Enter Dreamland at the Whitney

Dreamlands was overwhelming and enveloping, eclectic and haphazard. Everything overlapped and bled together – conflicting sounds and light grew muddy and undistinguishable, truly creating this immersive, overpowering, deeply engaging environment. It was a sprawling show, a rambling, serpentine labyrinth that meandered and spread about, into wide, bright white spaces, hazy dim corners, and dark cavities. Those black holes that forced you to cautiously, carefully, feel your way in I found most interesting. Especially Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone and Dora Budor’s Adaptation of an Instrument. I was drawn to McCall’s piece immediately by the familiar, clammy smell of artificial mist. The mist, the blackness, the sharp light projecting and slicing, the vague, almost ominous forms of other viewers – it was like I was a child again, playing laser tag in the basement of my neighborhood bowling alley. People darted back and forth through the filmy beam of light, edging their fingers in, carving shadows with an arm, a head, making the light waver and dance. Maybe it was because the image was flat and dull and boring, but I wasn’t compelled to sit and watch the circle gradually appear on the wall – rather, I was engaged by the light itself. McCall challenged the traditional definitions and confinements of cinema – the viewer was no longer passive and quiet, but active and participating.

Budor’s piece was also impressive. I was initially intrigued by the heavy, slick, box in the middle of the room, it seemed so bizarre and out of place. The constructed environment felt slick and slippery and slimy. Green and alien. I walked through thick ribbons of plastic that felt wet and greasy. Inside felt moist, the air thick and damp, like you were within the insides of a living, sweating organism. This organism knew you were present – the veins of the walls light up when you walked about, making the space pulse and vibrate. The inclusion of the frogs – foggy forms that stuck to the glass like dead insects in panel lights, threatening to rain down – created a direct reference to the film Magnolia, as well as created a link between organic and technological elements.

Oskar Schlemmer is one of my favorite artists, so I loved how the exhibit began – with a large projection of Das Traidische Ballett. Last year I saw the ballet The Most Incredible Thing, the costumes designed by Marcel Dzama, who drew inspiration from Schlemmer. It’s interesting to compare the two ballets, for some of the costumes in both are strikingly identical, yet the underlying stories of the dances are entirely different.

By using costume Schlemmer transformed the body into a mechanized, abstract form, from organic and fluid to stiff, strict machine. Everything was reduced and flat and graphic and artificial. Blocks of color, geometric shapes, straight lines, sharp angles. The music perfectly timed, everything had to be exact. Yet, I still found emotion in the dance and the music and the costumes, even though they were so mechanical. Schlemmer sketches of the costumes for this ballet are wonderful. As well as the posters.

 

 

 

 

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Redefining Movement with Art – Robert Breer

Is Robert Breer’s work Neoplasticism? Reminds me of Mondrian. Also constructivism and Bauhaus. Minimal, geometric, slabs and cubes, few colors. Making the viewer an active participant. Even Dada. Finding meaning in the nonsensical, or conceiving meaning from the nonsensical. Maybe that’s why I liked Kamikaze so much. Robert Breer did it all.

Nothing that Breer creates is fixed, or static, yet, it is. It stops time. Activity as fixity. Objects and images that seem stationary, challenging the definition and our perception of movement. How does time and space interact? How do we fit in? Time travel does exist.

The motorized sculptures were my favorite. Moving slowly and ever so slightly that it takes a moment to realize they are in motion. A piece of Styrofoam and crumpled, puckered plastic just floating around the space, with us, without us. Autonomous and independent. They are alive! Barely. But I can hear them breathing. Softly. It’s the hum of a motor. Does the sculpture look better here, or here? Doesn’t matter…they will decide for themselves.

I did not find the motorized wall exciting or thrilling. I found the smaller objects to be because they rolled about at inconspicuous, imperceptible speeds, and they were very low to the ground, crawling around your feet. Like prefabricated, industrial, antisocial insects. It felt like I was in on their secret, once I realized they were moving. The wall was obtrusive, intrusive, and obvious. Overkill. But perhaps that was the point.

