Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dancing the News

With News Animations, Simone Forti uses her body and language to relay episodic impressions of the contemporary world; what she calls “dancing the news”.

I can more easily access the raw store of fragmentary thoughts, feelings, and speculations out of which I build my understanding of the world. A News Animation performance involves improvising with movement and spoken language, taking off from the fluid, flickering, dream like image of the world brought to us by the news media. Moving and speaking at once, gives voice to the place between thoughts and muscular or visceral sensations, between verbal syntax and the body's syntax of sudden moves, hesitations, slumps and changes of facing. It reveals a process which is usually very private.

Forti began constructing the News Animations in 1986, through an improvisational process of generating drawn and written responses to the daily news. She is a gleaner, a collector of both transitory events and cultural markers.

Simone Forti, News Animations, Graphite on paper. 
Courtesy the artist. Photo by Brian Forrest.

Forti collaborated with Terrance Luke Johnson and Brennan Gerard to present her most recent iteration of News Animations at Barnsdall Gallery Theater in conjunction with the Made in LA exhibition. Forti entered the space as her two male collaborators sat as observers on either side of the stage. She began speaking about the discovery of the oldest constellation as she extended her arms above and then down to the ground. Forti laid on the ground and spoke about loan bundles and the historic roots of usury, the practice of making loans with abusive interest rates. She moved between language and movement like a woman having an interior dialogue, she was thinking through movement.

Simone Forti, News Animations (solo), LA><ART, June 12, 2012

In the next section of the work, Terrance Luke Johnson unpacks books from a canvas bag as he speaks of the Weimar Republic, Carl Schmidt, and the fragility of American Democracy. He steps upon his books to cross the space, reminding us of the book’s physicality in opposition to the e-reader he holds in his hands. Like a scattered professor, he pronounces disjointed fragments of knowledge while moving books around on the ground. This passage concludes with Johnson carrying an unwieldy stack of books on his forearms as he discusses the embarrassment of carrying one’s book “like a girl”.

Brennan Gerard emerges from his seated position bantering about bundles and loans as he fluidly echoes the gestures Forti made earlier in the work. He talks about the Style section of the paper, and Bloomberg’s daughter and usury. He falls to the floor and says “oops” as he references the falling financial market. At this point Johnson enters the space and the two men move around each other like rotating planets, carrying books upon their forearms and discussing the objecthood of the book.

The final section of the performance begins with a tender and playful duet between Forti and Gerard as she wrestle-holds him to the ground before pushing him forward in an act of birthing. All three performers began to move about the stage at a frenetic pace, as they vocalize references to Occupy Wall Street through personal narrative and exclamations like “bang” and “wack”. The performers turn around one another waving sheets of newspaper like fluttering birds. A body is covered in the paper, reminiscent of a child's fort or a made-shift homeless shelter. Forti rips the newspaper into strips as she tells a story about her Italian grandmother using newspaper as toilet paper back in the old days.

There is a kind of democracy in Forti’s work that deemphasizes the age and gender of the performers; they are all equal citizens sharing a communal space. However, her final narrative reminds us of the temporal nature of the News Animations and of the generational diversity of the group. Forti and Johnson, both in their seventies, have different histories than the young Gerard and it refreshing to witness a movement dialogue between bodies at various points in their lives. Forti has been performing the work for over twenty years, so it is interesting to consider how the work shifts in response to both current events, and her growing personal history.

Ephemera from Forti’s work, including writing and drawing, is on view at the Los Angeles Municipal Gallery, Barnsdall Park as part of the Made in LA exhibition through September 2. She will perform News Animations at the Hammer Museum on August 16 and again at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater on August 30.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Regina José Galindo: Vulnerable

An imposing man violently grasps a petite woman. He holds her by the back of her hair and unleashes a series of threats. He tells her she is helpless, powerless, that he could take off her clothes and attack her, torture her if he wanted. She remains mute and immobile, as the man takes a needle and pushes into the delicate skin of her face.

While the above may sound like the recollection of an assault, it is a description of the video documentation of Guatemalan artist Regina José Galindo’s 2009 performance Games of Power currently on view at the Museum of Latin American Art. In this performance, Galindo is hypnotized by an overbearing man who repeatedly humiliates and threatens her. At one point he pushes her to the ground and makes her drag her body along the floor in pursuit of the water he keeps just out of reach. It is painful to watch the the obvious imbalance of power and the heedless exploitation of Galindo’s vulnerable state. 

