Rashid Johnson’s Fly Away – An Interpretation By Daniel Valentin

The title of the exhibition comes from a gospel hymn of the 1920’s era. I was intrigued by the artist’s relationship to the song and how it relates to the work presented in this exhibition. After viewing the exhibition and listening to several renditions of the song I found that it was beautiful and spoke to several themes but, in relation to the exhibition, primarily struggle, death and the thereafter. As the title “I’ll fly away” suggests, the song is speaking about the actual act of dying and moving on to heaven or a promised land. 

When the shadows of this life have gone, I’ll fly away

 Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly, I’ll fly away

 No more cold iron shackles on my feet

 Just a few more weary days then I’ll fly away to a land where joys will never end.

It makes me wonder who wrote this song or who it was written for, it’s easy to get lost in the idea of this beautiful idyllic place but with that comes this juxtaposition of why its being referenced, it must have been born from a place of turmoil and angst. The lyrics of the song continually reference being trapped, restrained and tied down the associations pointing to the history of slavery in the United States.

I thought of the context of the song and its relationship to the work and its placement in the gallery. The viewer walks through several rooms, regardless of which way they go and confronts these works. The first work, the expression of anxiety, aptly titled Anxious Audience, and the Falling Men series, reminded me not of his childhood heroes flying, which was referenced in the description, but of body chalk outlines at a murder scene. In those and the other images there are punctures in the surface with what reminds me of blood coming out of the work. I believe the artist is referencing police violence against African Americans and structural racism that he perhaps has experienced in his own life. Overall there is this underlying heaviness to the work; the artist does an excellent job of attaching that feeling to the viewer through the entire exhibition.

In the first room while walking through Violet pointed out to me the plants all the way on the top of the walls, how peculiar I thought not realizing the connection to the installation in the final room. I believe the placement of the plants high on the wall out of ordinary view to be intentional. It’s a visual representation of that final resting place where one is freed from the bound structure that is referenced in the song, the way that one might know there is something better waiting for them. The large scale three dimensional grid that took up a large amount of the room reaching towards the ceiling staggered with all kinds of flora, video art and other seemingly significant ephemera important to the artist on multiple levels and little hidden spaces with items inside. When looking through to the center of the structure an organ is played as part of the performance several times per week. It became a place to relax, a break from the heaviness leading up to this point.

Given the song that the title of the installation references, could it be that the solace and peace found here is in fact a representation of death? A representation which challenges our notion of death as the source of fear and despair, and instead highlights the dark side of life.

Nervous Conditions

One month ago I traveled to South Africa to attend Black Portraitures. The conference is described as a “series of conversations about imaging the black body” and this year it was held at Turbine Hall in Johannesburg. I applied with my longstanding body of work “Jewels from the Hinterland” and my paper was accepted. I spoke on a panel titled Myths & Portraits alongside artists and academics from South Africa, the UK, and U.S. While at the conference, I attended a talk called Nervous Conditions; the title comes from Tsitsi Dangarembga’s first novel, which explores the psychological effects of colonialism in present day Zimbabwe.

When I returned home to Brooklyn I spent time with Gerda Taro’s images; specifically, “Republican Militiaman and Child at Bullfight and Military Show,” Barcelona. The frame is filled with active information. Taro makes loud images. The expressions of the three main figures, all exuding a different emotion, are screaming at us. The child begs to be held, to be turned away from the bullfight and military show, as illustrated by the subtle wince in his expression. His lips upturned as if bewildered by what he can’t look away from. The man next to the boy, perhaps his father, seems to be attracted to something over the babies head, his mouth twisted into a grimace and the squint lines around his eyes almost touch his cheekbones.

Taro moves the viewer all around the space. The man’s chin directs us to the child’s ear and then the large hand in the left corner. The child and the man occupying the negative space have a similar expression. The diagonals are so powerful in this picture. Taro has given us so much and so little, which takes me back to wanting more information. Not more from her, but she asks us, the audience, to do our own knowledge building. We will never quite know what these three figures are looking at but we can create vivid narratives based on their expressions alone.

Taro’s work leads me to may different places but I cannot escape that feeling of nervousness and anxiety when I look at all three figures in “Republican Militiaman and Child at Bullfight and Military Show.” What does nervousness allow or prohibit us to do? What does it force us to feel? In the image of Saul Leiter’s father the concern in his eyes and furrowed brows are clear indicators of unease. He appears to be bitting his fingernails or putting something in his mouth. Taro’s image also conjures up ideas around family histories and traumas, particularly when looking at Latoya Ruby Frazier’s piece “John Frazier, LaToya Frazier and Andrew Carnegie.” Frazier grew up in the industrial town of Braddock, PA which was home to Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill. Over time, however, the bustling industry faded and so did Braddock. Frazier looks at the history of the people who settled in her hometown paired with her upbringing and Teju Cole notes that her work “traces out a web of related concerns: the difficulty of family life in such a place, the imperishability of love, the injustice of a hospital closure, the exclusion of black history, the bonds among generations of women.”

