Interviews

Connecting Intentionality: The Beginning of Blights Out

From our friends at Pelican Bomb, today we bring you an interview with Blights Out, a New Orleans project that “prioritizes transparency, interdisciplinary collaboration, community involvement, and creativity.” Blights Out is New York–based artist Lisa Sigal, New Orleans artist Carl Joe Williams, and arts activist Imani Jacqueline Brown. Author Rosemary Reyes says, “Blights Out looks to ignite conversations around the rapid economic development in New Orleans by ‘performing architecture’ and developing strategies to create permanently affordable housing.” This conversation took place in December of 2014, and was originally published on January 13, 2016, “offering a moment to reflect on the ways an organization can develop as its community presence grows.”

Blights out began in 2014 during Prospect.3: Notes for Now with Artist Lisa Sigal’s nstallations on houses in New Oreleans’ mid-city neighborhood. Courtesy of the Artist and Blights Out, New Orleans.

Blights Out began in 2014 during Prospect.3: Notes for Now with Artist Lisa Sigal’s installations on houses in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood. Courtesy of the Artist and Blights Out, New Orleans.

Rosemary Reyes: Lisa, I want to start with you, and talk about how your work has used abandoned spaces all over the world as a canvas, and how those experiences translated into Blights Out.

Lisa Sigal: My work responds to architecture as a code for the laws of a place, which brings racial inequalities and other societal inequities to the forefront. I am concerned with addressing these issues without aestheticizing them, which I feel would be unethical. When I was approached by Prospect to submit a proposal for the 2014 iteration, I came down to New Orleans for a week or two. I went around and painted on my easel in front of various housing projects that were being demolished and I would talk to the people who passed by. It was very performative. As a painter, the question is how to have a painting project that has a social component, which is a challenge—how to have a painting project that isn’t contained within the closed systems of the gallery and the market.

I wrote a Creative Capital grant in 2012 that was about envisioning architecture as silent protest. When I received the grant, Blights Out became a great way to enact those ideas. I was struck with thinking about the idea of a house as a page in a book. I had just read Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays and I saw so many of those plays in the houses. She has this uncanny sense of the absurd as it relates to politics, people, and the cycles of history. I met with Parks and, when I suggested using 365 Days for Blights Out, she said, “Take it, girl.” I considered the range of plays and how they should vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Eva Voutsaki

Mythology, memory, and a fascination with the nocturnal are some of the underlying themes in Eva Voutsaki’s photographs. Originally from Drakona, a small village on the island of Crete in Greece, the artist documents and commemorates the unique way in which she understands her ongoing experience as a “modern immigrant.” Now living in Brighton, UK, Voutsaki grapples with notions of migration and belonging, and the ways in which photography can become a window into a shared, relatable world.

Eva Voutsaki. From the Traces Within series, 2006-2016. Courtesy of the Artist.

Eva Voutsaki. From the Traces Within series, 2006-2016. Courtesy of the Artist.

One of Voutsaki’s more autobiographical projects, Traces Within (2006–2016) is an exhibition of an unraveling childhood. In this body of work, a series of thirty photographs embody Voutsaki’s excavation of memories from her distant past. The artist doesn’t plan or construct her photographs—her strategy simply involves walking around with a manual Nikon camera to capture shots on impulse. In one of the images from this series, a child is caught in mid-movement near some swimming turtles. The artist describes the scene of as one that caught her off guard and compelled her to capture the moment. Soon after she developed the film, the reason behind Voutsaki’s compulsion became clear: The image evoked memories of the week she left her village at the age of fifteen, a time that coincided with her grandmother’s and dog’s deaths.

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New Orleans

James Hoff: Bricking at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans

James Hoff: B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G is the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s “virus paintings”—works shaped and mediated by Hoff’s engagement with digital technology and computer viruses as opposed to brush or paint. Functioning as a series of études to contemporary computer code, these paintings flirt consciously with the provocative gestures and meta-questions of conceptual art and the heavy visual language and history of abstraction. Shaped only by the rabid aggression of the autonomous computer virus, Hoff’s works raise questions about the circulation and reproduction of digital information in a world marked by WikiLeaks, drone warfare, and the threat of cyberterrorism.

Installation view of James Hoff: B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans. Image © Traviesa Studio.

James Hoff: B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G, 2015; installation view, Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans. Image © Traviesa Studio.

