Archive for April, 2013

Coming Soon

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

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Emmy Moore’s Journal
An Exhibition Based on a Letter in a Short Story by Jane Bowles

Opening June 13, 2013, at The Printed Room at SALTS, Birsfelden/Basel
Curated by Quinn Latimer

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Featuring works by Annette Amberg (Switzerland), Ruth Buchanan (New Zealand), Moyra Davey (USA), Chris Kraus (USA), Julia Rometti and Victor Costales (France/Ecuador-Belarus), Jessica Jackson Hutchins (USA), Shana Lutker (USA), Charlotte Moth (UK), Amalia Pica (Argentina), Sam Porritt (UK), Vanessa Safavi (Switzerland), Alison Strayer (Canada), Danh Vo (Vietnam), and Jennifer West (USA).

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Dearest Paul:

I cannot simply live out my experiment here at the Hotel Henry without trying to justify or at least explain in letters my reasons for being here, and with fair regularity. You encouraged me to write whenever I felt I needed to clarify my thoughts. But you did tell me that I must not feel the need to justify my actions. However, I do feel the need to justify my actions, and I am certain that until the prayed-for metamorphosis has occurred I shall go on feeling just this need. Oh, how well I know that you would interrupt me at this point and warn me against expecting too much. So I shall say in lieu of metamorphosis, the prayed-for improvement. But until then I must justify myself every day. Perhaps you will get a letter every day. On some days the need to write lodges itself in my throat like a cry that must be uttered.

As for the Turkish problem, I am coming to it. You must understand that I am an admirer of Western civilization; that is, of the women who are members of this group. I feel myself that I fall short of being a member, that by some curious accident I was not born in Turkey but should have been. Because of my usual imprecision I cannot even tell how many countries belong to what we call Western Civilization, but I believe Turkey is the place where East meets West, isn’t it? I can just about imagine the women there, from what I have heard about the country and the pictures I have seen of it. As for being troubled or obsessed by real Oriental women, I am not. (I refer to the Chinese, Japanese, Hindus, and so on.) Naturally I am less concerned with the Far Eastern women because there is no danger of my being like them. (The Turkish women are just near enough.) The Far Eastern ones are so very far away, at the opposite end of the earth, that they could easily be just as independent and masculine as the women of the Western world. The ones living in-between the two masculine areas would be soft and feminine. Naturally I don’t believe this for a minute, but still, the real Orientals are so far away and such a mystery to me that it might as well be true. Whatever they are, it couldn’t affect me. They look too different from the way I look. Whereas Turkish women don’t. (Their figures are exactly like mine, alas!)

Now I shall come to the point. I know full well that you will consider the above discourse a kind of joke. Or if you don’t, you will be irritated with me for making statements of such a sweeping and inaccurate nature. For surely you will consider the picture of the world that I present as inaccurate. I myself know that this concept of the women (all three sets—Western, Middle and Eastern) is a puerile one. It could even be called downright idiotic. Yet I assure you that I see things this way, if I relax even a little and look through my own eyes into what is really inside my head. (Though because of my talent for mimicry I am able to simulate looking through the eyes of an educated person when I wish to.) Since I am giving you such a frank picture of myself, I may as well go the whole hog and admit to you that my secret picture of the world is grossly inaccurate. I have completely forgotten to include in it any of the Latin countries. (France, Italy, Spain.) For instance, I have jumped from the Anglo world to the semi-Oriental as if there were not countries in between at all. I know that these exist. (I have even lived in two of them.) But they do not fit into my scheme. I just don’t think about the Latins very much, and this is less understandable than my not thinking about the Chinese or Javanese or Japanese women. You can see why without my having to explain it to you. I do know that the French women are more interested in sports than they used to be, and for all I know they may be indistinguishable from Anglo women by now. I haven’t been to France recently so I can’t be sure. But in any case the women of those countries don’t enter into my picture of the world. Or shall I say that the fact of having forgotten utterly to consider them has not altered the way I visualize the division of the world’s women? Incredible though it may seem to you, it hasn’t altered anything. (My having forgotten all Latin countries, South America included.) I want you to know the whole truth about me. But don’t imagine that I wouldn’t be capable of concealing my ignorance from you if I wanted to. I am so wily and feminine that I could live by your side for a lifetime and deceive you afresh each day. But I will have no truck with feminine wiles. I know how they can absorb the hours of the day. Many women are delighted to sit around spinning their webs. It is an absorbing occupation, and the women feel they are getting somewhere. And so they are, but only for as long as the man is there to be deceived. And a wily woman alone is a pitiful sight to behold. Naturally.

