Left: Richard Hawkins, Ankoku 11 (Index Flesh), 2012, collage, 21 x 14“. Right: Richard Hawkins, Ankoku 2 (Direct Translation - Guernica), 2012, collage, 16 3/4 x 13”.

The Texas-born and Los Angeles–based artist Richard Hawkins makes work that probes the connections, juxtapositions, and slippages among classical sculpture, French literature, the abject, and the teenage dreamboat. His 2010 midcareer survey “Richard Hawkins: Third Mind” was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago. Hawkins is showing his new “Ankoku” series, a work partially inspired by Butoh, in the 2012 Whitney Biennial, which runs March 1–May 27.

I AM NOT A STUDENT OF DANCE––or even much of a fan––but there is something about Tatsumi Hijikata, at least on film, that I really like. Reading everything I could on Butoh for the past year or so, I got kind of fed up with the classic Western idea that Butoh is simply an articulation of the trauma of Japan’s destruction during World War II. Through subsequent research online, I found Hijikata’s Butoh-fu scrapbooks. In the mid-1960s and early ’70s, the dancer would go through Japanese monthly art magazines and cut out pictures that he “liked.” He would then tape them into scrapbooks and annotate in pencil anything that came to mind.

He cut up Picasso’s Guernica, for instance, and taped it down in this interesting, unartful-artful way with hardly any faithfulness to the artist, the Spanish civil war, the original picture, or . . . anything really. Hijikata’s Guernica, according to his scribbled annotations, consists of an old prostitute trapped in a room where the walls are made of pus with a dead baby on her lap that propels itself through its own farts all the way up to the ceiling. To me it’s a super interesting example of ekphrasis, of expansion over description, a kind of betrayal, actually, in keeping with his interest in Jean Genet.

Using Hijikata’s Butoh-fu as a perverse guide through postwar works that many of us know so incredibly well was really the foundation of my project. But I also liked the idea of rereading Genet––an author I’ve had love affairs with in the past––through Hijikata’s eyes. Despite the fact that historians of Butoh always mention that Hijikata was influenced by Our Lady of the Flowers, there’s hardly anything in the novel that describes movement, for example, or that would seem to be an obvious influence on the dancer. There’s lice and filth, obviously, dark things that Hijikata would’ve loved, but amazingly––to me at least––the novel begins with the author cutting out pictures of criminals from magazines and pasting them to his wall. By the end he claims that the whole novel has just been a masturbatory fantasy compelled by these chopped-up images of handsome faces and heads. That, to me, is the ultimate connection between Hijikata’s Butoh-fu and Genet. And, obviously, an important thing to understand for an artist (me) who has a history of cutting out pictures of cute guys and building fantasies around them.

I also found it interesting that Hijikata hardly ever used Japanese artists or figures in his scrapbooks. Rather, he was always exoticizing French and American culture. It’s Orientalism in reverse. Maybe through all this I’ll finally figure out why my objects of desire hardly ever come from my own damn culture.

— As told to John Arthur Peetz

Left: Cover of Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment (2012). Right: A view of the layout of Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment with Trixie.

Dushko Petrovich is a New Haven–based writer and painter and an editor of Paper Monument. The magazine’s second publication, Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment, debuted at the 2012 CAA conference and is available to order online. Petrovich and coeditor Roger White have an exhibition of their work opening at the Suburban in Chicago on March 4.

PAPER MONUMENT’S FIRST BOOK, I Like Your Work: Art and Etiquette, ended up being kind of a sleeper hit, so we wanted to follow it up with something similar—but better. As Roger White, my coeditor, and I get older, we find ourselves in more teaching situations than strictly social ones, so an art-school book seemed like a natural progression. But unlike art-world manners—which almost nobody had talked about publicly—art pedagogy is a hot topic, so we had to find our own take on the subject.

There were a lot of informative books on the theory and history of art school, but we wanted to make something more practical and candid, a document that maintained the texture of the everyday experience but also served as an intervention. So we had a quixotic vision, but no structure. The more we thought about it, the more overwhelming it seemed, until we suddenly remembered how you efficiently solve complex group problems while teaching—you come up with a killer assignment. The beauty of the assignment is that it crystallizes and condenses various questions in the form of a shared experience, often yielding a surprising result. That was exactly what we wanted our book to do, so we came up with a simple prompt asking people to tell us about assignments.