The animation 70 also challenged movement – images so sudden and tumultuous they become motionless, one picture. The frames themselves as paintings, multiplying, stretching, expanding, forming a single image, a single story. The film was violent, the geometric shapes forms blobs rough and jagged, bleeding and dissolving into harsh flashes of color. Yet, I could not stop watching, no matter how painful, no matter how unsettling. It was mesmerizing and absorbing– like the motorized sculptures. I needed to know what was going on. After I visited the show I looked up more of his films, and they were all very inspiring, very cool. I am in a stop motion class, and it’s encouraging to know that he created these animations with only hand drawn index cards. It’s sometimes intimidating and overwhelming to see work in galleries or museums or any institutional setting, for it seems so inconceivable to be at the level. At least, to me. Discovering and learning about the process or history of an artwork sometimes grounds an artist, and makes a goal more realizable.

Even the painting Time Out insinuated a sense of motion, a wobbly, wonky, waver in rigidity. Disrupting what is emblematic of a painting, to be flat, to be fixed, to be a suspended image. Breer makes the black lines uneven, Breer makes the black lined square itself appear askew, slightly leaning, slightly faltering. The blocks of color are inconsistent, curving and warping the image. It’s awesome! It’s kind of boring but still awesome.

I liked his handwriting as well. Inspiring show.

 

 

Matt Johnson Wood Sculpture at 303

Matt Johnson’s Wood Sculpture – wow. Walking into the show I was immediately reminded of Duchamp and the Readymade – the sculptures appeared to be prefabricated, everyday objects, elevated to the dignity of artwork merely by Johnson’s decision to remove the objects from their former fixed context and display them in a gallery setting. These objects were suspended in states of uselessness and defection – crumpled, dented, fragmented – as if they were depressed by their loss of utility. Unwanted remnants of waste and junk were now raised on a pedestal, gracefully balanced and poised, sometimes twisted and curved, as if emulating a human form in contrapposto. Was Johnson finding beauty in the mundane, in the expendable, in trash –piecing together discarded, broken refuse to create a newfound context? Then I realized every sculpture was carved out of wood. Then these commonplace objects became incredible. Funny how that happens – a sudden detachment, aloofness or isolation from the ordinary and expected (or mass produced) makes something ten times cooler. The objects became individuals. The dynamism and fluidity and stasis of each piece was now even more impressive; these sculptures weren’t yielding like plastic or cardboard, but were solid, firm wood. Yet, knowing they were carefully carved sculptures made them seem even more fragile and delicate than brittle Styrofoam or drywall. Although the show was very straightforward, frank and bare, including the titles of the pieces and exhibit, once realizing that Johnson underwent the painstaking, laborious process of studying every object and replicating them so exactly that the distinction between genuine and copy (art and life?) is blurred, makes the exhibit elaborate and ambitious. And humorous. All that work, to create an El Pollo Loco cup, a shard of drywall, a pizza box. Something so temporary and disposable and cheap, now permanent and upscale. The wrinkles on the bags of concrete, the indented rings on the roll of tape, the Styrofoam pellets, every corrugate on the cardboard – so over the top and ridiculous, but because the exhibit was only called Wood Sculpture, I thought it was okay.

Rene Magritte’s The Treachery of Images – Ceci n’est pas une pipe came to mind. Is it a bag of concrete, or a representation of a bag of concrete? Vija Celmins’ To Fix the Image in Memory as well. The juxtaposition between model and depiction, nature and artifice. Exact imitations indistinguishable from the original, making the viewer uncertain, unsure, hesitant.

I also loved the drywall titles. Including the name of the paint color heightened the witticism of the show. The drywall sculptures also reminded me of Franz West’s sculptures – pastel colored, patchy, oddly shaped.

Matt Johnson is an allegorist. His work is appropriated imagery. He lays claim to the culturally significant, poses as its interpreter. The image transforms and becomes something else. He does not restore an original meaning that may have been lost or obscured; rather, he adds another meaning to the image. Pretty cool.

EJ Hauser ME+YOU at Regina Rex

A while ago I saw Inventing Downtown at the Grey Art Gallery, a show revolving around the East Village artist-run galleries that emerged and flourished in 1950s, between the peak of Abstract Expressionism and the rise of Pop Art and Minimalism – a special lacuna in the art historical narrative. Tired of the art scene lockstep, artists tore away from what was timeworn and flat, and created their own. These galleries were inclusive, innovative, rough around the edges. I found the show incredibly enlightening – works from women, from artists of color, previously omitted from the canon, on display. It’s uncondensed, honest, inspiring. It illustrates a time that is terribly foreign compared to now, when the constructs of the art world have hardened, solidified. Art feels compartmentalized yet singular. Art feels commercialized and too clean. It feels dead, or playing dead.

