Summer Session

Summer Session: Mika Rottenberg by Judith Hudson

Today from our friends at BOMB Magazine, we bring you an excerpt from Judith Hudson’s interview with Mika Rottenberg. In keeping with our Summer Session theme of labor, the artist discusses multitasking, migrant workers, energy, and the value of sweat. This interview was originally published in the Autumn 2010 issue of BOMB.

Mika Rottenberg. Still from Squeeze, 2010; digital C-print, single-channel video installation. Total running time: 20 minutes.

Mika Rottenberg. Squeeze, 2010 (still); digital C-print, single-channel video installation. Total running time: 20 minutes.

Video-installation artist Mika Rottenberg creates mini-factories, farms, and tableaux, which produce products variously made by tremendously fat, tall, muscled, long-haired, or long-fingernailed women. Women, who in their own lives commodify their eccentricities, are, in Rottenberg’s films, featured as “bearers of production.” To make their merchandise, the protagonists have to pedal, squeeze, cry, sweat, massage, dig, push, burrow, morph, cross continents, and use more than a bit of alchemy. Every detail and orthodoxy is taken to its extremes, turned upside down. You smell the flowers and sweat; you hear the sounds of breathing, nails tapping, sweat sizzling, milk hitting tin; you feel the breezes, and the squeezing of flesh, its bursting out of constraints. Yet Rottenberg treats the superabundance with such normalcy it makes me laugh.

Judith Hudson: To me, imagination is the most private and revealing aspect of a person. It’s what attracts me to your work. You submerge people in your imagination. I feel as if you seduce the viewer with unconscious sympathies, like fetishism or caged energies.

Mika Rottenberg: Right, things that tap into everyone’s subconscious memory. We’re pretty similar in our cores, more or less. I have to tap deeper into this psychological vein, so then I can drag people with me. It’s not just visual; it’s energetic. It’s about trying to locate feeling that has no shape. The whole thing is meant to fail on some level because you can’t give shape to abstract emotions, sensations, memories, and smells.

JH: How do your ideas germinate? They seem to spin out exponentially, reminding me of James Joyce transforming the unconscious into art. You must feel things very deeply—but I sense that when you’re working, you have to be in complete control of your feelings, so you can organize all this chaos.

MR: “Spinning” is a really good metaphor. I start the process by finding the core—it can be a sound or a smell or a texture…

JH: You actually start with something that simple?

MR: Yeah, for me, even the smallest part of the work has these little tensions. So if I put a core detail in, say, the itch you feel in your nose when you are allergic to something, I then create a structure where you can throw in more details and spin those around. It starts from that feeling that doesn’t quite manifest. Then it becomes a search for what manifests this thing that can never quite be manifested. I want to create this structure to fence these abstract sensations in, to give them shape and materiality. For example, in doing yoga, you put yourself into this rigid structure to liberate yourself. Otherwise you’d just get lost.

Read the full interview here.


Summer Session

Summer Session – #Hashtags: The Business End of Art

June’s theme is labor, and today we bring you an installment of Anuradha Vikram’s #Hashtagsa series that explores the intersection of art, social issues, and global politics. In todays so-called creative economy, Vikram notes, “The most successful artist will be the one who knows how to make capital work for her, rather than working for capital.” This article was originally published on March 23, 2015.  

The Broad under construction, view from Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Photo © Iwan Baan. Courtesy The Broad.

The Broad under construction, view from Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Courtesy of the Broad. Photo © Iwan Baan.

#artmarket #creativeeconomy #collectors #entrepreneur #philanthropy #support

As in nearly every field of commerce, it seems that the tension between old and new models of the business of art is coming to a head. Traditional galleries see that their established methods of selling selectively and covertly to buyers of high social standing are under threat. Museums, which once were beneficiaries of philanthropic largesse from those same well-heeled collectors, now often find that their leading patrons are competitors; rather than donate their holdings, they establish private institutions instead—like LA’s new Broad Museum—that rival the scale and scope of the Moderns and Contemporaries, which are left empty-handed. Even major gifts to museums, such as the unrivaled Fisher Collection now entrusted to SFMOMA, come with strict and costly requirements, such as new buildings and capital campaigns. Meanwhile, the most visible and valuable contemporary artists are no longer those who have been vetted by scholars and curators, but those whose works can be most readily flipped on the secondary and auction markets. Under these circumstances, the art object is purely a marker of exchange value upon which certain complicit thinkers heap vague claims of cultural use value that seem to apply only to the acquisitive culture of the 1%.

