Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Recent Work: There With You

After my grandmother died, I gained access to a collection of love letters that she'd kept hidden in a shoebox in her underwear drawer her entire adult life.  My grandfather was shocked to discover them, but was able to identify the writer as Alex, the American soldier to whom she'd lost her virginity.  The dates of the letters indicated that she'd maintained the correspondence even after she'd already married my grandfather!  Looking at old pictures of her from the same time period, I realized that she very closely resembled the archetypal female figure from the dating manual images I used for the Marked photo series.  But these letters indicated a thrillingly complicated level of scandalous behavior into the mix.  I realized how little I really knew about this woman I'd called Momo since I was a baby, how much of her life she'd buried in order to become the woman I'd known.  I was impressed and charmed by the energy she'd seemed to possess when she was 19, but I also felt how difficult her life must have been at that time (in post-war Germany, with very few options), and an overbearing sense of tragedy, knowing how her life ultimately turned out.

I decided to make a pair of videos in an attempt to honor this secret aspect of her life.  It seemed to lend a more personal context for this whole investigation of performed femininity/ gender expectations that I've been circling in my work.  I edited Alex's original letters together into a message that conveyed the most significant-seeming details, as well as the overall cadence and tone.  Using Alex's words as a prompt, I invented a response letter from her, which had to be informed by my knowledge of her life during the early years of her marriage (I could think of no other way to access her experience).  I recorded myself reading each "letter", as well as the sound of me writing out the words by hand, and paired the audio with corresponding pictures of each of them.  Editing/recreating the text enabled me to emphasize/ infuse the aspects that most clearly speak to the choices she made from the options she was given.  Reading the words in my own voice allowed me to embody and empathize with each of them.  It was a very intimate thing, but also became distanced in a way through the dramatizing/ performing of it--they became characters playing roles in a particular situation.  It wasn't as though I really knew either of them as people, so their words and pictures still felt archetypal, even with the familial connection.

As a piece, I envision the videos being installed in a dark space, with Alex's video playing first on one wall, then Momo's response video playing on the opposite wall after his has ended, set up in such a way that the viewer has to stand between them.  Something like this:

There is also an element of exploring the intersection of past and present-- how our present knowledge and understanding of events can manipulate the space of the past; how events of the past can inform the present and speak to us about contemporary experiences.

Anyway, here are the videos:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Recent Work: Putting My Face On

This is another incarnation of the red lipstick investigation.  I set up a camera on a tripod in front of me and slowly filled my face with lipstick, using the camera as a mirror.  I was thinking about concepts like "beauty" and "femininity" and "sexuality" and the ways in which those ideas are constructed and performed.  It was also a gestural action that had a lot to do with drawing and painting practices.  I think of it as a really ambivalent self-portrait, because actually, I'm trying to discover who my "self" even is, and what it means to embody a particular "self" in the first place.  What defines me?  What if I use those things that are supposed to define me in a different way?  I'd like to open things up and explore the possibilities within limitations/ impositions--I want to examine the things that make me most uncomfortable to discover why, and if there's a way to change them.

Here's the video.  The high-quality version was too large to upload, so this is a lower-res version, and is therefore not as dazzling as it could be: 

I showed this video, projected onto a wall, for my final post-bacc critique (I was still calling it Face Fill then).  It was recently accepted into a massive group show, Color, at BWAC (Brooklyn Waterfront Artists' Coalition), juried by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, former curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum.  The opening is on the 28th, and the show is up through August 19th.  Go see it!  It's installed in a 9.5x12.5" screen, and is somewhat more dazzling than what you see above as a result.  Incidentally, I'm interested to see how a more intimate scale will lend itself to the viewing, compared to the wall projection, which had an imposing effect.  

Here are some progressive stills I put together for the application:



full face

And some shots of my face after recording: 

mirror reflection

mirror reflection

straight on

I attended the senior thesis show with my face like this as an experiment, before most people knew about the video.  It was fun to see people's reactions.  I had a few friends kiss my face, hoping that their lips would leave negative space marks on my face.  It didn't have that effect, but it did lend them some lipstick for their mouths/ chins/ noses.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Recent Work: Marked

This is a parallel endeavor to the Red Lipstick Project, for which I took images from a 1938 dating guide for single women that have been circulating on the Internet, printed them out, and kissed both the female and male figures in each image. I then scanned the images and cropped/ re-printed them. Before kissing them, I had the printouts up on my studio wall for about a month, just thinking about them. Each image was originally accompanied by text, encouraging adherence to some behavioral expectation. At first, the advice, as well as the didactic imagery, struck me as darkly funny. But the more I thought about it, the more tragic it seemed. These images were being sold to women as an archetype of how women are supposed to behave when interacting with men through the lens of what men should be expected to expect. It's a thoroughly fucked cycle of atrocious expectations for both men and women. A look at the headlines of Cosmo ("6 Secrets His Body Language Gives Away"; "4 Things That Freak Guys Out on a First Date"; "How To Turn A Guy On"; "101 Sex Positions To Please Your Man"), the unfortunate modern-day equivalent of a dating guide for single women, indicates that this is still a very real, very consumable ideological pressure. So, feeling this, I felt compelled to use my red-coated lips to offer these hopeless instruments of internalized self-loathing the unqualified affection that every human being deserves. It's an exercise in mark-making and gesture that is both sincere and critical.  The titles are lifted directly from the original "advice" text of the manual.


Careless Women Never Appeal to Gentlemen

Men Don’t Like Girls Who Borrow Their Handkerchief and Smudge Them With Lipstick

The Last Straw (Your Date Will Never Call You Again!)

