Bruce McLean


View of “Bruce McLean: Sculpture, Painting, Photography, Film,” 2014.

Long based in London, the Scottish artist Bruce McLean is well known for his humorous conceptual works, such as his “retrospective” at the Tate Gallery in 1972, which was a one-day show titled “King for a Day” that consisted entirely of texts—a thousand propositions—on a wall. That work has been re-created in his current survey, “Bruce McLean: Sculpture, Painting, Photography, Film,” which is on view at firstsite in Colchester, England, through November 30, 2014. Here he discusses the show and Opera Bouffant, a new project that will debut next year.

I WAS A STUDENT AT ST. MARTIN’S at the same time as Gilbert & George and Barry Flanagan; Tim Head and Richard Long came along the year after. There, we were all invited to investigate the nature of sculpture, and we were pushed and pulled along until we decided that sculpture could be something in your pocket, in the landscape, or in the street—it could be transitional. Our teachers pushed us so hard that we started making ephemeral stuff before we actually investigated for ourselves some of the more formal concerns that were important in early 1960s. But a lot was being questioned then. It was an interesting time.

I am mostly interested in quick actions and gestures. For example, I am fascinated by the actions of Jackson Pollock—not the paintings. I am attracted to the actions of the American crooner Johnnie Ray—he was the first action singer. I have recently thought that I am an action sculptor. The action is the thing, and everything else is just there. Everything I do is determined by the fact that I was trained as a sculptor. If I make a dance piece, it’s coming from a sculptural background, not a dance background or a painting background.

Currently I am developing Opera Bouffant in collaboration with Luke Haines who is writing the music and Paul Tickell who will direct, which is about Ray. He wasn’t a great singer, but he had the power to make a myth around himself. Elvis was obviously better—his songs from the ’50s and ’60s are still good, whereas Ray’s aren’t. But I’m interested in the idea of Ray being an action singer instead of an icon. He’s been a great influence on all sorts of people, like Iggy Pop and me. Opera Bouffant is based on the idea of bringing together the ideas of opera and bouffant, and it won’t be like an opera and it won’t be like a rock concert. It’ll be something else. It will be a sound work, but it’ll also be visual. When I left the artworld in the ’70s, I formed a Pose group. It wasn’t theater and it wasn’t dance, and I’d like to make something for now—the beginning of the twenty-first century. It won’t be something like anything that’s been seen before. There will be a lot of impersonations in it. Impersonations also interest me. You can impersonate a person, but you can also impersonate an object. You should find a good sculpture and impersonate it immediately.

Using what is available—a wall, a piece of wood, a shadow, a remark, a door—is important to me, and I take that as a jumping-off point continually to make propositions for my work. I never think I’m “solving problems.” In fact, I am probably making them. Sometimes the problems are just visual quips. For example, at the Tate in 1972, I wrote quips as pieces. I went to a party around that time with Lucy Lippard and Seth Siegelaub, and we decided that it was just very boring. It was full of Conceptual artists—British ones—so we took a bottle of vodka and left. That night I decided to remove myself from the art world and, at that time, the best way to do it was to have a retrospective. When you have one of those, they bury you and that’s the end of it. I thought that the catalogue could be the show and the show could be the catalogue, because people at the time were obsessed with catalogues. So I made a thousand catalogues, put them on the floor like a big Carl Andre work, and then people came for this one-day exhibition, “King for a Day.”

They bought the catalogues and then the show disappeared the next day. And me with it! I dropped out for a while, but the call of sculpture sucked me back in. I sort of wish I had done something else after. The piece was written over three weeks in 1969 with a view to be published as a catalogue or show in major gallery. I wrote it straight off, no changes, no corrections. It’s interesting to see again on a wall, as it looks quite fresh and still relevant. But I think its time for a new text piece about text pieces.

The survey at firstsite does a good job of representing what I’ve been doing over the past fifty years. There are several big architectural projects that aren’t in the show, as they don’t fit an art-survey context. My father was an architect, and he wouldn’t let me pursue that career. Now my son is an architect, and I think I’m finally one too. I’ve been engaged with so many fields—painting, music, poetry, etc.—but I wouldn’t say “Art.” That gets up my nose.

— As told to Sherman Sam

View of “Christopher Williams: The Production Line of Happiness,” 2014.