The anxiety of the old guard toward the new manifests most clearly in the recent New York Times and New York Observer profiles of art impresario Stefan Simchowitz. Simchowitz has a venture-capital background, a Los Angeles aesthetic, and a start-up approach to artists, dumping money into new and unproven talent so as to play the odds that some of the artists he supports will reach the upper echelons of the market and bear out his investments as a group. Both profiles describe a man who sees himself as an underdog and, as belies his tech-funding background, a “disrupter” of established systems. His critics, who include several prominent dealers, call him a “flipper” who takes advantage of emerging artists while devaluing their output for personal profit. His champions see him as a person willing to take a risk on an unproven artist in an era when few collectors seem to value that kind of patronage.

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Summer Session

Summer Session: On Laboring for Love

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you the next installment of our Summer Session—for June we’re considering the idea of labor. In this essay, author Elyse Mallouk (also an artist) notes, “While artists struggle publicly to make the value of art work visible, they are bound as a corporate body by the uncertainties and sacrifices they share in common… Artists can gain power by making their deliberations transparent to each other, especially their mixed feelings about their own artistic labor and its value.” This article was originally published on April 3, 2014.

Shannon Finnegan. 8 Hours of Work, 2012 (performance still); Saturday, June 9, 2012, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Presented by Recession Art in conjunction with Everything Is Index, Nothing Is History at the Invisible Dog, Brooklyn. Courtesy of the Artist.

Shannon Finnegan. 8 Hours of Work, 2012 (performance still); Saturday, June 9, 2012, 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Presented by Recession Art in conjunction with Everything Is Index, Nothing Is History at the Invisible Dog, Brooklyn. Courtesy of the Artist.

Published in Slate in January 2014 and widely circulated on social media, the article “In the Name of Love” argued that an often repeated phrase, “Do what you love; love what you do,” communicates an “anti-worker ideology.” The problem with the adage, the author contended, is that it devalues the vast majority of work (the tedious kind) while elevating the type of work—that of a designer or executive, for example—that feeds on the unfulfilling labor of others. In effect, the article reasoned, the phrase divides work and the workforce into “two opposing classes: that which is lovable (creative, intellectual, socially prestigious) and that which is not (boring, unintellectual, undistinguished).” Beyond reinforcing the aphorism’s oversimplifications, the essay neglected a whole group of workers—contemporary artists and cultural producers—who often undertake one type of work to enable another, and experience conflicted feelings about both.

In a recent discussion with two fellow artists, Piero Passacantando and Shannon Finnegan, I found myself using the word work fluidly, to signify both my job in the arts and my art work, or studio practice. But these two kinds of work mean different things, and I experience a firm opposition between them. The rewards of the work I do for pay are myriad and not confined to the fiscal, but in a sense my primary relationship to my job is a pragmatic one. It pays my expenses and also funds the work I do for free, which helps to sustain me intellectually but not monetarily. The necessary constraints my job applies to the rest of my life can create urgency and impel focus in my art work, but those same constraints can also drain me of the energy to be industrious in what might be considered my spare time. Far from wholly fulfilling or unfulfilling, both types of work elicit a range of sentiments from discouragement to gratification. While distinct, they are embroiled in a complex relationship that involves emotion as much as money.

Read the full article here.


Summer Session

Summer Session – Help Desk: Internship Woes

Kicking off our 2016 Summer Session is a sequence of articles that regard labor in the arts: work, innovation, compensation, leisure, and more! In this Help Desk column, Bean Gilsdorf answers a question about internships, working for free, training for future employment—and considering what the law allows. The article was originally published on December 17, 2012.

