Georgia Fee has been and will forever be the most important person in my professional life.
I owe all these words, and all the words that come after these to a woman I had the happy accident to meet one day on Craigslist. I love that lady and miss her painfully.
Every trenchant phrase and heartfelt plea, every joke and every song, every review and every poem has Georgia's fingerprints on them.
She gave me something more valuable than even time or money to a young writer (though she fiercely gave me and many, many others those too), she gave me faith. She believed in me, in my crazy vision for art writing to stop being bullshit descriptions wanly given and instead to start aspiring to literature. She believed that levity, humor, and accessibility, alongside depth and aesthetics, were fundamental values. She gifted me a freedom I've only ever had to fight for.
Though I write the words "professional life," my profession, this vocation is not so easily separated from "life": alone, naked and unfettered by qualifiers. Professional is a bit of a misnomer besides. Writers and artists are not lawyers. We act with ethics and honesty, but we are not professionals. We abjure efficiency and seek instead the solace of beauty, no matter how crooked and circuitous the route. We are passionate to really say something and despite all economic encouragements to the contrary, we still push on.
Georgia always understood that artists and writers are punks, pirates, rebels, lovers, poets, drunks, maudlin and effusive, all too sensitive to the slings and arrows of a harsh world.
Ours is a gang of three-legged kittens.
Georgia created through the force of her will and her love of all misfit wanderers and artful dreamers a little sanctuary from the cold, it is this sanctuary that made me. I yearn in my life to extend her grace to as many as who are willing to take shelter in it. She was one of our own. We were hers.
She too was a three-legged kitten, a dreamer, a wanderer, a punk, a lover, a poet.
Editor's Note: With these last words of remembrance for Georgia Fee we will be bringing the GEOslant blog to a close. It will remain as an archive of Georgia's own writing and that of the writers she supported.
(Image on top: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Last Light), 1993, Twenty-four light bulbs, plastic light sockets, extension cord, and dimmer switch; Courtesy Walker Art Center.)
Abraham Ritchie was a Senior Editor for ArtSlant from 2007-2012. He currently works at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
I had been working for Georgia Fee for over two years before I actually met her in person, so I knew Georgia on a professional level much more than a personal one. This fact seems appropos to mention since it indicates values that were key to Georgia, and key to her work and vision for ArtSlant. Even if Georgia never met you in person, she wanted to create a possibility for cultural connection, whether that was sharing your art with the world or your ideas about art (as it was in my case), or connecting to the galleries not just in your home town but throughout the world. What Georgia built at ArtSlant is a community of strangers (like any online community is, at least initially) that were drawn together by something larger, this thing we call art and the many manifestations that it takes all over the globe.
In creating this community Georgia seemed guided by a single adjective: generosity. I remember sending her an email alerting her about another website that was emulating our model and could become a direct competitor. I’ll never forget her confident and unperturbed response: “There’s enough to go around.” And indeed there is, and not just in the art sector.
Georgia understood the possibilities that the Internet opened up to the art world, possibilities that the art world still is only dimly aware of even as they are just now trying to exploit it and make money off of it. Through ArtSlant, Georgia created opportunities for artists in one hemisphere of the world to share with the other hemisphere instantaneously. Georgia enabled artists to have the opportunity to let their artwork stand on its own merit, bypassing the traditional gallery system dominated by a handful of players in particular locations. It seemed to me she had a certain level of disdain for the traditional art world power structures generally and rightly so. At the same time, Georgia countered those power structures by encouraging and creating opportunity for new curatorial and critical voices to be heard (I am lucky to count myself as one of them) and new galleries to pursue their vision and connect with artists. Georgia understood, as art history does, that the best artists aren’t always represented by Gagosian or selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Perhaps in a century we will look back at this situation as the new academy system. She understood that the next Van Gogh might be selling artwork on the street outside of the gallery, or spray painting the walls in the alley behind it. And she created a free opportunity for that artist to digitally display, store, and share his or her work.
The ArtSlant Team in Los Angeles, 2011.
As my boss, Georgia’s generosity also guided our work. She always pushed us to experiment with new ways of writing and communicating ideas. When I began an editor in Chicago, she empowered me with the ability to manage a team and run content as I wished. And it bears saying that through ArtSlant, Georgia provided paid opportunities for writers. She was fair in addition to being generous.
Generosity, possibility, fairness, community, communication, and above all, culture; these are all things I think of when I remember Georgia Fee.
It was in our wanderings around Paris that I really grew to know and love Georgia. Friday afternoons when Georgia was in town was our day. We took turns in choosing what to see, where to go — the Palais de Tokyo, Jeu de Paume, Louvre, small galleries in the 8th or the Marais, the Pompidou Centre — what mattered most was that we went together. We gossiped and shared the details of our daily lives en route, because once in front of art, our conversations would be focused, inspiring, intellectual, and always about art. Georgia opened my eyes and my heart to so much about art, and along the way, to a Paris I would never have otherwise seen or known. With art as with people, Georgia was patient. She always stopped to look and to listen to what the images were saying, what they wanted us to see. When we saw Giorgio de Chirico, La Fabrique des rêves at the Musée d’Art Moderne, I confidently declared everything after room number three to be impoverished: I was ready for the café. Georgia wasn’t so sure, ignored me, kept walking, and insisted we take the exhibition seriously. At room number five, when I was itching to drink coffee, Georgia quietly turned around and announced, “Okay, now we need to think about what’s going on here and why it’s not working.” Again and again, she would push me to know what I was looking at, what it was asking of me, and why I wasn’t prepared to engage in its conversations.
With art as with people, Georgia’s greatest quality was to give everything and everyone a chance. This did not translate to her praise of or attraction to everything she saw. But Georgia always began with a belief in the intentions of a work of art.
Georgia in Paris; Photo by Frances Guerin
We often disagreed on what we did and didn’t like. We had long arguments over Georgia’s admiration for Alex Katz, Mona Hatoum, Pipilotti Rist and that genre of postmodern art that apparently disparages the same world it represents, but keeps its concerns on its surface. And my veneration for abstract painting was never shared by Georgia. But in our disagreement, our understanding of what we were seeing, opened up in otherwise unimaginable ways. There were, of course, exhibitions that we loved together. I remember the Jimmie Durham exhibition, Pierres Rejetées, again at the Musée d’Art Moderne. The brilliance of this work took time to reveal itself, and as we talked about what we saw, and after patiently waiting for the work to expose itself to us, Georgia and I laughed out loud. We discovered such delight in the complexity of Durham’s works, and a humor not meant to be associated with conceptual art. The very well-behaved French visitors tiptoed around the obtrusive and often clumsy objects, casting glances askance at the two foreigners being tickled by Jimmie Durham’s art. For Georgia, art had to be taken seriously, but it was never precious. Her readiness to express her response out loud, to enjoy, to be touched, and to be changed by art, came not from a reverence for it or any mystical quality it may hold inside. Art belonged with us in the ups and downs of our daily lives. In the same breath, for Georgia, everyday life was a work of art.
Dog in a bag in the Marais, Paris; photo by Georgia Fee.
For Georgia, the art exhibitions of Paris continued well beyond the galleries and museums. Some Friday afternoons it would take us hours to walk from one Marais gallery to the next because we had to stop to look, with the same care and attention, at the shop window displays, the dogs in panniers, the door handles, the ladies in all their glory, as life passed us by on the streets. Georgia’s eye was trained to detail. While most of the rest of us march onward to the next gallery, in anticipation of the “real art,” Georgia knew full well that art, like life, was found in the crevices and cracks that gave substance to our everyday.
Georgia’s comfort in the streets of Paris and her love for the people who roamed them spilt over into her conversations with the artists we would meet and interview, either formally or casually at an opening. Together we met and interviewed Harun Farocki and Rodney Graham following the opening of their joint exhibition at the Jeu de Paume. While it’s difficult not to fall into a philosophical intellectualism when talking to Harun Farocki, Georgia immediately set the tone and opened up the most convivial conversation when she warmly shared, “I like your t-shirt.” And at the Louvre, following a series of films by Mark Lewis and a panel discussion with a number of prominent intellectuals, while the renowned and the published danced around the artist, no one really knowing quite what to say, Georgia went straight up to him, introduced herself and said, “I gotta tell you, I felt so nauseous when I watched Forte.” Of course, this was the response Lewis had anticipated, and the two of them went on to enjoy a long conversation about the film. Meanwhile, all the renowned and published stood and watched, incredulously. Why had they not asked that question, they wondered?
Georgia and Frances; Photo by Frances Guerin
There can only ever be a handful of people in one lifetime with whom it’s possible to live and to learn through conversations inspired by art. At least, that has been my experience. Georgia was, for me, one such person. Our conversations were as creative in their process as the art that generated them. Georgia’s generosity, her love of art, her love of life, of Paris, and above all, her enthusiasm for the unique individuals who made innovation happen, were woven into every one of our conversations. Without Georgia, my wanderings through Paris art exhibitions have become a solitary pursuit, but my goal is to keep our conversations alive. I look and I listen, carefully, always remembering with each new work of art to ask myself: what would Georgia be saying to me now?
I once imagined what it would be like to disappear. From the earth, society, my self. To be a hole. And what it would be like to exist so completely, that I could be omnipresent, on earth, in society, to my self. Whole. And it was with Georgia that I experienced this.