I shall try to be honest with you so that I can live with you and yet won’t be pitiful. Even if tossing my feminine tricks out the window means being left no better than an illiterate backwoodsman, or the bottom fish scraping along the ocean bed, I prefer to have it this way. Now I am too tired to write more. Though I don’t feel that I have clarified enough or justified enough.

I shall write you soon about the effect the war has had upon me. I have spoken to you about it, but you have never seemed to take it very seriously. Perhaps seeing in black and white what I feel will affect your opinion of me. Perhaps you will leave me. I accept the challenge. My Hotel Henry experience includes this risk. I got drunk two nights ago. It’s hard to believe that I am forty-seven, isn’t it?

My love,

Emmy

Something Old, Excellent: Alone Again, Or

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

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Alone Again, Or: The persistent and enigmatic subject of women turning away

By Jennifer Higgie

‘There’s so little risk of finding her.’
Rosemary Tonks

She turns her back on you; this, it would seem, is her appeal. She’s been painted like this for centuries, and, more recently, photographed. Often she is naked, in a bathroom or bedroom, solitary, sleeping or day-dreaming, or at a picnic, momentarily stilled, enveloped in a vague, dark space. The one constant is that her face is obscured. Her identity is fluid, nuanced; it can be elegiac, erotic or sullen, an homage to something lost or never quite gained, a study in both negation and yearning. It’s impossible to know whether she – who appears in so many guises – was ever, in the act of being represented, aware that someone was looking at her (the observed is often innocent of the observer). Whether we read the artist’s rejection of her face as a reflection of her inner life, or read the focus on her body as an indication of sensual preoccupations, she is ultimately irreducible and as such can be whoever we want to her to be. As Stuart Morgan once wrote: ‘Since perception of the human figure is also perception of one person by another, we credit that other with attributes of our own; we use them, to satisfy our needs.’1

A woman looking away is obviously considered worth looking at; her resistance to our scrutiny must be compelling, pleasurable even. Otherwise, why have men – and it is almost always men – returned to portray her silence, her enigma and her malleability, again and again? Search the collections of London’s National Gallery, Tate Modern and Tate Britain and it doesn’t take long to come across examples of paintings of women looking away painted by men – from Johannes Vermeer, Diego Velázquez and Pierre Bonnard to Edgar Degas, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Eric Gill, Duncan Grant and Man Ray – and none by women. Even taking into account the historical exclusion of the work of women artists from national collections, this is surprising.

These scenarios are impossible to write about conclusively; each demands its own analysis, as, after all, a resistance to scrutiny lies at their heart. A negation of the reciprocity of seeing (we can’t see her eyes, she can’t see the artist’s) implies an opposition to communication (people say ‘I see’ when they mean ‘I understand’). These images are also complicated about gender – although painted or photographed by a man, the effect is one of being ignored by a woman; and it is, obviously, not only men who look at her. It’s too easy to suggest that she exists for Laura Mulvey’s influential definition of the male gaze – that is, to satisfy a man’s voyeuristic (i.e. seeing women as whores) or fetishistic (i.e. seeing women as madonnas) impulses; her aesthetic function, if you can call it that, is in a constant state of flux, shifting with time and context. She’s a paradox made flesh: she’s intimate and absent, oddly vivid, yet mute; she can look away all she wants, but she’ll always remain an object of thwarted interest and inconclusive innuendo. She’s also, despite her stillness, active: her gesture is one of imminent movement, as if she’s about to turn towards you, or get up and move away. Occasionally, especially in Rococo painting (in particular in Jean-Antoine Watteau’s dreamy fêtes champêtres) with its love of mystery, codes and game-play, she is accompanied by other people, but still, she seems isolated. To think of her with accomplices is an anathema. She is, by definition, alone…

Read the entire essay here.