We sent a note out to people who we thought were good teachers, or good storytellers, and told them to forward it along to people they knew. We initially got a lot of submissions from thirty-somethings on the East Coast, so in the second round we tried to reach out a bit, both generationally and geographically. We also solicited assignments from the self-taught, and from people that had been educated in other kinds of schools. A lot of people politely declined our invitation, but nobody who submitted was turned away. In the end we didn’t really get what we expected, which seemed appropriate for a book of art assignments.

Now we’re working on building a website that will be an interactive archive, which will hopefully make the project more useful and comprehensive. People will be able to search for assignments on different topics at different levels, and they’ll be able to add their own experiences with each assignment.

One good thing about art school is that it’s incredibly compact and pressurized, but that’s also the bad thing: It’s only available to certain people in certain times and places. (Plus, you can only do it once, it goes by in a flash, and the debt can last for decades.) The overall organization of art school, its tremendous expense, its questionable interactions with the outside world—these are all things we would like to improve and reform, and maybe this book is a step in that direction.

Obviously it makes a huge difference whether you’re given a John Baldessari assignment by the man himself or someone else, so we’re not pretending his typewritten pages are any kind of substitute for being his student. At the same time, the vast majority of artists can’t be Baldessari’s students, so this is what he can offer. If art school is a restaurant—perhaps a very expensive restaurant, where it’s often hard to get a reservation—then what we’ve put together is more of a cookbook.

Some of the more famous assignments, like those in Paul Thek’s “Teaching Notes,” are already widely available, but the rest of what we collected gets passed on directly from teacher to student—or after the fact, in stories and rumors. In writing down a largely oral tradition, we’re definitely taking things out of context, but we hope it’s only temporary. The idea is that these assignments will quickly reenter different studios and classrooms, and thrive in their new surroundings.

We started this project before Occupy Wall Street emerged, but, like most people, we’ve been really glad to see the movement take hold, partly because it encourages everyone to come together and make a change in the spaces where they live and work. Art school happens to be where a lot of artists live and work, so we do feel like it’s important for us to look at what goes on there, and to see how we can make it better. Focusing on the assignments is just one way to do that, and I hope a lot of these individual assignments are pointing to that bigger, never-ending assignment.

— As told to John Arthur Peetz

Left: Mary Heilmann, Crashing Wave, 2010, oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 9“. Right: Mary Heilmann, Road Trip, 2010, oil on canvas, 30 x 30”.

A painter, sculptor, and ceramicist for over forty years, Mary Heilmann is perhaps best known as a consummate colorist. Her high-keyed exhibitions often blend elements of Pop and Minimalism, devotion and sociality, and are always infused with an inimitable chromatic charge. Heilmann’s latest show, “Visions, Waves, and Roads,” features new canvases, a wall of ceramic tiles, and chairs; all are on view at Hauser & Wirth’s Savile Row location in London from February 23 to April 5.

THE WAVES have always been in my life and work. My father was a bodysurfer and as a kid I would join him on the beach in San Francisco. I have a very early memory of watching him in the huge, crashing, cold surf. Whenever I’m in the Bay Area, I go to the beach and check it out. California remains a big part of my life even though I’ve lived in New York since 1968.

I went to Santa Barbara to study literature in 1959, and I got by just fine, but I never really felt like I was there for academic reasons. The surfing scene was really cool back then. I was constantly zooming up and down the highway from Santa Barbara to Mexico, stopping at all the surf spots. One of my boy pals from school loaned me his surfboard, and I tried it, but never pursued it. I wouldn’t say I ever really surfed––not too many girls did back then. But I loved to watch.

I was studying criticism and poetry, and then started making ceramics as a hobby; there was a whole crew in Santa Barbara getting really into that. I loved it so much that I ended up in Berkeley in 1963, studying with Peter Voulkos in the art department. Of course when I moved to New York I couldn’t get any attention for that kind of work. So I started painting. Everyone in the city hated painting, including me! We thought it was the lamest thing. But by 1972 I was building stretcher bars and really getting into it. I felt like I was pushing paint around in almost the same way I did for sculpture and ceramics. I was inspired by what was going on with anti-form and with the works that Eva Hesse, Richard Serra, and Barry Le Va were making. They are huge influences.