We went, along with Jim Benn, a fellow ArtSlant writer, to see Yayoi Kusama's retrospective at the Pompidou while I was visiting Paris, but we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into. We had no idea that we would swim in circles, that to see Kusama's prime motif, the dot, represented, over and over again, in systematic repetition would leave us simultaneously dizzy and hyper-aware.
After a close examination of the eighty-three-year-old artist's obsessions and fantasies, we spun into a room called Infinity Room (Filled with the brilliance of life), where everything was dark, and mirrors hung everywhere, projecting the primary colored lights onwards into the future. I remember Georgia looking around, wide-eyed and brilliant smile, breathless and gushing, whispering, "Oh this is just awesome." In my story for her afterwards, I write: "We feel infinite, full, whole, re-affirmed. We giggle at the magic of it, or the science of it, and child-like, yearn to dive into the floor, or fly into the ceiling, and, open to everything, obliterate."
We didn't try to make meaning of it afterwards. We drank coffee and talked about life, but ever so often, the conversation steered back to how happy the dots had made us feel. As if we had filled up a full circle, or the full circle had filled us. I can't believe she isn't here to give and give and spread the circles forward as she always did, but I sense that in her disappearance, she will be omnipresent.
[Image on top:Yayoi Kusama,Infinity Room (Filled with the brilliance of life), 2011, Installation view at Centre Pompidou, Mirrors and colored lights; Courtesy of the artist and Centre Pompidou, Paris.]
My relationship with Georgia was very modern. I never had the pleasure of meeting her in person – she was based in the US and Paris, and I was in London. We were due to meet during Frieze in October this year while she was in Paris, when she was sadly taken ill, and eventually had to return to the US for treatment. We talked regularly, on Skype, and so on. Yet the connection we had was as real and genuine as any dear friend. Georgia exuded warmth – even virtually. She was kind in every interaction. Her manner, as an editor-in-chief of such a far-reaching, international online publication – a network she built herself, starting from a humble blog – was always open-minded and she never acted with any sign of egoism for something that was her creation. She listened and she guided. She never stopped telling people how much she appreciated their input and efforts. I saw her as a mentor.
ArtSlant has afforded so many people many opportunities – and it is down to this openness in Georgia’s editorial approach. There was never a sense of hierarchy, or having to promote certain galleries or satisfy certain critical trends. As long as you had passion in your pitches, Georgia was willing to hear it. This meant that for the first time I was able to cover meritorious emerging artists and alternative spaces here in London and Paris.
Artslant has more regular coverage simultaneously out of tens of cities around the world than any other online magazine dedicated to the arts that I can think of. That, in itself, is a true testament to Georgia’s ability to welcome people, and to build enduring relationships across geographical boundaries, inspired by a shared love for the arts. ArtSlant does not have any prejudices: it is written for everyone, and by such a broad range of voices. In London and Paris, ArtSlant has given many fledgling art writers an incredible platform. I began contributing in 2010, having tentatively sent Georgia a link to my blog, the Art Journal. I was amazed when Georgia replied, most graciously, and commissioned me to write my first piece for GEOslant, about a performance and installation in central London by a pair of emerging local artists. I broke a sweat over the piece, I was so nervous, and was delighted when Georgia sent her personal feedback – she always had time for everyone.
At the Tate, 2007; Photo by Georgia Fee.
Every one of our contributors feels free to explore and develop. It makes for a wonderfully productive and positive dynamic. All of our writers are paid. Anyone who writes will know what an absolute rarity that is. It shows again how fair, democratic, and ethical Georgia was.
Georgia’s death was sudden and seems tragically unfair, as all premature deaths do. I will miss her presence very much, and I wish I had had the chance to tell her more often how much I admired and appreciated her work – as much as she took the time to thank us. Her spirit will continue in every word we share on the site. Rest in peace.
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Comment by: rosedicosta on Friday 04/05/13 at 05:12 AM
Many of you dedicated ArtSlant readers may remember that from the start, the GeoSlant blog was editor-in-chief and ArtSlant founder Georgia Fee’s own blog. Each week she posted travelogues, helpful tips and how-to’s, all written with her particular brand of wit and verve. Perusing the earliest entries in the GeoSlant blog from 2007-09, you get a glimpse of how ArtSlant grew, changed, and developed, how new features were added and with how much fanfare. Not only that, but reading these entries also gives you a glimpse of who Georgia was, and how she saw the world.
In the years since Georgia got too busy to find time for weekly blog posts and passed on the torch of the GeoSlant to other writers, the blog has had trouble finding its voice. It was a topic of many editorial meetings: What should we do with GeoSlant? It ended up becoming somewhat of a catch-all for ArtSlant writers who wanted to contribute pieces beyond exhibition reviews and interviews, a space for anything from reflections on art scenes in far-flung places, critical essays, light-hearted personal opinion pieces, art fair previews, and experimental art writing. It was all a bit too scattered for Georgia’s taste; we tried, usually in vain, to limit it to a few themes and threads, and were constantly trying to figure out ways to define it. The GeoSlant is now edited by Kathryn Garcia, and is beginning to find a new voice with a crop of new writers who favor the poetic, the sensual, and the sublime. For the next few weeks, however, we’re giving over the GeoSlant to ArtSlant writers and editors, former and current, who wish to share their own personal memories of Georgia. The GeoSlant will be Georgia’s again as we remember her and reflect on how she changed each of our lives.
Georgia and me in Paris, 2009; Photo by Frances Guerin.
I have many fun stories and fond memories of Georgia, especially from the time that she and I worked closely together in Paris. I’ve come to consider her like a member of my own family, and it breaks my heart that she’s no longer with us. But for my GeoSlant remembrance of Georgia, I want to look at a part of Georgia that we’ll always have with us: her writing.
The earliest GeoSlant blogs (besides being in hindsight somewhat embarrassingly formatted) were devoted to giving information to ArtSlant users about what new features were being introduced. In these blog posts, we’re introduced to Georgia’s zeal and exuberance, her drawings and photos, her penchant for alliteration, and her chirpy, staccato writing style. “A hundred miles per hour. That’s how fast I’m going. Doing this, doing that, going here, going there, packing and planning and Paris here I come.”
Some of Georgia’s best writing came in the form of travelogues detailing her exploits in art cities around the globe, from Rio de Janeiro to London to Basel to Buenos Aires. ArtSlant’s global perspective and scope most certainly stems from Georgia’s love of travel. But these globetrotting pieces also reveal Georgia’s personality and the absolute delight she took in everyday things. In Buenos Aires: “The marble tiles in the sidewalk clicked and clacked as I stepped on loose ones here and there. I liked the sound.” In Verona: “on a cold sunny morning with that clear sharp light of late fall covering everything and my hands wrapped around a hot cappuccino. Veneto-style with foam that never dies.” She had a copywriter’s flair for boiling everything down into a few expressive lines. London: “sloshing through the slosh.” Brussels: “get your Brueghels on.”
There are those moments of silliness that all who knew Georgia personally will recognize instantly: “Put some feathers on that!” “Zany!”
And every once in a while, Georgia threw in some of her elegantly simple life philosophies: “The art of deciding is deciding.” “A good café is a dream factory.” “The wonderful part of not speaking the language is that I can feign ignorance for everything....” “Rules for art openings…Don't touch; don't spill; don't expect to feel comfortable; don't stay long; don't stop moving (it won't be obvious that you don't know anyone); don't walk too quickly as you might crash into some art; and, if you really want to see the work, it's better to go early in the day when no one else is around.”
Georgia talking with Katharina Bosse at Galerie Anne Barrault; Photo by the author.
While reading Georgia’s art fair recaps and reminiscences of exhibitions, one gets the sense of the way Georgia appreciated art. For Georgia, art was a sensual experience. It was about looking and feeling. She had a weakness for painting, gorgeous paintings. She loved touching art (and the thrill that she experienced knowing she wasn’t supposed to). Certainly she appreciated conceptual underpinnings and literary and historical references, but I think that came second for Georgia. On Albert Oehlen: “I noticed how my eye hung on to the painted portions getting pleasure from the color and inherent energy in the drips and flings. I watched how I began to enjoy the experience simply because there was the aura of painting here and there. I was being seduced, ameliorated by Art.” Describing the “sound created by a huge sculptural machine by Jean Tinguely (Untitled, 1986, at Hans Meyer Gallery). It was made of wood and all sorts of things turned and rotated. Creaks and moans and pops and shudders emanated from the piece. Listening to it, I felt like I was on some Spanish galleon bound for the New World. I can still hear it.” On the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna: “I was…looking at the Byzantine mosaics, and I walked barefoot across the marble floors...unforgettable.” Even describing artwork is a corporeal sensation for Georgia: [on Ferdinando Scianna’s photographs] “Gorgeous. The word itself is held primarily in the throat and on the tongue...gorrrrrrrrgeoussss. Saying it is a sensual experience.”
Georgia riding around Paris with Frances; Photo by the author.
Most of all Georgia wanted it all, wanted to see everything, meet everyone, go everywhere. “I saw so much and only just caught the tip of the iceberg,” she wrote of Frieze in 2007, but it could have been written about her own life. ArtSlant was the vehicle for Georgia to experience it all and she loved that: “The ArtSlant community of artists and art professionals grows everyday and our writing teams keep the words flowing,” she wrote. “All in all, Mr. Toad, a glorious ride.” Indeed it was. Put some feathers on that.
