Interview with Sarah Rara

Sarah Rara is a Los Angeles–based artist who works with video, film, photography, and performance. She is also a contributing member of the band Lucky Dragons. Rara was most recently an artist in residence at Headlands Center for the Arts, where she worked on a new video, Broken Solar, and a libretto for a new opera, Neglected Treaty, that considers the sonic impacts of climate change and the underutilized potential of solar energy. Using the aesthetics of renewable energy, Rara activates the sun’s power through sight and sound to heighten our sensorial perception of climate change.

Sarah Rara. Broken Solar, 2016 (video still); video; 29:00. Courtesy of the Artist.

Vivian Sming: What was the first thing you did when you started your residency here at the Headlands Center for the Arts?

Sarah Rara: The first week here I worked on a libretto for five voices on the theme of climate change for an opera called Neglected Treaty. It’s a collaboration between Luke Fischbeck and me as Lucky Dragons. It’s part of my thinking about the state of the oceans, the state of the air, the state of the soil—thinking about oil, coal, and carbon—and the kind of reaction we are seeing unfold already. Folding all of that into a piece of music that was very focused and pointed. I made Tyvek costumes that can unfurl to be a shelter, like a tent, to cover yourself in an extreme weather event, or unfurl to be a protest banner, with part of the libretto painted onto each garment. Folded into [the project] is a reflection of one’s own implication and collaboration in speeding the process of climate change. It definitely points a finger at big industries, like agriculture and fossil fuel, but I also point a finger at myself.

One of the ideas is that you can hear climate change. The loss of biodiversity, with every moment of species loss, is audible. Even in my own lifetime, the atmospheric sound has changed. As species drop out, we go from a really complex environmental sound to approaching a drone—a human-generated drone. The arc of the opera goes from complexity to simplicity and back to complexity. In that sense, it has an optimism built into it, which is that we can do something to restore biodiversity or to protect the biodiversity that already exists. A lot of people feel like they can’t directly perceive the loss of ice and the raising temperature of the ocean, but in fact you can. If you listen to the complexity of sound in your environment, you’ll know how it’s doing.

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Los Angeles

Kasper Bosmans: Motif (Oil and Silver) at Marc Foxx

Up-and-coming Belgian artist Kasper Bosmans continues his interest in symbology with Motif (Oil and Silver) at Marc Foxx. His paintings and sculptures investigate rostral columns, whales, Roman shipping vessels, coinage, and Coco Chanel, among other seemingly unconnected imagery. About a dozen works, tastefully arranged, point to linkages both literal and figurative.

Kasper Bosmans. Coco, Chain (She loves Pink, Juicy Details, Guava Jelly, Starlet Pink, High Maintenance, Little Princess), 2016; gouache, silver tip pen, poplar panel; 61 x 70 x 1 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Marc Foxx Gallery.

Kasper Bosmans. Coco, Chain (She Loves Pink, Juicy Details, Guava Jelly, Starlet Pink, High Maintenance, Little Princess), 2016; gouache, silver tip pen, poplar panel; 61 x 70 x 1 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Marc Foxx Gallery.

The first series of paintings, Coco, Chain (She Loves Pink, Juicy Details, Guava Jelly, Starlet Pink, High Maintenance, Little Princess) (2016), has a mouthful of a title that belies its easy consumption. The six pink gouache color swatches, arranged two high, are framed by a gray border and connected by a meticulously painted chain on the bottom three paintings. A physical chain appears on the other side of the gallery in Columna Rostrata (2016). Dangling from a chain, the small, blue-tinted Plexiglas vitrine contains a single page cut out of an art-history textbook that depicts a rostral column. The columns were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to commemorate naval victories.

