Birmingham

Luis Cruz Azaceta: War and Other Disasters at Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts

Over the past four decades, Luis Cruz Azaceta has continued to mine the vast possibilities of expressionism—a style that often lends itself to forms of humanism, idealism, originality, and angst that feel more fitting for the 20th century than our current moment. Yet the artist is vigilant in his desire to respond to the world around him, and refuses to retreat into a formal world of mark, splatter, and structure (as so many painters of his generation did) in order to address the ever-present weight of the political. In a selection of eighteen canvases created between 2002 and 2016, Luis Cruz Azaceta: War and Other Disasters at the University of Alabama–Birmingham’s Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts mobilizes expressionism to explore the range of disasters that define contemporary human experience. From the civil war in Syria to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Cruz Azaceta points to the multifarious nature of “crisis” from a transnational perspective.

Luis Cruz Azaceta. Hell Act, 2009; acrylic, charcoal, pencil, and shellac on canvas; 72 x 160 in. Courtesy of the artist and the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts.

Luis Cruz Azaceta. Hell Act, 2009; acrylic, charcoal, pencil, and shellac on canvas; 72 x 160 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts.

Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1942, Cruz Azaceta arrived in New York City in 1960 as an artist in exile—a political and psychological condition that has marked his work since the beginning of his career. Over the course of three decades he established himself with grotesque, existential canvases that spoke of the misery of new freedoms, urban malaise, and the diasporic experience. The central work of the exhibition, Hell Act (2009), seizes upon this subjective condition by representing the treacherous ninety-mile journey between Cuba and the United States as an enormous bathtub of refugees bobbing like toys in a pool of shark-infested neon-orange liquid. A direct attack on the inhumane choices and absurdities that define the balasero experience, which forces Cubans to leave and often never return, the painting speaks to the artist’s own struggle to define himself and his work through the liminal condition of in-between states, spaces, and memories.

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New York

Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy at the Brooklyn Army Terminal

The word “doom” is frequently preceded by “impending” or “certain.” It implies finality—condemnation to a state of catastrophic ruin that overpowers any attempt to forge order and peace. In the case of Doomocracy, an immersive installation and performance in the form of a house of political horrors conceived by Mexico City–based artist Pedro Reyes, doom is employed as part parable and part prophesy—a way to evoke certain political, social, and economic realities as well as to project a potential future to come.

Pedro Reyes. Lady Liberty, 2016; installation view, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro

Pedro Reyes. Lady Liberty, 2016; installation view, Pedro Reyes: Doomocracy, 2016. Courtesy of Creative Time, New York. Photo: Will Star Shooting Stars Pro.

Organized in collaboration with Creative Time, Reyes’s Doomocracy opened to the public on October 7, 2016, and will be performed on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights through November 6th. Curated by Nato Thompson, directed by Meghan Finn, and written by Paul Hufker, Doomocracy occupies a vital moment in our collective history. According to Creative Time, the project emerged with some urgency from the confluence of Halloween and the American presidential election—two events looming large, haunting our cultural imagination.

Gun violence, climate change, abortion, voter fraud, and surveillance are just a few of the issues addressed in Reyes’s series of fourteen Doomocracy scenarios. Performed by more than thirty actors, the vignettes take place within a labyrinthine set of stages constructed in the Brooklyn Army Terminal—itself a dystopian institutional backdrop akin to those in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). At once chilling and absurd, each act is performed with a self-conscious theatricality that never gives itself over to an entirely convincing tableau. A number of scenes, such as Matthew Korahais’s performance as a junk food coffin salesman, venture toward slapstick, while others, like Carolina Do’s infomercial for artisanal air, are sci-fi parodies that dissolve wonder into giggles. What becomes truly terrifying are not the performances themselves, but rather the larger questions the entire project provokes.

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Interviews

The Importance of Being Hassan

Today, from our friends at REORIENT, we bring you an interview with Hassan Hajjaj (also known as the “Andy Warhol of Marrakech”). REORIENT editor Joobin Bekhrad talks with Hassan about his recent decoration by the King of Morocco, his participation in Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity at the Photographers’ Gallery, London, and pop art in the Middle East and North Africa. This article was originally published on October 17, 2016.

Hassan Hajjaj. Afrikan Boy, 2012.

Hassan Hajjaj. Afrikan Boy, 2012.

If you ever happen to be sauntering about Mister Hajjaj’s neighbourhood looking for a good time, do pay the man a visit—if he’s in, of course. (And if it isn’t pissing down like there’s no tomorrow. Don’t ask me why, but whenever I get out of the tube in Shoreditch, there’s hell to pay.) At Larache, the little shop of wonders named after his hometown in Morocco, there will be sights and sounds to delight your eyes and ears. You will sip on freshly brewed mint tea, recline on technicolour poufs, chat with someone you feel you’ve known for twenty-odd years, and tap your feet to hip-hop straight outta the ’Kesh, while passersby pop in and out shouting, “Ey, ’Assan!” Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but that’s what comes to mind at the moment.

