San Francisco

Diedrick Brackens: This Is Real Life at Johansson Projects

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you a review of This Is Real Life, artist Diedrick Brackens’ current solo show at Johansson Projects in Oakland. Author Anton Stuebner notes, “By invoking […] histories and their associations, Brackens acknowledges that seemingly innocuous devices can produce real and violent effects.” This article was originally published on March 31, 2015.

Diedrick Brackens. 10-79, 2015; hand-woven fabric, nylon, chenille, hand-dyed cotton, bleach; 66 x 14 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Johansson Projects, Oakland.

Diedrick Brackens. 10-79, 2015; handwoven fabric, nylon, chenille, hand-dyed cotton, bleach; 66 x 14 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Johansson Projects, Oakland.

Diedrick Brackens’ show at Johansson Projects, This Is Real Life, opens arrestingly: with two woven wall hangings resembling elongated Band-Aids, their frayed white “gauze” “stained” with rainbow-hued “blood.” Initially, Blat (2015) and Blatent (2015) seem almost playful, as their exaggerated scale (nearly three feet long) and materials (tea-dyed cotton, acrylic, nylon) make apparent their obvious artificiality. No one would mistake this for trompe l’oeil. But the artist makes clear in the accompanying text that they are far from cheerful exaggerations, and indeed deliberate references to wounded bodies. But whose bodies? Are they queer bodies, as the rainbow-colored blood may suggest? Or bodies that have been queered through violence—made strange and unfamiliar by larger cultures and systems of oppression?

Consisting largely of textile-based works, This Is Real Life traces both the presence and the absence of bodies. The brightly colored pieces may seem, on the surface, to bear little resemblance to familiar human forms. Traces of the body, however, are everywhere. By utilizing a medium known for the intense manual work it requires, Brackens fills his weavings with indexical markers of his own hand. He takes it a step further by actually describing the works as “portraits,” eliding familiar limits between abstraction and figuration, and subverting conventional understandings of how individuals are represented. And in doing so, he deliberately raises troubling questions about how bodies are made absent, specifically through violence. What happens when the subject of portraiture has been violently erased? How to represent a person of whom all that is left are traces?

Read the full article here.

Share

Berlin

Awst & Walther: Ground Control, An Interdisciplinary Forum at PSM Gallery

In the dark at PSM Gallery in Berlin, a digital animation is silently breathing. It appears as an inverted landscape split in equal parts by land and sky. A field recedes into the horizon, with a mass of permafrost above and mostly clear blue atmosphere below. Green shrubs flop and slide loosely on the screen, wriggling and dismorphic, moving as they would in an acid trip, but with a mechanized steadiness.

Awst & Walther. Ground Control: An interdisciplinary forum, 2015 (still); digital animation; infinite loop. Courtesy of the Artists and PSM Gallery, Berlin. Photo: André Wunstorf.

Awst & Walther. Ground Control: An Interdisciplinary Forum, 2015 (still); digital animation; infinite loop. Courtesy of the Artists and PSM Gallery, Berlin. Photo: André Wunstorf.

At the opening, there is a chunky, triangular metal table to the right of the screen, where artists Awst & Walther sit and talk about their show, Ground Control, An Interdisciplinary Forum. Curator Ine Gevers begins with a brief presentation on the artists’ attempt to restabilize a relationship to nature that is grossly out of proportion, with humans set apart from the environment—either at a critical distance from it, or arrogantly perceived to be at the center of it.

Gevers describes what Awst & Walther are doing as “shaking loose these notions,” by questioning the romanticization of the landscape. She asks, “Are we the only ones who can define nature, or can they have a role in it is as well?” “They” in this case is the bacteria she refers to throughout her talk, as well as the Earth’s plants, animals, doors, technologies, and minerals. She mentions Timothy Morton and the notion of forgetting “nature” in favor of radical ecology; when we take nature as a known, we show our ecological illiteracy. Gevers declares that it would be in our best interest to no longer make a distinction between the environment and the social.

Read More »

Share

Street View / Road to Mecha by Jonathan Zawada, and Drone directed by Tonje Hessen Schei

O bitter is the knowledge that one draws from the voyage!
The monotonous and tiny world, today,
Yesterday, tomorrow, always, shows us our reflections,
An oasis of horror in a desert of boredom!

—Charles Baudelaire, Le Voyage (1861)[1]

Despite the seemingly endless portrayal in the media of increased violence around the world, statistical analysis suggests that, as a species, humans have become less violent.[2] I wonder, however, if, instead of moving toward more peaceful tendencies, we have just gotten better at killing. The advancements in military weaponry in the past century cannot be overstated; several of the world’s superpowers, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia, are leaving behind conventional ground forces in favor of robotics and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones.[3] Since the 2001 Al-Qaeda terrorist attack on the United States, the US government has used drones to find and kill militants linked to the terrorist group, primarily in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan, though the success of these missions remains inconclusive.