I showed these, in series, as part of my post-bacc thesis show along with the Red Lipstick Project video, and some stills from that.  Here are some installation shots:




Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why I love Marina Abromović

I've known about her work for a while, and I've respected her for a while, but only recently have I really delved into her.  I've been reading interviews, and I recently watched her Art 21, and a documentary about her MoMA retrospective.  Watching the documentary made me wish at first that I'd seen the show--to have stood, surrounded by her works, reproduced or projected, would have been incredible, and to sit across from her and share that moment would have been an irreplaceable experience in my life.  Unfortunately, I didn't become aware of the show until after it had become somewhat of a circus--a strange competition to get the chance to sit with her, which was not something I was particularly interested in at the time. 

But I'm rapidly realizing that I have so much to learn from her.  In her Art 21, she shares an anecdote about a time in her youth when she tried to convince her father's military colleagues to use their airplanes to help her make drawings in the sky.  They refused.  So:
"Very early, I understood there are certain things I can't do.  But at the same time, I had a revelation that, actually, I can use anything I want--I can use the water, the islands, the earth, the fire, the air, and myself.  And this was the moment that I decided it's completely ridiculous to go to the studio and make something two-dimensional, when I could have the entire world there for me.  And that's when I stopped painting."
I've been thinking a lot about the idea of the world as a studio, so hearing her say this was incredibly inspiring and validating for me.  That, and her sense of humor about mortality: "You can't decide when you're going to die, but you definitely can rehearse your funeral."

Her commitment to the future development of performance art is also extremely significant.  She is committed to teaching just as much as she is committed to her own practice.  Here are some more quotes from her Art 21:
"When you die, you can't take your physical goods with you, but the good idea can stay.  I am very occupied now by my legacy.  It's very important for me, the preservation of performance art, and ow it got to develop, and what is the future of performance art."

"Ive been thinking so much, 'What is the role of an artist?  What is my function on this earth anyway?'  I think that being an artist is such a huge responsibility.  In my case, I create three groups of what I call 'Artitudes'--what I have to do as an artist.  I call the first group Artist Body, and it's just very simple--it's me performing in front of the audience.  Second is the Public Body--to create objects (I call them transitory because they're not sculptures) and circumstances in which the public can actually perform for themselves and get experience.  And the third would be Student Body, and this is my function as a teacher--that actually, when you come to one point of your life, that you really have to unconditionally transfer the knowledge to a younger generation of artists.  And not only transfer it, but also help them in the development.  It's really, in a way, a kind of fair dialogue, because they give you a sense of the time you live in (because they're young, and they understand the world differently), and you give them the experience"

This level of care that she has for the the development of the medium as a whole is apparent in the way she teaches--for the retrospective, she trained young artists to re-perform her most historically significant works.  For this process, she brought the group of artists to her house for an extended workshop, during which she tested their limits (she had them practice fasting, existing in silence, entering a lake naked--all exercises to practice being present).  The artists spoke about how much they had to trust her in order to willingly participate in something like this, and how transformative the experience was.  Before the opening of the show, Marina spoke with all of them about how much she was trusting them now--that her life was essentially in their hands.  She was passing her ideas, critical moments of her life, on to the next generation of artists, removing her own ego from the experience, so that each situation could survive for a new audience.  Also, I was impressed by the fact that there are photos from every moment of her life--every incarnation of every performance; personal moments with Ulay.  Those and her video pieces are what enables her work to survive/ what enables a documentary or a retrospective of such magnitude to exist.  Her curator also said that they made editions of one photograph from each of her key performances, and sold those on the market.  An important lesson for me to keep in mind, and one I think I'm already learning for myself with this concentration on archiving and the construction of history.
Primarily, what strikes me though, is her immense generosity.  She is so generous with herself, so raw in her presentation of self.  She makes people feel because she is so open in her own feeling.  At one point in the documentary, the curator speaks about how, when he first met her, he thought, "Oh God, she's in love with me!"  But slowly, upon getting to know her better, he realized, "No, she's not in love with me; she's in love with the world."  As someone who feels a kinship to that sensibility/ propensity, I adore that description.  And that love is palpable in her work.  She makes herself so vulnerable and receptive, whether it's to an audience, or a partner, or to her own capacity for endurance.  She pushes herself to her limits, and extends beyond them.  She tests herself, and manages to exceed her own expectations.  She manages this because she believes in herself deeply.  She trusts herself deeply.

And she isn't arrogant when she speaks about her life or her work.  She's honest and genuine and matter-of-fact, and always open in her expression.  She speaks about using the pain she experiences in her performances as a vehicle that ushers her into a new level of consciousness, that it becomes almost holy, and that the power of any piece lies in the potential for the viewer to be able to harness that energy and experience it in that moment of connection, regardless of their own motivations or attitudes--in the potential to "elevate human spirit," within the performer and within the participating public.  And the manifestation of that power is evident in the faces of the people sitting across from her--in their tears, in their smiles, in their hands placed empathetically over their hearts, in their nods of reverence.  She clarifies something for them in this bizarre socially phenomenological moment that is at once incredibly intimate/ personal, and blatantly public.  At first, it seems like the fact of the audience or the line of people waiting for their turn would diminish the intimacy of the shared gaze, but it doesn't.  It actually magnifies it, and makes it visible for multiple simultaneous participants with multiple perspectives.  One experiential moment shared between her and one participant is actually a multitude of simultaneous experiential moments for every observer.  Everyone in that room is engaged.  And that energy is the most powerful thing imaginable.  

She's also just seductive as hell, and absolutely revels in it.  She talks about red being a power color that energizes her, and about her allowing herself to indulge in her love of fashion once she gained more material security after her split with Ulay.  She's so unbelievably enigmatic and charismatic and charming and gorgeous, but is also so firmly grounded in herself and in her own ambition and her own capability.  She is poised and stoic and elegant because of the unshakable trust that she's built with herself.

I want to be that.