NYC 2018

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I spent June-July on a study tour in New York. These are a few of the places/things/experiences I loved.

Risa Hiratsuka at Andrew Edlin When cult indie label Sarah Records shuttered in 1995, their press release infamously posed the rhetorical: “didn’t YOU ever want to create something beautiful and pure just so that you could set it on fire…?” Japanese artist Risa Hiratsuka’s candle works seem custom made for everyone who is, or has ever been, the kind of romantic pyromaniac that Sarah was addressing.

Three of Hiratsuka’s creations are currently showing as part of the ‘Maiden Form’ exhibition in the basement of Andrew Edlin Gallery. The candles are only a few inches tall, and comprise two jolly-looking anthropomorphised roses, and a cartoonishly dour lion. For me, the naïve expressivity of the figures suggests the nostalgic aura of Little Golden Books and Saturday morning cartoons. This nostalgia is rendered fragile by the material ephemerality of the objects. In the Edlin show, one rose is presented mid-melt–his jaunty face obscured by warped and hardened wax. Just as these sweet little things are malleable, so too are the recollections of innocence they animate and, possibly, incinerate. Hiratsuka cheerfully signs off the about section of her website, “with love and curse!” It’s a statement that perfectly encapsulates the intimate, wicked relationship to nostalgia that her objects give form to.

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Risa Hiratsuka, Rose Man and Captive King, Andrew Edlin Gallery, 2018. candle wax. Photo: the author

 

‘Them’ by Chris Cochrane, Dennis Cooper, Ishmael Houston Jones ‘Them’ premiered at the East Village’s Performance Space in 1986, as the AIDS epidemic was rapidly decimating New York’s queer communities. The anger, despair and subsequent aggression that pervaded the gay, male experience during this period forms the vocabulary of this collaboration between musician Chris Cochrane, writer Dennis Cooper, and choreographer Ishmael Houston Jones. The piece was restaged at Performance Space this June for the first time since 2011.

It’s all throbbing with erotic desire and longing for whatever unknowing came before the grief. Cooper’s text in particular, though emotionally raw in its content, is spoken with the rhythmic performativity of someone who is weary from a lifetime of retracing their remorse. Cochrane’s contribution brings these reminiscences into the present with an explosive score of furious guitar distortion, underpinned by the uncertainty of quavering harmonics. Yet it is Houston Jones’ choreography that grounds the piece. With a centre of gravity located just above the dancers’ heavy boots and chunky sneakers, the cast tilt, and tumble; slamming into each other with all the force and lust of men fearing for their lives.

The climax of the work involves one dancer, blindfolded and dressed in virginal white, lead to a mattress on the floor where he violently simulates copulation with a dead goat. The goat is real, and so is the trauma that is echoed in each aspect of the work’s staging. As the piece draws to a close, the cast stand scattered around the space, in various stages of collapse, pressing fingers to throats and underarms, checking for signs of decline. They are all visibly exhausted, dripping with sweat. That’s the thing about choreography–it’s a memory that moves through people. It raises the past, the absent or the dead in bodies that are so incredibly athletic and alive. Fundamentally, it’s this element of the choreographic that imbues the regrets and losses that ‘Them’ recalls with a sense of transcendence.

 

Paul Chan’s ‘Dimposium’ (2016) at Metro Pictures In a post-truth America, reality often seems like a moving target amidst the fraudulent and fabricated. Josh Kline’s exhibition ‘Evidence’, currently showing at Metro Pictures, is concerned with distilling the flux that characterises our experiences of the world in this socio-political climate. There are consequently elements of the banal and the recognisable dotted throughout the exhibition–Paul Pfieffer’s video works featuring decontextualized footage from television gameshows, Allyson Vierra’s large arrow-shaped wall-hangings constructed out of melted and hardened plastic shopping bags–but it pointedly all feels a little bit fallacious.

This uncanny familiarity is particularly striking in Paul Chan’s spectral duet. The piece is constructed out of two squat, white fabric figures of the variety that wave manically outside gas stations and carwashes. Set atop a homely circular rug, and adorned with capes in gaudy patterned fabrics, the two figures, are joined at the wrist. Though thrashing back and forth, there is something unnerving about the limitations of their movement capacity. Each figure is rooted to the spot by the fan mechanism that is the source of its animation. In this way, the squabble the two figures are designed to play out is never resolved. The pair are destined to be straw men, and their likeness to the familiar gas-station markers that serve simply to draw one’s attention, here seems a shrewd gesture towards a society locked in a fruitless push-and-pull with spectacle.