Jonathan Zawada, Street View / Road to Mecha, 2013; screen shot, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Amelia Rina

Jonathan Zawada, Street View / Road to Mecha, 2013; screen shot, Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Amelia Rina

The US government asserts that drones allow for unprecedented sophistication and accuracy: “It’s this surgical precision, the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumor called an Al-Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it.”[4] Drone, the recent documentary directed by Tonje Hessen Schei, presents a powerful contradiction to the US government’s support of drone warfare. Through interviews with former military and government officials, Pakistani citizens, as well as human-rights activists, journalists, and writers, the film illuminates the devastation occurring abroad.

Read More »

Share

New Orleans

Radcliffe Bailey at Contemporary Art Center New Orleans

Radcliffe Bailey’s current exhibition at Contemporary Art Center New Orleans rewards multiple visits. Comprising seven large-scale works by the Atlanta-based artist, the exhibition gathers an intensely personal constellation of imagery that has continued to distinguish Bailey as a contemporary artist of significant aesthetic and critical power. Bailey’s emphasis on the rich symbolic context of the liminal, or the in-between, provides support for his expansive definition of American culture and its unique admixture of European, African, Central American, and Caribbean visual and cultural traditions. In his radically open formal vocabulary, signifiers playfully subvert the gaps that separate Anglo-European visual codes from earlier representational traditions of West and Central Africa, and point to Bailey’s unique response to forms of détournement associated with conceptual art of the 1950s and ’60s. The crocodile in On Your Way Up (2013) registers as both crucifix and curio, a metaphor for the Nile or ancient Nigerian water god, a political response to animal rights or a post-Duchampian absurdity retooled for a Southern audience. Darkness is almost always accompanied by hints of optimism and hopeful belief, yet what resonates throughout the exhibition is Bailey’s mastery of ambiguity within his pictures, his skill in representing the fluctuating space where water meets land, heaven meets earth, gesture meets text, figuration meets formalism, and art becomes music.

Radcliffe Bailey. On Your Way Up. 2013. Tarp, crocodile, and steel. 120 x 106 x 10 inches. Image: Courtesy of the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans.

Radcliffe Bailey. On Your Way Up, 2013; tarp, crocodile, and steel; 120 x 106 x 10 in. Courtesy of the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans.

Bailey grounds his practice in a playfully subversive and anachronistic field of visual and art histories and traditions, and finds freedom in the deconstruction of a vocabulary of signs and images culled from early African art and the turbulent history of the Black Atlantic experience. This is most robustly felt in works where textual fragments, graffiti, and African ideograms feature prominently within the pictorial field and intersect with objects that embody the physical and psychological rupture of the Middle Passage and the colonization of Africa. The gargantuan mixed-media work Black Night Falling (2014) is the most complex of these in its presentation of the representational, gestural, and performative features of markmaking associated with so-called “primitive” art; African cosmograms such as the dikenga (a spiritual map of cross and circle used by tribes from the kingdom of Kongo to mark the space between the mystical and earthly realms and channel communication between mystical forces and religious practitioners) and Haitian vévé drawings of gods and the heavens interrupt the indexical marks left by Bailey’s shoes and bare feet, turning the canvas into an empty stage of leftover symbols and movements co-choreographed by artist and history. Meanwhile, cutouts of circles puncture the rough textures undulating across the deep black of the picture space, desperately hinting at the sun that cannot shine over the seas where so many lives were cruelly lost. It is Bailey’s unique, dialectical expression of black experience as something collectively felt, infinitely diverse, and personally political that invests his creations with a powerfully unresolved symbolic space where the historical consciousness of trauma and the potentiality of healing are allowed to confront and embrace one another.[1]

Read More »

Share

San Francisco

Trevor Paglen at Altman Siegel Gallery

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you a review of Trevor Paglen’s current exhibition at Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco. Author John Zarobell writes, “[The work] represents both a bit of art-historical posturing and an active response to government surveillance that allows viewers to imagine an alternative to our current condition. Perhaps a gallery is as good a place as any to begin planning the revolution.” This article was originally published on April 2, 2015.

Trevor Paglen. Circles, 2015 (video still); video; 12:00. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco.

Trevor Paglen. Circles, 2015 (video still); video; 12:00. Courtesy of the Artist and Altman Siegel, San Francisco.

Trevor Paglen’s career has taken off like a spy satellite. He has become a key political artist of our time, despite the fact that his larger project is to represent something quite difficult to depict visually—namely, government secrecy. His work draws our attention to (if it does not always actually reveal) the network of sites, operations, and practices on which our government spends our tax dollars in the name of protecting us. The arrival of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden in the popular consciousness, and all of the related revelations that subsequently emerged, have only made Paglen’s work seem more prescient and relevant. His fascinations are now our fascinations. And so Paglen, whose contributions to the 2014 Snowden documentary Citizenfour recently won him the right to share an Oscar, finds himself a standard-bearer for committed political art.