My titles are usually poetic and often refer to places or things––in this show, for instance, there are works with names like Vanishing Point or Yuma Arizona or Renny’s Right Geometry of a Wave––so perhaps as you look a certain image might arise. The paintings have always had some connection to reality even though they are mostly abstract. I’m also totally obsessed with symbolic imagery, geometry, and Ellsworth Kelly. The waves come out of this and so does my Malevich-inspired work. I’ve been in a Malevich phase for a while, which has meant a lot of deep thinking about geometry and pushing geometric figures around in a sort of puzzle-making way. In Malevich Spin, for instance, there’s a sense of movement through geometry––perhaps in your mind you rearrange it, move the pieces around.

I’ve been thinking about the design for this show for nearly a year. I always want my exhibitions to be read in a theatrical way; people walk in and just around the corner one of the first things they see is a two-lane highway road image. And then they become part of this set. Perhaps they sit in the chairs, which have wheels, and they move around, getting nearer to each other, or looking closer at the work. This show will have a domestic element, too, with some of my pottery, dinnerware, and a couple of tables. My shows have never encouraged a quick visit––just standing in front of one work and moving swiftly to the next and then the next. It’s always been important to me that visitors be able to sit down, relax, and have a conversation in the gallery.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Left: Cover of Wayne Koestenbaum’s The Anatomy of Harpo Marx (2012). Right: Robert Florey and Joseph Santley, The Cocoanuts, 1929, still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 96 minutes.

Wayne Koestenbaum is a poet and cultural critic and a distinguished professor of English at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His previous books include The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire (1993), Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon (1995), Andy Warhol (2001), and Humiliation (2011). His latest volume, The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, has recently been published by the University of California Press. Koestenbaum will read selections from it at 192 Books in Manhattan on February 16 at 7 PM.

HARPO IS, FOR ME, THE ONE. Not even the trinity—the One. That’s what biographers, or anyone in love, must feel—a lunatic absorption in this other person, this One, who contains everything. The Harpo project did not begin with love; as with all obsessions, only repeated visitations allow a subject or object to accrue aura.

The first time I saw Harpo, I thought: “He’s cute.” The second time, I thought: “There’s that cuteness again.” The third time, I thought: “How can I memorize or categorize this haunting refrain?” Falling in love demands a return.

I began to notice Harpo in the scene’s periphery and I developed a hunger to slow the film down so I could figure out his inscrutable behavior. Harpo aroused a physical feeling in me, a wish to impose on him a different duration, a slower one. If I were heterosexual, and if I were watching Lana Turner, or Rita Hayworth, or Marilyn Monroe, I would want to figure out why and how she was sexy—I’d want to analyze the sexiness. Perhaps this thirst for analysis is already a queer approach to flesh, a wish to take apart Lana’s walk, to remove it from merely the cumulous cloud of seductiveness and discover its underlying technology or Technik.

Writing about Harpo, I was searching for my own location both psychologically and phenomenologically—I wanted to affix myself in a certain place and time within a recognizable body, within a landlocked sense of the real. Harpo appeared to have that grounded quality and he also seemed to be chasing it. The search for fixed, solid, and verifiable location became the book’s theme and my quest’s goal. Inspired by Dostoyevsky’s flash-stunned idiot, I permitted every stray particle into the book, a recuperative memory-theater, a nickelodeon for absolute allowance, for writerly liberation, for a self-granted mandate to include every glancing reflection.

Originally, I was torn between two book projects: One was about Harpo and the other was about shininess, the metaphysical and luminous properties of things that shine. Shininess is a code word for me. Shininess is the state where a soul loses grip. Shine elicits desire—Freud harped on “shine.” Shine is ephemeral, a trickster, an illusionistic source of corporeality. When confronted with shine, one slips and slides and glides and falls. One does not land. Harpo, however, always lands solidly—often on his rear.

