: Sabrina Tarasoff talks to Talia Chetrit

Sabrina Tarasoff: Before I ask you about your process, can you introduce the subjects of your recent exhibition “Showcaller” at the Kölnischer Kunstverein? Nudes, cityscapes, flies, nipples in chains: Where do they find family resemblances?

Talia Chetrit: I suppose it is possible to divide this show into three parts which are seemingly in contrast to each other. The aesthetics and approach are very different, but the work is unified by its relationship to privacy.

The Streets (2015–ongoing) photographs were all taken from tall buildings in New York City and were shot through glass windows using a long lens. These numerous layers of interruptions between the camera and the many subjects who walk the city below almost abstract the images. No one is aware that I’m taking their picture, and everyone remains fairly anonymous. I like to think that I’m both respecting and invading privacy in a single image. In the Sex (2016–ongoing) pictures, I am documenting my partner and I having sex in a picturesque, natural landscape. I am tethered to the camera by a long and visible cable release. There is a sense that the viewer is implicated in the act. The third part is a more loosely grouped set of black-and-white images of intimate moments, for example Fly on Body (2012), which captures the fleeting moment of contact when a fly lands on skin.

The sex pictures, the street photographs, and the small black and whites are very different types of work, but once they are positioned together, I hope that one is compelled to consider the dynamics of permission and intimacy. In doing so a triangulation begins between the body of work, the action of photographing, and the people observing the work. By positioning and contextualizing these bodies of work together, in close physical proximity, the process and specific intentions of each are called into question.

 

ST: Your last exhibition at Sies + Höke in Düsseldorf, “POSER,” repurposed photographs you had taken in your early teens, circa 1994–97. These portraits of yourself and your close friends hold some lackadaisical center, the centrifuge of adolescence I guess, around which other more recent photographs orbit. Bearing in mind that ours is a generation beholden to the soft idling of Sofia Coppola films, the Instagram aesthetic of girlish listlessness, all that diluted Edie Sedgwick-esque sadness idolizing the diabolical school of girlhood, we could probably talk a lot about girlhood and its co-optation in social media, how that relates to your image-making… But let’s start from here: How has your process and relationships to your subjects changed since you first started taking photographs?

TC: Of course, the way I think about images has changed, but the process and relationships to my subjects have not really changed at all. This similarity was articulated in “POSER,” where images I had taken in middle school and high school were combined with three recent self-portraits. My interest in reactivating the early pictures was to examine a teenage understanding of the representation of sexuality and an adult’s projection onto those same images. For the new pictures, I invited Corey Tippin, a prominent makeup artist within the New York scene in the 1970s, and we tried out a series of ideas together. As it turned out, this was not unlike the way my girlfriends and I had dressed up for the photographs taken in my teenage years. These images are a consciously constructed interpretation of self-image in front of a camera, in one case as a teenager and in the other as an adult. The intent, the references, and the relationship to ourselves — psychologically — and our bodies — physically — have evolved, but the dressing up and the posing remain similar. To have taken images from my archive and placed them into an exhibition twenty years later is a distinctive act that is as much a subject of the exhibition as the pictures themselves. At the time, those images were never going to be seen, but today those pictures would have immediately been publicly shared, and are an example of, as you say, the “Instagram aesthetic of girlish listlessness.”

Talia Chetrit, Ever Wet, 2018
Talia Chetrit, Ever Wet, 2018. Couresty of the artist; kaufmann repetto Milan, New York; and Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf.

ST: Where does failure come into this? In an Interview feature, you’re quoted saying that you considered your first exhibition a failure, and that it changed your thinking. Perhaps because much of your vocabulary overlaps with avant-garde photography and its formal elegance, your work often feels very calculated and finished. For example, “POSER” seemed to locate spaces (or faces) of intimacy in your youth and carry them into the present for reevaluation, which in itself might be considered as a reevaluation of what intimacy meant then and what it means now — as an affect, need, coping mechanism, fantasy, or something entirely else. There is so much margin for error in that, so much psychological murkiness. Does thinking about failure — such as past works that didn’t pan out as planned, or more to the point, photography’s inevitable shortcomings — help guide you through these spaces?

