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I’m pretty excited about this. I’ve been asked to put together a film program in conjunction with Mike Nelson’s exhibition Amnesiac Hide at Toronto’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. It’ll take place on April 2nd and I’ll be there for a chat about film, the apocalypse, and architecture. Description is below…

Keep Moving: Objects and Architecture in the Apocalypse

Inspired by Mike Nelson’s concurrent exhibition at the Power Plant, Keep Moving: Objects and Architecture in the Apocalypse is a film program of works that use objects and architectural environments as tools to give voice and visibility to the unimaginable. Keep Moving is sculptural cinema featuring Richard Lester’s 1969 surrealist post-apocalyptic farce The Bed Sitting Room preceded with artist films by Aïda Ruilova, Aldo Tambellini, and Elizabeth Price. The program provides a reflection of how objects and space define the void-like world that is in relation to the end of all things. Similar to the “semblance of atmospheres” generated in Mike Nelson’s immersive installations, these films are a pivotal way to address the past, access the present and consider a possible future world.

(Full essay coming soon)

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Horror Vacui – Installation

about_image_2Horror vacui: fear of an empty space

Horror vacui is a project for the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale Close, Closer that fills the dreaded emptiness, the void, via a participatory architectural exchange. 

The term horror vacui describes a Moorish visual practice adopted by Portuguese builders in the 15th century, which involved covering building facades with azulejos, blue and white tiles commemorating scenes from historic events, in order to overcome the unbearable emptiness of the wall. Today’s architects are faced with a different kind of void that takes the form of a widening abyss between designers, fabricators, and users, all searching for common ground. 

Curators: Jaffer Kolb, Ang Li, Phoebe Springstubb

Gallery Goings: from Pettibon to Collins

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Brief recap of gallery exhibitions from October 2, 2013.

Aldo Tambellini We Are the Primitives of a New Era at James Cohan Gallery
Blows everything away. Read review here.

Raymond Pettibon To Wit at David Zwirner
Pettibon’s ongoing original narrative on America culture with his interest in language, humor, film noir, baseball, and surfing now includes personal expositions on his family (wife, son, dog). 

David Noonan at Foxy Productions
Theatrical in content, David Noonan’s de-sconstructed works usually hold a mythologized quality to them that’s sooky and enchanted. The interest in his new works that appropriate images of Butoh (Japanese experimental theater) lies less in the abstracted imagery and more in the politicized content the group embodies. 

Michael Raedecker at Andrea Rosen Gallery
While it may be tempting to discuss this work solely in terms of its formal qualities, it seems far more interesting to discuss the embodiment of suburbian norms through seriality and literal inversion in a nearly post-apocalyptic landscape.

Damian Ortega at Gladstone Gallery
Twenty-five suspended steel objects, each lit by overhead lights, cast shadows of the alphabet. Considered this a spatial call for a new language. STUNNING. (see image)

Phil Collins at Tanya Bodakar Gallery
Installations where the viewer must participate in order to fully comprehend the work aren’t really where my interests lie but Collin’s video The Meaning of Style is a mesmerizing commentary on the appropriation of subcultures (in this case, UK Skinhead culture). 

Aldo Tambellini – Making the Void Visible

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REVIEW: Aldo Tambellini – We Are The Primitives of a New Era: Paintings and Projections 1961-1989 at James Cohan Gallery

For Void is, like Darkness and Silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every this and here, in order that the wholly other may become actual. – Rudolph Otto

Aldo Tambillini’s We Are The Primitives of a New Era is nothing short of a sensory revelation. An immersive, disorienting, and transformative installation of projections (a configuration of older works in a new arrangement by Tambellini), it feels like entering The Twilight Zone by way of A Clockwork Orange. Six projections of blackness, spheres, and phrases surround on three walls while one overhead projector swirls phrases from Tambellini’s Manifesto Series onto the floor. A static hum permeates the room while bursts of a space-shuttle launch countdown punctuates the space. Formally succinct, the collection of his accompanying paintings depicting the time/space sphere are ridiculously powerful in their simplicity. There is much to process here, none of which is an easy contemplation: origins and future of the universe, the infinity of time. It’s a simultaneously terrifying and promising proposition. In short, the void here offers the thrilling possibility of accessing what we cannot know.

