Bucket List, Impressions

Josephine Meckseper, Josiah McElheny

Josephine Meckseper, a German artist based in NYC, has been making photographs, sculptures, installations and videos critical of American military power and consumer culture. I had seen her famous Pyromaniac 2 photo before, but am finally spending more time with her vitrines of readymade objects and store-inspired displays.

I’m late in getting familiar with Meckseper’s work (it might have been useful for thinking through a 2010 show about 99¢ stores). But it’s just as well now, as I’m  currently thinking about new projects that are off the wall, and Meckseper uses some inventive display strategies.

Josephine Meckseper Pyromaniac 2  2003  C-Print  101 x 76 cm // Source: Saatchi-Gallery.co.uk.

Josephine Meckseper, Pyromaniac 2, 2003 C-Print 101 x 76 cm // Source: Saatchi-Gallery.co.uk.

Josephine Meckseper, Jaguar, 2010, Mixed media on reflective slatwall, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. / 240 x 240 x 31.8 cm // Source: timothytaylorgallery.com.

Josephine Meckseper, Jaguar, 2010, Mixed media on reflective slatwall, 94 1/2 x 94 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. / 240 x 240 x 31.8 cm // Source: timothytaylorgallery.com.

Josephine Meckseper, Afrikan Spir 2011 Mixed media in steel and glass vitrine 80 x 80 x 20 in. / 203.2 x 203.2 x 50.8 cm // timothytaylorgallery.com.

Josephine Meckseper, Afrikan Spir, 2011, Mixed media in steel and glass vitrine, 80 x 80 x 20 in. / 203.2 x 203.2 x 50.8 cm // Source: timothytaylorgallery.com.

Josephine Meckseper, The Concept of Irony, 2010 Toilet brush, costume jewelry, sandals, newspaper, decorative wall hangings, hosiery, book, framed collage with newsprint and colored acetate on paper, acrylic painting on canvas, cloth, metal and acrylic display fixtures on metal rack 74.5 x 24.75 x 24 inches (189.2 x 62.9 x 61 cm) // Source: ElizabethDee.com

Josephine Meckseper, The Concept of Irony, 2010 Toilet brush, costume jewelry, sandals, newspaper, decorative wall hangings, hosiery, book, framed collage with newsprint and colored acetate on paper, acrylic painting on canvas, cloth, metal and acrylic display fixtures on metal rack 74.5 x 24.75 x 24 inches (189.2 x 62.9 x 61 cm) // Source: ElizabethDee.com

Josephine Meckseper, Der Wille zur Macht, 2011, Mixed media on steel pole 52.25 x 9 x 9 inches (132.7 x 22.86 x 22.86 cm) // Source: ElizabethDee.com.

Josephine Meckseper, Der Wille zur Macht, 2011, Mixed media on steel pole 52.25 x 9 x 9 inches (132.7 x 22.86 x 22.86 cm) // Source: ElizabethDee.com.

Art Production Fund and Meckseper recently teamed up for the Manhattan Oil Project, a monumental kinetic sculpture/intervention in Times Square, currently on view through May 6th at 46th Street and 8th Ave.

Josephine Meckseper, Manhattan Oil Project, 2012 // Source: Art Production Fund

Josephine Meckseper, Manhattan Oil Project, 2012 // Source: Art Production Fund

Meckseper is an anti-capitalist activist. At her recent talk at Sculpture Center, she cited the forms of sculpture that have inspired her, including the fall of monuments to great men, and the Berlin Wall. I liked something she said about working in social contexts, which I paraphrased in my notes as:

What are the oppositional voices in the neighborhood?

I was very inspired by Josiah McElheny‘s talk in the Public Art Fund’s lecture series at the New School.

I liked McElheny’s works, and appreciated learning about these stunning projects:

Josiah McElheny, "Island Universe" (detail view), 2008, installed at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Courtesy of artist, photograph by Ivån Caso Lafuente.

Josiah McElheny, "Island Universe" (detail view), 2008, installed at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid. Courtesy of artist, photograph by Ivån Caso Lafuente. // Source: http://www.veralistcenter.org/

A beautiful installation at the Crystal Palace in Retiro Park in Madrid. Project with Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Visiting the Crystal Palace is going on my bucket list.