Kinke Kooi, Everything is Vain, 2011; acrylic paint, marker, graphite on paper; 30.25 x 22.375
Kinke Kooi: before yesterday I wasn’t at all familiar with her work or her name, but doesn’t it just have a ring to it? Kinke Kooi. I walked into Feature Inc. with my friend Daniel Feinberg and immediately being at Basel felt better, the anxiety lifted. Kinke Kooi’s work resonates and it quickly became clear that I didn’t need to know anything about her because I knew everything standing in front of the softly echoing eroticisms that comprise her drawings. Fleshy, feminine forms draw you in, and once inside it’s almost cosmic, almost as if you’re surrendering to soft, sensual truths. “She’s over six feet tall and beautiful, her presence is commanding, she wears all this jewelry, you’d love her,” Feinberg explains. “She’s a Goddess,” Hudson, director of the gallery, remarks. I look again at her pulsating forms -- there’s no phallus in site, we’re not in NY, I can breathe -- Miami is another horizontal town like my hometown, Los Angeles. Thank God.
Young Art, aptly titled, the Los Angeles gallery seems to have a finger on the pulse of what that means -- a Jessica Williams painting hangs front and center, beckoning the viewer inside, literally inside and through the subject of the painting, who Kate Hillseth, the gallery director, mentions is the artist’s sister. Lines compose the form of the subjects’ torso, leaving the space in between the lines visibly transparent. The work is about intimacy, and a few minutes later I run into Jessica at Athen’s juice bar on Collins. “It’s about interior and exterior space, intimacy…personal narratives, memory.” I’m left thinking over a kale and coconut smoothie; what exactly does one see when one looks inside someone else and how can one represent this/how does the interior of the subject of the painting reflect the viewer’s interior/seeking to represent intimacy through painting is a noble gesture/and Jessica’s sister’s sexy lavender jeans are perfect for Miami.
Jessica Williams, Enraptured, and enraptured, 2012, acrylic and oil on canvas, 37 x 44 inches; Courtesy of the artist.
Next Feinberg and I head to Sabor A Peru for ceviche and conversation. “I think younger artists want to get beyond cultural critique and make something inspiring, beautiful, a different lens with which to view the world.” Feinberg relates that after all of the critical work of the 60’s and 70’s and beyond people came to the stark realization that it didn’t really create change -- the wool wasn’t lifted off the eyes of the majority, if anything the work was consumed and reiterated by the capitalist market. I think about Mike Kelley. He went on to inject anecdotes from a European theorists’ take on why abstraction is important again during an overwhelming state of pervasive economic depression and constant, habitual war. I talked about having gone to see a group show of paintings at The Box a few days before coming to Miami. “I just can’t handle abjection anymore, it makes me feel sick, I don’t need art to make me feel sick, you don’t teach an abused child by abusing them.” Intimacy and sexuality on the other hand, are things I feel we could all use a little more of. Call me a hippie, a utopian, a Reichian, an Angelino, or whatever (and yes btw I meditate).
Ohad Meromi, Grave Digger #13 (Warrior Sitting), 2012, Wood, aluminum, concrete, acrylic paint, 71 x 15 x 13 in; Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Diet.
We move on to Gallery Diet in Wynwood and a pretty rad show by Ohad Meromi in the front room. “I seek to address issues of class and the distinctions made between the individual and the collective,” the artist states in the press release. Colorful, totemic sculptural figures line the space of the gallery, invoking 80’s architecture, and primitivism alike. All the figures are equally spaced apart, none is given priority, lending an egalitarian, almost modernist-utopian feel to the installation. We see Ohad outside. “I think of cities and skyscrapers,” Feinberg says. “They’re all people,” Ohad responds. We walk inside and talk a bit about the process. “I can tell it’s an intuitive process,” I say. “None of them were finished before they had faces, once they had a face they were done,” says Ohad. Sculptural “people” set up with equanimity throughout the gallery, utopia, modernism, abstraction, I’m noticing a trend.
In the back of Diet is a group show organized by Nicolas Lobo. I momentarily watch a video piece by the LA artist Kenneth Tam that gives me the heebie-jeebies, but that’s the point right? Then I move on to a few stellar drawings by Unica Zurn that are worth the trip to Wynwood despite the chaos of Art Basel. Wait. Stop. Breathe. Unica Zurn. Kinke Kooi. Basel. The Beach. Basketball. I’m in Miami.
I first met Penny Arcade outside of Barbara Gladstone Gallery in NY in April of 2011, where she was giving a talk on Jack Smith’s work which had recently been acquired by Gladstone. I came to hear her speak because I was a little suspicious of the situation -- Jack’s work being gobbled up by the market --- was Smith turning over in his grave? After Flaming Creatures and good old "Uncle Fishhook" Smith never made a completed work, he changed each work upon presentation to deliberately avoid the market. At the talk, Penny, in a shockingly accurate mimesis of Jack Smith’s voice, (he was her mentor after all) criticized the professionalization of the art world, careerism and of course “the sacred baby poo poo of art.” Penny struck me as Real and Human, and what it’s all about, so after seeing her perform at Human Resources this past March, Sarvia, my partner, and I set up an interview with the legendary LES provocateur.
Sarvia Jasso: I would like to ask you about performance art in relation to the professionalization of the arts -- something that Jack Smith talked about a lot. Martha Rosler wrote an interesting text about performance art and how it was once a form of resistance (similar to early video art). It was anti-object, anti-capitalist and it was a form of defiance. What are your thoughts about performance art today?
Penny Arcade: In order to answer the question of how performance art went from being a formidable art form that melded diverse artistic practices formed from the unique perspectives of the artists who created and advanced what was an art form practiced at the very margins of the art world by equally marginalized artists (i.e in the early 80’s it was largely the domain of women, minorities and queers since there was no money in it, and small but passionate audiences who had a personal stake in the development of it) creating a highly charged political and personally present form that challenged authority, current art culture and the acceptable contemporary status quo to what is today, a largely banal and mediocre display of personality, one has to understand the culture that was at its roots, the political context of the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s Lower East Side/East Village of NY which spawned and helped form the performance art scene. These neighborhoods were a sanctuary for misfits, radical political activists, and the radical gay scene. The LES/East Village was the domain of outsiders. It was a slum which secured cheap rents with an active urban underclass situated far away from the prying eyes of the middle class. These conditions allowed different types of artists the free time to experiment. Art venues were able to thrive in that cheap rent climate, creating a real authentic movement to rise out of those many factors. There was also an active public that didn’t feel that they needed to be artists themselves but felt a real role in supporting these new forms. Academia shunned these art forms and these artists as did the commercial art world.
Kathryn Garcia: After your performance I was thinking about a subject you brought up about the art world’s turn toward “professionalism.” What do you think about the way things are now, how more and more artists find it necessary to go to “grad school”?
PA: Since the late 1980’s there has been a growing dominance of art school art. Before this period not everyone in the world wanted to be an artist. There was little cachet in it socially. Making art was certainly not considered a “profession” that one earned money from or became famous from. The painter Harold Steveson said, “Some people should be discouraged from making art because if they truly want to make art nothing can stop them!” This is so against the current value that everyone is special and all that is required for their unique talents to bloom is a nurturing academic environment.
What we are left with now is the rampant careerism that has flooded into the art scene as younger artists are coming up during a period which is drowning in the idea that all one has to do to become an artist is go to school and you emerge as an artist after four years. The developmental arc of becoming an artist is never mentioned. People are not taught the idea of developing as artists, they are taught to succeed in the business of art. They are certainly not going to be anti-capitalist (Occupy Wall Street notwithstanding) because their entire raison d'être is to become successful. In an appropriately confused way, since it is a “glamorous” pose to them, they also want to be considered “outsiders,” “radical,” “political,” which is the effect of the commoditization of rebellion. There is a gentrification that happens to buildings and neighborhoods but there is also a gentrification that happens to ideas. Even the most hypnotized mind will understand if it is explained strongly and clearly to them that developing as an artist through process and life experience is at odds with making products and creating a reputation as fast as possible. Making art is like farming, one has to take into account the seasons of one's own life, one has not only to plant seeds, but to choose the best seeds and tend to them, nurture them until they are mature.
My manifesto in the 1980’s was strictly anti-product. Performance to me was a live art form, quite like action painting and that is how I approached it. My work was improvisational, unrehearsed, unwritten. It was conceptual, raw. I went on stage with only "ideas” or stories which I developed in front of the audience and it changed significantly every night. Unlike most other performance artists of the 1980’s, I documented all my work. I simply didn’t release it. I found little support for my work from most arts administrators. My working-class, anti-authoritarian attitude offended many curators who had largely middle-class ideas about being nice and polite. Many found my “direct honesty” in and about my work unsettling, if not rude. The actual quality of my work never entered the equation for them as it did for the public who backed me completely and rewarded me with sold out shows. This was so different from the artistic climate of the 1960’s that I grew up in where even artists and curators that disliked each other were still honest about the quality of the work. Until quite recently I had never been invited to teach at one performance art program in the USA. Sarah Schulman put it most succinctly in a 1999 interview for The Lower East Side Biography Project. Schulman, whose latest book, Gentrification Of The Mind, should be read by everyone interested in these ideas, said, “Because America has no money for highly achieved mid career artists, the only way these artists can earn a living is to teach in MFA programs. You see the people graduating from these programs replicating the ideas of these artists and that is not art, it is something unfortunate.”
