Farah Al Qasimi, Falcon Hospital 2 (Blue Glove), 2016, ink-jet print, 27 x 20”.


Among the thirteen photographs mounted in “More Good News,” the Emirati artist Farah Al Qasimi’s first solo exhibition in New York, are several portraits of men in their homes, reclining on ornately patterned couches or sitting on a bed. Other pictures look inside a falcon hospital in Abu Dhabi, and one captures a dog cowering next to a table littered with guns in Texas. Throughout, the images reveal Al Qasimi’s fascination with the privileges of privacy and what it might mean to see or be seen. The show is on view at Helena Anrather until December 22, 2017. 

“MORE GOOD NEWS” comes out of my recent interest in formal portraiture. I had been photographing male friends and family members, and—with this show in mind—I began thinking about how these portraits would be contextualized in the US. I’m interested in the feedback loop of public opinion and foreign policy, and in how representation is crucial to how Americans perceive Arabs. Decades ago, during Hollywood’s obsession with sheikhs and harems, Arab men were generally perceived as passionate romantics, but now they’re seen as brutish and violent—terrorists, essentially. 

Where I grew up, it was common to see a lot of physical closeness between men. It’s a delicate thing that is generally misunderstood outside of the Arab world. It was important to me that that softness was present in my portraits and that, as a woman, I was controlling the way that these people were being seen. Each image is composed differently; each is embedded with its own logic of confrontation or avoidance. I’m committed to acknowledging the power imbalance inherent in portraiture, and in telling others what to look at, however vague or oblique it might be.

The photographs I took at a falcon hospital in Abu Dhabi underscore that commitment. A lot of people in the Emirates use falcons as hunting birds, and this hospital rehabilitates birds of prey when they get sick or become injured. The facility is visually striking: it has the bright blue, clinical sterility of any regular hospital, but it’s filled with these stunning birds wearing leather hoods. They sit on their perches, calmly waiting to be seen by the nurses, because they’re completely defenseless without their sight. It’s such a drastic transformation of character. 

Something struck me about seeing such wild birds suddenly have a tender, vulnerable relationship with these humans, whom they now rely upon to stay alive. The simple addition of the hoods renders them captive, and gives the nurses—and me, the photographer—total control. It felt violent to be participating in this unilateral gaze. That feeling of voyeurism and intrusion seemed analogous to how people under surveillance feel—something I have often been on the receiving end of.

The NSA has always had a looming presence in my life; I joke that we are longtime friends by now. Phone calls are interrupted by intricate glitches; mail arrives three months late with security stickers plastered everywhere. In this form of identity-based surveillance, there’s an act of judgment, and there’s an act of extraction. Someone with an apparently supreme ability to judge character and synthesize information is taking all these parts of a life and determining whether its existence is a threat to national security. It’s portraiture, in a way.

For me, photography functions as one part of a larger system of extraction and editorializing. I think there’s a power in asking people to respond to images that might reveal something about their own misinformation. The problem of subjectivity permeates the practice of photography at every level, and I’m invested in what that means beyond the walls of the gallery.

— As told to Juliana Halpert

Dara Friedman, Dichter (Poet), 2017, four-channel HD video transferred from 16 mm film, color, sound, duration indefinite.


Over the past decade, Dara Friedman has asked large casts of participants to respond to simple ideas or thoughts, eliciting, in turn, raw emotion and chance developments within controlled situations. On the occasion of her survey at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, the artist talks about her newest work, Dichter (Poet), 2017, a four-channel video portraying sixteen people reciting their favorite poems. Titled “Perfect Stranger,” the exhibition includes work spanning twenty years and is on view through March 4, 2018.

FOR DICHTER, I wanted to summon the emotion often felt by teenagers of being passionately sad and yet full of energy. I wanted to feel like that again, and figured if I wanted to, others probably needed to as well. I grew up in Palm Beach County, Florida, during the 1980s under Reagan, which had its freedoms and qualities, but the preoccupations could be pretty materialistic and narrow. I took German in high school because I already spoke German, and I figured it would be an easy A. But the teacher was clever and would sit me in the corner and give me Rainer Maria Rilke poems to translate to keep me occupied, which of course completely blew my mind. The earnestly candid incantations of love and God that popped and tripped off my lips were a huge, welcome kick in the ass, and they were exactly what I needed at the time. So, I thought: “We’re now in these awful, cynical times. Let’s remember what put gas in our tanks in the first place—the urges and desires that made us want to be artists. Let’s remember what that felt like.” I decided I would put that question to others and see which poems they’d been carrying around with them since their teenage years.