That is why I like Regina Rex, and all other artist-run galleries that predominantly feature under-represented and overshadowed artists. The are reminiscent of what used to be, and evocative of what can be.

I liked Ej Hauser’s show. Obsessive, compulsive, repetitive art. ME + YOU. Me needs You to look at her art, You needs Me for art to look at. Exploring the relationship between artist and viewer, art and viewer, what is lost, what is created. Uninspired title, cool work.

I was interested in her paintings because they reminded me of the glitchy, pixelated drawings I would create on Microsoft Paint – random fills of color, text boxes, jagged, boxy lines, ugly color palette. Same image, multiple versions, either as separate pieces, or layered on top. Everything is fast, shifty, and skittish. Simple. Her brushstrokes exhibit speed and eagerness, a childlike haste. The making of the mark becomes the identity of the piece. It’s not what the text says, it’s what the text looks like, what forms the letters make. Like Xu Bing. Her brushstrokes have an erratic, loose quality, yet they seem intentional, and calculated. There is still structure and decision in her paintings. Although decay and disruption is conveyed through the glitch and flux of paint, it’s an instigated instability. This is where my childhood Paint master-messes differ from Hauser. I don’t feel a sense of discovery in her artwork – whereas Paint was entirely exploration and invention. But this doesn’t matter.

Perhaps it was Hauser’s intention, to reveal the intersection of hand and machine. Mechanical repetition, human manipulation. The superficiality and artificiality of the digital, the mass-produced, coinciding with the handcrafted. Attempting to create a cohesive image with discursive, disparate elements, both formal and conceptual. Very interesting, but an exhausted concept.

“Imagining Delphi” was like a crude rendition of Marsden Hartley’s work – “Portrait of a German Officer”, or “Himmel” – channeling that coloring book, fill in the fat black lines with fat blocks of color, style.

Her paintings remind me of weavings as well. Especially the looker series. Moroccan Berber rugs. Jonathan Joefsson’s rugs. Strokes like thread, chunky and square, knitted together and composing loopy, lacey shapes. Or like the insides of a sushi roll. Compact blocks of color, but in Hauser’s case, allegorical like an emblem, resembling stained glass.

I want to see/make work that doesn’t make me think of anyone else though.

Her sketches/paintings on paper were interesting – they were successful ass archive/collection/mass of mess. I would not have found them as interesting if they were displayed as singular, separate pieces. Is sketchbook art a thing now?

Marcel Duchamp’s Imprint on John Cage: The Relationship Between My Favorite Artists

Before Marcel Duchamp, art was perceived through narrow modes and created by traditional, hollow processes. Art was merely an aesthetically pleasing artifact, lacking in content, concept, and depth. A pioneer of the Dada movement, Duchamp countered the conventional and moved toward a creative process that was antithetical to artistic skill. By distancing and detaching himself from prevalent, common methods of producing artwork, Duchamp was able to emphasize the conceptual value of a piece and truly embody the essence of an anti-artist. Deviating from retinal art, Duchamp developed the iconoclastic, ironic Readymade – prefabricated, mass-produced, commercially available, and often utilitarian objects that were removed from their fixed, functional context and elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist. Not only did this defy the notion that art had to be beautiful and handmade, but it disrupted and upset the role of the artist. Duchamp’s “Fountain”, although simple and candid, is arguably his most famous and controversial Readymade, which mocked avant-garde artists by equating modern art to a lowly urinal. Whether Marcel Duchamp with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He chose it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view—created a new thought for that object. The object did not change formally, but with the scrawl of a signature and selection of a title, a newfound context was conceived, altering the viewer’s perception and blurring the distinction between art and life. To Duchamp, art is it’s own reality, not a mere imitation or fabrication of an existing actuality.