The terrible truth is that art is now taught by teaching the ideas of other artists through theory because actually teaching people HOW to do something is difficult. Jack Smith said, “People need to learn iota by iota how to create art.”
We need to consider how art education has been pitched to young people as one more thing to be consumed, to be bought and paid for. The idea that one goes to college for four years or six years or God forbid ten years and emerges as an artist and is then paid to be an artist is a sinister, corrupt idea that has been foisted on American and now international youth. It deprives the young of respecting their own journey and development. Ultimately in art there is only one success, and that success is artistic and for centuries that was the goal.
SJ: In Bad Reputation, you talk about how your work is ageless -- in this particular section you were discussing gentrification. All of the topics that you explore -- sex, sexuality, censorship, etc -- are very relevant to us all, so I'm wondering how you pick the topics for each performance; does the material always evolve from whatever you are experiencing at a given moment in time? Is it a reflection of the current social or political climate? In hindsight, it seems like we haven't made a lot of progress....
PA: What I meant when I said my work is ageless I meant this: Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore! hit the zeitgeist in 1990 to 1995. It spoke to all kinds of people from very different social and economic backgrounds. I retired it in 1995. In 2006 I was asked to bring it back by OutFest in Los Angeles. Everyone who saw it believed it was written in 2006 -- it spoke to them. I did it in NY in 2007, 2009 in San Francisco, 2010 in Fire Island, 2011 in Anchorage, Alaska. All of the reviews spoke of how affecting, contemporary and inspiring the work was. It was not about nostalgia but about now. I just completed thirty-eight performances of B!D!F!W! in London this past summer, and I'll return to London to do ten more performances of it in December of 2012. It hit the zeitgeist again in 2012 in a huge way in London, garnering four and five star reviews in The London Times and other mainstream English newspapers. It is amazing to have that effect once but to have twice over a twenty year period is incredibly satisfying to me as an artist. Yes, the world changes at a glacial pace. We go backwards most of the time it seems. There has been very little progress in society as a whole because human nature sadly does not change. My work is about how I live now. Of course there is always a reflection of my past life and beliefs because all art is rooted in memory, in the recreated, whether that memory is thirty years old or happened two minutes ago. In 1979 when I was living in the woods of rural Maine, while visiting my friend Richard Hanneman in NY, he said to me, “You have to come back to NY and make art.” I replied, “I am making art in Maine.” And he said “You need to live in Maine in the summertime like other people. We need you here in NY and we need you to make one person shows.” At the time I was just starting to think about making a new kind of solo work and defined myself as an experimental theatre artist. I asked, “Well, who is going to write these solo shows?” and Richard replied “You will write them.” And I became increasingly anxious, because while I have always been a writer, I had little self confidence and asked, “But what would they be about?” and Richard said, “It doesn’t matter, we just want to be with you.” Richard died in 1980 and many years later, in 1992, I remembered his words and wondered, “How did he know?” Because by this time I had been creating my own work for twelve years. I am a talker, a teller of parables, a storyteller, because in my southern Italian culture every situation is explained by another situation that happened long ago. I am a Parrhesiastes, a teller of my own truths. Foucault’s definition of Parrhesiastes says, “this implies not only freedom of speech, but the obligation to speak the truth for the common good, even at personal risk.” Foucault goes so far as to say that unless one is at personal risk, one is not a Parrhesiastes. I stumbled on Semiotexte’s book Fearless Speech based on Foucault’s seminar on the subject in a used bookstore in Ayveilk, Turkey in 2008. I was stunned to discover this key element of my entire life in its pages. In 2008, we did an interview for The LES Bio Project on Tom Murrin, the Alien Comic, who I had known since I was eighteen years old. At the end of the interview I left the room so Steve Zehentner could interview Tom about my work. I returned a half hour later and stood in the door because Tom was still speaking. “You go to a Penny Arcade performance and 300 people all think she is speaking directly to them and Penny doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, she just tells her truth.” I walked in and said to Tom, “But it’s not true. I care very, very much what people think of me. It is very painful for me to tell the truth but I can’t seem to stop myself even though I know while I am saying it that I am setting myself up for people to hate me and that I will lose out on many of the things I want like recognition and opportunities to show my ability.” Tom, like many people, was very surprised. He thought, as many do, that I am just blithely saying what I think despite the consequences. What he missed, as many people do, is that I fear the consequences terribly, it makes me depressed and anxious but I do it from a sense of personal duty and responsibility...
SJ: I am curious to hear what you have to say about feminism and art today -- with the professionalization of the arts, it seems harder to build communities where artists genuinely support each other. Do you have any advice for young artists?
PA: I am a feminist because as a woman I have no choice but to fight to exist in a society that hates women but continually obscures this central fact. It is an obvious fact, not only to me but to many people. If I were a man I would have a completely different level of success for my work than I have in large part because I am a woman. If I were a man with the same level of outspokenness I would be lauded, not put down for being “bitchy.” Biology is a reality. It is not a question of gender but of biology. I believe in my own artistic community here in NY, that there has been some movement in this direction, women who support other women in their endeavors and in their struggles. Women who understand what is at stake, who understand the possibilities that can come when women take backing and supporting other women seriously. But I also experience the daily competiveness of women, who while seeking something for their selves alone, sell their sisters down the river every chance they get. This competition is hard wired, biologically, into us and without a real confrontation of this, of what it means to be a feminist at this time in history, of how we must support our great women artists and help them achieve visibility in a world that ignores women. This action of feminism must be unleashed, not in theory but in action to affect what it means to be a woman in this society, by the woman participating in the arts and everywhere. There are also many men who I experience as true feminists who understand the problems and who actively help and actively engage in promoting the work of women artists.
We are all tethered to values of the era we come of age in. I grew up in an era where the value was that you had to earn the respect of others for your work. This is a very complicated time to be young. When I was young, young people were ignored. We had time in the shadows of life. No one wanted our opinions, our views, no one expected us to be fully formed adults with a point of view at twenty-two or twenty-eight. Be conscious of what you are being sold. Don’t buy into what you are being sold because whatever you are being sold is done to control you. Society wants to turn you into circus monkeys, into a functioning part of an increasingly corrupt and mechanical society. A society without empathy, without history, without humanity.
Every movement towards personal freedom and personal responsibility is immediately co-opted by the market place, from Riot Grrl to Occupy Wall Street. Occupy Yourself!! Notice your fears, your longings, your dreams, your nightmares. Face them as soon as possible because they will be with you always and the sooner you enter into a real relationship with all of yourself the better. Aim for a rigorous inquiry, a rigorous honesty with yourself. Respect your own development. Believe me, it is worth it because we all get stuck with ourselves for life. Amora Fati, the love of one's own fate. You have a fate you know? No one escapes that. Build the life you want, build the person you want to be. It is ok to have heroes, to understand how others have created themselves as humans and as artists but don’t just copy and hope for the outcome you want. Actively pursue your innate values because values must be grown by each of us and they are bought and paid for on the installment plan of life through our own experience. There is no one like you. Isn’t it wonderful? You are in competition with no one when you choose to develop yourself. But you have to choose this over and over. It never stops being an active choice. Ever.
Aki Sasamoto, performance still from Skewed Lies, 2010; photo: Arturo Vidich, Courtesy of the artist.
We first met Aki Sasamoto at MoMa/PS1 while she was participating in Greater NY in 2010. Pipes and mosquito nets traversed the dusty, cavernous boiling room that she had chosen as the site for her installation and performances during the exhibition. It has been a few years since then and we have spent time together in NY, Miami and Mexico City, talking about underground culture, performance art, sexuality, boxing, basketball and of course mosquitoes. The summer was busy for Aki, who participated in the Gwangju Bienniale and also mounted a solo exhibition in Japan. Back in NY Aki is getting ready to present a new theater piece, Centripetal Run, at The Chocolate Factory in November.
Kathryn Garcia: Can you talk about Jean Genet and Mosquitoes, what is their relationship?
Aki Sasamoto: I hate a mosquito more than the horse whose tail once hit my face big time. I despise the petty scale of its sneaky attack; body size, noise level, amount of sucking up, persistent but nonfatal itchiness from its little poison, all seem petty but never grand. In A Thief's Journal, Genet talks about the difference between a noble criminal and a petty criminal. I was moved by the pursuit of elegance within the ever-questionable moral spectrum. I wanted to say to mosquitoes, "If you commit an attack, do it with pride." At the time I happened to pick up this book, I was cooking up an idea for an art work to explore ways to expunge people who act like mosquitoes in my life. Genet described some criminals with mosquito netting around their heads in the book's first pages. The context was somewhat random and not related to my desire to kill mosquitoes, but I took this appearance of the keyword, mosquito, as a serious and personal coincidence. I ended up featuring a room-dividing fence made of mosquito net in Skewed Lies (2010), advocating for putting up the nets in order to ignore petty criminals instead of pulling my hair out trying to kill them.
KG: Interesting, honorable deviance. You've mentioned to me before that while growing up in Japan you frequented underground nightclubs; how do you think your experience with clandestine subcultures in Japan informs your perspective or your work? Or does it?