While trying to figure out the best way to speak these poems, I discovered acting exercises by Jerzy Grotowski and became interested in one that involves speaking against a wall, so that the vibrations of your own speech bounce off the wall and enter your body. Years ago I’d taken a Sanskrit course, and this exercise reminded me of it. When you speak Sanskrit, your tongue curls up into the roof of your mouth, and the vibrations of the words pulse through your skull. When you speak English—which is more of a rock ‘n’ roll language—all the wind rushes out in front of you like you’re on a motorcycle. In German, two almost conflicting mouth actions happen at once: the first is tender and takes place at the front with your lips, and the second is strong and occurs at the back in your throat. The method for making Dichter involved filling the speaker’s body with the vibrations of their own voice, and the words of the poem, bouncing their own sound waves off the wall and letting them be absorbed into the body. So that it isn’t just the mouth speaking the words, but the full body transmitting the sound. The declaration “I LOVE YOU!” sounds furious.

I like to do open calls for my works because I have no idea who’s going to walk through the door. It’s always a surprise, but a controlled one. There are rules of engagement with strangers, of course. But having an open call feels like jumping over five years of casual meetings—you can immediately ask the question you’re truly interested in.

This work was made with my friend Richard Needham behind the camera. We met in film school, and we’ve been working together since then—sometimes filming simultaneously with two cameras, or as a physical extension of each other, and sometimes in a more classic cinematographer and director relationship. I edit, and maybe that’s my strong suit. It’s a fairly solitary process. Editing by definition is controlling. Like the three Fates in ancient Greek mythology: you are sitting there spinning the thread of life as it dances before you on the screen, you measure the life, and you cut the life. You create the world in your own vision and rhythm, and it’s one of the few situations where you can make it exactly as you want it to be. I’m impatient by nature, and in the editing process I get to edit things in my rhythm of impatience, and it momentarily becomes a virtue.

— As told to Laura Hoffmann

 

Alejandro Cesarco, Revision, 2017, 16mm film transferred to digital video, color, sound, 3 minutes 40 seconds.


Alejandro Cesarco is a Uruguay-born, New York­–based artist and the director of the nonprofit Art Resources Transfer. His current solo show, “Song,” at the Renaissance Society in Chicago features a range of old and new works, and at its heart is the video Revision, 2017, which Cesarco discusses below. The exhibition is on view until January 28, 2018. Cesarco also has a show at Galleria Raffaella Cortese in Milan, “The Measures of Memory,” which is on view from November 29, 2017 to February 28, 2018.

THE FIRST THING YOU SEE when you walk into the exhibition at the Renaissance Society is a fifty-two-and-a-half-foot wall that horizontally bisects the room. On the entrance side of this partition is a faint pink silkscreen—The Dreams I’ve Left Behind, an image of the wall on which my bed rests. These two textures, my bedroom wall and that of the gallery, rub up against each other, signaling the apparent boundaries between the private and the public, the intimate and the institutional. The gallery wall appears to be blushing, a visual record of shame or embarrassment. In this case, it’s unclear whether the wall is blushing because of the nature of my dreams or because I’ve left them behind. The rest of the show is concealed on the other side of this wall.

This masking of feeling, this muted form of melodrama, is in itself a way of silencing or withdrawing, but it is also a methodological move. It is a way of keeping intimacy at a distance, of staking out a comfortable place from which to speak. This particular staging—one which is so artificial, so planned—is also a way to materialize and give form to a secret, in the sense of “know that I am concealing something from you.” 

As you head into the space, an excerpt of Everness, a video I made in 2008, plays on a monitor. In this excerpt, a young man, perhaps a literary scholar, recites a monologue on the meaning of tragedy. “I define tragedy as the arrival of an enigmatic and supernatural message that the hero fails to fully and timely comprehend,” he says. Almost ten years later, I reshot this excerpt using the same actor. The script is basically the same; the principal difference is a change of verb tense, from present to past. “I defined tragedy as the arrival of an enigmatic and supernatural message that the hero fails to fully and timely comprehend,” he now says.