Profound blackness is the beginning of new visions. – Aldo Tambellini

Featuring works from 1961-1989, We Are The Primitives of a New Era is thoroughly of the moment. At the forefront of new media and video in the 1960s, Tambellini thrives in a contemporary environment where the ever-changing advancements in technology dictate how we live our lives. Positioned at a perpetual tech evolvement along with new modes of thinking that contemplate how this technology and blackness shape our socio-political and spiritual lives, his work imbues a universal relevancy. What we’re left with is wondering: what do we do after the void is made visible? Scientists grapple with a simple dilemma in the hypothesis that Dark Matter (a virtually undetectable matter that neither emits nor absorbs light) constitutes a significant portion of the universe and this dark matter is responsible for the formation of the universe. Thus, in this theory, we are all born from an unseeable darkness. It’s the possibilities that emerge from the presence of such blackness that are so terribly exciting.

Black is the beginning. It is birth, the oneness of all, the expansion of consciousness in all directions. – Aldo Tambellini

Blackness has taken over contemporary philosophy, artistic practice, and filmmaking as a way to understand the world around us. Embodying horror, the post-apocalypse, origins and endings, the void has become a crucial signifier in processing a new way of being. Simply, the void is a possibility. And while black metal and cultural theorists dominate contemporary provocations for darkness, artist Aldo Tambellini has been exploring “Black” for over fifty years with his videos, paintings, and installations. The title of his exhibition at James Cohan Gallery, We Are The Primitives of a New Era, is perpetual. We are, as we were over a half century ago, in the process of becoming.

Aldo Tambellini’s We Are The Primitives of a New Era continues through October 19, 2013 at James Cohan Gallery in New York. Please visit the exhibition page for more installation images and a fantastic video of the piece. A screening of his Black Film Series screens at the Museum of Modern Art on October 18.

I Remember Things

I remember things. It’s more than just void, darkness, unconsciousness. The mind does work. There are images, patterns, things to recollect. It’s not just the long, deep sleep that comes when the fear has left. The cold is felt, the slipping away of feeling is noted and then succumbed to. The mind functions. Time is distorted, jumbled, telescoped, accordioned, but there is a sense of time even so, and I remember things. I remember the way it began. I remember the way it was in the beginning. – Twilight Zone, The Long Morrow.

Blackness. The Void. Empty Distances.

Essay written for Empty Distancesthe exhibition I curated for Mark Moore Gallery in Los Angeles (June 15 – July 22, 2013)

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Out of the darkness, the void emerged and invaded modern art with Russian artist Kazimir Malevich’s painting Black Square in 1915. As the totalization of everything and nothing at once, this landmark painting is infinite space represented on a flat plane. A undefinable negation that is at once cinematic and static, it is not a representation of the void but the void itself. A reduction of form and content to an absolute essence, Black Square conveys a simultaneous flattening and infinite expansion of space. Just as when the screen goes dark in the cinema, representations of distance are made palpable. There is horror within this unknown space. It is an empty distance.

hm4_1_30_0_bigIt has almost become a special art to paint empty space, to make it palpable, and to develop variations upon this singular theme. Not only are there pictures upon which almost nothing is painted, not only is it an essential feature of their style to make the strongest impression with the fewest strokes and the scantiest means, but there are very many pictures especially connected with a contemplation to impress upon the observer the feeling that the void itself is depicted as a subject, it is indeed the main subject of the picture….

For Void is, like Darkness and Silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every this and here, in order that the wholly other may become actual. – Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy: an inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational (1923)

Nearly one hundred years after Black Square and Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, the void takes on new meaning in contemporary art and film. While Empty Distances stems from art historical traditions of emptiness as subject (think Yves Klein’s La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée, Le Vide in 1958 or Michael Asher’s wall removal at Claire Copley Gallery in 1974), philosophically this exhibition is a provocation to rethink the void’s meaning by considering it in post-apocalyptic terms.

