Works

Memory of an Artwork: Thomas Demand’s Rain/Regen

A stop-motion that reappears along a river of time.

Thomas Demand, Rain/Regen, (still), 2008. // Source: dhc-art.org.

Thomas Demand, Rain/Regen, (still), 2008. // Source: dhc-art.org.

Certain art-viewing聽experiences stay with you over time. When they’re pleasant, they can remind you of how meaningful the act of looking聽can be. Recalling聽a聽work of art鈥攍ike reliving any memory鈥攕trengthens聽its salience. It could be that a聽series of vital art experiences will one day聽form a tally of the particular arcs of聽my life.

I’m in a reflective mood, having just finished聽William Finnegan’s memoir,聽Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. It’s about a life shaped by a passion, and later, a passion shaped by life,聽including聽loss and aging. Along with reading a remembrance of聽Oliver Sacks, and a book by the late positive psychologist Chris Peterson, my聽thoughts聽keep returning to聽what makes a life worth living.*

One work that I’ve continued to think about is Thomas Demand’s**聽Rain/Regen (2008). I saw it in 2010 in聽The Dissolve, the moving-image focused iteration of SITE Santa Fe’s biennial. It was my first visit to SITE and Santa Fe, on聽my first cross-country drive.聽We were moving from California to New York. Marking this life change with a road trip聽was wise. Those two weeks stand out in high relief.

I remember stepping out of聽Santa Fe’s picturesque, sun-baked adobe environs into the聽cinematic聽black box of the ICA. Floating screens聽and scrims primed me for聽psychologically-loaded spaces. Teresa Hak Kyung Cha’s notion that聽video聽paralleled聽the cinema of the mind seemed present.

Essentially, Demand makes stop-motion animations using paper constructions聽that are ever-increasing feats of production value. Rain/Regen is just聽what聽it sounds like鈥攊t’s an animated image of raindrops falling in a thin, frame-filling puddle. The fact that it’s constructed by hand,聽frame by frame, is astonishing.聽In this case, the paper might be聽bits of thin, clear plastic torn and stretched by hand. But like rain, all you see are streaks and a momentary splash upon impact. It’s gone in a split second. It happens fast, before your eye can catch up to it. It’s startlingly reminiscent of the overall peripheral sensation of rain. The perceptiveness of perception itself seems yet even more impressive. I know crediting聽this work with聽technical wow-factor sounds hollow. But the simplicity of the shot, indeed, the everydayness of the concept, paired with the ambition of animating it, forms a curious nexus.

I was moved by many works聽in that show,聽but聽Rain has stuck with me. Even聽the physics of a seemingly trivial drop of water exceeds the abilities of the human eye. We grasp only聽its motion, implosion, and disappearance.

*It’s been oddly reassuring that mentions of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances keep popping up in books I’m reading: Ted Purves聽in聽Tom Finklepearl’s What We Made,聽Marshall Trammel in Greg Sholette’s Dark Matter,聽and a familiar image by Hank Willis Thomas聽in Jeff Chang’s Who We Be.聽It’s probably attributable to聽two truths: the inevitability that聽a cohort would become the archivists and subjects of our eras, and, though I didn’t know it at the time,聽I was in the right places at the right times.

**It’s safe to assume that mega-artists like Thomas Demand rely heavily on studio聽staff for producing artworks, so a more fitting attribution would actually be “Thomas Demand Studio.” Of course sole authorship flows more freely聽through the systems of capitalism and聽law, but it’s nice to聽imagine a聽day that we drop these pretenses.

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Research

Off Cuts, Part 2

Some more odds and ends to mull…

In my London art trip, I was intrigued by about two collection-based venues; both in Camden and both new to me. The current shows were interesting enough, but I am more intrigued by the spaces and the ambitious, cutting-edge contemporary art they will show.

David Roberts Art Foundation is “an independent, non-profit foundation” founded in 2007 and seems to aggressively collect and exhibit contemporary art, including the work of younger artists. I really loved the experimental, questioning nature outlined in the exhibition pamphlet:

a museum is a production site, a site that not only presents and describes an existing context, but generates new contexts, a site where artists, curators, critics and other stakeholders can produce, share, discuss, act and interact, where visitors are co-producers, and where the machinery of exhibitions produces prototypes, experiences, catalysts for thought….

