Interviews

Interview with Wendy Red Star

Wendy Red Star produces photographs, textile-based works, and performances that situate her womanhood and Crow heritage as ontologically intertwined. Collaborating with fellow Indigenous artists, performers of other disciplines, and her daughter, Red Star documents her various achievements in the contemporary art world through strategies that have historical ties.

Beatrice Red Star Fletcher and Wendy Red Star​. Apsáalooke Feminist #3, 2016. Press image. Courtesy of the Artist.​

Beatrice Red Star Fletcher and Wendy Red Star​. Apsáalooke Feminist #3, 2016. Press image. Courtesy of the Artist.​

Ashley Stull Meyers: You have roots in Montana and Colorado. What influenced you to settle in Portland, Oregon, and why do you stay?

Wendy Red Star: I get up on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana. My paternal side, the Red Star side, still lives there. My mother’s side resides in Colorado. I visit both quite frequently, and in this moment I’m splitting my time between Portland and a residency at the Denver Art Museum. I graduated from UCLA in 2006, and I arrived in Portland with my then-husband, who practices and teaches here. I stay because I feel like I’ve been really supported here. Most of my exhibitions and lectures take place outside of Portland, but it’s been a really fruitful studio base. You don’t have to live in a major art hub to sustain a career anymore, and I think that’s really important as “fine art” diversifies.

ASM: Being an artist or arts worker of color in Portland comes with a particular set of challenges. That the audience is overwhelmingly white here can be a consideration in deciding whether or not to engage that in the work you make. Do you acknowledge that in any explicit terms? Can it be a stumbling block to address Indigenous histories in a place with a troubling relationship to Indigenous populations?

WRS: I think it’s really interesting to be a Native artist within the conditions of Indigeneity as a sort of “invisible race” to many. In a way, I’m used to being the only Indigenous artist within my immediate context. It was that way in undergraduate as well as at UCLA. There are small pockets of Indigenous people in urban communities, but that feeling of isolation isn’t a new thing. I’ve always wanted to use my work as a vehicle for visibility and the Indigenous voice in such contexts. One of the messed-up questions you always get from audiences and critics alike is, “Do you ever think about making work that has nothing to do with Indigenous culture, and what would that look like?” It’s insulting because that’s who I am. It’s my experience of the world. It can feel like I’m an island, but that’s partially why I make the work. It’s also why I use social media the way I do—to connect with other Indigenous artists. If I can’t find or keep community here, I’ll do what I need to in order to keep it in other ways.

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Help Desk

Help Desk: No Such Thing as a Dumb Question

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.

Long story short, I finished my MFA and moved back home to deal with some of my debt before I move to a bigger city with galleries and opportunities, etc. I only plan to be here for a year or so. I’m trying to remain active so that there aren’t bare spots on my CV—doing shows in cafes and bookstores, lobby galleries, things like that. My family and friends seem generally supportive, but they still ask skeptical or frustrating questions like, “Are you still painting?” “How long did it take you to paint that?” “What does that mean?” “Do sell your work?” How do I answer?

Julie Mehretu. Untitled (Skybox), 1999; ink and watercolor on three overlayed vellum sheets pinned on board; 18 x 24 in.

Julie Mehretu. Untitled (Skybox), 1999; ink and watercolor on three overlaid vellum sheets pinned on board; 18 x 24 in.

There’s no shame—or at least there oughtn’t be—in exercising some sober options to get your financial house in order. In the long run, you may be setting yourself up for more stability than a graduating MFA who ends up further in debt by heading straight to the Big City in an attempt to fast-track a career. However, it sounds like you’re a bit isolated, and anyone in your position might be tempted to make biased, self-denigrating comparisons. If your peers have taken other routes that currently seem more advantageous, then you might have the sense of being overlooked or delayed in your progress. And after the rush and rigor of an academic program, many newly graduated artists initially feel estranged from their own practices. Taken in aggregate, all this might be enough to make an artist feel defensive, and it’s possible that you are hearing questions like, “Are you still painting?” through the lens of some insecurities. Perhaps these questions aren’t skeptical; maybe the questioners just don’t understand how an art practice or a career in the arts work.

In any case, the easiest way to answer these sorts of questions is to answer the questions. “Are you still painting?” “Yes.” “How long did it take you to paint that?” “I don’t know.” “Do you sell your work?” “Yes, thank you. I take cash, checks, and PayPal.” And surely, when asked what an artwork or a motif means, your MFA crit-group training will aid you in making something up on the spot.

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Interviews

Issues of Power: Resilience and Healing

Today from our friends at Big Red & Shiny, we bring you a conversation between artist Chanel Thervil and artist and curator Silví Naçí. They discuss artist Juan Roberto Diago’s first retrospective, curated by Alejandro de la Fuente at the Cooper Gallery. Naci parallels the exploration of diasporic Africans in colonized Cuba in Diago’s work with the current political state of the U.S., saying, “…during a crucial moment in U.S. history, as we grapple with our political systems, Diago confronts us with the bitter truth of the migrant, an alien, the traveler que se trajo un barco hoping dios la cuida, leaving reminders on each painting for a future life.” This article was originally published on February 21, 2017.