Vivian Maier and Francesca Woodman’s pictures enter into conversations around ghostliness and the body that is mobile or immobile as a result of what its been through. Maier’s image of the navy seals or marines on June 25, 1961 could easily be defined by the harsh light that peers through the windows. However, the blur of those who serve at sea provides a much more eerie quality, as if they could disappear at any moment. I also find Woodman and Maier to be important figures because they are often defined by mental illness, as problematic women, and as fulfilling the reclusive and tortured artist stereotype, which can be romanticized as entry point into good art making. But what about the structure of the times these women lived in contributed to their nervous conditions?

I think about what contributes to my own anxiety in 2016 and find comfort in Heather Agyepong’s series “Too Many Blackamoors.” Agyepong describes her photographs as “based on my own personal experiences as a young black woman, dealing with the macro and micro traumas of racism encountered while traveling around European countries.” Her series challenges the stereotypes of strong black women who are incapable of feeling pain and how that narrative “can burden and often entrap black women.” We can also see this rigidness being performed in Jessie Mae Harris’ photographs of her maternal aunt and mother. The women sit and stand stiffly with straight faces and flat eyes.

The pictures that are stylistically related to Taro’s photograph are Diane Arbus’ “Child Crying” and August Sander’s “Painter [Heinrich Hoerle].” Paired together, the images evoked the same emotion of the child being neglected and a father maintaining his composure as if not to be subsumed by someone else’s emotion. What fears may keep us from emoting? Or prevent us from being as vulnerable as the child pictured in Arbus’ image. Why must crying be a shameful act and not one of courage? This curation is a way to explore our individual nervous conditions. Once we acknowledge them we can begin to manage the conditions, allow the emotional flow through us rather than be trapped within us.

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-Naima Green

A place for the viewer to get lost.

i like people to be able to stroll into my works as I do when creating them- Agnes Martin

Pauline and I rode the elevator to the top of the Guggenheim and began our long walk with Martin’s paintings. The work is multilayered, both minimal and expressionist. Tones of blue, grey, white, a muted coral, and black were dominant across the canvases and yet each painting had a completely different mood. In her later works, Martin’s ability to mix often hard geometric forms with smooth, muted tones, creates an elegant tension. At one point Pauline remarked, “it was like she wasn’t trying to do something exceptional;” and in her subtly, Martin created remarkable works.

Gliding down the spiral of the Guggenheim alongside Martin’s square forms made us giddy. This space is the perfect place to hold and show these paintings. There is a pleasant tension throughout the show. The curves of the building contrast with the linear and grid-like nature of Martin’s work. The experience made me think a lot about gender normatively. I associate softness, curvy, and cyclic forms with women: our physical shape, our ability to create life, and the way women are grounded in nature. Floating down Wright’s architecture while looking at Martin’s organized and linear forms, flips the idea of who can paint and create certain types of work. Although Martin’s later works are filled with grids, triangles and straight marks, her lines are not hard or harsh. There is an intentional structure in the work but it is still approachable. We are able to walk into these paintings and drawings, we can get lost in these forms.

Some of Martin’s paintings looked like sheets of music, particularly Fiesta, acrylic on canvas, 1985. She creates sounds in multiple ways through these quiet works. The mix of materials like soft graphite on canvas could be a breathy flautist. Her fine even lines remind me of a single key on the piano being repeated. There is a meditative quality in the sheer act of looking at a Martin painting. She creates a balanced and zen-like experience. A place for the viewer to get lost. She is able to open up our senses, even while in complete silence. As we descended to the bottom of the museum and approached Martin’s early works I was able to see a strong Miró influence. However, as we move forward in time and backward through the museum, Martin becomes completely her own, herself, and she will last forever.

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Anges Martin, Fiesta, acrylic on canvas, 1985

-Naima Green

An Occupation of Loss, In the Beginning, and Remembering Light

The three exhibitions I wanted to focus on that we saw are Taryn Simon’s “An Occupation of Loss”, Diane Arbus’s “In the Beginning” and Sally Mann’s “Remembering Light” The reason why I chose to write about these three exhibits is because they all somehow had an over arching theme of death, grief, or sadness somehow. Taryn Simon’s exhibit was extremely interesting and very much unlike her past work in terms of installation. Her work is very much research based as this one was as well based on the pamphlet given to you as you exit the installation space but this piece much much about grieving and grieving rituals so it had many emotional components to it as well. We weren’t able to see the performance piece that went along with the installation that included a long descending staircase to be confronted with eleven cement circular towers almost 50 feet high, opened at the top and arranged in a semicircle inside of the Park Avenue Armory which were hollowed out and you could go inside them and make whatever kind of sound you wanted to make or just use it as a meditative space. Jerry Saltz wrote in an article that the installation was a little something like this; “the woman seated on a bench as she cried, tears running down her cheeks, rocking back and forth, thumping her thigh, moaning, singing, and speaking words I couldn’t understand. I knew this was a universal language of loss and inconsolability. I heard these sounds come out of me only once in my life; when I stood on Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue and wailed as I watched the first tower fall on September 11, 2001.”[1]