It’s been over a year since we caught up at Larache, and things have seemed to be getting better and better for the Moroccan boy wonder. Since then, he’s been decorated by the King of Morocco, released his first documentary film (written about for the first time by yours truly), and participated in a fabulous exhibition in London about black dandyism (Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity). Not bad, Hassan. Not bad at all.

Read the full article here.

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From the Archives

From the Archives — Pipilotti Rist: Worry Will Vanish and Stay Stamina Stay at Hauser & Wirth

This week, the New Museum opened a major exhibition of works by path-breaking multimedia and video artist Pipilotti Rist. As author Elspeth Walker observed in her 2015 review, Rist’s work confounds the divide between the human body, the natural world, and video technologies. Fielding otherworldly experiences made from footage of this world, Rist’s installation likely felt hypnotic to many viewers for a reason—she drew inspiration from early-20th-century psychiatric relaxation techniques. This article was originally published on January 8, 2015.

Pipilotti Rist. Worry Will Vanish Horizon, 2014 (video still); audio-video installation (video projection on two walls, carpet, blankets, with music by Heinz Rohrer); dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth London.

Pipilotti Rist. Worry Will Vanish Horizon, 2014 (video still); audio-video installation (video projection on two walls, carpet, blankets, with music by Heinz Rohrer); dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Hauser & Wirth London.

Worry Will Vanish and Stay Stamina Stay, parallel exhibitions by Pipilotti Rist at Hauser & Wirth in London and Somerset, respectively, feature footage generated during Rist’s recent residency at the gallery’s newest location in Somerset between summer 2012 and summer 2013. For material, Rist milks images from the plant life surrounding Durslade Farm, the historic Somerset compound that Hauser & Wirth has converted into gallery spaces, garden, farm, and café. Rist’s videos suggest the confluence of the micro- upon the macroscopic, like overlaid sheets of tracing paper revealing the similarities of the body, the natural world of plants, and the cosmos.

Both the works Worry Will Vanish Horizon (in London) and Mercy Garden (in Somerset) transform adjacent gallery walls into massive video theaters. In London, visitors remove their shoes before entering and are invited to lie down on soft white floor pillows while they take in the projections. In Somerset, the invitation for a seated vista is presented in the form of locally produced sheepskin rugs.

In London, Worry Will Vanish Horizon is focused on the somatic experience. The video traces a path through what appears to be the interior of a human body lined with blood veins that morph into the veins on the backs of leaves and mapped constellations in a black sky. The vantage point of lying down lulls the viewer into a hypnotic relationship with the body in the work. Rist is informed here by autogenic training, a psychiatric technique developed by Johannes Heinrich Schultz in 1932 in which the participant views a series of images from a particular physical position in order to induce relaxation. Though this manipulation of the viewer’s body in order to produce emotional response to video is novel, the orchestration of viewing a video about the body’s arrangement in space (referencing both outer space and one’s surroundings) results in an intersection of body, flora, and nebula that comes across as didactic as it is psychedelic. It feels like a throwback to a kind of New Age awareness of one’s place in the universe: an aesthetic that is beautiful but overused, enough to seem devoid—and, indeed, it is not of the void of which it hopes to speak. The work, in its seeming eagerness to relax the viewer, oversimplifies its own ideas.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Meeson Pae Yang

Science and art have a variably rocky relationship in contemporary culture; it is not unusual to encounter people who believe these fields to be opposites on the spectrum of human inquiry. But Meeson Pae Yang’s body of work rejects such binary thinking. Her practice utilizes the affective and technical qualities of the natural sciences to create large works and immersive environments that direct viewers’ gazes into the structures and processes that produce recognizable life. Her work is a pointed inquiry into how we use the technological to define and produce the presumably natural.

Meeson Pae Yang. Index, 2005–06; steel, glass, fluorescent lights, Plexiglas, sucrose solution, vinyl tubing, electrical components, vacuum-sealed packaging, latex, silicone, silicone tubing, polyurethane, trimmer line, nylon fittings; 78 x 114 x 36 in. Courtesy of El Camino College, Torrance, CA and the Artist.

Meeson Pae Yang. Index, 2005–06; steel, glass, fluorescent lights, Plexiglas, sucrose solution, vinyl tubing, electrical components, vacuum-sealed packaging, latex, silicone, silicone tubing, polyurethane, trimmer line, nylon fittings; 78 x 114 x 36 in. Courtesy of El Camino College, Torrance, CA, and the Artist.