Not only was Duchamp a pioneer of Dada, but of sound art as well. In 1913 Duchamp developed the musical piece “Erratum Musical”, or “Musical Misprint” by the process of chance. The words that accompanied the music were from a dictionary’s definition of imprint; an impression or mark – thus, the misprint or fault of random and unplanned notes blending with the Readymade definition of imprint creates a balanced, sculptural effect. Mixing text with sound allows the audience to truly visualize the music, transforming the aesthetic experience of listing to a piece of music into an abstract occurrence of experiencing abstract space. One is able to sense and feel the existence of space through the flow and flux of rhythm and voice and the literal, concrete aspects of text.

John Cage was heavily influenced by Marcel Duchamp, especially by the musical piece “Erratum Musical”. Duchamp’s concept of sound having sculptural, tangible qualities that constructed a soundscape inspired the experimental composer to create one of his most renowned and notorious pieces, 4’33.’’ Cage believed that there was no such thing as a total absence of sound – silence will always be polluted by the commonplace noise and clamor that pepper our existence. In 1952 he wrote a composition consisting of a silent piano and motionless performer, lasting for an uncomfortable four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Premiered by David Tudor, the silence piece produced something quite the opposite to what it suggested – it created sound. By shifting focus from the performer to the audience, it allowed for endless opportunities to fill the concave hollow of silence, making it swell and inflate, fill form and take shape. It became sculptural, like “Erratum Musical”. The surrounding environment of the concert hall was amplified and enhanced by the thick coating of silence that poured from the frozen piano keys – one spectator said “you could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.” Environmental and unintended noises were enclosed and bound together, revealing that all sound is music, once again dissolving the boundaries of art and life. The importance of dissipating the strict borders and fine edges between art and life was a major conception of Zen Buddhist Philosophy, something that Cage was also interested in, and I’m learning more about. Shadowing the simplicity of Duchamp’s Readymades, 4’33” was also very bare and straightforward. The composer creates nothing at all. The performer goes on stage and does nothing. The audience witnesses this very basic act, the act of sitting still and being quiet. All this takes place in a concert hall setting, lending a historical and artistic gravity to the proceedings that begs us to put this act into some kind of weighty context, fraught with importance.

Cage also incorporated chance operations in his work. Although he commented that Duchamp’s methods were “uncomplicated and simple”, preferring “details and complications”, the foundation of basing his work on the unforeseeable was inspired by Duchamp. The majority of his musical scores, such as Variations 1, Cheap Imitation, and Theater Piece No. 1, all revolved around the concept of chance. Melody and notation were insignificant to Cage, rather, he wanted to elucidate that choice instigated and guided the piece, and possessed an integral role in the creation and final product of the artwork, diminishing the importance and control of the artist – comparable to Duchamp’s relationship to the Readymades.

In the series of thirty-five abstract prints titled “Changes and Disappearances”, Cage also determined the placement, quantity and color of solid, dashed and curved lines by chance. Every mark, color, and image resulted from questions answered by numerous chance operations. Cage recorded every result on a score devoted to each print. He then created maps, or printing guides, by tracing the placement of each plate and annotating the tracings with every mark, line, image, and color to be used. The convergence of engraved drawings from the journal of Henry David Thoreau with curvilinear patterns by dropping strings onto the copper plates – just as Duchamp had done for his piece “Three Standard Stoppages” – produces a chaotic, confused disarray of precise, calculated marks, mirroring nature’s complex, irregular patterns and infinite possibilities. Cage described “Changes and Disappearances” as “the most musically detailed work with very subtle changes in the colors and shapes. Just as music is made with lots of little notes, so this is made with all those little pieces of color.”

The only way to celebrate Duchamp is to “recerebrate” him – a Duchampian pun Cage invented – which means to plug Duchamp’s mind into one’s own, the way an instrument is plugged into a sound system, and echo his ideas and notions – soon, the music will coalesce together, becoming one. Through the works and existence of Marcel Duchamp, John Cage developed into one of the most distinguished and notable post-war artists, and their art will truly resonate in years to come. I will always look up to these two artists, not only for their artwork, but for their philosophy of music as well.

Maseck, Joseph. “Duchamp in Perspective.” Http://traumawien.at/stuff/texts/duchamp_in_perspective_cage.pdf. Web.

“Music, TOUT-FAIT: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal.” Music, TOUT-FAIT: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

“Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

“Searching for Silence – The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

“The Piano in My Life.” The Piano in My Life. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

“National Gallery of Art.” Yes No Maybe Cage Changes and Disappearances. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

The Controversy of Copyright: is Appropriation Art?

