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). 

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Book Review: Horror in Architecture

HorrorI had been eagerly awaiting the publication of Singapore-based architects Joshua Comaroff & Ong Ker-Shing’s new book Horror in Architecture for months as it specifically addresses the two very things I’m currently researching: horror and architecture. The book’s introduction nails a correlation between “horror” and the sublime, an idea that I usually discard because of its cathartic and religious implications but presenting the two as being both unknowable, spectral and inexplicable but extremely palpable is quite convincing. “Horror is the truth about abstraction” is another provocative statement that also rings true when considering how horror “weirds” what is familiar. From there, their discussions of the double, disjunction, repetition, deformation, interior/exterior are certainly of interest if perhaps all too brief.

Horror in Architecture seems particularly interested in relating architecture to the monstrous, a valid correlation that loses its poignancy when the authors continuously refer to Mary Shelley’s monster as “Frankenstein” when, in fact, “Frankenstein” is the young mad doctor. Along with the green face, bolts to the neck, and flat head, it’s a pop-culture adaptational norm to call the monster “Frankenstein” but it’s still glaringly incorrect. While I would argue that Dr. Frankenstein is perhaps even more monstrous that the monster he created, it’s hard to overlook this error and to trust further concepts they put forth that I’m unfamiliar with.

Aside from other general editorial issues (wrong words, doubling of words, incorrect spacing), the book really omits the real source of architecture’s horror by offer only a cursory address of economics and capitalism in relation to buildings, culture, and society. Horror very pointedly tackles socio-political issues of its time and, with the immediacy of architecture to the population and the economic context in which houses, businesses, and skyscrapers are built, it would seem fundamental in a discussion about how architecture embraces the horrific. For instance, what could be more horrifying than neglected public housing complexes ala Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992)? Politics, economics, society – these are all fundamental elements to why horror and architecture exist and, most importantly, what they represent.

What we must take-away from Architectural Horrors is an idea proposed towards the beginning: ”…all present the possibilities of deviant architecture as an opening into new worlds of form, composition, space-making, program and hierarchy.” As scholars, filmmakers, authors, and artists use horror to establish an understanding of the world around us, it therefore seems crucial to consider the relationship between our built environment and horror as a productive site of contemplation and of future possibilities.

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.

Where’s the Money, Julian Hoeber

The history of horror cinema is a complicated web of socio-political narratives combined with the limitations and innovations of filmmaking itself. What Julian Hoeber’s Where’s the Money (playing now on MOCAtv) suggests is that there is a direct correlation with money (i.e. the budget) with the representation and association of the real (in low budget horror films). And that’s an interesting idea. But because Hoeber’s piece is an frenetic and cursory analysis of horror film, it doesn’t really take us where we need to go by diving deeply or succinctly enough into the very important commentary that can associate horror cinema with the real (whatever that really means).

Where’s the Money skips decades quickly, omitting many films in-between that are certainly part of the evolution of the genre; from Freaks to Scream back to Last House on the Left with a curious inclusion of Fulci’s Zombi. Here horror comes off as second-rate, like a bad video-taped porno flick, rather than embodying its position as a vital component to cinema that allows uncomfortable subject matter to be approached and eviscerated right before our very eyes. I find the idea of associating horror with low culture problematic; it’s not merely about economics but the outbursts of social issues that stem from money, and, subsequently, labor and power that makes horror such a potent genre.

What I’m saying is that horror film is infinitely more complex that what’s presented here and that the notion of economy plays out in horror more fluidly than merely in the way in which it’s created. The provocation of money and the real presented in Where’s the Money would have been better served by a narrower focus. For instance, many thinkers associate Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) as a manifestation of 9/11 Gitmo torture scenarios back upon unwitting American tourists in Eastern Europe. However what’s really at play is the idea of economy and power. There are only two Americans in the whole film, the rest of the people being killed or doing the killing are from all over the world. That film isn’t about “torture and America” but about a globalized system of exchange and an examination of values. Exploring this faction of Hostel (which was not a low-budget film) or in recent films like Land of the Dead or We Are What We Are or even Hitchcock’s Psycho, Where’s the Money could have taken a more measurable stance about how money influences the decisions we make and how horror evaluates those choices.