Juan Roberto Diago. Aché Pa’ Los Míos [Good Vibes for My People], 1999, mixed media on burlap. Courtesy of The Cooper Gallery.

Juan Roberto Diago. Aché Pa’ Los Míos [Good Vibes for My People], 1999; mixed media on burlap. Courtesy of the Cooper Gallery.

Chanel Thervil: Diago’s work is like a hybrid of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jasper Johns. There is a through-line of tension between the internal and external struggles of trying to navigate through race, history, and the lens through which both are remembered. Diago approximates the pain experienced as a result of this tension (oppression, discrimination) by manipulating the “skin” of his materials and found objects with cuts, scrapes, stitches, and burns. Walking through the exhibition forces the viewer to take this uncomfortable journey with him, while simultaneously questioning what does it take to actually cause these wounds to heal for good?

Silví Naçí: In a conversation with curator Alejandro de la Fuente, I heard Diago speak about the importance of looking at the past in order to understand the present. As you enter the gallery, you are met with Autorretrato (2000), Diago’s self-portrait. This is where I see the trauma beginning, with each keloid, scar, and memory guiding you into the pits of Diago’s story, and his sense of belonging as a black man. Walking through the hallway into the gallery, the walls are covered with found construction materials with original marks from previous lives, stacked like books in a library with histories of enslavement and hope.

Read the full article here.

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Shotgun Reviews

Diane Arbus: In the Beginning at SFMOMA

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, Max Blue reviews Diane Arbus: In the Beginning at SFMOMA.

Diane  Arbus. Female  impersonator  holding  long  gloves,  Hempstead,  L.I., 1959. Courtesy  The Metropolitan  Museum  of Art. © The  Estate  of Diane  Arbus,  LLC.

Diane Arbus. Female Impersonator Holding Long Gloves, Hempstead, L.I., 1959. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC.

Diane Arbus: In the Beginning is a meandering, somewhat maudlin journey through the subterranean layers of “unusual” midcentury American society. An endearing lack of mastery over the medium is apparent in the quality of the photographs, and it is important to note that the work constituting the majority of the exhibition (with the exception of a few canonical medium-format prints) is on display for the first time.[1]

Every canonical artist carries critical baggage. Arbus’ ethical intentions have been critically deemed exploitative[2], and the exhibition does very little to suggest an alternative perspective, as it does not reevaluate or grow the artist’s repertoire and only adds to its mass. With that in mind, the work that stood out to me is a scattered series of drive-in movie and movie-theater screens, taken mid-film, capturing an often-blurred moment of the cinematic narrative. While static portraits of circus clowns and peculiarly marked headstones strike a dissonant chord (curiously juxtaposed with numerous photographs of “female impersonators,” suggesting that these gender-queer individuals are to be considered among the grotesque), the frozen film stills speak much more evocatively to depiction and viewership as a dynamic relation. Many of the stills contain a horrific quality, such as a man being strangled, or a woman bleeding from her eyes. Arbus explores the representation of the macabre (as opposed to her greater body of work, which appears to be largely concerned with naming it as such). This work feels like the seed of Arbus’ inquiry into the representation of the surreal.

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San Francisco

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia at BAMPFA

Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia opened at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) on February 8, 2017, a week after demonstrations on the University of California, Berkeley, campus forced the school’s administrators to cancel a speech by the now-former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos.[1] The student-led rally, peaceful by most accounts, was quickly overshadowed by the black-bloc protests that resulted in damaged university property. The University of California Police Department enforced an immediate campus-wide lockdown, and as video footage of bonfires and massed crowds began to circulate through media outlets, sources like the New York Times began describing the largely nonviolent assembly as a “violent demonstration,” conflating images of student-led protesters and black-bloc agitators as one and the same.[2] The following day, Donald Trump responded, via Twitter, threatening to rescind UC Berkeley’s federal funding. Meanwhile, the Berkeley College Republicans, the student group that invited Yiannopoulos, issued a statement on its website that the allegedly violent protests were proof that “the Free Speech Movement is dead,” a sneer toward the 1964–65 campus protest, led by then-students Mario Savio, Bettina Aptheker, and Jack Weinberg, against the era’s university-wide bans against on-campus political activity and assembly.[3]

Barry Shapiro. Handmade Houses, early 1970s; digital image converted from 35mm slide. Courtesy of the Barry Shapiro photograph archive, BANC PIC 2016.003, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Barry Shapiro. Handmade Houses, early 1970s; digital image converted from 35mm slide. Courtesy of the Barry Shapiro photograph archive, BANC PIC 2016.003, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