Images of warships in Legend: Motif (Oil and Silver) (2016), a series of five paintings arranged linearly, serve as a kind of key for deciphering the rest of the work in the gallery. In the illustrative paintings, Bosmans pairs warships with chains, battering rams, Coco Chanel logos, a whale’s skull, and a couple of coins. Chanel logos and coins resurface again in the center of the gallery in the piece Juno Sospita and Coco (Silver Denarius) (2016). The blue tabletop display case holds a yellow sweater with Chanel Paris logos sewn in and a single Roman coin placed on top.

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Black Chronicles II at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art

Born on the Danish island colony of Saint Croix with two generations of slaves behind him, the champion heavyweight boxer Peter Jackson cuts a lean and noble figure in his 1889 photographic portrait, his top hat perched level upon his head, his elegant Victorian garments pressed, his stylish accoutrements placed as evidence of his social persona as a gentleman–dandy. The portrait was taken just a year after his defeat of George “Old Chocolate” Godfrey, which gained him the “World Colored Heavyweight Championship” title, and the commanding confidence of his gaze and body language tells us that this is not a man easily bested. However, Jackson’s popularity in Great Britain (his nickname in the British press was “The Prince”) and powerful self-presentation in the photograph do not wipe away the historical context of the image, namely an era of tremendous institutional racism and oppression of Black subjects in 19th-century Britain, and the nation’s merciless colonial expansions on the continent of Africa and in the Middle East. As empowering as it is ambiguous, Jackson’s portrait belies the complicated admixture of cultural codes and fantasies imposed upon the Black subject in visual representation, and points to the unsettled struggle between the subject’s own agency, their mediation through the eye of the camera, and the conditions of Black cultural politics.

Peter Jackson aka ‘The Black Prince’. London Stereoscopic Company, 2 December 1889. 42.5 x 31.5”. Framed & Unglazed. Courtesy of © Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

London Stereoscopic Company. Peter Jackson Aka the ‘Black Prince'; December 2, 1889; 42.5 x 31.5 in. Courtesy of Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

Jackson’s image is just one of the many striking photographic portraits included in Black Chronicles II at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, Georgia, that activate an important dialogue about the history and record of Black faces and bodies within Western culture. Organized in its original formation by the British photographic institute Autograph ABP in 2014, and curated by two of its most prominent staff members, Renée Massai and Mark Sealy, Black Chronicles II embodies Autograph’s commitment to mining public and private archives of images for the absent Black subject—a mission that “renders visible” the gaps, omissions, and absences within historical annals. In its move to Atlanta, the exhibition opens up a new strand of conversation around the history of the Black subject in the United States and asks viewers to make connections between the British and American formations of empire, racism, and colonialism.

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Shotgun Reviews

Equilibrium: A Paul Kos Survey at di Rosa

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 Equilibrium: A Paul Kos Survey at di Rosa in Napa.


Paul Kos. Condensation of Yellowstone Park Into 64 Square Feet , 1969/2016; mud and sulfur; 96 x 96 in.; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and di Rosa, Napa. Photo: Wilfred J. Jones.

Currently at di RosaEquilibrium: A Paul Kos Survey features works by one of the pioneers of performance-based video and installation art, one of the most exceptional representatives of the Bay Area Conceptual Art movement. Rightfully, art critic Jonathan Gilmore states that this branch of Conceptualism is “more playful and less cerebral than its relatively austere analogue in New York.”[1] This assessment is both corroborated and expanded in this showcase.

Curated by Amy Owen and Tanya Zimbardo, the fulcrum of the exhibition is Kos’s enduring fascination with Western topography—as it’s manifest in Kos’ contemplative, emotional body of work— and his long-time relationship with di Rosa’s geographical location and its founders.

The exhibition’s title references balance and equality, but the operative word for understanding it as a whole is “survey.” Fundamental to grasping Kos’ work is paying attention to the play between the act of looking carefully (in analysis of a person or an object) and the gesture of examining and recording the physical features of an area of land. Such perceptual/spatial play is apparent throughout Equilibrium, which illustrates Kos’ dynamic shadowing and detouring off the modalities of land surveying. A case in point is the diptych titled Real Estate Sculpture and Loan (1968–69), a work consisting of official tax documents, annotations by the artist, and a pyramidal cross-section of geological strata below a 100 feet by 50 feet existent plot of land. In this work the artist effectively appropriates the modality of property tax records and a stratigraphic representation of real estate, and declares them a ready-made expression.