Book review: House of Psychotic Women

houseofpsychoticwomenPer the enthusiastic recommendation by Fangoria‘s Sam Zimmerman, I recently purchased and immediately devoured House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films Book by Kier-La Janisse (FAB Press). 

Despite its obvious subtitle, I expected a somewhat standard anthology of horror films featuring women in horror films. And while that actually may have been enough, what this book is instead is so much more; an unexpectedly raw narrative of a woman’s journey as related, and influenced, by horror films. House of Psychotic Women is perfectly whip smart, with just the right combination of academic philosophical references, personal narratives, and film analysis. That Janisse has the ability and bravery to discuss her life in these terms is beyond engrossing, it’s admirable. 

As with most female horror fans, people love to ask me what it is I get out of horror. I give them the stock answers: catharsis, empowerment, escapism and so on. Less easy to explain is the fact that I gravitate towards films that devastate and unravel me completely – a good horror film will more often make me cray than make me shudder. I remember someone describing their first time seeing Paulus Manker’s The Moor’s Head as so devastating they had to lie on the sidewalk when they exited the theatre. Now, that’s what I look for in a film.

For those of us who have an obsession with horror films (and we do for numerous and various reasons) there is a common denominator the Janisse underlines throughout the book: the ultimate reason why we watch these movies that we can’t stop watching is because something about them reflects ourselves. Not that we’re all murderous psychos, but the psychological breakdowns displayed before us in cinema tend to resonate with those who, quite frankly, aren’t like everyone else. And while my personal research of horror tends to purposefully sidestep the affect/cathartic aspect of horror, Janisse managed to get me to consider how these aspects of horror cinema actually do affect me. She is so dead on (see quote above, only from page 7) because it’s the power of cinema, the lure of the ugliness in life, the punched-in-the-heart feeling that horror films produce that also keep me coming back for more. 

One of my favorite films discussed in the book…

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Ed Kienholz – The Ozymandias Parade

IMG-20121207-01225Confronting (and that’s what it is, a confrontation) Ed Kienholz’s The Ozymandias Parade at Pace Gallery is a wonderfully jarring experience. Profound and silly, meaningful through a montage of manipulated meanings, the installation is intensely dark and scary because, like all of Kienholz’s work, it hits way too close to the perverbial home. As always, the marginalized reflects us, our struggles and our history. Historical trauma manifested, shown in all its grossly entertaining forms. Kienholz is an utter master at revealing that which society prefers to keep under wraps but shoving it in our face – his works cannot be ignored. They are shockingly beautiful in their ugly honesty (with a big middle finger implied). 

From Pace…
The centerpiece of the exhibition is the incendiary large-scale installation The Ozymandias Parade (1985), an opulent allegory of the abuse of political power, with a parade of figures and symbols representing elements of society. The decadent, nationalistic “ship of fools” is capped with nearly 700 blinking lights, which change with each presentation to reflect the colors of the nation where the work is being displayed. Addressing the corrosive effects of fear and propaganda, the tableau depicts a chaotic world turned upside-down: an armed general rides on the back of a fragile female figure who is lured by the “carrot” of a crucifix; the vice president’s horse has toppled off of his roller skates; the menacing, headless vice president faces backwards, blowing a trumpet and waving the flag; the sinister president clings to the belly of his horse, a red phone clutched in his hand and a yellow rubber ducky on his head. Whether the parade’s president shows a YES or a NO across his face is the result of a poll conducted in the weeks leading up to the installation’s opening, comprised of just one simple question: “Are you satisfied with your government?”

Gary Simmons – Metro Pictures


Gary Simmons – Metro Pictures (November 29, 2012 – January 19, 2013)

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Gary Simmons’ mini-survey featuring selects works of the last twenty years at Metro Pictures reveals a complicated history of race and culture in popular culture (cinema, sports, music, painting). That America’s culture industry can simultaneously perpetuate and challenge stereotypes, politics, and society through representation is the provocation here. I associate Simmon’s work with ghosts and it’s because they evoke the familiar, foreign, forgotten, but ever-present past. The power contained within this sort of representation can bring forth a critical understanding of the effects not only of occurrences on the scale of war but that of the everyday America; its contributions and confrontations. Like the horror film, this work is subversive in nature but revelatory in its origins.