In the immediate aftermath of the Yiannopoulos protests, the opening of Hippie Modernism at BAMPFA should have felt relevant. At the exhibition’s press preview, Andrew Blauvelt, the show’s curator and director of the Cranbrook Art Museum, commented that the works on view were largely produced between 1964 and 1974—a decade, he noted, beginning with the Free Speech Movement and concluding with the 1973–74 oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in protest of the U.S. government’s support of the Israeli military during the 1973 Arab–Israeli War. The exhibition’s curatorial framework stakes out deep investments in political history, suggesting that design and art associated with the era’s counterculture movements reflected an immersive alternative for resistance through reimagined arrangements for cohabitation. Originally mounted at the Walker Art Center in 2015, the exhibition presented at BAMPFA includes seventy-five additional works from Bay Area artists and collectives, an attempt by BAMPFA director Lawrence Rinder and UC Berkeley associate professor of architecture Greg Castillo to highlight the region as a major site of both political engagement and cultural production. The exhibition largely focuses on the contemporaneous emergence of futurist design in modernist architecture alongside experiments in alternative community planning, in which countercultural collectives were actively engaged.
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San Francisco

Lynn Hershman Leeson: Civic Radar at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

A confrontation greets us at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ current exhibition, Lynn Hershman Leeson: Civic Radar. Immediately upon entering the space, a perceptual split between the virtual and the real is presented by Hershman Leeson’s The Infinity Engine (2014–2017), a row of distorted mirrors that subsumes and reflects our own appearance, as well as a video installation projected on adjacent walls behind us. Through the lens of the first-person camera, two mural-size screens draw us into opposite entrances of the same bioengineering laboratory; our eye follows the backs of technicians in white coats through long empty hallways and bustling experimental testing areas. Caught between deciphering our own spectral images—appearing unexpectedly and somewhat phenomenologically in both the filmic space and the gallery space—we encounter a major through-line of Hershman Leeson’s work: the experience of self as “other” through technological interface.

Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Infinity Engine, 2014-2017, Multi-media installation, Dimensions variable, Image source: the ZKM Center for Art and Media.

Lynn Hershman Leeson. The Infinity Engine, 2014-2017; multimedia installation; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the ZKM Center for Art and Media.

The retrospective spans work from 1963 to 2017 and showcases Hershman Leeson’s investigations of identity construction and the relationship between humans and machines through a variety of media, including interactive sculpture, photography, performance, film, collage, and installation. The exhibition confirms that the San Francisco native is undoubtedly a pioneer in the field of digital art, yet historically under-recognized in the United States, and the Bay Area in particular, despite being able to boast a significant number of technological firsts. Hershman Leeson was the first artist to make an interactive work on videodisc (Lorna, 1983–84), the first to use a touch screen as a responsive interface (Deep Contact, 1984–1989), one of the firsts to create artworks that exist on the internet (Agent Ruby, 2002) and to use artificial-intelligence software to communicate with viewers (Dina, 2003).[1] According to the artist, even in the mid-’60s her interest was in enabling viewers to engage, “talk back, to have a conversation, with the technology.”[2] There is much to marvel at in Hershman Leeson’s early use of interactive technology, but we should also consider: What kind of questions do Hershman Leeson’s works prompt us to ask in a contemporary context? Do they continue to disrupt normative social structures and systems of oppression, or do they now simply point to them?

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Atlanta

Fathi Hassan: Edge of Memory at Clark Atlanta University Art Museum

In his 1978 text Orientalism, Edward Said states that the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arab–Islamic peoples and their cultures” is not just bound by historical clashes, sociocultural differences, or geography, but a constellation of a “whole series of interests” predicated on the desire to control, manipulate, and incorporate “what is manifestly different.”[1] Under Western hegemonic power, the struggle for dominance in the Middle East, Said suggests, is now a struggle for dominance between postcolonial marginalized cultures suffering under the mandates of local elites eager for power and visibility within the West’s global market relations, investments, and forced modernizations.[2]

Fathi Hassan. Crossing, 2016; acrylic and gauze on paper; 58.25 x 74.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Fathi Hassan. Crossing, 2016; acrylic and gauze on paper; 58.25 x 74.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Walking through Fathi Hassan: Edge of Memory at Clark Atlanta University Art Museum, I felt the frustration, anguish, and urgency of Said’s claims circulating through the painterly and linguistic surface textures of Hassan’s works, as well as an acute awareness that the tensions of imperialism are not just of the 19th century, but distinctly of today. This timely exhibition asks us to engage with the historical legacies of imperial power alongside the representational possibilities, problems, and mutabilities inherent in visual and linguistic production to form connections between the lived experiences of colonialism and images of it.

Born in Cairo in 1957 to Sudanese and Egyptian parents of Nubian origins, Hassan engages with the history of colonialism through experimentation with ancient scripts and graphic forms of languages that have been upended by imperialism. For Hassan, these “interventions” into Nubian culture shift the historical and cultural memories of those who live at the seams between different accounts and consequences of history and occupation. The legacy of the Nubians, an ethnic group originating from modern-day southern Egypt and northern Sudan, with a history dating back to dynastic Egypt, is a narrative peppered with outside conquest, displacement, economic strife, loss of traditional forms of writing and culture, and a fraught political relationship with the Egyptian state.[3]

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