 

Jesse Hathaway Diaz on Necromancy Delivered as part of the ‘Utopia / Dystopia’ series of conversations at Hauser & Wirth, folklorist and performer Jesse Hathaway Diaz’s lecture, ‘The Corpse between the Covers: Summoning the Dead through Ink and Breath’ was part sermon, part semiotics of necromancy.

Diaz began with the contention that all reading is an act of reanimating the dead. He then charted a path back to the moment Spanish missionaries attempted to translate the term “book” into native Guatemalan languages. In describing the way in which these missionaries mistakenly translated “book” into the natives’ term for “altar”, Diaz suggests that if books are altars, then all writing could be seen to be a kind of burial. But perhaps more significantly, what the inexact translations that occurred through the process of colonisation in Guatemala reveal, is that reading is also an act of rewriting–a reshaping of the wor(l)d in the image of one’s own experience.

Ultimately, Diaz’s talk stood as an appeal to all necromancers (that is, readers) to practice their art responsibly and with the knowledge that, intentionally or not, textual interpretation is always a process of using one’s own subjectivity to bring life to the texts of others. Given that the event was held in Hauser & Wirth’s bookshop, Diaz’s argument took on an extra dimension of prescience. In this context, I found myself unable to shake the feeling that the weight of this reader’s responsibility could, and maybe should, extend to art critics, collectors, curators and historians, who themselves are always performing a kind of divination in animating and enlivening the narratives surrounding art and the people who make it.

 

LES Citizens Parade Billed as a work encompassing public activism, celebration and performance art, the Lower East Side Citizens Parade moves through Seward Park to the tune of a brass band. Dressed in blue boiler suits of the kind removalists might don, the elderly participants carry cardboard boxes in their arms and stacked on trollies. The boxes are emblazoned with text that references the objects these immigrants would take with them if they were again forced to move. Shmatas, phones, documents, language–these items vacillate in nature between the practical and the emotional, often striking a chord somewhere in-between.

For the latter half of the performance, participants gather in the centre of the park, performing short enactments of the day-today give-and-take that occurs in the community. The boxes are here sat on, passed around, snatched and returned; used as tables, balanced on heads and repurposed as music stands. The parade concludes with the crowd being invited to dance with the performers. This gesture of generosity sees children smiling and flailing, and performers leading their fellow senior citizens through salsa steps and soft-shoe shuffling. It’s an event that exuberantly highlights the notion that, while this aging community is associated with a fixed geographic location, their unity is drawn not from a sense of staid settlement, but from the activity and dynamism that the intersection of their distinct experiences generates.

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LES Citizens Parade, Seward Park, New York, 2018. Photo: the author 

 

Magazzino Italian Art Magazzino is a warehouse-style exhibition space that recently opened upstate in Cold Spring. The gallery was built to house contemporary and post-war Italian works from the collection of Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu. Much like Dia:Beacon, Magazzino is filled with natural light, its picture windows framing the lush gardens that surround the building. This is important given the kinds of works it exhibits. Currently on show is ‘Arte Povera: From the Olnick Spanu Collection’. Highlights include Giovanni Anselmo’s beautifully sculptural photographic work ‘Qui e là’ (1971-72), and Pier Paolo Calzolari’s ‘Ommagio a Fontana’ (1989). The latter is comprised of a copper rectangle, punctured with a number of small holes and mounted on the wall. The structure’s inbuilt refrigeration system causes moisture in the air to accumulate as frost on the copper slate, collapsing the distance between the work and its wider context in an environmental expansion of Lucio Fontana’s canvas-slashing practice.

In an introductory video produced by Magazzino, Olnick’s interviewer references Giulio Paolini’s appropriation of Greek ruins in works such this particular exhibition’s ‘Mimesis’ (1976- 88), in which two identical plaster models of Herculean Greek heroes face each other as mirror images. The interviewer asks why it is that many of the Arte Povera artists romanticise the aesthetics of classical ruins. Olnick dismisses this notion that the artists were sentimentalising the classical, saying that unlike actual ancient ruins, in Arte Povera pieces “the fragment houses the entire object”. To my mind, Olnick here gestures to an understanding of “povera”, where, as in Calzolari’s work, absence or lack are themselves integral materials used to execute the works. In this way, Magazzino, with its stark concrete façades holding open space in sharp relief, is an exemplary setting in which to view works from this movement.