TC: In the Interview article you are referring to, I was speaking specifically of how I felt about my first exhibition, which was about ten years ago.

But, failure in the sense of vulnerability is something I seek to achieve. Sometimes imperfection is symbolic of vulnerability, and those intentional or unintentional flaws add dimension. For example, in the Murder (1997–2017) pictures that I took in high school, which were also included in “POSER,” I staged different murder scenarios with my friend. At the time I was experimenting with the boundaries of fictions, but what I like about them today is how flawed they actually are. In most of the pictures, my friend’s tightly laced-up boot appears to have been thrown off her foot. At the time I didn’t see this flaw, but I now see that mistake as a metaphor for the predatory situations that girls are forced to try and understand at a young age. I also allow for and encourage flaws in my work. I refer to the temporal aspects of the performance for the camera by showing clothing imprints and bra lines and often keeping the debris, like the clothing that was taken off and the equipment, in the edges of the frame. As you mentioned, these “failures” break down the fictions that are built in to the medium itself. There is a never-ending dialogue between fiction and the photograph as evidence.

 

ST: This feels closely related to problems that arise within the biographical format. As a writer, when stuck with the messy shape of a life and the slipperiness of writing, doubt can be entertained through speculation — through various accounts, through literary devices, even through the spaces of silence that come from subjects who are either dead or reluctant to share. What can be known about a subject, and what kind of meaning we can tease out from them, their expressions, are a difficult thing to convey in an image — and seems to motivate your practice. Photographing your family, covertly, or your friends; revisiting old materials; even in photographing yourself having sex with your partner. Biographers will often pursue their subjects because they are, in some aspect, unknowable to them. How does the “unknowable” within your subjects, or the impossibility of ever really knowing someone, inform your thinking about form?

TC: I agree that a subject is not knowable through a lens. But the presence of the camera both creates and reveals vulnerabilities in my subject (which is sometimes me), which can give access to understanding.

Sometimes it’s about setting up a situation in which my relationship with my subject is challenged in order to incorporate the camera. For example, in the sex pictures, I asked my then-new partner if he would be willing to participate. In some ways this was an attempt to challenge him and provoke an involvement in and a relationship to my work. There was also nothing at stake at the time, because these pictures could have never actually been shown to anyone. With that in mind, we were more engaged with the shoots as a performance between us and the camera.

The presence of the camera itself can also reveal an unknown side of the subject. An example of that dynamic occurred during a photo shoot with my parents. During the shoot, their interaction inspired me to videotape them without their knowledge. I only started taking the video because the photo shoot elicited a flirtation between them that I had not been a part of before. In Parents (2014), my dad is seen kissing my mother’s neck as she coyly asks: “Aren’t you glad I showered?” By revealing on video these in-between moments, when we were negotiating the pictures, I was able to capture a glimpse of the insecurities and shifting power dynamics that are inherent to being both in front of and behind the camera. In this particular instance, the parent/child dynamic was further complicated by the reversal of power.

 

ST: Of your 2015 show at Sies + Höke, “I’m Selecting,” Art Writing Daily described your portraits as “l’origine du monde-selfies,” which is a nifty way to account for how sexuality in your work happens through convergences between historical and present considerations of self-image. In many of the earlier works, like Crotch (2012), a triangular shape of pubic hair photographed as a sort of geometrical composition, or even in later works like Untitled (Bottomless) (2015), in which your legs act as framing devices for splintered images, sexuality seems implied through an abstraction of form. There is a noticeable difference between the work from 2011/12, which was more fragmentary, composed, and clearly “experimental,” and your current work, which is in a way more fluid and tactile. Can you talk a bit about this? Is it only a formal change, a shift in interest, or also a shift in your thinking about sexuality? Or just what modern womanhood is?

TC: I appreciate that you were looking so closely to notice this shift. Power dynamics, agency, sexuality, and the psychology behind imagery have always been an important part of my work. Earlier I was signaling to and questioning the history of photography and Surrealism as a way to start the conversation. Over the last six years or so, I have found that using the specificity of my own life — experiences, body, family, partners — is a way for me to challenge far more. I am continually reacting to my own work, to shows and to the sequencing of the shows; and trying to build upon, expand, and undermine ideas already laid out in my work.