AS: I liked watching businessmen in suits going into a tiny basement locker room off the busiest Tokyo street, only to come out in a most modest drag. I found it elegant that he had two lives and he was not loud about his sexual hopscotch. Being gay was not illegal like the time of Genet, but it felt stigmatized. As a teenager I liked talking to people in the basements who were hungry for a sense of social taboo and who had a big question mark about sexuality. I was especially curious how some frequently crossed this taboo quietly and in secrecy. It's possible this youthful research informed the way I like to have multiple possibilities now, both in sexuality (using both masculinity and femininity) and in artistic medium (moving, making objects, drawing...). Wait a minute, do I sound sneaky? I hate mosquitoes...So I should raise my voice here; I LOVE DOING ALL.
Sarvia Jasso: Two lives, multiple possibilities, masculine and feminine--can you talk about these ideas in relation to sexuality and how they influence your work?
AS: The body is involved and affected, but sexuality for me is largely mental. I went through different periods, a consecutive five to six years devoted to each, believing I was bisexual, asexual, lesbian. Lately I am thinking I may be a heterosexual middle-aged man in a woman's body (half-joking, half-serious). Although it is more convenient for me to say I am open, I would rather have a list of what I have been and can be, because I enjoy the problematic boundaries of those categories so much. Setting up imaginary types and exposing my curiosity to travel among them is what I like to do. I do not explicitly talk about sexuality in my work but the polarity often appears as key concept in many of my works. I imagine my comfortable confusion in sexuality is a role model when I work with other dichotomized categories, such as underground-aboveground, art-nonart, object-body, and of course masculine-feminine. Ultimately I do not believe in the rigidity of these categories, so I take the liberty and enjoy setting them up in my mind, only to focus on fighting, merging, confusing those things. [To Kathryn] How do you see your work in relation to your sexuality or sexual history? Is there a relationship?
KG: I think my earlier work was in a way about the dissolution of binaries relating to gender, and now it's becoming more about the fusion of opposites or becoming an androgynous whole. To reach a state where binaries are no longer in contention with each other, but complement one another. History plays into it but more reflexively, like an instinct propels me towards reaching this state, and looking back validates the drive. Like, oh yeah Weimar era Berlin was polysexual or Diaghelev's ballet was about androgyny, and then I read a quote from Jean Cocteau's journals where he writes: "Joan of Arc is my favorite writer. No one expresses himself more clearly than she does, in both form and content," and I feel validated, inspired.
AS: A nice sentence indeed. Kathy's transition sounds like a healthy sportsmanship. Combatting gets resolved in merging; I'm thinking of the picture of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield partying together, embracing their friendship. Now that I'm recalling how you mix up binaries recently, I want to rephrase "comfortable confusion" to "playful confusion" of sexuality. After the phase of being sensitive to the icons (I am guessing your drawing hands specialize in recognizing those?), I felt a need to decide whether to pick a certain perspective or to laugh them all off. Hence I go for comedy. It's the sense of fun that I am attracted to.
KG: I feel on a certain level as I draw I am looking at a mirror of my interior world.
SJ: My own ideas of gender and sexuality definitely influence my curatorial work. I am interested in artists who are unconventional in some way or another, particularly how they challenge binaries and other cultural norms. I do believe that we are oftentimes “performing” our sexuality and gender, so why not have fun with it and explore. The Swiss artist Manon comes to mind–-she was taking photos of herself in different guises in the 1970s—and she received a lot of antagonism from other feminist artists because she was a beautiful woman and they thought she was only objectifying herself. So even though they were fighting for the same thing using a different visual language, institutionalized feminism was telling women what they could and could not do, how they should and should not look. Of course the movement fizzled out because of these clashes, among other internal conflicts, and the way I see it individuality prevailed. As young artists, do you feel that you are part of a community or many communities?
AS: I agree that we are often "performing" our sexuality and the important thing about my queer exploration has been its “-ing” ness. (This doesn't mean I am a slut, by the way, in fact I rarely move, but the mental discussion is alert.) Once static, a performance freezes up under institutionalized feminism and starts to grow a hump at its back, called not-performed reality. As a performance artist, I sometimes get lost as a "performed" self feels closer to reality, or I am "performing" my daily life. I love this confusion. This only falls onto me when I perform a lot. It's about constantly moving. So I like to make friends with many people with different perspectives but would rather not stay in a community.
KG: I don’t know if I feel a part of a community per se, I think I have certain groups of friends or collaborators who I feel very close to because of shared interests or visions that overlap, and a resulting kinship.
Kathryn Garcia, Carla's getting married, 2011; Courtesy of the artist.
AS: What do you think about the serious/hilarious spectrum? How do you use each? I am asking because I feel like I can laugh about myself all I want, but not others. Especially so in sexuality.
KG: I think the ability to laugh at oneself is important and healthy for the ego. In a way it relates to what you said about Tyson and Holyfield, it’s like no matter who your opponent is in reality it is only yourself—you compete against your best and worst. Maybe that’s why they could hang out together, I want to hang out happily with my shadow, that’s my goal. I do use humor in my work—Carla for instance, her character is ridiculous, a blob in heels who’s getting married. I drew her when gay marriage was legalized in NY, to parody the idea of “normal.” When I think of serious/hilarious I think of John Waters or Pedro Almodovar and how they both make challenging, transgressive films that are also completely over the top. To me they embody that balance.
SJ: Great examples. I think you both also manage to walk that fine line in your work, fusing high and low, serious and hilarious. And while the end-result is very different it seems like you both are invested in challenging the (art) establishment, as well as prescribed notions of sexuality and gender. And for me, and many others like you too, these are the kinds of friends that I’d like to conspire with.
I enter behind Klaus Biesenbach. Not even a trace of irony, no eroticism, just a smoldering hum. The buzz of hundreds of tiny voices creating a drone on 24th Street that wafts through the exceedingly tall corridors and frosted glass doors of Gagosian Gallery into the exhaust of fashion week traffic and towering heels. Just the clicking of heels and the clicking of cameras. The darting glances encircling the artist and the awkward posture of Richard Phillips standing over six feet tall in a black motorcycle jacket two sizes too small. I scan the room with a palpable and slack disenchantment. The paintings are big! And there are models in them. I linger on the sidewalk outside and see the artist Spencer Sweeney in his signature Russ & Daughters cap. I don’t see Adriana Lima anywhere. I see 92 inches of Lindsay Lohan in a wetsuit holding a surfboard with a green anchor painted on the nose – First Point, 2012. She looks total, inscrutable – iconic. But there isn’t even enough art to think past. I lounge motionless for days afterward and read books. I think about Lindsay’s mango-colored sunshades.
I get a call. I buy some caviar and eat it. I show up at Swat Bar on Canal Street and nurse a sparkling water. Somebody else gets a call. I’m at the Bowery Hotel. Nightlife impresario André Saraiva walks by me. I’m below ground at Acme on Great Jones Street entering a party I can hear behind a door that reads “No Admittance.” The door opens, I open the open bar. A group begins to dance. People go in and out of bathrooms. A blonde with slick hair glides by me. I get into a cab. Somebody slams a door. I’m at Le Bain. I see like three states at once. I’m dancing with Ann Cathrin November Høibo. I’m at Le Baron. I can’t see. It’s like the woozy strobe scene from Black Swan. I get lost in the club. I’m in the street. I’m in a taxi. At some point in the near past I saw framed seed packets at Invisible Exports on Orchard Street. Joseph Beuys signed them all.
I’m at The Kitchen listening to French philosopher Jacques Rancière. He talks about using your intelligence to prove you’re not intelligent. He speaks of the “production of affect.” I’m at Sculpture Center for the impeccably curated A Disagreeable Object. I see some Adidas track pants spun around a tissue paper dispenser, bunches of excess thread. It’s my dance partner Ann Cathrin November Høibo’s Untitled (The Kiss), 2012. I go outside. I see an olive-colored Cadillac De Ville. I get on a train. I walk into The Jewish Museum for A Painter and His Muses. Edouard Vuillard’s paintings are inside. There’s the colors you’d expect—and then voila, bursts of yellow and aqua. Twilight at Le Pouliguen (1908) is stunning. The most exciting work I’ve seen in years and the best French painting I’ve seen from the period. Later, I pick up the brand new Nice Weather by the poet Frederick Seidel. He writes “Of the Vuillards” in “Dinner With Holly Andersen.” I present a Sotheby’s ID card and enter the Guggenheim Museum for Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective.
I have no expectations. No precedent. I hear generic club music thumping from a dark room in a corner of the museum. A few people are crowded at the entrance. Slowly, curiously, I enter the room. I don’t know yet what I’m in for until I see a young woman on screen in a cheap white skirt and matching tube top; the outfit frames her midriff into the shape of a diamond. She begins to pulsate to the generic club music. She’s really good at it. I feel a strange empathy. I step right into the middle of the floor. I go outside to the wall text: The Buzz Club, Liverpool, UK/Mystery World, Zaandam, NL, 1996-97. I start texting everyone I know. I stop and go back in. The video cuts from teenage subject to subject. Each appearing vulnerable, dispossessed, marginal, jaded in front of a stark white wall.A pair of dudebros in windbreakers. For the first time I watch an entire piece of video art. I’m transformed, different. Art is redemptive.