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Irena Haiduk on Yugoexport

Today from our friends at Kadist Art Foundation, we bring you a video of artist Irena Haiduk on Yugoexport, a non-aligned oral-corporation. Yugoexport is a “productivist force extending the institutions of leisure and labor,” offering “release from the cruelty of waiting, wasting, transition, and sucking the life out of things” and operating with the tagline “Hope is the greatest Whore.” This video was originally published in conjunction with Biljana Ciric’s curatorial project Habits and customs of _______ are so different from ours so that we visit them with same sentiment that we visit exhibitions, on view at Kadist Paris through April 30, 2016.


Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Rachel Granofsky

Rachel Granofsky’s approach to photography is akin to puzzle making, a balancing act between meticulously connecting individual parts while holding an unwavering attention to the whole. She creates her photographs at her Bushwick studio, which is set up as a miniature stage for building life-size installations. Granofsky constructs, frames, and captures; this labor-intensive process is her way of subverting the immediacy of digital photography. In return, her photographs demand a slowness in viewing that is necessary for an appreciation of detail.

Rachel Granofsky. Ghost Sex, 2014; pigment print; 42 x 56 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Rachel Granofsky. Ghost Sex, 2014; pigment print; 42 x 56 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Teeming with the uncanny, Granofsky’s photographs are spatially ambiguous and conceptually disarming. Ghost Sex (2014) was inspired by a conversation around the idea of consensual sex with a ghost. It took six weeks to construct; most of the labor involved drawing lines parallel to the camera frame onto the space of the installation—Granofsky is resolute about honoring the preset parameters dictated by the position and vantage point of the camera. She employs the deception inherent to photography by playing with layering and depth, and blurring the lines between foreground and background through trompe l’oeil techniques of painting onto various surfaces. As a result, the composition of Ghost Sex makes sense only from one angle: that of the camera.

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St. Louis

Make Your Mother at G-CADD

The Granite City Art and Design District (also known as G-CADD) is an art compound of galleries and outdoor exhibition spaces along one block of Granite City, Illinois, located across the river from downtown St. Louis. Their exhibition, Make Your Mother, is a multifaceted grouping of works that investigate mother/child relationships.

Lauren Cardenas. Case Study 001, Mother 001, 2011 (detail); full color perfect bound artist book; 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 1/4 inches. Courtesy of The Granite Cite Art and Design District.

Lauren Cardenas. Case Study 001, Mother 001, 2011 (detail); full-color perfect-bound artist book; 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 1/4 in. Courtesy of the Granite City Art and Design District.

Curated by JE Baker, the exhibition at the gallery named Insurance features the artists Lauren Cardenas, Nic King Ruley, Karol Shewmaker, and Caitlin Metz. Three digital prints by Cardenas are arranged in a row on one wall. Case Study 001, Family Portrait (2011) depicts five clusters of prescription pills; each cluster is labeled with a letter and represents a member of Cardenas’ family, while a lone pill represents the artist. Solid and dashed lines trail back and forth between members, mapping the relationships of both actualized and potential inheritance. The other two prints are visually similar, but one is focused on Cardenas and the other on her mother. These images are sparser, with fewer pills and no lines. Text in the top-right corner of each print provides data that partially decodes the ambiguity of the portraits. Below these, two books rest on a cart, representing—as with the portraits—the artist and her mother. Inside both, names and additional information are provided about the pills; back pages are left ominously blank—a space for potential additions. Because of their clinical aesthetic, the books and prints appear to be impersonal, but as their content slowly emerges, they reveal highly personal information, unabashedly showcasing a medical genealogy for all to see.

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