Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Meditation on China

China Adams came to BoxoHOUSE with a characteristically ambitious and inspiring agenda. She decided to pursue two parallel projects, one as research and the other as production. 

On the research side, China has been examining making artworks that do not involve physical materials. This builds on her practice of recontextualizing discarded materials, as she has done in her own work as artist and as curator of the highly successful The Loop Show exhibition she curated late last year. For this residency, China proposed considering human energy as a material and asked to be connected with members of the Joshua Tree community who are expert in this area. 

I put out a note in some circles I'm familiar with and got an enthusiastic response from a couple who are well versed in energy channeling and meditation practices - Susan Jordan and David Zimmerman. Susan and David host a weekly meditation session and dharma talk, hold tai chi classes and offer various other spiritual development practices to the community and beyond. We scheduled a series of evening meetings to discuss China's aims and to delve into practices which might further her investigation.

Back on the  material side of things, China has been making work that involves filming interesting pieces of garbage that are blowing in the wind. In this project, titled Activated Garbage, she hints at the potential for beauty in an object, no matter the value assigned to it. The specific context for furthering this work in the desert was filming against the beauty of the piercingly blue sky. And the ever-present wind that the temperature changes bring about.

China Adams Activated Garbage 2012


Shortly before our first research session, Susan emailed me to say that she would have another skilled practitioner in energy channeling and perception along, Klaus Soupy. Klaus is an Austrian therapist, expert in constellation work, who has recently located himself part-time to the area. We all gathered on the evening of China's arrival. Our meetings were a wonderful unfolding of dialog and connection. The basic question that China had was how to create energy that would be palpable to others. After introductions and setting of aims, Susan and David demonstrated their ability to create an energy field between them and have us sense it's presence. Klaus also demonstrated constellation work which pointed to the power of intention and attribution. We came away from the first session excited and with much to ponder.

Over the next few days, China kept up a schedule of morning hikes and meditation, filming activated garbage in various locations and painstakingly editing down the footage. We also visited the Noah Purifoy Foundation, an inspirational site for anyone interested in the intersection of art made from found objects and land art. The evenings returned us to the energy project and our meetings with Susan, David and Klaus. 

Early into the second session, we had a realization that changed the course of discourse. Susan and David advised that we could learn ways of raising our energy, however this was not the key to the challenge. More important was finding ways to have the "viewer" prepare themselves to be able to perceive the energy. A discussion followed on various ways to do this. We then went on to meditate together and afterwards discussed how different this felt from meditating solo or in a pair. This pointed to the energy created by a group, just by dint of intention and gathering.

At our final session with the research group, David introduced a way to raise one's energy when going into meditation. We then meditated again and perceived the shift quite clearly. China realized that she was at the start of a process of learning and practice that could eventually lead to presenting energy as an art material. 

On the last evening of China's residency, BoxoHOUSE hosted the monthly meeting of the Transition Joshua Tree Heart & Soul group. We were joined by several artists and by Klaus. Each meeting features a presentation of spiritual or personal development practices. China and I presented the findings to date of her energy project, I introduced David's energy raising meditation and we meditated as a large group. In the discussion that followed, we again discovered that the energy could be raised and was palpable.

I am very grateful to China for bringing her projects to BoxoHOUSE and for entering into the local community with such openness. I am also very grateful to the community, Susan, David and Klaus in particular, for being receptive to working with artists and sharing their learnings so generously.

China's Activated Garbage pieces will be on exhibition at BoxoOFFICE, NYC in October 2012.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Saul Melman 'untitled: work in progress'

Saul Melman's residency at BoxoHOUSE provided a very fresh perspective on how the challenge of working with the site and the environment could drive a project forward.

I had thought that Saul, who I know primarily as a sculptor who incorporates a performative element into his work, was coming to do a week-long research residency toward a sculpture-based project next year. While this was in fact true, Saul redefined the notion for me by arriving with the elements of a  complete approach that could be scaled up next year in a medium that wasn't strictly sculptural.

Inside the camera obscura

Saul arrived and proposed that he turn the outbuilding/studio-to-be into a camera obscura. He took his inspiration from considering the desert's most abundant resource - light, and had shipped ahead watercolor paper, liquid silver gelatin and safe lights. Having thought about turning BoxoOFFICE in NYC into a camera obscura, I was immediately enrolled in the process. He also brought along supplies and a manual for creating pinhole camera. 

The camera's tiny aperture

Saul jumped into the process feverishly and proceeded to black out the almost 500 sq foot space with tape, heavy plastic and moving blankets given to me by Austin Thomas when she installed A Perch for BoxoHOUSE in April. This was no small task as the space is not yet insulated nor cooled in the desert summer heat. By the second day, he had successfully created the camera obscura as well as fashioning and testing a pinhole camera from a box given to me by Lady Bee. The latter was a wonderfully circular moment as Lady Bee had supported Saul's major projects at Burning Man in her decade long role as curator on the Playa.