Talia Chetrit, Girls (Bed), 1996/2017
Talia Chetrit, Girls (Bed), 1996/2017. Couresty of the artist; kaufmann repetto Milan, New York; and Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf.

ST: That leads me to another category of your work: the Celine, Acne, Helmut Lang… With an aesthetic surface that seems to so easily seep into the mainstream, how do you complicate, disrupt, or think through a commercial lens vis-à-vis your artistic practice? It seems really difficult to know what photography is supposed to do these days when the distinction between private and public is so uniquely murky, and image management and self-branding have become full-time jobs for some. I wonder, for example, what it would mean to slap brand logos onto some of the photographs in “Showcaller”: How would they change? Could Streets #4 (2018) function just as well as a menswear ad for the nouveau business casual guy? Or Untitled (Outdoor Sex #1) (2018) act as a sequence in the new Natalie Portman “Miss Dior” ads? I’m not saying this to offend or be facetious, but to consider what happens to an image — and how easily — when it slips between what T.J. Clark has called “notions of virtuality and visuality?”

TC: There’s very little that separates an Instagram photo from an ad campaign from an artwork when the image is looked at on its surface level and in isolation. With a logo slapped on top, most images could function as a more-or-less successful ad. A commercial photo is an offer of sale and is a collaboration between a photographer, a client, a stylist, etc., to manage or massage a viewer’s perception of a brand. There is a directness and transparency about this that I appreciate. An ad is an end point or conclusion. An image for an exhibition is a starting point and is seen within a particular context, surrounded by a curated collection of other images, to hopefully begin a dialogue and encourage a viewer to delve into their own perceptions of the work.

 

ST: What about power’s relationship to intimacy? “Showcaller” might designate a lack —maybe reverie? — through its hazy distances. But your claim to authority over the images, the reminders of our complicity in their construction, make me think less about how photography as a medium works through those tensions, and more about how intimacy is forged and constructed through similar tensions. This may be returning to my first questions, full cycle — but what do you think? If we are to assume that a part of your pursuit in photography is to forge or construct intimacy, then to what end?

TC: Yes, this is full circle. That exhibition was titled “Showcaller” as a theatrical reference. A showcaller is the person who calls out cues, someone in an authoritative position but who ultimately is not in control. In this case, it was meant to point towards the performative aspects of the works in the exhibition. I consider this to be a good title for my work as a whole. The constructed situations and performances are controlled and staged for the camera, but so much of what then transpires can be seen as metaphorical and echoes current human experience. Conversations about overexposure and privacy arise; we are complicit in the permission to look, to analyze sexuality and to project our personal and cultural biases onto an image. With the pace in which the world of images is changing, it is important to critically unpack and analyze how things are evolving and what the evolution means.

Sabrina Tarasoff is a writer and independent art critic living in Los Angeles.

read more
Review /

Edgar Cleijne and Ellen Gallagher Bonniers Konsthall / Stockholm

If you are a fan of the enigmatic musician Sun Ra, you’ll already like Edgar Cleijne and Ellen Gallagher’s exhibition “Better Dimension.” It’s a handsome show, and Ra inspired most of it. His oft-cited philosophical writings are reproduced in several works, notably in The Wisdom of Ra (2018). And though the musician is absent from the film installation Highway Gothic (2017), the work pays homage to Ra’s Afrofuturism by addressing segregation in New Orleans from an ecological perspective — even the prog rock soundtrack is in the spirit of his psychedelic imagination.

All art could be made about Ra for the next thousand years and I’d never get tired of it. But ultimately the show is a practical tutorial in utopia, which explains why Cleijne and Gallagher choose to focus on the peculiarities of Ra’s philosophy, rather than on his music directly. “That which is true in the world of one is only semi-true in the world of two,” reads a statement printed on the wall of Better Dimension (2010): “1 is a number / 1 is an alphabet.” The math might be hazy, but it still conveys Ra’s bountiful conviction that a better world is to be made from the basic stuff of this one.

Edgar Cleijne and Ellen Gallagher, installation view Wisdom of Ra, 2018 (detail)
Edgar Cleijne and Ellen Gallagher, installation view Wisdom of Ra, 2018 (detail), Bonniers Konsthall. Courtesy of the artists. Photo by Jean-Baptiste Béranger.