Due to today’s rapid flow of creative expression and erosion of privacy, riding the tide of an infinite amount of instantly accessible material, it is nearly impossible to create originally and organically, making appropriation a ubiquitous and prevalent form of art. Is appropriation corrupt and invalid, or can it bring together and combine different and coexisting contexts? Can copyright law be a beneficial act that protects artists, or is it a stale, confining mandate that inhibits creative freedom?

Artists were appropriating the art of other artists long before the genre became historically defined and prevalent in the 1970’s and 80’s. Picasso and his studies of Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” come to mind as a well-known example. Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp have also appropriated work by altering existing imagery, redefining and reinventing the found material. So why is it becoming increasingly controversial in the contemporary art field?

The age of technology I believe is the underlying reason for such controversy. An act was passed in 2000 stating, “No person shall avoid a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title”. In other words, for the first time in history, it isn’t the copyright violation that is the crime, but the creation of the technological tools that violate copyright. Our society relies so heavily on technology, it is nearly impossible to avoid infracting copyright law – especially in the art field.

Art historian David Joselit believes we are in a period now called “After Art.” Art today circles around the structured frame of a network – not only does it expand across the world like a capitalizing corporation, but it originates from the dense and entangled World Wide Web. Joselit argues “our assumption is that what artists do is produce new content from their imagination, but more and more in a Google-age, searching for content is more important. Artists have begun to think about the aesthetics of search […] how search becomes a kind of knowledge”. Artists, rather embracing the traditional, deliberate process of creating individual, singular pieces, are now collecting, aggregating and reformatting existing images and objects.

Is art appropriation and copyright breech just a consequence of a society where everything and anything is immediate and accessible? In one of my favorite novels The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Plath visualizes her life choices branching out in a fig tree of possibilities. She says “I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” The fig tree of possibilities has grown and expanded along the years, producing more rotten, blackened figs, yet nevertheless encouraging enquiry and discovery. Our attention spans have shortened, our options have swelled and multiplied, yet we still scour and scavenge for information rather than follow one branch to completion and accomplishment. I believe this is an elemental notion of American culture – we are so overwhelmed by the infinite amount of material and possibility available to us, we possess the unrealistic desire to obtain, do or know everything. We live in overload, in excess. The Fig Tree concept also drives the controversy of copyright law in the art field. “The art world is no longer about the unique, precious, singular work of art, but instead about these institutions of production, gentrification, entertainment, etc.” Creating singular works of art, following one branch – it is now impossible, futile. Because there is an unbounded, immeasurable amount of content that is more accessible than ever, trying different modes and approaches, meshing and combining styles of art, appropriating pieces to create new meaning – these methods are the new way to craft art. So, does copyright law help preserve individualism, conserve uniqueness, and promote “the one branch policy”, or does it hinder freedom, exploration, and creativity, trimming all different branches and outlets to a simple, certain, path?

As an art major, I understand Joselit’s and Plath’s concepts. I possess the overwhelming desire to search for and collect articles of inspiration for future art endeavors, needing to begin with a concrete, full-bodied entity rather than a filmy intangible idea. The wish to amass and compile and archive material is also prevalent in my art-making process. Whether it purely be personal style or a genuine consequence of our society today, I concur with Joselit and Plath.

“Bad Facts, Really Bad Law: Court Orders Google to Censor Controversial Video Based on Spurious Copyright Claim.” Electronic Frontier Foundation. N.p., 26 Feb. 2014.

“Image Ethics in the Digital Age.” Google Books. N.p., n.d.

In: Proc. Of 1995 Ieee Workshop On Nonlinear Signal And Image Processing (Neos Marmaras, Greece, June 20-22, 1995). Towards Robust and Hidden Image Copyright Labeling (n.d.): n. pag.

Kennedy, Randy. “Apropos Appropriation.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Dec. 2011..

Kennedy, Randy. “If the Copy Is an Artwork, Then What’s the Original?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 Dec. 2007.

“UK Copyright Amendment Provokes Controversy in the Art and Design World.” Center for Art Law. N.p., 16 July 2015.

“The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Walter Benjamin. N.p., n.d.