In Residence /

The Spear Verses the Net

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.

An exhibition is an ideological field in which we are charged with a mandate to think compositionally. The speculative exhibition at Odium Fati asks: What is the role of form as a context-specific practice both inherited and produced? What is the potential of revision as a strategy and a mode of engagement with one’s material conditions and physical world? The slight internal dynamics among practices, forms, and components generate a specific capacity to act as a carrier of the political. To reorient one’s recognition of the varied and uncounted participants that facilitate our innumerous encounters in daily life, while in public space, with objects and with one another. For example, in common architectural discourse attention is seldom paid to the embodied, affective, and relational aspects of site and space. To receive an exhibition of artworks is to recognize the implication of a body tracing a building: its structural citations brought forth by its history of past and future use, made solid in a specific physical arrangement. We recount the role of space as a container, its value as a collaborator, a participant in structural injustice but also in practices of living and of responsiveness.  

An exhibition will often traverse a number of formal and informal networks, including peers or friends, fiduciaries and foundations; the context of a group exhibition plays a particular role. Contingent on situation and context, it provides a space of mutual interruptibility amid works, resisting a singular voice. It asks: What is it to join with another? The physical limits of objects become heightened, distributed throughout space while trying to maintain a set of slight negative spaces — though this space is always full. In the most general sense, organizing a group exhibition is a means to gather and share. The figure of the container leads me to Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1986 revisionist text “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” from which the exhibition at Odium Fati takes its name. The essay describes the importance of two dominant stories in the context of new pedagogies. Le Guin posits a new theory, a counter-narrative, in which the first cultural device used by humans was a container or a carrier bag for food, rather than a weapon. “Before the tool that forces energy outward, we made the tool that brings energy home.” Aware that tales of hunting rather than gathering make for more exciting stories, and thus their cultural capacity to establish dominant patterns of narrative, Le Guin instead argues for the inglorious narrative of the container.

In “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” Le Guin proposes that the container is that which makes us what we are: the bottle, the net, the shell, the clay pot. Reflexive in its pedagogical role, it weaves a story through figures, citations, and memories. The text distilled asks: How we remember or learn anew? How may we story differently? Le Guin believes the process of writing a book to be akin to the lugging of a container, full of words and thoughts. An exhibition can be characterized by similar acts. It is a means of re-storying in which artworks are always coauthored via personal or historical memories made explicit through formal behaviors or not; artworks contain elements waiting to be used up. The exhibition at Odium Fati is a site of intensified involvement wherein less explicit practices of form and revision may find use in the figure of the container: the carrier as a means of responsiveness, gathering words or works that bear meaning and hold a particular relation to one another and to us. While always implicated in formations of knowledge that produce reward, recognition, or status as some stories accumulate and arise over others, the works in the exhibition channel a quiet listening. They function through a continuous process of holding open a slight negative space between philosophy and social realities, theoretical speculations and concrete plans.

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

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Review /

Matthew Lutz-Kinoy Le Consortium / Dijon

Matthew Lutz-Kinoy’s solo exhibition at Le Consortium conflates two places far away in time and space: New York’s Frick Collection, opened to the public in 1935, and the Château de Bellevue, erected in 1750 on the outskirts of Paris for Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour and demolished seventy years later. Lutz-Kinoy’s combo, however, is not purely gratuitous; it has been drawn through the figure of François Boucher, the French Rococo painter who was a protégé of Madame de Pompadour (and indeed decorated her private rooms at the château), and whom Henry Frick voraciously collected.

Lutz-Kinoy’s embrace of the dense ornamental language of the Late Baroque develops into a journey — or better, a promenade — through modes of representation. The artist presents thirteen large-scale paintings and a collection of ceramic objects shown on tatami-cum-plinths. The paintings cover almost the entire wall surface of the single room hosting the exhibition, wrapping the space in a continuous decorative shell. Their subjects include: naked male bodies (either entirely drawn or rendered as silhouettes), flower motives, architectural plans of gardens (indeed, of the park surrounding the Château de Bellevue), color fields, pastoral vignettes involving infants (sometimes quoting Boucher’s paintings in the Frick Collection), trinkets in the shape of exotic animals, gestures reminiscent of the most abstract landscapes of the Chinese literati, and so on.