JOSIAH MCELHENY, The Past Was A Mirage I'd Left Far Behind, 2011-2012, Wood, Mirror, Screen material and Projection. Seven multiple reflective screens made of mirrored glass, wood, and projection cloth. Experimental abstract films programmed to change throughout the period of one year. dimensions variable upon installation. The Bloomberg Commission: Josiah McElheny Whitechapel Gallery, London September 7, 2011 – July 20, 2012. // Source: andrearosengallery.com.

JOSIAH MCELHENY, The Past Was A Mirage I'd Left Far Behind, 2011-2012, Wood, Mirror, Screen material and Projection. Seven multiple reflective screens made of mirrored glass, wood, and projection cloth. Experimental abstract films programmed to change throughout the period of one year. dimensions variable upon installation. The Bloomberg Commission: Josiah McElheny Whitechapel Gallery, London September 7, 2011 – July 20, 2012. // Source: andrearosengallery.com.

This is a really cool video installation using kaideoscopic imagery made with substrates of mirrors and wood. I’d love to see this and I’m looking forward to this show coming to Boston ICA this summer!

McElheny is pound-for-pound one of the most brilliant contemporary artists of our time. First, the craftsmanship of his handblown glass is impeccable. Second, he’s an artist’s artist, constantly experimenting and advancing art historical dialogues, such as with his remake of The Metal Party and the Light Club of Italia. Third, he’s a formidable intellect, whose contributions to Artforum are not an insignificant part of his practice. He said one of the things he enjoys as an artist is to generate new research, and one of his forthcoming multiples is a translation of Blanque’s “Eternity through the Stars: An Astronomical Hypothesis.” While this text has inspired Borges and other writers, it’s never been translated into English before, and McElheny is searching for a publisher.

He talked about

display as a sequence of events,

thinking through

how ideas are expressed in objects.

On readymades, he expressed that

artists must transform an object because industrial production resists transformation. Readymades propose that consuming is art. It’s a dangerous idea that competing with the capacities of industrial production is difficult, and that artists can only react.

His opposition to Adolf Loos’ “Ornament and Crime” theory of modernism is based on his principle that

the desire to make a mark on the world and show you exist is universal.

I especially loved the way he phrased that urge:

To make a material mirror.

These are fundamental quandries for artists. For artists who are interested in the concepts embedded within the materials we use, and who want to make work that embodies, rather than illustrates, our ideas, it is an essential one.

During the Q&A, someone asked if McElheny saw his practice as a moral one. He equivocated away from making a personal statement, but did say:

The ethics of art are to create more permissive thinking—to generate more, and not less, thought.

I did see the interlocutor’s point, as McElheny stated his ambivalence about beauty. He said something about seeing how quickly beautiful things can turn ugly. It reminded me of Yi-Fu Tuan’s point in Passing Strange and Wonderful: Nature, Aesthetics and Culture (Island Press, 1993)—that for most of human history, beauty and goodness were synonymous, so the aesthetic carries a moral tint.

McElheny’s practice seems to be experiments in enacting or expressing moral principles through strategies of aesthetic production and display.

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Art & Development, Research

Camp

Just re-read Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964), which you can find here. Though the essay is showing its 40+ year wrinkles, if you can look past some of the anthropological blanket statements, it’s a great read.

I especially enjoyed:

Making connections with Paul Martin’s Sex, Drugs and Chocolate: The Science of Pleasure (Harper Collins, 2007).

Sontag considered Camp to be “modern-day dandyism,” and described how dandies were driven by a fear of boredom. Martin examines this fear at great lengths, citing the reckless hedonism of Nero and Lord Rochester. Interestingly, Martin points out that boredom often reveals more about the bored person than it does about the world around him or her.

Further, Sontag sees Camp as a means of accessing pleasure. She seems to align with Martin’s thoughts on the importance of modest pleasures in daily life.

Sontag:

The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating. The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy. … Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated.