It’s with some amateur magic that Cleijne and Gallagher take visitors to the promised land. Better Dimension’s four-sided structure is spotlit, and images from Ra’s notebooks cover the exterior. For those curious enough, the panels slide open and grant access to a comfortable if flimsy sanctuary. Inky psychedelic slides are projected on each wall, and a hologram of JFK’s disembodied head reflects the late president’s friendly demeanor. You really feel like you could remake it from stuff you have at home. Elsewhere, Nothing Is… (2013) couples Ra with one of his successors. The film is illustrated by hand, and bookends a quote from Ra’s poetry with a monkish portrait of science-fiction writer Samuel R. Delany. The text is clearly meant to inspire grand, new worlds: “The nothing and the air and the fire are really the same.” Like the rest of the show, the film convert’s Ra’s utopian vision into material resourcefulness, and asks visitors to listen carefully. After all, the film’s spacy soundtrack is actually the amplified sounds of the projector itself.

by Sam Korman

read more
Review /

Reena Spaulings Matthew Marks Gallery / Los Angeles

Seascape (2014) is a Turner riff at Water Lilies scale, painted by a robotic mop. One can mostly appreciate this grand work from close up, where indeed the turbulent hues separate into “mop strokes” of uniform size. Try to see the whole painting straight on, however, at a distance, and the exhibition’s titular “male gates” invade the view: Gate 1 through Gate 5, a series of five paintings on metal detectors. Their treatments range from a beige monochrome to high-energy sprays of high-gloss enamel — all accent colors, without compliments.

Walking through the detectors is an almost harrowing moment of viewership. They’re not on, no officers wave you through, no alarms go off, but the glossy panels press in close; you can see your reflection in their sheen, and you can smell the new paint. From across the room, a series of smaller paintings (Medusas, 2018) seem to nestle inside the metal detectors’ arches: clattering pointillist renderings of clichés like a Mickey Mouse water tower or a leering skull. The points are bold, but the paintings tend toward noise and gruel.

Jeanne-Claude and Christo’s Gates (2005) decked central park months after Reena Spaulings opened their New York gallery. Tourists and locals alike queued slowly, rain or shine, beneath the orange flagged structures, a more optimistic version of the gates through which visitors to JFK, LGA, and the 9/11 museum must pass. In Tai-Chi and other “energy work,” the body’s gates regulate the flow of qi — much like, on another scale, checkpoints regulate the flow of bodies, subtle and otherwise. Looking at these expressive paintings, framed by deadpan gates, the dominant “emotion” is exhaustion. It is the pristine exhaustion of the international artist (Reena or her incorporated parts) who finds herself at a loss, creatively blocked, on line at airport security. These slow gates are the sphincter at the end of the fluorescent, intestinal queue; the longer she fixates on this point, the more that deeper prison starts to seem like a fresh way out.

by Travis Diehl

read more
Review /

Apostolos Georgiou Rodeo / London

Little is known of writer Peter Zabelskis. In 1986, Slate Press published his Loop: 50 Ideas for Pictures. These loops are peephole preliminaries for an absent narrative center: each remains phlegmatic as Zabelskis gestures toward tension, perfunctory absurdity, or cliché tragedy. For instance: “A shabby motel whose owner, whenever a murder or suicide occurs in one of the cabins, cuts a back door into the room as soon as the police investigation is over.” In another, the marbelized cover of a composition book reveals words that swirl into prose but don’t linger “long enough to be read.” The cover is only ever a primer, Zabelskis confirms: “Inside is something completely different. Let’s look…”

Of course, we never see. But Apostolos Georgiou’s paintings suitably deliver on Zabelskis’s cue. They are interiors to the author’s deftly executed keyholes: settings without introduction, living rooms without a welcoming entrance. In his scenes, lachrymose minds stoop as narrative skulks, either bruised by outburst or wallowing in its aftermath like a ripe contusion. Action appears habitual and despairing, at times absurd, radiating coolly from tepid mobilizers: fists, rifles, unoccupied pillows, hunched postures. The powdery palette of plum, taupe, brown, and mint green is uniformly suave, like a funereal fistful of black calla lilies.