I liked this too:

An artwork is a system that cannot be reduced only to an object or an index (certificat, instructions, etc.). It also includes the histories (material and conceptual), the trajectories (physical or virtual) and the narratives (past or to come) generated by the artwork: this is what this programme will research.

And:

Study is not an attempt to capture or seize but a methodology of encounter and the insistence on the provisional as both form and content within the process of research.

Read more here (click on A House of Leaves. First Movement).

Gerhard Richter Fuji, 1996 Oil on alucobond. David Roberts Collection // Source: davidrobertsartfoundation.com.

Gerhard Richter, Fuji, 1996 Oil on alucobond. David Roberts Collection // Source: davidrobertsartfoundation.com.

Small but stunning Richter on view in A House of Leaves as of two weeks ago; it’s an ever-unfolding exhibition so who knows what’s on now?

While DRAF is housed in an industrial brick warehouse in an alley off of the high street, the Zabludowich Collection is sited in an imposing church in a residential street.

Founded in 1994, the Zabludowich Collection “exhibits in venues in the聽UK,聽USA聽and聽Finland” and “actively creates new opportunities for audiences to engage with emerging art.”

Matthew Darbyshire, Showhome, 2012 // Source: zabludowiczcollection.com.

Matthew Darbyshire, Showhome, 2012 // Source: zabludowiczcollection.com.

The current exhibition by Matthew Darbyshire featured sets made of printed vinyl CG streetscapes. I was most interested in the Showhome installation, involving mass manufactured chairs and high-end interior design decorations. It was familiar yet preposterous and sad. There’s something interesting in packaging showrooms’ theatricality in art exhibit’s pretentions of perfect, timeless viewing experiences. The exhibition as a whole expressed some of the suffocation of consumer culture, and I couldn’t help but feel some of that coldness and repression as I left the show.

This detail of The Tempest (~1862) by Peder Balke. It’s a seascape, maybe one of the most unlikely genres of painting I’d be attracted to. But the elegance, brushstrokes, 聽simplicity and evocativeness is what gets me.

Stephen Chambers’ gold leafed potato print, on view now at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Artist’s Laboratory.

Two faces, carved with simple marks. Maybe a man and a woman. Despite the elemental form, I still read the faces as deeply empathetic with each other, united in the way that lifelong couples are.

Potato prints are a basic form of printmaking, one that could be the first type of printmaking children experience. The idea of gold-leafing a potato print is so absurd it’s brilliant.

The show features a 70-part screenprint mural, nice stuff, interesting timeless narrative vignettes.

Richard Artschwager’s Tower II聽(1979)

A theoretical device for communication. Nice pairing with Demand and Opie. Plus a daringly bright aqua wall. Go Tate!

Richard Artschwager, Tower II, 1979 (center), with a photo by Thomas Demand (left) and Julian Opie's You See An Office Building 4 (1996). Tate Liverpool.

Richard Artschwager, Tower II, 1979 (center), with a photo by Thomas Demand (left) and Julian Opie’s You See An Office Building 4 (1996). Tate Liverpool.

San Francisco or London?

Notting Hill.

Notting Hill.

Love this message.

Shoreditch.

Text: ESPO in Shoreditch.

Jason Evans‘ photo/installations.

By chance, I stumbled into The Grange Prize exhibition at Canada House.

It was a group exhibition featuring the work of four finalists for a major international, contemporary photo prize. I was most attracted to Jason Evans’ work; it was the most playful and mixed-media, using wall graphics, texts, objects, and loud colors. The combination unfolds in a way that I think asks the viewer to engage the experience in a more multi-sensory way.

Here are some of his casual, snapshot-like photos. I think they work better en masse.

Jason Evans. // Source: jasonevans.info.

Jason Evans. // Source: jasonevans.info.

Jason Evans. // Source: jasonevans.info.

Jason Evans. // Source: jasonevans.info.

Jason Evans. Installation view. // Source: jasonevans.info.