Paglen is interested in the landscape and the things our government likes to hide there. As artworks, his photographs and videos are usually without incident and gesture toward conceptual aesthetics—aren’t we all Duchampians now? In his latest show at Altman Siegel Gallery, Autonomy Cube (2014), a computer server encased in a Plexiglas cube, is poised on a pedestal in the middle of the gallery. The piece toys formally with Marcel Duchamp’s famous Fountain (1917) and the minimalist cubes of Robert Morris and so many others. Like many previous works by Paglen, for instance his pictures of secret government sites that can barely be perceived because they are so incredibly distant, or of satellites so tiny and far away that all we apprehend is the beautiful night sky, Autonomy Cube manifests the gap between the desire to expose something sinister and the desire to produce something visually cool and oblique. The distance between the work and its meaning is odd, even uncomfortable. That is the point.

Read the full article here.

Share

New Orleans

Jim Roche: Cultural Mechanic at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Jim Roche’s life is such a good yarn, there is a danger of it overshadowing his work. Before Roche was out of graduate school at the University of Dallas, he was one of the first artists ever to exhibit ceramics at the Whitney; in 1987 he was the record holder for the La Carrera Mexican 1,000cc Motorcycle Road Race; he won an NEA fellowship in 1982; his work was shown at Dave Hickey’s infamous gallery A Clean Well Lighted Space; and he made a brief appearance as a televangelist in the movie The Silence of the Lambs. Yet these anecdotes don’t reflect the prolific meditations included in Jim Roche: Cultural Mechanic, curated by Bradley Sumrall at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Roche is an artist who has been majorly overlooked in the last decadeshis work Two hundred years keeping animals down, done brought Da Snake crawlin back around, Flashin Symbols for One and All; Don’t Tread on Me No More Y’all: Piece was last shown at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976yet his work is more prescient than ever.

Installation view, Jim Roche: Cultural Mechanic, 2015. Courtesy of The Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Photo: Richard McCabe.

Jim Roche. Cultural Mechanic, 2015; installation view. Courtesy of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Photo: Richard McCabe.

The Loch Ness Mama is the mythical character that dominates many of Roche’s drawings—forty-four of the 150 works in the exhibition depict her. Part snake, part amphibian, and with a three-breasted head, this cartoon creature is deceptively simple, yet she’s the protagonist in a dense, hallucinatory, Dada-esque world. Roche said, “The Lochness was something I had thought about for a long time. I guess I saw myself as this creature that no one new about. But I knew I existed.” Other characters in this play include another creature called a Penniemama, happy birds, transparent boxes, and flowers. In Loch Ness Mama Getting It in Open Water (1969), Roche opens the story with the title character frolicking in the water. This drawing is clean, precise, and annoyingly upbeat. However, twenty-five drawings later in the series, Loch Ness Mama Reduced for Quick Sale (1972) shows a composition covered in obsessive and baroque marks. There is a clear subtext that nature is fundamental to our existence and humankind is doing a terrible job of existing symbiotically within it.

Read More »

Share

Shotgun Reviews

Tomokazu Matsuyama: Come With Me at Gallery Wendi Norris

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Forrest McGarvey reviews Tomokazu Matsuyama’s Come with Me at Gallery Wendi Norris in San Francisco.

Tomokazu Matsuyama. Warm Water, 2015; acrylic and mixed media on canvas; 67 x 104 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

Tomokazu Matsuyama. Warm Water, 2015; acrylic and mixed media on canvas; 67 x 104 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery Wendi Norris, San Francisco.

In Come With Me, Japanese American artist Tomokazu Matsuyama brings together an array of visual inspirations from his multinational background for his third solo show at Gallery Wendi Norris. Seemingly disparate elements collide in his acrylic paintings to create something new and unique, but they ultimately reveal how some visual resonances are more potent than others.

The bulbous canvas of Warm Water (2015) undulates from rounded corner to rounded corner, like a flag in the wind, or perhaps an unfurling scroll. Four figures stand among a thistle of Japanese maple leaves and orchids, as a bright red string flows throughout the composition, ending in a knotted bow floating above them. The figures’ hair blows wildly in the wind, making fluid shapes that harmonize well among Matsuyama’s bright patches of airbrushed gold and electric hues. They are dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos with details of Western clothes—such as shirt pockets, the lapels of a suit coat, and buttons—sewn into their patterns. As figurative forms give way to intricate patterns, amorphic forms, and precise applications of paint, Matsuyama’s work questions the line between representation and abstraction.
Read More »

Share