I think: you look like you killed a man. In Untitled (2000) he sits, knee to chest, atop a charcoal mattress beside a lamp glowing with emotion. His face: when anxiety and dread reduce to stoicism. The brushwork is graphic and blocky. His shoulder catches a nectarine-hued highlight. Isolated, he looks like a man containing aftershock, swallowing the tectonic consequences, moving on. The patina of the wall is layered with sequences from pale pink and lilac to a spectral buttercup yellow. Embalmed, the colors illuminate the wall — the most lavish feature of the room.

Apostolos Georgiou, Untitled, 2000
Apostolos Georgiou, Untitled, 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Rodeo, London. Photography by Plastiques.

Spaces are mostly vacant, lending Georgiou’s figures a theatrical aplomb that seems to relish distraction in moments of rickety slapstick. Two people teeter on Mücke Melder-esque chairs, their ankles shaking. The rhythm feels percussive and brassy, reminiscent of Cathy Berberian’s zany onomatopoeia in Stripsody (1966). These rooms are a woozy mind where behavior is torpid yet barbed by emotional gravitas: a woman spoon-feeds a man on her lap; another soothes a man as he crawls over her like a sartorial schlub. He could be writhing in agony. These are places of proclamation, explosion, and seclusion; places between papers, beds, desks, chairs; between servility, solidarity, and dominion. Domestic or institutional, the environment blends salon, asylum, and sanctuary: where the psyche may obsess or decay. So often it seems these people wrestle their inner saboteur or reckon with past humiliations: a woman stands at a wooden lectern, a leader, whose own corpse lies in front of her.

Stilted by melodrama, Georgiou’s evocation of gallantry soon buckles, with glowering sadism slinking at its edges. Icons become specious lumber, thickset with hoodwinking tricks. Color is a low-pressure headache, its sultry quality numbing and imprisoning as though these actants sit between the emotional impasse of inevitability and the anticipation of looming change, between serenity and melancholy, total defeat and deliverance. The legibility of sincerity or revenge is never realized; rather, for Georgiou, they feel like two masks for one plucky harlequin.

This brings into question the title, “From My Heart. A tired idiom, to mention “my heart” is to sow a challenge in its very words; the loaded symbol petrifies into a heavy-handed burden. One can weaponize my heart, bewitch it as a tool for manipulation. It is hard to accept the heart at face value, and Georgiou gives us an escape clause from this core ambivalence, carving out the back door.

by Alex Bennett

read more
Review /

Friend of a Friend 2018 / Warsaw

Polish art continues to flourish with artists like Katarzyna Kozyra, Paulina Olowska, Wilhelm Sasnal, and Krzysztof Wodiczko entering a number of prestigious collections around the world. However, there seems to be little enthusiasm from Poland’s local collectors, who instead play their luck with young talent at auction. This spring in Warsaw saw the first edition of Friend of a Friend (FOAF), an alternative to traditional art fairs launched by two galleries, Stereo and Wschód, breathe fresh air into this dichotomous state of affairs.

Fifteen galleries from Europe and North America were welcomed into eight venues during FOAF. Two artists, Sean Mullins and David Flaugher, represented by Lomex in New York and hosted by Piktogram, were honored with the FOAF award, resulting in paintings by Mullins and objects by Flaugher making their way into Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art collection. Most participating galleries were turned into showrooms for their guests. It was only Leto Gallery that surrendered its entire space to Dürst Britt & Mayhew of The Hague, who hosted a solo show of Sybren Renema titled “Lift Off, Land Ahoy!” (shown last year at the Venice Biennial’s Antarctic Pavilion). It was a boon to see international artists displaying their work in Poland for the first time, such as Renaud Jerez, whose departure from sculpture to drawing debuted at Galeria Stereo’s hosting of Crèvecoeur, Paris; alongside recent works by Polish artist Olaf Brzeski at Raster Gallery, who exhibited his distinguished sculptures with their first ever integration of wood.

