LA Talks /

Going to Berlin / Casey Jane Ellison

She’s wickedly funny, often at the expense of the art world. Los Angeles–based artist Casey Jane Ellison’s performances, videos and animations have been seen at MOCA Los Angeles, MoMA PS1 and in the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, curated by Ryan Trecartin and Lauren Cornell.

Maxwell Williams met the artist at the Yellow Tea House in Koreatown for matcha shakes.

What are you working on now?

I’m going to the Berlin Biennial and hosting the Google Roast. Daniel Keller, Simon Denny, Leilah Weinraub and Hito Steyerl¹ are also roasting.

Why?

Just the general fear of the companies that control the Internet and monetize it. They filter and make you feel warm and fuzzy, but then there’s all this metadata that’s being collected. If you let go of privacy five years ago, you’ll be fine.

I always have these fever daydreams about a time when Google is the only country and is our overlord.

It would be a relief. But what’s depressing about that is all the same arguments and problems would still exist — the same racism and classism and everything.

Is Hito Steyerl funny enough to do a roast?

That’s what’s weird about roasts — they’re very dark. We’re all internalizing this loathing of everything, and it’s important to get it out. I can’t imagine people won’t relate.

I was thinking in my head on my way over here: What if we made this fucked-up interview where I pretended to be an asshole and was like, “What do you even do?”

I love that. Let’s do that.

But I’m worried my editor might be like, “We can’t use this.” Sarcasm is hard in a serious format.

What is serious anymore? What do people want to read? People want to read sullenness? Where is there not humor in anything? But that’s also the criticism of the Internet — that funny replaces authenticity or correctness or journalistic integrity.

That’s the thing about art, too. Art is so self-serious that it’s hard for people to laugh at themselves, which is part of what you do. You make art, but you also laugh at yourself. Is that because people don’t laugh at themselves in art?

Laughing has always been very important to me. It’s the most important thing in my life, as an exercise and as a way to see the world. Also, comedy is really about chaos. How can you ever be sure about anything? Whenever I feel like I’m serious, I’m like, “Ugh, did I overstep?” I get nervous when I’m serious. When the assumption is that I should be serious, I immediately have to be funny to avoid that.

I think a lot of people know you through “Touching the Art,” in which you really rip into the self-seriousness of the art world.

Entering the art world, nothing really seems that honest, so comedy kind of mimics that in the form of entertainment. And with the art world, there’s just so much opaqueness — nothing makes any sense — and I just felt, at the time we were making that show, that everyone was losing their minds. I feel everyone is still losing their minds. And then to pretend I have a talk show, where we’re actually dissecting these abstract things that are literally turning to ash as we begin to talk about them — it was so funny to me. There are no answers.

You do comedy nights at Night Gallery, and you are usually the only person at those that is an artist that works with comedy. The rest of them are comedians, but they’re in an art gallery, which oftentimes makes it awkward, because they’re trying to do their straightforward stand-up.

Right. They’re just trying to use that form, which needs a very specific venue, a very specific dynamic with the audience. It’s a challenge. But I’ve done it a few times in art spaces, and you can acknowledge the space, respect the space, and also be a comedian the way you should be and capture the room.

You have a video called “Casey Is Your Cult.” It used to be that artists were the only people that had a cult of personality, and now it’s a mainstream concept: Kim Kardashian, the Hadids, this idea that anybody could cultivate a cult of personality given the right place, the right time and the right amount of money.

At this point in time, I feel that it’s negative, because people are looking at themselves. That’s fine. I do it. Too much. The ultimate goal in the ’60s was to love your brother and your sister or your neighbor. It’s going against that. But maybe we’re just in the middle of the process. Maybe we’ll get tired of refreshing our own stats. But Kim Kardashian — I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said about her — she’s the best. She did it. And it’s perfect. She and Kanye are the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I love seeing them together. It’s so cute. They’re the perfect couple. And that’s all it’s about — someone being, like, “They’re the perfect couple,” and watching them.

You use language a lot in your art. I was watching an older animation of yours, and you were using wordplay, but in a way that’s nonchalant. One instance that I was thinking of was when you called a smartphone a “smarf.” You do these contractions and faux-neologisms a lot.

I’ve never thought about it. The smartphone example—the abbreviations—I think it’s because what I’m talking about is so boring. It trivializes the word, and it makes it clear that it is one of these things that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to say “Genius Bar,” because that concept is so boring, so if I need to say something, the language has to change. I think it is the language of avoiding pure wastefulness. Don’t say “Genius Bar.” It’s like a bad word. It’s the anxiety surrounding monotony, and maybe the evilness of the word, too. To talk about my smartphone is a little evil.

by Maxwell Williams

¹ Steyerl’s involvement in the Roast is unconfirmed at this time.
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Review /

Jorge Macchi MALBA / Buenos Aires

Jorge Macchi’s fortuitous encounters are well known: two toy cars intersect in the cross-like shadow of a window; more cars in a video, crossing a highway shot from a bridge, trigger a progression of musical notes, an aleatory melody.