Studio/camera setup
First pinhole camera image

The camera obscura projected a full image of the east side of BoxoHOUSE into the darkened space, upside down and backwards (exactly a the naked eye sees images before the brain autocorrects). Saul's intent for using this perspective was creating links with prior residents and the image included a large panel of the FROST DRAWING FOR JOSHUA TREE, created during Gosia Wlodarczak's residency which launched the BoxoHOUSE program. The first test pieces revealed a wonderful gestural quality evocative of charcoal drawings.

Image quality highest in the early a.m.

I was fascinated by the camera as well as by the use of crafted photographic paper and offered to assist Saul in the days ahead. Saul's tests had revealed that the best images were generated at sunrise and into the morning. So 5.30am was our call for the next fours days. Coffee in hand, we trudged out to what had now become the studio, to play somewhat and thereby make the work. 

Saul's tests had already determined that the exposure time was up to about 18 minutes. He had prepared papers the night before and stored them in a large improvised safe bag. We taped up a sheet, covered it with a blanket, Saul left the camera, and I exposed the image. Using what was at hand, a stepladder and pie tins that he had brought to create pinhole camera apertures, Saul began to compose on the canvas of the side of the house. He also played with moving the sliding doors, creating vertical lines at various intervals. 

Props at the ready

When the exposure time was up, I covered the image, Saul re-entered the camera/studio and began the alchemy of developing the images. Then a rush to the outdoor tub to wash the paper down. It soon became apparent that Saul's non-shiny form was not being captured by the silver gelatin and he was  free to move across the canvas, rearranging elements in a rhythm that he determined.

Bathing the silver gelatin

I became very accustomed to the beat of the process. And it was fascinating to be inside a giant camera. It struck me that this was also like being inside one's head and I was glad that there was a safety light on at all times (sic). At the end of the first day's shoot, Saul had several images of interest and had also exhausted the supply of large papers. He ordered a rush delivery and then retreated to the studio to test making images with his digital camera shooting the frames projected by the camera obscura inside the studio.

That evening over dinner, we discussed the day's progress. Saul posited the performative aspect of the analog images and we discussed how the viewer might understand this aspect of the work. We arrived at the idea of showing Saul manipulating the ladder, pie tins and doors through a series of digital still that might form a stop animation. 

untitled: work in progress

5.30 am and back into the camera/studio coffee in hand. We began a series of exposures, each taking a minute to capture and process. Saul needed to hold each position for 30 seconds to minimize blur and so we developed a language of beats on the studio door to indicate when I was about to shoot and when it was safe to relax. This became the percussive soundtrack to the performance. Occasional cellphone contact cleared any questions either of us had. At the end of about 5 hours, Saul had approximately 160 images to work with. He processed them into a stop animation and we watched over lunch. Surprise.

untitled: work in progress

What emerged most clearly was how the shadows moved, minute by minute. A shadow of the mulberry near the doors danced across the horizon (patio slab inverted) until it disappeared. The shadow of the eaves on the side of the house brought a solid line marching up (down inverted) the canvas until it filled the space entirely. Time, progress, movement were all clearly marked by the desert sun. The movement of the pie tins and the doors also resembled a musical score. This energized Saul further and he quickly came to the idea that making a stop animation utilizing all of these elements would be more compelling than a piece documenting the making of the silver gelatin pieces.

untitled: work in progress

Meanwhile, the paper reinforcements had arrived and Saul worked late into the night preparing 20+ pieces for exposure the next day. 5.30am, coffee, studio, mount paper, Saul leaves, expose, Saul composes, time, cover, Saul returns. Repeat. Repeat.... 15 images made at exposures from 13 to 18 minutes each. process improvement - Saul returns each image to the safe bag to batch process later on. Late lunch, debrief. A Palm Springs-based collector and supporter of high-desert art efforts visits, accompanied by a gallerist. We enjoy lively conversation and a warm moment in the camera obscura. Afterwards, Saul goes about processing late into the evening. Some challenges as silver gelatin slides around on the paper. Most of the images are saved and a late dinner is consumed.

untitled: work in progress

 Final day of Saul's stay - 5.30am, coffee, studio, digital camera, knock, shoot, knock, knock, relax. Repeat......200 images captured. Saul and I had been discussing local affairs and I had filled him in on my involvement with Transition Joshua Tree, a local movement that is taking on issues that big government is not moving on, at least for smaller communities: water, energy, economic development, permaculture... He began to think of the pie tins and vertical lines as musical notation and then came to the idea of heliographs - a messaging technology used over large distances in the fields of military, surveying and forestry. The context of urgency and the response of communication to neighbors became a potential framework for the final piece to be.