Since the early 1980s, Cologne- and Los Angeles–based artist Christopher Williams has utilized photographic discourse as a way to analyze social, cultural, institutional, and economic histories. He speaks here about his three-part exhibition “The Production Line of Happiness,” which is Williams’s first major museum survey. It opened at the Art Institute of Chicago earlier this year and will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, from July 27 to November 2, 2014, before traveling to Whitechapel Gallery, London, in 2015.

I’VE WORKED almost my whole life as an artist to distance myself from the kind of role models traditionally associated with the idea of the photographer. Instead I have established a more mobile position, which allows me to move freely through the various aspects of photographic production, display, and distribution; I can alternately assume the position of camera operator, picture editor, exhibition designer, graphic designer, etc. For this exhibition, I wanted to thematize the conventions of display within the context of a monographic museum survey exhibition. A retrospective is, by its nature, a backward-looking form, putting on show that which has been, a condition that it shares with the basic material conditions of photography.

Like the site of a photographic shoot, the form of a survey show can be seen as a set of material and semiotic conventions and relations. These are viewed as somewhat stable and/or natural, having the goal of describing what has been or has happened. I have attempted to move within these relations in order to destabilize and denaturalize them. Each of the three venues has a similar checklist, but the relation between the pictures, their organization, and the architectural frame changes with each venue. The photographs presented at MoMA unfold in a network of different types of walls, which represent a series of different tenses. These include two walls from a mobile wall system developed for the Art Institute of Chicago, present in the previous venue; a wall from a work of mine from 1991, which itself was a reconstruction of a wall built by Peter Nadin and Christopher D’Arcangelo in the 1970s; wall fragments where exhibition design elements from previous exhibitions in the space at MoMA are visible; vinyl-clad walls built with MoMA’s wall system, two of which are clad with vinyl graphics that continue from the lobby; and a cinder block wall which reconstructs a wall system used by the Whitechapel Gallery in the 1950s, a system which will be used in the next iteration of the show at the Whitechapel next year. These walls function to change the tense of the framing device at each point, so that the pictures function not just in but in relation to the architecture. Overall, this thematization of the architecture moves the entire construct from being a representation of the past to being a sculptural and pictorial entity in the present tense.

I have attempted to assume different positions within the production and display of my work in order to separate the basic elements at play and to refashion them in a way that makes their functioning visible as a set of conventions. This restructuring creates and engenders the conditions for a sustained, intensified way of photographic seeing, a way of engaging with pictorial materials that is intensified by an awareness of the different modes of presentation. It attempts to present the pictures within the present context, shifting the decisive moment from the moment of exposure to the moment of viewing.

The catalogue became the primary tool with which I could confront my discomfort with the monographic form and its emphasis on individual achievement. My editorial contribution consisted of lists, budgets, manifestos, and descriptions of types of production and display. This includes a description of The Store by Claes Oldenburg; liner notes by the band Scritti Politti that outline the production of their first single; and texts by Rita McBride, Rem Koolhaas, Barbara Kruger, Walter Nikkels, Bernadette Corporation, and others.

I am interested in a descriptive activity that has such a blunt specificity that it transcends its informative function. The structure of the book speaks very directly and clearly to its economic reality. Contractually, the publisher and museums required a bar code and their logos, but not the artist’s name or the title of the exhibition. By reducing the information on the cover to a discussion of bar codes and logos, we were able to focus attention away from the individual artist and instead emphasize the book’s position as an object within a commercial system of display and circulation.

The absence or de-emphasis of my name has been an element of my work since the late ’70s and has served various functions, but it has primarily been used to emphasize the importance and roles of other people’s practices and discourse in relationship to my pictorial production. This characteristic is one of the things that originally drew me to artists like Christopher D’Arcangelo and Louise Lawler. At any rate, the legal requirements would have been met simply by using the bar code and logos on the cover, but I wanted the cover to have an informative function as well. It presents information about the function of a bar code and the guidelines for proper display and placement of the individual institutional logos. The title “The Production Line of Happiness” was unnecessary, but it served to underline or highlight the cruel set of relations set in place by the managers of culture.

— As told to Catherine Taft

View of “Erika Verzutti: Mineral,” 2014.