Jackie O. and Andy Warhol, for example, are very shiny—twin epitomes of shine. Jackie had shiny aura because she was the most famous person in the world, famous for intangible and floating reasons, but nonetheless branded with a fixed, indubitable identity. So, if my identity, as a normal, regular, nonfamous person, was constantly slipping away and vanishing, and entirely dependent on the recognition of others, I could imagine that Jackie—a consoling and chimerical fantasy of self-sureness!—always had the power to say “I’m Jackie.” She came already stamped, permanently recognizable, seared by identity, without danger of losing her name tag. As a mental calisthenic, I played the Jackie trick: I imagined being Jackie so I could imagine having an identity, a caption, a logo. To contemplate Jackie was to entertain a paradox: What does it mean to be Jackie by herself, alone? What is Jackie’s solitude like? Shine is the loss of location and so I brought the topic of “shine” to Harpo: I shone my interrogation-beam on Harpo to figure out what it might feel like to exist solidly within one’s own puny yet chunky universe—think of Harpo’s body, its edible boxiness. The origin of my Harpo fetishism or wish to enclose him in a book came from my zeal as a child to own a piece of vanished, silent male embodiment—say, an 8-mm film reel of Charlie Chaplin in The Vagabond, or an 8-mm reel of the soon-to-be-disgraced Fatty Arbuckle in Fatty’s Magic Pants.

In my book, I analyze a scene in which Harpo sees shadows on a wall. He greets an apparation, a mere appearance, a nonsubstantial phenomenon, and he accords it momentary solidity. He blesses the shadow: Through dumb show, he says, “You exist.” Harpo is in the business of according every passing phenomenon its minuscule interlude of solidity—he proves that the void can be greeted. The void will answer back. From Harpo’s gaze-saturated point of view, there is no such thing as the void. Reality—sometimes thuggishly—interpellates Harpo: To Harpo, reality says, “You exist.”

Harpo is constantly rejected. Language has rejected him. His brothers essentially have rejected him. Conjugality has rejected him. Gender has rejected him. Proper habiliments have rejected him. School has rejected him. Speech and sartorial dignity have rejected him. The harp has not rejected him, but proper harp technique has rejected him. So how does he achieve the power not to care about rejection, to be humiliation-proof? That interpretation depends on a viewer—I, as interpreter, accord him this hypothetical state of shame-proofness. Granting it to him is an act of interpretive forcefulness or doggedness. By projection and by analytic perseverance, I prove Harpo’s immunity to rejection. I could have given Lassie the identical hermeneutic gift.

— As told to Allese Thomson Baker

Liza Johnson


Liza Johnson, Return, 2011, still from a color film in 35 mm, 97 minutes. Kelli (Linda Cardellini) and Mike (Michael Shannon). Photo: DADA Films.

Liza Johnson is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and professor at Williams College. Her work has screened at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Walker Art Center, and the Centre Pompidou, as well as the Cannes, New York, Berlin, and Rotterdam Film Festivals. Return, her latest feature film, premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival last May. Staring Linda Cardellini as a war veteran returning from the Middle East to her hometown in Ohio, Return will debut at Village East Cinemas in New York and Laemmle Santa Monica on February 10.

A FEW YEARS AGO a friend of mine told me some intimate stories about his efforts to stay married after he came back from his military deployment. Most of the accounts that civilians hear about the current US wars are either in a statistical mode of address—forty-two people are killed in a car bomb—or they’re in the style of policy debate—pro or con, good or bad. When my friend told me this very personal account about his efforts to cross this gap of empathy that had opened up in his relationship, I felt aware of missing this other register, this other kind of account.

I met many female soldiers while writing the script. They were strikingly different from one another, and it was immediately clear that there is no such thing as a typical or representative military woman. Linda Cardellini’s character is very specific—Kelli is one plausible female soldier but there’s no way she could represent every woman. The genre of “soldiers returning home” movies typically use flashbacks as a kind of wish-fulfillment, wishing that you could be in an extreme situation and then transparently convey it to another person, rendering the experience understandable. I don’t use this convention in Return. The entire film is set in the everyday, in the time of the present. The experience of trying to reunite with civilian culture can be disarming even if you don’t have an acute instance of trauma to narrate.