Bricking is a term that describes the overload of an operating system when infected by malware, a process that renders the system useless, or at least unable to work for its original purpose. Hoff infects JPEGs, PNGs, and TIFFs with specific forms of malware such as Skywiper and Stuxnet—viruses that have become synonymous with international cyberterrorism[1]—and then digitally converts them into image files that can be transferred to canvas or aluminum. The political weight of these viruses rubs against the formally expressive character of the final works, which seem to engage more with the history of abstraction and the cool, detached vocabulary of formalism than the language of computer code. Thin, horizontal striations of vibrant neon colors seem to liquefy and drip, creating an unusual grainy texture across the surface of the aluminum paintings, whose markings bear a kinship to rough textiles such as coarse, unprimed canvas. The cosmic forms, pulsating colors, and abrupt shifts in tone call up the rich history of pure abstraction, from the cosmic utopian canvases of Wassily Kandinsky to the colored depth of a Mark Rothko.

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San Francisco

Metahaven: The Sprawl at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you Anton Stuebner’s review of Metahaven: The Sprawl at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The author notes, “[…] Metahaven poetically suggests that trauma’s real origins aren’t found in the images on screen—they’re located within ourselves and in our inherent capacity for perpetuating violence in the world around us.” This article was originally published on February 2, 2016.

Metahaven. The Sprawl (still), 2015. Co-produced by Lighthouse and commissioned by Lighthouse and the Space.

Metahaven. The Sprawl, 2015 (video still). Co-produced by Lighthouse and commissioned by Lighthouse and the Space.

A massive red moon appeared in the night sky on September 27, 2015. Scientists hailed the occurrence as an astronomical phenomenon, a rare optical effect resulting from the confluence of a lunar eclipse and a supermoon. Christian extremists, however, interpreted the event as an apocalyptic sign, with claims that the “blood moon” marked the beginning of the Earth’s imminent destruction. These fanatical fears became so widespread that CNN, the Guardian, and the Washington Post ran columns exploring possible end-of-world scenarios.

The world did not suddenly implode on September 27. But it’d be easy to think otherwise given the litany of violence that made headlines in 2015. The Syrian refugee crisis, the proliferation of ISIS, and mass shootings in France and the United States mark only a handful of horrors that should make us collectively wonder if a near-constant state of trauma is suddenly the new norm. The blood-hued moon in the sky may not be a divine harbinger of doom, but the cultural metaphors that it provokes—of a supernatural lunacy, of violence and blood—are too difficult to ignore.

It’s hard to take your eyes off of the colossal red moon that dominates The Sprawl, the video-based installation at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts by Metahaven, the Dutch-based design collaborative founded by Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden. Projected against the gallery’s rear wall, its ominous presence dwarfs the five mounted television monitors that function as the exhibit’s primary means of display. This juxtaposition between natural phenomena and technological devices raises questions about how screen-based media continually define (and redefine) our perceptual experience of surrounding environments. But in drawing on the symbolic associations around the “blood moon,” Metahaven’s installation evokes the anxiety and paranoia of living in a world marred by violence, while also critiquing how images reinforce violent narratives through visual association and metaphor.

Read the full article here.

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Mexico City

Gilberto Esparza: Cultivos at Laboratorio Arte Alameda

Sheltered by darkness, a mysterious octopus-like artifact lies in the nave of the Laboratorio Arte Alameda, a contemporary art museum housed in what was once an ancient convent. Capable of creating light and life by itself, the machine artifact operates by complex mechanisms. Twelve cylinders containing microbial fuel cells are connected to a main Plexiglas tank that houses plants in its interior. Every cylinder carries wastewater from various rivers and sewers of Mexico City and its suburbs. The bacterial communities living in each cell establish a symbiotic relation with the apparatus core, producing electricity through their metabolic processes. The resulting light allows the plants inside the main tank to photosynthesize. Despite the sci-fi atmosphere, we are not in film set, but in Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza’s installation PLNT_S TFTSNTTC_S. Plantas Autofotosintéticas [Autophotosynthetic Plants] (2013–2014)—one of the three main projects in his exhibition Cultivos [Cultures].

Gilberto Esparza. Plantas autofotosintéticas, 2013-2014; polycarbonate, carbon fiber, stainless steel, silicone, acrylic, electronic circuits, waste water and aquatic ecosystem. Courtesy of Laboratorio Arte Alameda.

Gilberto Esparza. Plantas Autofotosintéticas [Autophotosynthetic Plants], 2013-2014; polycarbonate, carbon fiber, stainless steel, silicone, acrylic, electronic circuits, waste water, and aquatic ecosystem. Courtesy of Laboratorio Arte Alameda.