That afternoon, Saul took off for LA and then NYC. He had accomplished a huge amount and I had learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed his presence. I look forward to seeing the final results of his time here and invite you to view them at the exhibition at BoxoOFFICE that opens October 20 2012. 

Read an interview with Saul Melman about his time at BoxoHOUSE and more on art-rated: link

Cheers Saul!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Documenta 13: Conceptual Sprawl

This year's edition of Documenta announces itself to sprawl across many locations as diverse as Kabul, Cairo and Banff. Well sprawl it does, right across Kassel from the far reaches of the Karlsraue Park, through the traditional halls out to the Haupbtbanhoff and beyond. Roberta Smith, in her review, laments the exhibition's vastness as indicative of the curator's superior attitude. I made my peace with it early on - as at Burning man, you just can't see it all. In situations of this scale, everyone has their own experience and comes away with a more personal space that they have navigated for themselves.

The Hauptbahnhof is the place to be. The Refusal of Time, William Kentridge's installation dealing with the physics and metaphysics of time and our march to the abyss, is very wonderful. Even adjusted for my bias. 28 minutes of insightful exhilaration. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's Alter Banhof Video Walk is excellent too. Notching up from creating a reality through audio cues, this work unfolds through video on an ipod paired with audio. Following footage shot in the very space one is located in results in a  truly new sense of virtual reality. And the subject matter, addressing the dark history of the specific space is brave and impactful.

The old station is packed with many more works as well as a wonderful post-industrial bar/cafe. István Csákány was a revelation to me, exhibiting Sewing Room, a meticulous sculpted environment containing sewing machines, presses and the tuxedos that might be made there. The detail of the carving was bewildering.

Over at Documenta Halle, several strong Julie Meheretu pieces are featured along an elegant wall. There is a huge hall devoted to machine sculptures and to a giant wall installation of in the shape of an airplane. And another new find - Nalini Malani. A chamber featuring giant mylar cylinders spinning on high, casting shadows onto walls over a base  of projected animations. A meditation on violence and non-violence and the only clearly eastern-influenced work in the entire megabition.

Ryan Gander has several sly interventions in Documenta, including the ground floor of the Fredricarnum filled with wind. An evocative piece although I pitied the staff who had to stand in the cold draft for hours on end. Upstairs, an affecting room full of texts, wood carvings and slides exploring deformities by Kader Attia. Some very strong 3d paintings by Lynne Foulkes. A peaceful room featuring two indigenous Australian artists, Doreen Reed Nakamarra and Warlimpirrnga Tjalpaltjarri. And Cristina Christov-Bakargiev's "brain room" - a crowded rotunda filled with a diverse array of objects and art pieces that collectively represented the entire mass of the exhibition. Start here and map your way out or end here and see how many pieces of the puzzle you put together.

Oddly, the official map was difficult to navigate (sic.) and critical for an exhibition at this scale.My one and only moan.

The Neuegalerie features an amazing installation and video by Zanele Muholi, a hero of the South African women's and gay movements. There is a giant collage by Geoffrey Farmer that assembles decades of Life magazine into some semblance of a taxonomy of popular culture. And a loud and challenging anger management workshop by Stuart Ringholt.


Further afield, Tino Seghal and Theaster Gates share a super popular spot. Seghal's work is a blackened room where performers assist one in navigating by sound and then share political messages just as you're getting comfortable. Gates' work is an entire building's worth of intervention in which musicians live and play throughout the exhibition. Across the street, Paul Chan provides walls of old book covers painted with slight and melancholic scenes of nature.

Alora and Calzadilla show a work is hard to find and harder to decipher. Buried in the side of a hill, a video in which a woman plays an ancient flute while a griffon vulture looks on impassively. The path back to civilization is through an impressively scaled set of sculptures by Adrian Villar Rojas showing a post-apocalyptic scenario of man caught in the act.

Tacita Dean has a wonderful set of works tucked on a side street. Large-scale drawings of mountains and rivers in Afghanistan made in chalk on chalkboard. Unfixed, they underline the current threat posed to these majestic scenes. And capture the beauty in vulnerability.

Karlsraue Park has a huge array of works and surprises, reminiscent of the best aspect of Black Rock City. Pierre Huyghe's installation dealing with decay and the lessons of nature is truly experiential. Fiona Hall's camouflaged hut of endangered species is simultaneously affectionate and affecting. And much, much more including a second Cardiff piece that I did not get to.

The Ottonaeum has an array of environmental works, underlining the highly didactic nature of some of the exhibition. I didn't get to the Orangerie or several more off the off-campus locations.

After four days, I came away with a bit of fatigue which was overpowered by the buzz of experiencing a subjective yet powerful overview of current themes in art and culture. And the warmth of spending time with good friends and new acquaintances.