Many social justice advocates who work for veterans have said that it can be useful to think about how to destigmatize veterans who are presumed to have PTSD. A lot of vets tend to get treated by civilians like they are somehow prone to extreme behavior. I love a movie like Taxi Driver, but I’m also interested in quieter and less explosive forms of reassimilation, which are also full of interest––full of everyday dramas.

I’m from southeastern Ohio, where the industrial base is pretty much gone and has been replaced by an illegal drug economy. Return is set in a town like that one. I shot a short film two years ago in the town where I grew up, and it was very compelling for me to see young people propelling themselves forward in spite of the absence of a clear economic future, and in the presence of a parent generation that is pretty addicted. There is a lot of damage because there are so few jobs outside the drug economy. Civilians can sometimes view veterans as damaged people. But I also wonder, what if Kelli is just no longer willing to tolerate the damage in the world she comes home to?

— As told to John Arthur Peetz

Robert Buck


Left: Robert Buck, Through the Night That, 2011, dyed US flag, barbed wire spoil, metal pole, and metal plate, 95 x 40 1/2 x 24“. Right: Robert Buck, the crossing over and/or the crossing out, 2011, cinder blocks, rusted corrugated metal panel, lechuguilla pods, Plexiglas face-mounted photograph, 18 3/4 x 93 1/2 x 47”.

In 2008, Robert Beck changed his artistic signature to Robert Buck. The artist’s latest exhibition, “Kahpenakwu” (Comanche for “west”), at CRG Gallery features sculptures, paintings, assemblages, and drawings inspired by the landscape of the American Southwest. Here Buck discusses the exhibition as well as issues of authorship and identity. The show is on view until February 18.

MY AIM was to handle the object head-on, explicitly, which is why I built things around detritus from the desert––a rusted metal husk, a wooden palette, road “gators,” yucca leaves. Transported to the white cube, the litter, elevated there to the status of the object, becomes venerated, talismanic, or consecrated. It’s about the recuperation of objects––or what remains of them. This opened a way forward, like crossing a frontier.

A fundamental American mythology is that people go West to reinvent themselves, to construct new identities, and establish their own laws in a lawless world. Wire fences were put up across the West in the 1870s, and boundaries are still being contested and reinforced there. When we talk about the border, which is an arbitrary line, it’s about the Comanche and the drug cartels, violence, a frontier, the in-between, self and other. Much of my current work has to do with crossing, a traversing.

The show also refers to the body, especially as a link between land and sky. References to the head abound––off the shoulders, separated. For me, the piece House of Asterion, the one with the driftwood set against the bleached-splattered denim canvas, and hung against corrugated metal panels, echoes Courbet’s Origin of the World. It’s like the birth of the universe, a new world, virgin land––maybe the ultimate effect of having made a name for myself, Buck.

Maybe my name change has to do with storytelling. An artist’s relationship to the object bears his own individual stamp, or insignia. Any exhibition or work has a relationship to fantasy, the invention of an imaginary world. A better word for story may be construction, which beautifully refers to the type of materials I used. The story I’ve been telling has expanded, for instance: instead of autobiographical references to my father, they’re now to “fatherland”; not to my childhood home, but to “homeland”; not the signifier the West, but a semblance of it, “kahpenakwu.”

Making art is a way to contend with the “real,” as defined by the early teachings of Lacan––the hole or void––whatever you wish to call it. In the work, grids function like a screen to cover it. In the “Second Hand” series, for instance, I draw grids on thrift store paintings to enlarge a signature from one of my previous exhibition guestbooks. It’s like a trellis or scrim between myself and the other––both the painter of the found canvas and the person who signed their name in the guestbook. The name, which is inherited––in psychoanalysis the Name-of-the-Father––is also “secondhand,” and on it our identities are grafted.

“On and off the grid” was another signifier I wanted to toy with in the show. The concrete, modular elements––cinderblocks, pavers, screen blocks––in the sculptures are building materials often used in “off the grid” architecture and cipher modernism. The smoked Plexiglas surfaces, all of which mask an image (as in El Camino Real or An Eye for an Eye for an Eye for an Eye for instance), are shorthand for Gorilla Glass, the sheet glass manufactured by Corning for portable electronic devices, and they evoke the hypermodern. The grid is degree-zero––from GPS to the pixel––where bodies and desires all have coordinates and can be “mapped.”