Jason Evans. Installation view. // Source: jasonevans.info.

Curiously, I couldn’t bring myself to cast a vote. The show seemed too small; there’s not enough work on view to get a sense of each artist’s scope and capacities. (The winner was announced; her work seems to demonstrate photographic skill the most apparently, but with the least compelling subject matter and use of materials for me personally.)

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Art & Development, Community, Travelogue

Late Summer, Cross-Country Points of Reference

I’ve just crossed the country from San Francisco to New York by car. That’s three thousand, eight hundred miles in 14 days: camping, sightseeing, a few gallery visits and more than a few BBQ meals. The experience increased my appreciation for friendliness, waving at strangers, America, the grandeur of the West, the rich musical history of Tennessee, the quaint main streets of the lush Eastern seaboard鈥攁nd most of all, the astounding diversity. I love that so many people can epitomize being American, while freely espousing indigenous, foreign, and home-spun cultures without a sense of paradox. From West to East, a few of my strongest visual impressions:

Dockside with Friends
Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA

A gathering of friends on a beautiful July evening at sunset. Celebrating friendships and the blessed life I’ve enjoyed since moving to Oakland in 1994.

landscape with road, arizona
The West
I’m California-born and raised, but I haven’t really seen the “West until now. It’s stunning. My fears that the world is crisscrossed with interstates and civilized with Walmarts are not completely warranted. The drive from Las Vegas, N.V. to Santa Fe, N.M. showed me that much of the West is still wild; the dramatic red bluffs are nothing short of breathtaking. I snapped some pics, but they fall terribly short; you have to be there to experience sense of scale and grandeur.

Santa Fe paper mache
Santa Fe, New Mexico, America
M and I played tourist in Santa Fe, seeing sites in the historic downtown (and crashing a church festival for some G.O.A.T. carne asada tacos). Santa Fe is gorgeous, scenic, historic, and bursting with culture. Tons of visual art, Native American art (so many images from art history classes come to life: black-on-black pots by Maria Martinez, squash blossom turquoise-and-silver-necklaces), Spanish colonial architecture, and fun stuff like Native American papercuts, paper mach锚 crafts, and鈥攜es, ya’ll鈥擲outhwestern regional woodcut artists (and why not?). Our brief visit was far too short; I was struck with the feeling that I could easily spend more time there. So I’m putting it out there, Universe: Have Me Back To Santa Fe.

The Dissolve: SITE Santa Fe’s 2010 biennial
Santa Fe, NM

A strong show of videos made and manipulated by 30 contemporary international artists, including biennial-circuit usual suspects (Kara Walker, Paul Chan, William Kentridge) and more. Thomas Demand’s video of raindrops hitting a glossy concrete floor is another impressive feat of stop-motion paper animation, very sweet in its mundanity. Robin Rhode’s short video in black and white, largely about inversions, race and light, is another favorite of mine. I just didn’t have time to see the whole show (which would have taken days), but many of my impressions were influenced by the forceful exhibition design, for better and worse. The first room successfully featured scrims dividing roughly equal-sized screening rooms.* But the exhibition design of later rooms overpowered the ther works. The light and audio seepage in the cyclorama-like oval were missteps, as was the integration of solo viewing booths into a bench in theater with one dominant screen. The experience was unpleasantly akin to screen-in-screen browsing; I could focus on neither screen in front of me. I think this kind of overwhelming media experience is fine for solo shows, but in a group show, it shafts the artists who’ve drawn short straws. It’s a strong curatorial statement to feature 30 videos, and it would be a challenge to any institution, but you have to wonder what the architects were thinking. SITE Santa Fe had some flaws but it was energetic, now, and smart.

Who Shot Rock & Roll?: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present
Brooks Museum, Memphis, TN
Organized by the Brooklyn Museum with guest curator Gail Buckland

Who Shot Rock & Roll is a large, highly enjoyable exhibition of photographs of rock and pop musicians from the last half-century. The celebrity, glamor, pop culture, and sensationalism appeals. Those who dig deeper will find insightful captions about the technique, ingenuity and chance that went into the making of the famous photographs. Having spent my fair share of adolescence studying trippy album covers, I also appreciated the didactic texts and displays about the surreal, pre-Photoshop images by artist-designer Storm Thorgersen and Jean-Paul Goude (of superhuman Grace Jones, natch).