While many artistic projects that aim to integrate scientific subject matter often turn into rote demonstrations of a technological gimmick, or misunderstand the critical thrust of artistic practice, Yang’s subtle work conveys a sensitivity to aesthetic experience and demonstrates the ways in which art informs scientific vision. In Index (2005–06), a site-specific installation in the Sculpture Garden at El Camino College in Torrance, California, multiple vacuum-sealed bags full of sucrose solution float within a glass vitrine, and tubing runs from their openings to perforations in the vitrine’s walls and base. The effect is clinical: The orderly arrangement of plastic sacs reminds a viewer of intravenous bags in hospitals, the mainlining of vital nutrients into sickly bodies. The vitrine’s transparency invites one to compare the piece to the backdrop of lush, green plants in the nearby garden. Rather than propose a clear division between nature and technology, Index gestures to shared biological processes. Sucrose solution is often fed to plants to help them grow; the transfer of nutrients requires the same basic systems, whether that system be roots or medical tubing. This is not so much a comparison of the differences between the organic and synthetic but rather an assertion of systems as signifiers of affective meaning.

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St. Louis

Jeff Robinson: Dummy Vexillography at STNDRD

Jeff Robinson: Dummy Vexillography is the second exhibit at STNDRD, a gallery project curated by St. Louis artist Sage Dawson and temporarily located within the entrance of the Luminary, a space that facilitates artistic research, production, and presentation through residencies, studios, and exhibitions. STNDRD—comprising only a wall-mounted flagpole and the 10-by-13-foot wall immediately surrounding it—generates unique challenges for participating artists. As a result, STNDRD elicits thoughtful curatorial contributions as artists respond to these architectural prompts, creating works that must consider the physical constraints of the space, as well as the history and significance of flags as cultural objects.

Jeff Robinson. Dummy Vexillography, 2016; installation view, STNDRD, St. Louis. Courtesy of STNDRD. Photo: STNDRD.

Jeff Robinson. Dummy Vexillography, 2016; installation view, STNDRD, St. Louis. Courtesy of STNDRD. Photo: STNDRD.

Consistent with recent tendencies in painting and sculpture, and mirroring similar concepts that Raphael Rubinstein proposed in his 2009 essay “Provisional Painting,” or by the New Museum’s inaugural group exhibition, “Unmonumental: The Object in the 21st Century,” Robinson’s assemblage sculptures often reject conventional skills and are made with unconventional, unassuming materials. The gallery statement for Dummy Vexillography asserts: “[The work] defies […] standards at each stage of making, from design to material and fabrication, and ultimately to intended function. The emblem that results is needlessly overwrought, hopelessly illegible, and utterly useless.” In his studio practice, Robinson creates compulsively crafted objects that are rooted in abstract formalism but are complicated through the significance of industrial or found materials. In Dummy Vexillography, the artist continues this attitude toward form and material but, prompted by STNDRD’s program, directs his efforts toward the careful, time-honored trade of flag design.

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Mexico City

Carla Rippey: Resguardo y Resistencia at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil

Upon entering Carla Rippey’s retrospective, Resguardo y Resistencia,* at Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, the viewer is confronted by a large-scale installation that presents a multiplicity of themes carried throughout the exhibition. The installation, Cuando Mi Sangre Aún No Era Mi Sangre [When My Blood Was Not Yet My Blood] (2008–16), consists of dozens of historical archive images transferred onto paper and intervened upon with sewn marks. The title refers to the fact that Mexico is the artist’s adopted country, and the work juxtaposes images of political violence with scenes of economic and social life from two time periods in the country’s history: a few years at the turn of the 20th century, and during the Mexican revolution. The work highlights the ambiguous relationships between large concepts and events—national and ethnic identity, historical memory, gender, violence, war, revolution, resistance—and the intimate activities and vulnerable spaces of the body in which, and through which, they work.

Carla Rippey. Cuando mi sangre aún no era mi sangre, 2008-2016 (detail); photo-transfer and sewing on paper; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the Museu de Arte Carillo Gil, Mexico City. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

Carla Rippey. Cuando Mi Mangre Aún No Era Mi Sangre, 2008-2016 (detail); photo transfer and thread on paper; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City. Photo: Jorge Gomez del Campo.

The circular structure of the exhibition emphasizes this intertwined relationship. On the interior wall, a few works are displayed alongside a detailed timeline of the artist’s life. Biographical events, which include falling in love, expatriating after leaving the United States, escaping from political repression during the Chilean coup, and then building a life and career in Mexico, are in dialogue with the artist’s work on the exterior walls and galleries. Just like the installation that opens the show, this curatorial structure mimics the way that individuals and artists interact with their social and political realities. Surrounding the timeline that represents the details of Rippey’s life are works that bring forth how all the big world events and ideas are lived personally.

Many of the works in the show speak to the fragility of personal agency when confronting political power. In Paisaje con Buitre [Landscape with Vulture] (1993), the artist depicts a desert landscape with a herd of camels, a few shepherds, and the cadaver of an animal in the foreground. A military helicopter hovers above the whole scene. Both the people and the animals depicted await their fate beneath rapacious forces they cannot control.

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