History Pictures

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

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My essay on Sylvia Sleigh makes the cover of Frieze! Epic. An excerpt of the essay below:

A Step Out Of Time: Sylvia Sleigh’s extraordinary ‘history pictures’

‘Fashion has a flair for the topical, no matter where it stirs in the thickets of long ago; it is a tiger’s leap into the past,’ wrote Walter Benjamin in his vignette-studded essay ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1940).1 Read the line quickly, add an extra letter, and suddenly the tropics are conjured. Benjamin’s ‘thickets’ become jungles, lush with almond-shaped leaves, green and waxy; through them a tiger skulks and stalks and leaps. The darkness (or lightness) of history emerges, humid and heated, between the carefully outlined leaves. Benjamin’s sentence has become a Henri Rousseau painting, as it were. Then the mind takes another leap, tiger-like, shaking the German critic’s sentence into yet another anagram, and those thickets of leaves become smaller, more domestic, but just as decorous. Now they curl from a pot, near a butterfly chair, a man’s pale, naked thigh. The fashions and fabrics filling the frame might be 1970s-era American approximations of Rousseau’s Africa – a different kind of herbarium, a later moment in history. How did this happen? You are now in a Sylvia Sleigh painting.

Benjamin continues: ‘This jump, however, takes place in an arena where the ruling class gives the commands.’ Fashion, flair, class, Rousseau’s collusion of representation and fantasy and fauna: all are present in and relevant to the figurative paintings of Sleigh, their weird and wonderful decorousness and their contemporary reading. See her 1981 work, Mitchell Fredericks by the Fountain, in which Fredericks – lean, nude, opaquely handsome – sits, knees apart, on a white lambskin rug thrown over some white marble, surrounded by potted plants, dark-green ivy and a fountain from which water pours, ever tastefully, out of the mouth of a lion. Or her titular 1962 portrait of the writer Francine du Plessix Gray, with Gray’s delicate, patrician profile and white button-down blouse carved elegantly against the downtown New York skyline.

Or consider Sleigh’s ambitious, oddly magisterial The Turkish Bath (1973), in which four New York critics and the artist’s young muse, all male and lithe, lounge naked against some hippie-bourgeois-looking textiles (Bauhaus, batik). The critics – John Perreault, Scott Burton, Carter Radcliff, and Sleigh’s husband Lawrence Alloway – are stilted and pensive, maybe nervous (not so much her husband). Along with them, Sleigh’s beatific, seemingly stoned muse, Paul Rosano, is pictured twice, once from behind, playing a lute, his tan lines glittering; once standing, his dark, tendrilled mane a feminine shroud parted perfectly, per 1970s personal styling, in the middle. Sleigh based the work on Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s 1862 painting, commissioned by Napoleon, of the same name – and names, one finds, are important in Sleigh’s oeuvre, in which they play social register, biographer and autobiographer at once. An erotic voluptuary of pale odalisques, Ingres’s circular canvas also offers a figure with her back to us playing a lute, though the musician here is spectrally female, her back as white and cold as marble.

As is often the case with Sleigh, there’s a witty note to her flexible, topical, warm homage: Ingres’s late work was inspired by the famous 16th-century letters of Lady Montague, in which she described her visits to a women’s bathhouse in Istanbul as the wife of a British diplomat. Sleigh’s painting replaces the interchangeable and sculptural Turkish concubines in Ingres’s Orientalist fantasy with skinny, 1970s New York men of letters, whose studiously rendered body hair and disparate shades of pale skin are embarrassingly real. Of The Turkish Bath Sleigh would later write: ‘I was inspired by [feminist art historian] Linda Nochlin to paint an “answer” to Ingres’s famous toads – I wanted to show how I felt women should have been painted with dignity and individuality – not as sex objects.’2 She also noted, plainly, lucidly, that she wanted, as a woman, the ability to paint ‘history pictures’…

Read the entire essay here.

Recent Writing

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

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Mandla Reuter at Kunsthalle Basel, in Frieze

Sometimes experience walks backwards. Consider Marguerite Duras’s lines in The Lover (1984) about the preadolescent girl’s face (the author’s) that was already riddled with the sexual damage that would come later. Or the infamous Carl Jung analysis, taken up by Samuel Beckett, about an unhappy patient who, as an infant, had never been properly born. Likewise, sometimes a drawing of a man sleeping occasions that man to, in fact, go to sleep, which, in turn, occasions an exhibition that features that drawing, and that sleeping, and the objects and dreams that result. Temporality is not always linear, experience and architecture not uniquely progressive. At least such was the case with Mandla Reuter’s recent show at Kunsthalle Basel, where the South African-born German artist, now based in Switzerland, turned time and space into something kaleidoscopic, multi-dimensional, lucid and ecstatic.