Hatch Show Print

Photo: Michael Yap

Hatch Show Print
Broadway, Nashville, TN

In our improvised gander at Nashville, we stumbled into a beautiful, huge, working letterpress shop and storefront. Downtown Nashville is anchored by a shiny new country music museum, the usual Hard Rock Cafe and BB King blues club, so I wasn’t expecting to see such historic, indie culture. But there it was on touristy Broadway, with its fittingly nostalgic relief prints, cheeky and upbeat typography, and endearingly worn sign type. While we were browsing the wares, I overheard the proprietor mentioning CCA and the SF Center for the Book!

Roanoke, VA
That the two most interesting contemporary art exhibits on my eastern migration (the SITE Santa Fe biennial and Rock & Roll) were curated by New York curators/institutions was not a good sign for the idea of a de-centralized contemporary art world. So it was a pleasant surprise to come across SF Bay Area artists Binh Danh and Primitivo Suarez in, of all places, Roanoke, VA. Danh (whose solo show opens at Mills College Art Museum August 21) mentioned that he was doing a residency, but I forgot until I saw his artist’s talk advertised in the local paper. Suarez has a large installation on view at the Taubman Museum of Art, a swooping steel-and-glass trifle that contrasts sharply with the colonial railroad town.

roadside America
roadside America
Roadside America
Shartlesville, PA

Perhaps M was right鈥攖his is a tourist trap. Or maybe I’m right鈥攁 miniature village hand-crafted by two brothers at mid-century, which sprawls over several thousand square feet, loaded with electric trains, lights, fountains and a waterfall is art. Or at least it is artistic production worth a visit, because it says something about tinkerers, hobbyists, miniature culture, maker culture, and the urge to create and reflect the world you see. In either case it is odd and wonderfully preserved, though you get the sense that it is anachronistic enough that its future is in jeopardy, and you feel lucky to have seen it.

Brushy Lake State Park, Oklahoma

National Forests and State Parks
Despite serious weather (lots of thunderstorms, and threats of flash floods, hail, tornadoes and severe heat), our car-camping trip was safe, fun, and scenic. Here’s a brief round-up of our stays made possible by the U. S. of A.’s government-run, social programs:
路Coconino National Forest, A.Z.: Friendly park hosts, beautiful pine grove at elevation that brought the oven-like southwestern heat to nice cool temps. Absolutely pristine and sparsely populated in a way that you’d never see in California.
路Ute Lake State Park, N.M.: Your basic horseshoe campground in a great plain. Curious and friendly park hosts and RV campers. Apparently we visited during monsoon season; hot, humid, windy.
路Foss Lake State Park, western O.K., and Brushy Lake State Park, eastern O.K. Oklahoman reservoirs tricked out for RV camping and water sports, a study in contrasts. The former filled with empties-throwing, nappies-leaving, jet-skiing yahoos and not a ranger in sight; the latter, alcohol prohibited, but quiet, scenic, clean and staffed by a generous host.
路Edgar Evins State Park, T.N.: A unique campground situated on a steep hillside. Sites were wood-plank and I-beam pads jutting out from the road. The reservoir was clean and calm, great for swimming. Fireflies abounded.
路Hungry Mother State Park, V.A.: Hands down the best park: natural lake with diving boards, lots of swimming, lots to explore, cute discovery center. The only downside was that the sites were too close together, but the neighbors in our RV subdivision were nice enough.
路Fort Frederick, M.D. Self-pay, no water, no bathrooms, lots of rules, and a train passing nearby. The fort itself had a neat history (at one time owned by a formed slave) but the campsites weren’t nothing special.

A pleasant greeting
Queens, NY

My new neighbors shouting from the patios of their tidy brick townhouses:
“Welcome to Astoria!”

[*In a previous version I got my German filmmakers with the initials L.R. mixed up, committing a cardinal sin of be-smirching an innocent leftist with Nazi support. It was a mistake. Apologies.]

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