As stated by curator Tatiana Cuevas, Esparza mixes robotics, engineering, biology, and art, creating hybrid prototypes in order to imagine new solutions for environmental issues, such as our increasing amount of technological waste and water pollution. The zoomorphic robots and lab experiments in Cultivos [Cultures] emphasize parasite strategies, as well as sustainable devices that aim to reverse the destruction in many ecosystems.

In PLNT_S NMD_S. Plantas nómadas [Nomad Plants] (2008–2014), an autonomous, multi-legged robot plays a leading role in the utopic quest for the improvement of polluted water and the rescue of native flora. With a special hose, this crawling device has the ability to suck wastewater and transform it on many levels. The water is filtered by microbial communities in charge of biodegrading organic wastes and eliminating toxic substances. With the energy this process creates, the mechanical critter recharges its battery and can walk around to look for more polluted liquid sources. On its back, many autochthonous plants grow, and the required and essential nutrients for their growth are obtained through the filtered water stored in the robot’s structure. A series of drawings that resembles a codex, MMVIII Fitocresta Errantis (2014), illustrates the robot’s origins, functions, and future hopes. A video of the piece being tested by the Santiago riverbank in Jalisco is also on display.

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Help Desk

Help Desk: Conceptual Conundrum

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I just finished the first semester of my MFA at [a well-regarded East Coast school]. At the end of last term, I had a disappointing review and my professors said that I wasn’t working hard enough to produce an integrated body of work (I showed them a series of things that were conceptually connected but materially diverse). I get the feeling that what they want me to do is work like most of the other artists in the department, who essentially just make the same painting over and over again. I don’t know what direction to take. Do I stand my ground, or give in?

Andy Warhol. Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963; silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 82 x 69 in.

Andy Warhol. Triple Elvis [Ferus Type], 1963; silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen; 82 x 69 in.

I’m sorry you’re in a glump about your review, and I sympathize. The hothouse environment of MFA programs tends to produce a myopia that can make a discouraging review feel truly crushing. But now it’s time to dust yourself off and get moving again, and—if you let it—your position could be more nuanced than either a fight to the death or complete capitulation.

Without knowing the specifics of your situation (such as your current oeuvre, the stated goals of the program, or the methods for assessing first-semester work), I’m going to throw out a few very general statements: In many MFA programs, the expectation for the first year is that students will push their work in new directions. If you came to the program with materially diverse work, it might have been assumed that you’d use your initial months to explore a different kind of production. Additionally, your professors may be hoping to see your ideas brought to conclusions that are thoroughly considered and explored in high definition; cohesion in a body of work can teach you to self-analyze and develop your intentions. Finally, it could be that the conceptual connection between the works is not at clear as you think. But in any case, don’t just make inferences or “get the feeling”—find out! Inquire directly, and talk to more than just a couple of people. Over the next few weeks, schedule a handful of studio visits from different faculty members, fellow students, and curators outside your institution. Prepare questions for them and listen to what they say as they observe your work.

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Shotgun Reviews

Lewd at JOY Gallery

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, Ariel Zaccheo reviews Lewd at JOY Gallery in San Francisco.

Alaina Varrone. Untitled, 2010; embroidery; 9 x 5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and JOY Gallery, San Francisco.

Alaina Varrone. Untitled, 2010; embroidery; 9 x 5 in. Courtesy of the Artist and JOY Gallery, San Francisco.

Like the best hedonistic pleasure palaces, JOY Gallery is a bit off the beaten path. Located in San Francisco’s Bayview District, the space is inconspicuous except for glowing red lights and a small hand-painted sign in the window that reads “LEWD! an Art Show.” Comprising sixteen artists, half of them women, Lewd celebrates the illicit and lascivious. The exhibition’s success owes to the varied interpretations of its theme; some pieces are overtly sexual, with big visual puns packing shock value, while others elicit a more modest eroticism. Many works in the exhibition have a vintage aesthetic, as if nostalgic for a bygone era of pinups and burlesque.

Jenee Larson uses a pinup-esque poodle as both analogue and parody of human sexuality, dominance, and desire. Something between a Barbie and a porcelain knickknack, Nude Pood (2016) is a toylike ceramic sculpture of a pink poodle replete with accessories, coifed hair, and a come-hither stare. Larson’s work wrestles with domesticated eroticism—a mix of teenage naivety and the self-aware, assertive midcentury pinup ideal.

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