Brazilian artist Erika Verzutti’s work investigates the role of the natural readymade in sculpture. She speaks here about her first solo museum exhibition, “Mineral,” which is on view at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, New York, through November 16, 2014, and includes an installation of a field of handmade gemstones. Verzutti’s work can also be seen in a solo exhibition at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich, on view through July 19, 2014, as well as the Guggenheim UBS Map Global Art Initiative’s “Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today” group exhibition at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, which is on view through October 1, 2014.

“MINERAL” is a group of sculptures that were made individually but are kept together as one family. Each piece in the group represents a geode or a gemstone. The role of geodes in nature seems to be purely aesthetic, as their shape and color are their most regarded features. So representing them was like making sculptures out of sculptures. I do this often—sometimes I quote known works like the Venus of Willendorf, and other times, like with the geodes, I find myself using nature itself as a found object.

I started creating these geode sculptures by making molds from the natural stones, similar to what I have done with fruits and vegetables in other works. For instance, Painted Lady, which is included in the “Under the Same Sun” exhibition, is made of casted star fruits, coconuts, and bananas stacked in the form of a totem pole. But this time I quickly moved on to making shapes directly in the clay, not depending on the real stones to cast from but inventing my own rules to create a different nature. I always try to find fertility in my practice, to have the feeling that the work will naturally grow from a small molecule of decision. For example, in “Mineral,” a simple repeated gesture of hitting fresh clay with my fingertips created a particular texture for the outside of the gemstones.

I often use paint or pigmented wax in the last stage of making the sculptures. That is a very enjoyable yet complex part of the articulation of the work. In “Mineral,” I seized an opportunity to exercise paint arbitrarily, motivated by the variety found in natural geodes’ colors and styles. In this group of painted sculptures I painted some stones with color fields mimicking Rothkos, with the same enthusiasm that I painted an all-gray surface quoting modernist functional housing in Brasília. Call Girl, a handmade bronze plate with rectangular depressions filled with red and blue Plasticine and exhibited at the Tang Museum, reminds me of the colors of Hélio Oiticica’s Metasquema and also of a makeup case I saw in an in-flight magazine.

I perceive sculpture today as something that can exist in domestic and public spaces but also in phone screens or embedded in human gestures. I believe sculpture does not need much order or space to pulsate. I made one of my first bronzes, Galapagos, an iridescent blue, birdlike arrangement of tropical fruits, in 2007. A friend bought it and placed it by the window in his kitchen on his farm. He then paired it with a dwarf statue that matched much of my sculpture’s size, temperature, and color. I considered that a happy ending for an art object, finding its profane companion for life.

— As told to Frank Expósito

Jonas Dahlberg’s digital rendering of Memory Wound. Courtesy of Jonas Dahlberg Studio and KORO / Public Art Norway.

Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg was chosen last spring as the winner of a competition for a memorial in Norway to honor the victims of the July 22, 2011 attacks. His proposed piece, Memory Wound, is a cut across a peninsula that faces the island Utøya, where the attacks occurred. Here, Dahlberg talks about some of the concepts behind the work, such as loss, distance, and vulnerability, as well as what it means to look and remember. The work will be finalized in July 2016.

THE PIECE IS commissioned by Public Art Norway (KORO), the government’s agency for public art under the Ministry of Culture, in commemoration of the events nearly three years ago, when a single gunman attacked a camp organized by the youth division of the Norwegian Labor Party on the island of Utøya. Sixty-nine people were murdered and hundreds were injured on the island. Moreover, the same assailant bombed a government building, and eight people died. Memory Wound began mainly with two site visits, one on the island of Utøya, where the events took place, and another on a small peninsula that faces the island, which is the site of the piece.

One of the foundational concepts for this work, that of “wounding” nature, came from the Utøya visit, where we were taken on a tour that followed the footsteps of the attacker. After arriving on shore, we went from place to place where people had died, stopping at each spot with our guide, a person who had survived the attack, who told us about that day and the people who had lost their lives where we stood. On our tour, it became evident that the buildings had retained the event but in nature there was almost no trace of it. Inside the buildings, there was evidence of what had taken place: bullet holes in the walls and floors stained with cleaning agents. Outside, however, nature had healed in a way that the building couldn’t. As if nature had moved on, what had once attested and bore witness had now been covered up. Considering the site for the memorial, I thought about possibilities of doing something that wounded nature to the point that it couldn’t heal—to do something that would obstruct its inevitable self-restoration, to do something which couldn’t be undone.