For the first time, I don’t mind being associated with certain signifiers. If links are now made to the desert, off the grid, psychoanalysis, the Name-of-the-Father, self-invention, fine! Maybe this is something artists especially must bear, that certain signifiers will forever be ascribed to them.

As artists, we want to be working at the border of what is known. How else can we begin but by making furrows in the unknown? The only way to do this is to “know” that the mark you make will be yours, yours alone.

— As told to Matthew Porter

Neal Medlyn


Neal Medlyn, Wicked Clown Love, 2012. Press images. Left: Photo: Allison Michael Orenstein. Right: Neal Medlyn. Photo: Neal Medlyn.

Wicked Clown Love is the sixth work in Neal Medlyn’s ongoing series of performances based around pop stars. Prior pieces have considered recording artists such as Lionel Richie, Phil Collins, and Britney Spears; his latest component builds on the music and culture of Insane Clown Posse. The show, which features design by Madeline Best (lighting), Kathleen Hanna (set), and Larry Krone (costume), will have its premiere at The Kitchen in New York from February 2 to 4.

THE ANNUAL GATHERING of the Juggalos takes place in the middle of absolutely nowhere—a corner of the woods on the Ohio River in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois. It’s a three-hour drive from the nearest airport, in Nashville. There’re no lights at night; it’s totally dark. Every day ends with wrestling matches and concerts. Flavor Flav was the host one night, Charlie Sheen another. It’s kind of like Burning Man or Lollapalooza, but completely lawless.

The Gathering is put together by Insane Clown Posse and their label, Psychopathic Records. The crazy thing about Insane Clown Posse is that they’re completely self-generated, totally independent. The Gathering has no sponsorship. The Juggalos wander around selling things among themselves.

Juggalos are marginalized in this way that they’re kind of scary. Not mean, necessarily; I feel like the guys who are actually mean are the ones that show up at Lollapalooza and you’re just standing there, and they come up and punch you in the back of the head and just laugh. Juggalos are into negativity as an energy, as a creative force. I’ve been reading a lot about katabasis and Simone Weil and decreation, and there’s a lot of that in Wicked Clown Love.

We do quite a few Insane Clown Posse songs in the show, but I’ve redone all of the music, mixing it together with other cultural material about masculinity. I’ve included samples of these conflicted, sensitive, intense male singers, like Dan Fogelberg, the Mountain Goats, T. Rex, and Phil Collins. Robert Bly plays a large role too. He started this movement called the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, where men would have gatherings and talk about their feelings. I saw a resonance between these “gatherings” and the Gathering of the Juggalos. These things end up being filters. I just push everything through that, and it becomes this other world.

I know people think my work is ironic. That’s not really my approach at all. I try to maintain the integrity of the source material. Otherwise I don’t get to the place that I want to get to, of creating a space around this stuff and around the people who are in it and the people who are watching it. If there are too many escape hatches, then I’m not satisfied.

I grew up Pentecostal, in Texas, in a very small town. My great-great-grandfather was a preacher and my great-grandfather was a traveling preacher. Rock ’n’ roll, hip-hop, and R & B secularized that kind of religious, charismatic presentation. There are some parts in this show when I feel like I’m serving in this preacherly role, doing this presentation that will help the audience understand the Dark Carnival.

The Dark Carnival is the container for Insane Clown Posse’s mythology. There are different characters represented by joker cards, which are also “exhibits” in that carnival. There’s the Amazing Jeckel Brothers, for example, who juggle flaming balls. It’s supposed to be a metaphor about life, about how the world really sucks. There’s this extreme morality play. So if you’re really bad, like you’re a child abuser or a rapist, then you’re going to be killed by the Great Milenko.

People have made concept records and it’s very tidy and there’s one idea. But for a band to spend basically fifteen years on one seven-disk-long concept record, I mean, who does that? And who does that in the world of rap? And regional rap? Detroit-based, evil-clown-rapping, concept records. That’s fucking wild.

— As told to David Velasco