The exhibition began, in fact, with a drawing the artist’s friend made of a man sleeping. ‘That’s Mandla’, the friend’s partner pointed out. So it was. After receiving word of the drawing, Reuter rented a room at the Trois Rois, a five-star Basel hotel that glitters above the banks of the Rhine, where he went to sleep in Swiss luxury. Gina M. Folly, the photographer that he asked to enter the room and photograph him while he was sleeping, did so. That image, in a small black-and-white print, was stuck behind a much larger framed offset monochrome print on one of the Kunsthalle’s walls (Untitled, 2013). The show that opened around it also felt like a dream, its logic strange and associative and backwards and very, very right. The first galleries were nearly bare and appeared cool to the touch. Stolid soda machines, sheltering grids of bright, illuminated plastic bottles, stood upright on the wooden floors (Both, 2013). Fluorescent lights, odd in the neoclassical rooms, went bright and dark at turns. An enormous rock rested nearby, its symbolist title the dryly grandiose The Gate (2012). Two rooms further featured expensively plush white carpeting streaked with dirt that Reuter had brought from a parcel of land he owns in Los Angeles. An inky blue diazotype of that lot and a piece of mail addressed to it by the artist himself – accompanied by a stamp from the post office reading ‘No Such Address’ – hung on the walls (Untitled, 2012).

On this Kafkaesque piece of postage the exhibition seemed to stop. The galleries beyond were closed off. To access them, one had to leave the building and walk around the corner to the administration offices. There, a new doorbell had been installed. It read ‘MANDLA REUTER’. One pushed it, was buzzed in, then made their way up the stairs, through the library, and into the last two galleries. Here, Reuter’s dreamlike, alternative universe was not cool but flush and warm and surreally furnished. A back room, a speakeasy, an afterparty, an after-hours club – all colloquial names for provisional spaces erected for pleasure were equally evoked. Fluorescent lights continued to rise and fall. A string of multicoloured Chinese lanterns, bought in LA, looped under the ceiling (N Broadway, 2013). Steel beams, vertical and horizontal, sketched out the room like the armature of a building project or a corporate sculpture (Cervino, 2013). An elevator sat, enormous, on a plinth. Prospect 330, E Waldon Pl (2011), a series of 14 gorgeous, upside-down images of LA twilight, taken from the artist’s land, hung like a horizon across one wall, their palm-tree silhouettes blushing deeper and deeper as the lights in the room darkened.

A constellation of industrial materials placed in the corners (concrete plinths, enormous water pipes, scaffolding, those steel beams) played against the beauty of these photographs, as well as against a modernist daybed, a small bronze sculpture (Souvenir, 2009), and a projected 35mm film (The Shell, 2011) offering the image of a scallop shell – a replica of the Trevi fountain in Las Vegas – as it changes colour via the lights that continually illuminate the casino fountain. Each of these images and objects had a discursive story that limned displacement, artificiality and the simulation of object, place and sentiment. In other words, they were about feeling, real or counterfeit. The steel I-beams referenced Walt Disney’s 1959 rollercoaster approximation of the Matterhorn at Disneyland; the amusement park’s artificial Swiss mountain is supported by a steel structure similar to Reuter’s. The bronze sculpture is a miniature replicate of a bronze by the GDR-era sculptor Senta Baldamus. And so on. Yet, uniquely, these stories didn’t supply their attendant works with their meaning – that came from other things: placement, proximity, visual narrative, a kind of fiction that feels truer than life in the way that a dream might. That an empty plot of land in Los Angeles – La La land, city of angels and sunshine noir – grounded the exhibition also felt accurate. Beautiful sunsets and orchestrated stage sets (places for dreaming and time-suspending) collided here with a kind of European industriousness. Time and space collapsed in a series of rooms that held stories and feelings that spanned decades and continents. One doesn’t like to reduce attitude to geography, but sometimes a surprisingly sublime sensibility, ecstatic and studious at once, encourages such recklessness.

—Quinn Latimer

Luv, Etc.

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

My loves have new work out.

1)

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Find Paolo’s gorgeous record “And On” at Materials Records and paolothorsennagel.com. The Swiss and German press is all over it.

2)

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Kolt Beringer’s Seven Poems, in a beautiful limited addition. For copies, contact: skberinger(at)gmail.com.

Bam.