Because of their enormous scale, many of the canvases were partitioned; their fragmentation, however, enhances the viewer’s experience, echoing both the Rococo affinity for asymmetry and the maze-like design of the giardino all’italiana. The painterly surface becomes itself a garden, a place where the artist’s visual memories are triggered by the cyclicity of seasons and grow into inventions; where the figure-ground optics of figurative painting meet the theatricality of nature mastered by man; where harmony is achieved through extravagance. Standing before the many bodies populating these paintings, it is hard not to translate this agenda to gendered identities; and, in fact, as in Boucher’s bucolic scenes in which children are ambiguously depicted carrying out adult tasks, Lutz-Kinoy’s males — often captured in luscious poses — blend with the exquisite queering function of decoration.

by Michele D’Aurizio

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Zoe Leonard Whitney Museum of American Art / New York

“Zoe Leonard: Survey” at the Whitney Museum of American Art is the artist’s first retrospective in a major American museum. The first gallery exudes a longing for nostalgia and remote destinations. The walls display black-and-white photographs taken through a plane window. A queue of blue vintage suitcases, to which the artist keeps adding every year, sits on the floor in the middle of the gallery (1961, 2002).

Zoe Leonard, You see I am here after all, 2008, (detail)
Zoe Leonard, You see I am here after all, 2008, (detail). Installation view, Dia: Beacon, Beacon, New York, 2008. Collection of the artist; courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne. Photograph by Bill Jacobson, New York.

The plain, vintage, dated look of the suitcases may be a metaphor for the lack of novelty that sightseeing offers, the ubiquitousness of our global consumer culture, which we never really abandon. Our dreams are mass marketed. The blue, contrasting with the dramatic black-and-white photos, suggests that color resides in the traveler, rather than the landscape: we carry our dreams hoping to see them manifest. Is that the definition of vacation? This installation is tied to the adjacent gallery’s You see I am here after all (2008), an impressive assemblage composed of about four thousand nearly identical vintage postcards of Niagara Falls. If a postcard is as an achievement (“Hello! I’ve been there!”), the overwhelming quantity here annihilates their naïve purpose: a trophy in a room full of trophies is no longer a trophy. But, as a whole, the assemblage is monumental, emulating the scale of the waterfalls. Human dreams pour into the ether like a colossal water chute. The installation Strange Fruit (1992–1997) presents a collection of fruit skins (banana, orange, lemon, and more) sewed together and decaying before our eyes. Unfortunately, the museum has provided little information about the piece. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s description is more detailed: “‘Strange Fruit began as a means of consolation for the artist after the death of a friend [David Wojnarowicz] but now presents a wide range of possible readings, including a meditation on loss and mortality.” Here the longing for departure takes a much more tragic, fatal sense.

by Alexandre Stipanovich

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Review /

Taryn Simon: An Occupation of Loss Artangel / London

An Occupation of Loss, artist Taryn Simon’s first performance work, was commissioned by Park Avenue Armory New York and Artangel London. The work unfolded in two chapters: the first in New York in September 2016, and the second in an unfinished London theater located beneath a luxurious yet kitsch residential glass/concrete block on the corner of Islington Green, which felt both urban and unfamiliar. Its three-balustrade circular form, excavated underground, created a somewhat sci-fi setting for mourning rituals acted out by professional mourners, or collaborating artists, suggesting an imaginary bridge between past and future amid uncertainties in our age of individualism.

The Park Avenue Armory is itself a historic brick building of monumental proportions on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. There, the choice to work with Shohei Shigematsu and OMA resulted in a very imposing display, with eleven massive forty-eight-foot-tall concrete pipes displayed in a semicircle, each endowed with a boardwalk aimed at a center point and marked by a passage of light defined by two thin neon columns. The live performance, which lasted around forty-five minutes in both cities, connected each pipe to a mourner, staging what felt like a funeral inside a Brutalist chapel. The mourning ground in London was instead nestled within the existing architecture of the theater with two central light passages — a choice that could be seen as a doubling of the original semi-circular space, and also evocative of the light shafts organized as a tribute to the victims of the September 11 attacks in New York, the artist’s hometown.