There were various tendencies presented at FOAF that could formulate a generalized understanding of art within this exchange model, similarly executed by Condo. An example of the event’s ease and spontaneity could perhaps be underlined in the humor and absurdity of works by legendary Czech artist Jiří Kovanda, brought to Piktogram by Prague’s SVIT. Untitled (2018), a can of sardines submerged in a pail of water, captured the same festival spirit that could unleash Warsaw’s potential as an international art hub, despite the challenges of a local art market still in its infancy.

by Agnieszka Sural

read more

Flash Art 321 June – August 2018

We are pleased to announce that the June – August issue of Flash Art – International Edition is out now.

The articles and interviews included in this issue of Flash Art address the human body, introducing artistic practices that push the body’s physical boundaries and challenge its codified representations. For example, in the paintings of Venezuelan-born, California-based Luchita Hurtado, this issue’s cover artist, the body becomes a landscape or is self-portrayed from the artist’s own perspective, with no mirrors or cameras to aid her, as a way to connect the personal with the contextual. “[Hurtado’s] body multiplies and moves from confined domestic spaces into public, wide-open spaces, acting as a sincere pre-selfie browser that brings its vulnerability with it everywhere,” writes Catherine Wagley in her article on the artist.

Also contained in this issue is a twelve-page dossier dedicated to artist, educator, curator, and cultural theorist Ian White, who died of cancer in 2013 at the age of forty-two. Compiled on the occasion of the Camden Arts Centre’s current overview of White’s output, the dossier reconsiders White’s critical strategies, all of which engage the body as a site of inquiry for examining the historical and political conditions for making and presenting art. According to Federico Florian, who along with Emma Hedditch and Matt Wolf contributed to the dossier, White saw “movement in all of its connotations — relating to the performing body, the muscle-mind, and that of the encroaching illness — [as] a constant concern. As if thinking and talking about gestures, about motion, was a way to stay active and critically receptive.”

Also in this issue:

Lena Henke shares with Tenzing Barshee her thoughts about materiality and ephemerality, and the exhausted representational function of sculpture.

“I like to explore the intimate dimension of urban space, to build on it as if it is a material that I can make malleable and shape.” —Lena Henke

Martti Kalliala on the transformational experience of Burning Man:

“Why and how has Burning Man itself and the act of signaling membership to its ethos via a codified aesthetic concoction of steampunk tropes, offensively appropriated indigenous ceremonial attire, the psy-porn of visionary art, never-never land, and drop-crotch pants become aspirational?”

—Martti Kalliala

Eric N. Mack discusses with Jessica Bell Brown the tactility of his materials and how their constant echo of the human body intimates the communicative potential of the fashion item.

“I want to try to make a record of the familiar, just to see the abstraction in everyday things. And not just a part of a tangibility — it’s a world we live in that sits adjacent to understanding. Understanding our bodies, understanding space, understanding feeling.” —Eric N. Mack

Dena Renga on the the signature style of director Stefano Sollima:

“Sollima has made a name for himself by presenting Italian tragedy in a visually compelling format that is entertaining and highly addictive.” —Dena Renga

In “Archive”:

Bruce Nauman

By Isabelle Graw

Originally published in Flash Art – International Edition 169, March – April 1993

In “Reviews”:

Jenny Saville at Gagosian Gallery, New York; Charles Ray at Matthew Marks Gallery, New York; Otobong Nkanga at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Gordon Hall at MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge (MA); Benjamin Reiss at Bel Ami, Los Angeles; Wolfgang Stoerchle at Overduin & Co., Los Angeles; Ícaro Lira at Galeria Jaqueline Martins, São Paulo; Linder at Nottingham Contemporary; Joseph Beuys at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London; Judith Hopf at Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen; Monika Baer at Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin; Stanley Whitney at Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin; Alfredo Volpi at NMNM, Monaco; Ydessa Hendeles at Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; “Post Zang Tumb Tuum. Art Life Politics. Italia 1918–1943” at Fondazione Prada, Milan; Tarek Atoui at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore; Omer Fast at Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou; Xavier Cha at Empty Gallery, Hong Kong.

We are pleased to announce Flash Art’s participation in the 2018 editions of Art | Basel | Basel (hall 1.1, booth Z03); Liste, Basel; I Never Read, Basel; Chart, Copenhagen; and Art-o-Rama, Marseille.

Buy this issue

read more