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The work of Diane Arbus was a collection of outtakes from her archive that her daughter collected from the first seven years of Arbus’s career from 1957-1962. It was exactly what you would expect Arbus’s work to be, but it was interesting to see work she hadn’t shown before. Gangbangers, gangsters, couples, circus freaks, strangers, street photography, transvestites, pictures from Coney Island, pictures of horrifying film stills from movies, murderers and death scenes from the Wax Museum in Coney Island, little people, people dying, Siamese twins in a container at a carnival tent and other characters whose normality was perceived by the general populace as ugly or surreal; heavy content. They also showed some of her classic work such as her work of the identical twins, nudists, etc. Alongside some of the people who worked at the same time as her such as Lee Friedlander to put the work into context. The reason her work is so closely related to death as well is because Diane Arbus took her own life by ingesting barbiturates and slashing her wrists with a razor during an artist residency in New York City.

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Finally, my favorite work was the work of Sally Mann. This work came to me as very uncharacteristic of her, devoid of her usual process. She took pictures in the studio of the artist of Cy Twombly after his death, in that, remembering own her son’s death. In while preparing an exhibition of these photos, Sally Mann suffered a sudden loss; her eldest child, Emmett, who had struggled with schizophrenia in adulthood, took his own life, at the age of 36. Sally Mann and Cy Twombly were good friends and both grew up and living in the south. The images are intimate and clean yet devoid of life, some with just the play of light on the wall and floor of the emptied studio. The work is infused with grief.

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[1] Saltz, Jerry. “With ‘An Occupation of Loss,’ Taryn Simon Brings You Face-to-Face With Death.” The Vulture. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

Photography and Contemporary Experience

I recently visited the Portland Art Museums exhibition Photography and Contemporary Experience. I was really looking forward to a unified idea of how we experience photography. To my amazement, the exhibition was broken up in several different ways to look at contemporary photographs. How could I forget the beautiful thing about the photographic medium has so it many different uses!

Even the exhibition’s opening text talks about the fluidity of the medium; “Images move fluidity from the gallery wall to computer monitor, we are transmitted via smartphones, and are manipulated by hand as well as software. Photographers actively embrace new approaches when creating and disseminating their work.”

Immediately I understood something I had felt that I had yet to put into words; admitting how in flux photography is and perhaps, that is has been for some time. Some of the forms the Portland Art Museum choose to represent were “The photograph in the Information Age,” “The photograph as Performance,” “The photograph and War,” “The photograph as Object” and “The socially charged photograph.”

Displayed here are works from artists like Richard Mosse. Mosse takes documentary photography to another level with his images of the Congo shot on infrared film. Using beauty to talk about the issues of war, I am transcended into an uncanny space.

 

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Richard Mosse “Nineteenth Century Man,” 2011

 

Other great work on display was a Piece from Carie Mae Weems. Weems images have impressed me over last year and its been exciting to see her work across the country. In the exhibition, Weems showed and image from “Slow Fade to Black” from 2010. Weems rekindled interest in path-setting African-American entertainers who have vanished from our collective imagination. Her play on memory and perform in combination of important issues is something to not be taken likely. Weems says about the work “They are disappearing, dissolving before our eyes.”

 

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Carie Mae Weems, Image from “Slow Fade to Black,” 2010

Especially exciting – An ICP alumni, Teresa Christensen. Ive gotten the chance to study under Teresa in my ungrad, and in-fact is a big reason why I came to the ICP-bard program. Teresa showed several pieces under “the photograph as object.” Her pieces showed the fragility of the photographic truth by manipulating the physical print in hopes the viewer can understand the camera made image is not in fact a mirror of the real world.

 

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Teresa Christiansen “Shadowed Disconnection,” 2016

I think this is what interests me most, the investigation of the photographic truth. I would go as far as to say the other topics subtly explore this as well. Almost done with my first semester at ICP, I’m frequently pushing my comfort zone through physical inventions with the image. I am relentlessly exploring and trying to answer my own questions.

Overall I think the Portland Museum had a great view on the photographic experience is right now. And what I love is the Museum did not try to pin down what is to become of the medium. It seems to be that contemporary photography mirrors our everyday reality. Specially questioning the truth of the everyday.