The manipulation of women under the influence of hypnotism is nothing new and was a frequent folly among the doctors who treated hysteric patients in the late nineteenth century. In her book Medical Muses Asti Hustvedt describes multiple instances of physicians who instructed their anesthetized patients to enact humiliating, erotic, and sometimes criminal actions. These women’s bodies became the site of violence at the hands of the men who were entrusted with their care.

Himenoplastia, still from video document, 2004

The distressing notion that the doctor may harm instead of heal is present in Galindo’s horrific video Himenoplastia (this work is not included in the MOLAA show). The work presents graphic up-close documentation of the artist’s botched hymen reconstruction surgery. In a 2006 interview with BOMB, Galindo discusses the cultural and political significance of the operation:
The majority of the patients want to regain their intactness for their wedding. They do it to gain a certain social status. In other cases, children and adolescent victims of sex trafficking are operated on so that they will fetch a better price. It is preferable to buy a virgin girl not only because of her virginity but also because it is considered better protection against STDs.
Galindo places her own flesh under the surgeon’s knife to suffer a literal and metaphoric violation of the body, not unlike the invasive performances of Orlan.

The endangerment of Galindo’s body is a constant theme through out the exhibit currently on view in MOLAA’s Project Room. The centerpiece of the show is the new work Third World. Galindo performed the work for the exhibition opening and a video remains along side the plywood platform where the work was enacted. In this performance, Galindo stood still, facing forward on the stage as a workman hand-sawed through the floor around her. Like witnesses to a perverse disappearing act, the audience waits and watches until the floor releases and Galindo drops beneath the stage.

Images from performance Third World, 2012

The audience is even more directly implicated in Breaking the Iceperformed in Norway in 2009. In a reversal of Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, Galindo sits naked in an extremely cold room with clothes laid out on the floor in front of her. She waits in the frigid space, surrounded by viewers who are bundled up in heavy parkas and woolen layers. At least fifteen minutes go by before a woman steps up to wrap Galindo’s neck and body in a long knitted scarf. Viewers slowly move forward to dress the artist in socks, a hat, panties, a bra, and gloves. Next, a man emerges from the audience and strips Galindo down to socks and panties, leaving her like a model in one of those salacious American Apparel ads. At this point two women come forward and purposefully clothe Galindo, like mothers dressing a helpless child.

Breaking the Ice, still from video document, 2008

While Galindo’s work is a reaction to conditions in her homeland, the work speaks to the universal dangers of the abuse of power, especially in concern to women. A single wall of the exhibit lines up three performances which all suggest a distinct threat to female agency. The first, We don't lose Anything by being born (2000) shows Galindo’s naked body encased in a plastic bag lying in a field of trash at the city dump like a discarded fetus. On the next monitor she sits silently in the cold room, waiting for someone to offer her warmth and comfort. In the final image Galindo’s aggressor throws her to the ground and leaves her face down, abandoned like a sullied victim after a sexual assault. Galindo is a fearless artist who uses her own flesh to paint disturbing images of the violence that threaten women in Guatemala and all over the globe.

We don't lose Anything by being born, still from video document, 2000

Again from the 2006 BOMB interview:
There are many theories for why so many women are killed in Guatemala. Not all deaths originate from the same direct causes, but all murders are committed under the same premise: that it is done, it is cleaned up, and nothing happens, nothing occurs, nobody says a thing. A dead woman means nothing, a hundred dead women mean nothing, three hundred dead women mean nothing. The difference between Ciudad Juárez and Guatemala is that in Guatemala women are not only killed, but first they are subjected to horrible forms of torture, cut into little pieces and decapitated. I saw the hacked-up legs of a woman near my home one day, and nobody paid any attention to them at all.
 I cannot separate myself from what happens. It scares me, it enrages me, it hurts me, it depresses me. When I do what I do, I don’t try to approach my own pain as a means of seeing myself and curing myself from that vantage; in every action I try to channel my own pain, my own energy, to transform it into something more collective.
Regina José Galindo: Vulnerable is on view at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach until September 30, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Yayoi in Wonderland

One day after gazing at a pattern of red flowers on the tablecloth, I looked up to see that the ceiling, the windows, and the columns seemed to be plastered with the same red floral pattern. I saw the entire room, my entire body, and the entire universe covered with red flowers, and in that instant my soul was obliterated and I was restored, returned to infinity, to eternal time and absolute space.