This new work is titled Revision, and this repetition, temporal stutter, and self-citation return the finished work to a draft form. They open it up, call attention to the piece, and allow it to continue to unfold differently. In my work, I am interested in the act of looking again, repeatedly, from a different distance or perspective. Between Everness and Revision, I explore the idea of tempo, phrasing, duration—the musicality of looking. What we consider tragic has shifted in the past ten years, as have the power and usage of words and facts. So, to go back to the problems of reading and deciphering seemed rather timely.

Revision also ostensibly thematizes a frustration with the actualization of an idea—the balance between an ideal always beyond reach and what you end up settling for, the “good enough,” to put it in D.W. Winnicott’s terms. At the same time, it is also a pretty direct statement against the continuous demands for productivity and the banal exaltation of novelty and newness.

There are two other new works in the show, Interlude and Vanitas (From Remorse to Regret), that further address the “good enough,” the misreading of opportunities, risks not taken, and longing. Broadly speaking, I think “Song” focuses on the (apparent) loss of possibility as a means of eroticizing it.

 

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Rafa Esparza

11.21.17

View of “Tierra. Sangre. Oro.,” 2017–18, Ballroom Marfa. Foreground: Rafa Esparza performing Eamon Ore-Giron’s Talking Shit with Quetzalcoatl/I Like Mexico and Mexico Likes Me, 2017, atop Esparza's Raised Adobe Ground for Talking Shit with Quetzalcoatl, 2017. Background: Sculptures by Timo Fahler. Photo: Alex Marks.


Born and based in Los Angeles, Rafa Esparza “browns” the white cube through performances that involve bodies—his own and those of his collaborators. Recently, Esparza has begun using adobe bricks—traditionally made by hand with clay soil and other organic material—to build structures in galleries. His latest exhibition “Tierra. Sangre. Oro.” (Earth. Blood. Gold.), features pieces by Carmen Argote, Nao Bustamante, Beatriz Cortez, Timo Fahler, Eamon Ore-Giron, Star Montana, Sandro Cánovas, María García, and Rubén Rodriguez, and is on view at Ballroom Marfa until March 18, 2018.

MY INTEREST IN BROWNING THE WHITE CUBE—by building with adobe bricks, making brown bodies present, and collaborating—is a response to entering traditional art spaces and not seeing myself reflected. This has been the case not only physically, in terms of the whiteness of those spaces, but also in terms of the histories of art they uphold.

Adobe bricks are loaded; they signify brownness, the land, and labor. They also reference my own history: my father’s practice of working with adobe and my experience of adobe brickmaking as a collaborative process. By building with adobe in galleries I am bringing all of this—and the muddy history of American soil, colonization, and progress—into a traditionally white context.

This work began when Clockshop invited me, in 2014, to perform on Michael Parker’s artwork The Unfinished, for which the outline of an obelisk—based on an unfinished ancient Egyptian obelisk—was excised into a pad of asphalt next to the concrete Los Angeles River. The artwork’s trench resurfaces organic matter (seashells, soil) beneath the asphalt. This made me think about the history of the land, and of laborers who have historically been exploited while working on building projects.

Following this experience, I realized I wanted to use soil—adobe—as a platform. For the last Whitney Biennial I made adobe bricks and used them to create a structure in the gallery that felt like a container. As you walked into it, you stepped onto an adobe-paved ground and were surrounded by a rounded wall made of adobe bricks; the ceiling was left open. Before the rotunda was built, I invited other brown artists to imagine how their work could exist in this adobe space. The white cube was transformed into a brown, round space that held everyone's works inside it.

Every time I have the opportunity to work with adobe I invite new questions, new ways of integrating folks and the material. This was the case with my current project, at Ballroom Marfa. Marfa attracts the white international art world, yet it is in one of the nation’s most impoverished counties and is situated on the border, in a state where 95 percent of land is privately owned. The town’s long history of segregation—the cemetery is still divided—is invisible to many visitors, as is the strong presence in Marfa, beyond its two main streets, of adobe and brown people.