Crime, cars, divorces and love stories have formed the nucleus of Macchi’s conceptual practice since the 1990s, and are all revisited in Agustín Pérez Rubio’s survey of his work at MALBA, entitled “Perspectiva” [Perspective]. The show presents almost thirty years of work, from Macchi’s early paintings from the late 1980s to his recent collaborations with musicians, and highlights his approach to poetry and the overwhelming presence of film in his oeuvre.

The show begins with Buenos Aires Tour (2001–03) which, though not a central work, functions as an entry point to his universe: randomness, detours and the mapping of a formal situation onto another manifest themselves instantly in the overlaying of a broken glass on a map of Buenos Aires. The lines of fractured glass signal paths in the city that Macchi later explored, taking pictures and notes. This diary of a planned urban detour ultimately took the form of a book and digital platform that allows the user to explore the work’s archive.

“Perspectiva” is conceived around individual pieces, and that could be a good sign. The objects echo and address one another, without it being necessary to reconstruct specific environments or installations. The absolute lack of archival materials also helps the flow of the exhibition, which culminates with From Here to Eternity (2013, in collaboration with Edgardo Rudnitzky). In this two-channel mash-up of footage of the 1953 film of the same name, the divergent tempo of the sound track rewrites itself thanks to an algorithm. “Perspectiva” allows the instruments of Macchi’s meaning machine to appear connected and coherent: almost a paradox considering that the artist makes chance, uncertainty and rupture his business.

by Claudio Iglesias

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Art Lovin' /

Chapter One: Colin de Land & Pat Hearn

Colin de Land is the reason I decided to open a gallery. I was never a friend of his. I didn’t know him well, but when I moved to New York I had this dream of working for him. I managed to get a job interview with him that was quick and a bit pointless.

I did not really speak any English, and he did not really have any money to pay me. But those three minutes were crucial to my personal growth. I remember him being scruffy yet elegant. I remember this melancholy in his eyes — the eyes of someone who loved art more than money. Everyone conspired to steal his artists (and eventually they did).

But above all, besides his great gallery, I was fascinated by his love affair with Pat Hearn. I fantasized a lot about their bond, a relationship based on a love for each other and for art. Linda Yablonksy, in a beautiful article about their time together, recalled their early days, when they filled each other’s galleries with flowers. Pat was beautiful and always elegant, avoiding the clichés of the normcore pseudo-intellectual dealer or the priest in black Japanese designer clothes. Pat was the first to leave this world — sadly, way too early. Struck by cancer, struggling with medical bills, she died, followed by Colin only a year later.

I still dream about their story. Regardless of their tragic end, I always looked for that kind of romantic bohemian love. Thus the corny title of this column. How do love relationships work in the art world? Most people would say that it’s the same as any other field. But I wonder about the emotional intensity of the art community. Making art, selling it, or writing about it requires a lot of emotional strength as well a totally open heart. Artists are always pursuing their obsessions and their deepest feelings. Dealers (usually failed artists themselves) project their own obsessions onto their artists, nurturing strong feelings of exclusivity. The art world can be a big, messy, emotional place. And we should not forget about the social aspect of the business: the openings, the parties, the drinks, the fairs, the travel, which all accelerate the process of meeting new people and forming relationships.

Over these past few years of ultra professionalism in the art market, such feelings have sometimes been replaced by competition, paranoia and cynicism. The large amount of money at stake certainly does not help engender healthy relationships. Things can easily get out of control. Anyone is capable of being aggressive, greedy, vengeful.

But things are not that bad. We should remember that many success stories in the art world are borne out of loving relationships. Think of Ugo Rondinone and John Giorno, whose love culminated in their beautiful show at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (the city of love). Consider Anina Nosei and John Weber. Or take Mary Boone and Michael Werner, a long, successful relationship. Leo Castelli and Ileana Sonnabend wrote entire chapters of art history while they were together.

I tried to count all the art-world relationships I could think of. I couldn’t finish the list, which in a way is good news. Some of the relationships are over, but what they created was often rather magical and eternal. Many of them survived recessions, long distances, business breakups. When a relationship works, a mutual passion for art can be a bond that kindles greatness.

Still, I keep asking myself the same questions: Do relationships form more easily in the art world because feelings are stronger? Are those relationships more intense or more superficial? Is the art world a place of romanticism or cynicism? Left with these questions, I think about Colin and Pat.