Yayoi Kusama,The Anatomic Explosion Happening, Central Park, NY,1969

In the manifesto for a 1960s Central Park Happening, Yayoi Kusama called herself “the Modern Alice in Wonderland.” Like Alice, she possesses a vivid and unruly imagination, and at age eighty-three continues to make bold and compelling works in a wide range of media. Even through the shifting cycles of the art world, she has never strayed from the purity of her own vision. For Kusama, art is a creed and in Infinity Net, the Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, she discusses her life and undying commitment to her art practice.

Kusama is best known for her polka dot and netted surfaces inspired by the hallucinations that began in her childhood. Kusama sees her work as a kind of therapy, a process through which to face and conquer her phobias. She enacts a gesture she calls self-obliteration as a form of liberation:

White nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness. By the time the canvas reached 33ft it had transcended its nature as canvas to fill up the entire room. This was my ‘epic’ summing up all that I was. And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious invisible power.

Kusama grew up in a well-to-do Japanese family with a cruel, oppressive mother and a philandering father. She attributes her mental disturbances in part to the stresses of her dysfunctional family. Kusama’s mother discouraged her daughter’s art making so vehemently that she even destroyed all of Yayoi’s materials. She wanted her daughter to be a proper Japanese girl with the simple goal of marriage. Kusama did not bow to her mother’s wishes and instead threw herself fully into her creative pursuits.

In 1957, at age twenty-seven, Kusama left her home in Matsumoto and made her way to New York after a stop to exhibit her work in Seattle. Even though her time in Japan offered little exposure to the art world, she was savvy enough to know she needed to get to New York to be taken seriously as an artist. She describes years of living hand-to-mouth, sustained only by her nearly uninterrupted studio sessions. In the fall of 1959, her hard work paid off with her first solo New York exhibit.

Kusama in her New York studio, c.1961 Image courtesy:Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama

Kusama became a player in the NY art scene and crossed paths with many art stars of the sixties, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenberg, and Donald Judd who became a champion of her work. She had a ten-year relationship with Joseph Cornell who showered her with love letters and incessant phone calls. Kusama describes Cornell as a devout, poorly dressed misanthrope who lived with his eccentric and overbearing mother. Kusama and Cornell shared many nude-drawing sessions, but never consummated their relationship. Evidently, Cornell had sexual issues stemming from his mother’s frequent lectures about the dangers of “filthy women”.

Kusama had her own problems about sex. She was terrified of penetration and horrified by even the thought of a penis. Her phobia inspired the obsessive creation of phallic soft sculptures that grew to room-sized accumulations.
I began making penises in order to heal my feelings of disgust towards sex. Reproducing the objects again and again, was my way of conquering the fear. It was a kind of self-therapy, to which I gave the name ‘Psychosomatic art’.

Yayoi Kusama, Compulsion-Furniture, Accumulation, 1964

Later, Kusama became well known for her provocative nude Happenings that promoted sexual liberation. The media often blurred the line between Kusama and her work to portray her as a mysterious free-spirited personality. Kusama had no interest in sex and said her band of performers called her ‘Sister’ because to them “I was like a nun – but neither male or female. I am a person who has no sex.”

Kusama managed to pursue her work with an entrepreneurial zest despite her bouts of mental illness. In the mid to late 60s, she managed and produced a series Happenings around the globe. She used her studio to present the participatory body-painting project, the Nude Studio, the KOK social club and the Orgy Company also known as the Kusama Sex Company. All of these ventures aimed at sexual liberation through communal experience.

Kusama designed clothes for her Nude Fashion Company with the aim of bringing people together, literally with the Couple’s Dress, a sleeping-bag-like garb to be worn by two people at once. She also designed the Party Dress that featured cut out holes at the breasts and genitals to facilitate easy access for love-making. Kusama also made films, wrote poetry and fiction, and for a time published a newspaper called Kusama Orgy.

Kusama Presents an Orgy of Nudity, Love, Sex & Beauty Vol. 1, #2

While Kusama enjoyed noteriety though out the international art scene, Japan was not always wiling to embrace her wayward daughter. The Japanese media portrayed her as shameful exhibitionist and her family was mortified by all the bad press. In a letter, her mother wrote:
The fact that you have become a national disgrace is an insult to our ancestors, Yayoi, and I’ve just returned from the cemetery, where I went once again today to ask for their forgiveness. If only you had died of that bad throat infection you came down with as a child…
Even without the support and encouragement of her family, Kusama spent sixteen incredibly productive years working in New York. In the early 70s, her struggles with health issues became overwhelming and in 1973 she returned to the quieter life of Japan. In 1977 she voluntarily admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital where she still lives today. She constructed a studio across the street from the hospital where she works daily. In the years since her return to Japan she has mounted exhibitions around the world including the Venice Biennale in 1993, countless museum exhibits and her recent retrospective at the Tate that moves to the Whitney this week. As always, Kusama continues to grow her enterprise into new realms. Penguin recently published her illustrated edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and just this week, Louis Vuitton unveiled a fashion collaboration with the artist.