Within this context, I wanted to experiment with working collaboratively in order to make present and amplify brown artists who might not otherwise have access to establishment art spaces. I wanted us to serve as stewards of the land and of each other. Instead of making a container, I made a foundation. I used adobe bricks to cover sections of the floor, but I also used them as a vehicle for having conversations and for inviting other brown artists and artisans to work with me and with each other to consider land and how to create within each other’s spaces. There is a performativity to this way of working; it informed what we made.

In the show there is a series of stacked hybrid structures that Timo Fahler “planted” in Marfa Ballroom’s courtyard; they include “his” materials (cacti, found objects) and “mine” (adobe). There is also an adobe brick portal—inspired by Mayan archways—which I made with Beatriz Cortez. Adobe is a material that Beatriz had not worked with before. For Beatriz, it is important to think of such structures, and the indigenous people they represent, as belonging not only in the past, but also in the present and future. For me, the structure and its material work against the way we essentialize people, particularly those who are indigenous and brown. This portal was the last thing we made for the show, yet it serves as its entrance: we placed it outside Marfa Ballroom and used it to reorient the way visitors enter the white-turned-brown cube, now facing south.

When I think of brownness, I think of an expansive and generative space of inclusion and amplification. Brown is a skin tone. Brown is a spectrum. I am not replacing the white cube with a brown cube, but building conflicting histories.

— As told to Kate Green

Beryl Korot

11.14.17

Beryl Korot, Text and Commentary (detail), 1976–77, weavings, drawings, five-channel video (black-and-white, sound, 30 minutes). Installation view.


Beryl Korot’s groundbreaking video installation Text and Commentary, 1976–77, inspired by the Jacquard loom and how it impacted engineer Charles Babbage’s invention of the punch card, was originally exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1977. As I wrote five years ago in the pages of this magazine, “An amalgamation of various genres—post-Minimalism, Process art, Pattern and Decoration—Text and Commentary has not yet been considered a key Conceptual work, though it should be, given its capacious reflection on the limits and capabilities of language and seriality.” The piece is included in “Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–1989,” which is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from November 13, 2017 to April 8, 2018. I’m happy to report the work has been given its due. —Lauren O’Neill-Butler

1974 WAS A PIVOTAL YEAR FOR ME. I found myself working in three communications media at the same time: in print (as an editor of the publication Radical Software), in video, and at the loom. It was a revelation to me that all three encode and decode information in lines. I was also drawn to the multichannel genre developing at that time because it most clearly challenged the traditional viewer-broadcaster relationship. The viewer had to leave the living room and go to a public space to view the work. And the loom—which was actually the first computer on the face of the earth, in that it programs patterns according to a numerical structure—was the most sophisticated technology I could find to understand the programming of multiples.

Conceiving of each monitor as a thread, I constructed the multichannel installation Dachau 1974 according to basic thread structures for binding a cloth, with channels one and three and channels two and four juxtaposing pairs of images as the work proceeded in time. In essence, I created a nonverbal narrative structure based on a visual, and not a literary, source. This distinction was very important to me. The visual structure of woven cloth, based on the buildup of lines, precedes human writing by thousands of years and holds a key to the organization of visual and textual information. The words text and weave share the same Latin root.

Text and Commentary is a handmade work created for the camera. Five weavings hang from a dowel facing five video monitors built into a freestanding wall. As I wove at the loom, I hung a camera from the ceiling to record the process at varying distances. The images became quite abstract. I edited the piece by drawing all the images I shot on three-by-five cards and spreading them out on the floor to come up with a sequence of images. The work produces a dialogue between an ancient technology and the then-new medium of video. When it is exhibited, there’s also a pictographic score for the five channels of video as well as five weavers’ notations. All elements of the work coexist and provide varying perspectives of virtually the same information, but within the limitations of each medium.

Currently I’m working on “Curves,” which is a series of abstract drawings on paper, made with ink, pencil, and thread, that reference the human torso. As these works develop, threads are sewn on the surface of the paper with a digital sewing machine. The relationship between the handmade and the machine-made is basic to this work. Instead of oil or watercolor, here the programmed structure of the threads allows the original drawn markings to be seen in a new way and adds texture, color, and depth to the surface of the work. The sewing machine is programmed to sew on the surface of the paper in pre-designated areas. The kind of stitching, with its shape and degrees of being open or closed to the surface beneath, is another example of the impact of the computer on something as basic as the sewing machine.