I finish Sanctuary (1931) by William Faulkner. I think about Karen Kilimnik’s wicked genius glitter flags at 303 Gallery. I’m on a plane again. I see “Follow your goddam dreams” scrawled on a wall near Fairfax and Beverly Boulevard. I’ve just arrived in LA from New York to launch my book The Malady of the Century. I pick up Out of This Century (1946), Peggy Guggenheim’s memoirs, while I suntan by the pool at the Beverly Laurel. I rub Narcissus oil all over my body and go to Family. I read a story about a nightclub buried underneath the sand. I mingle among the scene. I meet a novelist. She says she writes “mean” books. I ride in her Mercedes. We talk about how much we like Alex Israel’s As It LAys. I wake up in a 50s hotel room and look at a mountain behind a billboard that reads “Sky,” a halo over the letter S. Sky sells maxi and mini dresses on S. Robertson Blvd. I drink raw coconut water. I change clothes three times. I’m on Rodeo Drive. I’m on Dayton Way. I’m seated at The Grill on the Alley. I order the special, soft shell crab. I get into a car.
I board an aircraft. I’m surrounded by the greenest forests. I drink four coconut waters. I’m at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh, NC. I’m looking at a Marilyn Minter video. Luscious silvery metallic M&M’s drop into a pool of metallic pigment swirling in slow motion. One of the Ms is turned on its side. I see ME. It looks like a lava lamp. I leave well before thirty-five minutes pass contemplating the video’s title: I’m Not Much, But I’m All I Think About.
No sleep till Brooklyn, I chanted all summer, racing against the night, elbow and index finger at right angles to the page, the arithmetic of the numbers on the top corners of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ teasing me as they ascended, stopped, and started again with each volume. In shedding notions of linear or real-time, and therefore morality, I was forced to exist outside—the landscape, the book, myself, you.
The last volume is called Time Regained, arrived at after, of course, significant hours of your life have been spent. With this paradoxical circularity and dark circles around my eyes, I returned to Brooklyn, a city that belonged to me in a younger, more foolish avatar, and, as if to recreate—or continue—that exhausting sensation of being a-part, of recognizing The Great Disjunction between signs and the signified, I took a fellow Proustian insomniac to Sleep No More.
I arrived too early, he too late. I received a six of diamonds, he a seven of spades. He drank scotch, I, gin. He was listening to the piano, I to the bass. There were already storeys of separation between us.
We wore our masks, and for a moment, were all the same. Suddenly, that big gaping space closed. But I didn’t see him till we were back at the bar, when he took off his mask and said, 'My nose hurts.'
Meanwhile, I flailed through darkness and found myself in a meandering installation of useless things, a set for ontology, rooms stacked high with paper, books, photographs, carpets and clocks, beds and pillows, and bathtubs, sand, brick, statues, torn pages and swiveling mobiles, clothes hung to dry, steel desks and wooden desks, mirrors, idols, sofas, toys, animals, altars, cutlery, lipstick, stones, sheets, trees; a dark wonderland of riddles, metaphors and philosophical quandaries stacked and embedded in nooks and crannies and crammed into dead ravens and tea cups, semiotics stuffed into salt-shakers.
After unknown seconds, I reached a maze made of twigs, dimly lit in blue, my eyes dilated, legs tracing the letter H, parallel to where I had been, perpendicular to embrace the gulf between then and now. Carving the first initial of my own name was the caveat for my own ego: this experience would be mine alone, this story, hence, is written through what I saw and how I hurt.
At the end of the labyrinth was a circular hut. Through a window left listlessly ajar, a young woman, unmasked, in an apron, was visible, but only partly, in fragments. I made her up, the starter to the idea that we can never really see people whole, that it is always through multiple layers of lenses that we view them.
I stood and waited for something to happen, a safe rule to keep in mind in general. She opened the door, pulled me into the hut and held me close to her. Around the hut, hung cut-out letters: the H stands out. She took off my mask, poured me a cup of tea, and fed it to me with a spoon. She held me again, all the while whispering into my ear. The story she told was, I deluded myself, a story told solely to me, portending some magical catastrophe. About a little girl, flying to the stars, but the stars were dead. About a little girl, rowing a boat, but the stream was dry. She cried. Or so my memory distorted her words so that I heard only her—my—nostalgia for the wonder and awe of lost childhood. Her words rang straight from my ears to my heart, as if meandering away from the instinctual brain that rationalizes, like the labyrinth that had brought me there in the first place.
She kissed me, put my mask back on and let me go. I stood outside, scaleless, pining for her again. Can you act such intimacy? Who was she, unblemished angel in white? How could she repeat this for another? I was struck, simultaneously, my anonymity and my sense of self. I felt giant, the universe miniscule. The tiny hut seemed to contain the whole world. And just like Proust’s Madeleine, this slight touch hyperbolized into love. I still think of her sometimes. Break.
I wandered lost, in inertia, downstairs. A woman in a maid’s dress danced aimlessly, with intention, through the corridors, kissed a mirror, then stood back in front of a statue of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and spat at it.
In the first volume, Swann’s Way, Proust, in the wake of the Marquis de Sade, writes an elaborate episode of sadism, in which the daughter of a great composer, Monsieur Vinteuil, spits on the photographic image of her father, in order to please her female lover. The spit dribbles down the Christ eye. Sleepless, or on the verge of death, this scene foreshadowed the deliverance of morality to projections and the breakdown of the classics: religion, literature, the arts, science, even mathematics. You are forced to choose your own adventure, and any combination is right, every scene, seen by you equates to a form of love.
I walked up the stairs, unaware now of what floor or which map I was on. I found an old medical book open to the page of the ‘cross'. It instructed the reader on how the ‘x’, signified breakage. The cross, on the face, is also the nose. The nose is the instrument through which we smell our suspicions, the lies we tell, the part of the body—in Proust’s anti-Semitic world at least—that depicts identity and ideology, but not quite. Break.
Twenty-seven ticking clocks in the room had, by then, been draped over. You could hear them ticking, but there is no time. Break.
I stepped into a room full of raw wooden crates. Stacked and piled, box over box. A big ‘H’ was typed on one of them, as if this game of chance and probability needed farther elucidation, an actor sat at a desk, shuffling a stack of cards.
Tired, I leaned back against a column, watching him. He stared back at me. He offered me the stack of cards, I don’t want to fall in love again. I didn’t flinch. He furrowed his brow, staring at me. The masked audience around me watched me. They looked the same. I reached out. He dropped the cards. They fall to the floor. A six of diamonds reminded me of a seven of spades, somewhere else. He thrust his body against mine, and whispered, ‘I want to show you something.’ He held my waist, and walked me through the boxes, and down what might have been one or ten flights of stairs. Masked intruders followed.
Hundreds stood watching the final scene in which an actor hangs himself. My actor, as Moses, parted the audience, holding me. We stood inches before the decisive moment. We waited, the rope was pulled, I shivered, he gripped my waist tight. The show over, he led me through to the familiar bar. He lifted my mask and kissed me. Smiling, I whispered, thank you, he lifted his finger to quiet me, but the words had already slipped, the spell of disbelief broken. Break.
My friend came to me as I ordered a gin, as if nothing had happened, he ordered a scotch, took off his mask and said, 'My nose hurts.' I wanted to say, it's probably broken. I was. Stripped of an ego by my own ego, I was, am not, and might be.
When RenéDaumal wrote Le Mont Analogue: Roman d'aventures alpines, non euclidiennes et symboliquement authentiques (Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing) in 1952, it marked the first use of the word “peradam” in the history of literature. Peradam gestures toward the concept of an object that reveals itself only to those who seek to discover it. Le Mont Analogue details the tale of the discovery and exploration of a mountain that exists and ceases to exist simultaneously, making the experience of climbing it a pilgrimage imbued with purpose and entirely meaningless, all at once. Ultimately, the text calls into question ideas of dream-space, journeying, the unknown and the equally daunting known, and the relationship the traveller’s body has with the physicality of geographical terrain. Though Daumal passed away before the book was completed, it was his drawing of the notion of peradam out into the daylight that incited the imagination, paving the way for a myriad of other cultural texts.
The allegory and mysticism behind the idea of an item that can only be found when sought is just the right kind of framework for the nouveau publishing group on the block, Peradam. Directed by artist-cum-worldly-woman Elizabeth Jaeger and Harper’s Magazine’s Sam Finn Cate-Gumpert(best friends since age four, both San Francisco transplants to Brooklyn), Peradam’s mission is bit of a shape-shifter, aiming first and foremost to meet the needs of those they spotlight.
“The form [of each publication] is defined by the content,” Cate-Gumpert tells me when we meet one rainy Friday evening, shouting over the din of The Shangri-Las blasting from speakers at The Commodore in Williamsburg. Thus, Jaeger and Cate-Gumpert are facilitators of an integral process of discovery and play, one that brings the artist identity away from the box of the studio, and situates it within public space for those who desire contact with the act and documentation of making—an artist’s journey, as found in their process—as much as with the final product.
Meeting at The Commodore is somewhat of a cyclical journey in itself for these two travelers. It was over dinner and drinks at the Williamsburg hipster haunt that Jaeger and Cate-Gumpert first thought up the idea nearly a year ago. Before arriving at her Peradam, Jaeger left art school for liberal arts schooling, and then eventually left the liberal arts to travel abroad in France; she self-defines as an artist that “…make[s] really huge sculptures.” Cate-Gumpert—currently Assistant Art Director at the renowned Harper’s—when asked about how he discovered his Peradam, explains: “When in college someone asked me my senior year what I wanted to do in life, and I really didn’t have an answer, the first thing that popped into my head was that I wanted to work with artist books. My career trajectory has followed that path.”