In general, blog writing is a tricky area in terms of authorship. I wrote the blog for a gallery for over six months without having my name attached. The blog did very well and was picked up on by a local magazine that asked the gallery owner to contribute a regular guest column for their publication. Unbeknownst to them, the blog was written by me, the intern. I proceeded to plan and outline the next six months of art-related subject matter with the pretext that I would be getting paid as my internship was completed. After the internship had ended, I wrote three posts for the gallery’s blog before the owner told me it was no longer in his budget. I was never paid for those entries and my ideas continue to be used thereafter. As interns, I realize that we must be willing to work without pay and cannot expect full agency in the work we do without a real job title. Still, I am wondering how you would suggest interns find a balance here? Where do we draw the line on our unpaid time and efforts while aspiring to get recognition for the work that we do?

Yoyoi Kusama. Dots Obsession, 1999; mixed media. Collection of Les Abattoirs, Toulouse.

I talked to Jonathan Melber, the co-author of ART/WORK, about your dilemma. He had a few thoughts about your predicament. First, in terms of authorship of a blog, “If you write it, then it’s your intellectual property unless you’ve granted it to someone else in writing, for example in the blog owner’s terms of service or in a gallery’s employment agreement.” Second, “You can still ask to get proper credit for this work. Maybe you can get them to add a byline, or get permission to link to it, or to list it on your resume.” Melber recommended that you talk with the gallery owner to see if you can get credit for the blog. And if you manage to obtain that acknowledgement, then talk to the editors at the magazine about retroactive credit there. He also pointed out, “Of course, you could threaten a lawsuit, which might result in the gallerist having to take the blog entries down, but the repercussions are probably not worth it,” so think long and hard before you travel that route—lawsuits are ugly and expensive. If you have no luck with the gallery owner (and you didn’t hear it from me), there’s a blog called How’s My Dealing? where artists vent anonymously about how galleries have treated them. At least you’d have your revenge.

Beyond the problem of this particular gallery internship, let’s talk about working without pay and the notions of agency and effort, as you do in the second part of your letter. What is an internship for? Ideally, you receive on-the-job training (essentially, an education) and your employer receives a helping hand (of sorts). As with any educational or business agreement, there should be a contract that outlines responsibilities and expectations—for you both. Now, having said that—and acknowledging the massive imbalance of power in traditional internship situations—let me say that in the cases where no contract is forthcoming, you should at least have a conversation about your role and the benefits that your work will have for both the company/gallery and your professional life. Take notes! Ask specific questions about the duties you will be asked to perform. Do interns ever fill in for a sick receptionist? Will you be expected to clean up after openings? And for what, if anything, can you expect to take credit when you leave? Put your cards on the table and expect your internship mentor to do the same. If you want training for the “real world,” then this is definitely it, so don’t be shy.

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The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography and Film at Frist Center for the Arts

The Power of Pictures: Early Soviet Photography and Film presents a dynamic portrait of one of the most significant narratives in the history of 20th-century avant-garde art, and examines the vital place of still and moving images in the creation of early Soviet history and national identity. Originally organized by the Jewish Museum in New York under the curatorial vision of Jens Hoffmann, this exhibition asks viewers to confront the ways in which images hide as much as they reveal.

Arkady Sheikhet. Assembling the Globe at the Moscow Telegraphic Central Station, 1928; Gelatin silver print; 17 ¾ x 13 3/8 in. Collection of Alex Lachmann. Courtesy of Nailya Alexander Gallery.

Arkady Sheikhet. Assembling the Globe at the Moscow Telegraphic Central Station, 1928; gelatin silver print; 17 ¾ x 13 3/8 in. Collection of Alex Lachmann. Courtesy of Nailya Alexander Gallery.

As a newly emancipated minority in “the New Russia,” Jews were optimistic for the arrival of a more egalitarian Soviet world, with many entering the newly minted professions of photography, design, and film eager to charge their aesthetic experimentations with the political goals of revolution and modernity. However, viewers of The Power of Pictures are presented with a dispiriting historical narrative of the project, as imagery shifts from radical experimentation to overt state propaganda. As Stalin began to consolidate his power and impose regulations and mandates on artists to produce work with obvious socialist content, artists struggled with the state’s directives, its limitations on their creative freedom, and the ethical implications of staging a Social Realist aesthetic that had little to do with the realities of life under a totalitarian dictator. The deep tension within these images, namely the ways in which art and politics collide and reify, gives this exhibition a powerful and timely political weight.