Martin advocates becoming a “wily hedonist,” who pursues “more of the Modest Pleasures of everyday life that many of us tend to take for granted. … They should also be cheap or free; pleasure should not be the preserve of the wealthy.”

Q. Why is it that old things look so cool?

A. Sontag:

This is why so many of the objects prized by Camp taste are old-fashioned, out-of-date, démodé. It’s not a love of the old as such. It’s simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides the necessary detachment—or arouses a necessary sympathy.

Sympathy!?

[Camp and the attraction of everyday materials]

Just last week, I noted in a previous post that British sculptor Eric Bainbridge appreciates cheap materials because they “elicit a kind of sympathy, an identification with the viewer that this is what we are.”

Sontag:

Another effect: time contracts the sphere of banality. (Banality is, strictly speaking, always a category of the contemporary.) What was banal can, with the passage of time, become fantastic. …

Sontag’s talking about Campy aged materials; Bainbridge is concerned with cheap readily-available consumer-grade items. I think they’re one and the same now, because of levels of mass production. Bainbridge’s fake fur is immediately obsolete, destined for the landfill even before it reaches the retailer. To give you another example, cheap toothbrushes packaged for an Arabic-reading market and sold in a discount shop in post-industrial northern England are simultaneously new and old.

Sontag:

Camp taste transcends the nausea of the replica.

Christine Wong Yap, Pounds of Happiness (installation), 2009, mixed media, pound shop items, 8 x 8 x 5 feet / 2.4 x 2.4 x 1.5 m. Produced in the Breathe Residency at Chinese Arts Centre.

Christine Wong Yap, Pounds of Happiness (installation), 2009, mixed media, pound shop items, 8 x 8 x 5 feet / 2.4 x 2.4 x 1.5 m. Produced in the Breathe Residency at Chinese Arts Centre.

This hyper-compression of time seems to allow objects to be ultra-mundane in ways that are variously witty, arrogant, simultaneously dull as a doorknob and smart as a whip. I’m thinking about Pounds of Happiness, and also of Chu Yun’s Constellation. I really like Constellation because it’s so matter-of-fact: it consists of a dark room loaded with electronic appliances, so you see a field of standby lights. Interestingly, NG, whose tastes in art usually diverge from my own, liked the work as well. She imagines it to be quite spooky and poetic. I appreciate the nerve of calling incessantly humming electronic detritus art.

Chu Yun, Constellation No.1, Installation, 2006. Source: Vitamin Creative Space web site.

Chu Yun, Constellation No.1, Installation, 2006. Source: Vitamin Creative Space web site.

Failure.
For the past few years I’ve been obsessed with failure in art. I wondered, How can art convey the ineffable, yet still have to be materialized (and thereby be subjected to the constraints of semiotic systems, formal considerations, material limitations, etc.)? It seemed art was doomed to fail, or would be vaguely metaphoric and inadequate at best. I responded by embracing failure in projects like Soft Sculpture for Brougham Hall—a constantly-deflating inflatable sculpture.

Sontag describes Camp as an unintended avenue through which failure is viable, and even pleasurable:

When the theme is important, and contemporary, the failure of a work of art may make us indignant. Time can change that. Time liberates the work of art from moral relevance, delivering it over to the Camp sensibility….

Thus, things are campy … when we become less involved in them, and can enjoy, instead of be frustrated by, the failure of the attempt.

Currently, I’m following up the Cheap and Cheerful and Pounds of Happiness series with further investigations of modest ambitions, lightly-recombined cheap objects, and the decorative impulse. Here’s a sneak peek of a recent project:

Christine Wong Yap, detail, not yet titled, 2009, hankerchief, placemat, thread, 18 x 18 x 2 inches.

Christine Wong Yap, detail, not yet titled, 2009, hankerchief, placemat, thread, 18 x 18 x 2 inches.

I’m working, for the first time in a long time, very visually and reflexively. But I suspect that my conceptual inclinations are still at work. Perhaps, by way of embracing modest pleasures, I’m embracing exuberance, a step towards the extravagance of Camp:

Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style — but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not.

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