Taking 20th century theologian Rudolph Otto’s phrase “empty distance” and idea that the very act of pictorially depicting the void establishes darkness and silence as subject itself, Empty Distances positions itself at the collapse of society. The recent global financial crisis, governmental overthrows in Egypt and Libya, and the current protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square (violent repercussions of human-produced horrors) have taken us to the other side; we are living in a post-apocalypse. But within this cyclical fall and rise of society is the promise a new future or, at the very least, an imagining of a different future that is both dependent and secluded from the past. Films like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Bed Sitting Room (1969) along with artworks like those in Empty Distances are able to provide unthinkable visualizations of what a new society would look like and, in context with current international events, suggest that we may already be living in a brave new world, only we don’t realize it yet.

Similarly, Eugene Thacker challenges a horrifying consideration of the spectral and speculative “world-without-us” in his book In the Dust of this Planet: Horror of Philosophy Vol. 1. Empty Distances takes Thacker’s provocation to task, arguing that through artistic representation we can imagine this horrifying and unthinkable realm devoid of humans (due to the cataclysmic fault of man, a world that either pre-dates man, or as a realm that exists independently of man) where the planet continues on its path of existence alone. Importantly, the attempt to reveal this void involves a spatial collapse and this is the where empty distances emerge. Through the influences of Black Metal, horror films, science fiction, scientific research, and magic realism, the artworks in Empty Distances connote a surface negative while implying infinite vastness. They provoke such diverse imaginings of a post-apocalyptic world through the depiction of the void, pulling the viewer into a speculative new world.

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Susan Hiller: “Channels” at Matt’s Gallery

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Susan Hiller’s Channels at Matt’s Gallery is an audio-visual conglomeration of near death experience (NDE) narrations told through a full-scale installation of television monitors. Whether these monitors simply house these personal stories or act as a portal through which they emerge isn’t clear. It doesn’t need to be. Bathed in the glowing light of these numerous screens, numerous voices come forth with one eventually becoming the clearest. Hours of recantations are housed here, in these screens, in this room. It’s the near-ghost in the machine.

Channels is a mixture of static, noise, and voices. Sometimes you wait a while for the static to clear and the stories to begin as if we’re all there using the televisions are our conductor to those who have experienced death. Told are tales of sensations of leaving the body, the past flashing before them, feelings of humor and regret, and, naturally, the tunnel of shining light. We also learn that there are qualifiers of what makes an NDE. They seem elastic. Significantly, these people are not dead. They are not the ghosts using white noise as a communication tool with the living. These voices are alive and they have conquered death.

Not dissimilar to Mike Nelson’s installation More things (To the memory of Honore de Balzac) next door, Channels deals with the unknown. Not strictly in the sense of questioning the ultimate unknowable (what happens when we die?) but in the very fundamental aspects of being: how do we hear? how do we recognize? how do we experience things? And like the film Poltergeist, these provocations occur through the mediation we are all familiar with – television (or if we want to think more broadly, media). Technology controls are interactions with each other and, as new technologies emerge, our relationships with one another evolve according to these new networks. Channels explores such a network of people with shared experiences, traumatic or peaceful, and uses the object of the television to shared these stories with us.

Hiller has made reference to dreams in previous works and the question of dreams and the way in which our mind constructs dreams while unconscious and how we process them while awake is significant here. In her book The Dream and the World Hiller writes, “If you start to think about dreaming, you may well find yourself in a vortex of philosophical paradoxes, enigmas and conundrums that liquefy any fixed notion of ‘self’ and ‘reality’.” And isn’t that what Channels produces? Is it possible that Near Death Experiences are simply an individual mind coping with the inevitability of death; a unique experience for each person with enough generalities of the human mind? Or is it more frightening to suggest that there’s something external producing these similar sensations?

The voices heard, whether alive or dead or even the real people who had a NDE, produce a series of hauntings within the space of the gallery. Here, these moments of the unknown are continuously re-lived and re-counted, processed and questions by those who hear them. Us.

Image by Peter White courtesy the artist, Timothy Taylor Gallery and Matt’s Gallery, London.

Mike Nelson: “More things (To the Memory of Honore de Balzac)”

The following is what I hope will be the first of many writings about the work of Mike Nelson. This particular essay stems from his recent exhibition More things (To the Memory of Honore de Balzac) at Matt’s Gallery in London and our conversation about architecture, horror films, and narrative implications.