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Magazzino Italian Art, Cold Spring, New York, 2018. Photo: the author

 

Dorothea Rockburne I had never heard of Dorothea Rockburne until I encountered her work, curling at the edges and peeling off the walls at Dia:Beacon. The installations on display are constructed from the layering of materials such as tar, oil, plastic and paper, that wrinkle, relax and contract–albeit at a pace that is imperceptible to the casual glance. The didactic text notes that Rockburne danced at Judson in the 1960’s, and you can see it in the physicality of her pieces. Like much of the work produced in the milieu of the Judson Dance Theatre, there is a sense of experimentation in the works that is manifest through the way in which they seem to be alive and in a processual state of becoming. The use of delicately creased paper in particular creates an unfolding quality in many of the works that, in its incrementality, appears to contain a sense of the infinite. Rockburne’s ability to capture such spatial and temporal immensity in so few materials, is for me what mastery in the field of minimalism looks and feels like.

000047Dorothea Rockburne, Dia:Beacon. Photo: the author, 2018 

 

Giacometti at the Guggenheim My grandfather was an amateur sculptor. He would spend hours in his workshop making copies of Egyptian busts and Degas’ dancers, but the ones I loved most were his Giacometti inspired pieces. When viewing the Giacometti survey–currently exhibited around the length of the Guggenheim’s ramp–I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather’s plaster copies.

The Guggenheim’s installation of Giacometti’s emaciated plaster and bronze silhouettes realises what the didactic text identifies as the artist’s intention to “represent the appearance of a form as seen from a distance”. The sightlines across the Guggenheim’s winding slope mean that in walking through the exhibition, visitors continually catch glimpses of the figures from positions of spatial remove.

Giacometti is quoted in one didactic text as saying he was fascinated by the way bodies in the modern city seem to “unceasingly form and re-form living compositions in unbelievable complexity”. This process of de-formation and re-formation is palpable in the subtractive method of the sculptures’ making. While their distinguishable form is shaped through the gradual pulling away of material, the gaunt figures are simultaneously abstracted by this process; their specificity blurred by the depressions and contusions of the artist’s hand. What is then visible–as one looks across or down from any balcony, through the burgeoning crowd of visitors, to the likes of ‘Man Pointing’ (1947)–is the way in which we are constantly surrounded by individuals who will, for the most part, never be completely known to us. In the end, our interactions with others are thin approximations of some reality we are not fully privy to. Giacometti’s shadow-figures are portraits that knowingly undertake the Sisyphean task of apprehending the inconceivable essence of others. Because of this, I will always have a fondness for these works, and my grandfather’s earnest attempts to replicate them.

000079Giacometti, Installation view, Guggenheim Museum. Photo: the author, 2018 

 

A moment of stillness in Susan Rethorst’s ‘Stealing From Myself’ For a dance work, Susan Rethorst’s ‘Stealing From Myself’ (2018) is remarkably literary. The two dancers begin seated, facing each other, a stack of hardback books beside each of their chairs. Over the course of the performance they stack, flip through and slam shut these texts, as they take part in a coy back and forth that cuts up and rewrites elements of Rethorst’s oeuvre as a poetic new work.

The movement vocabulary is an anxious blend of the frenetic and the precise. Exacting alignments and extensions are repeatedly reached and then dismantled almost immediately by one of the dancers intervening in the space of the other. Looking like the precocious, eccentric protagonists of a Salinger novel with their snappily responsive movement and quirkily mismatched thrift store outfits, Gregory Holt and Gabrielle Revlock dance the work as if hashing out some existential dilemma over which they disagree.

Amidst the feverish shifting, replaying and replacing of shapes, rhythms, books and bodies, there is a moment when Holt and Revlock stop. Holt is laying on his side, sprawled across two chairs. As he moves to raise his leg, Revlock lunges and catches it so that together they might be suspended in this awkward tableau. This was the first performance I saw in New York, towards the end of a week in which interpreting the constant sound and vision and movement of a new city had started to feel overwhelming. Watching the dancers hold still and steady, in absolute silence, felt for the first time like a profound moment of respite–from the performance, sure–but more so from a city that, for better or worse, always seems to be in motion; forever shifting, replaying and replacing itself.

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