Introduction to Evening II – Daniella Rose King

The ICP-Bard MFA organized Evening Conversations at the ICP Museum are happening this Tuesday and Wednesday at 6:30 PM. We look forward to seeing you there and joining Nicole Eisenman, Lucas Blalock, and Kelly Shindler on Tuesday Evening and joining Abbas Akhavan, Caitlin Cherry, and Daniella Rose King on Wednesday Evening.
We continue to introduce our guests for Evening II at the ICP Museum. Today, we introduce Evening II Moderator, Daniella Rose King.

Evening II: Wednesday, December 14th 6:30 – 9:00 PM at the ICP Museum
– Abbas Akhavan, Caitlin Cherry, moderated by Daniella Rose King.

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Daniella Rose King is a writer and curator based in New York. King focuses on the difficulty, struggle, and resistance in the social aspects in the history of art. In 2014, King co-founded DAM projects, a curatorial collective that supports underexposed and unorthodox artists through temporary spaces for exhibition, discourse, and debate throughout the United Kingdom. She recently completed the 2015/2016 Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellowship in the Whitney Independent Studies Program. In the 2015 Venice Biennale, King served as Deputy Curator for the Cyprus Pavilion show Two Days After Forever: Christodoulos Panayiotou. King has worked extensively in museums throughout England, as well as the MASS Alexandria in Egypt. King has been published by Ibraaz, Frieze, Harper’s Bazaar Art, Art Monthly, New African Magazine, among many others.

More info about the event at icp.org!

Where the Glare Hits the Paper

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This is a poem by Zoe Leonard from 1992 on display along The High Line due to the recent Presidential Election.

When asked, Leonard said she would not write this poem today, but that its important to ask the question “what is different today, and what remains the same?”

The High Line is a very charged place for me. It is an assemblage of what New York has become. It was an old, abandoned train track used as a blank canvas for street artists, tall grasses grew, the metal rusting. It was still a space that was not monitored. But the High Line has turned into capital, changed into a tourist attraction rather than a place to make or hang without being bothered. Street art was replaced with art that has been deemed as more important. I do find it beautiful to walk on, but it’s hard for me not to think about the symbol it and I carry while tall above the city grounds. What I and it hold is a signifier of the “new” New York, a place in which art is now a sign for coming demolition of an old community. Taking Gowanus, SoHo, the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, Bushwick, and countless others to turn them into expensive neighborhoods where artists and its original community members can no longer reside. While going to bed in my East Village apartment around 10PM I realized I should’ve be hearing more noise, more ruckus- it made me uneasy how easy it was to fall asleep. For Leonard’s poem to be on the High Line in this “new space” in itself is interesting, because of what she is asking for in conversation with a space that asked for nothing but forcefully received a very modern makeover. 

I’m thinking about this having recently seen her In the Wake exhibition. Taking photographs of photographs, revisiting the archives- what in those family snapshots still remains precious to us? What of the old provokes a desire for the new, and what of the old provokes nostalgia? What is different in looking at these as objects today and what about them remain the same?

I was most taken by the set of photographs in which the woman’s head/upper body is obscured behind the glare cast from an overhead light hitting the photographic print. The hazy, white, uncertainty of the physical glare visualizes loss of memory, of trauma, and makes it more tangible. It creates a physical barrier allowing us to hold onto only certain aspects of the past- never again getting the full picture. What in capturing these moments are we making more visible?

She starts with photographs from her family after WWII, the snapshot after experiencing trauma. These photographs, family portraits and moments give the survivor agency and also hope. Looking back on them, reminds us of the good after the bad, but also how the bad can never fully leave us. With capsuling them we are creating a marker, a signifier for a time in our lives, and by looking back, looking back at what we chose to capture, we can feel a sense of power. By capturing these moments we are making agency more visible or at least feel a bit more tangible. Susan Sontag brings up another point, in which she discusses the working father on vacation, taking photographs to create a job for himself- actively participating but also creating a distance. Therefore these photographs while giving us something to be enlightened by are also giving us a chance to hide. We as art makers and viewers can detach from the ever changing present by focusing on what we are being shown of the past.

Walking along the High Line, the recent election, being in Hauser & Wirth, I too am thinking of the past, more than that, I’m longing for the past. I look at these buildings and structures as the archive object, as the old photograph, the glare on the paper, the glare on their windows, and no matter how hard I look or try they will always remain the same. But then I question, what do I even want from the past? The past is so attractive because we know exactly what we’ll get from it- there aren’t any surprises from what has already happened- there is a sense of security. We are the ones with power- remembering and forgetting memories and dreams from a time that is no longer. We get to choose where the glare hits the paper.

I’m wishing for the time Eileen Myles ran for President. 

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