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In Richard Lester’s 1969 post-apocalyptic comedy film The Bed Sitting Room, a select few find themselves living in the strange aftermath of nuclear war in London. Their natural attachment to objects (the city is littered with shoes, suitcases, millions of discarded things) and the old order of life shifts again when, suddenly, a new post-war effect takes place…they begin to turn into things themselves. A bed sitting room, an armoire, and even a bird (all with the power of human consciousness and speech) are the mutated forms of life. Although designed for the audience to laugh at the absurdity of this new existence, the film reveals there is a real horror in acknowledging the possibilities of what might happen when the world changes.

Mike Nelson’s latest installation at Matt’s Gallery, More things (To the Memory of Honore de Balzac), produces a similar provocation. Inversing the architectural structures he has become known for, Nelson has laid out a series of objects that are a series of suggestions or, as he put it, a “semblance of atmospheres.” The absence of an established “place” in which to house these things, aside from the gallery room itself, creates a sequence of open-ended narratives, connections to be made as one wanders through the room, stepping over objects, encountering mysterious forms like glancing giant skulls, trash cans grounded in cement, and long-form boards that are too low to be benches but high enough to become intrusive.

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What’s most compelling about Mike Nelson’s work is that it gives permission for this kind of immediate interaction. The passivity associated with art or film viewership cannot occur in his installations and, unless you only stand in the doorway at Matt’s Gallery, certainly can’t happen here. There is an active engagement of looking in More things (To the memory of Honore de Balzac) by walking over, through, and around these inexplicable objects that navigate and determine our bodily movements in this framed space. Whereas Nelson’s architectural environments provide an obvious context of our experience, the items usually contained in those places is now dispersed and fragments our associations with them. We become the last people in London who traverse the new landscape.

mikenelson-02This goes back to Nelson’s idea of a “semblance of atmospheres”, an uncontained atmosphere that suggests a narrative rather than providing a linear and literal reading. Much like in The Bed Sitting Room, there is a confusion of forms and their readings, a conflation of organic and inorganic that conveys a strange new world or, at the very least, the remnants of an old strange world. The absence of figures in the installation is outlined in pieces that imply human form; a deflated work suit complete with a hat hanging from a metal backbone and a shoe with spikes underneath (the other “foot” is a stick) lays in the corner while a similarly deflated sleeping bag holds court in the middle of the room, dirty and barren. Animal skulls dangle from re-structured chairs suggesting that, such as in the film, living creatures are now components of material form. Scalped masks lay frozen on the floor. More ominous are the wooden sticks (charred and jagged) formed into something between a grave marker and crucifix or the scarecrow-like figures with animal skin draped as a body and a tambourine.

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Though lacking an overriding or oppressive narrative, Nelson does subtly drop hints that could mark the cause of this barren landscape. As in his title reference to Balzac, there is no escaping politics and society here. Specifically, there is one sculptural object housed in the back corner that consists of a broken crate from Jaffa, Israel alongside a near-destroyed caution sign (enter at out risk) and hanging plaque with Arabic writing. There is the suggestion of a former architectural structure that seems to have been blown apart. A reference to the volatile and ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, the dispute of land territory and agricultural ownership, this near obliterated object could contain the meaning to the end we are witnessing. That there are giant skulls framing the room doesn’t dissuade this argument. This is what could remain.

Both The Bed Sitting Room and More things (To the memory of Honore de Balzac) connote a very powerful presence through absence and explore what exists at the liminal boundary between the two. By acknowledging the unknown and a non-reality, they depict a possible reality of a new world born from and within the destruction of the old. And isn’t this what science-fiction, horror, and art do best? Show us possibilities of an existence that we cannot begin to fathom or visualize or formulate by ourselves? Providing a visual reference to the unthinkable, the unrepresentable, my reading of Mike Nelson’s installation is just that: disparate forms coming together to imagine what remains and what is possible in an unimaginable plane of existence. More things (To the memory of Honore de Balzac) doesn’t require an architectural guide to convey the abject terror of disassociation from the familiar; the sculpture entities are alone a frightening implication that we humans are not a part of this new other world.

Images by Caryn Coleman, courtesy of Mike Nelson and Matt’s Gallery.