Elizabeth Jaeger and Sam Finn Cate-Gumpert of Peradam. Photographed by Annie Powers.
Jaeger and Cate-Gumpert are opposite sides of the same coin: the former intensely devoted to the design and aesthetic of each edition they run, the latter keeping a close eye on content. “We are approaching people that we are attracted to,” Jaeger explains. “A book is such an amazing tool to get to know someone. The relationships we form with the people that we’re working with are so particular, and so intimate.” An alternative to their glossier counterparts, Peradam vertically integrates the artist, the artwork, the publisher, the art studio, and the design studio in one swoop. Working with Jaeger and Cate-Gumpert, artists get to place two hands on the wheel in negotiating how they want to shape their projects, a unique distinction to make in an era where often the artist’s vision is thrown by the wayside in the interest of prioritizing commercial capital alone.
With eight books under their respective belt featuring recent work of a diverse gamut of artists such as Joshua Abelow, Nick DeMarco, Sarah Elliott, and Chris Lux, the Peradam pair is poised for an exciting Fall season. Queen-bee-on-the-rise (known to oft paint the town—and the stage—in drag), performer Alexis Penney, also a transplant to the East by way of the West, is slated for an upcoming edition. Penney’s book will feature diaristic snapshots and ephemera that explore the artist’s coterie and his career as a musician and artist making their mark on the downtown New York City scene.
All books printed by Peradam are available for purchase online, as well as in a variety of stores both in New York, California, and beyond, with the goal of expanding within the next year. In short: search and ye shall find. Your Peradam soon may be just around the corner.
(Image at top: Peradam books, including Pøems by Nick Demarco, Painter's Journal by Joshua Abelow, Twelve Saints by Chris Lux and William Rockwell, and, A-I-M-E-R: by Sarah Elliott. Photograph by Annie Powers.)
Dreaming of life on Mars in Miami, I consider the effects it might have on American painting. Black Gods from Outer Space affect the inner space of a few artists I am friendly with in New York, yet the psychotropic rove that is Dade County presents a cosmic cathexis in formidable districts. Gallery Diet contains and expands upon a mutual investment of a community inquiry into the movement from observation to perception. From the false stasis and sway of a palm-treed reality to the erotic storm sustaining impossibility as form and vibes. The mind moves under the fluorescents of modular white cubes. Van Hanos guest curates the group show Astral Weeks, where alienated painting, sculpture, photography and film graft and splice and craft in space unidentifiable, deliriant, beautiful.
Allegations and anomalies present themselves in each of the works on view: terrestrial subjectivities as obscenities orbit the room in ineffable marvelous color. Confronted on one’s immediate left, almost too close to the bolted front door, as if it were trying to abstract itself onto the street, is Chad Scoville’s The Aftermath Of The Surveillance State, 2012. A painting, but only in the sense of it being like a virtual ayahuasca laser-jet void set in a frame just to fuck with you. The MIT Malibu-campus codes and stroboscopic symbols drenched in neon digital waves push you into the room to see like a sky-writing pilot asleep at the wheel, the soft explosions of dreams in a free language. Breyer/Genesis P-Orridge continue to disrupt identity slash grammar and any other value that stimulates death in the quadrant psychedelia of two materially enhanced prisms. Shamanic memories or futurist prosthesis, Fisionet, 2003, and Untitled, 2009, circumcise the hype and stick out, shines. Nearby, Rory Parks shades, a cluster of paintings, basically, bridges and calendars, emptiness stretching out so that nothing is left, not even leaving. How close is boredom to leisure? How close is leisure to peace? How close peace is to the pragmatic horror of right now. A kind of silence, like long walks through a ghetto, dissolves or emerges from a canvas and it is important like botany or science. Corinne Jones’ painting Eight Thirty-Two, 2012, and Liz Deschenes silver-toned photogram Photograph #22, 2004, both lush out this erasure in their spectral precision. Similar DNA strains decorate the trans-cellular pictography of Nicolas Lobo’s primitive print Ethnographic Sound Blanket, 2012. It is clear that believing in other realms is essential to be an artist, but Lobo’s mysteries modernize clarity into a cursory vision. Technotribality also smudges its presence in Keltie Ferris’s painting =)))>>, 2012. A fabulous empathy pulses in her force field.
Keltie Ferris, =)))>>, 2012,Oil and acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 in; Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Diet.
In theory and homage, the centerpiece of this renegade aeronautics and space administration slash exhibition is Brion Gysin’s Dreamachine, 1990. It is a psychic heart that spiritually outflows into South Florida for six weeks as if a slow-motion Apollo launch took place inside a coffin. Courtesy of the Sackner Archive, this work transcends. It spawns.
Further reading on the lysergic listlessness of this sweet summer show comes from artist Rory Parks, his essay “Notes on Non-Diagetic Light as it characterizes Diagetic Light" is excellent and can be reached by contacting Gallery Diet’s Nina Johnson.
Six pm the eighth of August I’m at Gavin Brown’s holding a Yuengling Black & Tan, a little guy with jet black hair is snapping pictures. There’s a few people around and nearly a thousand tiny drawings. It’s Akira Horikawa’s 1000 Drawing Project. The drawings are incredibly loose but surprisingly detailed. Some in color, most in black and white. Many of them figures in strange or absurd situations. In one, a ramp extends from a woman’s vspot. Horikawa began his project in 2007. The recent drawings become more detailed, gushing copious black ink to the background of the image. There is a skull. They get weirder. I finish my beer and go to McNally Jackson before the gallery swells.
I’m at McNally Jackson talking to a guy standing next to a girl whose haircut and clothing remind me of Sinead O’Connor. The guy says, “Why do you want to work at a bookstore?” I give him my resumé and tell him one of my books is a featured title in his store right now and tell him I want to work there. I flip through Tiqqun’s Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (Semiotexte, 2012). Then I go home and design a book cover on Cheim & Read stationary. The next day I go to David Zwirner where the employees have the flippant honor of their very own exhibition. The show is called People Who Work Here and there are two paintings by Sam Martineau worth standing around for. Even better is a series of seven digital pigment prints mounted on Cintra. It’s 12 Hours of Sebring by Josh Brown. Edition 1/3. Sold. But really, they’re worth it. The photos are all of race cars, cool ones, in Sebring, Florida at the Sebring 12-Hour Classic. I felt into the colors and I could feel the speed while I watched the images blur across the wall. Really moving images.
I went to The Museum at FIT’s Fashion and Textile History Gallery for Fashion, A-Z Part Two. The attendant asked me not to take a photo as I took a photo of Martin Margiela’s linen sleeveless jacket of 1997. It was discordant and serene, the whole experience, made even more lovely by an elegant Kenzo ensemble from Spring 2011. The gallery is dark and there were a few other visitors among the shadows. Later after dinner I remembered The Storefront For Art & Architecture opening of The Post-Olympic City (Gary Hustwit and Jon Pack) two nights before, where the crowd spilled onto the sidewalk and the width of the block, lingering in front of giant Olympic rings painted on the storefront. I was inside thinking Sarajevo ’84 looked bleak and gliding back to the refreshment table asking for refills of white and getting red when all the Rolling Rock was gone. Afterward, I dined at Bread on Spring Street. The waitress had cool tattoos. The bread was good. The next day I read from Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Fatale. It’s a special kind of French crime novel from 1977 that reads like a movie and imparts to me cinematic feelings.
Claire Fontaine,Ivy (left) and Poppy (right), 2012, Installation view of Dogma at Metro Pictures; Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures.
Sometimes you just want to be a part of it all so I walk by Louis Vuitton to look in the window at a life-size doll of “Polka-dots are fabulous” Yayoi Kusama. She made some bags, sunglasses, shoes, and coats for them. I hear she has a show at The Whitney and brazenly exclaimed in New YorkMagazine that nobody in Japan cares about Warhol. The next day I go to a shuttered Feature Inc., passing by the comic artist Darren Bader on the way, for the last day of Douglas Melini, but I guess that was the day before. I curse and walk to Orchard Street for no reason. Entering Rachel Uffner Gallery I become immediately depressed and hesitantly gawk at Dan Miller’s concrete poetry, a framed piece of paper typed with words pertaining to construction like “wood” and “wall.” It starts to rain. I go into a telephone booth on Canal Street and e-mail a guy who writes for DIS Magazine. He doesn’t show so I go to Winnie’s on Bayard Street and order a Budweiser. It’s hot, getting hotter. I’m bored so I take a Xanax and go to The Hole for the last day of Portrait of a Generation. There are over 100 artists in the show, each doing portraits of each other. A kind of year book for the city. Maripol does Rene Ricard – a Polaroid mounted on top of a pristine turquoise copy of his poetry book 1979-1980. Dash Snow does Kunle Martins – big photo of Kunle in Dash's lap, both shirtless. Glenn O’Brien does Andre Saraiva – a poem, an ode to Saraiva’s cosmopolitanism and love of women. There’s a super rad portrait of Fab Five Freddy by Jeanette Hayes. It’s all gold and paint and jive. In The Hole’s other gallery is Andrépolis. Outrageous pink, blue, and black sculptures of André Saraiva’s favorite spots in NYC – dance music, fluorescent lights, misty noir feeling, kind of French. Then Claire Fontaine dogs above the desk at Metro Pictures, a Martin Kippenberger, and Jack Goldstein records as part of Dogma. Last day of the endless summer I sit down with a bottle of Tanqueray in a giant loft downtown and turn up Schubert, blast it.