From the island, we were then taken to the peninsula that the Norwegian government had designated as the site for the memorial. It’s a sharp point extending from the mainland toward Utøya, and we walked out to its tip, seeing the island across the water in an absolutely picture-perfect setting. I determined that I wanted to leave Utøya alone—in the sense that I felt it was crucial to break that gaze and not make the island a focus. One reason for this is that the youth organization wants to actively regain possession of the island by continuing to use it for their summer camps. Another is because that kind of gaze from that kind of vantage point is passive and turns people into onlookers, nonparticipating observers. As in my previous films, I wanted to work with sight lines and questions of what it is to see and be seen, and to see one’s own seeing, effectively making up a more contemplative space where each person’s sight comes into play as reflective. I wanted to turn the will to look at the island and cast it inward.

The meaning of monuments and architecture can shift with political change. And they deteriorate. To make something irreversible in nature meant, to me, that instead of making something abstract that would illustrate loss, one would make loss; rather than to allude to distance, one would make distance; instead of suggesting the vulnerability of an island, one would make an island. This became the cut across the peninsula, just wide enough so people won’t reach the other side. And instead of making a vista from which to view Utøya, a downward slant leads to a room from which people will see the other side on which the names of the victims will be engraved.

— As told to Theodor Ringborg

David Diao


David Diao, 1971-A, 1971, acrylic on canvas, 7' 6" x 12’.

Paintings by the New York–based artist David Diao were recently featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and were the subject of a colloquium this past March at the Université de Strasbourg. His latest survey exhibition, “David Diao: Front to Back,” curated by Richard Klein, is on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. The show, which coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the institution, runs from July 13 to September 21, 2014.

WHEN RICHARD FIRST PROPOSED THIS EXHIBITION, I thought we would focus on paintings I made in 2005 about the Glass House and architecture in New Canaan, Connecticut. He quickly rejected this as too predictable. As there is no brand new work I felt ready to show, he decided to present a survey going back to my beginnings. While the gallery space is not huge, it does include the museum’s entryway, which gave us a good start when thinking about how to install the show. I had made a group of paintings in the 1990s that ask how one might image and document a life as an artist. They take the form of curriculum vitae, sales records, studio visits, and critical reviews, all organized as orderly charts that might serve as introductory wall labels for a retrospective. I had in mind an ordinary, yeoman artist but did use data gathered from my own middling career for the task at hand. For a long time I did not think I was doing autobiography. The work was shown 1991 under the title “...for a real allegory,” as a direct reference to Courbet’s painting of himself in the studio surrounded by his milieu. At the Aldrich, I am finally showing the CV painting, Résumé, as a wall text, which is how it was first imagined to be. This work is in three separate panels and twenty-two feet long—too lengthy for the intended wall. Richard came up with the brilliant solution to break up the three panels with the first on the left side and the other two conjoined on the right side of the double glass doors leading into the gallery. It is almost as if the painting—whose subject is the twenty-two-year exhibition history of the artist being shown—has parted to admit the visitor into the show.

I am also pleased to be showing several squeegee paintings from 1971 and ’72 that I haven’t seen in over forty years. In the late ’60s, the allover paintings I had been making were simply getting bigger and bigger in size without the increase in scale that I had sought. One solution, I thought, was to increase the size of the actual mark, to have a one-to-one relationship between mark and canvas, as if a giant had made the mark. I was also determined to go against Clement Greenbergʼs advice to painters to cut off and crop the painted canvas in order to find the final work. Instead, mine indexes everything that happened on it. The streets of SoHo were littered each night with cardboard tubes from the rag trade. These became the readymade scrapers with which I would spread the paint. I found I was able to control a cardboard tube of approximately five feet by inserting an electrical conduit into the tube and leaving a length exposed as a handle. I would scrape, roll, or drag repeated layers of paint across the entire canvas in swaths I could manage until something happened to my liking.

With this show I also have the added pleasure of employing a few works as evidentiary proof against specific canonical chronologies and events that I have been written out of. For instance, in Synecdoche, 1993, I collaged Benjamin Buchloh’s catalogue essay from a Gerhard Richter catalogue with my own squeegee works: Wherever his name appears in the text, I crossed it out and replaced it with my own. Some would say that what I do is unseemly, that one should not toot their own horn. I guess it’s a ridicule that I chance for what I perceive to have been a wrong.