In the immediate aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Civil War, artists sought to present a new image for their new country—one that would provide a strong case for the success of the class struggles to the masses as well as to the West. For a brief period, the synergy between vanguard aesthetics and politics found its heights in the work of artists eager to bring the radical reductions and geometries of abstraction to bear on their work; strong angles, extreme perspectives, and disorienting compositions evoked the overwhelming monumentality of this new world. Strikingly powerful, Arkady Shaikhet’s images form the pinnacle of this visual style, which explains the inclusion of his work in many important international journals seeking to depict the might and achievements of this new nation. Shaikhet’s elegant image of two proletarian engineers shot from a low camera angle elevates the figures to an almost spiritual status in Assembling the Globe at the Moscow Telegraphic Central Station (1928); it compels the viewer to admire and celebrate the heroic labor of the Soviet worker by deploying the striking visual strategies of experimental art.

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Young Blood: Noah Davis, Kahlil Joseph, the Underground Museum at Frye Art Museum

Currently on view at Frye Art Museum, Young Blood is a large-scale exhibition of two prominent contemporary artists and brothers, painter Noah Davis and filmmaker Kahlil Joseph. The most elaborate display of their individual works to date, Young Blood includes painting, film, sculpture, and installation, weaving varied mediums together with precision and fluidity. Through the tone and cadence of their depicted world—one of beauty, mystery, and raw honesty—Young Blood is as much a celebration as it is a homecoming.

Noah Davis. Painting for My Dad, 2011; oil on canvas; 76 x 91 in. Rubell Family Collection, Miami. ©The Estate of Noah Davis. Photo: Rubell Family Collection.

Noah Davis. Painting for My Dad, 2011; oil on canvas; 76 x 91 in. Rubell Family Collection, Miami. © The Estate of Noah Davis. Photo: Rubell Family Collection.

The title of the show comes from a term of endearment Joseph gave Davis and describes their common starting point as artists. Raised in Seattle, the brothers spent the majority of their careers in Los Angeles. Sadly, Davis died of a rare cancer in 2015 at the age of 32. Joseph, who still works in LA, continues to gain elevation, with his most recent work as co-director on Beyoncé’s hip-hop magnum opus Lemonade.

Opening the show is Davis’ Painting for My Dad (2011), featuring a figure, his father, approaching a starry black sky. Holding a lantern, the silhouette is relaxed as it stands beneath a rocky entrance. The night sky before him sparkles, expansive and looming. This dichotomy, of aesthetic simplicity paired with layered states of narrative, not unlike a film still, is a veil of omniscience that speaks through Davis’ work. It is what beckons the viewer to continue looking, to see beyond the canvas. The strokes of paint are just the entry point to a story that extends much further.

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Shotgun Reviews

Celebrating a Vision: Art and Disability at SFO

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, Ángel Rafael Vázquez-Concepción reviews Celebrating a Vision: Art and Disability at the San Francisco International Airport Terminal Three Gallery.

Susan Wise. Baskets, 2015; mixed media; variable dimensions. Courtesy of the Artist and NIAD Art Center, Oakland.

Susan Wise. Baskets, 2015; mixed media; variable dimensions. Courtesy of the Artist and NIAD Art Center, Oakland.

Traveling via San Francisco International Airport (SFO) soon? If so, SFO Museum’s Terminal Three gallery is worth a layover for Celebrating a Vision: Art and Disability, an exhibition of work by artists who are affiliated with the Oakland-based Creative Growth Art Center (opened in 1972), the National Institute of Art And Disabilities (NIAD, established in 1982), and San Francisco’s Creativity Explored (founded in 1983).

These organizations are the brainchildren of two unique individuals, artist Florence and psychologist Elias Katz, whose vision is honored in this showcase. The Katzes were pioneers of the arts and disabilities movement, a broad network of professionals that since the mass deinstitutionalizations of the ’50s and ’60s has worked to recognize and encourage the profound artistic capacities and intuitions of individuals with disabilities.[1] Institutions, such as those the Katzes founded, have sought to recognize the distinctiveness and artistic merit of the discourses produced by the artists they serve while entering into broader conversations about ethics and aesthetics. Without exception, each artist on display in Celebrating a Vision presents us with profound, dexterous visual languages.

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