A few years after my first and only meeting with Colin de Land, I moved back to Europe. Thanks to the help of Alexander Schroeder, I had the chance to borrow Colin’s personal collection of books. Before he passed away, he organized a selection of his books that were supposed to represent his life and interests. Everything was there, including the shelves. It was clear that I had to live with it for a while. I had to convince my partner at the time (now my business partner) to let me repurpose our dining room as a library. For one month, Parisians could visit the Colin de Land library by appointment. Some purists were disappointed, as the collection included fewer art books than they expected. Cookbooks were shelved next to the biography of a twenty-one-year-old Claudia Schiffer. There were also quite a few tourist guides and underground music fanzines from the East Village. Some of the books were presents from artists, and flipping through them you could find inscriptions from people like Isa Genzken and Cosima von Bonin. A few art critics were quite disappointed by this random selection of books. Meanwhile I was pleased to learn that my favorite art dealer had been all about food, supermodels and music. It didn’t take me long to realize that this collection of books, this celebration of one man’s voracious love of life, was an artwork in itself.

Colin’s and Pat’s galleries were on the same street. Most of their openings happened at the same time, odd gatherings of rich people from the Upper East Side and the downtown underground community. Under the umbrella of their love, everything around them seemed a little more profound. After they were gone, everything felt that much more superficial.

by Daniele Balice

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News /

Dan Fox’s Pretentiousness: Why It Matters

Nobody likes a pretentious ass, you might think. But in his new book Pretentiousness: Why It Matters, published by Coffee House Press and Fitzcarraldo Editions, Dan Fox argues that pomposity and conceit grease the wheels of innovation in music and art, and give us a tool with which to imagine ourselves differently.

Fox starts from a comparison between the etymology of the word “pretentiousness” — from the Latin prae, meaning “before,” and tendere, “to extend” — and ancient Greek actors, who would hold a mask before their face, playing someone else. Pretending is a useful thing to do; when we’re young that’s how we learn. It is also valuable as we get older and find ourselves in situations in which we might need to try and “fit in.” Sometimes, however, “faking it” doesn’t work or backfires — think of the ire felt when we learn we’ve been had by a con artist, or when someone turns out to be an impostor.

Telling someone they are or are not behaving, dressing or talking like they should is a way to monitor and control that behavior, dress and so on. Fox argues that calling someone out for pretending is an “informal tool for class surveillance,” but part of the reason we react so strongly to false pretense is because so much can be gained from it. If you get away with a con or an act, no one will care how you obtained your reward. This is also why it is so important in music and art; if the audience likes what they see or hear then it doesn’t matter whether you’re just putting it on for show. If it works, the act is vindicated. Pretentiousness is, then, a way for artists to push boundaries, to break free from standard institutional molds. So despite the possible artificiality or ploy inherent in pretentiousness, it is important because it is “permission for the imagination.” It allows us to “find out what it would be like to be otherwise.” More than being part of an “acceptable creative act,” for Fox pretentiousness is integral as an engine of self-creation — and we should all be more forgiving of it, at least sometimes.

by Aaron Bogart

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Review /

Samara Golden Yerba Buena Center for the Arts / San Francisco

In Samara Golden’s “A Trap in Soft Division,” her largest exhibition to date, the cyclical confinement of the present moment provides an autopsy of our contemporary condition.

Golden renders what she calls the “Sixth Dimension” by turning gallery architecture into a light box. Akin to filmstrips in which past, present and future collapse, each “frame” is an instance from life, different yet homogenous.

The viewer stumbles into an atrium-like space. A slick, white wooden trough takes up most of the room, forming a square-ish barricade. You sense before you hear a barely perceptible white noise being pumped into the space. It is reminiscent of a mall, its climate control giving off a whiff of sadist pleasure in safety. Circumambulating the atrium corridor, fellow viewers stares across this abyss of nothingness. Looking inward, a grid of mirrors finally nudges one’s vision upward, to look for clues out of this impasse.

Above, nested in eighteen vaulted skylight windows, in three rows of six, are upside-down living rooms, constructed out of foam and other disparate materials, in reduced proportions. The east-facing skylight forms the windows of the individual living spaces, which recall micro lofts in the nearby SoMa neighborhood, where development spurred by the tech industry has reached a fever pitch.

Each room is decorated with “life’s necessities,” each row customized to a different aesthetic. First: a starter-pack of contemporary loft living, white and minimally designed. Second: the sterility is undercut by a homey Midwestern vibe, illuminated by Tiffany-style table lamps and faux stained-glass windows made out of lighting gels. Third: an amalgamation or compromise of the former two, keeping it minimal while retaining a sense of dowdiness with “country curtains.” Strewn about are scarves, in-progress crochet, bowls of fruit, sunglasses, dustpans, tousled clothing and laundry baskets. Still, some empty wineglasses teem on the shelves amid half-opened gifts and spilled red wine, presumably after a night of tame celebration.