Also on view in the show is Double Rejection, 2012. This work images the Philip Johnson–designed boardroom at MoMA as well as my painting Triptych, which was brought there for possible acquisition in 1972, yet was ultimately rejected (as was Johnson’s eventually destroyed architecture). By bringing these paintings together again, I hope the show enlivens my old work and offers the public not a hearsay or fabrication—as so often is the case with art history—but a fact.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Jon Rafman


Jon Rafman, Still Life (Betamale), 2013, HD video, color, sound, 4 minutes 54 seconds.

Jon Rafman is a Canadian artist whose work explores shifting boundaries between the virtual and the real while acknowledging fading distinctions between the two. Here, he discusses his recent work and debut solo exhibition in an American museum. “Jon Rafman: The end of the end of the end” is on view at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis from June 27 to August 10, 2014.

I BEGAN TO KNOW the fighting game community of New York while I was doing interviews for my 2011 film Codes of Honor, which is about a lone gamer recounting his past experiences in professional gaming. That work generally deals with a loss of history and the struggle to preserve tradition in a culture where the new sweeps away the old at a faster and faster pace. I saw the pro gamer as a contemporary tragic hero who strives for classic virtues in a hyperaccelerated age. The very thing the gamer attempts to master is constantly slipping away and becoming obsolete, which acutely reflects our contemporary condition.

When I held the pro gaming tournament at Zach Feuer in honor of the original Chinatown Fair arcade, which was the last great East Coast video arcade, it was as if the whole project had been leading up to that night. This was also true for the release on 4chan of my 2013 film Still Life (Betamale), a work that brings to light the darker fetishes of Internet subcultures—including furry fandom, kigurumi, and 8-bit anime. The community and the artist came face to face, and the reaction to the work was rich and varied. For instance, a 4chan user wrote:

this shit would have been cool in 2005 but you're on goddamn 4chan in 2013, one of the biggest sites for “SUCH A LOSER ;_;” people to ever browse the internet
someone didn't found out your dirty secret life and reveal it to everyone else
we've been doing it since the early/mid 2000's
it isn't special
get over it

Here the commenter is mocking my fetishization of these subcultures in classic 4chan style, while also revealing that sense that the moment you “discover” said culture it has already moved on. It also indirectly hints at the sublime feeling I every now and again experience when I'm surfing the Web and I suddenly discover a new community or fully formed subculture that has its own complex vocabulary and history. It’s this overwhelming sensation that there are subcultures within subcultures, worlds upon worlds upon worlds ad infinitum.

My earlier work is more romantic: There’s a flaneur-like gaze that crystallizes in the Google Street Views of Nine Eyes and the virtual safaris seen in the Kool-Aid Man in Second Life projects, for instance. As the Internet became a ubiquitous part of daily existence, I shared in the excitement of these new communities and was excited to explore the newly forming virtual worlds. Sometimes I see myself as a member of the community, but in many cases I approach the subcultures as if I were a passing explorer or an amateur anthropologist.

My latest videos and installations have a darker tone, delving into the murkier corners of the Web. What concerns me is the general sense of entrapment and isolation felt by many as social and political life becomes increasingly abstracted and experience dematerialized. There is no viable or compelling avenue for effecting change or emancipating consciousness, so the energy that once motivated revolution or critique gets redirected into strange and sometimes disturbing expressions.

I had planned to premiere my latest video, Mainsqueeze, in St. Louis for “The end of the end of the end,” but it was deemed too difficult and disturbing for the context of the exhibition. Some of the content, particularly the section with the “crush fetish,” in which a woman is depicted stepping on a live shellfish, is indeed difficult to watch. But I think the fetishes can evoke repressed desires as well as reveal latent societal tensions. There’s an underlying barbarism that can be found in daily life that I’m trying to capture. That said, I think the film is as beautiful and ironic, or postironic, as it is horrifying.

Currently, I’m developing a sculpture and installation series that has grown out of my intense interest in “troll caves,” which are the spaces inhabited by gamers during excessive hours in virtual reality. These spaces are actualized in a gallery environment and represent a borderland between the real and virtual. The troll caves contain a certain refined depravity that I find especially poignant today. They are at once abject and sublime spaces, revealing the material residue of a life completely dedicated to an online existence, and they point to the impossibility of total escape from physical reality.

— As told to Gabriel H. Sanchez