— As told to Lauren O'Neill-Butler

Timo Nasseri

11.07.17

View of “I Saw a Broken Labyrinth,” 2017, Ab-Anbar, Tehran.


Over the past decade, the Berlin-based artist Timo Nasseri has drawn on a diverse array of mathematical and philosophical influences in his work. His current exhibition at Ab-Anbar in Tehran, “I Saw a Broken Labyrinth,” runs until November 23, 2017 and marks a decisive moment in his career, as it is the first time he has had a solo exhibition in Iran. Nasseri will also have a major solo show at the Maraya Art Centre in Sharjah in early 2018.

I’VE ALWAYS HAD MIXED FEELINGS about being termed an Iranian or a Middle Eastern artist, mainly because I’ve never seen myself as localized to any one culture. My mother is German, and my father is from Iran. So, my name is an odd hybrid. When Ab-Anbar approached me about doing an exhibition, we decided to introduce my work, even though much of the audience in Tehran may already be familiar with it. It’s been interesting for me because suddenly I’m seeing different works together and new connections between them, and there’s a real fusion of Eastern geometrical motifs with constructivist elements from my German background, as well as this fantastic aspect of my interest in storytelling.

I grew up with the tradition of storytelling; my father would invent fairy tales for me. On the one hand, my works refer to real stories about real people, but, on the other, they are abstracted. It’s like a conversation, a transportation of ideas from one person to the next. That’s what makes it so interesting to me. Every time you retell a story, something new gets added to it. I want certain narratives to unfold within the viewer, but it’s up to you to take the time to really look at a work and think about it. They are personal—there are tons of stories there. It’s just about which one finds you.

In general, I think my works are becoming more narrative. There was one point when I felt like I was done with all the mathematical aspects of my muqarnas, all that geometry, and it was hard to wrap my head around the ever-increasingly complex equations I was dealing with, so I decided to invent my own mathematical language instead, kind of like how kids invent fantasy languages. This is where my love of Jorge Luis Borges and, in particular, his story “The Library of Babel” comes in. For me, this story connects with so many different aspects of my work—it’s a fantasy about infinity, mathematics, quantum mechanics, and legibility. In it, there is an infinite library with an infinite number of books comprising the twenty-six letters of the alphabet in all possible combinations. Yet, these combinations of letters don’t make any sense, to us they are unreadable. However, in one book, on one page, there is the phrase “O time thy pyramids.” Maybe it’s the key. Maybe everything is legible if you hold the right key.

I am intrigued by this idea that a slight twist on reality can make something illegible, yet can retain a sense of inner logic, a truth that may not be immediately obvious. For example, for my series “O Time Thy Pyramids,” as well as the accompanying drawings, “Nine Firmaments,” I invented a language—there are letters but they don’t necessarily build words, just like in the Borges story.

Think of our Latin alphabet—you can kind of read French if you know the letters, but you won’t understand the words. It’s the same with my mathematics; I use familiar numbers and symbols, but you can’t understand the combination I’m using them in within my little sketches. Yet, if you stand in front of them, you have the impression that there’s something going on, that there’s a story there, a map to some hidden treasure, maybe an explanation of something like gravity in a different universe—it could be anything, if only you held that key.

This also builds on my interest in translating the two-dimensional into the three-dimensional and vice versa, as if my drawings were notations for my sculptures. My muqarnas were born out of the ornamental drawings I made for the “One and One” series, which became blueprints for those mirrored cupolas. Now I’ve added the elements of time and music. My new video work Expansions, which I made especially for this show, takes the elements of my drawings and deconstructs and rebuilds them. Drawings already have a certain rhythm of their own, so I thought perhaps this could be reflected in a musical rhythm, in this case, that of stars. I took materials from NASA—recordings of the rotations of planets, the rhythm of pulsars, and the explosions of stars—and put them into single tones to build a soundtrack. You can layer these tones rather like the way you can layer words to make a poem, or images to make a collage. It’s still just a beginning. It’ll never be complete, because it’s a fragment of an infinite library.

— As told to Anna Wallace-Thompson