Simon’s work always allows for an open-ended reading, framed by the painstaking methodology of an anthropologist. In fact, her practice — mostly photographic until An Occupation of Loss — requires extensive cognitive work and research embodied in a carefully designed form. She draws upon found images and their inherent stories, which often have profound implications — cultural, political, economic — as is the case of A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I – XVIII (2008–11) and Paperwork and the Will of Capital (2015).

However, Simon’s subjects are openly decontextualized, a feature that in her transition from photography to performance can suggest dehumanization and displacement. This intent seems affirmed by the featured book on display at the show, which is a collection of paperwork and visa requests for the performers to travel. Each book is site-specific to the two venues, implying the governmental authorship of the artwork based on their approval or refusal of the mourner’s visas. The performance felt at once choreographed and cacophonic, an upside down Tower of Babel with a fragmented humanity gathering to express an insatiable need for belonging during the paying of last respects. Singers and musicians from Greece, Azerbaijan, Armenia, China, Cambodia, and other countries expressed a wide range of laments and exhortations; Ghanaians sobbed while a blind Ecuadorian accordionist set the rhythm. Each of them filled the space with a dense sense of what is inevitability shared across borders and civilizations.

The event felt mysterious and solemn, with a silent crowd of spectators moving from one group of performers to another and lingering between the two neon columns. The artist’s appropriation of ancient and mostly non-Western mourning practices — a recurring trope — is thorny. However, Simon disallows speculation by keeping everything under a rigorous discipline fed by scientific collaborators such as linguists, musicologists, anthropologists, and field workers over an eleven-year time span.

There is currently no archive of collective mourning practices worldwide, which made preparation of the performance arduous but also led Simon toward an unprecedented attempt at creating new taxonomies. Beneath this straightforward framework, An Occupation of Loss calls for an examination into the legacy of a seemingly vanished humanism in post-capitalist society — a missing piece that has been addressed by a number of academics, and more specifically referred to as a “community” — in contrast to rising individuality — by Zygmunt Bauman in Community: Seeking Safety in an Insecure World (2001), and as a “center of gravity” by Charles A. Kupchan in No One’s World: The West, The Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (2012).

by Sara Dolfi Agostini

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Cruising Pavilion Spazio Punch / Venice Architecture Biennale

The inaugural Cruising Pavilion sits an additional boat ride away from the main happenings of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, and a canal down from the notorious Garden of Eden cruising ground, visited by Rainer Maria Rilke, Henry James, Marcel Proust, and Jean Cocteau between the Belle Époque and Second World War.

What architectural considerations make for ample cruising conditions? The repurposing of neglected spaces proposed by Studio Karhard’s Boiler Club Extension (2015) elaborates on the traditional vernacular of ’70s and ’80s cruising and urban gay cultural tropes with brushed metal, pipes, factory lights, and bricks conveyed in plans and photographs. Trevor Yeung’s infrared heat lamp, Dark Sun (twins) (2018), and eucalyptus oil humidifier, The Helping Hand (2018), charge the display with sauna-level sensuality and the same dim red lighting that permeates the entire pavilion. Popper diffusers intoxicate visitors as they weave through chicken wire and peep-holed walls before arriving in the garden.

Wooden slats enable voyeurism and frame two narrow, three-story wooden structures within the Spazio Punch warehouse, remnants of Egill Sæbjörnsson’s troll installation for the Icelandic Pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 2017. Visitors crack and tread between the two structures, stepping on throw-downs, “used” condoms, and silk scarves in Lili Reynaud Dewar’s piece: My Epidemic (a series of scarves printed with texts on prophylaxis, sex, love and vulnerability) (2015). Upstairs, Ian Wooldridge’s three urinal supports, shooting with a shallow depth of field three ways: serviced / lone stranger / from the suburbs (2018), employ cock ring–like enclosures to turn normally invisible bathroom infrastructure into caricatured fetish objects.