Simmons_Install_030It’s not simply about popular culture but our complicated societal culture as well, including lynchings. The entrance gates, with an inversion of the racist connotations of the “law n jockey” by replacing the figures with the Klu Klux Klan, are an imposing welcome to Gary Simmons’ works that conflate popular culture imagery with their historical associations. Particularly on point is Fuck Hollywood, a row of shoeshine stands with beautifully embroidered towels of celebrity figures like Elvis. The entertainment industry is built upon the mining of others (an issue still very much relevant today) and this work bluntly pits the representation of the black working class against a system that simultaneously exploits and neglects.

c14006a6-lgSimmons’ ghostly, vibrating, cinematic paintings are a personal favorite of mine but when combined with other media, their qualitative power compounds greatly. His dark paintings that are static moving images, caught in an in-between state, in-between frames and movement, the haunting ghosts of American history reemerging and reconfigured as a critical reminding marker of where we have been and where we have yet to go as a nation. The erasure technique that he applies to create his simultaneously static and moving imagery recalls the smoke of ghosts, like faint hands from the past reaching out, through the scene, through the canvas, into the present. One painting screams “House of Pain” with skulls behind it while the painting of the cinema (Bonham Theatre, 2010) stilly spins; a static film still of itself. History never goes away in the promise of a new day.

The embalmed objects of our cultural past are on display as memento-mori: a moonshine set up, boxing gloves, and boom box with record crates. They are starkly white and completely immobilized relics of the last century. But it’s his latest piece, a multi-panel plywood sculpture mounted with drawings of 1930s fight posters, that near perfectly conflates all sorts of media (sculpture, paintings, Simmons_Install_060design, sports) and encapsulates the message contained within this exhibition. Significantly, this work includes a painting of a dangling old-school boxing microphone so elongated and furiously still. This mic looks like a backbone, in fact it is a backbone, a stand-in for the sport, racial and political history, and the artist’s oeuvre to date. To me, this look back at Gary Simmons’ own past is actually quite an exciting look into the future (his, ours, America’s).

Installation views, 2012. Metro Pictures, New York.

Malcolm Le Grice’s “Horror Film 1”

The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds’ United Enemies film screening series explores “how artists in the 1960s and 1970s deployed sculpture in film, as well as using film to rethink sculpture”. As part of this they presented Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1 (1971) where, once again, we can consider horror film as a structure. Or perhaps even sculpture.

From LUX’s website:

All are superimposed on each other with the projectors aimed from different angles. The superimpositions create a continually changing colour light mix. I interrupt the beam with a series of formal actions creating a complex set of coloured shadows. The final section involves focusing a pair of skeleton hands onto the screen in relationship to my own hands. The intention with this as with my other shadow pieces, is to build a complex visual experience out of simple and readily available aspects of the projection situation. M.L.G. from ‘Real Time/Space’, Art and Artists Dec 1972.

“One of his most simple, most classical, and also most ecstatic pieces”. Jonas Mekas, Village Voice, Oct 11th 1973.

More recent versions of Horror Film 1 have been performed without the final section containing the skeleton hands and with the use of three projectors.

Malcolm Le Grice
Horror Film 1 (1971)
14mins Colour
Performance with slide projector, two film projectors

Get on the Band-wagon: Darren Banks’ mobile cinema

Project essay for Darren Banks’ Palace Band-Wagon at FIAC 2010. Read my interview with Banks on Lux.

Parked in the Cour Carrée entrance of FIAC 2010, Darren Banks’ (UK) temporary horror cinema Palace Band-Wagon brings heyday of the videocassette back to life. This is the ‘mobile cinema’ version of The Palace Collection, an evolving installation that negotiates collective horror history, effects of new technology, modes of distribution, and ideas on the collection. Housed in a 1970 Cadillac Eldorado that comes equipped with a television and a VCR, the public can choose continuous screenings of horror video classics such asEvil DeadBrain Damage, and The Hills Have Eyes from Bank’s personal collection. This video collection consists of films distributed by Britain’s infamous Palace Pictures in the 1980s and have been tirelessly procured by Banks from Ebay, boot fairs, and charity shops.

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