Life’s messiness contained and sterilized — danger kept at bay. Clarity, not vertigo, results from looking, upward and downward, ad infinitum. In Agamben’s notion of “the time of the end,” finality is never reached, as it has already arrived as part of the present. Golden prompts us to examine the false perception of the self’s boundaries; she pushes us back into the infinite now of our perpetual near-death.

by Jo-ey Tang

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Report /

Waiting for the Barbarians EVA International / Limerick

Ireland’s biennial has been in existence since 1977. This year’s iteration includes more than fifty-seven international artists and is curated by the Senegal-based Koyo Kouoh.

Marking the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, “Still (the) Barbarians” — titled after the poem “Waiting for the Barbarians” by the Greek writer C.P. Cavafy — investigates the postcolonial condition of Ireland, reflecting on how postcolonialism continues to shape our present sociopolitical, cultural and environmental condition. References to enduring systems of exclusion and exploitation recur throughout the biennale.

The exhibition is spread throughout the city, with two main concentrations in the Limerick City Gallery of Art and Cleeve’s Condensed Milk Factory. The latter features a vast array of video work, sequential dark and cold rooms illuminated with moving images. Arguably the most powerful work within this section is Public Studio’s six-channel video installation Road Movie (2015). Three large screens stand in the center of the space as an imposing wall, carving the room into two sections. Portraying visual aspects of the Israel-Palestine conflict, footage depicts houses, tree-lined roads, motorways and walls dividing the region. Imagery on either side of the wall differs, thus reproducing a feeling of segregation. Sound echoes throughout the vast room with voices that state: “It’s actually an existential war of Israel against Islam” and “the army refuses use of the roads.” The sociopolitical ramifications of Israel’s declaration of statehood in the postwar period of 1948 are depicted with affective strength.

A dystopian virtual reality is described in Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s digital video Finding Fanon1 & 2 (both 2015) — named after Frantz Fanon, a Martinique-born Afro-Caribbean philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose works are influential in the field of postcolonial studies. Two suited characters run searchingly through city docklands and concrete streets. The consolidation of wealth overshadows any potential for revolution in this digital creation, where people are described as spending their lives embedded in the “master’s plans.”

Also in the Milk Factory is Irish artist Alan Phelan’s Casement (2016), which directly addresses Ireland’s own political history, referring to the life of Roger Casement, an Anglo-Irish worker for the British Colonial Service. Knighted for his reporting on human-rights issues in Congo and Peru, he later heralded the republican cause before being executed as a result of the rising.

The quantification and analysis of acts of terrorism is the main focus of Eric Baudelaire’s FRMAWREOK FAMREWROK FRMWRAOEK FMRAEOWRK FWRREOMAKFEARMOWRK FORAMRWEK FWMAOERRKFOMARERWK FEMORWARK FMRWREAOK (2016). A wallpaper installation that stretches down an endlessly long partition, its monotone gray rectangles recall the refined language of Minimalism. The rectangles are text boxes that reproduce facsimiles of graphs, charts and data lists recording, for example, annual fatalities from Palestinian terrorism from 1978 to 1998 or international terrorist incidents and casualties from 1988 to 2003. The overwhelming mass of numbers and information dissolves into simple quadrilaterals amid an endless stream of data.

At the Limerick City Gallery of Art, immigration and the refugee crisis are a recurring reference. Mary Evan’s craft paper installation Thousands are Sailing (2016) depicts the faceless silhouettes of people in boats, moving toward nowhere to confront an uncertain future. Within the same room, Hera Büyüktasciyan’s Destroy Your Home, Build up a Boat, Save Life! (2014–15) contains rolled rugs bound together upon a wooden structure, unraveling and coming apart at the seams.

Perhaps most powerful is Philip Aguirre y Otegui’s Cabinet Mare Nostrum (2016), an installation in which blue coffin-shaped boats have been painted upon the wall, echoing and consuming the shape of the Mediterranean Sea. Drawings denoting the mass movement of people from Africa and the Middle East are presented in glass vitrines: silhouettes of people behind wire fences acting as portraits of a world in crisis.

Across the river in a freestanding mid-nineteenth-century building called The Sailor’s House, American-Korean artist Michael Joo intervened with the structure itself to present This beautiful stripped wreckage (which we investigate) (2016). Formerly a hostel for sailors, the artist approached the disused space as a corpus or body in its own right: one that needed piecing back together. With bare brick walls stripped to their most basic elements, Joo encountered a mass of timber in the barren back yard. Meticulously investigating this matter, he salvaged the building’s decaying wooden door and window frames, painstakingly piecing them back together and reinstalling them so that they hung just inches in front of their original sites, suspended on metal wires or pins.

The biennial weaves together complex and problematic histories of postcolonialism to bravely confront the humanitarian atrocities occurring in the world today. Many of these are happening on our doorsteps and within our Mediterranean seas, as people look for a route out of war-torn territories where extremist groups have prospered.

by Louisa Elderton

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