For Kusuma, the highest goal is total freedom in art and life and we can be assured that she will continue to tread steadily upon her innovative path.
I have been painting, sculpting, and writing for as long as I can remember. But to tell the truth, to this day I do not feel that I have ‘made it’ as an artist. All of my works are steps on my journey, a struggle for truth that I have waged with pen, canvas, and materials. Overhead is a distant, radiant star, and the more I stretch to reach it, the further it recedes.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Very Eye of Night

Jancar Gallery has consistently supported the work of women artists working in a feminist vein. Their current exhibition continues this legacy with a group of works inspired by Maya Deren's final film, The Very Eye of Night. Deren's 1958 work features inverted images of dancers moving through a starry sky like satellites on a celestial journey. Bodies glide and hover as their ghosted forms overlap and mingle. Deren used the Milky Way to evoke common themes in her oeuvre, including the primitive, mystical power of the natural world, and the psychological and somatic expressions of human life.

Like Deren, the artists in Jancar Gallery’s thoughtful exhibition explore temporality, poetic movement, and mortality through symbolism and repetition The show includes works by Anne Colvin, Dorit Cypis, Micol Hebron, Sofie Bird Moller, Tricia Lawless Murray and Elizabeth Tremante.

Down the Line, a video by Sofie Bird Moeller, features clips borrowed from several filmed black-and-white versions of the Invisible Man dressing and undressing. Moeller choreographs movement across the screen as clothing appears to float and twist of its own volition. Fabric is contorted through the body’s gestures into hovering veil-like forms that infer ghosts, or other harbingers of death. The frequent cuts and shifts of space destabilize any coherent narrative contained in the original films and develop a dreamscape composed of recurring images.

Like Moeller, Anne Colvin uses found footage to create an uncanny and haunting work. Her magenta-drenched video, The Study, offers an eerie scenario as a group of figures move languidly in reverse through a shallow space. Excerpted from Maya Deren’s Ritual in Transfigured Time, the footage maintains the surreal tenor of the original as Colvin heightens tension through tight repetition. Colvin’s actors are trapped in a loop that evokes the terror of a perpetual trauma, not unlike slow-motion clips of the JFK assassination.

Still from Anne Colvin's The Study, 2009

Revers-ability (diptych) Dorit Cypis’ two large-format photographs show the artist standing with her camera in a frozen posture of turning away. The artist is dwarfed by the vastness of space as she poses for the eye of the camera as well as the eyes of the viewer. The space of the photograph is a duplicate, but the body is a mirror as each image shows Cypis’ torso arcing in the opposite direction.

The mirror and the eye also play a significant role in Tricia Lawless Murray’s Solar Annulus, a work comprised of three dioramas contained inside square wooden boxes. Like Duchamp's Étant donnés, the works can only be viewed through a small peephole. The viewer is forced into an intimate position with Murray’s erotic and fragmented imagery of the female body and nature. She uses mirrored surfaces and spinning mechanisms to disorient the optical experience of each work. The third box incorporates a small video screen that features a silhouetted woman waving a cloth into the night wind. She appears weightless much like the dancers who float across Deren’s dark sky. 

front of the exhibition invitation

Deren has referred to her use of time as vertical, a poetic structure where space and time may interleave simultaneously without the constraints of the linear narrative. The works in The Very Eye of Night pay homage to this structure and to Deren's visionary exploration of the intersections between the internal and external movements of the body.
In the still of the night we believe we will be held - until then we we hold our own bodies stiff. The legacy of psychoanalysis allows us to see that bodies can be endlessly remade, re-choreographed, outside the traditional architectonics of human reproduction. Psychic health is in part contingent upon the body finding its rhythm in words and time. Choreography and psychoanalysis would do well to join in a conversation about the body's time.         
--Immobile legs, stalled words: psychoanalysis and moving deaths, Peggy Phelan   

The Very Eye of the Night is on view at Jancar Gallery June 30-July 28, 2012