Gym mats and a blow-up mattress emulating something close to my current bedroom interior recall the noxious resources commonly found in dark rooms and sex clubs, colloquialized by DYKE_ON’s 2017 apparel collection, which seeks to set street semiotics of lesbian culture with slogans like “Make dykes great again.” A projected mash up of Le navire Night (1979) refines the leap from phone relationship to physical meet-up, which explodes in Dawson’s 20-Load Weekend (2004), the famous pornographic portrayal of bareback sex after the AIDS crisis, an emancipation from LGBTI+ collective trauma and stigmatization.

It might be too reductive to characterize the architectural traits of a good cruising zone with labyrinths, nooks, curvatures, glory holes, and red lights without considering its intrinsic socio-political history. Beyond the aestheticization of cruising culture, here meticulous, one is lead to question the need for sexual discretion to begin with. If homosexuality is entering the same social strata as heterosexuality, why are spatial conclusions about the future of cruising being drawn from its oppressive past? The space enables visitors to co-exist surrounded by inextricably erotic subtext without feeling any obligation to actually cruise or subvert its inherent guilt, enhancing collectivity in a way that seemed refreshingly post-Grindr. Cruising has its own desirable framework for spatial arrangement, but darkness and privacy are still measures taken to escape violence and persecution in some countries, and not simply characteristics of what might render cruising so deviantly pleasurable for others.

by Claudio Santoro

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Adriana Ramić and Micah Schippa Hotel Art Pavilion / New York

For Belgian-born literary theorist Paul de Man, semiotics freed literary theory from not just an obligation to portray truth, but also its capacity to. Signs described other signs, and language, reduced to meta-language, could only describe itself. While New Critics saw semiotics as a crisis, de Man, foreshadowing post-structuralists like Deleuze, argued that theory was meant to be an ouroboros: self-referential and asymptotic, munching its own tail, theory existed to show off its limits. “Nothing can overcome the resistance to theory,” wrote de Man. “Theory ‘is’ itself this resistance.”

A “resistance to theory” links de Man with “Touch is a Bridge,” Adriana Ramić and Micah Schippa’s two-person show at Hotel Art Pavilion, as does, circuitously, Nazism. In 1941, de Man became the official book reviewer for Le Soir, a viciously anti-Semitic publication, ceasing only when his uncle, a Nazi-controlled puppet minister, was targeted by the Belgian Resistance. In 2014, Ramić visited Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science, which houses, among other things, the Museum of Evolution. Stalin gifted the building in 1952, as the city struggled to repair itself from the Nazis’ 1944 razing. Ramić photographed the Museum’s fossil collection, then fed the photos into IBM Watson’s visual recognition software. Physical iterations of Watson’s bloopers — a doorbell, a bread roll — are pinned to the gallery wall, while a taxonomy of dehydrated-looking found objects, assembled by Schippa, rest on the gallery floor. A preserved mushroom lies next to a vertebra, itself perpendicular to a butter knife, black with rust. Making use of Hotel Art Pavilion’s location (a shed in the curators’ backyard), Schippa also dug a square sized to the dimensions of the gallery. Titled, aptly, “Excavation at the dimensions of the gallery,” the piece sits in front of the shed like an earthy doormat.

Much like de Man and the post-structuralists, Ramić and Schippa use formalism as their raw material. For Schippa, classificatory hubris is undercut by nature: during the opening it rained, and worms wiggled up through the dirt square. Ramić uses apophenia — or a propensity for seeing meaningful links in unrelated phenomena — to foreground the information age’s approach to data. Data miners, like post-structuralist theorists, study the conditions of knowledge production: stable frameworks are deconstructed into more and finer units of data to reveal, if not truth, then the closest simulation of it. Post-structuralist analysis can of course be used to critique the way data is framed as objective evidence. As Ramić points out, the “connections” between data points are often meaningless and biased, even though “data as truth” claims are used to justify surveillance and extraction. Yet “Touch is a Bridge” felt exhausted with post-structuralism as well. White cube aesthetics critiqued but also replicated: the exhibit is an admittedly scrambled white box with things neatly displayed inside.

by Charlie Markbreiter

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