Soho was pretty much invented as a cool neighborhood by Fluxus. Fluxus founder, the artist George Maciunas, convinced developers to re-brand the area as an artist community making live-work lofts affordable for artists.
Influenced by John Cage’s experimental chance-based music, Duchamp’s Dadaist readymades, and the Constructivists' amalgamation of life and art, Fluxus, as you may already know, was the most playful, most democratic, and arguably the most interesting avant-garde movement nurtured in New York City (and beyond) in the 1960s and 70s. Artists such as Alison Knowles, Nam June Paik, and Yoko Ono set about to: “Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be fully grasped by all peoples…” The artists produced ephemera both retailed and mailed, box sets, kitchen aprons, performances pieces, festivals and even plans to co-opt an island. The movement is perhaps most famously associated with Yoko Ono’s cut piece, but what I find most interesting about Fluxus was how the artists capitalized off of real estate ventures in downtown Manhattan.
Soho was both its haunt and its legacy.
Original sell sheet for Wooster Enterprises products. Courtesy of Churner and Churner, New York.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in the printed matter, ephemera and films produced during the height of Fluxus, with substantial exhibitions in 2011 at the MoMA and the Grey Gallery at NYU. Now the one-year-old Chelsea gallery, Churner and Churner, has opened “Wooster Enterprises,” an eponymously titled show dedicated to the small, short-lived Fluxus-aligned design studio.
Wooster Enterprises, a name that perfectly conjures up a downtown, late 1970s avant-garde sensibility, has been conspicuously absent from many of the recent Fluxus shows. Before the current exhibition, Wooster Enterprises had been, along with other “minor” histories in NY, lost in the sands of time. The show at Churner and Churner although modest, serves to pull it out of obscurity. Three small vitrines display a handful of photographs. A littering of company invoices are adhered in a horizontal line that snakes around the gallery wall. Founded in 1976 and lasting for just two years, Wooster Enterprises was created by the couple Jaime Davidovich and Judith Henry, both of whom were Fluxus-affiliated artists living in Soho.
For Wooster Enterprises, the mission was specific: to create all aspects of design, production, and distribution for the Fluxus community. Together, the duo produced a series of paper goods—greeting cards, writing pads, confetti, etc.—all equally wry in spirit and minimal in design, and these products were sold to department stores such as Bloomingdales and Macy’s. Sadly, by 1978, Wooster was forced to go out of business; without a financial backer and many outstanding payments, the team could not survive on their minimal sales alone. Davidovich went on to work on a series of public access art television programs and Henry worked as a fine artist (both of them are still living, and have helped research and produce the show).
Can an art project also be a business? Can commerce itself be a progressive social tool? Does a work of art have meaning when it functions outside the context of Art? These questions and others come to mind while browsing the hundreds of Wooster invoices pasted along the gallery walls. In designing minimal and evocative objects—pieces of “high art” disguised as salable products—Wooster Enterprises flirted with the very terms of radicalism through the entanglement of the creative and the corporate.
Installation view of Wooster Enterprises, 1976-1978. Courtesy of Churner and Churner, New York.
The subsequent failure of the Wooster design studio seemingly clarifies where art and commerce inevitably meet, however, one could say that perhaps the vision of the movement as a whole establishes a different truth. The concept of the “artist-loft” still remains a totally viable concept. Ironically, what began as Maciunas’ grand scheme to create an affordable artist community is now a methodology employed by real estate developers to promote the growth and subsequent gentrification of various areas (aspiring Soho’s) across the US and beyond.
“I’m certain they all thought I was a moron,” says Francisco "Tito" Rovira Rullán as we sit in his office on the second story of his San Juan gallery Roberto Paradise; his gallery manager chit-chats away loudly on the phone downstairs with her Hungarian assistant slouching behind the front desk in the heat of the unbearably sunny early afternoon. Situated in a historic wooden colonial house in Santurce, Puerto Rico, all the windows are open and a warm breeze permeates everything. The gallery director’s cigarette smoke drifts slowly towards the window and briskly cuts away down the alley towards the street.
I first met Tito last year on one of my trips to Puerto Rico through a mutual friend and artist, Sofia Maldonado. His matter-of-fact-no-bullshit approach was infectious. In a society and art market so often concerned with selling you something, Rovira Rullán is one of the new wave of professionally rendered gallerists and curators with art historical backgrounds on the island who are more concerned with cultural propagation than the bottom line. He’s as excited as his artists and collectors and just as invested. If you aren’t sold, it really doesn’t matter — he already is.
His current space is the re-incarnation of his second gallery, Roberto Paradise, a space dedicated to cultivating young Puerto Rican artists from the start of their careers, then assisting and pushing their international profile with global art fairs like Basel, pop-up fairs like the Dependent in NY, and cultivating transnational relationships with gallery exchanges and curatorial collaborations like his current July exhibition with Josh Lilley in London.
Relatively young for the success that his novice gallery has garnered him and his crowd, he crept out of the woodwork after spending some time at the Isabella Stuart in Boston and working with Ronald Lauder in New York. “At the time I worked with Lauder, the collection was at an important crossroads. He was developing a project of early twentieth-century German and Austrian art that became what today is the Neue Gallery on 86th and 5th. There was also his private collection that extended from ancient Chinese art, past the German-Austrian twentieth-century collection and on to contemporary art. It was an absolutely effervescent time for me and it’s there that I learned about the art market, the money — everything I hadn’t already learned from studying the work itself.”
Primed, exhilarated and ready, Rovira Rullán came back to Puerto Rico and began co-directing non-profit space MM Proyectos with curator and Puerto Rico art world staple Michy Marxuach (current co-director of Beta-Local, an experimental art and education project that seeks to transform social, political and economic realities in Puerto Rico), and artist Chemi Rosado. “They gave me the space to select two artists for the project. I chose Jose Lerma and Jesus ‘Bubu’ Negron. These later became the basis of my first gallery, Galeria Commercial, when we opened in 2003.” Both artists boast international careers today, are widely exhibited both on and off the island, and both mingle on the mainland and in Europe.
Although physically long-gone today, Galeria Commercial is a space still referenced in art circles as a project that blazed the trail for a whole world of contemporary and avant-garde art on the island, opening the door and bolstering the reputations of its artists, a generation of talent deemed the “Frescos generation” by curator, proyectress and cultural-chanter Celina Noguera Cuevas. “I opened Galeria Commercial for two primary reasons. One, I looked around and realized that I was the only one of my friends that wasn’t an artist. We spoke the same language, held the same values, cultivated the same ideas and methodologies, but here I was observing. I felt that Puerto Rico needed someone with a background in the Humanities at the forefront — managing and contextualizing. There were two primary galleries at that time, Galeria Viota and Galeria Botello. But neither their outlook nor their programing interested us. We saw mediocre artists lending nothing new to the scene, who were living way better than artists with real ripe talent. At twenty-three years old I wanted to heal that problem.”
Today, two galleries in and backed by his international scope and perspective, Rovira Rullán still works with many of the same artists he started off nurturing. “I’d say I work with waves of artists.” He started with a core group of Lerma and Negron and slowly folded in some of the artists in their circle and some promising studio assistants, such as Jorge Gonzales, Fernando Pintado and the boisterously charming Radames ‘Juni’ Figueroa. “Today I’d say I’m at a third wave but still integrating what I find to be relevant artists like Hector Madera, for example.”
Jose Lerma, The Credentialist, 2012; Courtesy of Roberto Paradise, Andrea Rosen Gallery & Green Gallery.
Business wasn’t always so smooth. When the group first made a splash onto the scene in 2003, it inevitably rocked the boat for the more established traditional spaces that were used to tailoring exhibitions to clientele and selling a product versus an artist’s career. “I’m certain they all thought I was a moron. We invited all the gallerists to the launch but it was clear that we didn’t have the same falsifications about the market that they had. The collector Cesar Reyes still tells me today ‘You were able to talk about the work of Jesus ‘Bubu’ Negron as if it were Picasso. You believed in him and communicated it well.’”
Roberto Paradise is not only nestled into the topography of privately held galleries in Puerto Rico but also on the map for collectors such as Reyes. “If [Cesar] wouldn’t have paid attention to me in 2004 I would have a totally different outlook than the one I hold today. I had some things down and clear, and good intuition; but he opened my eyes to many things, among them his sensibility and keen eye.” The Cesar & Mima Reyes collection in San Juan and Naguabo is quite possibly one of the best national and international collections on the island containing works by Martin Creed, Enoc Perez, Jose Lerma, Chris Ofili, and Peter Doig among them. “His collection is a personal one. Walking you through is almost like narrating the story of his life. The Berezdivin collection at Espacio 1414 is something else entirely. A tremendous collection, it was the first on the island to open to the public and collaborate with curators both foreign and domestic to curate its exhibitions. It’s this type of programming that has lent to the maturing of the Puerto Rican contemporary art scene — access, dialog, and education — a product which you see at art fairs and abroad.”